Links to consider, 10/27
The Zvi on the Easterlin Paradox; Richard Hanania and Eric Kaufmann; Hanania on the New Right, two essays; Jonathan Rauch talks with Brian Chau;
Zvi Mowshowitz discusses the Easterlin Paradox, which claims that beyond a certain level, economic gains lead to very little improvement in measures of happiness. He lists some reasons to doubt the result.
I think that the entire project of “happiness research” is suspect. Imagine that you were asked to rate your happiness on a scale of 1 to 10. How would you answer the question? Based on your feelings at that instant? Trying to average over the past year? Over your life to date? Over your entire life, including the future? And what does the scale of 1 to 10 mean? Comparing your happiness to what, exactly?
When you conduct such a survey, you have no idea how anyone interpreted the question. And then you have no idea whether everybody has the same idea of what 7 out of 10 means. The whole field is just garbage.
And the goal ultimately is to give technocrats an excuse to say that markets fail and you need to give more power to technocrats. Suppose that Easterlin had found a result suggesting that markets make people really happy and therefore should be left alone. In that case, I suspect that his results would have languished in obscurity.
Richard Hanania has Eric Kaufmann on his podcast. Self-recommending. My favorite bits:
minute 21 likely that courts and bureaucracy will be increasingly polarized in the future because political orientations among young people are staying more fixed.
minute 48 -54 they argue about Haidt’s view that conservatives prefer order and progressives prefer novelty. Kaufmann argues in favor. Hanania says Trump is a disrupter. Kaufmann says yes, but his supporters see him disrupting a trend that was leading to disorder.
In the last 10 minutes or so they talk about viewpoint diversity and university choice. Kaufmann says that data shows that not having viewpoint diversity leads to self-censorship. Hanania says that he would rather go to school with high-SAT liberals than low-SAT viewpoint diversity.
Concerning the New Right, Richard Hanania writes,
It seems to me that there are two separate movements here that people are combining into one. You have some kind of GOP-Nationalist fusion, represented by the NatCon conference. This movement basically got most of what it wanted out of Trump’s time in office. Then you have Catholic traditionalists, who put more emphasis on abortion and want to shift the conservative movement far to the left on economics.
In a follow-up, Hanania writes,
If there’s one thing that distinguishes what Tyler calls “the New Right” from mainstream conservatism, it is a belief in the need to get serious about liberal domination of the most important institutions in the marketplace of ideas. Those associated with the movement therefore tend to prioritize issues like school curriculum and stopping social media censorship. The thinking seems to be that since liberals made everyone believe in LGBT and globalism by just seizing power and repeating the same messages over and over again, conservatives can either take control of institutions or build their own to brainwash people into accepting different views.
In other words, what they want is a milder version of the project undertaken by the Islamic Republic in 1979.
His point is that central government measures cannot overcome secularization and liberalism, at least in terms of winning hearts and minds. But he concludes with his colleague’s Religious Will Inherit the Earth argument. Hanania writes,
Today, social conservatives are in a hopeless battle against secularism and modernity. But in the long run, it will be secular elites who find it impossible to mold human nature to their preferred specifications.
I read Hanania as saying that culture will follow its own evolutionary path, beyond control by centralized power.
Jonathan Rauch talks with Brian Chau. Around minute 50, Rauch makes the case that the Republican Party is a threat to democracy, because Donald Trump has opened the door to declaring elections invalid. Chau tries to push back by saying that if the Republicans win the next one or two elections, then they are unlikely to resort to tactics to delegitimize them. About an hour in, Rauch insists that it is easier to win an election by throwing out false propaganda than winning legitimately. He says that this implies that the Republican Party is a major threat to democracy. To me, if propaganda works so well in electoral politics, the implication is that democracy is a threat to democracy. Which is sort of right. Rauch is implicitly giving credit to the Democratic Party as being sufficiently honest and decent that he does not worry about them.
Although I oppose populism, I am not nearly as ready as Rauch is to take the side of the elites. If you are more sympathetic to populists than I am, be prepared to find him even more infuriating than you find me.
Not sure there is anything left to say about the "New Right." What is most interesting about it seems to be how threatened the establishment seems to be of what is just an umbrella term for a few fringe perspectives.
The great Edward Ring identifies a much more significant, interesting, and consequential movement that he labels "the political orphans." He writes of a "Kaleidoscopic, Multiethnic Political Orphanage" that consists of:
" An emerging group of politicians and public intellectuals agree on key economic and social issues, yet cannot find a home in either major political party. Their ideology, while embracing a kind of libertarian ideal of limited government, stops short of embracing the Libertarian Party as an alternative."
Of this group, he writes:
"The very recent ascendancy of political orphans like Gabbard, Shellenberger, Kotkin, Ramaswamy, and Epstein, is something to be encouraged. They are speaking for what is indeed a silent majority of Americans, silenced by the media, by their professors and teachers, by a saturation bombardment of woke corporate messaging, and by politicians that are either completely in the grip of woke ideology and climate activism, or too cowardly to resist. These rising stars and countless others who will join them will not be silenced, and they will channel the sentiments and answer the prayers of Americans who have had no voice and no champions."
(see: https://amgreatness.com/2022/10/26/americas-brilliant-political-orphans/ )
One wonders how much more influential such voices would be in a multi-party democracy with proportional representation. At any rate, one might be excused for not being entirely fond of a political system that produces such orphans. I hope that the "political orphan" gains as much notoriety as the "New Right" label.
I was a grad student in economics when subjective happiness research was starting to become a thing. Easterlin gave a seminar on his paper at my university. I stood up during the Q/A and asked basically what you've said above: What exactly do you mean by "happiness" and how can you be sure that different people or different groups of people are interpreting it the same way?
He brushed me off fairly quickly without even attempting to address the question. I wish I could remember exactly what he said, but I very much got the impression that he was doing this and the profession was letting him get away with it, and he didn't see any point in hashing out this question with a skeptical 2nd year grad student. No one else asked any follow up.
I'll add here, that we took him to dinner and -- apart from brushing me off in the seminar -- he seemed to be a nice guy.
I've spent the subsequent 16 years wondering why I don't "get" happiness research and why everyone else seems to think it's a worthwhile thing.