Category Archives: Politics

A review of The White Book

I read The White Book, by the pseudonymous Robert S. Oculus III, about a year ago, when Laura Wood was promoting it on her blog (qv). Since then I’ve been working on and off on these comments and wondering whether or not to publish them. Well, here they are.


Oculus makes a distinction between white and White. The peoples of Europe are of course white in a racial or biological sense — that is, they belong to a shared ancestry group originating on that continent and characterized by orthognathism, relatively pale skin, etc. — but they are not to be considered ethnically White. Rather, they have more specific ethnic identities; they are Englishmen, Russians, Spaniards, Belgians, Latvians, and so on. Most white Americans, on the other hand, and just plain White — descended from one or more of the white European peoples, but no longer really a member of any of those ancestral groups. My ancestors came from England, Germany, and the Ukraine, but I am not an Englishman, a German, or a Ukrainian — just as a modern Englishman is not really an Angle, a Saxon, a Jute, a Celt, a Norman, or a Dane. He may be primarily descended from one of those peoples, of course, and may even be aware of and proud of that heritage — but in practice, he’s just English; and white Americans are just White. (The same is true to varying degrees in the other countries of the European diaspora, but in practice Oculus focuses on America, and so shall I.)

Although Oculus does not develop the point, something very similar is true of American blacks. Their ancestors belonged to specific African ethnic groups, but they themselves are no longer ethnically Hausa or Fula or Igbo or Yoruba or whatever; they’re just Black. These two ethnic groups — Black and White, African-American and European-American — are the main peoples that can be called simply “American.” (Of course various indigenous tribes also qualify, but these groups are much smaller. The White:Black:Navajo ratio is 672:129:1.) The others — Mexican-Americans, Chinese-Americans, etc. — still have clear ethnic ties to non-American groups, and their hyphenated names are appropriate; but Blacks and Whites are Americans in the same simple sense that an ethnic Frenchman (as opposed to, say, a French citizen of Maghrebi origin) is French.


Blacks in America generally self-identify as Black, participate in a Black culture which is openly and explicitly Black, may support the idea of “Black pride,” refer to other Blacks as their brothers and sisters, etc. — but White Americans do none of these things — generally can do none of these things without feeling like horrible people. The following passage from Oculus’s book drives home just how deeply rooted this aversion to White racial identity is:

Say it out loud: “I am a human being, but I am not just any human being. I am a white person. I am a member of the white race.”

Can’t do it, can you?

Do these words scare you? Do you feel like a bad person just for reading them? Do you think I am evil for writing them down, or even thinking them?

It’s okay if you do. You have been trained to feel that way. You have been trained not only to hate what you are, but to deny that you even exist.

This is absolutely true — and absolutely astonishing, when you think about it. Even I, who am generally quite open-minded about such things and pride myself on not being a slave to goodthink, feel somewhat uncomfortable quoting these words or even reading them — but why? What is there in them to be ashamed of? Do they say “white people are better than other people” or “I hate members of other races”? They are a simple assertion that there is such a thing as the white race and that I am a member of it. They ought by all rights to be received as an obvious and completely value-neutral statement of fact. Notice also how completely inoffensive they become if you replace every instance of “white” with “black.”

What is the explanation for this? Is it because we feel that the white race is uniquely evil, and that to acknowledge one’s membership in it is shameful? Or, conversely, perhaps it is because it is so good to be white — because the white peoples are among the most accomplished and “privileged” on the planet, and so to make a point of one’s whiteness is bad form, in the nature of gloating? Or perhaps the problem is simply that whites are a majority in America, so that when I say “I am White” rather than “I am American,” the people I am excluding from my in-group are more salient than those I am including; it sounds less like a statement of camaraderie (“Tom and Bob are my good buddies”) than like a mean-spirited rejection of others (“I’m friends with everyone here except Pete”). Of course, whites in white-minority areas like Los Angeles presumably aren’t supposed to identify as white either, so that can’t be the whole explanation.

