Quick hits (part I)

1) Noah Smith on counter-acting the Hispanic shift towards Republicans:

In other words, despite starting from a very humble base, Hispanics are treading the same upward path that American immigrant groups always tread. The history of the Irish, Italians, Poles, and so on is repeating itself. Whatever structural forces have kept Black Americans and Native Americans from realizing their full economic potential, they don’t appear to be acting on Hispanics — or at least, not to nearly the same extent. If Chetty et al. are correct, Hispanics are headed for parity with Whites, or very close to it.

And anyone who has been paying even the slightest bit of attention to the progress of Hispanic Americans over the decades knows that this is exactly the reason they came here. When Mexican immigrants waved American flags at pro-immigration rallies in the 2000s, they weren’t just courting public opinion — they really believed in this country, and in the American Dream they were promised. The dream of working hard, bettering yourself, and moving up. They were immigrants, damn it. And their children and their grandchildren remembered that dream as well — and now they’re achieving it. America has kept the promise it made.

So why would this make Hispanics shift toward the GOP? Maybe it’s because Trump presided over the most recent boom, in which Hispanic incomes did so well. Maybe it’s because when you start moving up the economic ladder, you get the urge to protect your gains with low taxes.

But it might also be because many liberals have been disparaging the American Dream. In 2015, a faculty training guide at the University of California warned professors that calling America a “land of opportunity” constituted a microaggression. Liberal rhetoric has turned increasingly against the notion of the American Dream, both because of the people who are still excluded from it — undocumented immigrants, many Black and Native American people, many people caught up in the justice system, etc. — and because of rising inequality. To call America a “land of opportunity” seems, to many liberals, a cruel taunt directed at those who still don’t enjoy full opportunity.

And of course, they’re not wrong; America is a deeply unequal place, and many are excluded from opportunity. That needs to be remedied, and to be remedied it needs to be remembered, highlighted, and focused on. But at the same time, focusing exclusively on the areas in which American opportunity still lags — and punishing people who highlight the very real opportunity that still exists — does a disservice to all the people who were given a chance, who believed in this nation and who worked hard for their place in it.

Like, for example, many Hispanic Americans. They, or their parents or grandparents, worked damn hard to get to this country and succeed here; my bet is that they do not want to see the America they believed in and fought so hard for be yanked away by pious White liberals and replaced with a stifling spoils system.

Now, you might respond that this derogatory attitude toward the American Dream is confined to media outlets, shouty activists, and overzealous university administrators. But in this age of ubiquitous social media exposure, politicians don’t have the luxury of merely standing above the cultural fray — they have to actually address the things that it seems like “their side” is doing all over the country. And conservatives, for their part, are racing to take advantage of the situation, claiming that Biden’s programs are aimed at ending the American Dream. It’s all B.S., of course — Biden’s programs would enhance and strengthen the American Dream (I’ll write more on this in subsequent posts). But if woke pundits and clucking university admins are running all over the country denouncing the idea that the American Dream even exists, then there’s no one to push back on conservative alarmism.

If they want to make sure that the Hispanic trend toward the GOP remains a blip, Democrats need to start talking about the American Dream again. And more than that, they need to focus their policies on upward mobility for working-class and middle-class strivers. For example, despite income gains, Hispanics are still way behind in wealth and homeownership (which for the middle class are the same thing). Elizabeth Warren and Cecilia Rouse’s proposal for down payment assistance for first-time homebuyers living in traditionally segregated areas should be expanded to target low-income Americans in general, or people who grew up in low-income households — that will make sure it targets Hispanic as well as Black Americans, giving them a leg up into the middle class. Also, Biden’s call for free community college shouldn’t be tabled or left by the wayside, as this would be very targeted toward working-class Hispanic Americans climbing toward the middle class.

America isn’t a perfect land of opportunity by any means, but to immigrants and their children and grandchildren, it remains a beacon of hope. That’s the whole reason we take in immigrants in the first place. Liberals must not forget that.

2) Eric Levitz really good on Democrats and crime:

America’s distribution of violent death has changed little over the past seven years. But the sum total has risen considerably. In 2019, the U.S. murder rate was about 11 percent higher than it had been in 2014. We do not yet have an official body count for 2020. But preliminary data suggests that, across major cities, homicides rose by an average of 30 percent last year — and then jumped another 24 percent through the first few months of this one. If current estimates prove accurate, 2020 witnessed the largest single-year increase in homicides in U.S. history, and 2021 is on pace to see a jump an even higher jump.

