Out of my depth on Healthcare . . .

But Vox does it, so I guess I can too. Ezra Klein, a conflicted Keynesnian, writes that American Healthcare Can Be Free Market or Cheap. It Can’t Be Both.

1. I think the most charitable way to reframe this article is that Americans have unsustainable expectations about healthcare. Paraphrasing Arnold Kling: we want the very best healthcare, we want it to be relatively cheap — subsidized, if necessary — and at the ready, but we don’t want to pay for subsidies and we don’t want to save. Healthcare costs 1/6 of our economy, but no one wants to spend 1/6 of their income on Healthcare.

2. The title of the Vox piece is literally gibberish. The best analog I can come up with is “You can either sit on the couch and be fit, or exercise and stay fat. You can’t do both.”

Markets optimize costs better than any known alternative. The only sense in which government ownership could conceivably make things cheaper is borrowing costs — the gov’t credit card has a very low APR, but it will creep up the more it borrows. So a gov’t can be flush with cash, but it’s terrible at all other parts of ownership.

A market cannot make things “more expensive.” Taking away a subsidy does not make things “more expensive.” A market will create a menu of prices ranging from Lamborghini to Kia, but so long as there is demand for a cheaper option, there will be supply and — more importantly — incentives to make things even cheaper. But taking away restrictions on supply (i.e. breaking up the government’s cartel) can only make things cheaper.

3. I think what Klein means by “cheaper” is fewer out of pocket dollars. So the claim is: if we backload our costs, then we will have fewer upfront expenses. Brilliant. That appearance of profitability is popular among financial frauds too. But paying for something later does not make it cheaper, and to state as much is highly misleading.

Klein knows this — he would never say “buying something with your credit card is free” — but Krugman specializes in this stuff, and Klein admires Krugman. Krugman calls the ACA “underfunded.” That’s true, if the goal of the ACA is “spending as much money as possible,” but then, of course, everything is “underfunded.” Krugman leaves that for the reader to figure out though. Most people will come away with the impression that the ACA is underfunded, in the sense that if it had more money, it would “work better.”

Again, in Krug-speak, “work better” means spend more, but other people understand spending more as a means to an end, and not an end in and of itself. Not so with Krugman. Spending is righteous, brah. Dig the ditches and fill them in. 

In a past life, Krugman was eventually purged by Stalin after a long and successful career.

4. Vox is an excellent example of every-man-on-the-street economics. Innovation? Sure, government can do that. Set prices? How hard could that be — when have price controls ever gone wrong? Rationing? Easy-peasy. That’s just crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s.

It’s like if government officials quit their day jobs to join forces with Vox’s staff, they could all found and manage immediately profitable and successful companies . . . because how hard is it to make something that people want at a price they are willing to pay? I mean, everyone knows that wealth is just handed to you on a silver platter by privilege.

In the real world, innovation, prices, rationing, etc. are extremely hard problems to optimize. Those aren’t the after-the-fact details, they’re everything. Subsidies (i.e. coupons) are after the fact details, until they very quickly start changing the way consumers behave, and then they too are front-and-center details. We certainly don’t know what optimal health care looks like any more than Bill Gates could have told you what Google would look like. The best we can do is commit to a process that works better than other processes: decentralized ownership under conditions where information and feedback are textured and subtle, i.e. PRICES, and incentives are aligned.

5. Klein’s reliance on the UK’s model is make weight.

Studies that show the UK and Canada innovate at a significantly lower pace than the US? Klein chooses to ignore those and just say “I’m not convinced.” Fine, everybody’s got studies.

That the UK (and Canadian) healthcare systems are in fact two-tier systems where only the most wealthy can afford top-flight, on-demand care, and everyone else muddles along in the breadline?  Klein says “that’s no so bad.”