At any rate, whatever the reason for the current state of affairs, Oculus wants to change it. The purpose of his book is to encourage capitalized-Whites (that is, all non-Europeans of European ancestry) to self-identify as such and to promote their interests as a people, just as most other peoples in the world do. He even proposes a “flag of the White race” (azure, a snowflake argent; certainly better than the current de facto White flag, which is — well, a white flag). This idea of a pan-White identity, including all the peoples of the European diaspora but excluding Europeans proper, seems forced and unrealistic to me. Non-European Whites as such are not a coherent ethnicity; a White American typically has far more in common with an Englishman or a Black American than with an Argentinian or an Afrikaner. White Americans represent an actual ethnicity (or perhaps a closely related cluster of ethnicities), and Oculus would have done better to focus on this more limited group. (As I’ve said, in practice he does focus on Americans; the pan-White stuff is superfluous and could easily be cut out.)


Perhaps in part because of his overly broad definition of “White,” Oculus struggles when it comes to describing what White culture is all about. He rejects the idea of America as a “proposition nation” defined solely by the abstract ideas laid out in the Constitution, insisting instead that any real nation must be firmly rooted in race and culture. But he then proceeds to define White culture in terms even more abstract than those he is criticizing. Whites care about order. They work hard. They respect rules. They don’t cut in line. They have a moral code. In other words, basically, “White” means “civilized.” I understand that Oculus is trying to instill a sense of White pride by focusing on objectively good things — but still, defining a culture in this way is outrageous. First of all, the idea that a culture can be defined at all, especially in terms of abstract principles, brings us right back to the “proposition nation” idea that Oculus is supposedly against. Culture is not simply an ideology; it has to be organic and particularistic. It can be, so to speak, motherhood and apple pie, (i.e. abstract principles plus historically contingent features), but just motherhood isn’t enough. A more serious problem is that the things Oculus identifies as “White” — order and fair play and so on — are universal goods to which every race and culture ought to aspire (though of course not every group will be equally successful in so doing). When Oculus identifies White culture simply with being civilized, his implied message to non-Whites is that not being civilized is an essential part of their culture — which they should presumably cherish and protect as much as Whites should theirs.

Oculus states repeatedly that he bears no hatred or hostility toward any other race, but he nevertheless does show contempt for blacks, sometimes in very crude and dehumanizing terms (using phrases like “dat ape-like thing dey does”). Now not everyone likes everyone else, and he certainly has a right to dislike black people if he wants, but it does undercut the main thrust of The White Book, which is to promote White identity and White pride as positive things and to distance them from the bigotry and racial hostility with which the popular mind associates them. I suppose Oculus’s failing in this regard is unsurprising. In the current political climate, with its extreme demonization of anything deemed “racist,” you need a very strong motive to write something as radioactive as The White Book — and negative feelings of anger and hostility tend to motivate more strongly than love and loyalty alone. It is nevertheless unfortunate, though, and one wishes that Oculus could have risen above whatever personal antipathies he may feel toward other races. (That such a thing is possible is demonstrated by the example of Steve Sailer, a “racialist” writer who obviously likes black people a great deal, and even more so by the late Lawrence Auster. Martin Luther King — as opposed to, say, Malcolm X — is a good example from the other side.)

Despite occasional slip-ups, Oculus does make an effort to show respect for all races and to distance himself from so-called white supremacism. It is perhaps this effort which motivates him to write, with the best of intentions, that there is no one “master race” because “each race is the master race in its ancestral environment” — which is, unfortunately, baloney. If the phrase “master race” has any meaning at all, we can hardly be expected to accept it as an accurate description of the current status of, say, the Native Americans in North America or the Aborigines in Australia. Remember, too, that Oculus has defined the White race to include only people who do not live in their ancestral environment — but he of course makes no appeal to White Americans to submit to their rightful “masters,” the Indians. All in all, Oculus’s whole treatment of the “master race” idea is awkward and unsatisfactory, and he would have been better off just leaving it alone. Racial loyalty does not require such a concept, not even a “nuanced” one, any more than family loyalty requires the idea of one “master family.” (As Oculus himself points out several times, a race just is a family, and love of race is love of family.)