Thus, the present homicide surge threatens to erode the left’s fragile progress toward a justice system worthy of that name. Already, the Democratic Party is seeking greater distance from radical police reform. And since frightened electorates are often reactionary ones, the rising salience of crime imperils the entire progressive project…

In isolation, almost all of these media criticisms are defensible. One can muster reasonable critiques of the framing of most articles about gun violence. America is not experiencing a “crime wave” (i.e., an across-the-board increase in all categories of crime) so much as a homicide surge in certain pockets of certain cities. A wide range of socially devastating activities are not coded as criminal because powerful interests benefit from them. And yet, as these plausible-if-overheated denunciations of homicide coverage proliferate on progressive social media, they send one fundamental, meta-message: The left is complacent about a large increase in the already exceptionally high rate of homicide victimization endured by the urban working class.

I think it’s both politically and morally imperative for progressives to disavow such complacency. The threat that public alarm over crime will trigger a punitive turn in policy is real. But the best way for the left to counter that threat is not to downplay concerns about rising murder rates, but rather to insist that such violence only underscores the necessity of progressive reform. That is not an easy argument to make in the U.S., but at the municipal level at least, we know that it can be a winning one.

3) David Epstein:

Misconception 4: Unless Sha’Carri was running for a bag of chips, weed wouldn’t have made her faster so it shouldn’t be banned. 

Honestly, even if she were running for a bag of chips, it would probably just make her think she was faster. Seriously, though, I sympathize with this argument. Personally, I do not think WADA should be testing for marijuana, and — as a year-round track fan — I would be thrilled to see Sha’Carri run in Tokyo. That said, even if everyone agreed that marijuana only makes you slower, (and they might), it could still be banned. 

First off, the WADA prohibited list is not sport-specific — with one exception that I know of. For the most part, a substance is either banned or not; it isn’t banned by sport. So let’s say a sedative is banned in archery or shooting, where athletes have used calming drugs to improve performance. Then it’s going to be banned in track, too, even if it wouldn’t help. The lone exception (that I know of) is for beta blockers, common prescription drugs that lower blood pressure and slow heart rate. Beta blockers are banned in archery and shooting, and a few other sports, presumably because of potential performance enhancement. (Shooters try to fire between heartbeats.)

Unlike, say, anabolic steroids, marijuana is only banned in competition, and a 2011 WADA paper gives the reasons why. In a nutshell, the paper claims that marijuana meets all three criteria of a prohibited substance — and it only needs to meet two to get on the list: 1) Health risk: impaired reaction time and decision making could endanger the athlete or other athletes. 2) Performance enhancement: the paper contends that studies and athlete interviews suggest it could help with some sports. (The paper mentions that marijuana dilates blood vessels and airways, which “could improve oxygenation.”) 3) Violates the spirit of sport: it’s illegal in most places, and hence doesn’t make for good role modeling for young people. 

The third criterion is plainly subjective. (And given that THC is only banned in competition, that criterion may not be carrying much weight.) The evidence for the other two, in my opinion, is extremely thin. If I were emperor of WADA, the agency would simplify testing more generally and would not be testing for marijuana. (Believe me, if I were WADA emperor, I’d have changed lots of things over the years.) Like any international body, WADA tends to be a slow-moving ship. But, to its credit, it removed CBD from the prohibited list in 2019, so perhaps THC will be reconsidered in the future. The 2011 paper did note that the issue is controversial, and knowledge on it is evolving. 

I was really looking forward to a showdown between Richardson and Fraser-Pryce. And I’m still holding out some consolation-prize hope. Richardson’s ban will end mid-Olympics, just before the 4×100-meter relay starts, so maybe we can still get a showdown in the relay.

4) We should be so much better about this:

When it came to coronavirus vaccination, the third time was the charm for Esther Jones, a dialysis nurse in rural Oregon. After two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine failed to jolt her immune system into producing antibodies, she sought out a third, this time the Moderna shot.

It worked. Blood tests revealed a reasonable antibody response, although lower than what would be detected in healthy people. She received a fourth dose last month in hopes of boosting the levels even more.

Ms. Jones, 45, had a kidney transplant in 2010. To prevent rejection of the organ, she has taken drugs that suppress the immune response ever since. She expected to have trouble responding to a coronavirus vaccine, and enrolled in one of the few studies so far to test the utility of a third dose in people with weak immune systems.

Since April, health care providers in France have routinely given a third dose of a two-dose vaccine to people with certain immune conditions. The number of organ transplant recipients who had antibodies increased to 68 percent four weeks after the third dose from 40 percent after the second dose, one team of French researchers recently reported.

The study in which Ms. Jones enrolled has turned up similar results in 30 organ transplant recipients who procured third doses on their own.

Being vulnerable to infection even after inoculation is “very scary and frustrating” for immunocompromised people, said Dr. Dorry Segev, a transplant surgeon at Johns Hopkins University who led the study. “They have to continue to act unvaccinated until we figure out a way to give them better immunity.”

