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. 


  1. Thanks for all your blogs this past month. I have really been enjoying them. If you keep writing, I'll keep reading.

    Here's is a blog post I read recently which I think you may enjoy.

  2. Hi Lyall,

    Thanks for the post. I ideologically agree with you, but I think we suffer from the bias of ranking highly in the hierarchy of current society. We want intellectual meritocracy and economic freedom, because that is the game that we are relatively good at. It is about incentives.

    Many human systems are zero sum - status, relative wealth, power, sexual desirability. Sometimes the best play is just to drag others down, silence dissidents, and place highly on the newly created hierarchy. That is the game they can be relatively good at.

    Helping the weak, leveling the playing field, insuring equal outcomes has historically been the rhetoric of people who act the exact opposite once in a better position and their incentives change.

    1. Thanks Aspiring Human Being - excellent comments/observations.

      I am aware there is potential bias based on where you sit. Modern society economically rewards intelligence and conscientiousness, and both traits are highly heritable/genetically determined. Unsurprisingly, people that are smart and hard working find free markets more agreeable and skew conservative, as they will prosper in such as system, whereas those less conscientious and able to 'help themselves' are more instinctively opposed to it.

      In a warrior culture that rewards those most physically dominant, the best fighters would find that system agreeable and say might is right. But the weak would oppose it. Where you stand can depend on where you sit, and I don't deny that's a reality.

      However, absolute wealth, as opposed to relative wealth, is not zero sum, and the alternative of socialism is worse for everyone, and there is both empirical and theoretical support for why. We don't have to wonder - socialism has been tried many times and it has never worked.

      You are correct many human systems are zero sum, including all the systems you list. This is likely the key reason why happiness does not increase above a certain absolute income level (of about US$60k), because beyond that point, relative wealth & the status that accompanies it matters more than absolute wealth (socialism lowers income levels well below this threshold, however).

      I guess the question is, what's the best approach to dealing with the existence of these zero sum systems you list? Do we deny that such hierarchies will inevitably exist? Or do we accept that no matter what we do, some sort of zero-sum hierarchy will manifest, because it is built into our DNA?

      In socialism, for eg, we see that hierarchy still manifests. It just manifests more through proximity to political power & the instruments of government, which have the power to extract extra advantages for individuals. The hierarchy doesn't disappear - it just takes a more toxic and less socially productive form, where it rewards corruption.

      Hierarchies & their associated outcomes aren't fair, but they are an unavoidable reality. So the question is, how to we both best accept that reality, and try to create a society that puts that reality to best use for everyone?

      I would argue that Western society has basically done that. People's instincts to try to move up hierarchies is what has driven human technological progress over the centuries. It's what drives excellent performance and innovation, and capitalist systems reward it. However, we recognise that the system is not fair, and so have social safety nets in place, progressive taxation, as well as policies to support equality of opportunity, as best we can. I agree these are all good things, and they help mitigate some of the unfairness, without destroying incentives.

      However, history shows that when we go too far beyond that point, we do more harm than good. We don't remove hierarchy. We just make everyone poorer and less free.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Edited:

      Thank you for your thoughtful and detailed reply. I appreciate that you acknowledge potential personal biases.

      I agree that capitalism has benefited the common person immensely over the past 200 years. There is a reward system that aligns incentives and helps societies prosper. It is the best system for our current situation that we know of.

      The only thing I would like to raise is what do you think of the increasing devaluation of low skilled human labor from semi-intelligent computer systems? I think this is a large contributor to why wages have been stagnant, why there is an increasing wealth gap, and why there is so much populist sentiment. It is becoming increasing difficult for them to climb the hierarchy, so they choose to change the hierarchy. How can the capitalist system accommodate them?

    4. Thanks AHB,

      On your last para, I believe mass layoffs from mass automation is more of a problem for the future than the present. There has been a lot of talk about the next industrial revolution, but we haven’t really seen it in the employment data yet. US unemployment for e.g. is hitting new lows (albeit on an adjusted labour force participation vs. the past).

      I think the bigger contributor has actually been globalisation & offshoring. Global inequality has fallen, which is a wonderful outcome of globalisation, but inequality within developed countries has risen. This is because integrating the low-cost labour in developing countries into the global labour force has been very hard on low-skilled labour in DMs. Corporate profits have, by contrast, boomed, as labour costs have fallen.

