"Talks a good game about freedom when out of power, but once he’s in – bam! Everyone's enslaved in the human-flourishing mines."

To Understand Polarization, Understand Conservativism’s Failures

Earlier today I talked about one reason for increased polarization on the Democratic side. Now I want to match it with one reason the Republicans have even more of a problem.

Ask anyone what Republicans want, and they’ll say things like “smaller government”, “fewer regulations”, and “less welfare state”.

Meanwhile, here are some graphs showing how they’re doing (disclaimer: graphs like this are very dangerous, and I can only plead that I’ve seen numbers like these from enough sources that I think they have some contact with reality):

Source: https://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/16/what-is-driving-growth-in-government-spending/

Source: https://regulatorystudies.columbian.gwu.edu/reg-stats

Source: http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2016/02/heres-why-bernie-sanders-doesnt-say-much-about-welfare-reform/

Apparently not so good.

This is true even though this is a historic apex of Republican power. They control the House, the Senate, the Presidency, 66% of state governorships, 68% of relevant state legislatures, and are kind of tied-ish for control of the Supreme Court. They’ve been two of the last four Presidents, and controlled Congress more often than not during that period.

This is really strange. Whatever they wanted, they should have been able to get. Who’s going to stop them? Democrats? Don’t make me laugh.

But in fact, we mostly kept getting bigger government, more regulations, and a bigger welfare state.

My guess is this is a larger-scale version of what I talked about in Considerations On Cost Disease. Various secular trends make everything more expensive and worse, which means government has to spend more money and regulation to get the same level of services, which means government gets bigger. There’s no easy way to stop this except to understand cost disease (which people don’t) or to drastically cut the level of services and admit it will keep getting worse (which politicians are scared of doing on their watch). This is not really the Republicans’ fault.

But Republican voters don’t know that.

All they see is candidates running for office on a platform of small government and less regulation. Then they win, they’ve got a huge majority and a great mandate, and at the end of their term government is as big as always and there are more regulations than ever.

And if maybe you’re not that sophisticated about these kinds of things, you think – these guys betrayed me. They’re Republicans in name only. They were corrupted by Washington. The liberal media finally got them. They’re weak and they caved as soon as the Democrats called them mean names. What we need are some real Republican candidates, ones who are actually willing to stand up to the establishment.

Then you elect the Real Republican Candidates, the Tea Party or whoever, and the same thing happens. Because we’re talking about secular trends and not about anything that Congress can easily affect.

So then the voters think they’re frauds too, and they get defeated in the primaries by other people who are even more Tea Party than they are, people who can say oh yeah, those Tea Party people were fake, but we have the necessary commitment to go to Washington and not cave in immediately.

This will never work. But the superficial logic of “Republicans are powerful enough to get whatever they want, we don’t have small government, therefore the current crop of so-called Republicans didn’t really want small government enough” is convincing. You end up with a signaling spiral where everyone’s in an arms race to show that they’re not actually the craven compromisers that people will inevitably assume them to be. That means hyperpartisanship and refusal to compromise on anything.

I’m talking about this as a Republican problem, but I think it’s a general issue whenever people have unrealistic expectations, ie always. The more our hopes diverge from the possible, the more we’ll reject all existing governments in favor of stronger and stronger forms of extremism.

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691 Responses to To Understand Polarization, Understand Conservativism’s Failures

  1. thepenforests says:

    Sorry I don’t have anything more meaningful to add, but:

    Wow, did the Vietnam War really have such little impact on US defense spending? I would have expected a more noticeable bump.

    In fact, post-Korean War, it seems like US defense spending is almost independent of whether or not they’re fighting a war at the moment. Which is interesting.

    • cassander says:

      Yes, LBJ wanted to keep up the the illusion that the war didn’t cost much, so paid for it as much as possible through the existing budget. The irony is that the defense budget is actually a lot MORE dynamic than the rest of the US government’s spending. From 2011-16, for example, the defense budget declined almost 20% in nominal dollar terms, from ~700 billion to under 600. That’s a huge swing in government terms, the military shrunk by more than 100,000 active duty soldiers.

      • baconbacon says:

        I am under the impression (that is without facts) that some portions of what the public would expect to be under military spending have been shifted to other parts of the budget. For example the VA has a substantial budget, but is going to be filed under “entitlements” not “military spending” in this breakdown.

        • cassander says:

          Well, if you abolished the VA, most of the expense in the system would simply jump er to medicare, so it’s basically a wash.

          There are big chunks of military expenditure outside the formal DOD budget. Much of the cost of nuclear warheads, for example, is handled by the department of energy, and the boundary between the military and the intelligence community can get fuzzy in places.

          That said, there have always been such exceptions, and as long as you’re consistent, they don’t really alter the big picture that much because the proportions are relatively stable. No one is amping stashing money in the department of energy as a ploy to keep topline DOD spending looking artificially low.

          • baconbacon says:

            That said, there have always been such exceptions, and as long as you’re consistent, they don’t really alter the big picture that much because the proportions are relatively stable.

            I don’t know the actual numbers at all, so this might be true, but it isn’t necessarily true. If (again if, I don’t know the breakdowns well) pensions, the GI bill, disability etc for veterans all get listed as entitlements instead of DOD then after you have a major war (or several major wars) which require massive amounts of military personnel you would get a graph that looks like the above. That is you have a large spike in “military” spending and then you wind that down but at the same time increase “entitlements” as spending shifts from active to retired/disabled personnel.

            If this was (again IF! I am not claiming nothing) the case that would probably surprise the typical person looking at the graph, and really the spending from 1940-1970 should be higher, and the spending after that more skewed towards “interest”.

          • cassander says:

            Ah, you’re talking about the whole DOD era, I was thinking just the last decade or so. In that case, you’re probably right, though I’m not sure to what degree. I’m not sure anyone could tell you the true answer, it would require a lot of very good forensic accounting going back decades.

          • meh says:

            How much do the various tax exempt statuses lower the military budget?(assuming that wages would increase if taxed)

          • Ketil says:

            If this was a major factor, you’d expect military spending and entitlements to be anti-correlated, i.e. transferring some substantial expense from military to entitlements should give a bump up for the latter, but as expenses for the former would be reduced, the cumulative curve (top of the red area) should see some smoothing. I don’t know the numbers, but from the curves, this doesn’t seem to be the case. (Not to say that it doesn’t happen, only that the effect doesn’t seem to be substantial.)

    • John Schilling says:

      We were fighting the Cold War the whole time, which was rather expensive in ways that have little to do with Vietnam. The marginal cost of whether the 25th Infantry Division was fighting the Commies in ‘Nam, or standing ready to fight the Commies in Hawaii, wasn’t entirely trivial but it doesn’t show up on the scale of that graph.

      Still, as existential conflicts against geopolitical superpower go, it wasn’t too bad. Arguably would have been cheaper for us to have defeated them once and for all in the early 1950s, the way God(*) and Curtis LeMay intended, but there would have been Consequences.

      * aka Douglas MacArthur

      • bean says:

        You dare to breath the name of MacArthur in the same sentence as St. Curtis? Heretic!
        In seriousness, we finally got the Vietnamese to do what we wanted when we tried it the way LeMay had been advocating since the early 60s.

        • andagain says:

          “we finally got the Vietnamese to do what we wanted”

          Did America really want North Vietnam to conquer the South? Because that is how the war seems to have ended.

          Or did America NOT get the Vietnamese to do what it wanted?

    • baconbacon says:

      Wow, did the Vietnam War really have such little impact on US defense spending? I would have expected a more noticeable bump.

      If there would have been a downward trend otherwise then the “bump” was no decline, which doesn’t show up well in this type of graph. The graph here makes it look like a long term trend of decreased military spending with the Vietnam era being a slower decline than after.

    • youzicha says:

      Looking at InflationAdjustedDefenseSpending.PNG and PerCapitaInflationAdjustedDefenseSpending.PNG from Wikipedia, it’s kindof interesting to compare the bumps from the Vietnam war, from Reagan’s military spending in the 80s, and from the Afghanistan/Iraq wars.

    • bean says:

      A lot of that was that LBJ made serious cuts to the R&D/procurement budget to pay for it A whole bunch of shipbuilding programs got cut. The aircraft procurement budget had already been thoroughly trashed when Kennedy arrived, and we were coming off buying a whole bunch of expensive systems (ICBMs, bombers, Polaris, a new fighter every year or so…).
      The bill came due in the early 70s, and it wasn’t pretty.

    • Brad says:

      The point was made in a slightly different way baconbacon above, but I wonder if there would have been a more substantial bump were the government to use accrual based accounting (and GAAP more generally) instead of the weird cash based system they use.

  2. cassander says:

    What secular trend outside the theoretical control of the government writes thousands of new pages of regulations every year, and legislatively enacts new entitlements or expands old ones? Hell, to kill the import-export bank, all republicans had to do was literally nothing, and they couldn’t even manage that.

    There are structural forces at work that encourage these results, but they are NOT the entire story. Congress could, if it wanted, pass a bill tomorrow saying “The ACA and all subsequent amending legislation is hereby repealed.” They chose not to. And you don’t even have to cut services today. You can adjust formulas so that everyone gets the same today, and cuts come 10/20/30 years from now, long after you’ve left office. But they don’t do that either. Obviously, the narrative of “Republicans are powerful enough to get whatever they want, we don’t have small government, therefore the current crop of so-called Republicans didn’t really want small government enough”is grossly simplistic, but it’s far from entirely wrong.

    Moreover, you seem to be implicitly arguing that republicans used to be pro-compromise, and then have abandoned that position in favor of a new, more partisan, position. What compromises have the republicans rejected in the last 10 that they would have accepted in the past? I cannot really think of any. Heck, other than gun control, I can’t think of a single position on which the modern republican party is to the right of where it was two decades ago.

    I hate to be so nakedly partisan, frankly, it simply isn’t the case that republicans are driving partisanship. And no, DW nominate does not prove that they are and I can prove that with math. The issue isn’t so much conservative failure as it is left wing success.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Some trends causing new regulations:

      – Decay of social trust and reputation systems means that unregulated people will do bad things in ways they didn’t before, causing regulation to be the only way to deal with it.

      – Increasing reach of media means that anything that goes wrong could become a national scandal that causes lots of outrage, so government is incentivized to respond.

      – Increasing use of lawsuits means that companies are at constant risk of getting sued if anything goes wrong, and actively request regulation in order to have something they can say in court that they conformed to.

      – Increasing communications and logistics ability means that there will be more large structures that can only be controlled bureaucratically as opposed to small structures that can be controlled by informal means.

      – Existence of computers/information technology makes it less burdensome to comply with regulations and incentivizes more of them.

      – Increasing population density makes it harder to do things that once worked like just throw your trash in random fields nobody was using – now there need to be laws about where you can do that.

      None of these are completely impossible to resist. It just means that if the amount of regulations stayed the same, the world would get worse (as opposed to staying the same), so if you want to keep a constant level you need more and more regulations.

      • reasoned argumentation says:

        Taking those in order:

        – Decay of social trust and reputation systems means that unregulated people will do bad things in ways they didn’t before, causing regulation to be the only way to deal with it.

        Yes, diversity decreases social trust – this is well known (Putnam). On top of that the left has relentlessly worked against reputation systems – it’s basically a leftist instinct to do so even in purely social situations (“slut shaming” as being a bad thing?) – mainly because reputation systems have disparate impact – groups that behave less well also have worse reputations. It’s not like the Republican base doesn’t oppose the measures that got us to here in this area.

        – Increasing reach of media means that anything that goes wrong could become a national scandal that causes lots of outrage, so government is incentivized to respond.

        Media trust has cratered over exactly this timeframe – for basically that reason. They’re a scandal machine that drums up lies to fit the narrative – and they’re not neutral and looking for eyeballs – they’re looking to promote their brand of progressivism in an environment where they’re increasingly ignored.

        – Increasing use of lawsuits means that companies are at constant risk of getting sued if anything goes wrong, and actively request regulation in order to have something they can say in court that they conformed to.

        “Lawsuits” don’t spring up out of nowhere – they’re authorized by laws. Make it the law that “hostile work environments” constitute a tort and make it so that the existence of crime thinkers legally emits hate rays that create a “hostile work environment” and you’ve got a legal inquisition looking for the slightest smell of a witch with the promise of a big payoff to any favored group who finds one.

        – Increasing communications and logistics ability means that there will be more large structures that can only be controlled bureaucratically as opposed to small structures that can be controlled by informal means.

        I’ve got an argument about this one and how the centralization and concentration of the modern economy are downstream of certain policies and changes that have occurred but that would take us away from the central point so I’ll take a pass on this one.

        – Existence of computers/information technology makes it less burdensome to comply with regulations and incentivizes more of them.

        All this one says is that regulators like writing regulations and would like to write even more of them controlling ever more minute aspects of life.

        – Increasing population density makes it harder to do things that once worked like just throw your trash in random fields nobody was using – now there need to be laws about where you can do that.

        Again, this isn’t an exogenous change – the 90% white America of the 1960 was 179 million people – after the birth of the baby boom. It’s 309 million people as of 2010 – and it’s certainly not from native reproduction.

        All of those reasons have underlying causes that are also opposed by the other side.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I’m not talking about who to blame, I’m talking about how easy things are to reverse. Some of these things (like diversity) are very hard to reverse, whereas other things are just politically impossible in the sense of most people don’t realize how important they are and there’s not enough pressure to reverse them to counteract the pressure from the other side to keep them.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            I suppose I don’t disagree.

            I guess we’d both better gear up for war then.

            EDIT:

            I suppose if you don’t want war then you should really get to work on reversing that 179 million 90% white -> 309 million 60% white change but I won’t hold my breath.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            The fuller response that I was hinting at is this:

            So progressives won’t give up the policies (a minority white America, thoughtcrime laws in employment, the elimination of reputation and anything else that has “disparate impact”, etc.) that have all these downstream effects. The result is a society that is less and less functional as it attempts to route around the damage that progressives have done to it. On top of that the routing around process itself is especially unpalatable to red tribe people. All that being said it seems like you’ll never be able to get voters to recognize an argument this complex – that all the stuff they don’t like is the predictable end result of stuff they are uncomfortable speaking against (because the underlying problems are the most relentlessly propagandized – must have diversity! and thoughtcrime laws!).

            The end result is either the red tribe does nothing and gets crushed under the boot of progressivism (which then predictably collapses like Rhodesia), there’s a civil war, or that progressive give up on all the stuff that they’ve based their ideology on.

          • INH5 says:

            Again, this isn’t an exogenous change – the 90% white America of the 1960 was 179 million people – after the birth of the baby boom. It’s 309 million people as of 2010 – and it’s certainly not from native reproduction.

            Because as we all know, white America in 1960 was internally homogeneous and free of ethnic strife. I mean, it’s not like a white American presidential candidate was accused by other white Americans of being a danger to the country because of his religion.

            I remain deeply skeptical that America is more diverse in any practical sense now than it was a half-century ago, or really any time since the mid-19th century. It only looks that way in hindsight because even modern nativists have stopped considering Catholics, people of Southern European descent, and so on as “minorities.”

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            it’s not like a white American presidential candidate was accused by other white Americans of being a danger to the country because of his religion.

            Are you saying they were wrong? Because that president’s brother did the work to pass the immigration act that demographically transformed the country and that president himself called the old immigration system that didn’t let the US have the demographics of Central America “nearly intolerable”.

            Of course now that that happened the differences between the Irish and English descendants look minor in comparison.

          • thad says:

            @ reasoned argumentation

            To be clear, when you say

            I suppose if you don’t want war then you should really get to work on reversing that 179 million 90% white -> 309 million 60% white change

            what is it you’re suggesting? Because it sounds like you’re advocating genocide.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            If they invaded this country, they can go back.

            Maybe that’s impossible – but then see Scott’s comment above – their presence makes the society increasing unlivable. As percentage of whites continues to drop an end like South Africa or Rhodesia or Venezuela looms.

            One way or another the situation is going to resolve itself and the least bloody way would be for the left to give up their crusade to stuff enough of the third world into white countries to ensure they get voted into power forever but make no mistake – one way or another the situation is going to be resolved because it’s becoming increasingly clear to even the most normie of normies that there are no breaks on this train.

          • MrApophenia says:

            Man, sure is a shame to see liberals ruining democracy by thinking there might be actual racists in the world.

          • abc says:

            So please provide the definition of “racism” you are using. Also be sure to explain why MrApophenia!racism is a bad thing.

          • thad says:

            If they invaded this country, they can go back.

            What do you mean by invaded and who is “they”? I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that the majority of the non-white people in America were born in this country.

            I see lots of innuendo, but no actual proposed policies or actions.

          • INH5 says:

            If they invaded this country, they can go back.

            Leaving aside the fact that I can’t conceive of any definition of “invade” that would exclude the colonization of North America by white people but include post-1960 immigration (legal or otherwise) to the United States…

            Go back where?

            Only about 13% of the US population is foreign born, and even if we classify everyone from Latin America as nonwhite, around 14% of the foreign born population is still white, and another 27% is Asian. So if you want to significantly reduce the nonwhite population of the US, and especially if you want to specifically reduce the “non-Asian minority” population of the US, you’re going to have to kick out a lot of people who were born there. Where, exactly, are you going to send them?

            Incidentally, something like this was actually tried during the 19th century, where they were attempts to send freed slaves “back to Africa.” The results were…less than stellar. And it obviously failed to significantly reduce the nonwhite population of the country.

          • Forge the Sky says:

            This thread ties up my thoughts about the alt-right in a nutshell.

            In some ways I’ve become sympathetic to their ideas. Hey, maybe wanting to be a part of your own unique culture, with its own government and so on, isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe mixing together peoples of disparate origin has its downsides.

            But the whole ‘you have to go back’ line has never been actionable. I’ve never seen a path from here to there that’s intelligible. And the more sensible among them know it; as such, the movement is basically gearing itself for what it sees as inevitable civil war, genocide, or (best-case scenario) balkanization.

            Maybe such a fate is inevitable, who can say. But that makes me very inclined to reject that conclusion and try to find another way.

            The strength of the alt-right is that it is unafraid to confront certain ugly possibilities that the mainstream dogmatically shies from. This can lead to insights which are very necessary for creating an accurate model of action to result – necessary for anyone who wants to move forward in a different way.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            America is the diversity country. If you want to prevent this, you should probably figure out how to prevent slavery and the US conquest of the Southwest, not to mention the presence of millions of mixed-ethnicity white people. At this point preventing America from being diverse is not tractable. You are, however, welcome to move to Poland, which to the best of my understanding consists almost entirely of Poles.

          • MrApophenia says:

            So please provide the definition of “racism” you are using.

            Steve believes that the only solution to America’s problems are the removal of enough minorities from the population to return America to a 90% white majority, and that the only alternative to ethnic cleansing is civil war followed, presumably, by ethnic cleansing. Is Steve racist?

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            Ozy-

            Ah yes, the “in a hole? KEEP DIGGING!” school of thought.

            179 million 90% white near utopia – high social trust, high cooperativeness. 309 million 60% white declining social trust, low cooperativeness, unlivable society without rules and regulations about everything and an omnipresent surveillance state – even the loss of freedom for children that you complained about here:

            http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/05/17/polyamory-is-not-polygyny/#comment-503746

            which is a direct consequence of diversity.

            Your “argument” that “America was always diverse, therefore there’s nothing to be done” is akin to “well, there’s a fire burning in the fireplace so might as well burn down the house too”.

          • christhenottopher says:

            You know, maybe before we start going for the “diversity’s to blame Putnam had it right” we should consider more than just the direction of trust but also the magnitude of the effect. If I eat a carrot a day those calories can contribute to me gaining weight…but I should probably consider cutting out the 500 M&Ms per day first.

            Bryan Caplan recently looked into Putnam’s data and yeah diversity reduces trust a bit, but if we can cut commute times or raise home ownership the effect is way bigger. He even goes into yes just having Hispanics and blacks around reduces trust more than diversity, but even then it’s not as huge as one might think.

            So yeah he’s’ obviously a big open borders advocate, but it still seems pretty solid that maybe we should consider the size as well as direction before we settle on saying “yep! This is definitely the cause of current Gracchi-esque political problems!”

          • At this point preventing America from being diverse is not tractable.

            On the other hand, one could have an America that was friendly rather than hostile to local non-diversity.

            Suppose you want to set up a whites only community. Currently, I don’t think there is any legal way to do it. If a developer creates a new development he can make it rich people only by only building expensive houses. But he can’t make it whites only, or blacks only, or Irish only, by a legal restriction on who the houses can be sold or rented to. Similarly for a business or a club or a school.

            So one possible way of responding to the arguments people have been talking about would be to eliminate legal rules that prevent voluntary ethnic segregation. That might be a good or a bad thing, but it doesn’t require deporting anyone.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            David: That’s fair but there’s already a high level of de facto segregation (especially if you adopt the inexplicable American habit of considering white people to be all one ethnicity). I’m not sure if laws would have much effect beyond that caused by white people’s collective preference to live around white people.

            Reasoned argumentation: Some people, like me, like living n a diverse country. Unless you think we should not be allowed to live in a country of the sort we prefer, it seems to me that the correct path is to leave America for the people who like America and move to one of the many countries which are *already* ethnically homogenous. Like Poland! Poland is literally 97% Poles and its ethnic minorities are also all white. Albania might be a better choice, since it is also almost 100% white and immigration into Poland is kind of hard.

          • John Schilling says:

            (especially if you adopt the inexplicable American habit of considering white people to be all one ethnicity).

            Which white Americans do you consider to be of different ethnicities, and why?

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            Ozy-

            Some people, like me, like living n a diverse country. Unless you think we should not be allowed to live in a country of the sort we prefer

            Ozy, also in this thread –

            America is the diversity country. If you want to prevent this, you should probably figure out how to prevent slavery and the US conquest of the Southwest

            So America was always diverse but going back to 1960 demographics would result in a non-diverse country that you don’t want to live in because it wasn’t diverse.

            It takes some gall to say “don’t like living in what we’ve turned this country into? You can leave” exactly while denying that you’ve transformed the country and when every step of the way everyone who was active in transforming the country denied that that was what they were doing.

            Let’s put the shoe on the other foot – there are plenty of “diverse” countries across the world that you can move to if you love living in a diverse country. South Africa, Venezuela, Columbia, Mexico, etc. But of course, you’ll never move to one of those countries for obvious reasons.

          • bbartlog says:

            Suppose you want to set up a whites only community. Currently, I don’t think there is any legal way to do it.

            On a small scale you might be able to do it (albeit only in metastable form) by having a community that votes on whether to allow new members to buy a house in the cooperatively-owned community.
            There currently exists such a place in Pittsburgh: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chatham_Village_(Pittsburgh)

            Mind you, I don’t know whether they’ve ever had to face down a disparate impact challenge in court.

          • bbartlog says:

            Some people, like me, like living n a diverse country. Unless you think we should not be allowed to live in a country of the sort we prefer

            There is an obvious compromise solution (which might not be sufficient for ‘reasoned argumentation’, but would probably make many people who dislike diversity happy). Namely, make it possible to allow exclusionary policies of a limited, but still public scope. Supposing this would still leave 90% of the country diverse, including most of the major cities, it seems like it would be a win/win.
            The fact that this is still regarded as a reprehensible solution by most people suggests that this whole debate is not really about the general availability of diverse neighborhoods at all.

          • Forge the Sky says:

            “I’m not sure if laws would have much effect beyond that caused by white people’s collective preference to live around white people.”

            Do white people have a stronger collective preference to live around people of their own race than other races do? My intuition is that, if anything, they are less likely to have this preference (desire for diversity for diversity’s sake seems like a very ‘white person’ thing to me) once socioeconomic factors are controlled for.

            “Some people, like me, like living n a diverse country.”

            Far be it from me to question another person’s preferences, particularly a person so fine as Ozy. But my personal experience leads me to think that people who disagree about this are thinking about two very different things. My experience with diversity in contexts where the diverse people involved were self-selecting for also wanting diversity have been very positive. My experience with diversity when such self-selection was not in play has been very different.

            (I mean ‘diversity’ in a pretty broad way, not just as a dog whistle for race)

          • Bugmaster says:

            @John Schilling:
            I can’t speak for Ozy, but in my experience, a Russian, a Greek, an Israeli jew, and an Italian have are about as different from each other as they are from an African or a Mexican. Unless, of course, they were born in and raised in the US, in which case they’d be much more similar to each other than to the native inhabitants of all those other countries. Which is probably why most Americans treat everyone with white skin as one homogeneous group.

          • John Schilling says:

            I took Ozy’s “American habit…”claim as referring to American assessment of the ethnicity of people in the United States. If as you say it is meant to apply on a global scale, I agree there is a stronger case for multiple white ethnicities (though perhaps not broken down along strictly national lines).

          • Al_P says:

            @ thad

            what is it you’re suggesting? Because it sounds like you’re advocating genocide.

            Why is advocating that the non-white proportion of the population be reduced advocating genocide, but advocating that the white proportion of the population be reduced is not advocating genocide?

            @ Ozy Frantz

            America is the diversity country.

            The the here is news to me.
            What European country is permitted to maintain its population and culture by international institutions? You have pointed out Poland, but they are currently under attack by childless elites from Western countries who get an awful lot of their votes from ethnic groups other than the indigenous ones of their countries. The EU has issued an ultimatum that Poland, Czech Rep., Hungary, and Slovakia accept economic migrants despite those countries being poorer than their Western counterparts.

            In Western Europe, acknowledgement that indigenous nationalities even exist, let alone that they are the primary constituencies of their governments, is taboo. In French, it has been ruled that ethnic French do not even exist (reminiscent of arguments used by Zionists to deny the existence of Palestinians in order to justify their dispossession and ongoing loss of autonomy).

            It seems like an awfully big coincidence that in America French, English, Italian, Greek, etc., are ethnic groups that it is okay to identify with, but NOT White, but in Europe, those ethnic groups’ existence is denied, and it is asserted that any citizen of the current Federal Republic of Germany is German.

            A much more likely explanation than this huge coincidence is that the actual ethnic groups that Whites identify with are being attacked, because that is how they organize as a group and advocate for their own interests. This is happening even as identity politics are encouraged among other groups – groups both more and less socioeconomically successful than whites.

            FWIW I’m actually pretty sympathetic to the idea of the United States having a more diverse and multi-ethnic identity than other countries in the world for a variety of reasons, both personal and principled.

            However this ignores the fact that what the United States is, including the civic nationalist values that make possible the type of society you appear to prefer, is a reflection of the peoples (both in the cultural and biological sense) that make it up, as described in Albion’s Seed.

            Without some policies to keep births high among the native White population, especially the founding stock, or limited/race-conscious immigration policies, the US will become increasingly tribal and low-trust, because this is the default in human societies, as as the US becomes more like the rest of the world demographically, so will it socially.

          • The Ghost of Andrew Jackson says:

            But the whole ‘you have to go back’ line has never been actionable.

            I suggest you look up how exactly the Slavic ethnostates of Central Europe became Slavic ethnostates.

            Hint: what may well have been the largest ethnic cleansing in world history was explicitly approved by the Allied governments.

            Reasoned argumentation: Some people, like me, like living n a diverse country.

            It seems much more likely that those people are wrong about what diversity is than that they actually like the consequences of diversity. I notice that most of the people who say this are rich enough that their experiences with diversity are mostly about diversity of options for consumption. There are so many restaurants! Yes, and most of the city is habitable by the descendants of the people who built it, foreign gangs have taken over your parents’ hometowns, and Mohammed Sadiq will abduct your daughter.

            Diversity in an American context still has all sorts of harms if you leave immigration aside, but the upper classes can mostly escape these harms. Sometimes they can’t, as we saw when Matt Yglesias experienced the unfortunate realities of urban diversity. But Matt Yglesias doesn’t work in a place where a certain sort of grown-ass adult will threaten all manner of violence in the middle of a workplace tantrum and know damn well that he can get away with it because all the witnesses come from his very same culture and said culture believes, and has elite backing in the belief, that its members are entitled to do whatever the hell they want to certain outgroup members.

            I didn’t actually get jumped, of course, although I was perfectly happy to walk home by myself and give Jamal a chance to land his bitch ass in prison.
            But, just as civilized countries do not have street thugs who hunt people like Matt Yglesias for sport (if the operative category were ‘journalist’ maybe we’d be having another discussion, but it’s not), civilized countries do not have bitch-ass motherfuckers like Jamal who go around LARPing as street thugs.

            I don’t see what’s so objectionable about the idea that civilized people should not have to be rich to gain membership in a community where none of that shit happens. Now, if you think it’s aesthetically objectionable to be around people who look like you while making less than six figures a year, or if you can’t feel good about your life without farming most of it out to an underpaid and faceless caste of service immigrants, or if you just don’t think you should have the freedom to go outside between sundown and sunset, you can move to a place where those conditions obtain, such as Baltimore or Detroit, or you can hold most of America constant but let the people who disagree with you leave.

            On the other side, of course, you have the black college students who don’t want to be around white people. Why the hell should we want to force them to be around us? Why not, say, spin off part of Mississippi as an autonomous republic under the federal system and let it establish internal migration controls in keeping with its purpose of letting the SJ kids establish their, um… their socialist state founded upon the principle of the unification of their race and its advancement in the eternal conflict of the races? And once that’s done, why not restructure other states, maybe West Virginia and Vermont, as white autonomous republics?

          • The EU has issued an ultimatum that Poland, Czech Rep., Hungary, and Slovakia accept economic migrants despite those countries being poorer than their Western counterparts.

            Could you point at what EU act you are referring to? My impression was that the controversy was over refugees. Some who claim to be refugees may in fact be economic migrants, but I don’t think the EU has taken any position on member countries having to accept economic migrants from outside the EU.

          • Without some policies to keep births high among the native White population, especially the founding stock, or limited/race-conscious immigration policies, the US will become increasingly tribal and low-trust, because this is the default in human societies, as as the US becomes more like the rest of the world demographically, so will it socially.

            Is your claim about specific races or diversity? If the latter, I think you have it backwards. The default in human societies is ethnic homogeneity. The U.S. is unusual in how ethnically diverse it is.

          • abc says:

            My impression was that the controversy was over refugees. Some who claim to be refugees may in fact be economic migrants

            Where by “some” you mean “nearly all”. Let’s put it this way. Why are nearly all the “refugees” young men. If they were really refugees you’d expect a lot of women and young children. On the other hand young men the demographic you expect from economic migrants (or invaders).

          • thad says:

            @ Al_P

            Why is advocating that the non-white proportion of the population be reduced advocating genocide, but advocating that the white proportion of the population be reduced is not advocating genocide?

            I haven’t seen anyone advocating reducing the white proportion of the population. But more than that, “reasoned argumentation” argued using absolute numbers. And most importantly, I did ask if there was a proposal that wasn’t genocide. I still haven’t heard an answer to that question.

          • Aapje says:

            @abc

            You’d also expect to see mostly men if:
            – the trip to Europe is dangerous/hard
            – there is a family reunification policy so the men can let their wife and children come over on a safe and comfortable* plane

            Both happen to be true.

            Also, the demographics of the refugees changed after the Turkey deal, to have far more women.

            * Compared to the other option

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Why are nearly all the “refugees” young men.

            While I share your concerns, honesty forces me to point out that previous generations of economic immigrants to the U.S. often took that form. The husband comes over to get established while the wife and kids stay with family back home, with the hope of joining the husband once he can support them.

          • abc says:

            @Doctor Mist

            That’s my point DavidFriedman was claiming that they weren’t economic migrants but “refugees”.

          • As you can see by following the link you just put up, that was not what I was claiming. What I was claiming was that EU rules disputes were about rules for refugees. I explicitly said that some claimed refugees might actually be economic migrants.

        • zaogao says:

          It is not diversity, per se.*
          http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2017/06/trust_and_diver.html
          Looking at Putnam’s numbers^
          If the majority A scores higher than B, a mix of the two, eg increased diversity, will be associated with lower scores without there being any causal interaction/ true diversity coefficient.

          *Rather, it is not diversity in the statistical sense, but in the sense that earned the NBA an “A+” from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDE) for 80.5% of players being people of color.

          • Wency says:

            OK. So what Kaplan is saying in as many words is “It’s not diversity that’s a problem, it’s the blacks and Hispanics. Take that, alt-right!”

            Or in other words, whites and Asians can live in harmony after all, sayeth Kaplan. Which half the alt-right and 100% of everyone else (at least in the West) believes anyway.

            Though does this handful of paragraphs really refute Putnam’s core thesis?

          • christhenottopher says:

            To Wency, he has a post on that, the effect is larger when you’re just considering the effects of blacks and hispanics, and it’s noticeable, but it’s not the “turns a developed country into the third world” size that I have often seen Putnam fans argue or even close to that. http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2017/06/special_diversi.html

          • The Ghost of Andrew Jackson says:

            Or in other words, whites and Asians can live in harmony after all, sayeth Kaplan.

            Just as long as you don’t hire Chinese people for jobs involving information you don’t want China to have.

            China, by the way, positions itself at least in certain propaganda releases as the representative of ethnic-Chinese interests all around the world. And Russia has made disapproving noises about the treatment of ethnic Russians in the Baltic states. I’m sure we all know of a precedent or two from the 20th century involving Germans outside what at the time were the borders of Germany. Then there are the Armenian and Israeli lobbies in America, etc., etc., etc.

            Is Latvia better off for having all those Russians?

        • HaakonBirkeland says:

          I think you are misinterpreting Putnam. You’re cherry-picking his findings to support some silly role you play online as a “race provocateur”. It’s a shame that the vast majority of people can’t recognize the statements made on comment boards, Twitter, Reddit and other forms of social media as nothing more than virtual posturing. Social media is just the latest advancement of the multi-user dungeons that directly influenced this current generation of many-to-many digital communication. At worst you’re a troll and at best you’re a level 14 Orc-Mage.

          I read Putnam and all I can see are him describing the symptoms of a people who use media to isolate themselves on an individual level. What is diverse and increasingly individualized is the number of people per square mile who can connected to increasingly specific cultures across the globe but completely shut off from their direct neighbors. This is an affliction that is much more specific than ethnic heritage. A fan of country music is much more likely to be friends with a black guy who likes Charley Pride than a white guy who likes 80s house music.

          We have these pointless online battles, unable to see that the real issue is the medium itself, because it is so overwhelming, so all encompassing, that we mistake this virtual game for reality itself. Much like a group of D&D playing teenagers, who design increasingly complex maps and trinkets for their game, they get to the point where they want to bring the adventure outdoors, and start crafting costumes and papier-mâché weapons. But unlike their counterparts in the Alt-Right vs SJW showdowns that have us glued to our digital screens, they know it is a game!

          Why has reality escaped so many of us?

          What is real? It certainly is not symbolic logic etched on to paper. That is a little game. That there is a mapping between the symbols and the predictive capabilities of this game is certainly a mystery, but even with our physical models, these are only approximations, and science itself cannot progress without the understanding that the current theories cannot and can never be the end of the mystery. There will always be new discoveries in which the old models are seen for what they are, crude approximations made by a people drifting endlessly through the dark expanse of space.

          If hard physics and subsequent engineering wonders are the crowning achievement of our logic games, then what does this say of the softer sciences? Economics? Sociology? My god, these are quite clearly just a minor step up from unfounded opinion. Oh, you have studies? You took polls? You read some old accounting records from the 1960s? You constructed a chart?

          These totalizing summations of the world are a fiction if only because they are actually not a totalizing summation, they are just a few data points in what may as well be an infinite number of possible paths for exploration. None of these studies describes reality. The only conclusion that can be drawn is a description a people who will believe just about anything. It describes the tragedy of language itself.

          Reality is nothing more than what can be seen by all. Reality is that the sun rises and sets. There are no other perspectives from the surface of the earth. However, there are other perspectives… the sun does not rise and set in the same manner from the surface of Mars.

          What digital media allows is an increasingly diverse set of perspectives. No one has the same Facebook or Twitter or even RSS feed. We all have completely different perspectives. This is pushing us even farther from reality. We might as well be living alone on our own planets and all trying to tell each other that we are wrong about the length of day.

          Once you see it, the clouds open. You recognize the source of the confusion. You suddenly see every bit of written word as nothing more than fiction. You step in, you step out, like entering a movie theatre to watch a world-ending disaster unfold and afterwords opening the doors and walking outside into the shockingly peaceful technicolor of unmediated experience.

          The problem is with words. The problem is with language itself. The problem is with mistaking the map for the territory.

          • The Ghost of Andrew Jackson says:

            We have these pointless online battles, unable to see that the real issue is the medium itself, because it is so overwhelming, so all encompassing, that we mistake this virtual game for reality itself. Much like a group of D&D playing teenagers, who design increasingly complex maps and trinkets for their game, they get to the point where they want to bring the adventure outdoors, and start crafting costumes and papier-mâché weapons. But unlike their counterparts in the Alt-Right vs SJW showdowns that have us glued to our digital screens, they know it is a game!

            What medium caused the similar ideological battles in the 1970s and 1990s?

      • cassander says:

        These are forces that might make more regulation more desireable, but they certainly don’t produce more regulation endogenously. If republicans are really fanatics (relative to the last group of republicans, at least), why aren’t their politicians spinning these things in ways that their base finds appealing? Social trust declining? Of course it is, that’s what happens when you regulate everything! Too many lawsuits? That’s because there are too damned many laws!

        I’m not saying that these arguments are correct, mind you, just that they’re plausible just so stories, which is all you need for politics. Your argument seems to be premised on the assumption that conservative voters want representatives that will say ever more extreme things on TV, but will revolt if those reps actually do anything like those things. And while I don’t think that position is entirely indefensible, I think it needs more examination than being an unstated assumption. And it certainly isn’t a simple mirror to what’s happening on the left.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Your argument seems to be premised on the assumption that conservative voters want representatives that will say ever more extreme things on TV, but will revolt if those reps actually do anything like those things.

          Conservative voters aren’t kidding when they say they want the Department of Education abolished. Republican lawmakers would be cheered by the base for doing this and returning control of education to local communities. You’d never know it though because all Wolf Blitzer would do is have panelist after panelist on to discuss how “deeply troubling” this all is that the Republicans want children to be stupid and/or die. Oh and of course they’d invite “top Republicans” John McCain and Lindsey Graham on to agree with them.

        • shmorg says:

          I think the point being made is that if these forces truly incentivize regulation, you really don’t want to see what would happen if these things spun off without regulation. You can always retro-analyze to criticize any facet of the establishment, and it’s easy to. But in practice, Republicans effectively never get the kind of burn-it-down approach their collective opinion vies for precisely because backlash from deregulation is felt so strongly that they can’t (Mind you, “deregulation” is often conflated with “defunding,” which sees the same spiraling negative opinion of gov’t effects after their agencies stop working, and a slew of other *actually* regulation-inflating policies for some strange reason).

          These backlashes are also felt mostly by Republican constituents, surprise surprise. It’s almost as if simplistic reactionary ideogoguery doesn’t serve the type of thinking needed to structure a system well.

          You’re just saying there should be less scrutiny upon what is statistically a strong self-reinforcing trend of libertarian ideology within today’s conservatives. Why?

      • albatross11 says:

        I think there’s a very basic public choice thing going on, too. If you create a new program with 50,000 beneficiaries who come to depend on it, which takes money out of everyone else’s pocket and is a pretty transparent waste of taxpayer money, and let it exist for a decade, you’ll find it almost impossible to eliminate that program. It won’t matter that the program doesn’t make sense–those 50,000 beneficiaries will come up with plausible-enough sounding reasons that it does make sense. It doesn’t matter than everyone else except those 50,000 beneficiaries thinks the program is nuts, because none of those people care very much, whereas the beneficiaries do. I think that pattern alone can explain a lot of the ratchet-effect of government spending–you can create new programs, and people do from time to time, either to serve some genuine need or to buy some votes. But you almost can’t get rid of one.

