Conservatarian Dilemmas 3: Israel

This is my third and final post prompted by the dialogue between Nick Gillespie and Charles C.W. Cooke. The issue is foreign policy, and although they did not discuss Israel, I think that it is about that country that conservatives and libertarians get most confrontational–and uncharitable–with one another.

Conservatives want a strong national defense, and some libertarians (seemingly including Gillespie) are ok with that. However, conservatives often want to intervene in this barbarous world, and libertarians are against intervention.

One libertarian argument against interventionism is that the U.S. government that is our agent to perform such intervention is the same flawed, bumbling entity whose intervention in domestic affairs we fear. Cooke concedes that point. However, he does not regard it as a decisive argument against any and all intervention.

There are more than a few libertarians whose vehemence against Israel makes it difficult for me to picture them joining a conservatarian coalition. The most charitable interpretation that I can come up with for the libertarian antipathy toward Israel is the following:

American libertarians are anti-interventionist. Israel is a country that wants America to intervene in ways to protect its interests. America has sometimes (often?) done so. Without Israel there would be less American intervention, and because of that Israel deserves to be singled out for opprobrium.

The conservative view might be the following:

Israel’s and America’s interests generally align. Along the civilization vs. barbarism axis, Israel is far more civilized than its enemies. American intervention is constructive and appropriate.

Some libertarians and progressives blame Israel for the costly, counter-productive attempt to force democracy on Iraq. I think it is unfair to hold Israel responsible. While some Israelis, notably Natan Sharansky, indeed were keen on spreading democracy, his views were much more popular in the U.S. than in Israel. Faith in democracy as a solution to the problems in the Middle East is as American as apple pie. If anything, President Obama took that faith even farther than President Bush.

My own feelings about Israel are similar to those expressed by George Gilder in The Israel Test, which I wrote about a couple years ago. Gilder sees hostility to Israel as reflecting a dislike for dynamism and entrepreneurial success. Progressives can seem nostalgic for the socialist poverty that Israelis shared before the liberalizations that took place over the past 30 years or so.

For some American Christian conservatives, support for Israel has a religious basis that is off-putting to more secular people (and to many Jews). Otherwise, I think that American support for Israel among conservatives is based more on Israel’s circumstances than on its diplomacy or lobbying. If there were as many medieval fanatics surrounding Singapore or Switzerland, my guess is that the conservatives who see America as the Indispensable Nation would want us to be heavily involved in those areas as well.

Another possible argument for leaning against Israel is that one should do so in order to counter Jewish political pressure. However, my sense is that most Jews feel a stronger affinity to the cause of progressivism than to Israel’s government, particularly with a conservative at its head.

Yes, there are American Jews who advocate for the U.S. to pursue hawkish policies in the Middle East, but they are far outnumbered by other American Jews who loathe the hawks. My guess is that if Binyamin Netanyahu wanted to get into a popularity contest in America with Barack Obama, he would do better if American Jews were excluded from taking part in the poll.

Finally, I have to say that I have concluded that this is a topic on which people have a hard time disagreeing with one another charitably. If you (or I) want to voice an opinion on Israel in order to vent, then fine. But you (or I) should not expect that someone’s mind is going to change as a result. Instead, expect an uncharitable response.

While I expressed some of my views on Israel, they are beside the main point, and feel free to ignore them. The main point in this post is simply the observation that Israel profoundly divides conservatives from a significant group of libertarians. If you disagree with that, or you think that the divide is caused by something I have not mentioned, then by all means weigh in.

What I’m Reading

MIT and the Transformation of American Economics, edited by E. Roy Weintraub. David Warsh cited it and I blogged on Warsh about ten days ago, talking about how other universities’ resistance to hiring Jews enabled MIT to surge ahead. I think it is a fascinating volume, and I don’t think it’s just because I did my graduate work at MIT. A few things I’ve picked up so far.

1. Economic methods changed relatively rapidly between 1935 and 1955. In 1935, economics still looked a lot like a branch of social and political philosophy. By 1955, it was much more technical and policy-oriented, with a shiny scientific veneer. Keynes and the Depression got economists interested in activist government, and the operations research of World War II stimulated much subsequent work on theory, data collection, and policy.

2. Beatrice Cherrier’s essay, and others in the book, describe the emergence of what Samuelson dubbed the “neoclassical synthesis.” You can think of this as an attempt to reconcile Solow’s growth theory, in which saving is good, with Keynesian macro, in which saving is bad. The resolution is to say that the economy is only Keynesian in the short run.

3. In Andrej Svorencik’s essay, we get quantitative support for the view that a few dissertation advisers at MIT have played a dominant role in the profession as a whole. He points out that in my era Dornbusch out-sired Fischer in terms of numbers of students. Still, I continue to hold Fischer responsible for turning macro into a wasteland.

4. In Yann Giraud’s essay, we find that Samuelson’s textbook was bitterly opposed by conservatives, who put pressure on the MIT Administration, which in turn persuaded Samuelson to make changes. If this caving into outside pressure seems surprising, remember that this was the McCarthy era, and most individuals and institutions preferred discretion to waving a red cloak in front of that bull, so to speak.

