Henry Farrell hits one out of the park:
"Trump also likes to surprise, and enjoys the worldwide speculation he sets off with his Twitter posts.. This reminds me weirdly of Padgett and Ansell’s description of how Cosimo de Medici used ‘robust action’ and constructive ambiguity about his ultimate goals to manipulate those around him.
We use the term “robust action” to refer to Cosimo’s style of control. The key to understanding Cosimo’s sphinxlike character … is multivocality – the fact that single actions can be interpreted coherently from multiple perspectives simultaneously, the fact that single actions can be moves in many games at once, and the fact that public and private motivations cannot be parsed. … The “only” point of this, from the perspective of ego, is flexible opportunism – maintaining discretionary options across unforseeable futures in the face of hostile attempts by others to narrow those options.
Crucial for maintaining discretion is not to pursue any specific goals. For in nasty strategic games, like Florence or like chess, positional play is the maneuvering of opponents into the forced clarification of their (but not your) tactical lines of action. Locked in commitment to lines of action, and thence to goals, is the product not of individual choice but at least as much of thers’ successful “ecological control” over you. Victory, in Florence, in chess, or in go means locking in others, but not yourself, to goal-oriented sequences of strategic play that become predictable thereby.
The crucial difference being of course, that Cosimo de Medici rarely spoke in public and Donald Trump, via Twitter feed, via softball interviews, and via any medium that isn’t going to present him with unfriendly and harsh questions does nothing else but talk.
However, multivocality can plausibly take a variety of different forms. The Renaissance form is to adopt a strategy of ‘whatever you say, say nothing,’ leaving it for others to interpret your ambiguous actions as they will, forcing them to commit while you remain unbounded. Another is to talk constantly, but not to allow what you say to be constrained by consistency, or logic, or anything other than the short term desire to badfoot your opponents in short term tactical games and the long term one to make everyone pay attention to you, and condition their actions on you, without you having to condition their actions on them. The two have somewhat similar long term consequences. In each, the successful practitioner dominates the public space and public argument as everyone tries to interpret what the hell you have done, paying attention to you and no-one else but you, so that you can continue to play center stage in the theater of politics while everyone else is reduced to Waldorf and Statler, carping from the critics’ box.
If this is right, the key qualities of presidential politics over the next four years will be instability, frequent policy change, palace intrigues, and Trump looking to reign triumphant above it all, not particularly caring (a la Padgett and Ansell’s Cosimo) about attaining specific goals, but instead looking to preserve his position at the center of an ever shifting spider web of political relations, no matter what consequences this has for the integrity of the web. This might not be authoritarianism in the sense of a well-honed bureaucratic regime dedicated to horrible ends, but authoritarianism in terms of the general break down of Weberian order and hierarchies in favor of a largely personalized politics in which one’s relationship with an erratic and unpredictable president counts for far more than one’s formal position and authority (of course, all politics do depend on personal relations more than one might like, but bureaucracy and rules still usually count)."
Timothy Taylor on the demographic and economic factors behind large-scale migration à la Mexico->US. Must read if you want a glimpse of Europe in the next 5 decades.
The Guardian's Long Read: "Europe’s new far right is poised to transform the continent’s political landscape. ... And when that happens, groups that would never have contemplated voting for a far-right party 10 years ago – the young, gay people, Jews, feminists – may join the working-class voters who have already abandoned parties of the left to become the new backbone of the populist right. ... Fortuyn proved that the winning argument for the European far right was not a US-style appeal to conservative religious values, but rather to claim it was “defending secular, progressive culture from the threat of immigration”." Recommended.
Colin Mills: "I'm pondering is the response of the liberal-left. And all the while I hear the same phrase: "we have to respond to the legitimate concerns of...". But what if these concerns are not, in fact, legitimate? What if they are incoherent or unintelligible? What if behind the rage is just a toxic soup of muddle, misinformation, fantasy, incompatible wishes and yes, racism, fear, envy, xenophobia and nostalgia for a past that never happened? How are you going to address the "legitimate concerns" of someone who wants to close the border to all wage undercutting foreigners, put the names of foreigners who are already here on a list and restrict their access to health care, education and other public services, who at the same time wants that nice Polish lady to care for his demented mother (without it costing too much), a cheap car, cheap electronic goods and protection from foreign competition? Yes day to day politics is about compromise, but as Weber pointed out politics is also about ultimate values and sometimes you come to a point where to compromise means pretending that 2+2=5."
