The Alt-Right is All Wrong

Probably you read or heard about Hillary Clinton’s comments yesterday, linking Donald Drumpf with something called the alt-right. And probably — like me — you didn’t know much about the alt-right. Do yourself a favor and read the Vox explainer article about what the alt-right is.

Most of the news coverage described the alt-right as a social movement and an internet community that is racism and hostile to government. And that is right, so far as it goes. But there is another level to the alt-right. I read 10 different news reports after Clinton’s speech and most of them gave background on the alt-right. I also did a little bit of study of my own looking at the original sources of alt-right thought. But then I realized I don’t want to give them the clicks — and neither should you. They are bad people and they need to stay under their rock. Consider:

The purpose of government, in the view of neoreactionaries, isn’t to represent the will of the people. It’s to govern well, full stop. “From the perspective of its subjects, what counts is not who runs the government but what the government does.”

That is . . . anti-democratic. That is . . . an argument for tyranny. That is  . . . fascist. And some of these people  are pretty open about it:

Peter Thiel, the libertarian billionaire who co-founded PayPal and Palantir and was the first outsider to invest in Facebook,declared in 2009, “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”

At first, it seems like statements like these are pretty fringe-y and are not representative of conservatism or the Republican Party. But very many Republicans support efforts to restrict voting, which is prima facie anti-democratic.

Hillary Clinton is a terribly flawed candidate for president. She oughtn’t to be the nominee of a major party. But she is nothing worse than a bad candidate. Her opponent — and the people he panders to, are really very wicked people.

That’s all. Now please go and read the Vox article.

 

Cherry Tree Lies

“Parson Weems’ Fable”, by Grant Wood

Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times did a nice job earlier this week of comparing Hillary Clinton and Donald Drumpf in terms of their honesty. By which I mean their lack of honesty. Both candidates lie a whole lot, he acknowledges. But not all lies are alike:

If Clinton declares that she didn’t chop down a cherry tree, that might mean that she actually used a chain saw to cut it down. Or that she ordered an aide to chop it down. As for Drumpf, he will insist, “I absolutely did not chop down that cherry tree,” even as he clutches the ax with which he chopped it down moments earlier on Facebook Live.

Readers may or may not recognize the “Did he chop down a cherry tree?” test of veracity as a trope that has long been associated with George Washington. Supposedly a youthful, energetic George took a hatchet to one of his father’s fruit trees and then later admitted doing so when his father asked. He might have blamed a servant or wiggled out of the situation some other way, but George was so virtuous that he couldn’t tell a lie even to save himself a lickin’. As the story goes, he father was impressed with George’s character, so he forgot about the vandalism and rewarded the candor. What a great lesson in virtue, boys and girls!

I was taught this tale as a historical fact. But it isn’t. A hack historian named Mason Weems — usually called Parson Weems — made the story up and put it into a biography of Washington that was a best seller in the early 1800s. Abraham Lincoln said the Bible and Weems’ Life of Washington were the most important books he had growing up.

How ironic is it that Weems valued truthfulness so highly that he made up a lie to illustrate it? Or, alternatively, that he though his didactic fabrication would compel impressionable young readers to do the right thing no matter the cost.  Serious historians might quibble. The popular story says that George cut the cherry tree down to the ground. A closer look at the actual text shows that Weems says George “barked” the tree — meaning he gouged the bark lightly. You have to make a choice between the actual lie, and the incorrect version of the lie.

 

Anyway, Kristof cites quantitative evidence that Drumpf is both a more habitual and a more outrageous liar. Politifact routinely compares what politicians say against known facts, and then rates those statements on a six-point scale. Here is the ratings for 236 of Clinton‘s statements:

 

[Source: Politifact]
[Source: Politifact]

And here is their review of 214 things Drumpf has said:

[Source: Politifact]
[Source: Politifact]

Clinton is not nearly good enough to deserve nomination to public office. And Drumpf is vastly and dreadfully worse than her. You can click on the links for both candidates’ names to see what some of their specific lies are. The six-point scale is actually pretty useful. Take, for example, the “Mostly True” category. An example is Indiana Governor and vice  presidential candidate Mike Pence’s claim that under his administration Indiana has the highest credit rating of any state in the US. Politifact gives it a “Mostly True” rating. It is true because Indiana has a Triple-A rating and no other state has a higher one. But it is only mostly true because 14 other states also rated Triple-A and because Indiana was rated Triple-A long before Pence took office. The statement is literally and specifically true. But if Pence means listeners to infer that Indiana is special or that he is responsible, then he is deceiving them.

