Saturday, March 18, 2017

Thoughts on Will Wilkinson's post on cities


Will Wilkinson, one of the greatest essayists working today, has a wonderful article in the Washington Post about two competing visions of America - one cosmopolitan and polyracial, the other exclusive and insular. Here are some great excerpts:
[Trump] connected with these voters by tracing their economic decline and their fading cultural cachet to the same cause: traitorous “coastal elites” who sold their jobs to the Chinese while allowing America’s cities to become dystopian Babels, rife with dark-skinned danger — Mexican rapists, Muslim terrorists, “inner cities” plagued by black violence. He intimated that the chaos would spread to their exurbs and hamlets if he wasn’t elected to stop it... 
To advance his administration’s agenda, with its protectionism and cultural nationalism, Trump needs to spread the notion that the polyglot metropolis is a dangerous failure... 
When Trump connects immigration to Mexican cartel crime, he’s putting a menacing foreign face on white anxiety about the country’s shifting demographic profile... 
Suppose you think the United States — maybe even all Western civilization — will fall if the U.S. population ever becomes as diverse as Denver’s. You are going to want to reduce the foreign-born population as quickly as possible, and by any means necessary. You’ll deport the deportable with brutal alacrity, squeeze legal immigration to a trickle, bar those with “incompatible” religions. 
But to prop up political demand for this sort of ethnic-cleansing program — what else can you call it? — it’s crucial to get enough of the public to believe that America’s diversity is a dangerous mistake. 
I think this is all pretty much true. Though this might be Bannon's strategy - or an accidental strategy - more than Trump's explicit idea; Trump himself probably mostly just knows things he remembers from the 1980s, when America's big cities really were mostly failing, crime-ridden places.

But though I agree with Will's overall message - and his call for an inclusive definition of American-ness - I think he glosses over a few important things.

First, it's not really cities that are doing well, but certain kinds of cities, suburbs, and towns. It's really the places with high levels of human capital. To understand the real pattern, read Enrico Moretti's The New Geography of Jobs. The engineer-heavy suburbs of Fremont or Milpitas are doing great, as are college towns like Ann Arbor and Gainesville. Meanwhile, big cities like Baltimore and St. Louis are still stagnating and crime-ridden, while others such as Detroit and Cleveland have only just now started climbing up out of their Rust Belt doldrums. It's not city vs. country, it's innovation hubs vs. old-economy legacy towns.

Also, Will depicts cities as diverse, tolerant places. That's true in some ways - you're not going to become a tech hub without a bunch of engineers from India and China, and people who live in cities do tend to develop more cosmopolitan attitudes. But in some important ways the picture is wrong. Many American cities remain extremely segregated, especially between black residents and others. Chicago is a thriving, diverse, fun, relatively safe metropolis - unless you go to the poor black areas, in which case you're in "Chiraq". New York is a pretty great place to live whether you're a poor person in the Bronx or a rich person on the Upper East Side; Chicago is a totally a different experience depending on whether you're white/Asian/Hispanic person living in the north, or a black person living in the south of town.

By Nate Silver's measure, the most segregated cities in America include places like Chicago, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Baltimore, and Cleveland. Those are precisely the places that are having the most difficulty adapting to the new, innovation-based economy. And those tend to be the places where crime rates have rebounded to their early 1990s highs, or never really fell in the first place.

So I'd focus less on the urban-suburban-rural distinction, and more on the division between new economy and old.

But anyway, I really like Will's message at the end of his post:
Honduran cooks in Chicago, Iranian engineers in Seattle, Chinese cardiologists in Atlanta, their children and grandchildren, all of them, are bedrock members of the American community. There is no “us” that excludes them. There is no American national identity apart from the dynamic hybrid culture we have always been creating together. America’s big cities accept this and grow healthier and more productive by the day, while the rest of the country does not accept this, and struggles. 
In a multicultural country like ours, an inclusive national identity makes solidarity possible. An exclusive, nostalgic national identity acts like a cancer in the body politic, eating away at the bonds of affinity and cooperation that hold our interests together.
That's exactly the message we need to be repeating. It's the only thing that can hold this country together. Either America succeeds as a polyracial nation, or it doesn't succeed at all.