        Thus, we can have people who talk about the need to shrink government, but find it politically unworkable to eliminate any programs.

        If you’re looking for a phenomenon going the other way, you might look at how civil liberties or regulation of finance has changed under Democratic leadership. It’s kind-of a similar story.

        • Forge the Sky says:

          Long been my theory about why government always seems to drift leftwards in a modern context.

          As a concrete example, our current president proposes a budget that – predictably enough for a right-leaning administration – cuts a lot of non-essential government programs, and in response the national television stations are inundated with images of cute little black girls whose school lunches are being stolen by mean Donald Trump.

          Easy to give, hard to take away. Originally, proponents of affirmative action saw it as being necessarily a temporary measure to jump-start change, perhaps lasting ten to fifteen years. Forty odd years on and it just keeps growing.

          The people who wrote the constitution were well-versed in the theories of government of the day, and managed to avoid quite a few pitfalls. However, a few issues that weren’t obvious then have become obvious now. A constitution re-written with such issues in mind might include hard limits on taxation rates, as well as enforced ‘twilight’ laws that must be re-voted for every so often, or disappear.

          • Nornagest says:

            well as enforced ‘twilight’ laws that must be re-voted for every so often, or disappear.

            Funding for the Army has to be re-authorized every two years for exactly this reason. How’s this working out in terms of keeping a standing army small or nonexistent?

          • cassander says:

            what I think you need is something structural, something like requiring majorities to pass laws/spending, but allowing minorities to repeal them. That way, doing anything new requires a fairly high level of consensus, but without making it impossible to clear out all the old stuff.

          • Forge the Sky says:

            Yeah, I mean. One would have to figure out the details such that lawmakers have some incentive to not just rubber-stamp law renewals as a matter of course. Otherwise you’re just adding a bureaucratic layer to things.

          • Jesse E says:

            “what I think you need is something structural, something like requiring majorities to pass laws/spending, but allowing minorities to repeal them. That way, doing anything new requires a fairly high level of consensus, but without making it impossible to clear out all the old stuff.”

            In other words, “heads I win, tail you lose” for your ideology.

            I mean, as a liberal, I fully support it only taking one vote in the Senate to raise taxes, but 99 votes in the Senate to lower them.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            I mean, as a liberal, I fully support it only taking one vote in the Senate to raise taxes, but 99 votes in the Senate to lower them.

            Seriously? Or is that just rhetoric? Or are you a conservative weak-manning the liberal position? I don’t want to conclude too much here.

          • cassander says:

            @Jesse E says:

            In other words, “heads I win, tail you lose” for your ideology.

            I mean, as a liberal, I fully support it only taking one vote in the Senate to raise taxes, but 99 votes in the Senate to lower them.

            In some sense, you actually have better than that now, taxes go up every year without a single vote assuming GDP grows.

            So yes, I am talking about changing from a system that systematically tends toward policy I think is bad to one that I think is good. How is that different from anyone else talking about systematic changes? No one says “we should adopt policy structure X because it will really crap up the things I care about.”

      • TheRadicalModerate says:

        The number of significant and major rules published has increased somewhat over the last 20 years, but mostly we’re just looking at a steady, linear accumulation of rules.

        So the increase in the arrival rate of pages (i.e. the exponential growth of the entire corpus) has some other cause. Two hypotheses:

        1) More regulation is actually occurring, but the individual instances of rule-making are bigger, beefier, and more comprehensive than they were in the past. This is certainly true of legislation, so I don’t see why it wouldn’t also be true of regulation.

        2) For each rule added, all the previous rules need to be adjusted so as not to conflict with it. That’s a lot of complexity added retroactively (and hence a lot of pages added), even if the arrival rate of rules is fairly constant.

        • lemmycaution415 says:

          The size of supreme court opinions has greatly expanded in the last 30 years because of personal computers. It is just easier to create documents of all types now.

          The CFR is mainly changed to fix problems. Lots of provisions are never really used but that means taking them out does’t really help anybody.

          here is a random cfr page:
          https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=101.105

          they want to require that food packages are labeled with a legible indication of quantity. The ridiculous level of detail is mainly to to define what is “legible” means in this context without using a subjective test.

          • Lots of provisions are never really used but that means taking them out does’t really help anybody.

            That isn’t clear. There might be a cost in time and effort to making sure you were not violating them, even if in practice nobody ever got charged with doing so.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            here is a random cfr page

            Sweet Jesus! How much time do I have to spend just reading pages like this to determine whether or not they apply to me?

            It’s like nuclear war: the only safe move is not to play.

    • Tuna-Fish says:

      > I can’t think of a single position on which the modern republican party is to the right of where it was two decades ago.

      This is a mirage. On most issues, the Overton Window has shifted significantly to the left during that period, resulting in the old centrist compromise positions becoming the new far-right positions.

      Just look at Trump’s position on deporting illegal aliens: His position is to honor the law of the land, that is, the bipartisan compromise brokered in 1996. Since 1996, this position has stopped being a centrist bipartisan compromise, and become a far-right policy.

      Note that I don’t mind this happening one bit, on most issues this shifting of national values has brought them closer to mine. However, it does mask the fact that Republicans really did use to compromise more in the past. In 1996, they held both the congress and the senate and could have pushed through a much more hardline legislation. They didn’t, instead opting to draft one that brought 88 democrats in congress to their side.

      • baconbacon says:

        However, it does mask the fact that Republicans really did use to compromise more in the past. In 1996, they held both the congress and the senate and could have pushed through a much more hardline legislation. They didn’t, instead opting to draft one that brought 88 democrats in congress to their side.

        Hmmmmmmmm

        However, the Republicans in Congress, led by House speaker Newt Gingrich, often pursued policies in an uncompromising and confrontational manner. In particular, after a budget impasse between the Republicans and Clinton in 1995 and 1996—which forced two partial government shutdowns, including one for 22 days (the longest closure of government operations to date)—Clinton won considerable public support for his more moderate approach.

      • albatross11 says:

        The whole country has slid massively right on economics in the last several decades. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a government/quasigovernment agency setting airline fares, and antitrust enforcement is a whole lot less aggressive than it used to be, under both parties.

        • qwints says:

          See also organized labor, trade, income tax (especially capital gains) and inheritance tax. Post cold war, the right has been wildly successful on economic issues. At the same time, the left has been wildly successful on social issues with the exceptions of gun control and abortion, where the right had large organized groups of single issue voters.

          • The Ghost of Andrew Jackson says:

            Neoliberals have been wildly successful on economic and social issues, yes, this is true.

          • tayfie says:

            Organized labor is disappearing because the industrial jobs that were traditionally it’s stronghold are disappearing. Workers in other industries simply don’t see the need to form unions. Unions of positions like Carpenters and Electricians aren’t exactly going anywhere.

            Trade? Maybe, but it’s hard to judge exactly how much this is a split along left-right. NAFTA was signed by Bill Clinton, after all. Mainstream Democrats weren’t exactly fighting against.

            Income taxes? It’s irrelevant that top marginal rates were higher back in the day because practically no one paid those rates.

            Meanwhile, federal tax receipts have quintupled since 1980. The population hasn’t grown near that much, so it must be the government are taking in more taxes per person. That doesn’t sound like success.

            As far as abortion, what has the left wanted that it hasn’t gotten? My perception that abortion is widely socially accepted as the mother’s choice. There is near zero political possibility in reversing Row v. Wade.

        • cassander says:

          @albatross11

          The whole country has slid massively right on economics in the last several decades. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a government/quasigovernment agency setting airline fares, and antitrust enforcement is a whole lot less aggressive than it used to be, under both parties.

          There was substantial de-regulation in the transportation industry, that is unquestionably true. But there has been substantial increases in regulation of virtually every other field. We DO have government/quasigovernment agencies setting prices in a wide range of fields, just not, thankfully transport. The neo-liberal wave wasn’t meaningless, but it affected actual policy in the US a lot less than other places, probably because hte US was already more neo-liberal than elsewhere when it began, but that wave has clearly been exhausted for a long time now, and the number and scope of its victories have always been exaggerated.

          @qwints

          income tax (especially capital gains) and inheritance tax.

          Taxes have never been more progressive, and that remains true even after you account for changes in the distribution of income.

          Organized labor has declined, at least in the US, but that hasn’t actually translated into serious changes in policy.

          • qwints says:

            The CBO link you posted doesn’t support that claim.

            Those changes in average federal tax rates in 2013 made the federal tax system the most progressive it has been since at least the mid-1990s.

            But the US federal tax rates in the mid-1990’s were not the most progressive taxes had ever been. How Progressive is the U.S. Federal Tax
            System?
            Piketty Saez (2006)

          • cassander says:

            @qwints

            By “ever” I meant since the beginning of that CBO study, which starts in 1979. I have seen that pickety study, and IIRC, it makes some slightly different assumptions than the CBO does, which makes comparing the data non-trivial. My point was that the great neo-liberal era hasn’t made taxes less progressive than they were before.

          • Could either of you state briefly your definition of what more or less progressive means and the evidence for your view? The top rates were higher earlier in the post-war period, but my impression is that the bottom half also paid a substantially larger fraction of their income.

          • cassander says:

            @DavidFriedman

            My preferred metric is the ratio of share of total income earned : share of total taxes paid. In 1979, the richest 1/5 earned about 45% of income and paid about 55% of taxes. In 2013 it’s about 52% to 70%.

          • qwints says:

            @DavidFriedman, Picketty’s definition, which I like, is how much more equally post-tax income is distributed than pre-tax income. I have no objection to Cassander’s metric.

            @cassander, the CBO data doesn’t show that taxes are the most progressive they have ever been since 1979. They show that taxes were more progressive pre-Reagan tax cuts than in 2013.

            You’re right that we can’t directly compare Piketty/Saez with CBO – they impute corporate income differently and use a different inflation measure.

          • cassander says:

            @qwints

            ahem “In 1979, the richest 1/5 earned about 45% of income and paid about 55% of taxes. In 2013 it’s about 52% to 70%.” 79 was before the reagan cuts, and those figures are straight from the supplemental data tables. The ration of income earned to taxes paid has gone up.

    • Doug S. says:

      The Affordable Care Act was roughly in line with the Republican counter-proposals to “Hillarycare” in the 1990s…

      • cassander says:

        No, it wasn’t. It wasn’t even close. Take the heritage plan, for example, often brought up in these discussions. Heritage plan cost (on paper, at least) zero additional dollars. The ACA cost a trillion over 10 years. Heritage had no tax increases, the ACA had many. Heritage did not have an employer mandate, it actually abolished group insurance entirely. Heritage’s individual mandate was for minimal, meaning inexpensive, policies, the ACA mandate was broad and expensive. Heritage didn’t pay for itself by claiming cuts to medicare that everyone knew would never happen, the ACA did.

        The ACA was based on a plan passed by the legislature one of the most left wing states over the veto of its moderate republican governor. It was, in no sense, a “republican plan”.

      • coreyyanofsky says:

        More to the point, because Obamacare was explicitly modeled on Romneycare it is a prime example of a compromise Republicans accepted within the past two decades but rejected in the last decade in favor of a more partisan position (to wit, the Republican Congressional leadership’s “Obama? Fuck that guy” position).

        (For the record, Romney vetoed eight sections of the healthcare law that bears his name, not the entire thing. The main provision Romney vetoed was a penalty on employers who don’t provide healthcare coverage to their workers.)

        • hlynkacg says:

          And yet 16 years later the author of that compromise would be painted by all “right minded people” as the most fascisty fascist to ever bind a bundle.

          It raises the question; If Romney is irredeemable what does that make the rest of us?

          • beleester says:

            Romney was called a lot of things during the election, but I can’t remember a single news article calling him fascist. Trump? Yes. But Romney? Conventional wisdom was that he was the ISO standard Republican. Bad for women, an out of touch rich guy (every Republican gets these, because they’re the anti-abortion party and anti-entitlement party). He wasn’t interesting enough to be the next Mussolini.

          • coreyyanofsky says:

            Dang it, beleester beat me to it. Tone-deaf, out of touch, bigoted, like Bob Dole except boring? Sure, those were the claims. But fascist? Nah.

            Also, 2012 – 2005 ≠16.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @beleester

            Just google “Mitt Romney is a Nazi.” But calling your political opponent a Nazi is basically bog standard rhetoric for all sides.

          • qwints says:

            @Conrad Honcho, 6 hits for that term. Similar results for “Barack Obama is a Nazi” which gets 9. “Donald Trump is a Nazi” gets 280,000.

          • 1soru1 says:

            To complete the picture, ‘Hitler is a Nazi’ gets 27,500,000.

          • Tarpitz says:

            I definitely have friends who routinely refer to generic UK Conservatives – or even Blairite Labour centrists, or Cleggish Orange Book Liberals – as Nazis. I don’t think it’s reasonable of them to do so, and I don’t think they’re representative of mainstream left wing opinion, but they exist, and are probably over-represented on the social media feeds of SSC commentors as compared to the population as a whole.

        • cassander says:

          >prime example of a compromise Republicans accepted within the past two decades but

          Republicans didn’t accept Mass Care, it was passed over romney’s veto.

          (to wit, the Republican Congressional leadership’s “Obama? Fuck that guy” position).

          you appear to be confusing what congressional leadership said with what obama said. Obama didn’t even listen to congressional democrats, the idea that he was just begging republicans to work with him is frankly laughable.

          • coreyyanofsky says:

            If by “passed over his veto” you mean he tried to veto the whole thing, you’re mistaken — as I discussed in the second paragraph I wrote above.

            I didn’t say anything about Obama trying to work with Republicans — I said they were committed to not working with him. And yes, it was from day one of Obama’s presidency. http://swampland.time.com/2012/08/23/the-party-of-no-new-details-on-the-gop-plot-to-obstruct-obama/

          • cassander says:

            If by “passed over his veto” you mean he tried to veto the whole thing, you’re mistaken — as I discussed in the second paragraph I wrote above.

            No, I mean he vetoed big chunks of it, and was ignored. In particular, I seem to recall he wanted a much more modest mandate.

            I didn’t say anything about Obama trying to work with Republicans — I said they were committed to not working with him. And yes, it was from day one of Obama’s presidency.

            Yes, according to one very biased and totally unconfirmed second hand report. Meanwhile, we have dozens of reports that Obama couldn’t be bothered to work with congressional democrats. So which is more likely, (A) the Obama administration was insular and bad at playing with others, a theory backed up by dozens of accounts from all across the political spectrum and all areas of government, or (B) the republicans hatched a secret plan to screw Obama that precisely one person has learned about in the nearly 10 years since?

          • coreyyanofsky says:

            Romney vetoed roughly 2,400 words of a roughly 40,500 word bill. And as I’ve already written, the biggest bone of contention was penalties on employers who didn’t offer healthcare insurance. Two smaller issues were provisions providing dental benefits to poor residents on the Medicaid program and providing health coverage to senior and disabled legal immigrants not eligible for federal Medicaid. Here are some things that weren’t vetoed: the individual mandate, the establishment of subsidies, the creation of a centralized marketplace, the requirement for insurers to provide 6 months of coverage for pre-existing conditions.

            The Time article cites two former Republican Senators and quotes Eric Cantor’s chief-of-staff — hardly second-hand. Your question regarding (A) XOR (B) poses a false dichotomy.

          • cassander says:

            @coreyyanofsky

            Romney vetoed roughly 2,400 words of a roughly 40,500 word bill. And as I’ve already written,

            The number of words is a completely useless way of measuring the impact of a veto. “shall not” appears about 400 times in the ACA, vetoing all those “nots” would completely change the bill despite being only 400 words.

            Here are some things that weren’t vetoed: the individual mandate, the establishment of subsidies, the creation of a centralized marketplace, the requirement for insurers to provide 6 months of coverage for pre-existing conditions.

            Subsidies and mandates are not created equal. Small changes in language here can have ENORMOUS effects on the scope and cost of bills

            >The Time article cites two former Republican Senators and quotes Eric Cantor’s chief-of-staff — hardly second-hand.

            All of the quotes come from Grunwald’s book. The first quote is Sen Voinovich, years after the fact, repeating what someone else told him, and not quoting the original speaker directly. The second is Grunwald complaining that republican said they wouldn’t vote for a bill they didn’t like. Third, he then quotes the minority whip whipping his caucus. Then he quotes a bunch of democrats complaining about things second or third hand. I stand by my statement.

            >Your question regarding (A) XOR (B) poses a false dichotomy

            I disagree. That the Obama Administration was bad at getting democrats to sign on to hard votes is not disputed. Blaming that for its repeated failures to secure deals is far more plausible than blaming some nefarious republican conspiracy. The latter, at the very least, requires more substantial evidence than the word of one administration fanboy.

          • coreyyanofsky says:

            If you prefer we can call it 8 out of 138 substantive sections (the final 9 sections just give dates for substantive sections to go into effect). Your objection to the word count metric is kinda silly though. These are vetoes of entire sections; the average semantic content per word is not likely to vary too much over chunks of section size. We’re definitely not talking about vetoes of the word “not”.

            As to obstructionism I’m just going to quote the article and then tap out. As far as I know these quotes have not been withdrawn or disclaimed.

            Vice President Biden told me that during the transition, he was warned not to expect any bipartisan cooperation on major votes. “I spoke to seven different Republican Senators who said, ‘Joe, I’m not going to be able to help you on anything,’ ” he recalled. His informants said McConnell had demanded unified resistance. “The way it was characterized to me was, ‘For the next two years, we can’t let you succeed in anything. That’s our ticket to coming back,’ ” Biden said. The Vice President said he hasn’t even told Obama who his sources were, but Bob Bennett of Utah and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania both confirmed they had conversations with Biden along those lines.

            Cantor’s whip staff had been planning a “walk-back” strategy in which they would start leaking that 50 Republicans might vote yes, then that they were down to 30 problem children, then that they might lose 20 or so. The idea was to convey momentum. “You want the members to feel like, Oh, the herd is moving. I’ve got to move with the herd,” explains Rob Collins, Cantor’s chief of staff at the time…

            “We’re not going to lose any Republicans,” Cantor declared. His staff was stunned.

            “We’re like, Uhhhhh, we have to recalibrate,” Collins recalls.

            Afterward, Cantor’s aides asked if he was sure he wanted to go that far out on a limb… Cantor said yes, he meant zero. He was afraid that if the Democrats managed to pick off two or three Republicans, they’d be able to slap a “bipartisan” label on the bill.

          • cassander says:

            @coreyyanofsky

            Then I will repeat that every quote in your quote is either at least second hand recollection, or not actually claiming what Grunwald is claiming it is.

    • jonathanpaulson says:

      And no, DW nominate does not prove that they are and I can prove that with math.

      Please elaborate?

      • cassander says:

        imagine the only political issue in the country is the number of buttons on military uniforms. extremist republicans want 8, moderates of both parties want 6, and extreme democrats want 4. If you only vote for 8 button bills, you get a dw score of 1 (maximum right wing partisanship), if you only vote for 4 button bills, -1.
        Nominate is essentially measuring every candidate on a scale that runs from 4-8. Assuming each party is split 50/50 between moderates and extremists, the parties have an average score of .5/-.5

        Alright, now imagine that there’s an election, all the 8 button republicans lose office and a bunch of new super extreme 2 button democrats are elected. This means that the scale of bills now runs from 6 to 2, not 4 to 8. It also means that since all the republicans are voting for 6 button position which is now the most extreme possible position you can have, so their caucus’s average score moves from .5 to 1. The democrats, by contrast (assuming their caucus is divided into 1/3s) have their score go from -.5 to 0, because they are now spread across the entire spectrum. In in short, by partially adopting a more extreme position, democrats look more moderate, and by moderating their position, republicans look more extreme. the political world I described is objectively moving to the left, but DW nominate scores would make it look like it’s moving to the right.

        Now, DW nominate adds a wrinkle where they try to use “benchmark” legislators to anchor their scores over time, but this is insufficient to actually achieve what they set out, because what a legislator votes on is heavily based on what others vote on. Take the above example, and imagine that one lonely 8 button legislator survived as an anchor. He wouldn’t actually get a chance to vote on any 8 button bills, because the leadership wouldn’t bother bringing up bills with so little support, so he’d be forced to vote with the 6 buttoners. But DW can’t distinguish between an 8 buttoner voting on a 6 button bill and 6 buttoners voting on an 8 button bill, all it does is look at who votes with whom, so that lonely senator pulls his whole caucus’s score to the right every time he votes for a more moderate position.

        DW nominate has some interesting and important data, but it CANNOT measure ideological drift over time.

    • pdbarnlsey says:

      Moreover, you seem to be implicitly arguing that republicans used to be pro-compromise, and then have abandoned that position in favor of a new, more partisan, position. What compromises have the republicans rejected in the last 10 that they would have accepted in the past?

      Well, you could start with a healthcare bill which was more or less drafted by a conservative think tank and then enacted by a republican presidential Candidate.

      Now, maybe the Republican party that did those things ends up having a lot of fights about the details of the ACA, and ulitmately refuses to back it in a form acceptable to democrats, but they probably don’t pronounce it to be double Hitler on arrival and then make a series of bizarre procedural objections they have no intention of complying with themselves in the future in a desperate bid to stop it from coming to a vote.

      Or how about the history of top/high income marginal tax rates under Republican presidents?

      Hell, think about the enormous gap between W’s rhetoric on Islam and immigration and Trump’s. Or their respective policy proposals (to the extent that the current administration has policy proposals) That’s a pretty massive shift over the course of a decade.

      • cassander says:

        Well, you could start with a healthcare bill which was more or less drafted by a conservative think tank and then enacted by a republican presidential Candidate.

        You could, but obama didn’t. see my comments on the ACA above. it was NOT a republican plan.

        Or how about the history of top/high income marginal tax rates under Republican presidents?

        Top marginal rates are almost a completely meaningless measure of tax burden. The tax code has never been more progressive.

        Or their respective policy proposals (to the extent that the current administration has policy proposals) That’s a pretty massive shift over the course of a decade.

        I love the simultaneous claim that they have no proposals, and that their proposals are all double-extra hitler. Which is it?

        • birdboy2000 says:

          Income inequality is at post-New Deal highs and growing, the tax code being more progressive only matters in that context if you treat progressive taxation as a goal in and of itself and not a means to an end.

          • cassander says:

            the tax code is policy. the overall level of income in society is not a policy. It might be the result of policy, but you can’t just point to that result and claim “see the right is winning policy battles.” You need to articulate which policies are causing this to happen. Taxes are often cited as a policy cause. This assertion is in error. Taxes have not declined in quantity (the average taxation as a percent of GDP from 1950-80 was almost identical to that from 81-2011), or progressiveness.

        • pdbarnlsey says:

          Cassander,

          First, Trump’s stated immigration policies are both terrible and largely not amenable to being turned into law, due to the constitution and/or “we will not pay for your fucking wall” reasons. That’s a worthwhile distinction to draw with past mainstream Republicans, who mostly limited themselves to theoretically achievable immigration policies.

          I’ll take your point on the degree of similarity between the ACA and the heritage foundation plan. Lots of differences. But it was a lot closer to heritage/Romneycare (as amended) than, say, any of the alternative plans proffered at the time, and a lot closer than the then status quo. As I say, it’s unlikely that any interation of the republican party votes for ACA as written, but earlier, less extreme versions, probably give a few votes to an amended version.

          Second, top quintile is a completely arbitrary and indeed misleading measure of the very wealthy, when actual gains have been concentrated among the top 5-0.5%. Either use a standard measure like lorenz/gini, or just look at the average rate paid by the very, very rich. As a handy hint, that number approaches the top marginal rate as income grows.

          Further, as others have pointed out, even the level of redistribution we observe is the result of rising inequality, rather than a shift in political norms. If the optimal top marginal rate is a function of the desired degree of income inequality, then rising post-tax inequality (which is what we observe) should put upward pressure on top marginal rates. For some reason, we observe the reverse from Republicans.

          • cassander says:

            That’s a worthwhile distinction to draw with past mainstream Republicans, who mostly limited themselves to theoretically achievable immigration policies.

            There’s nothing not achievaable about building a wall and taxing remitences to pay for it. I don’t think these are good ideas, but they’re far from barbaric.

            I’ll take your point on the degree of similarity between the ACA and the heritage foundation plan. Lots of differences. But it was a lot closer to heritage/Romneycare (as amended) than, say, any of the alternative plans proffered at the time, and a lot closer than the then status quo. As I say, it’s unlikely that any interation of the republican party votes for ACA as written, but earlier, less extreme versions, probably give a few votes to an amended version.

            I’m not sure what you mean by “it” here. If you mean the heritage plan, then flat out no. the ACA and romneycare have much more incommon with hillarycare than either does with the ACA.

            Second, top quintile is a completely arbitrary

            Any barrier is arbitrary.

            and indeed misleading measure of the very wealthy, when actual gains have been concentrated among the top 5-0.5%.

            The top 5%’s share of income has grown from 20 to 28%. their share of taxes paid has grown from 28 to a whopping 52%. Using your figures, my point is even stronger.

            As a handy hint, that number approaches the top marginal rate as income grows.

            No, the reality is much more complicated than that, which is why I use the gross figures.

            Further, as others have pointed out, even the level of redistribution we observe is the result of rising inequality, rather than a shift in political norms.

            The CBO disagrees. the share of taxes paid by the rich, according to your definition, is growing much faster than their share of income.

            If the optimal top marginal rate is a function of the desired degree of income inequality,

            It isn’t. Not in the slightest. The two have almost nothing to do with one another. Taxes are not so simple.

          • pdbarnlsey says:

            Cassander,

            While you may conveniently find it to be all very complex, the post-tax gini-coefficient (which, to be clear, doesn’t require me to select any arbitrary cutoffs) has risen over the course of this century.

            Work backwards from that, maybe, rather than obfuscating.

            The key thing you want to know is what share of their income are very rich people paying, not what share of the total tax burden. All your methodology is picking up is massive growth in top-end incomes, which is the concern, rather than the solution, for a progressive system.

            This is just definitional stuff:

            A progressive tax is a tax that takes a larger percentage from high-income earners than it does from low-income individuals

            There’s nothing not achievaable about building a wall and taxing remitences to pay for it.

            Eventually … but at a later date … in some form

            apparently there is. That may be something for you to think about more broadly.

            I’m not sure what you mean by “it” here. If you mean the heritage plan, then flat out no. the ACA and romneycare have much more incommon with hillarycare than either does with the ACA

            “It” is the ACA. And it (the ACA) is closer to romneycare/heritage than either was to the then status quo or to any of the Obama-era-alternative plans, if only because of the creation of a mandate. Saying “it also looked like Hillarycare” doesn’t address this, and looks a lot like deflection.

          • cassander says:

            @pdbarnlsey

            While you may conveniently find it to be all very complex, the post-tax gini-coefficient (which, to be clear, doesn’t require me to select any arbitrary cutoffs) has risen over the course of this century.

            That’s true. It’s also completely irrelevant to the point we’re discussing, which is about policy choices.

            Work backwards from that, maybe, rather than obfuscating.

            I start with causes, then precede to effects, I don’t work out what the answer is, then go looking for justifications.

            The key thing you want to know is what share of their income are very rich people paying, not what share of the total tax burden.

            I try not to know things that are demonstrably false. I also try not to inject morality into factual discussions. You appear to enjoy both activities. The CBO says that as the rich, by your definition, have had their incomes rise, but that their their tax bills have risen even faster. Do you dispute this? Can we please stick to facts?

            All your methodology is picking up is massive growth in top-end incomes, which is the concern, rather than the solution, for a progressive system

            .

            No, it doesn’t. this would be true if I only looked at tax share, but I am not doing that. I am looking at tax share relative to income share, and it shows that the rich are paying an increasing share relative to their income. You don’t even dispute these points, you just insist that i’m wrong for….reasons.

            Eventually … but at a later date … in some form

            Again we try to have it both ways! is trump a charlatan or is he hitler? He can’t be both.

            “It” is the ACA. And it (the ACA) is closer to romneycare/heritage than either was to the then status quo or to any of the Obama-era-alternative plans, if only because of the creation of a mandate. Saying “it also looked like Hillarycare” doesn’t address this, and looks a lot like deflection

            .

            This is wrong on all points. I’ve already discussed how the ACA is nothing like the heritage plan. You’ve responded with a resounding “nu-uh”, then continued to repeat the assertion. Hillarycare also had a mandate, and the structure of the ACA, with the federal/state run exchanges, was much more like what she proposed than what the unstructured heritage plan suggested

            Please stop simply repeating your assertions, and please stop accusing me of arguing in bad faith when you’re constantly slinging moral mud and refusing to address the actual points at issue. I am not deflecting anything. Pot, this is kettle, you’re black.

          • pdbarnlsey says:

            Cassander, let’s take this down to Econ101 level.

            In state 1, person A earns $100 and person B earns $500. The tax system charges 10% of income under $100 and 20% of income over $200. Person B pays $90 and person A pays $10, so person B carries 90% of the tax burden and 18% of their income.

            In state 2, person B’s income grows by 300% to $2000. The marginal rates are altered to 10% and 18%. Person 2 now pays 97% of the tax burden, and his tax burden has grown fast than income (340%) but their average tax rate has fallen from 18% to 17.6%.

            The tax system is still progressive, but now less so, because the gap in proportion of income (not tax burden) between rich and poor is now smaller. Which is the definition of progressive taxation.

            I don’t think you understand how percentage growth with different bases can lead to these sorts of outcomes, and I also don’t think you want to.

            Again we try to have it both ways! is trump a charlatan or is he hitler? He can’t be both.

            If I had a policy of murdering people with a feather duster, that policy would be both morally wrong and impractical. You could draw your own conclusions about me as a leader and my internal balance of evil and stupidity based on that, but people mostly understand that those qualities can and do coexist. I assume, in your world, Hitler never invaded Russia.

            This is wrong on all points. I’ve already discussed how the ACA is nothing like the heritage plan. You’ve responded with a resounding “nu-uh”, then continued to repeat the assertion. Hillarycare also had a mandate, and the structure of the ACA, with the federal/state run exchanges, was much more like what she proposed than what the unstructured heritage plan suggested

            I have agreed that the ACA is unlike both Heritage and Romneycare in many of it’s particulars. But I am suggesting that it is less unlike those policies than those policies are unlike two other things, neither of which you mention in your post or elsewhere, choosing instead to talk about a different alternative. I don’t think you can undertake a three cornered comparison that way, and I also don’t think you’re actually trying. I suspect we won’t get any further on this one, so I’ll concede “ACA was quite different”, if that helps.

    • spandrel says:

      Heck, other than gun control, I can’t think of a single position on which the modern republican party is to the right of where it was two decades ago.

      Environment, abortion, immigration.

      • cassander says:

        If republicans have moved on immigration, it’s not by nearly as much as democrats have.

        Moreover, policy-wise, I don’t think they’ve moved at all. All the evidence that article cites is basically anecdotal, nothing to do with policy that republican politicians are actually pushing.

        On abortion, I can’t read that article, but republican policy has achieved nothing of substance here, Roe stands eternal.

        on the environment, the entire article seems premised on a single attack Bush the elder made against dukakis. It offers no evidence of actual policy shift. And even if it did, it completely ignores that in the intervening 25 years, tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands of pages of environmental law and regulation have been added to the books. Advocating the level of regulation that prevailed in 88 today would be advocating for massive de-regulation. Citing a 25 year old law is not any sort of evidence that republicans have moved right on the issue.

        • pdbarnlsey says:

          Do you think we might have learned anything in the past twenty five years that might alter the optimal level of environmental regulations? You can call that “the democrats moving left” if you want, but it’s not very helpful framing, since objective reality kind of led the way.

          It’s now harder to open an abortion clinic and harder to get an abortion. If you want an abortion, that’s kind of a big deal, which is why we observe rising numbers of google searches for home remedies.

          Large elements of the elected republican party recently threatened to default on the US debt. Its leadership refused to even hold hearings on a centrist supreme court nominee. They sent a letter to a US enemy seeking to undermine executive branch agreements.

          All of this stuff is a significant rightward (or crazy-ward, if you want to make that distinction) creep even from the Gingrich-era bomb throwing. And you’re seemingly fighting a doomed rear-guard action to pretend none of it happened and even if it did it doesn’t count because boys are using the girls’ bathroom now.

          You can stake out a pretty strong position that the government has moved left (or expanded, if you want to make that distinction) in a whole bunch of different fields, and we could talk about why, but you don’t help your credibility in that discussion with this republican shill stuff.

          • abc says:

            Its leadership refused to even hold hearings on a centrist supreme court nominee.

            Where the definition of what constitutes a centrist nominee has itself drifted far to the left over the past decades.

            They sent a letter to a US enemy seeking to undermine executive branch agreements.

            What are you talking about.

          • pdbarnlsey says:

            What are you talking about.

            Well, the good news is that it’s Not treason

            Where the definition of what constitutes a centrist nominee has itself drifted far to the left over the past decades.

            That feels like a deflection, rather than a defence, but you can defend the claim if you like. Stare decisis implies that an average jurist will move in the direction of the average judgement over time, so that they are now more likely to hold (whether or not they “believe”) that corporations are full persons for free speech purposes and that African Americans are full persons for all purposes than in the past. It’s not really useful to call that political drift.

            Really, any attempt to impose a standard political spectrum on most questions of interpretive theory tends to leave you with a bit of a messy outcome, but no doubt you’ve worked through those complications already…

          • cassander says:

            @pdbarnlsey

            Do you think we might have learned anything in the past twenty five years that might alter the optimal level of environmental regulations? You can call that “the democrats moving left” if you want, but it’s not very helpful framing, since objective reality kind of led the way.

            Possibly. Funny how we never seem to learn anything that seems to suggest removing regulations though.

            It’s now harder to open an abortion clinic and harder to get an abortion. If you want an abortion, that’s kind of a big deal, which is why we observe rising numbers of google searches for home remedies.

            In the same way, and for the same reason, that it’s hard to find a blockbuster, this is true. But it doesn’t prove your point.

            Large elements of the elected republican party recently threatened to default on the US debt.

            No, they didn’t. They were accused of that though, for daring to suggest that spending, which had soared from 20 to 25% of GDP in about 6 moths, might be too high.

            Its leadership refused to even hold hearings on a centrist supreme court nominee.

            And? why waste time on hearings for people who won’t be confirmed?

            They sent a letter to a US enemy seeking to undermine executive branch agreements.

            You mean like Ted kennedy did? Damn those clever right wingers!

            All of this stuff is a significant rightward (or crazy-ward, if you want to make that distinction) creep even from the Gingrich-era bomb throwing.

            No, it’s hyperbolic over-reaction when it’s not demonstrably false.

          • pdbarnlsey says:

            Funny how we never seem to learn anything that seems to suggest removing regulations though

            I think you’ve got a legitimate argument about regulatory creep. In a better world, you wouldn’t write unexamined republican talking points about environmental policy and we could be having it.

            In the same way, and for the same reason, that it’s hard to find a blockbuster, this is true. But it doesn’t prove your point.

            Oh buddy, I just don’t think “all the abortion clinics we’ve regulated out of existence have in no way inhibited access to abortion, personally, I blame the internet” is a good line for you to take. Remember, like a paragraph ago, when you understood the burden of unnecessary regulation? You can read an article if you want, but rest assured that researchers have thought of your “it’s because we invented google” explanation.

            No, they didn’t. They were accused of that though, for daring to suggest that spending, which had soared from 20 to 25% of GDP in about 6 moths, might be too high.

            People have been “suggesting” spending is too high for decades. But when you say “unless you give me x, I will take steps inevitably leading to y”, you are, in common parlance, “threatening y”. You’re not “suggesting” shit, and it’s unclear to me why you’d even try that on as an attempted summary of the situation. Surely “Obama did it too” is a more appealing route?

            And? why waste time on hearings for people who won’t be confirmed?

            This, and honestly, most of your posts here, feels like defining deviancy down in a pretty desperate fashion.

            You mean like Ted kennedy did? Damn those clever right wingers!

            I’m afraid this is both before my time and super-irrelevant to whether Tom Cotton represents a rightward (or treason-ward) shift in republican policy. You need to compare him to past republicans, or persuasively change the subject. The second option is difficult.

            No, it’s hyperbolic over-reaction when it’s not demonstrably false

            Hyperbole is in the eye of the beholder, but “demonstrably false” has an objective meaning and requires demonstration. My sense is that you haven’t managed to get there, yet.

          • cassander says:

            pdbarnlsey says:

            I think you’ve got a legitimate argument about regulatory creep. In a better world, you wouldn’t write unexamined republican talking points about environmental policy and we could be having it.

            Coming from a guy who said “Large elements of the elected republican party recently threatened to default on the US debt.” this is rich. Only one of us is repeating talking points.

            Oh buddy, I just don’t think “all the abortion clinics we’ve regulated out of existence have in no way inhibited access to abortion, personally, I blame the internet” is a good line for you to take.

            Feel free to return when you’re willing or able to address the arguments I actually make, not the straw men in your head. Until then, stop wasting my time.

          • pdbarnlsey says:

            Well Cassander, I have to duck out just now, but I’m happy to read, and address a better version of your claims on abortion, provided only that you don’t attempt to slither away from the “it’s similar to blockbuster” element of your argument, which strikes me as worthy of parody but may just be a deep insight I’m not seeing.

            As for the debt ceiling default, on your side of the argument we’ve got “they were just making suggestions about spending” and on mine you’ve got “when you threaten to take steps leading to x unless y, you are threatening x”. We can probably square those two, and maybe it will require me to move from my initial position, but I don’t think you’ll be staying put at “they were just making suggestions!” either. My sense is that this one is another agree-to-disagree, for now.

          • Large elements of the elected republican party recently threatened to default on the US debt.

            I haven’t been following the details of your long argument with Cassander, but this struck me. Are you referring to Republicans being unwilling to raise the debt limit?

            If so, your claim is simply false. Not raising the debt limit doesn’t mean the government can’t pay out interest, it means the government can’t spend more than it takes in. Government revenue is much larger than the interest on the national debt, so it can pay interest out of revenue, pay other things out of revenue. It just can’t continue paying as much out as it has been, because it has been spending more than its income.

            I may be misreading your point, but I came in on it because a lot of people did make that claim and it struck me as patently dishonest. Some even claimed that the government would be unable to pay out Social Security, which was even more false, for more complicated reasons.

          • pdbarnlsey says:

            David,

            That’s true-ish, but misleading, I think.

            The immediate practical consequence of a failure to raise the debt ceiling would have been a failure of the United States to meet it’s accrued liabilities as and when they fell due. Finance-type people call that a default, even if it also means “means the government can’t spend more than it takes in”.

            The ratings agencies, being finance-type people, apparently agreed with this take on things.

            That’s a short-term analysis, and in the medium term, a failure to raise the debt ceiling is probably compatible with longer term repayment schedules, provided only that the Democratic Party (and moderate Republicans) completely acceded to the wishes of the Tea Party wing, but not otherwise.

            As a speaker of English, I feel that it’s fair to characterise this as a “threat”, of much the same form as “if you don’t shut up, I’m going to poke you in the eyes”.

          • The immediate practical consequence of a failure to raise the debt ceiling would have been a failure of the United States to meet it’s accrued liabilities as and when they fell due.

