Autocracy Really Rising Now . . .

I wasn’t ready to ring the alarm bells over the European crackdown on political dissidents, but it seems like the ruling elite mean business:

From the New York Times:

In a coordinated campaign across 14 states, the German police on Tuesday raided the homes of 36 people accused of hateful postings over social media, including threats, coercion and incitement to racism.

Most of the raids concerned politically motivated right-wing incitement, according to the Federal Criminal Police Office, whose officers conducted home searches and interrogations. But the raids also targeted two people accused of left-wing extremist content, as well as one person accused of making threats or harassment based on someone’s sexual orientation.

“The still high incidence of punishable hate posting shows a need for police action,” Holger Münch, president of the Federal Criminal Police Office, said in a statement. “Our free society must not allow a climate of fear, threat, criminal violence and violence either on the street or on the internet.”

So, 36 people had their homes raided by police in a “coordinated campaign.” 34 of the victims were guilty of saying mean things about Team Left and 2 of them were guilty of saying mean things about Team Right. Goooo Diversity!

This comes as the Germans are debating even more “crackdowns” on wrong-think that will require tech companies to do their dirty work for them, or else!

The raids come as Germans are debating the draft of a new social media law aimed at cracking down on hate speech, a measure that an array of experts said was unconstitutional at a parliamentary hearing on Monday.

The measure, championed by Justice Minister Heiko Maas for passage this month, would fine Facebook, Twitter and other outlets up to $53 million (50 million euros) if they failed to remove hate speech and other forms of illegal content.

Under German law, social media users are subject to a range of punishments for posting illegal material, including a prison sentence of up to five years for inciting racial hatred.

Under the draft statute, networks must offer a readily available complaint process for posts that may amount to threats, hate speech, defamation, or incitement to commit a crime, among other offenses.

Social media outlets would have 24 hours to delete “obviously criminal content” and a week to decide on more ambiguous cases. The law, approved by Germany’s cabinet in April, would be enforced with fines of up to $53 million.

Let’s hope those “experts” are right about the constitutionality of the law, but it seems as though things have already gotten out of hand.

In case you need a reminder of how the politics of “hate” work, when a Muslim girl is brutally raped and murdered on her way home from mosque, it is a suspected hate crime . . . until the perpetrator is discovered to be an illegal immigrant from El Salvador, and then it becomes “road rage” by a “22 year old construction worker from Sterling.” NOTHING TO SEE HERE! Whew. What a relief. Just road rage . . .

Google announced that it too was going to step up its efforts to curb “extremism” online. Not to worry, Google won’t outright ban merely “offensive” content, but it does block advertising, promoting, commenting or other forms of engagement.

And A.G. Eric Schneiderman is adding Pro-Life protesters to his list of political enemies to destroy, along with tech entrepreneurs, scientists, and of course, Donald Trump.

Democracy dies in the darkness . . . is apparently the strategy.

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Autocracy Rising, Europe Edition

It’s hard to get a real sense of the magnitude of the issue from afar, but it seems like thought-crimes are on the rise in Europe. So-called “hate speech” laws have been predictably deployed to censure dissident views, particularly on hotly contested issues — like immigration, which just so happens to be one of the most hotly contested issues in Europe (and everywhere in the West).

But hey, why debate the merits of immigration when you can just make criticizing immigrants illegal?

From the UK (in a story from last year):

The number of people being arrested for “online crimes of speech” have increased dramatically in London.

While arrests for aggressive, threatening or hateful speech on social media declined between 2010 and 2013, the numbers rose last year.

According to the Register, a total of 2,500 Londoners have been arrested over the past five years for allegedly sending “offensive” messages via social media. In 2015, 857 people were detained, up 37 per cent increase since 2010.

. . .

The legislation has been used to arrest Twitter users responsible for racist hate speech. According to Vocativ, among many recently arrested was a Scottish citizen who had posted hate speech about Syrian refugees on his Facebook page.

I mean, imagine if the police started systematically arresting BLM activists for saying nasty things online.

And more recently, the Cheshire police took a moment from its busy terror investigation to warn people that hurting the wrong people’s feelings is illegal:

“We would remind all social media users to think carefully about what they are saying before posting messages online,” the force warns.

“Although you may believe your message is acceptable, other people may take offence, and you could face a large fine or up to two years in prison if your message is deemed to have broken the law.”

From The Netherlands (courtesy of the New York Times):

A Dutch court on Thursday convicted 20 people of sexist and racist online hate speech directed against a black politician and media personality, in a case that many here saw as an indictment of the ostensible culture of tolerance in the Netherlands.