43 comments:

  1. Anonymous7:15 PM

    Great post and great article by Wilkinson but I feel like these viewpoints just provide more ammunition for those yearning for the good ol' days when being a white American was a badge of honor.

    The cosmopolitan view is great since it removes bigotry and racial barriers. At the same time, it also erodes the social capital of being a white Christian American, which is often the only form of social capital for some people. So a white backlash against cosmopolitanism doesn't seem all that surprising.

    The multiracial view of USA as a country where the best and brightest of the world come to continually innovate basically brushes off a large part of US population. Practically speaking, there are already (and always will be) a large group of Americans that have tremendous difficulty competing against 99th percentile immigrants. And as technology advances, these jobs seems to be getting more and more scarce and the society seems to move closer toward winner-take-most. So how do we ensure innovation by the world's best while not destroying the livelihoods of the locals?

    I feel like the question at a philosophical level is the following: must future American children to always compete against the best and the brightest of the world for good jobs? If you agree with a cosmopolitan, multiracial view of America as a country of immigrant, then the answer will be to some degree "Of course, why do they deserve any better?"

    My thought is that Bannon & Trump is pursuing a society where "Americans feel fortunate to have been born in USA." I think they're going about it pretty badly, but you can imagine how a Japanese person often reflects on how fortunate he/she is to be born Japanese. Despite Japan's stagnation, this sentiment is still broadly shared across the society.

    My suspicion is that homogeneity in the local culture with high emphasis on local social capital is the quickest way to achieve such feelings. In that sense, the current administration's bigotry makes sense. Can cosmopolitanism offer similar benefit to Americans? I'm not so sure at this moment.

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    1. Well, I do think you should take a look at surveys showing much higher support for diversity in American countries than in European countries:

      http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/07/12/in-views-of-diversity-many-europeans-are-less-positive-than-americans/

      Only 7 percent of Americans say diversity makes a place worse to live. Even if all of the people saying that are white, that means only about 10 or 11 percent of white people say that diversity makes a place worse.

      Are people lying to polls? I doubt it. More likely, America just isn't a society that defines itself by racial and religious homogeneity.

      Candidates like Pat Buchanan who have urged us to accept that sort of national self-definition have historically been pretty weak. There have been a few eruptions of xenophobic sentiment - the Know-Nothings in the 1850s, the immigration restriction movement of the 1920s - but the historical norm is a society that embraces diversity.

      A good one-state example is California, which had a temporary freakout about immigration back in the 1990s - they elected Pete Wilson and implemented Proposition 187. But that was a temporary phenomenon - California whites today are, on the whole, extremely accepting of diversity. Nor is the change explained by outmigration. It was simply a return to the historical American norm.

      So I think that unless Trump effects radical change to the entire country, most of America is likely to return to a solidly pro-diversity attitude fairly soon...if it ever even left at all. The fact that the illegal immigration boom and the Mexican immigration boom both ended in the mid-2000s - a fact people don't realize yet - will probably contribute to a rapid return to the pro-diversity norm, once people realize it.

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  2. Anonymous12:21 PM

    I wish this debate included a more consistent and insistent recognition of whiteness as a newly constructed bullshit American identity. Irish, Italian, Jewish, German, Polish, etc. Americans - now considered white - used to be the USA's despised and spat upon "others." Most "whites" weren't "white" just a generation or two ago. I think that fact helps explain both the tolerance and racism of many Americans. They're tolerant because their older family members can still relay stories of past discrimination against them, and they're racist because they just recently got their hands on "whiteness" and want to enjoy it for awhile before seeing the potency of their share of that social cachet diluted.

    Either way, whiteness is historically relatively new and definitely fake for everyone who stakes a claim to it. We should spend more time reminding folks of the diversity within whiteness, rather than accepting as a premise of these conversations that "whiteness" is some real, ancient, god-given identity that unites lighter-skinned people against the rest of the world's population.

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  3. "It's not city vs. country, it's innovation hubs vs. old-economy legacy towns."

    Legacy towns where -- unlike continental Europe -- evaporated union density reduces $20/hr jobs to $10/hr jobs.

    I hail from the assimilated, color blind Bronx (thru 1980 -- spending the previous 15 years in New York's baddest bad lands) and all the assimilation in the world will not make up for totally evaporated economic and political muscle of the coulda-been middle class.

