Heritability, Left and Right

Chris Dillow writes,

there’s no conflict between leftism and a belief in the heritability of ability. In this respect at least, the left has nothing to fear from science.

Suppose that one believes that intelligence is heritable and that intelligence affects economic status. To the extent that you believe those two things, you have to maintain a somewhat lower belief in the importance of effort in determining economic status. Accordingly, in scoring a policy of pure income redistribution, as Dillow points out, you have to give it additional philosophical points because the well-off are the beneficiaries of lucky inheritance. In addition, such a policy loses fewer economic-efficiency points, because taxes that discourage effort will not diminish total wealth as much as they would if wealth were entirely determined by effort.

So Dillow would appear to be correct. And in fact Gregory Clark, who is well known for his findings supporting heritability of economic status, says that his findings support income redistribution.

Why, then, is heritability of intelligence a problem for the left? I believe that the three-axes model can help provide the answer.

In the three-axes model, progressives want to squeeze every issue into an oppressor-oppressed narrative. To suggest that ethnic groups differ in average income for reasons other than oppression would be to weaken that narrative. So even if from a policy perspective a belief in heritability is tolerable, from a narrative perspective a book like The Bell Curve represents a huge threat.

My sense is that this produces a great deal of cognitive dissonance on the left. I have many friends on the left, and I do not know a single one who would instinctively deny the heritability of intelligence. On the other hand, they have been instructed to regard Murray and Herrnstein as vile racists.

Evidence that runs counter to the oppressor-oppressed axis narrative is difficult for people on the left to process. I think that, notwithstanding Dillow’s reasoning, the left is going to continue to be uncomfortable with the science of heritability of intelligence.

Finish this Sentence

Peace will come to Syria, Iraq, Libya, and the rest of the Middle East when ______.

I define peace as a situation in which at least 99 percent of the people do not have to consider abandoning their homes for fear of violence.

Off the top of my head, I do not have an answer. But I find myself drawn more to the conservative civilization-barbarism axis than to the progressive oppressor-oppressed axis or to the libertarian freedom-coercion axis. Along those lines, you may wish to re-read Jeanne J. Kirkpatrick’s classic Dictatorships and Double Standards. Among many possible excerpts I might choose, there is this:

Although most governments in the world are, as they always have been, autocracies of one kind or another, no idea holds greater sway in the mind of educated Americans than the belief that it is possible to democratize governments, anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances.

She argued against this brand of wishful thinking. If you think that you have a reliable answer to my question, then ask yourself whether you are engaged in wishful thinking.

For example, I would give a low grade to anyone who thinks that the solution is to focus on empowering communities. In other words, community organizers are the solution to terrorism. When I read that, I did not know whether to laugh or cry. I am afraid that I could not come up with anything charitable to say.

If anything, libertarians tend to think more wishfully than progressives. My own wishful thought has been that violence would wane at some point because so many people would become fed up with it. [UPDATE: I am not entirely wrong about that.] I think that in fact more people are getting fed up with it, but they are not being provided with a reason to hope that the militants will be defeated.

I am not saying that the solution is to bomb the heck out of the Middle East. It may very well be that the most prudent thing to do is nothing. But the policy articulated by our leaders sounds like it came out of a class discussion in freshman sociology. I find it demoralizing. And I imagine that anyone who is on the front lines against the Islamic militants has to feel totally bereft.

What I’m Reading

A Critique of Democracy, by Michael Anissimov, and Democracy: The God that Failed, by Hans-Hermann Hoppe. Anissimov claims that Hoppe’s analysis can be used to justify a preference for monarchy over democracy. Anissimov writes,

The proposal for private rather than public government, at its core, is extremely simple: for something to be properly valued and taken care of it [sic], it must be owned. That includes government. If we want a government that is properly taken care of for the long term, it must be owned by someone. That means no democracy. Does this mean we’re sacrificing our “freedom”? No, because I don’t define freedom as being able to cast one meaningless vote among millions in an election.

I have no problem with belittling the value of the voice option. But it is not obvious to me that monarchy would work well.