Twenty-two people were charged with harassing the politician, Sylvana Simons, though she said in a complaint that she had received abusive comments from 40,000 internet users. One defendant, who received 80 hours of community service, the day’s harshest sentence, was accused of digitally adding Ms. Simons’s face to a video of Ku Klux Klan members lynching people. . .

The court said it had focused on prosecuting those who had made the worst comments and whose identities could be ascertained.

“Freedom of opinion is great, especially if it fits into a social debate,” the court said in a statement. “But when this opinion is an insult, threat, riot or discrimination, there is a criminal offense.”

The court added that it hoped the sentences would have a “deterring effect.”

Ms. Simons, 46, was born in Suriname and raised in the Netherlands, where she gained prominence as a television and radio presenter. In testimony, she said she had become a target online after announcing her candidacy for the pro-immigrant party Denk.

I’m sure they do hope for a “deterring effect,” but that’s kind of the problem.

In Sweden:

Authorities in Sweden are prosecuting a 70-year-old woman for a hate crime . . .

As refugees poured into the country in 2015, the woman charged with a hate crime wrote a Facebook post that said migrants “set fire to cars, and urinate and defecate on the streets,” according to FriaTider, an online magazine.

Again, these are anecdotes relayed by highly motivated narrators (although, in the case of the Times, their motivations run the other way), so I’m not prepared to ring any alarm bells. But, I haven’t seen anyone actually contesting these accounts — and it’s not like there aren’t already enormous social and cultural costs to wrong-think (putting aside legal ones).

But isn’t hate speech bad? Do we really need to defend racists?

That’s kind of besides the point. Once we start putting certain speech off limits, the self-serving temptation to expand the category of off-limit speech is way too tempting for any healthy free society. It’s cheeky for sure, but this chart illustrates the point nicely:

“Hate speech” turns the kulturekampf into a one-way street. We can diminish the relative stature of your tribe (and elevate ours), but if you flip the script, we’re going to send you to jail. The other tribe isn’t going to put up with that for long.

Valid Criticisms of Trump / Let’s Hope We’re Not a One-Party Country

The American Affairs Journal, the self-appointed ideological caretaker of Trump’s populism, has published a statement of policy . . . and it’s gawdawful. It might be summarized as “reclaiming populism from the Democratic Party” or “We Want Our Progressive Movement Back!” If you look closely, you can almost see Matt Yglesias’ fat bald head staring back at you. As the editors point out, Bernie Trump is their real hero:

Throughout 2016, the media presented both Trump and Sanders as essentially lunatics. The former was supposed to be seen as evil and the latter adorable, but neither was supposed to be taken seriously. Yet it was they who addressed the serious concerns of the electorate.

Anyways, some highlights:

On Trade:

Trade: Trade policy is a key area of focus for us and a broad topic that includes everything from tariffs to monetary policy and more . . . At bottom, however, rethinking trade means rethinking the theoretical foundations of economics and moving beyond the textbook abstractions that have justified decades of failed policy.

Um, I think the “textbook abstractions” are the ones where government officials tweak a rate there and a tariff here and *BEEP BOOP BOP* like an engine, THE Economy springs back to life. What’s not an abstraction is that it’s dumb to tax the entire country in order to subsidize a few special interests.

On Healthcare:

Health care: In general, we support universal health care administered by the government. This could involve an outright “single-payer” system—which we have no ideological objection to—or something like a “Swiss system” . . . The government should also take a much clearer role in controlling costs and setting prices for procedures and prescription drugs . . .

Conservatives’ insistence on “private” health care is at this point purely ideological and counterproductive. We have not had a “free market” health care system in this country for decades, and obscuring that fact only makes it more difficult to improve the system. Today’s small cartel of health insurers no longer offers any meaningful market in the choice of health insurance, which for most people is chosen by their employer anyway. In most circumstances, the choice of actual medical care is hardly governed by market principles.

Yeesh. “Setting prices” does not “control costs.” It never has and it never will because prices are not costs. Prices are dynamic signals: to entrepreneurs they whisper “supply here,” and to consumers “demand here.” If you mess with those signals, then you just confuse people and the result is shortages and surpluses, i.e. supply untethered from demand. Again, it’s like the lobsters and the herring (or starvation and disease in Venezuela) — these problems are way too complicated for any central decisionmaker to grasp, let alone solve. As Poppa Milton once said, if you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there’d be a shortage of sand.

The editors are at least correct that “we have not had a ‘free market’ health care system in this country for decades.” However, their solution — total government ownership of the healthcare industry — is lunacy that betrays their own ignorance of the “theoretical foundations of economics” they claim to “rethink.”

