Social Democracy Won’t Save Liberal Democracy

These days, members of the Sweden Democrats are discouraged from wearing Swastikas and Nazi uniforms. Call it progress. In elections over the weekend the anti-immigrant, neo-fascist party threw the country into turmoil, finishing a close third and gumming up any potential ruling coalition. It is unclear whether either of the traditional top-two parties can form a government that blocks the Sweden Democrats from power.

Here in the US, a narrative began to take shape last year to explain Trump’s narrow win. Supposedly, voting for Trump was a cry for help by a neglected class of blue-collar workers left behind by the prosperity of coastal elites. Trump-whisperers like Salena Zito and Chris Arnade built a brand traveling around interviewing “forgotten” Americans about their plight and carefully editing out much of what they heard. According to this narrative, all we needed to right the ship was a populist pivot, a Sanderseque platform of social programs to shore up the weakening social welfare state.

The problem with that assessment was the facts, a problem which the Nordic experience lays painfully bare. We went to the polls in ’16 amid a historic economic boom. By every objective measure, economic conditions were rapidly improving, even in most places Trump won. His supporters were disproportionately white, aging, and largely affluent, already the beneficiaries of the best that our social welfare system has to offer from Medicare to Social Security and beyond. Most importantly, his supporters were disproportionately racist and scared, the most decisive factor in his support.

Nordic countries have the most generous and efficient welfare states in the world, emblems of what social democracy can accomplish. A party of anti-Muslim “populists” holds the largest number of seats in Denmark’s governing coalition. Norway is governed by a similar far right party. Now Sweden will struggle to keep their fascists out of government. There is no “economic strain” that explains the rise of fascism in Scandinavia. These countries have been bounding along on a wave of growth and prosperity for many years. Their pivot toward the far right is driven by only one factor – fear of immigrants and the perceived decline of a unitary national identity. Their failure to contain xenophobia under the best conditions imaginable casts doubt on some of the fundamental assumptions underpinning liberal democracy itself.

As we consider options for protecting liberal democracy in a time of crisis, two problems loom. First we face a growing delta between what works and what’s popular. Second, and more troubling for a large, diverse nation like the US, is the simple challenge of complexity. The software necessary to run our political system requires a degree of expertise difficult to deliver in a liberal democracy. The Nordic experience undercuts our hope that social democracy might ease racist fears, and offers us nothing to manage the complexity of implementing such a system. A pivot toward social democracy might form a bridge to a post-Trump world, a rhetorical rally point to organize short-term resistance to fascism, but it is unlikely to offer any long term solution to the weaknesses eroding liberal democracy.

For two decades US teams struggled at the international math Olympiad. However, under a new American coach, Po-Shen Lo, the team has finished first in three of the last four years. Take a look at your all-American math team.

That winning team would not exist, and certainly wouldn’t be ours, without a nation built on immigration. Diversity works. Diversity is also unpopular. Human beings chafe under the demands of multiple languages, cultures, and styles of thought. They chafe more the lower their intelligence or education level. However, institutions that master the challenge of incorporating diversity produce measurably stronger outcomes compared to culturally monolithic institutions. This is merely one example of the challenges facing a political system built on popular will.

What works in the emerging economic order is decentralized decision-making, diversity of thought, trade, fast cycles of innovation and failure, and choices based on scientifically-derived data rather than human intellect, emotion or instinct.

What’s popular is a monolithic dominant culture, stability, restraints on trade to protect favored cultural interests, economic policies premised on perceived fairness rather than profit or success, and authoritarian politics. This list of popular policies was not far removed from optimal strategies in an industrial society. In a data-driven economy, these priorities are more than just sub-optimal, they can turn catastrophic.

Corporations, like Nike, have a decision-making structure that lets them make unpopular choices that deliver economically superior outcomes. Governments under democratic leadership find this more difficult. Nike’s public popularity fell by nearly half after debuting their Kaepernick ad. It doesn’t matter, because online profits surged by more than 30% at the same time. If you bought Nike’s stock on the Monday after the announcement, you would have earned a fast 3% on your money in just a week as the stock absorbed the bigot bounce.

People who make decisions at Nike aren’t influenced by polling. Their bonuses aren’t based on elections. Hostility from millions of semi-literate racists in one particular country has no influence on their choices. Votes that matter are cast in stores and online globally. Nike won the election that matters and looks set to keep on winning. Businesses enjoy an insulation from public will not available to governments in a liberal democracy.

Back in Scandinavia, the decision to accept a surge of migrants from the Middle East and Africa is often cast in humanitarian terms. That’s a dodge. Like all wealthy nations, the Nordic democracies face plummeting native-born population growth. In time, looming declines in overall human population are likely to have overall positive effects, but in the short term much of the infrastructure of social democracy is built on an assumption of population growth. Those Swedes wringing their hands over the shiftless immigrants “straining” the welfare state desperately need those immigrants to fund that welfare state. Kick them out, and the prosperity on which Swedes’ lifestyles depend goes with them. What’s popular, and what works, are often not the same thing.

As it becomes more difficult to persuade the bulk of the voting public to back policies that work, non-democratic institutions will grow more powerful. Rewards, in terms of money and power, will flow toward organizations with greater and greater insulation from public opinion. Those non-democratic institutions will also enjoy another advantage, access to computational platforms on which they offload decisions, free from the weight of democratic oversight.