      In addition, living standards have also been impacted by rising healthcare costs, as well as the rising cost of housing & education, etc. The US healthcare sector is basically socialist now (or the toxic offspring of the worst aspects of socialism and capitalism combined). The cost of corporate healthcare insurance is basically deducted from people’s paychecks, so as healthcare costs have escalated, wage growth has slowed.

      Liberal immigration policies have also been hard on low income demographics in DMs. They have increased the labour supply, depressing wages, while contributing to the cost of housing/rents going up.

      Immigration is good for the rich but bad for the poor. By depressing wages and driving up rents, you boost corporate profitability and house prices, which benefits the rich. The rich are also more immune from long commutes caused by rising overcrowding. This is one reason why there has been rising populist opposition to immigration in recent years.

      The left has painted this as ‘xenophobic’’, but it has far more to do with economics. The liberal elite don’t bear the brunt of the negative impact of low skilled immigration - the poor do, so it’s very easy for the rich elite to try to take the moral highground. Having larger number of poor people is also good for left wing political parties, as it increases their targeted voter demographic. This is one reason the US-Mexico wall debate has been so polarising.

      Lastly, adding to the woes of the poor have been elite climate policies, which raise the cost of energy, which is very burdensome for the poor. This has triggered the yellow vest protests in France, for instance. The poor have different priorities - they are more focused on putting food on the table.

      A good start to addressing these problems would be having a sensible dialogue on how the negative effects of globalisation, free trade, immigration, climate policy, and healthcare policies (& high tax burdens from large governments generally) has had on poorer members of developed society, and how they can be mitigated.

      However, this has been challenging, because most of the elite has benefitted from all these trends, even though the working classes has suffered. This has meant that populists trying to address these issues have been encircled by and belittled by the elite, while also being falsely accussed of being motivated by xenophobia/racism, etc.

      This is one thing I’m trying to do with certain blog articles, in highlighting that there are actually real issues here that need to be addressed and sensible debates that need to be had.


    5. Lyall, good points.

      People think about incentives too little and ideologies too much. Maybe it is a emotional framework that is useful for smaller groups of people and has become maladaptive.

      I am concerned for you about the political nature of some of your posts (including the recent one on populism). You are having to deal with emotionally charged arguments full of biases, fallacies, and confidence.

      I hope that you do not become too annoyed/bothered by these comments.

  3. Youtube does promote right leaning stuff though. Through their algo's. It constantly infests my recommendations. Those videos are often long, and have high engagement. So if you slow the slightest interest in it, it will spam your feed with it. Especially if you are identified as a male.

    1. Yes, for the time being YouTube is still fairly open in what it will accept, although they demonetised many conservative channels last year (won't allow advertising on their channels).

  4. "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'."

    What differences do you believe exist between the races and genders at the neck up?

    1. Not Lyall, but thought you might be interested in my answer.

      If you look at the science, I think women have greater risk aversion, higher extroversion, bigger focus on people vs abstract concepts, lower aggression than men. This is pretty well documented by people who tend to have a left leaning bias.

      These differences are relatively small. But when you look at some niche professions like for example programmer, it can make a big difference due to the nature of the bell curve (easier to visualize if you look at two bell curves that mostly overlap except at the extremes).

      If you look at prisons for example, only a small % of population is in prison, and it is mostly men. And generally people in prison are significantly higher in aggression and are the people on the far end of the bell curve where there is often little overlap despite two sexes being mostly the same. For example the 1000 most aggressive people in a population of 10 million is probably going to be 90% men at least.

      Same applies for any niche group that naturally filters out people with certain extreme qualities. If extreme extroversion is required, odds are this niche will be mostly populated by women.

      As far as race I think it is very hard to say. Looking at IQ is not a good way to approach this as development of education and infrastructure has a huge influence on this. For example average IQ scores were the same in the US in the 1920's as they are in Africa now, at about 75-80.

      Although there have been genetical differences noted between the races. For example East Asians have less body odor, Certain groups in Africa run faster, Samoans pack on more weight more easily.

      But because the brain is such a plastic organ in our body and subject to huge change depending on environment, upbringing etc, I think it is still hard to say what racial differences there are exactly.

      A much bigger reason for lower development in Africa is more likely to be low population density and climate.

