Substack cometh, and lo it is good. (Pricing)

Open Thread – 1/17/2021 – Gene Expression

Stark Truth About Aryans: a story of India: The rise, fall, and rise, of the Aryans.

An Environmental History of India: From Earliest Times to the Twenty-First Century. Kind of like The Retreat of the Elephants.

My podcast this week, American Civil War? Richard Hanania thinks it unlikely. Normally for Unsupervised Learning I don’t record anything that’s time-sensitive, but obviously, this week required an exception. Also, we talk about the fact that Jon Ossoff follows Scott Alexander on Twitter.

Blue-Collar Boom: How China Bounced Back From the Virus.

They Can’t Leave the Bay Area Fast Enough.

The Crash of the Flight 93 Presidency.

Conditions under which distributions of edge length ratios on phylogenetic trees can be used to order evolutionary events.

Impact of K-Pg Mass Extinction Event on Crocodylomorpha Inferred from Phylogeny of Extinct and Extant Taxa.

The World Needs a Real Investigation Into the Origins of Covid-19. Op-ed written By Alina Chan and Matt Ridley. Here’s my post with Alina in case you didn’t see it.

Mike Eisen weighs in:

Israel Vaccine Data Suggests Decrease in Covid-19 Infection Rate After First Dose.

Biden will elevate White House science office to Cabinet-level. Eric Lander. Also, Alondra Nelson was appointed to a position.

Exploring the natural origins of SARS-CoV-2.

Biden Plans Fewer Rules, More Shots in New Vaccination Drive.

So my Wikipedia page states that I’m “paleoconservative.” The citation goes to 2008, when my friend Reihan Salam termed me a “neo-paleoconservative.” 12.5 years is a long time, and I’m not sure I fit that bill. I’ve moved much further left on economics, and am no longer an immigration skeptic. But, I have become much more ‘socially conservative’ (3 kids will do that, sorry to be cliche).

+4

40 thoughts on “Open Thread – 1/17/2021 – Gene Expression

  1. Hi Razib. I’m curious as to how your knowledge of genetics informs your politics. I’m generally a materialist, and take the view that our genes, our environment, and the interactions between the two influence our society – particularly our politics and economics – more than is generally recognized. I’d like to know if you agree, and the perspective of someone who’s way more knowledge of this topic than I am. Thanks.

  2. human nature means that full-throated libertarianism will not work. neither will communism, tho we tested that. basically my views of the world constrain the space of the possible

  3. “many pushing the WIV lab accident hypothesis have nefarious intent”

    Is being fearful of the Chinese regime nefarious? To whom?

  4. Razib, I don’t comment often at all, but your description of your political development piqued my curiosity. I’ve moved left economically over the past twenty years or so as well. I was always socially conservative, even before having four children.
    How do you reconcile that with your shift on immigration skepticism? My entire adult life has seen a consistent downward push on the cost of labor in this country. Don’t you feel that virtually unlimited immigration exacerbates this?
    I’m genuinely curious.
    Thanks and I hope the New Year treats you well.

  5. How do you reconcile that with your shift on immigration skepticism? My entire adult life has seen a consistent downward push on the cost of labor in this country. Don’t you feel that virtually unlimited immigration exacerbates this?

    probably. but our current cultural equilibrium is not sustainable. a snake without a head flails and that’s what we are.

    puerto ricans are poor. they will vote democrat. but did you know puerto rico is as prolife as alabama?

    my parents are third-world socialists, but socially conservative.

    the argument i have with my friend mark kirkorian is the assimilation new immigrants into the anti-bourgeois culture. seems like a good case. but after 4 years of trump doesn’t look like we’ve moved the cultural needle at all. on the contrary.

  6. I feel increasingly less restrictionist too.

    Like from my perspective: If we were mainly more pessimistic and restrictionist on migration due to fears about what it would do to institutions and our peak human capital, rather than these labour market average wage concerns or just purely national/ethnic continuity as an ends in itself, then… that seems more difficult to sustain after the past ten years.

    Let’s say we’re advocating restrictions to *conserve* a particular culture we believe we have and which is amenable to a high level of human flourishing; one with a broadly liberal-capitalist economic and social model, with a broadly individualistic sense of moral autonomy and agency, with a modernistic stance that truth exists objectively of authority figures, with a fairly high level of scientific and technical culture that thrives on that footing, and with ties to a particular rich heritage of literature and art and folk culture (perhaps not the best one, but one worth preserving). A bit rose tinted perhaps, but I think I could believe that.

    What is the point of doing so if it’s actually going to be taken over by internal cultural change that rejects *all* of that, in essentially every point, as a basically point of narcissistic pride or out of pure raging spite?

    If there were any spirit to defend the culture we might have thought was there, then *this* was the time to show it. That there really wasn’t any display of that spirit, outside a few sparse islets of backbone, seems to indicate that there isn’t really as much to culturally conserve as we might have thought. And if that cultural conservation project just isn’t plausible, perhaps why not let people migrate and better their economic situation? To be honest, even if it does damage local wages and welfare, personally, well, if the locals are socialists, on a emotional, heart level to me that’s basically a “And no harm was done to any human being, only to NPCs and p-zombies” situation. Even if my head says, yes they’re people and I ought to have some concern. But enough concern to prioritize their welfare over any other randomly selected human on this earth, in much worse straights? Why prize the welfare of people who loudly reject the very notion of a common national citizenship as exclusive and narrow-minded?

    The other factor is that the other good restrictionist argument for me was that levels were inconsistent with popular sentiment and the future that the population wanted. “Imposed on the population by an ideologically driven elite.”. “We was never asked!”. Right or wrong, the will of the demos should prevail. Elite preferences at odds with the demos should not prevail, wrong or right. It’s simply right for people to have the final say in their futures, however they use that power and anything against this is an affront, however beautiful a dream it may present.