Oculus’s treatment of the issue of racial segregation versus integration is also, I think, naïve. His basic position is that if freedom of association is restored — that is, if people are given the freedom to hire, do business with, and associate with whomever they choose — then the resegregation of America will happen naturally because that’s what most people of all races really want. Whites like to associate with other Whites, Blacks with other Blacks, Chinese with other Chinese, and so on; simply allow them to do so, and our problems will be solved.

But that’s obviously not true. Under the current system, no one is forcing Blacks to move into White neighborhoods (or Mexicans to move into America, Chinese to go to WASP schools, etc.), but they do it anyway — probably because White neighborhoods and countries and schools are so often the “good” neighborhoods and countries and schools.

The “freedom” Oculus is advocating is essentially the freedom of Whites to keep out Blacks (and others) who want to move in — so by definition it does not result in “what everyone wants.” In fact, freedom of association is not such a clear-cut concept. If A want to join B’s club (company, school, neighborhood, country, etc.) but B doesn’t want him to join, whose “freedom of association” should the law protect? I’d say B’s, because it’s his club, and I’m sure Oculus would agree — but we shouldn’t pretend that such a policy is giving A what he wants.

It’s a hard fact to face, but the truth is that segregation is good for Whites and integration is good for Blacks — and the law must support the one or the other. Either it supports segregation by saying I have a right to keep you out of my club even if you want to join, or it supports integration by saying you have a right to join even if I want to keep you out. No neutral policy is possible — and therefore, since Blacks who want to join White-run “clubs” vastly outnumber Whites who want to join Black-run clubs, no racially neutral policy is possible. Any policy adopted will be, de facto, either pro-White or pro-Black. Disparate impact of one kind or another is unavoidable. Now no one on either side wants to hear that. Having been indoctrinated into the idea that “racism” is the worst possible evil, no one wants to admit that their preferred policy amounts to favoring the interests of Race X over those of Race Y — but that is nevertheless the way it is, and honest people have to come to grips with it.


Closely related to the idea of segregation is that of the “ethnostate,” which Oculus supports. His main interest is naturally in pushing for the creation of a White ethnostate in America, but he welcomes other races to do the same.

I should make it clear that Oculus’s idea of an ethnostate is not that of a monoracial state where other races are not welcome. Rather, his model ethnostate is Israel — including several different racial and religious groups, but existing for the purpose of serving the interests of one of them. Non-Whites and non-Christians would be welcome in his imagined White ethnostate, but they would have to accept that the state’s policies would be calculated to favor White Christian interests over those of other races and religions — as opposed to the current policies of the United States, which, under the guise of an impossible “neutrality,” serve the interests of racial minorities and the irreligious at the expense of those of White Christians.

(By the way, the suggestion that other racial groups in America could form their own ethnostates only serves to underscore the fact that segregation is not “what everyone wants.” White Americans may well dream of an ethnostate that recreates Europe — or what Europe used to be — in the New World, but no American Black in his right mind would want to recreate Africa! Oculus even suggests that “a Latino ethnostate might arise” in North America — but we already have one, Mexico, and a full third of its citizens state that they would move to the U.S. if they could.)

Anyway, being sensitive to the needs of other American races to have countries of their own, Oculus does not propose converting the entire United States into a White ethnostate. Rather, he suggests that states or blocs of states might secede from the Union to form ethnostates of various characters; and his suggested White ethnostate is, incredibly — Dixie! — i.e., the most heavily Black part of the entire country. (And where’s the Black ethnostate supposed to be? New Hampshire?) If these ethnostates are meant to be patterned after Israel, this one will come already stocked with a generous population of angry “Palestinians.”


It’s easy to criticize Oculus’s various proposals, but more important than any of the solutions he proposes is the problem he recognizes. To repeat, “Say it out loud: ‘I am a human being, but I am not just any human being. I am a white person. I am a member of the white race.’ Can’t do it, can you?” So long as we can’t do that — so long as we feel vaguely “evil” for even reading those words — we have a serious problem. Your race is your extended family; loving your race is loving your family; disowning it, ditto. Determining what actions and policies should follow from those principles is a difficult business, but the principles themselves are irreproachable.

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Filed under America, Politics, Race

Seen on a T-shirt in Taiwan

La bureaucratie, c’est comme les microbes : on ne parlemente pas avec les microbes. On les tue !


