Posted by on December 17, 2016

We have all heard it.  The Republicans are the stupid party.

Truth be told, there is a fair amount of support for this.  Certainly, the evangelical Christian wing of the party is not an IQ enhancer.  And the nomination and subsequent election of Trump has done nothing to burnish the party’s reputation for deep thinking, although we must make full allowance for the completely justified #NeverClinton vote and the migration of a lot of formerly Democratic voters.  The fairness of the moniker is even acknowledged by some Republicans, such as Bobby Jindal.  A former Rhodes Scholar and McKinsey consultant, Jindal once begged the GOP to “stop being the stupid party.”

All of that said, I still think that the title properly belongs to the Democrats.

First, there is the steadfast refusal of the Democrats to learn even basic economics, which is the ultimate intellectual sin as far as this blog is concerned.

As I have mentioned before, only in the mind of a liberal can we simultaneously have the convictions that a carbon tax is a good thing since it will reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, but that minimum wage laws will not affect the employment prospects of the low-skilled. This type of inconsistency would earn a failing grade in any Economics 101 classroom.

Democrats only invoke economics when they think, usually falsely, that it supports their political desires.  For example, at the time when Obama’s 2009 stimulus package was being debated, I saw a video of Nancy Pelosi, the economically illiterate leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives, giving a garbled explanation of the Keynesian fiscal multiplier.[1]  Telling someone like Nancy Pelosi that each dollar the government spends will automatically improve the economy by some multiple of that sum, is the policy equivalent of giving a small boy a can of gasoline and a packet of matches and then telling him to go play in the attic.  This is not good parenting.

But the clearest indication that the Democrats are the real stupid party is their attachment to identity politics and the PC culture it spawns.  It is not necessary to belabor this point; we have all seen too many examples like the leftish Reed College students screaming “fuck you, bitch” at the openly gay director of Boys Don’t Cry, the breakthrough film for Hillary Swank and a transgender lifestyle.  I will merely point out that some leftists take identity politics to its logical conclusion by denying the very existence of an objective reality and the human ability to grasp it.  Here’s an example entitled “Science: A Masculine Disorder.”  Among other things, the paper disparages the scientific method since it “incorporates masculine features such as the objectification of nature.”  Is there any question about the authors’ political leanings?

This type of thinking permeates the Left.  Every time you hear an argument based on someone’s identity or feelings – including all the machinery of micro-aggressions, trigger warnings and safe spaces – it is an endorsement of subjectivity and emotions over objectivity and reason.  The Left’s penchant for celebrity pronouncements on complicated scientific and policy issues comes from the same instinct.  Only those who think that expertise is meaningless would find value in the opinions of some Hollywood bubbleheads.

This also follows a long tradition on the Left of avoiding uncomfortable facts by denying the possibility of objective truth.[2]  Marxists routinely dismissed contrary views as “bourgeois science” that could be safely ignored under the dictatorship of the proletariat.  Yet, when Trofim Lysenko’s pseudo-scientific genetics offered Stalin a short-cut to the perfection of the “New Soviet Man,” the death toll mounted.  Reality sucks.

Two recent articles have touched on this question of which party is more properly called the stupid one.  The first is entitled “Would Clinton Have Defeated Trump In An Epistocracy?”.

Careful readers of this blog may remember that I once mused about restricting voting to people who have passed a basic test in civics, current affairs and economics.  It turns out that my daydream has a name: “epistocracy,” or government by the knowledgeable.  Its two leading theoreticians are Jason Brennan, a political scientist from Georgetown University, and Bryan Caplan, another of the seemingly inexhaustible supply of excellent libertarian economists from George Mason University[3].

The article takes some of the voting rules that have been suggested for epistocracies and applies them to the 2016 presidential election, using data from exit polls and other sources.  Examples of the rules would include downgrading or disregarding the votes of low-knowledge/low-education voters or turbo-charging the votes of those at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Conventional wisdom is that Trump, the dumb candidate of the stupid party, would have been drubbed in an epistocracy.  But conventional wisdom is wrong.  Under all the rules tested, Trump would have converted his loss in the popular vote[4] into a margin of victory ranging from 0.5% to 3.8%.[5]  The author summarized the results as follows:

The Democratic coalition actually combines many who have the highest average political knowledge (e.g., Ivy Leaguers and folks with postgraduate degrees) with many who have the lowest average political knowledge (e.g., non-whites without college degrees). And, moreover, the most solid Democratic support often comes from the low-performing part of the coalition—so, for example, the exit polls show Clinton winning voters (of all races) with postgraduate degrees by 21 points, but this is dwarfed by her 55 point win with non-degreed non-whites. The reality is that anything that lowers the voting impact of less-educated non-whites is particularly detrimental to Democratic margins.