It seems a pity that we’re driven to considering nuances of mendacity. But the cherry tree tale reminds us that we’ve never had very high standards of truthfulness where public figures are concerned. Instead of merely enduring the present bad situation with the hopes that we’ll get back to Parson Weems-type dishonesty in the future, perhaps we should think in terms of finally beginning to require the government to do its job right and tell the truth.

Can you dig it!

 

 

Bee Afraid. Bee Very Afraid.

I read something interesting and puzzling a few days ago. The article was about Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate for president. The on-line publication Slate and the writer of the article, Jordan Weissmann, don’t think much of Stein.  They disapprove of Stein not just because she might take votes from Hillary Clinton. They think she is an “absolutely awful torchbearer for the far left.”

That is a bit of a double-barreled statement. I wasn’t sure, reading it, whether Weissmann wishes a better torchbearer than Stein for the esteemed agenda of the far left, or if he despises the far left agenda and wants Stein to take it and go jump in the lake. Reading a bit farther into the article the answer became clear. It is the jump-in-the-lake one:

Tucked into this long, starry-eyed list of progressive causes are a few lines that remind you of the far left’s fraught relationship with biological science. There’s a call not just to label genetically modified foods but to “put a moratorium on GMOs and pesticides until they are proven safe.” Never mind that scientists have studied GMOs extensively and found no signs of danger to human health—Stein would like medical researchers to prove a negative. She would also “Ban neonicotinoids and other pesticides that threaten the survival of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.” This is a nod to the discredited theory that some pesticides are driving the collapse of honeybee populations (which, by the way, are not actually collapsing).

Honeybee populations are not actually collapsing! Neonicotinoids are safe! Theories blaming them are discredited!

Weissmann’s assurances come from a 2014 article in Forbes — as pro-business a source as you could hope for. And the Forbes article cautions that it would be a mistake to ban neonicotinoid pesticides too hastily. But it does not say the case against the chemical is closed:

In a French based study published in Science, a small percentage of free-ranging honeybees whose brains were doused with the neonic thiamethoxam got confused, failing to return to the hive. Another Science study, focusing on bumblebees, found those exposed to high doses of the neonic imidacloprid had reduced colony growth rates and produced significantly fewer queens to found new colonies. Just last month, research in the low-impact journal Excotoxicology concluded that bumblebees exposed to imidacloprid were somewhat worse at gathering pollen than untreated bees although the nectar foraging efficiency of treated bees was not significantly different than the controls. Last year, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) released three studies, none conclusive, raising questions about the potential role of neonics in bee health.

Forbes recognizes that after being exposed to neonicotinoids, some bees got confused and failed to return to their hive, others had reduced growth and produced fewer queens, and others became worse at gathering pollen. There is an obvious pro-chemical slant to the article, but I think Forbes is giving us responsible journalism. They say something bad is happening with bees, and several things could be causing it. In the interest of really solving the problem, they suggested we make sure we know the true cause before we adopt a plan of action. This was a reasonable thing to say in 2014. Here’s some more background on Colony Collapse Disorder and bee health in general:

 

 

I don’t presume to explain the cause of the Colony Collapse Disorder or any other aspect of the apiarist’s art. From what I’ve read in the past few days I’m only sure that there is a lot to learn. My daughter recently took a job with an Indiana beekeeper, so soon she can tell us more. But what I can say for sure is that the wrongest report I’ve come across is the one from the Slate writer Weissmann that I referenced at the start. He says the notion that pesticides cause bee declines has been “discredited,” citing a two-year-old article that actually said the jury was still out. It has since been superseded by pretty definite EPA evidence that the pesticides do harm bees along with mites and other causes. He says bee populations are “not actually collapsing” when they are certainly under serious and persistent stress.

We need to pause and think about how we measure things. How, for example, do we measure “bees?” Here are a few possible methods:

  1. The total number of living bees that are buzzing around anywhere in the US at this moment
  2. The number of managed hives reported to some government authority or industry resource
  3. The value of honey sales reported by grocery chains and farmers markets
  4. An estimate of total value of pollinator-dependent agriculture throughout the country.