Public institutions, outclassed on all sides, escape the constraints of their programming by shifting public power to a new kind of extra-governmental organization. Halliburton builds military bases. Aetna creates a health care system. A Google subsidiary, Sidewalk Labs, is designing data-centric urban spaces. Awkward new entities like Southwest Key Programs, neither a charity nor a business, emerge to deliver a modicum of public services where our public institutions fail. These private entities offer parallel processing refined by competition at a speed, agility, and cost that law-bound public institutions cannot match. What they don’t offer, is an interest in the public interest. These private entities will compete to supplement failing government services, but only where they can make a profit.

For those in the US who want to replace an already too-big, too-slow, centralized system with an even bigger, slower one, a rude shock awaits. Social democracy is a great idea for 1950. It is a humane, just, and reasonable response to the demands of an industrial economy. We don’t live in an industrial economy.

The quality of representation and bureaucracy required to make democratic socialism work in a nation of our size and complexity simply isn’t going to materialize. No matter what choices we make in the voting booth, our system does not produce the incentives necessary to deliver the outcomes voters demand. It is no accident that the current poster child for democratic socialism is a 28 year-old bartender.

The Affordable Care Act was 2300 pages of legislative software. To work its way into something remotely resembling effectiveness, it needed another 20,000 pages of enabling regulations. There is a fine art to writing the code that runs our government. It is extremely difficult, specialized work, beyond the skills of our elected representatives and beyond the mental universe of the average voter. Congressmen seldom even attempt to write a law anymore. That function is largely outsourced to internal Congressional specialists or to well-funded think tanks or lobbyists. Hardly more than a handful of our elected representatives had read the ACA before voting on it. Fewer still understood it. We no longer even concern ourselves with this erosion of democratic oversight because it’s so clearly unavoidable, but that’s not how a liberal democracy functions.

Big corporations regularly write code far more complex than the code that runs our government. However, if Oracle’s management was elected by the voting public, all that skill and dexterity would soon be reduced to a muddle. Our democracy was not designed for elite parallel processing, especially at its distant center. No matter how many votes you muster or how many rallies you attend, you’re not going to get Congressmen or staffers capable of writing the next generation of government code. Those people are wisely investing their energies elsewhere, and reaping the attendant rewards. None of the necessary incentives exist to produce in government the evolutionary outcomes we take for granted in other fields. Solutions to our next round of “big problems” are unlikely to emerge from public life as currently organized.

Nordic countries are able to build comprehensive welfare states in part because of the relative simplicity of their structure. Sweden is a sovereign country with its own king, currency, army, language, and a landmass larger than California. It also has a population roughly the same as the Chicago metro area. Denmark and Norway have populations about equal to Houston. Small size and cultural continuity greatly simplifies the challenge of writing legislative software. There are simply fewer variables to account for. To scale up, you need something smarter, faster and more efficient than the cumbersome processes of a liberal democracy.

A move toward social democracy might perhaps, in the short run, have thwarted Trump and bought us some time. It will likely also be enough to propel Democrats back into political leadership for a brief period. It will not even begin to address the forces undermining liberal democracy at its foundations, and may even nudge it toward comprehensive failure.

Just as Hayek warned, public frustration may hit the boiling point as officials elected to accomplish specific, complex, and fundamentally unachievable aims continue to fail. Social democracy as a bridge to a post-Trump era might work. However, social democracy as a longer-term cure for the ills of liberal democracy has a dubious future. If it won’t save the Swedes, it’s hard to see what it can offer us.

***

This post is part of a series exploring what’s next after liberal democracy and what we should do to prepare. Much of this material was covered in The Politics of Crazy, though from the perspective of a more optimistic era. The work fits better as a whole, but reading through a 6000+ word piece on a computer seems impractical. When these are complete I’ll gather them into a series of links on a single page.

39 Comments

  1. I really like these articles, but you can’t cherry-pick examples.

    You claim that the future is a decentralized world, and that corporations are the prime example of this, and yet corporations are getting *bigger*, not smaller. Thanks to a spineless Justice Dept. corporations are merging and becoming behemoths. Those small, nimble companies that you’d expect to kill off the dinosaurs end up getting squashed by them or bought out (and then squashed…).

    Even in the tech world: Google and Facebook together take more of the online ad revenue pie than the rest of the market *combined*. No other company even gets 5% of the market. There is no oxygen left in Silicon Valley for a new company to thrive. In the first tech wave, of the ’90s, the goal was to IPO, because it was reasonable that if you created a new product, you could create a sustainable company around it. Nowadays, no one IPOs. Everyone’s goal is to get acquired by one of the FANGs, because there’s no route to actually building a new company that can thrive on its own two feet.

    After the breakup of AT&T, AT&T (i.e. the international calling arm) was supposed to have been the winner: they were no longer the regulated local phone company, unconstrained by hidebound regulations, and could compete full bore in the emerging telecoms world. Plus, they kept all of their world-renowned Bell Labs research laboratories, and even owned much of the critical infrastructure and expertise on that new emerging technology, the internet. If anyone was placing any bets on who would survive after the breakup, AT&T, or the baby bells, I’d bet no one would have bet on the baby bells. And yet, AT&T is gone (as are the other unregulated telecom companies of the time, GTE, and (the old) Sprint), and the two largest telecom companies are former Baby Bells (Verizon aka NY Bell and AT&T aka Southwest Bell).

    And this was not because NY and Southwest Bell were decentralized, ferocious innovators and disruptors. Far from it. They benefited from the govt. monopoly that allowed them to remain centralized, milk their customers on their ancient, crappy, copper cables, and then use this money to buy out competing Bells and other competitors who didn’t have access to that spigot of government-protected, free cash.

    Motorola invented the cellphone and Bell Labs (aka AT&T’s research) invented most of the foundational technologies of telecoms (copper cables, fiber optics, wireless networks, etc.). Neither is alive today. Meanwhile, Verizon and Southwest Bell, inventors of nothing, are massive and profitable. How does your theory explain that?