            Where “accrued liabilities” means “all expenditures it was planning to make”? Would you similarly say that if your income went down by ten percent, you would then fail to meet your accrued liabilities?

            Do you agree that if the debt limit was not raised, the government could have continued to pay interest on the national debt, provided it cut expenditure on something else? If so, refusing to raise the debt limit is not threatening to default on the debt. It’s threatening to force the government to cut its expenditures. The only one threatening to default on the debt was the President.

          • random832 says:

            Where “accrued liabilities” means “all expenditures it was planning to make”?

            By the absolutely facile definition that “make the expenditure” of paying the bills for goods and services you acquired throughout a month/quarter/other period at the end of that period, sure.

            They will have received the goods and services and will be unable to “make the expenditure” of paying the bills. What do you imagine happens to your credit rating if you decide to “stop spending money” on your rent, phone bill, electric, etc, in order to cover the minimum payments on your credit cards?

            Payments in arrears may not be “The Debt”, but they’re still debt and defaulting on them is still bad.

          • [quoting me]

            Where “accrued liabilities” means “all expenditures it was planning to make”?

            Responding:

            By the absolutely facile definition that “make the expenditure” of paying the bills for goods and services you acquired throughout a month/quarter/other period at the end of that period, sure.

            You are assuming that we only see the problem coming 29 days in advance?

            If we see it coming a couple of months in advance, as everyone in fact did, the government reduces its monthly purchases at least a month before it is going to hit the limit. If we see it coming a quarter in advance, ditto for the quarterly purchases.

            At the time of the debt limit controversy, federal revenue was about eleven times net interest payments. Are you really claiming that, with several months to adjust, the government could not reduce other expenditures by ten percent without breaking previously made contracts? No employees it can fire with one month notice? No purchases made on a month to month basis? Not enough of both to come to ten percent?

            I don’t believe it. Do you?

          • Brad says:

            David Friedman:
            Are you defending the probity of refusing to increase the debt ceiling while at the same time not changing any of the appropriation laws that necessitated the borrowing in the first place?

            If congress wishes to do less borrowing shouldn’t it specify how it wishes that to be accomplished?

          • acrimonymous says:

            It’s now harder to open an abortion clinic and harder to get an abortion. If you want an abortion, that’s kind of a big deal, which is why we observe rising numbers of google searches for home remedies.

            Large elements of the elected republican party recently threatened to default on the US debt. Its leadership refused to even hold hearings on a centrist supreme court nominee. They sent a letter to a US enemy seeking to undermine executive branch agreements.

            On the contrary, none of these things represents a rightward shift. You are documenting Republican legislative and judicial victories, financial exasperation, increased partisanship, and very poor statesmanship, but not rightward shifts, unless by “rightward” you just mean “I don’t like that!”

      • acrimonymous says:

        I can’t read all the articles because of paywalls, but…

        On the environment, the issues have changed fundamentally. They used to be primarily about pollution, which is very concrete and clearly a people-centered concern. The only real environmental issue that counts electorally now is climate change, which is very abstract and arguably not people-centered. I’m not sure this counts as a rightward shift so much as the rise of a new issue with the same name as the old issues.

        On abortion, I think you might be confusing pro-life legislative and judicial successes with “rightward shift” in the party (which is really several things anyway–several constituencies, all different from the actual politicians). If you recall, back in the late-90s, abortion precipitated a right-wing discussion about whether or not the government was illegitimate. In the last election, nobody talked about abortion, and the candidate was newly, nominally and not very convincingly pro-life. I don’t see much movement on this issue besides the fact that pro-lifers are willing to settle for laws that make life difficult for everybody instead of the big enchilada, reversing RvW, which everybody seems to have accepted is impossible.

        On immigration, the situation is very complicated, but I would argue that, like the environment, it is a different issue than it was in the mid-90s. Immigration in the mid-90s was about a handful of Latinos coming up from South America. Today, it is about everyone, anywhere in the world being able to come to the US anytime, and it is complicated by the terrorism. It seems like an apples and oranges thing.

        There’s also the fact that there has always been a back and forth within the Republican party between the base and the elites. The National Review/WFB coalition that spawned the modern Republican party was about appealing to disparate constituencies but also about bringing them together and educating them so they would cooperate electorally. With regard to immigration, the elites in the Republican coalition decided to move left in the 90s. Because of the back-and-forth nature of Republican decision-making, I think people who were natural English-only, immigration restrictionists temporarily moved left but have now started moving back where “they belong.” I am one. In the 90s, I approved of Sailer getting booted from NR; now, I read Sailer daily but never NR anymore. I don’t feel I really changed, just that some formerly confused ideas I had have been clarified.

  3. therefore the current crop of so-called Republiacns didn’t really want small government enough

    But that is surely true. You are merely arguing that the reason the amount they wanted wasn’t enough was that the costs, in undesirable outcomes, were too high. There is nothing physically impossible about cutting everything in the budget (other than, perhaps, interest) in half. It would just have undesirable political consequences.

    New Zealand, a country not that different from the U.S., implemented a substantial reduction in the size of government. I believe at one point Canada did as well, although I’m less clear on that case.

    There are reasons why Republicans don’t succeed in cutting the size of government, but they are public choice reasons, not cost disease reasons.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I mean, you can always get small government by nuking the entire country until nobody is left alive. I’m saying that it’s become harder to have small government for any given amount of willingness-to-sacrifice-other-things.

      • baconbacon says:

        I mean, you can always get small government by nuking the entire country until nobody is left alive.

        Not necessarily as a % of GDP

        • Gazeboist says:

          Depends on how you order the bombs. If government size hits zero before the GDP, you’re good; otherwise you most likely have an infinitely large government (as a percent of GDP) at the end.

          (Well, if government spending is counted as part of GDP, you wind up with some nonzero but finite constant, but that’s less amusing)

      • Matt M says:

        What makes you think that people who favor small government aren’t willing to sacrifice other things?

        Have they even been given the option?

        When is the last time a Republican congress/executive dramatically reduced spending (in line with what the voters demanded) and then faced backlash when confronted by the fact that the voters were shocked that lines got longer at the DMV?

        It would be one thing if they were trying to reduce the size and scope of government and failing. But they aren’t even trying. And no one has really tried since the Eisenhower administration.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Right. Scott seems to think that because Republicans say they want less spending, elect Republicans to office but spending still increases indicates that forces beyond our control are the problem. But he hasn’t shown that they have even tried or that they are capable. Look at the Tea Party. What have they accomplished, a slight temporary reduction in the rate of increased government spending? That’s hardly inspiring. Even now with majorities in all three branches, there is still infighting within the party.

        • pdbarnlsey says:

          The “keep the government out my medicare” posters at anti-obamacare rallies are a good sign that the Republicans are correctly forecasting the consequences of messing with what people see as their endowed property rights.

        • Iain says:

          When is the last time a Republican congress/executive dramatically reduced spending (in line with what the voters demanded) and then faced backlash when confronted by the fact that the voters were shocked that lines got longer at the DMV?

          Does Brownback’s tenure in Kansas count?

          • cassander says:

            Brownback didn’t reduce spending, at all. He cut taxes to the tune of about 5% of state expenditures and raised spending, then the media went apeshit about how Kansas was descending into anarchy.

          • qwints says:

            @cassander, do you have a source for the claim that Brownback did not reduce spending? This site says Kansas spending was lower in FY 2015 than in FY 2011 in real terms. Articles suggest he has cut funding from transportation, education and medicaid.

          • cassander says:

            @qwints

            You have to look at the Kansas total budget, which is annoying because it’s horrifically organized . The 2018 base budget is $15.8 billion, (pg. 246). Go to page 308, total expenditures in 2011 were 14.6 billion.

            Most sources quote just the general fund figures, which are about 1/3 of total state expenditures. Others count cuts without noting increases in other areas. Mostly I blame innumeracy over conspiracy, but the reporting on Kansas is especially terrible.

          • qwints says:

            Looking at actual money spent, the total declines in real terms from 2011 to 2015 using CPI to adjust for inflation. It also decreased in nominal terms from when Brownback took office in FY 2012 and 2013. Assuming current inflation rates hold, the 2018 budget will be a decrease, in real terms, from the 2011 budget.

          • cassander says:

            @qwints

            Yay for moving goalposts! We’ve gone from “brownback reduced spending” “alright, brownback increased spending almost every year he was in office, but not by that much”.

          • qwints says:

            First comment:

            This site says Kansas spending was lower in FY 2015 than in FY 2011 in real terms.

            Second comment:

            Looking at actual money spent, the total declines in real terms from 2011 to 2015 using CPI to adjust for inflation.

          • cassander says:

            @qwints

            my apologies, I missed that, you did not move the goalposts, but you’re still cherry picking your dates.

          • pdbarnlsey says:

            As an economist:

            Constant nominal spending is a spending cut, and it’s embarrassing to assert otherwise.

            Falling spending as a proportion of GDP probably isn’t “a spending cut”, but it’s fair to call it shrinking government.

            If your idiot policies tank GDP, so that a constant level of services represent a larger share, that’s not “increasing spending”.

        • notpeerreviewed says:

          @Matt M:

          To oversimplify, Republican voters are made up of a combination of the following two types:

          – People who would be willing to sacrifice other things for smaller government.

          – People who wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice other things for smaller government; or rather, they would be willing to sacrifice things like “foreign aid” that make up a trivial portion of the federal budget.

          Republicans can’t form a governing majority without the support of both groups, and that limits their ability to actually reduce the size of government.

        • engleberg says:

          @’No one has really tried to reduce the size and scope of government since Eisenhower.’

          Eisenhower built the Interstates and fought the Cold War. He spent money. However, he was the last president who’d run big executive system comparable to the US government, and he spent money carefully. No president since has known their job well enough to spend carefully. They can cut blindly or spray money blindly. They are not competent.

          • Wrong Species says:

            The last small government conservative the US elected as president who actually reduced the size of the government was Calvin Coolidge.

          • baconbacon says:

            So why did the size of the federal government fall from 1982->2000, with small government conservatives in the white house for 10 of those years, and conservative control of the senate for 10 of those years?

          • Wrong Species says:

            And how exactly did the government shrink from 1980-2000?

          • qwints says:

            @Wrong Species, the cold war ended, and the DoD decreased by more than the increase in civilian agencies.

          • baconbacon says:

            And how exactly did the government shrink from 1980-2000?

            Spending went from 22-23% of GDP to ~18%.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Where are you getting your numbers from? What I found:

            Federal Net Outlays as Percentage of GDP
            United States Government Spending To Gdp

            But the size of the government isn’t just how much it spends. It’s also about how it affects our lives. The increase in regulation is also an example of intruding government that Republicans have barely dented, if at all.

          • baconbacon says:

            Where are you getting your numbers from? What I found:

            Both of those graphs show a decline in spending/GDP from 1982 to 2000

          • Wrong Species says:

            @bacon

            If you start from the arbitrary year of 1982. There isn’t really a trend for federal net outlays in general. For total government spending, which I’m assuming includes state and local, there was a clear upward trend until whatever happened the last couple years. I’m assuming that was caused by a drop in state level government but a few years below average trend lines isn’t really saying much.

          • baconbacon says:

            If you start from the arbitrary year of 1982. There isn’t really a trend for federal net outlays in general.

            it is not arbitrary, 1980 was the first time since 1932 that Republicans held 2 out of the House, senate and White house for more than 2 years. You wrote

            The last small government conservative the US elected as president who actually reduced the size of the government was Calvin Coolidge.

            This is false as it happened under Reagan by most people’s definitions.

            For total government spending, which I’m assuming includes state and local, there was a clear upward trend until whatever happened the last couple years.

            except it wasn’t a clear upward trend for those 18 years.

        • Desertopa says:

          Correct me if I’m wrong here, but doesn’t this more or less describe the situation with Kansas recently? They passed large scale tax cuts which were recently subject to bipartisan repeal because the public decided it wasn’t worth the loss of services.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        @Matt M

        In this case, the sacrifice being avoided is the GOP politicians avoiding sacrificing their political careers to the perceived voter backlash.

        They spent a lot of time and effort to get where they are, and then they spent more time and effort studying all the people who said they want to cut spending but not THAT program I benefit from that one, and not THAT one either my buddy benefits from it…and they conclude that the backlash against cutting spending and shrinking government would be more dangerous to their future power and wealth than the backlash against NOT cutting spending and shrinking government.

        You either need a lot more principled and consistent small government voters (good luck), or you need something better than the Tea Party Caucus: people who are willing to go through the rather hellish process of running for high office AND who are willing to burn their future and career to the ground for the sake of principle.

        I may be coming off as a bit of a cynic here, but I often think that the reason small government reforms fail is that the intersection of Charismatic Enough To Be Elected, Principled Enough To Sacrifice Their Career And Future, and Ambitious Enough To Run For Public Office is as near a null set as makes no difference.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Peter Thiel is right. Democracy and libertarian freedom is incompatible. I don’t know why libertarians still have any hope they’ll get somewhere. They should be focusing their attention on something like seasteading or other alternatives.

          • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

            Well the Cypherpunks and anarcho capitalists habe had a lot of success scaring the crap out of the feds and undermining the modern state (modern internet cryptography, bitcoin, silk road, wiki leaks, the Snowden leak).
            Maybe take 10 % of the money being blown on think tanks and policy initiatives that won’t pass and start funneling it the hacker Ubermnech?

          • DocKaon says:

            But they are making progress. You just think they should be focusing on implementing libertarianism rather than eliminating democracy.

            We’ve gotten 2 Republican popular vote losers winning the presidency in the past 20 years. Republicans regularly control the House and the Senate despite getting a minority of votes cast. Republicans in many states control the state governments well out of proportion to their vote totals.

            They are very close to instigating a constitutional convention which puts everything up for grabs. I would say Thiel and Koch are remarkably close to getting their libertarian state considering libertarianism has single digit support.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Dockaon

            Republicans aren’t the same as libertarians so that means nothing. And if we did institute a new constitutional convention(which isn’t going to happen any time soon), libertarians would almost certainly lose. Progressives tried to get an equality amendment back in 70’s. Imagine what they would try to do now.

          • Tarhalindur says:

            They are very close to instigating a constitutional convention which puts everything up for grabs. I would say Thiel and Koch are remarkably close to getting their libertarian state considering libertarianism has single digit support.

            Koch/Thiel might be close to getting their ConCon, but actually getting a libertarian state out of that ConCon strikes me as another matter entirely. It’s not like wealthy elites invoking a long-disused system to end-run the normal political system has ever had unintended consequences before…

          • cassander says:

            @Tarhalindur

            I think the idea of a meaningful ConCon are basically zero, and even if one were called, you still need 3/4s of the states to approve new amendments. I would be astonished if anything significant ever came from the effort.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          Democracy and freedom are incompatible

          Fixed that for you. It’s no accident that the country that firewalled many of its freedoms with deliberate counter-democratic safeguards is the one that has done a better job of preserving freedom of speech, and that the degree to which those freedoms and their safeguards have been undermined is the degree to which the will of the people and the needs of the day have been given more weight.

          Not that authoritarianism works any better (sorry, neo-feudalists, death eaters, pan-islamists waiting for the new caliph, etc) since its failure state is that eventually you’ll get a bad authority.

          Libertarians are correct in identifying the scope and power of government going hand in hand with with erosion of freedom. Where they go wrong is in failing to give sufficient weight to all the other power structures (secular social ones, corporate ones, religious ones, family/clan/tribe ones, ethnic ones) that can and will do the same if allowed free reign.

          The American founding fathers had the right idea when they separated the powers of the state among separate branches and set up checks and balances. The codification in law of the separation of church and state had similar benefits prior to that, and for exactly the same reasons.

          The answer isn’t anarchy, either, because when you remove all hierarchies all you get is either democracy (see above) or tyranny (see above) and either way the recreation of hierarchies.

          So the answer is a balancing act. A series of rule-based constraints and multi-lateral checks and balances that balances church power against union power against business power against populism/democratic power against state power against….

          • The answer isn’t anarchy, either, because when you remove all hierarchies all you get is either democracy (see above) or tyranny (see above) and either way the recreation of hierarchies.

            If that’s intended as a response to the anarcho-capitalists, it’s not a relevant one, since we don’t propose to remove all hierarchies, only all involuntary hierarchies. “Anarchy,” at least as we use the term, means a society without a government. There have been enough past real world examples of stateless societies to demonstrate that your facile “democracy or tyranny” is a theory inconsistent with the data.

            A church or a corporation has much more limited ability to restrict freedom than the state has.

          • Tibor says:

            @DavidFriedman:

            Very loosely related – I bought a Kobo e-reader for a friend’s birthday since I want her to read a couple of books so I can discuss them with her. Among other e-books I bought your Machinery of Freedom. But the Kobo version seems to have horrible typesetting, similar to that of the free (2nd edition) version that you have on your webpage. I have a Kindle version on my Kindle and there the typesetting is done well. Maybe you might want to contact Kobo about the issue. I checked other books I bought to see if the problem is not somewhere in the settings of the device but everything else seems to have good typesetting.

          • Wrong Species says:

            So the answer is a balancing act. A series of rule-based constraints and multi-lateral checks and balances that balances church power against union power against business power against populism/democratic power against state power against….

            The problem is that the government will always be more powerful than these other powers so the balance will always be asymmetrical.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @David Friedman

            I should probably have been more clear and note that that’s more applicable as a criticism of left-anarchism or anarcho-socialists I’ve read.

            I am less well-versed on AnCap theory, but my intuition is that the same basic point I’m positing would apply: That absent a series of regulatory constraints, whether imposed internally by some rule-making process or foundational document, or externally by some larger actor, the resultant hierarchies will tend to infringe upon minority (and thus individual) freedoms over time. I would expect to see a range of outcomes from fairly high-rights-protection hierarchies to what Alastair Reynolds referred to as Voluntary Tyrannies in one of his Revelation Space spin-offs.

            The difference being that (hopefully) in an AnCap world you have more ability to vote with your feet or your wallet: “Cancel my membership to Judge Bob’s Judicial system. I want to sign up for the Criminal+Civil Arbitration Mega-Deal that Beth’s Din has going.”

            A church or a corporation has much more limited ability to restrict freedom than the state has.

            I don’t follow you there. In the current world, with a nice pre-existing state that’s already called dibs on a lot of the levers of power, sure. But absent a state, don’t you think we would see at least some communities organized around churches where the church’s officials had total authority to regulate member conduct in all aspects of life, and ditto for Corporations? I would.

            I mean, sure, in theory those that are more repressive will start bleeding members and be more unstable and likely to come into armed conflict with neighboring churches/businesses/micro-states/communes/etc, but I don’t see how you can be confident that they wouldn’t exist period.

            @Wrong Species
            Are you saying that you think it’s impossible to shrink governments of the sort we currently have to the point where that balance is attained? (I think you’re probably right, and so in the current system my goal is simply to do the best we can with the situation we’ve got and hope for incremental bottom-up reform and cultural change)

            Or are you saying that in ANY possible scenario, secular state style organization is going to come out on top? In which case, on what basis do you believe that?

          • Wrong Species says:

            @trofim

            I wouldn’t say that in all circumstances that the state will win. But in general it has a very significant advantage, especially in modern times. They control the military and that’s really the deciding factor. Your money or social status isn’t going to protect you from a bullet.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Trofim_Lysenko

            hope for incremental bottom-up reform and cultural change

            What makes you think these are even achievable? And if they are, how?

            @Wrong Species

            They control the military and that’s really the deciding factor. Your money or social status isn’t going to protect you from a bullet.

            Indeed. A point I’ve made often elsewhere.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @Kevin_C

            Private and Charter schools and school choice has made some inroads into educational reform. Those trends can be helped along, and what man can make, man can unmake. I think it starts with K-12 education, ballot access at city and county levels, and redistricting laws and goes from there. It’s almost certainly a multi-generational effort. It took us nearly 90 years to get here, I think it will take at least half that long to get back out.

    • James K says:

      The example of New Zealand is instructive, I think.

      Rogernomics was implemented by a left-wing government, and it did so because the New Zealand government was completely tapped out – it couldn’t borrow more money. It was either emergency austerity (plus devaluing the dollar and a selling state assets and a bunch of other things) or go begging to the IMF.

      The lesson of 1980s New Zealand seems to be that a government will implement non-trivial reductions in its size and scope when it has no alternatives.

  4. Anon. says:

    Eh…cost disease affects stuff like infrastructure and education. How does it affect welfare programs? Possibly the one cost disease-y aspect of this is housing costs: they keep going up, and people need more welfare to pay for them. But this is not a secular trend, this is just straight up bad regulation (see eg MR on Tokyo: 1, 2), which the Rs actually are responsible for.

    • Yakimi says:

      What if America’s retarded zoning regulations are themselves a symptom of other secular trends, like declining social trust and rising social dysfunction? People will put up with high housing costs and intrusive housing ordinances to protect their “good neighborhoods” and “good schools” from the sort of people who set up crack houses.

    • Brad says:

      Medicare and medicaid are two very large and fast growing welfare programs and they are directly tied into insane medical cost growth. The only other welfare program that is of the same magnitude is social security and while that isn’t affected by cost growth it has demographic issues that cause a similar looking trend.

  5. reasoned argumentation says:

    And if maybe you’re not that sophisticated about these kinds of things, you think – these guys betrayed me. They’re Republicans in name only. They were corrupted by Washington. The liberal media finally got them. They’re weak and they caved as soon as the Democrats called them mean names. What we need are some real Republican candidates, ones who are actually willing to stand up to the establishment.

    This will never work. But the superficial logic of “Republicans are powerful enough to get whatever they want, we don’t have small government, therefore the current crop of so-called Republiacns didn’t really want small government enough” is convincing. You end up with a signaling spiral where everyone’s in an arms race to show that they’re not actually the craven compromisers that people will inevitably assume them to be. That means hyperpartisanship and refusal to compromise on anything.

    They did betray their voters. Giving EBT to millions of Somalis (to pick an example that composes part of the upward spike in “entitlements”) isn’t some kind of mystery cost disease – it’s a policy that Republican voters really dislike but Republican office holders don’t mind. It’s not impossible to reverse. Right now someone is thinking and furiously typing up a rebuttal about how the other side also sells out their rank and file – and they do! But the difference is that the goals of the other side aren’t direct like “less government money for people invading my country” or “remove the invaders from my country” – they’re about outcomes – a state where outcomes don’t differ by race, where there’s a functioning socialist or communist economy, etc. – those outcomes being impossible to attain. Of course they sell out the base (well they do ship money to both ends of the high / low coalition that makes up the left) because what the base wants is impossible. That’s just not the case with the Republican base.

    • nydwracu says:

      Republicans hold the White House and a majority in both houses of Congress.

      Tomorrow, USG could (theoretically) end all unskilled immigration and ban consideration of degrees in hiring. I’m not sure if they could establish an agency for oversight of federal funds to institutions of higher education, consisting of a Fund Czar who is appointed for life, solely responsible for listing permissible successors in the event of his death, and given full power over the faucets, and appoint Doug Wilson to it, but if they could, would they? Of course not. Why not?

      Either they aren’t going to do what we want them to do, they’re all afraid of getting voted out (because reining in those coastal aposematics and their gender studies degrees will be so unpopular in Kansas…), or they’re much more liberal than anyone is willing to admit.

      Then again, how does liberalism handle the existence of the deep state? Take the Ford Foundation as an example. They allowed themselves to be influenced by the CIA in the Cold War era, and recently they’ve gone and given fellowships to such people as an academic who lists “Transnational Feminist & Sexuality Studies” as one of his areas of expertise and a pro-Nork propagandist. How much of this stuff has ties to the government? Probably more than you’d naively expect. Do you think that’s wacky conspiracy theorist talk? OK, go and look into it yourself.

      Of course, these institutions don’t need to be government meatpuppets to have connections with the government. The government is just another institution, after all. It deals with certain other institutions (such as the Ford Foundation, the Contras, Harvard, Osama’s mujahideen, and [if you believe some of the more far-out stuff out there] the Sinaloa cartel), and doesn’t deal with certain other institutions. It doles out awards to certain people, pardons certain criminals (such as the Marxist terrorist Oscar Lopez Rivera), honors certain establishments/etc. with its patronage (such as Hamilton, a nerdcore rap-musical whose writer later went on to lavish praise upon the aforementioned Marxist terrorist), approves and funds monuments (such as the MLK memorial, which was carved by a Chinese Maoist state propagandist in the style of literal Maoism), and so on.

      I’m down with not having centuries-long religious wars, but how in the hell are we supposed to deal with this? There was probably something in there somewhere about this, seeing as how the circumstances in which these social technologies were developed had actual monarchs, but what was it? Cuius regio, eius religio — when one group has a lock on every region with an economic future?

      I don’t know if there’s any better solution than admitting the existence of American State Shinto and acknowledging that the government is the steward of the national culture — and then going to war over that, as the tribes already have, until someone can produce a dialectical synthesis of the two.

      (Then again, I threw out my back at work today and am self-medicating with a fair amount of peated scotch, so take all this with a grain of salt.)

      • Wrong Species says:

        I don’t know if there’s any better solution than admitting the existence of American State Shinto and acknowledging that the government is the steward of the national culture — and then going to war over that, as the tribes already have, until someone can produce a dialectical synthesis of the two.

        The whole purpose of federalism is to let the states do their own thing but we killed that off long ago.

      • Jiro says:

        Tomorrow, USG could (theoretically) end all unskilled immigration and ban consideration of degrees in hiring.

        Look what happened when Trump tried to restrict immigration from just a couple of countries. It turned out that the Republicans do not in fact have enough influence to pull that off.

        I’m pretty sure that just saying “end all unskilled immigration” would likewise lead to courts saying “that was done for racist motives so we can’t legally implement it; look at Trump’s campaign speeches”.

        • B_Epstein says:

          There are Republicans and there is Trump. If his list would coincide even slightly with countries that terrorists did in fact come from, if he’d listen to anybody around him and would refrain from repeating “Muslim ban” over and over (as POTUS, not only on the campaign trail), if the ban would deal better with people already in possession of visas\ Green Cards, etc. – he just might have been able to push it through.

          His attacks on the judges initially opposing him did not help.

          • Matt M says:

            And by “his” list you mean a list that was compiled by various intelligence agencies during the Obama administration?

          • B_Epstein says:

            By “his” I mean the person who put it forward in the current form as part of an actual government policy. We do not know how Obama would proceed. We do not know what approval process might or might not have been enacted. It is worth pointing out that the list was not to be used precisely as it was by Trump. Not to mention the fact that Trump himself denied using sources from Obama’s period for policy-making.

            Do you actually disagree with my claim that Trump’s behavior played a significant role in the ban’s failure?

            Or with the more general point that the travel ban example made by Jiro does not indicate that the Republicans lacked the influence to make it happen?

          • Jiro says:

            The judges opposing him are using motivated reasoning (which also happens to be how judges generally work, since originalism is dead). If the judges didn’t like the ban, they’d oppose it using similar reasoning regardless of whether Trump called it a Muslim ban or not. (It isn’t even very similar to a Muslim ban right now, because the countries aren’t the only ones with Muslims and not every immigrant from them is a Muslim).

            I’m sure there are plenty of statements about Mexican crime rates or foreigners taking jobs that the judges could dredge up if it was a general unskilled immigration ban. The judges would then point out that because a general ban heavily impacts some races and Trump made statements about those races, a general ban is still racist and thus unconstitutional.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            So if we want to ban immigration from nations where people who are more likely than average to be terrorists, what are the magic words we have to say on the campaign trail so we can be allowed to do it once we take office? Is there some double-secret place these rules are written down, or are these the kinds of rules my toddlers make every time they lose a game? “No, you have to run around the fort and touch the teddy bear twice or it doesn’t count!”

          • B_Epstein says:

            @Jiro Among the judges opposing the ban are many conservative ones, most notably Trump’s own nominee. Are you absolutely certain that any form of the ban would get Gorsuch to shout “racism!”? The President’s actions and phrasing influenced the outcome a lot. In general, words matter a lot, for judges. You can speculate about people’s motivations and actions in a conditional parallel world, but that is one further step away from the object level, and a dangerous endeavor.

            ___

            @Conrad Please don’t make this particular discussion into something it isn’t. I was not debating the ban’s merits, I was not claiming that Trump was or was not right in his attempt to restrict immigration and what not.
            My point was simply that this particular case does not shed light on the Republican party limitations, having more to do with Trump’s inability to restrain his mouth. This inability is not particularly in doubt. Just within the last few days, Trump declared openly that he was under investigation, while his lawyers scrambled to deny this. Love him or loathe him, POTUS is not a man of stoic silence.

            what are the magic words we have to say

            If you’re accused of murder, what words might be detrimental to your case? “I’m guilty I’m guilty I’m guilty. No, seriously, I’m guilty. Everyone tells me not to say it, but I’m guilty”, perhaps? Whether you support the ban or not, it is absurd to deny that the words “this is a Muslim ban”, repeated over and over against the advice of lawyers and aides, harmed the ban as a matter of practical outcome.

            As an aside, I addressed the “only on the campaign” point explicitly. Writing as if you didn’t notice it, in such a confrontational and sarcastic tone, is not likely to be productive. Ironic, given the topic of the OP.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @B_Epstein

            I apologize for the tone. It was uncharitable of me.

            That said, I do not believe it would matter what Trump said or didn’t say in enacting the [least offensive possible name of the ban in question]. None of this should be difficult. Conservatives want various immigration changes. They elected people who promised immigration changes. And yet…here we are. In “fundamental breakdown of the system territory.” Next we’re going to need to vote in legislators who will dissolve and reconstitute various court circuits so the government can perform the very most basic duty of government: control who goes in and out of the geographic area controlled by the government.

            I mean, the first government was two cavemen standing at the entrance to the cave and saying “Okay, we’re agreed, if anyone tries to come into the cave who isn’t us, hit them with this rock.” And now we are being prevented from doing that, despite electing people who said they were going to do that, and then have attempted to do it.

            How do we fix this situation so we can get back to throwing rocks at people who we don’t want coming into our cave?

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            How do we fix this situation so we can get back to throwing rocks at people who we don’t want coming into our cave?

            Short answer: we can’t.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Kevin, I think that’s just a failure of imagination. Have you read Lou Keep’s stuff on social states? Part III very relevant. The Cathedral is collapsing. Fewer and fewer people trust the media every day. Parents are learning not to send their kids into $40,000 in debt for a “Western Civilization Is The Devil” degree. That whole system is collapsing, so, yes, we should be able to get people into office who will even halt immigration, because why not? If you get called Gigahitler for “let’s temporarily halt travel from these handful of failed (or no embassy) states” there’s nowhere else to go. Might as well say “screw it, just shut off all immigration.” What are they going to do, call you Terahitler?

          • Jesse E says:

            “Parents are learning not to send their kids into $40,000 in debt for a “Western Civilization Is The Devil” degree. ”

            I’ll make a Trading Places $1 bet with you that in a decade, there will be more people graduating college and the amount of liberal arts degrees being passed out will not have significantly (ie. up or down 5%) in that time period.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            The Cathedral is collapsing.

            No, it absolutely is not! As anyone not blinded by delusional false hope can clearly see, the Cathedral grows stronger decade after decade, and any and all “victories” under Trump are but temporary exceptions that will be totally reversed — and then some — the moment he’s gone.

            Fewer and fewer people trust the media every day.

            That’s not what I see. In my experience, everyone outside my tiny Right-wing circle is ever more certain that the mainstream media news — and John Oliver — are the only people that can be trusted, because everything else is nothing but a mess of “f*ke n**s” created by Neo-Nazi conspiracy theorists and paid agents in the employ of the Koch brothers and/or Putin.

            Parents are learning not to send their kids into $40,000 in debt for a “Western Civilization Is The Devil” degree.

            And rendering said kids less and less employable as credentialism (and automation) progresses ever further.

            That whole system is collapsing

            And in “lot of ruin in a nation”/”fall of Rome” style, will continue collapsing over the course of likely a century to come, consuming ever more civilizational “seed corn” to prop up the dying system, Venezuela on a global scale, until they’ve ended industrial civilization forever, and likely taking out much of humanity (including probably the entirety of white people) when they finally go.

            we should be able to get people into office who will even halt immigration, because why not?

            Again, you seem to falsely believe it is in the power of our elected officials to halt immigration. It is not. It doesn’t matter how much they want to halt immigration, they can’t. It is literally not in their power to do so, and there is nothing within their abilities they can do that will actually halt immigration.

            What are they going to do, call you Terahitler?

            No, but they can get the courts to overrule all your orders to “just shut off all immigration”, and the permanent federal bureaucracy to utterly obstruct all such commands, and the “deep state” intelligence agencies to selectively leak against you. And pushes to impeachment made. And comparisons made in the media between your family and the Romanov dynasty. (And maybe even the Secret Service might just have one of their periodic bouts of incompetence, coincidentally, at the moment the next Hodgkinson just happens to swing on by…)

          • abc says:

            How do we fix this situation so we can get back to throwing rocks at people who we don’t want coming into our cave?

            Try going full Jackson, or FDR, or even Lincoln on the courts.

          • Top marginal rates are almost a completely meaningless measure of tax burden. The tax code has never been more progressive.

            Your link shows how progressive they are now. Unless I missed something, it has no data on how progressive they were in the past to compare that to.

          • @ Conrad:

            Trump tried to modify immigration by an executive order, something conservatives objected to Obama doing.

            If Congress passed a law sharply restricting immigration in general, I cannot imagine the courts objecting. If the law restricted immigration from a list of countries selected for being places from which terrorists had come, to the U.S. or elsewhere, my guess is it would still be accepted. If it was a list of countries selected for being mostly Muslim, questions might arise, but my guess is that it would still get through.

            What about a law explicitly banning or restricting Muslim immigration? That, I think, would be more problematic. There is, if I remember correctly, precedent, a past restriction on the immigration of people who believed in polygamy, which would cover Muslims, but that was a long time ago and it might have been only on people who practiced polygamy, which most Muslims don’t do.

          • abc says:

            What about a law explicitly banning or restricting Muslim immigration?

            Why? There is the precedent of the cold war era refugee laws that specifically made it easier for Jews from the Soviet union to get refugee status.

          • Trump tried to modify immigration by an executive order, something conservatives objected to Obama doing.

            Yes this is it. If the Reps. passed a clear law stating that we can restrict certain people from immigrating, the judges won’t stop that. I don’t believe the judges have said a word about the constitution — it’s the law that Trump is trying to get around. Trump is trying to change things the quick and easy way by just issuing an order.

            This is a good thing. Presidents have too much power as it is; we don’t want them to do whatever they want — the legislators are supposed to have some say in this. I am actually against the whole idea of stopping immigration in total from some countries, but I am even more against rogue Presidents thinking they can do anything they want. Just because the executive departments report to Trump doesn’t mean they can do anything.

            Of course one reason Trump may have tried the easy way is because the hard way won’t work. I suspect that many Republican legislators agree with me that stopping everyone from one country is too extreme. Not all Republicans share Trumps xenophobia.

            Caveat: I haven’t read the judgments so I may be mistaken about why the judges rules against Trump. Please tell me if I am wrong.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            No, congress has authorized the President to ban any class of people coming into the US he wants.

            8 U.S. Code § 1182 – Inadmissible aliens:

            (f) Suspension of entry or imposition of restrictions by President

            Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.

            The way the president exercises that power is via an executive order. There’s nothing wrong with executive orders. Those are how the executive orders the people underneath him to discharge powers granted to him by the legislature. What Obama was doing was issuing executive orders to do things he didn’t have power granted by the legislature to do.

            The courts were stopping Trump’s order on ideological grounds.

            Now, if you want to criticize Trump for overstepping with an EO, look at his very first one. He did basically the same thing Obama did with DACA. The Executive should not be able to say “no, I’m just going to choose not to enforce the laws.” That’s what Obama did with DACA, and Trump’s first EO was to tell the IRS to deprioritize enforcing the penalties for failing to have health insurance under Obamacare.

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      You’re making some claim that the republican base is not consequentialist, and that this should change how we think about their elites betraying them, but I can’t quite make it out.

      • reasoned argumentation says:

        As Scott states it the Republican base is looking for specific actions – not results. “Deport invaders”, “less money for Democratic voters”, “fewer regulations in every aspect of life”, etc. None of these things are about the results of policies.

        [Generalizing] The left wants things that are much more consequence based – “free, high quality medical care for everyone” for example. You don’t pass a law that makes that happen – that’s a huge business undertaking that would require the talents of the Steve Jobs of medical care.

        The elite betrayal comes into play because the Republican party has the simple option to do what their voters want them to do and choose not to while the Democrats don’t.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Exactly. I think the perfect example is the elimination of the Department of Education. You will be hard-pressed to find conservatives who don’t want that. Education is not a power of the federal government in the Constitution, parents want local control of education not Common Core, and it’d break the back of the teacher’s unions which supports democrats anyway. There is no downside from the Republican point of view. And they don’t do it.

          • baconbacon says:

            What would it do to independent voters?

          • Randy M says:

            Give them more influence over their local school policies?

          • thad says:

            @ Randy M

            Would it, or would it give more power to local school boards which, depending on the independent, might be even more entrenched and immovable than the federal authorities?

          • Randy M says:

            Local school boards are elected, as are the people who appoint the bureaucrats in the Federal department of ed. School boards are elected by many fewer voters than the President of the United States.

            So yes, local control will give you a greater share of influence over the school district. However, this doesn’t mean the school will be more to your liking. If your tastes tend towards the idiosyncratic for your area, you will likely have something far from your preferences, possibly further than with the Feds having control, as they are likely to implement a Red or Blue flavored version of the average preferences across the nation.

            Beyond voting, though, you’re much more likely to be able to interact with the policy makers directly, so to the extent that you are personally persuasive, you have a much better shot at affecting change.

          • thad says:

            In other words, theoretically they would have more power but in practice they might well not. Especially if they live in an area that is dominated by a group that is locally a minority.

          • and it’d break the back of the teacher’s unions which supports democrats anyway

            Why would it do that? Don’t they depend mostly on their influence over state and local politics, which is where most of the money is coming from?

          • JulieK says:

            If you don’t like your local school board, it’s relatively easy to move away.

          • Randy M says:

            In other words, theoretically they would have more power but in practice they might well not. Especially if they live in an area that is dominated by a group that is locally a minority.

            Well, yes, of course. When talking about humans, generalizations have exceptions. Even that one.

        • random832 says:

          As Scott states it the Republican base is looking for specific actions – not results.

          The weird thing is that the reason is, as far as anyone can tell, that their elites have told them that those actions will give them results that they want. Like, they only want “deport invaders” because they’ve been told, for decades, that immigrants are taking all of their jobs and committing all of the crime and that deporting them will get them more jobs and less crime. It may be self-sustaining now, but it clearly started as rational goals. (I’ve seen some news stories recently about farmers finding out the hard way that there aren’t actually any Americans who will work those jobs – I wonder how that’s going to play out in the midterms after a couple seasons of shortages)

          The difference between the Democrats and Republicans is that the Republicans (Here I mean the politicians and maybe pundits, not the base) are willing to propose simple solutions to complex problems, even if they won’t actually work. What is their motivation for doing that if they don’t actually want to implement them?

          • lemmycaution415 says:

            immigrants work for lower wages. The “no Americans will do this job” stories are really “no americans will do this job at the wages we pay immigrants” stories.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            I’ve seen some news stories recently about farmers finding out the hard way that there aren’t actually any Americans who will work those jobs – I wonder how that’s going to play out in the midterms after a couple seasons of shortages

            Really? There are zero Americans who will work these jobs? I wonder what would happen if farmers offered a million dollars per year to strawberry pickers? I bet they’d get no takers – oh well.

