Keeping up with the FITs, No. 24
my book reviews of Scott Sumner, Bret Weinstein-Heather Heying; and I comment on a passage from John McWhorter. Richard Hanania's theory of polarization; Jonathan Rauch on Afghanistan
Reviewing Scott Sumner’s The Money Illusion, I wrote,
Would an NGDP futures market provide a reliable guide for discretionary monetary policy? That seems like an empirical question. But my guess is that if NGDP can be accurately forecast by speculators, then the market NGDP forecast can already be extracted from the above-mentioned indicators.
An assertion that you made a better forecast of NGDP than the Fed did in 2007, even if that assertion is true, does not prove your case. If I were a market monetarist, articulating an NGDP forecasting algorithm derived from market indicators, and demonstrating its reliability through a variety of historical episodes, would be high on my research agenda.
Sumner’s most striking claim is that the economic slump of 2008-2010 was caused by tight money from the Fed. I worry that his method for defending that claim is not as rigorous as it ought to be.
My other review is of Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying, A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century.
I read A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide as soon as it was released, which happened to be a few days before the solemn Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. So it struck me that the book might be considered a series of sermons. Setting aside science and politics, one can easily imagine their views on economic fairness, sexual conduct, and bringing up children as coming from a rabbi.
But they base their sermons on evolutionary biology. The latter part of my review comments on their use of pejorative terms whenever they bring up the term “market.”
I also recently read John McWhorter’s Woke Racism. One aside struck me. He writes about
the tacit idea that any book a black American person writes must be centered on race, racism, or battling racism. Name a nonfiction book by a black American writer that neither battles or even addresses racism.
I thought: Basic Economics, by Thomas Sowell! But McWhorter goes on,
I will turn the screws just a bit more and ask whether you can name one by anyone beyond Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Thomas Sowell.
McWhorter’s point is that black intellectuals are expected to further the narrative of black oppression. Not doing so risks being ignored or scorned. That is a sad state of affairs.
In a long essay, Richard Hanania argues that the left is ideological while conservatives are tribal. Thus, when Democrats are in power they enact their agenda, while Republicans, whether in power or not, merely emit war whoops.
even when cutting government spending was the main Republican issue, most Republicans were against actually cutting government spending on almost anything! Not even those that identified with the Tea Party could find majority agreement on reducing spending in any but a few areas. Of course, after Trump came into office, concerns about government spending mostly melted away, even rhetorically.
What was the Tea Party about, then? For certain libertarian ideologues, it was actually about government spending. For most of those who supported the movement, however, it was a tribal signifier.
Hanania’s thesis came up during the first meeting of our seminar, when we talked about contemporary political engagement. I plan to include my notes from the seminar in a separate essay.
Hanania offers this summary of political dynamics:
1) Liberal activists and the media start taking some far off position on a social issue (defund the police, trans rights, gay marriage).
2) It makes elected Democrats uncomfortable, as Republicans gain some electoral advantage.
3) No matter what happens electorally, bureaucrats, courts, HR staff, and other members of the managerial class make sure that the left-wing position wins.
4) Public opinion moves left and accommodates the new reality. Democrats go all in on the new consensus.
5) Conservatives rhetorically accept all the moral assumptions of the new position, sometimes arguing it was their idea all along, while in practice fighting its more stringent applications.
6) Republicans start talking about opposing the next step liberals are taking, as the cycle starts over again.
His conclusion seems to be that tribalism can beat ideology in the short run, but in the long run ideology gets more results. But read for yourself.
Speaking of ideology winning in the end, note that Robert Wright thinks that the Glasgow Summit will ultimately prove successful.
And although President Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan helped to energize the Republican tribe, Jonathan Rauch thinks that it will prove to be the correct decision. I note how well Rauch steel-manned the alternative point of view.
The best argument for remaining in Afghanistan is that stabilizing the country had become a relatively low-cost, light-footprint operation. Since 2014, annual U.S. fatalities in the theater have been in the double digits. The United States had edged its way to a supporting role and the Afghans did most of the work. As I said in August, the low U.S. casualties and seeming sustainability of the operation made Biden’s rush for the door seem puzzling, if not downright perverse. What the U.S. was doing was working, so why stop?
He proceeds to marshal arguments against this view.
Most people I know think leaving Afghanistan was the right call. The debate is over HOW we left, which seemed to either be the product of a terrible plan or an inept military, neither of which is comforting. Why should we continue to give a blank check to an institution that can't manage a fairly small withdrawal?
We have a good recent example of the type of issues you're talking about. Early in the covid crisis, Powell went out of his way to say that we are not going to react to an improving inflation forecast, we are going to wait for actual inflation. Not many months later, Powell is in front of Congress saying we are ignoring actual inflation because our forecast suggests it's temporary. Monetary policy is only as good as its targets, which as best I can tell aren't very good.