 

Counting the total number of bees would be the best method. But it is impossible. There just aren’t enough people to canvas every remote alpine meadow of North America in a small amount of time. Number two is possible, and is actually one of the methods used. But number of hives is a very, very sloppy measure. Hives are not uniform in size and health. What X number of hives meant 10 years ago might be very different from what X number of hives means now. Indeed, we can be sure it is very different because one strategy beekeepers are using to fight Colony Collapse Disorder is splitting up their hives. Instead of one big hive, they now prefer to keep two or more smaller ones separate from each other. Instead of one hive of 1000 bees, a keeper might now have two hives of 100 bees each, and sources might report this as a doubling of hives. Silly, but that is precisely what the Washington Post did report in 2015, and what Weissmann cited this past week as proof of a rebound in bee health.

Option three is possible, and is actually being done regularly. Here it is the latest National Honey Report. But honey sales isn’t very good because honey is a small part of what bees do. Evidently pollinating California almond trees is their biggest task, and each year hundreds of hives are trucked out to California. (Yes, conscientious citizen, you should stop eating California almonds!) Some estimates say one out of every three bites of food an American eats relied on insect pollinators, so honey by itself isn’t a good measure. But the value of pollinator-dependent agriculture isn’t a good measure of bees’ health either since the total value of all those crops is determined by weather, consumer choice and many more factors than bees. Ultimately, there isn’t a single, consensus measure of bee health in the US, and none of the available methods is without flaw.

We can come away from this with a clear sense that America’s political spectrum is as badly sundered on the left as it is on the right. If you derived any shadenfreude during the Republican primary season as Bush and Paul and Cruz and others fell away, you can see now that the left side is equally unsettled and the Bernie bubble wasn’t an anomaly. Weissmann and his platform, Slate, wants to keep the focus on the liberal agenda. And that tends to be a list of pretty soft, affluent, post-modern, consumer-oriented issues. It upsets them that far-left people like Philpott and Stein want to draw attention to inconvenient and urgent concerns like the fact that the food we eat might be poison — and if we don’t do something there won’t even be enough poison to go round.

 

I’ll end with a commercial for Rudyard Kipling. Contrary to his reputation as an apologist for British colonialism, Kipling is better thought of as a guy who wrote about everything. He wrote three stories about bees. One is an apocalyptic cautionary tale called “The Mother Hive,” and the second, called “The Vortex,” is a hilarious romp through a quiet British village being disrupted by the accidental tipping over of a box full of bees. In the chapter “Red Dog” from The Jungle Books, Mowgli wins his Armageddon battle against invading wild dogs by leading them blindly into an angry swarm of bees.

A Constitutional Right to Upskirt?

SofLJesus had little good to say about the Pharisees — the experts in old Jewish law who dominated religious life in the Israel of his day:

They pile heavy burdens on people’s shoulders and won’t lift a finger to help. Everything they do is just to show off in front of others. They even make a big show of wearing Scripture verses on their foreheads and arms, and they wear big tassels for everyone to see. They love the best seats at banquets and the front seats in the meeting places. And when they are in the market, they like to have people greet them as their teachers. (Matthew 23: 2-7)

These Pharisees were convinced by — and committed to — the idea that the Jewish law proved that God favored them above all other people. And oddly, the stronger they believed in the importance of the law God had spoken to Moses centuries before, the more willing the Pharisees were to add to it and twist it around their finger. The US has reached a similar point in its Pharisaical devotion to law. The latest evidence of this comes from a Mother Jones article about a Georgia court decision upholding the right of perverts to look up women’s skirts. A man named Brandon Lee Gary had been convicted of violating Georgia law by photographing up women’s skirts in the grocery store where he worked. But when he appealed, the higher court agreed that the law doesn’t actually prohibit what he did.

