Random observations

1. This confused me:

Renewed efforts by Congress to force TikTok to sell or face a ban in the US have the backing of the White House, even as President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign has started to use the platform to reach younger voters.

I’m confused. If using Tiktok endangers national security, then why is Biden using TikTok? I get that his specific tweets don’t endanger security, but doesn’t his use make TikTok more popular?

2. I’m confused. Why would Trump try to ban TikTok in 2020, and then suddenly support TikTok after meeting a GOP investor who own’s $21 billion worth of TikTok, right after losing some legal cases that threaten to bankrupt him?

3. A recent Hamilton Project report provides some pretty convincing evidence that recent population growth has been much higher than the Census estimates. Their findings would also explain the large divergence between the payroll jobs numbers and the household survey.

4. I’ve been pretty critical of white nationalists (and still am), which makes this recent Scott Alexander post on our insane identity politics all the more provocative:

In Bizarro-America, the only people who don’t think people’s value as human beings depends on their genetically-determined race are the white nationalists!

Read the whole thing, it’s great.

[FWIW, I’m completely opposed to all forms of “identity”, on both the left and the right. People are people. That’s all that matters. Gender, race, religion, ethnicity . . . who cares? That makes me far left on some issues and far right on others.]

5. Speaking of Scott Alexander, this tweet reminded me of a recent debate we had over whether building more housing reduces housing prices:

The before and after skyline views makes Austin look like a Chinese city.

6. The NYT has an article discussing the strange new left-right coalition in support of YIMBYism:

Take, for instance, the YIMBY mantra of allowing taller buildings and reducing the permitting hurdles to build them. Is this, as many Democrats say, a way to create more affordable housing, reduce neighborhood segregation and give low-income households access to high-amenity areas and schools?

Or is it, as Republicans say, a pro-business means of reducing regulation and enhancing property rights by giving landowners the freedom to develop housing?

Is it, somehow, both?

7. This Cato headline caught my eye:

List of 120+ Biden Actions to Help Try To ‘Shut the Border’

Generally, it’s better to make more modest claims.

8. I see people suggesting that even if Trump wins, he’ll only be in office for 4 years. These people don’t understand that the Republican Party no longer exists. There’s the Democrats and the Trump Party. There is no Republican Party, so things will never go back to normal. Here’s the NYT:

Twenty-six Republican senators voted against the recent aid package for Ukraine, which a pre-Trump Republican Party would have overwhelmingly supported. And of the 17 Republican senators who were elected beginning in 2018 and who are age 55 or younger, 15 voted no.

Those Trumpistas are the future of America.

9. In a normal country like Canada or Australia, candidates debate issues on a roughly level playing field. In a banana republic like Venezuela, the entire election revolves around one larger than life figure, who has a personality cult. Issues don’t matter, other than the issue of what you think about the dominant politician. Which of the two better describes the US? You be the judge (from Edward Luce in the FT):

Here is a checklist of Donald Trump’s recent activity. He promised on day one of his presidency to let January 6 convicts out of jail, close the US-Mexico border and “drill baby drill” for gas and oil. He feted Viktor Orbán in Mar-a-Lago as the best leader in the world and assured Hungary’s strongman that he would not “give a penny” to Ukraine. He took out a $91.6mn surety bond to pay defamation damages to his sexual assault victim, E Jean Carroll.

He purged the Republican National Committee with 60 staff firings — the opening move by his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, who he handpicked as RNC co-chair. . . . It seems almost trivial to add that new detail emerged about Trump’s apparent soft spot for Adolf Hitler.

All this happened since last Friday. . . . In another time, with a normal candidate, any single one would hijack the news cycle. Trump’s candidacy is so far off the charts it is almost paranormal. That is the essence of his political appeal. It means he is judged by a different standard to Biden, or any other politician, Democratic or Republican.

10. This is from an excellent Tyler Cowen post:

[I]f TikTok truly is breaking laws on a major scale, let us start a legal case with fact-finding and an adversarial process.  Surely such a path would uncover the wrongdoing under consideration, or at least strongly hint at it.  Alternately, how about some research, such as say RCTs, showing the extreme reach and harmful influence of TikTok?  Is that asking for too much?

Now maybe all that has been done and I am just not aware of it.  Alternatively, perhaps this is another of those bipartisan rushes to judgment that we are likely to regret in the longer run.

