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.



Anecdotes in Media Bias — Immigration Edition

Some people think immigrants, particularly from non-Western parts of the world, are putting the country and its citizens at risk. Other people acknowledge that assimilating foreign folks is not frictionless, but overall, the costs of immigration are overstated and the benefits are underappreciated. [And some people think any limits on immigration are just racist because there is literally no other possible hypothesis . . . more on that later.]

I fall into the second category and generally (but not in all respects) regard restrictions on immigration as consistent with their Progressive provenance, i.e. give-aways to labor cartels at the expense of low wage workers and the population at-large. In other words, I regard immigration as more good than bad for natives and immigrants alike.

A few days ago, however, a Boston couple was tragically and brutally murdered by a West African immigrant who (apparently) was previously convicted twice for robbery. As punishment for those crimes, he received a 364-day sentence because a 365-day sentence would have triggered mandatory deportation.

While this is only a single data point, it is quite plainly a data point in favor of the anti-immigration crowd. An immigrant allegedly did a truly horrible thing and it might have been prevented under a harsher regime.

That presumably explains why the New York Times determined that the story is not worth reporting. Indeed, the only coverage offered by the New York Times was a reprint of an AP story that remarkably referred to the suspect as “30-year-old Bampumim Teixeira, of Chelsea.” That’s consistent with the Washington Post, who also referred to Mr. Teixeira as “a 30-year-old from Chelsea, Mass.” There was no mention of the 364 day sentences.

The Times and Post didn’t bury the story completely, but at the very least they protected their readers from knowing that the suspect was actually from Guinea-Bissau and grew up in Cape Verde, or that a Progressive judge gamed the immigration system to protect Mr. Teixeira from deportation. That data might be used to validate arguments for stricter immigration policy and those are not allowed.  [Consider, by contrast, what the coverage would be like if the victims were PoC and the matter was being investigated as a HATE CRIME.]

If you rely on the MSM to help you make informed decisions on matters of public concern, you’re being misled. For the really important stuff, the MSM decides what you’re supposed to think and it protects your feeble mind from nasty thoughts to the contrary. It’s no wonder that Times and Post readers think anti-immigration types are out-of-their-mind racist (and generally regard their political opponents as a combination of crazy, mean and stupid) because they’re spared from any data that would suggest otherwise.

In the Age of Trump, an independent media is all the more important. Someone better alert the media.

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 LLC for $3.35 billion, the largest e-commerce deal ever. Also notable is that, 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.

Political Geography

Three recent and unrelated pieces have observed geographic (and migratory) phenomena as key to understanding the current political and cultural war zone landscape. What I mean is that whatever one thinks is going on, the authors claim that it’s reflected (either causally or symptomatically) by where people happen to live.

In this case, the divide is urban v. periphery. That is hardly a new axis, but it feels different this time around. Let me explain.

I’ve always vaguely understood the geographic divide as city-folk v. bumpkins: city-folk have city concerns and experiences, and bumpkins have bumpkin concerns and experiences, but if they switch places (either as Jed Clampett or Billy Crystal), then their concerns and experience (and affiliations) change accordingly. It’s a model that Hollywood considers simple enough to be the premise of movies and TV and it’s just about as interesting.

These more recent observations are different, however. They see the evolving geographic divide as self-reinforcing (and not just a cosmic coincidence of where one happens to be born) — our current political equilibrium means that cities and the periphery have each developed a gravitational pull of their own (or push, depending on one’s perspective). I visualize the one-becomes-two process as resembling something like mitosis.

The three articles I’m referring to (and will address in turn) are Joel Kotkin’s, The Politics of Migration from Blue to Red, Jack Shafer’s, The Media Bubble is Worse Than You Think, and Christopher Caldwell’s, The French, Coming Apart, which reviews French geographer’s Christophe Guilluy’s recent and prior works.

They are all interesting, and worth reading in full, but the third is by far the most interesting. Caldwell (via Guilluy) uses geography to describe an alternative political axis that does a far better job of explaining the current political alliances (and rivalries) than Left-Right, Dem-GOP or even the three-pronged axis of Liberal-Conservative-Progressive. In other words, if Kotkin and Shafer observe geographic polarization, Guilluy provocatively (and incisively) describes why it is so.

Personally, I’m not entirely convinced, but it certainly plays to my preexisting biases, so I’m paying attention.

Purple Drift

First, Kotkin, on the migration from Urban Deep Blue to Sub/Ex-urban Reddish Purple:

Despite all the hype about a massive “back to the city” movement and the supposed superiority of ultra-expensive liberal regions, people are increasingly moving to red states and regions, as well as to suburbs and exurbs. This is the basic takeaway from the most recent IRS data and Census Bureau estimates, which have been widely ignored in the established media.

Blue urbanites are fleeing (sort of) for the Red suburbs and ex-burbs and it’s not even close:

In 2016 alone, states that supported Donald Trump gained 400,000 domestic migrants from states that supported Hillary Clinton. This came on top of an existing advantage in net domestic red state migration of 1.45 million people from 2010 through 2015. Contrary to popular perception, these blue state emigres aren’t all fleeing economically challenged places such as upstate New York or inland California. Mostly, they have left the  biggest cities, which are the electoral base of the Democratic Party. Metropolitan New York has led the way in out-migration, followed by Los Angeles and Chicago. Since 2000, these metropolitan areas have lost a net 5.5 million domestic migrants to other parts of the country.

