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Andreas Schou
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This study, by Gilens and Page, has been cited as proof that the US is an oligarchy, not a democracy. This is not precisely the case. 

Here's the actual conclusion: between the years of 1982 and 2002, policy models incorporating popular opinion have only slightly more predictive power than models incorporating only elite opinion. Every part of that conclusion is subtly different than "America is an oligarchy."

First, look at the time range. Politically, the years 1982 to 2002 are an anomaly: due to the permanent realignment of the Democratic South, the only years of undivided government were 1993 and 1994 -- and even during those years, the Democratic majority was constrained by its reliance on conservative Senators. During the entire period of the survey, it has been unusually difficult to get anything passed at all.

Second, look at the power actually ascribed to elites. The authors note an asymmetry between elites' ability to pass their agenda and their ability to block initiatives with mass support. Vetoes, unsurprisingly, are easier than ramrodding unpopular initiatives through Congress. But this is exactly what we ought to predict from the division of government! Considering the conditions that existed through the entire period, discussed here, the power to sway just a few officials becomes a de facto but not de jure, veto.

With that in mind, is it possible that the divided government was engineered by elites to block popular initiatives?

No. Not really. Elites differ from popular opinion on a number of economic issues, but their partisan distribution (and their opinion distribution on most issues) closely tracks that of the 40-60th quintile. They are slightly more likely to be Republican, and slightly more likely to be liberal or very liberal, but their opinion spread does not differ deeply from that of other Americans. 

The right conclusion from this survey (if there is a right conclusion at all -- check the scary-low model fit!) is not that we have drifted into oligarchy, but rather that (a) there is a strong status quo bias in the United States, (b) that the status quo benefits the powerful (and that those whom the status quo benefits will become the powerful), and that divided government can inadvertently turn influence into a veto.
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Oh, you can argue the details, but the sqrt(M/N) rule means that you never get an elite that holds most of the money, but you can still have lots of competition and success.
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> Extremism has been getting a bad rap lately. It gets blamed for acts of terror, for political dysfunction, and for general cruelty and hatred. Few people will admit to being an extremist; the ones who do often appear unreasonable and difficult to work with. Extremism is opposed moderation, which is the reasonable and practical demeanor we are all urged to adopt. Moderation isn't just the alternative to extremism, it is also claimed to be the tactic best used to counter extremism where it lies.

Michael Kazin recently attempted a defense of extremism (and, by proxy, of Ted Cruz) in the New Republic (http://goo.gl/ouIy8t):

> Sometimes, those who take an inflexible, radical position hasten a purpose that years later is widely hailed as legitimate and just. Extremism is the coin of conviction, whether virtuous or malign. It forces middle-roaders to crush the disrupter or adapt.

// Kazin goes on to list the examples you'd expect to find in an article like this: abolitionism and the suffragettes, and Goldwater's pedantic reworking of Cicero in 1964: “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!” These arguments are all instrumental in character: they purport to show that extremism is a viable and effective tactic for realizing one's ideological principles, and moreover that extremism has been responsible for what have come to be some of our most important institutional values. The claim is that extremism works, and we are evidence of is success. Ted Cruz might be the punching bag of the moment, but Kazin assures us that history vindicates the extremists that stick to their principles and shun moderation.

Given this instrumental argument, one would expect some explanation for the historical cases where extremism seems to have failed. On Kazin's reading, the principled ideologues are history's winners; I suppose we're meant to conclude that the Ku Klux Klan or the Westboro Baptist Church are also biding their time until their eventual vindication by history. Or at least we're not presented with some reason for thinking that their form of extremism is bad and ineffective, whereas Cruz's or the suffragette's is laudable. More generally, we might ask: under which circumstances (if any) is extremism appropriate? Under which circumstances is it effective? When is it praiseworthy? When should it be avoided? Kazin doesn't tackle any of these questions. Without some discussion of when extremism works and when it fails, the instrumental argument hardly seems convincing. It appears much more reasonable to believe that the overwhelmingly vast majority of extremist movements throughout history have fail to realize their principles. We're left with a few rare success stories, but that shouldn't blind us to the method's epic failures.