On Financial Regulation:

Financial regulation: Financial regulation is by nature complex and difficult to summarize, though we support measures such as the elusive “Glass-Steagall for the 21st Century” and the closing of the “carried-interest loophole.” The deregulation that occurred during the Clinton and Bush administrations has rightly been blamed for contributing to the financial crisis, but trade and other imbalances contributed to the expansion of the financial industry and its bubbles as well.

Durrr, it sure is complicated but one thing we know for certain is that regulations (that we can’t explain) definitely, 100% would have stopped a financial crisis (that we also can’t explain). ‘Nuff said. Bernie Trump! Goldman Sachs, rawwwr!

On Immigration:

Immigration: Although it has become something of a cliché, we favor a “Canadian” approach to immigration. Streamlining high-skill immigration while limiting low-skill—and eliminating illegal—immigration offers one means to support wage growth.

It’s only partly terrible, and again, the rationale is stupid. “Wage growth” in isolation is just cost growth and making things more expensive will cannibalize any perceived increases to income. Imagine if New York City made it illegal for non-native New Yorkers to work in New York City — now, consider how much more expensive financial services would be at that point (before the whole industry finally moved to a different part of the country leaving hollowed out factories sky scrapers behind). You don’t have to think hard — financial services are already incredibly expensive given the currently regulatory barriers to entry. Productivity is what you’re shooting for, i.e. making the pie bigger, and not scarfing a larger slice of the pie. When the salt of the earth complains that healthcare costs too much they can blame the healthcare labor cartels who only wanted their turn at “wage growth.”

As for the stuff I skipped, there are bits on taxes (make them simpler and more protectionist), infrastructure (build it), tech (army gizmos) and foreign policy (America First). Only the last (and sorta the first/second) is a coherent view, but query whether it’s a prudent one.

The editors conclude with a somewhat muddled love/hate rant about technocracy, but if I were to summarize, it’s: “Let’s geographically reorient progressive statism around the Unite States — the folks right here — rather than the United City-States of New York, Paris, London, San Francisco, Berlin and Brussels.”

The wonk’s conceit is that “politics” is simply a matter of tinkering with administrative arcana, a pastime best reserved for former or aspiring bureaucrats and lobbyists. The “policy innovation” preferred by the wonk mistakes complexity for seriousness and masks a fundamental affirmation of the status quo. Proposals for tweaking interstate barber licensing requirements or altering the opt-in clauses of health savings accounts, for instance, are ultimately as inconsequential as they are soporific. They are excuses to justify think-tank donations more than anything else . . .

The new “populism” has identifiable legislative commitments, yet its radicalism resides not in implausible policy demands but in a new intellectual outlook. It is about recognizing that the ideological categories of Right and Left are no longer relevant to the essential questions of the present. It is about recognizing that today’s economy has little in common with Adam Smith’s capitalism and that there is no longer a straightforward policy choice between the “free market” and “government intervention.”

It is about recognizing that leaving the people out of decision making results in a more fragile and dangerous politics. The choice is not between the apolitical individualism of universal consumerism and the ever-shifting narratives of identity politics. These are merely different sides of the same globalist, neoliberal coin. The true alternative is the reconstitution of a common American citizenship that stands in contrast to both. The essential task is the redefinition of the American people’s distinctive interests in the present, and their unique hopes for the future.

Donald Trump is and always has been a Democrat, i.e. a statist. He terrifies the Democratic party because (among other things) he’s reclaiming their brutish playbook for its original constituency and geographic locale. Democrats can’t really argue with any of these policies, so to oppose Trump, they’re forced to admit that they really, really don’t like his constituency. “The policies work, they’re just not for you, you ugly, no good nationalist patriots. Borders are so last century. Global cantons are where it’s at and we’ll never let you in our cities anyway!”

When both coalitions are essentially Leftist/statist in their outlook, that’s bad news bears for liberals.

Just some links and thoughts . . .

1.  Freedom-Fighting Isn’t Free

For those who believe that the only just path forward for Palestinian Arabs is turning Judea into a third independent Palestinian Arab state, here is another reminder that not all “peoples” realize their dreams of self-determination.

But, you reply, at least the Biafrans get to be minority citizens in a majoritarian/authoritarian regime, with the privilege of being dominated by a majority that loathes them! Palestinian Arabs, by contrast, are citizens of no country (ever since Jordan rescinded their citizenship) and that’s just the pits! Well sure, Jordan should give them their citizenship back. But more broadly, I think most people would choose disenfranchisement in a country like Israel over the franchise in many parts of the world . . . and lots of Africans, Central Asians and Latin Americans agree with me. That doesn’t mean it’s all roses, but the lack of citizenship/self-determination is hardly the humanitarian crisis it’s made out to be — particularly for Palestinian Arabs, who have no shortage of places to enjoy majority status.

