Google News Usurps Matt Drudge

Drudge is known for juxtaposing two headlines to make an ironic point. At the moment, Google News is showing me one headline about President Obama disputing as not jibing with reality Donald Trump’s dark characterization of the state of things during his acceptance speech. Higher up on Google News is a headline about the latest apparent terror attack in Munich.

People have pointed out to me that Trump came down strongly on the civilization vs. barbarism axis. My guess is that the Democrats will not end up trying to compete along that axis. I do not think that they help themselves by calling attention to the issue. In fact, no matter how much they may believe that facts and rationality are on their side, claiming that the problems of crime and terrorism are over-stated would be the most self-defeating way possible for the Democrats to call attention to those issues.

I expect that the Democrats will end up coming down strongly on the oppressor-oppressed axis. Generically, they will try to tie Mr. Trump to another headline I see on Google News, which is that ex-Klansman David Duke is seeking a Senate seat. Their message will be that “If you are an X, then a Trump Presidency will take away your rights,” where X will be alleged to include non-white, non-male, non-straight, non-Evangelical. . .

In other words, my prediction is that this election season we will see the three-axes model much in evidence, with Mr. Trump hitting the civilization-barbarism axis for all it’s worth and Mrs. Clinton hitting the oppressor-oppressed axis for all it’s worth.

The Depressing Election Year of 2016

Kevin Williamson writes,

the two presidential candidates Americans got most excited about were Donald Trump, a nationalist, and Bernie Sanders, a socialist. Between the two of them, they make a pretty good national socialist.

Jonah Goldberg says pretty much the same thing in this interview with Bill Kristol. I found the long interview worth a listen. One of Goldberg’s points is that he views support for Trump as a reaction to the discrepancy between what was promised and what was delivered by politicians, especially Republican politicians. After they were propelled to victory in the mid-term elections, they came across as losers. This opened the way for an outsider to come in and claim to be a winner.

My thoughts begin with a generalization about how different political persuasions view human nature:

–Conservatives tend to believe that we need traditional institutions and restraints to control the evil impulses that are in everyone.

–Progressives tend to believe that we just need the right leaders to bring out the good that is in everyone.

–Libertarians tend to believe that we just need smaller government to bring out the good that is in everyone.

It seems to me that news events over the past twelve months or so have put a strain on those who are inclined to view human nature as good. Racial conflict and terrorism tend to reinforce the conservative view that human nature is something that needs to be restrained.

Of course, progressives can continue to blame the racial conflict on bad leaders who are not sufficiently attuned to the oppression of black people. And they can blame terrorism on the invasion of Iraq.

And libertarians can blame the racial conflict on cruel laws and their vicious enforcement. Libertarians can blame terrorism on past American intervention.

I am finding myself drifting in a conservative direction. But I still try to keep in mind that when we seek out institutions to restrain evil impulses, we should not put all of our chips, or even very many of them, on government.

If you are worried about inequality now. . .

Noah Smith writes,

With robot armies, the few will be able to do whatever they want to the many.

…A.I.’s–if they ever exist–may or may not have any reason to dominate, marginalize, or slaughter humanity. But we know that humans often like to do those things. Humans already exist, and we know many of them are evil. It’s the Robot Lords we should be afraid of, not Skynet.

This article says,

As military research pushes robotics prices down and Pentagon policies push battlefield gear to domestic law enforcement agencies, expect to see more armed robots on American streets.

Feel free to make guesses as to how the future will play out. I would place a low probability that it turns out to be simply people who own drone armies repressing the rest of us. At the very least, things will be complicated by the phenomenon of people with drone armies fighting other people with drone armies.

Three Axes and Police

Jonah Goldberg writes,

At least for a moment, antagonists on either side of polarizing issues could see beyond the epistemic horizon of their most comfortable talking points. Black Lives Matter activists thanked the police for their protection and sacrifice. Conservative Republicans, most notably House Speaker Paul Ryan and former speaker Newt Gingrich, spoke movingly about race in America. Gun-rights activists were dismayed that Philando Castile, the man shot by a police officer in Minnesota, had followed all of the rules — he had a gun permit, cooperated with the officer, etc. — and was still killed.