More accurately, as the upper middle class grows up, it’s moving to the suburbs — but Red suburbs, specifically:

Rapid growth also took place in Las Vegas, Charlotte, Phoenix, Orlando and Salt Lake City as well as the big four Texas cities: Austin, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, and San Antonio.

In contrast the Gen-X population share has remained stagnant in the San Francisco and San Jose areas, while the Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia areas have all seen declines in their Xer shares both since 2000 and since 2010.  This could be a harbinger of millennial behavior. Like the Xers, millennials are beginning to move into the suburbs, contradicting all predictions to the contrary. Since 2010, the biggest gains in millennial share have been in heavily suburban Orlando, Austin and San Antonio.

That’s not an accident, of course. As anyone who has looked for a home in Westchester, NY, or Montgomery County, Virginia, or Newton, MA, will tell you, Blue suburbs don’t really exist (in the sense of relatively affordable single-family housing+good schools+low crime). Kotkin points a speculative finger at Blue “urban policy” that puts the kibosh on “suburban sprawl” for the sole benefit of the hapless suburbanites that accidentally stumbled into affordable and safe neighborhoods just a bit outside the jurisdictional reach of blue city councils. Those suburbanites do not, by and large, gratefully un-sprawl and return to the city — rather, they pick up and leave for Redder pastures.

Kotkin doesn’t put it in these terms, but it’s the Blue Team’s demographic problem (which it has begun to solve in other ways **cough – immigration – cough** as Guilluy suggests). Deep Blue cities cause their votes (and tax base) to flee.

Coastal Cultural Monopoly

Second, Shafer on the geographic “media bubble”:

[J]ournalistic groupthink is a symptom, not a cause. And when it comes to the cause, there’s another, blunter way to think about the question than screaming “bias” and “conspiracy,” or counting D’s and R’s. That’s to ask a simple question about the map. Where do journalists work, and how much has that changed in recent years? To determine this, my colleague Tucker Doherty excavated labor statistics and cross-referenced them against voting patterns and Census data to figure out just what the American media landscape looks like, and how much it has changed.

The results read like a revelation. The national media really does work in a bubble, something that wasn’t true as recently as 2008. And the bubble is growing more extreme. Concentrated heavily along the coasts, the bubble is both geographic and political. If you’re a working journalist, odds aren’t just that you work in a pro-Clinton county—odds are that you reside in one of the nation’s most pro-Clinton counties. And you’ve got company: If you’re a typical reader of Politico, chances are you’re a citizen of bubbleville, too.

The “media bubble” trope might feel overused by critics of journalism who want to sneer at reporters who live in Brooklyn or California and don’t get the “real America” of southern Ohio or rural Kansas. But these numbers suggest it’s no exaggeration: Not only is the bubble real, but it’s more extreme than you might realize.

Shafer argues that the extreme geographic polarization is a symptom of changing media economics that has seen print media (and it’s more dispersed geographic footprint) contract, to be replaced by online media (that concentrates more heavily in the coastal corridors):

Parts of the media have always had their own bubbles. The national magazine industry has been concentrated in New York for generations, and the copy produced reflects an Eastern sensibility. Radio and TV networks based in New York and Los Angeles likewise have shared that dominant sensibility. But they were more than balanced out by the number of newspaper jobs in big cities, midsized cities and smaller towns throughout the country, spreading journalists everywhere.

No longer. . . By January 2017, that workforce [from smaller daily and weekly print publishers] had more than halved to 173,900. Those losses were felt in almost every region of the country.

As newspapers have dwindled, internet publishers have added employees at a bracing clip. According to BLS data, a startling boom in “internet publishing and broadcasting” jobs has taken place. Since January 2008, internet publishing has grown from 77,900 jobs to 206,700 in January 2017. In late 2015, during Barack Obama’s second term, these two trend lines—jobs in newspapers, and jobs in internet publishing—finally crossed. For the first time, the number of workers in internet publishing exceeded the number of their newspaper brethren. Internet publishers are now adding workers at nearly twice the rate newspaper publishers are losing them . . . 

Where newspaper jobs are spread nationwide, internet jobs are not: Today, 73 percent of all internet publishing jobs are concentrated in either the Boston-New York-Washington-Richmond corridor or the West Coast crescent that runs from Seattle to San Diego and on to Phoenix. The Chicagoland area, a traditional media center, captures 5 percent of the jobs, with a paltry 22 percent going to the rest of the country. And almost all the real growth of internet publishing is happening outside the heartland, in just a few urban counties, all places that voted for Clinton.

According to Shafer, media-tech ascendancy has followed the same pattern as all other forms of tech-ascendancy: a regional “clustering” of industry heavyweights drawn to the “clustering” of the most talented sliver of would-be journalists. In other words, if all the young talent “clusters” together (as it tends to do, given the returns to social capital and the relatively low marginal cost of youthful urban life, i.e. no kids or stuff), then so will the media outlets.

“Liberated from the printing press,” Shafer concludes that regionalism is inevitable, and given that regionalism, it’s fair to expect that “reporters tote their bubbles with them.”

