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Book Review: Manufacturing Consent

I.

Consider:

It is our view that, among their other functions, the media serve and propagandize on behalf of the powerful societal interests that control…them. The representatives of these interests have important agendas and principles that they want to advance, and they are well-positioned to shape and constrain media policy. This is normally not accomplished by crude intervention, but by the selection of right-thinking personnel and by the editors’ and working journalists’ internalization of priorities and definitions of newsworthiness that conform to the institution’s policy.

[This includes] the ability to complain about the media’s treatment of news (that is, produce “flak”), to provide “experts” to confirm the official slant on the news, and to fix the basic principles and ideologies that are taken for granted by media personnel and the elite, but are often resisted by the general population. In our view, the same underlying power sources that own the media…that serve as primary definers of the news, and that produce flak and proper-thinking experts, also play a key role in fixing basic principles and dominant ideologies.

If I saw this quote on Facebook without attribution, I would assume it was from the latest far-right blog complaining about the liberal media. In fact, it is from Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s Manufacturing Consent, which claims that the media acts as lapdog of the dominant neoliberal ideology against leftists of all stripes.

I decided to read Manufacturing Consent because of this basic puzzle: how can both the Left and Right be so certain that the media is biased against them?

Now, in one sense this is not surprising. Everyone believes everything is biased against them. I’ve previously talked about bravery debates, the sort of argument where both sides believe that we’re brave non-conformist speaking truth to power, and they’re toadies of the elite repeating the dominant consensus like sheep. The hostile media effect is a well-known bias where both sides of an issue believe the media is biased against them, even going so far as to both give low fairness ratings to sample documentaries in controlled studies for opposite reasons. So a more general tendency of both sides to accuse the media as a whole of having a hostile agenda is pretty much what we would predict.

The part that surprises me is: I thought that, even objectively, apart from the bias to be expected on both sides, the Right’s case for a hostile media was pretty good. Democrats outnumber Republicans among journalists four to one, and CrowdPAC’s donation analysis rates journalism as among the most liberal professions. There’s an ongoing joke (and some informal analysis) about how disgraced Republicans’ party affiliation is lampshaded and disgraced Democrats’ party affiliation is covered up. And in my own area of interest, it often seems like scientific studies that support liberal beliefs tend to get front-page billing no matter how terrible they are, but scientific studies that cast doubt upon such beliefs them are very rarely mentioned.

And this perception seems to be mirrored by the popular wisdom, where conservatives complain of media bias full stop, and liberals mostly just gripe about Fox in particular.

So Chomsky and Herman’s claim that the media is in fact biased towards conservatives is startling and interesting and deserves a further look.

How exactly do Chomsky and Herman think this media bias works? In Chapter 1, they propose five major mechanisms:

1. The mass media is mostly controlled by large corporations, who therefore support the sorts of things large corporations would be likely to support, like unrestrained capitalism and privileges for the wealthy.

2. The mass media is dependent on advertising, which also involves large corporations who support the sorts of things large corporations are likely to support. Further, these advertisers may have specific interests. For example, Texaco might be less willing to advertise in a source that frequently critiques Big Oil or raises concerns about pollution.

3. Journalists are dependent on sources. The most convenient sources are large well-organized entities in the midst of newsworthy events who issue press releases. For example, by far the easiest source for the latest news about a foreign war is the Pentagon. Furthermore, the Pentagon, while not always in fact trustworthy, enjoys a presumption of trustworthiness; if you interview some random foreigner, you would want to fact-check her very carefully, but if you parrot the Pentagon press release, you are assumed to have done due diligence merely because the source is so official. Other such convenient and official sources of news include the White House, the Department of State, local police forces, and local chambers of commerce. But all of these are members of the establishment and so have a pro-establishment bias. Further, the news relies on “experts” to confirm and comment upon news, and because of incestuous relationships between government, corporations, think tanks, and academia, the most credentialed and salient experts will almost always be pro-establishment.

4. Conservative groups fund “flak machines”, organizations and individuals whose job it is to complain that the media is “biased” whenever they are insufficiently conservative. In these cases, relentless nitpickers will shriek about every slight inaccuracy and condemn the journalists involved as liars and unpatriotic to boot. If the media parrots the official line, then journalists can be almost arbitrarily sloppy and nobody will call them on it. Therefore, journalists who get ground down by the constant harassment will unconsciously shift towards more pro-establishment narratives.

5. Anti-communism is “the dominant religion” of “our cultural milieu” so any journalist who disagrees with the establishment can be smeared with the label “communist” and forced “on the defensive”. Most “have fully internalized the religion anyway, but they are all under great pressure to demonstrate their anti-communist credentials.”

These are interesting ideas, and if supported and developed further they would go a long way towards explaining how the media might have a strong conservative bias despite the liberal leanings of most journalists.

But just after proposing them, the book makes a sudden ninety degree turn to focus on a series of in-depth case studies of US military interference in Third World countries.

The case studies are there for a reason: after Chomsky and Herman establish what they consider to be the true story, they provide examples of the US media consistently misrepresenting even the simplest of facts in ways that flatter the United States government and unfairly malign its foreign enemies. These result in the US getting away with what can only be described as genocide with almost no criticism, even though the facts are plain for anyone to see.

So the idea of media bias hasn’t been exactly dropped. But these studies have disappointingly little relevance to the more general claims that I and presumably most people who bought this book were interested in. Military interference in Third World countries is a very specific subject, and one whose dynamics differ from stories closer to home.

Was I disappointed that the authors didn’t develop their original point about the media more? I was at first. Then I realized this was the book about obscure brutal Third World military conflicts that I’d never known I needed.

II.

Chomsky and Herman are both academics, and they’re both relentless. When they try to prove something, by golly, it stays proved. This is a good thing, in that the book deals with very controversial topics and anything less would be unconvincing. It’s also a bad thing, in that by the ninth or tenth long transcript taken from the same war crimes trial, all of the genocides and village-burnings and nun-rapes start to blend together into a big blob of atrocity, and you can’t remember whether Kouprasith Abhay was the evil generalissimo who launched the pro-US coup and killed thousands, or the good generalissimo who launched the anti-US counter-coup and killed thousands, or the morally ambiguous generalissimo who launched the non-aligned counter-counter-coup and killed thousands.

(his Wikipedia page clarifies that “[his] counter-coup within the counter-coup was ended by the paratroopers responsible for the ongoing coup.”)

But these details are less interesting than the big picture, a sketch of a political system that C&H jokingly term “death squad democracy”.

The general picture is of a third world country that was previously in a fragile social equilibrium. Something disrupts the equilibrium – usually the United States toppling the government because Communists were starting to do well in elections. It is replaced by a weak central government insecure in its power which decides to go after mass movements it perceives as a threat.

The mass movements form guerilla groups to resist government brutality. Supporters of the government form death squads in order to kill suspected guerillas more unethically than the international community would allow the government to do directly. Eventually there is so much violence that anyone who can form a guerilla army and kill their enemies before their enemies kill them does so.

The dictator solemnly declares that what’s going on is a rebellion by communist extremists with associated counter-violence by some grassroots rightist extremists, while he, the dictator, is doing his best to keep the peace. He send in the army, who are secretly or not-so-secretly are also the death squads, and so just make things worse. The United States declares the dictator is a great man who does his best to maintain peace in a troubled nation, and sends him tons of weapons and money. All of these weapons and money mysteriously end up in the hands of the death squads, which of course means the United States has to send in more weapons and money to help the dictator deal with the new threat of these richer, better-armed enemies.

If the dictator is feeling really nice, he will hold an election. The mass movements, communists, and anyone with actual popular support will be banned from participating since they are violent extremists, and the death squads will kill anybody who campaigns against the dictator. The dictator will win the vote handily, and the Free World will declare that since he won the elections, it’s clear that the communists are just violent extremists trying to deny the will of the people and take over for their own nefarious purposes.

This pattern, with slight variation, seems to have happened across the entire Third World at one point or another. Perhaps there will be another coup, and the dictator will be replaced by another dictator, perhaps some foreign country will get directly involved on one side or the other, but the basic logic will not change. For a space of years to decades, tens of thousands of people will be tortured and killed – a few here and there by the communists, but most by the government. Whole villages will be destroyed, freedom of thought will be nonexistent, and everyone except the dictator and a few cronies will be constantly living in fear.

And in a sense, I already knew all of this. We all kind of understand what goes on in banana republics. But for some reason, Manufacturing Consent painted an unusually clear picture that knocked it into relief for me and changed my understanding of a lot of things.

Take, for instance, the second Iraq War. The hawkish position is “we were right to want to remove Saddam, a bad man. We were right to believe that we would win the shooting war quickly and easily. We just couldn’t have predicted the explosion of Sunni-Shiite violence that would erupt afterwards, and that’s not our fault.”

And yet now that I have read Manufacturing Consent, it seems obvious that removing Saddam would cause Iraq to descend into blood-soaked death squads. It is like a law of the universe that Third World countries will descend into blood-soaked death squads at the drop of a pin. Every time the United States has tried to change the government of a Third World nation, the end result has been blood-soaked death squads. Expecting to remove a regime from power without thinking about the blood-soaked death squads seems less like an excusable error and more like missing the very heart of the issue, like expecting to use a nuke without thinking about radiation damage.

But the dove position is almost as bad! It’s “Ha! The hawks thought we would be greeted as liberators! What morons!” This totally misses the point! It’s assuming that if the Iraqis liked us, they would have politely lined up to form a centralized democratic government with a monopoly on the use of force. The problem wasn’t that the Iraqis didn’t like us enough, it was that we did something in a Third World country and expected it not to descend into blood-soaked death squads. That never works.

I am left with a greatly increased respect for the view that it was Western colonialism, broadly defined, that has caused Third World countries all their grief. The problem wasn’t just British people coming in and telling them to work on banana plantations for a while, the problem was the total destruction of the country’s usual rule of law, hierarchies, civic traditions, and social fabric by successive attempts by western-backed dictators to retain power. A couple of decades assassinating anyone who looks out of place and doesn’t do exactly what they’re told, of tearing apart any organization or community that looks strong enough to serve as an alternative to the State or offer resistance – the question is less why Third World countries are so screwed up, and more that they’re not screwed up even worse.

III.

Throughout all of this, the US media could always be counted on to condemn the victims, excuse the aggressors, and totally fail to mention our role in anything.

As per Chomsky, this was rarely done by direct lies, in the form of front page “EVERYTHING FINE IN GUATEMALA, SAY SOURCES”. It was done by a campaign of highlighting certain things, downplaying others, and creating false controversies to cover up the real ones. Their five case studies showcase five different common media biases.

The first study is titled “Worthy And Unworthy Victims”, and compares news coverage of the “worthy victims” killed by America’s enemies to that of the “unworthy victims” killed by America’s allies. The death of worthy victims is treated with outrage, lurid descriptions of every detail of their brutal deaths, intense coverage of every new development in the hunt to bring the killers to justice, focus on the protests their death engenders, and insistence that their death proves a deep and important generalizable lesson about the society in which it occurred. The death of unworthy victims, if covered at all, is treated with “Well, violence sometimes happens, and it’s very sad, but what can we do about it?” Their case study of a “worthy victim” is Jerzy Popieluszko, a Polish priest killed by the Communists; since the Communists were our enemy, we were outraged by the crime. Their examples of “unworthy victims” are the thousands killed in El Salvador and Guatemala, most notably Archbishop Oscar Romero; both countries’ governments were US allies fighting against Communist guerrillas at the time, so their atrocities had to be covered up “for the good of the cause”. As a result, the American populace mostly ended up believing that our enemies were brutal murderers, and our allies were, at best, peace-loving people who were not very good at controlling the violence that always seemed to be breaking out around them.

The second study is “Legitimizing Versus Meaningless Elections”. Most Third World elections are a little sketchy. If the election is in a US ally, it will be covered as a “step towards suffrage in this fledgling democracy”, but if the election is in a US enemy, it will be covered as “a sham” that people are only voting in “for fear of retribution”. The book discusses the elections in Communist Nicaragua versus US-backed El Salvador, showing that by any objective standards the former had fairer, freer elections yet were attacked as a sham by the US media; the latter basically was a sham intended to legitimize a dictatorship, but were praised as a good first step by US media. After reading this chapter it will be very hard for me to take reports of Third World elections seriously again.

The third study is the odd man out, farce in the midst of tragedy. It describes how gullibly the US media accepted the idea of a connection between would-be-Pope-assassin Mehmet Ali Agca and the KGB in the absence of any credible evidence. Yes, C&H admit, Agca did confess to working for the Communists – but only after Italian secret police demanded he do so. Plus he also confessed to lots of other things, including being Jesus Christ, and it was kind of clear that he was a little crazy. In terms of non-psychotic, non-Pope-murdering people who had evidence that the Communists were involved, there was pretty much zilch. But because the Soviets were The Enemy, the media was willing to uncritically pass along anything that discredited them.

The fourth study deals with the Vietnam War, usually considered a case of the media breaking with the establishment and taking a more pacifist, leftist position. C&H argue that this was true only within a very narrow Overton window, where the two acceptable positions were “the US is right to fight for the freedom of South Vietnam” versus “the US is right to fight for the freedom of South Vietnam, but the costs are too high”. C&H argue that nearly everyone in South Vietnam supported Ho Chi Minh except for the dictator and his cronies. The US intervened to save the dictator from his own people, but cast this as saving South Vietnam from North Vietnamese aggression, even though North Vietnam’s involvement was modest. A more honest account of the US role was that they were coming from thousands of miles away to save South Vietnam from “aggression” by the South Vietnamese people. Absent any real enemy except the populace itself, they were backed into a strategy of burning down villages and killing indiscriminately, hoping to keep everyone in such a state of constant terror that they couldn’t do any political organizing. The US media never came close to expressing this position, and therefore at best they could be described as “pro-establishment” and “pro-establishment but sick of losing.”

The fifth study was much like the fourth study, except with Laos and Cambodia. The United States killed about 50,000 people in Laos directly through bombing, and probably more through its consistent support for whichever colonel was launching a coup that day. The US media was completely silent, even though there was ample evidence that it was going on and the foreign media was all over it. Also, when the US media finally got around to talking about it, it was in the context of the supposed “Ho Chi Minh Trail”, whereas most of the bombing was just bombing poor villages in order to deprive the Laotian communists of their natural rural base.

Overall, C&H did a good job of showing ways that the US media could systematically distort foreign wars to cover up the atrocities of US allies, highlight the atrocities of US enemies, and make US actions seem much more noble than the generally chilling evidence would suggest.

IV.

So, do I believe any of it?

C&H are, as mentioned before, really thorough, and they cite everything back and forth twenty ways to Tuesday. But there are ways to be rigorous and dishonest at the same time. C&H had complete control of what incidents to include in their book, and that gives them a lot of power to choose genuinely troubling incidents while not acknowledging any that don’t fit their narrative.

For example, I mentioned before the case of Jerzy Popieluzsko, Polish priest murdered by the Communists. C&H make a big deal on how the US media was saturated with coverage and calls for justice; while they ignored the Salvadorean genocide victims around the same time.

But I notice that the Communists killed about a hundred million people over the course of the twentieth century. Most of these victims did not get the same coverage as Popieluzsko; in fact, we’ve discussed before here how in most cases the media erred on the side of covering these up. Instead of “the media over-covers Communist murders”, it might be “there is wide variance in the media’s coverage of Communist murders, and C&H focused on the most overdone one in order to support their thesis.”

I see this in a lot of places. C&H give a table of various genocides and the news coverage allotted to each. They find that, for example, the news coverage allotted the Kurdish genocide by Iraq (US enemy) was four times greater than the coverage allotted the East Timor genocide by Indonesia (US ally). On the other hand, if they had included Israel in the table, the lesson would have reversed; we hear far more about what Israel (US ally) is doing to the Palestinians than about the Kurds or East Timorese, even though the latter two cases involved far more deaths. Or what if they had included Iran (US enemy)? How many people know about the Iran-PJAK conflict that has claimed almost a thousand lives in the past few years? It’s easy for C&H to cherry-pick examples of well-covered-US-enemies and poorly-covered-US-allies, but it’s not clear that reflects reality very well.

Finally, I’m not sure how much to trust their history. I know very little about the mid-20th century; C&H might be presenting a very one-sided view. The few things I double-checked seem to support this analysis. For example, here’s how they describe Laos in the early 1950s:

A coalition government was established in 1958 after the only elections worthy of the name in the history of Laos. Despite extensive US efforts, they were won handily by the left. Nine of the thirteen candidates of the [communist] Pathet Lao guerrillas won seats in the national assembly, along with four candidates of the left-leaning neutralists (“fellow traveler,” as they were called by Ambassador Parsons). Thus “Communists or fellow travelers” won thirteen of the twenty-one seats contested. The largest vote went to the leader of the Pathet Lao, Prince Souphanouvong, who was elected chairman of the national assembly.

US pressures- including, crucially, the withdrawal of aid – quickly led to the overthrow of the government in a coup by a “pro-Western neutralist” who pledged his allegiance to “the free world” and declared his intention to disband the political party of the Pathet Lao (Neo Lao Hak Sat), scrapping the agreements that had successfully established the coalition. He was overthrown in turn by the CIA favorite, the ultra-right-wing General Phoumi Nosavan. After US clients won the 1960 elections, rigged so crudely that even the most pro-US observers were appalled, civil war broke out, with the USSR and China backing a coalition extending over virtually the entire political spectrum apart from the extreme right, which was backed by the United States.

This seemed so over-the-top cartoonishly evil that I had to check Wikipedia to see if it was an accurate summary. Here’s how they put the same events (editing very liberally for conciseness):

In April, 1953, the Viet Minh’s People’s Army of Vietnam invaded the northeastern part of what was still the French Protectorate of Laos with 40,000 troops commanded by General Vo Nguyen Giap; including 2,000 Pathet Lao soldiers led by Souphanouvong. The objective of the two-pronged invasion was the capture of the royal capital of Luang Prabang and of the Plain of Jars. In November 9 the Pathet Lao began its conflict with the Kingdom of Laos thus beginning the civil war and technically the Second Indochina War while the First Indochina War was still going.

The North Vietnamese invaders succeeded in conquering the border provinces of Phong Saly and Xam Neua, which were adjacent to northern Vietnam and on the northeastern verge of the Plain of Jars. They then moved aside to allow the Pathet Lao force with its mismatched scrounged equipment to occupy the captured ground, and Souphanouvong moved the Pathet Lao headquarters into Xam Neua on 19 April.

On 21 March 1956, Souvanna Phouma began his second term as prime minister. He opened a dialogue with his brother, Souphanouvong. In August, they announced the intention of declaring a ceasefire and reintegrating the Pathet Lao and their occupied territory into the government. However, the Pathet Lao claimed the right to administer the provinces they occupied.

At the same time, they and their North Vietnamese backers ran a massive recruitment campaign, with the aim of forming nine battalions of troops. Many of the new recruits were sent into North Vietnam for schooling and training. This led to United States concern that the Royal Lao Army would be inadequately equipped and trained.

In November, 1957, a coalition government incorporating the Pathet Lao was finally established. Using the slogan, “one vote to the right, one vote to the left to prevent civil war,” pro-communist parties received one-third of the popular vote and won 13 of 21 contested seats in the elections of 4 May 1958. With these additional seats, the left controlled a total of 16 seats in the 59 member National Assembly. Combined with independents, this was enough to deny Souvanna’s center right, neutralist coalition the two-thirds majority it needed to form a government. With parliament deadlocked, the U.S. suspended aid in June to force a devaluation of the overpriced currency, which was leading to the abuse of U.S. aid. The National Assembly responded by confirming a right-wing government led by Phuy Xananikôn in August. This government included four members of the U.S.-backed Committee for the Defence of the National Interest (none of them National Assembly members). Three more unelected CDNI members were added in December, when Phuy received emergency powers to govern without the National Assembly.

Under orders from Souphanouvong, the Pathet Lao battalions refused to be integrated into the Royal Lao Army. Souphanouvong was then arrested and imprisoned, along with his aides. The two Pathet Lao battalions, one after the other, escaped during the night with no shots fired, taking their equipment, families, and domestic animals with them. On 23 May, Souphanouvong and his companions also escaped unscathed.

On 28 July, Communist Vietnamese units attacked all along the North Vietnamese-Lao border. As they took ground from the Royal Lao Army, they moved in Pathet Lao as occupation troops. Poor battle performance by the RLA seemed to verify the need for further training; the RLA outnumbered the attackers, but still gave ground.

On 9 August 1960, Captain Kong Le and his Special Forces-trained Neutralist paratroop battalion were able to seize control of the administrative capital of Vientiane in a virtually bloodless coup, while Prime Minister Tiao Samsanith, government officials, and military leaders met in the royal capital, Luang Prabang. His stated aim for the coup was an end to fighting in Laos, the end of foreign interference in his country, an end to the consequent corruption caused by foreign aid, and better treatment for his soldiers. However, Kong Le’s coup did not end opposition to him, and there was a scramble among unit commanders to choose up sides. If one was not pro-coup, then he had the further decision to make as to whom he would back to counter the coup. The front runner was General Phoumi Nosavan, first cousins with the prime minister of Thailand, Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat. With the Central Intelligence Agency’s support, Sarit set up a covert Thai military advisory group, called Kaw Taw. Kaw Taw, which would support the counter-coup that was mounted; it supplied artillery, artillerymen, and advisers to Phoumi’s forces. It also committed the CIA-sponsored Thai Police Aerial Reinforcement Unit to operations within Laos.

So, things that C&H conveniently forgot to mention: North Vietnam invaded Laos (!), and the Communists gained their power as lackeys for these foreign invaders (!). Although the Communists did well in the 1958 elections, they absolutely did not have a majority in government at the time, and in fact stonewalled the legitimate government. Xananikôn was elected constitutionally by the National Assembly, including the Communists. The Communists refused to stand down their armies and join the national government, and when the government tried to make them, North Vietnam invaded again, with the Communists supporting the foreign invaders. It was in this context that the Neutralists launched their coup, and Phoumi’s CIA-backed countercoup was actually in opposition to it. This is a really different story than C&H’s version. C&H never lie per se, but they leave out things as significant as a giant foreign invasion happening during the middle of the events they’re describing.

Here’s something else I found on Wikipedia: both Chomsky and Herman are considered prominent Cambodian genocide denialists:

Beginning with “Distortions at Fourth Hand”, an article published in the American left-wing periodical The Nation in June 1977, they wrote that while they did not “pretend to know […] the truth” about what was going on in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot, while reviewing material on the topic then available, “[w]hat filters through to the American public is a seriously distorted version of the evidence available”. Referring to “the extreme unreliability of refugee reports,” they noted: “Refugees are frightened and defenseless, at the mercy of alien forces. They naturally tend to report what they believe their interlocutors wish to hear. While these reports must be considered seriously, care and caution are necessary. Specifically, refugees questioned by Westerners or Thais have a vested interest in reporting atrocities on the part of Cambodian revolutionaries, an obvious fact that no serious reporter will fail to take into account.” They concluded by stating that Khmer Rouge Cambodia might be more closely comparable to “France after liberation, where many thousands of people were massacred within a few months” than to Nazi Germany.

Their book After the Cataclysm (1979), which appeared after the regime had been deposed, has been described by area specialist Sophal Ear as “one of the most supportive books of the Khmer revolution” in which they “perform what amounts to a defense of the Khmer Rouge cloaked in an attack on the media”.[9] In the book, Chomsky and Herman acknowledged that “The record of atrocities in Cambodia is substantial and often gruesome,” but questioned their scale, which may have been inflated “by a factor of 100”. They further asserted that the evacuation of Phnom Penh “may actually have saved many lives,” Khmer Rouge agricultural policies reportedly produced “spectacular” results, and there might have been “a significant degree of peasant support for the Khmer Rouge”: “How can it be that a population so oppressed by a handful of fanatics does not rise up and overthrow them?”

Herman replied to critics in 2001: “Chomsky and I found that the very asking of questions about the numerous fabrications, ideological role, and absence of any beneficial effects for the victims in the anti-Khmer Rouge propaganda campaign of 1975–1979 was unacceptable, and was treated almost without exception as ‘apologetics for Pol Pot’.”

Many other scholars denying or doubting the character of the Khmer Rouge recanted their earlier opinions as the evidence of massive KR crimes against humanity mounted.

They touch on this issue in the book, but I have trouble figuring out what to make of it. Certainly they are outraged that anyone accuses them of denying the Cambodian genocide, and they say this is evil right-wing character assassination propaganda. They then go on to say, kind of flailingly, that also the Cambodian genocide wasn’t that bad, that all the media reports about it were lies, that it was the US’ fault anyway, that the US did worse things anyway, that Cambodia before the genocide was even worse, that America secretly loved Pol Pot and was his best friend, and also shut up shut up shut up. As far as I can get any kind of coherent thesis at all out of this, they seem to be saying they were Gettier cased; every media report of the genocide was a vile right-wing propaganda lie, but coincidentally, a genocide exactly like the one reported in the media occurred.

Herman is additionally criticized for denying the Rwandan and Srebrenica genocides, although Chomsky does not seem to be involved.

And usually I hate terms like “genocide apologist”, because very few people are actually genocide apologists so it’s usually a call to outrage aimed at riling up an angry mob against someone based on one comment they may or may not have said a long time ago.

But in the case where the entire point at issue is a book about genocide scholarship, where the thesis is “everybody else got these genocides wrong, and we are going to tell you the truth about them”, it becomes pretty important if they have a long history of getting genocides wrong.

So I take this book with a grain of salt. I think it treats the topics it covers very rigorously, but (ironically given the subject) the authors’ ability to set the agenda and choose which topics to focus on and which to omit gives them way too much power to shape the readers’ understanding of complex issues.

Do I blame C&H for this? Not exactly. As someone who’s occasionally engaged in some consensus-challenging myself, let me tell you, it’s really hard. Try being perfectly balanced, going out of your way to explain all the facts that disagree with your thesis and pointing out all the grey areas – and no one will listen to you at all. Because if people have heard all their life that A is pure good and B is total evil, and you hand them some dense list of facts suggesting that in some complicated way their picture might be off, they’ll round it off to “A is nearly pure good and B is nearly pure evil, but our wise leaders probably got carried away by their enthusiasm and exaggerated a bit, so it’s good that we have some eggheads to worry about all these technical issues.” The only way to convey a real feeling for how thoroughly they’ve been duped is to present the opposite narrative – the one saying that A is total evil and B is pure good – then let the two narratives collide and see what happens.

And this is really hard, because the same institutions who swallow the utterly bankrupt mainstream narrative whole will suddenly rediscover their skepticism and pick apart every little exaggeration and omission in the contrary narrative. This is the domain of isolated demands for rigor; suddenly no objection is too vague or philosophical, and any amount of emotion or editorializing represents a “bias” that discredits the entire work. So countercultural elements are caught between a rock and a hard place: if they stick to a minimalist stating of the most agreed-upon facts, then it’s not enough to shock people out of their prejudices; any attempt to spin a convincing narrative in the way their mainstream opponents do all the time, and they get attacked for going beyond what can be 100% incontrovertibly defended.

I think C&H handle this impossible balancing act better than most. I think Manufacturing Consent has serious issues with bias, sometimes inexcusably so, but I think its thesis survives these biases. I went into this book with more or less the attitude mentioned above: the classic story of America being great was a bit exaggerated and overenthusiastic, and in fact we did a lot of morally ambiguous things.

I came out of it with more of a primal horror that we spent a lot of the 20th century being moral monsters, and feeling like we have the same sort of indelible black mark on our name as Germany or Russia or Belgium. Whatever factors C&H may have exaggerated, and whatever exculpatory evidence they may have omitted, I doubt that any of it would fully reverse that unpleasant conclusion.

V.

Okay, but what about media bias? Wasn’t that the whole reason we got into this mess?

C&H’s case studies of foreign wars aren’t great tests for their hypothesized mechanisms of bias. Their first two mechanisms are big media corporations pushing a pro-corporate worldview, and big corporate advertisers insisting on programming that reflects well on them and their corporate activities.

And I can see why a mass media dominated by corporate giants might be expected to agitate against labor unions, but it’s harder to see why it is so insistent on covering up a campaign of genocide by pro-American forces in El Salvador. It’s easy to see why they might avoid condemning oil companies in order to preserve ad revenue from Texaco, but harder to see why they would systematically underestimate casualties from US bombing missions on the Plain of Jars in Laos.

Their third mechanism, big Pentagon-style sources with press bureaus, certainly applies very well to these cases. But it doesn’t seem like it should necessarily generalize to every other type of story. When the media is covering an election, or a protest, where is the Pentagon-style source? Although C&H’s point that the police department, etc, can also be sources in this way is well-taken, this seems less pressing for a protest in Seattle than for, say, a bombing campaign in Laos, where a news source might have trouble getting Lao-speaking journalists into the midst of the carnage. Besides, what about cases where this produces the opposite bias? Might newspapers be overly friendly to regulations because they rely upon the regulatory body? What if there is a protest by a large, well-organized group that has cultivated links with the press?

Their fourth mechanism, flak machines, raise a similar issue. C&H view this as a rightist phenomenon almost by definition. They never consider the possibility that, for example, their writing an entire book saying the media is dishonest and biased might count as “flak” on their part. Any conservative criticizing the media is part of a “flak machine” intended to “keep it under control” and “destroy its independence”, but any leftist criticizing the media is bravely trying to expose its biases and bring the truth to light. This seems so obvious to them that they never even have to justify it. This is perhaps understandable in the conflict of foreign wars, where it’s more likely that would-be patriots will condemn reporting that reflects poorly on American troops, but in the context of domestic policy it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

That leaves their fifth mechanism, “anti-communism as the dominant religion of our culture”, a claim which hasn’t aged well since Manufacturing Consent came out in the ’80s. Worse, C&H’s argument for this position is almost word-for-word the same argument that conservatives use to claim that “anti-racism is the dominant religion of our culture”. I’ve even heard them use the specific phrase “dominant religion”.

In their section on “worthy victims” versus “unworthy victims”, C&H describe a certain form of coverage the media reserves for the victims of Communism (section edited for length and clarity):

A. Fullness and reiteration of the details of the murder and the damage inflicted on the victim. The coverage of the Popieluszko murder was notable for the fullness of the details regarding his treatment by the police and the condition of the recovered body. What is more, these details were repeated at every opportunity. The condition of the body was described at its recovery, at the trial when the medical evidence was presented, and during the testimony of the perpetrators of the crime. At the trial, the emotional strain and guilt manifested by the police officers were described time and again, interspersed with the description of how Popieluszko pleaded for his life, and evidence of the brutality of the act…Popieluszko himself was humanized, with descriptions of his physical characteristics and personality that made him into something more than a distant victim.” In sum, the act of violence and its effects on Popieluszko were presented in such a way as to generate the maximum
emotional impact on readers. The act was vicious and deserved the
presentation it received. The acts against the unworthy victims [of US anti-Communist client states] were also vicious, but they were treated very differently.

B. Stress on indignation, shock, and demands for justice. In a large proportion of the articles on the Popieluszko murder there are quotations or assertions of outrage, indignation, profound shock, and mourning, and demands that justice be done. Steady and wholly sympathetic attention is given to demonstrators, mourners, weeping people, work stoppages, masses held in honor of the victim, and expressions of outrage, mainly by nonofficial sources. The population “continues to mourn,” “public outrage mounted,” the pope is deeply shaken, and even Jaruzelski condemns the action. The net effect of this day-in-day-out repetition of outrage and indignation was to call very forcible attention to a terrible injustice, to put the Polish government on the defensive, and, probably, to contribute to remedial action.

C. The search for responsibility at the top. In article after article, the U.S. media raised the question: how high up was the act known and approved? By our count, eighteen articles in the New York Times stressed the question of higher responsibility, often with aggressive headlines addressed to that point…

D. Conclusions and follow-up. The New York Times had three editorials on the Popieluszko case. In each it focused on the responsibility of the higher authorities and the fact that “A police state is especially responsible for the actions of its police” (“Murderous Poland:’ Oct. 30, 1984). It freely applied words like “thuggery,” “shameless,” and “crude” to the Polish state. The fact that police officers were quickly identified, tried, and convicted it attributed to the agitation at
home and abroad that put a limit on villainy. This is a good point, and one that we stress throughout this book: villainy may be constrained by intense publicity. But we also stress the corresponding importance of a refusal to publicize and the leeway this gives murderous clients under the protection of the United States and its media, where the impact of publicity would be far greater.

But of course, that describes to a “t” the media’s coverage of the Ferguson shooting. C&H include a table showing the disproportionate attention given victims of Communism compared to all other types of victims, but the amount of attention given to Ferguson blows all of the Communist murders off the chart.

Does that mean that white policemen fill the same role today that the Soviet Union did back in the 80s? I don’t know. Sure, it’s relevant white policeman killed hundreds of people before Mike Brown with nary a peep from the media. But then, it’s also relevant that Communists killed millions of people before Jerzy Popieluzsko with equally minimal response.

My point is that “anti-Communism” is probably not a uniquely religious belief, and that these “religions” can serve the left as well as the right.

So none of C&H’s five pillars of conservative media domination really seem to stand up very well, which is fine because in their conclusions section C&H switch to a different theory.

They say that the media is a profit-seeking free market, and the best way to get profits is to appeal to advertisers. And the best way to appeal to advertisers is to appeal to the population. And the population wants to hear things that tell them they are good, and their country is good, and don’t challenge or dismay them overly much. Hearing that your government just killed 50,000 Lao civilians is a real downer; hearing that the war on those nasty Commies is going well will keep viewers coming back for more.

But this represents a retreat from the book’s thesis. The media is not exactly a propaganda organ that manipulates the people to serve powerful interests. It’s a tool of the people, giving them what they want to hear – which turns out to be terrible.

And then comes the obvious question – “But, like, fifty percent of the population are liberal, right? Don’t they also get told what they want to hear?”

C&H answer this with the one story that really hammered home the book’s thesis for me: what about Watergate? The media did a great job exposing the lies and corruption of those in power; in fact, of a Republican in power. Does that disprove C&H’s thesis?

No:

The major scandal of Watergate as portrayed in the mainstream press was that the Nixon administration sent a collection of petty criminals to break into the Democratic party headquarters, for reasons that remain obscure. The Democratic party represents powerful domestic interests, solidly based in the business community. Nixon’s actions were therefore a scandal. The Socialist Workers party, a legal political party, represents no powerful interests. Therefore, there was no scandal when it was revealed, just as passions over Watergate reached their zenith, that the FBI had been disrupting its activities by illegal break-ins and other measures for a decade, a violation of democratic principle far more extensive and serious than anything charged during the Watergate hearings.

History has been kind enough to contrive for us a “controlled experiment” to determine just what was at stake during the Watergate period, when the confrontational stance of the media reached its peak. The answer is clear and precise: powerful groups are capable of defending themselves, not surprisingly; and by media standards, it is a scandal when their position and rights are threatened. By contrast, as long as illegalities and violations of democratic substance are confined to marginal groups or distant victims of U.S. military attack, or result in a diffused cost imposed on the general population, media opposition is muted or absent altogether.) This is why Nixon could go so far, lulled into a false sense of security precisely because the watchdog only barked when he began to threaten the privileged.

So for C&H, the media’s rightward bias isn’t “pro-Republican, anti-Democrat”. It’s pro- a conservative establishment in which both Republicans and Democrats collude, and anti- the real left, which it treats as a lunatic fringe too powerless to even be worth mentioning.

This is a new theory, quite different from the five points about corporatism that started the book, and it seems to resolve the paradox of both right and left seeing media bias. The media enforces conformity with the Overton window against both the right and left flanks. Both the rightward and leftward fringes notice the same set of dirty tricks in the media, and describe them in almost exactly the same terms. Thus both sides complain about the other being a “dominant religion”, both sides complain that both major parties are part of the same con, both sides complain that the media restricts debate to a narrow range of acceptable opinion, etc.

And both sides are shouted down in the same terms, too. When the far right complains about the media, academia, and bureaucracy being ranged against them, they get called conspiracy theorists. I myself somewhat hastily made this claim in section 3.2 of my Anti-Reactionary FAQ. More recently, Topher Hallquist makes a similar claim, classily adding that any communities that even dare to associate with people who believe this ought to suffer guilt by association.

Chomsky and Herman are aware of this attack, and begin by saying:

Institutional critiques such as we present in this book are commonly dismissed by establishment commentators as “conspiracy theories”, but this is merely an evasion. We do not use any kind of “conspiracy” hypothesis to explain mass-media performance. In fact, our treatment is much closer to a “free market” analysis, with the results largely an outcome of the workings of market forces. Most biased choices in media arise form the preselection of right-thinking people, internalized preconceptions, and the adaptation of personnel to the constraints of ownership, organization, market, and political power.

And later:

As we have stressed throughout this book, the U.S. media do not function in the manner of the propaganda system of a totalitarian state. Rather, they permit-indeed, encourage-spirited debate, criticism, and dissent, as long as these remain faithfully within the system of presuppositions and principles that constitute an elite consensus, a system so powerful as to be internalized largely without awareness.

I find many smart people, both on the right and the left, say something similar about this same self-organizing consensus enforcement system. Their disagreements about its position seem to be entirely matters of perspective; to a Mexican, America is a northern nation; to a Canadian, it’s a southern one. But despite this substantial agreement and the rivers of ink spilled on the matter, they always describe it in the vaguest of terms, in a style ranging somewhere between “non-technical” and “paranoid”.

If we want to understand politics, I feel like one of the most important subgoals is to figure out the precise ways in which these sorts of alignments arise – in other words, how class warfare solves its coordination problems without most of the people involved being aware of what they’re doing or holding any explicitly sinister thoughts.

I don’t think Manufacturing Consent does much to solve this problem and explain the real nature of the system. But it certainly illuminates one otherwise-easily-neglected corner of it, and offers a window on some of its tricks and on some of the sins it has to answer for.

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942 Responses to Book Review: Manufacturing Consent

  1. Anand says:

    I just read this review. I have read Chomsky for a long time, so I want to make clear several points, as I understand them.

    Firstly, they consider Democrats and Republicans as both parties of capital, which nevertheless have different constituencies (the Repubs as party of the rich, the Dems have more of a popular base). So “conservative vs liberal” is not their thesis. In fact, Chomsky clearly says that he agrees with the right-wing critics that the media is “liberal”. The aim of the “liberal” end of the media is to set a boundary: you can’t go outside this, otherwise you will be dismissed as too radical or communist or whatever.

    As you groped towards at the end, the distinction is beween “people with power” and “people without power”, not left/right. This has nothing to do with the Socialist Worker’s party per se. It could just as well apply to some marginal outfit on the right.

    Secondly, your comments on advertising miss the point. The main point is that newspapers don’t exist to sell themselves to people. Newspapers exist to sell audiences to advertisers. They don’t give what the “people want”. Their aim is to deliver as big, as loyal and as wealthy an audience to advertisers.

    Thirdly, they often make a distinction between the New York Times, which they consider a propaganda organ, and the Wall Street Journal news section (or the Financial Times, which Chomsky considers the best news organ). The latter, they feel, give a more accurate picture of the world, because they are aimed at the business sector. They don’t need propaganda, they need the real thing, because they need to make the decisions. The propaganda comes on the WSJ editorial page.

  2. Karla says:

    But now the islanders say that their homes are being swamped by the increased ingress of sea water during king tides. bbc There was widespread flooding in 2011 and again this year. Salt is also creeping up from beneath Kili, threatening agriculture and water supplies. In the early part of this year the island’s runway was entirely flooded, cutting off the residents.

  3. Vidur Kapur says:

    Thanks for the review, I enjoyed it.

    When I first read Manufacturing Consent, I too found it to be a great source of information about US foreign policy and, upon fact-checking, pursuing their sources and reading more mainstream books, I think that a lot of what they say is likely to be correct.

    There are various counterexamples, of course, including the coverage given to the Ferguson shooting. I suppose Chomsky and Herman could argue that, on domestic issues, it’s much harder for the manufacture of consent to occur; that is, it all depends on whether the American population is intimately involved with the issue in the first place. When it comes to Watergate and El Salvador, people are much less likely to know what’s going on in the first place without the mainstream media than if someone within the population has been shot by a police officer.

    As someone living in Britain, both the “far-Left” and the “far-Right” do tend to complain of media bias, and my intuition is that it is biased towards the establishment position, which may explain the qualms that both sides have. The hostile media effect and other biases are sure to play a part, too.

  4. Shenpen says:

    >basic puzzle: how can both the Left and Right be so certain that the media is biased against them?

    What is the puzzle? If the media is Moderate Left, both the Right and Hard Left will complain about bias.

  5. John Sidles says:

    BREAKING NEWS

    Noam Chomsky has the Final Word

    World leaders met at the United Nations today to beg the United States to use military force to stem the ever-growing humanitarian disaster in Syria, knowing full well they will then turn around and blame the US shortly thereafter.

    UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said, “We call upon the world’s greatest nation — the United States — to help bring peace to this terrible civil war, because, fark it, none of us want to.”

    “And the best part is, when this whole thing goes to h*ll in a handbasket — which, quite frankly, happens almost every time you intervene in a multi-sided civil war in a God-forsaken third-world country — none of us are responsible for it!” Ki-Moon added.

    “Amateurs tend to blame America first and then they’re done with it,” said anti-war MIT Professor NOAM CHOMSKY. “Just this past week, Vox’s Amanda Taub blamed the U.S. for the entire Syrian Civil War instead of blaming, well, the Syrians themselves.”

    “But that’s the type of ‘Blame America First’ coverage that gets you a few thousand clicks at best,” Chomsky continued. “If you really want Oscars, Pulitzers, and charity donations, you have to sucker the US into intervening, then blame America!”

    “Just look at Somalia: Send the U.S. military to help deal with a famine, then, boom! A firefight, a downed Black Hawk helicopter, and before you know it, a blockbuster movie from Michael Bay!” he concluded

    … and no-one is surprised.

    Conclusion  The problematic elements of the Chomskian Enlightenment aren’t the abstract objectives, but rather the performative means.

    Prophetic readings  (for linguists, cognitive scientists, and MDs especially) Dominique Eddé’s Kamal Jann (2014)

  6. Oliver Cromwell says:

    The Cathedral isn’t a left a singularity, so it really is an enemy of both far left and far right. The asymmetry is that only practical or situational arguments are made for right wing policies whereas principled arguments are made for left wing policies even when they fail. The cathedral will grudgingly admit that free markets are better than state planning even for the poor after being presented with overwhelming evidence, but will never believe that a Reagan or a Coolidge were fundamentally better people than a Lenin or an Allende.

    It will certainly never argue that successful leftwing policies should be weighed against the violence they do to principles like self-ownership or the sanctity of contract, while it is constantly arguing that successful rightwing policies continue to exist only despite constant tension with leftwing principles.

    Here’s a question: the Cathedral values the welfare of the poor and accepts that free market policies greatly enhance the welfare of the poor. Why isn’t it as socially unacceptable to disbelieve in the efficacy of markets as to disbelieve in the existence if global warming? Why don’t schools go to as much trouble to persuade children to support free markets as to support racial equality? The welfare arguments seem to be qualitatively the same.

  7. David Krueger says:

    I’m surprised it took so long to get to this, which I would expect anyone who has spent a few minutes reading about Chomsky’s politics to know. It makes a lot of the questions about right vs. left bias seem almost like a strawman:

    “So for C&H, the media’s rightward bias isn’t “pro-Republican, anti-Democrat”. It’s pro- a conservative establishment in which both Republicans and Democrats collude, and anti- the real left, which it treats as a lunatic fringe too powerless to even be worth mentioning.”

    Mostly I agreed with the article, although I’m a bit more skeptical of Chomsky’s intellectual honesty in general.

    Chomsky has strong principles which I mostly don’t disagree with, but ultimately, I think he is remarkably arrogant and should really be ashamed of himself for the way he has put his own ego above the truth wrt his coverage of the Khmer Rouge genocide.

    I’ve only spent maybe 10 hours max on the subject (and to be fair, I haven’t read almost any of Chomsky’s other work), but what I’ve found has decreased my respect for him tremendously.

    You can see some of my thoughts and relevant sources here:
    https://www.quora.com/Was-Noam-Chomsky-naive-about-the-Khmer-Rouge-when-they-came-to-power

  8. Nestor says:

    Yeah I read that book in the 90s, made me feel very clever and “in the know” about stuff. Heard about Chomsky’s Cambodian denialism too, but somehow I’d forgotten about it (This may be a leader respecting bias at work in me)

  9. EgregiousCharles says:

    “I decided to read Manufacturing Consent because of this basic puzzle: how can both the Left and Right be so certain that the media is biased against them?”