    But these days it seems like most people under 40 take the attitude that they can’t get enough of anything that even has a whiff to them of more “openness”. So I don’t think that argument is what it was. Even if there’s an older contingent that has some sense of a homeland it wants to preserve, the young seem to reject wholesale the general idea of “home” or “belonging”, and it seems a bit pointless to preserve something they’ll spurn in 20 years time anyway.

    Tldr; the “cultural conservation” and “democratic will” arguments for restriction just seem weak tea, these days, and they were the strongest ones.

  7. Biden is unsurprisingly looking to take credit for the vaccine. Supplies and general rollout were already inevitable

    I thank you President Trump, for Operation Warp Speed

  8. I am not sure what the GOPe is still hoping to accomplish. GOPe would never have restricted immigration. In fairness, America is still very decentralized in some ways, and in their corner of the world the GOPe are making their money.

    As well, Democrats are a gerontocracy, and the world will be left to the generations they reared.

  9. Immigration doesn’t have much impact on wages. Illegal immigrants potentially do but most of that stopped a few years ago so I’ve changed my vies somewhat as well. Skilled immigrants are like a free agent signing of a top player. Why would you not??

  10. The immigration argument has been done to death in the comments to your blog before, but I can see the pros and cons of more immigration. On the one hand, yes, the current political situation is unsustainable, and could very easily collapse into some kind of decadent despotism born out of a desire to both 1) cater to Americans age 18-40 who tend to be very socially liberal but want tons of programs to fund their lifestyles and their political priorities, while at the same time desiring to lock out people who aren’t down-the-line, no-compromise socially liberal from a decent life, and 2) enact a comprehensive surveillance system that would make our politics stagnant and sclerotic: it would emphatically not be to ensure the same people remain in charge of national development the way China’s system is. I think this is sort of what Matt was getting at above. In this respect, just 15 to 20 million new citizens who have a more sane approach to politics (more transactional, less partisan, less ideological, more realistic, more memory or exposure to the failures of the various ideological dictatorships of the Cold War era, less hung up on the same arguments the country has been having since 1980) would help greatly.

    On the other hand, if we aren’t discerning about the quality of immigrants, it could break things even worse: masses of poor people with no skills would function mostly as vote banks, which wouldn’t ease partisanship or ideological tension. Fortunately, there’s a way to mostly solve this: high-skilled immigration would be the way forward. The other issue, though, is the educational system, and I am not sure how this could be addressed absent something truly extreme like defunding public education (including public colleges and the student loan system). Too many educators in both secondary and higher education, and in some cases even primary education, view the main goal of education as being to enact transformative change, train activists, and so on; Razib and others have chronicled for us how this mindset is even beginning to infect the hard sciences. No matter the social, economic, or cultural inclination of immigrants, if the education system is going to treat them or their children firstly as objects in which to awaken revolutionary consciousness or some other such political project, then immigration doesn’t really solve anything except to gain new recruits for a forever culture war.

  11. I don’t think there’s any less reason to be restrictionist now than there was fifteen years ago.

    Are many socially conservative people immigrants? Of course. But that’s nothing new. It’s a variation of the “Hispanics are natural conservatives” argument we heard a decade ago. Yeah, they’re conservative until they vote. Even high-income, socially-conservative immigrants felt far more comfortable in the Democratic Party than they did in the globalist, immigration-friendly, religious (but striving to be ecumenical in their attitude toward other faiths), pre-Trump GOP.

    What’s more, “socially conservative” doesn’t mean what it means here in the United States. Some of the most socially-conservative immigrants you meet are anti-gun rights, anti-free market, and pro-choice. They do not see ideological soulmates in their socially-conservative American counterparts. They reflexively nod when they hear rhetoric about getting guns off the streets or the right for everyone to have free health care or even the right for free pre-school. Their lifestyle is socially conservative and pro-family; their politics are usually not.

    Second, whatever Trump’s flaws as a president – and they were myriad – his immigration policies appeared to make good headway in raising the wages of Americans who have seen their take-home pay stagnate over the last few decades. So why stop now when evidence is starting to come in that immigration restriction is helpful to naturally lifting the economic fortunes of the country’s least fortunate – and to do so without other burdensome regulations?

  12. @Razib, saw this tweet from you on upcoming ancient DNA samples from Greece – https://mobile.twitter.com/razibkhan/status/1351297327613562882

    Davidski on Eurogenes actually converted the samples to his Global25 already, before publishing of the paper. As unusually they seem to have uploaded the data to European Nucleotide Archive well before publishing. (It’s sort of within the messy ramble of the blog comments).

    The high steppe samples from the abstract (two women) seem to turn out not to be half Steppe_EMBA, but half Steppe_MLBA, which equates to so about 35% Steppe_EMBA (because Steppe_MLBA is 70% steppe_emba, 30% EEF). This is about the same proportion as in Northern Greece/Bulgaria or North Italy today, funnily enough (albeit there are some differences due to other migrations, but steppe ancestry level seems similar). The samples come out in his set as closest to present day Italians from the Piedmont region or present day Greeks from Thessaly. Oddly enough the closest ancient samples to present day Greeks so far.

    Kind of crazy to me to think of already getting such a result before the paper is out, but that’s living in the future I guess!

  13. The podcast with Richard Hanania was your best yet, I think. It was really helpful to have his detached, level-headed perspective on current events. I hope he’s right that things take a turn for the boring in our political life soon, but if not, I hope you’ll have him on again!

  14. @ Matt

    I noticed your informative comments in the Eurogenes discussion about the Northeast vs Northwest Europe issue, which has been discussed around a few times so far at this point. Have you taken a look at the chronologically pre Spiginas2 ROU_C outlier GB1 at all?

