Fukuyama is Wrong About “Identity Politics”

A political genie offers you one wish. What would it be? What single act of change would have the greatest positive impact on our society?

Chaos and vitriol engulfing public life obscures a pearl of promise. The end of the Cold War and the subsequent emergence of a prosperous new era of globalization has opened up previously unimaginable windows of opportunity to remake our social order. In a sense, the genie has arrived and we face a choice.

Francis Fukuyama has waded into the fray, producing the most cogent and complete argument yet against what he calls “identity politics.” He urges Democrats to return to redistributive, industrial-era class appeals instead of pressing for “multiculturalism.” Fukuyama is no leftist. Like David Frum, he is a former neo-conservative who at one point supported GW Bush Administration. Like everyone else with a brain and a conscience, he finds himself increasingly aligned with the left by default. Like Frum, he sees the rise of so-called identity politics as a threat, and would advocate compromise on civil rights issues and immigration to protect a singular national identity.

Fukuyama, Frum, and the growing chorus of identity alarmists could not be more wrong about our present dilemma and our future needs. If we could ask that political genie for one wish it should be this: immediately tear down every Confederate statue. The nation that unlocks the power of authentic pluralism will dominate the 21st century. Our greatest single obstacle to achieving that future is our racial legacy.

As usual with professor Fukuyama, his logic is air-tight once the assumptions are framed. The problem starts with those assumptions.

First, he defines identity politics as a creation of the left, dating to the post- civil rights era. Thus, the racism that has engulfed the right is merely a predictable response to the rise of multiculturalism on the left. “Assimilation of foreigners” into a “mainstream culture” is an essential element of any immigration program. And “inconsistent enforcement of immigration laws” is the center of our present immigrant panic, the point at which he thinks any response to this outbreak of xenophobia should begin.

This framing is problematic not just because these unsupported claims are false. By starting with these assumptions, he drives past the most important forces rocking liberal democracies globally. Pluralism, civil rights, and multiculturalism did not land at the center of our political world out of expediency or a failure of ambition. Thanks to powerful incentives unleashed by the post-Cold War economy, cultural diversity has become a wealth engine. Fukuyama’s unsupported assumptions, which are established truisms of a dead industrial era, are not merely false, they are disastrous. There is money in diversity and money always wins.

Claiming that identity politics began with the civil rights movement is a strange choice. Here’s how Fukuyama frames this claim:

This [the civil rights movement] presented each marginalized group with a choice: it could demand that society treat its members the same way it treated the members of dominant groups, or it could assert a separate identity for its members and demand respect for them as different from the mainstream society. Over time, the latter strategy tended to win out.

This is a conventional white-washing of Martin Luther King’s appeal. In that retelling, King was merely demanding that African-Americans be granted, at last, the chance to become white people, just like the Irish and the Italians and Jews maybe eventually even the Asians. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the civil rights movement and of pluralism as a concept, aided by the iron taboo of acknowledging the existence of racism as a force in American cultural life. By this logic, letting black people sit in any seat on the bus was supposed to solve racism. Continuing to complain today about your children being brutalized by police is “identity politics” implicitly justifying the rise of Neo-Nazi groups as a response. After America has been so generous as to let you apply for the same jobs as white people, Charlottesville is what you get for complaining.

Further, the pretense that identity-based political appeals are some modern innovation in American politics is unthinkable to anyone who has ever worked on an actual political campaign, or for that matter, attended a St. Patrick’s Day parade. All politics is identity politics. It has never been otherwise.

Nationalism, by contrast, is an innovation and an increasingly antiquated one. There was no clear concept of a Germany or a German until that identity was invented. Take a look at a map of central Europe from 1850 and you’ll find no single bloc of Germans. Germany was a project of identity politics in the service of industrial-era nationalism.

The same focus on identity produced a Turkey out of dissonant, diverse identities living under an Ottoman Empire. Creation of a Turkish identity was a particularly brutal process, still not completed across much that nation-state’s geography.

Catalans and Basques continue to chafe against their imposed Spanish identity. Scots and Quebecois never relinquished their hold on an identity separate from their nation. Here in the US, demands of the nationalist era were resolved by the creation of a more expansive “white” identity, helping to heal the rifts of a civil war and prepare the country for full industrialization. That expanded definition of whiteness was tuned to incorporate previously indigestible chunks of a melting pot, previously relegated to second-class status under an earlier Protestant order. Those earlier identities never disappeared, but those who benefited from a slightly wider window of inclusion learned to love the benefits of whiteness, and to protect their acquired privileges.

By this logic it’s easy to see the demands of groups like Black Lives Matter as either impatient or unreasonable. Instead of demanding recognition, respect, and dignity as black people, they should be capitalizing on the chance to become white (reads: “Americans”). They should follow the path of the lace curtain Irish. Play golf, lower your voices, eat bland food, and learn to appreciate the artistic power of Barry Manilow. Pluralism, such as it existed in the industrial era American order, meant allowing many different kinds of people to become more or less white.

White racist backlash is excusable because minorities are breaking the American contract. Everyone gets to participate in American life as long as they adopt the identity and culture of what Fukuyama calls “mainstream society.” In return, America has promised to grant nearly equal treatment to everyone who successfully performs as white, as long as they aren’t visibly non-white. It is the responsibility of good, patriotic, non-white or non-Christian Americans to bend their life and identity to not only respect, but protect the dominant white Christian culture. To do otherwise is to invite violence, for which you’ll have no one but yourself to blame.