But in the United States, there is no concerted effort by federal agencies or vaccine manufacturers to test this approach, leaving people with low immunity with more questions than answers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health in fact recommend even against testing to find out who is protected. And academic scientists are stymied by the rules that limit access to the vaccines.

5) Persuasion on what we got right and wrong about Covid

VP: Another great failure is that we didn’t learn a lot. We did so many different interventions, but we didn’t actually study many of them. For example, there are still questions about how much to wear masks, and under what circumstances. We don’t know much more about that than when the pandemic began.

The other kind of failure is the cultural failure, which I view as several interlocking things. One is when you have a very polarizing political figure making statements, some of the response from the public health community was to oppose the polarizing figure because he’s polarizing, not necessarily because what he says is always wrong. As bad as Trump is, as much as I personally disliked him, he was probably right on opening schools.

I think the social media environment was an abject failure. If you had the same pandemic without social media, you would have naturally, I think, had a consensus towards centrist risk reduction—a harm reduction philosophy. But in the era of social media, it’s so easily skewed into two diametric policy positions, both unhelpful. One [extreme] was that the virus doesn’t exist, or “it’s just the flu, bro”—a totally bizarre and farcical view. And the other extreme was, all you needed to do to exterminate the virus was for everyone to be a good person and wear their N-95 mask for four weeks and we get to zero COVID.

The last thing I would say is sort of a core failure is Zoom. I think many people think Zoom is what liberated us—were it not for Zoom, how bad would this pandemic have been? But my counterfactual is different. Zoom allowed a lot of upper-middle-class white-collar people the ability to work and make money and not lose their jobs, and to exclude themselves from society. That fundamentally changed the pandemic. If you went back 15 years ago, and you didn’t have Zoom, you would be facing unprecedented layoffs of wealthy, upper-middle-class people. I think a lot of businesses would have had staggered schedules and improved ventilation. Schools would have pushed to reopen. Amazon Prime and Zoom and all these things in our lives allowed a certain class of people to be spared the pains of COVID-19, taking them out of the game, and making them silent on many of the issues that affected other communities.

6) James Lang on digital versus print reading and what it means for college students:

You can find different angles of that story in two recent books, both of which I highly recommend for faculty members who assign readings (which means almost all of us). Both books analyze the differences between print and digital reading:

  • How We Read Now: Strategic Choices for Print, Screen, and Audio, by Naomi S. Baron, was published in March by Oxford University Press.
  • Skim, Dive, Surface: Teaching Digital Reading, by Jenae Cohn, appeared in June from West Virginia University Press. (Full disclosure: Cohn’s book is part of a teaching-and-learning series that I edit for the press.)

What the research showsBaron’s book provides a straightforward overview of a growing body of scholarship that explores both how students learn from different types of “texts” (including audio) and how they prefer to read. That research tells a story that educators should consider as they select or create readings for their courses.

That finding seems to be especially true for longer texts and for narrative-based reading, but Baron reports that, in most studies in this area, print is superior to digital reading for learning purposes. In some contexts, the research shows little or no difference between digital and print, but in almost no cases did digital reading prove the better option for learning.

This one is tough.  E-books and on-line reading save students a ton of money.  I also like that the profits from ebooks are captured by those who created the intellectual property, not re-sellers.

7) Great stuff from Bernstein on the ongoing deleterious influence of Trump on Republican politics:

Where to start? Usually, when a president loses re-election, his party quickly moves on. Republicans in 1992 and Democrats in 1980 thanked George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter for their service and then ignored them. Donald Trump never fell to the popularity lows of either of those one-termers and didn’t lose re-election by margins comparable to theirs, but then again he never had the periods of solid popularity that they had — or an initial impressive win. Trump is popular among Republicans, but that’s less of an accomplishment than it seems. Most partisan voters like most of their party’s politicians! Republicans could have moved on, during a period where the danger in doing so was as low as it’s likely to be, and they chose not to.

Part of the reason was that Trump didn’t act like Bush, Carter or any other former president. Not only is he whining nonstop about his usual grievances, and adding false claims about fraud in the 2020 election, but he’s pressuring candidates up and down the Republican Party to go along with his increasingly anti-democratic rants.

Among other things, this has meant that Republicans have lost a made-to-order opportunity supplied by the Jan. 6 attack. Mainstream Republicans could have looked good by consistently condemning the attack, thereby distancing themselves from organized hate groups involved in the event. Instead, they’re stuck defending the indefensible and making it a major part of Republican messaging, while allowing their leading voices to be … well, let’s call them the high-profile Republicans least likely to appeal to swing voters.

This is most important in its effect on readying the party to govern when it next gets a chance at the national level, and to some extent it’s making governing at the state level more and more difficult. The Republican agenda right now is a combination of three things: Opposition to whatever President Joe Biden and the Democrats propose; support for whatever Fox News Channel’s product of the month happens to be; support for whatever incoherent and self-serving whims come out of Trump’s mouth.

