Voters could easily reach a bipartisan deficit deal, study finds | TheHill

Voters could easily reach a bipartisan deficit deal, study finds | TheHill

Politicians struggle to reach budget deals every year, but a new study suggests everyday people could get one.

When presented with a set of decisions to make on government spending and taxes, majorities of voters from both parties were able to agree on steps to reduce the nation’s deficit by $86 billion, according to a study by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation.

When independents were thrown into the mix, the majority of voters agreed to $211 billion in deficit reduction.

“They seem more committed to reducing the deficit than Congress is. They make a lot of hard decision and there’s a lot of bipartisan consensus,” said Dr. Steven Kull, who led the study.

The study surveyed 1,817 registered voters reached through mail and telephone to state how much they agree or disagree with various approaches to taxes, spending, and deficits.

It then asked them to go through and make decisions on specific government spending and tax options, choosing whether to increase, decrease, or leave them stable. The results were weighted to match the latest census figures, and had a 2.3 percent margin of error.

In the end, bipartisan majorities agreed on steps that would lead to $86 billion worth of deficit reductions, comprised of $17 billion in spending cuts and $69 billion in new taxes and fees.

But some of the most interesting results came from the partisan breakdowns.

“You do see Republicans raising revenues and Democrats cutting spending,” said Kull.

Far from shying away from tax increases, a majority of Republicans (and Democrats) in the survey supported a 5 percent tax increase for incomes over $200,000.

Bipartisan majorities also supported imposing fees on uninsured debt, taxing ‘carried interest’ compensation and increasing alcohol taxes.

Half of Republicans and a two-thirds majority of overall voters also supported increasing capital gains taxes, even as President Trump called for lowering them. With the support of four in ten Republicans, overall majorities of voters agreed to a carbon tax and an increased corporate rate, while most rejected Trump’s proposal on tax-through entities.

When it came to spending, Democrats were happy to cut but concentrated on defense and related areas.

Republicans were also willing to cut defense, but by significantly less, spreading smaller cuts to a variety of programs to achieve their deficit reductions.

Democrats backed $96 billion in spending cuts compared to $65 billion in cuts backed by Republicans.

Trump’s early budget calls for cutting $54 billion in non-defense discretionary spending and putting that money into defense.

Non-Democrat majorities of those surveyed supported cuts for the State Department, development assistance and energy, albeit on smaller scales than Trump proposed.

While reducing the nation’s deficit by $86 billion would be a good start in tackling the deficit, it would only be a fraction of the $559 billion deficit the Congressional Budget Office projected for 2017.

Moreover, a report released last week by the Government Accountability Office found that the major deficit drivers came from healthcare and retirement spending, neither of which are part of the discretionary budget.

But in previous studies, Kull found areas of agreement in those areas as well. A study on Social Security found large, bipartisan agreement on decreasing shortfalls, while the results of an in-depth study on Medicare are forthcoming.

“People are not highly ideological” when it comes to taking concrete decisions, he said.

“The discourse around the choice of candidates, the choice of parties, is very polarized. But we don’t label these options as Republican and Democratic agendas. If you did, you’d probably get a more partisan response,” he added.

Prognosis negative: How California is dealing with below-zero power market prices | Utility Dive

Prognosis negative: How California is dealing with below-zero power market prices | Utility Dive

Market forces and contract obligations are regularly dipping power prices below zero in California.

The dynamic is not new — negative pricing has occurred sporadically across the country for decades. But now, expanded renewable energy production, especially in the West, is prompting a new round of more consistent negative pricing.

“Negative pricing is driven by a hard-to-fathom dynamic in any efficient market,” said Jeff Bladen, the Market Services Executive Director for the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO). “At times, it is more efficient for energy producers to give energy away free or even pay consumers to take their power plants’ generation than to curtail production because the shutdown and startup of the plant may cost them more.”

To counteract overproduction and negative pricing, grid operators can order the curtailment of utility generation, thermal or renewable.

Until recently, the frequency of negative pricing events was declining around the nation as transmission was built out and grid operators learned better techniques to integrate variable renewable generation.

But this year, western power systems, particularly the California ISO, have seen a boom in negative pricing incidents as flush hydro reserves from a rainy winter come together with an ever-expanding base of intermittent solar generation. Even with persistent curtailment of renewable energy, the average CAISO real-time electricity price dipped below zero twice a day in March.

The negative pricing threatens market revenues for traditional generators, sparking concern from some that flexible gas plants needed to balance out wind and solar production may have to shut down, as the La Paloma plant did last year. Combined with the desire to maximize renewable energy output lost output of renewable energy to curtailment, the concerns have policymakers discussing ambitious market fixes to keep power prices in the black.

Worst in the West

Curtailment of renewable energy by the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) rose steadily in the second half of 2016 as solar penetration reached new highs, according to the grid operator’s March market report.

Curtailment reached record levels during California’s rainy winter as its hydropower supply rose 180% over 2016, said Guillermo Bautista Alderete, CAISO’s Market Analysis Director.

“Of the 288 daily 5-minute intervals, an average of 31% were curtailed in the first three months of 2017,” Alderete said. In 2015, 15% were curtailed; in 2016, that rose to 21%.

This year’s average curtailment is likely to drop after a drier summer and fall, but remain above previous years, he added.

The negative pricing threatens market revenues for traditional generators, sparking concern from some that flexible gas plants needed to balance out wind and solar production may have to shut down, as the La Paloma plant did last year. Combined with the desire to maximize renewable energy output lost output of renewable energy to curtailment, the concerns have policymakers discussing ambitious market fixes to keep power prices in the black.

Worst in the West

Curtailment of renewable energy by the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) rose steadily in the second half of 2016 as solar penetration reached new highs, according to the grid operator’s March market report.

Curtailment reached record levels during California’s rainy winter as its hydropower supply rose 180% over 2016, said Guillermo Bautista Alderete, CAISO’s Market Analysis Director.

“Of the 288 daily 5-minute intervals, an average of 31% were curtailed in the first three months of 2017,” Alderete said. In 2015, 15% were curtailed; in 2016, that rose to 21%.

This year’s average curtailment is likely to drop after a drier summer and fall, but remain above previous years, he added.

Explaining curtailment & negative prices

There are two ways to think about the demand-supply imbalance that causes curtailment and negative prices, according to Alderete. One is the operational challenge of matching supply and demand. The other is the market perspective.

Curtailment happens infrequently in day-ahead markets because supply and demand are balanced in advance. More often, it occurs in the real-time market when high production from subsidized wind and solar push down power prices, forcing traditional generators to choose between the costs of turning off or paying customers to take their power.

“Negative pricing signals there is too much generation,” Alderete said. “For some resources, it is too expensive to shut down so they continue generating, even when they have to pay to do so.”

The Brattle Group’s Hannes Pfiefenberger sees negative market prices as a result of policy decisions to support renewables. Wind’s $23/MWh federal production tax credit (PTC) and solar’s 30% federal investment tax credit (ITC) give them an edge over traditional generators on price, and California’s renewable energy mandates allow those resources to be dispatched first in the generation stack, giving them greater influence over power prices.

Other generators weigh the costs of paying customers to take their production against the costs of ramping down. The ITC gives solar a capital expenditure advantage, and rooftop solar typically cannot be curtailed by the grid operator. For wind, the PTC’s after-tax value of up to $37/MWh means operators can afford to sell as low as negative $35/MWh and still potentially benefit, Pfiefenberger said.

Wind and solar generators may also face large penalties for not delivering contracted renewables that utilities need to meet state mandates, he said.

In addition to growing wind and solar, California’s curtailment and negative pricing are worse this year because its normal power trading with the Pacific Northwest has been disrupted by an abundance of hydropower from the wet winter.

Under a 2012 FERC ruling, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) is authorized to aggressively curtail wind energy to keep generation flowing from its its eight-state hydropower system. The reason, Spokesperson David B. Wilson said, is that significant unanticipated hydropower curtailment could greatly affect river flows, damaging habitat for salmon and other wildlife.

The FERC decision also validated BPA’s long-standing policy of not taking negative bids for hydropower.

“Because of the large amount of publicly available hydro data, paying negative prices would allow other marketers to take advantage of BPA’s need to generate,” Wilson said.

As a result, the Pacific Northwest is curtailing wind to allow hydro to generate, while California is curtailing wind and solar and still experiencing negative pricing. The dual phenomenon has policy watchers searching for ways to prevent that clean power from going to waste.

Cameron Yourkowski, senior policy manager for Renewable Northwest, said these circumstances are revealing significant “market inefficiencies” that impose costs on both systems. Despite open transmission interties, they are forced to keep an estimated 7,000 MW of expensive fossil generation spinning to meet demand peaks, he said.

“Optimizing these things could result in better outcomes and a system operator could do that,” Yourkowski said.

Emerging solutions for the West

One way to better optimize the western power system would be through the expansion to a west-wide ISO, said Steven Greenlee a CAISO spokesperson.

The current energy imbalance market (EIM) can provide some alternative demand, Greenlee said. “But if there was a Western region market, we could optimize all the participating systems instead of having to do so much of it in the real-time market.”

That CAISO expansion initiative, however, is currently stuck in political stasis after California and neighboring states reached an impasse over governing issues. Unless state leaders can move past the talking point of giving up state sovereignty to a larger electricity market, it looks unlikely to proceed.

Renewable Northwest sees a shorter-term solution, Yourkowski said. At present, California’s rules on capacity payments to out-of-market generators keep natural gas plants idling in anticipation of peak demand.

“If those market rules were structured differently, wind and hydro in the northwest and California’s solar over-generation could replace the natural gas plants,” he said.

Under CPUC rules, capacity payments may go only to generators who bid into California’s real-time market, said Jim Caldwell, senior technical consultant for the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies (CEERT), who is working with Yourkowski.

Generators across the border in the Pacific Northwest do not have that capability.

If the CPUC were to devise a “work-around,” it could allow Northwest hydro to replace fossil fuels in California’s peak demand energy mix, he said. Instead of curtailing renewables at midday, California would export its solar over-generation to the Pacific Northwest, allowing BPA to hold back some of its hydro so that it would be available when California needs it. If BPA knows of the need to ramp down hydro in advance, it can plan releases so they do not harm wildlife habitat.

“California will use the Pacific Northwest like a giant battery,” Caldwell said. “It would not be frictionless, but it is manageable if they plan in advance.”

CAISO would have to make minor changes to its rules and practices, he added, “But we think we can get 80% or more of the benefit that we could from a regional market.”

Yourkowski agreed. The 400 MW of wind and hydro in the Northwest now delivered by the California-Northwest intertie for capacity adequacy could grow to 7,000 MW, he said.

“The new rules aren’t likely to be in place until next year but this year is revealing a lot about where work is needed to make the system more efficient,” Yourkowski said.

Another potential solution involves eliminating the stacking, or “pancaking,” of transmission tariffs as low-cost renewable generation is sent across isolated western balancing areas. That would also help reduce curtailment, Yourkowski said.

Nancy Kelly, a policy advisor at Western Resource Advocates (WRA), said that was the intent behind the formation of the Mountain West Transmission Group (MWTG).

The MWTG utilities include Basin Electric Power Cooperative, Black Hills Corp, Colorado Springs Utilities, Platte River Power Authority, Xcel Energy Colorado, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Cooperative, and Western Area Power Administration.

Transmission constraints that prevented Xcel from joining California’s EIM led to a plan from the MWTG to eliminate pancaking through a single tariff group, Kelly said. A Brattle study found the single tariff could save as much as $14 million a year — sizable, but not compared to the estimated benefits of between $53 million and $88 million per year from a regional market. MWTG first turned to California’s proposed regional market with its tariff proposal, Kelly said. When that effort was delayed, the utilities initiated ongoing talks with the Southwest Power Pool (SPP).

Curtailment for the rest

The curtailment and negative prices roiling California and Pacific Northwest markets are likely to resolve with warmer, drier weather, said Michael Goggin, research director for the American Wind Energy Association.

“The longer-term solution is expanding transmission capacity so high output of any type — wind, solar, or hydro — can be moved to where power is needed,” Goggin said.

Much Western transmission capacity goes unused because bilateral contracts between power producers and buyers, which are the bulk of western energy transactions, require that lines be kept open, Goggin said. Contracts also bypass the price signals that streamline markets’ competitive bidding.

There has been some curtailment and negative pricing in the western parts of the PJM, SPP, and Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) markets, Goggin said. But, as detailed in the most recent wind market report from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), it has dropped significantly with the addition of transmission capacity, he added.

“Only 1.0% of potential wind energy generation within ERCOT was curtailed in 2015, down sharply from 17% in 2009,” LBNL reported. The main reasons, LBNL added, are transmission line capacity growth and more efficient wholesale markets.