    2. I'm a different Anonymous altogether, and not LT either, but it might be helpful to add that a hypothesis worth considering and testing is the extent to which genetics or environment are not affecting the differences in means for different groups but rather their variance. I don't know the empirical evidence for or against the hypothesis in different cases, but I believe it's the idea that got Larry Summers in trouble when he was President if Harvard and something a probabalist like Taleb has discussed. Perhaps it's a simple as the compounding of the numbers and sizes of effects from genetics and environment that might different between groups and produce wider or narrower distributions, which produces sharply different ratios at places in the tails.

      I want to note another idea I've encountered, though, as well, which is the utilitarian considerations when choosing to discuss such concepts as these. If there is net social harm to individuals from discussing group properties in this sort of statistical way, then perhaps it would be better not to discuss them at all. I believe someone like Dennett has expressed this view on topics such as this and the problem of free will. In fact, I would prefer we simply focused on other truths about our reality which might render such debates moot, such as the nature of evolution and biology itself, the nature of a likely deterministic existence, and the fact that certain values are likely entirely arbitrary such that we might consider why exactly we are placing such high values on them, what exactly we are trying to accomplish by them, and why. For example, what is the real concern caused by finding a relatively lower representation of women in STEM fields? Presumably it's the notion that there are women who would like to be in such a field (or would find themselves happy given the opportunity) AND who were capable of making a contribution that would support an attractive level of compensation AND YET faced purely social impediments to doing so. To the extent this us true, there appears to he a valid social objective. But if the value some are putting forth on that the representation in a field should be 50/50 and the pay should on average be equal – that is, irrespective of actual discrimination or relative productivity – I might wonder if it is truth, fairness, and justice at stake or whether it is merely a desire to capture some of the economic power that tends to derive from a field that allows members to be highly productive (and some members much more productive than others) and from professionalizing the social activism that is strictly incidental to such fields.

      Anyway, I hope this also added something helpful as well to the discussion.

    3. * My apologies for all the typos in the above comment – my phone's autocorrect function was not helping in its composition, either. Also, I wanted quickly to make more explicit the fact that to a significant extent, I was merely repeating what the previous Anonymous commentator was explaining. In fact, it was likely a better comment in being more concrete. When describing "the nature of the bell curve (easier to visualize if you look at two bell curves that mostly overlap except at the extremes)," that author was merely describing the case of one of the distributions having a higher variance than the other. When, by way of an example, the author states that "the 1000 most aggressive people in a population of 10 million is probably going to be 90% men at least," that is just a way of focusing in on the dynamics one finds in the tails of such overlapping distributions, where a 9:1 ratio might be a modest example. (A relatively famous one discussed by Taleb is how at one point scientists with Ashkenazi Jewish heritage had won something like 50% of the science Nobels while being perhaps 0.1-0.2% of the global population. Taleb finds this phenomenon easy to explain from population variance alone. For what it's worth, I find it easy to imagine environmental factors, never mind genetic factors, that could combine and compound to produce much higher variance, and thus pretty lopsided ratios when comparing two distributions in the overlap of their tails.) Anyway, I didn't want it to seem like I didn't understand and appreciate the points made by the previous author – probably better than I was able to make my own – but wanted to bring the concept of variance more explicitly into the debate, as well as the pragmatic question of pursuing such debates to the exclusion of what might be even more useful concepts.

      Thanks to all, and especially to LT for the original thoughts and forum to discuss.

  5. I understand that as a supporter of the president you may have felt the need to retaliate against those who call the red-hats Nazis, but much more ironic than that is the fact that you are unaware that despite having the word socialist in their name, the NSDAP was a right-wing organization and you deem it as fact here that they were leftists. The name stems from the former party which was eventually taken over by Hitler and his cronies. There is no left-wing conspiracy in academia to confuse people as you put it- your assertion is just simply false and pretty clearly stems from political bias. I would recommend Shirer's 'The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich' for a bit more insight on German history. Very early in the party's history there were a few prominent members who took the word socialist literally, but by the time they had any seats in parliament they were gone, and the Nazis in general had very few thoughts on economics. As chancellor, Hitler's first government was a collaboration of conservative parties and one of their first actions was to ransack the communist and socialist headquarters to eliminate any leftist ideology. If you checked Wikipedia, you would see one of the first sentences under this subject goes "The NSDAP was a far-right political party in Germany that was active between 1920 and 1945, that created and supported the ideology of Nazism. Its precursor, the German Workers Party existed from 1919 to 1920".