That doesn’t mean media has to be hopelessly biased — it just needs to be shamed:

The best medicine for journalistic myopia isn’t reeducation camps or a splurge of diversity hiring, though tiny doses of those two remedies wouldn’t hurt. Journalists respond to their failings best when their vanity is punctured with proof that they blew a story that was right in front of them. If the burning humiliation of missing the biggest political story in a generation won’t change newsrooms, nothing will. More than anything, journalists hate getting beat.

One obvious quibble with Shafer’s argument is that there’s no reason to assume talent “clustering” would favor a lefty bias any more than a righty one, unless, of course, one assumes that talent itself has a lefty bias. **Crickets** Relatedly, as Kotkin points out, tech clustering has begun to migrate away from Deep Blue urban centers towards Redder, or purplish, ones and yet Raleigh doesn’t (yet) have a major media presence.

I think a better way to interpret the clustering Shafer describes is that cultural goods (like media, social science and the humanities) are more susceptible to affiliation bias than say finance, or computer science, where the “wrong” answer is harder to escape. To put it in Shafer’s terms, freed from distribution costs (i.e. no printing presses or paper boys), the media was allowed to cluster like never before. The cultural elite, who skew not just urban, but specifically urban Blue, could finally hire exclusively their own, without having to deal with the hassles of middle-market journalists. [And contra-Shafer, without ever having to deal with the hassles of someone who might shame them if they “blew a story that was right front of them,” — there is no “getting beat” if everyone plays on the same team.]

Shafer interprets clustering as driven by talent, but there are plenty of talented uncredentialed media types that don’t write for Politico et al. (and again, other tech hubs that don’t skew Blue). Shafer (and likely the BLS) simply doesn’t count these as media types — Shafer may not even be aware of them from inside his bubble — but that’s his own bias, which is kind of my point. To my mind, media clustering is a cultural issue: the cultural elite are tethered to few specific Blue urban centers, where they flock, mate, co-mingle and engage in cultural deal-making. Other media exist (and not just Fox News), but they’re not recognized as members of the club.

[***Another, far more speculative observation (driven by Guilluy’s work), is that the “top” of the waterfall is usually last to feel the impact of labor market contraction — whether that contraction is caused by changed economics (e.g. lower distribution costs) or technocratic interventions (e.g. taxes on low wage labor a.k.a. the “minimum wage”). In the latter case, however, the technocrats refuse to acknowledge that contraction can ever occur, so they are at a loss to explain why the bottom (and middle) falls out wherever they go. Or rather, their inevitable explanation is not enough technocratic intervention to help (whatever is left of) the bottom and middle, who, by that point, stick around because the technocrats are their primary source of income. Interventions beget further interventions (and contractions), and in the end, only the technocrats and their cultural allies are left at the top of the pyramid (together with the very wealthy). In other words, when Shafer observes a hollowed out media-middle, it’s possible he is simply observing the handiwork of his co-believers — and that has nothing specifically to do with media at all.***]

I’m picking too many fights with Shafer. The point is really that geographic polarization is happening and its dynamic and self-reinforcing: Blue cities are sucking in Blues and repelling Reds, and Red ex-burbs are sucking in Reds and repelling Blues.

Urban Globalist Conspiracy

But, the truth is, Blue and Red, doesn’t really explain the political divide. There are socially liberal people migrating to the Red/Purpilish ex-burbs, and strident interventionists in deep rural Red. Likewise, the deepest Blue cities are increasingly dominated by socially conservative and highly illiberal electoral blocs. You wouldn’t know it, but racism, antisemitism, chauvinism (and outright sexual violence) and political violence and intimidation are far more serious issues within the Lefty rank and file (and increasingly the elite) than on the Right. If you don’t believe that, then at least you would agree that these issues are far more prevalent in the Lefty coalition than makes sense, given that fighting other people’s bigotry is the very thing that the Left purports to uphold. [To be fair, I owe a rare hat tip to Bernie Sanders for calling out the thought-police on Team Left.]

Here is where Guilluy helps to make sense of it all. By make sense of it all, I mean, offers a coherent political and economic narrative that actually explains the geographic and electoral (but not strictly ideological) polarization. It also happens to flatter my biases, so I’m running with it.

Who is Guilluy? A partisan hack? Not according to the partisans, at least:

Christophe Guilluy calls himself a geographer. But he has spent decades as a housing consultant in various rapidly changing neighborhoods north of Paris, studying gentrification, among other things. And he has crafted a convincing narrative tying together France’s various social problems—immigration tensions, inequality, deindustrialization, economic decline, ethnic conflict, and the rise of populist parties. Such an analysis had previously eluded the Parisian caste of philosophers, political scientists, literary journalists, government-funded researchers, and party ideologues.

Guilluy is none of these. Yet in a French political system that is as polarized as the American, both the outgoing Socialist president François Hollande and his Gaullist predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy sought his counsel. Marine Le Pen, whose National Front dismisses both major parties as part of a corrupt establishment, is equally enthusiastic about his work.