    This actually has a simple answer; they are both certain because it is true. The media is biased against the Left and the Right both because there is not actually some one-dimensional political axis that every position can be placed on. The Left and the Right both tend to assume that opposition to their positions must come from the Right or the Left respectively.

    As others have pointed out, the media tends to favor anything that increases central control. Not coincidentally, they have enormous influence over central control.

    I think Chomsky and Herman make their big mistake, which makes it hard for them to understand what’s going on, in the first two premises Scott summarizes:

    “1. The mass media is mostly controlled by large corporations, who therefore support the sorts of things large corporations would be likely to support, like unrestrained capitalism and privileges for the wealthy.

    2. The mass media is dependent on advertising, which also involves large corporations who support the sorts of things large corporations are likely to support. Further, these advertisers may have specific interests. For example, Texaco might be less willing to advertise in a source that frequently critiques Big Oil or raises concerns about pollution.”

    The mistakes are in the “sorts of things large corporations are likely to support”.

    It is always important to keep in mind that corporations are not people. This means they make no decisions and suffer no punishments. Decisions are made for them by corporate officers (CEOs etc.), whose incentives and disincentives are not well-tied to the growth or survival of the corporation. So, for example, if a corporation is sued for a vast amount of money for an evil decision, the money is not taken from the upper managers who made the decision (who are often gone by that point anyway.) The current upper managers are the people who decide where the money will come from. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if it comes from dividends, planned hirings, or low-level employee holiday bonuses rather than upper management’s compensation packages. So they tend to favor hiring media who like America’s rather unique tort system; it distracts us from actually holding decision-makers accountable in favor of holding the imaginary legal construct the “corporation” accountable.

    The CEOs who hire the managers who hire the producers who hire the Comedy Central anchors are the sort of people who think it would be a better world if they had more control. That’s what motivates them to go into management in the first place. Unrestrained capitalism does not give them more control; it’s too easy to challenge them from a good idea and hard work. Their greatest immunity from upstarts comes from their influence over the restraints. Mattel imported toys from China with lead paint on them. The media whipped up a frenzy of outrage. Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which allows lawsuits if there isn’t a paper trail of lead testing on all children’s toys sold. Large corporations like Mattel are permitted to produce that paper with the in-house labs they had already; if a tree blows down in your yard and you carve wooden horses out of it, you can’t sell them without sending them out for thousands of dollars of testing. For some more examples, see the Tucker automobile, or how Standard Oil got its monopoly.

    The CEOs, with the exception of a few like the Koch brothers, think themselves very liberal. Look at who Jobs or Gates donate to. They think America is a land of racist sexist cavemen and congratulate themselves on how much less racist and sexist their white male cabal is. (The only places one’s race and gender matter more, though, are Hollywood, academia and Klu Klux Klan rallies.) They attack the mostly imaginary attitudes of Middle America to assuage guilt for their own behavior; they promote liberalism the way a medieval noble might buy indulgences from the Church for his indiscretions. Thus, they tell you much more about the Koch foundation’s donations than Act Blue or the Joyce Foundation or anyone thanked at the end of an NPR or PBS segment. The media is unrelentingly liberal kind of the way the worst medieval Crusader ravaging the Holy Land might be unrelentingly Christian; to an actual liberal or Christian, not at all, but from an outside perspective, certainly.

    • Nita says:

      Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which allows lawsuits if there isn’t a paper trail of lead testing on all children’s toys sold.

      You seem to imply that this is bad. What should have been done instead?

      • Jiro says:

        “Toys” includes such things as video games and books, and to variations on a product (if you have clothes and buttons, you need to test every clothes/button combination you sell, you can’t test the clothes and buttons separately) and to individual parts of things such as battery terminals on motorcycles, and testing is expensive.

        (Edit: They added a component rule which may alleviate the problems with buttons.)

        • Nita says:

          True, a requirement for paint and such to be tested separately would be better. But it would still be a restraint on capitalism, right? So, is there a free market way to limit the exposure of all children to lead, even the children who weren’t blessed with vigilant parents?

          • EgregiousCharles says:

            It’s outside the scope of the point I was trying to make, that the approaches toward corporate accountability favored by the corporate media do little or nothing to the actual corporate decisionmakers. But it’s a good question. The basic goal is to punish the decisionmaker(s) personally, not the legal fiction of the corporation. One possible example would be reckless endangerment, child endangerment, and/or public endangerment charges be brought against Robert Eckard, who was Mattel’s CEO at the time. If a child died, negligent homicide charges. The principle of innocent until proven guilty might make it impossible to make the charges stick, but just dragging CEOs personally in front of a judge on criminal charges would be something more than we’re doing now.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Robert Eckard had nothing to do with releasing the tainted products. If you hold CEO’s accountable for every bad decision made by one of a company’s tens of thousands of employees, I’ll grant you there’s a certain logic to it, but you will soon find you have no CEO’s except for those even worse at anticipating consequences than the ones we typically have now.

            Somebody made the decision. It wouldn’t be hard to figure out who. (I used to work in the toy industry: I have a reasonable understanding of the process of toy production.) That person being held accountable would be a good thing. Unless they went to Eckard and he knew what they were doing, holding him accountable would not.

          • Nita says:

            The basic goal is to punish the decisionmaker(s) personally, not the legal fiction of the corporation.

            Well, apparently the person Mattel would have held responsible hanged himself. That seems even worse than a fine and/or jail time. Do you think this has improved the situation?

          • EgregiousCharles says:

            “This one guy killed himself” isn’t even remotely similar to “Charges will be brought.” I think what I think about Zhang, seeing as I know zero industrialists in the PRC, is probably pretty irrelevant; but if you want a guess, I think Zhang’s death probably has done more for product safety in the US than the CPSIA.

      • Marc Whipple says:

        An affirmation that the materials in the toy are not known to contain lead, with serious and specific sanction for anyone who makes such an affirmation knowing it is false or who cannot provide reasonable evidence that it was a reasonable belief, would have sufficed.

        For our wind-blown wood whittler, since wood does not usually contain significant amounts of lead, there’d be no problem. Even if they’d painted the toys, so long as they bought paint from an American supplier (since lead-based paint is illegal to sell in the US) they’d be good to go. Where they’d be in trouble would be if they bought paint from a foreign supplier and/or had the toys painted outside the US – which is exactly the concern the law was intended to address.

        • You need at least some random testing, I think. Toxic substances have been known to creep into a production line in unexpected ways.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            But that’s not the problem we’re trying to address, and the solution offered is such a humongous oversolution to both that problem and the actual problem that I don’t see how your assertion helps justify it.

          • Wasn’t intended to. It was just a response to your first paragraph, taken in isolation.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Fair enough, but it’s still very one-size-fits all, as is pointed out above. Sometimes there’s no production line, there’s just somebody whittling wooden whistles. Making him get thousands of dollars of testing a year just because it’s technically a toy is past overkill to ridiculous.

        • Nita says:

          So, if they use American paint, some kind of paper trail should already exist, and the law should allow them to refer to that. But if they use foreign paint, they would still have to test it, or else they would be recklessly endangering kids. We end up with a law that requires either expensive testing (bad for small business!) or buying domestic products (protectionism!) — that’s not very free-market, is it?

          • Marc Whipple says:

            *I* didn’t say that the law was a good idea in the first place. Nor was I coming at it from the point of maximizing market freedom. However, giving people a less expensive, less regulatory burden-ive alternative can only be more pro-market, even if it’s not much more. I try not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, unless I’m feeling really contrary. 🙂

  10. Fairhaven says:

    scott concludes: America “we spent a lot of the 20th century being moral monsters, and feeling like we have the same sort of indelible black mark on our name as Germany or Russia or Belgium.”

    you are comparing America in the 20th century to
    Germany – started two world wars which effectively destroyed Europe’s world dominance and killed tens of millions
    Russia – started a new totalitarian terror regime which invaded and remained in half of Europe etc and killed millions
    Belgium – directly responsible for unspeakable atrocities, one of the worst colonial nations in history

    And you think American is a moral monster because Chomsky the liar and genocide denier left wing radical has impressed you with his information? I don’t buy that reason – there must be another reason you would adopt the radical position that America is one of the moral monsters of the 20th century.

    • Nita says:

      Oh yes, now it’s your turn to be outraged by Scott’s open-mindedness and accuse him of being on the wrong side all along 🙂

  11. Scott H. says:

    My personal experience is that third world states produce a tragically flawed citizenry — good luck getting anywhere with them. But that could just be my prejudice speaking. Perhaps the deeper issue is that the wiser and more powerful (but older) people in society are not capable of so much change.

  12. Goatstein says:

    There’s really no evidence that Communist regimes killed 100 million people, let alone deliberately. They did kill a lot of people, but a much more realistic number is about 40 million, about 30 million of which is from the Great Chinese Famine, which was a natural occurrence exacerbated to some extent by incompetent policy but was not the result of purges or malice. These numbers were exaggerated for political effect by western governments and their media allies, leading to the idea that somehow right under our noses in apparent peacetime with no real evidence there were 25% more people killed than in all of both world wars combined. Even if you don’t believe a word I just wrote, you seem smarter than saying “they claim that the media as a result of its relationship with the military and capitalism focuses too much on the deaths by our enemies. But what about all the deaths our communist enemies committed which I learned from the media? They don’t care about those!” without questioning the obvious problem here.

    • Zebram says:

      I don’t know how many people they killed, but it seems that their crimes go far beyond how many they killed, whether deliberately, or semi-deliberately/accidentally through economic illiteracy. Forced relocations of entire ethnic groups, destruction of opposing belief systems such as religion, tearing social order apart for their own version, etc.

      • Goatstein says:

        I don’t see any particular inherent problem with tearing apart the existing social order for ones’ own vision – surely that is what every revolutionary and dreamer has ever wished for. As far as the destruction of opposing belief systems and the the relocations of entire ethnic groups, these are things that the US, France, Spain, Israel, the UK and their allies and puppets are historically as least as guilty of. The movement and genocide of indigenous peoples and their cultures, colonialism, the attempt to suppress the state-communist belief system which killed millions in wars, coups and dictatorships and the willingness to do nothing less than end the world and kill billions to destroy communist belief systems. Yet these things are not considered instant disqualifiers for the very concepts of capitalism, nationalism, or the existence of these countries. Why this discrepancy? Consider the hypothesis from the book: that we consider these things OK and justified because Our Side did them and the other things are evil and irrational because the Other Side did them.

    • ” about 30 million of which is from the Great Chinese Famine, which was a natural occurrence exacerbated to some extent by incompetent policy”

      What was natural about it? Mao had concluded that agricultural output could be increased enormously, local officials were under pressure to report greatly increased output, they did, reported output was about twice actual output, China exported large amounts of food and thirty or forty million people starved to death.

      Entirely the result of incompetent policy, or possibly malice, or maybe Mao’s refusal to admit error.

      And the Soviet Union exported grain through the Ukraine famine.

      • Goatstein says:

        The natural conditions of famine previously existed, via drought, climate, etc. There was a long history of recurring major famine in Asia stretching back centuries. The policy of the Chinese government made things worse, but they did not create the issue. Indeed the Soviets exported grain during the Ukraine famine; the British exported grain during the Irish and Indian famines which killed greater percentages of those countries’ population, yet this is not considered a slam-dunk argument for the eternal failings of capitalism.

  13. Albatross says:

    Sorry if this was mentioned in one of the 700 comments above mine, but I see the pope-assassination KGB link discounted by leftists and Pootin supporters however the KGB link was found in KGB files in the 1990s. Media might have been going on a hunch, but it was totally correct. I also think coverage of the Kurdish rebels vs. ISIS and the Ukraine invasion has been completely opposite to Manufacturing Consent. The PKK are officially terrorists and are protrayed as valient freedom fighters. Meanwhile the Russian invasion of Ukraine is winked at as freedom fighters. Neither view is particularly convenient for the establishment.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      I can find no evidence that such documents were found in KGB archives.

      I can find a bunch of articles whose headlines claim this, but the bodies of the article all admit that everyone with access to the document denies it. Here is an article with the headline claiming that such documents were found in the Stasi archives, but the body of the article says that the people in charge of the archive today deny they exist. Here is an article claiming that less specific documents were found in the archives of the Czechoslovak secret police. Both articles claim that the documents were sent to Italy. But the Mitrokhin Commission never published them.

      We know where the idea came from at the time. It was not a “hunch.” It was from Michael Ledeen, who does not have a good track record.

  14. AR says:

    You might enjoy reading “The Influencing Machine” by Brooke Gladstone. It is a “graphic non-fiction” essay describing how it gets decided what is in- and out-of-bounds in mainstream opinion.

  15. gbdub says:

    So propping up third world dictators usually leads to sham elections, war, and death squads. Supporting coups against third world dictators usually leads to sham elections, war, and death squads. Ignore the third world completely, and you usually get sham elections, war, and death squads.

    Given that, why SHOULDN’T the US just support/undermine whatever groups seem most likely to serve their interest (“because they are terrible at it” is a fine answer but not really my point here).

    Another issue with Chomsky – to him, pro-capitalist forces are always acting at the behest of the US as a global hegemon. While Communist meddling is either ignored or assumed to be legitimate local support. In reality, the USSR and China were/are doing just as much meddling and atrocity-whitewashing in the third world. These are proxy wars, not imperial conquests. It doesn’t make it GOOD, but it certainly changes the moral and geopolitical equations a bit.

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      >So propping up third world dictators usually leads to sham elections, war, and death squads. Supporting coups against third world dictators usually leads to sham elections, war, and death squads. Ignore the third world completely, and you usually get sham elections, war, and death squads.

      Now, I’m no dirty commie, but the third world is pretty big and heterogeneous place. Here in Argentina we did have a long history of military coups and a short history of left wing terrorism, but all of them were dwarfed by the bloodiness of the US backed 1976 junta. If I recall correctly, Chile’s situation was even more peaceful.

      While it’s not crazy to argue that a socialist takeover would’ve been worse, it’s very different to claim “what difference does it make? They’d kill each other anyway”.

    • Nornagest says:

      Well, even on the level of wars and dictators and death squads there’s still bad and worse. Most of the Third World is not so fucked up that you can’t make it worse with ill-deployed interventions, bar a very few regions — and that was even true in the Sixties and Seventies, when it was a lot more fucked up than it is now.

      • gbdub says:

        I don’t disagree. But there are enough examples of both interventions that went poorly and non-interventions that went poorly that anyone claiming a hard and fast rule of “do/don’t intervene” is almost certainly wrong.

        And there are even a few examples of interventions going well (e.g. the Korean war, U.S. economic support of Greece and Western Germany post WWII). Anyone can cherry-pick examples to help their case.

        The real problem is that anyplace where outside intervention short of full-on invasion can significantly impact the course of local government is almost by definition dysfunctional, and dysfunctional governments tend to result in a lot of bad things (even if they are unintentional e.g. famine). So it’s hard to draw a strong moral distinction between isolationism and interventionism.

        “Does this help American interests” might be a bit better as a metric, if only because we can measure it a bit better (they are OUR interests, after all). There are plenty of examples of intervention backfiring on American interests if you want to cast America as a Cold War villain.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          “Does this help American interests” might be a bit better as a metric, if only because we can measure it a bit better

          You can measure it, but apparently you sure as hell can’t predict it.

          Other than that I agree.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ gbdub
          And there are even a few examples of interventions going well (e.g. the Korean war, U.S. economic support of Greece and Western Germany post WWII). Anyone can cherry-pick examples to help their case.
          The real problem is that anyplace where outside intervention short of full-on invasion can significantly impact the course of local government [….]

          A more recent intervention that went well, was Kosovo in the late 90s, which might be described as the Clintons cherry-picking a fight to intervene in.

          The Kosovo side was not trying to take over the whole country; they wanted Milosevic to withdraw his forces from doing ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Kosovo. Their most extreme faction just wanted to secede.

          US bombing (especially of Belgrade’s power sources) was enough to convince Milosevic to withdraw; no full-on invasion (nor any other US feet on the ground) was needed. The victory condition was clear: Milosevic must stop his ethnic cleansing and withdraw his forces from Kosovo. He did, so mission (truly, this one) accomplished.

          Soon after, Milosevic was deposed and sent to an internaitonal court (probably with some quiet US help). Whether or not that that significantly impacted the course of local government, it didn’t take a US invasion.

  16. BenU says:

    I think “consensus” is being unfairly maligned here. There’s a reason people try to “seek consensus”. If we did not have consensus about what is and isn’t murder, for example (and of course we don’t have 100% consensus) then we’d all be looking over our shoulders in public. Consensus is central to society. It is also abused all the time and is always at least a little bit wrong. Sometimes it is completely wrong.

    One theory for the evolutionary development of religion is that it promoted consensus. A tribe would be stuck between two opposing decision choices. The shaman would throw some turtle bones on the ground and proclaim the gods say they should walk north to find water. Is there water north? Who knows. But at least they’re accomplishing something instead of standing there bickering while they die of thirst.

    We might enjoy the lack of consensus in society as a whole, but our government could use a little.

  17. multiheaded says:

    This is a good post, Scott, nice job, although I’m a little disappointed by the vast amount of comments making it harder for me to shitpost.

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      On the contrary, the shitposting possiblities increase exponentially with every new tangent!

  18. Bill Walker says:

    Foreign “aid” is mostly Aid to Dependent Kleptocrats, and it increases the toxicity of all governments. The US gave foreign aid to Pol Pot AFTER the genocide… there are hundreds of other cases, but that tells you all you need to know.

    Read what the Africans that have to live under it think about foreign aid to Idi Amin et al (my review of Moyo’s book, pardon the terrible web site that it’s archived on 😉

    https://www.lewrockwell.com/2010/02/bill-walker/the-dead-hand-of-foreign-aid/

  19. Tibor says:

    I think the dishonesty of the authors is much bigger a deal than Scott makes of it. One thing is to omit some details that perhaps speak against my argument but that hardly make a difference in the big picture. Another is to “forget” to mention a foreign invasion in a middle of the elections in Laos.

    I agree fully with the fact that if your view of the world is far enough from mainstream, it becomes difficult for others even to take their time to judge it fairly. This is logical, as most of the fringe world views consist of conspiracy theorists, religious fanatics and people who wear tin foil hats to protect themselves against aliens. But there indeed are some views that, if perhaps not perfectly true, have a good point here and there that the mainstream is missing entirely and most people will still not bother taking it seriously anyway. But I think that trying to amplify things so that they look more in your favour and more dramatic than they truly are is just a bad way to go both from an ethical and practical point of view. The practical problem is that if you do this and other people point it out, you will lose a lot of credibility – at least among those who already agreed with you before they started reading anyway and who do not care much whether it is true or not. Also, if (well there is no if, almost everyone is doing it already) this becomes a norm, basically all of political writing becomes partisan garbage that hammers the point of one side, convincing all the already convinced and being entirely dismissed by everyone else – even if there are some good points behind it.

    At the same time, trying to write more honestly while acknowledging the possible limits of your own ideas is something that may perhaps attract fewer readers in total, but in terms of the readers who matter (those who just don’t take your thesis for gospel because it tells them what they want to hear) you might actually get more.

    I know that I am not going to read Chomsky after learning about several cases of dishonesty on his part. He might have a good point here and there but if I can never be sure what is red painted blue and what is actually true then I might as well do the research on my own.

    One thing I liked a lot about David Friedman’s Machinery of Freedom is that while it presents quite a radical worldview (probably more radical than Chomsky’s ) and it obviously tries to make case for it, you can see that the author does not try to hide you the possible limitations and problems of those ideas and that while he is convinced that by and large it would work the way he would want it to work, there are scenarios where it probably would not. This is very unique in political (or any, but mainly polticial) writing and it is valuable to me as a reader, because I can be much more confident that the author is not trying to hide something away from me. When I first learned about the anarcho-capitalist ideas it was from the austrian school libertarians who tend to be (not all, but most I would say) pretty Chomsky like in their writing. That is they just hammer the point into you that their view of the world is correct and that is that. It struck me as dogmatic and I did not pay any more attention to it before I more or less by accident learned about David’s Machinery. That was an entirely different take on the same kind of things and to me much more convincing. If Chomsky and Herman decided to write their book that way it would have been much more convincing for people like me. Scott mentions that despite its flaws their general point (about the warfare) is probably justified. I would not find that too surprising. But if you try to embellish the truth by deliberately omitting important parts and other people point it out, most will ignore the parts that actually were true as well and they in a sense well justified – you know the author is being severely dishonest in some thing, you are not sure about the other things, so the most reasonable thing is to just ignore it completely.

    I think it is a valid point that those who will cheer for one argument without a hint of doubt are suddenly going to be very skeptical when someone argues for an opposite conclusion and consider that “debunked” whenever there is a slightest detail missing. I think we all have that tendency to a certain point. But then there is a (blurry perhaps, but still existent) line between unimportant details and important ones. If a detail is close to forgetting adding one to something that sums to 1000, then it is not a big deal. If it it closer to deliberately “forgetting” a minus sign in front of the sum, then it really is a problem.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      conspiracy theorists, religious fanatics and people who wear tin foil hats

      Listen, God gave me my tin-foil hat, and I will never let the Tiborian World Order take it away from me.

      • Tibor says:

        Well, it seems I will have to call my alien lizard friends from outer space then. After they give you The Vaccination, you will talk differently my friend.

    • gbdub says:

      The problem for me comes when you go from “There are some US/ally-caused atrocities that the mainstream media doesn’t report and you probably don’t know about” to “There is a systematic bias that causes US/ally-caused atrocities to get less coverage than enemy-caused atrocities”.

      The former is fine, and if you’re cherry picking cases to support that I think it’s okay to call that “raising awareness in the face of hostile consensus”. But the latter is a quantitative/comparitive statement, and cherry picking only supportive examples there is just straight up lying.

      • Tibor says:

        But even if you cherry pick an example only to support the first statement, you should still keep that particular example unchanged. Otherwise, I as a reader might begin to suspect that you were not even able to cherry pick examples that were good enough on their own and had to resort to “improving” them…hence even the limited case you are trying to make is now on a shaky ground from my point of view.

        By the way, I am basically against foreign interventions, mostly because it is really hard to do them well and the state is not likely to do so. But there are cases where one could argue that a “US military adventure” was a good thing from the longterm perspective. Had it not been for the US intervention in Korea, not half of but all of Koreans would suffer in the hell that is North Korea. South Korea has a population of 50 million, it would probably be less had the communists taken over, but still let’s say 20 million. Saving 20 million people from the North Korean regime seems even worth some possible atrocities on the side of the US army during the conflict. Now, suppose that Vietnam war had a similar result (it seems to me that both the conflict and the motivation of the US to take part in it were similar). Would it not be good then, perhaps even at a cost of some (actual and documented) atrocities? Of course, the problem here is the hindsight, you do not know the results of the involvement beforehand and while you can end up being lucky, you end up messing things up a lot more often (at least empirically it seems to be the case).

        • gbdub says:

          I don’t think we disagree. There is a thing called “lying by omission” for a reason, after all, and it certainly seems like C&H are guilty of it here.

        • Scott H. says:

          Still, these are cases of US intervention to preserve a state, not interventions to destroy a state. Scott’s thesis, at least as I understood it, still stands.

  20. weaselword says:

    Thanks for an interesting post.

    One of the conclusions of your post is that books like “Manufacturing Consent” undermine the prevalent liberal/conservative, left/right binary paradigm that pervades political discourse. An interesting perspective that hasn’t yet been mentioned is that this binary paradigm may be a product of our electoral system, in particular of the plurality voting method, where each voter votes only for her top choice rather than indicate a ranking of preferences, or cast votes for all the candidates she approves of. The plurality voting method tends to favor centrist political parties and coalitions, and encourages voters to vote strategically for a viable candidate that isn’t as bad as another viable candidate, rather than for their actual top choice. (In political science, this is known as the Duverger’s law.)

  21. Decius says:

    Unless you are the median person, the majority of people are closer than you are to the extreme that you are furthest from.

  22. H-bar says:

    With regards to Chomsky and Srebrenica and some other stuff, see http://balkanwitness.glypx.com/chomskydenial.htm

    • darxan says:

      From that link:

      As early as 1984, Chomsky signed a letter of support for Šešelj, who was already known as an extreme Serb nationalist. Šešelj was, in fact, a prisoner of conscience at the time, jailed on the basis of unpublished writings, though he had also gotten into trouble for his attacks on powerful figures in trying to advance his own career.

      So, the one time Chomsky asks a communist government to release a political prisoner he gets criticized for it because it’s the wrong kind of political prisoner.

      Also did they steal their anti-Chomsky rant format from James Donald?

      • H-bar says:

        Is that the best evasion you have? Chomsky’s fables fly in the face of not only the oh-so-evil US military imperialism but also about every UN investigation of Serb war crimes there ever has been. If you have actual questions about that sites content ask them yourself.

        • darxan says:

          I was just trying to show that that the authors are extremely uncharitable towards Chomsky, flinging more poop than Nim Chimpsky. The page looks like it’s a work of a intern who typed “Chomsky lied, people died” into Google, clicked on the first link and so liked ol’ Jimbo’s formatting, with CHOMSKY LIES on the left and DA TRUTH on the right, that xe used it for xer magnum opus. The sources from which Chomsky’s alleged fabrications are taken are mostly interviews and comments on websites while his detractors books and articles are quoted. Great deal of the criticism amounts to nothing more than Chomsky using wrong words. Apparently it’s some sort of denial of a crime if one talks about “estimates” of number of people killed.

          For a more substantive criticism lets begin (and end lest I run out of spoons) with the first item. What genocide denying yarn was Noam “That will Shoah’em” Chomsky caught having spun?

          Chomsky:
          The Serbian concentration camp at Trnopolje “was a refugee camp, I mean, people could leave if they wanted.”

          LOL, Belgrade Bob does it again, claims that a concentration camp is really a refugee camp, I swear it you gaiz.

          Philip Knightley, who is a highly respected media analyst and his specialty is photo journalism, probably the most famous Western and most respected Western analyst in this. He did a detailed analysis of it. And he determined that it was probably the reporters who were behind the barb-wire, and the place was ugly, but it was a refugee camp, I mean, people could leave if they wanted and, near the thin man was a fat man and so on …

          LOL, he can tell by the pixels. Let’s all brace now for the force of the rebuttal. First item on that side is “Letter to Amnesty International UK from Owen Beith.”. So. it’s not a document of Amnesty International UK, but from some guy named Owen Beith. Gr8 beith m8! Who is Owen Beith and why should we take his opinions more seriously than that of CAPSLOCKHUSTLA on shitpostforums.com? The article doesn’t tell us and I can’t be arsed to google. Authors give some more to the point quotes but they give this as their assessment of Trnopolje:

          Trnopolje was not simply a transit camp, and it was also not simply a death camp – it was both. There were people who did go there because it seemed safer than hiding in the woods or in their homes in that region. And there were people who came and went from that camp – but there were also people who were raped there, and others who were killed.And people were released from there in exchanges and under international pressure. When Omarska was discovered and was closed, people were moved to Trnopolje – including malnourished captives.

          First, nice exercise in dialetheic logic! So, what Chomsky said was both true and false and he is in fact His Holiness the Pope!
          Second, if people are killed and raped there, it means it’s a death camp? ZOMG NYC is a death camp!! Help me, Snake Plissken!! One man’s modus ponens in another man’s modus morons, I guess.

          OK, OK that was a bit unfair. Let’s not be glib, we are talking about human lives here. Just how death was this death camp?
          Wikipedia tells us that from estimated 30,000 inmates ninety died, that is, around 0.3%. Given that about 2.5% of Bosnians perished in the war, it looks like non death camp part of Bosnia was 8 times more dangerous than death camp. No wonder people were lining up to be let in, with rapes, murders and all.

          Chomsky’s MO is to find the single weak yet central point of the narrative (Trnopolje is certainly not the new Auschwitz as presented by international media), and attack there, ignoring all other points that are not in his favor. His critics treat this as some great crime but end up with versions of events that is closer to Chomsky’s than to official story. You can see how he uses vagueness to shield himself from criticism. He describes Trnopolje as ugly which can mean anything from “not a nice place to spend the holiday weekend” to “rapes and murders all around”. It appears that after the Cambodia fiasco he has gotten smarter in his old age.

          • H-bar says:

            Most “nazi concentration camps” were not death camps like Auschwitz-Birkenau, rather they were used for example for forced labour (in inhumane conditions) or as staging areas for transporting the prisoners elsewhere (like into said forced labour camps or the actual “death” concentration camps, Vernichtungslagers).

            Trnopolje did not house 30k people at any one time but that was apparently the total number of people that passed through it. According to International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Trnopolje was used as principally as one of these staging areas to hold people of the “wrong ethnicity” until they could be deported or otherwise be sent elsewhere. As such, it is correct to call it a concentration camp even though it would no doubt be misleading to the general public . The confirmed number of murders that happened at Trnopolje is not very high but ICTY did find torture and beatings to have been common and rape to have been the most common human rights abuse that occurred. This all paints a very different picture from Chomsky’s initial remarks about the camp which made it sound almost like somekind of location where people could go “rest for a bit” before leaving voluntarily.

  23. Echo says:

    When a Daily Kos writer is arrested for terrorism, the media reports that he was a Breitbart writer, and nobody questions them.
    Because voiceless people challenge that kind of lie in comments sections, creatures like our favourite vogon-in-a-skin-suit are shutting down comments to protect their narrative.

    Does anything more need to be said?

    • BBA says:

      Joshua Goldberg? He was, under various pseudonyms, a Daily Kos writer and a Breitbart writer, Feministing and the Daily Stormer, a troll working every side of every argument. Every word he ever wrote was a lie, including “and” and “the.” It’s kinda sad to see everyone trying to ascribe him to their outgroup, when in fact he never belonged to any group at all.

      Too bad for him, “doing it for the lulz” isn’t a defense to a terrorism charge.

      • Echo says:

        As far as I can tell, he never wrote for Breitbart. That was made up out of whole cloth by the founder of the Daily Kos. A lie can travel around the world as slow as it wants when the truth is bound and gagged in the Guardian’s basement.

        • BBA says:

          You appear to be right on the one point that Goldberg never wrote an article for Breitbart. However he was (allegedly) a source for at least one Breitbart article by Milo Yiannopoulos that was later proven false, so he still managed to get his lies published there. (Milo is denying it and I don’t care enough to get to the bottom of this one point.)

          Honestly I find his apparent total nihilism and omnidirectional proof of Poe’s law much more interesting than trying to score cheap political points by accusing your enemies of harboring a terrorist. But the press and the blogosphere disagree. A shame, really.

          • Zebram says:

            Writer vs source seems like a big difference. It would seem to me that the place where he wrote is more directly associated with the man than a place where he was a source.
            Of course, these are all guilt by association tactics, better to not bring in where he wrote or was a source at all.

          • nyccine says:

            Except that the claim is not just that he didwrite for Breitbart, but that he did not write for Kos, Moulistas himself tweeting that you never see this sort of thing from left-wing sites, no sir not no way not no how.

          • Echo says:

            The press and the blogosphere disagree, and all in one direction. That’s why it’s relevant to bring up.

            If they Dreyfus affair happened today, we wouldn’t see different ridiculous lies on all sides. The entire media would unite and scream: “he’s obviously guilty because he’s a WASP neo-reactionary gamergater!”

          • Cauê says:

            However he was (allegedly) a source for at least one Breitbart article by Milo Yiannopoulos that was later proven false, so he still managed to get his lies published there.

            Wait, was it proven false? That’s not what Google is giving me.

  24. stubydoo says:

    Ethiopia under the Derg was UUUUUUGE news during the mid-1980s.

    Except that the news was just that the country was having a famine. Due to bad weather or something. Just one of those unfortunate things. At least that’s the impression I was given at the time (though since I had only been born myself during the late 1970s, I was still rather young).

    I only found out much later that it happened under a Soviet-aligned government that had to do at least enough screwing with the economy to convince the Soviet masters that they were applying the principles of communism, in order to keep the weapon shipments going to be well-armed enough to beat down those who would overthrow them.

    My generation still probably has many people who think instantly of Ethiopia whenever the topic of charismatically starving African children comes up, but who have not the faintest clue about the cold-war context that worked to earn it that distinction.

    There’s seemingly some kind of media bias at work there…

    • onyomi says:

      I also remember that. And I also remember getting the distinct impression that everyone was starving just because… that’s what happens in Africa, or something.

      • HlynkaCG says:

        I as well.

      • Marc Whipple says:

        I was a teenager when “Do They Know It’s Christmastime?” came out and I distinctly recall the huge hue, cry, and fervor over helping the starving Ethiopians.

        I recall exactly zero discussion of the reason there was no food, only that there wasn’t any. The song, and a lot of jokes about the situation (RIP Sam Kinnison) implied that it was because they lived where it was hot and food was hard to grow. The question of how they’d got along to this point never came up.

  25. Bettega says:

    “Their case study of a “worthy victim” is Jerzy Popieluszko, a Polish priest killed by the Communists; since the Communists were our enemy, we were outraged by the crime.”

    I had to google his name, since I had never heard of him before. I’ve heard of Oscar Romero though. Just like most people have heard of Augusto Pinochet (3000 deaths) and South Africa under Apartheid (a few dozen dead activists), but never about Francisco Macias Nguema (50,000 to 80,000 deaths) or Ethiopia under the Derg (500,000 to over 2,000,000 deaths).

    So yeah, Chomsky is a bit biased. Reading Cold War history through him is learning about the atrocities of only one side, while the other side is depicted as angelic and never-wrong.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I was also surprised by their claim of overcoverage of Popieluszko relative to Romero given that I had only heard of the latter. I assumed it was a 1980s thing and that the imbalance had corrected itself in historical retrospect. Maybe someone who lived through the early 80s can confirm.

      There was a similar thing where the authors went on and on about how much we talked about “Yellow Rain” (a supposed Communist chemical weapon in Vietnam, since debunked) compared to Agent Orange (the US chemical weapon in Vietnam). Of course, I’ve heard all about Agent Orange and didn’t know anything about Yellow Rain till reading this book.

      (Yellow Rain turned out to be bee poop.)

      • John Schilling says:

        I lived through the early ’80s, and this is the first I’ve heard of Popieluszko. The contemporary take on Poland was that Lech Walesa and a bunch of anonymous shipyard workers formed a trade union and stood up to the Evil Commies. Who of course went around beating up the anonymous shipyard workers, but I don’t recall any martyr stories. Or any names other than Lech Walesa, really.

        Oscar Romero, yes, he got media coverage. As did both Yellow Rain and Agent Orange, but more so for Agent Orange. And the Yellow Rain coverage was skeptical from the start, whereas it was taken for granted that the US government had been recklessly endangering soldiers’ lives with Agent Orange.

        And since others are mentioning it, I do recall a fair bit of coverage of the civil war in what is now Eritrea, but mostly disconnected from coverage of the Ethiopian famines. Which apparently just sort of happened because that sort of thing happened in Africa all the time.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        We already had comment on memory of the 80s.

        Let’s try the New York Times. In the 80s, it had 165 articles containing “Arnulfo Romero”* and 177 containing Popieluszko. Since then totals have reached 248 and 207, respectively.

        Now let’s look at Google Ngrams, which I don’t think covers newspapers. This is counting occurrences of words, not documents containing words, which might gives Popieluszko an advantage, because I can’t include bare mentions of “Romero.” If we combine “Oscar Romero” and “Archbishop Romero,” their spike exceeds that of Popieluszko, but they are comparable.

        * Romero’s full name is Oscar Arnulfo Romero and the Times makes a point of spelling it all out the first time they mention him. But this is not popular in other sources, as measured in Ngrams. Here are some variants.

      • I thought Agent Oracle was a defoliant rather than a chemical weapon? At least officially?

        • Nornagest says:

          It’s a defoliant, yes. If I recall correctly, its toxicity came from dioxin contamination during manufacture — the effects of which are pretty nasty, but not the kind of nasty that makes it tactically useful as a chemical weapon. I don’t think it was ever even unofficially used as such, although I doubt many hands were wrung at the time over possible toxicity issues.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            It would not have been used as a chemical weapon, because the only way to hurt somebody with it in a tactically significant way is to dunk their heads in it until they stop moving. 🙂

    • multiheaded says:

      As a bit of a political nerd, the only time I’ve heard of Popieluszko in my life was from the hilarious (and excellent) indie videogame, Liberal Crime Squad.

  26. Kiefer says:

    The book “A Problem from Hell” by Samantha Powers covers similar ground. It’s thesis seems to be that noninterventionism in genocides seems to be a powerful and somewhat universal pull on the governments, elites, media, and people of powerful western democracies (or meddling former colonizers if that’s your jam). Having only read it and not “Manufacturing Consent,” I can only guess, but I would think it would provide a somewhat objective account of what actually happened if not the correct interpretation of the media response.

  27. It’s a bit odd to read BoingBoing’s post on the American Civil War after reading the summary of Chomsky.

  28. Peter says:

    What if there is a protest by a large, well-organized group that has cultivated links with the press?

    The writer’s strike was a good example of one of these.

  29. Tom Scharf says:

    These guys are probably correct that the media is biased to the right, but this may be more fairly stated as the media is biased to the right of their personal political views. I’m not sure their political ideology can be assumed as center left. It seems more sympathetic to communism and socialism than a center left ideology. I don’t equate leftist ideology as hating the military in most cases, just more pacifist.

    The Pentagon has a perfect right to have press releases and to give their official view of events. If they didn’t it would be seen as a conspiracy of silence by their detractors. The press has the job to fact check the Pentagon’s view of events.

    That the media currently gives little respect for the Russian’s view of events in the recent Ukraine airliner shoot down doesn’t strike me as biased. If the Russians have some evidence for this view, I’m all for looking at it. In a he-said she-said confrontation, taking the Pentagon’s view over Pravda’s seems justified.

  30. Kyle Strand says:

    One particularly amusing recent example of party affiliation being mentioned for the right but not the left: the New York Times’ article on Kim Davis being sent to jail originally stated that she was a Republican (which was in no way relevant to the rest of the article), but they later had to retract that statement because she’s a Democrat.

    • Deiseach says:

      What I find fascinating about American political discourse is that there seems to be this consensus that to be a Republican is to be a divil out of hell.

      Over on Tumblr, someone was getting stuck into Caitlyn Jenner (for being the wrong kind of trans person, as far as I could make out) and number one on the list of her sins was “She is a Republican”.

      Just that. No qualifications. Obviously we were all meant to realise from that alone that she was a combination of all that was evil in human history.

      Now, I’ll be first in line to give my tribal political enemies a kicking, but even I have some sense of proportion about the Blueshirts.

      Apparently you lot never gave up witch-trials, you just changed the names of those who traffic with the powers of darkness?

      That “New York Times” snippet is how media bias actually works, I think; it’s not so much a deliberate, active decision to show the opposition in the worst light but rather the assumption that the culture of the newsroom is the same as the culture of the nation as a whole, and that anyone who does not support the enlightened liberal attitudes must automatically be a member of the reviled tribe (and indeed that both tribes are all of a homogenous whole). The notion that there can be varying attitudes within one’s own group, attitudes at odds with one’s own, does not seem to have entered their heads. Using “Republican” here seems to be the reflexive action: “We can’t say she is a monster from the deepest bowels of Hell who wants to burn gays at the stake and eat the hearts of orphans raw because our lawyers consider that might be libellous so we’ll simply say she’s a Republican, everyone will understand what that means anyway”.

      • Autonomous Rex says:

        Deiseach,

        As per “what’s the matter with kansas”, liberals are scornful of the self-indignifying aspects of logcabin republicanism.

        Republicans in general dont inspire disgust in a liberal’s heart, nearly as much as vice versa, as per Haidt.

        I invite you to check out some youtube excerpts of popular rightwing radio hosts like Michael Savage (5 million listeners), Glenn Beck (7 million) Sean Hannity (10 million) and Rush Limbaugh (12 million). Search +”caitlyn jenner”.

        If you don’t understand how powerful these message machines are, how ubiquitously embedded in the workplaces restaurants and truck cabs of generic america, and how purposely provocative of hatred and fear in the listening audience, you’re never going to know how mad to be at a tumblr feed in proportion with what else is going on on the macro level.

        When Ebola breaks, for instance, look what happens.
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=9&v=RW6qHh7bR2U

        And keep in mind that media sphere is completely locked off. It’s denizens are taught to trust no other sources.

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          How come when *I* make a general observation, an Exhibit A never helpfully steps up to provide confirming evidence? It isn’t fair.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Wow, I thought she was a Republican too.

      But this seems less like media bias, and more like making natural assumptions based on behavior.

      • nyccine says:

        That’s an odd conclusion to come to, Scott, given that you’re aware of the “Name That Party” game. This sort of thing is sort-of related, and quite common; any time there’s a tragedy and the perpetrator isn’t clearly a minority, you’re going to get rampant speculation in the press about close ties with right-wing politics. The press calling Kim Davis a Republican is of a piece of this trend.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      @Scott Alexander/@Deiseach:
      Ideological sorting of the parties is still occurring. As an example I am familiar with, until Obama won NC in 2008, they had gone Republican for President (with the exception of Carter) every year since the passage of the Civil Rights act.

      Voting for the presidential candidate changed, based on national party planks, but this did not change voter registration at the local level. NC remained a Yellow dog Democrat state. Until 2011, the state legislature was firmly in the hands of Democrats, as were most local offices. All of the action occurred in the primaries. Conservative and liberal shifts happened within the Democratic party.

      The fact that Kim Davis is a registered Democrat doesn’t necessarily mean she identifies with Democratic planks or votes for Democratic candidates on the national or state level.

      • Urstoff says:

        It also doesn’t mean that she doesn’t. It’s just bad journalism on part of the NYT.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Oh, I agree it’s bad journalism. Don’t report anything that is assumed rather than verified.

          I was just trying to give Scott and Deiseach a likely explanation for why Kim Davis is registered as a Democrat, and it isn’t because she is actually agrees with or votes for candidates who comprise the vast majority of the Democratic party’s candidates (at the national level).

          And I don’t think that Deiseach is right about the NYT trying to single out Republicans. Like it our not, it is common for everyone to throw a label on a cohort that has variation, but has a large representation of its modal value. In North Ireland, for example, I am going to guess that “Catholic” and “Protestant” are applied in much the same way.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      Ken M (“Horsey Surprise”), the world-class troller that Scott hooked me on recently, has weighed in:

      http://horseysurprise.tumblr.com/image/129059392006

      • Adam says:

        The worst thing to me about the last election cycle is the only reason I knew of Mike Huckabee from his time as governor of Arkansas is he was a guest on the Daily Show once a really long time ago and they didn’t really talk politics, but mostly he was there to pitch a public health program to fight obesity because he’d personally lost a ton of weight. Now he’s fat again and that’s really depressing.

  31. Tom Scharf says:

    The proper lesson may be that you can’t change a society’s tribal behavior by toppling a dictator or installing a new government by force. The same cultural dysfunction that existed before intervention is retained. The Taliban will once again obtain power in Afghanistan because…they live there. They are Afghanistan.

    When the US decides to not intervene (for example Syria or Darfur) the outcome was….a death squad bloodbath. It is integral to the culture, not some specific government authoritative construction.

    An a priori assumption by the right that intervention will fix cultural dysfunction is matched by an a priori assumption by the left that cultural dysfunction never existed to start with and non-intervention is equivalent to cultural dysfunction never being unleashed in destructive ways.

    We have learned both those lessons in the Middle East over the past several decades. The Middle East is just a hotbed of destructive cultural forces. Which side wins the next presidential election will have approximately zero net effect on this. Social revolution where the dysfunction exists might.

    • onyomi says:

      But this somewhat ironically seems to work quite well with developed nations like Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Maybe the irony is that, in developed nations, which are usually more democratic than 3rd world nations, a dysfunctional government does not necessarily reflect a dysfunctional society as it seems to in the 3rd world. Or, conversely, maybe it’s that the nation-state mentality is sufficiently developed that people feel allegiance to it more strongly than to any particular tribe within it, such that one can rather smoothly replace a bad government with a good one and no bloodbath ensues.

      I wonder what would happen if we magically replace the government of North Korea with a good government? I predict no significant bloodbath because, underdeveloped as it may be, North Korea is not, so far as I know, a barely-held-together pressure cooker of intergroup tensions waiting to explode as many 3rd world nations seem to be. So in that sense maybe it really is a legacy of poorly-drawn imperialist borders… Then again, I doubt the starving rural farmers and inhabitants of the concentration camps will be very happy with the citizens of Pyongyang…

      • Tom Scharf says:

        These are good points. I think it was almost universally held that Saddam was the source of evil in Iraq as well, but it may be that he was a brutal dictator because that was the only way to keep the warring factions under control.