Thing is, this model worked for a while. As with the German and British and Turkish and innumerable other nationalist experiments, forging and solidifying a monolithic national identity unlocked the rewards of an industrial economy. The assumption that a singular cultural identity is important to national success has roots in lived experience. It seems intuitive that it’s easier to govern a more monolithic nation than a nation of many cultures.  

In an industrial order, identities that mattered were capital, bourgeois and labor. Others were extraneous and frequently a nuisance. Nation-states, like Germany, that successfully replaced fragmented identities with a superseding national identity mediated by class tended to thrive while others, like the Balkan states, struggled. Fukuyama assumes the dangers of pluralism and multiculturalism because in an industrial economy they were an obvious threat. Things change. Successful cultures adapt to those changes. Industrial era economic assumptions no longer hold. Those who seek to master the demands of an information economy with the tools of the industrial era will be the future’s greatest losers.

Review these two photos. On top is last year’s class of White House interns, reflecting the logic and values of Fukuyama’s nationalistic identity. Below is a picture of Google’s 2017 PhD fellows. Notice a difference? Which group do you think will deliver the most powerful economic impact for their country?

We are living through an economic transformation overturning the logic of the industrial age. Where an earlier order rewarded resource extraction, mass undifferentiated labor, and capital, a new order is emerging based on data, parallel processing, and talent. Prosperity in the dying order rose from seizing natural resources, mobilizing a docile workforce and developing infrastructure. Exponentially greater wealth is now being produced by organizations that convert talent into innovation at relatively low levels of capital input and dramatically lower resource demands. An enormous competitive advantage now exists for nation-states capable of developing their own intellectual talent. An even greater advantage is open to those who can attract talent developed elsewhere. Political pluralism now feeds economic power to a greater degree than we ever imagined.

This emerging economic order is an existential threat to the prosperous and successful ethno-states of Europe and East Asia. It is a potential boon to the less nationalist, less ethnically coherent democracies in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. America sits on the bubble. Our previous semi-pluralistic compromise-identity based on whiteness is failing. Those who benefited most from whiteness are in open revolt against every element of modernity. There is no way forward without defeating them. Nothing threatens America’s capacity to prosper in the information age like our attachment to race.

Adopting Fukuyama’s formula for a superimposed nationalism at the cost of immigration and pluralism amounts to a Munich-like concession before the fight. Despite our apparent setbacks, no nation enjoys better natural advantages in the emerging order. Our yet-unrealized national creed celebrates a universal vision of human rights so ambitious as to be barely credible when it was written. All of the material and mythological elements of a functioning, workable pluralism have been handed to us, ready to be exploited, right down to a federal system built for massive scale and tremendous flexibility.  This is not a moment for compromise. It is a time to press forward and invite conflict on favorable ground.

Want to build a powerful, wealthy, humane America that will lead the world in the 21st century? Start by removing every artifact of the Confederacy from public veneration. Strike this weed at its roots.

Inviting a highly contentious fight over noxious symbols won’t deliver health care to working families. Or will it? Ask yourself why we are the world’s only prosperous country without universal health care or a functioning social democracy. The answer sits beneath those Confederate statues.

Fukuyama’s formula can be summarized to this. Subsume the needs of previously oppressed groups beneath a blanket national identity. Compromise our economic need for greater immigration to mollify our racists. Use that reinforced national identity as a platform for the development of a social democracy. Aided by the peace and harmony produced by that social democracy, the oppression of blacks and Hispanics and women and so on will decline. European countries are demonstrating the fallacy in this formula.

Europe already features the most generous social democracies imaginable, but they are recoiling in racist horror at the fear of losing their social cohesion to immigration. That immigration happens to be the lynchpin of their economic future, the only route to maintain their prosperity and their generous welfare states in the emerging order. But having failed to develop an identity beyond a monolithic culture, they are now trapped and reeling. Don’t make their mistake.

You can’t get to the opioid crisis without addressing the crisis in health care in the US. And you can’t wrestle with the real problems blocking the kind of common-sense health care reforms taken for granted elsewhere in the world without talking about race. There is no way forward into a more humane, prosperous future without having a family fight over race and identity. A new American patriotism is down on one knee this Sunday afternoon. That is a vision of our most hopeful, freest, most prosperous future. In the defining conflict of our time, pluralism will win, or America will lose.

56 Comments

  1. Related to this post and others previously posted, The Guardian is publishing a new series entitled, “Big Money,” which takes a look at how the super-rich are impacting our politics. While there are many factors at play in the decline of democracy, its demise is accellerated by those who game and profit most from the system they help create. Agree or not, economic disparity is a key driver of much of the other dysfunction we are witnessing….and, that is by design.

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2018/sep/26/america-oligarchy-dominated-billionaires-big-money-series?

  2. There is a lot of truth in this piece. But I’ve yet to be convinced that the future is entirely so different to the past in terms of the kind of work that will be available to most people. There has been a lot written about the need to creative talent and so on in place of “undifferentiated labor” and “a docile workforce”. Yet probably greater than 90% of the work performed in the world today is less than creative and amounts to not much different than what was done a century ago. Agriculture; child care; warehouses operated by tech companies such as Amazon; cleaning; child care; food preparation; driving… etc. Much of these jobs are done by women. The author seems to forget the work done behind the scenes by people earning minimum wage of far less.

    There is plenty to learn from the past. Unions are still needed, as much if not more than before. The Left should not be bamboozled by the glitzy baubles of Google: the future looks remarkably familiar.