This is barely a formula for making the strongest supporters happy. It’s certainly no way to build a policy agenda. What has been a problem for the party for several years, especially at the national level, is only getting worse…

One is about candidates. We’ve seen Republicans lose elections they could have won by nominating fringe candidates. It’s still unlikely, but certainly possible, that they could wind up with another round of that in 2022 and 2024 — or that otherwise generic or better candidates could turn themselves into fringers by spending more effort trying to impress Trump than appealing to actual voters. Trump’s nomination endorsements are a key wild card. At times they’ve seemed strategic, with Trump picking good general-election candidates and backing ones who were going to win anyway. But at times he’s seemed arbitrary, choosing the best flatterer or otherwise undermining the party’s interests.

The other risk is that the party could wind up incapable of running a regular campaign because its feels obliged to follow whatever Trump says, rather than what’s popular in their districts — that at worst, Republicans run on contesting the 2020 election. Perhaps that still would make little difference, and Biden’s popularity will be more important than whatever the out-party says. We can’t be sure that evidence from previous elections applies, because nothing like that has ever happened.

8) Chait on Trump supporters and racism:

Kaufmann’s proposal is more audacious: He wants the government to step in. “Employers should not be permitted to fire employees for legally protected speech unless the firing is justified by the core aims of the organization and authorized in an employee’s contract,” he suggests. Also, “publicly funded organizations would be required to be politically neutral in their communications and operations except on matters directly pertinent to organizational aims.”

Conservatives normally take a highly skeptical view of extending government authority into such prerogatives as an employer deciding whom to hire and fire. Kaufmann argues that this robust new government authority will merely be used to enforce “neutrality,” not to coerce institutions into becoming active supporters of the Republican agenda. Putting aside the difficult, if not impossible, task of designing and enforcing workable rules to this end, the goal of politically neutral spaces that permit political disagreement is sympathetic…

If Trump supporters don’t want to be seen as racist, one easy remedy would be to stop supporting a politician who utters slurs — like saying Ilhan Omar has no business critiquing American policy because “her country” is a mess — so routinely that it no longer even rates press coverage. But somehow, the problem of Trump fans being seen as racist is a crisis enormous enough to justify the creation of vast new government powers, but not large enough to justify steps like “let’s stop supporting a huge racist.” [emphasis mine]

A related, somewhat more longstanding stigma attached to conservatives in elite spaces is their hostility to science and empiricism, which have become more significant cultural barriers between conservatives and business in the age of Moneyball and big data. Trump has deepened that association: If you support a candidate whose stream of cartoonishly transparent lies practically screams that he doesn’t want or need any thinking person’s vote, whose fault is that?

The cultural stigma attached to right-wing thought isn’t purely due to Trump; an enthusiastic George W. Bush fan might have had a bit more trouble getting hired or moving up the ranks at a hip software company, not to mention a prestigious tenure-track job. But the choice to make “Republican” a useful heuristic for “meathead ideologue who refuses to accept evidence” was not made by liberals. Conservatives spent decades insisting the mainstream news media, government bureaucracy, and academia were hopelessly biased, and built their own counter-establishment to affirm their belief that climate change is fake, tax hikes always reduce revenue, and so on. Now that they’ve spent generations mocking pencil-necked nerds, they realize the nerds run a lot of institutions they would like to join, after all.

9) TNR on death of Friedmanonmics

South Africa, he warned, should avoid the example of the United States, which since 1929 had allowed political democracy to steadily encroach on the domain of the “economic market,” resulting in “a drastic restriction in economic, personal, and political freedom.”

The idea that America experienced an erosion of political liberty amid the destruction of Jim Crow is simply impossible to take seriously. Between 1929 and 1976, in addition to the advances in civil rights, explicitly racist immigration quotas were eliminated, prohibition was repealed, and legal barriers to birth control were abolished, as poverty rates plunged across demographic groups and American income inequality reached the lowest levels on record. And yet, as he toured South Africa, Friedman did not retreat from his conviction that the state had dealt a perilous blow to American freedom. In a conversation with the courageous anti-apartheid politician Helen Suzman, Friedman expressed his belief that “a laissez-faire economic policy” was “the only way in which you could get a multiracial community going” in South Africa. And the free market had to be insulated from democratic pressure. The burgeoning activist movement to “urge all foreign enterprises to boycott investment in South Africa,” Friedman believed, would ultimately serve to “hurt the Blacks, not to help them.”