            On another note are you saying that something in the makeup of central American mestizo and indio peasants makes them more suited for backbreaking manual labor? The funny thing is that this is exactly the same observation that got Moldbug pulled from that tech conference – that some races are more suited to slave-like manual labor.

          • Evan Þ says:

            I’ve seen some news stories recently about farmers finding out the hard way that there aren’t actually any Americans who will work those jobs

            What they’re finding out are the laws of supply and demand. If they paid $500/hour, I’m positive they’d find Americans queueing up to work those jobs. Yes, they’d need to raise prices, but that’s the result of economics. Perhaps it’s uncompetitive to grow produce in this country without subsidies – but there are better ways to do that than importing an underclass of illegal immigrants who, existing in the shadow of the law, are forced to pick produce at poor rates of pay.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            @lemmy: certainly every man has his price, but the basic claim that decreasing immigration will decrease domestic agricultural production seems pretty sound.

          • random832 says:

            Really? There are zero Americans who will work these jobs? I wonder what would happen if farmers offered a million dollars per year to strawberry pickers? I bet they’d get no takers – oh well.

            The articles I read mentioned that part of the problem was an insufficient number of Americans with relevant skills – apparently not all of the tasks involved are unskilled labor. This was brought up separately from arguments about suitability for hard labor (which was stated in terms of experience rather than inherent ability).

            And, in a perfectly spherical vacuum, if you have unlimited money, can waste a few seasons on training people, you might then end up peeling people who have jobs already off of other industries and causing shortages (or getting into a price war) in those markets.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @random832, I recommend another mysterious practice long praised for addressing shortages of skilled labor: training. Perhaps farmers could pay minimum wage during the training, and then $500/hour. Alternatively, farmers could start out this brave new labor on legitimately-unskilled jobs to weed out people who can’t/won’t do manual labor even with the promise of ludicrously high salaries once trained, and then put the survivors into the training.

          • Kevin C. says:

            In reply to this discussion as a whole, I’d like to point to a Los Angeles Times article: “How this garlic farm went from a labor shortage to over 150 people on its applicant waitlist

            Christopher Ranch, which grows garlic on 5,000 acres in Gilroy, Calif., announced recently that it would hike pay for farmworkers from $11 an hour to $13 hour this year, or 18%, and then to $15 in 2018. That’s four years earlier than what’s required by California’s schedule for minimum wage increases.

            Ken Christopher, vice president at Christopher Ranch, said the effect of the move was immediately obvious. At the end of last year, the farm was short 50 workers needed to help peel, package and roast garlic. Within two weeks of upping wages in January, applications flooded in. Now the company has a wait-list 150 people long.

            “I knew it would help a little bit, but I had no idea that it would solve our labor problem,” Christopher said.

            Imagine that.

          • lemmycaution415 says:

            “he basic claim that decreasing immigration will decrease domestic agricultural production seems pretty sound.”

            the lack of cheap labor would drive up the cost of things reliant on cheap labour.

    • pdbarnlsey says:

      Giving EBT to millions of Somalis (to pick an example that composes part of the upward spike in “entitlements”) isn’t some kind of mystery cost disease – it’s a policy that Republican voters really dislike but Republican office holders don’t mind.

      Somali Americans
      Total population
      126,948 (total Somali ancestry);[1][2] 76,205 (Somalia-born)[3]

      It’s a policy Republican voters really hate but which in reality doesn’t exist. That makes it tough for Congressmen to do much about, just like the Obamaphones and massive foreign aid and countless other examples of imagined conservative outrage. You cut your voter’s benefits and they wonder why you’re not just cutting billions from the Somali budget.

      And this is where we dovetail with the “murderism” post, below. How does a liberal society handle motivated innumeracy like this? Are you going to be 95% less outraged about welfare to Somalis now? Or just change the subject?

      • Jiro says:

        Nobody opposes Somalis while being fine with all other groups of foreigners. Somalis are just an example, not the sole target of the policy, so the fact that there are few Somalis is irrelevant.

        • beleester says:

          If someone thinks that the number of Somalis immigrating is in the millions, how much more do they think the total number of immigrants is? How much money do they think the Somalis and all the other immigrants get?

          I feel like before you declare that something is a core value that Republicans have betrayed their base on, you should at least check that it’s actually something big enough to be worth caring about.

          • Jiro says:

            Their objection is to immigration and there are millions of those. The fact that there aren’t specifically millions of Somalis is just a nitpick over poor wording, since nobody cares that the millions are Somalis specifically.

          • lemmycaution415 says:

            details actually matter. If people are going to complain about millions of non-existing Somali immigrants they should be called out on it.

          • coreyyanofsky says:

            No, what matters is shifting the goalposts as quickly as possible.

          • James Kabala says:

            Many people at all points of the political spectrum are basically innumerate. I think enormous math errors should be corrected when they occur.

          • Many people at all points of the political spectrum are basically innumerate.

            Agreed. You see it in enormous exaggerations of the effect of sea level rise on the left. And the idea on the right that foreign aid is a significant element in the budget. Often it doesn’t involve a mathematical mistake so much as very poor mathematical intuition–the inability to translate “one meter of sea level rise” into “less than the range between high tide and low.” Or “a billion dollars” into “less than one thousandth of the budget.”

            And I think we’ve seen an example here, with the effect of diversity on social trust. Assuming Bryan Caplan’s numbers are correct, the effect is statistically significant but insignificant in magnitude, a distinction many people miss. They fail to take the step from “reduces social trust” (or anything else) to “by how much.”

          • random832 says:

            “less than the range between high tide and low.”

            But it does mean that places that are less than 1m above water at low tide will never be above water. It means places that are less than 1m above water at high tide will be periodically covered with water rather than always dry. That tides exist does not change this, nor does the fact that storm surges (which are much higher than high tide) have always existed change that they will likewise reach further inland.

            You might as well say that any realistic number of degrees temperature rise is irrelevant because of how much less it is than the difference between summer and winter.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            And I think we’ve seen an example here, with the effect of diversity on social trust. Assuming Bryan Caplan’s numbers are correct, the effect is statistically significant but insignificant in magnitude, a distinction many people miss. They fail to take the step from “reduces social trust” (or anything else) to “by how much.”

            First “assume Bryan Caplan’s numbers are correct” is ridiculous as this is a person who constantly makes incredibly obvious and basic mistakes whenever he discusses his preferred project of swamping the nation where he resides with invaders.

            The argument being made here isn’t quantitative – it’s plainly obvious to see that social trust is simply gone and that in the lifetime of anyone over 40 or so that we’ve moved from a high trust society towards a low trust society. The signs are everywhere but there’s not a number you can put on it and due to Goodheart’s law you’re never going to be able to come up with a good metric.

          • But it does mean that places that are less than 1m above water at low tide will never be above water.

            Of course. But observing the difference between high tide and low tide gives you some idea of the magnitude of the effect.

            The rule of thumb for the U.S. Atlantic coast is that a meter of SLR shifts the coastline in by a hundred meters. Compare a shift of well under a tenth of a mile to all the rhetoric about mass flooding and drowned cities.

          • And I think we’ve seen an example here, with the effect of diversity on social trust. Assuming Bryan Caplan’s numbers are correct, the effect is statistically significant but insignificant in magnitude, a distinction many people miss. They fail to take the step from “reduces social trust” (or anything else) to “by how much.”

            First “assume Bryan Caplan’s numbers are correct” is ridiculous as this is a person who constantly makes incredibly obvious and basic mistakes whenever he discusses his preferred project of swamping the nation where he resides with invaders.

            This would be more convincing if you actually worked through his numbers, which are calculated from the source that others have been citing for the negative effect of diversity on trust, and showed they were wrong. Short of that, your comment translates as “My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts.”

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            I made the argument unaware of Bryan Caplan’s writing on social trust and diversity so clearly I didn’t work through his numbers and I’m not really planning on it going through his numbers looking for his misrepresentation since I long ago binned Caplan in the same box as Vox as someone willing to lie to fit the narrative (see how low trust works?).

            That being said what argument are you even making here? That society hasn’t transformed to a lower trust equilibrium that’s moving ever closer to a fully low trust state? At best Caplan has to argue “there must be some other reason for dropping trust” otherwise he’s making a defense attorney’s case and not a social analyst’s case.

          • That being said what argument are you even making here?

            As someone pointed out earlier in the comments to this post, the claim that diversity leads to lower trust gets made based on Putnam’s data. Bryan took Putnam’s results and calculated the size of the effect. It turns out, assuming he made no mistakes, that on Putnam’s figures the size of the effect of diversity on trust is tiny, much less than the that of other variables.

            Your post comes across as pure assertion unsupported by argument. You say Bryan Caplan makes lots of mistakes but don’t give any examples, so all that tells us is that you don’t like his conclusions.

            Particularly striking given the name you choose to post under.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            Ok, so I’ve now read that Caplan piece and it’s (as expected) terrible.

            But since Putnam only sub-divides the population into four groups – Hispanic, non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, and Asian – his diversity measure can’t fall below 4*.25^2=.25.

            Now imagine we move from a world with zero diversity to the maximum diversity. According to Putnam’s results, how much will this reduce trust? .18*.75=.14. Is that a lot? No way. Remember, he’s using a 4-point scale. And since the current national Herfindahl Index of Ethnic Homogeneity is about .46, moving from the diversity of today to maximum diversity reduces predicted trust by a microscopic .18*.21=.04. “Diverse” communities have low trust, but the reason isn’t that diversity hurts trust; it’s that non-whites – especially blacks and Hispanics – have low trust.

            So the problem isn’t immigration, it’s the actual immigrants. Well that’s much better then.

            What’s especially striking, though, is that Putnam finds several variables that strongly predict trust that almost no one discusses. Look at the effect of home-ownership. Not only do home-owners average .25 higher trust; there’s also a -.14 coefficient on “Census Tract Percent Renters.” Net effect of moving from 0% to 100% home ownership: .39. Holding all else constant, citizenship is good for trust: a mere .06 for the individual, but a solid .21 for the community. Net effect of moving from 0% to 100% citizenship: .27. There are also big effects of crime, population density, and commuting time. Geographic mobility, strangely, seems to reduce individual trust but raise social trust.

            Home ownership, in contrast, can be fostered with not only tax incentives (the standard way), but housing deregulation (the wise way). Population density, similarly, can be reduced by deregulating development of surburban and rural land. Commuting time can be slashed with better public transit (the standard way) or congestion pricing (the wise way). Better policing and law enforcement – not to mention thoughtful decriminalization – all reduce crime rates. And if we take the estimated benefits of citizenship at face value, it can be raised to 100% with the stroke of an amnesty pen.

            3 examples of “wet streets cause rain” reasoning – [crime decreases social trust, so legalize crime, citizens make better neighbors, so make everyone a citizen, homeowners make better neighbors so give out mortgages to people who can’t pay for them that then collapses the financial system in a giant smoking crater uh – deregulate housing so everyone owns a house.

            Then he makes a hysterical appeal that reducing diversity is impossible without massive human rights violations with a link to an article of his that lists a spectrum from genocide to excluding immigrants and concludes that excluding immigrants is bad because it lies on a spectrum that includes genocide.

            Thank you for the confirmation that Caplan isn’t worth wasting my time on.

            The central point that this doesn’t even begin to address is that it’s obvious that social trust has declined massively over the last 30 years. Caplan completely misses the point in his characteristic way. Putnam came up with a bunch of correlates for social trust – all things that are signs of social trust then set about measuring them. The measurement isn’t the level of social trust and the decline in the measurement isn’t the level of decline in social trust. The map isn’t the territory. Saying “well, by his measurements social trust only declined by 4%” is absurd in the extreme. The point of the statistical significance of Putnam’s studies are that the effect is measurable, repeatable, and unlikely to be produced by chance. Looking at the actual numbers as if those numbers were the level of social trust is a fundamental misunderstanding.

          • The point of the statistical significance of Putnam’s studies are that the effect is measurable, repeatable, and unlikely to be produced by chance. Looking at the actual numbers as if those numbers were the level of social trust is a fundamental misunderstanding.

            On the contrary. Confusing statistical significance with significance of magnitude is a fundamental misunderstanding.

            What Putnam’s results show, insofar as you believe them at all, is that with fairly high confidence the effect of diversity on social trust is more than zero, less than a fairly small number and much less than the effect of various other things. You can reject it entirely on the theory that his proxies don’t do a good job of measuring social trust, but then you have to abandon the claim that he shows that diversity reduces social trust. To claim that his results show the effect is statistically significant but ignore what his results say about how large it is represents a misunderstanding of what statistical significance means.

            What you are left with is the claim, possibly true, that social trust has declined a lot over the past thirty years. That isn’t evidence that the cause is increased ethnic diversity. If anything it’s evidence against, unless your claim is that social trust used to be low, then became high, then declined again.

            Consider the U.S. in the period just after WWI. Immigration had been running at about a million a year into a population of about a hundred million. In 1920, the foreign born population was about 14 million in a total population of 106 million, or 13%. Currently it’s about 40 million in a total population of 321 million, or 12%.

            The immigrants in 1920 were mostly from Europe, but less than a million were from England. Most of them were from countries where English was not the native language, largely southern and eastern Europe. They were just as ethnically different from those here as the hispanics who make up the largest group of current immigrants. So if ethnic diversity leads to a low trust society, the U.S. should have been low trust then. Is that your thesis?

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            What Putnam’s results show, insofar as you believe them at all, is that with fairly high confidence the effect of diversity on social trust is more than zero, less than a fairly small number and much less than the effect of various other things. You can reject it entirely on the theory that his proxies don’t do a good job of measuring social trust, but then you have to abandon the claim that he shows that diversity reduces social trust.

            Let’s say that I do a study that attempts to track changes in the level of social trust by tracking the following:

            Membership in social organizations
            Surveying people asking when they last borrowed something from and returned that thing to a neighbor (along with what that thing was and verifying that claim with the neighbor)
            The frequency of house burglary with no witnesses
            Tracking how many times in a month people eat dinner alone
            Asking people factual questions about their neighbors that would be known to an acquaintance then checking the correctness of those answers

            I then take the results of these and sum it up in a number. Is that number “the level of social trust”? No, of course not. How do you weight these things? You can’t – they’re an operationalization. The important questions are – are they correlated? are they related to people’s understanding of social trust? do the results of these questions correlate with people’s subjective views of the level of social trust? That’s it – the number isn’t the level of social trust and tracking the magnitude of the changes in the number isn’t meaningful in any way since all the items are proxies for a subjective underlying. Putnam’s proxies could be perfect and they still wouldn’t exactly measure social trust – just give you an idea of changes in social trust. How do you put a numerical weight on house burglaries where your neighbor stonewalls the cops versus his wife baking cookies for your family when you moved in? It’s not a meaningful question.

            Consider the U.S. in the period just after WWI. Immigration had been running at about a million a year into a population of about a hundred million. In 1920, the foreign born population was about 14 million in a total population of 106 million, or 13%. Currently it’s about 40 million in a total population of 321 million, or 12%.

            “Foreign born” is a terrible measure as you can see (for example) in Europe every time a second generation Muslim decides to go jihad and behead a bunch of people in a bloody public spectacle. Even Caplan concedes that the problem is that the invaders are low social trust. Their children carry the same genes and are also low trust (and high dysfunction and high crime, etc.).

            The immigrants in 1920 were mostly from Europe, but less than a million were from England. Most of them were from countries where English was not the native language, largely southern and eastern Europe. They were just as ethnically different from those here as the hispanics who make up the largest group of current immigrants.

            That’s absolutely false. Irishmen and Italians aren’t English and are from outside the Hajnal line but they’re still part of the same major genetic grouping and are far far closer to the English than any non-European group. Jews are more distant but still closer than Mexicans (and Somalis).

            So if ethnic diversity leads to a low trust society, the U.S. should have been low trust then. Is that your thesis?

            From the first link I found when searching the history of the FBI:

            http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h3866.html

            From 1921 to 1933, the bureau was often at odds with a frustrated public. During what were called the “lawless years,” many Americans resisted the establishment of Prohibition, while others were involved in extremist politics.

            Such lawlessness had its roots in organized crime, and the bureau was deeply involved in rooting it out. The capture of such criminals as “Machine Gun” Kelly, bank robber John Dillinger, and “Baby Face” Nelson became urgent priorities and the bureau gained public respect in their part in taking those thugs down.

            Yes, when your era is called “the lawless years” by contemporaries, it reflects a decline in social trust.

            Of course, if today we went to that level of crime and social trust it would be considered a golden age.

            Restating the overall case:

            1) Social trust has plainly and obviously been on a massive and accelerating decline over the last 30 years
            2) Those 30 years have seen a rapid and accelerating change in the ethnic make up of the country through invasion
            3) According to Putnam the mere presence of diversity decreases social trust
            4) According to Caplan the particular people being imported are making the country worse independent of the effects of diversity

            * Oh, another typically awful argument from Caplan –

            Putnam’s numerous alt-right fans seem to relish his anti-diversity claims because he lends an air of respectability to their misanthropy. But if you read Putnam’s whole article, it’s hard to detect any ill will. Why then would he so grossly overstate the dangers of diversity? My best story is just confirmation bias. Early on in his research, Putnam found strong univariate links between diversity and trust. When better methods show that this relationship matters slightly, Putnam – like most human beings – treats this as a vindication of his initial claims.

            Caplan knows that Putnam didn’t publish his research for years because he didn’t like the conclusion that diversity is a horrible thing for society. To claim that he never really looked into his own claims that deeply (in the years when they were unpublished) takes the chutzpah to assume his audience is either implacably opposed to Caplan’s position (people who bothered to follow the issue) or ignorant of what actually happened. As I said earlier – dishonest trash not worth wasting time on.

            From Putnam’s wikipedia article:

            Putnam published his data set from this study in 2001[12][13] and subsequently published the full paper in 2007.[14]
            Putnam has been criticized for the lag between his initial study and his publication of his article. In 2006, Putnam was quoted in the Financial Times as saying he had delayed publishing the article until he could “develop proposals to compensate for the negative effects of diversity” (quote from John Lloyd of Financial Times).

          • Putnam’s proxies could be perfect and they still wouldn’t exactly measure social trust – just give you an idea of changes in social trust. How do you put a numerical weight on house burglaries where your neighbor stonewalls the cops versus his wife baking cookies for your family when you moved in? It’s not a meaningful question.

            The question isn’t whether it exactly measures it. You keep ignoring the fact that, whatever Putnam’s data is evidence for, it’s evidence both that the effect of diversity on it is greater than zero and that it is small compared to the effect of other things on it. You want to accept it as evidence for what you want to believe and ignore it as evidence for what you don’t want to believe.

            (quoting me)

            The immigrants in 1920 were mostly from Europe, but less than a million were from England. Most of them were from countries where English was not the native language, largely southern and eastern Europe. They were just as ethnically different from those here as the hispanics who make up the largest group of current immigrants.

            and responding:

            That’s absolutely false. Irishmen and Italians aren’t English and are from outside the Hajnal line but they’re still part of the same major genetic grouping and are far far closer to the English than any non-European group. Jews are more distant but still closer than Mexicans (and Somalis).

            Your claim is that what matters is genetic diversity, not cultural diversity? Any theory to support it?

            (quoting me on 1920)

            So if ethnic diversity leads to a low trust society, the U.S. should have been low trust then. Is that your thesis?

            and responding

            Yes, when your era is called “the lawless years” by contemporaries, it reflects a decline in social trust.

            And has nothing to do with the government trying to ban alcoholic drinks?

            Of course, if today we went to that level of crime and social trust it would be considered a golden age.

            The current homicide rate, the best measured crime, is about half what it was forty years ago, and considerably lower than it was during the period you are describing.

            Restating the overall case:
            1) Social trust has plainly and obviously been on a massive and accelerating decline over the last 30 years

            Your assertion. Evidence? You seem to also be claiming that it went up sharply just before that. Does the same evidence support that?

            2) Those 30 years have seen a rapid and accelerating change in the ethnic make up of the country through invasion

            Through immigration, some legal and some illegal. If that counts as invasion, very nearly all the current inhabitants of the country are invaders or the descendants of invaders.

            3) According to Putnam the mere presence of diversity decreases social trust

            According to Putnam, by a very small amount relative to other things that affect social trust. You keep ignoring that.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            The question isn’t whether it exactly measures it

            That’s not a well formed question because there’s no underlying thing that’s measurable. What’s the numerical weighting of house burglaries versus welcome to the neighborhood cookies? That’s not even close to a meaningful question.

            Your claim is that what matters is genetic diversity, not cultural diversity? Any theory to support it?

            Are we having an honest discussion or are we playing pretend here? European cultures are different from one another but are more alike one another than non-European cultures because Europeans are different from one another but more like one another than they are non-Europeans. The same goes for other large groups (East Asians, for example). This follows the exact same pattern as genes because cultures are fit to the people that live in them and people evolve behaviors that are adaptive to their cultural circumstances. All behavior is genetic.

            And has nothing to do with the government trying to ban alcoholic drinks?

            Coincidentally the first nation-wide bad idea lead to an overall breakdown of law and order exactly when more clannish outsiders entered the country and formed Irish, Italian and Jewish crime syndicates? Crime syndicates didn’t just make money from prohibition either. Unionized labor, prostitution, gambling, political machines, etc. – all are different from libertopia but all are much much worse when there are ethnic affinity networks that have in group / out group ethics that see the wider society as the out group. Saying “well, all we have to do is solve every social ill then diversity wouldn’t make it worse” is insane because you’re still throwing gasoline on the fire before you’ve put the fire out.

            Thank you at least for not bothering to defend the typically terrible arguments made by Caplan.

          • I wrote:

            The question isn’t whether it exactly measures it

            He responded:

            That’s not a well formed question because there’s no underlying thing that’s measurable. What’s the numerical weighting of house burglaries versus welcome to the neighborhood cookies? That’s not even close to a meaningful question.

            As I keep pointing out, and you keep ignoring, that argument applies to the evidence that diversity reduces social trust just as much as to the evidence that it reduces it only a little. Make up your mind. If it isn’t measuring anything, then it isn’t evidence that the thing it isn’t measuring increases with diversity.

            I wrote:

            Your claim is that what matters is genetic diversity, not cultural diversity? Any theory to support it?

            He responded:

            Are we having an honest discussion or are we playing pretend here?

            I’m trying to have an honest discussion. I can’t speak for you.

            European cultures are different from one another but are more alike one another than non-European cultures because Europeans are different from one another but more like one another than they are non-Europeans. The same goes for other large groups (East Asians, for example). This follows the exact same pattern as genes because cultures are fit to the people that live in them and people evolve behaviors that are adaptive to their cultural circumstances. All behavior is genetic.

            The final claim is provably false. Speaking a language is a form of behavior. Demonstrably not genetic.

            The rest of it is false too, although not quite so obviously. European cultures have varied a lot and don’t differ in a consistent way from non-European cultures. European cultures have been monogamous and polygamous, so have East Asian, so have Dravidian. Similarly for any general behavioral pattern I can think of, but perhaps you would like to offer examples of behaviors that are always observed in one genetic group, never in another.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            As I keep pointing out, and you keep ignoring, that argument applies to the evidence that diversity reduces social trust just as much as to the evidence that it reduces it only a little. Make up your mind. If it isn’t measuring anything, then it isn’t evidence that the thing it isn’t measuring increases with diversity.

            As I’ve explained multiple times – the measurements are a proxy for social trust which is inherently non-quantifiable because putting weights on the measurable manifestations of social trust is a purely subjective matter. Putnam operationalized social trust through a bunch of proxies which then fell to some degree whenever diversity was introduced. The amount of the fall of the proxies doesn’t tell you the precise drop in social trust because social trust as a thing is subjective – burglaries vs cupcakes, how do you weight them?

            The final claim is provably false. Speaking a language is a form of behavior. Demonstrably not genetic.

            Yes, the particular language you speak isn’t genetic. Language ability is. Language acquisition is. Instinct for grammar is, etc. – brains don’t have lumps of processing power and some of it gets used for language – they have genetically coded specialized language hardware.

            The rest of it is false too, although not quite so obviously. European cultures have varied a lot and don’t differ in a consistent way from non-European cultures. European cultures have been monogamous and polygamous, so have East Asian, so have Dravidian.

            This is more of a trick than an observation – any single particular cultural trait can vary between neighboring cultures and be similar to some far away culture – but this obscures more than it illuminates. Cultures are more of a many dimensional vector and European cultures are similar to one another on many dimensions – very little consanguineous marriage, almost universal monogamy, Christian religion, etc. Linguistically most European languages are descended from Indo-European (with a few exceptions like Finnish).

          • and European cultures are similar to one another on many dimensions – very little consanguineous marriage, almost universal monogamy, Christian religion, etc. Linguistically most European languages are descended from Indo-European (with a few exceptions like Finnish).

            Your claim was that all behavior was genetic. You now concede that it isn’t.

            Do you think there was a genetic change when Europe went Christian? Have you noticed that there are sizable non-European Christian populations, including the one you are worried about invading us? Are you suggesting that the ability to learn an Indo-European language is genetic? Don’t you think there is a simpler explanation of why people in the same geographical area tend to speak related languages?

            I don’t know how you define monogamy but quite a lot of European cultures, such as classical Greek and early Irish, allowed a man both a wife and a concubine.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            Your claim was that all behavior was genetic. You now concede that it isn’t.

            Yer kidding, right?

          • vV_Vv says:

            The rest of it is false too, although not quite so obviously. European cultures have varied a lot and don’t differ in a consistent way from non-European cultures.

            Given that Eurasia is a single landmass, how do you distinguish between Europe and Asia, if not by culture? You can draw a conventional line on the Ural mountains, but how can you tell that this line divides two epistemically useful categories than an arbitrary line passing though, say, Germany, or one passing though China? What about Turkey, is it a part of Europe or not? How can you tell?

            Clearly Europe is defined by the culture of the people who live there.

            I don’t know how you define monogamy but quite a lot of European cultures, such as classical Greek and early Irish, allowed a man both a wife and a concubine.

            So, like all cultures ever? Even during the Middle Ages, at peak Christianity, concubines, mistresses, prostitutes, etc. always existed.

          • vV_Vv says:

            According to Putnam, by a very small amount relative to other things that affect social trust. You keep ignoring that.

            The categories that Putnam uses to define diversity, the four main American races, are probably too broad and non-specific to properly capture the phenomenon, and this is why he finds a small effect.

            Obviously living next door to an Indian doctor vs. a Mexican drug dealer is going to have a very different effect on your level of social trust, but they both count as “diversity” in Putnam’s model. An Indian doctor, a Japanese engineer and an illiterate unemployed Pakistani “refugee” are all grouped in the same “Asian” category, even though their effect on social trust is going to be widely different.

          • Your claim was that all behavior was genetic. You now concede that it isn’t.

            Yer kidding, right?

            You agree that speaking a language is behavior. You agree it isn’t genetic. Hence you agree that not all behavior is genetic.

            What parts of that are you disputing?

            So far you have offered no evidence for the claim that any behavior is genetic, if we are talking about differences in behavior among humans and genetic differences among humans. I will happily agree that the ability to use human languages is almost certainly genetic for humans, but our argument isn’t about the effect of mixing dogs, chimps, and humans but of mixing different groups of humans.

            So what evidence do you have for patterns of human behavior which are linked to human genetic differences? Languages don’t fit that. Mating behavior doesn’t. Religion doesn’t. What does?

        • pdbarnlsey says:

          So it’s not that the poster is off by two orders of magnitude about what they view as a core policy complaint, it’s that “Somalis” are just a synecdoche for a broad class of troubling people getting troubling payouts.

          I wonder how we could go about identifying how republicans define that broader class? Perhaps it is welfare recipients starting with the letter s, in general, that bother the poster and republicans like them.

          We wouldn’t want to be uncharitable about a group of people incensed and ignorant about welfare for the extremely poor.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            Yes it was a synecdoche for unpleasant, criminally inclined, low trust, low IQ immigrants who then get to the US and have racial resentment for whites stirred up by the media, the education complex, the Democratic party, etc. – which as it works out, encompasses all immigrants – there’s that anarcho-tyranny again. In the past if you didn’t fit into those categories and you tried to emigrate the enforcement arms of the USG were very effective at rooting you out and removing you but the worse your group behaves, the fewer the rules and the laxer enforcement.

          • pdbarnlsey says:

            How are we defining “group” here, exactly? I know some republican voters who behave extremely badly on message boards, probably billions of them, but that feels more suited for a case-by-case response than any kind broad-brush law enforcement scheme.

            Perhaps we could work together to combat racial resentment, which you seem agree is best avoided. Perhaps some work on low IQ would be apposite as well.

          • coreyyanofsky says:

            I know some republican voters who behave extremely badly on message boards, probably billions of them…

            lawl

          • abc says:

            I know some republican voters who behave extremely badly on message boards

            You appear to be conflating “disagree with me and refuse to stop despite being called racist” with “behave extremely badly”.

  6. Marcus Seldon says:

    I think it’s not just that Republicans promise smaller government and don’t deliver because of secular trends, they don’t deliver because if Republicans actually did what it would take to halt the growth of government, a large segment of Republican voters would revolt and destroy the party electorally.

    Republican voters want smaller government in the abstract, but 69% of them don’t want to cut the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, 51% of them want to raise taxes on the rich to pay for an expansion in social security benefits, and 56% of them believe the US spends too little on the military. But healthcare, social security, and the military make up a majority of the federal budget! You can’t meaningfully reduce the size of government without cutting these, and Republican voters don’t want that.

    • cassander says:

      That’s not an implausible theory, but it fails to explain why there aren’t even quasi-symbolic cuts to the little stuff. Why is the import export bank still around? why aren’t republicans waving around the bloody carcass of the national endowment of the arts, or forcing NPR to relocate to arlington then and bragging about how they made a few million bucks auctioning off its office space? there are tens of thousands of government agencies or offices, republicans could announce the abolition of one a week, every week, to rave applause without ever adding up to more than a rounding error in the budget. Yet they don’t even do that.

      • Marcus Seldon says:

        Probably because there are constituencies for all those things, maybe fewer in the GOP, but certainly among swing voters, that would be pissed off if you cut those things. The constituency that really cares about NPR will remember that you cut it, while the generic GOP voter will forget about it in a couple of weeks probably.

        • Yes, these are public choice reasons, as David Friedman says above.

          But do Republicans or their voters really advocate smaller government to any significant degree. It appears to me that the only reason they discuss it at all is as a way to attack Democrats. They talk about Dems as a tax and spend party, so they have to pretend they are the opposite. I gave up on the Reps in the years 2000-2006, when they had the House, Senate and White House, and the government continued to grow pretty much as if the Dems were in full charge. In 2006, I voted for all Dems, because I realized that it was a lot better for the government to have a mix of parties in charge, fighting each other, than any one party getting all they wanted. The Republicans don’t really want smaller government, at least not if they are in charge. That would take away their power.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            The Republicans don’t really want smaller government, at least not if they are in charge.

            That’s the entire point, though. The Republican voters really do want smaller government. “Smaller” meaning “less federal control,” not necessarily “fewer dollars.” So, spending billions on defense is fine, but eliminate the EPA, the Department of Education, NPR, NEA, etc, even though these are comparatively low expense items. When the elected Republicans don’t do this, the Republican base gets very mad. The base says “because traitors” and Scott says “because cost disease.”

    • Matt M says:

      Yes, and huge percentages also want to reduce spending and shrink the size of government.

      It’s reasonable of you to say “Republican voters want contradictory things and can’t have it both ways” but that fails to explain why the “keep increasing spending to keep providing services” option wins 100% of the time.

      Why is it automatically assumed that when a voter says “I want less spending, but I also don’t want to give up my social security” it’s automatically assumed that the “less spending” part is the less important part? Why do Republicans fear backlash from the people who, when push comes to shove, would favor “maintain the status quo of government services” yet never seem to fear any backlash for the presumably non-zero portion of their voter-base who, if forced to choose one or the other, WOULD, in fact, choose smaller government?

      • baconbacon says:

        It’s reasonable of you to say “Republican voters want contradictory things and can’t have it both ways” but that fails to explain why the “keep increasing spending to keep providing services” option wins 100% of the time.

        Most of the spending increase is in entitlements (just kidding, all of it is), which are not voted on at the time of the increases, but typically they are built into the legislation years and maybe decades earlier.

        • Matt M says:

          So cut the entitlement programs. Repeal the social security act.

          My point is, it’s reasonable to have a hypothesis of “Ultimately, Republican voters do not have the stomach for any major entitlement reform.”

          OK, but that hypothesis has never actually been tested. At least not in my lifetime.

          • onyomi says:

            Don’t you remember that time Republicans massively cut entitlements and all got voted out of office?

      • rahien.din says:

        Er:

        Why is it automatically assumed that when a voter says “I want less spending, but I also don’t want to give up my [house, healthcare, and food]” it’s automatically assumed that the “[house, healthcare, and food]” part is the [more] important part?

        • Matt M says:

          Are you gonna answer the question or just sit there and sneer?

          Someone says “I want A AND I want B”

          A and B are contradictory and it is logically impossible to get both. But they are stating to you that A and B are equally important to them. Why do neutral observers claim the right to assume that they MUST truly value B over A?

          • PragmaticLeftist says:

            Most people don’t want to have a hand in the deaths of members of their own tribe, no matter how indirect.

            Since the elected Republicans aren’t, I assume, entirely made up of completely amoral and selfish personal power maximizers, they will err on the side of increasing spending so that their own voters will get to keep their homes, food, and healthcare.

            For the Republicans who don’t intrinsically care about the lives of their voters, they’re still incentivized to increase spending. They rely on these people being alive and voting to stay in power. Given that their base tends to be older, and thus sicklier, cutting these programs will effectively hand power to the Democrats. In a non-safe district, that’s career suicide, so they never will.

            This remains to be true if A > B, but z, noise, is high enough that some polls will show A = B or A < B.

            In order for either group to actually implement A, their voters must prefer A over B by a large enough margin that the apparent preference can't be brushed off as noise or a sampling error.

            Thus A – z > B + z

          • rahien.din says:

            Someone says “I want A AND I want B”

            A and B are contradictory and it is logically impossible to get both. But they are stating to you that A and B are equally important to them. Why do neutral observers claim the right to assume that they MUST truly value B over A?

            In the sense of this generalized form, sure, the neutral observer doesn’t really have that right.

            But your original question was not that generalized, Matt M. Your question was much more specific and I try to answer it on its own merits.

            I’m not required to address a generalized form when you ask about a very specific case. For instance, if we examine the specific case “I want [my child not to have to endure the risks and pains of surgery] AND I want [my child’s burst appendix not to kill them]”, then I as a neutral observer have the right to say “I think they will/should wisely choose the surgery.” You may not object by removing the stipulations of the case.

            Back to the specific case :Why is it automatically assumed that when a voter says “I want less spending, but I also don’t want to give up my social security” it’s automatically assumed that the “less spending” part is the less important part?I don’t discount that many of these voters genuinely want smaller government, and I know from experience that reliance on government aid is an absolute last resort.

            But regardless of what noises they make, people need to eat to survive. So when one must choose between having an income and having abstract political satisfaction, they will choose to have an income.

            If you think otherwise, then please explain.

          • DocKaon says:

            If someone says, “I want the government to kill all the animals in the horse family because those damn unicorns keep eating my flowers. I want all the horses, donkeys, and zebras to be protected by the government.” What are you going to do? You have a general instruction which is clearly not based on the real world and a specific contradictory instruction which is at least consistent with the real world.

            The Republican politicians’ choice has clearly been to complain about the evils of unicorns while leaving the horses, donkeys, and zebras alone. Except when it’s rich donors’ interests to kill some horses and then they try to portray it as the unfortunate, but unavoidable consequence of hunting down unicorns.

          • rahien.din says:

            DocKaon,

            I think that the appeal to least-necessary government is based in good real-world principles, IE, it is not a case of imaginary unicorns in the garden. I think the conflict is between a very reasonable general principle (It is a bad thing that a government bloat itself on entitlements) and a specific case (government entitlements are keeping me clothed, fed, and sheltered) which are held in tension. Both those things can be true and yet difficult to reconcile.

          • albatross11 says:

            Matt M:

            Distinguish between individuals and groups. Individuals can be expected to understand that they want mutually contradictory things and they have to choose, but large groups don’t necessarily work the same way.

            The more fundamental problem with this example, though, is that there’s a lot of other spending. If I say I want total government spending to go down and I also want to raise the military budget 10%, that’s not inconsistent–I’m just saying I want the other stuff government does cut enough to make the total go down.

            Political discussion is filled with this kind of thinking, usually fuzzy on the details of where the money goes. (Thus, people imagine they could, say, cover more generous medicare benefits by cutting back on foreign aid, which is like planning to pay off your mortgage by cutting back on your morning Starbucks.)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            You guys are being too abstract.

            Republicans don’t favor cutting any particular part of the federal budget, except international aid.

            But of course, if you think international aid makes up 25% of the budget …

          • Civilis says:

            Republicans don’t favor cutting any particular part of the federal budget, except international aid.

            I would argue that there’s a trick to the poll. Yes, Republicans don’t favor cutting assistance to the needy, but Republicans tend to define ‘needy’ a lot more narrowly than Democrats. Putting poor teachers you can’t fire in rubber rooms is a line item in the education budget, but it’s rational to see that it isn’t spending money on actual education. Corrupt Veterans Administration hospital administrators are VA budget items, but they’re certainly not what the public thinks of as a veteran’s benefit. The poll is asking for spending on goals, not spending on programs, and it’s possible to see that spending on programs might not always be directed to the intended goal of that program.

            Further, there’s another trick to the language involved with budgets. According to that poll, majorities of Americans only favor increased spending on Veterans Benefits, Education, ‘Rebuilding Highways and Bridges’, and Medicare. The government’s use of baseline budgeting means that you automatically increase the spending year to year; if you increase the budget for something but not as much as planned, you can both cut spending and increase spending on the same item. People that are fine with the current spending levels on X are told that ‘the evil Republicans want to cut the money on X’, when the Republicans are actually increasing the money to X, but not as much as originally planned.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Civilis:
            That’s the “waste, fraud and abuse” exception line that is frequently trotted out. Roughly no one is in favor of it. Clinton and Gore (as an example) did a good job of finding a bunch of those savings.

            But there isn’t enough of that in the system to make a truly substantial dent. Again, people might think there is, but that doesn’t make it so.

          • Civilis says:

            That’s the “waste, fraud and abuse” exception line that is frequently trotted out. Roughly no one is in favor of it. Clinton and Gore (as an example) did a good job of finding a bunch of those savings.

            But there isn’t enough of that in the system to make a truly substantial dent. Again, people might think there is, but that doesn’t make it so.

            It also includes broadly popular proposals like making welfare or food stamp recipients work. Most appeals to ‘there really isn’t any waste, fraud or abuse we could get rid of, honest!” now get ignored by the right, because the left and right have different definitions of waste, fraud, and abuse.

            Maine followed the Kansas lead in 2014. In the first three months, the number of able-bodied adults without children on food stamps fell by almost 80 percent.” (http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2016/03/30/states-moving-to-restore-work-requirements-for-food-stamp-recipients.html)

            Also, can you provide me with any examples of waste, fraud, or abuse eliminated by the Clinton administration, because I’m not remembering any.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      You’re confusing dollar amounts with power. The Department of Education doesn’t cost much, wields massive power.

      Saying “I want smaller government” doesn’t necessarily mean “I want a government that costs less money.” It does, sure, but it mainly means “I want a government that isn’t interfering in every aspect of my life from thousands of miles away.”