        Historian’s obsession with pinpointing the distinct causes of bad outcomes is a little too overwrought in my opinion. It infers that they know what the results would be for alternate actions. Since we don’t have an alternate universe to test whether specific actions or non-actions would have been a net benefit it is treated with much less ambiguity than it deserves.

        One can imagine an imaginary alternate outcome thesis “If the US had intervened in Iraq, would that have prevented Sadaam from using a nuclear weapon against Israel?”.

        People have to make decisions with large impacts on incomplete and sometimes incorrect information. All I ask is that they use reasonable judgment and make an honest attempt to get the facts straight. It is OK to disagree on the chosen path and try to learn lessons from a post mortem analysis. However post mortem analysis tends to match a person’s “pre mortem” viewpoints with an utterly astonishing frequency.

        • ” but it may be that he was a brutal dictator because that was the only way to keep the warring factions under control.”

          The poster child for that story is Yugoslavia.

      • John Schilling says:

        With Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, we A: toppled a dictator, B: killed millions of people whose only crime was standing too close to the dictator, and C: imposed martial law for the better part of a decade including arbitrary detention and forced labor for a few million more people well after the end of the war. We did not even pretend to hold elections for most of this period.

        This offers somewhat greater leverage for social engineering than just toppling a dictator.

        • onyomi says:

          Do you think we could have made Iraq into a success had we been willing to apply similar measures? I doubt it. Also, Hitler was elected to begin with, so democracy doesn’t get off scot-free on that count, I don’t think.

          • Held in Escrow says:

            Japan and Germany didn’t have massive underlying tensions between different ethnic groups just waiting to burst free, so probably not.

            I’m somewhat doubtful that even going full RoboCop remake would have helped. With Germany and Japan we were dealing with a defeated populace who were tired of war, and in the latter’s case, we had just shown a total willingness to blow up their cities in atomic fire.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The German Army was tired of fighting at that point.

            If the war had lasted 6 weeks instead of 6 years, I wonder how well the peace would have gone?

            Edit: Held in Escrow beat me by 10 minutes, but yes, his point. And let’s not forget the fire-bombing of Germany in addition to the atomic-bombing of Japan.

          • onyomi says:

            Are you (both) saying Iraq was not sufficiently war-weary and beaten down for us to install a successful new government? Because that seems like… not the problem.

          • John Schilling says:

            Yes, but that’s the point. Kill a few million people, without allowing them any victories they might consider to be worth that cost, and they’ll be tired of war. You can now engage in social engineering without having to worry too much about opposing factions starting civil wars to re-engineer things in their preferred direction.

            That may be a higher price than you are willing to pay for your social engineering plan du jour, but it works. The bit where you send in nation-builders and peacekeepers, that mostly doesn’t work. So, unless you’ve got a third plan, save the plans that involve re-engineering other people’s nations for the desperate cases where you’re willing to kill a few million people. Then get to it.

          • Held in Escrow says:

            Basically we’d have to drag out the Iraq war for several years and slaughter civilians wholesale until nobody can remember their various religious and tribal disputes if you wanted any hope of crushing their spirits enough for nation building.

            Which would make the idea of America being an evil empire an understatement to say the least.

          • There’s another aspect of Japan and Germany post WWII that I think is missing here.

            While both nations were seriously damaged in the war, so were the allied powers (especially those in Germany); there was no way that the allied powers, having defeated Hitler, were going to let a insurgent movement in Germany succeed; it was virtually unthinkable.

            Basically, the allied powers had a credible commitment to keeping Germany and Japan non-hostile in a way that America didn’t have in keeping Iraq non-hostile.

            In Iraq, all the insurgents had to do was wait for the eventual US pull-out, in Germany, there was virtually no possibility of a Nazi resurgence being met with anything other than overwhelming force.

          • John Schilling says:

            Basically we’d have to drag out the Iraq war for several years and slaughter civilians wholesale until nobody can remember their various religious and tribal disputes

            It’s plausible that we could be done with the killing in months rather than years, though as the Chrome Tiger notes we’d have to establish credibility that we aren’t going away and are keeping the drones and JDAMs close at hand.

            The other plan is to stick around just long enough to take down the dictator and his immediate henchmen, including maybe a few legions of stormtroopers or whatever, and go home leaving a stern message that we don’t care what the next dictator does or how many people you all slaughter figuring out who the next dictator is, except that we took down the last dictator because he e.g. harbored an apocalyptic jihadist terrorist who attacked one of our cities, and we’ll be back if it happens again. This plan results in massive humanitarian catastrophes and brutal dictatorships, but the blood is on other peoples’ hands and those people aren’t e.g. harboring apocalyptic jihadist terrorists.

            A variant on this is to occupy a city or two with overwhelming force as a showcase for our nation-building excellence, and incidentally as a base for the drones and special forces who will keep a close eye out for the apocalyptic jihadist terrorists or whatever.

            The plan that results in stable, prosperous democracies without massive aerial bombardment is called British Imperial Colonialism, and we decided that was a Bad, Bad Plan and we should never do it any more.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            I am, at this point, reflexively wary of anything involving “peacekeepers.” The term implies that there is some momentary turmoil, and that if we just keep things calm for a bit, everything will return to normal. I can’t remember the last time a force of “peacekeepers” was sent into a situation which could be so described. Mostly they go into places where there is no peace to keep, only a smoldering hostility which can be kept smoldering and prevented from bursting into actual flame too often with a little luck. And, alas, that luck often does not seem to be with them for long.

          • bluto says:

            Onyomi,

            http://www.vice.com/video/this-is-what-winning-looks-like-full-length

            In this video at 6 minutes in there’s a discussion of some prisoners the local Afghani warlord has hidden in a cistern and then moves again when the marines start asking about them. At 8 minutes the warlord shows up and explains that he is trying to swap those prisoners for his brothers.

            Social engineering can be successful, when he is so scared of the US marines trying and summarily executing everyone in the base (including himself) and starting with the next clan to even consider taking such an action.

          • multiheaded says:

            @John Schilling: everything else (a lot of it) aside…. “democracies” and “colonialism” are kinda… mutually exclusive. By respective definition.

          • multiheaded says:

            @Held in Escrow:

            “Germany didn’t have massive underlying tensions between different ethnic groups” uh… Hitler’s Germany? You talking about that one? Because well…

          • Multiheaded writes:

            ““democracies” and “colonialism” are kinda… mutually exclusive. ”

            I think his point was that colonialism is the transition phase that leads to democracies when it ends, with India the obvious example.

          • Adam says:

            Didn’t the ethnic group getting cleansed in Germany largely leave if they weren’t killed? That would leave them without much post-war ethnic conflict. It’s not like it was all roses anyway. They did have plenty of post-war domestic terrorism, crime problems, and you know, the country was split in half and maintained missiles pointed at each other for half a century.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Multiheaded:

            Most of Britain’s North American colonies had functional democratic governments for about a century before independence. They did not have sovereignty, but that’s a different matter.

            And, as David Friedman points out, whether or not there was local democratic self-government before independence, the nearly universal end state of British Imperial Colonialism was a stable, sovereign democracy right after independence.

            No other path to democracy has had as high a success rate as having the British notice what a nice country you have, and take it over until they got bored with it.

          • “No other path to democracy has had as high a success rate as having the British notice what a nice country you have, and take it over until they got bored with it.”

            I have just put that up on my web page as my quote of the month. I attributed it to “a commenter” but will be happy to put your name on it if you wish.

          • Nornagest says:

            Iraq, Burma, Sudan, Uganda, and Zimbabwe are all fairly straightforward counterexamples, and while the British Mandate of Palestine did produce a functioning democracy, it had, shall we say, a complicated post-colonial history. But that’s a minority of the British Empire.

            Can’t be bothered to figure out how that stacks up vs. e.g. the French.

          • John Schilling says:

            @David: Thanks, I’ll gladly take credit for that one

            @Nornagest: The French were noted for good relations with the natives while they were running their colonies, but the post-colonial outcomes were generally inferior. Spain comes in a distant third in the list of preferred colonial overlords, and nobody else really had enough colonies to produce decent statistics.

          • Jiro says:

            The Japanese had Taiwan and Korea as colonies. They were terrible colonial masters, but Taiwan and South Korea seem to be doing fairly well (I suppose you could discount North Korea, but while it’s oppressive, it’s not because of warring tribes.)

          • onyomi says:

            The Japanese were not terrible colonial masters of Taiwan. Many people look back on their rule with nostalgia, at least compared to early KMT.

        • Tatu Ahponen says:

          in Germany and Japan, UK and US also helped to re-establish a political structure that was based around a left/right conflict, not ethnic/religious/tribal conflicts. Of course, it should be taken into account that Germany was left divided and in a conflict situation for 45 years – it’s just that the stakes of that conflict were so high it did not devolve into a major shooting match.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I expected the intervention in Libya to go better than the intervention in Iraq because there wasn’t the same level of Sunni-Shia intergroup tensions. That didn’t help much. I’m not sure about this, but it seems like the current trouble in Libya is less about two groups that hate each other, and more about general lawlessnses and fundamentalism.

        • John Schilling says:

          How did you imagine that civil order and legitimate government were going to be established in postwar Libya?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            With only a slight bit of knowledge on this, the fact that there was already a functioning, seemingly organized and nominally democratic and plural, government on the “rebel” side impacted my predictions.

            None of that above statement may be actually true, except that was what I understood to be the case at the time…

        • Schmendrick says:

          No, the tension in Libya is tribal. Berber v. Arab. Carthage v. Tripolitania. There’s plenty of hatred to go around.

  32. soru says:

    > The problem wasn’t that the Iraqis didn’t like us enough, it was that we did something in a Third World country and expected it not to descend into blood-soaked death squads. That never works

    That could be turned into a more general observation with fewer exceptions. Any time anyone does anything which has a victory condition of a contented and peaceful populace, that automatically establishes a symmetrical victory condition for any enemy of the acting power. And if the opposing powers have anything like comparable power and competence, almost always, the one with a victory condition as easy to arrange as death squads will have a hard time losing.

    The USA faced both sides of this dynamic many times over the last century; most obviously, Afghanistan couldn’t be allowed to succeed only 20 years before it couldn’t be allowed to fail.

    But the ‘foreign’ part is not what really matters, it is the ‘opposed’ part. The Nicaraguan and Syrian revolutions were almost entirely home grown, with outside support that accounted to little more than the diplomat’s version of pressing ‘like’ on Facebook. Both could be destroyed by external actors wiht small manpower and a tight budget.

    Wheras plenty of foreign interventions succeed, providing _either_ they don’t claim humanitarian intent _or_ they are not opposed by anyone prepared to burn down the country.

  33. Saul Degraw says:

    I also think that a lot of media is no longer really focused on hardnews. There are a few national newspapers like the NYT, WSJ, and Washington Post that really focus on hard news. A lot of newspapers in other cities and locations seem to be relentlessly light because that is how they can stay afloat.

    The San Francisco Chronicle is largely not very good as a paper. If you look at their website, it seems like a lot of light and fluffy stuff.

    A friend of mine is a journalist for a suburban paper in New York. The stuff in her paper is really light and fluffy and very apolitical and certainly not hard hitting. Stories on stuff like housing tips for first time homeowners and articles on old restaurants that have been around for 30 years.

  34. cassander says:

    The trouble with chomsky (other than the fact that he’s a maoist anarchist, of course) is that all 5 of his basic assertions is false.

    >1. The mass media is mostly controlled by large corporations, who therefore support the sorts of things large corporations would be likely to support, like unrestrained capitalism and privileges for the wealthy.

    Media are all organized as corporate entities, sure, but many of them, and this was even more true when manufacturing consent was being written, were family controlled enterprises that were famously liberal, like the sulzbergers.

    >3. Journalists are dependent on sources…..Further, the news relies on “experts” to confirm and comment upon news, and because of incestuous relationships between government, corporations, think tanks, and academia, the most credentialed and salient experts will almost always be pro-establishment.

    As to the first point, there are plenty of official sources besides the US government that reporters can talk to. And second, people happy with the direction their organizations are not the ones that leak. Chomsky’s assumption that any organization is a unified hive mind is ridiculous. As to the second, the idea that think tanks and academia are mindlessly pro-US is almost laughable, particularly since chomsky himself is among their ranks.

    >4. Conservative groups fund “flak machines”, organizations and individuals whose job it is to complain that the media is “biased” whenever they are insufficiently conservative.

    Tl;DR: pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, ignore all evidence contrary to the narrative

    >5. Anti-communism is “the dominant religion” of “our cultural milieu” so any journalist who disagrees with the establishment can be smeared with the label “communist” and forced “on the defensive”. Most “have fully internalized the religion anyway, but they are all under great pressure to demonstrate their anti-communist credentials.”

    Really? anti-communism a dominant religion? When was the last time someone was drummed out of public life by accusations of communism, the mid 50s?

    Chomsky is someone who clearly has not updated his mental model of the world since he was about 30 (1958). He’s like a living time capsule.

  35. Saul Degraw says:

    Late to the Party again. Some thoughts:

    1. Here is a study that shows that both liberal and conservative politicians think their districts are much more conservative than they really are. This could partially be gerrymandering, it could also be the biases of the political class:

    http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/05/chart-day-politicians-dont-know-their-own-districts-very-well

    2. Sometime around 2011, there was talk about the rise of the global elite. This was a group of middle and upper-management at large global populations who tended to have more in common with themselves than their fellow country people. The big-fight in center-Left parties over the past few years (Democratic Party in the U.S. and Labour Party in the U.K.) has always been between the neo-liberal globalization wings and the more traditional wings that represented blue-collar workers/unions or worker-friendly policies in general. This ended with Jeremy Corbyn winning the Labour leadership over the Blarites with everyone except the Labour MPs. In the U.S. you see this with debates with so-called Davos Democrats like Tom Freidman and Matt Y who will say Free Trade is always good and more traditional Democratic liberals saying “It is very easy to talk about raising the retirement age when you have a cushy job that involves traveling business class all the time. Tell that to a guy with minor to moderate arthritis who installs dry wall for living.” Tom Freidman and Matt Y both come from well-to-do families and they both married women who came from even more well to do families. This sort of puts the global elite thing in place.

    3. The far left of the United States never learned to join or merge with the Democratic Party in the same way that the far-right learned to join and merge with the Republican Party. There are probably posters who would say that this is my liberal and pro-Democratic Party bias but people like Chomsky and Amy Goodman have always loathed the Democratic Party. The United States is a big country and this ensures a solid audience for people like Chomsky but Manufacturing Consent is not necessarily going to be found on all Democratic Party member bookshelves.

    • LTP says:

      Re 3: Possibly this is because the American far left is much smaller than the far right, and the far right is better at turning out for elections than the far left. The GOP had to make room for the far right because the far right is a large enough block to swing an election. I’d guess the far right is 5%-10% of the vote in many states and districts. The far left, on the other hand, is much smaller (mostly fringe academics and young undergraduates) and is terrible at turning out. Even union members and racial minorities, while pretty left-wing, aren’t far left, particularly in international terms. So, the Democrats can safely ignore them most of the time, leading the far left to rightly feel neglected and excluded from the Democrats and thus resent them.

      Libertarian and Constitution party candidates have cost the GOP at least a half dozen Governorships and Senate seats in the past few election cycles by splitting the right-wing vote, while the Green party hasn’t cost the Democrats any election in recent years. Yeah, there was Ralph Nader in 2000, but then Kerry and Obama were just left-wing enough to nip that in the bud in their elections, despite them not being far left.

      • Saul Degraw says:

        I largely agree with this but I think it is more about turning out to elections. My general experience with the left especially my more left wing friends is that they place a great deal of stock in supporting the right things for the right reasons. They also tend to be very good at letting the perfect be an enemy of the good or the better. The phrase more pragmatic liberals sneer sometimes is “leftier than thou.”

        LGM is a blog that is pretty far to the left but event there unreconstructed socialist blogger believes in voting Democratic even if it sometimes means holding your nose. The LGM bloggers frequently criticize people on the left like Thomas Frank who think that Obama could have willed an NHS style health plan into existence.

        On the other hand, you have someone like Freddie De Boer who issues nothing but a long sneer against the Democratic Party and finds himself in absolute horror when he agrees with a mainstream liberal and Democratic Party supporter like Jon Chait.

        But then again I wonder how much of politics is always going to be a battle between romanticism v. pragmatism and David Freidman’s comment above is astute. It takes an incredible amount of self-analysis and strength to admit that most people might disagree with your preferred politics. Party partisans always seem to attribute their party defeats to being an “echo, not a choice.” When a Democratic candidate looses, he or she is called Republican-lite by the party faithful. When a Republican candidate looses, he or she is called Democratic-lite by the party faithful. Hence the ability for liberals to jeer “conservatism can’t fail, it can only be failed” and similar refrains from conservatives to liberals.
        Needless to say LGM and De Boer do not get along with each other.

        • stubydoo says:

          “LGM and De Boer do not get along with each other”

          OH boy does that leave so much unsaid. Freddie showed up in the LGM comments section one time and then from then on LGM became the blog that exists for the purpose of making fun of Freddie. Classic lefty-on-lefty infighting.

          (the stuff Freddie did that got it originally started was actually pretty mockable, but then all the sniping at other Freddie stuff that LGM does is pointless at best).

          • Saul Degraw says:

            A college friend of mine is friends with Freddie. I also write at one of his former stomping grounds.

            I don’t necessarily disagree with him but he certainly doesn’t realize how off putting his tone can be. He gets too much out of “take me or leave me. This is how I am.”

      • gbdub says:

        Exactly what are you calling the “far right”? Because it seems to me that basically consists of “social conservatives that would prefer we ban/significantly limit abortion, don’t let gay people marry each other, have Christmas trees in the Capitol, and kick out anyone that didn’t immigrate legally”.

        But the thing is, that’t not THAT far out of the mainstream. All four of those positions poll favorably with at least large double-digit minorities. Maybe that seems “far right” to your average journo – and that’s precisely the problem (actually, I’d wager that a double digit percentage of people voting Democrat would support all 4 positions)!

        Whereas the “far left” seems to be “topple the current federalist system and replace it with Communism / Socialism (and not that namby-pamby Scandanavian kind) / World Government / free everything for everyone except the nasty people who have more money than me”. I don’t think that group is nearly as large.

        I’d reserve “far right” for anarcho-capitalist libertarians and the fringe groups that actually want to install a Christian (or Muslim) theocracy (and no, passing/maintaining a few religious inspired laws doesn’t really count). When you consider only those groups, the size of the “far” left and right seems a bit more equivalent.

    • It has always seemed to me – and I don’t think of this as much more than a wild guess, but FWIW – that the Democratic party is slightly right-of-center by New Zealand standards, and probably by those of most of the rest of the western world. But the US left-wing seems just about as left-wing as our own, perhaps more so in some cases.

      I was actually a little disappointed when Occupy didn’t turn into a credible left-wing political party, since it seems to me that the US could do with one, to balance out the two right-wing parties it has at the moment. 🙂

      • LTP says:

        I would say, to non-Americans, that on economic issues to think of the Democrats as a coalition of Leftists and moderates, where the moderates are the somewhat larger and dominant faction, that has to sometimes compromise with moderate Republicans to get things through congress. The thing to note about the US party system is the parties are *way* less ideologically cohesive and less centralized than parties in most other countries. US parties are actually probably closer to a stable coalition between parties than parties themselves in parliamentary systems.

        On social/cultural issues, I actually don’t see a huge difference between Democrats and other non-US-anglosphere left-wing parties, except on gun control.

        • Saul Degraw says:

          I think you are partially correct.

          The Democratic Party is filled with everyone from Wall Street corporate types to trade-unionists. You need to make at least some pledge to the Welfare State. Yes to Social Security, Medicare, ACA, and Unemployment. You can’t call for any to be privatized. There is a crowd that is Capitalist skeptic or thinks that Market Forces don’t necessarily always lead to go but very few would question the profit-motive totally.

          The Democratic Party is rather pro-gun control but you have people who are like me and see it as not going anywhere and not worthy of political capital.

          You are also partially correct. Historically both the Ds and Rs were “big tent” parties with liberal and conservative factions. This has changed since the start of the New Deal and now the parties are ideologically similar. A Republican district in California has more in common with Alabama than they do with Los Angeles or San Francisco.

          The problem is that America’s system of government is not meant to handle ideologically rigid parties. The Westminster system is designed to handle ideological rigidity.

          • LTP says:

            The parties are more more rigid than they were, I’ll grant you, and that presents a problem for the US system. It’s interesting to note that the last time the parties were as ideologically cohesive, there was a literal civil war followed by two generations of near-absolute dominance of one party.

            I would still say US parties are pretty open and undisciplined compared to parliamentary parties at the level of the elites, though. For instance, the whip in a parliament is way way more powerful than the whip in the US Congress. In the House, even today, you still regularly see votes where 30 members of one party and 50 of another vote against their leadership on controversial measures, though yes it is happening somewhat less. Sometimes even leadership votes are split. That level of *public* division is rare in parliaments and will often lead to parliament being dissolved in the rare cases it does happen.

          • You need to make at least some pledge to the Welfare State. Yes to Social Security, Medicare, ACA, and Unemployment.

            In New Zealand, even the far right-wing party is in favour of (the local equivalent of) all of those, at least publicly. Oh, they want to make some changes – raising the age for superannuation, privatizing some of the healthcare management, that sort of thing. Not sure where exactly they stand on unemployment benefits, but they don’t talk about abolishing them.

            So this doesn’t really strike me as evidence of the Democrats being left-wing in international terms. 🙂

            That level of *public* division is rare in parliaments and will often lead to parliament being dissolved in the rare cases it does happen.

            Voting against the party is typically a firing offense, I think, except for votes that have been explicitly designated as “conscience votes”.

      • Deiseach says:

        Harry, I’m very surprised you felt that way about Occupy, because to me it was the typical student-activist-till-I-graduate cause mixed with old style hardliners who are very dedicated to The Cause but too fringe to achieve anything (think Dave Spart).

        I derived immense amusement from the likes of Trinity Wall Street (an Episcopalian parish which is not alone by far the single richest parish in The Episcopal Church but one of the richest single parishes in the world) being all “right on” with the Occupy movement – until push came to shove and the protestors demanded a piece of property be handed over to them, when Trinity suddenly remembered the rights of private property.

        The Occupy movement was too heterogeneous, too full of its own self-righteousness, and too much like herding cats to form any kind of cohesive strategy, let alone a genuine attempt at a party. The idea of “mass protest and then somehow structural capitalism will collapse” was, to be blunt, ludicrous. As wide-eyed teenage idealism, fine, but as serious intent? You might as well expect the moon to come down to earth.

        I agree that America could use a third party, simply to shake something free. Even a centrist-right, if it were a bit less right than the Republicans, might have enough cross-over appeal to attract moderates from both parties (so leaving the really Lefties for the Dems and the really Tories for the Republicans).

        • Oh, it wasn’t that I thought the Occupy protesters in particular would make good politicians – I wasn’t paying that much attention. It just seemed like a move in the right general direction, and it was disappointing that it fizzled out without achieving anything.

    • “Here is a study that shows that”

      Not something I would expect a reader of this blog to write.

  36. Another insightful article. Thoughts: given the media support for gay marriage and how little is said about the extensive privatisation of government functions, I agree it’s not obvious to me that the media has a singular bias either left or right. More like pro-establishment, which is not always wrong but it’s obviously not the same as the truth-seeking we expect. Ideally we might want the media to act as a pluralistic, investigatory arm of society, and I dare say it performs that role in some cases. I think it’s also possible to accurately describe it as a bias magnifier.

    -The media mostly feeds us a variety of things that we want to hear. Because people don’t know what they don’t know, they may prefer the truth at some level but in practice cannot differentiate unpleasant truth from unpleasant lies, and so the market (or government appointment) selects for confirmation not truth. We can characterise the media as such – confirmation bias with a sprinkling of sensationalism, novelty and obsession with interpersonal conflict.
    -State media finds it difficult to advocate extreme libertarianism because it is government owned, corporate media will avoid pure socialist ideas because it clashes with their profit goals. However, in pluralist countries pretty much every political bias in-between is fair game so long as it attracts a sizable readership.
    -Powerful groups of various kinds then use their influence (ownership, advertising, regulation, dictation) to distort this basic confirmation bias agenda towards their own agenda (not always a deliberate plan, they are just able to advocate their perspective in ways others cannot). The most common forms of power are money and senior positions in hierachical structures, so most prominent influencers are either corporations, or functions of the state, who both also act as central sources of media information in their domains. However, some others like unions and religions are also able to wield secondary influence.
    -Anti-establishment groups both left and right are unable to participate in this process.
    -Whether this is good or bad is unclear – establishments of all kinds are prone to extensive corruption, anti-establishment success seem to often bring chaos and war.
    -Eliminating or not using the media because it is biased would be like eliminating food because your diet is unhealthy. Unless you’ve got something healthy to replace it, the situation will go from bad to worse. Of course, it’s anybody’s guess what a healthy media would actually look like. Any thoughts?

  37. Alex says:

    After reading Chomsky in high school, I went through the stage of something like your “primal horror” at US crimes in the third world. Yeah, despite that Chomsky was wrong about Cambodia, I also doubt it would undo his basic thesis. I have always been totally unimpressed with a lot of criticism of Chomsky (e.g., by Brad DeLong) that points out a few flaws but does not address his larger points.

    From a universalistic point of view, today I still agree US intervention in the third world is bad. But I now simply do not rate US lives the same as foreign lives. My assumption is that smart folks eventually realize that universalism is good-sounding crap to which one must pay lip service in order to build support from the stupid or naïve majority.

    • Faradn says:

      The claim that foreigners’ lives are objectively worth less requires substantial evidence. Or are you just making the (pretty much indisputable) claim that people care more about their own groups than outside groups? If so there is a pretty glaring is/aught problem there.

    • multiheaded says:

      My assumption is that smart folks eventually realize that universalism is good-sounding crap to which one must pay lip service in order to build support from the stupid or naïve majority.

      My, my, ain’t we the Machiavellian Oobermensch!

      (ps: the majority everywhere seems highly concerned with lazy smelly immigrants taking their jerbs, and keeps voting for anti-immigration politicians; that doesn’t exactly suggest a fertile soil for appears to universalism)

      • Alex says:

        Maybe I was indeed getting a little carried away with a Dr. Evil impression.

        I was thinking of general claims like we value everyone’s lives equally or something. But actually, I’m not sure even those are necessary. So maybe I can’t blame the fact that I accepted Chomsky’s universalism so easily on devious liars.

        But I still think global universalism (cosmopolitanism? whatever) is not adaptive and so it’s flawed.

  38. Ton says:

    He send in the army, who are secretly or not-so-secretly are also the death squads, and so just make things worse.

    Number problem here.

  39. One problem with a foreign policy based on maintaining social stability: If a powerful nation gets a reputation of supporting any dictator who might be likely to be overthrown by a totalitarian movement (for the purposes of this discussion it doesn’t matter if said movement is communist, religious, or racist), then dictators have an incentive to prop up such movements.

    As for US foreign policy in the 1950s, you cannot trust the foreign policy of nations with 90% tax rates.

  40. Steve Sailer says:

    In a lot of ways, Chomsky’s worldview is more relevant post-Cold War because he really always had a pre-Cold War view similar to that of disillusioned Medal of Honor Gen. Smedley Butler in 1933: “War Is a Racket.” Butler spent decades invading banana republics for the benefit of Wall Street and corporate interests.

    The Cold War came along and gave an ideological justification for American empire. And, indeed, some of the bad guys really were bad.

    But now post-Cold War were back Smedley Butler’s era of foreign policy as a racket, in which we try to gin up bizarre ideological justifications for playing sphere of influence games, such as using Russian opposition to gay marriage to justify funding the overthrow of the elected government of Ukraine.

  41. stubydoo says:

    I read Manufacturing Consent many years ago, then some years later I read an edited volume called The Anti-Chomsky Reader. One of the chapters was about how if you actually bothered to try to follow Chomsky’s famously copious footnotes, you end up in in rabbit-hole leading to circularity, eventual-dead ends, evidence in support of claims differing from the ones Chomsky made, and general crappy sources. There definitely is a bit of a lesson (not that anyone here really needs it) – just because some guy has a bunch of footnotes, it only means some other guys have written some stuff down.

    There was also a chapter about how Chomsky’s earlier linguistics work was a total load of crap (according to the author). The weird thing to me now is that Chomsky’s linguistics work is seemingly turning out to have a more enduring impact than his political stuff. Very few people nowadays care one way or the other about all those 1980’s Central America conflicts that Chomsky covered extensively. Daniel Ortega and his Sandinistas were a big deal then – by now of course just a mere historical footnote… no wait… actually they are running Nicaragua today, in 2015!!! And Ortega himself is the President! I would still have no idea myself if I hadn’t travelled to the place.

    Chomsky has to live out now a pretty disappointing coda to his career – by the time he dies, the American educated class will be full of people who are generally quite sympathetic to his ideology, but only “know” one thing about Chomsky himself – that he supported the Khmer Rouge.

    • Whether or not Chomsky’s linguistics work was a load of crap, my impression as a linguistics undergraduate student is that it had a lot of influence–he was arguably the most important linguist of the latter half of the 20th century–so this work will probably be his enduring legacy.

      • Adam says:

        I have no idea how his ideas were received in linguistics, but generative grammar and the Chomsky hierarchy is still the general formalism used in programming languages and compiler design.

  42. DES3264 says:

    But the dove position is almost as bad! It’s “Ha! The hawks thought we would be greeted as liberators! What morons!”

    Want to cite some doves whom you are thinking of here? The dovish blogs I remember reading in the run up to the Iraq war were Jim Henley (Unqualified Offerings), Juan Cole (Informed Comment), Patrick Nielsen Hayden (Electrolite, now merged with Making Light) and Digby (Hullabaloo). Atrios (Eschaton) and Kos (Daily Kos) were huge at the time, though I didn’t like them as much.

    I’m not linking in order to stay out of the spam box, but all of these folks have well kept archives. I don’t think any of them meet your description. Cole and Henley, in particular, were very much saying “Expecting to remove a regime from power without thinking about the blood-soaked death squads seems less like an excusable error and more like missing the very heart of the issue.”

    • Luke Somers says:

      Absolutely agreed

    • gbdub says:

      Of course, those sources also tended to underplay the degree to which Saddam was already deploying death squads (famously there’s the Michael Moore bits about how lovely and peaceful Iraq was pre-invasion). Iraq was “stable” but it certainly wasn’t peaceful (especially if you were a Kurd). It’s death squads all the way down!

  43. daronson says:

    @Scott — kudos on reading and digesting this. Someone’s got to 🙂 But I think in your observation of “wow, this is not totally stupid”, you missed an important point. Namely, that the premise is wrong. Here’s an analogy. Suppose a climate change denier (call him Michael Crichton) wrote a book on the atrocities of US colonialism and deduced from this that climate change deniers are an oppressed group put in their place by the establishment — hence climate change is a myth! It’s true — US colonialism isn’t pretty (you can argue whether the people in charge of the wars we led in the second half of the 20th century were acting from a genuine belief they’re helping the world or not, but it’s unquestionable that they caused a lot of harm). It’s true that a lot of the same people who believed in the war in Afghanistan also believe that climate change is true (after all, both groups are the majority of the population!) But while Michael Crichton could have written an interesting book on US atrocities, the hypothetical book in question cannot be taken seriously if Michael Crichton doesn’t also successfully (and primarily!) tackle the scientific consensus on climate change.

    Saying that “my opinion is unpopular and discriminated against” is not the same as saying it is potentially correct. To the extent that there is a historical/political consensus, one of the things it says unequivocally is that Communism in industrialized societies is inferior to some mix of Capitalism and Socialism. (I’ve recently seen this first-hand, flying from China to Korea). Of course, this consensus can be changed within the current socio-political system (say Sweden becomes successfully more and more socialist). But in terms of their actual point (“we should all be communists!”), you yourself admit that the authors’ arguments and credentials are incredibly weak.

    If you forgive me psycho-analyzing you, I think the book significantly exceeded your expectations in saying a lot of reasonable things when you expected it to say none, and hence you were less inclined to do what we unfortunately all have to do, and ask yourself if there is anything potentially substantial to its premise. If you did this in an unbiased way, I’d be surprised if you came up with an affirmative answer.

    • Tom Womack says:

      Sweden reached peak socialism in the mid-eighties and has been moving away since; I strongly recommend Andrew Brown’s _Fishing in Utopia_ for some sense of what that was to live through.

    • “Suppose a climate change denier (call him Michael Crichton) ”

      As best I can tell by a quick google, which included a video of Crichton discussing his views, he didn’t deny climate change. He denied catastrophic climate change.

      The claim that temperatures are trending up due to human action isn’t the same as the claim that the results will be very bad, and people defending the latter claim routinely misrepresent agreement with the former claim as agreement with the latter. The much cited 97% figure from Cook et. al. 2013, to take the most prominent example, was a count of papers whose abstracts were interpreted as supporting the view that humans were one cause of warming. It said nothing at all about consequences.

      • James Picone says:

        Here are Michael Crichton’s views on GW, in his own words. Published 2004. Some choice quotes:

        Atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasing, and human activity is the probable cause.

        “probable” is too weak, but sure, basic sanity test passed.

        We are also in the midst of a natural warming trend that began about 1850, as we emerged from a four-hundred-year cold spell known as the “Little Ice Age.”
        Nobody knows how much of the present warming trend might be a natural phenomenon.
        Nobody knows how much of the present warming trend might be man-made.
        Nobody knows how much warming will occur in the next century. The computer models vary by 400 percent, de facto proof that nobody knows. But if I had to guess—the only thing anyone is doing, really—I would guess the increase will be 0.812436 degrees C. There is no evidence that my guess about the state of the world one hundred years from now is any better or worse than anyone else’s. (We can’t “assess” the future, nor can we “predict” it. These are euphemisms. We can only guess. An informed guess is just a guess.)

        Crichton is taking the position that nobody knows anything and it’s impossible to predict the future. That we have literally no idea how much of the present warming is anthropogenic. He elides the difference between knowing the sign of the effect and the magnitude of the effect, and he apparently doesn’t understand that it’s possible to be reasonably certain that the magnitude will be between A and B without knowing exactly what the value is.

        I suspect that part of the observed surface warming will ultimately be attributable to human activity. I suspect that the principal human effect will come from land use, and that the atmospheric component will be minor.

        No quantification, but given that he thinks the effect of CO2 is < land use he's arguing for ridiculously low ECS (on the order 0.1c). He's an unphysically-low-ECS greenhouse effect denier.

        Before making expensive policy decisions on the basis of climate models, I think it is reasonable to require that those models predict future temperatures accurately for a period of ten years. Twenty would be better.

        Also he doesn’t know the difference between weather and climate. At the most charitable, he’s claiming that observed T should be inside the model envelope for those periods, not that the model should reproduce all the wiggles – but that’s blowing smoke because they’ve done that for a long time.

        The rest of it is meta-level Malthus-was-wrong, environmentalists-don’t-get-chaos, economic-imperialism, the-poor-need-coal, scientists-are-driven-by-funding stuff. It’s probably his real disagreement and the scientific stuff he doesn’t care much about; it all flows from disagreeing with environmentalists and the perception that the science is corrupt.

        I think it’s entirely fair to describe someone who holds the position that climate scientists know literally zero about the behaviour of climate and maybe the CO2 we emit has less effect than land use changes as a ‘climate change denier’. He is holding the position that we do not know we are changing the climate, and also that probably this thing you’re pointing to is not changing the climate very much at all.

        • Deiseach says:

          I’m not hugely impressed by Michael Crichton, but doesn’t he have a scintilla of a point that land use also could have an effect?

          It’s undeniable that we’ve massively changed the face of the planet by mass deforestation and clearance to gain arable land. Very crudely put, if trees acted to capture and hold CO2 and we’ve changed that sink capacity, then how much effect will isolating out one element for change (reducing the “carbon footprint”) really have?

          I should probably also say here I think the carbon offsets are nothing more than an elaborate shell game to let countries continue heavy industrialisation then make up for it by buying indulgences (so to speak), so I think they’re worse than useless and indeed may have made the problem worse (if I can juggle the figures on a balance sheet so my filthy polluting power station belching out clouds of vapours can continue chugging away because I’ve paid a poorer country for the notional ‘use’ of their remaining virgin forest as an offset, why the hell should I spend money or effort on improving or finding a substitute for my power station?)

          So why not consider how much we can do to genuinely reduce the impact by looking at our use of land and by seeing what we can do there? Apart from a few well-wishing tree planting schemes, I don’t hear anything about that element of the reduction of carbon footprint.

          • James Picone says:

            Land use changes are included in the IPCC reports. Here is the AR4 radiative forcing bar chart showing the IPCC’s best-estimate of radiative forcing components over the industrial, drawn from scientific studies. Notice that land use changes are believed to have had a slight cooling effect via albedo changes. Here’s a reproduction of the AR5 bar chart, from a Realclimate post. You can check the PDF if you want to be sure you’re not being lied to, I’m just not linking to it because you can’t link directly to the graph in the PDF. It’s in the Summary for Policymakers, figure 4.

            The other effect of land use changes is… greenhouse gas emissions! Because when you clear an old-growth forest that’s a one-time injection of the carbon locked up in the trees into the atmosphere! I doubt this is what Crichton is referring to – it’d be a bit confused to argue that land use (via GHG emissions) has a larger effect than GHG emissions.

            As a percentage of emissions land use is ~a third of emissions from power generation, according to AR4 (very first figure on the page, the graph in the middle is land use).

            When you hear people talk about preventing deforestation in the Amazon, and other stereotypical dirty hippy positions, they’re trying to prevent land use changes that contribute to global warming.

            I honestly don’t know much about that aspect of mitigation. I suspect a lot of this stuff is from developing nations doing land clearing for agriculture, so it’s a bit touchy. I think the idea behind offsets is to make it profitable for developing countries to not deforest. I don’t know what the implications of that on those countries’ future development is, though. No silver bullet, etc..

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Deiseach

            Tree-planting does seem ineffectual. By the time the trees get big enough to do much work, someone will log them, or clear the land for other use, or both. Unless the land is somehow protected, which might be easier done for older-growth forests anyway.

        • “Crichton is taking the position that nobody knows anything and it’s impossible to predict the future. That we have literally no idea how much of the present warming is anthropogenic. ”

          “know” is a strong claim. “Nobody knows X” does not imply that we have literally no idea about X,” nor does Crichton say, in what you quoted, that we have “literally no idea” how much of the present warming is anthropogenic. His reference to “an informed guess” makes it reasonably clear that he does not hold the view you attribute to him.

          The statement that we don’t know how much is anthropogenic is pretty clearly true. If you look at a graph of global temperature over the past century or so, what you see isn’t a steady rise. What it looks like, just eyeballing the graph, is the sum of a rising trend and an alternating trend, giving steady to falling temperatures for about thirty years in the mid-20th century, with the pattern recurring from about 2002 on, this time steady to slightly rising.

          That means that something else is affecting global temperature of comparable magnitude to AGW—strong enough to cancel it when the two work in opposite directions. Without an adequate theory of what it is, we don’t know how much of the past observed trend to attribute to which cause. And theory can’t tell us because theory does not tell us what climate sensitivity is, gives us the sign of the effect of AGW but not the magnitude–the point you object to Crichton making.

          The most plausible conjecture I’ve seen about the “something else,” incidentally, is interaction between the ocean and the atmosphere, with heat sometimes moving in one direction, sometimes in the other.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            That means that something else is affecting global temperature of comparable magnitude to AGW—strong enough to cancel it when the two work in opposite directions. Without an adequate theory of what it is, we don’t know how much of the past observed trend to attribute to which cause.

            It sounds like this ‘something’ is even less knowable than the records supporting GW, or the informed opinions of scientists as to what is causing the GW. Do we even know there is a ‘something’, rather than several coincidences that graph up to look like a ‘something’?

            Rather than relying on this ‘something’ to argue away GW, or to come and save us from GW, I think the logical thing to do is to go ahead and act on some projects that will certainly be helpful in obvious ways now, even if they turn out not to be needed (or able) to cope with GW.

            Such projects as, of course, clean energy research — especially solar, which will be needed in space.

          • James Picone says:

            “know” is a strong claim. “Nobody knows X” does not imply that we have literally no idea about X,” nor does Crichton say, in what you quoted, that we have “literally no idea” how much of the present warming is anthropogenic. His reference to “an informed guess” makes it reasonably clear that he does not hold the view you attribute to him.

            This is equivocation. It is abundantly clear what Crichton means, because the consensus is not “we know exactly how much warming is anthropogenic”, the consensus is “Here is our 95% estimate for how much warming is anthropogenic, we are 90% confident it is correct, here are the umpty-billion studies we rely upon”.

            And, of course, Crichton follows up with “There is no evidence that my guess about the state of the world one hundred years from now is any better or worse than anyone else’s” after a number he just made up to umpteen decimal places.

            The statement that we don’t know how much is anthropogenic is pretty clearly true. If you look at a graph of global temperature over the past century or so, what you see isn’t a steady rise. What it looks like, just eyeballing the graph, is the sum of a rising trend and an alternating trend, giving steady to falling temperatures for about thirty years in the mid-20th century, with the pattern recurring from about 2002 on, this time steady to slightly rising.

            Nobody expects a steady rise, and mk. 1 eyeball is not the correct way to do statistical analysis. While there are atmosphere/ocean interactions that make attribution difficult, ENSO being the obvious one, it is not that hard to estimate how much of the observed warming is due to a wide variety of factors. Internal variability is not that large a factor. Natural variability is not that large a factor.

            If you do it right, you get the AR5 attribution statement: “It is extremely likely that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together. The best estimate of the human-induced contribution to warming is similar to the observed warming over this period.

            Of course, Crichton was writing that before AR5. But the TAR was published in 2001, and it says that “There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities”.

            Please, David, actually go read some of the literature. Trying to work everything out from first principles in an armchair with a surface temperature dataset is not going to give useful results. I know you have arguments about why you shouldn’t trust expert opinion, but the correct response then is to actually go look at why the experts say the things they say.

            AR5 chapter 10 is on detection and attribution, you can get it from the web, and it references a number of studies.

          • “The best estimate of the human-induced contribution to warming is similar to the observed warming over this period.”

            An estimate from models constructed after the warming had been observed. The test of a theory is its ability to predict things that were not known when it was built.

            Some time back, after online arguments as to how good the IPCC predictions were, I performed my own experiment. I looked over each IPCC report and estimated what rate of warming thereafter I would expect from what that report said, then compared it to what happened. For the first report, what happened was below the bottom of the projected range. Later reports did better, but the outcome was consistently at or near the bottom of the range. Assuming their procedure is correct and the only problem is random noise, what are the odds of repeatedly coming up with an outcome at or below 10% probability? Always in the same direction.

            http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2014/03/have-past-ipcc-temperature.html

            Their predictions consistently under performed a straight line extrapolation of global temperature from the beginning of the current warming early in the last century to the date of the first IPCC report.

            So far as my eyeballing vs their models… . Prior to the current pause, the IPCC explained the mid-century pause as due to the effect of aerosols. As best I could tell when I read up on that argument, the theoretical effect was indeterminate–it could have been positive or negative. It was negative in the model to fit the data. They had data that their model didn’t fit, so they added another variable to give them a free parameter to fit it with.

            It could have been the right answer–but they did not predict the slowdown that started about 2002. That, however, fits quite neatly the pattern I got by eyeballing the data. Some work since has offered a mechanism to produce such a cyclic disturbance—I’m afraid I can’t give you a cite because I didn’t note down the reference when I read the paper, but it involved air/sea heat exchanges.

            You are much more willing to trust a body of scientists that is, in effect, grading their own work than I am.

            And, at a tangent, classical statistics cannot justify a statement of the form “we are 95% confident that.” For a discussion of problems with a stronger claim along those lines, see:

            http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2014/04/two-problems-with-1-claim.html

            and the following post that it links to.

          • Response to houseboatonstyx:

            The point of my post was to defend Crichton’s view of the uncertainty of our knowledge, not to argue for any particular approach to AGW.