    Nota bene: all the supposed roots of evaporation of union density IN THIS COUNTRY acted in under conditions of total lack of any criminal enforcement power of federal labor organizing statutes. Jimmy Hoffa said "a union is a business." Only labor union businesses may be forced out of business by competing businesses with no legal penalties at all.

    Make union busting a felony at state level. No conflict with federal preemption -- if only because there is nothing federal to preempt at the criminal level (only complement not conflict in any case, like state min wages).

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  4. Anonymous10:10 AM

    According to a recent Social Science Council report, California is now the most unequal state when it comes to “well being,” combining stupendous, mostly coastal wealth with the highest rate of poverty in the nation, concentrated inland.

    So much for adapting

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  5. The essay is probably the most perfect expression of the fantasy conceptualization of the US as a propositional nation. In order to take this vision seriously, however, one needs to work very hard to forget actual American history.

    No, Honduran cooks or Iranian scientists are not the bedrock of America. Not at all. Neither were Germans, Slavs, Italians or Jews back a hundred years ago. They became Americans by, often violent, acculturation and socialization. They did not become american through appreciation of their unique contributions or affirmative action.

    The US has never been a multicultural nation. Many people confuse multi-ethnic with multicultural. The genius of America lay in the forging of common identity and loyalty in a collection of disparate tribes.

    The American creed is under concentrated assault from parts of the Aristocratic elite, which recruit minorities into resentment based ethnic spoils system. This is probably one of the greatest threats the US ever faced.

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    1. No, Honduran cooks or Iranian scientists are not the bedrock of America. Not at all. Neither were Germans, Slavs, Italians or Jews back a hundred years ago.

      You're wrong. Honduran cooks and Iranian scientists ARE the bedrock of America, and Germans, Slavs, Italians and Jews 100 years ago WERE the bedrock of America.


      They became Americans by, often violent, acculturation and socialization. They did not become american through appreciation of their unique contributions

      But America did change in response to their unique contributions. Polish food, Jewish humor, Italian art, and German education practices are examples of ways that American culture changed in response to the cultures of new immigrants. There are undoubtedly many subtler, less easily describable or perceptible ways that American culture changed in response to these groups.

      And I'm happy it did. Why should any culture be preserved in amber? Every culture has something interesting to teach us, I think, and ours will improve as we add more cool stuff.


      The US has never been a multicultural nation. Many people confuse multi-ethnic with multicultural. The genius of America lay in the forging of common identity and loyalty in a collection of disparate tribes.

      Well, that's where you're wrong. The U.S. has always been a multicultural nation. The culture of Texas, where I grew up, was always very different from the culture of New York or Michigan. And within Texas, the culture of kids who liked rock music or anime was pretty different from the culture of kids who liked trucks or football (though some people did like all of the above).

      The cool thing about America (and any modern rich society) is that it's not a monoculture, but it's also not static. Immigrant groups don't preserve their ancestral cultures from generation to generation, but nor do Americans all become the same.


      The American creed is under concentrated assault from parts of the Aristocratic elite, which recruit minorities into resentment based ethnic spoils system. This is probably one of the greatest threats the US ever faced.

      I am worried that some Americans (of both the left and the right) are urging people to self-segregate and to hate each other based on race. And I do think this is a threat to the country, since race-based civil war would be just about the worst thing that happened to us. But I think the way we stop it is to calm the fuck down and stop looking for groups of Americans to demonize.

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    2. Wow, is the argument getting fuzzy here. "Bedrock" is whatever you folks are saying it is?

      And you were discussing "American national identity": the relationship of that to multiculturalism and cultural assimilation is vague as well.

      I think you are both right in identifying demonization of groups of Americans as a great threat. But "calm the fuck down" is just not the way to do it. Aristocratic interests want such ethnic and class war to divide their opponents. And until we find a way to combat or muzzle their venom, we cannot any more "calm the fuck down" than we can use Rodney King's plaintive "can we all get along?"

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    3. Wow, is the argument getting fuzzy here. "Bedrock" is whatever you folks are saying it is?

      As David Hume would say, it's a matter of opinion. If you have a more specific definition of "bedrock" in mind, let me know...

      Aristocratic interests want such ethnic and class war to divide their opponents.

      I think they're rapidly realizing what a dangerous strategy this was.