  3. Hi JonCr
    Investment
    The stock market was one of the inventions that enabled the Industrial revolution
    The idea that 1000 middle class oiks could put their money together and build a factory was revolutionary
    And it led to all sorts of frauds and bubbles!

    But that was away from the actual point – you do the IPO thing to get money to build your factory – ALL subsequent stock trades are just a gambling game – but one that can cripple an otherwise profitable company
    I like the Tobin Tax – a small percentage everytime a stock is bought and sold – I see this as providing a damping effect on the swings in the stock market and also as a tax on the “Gambling” aspect

    The problem at the moment is that there is entirely too much money sitting in piles and not being used productively

  4. I feel like there are several obstacles along the path toward getting more people in the U.S. and other nations to embrace pluralism.

    First off, China. They’re one of the East Asian ehtno-states that you mention in the article. The emerging economic order might be a threat to them, but corporations and people in countries that espouse multiculturalism and pluralism seem all too willing to do business with the country in ways that give its ethno-state regime status more staying power. Google, the pluralist multicultural company, is creating a version of their search engine for China that has everything the Chinese government could ever want. Censorship, data collection, constant tips on the location of users, etc. If companies like Google are supposedly the ones to lead the way in regards to pluralist, multicultural goals and aims and move us beyond liberal democracy, this action in particular doesn’t inspire a lot of trust that the systems they create in the future can serve as beneficial replacements for liberal democracy. Alongside these issues with Google, Hollywood has been courting China nonstop over the last few years. This has created issues in regards to LGBTQIA and black representation in film. Nimbler, more innovative productions from online streaming services as well as TV are providing these groups with representation, but representation in film is still highly important. Companies are aiding and pandering to an ethno-state regime in exchange for benefits wrought by access to its incredibly lucrative and growing middle-class market. That needs to be addressed.

    Second, the benefits that high-skilled immigrants bring to countries need to be more handily explained. Economists say over and over that high-skilled immigrants raise the wages of those around them. I do believe this to be true, but none of these economists have thoroughly explained the actual mechanics behind how high-skilled immigrants raise the wages of non-immigrant high-skilled workers. Simply stating the point without providing an easily-digestible infographic or chart as to how it works may get people flustered and confused. I can imagine people saying “So is my work less valuable?”, or “What’s the point of studying for a STEM degree in one of these fields if my employment at a company isn’t as valuable as an immigrant’s?” If you want white people to more readily accept multiculturalism, pluralism, and the new kinds of innovations being created by companies that espouse those values, then they need to be told, through clear and concise explanation, what the mechanics are behind immigrants raising wages, and that their work and cooperation is appreciated and valued.

    Third, economic prosperity that companies that espouse pluralism and multiculturalism bring to cities needs to enable those multiple cultures to become more visible, not less. What I mean by this is that, by my observations, the money that’s brought in by these companies is being used to produce a profound level of sameness. I live in Houston. It’s an amazingly diverse city that’s attracting tons of talent and capital. The capital (as well as the profits made from the returns on the investment of said capital) are being used to fund hyper-similar strip centers, mixed-use developments, gated mini-communities, and entertainment venues. A golf course near where I live is being converted into, from what I’ve seen from construction, a massive gated community with hundreds of homes, all more or less the same size with only marginal differences between them. I know this sounds silly, and maybe it is, but I feel that white people would be more appreciative of multiculturalism if the benefits that its espousing companies bring to the table were much more than an endless tide of gastropubs, escape rooms, gated communities and condos.

    1. Some good points here. I find it odd that what is being celebrated as “diversity” looks more like the same beige American corporate values and culture, expanding to encompass everyone. Turning the world into a corporate mall, where everyone watches the same movies, listens to the same music, goes to the same schools and uses the same apps, is hardly promoting diversity. You’ll find more diversity among the world’s tribal working classes and villagers than in these corporate environments, where everyone is at pains to be as bland and inoffensive as possible as they get with the global techno-progressive program and abandon their own cultural heritages.

  5. The Economist is publishing a retrospective issue that looks back at predictions and outcomes. Their findings?

    1. Economic integration has outrun political integration .
    2. Massive welfare states have discredited governments and established leaders .
    3. Technology isn’t always benign .

    175 years is a long time to explain, but for those who believe that history “teaches” and the wise “learn” from the past, this special issue of The Economist might merit a place on your nightstand.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-hard-work-of-constructing-a-liberalism-30/2018/09/23/58cd8c96-bdf0-11e8-8792-78719177250f_story.html?

  6. Chris, a couple things:

    1. While I can grasp the concept of plurality being the saving grace for not just the U.S., but the human race, how do you achieve it? How do you change basic human nature, and by that I mean tribalism, especially when it comes to culture? Go to any northern (read as civilized) major city in North America ( I have not traveled enough to comment on Europe or South America) and you can find a Chinatown. Or South Boston’s Irish? Or Greektown in Toronto? Or the Poles in Chicago? People of one race / culture DO and WILL come together for comfort and support. It is the nature of humanity.

    The Chinese gov’t is in the process of wiping out 1 million Muslim Chinese, and the world just stands by.
    European countries as you have stated are all in the reflex mode of fighting against losing each’s monoculture.
    In 1994 Rwanda, we watched the genocide of the Tutsi’s. 800,000 dead, many by machete.
    And let’s not forget Ethnic cleansing by the Bosnians 1992-1995, or the Rohingya massacres last year.
    The white nationalists of the U.S. are no different.

    How do you propose we make a change to the genetic makeup of humanity, in a relatively short time?