The second article takes on the conventional view that the Republicans are anti-science and the Democrats are staunch supporters of unfettered research.  The article is entitled “The Real War on Science – The Left has done far more than the Right to set back progress” and it was written by John Tierney, a science contributor to the New York Times.

The Democrats have long accused the Republicans of being anti-science, starting (very deservedly) with the evangelical attacks on evolution and accelerating recently (much less deservedly) with the debate over climate change.  The author of this excellent article asks, however, if the Right has been waging a war against science, then where are the casualties?  Because he can’t find any.

Conversely, the academic and public policy battlegrounds are littered with the victims of liberal fusillades.  For example, only the suicidal deviate from the alleged “consensus” on climate change[6], as attested by this sad tale of a climate scientist who has dared to observe that, contrary to the “consensus,” extreme weather events are not increasing.  Tierney cites a number of other politically motivated and anti-scientific attacks, such as those on genetically modified foods and animal research, both of which have hampered advancements with the potential to help millions.

He also points out the absolute taboo that the Left has imposed on any research relating to the “genetic underpinnings of human behavior, which has cut off many social scientists from the recent revolutions in genetics and neuroscience.”  We all remember the liberal outrage when Larry Summers, one of their own, dared to suggest that one of the reasons for the paucity of female scientists and mathematicians is “innate differences” such as the lower dispersion of female intelligence, resulting in more male imbeciles but also fewer female geniuses.  Despite lots of evidence for this conjecture, and plenty of evidence of discrimination in favor of female candidates for scientific positions and research grants, Summers was driven from the presidency of Harvard and probably denied the chairmanship of the Federal Reserve for this apostasy.

I would add discussions of the role of culture in the political and economic performance of nations and ethnic groups to this list of absolute taboos.

There are also good reasons why Democrats should be more anti-science than Republicans.  This is in addition to the survey evidence that Republicans (and particularly the libertarians among them) are actually more scientifically literate than Democrats.

Tierney identifies the domination of academia by liberals as one cause.  Democrats outnumber Republicans by 8 to 1 in the social sciences.[7]  Good science depends on peer review and criticism, preferably from someone with an alternative perspective.  This is virtually impossible in an academic world where the Left cherishes every form of diversity except the only one that matters: intellectual diversity.  The makes liberal viewpoints prone to confirmation bias, which is the opposite of good science.

The second reason is based on ideology.  For the Right, politics have usually been seen as a messy but necessary evil for a hopefully limited sphere where collective decisions are required.  Not so for the Left, which exalts communal decision making.  The Left believes that politics should, or at the very least does, infuse every aspect of life.  It is only natural, therefore, for them to treat science as yet another political battleground.  This is not a bug of their worldview; it is a feature.

Tierney’s article is not perfect.  For example, I think that he lets the Right off far too easily on stem cell research, one area where, if the Republicans did not inflict some very damaging casualties, it was not for the want of trying.  But overall, when the cocktail party conversation swings around to which is the stupid party, the far stronger case is that the Democrats should be the ones with the “who farted?” looks on their faces.

Roger Barris

Weybridge, United Kingdom

 

I Wish That I Had Said That…

“Most people would rather die than think.  In fact, many do” by Bertrand Russell

“The lessons of history, confirmed by the evidence immediately before me, show conclusively that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit” by Franklin D. Roosevelt, in a quote not often cited by modern advocates of welfare

WTF?