    Relevant images: https://imgur.com/a/HUeKQ9H

    Check the lower distance to Polish compared to Swedish in comparison to the rest (despite relative position of the two on PCA), or how that samples behaves in PC3. Also, Swedish/Polish distance ratio over 1, from all (or close) G25 European pre-steppe Neolithic and Mesolithic groups in descending order:

    ROU_C_o
    RUS_Samara_HG
    VK2020_NOR_North_LN_HG
    UKR_Meso
    RUS_Karelia_HG
    ROU_Meso
    NOR_N_HG
    Baltic_LTU_Narva

    ROU_C_o is the only significantly EEF-admixed non more intermediate-eastern Mesolithic individual that appears and is #1 in that kind of simple comparison at that.

    Same within Corded, Beaker and some EBA individuals:

    Bell_Beaker_CZE_o:I5025 (weirdly eastern outlier compared to all Beaker individuals, wonder if misdated)

    Corded_Ware_Baltic:Spiginas2, as we know at this point the chronologically first that shows that Baltic-peaking peculiarity at very high levels
    Bell_Beaker_HUN_EBA:I3528
    Corded_Ware_POL:N49

    I picked Swedish despite being somewhat closer and more Baltic-like/admixed because it places directly northwest of Polish on the first two dimensions. The more genetically western northern Scandinavians, Norwegian and Icelandic, directly southwest and so the relative lack of HG might be considered more of a confounder in that kind of comparison.

    Re: the early Middle Helladic samples, as has been pointed out in the comments in Eurogenes too, it’s possibly the Loggas in southwest Macedonia (rather than Corfu) where a relevant site has been excavated in recent years. In that case, disclaimers about various issues aside, it’s not too unlikely we’re dealing with a proto-Greek-speaking population of the late 3rd – early 2nd millennium BC expanding further south around that timeframe. Right place, right time for a very commonly put forth archaeological scenario at least. The samples themselves seem rather HG-deficient overall too, part of the reason they’re so “southeastern”, so they might very well be a Steppe_EBA-Balkan kind of mix, not unlike what the current set of Croatian samples come across as.

  15. “we don’t have ancient DNA.

    not east asian. diverged 40K BP

    there is some east asian via WSHG 10% in east iranians as they are 20% East Asian”

    I think it’ll just be extra ANE instead, that too simply because ANE went through eastern Iran in order to end up in western Iran. On global25, the AG3 + GD makes a slightly better approximation than Tyumen + GD. Are there any samples like Tyumen but with more east Asian and less ANE? Would be an okay way to test and see what happens to the Hotu approximation when the east Asian bit goes up.

  16. I have never had a problem with the number of people immigrating to the US. However, I do care at least a little bit about who they are.

    From my perspective, the race-blind, but not totally blind, approach of countries like Canada, Australia, and Singapore appears to be working well in the 21st century. They aren’t utopias, but they are countries where things are generally getting better over time, and that’s something I place very high weight on when judging the suitability of a place for childrearing. Despite having substantially higher immigration (relative to its population) than the US, Canada’s immigration policy is broadly popular, with nearly 80% support.

    But the US political elite still seems hellbent on keeping that option off the table, and instead forcing a level of low-skill immigration that… could be said to work in the United Arab Emirates and Singapore, where those immigrants have few political rights, but has driven massive (and in my view, adequately justified) unrest in every major Western democracy where it’s been tried. We aren’t Singapore, which consistently deports pregnant migrant workers, and I don’t think we should try to become it; our values are different, and there are many things we still do better than them. We have a lot more in common with Canada, though, and I think we have something to learn from them here.

  17. @Forgetful, no haven’t looked at that one, 3378 BCE according to Human Origins?

    Looking now, when I project it onto Vahaduo’s G25 tools, it does looks like an unusual sample in terms of tapping a position that is quite high on the EEF:HG cline, with a relatively “pure” position on that cline (no/little steppe)… together with for some reason taking a position on a PCA optimized for “Balto-Slavic” vs “Celto-Germanic” drift that is “Celto-Germanic”, unlike other high HG outliers we find in West Europe (e.g. at Blatterhohle Cave, or the French Neolithic high HG samples), which are more loaded towards Western Europe.

    See: https://imgur.com/a/R7v9GvK (Datasheet for Vahaduo: https://pastebin.com/uySauZje).

    That could be something. (It’s a bit hard to tell with single samples sometimes though; I think there may be some samples from Varna that had some of this extra drift with Eastern Europe, but then they got labelled as contaminated?) Worth watching I guess.

    Sample BB:I5025 was removed from the Human Origins file I last used to look up sample for dates, so its date may be dodgy. BB:I3528 seems to have held it’s date of 2380 BCE in their file. Those CWC_POL sample (N44, N49, N45, N47) were actually split into two subsamples in the paper, with one subsample showing more HG ancestry and affinity to Balto-Slavic groups.

    @DB: Worth a look at : https://jsmp.dk/posts/2019-09-26-braindrain/

    It does look like the US has been pretty “high skill” in the visas system? If the US wanted to “get to Canada” on that, then there might not be many options within the regulated system. US might be more like “Canada+Big Southern Border” and then I wonder if Canada would behave differently under the same circumstances?

    Not contradicting anything you’re saying really.

  18. Like in general, “Anglo” countries tend to have the most-universal language in play, relatively unconstrained income distribution, open employment markets (both in the “low unionization”, “low regulation” and “low culture of discrimination” senses), locals do good but not always amazingly stellar in education (depending on measure), and they tend to have had governments that have tried to combine being relatively conservative on immigration with free market ideals.

    That seems to have generally replicated across most of these English speaking countries and tends to push to high skill.

    Where there are exceptions are where its out of the government’s control due to legal impediments, like trying to stop massive illegal migration in the US, European Freedom of Movement in the UK (which is eventually going to no longer be a thing). (For UK particularly after migration backlash against in 2000s led to tightening of controls.)