My translation: “Bureaucracy is like germs: You don’t parley with germs. You kill them!” (It appears to be a quote from the Alphonse Allais character Captain Cap.)

Naturally, the person wearing it hadn’t the faintest idea what it said.

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Stereotypes according to Google

A few years ago I thought it would be interesting to type “why are ____ so” into Google (filling in the blank with various races, religions, nationalities, etc.) and see what suggestions the autocomplete function provided. I filed the results away and forgot about them, just finding them now as I was cleaning out some old folders.

You can’t replicate these results now. Google has apparently changed the autocomplete algorithm so it blocks such things, presumably because it makes Google look bad if they helpfully suggest that you might want to search for “why are Africans so ugly” or “why are Jews so cheap.” Since this information is no longer available to anyone who searches for it, I thought I’d share the results I got:

  • black people: loud, athletic, funny, angry, cool, mean, good at sports, muscular, good at basketball, religious
  • white people: fake, mean, rude, smart, attractive, rich, good looking, lame, skinny, annoying
  • Asians: smart, rude, thin, short, good at math, cheap, annoying, quiet, rich, perfect
  • Hispanics: rude, short, loud, religious, lazy, family oriented, fertile, proud, smart, annoying
  • men: lazy, mean, shallow, insecure, controlling, visual, immature, moody, annoying, complicated
  • women: emotional, crazy, difficult, mean, beautiful, confusing, needy, shallow, selfish, irrational
  • gays: gay, obnoxious, sensitive, in your face, powerful, feminine, hated, rich, angry
  • Christians: weird, arrogant, happy, nice, fake, annoying, narrow minded, angry, rude
  • atheists: hateful, mean, rude, arrogant, intolerant, smug, annoying, mean to christians, hated in america, aggressive
  • Muslims: angry, strict, sexist, sensitive, intolerant, radical, barbaric, cruel, nice, touchy
  • Mormons: pretty, successful, wealthy, awesome, fake, conservative, pushy, boring, annoying, arrogant
  • Buddhists: happy, selfish, peaceful, annoying, nice
  • Protestants: arrogant, stupid, anti catholic, annoying, ignorant, mean, conservative, bitter, dumb, judgemental
  • Catholics: mean, arrogant, strict, liberal, judgemental, annoying, rich, nice, interested in mary, conservative
  • Jews: cheap, smart, rich, powerful, intelligent, rude, funny, arrogant, persecuted, liberal
  • Republicans: stupid, evil, angry, mean, hateful, greedy, crazy, selfish, religious, paranoid
  • Democrats: stupid, angry, racist, dumb, ignorant, lazy, evil, awesome, ugly, blind
  • liberals: stupid, smug, arrogant, angry, mean, annoying, hateful, racist, naive, ugly
  • conservatives: stupid, hateful, angry, racist, crazy, afraid of obama, paranoid, ignorant, close minded, afraid
  • old people: mean, grumpy, racist, stubborn, cute, slow, angry, boring, dumb, cold
  • young people: stupid, lazy, rude, tall, selfish, depressed, mean, liberal, violent, shallow
  • Americans: stupid, rude, loud, ignorant, religious, tall, patriotic, lazy, paranoid, weird
  • Indians: smart, arrogant, annoying, skinny, short, creepy, good at math, corrupt, successful, loud
  • English people: arrogant, cold, mean, stuck up, funny, boring, skinny, tall, smart, reserved
  • French people: rude, mean, thin, attractive, gay, dark, short, annoying, hot, healthy
  • Africans: ugly, tall, strong, violent, fast, loud, stupid, dark, rude, good at running
  • British people: pale, smart, cool, cold, tan, skinny, polite, rude, lazy, sarcastic
  • Chinese people: rude, loud, smart, weird, short, heartless, cheap, rich, small, annoying
  • Russians: rude, strong, badass, good at chess, angry, rich, tall, weird, crazy, cold

I had planned to do similar searches for several other nationalities, but I didn’t get around to it — and now, as I’ve said, it is everlastingly too late.