“…health and wellness as one of those rare opportunities in business when the public good intersects with private interests” by Indra Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo, talking about the company’s push into healthier snacks.  With friends like these…

[1] The Keynesian fiscal multiplier is a hotly contested issue in macroeconomics.  The idea of the multiplier is that, by spending $1, the government grows the economy by a multiple of this amount as the money cascades through the economy and gets re-spent.  The size of the multiplier is a big part of the debate: Keynesians think it is big whereas their opponents think that – for reasons such as “crowding out,” “Ricardian equivalence” and other “rational expectations” – it approaches 0.

[2] Of course, Nazism made the same error, denouncing things like Einstein’s relativity as “Jewish science.”  This simply shows that the extreme Right and the extreme Left have, as is so often the case, a lot in common.  It also shows the weakness of the conventional liberal-conservative political dichotomy, where neither pole is logically consistent and the only coherent positions (libertarianism on one side and fascism on the other) lie perpendicular to the line.

[3] Caplan’s most widely known book, The Myth of the Rational Voter, sits on the top of my to-read pile.

[4] The author did not attempt to apply the analysis to the Electoral College outcome, which would have stretched the available data and been largely irrelevant to the point he is making.

[5] The analysis was done before the final vote count, when Clinton’s lead in the popular vote was only 0.6%.  If it were re-run on the basis of the final count, it is likely that Clinton would have won under some of the rules.  But this is not really the point of the exercise.  The point is that all the epistocratic rules increased support for Trump.

[6] As I have mentioned before, I am agnostic on climate change.  I also seriously doubt that we will have anything approaching certainty on this subject from the scientific community in the near future; the issues are simply too complicated, long-dated, interactive and subtle.  I certainly know that I don’t have the expertise necessary for a settled view and my policy recommendations come from a different perspective.  But there is one thing I do not doubt, which is that the Left has consistently misrepresented the research and overstated the extent of the consensus.

[7] There are some who would argue that this preponderance alone proves that the Democrats are the less-stupid party.  Not true.  This argument ignores the role of incentives and the way in which academic appointments are made.  Academics have a natural leaning towards the big-government Left, which rewards them with status and financial support.  I would also argue that the gifted on the Right are more inclined to be real-world “players” than academic “coaches.”  These differences in incentives naturally produce a liberal tilt in academia, which is then reinforced through a self-perpetuating appointment process.

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Posted in: Politics, Uncategorized

Comments

  1. bernard lahey
    December 17, 2016

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    As far as I can tell, a Democrat, all democrats as far as I can tell, can be described as follows:

    They (WE KNOW ALL DEMOCRATS prefer NOT to use he or she because he (oops they) knows sexual identity is a continuum rather than binary) refuse to learn even basic economics

    They think that a minimum wage has no impact on employment

    They think that the government multiplier is always above 1

    They are obsessed with identity politics

    They are heavily involved in the anti-science conspiracy aimed at depriving us of the right to burn fossil fuel

    Your man of the left sure is an idiot. He is also a straw man. First, there may be a tradeoff between a living wage and employment among the very poor. To say there is no impact on employment is of course stupid. As for government spending, I guess we will soon see which party is more Keynesian. Some of the idiots on the left would claim that government spending in 2009 when the economy is in freefall certainly makes more sense and has a higher multiplier than it does today close to full employment. Go figure.

    Identity politics is to some extent a generational thing. I am as annoyed as you by some PC sensitivities but wow, I am even more annoyed by the extent of some Republicans insensitivities. You have a President who seems to want to make America racially intolerant again. When we see videos of school children shouting down American-born latinos with chants of “Build that Wall”, I say maybe too much sensitivity is better than not enough.

    Finally, climate change is simple. The atmosphere is ball of gas. When you change the composition of the gas the behavior changes in unpredictable ways. Always and everywhere! Are you agnostic about that simple proposition? Suppose 100 years from now we figure, wow, we didn’t despoil the environment nearly as much as we could have. Isn’t that better than the opposite? Hey, I don’t want to leave my car at home either. Until we are 100% sure, lets keep the party going.

    I am Canadian, we are communists. To us the US political spectrum goes from right to alt-right. The man on the Left you have portrayed is clearly an idiot. He is also a straw man!