    Believe it or not, I actually like your theory. But the problem is that corporations only work that way *in theory*. Just like government works like Schoolhouse Rock, *in theory*. You’re comparing the way government works in real life to the way you’d like corporations to work in theory. That’s not going to be accurate. More accurately, in practice, the most innovative, disruptive, customer-focused companies frequently die off (although certainly not always; just like govt isn’t always ineffective), and the most coddled, least competitive companies stick around. How many new car companies have started in America in the past century? Why did they die off? Are you saying not a single one of them was more innovative than GM, Ford, or Chrysler?

    Maybe you’d argue car companies are industrial. Tech is something new. My first objection is to say no, it’s not different this time 🙂 Tech is starting to coalesce as well. Microsoft is still ruling the enterprise roost for decades (an eternity in tech time), even during a period in which it was universally reviled for its shoddy products and buggy code, and when much better products were available.

    And much of what passes for innovation in large tech companies are from acquisitions. Google didn’t invent Android. That was an acquisition. Neither was YouTube, which was killing Google’s own video service (called Google Video), so Google used its deep pockets to buy them out rather than compete. IOW, even tech companies behave like old-school industrial conglomerates, buying their competitors and their growth. Zuckerberg at least invented Facebook, but then he bought WhatsApp and Instagram (and tried to buy SnapChat), so that no matter what social media technology you wished to use, he would profit from it. How is that any more innovative than Proctor & Gamble or Unilever having 10 different brands hitting any and all consumer spots to make sure whether you’re a teenage girl, a 20-year old guy, or 50-year old transgender person, you will shower with a Unilever soap?

    Like I said, I like your theory, and if corporations behaved the way you say they did, I’d be the biggest right-wing free market guy out there. But in practice, they don’t. Not any more than governments do.

    1. First, you’re definitely on to something. One of the relatively simple things a competent central government could do it anti-trust. However, stop for a moment and perform this exercise.

      Everyplace you’ve used the name of one of the FANG companies, or any other current behemoth, substitute Wal-Mart, Best Buy, AOL, Home Depot, or Barnes & Noble. Or, roll back just one era further, and insert the names Nokia, Blackberry, Sony, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle or Compaq. It is very hard to stay on top, and Facebook in particular is set for a spectacular fall fairly soon.

      Anti-trust is a very important function, and the more rigorously it is pursued the more dynamic and prosperous the environment. Corporations need to die faster than people. However, when you look closely as the lived experiences of corporations in the wild, the only ones who seem to securely survive in positions of hefty power are the ones like Bell and AT&T that manage to achieve a kind of quasi-governmental status through their federal contracts or through outright governmental protection. We are seeing something similar and particularly nasty happening today in the banking industry.

      We have an innate tendency to extrapolate that today’s status quo will be tomorrow’s status quo. The company that will neutralize Google will show up out of nowhere one day and most people will forget overnight that they ever worried that the company could be invincible.

      There’s a funny dynamic in the tech business that I don’t yet fully understand. It seems to function in a similar way in other industries, other than resource extraction. Once you corner a market by becoming the 800 gorilla – the big technological winner, the market power of that asset becomes commoditized and it’s value starts to crater. If you surf the wave well, like Oracle and MSFT have done (and Google is doing now with search), you can ride your diminishing returns for a long time and make a lot of money on the long tail of your decline. IBM is the classic example, the lumbering, arthritic dinosaur that just refuses keel over. But the economic rewards of being a challenger in those markets are so ridiculously huge that all the talent and capital flows that way. It explains why Google broke all of its innovative businesses away into other entities, protecting them from the “bit-rot” that sets in on an established business.

      Long way to say – anti-trust is fantastic. It makes a great economy greater. But even without it, unless you get specific government protection of your industry competitors still emerge. And even if you do manage to get government protection for your industry, like the taxi business, someone could still come along and wipe you out. Anti-trust is a fantastic government function, but it may not be as necessary a people tend to think.

      1. I do have to concede that 10 years ago everyone thought Wal-Mart was going to control the world and now they’re fighting for their life against a geeky book-seller from Seattle 🙂

        And you’ve made this point before (which I agree with), that anti-trust is essential to keeping an economy healthy. Interestingly, the U.S. is a large enough economy that breaking up its large corporations could still leave them large enough to benefit from the economies of scale of capital pooling, etc. An economist named Ravi Batra, in a book entitled _The Myth of Free Trade: The Pooring of America_, noted that we could have all the benefits of free trade (improved competitiveness, comparative advantage, etc.) even while protecting our markets from outside companies, if we would just break up our big companies. For example, we didn’t need the Japanese auto makers to kick Detroit’s butt and improve car quality if we just broke up the American auto industry. Someone small and hungry within our borders could have done what the Japanese did if GM/Ford/Chrysler weren’t so damn big.

        I’m intrigued about your idea that once you conquer a market, your product becomes commoditized. That’s counterintuitive to what monopoly power is supposed to grant you. And I’m not sure it happens the way you describe. Microsoft Office became the dominant office software (even more dominant than Windows in the OS realm). It didn’t get cheaper. People just resigned themselves to buying it (or pirating it 🙂 ). Yes, eventually they are now competing against cloud-based platforms like Google Apps. But MS Office is by no means priced as a commodity.

        I think maybe what happens is that companies get complacent once they conquer a market. Once Microsoft had 90% share of the Office software space, they stopped innovating, confident that everyone would pay up for the next version, no matter how much they grumbled about it. I don’t think there’s been much innovation in the word processing space for probably 20 years. If that’s what you mean by milking the long tail, I definitely agree. And then eventually someone comes from left field and wipes them out.