So are people able to view this along one another’s axes? I doubt it.

1. Progressives, who communicate in terms of the oppressor-oppressed axis, stress entrenched racism.

2. Conservatives, who communicate in terms of the civilization-barbarism axis, stress the importance of maintaining respect for police.

3. Libertarians, who communicate in terms of the freedom-coercion axis, stress that laws from the state ultimately are backed by force, so that if you want less state violence you need fewer laws.

Judging from my facebook feed, some libertarians also seem eager to align themselves with progressives.

My own feelings are mixed. On the progressive side, it seems reasonable to me to hold police to a standard that they should respond to the same behavior in the same way, regardless of the person’s race. Shopping while black should not be presumed criminal.

On the conservative side, it seems reasonable to me to want an active and assertive police force that is treated with respect. It seems likely that an active and assertive police would be particularly beneficial to poor people living in dangerous areas.

A Comment to Ponder

The commenter writes,

It’s funny how Montesquieu never thought that this “division of power” wouldn’t work if those in power all went to the same schools and married each other.

What is required to make “checks and balances” work well? If the major institutions become controlled by people who share an ideology and outlook, does that mean that checks and balances disappear?

Last week, Alex Tabarrok wrote,

For college and university faculty in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont – the liberal to conservative ratio is above 25 to 1!

My guess is that those professors tend to see checks and balances as a bug rather than a feature, at least as long as there is a President in office who shares their world view.

Larry Summers Rides the Populist Wave

He writes,

If Italy’s banking system is badly undercapitalised and the country’s democratically elected government wants to use taxpayer money to recapitalise it, why should some international agreement prevent it from doing so? Why should not countries that think that genetically modified crops are dangerous get to shield people from them? Why should the international community seek to prevent countries that wish to limit capital inflows from doing so? The issue in all these cases is not the merits. It is the principle that intrusions into sovereignty exact a high cost.

Pointer from Mark Thoma. My thoughts:

1. If Larry Summers has a natural affinity with ordinary people, then I was born to play in the NBA.

2. Note that he instinctively thinks that decisions should be made by governments. His concession to populism is that these decisions should be made by national governments rather than international bureaucrats.

3. I don’t think that we should sell free trade and increased legal immigration to people as “Take this pill, it will be good for you.” I think we should try to sell free trade by example, which means being willing to give up the protections against competition that we enjoy in our credentialist society.

Brexit Along Three Axes

I do not think that the 3-axes model performs as well as usual at interpreting the post-Brexit feelings. But here is a try.

Let us treat the vote as an anti-immigrant backlash. That might not be correct, by the way. The journalists who are offering that interpretation are the ones who are shocked and appalled by the vote. But suppose it is a major factor.

The oppressor-oppressed view would have to treat the immigrants as the most oppressed group. So, even though working-class natives were traditionally treated as oppressed, you would expect the progressive defense of “remain” to emphasize the plight of the immigrants. I am not really seeing much of that. Instead, I get the sense that there is instead more of an emotional attachment to the project of a united Europe, along with some snobbery toward working-class provincials. I understand how the united Europe fits in with Progressive beliefs, but it does not line up with the oppressor-oppressed axis.

The civilization-barbarism view is that immigration has to be restricted in order to protect British civilization. That would be the language in which conservatives would express support for “leave.” I think we more or less see that.

Finally the freedom-coercion axis says that restrictions on immigration are an especially cruel form of coercion. So it argues for “remain.” And I think that there are some libertarians who express that point of view. But for others, the salient issue is not immigration but instead the Brussels bureaucracy. Regardless of how they come out on net, libertarians do use the language of freedom-coercion in articulating their position.

So on a generous reading, we can say that the three-axes model gets two out of three right.

A Libertarian Conundrum

Alfred Moore writes,

Hayek regards his own understanding of spontaneous orders as scientific. For all his talk of the distribution of knowledge in society, knowledge of society was concentrated among people initiated into the science of complex orders, and consequently Hayek sees as the major problem of politics how to bypass the tendency of people to be seduced by the idea that there are plausible alternative ways of organizing society.