The instrumental virtues Kazin finds in extremism all involve its capacity to realize the principles and values of the extremists themselves. Even if we accept the examples, the conclusion seems wrong; rarely are the extremists themselves crowned history's winners. Since racial and gender inequality still exist despite the goals of radical movements to end them, it seems too early to start declaring the radicals the winners. Instead, extremist views are often moderated as they gain popularity; the "winners" of history tend to be smoothed-out versions of the more radical sentiments that motivated them. And, contra Kazin, this influence over the moderation process is where we find the real virtues of extremism.

Extremism is usually not an effective tactic for realizing extreme ends. But extremism is an effective tactic for determining the center. We identify the moderate positions by observing the extremists; the center is defined by contrast with the extremes. The center of a circle isn't obvious on its own; it must be measured from the borders. So too are the moderate political positions discovered by reacting to the extremes. Sometimes the extremists are effective at moving the center towards their cause; but extremists might also produce a more extreme reaction in the opposite direction. The point isn't about whether the extremists are effective at realizing their own ends; rather, extremism is a way of influencing and manipulating the very scope of "moderation" itself. If we assume assume that people tend to adopt a position that averages out the positions they've seen in others, then the extremists are the biggest influence on how those averages are weighted for the majority of people.

That moderation is fundamentally a reaction to extremism seems obvious enough, but it changes the way we think about how extremism impacts the dynamics of society. We typically think that moderates are the primary agents of a population, holding the majority positions that set the tone and norms of the discourse, with extremists acting out against this center only at the fringes. The model is of a center that believes P, and extremists who believe Q; Kazin's extremist winner wins when the center comes to abandon P and adopt Q. But this model is far too simplistic to do justice to the history.

We should instead think that the primary agents are the extremists, with moderates self-identifying in reaction to the claims the extremists stake at the borders. The window of acceptable discourse is then defined as a function of the distance between the center and the extremes. Imagine a situation where some extremist minority group is defending A loudly, and an opposing, equally vocal extremist group is supporting F. In response, the moderates seek positions C or D that balance the two by being roughly equidistant from the extremes. Later, when a new extremist group arises defending H, the existing moderates may find themselves supporting D or even E more often in reaction to H. While E was not typically defended when F was considered extreme, the new position H might result in increased support for E partly due to moderates looking to maintain their comfortable distance from the border. The appearance of H might also correspond to changes in the number of defenders of A and B for similar reasons. 

A B C D E F G H

Moderation is our attempt to balance out extremes; both are essential parts of the self-organizing processes of human social activity. On this model, extremists have a lot of influence in weighting the positions of the majority, even if the majority don't hold extremist positions. Extremism is necessary to reinforce the center. The problem of extremists aren't their views, but the work it requires from everyone else to adjust their views accordingly. The introduction of new extremes requires us all to reorganize, and that can be an uncomfortable process. One way to reduce the impact of extremists is to isolate them or silence them. The other way is to develop a moderate center that is broad and stable enough to not be radically moved by new extremes. If the window of acceptable discourse were wide enough to incorporate most discussion, with very little distance between the border of acceptable discourse and the most extreme views, then the introduction of new extremes would have very little impact on that window. If the window of discourse weren't limited to just C or D, but incorporated all of B-G, for instance, than the eventual introduction of J as a new extremist view might pull that window somewhat rightward, but most positions remain comfortably within the window and require very little adjustment to the change. 

Which is another way of saying that inclusive, open discourse is one way of reducing the impact of extremist elements. People often worry about free speech for its potential to mobilize and radicalize extremists, but if my analysis is correct then the worry is exactly backwards; free speech doesn't create radicals, it normalizes them. 

// See the blog for links and pictures!