But then why not have a multi-tier system with no breadline at all? *Blank Stare*

Klein knows that the platonic ideal of HEALTHCARE is something better than a Kia, but less than a Lamborghini. A free market would make it clear to consumers that there are a menu of options and that it may not always be prudent to buy the more expensive model. Since Klein knows that the *right* model is always the slightly more expensive one, then the free market makes healthcare more expensive, just like the free market makes cars more expensive because a Camry costs more than a Kia.

Klein would apparently be OK with a system where only Kias and Lamborghinis are allowed, but if there were a Camry, that would be “cruel” rationing. Two tiers = nirvana. Five, six . . . twenty tiers? Darwinian hell.

Klein’s Platonic ideal is a sad and dreary place, as Mr. Gorbachev would agree:

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Revisiting Fintech Protectionism

Dealbook chimes in on the fight over data between the companies that collect and curate the data (banks) and the companies that want to use that data to sell stuff (including that data).

As I pointed out last time, this is a commercial dispute masquerading as a regulatory one. If that wasn’t already clear, Dealbook lays it all out on the line:

Technology start-ups like Mint and Betterment have been building services that pull together your bank account and credit card records — after you supply the passwords.

But now big banks are making a concerted push to set new restrictions on how technology companies can get access to this personal financial data, in some cases refusing to pass along information like the fees and interest rates they charge.

The banks say that they can’t just give out data because giving out data wily-nily is pretty risky:

Banks like JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo say they want to give consumers access to their data, but are seeking new rules in response to a lack of standards for how technology companies handle personal financial data.

“When you think about millions of customers handing over their bank account credentials to third parties, who currently have no real oversight or examination of their security controls, you start to understand why our members get pretty nervous,” said Jason Kratovil, the vice president for government affairs for payments at the Financial Services Roundtable, which represents the largest banks.

The tech companies, however, say this is all about business:

The tech companies, in turn, complain that the steps being taken by banks will not lead to better security and are motivated, instead, by a fear that the data will allow the financial upstarts to offer better deals on loans and checking accounts.

William Harris, the founder of Personal Capital, a San Francisco-based start-up, said the problems with getting access to data from banks had grown worse over the last year. To him, it was a sign that the banks viewed open access to data as a threat to their business, given that it would allow customers to see how much they pay for financial products.

“It’s pretty clear the real intent of the banks is to limit this data because it puts their business model at risk,” he said.

Indeed. The “banks view[] open access to data as a threat to their business.” And since we don’t like banks, we’re supposed to cheer for open data, right?  Dastardly banks, trying to limit risks to their business models. But what Mr. Harris is really saying is that “start ups view the lack of open access to data as a threat to their business.” So start-ups are also trying to protect their business models? That’s so confusing. Whose side should I be on?

I would put it this way, however: banks think it’s a bad business decision to give away valuable stuff that they collect and store for free. Start-ups like free stuff that they can turn around and sell.

Both points of view are understandable, but as a general rule, it’s hard to justify robbing Peter to pay Paul. As much as I like start ups, I don’t think they need or deserve a subsidy.

Here’s the real kicker — data is really, really, really valuable:

The clash over personal financial data points to a broader recognition that personal digital records are among the most valuable currencies in the increasingly digital economy.

Dealbook describes some of the ways that data is used to make financial products, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Data is valuable in and of itself — data vendors clean the stuff up and hawk it to hedge funds, insurance companies, banks, etc. and let them figure out what to do with it. You don’t even have to build a beautiful product with data — you just need data.

It’s making more and more sense to force the banks to give this stuff away for free, right?

Dealbook actually puts the commercial dispute front and center, and only then turns to the regulatory angle:

The European authorities have largely decided that consumers, not companies, own the digital records associated with their accounts. As a result, European banks are generally being forced to make it easy for their customers to share their financial data with whomever they choose.

That’s an unfortunate and misleading choice of words. If consumers “owned” their digital records then they would be able to sell them, including to the very banks that create and store them. That’s obviously not the case, since the very next sentence tells us that banks are “generally forced to make it easy . . . to share their financial data.”

