To Be a Man, Or Not to Be (Fight Degendering)

This article is an update on the continuing assault by gender ideologues on young males’ masculinity.  Spencer Klavan writes at the American Mind Be a Man. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Gender theorists know what they are doing when they target children. We should know what we’re doing when we fight back.

 In August of 2018, the American Psychological Association issued its first-ever “Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men,” of which the first directive is that psychologists should “strive to recognize that masculinities are constructed based on social, cultural, and contextual norms.” In other words, treatment of boys and men should begin from the premise that manhood is culturally contingent and therefore alterable. The goal of therapeutic practice then becomes “to help boys and men over their lifetimes navigate restrictive definitions of masculinity and create their own concepts of what it means to be male.”

Graduate programs in psychology cannot gain accreditation or train students for licensing without the APA’s official imprimatur. It stands to reason that schools will feel strongly encouraged, at the very least, to conform their instruction with what the Association dictates. Not that institutions of higher learning typically need such encouragement: at Stony Brook University in New York, for example, the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities is dedicated to deconstructing “traditional” manhood. Their website offers resources such as an article on “academic efforts to decode men.” It is to these resources that one is directed via hyperlink if one attempts to access any discussion thread about manhood which has been deemed toxic by the major chat website, Reddit.

Professional ideologues, then, are making their best efforts to train biological males out of their natural impulses toward strength, endurance, physical courage, and emotional self-control.

Boys who find themselves lacking in these characteristics—as every young man does at some point in his development—typically experience a sense of inadequacy. Traditionally, caring adults have tried to alleviate that inadequacy by helping boys grow into themselves—by helping them attain the masculinity that is their birthright but not yet their achievement. The new diagnostic recommendation, however, is to treat all such feelings of self-reproach as needless impositions from an outmoded worldview in need of radical deconstruction.

What conservatives typically emphasize in response is that biological sex does matter, that men’s yearnings to be manly are indeed authentic and spontaneous. This is entirely true. But it misses something, something that Aristodemus knew: there is also a part of gender which is learned and taught. We experience certain natural ambitions, but then we build societies and traditions which honor and channel those ambitions. Most boys are born with an interest in fighting and competing, but no boy is born knowing how to play football or hold a gun. We school one another, generation to generation, in the ways of manhood.

Therefore if you train impressionable boys to disassociate themselves from their sex, they will indeed lose the sense of grounding and orientation that comes with proper instruction—they will indeed become “feminized” like the children of Cumae. That is why the efforts to degender our society are often focused on children. Public schools now teach gender theory using cartoon characters as diagrams. Little girls wearing male clothing were cheered on national television in October of this year at the Democrats’ “Equality Town Hall.” In the same month a seven-year-old boy was very nearly subjected by court order (subsequently amended) to hormonal alteration by a mother who encourages him to consider himself female. If it sounds alarmist to say that “gender theorists are coming for your children,” good. They are coming, and it is alarming.

The answer to this is not only to insist that “male” and “female” are real, natural categories: it is also to acknowledge that one natural component of those categories is aspiration. There is nothing harmful in exhorting a boy to “be a man.” If he is not yet—and no boy is—he will be told by activists and perhaps his teachers that he does not need to be. But the longings of his heart will tell him that he should, that he can. It is the business of gender theory to extinguish those longings. It should be our business to defend them at all costs.

Update: Climate Hail Mary by Broke Cities

Previous post is reprinted later on.  This update is an article at Issues and Insights last week by Horace Cooper The Shameless Hypocrisy Of Cities Suing For Climate Change ‘Damages’.   Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

North and South American natives once spoke of the mythical El Dorado, a sacred city made entirely of gold. History records that conquistadors embarked on expeditions throughout the Americas in pursuit of El Dorado and legendary riches. Ultimately their quests yielded nothing but misery and loss.

Conquistador Francisco Vázquez de Coronado went through Arizona seeking in vain untold golden treasures to make them all rich.

A modern-day parallel exists among several municipal governments and Rhode Island, which have set out on an equally unrealistic quest for a modern-day “jackpot justice” – a scheme to reap billions from several energy companies.

Using an already discredited “public nuisance” legal claim, Rhode Island and several cities have filed lawsuits that blame all of Earth’s climate change on a few profitable energy companies. The suits allege that, by producing oil, these energy companies have contributed to climate change, which, they argue, may cause damage to their communities in the future. Their cases, incidentally, fail to mention the large amounts of fossil fuels used by these same cities for public transportation, municipal airports, city buildings, and public improvement projects.

sierra-2018-11-internationalcarboncourt-wb

Litigants point to a July ruling in which an activist Rhode Island judge overturned a previous decision to move Rhode Island’s climate change case to federal court. Having watched federal courts dismiss many of these claims outright, the plaintiffs believe they have a better chance of success in lower, state courts. Baltimore was also successful in blocking a motion to move its lawsuit to federal court.

Still, climate litigants would be wise to keep the champagne firmly corked as these recent rulings in Rhode Island and Baltimore will likely be overturned. In North Dakota earlier this year, a similar nuisance case against Purdue Pharma was dismissed by a judge who found the plaintiffs failed to meet the required burden of proof. Moreover, the courts reviewing the Oklahoma case are likely to take a more skeptical view of the nuisance tactic, which has generally fared poorly on appeal. For example, a nuisance suit against lead paint manufacturers initially succeeded, only to fail on appeal in 2009, ironically before the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

A major driver of legal precedent denying the use of nuisance ordinances comes from an Obama-era Supreme Court ruling. In the 8-0 American Electric Power v. Connecticut decision in 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations cannot be sued for greenhouse gas emissions because the Clean Air Act specifically tasks the Environmental Protection Agency and Congress with the proper regulatory authority. Put another way, only the executive and legislative branches – not the judicial branch – may regulate and impose climate change policy. That precedent was properly cited last year when New York City’s climate lawsuit was bounced out of court. Also last year, a federal judge dismissed Oakland and San Francisco’s lawsuit for being outside the court’s authority.

In addition to the utter lack of legal substantiation, these lawsuits reveal how these municipalities are speaking out of both sides of their mouths. In one setting they downplay risks of climate change and in other settings they pretend the risks have never been higher.

Consider San Francisco’s 2017 municipal bond offering which reassuringly told potential investors, “The City is unable to predict whether sea-level rise or other impacts of climate change or flooding from a major storm will occur, when they may occur, and if any such events occur, whether they will have a material adverse effect on the business operations or financial condition of the City and the local economy.” Yet in its multi-billion-dollar climate lawsuit, the city went full-on Chicken Little, warning, “Global warming-induced sea level rise is already causing flooding of low-lying areas of San Francisco.”

The example isn’t isolated. Marin County, California’s lawsuit alarmingly asserted that there’s a 99-percent risk of an epic climate-change-related flood by 2050. But a municipal bond offering to potential investors failed to warn of any potential climate change dangers claimed within its lawsuit. San Mateo County’s prospectus advising bond investors that it’s “unable to predict whether sea-level rise or other impacts of climate change or flooding from a major storm will occur” didn’t stop it from forecasting a 93-percent chance cataclysmic flood by 2050 in its lawsuit against oil companies. The examples go on.

Aside from the shameless hypocrisy of mayors wooing potential investors while claiming pending climate disaster in court, the motivation behind these lawsuits is clear. Many cities filing lawsuits against energy companies are financial train wrecks, seeking billions to offset their mismanagement. Huge legal awards – enough to make their fiscal troubles vanish – have a powerful allure.

The prospect of jackpot justice has fogged their judgment just as surely as the conquistadors who vainly searched for El Dorado.

If anything, the mayors of Oakland, New York, San Diego, and others are seeking pots of Fool’s Gold. These greedy politicians should stop abusing the legal system, wasting taxpayer dollars, and put a halt to their fantasy gold-digging.

Previous Post:  Climate Hail Mary by Inept Cities

Some cities in desperate financial straits due to their own mismanagement are hoping to bail out by suing oil companies. Several are in California where the current governor blames droughts, fires and mudslides on climate change. So Governor Brown is a role model for all politicians how to scapegoat nature instead of taking responsibility for their own failings as leaders. As I have long said, COP stands not only for UN Conference of Parties, but also for the ultimate political COP-Out. (Note: A “Hail Mary” is a desperate football pass into the end zone as the game ends.)