I am still only part way through the volume.

Emergent Anarcho-Capitalism

“Scott Alexander” reviews David Friedman’s classic, The Machinery of Freedom.

My overall conclusion is that I am delighted by this fascinating and elegant system and would very much like to see it tried somewhere very far away from me.

I might contend that a version anarcho-capitalism is being tried very close to us, in fact right here on the Internet. The Internet’s legal apparatus might be said to be its communication and software protocols. Those emerge in various ways, but not through legislation backed by force.

One might counter that much of what we do on the Internet rests on a layer of commercial practices, and those in turn rest on a layer of government enforcement. This line of reasoning might go: if you took away government, then Google could not enforce its advertising contracts, and then Google would not have revenue, and then we would not have Google.

But I think the argument that we should be afraid of anarcho-capitalism because we lack experience with such a system might not be trumps.

TANSTAAFM (M stands for market)

So writes Yuval Noah Harari, in Sapiens.

There is simply no such thing as a market free of all political bias. The important economic resource is trust in the future, and this resource is constantly threatened by thieves and charlatans. Markets by themselves offer no protection against fraud, theft, and violence. It is the job of political systems to ensure trust by legislating sanctions against cheats and to establish and support police forces, courts, and jails which will enforce the law. When kings fail to do their jobs and regulate markets properly, it leads to loss of trust, dwindling credit and economic depression. That was the lesson taught by the Mississippi Bubble of 1719, and anyone who forgot it was reminded by the US housing bubble of 2007, and the ensuing credit crunch and recession.

There is perhaps something to be said for the notion that there is an interior optimum for trust in government. Too little, and you have weak property rights and an inability to safely make long-term investment. Too much, and government takes on too much power and creates a false impression that it can guarantee the safety of dangerous and misguided investment.

The Flynn Effect Puzzle

From a BBC article.

Richard Lynn notes that measures of infants’ mental development increased in the UK and US at rates correlated to the increasing IQs of slightly older children. It’s difficult to see how Flynn’s theories are enough to explain this. “Are infants thinking more scientifically today?” he asks rhetorically.

Pointer from Neerav Kingsland, who writes,

For gains in IQ, I wonder whether changes in the method of harnessing energy caused IQ gains (our brains adapted to the needs of the new economy), or whether gains in IQ led to the development of new ways of harnessing energy (we got smarter and invented new ways of doing things).

My guess is that, for the transition from farming to industry, it’s the former.

Or to put it another way: humans developed the IQ we needed.

In Sapiens, Yuval Noah Hariri argues that foragers need more intelligence than farmers. Foragers need to know much more about their environment, including information about many varieties of plants. Farmers just need to know a routine for raising a staple crop.

One can argue that ordinary workers in the early stages of the industrial revolution did not need to know much, either. More recently, the skill demands of jobs have gone up, so that we may be reverting to forager-level intelligence.

But what is the mechanism by which “humans developed the IQ we needed.” For foragers, the mechanism is Darwinian. If you cannot remember which plants are edible, you die without passing on your genes. By the same token, farming is dysgenic. It allows more intellectually weak people to survive.

But does that mean that we should seek a eugenic explanation for the Flynn effect? That is, for the past hundred years, has the trend within a given country been for the proportion of children born of less-intelligent parents to decline? Researchers, including Lynn, seem to prefer nurture-based explanation.

MIT Economics and Academic Prejudice

The MIT economics department’s dominance was fading just as I entered grad school there. David Warsh, himself a long-time chronicler of the department, reviews a book edited by E. Roy Weintraub on the golden age of economics at the Institute.

A sixth factor, advanced by Weintraub in the Transformation volume, argues that the rise of MIT stemmed from its willingness to appoint Jewish economists to senior positions, starting with Samuelson himself. Anti-Semitism was common in American universities on the eve of World War II, and while most of the best universities had one Jew or even two on their faculties of arts and sciences, to demonstrate that they were free of prejudice, none showed any willingness to appoint significant numbers until the flood of European émigrés after World War I began to open their doors. MIT was able to recruit its charter faculty – Maurice Adelmam, Max Millikan, Walt Rostow, Paul Rosenstein-Rodin, Solow, Evsey Domar and Franco Modigliani were Jews – “not only because of Samuelson’s growing renown,” writes Weintraub, “…but because the department and university were remarkably open to the hiring of Jewish faculty at a time when such hiring was just beginning to be possible at Ivy League Universities,”

Pointer from Mark Thoma. My Swarthmore College professor Bernie Saffran emphasized the anti-Semitism factor also. Bernie’s version was that Harvard’s anti-semitism made Samuelson feel that he would be better off at MIT, and once he went to MIT he went about using Jews to build a superior department to pointedly punish Harvard. It took almost three decades (roughly from the end of World War II to the late 1970s) for Harvard to come back.

Economists generally view prejudice by a firm as unsustainable, because that firm will lose out to competitors. The lesson I take from the Harvard-MIT story is that in academia prejudice can persist for a while, with long-term detrimental effects. Consider that as you read stories about prejudice against conservatives.

