Thursday 31 January 2019

The Road to Serfdom: How identity politics and socialist-communist ideology are intimately linked

In the world of investing, politics is a little bit like economics. Despite all the incessant media chatter, most of the time it doesn't matter very much. However, occasionally, it matters a great deal (e.g. during the US housing bubble and the ensuing GFC). Politics generally doesn't matter too much, as long as policies do not swing to the hard left (not to be confused with the center-left), where property rights and economic freedoms start to get seriously undermined. Those that say buy and hold always works, have clearly never invested in a country overrun by socialism/communism. Buffett has a strongly-held view that the US "has a system that works", but it never malfunctioned in his lifetime, and so is potentially outside the range of his contemplated experience.

In recent months, a few proposals have surfaced from Democrats in the US about a possible 70% top marginal tax rate, as well as a 2% wealth tax (from AOC, and Elizabeth Warren, respectively). The latter, in particular, would be devastating to asset prices. While these policies fall short of fully-fledged socialism, it's definitely a push in this direction, so the questions of 'what is driving this', and 'where could this lead', are worth considering. On this blog, I have predicted in the past that a swing hard left could potentially be coming in the US in the post-Trump era, and these developments aren't exactly reassuring.

This is one reason I've been watching and writing/tweeting about trends in US political discourse of late, and occasionally delving into somewhat politicised topics as well, including most recently about the trend towards identity politics run amok. I've also expressed concern multiple times about the undermining of the institution of free speech. Because these things matter.

What I wish to emphasise in this article is how the types of thinking that drive identity politics are in fact very closely linked to the types of thinking that have driven socialist-communist movements in the past, and the associated state repression and violence that has always accompanied them. Indeed, the core assumptions they share, and behaviour they manifest, are virtually identical. A lot of people may be inclined to believe this is hyperbole, but in my opinion it is not. All you have to do is trace the logical chain of causation, as well as simply study what has happened in the past.

It works like this: The fundamental premise of identity politics is that all groups in society should be equal, because we are all the same and have equal capabilities. Consequently, if there are in fact manifest differences between certain groups, the only possible explanation for that is that one group is unjustifiably rigging the system for its own benefit, and thereby oppressing other groups.

This creates the intellectual justification for anger and resentment towards relatively privileged groups, as well as the justification for policies to redress perceived wrongs. If white men, for instance, occupy a disproportionate share of CEO roles, one can look at a random white male CEO and say, 'he probably got there by putting obstacles in the path of other groups in society, in order to secure his own privilege'. You can assume that the people that have come to occupy those positions must have done so through underhanded means, or with the benefit of some other unfair structural advantage, without knowing anything about the individual in question, other than his group identity. This is primarily where the current popular notion of 'white privilege' in the US comes from.

This promotes a sort of 'zero sum' thinking, where you believe that in order for someone to do particularly well in life, other people have to lose. This creates the desire to not only to want to help lift disadvantaged groups up - something we should all try to do - but also to a desire to tear advantaged groups down, because that is believed to be the fair and just course of action.

The problem with this approach is that it assumes, without either nuance or evidence, that all sources of privilege are unearned. It ignores the existence of competence-based hierarchies, rather than purely political ones; the fact that there are many other factors that could explain group differences, including differences in interests, culture, and genetics; and it ignores all of these factors despite there being strong empirical evidence to the contrary.

Immigrant Chinese in South-East Asia, for instance, have tended to outperform indigenous folk, despite policies that have typically discriminated against (rather than in favour of) them. There are many potential causes for this, but one is simply that Chinese immigrant families are a self-selecting group drawn from a much larger mainland Chinese population, who were likely amongst the most ambitious and proactive/entrepreneurial of the larger population from which they were drawn (being prepared to move overseas in search of better opportunities, and escape Mao's communism). That they would do better than average in their new domiciles could therefore reflect both cultural factors (e.g. the values, skills, and life priorities they teach their kids), as well as genetic factors, rather than unfair political advantages, which are very hard to demonstrate.