    1. Perhaps you are right on this point. I may got this wrong. I'll look into it further into it. However, the main thrust of the article is the risks associated with identity politics. It perhaps could have emphasised more that the 'right' is equally capable of engaging in its own toxic blend of identity politics as well - particularly with respect to ethno-nationalism. I don't support either approach, irrespective of whether it comes from the 'right' or the 'left'. And both derive from identity politics.

    2. Hi Scoop,

      As promised above, I have looked further into this point, and I am willing to concede it. I got this wrong. I've inserted a postscript highlighting the error. Thanks for calling it out.


  6. How are a 70% marginal tax rate or a 2% wealth tax a push in the direction of fully-fledged socialism? To be clear, I don’t support either of those policies (and there’s a real debate about whether they’d even work in an era of globally mobile capital and tax havens). But the reality is that in the highest-growth postwar period in the US we had far higher top marginal tax rates and these were supported by Republicans and Democrats alike. We already have stealth wealth taxes today in the form of property tax in many regions. And unless I missed it, I have not heard Elizabeth Warren talk about nationalizing the steel mills and appropriating private property. (In fact she is a self-avowed capitalist – I recommend reading more about where she’s coming from, even if you disagree). Lastly, Northern European nations like Sweden and Denmark have very high marginal tax rates but regularly score far higher than the US in economic freedom - areas like transparency and ease of doing business.

    I understand your concerns about identity politics on the left. I share some of them. But it is perhaps somewhat ironic that the greatest practitioners of identity politics today are on the right. In fact, white identity politics is at the very core of Trumpism. This is a politics fueled by grievance and victimization. You are concerned about freedom of speech. Again, yes there are some excesses today on college campuses. At the same time we have a White House that has banned use of the term “climate change” in government documents, that calls the press “the enemy of the people” (quite literally a Stalinist term – and one that arguably has potential to incite violence) and routinely engages in doublespeak that Orwell would have been proud of. So I am a little puzzled that you seem more concerned about a few alt-right personalities being banned on social media platforms, than the fact that we have an actual authoritarian in the White House who has no respect for the constitution or the rule of law.

    1. Thanks for your comments,

      I acknowledged that both a 70% marginal tax rate an 2% wealth tax fell short of socialism. My interpretation - possibly correct, possibly incorrect - is that when viewed in the context of where identity politics is in the US is heading at present, that it reflected a desire it has to 'pull people down' rather than merely 'lift people up'.

      I must disagree with you that the greatest practitioners of identity politics today are on the right, however, although I will acknowledge the right is also partaking in them as well. I would question how you have formed the belief Trumpism is all about 'white' identity politics. That is what many on the left have argued and believe, but if you look at what Trump has actually said and done, this is hard to demonstrate. I'm happy to change my mind if you are able to point to direct quotes contradicting me on this point. The message appears to be more 'America first' than 'white America first'.

      Also, I don't mind dialogue and disagreement. What I mind is perspectives being forcibly silenced. I gave several examples in the article of where this is being done by many cultural institutions, including academia, large parts of the media, and amongst many big tech platforms. And I have seen lots of evidence of very biased reporting by the US mainstream media - I have discussed several on this blog in the past (e.g. the Covington kids, and the Kavanaugh case), which in some cases has indeed been so intellectually dishonest as to begin to resemble 'fake news'.

      I have many issues with Trump. I don't like the guy. However, I see conservative perspectives being silenced a lot more than liberal ones, and I see people fired over expressing conservative perspectives more than liberal ones. This to me is clear evidence of where the greater threat lies.

      I would suggest diversifying your media sources. Quillete has some excellent articles worth reading. You can't form a balanced view until you've looked a both sides. I have - like I say I'm a traditional liberal, and I was part of the anti-Trump consensus for a long time. I've only recently changed my mind - albeit only reluctantly, because like I say, I don't like him. I just now think he is the lesser evil.

    2. The number of individual data points or arguments that can be brought to bear on either side of a debate like this can feel virtually endless at times. If I recommend reading Howard Marks' recent essay on economics and populism, it is not because he deals with or is right on every single point, but it's an example of at least some of the factors and perspectives that can be considered on the side of the debate that appears opposed to yours.

      My apologies, Lyall, but some of the points this author makes are the kind that I have to force myself to respect because otherwise I would find them too irritating. Here are just three such points.

