Keeping up with the FITs, 2/24
Persuasion on platform censorship and on power; Michael Huemer on why professors lean left; Freddie deBoer rants again; Bryan Caplan moves; Joseph Paul Forgas on the psychology of populism
In Yascha Mounk’s Persuasion, Sahil Handa and Seth Moskowitz write,
Chief among the restrictors is Twitter. And while only about a quarter of Americans use the platform, dismissing it as a niche corner of the internet would be a mistake. Twitter is where breaking news spreads fastest and where much of the news cycle is made.
They point out that Twitter’s content policies are vague, and its justifications for censorship are not well supported.
Mounk interviews Moises Naim, who talks about “the revenge of power” as a reaction against what Martin Gurri (not mentioned in the interview) would call the revolt of the public.
It is a worldwide attack on checks and balances. You see it in different countries, and you see that the checks and balances that define a democracy are undermined from within.
They talk about this “revenge of power” as only coming from leaders who are in ill repute with the elites. I see it as coming from the elites themselves, with their adoption of emergency administrative powers in response to COVID as exhibit A.
People who are more strongly interested in politics tend to be more left-wing. So moderates tend to be found in non-political fields, e.g., business or engineering.
. . .The main motivation for doing a lot of reading and talking about politics is entertainment, constructing a desirable self-image, bonding with others, and stuff like that.
. . .Unfortunately, the motives for being politically engaged have little to do with finding truth or helping society, so the people who have most influence also tend to be wrong a lot. The people who are good at figuring stuff out (e.g., engineers) don’t tend to like politics.
Note that he is doing something that I caution against, which is claiming to understand the true motives of the other side better than they understand themselves. But I think there is some validity to his analysis.
Freddie deBoer does something else I caution against, which is ranting, but he does so stylishly.
Liberals cheer the FBI and CIA, call for limitless censorship, and insist on blind faith in tech giants and pharmaceutical companies. Conservatives have cast off Christianity, their north star, the orienting principle of all they believed, discarding it offhandedly like a gum wrapper.
I might add that even those conservatives who have kept Christianity have cast off fiscal responsibility. If you were to find the tag attached to “Bidenflation,” it would read “Manufactured by Trump &co.”
I have little doubt that less rational people are gradually taking over the profession. Even correcting for my own pessimistic bias, more younger economists than ever really do seem like they never learned the economic way of thinking. A shocking share of top research is mere causal inference with no economic reasoning to guide it. And most new Ph.D.s are casually woke at heart. They’re oblivious to economics’ multi-century war on Social Desirability Bias and demagoguery. Earlier generations of left-leaning economists spent a lot of energy curtailing the left’s excesses. By and large, the latest generation of left-leaning economist is now part of the left’s excesses.
This echoes my long-standing claim that economics is on the road to sociology.
Incidentally, I was the one who recommended that the Liberty Fund add Bryan to what was then “my” blog, econLog. This was when blogs in general, and multi-author blogs in particular, appeared to be taking over the information space. If only!
both left-wing and right-wing populism exploit the human need for positive identity, epistemic certainty, simplicity, moral virtue, belonging, and significance. Both ascendant and in-power populist movements from fascism, Marxism, cancel culture, the Proud Boys, Antifa, and woke-ism, all benefit from manipulating these evolutionary vulnerabilities.
That Forgas essay is a great example of two things.
First, why the use of the term 'populist' should be completely retired as it has become meaningless and degraded "to the level of a swearword" as Orwell described hilariously in "What is Fascism?" 78 years ago.
Second, that it is
both dangerous and counterproductive to psychologize differing political opinions, as all it does it provide an excuse to engage in behavior one is purportedly trying to avoid, which is to dehumanize opposition and dissent and prevent the possibility of reasoned engagement in civil discourse because the other guy's beliefs are just a bunch of dumb primitive impulses which can be dismissed out of hand as unworthy of consideration by us, the good smart people. Sticking to the merits of object level claims can be annoying and exhausting, but the alternative is the road to the political abuse of psychiatry.
The Foregas essay reminds me of Jan-Werner Muller's What is Populism? Another tract about how people voting in their own interest is some how anti-liberal and anti-democratic. One wonders what the many people who have voted at one time or another for a candidate who has been branded with the scarlet "P," but nevertheless appeared to be the lesser of two evils, are supposed to respond. If we are to be lumped in with the "ascendant and in-power populist movements from fascism, Marxism, cancel culture, the Proud Boys, Antifa, and woke-ism" because our "evolutionary vulnerabilities" have been manipulated, I suppose we must recognize our deficiencies, suffer in silence, and watch the evening news to be instructed on how we must vote.. As the great populist philosopher Simone Weil once said "Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity," so we should all just be grateful anyone pays attention to us at all.
According to Foregas, Weil would have to be considered manipulated and mentally defective because she fought against Franco for the Durruti Column during the Spanish Civil War. The Durruti Column was after all, the most recognized and popular group in the fight and she, gasp, embraced egalitarianism, collectivism, and individualism! Simultaneously! How ideologically confused! Obviously anti-liberal! Obviously anti-democratic! Nevertheless, I would hazard that one Weil has been worth more to the human intellectual endowment than a 100,000 or more of Foregas and his anti-populist ilk. But that was the Spanish Civil War. This is now.
So who would a typical populist today hold up as our living poster person representing the best of populism? Personally I would take John Cochrane and offer his column on Biden's "infrastructure" bill as a fine example of a populist mind at work: https://johnhcochrane.blogspot.com/2022/01/infrastructure-does-not-mean-roads-and.html
Of course I do not mean to disparage Cochrane in anyway and undoubtedly he would eschew the populist label. I am just saying that I, as an avowed populist, would want someone with Cochrane's psychology,courage, analytical ability, work ethic, and attitude to be the sort of person that best represented what I think of as populism. But I am a pluralist populist and I am sure that other people who identify with populism have their own ideas of the sort of people we wish that we had representing us. Nevertheless, if there is anything that unites people who identify as populists, I would guess that it is that the government spending a lot of money on things that don't yield broad benefits makes our hemorrhoids flare. So there, psychoanalyze that.