It’s more accurate to say that “European authorities have largely decided that European authorities, not companies or consumers, own the digital records associated with customer accounts.”

Not surprisingly, Rob Cordray, lame duck director of the People’s Consumer Liberation Army Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, agrees that he too should own personal financial data, just like European Authorities:

“We recognize that data access makes it possible to realize the many benefits of competition and innovation,” Mr. Cordray said in a speech this month in New York. “We remain concerned about reports of some institutions that may be limiting or restricting access unduly.”

Fortunately, the banks have eschewed expropriation and are pursuing more peaceful ways to resolve questions of ownership, like contracts:

Banks, in the meantime, have taken the initiative by pushing technology companies to accept new agreements on how they use the data they pull from the banks. . .

JPMorgan is hoping to create a dashboard on its website where customers can choose to turn on or off the data flowing from the bank to any outside provider . . .

In January, both JPMorgan and Wells Fargo signed agreements with Intuit — the owner of Mint, TurboTax and QuickBooks — that will give Intuit more streamlined access to data from the banks, in exchange for new rules about how Intuit uses the data.

That dashboard sounds pretty cool, actually.

But, of course, deal making goes in fits and starts, because again, this data is really valuable. Startups have been getting this stuff for free and making piles of money off it, but now banks want to get paid too. I mean, it’s all for the consumers, naturally, but everyone has to keep the lights on, right?

In recent negotiations, including those with Intuit, Wells Fargo has asked to be paid by technology companies that want better access to its data, a sticking point for technology companies that believe data should flow freely.

Mr. Pitts said the payments were intended to help the bank cover the additional infrastructure costs involved in providing real-time access to data.

The negotiations with Yodlee are particularly important because it is the largest so-called data aggregator. Yodlee and a few other data aggregators serve as the middlemen between the banks and the start-ups, pulling the data from the banks and putting it into a form that start-ups like Betterment and Digit can use.

Yodlee is the biggest aggregator, but it has also been the most controversial because of what it does with the data it collects.

In particular, the company has been criticized for taking the billions of credit card transactions running through its pipes and selling them to hedge funds and other investment firms. Investors want to look through the transactions for trading signals, such as any indication that a particular retailer or product is doing better than expected.

The data is digital gold. The banks know it. The startups know it. Even the regulators know it (which is why they want it too).

If you genuinely want the consumers to win, then let the bidding proceed apace and keep the grasping hand of blowhards with no skin in the game regulators out of it.

Technocrats in Baseball

I really loved this Fangraphs interview with Dick Williams, the new General Manager of the Reds. [Side note: Fangraphs is the best specialty news site in the business. If only the real world had counting statistics as reliable as the ones in baseball.]

Williams is totally professional in his approach. He is systematic and thinks in terms of optimizing returns on investment and diminishing risk.

For small market teams, it’s not just about relative payroll:

 Attendance tends to drop off more quickly for small-market teams in a rebuild period and that can have a big effect on revenues. Bigger-market teams… usually have a higher and more solid attendance base, so they can sort of weather the down times a little better.

Risk tolerance is also different:

“A lot of times, when you come out of a rebuild, you’ll start with what you might call ‘go-for-it signings.’ Smaller-market teams have less leeway in terms of hitting or missing on one of those. It’s more painful on a relative basis for us to miss on a big-dollar contract.

Williams also takes a systematic approach to the organization, deferring to decentralized expertise to optimize spend and priorities. The key is reallocating payroll expenses (marginal costs) to organizational investments (fixed costs) for better returns to scale:

We met with each department head and effectively examined where we thought dollars would have a better return on investment than at the major league payroll level. Then we went back to ownership and said, ‘This is our next couple of years, this is what we’d like them to look like, and this is where we’d like to take money out of major-league payroll and put it to use in other areas.’

