The High Price of Mistrust | Farnam Street

Source: The High Price of Mistrust | Farnam Street
RE: “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community” (2001), by Robert D. Putnam

When we can’t trust each other, nothing works. As we participate in our communities less and less, we find it harder to feel other people are trustworthy. But if we can bring back a sense of trust in the people around us, the rewards are incredible.

Mistrust costs us time and money, sure. But it also costs us a little bit of our humanity. We are sociable animals, and seeing the people around us as a potential threat, even a small one, wears on us. Constant vigilance is exhausting. So is being under constant suspicion.

Don’t Build Roads, Open Schools | The Atlantic

Source: Don’t Build Roads, Open Schools | The Atlantic, by Helen Lewis

Nurseries, day-care centers, and kindergartens have been badly hit by pandemic closures, but so have primary and secondary schools, which we should also count as child care. These are not just sites for learning, or places where children go to make friends and develop social skills. Schools are also what allow parents to go to work, earn wages, generate tax income, and contribute to economic growth. … Most parents want to have jobs, and very few couples can survive comfortably on one income anyway. State-provided child care, in all its forms, is what gets those people into work, as much as roads or railways.

In a society where the prime minister is asked whether he “helps” with changing nappies for his newborn child, the idea of child care as women’s (unpaid) work holds the issue back in political discussions. It’s not treated as a real job.

How America Ends / Moderate Republicans Can Save America | The Atlantic

Source: How America Ends / Moderate Republicans Can Save America | The Atlantic, by Yoni Appelbaum

Democracy depends on the consent of the losers.

What has caused such rancor [in current U.S. politics]? … the biggest driver might be demographic change. … [The United State’s] historically dominant group is on its way to becoming a political minority—and its minority groups are asserting their co-equal rights and interests. If there are precedents for such a transition, they lie here in the United States, where white Englishmen initially predominated, and the boundaries of the dominant group have been under negotiation ever since. Yet those precedents are hardly comforting. Many of these renegotiations sparked political conflict or open violence

For a populist, Trump is remarkably unpopular. But no one should take comfort from that fact. The more he radicalizes his opponents against his agenda, the more he gives his own supporters to fear. The excesses of the left bind his supporters more tightly to him, even as the excesses of the right make it harder for the Republican Party to command majority support, validating the fear that the party is passing into eclipse, in a vicious cycle.

The right, and the country, can come back from this. Our history is rife with influential groups that, after discarding their commitment to democratic principles in an attempt to retain their grasp on power, lost their fight and then discovered they could thrive in the political order they had so feared. The Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, criminalizing criticism of their administration; Redemption-era Democrats stripped black voters of the franchise; and Progressive Republicans wrested municipal governance away from immigrant voters. Each rejected popular democracy out of fear that it would lose at the polls, and terror at what might then result. And in each case democracy eventually prevailed, without tragic effect on the losers. The American system works more often than it doesn’t.

The Democrats lost the presidential race in 1928—but won the next five, in one of the most dominant runs in American political history. The most effective way to protect the things they cherished, Democratic politicians belatedly discovered, wasn’t by locking immigrants out of the party, but by inviting them in.

Whether the American political system today can endure without fracturing further, Daniel Ziblatt’s research suggests, may depend on the choices the center-right now makes. If the center-right decides to accept some electoral defeats and then seeks to gain adherents via argumentation and attraction—and, crucially, eschews making racial heritage its organizing principle—then the GOP can remain vibrant. Its fissures will heal and its prospects will improve, as did those of the Democratic Party in the 1920s, after Wilson. Democracy will be maintained. But if the center-right, surveying demographic upheaval and finding the prospect of electoral losses intolerable, casts its lot with Trumpism and a far right rooted in ethno-nationalism, then it is doomed to an ever smaller proportion of voters, and risks revisiting the ugliest chapters of our history.

The Republican Party faced a choice between these two competing visions in the last presidential election. The post-2012 report defined the GOP ideologically, urging its leaders to reach out to new groups, emphasize the values they had in common, and rebuild the party into an organization capable of winning a majority of the votes in a presidential race. Anton’s essay, by contrast, defined the party as the defender of “a people, a civilization” threatened by America’s growing diversity.

