What the hell is going on? - Marginal REVOLUTION
Tyler Cowen realizes something's up, but can't quite put his finger on it.
More below the fold.
"Donald Trump may get the nuclear suitcase, a cranky “park bench” socialist took Hillary Clinton to the wire, many countries are becoming less free, and the neo-Nazi party came very close to assuming power in Austria. I could list more such events.
Haven’t you, like I, wondered what is up? What the hell is going on?"
Maddog did wonder, but it has been years. Maddog has a theory, and so does Tyler.
"I don’t know, but let me tell you my (highly uncertain) default hypothesis. I don’t see decisive evidence for it, but it is a kind of “first blast” attempt to fit the basic facts while remaining within the realm of reason.
The contemporary world is not very well built for a large chunk of males. The nature of current service jobs, coddled class time and homework-intensive schooling, a feminized culture allergic to most forms of violence, post-feminist gender relations, and egalitarian semi-cosmopolitanism just don’t sit well with many…what shall I call them? Brutes?
Quite simply, there are many people who don’t like it when the world becomes nicer. They do less well with nice. And they respond by in turn behaving less nicely, if only in their voting behavior and perhaps their internet harassment as well.
Female median wages have been rising pretty consistently, but the male median wage, at least as measured, was higher back in 1969 than it is today (admittedly the deflator probably is off, but even that such a measure is possible speaks volumes). A lot of men did better psychologically and maybe also economically in a world where America had a greater number of tough manufacturing jobs. They thrived under brutish conditions, including a military draft to crack some of their heads into line.
To borrow a phrasing from Peter Thiel, perhaps men did better in the age of “technological progress without globalization” rather than “globalization without technological progress,” as has been the case as of late."
Men are brutes? That's the hypothesis? Sorry, no, that doesn't work, not even remotely. The problem here is not male, and doesn't even come from the male side of the equation.
Tyler is correct that the world is not well built for men, any men, and that the world has become shockingly feminized. But he is wrong about the world becoming nicer, less criminal, yes, but not nicer, and the not nice component comes from the progressives, not the conservatives, or the classical liberals. While the occasional Trumpist individual may behave badly, with progressives it is large groups acting antisocially, violently, whether in person, or a social justice warrior harassment squads on the Internet. It is the shrill feminists, the Sanders supporters, the progressives from whom this violence, hatred, fear, and harassment come.
As a man who had a "tough manufacturing job" or many, men's mental health today is not driven by a lack of these jobs, but the insanity of a world which accepts slander, hatred, antagonism, and hostility against men as a right. Perhaps men did better when the deck was not engineered (not just stacked) to create an outcome where men simply are held down at every turn. Although they are the obvious minority at school and university they are treated as the powerful majority, and their opportunities limited at every turn. To be male today is to be the subject of obvious and intentional segregation, opprobrium, and limitation.
Likewise the business environment has become more cooperative, and less competitive. And, unsurprisingly, the economy continues to weaken year after year. This is a symptom of excess, not restraint.
Is the problem that men are brutes, or that women have moved society far towards the female?
All politics can be reduced to a tension between security and liberty. Each party, each politician will stake out a particular arrangement of security and liberty elements and then claim that represents where the people wish to go. Honesty in this is not a requirement, or even desirable. During most of the 20th century, Democrats have been left progressives, while Republicans were right progressives. This progressivism, at its core, was an attempt to tame, or make more human the industrial revolution's muscular influence to create change, change which often steamrolled humans, temporarily impoverishing them, before creating fabulous wealth. We saw this as people left agriculture, and moved to the cities looking for work. In 1900, this created Dickensian slums, by the later quarter of the 20th century it had created fabulous wealth.
What was seen was the abject poverty of these people in the city slums, what was not seen was that their lot was even worse earlier on the farm.
Progressivism was a movement which became more powerful during the last half of the 19th century as a mechanism to alter this shocking movement to the cities. The progressives decided the problem was that business had become massive, and this placed too much power in the hands of the businessmen, and too little in the hands of laborers. The solution was to create big entities to "combat" this imbalance. The result was the creation of big government, big labor, and myriad other bigs, like big banks, big law, the list is endless. The theory was the bigs would be able to protect the little guy from rapacious big business.
The nascent phase of progressivism is bookended by two great wars, the American Civil war, and the Great War. While progressivism was not the primary political force during this time is had effect, and one such was suffrage.