So why all the fighting? Well, here’s another reminder that conflict will persist for as long as conflict pays — and at the end of Obama’s Long Arch of Justice, conflict currently pays handsomely. “The Occupation” is just the tail that (most recently) wags the dog:

The money that the Palestinian Authority pays to reward terrorists now amounts to seven percent of the PA’s approximately annual $4 billion dollar budget. Over 20 percent of the annual foreign financial aid that the PA receives is now dedicated to the salaries of imprisoned terrorists as well as to the salaries of prisoners who are released from prison. Released Palestinian terrorists continue to receive salaries for terrorism, as do the families of those who died in their “struggle against Zionism.” The total payment was roughly 1.5 billion shekels for fiscal year of 2016.

Money is fungible, folks. The international technocracy has blood on its hands. At least private companies get something tangible in return when they deal with terrorists, like oil or minerals. What does the UN get? The satisfaction of a life well led?

My definition of evil is the spread between perceived goodness and actual goodness. International technocrats are pure evil.

2. A Lobster is a lobster is a lobster

Bloomberg published a truly action-packed piece on the surplus of lobsters in Maine. It rings a bunch of my favorite bells:

(a) Unwitting progressive bias: The tragedy of the commons is misconstrued as an argument against freer markets, but it’s precisely the opposite: the commons are over-fished because there is too little private ownership, i.e. rights to excludeIn those conditions, conservation faces the same freeloading problem that plagues all “shared” ownership regimes.

(b) Regulation as cartelization: If independent lobstermen colluded to set shared rules for their catches, they would run afoul of antitrust laws. That collusion doesn’t go away just because those shared rules gain regulatory imprimatur — and yes it’s the industry (not the technocrats) that came up with the rules. It’s just that sometimes there are exceptions to the rule that anticompetitive behavior is more bad than good. Finding those rare exceptions is the correct way to think about regulation, with the burden of proof properly borne by the regulator-proponent of the exception.

(c) Complexity and unpredictability of Patterns of Sustainable Specialization and Trade (and here): The unintended consequences of a lobster boon has been a spike in Herring demand (and Herring prices). Not only has that hurt the lobster bottom line, it has effected markets outside the lobster community, up and down the Atlantic coast. It has also set in motion processes far away from the locus of lobster-fishing to drive down the cost of herring and/or increase the supply. In other words, the would-be Minister of Lobster Fishing, with her Harvard PhD in Technocracy, wouldn’t stand a chance against the decentralized processes that actually “manage” THE economy.

3. Emboldened by Obama

While the Lefty coalition continues to grapple with its increasingly violent and intimidating rank and file, there is finally (and tragically) some evidence that white ethnocentrists are becoming violent, as well. This white nationalist, however, was a Bernie supporter. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

4. Schrodinger’s Cat Is Alive! I Just Know It!

Self-parody and the climate culture wars. Complexity is a fact of life. You can oversimplify for a bit, but eventually you will lose all credibility with people who are not already primed to agree with you. The best way to create a united front against climate change would be to concede that the issue is quite complicated, but that the risks of ignoring the least charitable interpretations of the evidence are very high. That strategy, however, is inconsistent with the broader needs of political coalitions to remain ideologically steadfast and concede nothing.

Americans Becoming A Punchline?

I’ve written previously that politics — and human behavior generally — is in large part a status game: we care a lot about the way we’re perceived by other people (and ourselves). As Adam Smith observed with respect to charity, our actions are fueled by a desire to be regarded as “lovely.” In politics, we want to be perceived as “better” than the other team. More broadly, we do all kinds of things that are basically performative: look at me, aren’t I smart, wise, trustworthy, funny, cool, confident, modest, etc.? There’s nothing wrong with that — signalling can be functional and rewarding — but of course, sometimes the tail wags the dog (i.e. “virtue signalling”).

Anyways, conventional wisdom has it that the Left has the market cornered on international political status. In other words, one of the upsides of being on the American Team Left, is that folks in far away places hold you in higher esteem. “We sure are embarrassed by Bush Trump, but at least we brought you Obama, amiright?” I remember when folks were so bullish on the status power of leftism that they believed Obama would bring peace to the Middle East, simply by repairing our “bad” reputation cultivated by W.

Overconfidence notwithstanding, there is something rewarding about external validation. In the Left’s debate with the Right, the Left can say “well, everyone else thinks we’re totally better, so boo on you.”

That’s why it’s a good thing for the Lefty psyche that lefties don’t know much about China. It appears (in an article I am taking at face value) that lefties have become something of a punchline in the world’s most populous country:

If you look at any thread about Trump, Islam or immigration on a Chinese social media platform these days, it’s impossible to avoid encountering the term baizuo (白左), or literally, the ‘white left’. It first emerged about two years ago, and yet has quickly become one of the most popular derogatory descriptions for Chinese netizens to discredit their opponents in online debates.