Most of the results are no surprise, but I thought some of them were pretty funny. I love how the first result for “why are gays so…” is “…gay.” Also, notice how the British are apparently pale, tan, polite, and rude. (But perhaps some of those suggestions are sarcastic?) Above all, it is most heartening to see how much the Right and the Left have in common.


It really makes you wonder why politicians choose to focus so much on divisive issues instead of on the many important things that unite us.


Filed under Language, Politics, Statistics

Three justifications for democracy

1. The wisdom of crowds

Groups of people tend to make better — smarter and/or more moral — choices than individuals, and the larger the group, the better. It is better to be ruled by a committee than by an individual, and best of all is to be ruled by a multi-million-member committee-to-end-all-committees consisting of the entire adult population of the country.

This, despite its prima facie implausibility, is probably the reason most democracy-supporters would give for their preference, and the policy decisions of actual democracies are more-or-less consistent with it. I mean to efforts to maximize the size of the electorate (through the enfranchisement of women, get-out-the-vote campaigns, etc.) while still excluding the mentally and morally deficient (children and felons).

2. Violence minimization

Moldbug somewhere compares an election to a limited civil war in which the armies show up, get counted, but don’t actually fight. Elections serve a purpose similar to that of the ritualized dominance displays of other social animals. The contenders for alpha rank show off their size, power, and ferocity so as to sort out which of them would most likely win were they to fight it out. That established, the actual fighting can be dispensed with, to the benefit of all parties concerned. Humans, of course, win fights not by having bigger muscles or sharper tusks, but by forming bigger armies than their rivals, and so we arrange our dominance displays accordingly.

This is to my mind a fairly compelling justification for democracy, but it is apparently not the rationale on which actually existing democracies are based. If voting is about “counting the armies,” only able-bodied men should have the vote, and violent criminals are the last people in the world we should want to disenfranchise.

3. Divine right

It is the God-given right of the people to rule, and that’s that. The probable results of different forms of government are irrelevant; only democracy is legitimate. It is inherently good, while all other forms of government are inherently bad.

This kind of thinking, while rarely actually articulated, is probably what is really behind most people’s support for democracy. And just like its close cousin, the doctrine of the divine right of kings, it is immune to argument.


If there are any democrats among my readers, which of these justifications is the decisive one for you? Or are there other basic arguments for democracy which I have overlooked?


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Hereditary monarchy vs. democracy: the other side

This post is probably quite unnecessary, since most everyone these days takes it for granted that of course democracy is better than hereditary monarchy, but I nevertheless want to balance my earlier post on this subject with one looking at the relative advantages of democracy over monarchy — again focusing on the mechanism of succession and its consequences.

As before, I will be using king in a generic sense which includes queens, presidents, etc.


The king’s blood relatives are his natural allies. Those who stand a chance of becoming king themselves should anything happen to the reigning king are his natural enemies. The system of hereditary monarchy so arranges things that these two groups of people are identical; it intentionally pits family loyalty against ambition.

In my previous post, I emphasized the positive side of this — how family loyalty can put a check on the ambitions of potential heirs, thereby strengthening the polity by reducing the number of people who actively seek the king’s downfall.

The other side of this coin is that sometimes ambition wins the struggle against family loyalty, turning potential heirs against their own flesh and blood — and then these unnatural monsters come to power, a distinctly unlikely development in a democracy. Democracy produces Nixons and Hitlers aplenty, but only hereditary monarchy can father forth a Nero.


Another point in favor of democracy is that mass elections do tend to ensure that kings meet certain very basic standards of competence and normality. Of course many democratically elected leaders are scoundrels, and some of them are relatively incompetent — but I feel pretty safe in saying that the U.S. has never elected a president with a two-digit IQ and never will. Nor do 12-year-olds win elections, or people with serious mental illnesses. Under the hereditary system, though, all of these things are possible — and, given enough time, inevitable.

Is there anything in politics more tragic than Marcus Aurelius — who, reign he never so brilliantly, was helpless to escape his fate of being succeeded by Commodus? It wouldn’t have happened in a democracy.


In the end, hereditary monarchy makes the same mistake as democracy: it tries to eliminate the need for human choice and human responsibility by having the king chosen automatically by an algorithm. A fundamental rule of politics ought to be no important decisions made by algorithms, all important decisions made by individuals. It can be helpful to take into account such things as family relationships, the voice of the populace, etc. — but no such consideration ought to be allowed to become “automatic,” to make the decision by itself without the mediation of an actual human being.