John Holbo writes:
"In the New Yorker piece Feeney sketches ‘the ideal conservative’ like so: “This figure is a dreamy quietist of peaceable disposition, who savors apolitical friendship, nurses a skeptical outlook, and looks to an anti-theoretical politics of homey tradition and humane, but chastened, sentiment to guide him.” Close enough for government work, as a thumbnail summary of conservative political philosophy. But not nearly close enough for government work if Trump is elected. Obviously not. But that just shows Trump isn’t a conservative, not that conservatism was always already Trumpism. If ‘conservatives’ substantially go Trump, it goes to show that they weren’t conservative. There were fewer ‘real’ conservatives, after all.
It’s fair enough to say conservative political philosophy is a normative position. That’s a reasonable way to use words. But if conservatism is a normative position unmoored from real US politics, to the point where it has no bearing whatsoever on election results, and election results do not reflect on it, then it seems self-defeating for a different reason: namely, it’s just some abstract philosopher’s game. It’s a paper plan for some utopia. That’s nuts. Because the paper plan is to be smug about how other people – the liberals – are always making paper plans for utopia. A utopia in which everyone is smug about how they are the only non-utopians is a stupid utopia.
Putting it another way, terms like ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ have many uses, potentially. They are foci for theorizing about ideals. We want to know what is the best that liberalism could be; the best that conservatism could be. It makes sense to try to see the best in competing values. We also want these terms to serve as socio-electoral shorthand. If you want to understand what is going on in politics, ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ are terms for tagging groups and movements and so forth. Deploying these terms is supposed to make politics less, rather than more, baffling. Using one word to do both jobs – limn the ideal, track the real – is optimistic. It depends on the real groups and movements being approximately ideal. The way things are actually going needs to be not waaaaaay off the way they ought to be going, in order for a theory of ideal conservatism to do reliable double-duty as a rough map of actually existing conservatism."
All possible humanities dissertations as single tweets.
Noah Smith on gender gaps in math and econ.
On leaked Podesta emails: "Read these emails and you understand, with a start, that the people at the top tier of American life all know each other. They are all engaged in promoting one another’s careers, constantly."
Tyler Cowen talks with Steven Pinker. Many interesting points.
Ezra Klein interviews linguist Deborah Tannen. Why you're bad at communicating.
Claude Fischer quotes a new study: “religious commitment is weakening from one generation to the next in the countries with which the United States has most in common, and generational differences are the main driver of the aggregate decline. ... The same pattern of cohort replacement is behind American religious decline.” But “none of these declines is happening fast, and levels of religious involvement in the United States remain high by world standards.” About 50 percent of Americans born ~1940 reported attending church at least monthly, compared to ~40 percent of Americans born around 1980 (interviewed at age ~30).
Video is changing the internet, for realz: "As Big Tech gobbles up more infrastructure and accounts for more internet traffic, it poses questions for the future of the network’s openness, says Maria Farrell. ... “It means the internet is evolving from being a peer-to-peer open standards network to being a proprietary set of, effectively, VPNs. ... Which users are not quite aware of—they think they’re on the open internet and they’re not.” "
For Branko Milanovic, the objective conditions have changed:
"We are unlikely to return to a status quo ante even if the failure of neoliberalism is clear to most. ... There are four such changes that I see which work against the ideal-typical model of social democracy. ...
The first is multiculturalism. Social democracy was created for ethnically and culturally homogeneous societies. West European societies today are much more diverse than they were sixty years ago. ... If cultural norms differ and if there is a “lack of affinity” between the groups then willingness by some to fund transfers for the others wanes.
The second challenge is the end of Fordism. With much more heterogeneous labor, in terms of their skills and tasks; smaller size and geographically dispersed units; the self-employed rather than workers, the natural constituency of social democracy (homogeneous labor assembled in one place) disappears.
The third challenge is demographic. Social democracy was very successful through the use of pay-as-you-go (PAYG) system in the countries where population was increasing and the working age population was large. Many people worked and they could transfer income to the retirees in the expectation that the same deal will apply to them when they become old. But when the population is in the decline and there are too many retirees compared to the working age population, maintaining the integrity of the PAYG system is harder. It is not impossible as the pension age can be raised and pensions reduced, but it is certainly not politically easy to do.
The fourth challenge is globalization. Social democracy operated within rather closed economies where migration (and thus the challenge of multiculturalism) was minimal and where capital was generally locked in nationally. None of that is true anymore. Capital is much more mobile, and if heavily taxed to provide funds for social transfers, will flee. Developed welfare states that make sure that nobody is left behind may provide incentives particularly to the low-skilled migrants. Thus “better” social democracy may perversely attract lower quality migrant labor than the much more austere and “mean” systems."