Links to Consider, 3/8
Isaac Grafstein on right-wing anti-interventionism; Ted Gioia's fantasy newspaper; Eric Kaufmann on American Jews at ebb tide; Marc Andreessen on the real source of cost disease
“We Americans have a way of framing our wars moralistically, such that it is impossible to raise legitimate questions about the wisdom of undertaking them without looking callous,” Dreher told me. “I fell for this back in 2002, in the march up to the Iraq War. ‘What, you don’t think Arabs are capable of democracy?’ was the neocon line. I’m sure I used that, too, on the few war opponents in my circles who warned that nation-building in Iraq was going to be a costly folly.”
Anyone who raises questions about our Ukraine policy gets hit by this moralism.
Here is where I think it helps to have a libertarian perspective. For the same reasons that we are skeptical about government’s domestic interventions, we should be skeptical about government’s foreign interventions.
I’m going to hire 100 smart people—and I’m planning to pay them a lot of money. This will be the single biggest expense in my budget. If possible, I want the 100 smartest people.
He will gather this brain trust on a campus, taking over a college that is no longer viable (me: how are you going to get these smart people to move to East Bumf*ck, which is probably where you’ll find said college?), and then turn them into a combination news organization, education provider, and consulting firm.
I want to hit him with Bill Joy’s Law, which says that “No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else.”
Joy’s Law says that in the age of the Internet you cannot build a walled garden that dominates on the basis of talent alone. Talent resides in the network, and you need to exploit that talent.
Newspapers never figured this out. As long ago as 2001, I suggested that newspapers needed to get out of the walled-garden model. I wrote The Club vs. the Silo. Today, Substack is not so far from what I called the club model.
Gioia’s brain trust idea is probably better than what newspapers are doing, which is hiring a bunch of Midwits and monetizing their content with paywalls and popups. But I don’t believe that any walled-garden brain-trust idea fits the world of the Internet.
American Jews are bifurcating in two directions that will likely ensure that they become less prominent in American cultural life: towards assimilation and identity loss on the one hand, and towards ethnoreligious conservatism on the other. What is shrinking is the goldilocks zone wherein Jews retained enough of their identity and educational ethos to succeed in the secular world without veering toward the Scylla of career-limiting ultra-orthodoxy or the Charybdis of post-ethnic individualism.
My wife and I are a dying breed. We are not orthodox, and yet we have five grandchildren being raised in observant Jewish homes.
I cannot resist the joke that Orthodox Jews are taking The Benedict Option. On the other hand, Jews who are not Orthodox are assimilating into the religion of social justice. Kaufmann writes,
It’s also worth noting that Jews in America are now relatively unique among global Jewry in leaning left, and that their British, French, Israeli and Canadian counterparts now tilt right.
Kaufmann cites an admittedly imperfect survey he conducted three years ago among academics in the Social Sciences and Humanities:
18% of young professors aged 30 and under are Asian, while just 6% are Jewish. But among older elite SSH academics over 65, fully 24% are Jewish while none are Asian. The situation is probably more dramatic in the hard sciences, where Asians are known to especially excel. What this represents is an ethnic turnover in the composition of America’s colleges and universities.
In the twentieth century, Jews played an important role in reproducing and enriching the American tradition. One of the big stories of the next half-century will be how the transition from a Jewish- to an Asian-inflected elite will affect the country’s culture and identity.
A South Asian friend of mine once suggested that a better name than “The American Century” for the twentieth century would have been “The Jewish Century,” the Holocaust notwithstanding. He pointed to the strong Jewish presence in Nobel Prizes, Hollywood, and Wall Street.
The twenty-first century is looking. . .different. Perhaps more like Razib’s Intellectual Brown Web?
The prices of regulated, non-technological products rise; the prices of less regulated, technologically-powered products fall. Which eats the economy? The regulated sectors continuously grow as a percentage of GDP; the less regulated sectors shrink. At the limit, 99% of the economy will be the regulated, non-technological sectors, which is precisely where we are headed.
Therefore AI cannot cause overall unemployment to rise, even if the Luddite arguments are right this time. AI is simply already illegal across most of the economy, soon to be virtually all of the economy.
He reproduces the Mark Perry chart that shows prices falling for goods, especially electronics, and rising for services, especially health care, education, and housing. Years ago, I debated Alex Tabarrok on the causes for this. Alex stumped for Baumol’s Cost Disease. I stumped for my meme, that government intervention involves subsidizing demand and restricting supply.
Relative prices rise when demand grows faster than productivity. They fall when productivity grows faster than demand. The Tabarrok/Baumol story is that productivity growth is weak in health care, education, and housing because of natural forces. It always takes four people to play a string quartet. The Kling/Andreessen story is that productivity growth is weak in those sectors because of artificial forces—government regulation.
For example, when you buy a home, you have to pay thousands of dollars for “title search” and “title insurance.” In a sane world, the true owner of a property would be held in a definitive database on a computer, “title search” would cost pennies, and “title insurance” would not exist. But the lawyers and title insurance companies lobby successfully to keep the process backward.
Going forward, will teachers’ unions and legacy universities succeed in keeping the education process backward? Or will LLMs herald the appearance of the Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer to disrupt education? Marc the VC optimist expects disruption. But in the post quoted above, we have grouchy Marc who fears that we will have stagnation forever.
Substacks referenced above:
"Newspapers never figured this out. As long ago as 2001, I suggested that newspapers needed to get out of the walled-garden model. I wrote The Club vs. the Silo. Today, Substack is not so far from what I called the club model."
Over the last half year or so, Substack has definitely been trending in the direction of "walled-garden", with dozens of major changes introduced subtlely or at a gradual pace*.
It's kind of a common internet business model to be free and open at first to try and grow as fast as possible and attract users and popular content creators, etc. but then when one hits critical mass or self-sustaining momentum or whatever, start monetizing, monetizing, monetizing (or in the non-profit world, "just paying the bills" or whatever.)
The newspapers that survived and thrived did indeed figure out that they needed subscribers and also 'micropayments' from everybody who read every article. It's just that people pay in the form of having some of their attention drawn by targeted ads, and also by (let's face it, unwittingly) giving away the recent updates of personal behaviors and information which in aggregate is highly valuable to advertisers. Most people can't read the article without giving up however many cents worth of personal info it takes to keep the paper afloat.
Micropayments Triumphed! Just not in the form once hoped for.
*You can tell by looking at how many penetrative scripts and trackers they've added to the web experience, becomming alarmingly "Facebook-esque" in the process. That's also part of why it took forever for them to come out with a simple app for Android Smartphone, despite the (apparent, not actual) almost minimalist need for any functionality, just displaying graphics and text.
That would ordinarily be something you would expect Silicon Valley types to crank out in about 15 minutes.
Yes, I'm sure negotiations with Google about side-payments outside the ecosystem and trying to get them to make an exception to their typical cut of all subscriptions, etc. But I also suspect that Google knows a thing or two about the non-apparent functionality of the long-delayed app ("Uber-esque" i.e., borderline spyware). Maybe they had to trim it back, maybe they came to a deal, who knows.
In practical terms, to be "anti-interventionist" with respect to the war in Ukraine is to favor a Russian victory. Ukrainians already have plenty of experience, old and new, of what to expect from Russian rule; that is why they are fighting. Given the historical experience of the Jews in Eastern Europe, I would have expected a Jew to be more aware of the consequences of letting a large, bellicose dictatorship overpower a smaller, peaceful neighbor.