    Basically, I’m not so sure how much these countries actually have much to teach each other, because much of the differences seem attributable to these unique circumstances with local geography and political orders which are unique to them. Less to having a unique policy differences on the parts of migration that they can easily control without too much political effort. (Unlike many European nations where policy and economy is more different and generates different drivers?).

    But that’s just my opinion from basically Google punditing a lot of this stuff; maybe I’m wrong might actually be really different.

  19. @Matt:

    The visas system has been focused on high-skill immigrants, yes. That’s the part of the system that I explicitly stated I don’t have a problem with.

    The problem is the combination of birthright citizenship and poor enforcement of immigration law. Canada is actually kind of mediocre at utilizing the skills of first-generation immigrants; see e.g. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/editorials/overqualified-immigrants-really-are-driving-taxis-in-canada/article4106352/ . But that has turned to not be a big deal since their *kids* have an excellent track record of integrating into Canadian society. Low-skill immigration to the US has been the reverse: many employers have better experiences with these people (including the illegal subset) than the US underclasses, but unfortunately we don’t yet know how to integrate their de facto or de jure US-citizen kids nearly as well as the kids of high-skill immigrants. (As I mentioned in my previous comment, Singapore has a targeted solution to this problem, but we won’t and shouldn’t copy them here. We fought a civil war around ending a form of second-class citizenship.)

    There are policies that might improve matters on this front, such as support for much better trade schools and the like (some of the social conservatism Razib alludes to is also relevant), but the sane thing to do is to wait until we see such policies clearly working before we intentionally let in more low-skill immigrants. And even then, we may still need to be careful about the quantity we let in to avoid breaking the ladder that will exist at that point for our existing underclasses.

    Another crucial thing to keep in mind here is that the low-skill ladder really is working better in countries like China and India right now. China and India are currently improving the lives of a billion of these people in parallel at lower political cost than the US can do the same for a mere 50 million. (There are, of course, other US policies that have been crucial in making it possible for China and India to do this. I *do* support those policies even when there’s some domestic cost, because at least they have far, far better bang for the buck than increasing low-skill immigration.) For now, we should instead play to the comparative advantage we have on the high-skill end.

  20. Imo American social conservatives should prefer low skilled migrants from Latin America. They are Christian and speak a European language. They will assimilate into the broader American population over time. Like the Irish or Italians. High skilled immigrants from Asia on the other hand will be comparable to the Jews due to fundamental religious and cultural differences. No matter how you look at it, a Catholic illegal immigrant from Honduras has far more in common with an Evangelical White Southerner than a Hindu Indian computer engineer.

    Also a small number of high skilled immigrants have far more economic, cultural and political power and therefore the ability to transform the host country than low skilled immigrants.

    My views on immigration are all over the place but I don’t see why social conservatives should support high skilled immigration. Most high skilled immigrants don’t support gun rights or oppose abortion. They maybe “socially conservative” in their home country but not so in the US. Their values are mostly aligned with that of coastal white liberals. The values of low skilled Latin American immigrants on the other hand are much more aligned with that of the white working class of the US.

  21. “No matter how you look at it, a Catholic illegal immigrant from Honduras has far more in common with an Evangelical White Southerner than a Hindu Indian computer engineer”

    Immigrants from Honduras might have more in common tempermentally and culturally with working class whites, but in the end they mostly vote for Democrats just like Hindu Indian tech workers. And if those Hondurans have upwardly mobile kids then they won’t have any more affinity for down-scale whites than the Hindu Indian’s kids will.

    The fundamental problem with the Republican Party and conservative “movement” in America is that they have no actual positive vision for how to make ordinary Americans lives better – they have no plan for healthcare, no plan for college tuition, no plan for affordable housing, no plan for infrastructure, no plan for higher wage jobs. People complain about all this and the GOP offers them nothing in return, because their ideological convictions lead them to believe that all the problems surronding these issues are simply natural consequences of the laws of economics or human nature or whatever. The only things that actually push them into any sort of action are de-regulation and tax cuts for their donor class.

    If Biden gives some of the more un-hinged elements of his coalition too much lee-way in the next few years, then I expect a big enough whitelash in 2022 and 2024 to scuttle this current iteration of the Progressive Ascendancy and give the GOP a reprieve. But at some point they will have to actually be a party that offers Americans – all Americans – something that makes people actually want them to be in power in and of themselves, and not just as a check against run-away Wokeism.

  22. Mick –

    The fundamental problem with the Republican Party and conservative “movement” in America is that they have no actual positive vision for how to make ordinary Americans lives better – they have no plan for healthcare, no plan for college tuition, no plan for affordable housing, no plan for infrastructure, no plan for higher wage jobs. People complain about all this and the GOP offers them nothing in return, because their ideological convictions lead them to believe that all the problems surronding these issues are simply natural consequences of the laws of economics or human nature or whatever. The only things that actually push them into any sort of action are de-regulation and tax cuts for their donor class.

    While I agree with your general notion that the GOP is not the party of ideas right now, the part I’ve highlighted in bold is not really true. It’s just that the GOP’s recent policy ideas have been either bad ideas or poorly implemented.

    George W. Bush, for example, had a robust program for expanding minority homeownership. He had an education plan. He had a major policy plan for lowering the drug prices for seniors. He also instituted Heath Savings Accounts.

    So Bush had plenty of ideas about governing that did not involve the old Republican standby policies of lower taxes and deregulation. They were just bad ideas targeted at voting groups Bush felt he needed to make headway with.

    Trump also had policy ideas, many of which were quite good in concept. They include one of your ideas (spending a lot more money on U.S. infrastructure) and lowering immigration levels. Trump was just a terrible executive. So it didn’t really matter whether his policy ideas were good or not. The way he presided over the country made all his ideas seem worse than they were.