Friedman did not subscribe to biological theories of racial inferiority. His time in South Africa does not instruct us on his moral character or any unique failures of political judgment. It offers instead a window into the deepest currents of his intellectual contributions. The program Friedman prescribed for apartheid South Africa in 1976 was essentially the same agenda he called for in America over his entire career as a public intellectual—unrestrained commerce as a cure-all for inequality and unrest.

That this prescription found political purchase with the American right in the 1960s is not a surprise. Friedman’s opposition to state power during an era of liberal reform offered conservatives an intellectual justification to defend the old order. What remains remarkable is the extent to which the Democratic Party—Friedman’s lifelong political adversary—came to embrace core tenets of Friedmanism. When Friedman passed away in 2006, Larry Summers, who had advised Bill Clinton and would soon do the same for Barack Obama, acknowledged the success of Friedman’s attack on the very legitimacy of public power within his own party. “Any honest Democrat will admit that we are now all Friedmanites,” he declared in The New York Times.

But the real turn is not about deficits or spending levels. It is the relationship between economic policy and democracy itself. For Friedman, liberty lived in the marketplace, rendering government a necessary evil under the best of circumstances. Today’s Democrats, by contrast, have reclaimed state power as an essential component of self-government. When he laid out his agenda in April, Biden declared “it’s time to remember that ‘We the People’ are the government—you and I. Not some force in a distant capital. Not some powerful force that we have no control over. It’s us.”

The new consensus on Friedman’s work among economists has essentially reversed Summers’s verdict from 2006. “Almost nothing remains of his intellectual legacy,” according to Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs. “It has proven to be a disastrous misdirection for the world’s economies.”

In 2021, 15 years after his body gave out, Milton Friedman is finally dead…

Much of Friedman’s political relevance within the Republican Party derived from his willingness to defend conservative policies on race during the 1950s and 1960s. “Missing from most analyses of Friedman’s economic thought is the inseparable role of race,” said Darrick Hamilton, the director of the New School’s Institute on Race and Political Economy. “The racialization of poverty and ideas about those who are deserving and undeserving allows us to have a system without empathy where those in despair are treated as surplus populations.” …

“The Role of Government in Education” marks the earliest appearance of what remains Friedman’s most damaging belief—the idea that bigotry and violence could be forced out of public life by the magic of the market. Friedman would insist on this basic proposition again and again throughout his career. In 1972, he would go so far as to suggest that the free market could have put a stop to the war in Vietnam if people had really wanted it to end. Enough chemists would have refused to make napalm that the cost of producing the explosive would have become prohibitively high. This was the appropriate way to stop a war—not the crude “voting mechanism” of “the political system.”…

Friedman wrote: “The man who objects to buying from or working alongside a Negro, for example, thereby limits his range of choice. He will generally have to pay a higher price for what he buys or receive a lower return for his work. Or, put the other way, those of us who regard color of skin or religion as irrelevant can buy some things more cheaply as a result.” The relentless logic of the market would drive such inefficiency from public life.

Of course, the voters who backed Goldwater in 1964 didn’t believe a word of that. They supported Goldwater because they believed he would maintain the Jim Crow order, not because they expected economic freedom to unleash a wave of radical egalitarian social change across the South. This was clear to conservative political commentators during the campaign. As Robert Novak wrote (with his partner Rowland Evans) for The Washington Post in June 1963, “These Republicans want to unmistakably establish the Party of Lincoln as the white man’s party.”…

And few serious economists today accept Friedman’s hard divide between economic fact and political reality. “Friedman developed a fantasy land of theory that ignored the way economic power can be used to capture elements of the political system to generate additional economic gains for those at the top,” said the New School’s Hamilton.

This vicious cycle has been degrading American democracy for decades. Joe Biden is the first president to desecrate not only the tenets of Friedman’s economic ideas, but the anti-democratic implications of his entire philosophy. He is also the first Democratic president since the 1960s who has formulated and publicly endorsed a coherent defense of American government as an expression of democratic energy. It is a powerful vision that enjoys the support of a large majority of American citizens. He has nothing to fear but Friedman himself.

10) More Noah Smith on the Economics profession:

There’s a sort of popular myth that economics began with Adam Smith’s declaration that the “invisible hand” of the market would lead to a good society. In fact, while Smith did recognize the importance of market forces and self-interest, his vision of a good society didn’t stop there. Here are some Adam Smith quotes:

  1. “Our merchants and masters complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price and lessening the sale of goods. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains.”

  2. “It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.”

  3. “No society can surely be flourishing and happy of which by far the greater part of the numbers are poor and miserable.”

  4. “Wherever there is great property there is great inequality. For one very rich man there must be at least five hundred poor, and the affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many.”