Why is baizuo such a take down? Let the internet tell you:

A thread on “why well-educated elites in the west are seen as naïve “white left” in China” on Zhihu, a question-and-answer website said to have a high percentage of active users who are professionals and intellectuals, might serve as a starting point.

The question has received more than 400 answers from Zhihu users, which include some of the most representative perceptions of the ‘white left’. Although the emphasis varies, baizuo is used generally to describe those who “only care about topics such as immigration, minorities, LGBT and the environment” and “have no sense of real problems in the real world”; they are hypocritical humanitarians who advocate for peace and equality only to “satisfy their own feeling of moral superiority”; they are “obsessed with political correctness” to the extent that they “tolerate backwards Islamic values for the sake of multiculturalism”; they believe in the welfare state that “benefits only the idle and the free riders”; they are the “ignorant and arrogant westerners” who “pity the rest of the world and think they are saviours”.

Sick burn, broheim.

It turns out the Chinese netizens regard lefties with the same contempt as American netizens. To put it mildly, the baizu have the widest possible gap between their self-perceived righteousness and their actual righteousness. At least Don Quixote had the cojones to strap on armor and a sword, even if he was blindly tilting at windmills (and mixing cultural metaphors). The baizu are decidedly not lovable losers.

What’s really interesting is that the Chinese are throwing shade from the peanut gallery — they’ve got no real skin in the game when it comes to this left-right debate — they just think the Left is dumb . . . and making America look bad:

However, Chinese netizens’ fierce attacks against the ‘white left’ seem curiously devoid of experiential motivation, since all these problems that conservatives in the west are concerned about – immigration, multiculturalism, minority rights, and affirmative actions – are largely unknown to Chinese society . . . The stigmatization of the ‘white left’ is driven first and foremost by Chinese netizens’ understanding of ‘western’ problems. It is a symptom and weakness of the Other.

Well, at least we can look forward to the New York Times editorial about how Trump is lifting America’s reputation in China, by far our greatest geopolitical rival.

Ha, no. If the data don’t fit the model, throw ’em out. Better yet, make up new data because the Left is nothing, if not sheltered and parochial:

In May 2016, Amnesty International published their survey results indicating that the most welcoming country for refugees was China. Leaving the reliability of its sample and methodology aside, this finding was not at all taken as a compliment in the Chinese media. Global Times conducted their own online survey in response to Amnesty’s claim, and the results were quite the opposite: 90.3% said ‘no’ to the question ‘would you accept refugees in your own household?’ and 79.6% said ‘no’ to the question ‘would you accept refugees in your city, or would you like to be neighbours with refugees?’. Ironically, Amnesty’s portrayal of China as a welcoming country for displaced people was even read by some netizens as part of a foreign conspiracy, intended to pressure the Chinese government to accept more refugees. A senior researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences commented that this survey was “weird” and seemed to “incite citizens against the government.”

So, Amnesty International made a tried and true appeal to vanity: “even the Chinese think admitting refugees is the right thing to do. See, righties? Everyone agrees we’re right!” However, back in China, not only were the results of Amnesty’s survey facially preposterous, they were interpreted as an insult: “how dumb do you think we are?! Some kind of baizuo?! As if!”

To be clear, this is not just about immigration or refugees. The Chinese seemed to have captured the zeitgeist of American politics perfectly (perhaps a bit too perfectly):

Following the debates in the US, a number of other issues such as welfare reforms, affirmative action and minority rights were introduced into online discussions on the ‘white left’. Baizuo critics now began to identify Obama and Clinton as the new epitome of the ‘white left’, despite the fact that they were neither particularly humanitarian nor particularly kind to migrants. Trump was taken as the champion of everything the ‘white left’ were against, and baizuo critics naturally became his enthusiastic supporters.

So, the Left claims that Trump and his supporters don’t like people of color. Trump and his supporters say that it has nothing to do with people of color and everything to do with the baizuo morons running things into the ground. The Chinese have surveyed the field and their ruling is in: Trump and his supporters are right. Now it’s the Right’s turn to gloat: “See, Lefties, even the Chinese agree that if any skin color is under attack, it’s white, which even you’d agree, is a proxy for the governing elite. Stop calling us racists and just admit that the problem is you, assholes.”

Personally, I’ve always maintained that establishment opposition to Trump is more about the diminished stature of the establishment than anything else. It seems even the Chinese agree with me.