#extremism   #digitalpolitics  
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Sir Oak Morandin's profile photoRoss Bagley's profile photoPat Gunn's profile photoKee Hinckley's profile photo
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+Daniel Estrada I generally apply a fork in argument; one tine is to convince/intrigue, the other is to show any listener that my opponent is not worth listening to; I trust that a properly structured debate can lead to a polite and intelligent discussion that will catch either me or my conversation on one of the prongs, provided someone wins anyway.
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At the moment, if you use a coupon or like a General Mills product on Facebook, you permanently forfeit the right to resolution of any case against them in a public court. Instead, you're required to go through arbitration. 

This is insane. 

It will probably stand.

The issue of arbitrability is, itself, arbitable. A contract can delegate questions about the validity of its arbitration clause, and the unconscionability of same, to the arbitrator himself The trial court (if any such thing exists) is left with no other questions than "does a contract exist." If it does, then all questions related to arbitration are left for the arbitrator to decide. 

It is conceivable that an appellate court, faced with a decision on this contract, would decide that the FAA did not contemplate arbitration clauses this insane. It's even conceivable that the arbitrator might decide that the clause empowering him was unconscionable. But, of course, you can't appeal an arbitrator's decision about the arbitrability of a contract. So every potential litigant must individually get a decision from the arbitrator, and -- in the event that the arbitrator decides that arbitration is within his power -- it is extraordinarily procedurally difficult to bring the issue before a court with the power to decide the issue once and for all.
The company said the policy, which said consumers “joining our online communities” could not sue the company, did not apply to its Facebook and Twitter accounts.
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1) I already knew that coupons were mostly not worth the effort (possibly an excuse for deeply ingrained laziness).
2) I already didn't want to prostitute my public support for something so weak as a discount on future purchases.

Even given my lack of participation in it, this is so underhanded and slimy I still feel like I need to take a bath just having read about it.
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"The study, reported in the Nursing Standard magazine, found all the 250 patients aged between four and 16 they quizzed disliked the use of clowns, with even the older ones finding them scary."

There is more agreement that clowns are scary than that the Earth orbits the sun. There is more agreement that clowns are scary than there is that lizard people do not secretly rule the country. Why are there clowns?
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I minored in theatre, and I concur. You really do look like a freak up-close.
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Elsethread, someone asked me where my libertarian sympathies actually lie and where they end. Well, they're here:

I'd like people to be able to do pretty much whatever they want. I mean, basically anything they want to do. Regulation is a pain in the ass. Basically every law is an impingement on liberty, or can be abused to that end, and when the quantity of laws outstrips our abilities to comply, abusive patterns can emerge from the merely discretionary behavior of authorities.

I think, fundamentally, that people should be able to organize in whatever way they please, and that the government's essential function should be sorting out the problems they cause each other in the process of organizing themselves.

The problem being is that, in the real world, the state of nature is basically horrible. We starve. We get sick. We isolate ourselves or each other. Even presuming a system where the rich don't own the arbitrators (which is not even the system as it stands), my fear is that pure voluntarism would just use nature's disdain for human life to coerce people into "voluntary" agreements which are actually no such thing.

The reason for those sympathies are probably not important to you. I'm not sure that there's any reason they should be. States with basically no consistent philosophical underpinnings can muddle along fine, adopting ad hoc solutions to whatever problems arise.