    2. Regarding your ideas of the corporations filling in the gaps as social democracy and its attendant safety net crumbles, how can you believe in any way that this will work, given what we see every day as the rich do everything to divert more wealth and power to themselves. That group operates essentially as royalty. That same economic royalty OWN the corporations that are supposed to pick up the pieces of a shattered backbone of decent society.

    1. I suspect you and Chris are saying the same thing, not opposites.

      The existence of a Chinatown, and a Little Italy, is a long-standing recognition that America is at least partially accepting of a pluralist society. Italians and Chinese were terribly abused when they showed up, but over time they achieved a degree of acceptance as Americans without losing their cultural attachment to their former selves.

      Because we fought a civil war over slavery, blacks have never been able to achieve that same degree of acceptance in large parts of the country. And because of the increasing alienation of the whites who can’t let go of the Civil War and join the 20th century (let alone the 21st), we now have other immigrants with obvious differences also being lumped together in the group of “others” we “have to watch out for.”

      What it might take to eliminate that recidivism is tough nut to crack. But I think Chris and you both recognize that Fukuyama’s assessment is backwards. We don’t need to eliminate Chinatown and Little Italy. They are vibrant segments of modern America. We need to learn to accept that blacks and Muslims, too, can retain cultural identity while still being Americans.

    2. First, let’s correct one of our core assumptions about human “tribalism.” We are not inherently racist. We don’t inherently recognize any ethnicity. Our wiring is set at a number around 100-150. That’s the maximum number of people we seem to be capable of feeling real intimacy and kinship for. That’s a number we’ve been working with for probably a million or so years.

      If that biological/psychological imperative was insurmountable, we would not have been able to capitalize on agriculture. Cultural and technological innovations can blunt the impact of biological limitations. We’ve been doing it for millennia.

      The problem we face now is that a set of cultural innovations that helped us create agricultural and then industrial civilizations stands in the way of the next, even more powerful force, the data society. Someone is going to innovate their way around that limitation and become the dominant force in the next century.

      We are starting out in the lead. Our civilization has consistently been the most nearly pluralistic you could find anywhere. In fact, this new data society is largely an evolutionary product of our previous relative success in allowing multiple cultures to thrive in a single polity. Now we just have to stretch a little further, while other societies, like the Chinese and Japanese and Germans, have to practically reinvent themselves to compete. Our problem is that there are new competitors in places like Canada and the Gulf States that are trying to leapfrog us. And others lagging behind in Africa and the Middle East could adopt this model to surge past us.

      If we could just squash our racists, our path forward would be relatively clear and bright. Our other problems would become a lot easier to manage. But those racists have been holding back our progress since our foundation and they aren’t gonna give up their privileges quietly.

      1. OK, Chris, I can accept your definition of tribalism. But how does genocide work in that paradigm? How do you get more a nation, or a significant portion of it, (a whole lot more than the intimate 100-150 persons), more than willing to kill “the other”, or at least treat them as something less?

        You say that this is an artificial construct, a manipulation of the psyche of fear and anger. But whether it is artificial, or in our DNA, the results still look the same to me.

        And as for “if we could just squash the racists”, how exactly do we do that? Seems the better angels of mankind have been failing at that for millennia. How does the new data world, that NEXT will be built on, succeed in wiping out monoculture and hatred of “the other”, where everything else has failed? Your pictures of Google are nice, but then there is the entire demographic represented by your intern shot, or the crowd at a NASCAR event. I can’t see economic forces alone being the driving force that sweeps away the scourge.

        That is not a rhetorical question. I would like to understand how you think this will occur. My suggestion of killing the leaders, though highly cathartic, will not work.

      2. ***And as for “if we could just squash the racists”, how exactly do we do that? ***

        It’s simple, you use the same mechanism that created the racism in the first place. Substitute one identity for another. It’s already happening, with remarkable success in many places. Failure is much easier to recognize than success.

        Have you spent any time in New York City, or Chicago, or for that matter Houston (maybe the finest example)? People of many ethnic and racial identities are happily going about their lives, building a successful and healthy social order, cooperating and sharing resources across what should be uncrossable cultural chasms. And we hardly even notice. Armed with a substitute identity over-arching their underlying religious or cultural identities, granted a great deal of individual freedom to express themselves, and bound to their peers by shared economic interests, they live next to their racial or cultural rivals with hardly a ripple of tension.

        Even in those places we still have lingering problems with race. Take aggressive steps to tear down the cultural markers that preserve that legacy and it will fade. Affirmative action programs. Removing Confederate statues. Laws barring discrimination in hiring and lending, along with real enforcement. Introducing more realistic content at historical sites like Monticello and Southern plantations. And fighting the similar cultural artifacts that blunt the capacity of women and Hispanics to participate freely in our culture. These steps don’t work overnight, but they work. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t see so much heated resistance when we try to carry them out.

        And get ready to fight, because some of those people aren’t going to give up their privileges quietly. Fighting takes lots of forms, not just guns and tanks. The most important fight we have ahead of us involves white people simply speaking up and challenging racism instead of quietly rolling their eyes at Uncle Bigot’s nasty comments. The biggest chunk of the battle of American racism will be won by whoever decides to be most assertive.

      3. “Armed with a substitute identity over-arching their underlying religious or cultural identities, granted a great deal of individual freedom to express themselves, and bound to their peers by shared economic interests”
        Sounds a lot like national identity. Once again you’re coming around to the view of Fukuyama even as you think you’re refuting it.
        By the way, what is your evidence that humans don’t (gonna restate this for clarity) naturally form in-groups and out-groups on rather arbitrary bases?