Guilluy tries to explain what the hell has happened to France, using demographics and geography as his clues — and it’s not just “the Muselmans are destroying our culture!” or “the Hitlers are coming!” It’s a process he calls “métropolisation”:

. . . [M]étropolisation has cut French society in two. In 16 dynamic urban areas (Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, Toulouse, Lille, Bordeaux, Nice, Nantes, Strasbourg, Grenoble, Rennes, Rouen, Toulon, Douai-Lens, and Montpellier), the world’s resources have proved a profitable complement to those found in France. These urban areas are home to all the country’s educational and financial institutions, as well as almost all its corporations and the many well-paying jobs that go with them. Here, too, are the individuals—the entrepreneurs and engineers and CEOs, the fashion designers and models, the film directors and chefs and other “symbolic analysts,” as Robert Reich once called them—who shape the country’s tastes, form its opinions, and renew its prestige. Cheap labor, tariff-free consumer goods, and new markets of billions of people have made globalization a windfall for such prosperous places. But globalization has had no such galvanizing effect on the rest of France. Cities that were lively for hundreds of years—Tarbes, Agen, Albi, Béziers—are now, to use Guilluy’s word, “desertified,” haunted by the empty storefronts and blighted downtowns that Rust Belt Americans know well.

Guilluy doubts that anyplace exists in France’s new economy for working people as we’ve traditionally understood them. Paris offers the most striking case. As it has prospered, the City of Light has stratified, resembling, in this regard, London or American cities such as New York and San Francisco. It’s a place for millionaires, immigrants, tourists, and the young, with no room for the median Frenchman. Paris now drives out the people once thought of as synonymous with the city.

OK, industries come and go. Economic evolution is a painful but necessary process and crying about shuttered horse-shoe manufacturing plants isn’t going to win a lot of sympathy.

But, nostalgia is not a deep predictive model of political economy. Housing policy, however . . .

The laid-off, the less educated, the mistrained—all must rebuild their lives in what Guilluy calls (in the title of his second book) La France périphérique . . . [which] measures distance from the functioning parts of the global economy. France’s best-performing urban nodes have arguably never been richer or better-stocked with cultural and retail amenities . . . [However,] [i]n a knowledge economy, [median] workers have largely been exiled from the places where the economy still functions. They have been replaced by immigrants.

After the mid-twentieth century, the French state built a vast stock—about 5 million units—of public housing, which now accounts for a sixth of the country’s households. Much of it is hideous-looking, but it’s all more or less affordable. Its purpose has changed, however. It is now used primarily for billeting not native French workers, as once was the case, but immigrants and their descendants, millions of whom arrived from North Africa starting in the 1960s, with yet another wave of newcomers from sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East arriving today. In the rough northern suburb of Aubervilliers, for instance, three-quarters of the young people are of immigrant background. Again, Paris’s future seems visible in contemporary London. Between 2001 and 2011, the population of white Londoners fell by 600,000, even as the city grew by 1 million people: from 58 percent white British at the turn of the century, London is currently 45 percent white.

In with new working class, and out with the old:

While rich Parisians may not miss the presence of the middle class, they do need people to bus tables, trim shrubbery, watch babies, and change bedpans. Immigrants—not native French workers—do most of these jobs . . .

Why the native working class got booted to the periphery is not Guilluy’s project. But now that it has happened, and how it happened, explains a lot:

[E]ven if French people were willing to do the work that gets offered in these prosperous urban centers, there’d be no way for them to do it, because there is no longer any place for them to live. As a new bourgeoisie has taken over the private housing stock, poor foreigners have taken over the public—which thus serves the metropolitan rich as a kind of taxpayer-subsidized servants’ quarters. Public-housing inhabitants are almost never ethnically French; the prevailing culture there nowadays is often heavily, intimidatingly Muslim.

Ouch. “Taxpayer-subsidized servants’ quarters,” sounds about right, though.

Still, can’t the un-professional class learn to share, like their cosmopolitan betters?

At a practical level, considerations of economics and ethnicity are getting harder to disentangle. Guilluy has spent years in and out of buildings in northern Paris (his sisters live in public housing), and he is sensitive to the way this works in France. A public-housing development is a community, yes, and one can wish that it be more diverse. But it is also an economic resource that, more and more, is getting fought over tribally. An ethnic Frenchman moving into a heavily North African housing project finds himself threatening a piece of property that members of “the community” think of as theirs. Guilluy speaks of a “battle of the eyes” fought in the lobbies of apartment buildings across France every day, in which one person or the other—the ethnic Frenchman or the immigrant’s son—will drop his gaze to the floor first.

Diversity and multiculturalism are not frictionless, particularly where [artificially] scarce resources — I’m looking at you, zoning and rent control — are involved and to the tribal, go the electoral spoils. You can call it “racism” or “xenophobia” if you want, but (a) the feeling appears to be mutual; and (b) if ethnicity leads to the difference between subsidized housing or not, then people are going to be attuned to ethnicity. Put it this way, if the natives got housing priority, you would surely understand why the immigrants would be frustrated:

France’s most dangerous political battles play out against this backdrop. The central fact is the 70 percent that we just spoke of [who think there are “too many” immigrants]: they oppose immigration and are worried, we can safely assume, about the prospects for a multiethnic society. Their wishes are consistent, their passions high; and a democracy is supposed to translate the wishes and passions of the people into government action. Yet that hasn’t happened in France

Like French cities, the French political and cultural elite have jettisoned their old working class allies, and replaced them with a more appreciative (and desperate) set of underlings. The ideology hasn’t changed much — a strategic alliance between the elite and the common man to divide the [global] economy “fairly” — but the “common man” has a new skin color and place of origin.