The rest of the article, which purports to explore why the Chinese (yes, ALL the Chinese) are so critical of baizuo, isn’t that interesting. It does, however, reveal the biases of the author, which are decidedly to the left (giving me a bit more comfort to take its findings at face value). To summarize, the Chinese perceive baizuo as precipitating and hastening the demise of Western Civilization because the Chinese are afflicted with “a kind of brutal, demoralized pragmatism in post-socialist China.” They make the mistake of sharing values like “living within your means” and they erroneously believe that inequality is an “inevitable consequence of economic growth, and that inequality is unlikely to give rise to political or social unrest.”

Stupid Chinese with their cool-headed pragmatism — how dare they be at ease with basic economic principles?! Don’t they know the baizuo will whip the less fortunate into a jealous rage that will require more baizou policies just to keep the peace? It’s the downward spiral of civilization that’s inevitable, not inequality!

I guess that’s why the Chinese censor the internet.

If the Chinese take over the world, does that mean McCarthy was right all along?

Whither the Oregon Trail

One of the self-inflicted wounds of anti-immigrant sentiment for the unfashionable working class (i.e. native working class) is the lowering in status of immigrant, or pioneer, narratives. Discussing his book, The Complacent Class, with Russ Roberts, Tyler Cowen describes the immigrant mentality (and its decline) as follows (h/t Kling for the transcription):

In a lot of the late 19th century it’s not even clear according to the numbers that our rate of productivity growth was always so high. Yet American society was not complacent. We had a frontier mentality, an immigrant mentality; we were very likely to move across state lines; we were willing to accept a lot of risk. And that in turn helped us later on, get the rate of productivity growth up higher. But I see today it’s a culture where younger people are more willing to keep on living with their parents, less interested in buying a car, more likely to aspire to being on Disability as a kind of future . . .

Cowen is obviously troubled by contemporary complacency and I agree with him.

Of course, one way to cultivate a more pioneering esprit de corps is to venerate the stories of pioneers: folks who leave discomfort behind to forge a new future in the great unknown, relying on hard work, perseverance, ingenuity and gumption. Some of the best contemporary (and historical) examples of this ethos are, of course, immigrants. However, to the extent immigrants become politically toxic (for reasons unrelated to the pioneering ethos) their stories become toxic, as well. In other words, no matter how much one might admire the rags-to-riches moxie of Yousef the grocer, it’s impossible to provide an account of Yousef’s journey without triggering outrage at “globalization” (and some of Yousef’s other defining features).

Now, neither anti-immigrant sentiment nor the native working class are solely to blame for the diminished stature of a pioneer mentality. What’s really problematic, I think, is that all the various iterations of the pioneer story have taken a beating from one political tribe or another. Call it, pioneering for me, but not for thee. The net result is very few pioneers to cheer for and that’s not good.

Let me explain.

The Blue Collar Frontier?

Consider the 20th century domestic working class pioneer. Nope. You can’t because there isn’t one. For years, the native working class (with the help of the Progressive elite) have relied on symbols and statistics like empty factories and fired workers to make it clear that pioneering is not an option. In this mythology, the greatest virtue is “saving” jobs — keeping the local widget factory open and protecting it from the evil corporate conglomerate.

Naturally, what is invariably missing from these dreary pictures of industrial ghost towns is an account of what happens to everyone when they leave. Heaven forbid a G.M. plant worker loses her job in Detroit for a better one in Toyota Tennessee. Perhaps one ghost town was replaced by an even better boom town in a neighboring state? The Progressive narrator never follows the working man to the end of his story (because the story is, after all, not about the working man, but about his Progressive champion).

For example, Tommy Boy is heroic for keeping his family-run, break pad factory both in the family and local — not for leading his employees, like Joseph Smith, Feivel the Mouse or Anne Hutchinson, to greener pastures. Quite the contrary, even suggesting as much makes one a villain and a traitor. Y’know, like scabs and private equity firms and other change agents. [Later, when the better, more urban and multicultural working class enters the picture, closed factories (which make no sense in coastal enclaves) are replaced by discrimination and “hostile” work environments as the salient evils (and the interventions shift accordingly).]

I don’t mean to trivialize the cost and the trauma of losing one’s job and having to move. It’s really not a great position to be in. That being said, it remains the case that sometimes it’s better to move than to stay. If, for example, housing becomes too expensive, people should move to cheaper neighborhoods. If jobs dry up because of innovation or other changed economics, people should seek out new opportunities elsewhere. If old skills become obsolete, people should endeavor to learn new ones. You’re fooling yourself if you think price controls make a thing less scarce. (They, in fact, do precisely the opposite).

If, however, you suggest that people ought to move if they lose their job or if their housing becomes too expensive, the cultural elite look at you like a heartless monster. Which is weird, because the same cultural elite pride themselves on their mobility and cosmopolitan flair, but I suppose the unwashed masses are too delicate to have new experiences or move to the suburbs.

