Links to Consider, 3/6
Tyler Cowen and Martin Gurri vindicated; WTF happened in 1971; Noah Smith on American build-nothingism; Suzy Weiss on college cheating; Tyler Cowen on complaining
Anton Cebalo links to one essay that vindicates Tyler Cowen and another that vindicates Martin Gurri.
In the first essay, David Oks writes,
The Afghans with me represented a cross-section of the country’s plugged-in youth. They described things as “based” and joked that people were “triggered.” When they were teasing each other, they used the term “soyboy,” which was by now a couple of years out of date in America. One was a YouTuber with a large audience in the Middle East, who produces Arabic-language content about Afghanistan; another was an ambitious entrepreneur, born in a refugee camp over the Pakistani border, and now a successful saffron exporter with side ventures in journalism and cryptocurrency; another, my first contact in the country, was an influencer whom I’d grown to trust over games of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
…These were not Western liberals: they had friends among the Taliban, and were quick to defend regime decisions I found abhorrent, like the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas. But these subjects of the Islamic Emirate could not be kept from watching Stranger Things or Game of Thrones or Japanese anime; they had a better knowledge of Breaking Bad than I did. On Twitter—they, like so many Afghans, were avid users—shared soyjack memes and called themselves “sigma males.” They talked about feminism, “LGBTQ,” and pronouns—strange things to complain about in a country where women can’t go to school. They were becoming Westerners: culture war, America’s most successful soft-power export, was their induction. The younger members of the Taliban, online enough to follow Andrew Tate, were not immune.
Tyler has long emphasized America’s soft cultural power, even crediting Wokeism as supplying some of that power.
In the second essay, Anton Jager writes,
Unlike the 1963 March on Washington—where marchers came wearing jackets adorned with their union buttons and civic labels—most of the George Floyd protesters shared no prior affiliation, membership lists or institutional cadre, with only a few, foggily funded NGOs as stewards. Perhaps this is why, despite being targeted by the largest protests in American history, virtually all the police-department budget cuts in late 2020 were reversed soon after. (Now they were notionally summoned to suppress a post-COVID crime wave.)
Such phantom effects are not limited to the left. On the right too, “movements” from the Tea Party to Trumpism to QAnon rise, proliferate and disperse with unnerving rapidity. Rather than concrete results or new social relations, this political tendency seems to mark its influence by its ability to reproduce its frenetic form of activity, something it has had special success doing at nonprofits, in the media and in an increasingly digital public sphere—not to mention in the minds of those who consume these cultural products. Hyperpolitics comes and goes, like a neutron bomb that shakes the people in the frame but leaves all the infrastructure intact
The ineffectual nature of contemporary protest is one of Martin Gurri’s themes in The Revolt of the Public.
The Moment of Zen podcast mentioned a web site WTF happened in 1971? Developed by Ben Prentice, it implies that the end of Bretton Woods set off long-term inflation, with many adverse consequences. Later, around one hour and 36 minutes, you can hear the protagonists make some amusing remarks about the GMU/Mercatus folks.
Speaking of problems that began in the 1970s, Noah Smith writes,
The 70s were when the embrace of stasis began, but the 2010s are when it reached its apotheosis.
This ill-advised path has now come to its inevitable end. We no longer have the luxury of giving our people a shadow subsidy by freezing their neighborhoods and cities in amber. Spiraling housing costs in any city with real economic opportunity, a floundering energy transition, and the inexorable migration of manufacturing to more development-friendly countries have become so severe that we must dispense with our collective illusion that America will always look like it looked in 1975. Slashing the thicket of red tape that prevent development, and subordinating local interests to the needs of the nation itself, are no longer idle dreams — they are immediate necessities. If we insist on continuing to be the Build-Nothing Country, our once-mighty middle class will sink into a genteel poverty, and someone else will build the future on the bones of our civilization.
Gabriel Rossman, the UCLA sociologist, called platforms like Moonbeam and the students who use them “immoral.”
Shahawy shrugged at that. “The students that wanted to learn were always going to learn, and the students that didn't want to, and were just writing words to get a grade, are just going to be more efficient at doing that,”
An idealistic professor would say that when you cheat, you only cheat yourself. That is true if you believe in the human capital model of education. But the cheating epidemic shows that students clearly believe the signaling model instead, in which the credential matters, not whether your learn. Vindication for Bryan Caplan.
imagine a health care policy that stated individuals have a true right to access any health care technology invented up through say…2004 or so. Individuals would be guaranteed “2004 value health care lives.” (In 2004 that certainly seemed pretty good.) But for subsequent health care developments, a free market will reign.
I wrote something similar in 2006 in Crisis of Abundance, my still-relevant book on health care policy. People were complaining that health care costs too much in the United States, and we must be doing something wrong. I pointed out that we could easily afford the health care of 1970. The “problem” was all of the medical devices and specialties that had been developed in the meantime.
Substacks referenced above:
I currently wear on my body two medical devices that did not exist in 2004. A drug that didn't exist in 2004 saved my life.
I would say there have been major advances in medical technology and pharmaceuticals since 2004, but almost no advancement (and sometimes backwardness) in the provision of medical services.
Going to a hospital is as awful as ever. I find dealing with doctors a lot worse then twenty years ago (some of his is the cultural/language barriers or dealing with a nearly all Indian medical establishment down here, some of it is the increase in bureaucracy).
One could say the same of all the "red line" sectors in that AEI inflation chart. Any technological advance simply goes right back into service costs.
And of course in some cases, like end of life care, these advances are basically pointless in a fundamental sense of not changing the inevitable.
About Afghanistan westernizing. I have at least 10 different things to nitpick from that article, but I'll try to limit myself to a few things that were not quoted by Dr Kling or by Anton Cebalo. I doubt Afghan culture is converging with western culture very rapidly (centuries?) if at all.
- "On Valentine’s Day—the celebration of which is forbidden in Islam—peddlers in the streets of Kabul were selling heart-shaped balloons." => Kabul based Chinese traders (see "Chinese hotel" paragraph) will sell whatever they get from their Chinese suppliers. I doubt many Afghan buyers know about the meaning that some westerners give to heart-shaped balloons in the middle of february but only in the middle of february (Salwāǧa?).
- "Khariji rats", "Were the Germans Sunnis, or were they Shias?" => It seems religion still plays a very large role in Afghan's lifes even in situations not regulated by the Taliban. If the Taliban reverse their women education ban but keep everything else, would that make them more western ?
- "For years Kabul was full of these addicts." => Is Kabul full of "plugged-in youth" ? It doesn't seem it is ("Afghanistan’s only shopping mall"). I assume Afghan drug addicts are not high status, but Oks seems to assume that this new tiny minority is high status ("And while these young men were still a tiny minority, they were also the bleeding edge... Status flows downward").