The native common man, however, can’t find an elite date:

In France, the Parti Socialiste, like the Democratic Party in the U.S. or Labour in Britain, has remade itself based on a recognition of this new demographic and political reality. François Hollande built his 2012 presidential victory on a strategy outlined in October 2011 by Bruno Jeanbart and the late Olivier Ferrand of the Socialist think tank Terra Nova. Largely because of cultural questions, the authors warned, the working class no longer voted for the Left. The consultants suggested a replacement coalition of ethnic minorities, people with advanced degrees (usually prospering in new-economy jobs), women, youths, and non-Catholics—a French version of the Obama bloc.

And what does Guilluy think of this new cultural-political alliance? Well, he’s a scientist, so he tells it like it is, but the short version is that “it’s working great . . . for the new alliance”:

In most parts of Paris, working-class Frenchmen are just gone, priced out of even the soccer stadiums that were a bastion of French proledom until the country’s World Cup victory in 1998. The national culture has changed.

. . . In Paris and other cities of Guilluy’s fortunate France, one often encounters an appearance of civility, even consensus, where once there was class conflict. But this is an illusion: one side has been driven from the field.

The old bourgeoisie hasn’t been supplanted; it has been supplemented by a second bourgeoisie that occupies the previously non-bourgeois housing stock. For every old-economy banker in an inherited high-ceilinged Second Empire apartment off the Champs-Élysées, there is a new-economy television anchor or high-tech patent attorney living in some exorbitantly remodeled mews house in the Marais. A New Yorker might see these two bourgeoisies as analogous to residents of the Upper East and Upper West Sides. They have arrived through different routes, and they might once have held different political opinions, but they don’t now.

If that doesn’t describe Obama’s America to a T . . . even Shafer’s “new-economy” media-types make an appearance in the Parisian bubble.

But again, this is not Left-Right, or Red-Blue: it’s New Left v. Old Left (or if you really want to be grim and anachronistic, it’s the national socialists v. the international socialists). Lefty cultural elites got divorced, found a new partner and kept the house — they are just soooo happy:

Guilluy notes that the conservative presidential candidate Alain Juppé, mayor of Bordeaux, and Gérard Collomb, the Socialist running Lyon, pursue identical policies. As Paris has become not just the richest city in France but the richest city in the history of France, its residents have come to describe their politics as “on the left”—a judgment that tomorrow’s historians might dispute. Most often, Parisians mean what Guilluy calls la gauche hashtag, or what we might call the “glass-ceiling Left,” preoccupied with redistribution among, not from, elites: we may have done nothing for the poor, but we did appoint the first disabled lesbian parking commissioner.

Well, yes. If you believe that the prols are so utterly hopeless that they need you, and lots of people like you, to control and administer their lives, then you probably have a pretty firm grasp of your own rightful place in the social and political hierarchy. Remember, the poor are “empowered” the more power they transfer to their considerate betters.

Immigrants (at least for now), are more than happy to be “empowered” without asking much in return, and the urban cultural elite know a good bargain when they see one. In fact, at this point, they can’t imagine it any other way:

The good fortune of Creative Class members appears (to them) to have nothing to do with any kind of capitalist struggle. Never have conditions been more favorable for deluding a class of fortunate people into thinking that they owe their privilege to being nicer, or smarter, or more honest, than everyone else. Why would they think otherwise? They never meet anyone who disagrees with them. The immigrants with whom the creatives share the city are dazzlingly different, exotic, even frightening, but on the central question of our time—whether the global economic system is working or failing—they see eye to eye. . .

This estrangement is why electoral results around the world last year—from Brexit to the election of Donald Trump—proved so difficult to anticipate. Those outside the city gates in la France périphérique are invisible, their wishes incomprehensible. It’s as if they don’t exist. But they do.

But one of the many problems with government ownership of the economy, i.e. dividing the pie, is that there is only so much pie to go around. If you’re no longer BFF with the people holding the slicer, you’re screwed. Likewise, ring-fencing economic activity for the benefit of the politically connected (e.g. licensing, unions, mandatory benefits) works great for the people inside the fence, but it’s awful for everyone else.

Well, it works great, at least until “everyone else” starts plotting their revenge. Then comes Left-on-Left violence. In France’s case, “everyone else” is the exiled native working class, frozen out of a global economy by walls they helped build, and they are not in any mood to make nice to their previous overlords.

Their unrest has got nothing to do with economic preferences for tax/spend or social preferences for cultural openness — it’s about retaking the castle:

The welfare state is now distrusted by those whom it is meant to help. France’s expenditure on the heavily immigrant banlieues is already vast, on this view; to provide yet more public housing would be to widen the invitation to unwanted immigrants. To build any large public-works project is to do the same. To invest in education, in turn, is to offer more advantages to the rich, who’re best positioned to benefit from it. In a society divided as Guilluy describes, traditional politics can find no purchase.

The governing class may not agree on everything, but at the very least they agree on who ought to constitute the governing class, so they’re circling the wagons:

The two traditional French parties—the Republicans, who once followed a conservative program elaborated by Charles de Gaulle; and the Socialists, who once followed socialism—still compete for votes, but along an ever-narrowing spectrum of issues. The real divide is no longer between the “Right” and the “Left” but between the metropoles and the peripheries. The traditional parties thrive in the former. The National Front (FN) is the party of the outside.