        Did you ever hear of the trophy headquarters paradox? That when a company builds a brand spanking new trophy headquarters complex, it marks the beginning of the end for that company? It works surprisingly well. And the explanation is that when a company is growing, it’s using every spare dollar to keep growing. They rent office space anywhere they can get it, and throw in cheap tables and chairs because their focus is elsewhere and the money is better spent pursuing their market opportunities. But once you’ve completely conquered a market, with no growth in the primary market left, and you have no idea what new markets to explore, or see no opportunities in which to invest the massive profits your monopoly is generating, you start spending it on frivolous stuff like a trophy HQ. Which is about the time when someone hungrier than you starts plotting your demise.

        Which is why I’m considering shorting Apple 🙂

  2. This article almost hits it on the head but not quite. Social democracy was successfully instituted in the Nordic countries not because of the simplicity of their structure or of their relative mall size compared to the us, but, because at the time instituted, Sweden was overwhelmingly populated with Swedes who had the same culture and religion. Same for Norway with Norwegians and Finland with the Finnish.

    If you are going to be highly taxed for the kinds of social programs the Nordic countries have, most will tolerate it if their money is going to other people who look, talk, sound like and pray like you do. That’s true even if the country has 300 million people. But not so when the country’s demographics look like the US – a melting pot.

    1. So how did Medicare become so popular in this country that it’s considered the third rail (touch it and you die) of politics? You can even see exactly how big a chunk Medicare takes from your paycheck. It’s not rolled into one lump sum income tax like the rest of the govt’s programs. Every working American is reminded every 2 weeks just how much Medicare is taking from their paycheck, to cover plenty of people who don’t look, act, or talk like them. It also covers >55million people i.e. greater than the population of any Scandinavian country. Yet it seems to be holding up pretty well…

      1. I would argue that the structure of Medicare explains its success despite the US’s issues with racism. It was structured to feel like a work-for-pay system, at a time when the only people who had full access to that system were white men. In reality of course its not a pay as you go, work for benefits system. There were a few white lies told to buy white votes. So be it. Such is democracy. Most people still think that the benefits they paid into the system are paying for their Medicare, this creating the impression that “the undeserving” (you know who they are) have been somehow locked out. And once you start depending on that program for your survival you tend to worry less about the welfare characteristics.

        And lets not forget that America has 50+ Medicare systems, all with their own rules, funding and administration. That’s been key to its success, but still not as decentralized as it probably needs to be.

    2. Or to put it another way, Michael, people are irrational. Europe was able to build a useful system despite that irrationality because of their ethnic homogeneity. Now, in order to preserve that system, they have to break down that ethnic homogeneity and learn to compete in a global market for talent. It is looking like the same trait that helped them succeed in one environment is going to cripple them in the next.

  3. Chris, in this series of articles, we understand you envisioning evolution towards an authoritarian based system that relies hugely on the private sector to replace elected government functions.

    The problem with that is who do the people complain to if they are faced with a monopoly in a small market, or oligopoly for a much larger market. A customer feedback web page?

    The government decades ago broke up Bell because it was essentially a monopoly in telco. And that was one heavily regulated company already, because of said monopoly.
    So what happens when their is no government regulation, and the inevitable move towards consolidation in industries happen?

    What happens when one of those “excellent failures” inevitably occurs, but this time there is no safety net to protect innocent people of the effects, say in healthcare? No government to swoop in, but only other corporations that have zero allegiance towards the failed company’s customers.

    There will be no “too big to fail” net in this new world, but there will definitely be giga-corps that WILL fail.

    WHEN, not if, the banking sector self-immolates again, they would take down the global economy under the new order. Then you are faced with riots and possibly war.

    There must be some group that is there to protect the interests of the citizens, not just some group out to maximize profits from its citizen consumers. And that group must have enough power to control and punish the bad players in this new game, as well as cushion the effects on citizen consumers when things go wrong.

  4. Your argument is either a bait-and-switch or it’s based on a false average, or both.
    There’s just no equivalence between high-knowledge/skill immigrants (say, from east Asia) who speak your language or learn it quickly, and low-skill migrants (say, from North Africa) who want to enjoy a social safety that they didn’t help pay for, and who stay locked in their own conservative monoculture. One will raise GDP per capita; the other will not and will strain your resources to boot. Yes, the pyramid scheme that is “much of the infrastructure of social democracy” will take a blow if population growth stalls, but it will also take a blow if the average value of a worker declines. Not to mention that bending the sex ratio towards men is a recipe for more crime.
    Celebrate diversity and its benefits, but be smart and economical about it.
    Again, you’re using a false equivalence. Can’t stress that enough.

    1. “low-skill migrants (say, from North Africa) who want to enjoy a social safety that they didn’t help pay for, and who stay locked in their own conservative monoculture.”

      This strikes me as a straw-man. I don’t think there is strong evidence that many immigrants benefit more from the government safety-net than they pay in. And the historical reality is that throughout US history, cultural assimilation happened much more in the second or third generations than the first.

      Are there studies that make a strong case that certain classes of immigrants are economically detrimental? Certainly on an anecdotal basis, I know a number of high-skill and low-skill immigrants, and every indication I have is that they are all making positive contributions to our economy and society

      At any rate, it certainly may be that we could do a smarter job choosing who we let in–I would not be against that–but all the studies I’ve seen indicate that fears of immigrant costs and risks are overblown, and that the economic benefits of immigration, broadly speaking, are substantial.

      Sure you can quibble around the edges of Chris’ argument, but I think his main point is pretty secure, and that the claim of a bait and switch is way overblown.