Nevertheless, they have been repeatedly subject to recriminations and even violence. Many were murdered (and women raped) in mob uprisings during the Asian Financial Crisis in Indonesia, for instance, as resentment over inequality and economic hardship caused by Suharto's corrupt mismanagement of the economy was focused on their ethnic group. Even today, many Indonesian Chinese get on a plane and head to Singapore as soon as the political environment starts to get a bit heated, and come back only after things cool down.

Group based 'privilege' mindsets also ignore the fact that people in the workforce are givers as well as receivers. Yes, some people are overpaid, and some are underpaid. However, in a competitive market economy, in general there is a clear correlation between pay and the effort and expertise expended (and one's bargaining power), and the cumulative investments made in prior years in human capital acquisition (such as acquiring a university degree). CEOs don't just turn up at the office to pick up $10m paychecks. Often it has required a lifetime of work and dedication to rise to the top job, and even once there, they have to work very hard, and assume significant responsibility. That is not to say there are not overpaid CEOs that are not up to the job. There are. The world is not perfect, and for this reason, these imperfections should be identified and redressed, to the extent possible. Incompetent CEOs should be fired (and usually are, sooner or later).

However, if you try to tear down people at the top wholesale, two things happen. Firstly, to the extent you succeed, you not only stop them from receiving, but also from giving. Zimbabwe discovered this when it dispossessed a white land-owning class of farmers, on the basis that they had acquired that land unjustly back in the colonial period. Mugabe was right - their (ancestors) had. However, after they were dispossessed, agricultural productivity collapsed, as white farmers fled the country, and the country quickly suffered a terrible food shortage. They overlooked that white farmers were not just takers, but also givers. They had expertise in growing food, and worked hard, and by dispossessing farmers, they had not just taken away their income, but also their expertise and food production.

The second thing that happens is you damage the incentives needed to drive people towards exceptional performance - discouraging, in Adam Smith's words - the "industry of the people". It takes a lifetime of dedication to get very good at something, and reach the apex of your field. People will have no reason to make all the sacrifices necessary to develop true expertise, and take all the risks and expend all the effort required to build a business, if there is no reward for doing so - only condemnation. Such people are likely to either leave the country, or simply fall into a life that prioritises instant gratification (or a focus on meeting their short term needs) over long term planning. These two outcomes are an inevitable consequence of trying to force equal outcomes via pulling the people at the top down, instead of merely trying to lift the people at the bottom up, and they are bad for everyone.

Furthermore, both socialism/communism and identity politics are based on a common ideological narrative - that equality is the norm, and deviations from it are aberrant. But this belief is divorced from fundamental biological realities. There is no equality in nature - both species and individuals are different and unequal. Species compete with one another, and the strongest survive, and the weakest go extinct. It's been happening for eons.

In dimorphic species, most males do not pass on their genes - only a minority. They compete with one another, and females select and mate with the males that most successfully emerge from this competition. It is inherent in female sexual selection itself that male individuals are different from one another, unequal, and that some are objectively better than others. Ergo, the 'toxically masculine' competitive drive that yields an unequal male hierarchy, is an inevitable outcome of female reproductive preferences. Indeed, the very basis for evolution is genetic variation, and variable success in survival and replication, as some individuals are better adapted to their environments than others. A belief that equality rather than inequality is natural is fundamentally at odds with evolution. That doesn't mean it's fair, or that we should adopt a laissez faire approach; it just means that competition and inequality are a normal part of the human condition, not aberrant.

Because there are fundamental, irreconcilable differences between reality and the the ideals and beliefs underpinning identity-based diversity-equality activism, equality is not going to manifest on its own, so it requires government policies to try and enforce it by fiat. And because such policies are likely to fail in their objectives - particularly to the extent genuine competence hierarchies exist in society, and genuine differences between individuals and groups exist - these failures will necessitates more and more extreme measures be pursued over time. It might start with efforts to ensure equality of opportunity and equal access to educational opportunities, for instance - something that everyone should support - but when that fails to result in equal outcomes, it will move on to things like forcing executive positions to be 50% female, or x% one race, and y% another, etc. And if that fails, even more extreme measures will then be undertaken, including active measures to 'pull down' those at the top in order to force fairer outcomes. The incentives associated with organised activism also encourage this trend, and act to drive grievance inflation and policy over-reach (discussed here).