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    4. "I think they're rapidly realizing what a dangerous strategy this was."

      Which "they"? Certainly not the Kochs, who have been playing this game successfully for at least 40 years. And which aristocratic interests do you think are being undermined by this "dangerous strategy", which has been played by conservative aristocrats for centuries?

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    5. I agree wholely with Krzys here. In short, America used to be the melting pot, where people from all over came and melted into one. The broth absorbed flavors from all the ingredients but those ingredients/people DID become part of the whole, one way or the other. Now, Americans who expect immigrants to meld into our society are considered racists or xenophobes. How dare Americans push any of our collective values on poor immigrants just looking for a better life? Forget the fact that acceptance of our collective values has always been the price paid for American opportunity.

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    6. America is still a melting pot, much as campus lefties like to decry that term.

      In general, a good thing to remember is that just because campus lefties diss something doesn't mean it no longer exists.

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    7. You know, I just realized I'm sitting here having an internet discussion about whether immigrants assimilate while two of my immigrant friends are barbecuing ribs out back. One was just complaining about her fundamentalist Christian parents, and her husband was showing me pictures of his gun collection. She's Indonesian, he's Thai.

      So I'm just sitting here reading what you guys are writing and thinking: "What on Earth are y'all talking about???"

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    8. Bedrock and common cultures mean specific things, not some regional differences. They include political and legal culture, which is distinctly Anglo-Saxon. The politics of the US have been very different from the German one, for example, even though german americans form a plurality in this country. That's due to the enormous pressure exerted on new arrivals to behave and act like americans 100 years ago.
      To quote TDR:“There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism... Our allegiance must be purely to the United States. We must unsparingly condemn any man who holds any other allegiance".

      It's a question of how groups of people behave. Individual Honduran cooks or Iranian engineers might become proper Americans if they start thinking and behaving like americans. It's much harder with larger groups unless there is a significant outside pressure to assimilate. Assimilation is hard and the pain grows the larger the cultural difference is to begin with.

      Some people imagine that if you only give some populace the American constitution, a rich and powerful democracy will result. Worked a treat in Latin America.

      Bannon diagnosed this problem very well: some people in New York feel they have more in common with people in London or Shanghai than with people in Kansas.

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    9. Bedrock and common cultures mean specific things, not some regional differences. They include political and legal culture, which is distinctly Anglo-Saxon.

      I'd call that "institutions" instead of "culture", but sure. I guess that's a distinction economists make. But yeah, our institutions mostly came from the UK (Not our universities, though! Those are German!).

      The politics of the US have been very different from the German one, for example, even though german americans form a plurality in this country. That's due to the enormous pressure exerted on new arrivals to behave and act like americans 100 years ago.

      I'm not so sure it's due to cultural pressure or assimilation. My bet is that it's due to rules and laws and organizations - in other words, institutions. German-Americans came and found themselves obeying British-style laws, working for British-style companies, etc. So they learned to live a sort of British-inspired life.

      To quote TDR:“There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism... Our allegiance must be purely to the United States. We must unsparingly condemn any man who holds any other allegiance".

      Let's apply this maxim first and foremost to the white supremacists who wring their hands over white people in Europe while ignoring the problems of nonwhite Americans in America today:

      http://noahpinionblog.blogspot.com/2017/03/white-supremacism-is-not-nationalism.html

      Individual Honduran cooks or Iranian engineers might become proper Americans if they start thinking and behaving like americans. It's much harder with larger groups unless there is a significant outside pressure to assimilate. Assimilation is hard and the pain grows the larger the cultural difference is to begin with.

      Nah, it's easy. Just mix people together with freedom and tolerance and they'll assimilate to each other. Remember, it's not just newcomers who assimilate, it's the existing population too. They both change each other. The newcomers generally change more because they're fewer in number, but everybody changes. And I think America does a good job at keeping the good parts of each culture and tossing out the bad.

      The American culture is a work in progress - a constantly evolving thing.

      Bannon diagnosed this problem very well: some people in New York feel they have more in common with people in London or Shanghai than with people in Kansas.

      Bannon should take a look in the mirror.

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    10. I'm not really saying the melting pot is gone; I'm saying the liberal left is doing its best to make it go away, partly by shaming Americans who still believe it's part of what has made America great.