      1. Thinking about this a bit more, and again based partly on my own interactions, it seems to me that a key thing about all immigrants to the US, highly skilled or not, is that they’ve usually proved something just by getting here. Whether seeking a better life or to escape violence, it’s a hard thing to do to come here and make a life. That kind of initiative and resourcefulness are, to me, fundamentally American traits.

        Even illegal immigration, perversely enough, seems like a way for us to identify high achievers and entrepreneurial spirits, if we chose to see it in those terms.

        Of course I’m sure there are exceptions (somebody’s grandmother or something), but in general I don’t think somebody in the Congo just thinks one day “well it sure would be easy to live on welfare in the US” and somehow makes that happen. I think that is a made-up Fox news scenario. It seems to me that most immigrants want to be here, want to succeed, and want to work hard. That is why they are additive.

    2. Next time you hear someone talk about attracting “high-skilled immigration” just poke them in the eye. It’s one of those rhetorical techniques we use to convince voters in a democracy to accept a necessary reality they would otherwise resist to their detriment. High skilled immigration does happen, but only as a consequence of someone else’s hard times or tragedy. You’ve probably never encountered a French of Japanese doctor unless you were traveling there. It would cost a fortune to attract them here. When we get software coders, doctors, and physicists from the rest of the world it’s mostly because of trouble at home.

      In reality, almost all immigrants are unfortunate people in terrible circumstances with no more skills than the average American – which isn’t much. And we have discovered that they are economic and social rocket fuel, one of the cheapest and most powerful ways to strengthen a society. Immigrants are change agents who overturn a settled system, introducing new ways of thinking and acting with an urgency born of necessity. That’s why they’re always hated, especially by the less successful elements of an established culture. That’s also why immigration always boosts economic output. Immigrants are uncomfortable, unsettled, un-“assimilated”; they are a force of disruption.

      As for assimilation, you’ve gotta be kidding me. Why does anyone, ever, under any circumstances spend more than ten minutes of their life trying to learn Swedish, even if they’re born in Stockholm. What a waste of life and a ticket to the local underclass. About as many Swedes speak English (90%) as Swedish. If anyone should be worrying about their ability to “assimilate” it’s that small percentage of native-born Swedes who haven’t picked up a second language.

      That brings us to the scariest force at work in European (and to a lesser extent American) politics – cultural preservation. European countries are built on an assumption of cultural continuity and cultural uniformity. They’ve had no real experience with mass immigration and no cultural/mythological framework within which to create a “we” defined by something other than their national culture.

      Monolithic national cultures are dying. Perhaps no one is more worried about this than Japanese political/business leaders who are currently staring into the abyss that European nations are racing toward. You can’t have the prosperity of a modern economy paired with the gemutlichkeit coziness of an unchanged, untouched local culture. You can have one or the other. The price of cultural homogeneity is that you get to become an impoverished vacation spot for smarter, tougher, wealthier people who live their day-to-day lives in a cultural blender and basically own you.

      There is no Sweden for the Swedes, inclusive of prosperity and a strong welfare state. Sweden for the Swedes will be Alabama on the tundra, closed, incestuous and forgotten, a dark land of blonde people with eyes too far apart. They should be grateful that Bosnia, then Iraq, then Afghanistan and Syria fell apart, because otherwise they’d have to pay people to move there and do the real work necessary to support their ridiculous pensions.

      In twenty years, countries will be fighting over immigrants the way we used to fight over oil. People who wasted these good years of our natural advantage wringing their hands over assimilation are going to look like idiots. Just wait until the Chinese and Japanese start cranking out incentives for migrants and we’ll look back on our “immigration problems” as the good old days.

      1. “In twenty years, countries will be fighting over immigrants the way we used to fight over oil. People who wasted these good years of our natural advantage wringing their hands over assimilation are going to look like idiots. Just wait until the Chinese and Japanese start cranking out incentives for migrants and we’ll look back on our “immigration problems” as the good old days.”

        Sorry Chris, you have gone completely off the rails there. Now you are living in some utopian capitalist fantasy.

        The Chinese model is based racial and cultural homogeneity. The Chinese, and also the Japanese, value self far less than the public good. They Chinese need that model to ram through all the industrial changes they are making. (Three Gorges Dam, who knows how much high speed rail lines as you have stated before, umpteen nuclear and coal plants, allowing essentially slave labor practices at Foxconn).

        The last thing the Chinese want is for anyone to disrupt their current social / business model, which is another just form of fascism. Maybe in 50 years when the Chinese have taken over the world, but not today, and not in 20 years.

      2. The Chinese live in a one-party dictatorship. They are already exploring ways to solve their immigration problem (which is a lack of immigrants), and when they work it out they’ll cram it down as many Chinese throats as necessary in order to remain prosperous and strong. Their system lets them do things that are unpopular when necessary.

        It’s going to be difficult for China and Japan to keep pace in this race for a long list of reasons, but you can bet they’ll do what they have to.

      3. Chris-
        Japan’s abyss is due to their birthrate, which is only marginally related to their monoculture. After all, we have a pretty diverse culture, but our birth rate is also below replacement level. (And there are lots of monocultures that have tons of babies, including China just 50 years ago). It appears that economic development — especially the economic power of women — has the highest correlation with reducing birth rates (I studiously avoid saying *causes* declines because I don’t know if anyone has really figured out the cause-effect chain here). Culture has very little to do with it.

      4. Agreed, there’s no connection between culture and birthrate. Fertility seems to fall below replacement once people reach a certain level of prosperity and freedom. The absence of any cultural connection to that statistic is actually fascinating, and flies in the face of every common assumption prior to observing it play out.