A recent editorial in the Washington Times exposes the ruse Big talk at City Hall isn’t likely to replace oil, natural gas and coal Excerpts below with my bolds.

The civic shakedown of the oil and gas producers continues, and the frenzy has spread to California. Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York started it in January when he said he would seek billions of dollars in reparations from five major companies, including Exxon, BP and Chevron.

“It’s time for Big Oil to take responsibility for the devastation they have wrought,” he said, “and to start paying for the damage they have done.” He blames the devastation from the 2012 Superstorm Sandy on climate change, “a tragedy that was wrought by the actions of the fossil-fuel companies.” The Sierra Club and other radical environmental groups couldn’t have said it better. These greens have long sought to shut down the oil and coal-mining companies.

San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles now threaten similar lawsuits to extort money from the reliable producers of cheap energy. These cities claim that the forest fires and mudslides that devastated Southern California were caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Coal companies are now joining the mayor’s conspiracy. Forest fires in the West? Hurricanes in the East? Heaven forfend. Surely that never happened before.

Many big cities have been living beyond their means for years, running up billion dollar pension liabilities. Someone has to pay the tab for the fiscal hangover, and extortion may be the way to require others to pay the bills. What better target than Big Oil? Attempting extortion has got so out of hand that Richmond, Calif., one of whose largest employers is a large oil refinery, is eager to join the extortion racket.

Even if every American energy company shut down entirely — which may be the hidden agenda here — the enormous increase in carbon emissions from China and India alone would swamp the effects of American fossil-fuel production and consumption. If global warming was actually causing forest fires and hurricanes, Mayor de Blasio should be suing China, not British Petroleum.

Even more fraudulent is that New York City, Oakland, San Francisco and other plaintiffs have been burning fossil fuels for decades to provide power for their cities. Exxon only drills the oil. It’s the cities of New York, San Francisco and Oakland that burn it and send the carbon into the atmosphere. And what about the police cars, trucks, buses, ambulances and thousands of other city-owned vehicles? They use the fuels that Exxon and Chevron produce, and even the batteries in electric vehicles that must be frequently recharged use recharging stations powered mostly by fossil fuels. In the first six months of 2017 more than 70 percent of all the electricity produced in the United States came from coal and natural gas.

Fossil fuel starvation diets are available to all. But the mayors know very well that without cheap and abundant oil, coal and natural gas, their cities and the commerce that springs from there would come to a grinding halt. The schools, factories, shelters, shopping centers, restaurants, apartment buildings and skyscrapers would shut down without the energy from the oil and gas produced by the companies the mayors are suing. The cities wouldn’t survive for a day. Big talk, like oil, gas and coal, is cheap. It’s too bad that all that hot air at City Hall can’t be harnessed to produce electricity. If it could, there’s enough of it to put oil, gas and coal companies out of business.

 

Harnessing hot air for a useful purpose.

See also Is Global Warming A Public Nuisance?

Why People Are So Unreasonable These Days

For some reason, many intellectuals who identify as philosophical skeptics embrace large chunks of climate dogma without critical examination. Steven Pinker is part of the progressive clan, and shares their blind spot, but speaks wisely in a recent article about the precarious balance between reason and intolerance these days. Some excerpts in italics with my bolds show his keen grasp of many aspects of the problems in contemporary discourse, even while he nods superficially to the climate consensus.  His article at Skeptic.com is Why We Are Not Living in a Post-Truth Era:  An (Unnecessary) Defense of Reason and a (Necessary) Defense of Universities’ Role in Advancing it.

Humans Are Rational Beings

In the first part Pinker does a good job clearing away several arguments that humans are not primarily rational anyway.  For example, he summarizes:

So if anyone tries to excuse irrationality and dogma by pointing a finger at our evolutionary origins, I say: Don’t blame the hunter-gatherers. Rational inference, skepticism, and debate are in our nature every bit as much as freezing in response to a rustle in the grass.

Why were truth and rationality selected for? The answer is that reality is a powerful selection pressure. As the science fiction author Philip K. Dick put it, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”  Either there is an armadillo in the burrow or there isn’t. Those who were so hidebound by stereotype or habit that they could not deduce out where it was or how to kill it went hungry.

Irrationality Contends Against Reason

Pinker provides insight into the modern struggle to be reasonable in the face of irrationality.

So if we do have the capacity to be rational, why are we so often irrational? There are several reasons. The most obvious was pointed out by Herbert Simon, one of the founders of both cognitive psychology and artificial intelligence: rationality must be bounded. A perfect reasoner would require all the time in the world, and unlimited memory. So we often satisfice, trading accuracy for efficiency.

Also, though reality is always a powerful selection pressure, we did not evolve with the truth-augmenting technologies that have been invented in recent millennia and centuries, such as writing, quantitative datasets, scientific methodology, and specialized expertise.

And annoyingly, facts and logic can compromise our self-presentation as effective and benevolent, a powerful human motive. We all try to come across as infallible, omniscient, and saintly. Rationality can be a nuisance in this campaign, because inconvenient truths will inevitably come to light that suggest we are mere mortals. The dismissal of facts and logic is often damage control against threats to our self-presentation.

Beliefs also can be signals of loyalty to a coalition. As Tooby has pointed out, the more improbable the belief, the more credible the signal. It’s hard to affirm your solidarity with the tribe by declaring that rocks fall down instead of up, because anyone can say that rocks fall down instead of up. But if you say that God is three persons in one, or that Hillary Clinton ran a child sex ring out of a Washington pizzeria, you’ve shown that you’re willing to take risks for the team.

Group loyalty is an underestimated source of irrationality in the public sphere, especially when it comes to politicized scientific issues like evolution and climate change. Dan Kahan has shown that, contrary to what most scientists believe, a denial of the facts of human evolution or anthropogenic climate change is not a symptom of scientific illiteracy. The deniers know as much science as the accepters. They contrast instead on political orientation: the farther to the right, the more denial.

Kahan notes that there is a perverse rationality to this “expressive cognition.” Unless you are one of a small number of deciders and influencers, your opinion on climate change will have no effect on the climate. But it could have an enormous effect on how you’re accepted your social circle—whether you’re seen as someone who at best just doesn’t get it and who at worst is a traitor. For someone in a modern university to deny human-made climate change, or for someone in a rural Southern or Midwestern community to affirm it, would be social death. So, it’s perversely rational for people to affirm the validating beliefs of their social circle. The problem is that what’s rational for the individual may not be rational for the nation or the planet. Kahan calls it the “Tragedy of the Belief Commons..”

Another paradox of rationality is pluralistic ignorance, or the “spiral of silence,” in which everyone believes that everyone else believes something but no one actually believes it. A classic example is drinking in college fraternities: a 1998 Princeton study found that the male students mistakenly believed that their fellow students thought it was cool to drink a lot, and during their time on campus gravitated toward endorsing this false norm themselves.18 The same thing happens in college women’s attitudes toward casual sex.

How can pluralistic ignorance happen? How does a false belief keep itself levitated in midair? Michael Macy and his colleagues show that a key factor is enforcement. Not only does the belief never get challenged, but group members believe they must punish or condemn those who don’t hold it—out of the equally mistaken belief that they themselves may be denounced for failing to denounce. Denunciation is a signal of solidarity with the group, which can lead to a cascade of pre-emptive, self-reinforcing denunciation, and sometimes to “extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds” like witch hunts and other bubbles and manias. Sometimes the bubble can be punctured by a public exclamation that the emperor is naked, but it takes an innocent boy or a brave truth-teller.

[Comment: Pinker describes the tribal dynamics around social and political issues.  But Pinker does not himself engage the scientific complexities and uncertainties regarding global warming/climate change.  He reduces the issue down to politics, and thinks that people take sides based on their social circles. He implies that even when scientifically literate people are unconvinced of climate alarms, it’s on political grounds.  When Pinker says most scientists believe in the facts of climate change, he is siding with his leftist colleagues in academia, demonstrating that accepting social proof cuts both ways.