Progressivism is a political movement which moves the slider between security and liberty decisively towards security. Between men, and women, men are the liberty element, and women the security element. John Townsend unintentionally, but clearly establishes this with is work on male/female relationships here:
What Women Want--What Men Want: Why the Sexes Still See Love and Commitment So Differently by John Marshall Townsend
It was natural that male progressives would ally with women regarding suffrage, and adding more than one half of the population to the electorate was bound to result in change. And it did, explosive change. The 1920s saw the real women's revolution, and the real sexual revolution. It was during this time that much social change occurred.
This was reined in during the Great Depression and the WWII years, but the essential changes took root and continued. During these years fundamental changes occurred in the unseen, in education, in the jobs women were allowed to hold, and in the perception of the woman's role in society. In education, the change was profound. Where before the education was primarily focused on preparing men for the working world, and women to be wife, and perhaps school teachers, now the focus became to prepare both sexes equally for the world generally, and the working world specifically.
Phase 2 of these changes followed during the post WWII years, but accelerated with the changes brought by the Women's movement, and the colored rights movement during the 1960s. They result was a massive increase in the employment pool, and a massive number of women entering both the workforce, and college.
During the period after WWII through 1970, the Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate bounced between 58% and 60%. Beginning in 1970, and, for the first time in American history, the CLFP Rate began a surge which would continue until 2000 and reach +67% of the civilian labor force.
Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate
At the same time, a strong belief by women arose that they were being systemically limited in their access to specific jobs, and that cultural/social structure was causing gender differences which was significantly at fault in limiting women's access to specific jobs. (These theories have been thoroughly discredited today, yet they remain in the intellectual sewer that is the Academe.)
More on the ‘revolting pay gap demagoguery’ and ‘statistical fraud’ of Obama and the Democrats
After addressing Women's, and Colored Rights, the progressive movement completed the final issues which the progressive socioeconomic model could address. By 1972 the issues available for progressivism to address were at an end. This does not mean that the changes had reached their final point. It generally takes 7 generations for any deep social change in society to become completely effective. It seems that each generation there is a reduction in potency of the changed element on the order of 50%. This means that if we assume racism in America was 100% in 1960, and the change occurred in that year, it would be 50% of that in 1980, 25% of that in 2000, and 12.5% of that in 2020. By the 7th generation any residual is so small it is undetectable.
But progressivism was not an intelligent model, it was simply a model. And the people who relied on the model watched it miraculously, and successfully address the problems of the middle and late industrial period for about a century. By 1972, the progressive model now moribund, needed to be replaced with something new, something functional. But the people reliant on the model had by then become true believers, holding the model like a religious talisman.
And, so, during the years since the true believers have tried, ever more frenetically, to make the progressive model work once again. The true believers find refuge in the Academe, this is because the Academe is full of individuals who subsist on ideas, but few of whom have any life experiences which would help them suss functional from dysfunctional, good from bad, moral from immoral. These people are highly intelligent, and have gone through life being told by teacher after teacher, professor after professor how brilliant they are and how they will change the world with their brilliant ideas.
Meanwhile in the real world were ideas must be tested by the fire of reality, the work-a-day people find the ideas of the academic inane and trivial. This create a deep seated frustration and anger in the academic. Education has been infiltrated the most by the thinking of the academic, being the closest to the Academe. The result has been a slow change in education away from traditional male focused concepts. And towards a more female focus and structure. Schools now create an environment which works for girls, but which has no time nor place for boys. This continues from first day of elementary school through the last day of the professional degree, or the doctorate.
The huge ‘gender college degree gap’ favoring women
Notable & Quotable: Women, Men and College Degrees
Is it a surprise that boys, and men find this environment intolerable?
The post lede was inflammatory for a reason. Progressivism, like all socioeconomic models had benefits, but once the model is incapable of further change it must be swapped out for a new functional model to help push us in a new, productive direction. Continuing with the old is disastrous.
Tyler sees, "Donald Trump may get the nuclear suitcase, a cranky “park bench” socialist took Hillary Clinton to the wire, many countries are becoming less free, and the neo-Nazi party came very close to assuming power in Austria. I could list more such events.
Haven’t you, like I, wondered what is up? What the hell is going on?"
But he cannot place this in context. The context is that we are at the functional end of the progressive era, and that today progressivism is simply eating its own, seeking to remain relevant. Things like political correctness, women's rights, colored rights, environmentalism which accelerated in the aftermath of the progressive decline are now untethered, destructive, and without redemption. There is no value to what they seek to do today. They are no longer movements seeking to maximize human benefit, they are now simply unreformed secular religion seeking to punish nonbelievers, and aggregate power to the clerisy of this cancerous belief.