        However, monocultures find it very hard to attract and utilize immigrants. We’re seeing this in Europe, where even in Germany and France, which have attracted a lot of immigrants over the years, they can’t seem to structure their societies in ways that let those immigrants reach their potential. It’s much worse in Japan and China, and their need for immigrants is much greater. Watching them try to solve this problem will be very interesting.

    3. John-
      I gotta agree with Fred here. Cultural assimilation occurs in the later generations. Look at unskilled Mexican and central American immigrants who don’t speak English. Their children usually speak English fine, assimilate well, and usually end up more productive than their parents. That math team is a great example: those kids weren’t the ones who immigrated. It was their parents, who, I’ll bet good money, aren’t all English speakers, and aren’t all “high-value” doctors and lawyers and engineers.

      Plus, you can’t deny the underlying racism of *which* cultures we expect to assimilate (i.e. suppress their cultures and adopt our own). Muslims, yes. But how about Irish in Boston? After centuries, they still have an accent and there are places in South Boston where they still speak Irish (and house illegal immigrants, just ones who happen to be white).

      Similarly, the longest, uninterrupted polish newspaper still in circulation, in the world, comes from Chicago (first published in 1908). It also has one of the largest circulations of any Polish newspaper (and gets sent to Poland’s parliament and national library for archiving). Anyone who has lived in Chicago will probably not be surprised by these facts, as you’ll frequently see Polish people who’ve lived there for generations who look, speak, and live like they stepped off the boat yesterday. Why is no one worried about the dangerous threat to our national security from all these Poles who refuse to assimilate?

      Even regarding Muslims, our current bogeyman (much to the relief of previous bogeymen like Mexicans, Jews, Catholics, and Irish): yes, there are 2nd/3rd generation Algerians in France who are not assimilating, but, IMHO, that’s more due to economic discrimination creating ethnic ghettos, i.e. the lack of assimilation is the effect of the racism of the majority culture not allowing them to integrate. Ask a white father in Alabama to grant a black man his daughter’s hand for marriage. Is that “refusing to assimilate” or “refusing to be allowed to assimilate”?

      I’m not making excuses for the people among that ghetto who decide to join ISIS or engage in terrorist acts, nor for the Imams who prey on and radicalize these economically and culturally isolated populations. But it’s a little disingenuous for us to force them into ghettos and then blame *them* for not assimilating (sort of like what we do with poor African Americans in public housing here).

      1. I don’t know. I realize this isn’t a commonly held belief, but I think Latin American immigrants have a lot more in common with the United States than most Muslims do with Scandinavia. I’ve mentioned these numbers before, but female genital mutilation in the UK is up to six-figure counts. London is the least tolerant city of homosexuality in that country. And the worst finding was that British Muslims are more likely to fight for ISIS than for their country’s armed forces. Over in Sweden (which is of course drawing from the same pool of immigrants) is this darkly humorous survey finding: that living in a multicultural neighborhood and extolling the values of living in a multicultural neighborhood are negatively correlated.
        There’s no parallel group in the United States. (The closest thing is probably Trump acolytes.) Many groups suffer from poverty and discrimination, but I know of no others who exhibit the same level of violence and hyper-conservatism. Disclaimer: I know a few moderate Muslims who seem quite comparable to mainline Protestants. So, there are sub populations inside the umbrella of “Islam” I get along with.
        About the Irish and Polish – no community leaders from those groups preach for the demise of their host country or do any of what’s described above. To put it lazily, nothing they do makes me anxious to live next to them.
        And yes, I’m sure race and the fact that some of those groups have assimilated is, unfortunately, part of the explanation of why nobody is concerned with them. (And part of why identity politics doesn’t otherize and champion them.) But I think there are valid reasons to pick and choose which waves of immigrants one likes.

        Note on language: By “your language” I meant a language that allows verbal communication with the economy in which you would participate. If 90% of Swedes speak English then English counts as a language of Sweden.
        On the math team: is there anything about the parents that we could use to predict high-achieving kids? Genuine question

      2. Jon-
        Do you read the War Nerd? He’s a blogger that writes about wars around the world, in a darkly humorous but insightful way. Here are two articles he wrote about foreign jihadis joining ISIS:

        https://pando.com/2015/02/27/the-war-nerd-why-did-mohammed-emwazi-become-jihadi-john/

        https://pando.com/2014/03/28/the-war-nerd-who-exactly-are-the-jihadis-and-why-arent-there-more-of-them/

        The bottomline is that it’s very, very hard to make general inferences about what drives a foreigner to join ISIS. Beyond a very small cadre of 2nd and 3rd generation Muslim men who grew up hearing stories from their parents and grandparents about the injustices their families and cultures endured in the Old Country and internalized that sectarian hatred, the vast majority of ISIS recruits join up for boredom, lack of other opportunities, thirst for glory, etc. etc. etc. that drive young men all around the world to join militaries and/or engage in violent acts.

        This is why when people use the “I have nothing against Muslims, I’m just worried about our security” card, I don’t think it flies.

        If you’re really only worried about our security, what would you do with right-wing militia groups who train in the woods and openly talk about resisting the US military? Jade Helm was not a conspiracy created by Muslim immigrants. Some of them, indeed, are probably Irish and Polish descent. Should we ban all European immigrants, since a few have probably joined right-wing militias which are a far greater threat than some distant ISIS force?