            The reason I disagree with your proposal is not the uncertainty of the climate science projections but the uncertainty of the estimates of the consequences. As best I can tell, we not only do not know the magnitude of the net effect on humans of the warming that the IPCC projects for 2100, we don’t even know its sign. Warming will have both positive and negative effects, their magnitude is very uncertain, and we cannot sign the sum.

            http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2011/09/what-is-wrong-with-global-warming.html

            That’s the same point I made back in 1972 in the context of population. The claim that population growth was a terrible threat was about as broadly and confidently made then as the corresponding claim about warming is now. I tried to add up the positive and negative externalities from the birth of one more person and concluded that I could not sign the sum.

            http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Academic/Laissez-Faire_In_Popn/L_F_in_Population.html

          • James Picone says:

            @David Friedman

            An estimate from models constructed after the warming had been observed. The test of a theory is its ability to predict things that were not known when it was built.

            This is attribution, not projection. That is, this is the chapter that says “Well this is the observed temperature rise, what is our best estimate of how much of that is caused by which thing?” so that you can compare that to their past predictions and/or learn something. And it’s not just based on models.

            Some time back, after online arguments as to how good the IPCC predictions were, I performed my own experiment. I looked over each IPCC report and estimated what rate of warming thereafter I would expect from what that report said, then compared it to what happened. For the first report, what happened was below the bottom of the projected range. Later reports did better, but the outcome was consistently at or near the bottom of the range. Assuming their procedure is correct and the only problem is random noise, what are the odds of repeatedly coming up with an outcome at or below 10% probability? Always in the same direction.

            http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2014/03/have-past-ipcc-temperature.html

            SkS have done their own comparison, here (the ‘advanced’ tab is mostly about Monckton for some reason, maybe ignore that one), the intermediate one compares past ARs up to AR4 with the data up to 2012. Here’s one specifically for the FAR. They come to a different conclusion than you, partially because the early AR’s business-as-usual scenario was an overestimate of future CO2 emissions, partially because they have a different warming-from-1990 figure than you (0.15 +- 0.08/decade). I’m not sure how you got your figure, the only dataset SkS’ trend calculator shows anywhere close to that low is RSS, at .12, and you don’t link to RSS data. This might be a eyeball vs trend analysis thing. Also, SkS’ digitised versions of the projections aren’t flat. Finally, for the FAR and SAR I think they altered the ECS to account for the change in radiative forcing value for doubled CO2 in the TAR (4c->3.7c), which is arguable depending on what you’re wanting the IPCC to predict.

            I think it’s justifiable to update past projections to account for what emissions trajectory we’ve actually followed – or at the very least to compare to the closest scenario. The IPCC isn’t actually trying to forecast future CO2 emissions, they’re providing evidence that suggests we should probably pick a lower one. If that’s going to happen ‘naturally’ as a result of economic incentives, lovely.

            I think there’s an argument for the sensitivity adjustment to account for changed CO2 forcing. The forcing value is much easier to nail down; the 3.7W/m**2 figure isn’t going to change significantly. The flow-on effects are what’s hard to pin down, and if you want to use the SAR’s flow-on-effects-prediction with the modern radiative forcing value you have to reduce their ECS values. It’s indicative that the SAR’s projections match reality quite well once you fix this one mistake, as well.

            So far as my eyeballing vs their models… . Prior to the current pause, the IPCC explained the mid-century pause as due to the effect of aerosols. As best I could tell when I read up on that argument, the theoretical effect was indeterminate–it could have been positive or negative. It was negative in the model to fit the data. They had data that their model didn’t fit, so they added another variable to give them a free parameter to fit it with.

            It’s been known negative since the FAR, although the magnitude was uncertain. I have doubts about your sources on the argument.

            It could have been the right answer–but they did not predict the slowdown that started about 2002. That, however, fits quite neatly the pattern I got by eyeballing the data. Some work since has offered a mechanism to produce such a cyclic disturbance—I’m afraid I can’t give you a cite because I didn’t note down the reference when I read the paper, but it involved air/sea heat exchanges.

            The ‘slowdown’ since 2002 is within the model envelope, and as SkS argue in the link above within the uncertainty ranges of projections from 1990, and thus predicted.

            You might be thinking of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscilliation, or AMO. Also, of course, el-nino/la-nina and related phenomena. They’re quantified and they’re not enough. Consider that ocean heat content data is much less noisy and shows a consistent rise over the same period.

            You are much more willing to trust a body of scientists that is, in effect, grading their own work than I am.

            Aren’t all fields of scientists, in the end, grading their own work?

            My suggestion was that you read the actual literature and see the data and arguments being made by the scientists, mind, not just that you trust them. The IPCC provides a good pointer to a lot of the literature. If you don’t trust them to give a complete overview, well there are search engines for that. If you don’t trust those, then I begin to suspect that your radical skepticism is being deployed tactically.

            What would your reaction be if someone said that the idea that the market sets prices is suspect because they’ve read a bunch of people saying it is, and besides all those economists are grading their own work? Would you point them at some of that actual work, maybe some books or essays or webpages that attempt to summarise the field?

            And, at a tangent, classical statistics cannot justify a statement of the form “we are 95% confident that.” For a discussion of problems with a stronger claim along those lines, see:

            In this context the “We are 95% confident that” is from ‘expert judgement’ (i.e. a bunch of people talked about it and that was the number they decided upon) and the “95% confidence interval” is statistical. Generally any time the reports say something with “X confidence” it’s a) expert judgement and b) there’s an explicit number for each term, and only a few such terms. It’s explained somewhere in there. Uncertainty intervals are always statistical, though, although sometimes you have to pay close attention to see what the numbers are in connection to and what studies are included. There’s a lot of stuff going on in there.

        • gbdub says:

          “Also he doesn’t know the difference between weather and climate.”

          When you start calling 10-20 years “weather” I think you’ve lost the plot, especially when the clear upward trend in temperature is only a bit more than half a century long. Seems like you’ve set the goalposts awfully conveniently.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            To be fair, he may have had the misfortune of reading State of Fear which mentions “area has had a drop in temperate over time” as an argument against global warming.

          • James Picone says:

            GISTEMP trend 1975->present: 0.17+-0.035 c/decade (2sigma). (I used the SkS trend calculator: here)
            Take GISTEMP over the same period, remove that trend, you get this. Notice that the range appears to be ~-0.15 to ~0.3, so 0.45c of noise.

            0.45 / 0.17 = ~2.6 decades for the trend to beat out the noise. Notice that that’s more than 20 years.

            But sure, over n years the temperature should be within the model envelope, and as n increases the more that’s impressive. Given that models already did that when Crichton is writing, it sounds to me that he wants one model realisation that reality tracks, though, which is making a weather/climate confusion. It’s also worth pointing out that reality is an ensemble mean, not an ensemble member. The models aren’t supposed to predict whether five years from now will be an exceedingly hot year, or whether there’s an el Nino or la Nina in ten years time. They’re supposed to capture the long-term evolution of the system, which is a much simpler problem because a lot of the chaos and complexity averages out and doesn’t matter.

          • James Picone says:

            Go back to reread, note that I made a mistake. “It’s also worth pointing out that reality is an ensemble mean, not an ensemble member. ” should, of course, be “reality is an ensemble member, not the ensemble mean”.

          • gbdub says:

            My major objection is that saying “n” is definitely noise, while “2n” is definitely an ongoing trend, seems fishy. But maybe the harder math makes it work out. Still, the calculator you point to does seem to show the 2000s as at least somewhat below the 1975-2015 trend.

          • James Picone says:

            @gbdub:
            Well there’s some threshold where something crosses into statistical meaningfulness, and in this case it happens to be ~25 years assuming no drastic and surprising shifts. It just happens to lie between n and 2n – the actual numbers aren’t very important.

            The broader point that the actual temperature values aren’t expected to follow the ensemble mean, just stay inside the envelope, is probably more relevant here.

            I get the 1998->recent trend as being just on the edge of the 1975->1998 2-sigma (i.e. 95%) uncertainty range, at least for GISTEMP. Given how much it looks like 2015 is going to be ludicrously warm, I doubt that will continue for long. I look forward to being told “No warming since 2015!” some time in 2025.

  44. Spaghetti Lee says:

    Scott, I love your work, but sometimes I am left with a sneaking suspicion that you just don’t communicate enough with leftists, particularly economic leftists, about things like perceptions of bias. In particular the idea that the left doesn’t, and shouldn’t, have a bone to pick with the non-Murdoch mainstream media is like a dispatch from bizarro world to me. I’m not too involved in this community anymore, but there were plenty of leftist bloggers who practically made careers out of their fiskings of David Brooks, Thomas Friedman (NYT), John King, Piers Morgan, Campbell Brown (CNN), David Gregory, Tim Russert (NBC), George Stephanopoulos (ABC), and Christine Amanpour (ABC/CNN).

    The reasons were always similar; they presented stodgy conventional wisdom as daring insight, they did the Republicans’ job for them by giving time and oxygen to conspiracy theories about death panels and baby-body-part-selling rackets, and perhaps most importantly, they reserved the “left seat” on their shows for the likes of Paul Begala and James Carville, who were acting as PR people for specific Democrats or the party as a whole, and acted like a position farther left than that didn’t really exist or else was the province of lunatics (sound familiar?).

    Maybe you don’t agree with this critique, but it is out there, and I’m glad C&H (I can’t read that without thinking of a certain newspaper comic) shed more light on it for you, even if they did so with a tinge of dishonesty and self-promotion.

    • Irenist says:

      Agreed. The elite media consensus is corporate welfare (but it’s okay to argue about taxes vs. entitlement cuts). It’s not socialism, distributism, libertarianism, or anything else. Just corporate welfare. If I were a socialist, I’d have plenty to fisk, too. As it is, I’m a distributist, and mostly want to fisk the same economic stuff anyway.

    • BBA says:

      That “Georgetown cocktail parties” line I used upthread comes straight from the left blogosphere. Though I don’t know if it’s the left or the right that coined it first.

    • nyccine says:

      If these are examples of “legitimate” gripes the American Left has with non-Fox media outlets, then the problem isn’t that the press is sympathetic to the right, it’s that the American Left is completely delusional and reinventing recent history. Palin’s “death panels” remark wasn’t signal-boosted, it was excoriated and held up as an example of not only the ridiculousness of Palin, but of the Right in general. The mainstream press didn’t even cover the videos of Planned Parenthood reps negotiating the sale of body parts – hell, Lena Dunham praised the press for refusing to cover them – the criticism was exclusively from the right.

      • Held in Escrow says:

        But the “death panels” comment was idiotic and showed no knowledge of how health insurance works and the Planned Parenthood videos were obviously a hackjob with massive editing; the media did make the right call there!

        • nyccine says:

          “Death Panels” was a reference to the fact that under a nationalized health-care system, rationing was inevitable and this would necessarily require government bureaucrats to decide on whether extraordinary care would be granted in cases where the benefit would likely not match the costs. The correct criticism of the “death panels” remark is that this isn’t much different than the then-current status quo, in which private insurers (allegedly) dropped expensive customers on pretexts.

          With respect to the PP videos, I sincerely hope you’re being sarcastic. The full videos were released alongside the edited ones, and nothing whatsoever about the edits were misleading.

          • Held in Escrow says:

            Which again, shows that Palin had zero clue about how health insurance works and thus her statement was very mockable.

            As for the PP video, well, here’s a nice big collection of sources showing how utterly bullshit the whole affair was
            http://mediamatters.org/research/2015/07/15/media-calls-out-deceptively-edited-video-claimi/204426

            They were cut such that conservative talk radio and social media could have an easy outrage storm because nobody who wants to be outraged is actually going to look at the full context (this applies equally to the left). This was basically Michael Moore doing that one Simpsons episode where they accuse Homer of being a sexual predator.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Back when they did those videos posing as pimps going to Planned Parenthood for advice their underage prostitute business, I struggled through a long, long Media Matters article about how they were deceptively edited, trying to find the core claim. It boiled down to “they tacked a theme song on the beginning,” but they took a lot of words to say that, so I’m sure that many people assumed there was a convincing case buried in there.

            Having read through the MM article on this video series, it boils down to “no, really, what PP is doing is totally legal.” The video promoters would no doubt agree, appending “and that’s a problem.”

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Held In Ecrow – “They were cut such that conservative talk radio and social media could have an easy outrage storm because nobody who wants to be outraged is actually going to look at the full context (this applies equally to the left).”

            Could you elaborate on precisely what was distorted?

          • ivvenalis says:

            @Held in Escrow
            That article’s points are

            1. The video is edited

            2. What PP is doing with aborted fetuses is legal because

            3. While the cited law bans selling fetal tissue, it does permit the totally different practice of making “reasonable payments” in order to reimburse the donating organization for costs. So when the video shows someone talking about how much money one must pay PP in order to receive fetus parts, she’s not discussing the banned practice of buying them, but the lawful practice of reimbursing PP in order to receive them.

            4. Fnords about how the videos are contradicted shady allegations heavily edited by a previously unheard-of amateur varanid keeper.

            None of which even remotely address any objections about whether the activity in question *should* be legal, and don’t really even satisfactorily address objections that what PP is doing is illegal (i.e., what constitutes a “reasonable payment”?) except by assertion.

            They also don’t address another problem, which is awareness. Until I saw these videos, I actually had no idea that PP sold/donated/whatever fetal remains to anybody–I kind of assumed they just went in the incinerator, and bet I most other people did too.

            If it turned out that, I don’t know, there was an obscure portion of federal law on HAZMAT allowing Freemasons to carry “reasonable amounts” of explosives onto commercial aircraft, you wouldn’t expect objections to a widely publicized video of a bunch of old guys in funny aprons putting sticks of dynamite into the overhead compartment to disappear when you cited the federal code and pointed out that they’d been let through security.

          • Held in Escrow says:

            Okay, here’s the actual story.

            Woman comes in and gets an abortion. The doctor says you can donate this tissue to medical research if you want. Woman signs off.

            Scientific institute comes around. Says we’re doing X research and need some fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood says okay, but you have to cover shipping.

            So no, PP is not selling fetal tissue, not even at a “reasonable price.” They’re acting as a holding cell for labs. There’s no profit here and it’s doing nothing to keep PP afloat.

            If your actual issue is that a woman can donate the fetal tissue to a research institute, I’m not really sure what to say here. Why should this be a problem in the least?

          • Doctor Mist says:

            @Held in Escrow:

            Planned Parenthood says okay, but you have to cover shipping.

            Hmm. Pretty expensive shipping.

            But perhaps you’re right. I’m still with ivvenalis on this.

          • Held in Escrow writes (about the PP fetal tissue dispute):

            “Okay, here’s the actual story.”

            How do you know? Do you mean “here is PP’s version, which I believe” or do you have some objective way of telling which version is true?

            I have no particular opinion on who is telling the truth in this controversy, but I find your confidence, absent any explanation, unconvincing.

          • gbdub says:

            There is a big difference between “edited” and “deceptively edited”. The media matters and similar articles (which are mostly quoting an analyis paid for by PP in their own defense) prove the former but infer the latter without evidence.

            As far as I’ve seen, no one from PP denies:
            1) That the people in the video are in fact employees from PP acting within their official capacity
            2) That the people actually said the things they said
            3) That PP receives some form of compensation for providing fetal tissue for research
            4) That PP at least sometimes tailors their abortion procedures to maximize preserved fetal tissue

            I’ve also not seen a strong defense of why the practices described in the videos don’t constitute illegal partial-birth abortions, but admittedly I’ve not dug into that much.

            “That quote was taken out of context!” is a lame defense unless you can provide context that changes the fundamental meaning, and I don’t see where PP has done that. If editing just means “we cut out the boring parts and turned off the camera for bathroom breaks”, that’s hardly deceptive.

            At best PP is saying that what they are doing is technically legal, but even if it is, they aren’t denying the core thing that upsets people, which is that they are receiving compensation for collecting dead fetus tissue. You may think it’s silly that this upsets people, but it does, and disagreement =/= deceptiveness.

          • they aren’t denying the core thing that upsets people, which is that they are receiving compensation for collecting dead fetus tissue.

            There’s an important distinction between receiving compensation and making a profit. That might not be a distinction that matters to the particular people you’re thinking of, but it matters to me. (No, I don’t know why.)

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            @Harry Johnston: are you saying PP is collecting and then providing fetal tissue at cost? (Is there a way to verify this?)

          • Not exactly – I’m not making any factual claim, since I don’t have any personal knowledge on the subject. But that’s how I interpreted the claims already made in this thread, and I wanted to point out that assuming they are true, I would consider them relevant. (Isn’t PP a non-profit anyway?)

          • stubydoo says:

            @Paul Brinkley: getting independent verification is pretty unlikely, just as its pretty difficult to get independent verification that the congressmen who are railing against this only ever pay the proper arms-length transaction cost when they have renovations performed on their homes. You just have to make judgments based on the character of the people involved. For some reason, many people find it OK to basically nakedly assume that an organization like Planned Parenthood is staffed by crooked fraudsters, not just at the top but also at mid-tier bureaucratic functionary level. OK fine, but then I might as well just assume that your favorite congressman is screwing a prostitute right this minute, and tomorrow morning will carry out a scheme to have us taxpayers pay said prostitute’s fee.

            It just doesn’t compute unless you’re already one of those people who both (a) have already defined Planned Parenthood as the outgroup, and (b) have a frankly pathological level of outgroup distrust.

          • nyccine says:

            @stubydoo:

            Do comments like “I want a Lambo!” or the fact that she’s openly negotiating the price higher not kinda sorta make it look like they really aren’t “just covering costs?” There’s no need to negotiate, since they a) already know what it’s going to cost them, and b) can’t do anything more than cover costs. It’s quite clear that they’re trying to use “just covering costs” as cover for a money-making plan.

            There’s also the whole issue with openly stating that they change the way the procedure is done in order to extract more tissue, another issue forbidden by the legislation in question, which is oddly detailed, almost as if whoever was writing it had some suspicion that people were going to play fast and loose with the law if it was too vague.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            your favorite congressman is screwing a prostitute right this minute, and tomorrow morning will carry out a scheme to have us taxpayers pay said prostitute’s fee.

            Yeah, tear out the front page.

  45. Sastan says:

    I like to us Jon Stewart as the avatar for journalism.

    He criticizes both the right and the left. Even handed, right! I mean, if he does harp on teh right a bit more, thats easily explained by the right being that much worse!

    But look at HOW he insults them! The right are evil, stupid cartoons, two dimensional villains. The left are mocked for incompetence at implementing leftist goals and for not being left enough.

    Two totally different methods. One serious bias.

    One which he shrugs off by claiming not to be a journalist, which is fair enough, he’s not. Unfortunately, neither is anyone at a major TV network or newspaper either.

    • Mary says:

      “Like a crazed archer scattering firebrands and deadly arrows, Such are those who deceive their neighbor, and then say, ‘I was only joking.'”

    • LTP says:

      I think this is an excellent point and is a good way of looking at the issue. However, I think Stewart (and the mainstream media) isn’t particularly friendly to the far left, either. They are vaguely pro-establishment center-left liberals. The Daily Show was pretty dismissive of Occupy Wall St. IIRC, and Stewart would also emphasize how hyperbolic the Republicans’ attacks on Democrats were because the Democrats were actually pretty centrist. Sure, he (and the mainstream media) largely ignored the far left rather than denigrating them, but I still think there is some room for complaint from the left here.

      • Marc Whipple says:

        They have to distance themselves a bit from what Americans think of as the true far left, because even many Americans who are actually ambivalent about socialism as a philosophy think of Marxism and Communism as philosophies for losers if you call them by their actual names. Quite aside from the motte-and-bailey strategy which works so, so well for them, they do have some slight care for slipping into the place where they admit that they think the reason the USSR didn’t work was because it was not Communist enough. Even to a person who is in actuality (at least for an American) fairly left-leaning, the Communists were people who had nuclear missiles pointed at us for fifty years and at the same time were so inept they had to build walls to keep people in.

        Being branded a “liberal” isn’t the kiss of death. Even calling yourself a socialist, nowadays, is survivable. But being branded a loser is not, and to Americans Communists are losers.

      • Adam says:

        Jon Stewart holds primarily liberal positions, favors liberal policies, and makes no bones about this, but his entire shtick is to make fun of politicians and traditional news outlets, and the general level of idiocy, inconsistency, posturing, and hypocrisy in both fields knows no partisan boundaries, so he makes fun of people whether or not he agrees with them. Things like Tea Party rallies and Occupy Wall Street are absolute treasure troves of people to make fun of, regardless of how you feel about whatever policy positions they might manage to come up with.

        • Marc Whipple says:

          As was pointed out, though, he makes fun of leftists for being hypocrites, and he makes fun of rightists for being rightists.

          • Adam says:

            I haven’t watched him in like a decade, but that wasn’t my recollection at all. Most of everything he did was playing a video of somebody saying one thing ten years prior, then saying the exact opposite thing ten years later, and then making a face. His most effective work by far was making fun of other news outlets and not politicians at all.

            But again, whatever he has been in the Obama era I don’t even know. It’s not like the right has some shortage of hypocrites and the left doesn’t, so I’m not sure why he would ignore right hypocrisy and just make fun of rightism generally, but if he does, so be it. Rail away righteously.

  46. TheAncientGeek says:

    “The problem was the total destruction of the country’s usual rule of law, hierarchies, civic traditions, and social fabric by successive attempts by western-backed dictators to retain power”

    That’s a bit incomplete. Charismatic and competent leaders are able to rebuild a lot of that, but colonial powers often feel the need to neutralise them…and do so much more deliberately than your other examples

  47. Adam says:

    I’m not saying Chomsky doesn’t still believe the same thing, but some of this is just that media bias is not time-invariant and you’re reading a book from 1988, when social progressivism and political correctness had not yet become dominant in popular news. David Duke was still a candidate in the Democratic primaries of the 1988 election. This was after Mondale got slaughtered in the previous election for campaigning on tax hikes and women’s rights. It wasn’t 2015.

  48. timorl says:

    Nitpick: you almost consistently spell Popiełuszko as Popieluzsko. Obviously don’t worry about the ‘ł’, but keep the ‘sz’ in order. 🙂

    Also, something I haven’t seen in the post, but seems a pretty obvious hypothesis — what if the media are biased economically to the right, with international politics the way the establishment points, and otherwise to the left? This seems to fit my observations and would be an expected result of the mechanisms you described. Corporations mostly care about economic policies so they might not care much what the leftist journalists write about non-economic social issues and the official sources bias also seems plausible. This is wild speculation, so anyone explaining to me why I’m being stupid is most welcome.

    • Irenist says:

      You’re right. Also, non-economic social issues point left for corporations: more women, LGBTQIA people, and people of color in the workforce means a larger labor pool. Say Roe gets overturned. Lots more maternity leave requests in consequence. Bad for business.

      • For those policies, sure, but not every liberal social policy is good for business. Gun control? Less gun profits, less hospital profits. Keep public schools public? No vouchers to cash in. Doctor-assisted suicide? But we can make so much money keeping people alive when they’d be better off dead. Reducing the Wars on Vague Intangibles? All those fat cost-plus contracts gone.

  49. Nick T says:

    And I can see why a mass media dominated by corporate giants might be expected to agitate against labor unions, but it’s harder to see why it is so insistent on covering up a campaign of genocide by pro-American forces in El Salvador.

    The pro-American forces are probably going to be a lot more friendly to American business interests than the opposition, by virtue of being pro-American and not socialists.

  50. Zebram says:

    Chomsky, as usual, is cherry picking and presenting a just as hypocritically one-sided view of the 20th century as those he is leveling his accusations against. I read his book a few years ago in college, but I was inoculated before I read it by also listening to the so-called ‘right-wing’ view of history (they are also hypocritical as well). His book is a ‘must-read’, but only if you read the ‘other side’ and take both sides’ conclusions with a grain of salt.

    So called ‘leftists’ have just as much if not more to answer for for the crimes of communism and socialism throughout the 20th century. Chomsky himself, either a result of stupidity or economic illiteracy, seemed to think socialist and communist nations were on the rise and creating a new future for humanity.

    The following article by Eugene Genovese titled ‘The Question’, is a must read to see the other side. He asks his fellow ‘leftists’ about Communism: ‘What did you know and when did you know it?’:

    http://www.dissentmagazine.org/wp-content/files_mf/1353953160genovesethequestion.pdf

  51. Peter Gerdes says:

    Seems to me (as with much of Chomsky’s political commentary) takes what would be a fairly uncontroversial insight and renders it into useless political grandstanding by insisting on identifying the oppressors with the right and the oppressed with the left.

    As we traditionally use the words right and left there are plenty of large institutional interests with substantial resources on the left. I think its even fair to say that there are many corporations which should probably be identified with left-leaning interests not to mention other elements in the media like public broadcasting etc..

    So when C&H point out real biases in the way the media chooses to portray stories they needlessly antagonize readers (well unless you view their real goal as associating the right with the bad guys) by insisting on describing all the established interests whom the media is biased in favor of as being on the right.

    • SUT says:

      > there are many corporations which should probably be identified with left-leaning interests not to mention other elements in the media like public broadcasting etc..

      Public Broadcasting puzzles me. It seems like it should be a giant shill for the establishment, otherwise the establishment cuts its funding and it goes away. Look at the sponsors of PBS News Hour – it’s all giant non-profits affiliated with broad ideological agendas, e.g big bad Koch’s.

      Private news should be more free of any interference or censorship – What does Taco Bell really care about your Pro/Anti Communist reporting other than the size of your audience?

      • Adam says:

        Look at PBS’s financial statements. Only large funders make the list of sponsors, but they earn 25 times as much revenue from individual memberships as they do from grants from large foundations.

        • BBA says:

          That’s just the “central office” of PBS, which doesn’t directly produce any programming. It’s purely a commissioner and distributor of third-party content. The NewsHour was produced by a Liberty Media subsidiary until last year, when it was taken over by Washington’s PBS station, WETA.

          Hard to read but I think corporate underwriting for an individual program would show up as a restricted grant – if it’s done at the level of PBS, the distributor, as opposed to with the producer directly, in which case it wouldn’t show up in this report at all. “Member assessments” don’t come from people who donate to get tote bags – the members of national PBS are local PBS stations, which get their money from government grants, corporate donors, and the tote bag crowd. So it’s hard to figure out just who is funding “PBS” since there are so many entities and moving parts involved.

          As a side note, the only actual federally-owned broadcasters are the foreign propaganda arms – VOA, Radio Free Europe, etc. – and their budget is much larger than federal support for domestic public broadcasting.

          • Adam says:

            Fair point. I’m kind of just assuming that the statements of several hundred local affiliates and individual programs will look much the same as the national office, but that may not be the case and frankly isn’t something I’m willing to look into. I continue to strongly doubt there is any single funder with the power to dictate content, though, and it’s not clear to me that the types of family wealth put to a foundation places like Annenberg et al even have specific political goals. It’s certainly not in the mission statement, and much of what they support is named buildings at universities and much of what PBS produces is stuff like Nova, Sesame Street, and Mr. Roger’s Neighorhood, not exactly leftist agitprop. A lot of donors just value educational programming with no obvious commercialism.

          • BBA says:

            Agreed – the decentralized structure limits the amount of damage any one funder can do. Even when Liberty Media owned the NewsHour they didn’t interfere in the editorial side (though that may have been a requirement of MacNeil and Lehrer to sell it to Liberty).

      • Irenist says:

        “What does Taco Bell really care about your Pro/Anti Communist reporting other than the size of your audience?”

        1. Communists are bad for business.
        2. Taco Bell’s executives have typical executive class prejudices.
        3. Taco Bell is an American, not a Russian, corporation. Better if America wins.
        4. You audience is also American. Start siding with the USSR or ISIS, see how long it takes before people start boycotting your advertisers. Boycott -> fewer tacos sold.

        But it’s all sort of moot what Taco Bell wants, b/c other than “no boycotts” (which does affect advertising revenue), Taco Bell doesn’t dictate hiring. Which is what matters. Which brings us to PBS/NPR.

        PBS/NPR is a shill. For the English major half of the establishment. MSNBC, too. The business major half has FOX and CNBC. CNN tries to occupy the middle and nobody cares. Take NPR: It has white liberal deep thinkers, Latino liberal deep thinkers, black liberal deep thinkers, but no conservative deep thinkers. (PBS NewsHour has David Brooks, the thinking liberal’s conservative, a veritable Alan Colmes of the right.) Why? Plenty of conservative college educated types listen to NPR and watch PBS. But the Yale English major demographic cares about racial, not ideological, diversity. Note that this has little to do with funding. Koch can fund PBS, but what really matters is that the people that work there are from the Yale English major demographic. FOX is staffed by the State U business major demographic, and would happily skew right even if they started getting all their money from the Dalai Lama. Hiring is what matters, not funding.

    • WowJustWow says:

      It’s a lot like what someone like Thom Hartmann does for a more mainstream audience of aging baby boomers. (Illegals taking our jobs? Don’t worry, it’s not racist for you to be angry about it, because it’s all because of the cons!)

      But it goes further than that. Chomsky’s political writing is all about convincing the left that they are the underdogs. This is so central to his intellectual project that, unlike most public figures who would love to take credit for changing hearts and minds on an issue, he has to explain away the successes of himself and his ideological allies. Somebody linked this in the comments here or on some linked blog recently, and it threw his modus operandi into sharp relief for me: http://noam-chomsky.tumblr.com/post/35927076352/question-professor-chomsky-one-issue-where-ive

      “But in the case of South Africa, the reporting is quite supportive: so if people go into corporate shareholder meetings and make a fuss about disinvestment [withdrawing investments from South Africa to pressure its government], generally they’ll get a favorable press these days. Of course, its not that what they’re doing is wrong — what they’re doing is right. But they should understand that the reason they’re getting a reasonably favorable press right now is that, by this point, business regards them as its troops — corporate executives don’t really want apartheid in South Africa anymore. It’s like the reason that business was willing to support the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. American business had no use for Southern apartheid, in fact it was bad for business.”

      This is a great rhetorical tactic because usually you can make supporting claims that are vacuously true in at least one sense. Corporations are always looking out for their bottom line, sure. But if they’re looking out for it by trying to get praised for goodthink in the media, in that case you don’t want to dwell too much on why a political position is flowing downstream from the media to other organizations, because then you’d have to spend more ink explaining why the press is pushing your side’s ideas, which could lead to the uncomfortable conclusion that your faction is powerful. So if anti-apartheid sentiment becomes the mainstream position, it must be because the true powers that be suddenly found it useful. If you start to hear anti-racism preached on the airwaves, it must be because corporations have cynically decided they want people of all colors to be equally exploitable.

      Want to stand out as a true voice for liberation at a cocktail party full of voices for liberation? Chomsky’s got all the rhetorical ammo you need. Blaming the _____iarchy for everything bad in the world is for noobs. The cool kids preach a bipolar brand of theodicy — they know the _____iarchy is to blame for everything good in the world too.

      • Loquat says:

        Last I checked, “kyriarchy” was the preferred term – it’s like patriarchy, but encompasses every conceivable form of institutionalized discrimination so you can use it for everything.

        (Obligatory borrowing from The Incredibles – and when everything is the fault of the Kyriarchy, nothing will be.)

  52. 27chaos says:

    I think diagnoses of bias in the media are a case of “joint over and under diagnosis”. Chomsky seems less wrong than everyone else, but part of this might just be due to the contrast between his views and theirs, he is most noticeable when he is surprisingly correct. Certainly, he still makes mistakes.

    More and more, I catch myself feeling like the solution to problems lies in non-answers like “people should stop being so dumb”. I’m worried what that says about my thought processes, and wish I knew how to fix it. Partly, I believe I’m becoming callous which I dislike in itself; additionally, I think my callousness is causing intellectual laziness, which I especially dislike. Yet I see no attractive alternatives that I can bind myself to. Misanthropy seems like a thought terminating cliche that I just can’t keep myself away from. Help, I’m being seduced by the power of evil!

    As an aside, I love the phrase “joint over and under diagnosis”, it is very useful to my mental shorthand and I use it all the time and am trying to use it more often still, thank you very much Scott for having invented it.

  53. Professor Frink says:

    Let’s say I have a fringe view and I want to convert you to that fringe view. Let’s further say my direct evidence for that fringe view is weak, or nonexistent.

    But I’m an intelligent guy, I know I can attack the SOURCE of information. “Of course there is no evidence for my fringe view, the MEDIA is providing all your evidence” and then point to all the typical failing of corporation run media (in the US) or state run media (Britain,elsewhere).

  54. SUT says:

    > The media enforces conformity with the Overton window against both the right and left flanks.

    For someone as invested in game-theory explanations as Scott, I’m surprised this statement gets a pass. A valid model of a free and profit-driven media is:
    – Success comes from Viewership,
    – Market-share is in stasis when all organizations report the same news
    – By scooping a new and controversial story you can attract more viewers
    -> So, even if all reporters collude to bias their reporting for the establishment, we’d expect the least established organization to defect and blow the cover off the big conspiracy nobody is talking about. Then they win the viewers, which leads _them_ to cooperate and cover-up. But then next viewership-starved organization defects. “Tragedy of the Conspiracy” means you always have someone who is incented to bring you a report of the incident. And I trust incentives.

  55. Mary says:

    US pressures- including, crucially, the withdrawal of aid

    snort Notice the Chomsky treats the US handing over money unconditionally as the baseline neutral position. Withdrawal of aid is not a pressure, it is removal of a pressure.

  56. LTP says:

    Nice review Scott, though I think the whole subject matter is outdated. Does it even really make sense to talk about The Mainstream Media anymore? I don’t think so. It seems to me that the vast majority of people who follow the news get their news from niche online sources that they trust, and those sources will tend to share the person’s bias. Yeah, the New York Times and CNN are still things, and still have some disproportionate influence (particularly among the middle-aged and the old), but even there most people will encounter stories from those sources as filtered by sources that have their general world view. They’ll read Breitbart telling them what the New York Times missed, or The Nation telling them that CNN is missing the ball on some story about the third world.

    These people will believe that everybody else is biased and their sources are neutral, even though they aren’t. This is why everybody thinks the media is biased.

    I think this is actually a better system, despite the obvious and oft-discussed shortcomings. I don’t think objective media is possible, possibly not even in theory. Better to have a plurality of voices rather than the old media consensus that masqueraded as “objectivity”.

  57. John Schilling says:

    On the subject of media bias, it is I think worth noting that while both the left and the right complain that the media is biased against them (which is what we’d expect if the media were in fact neutral), the nature of the complaints is rather different.

    The Right complains that reporters are almost all leftists of one sort or another, and that they slant their coverage of stories to the left, e.g. uncritically repeating pro-left statements and not presenting the corresponding pro-right views.

    The Left complains that media outlets are almost all owned and controlled by the Right, and that they ignore true and important stories that would reflect badly on the right, e.g. allegations of corporate malfeasance or per Chomsky vile and nefarious deeds in the third world.

    It is likely that these are both blind-men-and-elephant reflections of the same underlying reality:

    1. Most journalists are in fact leftists of one sort or another, but they accept a professional responsibility to provide neutral and unbiased reporting.

    2. Most mass media institutions and the advertisers who pay for them are owned by capitalists on the political right, who accept a professional responsibility to make lots of money for their stockholders.

    3. Unless you are explicitly going for the “right-wing media” niche (Fox News and maybe WSJ), making lots of money in the media business is best done by hiring the most prominent, talented, connected, and thus incidentally left-wing journalists, and then getting out of their way. Politically-motivated micromanagement just results in your journalists quitting in a huff and all the other guys’ journalists writing popular and thus lucrative stories about the controversy.

    4. Journalists who accept a professional responsibility to provide unbiased coverage, are pretty good at deciding which stories to cover. If you’re at all diligent, it’s easy to find the important stories on both sides, and it’s easy to figure out which ones are grossly exaggerated or unsupported. If you’re lazy, as Chomsky notes, you default to the stories which are handed to you in press releases, and that’s a pretty centrist mix with a bit of a pro-establishment slant to balance the pro-left slant of lazy leftist journalists.

    5. It requires a much greater level of diligence to maintain that unbiased coverage once you start actually writing the story. Deciding which statements have been adequately supported, which need more evidence (uggh, work!), which should be dropped, and which call for someone to seek an opposing view (more work!); getting that consistently right requires constant discipline. Subtle bias in the wording of a piece is similarly difficult to avoid.

    End result, anyone on the far left sees a discrepancy between the stories covered by the mainstream media and the stories they get through specifically far-left sources, concludes that the mainstream media tends to cover up the misdeeds of corporations, the military/CIA, etc, and looking for the root cause concludes it must be all the right-wing corporate owners. Anyone on the mid to far right sees bias, inaccuracy, and omission in coverage of stories they have independent understanding of, often enough to overcome Gell-Mann Amnesia and conclude that the mainstream media is deliberately slanting all their coverage to the left. Looking for the root cause, they conclude it must be all the left-wing journalists.

    I think the right’s understanding is closer to the truth than the left’s, but that the outright conspiracy theories promoted by the far right and the far left are pretty much worthless. And I think Chomsky could probably have done a pretty good job of explaining this, if he hadn’t been so narrowly focused on political interventions in the third world.

  58. SUT says:

    > I am left with a greatly increased respect for the view that it was Western colonialism, broadly defined, that has caused Third World countries all their grief.

    Say Imperial China is somehow super advanced in 1820 and “colonizes” north america at that time. Let’s see they’d have to draw the Mexican border, build an Indian nation on the plains? Phase out slavery, which maybe makes another nation in the south (or do an “Africa Isreal”?). And how about the Spanish’s remaining claims in the West and the French and British in Canada? There is no right answer to these problems; any policy will leave a legacy of social tumult centuries later.

    It seems in style today to then blame everything on the policy decisions of the since departed Chinese colonists. But the source is actually existing conflicts and atrocities that were present when the colonizers arrived. Well what’s the solution? it seems like US/Canada/FrenchCanada conflict is the best case scenario – eventually everyone just said “can’t we all just get along?”

  59. Jiro says:

    2. The mass media is dependent on advertising, which also involves large corporations who support the sorts of things large corporations are likely to support. Further, these advertisers may have specific interests. For example, Texaco might be less willing to advertise in a source that frequently critiques Big Oil or raises concerns about pollution.

    The odd thing about this thesis is that it seems to consider all corporations as a single block. Corporations oppose each other all the time and there are plenty of cases where corporations favor regulation simply because the regulation is harder on their rivals (such as oil versus coal, or large corporations versus small ones. In the latter case regulation is often proportionately more expensive to a small corporation so it helps the big ones.)

    • nyccine says:

      Burnham addressed this in “The Managerial Revolution” when describing the fall of feudalism; while the merchant families were rarely operating in coordination – in fact, were generally at each other’s throats – by necessity they were still pushing for a system that enhanced the power of merchants in general.

      Similarly, while individual managerialists might very well push for, and even get, regulations hurting other managerialists, they will necessarily all push for an environment in which their own way of doing business is preferred.

      • alaska3636 says:

        Rothbard saw this as coordination in mutual self-interest. His analysis of “power elite” bankers follows a similar line of thinking: what’s good for the billionaires is better for each individual billionaire even though they may be in mortal duel. Hayek’s ideas skimmed the possibility of spontaneous order in hierarchical systems where governments and power brokers (namely bankers in the current system) engage in a tightly interwoven mutual self-interest to maintain bigger and more powerful government. Each battle lost is a long-term win in the war. Some debate the liklihood that competitors would maintain a long-term strategy without total trust in their fellow conspirators but given the spontaneous complexity of the universe, I would say that it is both compelling and possible. The incentives, touched on in Scott’s article, of a liberal media joining in lock-step with their benefactors opposite political views is also compelling as documented by the great meme analyzors at The Daily Bell.

  60. ygg says:

    I think Chomsky went far outside of his range of expertise on the Cambodia issue and badly misunderstood / misrepresented what was going on. His criticisim of US actions in Latin America and his understanding of US foreign policy in Latin American is much stronger. I think Chomsky’s basic thesis on Latin America and US foreign policy is relatively close to “mainstream history”, however I think he really badly messed up by trying to apply the “Latin American model” to Cambodia / Southeast Asia. I also recommend Bruce Sharp on Chomsky on Cambodia.

  61. g says:

    Pedantry: at one point you’ve called Chomsky’s coauthor Hernstein instead of Herman.

    (Great review, as always.)

  62. Skaevola says:

    I wonder if another aspect of this is that different parts of the media are biased differently and we pay attention to (and get exacerbated by) the parts of the media that we see as “obviously wrong”. For instance, mainstream cable news tends to be, well, mainstream un-nuanced pro-corporate interest (and filled with Very Serious People to legitimize it). Comedy news programs (Colbert Report, Daily Show, Late Night with John Oliver) and poorly written emotional tripe (Slate, Huffington Post, the Atlantic, etc.) are unabashedly left. Talk radio is populist far-right (Limbaugh).

    I guess all of these different pieces of the media are prevalent among totally different parts of society (I’m reminded of Scott’s article on “dark matter people” and the filter bubbles we all live in). Thus, we can pick and choose which piece of media we ignore and pay attention to and so everybody can honestly say (from their perspective) “man, it really seems like the media is against $Political_Opinion.”

  63. Radford Neal says:

    I read Chomsky’s “The Culture of Terrorism” years ago, which seems to have been much along the same lines. My take is that it is fundamentally dishonest. The thesis was that the US government is controlled by corporate interests, who work for their own benefit, which is often contrary to the interests of most Americans. There was much recounting of third-world atrocities, which I can believe was largely true, though unbalanced. And then there was the conclusion, where he says that all this is reason to adopt left-wing economic policies. One example: get rid of free trade, which the US constantly advocates for third world countries, claiming that free trade will help their economies, while it really helps US multinationals. But you’ll notice that the US still keeps up trade barriers itself, showing how this argument must be bullshit!

    I think the recounting of atrocieis of questionable relevance to the thesis is there to stop you from thinking clearly. The US has done horrible things, therefore we ought to adopt all these left-wing policies… why exactly?
    So the US keeps up trade barriers itself, even while claiming that they are bad for third-world countries? But the whole thesis, minus the irrelevant recounting of atrocities, was that corportate interests control the US for their own benefit, not that of ordinary Americans…

  64. onyomi says:

    When you combine all the factors listed, the state of media bias seems to add up to exactly what we find in reality:

    1. Journalists are liberal: except for Fox news, we get a slant on most stories that is more liberal than we’d otherwise expect.

    2. Big corporations provide advertising: we get a slant that is more pro-big corporation than we’d otherwise expect (surprisingly enough, $15 minimum wage is not actually something that causes McDonalds and Wal Mart to quake in their boots–they can better absorb the extra cost/installation of robots than their smaller competitors).

    3. The US govmt is a major source of “official” news, and maintaining access to them is important: we get a more pro-govmt slant than we otherwise would, and this applies to both “right wing” and “left wing” govmt causes: we are more favorable to the interests of the military industrial complex AND to the interests of domestic regulatory agencies and welfare programs than we’d otherwise expect.

    4. Flak groups: exist on both sides, so a wash.

    5. Anti-communism: also a wash due to existence of progressive mythology.

    So the media is biased toward supporting the wealthy and the powerful with a slight leftward slant due to the political-cultural leanings of the journalists themselves, but the right tends to be blind to the influence of the wealthy–especially the MIC, and the left to the influence of the powerful (or to underestimate how much power democratically-elected politicians wield).

    • Wrong Species says:

      Walmart is having some issues adjusting to their new minimum wage of 9 dollars an hour. They would probably freak out if a national 15 dollar minimum wage was a serious possibility.

      • onyomi says:

        A national minimum wage of $15 would be a disaster for many, many companies. Not just Wal Mart. Big companies like Wal Mart can cope better than small companies (and to some extent can be made even better off if regulations put smaller competitors out of business), but there is a limit.

        • Held in Escrow says:

          WalMart might have issues with just increasing its own wage, but if everyone has to increase from whatever it is at now to $15, WalMart is going to be able to eat up most of the benefits there because people on minimum wage tend to shop at WalMart.

          So it’s really not just putting down competitors but where the increased purchasing power of those still employed goes.

  65. mbka says:

    You’re familiar with the original ‘engineer of consent’, Ed Berneys, right? Now that’s something even scarier:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Engineering_of_Consent
    My problem with Chomsky has always been that he presents interesting, sometimes convincing analysis, followed almost without transition by something like “therefore the body economic and politic must be organized democratically into well regulated soviets” or something of the kind. He sees trees alright and very well. But he has something of an extreme version of missing the forest for said trees. I could never read him more than ten minutes or so.

    • tcd says:

      “And I can see why a mass media dominated by corporate giants might be expected to agitate against labor unions, but it’s harder to see why it is so insistent on covering up a campaign of genocide by pro-American forces in El Salvador.”

