Keeping up with the FITs, No. 26

Yuval Levin on political party irrationality; Pano Kanelos proposes a new university; Richard Hanania talks behavioral genetics with Robert Plomin; and Scott Alexander mentions a bank I know about

Yuval Levin writes,

Leaders in this polarized era want to mask and submerge internal divisions, rather than to work them out, and that makes bargaining within each party pretty difficult, as both parties have learned when they have held power. The Democrats tend to respond to this problem by proposing to do everything at once — stuffing every idea they’ve ever had into one big bill. Republicans tend to respond to the same problem by proposing to do nothing — just simply nothing whatsoever. That is basically what Republicans ran on in 2020, for instance. Voters tend not to be impressed by either strategy.

This inability to set priorities sounds to me like an example of institutional irrationality, the subject of my seminar for subscribers.

Levin also writes,

They remain committed to addressing high costs through a combination of subsidizing demand and restricting supply. This is essentially the left’s approach to health care, higher education, housing, and now (in this new bill) child-care. Increased demand and reduced supply is, broadly speaking, a recipe for higher prices and therefore higher costs.

I am tempted to write “subsidize demand and restrict supply(TM).” I feel entitled to trademark that expression, having introduced it in Specialization and Trade.

At our seminar, Levin argued that universities are at the heart of our problems today and that we need new universities. Bari Weiss hosts Pano Kanelos, who thinks along those lines, and has founded The University of Austin.

Our rigorous curriculum will be the first designed in partnership not only with great teachers but also society’s great doers—founders of daring ventures, dissidents who have stood up to authoritarianism, pioneers in tech, and the leading lights in engineering and the natural sciences. Our students will be exposed to the deepest wisdom of civilization and learn to encounter works not as dead traditions but as fierce contests of timeless significance that help human beings distinguish between what is true and false, good and bad, beautiful and ugly. Students will come to see such open inquiry as a lifetime activity that demands of them a brave, sometimes discomfiting, search for enduring truths.

I wish them luck, but I don’t think that this is how start-ups work. You don’t begin with a manifesto and a top-heavy board of advisors. You begin with a few very energetic founders trying to put together a prototype. I say get some proof-of-concept work done, then go after endorsements. Yes, it’s hard to do “proof-of-concept” if your mental model is to be a better version of Harvard. But that means you should have a different mental model.

Richard Hanania interviews Robert Plomin. Plomin says,

when the Japanese came to America. In one generation, their kids were two inches taller than the parents. So that clearly can't be a genetic effect, it has to be environmental. Nobody still knows exactly what it was. But the heritability was just the same. So, although the kids are two inches taller on average, the tallest kids are from the tallest parents. And that's genetic.

Think of three influences: genes, parent behavior, and overall cultural context. Plomin argues that parental influence is very small, and for a given cultural context genes have a much larger effect on individual differences. But in different populations, or in a similar population across generations, culture will affect the average within the population.

Plomin also argues against either/or psychiatric diagnosis, meaning that you either have schizophrenia or you don’t. He calls this the medical model, because with COVID or cancer, you can say whether a person has it or does not (although the severity of the case is quantitative).

Plomin says that just as there is g, which is a general factor for cognitive ability, there is p, which is a general factor for psychiatric disorders.

And so, there's an interest in trends, diagnostic treatments, because if the same factors are causing many different disorders, then perhaps there are treatments that will work across different disorders. So, it's a whole new way of thinking about psychopathology.

That was new to me, but it makes sense. I recommend the whole long interview. For a skeptical take on Plomin’s optimism about polygenic scores, see my review of his book. But based on the interview, I would say that in some ways I was criticizing a straw man, in that Plomin in no way dismisses environmental influences on population means.

Scott Alexander offers a less-than-laudatory update on various charter city projects. He quotes Christophe Biocca on Prospera:

There's currently a bank going through the "propose your own regulatory code" process.

I was invited to appear as an expert witness for a hearing on this. One idea that occurred to me during my Zoom appearance is that the Prospera bank could buy deposit insurance from a big bank in some other country. This would put the big bank in the position of a “skin-in-the-game” regulator of the Prospera bank. Otherwise, I think it would be pretty hard to stand up an effective bank regulator in a small charter city.