  5. “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

And so on. Adam Smith decries the existence of inequality and poverty, blames property rights for this inequality, advocates progressive taxation as a remedy, and is innately suspicious of profit. He sounds more like Thomas Piketty than Milton Friedman…

It turns out that the “economics” most people interface with is not even mainstream academic economics. It’s a pop version of conservative ideology, broadcast by a network of well-funded partisan think tanks, right-leaning publications, and TV hucksters. So-called “supply-side economists” were often not even trained economists, but political columnists and commentators like Larry Kudlow and Jude Wanniski.

This process is well-described in James Kwak’s excellent book Economism: Bad Economics and the Rise of Inequality. I encourage you to read that book. What the various hucksters did was to describe their political positions using the language of economics, without much (any?) support from actual economics research. Academics who knew this was a lot of hot air tended to stay in the ivory tower, not speaking out. So the public’s perception of “economics” became dominated by the media motormouths.

Looking at where Carr is getting his impression of the econ profession, it turns out he’s getting it from…pop economics!

Now, to be fair, the Economist has moved strongly in a pro-government-intervention direction in recent years, and Russ Roberts has evolved in this direction as well. But when you’re getting your idea of what economics is from the pages of the Wall Street Journal, you’re not getting any sort of accurate picture of what economics actually says.

And that’s a problem…

In recent decades, three huge and important changes have happened in the economics profession. All of these changes work against both the free-market wave of the 70s and 80s and the rise of well-funded “economism” in the public sphere.

First, the profession has become much more empirical.

Whether or not something works in theory is less important now than whether it works in practice. Papers still have theory sections, but they’re more phenomenological — proposed explanations for observed phenomena, rather than a mathed-up form of philosophy. Meanwhile, new econometric methods relying on quasi-experiments are rapidly becoming dominant.

The empirical turn means that economists are more open to being persuaded by the evidence…

Meanwhile, young high-profile economists tend to be champions of government intervention and foes of inequality.

This leftward shift of economic ideas parallels the overall leftward shift among the public — the age of Reagan and Thatcher is over, and the shortcomings of the free-market revolt have made themselves painfully apparent. Economists aren’t pushed around by popular opinion, but nor are they blind to events in the real world.

In any case, this hopefully clears up why Carr’s stereotype of the economics profession is — happily — a misconception. Econ did go through a phase where many of its most outspoken leaders and a coterie of loosely affiliated political pundits were dedicated to promoting the cause of government inaction. That phase has now been over for a while.

The obsession with microaggressions is a perfect example of the desperate need for materialism in racial politics. Yes, it’s unfortunate if people say or do things that subtly indicate racial superiority or otherwise embody imperfect racial attitudes, such as making oblique references to stereotypes. But human beings have profoundly limited control over their minute social interactions. (Among other things, we literally do not choose the things we say.) Policy cannot effectively stop microaggressions, even if we implemented heavy-handed laws to attempt to do so, and I certainly hope we won’t. Meanwhile a mile or two from me a bunch of Black children live in Brownsville in environmentally unhealthy housing, go hungry every night, and are regularly exposed to violence and crime. The notion that we should spend so much time talking about microaggressions and so little talking how to improve the conditions of those children can only happen when the racial discourse has been hijacked by a bunch of cossetted affluent college-educated journalists and academics who are as far removed from Brownsville as they are from Mars, whatever their race. And this is another key element of materialist approaches to race: recognizing that we in fact have limited political and social and argumentative resources, that we must prioritize, that we will never achieve a perfect racial environment and that our efforts to do so are counterproductive. We have to decide what comes first, and what should come first is making sure people are safe, fed, housed, clothed, educated, and cared for. After that we can worry more about being nice to each other…

It would take a long time to sketch out a materialist antiracist policy agenda. But in the broadest strokes, it would be a redistributive agenda, one that seeks to redistribute both money and power to Black people. Given the reality of political life in a country with a significant white majority and a dominant white hold on power, these programs would rarely be explicitly announced as pro-Black as such. But because of the distribution of material need in contemporary America, if they redistributed money from rich to poor they would inevitably redistribute money from white to Black. Would gradually bringing Black income and wealth and incarceration rates and similar comparable to white suddenly eliminate racism, or make life easy for Black people? Of course not. But a richer Black America is a Black America with far greater ability to secure their own material interests, so that they no longer have to worry about the good will of white people. And that’s the ultimate goal: not just Black wellbeing but Black autonomy. I don’t want a world where white people generally have positive feelings towards Black people. I want a world where white people’s feelings towards Black people don’t matter.

11) So, I’m a complete convert on the “it’s all bout the calories in” take (Burn is an amazing book, full post on it when I’m done), but, this study on the benefits of resistance training has me intrigued.  

Weight lifting, however, changed those outcomes, the researchers found, substantially lowering the risk that someone would become obese, by any measure. Men and women who reported strengthening their muscles a few times a week, for a weekly total of one to two hours, were about 20 percent less likely to become obese over the years, based on B.M.I., and about 30 percent less likely, based on waist circumference or body-fat percentage.