Funny how these “bipartisan rushes to judgment” so often involve China, not Russia. I wonder why?

11. Many commenters are under the mistaken impression that I’ve called Trump a Nazi. Not so. They are confusing me with Trump’s former aides. You know, the “best people” that Trump said he would hire to staff his administration. Those are the people that claim Trump is a Nazi sympathizer.  Ohio senator JD Vance also suggested that he might be a Nazi. I just think he’s a borderline fascist, so don’t blame me for these wildly excessive accusations by his supporters and subordinates.

12. I always assumed that Trump plans to surrender to Putin, but it’s still sad to see it confirmed by Victor Orban. In the same article, this caught my eye:

JOE KERNEN: Have you changed your, your outlook on how to handle entitlements Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Mr. President? Seems like something has to be done, or else we’re going to be stuck at 120 percent of debt to GDP forever.

Or else? That’s the best plausible outcome, the one that occurs if we dramatically cut spending and/or raise taxes. The actual outcome will likely be far worse.

And check out Trump’s garbled response to Kernen’s question, which makes Biden seems like Daniel Webster in comparison.



24 Responses to “Random observations”

  1. Gravatar of Bobster34 Bobster34
    14. March 2024 at 07:01


    Left YIMBY, or blue state YIMBYS, adopt very few pro market or pro business reforns.

    Their laws are focused on income restricted housing, cross subsidies, nonprofits and tenant protections.

    Red state will continue to dominate the migration numbers

  2. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    14. March 2024 at 07:42

    Bobster, That was once true about YIMBYs, but no longer.

    I agree about red state growth (although it’s not really about being “red”, as places like Arizona and Georgia also grow fast.)

  3. Gravatar of Student Student
    14. March 2024 at 09:21

    5. Is not quite right. They didn’t just build more housing in Austin, they are allowing a rightward shift of the supply curve. Increasing the quantity supplied along a fixed supply curve is not the same thing as allowing rhe supply curve to shift right. For example, Austin is going things like easing single family zoning restrictions to allow multi family units on previously zoned single family lots. If demand shifts right along a fixed supply curve, you will get an increase in quantity supplied, but at a higher price. If a place wants affordability, it has to allow the supply curve to shift right via easing zoning restrictions (or building housing using cheaper materials or construction methods). This is a big difference and not understanding this is a real issue in this debate.

  4. Gravatar of Student Student
    14. March 2024 at 09:24

    Rising housing prices is a supply side issue… you sort of ignored my last comment on this.

  5. Gravatar of Kevin Erdmann Kevin Erdmann
    14. March 2024 at 10:05

    Number 7 reminds me of Biden’s housing policy briefs. Page after page of programs, subsidies, and technocracy instead of the 1 or 2 things that would work.

  6. Gravatar of Bobster Bobster
    14. March 2024 at 10:16

    Scott, I live in California and have been watching the bills proposed by left YIMBYs in various states.

    They are mainly about “affordable” (price controlled) housing.

    In Arizona the governor is threatening to veto a Republican bill because it doesn’t include things like price controls and tenant protections.

    If I’m wrong, I’d like to see someone link to a bill by blue state YIMBYS that significantly expands market rate housing without a catch

  7. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    14. March 2024 at 10:41

    Student, I agree.

    Kevin, Good analogy.

    Bobster, You said:

    “a Republican bill”

    I’m not saying the problems you point to don’t exist. But slightly more than half of AZ Democrats voted for your “Republican bill”. Things are changing.

    California recently allowed multiple housing units on a single lot. I agree that much more needs to be done, but there are some positive signs.

  8. Gravatar of Sara Sara
    14. March 2024 at 13:38

    If the bill was banning TikTok solely based on their bizarre habit of ignoring user policy: such as the using the camera without permission, activating the microphone while one is not using the app, and capturing keywords (everything you type) whether the app is being used or not, then such a bill would be understandable.

    The CCP is a gangster, abuse and misuse for personal gain is what gangsters do. Nobody should be surprised, considering bytedance is owned and controlled by the party apparatus. Nothing escapes the politburo.

    But this bill is a trojan horse, because it goes beyond that. The wording in the bill gives the president, one man, the power to unilaterally, under the pretense of “national security” to silence and censor essentially any platform or website they dislike. To qualify, the website would need to have users, but Rumble, a free speech site, which Joe Biden and the left don’t like, could be deemed a national security threat under the bill. So could truth social, or parler, or Twiitter, or anything the radical left deems “misinformation.” Which of course, is everything they disagree with.