You want people to resist conceding authority to those who claim to have scientific knowledge that they can use to design programs and regulations. But does that mean you have to tell people to cede authority to Hayekians?

Sort of related to this conundrum is Buchanan’s idea of using a constitution to prevent a democracy from degenerating into a rent-seeking free-for-all. That suffers from the “a Republic if you can keep it” problem.

Moore wonders whether there is not an authoritarian undertone to Hayekian liberty. Does it take a dictator to establish a free-market state? Lee Kuan Yew comes to mind. As does the idea of competitive government subject to “foot voting,” which is attractive in theory and problematic in practice.

UPDATE: I think that this comment is related.

…one of the big contradiction of the libertarian movement. Which is libertarians love the movement of increase of people and goods can not co-exist their love small local governance, institutions and religion. Long term the free movement destroys the the local governance at some point. In reality the EU has increased this flow of people and goods over the decades although in very clumsy bureaucratic way. Most likely the UK & EU breakup will be minor (I am amazed people voted leave without even a real plan here.) but there is potential for further rejection of the EU and decrease movement of people and goods….

How Should Europe be Organized?

In the wake of the Brexit vote, here are my thoughts. I view the issue primarily from a libertarian perspective, which means a bias in favor of free trade and free movement and a bias against centralized bureaucracy.

1. The actual Brexit vote, as I interpret it (and I make no claim to expertise at reading voters’ minds) seemed to rest mostly on hostility to free trade and free movement, with some hostility toward centralized bureaucracy. And if you have not already followed my recommendation and read Martin Gurri’s The Revolt of the Public, the Brexit vote is another reason you should.

2. I think that a common currency is a good thing. As readers of my new book will realize, I don’t subscribe to the sort of monetarist macroeconomics that would lead one to say otherwise.

3. I think that freedom of movement is a good thing. Border checkpoints are a bad thing.

4. However, you have to think about how to reconcile freedom of movement with welfare-state benefits. The libertarian approach is to get rid of the welfare-state benefits. A less radical approach is to clarify which benefits are limited to citizens and specify the qualifications for becoming a citizen.

5. As for terrorism coming from immigrants, it seems that we can choose two of the following three: privacy, open borders, and security. I am willing to toss out privacy, as long as the government actors providing security are not themselves able to hide what they are doing. Few card-carrying libertarians would agree with this view. Before you blast away at it, read or re-read David Brin’s Transparent Society Revisited. In any case, I interpret the voters as saying that we should toss out open borders.

6. Some people equate a strong EU with technocrats being able to solve/avert the sovereign debt crisis that threatens several countries. I do not.

7. Some people see the EU as a force for free trade. I see it as a force for trade that is managed, regulated, and harmonized. Is this more or less free than what we would see if trade policies were left up to individual governments? I would guess it is somewhat less free, particularly as we move through time, and the bureaucratic tentacles of the EU tend to spread.

8. Of all the reasons for selling stocks, I think this was the least compelling. I wonder if the stock market was simply poised for a decline, anyway, but it needed some sort of focal point to get the selling going.

On net, I would have voted “Leave.” But I don’t like the anti-immigrant, anti-trade rationale.

Yuval Levin praises my book

Actually, he praises two of them.

His 2013 book The Three Languages of Politics is a great example of that. The book sheds a bright light on our political life by arguing that progressives, conservatives, and libertarians tend to see political questions as arrayed along three distinct axes: Progressive think about politics along the oppressor/oppressed axis; conservatives think in terms of the civilization/barbarism axis; and libertarians think in terms of the freedom/coercion axis. . .Try that insight on for a minute as a lens through which to look around at our politics and you’ll find that an awful lot of our debates make much more sense.

Kling’s latest book, out this week and available practically for free on Amazon, is to my mind his greatest contribution yet. Specialization and Trade: A Re-introduction to Economics, is as ambitious as its subtitle suggests. Kling argues that our understanding of the fundamental character and purpose of the discipline of economics has been distorted by the form that the professionalization of the discipline has taken.

Those are just excerpts. More kind words at the link.