Those market dynamics in ERCOT may be changing, however. As the penetration of subsidized wind and solar increases, the grid operator’s market is seeing very low and negative real-time pricing more frequently, stirring concerns among market observers that it may not provide sufficient incentives to site new generation in the future.

Just this week, generators NRG and Calpine filed a proposal with ERCOT to change pricing and settlement rules, saying that the wind PTC began having a significant impact on prices in 2016. The generators argued the grid operator should consider alternatives to its current socialized transmission planning process to avoid “subversion” of the market model.

It’s not a mess; it’s a market

Most stakeholders reached by Utility Dive agreed markets fixes could go a long way to correcting the negative pricing and curtailment in the West.

The MWTG set out to establish a single tariff, Kelly said, “but realized there are far greater benefits from joining a regional market.”

BPA’s Wilson sharply disagreed. If a market can minimize curtailments, “there may be a small benefit,” he said. But “it is unlikely that organized markets are going to be able to consistently uncover large amounts of generation or load flexibility that existing bilateral markets haven’t already found.”

Brattle’s Pfiefenberger said it is a matter of cost. “The more renewables you curtail, the more costly renewables become because a bilateral market is just not nimble enough.”

CAISO’s Alderete argued against characterizing negative pricing and curtailment as a failure of the market. Instead, the market is doing exactly what it is designed to do, he said. The problem is that the design no longer fits the grid’s needs

“In the past, California’s main concern was having adequate capacity,” he said. “Today, the main concern is having adequate flexible capacity.”

How to Deal with the Schmuck in Your Office – The Wharton School

How to Deal with the Schmuck in Your Office – The Wharton School

If you’re going to succeed and maintain your sanity in the business world, dealing with difficult personalities at work is a necessary skill. At this year’s Wharton Entrepreneurship Day, Dr. Jody Foster, WG’00, shared her expert advice with EMBA students and alumni about to handle some of the most common offenders.

“The message is that we all have conflicts at some point. It’s important to recognize those conflicts early and try to understand them both from the standpoint of why they upset you, but also the other person’s view,” Jody said.

A practicing psychiatrist and co-author of the new book, The Schmuck in my Office: How to Deal Effectively with Difficult People at Work, Jody explained how she categorizes the 10 most common types of individuals who tend to have conflicts at work. Here are a few of that might sound familiar:

  • The Narcissus — the condescending attention-seeker who carelessly steps on everyone’s toes
  • The Flytrap — the creator of chaos whose emotional instability causes an office maelstrom
  • The Bean Counter — the orderly perfectionist who never gives up control, even when it’s full-steam-ahead to disaster
  • The Robot — the unreadable stone wall who just can’t connect

During her session, Jody focused on the Narcissus and Bean Counter categories, which are two of the most common difficult personality types in the working world. She also discussed micromanaging, bullying, taking credit for other people’s work, and how to handle challenging interactions to improve working environments.

“Getting underneath the core anxieties that drives the bad behavior can inform your approaches to them. Developing some empathy for why people act a certain way can improve our interactions,” she said. “I advocate early, direct, honest and concise intervention after a conflict. It’s also important to be aware that what bothers you may not bother the person in the next office.”

Oracle’s next big business is selling your info | CIO

Oracle’s next big business is selling your info | CIO

There’s a decent chance you’re part of Oracle’s next big business. Not selling products to you, but selling you as a product. That’s the idea behind the Oracle Data Cloud, a massive pool of information about consumers and companies.

The tech titan has put it together by tracking people across the web and buying data from a variety of sources. People who have their data included may not even know that they’ve opted in for that data collection.

There’s no big red button that someone has to click in order to be a part of the company’s data collection machine. Instead, its base of user data is fed by a network of third parties. The Data Cloud is primarily fed by three types of sources: publishers, like Forbes and Edmunds, retail loyalty programs, and traditional data brokers like Experian and IHS.

All of that adds up to a database of 5 billion consumer profiles, fed by 15 million data sources. Not every profile corresponds to a unique person — people can have multiple profiles — but Oracle has information on billions of people, according to Eric Roza, the vice president of Data Cloud. Using data science techniques, Oracle works to match activity from one browser to others, so companies can make sure the same ads get shown to people on their smartphones, tablets, and computers.

Oracle sees Data Cloud as a key part of its future. The service is being used to help advertisers and publishers better target ads, and it’s attractive to businesses because it’s not tied to a major advertising platform like Google’s or Facebook’s.

The Data Cloud also forms the foundation of machine learning features inside other Oracle software. One of the challenges for companies doing machine learning is getting data sets that are large enough to build accurate models, and Data Cloud can help solve that problem.

But the benefits are mostly borne by Oracle’s business customers, who stand to make more money as a result of using Data Cloud enhanced services. The boon to consumers whose data are being used is less defined.

Oracle isn’t alone in this sort of tracking. There are dozens of companies that exist for the sole purpose of collecting consumer data and then reselling that to other businesses. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and other tech titans have made big money from accumulating customer data and using it to sell ads.

But what makes the Data Cloud different from something like Google’s ad business is that consumers might not know their behavior is being stored for resale, or how broadly it’s shared. Just because someone visits a page on Forbes doesn’t mean they’d expect that information to influence a marketing campaign on a radically different website, but that’s what the Data Cloud enables.

Partners feeding data into Oracle’s Data Cloud must agree they have user permission to collect information. But acquiring that permission is as simple as burying a few sentences deep in a privacy policy. While some might call out Oracle Data Cloud by name, most don’t.

“Typically, because these things are quite common practice now, there’s a more generalized statement [like] some version of ‘we use this data to inform our own advertising, and select third-party partners,'” Roza said.

Users can opt out from the data collection in a variety of ways, according to Roza. Oracle allows people to install a special cookie in each of the browsers they use to prevent tracking. Deleting the cookie or using a new browser would erase that protection, however. Some publishers may allow customers to opt out of data sharing, and advertising industry groups also support opting out.

But actually knowing whether or not you’re included in the Data Cloud is the first part of the battle. And that’s not the easiest thing to figure out. Meanwhile, Oracle is continuing to pour money into the business and tout it to customers. The company has spent billions on acquisitions to build the Data Cloud, which was created through bringing companies like BlueKai, Datalogix, and Moat into the fold.

Inside the New Suburban Crisis – CityLab

Inside the New Suburban Crisis – CityLab

During the mid-1980s, before anyone thought of the suburbs as being on a downward trajectory, the urban designer David Lewis, a Carnegie Mellon colleague of mine at the time, told me that the future project of suburban renewal would likely make our vast 20th-century urban renewal efforts look like a walk in the park.

Indeed, with their enormous physical footprints, shoddy construction, and hastily installed infrastructure, many suburbs are visibly crumbling. Across the nation, hundreds of suburban shopping malls are dead or dying; countless suburban factories, like their urban counterparts a couple of generations ago, have fallen silent.

Incongruous as it might seem, the suburban dimension of the New Urban Crisis may well turn out to be bigger than the urban one, if for no other reason than the fact that more Americans live in suburbs than cities. Members of the privileged elite may be returning to the urban cores, but large majorities of almost everyone else continue to locate in the suburbs. Today’s suburbs no longer look much like the lily-white places portrayed on sitcoms like Leave It to Beaver, The Donna Reed Show, or Father Knows Best. More than half of immigrants now bypass cities altogether and settle directly in outskirts of larger metros. Whites accounted for just 9 percent of suburban population growth in America’s 100 largest metros between 2000 and 2010; in one-third of those metros, white suburban populations declined.

Across the United States, more than one in four suburbanites are poor or nearly poor. In fact, the suburbs of America’s largest metropolitan areas have more poor people living in them than their inner cities do, and poverty is also growing at a much faster rate in the suburbs. Between 2000 and 2013, the number of people living below the poverty line in American cities increased by 29 percent. During that same period, the ranks of the suburban poor grew by 66 percent. Seventeen million suburbanites lived below the poverty line in 2013, compared to 13.5 million urbanites. Concentrated poverty also resides in the suburbs—the numbers of the suburban poor who lived in neighborhoods of where at least 40 percent of residents were below the poverty line grew by 139 percent between 2000 and 2012. That’s triple the growth rate for concentrated poverty populations in the cities.

Once sold as havens of safety and serenity, many suburbs are now struggling with rising crime as their economies falter and populations shift. The TV series “Breaking Bad” made suburban meth dens as iconic as the urban corners where drug dealers plied their trade in “The Wire.” The current opioid epidemic has deep roots in the suburbs. Furthermore, the violent crime rate—which has been declining across the United States—fell three times faster in America’s primary cities than it did in their suburbs between 1990 and 2008. Murders actually rose by 16.9 percent in the suburbs between 2001 and 2010, while falling by 16.7 percent in cities. Many, if not most, of America’s mass shootings occur in suburbs, from Columbine to Sandy Hook.

A suburban home was once a cornerstone of the American Dream; now, sprawl has become a factor holding back Americans’ ability to move up the economic ladder. The old saying “drive ’til you qualify” reflects the reality that real estate becomes more affordable in the farthest-out suburbs, but distance levies additional high costs. The rule of thumb is that people should spend roughly 30 percent of their income for housing, but up to 45 percent including transportation. Having multiple cars and keeping them insured, repaired, and fueled up on gas can be an expensive proposition. Living closer to where one works or being able to take public transit can slash those costs considerably. For this reason, a pricier condo or apartment in the urban core or along transit lines can end up being considerably more affordable than a cheaper house in a car-dependent suburb.

Economic mobility is significantly lower in more spread-out metros today than it is in denser cities. Lower-income workers in suburbia are farther removed from centers of work and have a harder time finding and getting to jobs than those who are able to live in a city. The amount of time that low-income people spend commuting also plays a substantial role in affecting their odds of moving up the economic ladder, with low-income people with longer commutes facing lower levels of upward mobility.

While it remains true that persistently poor urban neighborhoods concentrate and perpetuate a cycle of poverty, poor suburban neighborhoods also present challenges: They isolate and disconnect their residents both from jobs and from economic opportunity, and also from the social services that can mitigate poverty’s worst effects. Even when suburbs have social services, the poor are less able to access them because they are harder to find and harder to reach than urban social services.

Suburban sprawl is extremely costly to the economy broadly. Infrastructure and vital services such as water and energy can be 2.5 times more expensive to deliver in the suburbs than in compact urban centers. In total, sprawl costs the U.S. economy roughly $600 billion a year in direct costs related to inefficient land usage and car dependency, and another $400 billion in indirect costs from traffic congestion, pollution, and the like, according to a 2015 study from the London School of Economics. The total bill: a whopping $1 trillion a year.

Not all suburbs are experiencing decline and desolation, of course, any more than all cities are. Many of the immigrants and members of minority groups who are moving to them are no less aspirational than my parents were, and many are more affluent. Although some parts of suburbia are stagnating or declining, there are large areas of affluence and growth.

All but one of the ten priciest ZIP codes in America are in the suburbs— the exception being New York’s Tribeca/SoHo. Eight of the ten are in California, including the elite Silicon Valley suburbs of Atherton, Los Altos, and Palo Alto, as well as Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, Rancho Santa Fe in San Diego, and Santa Barbara’s Montecito. The exclusive enclave of Fisher Island, accessible only by boat or ferry, lies in Biscayne Bay just off of Miami Beach. The suburbs are the sites of growing inequality and are increasingly beset with deep class divisions of their own.

Just as in our cities, some parts of our suburbs are rich, and others are poor. Some are growing quickly, and some are in decline. Growth today is in fact concentrated in dense urban areas and at suburbia’s far-flung peripheries. Population growth is occurring fastest in the farthest-out (or “suburbiest”) parts of suburbs and in the densest urban neighborhoods, as real estate economist Jed Kolko wrote for CityLab in 2015. It’s far less expensive to build on the wide-open, undeveloped land in outlying areas than anywhere else, and it’s easier to grow fast when you’re starting from nothing. The densest urban places are attracting people and jobs because of their convenience and improved productivity. Meanwhile, the middle of our suburban geography is being hollowed out and squeezed economically: Growth is bypassing the older suburban areas that lie between the two poles of urban center and outlying new development.

When all is said and done, the suburban crisis reflects the end of a long era of cheap growth. Building roads and infrastructure and constructing houses on virgin land was and is an incredibly inexpensive way to provide an American Dream to the masses, certainly when compared to what it costs to build new subway lines, tunnels, and high-rise buildings in mature cities. For much of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, and on into the 1980s and 1990s, suburbanization was the near-perfect complement to America’s industrial economy. More than the great mobilization effort of World War II or any of the Keynesian stimulus policies that were applied during the 1930s, it was suburban development that propelled the golden era of economic growth in the 1950s and 1960s. As working- and middle-class families settled into suburban houses, their purchases of washers, dryers, television sets, living-room sofas, and automobiles stimulated the manufacturing sector that employed so many of them, creating more jobs and still more homebuyers. Sprawl was driver of the now-fading era of cheap economic growth.