Indeed, with its opposition to free trade, open immigration, and the European Union, the FN has established itself as the main voice of the anti-globalizers. At regional elections in 2015, it took 55 percent of workers’ votes. The Socialists, Republicans, Greens, and the hard Left took 18 percent among them. In an effort to ward off the FN, the traditional parties now collude as often as they compete. In the second round of those regional elections, the Socialists withdrew in favor of their Republican rivals, seeking to create a barrage républicain against the FN. The banding together of establishment parties to defend the system against anti-system parties is happening all over the world.

The governing class isn’t being nice about it at all. In fact, they have been crapping on their old partners for so long, that crapping on the Periphery has become something of an ideological purity test for inclusion into the governing class.

That sounds . . . familiar? Oh right:

Guilluy has tried to clarify French politics with an original theory of political correctness. The dominance of metropolitan elites has made it hard even to describe the most important conflicts in France, except in terms that conform to their way of viewing the world . . .

French elites have convinced themselves that their social supremacy rests not on their economic might but on their common decency. Doing so allows them to “present the losers of globalization as embittered people who have problems with diversity,” says Guilluy. It’s not our privilege that the French deplorables resent, the elites claim; it’s the color of some of our employees’ skin. French elites have a thesaurus full of colorful vocabulary for those who resist the open society: repli (“reaction”), crispation identitaire (“ethnic tension”), and populisme(an accusation equivalent to fascism, which somehow does not require an equivalent level of proof). One need not say anything racist or hateful to be denounced as a member of “white, xenophobic France,” or even as a “fascist.” To express mere discontent with the political system is dangerous enough. It is to faire le jeu de (“play the game of”) the National Front.

. . . In France, political correctness is more than a ridiculous set of opinions; it’s also—and primarily—a tool of government coercion. Not only does it tilt any political discussion in favor of one set of arguments; it also gives the ruling class a doubt-expelling myth that provides a constant boost to morale and esprit de corps, much as class systems did in the days before democracy. People tend to snicker when the question of political correctness is raised: its practitioners because no one wants to be thought politically correct; and its targets because no one wants to admit to being coerced. But it determines the current polarity in French politics. Where you stand depends largely on whether you believe that antiracism is a sincere response to a genuine upsurge of public hatred or an opportunistic posture for elites seeking to justify their rule.

Right. You can’t just say, “sorry, French working class, you got too expensive and we found a new working class that will let us govern them more cheaply.” You have to say that the old working class turned out to be monsters — ugly, lazy, racist and resentful. I saw it on The Culture, so it must be true.

OK, so let’s recap:

  • The French working class was priced out of Paris and sent to the Periphery. How? Because the scarce supply of private housing stock was snapped up by the governing class and nouveau riche of the global information economy, and the scarce supply of public housing stock was allocated to immigrants cut from an entirely different cultural jib;
  • This caused, or was caused by, a shift in political and cultural allegiances, whereby the cultural elite traded in the exiled native working class, for a newer, cheaper working class. Together they divide the spoils of globalization between them, while they sneer at the feral natives — well, at least the elites sneer, because the immigrants mostly keep to themselves (or used to), which is all the better for elites! All the same status and power, at a fraction of the price! Gosh, I can’t believe we ever glorified native blue collar workers before! Those roughneck sexist xenophobes are grosss and everyone I know agrees with me!
  • Everything is grand in Cosmopolitanistan, but not so much on the Periphery. After years of authorizing the elite to build a moat around the economy on their behalf, the natives now find themselves on the outside looking in. [Well, as Caldwell tells it, the Periphery is just bad, but there’s no real explanation why. However, if you pass lots of laws to protect a small chunk of the labor market, it’s pretty obvious why the rest of the labor market is a bad place to be.] The natives are angry, feel betrayed by their old partners in crime, are resentful of the new girlfriend, and want a whole new governing elite to take back what’s rightfully “theirs.”
  • The establishment is a bit scared. After years in the wilderness, the agitated natives are looking a little rough around the edges. It’s like they’re living in an alternative universe, with alternative facts. Name-calling isn’t helping — it’s making things worse — and neither is circling the wagons with other members of the political establishment, even political rivals. It’s almost like the natives don’t respect their authority anymore.
  • Plus, not everything is good in their walled cities — cracks are beginning to show. It turns out these immigrants are not harmless exotic pets, but in fact have agency of their own. Some of them are looking for trouble and even the urban elite are wondering if they were a bit too hasty swapping one working class for another. But they can’t really talk about it because the words for illiberal nastiness only apply to the Periphery and criticizing the immigrants is taboo. They have feelings of fear and resentment, but they have no words to describe them.
  • It’s frankly unclear whether the urban elite could make peace with the Periphery even if they wanted to because their own rank and file has become too unruly and too hateful to share a city with the natives, let alone a government. Plus, there are only so many appointments to make, committees to form and grants to allocate, and they’re all already spoken-for. To make matters worse, there is emerging dissent in the urban ranks. Immigrants are getting tired of being governed and want to do some governing of their own, thank you very much. They’ll be damned if the old natives try to reclaim past glories and they’re not afraid of calling you — their patron, their champion — a racist for suggesting otherwise. Things are getting nasty inside and out, and the founding myth that depicts the urban globalist alliance as righteous and just is collapsing under its own weight.

Alright, so I cheated a little. It’s a little over-determined, but it sure seems like Guilluy is on to something, at least as rough sketches go.

It’s not Left v. Right, or lattes v. hunting n’ fishing.