So many alarmist platitudes have been denied in reality.  Arctic ice persists instead of disappearing; Polar bears thrive instead of going extinct;  Storms were worse in the past when CO2 was lower; and so on.  See 11 Empty Climate Claims.  It’s the other side of the point made earlier:  Reality is also that which happens, despite your expecting otherwise.

Consider what Cal physics professor Richard Muller said:  There is a real danger in people with Ph.D.s joining a consensus that they haven’t vetted professionally. . . A really good question would be: “Have you studied climate change enough that you would put your scientific credentials on the line that most of what is said in An Inconvenient Truth is based on accurate scientific results? My guess is that a large majority of the climate scientists would answer no to that question, and the true percentage of scientists who support the statement I made in the opening paragraph of this comment, that true percentage would be under 30%. That is an unscientific guestimate, based on my experience in asking many scientists about the claims of Al Gore.  See Meet Richard Muller, Lukewarmist]

Ours Era Mixes High and Low Rationality

Rationality, to be sure, is not increasing everywhere. In some arenas it appears to sinking fast. The most conspicuous is electoral politics, which is almost perversely designed to inhibit our capacity for rationality. Voters act on issues that don’t affect them personally, and are under no pressure to inform themselves or defend their positions. Practical issues like energy and healthcare are bundled with symbolic hot buttons like euthanasia and the teaching of evolution. These bundles are then strapped to regional, ethnic, or religious coalitions, encouraging group-affirming expressive cognition. People vote as if rooting for sports teams, encouraged by the media, which treat politics as a horse race, encouraging zero-sum competition rather than clarification of character and policy.

And as a recent New York Times op-ed (in which I played a cameo) announced, “Social media is making us dumber.” Not long ago many intellectuals deplored the lack of democratic access to mass media. A few media corporations, in cahoots with the government, “manufactured consent” with their oligopoly over the means of production and dissemination of ideas. As we used to say, freedom of the press belongs to those who own one. Social media held out the promise of giving a voice to The People.

We should have been careful about what we wished for. The network dynamics of social media are still poorly understood, but they do not yet host the mechanisms of vetting and reviewing that are necessary for true beliefs to bubble up to prominence from the turbid pools of self-presentation, group solidarity, and pluralistic ignorance. And they have become launch pads for spirals of moralistic grandstanding and pre-emptive denunciation.

We are now living in an era of rationality inequality. At the high end we’ve never been more rational. But at the low end there are arenas that indulge the worst of human psychology. Much work remains to be done in refining the institutions that bring out the rational angels of our nature.

Universities Embracing Irrationality

And this brings me to the role of universities. Universities ought to be the premier institutions of rationality promotion. They have been granted many privileges and perquisites in exchange for fulfilling the mission of adding to the stock of human knowledge and transmitting it to future generations. State universities and colleges are underwritten by the public purse, as is a great deal of tuition and research support in private ones, together with their tax-exempt status. . . Universities have also been granted credentialing and gatekeeping privileges in business and the professions, where a degree is often an entry requirement despite the questionable value added to a student’s capabilities by four years at a university, according to exit audits

Yet despite these perquisites, universities have become notorious as monocultures of left-wing orthodoxy and the illiberal suppression of heterodox ideas (I won’t review the latest follies, but will mention just two words: Halloween costumes).31 As the civil libertarian Harvey Silverglate has put it, “You can say things in Harvard Square that you can’t say in Harvard Yard.”

Why do universities fall short of what one might think of as their essential mission, promoting openminded rationality? There are several hypotheses. In The Coddling of the American Mind, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt have suggested that (to oversimplify) helicopter Baby Boomer parents reared iGen snowflakes, who melt at the slightest uncomfortable thought. Another explanation points to an increase in homophily—people gravitating to people who are like them, especially liberals and their children in cities and dense suburbs—which bred a uniformity of opinion on university campuses. The sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning have described the rise of a Culture of Victimhood, in which prestige comes not from a resolve to retaliate against threats (a Culture of Honor) or an ability to control one’s emotions (a Culture of Dignity) but from a claim to have been victimized on the basis of race or gender, a grievance that is predictably ratified and redressed by the campus bureaucracy.  And since any of these dynamics can weave a network of pluralistic ignorance enforced by denunciation mobs, we can’t know how many intimidated students would privately disavow intellectual orthodoxy and the culture of victimhood but are afraid to say so out of a mistaken fear that everyone else avows it.

Some of this regression is a paradoxical byproduct of the fantastic progress we have made in equality. Vanishingly few people in universities actually hold racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic attitudes (though they may have different views on the nature of these categories or the causes of group differences). That means that accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia can be weaponized: since everyone reviles these bigotries, they can be used to demonize adversaries, which in turn spreads a terror of being demonized. The accusations are uniquely noxious because it is virtually impossible to defend oneself against them. “Some of my best friends are X” is risible, and testimony about one’s unprejudiced bona fides or a track record of advancing the careers of women and minorities is not much more exculpatory. This places temptation in people’s paths to denounce others for bigotry before they are denounced themselves: it is one of the few means of pre-emptive self-defense.

Should we care about what happens in the universities? It’s sometimes said that academic disputes are fierce because the stakes are so small. In fact, the stakes are significant. The obvious one is whether universities are carrying out their fiduciary duty to advance knowledge in return for their massive absorption of society’s resources and trust. Another is their creeping influence on the rest of society. As Andrew Sullivan wrote in 2018, “we all live on campus now.” Political correctness and social justice warfare have descended from the ivory tower and infiltrated tech, business, healthcare, and government.

Envy Social Justice

Still worse, intolerance on campus is corroding the credibility of university research on vital topics such as climate change and gun violence. Skeptics on the right can say, “Why should we be impressed if climate scientists are unanimous that human activity is threatening the planet? (Or on any other issue?) They work in universities, which everyone knows are echo chambers of PC dogma.”

So we must safeguard the truth and rationality promoting mission of universities precisely because we are not living in a post-truth era. Humans indeed are often irrational, but not always and everywhere. The rational angels of our nature can and must be encouraged by truth-promoting norms and institutions. Many are succeeding, despite what seems like a growth in reason inequality. Universities, as they become infected with political conformity and restrictions on expressible ideas, seem to be falling short in their mission, but it matters to society that they be held to account: so they can repay the perquisites granted to them, secure the credibility of their own research on vital issues, and inoculate students against extreme and simplistic views by allowing them to evaluate moderate and nuanced ones.

Ungrateful Millennials Richer than Rockefeller

Our leftist educational system has turned many of today’s young people into social justice warriors. Frequently they accuse older generations of trashing the planet for their own benefit and stealing the future from future generations.  As Greta says: “How dare They!”  Lost in all this ignorance and arrogance is any gratitude for the wealth of conveniences and options provided by their predecessors on a silver platter to these spoiled youth.

Matthew Kahn has a post up regarding economics for non-economists, which will appear here later on. He provokes discussion in his seminar by exposing students to a fine essay by economist Don Boudreaux You Are Richer than John D. Rockefeller Do read the linked article which is only excerpted below.

Boudreaux asks: How much money would it take for you to agree to live out your life a century ago? Would you do it for a million dollars? What about a billion dollars? When considering this question, he asks that you keep in mind that in 1916, no matter how rich you were, you would not be able to enjoy any of the following:
Radio (do you mind phonograph sound quality?)
Television
Timely transportation
Computers
Air-conditioning
Rock ’n roll
International food (forget Vietnamese Pho or falafels!)
Smart phones
A high likelihood of surviving infancy
Contact lenses
Modern birth control
Antibiotics
Accurate watches
Skype
Effective dental care
The Internet
…and many other things as well. If you’re a woman, or any kind of minority (whether racial, sexual, or religious), then you would also have to sacrifice various freedoms and live in a world of far worse intolerance.

Boudreaux concludes with this observation:

Honestly, I wouldn’t be remotely tempted to quit the 2016 me so that I could be a one-billion-dollar-richer me in 1916. This fact means that, by 1916 standards, I am today more than a billionaire. It means, at least given my preferences, I am today materially richer than was John D. Rockefeller in 1916. And if, as I think is true, my preferences here are not unusual, then nearly every middle-class American today is richer than was America’s richest man a mere 100 years ago.

Matthew Kahn’s post is Teaching Economics Ideas to Non-Economists  Text below with my bolds.