      Noah, you write, "Just mix people together with freedom and tolerance....".

      I'd argue that freedom is routinely being infringed upon in the name of "tolerance." I'm not sure when it changed but "tolerance" is often projected as it's opposite, intolerance. And "tolerance" is often used as a means to argue against or prevent the actions of the melting pot! Assimilation isn't required because expecting new groups to assimilate is cast as intolerance of their culture, values, race, religion, etc.

      At the forefront of the assault against true tolerance and the melting pot is the ACLU.

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    11. Not institutions, but social processes called culture. You don't get a high trust society through good institutions, but exactly the other way round. All those Latin American systems modeled on the US failed spectacularly. Rules are an outcome , not the beginning.

      So Germans freely mixed and somehow acquired Anglo Saxon political culture, even though it differed a lot from their own. They did it by analyzing federalist papers and seeing the light? It just kinda happened and nobody knows how?


      There's no examples of freely mixing multicultural societies succeeding as a political unit. The US is not one. Only very insistent historical amnesia by both liberals and conservatives allows this fantasy to live on.

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    12. I'm not really saying the melting pot is gone; I'm saying the liberal left is doing its best to make it go away, partly by shaming Americans who still believe it's part of what has made America great.

      I do worry about this a little (https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2015-06-18/what-s-wrong-with-calling-the-u-s-a-melting-pot-), but I think that this will ultimately be totally ineffectual. The problem of cultural leftism is a chronic problem that we'll be dealing with for decades; the problem of a xenophobic backlash taking away America's key advantage (immigration) is real and immediate.

      At the forefront of the assault against true tolerance and the melting pot is the ACLU.

      Really?? How so???

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    13. Not institutions, but social processes called culture. You don't get a high trust society through good institutions, but exactly the other way round.

      I call bullshit. I say good institutions lead to high trust, not the other way around.

      There's no examples of freely mixing multicultural societies succeeding as a political unit. The US is not one.

      Nope. You're completely wrong. The U.S. IS one. We are a successful example, we have succeeded before, and we will do so again.

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    14. The ACLU champions itself as defender of civil liberties, but just so happens to defend the "liberties" of the liberal left far more often than not. As for their intolerance masked as tolerance, consider their campaign of scouring public buildings and national parks for any signs of religious expression and filing suit to remove as many vestigages of judeo-Christian values as they can regardless of any actual detriment or harmed party.

      That Christmas tree in the public square or that cross put up on public land (in the middle of nowhere) debate is equivalent to Monty Python's "violence inherent in the system." "You see him repressing me?!?"

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    15. Huh. Didn't know that. Well, that's annoying. I think ACLU is an invaluable defender of liberty in many areas, but that's just frigging' unnecessary. I mean, Japanese government buildings have Christmas trees.

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    16. They pick and choose which liberties are important and make up others as they go along. For example, they are strong supporters of the freedom of speech, strong supporters of freedom from religion (which isn't a liberty granted anywhere in the constitution), and offer no support for the 2nd amendment whatsoever.

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    17. Japan doesn't have the problem of Christian dominionism (at the extreme) and intolerance by Christians that we do in the USA. They can afford to take it more lightly.

      A more conspicuous issue I have with the ACLU is that they do not seem to defend unionization and other workers rights very much. Perhaps they think the unions are big enough to protect themselves. But I have also read theories that they have been bought off with large corporate donations to defend other things.

      That said, there is no substitute for the ACLU in the USA, and I've always contributed to them.

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    18. Good institutions lead to high trust? How come it did not work in Latin America, which copied the US system in various guises? How come the black community is a low trust one even though it lives under the same institutions? Or is your definition of institutions simply a tautology?

      US is the best example? You don't know the history of your own country. Just ask the Irish in 1880's or Germans in 1910's how much free mixing they enjoyed.

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    19. Good institutions lead to high trust? How come it did not work in Latin America, which copied the US system in various guises?

      Read "Why Nations Fail". Latin America has crap institutions.

      How come the black community is a low trust one even though it lives under the same institutions? Or is your definition of institutions simply a tautology?

      Black people live under the same institutions?? Police and courts treat black people differently than others. Black people also suffer a lot of housing discrimination. Those factors mean black people are often trapped in anarchic mini-societies. Not surprising those mini-societies would do worse.