First, there is the succession problem. As a citizen, I value continuity. A succession crisis, particularly one that turns violent, is going to create bad discontinuity. My reading of history is that monarchies tend to have succession crises.

Second, there is the problem of retaining the exit option. Just as I tend to place little value on voice, I place a high value on exit. Hoppe writes,

States will always try to enlarge their exploitation and tax base. In doing so, however, they will come into conflict with other, competing states.

I am more inclined to think that democracies will tend not vote to go to war purely to engage in expansion, whereas there is nothing to stop a monarch from doing so.

A bit later, Hoppe writes,

A small government has many close competitors, and if it taxes and regulates its own subjects visibly
more than its competitors, it is bound to suffer from the emigration of labor and capital and a corresponding loss of future tax revenue.

I believe that a monarch has a very strong incentive to try to close off the exit option. Our democracy may very well do this by making you forfeit some of your wealth if you give up citizenship. But still, I think that democracies will tend to be looser about allowing their citizens to leave.

Haidt, Capitalism, and Three-Axis Narratives

Some further thoughts inspired by comments on this post.

1. I don’t think that progressives would be comfortable with a narrative that says that things used to be better. That is much more of a conservative trope. Also, as an aside, Karl Marx himself said that capitalism saved people from the idiocy of rural life.

2. Instead, I think that progressives have two complaints about capitalism. First, it creates winners and losers. This leads to the winners becoming oppressors and the losers becoming oppressed.

3. The other narrative of capitalism is that it is unorganized and unplanned. It requires oversight in order to correct market failures. I think that this narrative does not fit in with the language of oppressor-oppressed.

4. I think that Randazzo have the libertarian narrative for capitalism correct. It is consistent with freedom and its success demonstrates the virtues of a free society.

5. I think that one of the commenters on the post suggests a reasonable conservative narrative. However, I think that conservatives feel some ambivalence toward capitalism. It is a civilizing force primarily because it rewards effort, individual responsibility, and self-discipline. However, it is an anti-civilizing force to the extent that it promotes greed and elevates materialism over values that ought to be higher.

Campus Bias

Daniel Little writes,

For anyone who cares about universities as places of learning for undergraduate students, Gross’s book is an encouraging one. He provides a clear and convincing explanation of the mechanisms through which a non-random distribution of political attitudes wind up in the population of university and college professors, and he provides strong evidence against the idea that universities and professors exercise discriminatory bias against newcomers who have different political identities. And finally, Gross’s analysis and my own experience suggests that professors generally conform to Weber’s ethic when it comes to proselytizing for one’s own convictions in the classroom: the function and duty of the professor is to help students think for themselves

Pointer from Mark Thoma. Not surprisingly, I disagree. One anecdote I tell is from the graduation of one of my daughters. The main graduation speaker mentioned that she had just seen in article saying that the population of the U.S. will be majority-minority by 2050. The students erupted into whooping and wild cheering.

To me, the demographic projections are facts rather than cause for joy or sorrow. But after four years of being told that white people are the oppressors and minorities are the oppressed, the students reacted automatically and emotionally. To me, it was the opposite behavior of someone who has been taught to think for themselves.

If liberal professors are not aware of political bias in their workplace, it is because, like fish, they are swimming in it. The indoctrination into the language of oppressor-oppressed is pervasive. If you don’t buy into the progessive mindset, then you feel about as comfortable on a liberal college campus as an atheist in a seminary.

Randazzo and Haidt on Economists, Left and Right

In the EconJournalWatch symposium, they write,

There are two basic narratives about capitalism circulating in Western society today. One says that capitalism is exploitation (or at least is highly conducive to exploitation); the other says that capitalism is liberation. If you endorse the exploitation narrative, then you are more likely to see government as the main force that protects innocent victims. It protects them with a welfare state and with a regulatory state. But if you endorse the liberation narrative, then you’ll want government to step back as much as possible and let capitalism work its magic. You’ll want to shrink both the welfare state and the regulatory state.