      A delve into Bernay’s list of accomplishments might help answer this question as well. The history of United Fruit Company in Guatemala being the usual example.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Bernays
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Fruit_Company

      The true corporate giants operate in every corner of the world, and if I may be permitted a bit of cynicism, “Thank God there are Communists everywhere”.

  66. Vaniver says:

    I am left with a greatly increased respect for the view that it was Western colonialism, broadly defined, that has caused Third World countries all their grief. The problem wasn’t just British people coming in and telling them to work on banana plantations for a while, the problem was the total destruction of the country’s usual rule of law, hierarchies, civic traditions, and social fabric by successive attempts by western-backed dictators to retain power. A couple of decades assassinating anyone who looks out of place and doesn’t do exactly what they’re told, of tearing apart any organization or community that looks strong enough to serve as an alternative to the State or offer resistance – the question is less why Third World countries are so screwed up, and more that they’re not screwed up even worse.

    I feel like this relies way too heavily on the “broadly defined.” Yes, Western-style government only works with Westerners at the helm, and not always then. But the common “blame it all on colonialism” is the claim that every country is a liberal technologically advanced democracy yearning to be free, and it’s only Western rapacity that has kept them down. This is the opposite claim–that left to their own devices, people in the developing world will descend into bloody sectarian conflict, and only a local strongman or a global strongman who understands the situation can keep them in check.

    The chief difference between the American empire and the British Empire, as I see it, is that the American Empire is self-centered and puts its ‘third sons’ in the foreign office. It assumes that everyone is American on the inside, and makes little effort to adapt to local conditions. The British Empire was flexible, responsive, and worked by influence more than force–when you have tens of thousands of boots on the ground and you run a country of millions, your people must be manipulating the local levers of power. The way this was achieved was that the Foreign Office was a way to get rich quick, and so talented people went into it, and everyone knew explicitly what they were doing and what parts of it would and wouldn’t work.

  67. Ken B says:

    Chomsky’s first claim, that corporations like unrestricted capitalism, is just wrong. They like regulation to restrict competition.

    As for media bias, Tim Groseclose has a good book where he carefully defines his criteria.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      That’s what I mean. If I’d posted today, it would have been the anniversary of the capture of the Shining Path leader and the dwindling of Peru’s civil war. Or of international peacekeepers entering East Timor.

    • onyomi says:

      Does the left ever respond to this argument (that big corporations actually don’t want pure free market capitalism)? Not being snarky; I just genuinely cannot recall a response to this. All I usually see is people talking past one another.

      • Eli says:

        From the left-wing perspective, “free-markets” and “capitalism” just don’t really have a lot to do with each-other. For us (this gets truer the further Leftward you go), “free markets” are basically just a propaganda applause-light used to make capitalism sound good, and nobody actually propagandizing for capitalist policies intends to create any such thing in the first place.

        • onyomi says:

          Okay, I will agree that “free markets” are often used as applause lights for capitalism as the left defines it (i. e. corporatist and/or imperialist crony capitalism), but do you accept the distinction libertarians are trying to make between “free markets” and “crony capitalism”? Perhaps some or even most of those hailing the power of free markets are using it as cover to implement pro-corporate, pro-big business policies, but it doesn’t seem fair to assume that is always the case.

          “In favor of actually maximizing voluntary exchange without special benefit or restraint on any party” is, at the very least, a logically conceivable position, and one quite distinct from “just do whatever the chamber of commerce wants.” But most of the left seems to refuse to consider that such a position even exists. They take “free markets” to be a code word for capitalism and see crony capitalism as the only kind of capitalism. What, then, can we call the “maximizing voluntary exchange without benefit or restraint” position, if not “free markets”?

          This seems to be a good place to link Roderick Long again:
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QsbvE_0Kpc

          • Protagoras says:

            Those who are sincere about free markets are a sufficiently small faction that they might as well not exist; it is hardly surprising that the left ignores them.

          • onyomi says:

            But Salon doesn’t ignore them when it comes time to bash sincere libertarians for webhits every day.

            I don’t think sincere libertarians are a sufficiently small faction that they might as well not exist anymore. The Ron Paul campaign took in over 40 million in 2012, and he placed 2nd in New Hampshire and 3rd in Iowa. To completely ignore the segment of the population he represents no longer seems justifiable.

          • Protagoras says:

            Libertarians are, of course, a lot more common in parts of the web than they are in the larger world. And someone calling themselves a libertarian does not mean they are a sincere advocate of free markets; plenty of self-styled libertarians express priorities that make them seem more like Republicans who want to signal with an edgier label than genuine believers in unrestrained voluntary exchange.

          • onyomi says:

            Okay, but I think sincere free market advocates are still a significant enough contingent to at least warrant a response from some leftist intellectuals, if not the general public. Heck, even if the position were held by only one person, it would still be worth responding to if it were a strong argument and a good logical distinction, both of which I think apply here.

          • Protagoras says:

            Obviously you won’t find them on Salon, but some leftist intellectuals do respond to libertarianism. I actually can’t point you to a better short summary than Scott’s, which you might think doesn’t count because he’s not a leftist, but he cites a bunch of sources, some of which are, of course, leftist. I don’t know why they don’t count as the leftist intellectuals you’re looking for.

          • onyomi says:

            They might count! I am not trying to prove they don’t exist; I’m just saying I’ve never read them. I’m also not saying I’ve never read *any* decent argument against libertarianism from a left-wing perspective; I’m talking about a response to the specific libertarian claim that free market capitalism is different from corporatism/crony capitalism and that large corporations don’t actually want free market capitalism.

            Scott’s FAQ does not seem to address this specific problem so far as I know: he actually uses the term “free market” to mean what libertarians mean and presents some arguments about why it might not always be best. This makes his arguments a more honest engagement with libertarianism but does not address the fact that almost everyone except him and libertarians continues to use “free markets” as a code for “capitalism,” as a code for “neo-mercantalist, imperialist, protectionist, corporatism.”

          • Eli says:

            do you accept the distinction libertarians are trying to make between “free markets” and “crony capitalism”? Perhaps some or even most of those hailing the power of free markets are using it as cover to implement pro-corporate, pro-big business policies, but it doesn’t seem fair to assume that is always the case.

            I accept that some people sincerely espouse the specific utopian ideal that has been labeled “free markets”. I refuse to accept that simply because their rich backers say so, their utopia is a Very Serious Person’s Very Serious Idea, but any deviation from their utopia is too dangerously utopian to try.

            The left, to be quite blunt about it, has something to conserve. It is the right that has inherited the ambitious modernist urge to destroy and innovate in the name of a universal project. Social democrats, characteristically modest in style and ambition, need to speak more assertively of past gains. The rise of the social service state, the century-long construction of a public sector whose goods and services illustrate and promote our collective identity and common purposes, the institution of welfare as a matter of right and its provision as a social duty: these were no mean accomplishments.

            Tony Judt, emphasis mine

          • onyomi says:

            Allowing people to freely exchange their own goods and labor on terms they find mutually agreeable without threatening them with guns and cages–what a crazy, utopian idea!

          • James Picone says:

            Providing people with the things they need to live and working out the best way for them to contribute to society in return – what a crazy utopian idea!

            While I haven’t read him, I rather doubt Marx was big on mass murder and oppressive authoritarian government. Similarly, I doubt libertarians want to live in a cyberpunk dystopia, while still believing that their preferred utopian (lack of) government would turn into one.

          • John Schilling says:

            I accept that some people sincerely espouse the specific utopian ideal that has been labeled “free markets”. I refuse to accept that simply because their rich backers say so

            I am one of the people who sincerely espouse this somewhat less than utopian ideal. I have no rich backers, and your implication to the contrary is false, unkind, and unnecessary. Knock it off.

          • ddreytes says:

            @ John Schilling:

            I believe that Eli is arguing here that the Rich Backers are why those arguments are considered Very Serious and acceptable / reasonable / sober, not that the Rich Backers are why people believe those things. Individual peoples’ belief in those ideas is sincere and not motivated by profit; what Eli is attributing to the rich backers is the way those ideas get used in defense of specific policy proposals and the position they have in the discourse.

            At least, as I read him.

          • “What if this kind of scoring counted only direct premeditated killing, not famines or other unintended screw-ups?”

            Rummel, on his site, says he originally did not include the famine during the Great Leap Forward in his count of democide. On further investigation, he concluded that Mao knew it was happening and his response to people who objected was to purge them, so included it.

            Along similar lines, a lot of people regard the Ukraine famine as deliberate. So, for a more recent example, would be the famine of the Ibo during the Biafran war.

            On the other hand, I think it’s clear that most of the disease deaths in the New World as a result of European contact were not deliberate, although there is one well documented case where they were.

          • “I accept that some people sincerely espouse the specific utopian ideal that has been labeled “free markets”.”

            By “utopian” do you mean that you don’t think the system would work in the way its supporters do, or do you mean that its supporters believe it would produce a utopia? The former would be equally true of almost any version of liberalism/progressivism/socialism/etc. from my point of view, and surely true of many systems from the standpoint of those who reject them.

            The latter is not true of most libertarians, although surely of some, judging by my observations. To take one example, in the first edition of _The Machinery of Freedom_ I argued that my preferred set of institutions could, under some imaginable circumstances, produce laws against drugs, even though I was opposed to such laws. The phrase “utopia is not an option” is pretty common in libertarian arguments.

            “I refuse to accept that simply because their rich backers say so, their utopia is a Very Serious Person’s Very Serious Idea, but any deviation from their utopia is too dangerously utopian to try.”

            There are rich libertarians who donate to libertarian causes such as CATO and IJ, but I can’t think of any who make a serious attempt to persuade the general public that a full bore libertarian society would be ideal, still less any who succeed in that project. Have you noticed any well funded campaigns for abolishing the public schools? The FDA? The Agriculture Department? Unilaterally abolishing all tariffs, the minimum wage law, and all of the War on Drugs?

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            >While I haven’t read him, I rather doubt Marx was big on mass murder and oppressive authoritarian government.

            He may or may not have been keen on them them, but he did see them as an inevitable stepping stone to achieve Communism. Let’s be fair to Marx here, he wasn’t deluded as to believe that the revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat would come along by creating working class safe spaces where they could talk about their feelings.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @James Picone:

            “The purposeless massacres perpetrated since the June and October events, the tedious offering of sacrifices since February and March, the very cannibalism of the counterrevolution will convince the nations that there is only one way in which the murderous death agonies of the old society and the bloody birth throes of the new society can be shortened, simplified and concentrated, and that way is revolutionary terror.”

            — Karl Marx

            https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/11/06.htm

            Now, saying he was for “oppressive authoritarian government” is a bit of a straw man: he thought that it wouldn’t be necessary once Communism was revealed as the One True State. But on the way to get there? Bring on the long knives, the secret police, and the demonstration of what we do to counterrevolutionaries around these here parts.

            Marxists, including their high priest, share a very similar view on the appropriate way of dealing with unbelievers and apostates with all other historical religions.

          • James Picone says:

            @Marc Whipple:
            God /damn/ it, Marx. I do see some wriggle room though. I’ve gotten the impression that he believed that there was a march-of-history towards communism. That section reads to me like it’s descriptive rather than prescriptive, to an extent. Can you – or someone else with some familiarity of the subject matter – confirm/deny whether that’s the case?

            Still, not exactly classy. I do think the broad point that ‘perfectly free markets’ strike the left (and certainly this member of the left) as likely to lead to Bad Things the way that communism led to Bad Things is relevant and not completely blown out of the water.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @James Picone:

            If you read the source article, it doesn’t sound very descriptive to me. It’s typical Marx in that yes, it’s more “Yep, like I predicted in my greatness, this is how history has to be,” than, “Grab the pitchforks and torches, boys, it’s Bourgiosie Barbeque night!” But he doesn’t sound sorry and he certainly doesn’t seem to have anything to say that indicates he thinks a little restraint might be a good thing.

            If anything, he seems to be saying that revolutionary terror now will save a lot of slow grinding class warfare later. That doesn’t mean he sees any particular need to keep the terror highly focused. Indeed, once you start advocating for terror, it almost behooves you to make it as terrible as possible so you get what you want faster. *shrug*

            My opinion of Marx, in almost every particular (He did have a damn impressive beard. Damn impressive.) is so low that it would require the use of a black hole to pull it up from the bottom of the gravity well in which it sits. I make no pretense that this is not the case. View my assertions and opinions accordingly.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            Not so long ago there was some discussion here about people who propose HDB and other IQ gap theories and what are the implication of says views regarding the moral worth of people and the like.

            I’d say it’s a similar thing with Marx, he certainly believed that he was a scientist doing forecasting, but his moral position regarding the implication of said forecasting are harder to parse.

          • onyomi says:

            I will say that, although I obviously disagree with Eli’s argument, as indicated by my slightly snarky utopia comment, I do think it helps answer my original question, which was about how leftists respond to the libertarian distinction between crony capitalism and true free markets.

            It is, as I thought but had sort of mentally blocked out, usually not by conceding a difference and then attacking both free markets and crony capitalism, as xq and protagoras note some do, and as Scott, in fact, does in his faq; rather, the more hardcore leftists, at least, seem instead to deny the very possibility of true free markets as some sort of utopian dream equivalent to say, communism, but on the opposite side of the spectrum, and usually used as an excuse for corporate exploitation instead of expropriation of the rich.

            Of course, I view free markets as, in some sense, the opposite of utopianism, since, like David Friedman points out, I don’t know any libertarians who think free markets magically solve all problems, but rather that they are better than the alternative, but at least it answers my question.

            (tl;dr, seems to be hard leftists deny even the possibility of true “free markets” in the libertarian sense, though some moderate/blue-grayish people like Scott do concede the possibility and the distinction but then debate the merits of it).

          • Earthly Knight says:

            I don’t think you have to be to a particularly hardcore leftist to be cynical that free markets will lead to anything but unrestrained plutocracy. You say that you are not so naive as to view markets as a panacea for all ills, but that strikes me as little different than a Marxist who, in order to prove how grounded his vision is, acknowledges that even the ideal communist state must encounter the odd conflict or tribulation. In general, I doubt that any other way of arranging society has the potential to be a substantial improvement over the status quo (provide that “improvement” is cashed out in terms of tangible goods, and not some cosmic accounting of property rights).

          • onyomi says:

            “In general, I doubt that any other way of arranging society has the potential to be a substantial improvement over the status quo.”

            Whatever the ideal arrangement is, this strikes me as very unlikely to be true, as the statement “this is probably very nearly the best way to do x” seems always to have been proven untrue throughout history.

          • @onyomi: personally, the aspect of free markets that strikes me as utopian is the assumption that they would lead to trades being made on “mutually agreeable” terms, unless I suppose you define “mutually agreeable” extremely broadly.

            (The cliched example, I suppose, being “sleep with me or you’re fired”.)

          • onyomi says:

            “…that strikes me as little different than a Marxist who, in order to prove how grounded his vision is, acknowledges that even the ideal communist state must encounter the odd conflict or tribulation.”

            I think libertarians have a better claim to anti-utopianism than communists because free market dynamics are *already* functioning to give us nearly everything we value about the global economy. This is not to say we currently have a purely free market; rather, we have a hobbled or distorted free market. On the opposite side of the coin, I don’t think the communist can claim that communism is already functioning at any level higher than the family or very small, unusual community at present. Being more free market simply requires less interference with free transactions already happening, whereas communism requires mass expropriation and strong prohibitions against private property and free trade.

            Imagine two doctors, one who takes a very minimalist approach and believes that most medicines and surgeries are, on net, more likely to be harmful, and that, given the right conditions of rest, exercise, proper diet, etc. the human body will usually fix itself.

            Contrast this to a doctor who thinks that the human body can be greatly enhanced through the addition of all kinds of chemicals, maybe even cybernetic implants, etc. It is conceivable, though at this stage of medical technology, still unlikely, I think, that doctor 2’s strategy will ultimately produce better health and functioning, but that doesn’t mean that his strategy and doctor 1’s strategy are just 2 roughly comparable alternatives.

            If either of them is “utopian,” it is surely doctor 2, who thinks the human body, elegantly designed by evolution though it may be, may yet be further perfected. If either of them is the anti-utopian realist, it is surely doctor 1 who thinks that the human body, imperfect though it may be, basically runs itself and that most things we can add to it from the outside are net harmful.

            The analogy I am of course making is between doctor 1 and the libertarian and doctor 2 and the communist. The libertarian believes that society, like the human body, is imperfect, yet still functions remarkably well if basically left alone. The communist believes that society and the economy, and, in more extreme cases, human nature itself, may be radically altered and perfected to meet some abstract standard. This is clearly the more utopian stance, regardless of truth value of the two stances.

          • onyomi says:

            @Harry Johnston

            “Sleep with me or you’re fired” doesn’t seem to make the person to whom the options are presented any worse off than just “you’re fired.”

            Also, it assumes a uniform view of sexuality. Many, probably most people would find it degrading to sleep with their boss in order to keep a job. But there are probably some out there who would not (happy prostitutes first among them–and yes, I do think that such a thing exists, though there are obviously people who are forced or pressured into the profession for bad reasons).

            I don’t see why I or anyone else should get to tell people what they should or should not find demeaning, or what they should or should not be willing to do for a paycheck. Heck, some people might find working retail more demeaning than being a high-end prostitute, and who am I to tell them they’re wrong?

          • Mark says:

            Marx believed that, in the main, our personal qualities are determined by the way in which we must make our living.
            Libertarians believe that that the way we make our living is determined by our personal qualities.

          • Jiro says:

            Allowing “sleep with me or you’re fired” creates incentives which lead the employer to fire the person who refuses to sleep with him when the boss would not otherwise fire that person.

          • “Sleep with me or you’re fired” doesn’t seem to make the person to whom the options are presented any worse off than just “you’re fired.”

            And indeed, in New Zealand you can’t fire someone without cause. But in the scenario I was proposing, the boss doesn’t particularly want to fire the worker, that’s just the leverage they’re using to get what they do want.

            Many, probably most people would find it degrading to sleep with their boss in order to keep a job. But there are probably some out there who would not […]

            OK, but how does that help the people who do?

          • onyomi says:

            “OK, but how does that help the people who do?”

            To put it very simply, it does not help them, but that still doesn’t make them any worse off than people who are simply fired with no option of retaining the job in exchange for sex. The option to tell the boss to go to hell always exists, and no, it’s not always easy for employers to replace hard-working, dependable employees.

            This gets into the relative bargaining power of employers and employees, which some of us discussed recently a propos of a post Bryan Caplan did critiquing some of Scott’s arguments:

            https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/09/02/ot27-a-comment-appears/#comment-233193

            Basically, employers do not hold all the chips in this distorted market or in a truly free market (I would imagine it might be somewhat less so in the latter case), even if it often seems that way to the majority of the population who are employees. To demand that an employee have sex with you is a (very big) demand to place on them in addition to whatever else you’re asking of them. In any market, you’d have to compensate them for that by paying them much more than you would otherwise, making them do much less work of other sorts than they would otherwise, giving them more paid vacation, etc. etc.

            I mean, given the option, the price for me to have sex with my boss would probably not be infinite, but it would also be really high. Probably too high for my boss to pay or justify to his superiors, shareholders, etc. And of course there’s all the bad press a company would get if people found out some of its employees were basically part-time prostitutes.

            So only the most vulnerable, unqualified, poor members of society will ever have to face this choice, you might object. Well, yes. But it’s also a choice they face now: continue working terrible minimum wage job or become a prostitute. Some people might genuinely prefer option B, and who am I to tell them they’re wrong?

            And let’s say you are a poor, vulnerable, unskilled person who yet has a strong sense of dignity and would not sleep with a boss for any amount of money. You are still not any worse off than you would be now for having the option. You simply choose not to take it.

          • that still doesn’t make them any worse off than people who are simply fired

            I still don’t see the relevance; bad thing X is no worse than bad thing Y, therefore … ?

            I mean, given the option, the price for me to have sex with my boss would probably not be infinite, but it would also be really high

            But that only works because you’re confident you can get another job. If you couldn’t, he’d have no reason to offer you anything more than you’re already being paid; simply not starving should be sufficient motivation in most cases.

            (Note that I’m not arguing the option of prostitution shouldn’t exist; prostitution is legal in New Zealand, and rightly so.)

            And let’s say you are a poor, vulnerable, unskilled person who yet has a strong sense of dignity and would not sleep with a boss for any amount of money. You are still not any worse off than you would be now for having the option. You simply choose not to take it.

            Of course you’re worse off – by refusing the “offer”, you’re risking death by starvation for you and your family. Under current US law, the boss can’t ask you to do that, so you get to keep your job and, well, not risk starving to death. I can’t help but feel that option B is preferable.

            PS – to clarify, in my opinion, it should in principle be legal for the boss to say, “sorry, I’m going to have to fire you because X” (assuming that X is true and valid) and then add “but I’ll employ you as a prostitute instead if you like”.

          • onyomi says:

            “Of course you’re worse off – by refusing the “offer”, you’re risking death by starvation for you and your family. Under current US law, the boss can’t ask you to do that, so you get to keep your job and, well, not risk starving to death. I can’t help but feel that option B is preferable.”

            Option B isn’t “don’t have sex with your boss and keep your job,” it’s “don’t have sex with your boss and lose your job.”

            I’m talking about two possible scenarios:

            1. It is not legal to ask employees for sex as a condition of employment. You are an employee whom your boss would fire unless you agreed to have sex with him. But in this scenario he is not able to make that offer. Therefore, he fires you. You have one choice: find another job.

            2. It is legal to ask employees for sex as a condition of employment. You are an employee whom your boss would fire unless you agreed to have sex with him. In this scenario it is legal for him to propose this to you. Now you have two choices: have sex with him or find another job.

            I’m saying you are not worse off in situation 2 than in situation 1. This is not the same thing as saying situation 1 is bad and situation 2 is also bad, but in a different way. They are bad in the same way, only situation 2 is slightly better for some people, since some people might prefer having sex with a boss to losing a job. And even if there is no one who would prefer that, situation 2 is still only equally bad, and in the same way.

            Obviously a completely different scenario in which you are valuable enough to your boss that he wants to keep employing you even if you don’t have sex with him is preferable to both 1 and 2, but that’s not the comparison I’m making here, because if you have a job at which your boss would keep employing you even if you refused to have sex with him then there would be no reason for you to have sex with him unless you wanted to or he provided some additional enticement beyond whatever remuneration you’re currently receiving.

          • You’re missing my point. Option B isn’t “don’t have sex with your boss and keep your job,” it’s “don’t have sex with your boss and lose your job.”

            That’s not the scenario I originally introduced.

            (It isn’t relevant, anyway; if your boss actually wanted to fire you in the first place – and has adequate cause under whatever employment law is applicable – he can always do so and then offer you a job as a prostitute. So employment law does not prevent you from being given this option.)

          • I just re-read this:

            If you have a job at which your boss would keep employing you even if you refused to have sex with him then there would be no reason for you to have sex with him unless you wanted to or he provided some additional enticement beyond whatever remuneration you’re currently receiving.

            I think you may be missing the point of the scenario.

            Your boss wants to continue employing you. However, he also wants sex with you. If he is not allowed to threaten to fire you unless you agree to sex, then he will simply continue employing you, because that’s his preferred remaining option.

            If he is allowed to threaten to fire you unless you agree to sex, and if he thinks you are likely to give in to that threat (because, for example, he knows you are risking starving to death otherwise) then he may well be willing to risk the inconvenience of having to hire someone else.

          • onyomi says:

            I’m not missing the point; rather, you don’t seem to understand how bargaining for employment works. Having sex with the employer when you don’t want to is a disutility for the employee. Employers *must* compensate employees for disutility of jobs or employees will, all else equal, take other jobs.

            Like if job A pays 10/hr and offers a climate controlled office, and job B pays 10/hr but makes you work in the cold of winter and heat of summer, then job A is a *better* job, and will attract more qualified employees, even though the nominal pay is the same.

            By asking the employee to have sex with him the employer will be making the job worse. In pure economic terms, saying “have sex with me or I will fire you” is equivalent to saying “take a pay cut or I will fire you.”

            You are conceptualizing the “have sex with me or get fired” choice as a weapon in the hands of the employer which he can use without cost to himself unless the government takes that weapon away from him. That is not the reality. The reality is, “have sex with me” is a demand on the employee’s (time, energy, dignity…) for which, on a free market, an employer will have to pay, just as he’d pay for any othe reduction in the desirability of a job–by paying more, hiring less qualified workers, offering other benefits to compensate, etc. etc.

            The “I must have this particular job or I will literally starve” scenario clouds the waters not only because it does not reflect the reality of hardly anyone in the developed world and implies the incorrect “weapon/threat” analogy above, but also because, as mentioned, even in the theoretical extreme case of “I must keep this job or starve,” it would still be better to have the option of “have sex and keep the job” rather than no option whatsoever. If the only options are, to quote Mel Brooks, “hump or death,” isn’t it actually cruel to take away “hump”?

            And this *is* the relevant question because, as people seem to sometimes forget, no (remotely reasonable) government can force you to hire someone or to continue to employ someone after your business has gone under. Governments can require you only hire people under certain conditions, but they can’t make you hire people in the first place, nor prevent you from eventually firing people who hurt the bottom line.

            If we imagine a boss who calculates “hmm, I pay so-and-so 40,000 a year, but I calculate she only increases our profitability by 30,000 a year. I really should fire her…but having sex with her would be worth at least 10,000 a year to me, so it would not be a loss if I offered to let her keep her job if she has sex with me.”

            Now obviously this is a really yucky, manipulative way to think, but again, in this situation, the alternative to “have sex or get fired” is not “don’t have sex and keep your job” it’s “don’t have sex and get fired.” Because no one is going to fault the boss for firing an employee who is costing the company money. They can’t know that, secretly, had he been legally allowed to do so, he might have kept her on in exchange for sex. All anyone can see is “unprofitable employee got let go.” You can’t make that illegal or employment would be a million times harder to find than it is now because employers would be scared to death of having to employ an unprofitable employee for life.

          • Employers *must* compensate employees for disutility of jobs or employees will, all else equal, take other jobs.

            Again, you’re assuming that there are other jobs. That’s not a reliable assumption.

            The “I must have this particular job or I will literally starve” scenario clouds the waters not only because it does not reflect the reality of hardly anyone in the developed world […]

            I believe it would be likely to reflect reality for most workers in a libertarian state. Heck, it would reflect reality for many people here [my here, not yours] and now if we didn’t have an unemployment benefit. There are more people than there are jobs. Lose your job, regardless of why, and you’re unlikely to get another one any time soon.

            If we imagine a boss who calculates “hmm, I pay so-and-so 40,000 a year, but I calculate she only increases our profitability by 30,000 a year.

            You’re trying to change the scenario again – I’m talking about someone whose job position is profitable.

            Besides, even in your version, the worker is still better off if the boss isn’t allowed to demand sex, because then his best option is to say “sorry, I’ll have to give you a pay cut if you want to keep working here, but I do have other work for you if you’re interested”.

          • Jiro says:

            You are conceptualizing the “have sex with me or get fired” choice as a weapon in the hands of the employer which he can use without cost to himself unless the government takes that weapon away from him

            You’re ignoring that the employer only wants sex from particular people. The employer fires someone for refusing to have sex and then hires another person; the employer neither demands sex from this other person nor reduces their pay offer by an amount equivalent to the disutility of demanding sex. The number of people from whom the employer wants sex is a small enough portion of the pool that the fact that the employer keeps firing such people has only a tiny effect on the market price for the job, causing negligible loss to the employer.

            By your reasoning, employers who demand sex from some employees would also reduce the pay of all the other employees, since if the employer is willing to to the equivalent of reducing an employee’s pay for profit, the employer should be indifferent between that and literally reducing someone’s pay for profit.

          • Tracy W says:

            If you want free markets+ leftism I give you Roger Douglas, Minister of Finance of the NZ Labour government from ~1984 to ~1990. Free markets no tariffs, no capital controls, no subsidies to businesses, floating exchange rate, flat goods-and-services tax (aka VAT), flat income tax rate (never implemented), privatisation, ample social spending.

            Basically his idea was use the wealth of free markets to pay for social spending. He wasn’t in the Labour Party by mistake. (Compare and contrast Ruth Richardson, Minister of Finance of the following National Government, who once said that every unemployed person in the country could find a job if there was no dole.)

          • “By your reasoning, employers who demand sex from some employees would also reduce the pay of all the other employees”

            To put it a little differently, if the employer can get away with demanding sex—if the employee would rather keep the job at the present wage and sleep with the employer than be fired—why can’t the employer get away with reducing the pay of all the other employees? The implicit assumption is that, if W is the wage and C how much the employee would have to be paid to willingly have sex with the employer, W-C, what the employee is in effect getting after accepting the employer’s terms, is still better than any other alternative the employee has. Unless this particular employee has unusually bad alternatives, doesn’t that imply that other employees would accept a wage of W-C?

          • James Picone says:

            @Onyomi:
            Say that threatening to fire an employee unless they sleep with you is legal.

            This has the effect that if situations change and business X has to fire someone, the boss can offer to not fire someone if they’ll sleep with them. This is the scenario you’re talking about.

            But in addition to that, there are going to be a lot of vulnerable people working low-wage jobs in supermarkets or fast food who are going to receive the threat version because their boss can replace them easily. People who would not necessarily have received that threat. And, of course, the boss doesn’t have to follow-through for it to be a useful weapon. These are the people everyone else is talking about and you are conveniently ignoring.

            People stacking shelves at the local supermarket have legitimate reasons to be very concerned about a threat of being fired, and so their bosses have an element of power over them, and a minority of those bosses will be jerks.

            I’m pretty sure I know some people who would be at risk of starvation and/or completely reliant on their friends without welfare.

          • onyomi says:

            “People stacking shelves at the local supermarket have legitimate reasons to be very concerned about a threat of being fired, and so their bosses have an element of power over them, and a minority of those bosses will be jerks.

            I’m pretty sure I know some people who would be at risk of starvation and/or completely reliant on their friends without welfare.”

            Okay, but legally allowing the boss to offer, as an option, the possibility of having sex with him rather than getting fired still doesn’t make anyone worse off. Again, what’s better: having bad option A and bad option B or having only bad option A? How could eliminating bad option B possibly be better, even though it is a bad option? For some people it might still be preferable to bad option A.

            The ONLY way it makes sense to think that “bad option A only” is superior to “bad option A or bad option B” is to assume you know better than the people making the decision what is in their best interest and that forcing them to take the bad option you prefer is justifiable.

          • Jiro says:

            Okay, but legally allowing the boss to offer, as an option, the possibility of having sex with him rather than getting fired still doesn’t make anyone worse off.

            When something changes incentives that affect whether a situation happens in the first place, that may mean that people are worse off even if given the existence of the situation they only have more options.

            Furthermore, the fact remains that employers don’t behave as you’ve described them. By your reasoning, permitting the sex option only gives the employee more choices, which means that if the sex option isn’t permitted, such employees would always be fired. Yet the sex option isn’t permitted, and such employees are not fired.

          • Okay, but legally allowing the boss to offer, as an option, the possibility of having sex with him rather than getting fired still doesn’t make anyone worse off.

            I feel that I’m beating a dead horse here, but one more time: we don’t want to forbid the boss from doing that. We’re talking about a different thing.

            Here in New Zealand, what you’re proposing would be perfectly legal.

          • Patrick says:

            onyomi:
            >How could eliminating bad option B possibly be better, even though it is a bad option?

            In the case of a manager demanding sex from his subordinate, the problem is one of incentives. If the manager can demand sex from his subordinates, with the threat of firing them if they refuse, this gives him an incentive to do so. If the employee agrees, the manager gets the benefit. If the employee refuses and is fired, it is the company as a whole that suffers the lost productivity. Furthermore, employees providing sexual favors to managers will reasonably demand a higher wage (or more laxity regarding job performance)–again, paid for by the company.

            In a large organization, it may be impossible to determine how much loss of performance is due to the manager’s demands for sex, especially since the boss will claim that the firing is due to poor performance. Thus, such an organization will find that its employees are generally producing poorer quality work, with the managers pocketing the difference in the form of sexual favors. For similar reasons, a company will want rules in place that prohibit a manager from demanding free personal labor services from his employees; the company ends up paying for the labor that the manager receives.

            Even if both the employee and the manager are benefiting, it does not imply a net benefit, since their respective benefit comes at the cost of a poorer performance of their duties to the company. This increases the diseconomies of scale of companies, since the more levels of management, the greater a problem this “corruption” becomes. The harm from such “corruption” can easily outweigh the benefits gained from the employee/manager trades. Therefore, it seems plausible that rules forbidding such agreements can be on net beneficial.

          • onyomi says:

            “Yet the sex option isn’t permitted, and such employees are not fired.”

            Employees who are not providing a net value to their employers are not fired?

          • onyomi says:

            “I feel that I’m beating a dead horse here, but one more time: we don’t want to forbid the boss from doing that. We’re talking about a different thing.

            Here in New Zealand, what you’re proposing would be perfectly legal.”

            In New Zealand bosses are allowed to say to an employee: “I was planning to fire you, but if you have sex with me I won’t”? I’m guessing that isn’t what you mean. I do feel like I’m beating a dead horse too, but to break it down further:

            There are four possible scenarios we are considering:

            1. (As now in the US) it is illegal for an employer to ask for sex as a condition of employment, but fortunately, employee is already providing enough value to employer that he wants to keep her on even if she won’t have sex with him. She gets to keep her job and doesn’t have to have sex with him unless she wants to.

            2. (As now in the US) it is illegal for an employer to ask for sex as a condition of employment, but unfortunately, employee is not currently providing enough value to the company that the employer wants to keep her on. He would like to keep her on if she would have sex with him, but since he can’t suggest that, he simply fires her.

            3. It IS legal (as it is not in the US) to demand sex as a condition of employment, but fortunately employee is already providing enough value for her company that he wants to keep her on even if she won’t have sex with him. He may still ask for sex, but he is in the weaker position here, because he wants her to keep working regardless. If he asks for sex, he will, all things equal, have to offer some further enticement, like a raise.

            He could threaten her with firing, but it would be a gamble, since she is actually providing more than an enough value already, and to ask more of her without any compensation is equivalent to a boss demanding a good employee take a big paycut.

            4. It IS legal (as it is not in the US) to demand sex as a condition of employment, and, unfortunately, employee is not providing enough value to employer at present that he would want to keep her on. He calculates, however, that it would be worth it to him to keep her on if she had sex with him, and since it is legal to do so, he tells her this. Now, she has two options: have sex with him and keep her job, or get fired.

            Since we are comparing two theoretically possible legal rules, the relevant comparisons are: “how does 1 compare to 3?” and “how does 2 compare to 4?” because those are the situations which are otherwise the same. And since we are more concerned about the employees in the weaker bargaining position, the question of 2 vs. 4 is most important of all.

            And I am saying that 4 is not worse than 2, and is, in fact, slightly better. I’m not sure how much clearer I can make it than that.

          • onyomi says:

            @Patrick,

            I still disagree because I’m not a utilitarian and don’t think it’s justifiable to take away individuals’ freedom of choice even in cases when it might result in better overall outcomes, but thank you for at least understanding what I am actually saying…

          • Nita says:

            @ onyomi

            What would be the libertarian alternative to the Berne Convention, which stopped the use of toxic white phosphorus in match factories?

            Yes, sometimes medication does more harm than good. But I don’t think we should fire Scott and rely on homeopathy and prayer.

          • In New Zealand bosses are allowed to say to an employee: “I was planning to fire you, but if you have sex with me I won’t”?

            I believe it would be legal to give the worker a pay cut commensurate with the actual value of the job position, and then offer her an additional job as a prostitute, which amounts to the same thing.

            So really, your scenario (2) gives the worker three options: sleep with the boss, take a pay cut, or quit. So (2) is still marginally better for the worker than (4).

            But really it’s (1) versus (3) that I consider more important, because it potentially affects far more workers – anyone who isn’t already likely to be fired but who isn’t so incredibly valuable and difficult to replace that the boss is unlikely to be willing to take the risk.

            He could threaten her with firing, but it would be a gamble, since she is actually providing more than an enough value already, and to ask more of her without any compensation is equivalent to a boss demanding a good employee take a big paycut.

            Who said she’s a particularly good employee, or providing more than enough value? What if, like most people, she’s just mediocre? Earning her way, that is, but easily replaceable? (Ha! thinks the boss, I don’t need to replace her at all; the rest of the workers will just have to do some unpaid overtime!)

            I guess we need to subdivide your scenario (1) into (1a) and (1b) depending on whether the employee is unusually valuable or just an ordinary, replaceable, worker. Comparing (1a) to (3a) as you’ve done isn’t particularly interesting because, as you say, a rational boss is unlikely to take the risk. (Although I do wonder whether this is a situation in which we can count on rational behaviour.)

            But the case I originally brought up, (1b) to (3b), remains unaddressed, and is the one that potentially affects the most people.

            (Not that I want to overstate the actual risk: if you remember, it was only intended as an example, and I thought a rather cliched one at that. I hadn’t actually anticipated it taking this long just to nail down the fine details of the scenario.)

          • James Picone says:

            @Onyomi

            The ONLY way it makes sense to think that “bad option A only” is superior to “bad option A or bad option B” is to assume you know better than the people making the decision what is in their best interest and that forcing them to take the bad option you prefer is justifiable.

            I am /not talking/ about employees who would otherwise be fired. Nobody is talking about employees who would otherwise be fired except you. We understand what you’re saying. It’s not the relevant case.

            The harm is done to employees who would /not/ otherwise be fired, but who are not in a strong bargaining position because they perform low-paying low-skilled labour and are thus easily replaceable. If you are a jerk and a manager of such a person, a threat of firing them involves little personal risk, little risk to the company (the case where they say ‘go ahead’ you just hire the next person who applies for a job at Local FastFood), and the chance for something you want.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @James Picone/@onyomi:

            Indeed. I’ve been holding off making the exact same point.

            Further, if the action is not illegal, there is really no risk to the company. They can’t even lose a civil suit. It becomes a perk of the management job.

            I think the libertarian perspective might regard employment contract as the solution to this, but I don’t think it does much other than put one right back into the situation where it is “illegal”, and if you work through what would be likely to happen, it would be broadly so.

          • Jiro says:

            Employees who are not providing a net value to their employers are not fired?

            I just pointed out that X, which actually happens, contradicts Y, and you responded by saying “really? Since Y is true, how could X happen?” But I mentioned X as a disproof of Y.

            In other words, it is an observation that when the choice is “sex or be fired”, and the sex option is prohibited by law, such employees don’t get fired (or given pay cuts) instead. The fact that such employees are not fired proves that your theory–which predicts that they are fired–is wrong.

          • onyomi says:

            “I am /not talking/ about employees who would otherwise be fired. Nobody is talking about employees who would otherwise be fired except you. We understand what you’re saying. It’s not the relevant case.”

            No, case 3 is not the relevant case. As I have said repeatedly, whether or not the person is in desperate circumstances, demanding sex is making the job worse, and therefore equivalent to a big paycut. If the boss thought he could get the same work for less money he would already have made the cut or hired somebody else. And if you want to conceive of it in terms not of “sleep with me or get fired” but “sleep with me or take a paycut” then fine: you’re still not worse off for having the choice.

            This is super frustrating to me on a meta level, because debates about terms of employment are incredibly annoying because most people have a totally incorrect conception of how employment actually works on the most basic level (I’m talking about a level on which Hayek and Krugman would both agree here): One in which non-monetary benefits and demands are completely at the pleasure of the employer and are not commensurable with pay. One in which employees have literally no bargaining power because of a Marx-style “reserve” of unemployed workers. One in which employees would all be working for 2 cents if not for the minimum wage (when in reality only a small percentage of employees work for the minimum wage and most make significantly more). Also, one in which, if one makes it illegal to fire someone for x, one therefore magically has to keep employing the person even if they otherwise don’t provide enough value in other ways.

            I will say, good for New Zealand for making prostitution legal. Seems more enlightened than us on that score.

          • onyomi says:

            And while I’m ranting about this, let me give another prominent, but by no means unique, example of how most people do not understand how employment works on an economic level, and how the government takes advantage of that ignorance (note, I’m not accusing anyone here of not knowing about this particular example, but citing it as an example of a more general, widespread problem):

            The payroll tax that funds social security: people think “my boss pays half and I pay half.” This is silly. Your boss is paying for the whole thing, but only half of what he’s paying for is showing up on your taxes. This is because he/she is paying your salary and withholding your taxes. The payroll tax is an additional cost to him/her of employing you. Making him or her “match” your contribution is a silly fiction since “your” half of the tax is coming straight out of the money the employer would have paid you, so, from the employer’s perspective, it is all just part of the cost of employing you.

            But the government doesn’t want employees to conceive of it that way, because if they did, they would see more clearly how much higher of a salary the employer could be offering if not for taxes. This allows them to hide half of that under a weird fiction where the money itself comes out of the ether and employer and employee both contribute their half.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Onyomi:

            Gamblers have a saying: “The guy who invented cards was smart. The guy who invented chips was a genius.”

            The equivalent in this context: “The guy who invented taxes was smart. The guy who invented withholding was a genius.”

            It has gotten to the point where not only does the government withhold taxes starting January 1 for a payment which is not due until the next April 15th, thereby giving themselves an interest-free loan for up to fifteen-and-a-half months, they will actively punish you for not extending that loan under terms satisfactory to them. Even if your taxes are paid in full on the date due, if you were subject to withholding and didn’t withhold enough, there is a substantial penalty. With interest.

            And yet, everyone acts as if taxes were due on April 15th for the previous year, and is even pleased if part of the loan is “refunded” to them (with no interest.)

          • onyomi says:

            @Marc

            You know, I never even thought about all the interest we’re not receiving on our withheld money.

            *Sigh* the ways the government has found to extract wealth from the populace are so myriad and insidious, and yet somehow it’s always the fault of greedy businessmen that people aren’t better off.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Marc/@onyomi:

            The witholding question, seems to me, simply a convenient framing for those who are anti-tax and anti-government (Put quotes around “anti” if it helps you understand what I mean. It’s not meant to be disparaging).

            Almost no-one operates on a “15 months same as cash” plan for paying debts. Most goods require payment in advance, services usually require payment as soon as the service is complete. Most start charging penalties after 30 days. The government is providing a service (whether you want to admit or not.) Expecting them to operate on radically different payment terms than other service providers seems simply a convenient outrage generator.

          • Adam says:

            The most obvious example of an insincere tax levying method to me seems having corporate income taxes at all. I can’t see what the justification is other than it gives a means of completely obscuring the relative economic burden placed upon owners, employees, and clients, who of course, already pay taxes on capital gains, labor income, and retails sales anyway.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            @onyomi:

            The payroll tax that funds social security: people think “my boss pays half and I pay half.”

            I’ve often wondered why it’s cast as if even half of it comes out of my pocket, instead of hiding the whole thing in the “employer contribution”. I suppose it’s a tradeoff between getting to charge me income tax on it and hiding how big it is.

            @HeelBearCub:

            The government is providing a service (whether you want to admit or not.) Expecting them to operate on radically different payment terms than other service providers seems simply a convenient outrage generator.

            I’d like an itemized bill, please. I don’t think I ordered all that.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @HeelBearCub:

            That is an entirely reasonable argument and a perfectly good analogy.

            But.

            If we are paying taxes as we go, then we should pay the taxes as we go. If your argument is that the withholding/April 15th deadlines are a convenient fiction, then my response is that their purpose is to decieve people about when taxes are due and how much they actually pay. You can’t have it both ways. Is the April 15th deadline a real deadline or not? If it isn’t, why do we even have it if not to obscure the amount of taxes owed and when they are due and payable?

            And why, for the love of GAAP, do we purposefully overcharge people, if we’re really just collecting the taxes which are now due and necessary to cover current expenses? If you’re going to analogize to how the “real world” works, show me a business that gets away with that consistently. In fact, show me one that does it on a large scale which wouldn’t get investigated by various consumer protection agencies.

            If you can, well… it’s unethical for attorneys to share legal fees with non-attorneys, but expert witness fees are perfectly legit. And you could always go for “named plaintiff” status: class actions are a good racket. We can do hella well by doing good, if you can find me one.

          • Protagoras says:

            @Adam, on corporate income tax, limited liability is a very generous deal. I don’t know if corporate income tax is the best way to charge for offering it, but it hardly seems unreasonable to charge something for letting people have that deal. Certainly the current taxes seem to have done extremely little to discourage people from taking the deal, so it hardly seems that the present system is horribly overcharging people.

