Archive for the Category Social trends


The truth that dare not speak its name (or perhaps two truths?)

There’s a very good new post by Benn Steil and Benjamin Della Rocca that explains why the BOJ does not emphasize the exchange rate channel in their monetary stimulus:

In September 2016, the Bank of Japan adopted a new strategy to boost the flagging Japanese economy: “yield curve control,” or YCC. The aim was to widen the gap between long- and short-term interest rates, by keeping shorter-term (10-year) government bond (JGB) rates at 0%, as a means of encouraging bank lending. . . .

BoJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has trumpeted the policy’s success in boosting lending. As shown in the bottom left figure, though, lending did not increase because of the mechanism underlying YCC—that is, a widening of the gap between what banks pay to borrow funds short-term and what they receive from borrowers longer-term. . . .

What happened, then? After YCC was announced, the BoJ’s pledge to hold 10-year JGB rates at 0% pushed bond investors to find yield outside Japan. . . .this caused the yen to fall sharply, which boosted exports. . . .

[S]hortly after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office, the Obama administration admonished Japanese authorities for public statements calling for yen depreciation. Abe and Kuroda learned the important lesson that one may only target the exchange rate if one does not speak of it.

Off topic, I don’t often blog on the Lucas Critique.  I wonder if anyone has commented on its applicability to the concept to sexual harassment.  Suppose that over a period of decades society does not take charges of sexual harassment very seriously.  In that environment, there may well be very few false claims of sexual harassment.  However if policy changes in such a way that accusations are presumed to be true, and also result in severe consequences, then the Lucas Critique predicts a sizable increase in false accusations.

That does not mean that harassment charges should not be taken more seriously than in the past, and also result in serious consequences.  (On balance I think they should, despite the Lucas Critique problem.)  Rather it suggests that this is not an easy black and white issue.  There is almost certainly some degree of presumption of guilt that would be counterproductive.  Imagine a world where everyone (and I’m including men, as this group is also sexually harassed fairly frequently) could destroy the lives of anyone they disliked.  No one would want that kind of world, which means that no one who claims that accusations should always be believed is telling the truth.  We are all skeptics, it’s just a matter of degree.

The world (and especially the internet/media) is like a giant high school, where we are all expected to conform to popular belief.  When that consensus changes, we are expected to dutifully fall in line.  I transferred from that high school to utilitarianism when I was in my 20s.

PS.  Here’s Scott Alexander:

About 30% of the victims of sexual harassment are men.

It’s too late Mitt

Here’s the latest

The Republican National Committee is following in the footsteps of President Donald Trump and supporting Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore, according to an RNC official.

Gee, I wonder why they changed their minds?

And here’s Mitt Romney:

Roy Moore in the US Senate would be a stain on the GOP and on the nation. Leigh Corfman and other victims are courageous heroes. No vote, no majority is worth losing our honor, our integrity.

It’s too late Mitt.

Meanwhile the President’s press secretary is asked whether Trump thinks Muslims should be banned from Congress, and is unable to answer the question.  She doesn’t know the answer.  Let that sink in.  Too bad they didn’t ask her whether Trump thinks gays should be put in prison; I’d guess she doesn’t know the answer to that question either.

PS.  Steve Bannon opposes immigration from Asia because he believes it might change our culture, by which he means white culture, not American culture.  (Blacks and Hispanics don’t count to white nationalists).  Even before the election we can be pretty sure that a large majority of white Alabamans are going to vote for Bannon’s preferred Senate candidate, a guy who has said that Muslims should not be allowed to serve in Congress and gays should be put in prison.  I know quite a few Asian immigrants, indeed each Saturday morning I hang out with about 40 of them.  And I can confirm that they do not share the culture of whites living in Alabama.  Unlike Bannon, I see that as a good thing.  I am happy that Asians keep pouring into the country.  I look forward to our culture changing.  And there’s nothing Bannon can do to stop it.