At USC this term, I am teaching a new class on “the limits to growth”. My course is a fair fight between Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon. My class features 90% non-economics majors and many have never taken a course with an economist before. I sense that they side with Ehrlich. Their consensus is that we are on a path to destroy our planet and that only dramatic changes in politics and lifestyles can save us. It is possible that they are correct. As they make these points in our seminar class, I ask them; “if you know this, why doesn’t the suburban median voter know this?” They eventually sketch out ideas related to free riding and the Tragedy of the Commons.

I sense that a majority of my students are uncomfortable with the claim that free markets are the major source of improvements in all of our well being. We read this piece by Don Boudreaux and it set off quite a good debate.

My students are quite smart and they have figured out that economic models focus on individual choice. I choose to drop out of school. I choose to study rather than to party. I choose to take actions that raise my risk of pregnancy. I choose to walk in risky place at night. When bad things (such as poverty) happen to good people, how much of this outcome is due to their own choice versus bad luck (a health shock, graduating during a recession)? I have shown them James Heckman’s argument that we must expand early education for all because children do not choose their parents.

If outcomes are due to luck, then a risk averse society will engage in more taxation and redistribution than in a society that believes that life outcomes are directly related to costly effort (i.e Lebron James is a great basketball player due to his long hours of practice).

My students also believe that the American Dream of upward mobility is vanishing. But schools such as USC are providing more financial aid and opportunity for first generation students. My students believe that U.S public schools are under-performing in preparing young people for college but they oppose privatization and Milton Friedman style school vouchers. They must implicitly believe that parents are not to be “sophisticated shoppers” in choosing a school.

I sense that many of my students would have voted for Senator Bernie Sanders in 2016. I am learning from my experience teaching non-economists. I hope that my ideas and empirical claims are resonating with them. I sense that some of my students are surprised to be confronted with a University of Chicago trained economist. The market place for economics ideas needs to expand and enter the classrooms of humanities majors (the bulk of my students).

My students reject the perfect competition model. Many voice a dark vision that powerful elites control government and markets and pay such that the “little guy” has few choices and just suffers. I steer discussions back to human capital and skill formation and the possibility to engage in personal investments such that one commands a wage premium. I am learning.

The typical academic economist does not leave the “comfort zone” and teach non-majors.

Bravo Professor Kahn for taking on the task of challenging uninformed (misinformed) societal assumptions.  Your teaching method seems Socratic, and it was Aristotle who recognized that a good life depends upon both good choices and good fortune. And, just to close the circle, John D. Rockefeller became wealthy providing people with petroleum products, which all agreed were the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Benefits from Breaking Media Barons Monopoly

Clifford Humphrey writes at Epoch Times The Mainstream Media Is Not ‘the Press,’ Nor Should It Be. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

President Donald Trump is famous—or infamous—for calling certain mainstream news outlets the “fake news media” and even the “enemy of the people.” Trump’s tenacious criticism of major news outlets is one of the defining features of his presidency.

Few things have upset spokespersons for these outlets more than this political upstart calling them illegitimate. They tell us, though, that their concern is less for their own reputations particularly and more for the freedom of the press generally and the welfare of our republican institutions.

Fair enough. Indeed, Alexis de Tocqueville, famed author of “Democracy in America,” remarked that, in the United States, “the sovereignty of the people and freedom of the press” are “two entirely correlative things.”

But, wait a minute. Aren’t we conflating two different things here? Since when are mainstream “news media” outlets and “the press” the same thing? The president has always directed his ire at a few major media outlets—CNN, the New York Times, ABC, NBC, and CBS.

These mainstream media outlets have come to assume a monopoly of legitimacy regarding what constitutes authoritative news only since the advent of radio and television communication technologies. In truth, though, the First Amendment guarantees freedom for all Americans to publish their political opinions in the public square, in any format.

New Technologies, New Political Conditions

In the 21st century, we’re experiencing a tectonic shift in communication technologies that’s creating a correlative shift in how we do politics in this country. Now, anyone with an internet connection can post a blog, and anyone with a microphone can publish a podcast.

This change, though, isn’t leading us into entirely new, uncharted waters. Oddly enough, it’s taking us back to a condition similar to that of the 19th century, when newspapers were more openly partisan but also more plentiful.

Of course, this new condition poses certain new difficulties, but also certain new opportunities. For example, although it may seem harder to know whose opinion to trust these days, at least we aren’t beholden to an oligarchy of self-authorized gatekeepers who cloak their biases with confident claims of objectivity.

The president’s attacks on mainstream media outlets shouldn’t be seen as an attack on “the press,” but as a criticism of their unjustified monopoly of legitimacy as authorities on political opinion and interpreters of the news.

In fact, by pointing out bias in the mainstream media, the president is helping to create space for other media outlets to report otherwise under-reported news. In this way, the president is actually protecting the freedom of the press.

Freedom of the Press, Revival of Serious Journalism

When Tocqueville was writing in the 1830s, there were already about 1,200 newspapers in circulation in the United States. Thirty years later, in 1860, that number more than doubled to 3,000. By 1890, that number quadrupled to 12,000. In other words, for most of our history, Americans have had more than just a few media outlets from which to get their news.

Tocqueville noticed that so great a number of newspapers guaranteed an equally great number of perspectives, so that, collectively, newspapers couldn’t “establish great currents of opinion.” How different from the monolith of opinion that often emanates from the mainstream media today.

Further, Tocqueville noted that “this dividing of the strength of the press” in the 1830s had two other politically salutary effects. We’re seeing a revival of both today.

First, “the creation of a newspaper being an easy thing,” Tocqueville noticed, “everyone can take it on.” In the digital age of the 21st century, through the agency of social media, podcasts, blogs, and other means of independent journalism, we’re seeing a return to this condition of easy access to publishing.

Second, Tocqueville observed that “competition makes a newspaper unable to hope for very great profits, which prevents those with great industrial capabilities from meddling in these sorts of undertakings.” We who have grown up in the age of the 24-hour news cycle have witnessed the consequences of the industrialization of journalism.

The marriage between journalism and advertising corporatism has birthed the amalgamation perhaps best described as “infotainment.” Newsrooms often resemble gameshow studios. Are we not entertained?

Most of the independent media enterprises that have been successful recently are, it’s true, more partisan, but their success is often a product of the seriousness with which they address their subject. We may even hope that, with the corporate influence somewhat neutralized, we’ll see a revival of rigor and seriousness in the field of journalism.

I’ve argued elsewhere that the media are the guardians of public opinion and that, as citizens in a republic, we ourselves must guard the guardians. In that endeavor, we must understand the new conditions our technologies have wrought, both the difficulties and the opportunities.

Tocqueville called it nothing less than an “axiom of political science” in the United States “that the sole means of neutralizing the effects of newspapers is to multiply their number.” We ought to remember that point, as we witness the dissolution of the monopoly on authoritative opinion that the mainstream media has enjoyed for so many decades.

Further, it ought to give us hope that the freedom of the press is stronger than ever. Let us use our freedom well.

Footnote:  This analysis does suggest hope for freedom of thought and expression.  Still there is the reality noted in the saying:  “The only time you have a free press is when you own one.” (H.L. Mencken).  More recently we have the social media moguls exerting undue bias upon public opinion.

Postscript:  Ned Ryun adds in his article Breaking the Administrative State:

What we are seeing today is vicious regime politics and a struggle over who is really in charge of this country’s governmental agencies. The duly elected president of the United States? Or players inside of that administrative state, along with their mouthpieces in the media?

It is becoming apparent that for many inside Washington, D.C., elections and the peaceful transfer of power are quaint notions of yesterday’s republic. Presidents, administrations, and their political appointees come and go but the permanent governing class remains. It’s not really that much of a surprise that they think they’re in charge, as for generations the administrative state has expanded and more and more power as been ceded to it and to them.

The question for us now as a country is, “Which direction are we going to go?” We really are at a crossroads. We cannot take the tension any longer: we must choose. Either we are governed by an administrative state that is not accountable to the political process spelled out by our Constitution or we return to the constitutional republic intended by the Founders. Fundamentally that is what all of this is about. The tension has broken into the open because Trump has forced the issue.

Too Many People, or Too Few?