      • Civilis says:

        You’re confusing dollar amounts with power. The Department of Education doesn’t cost much, wields massive power.

        The National Education Association isn’t strictly speaking part of the government, but it wields massive power over the educational system and massive political power. It might not be a line item in the budget, but we sure do end up paying for it.

    • Civilis says:

      I’m sure many disagree with me on that; but if we allow, for the sake of argument, that it is the case (or even that it’s at least debatable), then the question becomes not “why has conservatism failed,” but rather, “how has the left been so successful in blaming the failures of government on conservatism”?

      The media still controls the narrative, even for people that recognize the problems of relying on the narrative. It’s not so much conscious bias, but the very framing of the issues at stake that dooms any chance at reform.

      You can see the narrative at work in this very post, in the form of things like ‘Republicans aren’t willing to cut Social Security benefits’. To the right, or at least the part of the right that isn’t politically savvy, ‘Social Security’ isn’t government money you’re entitled to, it’s a trade of a percentage of your money now into a pool in return for a guaranteed income from that pool when you’re too old to work. That’s why it’s (in theory) paid for with its own tax, rather than as part of the general taxes. Yes, the political savvy realize it doesn’t really work that way, but pretending it does was part of the deal. When presented with a question which (for the non-savvy on the right) translates into ‘do you approve of the government keeping the money you paid it and not giving you what you paid it the money for?’, of course the answer is ‘NO’. The problem is as soon as you start to work on a solution, the narrative goes out: ‘the Republicans in Congress don’t want to give you the money the government owes you, and which you based your long term plans around. Do you approve of this?’ which makes it politically impossible to find a solution.

      As far as fixing Social Security, there’s a reason it’s one of the third rails of American politics. I’m trying to plan with the assumption I won’t get back much of what I put into it, as I’m reasonably savvy enough to realize the truth. Any long term fix is going to involve a long-term draw down of benefits, especially for the young. What’s more important is that the people that come up with a plan are going to need to take action to make sure the plan is spelled out accurately to the public, that it’s going to mean some people are going to lose out on it because the long term options of not fixing it are worse. And in order to have a chance to accurately spell out the plan, it’s going to require (non-governmental) pressure on the media to not play partisan games with trying to gain political advantage.

      [Kudos to Scott for what I think is a fair and balanced post. I admit to initially being skeptical at the headline, and I think what he’s arguing is simplified, but it ended up mapping to some of what I’ve been trying to tell people on the right that don’t understand Washington politics for some time.]

      • Randy M says:

        Yes, the political savvy realize it doesn’t really work that way, but pretending it does was part of the deal.

        Recalls the question of whether you should lie to someone for their own good.

        • Civilis says:

          Murphy’s quotes from Pratchett in that thread are very appropriate here, as are the comments above about a trust-based society and Scott’s comments about the Principle of Charity in the previous post. A trust-based society only works if enough people believe in it, at which point it becomes truth.

          If we look at our social and commercial interactions as game theory exchanges, if we expect everyone around us to cooperate, our best move is to cooperate blindly. It makes it possible to isolate and ostracize those few that choose defect, which reduces the reward for someone that chooses to defect to the point where someone looking to maximize individual returns has no reason to even try defect. On the other hand, once a critical number of people are willing to defect, blind cooperation ceases to be a winning strategy, and you need to be willing to defect back by playing tit for tat. If I can convince enough people that blindly cooperate is the best strategy, it becomes the best strategy. It’s a self-fufilling truth if you will.

          On the other hand, US social dysfunction has gotten to the point where enough people choose personal well being over social well being that interactions are effectively dominated by iterated tit-for-tat, at least when dealing with people outside of our own groups.

          • albatross11 says:

            One really critical thing to notice is that some subset of media are often the internal communications of a movement. My impression is that the Tea Party movement was steered to some extent by the fact that conservative media were effectively their internal communications, so they could basically tell the Tea Partiers what their movement was focused on.

          • Civilis says:

            I think the media is, effectively, inside its own decision loop due to the speed required to keep up with what is going on in the world today, and this applies to the right wing media as well. They may have been steering at one point; at this point, they’re doing their best to hang on.

            When you have a terrorist attack like the bombing in Birmingham, reports of the attack, including pictures and eyewitness reports, will be online on social media practically before the echoes of the blast go away. If media wants to have relevance, they have to cover the stories as they happen, without time to spin the implications. Worse, initial impressions never go away. Worse, if there’s a false news report, it’s virtually guaranteed to live on as a conspiracy theory.

            Recently there was a horrible crime in Northern Virginia, where a teenage girl walking home was abducted and killed. The victim was a Muslim, so the left will never be able to get the emotional impression of “anti-Muslim hate crime” out of their heads. The suspected perpetrator was an illegal immigrant, so the right will never be able to get the emotional impression “illegal immigrant criminal” out of their heads. It doesn’t matter which side of the media want to spin the story; the story is out, pre-spun, before the columnists and pundits can get their hands on it.

            The two places the media still has an impact: in stories that don’t make their way to the public eye on their own, and in stories created by the media.

  7. hlynkacg says:

    This is true even though this is a historic apex of Republican power. They control the House, the Senate, the Presidency, 66% of state governorships, 68% of relevant state legislatures, and are kind of tied-ish for control of the Supreme Court. They’ve been two of the last four Presidents, and controlled Congress more often than not during that period.

    This is really strange. Whatever they wanted, they should have been able to get. Who’s going to stop them? Democrats? Don’t make me laugh.

    @ Scott
    I feel like you’re ignoring the tribal element. The Democrats started jettisoning thier red tribe supporters to focus on minorities not long after welfare reform took effect. Many of these former Democrats in turn joined the Republican party and now they’re electing people who 20 years ago would have been classified as moderate/blue-dog Democrats on the Republican ticket (our current president among them) and the GOP as an organization is suffering a bit of an identity crisis as it tries to get everyone on the same page and pulling together.

    Edit to elaborate:
    The GOP is able to get it’s way on some subjects, such as nationalism, immigration, gun rights, and legal philosophy, because these are things that pretty much everyone in the GOP red/blue conservative/liberal agree on. However, other things like the size of government or what to do about social security and what to do about ACA are much more contentious, and the GOP leadership (being conservative and risk-averse) does not want to force a reckoning over a topic on which the party is split, for obvious reasons.

    • thad says:

      I’m curious as to why you think Trump would have been a blue-dog democrat

      • hlynkacg says:

        The fact that they actually tried to recruit him to run back in the mid 90s.

        • thad says:

          I don’t know much about what happened then, but I was under the impression that the policies he advocated back then were substantially different

          • engleberg says:

            In the 90s the Clintons opposed illegal immigration.

          • hlynkacg says:

            To the extent that he was still socially agnostic while being anti-immigration, pro-labour and pro-American business. No not really.

  8. onyomi says:

    I think it’s simpler than this: governments and politicians need to hand out largesse and favoritism to maintain support. Even if the average voter in a democracy is willing to vote ideologically, and not in narrow self interest, it doesn’t change this fact about all governments and all politicians.

    Asking politicians to cut spending and regulation is like giving Saruman the ring of power and asking him to destroy it.

    GOP voters keep voting for very thinly-disguised wizards claiming to be hobbits.

    • Yes, this explains it better than I did.

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      I think this is confused. Non-anarchist republicans can agree with you that governments need to hand out largess (such as police protection) or people won’t go along with it, and still say that the amount of largess should decrease or remain constant.

      I don’t like the Saruman analogy either. Legislators passing more regulation are giving more power to the executive, not to themselves. The analogy only makes sense if there is a governing class, so that we can identify the regulators and the legislators as one entity. Some countries have a governing class like that, but the US mostly doesn’t.

      • Zephalinda says:

        I’d like to hear more justification for the contention that “the US doesn’t have a governing class”– as far as I can see, we’ve got a fairly robust and entrenched one.

        • hoghoghoghoghog says:

          We have an upper class, and it governs, but it’s a pretty broad aristocracy that can include Thiel, the Kochs, adelson, Bloomberg, Murdoch, the Clintons, Walker, etc. We certainly don’t have a situation like France where all politicians and civil servants went to school together.

          • onyomi says:

            I dunno… watching those windbags at Davos makes me feel like we might already have a global ruling class…

      • onyomi says:

        To elaborate a bit on how I think it applies to the US case:

        I think the GOP electorate gets too much of the blame for supposedly wanting contradictory things. They do, of course, but everybody, given the chance, wants to keep receiving their individual handout while everyone else tightens their belt for the good of the nation. The fact that they’ll keep taking it if you give it doesn’t change the fact that they still voted for less of the same in the only way they knew how.

        To use another silly analogy, I feel like GOP voters keep telling their “crew” (elected officials) to tie them to the mast of spending cuts and not untie them till we’re past the siren call of reneging on enacting them. The current “crew” seems to preemptively untie the electorate “Odysseus” before they’ve even reached the sirens.

        As for why, I think it happens largely at a level before the voters get their say, i. e. in the selection of the candidates among whom voters get to pick. I think party apparatus teams up with media, donors, and certain wealthy constituencies to make sure that anyone who is serious about their “tough on Odysseus” rhetoric never makes it to the eyes of the voters anyway. And if, by mistake, such a person actually gets elected, the people who are already in Congress, etc. all team up to ensure he is marginalized and has little impact.

        The water the party apparatus swims in is provided courtesy of the above, not by the voters in any direct way. The voters help, of course, by constantly falling for charismatic people who make unrealistic promises.

        • Kevin C. says:

          As for why, I think it happens largely at a level before the voters get their say, i. e. in the selection of the candidates among whom voters get to pick. I think party apparatus teams up with media, donors, and certain wealthy constituencies to make sure that anyone who is serious about their “tough on Odysseus” rhetoric never makes it to the eyes of the voters anyway. And if, by mistake, such a person actually gets elected, the people who are already in Congress, etc. all team up to ensure he is marginalized and has little impact.

          Yes, very much this.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Bingo. Spending keeps increasing because it’s in the interest of government, broadly, regardless of party.

      Panem et circenses

    • IrishDude says:

      Thanks for sharing the video in your link. It’s very clarifying about the incentives involved for those interested in getting/maintaining power.

  9. But the superficial logic of ‘Republicans are powerful enough to get whatever they want, we don’t have small government, therefore the current crop of so-called Republicans didn’t really want small government enough’ is convincing.

    Wouldn’t a more sensible conclusion be “… therefore the current crop of Republicans didn’t actually think through what’s needed to implement small government before taking office?” In other words, the superficial conclusion you state, and argue nicely against, is that Republicans are insincere. Your argument is that governing is hard, costs are generally escalating, etc., so the Republicans are thwarted by these realities despite their sincerity. But these realities shouldn’t come as a surprise at all to anyone who’s done their homework. (Simply reading your posts would get a candidate a good fraction of the way to competence!) That Republicans are flummoxed by long-standing trends and issues is perhaps a demonstration of a lack of sincerity about implementing smaller government, or a sign of a lack of competence and preparedness. Given that much of the country believes that high office doesn’t require any past familiarity with governing or civic engagement, I think the latter is more likely.

    But, for reasons that I don’t understand,

  10. jonm says:

    Didn’t see this mentioned yet but ageing population is surely part of this story in terms of spending. Same entitlement commitments are dramatically more expensive as the share of prime aged workers declines.

    • deconstructionapplied says:

      Yes, the fact that your comment is the first one to bring this up speaks to the quality of this discussion overall, which is very poor.

  11. Thank you for that link to the lizardman post. I’ve been hearing people talking about the lizardman constant, and I understood what they meant by context, but I never realized it came out of a Scott post.

  12. baconbacon says:

    Here is a half baked thought I just came up with.

    1. Conservatism = things should be as they were when I was younger
    2. Conservatism is correlated with age
    3. Much entitlement spending is baked into legislation written many years before it is enacted

    Therefore many conservatives were liberal when they were younger, so they voted for entitlement expansion so they are holding two contradictory ideas in their heads. First that spending should go down to where it was, and secondly that the spending they voted for decades ago was the appropriate level. This is how you get seniors who say “smaller government” along with “hands off my SS/healthcare”.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Maybe, but my explanation is that you’re hearing the words “small government” and equating that only with “less expensive government.” There’s lots of things the government spends little money on (comparatively) that are massively invasive in people’s lives. Or just annoying. Department of Education, the EPA, smug NPR propaganda.

      Billions for bombs, billions for muh medicare, not a penny for the Western Spotted Hornlizard is still smaller government.

      • 1soru1 says:

        One thing is, non-entitlement spending has, by the graph, drastically decreased. So anything invasive, annoying or smug now was 3 to 4 times as annoying and smug back in the day.

        The other thing is that political opinions essentially never change after age 30 or so. So if badly-spent taxes were high back in the day, then, no matter what the government does now, it remains the case that badly-spent taxes were high back in the day. People who vote on that basis will never get what they want, short of the invention of time travel.

        • Nornagest says:

          So anything invasive, annoying or smug now was 3 to 4 times as annoying and smug back in the day.

          Invasiveness, annoyingness, and smugness do not necessarily correlate with expenditure. The DMV is more annoying when the government’s spending less on it, because the lines are longer, the Web interface shittier, and mistakes more likely to be made, but I still need to do everything with it that I did before.

  13. Henry Gorman says:

    I suspect that both the growth of entitlement spending and the GOP’s reluctance to cut spending globally come from a common source– the aging of the population. Social Security and Medicare, programs whose benefits mostly or entirely flow to the elderly (regardless of wealth level– SS even increases for people who made more money in working life), are the Federal government’s biggest expenditures. As the average lifespan has increased and the proportion of the population that’s elderly has increased, these programs have grown considerably more expensive, especially relative to the payroll taxes which were supposed to sustain Social Security.

    Making a huge dent in spending, especially in the long term, would probably require trimming these programs. The Republicans are understandably reluctant to do this because their voter base is disproportionately composed of the elderly and the soon-to-be-elderly. Most people who want small government in principal seem to balk at cutting government programs which will benefit them, especially when they feel entitled to those benefits because they paid payroll taxes over the course of their entire lives.

    The aging of the population might also have something to do with the “cost disease” phenomenon in general– it certainly makes health care plans, pensions, etc significantly more expensive than they would be otherwise.

    • Henry Gorman says:

      To be clear, I definitely don’t favor a “leave the elderly out on an ice floe”-type policy, although I would favor making Social Security into a UBI for the old rather than a mechanism for sustaining their existing levels of wealth. I’m a leftist, but I think that people on my own team also need to do more serious thinking about how to manage the problems of an aging population.

      • RodoBobJon says:

        The left has plenty of ideas on how to manage the aging population problem, the most important of which is to slow down or reverse the aging of the population by permitting more young people to immigrate here.

    • pdbarnlsey says:

      Yeah, this is a big part of it. Old people are increasingly numerous, politically active, conservative and key beneficiaries of big tranches of government spending.

      Whenever a would-be government-shrinker starts looking where the money is, they run into well-organised and implacable opposition from their core demographic support. P J O’Rourke writes about now long-ago attempts to means test elderly health benefits, which crashed and burned. More recently, Theresa May and the Tories had to withdraw an attempt to shift the costs of home care to the old and rich after public and tabloid backlash.

      That leaves tinkering around the edges, with the kinds of spending which angry-up the blood but don’t really move the needle on overall spending, like foreign aid and aid to the foreign-looking.

    • JulieK says:

      But why can’t they even enact Social Security reforms that come into effect decades from now and don’t affect current beneficiaries? Is it because people panic when they hear “cut Social Security?”

      • John Schilling says:

        No Congress can pass laws binding a future Congress; if Congress/2017 passes a law saying “in 2037 the Social Security Administration will pay every geezer only $700 per month”, absolutely nothing happens. The geezers of 2037 get nothing(*), unless Congress/2037 passes a law (specifically, an appropriation) saying “OK, this year each geezer gets $X”

        The institutional pressures that cause Congress to every year pass a law setting X at last year’s value plus inflation are very powerful and very well understood, and are not going to be changed by someone saying “Hey, remember back when in 2017 Congress said…?”

        So the whole thing would be cheap but meaningless posturing to anyone who knows whats going on, and a panic-inducing in those that don’t.

        * Possibly if Congress does Literally Nothing the SSA would send out $700 checks drawn on an empty account, which would then bounce. Irrelevant because Congress isn’t going to do nothing.

  14. antimule says:

    I have different theory. As I wrote in reddit CW thread:

    I think that Trump victory in primaries and later in general shows that there just isn’t all that much popular support for libertarian ideas. Right or left, everyone wants to be insulated from risk. Only question is whether it will be via protectionism or via European-style welfare. At least for most people.

    Republicans tried to portray Tea Party as libertarian-ish but it turns out they were just anti-welfare. Coal miner and Wall St broker might both agree that people on welfare are moochers, but it is a fantasy to think they have anything else in common. The subterfuge worked because Republican establishment had previously kept anyone protectionist from nomination but Trump broke through that barricade.

    I think that the current chaos in Republican party is a result of crazy demagogue being the only one apparently willing to enact for protectionism.

  15. Worley says:

    Though to a degree, the Republicans have done pretty well with the federal budget, once you recognize that they most of the Republican voters don’t want Social Security or Medicare cut. There does seem to be a thread in intellectual conservative circles to try to replace SS and M with something other than an entitlement, but that’s really unpopular. Excluding those programs, the federal budget does look like it’s become smaller over the decades.

  16. av says:

    Let’s consider the EPA. What made it something the right-wing base now largely hates? What about the National Park System or BLM? What conservatives mean by “small government” is definitely different than how it is often interpreted. Conservatives aren’t libertarians.

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      AS far as I know dislike for the EPA is driven largely by habitat-preservation efforts, which cause unexpected costs to industries that use a lot of land and which aren’t subject to a whole lot of cost-benefit analysis.

      As for BLM, I don’t think there’s much objection to the actual policies; it’s not like the right wants to outlaw body cameras.

      • massivefocusedinaction says:

        BLM in that context is almost certainly Bureau of Land Management (the agency that manages most of the federal land in the west–everything except the forests or national parks).

    • CatCube says:

      I think a lot of it is that a substantial fraction of the right is rural, and are therefore much more likely to own land. The EPA coming in and imposing restrictions on land use that dramatically reduces the value is functionally equivalent to taking $50,000 out of their retirement accounts. The fact that the EPA then (successfully) argues in court that this isn’t actually a taking for 5th Amendment purposes is just the cherry on top. Many of these environmental initiatives are driven by (to put it crudely) latte-sipping renters in cities who like to imagine that somewhere out there there’s more bunnies to hug, but don’t ever actually venture out into these areas.

      Similarly, BLM is a massive landowner in rural areas dominated by right-wingers, has a policy to never sell land, as well as ever-tightening restrictions on what uses the land can be put to–again, driven primarily by policies originating in cities.

      • RodoBobJon says:

        To be fair, latte-sipping city dwellers institute stupid land use restrictions within their own cities as well.

    • onyomi says:

      This seem to have some validity, but, for me, at least, raises two other questions:

      What is perceived as “the failure of economic conservatism” to me was nothing of the sort. The left did a good job of blaming the free market for the housing crisis, but the housing crisis was a result of government policies and the fed.

      I’m sure many disagree with me on that; but if we allow, for the sake of argument, that it is the case (or even that it’s at least debatable), then the question becomes not “why has conservatism failed,” but rather, “how has the left been so successful in blaming the failures of government on conservatism”? Related question: how did the left so foreclose anything approaching a real free market approach to the economy that “keep spending a lot but lower taxes and pay for it with higher deficits” became a “conservative,” “free market” position?

      Also related: how the hell did Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy ever become a “conservative” foreign policy? I’ve heard the blame laid at the feet of Cold War progressives fleeing the communism-friendly left wing and bringing their foreign policy with them, but I’m not sure how accurate that narrative is.

      Insofar as it represents a rejection of this foreign policy, I think Trumpism is a big improvement, at least over the GOP foreign policy of the past 20+ years. Regarding Trump’s economic views, I’m much less sanguine: having supposedly tried free markets with Bush (actually “found politically difficult and left untried”), I guess protectionism and infrastructure spending are the only thing left for Red Tribe to try. In other words, basically just FDR.

      So… the GOP of today has the foreign policy of Woodrow Wilson and the domestic policy of FDR… and they are the “conservative” party in what is widely perceived as among the most right-wing of developed nations…

      • Civilis says:

        Also related: how the hell did Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy ever become a “conservative” foreign policy? I’ve heard the blame laid at the feet of Cold War progressives fleeing the communism-friendly left wing and bringing their foreign policy with them, but I’m not sure how accurate that narrative is.

        I don’t see any references for Wilsonian foreign policy in the article, and I’ve never seen it characterized as conservative. Can you explain what prompted this?

        The GOP certainly doesn’t have Wilson’s foreign policy (roughly globalist-interventionist); if anything, it now leans the exact opposite, a Jacksonian foreign policy (roughly nationalist-isolationist). The right doesn’t see the failures of the Gulf War as failures of nationalism, but failures of interventionism.

        • bbartlog says:

          That must be why Trump shut down our newly established base(s?) inside of Syria. No, wait – he didn’t. Nor is there any noticeable activity from the Republican side to force him to do so, or to limit his authority on military intervention.

          I think you’re confusing the concerns of a few paleocons and their media outlets (Unz or the American Conservative, let’s say) with the GOP. The last serious GOP presidential contender who could realistically be described as isolationist in foreign affairs would probably be Taft.

          • Civilis says:

            Isolationist was a quick choice, which is why I used the words ‘roughly’ and ‘leans’; non-interventionist might be better but still imperfect. I admit it probably wasn’t a good idea to be so imprecise when questioning Onyomi’s precision with words like ‘Wilsonian’.

            The schools of foreign policy can be described as follows:
            Hamiltonian: want the United States to build a global commercial and security system based on sea power and technological leadership
            Wilsonian: want the United States to build a world order, anchored in liberal human rights practices and international law
            Jeffersonian: want to avoid war and foreign entanglements at all costs
            Jacksonian: suspicious of foreign adventures, but strongly believe in national defense and support a strong military and want decisive action against any threat to the United States, its honor, or its treaty allies

            One of Trump’s selling points in the election was that he was less likely to be confrontational with Russia than the GOP establishment and Hillary. His position has evolved (as did those of most previous presidents once in office), but I think his position is still more consistent with a Jacksonian style foreign policy than the neocon Hamiltonian style. ‘It would look bad for the US to renege on its involvement against ISIS leaving our allies in the region hanging, therefore we’re obligated to see this through’ is a perfectly Jacksonian reason to continue a war we’re already in.

            (summary of the foreign policy schools of thought taken from: https://mereorthodoxy.com/notes/the-four-schools-of-thought-on-american-foreign-policy/)

          • onyomi says:

            I was using Wilson to refer to the foreign policy of Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld, from which Trump doesn’t deviate nearly as much as I’d like, but hopefully still represents some sort of change in a more Jacksonian direction.

            I was responding to the linked blogpost which described the 90s and 2000s as utter failures for conservative foreign policy. My point was they were a failure for “conservative” policies insofar as you can describe the foreign policy of Wilson and Bush Jr as “conservative” (e.g. not at all).

          • pontifex says:

            I think Trump clearly favors a more “transactional” style of foreign policy than any president we’ve had in recent memory.

            In a nutshell: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama were interested in being moral crusaders for decency and human rights around the world. That’s (ostensibly) why we intervened in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. That’s why we lectured China and Russia bout human rights all the time and hosted the Dali Lama.

            Trump is not interested in crusading. Instead, he wants to make NATO members pay for their own defense– either through money, or through troops, or some other concession. He is willing to talk with countries like Egypt and Russia without lecturing them about human rights.

            I don’t see Trump’s actions in Syria as breaking this pattern. Instead, I see it as him responding to a potential public relations threat. If he didn’t do anything, the media was going to run 24/7 images of dead Syrian children as a stick to beat him with. And also continue to accuse him of being a Russian puppet. So Trump did the bare minimum needed to counter that narrative. He bombed an airfield in Syria.

            I don’t think trying to cram this ideological difference over foreign into a left/right paradigm is helpful or insightful. It’s just a different way of looking at the world. Should America be a world policeman fighting for what we believe is right? Or should we just be a normal country making tit-for-tat trades that benefit us?

      • pontifex says:

        It’s not entirely crazy to blame the market for the 2008 crash. At a 50,000 foot level, “people took on too much debt to invest in an asset class because they thought it was never going to go down” is roughly correct. And this isn’t really that much conceptually different than past bubbles in railroads, stocks, etc. etc.

        What’s weird about the latest crash is that people appear to be completely blaming the finance sector for what happened. I haven’t seen even a single editorial or essay in a mainstream news source arguing that Americans were greedy for buying bigger houses than they needed, with too much debt. This is really different than in 2001, when technology stocks imploded. For some reason, it was clear to people in 2001 that buying Pets.com was speculation which might end in tears. But somehow buying a house that you can barely afford with an adjustable-rate mortgage is just good old-fashioned american virtue, foiled by mustache-twirling financiers.

        • bbartlog says:

          The question is whether the rule-bending, incentivized incompetence, and outright fraud in the financial industry during this episode can be regarded as *typical* features of any asset price bubble, or whether they make it sufficiently different from something like the tech stock bubble that we can’t really treat them the same way.

        • Randy M says:

          Taking on commitments you cannot keep can be foolish and costly. But is “wanting more house than they can afford” a new trait? What is the novel factor at play? Financial deregulation? Increased size of the financial market, such that people were too far from what they were investing in? Peoples experience with property values, not understanding that an increase therein isn’t a law of nature?

          • bbartlog says:

            It’s complicated and I doubt you can get a full picture without reading a complete book on the subject, but I think one of the main drivers of this was the ability of the loan issuers to sell/offload the debt in the form of monetary instruments and thereby avoid any actual risk to themselves from defaults. This gave them an incentive to issue mortgages without regard to real default risk. The original bagholder or dupe in this scenario would have been AIG, which incurred $99 billion in losses in 2008 because they had insured so many of these mortgages against default, based on historical assumptions about default levels.

          • Brad says:

            Note that this driver still exists. The Dodd-Frank skin in the game rule was gutted before it ever came into being.

    • baconbacon says:

      Terrific Noahpinion piece. First take a theory, then fit some facts to the theory, then ignore anything that might be contrary or explore any other avenue. Love the conclusion

      A massive, total failure of all three pillars of modern conservatism within a 15-year period. It’s little wonder, therefore, that Trump voters were unwilling to vote for Republicans who offered them only more of the same

      So that explains why Trump won the general election, and Republicans lost control of the House and Senate! Or is every republican in congress a Trump clone?

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        So that explains why Trump won the general election, and Republicans lost control of the House and Senate! Or is every republican in congress a Trump clone?

        I (and many other Trump Republicans I know) voted for our neocon Republican senator because it might be easier to pressure him to go along with Trump’s agenda. I don’t trust the weasel, but at least he has to make up an excuse if he opposes Trump whereas a Democrat would not. Perhaps in the future we’ll be able to get a more Trump-style senator, but in the meantime this is the best we could do.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        vote for Trump and not for republicans in congress, and the narrative will be “Trump Has No Mandate”, followed shortly by impeachment. Our responses are limited to the levers available to us.

        • Kevin C. says:

          Our responses are limited to the levers available to us.

          And do those levers actually do anything, really? Beyond an illusory sense of control/influence, I mean.

  17. mnarayan01 says:

    Not really apropos of anything, but the metric used in that third graph, “[Spending] Per person under 150% of the poverty line” seems…flawed. Drum writes:

    I chose 150 percent of the poverty level as my metric, but the truth is that it doesn’t matter much. This chart looks pretty much the same whether you show total spending, per capita spending, or spending per family below the poverty level.

    If so, he should have used per-capita spending. Though I guess maybe this is relevant after all…his point seems pretty orthogonal to this post, and he may have chosen that metric for well-advised reasons w.r.t. his article…but it really doesn’t work with this post.

  18. hoghoghoghoghog says:

    Isn’t the first graph besides the point? AFAIK the right is not opposed to spending – if the government had a machine that makes grand pianos out of nothing, I’m sure they would say to go to town, give everyone a grand piano – but to taxation. And basically taxation has not increased since WW2: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/FYFRGDA188S

    If that’s right, it would explain Republican legislators’ behavior as far as spending is concerned.

    • beleester says:

      Republicans are also opposed to debt, at least in theory. If they want to keep taxes and thus revenue low, they should also be trying to keep our spending low to avoid accumulating debt, but that hasn’t happened.

      • hoghoghoghoghog says:

        Sure, but opposition to debt is not a left/right thing, it’s an in power/out of power thing. High debt is a failure for every ideology.

    • You’ve left out state and local tax. That’s gone up by about 10% of GDP since WWII. The Feds have delegated a lot to the states over the years. You need to scroll about halfway on the link I provided, to Chart 2.

  19. Bugmaster says:

    I don’t think it’s even remotely reasonable to expect the number of regulations to fall, or even to cease rising. As technology keeps improving, people keep gaining the ability to act in all kinds of ways that were literally unimaginable before. Some of those actions can cause harm, and must thus be regulated. Just as a medieval peasant had no need for copyright law, a 1950s-era citizen has no need for Net Neutrality. If Elon Musk has his way, we might need lots of interplanetary travel regulations in the future. The question we should be asking is not, “are there more regulations now than in the past”, but rather, “are there more unnecessary regulations now than in the past”. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to answer this question, even assuming that it’s well-formed at all.

    • pdbarnlsey says:

      A follow-up to this point is that the public share of spending might also naturally grow over time.

      If certain classes of goods are best/traditionally provided the state and consumption of those goods is income/age elastic, then you’d expect to see a re-balancing of expenditure towards public spending.

      Maybe now that we’re richer (/older) we want more spent on our health, environment, safety and security and public institutions are the natural place to go shopping for those goods. I’d guess that private expenditure on those classes of goods has grown more steeply than the overall public share of expenditure…

      • disciplinaryarbitrage says:

        Urbanization is a likely factor too. As density increases the number of potential externalities imposed by different people and activities grows more than linearly. Hence why rural communities have short and simple zoning regulations, while your average core city’s regulation runs hundreds of pages with eighteen appendices and five review boards.

        If we think about regulations as governing interactions across time, space, activities, and entities, urbanization increases entities/space (and to a lesser degree entities/time–think of how active NYC is at 3am vs. your average midwestern small town) and the diversity of entities (thick markets enable more long-tail businesses and organization), while wealth and technology expand the space of potential activity. If there’s intensification across all these dimensions the demand for regulation (not necessarily government, but in the broad sense of ‘technology to reduce negative externalities’) naturally will grow, with a parallel increase in the costs of regulation.

    • tayfie says:

      People may gain abilities that weren’t around before, but bad things done with modern technology still fit a few basic categories that made things bad before.

      The invention of credit cards should not require a new law to say that credit card fraud is illegal. Stealing is illegal. Taking goods and services under false pretenses is illegal.

      The medieval peasant has no need for copyright, but we have no need for laws designating what we can do on the local lord’s hunting lands. Technological complexity does not create law. Societal complexity does.

      I would argue that yes, there are more unnecessary regulations because thousands of pages of legalese try to determine every eventuality, but are ultimately only harmful because the detailed rules prevent the flexibility needed for regulators and citizens to judge the circumstances. Law didn’t used to be that way. The interstate highway, the largest infrastructure project of the century, was authorized with a 28 page law.

  20. Let me offer two alternative explanations for the pattern:

    1. It isn’t enough for the Republicans to have a majority in Congress, because not all Republicans are in favor of substantial reductions in the size of government and almost all Democrats are against–especially against those reductions Republicans would favor. It would be necessary for the Tea Party Republicans, the ones that actually believe in the ideas, to have a majority, and that hasn’t happened.

    2. As others have pointed out, there are straightforward public choice reasons why spending more tends to generate larger political gains than spending less.

    The problem with Scott’s list of reasons why government has gotten more expensive is that it’s selective–he is only looking for changes that have that effect, and only that effect of those changes.

    Consider the Internet. EBay and Amazon, among others, have set up effective reputational mechanisms, providing an arguably superior substitute for government regulations of quality and information. Google has made gathering information much less expensive than it used to be. Online texts, available for free–consider Project Gutenberg–substitute for government libraries. Online education increasingly provides a superior substitute for a sizable fraction of the largest expenditure of state and local governments–consider the Kahn Academy.

    Similarly with other changes. Increasing globalization means a larger marketplace, more competition, less problem with monopoly–except to the extent that the government intervenes to restrict international competition.

    Given any set of changes, if you are looking for ones that make government more expensive you can find them. Also less expensive.

  21. johnWH says:

    Are you familiar with Mancur Olson? I think his books (Logic of Collective Action and The Rise and Decline of Nations) better explain the growth of government and the resulting stagnation than the “cost disease” story. There’s always an incentive for government to grow, because of the logic of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs. Republican pols might talk a big game about wanting fewer regulations, but they probably end up adding more once they get into office because A) they want to (since they’ll be rewarded by some concentrated interest) and B) because they can get away with it (since the voters probably won’t notice, unless its a very noticeable regulation).

  22. TheRadicalModerate says:

    Not that the cost disease problem isn’t present, but a huge chunk of the problem here is that mandatory spending (i.e. an automatic appropriation that must be made to conform to the conditions prescribed by a law) is a lot like cancer.

    Cancer is ultimately a failure of apoptosis. When cells stop responding to regulatory signals to kill themselves, they are free to consume whatever resources they find (nutrients, oxygen, and especially volume) at the expense of the better regulated cells. Ultimately, that freedom gives them an advantage that overwhelms the well-regulated cells–until the organism dies and resources become suddenly, catastrophically scarce.

    Mandatory spending is an invention of the late 1930’s. It was designed to end constant bickering about appropriations, so that stable social welfare programs (Social Security being the first) could be stood up and relied upon. It’s sort of a nice invention for that particular purpose. But by definition it can’t be regulated through the regular appropriation process without changing the underlying laws, and the underlying laws have incredibly robust constituencies.

    If you normalize the first chart from spending as a percentage of GDP to spending as a percentage of outlays, you’ll discover that the entitlement chunk (which is mostly mandatory spending) has been growing at an average of about 0.8 percentage points per year (that’s a CAGR of 2.4%). It’s gone from 17% of the budget in 1962 to about 60% of the budget in 2016.

    That’s an awful lot of fiscal metastatic tumor mass.

    So even if we were capable of curing all of the things vulnerable to cost disease, it wouldn’t matter. Mandatory spending isn’t subject to cost disease. Cost disease is the financial equivalent of regular cellular senescence. It may eventually kill you, but you won’t die of cancer. Right now, we’re dying of cancer, and nobody even wants to think about chemotherapy.

    PS: We could obviously increase taxation and entitlements would fall temporarily as a percentage of outlays. But, just to torture my metaphor a little more, that’s a lot like treating cancer with chicken soup.

    • Matt M says:

      Congress could repeal the social security act tomorrow.

      Your response, I’m sure, is “but that would make people mad!” and I’m not saying you’re wrong. But it’s not as if their current actions don’t make people mad either.

      Let’s not pretend that this is somehow out of their control. It’s entirely within their control. The consequences may be severe, but they could still do it.

      • Civilis says:

        Alice and Bob are two real estate developers in (despite their names) Holland, tasked by the local government with finding places to live near a major city on the coast where real estate is expensive. “Let’s build some dams to make more land!” says Alice. Bob doesn’t like the idea, but Alice goes ahead, the dams are put up, the land dries out, and houses are built and sold and people are happy. Then the local government comes to Alice and Bob and says “those dams you put in are silting up the harbor, doing massive damage to the local economy. They have to go!” Bob says “I told you!” Alice says, “Fine, you fix it! Here’s some dynamite! Remove those dams right now!” Yes, Bob could technically dynamite the dams, but nobody should expect him to do so right now.

        Congress repealing Social Security is like Bob dynamiting the dams. As I keep trying to persuade people on the right, straight repealing the ACA is also like dynamiting the dams. Yes, it solves the problem, but it leaves all the people dependent on the current situation in limbo. It’s not Bob’s fault there’s no quick and easy solution to the problem, and he’s under no obligation to take the quick and ugly solution nor responsible for not taking it.

        • Aapje says:

          Nitpick time: turning sea into land isn’t done that way, because the land would be really low and at risk. Instead, after dykes are put up, you dredge sand from a deeper part of the sea and pump together with water it into the area and then drain off the water. Once you are done, you can’t just puncture the dykes to undo the situation.

          Also, Dutch water engineers know a lot about flow patterns nowadays and can simulate it with these newfangled computery things. So that silting problem would be unlikely to happen.

          Also, a nice picture of how Rotterdam port was extended into the sea in this way (to allow the admission of the largest container ships).

          • Civilis says:

            Nitpick accepted.

            I wanted something that was really easy to get rid of in a destructive fashion but really hard to get rid of without making a mess. My first thought was an apartment building, but…. too soon.

        • DocKaon says:

          Except with respect to Social Security there’s no government equivalent saying it must be done. It’s just Bob saying that it has to be done and Bob is the one who came up with the dynamite idea. Alice is pointing out that the problem is a purely speculative one that appears in highly imprecise projections decades from now and would require only relatively minor changes to the dykes if it did appear.

          I do find it interesting that conservatives are so ready to act based on Social Security projections and so unwilling to act based on climate modeling. It’s almost if both reactions are driven by ideological considerations and not the underlying trustworthiness of the analysis.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            It’s almost if both reactions are driven by ideological considerations and not the underlying trustworthiness of the analysis.

            Almost. But it’s more as if one of the analyses has much more historical accuracy than the other, and as if one points to more unambiguously bad consequences than the other.

          • TheRadicalModerate says:

            “Except with respect to Social Security there’s no government equivalent saying it must be done.”

            That’s not really true, and it’s exactly why I’m harping about mandatory spending. Everybody agrees that the actual programs solve real problems. The problem is that that agreement effectively ends any discussion about reforms that will actually work.

            Note that we’ve “reformed” Social Security in the past, made some half-hearted swipes at Medicare, and done various things to the means-tested programs, with varying degrees of success. But all of those reforms are only stop-gap measures, because they’re not dealing with the demographic changes that make the whole system untenable.

            Ultimately, Congress needs to be responsible for spending money. Yes, I know they’re lousy at it, and they’re much happier using the mandatory stuff as a convenient excuse for sitting on their hands. But the demographics aren’t changing for the better. With automation-induced reductions in the size of the labor force, they’re going to get dramatically worse. So you’ve got three options:

            1) Do nothing, wait for things to collapse, and hope that you can build something nice from the rubble.

            2) Repeal the programs, which everybody agrees is a bad idea.

            3) Find a way to control spending on the programs.

      • TheRadicalModerate says:

        It’s not that there’s no mechanism to repeal the laws that enable the spending. It’s that there’s no way to control the spending under the laws.

        A modest proposal: Cap all mandatory spending at 55% (pick your own percentage) of outlays. If it exceeds that, all programs take an across-the-board cut. This would almost certainly require modifications to the each piece of legislation that enables mandatory spending, but it would be a lot less politically toxic than going into a particular program and doing reform. It also has the nice property that it solves the problem for good.

      • CatCube says:

        The problem from the Congressman’s side is that the consequences are likely to be severe and soon from repealing with no plan; they get voted out in the next election. Whereas by dithering, they can last at least a couple more terms. In other words, it’s their way of teaching a horse to sing.