      4. It could be a national identity. It could be a common affinity for a sports team. It could be anything really as long as its compelling enough to replace our innate animosity for “the other.” It’s often a conflicted, complex blend, depending on what feels compelling at the moment. And what’s compelling, most of all, is whatever proves most rewarding, setting up a fascinating future conflict between attachments to some vestige of a nation and attachments to more materially important international employers.

        I don’t understand the other question.

      5. What I mean is that even if we aren’t born knowing about race, racism is just a common expression of tribal impulses that I think are, according to history, innate. The tribe is the in group and the “other” is the out group. Traditionally those groups are often defined based on pigment but they don’t have to be.
        Put more casually, race may or may not be learned but it sure seems like hate and groupthink are there from the beginning, just waiting to be harnessed.
        Google meeting with the GOP behind closed doors does not fill me with optimism. Hopefully he will just talk about some ambitious undertaking of the company and ask them to stay out of the way; that wouldn’t be so bad.

      6. Racism may be the incorrect term to use. Group identity may be more applicable. After all, women are considered second class in many societies, even among civilized ones….I believe that until there is greater educational and economic parity, there will always be those who are outcast…considered “lesser”. As Chris pointed out, look at the diversity of Houston and other major cities. But in every case, people who are perceived as uneducated, low economic contributors, are treated as a class apart. Black and brown people have to fight for their places in the social and economic order. Why? The absorption with “self” and position are incredibly strong in the Caucasian group, which is unfortunate because their numbers are declining relative to these other groups. One wonders how the world will function when white people are a true minority. Payback is a bitch.

    1. I’m still not sure he was wrong about the End of History when you read the thesis carefully, although the buzz created by the ambitious title certainly set up him to be misunderstood. and his little-read academic work on the nuts and bolts of modern political development may be the best in the world right now.

      I’ll also go out on a limb and say that he and the core of the neo-conservatives were basically right about Hussein and the necessity to spread liberal democracy. They were also (most of them, including Fukuyama) right about the idiocy of the GW Bush admin. Fukuyama was off the Iraq War bandwagon before the war started. Like Frum, he turned on Bush pretty hard.

      My biggest problem with Fukuyama is something common across PolSci. The people with the big brains who think the big thoughts almost never have a clue what happens on the street. And because there’s so little hard data to work with in this field, you can really drift off into la-la land without consistent contact with the public and with campaigns. I think explains how the entire PolSci establishment missed the most important thing to happen in US politics over the past three decades – the flight of the Dixiecrats. They basically only heard about it from watching the news. Almost no one in academia, even “conservative” academia, has ever gotten an email forward from their batty Tea Party aunt.

  7. Hi Guys

    This is much more an American problem – there are issues in the UK (Brexit!) and some European countries with large numbers of refugees – but they are superficial compared to the US problems

    Your issue is slavery and the fact that the “Blacks” were massively second class citizens inside living memory and the fact that they are STILL second class citizens

    That is the reason that you don’t have Universal Health care – the blacks would benefit

    The rest of us simply have not had the centuries of slavery at home

    I’m not saying this to criticize – just to narrow down the problem

    If I was in charge (a truly horrendous idea) I would institute

    (1) – Transparency – all wealth needs to identified with it’s owner – no more than 5 steps from human to wealth
    (2) – All “unowned” wealth goes to the government
    (3) – A progressive Wealth Tax

    A massive rehabilitation and release program – from State and Federal Prison

    Setting the Stage

    A “SLAVERY RESTITUTION PAYMENT”

    It’s far too late to help the actual slaves – and far too divisive to award on a racial basis so I would pay EVERYBODY a lump sum – including kids and prisoners

    $10,000 each – $3 Trillion Dollars – about the same as the Iraq War

    Paid for by the wealth tax and by increasing the income tax

    Income tax – use a geometric formula –

    Income Threshold – Tax rate
    $1 Million —————- 60%
    $2 Million —————- 80%
    $4 Million —————- 90%
    $8 Million —————- 95%
    $16 Million—————- 97.5%
    $32 Million—————- 98.75%

    And so on

      1. A friend of mine…also a dissident Republican, incidentally…suggested that all assets generate liens against themselves, to target indirect structures like irrevocable trusts. Someone is on the hook to pay these, somewhere. This is not unlike property tax so much, but made general: the state takes a piece of you for upholding your private property. Seems fair to me, and Thomas Paine, precocious in many respects, might agree.

        He didn’t go into much detail, but as I also have interest putting my thumb on the scale for
        building wealth among those who have none and are thrifty, I’d layer in a deduction for closely held wealth (thus, disincentivizing structuring), plus a negative wealth tax for those below some amount to help them build, plus a progressive consumption tax, to capture spendthrift. But that’s really getting into the weeds.