When Trump’s presidency comes to its end, the Republican Party will confront the same choice it faced before his rise, only even more urgently. In 2013, the party’s leaders saw the path that lay before them clearly, and urged Republicans to reach out to voters of diverse backgrounds whose own values matched the “ideals, philosophy and principles” of the GOP. Trumpism deprioritizes conservative ideas and principles in favor of ethno-nationalism.

The conservative strands of America’s political heritage—a bias in favor of continuity, a love for traditions and institutions, a healthy skepticism of sharp departures—provide the nation with a requisite ballast. America is at once a land of continual change and a nation of strong continuities. Each new wave of immigration to the United States has altered its culture, but the immigrants themselves have embraced and thus conserved many of its core traditions. … And all became more American.

If America’s white Judeo-Christian majority is gone, then some new majority is already emerging to take its place—some new, more capacious way of understanding what it is to belong to the American mainstream.

So strong is the attraction of the American idea that it infects even our dissidents. The suffragists at Seneca Falls, Martin Luther King Jr. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and Harvey Milk in front of San Francisco’s city hall all quoted the Declaration of Independence. The United States possesses a strong radical tradition, but its most successful social movements have generally adopted the language of conservatism, framing their calls for change as an expression of America’s founding ideals rather than as a rejection of them.

The stakes in this battle on the right are much higher than the next election. If Republican voters can’t be convinced that democratic elections will continue to offer them a viable path to victory, that they can thrive within a diversifying nation, and that even in defeat their basic rights will be protected, then Trumpism will extend long after Trump leaves office—and our democracy will suffer for it.

The Road From Serfdom | The Atlantic

Source: The Road From Serfdom | The Atlantic, by Danielle Allen

The most urgent priority is addressing the corrosion of our democracy itself. If we don’t, we will lose the essence of the American experiment.

When Washington described public liberty as depending on the citizenry’s ability to ward off the despotism of faction, he was offering a profound insight: The precondition of democratic decision making is unity. … a process of mutual consultation—adjusting the interests of various parties in relation to one another—with the aim of achieving “consistent and wholesome plans” that could provide stability of direction over the long haul.

I keep coming back to Washington because his emphasis on collective accomplishment is the forgotten half of America’s constitutional ethos. We all remember what the Founders said about electoral procedures, about checks and balances, about the basic rights of citizens. We forget that all these elements were … supposed to be tools

We have shed the burden of compromise because politics has become factional. This state of affairs was epitomized by a statement from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “Winners make policy, and losers go home.”

As a measure of human flourishing, empowerment is more important than wealth. Wealth is merely one possible source of empowerment. It cannot buy what makes nations flourish: social cohesion, freedom, and healthy institutions. Social cohesion is created by cooperation, and cooperation occurs only if individuals have equal standing. The role of government is not to stay out of the way of markets. It is to secure the rights that undergird empowerment, cohesion, and participation. Securing these rights requires combatting monopolies. We understand what monopoly power means in the economic sense. But the issue of monopoly power applies to the political and social domains, too. Gerrymandered districts create monopolistic political power. Our current approach to education funding, which tightly links it to property taxes, has allowed the socioeconomically advantaged to establish a near-monopoly on genuine educational opportunities. People with money enjoy a position of privilege in the legal system. Corporations enjoy one when it comes to the quiet tweaking of bureaucracy and regulation. A proper role of government—nearly forgotten today, but the overriding concern of the Founders—is finding ways to prevent undue concentrations of power wherever they occur. Power tends toward self-perpetuation; where it is left undisturbed, it will draw further advantages to itself, shut out rivals, and mete out ever-bolder forms of injustice.

We have come to where we are over the course of decades, and getting someplace else will also take decades.

The way to start is by changing the policy agenda. Two issues should be at the top. The first is reviving our political system. We should direct our efforts powerfully and immediately toward what might be called “participation policy”—an umbrella term for measures and practices designed to increase the degree to which citizens vote and otherwise participate in self-government.