    But I do agree with your general notion. The GOP has to greatly improve its offerings to the public or the Democrats will win by default because of identity politics.

    The last two Republican presidents have been disasters, even if for completely for different reasons. But if you’re under thirty-five years of age, what do you care about the reasons? All the young people know now is that GOP rule means incompetence and bad times. We are a long ways from Reagan.

    I don’t blame the younger generation for this. When I was growing up, the GOP stood for competence and good times. It was the party which achieved victory in the Cold War, lower crime rates because of its get-tough-on-crime policies, and economic prosperity because of lower taxes and deregulation at a time when those were really needed for the middle class. Now it’s a party fighting for its identity.

    More critically, when the party does win a presidential election, bad times follow. And so now an entire generation of Americans think of George W. Bush and Donald Trump in the same way I once thought of LBJ and Jimmy Carter. Even as the older New Dealer generation was trying to tell my generation during the Reagan years that Democrats could still provide good things because that generation had seen it with their own eyes, the evidence I saw with my own eyes told me it wasn’t true.

    It’s a tough road for any political party to get over two consecutive failed presidencies.

  23. With an end to divided government in the US, you’ll have a moment where the left really does unavoidably have to “put the rubber to the road” on proposals.

    It’ll be an end to “Oh well there are all these wonderful things if we just had more economic planning and a state willing to use its tax and debt options, but the GOP (and ‘libertarians’ and ‘neoliberals’) are putting a stop on it”.

    If they now don’t do these things, no one is accountable but them, and they’ll have to argue against the most extreme Progressive proposals if they don’t believe work. And if they do implement any of those proposals, and they don’t work, the proposals will get discredited, and liberal economic models will be back in and Progressivism out.

    (Like, these US guys who are like, at an extreme “I want UBI, and my college tuition paid, and single payer NHS style healthcare, and a cheap apartment built by gov, and free internet, and a comfortable new train network to take me to work, and guaranteed jobs for Full Employment, and a high living minimum wage… And this will all be paid for by corporate tax and low interest bonds, not increases in my income tax rate!” will have to reckon with the sitting Democratic Party being their barrier, now.)

    There are things to be said for checks and balances, but it seems to make it harder to hold parties to account for legislative records, and shifts emphasis into extra-legislatory mechanisms for law (judicial activism). It’s easy to promise “Oh what my party would do if it weren’t for obstruction”, even when actual established European social democratic parties, for example, don’t actually do close to half of these slates being proposed (to choose an example of the left!).

  24. Or maybe I’ve got the wrong end of the stick here and Dems can’t pass much legislation, in which case four more years of not much significant political programme…

  25. @ Matt,

    IIRC, you are British? There are significant political hurdles which make it difficult for any party to achieve much legislatively even with control of the White House and Congress. Most notably the legislative filibuster, which – as it’s currently interpreted – essentially requires 60 votes in the Senate for anything to proceed. Meaning as long as the GOP stays united, there is effectively no way for the Democrats to pass *anything* – other than one budgetary bill dealing solely with taxation and spending per year. Not to mention that realistically speaking, given how midterm elections go, Biden almost certainly has two years to get things done legislatively, rather than four.

    There’s currently in fact a fight over the filibuster going on as Schumer and McConnell try to hash out a working agreement. Schumer wants to retain the old status quo – meaning the filibuster remains in place, but the Democrats could – in theory – overturn it at any time in retaliation if too much of their agenda is blocked from even having a final vote. McConnell in contrast wants a two-year protection of the filibuster built into senate rules, effectively defanging the Democrats from day 1.

    Regardless, I don’t think anyone on the left has any illusions that Democratic leadership agrees with them on every issue. Biden has taken stances in consistently in opposition to some of the left proposals (like single payer) while embracing others (like a $15 minimum wage). Not to mention that with every single Democrat in the Senate having to be onboard with any proposal, the most conservative Democrat (Joe Manchin from West Virginia) effectively controls the legislative program.

    I would say if anything the Democrats have the inverse problem from what you have suggested. Rather than the left base having unrealistic expectations of what they can accomplish – and always blaming the GOP – they are quick to blame “sellout Dems” for everything as soon as there is a sign of compromise. There’s been vicious fights on left twitter when it came out the plan for $2,000 in direct payments was actually a $1,400 check, which, when added to the earlier $600, equals $2,000. People are savagely attacking Biden when they’ll be getting $1,400 in free money they wouldn’t have otherwise gotten!!! And completely ignoring the other aspects of his stimulus proposal, like the $15 minimum wage and the 14 weeks of paid family/medical leave. It’s entirely plausible that even if Biden has a relatively consequential/successful first two years in office that enough of the left will be disappointed he didn’t do more they stay at home in 2022 and the GOP sweeps the midterms.

  26. Interesting piece by Michael Lind: b>The New National American Elite, dated 2 days ago. Summary header at the top”

    America is now ruled by a single elite class rather than by local patrician smart sets competing with each other for money and power.

    Name checks David Hackett Fischer. If you read to the end, you will find a take on diversity and wokeness that will resonate with most at this site who have commented on those issues. I found the remaining substance of the piece (i.e, most of it) informative and thought provoking.

  27. @Karl, yup. Wow that seems crazy high of a hurdle to leap. I had no idea the US system worked like that. How do govs even get held accountable for legislative programmes at all when they can do so little without bi-partisan cross-party support (meaning it’s not going to really be their programme)? Wonder why some of this crazy policy suggestion stuff even flies around if you need that much bi-partisan support. What is the point of even floating some of these suggestions?

    I would say if anything the Democrats have the inverse problem from what you have suggested

    Maybe, though of course you would say that though. What group’s members ever say “The problem with our group is we’re too fast to blame the opposition?”, nor “We’re far too cohesive and easy on each other”? 😉 Seems like both issues are on the table to some degree.

