2016 September 05 Monday
The Deepening Split And 2024 Election

See The New Culture War Dividing America.

In his Cleveland speech, Thiel pointed to what should really matter – issues of community, of economic opportunity and, yes, pride in being a citizen of the most powerful republic in world history. Many in Silicon Valley and the media prefer that the big issues are those of gender, race and sexual preference. But Thiel rightly consigned them to secondary importance, saying: ‘Now we are told that the great debate is about who gets to use which bathroom. This is a distraction from our real problems. Who cares?’

But so far these culture war distractions have been quite effective in distracting the intellectual plebs (i.e. those with humanities and social science degrees working mid to lower scale white collar jobs). Props to the propagandists.

What's different this time: The divisions in America are not a two sided split any more. We've got multiple splits, deepening distrust, and growing mutual incomprehension. We are in Peter Turchin's disintegrative phase of civilization.

Feeding this process: We are in a slow-growth world where factions can't get bought off by handing out slices from a growing pie. Check out the graphs here. Check out also the employment:population ratio by education level and ask yourself what are the less educated thinking about their positions in life. No wonder they want to Make America Great Again.

Signs of economic stagnation have elicited a lot of commentary from economists and others about what it all means.

Read Rod Dreher on the death of movement conservatism.

Read the whole thing. It’s illuminating. The most important insight I found in it is that the sense of security for middle class people is gone, or at least severely compromised. I can see that in my own life and circles, and not just economic security. There is a pervasive sense that everything is in flux, that everything could change because of economic and cultural forces beyond one’s control. That there are no guardrails anymore, and that hard work and playing by the rules doesn’t guarantee nearly what it used to.

A lot of movement conservatives think Trump will lose and then they'll get control of the Republican party yet again and eventually national power again. I think they are wrong even if Trump loses. The Republican party is going down and splintering. That's partly due to immigration making the Republicans the minority party. But other factors are at work. The religious faction is weakening as younger generations are less religious. Also, the middle class is shrinking and under pressure. The middle class feels stressed and is not inclined to follow Republican elites who are not looking out for their interests.

My guess (really just a guess) is that Hillary Clinton wins the White House in the November 2016 election. One of the less obvious consequences of this turn of events: The press will not go negative about the economy. We can experience a much bigger decline in the fortunes of the less skilled with a Democrat in the White House without triggering a serious discussion in the Democrat-dominated mainstream media. More imported cheap labor, more depressed wages at the bottom. This will lead to interesting consequences in 2024.

We have some pretty severe employment outcomes on the horizon wherever $15 minimum wage is passed. Suppose Hillary or Tim Kaine is in office in 2022 and robots are rolling out into fast food restaurants in response to $15 min wage and Otto trucks are replacing long haul truckers. That will start a debate for 2024. What politics does that cause in the 2024 election? If a populist fails to win power via the Republican nomination path in 2016 does a populist win the Democratic party's primary in 2024? With what policy proposals to deal with the inability of a substantial fraction of the workforce (or wannabe workforce) to compete for jobs against rising automation?

By Randall Parker 2016 September 05 12:25 PM 
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Students Not Learning; Getting Propagandized Instead

Colleges are trying harder to make students satisfied than educated.

Unfortunately, many key drivers of learning appear to reduce student satisfaction and vice versa. As long as universities continue to measure satisfaction but not learning, the downward spiral of lower expectations, less hard work and less learning will continue.

Many students show no improvement in reasoning ability as a result of college.

Almost everyone strives to go, but almost no one asks the fundamental question posed by Academically Adrift: are undergraduates really learning anything once they get there?

For a large proportion of students, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s answer to that question is a definitive no. Their extensive research draws on survey responses, transcript data, and, for the first time, the state-of-the-art Collegiate Learning Assessment, a standardized test administered to students in their first semester and then again at the end of their second year. According to their analysis of more than 2,300 undergraduates at twenty-four institutions, 45 percent of these students demonstrate no significant improvement in a range of skills—including critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing—during their first two years of college

Is this true across IQ levels? How much of the lack of improvement is due to:

  • Lower intelligence people have a lower capacity to learn and thereby improve.
  • Heavy IQ loading of Collegiate Learning Assessment (measuring IQ rather than learning)
  • Students taking worthless subjects or watered down courses in potentially useful subjects.