Not surprisingly, if you’re trying to get more bang for your buck on the finished product (i.e. major league talent), then you need to get in cheaply on the ground floor. That means shifting resources further down the human capital structure and finding competitive advantage where you can, like emerging markets:

The highest dollar amount was allocated to amateur-talent acquisition . . . It was by far — I think it was three times — our largest annual investment. We had a high first-round pick [second overall], we had our biggest draft pool, and the money we spent in the domestic draft was our most ever . . . Internationally, we also exceeded our pool. When you add up our bonuses and penalties in the domestic and international markets, we went further than we’d ever gone. Add all of that together, and you get the highest amateur talent expenditure we’ve had in any year.

Again, on emerging markets, where good local intel offers huge risk/reward:

For the first time, we have a Pacific Rim presence. We have a coordinator who is based on the west coast — he’s in Seattle — and we’ve added an area scout based in Asia. We’re looking to add one more . . . Now, with more players coming out, and the acquisition costs coming down — and the fact that there’s a secondary market for players — there are more opportunities for us. We want to have a lot more information on these players.

Distressed assets too:

We have a plan in place to expand our scouting in Latin America. Like everybody, we’re working on how to be reactive to the situations in Cuba and Venezuela, and what opportunities are going to presented in each. Both have been made difficult, but that could change.

Williams goes on to discuss other investments in lower level coaches, training facilities, medical staff and, of course, analytics. These are all ways to “beef[] up the bottom end of the pyramid” that will ultimately yield better results at the top-end, i.e. the major league roster.

Of course, a tiny plug for the benefits of a relative outsider with good analytic skills, but little domain expertise:

My first job in the game came when I was 35. My jobs before baseball were in investment banking, politics, and finance, so I kind of started fresh with no preconceived notions about how things should be done . . . You can’t build a baseball front office with all people who come from outside the sport, but having someone come in who is willing to challenge the status quo can be a positive. It can help free people up to think outside the box.

Anyway, read the interview. Here is my contribution:

What’s striking (to me) is how much investment bankers and technocrats have in common. They both have a vision for the organization that will optimize returns. Banker/technocrats think systematically and break their organization down into its constituent parts. The most successful banker/technocrats are skilled managers with deep networks.

Most importantly, banker/technocrats determine where to allocate capital, in what amounts and at what cost.

A major difference, of course, is that baseball is walk in the park compared to say, something as complex as THE HEALTHCARE. Baseball is chock full of reliable counting statistics and is backed by relatively stable cartel. Even multibillion dollar mergers are relatively straightforward when compared to POVERTY or TRADE.

Even then it’s still really hard. Executives are basically guessing — educated guesses — but guesses (or wagers) nonetheless. And no one would be foolish enough to guarantee success or *gasp* have a single executive control all the deals, when a single deal is hard enough.

And therein is the biggest difference between i-bankers and technocrats: when executives guess wrong, it’s relatively easy to tell and the consequences are relatively swift. Their team fails to win (or the deal goes south), they get fired. Sometimes it’s bad luck — again, baseball/finance is really hard — but winning is a clear benchmark.

Technocrats, by contrast, don’t even acknowledge that they’re guessing and — even if they admit they’re losing — they just blame the other teams for beating them. What makes the lack of honesty and accountability even worse is that technocrats are gambling with everyone’s health, wages, working conditions, security, etc. (and not just their own team’s).

It’s crazy, if you think about it. Society’s hardest problems are reserved for the firms with the least incentives to solve them. And their services are not take-it-or-leave-it — there is no opt-out, or voluntary participation. That’s not an accident, of course. If there were opt-outs — e.g. a regulated livery (taxis) v. its cheaper unregulated alternative (Uber) — people might realize that “public” services are not nearly as good as their “private” equivalent. That’s not a risk “public” technocrats are willing to take.

 

Absolutely right, but will it be taken seriously?