Sustaining this policy momentum requires dissent be stifled, because the gaps that exist between the ideology and reality are a fundamental threat to the philosophical justification of the activists' entire social engineering agenda. If people point the gaps out, and persuade enough people, social justice and equality advocates risk not only looking foolish, but also being out of a job. Because of the vested interests involved, it is not possible to recognise inconvenient truths, or even entertain good faith dialogue, so efforts will instead be dedicated to simply silencing dissenters. This is why repression always manifests in socialist regimes.

A great example here is genetic explanations for phenomena. The identitarians steadfastly refuse to entertain any notions that genetics may play a role in both individual and group differences (labelling anyone that suggests as much a merchant of hate speech), because that implies that there is not much that can be done about them, and therefore that the role of the budding social engineer is fundamentally misguided. But this prioritises self-interest and wishful thinking over truth.

Genetics are the code that determine who we are, and although culture matters, genes matter a great deal as well. Kenyans are significantly over-represented in marathon running, because their physiques are particularly well-adapted to long distance running (skinny physiques, which allow for easier heat dissipation and a lower body-weight, and long legs that allow for an expansive stride length). The idea that there is necessarily discrimination in favour of Kenyan marathon runners because there are group differences in outcomes is ridiculous - they are over-represented as their genes are better adapted to the task at hand. But something equivalent to this argument is made in many spheres of identitarian activism, and James Damore was fired from Google for daring to oppose this view.

This is also why there have been efforts to marginalise evolutionary psychology in the academic world. Their conclusions imply that many social outcomes might not be socially constructed, but rather be a function of our evolved psychology (e.g. gender differences). This opposition comes despite the fact that (1) evolution is well accepted by biologists, and there is no reason to believe that evolution stopped at the neck; indeed, unless you are a creationist, you must believe our minds and emotional circuitry are evolved; and (2) evolutionary psychology has a much better track record of making correct, testable predictions, and producing replicable study outcomes - something that can not be said of large parts of the rest of the social sciences academy. And yet the entire academic discipline is currently under assault, because it threatens to expose 'uncomfortable truths'.

Given the yawning gap that exists between the ideals that underpin the equality narrative, and basic biological realities, attempts at suppression of unpopular viewpoints are therefore inevitable, because if you can't win through facts and evidence, the only alternative to suppression is to admit you are wrong, and that is not something advocates are prepared to do. However, principled truth-seekers will resist these efforts at suppression. People like Jordan Peterson have emerged in recent years, as well as many others in the so-called 'intellectual dark web', in response to growing efforts to forcibly suppress evidence contradicting fundamental premises of equality advocates' ideology.

But the more strident the opposition, the more strident the subsequent repression, and as time goes on, this 'arms race' results in more and more repression to silence a more and more energised opposition. It can only end when either the opposition succeeds, or when opponents of equality movements are forced/intimidated into silence through a combination of censorship, fines/imprisonment, and violence. They are eventually either killed, arrested, scared into self-censorship, or flee the country. At that point, the identity-based equality advocates are free to pursue their radical aims with little to no opposition or restraint, and this is the point where countries go off into the socialist deep end. Given enough time, they all wind up looking a lot like today's Venezuela.

The US is not there yet, but it is moving in that direction. Equality based advocates (often using the euphemism 'diversity') have captured much of academia and the mainstream media, and are now also placing significant pressure on big companies to fall in line, saying they need to counter 'alt right hate speech' (defined as expressing opinions that differ from their equality narrative, regardless of how much factual/empirical support it has), and deplatform/bar from service anyone that expresses contrary viewpoints. Google fired James Damore for questioning the notion 50/50 gender representation in coding might reflect factors other than gender discrimination, citing well accepted academic literature in the fields of social and evolutionary psychology. Twitter has suspended the accounts of many conservatives on dubious grounds. Patreon deactivated conservative Sargon of Akkad's account without warning or appeal, and when many conservative voiced protested and said they planned to move to SubscribeStar, payment providers such as Paypal and Mastercard said they would not process SubscribeStar's payments if they accepted these creators.