But today, clustering, not dispersal, powers innovation and economic growth. Many people still like living in suburbs, of course, but suburban growth has fallen out of sync with the demands of the urbanized knowledge economy. Too much of our precious national productive capacity and wealth is being squandered on building and maintaining suburban homes with three-car garages, and on the infrastructure that supports them, rather than being invested in the knowledge, technology, and density that are required for sustainable growth. The suburbs aren’t going away, but they are no longer the apotheosis of the American Dream and the engine of economic growth.

The Parts of America Most Susceptible to Automation

The Parts of America Most Susceptible to Automation

Economists expect that millions of American jobs are going to be replaced by automation in the coming decades. But where will those job losses take place? Which areas will be hardest hit?

Much of the focus regarding automation has been on the Rust Belt. There, many workers have been replaced by machines, and the number of factory jobs has slipped as more production is offshored. While a lot of the rhetoric about job loss in the Rust Belt has centered on such outsourcing, one study from Ball State University found that only 13 percent of manufacturing job losses are attributable to trade, and the rest to automation.

A new analysis suggests that the places that are going to be hardest-hit by automation in the coming decades are in fact outside of the Rust Belt. It predicts that areas with high concentrations of jobs in food preparation, office or administrative support, and/or sales will be most affected—places such as Las Vegas and the Riverside-San Bernardino area may be the most vulnerable to automation in upcoming years, with 65 percent of jobs in Las Vegas and 63 percent of jobs in Riverside predicted to be automatable by 2025. Other areas especially vulnerable to automation are El Paso, Orlando, and Louisville.

Still, the authors estimate that almost all large American metropolitan areas may lose more than 55 percent of their current jobs because of automation in the next two decades. “We felt it was really stunning, since we are underestimating the probability of automation,” said Johannes Moenius, the director of the Institute for Spatial Economic Analysis at the University of Redlands, which prepared the report.

Which Regional Economies Are Most Susceptible to Automation?

Moenius and colleagues used a widely cited 2013 study from Oxford University predicting which of roughly 700 common jobs are most susceptible to automation, and then mapped out which metropolitan areas have a high share of those jobs. That study, by the economists Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, suggested that 47 percent of total U.S. employment is at risk of automation over the next decade or two; they found that telemarketers, insurance underwriters and appraisers, tax preparers, and cashiers were some of the most likely to see their jobs threatened by automation, while the livelihoods of mental-health and substance-abuse social workers, oral surgeons, choreographers, and physicians were more protected.

Frey and Osborne’s estimates cover about 138 million Americans’ jobs. Moenius and his colleagues found that Las Vegas, Riverside, and El Paso all had high numbers of office and administrative-support jobs, food-preparation and -serving jobs, and sales jobs, and thus had the most vulnerability to automation. Moenius estimates that 65.2 percent of jobs in Las Vegas, 63.9 percent in El Paso, and 62.6 percent of jobs in Riverside are susceptible to automation in the next two decades. The automation of transportation and material-moving jobs also contributed to the potential job loss in these places, as well as in Greensboro, North Carolina, where 62.5 percent of jobs are susceptible to automation.
The jobs that the Redlands analysis places new focus on are slightly different from the types of jobs academics once thought would be easily automatable. That’s because before the Frey and Osborne study, scholars had predicted that routine jobs were the most likely to be automated, but Frey and Osborne suggested that advances in computerization have made it likely that non-routine jobs will be automated, too. The power of machine learning means that programmers with large data sets can use them to make machines smarter, allowing them to do non-routine tasks; for example, oncologists are using data from medical journals and patient records to automatically create treatment plans for cancer patients. “It is largely already technologically possible to automate almost any task, provided that sufficient amounts of data are gathered for pattern recognition,” the authors write.

Of course, the Rust Belt will not be immune to automation in coming decades. Metropolitan areas like Detroit, Indianapolis, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh could still see more than half of their jobs computerized, the study suggests. But because so many manufacturing jobs centered in the Midwest have already been automated, those regions are not at the top of the list of the places that currently stand to lose the highest share of jobs. Instead, the brunt of the next automation wave will come in cities with a different type of low-skill job.

What’s particularly striking about the new Redlands report is that the regions that are susceptible to automation are those that already have a high share of low-wage jobs. Previously, automation had hurt middle-class jobs such as those in manufacturing. Now, it’s coming for the lower-income jobs. When those jobs disappear, an entire group of less-educated workers who already weren’t making very much money will be out of work. Moenius worries about the possibility of entire regions in which low earners are competing for increasingly scarce jobs. “I wasn’t in L.A. when the riots happened, but are we worried about this from a social perspective?” he said. “Not for tomorrow, but for 10 years from now? It’s quite frankly frightening.”

There were, however, a few regions of the country where jobs were not as likely to be automated. They included Silicon Valley, North Carolina’s Research Triangle and the Boston area, where a high share of the jobs require more creative and social intelligence, and are thus more difficult to automate.

These areas are currently relatively prosperous, and the Redlands analysis also suggests that America’s growing regional divergence will only continue to worsen. As the Berkeley economist Enrico Moretti wrote in his 2012 book The New Geography of Jobs, high-tech job centers like Silicon Valley are attracting more and more educated and talented people, and are pulling away from the rest of the country. This has implications not only for employment, he wrote, but also for socioeconomic outcomes such as health, family stability, and crime. He put it this way:

“A handful of cities with the ‘right’ industries and a solid base of human capital keep attracting good employers and offering high wages, while at the other extreme, cities with the ‘wrong’ industries and a limited human capital base, are stuck with dead-end jobs and average wages.”

The work by Moenius and his colleagues suggests that this divergence will only continue. While a handful of cities with good jobs and highly educated workers will continue to thrive, other areas are going to see more and more jobs disappear as automated technologies become ever better. This may have much wider implications, politically and socially. People in America’s struggling regions feel left behind economically, as the 2016 election indicated. But the anger that motivated many voters in November may pale in comparison to what comes next, if some regions see two-thirds of their jobs disappear while other areas continue to thrive.

Noahpinion: The siren song of homogeneity

Noahpinion: The siren song of homogeneity

The U.S. and Europe are in a time of great political change. Policies haven’t changed that much yet, but the set of ideas that drive movements and activism and the public discussion have altered radically in the last few years. In the U.S., which of course I know the best, there have been new outpourings on the left – the resurgent socialist movement and the social justice movement chief among them. But as far as I can see, the biggest new thing is the alt-right. Loosely (we can argue about definitions all day, and I’m sure many of you will want to do so), the alt-right wants to make American society homogeneous. Most of the enthusiasm is for racial homogeneity, but religion seems to figure into it a bit as well.

The siren song of homogeneity is a powerful one. On Twitter and elsewhere, I am encountering more and more young people (mostly men) who openly yearn for a society where everyone is white. The more reasonable among these young people tell me that homogeneity reduces conflict, increases social trust, and has a number of other benefits. They often cite Japan as their paradigmatic homogeneous society; some explicitly say they want a white version of Japan.

Those are the reasonable ones – the less reasonable ones tend to communicate in memes, threats, and slurs (“Fuck you, Jew! How about open boarders for ISRAEL!!”, etc.). But the fact that these men are dedicating so much time, effort, and passion into those memes, threats and slurs says something important. It says that there is passion in this movement.
Is the alt-right really a growing, rising movement?

Much of the passion for white homogeneity seems new to me – twenty years ago, despite the existence of Nazi-type websites like Stormfront, the idea of making America an all-white nation seemed like a fringe notion. Perhaps it still is a fringe notion – after all, social media acts as a force multiplier that allows a relatively small number of highly committed individuals to seem like a huge army. And perhaps this kind of sentiment was always reasonably common in America, but simply kept under wraps by the mainstream media before the internet emerged to make it more visible.

There is some evidence to support the contention that alt-right ideas are still highly unpopular in America. A 2016 Pew survey found that only 7 percent of Americans say that growing diversity makes the country a worse place to live:

Compare that to 31 percent in Britain and Germany and 36 percent in the Netherlands!

Meanwhile, recent polls find support for immigration:

That’s a short time series, so here’s a longer one from Gallup. It also shows a gentle downtrend in anti-immigrant sentiment, and also pegs it at just under 40 percent:

As Gallup’s racial breakdown shows, the decline in anti-immigrant sentiment is being driven by whites – anti-immigrant sentiment is actually slightly up among blacks and Hispanics. That implies that much of what anti-immigrant sentiment does exist is not due to a growing yearning for a homogeneous white nation. A substantial majority of white Americans supports letting undocumented immigrants stay, as long as certain conditions are met – that doesn’t exactly seem like a vote for white homogeneity.

So it’s certainly possible that the alt-right – even defined very generally, including the more moderate “alt-light” and the quietly sympathetic “alt-white” – is a shrinking, dying idea that is only becoming louder and more aggressive because it’s under threat. It’s possible that Trump’s election was really driven more by people’s economic hopes that he would bring back dying industries and bring American jobs back from overseas, or even just by a desire to roll the dice of change.

But I think that whether or not the alt-right is really a growing, burgeoning movement, it makes sense to take it and its ideas seriously. First, the presence of Trump in the White House will probably force much of the country to listen to what the alt-right has to say. Even though he isn’t really their man, he has hired several people who at least loosely sympathize with the movement’s ideas – Bannon, Miller, Anton and Gorka among them. That means that at least as long as Trump’s butt is planted in a chair in the Oval Office, alt-right ideas have at least a chance of making it into government policy. That means the alt-right, and their ideas, matter.

And even beyond that, I feel an emotional desire to engage with the alt-right – at least, the more reasonable among them. I couldn’t care less about the people in Europe supporting Le Pen or Geert Wilders, but alt-right Americans are my countrymen. I’m a nationalist at heart and I care about what my countrymen think.

And I think that there are a decent of young (mostly) men out there whose intellectual lives will be defined by this stuff – who will spend their 20s and 30s entranced by the idea of a homogeneous white society. Just as there are old hippies who still look at the world through the lens of the 1960s anti-war movement, in a few decades there will be some aging white Millennial men for whom Pepe the Frog and r/thedonald and Kekistan and the Great Meme War were the climax of their youthful energy and imagination. I want to engage with those people, even if (as I predict) they ultimately lose.
Is the alt-right really a pro-homogeneity movement? Is Trumpism?

Every movement is…well, heterogeneous. Alt-right people talk a lot about homogeneity, but it’s certainly not the only thing they talk about, or the only reason for their movement. Some may join the alt-right simply out of a fear of the social justice movement – banding together for mutual defense. Others may simply be opposed to some group of immigrants – someone who would be fine with a Cuban neighbor might be terrified of a Syrian one. Still others may be religious traditionalists looking for a home after the collapse of the Christian right, neo-Confederates allied to an Old South style of racial politics or just Trump fans looking for a cool club to join. For some, “homogeneity” might be simply a convenient rallying cry for expelling undesirable groups from the country, or for instituting one’s chosen value system. As for Trumpism, that almost certainly has multiple causes – anything as big and all-encompassing as a presidential election will have multiple causes.

But I think research shows that fear of ethnic heterogeneity is a real driver of Trump support. For example, this study shows that reminding white people with strong white identification that America is getting less white (which might not actually be true, but we’ll get to that later) increased support for Trump. And anecdotally, support for homogeneity pops up again and again in pro-Trump literature and discourse. Here’s a quote from Trump advisor Michael Anton’s famous essay “The Flight 93 Election,” widely considered to be one of the basic Trumpist manifestos:

Third and most important, the ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty means that the electorate grows more left, more Democratic, less Republican, less republican, and less traditionally American with every cycle. As does, of course, the U.S. population[.]

So I’d say the case is fairly clear that the desire for a homogeneous society runs strong through both the alt-right and the broader Trump movement.
The data-based case for homogeneity

(Note: When I talk about “homogeneity” in this post, I’m only talking about the ethnic/racial type. I’m not talking about linguistic, religious, or other dimensions of homogeneity/diversity.)

The case for homogeneity comes down to the idea that a homogeneous society is a nicer place to live. Alt-right people cite Japan’s stunningly low crime rate, for example, as evidence that ethnically similar people don’t fight. They also claim that homogeneity increases social trust.

There is a reasonably large body of research that supports the “trust” idea. For a good list of links to those papers, check out this post by blogger James Weidmann, better known as Roissy. Roissy sums up the thesis in one simple equation: “Diversity + Proximity = War.” I’m not going to replicate the whole list here, but here’s a very small sampling:

1. A study in Denmark showing a negative correlation between reported trust and ethnic diversity at the municipality leve from 1979-2009

2. A study in Britain find that people who stay in communities after those communities become more diverse report more negative attitudes toward their communities afterward

3. A study in the Netherlands finds that increasing diversity in classrooms made kids more likely to choose friends of similar ethnicity

4. A study found that across Europe, different-ethnicity immigration tends to decrease social trust, while similar-ethnicity immigration tends to increase it.