        One other problem, that probably looms larger once you get elected and have to actually do something rather than just vaguely promise to do something, is that making effective cuts is really hard. For example, you can save money by cutting the Army’s end strength by 1/3. However, the stupidest way possible to do that is simply cutting every unit by 1/3, or even every branch (Infantry, Armor, Artillery, Engineer, etc.) by 1/3. A US Army 2/3 the size of the current one will require a different force structure, and the designs for that will take a while to work up and be subject to internal political forces.

        There are a lot of programs that need to be funded at 100% or not at all; they fail if they’re not fully funded and anything less is a waste to even try. But for a new Congressman to figure out which can be cut and which needs to go away, when their primary source of advice (the leaders of the programs) have obvious conflicts of interest makes it a daunting prospect, and one it shouldn’t surprise you that Congressman don’t jump on without thought.

  23. onomaphobe says:

    Are Republican voters really strongly in favor of smaller government? The data here: https://www.voterstudygroup.org/reports/2016-elections/political-divisions-in-2016-and-beyond
    seem to suggest that Republican voters’ views are at least more complicated than that. In particular, Republican voters seem to favor the major entitlements eating up the big blue section of your first graph. There are probably other reasonable ways to read this data (and maybe someone can point to other data that tell a story more aligned with Scott’s point here), but I’m not seeing evidence for the kind of solid preference among voters for small government that would keep pushing the Republican party towards true believers in the virtue of small government. The preferences of conservative donors and elites may be a different story.

    • TheRadicalModerate says:

      Here are the 2017 top mandatory spending programs, by size of expenditure:

      Social Security: $946B
      Medicare: $593B
      Everything Else: $656
      Medicaid: $378

      I think that you’ll get substantial (but not unanimous) Republican support for reducing everything below Medicare, which puts about 40% of the mandatory spending in play. Now, whether congressional Republicans can get their act together enough to do reasonable reductions is another story…

      • Qays says:

        You might get substantial Republican politician support for reducing everything below Medicare, but it’s highly unlikely you’d get Republican voter support for doing that. Republican voters are way to the left of their party on economic issues.

        • TheRadicalModerate says:

          I guess we’re about to see whether you’re right, since the AHCA is going to reduce Medicaid pretty substantially.

  24. meh says:

    Why does plurality voting not get more blame for polarization?

    • Reasoner says:

      Another possible factor: In the US, we have a voluntary voting system. Which means that the most passionate are the ones who turn out to vote. So political parties are incentivized to rile up their base in order to motivate them. I think we’d be better off if we had mandatory voting (like Australia) or, as a substitute, we could pay people to vote. Paying people to vote could function as a lightweight basic income. Additionally, due to reciprocity effects, people might feel a stronger obligation to exercise their civic duty and really think about their vote carefully if they were getting paid.

      • WashedOut says:

        I think we’d be better off if we had mandatory voting (like Australia)

        Point of clarification:

        Here in Australia it is mandatory to show up on election day and have your name crossed off the electoral roll. You are then given the papers and told to go vote, but the actual casting of a vote is not required.

      • meh says:

        Not sure I see how this would fix the issues with plurality voting?

  25. Qays says:

    In your last post you misspelled the word restaurateur. It’s someone who restores, not someone who restaurants.

  26. JoeCool says:

    I mean we have good data on what voters, republicans, and democrats, actually want.

    Scott, if you haven’t checked out the http://gss.norc.org/ general social security survey, you totally should. I’m not 100 percent most Republican voters would say they want smaller government, less regulation, and less welfare state.

    Its weird, because Republican elites often use that kind of rhetoric.

    Also, Check out this talk on the GSS.

  27. secondcityscientist says:

    Maybe this view of the institutional national Republican party is too simplistic, but I see it as controlled completely by capital interests (my view of the Democratic party is similarly simplistic). Any conservative-but-bourgeois considerations will be applied after making sure that capital is taken care of. Although Republicans may campaign for and accept votes from labor, they view labor interests as diametrically opposed to capital interests and won’t do anything to materially help them.

    I find this framing explains a LOT of otherwise difficult to explicate Republican behavior. Why keep the Ex-Im bank? Because capital finds it useful. Why not make material changes to immigration? Because the current immigration policy of harsh laws inconsistently enforced does a great job of providing very low wage labor for capital. Why push for an end to the Estate Tax, an issue that affects a tiny minority of Americans? Because that tiny minority is capital, and they drive the policy decisions. On issues like abortion? Capital is indifferent so they’ll let other parts of the Republican party have that one, but it won’t be a big priority.

    Republicans will only go against capital interests if they face a real, true revolt from their other voters – most recently seen when George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security.

    “Small-government conservativism” is a bourgeois concept, as is “religious conservativism”. Tenants of bourgeois conservativism won’t be actually enacted into law by Republicans unless capital sees it as in their interest, or at least as orthogonal to their interests. When bourgeois conservativism goes against capital interests, Republicans will side with capital nearly all the time.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Viewing democracy through the lense of capital is also simplistic. Trump didn’t get elected because the Elites wanted it. He got it because he got enough people from Michigan and Wisconsin to vote for him.

      • Sure, Trump was not the first pick of capitalists. But how much will Trump actually be able to accomplish that goes against their interests? At the end of the day, capitalists always have the threat of capital flight that they can wield to cow legislators into doing their bidding. Because no legislator wants to be blamed for driving jobs out of the country. Basically, capital has the country by the balls, regardless of who is elected.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Well, he killed TPP. That should count for something.

          • albatross11 says:

            As I recall, Clinton had also flipped on TPP, though I don’t know if she would have re-flipped after being elected.

        • Wrong Species says:

          What exactly would count as evidence against the “capital holds us by the balls” theory, short of a communist revolution?

          • Corporate taxes, capital gains taxes, and top marginal income taxes go up to 75%. Capital grits its teeth and bears it. Job growth continues on at the same pace as before. No increase in outsourcing results, nor is there any dramatic uptick in layoffs.

            Or, Congress passes a law mandating overtime after 30 hours per week and increasing the federal minimum wage to $15/hr. Capital grits its teeth and bears it. Job growth continues on at the same pace as before. Etc.

            Heck, Murphy in this thread down below just proposed that people should sell off all of their non-movable assets and move to a better country if they want smaller government or want to hasten the collapse of an empire. It ain’t rocket science. The wealthy do this all the time.

            François Hollande in France promised a 75% wealth tax, for example, but basically had to back down because all the rich threatened to move to Belgium and take their assets with them.

            Now, I understand that you might think this is all right and proper. I mean, how dare the government confiscate 75% of my wealth, etc. etc. And I sympathize with that complaint. It would feel unfair. My point, though, is that capital has a lot more leverage than workers. Capital, especially nowadays, can move to where the best deal is. Workers, not so easily.

          • Wrong Species says:

            So what if the government passes these laws but there are bad consequences? You see the reduction in tax rates as evidence that the rich have more control over the government but I see it as just an acceptance that 75% tax rates and $15 minimum wages are just bad policy. And I won’t deny that corporations do have influence but I just don’t think it is as totalizing as you suggest. If it was, then the size of the federal government would be significantly smaller than it is right now. The reason it’s not is because of different players, including the voters.

          • Mediocrates says:

            And I won’t deny that corporations do have influence but I just don’t think it is as totalizing as you suggest. If it was, then the size of the federal government would be significantly smaller than it is right now.

            I don’t think that strictly follows. For what shall it profit Lockheed Martin, if they shall shrink the whole government, and lose their own contract? A profit-maximizer would want to minimize negative regulations but maximize positive regulations and rents. Note the Big Pharma reaction to the prospect of an FDA head who might gut the agency.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            So what if the government passes these laws but there are bad consequences?

            We’ve already been given fair warning there, haven’t we? It’s going to be kulaks and wreckers, all the way.

      • Mediocrates says:

        Viewing democracy through the lense of capital is also simplistic. Trump didn’t get elected because the Elites wanted it. He got it because he got enough people from Michigan and Wisconsin to vote for him.

        Does that really conflict with secondcityscientist’s thesis? The Republican elite by and large despised Trump but were unable to head off a revolt by their base. I don’t think the view that capital controls the national GOP apparatus requires capital to be omnipotent; scs pointed out that they lost the SS privatization fight too.

        • secondcityscientist says:

          Yeah, I’m not really concerned with “How did Trump win”, the question I wanted to answer was “Why don’t we get small government conservativism when Republicans are in power?”. My answer is that capital likes its defense contracts, likes its export subsidies, likes its cheap labor. They also like tax cuts, so Republicans make those a big policy push even if many Republican voters would prefer to hold tax rates constant and cut spending to balance the budget. Ideological issues that don’t involve the rate of return on capital are secondary concerns, they’ll get taken care of after capital concerns if at all.

          • cassander says:

            except defense spending has continually (on the scale of 50+ years) declined as a share of the budget while taxes have remained steady for the same period. Your theory predicts the opposite.

          • secondcityscientist says:

            Republicans haven’t been in charge the whole time. Capital has an influence on Democrats, but it isn’t in full control the way it is with national Republicans.

          • cassander says:

            they’ve been in control of most things most of the time for the better part of the last 30 years. Military spending is down and taxes aren’t. If republicans are shilling for capital, they’re doing a lousy job of it.

          • secondcityscientist says:

            Reagan becomes president, passes a giant tax cut. George W. Bush becomes president, passes two large tax cuts. Donald Trump becomes president, and the Republican congress immediately begins working on large tax cuts. George H. W. Bush, to his credit, passed some tax hikes and partially as a result is the most recent man to lose a presidential reelection campaign. You can see the historical rates for income and capital gains:

            http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/statistics/historical-highest-marginal-income-tax-rates
            http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/statistics/historical-capital-gains-and-taxes

            Generally speaking, they have gone down when Republicans are in power and up when Democrats are in power ever since Reagan.

            There’s more to “military spending” than defense contracting. Capital cares about how well it’s getting paid, not how many soldiers are being trained or how well they’re being paid.

          • baconbacon says:

            Top marginal tax rate is a meaningless number on its own.

          • cassander says:

            @secondcityscientist

            Taxes as a share of GDP from 1950-80 were about 18% of GDP. From 81-2011 they were……18% of GDP. Reagan and bush did not pass “giant” tax cuts. The most you can say is that the reagan cuts basically undid the runup of taxes in the 70s (tax brackets weren’t inflation adjusted so inflation of the 70s meant effective higher rates) and the bush cuts undid the clinton tax hikes.

  28. Tibor says:

    This is a pattern with most right-wing parties around the world. They talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. There are a couple of exceptions though, Margaret Thatcher comes in mind. But these are indeed far and between. I think the issue is that you have so many interest groups attached to the government plus you have “Sir Humphrey” (from Yes, Minister) people running a good deal of the show. The problem is that a political party is not a uniform body, you have people with various opinions but each of them has a vote. If you voted in an army of Thatcher clones you might begin to see some results. But this way some Republicans don’t have very laissez-faire ideas in the first place (case in point Trump and people around him but also neocons), others do, but are easily convinced (does not have to involve any shady business but can of course) by lobbyists that this or that particular policy is not “in the country’s interest”. Then, if you are a die-hard “budged hawk”, you will find it surprisingly difficult to convince even your own party of cutting down state expenses. Particularly defense cuts seem to be something that can actually find more support among Democrats than among Republicans (although the Democrats are more likely to want to keep the money to the state afterwards).

    Oddly enough, sometimes there’s an opposite drift, for example Gerhart Schröder’s social democratic government in Germany was arguably more (classically) liberal than the current (last 12 years and it will likely extend to 16) supposedly center-right government of Angela Merkel. Similarly, Bill Clinton was more “fiscally conservative” than G.W. Bush (or Obama). But generally you have a drift towards more state and this is simply the way incentives are set in the structure of the state, or at least of a state run on a platform of representative democracy. It is a great interest of all the Humphreys to expand their departments as much as possible and it is also often in the interest of the lobbyists to have more complicated tax laws, more corporate welfare and more often than not even more regulation – as long as the regulation is tailored to their needs and makes it more difficult for the pesky would-be competition.

    This is a strong current than is very hard to fight against. It seems to me the only way you can achieve anything is when everything is already so messed up there is no other way than to reform and cut the state down. This seems to be the case with Thatcher but also after the 2008 crisis with Estonia, one can probably come up with other examples. Another solution might be a different system of government. Highly decentralized direct democracy seems to work fairly well in Switzerland. The lobbyists have it considerably harder when they have to convince the population instead of individual politicians and Sir Humphrey is out of luck (almost) entirely.

    Another is the way of Singapore, but aside from certain problems with things like the freedom of speech I am still waiting for how long this more or less one-party model works. Maybe it can work there but I am not sure how well it can translate. Singapore is a coastal city state with predominantly Chinese culture. It might not work so well for larger countries (not that big a problem theoretically, I find most countries too big already anyway, but there will still be a difference between a city state and a small non-city state country even if their populations are equal) or countries with a different culture. But the Swiss model seems to be applicable to “the West” even if you’d probably still need a couple of decades of adjustment to see it work as well as in Switzerland.

  29. Sniffnoy says:

    Link fixing: “general issue” link is missing initial “http://”.

  30. Nate the Albatross says:

    I agree. Europe has experimented with left-wing and right-wing austerity – shrinking govt in real terms, and Europe has had several recessions since 2008 while China and the US have spent and grown and had none. And people are generally unhappy. French police have been forced to carry their weapons 24/7 since 2015 – effectively unlimited unpaid overtime. The UK has increased surveillance, but slashed the number of police and their crime rate is going way up and the smaller, cheaper force is overwhelmed.

    Back in the US, smaller govt is elusive. Let us say a US President ended the War on Drugs, legalized everything or left up up to the states. Well, the DEA undercover agents are urgently needed to be CIA and FBI undercover agents. Dog handlers using dogs to look for drugs are urgently needed to use dogs to look for bombs or in search and rescue. The FBI is months behind on its firearms background checks – several mass shooters were reported to the FBI but they simply can’t check all the leads they have. And all the DEA analysts are urgently needed at the NSA too. Lots of openings they can’t fill. Now, I’m all for ending the War on Drugs. I just feel like the hundreds of billions spent on it would almost immediately shift into other areas of govt.

    Cost disease makes everything harder. Many of the US war planes were designed in the late 1950s and are starting to crash because they are being operated far beyond the normal life of the design. But getting new fighters costs trillions of dollars and they don’t even seem to work all that well. And finding parts and mechanically fixes for Grandpa’s planes keeps getting more difficult and expensive. So, the military cuts troop levels and uses the parts from some old planes to keep the other ones running. Enter drones – which have no meaningful regulations. And drone regulations will mean all those regs eliminated just get replaced.

    Many of the best arguments for stopping a govt program is that the money is better spent elsewhere…. even on investments that save money in the long run like Single Payer health care, or a Universal Basic Income or K-14 education. But all of these things require new laws and different kinds oversight, and new systems and regulations. It all adds up. And even doing nothing has a cost.

    • Tibor says:

      Police “overtime” is hardly the worst thing about this. France has officially been in an emergency state for almost two years now. This means among other things that the authorities can:

      – decide administrative searches and seizures, day and night, without judiciary oversight,
      – institute censorship the press, radio, films and theater representations.

      I was in France (Bordeaux and Toulouse specifically) last October and you regularly meet groups of 4-5 soldiers with rifles patrolling the streets. I find it alarming that people don’t seem to be particularly concerned about this sort of thing. And while it is difficult to judge how much that affected the risk of terrorism, there have been terrorist attacks in France since 2015 despite all these police state-like measures. What’s most worrisome is that they just keep extending the emergency state which was supposed to last a few months only but it has been extended to two years now and I would not bee too surprised if they decided to extend it beyond that in November.

    • baconbacon says:

      Europe has experimented with left-wing and right-wing austerity – shrinking govt in real terms, and Europe has had several recessions since 2008 while China and the US have spent and grown and had none. And people are generally unhappy. French police have been forced to carry their weapons 24/7 since 2015 – effectively unlimited unpaid overtime. The UK has increased surveillance, but slashed the number of police and their crime rate is going way up and the smaller, cheaper force is overwhelmed.

      France’s debt to GDP ratio has gone up every year since 2007 and is ~50% higher now than then. France’s government spending to GDP has not gone up linearly, but every year from 2009 -> 2016 would have been a record for the pre 2009 world.

      The UK, similar story. debt to GDP increased every year since 2007, now double what it was in 2007. Government spending to GDP has declined from its 2010 peak and is lower than its peak in the 70s, but that was also crisis time for the UK economy. Current spending levels are only just getting down to where they were in the late 80s.

  31. doug1943 says:

    A very thoughtful essay, followed by equally interesting commentaries. A rarity on the internet now.

    I think the Singapore Model (enforced savings) should be explored more widely. I also believe that model of welfare-statism is orthogonal to their authoritarian political system, which is what most people associate with Singapore.

    I believe it’s very probable that Trump and Trumpism will soon explode in some dramatic way, and in the aftermath we may have the opportunity to get the non-Left — by which I mean not only libertarians and conservatives, but old-fashioned liberals — thinking about radical alternatives to our present course.

    The ‘social question’ — mainly around sex — is moving off the agenda, there is not much appetite on the Right for more military interventions overseas, so maybe we can concentrate on political economy.

  32. Christopher Hazell says:

    Okay, here’s a thought experiment for you:

    Imagine you have a country divided into two political parties: The Alpha Party believes that government is too large, that centralization has taken too much control away from locals, that government employees need to be strictly scrutinized to ensure that they are not acting contrary to the goals of the citizenry.

    The Beta Party disagrees; they believe that, “The government is just us, working together!” that centralization allows things to be applied more consistently, and fairly, that government workers are too often stigmatized, and should be given the benefit of the doubt.

    In this imaginary world, nothing like our own, there is a thing called “Black Lives Matter”. The central complaint they have is that policing in black communities is done by people outside of those communities, that there is no accountability for police failures, and that these things need to change.

    I know it’s hard to follow, but which party do you suppose supports “Black Lives Matter”?

    Yeah, none of that rhetoric actually means shit, because both our parties are composed of nonsensical coalitions of people with often radically different ideas. The Republican party simultaneously believes that government should be small enough to drown in a bath-tub, but also that afterwards, we should fish the corpse out so it can build a wall between us and Mexico. The Democrats believe that government is all of us, working together to unjustly murder innocent black men.

    Look, you know, I’m sure there’s tons of things where stuff just gets more expensive because of complex structural forces. There’s also the Iraq War. I think once we decide that the Iraq War was an inevitable result of structural forces that the Republicans couldn’t possibly have resisted, we have to admit that nobody, anywhere, is responsible for anything, and so there’s no reason to write about the logic behind anything at all. Well, except that structural forces outside of our own control are forcing us to write, I suppose.

  33. Murphy says:

    When I hear about this kind of stuff I almost always find myself thinking of codebases.

    Lots of software companies with an old codebase end up spending the majority of their resources dealing with legacy code and ancient technical debt.

    They had to build at product fast at the beginning with just a few people and they needed it to have reasonable functionality so they could keep the company afloat until they could get some stability.

    Customers demand features, bugs crop up that demand messy fixes etc.

    Code gets built on top of that old code that relies upon it. Code gets built upon that foundation that not only relies upon it but implicitly relies on quirks of the oldest parts of the system. That old part will also likely be written in some language not really suited for what the product has grown to become.

    Much of the newer stuff is vastly better designed than the old code, it’s modular, it’s neat, it’s tidy. But it’s still sitting on top of a foundation made out of compressed shit.

    Efforts are made to improve the central chunk of shit but it’s hard. So much relies upon it that any changes can have horrible knock-on effects that you cannot easily predict.

    Decades later that code is still there and a common theme of developer lunch conversations is that we all really need to replace that giant nugget of garbage at the center of the entire codebase. if you’re lucky a common theme of management lunch conversations is that we all really need to replace that giant nugget of garbage at the center of the entire codebase.

    But in any particular year there’s always customers asking for new things they’re willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for. Often they’re reasonable things which would improve the product as a whole. But each addition makes it a little harder to fix/replace that pile of shit in the middle.

    Politically and practically actually taking the steps needed to fix the problem is spectacularly hard because it’s expensive, it’s slow, if you do it right it’s something which won’t even yield any short term dividends. Indeed it’s likely to piss off customers, if you accidentally remove an entirely unintentional quirk it can turn out that a bunch of customers were relying upon it and now they’re angry because their business is being interrupted.

    The law, regulations and the complexity of the legal system reminds me of this sometimes.

    You’ve got the initial seat-of-the-pants scrabble while the country is young with a small and messy legal system needing to come up with hodgepodge fixes when weird real world situations expose undefined behavior or bugs.

    Legal language is extremely formal and structured and has typically become more formal over time, modern laws/bills/regulations seem to be more precisely written than stuff that’s hundreds of years old and the interpreters are instantiated as a hierarchy of stuffy old judges.

    When it comes right down to it any particular regulation you find probably has a reason for being there and many are quite sane and sensible.

    If you decided you needed to fix the problem of the vast and hard to parse system you’re facing similar problems to a company that needs to re-factor a few million lines of code central to their codebase. If you miss something and accidentally make it legal to have sex with toddlers or accidentally make it so that a people doing nothing particularly wrong are suddenly violating the law in some obscure way your “customers” will be pissed at you. The existing code is battle tested from decades or hundreds of years of legal challenges etc, anything you replace it with will have a whole raft of new bugs.

    When you try to fix genuinely bad things there’s still going to be people attached to those behaviors. imagine if you tried to rebuild tort law from the ground up? how many people would be pissed to find out that things they used to be able to sue people for they no longer can or that things they used to be safe doing they can now get sued for?

    In the case of the US legal system and US regulations such a task would be slow, thankless and would likely ruin the career of anyone with enough power who actually made a serious effort to make the project happen.

    So the incentives line up fairly neatly such that they keep whinging about it over lunch and promising to fix the problem but they’ll never actually do it. They’ll make slightly brain-dead token gestures like insisting that for every line of code added 2 need to be removed but that won’t fix anything because it’s going to be from the neat, modular and tidy newer code that such reductions are made because nobody wants to fuck with the central pile of shit that’s really what’s making everything harder.

    You can try to create a clean, tidy and modular system from scratch without pressure or panic but that’s like trying to build an OS that nobody’s using for anything serious: if you don’t battle test it early in hard situations you’ll end up with too much built on initial mistakes.

    You can declare you’re going to throw everything away, burn everything to the ground and start again but that leaves your customers fairly fucked.

    • onyomi says:

      This reminds of another question I’ve been thinking to ask:

      If, as I pointed out in a reddit comment not too long, empires tend to have expiration dates of about 300 years, and if (asking for a friend), one suspects one is living in an empire the best years of which are well behind it, is there any way to hasten the destruction of that old order and/or increase the probability of it being replaced by something better, rather than worse, and with a minimum of bloodshed?

      My personal best answer is secession, but that’s my answer to everything.

      • Murphy says:

        sell any assets that are immobile and move abroad to a country which you believe will do better?

        If lots of bright capable people feel the same way it may hasten the decline.

        If it’s a neighbor to which you move then you may be able to peacefully absorb the declining neighbor replacing their legal system in whole or in part with that of the country doing better.

        After all: while the US was on the up it absorbed many states peacefully in positive sum interactions. Ditto for the EU.

        • Kevin C. says:

          sell any assets that are immobile and move abroad to a country which you believe will do better?

          Assumes:
          1. there’s a country you believe will do better,
          2. that said country will let you move there.

          What if the countries with better prospects aren’t inclined to let in foreigners? Or worse, what if however much the Empire looks to be declining, everyone else’s prospects are no better?

          • Murphy says:

            in that case your best bet is to either throw your lot in and try to protect the empire or pick a subcommunity of the empire and throw your lot in and try to protect that community.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Murphy

            pick a subcommunity of the empire and throw your lot in and try to protect that community.

            How does one pick? More specifically, how do you weight the tradeoff between attractiveness of the subcommunity, likelihood of the subcommunity to survive the collapse of the empire, and willingness of the subcommunity to let you join? Because much with the potential problem of “the country that will do better” not taking you, you have the potential problem of “the subcommunity that will do better” not taking you.

          • Murphy says:

            then make yourself more appealing.

            If you can’t make yourself more appealing then your problems may be intractable.

    • beleester says:

      As I understand it, the two ways you’re supposed to handle it in software are:
      1. Budget technical debt into your development cycle, and empower developers to make their own estimates, so they can say “This feature will take 40 hours to develop and 20 more to fix existing technical debt,” without management saying “You’ve got 20.”

      Government seems to be alright at estimating – the CBO has been pretty accurate in estimating any given bill’s impact on the budget – but there’s nothing encouraging legislators to be honest about those costs and to fix debt before adding features. I’m not sure what such an incentive would look like. Clearly the “two regulations gone for every new one added” idea was terrible, but there has to be some sort of metric for whether a law adds or removes messiness from the system, right?

      2. Take on the big ball of mud in small bites. Add a nice new API on top of the ugly ball to abstract out the ugliness. Carve out a subsystem on the big ball and rewrite that, again using well-defined interfaces so your users still get the same service. You’ll still have to make some tough calls and break a few people’s workflows, but it’s less painful than a full rewrite.

      This one is also tricky, as nobody can agree on what our government should be doing, so the “well defined API” is a pipe dream. But the effort to replace all entitlements with a UBI might be one example, as would the efforts to replace our current health care with single payer.

      • eqdw says:

        You’re missing option #3, the way these things get handled most of the time in practice:

        3. Get increasingly bogged down in the legacy of that central nugget of shit while newer, more nimble companies pop up around you to plink away at your business model until one day you fold and go under, while watching them start the process anew with the nugget of shit they built up while eating your lunch

    • lemmycaution415 says:

      There really isn’t a central core of poorly designed code in the american legal system. If some rule causes people problems they can just fix it without really affecting to much else. If they fuck up the fix; they just fix it again.

      They do a notice of proposed rulemaking so if you want to you can send them comments and they may tweak the rules based on the comments (or at least explain why they are not going to tweak the rule).

      • Qays says:

        There’s a ton of poorly designed code in the American legal system, a lot of it in the Constitution itself and therefore unfixable. Presidential democracy is poorly designed code (this applies to state governments as well). Legislative bicameralism is poorly designed code. The electoral college is poorly designed code. First past the post is poorly designed code. Political redistricting is poorly designed code.

    • Skivverus says:

      #CodersforCongress?

      Well, more likely “coders for the aides and experts that actually write the laws that get voted on”, but you get the idea.

    • skef says:

      Indeed it’s likely to piss off customers, if you accidentally remove an entirely unintentional quirk it can turn out that a bunch of customers were relying upon it and now they’re angry because their business is being interrupted.

      There’s another side to this, which is that the “compressed shit” of the core of the system implements a number of features that no one in the company is aware of anymore. Most likely, some of what the developers now view as “unintentional quirks” were the result of bug fixes that made the code more convoluted and, thus, distasteful.

      There are two basic approaches to fixing old code: Just replacing it based on the impression of the development team of what it “should do”, and gradually refactoring it in place, with the disappointing result that it doesn’t make sense to shift it all the way to the shining, bright state imagined in the first instance.

      Because those who take the first approach are motivated in part by the view that the current code is “compressed shit”, they see not having to figure out why the various lines of the code are the way they are as an advantage. As a result, they often wind up building a system with “2.0” syndrome that never actually ships or cripples the company’s ability to do anything else for several years. And in the latter case, once the bugs are ironed out and the system is stable, anyone who didn’t build it will see: compressed shit.

      The government version of this problem is looking at millions of pages of regulation and imagining there aren’t ten thousand Chesterton’s fences scattered among them.

  34. scottross718@gmail.com says:

    “smaller government”, “fewer regulations”, and “less welfare state”

    That’s the kind of answer you’d get from the likes of Ted Cruz, but I’m not convinced that’s what your average Republican voter wants. “Smaller government” and “fewer regulations” go out the window when people stump for border security, the drug war, and military spending, and as for “less welfare state,” you’ve got people shouting things like “Keep your government hands off my Medicare,” which is how you get things like 20% of the opposition to the ACA being the result of it being called Obamacare. If Red State voters are so opposed to government handouts, they should stop taking them. The reason the Republicans in DC don’t do the things they may want to do is because it’s not what their constituency wants — if it were, the GOP wouldn’t be huddled in a broom closet writing their repeal/replace tax cut extravaganza.

    Both parties tossed their governing ideologies in the dustbin ages ago, now Blue/Red is just a cultural dichotomy.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      “Border security” doesn’t mean more immigration regulations, it means either 1) enforcement of the policies we already have that are not being enforced or 2) replacement of the complicated immigration system with a new policy of “screw off, we’re full.”

      • hoghoghoghoghog says:

        But “screw off, we’re full” is a regulation, and a pretty strong one. Just because you can say it in a sentence does not mean it somehow doesn’t count as government interference.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Yes, it is a regulation, and a strong one, but a very simple and easy to apply one. Compare to the byzantine immigration system we have currently.

  35. rahien.din says:

    I look at this very differently.

    It’s misleading to say “Republicans are afraid of the political consequences of cutting entitlements.” Republicans aren’t going to cut entitlements because they aren’t cruel. A significant portion of their base would be hurt, and they genuinely don’t want to hurt people. It makes no sense to say they are afraid of the downstream consequences of actions they will never plausibly take.

    The honest thing to do would be to make that fact known – rather than entitlement reform, entitlement disclosure. “Look, constituents. We all genuinely want a smaller government, but if I actually made that happen, a lot of you would be homeless, starving, and going to the ED for healthcare. I’m not going to do that, most importantly because I’m not an asshole. Entitlement reform is off the table as long as we’re in this situation.”

    Moreover, Republican lawmakers are the government themselves. Fighting for a smaller government is equivalent to fighting for less pay, status, and statisfaction. These are really, really high bars to clear.

    If Republicans are basically going to do the same things as their opponents, then they have to have some way of distinguishing themselves from their opponents, or they won’t win elections. After all, “We should do what the Democrats have been advocating” is not a winning strategy. “Small government” is a major rallying cry for the conservative base, and it’s a major philosophical plank whereby the Republicans distinguish themselves from Democrats. So they make the right noises. It’s theater – the same kind of “take him seriously but not literally” theater that Trump rode to victory.

    If the curtain is pulled back, then Republican lawmakers will look a lot more like their Democrat opponents. They’ll pull a big plank right out from under their own feet.

    Polarization is not an inadvertent consequence of Republican failure. It’s deliberate. The consequence of entitlement disclosure is reduced polarization, which could mean reduced Republican electability. That’s what they’re actually trying to avoid.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Except you’ll notice Trump won promising not to touch Medicare or Social Security. I think the vast majority of the commentariat on this post are misunderstanding “small government” to mean “less expensive government” when largely it means “less invasive government.” EPA, Department of Education, importing and housing refugees, etc. These are things that do not cost a lot but screw up lots of people’s lives out in flyover country due to the kinds of errors you find in Seeing Like A State.

      Small government != cheap government

      Small government == local government

    • Salem says:

      Stripped down, this is just the Tea Party thesis that Scott is running away from; i.e. that most Republican politicians are mendacious RINOs who have no intention of implementing their campaign commitments, so the way to fix that (if you believe in those commitments) is to replace them with true believers.

      • rahien.din says:

        Not exactly.

        The Tea Party thesis is that the small-government-less-regulation platform is prima facie the only correct course of action, and the only reasons why it would not be implemented are corruption and/or cowardice.

        My thesis is that the small-government-less-regulation platform is not currently the correct course of action, and the reason why Republicans keep promoting it is that without an object-level policy distinction, they don’t have a way to distinguish themselves from Democrats without relying on polarization.

  36. Zephalinda says:

    I feel like Bueno de Mesquita and Smith’s The Dictator’s Handbook should be required prerequisite reading for any and all political posts/commentary of the form “X political leaders behave badly/unpredictably because Y.”

    [Side-note, just in case anybody’s taking nominations– I’d be really fascinated to see a SSC book review on this at some point!]

    The authors make a really strong case that owing to the way political power is structured/ maintained, there will never be a straightforward or predictable causal relationship between what we proles would regard as legitimate political “reasons”– morality, justice, national welfare, or constituents’ wishes broadly considered– and the actual policy decisions made by leaders once in power. However good their intentions at the start, politicians once in office need to work mostly on staying in office, which usually means identifying the (small!) winning coalition of individuals whose support is actually necessary to stay in power, and capturing resources to directly reward those individuals.

    This means that the interests of the “nominal selectorate” (i.e., in a democracy, the American People) are fairly irrelevant to policy, as are even, largely, those of the “real selectorate” (i.e. the 15% who actually turn up to vote). What really matters is the interests of members of the “winning coalition,” since any politician who doesn’t serve those will be ousted and replaced by someone who does.

    The authors do argue that in democracies the winning coalition (or group of “essentials”) tends to be larger, and thus likelier to align with broader public interests, than in dictatorships. But– critically– that coalition is still extremely small, much much smaller than the 1% “swing voter” population. We’re talking more on the scale of specific individuals who can control the allegiance of particular blocs, like “these three union bosses who can tell their members who’s really on their side,” or “these four newspaper editors who can publish puff pieces at critical moments.”

    Thus, necessarily, top-level politicians work to capture resources to reward their coalition of “essentials,” each of whom is in turn gunning for resources they can use to keep their essential people happy, and the result is a big swirly chaotic system where enacted policy bears only the remotest relationship to anybody’s ideological goals. Whether it gets rationalized into post-hoc virtue by a friendly press is, of course, a different story, but I don’t think anybody should be surprised when the actions of a group of politicians on either side conspicuously fails to match up to the supposed wishes of constituents.

    • dndnrsn says:

      It’s a very good book. I’ve recommended it here before. Seconding that a review would be really nice.

    • disciplinaryarbitrage says:

      I’ve only read a few excerpts of DH but found it thought-provoking and would also enjoy a Scott review.

      To swing this around to our current predicament: who constitutes the winning coalition in American politics presently for Trump? For potential challengers? Potential candidates include: whoever influences midwestern swing voters, the (mythical?) Deep State, evangelical leaders, social media giants, and… some loose coalition of large corporate and financial interests I’m not sophisticated enough to properly label? Traditional media seem increasingly peripheral to success here (if only because almost all media outlets have already staked out their partisan grounds or become irrelevant, so the space left to exert influence the swing-voter population is a lot smaller) and both Jeb and Clinton’s fates seem to point in a similar direction w/r/t the traditional donor class.

  37. Walter says:

    I am generally persuaded by the position that democracy is inherently going to sort of slide left whenever you aren’t looking. Rightists walk right, leftists sprint left, but the whole thing is on a moving sidewalk that gradually creeps left.

    Like, even imagining the gov shrinking is hard. Let’s say that right now Trump, McConnell and McCarthy all decided that they wanted to get rid of the EPA in toto. How would that actually go down? Wouldn’t they just end up trying to win a supreme court case, relying on the lawyers who are part of the very gov they are attacking?

    It’s like imagining the Minister in Yes Minister defeating Sir Humphrey and all his cronies. It just can’t happen.

    • thad says:

      If they had the support of their party, they could perhaps
      1) rewrite the rules to strengthen the majority party (getting rid of the filibuster is the obvious, but by no means the only, thing that could fall under this category)
      2) pass a law changing the size of the courts
      3) appoint judges with friendly views

      Is that difficult? Yes, but it is all within the power of a united party with control of both houses and the presidency.

      Now, I think getting rid of the EPA is one of the things that a united party in control of the legislature and executive wouldn’t really face much of a judicial challenge on, but even if it were, that’s one way to overcome it. Another would be to stop authorizing payments to EPA-related things, and for the executive to order a total stand-down.

      • Kevin C. says:

        3) appoint judges with friendly views

        Far easier said than done, given how Republican-appointed judges consistently move left (with no matching rightward movement from the lefties).

        Another would be to stop authorizing payments to EPA-related things

        As if “the power of the purse” were a thing that still meaningfully existed in America (c.f. every so-called “government shut-down”).

        for the executive to order a total stand-down.

        What makes you think such an order won’t be delayed, litigated, relitigated, deferred, obstructed, and perhaps even outright defied?

        • thad says:

          judges move left, but in this exercise we only care about where they start. It isn’t fool-proof, but it is easier. And as I said, I don’t think getting rid of the EPA would face much pushback from the judiciary (there would be nits to pick, but I think the EPA could be substantively destroyed without much legal trouble. The left would fight it in court, of course, but I don’t think they’d win)

          That the power of the purse is not exercised doesn’t mean it couldn’t be. It is available if Congress actually has the will to use it.

          In isolation the move might well be fought against in many ways, in conjunction with a complete loss of funding, however, I think the fight is one that the executive and legislature combined could win.
          Also I’ve been taking it as implicit that Congress also tries to just legislate the EPA out of existence. I interpreted that as being implied in Walter’s original post, but I realize I never stated that assumption.

          • Kevin C. says:

            That the power of the purse is not exercised doesn’t mean it couldn’t be.

            It’s not that it’s “not exercised”, it’s that Congress has tried to exercise it, and failed. Because they don’t actually have it.

            It is available if Congress actually has the will to use it.

            No it isn’t. Again, it’s a problem of ability, not will. It’s not that Congress doesn’t want to use “the power of the purse”, it’s that they literally can’t. Whatever it says in theory, in actual practice, the power to shut projects or parts of the government down by denying funds is not one that our present-day Congress actually possesses.

            In isolation the move might well be fought against in many ways, in conjunction with a complete loss of funding,

            Again, a “complete loss of funding” is not something in the power of our elected officials to actually achieve.

            I think the fight is one that the executive and legislature combined could win.

            I think you’re wrong, and that the permanent bureaucracy, the “deep state”, the “Cathedral”, whatever, is in fact more powerful than the legislature and the elected portion of the executive combined. There’s a difference between “taking office” and “taking power”, and our elected officials have only as much real power as our true, permanent unelected government allows them. Voting accomplishes practically nothing.

            Also I’ve been taking it as implicit that Congress also tries to just legislate the EPA out of existence.

            Which makes no difference, because executive agencies like the EPA are more powerful than Congress and POTUS put together.

          • Walter says:

            I tend to think you are also being kind in assessing how the courts would react. Currently the same people are trying to do an immigration ban, which is much more solidly in their power than destroying an agency would be, and they are getting walloped in court.

            The courts are striking the ban down based on, if I’m understanding it right, the fact that if people can’t come here then people who are already here and share one or more of their characteristics are harmed. That is, redheaded citizens would have their rights curtailed if you didn’t let anybody in from countries with majority redheads.

            I’m not 100% sure that can be right, but that’s the rundown somebody gave me on the present court opinions.

            If that’s actually the courts read, though, it doesn’t seem like the EPA would be under the control of Congress/Presidency. The same kind of stretch can stop that action, or, indeed, any action. “American People have a right to not choke on smog, ergo removing EPA is bigoted” or some similar line of play.

          • thad says:

            A focused effort targeted at a specific agency is very different from a government shutdown. When has Congress (preferably with the backing of the president, but let’s leave the bar lower for a moment) ever tried and failed to defund or shut down an agency? I don’t see the evidence that Congress has tried and failed.

            I see no reason to believe that Congress and POTUS combined are less powerful than the EPA. I see reasons to think that Congress is divided, that it has no will to act, but I see no reason to think that Congress, if moved to action, doesn’t have incredible power.

            You say Congress has no power but what the bureaucracy grants. Do you allow that they could cut an agency’s budget?

          • thad says:

            @ Walter

            It’s been a while since I read judicial opinions on the ban, but that gloss strikes me as missing many of the points that were made. As I recall, the ban could have been crafted to not have some obvious flaws that caused rather direct harms. If you like, I can re-read some opinions and get back to you, possibly tomorrow or Sunday?

