I know it's not the dumb thread, but a thread about Elon Musk trying to takeover Twitter is also a dumb thread. But at least everybody has a share.
Nick S writes: Brad DeLong has a book on economic history coming out this fall. It looks fascinating, and someone suggested that it might be good for an unfogged book group. As I've been reading his posts teasing the book, it's shifted the way that I think about contemporary politics, and I'm not sure whether that shift is useful or if I'm being confused by the oversimplification involved in his broad descriptions of history.
He offers this summary.
The long 20th century--the first whose history was primarily economic, with the economy not painted scene-backdrop but rather revolutionizing humanity's life every single generation-- taught humanity expensive lessons. In 1870 industrial research labs, modern corporations, globalization, and the market economy--which, as that genius Friedrich von Hayek most keen-sightedly observed, is tremendously effective at crowdsourcing solutions--proved keys to the lock that had kept humanity in its desperately poor iron cage, with the only comfortable ones being the thugs with spears who took from the near-subsistence farmers, and those with whom they shared their extractions. And previously unimaginable economic growth revolutionized human life over and over, generation by generation.
We should, thereafter, have straightforwardly turned our technological power and wealth to building something very close to a utopia: a truly human world. From 1870-2010 was 140 years. Few in 1870 would have doubted that humanity more than ten times richer in material terms would build ourselves a utopia.
So what has gone wrong? Well, that idiot Friedrich von Hayek thought the unleashed market would do the whole job: "the market giveth, the market taketh away: blessed be the name of the market". But, as that genius Karl Polanyi put it: people will not stand for being told that there are no rights but property rights. They instead insist that "the market was made for man, not man for the market". The market's treating those whom society saw as equals unequally, or unequals equally, brought social explosion after explosion, blocking the road to utopia. They deserved communities, incomes, and stability. They needed their Polanyian rights to those things vindicated too.
[V]ast improvements in technological and organizational capabilities . . . but all of that improvement going to support a 70-fold increase in human population; and with only 1/70 the potential natural resources at their disposal, the typical peasant or craftsman in 1500 was able to use that technology to [eke] out roughly the same standard of living as their predecessors 7.5 millennia before....
Thereafter come the really big changes. Thereafter comes the breakout:
- a growth rate of useful ideas of 0.15% per year during the 1500-1770 Imperial-Commercial Revolution Age.
- a growth rate of useful ideas of 0.44% per year during the 1770-1870 Industrial Revolution Age.
- a growth rate of useful ideas of 2.06% per year during the post-1870 Modern Economic Growth Era.
- a population explosion, and then a slowdown toward zero population growth as prosperity brings female education, female education brings greater female autonomy, and literate women with rights to own property find that there are other ways to gain and maintain social power than to try as hard as possible to become the mother of many sons and daughters.
In the speedup from 1500 to 1770 to 1870--over, first, the Imperial-Commercial Revolution and, second, the Industrial Revolution eras--our quantitative index H grows from 0.43 to 0.64 to 1.0. And this time there was some increase in typical standards of living: figure a world in 1870 with $3.50 a day per person, albeit much more unevenly distributed. But, still, the overwhelming bulk of improvements in human technology and organization went to supporting a larger population: the 500 million of 1500 had grown to 1.3 billion by 1870, as better living standards lowered death rates worldwide.
After 1870 came the explosion: from 1870 to 2010, in our era of Modern Economic Growth, our H has risen from 1.0 to 21.5. Our population has risen from 1.3 to 7.6 billion. And our resources from $3.5 to $32 a day: tenfold and more above what it was back in the Agrarian Age. If we have not--as we have not--used our remarkable technological power and wealth relative to all previous human societies to build a utopia, that is on us.
He also writes:
How much should we value the fact that Thomas Jefferson lived better than Marcus Tullius Cicero given that their slaves lived about equally well? It probably depends--a lot--on whether you identify yourself with Jefferson and Cicero on the one hand or with their slaves on the other. And how much should we value sheer numbers--the fact that the human population early in the nineteenth century was probably some five times or so its 70 BC level?
I've always associated Brad with the phrase, "equitable growth" and that history makes me realize how recent a concern that is. Based on the story above, the possibility of equitable growth -- of a rising tide lifting all boats -- is only 150 or 200(?) years old.
I think about that and I am struck, on one hand, that it's no wonder that it's difficult to achieve, if we only have a couple centuries of collective history to draw upon to figure out how to achieve equitable growth. On the other hand, it makes me feel more optimistic* that the future will be less analogous to the past than I might have thought -- the broad era we are living in is different from the majority of human history.
Is that a reasonable conclusion, or is Brad stacking the deck for that interpretation?
Heebie's take: I feel a little dumb trying to follow all this, and certainly people are living better than they used to, and modern medicine is amazing.
All I can offer is unsupported platitudes, but as a society, don't we immiserate ourselves pretty routinely in the absence of material hardship? I'm picturing the goalposts moving for what women ought to be able to accomplish, as feminism takes hold over the past hundred years. I would absolutely prefer to have my current set of freedoms and rights, but that doesn't mean that each gain hasn't been exploited and reduced in its possible impact.
I think that when Trump was elected, it fundamentally broke my belief in "the arc of history is long but..." kind of framing in favor of "What nature doesn't do to us will be done by our fellow man."