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Hereditary monarchy vs. democracy

The mechanism of succession to the throne — and particularly the extent to which it can be predicted and/or influenced — is a very important feature of any political system. I want to look at the effects of these features as they apply to hereditary monarchy on the one hand and to democracy on the other.

(Note: For convenience, I will be using the terms king, throne, etc. in the generic sense to refer to the chief executive of a polity. I don’t mean to exclude queens, emperors, presidents, premiers, first citizens, etc.)


In a hereditary monarchy, succession is highly predictable. A potential heir is typically known from birth to be a potential heir, and so his education and pre-coronation career can be arranged so as to prepare him for his future responsibilities. Knowing that he will likely be king someday, he can consciously work to acquire the knowledge, skills, and character traits he will need when it comes his time to take the throne.

In a democracy, no one can ever be very confident that he will be king someday, and certainly not from an early age. Therefore, a new king is very unlikely to have spent much of his life specifically preparing himself for kingship.


In a hereditary monarchy, the order of succession is a given, and there isn’t much you can do to influence it. If you want to be king, there’s not a whole lot you can do to make it happen, short of staging an all-out revolution. If you happen to be a potential heir, you can become king by murdering the sitting king and/or the other potential heirs — but the hereditary system minimizes the temptation to do so by ensuring that the king and the potential heirs are all close blood relatives.

In a democracy, the succession is wide open. In theory, anyone can become king. In practice, you become king by influencing the populace to vote for you, which is best accomplished by developing demagogic skills, cultivating connections with people in power, and (especially in a modern mass-media democracy) acquiring enormous sums of money. These secondary goals are, in turn, most effectively reached by being a complete and utter scoundrel. So that’s what future kings spend their time and effort doing — not preparing to be king, but striving to become king; cultivating not the virtues of a king, but the vices of a politician.

One corollary of this is that in a democracy, the king is always someone who really, really wants to be king, since you can’t attain the throne without trying very hard to do so. In a hereditary monarchy, kingship is the heir’s fate, a duty thrust on him whether he will or nill. Thus, in a monarchy it is at least possible to have a king who is not power-hungry. It’s not at all clear how that might be possible in a democracy.


In a hereditary monarchy, the king serves for life. He cannot predict how long his term in office will last and is therefore motivated to take a long-term view.

In a democracy, the king is typically subject to strict term limits. He can predict with a fair degree of accuracy when his term will end, and he is therefore subject to the temptation to kick difficult problems down the road a few years and leave them for his successor to deal with.


In a hereditary monarchy, potential heirs are the king’s natural allies — both because they are his blood relatives, and because they typically serve in high positions in the reigning king’s government. They are motivated to help the king succeed.

In a democracy, many potential heirs — particularly those not of his “party” — are the king’s natural enemies. Even though many of them also serve in high positions in the government, they nevertheless want the king to fail. Failing that, they want him to seem to the people to have failed. They are motivated to fight against everything the king attempts, to foment discontent among the populace, and to undermine the people’s loyalty to the king and the unity of the polity.


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The insoluble problem of population

The world population is currently more than two and a half times what it was when my parents were born. It can’t keep on growing forever.


One point of view is that as the population continues to grow, technology will grow apace — so that, no matter how high the figures climb, human ingenuity will always find a way to make sure there is enough food, water, oxygen, and living space to go around.

Obviously that can’t be true. Maybe the earth can be made to support a very large number of people — trillions, say — but it can’t support an arbitrarily large number. There must be a limit somewhere. Sooner or later, if the population continues to grow, we will reach that limit.

And long before we reach the point where it is physically impossible for the earth to support us, we will reach the point — many countries have reached it already — where population density begins to have a negative effect on the quality of life. No one wants to live on a planet — or in a country — which is filled to capacity, where there is no extra space, no countryside, no wilderness, not even any backyards or roomy living rooms. Living in Taiwan (with 19 times the population density of the U.S.), I’ve had a little foretaste of that, and it isn’t very nice.