            I think there are some key differences. First, Trump’s rhetoric made it a religious issue, which is very nearly a guarantee that the Courts will get involved and a good bet as to what side they’ll take. There’s also the difference between government action and inaction. Is it ironclad? Nowhere near, but I don’t think it’s nothing. I also think that Congress can destroy what it has created would be a pretty convincing line of argument in court. I don’t think destroying the EPA is more of a stretch legally than limiting immigration is. I’m not really sure why you think that it is? I mean, it would depend on execution, but I think that if they actually thought about it and made a real effort (consulted lawyers, didn’t make public statements about it all being about poisoning poor people) they could get it done. They might need to spin off certain functionalities into other forms that they could then kill off later, but I see no reason to think they couldn’t.

          • John Schilling says:

            When has Congress (preferably with the backing of the president, but let’s leave the bar lower for a moment) ever tried and failed to defund or shut down an agency? I don’t see the evidence that Congress has tried and failed.

            How often have they tried and succeeded?

            If nobody ever tries a thing, it’s because nobody ever wants that thing or everybody understands that thing to be impossible.

          • thad says:

            @ John Schilling

            If nobody ever tries a thing, it’s because nobody ever wants that thing or everybody understands that thing to be impossible.

            Indeed. But we have at least theoretical reason to believe that Congress has the power. So I think it’s the first option.

            As for whether they’ve ever succeeded, I suppose that something like the AEC wouldn’t really qualify, since the functionality was preserved. A relatively quick search turns up the ICC as a likely candidate.

          • thad says:

            I am biased, but I take the partial stays of the injunctions on the revised travel ban to be evidence that the courts are not as ideologically committed as others in this thread have argued.

          • Brad says:

            @Walter

            The courts are striking the ban down based on, if I’m understanding it right, the fact that if people can’t come here then people who are already here and share one or more of their characteristics are harmed. That is, redheaded citizens would have their rights curtailed if you didn’t let anybody in from countries with majority redheads.

            I’m not 100% sure that can be right, but that’s the rundown somebody gave me on the present court opinions.

            That’s not quite right. The case is actually much harder than people on either side are willing to admit. It has two strong lines of precedent running head on into each other.

            The first line stands for the proposition that Congress has near plenary power over immigration and the President is entitled to high levels of deference when it comes to national security.

            The second line stands for the proposition that singling out a religious group for different treatment is strongly disfavored, increasingly more so in the past 20 or so. And judges haven’t hesitated to look behind facially neutral laws if there is record that the politicians involved acted out of religious animus. Generally these cases have come from the local government level because those are the only politicians that have heretofore been unsophisticated enough to blurt out in public that they are acting out of animus. But now we have Donald Trump.

    • James Kabala says:

      What would be the argument that ending the EPA is unconstitutional? Usually even the most leftist judges need some kind of vaguely plausible constitutional argument.

  38. David Speyer says:

    I’ll point out that the social spending is much less alarming as a fraction of GDP. US real GDP in 1970 was $4.7 T, in 2014 it was $16.0 T. Over the same time frame, social spending per poor person grows from $3000 to $12000 (2014 dollars). So a poor person gets from the government 0.6 x 10^(-9) of the US economy in 1970 and 0.75 x 10^(-9) in 2014.

  39. doug1943 says:

    Libertarianism is the ideology of people who don’t need much more than the nightwatchman state to succeed. If you’re intelligent and well-educated and can take care of yourself, you won’t really be sympathetic to the idea of giving the state the power to do those things you are already doing, and probably doing better than the state can do.

    If not, not, or not so much.

    Since we live in a world — or a state — where large numbers of people don’t match the libertarian model, we have to think about the best way to keep these people happy, while not getting swallowed by Leviathan.

    The ‘pay your own way’ (by force of law) Singapore Welfare State model seems the best option to me.

  40. kenziegirl says:

    Do Republicans want smaller government? I don’t accept that statement. My understanding was that Republicans want STATE level government, and that they skew more libertarian in a sense that they don’t want the federal government to have its fingers in every detail of everyone’s lives. Individual states should have more latitude in what policies they want to implement, and then people who don’t like it can go to a state with policies they like better. To me that doesn’t necessarily imply less government overall, just less federal-level control. Practically, I have no idea how lawmakers could possibly get from here to there. And I definitely think it goes against incentives that lawmakers at the federal level would choose to be less powerful. I’m just saying that was my understanding of the Republican position. Maybe I am wrong there.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Republicans arguably want a bigger government just like Democrats, they just want it to focus on different things. For example, they are in favor of things like the military, border control, sexuality policing, and religious indoctrination; all of these cost money and personnel, just like the Democrats’ pet causes.

      • John Schilling says:

        Military is the only one of those that’s even noticeable in budgetary terms, and it’s not intrusive on the domestic front. I am skeptical of the claim that Republicans are in favor of sexuality policing and (government) religious indoctrination. Lawrence v. Texas was fifteen years ago, and reflected a style of policing that was long out of favor even then.

        • beleester says:

          Banning abortion (or making it impractical to obtain) is still an active project of Republicans.

          Just today, the Senate’s draft of the AHCA includes language to defund Planned Parenthood, and prevent subsidies from going to any health care plan that covers abortions.

          • Jaskologist says:

            If somebody tries to keep federal money from going to churches, are they banning religion?

          • Iain says:

            Planned Parenthood provides many services that are not abortions, and is already prohibited from spending federal funding on abortions. How far are you allowed to go in preventing the flow of money before it counts? If, say, you couldn’t collect social security if you donated any money to your church, would that be a ban on religion? (Or at least an attempt to make it “impractical to obtain”?)

          • John Schilling says:

            If, say, you couldn’t collect social security if you donated any money to your church, would that be a ban on religion?

            It might be a ban on religion. It would not be a ban on, e.g., soup kitchens, even if your local church runs a soup kitchen.

            The Republicans want to ban abortion, and lacking the power to ban it outright are at least going to be very picky about federal money flowing anywhere near an abortion clinic. If you want to e.g. adopt fluffy kittens out of the back room of an abortion clinic, fine, but there’s going to be extra paperwork and costs for that, and that doesn’t mean you get to say that the Republicans are trying to ban fluffy kitten adoptions.

          • Iain says:

            I don’t understand your point.

            Beleester claimed that banning abortion was an active Republican project. In response, Jaskologist argued that preventing federal funding from going to Planned Parenthood is not a ban on abortion, any more than preventing money from going to churches is a ban on religion. (At least, that’s how I interpreted the post; maybe I was mistaken.)

            You acknowledge that targeted spending cuts can potentially rise to the level of a ban. That was my entire point. Your soup kitchen example is confused. A closer comparison would be if the Democrats decided they hated soup kitchens, passed a law to prevent federal funding from going to soup kitchens, and then — when churches resolutely continued to host soup kitchens — took steps to prevent federal money from going to any church at all. In that hypothetical world, it would be extremely reasonable to claim that the Democrats are trying to ban soup kitchens.

            That is the claim that beleester made, Jaskologist attacked, and I defended. You appear to agree with the claim that the Republicans are trying to ban abortion. Given that, where exactly do you think we disagree?

          • random832 says:

            The Republicans want to ban abortion, and lacking the power to ban it outright are at least going to be very picky about federal money flowing anywhere near an abortion clinic. If you want to e.g. adopt fluffy kittens out of the back room of an abortion clinic, fine, but there’s going to be extra paperwork and costs for that, and that doesn’t mean you get to say that the Republicans are trying to ban fluffy kitten adoptions.

            Sure, but if they’re willing to impose costs on kitten-adopters for not staying away from abortion clinics, that crosses a line that merely not giving money for the abortions themselves does not, and cannot be fairly described as the latter.

            They are trying to ban abortion, and will use any money they can get their hands on to punish anyone who is willing to give anyone who does not want to ban abortion the time of day. It is unreasonably charitable to suggest that their only concern is their own money being spent on abortions. Approximately none of the money involved is their own, after all and only 28%* of it comes from people who agree with them on banning abortion.

            *Well, 28% of Americans. It’s possible that people who pay more taxes skew anti-abortion and it therefore amounts to a greater percentage of the money, but I doubt that takes it as far as 50%, let alone anywhere near 100.

          • Jiro says:

            Planned Parenthood provides many services that are not abortions, and is already prohibited from spending federal funding on abortions.

            This is meaningless; money is fungible. Spending Federal money on other things, which frees up money that you then spend on abortions, is equivalent to just spending the Federal money on abortions.

          • Iain says:

            That ignores the reality of how funding for Planned Parenthood actually works:

            We know this because recent experience shows it. A few years ago, the price of some birth control pills at Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics suddenly skyrocketed, because drug companies jacked up the price they charged non-profits for the pills. Faced with growing expenses to provide contraception, clinics charged more for contraception, often seeing costs soar to two or three times what they were before. But during this same time, the price for an abortion stayed the same. That is because, despite the endless repetition of “money is fungible,” it is not. You cannot cut off subsidies and discounts for contraception in hopes that will drive up the price of abortion. It might make abortion more common, because women will have a harder time obtaining contraception, but it won’t make it any pricier.

            Medical services are billed individually.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Iain

            Planned Parenthood provides many services that are not abortions, and is already prohibited from spending federal funding on abortions.

            The KKK decides they’re going to open much needed soup kitchens in impoverished areas, with no racial bias in the application of their ministry. They apply strict accounting methods to prove that no money given to them for the operation of the soup kitchen goes to burning crosses and hoods and all that. Do you support the KKK receiving federal money for providing these much needed services feeding the poor? If you don’t, is it because you hate the poor and want them to starve?

          • random832 says:

            This is meaningless; money is fungible. Spending Federal money on other things, which frees up money that you then spend on abortions, is equivalent to just spending the Federal money on abortions.

            But how much money does Planned Parenthood spend on abortions, and how much money are you proposing taking away from them? Your argument falls apart completely if the second number is even one cent above the first.

            The lie is made even more obvious when considering the global gag order.

          • Jaskologist says:

            @Iain

            I actually agree that (many) Republican do want to ban abortion. I’m one of them. But the example beleester provided failed to show that, and failed in an important way.

            Saying that you can’t take our money and fund abortion mills with it is very, very different from banning abortions. It’s analogous to objecting to tax payer money going to religious organizations, or to soup kitchens with the wrong stance on gay marriage.

            If you want to understand polarization, understand the extent to which liberals insist on making everybody participate in their sacraments.

          • Iain says:

            I feel like you need to go back and read what beleester actually wrote:

            Banning abortion (or making it impractical to obtain) is still an active project of Republicans.

            Just today, the Senate’s draft of the AHCA includes language to defund Planned Parenthood, and prevent subsidies from going to any health care plan that covers abortions.

            You concede that many Republicans want to ban abortion. Barring that, you presumably support making it harder (one might even say “impractical”) to obtain. I think cutting off Planned Parenthood’s funding, and preventing subsidized insurance plans from covering abortions, make abortion harder to obtain. Do you disagree?

            I do not really understand what it that you think is missing in beleester’s post. Is it just that beleester’s post assumes that you are interested in reducing the number of abortions that take place, and you place more priority on not feeling contaminated because you give money to a government that gives money to a woman so she can give money to an insurance company that will give money to a doctor for her abortion?

            (If you think that tenuous chain counts as participation in liberal sacraments, I hope you are also eager to eliminate the privileged tax status of religious institutions. Why are religious people so intent on making everybody “participate” in their sacraments?)

            Your definition of sacramental participation is unworkable. There are American citizens with a religious commitment to pacifism; how dare the American government fund a military! By what standard can you say that the disbursement of tax money is an imposition of moral standards, but requiring every other citizen to conform to your own religious opinion on the morality of abortion is not?

            In short: you’re not upset about the imposition of moral standards in the abstract. You’re just complaining because your side’s imposition hasn’t been a complete success. You can try to paint that as some sort of high-minded principled distinction if you like, but I’m not buying it.

          • random832 says:

            Saying that you can’t take our money and fund abortion mills with it is very, very different from banning abortions.

            And if you declare something an “abortion mill” that spends only X% of its budget on abortion-related services, and take even one cent more than $X away from it for the high crime of “being an abortion mill”, then characterizing this as “saying that you can’t take our money and fund abortion mills with it” is a lie. Even one cent more than $X divided by the share of taxpayers that oppose abortion is questionable.

            You are using money that is not and was not ever being used to fund “abortion mills” as a weapon against them.

          • John Schilling says:

            But how much money does Planned Parenthood spend on abortions, and how much money are you proposing taking away from them? Your argument falls apart completely if the second number is even one cent above the first.

            Bill and Melinda Gates donate $10 million every year to a charity that provides bednets to the impoverished in Darkest Africa. They belatedly discover that every year this charity also provides $500,000 worth of machine guns and machetes to a genocidal warlord. Turns out the warlord is the charity leader’s best friend so that’s not going to change.

            Are you suggesting that the right course of action is for Bill and Melinda to donate $9.5 million next year, that anything beyond that would be an unfair “punishment” and proof that the Gates family really hates bednets and/or Africans?

          • Iain says:

            Is the answer different if they can hand over $10M worth of bednets?

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t see why it would. If their top priority is bednets, but they can afford to distribute machine guns as well, then it doesn’t matter how many bednets they are handed out, they are from a non-genocidal perspective overfunded and their budget needs to be cut until the machine gun distribution stops. If distributing machine guns is the top priority, then they are a funding agency for a genocidal warlord using charity for cover, and see above re: remedy. In either case, it would be strange if none of the people who allegedly care so much about the poor Africans managed to set up a bednet-distribution charity without the machine guns for warlords angle.

          • abc says:

            Planned Parenthood provides many services that are not abortions

            I call BS.

          • beleester says:

            Yes, the AHCA is not a perfect example, but I picked it because it was the most recent. It demonstrated that abortion is an active issue for Republicans literally today.

            If you like, I could dig up bills that make it harder to obtain abortions in other ways, like adding increasingly burdensome regulations to make it hard for clinics to stay open. But all I was trying to do was oppose John Schilling’s claim that Republicans aren’t interested in policing sexuality anymore, so I went with the most recent example.

            (But since we’ve already gone down this rabbit hole, I might as well weigh in. The idea that churches should be able to control the entire downstream circulation of their money seems really weird and doesn’t seem to have any existing parallels. If a vegan CEO hires someone who buys a hamburger with their wages, we don’t say that the vegan is “being forced to participate in carnivorous sacraments.”)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @beleester:
            I’m broadly in agreement with you, abortion is absolutely a live issue, bigly, on the right, but their are plenty of purity impulses about money from the left as well. “I don’t want my tax dollars funding …” seems to be a popular construction for argument on the left and the right.

            And then you have things like “green” mutual funds, because people don’t want to buy a mutual fund that might have bought shares of Exxon.

          • Bugmaster says:

            I don’t think it’s accurate to say that Republicans want to ban abortion. Rather, they want to eliminate abortion. Banning it de jure is just one of the available methods for achieving this goal.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @bugmaster:
            But they also (generally) aren’t in favor of wider access/availability/use of contraception.

          • random832 says:

            Are you suggesting that the right course of action is for Bill and Melinda to donate $9.5 million next year, that anything beyond that would be an unfair “punishment” and proof that the Gates family really hates bednets and/or Africans?

            I think your analogy falls apart on several levels. One of which is that they are not claiming to (and have no reason to claim) that this is based on some high-minded ideal of “it’s really just about where my money goes, the warlord is fine otherwise”. The money is probably also not mostly coming from a majority-pro-warlord donor base (rather than their own pockets or a mostly anti-warlord donor base). I don’t want my money spent on bribing reproductive health clinics not to provide abortion services or referrals. Why are my preferences for how my money is spent less important?

            Also god damn it stop saying things like “…really hates bednets and/or Africans” – just like when it was soup kitchens, in the analogy it is equivalent to saying Republicans hate reproductive health clinics regardless of abortions. Not only has no-one said such a thing, it’s so ridiculous that you cannot possibly in good faith believe that anyone meant to. It is proof of nothing more than that they are willing to use whatever tools they have at their disposal to dislodge the warlord.

            If Republicans are willing to go this far on the grounds that “money is fungible”, what possible line have they not already crossed that would be crossed by hypothetical policies like denying all welfare and all tax deductions (including the personal exemption) for anyone who has had an abortion? Or banning them from government employment just as for any male who did not register for the draft? Or denying them all health insurance, even if the plan does not cover abortions, on the grounds that they paid for the abortion with the money they saved by having their health care paid for? Hell, hit the insurance companies too – no money for any plan offered by any insurance company that offers plans that cover abortions.

            These policies are certainly worse than the ones that have been proposed, but my point is that they are on the same side of the line, which has already been crossed.

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t want my money spent on bribing reproductive health clinics not to provide abortion services or referrals. Why are my preferences for how my money is spent less important?

            Your preferences, and theirs, are trivially satisfied by not spending taxpayer dollars on reproductive health clinics of any kind, and your paying your dollars to whatever reproductive health clinics you like. Done.

            People really do care about what their money is used for, Thoreau really did go to jail over his income taxes being used to fund what he saw as a murderous enterprise, and see above re socially conscious mutual funds. If this isn’t really about crushing your enemies, seeing them driven before you, etc, or if it is but you’re not powerful enough to do that, this is the sort of compromise you are going to have to make.

            Also god damn it stop saying things like…

            Really? No.

            But I see that the problem is that you vastly overestimate the power your side is bringing to the table here.

          • John Schilling says:

            But all I was trying to do was oppose John Schilling’s claim that Republicans aren’t interested in policing sexuality anymore, so I went with the most recent example.

            Do you have any examples that aren’t really just about abortion?

            If the Democratic party, and American liberals generally, surrendered unconditionally on the issue of gun control, repealed every law back to NFA ’34 and the Sullivan Act and the various Jim Crow-ish bits of gun control in the south, even the 11% excise tax on firearms, but still insisted on laws against shooting people even if they are e.g. unfaithful spouses who need killing, it would I think be unfair to characterize Democrats as being anti-gun or wanting to “police guns”.

            Similarly, if the GOP accepts just about every other aspect of sexuality but opposes abortion, and you make any claim beyond “the GOP opposes abortion”, you’re not really being honest.

            The GOP seems to be actively opposed to, A: abortion, B: promoting or facilitating sex among minors, and C: people with penises using women’s bathrooms and locker rooms. Those are pretty non-central examples of “sexuality” from which to construct an argument that the GOP wishes to police sexuality.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            (If you think that tenuous chain counts as participation in liberal sacraments, I hope you are also eager to eliminate the privileged tax status of religious institutions. Why are religious people so intent on making everybody “participate” in their sacraments?)

            There’s a difference between, on the one hand, giving taxpayer money to fund an organisation, and, on the other, not taking away money that an organisation has raised independently.

          • But they also (generally) aren’t in favor of wider access/availability/use of contraception.

            They aren’t in favor of their tax money paying for someone else’s contraception. I think the only live issue on permitting people to spend their own money on birth control at the moment is over the counter availability of oral contraceptives, and as far as I can tell it’s the Democrats who are against, the Republicans for. So it’s the Republicans who want to make it easier for women to avoid pregnancy.

            Are there issues at the moment the other way, or were you only thinking of the question of whether insurance has to cover contraception?

          • random832 says:

            @The original Mr. X

            There’s a difference between, on the one hand, giving taxpayer money to fund an organisation, and, on the other, not taking away money that an organisation has raised independently.

            No, there is not. Reducing someone’s taxes below the baseline/average level of taxation requires raising everyone else’s taxes by the same amount (proportional to their respective shares of what would have been the tax base) to meet the same overall revenue target. There are no particular spending cuts tied to most ways in which churches are not taxed (social security seems to be complicated and may be an exception), so the revenue target is the same. Reducing someone’s tax while still providing the government services normally paid for with that money (but obviously instead paid for with someone else’s tax money) is basically a subsidy.

            Money is fungible, after all.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @DavidFriedman:
            “They” also aren’t in favor of their insurance money going into a pool where contraceptives of any kind are covered.

            Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a slut for testifying that contraceptives were part of normal comprehensive healthcare for women.

          • “They” also aren’t in favor of their insurance money going into a pool where contraceptives of any kind are covered.

            I believe what they objected to was a rule under which it was illegal to sell them insurance that did not cover contraception, which seems entirely reasonable to me. Do you disagree?

            That doesn’t mean that they object to other people being able to buy insurance that covers it.

            Insurance is supposed to cover risks, large low probability costs. Contraception is not such a cost. What was actually being required was that people who didn’t use contraception subsidize those who did. Calling it insurance regulation was just window dressing.

            Do you disagree, or is your point that it was unreasonable for people who didn’t want their insurance to cover contraception, some of whom disapproved of contraception, to object to being compelled to subsidize the contraception of other people?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:

            Insurance is supposed to cover risks, large low probability costs.

            You and I both know that this is not how health insurance in America works. Health insurance serves multiple functions. One of those is to indemnify risk. Another is to provide bulk purchasing power, without which the costs of healthcare are frequently multiple times the bargained price.

            Contraception is not such a cost.

            You understand that not every woman takes contraception primarily to prevent pregnancy? That sometimes the need is to prevent or ameliorate medical conditions or diseases? And that some contraception is indeed quite pricey?

            But even then, you can lower your blood pressure through diet and exercise. It’s a choice to lower BP via drugs. Is anyone objecting to BP medicine being part of insurance or made an essential benefit?

            Do you disagree, or is your point that it was unreasonable for people who didn’t want their insurance to cover contraception, some of whom disapproved of contraception, to object to being compelled to subsidize the contraception of other people?

            My point was that contraception was singled out from all the other myriad day to day healthcare “choices” that are still covered as essential benefits. It was the hot-button item.

            And Rush Limbaugh using the word “slut” in reference to Sandra Fluke is just one the many pieces of good evidence indicating why contraception was singled out.

          • Jiro says:

            You understand that not every woman takes contraception primarily to prevent pregnancy?

            Medical contraceptives are sort of like medical marijuana. Occasionally someone needs it medically, but those cases get brought up mostly as excuses by people who want it for non-medical reasons and are using non-central examples because they’re more sympathetic.

          • John Schilling says:

            Health insurance serves multiple functions. One of those is to indemnify risk. Another is to provide bulk purchasing power, without which the costs of healthcare are frequently multiple times the bargained price.

            And yet there are major segments of the health care industry which are generally not covered by insurance, but paid for by the archaic techniques of having the customer write a check, hand over a credit card, or even pay cash money for services rendered. OTC drugs, cosmetic surgery, corrective eye surgery, orthodontics, much of optometry and dentistry generally. Your claim would suggest that in these sectors, where consumers do not have bulk purchasing power, prices would be several times those of comparable goods and services in the sectors where insurance is the norm.

            Is this what you actually see when you look at the market for these health care services?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Jiro:

            Medical contraceptives are sort of like medical marijuana.

            And yet my gay, asexual daughter is on birth control.

            David’s point was simply incorrect.

            @John Schilling:
            That conversation is at 90 degrees to the one we are having about what motivated objections to contraceptives being included in the definition of essential benefits. The system where most people under 65 get much of their healthcare purchased through insurance existed long before the ACA.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ random832:

            No, there is not. Reducing someone’s taxes below the baseline/average level of taxation requires raising everyone else’s taxes by the same amount (proportional to their respective shares of what would have been the tax base) to meet the same overall revenue target. There are no particular spending cuts tied to most ways in which churches are not taxed (social security seems to be complicated and may be an exception), so the revenue target is the same. Reducing someone’s tax while still providing the government services normally paid for with that money (but obviously instead paid for with someone else’s tax money) is basically a subsidy.

            Religious people pay the same taxes as everybody else, so they pay for government services just like everybody else. As for churches themselves, they receive, as far as I’m aware, no special services from the government, so the government occurs no extra expense from their existence. Indeed, taxing religious organisations would basically be forcing them to subsidise non-religious people, since they’d be giving money to the government and not getting any extra services in return.

          • Jiro says:

            And yet my gay, asexual daughter is on birth control.

            I’m sure that there are people who can say that their daughter, who doesn’t want to get high, is on medical marijuana.

            Noncentral examples don’t turn into central examples because they happen to be ones you’re familiar with.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Jiro:
            Regardless, these people exist. Pretending that they don’t so you can also pretend that hormonal birth control is equivalent to a condom is incorrect.

            Not to mention that hormonal birth control or IUDs really do need a medical professional involved to get right. Again, not equivalent to condoms.

            There are other options for lowering blood pressure, as I mentioned before, but objections to BP medication being included in essential benefits are non-existent.

            The question then becomes why it is specifically contraception for females that is objected to, and not something else. And that was raised specifically because of religious objections to making contraception part of essential benefits, most prominently, the Catholic Church.

            It is in that context that Sandra Fluke testified about her need for contraceptives to manage her medical condition and was subsequently called a slut.

          • John Schilling says:

            Regardless, these people exist. Pretending that they don’t so you can also pretend that hormonal birth control is equivalent to a condom is incorrect.

            And I have successfully defended myself against a violent criminal assault with a firearm. People like me exist, and we’re more common than people who use hormonal birth control for exclusively non-contraceptive reasons.

            So the gun control debate is over, right? Not only shall there be no barriers placed in the way of anyone who feels they need to own and carry a firearm, but the government and/or employers should provide free high-quality firearms on request. Or do we turn that around, and allow restrictions on your daughter’s pills comparable to those your fellow Democrats would chose to place in the way of armed citizens like me?

            Also, oral contraceptives – while not yet OTC in most of the United States – are one of those segments of the US health care market where insurance coverage has traditionally not been the norm and so the market provides a wide range of low-cost options for individual purchasers.

          • Jiro says:

            Regardless, these people exist.

            That isn’t really a good rebuttal to “that’s a non-central example”.

            If noncentral examples didn’t exist, they wouldn’t be examples. And I’m sure you can find non-central examples of all sorts of right-wing things too, from third-trimester abortions (a small proportion of all abortions, but they exist, right?) to people killed by illegal immigrants (regardless of how many there are, they exist) to welfare queens (I’m pretty sure that one exists somewhere).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Jiro @John Schilling:
            You guys both seem to be trying to have an argument that is completely orthogonal to the one at hand/why this was brought up.

            The question at hand isn’t whether it is correct to object to contraceptive coverage, but rather why specifically contraceptive coverage was objected to, and whether that objection was motivated by feelings about sex.

          • John Schilling says:

            You guys both seem to be trying to have an argument that is completely orthogonal to the one at hand/why this was brought up.

            I’m not the one who brought up “health insurance is for bargaining power without which health care is impossibly expensive therefore insurance has to pay for birth control”. That was you. So was the noncentral example of asexual use of contraceptives.

            So, yes, we’re going to be talking about whether health insurance is really necessary to make routine health care costs affordable, and we’re going to be talking about whether a group of noncentral oppressed victims is a general bar to law and regulation.

            Or we can walk it back and assume that we’re just talking about the 90+% of birth control that is used by people who are trying to have sex without pregnant and can afford to pay for their own if they have to. In which case, we’re back to “do what you want but don’t make anyone else pay for it” being a reasonable and tolerant position for the GOP.

          • Aapje says:

            @HBC

            He didn’t say that your daughter doesn’t exist, but that people like her are rare.

            Which I think he is wrong about, for example, this study argues that 14% of users use it exclusively for non-contraceptive reasons and another 44% use it for both contraceptive and non-contraceptive reasons.

          • It is in that context that Sandra Fluke testified about her need for contraceptives to manage her medical condition and was subsequently called a slut.

            Sandra Fluke’s testimony is webbed. As you can see, it contains nothing about the need for contraceptives to manage her medical condition. You are perhaps remembering her account of the problems of a woman she knew who did.

            As best one can tell from her testimony, her need for contraceptives was to permit her to have sexual intercourse without getting pregnant, which is the main, although not the only, reason people use them.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @John Schilling:
            Friedman started the line of thought, not me. I simply contend that the objection to contraceptive coverage is rooted in concerns about about sex.

            @DavidFriedman:
            You are correct that I misremembered Fluke’s testimony. I think re-reading that testimony, it makes the accusation of “slut” even more clearly a concern about sexuality.

          • it makes the accusation of “slut” even more clearly a concern about sexuality.

            It is an accurate, if rude, description of what is implied about herself by her testimony, from the standpoint of the traditional sexual norm against non-marital sex. I expect that norm is accepted by a larger fraction of the Republican base than of the Democratic base.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @DavidFriedman:

            I expect that norm is accepted by a larger fraction of the Republican base than of the Democratic base.

            That was (roughly) the entire point.

          • clearairturbulence says:

            Perhaps, HeelBearCub, people who aren’t having, can’t have, or have religious objections to sex simply don’t wish to pay the cost of those who are? Perhaps the use of the word ‘slut’ is just a crude and inefficient way of stating this viewpoint?

          • Jiro says:

            The question at hand isn’t whether it is correct to object to contraceptive coverage, but rather why specifically contraceptive coverage was objected to, and whether that objection was motivated by feelings about sex.

            And I could equally ask the question “do you object to the border wall because you are motivated by a desire to have illegal immigrants kill people”.

            To which the answer is “most illegal immigrants don’t kill people. That’s a non-central example.”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Jiro:
            Huh?

            If you want a border wall because you object to the number of murders Mexicans commit in the US, then that is what your motivation for the wall is.

            We can then argue about whether this is a good reason to build a wall, whether the desired effect will be achieved, at what costs, etc. But if Alice comes along and argues for the wall based on a different reason, it doesn’t change yours. And regardless of whether it is or isn’t a good idea to build the wall, it doesn’t change your motivation for building the wall.

          • cuke says:

            “The most common reason U.S. women use oral contraceptive pills is to prevent pregnancy, but 14% of pill users—1.5 million women—rely on them exclusively for noncontraceptive purposes. The study documenting this finding, “Beyond Birth Control: The Overlooked Benefits of Oral Contraceptive Pills,” by Rachel K. Jones of the Guttmacher Institute, also found that more than half (58%) of all pill users rely on the method, at least in part, for purposes other than pregnancy prevention—meaning that only 42% use the pill exclusively for contraceptive reasons.
            https://www.guttmacher.org/news-release/2011/many-american-women-use-birth-control-pills-noncontraceptive-reasons

            I am mindful as I post this here that 90% of SSC’s readership was surveyed to be men. Can you list off the top of your head half a dozen conditions for which hormonal birth control is prescribed aside from birth control? Do you know how many women in your life have had these conditions or the symptoms they cause? Do you know how much productivity loss and disability is accounted for by those conditions being left untreated?

            I do often enjoy reading the comments to this blog, but I think my most frequent wish is that the heat of people’s opinions not be exceeded by the light of their knowledge supporting them.

            I have found some of the resentments around coverage for women’s health to be baffling. Old guy legislators asking why they should have to pay for mammograms, etc. Do women want to stop men from having coverage to get regular PSA tests or get prescriptions for Flomax? I have moral objections to what I consider to be over-prescribing of some drugs… but I don’t consider it my job to judge for someone else. I’m fine to have my taxes and insurance help someone else pay for something they feel is medically necessary for them, even if I would never want it for me.

            From where I sit, it seems clear to me that we are better off as a society if everyone has the healthcare they need. I want my son’s teacher’s husband to get the high blood pressure meds he needs, so my son’s teacher can focus on teaching my son and not on worrying about her husband having a preventable stroke. I want the unhappy boy in my son’s class to have access to good mental healthcare so he doesn’t take out his unhappiness on my son or others in the class. I want our neighbor who is an alcoholic to have access to substance abuse counseling so he stops screaming drunken profanities at random people while I’m out playing in the yard with my son. And when my son becomes sexually active, I’d like for him and whoever he’s having sex with to have access to good preventative care and testing for STDs, among other things.

            As a side note, there’s pretty solid research now on the benefits of cannabis for a wide range of chronic medical conditions. It’s no joke that many people with PTSD experience real benefits from medical marijuana. Thousands of people with chronic pain conditions have been able to reduce narcotic painkiller consumption due to medical marijuana. People living with cancer, AIDS, autoimmune disease….these aren’t folks just out to get high. It’s really time we put that shaming story down.

            If insurance plans pay for Viagra, insulin, high blood pressure meds, statins, antidepressants, and yes, even synthetic cannabis, why shouldn’t they also pay for birth control pills?

          • John Schilling says:

            That was (roughly) the entire point.

            I thought the point was that Republicans allegedly wanted to police other people’s sexuality. Insulting people and policing people aren’t even roughly the same thing.

          • If insurance plans pay for Viagra, insulin, high blood pressure meds, statins, antidepressants, and yes, even synthetic cannabis, why shouldn’t they also pay for birth control pills?

            The question, for the whole list, is not whether insurance policies should be permitted to cover such things but whether they should be required to, whether it should be illegal to buy and sell a policy that doesn’t.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            From where I sit, it seems clear to me that we are better off as a society if everyone has the healthcare they need.

            Lots more water being carried here than might appear at first glance. How could anybody argue with this claim?

            Well, cavil #1: who decides what they need? We’d be better off as a society if researchers would get off their lazy duffs and cure cancer. Near as I can tell from googling, we spend about three hundredths of a percent of GDP on cancer research. Why isn’t that three percent? Or 30 percent? The answer is that, as a society, we have lots of priorities, and nobody seriously suggests that we should spend 30% of our income on cancer research no matter how many people are dying of cancer.

            Cavil #2: Does it count if everybody has access to the healthcare they want, but they have to actually pay for it? If so, I have no argument, but I’m not sure what your point is. If not, who does have to pay for it? If someone else pays for it, is everybody allowed to scooch up how much healthcare they feel they need, above the amount they would have felt they needed had they paid for it themselves? How far above?

            I think what you really meant is something like “we are better off as a society if we commit to spending [some percentage] of GDP on healthcare, and that spending should be allocated equitably across the population”. But when you say it that way, it raises all kinds of very pertinent questions about how big that percentage should be, and what “equitably” means, which are sort of covered up by your anodyne phrasing.

          • cuke says:

            The question, for the whole list, is not whether insurance policies should be permitted to cover such things but whether they should be required to, whether it should be illegal to buy and sell a policy that doesn’t.

            I suspect one’s answer to that question will hinge in part on whether you see healthcare as a public good or a consumer product. It seems the U.S. is in transition (or simply arguing) over that issue. I see healthcare as a public good, like public education or highway maintenance or policing. This is some combination of a moral view and my assessment about what makes most sense as a practical policy matter. There’s obviously lots of room for disagreement.

            Lots more water being carried here than might appear at first glance.

            Yes absolutely. I’m conveying a moral view rather than spelling out a specific set of policy recommendations. As there are a number of other industrialized countries who have figured out how to provide healthcare for all their people, the answers to what it might look like exist, including how needs and wants are distinguished, how much of GDP gets spent and so on. We can argue over whether we like those models or not, but that wasn’t my intent in this discussion.

            My reason for sharing that moral view at all was in response to some of the discussion higher up in the thread and I’ve been grappling in my own head how to respond more clearly, so I’ll try again…

            But first a process thing… my intent here is less to argue for the rightness of my world view, and more to understand better to what extent conflicting world views are at the root of the tussle above. When I read the comments at SSC I often feel like disagreements over moral views are being fought over bright shiny objects at the surface, and then it tends to devolve into namecalling or cheap shots while people keep pretending to be arguing about “facts.” I find that frustrating. One of the reasons I read these comments is because it’s illuminating to read people with views quite different from mine describing how they come to their views, how they make sense of the world. I have no illusion that we’re going to convince each other of the rightness of our positions, but it seems useful to me to try to understand the other positions as deeply as I can. So back to this other thought…

            The comment upthread about Bill and Melinda Gates giving a (hypothetical?) $10mil grant for bednets while $500k of it goes to a warlord. And the idea that it’s an employer’s entitlement to refuse to have any of their pennies go towards insurance premiums that may give a woman more affordable access to birth control pills. This idea that we are entitled to feel morally aligned 100% with every penny that runs through our hands feels very foreign to me. I’m wondering if this is one of those world view things or if I am misunderstanding the root of the arguments put forth by that side.

            Every time I pay my taxes I feel I am doing the equivalent of the Bill and Melinda Gates grant or the anti-birth control employer who doesn’t want their pennies to go, even indirectly, to birth control. In my worldview, things can never be separated out this way. I can refuse to pay my income taxes and go to jail, and that’s a principled protest. But there’s no option I see where I live without being “contaminated” — or more neutrally, affected — by other people’s choices. In my view, this doesn’t give me the right to interfere with other people’s choices, where the law doesn’t already prohibit their choices. It means we’re implicated all the time in things that we are not 100% morally aligned with — from my perspective that’s the nature of reality all the way down.

            As long as it’s legal for us to wage what I see as unnecessary wars in other countries, some of my money will go for things I absolutely oppose with my whole heart. As long as abortion is legal in the U.S., some people’s money will go for this thing they absolutely oppose with their whole heart. Some of our tax money will go to make laws that allow people with penises to pee in bathrooms marked “women.” Some of our healthcare dollars will go to things we think healthcare shouldn’t cover. We are all sending some of our money to the proverbial warlord. This seems to me what it is to be a grownup in a pluralistic society.

            I would be interested to hear how other people see the world differently. I don’t need to be argued out of my views. But I am interested in learning about other people’s views.

          • I see healthcare as a public good, like public education or highway maintenance or policing.

            “Public good” is a technical term in economics–I don’t know if you realize that and, if so, if that is how you are using it. One of the features of a public good is that it is non-excludable–the producer cannot choose to provide it to some people and not to others. The other is that it is non-crowdable–the cost is the same however many people consume it. A standard example would be an over the air radio broadcast.

            Health care has neither characteristic. The closest you can come is the prevention of contagious disease. If I get vaccinated, that protects everyone who might get the disease from me from doing so. But health care in general is a private good in the normal sense.

            Education is also not a public good. Again, one can argue that it has some partial public good characteristics, on the theory that I benefit indirectly from your education. One standard version is that you need an educated electorate for a democracy. But the education itself is excludable–a school can decide who to let in–and the more people who get it the more it costs.

            Police protection is closer, but even that is far from a pure public good, since the police can choose to respond to calls from some people and not others, to patrol some streets and not others, … .

            How are you using the term?

          • cuke says:

            Yes thanks, I was aware “public good” had a more precise meaning to an economist. I meant it in a less precise way, more or less as wikipedia says here: “In a non-economic sense, the term is often used to describe something that is useful for the public generally, such as education and infrastructure…”

            How do you find the definition of public good to shed light on the question you raised about whether healthcare policies should or should not be required to include particular benefits?

          • abc says:

            Yes thanks, I was aware “public good” had a more precise meaning to an economist. I meant it in a less precise way, more or less as wikipedia says here: “In a non-economic sense, the term is often used to describe something that is useful for the public generally, such as education and infrastructure…”

            That definition makes no sense. What does it mean for something to be “useful to the public generally”? If you mean simply something that is useful, food is useful, cars are useful, having a private jet is useful.

          • clearairturbulence says:

            This idea that we are entitled to feel morally aligned 100% with every penny that runs through our hands feels very foreign to me.

            You can’t say this while simultaneously making moral arguments for where you feel tax dollars should be spent.

          • I meant it in a less precise way, more or less as wikipedia says here: “In a non-economic sense, the term is often used to describe something that is useful for the public generally, such as education and infrastructure…”

            There are two ways of reading “useful for the public generally.” One is “my producing it provides benefits to people in general, not just to the person I produce it for.” That comes close to the economic definition. I already sketched the argument for applying it to education, although as it happens I don’t think it is a very persuasive argument.