But because I have to make judgments about this kind of thing in day-to-day life, it's important for me to have some sort of ideal to compare the real world to. 
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+Darryl Davidson I reject your efforts to force everything into your "us vs. them", conservative vs. liberal, frame.  I give millions of dollars to 'progressive' causes and I consider the head of the NEA a personal friend.  That doesn't change what I see.  I didn't state "this fiction that teachers can't be sanctioned, fired, etc." (although that is certainly true, not fiction; no one can seriously argue that it's not much more difficult to fire a Mountain View public school teacher than it is a Google software engineer) or anything about "regulations" (although it is certainly true that rules protecting teachers should be subject to collective bargaining, not written into California law as they are now).  All I said is a matter of pretty obvious fact: the system (which includes a wide variety of factors, including low pay, as you mention, as well as things like teachers being primarily paid based on seniority rather than on the quality of their work, and managers who have little control or jurisdiction over those who work for them) prioritizes 'fairness' over 'effectiveness' in teaching.  I visited a successful public school in the Bronx a few weeks ago; the principal still has to get the teachers to vote every year on whether to waive the rules that would prevent the school from operating according to the methods that makes it successful.  That's not a system that you would come up with if you were just focused on effectiveness.  You would build something more like the private sector, where people are employed at-will and executives have broad discretion but also more accountability than public school administrators and principals now have.
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Some of these arguments for sweatshops are relatively good -- particularly, that they're often the best of bad options. But the author misses the full scope of the best argument against them:

The options of sweatshop workers are limited largely because the “employing classes” [...] have colluded with governments in the developing world to limit them by engaging in the unjust seizure of land, restricting unionization, enforcing intellectual property rights, erecting barriers to trade, and so on.

This is an inadvertent strawman. It's not that home-country policies have caused the poverty which makes sweatshops a viable business model -- although that may also be the case. It's that home-country policies keep sweatshops as sweatshops even when the bargaining power of sweatshop workers should naturally increase.

The same phenomena that lead to the growth of sweatshops -- low labor power and domination of the government by economic elites -- also make it difficult for sweatshop workers to capture the value of their labor. And the escalating pressure required to keep negotiating power out of the hands of labor often leads to escalating oppression, even in the face of economic growth. 

It isn't clear to me that the costs and distortions of a sweatshop economy are, in every case, worth the benefit, and supporters of developing-world industrialization should take a serious look at the the full picture before deciding unequivocally that sweatshops are "good" or "bad."
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+Aaron Wood The sweatshop model is not a required step. In fact, it will eventually become an impossible step as automation increasingly erases places where cheap human labor can produce competitive goods.

There are two basic ways to develop a nation:

1) Purely by their own bootstraps

2) With external assistance

The first possibility is ridiculous; it assumes isolation from the rest of the world and reinventing technology over hundreds or thousands of years.

The second possibility hinges on charity and/or trade. Let's ignore charity and focus on trade. Trade requires that the nation in question has something to offer others. That doesn't necessarily just mean cheap labor, it can also mean raw resources, or food, or electricity.

The topic of this discussion has been cheap labor, but the same issues of exploitation and autonomy apply when we're looking at raw resources, arable land, etc.

The usual pattern with, say, mineable raw resources, is that a few get filthy rich while the vast bulk of the people just get shafted. Is this an inevitable step? No! I hope we can agree that this is neither an inevitable nor a desirable step. There are obviously more equitable ways to spread the fruits of mineable resources; these ways all involve forms of wealth redistribution.
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This Catholic account of the trial of Giordano Bruno is right on Bruno -- he was a crackpot -- but wrong on everything else that matters. The medieval Church incubated the first departures from Aristotelian science, but only with extraordinary reluctance.

The only reason that the scholastics that invented the scientific method ever got a foothold is because they were under temporary protection. Ockham and Bacon, for instance, were both protected during the most productive years of their careers by important figures within the Church or State. They and many of their similarly-minded contemporaries died in poverty, house arrest, and exile for their dissent.

Bruno was not, in particular, a scientist, but insofar as Catholics were responsible for science in the West, the impetus came from Franciscans who were very much outside the mainstream both of the institutional church and of their own order. They paid the price for it. The best defense of the church is not that the late medieval church tolerated philosophical and scientific inquiry -- it most certainly did not -- but rather that those parts of the Church which tolerated (and even welcomed, and rejoiced in) inquiry eventually won. 