To be fair, all of that dynamism is harder for the working class, but it’s partly their own fault. It’s what happens when policy makers put a premium on stasis, i.e. keeping one’s job (and staying in one place) above all else. It should be obvious, but if workers are harder to fire, then they become riskier to hire. Anti-discrimination law, disability law, and labor cartel protections (to name just a few interventions) all function to freeze workers in place, including unemployed workers. Likewise, policies like employer-based healthcare and union seniority rules put an even greater premium on the bird-in-hand (relative to the two in the bush). The same goes for rent-control and tenant “protections” — these are lock-in mechanisms that lock-in the haves and lock-out the have-nots. [Again, keeping future workers out of the workforce was the stated intention of the early Progressives; now their stated intention is to replace past workers.]

The point is that the working class pioneer story is culturally toast, done in jointly by the Progressive elite and the native working class (e.g. Unions! Roar!), and then later by the Progressive elite and the new and improved working class (e.g. Discrimination! Wah!). It never really existed in the first place and it’s not likely to start now because policies have made the tale of woe (e.g., losing one’s home/job) something of a self-fulfilled prophesy. Plus, the cultural elite is unlikely to revisit their narrative as “defenders” of the working class any time soon. Tinkerers, builders and homesteaders might have some cultural purchase, but by and large, pioneer inspiration won’t come from the working class.

Immigrants, Settlers and . . . Colonialists?

What about the immigrant pioneer story?

Well, as noted above, the native working class doesn’t care for it much at this point. In theory, the Progressive elite ought to be championing immigrant stories, but while they like immigrants, they don’t care much for pioneering, i.e. success by hard work, perseverance, ingenuity and gumption. If you think that stuff is important, you’re a racist. I’m not exaggerating. According to the Washington Post, you’re racist if you believe that “racial inequalities today are a result of . . . personal lack of effort and irresponsibility” as opposed to “social bias.” Similarly, according to university administrators, it’s a microagression to say that “everyone can succeed in this society, if they work hard enough.” Progressive immigrant stories are books like Americanah, which is actually about how terrible it is to be an immigrant — spoiler alert: the protagonists find happiness in their native Nigeria.

Neo-liberals, which I understand to be ideologically confused members of the governing class who really just want to be friends with both Team Hard Work (liberals) and Team Unfair (Progressives), used to have a version of the immigrant pioneer story, but they’ve taken a cultural and political hit lately and are being forced to choose sides. In the Age of Obama, they swooned for Progressives and they’re finding it hard to say “well, on second thought, maybe hard work is a virtue.”

What about the actual pioneers, like Davey Crockett, and Cowboys and Indians, and the Colonial Americans?

That still has some purchase in flyover country, but the Progressive elite really hate that stuff. Again, hard work and perseverance don’t mean shit because discrimination is everything. Everyone knows that the founding fathers, the pioneers and the greatest generation built their wealth on the backs of slaves, indigenous peoples and redlining. Progressives have worked really hard to rewrite America’s pioneer founding myth; or rather, delete it entirely, including its symbols and its heroes. It is rather more culturally chic to be ashamed of America’s founding than anything else. As the New York Review of Books notes:

Indeed, for decades now, much of the historiography of the founding has presented a complex story, exploring the many ways in which the Revolution, and the people who made it, fell far short of sharing with all people the Spirit of 1776’s indictment of tyranny and calls for liberty and equality.

As with immigrant virtue, on the founding myth front, Progressives were able to drag the Neo-liberals with them (because the long arch of history favors the governing class). In general, stories with white heroes (which describes the majority of American founding stories) are culturally verboten. And if you deign to tell a story about Fredrick Douglass, it better not be how he loved the 2nd Amendment. Same goes with Booker T. Washington and his whole “self reliance” and entrepreneurship thing.

Even modern day urban pioneers get the heel. They’re called gentrifiers and they’re bad for bringing growth to poorly developed areas (which is strange, because they were also bad for perpetrating “white flight” just a few decades ago). Like the native working class tale of woe, when it comes to gentrification, the only image we see are the people displaced and priced out of their homes and shops. Where do they go? No one knows or cares because the important thing is that no one should be allowed to leave or move or go anywhere or change anything! Native citizens have rights to freeze time (so their governing elite can rule in perpetuity)! (Unless you’re a white native citizen, in which case, go to hell, you xenophobic racist asshole.) And urban bourgeois have those same rights too, but y’know, this is really about the PoC!

What about in other parts of the West, like, Israel for example?