            The other way is “something that everyone consumes.” By that definition, food is a public good, electricity is a public good, practically everything is, so I don’t think that is what is intended.

            Healthcare is a public good only in the second sense–with the exception I mentioned.

            How do you find the definition of public good to shed light on the question you raised about whether healthcare policies should or should not be required to include particular benefits?

            If something is a public good in the economic sense, then when someone produces it everyone, at least everyone in some preexisting group (say people in range of the radio broadcast), gets it. So the decision of what it consists of gets made for everyone.

            For an ordinary private good, I can buy and consume my preferred version, you can buy and consume yours. So the only reasons to insist that I consume a particular bundle of health insurance coverage are either paternalism, the idea that the authorities know what is in my interest better than I do, or cross subsidization, making me pay part of the cost of protection that other people want. In the particular case we are discussing, the objective appears to be to make people who don’t want contraception subsidize those who do.

            Actually, there is a third possible reason in some cases–to benefit the producers of some particular form of health care by making everyone’s insurance cover it. I suspect that, long before Obamacare, that was a good deal of the reason why state regulations required certain things to be included in health insurance.

          • 1soru1 says:

            > One of the features of a public good is that it is non-excludable–the producer cannot choose to provide it to some people and not to others.

            Any good is excludable given enough dedication to making it so.

            The moral and pragmatic problem with treating health care as something other than a public good is precisely that that does require it to be excludable. In other words, doctors must make the conscious decision to let people they could easily treat within available resources die for financial reasons.

            Doctors being doctors, they don’t want to do so. And few would want to be in the position it is five o clock on a Friday, and the person immediately standing in front of you would live, if only you spent half an hour of your own time on them, off the clock. And there are thirty people in line behind them.

            So, in practice, the US lacks the dedication required to make heath care truly excludeable. So you end up with some incredibly complex semi-functioning mechanism of insurance and regulation and cross-subsidies and mandates that have a net effect of preventing any of the theoretical benefits of a competitive market system.

            For a freer market, you need to look to somewhere like the UK. The existence of a free state-organised alternative means excluding a potential patient from private health care is actually possiblle; it’s not killing them, but merely sending them to a different hospital. This allows all market mechanism to work normally, and so private health care is affordable, and gets cheaper over time, the same as other non-public goods.

            https://boughtbymany.com/news/article/private-health-insurance-cost-uk/

          • John Schilling says:

            The moral and pragmatic problem with treating health care as something other than a public good is precisely that that does require it to be excludable. In other words, doctors must make the conscious decision to let people they could easily treat within available resources die for financial reasons.

            And a farmer or a baker must make the conscious decision to let people they could easily feed within available resources die for financial reasons.
            Does this make food a “public good”?

            I think we’ve already got the term “necessity” for goods that people will literally die or otherwise suffer intolerable harm without. When you say that necessities must also be “public goods”, I think you are smuggling in a pretty big assumption that is neither trivially true nor universally held.

          • baconbacon says:

            The moral and pragmatic problem with treating health care as something other than a public good is precisely that that does require it to be excludable. In other words, doctors must make the conscious decision to let people they could easily treat within available resources die for financial reasons.

            Doctors being doctors, they don’t want to do so. And few would want to be in the position it is five o clock on a Friday, and the person immediately standing in front of you would live, if only you spent half an hour of your own time on them, off the clock. And there are thirty people in line behind them.

            This doesn’t remotely describe reality. Reframe it

            The problem is at 5 o’clock on a Friday the person immediately standing in front of you doesn’t have any food, and for half an hour of your own time you could go out and harvest them some food, and there are 30 people in line behind them. I guess people starve to death under capitalism all the time, and farming needs to be controlled by the government to prevent it?

          • 1soru1 says:

            > Does this make food a “public good”?

            Not outside famine conditions. If security turns away someone from a grocery store, they know that they will not literally starve to death before they have an opportunity to earn, beg or borrow the price of a meal.

            In a famine (with no international food aid, so probably pre-WWII), that’s not true. Food shops did have to exclude the hungry knowing that they will die. Which worked, because the shopkeeper knew that if they give away their stock, their own children would starve.

            It’s hard to recreate that motivation in a rich society; various Hollywood films have tried to present a dystopian society that would deny someone a 5$ item that they literally need to live another day. I don’t think any of them managed to have that scenario make sense. Maybe they are just not trying hard enough; I suppose you could try something like public executions for doctors who treat the sick without requiring payment, and then shoot any judges who fail to find doctors who do that guilty, etc. Doesn’t sound like much fun.

            In any case, without such measures, health care is not an excludable good. Except when it is layered on top of a baseline, non-excludable system. Any health system that fails to recognize that fact is simply not going to work.

          • abc says:

            The moral and pragmatic problem with treating health care as something other than a public good is precisely that that does require it to be excludable. In other words, doctors must make the conscious decision to let people they could easily treat within available resources die for financial reasons.

            Doctors being doctors, they don’t want to do so. And few would want to be in the position it is five o clock on a Friday, and the person immediately standing in front of you would live, if only you spent half an hour of your own time on them, off the clock. And there are thirty people in line behind them.

            First that logic only applies to emergency rooms, not life style drugs like birth control. In fact emergency rooms are required by law to accept anyone claiming an emergency and worry about getting paid or not later. In practice, the people claiming an emergency include druggies who just want access to drugs. The emergency workers know who they are, they aren’t stupid and it’s usually the same druggies every week, but are required to go through the motions anyway.

      • eccdogg says:

        What are some examples of sexuality policing and religious indoctrination that republicans are advocating for or advocate spending money on? I will give you military and border control.

        • Bugmaster says:

          I’m thinking of things like anti-sodomy laws (on the wane recently, but still popular in some states), faith-based initiatives, Creationism, abortion bans, Muslim bans, etc. To be fair, Democrats often want similar things, just with the gender/sexuality/whatever flipped 180 degrees.

          • Iain says:

            What does an abortion ban look like, flipped 180 degrees? Mandatory abortions for all?

          • Bugmaster says:

            Haha, well, I did specify “often” as opposed to “always”. That said, Democrats are generally supportive of laws that ban “hate speech”; speech that is in opposition to abortion can qualify. In addition, in some states such as California, there are laws on the books specifically designed to make abortion easier to obtain (though this may not be the case in the majority of states, I’m not sure).

          • Jaskologist says:

            It looks like mandating nuns procure contraceptives and businesses buy abortifacients.

  41. meh says:

    Either the two parties must merge, or one moderate party must fail, as the voters gravitate to the two strong parties, a trend Duverger called polarization.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duverger%27s_law

  42. baconbacon says:

    Some more context to this discussion

    First the party control breakdown. Democrats held a majority in the House for every year except 4 (non consecutive) from the early 30s through the mid 90s. 58 out of 62 years they held the House, with 60%+ of the seats a good chunk of the time. 52 of those 62 years they also held the Senate, and only in 2 years did Rs hold the House, Senate and Presidency, and only 2 other years did they hold 2/3 prior to 1980. Ds, in contrast, held all three for 36 years during that span.

    If you take the federal spending as % of GDP, you see it peaks right around 1982 and declines through ~ 2000. During that span Rs hold the Senate for 12/20 years, the House for 6/20 years (remember that they held the house for a total of 4 out of the previous 62 years before taking it back in ’94), and the White House for 12/20 years. They hold 2/3 together for 12/20 years. This is the only span since the FDR won his first term as president that Rs held 2/3rds of the House, Senate and Presidency for more than 2 consecutive years, and it is also the period in which federal spending fell the most significant amount not associated with the end of WW2.

    The only argument for the failure of conservatism when they actually had political power at the national level it is for the period of 2000-2006 where federal spending rose ~2.5% of GDP after it had fallen ~5% of GDP under the previous conservative influence.

  43. I know that, to many of you, each additional page of federal regulations is a direct infringement on human freedom. The reality is more complicated.

    What we are seeing, in all kinds of business and government contexts, is a general increase in specificity. What used to be stated in general terms is now done with exactitude, which of course takes much more verbiage.

    Some of this is driven by lawyers constantly poking at the rules, looking for loopholes, reading every word with perverse literalism. Some of it is risk aversion, so policies are written in great detail to avert every imaginable catastrophe. But most of all, there is general mistrust for the functionaries who implement the policy; ever-greater specificity narrows the scope of their discretion.

    For example, when municipal zoning codes were first created in the 1920s, they were brief by modern standards, specifying uses with simple words like “commercial” or “residential”; interpretation of those words was left to the discretion of officials and inspectors. Now, after a almost a century of controversies and challenges, zoning codes express the same concepts in hundreds of pages of numbing detail.

    Or a more tangible example: some years back, I toured a large, elegant house built in the 1920s. Along the way, we were shown the architect’s original plans for the building, with elevations, floor plans, etc., in a way which was standard for that time. From a layperson’s perspective, these drawings look very detailed, but in fact a tremendous amount of discretion was left to tradespeople (carpenters, plasterers, glaziers, plumbers, electricians, heating contractors, etc.) to implement the plan.

    Today, by contrast, an architect’s plan for a comparable building would leave nothing to chance, down to the tiniest detail, with at least 20 times as many pages of plans and specifications.

    Probably this is an element of “cost disease”. In a 1925 building project, it was considered reasonable to trust a hired carpenter to implement a plan based on his own knowledge, experience and skill. Today, such trust would be considered foolhardy.

    Architects and engineers remember that (for Horrible Example) improvised construction-site adaptations led to the 1981 Kansas City hotel walkway collapse. Therefore, they concern themselves with specifying details like the swing of every kitchen cabinet door, for fear that nobody on site would get it right unless it’s written down in advance.

    • albatross11 says:

      It is not at all clear that lots of added specificity leads to better results. Among other things, nailing down every detail in the regulations tends to make it really hard to adapt to technological change.

      • It is not at all clear that lots of added specificity leads to better results.

        I didn’t say it did. But it is a trend with tremendous momentum behind it.

        And it’s not limited to government regulations: almost everywhere, informal, generalized ways of doing things are being supplanted by formal, tightly specified systems.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Doesn’t this just sound like the kind of errors criticized in Seeing Like A State? With the same eventual collapse?

      Which is also an argument against immigration and multiculturalism. When there’s no one pooping in the pool because who would even do such a thing, there’s no need for a sign that says “no pooping in the pool.” Import a bunch of pool poopers and now you need regulations about which pools can be and cannot be pooped in at what times, Committees on Pool Poop Education, a Department of Pool Pooping Enforcement, all the commensurate taxes, etc.

      • hoghoghoghoghog says:

        Re immigration: I think you are privileging the hypothesis.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          “Immigrants will have a different culture than the existing population.” Is this controversial?

          For a more concrete example, we might not need quite as extensive a surveillance state if we didn’t have a sizable population of people from a religion whose followers are not entirely allergic to terrorism.

          • albatross11 says:

            Fair enough, though I suspect very strongly that the huge post-9/11 surveillance state isn’t something we need, so much as something some powerful people very much wanted to build. And the risk of terrorism provides a justification, but not necessarily a reason.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @albatross11

            Okay. Because of all the different languages spoken in the US, my workplace has a translation service to which it subscribes, we have policies in place for how to deal with members of the public who don’t speak English, and we all have to have training to implement these policies. This is just pure cost, with no ulterior political motive behind it. Diversity is expensive.

          • from a religion whose followers are not entirely allergic to terrorism

            Keeping Catholics out was at one point a live political issue, but it’s a bit late now.

          • Okay. Because of all the different languages spoken in the US, my workplace has a translation service to which it subscribes, we have policies in place for how to deal with members of the public who don’t speak English, and we all have to have training to implement these policies. This is just pure cost, with no ulterior political motive behind it. Diversity is expensive.

            You don’t say what your workplace is. If the translators are for customers, you presumably have them–I’m assuming it’s not mandated by state law–because even with the cost of the translators the customers are worth having. In which case you are, on net, better off due to foreigners being here, not worse off.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Keeping Catholics out was at one point a live political issue, but it’s a bit late now.

            Is that why we have the surveillance state?

            You don’t say what your workplace is. If the translators are for customers, you presumably have them–I’m assuming it’s not mandated by state law–because even with the cost of the translators the customers are worth having. In which case you are, on net, better off due to foreigners being here, not worse off.

            Wouldn’t we be better off still if we had admitted only english speakers? There’s no shortage of people who want to come here.

            Do you disagree on the meta? Multiculturalism is expensive (in time, money and complexity), and requires extra layers of rules, regulations and expenditures to mediate between the different cultures. The result of this requirement is a bigger and more invasive state.

          • I wrote:

            Keeping Catholics out was at one point a live political issue, but it’s a bit late now.

            You replied:

            Is that why we have the surveillance state?

            No. I’m not sure it’s due to Muslim immigrants either.

            You snipped the quote I was responding to:

            from a religion whose followers are not entirely allergic to terrorism

            My point was that that description applied to Catholics–consider Ireland–as well as to Muslims. I could have pointed out that it also applied to Jews–consider Palestine shortly before the establishment of the State of Israel.

            Wouldn’t we be better off still if we had admitted only english speakers? There’s no shortage of people who want to come here.

            I expect the total number of English speakers who want to come is less than the current rate of immigration, although I don’t have figures to support that.

            Do you disagree on the meta? Multiculturalism is expensive (in time, money and complexity), and requires extra layers of rules, regulations and expenditures to mediate between the different cultures. The result of this requirement is a bigger and more invasive state.

            Yes I disagree. Multiculturalism raises some problems for the state, but one solution to those problems is to have the state do less. Private institutions can do a fine job of mediating between different cultures.

            As with most arguments of this sort, you can find reasons why multiculturalism leads to more state or to less, and which you find depends mostly on which you are looking for.

            You might consider that America has long been one of the most culturally diverse of developed countries and has long had a smaller state than other and less culturally diverse states.

    • John Schilling says:

      Coincidentally just yesterday, examples of federal regulation as an infringement on the human freedom. Particularly annoying in that the human in question was trying to materially improve federal property because it would be good for his business along with everyone else’s pleasure.

      These I do not think can be attributed to increased specificity. Quite the opposite – the regulations in question seem to be very broadly scoped, “if it might be archaeologically significant, might be environmentally sensitive, if it has been deemed ‘historic’, then whatever you’re doing, stop right now and do an expensive study, then wait for the committee to make its arbitrary decision”.

    • reasoned argumentation says:

      But most of all, there is general mistrust for the functionaries who implement the policy; ever-greater specificity narrows the scope of their discretion.

      Yes, these changes are downstream of replacing high trust, highly cooperative white people with non-white people.

      Along the way, we were shown the architect’s original plans for the building, with elevations, floor plans, etc., in a way which was standard for that time. From a layperson’s perspective, these drawings look very detailed, but in fact a tremendous amount of discretion was left to tradespeople (carpenters, plasterers, glaziers, plumbers, electricians, heating contractors, etc.) to implement the plan.

      Same goes for replacing white tradesmen with third world peasants.

      • Civilis says:

        I think someone needs to ask, and I’ll step up: why do you think ‘white people’ is a good proxy for the cultural values that you seek, which more closely align to tribal and other group affinity and alliance? I’d rather trust a Thomas Sowell or a Nikki Haley than a white blue-tribe member to represent my cultural values.

        For that matter, I’d rather trust a random Cuban, Korean, or Vietnamese second or third generation immigrant to cooperate as far as the values necessary for a functional high-trust society than I would a random white person. In part, that’s because society fails to produce enough white tradesmen (and their modern relatives, the small business owner). It’s the tradesman or small business owner I trust, not the ‘white’ part, and from my experience, those cultures produce a lot of tradesmen and small business owners because the values overlap.

        It’s because a small predominantly white intellectual class has destroyed the values necessary for a high trust society that we have the problems we do.

      • hoghoghoghoghog says:

        That last part is very interesting! What economic reason was there for businessmen to replace competent tradespeople with peasants? Or did the government make them do it?

        • reasoned argumentation says:

          It’s called a prisoner’s dilemma.

          The first person to hire all illegal Mexican peasants (defect) to staff his contracting company undercuts everyone else on price. When people are hiring contractors there’s asymmetric information they can’t see quality so they hire on price with the assumption that in a competitive market quality is pretty similar. Every other contractor follows suit or fails to get contracts. Someone trying to compete on a different dimension will mostly fail because it’s much easier to promise the customer that you won’t bring in a crew of illegals to do the work you promised then once they’re committed, do exactly that. What happens is that you went from a high trust, high quality market equilibrium to a low trust, low quality equilibrium.

          • When people are hiring contractors there’s asymmetric information they can’t see quality so they hire on price with the assumption that in a competitive market quality is pretty similar.

            If people really can’t observe quality, quality will sink with or without the availability of illegal immigrants. Your theory seems to imply that all the lumber will be rotten, the ironwork rusty, the plumbing badly connected, … . That doesn’t seem to be what we observe.

            The story you are telling isn’t prisoner’s dilemma. It’s adverse selection, aka the market for lemons.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            Prisoner’s dilemma describes the situation the contractors are in – if they prefer to not do shoddy work for rock bottom prices but can’t effectively signal quality. Even more so for commodity business like strawberry farming.

            If people really can’t observe quality, quality will sink with or without the availability of illegal immigrants. Your theory seems to imply that all the lumber will be rotten, the ironwork rusty, the plumbing badly connected, … . That doesn’t seem to be what we observe.

            No, that’s what would happen in a purely low trust society. In a high trust society people don’t do all these things at minimum due to concern for their reputation. In a low trust society people dissolve entities and fade into a generally low trust background where everyone does that kind of thing and as a result all the buyers spend effort exercising supervision. That effort is a dead weight loss.

          • AnarchyDice says:

            I can help clear some of this up as an engineer in the industry of building (I do lighting, power, and fire alarm designs).

            Architects, owners, and engineers in the industry all know and avoid low-quality contractors just as general contractors do for sub-par sub-contractors. These are easily found out by contractors under-bidding then constantly coming back for more money with tiny nitpicks on each and every aspect of the design because they didn’t actually price it at what it costs to build. That or they perform badly, which the owner will hold them to with building warranties after the fact. At least, this is the general case with privately owned buildings, state owned buildings are less able to defend against bad contractors, but not hugely so, as every state project rep has their own way of working around the regulations such as: they are legally required to take lowest bids, be open to all possible comers, must always give the ability for contractors to substitute alternative products, etc.

            State or no, however, the worst projects are always when the owner is strapped for cash relative to the project size and especially for owners that haven’t done any building projects before (they also usually have eyes bigger than their budgets, don’t understand contingency money, and are indecisive). Once that happens though, things devolve into bickering over details of the contract/drawings, where the fault can lie with any number of people.

            As to the claim about dropping building quality, I invite anyone believing that to step inside schools or factories built around 1900 or anytime more than 30 years ago to see how bad wiring, safety, foundation, quality, and the like are compared to modern buildings. The main problem cited by those in the industry is not the lack of quality but the increase in price, partially due to more HVAC, more safety, more fire alarm, more wiring, more everything required or demanded by code or clients.

    • Kevin C. says:

      Isn’t this at least partially Max Weber’s “rationalization”? The tendency of modernity to favor “rational-legal” authority over “charismatic” or “traditional” authority, and to replace the human discretion of human leaders with specified, written rules implemented mechanically by constrained bureaucrats — or, in our present day, perhaps by computers? (Weber, of course, was too long ago to predict machines that could do this sort of “rule implementation”, but perhaps at least some of his “rationalization” could be better described as “algorithmization”, and a key contributor to “software eating the world”?)

      • Isn’t this at least partially Max Weber’s “rationalization”? The tendency of modernity to favor “rational-legal” authority over “charismatic” or “traditional” authority, and to replace the human discretion of human leaders with specified, written rules implemented mechanically by constrained bureaucrats…

        Sure. My point just is that this “rationalization” (toward “rational-legal” authority) inevitably leads to more verbosely stated regulations, even if literally nothing changes.

  44. Progressive Reformation says:

    This explanation is quite persuasive, and my guess is that it’s probably no small part of the story.

    But there are a few questions I’d have, starting with: why didn’t conservatives like Bill Clinton? After all, even if he ran as a liberal, he did cut government spending – by more than Saint Reagan did, in fact. And if ‘small government’ is the goal, why is Rand Paul perennially not a strong contender in the Republican primaries, ever?

    Also, I have a hard time digesting the notion that such large numbers of Americans have a commitment to abstract ideological positions. America may have been founded by philosophers of government, but I don’t believe for an instant that she contains 70 million people intellectually committed to ‘small government’. And on top of this I also have to believe that the stronghold of ‘small government’ enthusiastically backed the New Deal? Madness!

    I’d advance an alternate speculation (and my ideas are admittedly pure speculation) – that it’s tribal identifiers all the way down. The government bureaucracy is staffed almost exclusively by the ‘educated’ class, especially agencies like the EPA; so they are culturally the enemies of the ‘conservative’ Red Tribe. Tax money mostly goes to these bureaucracies, so the Blue Tribe sees this as rational taxation for good causes, while the Red Tribe interprets it as their enemy plundering them. [Except for the military, which is still a mostly Red Tribe institution – and note how this model correctly predicts that conservatives are more pro-military-spending, which is not predicted by the small-government hypothesis]. So “small government” is a logical stance for today’s Red Tribesman for non-ideological (i.e. more natural or human) reasons; while back in the day this same tribe was enthusiastically supporting Huey Long. Some elite, ‘educated’ conservatives might have a genuine ideological conviction (Rand Paul); others are probably just taking advantage of the tribal associations (Ted Cruz). But for the average voter, tribe trumps ideology.

    [Lest someone accuse me of saying the Red Tribe is shallow or stupid, I think the above is true of the Blue Triber as well; and I don’t consider tribal loyalties to be shallower than ideological loyalties anyhow.]

    • baconbacon says:

      After all, even if he ran as a liberal, he did cut government spending

      Conservatives remember it as their control of congress reducing government spending, which was done after long and acrimonious battles with Clinton and included a pair of government shut downs to achieve. Some of them also view it as being a driver for the economic growth of the 90s, which is often attributed to Clinton, so basically they hated him at the time for fighting them, and then hated him later for claiming what they viewed as their credit.

    • reasoned argumentation says:

      I’d advance an alternate speculation (and my ideas are admittedly pure speculation) – that it’s tribal identifiers all the way down. The government bureaucracy is staffed almost exclusively by the ‘educated’ class, especially agencies like the EPA; so they are culturally the enemies of the ‘conservative’ Red Tribe. Tax money mostly goes to these bureaucracies, so the Blue Tribe sees this as rational taxation for good causes, while the Red Tribe interprets it as their enemy plundering them.

      This seems pretty clearly true.

      A right wing EPA would have banned birth control pills for contaminating the water supply with estrogen. How many reports of hermaphroditic frogs and fish have you seen? How about the EPA regulating anti-depressant usage for the same reason – it also ends up in rivers and streams and the brains of fish and animals and back into municipal water supplies. It’s about as plausible as most other environmental regulation but hormonal birth control and anti-depressants are both prized by the blue tribe and isn’t considered because the EPA mostly acts as a punitive arm of the blue tribe attempting to reduce red tribe wealth.

      • the EPA mostly acts as a punitive arm of the blue tribe attempting to reduce red tribe wealth.

        Um, what?

        • hlynkacg says:

          I don’t really want to get into it, but I’m pretty sure he’s referring to the infamous waterways decision and the Obama admin’s “war on coal”.

      • beleester says:

        A right wing EPA would have banned birth control pills for contaminating the water supply with estrogen. How many reports of hermaphroditic frogs and fish have you seen?

        Wow, I never thought I’d see the “Obama turned the frogs gay” line on this site.

        • reasoned argumentation says:

          This is why it’s pointless to even try to have a civil discussion with most people on the left.

          Hermaphroditic frogs isn’t some crazy right wing meme – it’s a prog meme – googling it turns up “serious” academic works and links in Newsweek.

          “Obama turned the frogs gay” is a non-sequitur that’s pure tribal snark. The point is that when it looked like it was pesticides used by red tribe people the press and academia was all over it – when it turns out that it’s something sacred to the left it’s down the memory hole with “look at these drooling morons who think Obama turned the frogs gay”. Your brain isn’t working at anything other than the level of who/whom.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            This is why it’s pointless to even try to have a civil discussion with most people on the left.

            This is why it’s pointless to even try to have a civil discussion with most people on the right [smiley face]

            For real though, if the rightwing EPA went after birth control, the leftwing EPA would be going after steroid use in factory farms. They’re not, so I conclude that the science really isn’t yet at the point to justify action.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            The EPA has nothing to do with that – that’s the FDA since the concern there isn’t the runoff it’s the condition of the animals.

            The point is that the EPA is supposed to deal with contaminants in the water supply and air and yet they’re conspicuously silent about something that has a significantly larger effect than lots of other things that they do act on and that (coincidentally I’m sure) it’s exactly in an area where the who/whom question gives the opposite answer.

            The leftwing EPA is the actual EPA.

          • James Kabala says:

            Apparently gay frogs is a genuine Alex Jones thing. I never heard of it before either, but it appears to be a claim Jones really made.

          • beleester says:

            @James Kabala has it – I’ve only ever heard that line from the right-wing fringe, hence the snark. I’m surprised to find it was a left-wing meme as well.

            But I did google it, and find the Newsweek article that you mentioned. And you know what else that article said? “They didn’t find any trace of synthetic estrogens like those contained in birth control pills.”

            So consider the possibility that the reason the EPA isn’t banning birth control pills is because they’re not to blame.

    • Nornagest says:

      Tax money mostly goes to these bureaucracies

      As people have said elsewhere in more detail, tax money mostly goes to Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security, and the military. The first three have bureaucracies attached, but those are more like overhead than direct consumers of tax dollars; your taxes are really going to delivering the entitlements they represent. The military is a bureaucracy in itself, but not one in the style of the EPA.

      By far the largest EPA-style bureaucracies are the ones managing education, which are funded mostly at the state and local levels. The Department of Education is a driver of their growth because of the stuff it mandates, but an indirect one; you could conceivably cut total tax expenditure noticeably (but not hugely) by returning us to near-total local control of schooling, but those cuts would principally affect state- and local-level administrators and wouldn’t make more than a rounding error in the federal budget. I can’t think of anywhere else where you could affect taxation much by blowing away a bureaucracy, holding the actual entitlement spending constant (let us presume that money’s set on fire).

  45. Kevin C. says:

    So, the argument goes, if
    A. Republican politicians, as a group, are powerful enough to get enacted the things they really want (“able”)
    B. And Republicans want X, where X is “smaller/less intrusive/more local government”, “less immigration”, whatever (“willing”)
    then we would have X. But we don’t have X. I note how many of the commentors — and most of my fellows on the Right elsewhere — conclude that the problem is B; that Republican politicians are unwilling. I mean, some at least try to give some good reasons. Like pointing out that the party isn’t a monolith, and on any particular X, you can find some Republicans who don’t agree. Or the public choice incentives of remaining in office in democracy. Or that what Republican voters want is evil and will literally hurt and kill lots and lots of people, and so Republican politicians are good, decent enough people to not give them what they want.

    But why are so few people willing to countenance the idea that it might be A? That Republican politicians are not betrayers or [insert term derived from nest parasite bird] who are unwilling, but that they’re unable, that they don’t have the power to implement the things they’d like to. I mean, if I’m reading this post correctly, Scott does seem to be ultimately arguing a position like that, but even then he says:

    They control the House, the Senate, the Presidency, 66% of state governorships, 68% of relevant state legislatures, and are kind of tied-ish for control of the Supreme Court. They’ve been two of the last four Presidents, and controlled Congress more often than not during that period.

    (I’d dispute the Supreme Court bit there, myself.) So then he goes on to argue that the inability of Republicans to get what they want is because what they want is contrary to massive, inevitable civilizational trends that simply cannot be fought, not without making things go (even more) to shit.*
    However, I’d like to raise the alternative I so rarely see considered by anyone. That the problem is indeed with the “able”, not the “willing”, and that this problem persists despite holding “the White House, Congress, a majority of state governments, etc.” says something important about where power actually lies. Could it not be that Republicans can’t get what they want done despite holding those offices because those offices no longer really matter as much as most think they do? That the actual power to “get whatever you want” in politics lies mostly, if not entirely, in other institutions, in which Republicans have little say? Ones like, as folks have mentioned piecemeal here and there throughout these comments, the bureaucracy, the courts, the mass media, academia (a.k.a. Moldbug’s Cathedral). Is it really so unthinkable that our elected offices have been effectively rendered subordinate in practice to the unelected portions, that Republicans could be voted into every single elected office in America and the Left still control the true levers of power?

    *Ultimately, how does this “secular trends” argument differ, really, from “the arc of history” or “Cthulhu swims slowly, but he always swims Left”?

    • Bugmaster says:

      Is it really so unthinkable … that Republicans could be voted into every single elected office in America and the Left still control the true levers of power?

      Well, it’s certainly thinkable, but lots of things are thinkable. The question you should be asking is, “how likely is it that the Left controls the true levers of power ?”.

      To answer that question, you’ll need two things. Firstly, you’ll need to propose some sort of a falsifiable mechanism by which this form of control functions. Secondly, you are going to need to supply some evidence for this mechanism. Here’s where it gets tricky, though: your evidence should not merely fit your proposed model, but it should fit your model better than it fits the current leading model (i.e. that if more people vote Republican as opposed to Democrat, this is at least somewhat indicative that more people are supportive of Republican ideas and policies).

      So far, I’ve never seen anyone propose such a mechanism. Moldbug is a very articular and engaging writer, but at the end of the day all he’s got are some “just so” stories, not evidence.

      • Kevin C. says:

        “how likely is it that the Left controls the true levers of power ?”

        Well given that the Left has been having their way, long term, for centuries, and not so much the Right…

        that if more people vote Republican as opposed to Democrat, this is at least somewhat indicative that more people are supportive of Republican ideas and policies

        My model certainly believes this. The problem is with the assumption that “more people being supportive of Republican ideas and policies” actually matters. Iron Law of Oligarchy. Every society is ruled by an elite minority, and the “masses” are but powerless peasants (as a commentor elsewhere I enjoy often puts it). The “common folk” can be as supportive of Republican ideas as they want, it doesn’t mean they’ll get them. Because only the opinions of the elite ever really matter. And our ruling elites are uniformly on the left. Uniformly, because part of what makes a ruling elite and elite, singular, rather than warring elites, plural, is a common religion/Weltanschauung/ideological system/whatever you want to call it. Which is why I hold that “religious freedom” is ultimately more myth than real possibility, maintained only by defining religion in a very narrow (and Protestant-based) manner, particularly when compared to the definitions used by anthropologists and scholars of comparative religion (see also Winifred Sullivan’s The Impossibility of Religious Freedom). And which left government vulnerable to the first home-grown tradition to go non-theistic, and thereby shed the antigens by which the government’s immune system against theocracy recognizes a religiously-motivated takeover.

      • SamChevre says:

        “Everyone who has to compete for votes opposes it, and every time the voters get to vote directly they oppose it, but it happens anyway” describes the same-sex marriage issue almost perfectly.

        • onyomi says:

          This is the kind of example which makes me think I still don’t understand why our government does or does not do anything, and that maybe no one really does.

          And the answer can’t just be “the left gets its way, regardless of what the voters want,” because, well, gun control and global warming.

          I’ve long felt the workings of the Chinese government (the largest government, besides the US government, I have much reason to even attempt to figure out) to be especially opaque because it’s definitely not a democracy yet also not some kind of pure dictatorship like the DPRK or Gaddafi’s Libya. Instead, it’s just this mysterious thing where party leaders emerge, compete among one another, lose support and get replaced by other leaders, etc.

          But maybe it’s not the opacity of the Chinese government that’s the outlier; maybe it’s what seems like the transparency of Western, liberal democracies. But maybe that transparency is largely an illusion: what ultimately happens is what the leaders decide is going to happen. Who picks the leaders? Well, yes, technically the voters, but it’s still 90% behind-closed-door jockeying for support between various factions.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Same-sex marriage came about because 200 years ago the founders included a bill of rights into the constitution.

            Isn’t that the whole point of constitutional rights? to prevent the majority from unjustly working their will on the minority?

            Why is that inscrutable?

            Sure, the majority seems to still hold sway if it’s big enough, but that doesn’t seem mysterious to me either?

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            And the answer can’t just be “the left gets its way, regardless of what the voters want,” because, well, gun control and global warming.

            Leaving aside global warming for now the left isn’t being stymied by voters, they’re being stymied by gun owners. What’s someone going to do about court ordered gay marriage? Defy the court as a county clerk? The only problem to be solved there is making sure that doesn’t snowball and they have enough control over the media and the bureaucracy to make sure that doesn’t happen. Actually outlawing guns and enforcing it means that for everyone who doesn’t take an action and voluntarily comply you have to send someone to their home to seize their property and that property is a weapon that can be used against the men sent to seize it.

            HeelBearCub –

            Ah, the classic “we fought the Civil War over gay marriage so that’s why it’s in the 14th amendment” view.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Same-sex marriage came about because 200 years ago the founders included a bill of rights into the constitution.

            This would work just as well as a suntzuanime comment.

          • Same-sex marriage came about because 200 years ago the founders included a bill of rights into the constitution.

            And for two hundred years the most brilliant legal minds in the country, including the ones on the Supreme Court, didn’t notice that the bill of rights implied same sex marriage? They still haven’t noticed that it includes polygamy, and the Supreme Court ruled on that issue more than a century ago.

            I think your explanation fails to explain.

          • Jiro says:

            Leaving aside global warming for now the left isn’t being stymied by voters, they’re being stymied by gun owners.

            And even that’s only because the Supreme Court split among strict party lines on whether gun control is allowed by the Constitution, and happened not to be tilted enough to the left to let gun control through.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Why were the 13th and the 14th amendments necessary? To extend the protections of liberty to all. It’s the concept of individual rights (in the face of the majority) I am talking about, not the specific amendments and when they were adopted. If you want to go back even further to the individual rights afforded by English common law, I think you could.

            The point being that it was the courts, and not democracy, that provided for same-sex marriage. You can’t use it as an example of the elite politicians overruling the will of the people.

            As to arguments about how long the constitutional rights existed, I’ll just quote myself from the first post:

            Sure, the majority seems to still hold sway if it’s big enough, but that doesn’t seem mysterious to me either?

          • cassander says:

            It’s not that the left always gets its way, it’s that because of various ratchet methods, most right wing victories are temporary and most left wing victories are permanent, so even if the left only gets their way a couple times a decade, the world creeps ever leftward.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            The constitution is dead. Why are people discussing it as though it matters? It means whatever the Justices say it means, and the Justices will say it means whatever the currently-dominant tribe want it to mean at any given moment. If a butterfly had farted in a different field and Hillary had won instead, we’d be talking about Hate Speech laws, which would in due course be found constitutional. If Trump packs the court sufficiently, Muslims might not have a right to enter the country any more. Three cheers for the Living Constitution, and the Devil take the hindmost.

            [EDIT] – Apologies if this comes across as excessively snarky, but I find it impossible to believe that anyone actually thinks the Constitution means anything in our current society. I mean, I can imagine someone thinking that it SHOULD mean something, obviously that would be great. But the prevailing attitude toward it from an overwhelming majority of the country just seems insurmountable.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @cassander:
            The world changes.

            If you define conservative as a desire to keep things as they are, it’s no wonder that conservatives think they are always losing.

          • Jiro says:

            The point being that it was the courts, and not democracy, that provided for same-sex marriage. You can’t use it as an example of the elite politicians overruling the will of the people

            It’s an example of the elites overruling the will of the people.

            Scott”s whole point is that Republicans have all the power and yet can’t get their policies into place. To which the reply is, no, Republicans don’t have all the power. Being overrulled by judges is an example of “don’t have all the power”, and contradicts Scott’s thesis, whether judges count as elite politicians or just plain elites.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Jiro:
            But that didn’t seem to be the thrust of either onyomi’s or SamChevre’s posts. They both seem confused as to how the majority’s will could possibly be thwarted. It doesn’t seem confusing to me at all when you set up a system that protects individual rights and protects them through the judicial process.

          • abc says:

            It doesn’t seem confusing to me at all when you set up a system that protects individual rights and protects them through the judicial process.

            Because it’s doing such a good job protecting bakers’ rights not to be forced to bake cakes for gay “weddings”. The system is perfectly willing to invent new “rights” out of thin air or arbitrary ignore long established right.

            How about you stop filling this thread with your nonsense.

          • If you define conservative as a desire to keep things as they are, it’s no wonder that conservatives think they are always losing.

            That isn’t what “conservative” means in American politics. If anything, it’s the other way around. The New Deal revolution was most of a century ago, so its supporters, not its critics, are the conservatives.

          • but I find it impossible to believe that anyone actually thinks the Constitution means anything in our current society.

            You exaggerate. Supreme Court decisions are based in part on what the Justices want, in part on what they think the Constitution says.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @abc – “How about you stop filling this thread with your nonsense.”

            Man, this thread really brought out the charmers. And a pity about the report button too.

          • 1soru1 says:

            > That isn’t what “conservative” means in American politics.

            And one notable feature of American politics is that many conservatives don’t realize that, and so tick the box labelled (R).

            Imagine if, in place of Trump, there was a young charismatic Republican politician capable of effectively communicating Republican principles and policies in a way the average voter really understood. How many votes would they lose?

          • abc says:

            @FacelessCraven

            I find it interesting that you appear less concerned about the person repeatedly trying to pass of nonsense as an argument then the person calling her out on it.

            One could conclude that you would prefer threads filled with nonsense that goes unchallenged.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @abc
            HeelBearCub is isn’t the one violating community norms by polluting the forum with minmal-effort bullshit.

          • abc says:

            @hlynkacg

            Yes, she is. It get’s refuted repeatedly by the other posters.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @abc – “Yes, she is. It get’s refuted repeatedly by the other posters.”

            Arguing against a point isn’t a refutation, a distinction you do not appear to grasp. This place is built around discussing things with at least a modicum of grace and charity. You don’t seem to have a good grasp on either.

          • carvenvisage says:

            This is an assertion, not an argument.

            “Same-sex marriage came about because 200 years ago the founders included a bill of rights into the constitution.”

            abc is well within their rights to reciprocate HBCs conversational aggression.

    • Progressive Reformation says:

      I completely agree, with three caveats:
      (1) None of this is incompatible with what Republicans want being “contrary to massive, inevitable civilizational trends that simply cannot be fought”. I’m not saying that I definitely think we cannot fight it, in fact I’m trying to figure out ways to fight it. But it’s completely possible that fighting it is impossible, like stopping a tidal wave by throwing rocks at it.
      (2) There is definitely some pushback from ‘mainstream’ Republican politicians against the conservative voters, such as e.g. immigration or the travel ban. This is plain as day. Of course, the same is true of the mainstream Democrats and their progressive base.
      (3) Cthulhu’s leftward drift is subject to a gigantic asterisk, which is that the direction is not so much “leftwards” as it is “giving academic culture more and more power”. Back in the day, much of the left was stridently Marxist; and despite some “cultural Marxism” (relation to actual Marxism: very tenuous) this is not the case today, which is by any real definition a rightward shift of some kind. I’d put this down to simply the academic culture giving itself more and more power; if it’s doing that, then NBC, Goldman Sachs, and Facebook are much more natural allies than, say, the Teamsters.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Have you read Lou Keep’s stuff about social states? The academic culture appears to be a death spiral. When your power comes from being able to declare stuff racist or not and you go full “THIS IS LITERALLY DOUBLE MEGA HITLER” on extremely basic immigration issues like “maybe we should temporarily halt travel from a handful of war zones / enemy states” it’s kind of over. Call for a h