      BUT, note that black people have been doing a lot better recently, and I think the improvement of the way our society treats black people probably has a lot to do with that.

      Institutions aren't tautological, but they are difficult to define and observe. I recommend Acemoglu and Robinson's book about this.

      US is the best example? You don't know the history of your own country. Just ask the Irish in 1880's or Germans in 1910's how much free mixing they enjoyed.

      Noah's Rule: Anyone saying "You don't know history" probably doesn't know history.

      Read Lyman Stone about the Irish and the Germans: https://medium.com/migration-issues/could-reducing-immigration-really-boost-immigrant-integration-b65c8b66dff9

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    20. I do like the ACLU a lot, but if they're attacking Christmas trees, refusing to defend gun rights, and refusing to defend the right to organize for collective bargaininng, I think they need some changes in their outlook.

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    21. Mike's Rule: Anyone talking about rights probably doesn't know what they are.

      Legally defended rights are produced through political processes which specify a law and then later a more refined interpretation found through regulations and the courts. Groups such as the ACLU argue for particular interpretations that are important to them: other groups have alternative interpretations.

      Gun rights are a particularly good example: see So You Think You Know The Second Amendment? Gun rights were settled law for decades until the NRA's interpretation was sold to the right wing.

      As for Christmas trees, the first amendment is kinda specific. Christmas trees are an establishment of religion. Very simply, you cannot have freedom of your religion (or none) if you cannot be free from the religion of others in our government. The ACLU has been successfully battling use of religious symbols by government for many decades now. Courts agree with them on this.

      I don't understand why the ACLU doesn't defend worker organization rights, but their outlook on pretty much everything else is agreeable to me.

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    22. MaxUtil1:41 PM

      The ACLU "attacks" displays of religious iconography in public spaces where they could be viewed as a government endorsement of a particular religion. One may not interpret the first amendment as requiring this, but there is a reason the establishment clause was put into the constitution. One of the core, founding principles of this country is that we are not a theocracy. Attacks on government sanctioned religious displays are not an "attack on religion".

      The ACLU has actually defended "gun rights" in specific cases. They do not interpret the 2nd amendment as conferring individual rights but rather collective ones. You can disagree with their interpretation, but it is not radical.

      Clearing labor issues are not a major focus of the ACLU as they tend to focus on the protection of individual rights. But I'd like to see some evidence of their "refusal" to defend something.

      It sounds like the general critique is mostly that they are a threat to the American culture because they are not pursuing the exact legal and legislative priority list that's in your head.

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    23. I've been a member of the ACLU for longer than our blog host has been on this planet (assuming he is as young as he looks). The organization's view on 2nd amendment rights is far more nuanced than The Donk would like us to believe: https://www.aclu.org/other/second-amendment The group sided with the Republicans in the recent House vote on sales of firearms to persons with mental disabilities (really nuanced!!): https://waysandmeans.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/ACLU.pdf

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    24. The ACLU "attacks" displays of religious iconography in public spaces where they could be viewed as a government endorsement of a particular religion. One may not interpret the first amendment as requiring this, but there is a reason the establishment clause was put into the constitution. One of the core, founding principles of this country is that we are not a theocracy. Attacks on government sanctioned religious displays are not an "attack on religion".

      Still, I don't like this. Putting a Christmas tree in a public building is not establishing a theocracy. Many cultural traditions are religiously derived; many others are not. Specifically forbidding the expression or celebration of the religiously derived ones by government organizations seems like bullshit to me.

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    25. So black community has different level of trust because institutions are different? But they are hard to observe and define? Hey, lookie here, more curve fitting.
      That's just useless. Define institutions as collections of explicit rules and call the residual culture or whatever name you like. Even that definition might be polluted by endogeneity.

      Either way, as it is well known social trust is higher in homogeneous societies, which is an orthogonal property to institutions however you want to define it.

      I'm not quite sure what time series of immigration flows tell you about history. The point is that social context (aka culture) matters and the enormous pressure to assimilate then was very different from today.