This is intended to be our system for checking in on imaginary friends, so that we know whether or not to be concerned if you go offline for a while. There is no way it could function as that sentence implies, but it's still nice to have a thread.
Episode Kobe twenty two
Of all the horrible injustices on this dewy spinning sphere, one of the only ones that makes me shake my fist at the sky is Nick Kristof's (abortive) bid for governor of Oregon. It's low-stakes enough that you can bear to look at it directly, and it lays bare the rot of our "august" institutions. Kristof is such a mediocrity, and a stalwart of our most prestigious news outlet, and based on the failures of gatekeeping at that institution, would have made a serious run at having power over the lives of Oregonians. This is Trump, but worse in this way: everyone, even his supporters, knows that Trump is a joke, even if they disagree about who the joke is on. But Kristof gets to carry a mantle of achievement and seriousness. This guy!
The only thing that makes this bearable is this other guy.
"It's not alcoholism unless it comes from the Alcoholia region of France, otherwise it's sparkling substance use disorder." - Nick Kristof— Chris Hensler (@C_Henselae) April 13, 2022
I think this has come up here before, but I thought this article was very good: Legalized Pot Was Supposed to Help Build Black Wealth in Los Angeles. It Failed. Basically, there are a bunch of social equity programs that propose to try to redress some of the systemically racist ways that black people have bore the brunt of pot being illegal for the past century. However, the wheels turn super slowly, while big established medical venues can pivot quickly to include weed, and then dominate the market.
Interwoven is the life and family history of a woman named Kika Keith, who tried to open a dispensary through one of these opportunities.
Keith comes from a long line of entrepreneurs whose attempts at generational wealth were thwarted by state-sanctioned exclusion and violence. Her great-great-grandparents owned land in Rappahannock County, Virginia, and operated a store. White neighbors did not want them there. "They were threatened to leave their land or be killed," Keith's mother, Shekinah Shakur, told me. "One of my relatives was killed in the doorway of the house." The family fled to Pennsylvania, where Keith's great-grandfather became a chauffeur.
Left out of what historian Ira Katznelson calls "white affirmative action"--the unions, social safety net, and federally subsidized mortgage loans created in the 1930s and '40s--Keith's grandparents still managed to establish a hotel and bar on the main drag of the only Lancaster, Pennsylvania, neighborhood where Black and Puerto Rican people were allowed to live. The business flourished until the 1960s, when the city used federal funding to cut down the neighborhood's trees and destroy about 1,000 buildings, part of a nationwide push for "urban renewal"--a program James Baldwin referred to as "Negro removal," because similar housing destruction in the name of slum clearance displaced tens of thousands of Black families across the country. Once again, Keith's family left town, this time to Los Angeles.
I found it interesting.
I thought this post on estranged parents was fascinating. The basic assertion is that the people on estranged parents' forums are willfully deluded about what they've done to drive their kids away.
Members of estranged parents' forums often say their children never gave them any reason for the estrangement, then turn around and reveal that their children did tell them why. But the reasons their children give--the infamous missing reasons--are missing.
My sons consistently refuse to reply to my emails and let my calls go to voicemail, or barely speak if they do answer. They accuse me of being a terrible person, but won't elaborate about exactly what I've done. Well, sometimes they do, but it doesn't make sense, at least to me. For example, it's hard to be part of the birth of my grandchild if I didn't know that I was going to have one!
All this started because of a personal email they felt entitled to read on my computer.
-- Elizabeth Vagnioni, "Why Some Grown Kids Cut Off Their Parents"
What were the other reasons her sons give? Not knowing about the birth of her grandchild can't be the only one. What was in the email that caused both her sons to cut her off? We're supposed to be distracted by the hinkiness of the sons reading the email, and never notice that Vagnioni just told us that she knows exactly why her sons cut her off. Pay no attention to the missing explanation behind the curtain.
You can click through to the Vagnioni piece, and it literally changes direction after that excerpt. There are a bunch more examples in that vein.
That is interesting, but my favorite part is when the author contrasts the estranged parent forums with the forums for adult children of abusive parents:
Posts in estranged parents' forums are vague. Members recount stories with the fewest possible details, the least possible context. They don't recreate entire scenes, repeat entire conversations, give entire text exchanges; they paraphrase hours of conversation away. The only element they describe in detail is their own grief or rage. Nor do the other members press them for more information.
Compare this with the forums for adult children of abusers, where the members not only cut-and-paste email exchanges into their posts, they take photos of handwritten letters and screenshot text conversations. They recreate scenes in detail, and if the details don't add up, the other members question them about it. They get annoyed when a member's paraphrase changes the meaning of a sentence, or when omitted details change the meaning of a meeting. They care about precision, context, and history.
The difference isn't a matter of style, it's a split between two ways of perceiving the world. In one worldview, emotion is king. Details exist to support emotion. If a member gives one set of details to describe how angry she is about a past event, and a few days later gives a contradictory set of details to describe how sad she is about the same event, both versions are legitimate because both emotions are legitimate.
I am absolutely sure that sometimes the estranged parent is the sympathetic party, and the adult child has distanced themselves in a hurtful way. I can also believe that the forums tend to select for estranged parents who are more like the ones described in this post. So none of this is negating the existence of other dynamics.
Nevertheless, I found the whole thing interesting. I posit lead poisoning.