Copied in full (from Eugene Volokh):

An excellent statement, released Tuesday and written by two leading voices, one on the right and one on the left (though it has also been signed by many other prominent scholars):

The pursuit of knowledge and the maintenance of a free and democratic society require the cultivation and practice of the virtues of intellectual humility, openness of mind, and, above all, love of truth. These virtues will manifest themselves and be strengthened by one’s willingness to listen attentively and respectfully to intelligent people who challenge one’s beliefs and who represent causes one disagrees with and points of view one does not share.

That’s why all of us should seek respectfully to engage with people who challenge our views. And we should oppose efforts to silence those with whom we disagree — especially on college and university campuses. As John Stuart Mill taught, a recognition of the possibility that we may be in error is a good reason to listen to and honestly consider — and not merely to tolerate grudgingly — points of view that we do not share, and even perspectives that we find shocking or scandalous. What’s more, as Mill noted, even if one happens to be right about this or that disputed matter, seriously and respectfully engaging people who disagree will deepen one’s understanding of the truth and sharpen one’s ability to defend it.

None of us is infallible. Whether you are a person of the left, the right, or the center, there are reasonable people of goodwill who do not share your fundamental convictions. This does not mean that all opinions are equally valid or that all speakers are equally worth listening to. It certainly does not mean that there is no truth to be discovered. Nor does it mean that you are necessarily wrong. But they are not necessarily wrong either. So someone who has not fallen into the idolatry of worshiping his or her own opinions and loving them above truth itself will want to listen to people who see things differently in order to learn what considerations — evidence, reasons, arguments — led them to a place different from where one happens, at least for now, to find oneself.

All of us should be willing — even eager — to engage with anyone who is prepared to do business in the currency of truth-seeking discourse by offering reasons, marshaling evidence, and making arguments. The more important the subject under discussion, the more willing we should be to listen and engage — especially if the person with whom we are in conversation will challenge our deeply held — even our most cherished and identity-forming — beliefs.

It is all-too-common these days for people to try to immunize from criticism opinions that happen to be dominant in their particular communities. Sometimes this is done by questioning the motives and thus stigmatizing those who dissent from prevailing opinions; or by disrupting their presentations; or by demanding that they be excluded from campus or, if they have already been invited, disinvited. Sometimes students and faculty members turn their backs on speakers whose opinions they don’t like or simply walk out and refuse to listen to those whose convictions offend their values. Of course, the right to peacefully protest, including on campuses, is sacrosanct. But before exercising that right, each of us should ask: Might it not be better to listen respectfully and try to learn from a speaker with whom I disagree? Might it better serve the cause of truth-seeking to engage the speaker in frank civil discussion?

Our willingness to listen to and respectfully engage those with whom we disagree (especially about matters of profound importance) contributes vitally to the maintenance of a milieu in which people feel free to speak their minds, consider unpopular positions, and explore lines of argument that may undercut established ways of thinking. Such an ethos protects us against dogmatism and groupthink, both of which are toxic to the health of academic communities and to the functioning of democracies.

Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University.

Cornel West is Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy in the Divinity School and the Department of African and African-American Studies at Harvard University.

 

 

Politics of Fear

My Alma Mater sent me an email titled “Hire Ed In The Age of Trump: What It Means For Students of Color.” You would have to click-through to find out, but the email is advertising an event hosted by Marybeth Gasman, who is theFounding Director” of something called the “Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.”

Whatever. It’s their money and they can spend it however they choose.

Nah. I’m going to rant a little.

On principle, if you’re genuinely concerned about inclusion as an institution, then don’t signal to all the world that you’re a proxy for the Progressive Party. I (now) know that the University itself wasn’t asking “what the Age of Trump means for Students of Color?” . . . but the talk is “presented” by the college of Arts & Sciences and it sure seems like a question that UPenn administrators feel is worth asking. In terms of wearing their political affiliation on their proverbial sleeves, they might as well have asked “Why are Republicans so mean and stupid?”