The benefits remained when the researchers controlled for age, sex, smoking, general health and aerobic exercise. People who worked out aerobically and lifted weights were much less likely to become obese. But so were those who lifted almost exclusively and reported little, if any, aerobic exercise.

The results suggest that “you can get a lot of benefit from even a little” weight training, says Angelique Brellenthin, a professor of kinesiology at Iowa State, who led the new study.

Of course, the study was observational and does not prove that resistance training prevents weight gain, only that they are linked. It also did not consider people’s diets, genetics or health attitudes, any of which could affect obesity risk.

Perhaps most important, it does not tell us how muscle strengthening influences weight, although it is likely that resistance training builds and maintains muscle mass, Dr. Brellenthin says. A metabolically active tissue, muscle burns calories and slightly increases our metabolic rate. Interestingly, the desirable effect of adding muscle mass may also explain why fewer lifters avoided obesity when the researchers used B.M.I. as a measure. B.M.I. does not differentiate muscle from fat, Dr. Brellenthin points out. If you add muscle with weight training, your B.M.I. can rise.

Still, the primary message of the study is that some weight training likely helps, over time, with weight control. “So, my advice would be to fit in a few body weight exercises before or after your usual daily walk,” Dr. Brellenthin suggests. Or join a gym or an online class. Or try one of Well’s easy, at-home resistance-training routines, like the 7-Minute Standing Workout.
 

12) I haven’t watched “Luca” yet, but I enjoyed reading this, “Pixar’s latest film deftly features a character born without an arm. Here’s how a director of “Crip Camp” came to consult on the project.”  One thing I always loved about breaking bad was that Walter Jr was a character that happened to have cerebral palsy, but it didn’t define him.  

13) Brian Beutler:

④ A TOO CONVENIENT TRUTH

 

When I started in this business in the mid-aughts, blogs were all the rage, and the liberal blogosphere flourished on the premise that the ultimate purpose of politics should be to improve people’s lives through the enactment and implementation of good policy. That insight was correct and decent, and holds true all these many years later. It’s why Biden’s infrastructure agenda matters! But some of the same wonky minds ultimately convinced themselves that the inverse is also true; that the hidden upshot of good policy is that it makes for great politics. 

This should have struck these very smart people as suspiciously convenient. If it were true as a rule, we might expect that the passage of the American Rescue Plan, one of the most popular and consequential kitchen-table policies in history, had made Democrats politically bulletproof. In reality, it had no discernible impact on Biden’s popularity whatsoever.

And if you think about it for more than just a second, you realize it’d be a huge coincidence if both of these things happened to be right. The end goal of politics could after all be many things: the common good, liberty, group dominance, scientific innovation. The wonkosphere formed around one I agree with: the common good. But the other question—what’s the ideal politics for building power to advance political end goals?—is separate, and you could answer in many ways: divide and conquer, conciliation, pandering to the fevered imaginations of swing voters, technocratic excellence in pursuit of the common good. The wonks quite conspicuously decided that their calling in life also happened to be self-actualizing. It’s not impossible to imagine that being the case, but it is improbable. The kind of tidy theory one arrives at through motivated reasoning: both the means and the ends of politics happen to be the same things that bring me professional and intellectual satisfaction.

In the face of this belief, election after election has come and gone, and few if any have turned on the substantive policies that came into existence over the preceding two years, or that the candidates in those elections promised to support going forward. More often they turned on whose passions had been stirred the most. So ask yourself, which is the more galvanizing appeal: 1. The other side (sotto voce: which stole the last election and murdered the hero who could have stopped them) seeks to control your lives, and the life of the American mind, or 2. We passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill with those people!

Unless Dems swap out option 2 for something a little more responsive to the passions of the moment, I think I know the answer. The election won’t be about both of these things. One or the other will take hold. And what’s at stake is whether a major U.S. political party can turn their countrymen into cannon fodder for a deadly virus, embrace an attempted coup…and win.

14) Michael Pollan, “The invisible addiction: is it time to give up caffeine?”  Honestly, I’m pretty confident I actually could if it didn’t mean having to give up diet sodas (seriously, if there were caffeine-free diet sodas in restaurants, I could pull this off).

An English neuroscientist on the faculty at University of California, Berkeley, Walker, author of Why We Sleep, is single-minded in his mission: to alert the world to an invisible public-health crisis, which is that we are not getting nearly enough sleep, the sleep we are getting is ofpoor quality, and a principal culprit in this crime against body and mind is caffeine. Caffeine itself might not be bad for you, but the sleep it’s stealing from you may have a price. According to Walker, research suggests that insufficient sleep may be a key factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, arteriosclerosis, stroke, heart failure, depression, anxiety, suicide and obesity. “The shorter you sleep,” he bluntly concludes, “the shorter your lifespan.”