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    26. If the most recent commenters want to look back to how this discussion of the ACLU started, it was with regard to America being a melting pot and how the liberal left is changing it. The ACLU is absolutely part of that. Regardless of your views, Christmas displays in public spaces, crosses erected in national parks, even the Ten Commandments in public places, were things tolerated for years. They are absolutely not an establishment of religion but you are kidding yourself if you pretend the nation wasn't founded with judeo-Christian principles. You're also kidding yourself if you believe the right...look at all the state constitutions enacted around that time. Look at the history of the amendment. No doubt the ACLU defends its own views though...my point was and still is that the ACLU is a strongly left leaning institution working against America's long standing tradition of being a "melting pot" through its selective defense of civil liberties, often in an intolerant way.

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    27. Just got around to reading Mike Huben's source for "knowing the second amendment." I love love love that he utilizes an opinion piece, written in The New Yorker days after Sandy Hook as his gotcha source for understanding the 2nd Amendment. Why not a Michael Moore quote instead?

      Regardless of his/my views on the 2nd Amendment, Mike Huben actually helps make my point. He argues that a right leaning institution is influencing the courts' interpretation of the constitution; agreed. Now can we agree a left leaning institution (ACLU) is trying to influence the courts' interpretation of the constitution? I mean clearly we had centuries of Christmas trees in public places being tolerated by our citizens and immigrants before the ACLU convinced the Courts this was somehow prohibited in the constitution. It seems clear that immigrants had to tolerate some Christian values when coming to the US. Prayer in school, God invoked in our congress, during our speeches, and on our money? The expectation that immigrants learn english?

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    28. So black community has different level of trust because institutions are different? But they are hard to observe and define? Hey, lookie here, more curve fitting.
      That's just useless. Define institutions as collections of explicit rules and call the residual culture or whatever name you like. Even that definition might be polluted by endogeneity.


      Krzys, I wish you held your own hypotheses and theories to the same standards you want to hold other people's to. I sent you links to books and articles backing up my view and explaining how people try to quantify institutions. What evidence have you sent me for your hypotheses about homogeneity and trust? What evidence have you sent me for your theories about assimilation pressures in America's past? None. What's good for the goose is good for the gander, man.

      Either way, as it is well known social trust is higher in homogeneous societies, which is an orthogonal property to institutions however you want to define it.

      I'm not quite sure what time series of immigration flows tell you about history. The point is that social context (aka culture) matters and the enormous pressure to assimilate then was very different from today.


      Where's your evidence that trust is higher in homogeneous societies? I know of evidence that new groups of people moving into a neighborhood temporarily decreases trust. But where's the evidence that this persists over the long term?

      Homogeneity is endogenous, as people A) intermarry, and B) change their definitions of relevant ethnic groups (e.g. combining "German", "Irish", "Italian", "Jewish", "Polish", "Swedish", and "British" into "white").

      Look at data on trust surveys: https://ourworldindata.org/trust

      You'll notice very low trust in homogeneous East Europe. You'll notice higher trust in diverse America, Canada, Indonesia and India than in super-homogeneous Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Latvia, and Lithuania.

      And as for your stuff about past assimilation pressures, do you have any data on this at all? What's your source?

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    29. Donk, you plainly misunderstand the point of the article. "In other words, the law of the Second Amendment is not settled; no law, not even the Constitution, ever is." The point is that no particular position is "correct": the meaning is derived politically.

      The position that prohibition of endorsement of religion should apply to small as well as large things boils down to whether people feel oppressed by government. Big scale oppression such as a state religion and smaller scale such as state use of religious symbols and slogans differ primarily in how many people are offended (always a minority) and how seriously. But unless you can draw a bright line between them, you have no basis to oppose one and not the other. The bright line in the constitution is government versus private, and that is an easy line to understand and hold.

      Arguments such as "centuries of Christmas trees in public places being tolerated by our citizens and immigrants" just don't make something right: we also had centuries of slavery and disenfranchised women being tolerated.

      But it's not surprising that the ACLU is liberal/left-leaning: civil liberties have always been opposed by conservatives.

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    30. Ok, fair enough. You want me to prove empirically that having consistent and clear definitions of dependent and independent variables is important? Just look at all the empirical literature in macro.