Spotify has also said it plans block Praguer University - a proponent of fairly mainstream conservative perspectives - from advertising on its platform. It has basically given the middle finger to half of its customer base, saying your political opinions are not acceptable. Universities have caved to activist pressure to blocked conservative speakers; the SPLC has labelled many mainstream conservatives, and even some liberals (such as Sam Harris), proponents of 'hate speech', and the radical left-wing group ANTIFA has emerged, who are using violence to wage war against anti-equality advocates and Trump supporters ('punch a Nazi' being their motto).

The UK also locked up an anti-Muslim protester in the UK for two months in solitary confinement without due process, for attempting to film a trial featuring Muslim gang-rapes, which the mainstream media had not reported on, and the UK police recently telephoned and censured a UK citizen for merely 'liking' a tweet mocking pro-trans activism (Orwellian indeed). We are not at the point where people are being executed or locked up en mass, but it's not too many steps from here to this point, if these sorts of people come to fully control the instruments of government. This is one reason the Kavanaugh hearing was so bitterly fought - the identitarians will seemingly stop at nothing to prevent the Supreme Court from attaining a conservative majority.

The concern I have with this is not that I agree with all of these parties. I disagree with them on many points. I'm more of a traditional liberal than a conservative. What instead concerns me is that free speech is now taking a back seat to having the 'correct' political viewpoints, and that the tech monopolies are caving in to pressure from equality advocacy groups, and are starting to abusing their position of power to force-feed monolithic political views onto society, and are engaging in ad hoc censorship, which is dangerous. 

George Soros has talked about the importance of an 'open society', because human understanding of reality is always imperfect and at least partly flawed. For this reason, you need a mechanism for those misperceptions to be exposed, and that is what free speech is. By clamping down on alternative viewpoints, the progressive elite are basically declaring 'we are 100% right, and anyone that disagrees with us has an unacceptable view and needs to be silenced' (I wish Soros would actually take a look at what is happening to conservative voices at the hands of his 'liberal' friends, and speak out about it).*

This overarching need to sustain the narrative at all costs is why socialist/communist regimes have always been repressive. There is not a single instance in history of a non-repressive socialist-communist regime, because you can only force equality onto society by taking away people's economic freedoms, and you can only maintain the narrative justifying taking away people's economic freedoms by taking away people's political freedoms/rights to free speech. Hugo Chaves said he wanted to build "21st Century Socialism" in Venezuela. Instead, it ended up looking a lot like 20th Century Socialism. It took little more than a few decades to turn Venezuela from a relatively wealthy country into a complete and utter humanitarian disaster.

Closely associated with the above, the views identity-based equality ideologues advocate also provide the fundamental foundation for both widespread sectarian violence, as well as political demagoguery. This is because they ferment the popular belief that a particular advantaged group in society is the fundamental cause for all of society's problems and injustices. This, in turn, creates the basis for the acquisition of political power by exploiting these societal beliefs through demagoguery.

In my opinion, this identity-based equality thinking is fundamentally how anti-Semitism has occurred in the past (I am not Jewish). The Jews have long been an economically advantaged minority, but their 'privilege' did not derive from rigging society and oppressing others, but rather from hard work, culture, and genetics (Ashkenazi Jews, as a group, have meaningfully above-average IQs). However, identitarians didn't see it that way. If you believe in zero-sum thinking, and that some people are only doing well in life because they have rigged the system against other groups, this will form a justification for persecuting them, and support demagoguery advocating for their dispossession. And because Jews have typically been a minority group in the societies where they have lived, they have been very vulnerable to wholesale, state-backed violence and retribution.

Many people today have forgotten that Nazi stood for "National Socialist" (the left-captured academia has quietly rewritten history) <see postscript for a correction on this point>. Ironic it is therefore that the most strident identitarian equality advocates are fond of calling mainstream red-hat-wearing Donald Trump supporters 'Nazis'. They actually have it exactly the wrong way around.** It is the left that are manifesting behaviour more akin to the behaviour they accuse the right-wing of (fascism), at present, in my view.