The progressive movement has been religion so long that it is beginning to spin wildly out of control. Every aspect, every policy, every idea of it has become malignant. Those at the top of the movement no longer see the political slider between security and liberty as an element which can help society to achieve its goals, they now see that pushing the slider towards security might allow them to aggregate power, to begin to better control the masses, and so the drumbeat to reduce liberty reaches a crescendo.
Men being the element in society which value liberty over security are shocked, and unsurprisingly begins to withdraw from a society which is antagonistic to their every belief.
So what is Trump in all of this? Walter Russell Mead has a plausible answer.
"Trump is the purest expression of the politics of ‘NO!’ that I personally can recall. He’s the candidate for people who think the conventional wisdom of the American establishment is hopelessly out of touch with the real world. He’s the little boy saying that the emperor, or in this case, the aspiring empress, has no clothes. What energizes the Trump phenomenon is the very power of rejection: people who think the train is about to head off a cliff want to pull the emergency cord that stops the train even if they don’t know what happens next. To many of Trump supporters, Hillary Clinton looks like Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: the enforcer of a fatally flawed status quo and the personification of bureaucratic power in a system gone rogue."
* * *
"Trump appeals to all those who think that the American Establishment, the Great and the Good of both parties, has worked its way into a dead end of ideas that don’t work and values that can’t save us. He is the candidate of Control-Alt-Delete. His election would sweep away the smug generational certainties that Clinton embodies, the Boomer Progressive Synthesis that hasn’t solved the problems of the world or of the United States, but which nevertheless persists in regarding itself as the highest and only form of truth."
Notice how closely the last sentence resembles religion, the "highest and only form of truth" is a religious statement, not a statement of science. Science is a process of experimentation where truth is always subject of revision, change, and reformation because science follows the results of experimentation, not a dogmatic set of beliefs. Religion, however, looks for the highest, and only form of truth.
"The interest groups and power centers that surround Secretary Clinton like a praetorian guard—Wall Street, the upper middle class feminists, the African American establishment, the Davoisie, the institutional power of the great foundations and educational bureaucracies, Silicon Valley, Hollywood—have defeated their intellectual and political rivals in their spheres of interest and influence. Supporting her is a massive agglomeration of power, intellect, wealth and talent. Her candidacy is the logical climax of the Baby Boom’s march through the institutions of American life. Even the neoconservatives are enlisting in her campaign.
The American Right for all its earnest efforts has been unable to construct a counter establishment that can compete with the contemporary liberal behemoth. Libertarian nostalgia for the 1920s and 1890s, social conservative nostalgia for the faux-certainties of the 1950s; paleocon isolationism; white nationalism; ‘reformicon’ tweaks to the liberal policy agenda—none of these mutually hostile and contradictory sets of ideas can challenge the Boomer Establishment synthesis. The Clintonian center-Left won the cultural and intellectual battles of its time against both the hard left and the fragmented right. The Clinton candidacy is about inevitability, about the laws of historical and institutional gravity."
And so it was up till about 1970, since then progressivism has been rudderless, rapacious, and as damaging to millions of Americans as it was beneficial to thousands of others. The march through the institutions had one great benefit, the young people have been thoroughly indoctrinated to believe the Boomer canard that progressivism is "The way and the truth and the life. No one comes to redemption except through progressivism." Apologies to all offense by that paraphrase.
"Yet though the Boomer Consensus has triumphed in the world of American institutions and ideas, in the eyes of many Americans it has not done all that well in the real world. Foreign policy, financial policy, health policy, support of the middle class, race relations, family life, public education, trade policy, city and state government management, wages: what exactly has the Boomer Consensus accomplished in these fields? Many Americans think that the Consensus is a scam and a flop when it comes to actually, well, making things better for the average person. It has made life better, much better, for the upper middle class; few would dispute its accomplishments there. And Wall Street has every reason to pay large speaking fees and make large financial contributions to the champion of the orthodoxy that helped make it so rich.
But many and possibly most Americans think that the Boomer Consensus didn’t work for them. They may not have much confidence in the various conservative and socialist alternatives to the consensus, but they believe that something about it is flawed, and they want it stopped dead in its tracks. This is where Trump comes in. His supporters aren’t united around a set of positive ideas, but they are united in opposition to the status quo. They believe that the emperor has no clothes, even if they can’t agree on a replacement wardrobe."