A placard outside the UN headquarters in New York City, November 2011

Some years ago I read the book Boom, Bust and Echo. It described how planners for public institutions like schools and hospitals often fail to anticipate demographic shifts. The authors described how in North America, the baby Boom after WWII overcrowded schools, and governments struggled to build and staff more facilities. Just as they were catching up came the sexual revolution and the drop in fertility rates, resulting in a population Bust in children entering the education system. Now the issue was to close schools and retire teachers due to overcapacity, not easy to do with sentimental attachments. Then as the downsizing took hold came the Echo. Baby boomers began bearing children, and even at a lower birth rate, it still meant an increased cohort of students arriving at a diminished system.

The story is similar to what is happening today with world population. Zachary Karabell writes in Foreign Affairs The Population Bust: Demographic Decline and the End of Capitalism as We Know It. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

For most of human history, the world’s population grew so slowly that for most people alive, it would have felt static. Between the year 1 and 1700, the human population went from about 200 million to about 600 million; by 1800, it had barely hit one billion. Then, the population exploded, first in the United Kingdom and the United States, next in much of the rest of Europe, and eventually in Asia. By the late 1920s, it had hit two billion. It reached three billion around 1960 and then four billion around 1975. It has nearly doubled since then. There are now some 7.6 billion people living on the planet.

Just as much of the world has come to see rapid population growth as normal and expected, the trends are shifting again, this time into reverse. Most parts of the world are witnessing sharp and sudden contractions in either birthrates or absolute population. The only thing preventing the population in many countries from shrinking more quickly is that death rates are also falling, because people everywhere are living longer. These oscillations are not easy for any society to manage. “Rapid population acceleration and deceleration send shockwaves around the world wherever they occur and have shaped history in ways that are rarely appreciated,” the demographer Paul Morland writes in The Human Tide, his new history of demographics. Morland does not quite believe that “demography is destiny,” as the old adage mistakenly attributed to the French philosopher Auguste Comte would have it. Nor do Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson, the authors of Empty Planet, a new book on the rapidly shifting demographics of the twenty-first century. But demographics are clearly part of destiny. If their role first in the rise of the West and now in the rise of the rest has been underappreciated, the potential consequences of plateauing and then shrinking populations in the decades ahead are almost wholly ignored.

The mismatch between expectations of a rapidly growing global population (and all the attendant effects on climate, capitalism, and geopolitics) and the reality of both slowing growth rates and absolute contraction is so great that it will pose a considerable threat in the decades ahead. Governments worldwide have evolved to meet the challenge of managing more people, not fewer and not older. Capitalism as a system is particularly vulnerable to a world of less population expansion; a significant portion of the economic growth that has driven capitalism over the past several centuries may have been simply a derivative of more people and younger people consuming more stuff. If the world ahead has fewer people, will there be any real economic growth? We are not only unprepared to answer that question; we are not even starting to ask it.

BOMB OR BUST?
At the heart of The Human Tide and Empty Planet, as well as demography in general, is the odd yet compelling work of the eighteenth-century British scholar Thomas Malthus. Malthus’ 1798 Essay on the Principle of Population argued that growing numbers of people were a looming threat to social and political stability. He was convinced that humans were destined to produce more people than the world could feed, dooming most of society to suffer from food scarcity while the very rich made sure their needs were met. In Malthus’ dire view, that would lead to starvation, privation, and war, which would eventually lead to population contraction, and then the depressing cycle would begin again.

Yet just as Malthus reached his conclusions, the world changed. Increased crop yields, improvements in sanitation, and accelerated urbanization led not to an endless cycle of impoverishment and contraction but to an explosion of global population in the nineteenth century. Morland provides a rigorous and detailed account of how, in the nineteenth century, global population reached its breakout from millennia of prior human history, during which the population had been stagnant, contracting, or inching forward. He starts with the observation that the population begins to grow rapidly when infant mortality declines. Eventually, fertility falls in response to lower infant mortality—but there is a considerable lag, which explains why societies in the modern world can experience such sharp and extreme surges in population. In other words, while infant mortality is high, women tend to give birth to many children, expecting at least some of them to die before reaching maturity. When infant mortality begins to drop, it takes several generations before fertility does, too. So a woman who gives birth to six children suddenly has six children who survive to adulthood instead of, say, three. Her daughters might also have six children each before the next generation of women adjusts, deciding to have smaller families.

The population bust is going global almost as quickly as the population boom did in the twentieth century.  The burgeoning of global population in the past two centuries followed almost precisely the patterns of industrialization, modernization, and, crucially, urbanization. It started in the United Kingdom at the end of the nineteenth century (hence the concerns of Malthus), before spreading to the United States and then France and Germany. The trend next hit Japan, India, and China and made its way to Latin America. It finally arrived in sub-Saharan Africa, which has seen its population surge thanks to improvements in medicine and sanitation but has not yet enjoyed the full fruits of industrialization and a rapidly growing middle class.

With the population explosion came a new wave of Malthusian fears, epitomized by the 1968 book The Population Bomb, by Paul Ehrlich, a biologist at Stanford University. Ehrlich argued that plummeting death rates had created an untenable situation of too many people who could not be fed or housed. “The battle to feed all of humanity is over,” he wrote. “In the 1970’s the world will undergo famines—hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked on now.”

Ehrlich’s prophecy, of course, proved wrong, for reasons that Bricker and Ibbitson elegantly chart in Empty Planet. The green revolution, a series of innovations in agriculture that began in the early twentieth century, accelerated such that crop yields expanded to meet humankind’s needs. Moreover, governments around the world managed to remediate the worst effects of pollution and environmental degradation, at least in terms of daily living standards in multiple megacities, such as Beijing, Cairo, Mexico City, and New Delhi. These cities face acute challenges related to depleted water tables and industrial pollution, but there has been no crisis akin to what was anticipated.

Doesn’t anyone want my Green New Deal?

Yet visions of dystopic population bombs remain deeply entrenched, including at the center of global population calculations: in the forecasts routinely issued by the United Nations. Today, the UN predicts that global population will reach nearly ten billion by 2050. Judging from the evidence presented in Morland’s and Bricker and Ibbitson’s books, it seems likely that this estimate is too high, perhaps substantially. It’s not that anyone is purposely inflating the numbers. Governmental and international statistical agencies do not turn on a dime; they use formulas and assumptions that took years to formalize and will take years to alter. Until very recently, the population assumptions built into most models accurately reflected what was happening. But the sudden ebb of both birthrates and absolute population growth has happened too quickly for the models to adjust in real time. As Bricker and Ibbitson explain,

“The UN is employing a faulty model based on assumptions that worked in the past but that may not apply in the future.”

Population expectations aren’t merely of academic interest; they are a key element in how most societies and analysts think about the future of war and conflict. More acutely, they drive fears about climate change and environmental stability—especially as an emerging middle class numbering in the billions demands electricity, food, and all the other accoutrements of modern life and therefore produces more emissions and places greater strain on farms with nutrient-depleted soil and evaporating aquifers. Combined with warming-induced droughts, storms, and shifting weather patterns, these trends would appear to line up for some truly bad times ahead.

Except, argue Bricker and Ibbitson, those numbers and all the doomsday scenarios associated with them are likely wrong. As they write,

“We do not face the challenge of a population bomb but a population bust—a relentless, generation-after-generation culling of the human herd.”

Already, the signs of the coming bust are clear, at least according to the data that Bricker and Ibbitson marshal. Almost every country in Europe now has a fertility rate below the 2.1 births per woman that is needed to maintain a static population. The UN notes that in some European countries, the birthrate has increased in the past decade. But that has merely pushed the overall European birthrate up from 1.5 to 1.6, which means that the population of Europe will still grow older in the coming decades and contract as new births fail to compensate for deaths. That trend is well under way in Japan, whose population has already crested, and in Russia, where the same trends, plus high mortality rates for men, have led to a decline in the population.

What is striking is that the population bust is going global almost as quickly as the population boom did in the twentieth century. Fertility rates in China and India, which together account for nearly 40 percent of the world’s people, are now at or below replacement levels. So, too, are fertility rates in other populous countries, such as Brazil, Malaysia, Mexico, and Thailand. Sub-Saharan Africa remains an outlier in terms of demographics, as do some countries in the Middle East and South Asia, such as Pakistan, but in those places, as well, it is only a matter of time before they catch up, given that more women are becoming educated, more children are surviving their early years, and more people are moving to cities.