[B]oth the State’s argument and the trial court’s holding focused on two propositions: (i) that Gary’s conduct was patently offensive and (ii) that a woman walking and shopping in a public place has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the area of her body concealed by her clothing. We do not disagree with either of these propositions. Nor do we doubt that a woman whose body is surreptitiously photographed beneath her clothing has suffered an invasion of privacy of some kind. The question before this Court, however, is not whether the defendant’s conduct was offensive; it is not whether a person walking in a public place has a reasonable expectation of privacy as to certain areas of her body; and it is not whether the victim’s privacy was violated. Rather, the only issue presented by this appeal is whether the defendant’s conduct constitutes a criminal invasion of privacy, in violation of OCGA § 16-11-62 (2).

That last sentence is the very definition of Pharisaical. They admit that something very gross and wrong was done. But “the only issue” is whether the law is disturbed. The matter hinged on the meaning of the word “place.”

To interpret “private place,” as the State asks us to do, as referring to a particular area of the human body, however, would render subsections (1) and (3) of the statute nonsensical. We decline to interpret the statute in this fashion. Instead, we find that when the term “private place,” when viewed in context of the statute as a whole, does not refer to a specific area of a person’s body. Rather, that term refers to some physical location, out of public view and in which an individual may reasonably expect to be safe from intrusion or surveillance – i.e., a place in which an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Edmund Burke

Hence, if the “place” involved was the grocery store (which is admittedly public), then the woman had no right of privacy as defined by the law. That is what the Georgia court decided. The problem here is not that the court made a senseless or unjustifiable decision. The court decision was carefully considered and reached a necessary and inevitable outcome. You can read it here. The problem is that our society is over-reliant on the law and that the law has become a massive bureaucracy that is incapable of producing a fair and just society. It is incapable because law can only prohibit (and punish) what is illegal. And people inclined toward wrong-doing can think up new types of wrongdoing faster than legislators and court can pass laws to prohibit them. (In this particular case, the offence occurred in 2013 and has crawled through the courts so that just this week — three full years later — we learn that it isn’t against the law. It will be another year before Georgia can pass a new law and bring it into effect.)

Let me be fair. My headline — “A Constitutional Right…” — isn’t really apt. The US Constitution isn’t at issue at all — just Georgia state law. Plus, laws ought to be strictly interpreted and enforced. If a law says, “Don’t litter,” it shouldn’t be used to stop spitting. But there’s more to a good society than law. As the great conservative thinker Edmund Burke said, the more we have of conscience and moral teaching, the less we need of law:

Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.

Burke was assuming that order and fairness were necessary and inevitable. He assumed that everyone would be willing to abide by whatever rules were necessary to achieve order and fairness, and that personal liberty would begin after necessary order and fairness were assured. And I think the American founding fathers — who lived at the same time as Burke and were influenced by him — assumed the same.

Today, we have the law doing, more or less, what it ought to do. But there is not nearly enough moral suasion outside of government working to instill moral order and fairness. I personally recommend the principles of the New Testament as a starting point for moral order. But I’d be on-board with almost any argument you might offer as to why upskirt pictures are wrong. We don’t have any such thing today because Conservatives just want government to leave them alone and Liberals claim to believe that any one code of behavior is as good as any other. Burke’s “controlling power upon will” is as necessary as ever, but lies outside today’s Overton Window.

Looking into Burke more carefully, I think he wasn’t even talking about the dividing line between government and the people. He was talking about the line between an individual’s own internal conscience and all external influences, of which government was only one. He expected family, neighbors, , schools, workers’ guilds, trade unions, and the church community all to exert a strong influence. He had no confidence that individuals would always curb their passions and lusts (which was right), but he did expect those groups I mentioned to exert influence in almost all cases, so that government would have to act only rarely.

Think about it: after reading the Mother Jones article, did you think, as I did, “We need a law to prohibit upskirt photos!” But what does that say ? Do we really need a law to stop people from doing something that unconscionable? Or would we be better with communitarian standards and a dose of the Staple Singers?

Respect yourself, respect yourself
If you don’t respect yourself ain’t nobody gonna give a good cahoot, na na na na
Respect yourself, respect yourself

If you’re walking ’round thinkin’ that the world owe you something cause you’re here
You’re goin’ out the world backwards like you did when you first come here.
Keep talkin’ ’bout the President won’t stop air pollution
Put your hand on your mouth when you cough, that’ll help the solution.
Oh, you curse around women though you don’t even know their names
And you dumb enough to think that’ll make you a big ‘ol man.