        In the past, Irish were discriminated because people felt their true allegiance was to the Pope. That if we ever fought a war against a Catholic country, Irish and other Catholics would join the enemy. This was one of the campaign tactics against JFK. It was the same thinking that led to the internment of the Japanese during WWII (but notably not of Germans. I wonder why that is?) Was the Japanese threat in WWII, after they sacked Pearl Harbor, less than what we face from Islamic terrorism today? So doubting the national allegiance of an out-group of immigrants is common, and almost always wrong.

        Please don’t think of this as the usual liberal tactic of overlooking Islam’s faults and redirecting to other groups. Islamic terrorism is still something we should worry about. I don’t disagree with trying to fight it (although I disagree with the tactics). But I don’t think screening immigrants by religion or region is going to really improve our security.

        If you really want to screen out immigrants with violent tendencies who might pose a threat to our safety, there’s only one characteristic that is reliably 99% correlated to propensity for violence, throughout the years, and by many good, statistically sound studies. And it’s even easier than finding someone’s religion or ethnicity. It’s called being a male. Maybe we should only let in female immigrants if we really want to keep our country safe?

        PS I’d really like to see your stats on how many Britons have joined ISIS vs the military. I find that really hard to believe and incredible if true. It would be interesting to learn more if it were true. Do realize that ISIS, like all terrorist organizations, likes to trump up their numbers, especially of foreign jihadis, just like they like to claim credit for violent acts they didn’t do, to make them seem more scary. How do you even count the recruits? Does every Briton who flies to Istanbul on a 1-way ticket count as a recruit? I’d be interested to see how such numbers were derived.

      3. Given that I said I considered the closest American analog to European Muslim immigrants to be the Basket of Deplorables, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’d see right-wing paramilitary groups imprisoned, and if they make good on their threats to fight, shot.
        While Right and Left fight over whether the word “terrorism” should apply to only jihadists or only white nationalists, I don’t have any qualms about using it for both of those major categories. Thing is, I don’t hear about ethnic nationalists in any European country bombing subways or shooting up public places every couple months. Gary Brecher’s analysis I found useful but incomplete – no belief system produces as many acts of terrorism as Islam. He even gets at this, but chooses to phrase it in terms of patriarchy instead of implicating the religion that gives rise to said patriarchy.
        Especially after the Brookings post which does this for education, and in the most naive way possible (regional origin), I find it hard to believe that we can’t identify risk factors for crime among prospective immigrants.
        On the link between violence and being male. I know. (My entire ideological profile is based on this variety of inconvenient truths, after all.) It’s one of the reasons I gave in my initial post, on the rise of the Sweden Democrats not being unjustified or uncalled for. As for a fix… don’t let in throngs of men? Seems simple. Economic migrants will probably always and everywhere tilt male, but upsetting the sex ratio too much is bad. If the immigrant community is segregated off (through its own doing or otherwise) the problem hits faster.
        Don’t have the book where I saw the ISIS-UKAF charge with me right now so I searched for it. What I found says it comes from the number of Muslims serving in Britain’s Armed Forces to be vanishingly tiny at 600, and the number of British Muslim ISIS recruits being estimated by certain Brits to be above 600, based on their knowledge of specific instances.
        Thank you for pointing me to that blogger by the way. I haven’t looked around too much yet but I really enjoyed his piece on Sherman’s march.

      4. Jon-
        I’m with you on declaring both types of violent acts terrorism. And yes there is something uniquely bad about the way Islam is being taught / practiced today that gives rise to more violence than other religions. The original Quran may or may not preach peace, but the modern Imams who bring those teachings to the masses certainly corrupt it into a message of violence.

        The question is how to combat it. Take your British Muslims example. If there are say 1000 British fighters in ISIS, that’s still a tiny drop compared to the ~4-5mil Muslims who live there. Do we condemn all of the rest of them for that tiny minority? Furthermore, there are probably more Muslim doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, and other “high value” people among that 4-5mil. Do we forego the economic benefit we gain from their work? Is that really the best way to combat the ISIS threat?

        If we want to talk about uncomfortable truths, here’s the biggest one we Americans refuse to face: Islamic terrorism is not an Islam problem, it’s a Wahhabi / Salafist problem, that extreme Sunni sect whose biggest proponent is our ally Saudi Arabia. The Saudi monarchy, in a desperate attempt to placate their population while they plunder and waste the greatest natural resource ever given a country, funnels billions of dollars into extreme Wahhabi preachers with the tacit understanding that they focus their ire on external targets and not on the monarchy. As Chris wrote before, nationalism depends on having an ‘Other’, and the worse you govern your nation, the more despised the ‘Other’ must become to maintain your hold. The Saudi monarchy needs the entire world to be despised to their people’s core, and they’re willing to pay top dollar to see it done.

        To simplify greatly, Saudi Arabia provides the money for jihad, and Pakistan provides the bodies (the Taliban was started in Pakistani madrassas). We consider both of them our allies. *That’s* the real problem. Not a few bad apples among the legions of Muslims living in Europe.

        ISIS does not manufacture AK-47s. And Allah provides many things but not TNT. Those things must be purchased. They get that money from Saudi Arabia. And when you need foreign recruits for jihad, poor men radicalized in Pakistani madrassas (paid for by Saudi Arabia) are readily available. Drain the swamp of money and people, and you’ll no longer have terrorism. The hatred may still be there, but the bombs won’t be.

        I’ve long said that the answer to Islamic terrorism is 10 years of oil at $10/barrel. That would break the Saudi monarchy, and deprive the entire terrorist movement of their funding. IMHO, that’s a far, far more effective policy to aim for, than restricting immigration from those areas.

        I’m glad you liked Gary Brecher (that’s a pen name for John Dolen). I really liked his one about Sherman’s march too. I think he’s fundamentally right that the South has no idea how easy it got off when it was defeated in the Civil War. And I gained a newfound appreciation for Sherman’s speeches after reading Brecher’s articles about him.