Both books note that the demographic collapse could be a bright spot for climate change. Given that carbon emissions are a direct result of more people needing and demanding more stuff—from food and water to cars and entertainment—then it would follow that fewer people would need and demand less. What’s more, larger proportions of the planet will be aging, and the experiences of Japan and the United States are showing that people consume less as they age. A smaller, older population spells some relief from the immense environmental strain of so many people living on one finite globe.

The Reinvention of Chess

That is the plus side of the demographic deflation. Whether the concomitant greening of the world will happen quickly enough to offset the worst-case climate scenarios is an open question—although current trends suggest that if humanity can get through the next 20 to 30 years without irreversibly damaging the ecosystem, the second half of the twenty-first century might be considerably brighter than most now assume.

The downside is that a sudden population contraction will place substantial strain on the global economic system.

Capitalism is, essentially, a system that maximizes more—more output, more goods, and more services. That makes sense, given that it evolved coincidentally with a population surge. The success of capitalism in providing more to more people is undeniable, as are its evident defects in providing every individual with enough. If global population stops expanding and then contracts, capitalism—a system implicitly predicated on ever-burgeoning numbers of people—will likely not be able to thrive in its current form. An aging population will consume more of certain goods, such as health care, but on the whole aging and then decreasing populations will consume less. So much of consumption occurs early in life, as people have children and buy homes, cars, and white goods. That is true not just in the more affluent parts of the world but also in any country that is seeing a middle-class surge.

The future world may be one in which capitalism at best frays and at worst breaks down completely.
But what happens when these trends halt or reverse? Think about the future cost of capital and assumptions of inflation. No capitalist economic system operates on the presumption that there will be zero or negative growth. No one deploys investment capital or loans expecting less tomorrow than today. But in a world of graying and shrinking populations, that is the most likely scenario, as Japan’s aging, graying, and shrinking absolute population now demonstrates. A world of zero to negative population growth is likely to be a world of zero to negative economic growth, because fewer and older people consume less. There is nothing inherently problematic about that, except for the fact that it will completely upend existing financial and economic systems. The future world may be one of enough food and abundant material goods relative to the population; it may also be one in which capitalism at best frays and at worst breaks down completely.

The global financial system is already exceedingly fragile, as evidenced by the 2008 financial crisis. A world with negative economic growth, industrial capacity in excess of what is needed, and trillions of dollars expecting returns when none is forthcoming could spell a series of financial crises. It could even spell the death of capitalism as we know it. As growth grinds to a halt, people may well start demanding a new and different economic system. Add in the effects of automation and artificial intelligence, which are already making millions of jobs redundant, and the result is likely a future in which capitalism is increasingly passé.

If population contraction were acknowledged as the most likely future, one could imagine policies that might preserve and even invigorate the basic contours of capitalism by setting much lower expectations of future returns and focusing society on reducing costs (which technology is already doing) rather than maximizing output.

But those policies would likely be met in the short term by furious opposition from business interests, policymakers, and governments, all of whom would claim that such attitudes are defeatist and could spell an end not just to growth but to prosperity and high standards of living, too. In the absence of such policies, the danger of the coming shift will be compounded by a complete failure to plan for it.

Different countries will reach the breaking point at different times. Right now, the demographic deflation is happening in rich societies that are able to bear the costs of slower or negative growth using the accumulated store of wealth that has been built up over generations. Some societies, such as the United States and Canada, are able to temporarily offset declining population with immigration, although soon, there won’t be enough immigrants left. As for the billions of people in the developing world, the hope is that they become rich before they become old. The alternative is not likely to be pretty: without sufficient per capita affluence, it will be extremely difficult for developing countries to support aging populations.

So the demographic future could end up being a glass half full, by ameliorating the worst effects of climate change and resource depletion, or a glass half empty, by ending capitalism as we know it. Either way, the reversal of population trends is a paradigm shift of the first order and one that is almost completely unrecognized. We are vaguely prepared for a world of more people; we are utterly unprepared for a world of fewer. That is our future, and we are heading there fast.

See also Control Population, Control the Climate. Not.

Eco Footprint Nonsense

Michael Shellenberger writes at Forbes Why Earth Overshoot Day And The Ecological Footprint Are Pseudoscientific Nonsense. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Starting today through the end of the year, humankind will start consuming more resources than our planet can sustainably produce, according to the Global Footprint Network (GFN), which has been organizing such days since 1986.

“Humanity is using nature 1.75 times faster than our planet’s ecosystems can regenerate,” says the group. “This is akin to using 1.75 Earths.”

Rich nations use up resources faster than poor ones, GFN says. The US, Australia, Denmark and Canada use up their resources before the end of March, while Cuba, Nicaragua, Iraq, and Ecuador don’t do so until December.

“Earth Overshoot Day” is based on something called the “Ecological Footprint,” which is used by the World Wildlife Fund, the United Nations Environment Program, the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Report, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

But is the Ecological Footprint good science? It’s not.

Six years ago I helped debunk Earth Overshoot Day and the Ecological Footprint calculation it’s based upon in a paper for the peer-reviewed scientific journal, PLOS Biology called “Does the Shoe Fit? Real vs. Imagined Footprints.”

We broke down the six measures that comprise the Ecological Footprint and found that five of the six, including food and forestry, were either in balance or surplus. The only thing out-of-balance were humankind’s carbon emissions.

But solving that problem doesn’t require that rich nations become poor — or that poor nations remain poor — but simply that we move toward energy sources that don’t produce carbon emissions, a process known as “decarbonization.”

And the only two cases of nations significantly decarbonizing their energy supplies, France and Sweden, did so not by becoming poor but rather by becoming far richer thanks to the use of nuclear energy. Today, France spends little more than half as much as Germany to produce electricity that produces one-tenth of the carbon emissions, thanks to nuclear.

How did the creators of the Ecological Footprint hide what they had done? By assuming that the only way to solve climate change was by expanding forest cover to absorb all industrial carbon emissions.

In other words, the Ecological Footprint converts emissions of carbon dioxide into a land-use category, thereby ignoring all the other ways of absorbing or never emitting CO2.

It gets worse. Different forests absorb carbon dioxide at different rates over time. But the Ecological Footprint arbitrarily chooses a single number to represent the rate of carbon uptake for all forests around the world for all time. The Ecological Footprint method is best known as “garbage in, garbage out.”

The implication of the Ecological Footprint is thus either that everyone in wealthy developed nations like the US, Europe, and Australia should try to live like Cubans and Nicaraguans, or that we should convert all of the world’s old-growth forests to fast-growing tree farms.

When we published our paper in 2013, it was widely covered in the media, including by Scientific American, New Science, and Le Monde, but that hasn’t stopped the European Commission and other governmental bodies from recognizing “Earth Overshoot Day” on social media.

The Ecological Footprint and Earth Overshoot Day were created at the same time that Western European nations and the United Nations embraced a neo-Malthusian approach to environmental problems.

Ironically, the UN promoted the use of wood fuels over nuclear. In a 1987 report called “Our Common Future,” the UN denounced nuclear energy and insisted that poor nations should use wood fuel more sustainably. “The wood-poor nations must organize their agricultural sectors to produce large amounts of wood and other plant fuels.”

The lead author of “Our Common Future” was Gro Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway, a nation which just a decade earlier had become fabulously wealthy thanks to its abundant oil and gas reserves.

Figures like Brundtland promoted the idea that poor nations didn’t need to consume much energy, which turned out to be howlingly wrong. Energy consumption is as tightly coupled to per capita GDP today as it was when today’s rich nations were themselves poor.

There is no rich nation that depends primarily on wood for energy, just as there is no poor nation that depends primarily on fossil fuels or nuclear.

The Ecological Footprint has as much scientific merit as astrology, phrenology, and flat-earth theories. It’s time to treat the Ecological Footprint as the pseudoscientific theory it is.