  28. @Matt

    Karl gave you a great reply, but your follow-up questions raised a major difference between the federal, Presidential system of the US and the parliamentary systems in Europe (whether the UK or on the continent) in what “the government” is. In the US, “the government” is commonly used to refer to the structure of the system, so that even when a party is in the minority, it is still considered to be part of “the government”, because it still has significant down-stream power at the state and local levels, and even at the federal level they have substantially more capability to influence moderates in the majority party because representatives, particularly in the House, are supposed to represent their district first and foremost, not their party. This is why someone like Joe Manchin (a Senator, not a representative, but he is supposed to represent West Virginia) isn’t going to sign on to removing the legislative filibuster or to instituting a $15 minimum wage: he’d effectively be signing WV voters over to the priorities of NYC and the Bay Area. Not only would this make him not representative of his voters, it would leave the door open for him to lose to a Republican. In this way, even the minority party is a functional and essential part of “the government.”

    Contrast this with Europe, where from my American perspective “the government” appears to mean “the party with a majority/a majority coalition”. When a party wins an election, it forms a government and staffs various ministries to enact its priorities (no advice and consent, no separation between the executive and legislature in regards to drafting laws), and the only tools that appear to be available to limit this government’s policies until the next election are a vote of no confidence or convincing junior partners in a coalition to defect. There also doesn’t appear to be much emphasis on representing the district, region, etc, that elected you, as politics is much more centralized. An example: the fact that those Conservatives that broke through Northern England’s “Red Wall” in the Dec 2019 election look to be more or less the same in political and social attitudes as Boris Johnson is puzzling to an American; why aren’t they working-class-sympathetic social conservatives who push back against austerity? In these regards, European (and British too, since the UK has rejected the European project) looks to me to be more like a referendum, or as you say “hold accountable”, on whether or not the voters liked the policies the government put forward: yes, we want more of this, no, we don’t and we’d like to undo that and take a different tack. The US system, in contrast, makes undoing laws really hard, because it often took a lot both in terms of political control, establishing a very broad consensus both within your party and with some of the opposition, and a lot of compromises to get them into place.

    I don’t think either system is better per se, but the US system is probably more suited to a large country that is diverse in many ways. Latin American countries, similarly large and diverse, that have tried a more European approach tend to periodically collapse into military rule at worst and extreme seesawing and instability at best.

  29. @Matt

    Thanks for the response. The initially identified as Varna sample you’re referring to was I believe ANI163. I think it didn’t show patterns of ancient DNA damage in their subsequent analysis so they must have thought it was a very recent individual of some kind. It did show oddly high Baltic-like drift for the area and time but it was also very within modern European variation (east-central like) while this one comes out as overwhelmingly EEF-HG with at best very low levels of any “pure” steppe-related ancestry (which, aside from this issue, makes you wonder if it really exists in it at all even though a chronologically pre-Yamnaya sample with steppe ancestry from the Carpathian Basin would be pretty interesting) unless a source specifically exhibiting that kind of Baltic drift is included where it picks up more of it.

    I wonder whether Vahaduo wouldn’t try to substitute relatively similar levels of NW European like ancestry to make up for it if modern contamination were causing this while just exhibiting higher distances in its models, but in this case that kind of ancestry drops a lot if you exclude sources that show high Baltic-drift. If we include all sources, from over 15% of something Baltic_BA-like to around 5% of the more “northwestern” UKR_Srubnaya sample (when you exclude the early Baltic and Slavic related sources) and then even lower levels of every other steppe-admixed source. It almost looks like it’s only trying to get whatever causes that Baltic-drift out of them rather than trying to target the rest of their ancestry, so to speak. In PC3 of that Vahaduo PCA I posted it also gets pulled towards Baltic_BA about as much as the more recent Balto-Slavic related samples that are close to or within modern variation.

    Something to be skeptical about for sure, though, especially considering the various redatings or new info about contamination etc. of suspicious samples. In that area, thanks for the info about the Czech sample, must be post-Beaker after all.

  30. @Forgetful, yeah, it seems like a curious sample to me as it possibly is an ancient EEF-HG cline sample that has some of the drift that distinguishes the Baltic populations most strongly (and largely Slavic speaking populations today too), but not enough of it to be a “sole contributor”? Continue to watch at it I guess?

    @Mekal, interesting take on how things are different. Re; Manchin, had thought one of the things electoral analysts talked about is that senators increasingly judged on being national party and not as state representatives, so maybe some of that is eroding, or perhaps not.

    Re; “red wall” and austerity, well, UK MPs are representatives for local constituencies – and this is the objection to getting rid of First-Past-The-Post and going to a proportional representation system, which the main parties are trying to avoid because it would fracture them. And “red wall” Tories are pressuring Boris.

    But, 1) they’re less powerful as individuals within the Party than individuals Senators are in the Senate, because there’s far more of them, so they’re more likely to be pressured in the face of party whips, 2) on another level the issues there seems to be more publicity on them pressuring Johnson on are mainly the like of “get Brexit done” and the supposed “level up the North” agenda, more than austerity as such… because *although* they’re in constituencies which you would expect to be anti-austerity, the constituents in them are probably not the most-anti-austerity people in them. (Lots of people who are not the most sympathetic to their “benefits” claiming neighbours, etc, relative to your Ken Loach film watching metropolitan “champagne socialist” types, to use a slightly stereotyped contrast). So it’s a mix of them being more amenable to party discipline (and so represent constituents less in votes), and that incentives might be a bit differently aligned.

    Re; Latin America, yeah, I don’t know enough to say about that really. I had generally thought of Latin America as following a very US model with powerful Presidencies, and this along with their great income inequalities and poor growth and corruption record as being causes for instability. That is, it sets up for conflict between populist-outsider Presidencies, and the other elements in the state, and then either power struggles between them, or the military and revolutionary groups stepping in (“Independently elected powerful Presidencies are bad!”). But maybe that is focusing on the wrong thing, or ignoring other advantages of that system, or putting the cart before the horse.

