Keeping up with the FITs, No. 15

Including Arnold Kling going state-capacity libertarian

Yascha Mounk interviews Kwame Anthony Appiah.

Appiah says,

Most of the genetic variance in the human population is within the continent of Africa, or Asia, or Europe or North America, so these forms of racial differentiation don't correlate very much with lots of the things that matter about people. That’s very hard to keep track of if you keep the race concept central to how you think about the people around you.

Given how little race tells you about biology—which is what people start thinking about, when you think about race—it might be better if we didn't store information about people under the labels “black,” “white,” “yellow,” or “brown,” because the information will be enormously misleading. A lot of race thinking is grounded in the thought that these are informative biological categories. They aren't.

My understanding is that there is enormous variation within the continent of Africa, less so otherwise. But I am very on board with getting away from racial categories on the grounds that they do not correspond well with what we know about population genetics.

Glenn Loury clearly lays out his framework for understanding racial inequality. An excerpt:

There would be no races in the steady state of any dynamic social system unless, on a daily basis and in regard to their most intimate affairs, people paid very close attention to the boundaries that separate themselves from racially distinct others. Over time, that is, “race” would cease to exist unless people chose to act in a manner so as biologically to reproduce the variety of phenotypic expression that constitutes the subject of racial distinction.

Someone recently asked me whether I thought that new immigrants would end up as alienated as African-Americans. I responded that that as long as families have a sense of upward mobility, new immigrants will have a more positive experience. A sense that “I have it better than my parents, and my children will have it better than me” is a powerful, somewhat self-fulfilling source of ethnic pride. The biggest contrast between the school children in University City when I grew up there and those who recently were in high school there is that we had an overwhelming sense of upward mobility, which many of us fulfilled. Our parents were on the bottom rung of the middle class, around the 20th percentile, in the early 1960s; by 2000, many of us were in the vicinity of the 80th percentile. The current African-American residents probably also start at about the 20th percentile, but it did not sound as if their children were on an upward path. If you ask me, that could help explain why racial feelings are tense nowadays.

Russ Roberts and Arnold Kling discuss Kling’s conversion to state-capacity libertarian. Kling says,

Let me start out by trying to create a contrast between what I'll call naive libertarianism and what Tyler Cowen calls state capacity libertarianism, which sounds a bit like an oxymoron. Basically a naive libertarian, as I term it, is somebody who just wants the state to be as small as possible, just protect property, keep the peace, don't do anything else. Keep the state in this small box. What I'm calling a state capacity libertarian says: modern life has many threats and opportunities that seem to call for government, that most people expect government to do something about. Better that government do those well than do it poorly because if government does those things poorly, it ends up even infringing on liberty even more. That's how it becomes less of an oxymoron.

…modern life has created many new threats and opportunities that did not exist 250 years ago when we wrote the Constitution. The Constitution does not mention the words 'electrical power grid,' amazingly enough, given when it was written.

Russ gives me a lot of pushback. He likes the Fantasy Intellectual Teams idea better. I think you will find our podcast episode provocative and worthwhile.

Steven Pinker continues to make the FITs rounds. This time, Pinker contributes an essay to Mounk’s persuasion community.

As soon as we start insisting to others, “You must not hurt me, or let me starve, or let my children drown,” we cannot also maintain, “But I can hurt you, and let you starve, and let your children drown,” and hope they will take us seriously.

His point is that it is rational to be moral.

Bari Weiss hosts Dorian Abbot, who writes,

a small group of ideologues mounted a Twitter campaign to cancel a distinguished science lecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology because they disagreed with some of the political positions the speaker had taken. And they were successful within eight days. 

These are dominance moves. Joseph Henrich and others have emphasized the difference between a dominance hierarchy based on intimidation and a prestige hierarchy based on emulation. As academia becomes an arena for dominance moves, it will no longer be able to play a role as a prestige hierarchy. We will need Fantasy Intellectual Teams or some other prestige hierarchy to replace it.