There is a reason the  Pope chose the name Francis: the priests that stood up to the Church's totalitarian grasp on Western inquiry eventually won. There is also a reason that that choice would have been shocking circa 1350: it was not always clear that that would be the case.
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In this context, there is an option "other" ("andere"), so "non-religious" seems to be a better fit here.
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Unsurprisingly, there is very small demographic difference between the people who have been unemployed for short and long durations. They are about the same in terms of education, about the same in terms of hours worked, about the same in terms of industry. The difference?

The long-term unemployed lost their jobs at or near the bottom of the labor recession. The short-term unemployed did not. That's either (a) all there is, or (b) there is some je ne sais quoi which correlates heavily with whether you lose your job during the recession. 

Occam's Razor favors (a) over (b).
One characteristic distinguishes the long-term unemployed from the rest of America's jobless. It isn’t how many hours they worked at their old job, or what industry they came from, or even their le...
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I completely agree that workers with unrealistic reservation wages are a significant reason for unemployment.  However, I completely disagree that we could somehow 'solve' our employment problem if everyone would just accept whatever the market gives them.  What kind of a 'solution' is it if the wealthiest country in the world has a ever-growing share of its population living in poverty?  It doesn't matter if that's what the market says that they 'should' get, it's immoral to simply accept that state of affairs and it's also bad for all of us in the long term, as degrading people's living standards affects their health, their ability to prepare their children for success, etc., etc.  That 'solution' has big negative consequences for human capital.
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There's been a general tendency among Russophiles to accuse the West of hypocrisy in supporting independence for Kosovo but union for Crimea and Ukraine. This assumes a general majoritarian principle.

And this is sort of true.

I'm generally a majoritarian about this sort of thing: my argument against the ethics (rather than the legality) Southern exit was not that white Southerners didn't have a right to a morally neutral exit, but rather that black Southerners didn't get to vote about whether they would like to continue to be ruled by the people who were presently oppressing them. With that in mind,  I think I can articulate a single good-faith rule that governs regions seeking exit, and which isn't wholly majoritarian:

Insofar as it is practicable, people should not be obligated to live under the government of their most recent oppressors. This covers any ambiguity in the decision principle governing Kosovo, Kurdistan, Crimea, East Timor, Israel, and Palestine: if the people ruling you have tried to murder or deport you recently, they don't get the benefit of the majoritarian principle just because they almost succeeded.
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Nations have interests and people have narratives.

My estimate is that Russia already got what it wanted: They have Crimea and as a side development Ukrainian gas is now paid in Euros.

Putin personally also already got what he wanted. Now he's doing nationalistic after-sales.

Ukraine is a poor corrupt underdeveloped country. Even he won't touch the hot Ukrainian potato until he's forced to.
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I suppose I should say that I don't unequivocally agree with Tyler Cowen or +Nicholas Weininger, but that I find this plausible enough to share.
 
"Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University, argues that the very definitions of labor and capital are arbitrary. Instead, he looks around the world to find the relatively scarce factors of production and finds two: natural resources, which are dwindling, and good ideas, which can reach larger markets than ever before.

If you possess one of those, then you will reap most of the rewards of growth. If you don’t, you will not."

I find this plausible, but of course I would, due to confirmation bias: it suggests that Georgist resource taxation and weakening IP protections, both policies I favor on general efficiency and equity grounds, would also reduce inequality.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/16/business/economy/tech-leaps-job-losses-and-rising-inequality.html?_r=0
For 50 years, economic consensus has held that new machines lift demand for skilled workers. But what if technology has become a substitute for labor?
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The robots aren't gonna take over overnight (despite Andy Rubin's best efforts). At least in the short-run, humans can provide value-added to the machines as long as they are sufficiently trained and educated. 

One of the main take-home lessons of Piketty's monstrously important treatise (perhaps the most important book of the 21st century just ahead of Lean In) is that we need to tax wealth (capital) sufficiently so that we can use the proceeds to invest in human capital (among other things).
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Dilettante. Incapable of boredom. Diverse interests. If you'd like a distilled stream of my best posts, try here: http://goo.gl/CEAuD.
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