PPS.  The deficit is about to get much bigger:

The deficit will hit $1.05 trillion in 2019 and $1.1 trillion in 2020, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, if Congress passes the tax cut legislation it’s currently negotiating, along with disaster relief and other measures meant to avert arbitrary limits on spending established several years ago. The tax cuts alone would add about $150 billion to the deficit each year, on average, with other likely changes pushing that up by another $25 billion per year, or so. Deficits will only get larger, unless there are major cutbacks in spending or new taxes in the future.

I can’t wait to see the GOP bring about “major cutbacks in spending”.  The deficit was $585 billion in Obama’s last year in office.  Recall how the GOP insisted that Obama’s deficits would bring down our economy?  Now the deficit is about to explode during a period of economic expansion, when deficits usually fall.  Hey, what could go wrong?

Ideologies follow the tribe

Here we have conservatives defending a guy who molests teens:

A group of 53 Alabama pastors signed onto a letter pledging their support for alleged child molester and Senate candidate Roy Moore.

Update:  The Newsweek story may be fake news, as elsewhere it’s reported the letter was from months ago.

And here we have a conservative at the National Review who is uneasy with left wing attempts to censor art:

HBO is at this moment streaming Hacksaw Ridge, a film by Mel Gibson, who in 2011 pleaded no contest to a charge of battery against an ex-girlfriend who had alleged that he had assaulted her so viciously that she was left with a black eye and two broken teeth. HBO has no policy, as far as I know, against distributing movies starring Christian Slater, who once served 59 days in jail after pleading no contest to assaulting a girlfriend. The films of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Roman Polanski remain ubiquitous. Hollywood history is rife with personalities who have done much worse things than C.K. and whose films have not been subsequently suppressed.

So what’s going on?  Weren’t conservative pastors supposed to be the sort of people who condemn this type of behavior?  And isn’t it people on the left who used to strongly defend artists from censorship?  (Corporate or government)

Here’s one possibility.  Conservatism is moving away from religion and toward the cult of the strong.  Conservatives take increasingly pleasure in mocking the left as a bunch of sensitive snowflakes.  Sexual harassment is seen as a “feminist” issue.  Conservatives are increasing drawn to “alpha male” leaders, even if they have a history of abusing women.  When I was younger, that sort of man (Kennedy, Clinton, etc.) was usually thought more likely to be a Democrat.  Republicans were seen as nerdy types.  Now a major GOP presidential candidate brags about the size of his . . . er . . .  “hands” during a debate, and a Senate GOP candidate brandishes guns at campaign rallies.  A House candidates assaults a reporter, and is still elected.

On the left it’s a different set of issues.  The left once liked intellectual types who were unconventional, and didn’t want to live according to boring suburban morality.  Now people like Woody Allen and Louis CK are reframed as powerful white men who take advantage of less powerful women.  It’s a point I make repeatedly—there are no fixed definitions of left and right; ideologies evolve over time, and will continue do so in the future.  Who knows, maybe liberals will once again embrace eugenics.

You might say that the 53 pastors are not representative of conservatism, and the liberals who want to ban films are not representative of the left.  Maybe so.  But I recall just a few years ago hearing about a fuss over Halloween costumes at Yale, and thinking it one of the most bizarre stories I had ever read.  Now (just a few years later) hysteria about “cultural appropriation” is widespread on the left, and indeed is being taught in public schools all across the country.

Never assume that just because something seems outlandish it won’t eventually become conventional wisdom.  And history shows that it’s the outlandish ideas on the left that are most likely to persist.  The right generally loses these cultural battles, at least in the long run.  Which ought to cause some soul searching on the right.

The GOP moves sharply to the left on pot

Just when you think that you have politics figured out, you learn something new.  Vox has a post showing that support for pot legalization is soaring, from 23% in the 1980s to 64% today—and the rate of increase is actually accelerating.  Much of the recent increase comes from Republicans, where support for pot legalization has soared from 34% to 51% in just the past three years.  That puts the GOP to the left of many (most?) left-wing politicians, even in liberal states like Massachusetts:

How can we explain this?  It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Trump, who opposes legalization and picked a reactionary Alabama drug warrior as his AG.