 

 

 

 

 

Democracy in Action, or Democracy Inaction?

 This past week, the Republican Party anointed Donald J. Drumpf its candidate for the presidency. The press coverage recognized, in a variety of ways, just how unsatisfactory Drumpf is. The Washington Post came out on Friday with a remarkable editorial statement that Drumpf’s egregious failings compel them to short-circuit their normal editorial practices:

In an ordinary election year, we would acknowledge the Republican nominee, move on to the Democratic convention and spend the following months, like other voters, evaluating the candidates’ performance in debates, on the stump and in position papers. This year we will follow the campaign as always, offering honest views on all the candidates. But we cannot salute the Republican nominee or pretend that we might endorse him this fall. A Drumpf presidency would be dangerous for the nation and the world.

Still, the impression one gets from the week’s spectacle is that Drumpf “won.” And indeed he did secure the party’s nomination. But in what sense did he win?

The following chart shows the results of the state Republican primaries in terms of votes cast for Drumpf or Not Drumpf. (Not Drumpf is a vote cast for any other candidate.)

notTrump

 

I’ve relied on an excellent New York Times resource for this post. The link takes you to a site that provides the detailed vote count for every state. But the interpretation is mine.

And what we see here is that the Not Drumpf vote was overwhelming. Of the 50 states and District of Columbia, Drumpf got more votes than the other candidates in 18 states. (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Washington and West Virginia.)

When I started making this chart, I expected the blue line for Drumpf support to start low, as it did, but to rise quickly near the end of the process (after most opposing candidates dropped out) so that the Drumpf tally would be higher at the end. But it didn’t happen. By the end there were still nearly 2.8 million more votes for other candidates than for Drumpf.

(If you’re wondering, Hillary Clinton has a much more solid claim to the nomination on the Democratic side. She did win the majority of states and a majority of total votes cast, as well as a majority of delegates. I don’t like Hillary Clinton, but she is a more legitimate nominee than Drumpf.)

So, this “winning” political candidate is not popular with the nation in general. Within his own party, he did not win the majority of primary votes cast. He did not win the majority of states. And he did not win a majority of delegates in proportion to population. Drumpf is the nominee because he won a sufficient number of delegates allocated in a decidedly non-democratic and non-majoritarian manner. Drumpf’s victory depends largely on the winner-take-all nature of the Republican primaries in many states. Example: in South Carolina, Drumpf collected 32% of the votes cast, but still laid claim to all 50 of that state’s delegates.

The issue I’m driving toward here, if it isn’t obvious, is that America’s political system has drifted a long way from anything that might fairly and realistically be called “democracy.” If you think, “Ah, but this is the way we’ve always done it,” you’re wrong. The rules governing primary elections and political conventions change from one election cycle to the next. And the direction of that change has tended to diminish the role of popular sentiment and make the process briefer and cheaper for the parties to administer. And the more they cut corners on the selection process, the more we get results we don’t like.

 

 

 

 

 

18 Times as Many?

[Source: Jonathan Bachman]
Recent violence in Louisiana, Minnesota and Dallas has people talking, and offering up statistical evidence to support what they think. Some opinions contradict others, but all are “supported” by data. How can this be? Let’s first review some of the recent articles and stories:

 

  • A report from the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that black people are no more likely to be shot by police than white people  — though they are quite a bit more likely than white people to be treated roughly by police.
  • The Daily Wire says, “[T]he police officer is 18.5 times more likely to be killed by a black than a cop killing an unarmed black person.”
  • Vox says what seems to be the opposite: that black people are far more likely to die of deadly police force.
  • Elsewhere on Vox, former police officer Redditt Hudson suggests that about 15% of police officers are corrupt, about 15% are scrupulous, and the other 70% are influenced, for better or or worse, by those around them.
  • Fox News’ Brit Hume absorbs it all and concludes that President Obama  makes things worse.

 

Let’s focus on the second bullet point: Police are 18 times more likely to be killed than to kill a black person.