Roissy didn’t include econ papers on his list, but economists have also flagged the dangers of ethnic divisions. Alesina, Baqir, and Easterly (ironically, a rather diverse team of authors) famously found that ethnic divisions reduce public good provision. Alesina, Glaeser, and Sacerdote hypothesize that diversity is what prevents America from having a Europe-style welfare state.

There are lots of postulated mechanisms for how diversity reduces trust and leads to dysfunctional societies. Maybe people are genetically programmed to cooperate with those who are genetically more similar to them. Maybe people who belong to different groups have different interests. Maybe we just generally fear that which is different and strange.

On top of this appeal to evidence, however, there’s an emotional appeal – as there always is for any really important political idea. There’s the negative appeal of fear of diversity – the specter of becoming a minority, potentially hated, despised, and/or oppressed by other groups. But there also seems to be a yearning for a half-imagined utopia – a “Japan for white people”, where shared whiteness produces a neighborly camaraderie, social cohesion, and peace that is unknown in much of modern America.
Caveats to the data-based case for homogeneity

Roissy is a polemic blogger; his aim is to advocate, not to educate. The academic case for homogeneity is not nearly as clear-cut as what he presents.

Many of the studies he cites have methodological issues. For example, one study finds that “neighborly exchange” is negatively correlated with diversity. But its data set doesn’t allow it to compare recently diversified neighborhoods with neighborhoods that recently received a lot of internal in-migration – in other words, it may simply be that a flood of newcomers, be they the same race as the majority or not, tends to disrupt neighborly friendships. In fact most of the cited studies tend to have this problem – it’s hard to distinguish between the impact of population mobility and the impact of diversity itself.

Other studies he cites show some cases in which ethnic diversity increases trust. For example, a study in America found a U-shaped relationship between ethnic fractionalization and trust, meaning that high and low diversity places tend to have more trust than medium-diversity places (which makes sense if medium-diversity places are places where a bunch of newcomers just showed up).

Also, it’s worth noting that many of the studies Roissy cites are from Europe. It may be the case that Europe functions differently than America, and is not an appropriate comparison. Most Europeans may think of their societies as based on ethnicity – “blood and soil”, as some say – while this may hold true for only a minority of Americans. Also, recent European nonwhite immigration may be very different from the type of nonwhite immigration America gets – where America has recently mostly taken in hard-working Hispanics and high-skilled Asians and Africans, Europe has tended to take a lot of lower-skilled Middle Easterners and North Africans. Not only might the latter tend to be a more fractious type of immigrant, but there’s also an enmity between Europe and the MENA region that goes back further than reliably recorded history. That could contribute to the distrust. In other words, the kind of diversity you get probably matters a lot.

Then there are all of the contrary studies Roissy, as a polemic blogger, doesn’t cite. It’s a big literature, and there are lots of findings that go in the other direction. For example:

1. A recent study in Southern California found that ethnic diversity is associated with decreased crime and higher home values

2. A study in Britain showed no relationship between ethnic diversity and trust.

3. A study in Europe found a positive long-term effect of diversity on trust.

4. A 2014 literature survey finds that “ethnic diversity is not related to less interethnic social cohesion.”

5. A 2008 study in Europe found that ethnic diversity didn’t decrease social capital.

6. A 2007 study in Britain found that the negative effect of diversity on social cohesion disappears after controlling for economic variables.

7. There’s also a big literature on diversity and group decision-making, most (but not all) of which concludes that ethnic diversity makes groups smarter.

I could go on – most of this is the result of me just doing Google Scholar searches for “diversity and trust” and “diversity and social capital” and picking out any studies on the first page or two that seem to contradict the “diversity decreases trust” conclusion. That’s hardly a scientific way to proceed, but it does show that if you get your academic information from a polemicist, you’re going to get a distorted picture of the academic literature.

My point here is not to say that the alt-right is wrong about homogeneity and trust. They might be right – my sense from reading literature surveys is that the correlation between homogeneity and trust is a common finding, but not overwhelmingly common. My point here is to say that the question of homogeneity and trust is not yet answered. This is not surprising, because both homogeneity and trust are big, expansive, vaguely defined concepts, which usually means clear-cut answers don’t exist.

Another thing that bothers me about many of these studies is that I tend to be a bit skeptical of survey research. This is not to say survey research is worthless, but I guess like any good economist I instinctively put more stock in measures of actual behavior. Roissy’s link list does include some studies showing diversity increases conflict, but to my knowledge, the academic consensus is that immigration reduces crime (including in Canada). That literature review is from a few years back, but recent research all seems to confirm the finding. To me, lower crime is a much more tangible result than people simply saying negative things on a survey.

But an even more important reason why you shouldn’t put too much stock in this literature is that almost none of these studies are very good at dealing with endogeneity. Here are some examples of endogeneity issues:

* Suppose low-skilled immigrants tend to move to areas with low social trust, because businesses in places with low social cohesion tend to hire cheap labor.

* Suppose large empires tend to conquer lots of different ethnicities and encourage internal migration that increases local ethnic diversity, but suppose that large empires also tend to collapse, causing lots of local conflicts.

* Suppose exogenous events that cause waves of newcomers – conflicts, recessions, out-migration from declining areas – are also things that tend to reduce trust.

To really control for these kinds of things, you really need natural experiments. They already do this for things like the impact of immigration on wages. But to isolate the effect of ethnic diversity from the effect of population mobility – i.e., to tell the difference between “newcomers of any race” and “newcomers of a minority race” – will require finding some situation where different ethnicities of newcomers are randomly assigned to different areas.

(Update: Someone forwarded me this paper showing that when housing is randomly assigned in France, diversity is correlated with “social anomie”, which apparently increases vandalism but reduces violent conflict. Interesting! Keep in mind that this might be specific to the types of people who live in France.)

Anyway, so this is all important to think about. But to me, the really interesting question is whether ethnicity itself is endogenous.

More on that later, though. First, let’s shift gears from data to anecdote, so I can talk about my experiences living in an ethnically homogeneous society.
My own experience in a homogeneous society

As regular blog readers know, I’ve live in Japan (for a total of about 3.5 years). Though I’m of course not Japanese, the experience taught me much about how Japanese people live and think. So I have observed at least one good example of a homogeneous society up close. While that example might not generalize, here are my thoughts.

First of all, if you think Japanese people share a sense of camaraderie and togetherness from all being the same ethnicity, think again. Because Japan is homogeneous, ethnicity just isn’t that salient to most Japanese people – when a Japanese person meets another Japanese person, they don’t think “Japanese person,” they just think “person”. Ethnic identity isn’t on their minds.

Because of this, ethnic homogeneity creates very little solidarity on a day-to-day basis in Japan. Japanese people are generally wary of striking up conversations with strangers – more wary than Americans of different races are of striking up conversations with each other, I find. Services like Craigslist that facilitate informal transactions between private parties are rarely used – when I ask Japanese people why, they say it’s because they can’t trust strangers. Some Japanese people have told me that they feel far less shy talking to a foreigner than they do talking to another Japanese person.

I suspect that the feeling of ethnic solidarity that many alt-right whites feel for other alt-right whites is something unique to minorities. People who have always been part of the overwhelming majority just don’t think about ethnicity enough for it to create bonds of solidarity – except in extreme situations, like a foreign war.

Surveys corroborate my hunch. Japan has always reported relatively low levels of interpersonal trust – until recently, considerably lower than in the U.S.:

Now keep in mind, that’s trust, which is very different from trustworthiness. Japanese people, as a rule, are some of the most scrupulously honest people I’ve ever met. I’ve had old Japanese women run to catch up with me on the street, handing me a penny I dropped. The one time I dropped a substantial amount of cash on the ground, it was a yakuza bodyguard who notified me. Japanese people generally deserve high trust, but don’t necessarily give it to each other.

Urban Japan also seems to me to have little tradition of “neighborly exchange” (I’m sure this is different in small towns, but Japan is very highly urbanized). I see very few people saying hello to their neighbors. One person I knew who did this was considered eccentric.

So if you think a homogeneous society means that people will tip their hat to you on the street and be you’re friend just because you’re the same race as them, think again.

However, Japanese culture also has quite a lot of unwritten rules, which almost everyone follows. Some of these are speech rules – the famous Japanese “politeness”. Some are rules about work – the famous Japanese “corporate culture”. Some are rules about service in restaurants and shops. There are many others.

These rules – which people sometimes mistakenly label “conformity” – would be harder to turn into universal norms in the diverse United States. Foreigners, or people from other parts of the country, might just not know the rules. And people from certain ethnic backgrounds might resent being pressured to follow those rules by people of other ethnic backgrounds, and so might intentionally disobey. The less other people follow a social rule, the less incentive there is for me to follow it.

So Japanese homogeneity seems to produce a society where everyone’s minor, day-to-day interaction is a little more predictable.

How about politics? Japan has long been dominated by a single political party (the LDP), and politics is traditionally conducted via factions within that ruling party. There’s little question in my mind that homogeneity is one of the causes of one-party dominance – there’s no ethnic minority to form the core of an opposition party.

So how does that work out? Japanese politics is famously dysfunctional – the debt is out of control, patronage politics is rife, and there’s usually a dearth of leadership. This was as true before World War 2 as it is today – Japan in the 30s was afflicted with frequent coup attempts and plenty of extremism, and essentially bumbled its way into multiple disastrous wars. Nowadays, Japanese political dysfunctionality is more likely to manifest itself as wasteful spending and obstruction of needed economic reforms.

However, it’s worth noting that Japan has not experienced a “populist backlash” like other countries. Shinzo Abe is a true nationalist leader, and a responsible one. He was quick to quell outbursts of racism against those minorities that do exist in Japan, and in general has a pretty progressive agenda. And overall, Japanese people are (so far) pretty happy with Abe. He’s worlds away from a Trump or a Le Pen or an Erdogan or a Chavez. So it’s possible that homogeneity exerts a stabilizing effect on Japanese politics, insulating it from periodic outbreaks of madness, while making it less responsive in normal times due to the lack of a credible opposition.

As for crime, everyone knows that Japan is an extraordinarily safe country. It’s hard for people who’ve never lived there to wrap their heads around how safe it is – teenage girls walk the streets of major cities alone at night in schoolgirl skirts and fear absolutely nothing. Is Japan so nonviolent because of its homogeneity? It’s hard to say. In America, immigration – which is usually nonwhite immigration – tends to decrease crime. The ultra-diverse New York City and Los Angeles are some of the lowest-crime cities in America. Also, Japan does have a few very diverse neighborhoods, and these are also quite safe. So my instinct is to say that Japan’s secret safety sauce is something else. But I don’t really know.

So overall, if I were to draw conclusions from my experience in Japan, I’d say that homogeneity has its advantages and disadvantages, but ultimately isn’t clearly better or worse. Japan is one of the awesomest, nicest places I’ve ever been, but the other top contenders are diverse places like Vancouver, Austin, and the San Francisco Bay Area.

(As an aside, if I were making policy, I’d recommend that Japan not take in mass immigration. Maybe their society could handle it, maybe it couldn’t – but I say, no need to mess with a good thing. But that’s also why I recommend that America and Canada keep taking in lots of immigrants – we’ve got a different kind of good thing going. Anyway, that’s my instinct.)
How racial is homogeneity?

But here’s one coda, which leads into my next point. Are Japanese people all the same race? Maybe not. Japan was formed from the confluence of two groups, the Jomon (unusually densely populated hunter-gatherers) and the Yayoi (rice farmers). This genetic mixing is still very apparent in the genetic data. And perhaps as a result of this, you see a reasonably large diversity of features in Japanese people. For example, here are two Japanese guys:

Are those two guys the same race? Technically, yes. In America they’d both be “Asian”, in Asia they’d both be “Japanese”. Neither American culture nor Japanese culture recognizes any ethnic difference between these two men. And sure, they both have straight black hair, and their skin tones aren’t that different. But the pretty big difference in physical appearance between those two guys – and between many people in Japan – makes me wonder whether our definitions of race aren’t a little…elastic.
What if homogeneity is a choice?

In lefty circles, it’s common to hear people say that “race is a social construct.” What could that possibly mean? Obviously, physical differences are real. And obviously, those differences are going to be clustered, because for most of human history – and even now, really – there was only limited population mixing across areas. A clustering algorithm will pick out clusters of traits, and you can call those “races” if you want.

But are the “races” we recognize the same that would be picked out by a clustering algorithm? Sometimes, sure. But not always. The two pictures above demonstrate that even in a supposedly super-homogeneous place like Japan, genetic differences exist that culture and society just don’t recognize as representing different ethnicities.