Nor is space colonization a viable solution. Even assuming it were technically feasible, uprooting a few billion people every generation or two and shipping them off to other planets isn’t going to do much for our quality of life either.


Another “optimistic” point of view is that the problem will solve — is solving — itself, as more and more peoples voluntarily choose sub-replacement fertility. In most of the developed world, population growth rates are low or even negative, and what growth there is comes more from immigration than from the reproduction of the indigenous population. And the developing world is, as the euphemism implies, assumed to be developing. That is, given time, it will become “developed” and stop reproducing.

But such a situation is evolutionarily unstable and cannot possibly be permanent. So long as there is variation in fertility rates, and so long as that variation is correlated with heritable (genetic) or quasi-heritable (religious) features, those who reproduce at above-replacement levels will multiply at the expense of those who do not, and overall rates of population growth will go back up.


Since voluntary population control cannot by its nature be a long-term solution, that leaves Chinese-style coercive population control — which is obviously morally unacceptable. To be effective, it would have to be applied to the entire world, and it would have to be strictly enforced — meaning, in practice, forced abortion or infanticide. Without strict, universal enforcement, it would be no more stable than voluntary control. Some people would inevitably go on reproducing, regardless of social pressure or sanctions, and whatever it was that made them do so, they would be likely to pass it on to the next generation — leading in the long term to rising fertility.


So there’s no solution at all.


Filed under Politics, Science

Wintrobe on the Soviet Union

Looking through some old notes, I found these passages from Ronald Wintrobe’s book The Political Economy of Dictatorship. I think he offers a very clear explanation of why the history of the Soviet Union unfolded as it did.

These considerations reveal the basic contradiction of Communist rule. The ideological basis of communism is solidarity. In order to promote that solidarity, markets and private ownership are suppressed. But in order to make the system work, it has to function as a bureaucracy that is under political control. But in any bureaucratic system, vertical control is paramount, and solidarity among the work force interrupts this control and lowers output and productivity. This result is especially likely when the whole society is organized as a single bureaucratic system, such as in the former Soviet Union and other Communist countries. The more the system operated as any bureaucracy must, the more the contradiction between its reality and its promises, as embedded in its ideology, became apparent (p. 214).


[T]he classic Soviet system, like any bureaucracy, did not run primarily on orders or commands but on exchange. The basic difference between a bureaucratic and a market system is that exchanges within bureaucracy are based not on laws but on trust or loyalty. Under communism, loyalty to the Party combined with the Party’s capacity to repress opposition became the source of its power. Consequently, when the Party was strong, either because it was ruthless in its use of repression or because it was believed to be capable of fulfilling its promises, the system was capable of good economic performance. The fundamental prediction of this model is therefore that in a Soviet-style system, there is a positive correlation between the power of the Party and measures of economic performance such as economic growth.

The basic problem with such a system as an economic system lie in the conditions for running any large bureaucracy efficiently; bureaucracies require vertical or hierarchical loyalty and not horizontal solidarity among co-workers, which can be used to escape Party control and therefore tend to lower productivity. In turn, this implies that there is a fundamental contradiction between the promises of communism — essentially, equality and solidarity — and efficiency. . . . over time, this contradiction became more and more apparent, and the system could only maintain itself, Stalin-style, through the use of the purge and other techniques for breaking up the horizontal networks and other nonsanctioned alliances which tended to grow up within it (p. 217).


The central problem of any bureaucratic system . . . is that over time, horizontal trust (as well as vertical trust) tends to accumulate and the accumulation of horizontal trust is ultimately very damaging to the efficiency of the system from the point of view of the leaders. We would predict that this problem was particularly acute in the Soviet system, with the intertwining of the Communist party and the state, as well as the consequent absence of an institutionalized takeover mechanism (such as general elections in politics or hostile takeovers in business) or any other mechanism which could “shake up” the loyalties which tend to accumulate within such a system. Consequently, the only weapon available for this purpose was the purge (p. 225).

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Support Card; boycott Superman

In case you haven’t heard, Orson Scott Card, a writer I like and admire, is being targeted by a sort of self-appointed House Un-Homosexual Activities Committee, which has succeeded in pressuring DC Comics to drop Card’s contribution from an upcoming Superman anthology.