Rather, there is a cultural, political and economic elite who have learned to thrive in the cities they control by offering cheap public housing and services to immigrants who would (for the most part) be happy to have clean water. They get along great with the cultural, political and economic elite who do the exact same thing in other cities across the world. Everyone else is not worth their time.

Loosen the reigns? Why would we? There’s enough for us and the immigrants. Fewer immigrants?! Are you Hitler? Terror? La-la-la-Not-Listening!

What about your old buddies, the blue collar natives? Y’mean, those White Men? Who needs ’em, the no-good, bible-thumping, gun-toting, genocidal racists. How positively gauche. The government is not for them. It’s for us and our new immigrant buddies — aren’t they adorable? I hope the blue collars stay in the Ozarks, where they belong, and far away from our cities, our workplaces, our movies, our books, our video games, our sports, our schools, our universities, our public spaces, our private spaces, our government services, our private charities — really anywhere I can see, think, breath, or interact.

I guess they can stay in the military because that’s dangerous and far away and I don’t really want to do that and frankly — just between us — even I don’t really trust a bunch of first generation Somalis to semper fi, if you know what I mean. Let’s wait twenty years, and then kick them out of the military. In the meantime, let’s just take away their guns.

These are the “globalists,” but they are obviously quite parochial and protectionist, and cities are the source of their strength. Indeed, it’s densely populated areas that make that kind of political and cultural gamesmanship possible.

The blue collar natives? Well, when they were busy building walls around their professions and industry, and happily cavorting with the cultural elite, they never imagined they’d be on the outside looking in.

Well, that’s not true. Labor and their Progressive partners tried very hard to keep the Chinese, Jews, Blacks and Women from entering the country/labor market, so they had a sense. Plus, no one plays the part of urban, cultural globalist like the Jews, and that story is as old as culture itself. The natives were convinced to go along with the free market stuff for a while — not like they had a choice, since they were booted from the Lefty coalition (and their urban strongholds) for closing markets to the wrong people — but now they want their protectionism back. I totally believe them when they say they feel like immigrants in their own country . . . because they would know.

It is quite obviously far more complicated than that, but as a clunky model to explain the political, regional and ideological alliances that have manifested globally, Guilluy’s Urban v. Periphery is appealing.

For one thing (among many others), there is a lot more regional and ideological differentiation. Not only are the urban and peripheral alliances more internally heterogeneous than I’m giving them credit for, there are “global” variations, as well.

For example,  I think socialism runs much deeper in France and the National Front is closer to a true lefty party, than say the populist movement in the U.S. The U.S. has a much stronger liberal tradition and many people voluntarily leave the cities — as Kotkin points out — for a less destitute Periphery. Unlike Guilluy’s France, the U.S. still has some purplish places to live and work, and economy is not entirely owned by the political class. My sense is that even the exiled blue collar protectionists have been sharing a coalition with the fishin’ and huntin’ folks for so long that they’ve lost a little of their socialist edge. Much like the civil libertarian liberals who have been sharing a coalition with socialists for so long that they have lost some of their liberal edge. Also, the U.S. is blessed with Mormons. France has rural Catholics. Etc.

So, when do the moon colonies open for business?

Title [Bill of Rights] IX

I don’t endorse this idea — increased federal fines for schools that “indulge the student-radical mob” – but can you imagine if universities policed limitations on the First Amendment (e.g. “hostile thought environments”) the way they policed statutory violations of anti-discrimination law? It would be just as awful.

From David French:

Here’s Baer [the NYU Administrator who wrote an op-ed to defend limitations on speech], with words that should chill every American heart:

“The idea of freedom of speech does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks. It means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community. Free-speech protections — not only but especially in universities, which aim to educate students in how to belong to various communities — should not mean that someone’s humanity, or their right to participate in political speech as political agents, can be freely attacked, demeaned or questioned.”

In other words, campus radicals will let you speak only when they deem your speech is worthy. And if they don’t? Then, the mob isn’t a mob, it’s a collection of idealists “keeping watch over the soul of our republic.”

Enough. We cannot count on campus administrators to protect free speech. They’re so terrified of the radicals that they’re more prone to apologize for free speech, arguably our nation’s most essential liberty, than they are to defend it. Witness Berkeley bowing before the mob time and again. Witness the groveling apology from the chairman of Middlebury’s political-science department to the campus community. A mob attacked and wounded a member of the faculty, and this man actually said that his decision to offer a “symbolic department co-sponsorship” of the event at which that attack occurred contributed to a “feeling of voicelessness” that “many” allegedly experience on campus.

Their voices seemed plenty loud when they violently shut down Murray’s speech.

If we can’t count on courts or colleges to protect free speech, then it’s time for Congress to step up. There’s a remarkably simple solution to the problem of free speech, at least on public university campuses: Adjust the incentives. Make it costlier to censor than to protect the Constitution.

European Style Populism

[Editorial warning: this is impolite. Apologies in advance.]

European Style Populism is typically meant to evoke nationalist politicians like Le Pen and Wilders, i.e. outspoken critics of EU’s governing class, and especially its immigration policies. When the New York Times wonders about the migration of European populism to the U.S., it’s a thinly veiled warning about the bad and scary kind of migration: gitchyour Western European nationalist paws off of my technocracy! Call it Westphaliaphobia. [Note: Don’t call it that.]