    • Roger
      December 18, 2016

      Leave a Reply

      Thanks for your comments. Let me give you a few responses, because although my piece was a bit polemical, I don’t think I constructed a straw man:

      1. I actually think that most Democrats would deny any tradeoff on the minimum wage, which is particularly erroneous with respect to the long-term. In any event, if there is a trade-off, then it is a bad one because the minimum wage is a very poor way of providing a living wage. My comments on the minimum wage can be found in the “Hillary Clinton” section of this blog http://www.economicmanblog.com/2015/10/19/big-ideas-from-the-democratic-debate-not/. Here is one of the more relevant parts:

      The minimum wage is intended to lift people out of poverty.  For this goal, it is a blunt and often misguided instrument.  A study by the Congressional Budge Office found that only one-fifth of the estimated net gain in earnings would go to households below the poverty line.  This is largely because many of the people who would benefit are second earners in a household that is already doing pretty well.

      2. Your comments about the relative merits of Keynesianism in 2009 versus today have to be correct. However, to suggest that Trump represents anything approaching a real Republican is, of course, not correct.

      3. The problem with your comments about identity politics and racial insensitivities is that one feeds the other. I have been making this observation since this blog: http://www.economicmanblog.com/2015/12/08/more-on-trump/. I have frequently made this comment to liberals and it has been met with derision. But now, both Obama (http://reason.com/blog/2016/12/16/president-obama-perception-of-democrats) and Bernie Sanders (http://reason.com/blog/2016/12/13/bernie-sanders-donald-trump-won-because), along with this left-wing commentator from the UK (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLG9g7BcjKs), acknowledge the point.

      Wasn’t it pretty obvious that the Left’s continuous harping on “downtrodden” minorities would elicit a response? That the Left’s focus on minority identity politics would legitimize a majority identity politics? Particularly when the majority starts to feel more downtrodden than the minority?

      As I have said before, there is residual racism/sexism/homophobia/etc in America, just like in every country. But it is residual and it is held, overwhelmingly, by the class of people who don’t make decisions (about things like hiring, promotion, etc). The success of many formerly downtrodden minorities — East Asians, Jews, Indians, etc. — is the proof that racism is not the problem and that, frankly, the changes now have to come from the groups that have self-destructive cultures (which are, in many cases, abetted by bad government policy and education). Adding to a cult of victimhood is not helping these minority groups. And accusing the majority of being oppressors, when they know that this is no longer the case, is also only serving to inflame the problem.

      4. The point you make about climate change is exactly the point I made in this 2013 blog: http://www.economicmanblog.com/2013/06/03/climate-change/. Namely, that I am agnostic on the science, but still in favor of a carbon tax on the basis of expected values and a precautionary principle (and a whole bunch of other reasons, including geopolitical ones, to cut fossil fuel consumption). This I think is the right way to look at the problem; judging by your comments, I think that you agree. How many left-wing commentators do you find, however, who argue in this way? Or do they dogmatically overstate the science and then stigmatize anyone who doesn’t fall into line (including the notorious attempts to sue oil companies for being climate deniers)? How productive do you think that this form of argumentation has been?

      Again, I thank you for your thoughtful comments. I obviously disagree with them, but hopefully without being disagreeable. After all, you are Canadian and I like to show you guys that occasionally even us hot-blooded southerners can be civil.

      Roger

  2. bernard lahey
    December 18, 2016

    Leave a Reply

    My main objection is semantic. As far as I can tell, more than half the population voted for a Democratic President in 3 of the last 4 elections. Although all PC tree-huggers are democrats, not all Democrats are PC tree-huggers. That may seem like a quibble, but I thought the whole point of the article was to refute the Left’s oversimplification of Republicans as racist, gun-toting Evangelicals.

  3. bernard lahey
    December 18, 2016

    Leave a Reply

    I meant to say more than half the population voted democrat for President in 4 of the last 5 elections

    • Roger
      December 19, 2016

      Leave a Reply

      Can’t argue with that. I don’t particularly like to write articles like this because (1) I’m a libertarian, which fundamentally means that I think that both the Dems and Repubs suck, although in different ways (and, if push comes to shove, I think that the Dems suck more), (2) both the Dems and Repubs are broad tents that incorporate many different views, which is your point, and (3) both the Dems and Repubs are logically inconsistent. With all those qualifications, I think that I have reasonably accurately portrayed the broad stream of Democratic Party thought.

      Thanks again for the comments.

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