Like the U.S., pioneering has (or had) an important place in Israeli culture and the Israeli founding myth. Now, thanks to Progressive reeducation, “settlers” is an epithet and Israel’s founding myth is literally just a myth to cover up exploitation and cruelty. Israelis ought to be ashamed for interfering with the indigenous Arabs’ dream for a homogeneous ethno-religious patrimonial enclave. The start-up nation hangs on to its mythology ever so slightly, literally, with its start ups, but it won’t be long before those get the “capitalist exploitation” treatment from the people’s champs.

Stasis You Can Believe In

So what’s left? Not much.

The 20th century native working class never really had a pioneer story to lose.

Tech entrepreneurship still has some clout, but even the embittered urban bourgeoisie are starting to turn on tech as they realize it’s hard to become a billionaire. It’s easy, by contrast, to say tech bros are being mean to you and treated you so unfairly and isn’t Uber just the worst?! “Whistleblowing” is rapidly gaining more cultural purchase than actually building a company.

Immigration stood a chance insofar as it was the one pioneer story that the Progressive cultural elite could get behind, but now that’s ruined.

Similarly, the American founding myth, including the founding fathers, the greatest generation, and even the first wave 20th century European immigrants (e.g. Feivels) used to be relatively safe territory, but that’s no longer the case either. It’s gotten to the point where elevating the stature of hard work and perseverance is itself racist, regardless of who the hero happens to be.

Finding inspiration abroad isn’t possible because that fight is now just colonialists v. indigenous peoples. I mean, can you imagine if one were to suggest (as I do frequently) that the American native working class start setting up shop in North Africa, the Middle East or India (the way North Africans, Middle Easterners and Indians are encouraged to set up shop in the West)? Yes, the native working class talked themselves out of that years ago, but even if they tried, they would be run out of town and Progressives would cheer every step of the way. There is no high cultural dais for Westerners going East to find their fortune. Quite the contrary, that is extremely low status stuff that is left exclusively to oil companies and the Blackwaters of the world.

To my eyes, the pioneer story has lost nearly all of its cultural purchase, which means people are much less likely to be pioneers. That’s bad. Even worse, it’s been replaced by nativism for me, but not for thee. Nativism, unfortunately, isn’t particularly good for anyone.

 

 

Political Geography Update

From Tyler Cowen, signs of start-up life on the Periphery:

Sometimes significant news doesn’t make much of a splash, and that was the case for a major transaction last week. PetSmart Inc. announced the acquisition of Chewy.com LLC for $3.35 billion, the largest e-commerce deal ever. Also notable is that Chewy.com, which sells pet products online, is based near Fort Lauderdale, Florida, rather than San Francisco or Seattle or New York. Might we be at a point where startups and e-commerce drive economic growth and job creation in many regions of the country, not just a few of the more famous (and expensive) areas?

Ah yes, the bastion of globalist cultural elitism, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

But wait, there’s more:

A recent study by Michael Mandel, an economist with the Progressive Policy Institute, found notable signs of startup activity in Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Phoenix, Miami, New Orleans and Charleston, South Carolina, in addition to the locales more closely associated with tech. So this trend does have a chance of spreading, and at a time when the startup scene in Silicon Valley seems to be slowing down.

Mandel also estimates that the e-commerce sector has added 270,000 jobs to the American economy since March 2014, across multiple regions, and, in spite of all the recent problems, retail employment remains above its 2007 peak. Some additional good news is that e-commerce distribution jobs tend to be better paying and less of a dead end than most retail jobs. The warehouse and storage sector is growing dramatically, and those jobs are typically far from the wealthiest parts of the country — they are boosting Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

In the last two years, again according to Mandel, “the regions outside the top 35 metro areas accounted for almost half of net new establishments,” compared with less than one-fifth of net new businesses during the seven preceding years.

Perhaps the urban v. periphery model is oversold? Perhaps it’s just inapplicable to the U.S.? Perhaps these data are misleading or a one-off?

Perhaps globalization . . . isn’t as bad as everyone claims, but like all waterfalls, those at the precipice drink first and then (after they’ve replenished their defensive moats) the gains flow downwards?

The preferred interpretation probably depends on one’s priors.

As an aside, this seems like a good federalism argument against centralized regulation. One way for peripheral regulators to enrich the periphery is to offer a better a better deal to consumers and entrepreneurs than the one offered by the rent-seeking coastal regulators. [Or as Arnold Kling lovingly puts it, the more F.O.O.L.ish coastal regulators.] Regulatory competition has helped Pennsylvania, Arizona, North Carolina and even Michigan get in on the tech boom, particularly with self-driving cars. If New York regulators want to drive all fintech investment from the city, perhaps it’s best they suffer the consequences of their actions . . . assuming anyone actually knows or remembers to blame them.