    I’m not opposed to banning apps owned and controlled by the CCP, a Nazi, Germany lookalike. I am concerned with legislation that allows a president to unilaterally declare an emergency, and then use that as a way to censor anything they don’t like.

    Once again, the devil is in the details. If you don’t read the bill, then you won’t understand.

  9. Gravatar of Lizard Man Lizard Man
    14. March 2024 at 14:32

    8. Without a constitutional amendment, a third Trump term would clearly be in violation of the constitution. What are the odds that there are so few blue states that Trump can get a constitutional amendment passed on term limits? So assume that he tries to run for a third term. What will the Supreme Court say? And if they say no, what happens then? I doubt the military will back him in that situation. And if Trump isn’t popular enough to get a constitutional change to term limits, it seems highly unlikely that he is popular enough that he would actually have a shot at winning an election when he is running in clear violation of the constitution. Now of course he might decide not to run and then attempt to use his influence to continue to control the Republican Party. But the structural dynamic of Trump trying to tell the Republican nominee or president what to do just doesn’t play to him continuing to be the leader of the Republican Party. Any nominee or president will want to be the leader, and will likely work to diminish Trump’s influence just to enhance their own.

  10. Gravatar of Eharding Eharding
    14. March 2024 at 15:20

    “Twenty-six Republican senators voted against the recent aid package for Ukraine, which a pre-Trump Republican Party would have overwhelmingly supported.”

    If you look at the 2014 roll call votes, many Republicans (more than Democrats) were against aid to Ukraine even then. What the Trump era really resulted in was the turning of the Democrats into a fully Russophobic party.

    From a foreign policy realist perspective, the U.S. pouring gasoline on the Ukrainian fire makes perfect sense. I don’t think it’s the moral stance, though.

    “I always assumed that Trump plans to surrender to Putin”

    I predict that if Trump gets re-elected, he will (as his first term suggests) increase aid to Ukraine -not that it will matter, since Russia (the world’s now fifth largest economy by the World Bank’s estimate) has no plans to retreat.

    “I just think he’s a borderline fascist”

    I just think he’s a lazy conservative.

    “Funny how these “bipartisan rushes to judgment” so often involve China, not Russia.”

    Because Russia is the vastly smaller economy?

  11. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    14. March 2024 at 15:57

    Sara, “a Nazi, Germany lookalike”

    Trump would respond to you as follows:

    “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

    Lizard, You don’t get it. The Trumpistas are taking over the GOP. Trump doesn’t need to run again.

  12. Gravatar of Lizard Man Lizard Man
    14. March 2024 at 16:45

    The Trumpistas need Trump to actually rule the party. He is the only thing that can somewhat keep them together. Sure, the Republicans are now the party of Trumpistas. But without Trump they are just a bunch of self-defeating, squabbling idiots. Once Trump is gone the internal politics of the GOP will be Hobbesian, in no small part due to conservatives like Gaetz of MTG following his example of putting self promotion above all else. So even though Trump will have transformed the party, once he and his cult of personality are gone, the GOP will again be transformed by his absence.

  13. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    14. March 2024 at 21:44

    Lizard, Look at Europe, where things are moving toward authoritarian nationalism in many different countries. Someone else will come along to replace Trump. It’s not just a US phenomenon.

  14. Gravatar of Edward Edward
    14. March 2024 at 22:58

    For the record, TikTok is not owned by the CCP. Their data centers are in Texas.

    And if they ban TikTok, they’ll definetly come for X next. Nobody will be safe.

    From the loser Schumer, to plastic surgery pelosi, to the one-eyed moron, the Uniparty has never had more hate and contempt for freedom.

    But I have to ask. Why is Sumner so outraged about TikTok, yet he shows no outrage when the same uniparty fines a New York company 450M over the private valuation of their assets? In Trumps case, there were no victims. It was a victimless crime.

    But because it’s Trump, and not Biden or Obama, or Romnety or Cheney, Sumner’s TDS activates. The rule of law doesn’t apply to Trump. Only to people he likes.

    In other words, Sumner will only defend liberty when it suits his interest (TikTok and China), but not when it’s Trump or one of those “Trumpistas” as he likes to call them.

    He’s no better than a loser Schumer, or the one-eyed moron.

    But I’m not surprised. He is, after all, a utilitarian with no moral principles. One rule for thee, another for me.