      1. Hi JonCr

        The first stage is to identify the owners of the wealth –
        That is what Piketty says in his Capital in the 21st century
        And Dr Brin in “Contrary Brin”
        I would say that everything over a certain value – $1 million? – would need to be identified
        and have an owner
        If you have a painting then you need to claim it – and value it – I would put a clause in that the “valuation + 50%” is the price that you HAVE to accept if somebody offers it

        Everything needs a link to an owner – no link = no owner = must belong to the state

        There will always be ways to fiddle –
        One of the things that we have here in the tax code is that the courts are guided by the “Purpose Statement” – so the purpose of the taxation is clear
        There is a case going through the courts now where the rich man did a number of financial swaps back and forwards to avoid tax and the Revenue department is arguing that those moves were for tax avoidance reasons – if he cannot persuade the judge that there were other valid reasons for the moves then he has to pay the tax

        I also like the Norwegian system where the tax returns are public documents – anybody can look at them

        As far as stocks are concerned the dividend is income and the stock value is wealth

      2. I guess what I’m asking is would it be possible for a stock to have negative value, if the tax was higher than the dividend. But I realized it was a dumb question; the value of the stock (and thus the market values of companies) would fall until the net payout was positive. That could have the effect of lowering the average payoff of an investment though I’m having trouble doing the thought experiment and because economic policy usually has unpredictable effects I won’t try too hard.
        Or a more to-the-point question, do you see any use for investment or is it all a demand-side theory of economic growth.
        I like the idea of a purpose statement. And public returns – I think we’re gonna get a window to implement that in the States here in a couple years.
        May I also suggest taxing inheritances to the point of making them all but non-existent?

    1. Duncan, The more I think about racism, white supremacy, etc., I feel that you have a definite point regarding slavery in the US.

      I’ve noticed that American Blacks (those descended from former slaves) seem to have a far more difficult time integrating into American society, than descendents of recent immigrants from Africa, even those that have very dark skins. Even over 150 years after the slaves were freed, they seem to be subject to far stronger and rigid discrimination. Witness Obama for example,who is the offspring of a Kenyan. On the other hand blacks who are descended from former slaves, seem to have far more difficult times. Immigrants from South Asia, China, Japanese. SW Asia and other areas, seem to be able to assimilate reasonably well within one or two generations, as the immigrants from Europe have. There must be an explanation for this.

      I suspect part of the reason is that the end of the Civil War and Reconstruction was very messy. Basically the North, i.e. the Radical Republicans abandoned Reconstruction in 1877 a mere 12 years after the Civil War and all attempts at restitution and integration were blocked. Thus, America has never dealt with our legacy of Slavery and the unimaginable cruelties, that its particular American implementation required.

      It seems to me that the implementation of slavery in the deep South was particularly damaging to the blacks, in that their family structure was constantly ripped apart and they could form no cohesive society of their own. Education and all forms of expression were denied. The particular implementation emphasized whipping and extreme cruelty. This was driven by the fear of the enslavers of a slave revolt, similar to that on St. Dominique and the imperatives of Laissez Faire capitalism as dictated by the world wide cotton industry, i.e. “Empire of Cotton”.

      This brings up another issue, which is that capitalism unless controlled results in extreme wealth accumulation, which I consider the “Achilles Heal’ of capitalism. Piketty reiterates this in his Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century and concludes that wealth should be taxed. The Income tax worked for a while to do that, but over time its progressiveness has been reduced to the point where it is no longer controlling the accumulation of extreme wealth.

      In summary I feel that the combination of slavery and the nature of Laissez Faire capitalism created a particular toxic mix in the US and that as a nation we have elected to ignore it. That is rearing its ugly head again at this time and as you say precludes the US from moving towards a more social democratic model, similar to Europe and other industrialized nations. It is certainly contributing to our national dysfunction at this time, as it has periodically throughout our history.

      However, before we can attempt to deal with it we need to realize it is an issue. Many in our nation would like to continue to ignore it and some would actually like to go back to the antebellum years and perhaps reinstitute slavery.

      These are similar issues to those regarding male misogyny being at the root with the Kavanaugh nomination. Dr. Ford is to be applauded for her courage in confronting her demons created that day in Maryland in the early 1980’s. Anyone who has had to deal with PTSD, whether from combat or other causes or from a loved one suffering from it realizes that the natural inclination is to ignore it and attempt to move on only to later realize it never goes away. American society suffered from its own case of PTSD with slavery, the Civil War and its aftermath. We have never dealt with it.

      1. I think continuity of access to property, peace, and order is important, and these crucial things were denied to descendants of slaves for generations, and still. But perhaps less theoretical and even more proximate is the banal and vicious housing policies in effect in my grandparents’ generation, and the war.

        Based on my own observation having grown up in California’s Bay Area, I think these policies set back well-being and prosperity of migrating Black persons to the California Bay Area a couple of generations, per Rothstein’s “The Color of Law,” wherein he documents a number of times where non-segregated locales were made segregated by force of a cooperation of private industry and Federal administration in financing mortgages.

        Most other groups that have come substantially after the 1965 reforms, such as Chinese (like half of my family) and the Africans you mention were not subject to that un-freedom so recently, nor for so long.

  8. I agree that identity is more important than ever, in a world as disrupted, disorienting and uprooted as this one. An identity gives you a home and a sense of belonging in an alienating, depersonalized, globalized world. So identity politics is here to stay—most notably among whites who need it the most, since their deep identities were stripped from them over the centuries by a series of empires and revolutions, from Rome to Christianity to Nationalism, Americanism and Globalism. I’m seeing a cultural trend among whites to discover their deeper roots and identity, and to abandon the shallow, lowest common denominator melting-pot culture that Protestant America brought to the world. Interesting things are happening below the radar of the cultural elites, which suggest that the future isn’t going to be like either your google White House photo, but something stranger and less ideologically clear—something closer to actual diversity, in other words, which involves the breaking up of empires, homogenous cultures and the grand narratives, not a continued expansion toward global beigeocracy.