          • Looking down the long sex as a condition of employment thread, it seems to me that the question the people arguing with Onyomi have to answer is what is special about sex. Why doesn’t their argument apply just as well to an employer who tells a random employee that he will be fired unless he accepts a ten percent wage cut? From the employer’s standpoint that looks like a much more useful strategy. There is probably only one employee he wants to sleep with, but he benefits by cutting the wages of any employee.

            If, as you are arguing, the gamble “she might quit, but it’s worth the risk” makes sense in the sex case because he can always find a replacement, why doesn’t it make sense in the wage case?

            The argument wouldn’t apply if the employee was already getting minimum wage, or in some other situation where cutting the wage wasn’t an option, but there are likely to be other terms of employment that could be changed in a way that benefits the employer at a cost to the employee.

          • @onyami:

            One in which employees have literally no bargaining power because of a Marx-style “reserve” of unemployed workers.

            I’m not sure of the significance of “Marx-style” but I assure you that where I live, at least, there is a plentiful reserve of unemployed workers. To return finally to the original issue, assuming that there won’t be seems to me to qualify as “utopian”.

            (Incidentally, everybody at my workplace is receiving what amounts to a $450 pay cut at the end of this year. Almost nobody I know considers it an “agreeable trade”, but I have yet to hear of anyone actually quitting as a result.)

            @David:

            Why doesn’t their argument apply just as well to an employer who tells a random employee that he will be fired unless he accepts a ten percent wage cut?

            It does, so far as I can see. The other version is just more evocative.

          • I’ve often wondered why it’s cast as if even half of it comes out of my pocket, instead of hiding the whole thing in the “employer contribution”.

            Probably just because that’s how retirement savings traditionally work. I choose to contribute a percentage of my income to a superannuation fund, and my employer matches those payments (only up to a maximum percentage, of course).

            And why, for the love of GAAP, do we purposefully overcharge people

            I think that one may be unique to the US. (Oh, we don’t get to claim refunds for charitable donations until the end of the tax year. But other than that the PAYE and withholding taxes are usually fairly accurate, so far as I know.)

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @Harry Johnston:

            Do you have a vested interest in your payments into your superannuation fund and your employer’s matching payments? If so, it sounds like what Americans call a 401(k,) even if the government administers it. And if so, it is not anything like our Social Security transfer system.

            If not, then I’ll grant you it sounds like our system, but I was actually addressing income tax withholding in my arguments more than Social Security taxes. Obviously retirement payments have to be withheld in advance, unlike income tax payments. That doesn’t address the deceptive ‘halving,’ but it does make a much stronger case for withholding as opposed to PAYGO.

            Except, of course, that the PAYGO nature of Social Security means it isn’t really a retirement payments system either.

          • @Marc: I’m not quite sure what “vested interest” actually means, but I don’t suppose you’re particularly interested in the fine details of my particular fund. The upshot is that I’ve had a very brief look at the Wikipedia article on 401(k) and it sounds broadly similar. I think the only major difference may be that my plan is administered by a trust.

            So, yes, I would suggest that the reason social security payments are presented as if the employee was paying half and the employer the other half is by analogy to 401(k) payments, since they at least nominally serve the same purpose.

            — oh, and of course it would have made a real difference when social security was originally introduced.

            (Note that I was responding specifically to Doctor Mist’s question about social security, not to the discussion of income tax.)

            (By way of comparison, our equivalent of social security, New Zealand Superannuation, is funded from general taxation. The tax withheld from my pay is helping to pay for it, but it isn’t separately accounted for on my payslip.)

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @Harry Johnston:

            “Vested Interest” means that the money you put in is “vested” and you have a positive property right in it. In simpler terms, your account is a “bank account,” and the deposits you make belong you along with the increase in their value through investment.

            This is distinct from Social Security, which, both the law and courts interpreting that law are crystal clear on, is not a vested interest or a property right. The USG could terminate the SS program tomorrow, keep all the “bonds,” and nobody would have any legal right to challenge it.

            Which means that no, SS is not a retirement program in the way the first fund you described is or a 401(k) is. It’s a transfer payment system whose payments are loosely linked to how much money you paid in, but subject both to a ceiling and a floor. (If you’re eligible at all, you’ll get a certain minimum amount. No matter how much you paid in, you cannot get more than the current maximum amount.) It is not “withholding” that comes out of a US citizen’s paycheck. It’s an earmarked tax which is immediately dispersed to current payees, with any excesses used to pay for other expenditures of the USG.

          • Huh. I didn’t know US social security was linked in any way to your “contributions”. New Zealand Superannuation is a flat rate; it depends on your circumstances (single, married, etc.) and is subject to taxation, but everybody in the same circumstances gets the same amount.

            You guys do like to make things complicated, don’t you? 🙂

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @Harry Johnston:

            It’s another tactic designed to make it look like it’s an actual retirement system and not a transfer system. From time to time people point out that the system would be in much better shape financially if we would raise or eliminate the limit on yearly contributions. (SS taxes are paid only on the first $120K or so of income.) But if we did that, and didn’t otherwise change the rules, it wouldn’t help, because how much you get paid is a function of how much you put in. So the extra money in would go out again in payments to the highest payors.

            The reason that we can’t raise or eliminate the cap while retaining the payment ceiling is that it might break that “link” most people have between payments in and payments out. “I’m just getting out what I put in” is a common justification for SS payments, even though to use a technical actuarial term, it’s a load of bollocks. (Payments are subject to COLA increases, and the average recipient gets more out than the actuarial value of their contributions.) If they severed it, a lot of middle and high income people would be much less kindly inclined toward SS than they currently are.

            While we’re on the subject of taxes, does it seem odd to you in any way that a payment made out of general revenues is subject to income taxation? Once again, that would appear to be sleight of hand designed to make you think you’re getting more than you actually are.
            “Here, have ten dollars!”
            *a few months pass*
            “Give me five dollars.”
            “Well, okay, at least I got ten dollars before so I could pay the five dollars now.”

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            The problem with “free markets”, as.nomenclature, is that it telescopes
            a desired outcome with a contestable way of
            achieving it. Libertarians….anarcho capitalists,
            at least…. think that if a market is
            free of government intervention , it will be free in the unhindered voluntary exchange.

            Non libertarians think that unregulated markets
            will tend to monopolies, cartels andishonest practices …they think that freedom is something that operates within a framework of law. not something that is freedom from it

          • “they think that freedom is something that operates within a framework of law. not something that is freedom from it”

            Anarcho-capitalists, at least my variety, believe that the framework of law, like many other things, is better produced by a market than by a government.

          • It’s another tactic designed to make it look like it’s an actual retirement system and not a transfer system.

            To be fair, though, it is an actual retirement system. It just works differently than those that are common nowadays. There are, I believe, still private systems that don’t use a cash balance either – IIRC, my father receives payments from his former employer based on a percentage of what he was earning when he retired. I think this sort of thing used to be more common than it is now. And while private superannuation funds can’t simply choose not to pay out the way the government can, they can go bankrupt, so you’re not actually guaranteed anything either way.

            So all in all I would be inclined to think that modeling social security after existing practices was probably a choice intended to make the system seem more familiar to people, rather than a choice intended to mislead them as such.

            While we’re on the subject of taxes, does it seem odd to you in any way that a payment made out of general revenues is subject to income taxation?

            The rationale is that it is simpler to tax all income than to try to categorize it into “tax this but don’t tax that”. I’m not sure I agree, but it doesn’t sound entirely unreasonable. And if you are earning income privately as well as receiving government payments, it doesn’t seem unfair to me that the tax rate is based on your total income rather than just part of it.

            Once again, that would appear to be sleight of hand designed to make you think you’re getting more than you actually are.

            The payments are made after tax, of course. You don’t actually have to receive the money and then give it back. And all of the government’s web sites either give you both before-tax and after-tax figures, or only after-tax figures. So if they’re trying to deceive us, they’re certainly being subtle about it. 🙂

          • Doctor Mist says:

            @Harry Johnston:

            There are, I believe, still private systems that don’t use a cash balance either – IIRC, my father receives payments from his former employer based on a percentage of what he was earning when he retired.

            Yes. And to be legal, they must set aside assets sufficient that they can be annuitized to make these payments. Social security does not. And for good reason: it’s financially untenable, which is why pensions have moved away from that model. Oops.

        • James Picone says:

          No, case 3 is not the relevant case. As I have said repeatedly, whether or not the person is in desperate circumstances, demanding sex is making the job worse, and therefore equivalent to a big paycut. If the boss thought he could get the same work for less money he would already have made the cut or hired somebody else. And if you want to conceive of it in terms not of “sleep with me or get fired” but “sleep with me or take a paycut” then fine: you’re still not worse off for having the choice.

          And then you’re going on to focus on people who would otherwise be fired, which looked, from here, rather like an evasion.

          Fine, that argument: obviously it doesn’t hold if there’s a minimum wage. If there isn’t a minimum wage, once all the wages drop however much they drop for people stacking shelves in supermarkets and working in fast food (which pays around minimum wage in my country at least), I would be /extremely surprised/ if your argument held there, either, because homo sapiens is not homo economicus. Do you actually think that a seventeen-year-old cashier at a large supermarket confronted by their boss, threatening to fire them if they don’t have sex, is going to say “Well you’ll have to pay me more”? Fortunately for them most 17-year-olds don’t need a job; bravery doesn’t cost them much. But someone older, working a similar job to support themselves – and these people exist, when I spent my Teenage Job Purgatory at Large Supermarket I met a few – do you think they’re going to say no and take the chance of playing Find Another Job In The Next Month Or Two? That’s a scary game to play. Last time I was between jobs it was intensely stressful, even though I knew on an intellectual level that I had enough saved away to last me years, and I’m highly educated with an extremely valuable skill.

          That policy leads to a lot of what are essentially rapes, and claiming that the invisible hand will make it not worth doing seems to be utterly out of touch with how much people genuinely need a job, and how much they don’t want to take the risk of having to find another.

          This is super frustrating to me on a meta level, because debates about terms of employment are incredibly annoying because most people have a totally incorrect conception of how employment actually works on the most basic level (I’m talking about a level on which Hayek and Krugman would both agree here): One in which non-monetary benefits and demands are completely at the pleasure of the employer and are not commensurable with pay. One in which employees have literally no bargaining power because of a Marx-style “reserve” of unemployed workers. One in which employees would all be working for 2 cents if not for the minimum wage (when in reality only a small percentage of employees work for the minimum wage and most make significantly more). Also, one in which, if one makes it illegal to fire someone for x, one therefore magically has to keep employing the person even if they otherwise don’t provide enough value in other ways.

          Oh there we go, it’s our old friend person-who-would-be-fired-anyway making their return and muddying the waters! Nobody disagrees about that case. Stop bringing it up.

          P.S. only about 60% of the people in my first-world country are currently working more than one hour a week, the official unemployment rate is ~6% off the top of my head, the difference is in dependents, retirees, people on disability, and people who haven’t been looking for a job in the last year or so and are considered to have ‘given up’. So yeah, there’s a significant reserve, and I think even in the no-minimum-wage case there’s going to be a good chunk of people snapping at the lower income values.

          • onyomi says:

            “That policy leads to a lot of what are essentially rapes, and claiming that the invisible hand will make it not worth doing seems to be utterly out of touch with how much people genuinely need a job, and how much they don’t want to take the risk of having to find another.”

            So, again, you know better than individual people what is or is not a dignified use of their own sexuality or what is or is not a worthwhile sacrifice to make.

            You think I am saying that, since people aren’t THAT desperate for a job, they won’t have sex to keep a job. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying, regardless of how likely or unlikely people are to make the sex-for-job trade, I don’t see how foreclosing it as an option helps anyone, or is justified. If we really are living in a society where resources are so scarce that most people would rather prostitute themselves than lose a job or take a paycut, then outlawing prostitution is actually cruel!

            Stop trying to take the moral high ground when you are the one insisting on foreclosing options of the poor and desperate.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            You seem to taking the surprising position that threatening someone with the loss of their job is not coercive.

            I can’t square with that with what I recall your position is based on loss of job due to “unpopular opinion”.

          • onyomi says:

            It is not coercive, assuming the firing does not violate any previously established contract. What if your favorite restaurant raises their prices and you threaten the owner: “lower the prices or I’m never coming back!” Are you coercing him?

            I suppose if you define “coerce” very broadly in the sense of any threat–even a threat to break off a voluntary relationship–then it would be coercive, as would threatening to find a new restaurant be coercive, as would threatening to break up with someone if they don’t stop drinking be coercive, but I don’t think anyone sees anything wrong with not patronizing a business which isn’t meeting your needs, or breaking off a romantic relationship with someone who is causing you pain. Why, then, should not continuing to employ someone who isn’t meeting your needs be any different?

            When I say “coercive” I mean “inducement by threat of force,” which is what using the law always implies.

          • That’s one of my main objections to libertarianism, incidentally: the fact that it treats as fundamental what I consider an entirely arbitrary distinction between the misuse of a physical advantage (I’m stronger than you, so you have to do what I say) and the misuse of other sorts of advantage (you daren’t lose your job, so you have to do what I say). Morally, I don’t see any difference.

            As for morally justifying the loss of freedom involved, I take the view that if the government is going to deny me the freedom to defend myself (as in, the boss said he’d fire me if I didn’t sleep with him, so I shot him) then the government should damn well provide a legal framework that will defend me instead.

            (I take it for granted that you will disagree, of course; I don’t intend to try to argue for this position – it’s basically an axiom, so argument is likely futile in either direction – I just wanted to present it in the hopes it may help you understand my overall viewpoint and perhaps be interesting and/or amusing.)

          • Lupis42 says:

            the misuse of other sorts of advantage

            What’s the line here? If payers have an unfair advantage, presumably it would be completely immoral to oblige someone to cater an event that they felt a moral opposition to, as that would be an unacceptable exploitation of the advantage of having money?

            I’d really like to see you clarify this axiom a little bit, because it seems like you’re very definite on it, but I can’t figure out how to generalize it in a way that doesn’t conclude that all employment is always unacceptably coercive.

          • onyomi says:

            @Harry

            “…an entirely arbitrary distinction between the misuse of a physical advantage (I’m stronger than you, so you have to do what I say) and the misuse of other sorts of advantage (you daren’t lose your job, so you have to do what I say). Morally, I don’t see any difference.”

            Scenario 1: I’m one of your business’s best clients. My business adds 1 million dollars to your bottom line every year, and if I were to start patronizing another firm it would be a major blow to your business, maybe even such that you’d go bankrupt. I tell you that I want you to do “x” or I’ll take my business elsewhere. You’re concerned x goes against your company’s values and are faced with the uncomfortable choice of losing 1 million in revenue or compromising your business vision.

            Scenario 2: I’m a hacker and I steal 1 million dollars from your company’s bank account, crippling your business. I tell you that I’ll return the money if you start doing “x,” which you feel compromises your values. Now you are faced with the choice of losing 1 million dollars or compromising your business vision.

            See the difference?

          • @Lupis42:

            I’d really like to see you clarify this axiom a little bit

            Well the axiom I was talking about was really just “there’s nothing uniquely special about violence when it comes to mistreating other people” though I guess even that may be hedged about with unseen provisos. When it comes to determining what is or isn’t acceptable, it isn’t so much a rule as it is a rejection of what I see as an overly simplistic rule.

            It’s been a long time since I thought hard about this sort of thing, and I fear I don’t have the energy to think hard about it nowadays. My sense of what is acceptable is presumably premised mainly on the cultural tradition of “fair play” that is perhaps as fundamental to us as “free speech” is to Americans (at least traditionally). I’m not sure I can analyze or reverse engineer it carefully enough to make sense to anyone else! Consequentialism seems to me to be broadly similar, certainly related in some sense, but I haven’t really learned enough about it to have a valid opinion.

            If payers have an unfair advantage, presumably it would be completely immoral to oblige someone to cater an event that they felt a moral opposition to, as that would be an unacceptable exploitation of the advantage of having money?

            I’m not sure that having money gives you an advantage over the shopkeeper, who presumably has money of his own; ideally, everybody does. And buying stuff isn’t a misuse of money, it is the intended use. (By the same token, demanding that workers do their job isn’t a misuse of the advantage of being an employer in the way that demanding sex would be.)

            I think I would consider being able to insist that someone accept your money not as a use of “the advantage of having money” but as a use of the existence of anti-discrimination laws. It’s both, arguably, but the latter is more fundamental. Such laws can certainly be misused, but not every use is a misuse.

            I’m not morally outraged by the mere existence of (reasonable) anti-discrimination laws, on the grounds that (a) they serve an essential purpose, (b) they can be considered part of the social quid-pro-quo that allows things like businesses to exist in the first place, and (c) the generalized self-defense thing.

            Those are, perhaps not coincidentally, the same grounds that allow me to not be morally outraged by the existence of private property, which is, after all, a egregious violation of individual freedom. 🙂

          • @onyomi: neither of those are a misuse of physical force. Strictly speaking, as a libertarian you should approve of the hacker’s use of his superior intelligence to outwit the foolish business owner. (I’m joking! Well, sort of. I believe Scott’s FAQ talks about the odd way in which libertarianism conflates property rights and violence.)

            But, more seriously, if “x” was “get your CTO to sleep with me”, I’d consider neither of your scenarios acceptable.

          • onyomi says:

            If you want, you can include scenario 3, in which someone robs you at gunpoint of 1 million dollars, but I actually see that as different from the hacker case only in that the armed robber does you more harm by virtue of the fear for your life he makes you suffer.

            But the hacker IS doing something very different. He is taking what is yours to begin with and threatening not to give it back. He is stealing.

            The client is threatening to STOP giving you HIS money in exchange for whatever business services you were doing. Presumably he is expecting that he will also stop receiving whatever those services were once he stops paying.

            Threatening to stop helping is very different from threatening to harm.

            And while I know you were joking, most libertarians view stealing as being on a continuum with physical violence because it is non-voluntary. Me stealing your car in the dead of night when no one is looking is not quite as bad as me carjacking you, but only because of the mental distress and bodily risk you might suffer in the latter case. Otherwise, it’s the same. Me refusing to sell you a car because you don’t want to pay what I’m asking or because I’m racist against your race, or because I don’t like your hat or the look of your nose, on the other hand, is very, very different.

            This debate ultimately boils down to the Copenhagen interpretation of ethics, once again. People intuitively seem to think that helping a little but not enough, or taking away help previously provided, or offering help, but only in exchange for repugnant conditions are somehow worse than doing nothing at all.

            In the “my boss demands I sleep with him or he’ll fire me, but if he fires me I’m literally going to starve” example, for example, the boss is offering help in exchange for a condition most people find repugnant. He is still offering more than all the other people in society who apparently will not help this woman under any circumstances.

            I can sort of see why people might feel this way: no one can blame someone for not getting involved in every problem in the world. We have intuitions about how to treat strangers: basically just live and let live. Don’t hurt, but no obligation to help, except maybe in extreme cases like walking past a drowning child, etc.

            But then we have our intuitions about how we should behave with people we know: family, friends, etc. Most people feel that you owe it your family and friends to do more than just not hurt them. You should treat them with kindness, respect, etc.

            The problem, as Hayek noted, arises when we try to apply our “family and friends” ethical intuitions to the broader society, and to all business relationships. What I want out of a business is that they fulfill their promises to me and, in exchange, I fulfill my promises to them (either by working for them, or paying them money, generally).

            This is how it *must* be for the vast majority of business interactions, because the global economy, or even the economy of a medium-sized city, runs primarily on voluntary contracts among strangers.

            So you treat your customers like your friends and your employees like your family. Where is the harm in that? None. It is natural you will develop personal relationships with the people with whom you work closely, but it can produce inefficient and, imo, unethical results when one tries to artificially expand this by using govmt force to mandate that people only interact on “friendly” terms, rather than on the “business” terms which actually govern 99% of all interactions.

            All laws about what sorts of contract consenting adults may voluntarily enter into are misguided attempts to apply this Copenhagen morality to business interactions. But I, like Walter Block, am in favor of allowing all “capitalistic acts among consenting adults.” To do otherwise is to substitute your own judgment for that of consenting adults’ judgment of what is in their own best interests, which strikes me as hubristic at best.

          • I thought the hacking scenario was a particularly interesting choice – I was remembering (way) back when I was first introduced to libertarianism, and was told in no uncertain terms that if you could trick people into giving you money (or for that matter into selling themselves into indentured servitude) that was all peachy-keen so long as you didn’t actually break any signed contracts in the process. And was in fact their own fault for not being as clever as you were.

            But when a hacker steals money, they’re basically just tricking someone into giving them the money. It may involve tricking someone’s computer rather than the person themselves, but it seems like it should be basically the same thing; if the person didn’t want to have their money stolen, they should have been clever enough to protect their computer systems better. But yes, this is still basically just me nitpicking for comic effect. And yes, it still isn’t actually funny. 🙂

            OK, so seriously: I do agree that there is a moral distinction between “harming” and “refraining from helping”, but I don’t think it’s as black-and-white as libertarianism would claim. (As a particular example relevant to the discussion so far, my culture quite clearly categorizes firing an employee into the “harming” bucket — and I don’t think we’re wrong.)

          • Lupis42 says:

            if you could trick people into giving you money (or for that matter into selling themselves into indentured servitude) that was all peachy-keen so long as you didn’t actually break any signed contracts in the process.

            I had that interpretation myself when I was younger, but I think it’s more accurate to suggest that those who view the NAP as paramount include fraud when talking about coercion, and don’t have any problem with one of the bedrock principles of contract law, which is that a contract cannot be binding without a ‘meeting of the minds’, that is, without both parties understanding it similarly at the time it was enacted. So if you trick someone by giving them false information, or if the contract meant one thing to you and another to them, it’s either not a valid contract or even just another form of coercion.

            (In terms of the example in question, that would indicate that, if there was a contract that did not specify sex, demanding it would be a breach of contract. If the contract did specify sex, there should be no surprise, and if there was no actual employment contract, then neither party has any obligation to continue the employment, and so either party can reasonably demand a change to the conditions).

            As a particular example relevant to the discussion so far, my culture quite clearly categorizes firing an employee into the “harming” bucket — and I don’t think we’re wrong.

            I’d like to go further into this, but I have work I need to be doing. For the short term, I’d say that the idea that most people should have one stable long term employer at all is an unfortunate consequence of the assembly line, and we should hope that it goes away in favor of an expanding gig-economy.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @lupis42/@onyomi:
            The point lupis42 just made is one I attempted to make earlier, perhaps not quite as clearly. But further, I intended to expand on that point, to say that in a world where the government does not provide the boilerplate contract, a boilerplate plate contract will exist.

            Given the complexities of contract law, and the inability of the average citizen to become one (especially in any sort of efficient manner) I expect that deviations from the boilerplate would constitute a failure to have “meeting of the minds”. This puts us right back in the position onyomi does not want, which is that sex work for job retention is both de facto and de jure illegal (breech of contract.)

          • onyomi says:

            To me, and, I think, most libertarians, the voluntary/non-voluntary nature of the thing is of paramount importance.

            If, in a society of private law production and arbitration, it turns out most voluntary employment contracts use a boilerplate prohibition on demanding sex from employees then that is absolutely fine with me. It’s the top-down, one-size-fits-all, no-competition-within-a-geographic border,my-politician-knows-better-than-you-what-sort-of-contract-is-good-for-you aspect I have a problem with.

            In the US, no one, so far as I know, owns a round credit card. Or a credit card of any other size and shape than the standard size and shape, really. Yet there is no law, I don’t think, specifying a required credit card shape, nor one outlawing circular credit cards. It just happened that way because it was convenient for companies and consumers.

            If you wanted for some reason to own a jumbo credit card or a circular credit card it would probably be quite difficult, if not impossible to obtain one. But I don’t think anyone considers this an injustice, not just because of the triviality of the specific issue, but also because no one’s stopping anyone from producing a round credit card if there’s a demand for one. It’s just that there isn’t.

            Saying, it will be de facto inconvenient to do x because so few people will want to is very different from saying let’s make it illegal to do x within geographic territory y. Even if most courts in this private law society refuse to recognize specific types of contracts then that, again, only presents another logistical barrier related to getting people who want to deal with your odd demands, rather than an absolute barrier of the sort constituted by laws in nearly all sovereign nations today.

          • @Lupis42:

            If I remember rightly, the particular scenario I had presented (this was over 20 years ago!) didn’t actually involve fraud, and computer hacking isn’t necessarily fraudulent either – depending I guess on how flexibly you define it. I suppose a bank transfer request could be interpreted as a fraudulent claim by the computer, acting as an agent of the hacker, that the account holder authorized the transfer. Dunno about ransomware, hard to spin that one as a fraud.

            For the short term, I’d say that the idea that most people should have one stable long term employer at all is an unfortunate consequence of the assembly line,

            It’s always been my understanding that this idea far older, dating at least as far back as the days of guilds and apprentices, and probably back into prehistory. From what has been said about the psychological impact of losing a job, I would speculate that having a steady employer meets an instinctive need, presumably related to tribalism.

            I must ask about that on the next open thread. There’s bound to be someone who knows about this stuff, it seems there always is. 🙂

          • Lupis42 says:

            @HeelBearCub
            Given the complexities of contract law, and the inability of the average citizen to become one (especially in any sort of efficient manner) I expect that deviations from the boilerplate would constitute a failure to have “meeting of the minds”. This puts us right back in the position onyomi does not want, which is that sex work for job retention is both de facto and de jure illegal (breech of contract.)

            There’s are plenty of ways to deviate from the boilerplate for standard contracts now – the pre-nup being one of the most well known, but far from the only one. I would expect that to rather put us in the world where any employer that wants to retain the option to demand sex would need to specify that up-front, at hiring negotiations, and depending on how desirable that was to employers (probably not very) and how objectionable that was to employees (probably very), we’d see relatively few employment contracts that permitted it, and those would come with noticable wage/benefits premiums. But as with Onyomi’s comment re credit cards, I see a big difference between having cultural practices put an arrangement pretty far out of bounds, and having a legal mandate that puts those same arrangements out of bounds.

            @Harry Johnston,

            Computer theft usually involves fraud – specifically, it involves accessing the computer with inappropriate credentials. There are other ways – legitimately obtaining sufficient access, or exploiting a gap in restrictions, for example – but typically in order to get money moved around in a computer, credentials are needed.
            If fake, those credentials are just as fraudulent as any fake id.
            Now if the credentials are real, and the person moving the money had permission to move the money, we’re back at the whole contract law/meeting of the minds concept.

            More generally, as regards the NAP and moral judgements, I think that the ‘edge cases’ of ‘trickery that manages to not actually involve fraud’ are in the same territory as utility monsters and the repugnant conclusion, i.e. an unavoidable feature of any theory of morality that tries to be internally consistent.

            On the topic of employment, I need to do a lot more research to really get into this, because I haven’t spent much time or thought on the topic in years. I have done some reading about it in some contexts, once upon a time, however, and what I remember bears no relationship to the ‘stable work for stable pay’ model of employment. As I understand it, apprentices would to start out by paying for the privilege of getting an apprenticeship, and would then work for free, or possibly for room and board. Once they were skilled enough, they might become journeymen, and permitted to take on work of their own, but either they would typically be working under their own name, (as in an sole proprietorship or equal partnership), or in the shop of a master who had enough work to give them some, in a junior partnership.

          • Computer theft usually involves fraud – specifically, it involves accessing the computer with inappropriate credentials.

            Hackers often gain access to an end-user’s computer not by using stolen credentials but by exploiting a bug that allows you to run code without providing any credentials. (Stolen credentials are typically used to access online accounts such as gmail, not to access the owner’s computer.)

            However, typically you would then modify the victim’s web browser to detect when the victim has logged into internet banking, and ask the bank to transfer you money. I think it reasonable to call that fraud: the web browser, acting as your agent, has given the bank fraudulent information about what the victim wanted done.

            Ransomware doesn’t involve fraud. But now that I think about it, it does violate the owner’s property rights to their computer, so that’s OK too. (The real-world analogy would be changing someone’s locks and then demanding money for the new keys.)

            Once they were skilled enough, they might become journeymen, and permitted to take on work of their own, but either they would typically be working under their own name, (as in an sole proprietorship or equal partnership), or in the shop of a master who had enough work to give them some, in a junior partnership.

            Yes, and they might later buy out that shop, or open their own. But that would only involve a few changes over a working lifetime, all planned in advance; nowadays, people might work dozens of different jobs during their working life, and are often dismissed without warning. Quite different, to my mind.

          • Incidentally, and out of curiosity, is there a consensus libertarian position on pyramid schemes?

          • onyomi says:

            Most pyramid schemes are fraudulent and most all libertarians are strongly against fraud, because it is basically like stealing (if I take your money in exchange for x and intentionally fail to provide x, I am basically stealing from you). The exception might be if everyone involved knows what is actually going on. I think chain letters might fit this definition, but Bernie Madoff, for example, clearly does not (he willfully deceived his investors about where the money was coming from).

          • The classic pyramid scheme isn’t fraudulent, or at least does not need to be. (The principle behind it is basically sound, after all, except for the minor technical detail that there aren’t an infinite number of people in the world.) So long as you don’t make an unconditional promise that the victim will profit from the scheme, everything you say can be absolutely true while simultaneously being completely misleading.

          • onyomi says:

            I think I was conflating pyramid schemes and ponzi schemes. According to the internets, the difference is:

            “Explicit vs Implicit: A pyramid scheme is explicit. From the beginning, you’re (theoretically) aware you are paying money for the opportunity to get others to pay you money. A Ponzi scheme necessitates lying to the participants, masking the transfer of money with a (supposedly) legitimate investment business.

            Active vs. Passive: Pyramid schemes require active work, whether it’s recruiting new participants or selling a product. You’re buying in knowing the only way you’ll make money is by recruiting or selling. In a Ponzi scheme, participants are usually just forking their money over and expecting a return in exchange for the perpetrator taking a management fee.

            Legality: A properly structured pyramid scheme can be legal, and many legitimate companies use them to some degree or another. A Ponzi scheme is pretty much always illegal.”

            Based on the above, it sounds to me like I, and most libertarians, would basically agree with current US law on this one (the pyramid scheme is okay because people know what they’re getting into; the Ponzi scheme is not because people are being deceived).

          • According to Wikipedia, traditional pyramid schemes are illegal in the US. There are gray areas.

          • Lupis42 says:

            Yes, and they might later buy out that shop, or open their own. But that would only involve a few changes over a working lifetime, all planned in advance; nowadays, people might work dozens of different jobs during their working life, and are often dismissed without warning. Quite different, to my mind.

            On the other hand, they would have absolutely no separation between work and personal life, income would be irregular, and tied to individual jobs. Much like spending your life running a small business. And of course, if they didn’t like how the partnership was working out, each person could just leave, and set up their own shop across the street, and do the same work.
            The notion of a ‘job’, where one entity is your sole source of income for a long period of time, and they compensate you at a fixed rate, only began to make sense as production chains became longer, and each individual step was basically unmarketable.

          • onyomi says:

            If it is illegal, it’s probably because it’s more like gambling than fraud. Gambling is default illegal in most places and most forms in the US, though it is allowed in certain cities, states, and offshore with special permits, etc. and, of course, there is the lotto. Basically, the government only lets gambling happen if it can “wet its beak,” so to speak.

            Libertarians, of course, are generally not opposed to gambling.

        • Jiro says:

          it seems to me that the question the people arguing with Onyomi have to answer is what is special about sex. Why doesn’t their argument apply just as well to an employer who tells a random employee that he will be fired unless he accepts a ten percent wage cut?

          Sex is something that the employer wants with specific individuals. Ten percent wage cuts are fungible.

          Furthermore, it’s an observed fact that employers who would otherwise say “sex or you’re fired”, but are forbidden by law from asking for sex, do not fire the employees. Employers just don’t behave in ways consistent with the theory. On the other hand, employers who are forbidden by law from reducing pay (for instance with minimum wage laws, overtime laws, etc.) do fire employees who they believe are not worth the mandated pay scale. (And to the extent that they do not fire such employees, that does indeed demonstrate that minimum wage laws are justified.)

          • John Schilling says:

            Furthermore, it’s an observed fact that employers who would otherwise say “sex or you’re fired”, but are forbidden by law from asking for sex, do not fire the employees.

            Cite, please? Or at least the methodology by which you get a statistically significant number of observations of what would necessarily be a criminal act conducted behind closed doors and under false pretenses?

            Also, the other terms of the relevant equation: In the counterfactual where it is legal to say “sex or you’re fired”, do employers in fact fire the employees who say no? In either case, are the employees who are not fired instead left to do their well-paying jobs without requests for sexual favors, hired at a lower salary, or not hired at all?

            I gather you consider the answers to all of these so obvious that you can describe them as “observed facts” without having actually observed them, but it isn’t nearly as obvious to me and I’d actually like to see real data if anyone has it.

          • Plus, of course, the guy getting the ten percent wage cut can probably survive on that long enough to find another job. The guy getting fired because he wouldn’t sleep with the boss is in serious trouble unless he has significant savings or some form of outside assistance.

          • Jiro says:

            Firing someone isn’t a criminal act done under false pretenses. Firing someone for refusing sex is criminal, but firing all people who you *would* have asked for sex if the law had been different, but who you don’t *actually* ask for sex, isn’t criminal.

            Also, I suggest googling “attractive bias hiring”. It’s well known that hiring bias is in favor of attractive people, who presumably are the ones employers are most likely to desire sex with.

          • John Schilling says:

            Firing a person because they won’t have sex with you is I believe a criminal act whether you explicitly demanded they have sex with you or not. If, because the law says he can’t ask directly, a boss intensively flirts with his secretary at the company picnic and when she doesn’t offer up sex makes a note to replace her three months on some pretext, that’s still illegal. It’s just unprovable.

            If, because the law says he can’t ask directly, the boss gives up hope of ever sleeping with his secretary, you’re living in that alternate universe where the rivers run with finest molten chocolate.

            The boss is, of course, probably bluffing even if he does make the demand and the threat explicit. But it would be good to have numbers on what fraction of women who are asked to sleep with their boss and refuse, are actually fired for it.

      • xq says:

        I think most leftists agree that big corporations don’t want free market capitalism; see e.g. “corporate welfare.”

        • onyomi says:

          Do they? I agree that the use of the term “corporate welfare” indicates an awareness of the distinction, yet I almost never see leftists advocating a truly free market, as opposed to a corporatist market (other than maybe a few “left libertarians).

          If leftists and libertarians actually agreed on the desirability of truly free markets then it would seem they are passing up a golden opportunity for a winning coalition. Yet it doesn’t seem to me that most leftists truly do desire free markets. Yet they also rarely attack free markets directly, unless it is as a code word for corporatism, because corporatism is such a vastly easier target.

          A few leftists like Ralph Nader and maybe even Noam Chomsky are willing to make common cause with the likes of Ron Paul, but Bernie Sanders, who actually much more nearly represents the views of the average leftist in America today, does not actually want a market free of bias; he wants a market strongly biased in favor of employees and unions. Many such leftists seem to see no real difference between corporate welfare in the sense of “giving plum government contracts to favored companies” and corporate welfare in the sense of “repealing regulations which limit the types of employment terms a company may offer,” but the difference is very big for the libertarian, who sees the former as an unjust favor to a particular company but the latter as a just rebalancing of the scales in favor of freedom.

          Yet leftists seem not to want to see the difference between Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, because Mitt Romney is so much easier to hate than Ron Paul, and if one sees Ron Paul as just an extreme version of Mitt Romney, rather than the completely different creature he is, it is easier to dismiss him without considering that maybe he better represents your own ideals than even the democrat (especially if you are anti-war).

        • xq says:

          Leftists disagree with both true free markets and corporate welfare, but that doesn’t mean they never distinguish between them.

          I see leftists attack true free markets all the time, and also attack libertarianism distinctly from conservativism. Many people point out, for example, that libertarians in particular don’t have a good answer to climate change.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            No one is offering a good answer. Any solution requires reducing emissions in the third world as well; notably countries policies are “reduce our CO2 emissions” not “reduce world CO2 emissions by sending China new power plants”. It is unclear how this is fundamentally an improvement over “wait for renewable energy to be economically competitive due to technological change”.

          • xq says:

            There have been some attempts at international agreement, so it’s not true that “reduce our CO2 emissions” is the only solution that has been attempted.

            It also does seem clear how “reduce our CO2 emissions” is an improvement over waiting for the technology even in the absence of international agreement–it creates incentives for people to develop the technology faster.

            But my main point wasn’t to start a debate over the best way to fight climate change, only to note that that attacking libertarianism and free markets on climate change is common, regardless of whether the people doing the attacking have a better solution to offer.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            All the agreements leave out the third would which consist of the majority of humanity. They aren’t solutions, but alleviations. If you don’t have a plan to produce less CO2 than equilibrium, you aren’t advocating a solution.

      • Earthly Knight says:

        I’m inclined to think that true free markets would be unstable by nature and inevitably collapse into corporatism, in the same way that every well-intentioned stab at communism is doomed to end in purges and hecatombs. Even under the thinnest regime of laws, there must always be some regulations to finagle, politicians to buy, media outlets to monopolize, trade unionists to rough up, and so on, until all that’s left is a handful of companies which dominate every aspect of human life and no government to enforce fair competition. This is really a separation of powers argument: a strong central bureaucracy is needed to counterbalance the influence of large corporations, who will run riot if left unsupervised.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          “, until all that’s left is a handful of companies which dominate every aspect of human life and no government to enforce fair competition. ”

          Diseconomies of scale make that impossible. If it was possible to have an economy with just a few companies, communism would easily work.

          “a strong central bureaucracy is needed to counterbalance the influence of large corporations, who will run riot if left unsupervised.”

          Exactly why can’t the police do this normally? It sounds like you are saying the government has to build a class of people loyal to the state through patronage.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Diseconomies of scale make that impossible. If it was possible to have an economy with just a few companies, communism would easily work.

            Could you elaborate? I don’t really see the analogy here. Hundreds of present corporations are far larger than (say) Hoxha’s Albania.

            Exactly why can’t the police do this normally?

            Well, for starters, cartels, monopolies, and corporate fraud fall under the purview of career technocrats in regulatory bodies, not the police. It might be possible to combine a narrow set of regulations with robust, well-staffed, and independent oversight agencies to zealously enforce those regulations, but I’m pretty leery about the prospects there.

          • John Schilling says:

            Could you elaborate? I don’t really see the analogy here. Hundreds of present corporations are far larger than (say) Hoxha’s Albania.

            Megan McArdle had a pretty good take on this one a while back. Bottom line, the coordination problem is still intractable across anything as complex as a modern economy; the only way anyone has found to avoid having things grind to a halt because you produced too many turboencabulators and not enough sprunge grommets is to have independent and competing agents focus on the small parts of the problem they understand and use market signals (possibly black market) to indirectly coordinate.

            There are very large corporations, yes, but they tend to be specialized. Exxon does oil and gas, Walmart does retail sales, Toyota does cars. The problem with your “handful of companies which dominate every aspect of human life” is not the number of lives being dominated, but the “every aspect” part. Provide all the oil and gas for a billion people, yes, humans can manage an enterprise to do that. Manufacture from scratch and distribute to the end users all the various goods and services required by even a million people, no. That you can’t centralize.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Hundreds of present corporations are far larger than (say) Hoxha’s Albania.

            But none of them are as large in comparison to the US government or the US economy as Hoxha was in comparison to Albania.

            If California was an independent country, it would be among the most powerful economic actors on Earth. But as part of the US, it’s just “reasonably influential.”

          • Earthly Knight says:

            If the problem were diseconomies of scale, which it is not, this would assuage the worry. But if the problem is specialization, that seems like it still leaves ample room for a couple dozen corporations, one or two in each sector, to divide the country between them.

            (I also think y’all are underestimating how diversified multinationals can get. Take a look at the lists of assets owned by Disney or Berkshire Hathaway on Wikipedia.)

          • Thomas Brinsmead says:

            Earthly Knight will be interested in the topic of this TED talk, even if not completely convinced by the main claim. http://www.ted.com/talks/james_b_glattfelder_who_controls_the_world/transcript?language=en

            Fewer than one thousand shareholders (mostly financial institutions) “control” some 80% of the value of global transnational corporations. Fewer than two hundred “control” 40%.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            If the problem were diseconomies of scale, which it is not, this would assuage the worry. But if the problem is specialization, that seems like it still leaves ample room for a couple dozen corporations, one or two in each sector, to divide the country between them.”

            Standard Oil tried that. They had 91% market share in 1904 and 64% in 1911 (when they were broken up). It is really hard to dominate a single sector.

            Even today it still holds true- steel is a high capital field, but there are 39 firms that produce over 10 million tons (the biggest produces about 100 million).

            “(I also think y’all are underestimating how diversified multinationals can get. Take a look at the lists of assets owned by Disney or Berkshire Hathaway on Wikipedia.)”

            Wikipedia also has “Conglomerate discount” where firms that become conglomerates have reduced stock value because they are less efficient. As they state
            “In the developed economies, the average value of the discount may be 13–15% relative to single-segment competitors.”

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Standard Oil was repeatedly reined in by state and federal regulators, of course. Citing one instance of a near-monopoly losing market share with keen-eyed government oversight is surely not enough to prove that no company could become a monopoly, or form a cartel, in the absence of that oversight.

            Let’s do it this way, instead. I am drinking a non-alcoholic canned beverage. Which corporation produced it? You have two guesses (it’s the first). I am typing on a laptop. What company designed the operating system? You have two guesses (it’s the first). I came to slatestarcodex via a search engine. What search engine did I use? You have one guess (it’s that one). I just finished watching a movie. What streaming service did I use? You have two guesses (it’s the first).

            It takes a pretty giant leap of faith to think that an economy where duopolies are already ubiquitous will somehow become more competitive if the only force capable of keeping them in check is neutered.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Standard Oil was repeatedly reined in by state and federal regulators, of course. ”

            Examples. All the wiki examples are followed by “and this is how they got around that”. It also doesn’t mesh with “companies will inevitable consolidate into a single firm” because it shows the monopoly position is unstable.

            ” I am drinking a non-alcoholic canned beverage. Which corporation produced it? You have two guesses (it’s the first). ”

            That’s monopolistic competition. There is a wide range of products (nonalcoholic beverage is made by a vast number of companies), but specific brands are, well, specific (you don’t want a movie, you want to see Star Wars).

            “What company designed the operating system? You have two guesses (it’s the first). ”

            That is a natural monopoly. The price of producing additional units is zero so it will trend towards whoever produces an operating system adopted by the majority first (because of network effects).

            Of course since alternative operating systems are available and free it isn’t remotely similar to most historical monopolies.

            ” I came to slatestarcodex via a search engine. What search engine did I use?”

            This would be more meaningful if I didn’t regularly use Bing. As is, Google is 2/3 of the market and it isn’t a monopoly because Google has zero monopoly power- people can switch with zero cost to any other search engine.

            “I just finished watching a movie. What streaming service did I use? You have two guesses (it’s the first).”

            Is this referring to netflicks? I don’t watch movies on my computer. “googles”
            Yidio? Hulu?

            “It takes a pretty giant leap of faith to think that an economy where duopolies are already ubiquitous will somehow become more competitive if the only force capable of keeping them in check is neutered.”

            Soft drinks is a subcategory of drinks- raise the price of soda and people switch to other beverages. It is not a duopoly. Search engines have 4 main providers and the cost of switching is zero. You can go to the wiki page and see the alternatives and use those if you don’t like your current one. I have no idea how video streaming works.

            Only Microsoft could become a true monopoly and that requires them to be able to get software and hardware developers to make their products work exclusively with Microsoft.

            Tldr
            natural monopolies
            network effects
            first mover advantages
            monopolistic competition

            Trend towards a single firm. These are especially pronounced in software (which due to zero cost of production also means alternatives are incredibly cheap to create) and not common in physical products so unless your cyberpunk dystopians live in virtual reality, they will care more about retail outlets being able to squeeze them.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Examples. All the wiki examples are followed by “and this is how they got around that”.

            No doubt, but it’s the threat of an anti-trust crackdown that does most of the work, not the suits themselves. Standard Oil faced constant regulative interference from the time it came to dominate the market, and so is generally a poor choice of example if you’re hoping to show that monopolies have a natural tendency to dissolve.

            Soft drinks is a subcategory of drinks- raise the price of soda and people switch to other beverages.