Another important example is “Han Chinese”. When you look at the genetics, Han Chinese people are actually pretty diverse. Another is “Turkish”. Here are two Turkish actors I just found by Googling:

Wow. Compared to these guys, the two Japanese guys above look like twins. Obviously, these two men have ancestors from very different geographic locations, and yet somehow they’re both Turks. Just like some British people have red hair and some have black, and just like some Japanese people have “sauce faces” and some have “soy faces”, some Turkish people have dark skin and some have light. A difference in appearance need not translate to a difference in race, in the real world.

But the most interesting example might be “white.” In America, we have a race called “white” that Europe just doesn’t seem to have. In Europe, anecdotally, ethnicity is defined by language, and perhaps also by religion. While skin color differences are recognized, European ethnic definitions are usually much finer. In America, though, they’re all just “white.”

In fact, who’s included in “white” seems to change quite a lot over time. In 1751, Benjamin Franklin was arguing against North European immigration on the grounds that Swedes, French people, Russians, and most Germans weren’t “white”:

Which leads me to add one Remark: That the Number of purely white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth.

What a difference two and a half centuries make, eh? And the expanding definition of whiteness doesn’t seem confined to the distant past, either. Twentieth-century immigrant groups like Italians, Jews, and Poles were initially not considered “white” (except by the legal system), but rather “white ethnics”. Now, no one in America questions whether Italians are white, and were in fact white all along, from the very start. And the only people who question whether Ashkenazic Jews are white are a few screeching Nazis on Twitter (who may or may not reside in the U.S.).

In fact, this may already be happening with Hispanics. More and more Hispanics are declaring themselves white.

“Black” and “Asian” are other examples. In America, “black” people are all assumed to be part of one big race, as are “Asian” people. But try telling Hutus and Tutsis in Africa that they’re both part of the same ethnically homogeneous group. Or try going to a bar in Korea and telling some guys that they’re the same race as Japanese people (My advice: Be ready to duck). Ethnic differences that Americans don’t even recognize the existence of are the basis of genocide in other parts of the world.

“White” too. Hitler’s plan for the Soviet Union involved genocide of Slavs on a scale so epic that it makes it clear the Holocaust was just a dress rehearsal:

Now that’s some #whitegenocide, right there. Even though Germany lost, they made considerable headway toward making that plan a reality, slaughtering over 20 million Russians.

So you have blue-eyed Turks thinking they’re the same race as black-haired Turks. You have pale Americans and swarthy Americans both calling themselves “white”. And then you have Germans launching an all-out apocalyptic war to exterminate a group of people that they probably couldn’t even tell from themselves if they all had the same clothes and haircuts.

(Random anecdote: One time, in Germany, a German woman came up to me and started speaking rapid German. She was astonished to find that I was American, and said “But you look so German!”)

OK, but suppose you don’t buy all this stuff about the social definition of race. That’s hippie-dippy bullshit, right? Genetic differences are real, end of story. OK, but even then you must admit the power of intermarriage.

Intermarriage was probably essential for the creation of the white race here in America. This is from a recent National Academy of Sciences report titled “The Integration of Immigrants into American Society”:

Historically, intermarriage between racial- and ethnic minority immigrants and native-born whites has been considered the ultimate proof of integration for the former and as a sign of “assimilation” (Gordon, 1964; Alba and Nee, 2003). When the rate of interethnoracial or interfaith marriage is high (e.g., between Irish Americans and non-Irish European Americans or between Protestants and Catholics), as happened by the late 20th century for the descendants of the last great immigration wave, the significance of group differences generally wanes (Alba and Nee, 2003). Intermarriage stirs the ethnic melting pot and blurs the color lines.

When tons of people have Irish, German, and English ancestors, it’s just very hard to keep those three ethnic categories separate in society. The same thing happened to Italians and Jews after World War 2. In the early 1960s, the outmarriage rate among Italian Americans was over 40 percent. Jews took a little longer, but got there eventually – the Jewish outmarriage rate is now 58 percent, and among the non-Orthodox it’s 71 percent.

(In case you were wondering, somewhere around 33% of native-born Hispanic and Asian Americans currently marry non-Hispanic whites.)

Whether you believe race is fundamentally about biology or sociology, intermarriage erases racial boundary lines. It’s the final proof that ethnic homogeneity is not fixed, but changes depending on what people do.
An alternate theory: Trust causes homogeneity

Once you realize that homogeneity can be produced, through redefinition and through intermarriage, an alternate theory presents itself for why there might be a correlation between homogeneity and trust: Places with high trust become more homogeneous over time.

This could happen genetically. When people associate freely and don’t have intergroup suspicions and hatreds, they probably tend to hook up and get married with each other a lot more. Over time, the prevalence of trust leads to a genetically homogeneous group.

This could also happen socially. When people of disparate groups are bound together for a common purpose – fighting a war against a neighboring country, for example – the increased feeling of solidarity and commonality might cause them to start to consider themselves as one single race.

So what produces trust? Perhaps another big, nebulous thing: institutions. Research shows that when organizations like the military, colleges, and public schools put people in close contact and make them cooperate, they start to trust people of other ethnic groups more. For example, here’s the abstract of a 2006 American Economic Review paper called “Empathy or Antipathy? The Impact of Diversity”:

Mixing across racial and ethnic lines could spur understanding or inflame tensions between groups. We find that white students at a large state university randomly assigned African American roommates in their first year were more likely to endorse affirmative action and view a diverse student body as essential for a high-quality education. They were also more likely to say they have more personal contact with, and interact more comfortably with, members of minority groups. Although sample sizes are too small to provide definitive evidence, these results suggest students become more empathetic with the social groups to which their roommates belong.

And here’s the abstract from a very recent paper called “Trust, Ethnic Diversity, and Personal Contact: Experimental Field Evidence”:

We combine a lab and a field experiment in the Norwegian Armed Forces to study how close personal contact with minorities affect in-group and outgroup trust. We randomly assign majority soldiers to rooms with or without ethnic minorities and use an incentivized trust game to measure trust. First, we show that close personal contact with minorities increases trust. Second, we replicate the result that individuals coming from areas with a high share of immigrants trust minorities less. Finally, the negative relationship between the share of minorities and out-group trust is reversed for soldiers who are randomly assigned to interact closely with minority soldiers. Hence, our study shows that social integration involving personal contact can reduce negative effects of ethnic diversity on trust.

Crucially, unlike most of the papers about diversity and trust cited above, these studies are randomized experiments.

Because they’re randomized experiments, they’re inevitably small-scale. These are moderate, short-run effects – to really know whether institutions like schools and the military can erase racial boundaries over many decades is beyond the scope of controlled experimentation. So these papers are really just suggestive.

But the notion seems to fit with American history. The Civil War seemed to put an end to the eruption of anti-Catholic sentiment, allowing Irish and South German Americans to integrate both socially and genetically into the emerging white race. And after World War 2, the outmarriage of Italian, Jewish, and Polish Americans accelerated. In both cases, the experience of being part of a nation at arms, cooperating side by side in a desperate, titanic struggle, probably erased a lot of the suspicions, prejudices, etc. that had persisted before the wars.

Anyway, this alternate theory can potentially explain the correlation between trust and homogeneity – places with institutions that create high trust levels tend to become more homogeneous over time.
An alternate theory: “War + Proximity = Diversity”

But what about all those wars? Most of the time there’s a really big war, there’s at least some modest ethnic difference between the combatants – British vs. French, German vs. Russian, Hutu vs. Tutsi, Japanese vs. Korean. If small differences like those could cause such incredible bloodshed, think about what calamities could be caused by the difference between groups as distinct as Africans and Europeans!

In fact, I think the historical record gives us a clue as to why this idea is wrong. The bloodiest wars in history are mostly either civil wars in China, or interstate wars in Europe or East Asia. This was true even when Europe and Japan had global reach. They chose to kill people who looked a lot like them, rather than people who looked very different. In fact, genocides between extremely distinct groups – for example, the Belgian genocide in the Congo – are the exception, not the rule. In fact, plenty of mass killings happen among people who don’t recognize any ethnic differences between the sides at all – the Khmer Rouge, Mao Zedong, the Spanish Civil War, etc.

So we have big genetic differences not even being recognized in some parts of the world, and tiny, possibly undetectable genetic differences being the basis for genocide in other parts of the world. I’d say the thesis that “Diversity + Proximity = War” is, at the very least, suspiciously incomplete.

A better general theory, I think, is that most competition happens between groups of people that are pretty similar. Similar people have similar interests and desires, which naturally leads them to compete. But when people fight en masse, they need ways to organize themselves in order to motivate soldiers to kill others who look and act like them. Thus, they exaggerate any small differences they can find. “You’re German, superior to those inferior Slavs; exterminate them!” Etc.

Under this theory, the “#whitegenocide” that some alt-right people fear – a term they use for race mixing – is actually the exact opposite of real genocide. Under this theory, race mixing happens when high social trust causes group differences to stop mattering, while genocide happens when low social trust causes previously insignificant group differences to start mattering.

To sum up, instead of “Diversity + Proximity = War”, we might theorize that “War + Proximity = Diversity” – wars give people a reason to emphasize and magnify small differences.

It’s why you don’t often see humans fighting emus.
A compromise theory

Given the evidence on both sides, and the plausibility of both the pro-homogeneity and the pro-diversity theories, it seems at least somewhat likely to me that the real world features a combination of the two. Here’s how the compromise theory goes: At first, when an influx of new people comes in, there’s a natural reaction of distrust, and existing communities get fractured. However, as time goes on, the previous inhabitants and the newcomers get used to each other. This process is accelerated by integrating institutions like public schools, colleges, and the military, and is complete once intermarriage is widespread. However, social conflict, especially political conflict, can keep this integration from happening, causing groups not to mix and people to continue to emphasize and maintain their differences.

So the compromise theory says: In the short run, increased diversity causes decreased trust; in the long run, high trust cause increased homogeneity.

Or, as I once put it on Twitter: “One different-looking person in your neighborhood is a guest. 100 are an invasion. 1000 are just the neighbors.”

Update: I should mention that this compromise theory is basically Robert Putnam’s conclusion:

[E]vidence from the US suggests that in ethnically diverse neighbourhoods residents of all races tend to ‘hunker down’. Trust (even of one’s own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer. In the long run, however, successful immigrant societies have overcome such fragmentation by creating new, cross-cutting forms of social solidarity and more encompassing identities. Illustrations of becoming comfortable with diversity are drawn from the US military, religious institutions, and earlier waves of American immigration.

If this theory is right, America’s success depends on having institutions strong enough to integrate Asians and Hispanics – the two most recently arrived big groups – with the existing groups of whites and blacks. In other words, this theory says that homogeneity isn’t the means, it’s the goal.

Who knows; one day even white and black Americans might consider themselves part of the same ethnic group.
The dream of a white nation

But what about the people who don’t want that? What about the alt-right folks and fellow-travelers who have no intention of waiting around for America’s various races to all decide they’re on the same team? Many want to take the shortcut to a homogeneous society – they want to live in a place where only white people are allowed. They want the dream of a half-remembered, half-imagined 1950s Southern California – the clean streets, the nice lawns, the dependable white neighbors who tip their hat and say hi to you as they stroll down the lane. And dammit, they want it now.

Well, the short answer is: I don’t know how they’re going to get it. It’s not going to be possible for them to reimplement racial segregation, or kick all the Asians and Hispanics out of the country. Any serious, large-scale attempt to do that would mean civil war and the collapse of America, which I guarantee would not lead to a nice pleasant racially homogeneous peaceful life for anyone anytime soon.

And what are the other options for creating Whitopia? Secede? Not gonna work. You can go to small towns and gated communities, but the jobs won’t follow you, and by the law of the land, any nonwhite person who wants to can buy the house next to you. So what other options are there? Move to Argentina, I guess. Or maybe New Zealand.

It’s this paucity of options, I think, that has so many alt-right people so freaked out. For people who want a white heterogeneous [I believe the author meant ‘homogeneous’] society, there’s pretty much just nowhere to go. Until recently there was Europe, but with the rise of substantial nonwhite minorities there, and with most European leaders still committed to allowing large-scale nonwhite immigration, that avenue to Whitopia – or Kekistan, as it were – seems closed down. To those who dream of white homogeneity, it must seem like they’re being hounded to the ends of the earth, denied any place to call their home, told everywhere by their leaders to integrate with the nonwhite people nextdoor. No wonder they’re going crazy on Twitter.

I wish it were different. I wish there were some island nation where alt-right folks could go, and establish their all-white nation-state. It doesn’t seem likely to happen, but if it could, I’d say: More power to you.

But the ironic thing is, suppose they did get their Kekistan. Suppose New Zealand decided to become an all-white country (like it did in 1920), and twenty million alt-right types from around the world moved there (giving it about a quarter the population density of Japan). I think it just wouldn’t work.