If you think I’m being dramatic, just imagine a comparable headline, for example, “Age of Obama: What it Means for Religious Students?” That at least would have a little substance to it. In “Obama’s America,” the lodestars of righteousness include accessible abortion, gay marriage and apparently an abiding hatred of taxpayer money for private (Catholic) schools. That means being Catholic could get you sued (cake bakers and nuns), fired (Mozilla), investigated, censured and otherwise blacklisted. It’s not far-fetched at all, but it would nonetheless rightly be dismissed as partisan sloganeering that grossly exaggerates both the impact and intent of “Obama’s War on Christians.” Y’now, the kind of stuff that people like Marybeth Gasman and the New York Times editorial board come up with.

More importantly, the answer to Prof. Gasman’s question of “what it all means” is easy: “nothing – absolutely nothing. Go on with your lives exactly as before because literally nothing has changed. There is no ‘Age of Trump.’ That’s a preposterous slogan cooked up by people like Marybeth Gasman and the New York Times editorial board. It exists only within the feverish imagination of activists and partisans who need something to rail against, but rest assured, it’s not actually real.”

But what of the Rising Tide of Hate Crimes?! The white supremacists and the Klan?

The MSM has already taken judicial notice of the fact of “empowered” extremists, but I continue to be skeptical. I certainly haven’t done anything rigorous, but it sure seems like there are way more verified cases of recanted accusations (e.g. here [with a grain of salt]) and false flags (e.g. here) than actual right-on-left hate crimes. My personal favorite is still Jasskirat Saini, who was empowered by Obama [that’s how logic works, right?] to break the swastika record in Nassau County.

So there’s little to no evidence that PoC face any particular threat or that white nationalists have evolved beyond a tiny fringe. There is, however, tons of evidence that the overwhelming majority of people in the country have little tolerance for bigotry based on race, gender, color or creed — see, for example, all the protesters — including President Trump.

But, but, but . . . the Mexican rapist thing?! Nope, that’s a lie. But doesn’t he hate gays? I dunno, ask Peter Thiel. What about Bannon, surely he’s an antisemite?! Nope, that’s a lie too. The Muslim ban?! Sorry, also a lie.

Even if one were to assume the administration and its acolytes are as mean-spirited as say, their adversaries, where exactly is the danger? People are spray-painting swastikas under the cover of darkness? They’re anonymously tweeting jokes about the holocaust? Oh boy, they are emboldened — I can hear the jackboots now . . . if only I could find them.

Plus even the MSM agrees there’s nothing for PoC to really worry about. I mean, if ambushing cops, rioting in three cities, putting on masks to beat and intimidate your political opponents with sticks and pepper spray, breaking swastika records and making JCC bomb threats isn’t a rising tide of Progressive intolerance and hatred empowered by Barack Obama, then who could possibly be concerned by a cartoon frog? I mean, antisemitism wasn’t even a thing until it could be pinned on Trump [and when it couldn’t, the outrage at Jill Stein burned so hot you couldn’t even see it].

So what gives?

Well, many things, but certainly part of the equation is a calculated effort to engage the politics of fear. That’s not a concept that needs much explaining since it’s the well-documented centerpiece of Trump’s playbook. Y’know, the guy who can’t be allowed to win because he’s a fear monger and if he wins the country is going to hell. It’s not complicated stuff, but I’m going to be pedantic anyway, since this is a rant:

  • demonize the other team and specifically accuse them of fear-mongering to capture the moral high ground;
  • feverishly promote your worst fears and biases about the other team;
  • exclusively search for evidence to confirm your worst fears and biases about the other team (and ignore everything else);
  • resist “normalization” that might conflict with your worst fears and biases about the other team;
  • demand that the other team renounce the pogrom they’re secretly planning and then cite their denials as further evidence of the coming pogrom;
  • feverishly prepare for the coming pogrom by, among other things, closing ranks, identifying and censuring the enemies in your midst and hosting academic events titled “The coming pogrom: what it means for the soon-to-be victims of the pogrom”;
  • repeat from the top.