            Sure. I could switch to bottled water instead and have a Dasani or an Aquaf… wait, that’s no good. Well, if I feel like having a sports drink I could always get a Gatorade, or a Power… no, that won’t do either. How about fruit drinks? I could have a Minute Maid, or a Vitamin Water, or a Fruitopia, or a Tropicana, or if I want to blow $5 on juice I could have a Naked… hmmm, guess not. Maybe coffee or tea? There’s always Nestea or Lipton or those stupid frozen Starbucks…

            Nevermind, I guess I just won’t have anything to drink with my chips. Now, should I get Lays, Doritos, Cheetos, Ruffles or Tostitos?

            Wait, what’s that?

            God dammit.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “No doubt, but it’s the threat of an anti-trust crackdown that does most of the work, not the suits themselves.”

            Which is why my first post showed they were decreasing in size before the anti trust crackdown (both before the case and before the ruling). I’ll copy the wiki entry
            ” Due to competition from other firms, their market share had gradually eroded to 70 percent by 1906 which was the year when the antitrust case was filed against Standard, and down to 64 percent by 1911 when Standard was ordered broken up”

            And guess what happened after they were broken up?
            “Standard’s president, John D. Rockefeller, had long since retired from any management role. But, as he owned a quarter of the shares of the resultant companies, and those share values mostly doubled, he emerged from the dissolution as the richest man in the world.”

            Gee, that sounds like Standard Oil was inefficient and a profit maximizing capitalist would not create a firm like it.

            ” I could switch to bottled water instead and have a Dasani or an Aquaf… wait, that’s no good. ”

            Or you could not be pretentious and simply go to Dollar Tree.

          • You might want to look at Kolko’s The Triumph of Conservatism. He argues that what really happened in the progressive era was that capitalists formed would-be monopolies, found they were unable to maintain them in the face of competition, and supported government regulation to protect themselves from their competitors.

            Libertarians’ favorite left wing historian.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          Read “corporatocracy” (ugh) for “corporatism.”

      • Ano says:

        I think that the argument is that in a free market, it’s inevitable that some of the competitors will eventually come to dominate and turn into large entrenched corporations that can manipulate governments to their advantage. That’s not necessarily a criticism because to an extent we do want the most efficient firms with the best products to do well and expand, we just don’t want them to stifle competition if someone else even better comes along.

  68. Muga Sofer says:

    >who pledged his allegiance to “the free workd”

    Minor typo.

    >More recently, Topher Hallquist makes a similar claim, classily adding that any communities that even dare to associate with people who believe this ought to suffer guilt by association.

    Ouch.

    • typo says:

      Major typo: Hernstein

      Minor typos: credentialled, pacificist, goverment, unreliablity, interlocuters, ofthis, preselction, guerrila.

  69. “But I notice that the Communists killed about a hundred million people over the course of the twentieth century.”

    Your next reading project might be a look into whether that’s true. That figure should not be casually accepted or shared. This isn’t a bad place to start: http://www.petersaysstuff.com/2014/05/attempting-the-impossible-calculating-capitalisms-death-toll/

    And because some people think Nazis must’ve been socialists because they had the word in their name (by which logic, North Korea’s democratic), this might be useful too: http://www.politicususa.com/2012/09/12/hitler-explains-gop-wrong-national-socialism.html

    • Ken B says:

      Black Book of Communism.

      Hitler’s victims are not counted in the 100 m estimate, so how your second bugbear is relevant is unclear.

      • Tatu Ahponen says:

        For what it’s worth, Timothy Snyder – not exactly a friend of Communism – believes, according to the most specific estimates, the amount of victims for Stalin to be somewhere around 6-8 million, including both the Great Terror and Holodomor. That’s a fuckload of people, but also less or considerably less than the 10-40 million estimates of BBOC, Conquest, Rummel et al. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/mar/10/hitler-vs-stalin-who-killed-more/

      • E. Harding says:

        Let me try:

        Mao: ~30 million

        USSR ~14 million (including famines and killings of suspected deserters)

        Khmer Rouge: ~2 million

        Afghan War: ~1 million

        Ethiopia: ~1 million

        North Korea: ~1 million

        Angola: ~.5 million

        Others: ~1-3 million

        So around 50 million people, maybe less, maybe more. Don’t see how you can realistically double that figure.

        • Protagoras says:

          Isn’t it obvious? You double it by edging it up slightly and then rounding to the nearest Big Round Number.

        • You can increase it substantially just with Mao. Estimates for the famine from the Great Leap Forward alone run from the official government figure of 15 million up to forty some. You can find Rummel’s calculation, which gives a PRC total of about 76 million, at:

          https://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/NOTE2.HTM

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            Rummel’s calculations are completely unreliable.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @TA: Saying it doesn’t make it so.

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            Rummel’s calculations have been picked apart here, for example. It’s telling that counterarguments to Rummel being shown as making completely hilarious entry-level errors boil down to pearls of wisdom like “Rummel’s numbers are probably inflated, but there is an upside to this: if you’re arguing with a communist and you cite Rummel, how can they refute it? “No, 50 million people didn’t die in the Soviet Union. It was only something like 10 or 20 million TOPS!” (I added some special Buck Turgidson emphasis.)”

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ E. Harding

          What if this kind of scoring counted only direct premeditated killing, not famines or other unintended screw-ups?

          • John Schilling says:

            Some famines, unfortunately, were intentional and very premeditated. Others involved what could reasonably be described as depraved indifference.

            There are of course edge cases that will be hard to categorize, but e.g. the Holodomor was pretty clearly a case of mass murder rather than an innocent failure of agricultural policy.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ John Schilling

            What if we make a separate count of victims who were killed by official bullets* shot from official guns under direct chain of command from the top?

            * or, sorry, gas

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Sorry, incorrect analogy. It’s early.

          • In between premeditated killing and an honest mistake is a vast continent filled with things like willful ignorance, prejudice, and not caring about the consequences if you’re wrong. When Tanzania moved to collectivize agriculture they backed off when they realized they were screwing up and the famine wasn’t that bad. That’s because while Nyerere wasn’t a monster.

            When collectivization under Stalin caused problems he pressed ahead. When people told him they peasants were starving he just said that they were lying about not having enough food, lazy, and probably counter-revolutionaries anyways. And that’s how you get something like the Holodomor.

    • HlynkaCG says:

      Your first link is somewhat absurd.

      The author complains about Prof. Courtois including deaths not directly attributable to government action (ie things like famine, disease, stupidity, etc…) in the Communist’s body-count, but then does exactly that when tabulating his own Capitalist count.

      • Hanfeizi says:

        I think his point was that their methodology makes them more condemnable and they should probably tighten up their numbers a bit.

        • HlynkaCG says:

          But doing so would paint communism in a worse light, so making that point seems counter-intuitive as a defense of communism.

  70. Daniel says:

    You might check out Chomsky’s Challenge to American Power: A Guide for the Critical Reader. It takes a somewhat similar attitude towards Chomsky to the one you take here; the author finds a lot of value in Chomsky’s writing, and thinks that he’s great at drawing attention to stuff it’s very easy to miss if you stick with the mainstream media, but presents lots of examples in which Chomsky doesn’t present the necessary context for readers to come to their own, well-informed conclusions about the issues he discusses.

    • Troy Rex says:

      Thanks for the recommendation. I read “Understanding Power: The Indispensable Power.” The most useful thing I took away was how to start reading the media critically, with the promise of understanding more of world power relations. But “A Guide for the Critical Reader” sounds really useful.

  71. Alraune says:

    Since it somehow hasn’t been asked in the first 100 comments: you put up this review on the anniversary of Pinochet’s assumption of power. Coincidence or intentional?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Coincidence, and I worry that any day I put this up would be the anniversary of something about equally awful.

      • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

        But what are the odds that it would be something awful AND relevant.

        • Thomas Brinsmead says:

          The odds would be pretty high. There have to be at least 60 days in history of equivalent relevance, given the period that Chomsky’s career of writing has covered. That would make the odds at least one in six.

          To “test” this hypothesis, I’m propose to try to find five equally significant dates within the month of September. Mostly from http://www.historyplace.com/specials/calendar/september.htm

          *1, 83: Korean Airlines flight 007 shot by Russian Fighter
          *2, 45: Ho Chi Minh declares independence of Vietnam
          5, 72: PLO kills members of Israel’s Olympic team
          7, 94: US army closes military HQ in Berlin
          8, 74: Nixon pardoned by Gerald Ford
          *9, 93: Israel and PLO agree to recognise each other
          12,77: Steve Biko dies in police custody in South Africa
          16,82: Massacre in Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut
          *19,94: US troops invade Haiti to restore democracy
          20,89: De Klerk sworn in as South African President
          23,91: Armenia declares independence from Soviet Union
          *24, 80: Iraqi troops invade Iran
          27,95: Israel cedes control of West Bank to Palestinians
          *28,95: Rabin and Arafat sign accord
          *30,91: Military overthrow of elected government of Haiti

          To be a little fairer, I went back and put a star on those events which I consider to be as “significant” as Pinochet’s coup, in the context of Chomsky’s politics. (though perhaps not satisfying the criterion of “Awful”)

  72. For a good in-depth and systematic take on the “blood-soaked death squads” phenomenon Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places by Paul Collier. His focus is more on sub-Saharan Africa but he tries use both statistics and sociology to figure out when and why democracy breaks down.

    Also, Fukuyama’s most recent book, Political Order and Political Decay, had a pretty good section detailing the how’s and why’s of colonialism destroying traditional power balances in Africa.

  73. John Sidles says:

    Vigorous in-depth support for Chomsky’s historical worldview comes from a surprising (to some folks) source: the US Marine Corps Commandant’s Professional Reading List, which is a history-grounded program that seeks to cultivate “A thirty year old body and a 5000 year old mind.”

    Each USMC Commandant sets forth their own reading-list, but Chomsky-compatible titles that commonly appear include Gen. Herbert R. McMaster’s history Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam (1997), Neil Sheehan’s history A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam (1988), and Karl Marlantes’ novel Matterhorn (2010).

    These titles compose a lens of history through which Marines appreciate speeches like Gen. McMaster’s recent The Warrior Ethos at Risk (2014) and official doctrines like the joint USMC/Army Field Manual FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency … a doctrine that (in principle at least) informs present-day counterinsurgency operations worldwide.

    Slate Star Codex readers are invited to verify for themselves the remarkable extent to which these USMC teachings concur with Chomskian teachings.

    In regard to performativity at the individual level, however, the USMC explicitly and fundamentally goes beyond “Chomskyism” tenets. The following passage is adapted from the introduction to the USMC’s official history, Gen Victor Krulak’s First to Fight: an Inside View of the U.S. Marine Corp

    The USMC’s Performative Vision
    adapted to professions in general

    Essentially, because of the unblemished achievements of [profession] over centuries, the world believes three things about [practitioners].

    First, they believe that when trouble comes to the world, there will be [practitioners] — somewhere — who through hard work have made themselves ready to do something about it, and do it at once. They picture [practitioners] as mature individuals — dedicated members of a serious professional community.

    Second, they believe that when [practitioners] bend their minds to a task, they invariably turn in a performance that is dramatically and decisively successful — not most of the time, but always. The world’s faith and convictions in this regard are almost mystical. The mere association of the word “[profession]” to a challenge is an automatic source of encouragement and confidence everywhere.

    The third thing that they believe is that training in [profession] is downright good for young people; that [practitioners] are the masters of an unfailing alchemy that helps convert unoriented youths into proud, self-reliant stable citizens — citizens into whose hands the planet’s affairs may safely be entrusted.

    The people believe these three things. They believe them deeply and honestly, so much that they are willing to pay for [practitioners] to solve problems and to teach young people.

    Therefore, for reasons that completely transcend cold logic, the world wants [practitioners]. These reasons are strong, they are honest, they are deep-rooted, and they are above question or criticism. So long as they exist — so long as people are convinced that [practitioners] can really do the three things I have mentioned — we are going to have a [profession].

    Slate Star Codex readers are invited to adapt Krulak’s performative vision to the performative vision (or absence thereof) their own [profession].

    Conclusion  Relative to USMC teachings, a grave lacuna of Chomsky’s teachings is the absence of individually performative guidance.

    Resolved for purposes of debate  A correct teaching of the Chomsky/USMC worldview is that far-right ideologues are now prosecuting — and for decades have been prosecuting — a no-holds-barred counterinsurgency campaign against the objectives of the Radical Enlightenment.

    • Eli says:

      Resolved for purposes of debate A correct teaching of the Chomsky/USMC worldview is that far-right ideologues are now prosecuting — and for decades have been prosecuting — a no-holds-barred counterinsurgency campaign against the objectives of the Radical Enlightenment.

      I’m a socialist and I actually agree with this? And what’s worse, insofar as they’ve been prosecuting this insurgency/counterinsurgency campaign (whether’s it’s counter or not depends on who you think was in power when it all started), they’ve been doing so in the belief that the Radical Enlightenment controls everything with Illuminati/Elders of Zion levels of coordination and ability!

    • SUT says:

      Not sure I understand your point…
      Because USMC reads books about their own organizational failure (primarily in Vietnam), this adds credibility to Chomsky’s worldview?

      Corporate at Ford probably reads books with some unflattering accounts of their company’s past performance (primarily in the 80’s). That doesn’t make them Ralph Nader.

      • John Sidles says:

        SUT, please be aware that FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency isn’t history … it’s doctrine … doctrine that’s well worth reading … and full of Chomsky-compatible guidance.

        John Nagl’s Constructing the Legacy of Field Manual 3–24 provides insight into the evolutionary processes by which field manuals like FM 3-24 are written, adopted, evaluated, and revised.

        Paradoxical subordination  The twenty-first century’s military doctrines are evolving far more rapidly (and rationally) than the twenty-first century’s economic, political, and philosophical doctrines … to which the military doctrines are nominally subordinate.

        Conclusion  When it’s your family and/or your troops in the fighting, you don’t want leaders whose strategies are mainly guided by intercessory prayer, whose objectives are mainly informed by messianic prophecies, and whose “leadership” mainly derives from ideology-driven political faiths … no matter whether those faiths repose in efficient markets, divine providence, or cultural/racial exceptionalism … or (sadly commonly) toxic combinations that are reconciled by the willful ignorance that is so commonly associated to political expediency and demagoguery.

        • SUT says:

          > When it’s your family and/or your troops in the fighting, you don’t want leaders whose strategies are mainly guided by intercessory prayer, whose objectives are mainly informed by messianic prophecies, and whose “leadership” mainly derives from ideology-driven political faiths

          Sounds like a good description of Abraham Lincoln during the civil war.

          • John Sidles says:

            Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address poses a traditional question, to which Lincoln provides a freethinker’s non-answer

            If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?

            Having posed this crucial question, Lincoln’s address declines to answer it … suggesting implicitly that the answer is “yes”.

            The Lincoln Administration’s torture-forbidding Lieber Code similarly prefigured a key principle of the modern moral Enlightenment, namely, that participating in torture never is the Lord’s work.

            In recent decades the Lieber Code as been cited by the US Armed Forces in a (futile) attempt to forbid torturous interrogations. This is an Enlightened moral principle that neither ISIS nor Donald Rumsfeld accepted

        • HlynkaCG says:

          I’m not seeing what fm 3-24 has to do with the above.

          If anything, Aeschylus shows us that the fundamental disconnect between Pog & Grunt and conflicting tactical and philosophical/moral considerations are human issues that pre-date the bible. So I’m really not sure what you’re trying to get at.

          • John Sidles says:

            The point is that Chomsky’s writings differ from FM 3-24’s doctrines chiefly in being restrictive (Chomsky’s “don’t do this“) rather than performative (FM 3-24’s “do this“).

            Aside from this performative-vs-restrictive emphasis, the foundational moral and political elements of FM 3-24-vs-Chomsky are notably compatible.

            Perhaps this is unsurprising, given that Chomsky’s socialist economics and politics is naturally compatible with the socialist economic foundations and cultural mores of the USMC/Army?

            Conclusion  Slate Star Codex readers will find that studying USMC/Army doctrines concurrently with Chomsky’s histories induces little or no cognitive dissonance.

            As the US Marines say, First of all, do no harm.” Increasingly in the 21st century, this is wise guidance in medicine, economics, politics … and military actions too.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @ John Sidles,
            I still don’t see how you are getting one from the other.

            To me, it seems like you are trying to argue that a refereed boxing match, a barroom brawl, and a back-alley mugging are all the same thing because they all involve getting punched in the face.

            Furthermore, I would not characterize the economic foundations and cultural mores of the USMC as “Socialist” unless we expand that term to once-again include Fascism. If anything the military is strictly tribal with the economics, so far as they exist, revolving around things like shame, honor, and one’s station within the tribe rather than control of resources, production, or opinion.

          • John Sidles says:

            HlynkaCG, see below

            Conclusion  For professions as disparate as military command, medicine, and engineering — and among progressive religious communities too — guidances are becoming ever-more-Chomskian, to the point that there is a near-identity of professional, practical and moral objectives.

            In politics, not so much.

            One commander’s text that deals concretely with these topics, which has been featured on the USMC Commander’s Professional Reading List, is Gen. William Joseph Slim’s Defeat Into Victory (1956), about the British campaign in Burma.

            Gen. Slim sets forth a Chomsky-compatible guidance for dealing with resource shortages

            Morale is a state of mind. It is that intangible force which will move a whole group of men to give their last ounce to achieve something, without counting the cost to themselves; that makes them feel they are part of something greater than themselves. If they are to feel that, their morale must, if it is to endure —and the essence of morale is that it should endure —have certain foundations.

            These foundations are spiritual, intellectual, and material, and that is the order of their importance. Spiritual first, because only spiritual foundations can stand real strain. Next intellectual, because men are swayed by reason as well as feeling.

            Material last —important, but last — because the very highest kinds of morale are often met when material conditions are lowest.

            Conclusion  General Slim’s reasoning and discourse are far more “Chomskian” than “Trumpian”.

            ——-
            PS  Even the Duffel Blog appreciates that it doesn’t make sense to assert that “military economics doesn’t revolve around control of resources, production, or opinion.”

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @John Sidles

            For professions as disparate as military command, medicine, and engineering — and among progressive religious communities too — guidance are becoming ever-more-Chomskian,

            And I still don’t see how you can seriously make this argument without broadening the term “Chomskian” to the point of worthlessness.

            What is the common thread here? and how does it lead to your resolution that there is “a no-holds-barred counterinsurgency campaign against the objectives of the Radical Enlightenment.”

            If that thread is Field Marshal Slim’s thoughts on spiritual virtue it seems obvious to me that ancient Athenian poets like Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles invented and popularized “Chomsky-ism” a good 2,400 years or more before Chomsky did, making this view far FAR more “conservative” than it is “progressive” or “radical”.

            Further more, you seem to be unaware that A) Duffleblog is intended as satire and B) that the DoD Bureaucratic apparatus is comprised primarily of civil service workers and political appointees who bear little resemblance culturally or demographically to the Careers and Volunteers that make up the bulk of the military.

      • Adam says:

        I was Army, not Marines, but what we read to learn lessons about how to conduct a counterinsurgency was a lot broader than just Vietnam. The primary failure I remember deep-diving was the failure of the British in South Carolina and the primary success was the American campaign in the Philippines.

        That said, our own tendency to internally question the effectiveness of our specific techniques is way the hell different from Chomsky’s worldview that America is mostly a force for evil abroad. I don’t think you’ll find anyone in the senior officer corps who believes that or we’d all quit.

        • John Sidles says:

          Adam, the issues you raise are so complex, and so culturally sensitive, that only The Duffel Blog and The Onion are so bold as to address them directly.

        • John Sidles says:

          To continue (more seriously), the most recent edition of FM 3-24 (version MCWP 3-33.5 / Insurgencies And Countering Insurgencies) draw multiple lessons from the Philippine campaign that your post mentions.

          See particular the discussion following P9.6; this discussion cites in particular Molly Dunigan’s analysis “Philippines (Huk Rebellion) 1946-1956”, which appears in the Rand compendium Paths to Victory: Detailed Insurgency Case Studies (2013).

          In essence, if an ardent Chomsky-ite was placed in charge of a counterinsurgency effort, this is the sort of counterinsurgency strategy they would implement.

          The Huk Rebellion became a good example of successful shape-clear-hold operations, with Magsaysay immediately instituting a shape-clear-hold approach.

          Shaping operations focused on efforts to win popular support for the counterinsurgency effort in preparation for future operations to clear insurgent areas.

          These operations included putting a stop to the abuses of civilians by the Constabulary and Army, firing many high-level military officers, placing the Constabulary under Magsaysay’s personal control, suppressing troop brutality towards the population, and increasing pay for enlisted troops to remove their incentives for looting.

          They also involved the establishment of a civil affairs office through which troops became involved in civic action projects (including digging wells and building bridges) and the Army’s provision of medical assistance to villagers.

          Additionally, Magsaysay pursued a population engagement strategy, even going so far as to set up a telegraph system that provided a direct line to the Defense Ministry for any villager on Luzon to use.

          In contrast, when USMC Gen Victor Krulak returned from a fact-finding mission to Vietnam in 1966, he told his commanding general Lew Walt

          “You cannot win militarily. You have to win totally, or you are not winning at all.”

          Krulak’s report wasn’t what the White House and the Joint Chiefs wanted to hear, and so they ignored it, at horrific cost.

          Summary  FM3-24′s lessons-learned are “Chomskian” to a degree that obviates simplistic summaries of Chomsky’s teachings to the effect that “America is mostly a force for evil abroad”.

          Perhaps a better summary might be “Twenty-first century American military doctrine is increasingly informed by historical lessons that are Chomsky-compatible.”

          Conclusion  If America’s politicians haven’t heeded Chomsky in past decades, perhaps a coming generation of American politicians will heed America’s foresighted lesson-learning generals, admirals, and military historians.

    • HlynkaCG says:

      Sorry but I’m not buying it. Studying one’s own failures or the opposition’s successes is not in the same class as endorsing or supporting the opposition.

      I also think that your “Resolved for purposes of debate” is backwards as in my experience respect for, and appeals to, enlightenment era thinkers (AKA old dead white guys) and principals seems much more common among the “Red Tribe” than among the “Blue”.

        • HlynkaCG says:

          It still does not follow. The possibility of two different groups having read some of the same books does not demonstrate the existence of a unified “Chomsky/USMC worldview”.

          Your links also seem to contradict the words you’ve attached to them.

          • John Sidles says:

            When military officers read a commander’s guidance or field manual, and when trauma surgeons read a recommended practices manual, and engineers read a systems design manual, these “readings” are entirely different activities from a political pundit “reading” a book.

            Of course, officers, physicians, and engineers are free to disregard their professional readings … and they must be prepared to accept the adverse career and/or punitive legal consequences of doing so.

            Whereas political pundits can and do freely embrace even the most grotesquely irrational ideologies, and can reasonably expect praise for doing so.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            When military officers read a commander’s guidance or field manual, and when trauma surgeons read a recommended practices manual, and engineers read a systems design manual, these “readings” are entirely different activities from a political pundit “reading” a book.

            This is exactly why your conclusion does not follow. Nor does it support your resolution regarding a counterinsurgency campaign by the right against the Enlightenment. That is unless your understanding of the enlightenment era or the “left v. right” spectrum just so happens to be diametrically opposed to mine.

            If anything, my own experiences and reading would indicate that those who have seen the elephant tend to develop a far deeper appreciation for (and stronger opinions) regarding the distinctions between Hobbes and Rousseau, or Montaigne and Descarte, than those who have not.

            Likewise I tend to see a lot more discussion, and actual quoting of, folks like Madison, Burke, Smith, and even Marx among the Traditionalists and Libertarians than I do in more mainstream political discourse.

            I would assert that “Political Correctness” aka Blasphemy-Laws for the new secular religion and the majority’s own Molloch-ian tendency towards bread and circuses has been (and will continue to be) a far greater threat to the Enlightenment than any band of fringe ideologues, left or right.

            ETA:
            And again, I don’t think that last link of yours proves what you think it proves.

          • John Sidles says:

            HlynkaCG, don’t enlightened military doctrines like FM 3-24 represent a much-needed Chomskian correction to the grotesquely calamitous failure of neoconservative / libertarian ideologies realized as absurd palettes-of-cash warfighting / peacemaking strategies?

            And isn’t the ongoing struggle between the Moderate Enlightenment and the Radical Enlightenment aptly summarized in Jonathan Israel’s Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670—1752 (2006)?

            Radical Enlightenment conceived as a package of basic concepts and values may be summarized in eight cardinal points:

            (1) adoption of philosophical (mathematical-historical) reason as the only and exclusive criterion of what is true;

            (2) rejection of all supernatural agency, magic, disembodied spirits, and divine providence;

            (3) equality of all mankind (racial and sexual);

            (4) secular ‘universalism’ in ethics anchored in equality and chiefly stressing equity, justice, and charity;

            (5) comprehensive toleration and freedom of thought based on independent critical thinking;

            (6) personal liberty of lifestyle and sexual conduct between consenting adults;

            (7) freedom of expression, political criticism, and the press, in the public sphere.

            (8) democratic republicanism as the most legitimate form of politics.

            And aren’t these Chomskian eight cardinal points largely compatible with the Radically Enlightened objectives and means of the USMC/Army FM 3-24?

            And aren’t these eight cardinal points entirely incompatible with the calamitously over-optimistic / under-realistic neoconservative / libertarian warfighting / peacemaking strategies?

          • Ever An Anon says:

            John, are you a native English speaker? Because I’ve seen your comments here and on the other Scott A’s blog and they are frankly incomprehensible. Not on a conceptual level, the ideas are very simple, but your formatting and diction are really painful to read. It would help if you could adopt a more natural writing style.

            As to the main thrust of your argument, it reads like Whig History with the word “radical” slapped on it. Do you have anything that distinguishes your theory here from the standard model?

          • John Sidles says:

            Ever An Anon asks [in effect] “What traits distinguish the 21st century’s Radical Enlightenment from the Radical Enlightenment of prior centuries?

            Everyone appreciates that the Radical Enlightenment evolves and progresses in every century … so how will it evolve in this century?

            Consensus in this regard being neither necessary, nor feasible, nor even desirable, here are three fertile catalysts:

            Catalyst (1)  Enlightened medical / moral / economic appreciation of conjoined grounds for universal healthcare as a fundamental human right.

            Catalyst (2)  Enlightened mathematical appreciation that the scientific advances of the 20th century can be straightforwardly translated into mathematical elements “which are rationally organized, where the methods follow naturally from the premises, and where there is hardly any room for ingenious stratagems” (in the phrasing of Jean Dieudonné).

            Catalyst (3)  Enlightened scientific appreciation of the absence of fundamental physical obstructions to efficient observation of human biology at all scales from atomic to whole-organism. This amounts to Feynman’s dream (and Hooke’s dream, von Neumann’s dream, Wiener’s dream, etc.):

            It is very easy to answer many of these fundamental biological questions; you just look at the thing! You will see the order of bases in the chain; you will see the structure of the microsome. Unfortunately, the present microscope sees at a scale which is just a bit too crude. Make the microscope one hundred times more powerful, and many problems of biology would be made very much easier.

            Conclusion  At least three present-day trends (arguably more) promise to vitalize the 21st century’s Radical Enlightenment as performatively, transformationally, and in the long run, as irresistibly and irretrievably as the Anabaptists, the Collegiants, and the Spinozists vitalized the 17th century’s Radical Enlightenment.

            There’s not much that any conservative agency can do to retard this 21st century acceleration of the Radical Enlightenment, is there?

            And we wouldn’t want them to, would we?

            No doubt this radical literature will become steadily less painful as people (young people especially) become more familiar with it. Indeed, after a certain amount of study, this literature becomes inspiring, even exhilarating.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @John Sidles,
            No I do not think that they do. For one the contents of FM 3-24 are very much rooted in the old JP 3-07.1 and MCWP 3-33.5 which both predate the Iraq War by a good 20+ years or more. It’s are more an update and consolidation of existing thought for the information age, rather than a dramatic re-alignment of worldview.

            Further more, of your eight cardinal points, only #1, #5, #8 strike me as being truly compatible. #2 is incompatible “divine providence” or rather the perception there of is critical in counter insurgency operations. It is not enough to win, the opposition must believe that they have lost. Baraka exists, and we ignore it at our peril. (See your own quotation of Field Marshal Slim above)

            Finally, you seem to be making the classic mistake of conflating military doctrine with political ideology or worldview.

          • John Sidles says:

            Note  The bulk of FM 3-24 was written under the joint command and personal direction of Army General David Petraeus and USMC General Jim Mattis … both of whom had extensive combat and counterinsurgency service records in the Middle East.

            Conclusion  Relative to the failed ideology-driven war-planning (or lack thereof) for the Iraq War, the experience-based (and largely Chomsky-compatible) guidance of FM 3-25 indeed represents “a dramatic re-alignment of [the US military’s] worldview.”

            It remains to be seen whether the viewpoints of pundits, politicians, and parties are undergoing a similar experience-based transformation.

            Remark  Experienced military commanders and experienced physicians share a Radically Enlightened faith in the efficacy of intercessory prayer. Namely, it doesn’t work well … if it works at all.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            John Sidles says:The bulk of FM 3-24 was written under the joint command and personal direction of Army General David Petraeus and USMC General Jim Mattis… both of whom had extensive combat and counterinsurgency service records in the Middle East.

            This is true.

            Conclusion: Relative to the failed ideology-driven war-planning (or lack thereof) for the Iraq War, the experience-based (and largely Chomsky-compatible) guidance of FM 3-25 indeed represents “a dramatic re-alignment of [the US military’s] worldview.”

            This is not.

            The worldview expressed by both Mattis and Patreaus is the same one that was expressed in MCWP 3-33.5 20 years prior. The fact that american public, political class, and all “right thinking people” had rejected this worldview as a return to British Colonialism does not change the fact this worldview existed and had been embraced long before the political class allowed Patreaus to formalize and exercise it.

            Your “remark” about the efficacy of intercessory prayer is a red herring. The only one talking about prayer here is you, Regardless of what you call it, the concept of Divine Providence, Spiritual Morale, or Baraka is explicitly anti-Chomskian and an integral part of the Mattis / Patreus worldview. To use your own label it is “Trumpian” to the core, though again I would point out that it predates Trump by 2,500+ years as well.

            In regards to your reply to Anon, you seem to be the one advocating an insurgency against the ideals of the enlightenment here. In “catalyst 1” you are literally endorsing serfdom for certain professions.

          • John Sidles says:

            Consideration  HlynkaCG, it may be that you are unfamiliar with performatively progressive works like Cmdr Sharon Snively’s Heaven in the Midst of Hell: A Quaker Chaplain’s View of the War in Iraq (2010), or with the foreword that General Mattis wrote for it.

            Implication  It’s exceedingly difficult to economically account costs that are associated to moral injuries … no matter whether these injuries originate in ill-planned wars *or* originate in ill-regulated healthcare markets.

            Prediction  Nowadays the phrase “good” economy is increasingly freighted with progressive moral associations to the word “good”. As perhaps always should have been the case!

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @John Sidles, Yes I am familiar with Cmdr Snively’s book, but I don’t see how you can square it or your Implications Predictions and Conclusions with the eight cardinal points that you listed above.

            Of the 8 only three are truly compatible, four are ambiguous, and another is explicitly rejected.

            As I said above I don’t see how you can argue equivalence here without broadening your terms to the point of meaninglessness.

          • John Sidles says:

            HlynkaCG, it may help you to reflect upon the tenets of Radical Enlightenment that you reject (namely, tenets #2,3,4,6,7). Are you implicitly advocating the opposites of these tenets, as mainstays of military policy?

            Not (2)  National policy guided by messianic prophesy;

            Not (3)  Full rights of citizenship denied to to women, gays, racial and religious minorities (etc.);

            Not (4)  Ethics and legal codes protective of privilege, inequity and injustice;

            Not (6)  Strict state control of conduct between consenting adults;

            Not (7)  Rigorous censorship and universal citizen-surveillance.

            Conclusion  America’s 21st century counterinsurgency doctrines are becoming Radically Enlightened … not for idealistic reasons, but for pragmatic ones.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @John Sidles

            America’s 21st century counterinsurgency doctrines are only becoming “Radically Enlightened” if your definition of “radical” is so broad that it encompasses 2500 years of western philosophy from Aeschylus to Clausewitz and Donald Trump.

            In regards to the tenants, are you prepared to stop moving the goal posts and argue in good faith? I don’t feel like chasing you in circles for another 10 – 20 comments.

          • John Sidles says:

            HlynkaCG, you are correct that in every new century — indeed in every new decade — the Radical Enlightenment targets new objectives as it achieves older once-radical objectives.

            So yes, the Radical Enlightenment’s “goalposts” do move … and they will keep moving too. Because no other performative strategy is reliably transformational, is it?

            Conclusion  Chomsky’s writings aren’t the last word … but then, he never claimed they were, did he?

            That’s why “Learn and adapt” is a mantra of modern military strategists. Politicians, not so much!

          • HlynkaCG says:

            If that is the case, how do you differentiate a “counterinsurgency campaign against the objectives of the Radical Enlightenment” from the Radical Enlightenment?

            Who’s to say any act of opposition is not simply the natural realignment of objectives?

          • John Sidles says:

            HlynkaCG wonders “How do you differentiate a ‘counterinsurgency campaign against the objectives of the Radical Enlightenment’ from the Radical Enlightenment?

            Three traits are diagnostic: denialism and demagoguery and inhumanity.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            Could someone give me the gist of JS’s points here? The gentleman is too learned to be understood.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @John Sidles says:Three traits are diagnostic: denialism and demagoguery and inhumanity.

            In that case would you agree with the assertion that mainstream left-wing thought is largely opposed to enlightenment and has become significantly more so over the last 30 years?

            @FacelessCraven
            I wish I could, but he’s not making a whole lot of sense and the parts that do make sense seem to contradict the other parts.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @John Sidles – “Radical Enlightenment conceived as a package of basic concepts and values may be summarized in eight cardinal points:”

            “(1) adoption of philosophical (mathematical-historical) reason as the only and exclusive criterion of what is true;”

            Math seems like a non-sequitor. History is writing, and one can write lies. Philosophy of late seems like a pretty bad candidate for distinguishing fact from fiction.

            “(2) rejection of all supernatural agency, magic, disembodied spirits, and divine providence;”

            Neatly done, except for the couple-billion-plus humans who pointedly disagree, many of them strongly enough to involve knives and dynamite.

            “(3) equality of all mankind (racial and sexual);”

            equality, racial and sexual all ideologically loaded. Why these two? Why not any of the other categories you can divide people into?

            “(4) secular ‘universalism’ in ethics anchored in equality and chiefly stressing equity, justice, and charity;”

            equality, equity, justice and charity all ideologically loaded. Incidentally, a couple posts ago you submitted a Ku Klux Klan rally as a normative example of the “red tribe”, so I’m going to assume by charity you mean alms or tithes.

            “(5) comprehensive toleration and freedom of thought based on independent critical thinking;”

            toleration, freedom of thought, independent critical thinking all ideologically loaded.

            “(6) personal liberty of lifestyle and sexual conduct between consenting adults;”

            Personal liberty, lifestyle, sexual, consenting and adults all ideologically loaded. As a recent internet brewup helpfully pointed out, “childhood” is a social construction of the Victorian era, originally intended as a fetish.

            “(7) freedom of expression, political criticism, and the press, in the public sphere.”

            Free expresion, political criticism, the press, and the public sphere all ideologically loaded.

            “(8) democratic republicanism as the most legitimate form of politics.”

            Sure, so long as the people aren’t the wrong kind and don’t vote the wrong way.

            The jargon is strong, but is there anything in the above that boils down to more than “everything would work much better if everyone just did what I want them to”?

          • John Sidles says:

            In the United States, Tom Paine and Tom Jefferson (and many others) codified the Eight Cardinal Points of Radical Enlightenment — this eight-point distillation is due to Jonathan Israel — into a practical philosophy and constitution of government; Abraham Lincoln spearheaded the abolition of slavery, Susan Anthony -> women’s suffrage, Franklin Roosevelt -> the Four Freedoms, Martin Luther King -> nondiscrimination, the US Supreme Court -> marriage rights, Barack Obama -> healthcare reform and climate-change accounting (etc.)

            Conclusions (1) Many other nations have traversed and/or are traversing (at various speeds) Israel’s Eight-Point Arc of Enlightenment; (3) the aggregate evidence of history is that these enlightened transformations are by-and-large irreversible; (3) we have seen (above) that even military doctrine and military culture now are grounded in the eight cardinal points; (4) we have seen too that new cardinal points are queued for implementation this century.

            There’s not much that any agency can do reverse these enlightened changes, or to forestall further changes, is there?

            The great majority of citizens don’t want these changes to halt or reverse, do they?

            To borrow USMC Gen. Krulak’s phrasing (as was quoted above)

            The people believe in the Enlightenment. They believe in it deeply and honestly. These beliefs are strong, they are honest, they are deep-rooted.

            So long as these beliefs exist — so long as people are convinced that the Radical Enlightenment honestly realizes its Cardinal Points — we are going to have a Radical Enlightenment.

            That’s the aggregate lesson of the history of the Enlightenment, isn’t it?

          • Marc Whipple says:

            @John Sidles:

            A Pro-Tip* for you: using the confirmation question technique is much more effective if you don’t add a confirmation question to every other sentence. It’s also not very effective in written communication in the first place, nor in debate where the other person is not looking for reasons to agree with you. In such situations, it should be used very sparingly.

            You might want to either read whatever it is you got that out of more carefully, or ask for your money back.

            *Literally: The technique in question is stock-in-trade for hypnotists. 😉

          • HlynkaCG says:

            John Sidles says: So long as people are convinced that the Radical Enlightenment honestly realizes its Cardinal Points — we are going to have a Radical Enlightenment.

            Tell me,

            How do you square the circle of “equality” with a belief in empirical/mathematical truth?

            How do you deny the existence of divine providence and the spiritual world and then quote Field Marshal Slim and General Mattis without crippling cognitive dissonance?

            How can you say that one person has a “right” to the labor of another without invoking slavery or serfdom?

            As far as I can tell at this point, you are an enemy of everything that the Enlightenment stands for.

          • John Sidles says:

            A Pro-Tip* for you, Marc Whipple! … Pounding on the table isn’t particularly convincing.

            Whereas history-grounded discourse exerts a cumulative influence.

          • John Sidles says:

            HlynkaCG wonders  “How do you square the circle of “equality” with a belief in empirical/mathematical truth?”

            The very considerable literature upon that subject leads to remarkable historical perspectives.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @John Sidles – “Many other nations have traversed and/or are traversing (at various speeds) Israel’s Eight-Point Arc of Enlightenment;”

            Yeah, we all know Cthulhu swims left.

            “the aggregate evidence of history is that these enlightened transformations are by-and-large irreversible”

            Your “history” here is roughly a century at best, in a handful of the most prosperous nations, most of which rose to dominance under systems strongly opposed to many of the “Cardinal Points” you list. “Irreversable” is a pretty strong claim for that amount of evidence.

            ” (3) we have seen (above) that even military doctrine and military culture now are grounded in the eight cardinal points;”

            So you keep saying. Now you just need to prove it, and to disambiguate your claims from all the other claims that can match the same evidence. All those “ideologically loaded” tags in my last comment are the problem with this; most of your cardinal points hinge entirely on interpretations that are themselves the entire point of the culture war. They can be true, false or tautologies, universally acclaimed or derided or bitterly disputed depending entirely on the ideology you load them with.

            And again, you apparently think the late-1800s KKK is representative of the contemporary Red Tribe, so my confidence in your ability to disambiguate ideological distinctions is pretty low.

            “we have seen too that new cardinal points are queued for implementation this century.”

            I happen to believe that the current consensus is pretty durable. The left has largely won the culture war, and are currently consolidating their gains into a stable long-term social order. I’m also highly confident that the absolute best way to ruin that social order is to keep queuing up new issues to fight the culture war over ad nauseum, which would lead inevitably to a cultural backlash as the system becomes obviously unworkable. The left isn’t stupid enough to let the perfect be the enemy of the good long-term, so we’ll all gravitate to a workable compromise. The only thing inevitable about the scenario you describe is its self-defeating nature.

            ““Pounding on the table“ isn’t particularly convincing.”

            With due respect, he isn’t the one having a problem being coherent, much less convincing. You appear to be buried so deep in your own esoteric theory that even basic communication is an insurmountable challenge.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @John Sidles: You have not answered my questions and your “evidence” does not support your assertions.

            Additionally, you also seem to be quoting a whole lot of far-right and trad-con positions/arguments for what is supposedly a defense of something “radical”.

            @FacelessCraven:
            Dammit (wo)man, get out of my head.

          • John Sidles says:

            FacelessCrave stipulates that  “The left has largely won the culture war [and Jonathan Israel’s] cardinal points hinge entirely on interpretations that are themselves the entire point of the culture war.”

            Conclusion  So it’s game-over man — GAME OVER! … for ideology-driven demagogic faux-conservatism, that is.

            Mourners are few. So maybe that peculiar brand of inflexibly unimaginative inhumane pseudo-conservatism wasn’t such a good idea in the first place?

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @John Sidles
            Your conclusion does not follow.

            And even if it did, what would it say about the peculiar brand of ideologically-driven denialism and inhumanity that you yourself espouse?

            Fact of the matter is that your “8 cardinal points” do not stand up to objective scrutiny, and everything you have labeled as “attacks” on the “radical enlightenment” could just as easily be seen as the natural realignment of objectives to account for this fact.

          • John Sidles says:

            HlynkaCG asserts that “[Jonathan Israel’s] eight cardinal points do not stand up to objective scrutiny”

            Do you mean “objective scrutiny” or do you mean “objectivist scrutiny”?

            `Cuz Jonathan Israel’s writings stand up pretty well to the former, whereas most folks entirely disregard the latter.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            Objective, as in empirically and/or mathematically provable

            Now stop wasting our time and give a straight answer.

          • John Sidles says:

            HlynkaCG, thoughtful study of humanist tutorials might assist your appreciation of the answers already given.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            Thoughtful study reveals that your “answers” are often in direct conflict with the assertions that they are supposed to be supporting.

            Do you even read your own posts?

          • John Sidles says:

            Thoughtful readings of works like Leszek Kolakowski’s “Dutch seventeenth-century non-denominationalism and Religio Rationalis: Mennonites, Collegiants and the Spinoza connection” (2004) conveys an understanding that the Enlightenment was born of conflict and contradiction, has evolved by compromise born of contradiction, and is ever-renewed by the creative impetus associated to the resolution of contradiction.

            Whoever thinks a faultless Piece to see,
            Thinks what ne’er was, nor is, nor e’er shall be.

            A perfect Judge will read each Work of Wit
            With the same Spirit that its Author writ.

            ‘Tis not a Lip, or Eye, we Beauty call,
            But the joint Force and full Result of all.

            There no special reason to imagine that the creative vitality of the radically evolutionary Enlightenment will wane in the 21st century, is there?

          • HlynkaCG says:

            John Sidles says:Enlightenment was born of conflict and contradiction, has evolved by compromise born of contradiction, and is ever-renewed by the creative impetus associated to the resolution of contradiction.

            So you concede then that opposition to, and support for “the radical enlightenment” are essentially indistinguishable.

          • Nita says:

            Enlightenment was born of conflict and contradiction, has evolved by compromise born of contradiction, and is ever-renewed by the creative impetus associated to the resolution of contradiction.

            I’m afraid Chairman Mao said it first. Generally, I would advise against adopting any Hegel-inspired worldview, and especially a “radical” one.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @John Sidles – “Conclusion So it’s game-over man — GAME OVER! for ideology-driven demagogic faux-conservatism, that is.”

            Sure. That just leaves actual conservativism though, and the problem is that you don’t appear to be capable of telling the two apart. That is, you cannot distinguish between the actual beliefs of your opponents and the most comical perversion of those beliefs ever concieved.

            In the conflict between the “radical enlightenment” and actual conservativism, your eight points are either manifestly false or undefined to the point of meaninglessness. If your personal definition of victory means affirming your own primacy regardless of the actual situation, then you are of course welcome to it.

            I think that’s about the limit I can meaninfully contribute to the point, so best of luck to you.

          • John Sidles says:

            Nita waxes dyspeptic  “Chairman Mao said it first”

            LOL … as Scott Alexander said it last (very recently):  Oh those Chinese cardiologists!

            Seriously Nita, the Enlightened modern-day perspectives of Wendell Berry’s Jefferson Lecture are commended to your attention. As a warm-up, the Google-sponsored Human interviews are a notably Enlightening training exercise.

            The phrase “Hegelian” does not apply, does it?

          • HlynkaCG says:

            Once again John Sidles has linked “evidence” that is unrelated to or directly contradicts the assertion being made.