      (1) "How are a 70% marginal tax rate or a 2% wealth tax a push in the direction of fully-fledged socialism?"

      It's simple. Even the corporate income tax that corporations pay today is a move in the direction of "fully-fledged socialism," assuming to say "fully-fledged" has the significance I think it does. What would it mean other than total state ownership of capital if one were to set the corporate income tax to 100%? But what about at 25%? Well, that's just equivalent to government automatically owning a 25% stake in the returns to a corporate enterprise. Want to return corporate taxes to ~40% in the U.S. as they often were prior to TCJA? That's like saying governments should get a 40% ownership stake in all corporate organizations. What would a 2% wealth tax do? It's complicated if one tries to anticipate all of the effects and the way they feedback into the process, but suffice it to say, it's just another way that government would effectively own a larger percentage of corporate organizations. Along with 70% marginal tax rates on high incomes, all Lyall is saying is that if we say "full-fledged socialism" is akin to 100% tax rates, where the state then decides how those resources are allocated, then I'm not sure how it is controversial to say that moving from an effective rate of 25% to 50% or from 37% to 70% is at least a “push” in the direction of socialism. (1/2)

    3. (2) The "economic freedom" of Sweden and Denmark and, separately, the question of “doublespeak”

      You might even be right about how well those countries are doing – although, as I said, the factors one would need to weigh are virtually infinite. For example, to draw on Marks' framing, politics and economics obey certain laws or at least tendencies that are unlikely to be easily repealed or even rechanneled, whether we are discussing the U.S. or Sweden. Take Sweden. As I understand it, because of the results of a recent election there, certain social programs are currently being rolled back or reconfigured.

      It couldn't be because everyone in Sweden was happy with the way those programs had been working. In other words, not everyone liked the form of “economic freedom” that you suggest is in advance of whatever might be found in the U.S.

      But this feeds into the larger point I'd make, which is that neither the left nor the right is immune from "doublespeak." In fact, Orwell was as much inspired by the communists that he met while fighting in the Spanish Civil War and what he learned about Stalinism over time as he was by the Nazis of Hitler (in fact, I think the consensus is more influenced) when he composed his novel 1984, which is where he coined the original term. So, is it a bit of "doublespeak" when someone on the left refers to "economic freedom," when what they might actually be referring to is "transparency" and "ease of doing business?" My concern would be the cases where it might be quite possible to have those, at least in some sense, even in a regime where “economic freedom” as I understand it has been dramatically curtailed – that would be the freedom to allocate the product of one's efforts as one sees fit, hire whomever they deem best for a job (allowing for reasonable laws against discrimination), pay them whatever rate and provide whatever benefits that can be agreed upon. I'm not saying free markets and capitalism can't be improved with a little regulation (and perhaps even a lot, if we find ways to socialize certain risks where it seems fair and not too economically illiberal to do so), but that is different than calling something "freedom" that is actually not. (2/2)

    4. (3) "the fact that we have an actual authoritarian in the White House who has no respect for the constitution or the rule of law."

      Your usage of the word “fact” here appears consistent with the standard I have noticed people on the left often using when describing themselves as "fact-based." I’m sorry to contradict you, but here is a case where I see a matter of interpretation, emphasis, and opinion. My greatest hope when it comes to issues like these is that we will continue to live in a constitutional republic here in the U.S., wherein it is virtually impossible to have an "actual authoritarian" in power. But I suppose that is only my opinion – and presumably a false opinion, if what your saying is fact, that is truth with a capital T.

      Here is another of my opinions: the aptly named Democrats would have us live in a pure democracy, unfettered by such inconveniences as prevailing laws and norms and a constitution which should render certain uses of political force or power strictly out of bounds without the vast majority of the country agreeing to a change. For example, the income tax was originally unconstitutional – or at some point, through valid channels, enough citizens saw fit that it should be made explicitly constitutional – but what about the kind of tax Warren is proposing? Would a "respect for the constitution" cause a person to take pause before proposing radical policies on the left any less than you feel politicians are far beyond the pale in proposing some of their policies on the right?