The second issue to put at the top of the agenda is the administration of justice. This is not about reviving the political system—it’s about reviving faith in the political system. Since the beginning of time, and around the globe, government’s first job has been to ensure that disputes and transgressions are justly dealt with. No government successfully secures the rights of the people—or maintains their allegiance—if it fails at the proper administration of justice.

We can debate the specifics. What matters is understanding the nature and scale of the task. Adjusting our directional slope so that it points a few degrees up rather than a few degrees down may seem unsatisfying—and, at the same time, a pipe dream. But small increments of change, multiplied by decades, are what put us where we are. They can also pull us out.

The challenges of participation and justice won’t be met by markets working independently of politics, and they won’t be met by the triumph of one faction over another. No great challenge can be met that way. As a nation, we have been called to be our best and most united selves by inspirational goals. The salvation of the democratic experiment must become such a goal.

The Internet and the Third Estate | Stratechery

Source: The Internet and the Third Estate | Stratechery, by Ben Thompson

Mark Zuckerberg suggested that social media is a “Fifth Estate”; in fact, social media is a means by which the Third Estate — commoners — can seize political power.

in the Middle Ages the principal organizing entity for Europe was the Catholic Church. Relatedly, the Catholic Church also held a de facto monopoly on the distribution of information: most books were in Latin, copied laboriously by hand by monks. … The printing press changed all of this. … the First Estate became not the clergy of the Catholic Church but a national monarch, even as the monarch gave up power to a new kind of meritocratic nobility epitomized by Burke. In other words, Burke’s Fourth Estate was the means by which the Second Estate overthrew the first.

I would go further: just as the Catholic Church ensured its primacy by controlling information, the modern meritocracy has done the same, not so much by controlling the press but rather by incorporating it into a broader national consensus.

my argument [in 2016’s TV Advertising’s Surprising Strength — And Inevitable Fall] is that every part of the media-advertising-industrial complex was threatened by the Internet.

The inescapable reality is that TV advertisers are 20th century companies: built for mass markets, not niches, for brick-and-mortar retailers, not e-commerce. These companies were built on TV, and TV was built on their advertisements, and while they are propping each other up for now, the decline of one will hasten the decline of the other.

There is no reason this reality shouldn’t apply to nation-states as well.

The likelihood any particular message will “break out” is based not on who is propagating said message but on how many users are receptive to hearing it. The power has shifted from the supply side to the demand side. … And, by extension, the most successful politicians in an aggregated world are not those who serve the party but rather those who tell voters what they most want to hear.

If Facebook has the potential for immense influence on politics, why on earth would anyone want the company policing political speech?

China is building its own internet focused on very different values, and is now exporting their vision of the internet to other countries. Until recently, the internet in almost every country outside China has been defined by American platforms with strong free expression values. There’s no guarantee these values will win out. A decade ago, almost all of the major internet platforms were American. Today, six of the top ten are Chinese.

We’re beginning to see this in social media. While our services, like WhatsApp, are used by protesters and activists everywhere due to strong encryption and privacy protections, on TikTok, the Chinese app growing quickly around the world, mentions of these protests are censored, even in the US.

Is that the internet we want?

Indeed, this gets at why the Facebook questions are so critical: the company’s critics that argue that Facebook is too big are making a cogent argument that reconciles concerns about Facebook’s power with a desire to control misinformation; critics that ignore these tradeoffs, though, come across as authoritarians in their own right, disappointed in Facebook only so far as the company fails to leverage its power to enforce their personal preferences.

And so we are back to China. The U.S. specifically and the West broadly is not going to out-authoritarian an avowedly Marxist regime with a demonstrated willingness to use “re-education camps” and omnipresent surveillance to ensure the Second Estate era — that of the cohesive nation-state — remains in place. To fight the Internet’s impact, instead of seeking to understand it and guide the fundamental transformations that will surely follow, is a commitment by the West to lose the fight for the future.