            Conclusion: John Sidles rejects empiricism and mathematical reason as criterion for determining what is true.

            As such I suspect that any further discussion would be a waste of time on my part.

          • John Sidles says:

            FacelessCraven deplores folks who “don’t appear to be capable of telling the two [faux-conservatism versus “actual” conservatism] apart […] that’s about the limit I can meaningfully contribute to the point.”

            Yes, a whole lot of folks have trouble identifying “actual”-vs-“pretend” conservatives … it’s regrettable that your voice won’t be guiding Slate Star Codex readers.

            My own studies of “true”-vs-“false” Scots unfortunately leave me with little time to devote to this problem.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @FacelessCraven:

            Is it just me or did John Sidles just say that he was uninterested in making distinctions between true and false statements / views?

          • John Sidles says:

            HlynkaCG wonders whether it is viable “to be uninterested in making distinctions between true and false statements / views?”

            The enlightened literature upon this question is commended to your attention, HlynkaCG.

            Or not, as ideologies variously dictate.

            Everything you wanted to say required a context. If you gave the full context, people thought you a rambling old fool. If you didn’t give the context, people thought you a laconic old fool.
              — Julian Barnes, Staring at the Sun

            The youthful vigor of your convictions is impressive, HlynkaCG!

          • HlynkaCG says:

            That was not the question.

            The question was whether or not you, John Sidles, make that distinction.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @HlynkaCG – “Is it just me or did John Sidles just say that he was uninterested in making distinctions between true and false statements / views?”

            …I’d say that interpretation is at least as fair as the ones he himself employs. Honestly, I have a hard time parsing anything he says, and the bits I can parse don’t make a whole lot of sense. I think there’s lower-hanging fruit in the comment sections.

          • John Sidles says:

            HlynkaCG insists “The question [asked by me] was whether or not you, John Sidles, make that distinction [between ‘true’ and ‘false’]”

            Whenever I venture to attempt the distinction between ‘true’ and ‘false’, the first step is to apply Donald Knuth’s celebrated distinction between “science” and “art”

            Knuth’s Foreword to A=B

            Science is what we understand well enough to explain to a computer. Art is everything else we do. […] Science advances whenever an Art becomes a Science. And the state of the Art advances too, because people always leap into new territory once they have understood more about the old.

            Appreciating that the distinction between “true” and “false” us problematic solely in the domain of (knuthian) “art”, please let me stipulate that (as it seems to most folks, including me) the performative elements of human politics, human economics, human medicine, and human morality are at present, and will remain for the foreseeable future, “arts” rather than “sciences”.

            So how does one distinguish the true from the false in art?

            Here reason can provide only imperfect guidance — so much so, that unanimity is neither necessary nor feasible nor even desirable — and so my own pragmatic practice is to embrace the Radically Enlightened canons of friendly discourse … a topic upon which Donald Knuth too has written extensively.

            HlynkaCG and FacelessCraven, by what performative practice(s) do you distinguish the true from the false in art?

          • HlynkaCG says:

            You’ve expended a lot of effort to avoid giving a straight answer, even going so far as to argue against your own “first cardinal point”.

            I think it safe to say at this point that your map does not match the terrain and that any further engagement with you is a waste of time.

          • John Sidles says:

            HlynkaCG claims “your map does not match the terrain

            Lots of folks (not just me) navigate the realms of “true” and “false” using the Knuthian map … examples cited above include the USMC, Noam Chomsky, Wendell Berry, Jonathan Israel, the Anabaptists, the Collegiants, and Spinozists of the 17th century, the modern professional societies of engineers, physicians, and scientists, and Pope Francis (and millions billions more).

            To your way of thinking, is the shared map and convergent culture of all of these Knuth-respecting folks summed up to in FacelessCraven’s puzzling phrase “Cthulhu swims left”?

            As they ask in the Star Trek universe, What does that mean, exactly? The world wonders … which is why straight answers are appreciated!

          • John Sidles says:

            Summary of this thread 
            Knuthians only swim left.
            (short version and longer)

          • John Sidles says:

            Appreciation and thanks are extended to HlynkaCG and to FacelessCraven, for assisting Slate Star Codex readers (well, me anyway) to an appreciation that “Cthulhu doesn’t swim left,” but rather the foundations of reactionary conservatism are dissolving.

          • Randy M says:

            “straight answers are appreciated!”
            That’s perhaps the least self-aware remark I’ve seen.

            *Prepares to be misquoted, refuted with 2 YouTube links, and branded a foe of all reason in triumphant purple prose.*

  74. Steve Sailer says:

    Here’s a foreign policy example of “manufacturing consent” that I saw play out in real time:

    During the 2008 Summer Olympics, the lowly wire service stringers on the border between the American-allied Republic of Georgia and its Russian allied breakaway territory of South Ossetia reported that Georgian tanks were crossing the line manned by international observers and invading South Ossetia.

    Over the next week, however, bigfoot American news media pundits repeatedly said that Russia had started the war, which many people assumed was true. After all, little George would hardly invade giant Russia, right? That would be stupid.

    Later that year, major newspapers published in-depth reports carefully concluding that, yes, the original wire service reporters had been right: strange as it seems, the Georgians had started the tank war.

    Six years later in 2014, when Russia seized the Crimea and caused trouble in Eastern Ukraine, it was widely mentioned in the press that this was just like how Russia had started its 2008 war with Georgia.

    So, what seems to have been remembered was not the initial wire service reports nor the eventual careful autopsy but what the major personalities said in the subsequent week, even though it was wrong.

    What I didn’t learn from carefully reading the press about Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia on August 8, 2008 was that America flew 1,000 American troops into Georgia from July 15-30, 2008 for joint war games with Georgia’s military.

    As you probably know from coverage of Russian war games on Ukraine’s border, war games are how you assemble an invasion in these days of satellite reconnaissance.

    My best guess would be that Bush was as surprised by Georgia starting its war as Putin seemed to be, but who really knows? I can understand why the Russians view 2008 as evidence of American perfidy and aggressiveness.

    • Kibber says:

      Your comment is an excellent example of the omission tactics used by C&H. As anyone can learn by reading Wikipedia on the Russo-Georgian war, the Georgian invasion happened after repeated heavy shelling from South-Ossetian side, which broke the 1992 ceasefire. That’s what the “initial wire reports” were about. That’s what started the war.

      > After all, little George would hardly invade giant Russia, right? That would be stupid.
      And of course, they didn’t. South Ossetia isn’t (and wasn’t) part of Russia.

    • Tom Womack says:

      I love the way you go from ‘war’ to ‘tank war’ between paragraphs in the hope that we’d not notice the sleight of hand.

  75. Gunther says:

    I find the level of broad agreement in this comment thread interesting – pretty much everyone seems to agree that the media is pro-establishment and both the Left and the Right view this pro-establishment position as being in favor of the other side.

    How would we test this? we could come up with a list of positions that are favored by the establishment but disliked by the populace and vice versa, and see which way the media leans. Off the top of my head:

    Marijuana legalization (populace is in favor, media and establishment are against)
    Increased immigration (populace is against, media and establishment are in favor)
    Gay rights (populace is split, media and establishment are in favor)
    Legal abortion (populace is split, establishment and media are in favor)
    Supporting Israel (populace is split, media and establishment are in favor)
    Gun rights (populace and establishment are split, media is against)
    Finance bailouts (populace is strongly against, establishment and media are in favor)

    There seems to be a strong correlation, but I’m unsure if that’s because the media are pro-establishment or because the establishment position happens to be (in most cases) the position people who are more informed on the issues take.

    (Disclaimer – I’m Australian and this is my impression from reading international news sites; it might not jibe with your experiences of the the US media. The Australian media is far more obviously partisan; the Murdoch-owned media is openly pro-Liberal (our major conservative party), the rest of the media is mostly pro-Labor (our major progressive party).

    • E. Harding says:

      The NYT wasn’t very pro-Israel during the 2014 Gaza War, so that edifice is starting to crack.

    • HlynkaCG says:

      I’d quibble on some details. I don’t think that the US establishment is as pro-Israel as you seem to, and I’d say that the general populace favors Gun Rights more than not. But on the whole I’d say you’ve got a solid grasp of the situation.

      Or at least the situation as experienced by a lower-middle class wage-slave in the in the south-western US. 😀

  76. Tatu Ahponen says:

    “But I notice that the Communists killed about a hundred million people over the course of the twentieth century. Most of these victims did not get the same coverage as Popieluzsko; in fact, we’ve discussed before here how in most cases the media erred on the side of covering these up.”

    C & H were discussing events that were happening at the time of writing, though. At the time, Communists were not murdering hundreds of millions of people in Eastern Europe (the area that C & H consider to be equivalent for Soviet Union to US relationship to Central America) but generally running relatively garden-variety bleak and authoritarian dictatorships. (Albania and Romania were a little bleaker than the rest, but the first one didn’t belong to the Soviet sphere and the second one was a rather tenuous member and kept up a constant flirtation with the West).

    “And I can see why a mass media dominated by corporate giants might be expected to agitate against labor unions, but it’s harder to see why it is so insistent on covering up a campaign of genocide by pro-American forces in El Salvador. It’s easy to see why they might avoid condemning oil companies in order to preserve ad revenue from Texaco, but harder to see why they would systematically underestimate casualties from US bombing missions on the Plain of Jars in Laos.”

    You don’t really need to work hard to do these things, though. Reporting on a genocide by pro-American forces in El Salvador would be the difficult task, exposing you to death squads, pissing off the US government and making it less willing to be a source and possibly making advertisers who have operations in El Salvador antsy; not reporting on it just requires you to do, well, nothing. The same goes for analysing US bombing missions in Vietnam etc.

    “Their third mechanism, big Pentagon-style sources with press bureaus, certainly applies very well to these cases. But it doesn’t seem like it should necessarily generalize to every other type of story. When the media is covering an election, or a protest, where is the Pentagon-style source?”

    In the State Department.

    “Their fourth mechanism, flak machines, raise a similar issue. C&H view this as a rightist phenomenon almost by definition. They never consider the possibility that, for example, their writing an entire book saying the media is dishonest and biased might count as “flak” on their part. Any conservative criticizing the media is part of a “flak machine” intended to “keep it under control” and “destroy its independence”, but any leftist criticizing the media is bravely trying to expose its biases and bring the truth to light.”

    The operative word is “machines”. C & H speak of well-honed, well-monied operations; this differs from academic, independent researchers.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      There was a lot of coverage of El Salvador massacres in the American press in the 1980s. But, it took a certain kind of reporter to do the job: see James Woods’ portrayal of a freelancer in El Salvador in Oliver Stone’s movie “Salvador.”

      And you burn a lot of future access to the State Department, CIA, military, Ford Foundation, and other assets with that kind of reporting.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Hey, I remember you from Apolyton! Hi!

  77. Steve Sailer says:

    Studying the early life of Barack Obama taught me a lot about how a Washington-centered establishment influences the American media’s coverage of foreign affairs. Most of the people in Obama’s early life had some career connection to American power abroad. Part of the Cold War strategy was to provide sinecures for left of center people who weren’t Communist, and those kind of folks show up throughout Obama’s first quarter of a century of life.

    His mother got her Ph.D. at the East-West Center at the U. of Hawaii which Senator LBJ had gotten established as a Cold War counterpart to the Lumumba University in Moscow to bring together non-Communist students from all over the Pacific. When she first got to Jakarta in 1967, not long after the coup and massive bloodletting, she got a job at the American Embassy. Later she worked for the Ford Foundation in Indonesia and Pakistan.

    Obama’s stepfather came from a wealthy collaborationist Indonesian family. His father was the top native petroleum geologist in Indonesia. Lolo Soetoro went to the East-West Center. He had to come home to serve as an Army officer during the massacres. Then he got a job with an American oil company in government relations because his brother in law was in the cabinet of the military dictatorship.

    Obama’s biological father was a protege of America’s man in Kenya, Tom Mboya. In fact, he was the anchor witness in the trial of the hired gunman who assassinated Mboya in 1969. Obama’s career suffered after Mboya’s death.

    Obama’s serious girlfriend in NYC, Genevieve Cook, was the daughter of an Australian diplomat / spymaster who had served in Australia’s Jakarta embassy and later became Australia’s ambassador to the United States. Genevieve’s mother then married an American, a top Washington lawyer whose specialty was mining relations with the Indonesian government.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      After looking through Obama’s background, I went back and looked at my own background and, holy cow, it’s pretty similar. Except that where Obama’s intimates were left of center cosmopolitan political types, mine are right of center all-American technical types. But they all had a lot of career ties to the U.S. in the Cold War.

      My dad was an engineer for Lockheed for 40 years. He wasn’t in the Skunk Works that did so much work for the CIA, but he worked a lot on things like anti-submarine planes to track Soviet subs. My mother’s best friend from when she was a secretary at Lockheed married an engineer who joined the Skunk Works and rose up to be the chief designer of the SR-71 super-spyplane for the CIA. My wife’s favorite uncle was a colonel in the Air Force who spied behind the Berlin Wall at times. On my kitchen table right now is a card from an in-law explaining that they’ve once again relocated from their nice home in the lovely Virginia suburbs of Washington DC to Alice Springs in the center of the Australian Outback. You aren’t supposed to ask why.

      In summary, the Cold War was a really big budget effort with a lot of cash flowing around. An awful lot of the experts on any non-domestic subject that an American reporter could conveniently interview would have some present, past, or potential ties to the American effort in the Cold War. (And journalists could get hired, too. Or journalists could hire government agents. For example, Obama’s abortive business journalism career took place at a newsletter firm called Business International that sometimes served as a front for CIA agents needing cover occupations.) So, when you are talking to the press, you don’t burn your potential employers.

      It’s not surprising that Chomsky (or even Oliver Stone) feels like an underdog fighting the vast American deep state.

  78. BD Sixsmith says:

    If I saw this quote on Facebook without attribution, I would assume it was from the latest far-right blog complaining about the liberal media. In fact, it is from Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s Manufacturing Consent, which claims that the media acts as lapdog of the dominant neoliberal ideology against leftists of all stripes.

    Far-right blogs and Chomsky can both be somewhat correct. A broad understanding of the concepts of “left” and “right” makes it difficult to appreciate that people and institutions can be biased towards both cultural liberalism and military interventionism.

  79. Alex Richard says:

    Every time the United States has tried to change the government of a Third World nation, the end result has been blood-soaked death squads.

    Clear counterexamples: Grenada and Panama. (It wasn’t by the US, and isn’t over yet, but more recently Mali has done significantly better after the French intervention than it had been doing before it.)

    More dubious counterexamples: Eastern Europe, especially Poland, during fall of the USSR; Turkey in 1980.

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      Small island nations are a bit if a special case…defenceless against invaders, they recognise the need for an external patron.

      • Alex Richard says:

        Maybe. But the sample size of places the US military has sent troops to overthrow the government of in the modern era is small; I worry that this approach will wind up eliminating every intervention as a special case.

    • Alonso says:

      Oh, nice analysis there of my country (panama), we didn’t need death squads becuase our US backed military coup only had a “disappear the critics by beheading and hiding the body” kinda squad. And after the most popular dictator died in an “accidental” plane-crash, we got the CIA pawn Noriega at the helm, who got us slaughered by US troops. Great counter-example.

      • Alex Richard says:


        Everything you just stated occurred before the US invasion. You are simply talking about a different, and far less relevant intervention.

        To make this clearer: do you believe that Panama post-1989 and Iraq post-2003 followed similar paths? That based on the historical precedent of the US invasion of Panama, we should have expected the outcome we got in Iraq?

        • Alonso says:

          First question:
          No.
          Second question:
          To use post-1989 Panama as a model to predict post-2003 Iraq is madness, Panama is and always was a US-satellite (for good and ill) from its creation as a nation-state. Furthermore, the US invasion to Panama was done after the dictator overruled an election that favored the opposition candidate to presidency. The people were already tired of Noriega, and the opposition requested asylum at the US Panama Canal Zone. Hussein’s position was nothing like that.

    • Alex Richard says:

      (I should clarify that post-coup Turkey was definitely blood-soaked, but it looked nothing like Iraq.)

  80. Sam Rosen says:

    Did you just reference Gettier cases? <3

  81. There is really no way that every single 3rd world country we touch ends up a total bloodbath immediately after. Just by random chance, at least one of them should become better afterwards, or we should happen to intervene at just the right moment when things were already on the upswing. Chomsky is either picking and choosing his narrative pieces to create a pattern, or the actual pattern is just “third world countries descend into violent bloodshed so frequently that you could pick almost any point in their histories and find bloodshed within a few years.”

    The world was a violent place before America got here.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      I think the pattern tended to work like more like this (especially in Asia):

      – In the 19th Century, an advanced power colonizes a backward country

      – Some of the locals remain very angry against the colonizers

      – But some of the locals learn the colonizers’ language and their organizational skills and become servants of the empire

      – Colonial power collapses in 1939-45

      – By 1945 and afterwards, there are two potential ruling groups, two groups with the skills to plausibly run an independent country:

      – The collaborationist elite

      – The anti-collaborators, who typically learned Western organizational skills in the Communist Party

      – The U.S. typically inherits the local collaborationist elite as its side in the Cold War: e.g., the Koreans who collaborated with the Japanese, the Vietnamese who collaborated with the French

      – The Communists typically inherit the local xenophobic nationalists (granted, that doesn’t make much sense in ideological terms, but ideology is less important than Whose Side Are You On?)

      There are lots of variations on this process, of course.

      Latin America is a somewhat distinctive case since decolonization happened long before, with the U.S. typically playing a semi-imperial role within the Monroe Doctrine Zone. But old-fashioned class-based Marxism is somewhat more applicable as an ideology in Latin America, so perhaps that’s why semi-genuine Communism has hung on longer in Cuba than in Vietnam.

      • Eugine_Nier says:

        Latin America is a somewhat distinctive case since decolonization happened long before, with the U.S. typically playing a semi-imperial role within the Monroe Doctrine Zone. But old-fashioned class-based Marxism is somewhat more applicable as an ideology in Latin America, so perhaps that’s why semi-genuine Communism has hung on longer in Cuba than in Vietnam.

        North Korea appears to be a problem for this theory.

        • Zykrom says:

          The more I read about NK the more it seems like they’re more natsoc than “old school” Communist.

          • Eugine_Nier says:

            The “old school” Communist regimes were actually rather nationalist, at least in their internal propaganda.

          • creative username #1138 says:

            Depends on how old school you go. Lenin and especially Trotsky were internationalists to the core. The re-emphasis on Russian nationalism didn’t happen until Stalin.

          • Eugine_Nier says:

            @creative username #1138

            Which is all before the time period under discussion.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      It doesn’t seem too implausible to me. Government is supposed to maintain order. Destroy a legitimate government and replace it with a much weaker illegitimate one, and you get much less order.

      This seems to be a pattern even outside colonialism. Mostly well-intentioned enlightened French people overthrow the monarchy, and soon after you got the Reign of Terror. Mostly well-intentioned enlightened Russians overthrew the Czar, and soon after you got Stalin. Mostly well-intentioned enlightened Americans took over Iraq and Afghanistan, and now both are messes. Mostly well-intentioned enlightened Arab Spring protesters overthrew Libya and Syria, and now both countries have terrible civil wars.

      • DavidS says:

        I don’t know about this conclusion. Was the French Republic less stable than the monarchy?Or the Soviet Union less so than the Tzars? I think there’s an important difference between ‘horror associated with transition’ (e.g the Terror), ‘nothing to transition to’ (failed states), and ‘transition to something worse but stable’ (e.g. Stalin)

        An interesting argument that often gets half-made is that the problem is that we don’t actually allow civil wars to work themselves out (where ‘work themselves out’ involves immense quantities of innocent human suffering). The American Civil War had a terrible death count and was massively destructive. If somehow a world policeman had intervened (some ahistorical Anglo-French alliance sending peace keepers?), I genuinely don’t know what would have happened. Maybe it would have been sorted out with lives saved. Maybe the position of maintaining a truce would mean the South achieved its aims de facto and split off relatively peacefully. Or maybe it would have developed into a far worse festering sore of an unresolved conflict and would still be sparking terrorism on both sides today.

        • Irenist says:

          I’ll sort of give you Tsar -> USSR, although the USSR->Yeltsin chaos->Putin authoritarianism transition happened not THAT long after 1917 by the standards of how long the Tsardom was around. (Like most paleocon-style Catholic cranks, I’m of Zhou Enlai’s “French Revolutin a good idea? Too soon to tell!” school of historiography, whereby 1917-1991 looks like a pathetically short regime lifetime b/c I’m always instinctively comparing it to the Church [29CE-Present] or the Imperium [27BCE-1453CE]).

          But even after the Terror, the First Republic was unstable, and flipped into the First Empire within a few years. The whole system continued oscillating between Bourbons, Republics, and Empires until we got the old joke where the American tourist goes to a bookstore in Paris for a copy of the French constitution and gets sniffily redirected to a newsstand because “we don’t sell periodical literature.”

          As for the US Civil War, I’m an “offensive realist”: without either bipolarity or a continental hegemon, you’re probably going to get lots of wars. So if Anglo-French intervention had left behind, say, British North America, USA, CSA, and the French-puppet Mexican Empire (a quite plausible outcome), then you’ve got four major continental powers and WWI and WWII both pretty much inevitably have really bloody N. American theaters. Maintaining continental hegemony ain’t pretty (neither Rome nor Lincoln nor post-1991 NATO is blameless) but it mostly keeps a lid on things, and isn’t to be despised.

          ETA: Canada and CSA obviously go for the Entente in WWI. Prussian culture (eugenics, chemical industry innovation, education reform, civil service reform, social welfare state, post-Hegelian transcendentalist hippie blather, warm fuzzies about Luther sticking it to dirty papists) was VERY high status in the New England of Dewey, Pierce, O.W. Holmes, and Wm. James, so the USA for not only geopolitical but also cultural reason breaks hard for the Central powers. The wild card is Mexico. French control over the Empire was more of a client state thing (not a solid Dominion like the Brits in Canada), and a savvy Mexican regime likely would’ve told the French to take a hike if they got a Zimmerman Telegram and thought Germany and the USA would help them retake Texas and the Arizona Territory from the CSA. Frankly, given the obvious geopolitical realities (the CSA can’t hold the Mississippi if Mexico retakes the East Texas piney woods, etc.) Mexico probably doesn’t last long as a French client after the counterfactual idiotic intervention by the Anglo-French in 186x. Instead, it’s probably firmly within the Central Powers’ interlocking alliance system with the USA by about 1900ish, especially once Roosevelt starts his German-funded dreadnought race with the Brit-funded CSA Navy and Mexico feels strong pressure to pick a horse. There’s a Turtledove novel or two about this stuff, I think, but I’m not an alt-history guy AT ALL for fiction reading (I’m mostly a mundane SF lamer or I read Dead White Guys), so I dunno.

          ETA2: “Albion’s Seed” counterfactual funtime: Assume no intervention, history the same until 1914 or so. If POTUS in 1914-19 is some Humboldt-idolizing Boston Brahmin instead of a Scots-Irish anti-Catholic racist Son of Appalachia whose father tended Confederate wounded when he was a boy and who screened “Birth of a Nation” at the White House, do we (a) do pretty much the same thing anyway (b) stay neutral (c) execute Plan Red (the Pentagon’s longstanding plan for war with British Canada) in concert with the Central Powers. (Note: Question assumes decision is made before Zimmerman Telegram, because yeah, that was stupid, Kaiser Bill.)

          • Tibor says:

            Actually, that “too soon to tell” quote is actually a translation error. The “French revolution” he had in mind was that of 1968.

          • SFG says:

            Why does everyone assume the CSA goes for the Entente and the USA for the Central Power? Turtledove does it for narratively reasonable ironic reasons (CSA=racist=Nazis=Germany, at least to lazy people, so it breaks our expectations and makes a more interesting story), but why does everyone else?

          • Montfort says:

            SFG: Largely it’s because the only way the CSA wins and survives on the US border is by backing from the British and/or French. If you assume nothing changes in Europe, when WWI rolls around the CSA is either in the Entente’s pocket or it has fallen to the US. By the same mechanism, the remaining US will no longer be so kindly disposed to the intervening power(s), to put it lightly.

            Of course, the whole thing is somewhat moot. The existence of a revanchist USA is going to change a lot of things, I’d expect, and you may not have the Entente and Central Powers as we’d recognize them.

        • Sylocat says:

          An interesting argument that often gets half-made is that the problem is that we don’t actually allow civil wars to work themselves out (where ‘work themselves out’ involves immense quantities of innocent human suffering). The American Civil War had a terrible death count and was massively destructive. If somehow a world policeman had intervened (some ahistorical Anglo-French alliance sending peace keepers?), I genuinely don’t know what would have happened.

          The War Nerd touched on exactly that, back in 2012 when he wrote about the do-gooders “keeping peace” in the Congo:

          And the “peacekeepers”—say, England and France at that time—would’ve been just plain overjoyed to step in and freeze the war, keep it festering for generations. They’d never have to worry about US competition again, because a war that gets stopped before it can settle anything always—always, always, always—devolves into the nastiest kind of bushwhacker war, “bush war” for short. And we’d still be fighting that kind of war, the kind we saw in Kansas just before Fort Sumter, with Yanks and Rebs sneaking around to wipe out the nearest enemy village before the international community could broker a local, temporary deal. There’d be “peacekeepers” all along the Mason-Dixon line, all through the mixed-up border zones like Kansas and Missouri, and for good measure a whole mushroom crop of blue-helmet outposts monitoring every Anglo vs. Injun flashpoint in the Far West. We’d be the most miserable, bloodsoaked, underdeveloped bastards in the history of the world—just like Central Africa is now. And the peacekeepers, all those well-meaning French and English dudes, would not only get to feel good about their humanitarian work, they could rest easy knowing they’d knocked a potential economic competitor out of the running for centuries to come.

      • Deiseach says:

        There is no excuse for Afghanistan, because that has two centuries (at least) of being a massive pain in the arse for outside powers using it as a proxy for war with each other (see Britain and Russia; read “Kim” and the background to why Kim is being trained as a spy for the Brits is all to do with the ‘Great Game’ going on involving the Russians and British in Afghanistan).

        Why the U.S. thought it could just waltz in, overthrow the existing order, impose “democracy” and there you go, job done, I have no idea – apart from wilful blindness.

        This is partly why, all you STEM types, I do so much table-pounding over the humanities being as vital: history, gods damn it! Or at least if one of your bright young policy wonks had read “Kim” as a speccy four-eyed swot and had some vague memory of “Hey, didn’t this all happen before?”, maybe some breath of warning about “This may not end well” might have percolated through?

        Look at how the Soviets came a cropper in Afghanistan, for goodness’ sake! And they’d been playing the game of empire there a lot longer!

        • ” Or at least if one of your bright young policy wonks had read “Kim””

          Kim doesn’t show military conflict in Afghanistan, just the Great Game—intelligence and counter. You need “Arithmetic on the Frontier.” Or Flashman.

          On the other hand the final Stalky story plus “The Ballad of East and West” make it look as though you should be able to manage Afghanistan provided you send people who properly understand and function with their culture.

          “For there is neither East nor West
          Border nor breed nor birth
          When two strong men stand face to face
          Though they come from the ends of the Earth.”

          • Deiseach says:

            They gave him a glass of whitish fluid like to gin, and then more; and in a little time his gravity departed from him. He became thickly treasonous, and spoke in terms of sweeping indecency of a Government which had forced upon him a white man’s education and neglected to supply him with a white man’s salary. He babbled tales of oppression and wrong till the tears ran down his cheeks for the miseries of his land. Then he staggered off, singing love-songs of Lower Bengal, and collapsed upon a wet tree-trunk. Never was so unfortunate a product of English rule in India more unhappily thrust upon aliens.

            And the lesson from “Kim” is that Hurree Babu was able to fool the French and Russian envoys up to their eyeballs by telling them exactly what they wanted to hear: that he and others felt oppressed by the British, that they were willing to turn elsewhere for leaders not tied in to the Establishment – a pity no-one recognised the pattern when dealing with Chalabi!

            Or indeed any of the leaders promising that they have popular support, their tribespeople are just longing to be friends and allies of the Americans, all they need are some guns and some money…

            (Though Kipling himself fooled himself with the idea that the British understood and could rule the Indians).

          • “(Though Kipling himself fooled himself with the idea that the British understood and could rule the Indians).”

            They succeeded in ruling them for quite a long time. It’s clear in Kim that most of the English in India don’t understand the culture, although a few do.

            There’s a comment by someone, possibly the elderly aristocratic grandmother, to the effect that it’s only the English who grew up in India who are competent to rule. I was reminded of something Usamah ibn Munqidh (Syrian emir, older contemporary of Saladin) wrote about the Franks. The ones who came from Frangistan were barbarians, but the second generation, who grew up in Outremer, were reasonable people.

        • Marc Whipple says:

          The overlap between “STEM types” and those who have read “Kim” is probably a lot larger than the overlap between “policy wonks” and those who have read “Kim.” The overlap betwen “STEM types” and “policy wonks” is almost nonexistent.

          • John Schilling says:

            There’s a fair number of us, actually, though in my case only on an occasional supporting basis. Still, if there’s some STEM-unique bit of insight necessary for effective wonkery, there will probably be someone at the table to raise it.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Deiseach:
          An invasion of Afghanistan and attempted nation building seems like it was near inevitable. The government at the time was was allied with AQ. Had they been any other sort of government, one that would have been willing to go after AQ, then I could see a counter-factual history where the US doesn’t go in as regime changer.

        • Adam says:

          I kind of doubt the CIA and Joint Chiefs didn’t know about the history of conflict over Afghanistan, but the Taliban sheltered and supported a man and organization that planned and carried out an attack on a major American city. No one was going to call a press conference and say ‘it’s cool, we’re just not going to do anything because getting rid of the Taliban is hard.’

          • Deiseach says:

            And then we got “Mission accomplished”, job done – and then the Taliban came back.

            And now the new boogeyman is not the Taliban or Al Quaeda but ISIS/ISIL.

            This is a game that will never end. Whack one mole, another one pops up. Civilians thinking fancy “shock and awe” weapons will win and change the tenor of centuries of custom are idiots, but unfortunately when you believe your own propaganda and are not wiling to learn from history, that’s what happens.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @Deiseach:

            Obvious counter-argument would be that the US was not trying to “win” the war on Al Qaeda nor is really trying to defeat ISIL. At least not to the degree that it tried to defeat the CSA or Axis Powers in WWII.

            We’re stuck in that “uncanny valley” that Scott described in his big Reactionary Philosophy post.

          • To be fair, the initial involvement in Afghanistan wasn’t obviously stupid. There was a civil war going on. The Northern Alliance was losing to the Taliban, but still had substantial military forces. If only they were provided with unlimited air support, they could win. We just happened to have unlimited air support available to provide them with.

            Then the leader of the Northern Alliance got assassinated, and things fell apart, and we made the mistake of thinking that we could actually control things on the ground with our own troops.

        • Anthony says:

          Steven DenBeste, before he retired to write exclusively about anime, wrote that in Afghanistan, we should have just gone in and overthrown the Taliban government, and killed as many of them and AQ types as we could, then gotten out. Let the Afghans sort it out from there. Basically a punitive raid, because nation-building obviously wouldn’t work.

          He did say that having decided to invade Iraq, we had to try to build something there, because it was a functioning state before our invasion, and that failure to successfully rebuild Iraq would have bad consequences for us down the road.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            That, was a fairly common take within the military as well but the position was seen as politically untenable.

            Punitive Raid?
            Long term occupation + Nation building AKA Imperialism?

            No way in hell that the American public would sign off on that.

      • Tibor says:

        I know a guy from Uganda, which is actually one of the more stable countries in Africa (although not rich even by African standards) and I found it really interesting to hear how some things work there. Basically, there is a standardized-european-state-overlay (TM) but many things work on a level of tribes and families. For example their version of animal protection (specifically against excessive hunting) is that every tribe picks an animal (actually I do not know exactly how the choice is made) which they protect. That means they cannot hunt it and make sure it is not hunted on their land.

        It could be that if the colonial empires came to Africa and them left, destroying all of their state structure before doing so, the continent would have recovered much faster. Point is – their traditional legal system is simply very different to our own. Maybe someone would consider it more primitive, I think it might be in some ways, although not in all. Regardless, this is a system the people have in their heads. Now the problem starts if you come and try to enforce an entirely different system. Somalia is a disaster because of this. I think it is a mistake to see it as a broken state that has to be fixed. The people there are not used to having a central government in the first place and will not respect it. Then, since it is constantly backed (not the particular government but the idea of a central government) by all the western powers, they figure “well, if there is going to be this central power anyway, our tribe had better got it”. Suffice to say, other tribes do not like that idea very much…and the result is well known.

        Some parts of Africa adapted to that new system better, some parts of Africa also used to have systems that resembled our own more.

        Another problem is the borders. If you look at the borders in Africa and compare them to Europe, they look weird. They do not represent the borders of the various tribes and nations there at all and were made up by the colonial powers. Unfortunately, after decolonization they stayed the same. This is unique to Africa I think, because while the countries in the Americas are also artificial and many have this straight border thing (US is a prime example of that), the local population was by and large replaced by the colonists or merged with them. This did not happen in Africa though.

        I would say that might be a defensible claim that the decolonization in Africa, once it started, happened too fast. Of course, there were horrible atrocities being made by the colonial powers, most notably Belgium, but at the time they decided to leave, this was no longer the case. Careful reshaping of the countries based on more natural division and gradual change of the regime to both resemble the traditional institutions more and also help gain the locals obtain some experience with governing would have probable prevented many wars and civil wars in Africa and generally made the countries there more stable and therefore also prosperous. I am not saying this is necessarily true, but I think it could be.

        • Marc Whipple says:

          While there is a great deal to what you say, I respectfully disagree with the idea that European-imposed borders are a uniquely African problem. A whole lot of the intractability of the Middle East/South Asian mess has to do with some idiot in London, Paris, the Hague or Lisbon drawing a border somewhere because he found it esthetically pleasing.

          • Tibor says:

            I forgot that the borders in the middle east are suspiciously straight too. I would guess that the Ottoman rule in the middle east also had a big influence on the mess there, although I think more relevant to the problems there today were the constant interventions of great powers (Britain, USA, Russia) in the latter half of the 20th century and the beginning if this.

            It is true that Pakistan/India tensions are also an example of this kind of a problem.

            By the way, an interesting thing is that while Brazil was a colony Portugal, it became at one point the seat of the Portuguese king and consequently became an empire and a part of a united kingdom of Brazil and Portugal (where neither was a subject of the other). Also the last Brazilian emperor seems (according to Wikipedia) to have been quite a nice fellow…this is not terribly relevant but I just learned about this recently and I found it surprising and interesting 🙂

          • “and a part of a united kingdom of Brazil and Portugal”

            And the Algarves.

            I think the next part of the story is that, after Napoleon was defeated and it was safe for the monarch to return to Portugal, his son, left behind in Brazil, declared independence, possibly with his father’s covert agreement. But that’s by memory, and if I look it up to check it might turn out I’ve improved the story and I would have to stop telling it.

          • Tibor says:

            David: Thanks for the correction. Your story might as well be right. Although the independent Brazilian empire had to fight Portuguese loyalists and was threatened by Lisbon – the Portuguese wanted to remove its rights and turn it into a colony again (how a country the size of Portugal, even with its other colonies, can feel like it can threaten a giant and that time sovereign land like Brazil is beyond me…but perhaps they misjudged the number of Portuguese loyalists they could count on in Brazil itself). But of course Portuguese politics was not entirely shaped by the king himself, so who knows what he wanted.

            I think that what is most interesting is that Brazil actually did not revert back to a (constitutional) monarchy shortly after the military coup that overthrew it (at a time the monarchy was very popular among the people), especially since there are direct descendants of the last emperor alive even today (with two competing would-be emperors, although only one of them seems to actually be interested in reinstituting the monarchy and setting himself on the throne). Also, Brazil was (according to Wikipedia at least) doing economically very well during the late Empire, the military government was pretty incompetent and the welfare of the country suffered, so I would expect sort of a Oliver Cromwell scenario to happen rather than a long-term change. The only expalation I have is that by the beginning of the 20th century, most countries with monarch rule were already monarchies only by name, much as they are today, so people really did not really care that much whether the country is called en empire or a republic…with the exception of the German and Austrian empires which did not outlive the 19th century by much though, mostly due to incompetence or rather 19th century style of government of Franz Josef I. I would say – also, the government ideas of Franz Ferdinand who was killed by Serbian nationalists in Sarajevo are another fascinating story. I will just say that had it not been for the assassination, I would have possibly been born in the “United States of Great Austria”, or rather “Vereinigte Staaten von Großösterreich”. Also, I am talking about countries in Europe and Americas – although the only post-Colombian independent monarchies in the Americas seem to have been Brazil and “Austrian” Mexico which only lasted a very short time though. Middle East and East Asia are different cases, some of the countries there still are actual monarchies today.

    • Max says:

      Just by random chance, at least one of them should become better afterwards,
      Well South Korea is good counter example

      However American foreign policy is pro-american establishment. That means maintaining grip on financial and economic control over the world.

      Anything which poses remote threat to status quo is attacked and destroyed preemptively. When you look at from this angle every american intervention makes sense (even when the end result ends up botched – like Cuba and Iran)

      Judging by the media Russia and China are new(old) big targets. There is practically not a single positive report about them in past 10 years in western media.

      • “Judging by the media Russia and China are new(old) big targets. There is practically not a single positive report about them in past 10 years in western media.”

        Not close to true for China. Look at all the stories about their involvement in renewable energy.

        • Max says:

          Almost everything about china is either neutral (trade) , either negative (military parade, ecology freedom of speech, currency manipulation, oppression of tibet/taiwan, south sea)

          I havent been reading about renewable energy in china, but I read plenty of how china is #1 “Evil baddie” to blame for global warming (which is actually true – their coal based energy is a disaster)

          • Garrett says:

            Pray, tell: What marvelous achievements have been coming out of China which we are not aware?

          • Are you aware that, from Mao’s death to 2010, per capita real income of China went up twenty fold? That strikes me as a marvelous achievement–possibly the most rapid improvement in the welfare of the world’s population that has ever occurred.

          • gattsuru says:

            Both coal-based power and the simple nature of rapid production — concrete and basic materials produce a lot of CO2.

            But I’d suggest you’re overstating things, Max. There are a number of foreign policy reports that emphasize China as the best and brightest: the NYT’s Friedman is probably the archetypical example, but far from alone. Until the train crash in 2011, only a few reporters had anything bad to say about Chinese public transport even as a model for the US to follow, and even today it’s still very positive.

            That’s not to say that the publicity doesn’t trend to the negative, but it’s more subtle than the hard rule would imply

  82. John says:

    My unsophisticated thoughts, regarding the nature of the “self-organizing consensus enforcement system”: I see these passages:

    “The media enforces conformity with the Overton window against both the right and left flanks. Both the rightward and leftward fringes notice the same set of dirty tricks in the media”

    and: “relentless nitpickers will shriek about every slight inaccuracy and condemn the journalists involved as liars and unpatriotic to boot. If the media parrots the official line, then journalists can be almost arbitrarily sloppy and nobody will call them on it. Therefore, journalists who get ground down by the constant harassment will unconsciously shift towards more pro-establishment narratives.”

    And my brain says: Bully those who are different. Those who are different are vulnerable to being bullied. Competition.

    To articulate that thought, let’s suppose that some part of a journalist’s life is like living in a pack of wolves. To support a fringe opinion is to make yourself vulnerable; to successfully attack a person or opinion wins you status and possibly career benefits. (Do wolves do this sort of thing? I’ve never studied the subject.) That would probably explain the “dirty tricks” and stuff being used against people outside the Overton window, and the tendency for journalists to stay inside the Overton window.

    How about shifts in the Overton window?–what determines it? Since anyone is punished for deviating from it, it is mostly stationary, but eventually (perhaps quickly in some cases) it does shift. Changes occur at the boundary of the window; something previously inside it is now outside, or vice versa. When does that happen? Well, one mechanism that comes to mind is that if most people have come from educational institutions that lean a certain way, and those institutions mostly support XYZ just outside the boundary over here and disparage ABC just inside the boundary over there, then (as a wolf journalist) you can probably stake out some new territory in XYZ or attack those inside ABC. People’s actual reactions to issues can make a difference too. And if there are some issues where (for some reason) it’s just really easy for one side to attack the other, the one side is likely to gain an advantage.

    Does anyone know what journalists’ careers and lives are like, and could confirm or deny the pack-of-wolves theory?

  83. Steve Sailer says:

    “Their case study of a “worthy victim” is Jerzy Popieluszko, a Polish priest killed by the Communists; since the Communists were our enemy, we were outraged by the crime. Their examples of “unworthy victims” are the thousands killed in El Salvador and Guatemala, most notably Archbishop Oscar Romero;”

    While I agree with some of “Manufacturing Consent,” the comparison of killing of the Polish priest and the Salvadoran archbishop seems less than convincing to me. From reading the newspapers in that era, I have only a vague memory of the Polish priest (and certainly didn’t remember his hard to spell name). In contrast, Archbishop Romero seems to me to have been a much bigger deal in the media at the time.

    A few years later in 1986, Oliver Stone made the murder in the cathedral scene the dramatic centerpiece of his movie “Salvador,” which earned James Woods a Best Actor nomination.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      My impression is that the history of Chomsky’s respectability is rather like that of movie director Oliver Stone (who I would imagine was influenced by Chomsky). Stone was extremely respectable with the media from 1986 (Salvador, Platoon) through Wall Street and another Vietnam movie Born on the Fourth of July.

      Stone was a very big deal in the late 1980s in the fields where art and politics overlap.

      Then, his 1991 movie JFK was well received by the cultural media. But after it earned a lot of Oscar nominations, the political media turned against it with a vengeance for its ridiculous history.

      Stone’s reputation has never fully recovered from that attack by the serious press.

      Similarly, Chomsky was fairly fashionable in the 1960s and early 1970s, but his critics have used his screw-up over Cambodia much like Stone’s detractors have used his screw-up over JFK to dismiss him and not have to consider what he has to say.

      In both cases, the glass is part empty and part full.

      • Anthony says:

        The field of linguistics also turned on Chomsky in a big way – if you’re a linguist these days, you’re either a Chomskyan or an anti-Chomskyan, because pretty much all the non-Chomskyan linguists consider Chomsky’s work badly wrong and damaging to the field. I’m not sure if that played any part in Chomsky’s fall from grace among wider elite and journalistic opinion, though.

        • nydwracu says:

          Most of the people I know who follow linguistics either don’t care about Chomsky, think he’s ridiculous, or hate his guts. I don’t know anyone who likes his linguistic work.

          • suntzuanime says:

            My understanding is that Chomsky is more popular among the more… philosophical linguists. Shit like “poverty of the stimulus” is nice and persuasive-sounding, but turns out to be false if you sit down and actually run the numbers or build a machine or whatever. Likely the sort of crowd you run with tends to be more persuaded by facts than by nice-sounding words, but this is not the case for all people.

      • stuart says:

        (At least some of) Chomsky’s critics accuse him of systematic dishonesty in his handling of source material. They are happy to point to many, many, obvious examples of this, his Cambodia nonsense is just one example. Do you think this is untrue?

        It is terribly boring to check so people, like Scott in this post, simply assume that while he’s biased, all the references signal something impressive.

  84. Steve Sailer says:

    When I was in high school in Los Angeles in the mid-1970s, I can recall the L.A. Times publishing two long essays by Chomsky about how Indonesia shouldn’t be allowed to grab the former Portuguese colony of East Timor. But I don’t recall reading much since by Chomsky in the mainstream media, such as in the New York Times or Washington Post.

    Partly that’s because Chomsky is a dry writer. But there does seem to be some kind of ideological or interest boycott of Chomsky who is, for all his weaknesses, obviously a great man.

  85. So for C&H, the media’s rightward bias isn’t “pro-Republican, anti-Democrat”. It’s pro- a conservative establishment in which both Republicans and Democrats collude, and anti- the real left, which it treats as a lunatic fringe too powerless to even be worth mentioning.

    Alternative explanation: the media didn’t report on the scandal because no one gives a shit about third parties in general. And not because of the content of their ideology, but because their chances of winning or getting enough votes to influence anything are extremely slim.

    • Eli says:

      The problem is that there’s a causal loop here: if the media reported on third parties, they would gain steam (because it’s easy to grow by 5000% when that means going from 100 members to 6000 members in a country of 350,000,000 people), but it doesn’t, so they don’t, so it doesn’t.