    On a separate topic, another thing I’ve done recently, might be interesting for some, here’s how genetic distance to the present day population, as captured by the Global25, changes in populations in China, Italy, Britain, to get a feel for the relative timings of population change across regions: https://imgur.com/a/T6fSarm

  31. @Matt

    Thank you for the reply, quite informative on the UK!

    On Manchin, WV is an oddball, because it has historically been Democratic for a long time, and Joe Manchin has a long record in WV politics, serving as a two-term governor; he beat Jim Justice, the Republican candidate, in the 2018 election despite WV having gone heavily for Trump in 2016 (and they’ve voted Republican decisively in the past several elections generally), because Justice is widely viewed as the feudal lord of West Virginia, the richest man in the state who owns a fancy hotel chain and casinos that provide a lot of employment in WV. The sense is that Manchin, unlike Justice who entered politics because he was extremely wealthy, really cares about West Virginia and supposedly he is immensely frustrated by the gridlock in the Senate and has considered quitting to go back to WV politics. However, the fact that Justice, the current governor, would appoint his successor (likely a Justice crony who would sell out West Virginians in order to make Justice and his cronies richer) is a major incentive to stay in the Senate. But you are right, over the past 20-25 years Senators have come to tend to view themselves as members of the national party rather than representatives of their state.

    On Latin America, fair point that the Presidential system is like the US. From an American view, though, their political systems aren’t like the US, but more like France, which is very centralized and has a truly strong Presidential system where the legislature itself doesn’t mean a whole lot; in the US, the legislature really does mean a lot, as it can be strongly at odds with the President. Same with the judiciary. And while the Latin American countries often are nominally federal, the states in countries like Mexico don’t appear to have much independent power, as they are truly downstream from the central government in terms of power. From what I’ve read of the histories of countries like Mexico and Argentina, the tension between centralization and federalization is a long theme since the Spanish Empire ended; the founders of these countries wanted to copy the US initially, but because their societies and economies were so different from the US and continued to go in increasingly different directions over the 19th Century (along with the civil wars, corruption, and dictatorships), centralization had mostly won out by the time of WWII. The US is still strongly federal, and likely will remain so as long as society, culture, and politics is divided.

  32. @ Matt,

    Others have alluded to this, but it’s important to remember that in the U.S. there’s nothing like the strict party whipping you see in other nations. In the Progressive Era our electoral reformers decided that instead of opening up the system to allow for minor parties to have a greater role the two main parties would be democratized. As a result, virtually all U.S. major party nominees from mayors on up are now picked directly by voters in primaries rather than by the party stalwarts. In some states you need to register with a given party, but this is not anything like being a card-carrying member of the Labour Party – you just select your party affiliation when you register. In some states literally anyone can vote in a primary. As a result, lots of candidates end up winning primaries who have no institutional support, and are really creatures unto themselves. So just because you hear a Democrat talk about single payer doesn’t mean the institutional Democratic party supports it. It means that that individual Democrat supports it…or they have an electoral constituency where it is advantageous to say they support it.

    A lot of pie-in-the-sky proposals come down to attempting to expand the Overton Window as well. Essentially they’re not expecting to get what they want at this time – they’re trying to expand the scope of public debate such that getting part of what they want is feasible. Look at it as similar to opening proposals during negotiations for a union contract, rather than promises being made to voters.

    But yes, the U.S. system is very creaky, and it has increasingly become next-to-impossible to pass a substantive legislative agenda. Back in 2009 Democrats had 59 votes in the Senate and were unable to get a single Republican vote for anything substantive. Part of this was because the Republicans fundamentally disagreed with Obama’s agenda, but much of it was also the party decided tactically speaking it was not in their interest to allow Obama to have a successful legislative record or a speedy economic recovery.

  33. I like Karl Zimmerman’s latest post, but I don’t agree with his conclusion that the two-party system is the reason “it has increasingly become next-to-impossible to pass a substantive legislative agenda.”

    The political system which Karl describes in his first paragraph is responsible for the legislation of the New Deal, the Great Society, and the Reagan Revolution, all of which were quite substantial.

    More recently, George W. Bush, whose presidency ended just twelve years ago, passed nearly his entire legislative agenda despite never being a very popular president except for a year to eighteen months after 9/11. I think the only major legislative goals Bush failed to get passed were Social Security reform and immigration reform, and he was no longer a popular president when those were finally rolled out in his second term.

    It’s also important to remember that despite some surprising roadblocks put up by Republicans (some of whom were initially thought to be okay with Obama’s health care reform agenda, for example), Obama was able to get most of his legislative agenda passed in the first term.

    Obama’s first two years, however, were dominated by the financial and economic collapse of the 2008 housing bubble, which was not on anyone’s agenda until the 2008 presidential campaign was nearly over. That collapse pushed nearly everything else into the background and helped rally what would become the Tea Party to oppose both the bailout and, later, the health care reform packages. Without that collapse and the formation of the Tea Party, I don’t think the GOP opposition to Obama’a agenda would have been so united as it eventually became.

    As for Trump, he is sui generis. It’s really hard for me to have any sense of what he means right now since he and his agenda fit none of the traditional categories. Trump had some difficulty finding support in his own party for the items in his legislative agenda.

  34. @ Pincher Martin,

    I don’t think it’s quite fair to say that the current setup was exactly the same as that during the New Deal, Great Society, or even the Reagan Era. I mean, the filibuster is almost as old as the United States, having been created by accident by Aaron Burr in 1806. However cloture votes as an alternative to the filibuster didn’t come about until 1917, and routine cloture votes didn’t really begin until the 1970s. The number of cloture votes has precipitously risen in recent years – a high number which holds even though nominations can no longer be filibustered.