The only thing surprising in all of this is that million who were seriously damaged by the dead end of progressivism continue to hold to this long defunct socioeconomic model, and most surprising, the Millennials continue to hew to it as well.
The progressive model in its current form has been nothing more than a systematic mechanism by which the Boomer have drained money from the economy into their pockets, and done so via debt which the Millennials will have to repay. Whether it was Boomers underpaying for their Social Security, Medicare, middle and upper class government largess like thousands of dollars in tax rebates for home solar panels, or purchase assistance for $100,000 Tesla autos, or Boomers simply deciding to pay only two-thirds to three-quarters of the revenues spent by the federal government, the Millenials will have to pay the rest. The light rail trains which will soon be useless in Portlandia, and everywhere else? These will be paid for by the Millennials. The Boomers wanted their toys, their baubles, but did not want to pay for them, so they fobbed off the payment on their children and grandchildren.
No generation in the history of humanity has been as self-serving, as venal, as rapacious. They have and will continue to cannibalize their young until finally stopped.
Trump is the candidate of No in this, as are the other groups noted by Tyler.
Men are not behaving as brutes, they are behaving as the moral element in society, they are attempting to stop the train from crossing what they believe to be an unbridged chasm. It is not the male element who are causing violence at Trump rallies, or the male influence causing disruptions and violence at Democrat conventions, and rallies, it is the progressives, the element of security, the female element. While the progressive has always appealed to the emotional, the irrational, while it had serious goals, those lesser elements were controlled. Now without serious goals, those elements are at the fore, violent and deadly.
If possible Mead only becomes more brilliant as he continues, this is a must read article if you wish to understand the world we live in, and what is happening in America. Mead and Maddog disagree on the corruption of the moribund progressive model, but agree on what Trump means to America more generally.
"Myself, I don’t think the system is quite as corrupt as some Trump supporters believe or, perhaps more accurately, I lack their confidence that burning down the old house is the best way to build something new. But it would be equally wrong and perhaps more dangerous to take the view that there is nothing more fueling his rise than ignorance, racism and hate. The failure of the center-Left to transform its institutional and intellectual dominance into policy achievements that actually stabilize middle class life, and the failure of the center-Right to articulate a workable alternative have left a giant intellectual and political vacuum in the heart of American life. The Trump movement is not an answer to our problems, but the social instinct of revolt and rejection that powers it is a sign of social health. The tailors are frauds and the emperor is not in fact wearing any clothes: it is a good sign and not a bad sign that so many Americans are willing to say so out loud."
Mead and Maddog disagree about how to proceed regarding progressive corruption. Maddog is in the camp that seeks to burn the house down. Mead does not. We agree, however, that Trump is a positive attempt to reject the current, and revolt against the fraud and say so publicly.
Maddog has long argued this most resembles the American political landscape circa 1853, with the Whig party fearful that adopting an anti slavery stance might rip the country apart but also torn by the moral horror of slavery. The result was the birth of the anti slavery Republican party, and the cataclysm of the American Civil War, and the cathartic reduction of slavery. Maddog believes we may be approaching such an inflection point once again. Let's hope it is more peaceful than the last, and that the progressives can finally be peacefully convinced to release their grip on progressivism.
Trump is only the beginning of the anti progressive movement. It will continue, and become more focused, and bellicose if necessary. This would be negative.
Maddog completely agrees with Mead here:
"Those of us who care about policy, propriety and the other bourgeois values without which no democratic society can long thrive need to spend less time wringing our hands about the shortcomings of candidate Trump and the movement that has brought him this far, and more time both analyzing the establishment failures that have brought the country to this pass, and developing a new vision for the American future."
This is the tactic the Republicans, and the Republican establishment should have taken. An attempt to understand the Trump supporters, their issues, and then made a real attempt to conform the Trumpettes, and the Republican party to create a new unity which could reduce the least desirable aspects of Trumpism, while also eliminating the least desirable aspects of the Republican party platform. With this the Republican party could have been modernized into something more appealing to a large number of people. Instead the Republican elite have thrown a months long conniption fit, kicking and screaming like toddlers who cannot get their way.
Maddog appreciates Tyler's willingness to address this difficult issue, and his candor. We hope our ideas add to the understanding of the problem, issues, and solution.