In other subjects a replication crisis makes many taught findings questionable. At the same time, colleges are becoming more ideologically uniform, making dissent from dogma more difficult. In his essay The Ending of the Liberal Interregnum Razib Khan suggests that the cult taking over universities will drive educational privatization.

Honestly, I don’t want any of my children learning “liberal arts” from the high priests of the post-colonial cult. In the near future the last resistance on the Left to the ascendancy of identity politics will probably be extinguished, as the old guard retires and dies naturally. The battle will be lost.

Retreat from institutions that are being overrun by the far left. Regroup in institutions that are still sane. Create new sane institutions as necessary.

Study more practical subjects and you will reduce your exposure to propaganda. Practical parents who want their kids to be able to make a living are starting to have their say:

“I’ve heard from many colleges that there is now a disturbing amount of parental pressure against the liberal arts.”

But the liberal arts aren't so liberal any more. Might as well study STEM.

Back in 2011 Alex Tabarrok laid out the numbers for how college has been oversold. A 50% increase in college enrollment without an increase in STEM graduates. The scaling up of college enrollment is just scaling up the number of students who sit in classes where propaganda is taught.

By Randall Parker 2016 September 05 12:25 PM 
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2016 September 04 Sunday
Why Did Rome Fall? Not Enough Taxes? Too Many People?

Some historians argue that taxing by the Roman Empire was good for economic growth. Their reasoning is unsound, which is a sign of the academy's leftward shift. But the economic critique of that reasoning offered by Mark Koyama at GMU seems incomplete.

I read this sort of piece now through the lens of Peter Turchin's War and Peace and War. Reading Turchin makes me wonder about two causes of Rome's decline:

  • Elite over-production.
  • General populace hitting the Malthusian ceiling.

If an elite gets too big then too many members of that elite are competing to get at the tax revenue and positions of power. The central government does not get as much money because the local rulers keep a bigger slice. Corruption rises. The competition within elites gets more brutal.

An even bigger problem is the Malthusian Trap and what happens when general population growth causes the population to exceed the carrying capacity of the land. If a farm field is producing twice as much as farmers need to survive for a year then there is a lot available to skim off for the Roman legions and administrators in cities. But suppose for centuries population grows in peaceful conditions. Eventually the farms can no longer grow enough food for the people who live on them, let alone for the elites Poof goes the surplus.

Turchin argues that many areas went through repeated cycles of prosperity followed by excess populations leading to breakdown, war, population loss. Populations would shrink far enough that recovery could begin. The cycle repeated. He used 14th and 15th century France as an example of this repeating cycle. I'm leaving out a lot of detail. Read the full book and it will change the way you look at history.

But the decline of the Roman Empire has lots of other potential explanations. For example, Ibn Khaldun's assabiyah (or asabiya if you prefer): the will to engage in collective action. Did the Roman Legions cease to be motivated to fight for the empire? Did the empire's elite lose a sense of common interest and common identity? Were they just too many generations removed from the Republic?

Update: On Twitter Mark Koyama suggests to me that the problem for Rome wasn't over-population because the Antonine Plague of 165–180 AD slashed the Roman Empire's population. He doesn't think there was a larger population by 350-400. But I am skeptical of our ability to know that. It is not just a question of how many lived in Rome itself. How many lived in Gaul? Egypt? Roman Hispania? If we could go back and watch, say, the rate of flow of grains from Egypt and olive oil from Hispania every decade we could know. Or if we could measure Gaul's population in each decade we could know. This seems beyond our ability to know. I really want a time machine that would just let us watch without intervening.

By Randall Parker 2016 September 04 06:28 PM 
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