        Those articles on pando are old. He also has an even older archive of articles at The Exile. One of which, analyzing the guerilla tactics of the IRA, you might like:

        http://exiledonline.com/wn-38-ira-vs-al-qaeda-i-was-wrong/

        FWIW, I think he’s completely right in understanding modern guerilla tactics. He currently has a patreon-based podcast and a twitter feed at @thewarnerd. Both are excellent and highly recommended.

      5. Thank you for taking the time to respond. I’ve opened up the War Nerd article and set it aside for later tonight; I wanted to quickly post saying I’d seen this before this thread gets too old.
        I don’t think there’s anything in your response that I’d push back against; it’s all good points. I’m not going to wholly back off of my original stance but if there are good proposed alternatives to immigration restriction it’s worth looking into.
        One thing I will throw out because I assume you agree with something along these lines: I would appreciate it if white progressives in Europe would be… less respectful/defensive/evasive about what a number of Muslims in their countries believe about women, critiques of Islam, sharia law, etc. Taking the same attitude that we do towards the religious right would go a long way towards making me more comfortable with the situation.

  5. Hi Chris
    The ACA is a wonderful example of your government doing it WRONG

    The elected government is intended to LEAD – NOT to “DO”

    The ACA should have been a hundred pages at most laying out the intentions of the government – what the act is intended to do and how

    Then below that the professional civil service would be layout out the actual blueprints to achieve that

    The CEO of GM does not design the cars

    By having too many details in the top level document you tie the hands of the people who need to make it work – and make changing the details to match the actual needs much more difficult

    1. You have a point, a point I’m on my way toward. That’s more or less what this kind of legislation would look like in one of the un-democratic or semi-democratic Asian states. Some narrow piece of enabling legislation gets hands to the bureaucrats who hold all of the real power. They write some rules, but also govern to a large extent by partnership with the private sector and by decree. It’s one of the ways to get around the constraints of a liberal democracy.

      Another way, of course, is to use the federal government largely just for financing, tax collection, and infrastructure, and let states do the rest.

      1. “Another way, of course, is to use the federal government largely just for financing, tax collection, and infrastructure, and let states do the rest.”

        Chris, you must be joking.

        You can’t de-centralize / neuter the federal gov’t as much as you suggest. That is a heartbeat away from full on libertarianism. And you full well know that leads to disaster. If the feds were only responsible for what you suggest (think you also forgot military), just how long would it take for most of the southern and flyover states to completely fall into 3rd world status, in all areas, with complete bans on Islam and huge regressions in equal rights?

        The only thing that stops the complete disintegration of the republic is the federal safety net and oversight. You would rapidly have a situation of the 3 Pacific states forming their own country, with the North-Eastern states coalescing around New York as a 2nd country. The balance would soon become trumpistan, or penecistan. I pity Illinois.

        You want to see an immigrant crisis? Watch how many economic and political refugees would flow across the new borders of Pacifica and Atlantica.

        Let alone the civil wars.

      2. Hi Chris
        “The bureaucrats who have the real power” –
        That is like saying that the engineers have the real power

        But the Bureaucrats (and the engineers) are there to do what the elected leaders tell them – there is no need and massive danger in letting “the private sector” in that loop as THEY are NOT beholden to the elected leaders – they effectively have two sets of leaders

        A strong bureaucracy can be a major roadblock to any massively changed agenda from the top but IMHO that is a feature NOT a bug

        To me the most important thing is to ensure that our elected leaders HAVE a clear picture of what they want – and then we can work to ensure that the “Bureaucrats” efficiently implement it

        At the moment the elected leaders are trying to do the Bureaucrats job WITHOUT doing their own one first

      3. I’m intrigued by the “let the states do the rest”, but keep coming back to your first article about fast failure towards a proof of concept ala Target in Canada.

        Can we, would we allow a state to fail? I can think of a dozen or more that certainly would fail to maintain education and health care delivery centers as well as reasonably finance business development or be able to maintain emergency services on their own. Their capable youth depart as fast as a high school diploma hits their hands now. Their attitudes towards immigration would certainly curtail the benefits you extol upon in this article. Would we allow them to financially implode and say “join a state that is working” and sacrifice their statehood? How many Dakota’s and Wyomings and Mississippi’s do we need?

      4. ***Can we, would we allow a state to fail?***

        Maybe the real question is, how much of a state’s failure are we willing to incorporate into the entire national system? Right now, America’s federal government looks much more like Louisiana or Georgia than like Minnesota or California? How long do we want to let that continue?

        I have good friends in Mississippi. They have US passports. They can leave. But right now I can’t get Mississippi’s f’d up politics out of my life even by choosing to live in Chicago. Screw that. If Mississippi wants to adopt a health care system based on faith healers and pocket stones, then I’m fine with that. Hell, that’s democracy at it’s finest, right?

    1. I loved the reference to the All-American Math team too. Had the opportunity to volunteer in the International High School system here in NYC…they had two students (refugee status from Syria near Latakia). I got assigned because in addition to speaking Levantine Arabic and French they’re Russian was pretty decent as they lived in Latakia Syria, formerly a sometime Soviet then RF naval station…now a huge Russian naval station. So, I assisted with normal instruction and homework assignments using Russian while they worked on their English.

      5 years later, one is heading to Queens College for an accounting degree and the other starts her final year of high school but already being recruited by Universities as she has posted two almost perfect ( one Pre-SAT and one early SAT test scores).

      I told the Principal of the school she must be proud…she shared something to the effect of “thats what we do here…we make Americans”

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