I think people would move there, and find that homogeneity doesn’t automatically produce trust and goodwill and social peace. They would find that their population was a highly selected set – it would be made up of people who couldn’t get along with the people in their homelands. And they would find that the real thing keeping most of them from getting along with their neighbors wasn’t ethnic diversity – it was their own personalities.

Eventually, social strife would return. Neighbors would feud over land and resources and power and community status. Gunfights would erupt. Killdozers would be unleashed. The government would lurch from crisis to crisis. Protectionist economic policies would be tried and would fail. The economy would languish. Some people would emigrate, back to the hellscapes of diversity.

And those who remained would cling to the theory that “Diversity + Proximity = War”. No one likes to give up their cherished social theories, especially if it’s the theory that the country was founded on. Just as with Hutus and Tutsis, the inhabitants of Kekistan would “discover” ethnic differences that had been there all along. Suddenly they wouldn’t be just white people anymore, but Russian-Kekistanis, Italian-Kekistanis, Hungarian-Kekistanis. Strife and distrust would return, and the new country would undergo decades, if not centuries, of brutal upheaval, fragmentation, clan warfare, unstable military rule, competing aristocracies, atrocities, and poverty.

I didn’t just make that prediction up, by the way. That’s pretty much just the history of Japan.

So although there’s certainly a case to be made for homogeneity, I’d say the case is a lot weaker and more uncertain than its proponents believe. And more importantly, there’s no path for how to get there – at least, not for a country like America. Except for a few small towns scattered throughout the country, the dream of an all-white utopia is likely to remain just that.

This zoomable map shows where America is growing and shrinking, at the neighborhood level – Greater Greater Washington

This zoomable map shows where America is growing and shrinking, at the neighborhood level – Greater Greater Washington

This awesome map from Esri shows the projected population growth rate for US census tracts between 2012 and 2017. On it, you can see where America is growing and shrinking at a very fine level of detail.

On the map, darker blues mean there was more growth. Pale orange means there was no growth or a decline.

Within DC, it won’t surprise anyone to see that NoMa and the Ballpark neighborhoods stand out as large, fast-growing areas. Meanwhile, the patchwork pattern of growth in the Mid-City neighborhoods likely shows how one or two new buildings can turn a census tract from orange to blue.

Zooming out to the metropolitan scale, you can see how growth in the closer-in and middle suburban areas is concentrating into clusters, while the far-outer suburban areas are in a boom just about everywhere. You can also clearly see the region’s east-west economic divide at work, with the numerous orange tracts in Prince George’s County.

Zooming out even further to the national scale, the map changes to show growth by county, rather than census tract. The most interesting story here may be where rural counties are growing, despite the national narrative of rural decline. The interior west and south Atlantic coast seem to be doing OK.

You can zoom to any city or area in the United States. Chicago, for example, shows a clear pattern of growth in the core and outer suburbs, but struggling middle suburbs.

While Seattle shows relatively consistent growth throughout, and no Chicago-like boom-or-bust pattern.

2012-2017 Population Change in the United States

Parents Just Don’t Understand, Tech Edition – Note to Self – WNYC

Parents Just Don’t Understand, Tech Edition – Note to Self – WNYC

Mom sends a group text… to all four of her boyfriends. Another listener’s mom sends the crying-laughing emoji – after their neighbor died. Stories of insensitive parents, tech-addicted kids, and the deep meanings of punctuation.

And there’s one communication fail we all share, young and old. We cop out of tough conversations with a text. Yes, it’s transparent, and yes, we all do it. Guys, we’re better than this.

This week, we fix intergenerational communication forever. Kidding! But we do have answers. Thanks to an expert – psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz. She’s here to help.

[Go to the web site for the podcast.]

Sullivan: Why the Reactionary Right Must Be Taken Seriously

Sullivan: Why the Reactionary Right Must Be Taken Seriously

Look around you. Donald Trump is now president of the United States, having won on a campaign that trashed liberal democracy itself, and is now presiding over an administration staffed, in part, with adherents of a political philosophy largely alien to mainstream American politics. In Russia, Vladimir Putin has driven his country from postcommunist capitalism to a new and popular czardom, empowered by nationalism and blessed by a resurgent Orthodox Church. Britain, where the idea of free trade was born, is withdrawing from the largest free market on the planet because of fears that national identity and sovereignty are under threat. In France, a reconstructed neofascist, Marine Le Pen, has just won a place in the final round of the presidential election. In the Netherlands, the anti-immigrant right became the second-most-popular vote-getter — a new high-water mark for illiberalism in that once famously liberal country. Austria narrowly avoided installing a neo-reactionary president in last year’s two elections. Japan is led by a government attempting to rehabilitate its imperial, nationalist past. Poland is now run by an illiberal Catholic government that is dismembering key liberal institutions. Turkey has morphed from a resolutely secular state to one run by an Islamic strongman, whose powers were just ominously increased by a referendum. Israel has shifted from secular socialism to a raw ethno-nationalism.

We are living in an era of populism and demagoguery. And yes, there’s racism and xenophobia mixed into it. But what we are also seeing, it seems to me, is the manifest return of a distinctive political and intellectual tendency with deep roots: reactionism.

Reactionism is not the same thing as conservatism. It’s far more potent a brew. Reactionary thought begins, usually, with acute despair at the present moment and a memory of a previous golden age. It then posits a moment in the past when everything went to hell and proposes to turn things back to what they once were. It is not simply a conservative preference for things as they are, with a few nudges back, but a passionate loathing of the status quo and a desire to return to the past in one emotionally cathartic revolt. If conservatives are pessimistic, reactionaries are apocalyptic. If conservatives value elites, reactionaries seethe with contempt for them. If conservatives believe in institutions, reactionaries want to blow them up. If conservatives tend to resist too radical a change, reactionaries want a revolution. Though it took some time to reveal itself, today’s Republican Party — from Newt Gingrich’s Republican Revolution to today’s Age of Trump — is not a conservative party. It is a reactionary party that is now at the peak of its political power.

The reactionary impulse is, of course, not new in human history. Whenever human life has changed sharply and suddenly over the eons, reactionism has surfaced. It appeared in early modernity with the ferocity of the Catholic Counter-Reformation in response to the emergence of Protestantism. Its archetypal moment came in the wake of the French Revolution, as monarchists and Catholics surveyed the damage and tried to resurrect the past. Its darkest American incarnation took place after Reconstruction, as a backlash to the Civil War victory of the North; a full century later, following the success of the civil-rights movement, it bubbled up among the white voters of Richard Nixon’s “silent majority.” The pendulum is always swinging. Sometimes it swings back with unusual speed and power.

You can almost feel the g-force today. What are this generation’s reactionaries reacting to? They’re reacting, as they have always done, to modernity. But their current reaction is proportional to the bewildering pace of change in the world today. They are responding, at some deep, visceral level, to the sense that they are no longer in control of their own lives. They see the relentless tides of globalization, free trade, multiculturalism, and mass immigration eroding their sense of national identity. They believe that the profound shifts in the global economy reward highly educated, multicultural enclaves and punish more racially and culturally homogeneous working-class populations. And they rebel against the entrenched power of elites who, in their view, reflexively sustain all of the above.

I know why many want to dismiss all of this as mere hate, as some of it certainly is. I also recognize that engaging with the ideas of this movement is a tricky exercise in our current political climate. Among many liberals, there is an understandable impulse to raise the drawbridge, to deny certain ideas access to respectable conversation, to prevent certain concepts from being “normalized.” But the normalization has already occurred — thanks, largely, to voters across the West — and willfully blinding ourselves to the most potent political movement of the moment will not make it go away. Indeed, the more I read today’s more serious reactionary writers, the more I’m convinced they are much more in tune with the current global mood than today’s conservatives, liberals, and progressives. I find myself repelled by many of their themes — and yet, at the same time, drawn in by their unmistakable relevance. I’m even tempted, at times, to share George Orwell’s view of the neo-reactionaries of his age: that, although they can sometimes spew dangerous nonsense, they’re smarter and more influential than we tend to think, and that “up to a point, they are right.”

I met Charles Kesler in March on an idyllic sunny day in Pasadena, California, where he lives. He’s a soft-spoken, thoughtful figure, with a shock of white hair and a bemused smile on his face. He grew up in West Virginia, with a schoolteacher mom and a dad who owned a grocery store. They were, he told me, culturally conservative and politically mixed. He is now a professor at Claremont McKenna, where he focuses on the roots of a specifically American conservatism, exemplified by his reading of the Founding Fathers. (He’s the editor of a very popular edition of The Federalist Papers.) He also edits the Claremont Review of Books, a small conservative version of the New York Review of Books that attracted attention first in its critique of George W. Bush’s Iraq War, and again last year, when it came out in support of Donald Trump just when the entire Republican Establishment was trying to destroy him. Along with The American Conservative and the new quarterly American Affairs, it’s now a central forum for many of the sentiments that helped Trump win the presidency.

What on earth was a professor like Kesler doing backing a man who has barely read a book in his life, seems to think Frederick Douglass is still alive, and who’d last less than a few seconds in a Kesler seminar? He smiled a little defensively. He’s perfectly aware of Trump’s manifest flaws — his “crudity, anger and egotism,” as he has written. He has conceded that Trump was seeking a job “for which everyone — everyone — agrees he is conspicuously unready.” Even when we met, he averred: “I don’t know how serious he is.” And yet he still gambled on a despotic, undisciplined, impulsive former Democrat.

It was an act of desperation, he explained. In classic reactionary fashion, he believes that we are living through a crisis of American democracy. The Claremont consensus (to put a name on this strain of thought) holds that beneath the veneer of constitutional democracy, we are actually governed by a soft despotism of permanent experts, bureaucrats, pundits, and academics who ignore the majority of the American people. This elite has encouraged a divisive social transformation of the country, has led us into disastrous wars, and has created a deepening economic crisis for the middle class. Anyone — anyone — who could challenge this elite’s power was therefore a godsend.

Kesler’s worldview is rooted in the ideas of the 20th-century political philosopher Leo Strauss. Strauss’s idiosyncratic genius defies easy characterization, but you could argue, as Mark Lilla did in his recent book The Shipwrecked Mind, that he was a reactionary in one specific sense: A Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, Strauss viewed modernity as collapsing into nihilism and relativism and barbarism all around him. His response was to go back to the distant past — to the works of Plato, Aristotle, and Maimonides, among others — to see where the West went wrong, and how we could avoid the horrific crimes of the 20th century in the future.

One answer was America, where Strauss eventually found his home at the University of Chicago. Some of his disciples — in particular, the late professor Harry Jaffa — saw the American Declaration of Independence, with its assertion of the self-evident truth of the equality of human beings, as a civilizational high point in human self-understanding and political achievement. They believed it revived the ancient Greek and Roman conception of natural law. Yes, they saw the paradox of a testament to human freedom having been built on its opposite — slavery — but once the post–Civil War constitutional amendments were ratified, they believed that the American constitutional order was effectively set forever, and that the limited government that existed in the late-19th and early-20th centuries required no fundamental change. (Jaffa made an exception for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which he believed was the only way to enforce the post–Civil War amendments against southern resistance.)

The expanded government of the last century, begun in earnest by Woodrow Wilson, was, therefore, an unconstitutional and anti-democratic power grab by educated elites. Kesler and many of his fellow Claremonters believe democracy is exercised best at the local level, in accord with the “unenlightened” views of the citizenry, or directly through members of Congress, unencumbered by the layers of bureaucracy, executive fiat, and the control of centralizing modern governments. They call this ever-growing apparatus “the administrative state,” and they loathe it not so much for how it constricts economic growth (as many conservatives do) but for how it creates a kind of political tyranny — a ruling class that can enforce its morality and policy preferences through Executive-branch regulation. The Obama administration’s reworking of Obamacare after its passage, for example, and its climate and immigration policies were all big policy changes that never went through Congress.

The Claremonters were particularly upset last year by the Obama administration’s use of Title IX to direct all public schools to institute transgender-friendly policies for bathroom facilities. “Political correctness,” Kesler believes, “is a serious and totalist politics, aspiring to open the equivalent of a vast reeducation camp for the millions of defective Americans who are products of racism, sexism, classism, and so forth.” He supported Trump because the candidate relished taking on both the administrative state and the PC movement: “If relimiting the government by constitutional means was not an option … then what is left but to use the system as it is, and try placing a strong leader, one of our own, someone who can get something done in our interest, at the head of it?”