When I heard this I was surprised, but my inclination was to suppose it is probably true . . . in some sense. But what? I knew it was not true in the most obvious sense. There are not 18 times as many police deaths in America as black victims of police shooting. There were a total of 123 police deaths in 2015 throughout America. Less than half of those were from gunshot and not all the gunshots ere fired by black people, but never mind. A number that is one-eighteenth of 123 would be 7. Were there just 7 black people killed by police in 2015? No, in fact there were 306 black people killed by police in 2015. (that is according to one source. We know that all tallies of crime, violence and police action are suspect.)

I think the “18 times as many” statement means that the ratio of police officers killed to total police officers is 18 times as large as the ratio of black people killed by police to total black people. There are something like 800,000 police officers in the US. There are about 40-million black people. But if you do the math, it works out that 123/800,000 is 20 times as large as 306/40,000000. that is pretty close to the 18.5 figure cited in The Daily Wire.

So what the “18 times as likely” statement does is compare the risk of being a police officer — an armed and armored adult — with the risk of simply being a black person in America. Is that a fair comparison? Because it seems to me to be very imbalanced.

The photograph of the young protester (Her name is Iesha or Ieshia Evans) getting arrested in Baton Rouge depicts the imbalance magnificently. She stands there alone and it is clear that she has nothing in her hands and poses no threat. Nevertheless, the police response was for two armored officers to charge at and subdue her.

Now, I recognize that she was standing in the middle of a street and that she intended to get arrested. She was seeking a confrontation. But just look again at the picture. Did her gentle challenge receive a similarly gentle response? No, it didn’t. We could make the same argument for the police killing in Minnesota, where the office approached Philandro Castile with weapon drawn — and then shot him — because he had a burned out taillight.

The picture and the 18 times comparison echo each other. To the police in Baton Rouge, Ms. McKesson’s action justified a massive response. (I’m saying “massive response” in terms of the imbalance of equipment. She had empty hands and wore a light dress, but they came at her wearing hundreds of dollars worth of body armor. As I understand the incident, after the picture was snapped the officers brought the young woman off the street without any rough stuff.) But anyway, she didn’t do anything more than to exist in a space where she wasn’t wanted. Similarly, the “18 times as many” comparison, by including black children and elderly black people and the vast majority of law-abiding black people across the US into the denominator of the formula, puts black people in the line of fire exactly as police officers are in the line of fire.

I don’t think that is a reasonable comparison, but I fear that it does accurately reflect a pervasive attitude.

 

 

 

Against Globalism

A fascinating and very important discourse has been playing out in the popular media in recent days. It has been prompted by the (supposedly anti-immigrant) Brexit vote and Donald Drumpf’s comments on global trade. The discourse tests our beliefs about free trade and the global market for goods and labor. Here is Reihan Salam, writing in Slate:

[I]t is wrong to say that the U.S. has “lost” from globalization. Some Americans really have been harmed by the rise of multifirm, multicountry production networks, particularly those who do labor-intensive work that can be done at lower cost in other, mostly poorer countries. But most Americans have benefited from it, whether as consumers, as workers who occupy the more privileged rungs of these complex production hierarchies, or as shareholders, who profit when multinational business enterprises grow more valuable.

The part about “most Americans have benefitted” strikes me as a bad argument. Yes, the global system of production and trade has put downward pressure on the price of many consumer goods. And, yes, every living person is a consumer. But a consumer can consume only if he or she has money. To benefit “as consumers” from globalization, people would have to have more buying power today than they had before globalization. But a huge swath of Americans do not.

An economist named Branko Milanovic has done great work on globalism. He accomplishes an even greater feat by condensing his findings into a single illustrative chart:

Explanation: Across the bottom, we see the world’s population distributed with the poorest on the left and the richest on the right. The vertical axis shows change in income over a 20-year span of time, with no-growth at the bottom and very fast growth at the top. The 20-year period is 1988 to 2008.

Milanovic shows us that world incomes grew in the past 20 years, but that the rate of growth wasn’t equal for everyone. The people who started out poorest (the dot in the lower-left corner) remained poorest. They improved by 15% in 30 years, and that isn’t much at all.  Remember these aren’t the poorest Americans — they are the poorest people in the world. Think of Namibia and Haiti and Bangladesh. But beyond the very poorest people, there is much faster growth. Everybody from the 35th to the 70th percent had income growth of 50% or more. This includes much of Asia. As noted in the chart, the Chinese “middle class” is at the 60th percentile. The world’s richest 1% also gained by nearly 70%.