Ecological Footprint theory is pseudoscience on par with astrology, phrenology, and flat earth theories. SHUTTERSTOCK

Footnote:

Steve Maley wrote at Quora on When Global Warming Began:

Global Warming began in Muncie, Indiana on June 17, 1953 at 2:30 in the afternoon. It was a Tuesday.

Up until that time, weather was “average” all the time.

That is, except for the Dust Bowl, the Little Ice Age, Medieval Warm Period, etc.

Up until then, people had ideal, sustainable lifestyles. 90% of men spent all day in the fields looking at the backsides of two mules. Their spare time was spent chopping wood in hopes they could make it through another winter.

Women stayed at home and had babies. They had to have 8–10 because 2 or 3 of them wouldn’t live to see their 10th birthday.

Farm to Table was a thing. Since nobody had any money, it was a choice between raising your own food or starving.

Yes, it was an idyllic lifestyle. Damn fossil fuels screwed it all up.

How? By changing the atmosphere. Gases other than CO2 used to be 99.97% of the air we breathe. Now it’s 99.96%.

The horror.

Live and Let Live, It’s the American Way

People are fed up with political correctness and walking on eggs because differences are now socially disturbing (micro-aggressions anyone?). The progressive war on individual diversity in the name of “social Justice” strikes at the heart of modern democratic society and free enterprise. James I. Wallner writes at Law and Liberty Make America Diverse Again. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

E Pluribus Unum. Out of many, one. The motto, emblazoned on one side of the Great Seal of the United States, succinctly captures the dual nature of the American founding. With just thirteen letters, it invokes both the revolutionary act by which thirteen separate colonies declared their independence from Great Britain and the subsequent decision of the new states to join together to form one nation. Foreshadowing the unprecedented success of the American experiment in self-government, Novus Ordo Seclorum (new order of the ages), is inscribed on the seal’s opposite side. The two inscriptions serve as a reminder that in the United States, for the first time in human history, free citizens call the shots instead of their rulers.

Cracking the Code of Freedom

Of course, Americans are not the first people to establish a government on the idea of political equality. That distinction belongs to Athenians who, in the fifth century BCE, used the terms isonomia (equality of law) and isegoria (equality of speech) to distinguish their unique form of self-government from neighboring Greek tyrannies, as well as from Persian despotism. Among the Athenians, isokratia (equality of power) prevailed when no citizen was considered to be above the law, and all took part in making it.

Yet the idea of political equality proved challenging to sustain in practice. The Athenians soon realized that they could not secure sufficient space for politics on a permanent basis amidst the frustrations and uncertainty inherent in collective decision-making under conditions of equality. For that reason, their experiment in self-government ended in failure, as would all those that came after until the American founding.

What makes America exceptional is that its people alone broke free of the destructive cycle in which a people seeking freedom would overthrow their tyrant and establish self-government, only to find themselves inevitably succumbing to a new tyranny. Americans were able to do so because they grasped the relationship between freedom and equality on the one hand and space and diversity on the other. The genius of the Constitution should thus be understood as creating a space in which a diverse multitude could rule as one; where free citizens (or their representatives) could gather to resolve their differences based on equality. In contrast to the Athenians’ direct democracy, the Constitution secured that space against encroachments by would-be tyrants by harnessing the conflict in a diverse republic and infusing it into institutional structures like bicameralism, separation of powers, and federalism.

The Triumph of Ideology

Regrettably, this understanding of American exceptionalism is overlooked in today’s political discourse. On both the left and the right, there is a worrisome tendency to gloss over the vital role played by diversity and the conflict it generates.

Both have a tendency to subsume individual difference to demographic categories, in the case of liberals, or abstract ideas, in the case of conservatives.

Yet individual difference, regardless of its source, is the very basis of equality and freedom. Whereas the founders understood politics as an activity in which citizens participate alongside their peers to make collective decisions, today’s liberals and conservatives think of it primarily as the process by which one group can impose its particular standard of truth on those with whom its members disagree. When that happens, citizens are neither equal nor free. That is, they are not allowed to participate in the debate over what particular standard of truth is imposed on the public sphere. Political discourse is transformed into a process whereby combatants delegitimize their opponents on the grounds that they disagree with their standard of the truth.

For example, consider the debate over multiculturalism, or identity politics. The president of the Claremont Institute, Ryan Williams, recently proclaimed multiculturalism to be an “existential threat to the American political order.” According to Williams, the concept is incompatible with political equality and that, if left unchecked, will lead ultimately to the balkanization of America, thus reversing the motto—E uno plura. Out of one, many.

However, to the extent that multiculturalism threatens the American political order, it is only because it destroys the space needed for American self-government to work. It declares entire groups of citizens unfit for politics based on the color of their skin or the nature of their beliefs. Williams rightly points out that so-called multiculturalists are more concerned with denying people with different views or backgrounds that ability to participate in politics than they are with genuine diversity. With its universalizing tendencies, multiculturalism thus ironically eradicates the diversity that makes political equality possible in the first place. In other words, the threat to equality arises out of the “ism” part of multiculturalism, not the “multicultural” part. In that way, multiculturalism is un-American because it is a rigid ideology that does not tolerate dissent from its worldview.

It is the universal and abstract nature of multiculturalism that makes it inconsistent with the very idea of political equality. Free citizens (the many) need a shared space in which they can make decisions affecting the community (the one) because they are all equal. They are equal because they are all different. No two citizens can be considered to be identical in any respect other than the fact that they are both unique individuals who possess distinct abilities, characteristics, interests, and passions, and, in the United States, they both possess the same right to participate in politics. This is what makes self-government possible: the equal participation of different individuals in politics inevitably generates conflict between them in the space where politics occurs. That conflict, in turn, prevents any one person or group of people from amassing the power needed to destroy that space and rule others.

Given this, the case against multiculturalism rests entirely on the ideological threat it poses to American diversity. If the critics of multiculturalism fail to make this point explicit, they leave open the possibility that their opposition to the ideology is due not to the fact that it lacks a standard against which the American regime can be evaluated but because it proposes the wrong standard. In doing so, they wind up declaring entire groups of citizens unfit for politics based on their particular conception of what it means to be an American.

Replacing one ideology with another does nothing to mitigate the threat of ideology. It makes no difference whether the ideology is based on an appeal to overcome a racist past, in the case of some multiculturalists, or to abstract natural rights, in the case of some conservatives. What matters is that the standard of truth that these multiculturalists and conservatives claim to be self-evident is derived by them from a space outside of the actual experience of politics. Its applications to activity inside the public sphere transforms free citizens into cogs in a production process geared towards the realization of a master design. In the process, both freedom and equality are destroyed.

Understanding Politics in Terms of Conflict

This does not mean that there is no truth. The point is that, in America, the standards against which political action is measured can only be defined by a process that is itself characterized by political equality. When politics is no longer understood in these terms, it is no longer an activity in which free citizens call the shots instead of their rulers. The unambiguous lesson of the past is that freedom and equality cannot last long in the absence of diversity and conflict.

Unity grounded in anything other than difference is tyranny.

To sustain the idea of political equality, we must understand American exceptionalism not in universal and abstract terms but rather as something that arises out of a particular kind of practice. In other words, it is the essential activity of being an American that defines who Americans are as a people. It is that which allows them to deliberate on and fight over the truths that they hold to be self-evident.

That is the only way we can ensure that E pluribus unum will last long enough to constitute a novus ordo seclorum.

US News is Skewed Up and Dumbed Down

Under the Suspicions Confirmed file, we have quantitative proof that US news is increasingly skewed according to the values of the media outlet. Rand corporation is publishing studies on the theme Truth Decay, based on analyzing 15 prominent and popular media platforms. The latest report is at phys.org entitled US journalism has become more subjective. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

U.S.-based journalism has gradually shifted away from objective news and offers more opinion-based content that appeals to emotion and relies heavily on argumentation and advocacy, according to a new RAND Corporation report.

In a unique analysis on news discourse and presentation, researchers found that the changes occurred over a 28-year-period (1989 to 2017) as journalism expanded beyond traditional media, such as newspapers and broadcast networks, to newer media, such as 24-hour cable channels and digital outlets. Notably, these measurable changes vary in extent and nature for different news platforms.