European populism is scary because it preys on public’s unenlightened tendencies towards bigotry and fear. Like most things scary, it’s something only the right wing coalition has to worry about, and it manifests itself most poignantly in Trump.

But there’s another kind of European Style Populism that has been popular (and to some extent successful) for a long time, and has also recently made a landing in the U.S. I’m referring to the European left’s hostility towards Israel. The Euro-left’s dislike of Israel is driven by many things, but one significant factor is the dislike of Israel by Europe’s Arab and Islamic electorate.

For years, politicians like Jeremy Cobryn (and the Labour party generally) and European institutions like the U.N., have happily pandered to the antisemitism, parochialism and willful ignorance about Israel that is native to the Middle East and North Africa.

“What’s that you say? The dirty Jews have colonized part of the Muslim patrimony and paved the streets in blood?! What if we call it ‘the Illegal Occupation’, will you vote for us then? And you’ll fund our social justice organizations and unis?! Bully!

All together now! Free Free Palestine! From the River to the Sea, Palestine It Must Be Free!”

Bigoted and unenlightened? Check.

Scorned minority? Check.

Mass appeal? Check.

European? Check.

I know, I know, only the right wing coalition sacrifices its principles on the alter of narrow self-interest. Support for the Palestinian cause is about social justice and indigenous peoples and international law. Winning elections and financial support?! I would never!


Personally, I think the imperial claims of a militant religious ethnonationalist patrimony are hardly the stuff of good liberals, but that’s me.

But, you say, it’s not about them, it’s about us. OK, but that says nothing about the pesky question of who gets to be sovereign over Judea/Samaria: the indigenous Judeans or the manliest colonial empire of Islam, who couldn’t even bother to come up with an original name for themselves when they were first advised by counsel to plead “self-determination”?

Client: No Jew will be sovereign on Arab Islamic lands! We will drive them into the sea!

Lawyer: Umm, OK, but call it “self-determination.” You’re in the West now. What will you call yourself?

Client: Call ourselves? I mean, I guess Transjordan is fine — we’ll topple the Hashemites next and just consolidate.

Lawyer: Yeah, do your thing, but let’s table that for the time being. What about “Palestinians”?

Client: Like Syria Palaestina, the Roman province? Isn’t that what the Zionists used to call this place? You do know there’s no “P” in Arabic. Whatever. I’ve got a holy war to fight.

Lawyer: Popular resistance! We talked about this. Ixnay on the Holy War-ay.

Client: That’s so lame.

In any event, this recent missive by Lahav Harkov about the American progressive darling, Linda Sarsour, got me thinking that European Style Populism really is migrating stateside. [Harkov’s “Queen of Hate” label is too personal for my liking, but it’s par for the course when it comes to political commentary.]

There’s been a lot of digital ink spilled about Sarsour, both naughty and nice, so I’m not going to recreate it here. The short version is that Sarsour is a Palestinian-American “civil rights activist.” She says mean things about Zionism, incoherent things about the benefits of Sharia (e.g. she celebrates “interest free loans” but, of course, sharia-compliant finance just capitalizes interest into fees) and she proudly wears a hijab as the face of a Women’s March that was soooo feminist that it had no room for women who oppose abortion because that is an undisputed symbol of the patriarchy.

Putting aside the irony(?) of being further to the family-values end of the spectrum than Mike Pence . . . while leading a protest against Mike Pence’s family values, Sarsour is plain vanilla as progressives go. That includes the absurd and unrelenting criticism of Israel — and once J-Street leaves the room, Israel’s right to exist — plus the warm embrace of convicted terrorists.

It wasn’t always that way.

Unlike Europe, which has different demographics, U.S. support for Israel was bipartisan. Pro-Palestinian activists existed in the U.S., but they were on the fringe of the Lefty coalition, mostly confined to the academy and non-profit world. Obama changed all that, however, when he adopted the more hardline stance of his European brethren and brought fringy hardliners like J-Street into the mainstream of his coalition. Suddenly, the American left too had conveniently reimagined “the Occupation” as a cause of the conflict, rather than a symptom.

Anyway, I used to chalk that up to what I referred to as the globalization of politics. The European political economics that drove anti-Israel sentiment on the left didn’t apply in the U.S., but ideology tends to cross-pollinate and political solidarity has its own political economic calculus. And thus the anti-Israel American left was born.

But this little line in Harkov’s piece prompted me to rethink my position:

It’s a curious embrace of terrorism and anti-Semitism from a recipient of a $500,000 taxpayer grant from Mayor de Blasio, as Sarsour’s group, the Arab American Association of New York, was last year. Sarsour, in fact, has been an important ally of de Blasio’s since his election — a role she’s sure to reprise in the mayor’s bid for a second term.

Special interest politics plays well locally where “discrete minorities” (e.g. the Satmar chasidim) can really flex their demographic muscles. [That’s not unlike the U.K., where local Labour outposts are furthest to the anti-Israel fringe.] Bill “Sandinismo” de Blasio is nothing, if not a man of the people, and if he’s involved, that means something other than the “globalization of politics” is afoot. Dov Hikind can go pound sand.

I’m still a bit skeptical that there are enough American Muslims to be a real demographic political force, but fear of “islamophobia” has become en vogue too, so perhaps the strategists know something that I don’t.

I hope not.

Pandering to the public’s worst tendencies towards bigotry of a scorned minority is a bad thing. Please progressives, keep European style populism in Europe.