Catching up with the FITS
some recent posts on substack from fantasy intellectual stars
Here are a few quick notes from the recent substack postings of folks who did well in the Fantasy Intellectual teams contests back in April and May. The posts are mostly from August.
Two-person podcasts tend to produce more insights than monologues or essays. And when you get two FITS stars together, the results are self-recommending. Here are Yascha Mounk and Alex Tabarrok on policies to promote innovation.
I want more experimentation in the world. I do not want the United States to be a European welfare state, if only because I want to see a more diverse world. One of the big advantages of the United States not being a welfare state is that we can have a lot more immigration. It’s very difficult to have a lot of relatively poor people come to your country and to have a high minimum wage and universal health care.
To me, the biggest way to improve welfare around the world is immigration. Somebody who emigrates from Honduras or from Haiti to the United States [is likely to have their] wages go up by a factor of 10. Introducing people to the American capitalist system is much bigger than any gain that the welfare state produces.
It seems to me that there are broadly four positions, two that are on the very essentialist end: [the first is] the ethno-nationalist, white nationalist position that race is real and it will always be there, and societies will thrive insofar as the supposedly superior group manages to stay in charge. That's obviously something that neither of us has any sympathy for. There’s a second position that's actually in some ways, structurally, surprisingly similar, which is that race is so essential and so deeply baked in that it will always define communities and societies, and rather than having a liberal democracy in which we primarily are seen as individual citizens with the same rights and duties, we should primarily be seen as members of our racial or perhaps religious communities. That tends to have a more left-wing valence, but I think it shares some ontological commitments, as it were, [with the former]. I think neither of us has much sympathy for that position, either.
I want to hear where you fall between the third and the fourth. The third position is something [to the effect of]: humans are deeply tribal creatures, and so questions like race or religion deeply structure society, and likely will for a long time. But the project of institutions is to push against that, to allow us to have solidarity with each other, to allow us to maintain a complicated project like the United States of America that is a multi-ethnic, multi-racial democracy. And so yes, we need to recognize these groups, and the fact that they will never go away, but we need our institutions, to some extent, to push against them precisely so we don't end up with one of the first two scenarios, neither of which is attractive. The fourth position is even more sanguine about the possibility of pushing back against groups in saying “No, actually, ideally, we should aim for an America 50 or 100 years from now, where people really don't, in any significant sense think of themselves as a member of an ethnic or racial group…
Foster: I think we have to have aspirational values. And I think only the fourth one really contains that. The fourth one that you just laid out is about granting one another the dignity of our individuality.
Also on race, Glenn Loury debated Briahna Joy Gray. Loury then posted a post-mortem from one of his readers.
While I give Briahna Joy Gray props for her two Ivy League degrees and being a good debater, she's all hat and no cattle when it comes to her actual experiences and her data sources. Let's start with her assertion that black women are the best educated demographic in America, which would appear to refute anyone claiming that black culture doesn’t value education.
You chose not to push back on this, but the source of her assertion is questionable at best. Data from the US Census Bureau suggests that it's flat our wrong.
It depends on what you measure. Loury’s correspondent looks at college degrees obtained, and there black women do not lead. But Gray apparently cited an analysis that looked at current college enrollment rates, where black women do lead. And I think that current college enrollment rate is certainly a legitimate indicator of the degree to which education is valued within a cultural group.
Elsewhere, Loury has praise for economist Roland Fryer as a scholar and policy entrepreneur.
Roland found that, while blacks and Latinos are indeed more likely than whites to have interactions with the police, they are no more likely than whites to be shot by the police. Many, many people—including Roland!—found this result shocking. It cuts against not just left-wing ideological assumptions, but what I think had been the commonsense thinking of most people in America. You can imagine the kind of pushback he received.
I never looked at the details, but I seem to recall that Fryer was accused of something untoward involving women. And I am afraid that this has reduced his ability to contribute professionally.
I worry that the press tends to gravitate toward a morally fraught, simplistic narrative of male-female interactions. Bari Weiss spells out the example of the woman in Central Park who called the police on a black man.
Christian recorded his contemporaneous account of what happened in the moments before the camera started rolling. “Look, if you’re going to do what you want, I’m going to do what I want, but you’re not going to like it,” Christian recounted himself saying to Amy. He also shared that he’d pulled out “the dog treats I carry for just for [sic] such intransigence.”
I had read an embarrassing number of stories and social media takes about this brief conflict. Not a single one of them had mentioned this public Facebook post.
He threatened her, I thought, stunned. He says himself that he approached her — a woman alone in a wooded area. He tried to lure away her dog. How was this the first time I was reading these details? Had I just missed them in the other stories I’d read?
Matt Taibbi also makes a sympathy-for-the-devil plea, in this case for Andrew Cuomo,
whose crimes have been set out in a 165-page report by Attorney General Letitia James, which I had the misfortune to also read last week. In the context of Cuomo’s career, it’s a bizarre document. There are 2-3 flash allegations of genuine crime — a hand up a blouse to grab a breast, an apparent improper promotion of a female trooper as a come-on — surrounded by a mountainous chronicle of gray-area dickishness/inappropriateness/cluelessness, from referring to female staff as “sweetheart” or “honey” to “allowing senior staff members to sit on his lap” and holding “discussions about the age differences of partners.”
When Cuomo meets his maker I seriously doubt more than a handful of these episodes will make the first draft of what assuredly will otherwise be a lengthy case for hell.
You can count on Taibbi to write sharp, entertaining critiques of mainstream media. (but these days, is that just punching down?)
Scott Alexander continues to undertake thorough research in areas outside of his specialty. One post covers the carbon intensity of various activities. Another covers the issue of how much it will hurt children to lose out on school because of the virushttps://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/kids-can-recover-from-missing-even.
Some parents "unschool" their children. That is, they object to schooling as traditionally understood, so they register themselves as home schooling but don't formally teach much, limiting themselves to answering kids' questions as they come up. When adjusted for confounders (ie usually these parents are rich and well-educated), their young children lag one grade level behind public school students on average - but only one (though these students were pretty young and they might have lagged further behind with time). By the time these unschooled kids are applying for college, they seem to know a decent amount, get into college at relatively high rates, and do well in their college courses. I think there’s some evidence that not getting any school at all harms these children’s performance on some traditional measures. But it doesn’t harm them very much. Given how little effect there is from absolutely zero school ever, I think missing a year or two of school isn’t going to matter a lot.
All of the quotes I gave here are just teasers. I recommend the entire posts.