  15. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    15. March 2024 at 00:23


    the Scott Alexander piece is pure gold in showing the absurdity of identity and the mountains of belief needed to support it. Identity as an individualistic concept is self evident, identity as a group concept is just about allegiance – it shouldn’t even count as identity.

    I have long held that the first victims of nationalism aren’t foreigners. Nationalism’s first victims are those “nationals” that don’t conform to a specific image of the “true Scotsman”.

  16. Gravatar of Lizard Man Lizard Man
    15. March 2024 at 04:02

    The Republicans have been the party of authoritarian nationalism since Nixon. At least that is what the left says. Long before Trump, the left consistently identified the Republican Party as the party of Fascism (which is more or less synonymous in common speech with authoritarian nationalism). I think that they have a point, given that Nixon had his underlings spying on his political enemies, just like any other authoritarian leader. And he was definitely the law and order candidate. To hear the left tell it, Regan built his national reputation on using police to brutalize peaceful left wing protesters. HW Bush literally built a network of secret prisons used to torture people. When Trump gained the GOP nomination in 2016, they said “yep, this is what the GOP has been since Nixon, and Trump is just saying the quiet parts out loud”.

  17. Gravatar of Eharding Eharding
    15. March 2024 at 06:16

    I generally agree with Sumner re: the future of the GOP. Trump won Mahoning County, and I doubt it will ever vote to the left of the popular vote again in presidential races. Many highly college educated counties that voted R in 2020 will vote D in 2032, regardless of who the presidential candidates are (though the current GOP constituency favors more populist candidates).

  18. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    15. March 2024 at 08:11

    mbka, Yes. Indian nationalism is actually Hindu nationalism. Chinese nationalism is actually Han nationalism. Hungarian nationalism excludes the Roma. US nationalism is white nationalism.

    Lizard, Yes, they’ve been saying that, and we both know it’s nonsense. NAFTA was a GOP idea. The GOP supported NATO. Reagan did a huge amnesty of illegal aliens. Bush advocated much higher rates of immigration in 2005. The GOP has recently become nationalistic, but it wasn’t during the post-WWII period.

  19. Gravatar of jensen jensen
    15. March 2024 at 09:39

    Funny to see Scott Alexander lauded as an advocate against ethnocentrism when he has professed a belief in the genetic intellectual superiority of white people.

  20. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    15. March 2024 at 11:00

    Jensen, I see you are new here. Keep lying and you’ll soon be banned. I have enough idiots as it is.

  21. Gravatar of steve steve
    15. March 2024 at 11:10

    #6- Maybe a better sign is that some of the left of center sites I read now actively make fun of the NIMBYs and support the YIMBYs.

    #9- I am always appalled that in the descriptions about the inter party warfare inadequate loyalty to Trump is seen as a good reason to not vote fo for support someone.


  22. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    15. March 2024 at 11:27

    steve, #6 Here’s another recent example, from New Zealand:


  23. Gravatar of steve steve
    15. March 2024 at 18:27

    Scott- I am believer in pendulum effects. I dont think it is that unusual for policies, especially att he city level, to become too radical or too weird. When they do it’s just not sustainable so they eventually have to swing back.


  24. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    16. March 2024 at 00:37

    The US is the worst governed of the major developed democracies (see Detroit, see declining life expectancy, see …) with the most dysfunctional political system. I much prefer to live in a crowned republic than an elective monarchy.

    The EU structure enables a fairly intense level of elite arrogance, hence the rise of national populism. The UK leaving the EU has fairly clearly increased the EU’s illiberal tendencies. Meanwhile, the UK — being outside the EU — is the least marked by the politics of national populism. Though the Tory abject failure to keep faith with their voters on migration may change that.

    The recent Rasmussen survey on elite opinions, even granted Arnold Kling’s critique, does show very clearly that elite universities have been gestating elite contempt for the general citizenry. Having a mainstream media dominated by the graduates of the same creates self-referential loops.

    I used to wonder how elites in the past could be so arrogantly self-destructive. Watching such arrogance play out in societies saturated with information has been revealing. The key thing about Trump is not the man himself, it is why he garners such support. There is a lot anger and alienation in the US.

    The Turchin analysis re inequality, mass immiseration and elite over production is a worry, though perhaps the state capacity of the US will be enough to keep things together. https://www.lorenzofromoz.net/p/an-american-civil-war

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