      Anyway, kidding aside, the point about homogeneity is that there are other variables than institutions, however broadly defined, which have explanatory power. If you want actual regressions, look here:
      https://ideas.repec.org/p/zbw/wzbisi/spi2004202.html

      As to Acemoglu's work. He thinks he has an explanation, but at most he has a (interesting) description. He did manage to show that geography does not explain anything and limiting institutional cases, such as communism, do explain a lot. However, one just needed to look at a comparison between the Germanys or Koreas to have an inkling. Beyond that, he managed to show that corrupt exploitative societies are...exploitative and do not grow. For too long. Probably.

      As to evidence for the assimilation pressures, i'll give you one data point:the german language press was reduced by roughly 95% between 1900 and 1920.
      Your own source, by the way, discusses the dangers of concentrated ethnic ghettos and, as you can imagine, language is a vector of ethnic identity.

      Which brings me to a larger point. Your call to data is misguided since structure always comes before data. You need to think through the possible confounders before you look at any data at all. That's why looking at actual history is so important. Ideology does matter. Culture matters. Xenophobic pressures might be adaptive as they force outsiders into cultural mimicry socializing them into the mainstream in the process. How much it matters? No idea, but neither do you.

      Speaking of racism and xenophobia, the greatest tragedy of the black community is that it had never become "white", but it retained its distinctiveness instead. At least we got a lot of great music in the bargain.

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    31. Mike, saying conservatives have always opposed civil liberties is just an ignorant and ridiculous statement, but back on topic and as short and sweet as I can: The ACLU "protecting" minorities or immigrants or whomever from the predominant religion of the land reduces the actions of the melting pot.

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    32. OK, well, Acemoglu's work on institutions surely has a lot of holes in it, but what better work on the topic is out there?

      I agree that linguistic assimilation was rapid back then. But it's also rapid now. By the 3rd generation, <1% of Hispanics speak mostly Spanish. As for German-language press, it took a century to disappear.

      Which brings me to a larger point. Your call to data is misguided since structure always comes before data. You need to think through the possible confounders before you look at any data at all. That's why looking at actual history is so important. Ideology does matter. Culture matters. Xenophobic pressures might be adaptive as they force outsiders into cultural mimicry socializing them into the mainstream in the process. How much it matters? No idea, but neither do you.

      I think we just don't know how to reliably measure culture, ideology, etc.

      I do think you see immigrants assimilate much less in Europe, East Asia, and elsewhere than in the U.S. I think there's a reason for that.

      I also think the experience of black ppl in the U.S. is a cautionary tale for what happens when a subpopulation doesn't integrate. Great music is nice, but I'd rather have black people be considered real Americans (and consider themselves real Americans).

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  6. "Will Wilkinson, one of the greatest essayists working today...": I hope you meant that sarcastically. He's long been a Koch-funded ideologue, and you have criticized him in the past as well. Now you are criticizing his normal fact-free ideological basis for argument.

    I don't think there has EVER been an "inclusive national identity" in the USA. Instead, I think there has been extreme divisiveness fomented by plutocrats as part of class war and EXCLUSIVE national identity in wartime propaganda and anti-immigration sentiment.

    I, too would love an "inclusive national identity", but the Obama-era attempts to create one that is welcoming to all "races", ethnicities, languages, religions, and sexual preferences has been thoroughly trashed by anti-social-justice-warrior reactionaries funded by plutocrats, as in the Tea Party. It is possible that it might happen with generational change, but such a national identity gives government more power: something that plutocrats (including the Kochs) do not want, and will actively deter.

    I view Wilkinson's position as a bait-and-switch. Use the promise of an "inclusive national identity" to keep immigration high. That provides lots of fuel for plutocrats to drive populist resentment in their class war. Wilkinson has ALWAYS been funded by plutocrats, and has long worked for their interests.

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  7. Great post but it got me thinking. From 2010-2013 NYC's domestic migration was -366k and international migration was +399k. This was similar situation for LA, Chicago, and rustbelt cities. For cities with a lower cost of living domestic AND international migration was positive. Of course immigration is good, of course. but maybe... maybe immigrants mask the rising cost of living to unreasonable levels and give people an excuse to never address it
    Of course skilled immigration boosts job growth and gdp, of course. but MAYBE... maybe restricting their employment choices distorts the crap out of population growth in the US

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  9. This reminds me that the telecoms company Colt defines its preferred service area as "2.5km around the world's top 400 data centres". I remember immediately wondering what percentage of GDP was located in that archipelago.

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