There are thousands of people in prison for marijuana crimes.  The public understands that these people shouldn’t be there, but the elites still won’t give in.

Some day we’ll look back on this the way we look back on Jim Crow laws, and wonder, “What were the elites thinking?”

PS.  Watch the comment section.  Two or three people will say “Yeah, they shouldn’t be in prison for pot, but they might have committed other crimes, so it’s OK.”

PPS.  Good to see more and more GOP senators speaking out on Trump (Corker, McCain, Flake, etc.)  Almost all GOP senators have total contempt for Trump, it’s just that we only hear from those who aren’t running for re-election.

PPPS.  For the first time in my life I understand the Joe McCarthy era.

PPPPS. When the next terrorist bomb goes off in Europe, I’m going to have to work really hard to avoid thinking that they deserve it.

Weekend reading

It’s always useful to look at your country through the eyes of foreign observers.  I strongly encourage people to read this FT article, which discusses political correctness on campuses:

Since then, there has been a backlash against individual professors that seems only a step or two away from a Cultural Revolution-style shame circle.

If I were teaching freshman English, I’d have students read a book on the Cultural Revolution, as well as 1984 and Brave New World.  Just to give them a better sense of what’s happening in their own time and place.

If you look closely, however, there are actually two separate issues highlighted in the piece—left wing bias, and obsession with “safe spaces”.  As this Reason post shows, Republican students are almost as dismissive of free speech as Democrats:

[Among college students] Just 44 percent of self-identified Republicans said that hate speech was protected by the First Amendment, compared with 39 percent of Democrats and 40 percent of independents.

It seems like the extreme fear of being made uncomfortable is a generational thing, which crosses party lines.  (BTW, don’t take this as a typical boomer post trashing young people.  I think the millennials are much better than my generation in all sorts of dimensions.  For instance, they seem more polite and less violent.)

When I heard about Professor Weinstein’s problems at Evergreen College, I wondered if I was getting the full story.  Maybe he was sort of provoking the students.  And then I read this, about another Evergreen professor:

Nancy Koppelman, an American studies and humanities professor, described being “followed by white students who yelled and cursed at me, accused me of not caring about black and brown bodies, and claimed that if I did care I would follow their orders.” Ms. Koppelman, who is 5-foot-1, said the students towered over her, and “the only thing they would accept was my obedience.” She reported that the encounter so unnerved her that she was left physically shaking.

During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, many of the victims were themselves devoted communists, who passioniately believed in the cause.  In America’s Cultural Revolution many of the victims are progressive faculty members.

During the early years of blogging, I followed  The best talks involved Glenn Loury and John McWhorter. has a very interesting interview of Loury:

My argument about political correctness is not tendentious or partisan — it’s analytical. The core of the argument is that when groups care a lot about maintaining conformity of belief on some matter of critical interest to them, then the hunt for heretics is always ongoing. We’re always looking for deviants. The willingness to speak in certain ways can be a sign of deviance, because if speakers know that punishment awaits them for speaking in particular ways, the only speakers willing to take the risks are indeed people who are not reliable on whatever the core belief or value is.

Loury and McWhorter both influenced my views on race.  (Their views are not neatly classifiable as “liberal” or “conservative”.)

How bizarre is America, circa 2017?  Consider the following two recent comments, one from a former NBA player, and one from the head of one of America’s most prestigious think tanks.  Which would you expect to be calm and thoughtful, and which would you expect to be rash and stupid?

There are some very thoughtful people working at Heritage.  I really feel sorry for them, being represented by a boss (Edwin Feulner) who sends out this sort of garbage in a fundraising letter.  Yeah, Trump is trying hard to “drain the swamp of corruption and privilege”.  Trump believes in the impartial rule of law, not blind loyalty to the leaders who happen to be on “our side”. Just pathetic.

PS.  Let’s have a vote in the comment section.  Which of Feulner’s five sentences is the most moronic?

Update:  Congratulations to Angela Merkel.  Like her or not, she’s the leader of the free world.  Also congrats to the FDP, my favorite German party.  Their vote share rose from below 5% to above 10%, so they are back in the government.