Read Warsh’s entire article, which covers much more ground.

UPDATE: For more on the economics of discrimination, check out the links on David Henderson’s post.

Harari on Money

He writes,

Money. . .involved the creation of a new inter-subjective reality that exists solely in people’s shared imaginations.

money is the most universal and efficient system of mutual trust ever devised.

This is from his book Sapiens that I am currently reading.

I like to say that money is a consensual hallucination, using the phrase the William Gibson coined to describe cyberspace, a term that he also coined.

I want to push back against the materialist idea of money, in which its value is determined by the “quantity of money” in relation to other goods. Think of money as a protocol for exchanging goods, the way that TCP/IP is the basic Internet protocol for exchanging information between computers. The concept of a three percent increase in the supply of TCP/IP is nonsense.

What about the Fed? Think of the Fed as a big player in the repo market. It is a peer of Goldman Sachs.

What about hyperinflation? Think of that as the government needing to pay for its deficit spending through an enormous counterfeit operation, one that ultimately undermines the trust in money and wrecks the protocol for exchanging goods.

What I’m Reading

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari. I think I mentioned this the other day. Harari argues that in prehistorical times humans were responsible for the extinction of many large species. I was reminded of this today when Tyler Cowen pointed to a piece on the relatively recent extinction of woolly mammoths on a large island. The story says,

Archaeological evidence suggests that humans reached Wrangel Island at roughly the same time the last mammoths vanished, but there’s no evidence yet to indicate that they ever hunted the mammoths. The more likely answer is climate change, which as a side effect might well have made it easier for humans to reach the island to serve as witnesses to the mammoths’ final days.

Harari points out that humans do not have to hunt creatures in order to cause their extinction. For example, humans could disrupt food sources.

I am only part way through the book. My ultimate evaluation may not be favorable.

The new Robert Putnam Book

I got it as soon as it was released and finished it in a few hours.

I like his top third/bottom third way to approach inequality. Of the four forces, he emphasizes what I have been calling demographic disparity and what he calls, more descriptively, bifurcated family patterns; he mentions, using different terms, factor-price equalization and Moore’s Law, but does little with them. Nothing on the New Commanding Heights.

He is inexcusably shabby toward Charles Murray. He does not say he owes a debt to Murray. He does not summarize Coming Apart. He just gives it one brief, dismissive footnote.

Putnam plays very fast and loose with correlation and causality. At one point, he even admits this.

He never once mentions genetics as a factor in inequality. This biases the analysis much more in favor of policy remedies than is reasonable.

Overall, I came away with some new data points, but no new insights, and some anger and frustration with the flaws.

Some of the data and some of the analysis goes against his lefty readers’ biases, although he makes it easy for them to stumble over these truths, pick themselves up, and move on as if nothing happened. (Churchill’s phrase)

Sentences I Might Have Written

from Megan McArdle:

1950s health care isn’t expensive; this same regimen would be a bargain at today’s prices. What’s expensive is things that didn’t exist in 1950. You can say that “health care” has gotten more expensive—or you can say that the declining cost of other things has allowed us to pour a lot more resources into exciting new health products that give us both longer and healthier lives.

In Crisis of Abundance, I wrote,

The American middle class can still afford the wonderful health care that was available in 1975–easily. . .as a thought experiment, a return to 1975 health care standards would completely resolve what is commonly described as America’s health care crisis.

You know, that book was written 10 years ago (it came out in 2006), and at the time I said it would have a shelf life of ten years, meaning that I thought that it would still accurately describe the issues for another decade. In fact, it is looking like it will be valid for another ten years. I would say that the majority of popular books on politics and economics expire much more quickly.

Four forces watch: In addition to the New Commanding Heights, McArdle’s essay also touches on the Demographic Divide.

while the college educated class seems to have found a new equilibrium of stable and happy later marriages, marriage is collapsing among the majority who do not have a college degree, leaving millions of children in unstable family situations where fathers are often absent from the home, and their attention and financial resources are divided between multiple children with multiple women.

Other sentences are reminiscent of The Reality of the Real Wage. There, I recycled a bit from my book.

My guess is that if you could find a health insurance policy today that only covered diagnostic procedures and treatments that were available in 1958, the cost of that policy would not be much higher than it was then. Much of the additional spending goes for MRIs and other advanced medical equipment, as well as for health care professionals with more extensive specialization and training than what was available 50 years ago.

I recommend McArdle’s entire essay. Brink Lindsey adds more statistics, such as

In 2011, 87 percent of kids who had at least one parent with a college degree were living with both their parents. For the children of high school dropouts and high school grads, the corresponding figures were 53 and 47 percent, respectively.

Finally, on this same topic, a reviewer (Francis Fukuyama) of an about-to-be-released Robert Putnam book writes,

One of the most sobering graphs in Our Kids shows that while the proportion of young children from college-educated backgrounds living in single-parent families has declined to well under 10 per cent, the number has risen steadily for the working class and now stands at close to 70 per cent.

Pointer from Tyler Cowen.