Walker grew up in England drinking copious amounts of black tea, morning, noon and night. He no longer consumes caffeine, save for the small amounts in his occasional cup of decaf. In fact, none of the sleep researchers or experts on circadian rhythms I interviewed for this story use caffeine.

Walker explained that, for most people, the “quarter life” of caffeine is usually about 12 hours, meaning that 25% of the caffeine in a cup of coffee consumed at noon is still circulating in your brain when you go to bed at midnight. That could well be enough to completely wreck your deep sleep.

I thought of myself as a pretty good sleeper before I met Walker. At lunch he probed me about my sleep habits. I told him I usually get a solid seven hours, fall asleep easily, dream most nights.

“How many times a night do you wake up?” he asked. I’m up three or four times a night (usually to pee), but I almost always fall right back to sleep.

He nodded gravely. “That’s really not good, all those interruptions. Sleep quality is just as important as sleep quantity.” The interruptions were undermining the amount of “deep” or “slow wave” sleep I was getting, something above and beyond the REM sleep I had always thought was the measure of a good night’s rest. But it seems that deep sleep is just as important to our health, and the amount we get tends to decline with age.

Caffeine is not the sole cause of our sleep crisis; screens, alcohol (which is as hard on REM sleep as caffeine is on deep sleep), pharmaceuticals, work schedules, noise and light pollution, and anxiety can all play a role in undermining both the duration and quality of our sleep. But here’s what’s uniquely insidious about caffeine: the drug is not only a leading cause of our sleep deprivation; it is also the principal tool we rely on to remedy the problem. Most of the caffeine consumed today is being used to compensate for the lousy sleep that caffeine causes – which means that caffeine is helping to hide from our awareness the very problem that caffeine creates.

15) We should be using more heat pumps to save energy.  That’s been my home heating source since I moved to NC in 2002.  

16) In honor of lots of Euro 2020 watching, I liked this from 2020, “5 Rule Changes That Could Improve World Football.”  And, honestly, penalty shootouts to decide games are dramatic, yes, but I absolutely loathe them.  And, as I’ve written here before, I think the penalty kick rule is also extremely problematic.  

17) I was recently discussing with BB the fact that I suspect that we are, on average, pretty awful at accurately assessing the quality of soccer goalkeepers.  There’s just so few shots in a typical game where the goalkeeper makes the difference as to whether a goal is scored or not (probably a mode of 0).  Thus, I’m intrigued by this analysis suggesting an MLS goalkeeper is the league’s most valuable player, but I’m far from convinced.   

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

5 Responses to Quick hits (part I)

  1. rjstarbuck@aol.com says:

    So many really interesting and informative articles!RJ

  2. Mika says:

    #16 Penalty shootouts have very little to do with luck. Shooting a penalty tests player’s skill and psychological stamina like nothing else. There’s a reason why Thiago Alcantara & Jorginho didn’t miss their penalties at the SPAITA shootout.

    • Steve Greene says:

      Even if we stipulate that, it bears almost no relation to the rest of the game of soccer. Compare to a hockey shootout where, at least, it is a situation that is actually pretty similar to what you end up seeing in the course of play a couple times a game. I *hate* the artifice of the PK and then it’s magnified in a shootout.

  3. Ridge says:

    (6) I remember being really lazy about reading in general as an adolescent, and early in my college career I never opened a textbook if I could do well in a class without it. I always enjoyed reading fiction, but until I took your class I had no interest at all in reading about current events. If I saw an article was longer than this post I’m writing, I wouldn’t bother reading it. Initially it still felt like such a chore. I remember thinking “Well I really like this class so I’m going to try to actually do all the reading…” and by the time I finished the media journal reading the NYT online was just a habit that I still haven’t broken. That exercise actually got me reading a lot more, and taught me a much better way to consume political information. I now read the NYT and the WSJ daily (plus this blog), and obviously am much more informed on current events as a result. For a while I was also an avid reader of Vox, which I had never heard of before reading “How Politics Makes Us Stupid.”

    All that to say, while I have no doubt there are classes in which print reading makes sense, for Public Opinion and the Media at least the online reading is super valuable. It quite literally changed my life, and for that, I owe you a very sincere thanks!

    PS: I’ve noticed reading is just like physical fitness: the more you do it the less of a chore it feels like. It wasn’t until well into my first semester of law school that reading stopped feeling like a challenge at all: used to a longer read hurt my brain, even if I enjoyed it, now reading feels completely effortless. I think the problem is adolescents never actually “workout” their reading muscles. My sense is anything that gets them to *actually* read more long, uninterrupted passages of information is what’s needed most, whether it be in digital or print.

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