Card’s views on sexuality, whether or not you happen to agree with them, are reasonable, humane, and — until approximately five minutes ago — thoroughly mainstream. The attempt to hound him out of the job market because of them is evil.

I’m aware that the people at DC aren’t the real villains here, that they’re “just following orders” from the McCarthyite canaille. Nevertheless, you can’t boycott a mob; and DC, as the brand that represents Superman, does have something of an obligation to stand for truth, justice, and the American way. I am therefore boycotting the company (I don’t read comic books anyway, but I had been planning to see the upcoming Man of Steel movie; not anymore) and encourage others to do the same.

(Thanks to John C. Wright for bringing this to my attention.)


Filed under Politics

Is universal suffrage effective?

Since the enfranchisement of women in 1920, have the decisions of the American electorate tended to be better or worse than those it used to make before women had the vote?

Of course it’s impossible to give a definitive or objective answer to that question, but in an attempt to get something at least marginally more objective than my own personal impressions, I looked at the results of the popular vote in presidential elections both before and after the passage of the 19th amendment. Wikipedia’s Historical rankings of Presidents of the United States article lists the results of 16 different surveys in which historians were asked to rank the presidents from best to worst, and I used those results to decide whether the decision made by a given popular vote should be considered a good one or a bad one. A “good” president is one who made the first or second quartile in every single survey in which he was considered; a “bad” president is one who never made first or second quartile; “average/disputed” covers the rest.

The numbers represent elections, not presidents, and the popular vote is what counts. For example, Andrew Jackson only served two terms but is counted three times because he won the popular vote in three different elections; George W. Bush, who also served two terms but only won one popular vote, is only counted once. Candidates who won the popular vote but never served as president (Samuel J. Tilden and Al Gore) are ignored, since we have no way of knowing how good or bad they would have been at the job.

Here’s what the resulting numbers look like:

Prior to 1920, the voters made “good” choices 59% of the time. After the enfranchisement of women, that figure dropped dramatically to 33%. There are numerous reasons to take those numbers with large quantities of salt — the pre-/post-1920 division is too simplistic (women in a few states were enfranchised much earlier), there are innumerable confounding variables which can’t be controlled for, and the underlying data about presidential “goodness” are inherently subjective — but it still gives one pause for thought.

But even if the data were indisputable — if, hypothetically, it could be conclusively proven that universal suffrage tends to produce poorer decisions than male-only democracy — I doubt it would matter to most people. The case for universal suffrage (and for democracy generally) is rarely put in utilitarian terms. (There are presumably few who honestly believe the absurdity that holding a popularity contest in which everyone’s opinion is given equal weight is the most effective way — or even an effective way — of ensuring that good leaders are chosen.) Most Americans take it for granted that women’s suffrage is a good thing, not because they think women are better at making decisions, and that we will be better governed if women are involved in choosing our leaders, but because they have come to think of the franchise as a basic human right, to be granted indiscriminately as a matter of principle regardless of the consequences.


Details, for those who care:

The good presidents represented in the above charts are: Washington (2), John Adams (1), Jefferson (2), Madison (2), Jackson (3), Polk (1), Lincoln (2), Cleveland (3), Theodore Roosevelt (1), Wilson (2); and, after female suffrage, Franklin D. Roosevelt (4), Truman (1), Kennedy (1), and Lyndon B. Johnson (1). The average/disputed presidents are: Monroe (2), Van Buren (1), Grant(2), McKinley (2), Taft (1); and, after female suffrage, Eisenhower (2), Reagan (2), George H. W. Bush (1), Clinton (2), and George W. Bush (1). The bad presidents are: William Henry Harrison (1), Taylor (1), Pierce (1), Buchanan (1), Garfield (1); and, after female suffrage, Harding (1), Coolidge (1), Hoover (1), Nixon (2), and Carter (1). The following presidents (mostly bad) never won the popular vote and so are not counted: John Quincy Adams, Tyler, Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Hayes, Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, and Ford. Obama is also excluded because his overall performance can’t be judged until he has finished his term.

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Filed under America, Politics