Keeping up with the FITs, 3/12
Noah Smith on Tamerlane; Peter Savodnik on neoliberals; Tyler Cowen on Woke Diplomacy; Martin Gurri on the media war; The Zvi on how to use Twitter; Kling on Dark Triad leaders
A modern military is not just a bunch of guys with rifles — it’s a highly complex, specialized force deeply dependent on advanced technology, high-throughput manufacturing, efficient administration, a literate and educated recruitment pool, and many other features of a modern rich industrialized economy. Those things in turn depend crucially on state-provided public goods such as infrastructure, education, bureaucracy, basic research, and potentially even industrial policy. If we are to have the power to safeguard our individual liberties, we need a strong and efficient state to shape our society into one capable of defending itself.
I would argue that this means we need a government that knows its place, and a population that knows the place for government. Not a government that intervenes everywhere Noah Smith thinks it should. State capacity is inversely related to state extensiveness.
For Bari Weiss, Peter Savodnik writes,
It’s true that the so-called neoliberals, those who spent their formative years, two or three or four decades ago, in seminar rooms at New England colleges, got many things wrong. They were arrogant; they had their blind spots; and now everyone on the left and the right hates them. It’s easy to. What we forget is that they got one thing very, very right, which is that there are things that are far worse than American hegemony. The new right, the identitarian left—they never say what comes after the old order, because they can’t think that far ahead, or they don’t care to. They’re just happy to watch it all burn.
As a neoliberal, I praise markets. I praise globalization. I praise freedom of movement. I praise deregulation. Not because they work perfectly for everyone at all times. But because the alternatives are generally worse. Sometimes much worse.
What we are now observing is that the recent innovation of “The Woke’ has been co-opted for the purposes of destroying things, in this case the economy and possibly the society and polity of Russia. The lining up of European allies, the mobilization of sentiment on Twitter, the inducement of Visa and Mastercard to pull out, and you could go on and on and on. The Woke campaign against Russia has turned out to be extremely powerful, well beyond what I had been expecting to happen. Energy purchases might be next to go.
I call this phenomenon Twitter-Mob Diplomacy.
Smartphone images from battle-scarred Ukraine flooded the web and almost immediately crystallized into a David and Goliath theme. The Ukrainians came across as unexpectedly heroic. The Russians appeared clueless and brutal. Videos of burning tanks and civilians huddled in subway stations had a gritty retro look, like something out of a World War II movie—a setting that called for unambiguous heroes and villains. . .
The war replaced the pandemic—which, in turn, had displaced Trump—as the source of all fear and loathing. A conformist public closed ranks around this subject: Ukrainian flags became tokens of online virtue, while hundreds of thousands took part in solidarity protests around the world. Anyone with a deviant opinion deserved to be silenced. Facebook, Tik Tok, and Netflix ostentatiously blocked Russian channels. Elon Musk, conversely, moved Starlink terminals into Ukraine, preserving the flow of precious digital content out of the country.
To use Twitter properly, there are four vital pieces of technology.
Tweetdeck or another similar alternative application.
Knowing who to follow and read.
Unfollows, filters, mutes and blocks.
I review Corruptible, by Brian Klaas.
Unfortunately, we tend to choose leaders with disturbingly high values of dark-triad traits. I see considerable narcissism in Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. Mr. Trump’s tweets strike me as manifesting behavior that is impulsive, reckless, manipulative, and aggressive.
I was surprised that your Klaas review did not bring up the issue of competitive governments. I see the challenge of avoiding Dark Triad leaders on a consistent basis as impossible. The only solution is to allow as many "exit" options as possible at every level, unbundling government services, thereby forcing service providers to compete on quality, cost, and the satisfaction of niches. "Let a Thousand Nations Bloom," support new jurisdictions around the world along with ever greater autonomy for Native American jurisdictions within the US. Monopolistic control always results in Dark Triad domination. Competitive service provision in does not systematically avoid Dark Triad leaders, but it does reward quality service provision while limiting the damage done by Dark Triad leaders. If a particular Dark Triad leader improves quality and reduces cost, so be it. But once they begin serving their own needs at the expense of those of their customers, they lose market share.
The possibility of "destroying" the Russian economy is not, in reality, on the table, but supporters of sanctions act as if it is. The way to destroy an economy is to first blow up as many cities as you can and then to flood the country with millions of hostile infantry. Alternatively, you can obliterate the country with nuclear bombs. Nothing short of either of those options can destroy a national economy. Russia is significantly more dependent on trade than the United States, on a percentage GDP basis, but only a portion of a portion of those trade partners are impacted by the sanctions. Further, as happened in every other wartime blockade/sanctions regime, neutrals just bank the difference.
Supporters of sanctions frame it as a humane and politically feasible alternative to war, but it is necessarily self-harming because the only people you can enforce the sanctions on are your own entities and to some extent those of your closest allies. Sanctions supporters portray it in language as if they are the same as bombs and invasions ("this will destroy country X") but the impacts are manifestly different because no capital is destroyed and no humans are directly killed. It is not even the same as a siege or blockade because land border crossings are hard to monitor and unless you are destroying ports and raiding shipping, there is no complete interdiction of sea trade. In this round of sanctions the chief harmed parties are in Europe, and because of political reality, it will mean we have to bail out Europe, not that Europeans will just be allowed to be unemployed by the hundreds of millions. This is another way the sanctions party can pretend that it's cost-free -- just forcing US taxpayers to indirectly foot the bill via the bailouts which will be needed to sustain civilized life in Europe. Also, the crowing about cutting Russia off from US multinationals is sort of stupid, because those multinationals would not be in Russia if they were not earning a profit. That is forcing US companies to absorb the costs of the war policy. They're crowing about an action that leads to the expropriation of American enterprises and the loss of massive revenues. That is a bad trend line: it does not lead to increased global US business success. In the same way that there are nonlinear gains from trade, trade redirection also creates nonlinear losses. The sanctions are not necessarily "destroying" trade, but just redirecting it on a long term basis to the new China-lead TPP trading bloc and elsewhere.