    Essentially, neither FDR or Johnson operated with a 60 vote requirement for their agenda. Reagan arguably did, but legislation was not routinely blocked quite as commonly during the period he was in office. In addition, the two parties were not yet particularly polarized, with lots of conservative southern Democrats supportive of Reagan’s agenda. Finally there has been the escape valve of budgetary reconciliation, which allows for taxation and spending changes with only 51 votes.

    George W. Bush is something of a special case, insofar as he had a fairly successful legislative record (in terms of getting things passed – if not good policy) but neither of his two signature domestic achievements (No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D) were particularly conservative policies. Instead both of them seemed to be pushed by the President out of pure political calculus (helping to establish a realignment to the GOP which never panned out). Lots of Democrats supported both however, due to the fact they were not particularly conservative.

    I will admit that both parties have at different times abused the cloture process. It is something which has steadily gotten worse over the last few decades, which is the entire reason why it has been modified three times in the last several years, and is no longer in effect for cabinet-level appointments and judicial nominees. Something is going to give, whether it is this year or the next time the GOP has total control.

  35. Karl,

    I was using the assumptions of your own political history which marked the Progressive Era as the key moment when certain practices were locked into place that democratized our bipartisan system rather than opened it up to minority parties.

    Even if we discount the New Deal and the Great Society, we are still left with the Reagan Revolution and the passage of most of George W. Bush’s legislation and a not insignificant number of Obama legislative achievements.

    I also left out the considerable conservative legislative achievements of the Clinton administration. You might not like that record, but he helped pass a lot of bills, including a crime bill, welfare reform bill, regulatory reform, DOMA, etc. He failed at health care reform, but he got a lot else done. None of it was very progressive.

    I also believe Obama is a special case. The worst economic downturn in nearly eighty years began two months before his election. Obama’s team wasn’t prepared for the crisis because no one was fully prepared for it. Obama suddenly had to prioritize a lot of legislation that had not been on his radar for most of the time he was running for office. A huge stimulus package; a financial regulatory reform package, bailouts, etc. All of this went to the front of the legislative docket.

    (By contrast, FDR and his team had three years to prepare dealing with the Great Depression; stagflation had been a problem for America for many years before Reagan became president. Those crises were not surprises to those two men.)

    The crisis hijacked Obama’s first term, and we know that most presidents, if they are successful at passing their legislation, do so in their first term. With rare exceptions, the second term is almost always a legislative failure for a president’s agenda. Still, Obama got much done in his first term. The financial crisis rather than cloture was Obama’s biggest enemy.

    I think we have to be careful not to claim there is a problem with our political system just because it doesn’t pass the stuff that we personally like or bills that are successful. George W. Bush, for example, passed a lot of his legislation that he ran on in 2000. It just wasn’t very good legislation, as you point out, and so it tends to get memory-holed. But the system didn’t prevent him from passing what he campaigned on.

  36. I want to echo a lot of what Pincher Martin said. There’s a tendency right now to think we need to blow up the entire system because it doesn’t immediately produce the results that people, or one crowd of people, want after an election. A good example is the Reagan Revolution: it was mostly a social phenomenon, rather than a real tangible political achievement. Reagan largely didn’t get a lot of the domestic legislation that he had wanted (foreign policy is another story), because the Democrats, which included plenty of old-school New Dealers, controlled the House for the entirety of his two terms under Tip O’Neill’s leadership, and the Senate, while nominally under Republican control for most of his time in office, contained plenty of social liberals.

    Aside from updating the tax code and breaking the air traffic controllers’ strike (Paul Volcker as fed chief had already started to break private sector unions under Jimmy Carter), a lot of Reagan priorities like abortion, prayer in schools, welfare reform, tougher criminal laws, immigration control (which only became an issue his second term), and so on were never addressed legislatively, even during H.W. Bush’s time in office as Reagan’s de facto third term: most of what Reagan got done was done through executive orders, regulatory rules and decisions made by his executive appointments, and judicial appointments, in fact he appointed more federal judges than any President in history. A common misconception, that he cut funding for mental health services, was just a reversion to the pre-1980 norm: the Carter Administration had partnered with Ted Kennedy and several liberals in the Senate to pass legislation for a specific federal funding program for mental health services with tons of conditions in 1980, and when Reagan and the Democrat-controlled House/Republican-controlled Senate repealed this bill in the first half of 1981, none of the funding vanished, instead it was disbursed to the states in the form of block grants, giving the states the same discretion they’d had over spending on mental health services as they’d had prior to 1980.

    Reagan’s most significant accomplishment legislatively was mostly his veto power, ensuring that the continued growth of the 60s Great Society programs, which had grown sclerotic, directionless, and on thin foundations for funding over the course of the 70s, would not continue. Ironically, most of what Reagan had set out to do legislatively was accomplished 1990-1996, particularly under Bill Clinton, as almost all liberal Republicans had vanished and plenty of Democrats moved away from the New Deal and Great Society in a more pro-business, tough-on-crime, welfare-is-bad direction. Also, his judges started to bear more influence at all levels in steering interpretations of the Constitution and federal laws away from the legacy of the Warren Court.

    So the Reagan Revolution took over a decade to actually bear fruit legislatively from when he was elected to office in 1980; there was no rush to blow up the system immediately just because he couldn’t do everything within two years, when the Republicans were crushed in the 1982 midterms. Whether someone is pro-Trump or conservative and upset that the Republicans could do little in 2017 and 2018 with their trifecta except some tax cuts, or a liberal Democrat now who wants to take all the brakes off the system in order to get things done before 2022, they’d be wise to remember that the US system is built to slowly develop consensus over more than just one, two, three, even four election cycles.

Comments are closed.