But the 80th to 90th percentiles of the world’s population gained nothing during the 2o-year period of globalism. And that includes the American “middle” and “working” class. We’ve seen it before, many times and in many forms, but it is still a shocking fact. American working people haven’t gained any real income in many years!

How, one wonders, can support for free trade and globalism persist against such evidence?  I think there are three things at play. First is the strong influence of multi-national corporations. These corporations maximize their profits by producing where labor is cheap and selling where prices are high. They have no loyalty to a place, but they convince politicians that what is good for the corporation is good for America.

The second factor that keeps free trade as the default is that most of the people in positions of influence today went to college before globalism was understood. The advantages of trade were taught as an absolute, and protectionism was taught to be a sign of weakness and venality. And we continue to believe that regardless of new evidence. The great economist John Maynard Keynes wrote the following:

[T]he ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.

David Ricardo (1772-1823) wrote about the principle of comparative advantage, which supports trade. Ricardo was right and reasonable at the time he was writing. But he is still being evoked long after the world has changed and the effects of trade have altered.

The third factor is that America’s particular interests are somehow, magically, off the table in many intellectual circles. On the conservative side, the interests of the corporation and the aforementioned moral imperative of free trade prevail. Liberals, who ought to care about working Americans, get distracted by the spectacle of the world’s poor and forget America’s workers. (Or else their cultural snobbery makes them think that working people don’t matter.) The evidence shows that America loses more by sacrificing production jobs than it gains from cheaper consumer goods. But that is never, it seems, an important enough fact to keep the focus. Consider this from Jordan Weissman at Slate:

I’m not trying to mount a full-fledged defense of the status quo for free trade. You can certainly argue about whether the export-driven approach to development that helped so many Asian communities escape dire poverty was actually the best way to accomplish progress, or if it’s sustainable long-term—lefty economists like Dean Baker would suggest otherwise. And of course, no matter how good free trade was for the rest of the world and many in the West, there’s no reason the United States or Britain couldn’t have offered more help to the communities and people who have been left behind by it. But you at least have to start the conversation by acknowledging that there have been a whole lot of winners other than people who own factories or trade derivatives for a living. Trade isn’t just good guys vs. bad guys. It’s a morally and economically complicated issue. And we should treat it that way.

We have to “start the conversation” by acknowledging what is good for the Chinese? Now, I’d say the Chinese ought to start with what’s good for them. So the British, and so the Greeks, and so every other nation in the world. But, according to Weissman, Americans don’t have the same privilege. We have to start the conversation with what is good for the Chinese, too. Why is that, I wonder? Weissman actually goes farther, suggesting that America ought to have “offered more help” to the people whose incomes were rising while ours was stagnating.

Now, I think the US ought to be a generous partner to all but the outlaw nations of the world. By insisting that America ought to consider American interests, I am not closing the door on international cooperation or on unilateral development aid, nor even on fair bi-lateral trade deals. I’m just trying to insist that “what’s good for America” — as opposed to what’s good for multinational corporations or what’s good for the world’s emerging markets — is a proper topic and should not be deprecated.

There is plenty of rhetoric today about “job creators” and “wealth creators.” But most economic change in history has been something baser. Most growth in one place has occurred by simply taking from somewhere else. What appears to be miraculous growth has often been just sucking wealth from other places. Ryan Cooper makes the case for this perspective in an article for The Week. Cooper reminds us that two centuries ago, England emerged as the world’s first industrial giant by violently suppressing the local industry of China and India. England was the first country to develop textile mills, but it couldn’t profit from them with out markets. So it created those markets by suppressing the local clothmaking capabilities. Gandhi in the 1940s was considered radical and subversive because he wanted Indian villagers to spin their own thread rather than buy cloth from British factories.

Cooper concludes with a statement that promotes development of the world’s poorest places while respecting the progress of America’s industrial cities:

It is vital for poor nations to get a start on the development ladder. This may mean some harm to Western working classes, but it would stop well short of flushing entire built-up cities down the economic toilet. Above all, poor nations should avoid serving as mere colonial outposts for huge Western multinationals; that model of development is weak and tends to lead to corruption. Instead, they should seek to develop their own industry, and eventually their own internal market, as rich nations before them have done.