Now, there are a number of other problems with Trump, of course. He is also an ideologue. Some of his policies and rhetoric are downright idiotic. I am not a fan. However, sadly, I have recently (in the past 12 months) come to see him as the 'lesser evil', given how concerned I am about the above trends. Munger once said he votes Republican as the 'left wing crazies' scare him more than the 'right wing crazies', which is approximately how I feel about things at present. This speaks less to my support of Trump than it does to my grave concern about identity politics.

The reason to be so concerned is that this sort of identitarianism seems to be depressingly akin to the human norm. Throughout history, we have seen group-identity-based violence and repression, and the unnecessary poverty it creates, manifest over and over again. It is still pervasive in Africa and many parts of the Middle-East, and many of the the developing countries that are avoiding it, seem to doing so through the mechanism of 'strong men' leaders criticised in the West for their illiberalism. It seems that human culture is perpetually at risk of going down the path of socialism and identity-based conflict, as it seems to be in conformance with humanity's hardwired, base instincts.

This is possibly why most young people skew left-wing as well; it is intuitively appealing to the lightly educated (as Churchill once said, if you're not a socialist by 20, you don't have a heart; if you're not a conservative by 40, you don't have brain). The US constitution has acted as an important bulwark over the years, but even that bulwark is not entirely unassailable - particularly in the absence of continuing social attitudes that respect the primacy of the institution of freedom of speech.

All is not lost. The very election of Trump; Brexit; and the emergence of more right wing parties in Europe - however imperfect these reactionary movements are (and they are very imperfect) - nevertheless suggests there are still meaningful (and growing) portions of the population that want to fight back against liberalism and identity politics run amok, and the incipient trend towards repressive socialism. It is going to be interesting to see who wins, but it's certainly worth keeping an eye on.


*One such misperception I think the liberal-elite tech companies hold is that Trump was elected due to the spread of misinformation on online social media. Therefore, they believe they need to clamp down on all conservative, pro-Trump sources of media, as they believe doing so is essential to 'defending democracy'. But to me, this looks a lot like saying 'we believe in democracy, as long as you vote Democrat'. 

From where I'm sitting, Trump was elected primarily due to the Democratic Party's capture by identitarians, and some 50% of the US population remaining steadfastly opposed to identity politics. The Democrats responded to Trump's election not with introspection and internal reform, but instead by simply doubling down on the identitarian rhetoric, which has further polarized the country. If the Democrats didn't go off into the identitarian deep end in the first place, there would have been no need for Trump to be elected. Trump was essentially a 'protest vote', and it was Trump, rather than someone else, as he was the only person with the personality and chutzpah capable of taking on the PC extremist mob.

**Genuine self-described neo-Nazi groups have emerged in the US which are generally associated with the 'alt right', and sometimes Trump. However, these are an extreme minority of Trump supporters, relative to the near 50% of the country that voted for Trump, and are not taken seriously or tolerated anywhere in the mainstream (including by conservatives), whereas the radical left-wing identitarians in the US are not a fringe minority, but have instead captured many of the US's major cultural institutions, including large parts of academia, the media, the Democratic party, and now corporate HR departments as well. And their influence and power is growing, not shrinking.

Much like the left-wing identitarians, these Neo-Nazi right wing hate groups are identity-based movements as well, driven this time by disadvantaged whites who blame their problems on the Jews. All hate movements are based on the demonization of an entire group, who are blamed for all the ills of the world. Identitarian movements in all their guises are bad, and need to be steadfastly opposed.


Having further researched the point on the Nazi party, I now believe I got this point wrong and overstated my case here. The Nazi party started out socialist, but Hitler was very clearly not a socialist, and once he seized control of it he changed its direction and policies, and I now believe the traditional characterisation of it being a right wing authoritarian movement to be correct.

The article should have acknowledged the capacity for 'hard right' authoritarian, identity-based movements to emerge as well. Like left wing authoritarian movements, they are based on identity politics, but the dynamics and ethos focus more on 'might is right' and ethno-nationalism.

There is arguably a separate axis to left-right focusing on the degree of state control, from liberal/protection of individual liberties, and state-based authoritarianism/control. You can have both left wing and right wing authoritarianism, which seeks to use the instruments of state power to force identity-based ideologies onto society/the world. I am a traditional liberal liberal and oppose both left wing and right wing identity movements and authoritarianism.