Keeping up with the FITs, 4/20
Michael Lind on philanthropy strangling the left; Bryan Caplan on macro puzzles; Joel Kotkin on California; A Larry Summers interview; Matt Taibbi helps Russian dissidents
Who decides what is and is not permissible for American progressives to think or discuss or support? The answer is the Ford Foundation, the Open Society Foundation, the Omidyar Network, and other donor foundations, an increasing number of which are funded by fortunes rooted in Silicon Valley. It is this donor elite, bound together by a set of common class prejudices and economic interests, on which most progressive media, think tanks, and advocacy groups depend for funding.
Conservatism Inc., including flagship journals like the National Review and flagship think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, remains a museum of mummies. Today, Progressivism Inc. is equally brain-dead. What survives of intellectual politics in the United States today consists of a growing number of exiles from establishment wokeness on Substack and an assortment of dissident leftists, conservatives, and populists, some of whom have come together in new publications like American Affairs, Compact, and The Bellows, and in quirkier couture shops like Tablet.
I don’t think that the center-left is as dead as Lind makes it out to be. The Progressive Policy Institute, which is actually quite critical of contemporary hard-core progressivism, seems to be still functioning.
On the right, the diversity of well-funded viewpoints stands out more, at least to me. There is the center-right (or center left?) of the Niskanen Center. There is the “shadow cabinet” right of Hoover and Bradley. There is the Trumpist right of Claremont and the NatCons.
As you know, I am not a fan of non-profits. And the worst non-profits are those that fund political causes. That should not be a tax-exempt activity. Donations to non-profits that promote causes ought to be taxed double.
Lots of younger workers have successfully used Covid to exit the workforce, too. Profligate Covid relief aside, quite a few parents who wouldn’t have tolerated young adult idleness relaxed their Puritanical attitudes for Covid, despite the very low risk for the young, and the ultra-low risk for the vaccinated young. Yes, it’s the macroeconomics of hypochondria.
He also points to two phenomena that I think portend more inflation to come. One is that he is seeing many products sold out, when you would think that retailers would raise prices instead. The other is that real interest rates are so strongly negative.
the state suffers the highest cost-adjusted poverty rate in the U.S. The poor and near-poor constitute over one third – well over 10 million – of the state’s residents according to the Public Policy Institute of California. Los Angeles, by far the state’s largest metropolitan area, and once a magnet for middle class aspirations, has one of the highest poverty rates among major U.S. cities. A United Way of California analysis shows that over 30 percent of residents lack sufficient income to cover basic living costs even after accounting for public-assistance programs; this includes half of Latino and 40 percent of black residents. Some two-thirds of noncitizen Latinos live at or below the poverty line.
In a longer paper from which this essay is taken, Kotkin and colleague Marshall Toplansky write
The one percent—who pay roughly half of the state’s income taxes—won’t always have such great years, and with the middle and working class in decline, it’s hard to see where the money will come from to support the burgeoning welfare state.
Larry Summers talks with John Cochrane, Niall Ferguson, and H.R. McMaster. A lot of the conversation concerns the economy, particularly issues related to the real interest rate. Around minute 53, Larry gives his views on higher education. He suggests that if our current higher ed system is upended, the challenger will use information technology to reconfigure the university.
Summers says that we used to think that self-esteem came from achievement, and now we act as if achievement comes from self-esteem. He points out that if you like capitalism, you have many choices. But if you hate capitalism, you have a narrower range of choices, which includes becoming a professor or university administrator. So universities will have a disproportionate share of haters of capitalist. I would point out that this selection affect is likely to be strong in the non-profit sector in general. So we should not want a big non-profit sector!
Matt Taibbi organized a substack for Russian dissidents. Alexander Batov writes,
This war is unjust and criminal on both sides. It’s a fight between two inhumane regimes. The declared goal of the war on the part of the Russian Federation is all lies and hypocrisy.
For several years, the Russian authorities looked indifferently at the daily deaths of people in Donbass. Moreover, the Minsk agreements imposed by Moscow only tied the Donbass by their hands and feet. This was a problem that could not be solved. Residents of Donbass all these years were and remain a bargaining chip in the hands of the Russian and Ukrainian capitals.
I'd like Lind or someone similar to define whether it's really non-profits that are driving the trends. Or something else. My hypothetical model is that what's really going on is an excess supply of intellectuals.
1. The explosion of subsidized higher education has created a much bigger pool of "intellectuals".
2. Buyers of intellectuals, which include NGOs but also includes subsidized higher education itself, in turn, get much more control over intellectual production. In NGO production, this works out as Lind says. In higher ed, producers basically get to buy piecemeal labor for adjuncts and grad students.
3. In both cases, the labor pool is almost perfectly competitive, so there's an extreme tournament effect. An intellectual laborer who doesn't do exactly what the boss wants is almost immediately replaceable. So attempts to "stand out" will tend to be on the more extreme side of the distribution.
The upshot of all of this is that the only way to "go back" in the long-run is to stop flooding the market with subsidized intellectuals. When the supply is such that they can't be treated like commodities anymore, they'll have more freedom to diverge in opinion.
“Donations to non-profits that promote causes ought to be taxed double.” People are now looking at me, wondering why I’m laughing in public like some crazy person.