Keeping up with the FITs, 4/17
Stephen Kotkin on Eurasian conflict; Richard Hanania and Gail Heriot; Emily Oster on natural experiments; Jonathan Haidt on anti-social media
empires come and go; blocs endure. Today’s China is arguably pursuing a strategy similar to the one that Nazi Germany and imperial Japan adopted, albeit by all means short of war: to become blockade-proof and sanctions-proof. And now, with Putin having provoked a siege of Russia, Xi will redouble his efforts.
Pointer from Tyler Cowen. The essay refers to Richard Overy’s new account of the second World War. I started that book, but I doubt that I will finish it. Overy stretches to the breaking point his thesis that the war was an imperialist project. He insists that Britain and France, not Germany, enlarged the war into a great-power conflict.
Kotkin articulates a few differences that he has with Overy, but the more telling point may be that Kotkin pays only token attention to the book that he is ostensibly reviewing . I imagine that if he were really impressed with Overy’s account, Kotkin’s discussion of the book would have occupied the bulk of the essay.
Richard Hanania interviews Gail Heriot.
In her 2020 paper, she frames the issue of disparate impact in a way I hadn’t thought of before. Literally any practice you can think of has a disparate impact. Try to think of a way of hiring or promoting people that does not benefit one group at the expense of another. If everything is potentially illegal, and government does not have the resources to go after everything, then the government basically has arbitrary power to do whatever it wants under civil rights law. People who become civil rights lawyers or EEOC bureaucrats tend to be extremely woke, and it is their interpretations of the law that shape how institutions can behave. This is why I have called civil rights law the “skeleton key of the left.”
He points out that requiring a college degree has a disparate impact, but the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission does not seem to mind. She says,
The only explanation that comes to mind is that the EEOC likes colleges and universities. That’s a Democratic constituency, a very progressive constituency. Because otherwise, it is just baffling because it is, particularly for Latinos, there is a very substantial disparate impact.
The main problem, though, the biggest issue with this paper, is simply that they do not do this analysis within sibling groups. I noted up top the idea that genes are randomly assigned and you could use that randomization for identification — this is true only within families. Genes aren’t randomly allocated around the population overall. However, in this paper the authors do not observe family groups. So rather than compare two siblings who got a different set of genetic endowments at random, they are comparing people whose family genetic makeup is different.
This approach is subject to more basic concerns. The individuals in the study whose genetic makeup is associated with more alcohol consumption are also more likely to have had parents who consumed more alcohol. This could matter for all kinds of reasons having nothing to do with their own consumption. The authors of the paper do not, as far as I can tell, observe anything about family background, parental drinking, or anything else like that.
A Fantasy Intellectual Teams scoring category is doing a careful, unbiased evaluation of research methods. Oster and Scott Alexander stand out as stars in this category.
The Framers of the Constitution were excellent social psychologists. They knew that democracy had an Achilles’ heel because it depended on the collective judgment of the people, and democratic communities are subject to “the turbulency and weakness of unruly passions.” The key to designing a sustainable republic, therefore, was to build in mechanisms to slow things down, cool passions, require compromise, and give leaders some insulation from the mania of the moment while still holding them accountable to the people periodically, on Election Day.
. . .The former CIA analyst Martin Gurri predicted these fracturing effects in his 2014 book, The Revolt of the Public. Gurri’s analysis focused on the authority-subverting effects of information’s exponential growth, beginning with the internet in the 1990s. Writing nearly a decade ago, Gurri could already see the power of social media as a universal solvent, breaking down bonds and weakening institutions everywhere it reached. He noted that distributed networks “can protest and overthrow, but never govern.”
two extreme groups are similar in surprising ways. They are the whitest and richest of the seven groups, which suggests that America is being torn apart by a battle between two subsets of the elite who are not representative of the broader society. What’s more, they are the two groups that show the greatest homogeneity in their moral and political attitudes. This uniformity of opinion, the study’s authors speculate, is likely a result of thought-policing on social media: “Those who express sympathy for the views of opposing groups may experience backlash from their own cohort.” In other words, political extremists don’t just shoot darts at their enemies; they spend a lot of their ammunition targeting dissenters or nuanced thinkers on their own team.
Back in 2013, I noticed how much commentary consisted of pundits trying to close the minds of people on their own side. That was the observation that impelled me to write The Three Languages of Politics.
‘ If everything is potentially illegal, and government does not have the resources to go after everything, then the government basically has arbitrary power to do whatever it wants… ‘
In effect this is what Code Law does. Nothing is legal unless the Law says so, so there is no protection from arbitrary justice by default. Common Law by contrast is the opposite. Everything is legal unless the Law says not. The default is protection from arbitrary justice. This is why Common Law Countries are, or were, much more free. The Left, but the Right too alas, use legislative law to undermine Common Law and its default protection and there is a shift towards Code Law society. This is particularly so in the UK with its entanglement with the EU which has a Code Law framework which supersedes National Law and was often in conflict with UK Common Law requiring ‘enabling legislation’ to remove Common Law derived legislation otherwise the EU Law would be illegal in the UK.
In the US there is the Supreme Court, a growing threat to Common Law as it increasingly becomes a law-making body.
That’s the fight we have. Protect Common Law - reject Code Law. Good luck everybody.
Elsewhere. Russia provoking its siege? Like rape victims provoking their attackers.
Thanks for referring to Gail Heriot's work. I’m glad Hanania focused on her work although I’m surprised that he had never thought about disparate impact in Gail’s way. Economists know that Gail’s way is not different from our definition of negative externalities and our discussion on how they are/should be internalized. Yes, most of our actions have a disparate impact on others, meaning that under some ideal conditions we can/should internalize the negative externality. One way of internalizing it is through legal liability but to be effective the tort has to be recognized as such. I cannot elaborate on this issue here but I recommend learning about the history of tort law and why we have reached a new stage in which is too easy to abuse/expand it to many sorts of new, fabricated wrongs.
FYI, in ongoing Chile’s Constitutional Convention they have been discussing the possibility of being liable for any wrong —yes, to paraphrase one of Hanania’s old posts on the subject, in Chile, Woke Institutions May Become Constitutional Law. If approved, I’ll write the paper “Chile Constitution Disparate Impact Liability Makes Almost Everything Presumptively Illegal”.