Keeping up with the FITs, 3/6
Scott A. vs. Tyler on Ukraine; Scott Sumner on Ukraine; Robert Wright and Freddie deBoer on Ukraine; Luke Burgis on hot capital; Tanner Greer on Ukraine
I am mildly annoyed by Tyler being much less clear than (eg) Richard or Anatoly in making specific assertions, yet also claiming the mantle of a prescient predictor. Still, if what he says about the Suwalki Corridor comes to pass, I will give him the mantle.
Scott respects people who make specific, falsifiable predictions to which they assign probabilities. In Fantasy Intellectual Teams, this was a scoring category that I called “thinking in bets.” I don’t think Tyler is competing to be the best at assigning probabilities to the scenarios that everyone is considering. I think his desire often is to jar people into considering scenarios that they had not thought of.
Scott makes this observation:
One important thing I’ve learned again and again about prediction is that successes are usually less about being smart, and more about having a bias which luckily corresponds to whatever ends up happening.
Yes. I “correctly” predicted high inflation this year. But a lot of that was my bias against deficit spending. Bret Weinstein’s predictions about the virus have reflected his strong bias against drug companies, which I think made him more skeptical of the vaccine and way more positive on Ivermectin than was warranted.
That means that looking at predictions is tricky. If someone has a bias that would lead him to predict “true,” then if he predicts “false” you are getting much more information than if he predicts “true.”
Speaking of making predictions that look bad, Scott Sumner tells us about John Mearshimer.
Mearsheimer’s most notable mistake was his repeated claim that Putin was far too smart to invade Ukraine, and that this would be a disaster for Russia. Perhaps it will be a disaster (it’s too soon to say), but obviously he was wrong about Putin. He said that comparisons between Putin and Hitler were ridiculous. If by “comparison” you mean, “they are identical”, then Mearsheimer is correct. But if by comparison you mean, “just as Hitler used force in an attempt to create a Greater Germany, Putin will use force to create a Greater Russia”, then comparisons are appropriate.
When bad guys behave badly, beware of claims that the “root cause” is some minor policy mistake by the good guys. Bad guys are bad.
I personally think that if the US had since the end of the Cold War used military force only in strict compliance with international law—and had done a bit of preaching about this, encouraging other nations to do likewise—we might be living in a very different world. And I think if the US had done this and not expanded NATO, there wouldn’t be a war in Ukraine right now.
I see him as trying to make the point that to strengthen moral standards you need to try to uphold them yourself. But he calls this a defense of Whataboutism, which to me is something different.
Just to be clear, I am more sympathetic with Sumner’s “Bad guys are bad” line. But another voice of disagreement:
That Putin is a corrupt autocrat does not change that, nor does babbling about “the international order” and the rule of law when both are presided over by a hegemon that stumbles around drunkenly causing chaos the world over and forgiving itself because its intentions are good.
Hot Capital is not just “smart” or “dumb” money. It’s emotional money. This is why every good donor-driven marketing video in the world attempts to pull at people’s heart strings. But now the same kind of energy and anger that fuels most modern political campaigns is spreading to every other domain. And it’s affecting the way that capital is raised and how it changes hands.
I am afraid that the more we substitute other motives for profit-seeking, the worse the outcomes will be.
As usual with these FITs posts, I recommend the entire essay. One more excerpt:
The quickest way to accumulate a lot of donations in today’s nonprofit sector, for example, is to create a threat and then ratchet up the fear mongering about this threat in order to raise a war chest. BLM does this to great effect on the Left. Christopher Rufo has employed similar tactics on the Right to spearhead a campaign against teaching Critical Race Theory in public schools, memeing his way into relevance and capital-raising. Everyone is playing the same game.
It’s not just the non-profit sector. Eighteen years ago, I wrote
My theory is that the political process preys on fear. A politician identifies something that constituents might perceive as a threat. Next, the politician "markets" the threat, playing up its importance. Then, the politician says, "If you are afraid of this threat, then vote for me." The politician's proposal for addressing the threat typically involves expanded government activity, which often does more harm than good. Rinse, soak, repeat.
Many of the policies mentioned in the first paragraph of this missive have consequences that will endure long past the end of this war. Have we truly thought through what they might be?
Do we crush the Russian economy because we earnestly think that doing so will unseat Putin, reverse his army’s march in Ukraine, or deter him from similar resort to arms in the future? Or do we do it because we must do something and economic coercion is the only tool in our box?
He joins Tyler Cowen, Noah Rothman, and me in the camp of those who worry that what feels good (kicking Russia in all sorts of peripheral ways) may not be what is best for achieving desirable objectives. Incidentally, Rothman writes for Commentary, a publication known as a home for Neocons, notorious for being interventionist. If Rothman is more cautious than the Twitter mob, that tells you something.