Kesler also saw in Trump’s instincts on immigration and trade a return to 19th-century Republicanism, which he believes is newly relevant in a post–Cold War world. The party of McKinley and Coolidge had, after all, been one that favored tariffs. The party platform of 1896 declared, “We renew and emphasize our allegiance to the policy of protection, as the bulwark of American industrial independence, and the foundation of American development and prosperity.” In 1924, the GOP platform reiterated this: “We believe in protection as a national policy.” Kesler saw Trump as tapping into this old Republicanism, noting that he was the first president in living memory to use the word protection favorably in his inaugural address.

On foreign policy, too, Kesler projects onto Trump’s impulses a return to the classic American position before the Second World War: suspicious of multinational entanglements, prickly in the defense of the western hemisphere, and dedicated primarily to the national interest. On immigration, Kesler sees in Trump a return to the 1920 Republican platform, which proposed to limit the number of foreigners to “that which can be assimilated with reasonable rapidity, and to favor immigrants whose standards are similar to ours.” Trump, Kesler wants to believe, vaults the conservative movement back more than 70 years. And he’s fine with that.

“We would happily trade our current government for one that worked exactly as designed in 1787, as amended in 1865 and shortly thereafter.” You would be hard put to find such a blunt declaration in Kesler’s Claremont Review, but it’s just one of many provocations that appeared last year in the now-defunct group blog the Journal of American Greatness. The blog had a madcap feel to it, bristling with almost tongue-in-cheek assaults on the modern world, on stuffy career conservatives, and risible “social justice warriors.” Its authors included a young Straussian, Julius Krein, who is now editing a new journal, American Affairs, and an older student of Jaffa’s, Michael Anton, who now works in the press office at the National Security Council.

Anton is the most interesting intellectual behind Trumpism, today’s American version of reactionism. He’s the suave, credentialed foil to Steve Bannon’s rumpled autodidact, a Trump official who just published a paper on Machiavelli in an academic journal. I recently met him for dinner near the White House. An immensely tall man, of piercing intelligence and meticulous attire, Anton is a product of post-hippie California, one of many contemporary reactionaries who rejected their reflexive youthful liberalism because of their revulsion at the political left they encountered on campus — in Anton’s case, at Berkeley.

Once a conventional Republican, an aide to George W. Bush, and an advocate of the Iraq War, Anton decisively broke ranks in 2016 and came out as a proud reactionary. Anton’s critique of the current moment — and his justification for backing Trump — can best be summarized by the slogan the group blog adopted: “What difference, at this point, does it make?” (It doubled as a snarky reference to one of Hillary Clinton’s comments during the Benghazi hearings.) He became famous for his essay “The Flight 93 Election,” in which he compared America in 2016 to the 9/11 plane hijacked by jihadists and on a course to crash in Washington. In those circumstances, he recommended: “Charge the cockpit or you die. You may die anyway. You — or the leader of your party — may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees. Except one: if you don’t try, death is certain.” It’s not just that Trump is better than the alternatives: “The truth is that Trump articulated, if incompletely and inconsistently, the right stances on the right issues — immigration, trade and war — right from the beginning.”

The Claremont critique of the administrative state and the liberal elite does not appear to be enough for Anton. His aim is at what he calls, rather wickedly, “the Party of Davos,” or the “Davoisie.” This is the administrative state gone global. With The Economist as its Bible and its social liberalism and economic conservatism turned into unquestionable dogmas, the Davoisie, perched in the Alps, luxuriates in self-love. It routinely shoots down any critiques of globalization, sees few problems with mass immigration, and is still busy celebrating an ever-more-powerful European Union and ever-more-expansive free-trade agreements among ever-more countries.

None of this, Anton concluded, has anything to do with the American people and their interests. The Davoisie were too busy lifting foreigners out of poverty and celebrating the latest disruptive tech invention to cast a glance toward, say, the beleaguered inhabitants of Kansas or Michigan. Anton admired Trump, he wrote last year, largely because “he’s single-handedly revived talking about government serving its own citizens first.” Trump understood that the American idea is a compact “for the American people, and not for foreigners, immigrants (unless we choose to welcome them) or anyone else.” Three months into a Trump presidency, Anton hasn’t changed his mind.

Politics comes before economics, Anton insists. Free trade may boost our economy, encourage efficiencies, and advance innovation and wealth, but it affects different people differently. And this matters in a democracy. A society’s stability and fairness and unity count for more than its aggregate wealth — especially when, as in recent decades, almost all the direct benefits have gone to the superrich, and all the costs have been paid by the working poor. In the Journal of American Greatness, Krein scorned the abstractions so beloved of the Davoisie: “There is no ‘free trade’ outside of undergraduate economics textbooks,” he wrote, “and trade agreements exist precisely to determine the winners and losers of those zero-sum transactions inherent in any global competition.” Economically unifying the entire planet is not necessarily in a nation’s interest at all.

Nor, according to today’s reactionaries, is mass immigration. And it’s on this topic — more than any other — where the abstract ideas of neo-reactionaries connect with the fears, passions, and cultural panic of many among the population at large.

The Journal of American Greatness’s position goes something like this: The economic benefits (for capitalist elites) and multicultural delights (for progressive elites) of mass immigration are taken for granted by the Davoisie — and by liberals and free-market conservatives more generally. If you live in a major metropolis, with unprecedented prosperity and a tradition of assimilating newcomers, what’s not to like? And if you’re an immigrant, these places are full of jobs you are happy to take. But if your family is in a rural area or a heartland city, where ethnic diversity has not been the norm in the past, and where globalization has dramatically eroded traditional blue-collar jobs, it’s a little more complicated.

Mass immigration, neo-reactionaries argue, creates more job competition for those without college degrees, and, by the laws of supply and demand, lowers wages for some, even as it massively increases profits for a few. At some point, a citizen on the losing end will surely ask: Why is my country benefiting foreigners and new immigrants, many of them arriving illegally, while making life tougher for its own people? And why doesn’t it matter what I think? It’s this question that Anton has a policy answer for. Scaling back free trade and ending mass immigration would “improve the economic prospects of the lower half of our workforce to a greater extent than either would in isolation,” he has written. “The people have repeatedly said ‘no’ to more immigration, ‘no’ to more free trade … but the administrative state will not allow itself to be driven in a direction it does not want to go. It therefore must be broken.”

And then there is the cultural impact of mass immigration, which the Party of Davos, living in a post-national world, celebrates as a vision of the global future. Neo-reactionaries beg to differ. They get a little vague here — tiptoeing awkwardly around the question of race. A nation, they believe, is not just a random group of people within an arbitrary set of borders. It’s a product of a certain history and the repository of a distinctive culture. A citizen should be educated to understand that country’s history and take pride in its culture and traditions. Honed and modulated over time, this national culture gives crucial legitimacy to the American political system by producing citizens acclimated to the tolerance, self-government, and other civic values that democracy needs if it is to function. And so Anton, who gives America’s long history of successful integration of immigrants short shrift, worries about the influx of what he delicately calls “non-republican peoples.” “What happens when the West ceases to be western?” he asked me. On the blog, he was much more direct: He wrote that “Islam and the West are incompatible” and that Muslim immigration should be almost entirely banned. A country like the United States requires “a certain type or character of people.”

Isn’t all this just code for white nationalism? That’s certainly what self-described white nationalists cite in their support for Trump. When I asked Anton bluntly about whether he believes race matters to a national identity, he turned uncharacteristically silent: “I’m not going to say something that could be used to destroy my livelihood and career.” Kesler, when I confronted him with this as well, responded: “The definition of ‘white’ is a political definition. It may be that a lot of people we now regard as inherently and unchangeably Hispanic will turn out to be whites eventually as their incomes go up, as their place in society changes over time in the same way that Italians and Poles and Central Europeans were once ‘second-class’ whites.” Kesler seemed to be describing a white-nationalist country that slowly absorbs others into the fold — turning their cultural “otherness” into an integrated, but still somehow “white,” American identity. “The rate of intermarriage among African-Americans is going up, too,” he tells me as my eyes widen. “How different would American politics be if Obama had defined himself as multiracial rather than black as such … as a new kind of American transcending race?”

Neo-reactionary unease with mass immigration is exacerbated by what they see as the administrative state’s shift from belief in a “melting pot” model in which all immigrants assimilate to a common American culture to the multicultural model, where the government, business, and society recognize different languages and celebrate ethnic diversity over national unity. Anton notes that America is now “a country in which Al Gore mistranslates e pluribus unum as ‘Out of one, many’ and in his error is actually more accurate to the spirit of our times.” The problems of ethnic division are further compounded by the view growing among the elites that America itself is at root a racist white construction, and that “assimilation” is therefore an inherently bigoted idea.

This notion of a national culture, rooted in, if not defined by, a common ethnicity, is even more powerful in European nations, which is why Brexit is so closely allied to Trumpism. In the case of Britain, the question of race is framed within a euphemism used by the British government itself: a “visible minority” versus an “invisible one.” “Since 2001, Britain’s ‘visible minority’ population has nearly doubled, from 8 percent to 14 percent today,” Benjamin Schwarz, the national editor of The American Conservative, noted last year. “It is projected to rise to about 38 percent by mid-century.” Is Britain changing so fast that it could lose any meaningful continuity with its history and culture? That is the question now occupying the British neo-reactionaries. Prime Minister Theresa May has not said many memorable things in office, except this: “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.”

A year ago, Anton took issue with an article I wrote for this magazine in which I described Trump as reminiscent of Plato’s description of a tyrant emerging out of a decadent democracy and argued that we should do what we could to stop him. Anton’s critique was that I was half-right and half-wrong. I was right to see democracy degenerating into tyranny but wrong to see any way to avoid it. What he calls “Caesarism” is already here, as Obama’s abuse of executive power proved. Therefore: “If we must have Caesar, who do you want him to be? One of theirs? Or one of yours (ours)?” Krein put it even more plainly: “Restoring true constitutional — or even merely competent — government requires a fundamental transformation of the underlying culture and elite opinion. It requires, in a certain sense, regime change in America.”

That indeed is the explicit aim of Curtis Yarvin, who takes Kesler’s and Anton’s dismay at modern America to new and dizzying heights — and reactionism to its logical conclusion. A geeky computer programmer in his 40s, he writes a reactionary blog, Unqualified Reservations, under the pseudonym Mencius Moldbug and has earned a cult following among the alt-right. His magnum opus — “An Open Letter to Open-Minded Progressives” — is an alternately chilling and entertaining assault on almost everything educated Westerners hold to be self-evidently true. His critique of our present is not that we need a correction to return us to traditional notions of national culture and to unseat the administrative state and its elites; it is that we need to take the whole idea of human “progress” itself and throw it in the trash can. Things didn’t start going wrong in the 1960s or under the Progressives. Yarvin believes that the Western mind became corrupted during the Enlightenment itself. The very idea of democracy, allied with reason and constitutionalism, is bunk: “Washington has failed. The Constitution has failed. Democracy has failed.” His golden era: the age of monarchs. (“It is hard not to imagine that world as happier, wealthier, freer, more civilized, and more pleasant.”) His solution: “It is time for restoration, for national salvation, for a full reboot. We need a new government, a clean slate, a fresh hand which is smart, strong and fair.”

At first, Yarvin reads like some kind of elaborate intellectual prank (as well as a legendary exercise in trolling). And he writes with a jocular, designed-to-shock style that is far more influenced by snarky web discourse than anything in, say, the Claremont Review. But the more you read, the more his ideological transgressions seem to come from a deadly serious place. He challenges the idea that the present is always preferable to the past: “There is no strong reason to think that governments recent and domestic are any better than the governments ancient and foreign,” he writes. “The American Republic is over two hundred years old. Great. The Serene Republic of Venice lasted eleven hundred.” The assumption that all of history has led inexorably to today’s glorious and democratic present is, he argues, a smug and self-serving delusion. It’s what used to be called Whig History, the idea that all of human history led up to the democratic institutions and civilizational achievements of liberal Britain, the model for the entire world. This reflexive sense that the world is always going forward has become an American orthodoxy almost no one questions. Insofar as progressives see flaws in the system, Yarvin suggests, it is only because the work of progress is never done.

Why do so many of us assume that progress is inevitable, if never complete? Yarvin, like the Claremonters and American Greatness brigade, blames an elite that he calls by the inspired name “the Cathedral,” an amalgam of established universities and the mainstream press. It works like this: “The universities make decisions, for which the press manufactures consent. It’s as simple as a punch in the mouth.” If that concept of “manufacturing consent” reminds you of the Chomskyite far left, you wouldn’t be wrong. But for Yarvin, the consent is manufactured not by capitalism, advertising, and corporations but by liberal academics, pundits, and journalists. They simply assume that left liberalism is the only rational response to the world. Democracy, he contends, “no longer means that the public’s elected representatives control the government. It means that the government implements scientific public policy in the public interest.”

