Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center

12 thoughts

  1. Do you think if you were able to describe to an educated person of two hundred years ago the cultures of present day America, China, Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Saudi Arabia, without using their names, and asked him to use his knowledge of their 200-year-old versions, he would be unable to figure out which descended from which? And anyway, what’s your argument, “change is a constant, so there’s no point trying to control the speed or direction of change”?

  2. >There is fairly rapid cultural selection going on, and it has been very friendly to broad liberalization and very unfriendly to conservative norms.
    This perfectly captures a pattern of thought I’ve been having for the past several years. Thanks!

  3. Will,
    I suspect everybody is together in hoping that when cultures mix, good cultural practices that support human flourishing win out over bad ones. The question is what follows if this doesn’t happen, or doesn’t happen in any predictable way. This seems to me the kernel of disagreement between you and your interlocutors on a host of issues (demography, immigration, etc.), and a large part of the reason the two sides seem to be talking past each other.
    So two questions I’d be very eager to get your response to:
    1) First a (crude) hypothetical. Let us *stipulate* for a moment that when cultures mingle, the values that predominate are not those that support human flourishing, but rather are the ones held by the largest number of people. Under this stipulation, would your attitude towards baby-bust concerns and immigration policy change, and if so, how?
    2) What evidence would lead you to believe that this stipulation is more or less correct? By way of example, what evidence would make you worry that aspects of the US culture that you believe promote human flourishing (gender equality, religious toleration, respect for property rights) might be adversely effected by immigration of people from cultures that do not share these traditions?
    Thanks, and as always it’s a great, great blog.

  4. Can we leave immigration and multiculturalism aside for just a moment, and discuss something that does not arouse such strong reactions?
    My problem with Will’s position is that, with or without mixing of cultures, it is not at all obvious to me that a culture will necessarily improve, in the sense of providing longer life expectancy, more material welfare, more freedom, and more happiness. Elsewhere, I mentioned England as an example: not only England has been in relative decline in wealth and life expectancy over the last century (and it’s more than just other countries catching up with it: it’s other countries overtaking it), but it has become more socialist and less liberal (although possibly more “liberal”, with quotation marks). The part of the World where our distinguished host lives, appears eager to go the same way. I admit that most of the World has been improving: all what I am saying is that improvement cannot be taken for granted.

    1. “Relative decline” does not mean “absolute decline”. If Poland’s life expectancy is increasing faster than England’s right now, it may just be that Poland had a lot of catching up to do.
      If the rate of change of England’s wealth and life expectancy turns negative, then you might have a point, but until then you’re just falling into one of Will’s other themes: relative change doesn’t matter as much as absolute.

      1. Mike: you are completely right, but my comment (as well as Will’s post) is not about life expectancy and wealth: it is about culture. With the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution, free trade, and the abolition of the slave trade and of slavery, Britain led the way to a longer, wealthier, freer, and happier life for the entire World; but what have they been doing for us lately?
        Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against people who take it easy as long as they don’t bother me; but it appears that British (or, at least, English) culture is not what it was. Martin Wiener wrote an excellent book on the subject, and comparisons of the productivity of British vs foreign-owned companies in Britain seem to back him up.
        I also made the point that Britain is one of the few countries that has become more socialist during the last century (although the Cato index of economic freedom does not go that far back, so I cannot be sure). Sure, Britain has also become fully democratic, more egalitarian, and more sexually liberal; but, again, that is true for every country in Europe, and a lot of countries outside Europe.
        Why do I focus on Britain? because it was kind of a libertarian paradise a century ago (apart from sex), and the leader of the free World: if they have gone backwards, anybody can.

  5. Right, so your point, and that of Kerry’s, is that your whiggish conviction is strong enough that you refuse to entertain the thought experiment of “if you had to choose between preserving liberal values in one country or open immigration, which would you choose?” That’s fine, and the evidence from this country is indeed vastly in favor of the whiggish direction. I think that there is some disquieting information from some European countries (seeing the changes in the platform of the Dutch Socialists, for example, due to the changing composition of Amsterdam and a desire to appeal to those voters), but not enough to necessarily draw a conclusion.
    I’m not sure that your use of italics is going to be enough to convince people that the whiggish trend really is inevitable, though.

  6. Regarding inevitability, there always is a counterexample; Douthat himself offers the (overblown, as he admits himself) analogy that Roman civilization brought free trade and civilized barbarians… until it didn’t.
    Nothing wrong with waiting to cross that bridge when you come to it, I suppose, so long as you continue to fairly judge all evidence. (And, as I said, certainly in my experience you’re right so far.)

  7. For that reason, of course, the way that you and Kerry wave away and ignore the links between fertility and social insurance speaks poorly of you. There’s the NBER study, mentioned earlier. You mentioned speaking to your colleague Jagadeesh Gokhale on this subject earlier, after a fire alarm, and praised him for his knowledge of the subject. Here he is writing a blog post called “The Folly of Dismissing the Effects of Entitlements on Fertility. Here was a Cato event on the question.
    You apparently took from him that other economic effects (such as a better developed financial system) also reduce fertility by reducing the need for children to support parents in their dotage. (Similarly, so does reduced child mortality.) But Jagadeesh apparently directly disagrees with you. Those other things have an effect, but so does social insurance independently of everything else. I’m interested in how you took away from a conversation with him precisely the “folly” that he warns against.

  8. What K.H. doesn’t “get” is that she’s taking for granted a cultural standard (albeit infinitely malleable) and assuming that people will assimilate to it. But the question is – given her own presumptions which seem to be “value free” – why assimilate? Indeed, funny enough,that’s precisely what a good many, I’d say most (particularly Hispanic), immigrants conclude…something that’s particularly reinforced and trickled down to them via the multicultural indoctrination promulgated by the universities and educational establishment…and why you have, quite the contrary to what K.H. asserts, the existence of rather profuse multi-generational non-assimilation amongst Hispanics in this country.

  9. Marginal income tax and FICA rates are only two pieces of the puzzle. For the ongoing health of our society, the current federal tax structure must be junked and reinvented. Corporate and capital gains taxes are now manifestly harmful to economic efficiency and growth. An overemphasis on income taxes rather than consumption taxes inhibits savings and investment. The tax burden should be spread more widely and transparently (see California for the results of establishing a tax policy based on punishing “the rich”). The $50+ trillion unfunded liability entitlement spending pits, Medicare/aid and Social Security, must be reformed immediately. Needless to say, the “ginormous” number of pages in the tax code hides loop-holes for the favored few and a general feeling in the middle class tax payer that he or she is being screwed; simplification now, please. Oh, and we must, must reverse the growth of so-called discretionary spending which has become a giant pork production facility aimed at bribing/rewarding the party-in-power’s favorite constituencies. My wife and I have retired to Central America. The effort to escape the seemingly unstoppable municipal/state/federal tax black hole was one of the reasons.

  10. Well of course the Democrats are going to raise taxes. Thats what they do.
    If you think about Democrats as Tony Soprano with a law degree (they will steal from you, but all the forms will be filled out properly), you will know what to expect.
    The whole point is to make everyone dependent on the government, and thus easier to control. In order words, they want you to be a serf. “Tony” just wants a little taste …

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