This is somewhat congruent with the three-axis model. In my terminology, your basic economic narrative is oppressor-oppressed or freedom-coercion.

As they themselves admit, the narrative that they provide for economists on the left is not something they would recognize as characterizing their own views. It would fail Bryan Caplan’s ideological Turing test.

I believe that most economists on the left believe that there are incentive problems in markets and that technocrats can fix those problems. They do not think of markets as intrinsically about exploitation.

Randazzo and Haidt argue that economists’ moral views can predict their economic analysis.

our survey data shows that responses to moral propositions can be used to predict responses to empirical (positive) economic theory propositions. For example, how much importance an economist assigns to the moral foundation of “care” predicts views on whether austerity is good or bad for economic growth, whether a single-payer healthcare system would reduce national healthcare costs or not, whether minimum-wage laws benefit or harm workers, and whether or not national debt and deficits adversely affect economic growth.

My Explanation for Economists’ Divergent Beliefs

In the new EconJournalWatch, editor Daniel Klein asked a symposium of economists to explain why

In the United States, on matters of the welfare state and the regulatory state, virtually no economist favors one while opposing the other.

I gave what I thought was the most obvious and straightforward answer.

Economists for whom market failure is relatively more salient and government failure is relatively less salient will tend to favor government activism, and conversely.

If you are interested in more elaboration, read the rest of my essay.

Sentences I Could Have Written

From James Manzi.

If we really could build regressions that would reliably predict what the impacts of various policies would be, it would be a powerful argument against certain political and economic freedoms. Why go to all the trouble of having a messy and expensive market, or states as laboratories of democracy, when we could just have a couple of professors build us a model?

Topic of the Week: Secession

First, on this week’s econtalk, Russ Roberts and Alex Tabarrok discuss private cities. Many interesting issues come up. Among them:

1. Alex endorses the idea of a region in which several governments compete to offer public services.

2. Whether you have a private city or a government-run city, it is possible to become imprisoned by legacy factors. Decisions that were undertaken years ago create rents that people want to protect, even if that means that decisions made today are very far from optimal. Alex says that some of New York’s features were planned nearly two centuries ago, when it was largely uninhabited. Today, it is one of the most difficult cities in which to build new housing, because of all the existing interests that have created hurdles for developers to cross.

3. They talk about the phenomenon of private government via neighborhood associations. This is a way in which small groups of homeowners partially secede from larger governmental units. I expect to see this phenomenon become increasingly important.

Next, we have a WaPo article focused on a conference of the Ludwig von Mises Institute at which Ron Paul and at least one of his aides promoted the idea of secession. I feel compelled to use this excerpt:

“If I were Ron, and my son were running for president, and we were in the same situation, I would shut up,” said Walter Block, an economics professor at Loyola University in New Orleans. He rated Ron Paul a 98 on his personal scale of libertarianism and Rand Paul a 70, and said he supported them both.

Here is another:

the speakers said that there were other ways to “secede,” beyond convincing your state to go it alone. Individual people could “secede” by doing such things as home-schooling their children, not going to mainstream colleges, owning gold and foreign currencies, and stockpiling food, fuel, firearms and cash (“seceding from dependency,” that was called).

Back in 1968, there was a schism on the left. Some wanted to “work within the system,” e.g., by supporting the campaigns of Gene McCarthy or Robert Kennedy for the Democratic Party nomination. Others wanted to aim for revolution or escape. For example, there were the Students for a Democratic Society and various offshoots. For those of you too young to remember, think of them as Occupy Wall Street. I think that SDS appeared less pathetic than OWS, but perhaps that reflects my own evolution.

Anyway, I think that there is a similar schism among libertarians. On the one hand, you have the bleeding hearts, who just want to smoke a little weed and redistribute income more efficiently. On the other hand, you have the folks who dream of secession.

I am in favor of increasing opportunities for secession. But meanwhile, I would rather see the established system reformed in a libertarian direction, rather than root for its collapse. If it collapses, I don’t think you get a libertarian utopia. I think you get Venezuela or Greece.