“Our research provides quantitative evidence for what we all can see in the media landscape: Journalism in the U.S. has become more subjective and consists less of the detailed event- or context-based reporting that used to characterize news coverage,” said Jennifer Kavanagh, a senior political scientist and lead author of the report, which is second in a series of research into the phenomenon of “Truth Decay,” the declining role of facts and analysis in civil discourse and its effect on American life.

News consumers can now see how the news has changed over the years and keep that in mind when making choices about which media outlets to rely on for news,” she added.

The analysis, enabled by a RAND text analytics tool previously used to analyze support and opposition to Islamic terrorists on social media, offers a detailed assessment of how news has shifted over time and across platforms. The RAND-Lex tool scanned millions of lines of text in print, broadcast and online journalism from 1989 (the first year such data was available via Lexis Nexis) to 2017 to identify usage patterns in words and phrases. Researchers were then able to measure these differences not only within one outlet or type of media (e.g. print) but also comparatively with other forms of journalism (e.g. print vs. digital).

Researchers analyzed content from 15 outlets representing print (The New York Times, Washington Post and St. Louis Post-Dispatch), television (CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, Fox and MSNBC) and digital journalism (Politico, The Blaze, Breitbart News Network, Buzzfeed Politics, The Daily Caller and The Huffington Post).

The findings point to a gradual and subtle shift over time and between old and new media toward a more subjective form of journalism that is grounded in personal perspective.

Consider broadcast news. Before 2000, broadcast news segments were more likely to include relatively complex academic and precise language, as well as complex reasoning. After 2000, broadcast news becomes less pre-planned as on-air personalities and guests engaged in conversations about news. (That year, 2000, is significant in the evolution of the media landscape, as viewership of all three major cable networks began to increase dramatically.)

Comparing broadcast news to cable programming, differences become more stark, with cable segments dedicating more time to opinion coverage and using argumentative language. The size and scope of these changes is substantial, but researchers also noted that these differences may be in part a result of their different audiences, with cable news focusing on specialized audiences.

When comparing newspapers to digital outlets, researchers were able to identify significant differences. Newspapers have changed the least over time, with content slightly shifting from a more academic style to one that is more narrative. As for digital journalism, the report found that online content is more personal and direct, narrating key social and policy issues through personal points of view and subjective references.

“Our analysis illustrates that news sources are not interchangeable but each provides mostly unique content, even when reporting on related issues,” said Bill Marcellino, a behaviorial and social scientist and co-author of the report. “Given our findings that different types of media present news in different ways, it makes sense that people turn to multiple platforms.”

The report is one in a series of RAND-funded reports into the triggers and consequences of Truth Decay. The first report, written by Kavanagh and RAND President and CEO Michael D. Rich, examined how Truth Decay is a set of four interrelated trends:

    • increasing disagreement about facts;
    • a blurring between opinion and fact; 
    • an increase in the relative volume of opinion and personal experience over fact; and
    • declining trust in formerly respected sources of factual information.

That report identified how changes in the media have contributed to Truth Decay by increasing the volume of opinion over fact. Forthcoming reports will examine issues such online civic engagement and use of social media for political activities, public trust in institutions and how to evaluate media literacy programs.

“RAND has always been an institution where facts matter,” Rich said. “This new stream of research sheds additional light on the drivers and implications of Truth Decay and is part of our continuing efforts to use analysis to improve civil discourse and public policymaking.”

Footnote

See also How Mass Media Became One-Sided

For discussion of media impact on global warming/climate change see Climate Is a State of Mind

How Mass Media Became One-Sided

 

Joel Kotkin writes at New Geography on the forces that morphed major news media outlets from objective reporting to ideological mouthpieces, mostly aligned with progressive, social justice bias. His article is The Twilight of America’s Mega-Media. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

It’s far too early to predict which party will win next year’s election, but not too early to announce the national media as a clear loser in terms of national influence and prestige.

Pew reports that millennials have become as negative about major media as older generations, with their rate of approval dropping from 40% in 2010 to 27% today. Gallup tracks a similar pattern, finding 70% losing trust in the media, including nearly half of Democrats.

As Trump backers never cease to point out, the Mueller report undermined the supposedly rock solid case for “collusion.” Whatever the truth, a solid majority of Americans believe the Russiagate brouhaha was politically motivated. Some progressives, like Rolling Stone’s contributing editor Matt Taibbi, believe Mueller represents “a death-blow for the reputation of the American news media.”

Ironically, Trump, the man the media wanted to bring down, was largely their creation. At a party in 2016, my wife and I were regaled by a CNN account executive crowing about the company’s strategy of using Trump rallies, at the exclusion of others, to boost ratings. Once having created President Frankenstein, CNN then tried to keep up the ratings by chronicling his disposal — this worked for MSNBC which, unlike CNN, never much pretended to be an objective network. Today, CNN’s audience share has fallen below not only leader Fox, but MSNBC, Home and Garden, Discovery and Food networks.

Ideology over journalism

By some estimates some 92 percent of all major network coverage of Trump outside Fox has been negative. This reflects a decay in journalistic standards. When I was a cub reporter at the Washington Post, I once tried to inject my opinion into an article. My editor came back with a remark that “no one gives a [expletive] about what you think.” Today the notion that news reporters should first and foremost inform, letting readers come to their own conclusions, seems almost quaint.

Today, many reporters ride fact-free, neglecting alternative views on such key issues as climate change, where even mild skepticism is ignored, or even the Trump tax cuts. This increasingly ideological cast has been worsened by journalism schools’ shift toward social justice advocacy; even well-placed writers at The New York Times complain about the stridency of younger journalists shaping coverage to fit their accepted ideological narratives.

The impact of the internet

Once there were bold notions of the internet helping to create an ever-expanding realm of options in the arts and journalism. Instead, as a Harvard study has demonstrated, we have increased geographic concentration of media in deep blue New York, Washington and, to some extent, the Bay Area, while local independent media continues to shrink.

The media’s tendency toward concentration — and ideological uniformity — reflects the dynamics of the tech industry. Google, for example, now controls nearly 90% of search advertising, Facebook almost 80% of mobile social traffic and Amazon about 75% of US e-book sales.

The traditional media now see much of their online sales largely enriching the world’s richest companies, and potential competitors. Pew reports that newsroom employment has dropped by 23% over the past decade. This does not even include the purging of experienced journalists frequently replaced by younger, less expensive and often ideologically driven younger reporters.

How the oligarchs are further undermining the media

Nearly two-thirds of readers now get at least some of their news through Facebook and Google. This dominance is even greater in both the United States and the United Kingdom among millennials who, by some accounts, are almost three times as likely to get their information from these platforms than print, television or radio.

The shift of control to Silicon Valley, located in one of the country’s most left-leaning regions, accentuates the progressive stranglehold on the media. Facebook’s attempts to “curate” content often eliminates conservative views, according to former employees. Over 70% of Americans, notes another recent Pew study, believe social media platforms “censor political views.”

Increasingly, the remnants of the old publishing industry are being bought by the oligarchs — Jeff Bezos’ purchase of the Post in 2013, the 2017 buying of the Atlantic by Laurene Powell Jobs, and last year’s purchase of Time by Marc Benioff, founder of San Francisco-based Salesforce.com. With billions made elsewhere, these media outlets no longer must listen to their diverse readers; Bezos did not buy the Post to defend democracy, as his henchmen insist, but to shape the debate in the nation’s capital.

Conflicts to come

Progressives may savor the media’s leftward tilt, but ultimately oligarchic control poses a direct threat to the grassroots left as well. Bezos’ tool, the Post, widely ridiculed Bernie Sanders in 2016 and will likely do so again. After all, the well-financed and well-liked Sanders, and other similar populists, may, if elected, relieve them of a few billion to fund his proposed “revolution.”

Hopefully, this pervasive group think will spur new alternative media committed to the credo that journalism best serves the public interest by offering unbiased reporting and heterodox opinion, not an ideologically driven algorithm.

This piece originally appeared on The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, director of the Chapman Center for Demographics and Policy and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism in Houston, Texas. He is author of eight books and co-editor of the recently released Infinite Suburbia. He also serves as executive director of the widely read website http://www.newgeography.com and is a regular contributor to Forbes.com, Real Clear Politics, the Daily Beast, City Journal and Southern California News Group.