      1. Maintaining a tribal identity seems to have worked pretty well for Jews after several thousand years. It’s the most natural thing in the world for humans, like language, tool-making or religion. It has probably lasted that long for good reasons that we can’t wish away.

      2. Neither the Jews, nor anyone else, has maintained a tribal identity for two millennia, or for two or three centuries for that matter. Human societies don’t work that way. They organize an identity, then try to project that identity as far back onto history as possible to shore it up. That’s how we invented white people and black people, and how we keep reinventing them in each new generation to meet a changing definition. Beyond a few layers of family ties, all of our racial and ethnic definitions are little more than costumes.

      3. It may come as a surprise to Jews to hear that their tribal identity is such a recent construct. Racial identities, more than tribal ones, are a way of acknowledging that one’s ancestors developed different phenotypes over tens of thousands of years due to diverging histories, and these are a little more than “costumes” or inventions. A costume is something you can take off and put on at will; I would challenge you to go live in a non-white society or spend time in a large prison and see how possible that is. The postmodern idea that race is just a costume may be the ultimate form of “white privilege”, dreamed up by people who live in safe, ivory tower environments where crude matters of biology don’t intrude on the tidy ideological worlds they have constructed within their heads. I actually think it acts like a religion for secular people, who want to believe that humans are disembodied beings of spirit and ideas, and if the great cosmic evil of racism can be eradicated in some “final solution” then it will be smooth sailing toward the Millenium. I would suggest that this is simply another fanatical faith or ideology, and a dangerous one at that.

      4. So, you’re saying you haven’t had much exposure to Israeli politics…

        There is nothing in our genetic code that remotely matches our social constructs of race, and ethnicity is pretty tough to establish as well, so difficult that the companies trying to make a business of tracing our ethnic origins keep having to tweak their results to avoid creating some serious upset among customers.

        You have virtually nothing in common with the people you think are your “racial” peers. That’s sad and pathetic in its own way, but not quite sad or pathetic enough to inspire any sympathy.

    1. I think you have a point. It dovetails why people seem to feel that celebrating Irish, or German, or Scottish, or Italian, or Lithuanian culture is natural, and celebrating being “white” raises eyebrows. What does a Sicilian and a Norwegian have in common? Not a lot, and probably less than a Sicilian those from various North African regions. The discombobulated mix of things in White leaves it ripe for petty chauvinisms.

      Now, that’s easy for me to say, because my ethnic mix is very simple, if bifurcated. What of those with complex European mixes in America? I don’t have a good answer, but this columnist sort of gets at this point: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-pareene-silent-sam-confederate-flags_us_5b856016e4b0162f471cb9ea

      I don’t think studying the ways of one’s ancestors is so bad, if for no other reason than studying is a good thing people should do. But people also shouldn’t take it so seriously, either.

  9. I don’t see the diversity you’re talking about. I see people from a few Asian countries who dress in similar American clothing, have similar hairstyles, attend the same schools, adopt American values and want to be assimilated into middle-of-the-road American culture. For actual diversity, you would need people who express non-American or eccentric values and culture, and don’t want to be assimilated into the Borg. Actual diversity would also entail tolerating monuments to other cultures, rather than wanting to tear them all down and live in a conformist society in the manner of the Taliban.

    1. The Confederacy was an evil, bigoted lot of traitors to the United States and their efforts ought to have ended in hanging and revoked citizenship rather than commemorative statues. It’s very clear from the various state DoIs that their raison d’etre was to own human beings; I suggest reading any one of them.

      1. Of course. And the Buddhists who built those statues in Afghanistan were evil, idolotrous polytheists who threatened the purity of the Umma and ought to have been put to the sword as enemies of Islam. It’s very clear from Buddhist scriptures that their raison d’etre was to spread nihilism and shirk and deny the unity of Allah.

      2. If you value human rights, peacefully tearing down the monuments to slavery and preventing religious monuments from being torn down by murderous theocrats is neither hypocritical nor a matter of cultural subjectivity. Your comparison is disingenuous.

      3. “Human rights” is a construct of a particular Western culture and regime that has won some big wars and aggressively exported its values. It is not something universally agreed upon, as we’ll discover as China starts pushing its weight around. Tearing down monuments is a symbolic act, designed to signal clearly to the population which ideology is in power. The Taliban were playing the same game, signalling to Afghans that the Buddhist ideology that tolerated idolatry (the worst sin in Islam) will no longer be tolerated under their regime. It is not about “religious tolerance” (another Western liberal value) to them, but ideological purity and power, just as tearing down Confederate monuments is to some of you.

      4. A few things:

        ““Human rights” is a construct of a particular Western culture”

        Regardless of where it came from, I think it’s a good idea to aspire to and have personally vested myself in promoting it — especially in my own country, which record of human rights I would never say is perfect or pure.

        ” Tearing down monuments is a symbolic act, designed to signal clearly to the population which ideology is in power.”

        Even with the way you dress this argument up, it still bears worth pointing out that the Confederates actually lost the damn war, and the people who are clinging to its legacy are clinging to a regime whose opposition to the Union is literally defined by the intent to own humans as property. All the rest, ‘states rights’ and all that bullshit, is bullshit. And everyone knows it. It’s begging the question rhetoric by people whose guts get a little twisted if its insinuated that grandpappy was an asshole.

        You can dress the words up in ‘signals’ and ‘power’ but slavery is pretty transparently detestable. It is a good thing that the human species started considering it as such, and has been working at reducing its influence worldwide ever since. In this I’m not giving modern, 2018 United States carte blanche.