This comes naturally to people, especially when they’re convinced that fear mongering is totally something that only the other team would do because duh, that’s what they’re fighting against. How can I be a bigot when I’m on the anti-bigot team?!

I think it comes really naturally to statists like Progressives because that is after all what the Progressive state is about: good people protecting gentle people from mean people. Vote for us because the racists and the sexists and the homophobes are out there and they’re gonna gitchyou! Vote for us because the wolves of Wall Street and the greedy money lenders are out there and they’re gonna gitchyou! Vote for us because the polluters and the plunderers are out there and they’re gonna gitchyou! Vote for us because the slumlords are out there and they’re gonna gitchyou!

I’m being impolite, but I don’t think I’m exaggerating. The whole point of the Progressive state is that it’s publicly interested, altruistic and good, as opposed to non-state actors that are privately interested, selfish and bad. You can debate the extent to which that dichotomy us meaningful, but you can’t really debate that it’s ripe for fear-mongering.

If you’re specialty is fighting injustice, then you need injustice to avoid being out of a job. You’re going to look for it hard and you’re going to see it everywhere you can. Can you imagine something like the Center for Minority Serving Institutions announcing that it was shuttering its doors because there was no more injustice left to fight? Or a federal agency? “We’ve looked into it, and we conclude that there simply aren’t enough civil rights violations to justify the continuing existence of a Civil Rights Division of the DOJ. So, we’re all going to become regular people with day jobs. Mission Accomplished!” Nope. Making that observation is likely to get you branded a racist, for example, suggesting the Voting Rights Act has outlived its original mandate.

Anyway, what’s my point? I dunno, this is a rant, so I lost track.

I suppose part of the point is that this is yet another instance of Progressives looking in the mirror, seeing Trump and freaking out in horror. There is only so much hypocrisy an anonymous blogger can take before he takes to the blogosphere!

That Progressives are terrified by their own reflection is amusing. Is it concerning? I guess a little, insofar as they still haven’t made the connection yet and by all indications they appear to be doubling-down. It would be nice to see a “call to action” against pepper-spraying old men in MAGA hats or assembling a mob to physically intimidate people you disagree with. It would be really nice to see a fraction of the intellectual gymnastics devoted to finding and fighting “intersectional” discrimination dedicated to finding and fighting viewpoint discrimination (which requires far less intellectual gymnastics to find and fight).

To be clear, I don’t want to overstate Progressive intolerance anymore than I want to overstate Richard Spencer. I do think monoculture and viewpoint diversity are real problems. I think they are especially problematic when coupled with the administrative creep (both public and quasi-public) on campuses and in the workplace. But on the whole, I think most Progressives (or Democrats) genuinely favor viewpoint diversity and recognize that the status quo could be improved. It’s not really their priority and they’re likely to downplay the issue, but other than at the margins, I think non-Progressive viewpoints are generally safe — if not in the academy, then elsewhere. I also think that violence is not really the Progressive weapon of choice, but again, combating (their own) violence is not a strong priority.

Liberals that still remain part of the Progressive coalition ought to be concerned though. If you’re genuinely committed to fighting intolerance (and not just elevating the stature of certain groups at the expense of others) then it should bother you that your coalition seems totally blind to the closest thing resembling an actual “rising tide of intolerance.” It should bother you that antisemitism only exists when white supremacists are the suspects, or that “rape culture” only exists when frat boys are the suspects. You might even wonder whether Team Anti-Bigot is still really the anti-bigot team.

[Update: Credit where credit is due: mild condemnation from Peter Beinart. According to Beinart, bigotry is commonplace among Conservatives, so if campuses policed bigotry, Conservatives would have nothing left to say. And that’s bad, right? Because sometimes even Democrats agree with stuff that Conservatives say and then campuses might censure the good team too. Or something.]