      In truth, I am not even concerned about these issues in the U.S., at least not yet, because there are so many people on both sides to counterbalance each other. Trump might be about to declare a "national emergency" in order to build his "wall." Many will say that it is because he has no respect for the constitution. But then judges and lawyers will seek to block him and at least temporarily halt his policies – as we have now seen happen many times already in this administration. This is good. This is "the rule of law" in action. In fact, sometimes you might find, even to your dismay, that Trump wins, as he appears to have done by reworking his "travel ban." This seems to me a good system, but it works because of the constitution, just as much as because of democracy and the will of the majority. And so we find ourselves debating the ideas here, on the Internet, which itself is a platform that one might say is one part government policy and subsidy and one part capitalism and free enterprise. I will not be voting on the left come 2020 – I am hoping that there is a plurality of people like myself who would vote for a Schultz or Bloomberg – but even if Warren were to win, say, I maintain that what makes the U.S. great, at least for now, is that her wealth tax (to say nothing of "full-fledged socialism") could only become law by clearing some extremely high hurdles. (3/3)

    5. Sadly, I also agree with LT's view on "fake news" (I've also heard "fiat news," which I first heard from a blogger/consultant here in the States named Ben Hunt). The problem with “fake news,” as I see it, is that it generally puts the conclusion first, then only feels the need to present the evidence that supports the conclusion. Unfortunately, many would reach the same conclusion if presented with all the facts, so they are offended by the stories being referred to as "fake news." Therefore, what I usually find myself objecting to is the suppression of facts and the substitution of interpretation for reporting. Take the craziness of a 48 hour (!) period within the last week when the left-most "news networks" ran with a story that Trump was "again" or "still" ignoring the "intelligence community" and denying their "facts." They support the story by taking two brief clips from the hearings and then flashing a choice tweet, one that would appear the most inconsistent with what we heard from, in this case, DNI Coats and CIA Director Haspel. But watch the whole hearings and one would not suspect that anything was out of the ordinary at all in how the government was working or how the president was being advised and taking advice (or that was my impression, when combined with the Reuters reports I follow on geopolitics along with following, if not agreeing with, the full range of Trump’s tweets).

      To be fair, it is possible that the reports themselves became or incited a story, but perhaps only after Trump was responding as much as to how that testimony was portrayed by the media as to the testimony itself. So, was it news, or did the journalists “make news?” (By the way, my understanding is that “making news” is actually a term of art amongst journalists, or at least was during the 2016 election, as I recall hearing it several times on some of the shows following politics at the time.)
      You’ll have to read Trump’s tweets on your own.


    6. Again, I’m happy to concede that someone might take everything they know and given all of the facts conclude that these reports are basically consistent with what they saw, heard, and think. Someone on the left might take everything they know and still see a president, and one they already do not trust and have a low opinion of, striking too much out on his own. Hence, it will read to them just like "news." Of course, another major concern with "fake news," assuming the phenomenon exists, is that it compounds, so that the lack of trust and low opinion could be partially deriving from previous stories and will now be informing how information would be interpreted even if given all of the facts in future cases. But what is someone to do who reaches a different conclusion? Again, based on what I knew and on the actually testimony, I would not have thought there was even a story, except for the fact that the media successfully crafted one. I have to remain open to the alternative interpretation, but (a) I don’t always have to agree with it and (b) I can find it lamentable that it would be difficult to reach my alternative opinion given only the information presented in the stories above that professed to report.

      Even a source that I find fairly useful, reliable, and neutral, such as Reuters is not immune, or perhaps some of their reporters and editors are not, to be more precise. When I read the following story through, I found myself questioning whether “rebuke” is the right word for legislation that would merely require the administration to “certify conditions” before proceeding and suspected a flat-out factually inaccuracy in the last paragraph which reads: “Trump has decided to withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria on the grounds that Islamic State militants no longer pose a threat, saying on Twitter on Wednesday, ‘We have beaten them’ as he disputed Senate testimony by his director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, on Tuesday that the group still posed a threat.” Neither in the extant tweets nor in the databases of deleted tweets could I find that quote attributed to a Wednesday tweet (I tried both 30 Jan and the 23 Jan).

      Of course, the laws of economics works in journalism, as well. Know or cultivate an audience and give them what they want – surely, that is also at work to a certain extent. Either way, it is an attempt to define the truth, or worse, shape the truth, rather than reflect the truth. (I could say this is happening in the realms of “art and entertainment” as well, these days, but again, I suspect that none of this is new – except to the extent that we have to hear a president railing against it, and for his own political gain, incidentally.) (2/2)