        Secondly, despite the positioning you and I have ended up on in this part of the thread, I’m personally not all that interested in tearing down Confederate monuments the way others are. What I’m reacting to is your logic, where you’re equivocating slavery and terrorism with the attempts to prevent them, because all three actions are ‘ideological purity and power.’ What are we supposed to do, just sit back and be like, “Wellll, slavery and genocide is just kinda that culture’s OPINION and so like, I wouldn’t want to be seen as an aggressor and represser of their CULTURE because it’s what they really believe?”

        No, I’m pretty fairly comfortable taking the position that human rights improves the human condition, and thus are worth fighting for, whereas slavery and terrorism worsen the human condition and are worth fighting against. I don’t consider that stance to be an oppressive ideology outright.

      5. Actually, I just realized I am making a mistake taking this discussion as wide as human rights versus slavery when I needn’t stray outside your own conclusions.

        If taking down Confederate monuments is virtue signalling for ideological dominance, then what is putting Confederate monuments up represent? Ask any black Southerner and they’ll tell you exactly which ideology is considered dominant and who it’s trying to dominate.

        So using your own conclusions, you make a very valid argument for taking them down

      6. Of course, everyone uses monuments and symbols to assert power. In a postmodern world, there is no moral “arc of the universe” or “human rights” to appeal to, so everything is a game of power. Ironically, this is basically the fascist worldview. It’s not particularly pleasant, being a prescription for endless war and “might is right” politics, but here we are. When you challenge every tradition in pursuit of endless progress, you have to abandon peace, civility and tranquility. Don’t like it? Neither do I. Oh well, maybe China’s new Confucian initiative can provide an attractive alternative.

      7. I can pretty much go line through line through your comment to break down how ridiculous it is, but the big thing I’m really missing is not your logic, but what your point is, why it matters to you, and what you want people to do about it, if anything.

      8. I’m just making conversation. I stumbled across this blog and found a guy writing some interesting but rather ideological, black and white things, and I thought it would be fun to respond. The world is complicated and flawed, and there’s no formula for building heaven on earth. We aren’t smart enough to do so, despite all our data and technology. So we are wise to have some humility and give more weight to things which have existed for a long time than to the latest theories. I guess that’s my main point, and the main point of conservatism when faced with partisans of the cult of progress, who think they’ve figured everything out because they have smartphones and social media and their ancestors were racist cavemen sitting around fires, or whatever.

    1. EJ

      I showed this recommendation to my partner, who is Parisien, and their response was “Well, duh.” France being the country it is, and Parisiens being the people they are, I think one might get a different response elsewhere.

      It sounds like an interesting book though.

  10. So your path forward is to listen to the Ta-Nehisi Coateses of the world, writing articles about how Kanye West is a race traitor and how it makes him nervous to see his son play with white kids.
    I don’t see how it will build sympathy to constantly stress our differences and undercut common humanity the way identity politics does. If we want a future uninhibited by race then being aggressively race-conscious isn’t going to get us there.
    I looked at those photos for a while. And I looked at your line “just like the Irish and the Italians and Jews and maybe eventually even the Asians”. The Google fellows, I suspect, exemplify exactly what you derided: race/appearance aside, that group is almost entirely ethnically white. Even if you would prefer to reserve the word “white” for racist Southern white trash, the point is that there probably isn’t much variation in the cuisine, television styles, news media, or political views consumed by those PhDs. Progressives have a monoculture of their own; they prove Fukuyama’s point but do so in a way that isn’t very inclusive of the country as a whole. The Rs obviously have their own problems with this, but as you’ve pointed out before they don’t have a lot of influence or economic strength.
    Notice too before you get happy about that picture from Google: there are no black people and few to no (by my count no) Latinx.

    1. The path forward is to stop pretending our root problem is not our root problem. Why aren’t blacks or Hispanics represented in either of these pictures? Or to put it another way, why are the only non-whites in the Google picture the products of a non-American culture?

      Gee, I wonder?

      Attack the problem that lies at the root of so many of our other issues and lots of seemingly intractable issues will suddenly be simple.

      1. I know race is our central problem. Your writing about it is one of the biggest reasons I started following Lifer during the most recent presidential primary. But identity politics and Social Justice are really just about conflicting ethnicities that we would call both of “white”. It shoves problem number two – class – under the rug and focuses on a bunch of random crap with poor evidence backing up its supposed importance. (It also shares certain qualities with evangelical Christianity, incl. intolerance for dissent, disrespect for science, and Original Sin that needs to be denounced.) It’s mostly symbolic, and doesn’t allow for any narrative more complicated than whites/men are evil and the West caused every problem in the world.
        I am 110% on board with throwing racists out of power and decent jobs. But if the definition of racist includes saying that riots weren’t a reasonable response to the Rodney King fiasco or that two parent homes are better for children than homes headed by a single mother then I’m forced to be this generation’s version of a neoconservative. (There are those, like me, who say that a biased and cruel justice system is part of why the fathers aren’t present. Then there is the group hostile to the idea of needing two parents.)

      2. Even after looking on Urban Dictionary I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean. But you can look up any of Coates’s Atlantic articles and see I’m not using hyperbole.
        I’ve engaged with your literature and with its higher-level incarnations. The fact that all you can do in response is lob personal insults is emblematic of why I care so much about this debate in the first place, and it’s not going to serve your cause very well.
        Nobody else on the site is like that. I’ve had reasonable, protracted discussions with a number of others. You’ve just been a troll, trading in righteous anger and snippy Tweets.

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