And the Cathedral has plainly failed. “If we imagine the 20th century without technical progress, we see an almost pure century of disaster,” Yarvin writes, despairing from his comfy 21st-century perch. His solution is not just a tyrannical president who hates all that the Cathedral stands for but something even more radical: “the liquidation of democracy, the Constitution and the rule of law, and the transfer of absolute power to a mysterious figure known only as the Receiver, who in the process of converting Washington into a heavily armed, ultra-profitable corporation will abolish the press, smash the universities, sell the public schools, and transfer ‘decivilized populations’ to ‘secure relocation facilities’ where they will be assigned to ‘mandatory apprenticeships.’ ”

This is 21st-century fascism, except that Yarvin’s Receiver would allow complete freedom of speech and association and would exercise no control over economic life. Foreign policy? Yarvin calls for “a total shutdown of international relations, including security guarantees, foreign aid, and mass immigration.” All social policy also disappears: “I believe that government should take no notice whatsoever of race — no racial policy. I believe it should separate itself completely from the question of what its citizens should or should not think — separation of education and state.”

And with that final provocation, Mencius Moldbug disappears into cyberspace.

Reaction is a mood before it is anything else, and I know its psychological temptations intimately. Growing up steeped in traditional religion, in a household where patriotism seemed as natural as breathing, I became infatuated with a past that no longer existed. I loved the countryside that was quickly being decimated by development, a Christianity that was being overwhelmed by secularism, and an idea of England, whose glories — so evident in the literature I read, the history I had absorbed, and the architecture I admired — had self-evidently crumbled into dust. Loss was my youthful preoccupation. The mockery I received because of this — from most of my peers, through high school and college — turned me inward and radicalized me still further. I began to revel in my estrangement, sharpening my intellectual rebellion with every book I devoured and every class I took. Politically I was ferociously anti-Establishment, grew to suspect and even despise much of the liberal elite, and rejoiced at Margaret Thatcher’s election victories.

So a sympathy for writers and thinkers who define themselves by a sense of loss comes naturally to me. I’ve grown out of it in many ways — and the depression and loneliness that often lie at the core of the reactionary mind slowly lifted as I grew more comfortable in the only place I could actually live: the present. But I never doubted the cogency of many reactionary insights — and I still admire minds that have not succumbed to the comfortable assumption that the future is always brighter. I read the Christian traditionalist Rod Dreher with affection. His evocation of Christian life and thought over the centuries and his panic at its disappearance from our world are poignant. We are losing a vast civilization that honed answers to the deepest questions that human beings can ask, replacing it with vapid pseudo-religions, pills, therapy, and reality TV. I’ve become entranced by the novels of Michel Houellebecq, by his regret at the spiritual emptiness of modernity, the numbness that comes with fully realized sexual freedom, the yearning for the sacred again. Maybe this was why as I read more and more of today’s neo-reactionary thought, I became nostalgic for aspects of my own past, and that of the West’s.

Because in some key respects, reactionaries are right. Great leaps forward in history are often, in fact, giant leaps back. The Reformation did initiate brutal sectarian warfare. The French Revolution did degenerate into barbarous tyranny. Communist utopias — allegedly the wave of an Elysian future — turned into murderous nightmares. Modern neoliberalism has, for its part, created a global capitalist machine that is seemingly beyond anyone’s control, fast destroying the planet’s climate, wiping out vast tracts of life on Earth while consigning millions of Americans to economic stagnation and cultural despair.

And at an even deeper level, the more we discover about human evolution, the more illusory certain ideas of progress become. In his book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari points out that hunter-gatherers were actually up to six inches taller than their more “civilized” successors; their diets were much healthier; infectious disease was much rarer; they worked less and goofed off more than we do. They didn’t even have much shorter lives: If you survived the enormous hazards of childhood, you could reach the age of 60, and some lived into their 80s (and stayed within their tribes rather than being shunted off into lonely rest homes). Famines and plagues — the great catastrophes of human history — were less common. Harari notes another paradox: Over hundreds of millennia, we have overcome starvation … but now are more likely to die of obesity than hunger. Happiness? Globally, suicide rates keep rising.

Certain truths about human beings have never changed. We are tribal creatures in our very DNA; we have an instinctive preference for our own over others, for “in-groups” over “out-groups”; for hunter-gatherers, recognizing strangers as threats was a matter of life and death. We also invent myths and stories to give meaning to our common lives. Among those myths is the nation — stretching from the past into the future, providing meaning to our common lives in a way nothing else can. Strip those narratives away, or transform them too quickly, and humans will become disoriented. Most of us respond to radical changes in our lives, especially changes we haven’t chosen, with more fear than hope. We can numb the pain with legal cannabis or opioids, but it is pain nonetheless.

If we ignore these deeper facts about ourselves, we run the risk of fatal errors. It’s vital to remember that multicultural, multiracial, post-national societies are extremely new for the human species, and keeping them viable and stable is a massive challenge. Globally, social trust is highest in the homogeneous Nordic countries, and in America, Pew has found it higher in rural areas than cities. The political scientist Robert Putnam has found that “people living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down,’ that is, to pull in like a turtle.” Not very encouraging about human nature — but something we can’t wish away, either. In fact, the American elite’s dismissal of these truths, its reduction of all resistance to cultural and demographic change as crude “racism” or “xenophobia,” only deepens the sense of siege many other Americans feel.

And is it any wonder that reactionaries are gaining strength? Within the space of 50 years, America has gone from segregation to dizzying multiculturalism; from traditional family structures to widespread divorce, cohabitation, and sexual liberty; from a few respected sources of information to an endless stream of peer-to-peer media; from careers in one company for life to an ever-accelerating need to retrain and regroup; from a patriarchy to (incomplete) gender equality; from homosexuality as a sin to homophobia as a taboo; from Christianity being the common culture to a secularism no society has ever sustained before ours.

When this velocity of cultural change combines with a deepening — and accurate — sense of economic anxiety, is it shocking that human beings want to retreat into a past, to resuscitate the nation-state, and to reach backward for a more primeval and instinctual group identity? Or that they doubt the promise of “progress” and seek scapegoats in the governing classes that have encouraged all of this to happen? And is it not evident why, when a demagogue occupies this cultural vacuum and finally speaks this forbidden language, they thrill to him?

Our job in these circumstances is not to condescend but to engage — or forfeit the politics of the moment (and the future) to reaction. Lincoln got the dynamic exactly right with respect to the Trump voter: “Assume to dictate to his judgment, or to command his action, or to mark him as one to be shunned and despised, and he will retreat within himself, close all the avenues to his head and his heart; and though your cause be naked truth itself, transformed to the heaviest lance, harder than steel, and sharper than steel can be made, and tho’ you throw it with more than Herculean force and precision, you shall be no more able to pierce him, than to penetrate the hard shell of a tortoise with a rye straw.”

The tragedy of our time, of course, is that President Obama tried to follow Lincoln’s advice. He reached out to those who voted against him as often as he could. His policies, like Obamacare, were aimed at helping the very working poor who gave Trump the White House. He pledged to transcend the red-blue divide. He acknowledged both the necessity of law enforcement and the legitimate African-American fear of hostile cops. A black man brought up by white people, he gave speech after speech attempting to provide a new narrative for America: one of slowly integrating moral progress, where racial and class divides could be overcome. He criticized the reductive divisiveness of identity politics. And yet he failed. He couldn’t prevent the disappearance of the American middle class; he couldn’t calm the restive anxieties of the white working class; he couldn’t stem the reactionary tide that now washes ever closer ashore. If a man that talented, with that biography, found himself spitting into the wind, a powerful storm is indeed upon us.

This, of course, is not to defend the neo-reactionary response. Their veiled racism is disturbing, and their pessimism a solipsistic pathology. When Anton finds nothing in modernity to celebrate but, as he put it to me, “nice restaurants, good wine, a high standard of living,” it comes off as a kind of pose, deliberately blind to all the constant renewals of life and culture around us. When Houellebecq has one of his characters sigh, “For a man to bring a child into the world now is meaningless,” I chortle. When Dreher hyperventilates that today’s youngsters “could be one of the last generations of this thing called Western civilization” and that American Christians today must “live lives prepared to suffer severe hardship, even death, for our faith,” I take my dogs for a walk. When Yarvin insists that “if the 20th century does not go down in history as the golden age of awful government, it is only because the future holds some fresher hell for us,” I check my Instagram account. There is something hysterical here, too manically certain, bleaker than any human being can bear for long.

And how can you seriously regard our political system and culture as worse than ever before in history? How self-centered do you have to be to dismiss the unprecedented freedom for women, racial minorities, and homosexuals? Or the increased security for the elderly and unemployed, and the greater access to health care by the poor and now the working poor? Compare the air we breathe today with that of the 1950s. Contrast the religious tolerance we take for granted today with the enmities of the past. Compare the racial integration of today, incomplete as it may be, with Jim Crow. Observe the historically low levels of crime compared with the recent past — and the absence of any world wars since 1945. Over the very long haul, too, scholars such as Steven Pinker have found convincing evidence that violence among humans is at the lowest levels since the species first emerged.

If the neo-reactionaries were entirely right, the collapse of our society would surely have happened long before now. But somehow, an historically unprecedented mix of races and cultures hasn’t led to civil war in the United States. In fact, majorities welcome immigration, and enjoy the new cultures that new immigrants bring. A majority backed Trump’s opponent last November. America has assimilated so many before, its culture churning into new forms, without crashing into incoherence. London may be 40 percent nonwhite and repellent to much of rural England — but it works, its inhabitants seem unfazed, its culture remains world-class. The European Union massively overreached by mandating a common currency and imposing brutal austerity, but its conflicts have not led to mass violence, its standard of living remains high, and its achievement of Continental peace is far preferable to the carnage that destroyed Europe in the last century. It may well stagger on, if it can only moderate itself.

It is also one thing to be vigilant about the power of the administrative state and to attempt to reform and modernize it; it is quite another to favor its abolition. The more complex modern society has become, the more expertise is needed to govern it — and where else is that expertise going to come from if not a professional elite? For that matter, the liberal media has nothing like the monopoly it once enjoyed. There are two “Cathedrals” in the 21st century — and only one has helped produce a conservative Supreme Court, a Republican Congress, a Republican president, and near-record Republican majorities in statehouses around the country. Non-leftist thought is suppressed in the academy and is currently subjected to extreme intolerance and even violence on many campuses. That has to change. But some ideas from the neo-reactionary underground — like the notion that carbon has little to do with rising world temperatures — are in the underground for a reason. And still, climate-change denial is the de facto policy of the American government.

Beyond all that, neo-reactionaries have a glaring problem, which is that their proposed solutions are so radical they have no chance whatsoever of coming into existence — and would be deeply reckless to attempt. Their rage eclipses their argument. The notion that public opinion could be marshaled to effect a total reset of American government in favor of a new form of monarchy, as Yarvin suggests, is, to be blunt, bonkers. And is America seriously going to remain a white-majority country? How, exactly? Can the U.S. economy suddenly unwind global manufacturing patterns? Can America simply abandon its global role and its long-standing commitments to allies?

Of course not. And the Trump administration is, day by day, proving this. An isolationist foreign policy collapsed at the first gust of reality. A thinly veiled Muslim immigration ban would have accomplished nothing — most Islamist terrorism is homegrown — and went nowhere. The communities that once thrived off manufacturing or coal mining are not coming back. Even the most draconian mass deportation of undocumented immigrants will not change the demographics of America — or suddenly raise wages for the working class. Global trade has become too entrenched to be reversed. The dismantling of Obamacare dismantled itself — not because of an elite plot but because, when confronted with its being taken away, a majority of Americans balked.

There is, perhaps, a way to use reactionary insights and still construct a feasible center-right agenda. Such a program would junk Reaganite economics as outdated but keep revenue-neutral tax reform, it could even favor redistribution to counter the deep risk to democracy that soaring inequality fosters, and it could fix Obamacare’s technical problems. You could add to this mix stronger border control, a reduction in legal immigration, a pause in free-trade expansion, a technological overhaul of the government bureaucracy, and a reassertion of Americanism over multiculturalism. This is not an impossible direction for the Republican Party to go — though it would have to abandon its know-nothing narcissist of a leader and its brain-dead congressional leaders. The left, for its part, must, it seems to me, escape its own bubble and confront the accelerating extremism of its identity politics and its disdain for millions of “deplorable” white Americans. You will not arrest the reactionary momentum by ignoring it or dismissing it entirely as a function of bigotry or stupidity. You’ll only defuse it by appreciating its insights and co-opting its appeal.

Reaction can be clarifying if it helps us better understand the huge challenges we now face. But reaction by itself cannot help us manage the world we live in today — which is the only place that matters. You start with where you are, not where you were or where you want to be. There are no utopias in the future or Gardens of Eden in our past. There is just now — in all its incoherent, groaning, volatile messiness. Our job, like everyone before us, is to keep our nerve and make the best of it.