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Democrats wanted strongman rule way more than Republicans — until Trump arrived

Democrats wanted strongman rule until Trump arrived

That graph is from the new book by political scientists Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart (2019), Cultural Backlash: Trump, Brexit, and Authoritarian Populism.

Just finishing the book now. I'd call it a rigorous validation of the conventional wisdom of the moment.  Certainly required reading for anyone with weirder theories about the culture wars. This will probably serve as the baseline model for some time.

Our theory argues that a cultural silent revolution has heightened polarization over cultural issues in the electorate, provoking an authoritarian backlash among social conservatives. We hypothesize that socially liberal values are spreading through intergenerational population replacement and demographic shifts, causing traditionalists (concentrated among the less-educated and older birth cohorts) to feel threatened, perceiving that respect for their core values and social mores is rapidly eroding. These developments have cumulated over time to reach a tipping point in high-income Western societies…

If you read between the lines there are some more tantalizing insights, such as the one dramatized in the graph above. I would like to write a longer review, but we'll see.

Patrons may have noticed this in my hard drive a week or two ago.

Modern Liberalism Is Not Peace, It's Pacification

Readers of my work over the past few years will know that I have long been interested in how natural human rebelliousness gets pacified (1, 2, 3).

I recently had the pleasure of working on this question with a group of co-authors, from very different methodological backgrounds. The final result has now been published in International Studies Quarterly. In "Liberal Pacification and the Phenomenology of Violence," (Baron, Havercroft, Kamola, Koomen, Murphy, Prichard 2019), we substantiate the concept of pacification relative to political science literatures on violence. Our real target was the popular conception of the "Liberal Peace" (i.e., modern liberalism causes peace, à la Steven Pinker).

While the article does not offer an empirical demonstration or test any hypothesis, I believe that — for a so-called "critical" paper — we went much farther than usual to develop at least a positivist case for our perspective. We do not pretend to have empirically defeated the "Liberal Peace" story, but we have planted a flag of sorts, from which "critical" perspectives might proceed in this direction with greater positivist/empirical sophistication.

Here's a key slice of the abstract:

We argue that the spread of liberal institutions does not necessarily decrease violence but instead transforms it. Our phenomenological analysis captures empirical trends in human domination and suffering that liberal peace theories cannot account for. It reveals how a decline in direct violence may coincide with the transformation of violence in ways that are concealed, monopolized, and structured into the liberal order. We call this process liberal pacification.

And here's a snippet of our positivist gloss that — I think — makes this paper stand out from a lot of other so-called "critical" papers:

…by reinterpreting the liberal peace as liberal pacification we are able to grant the empirical findings of liberal peace theorists while maintaining that the Pax Americana represents an intensification of violence overall. In the language of positivist social science, our theory is observationally equivalent to that of liberal peace theory. We expect that the quantity of direct violence inversely associates with the degree of pacification in a society. Therefore, our interpretation challenges research that identifies liberal institutions as the cause of declining violence. Liberal institutions, as apparatuses of liberal pacification, ensure that direct violence is increasingly rare while leaving the structures of violence and domination in place. The observational equivalence on particular dependent variables (in our case, all forms of direct violence) produces a theoretical change requiring the generation of novel observable implications (King, Keohane, and Verba 1994, 30).

In other words, empirical social scientists interested in the Liberal Peace should not toss this one in the bin labeled "purely theoretical postmodern crap I don't need to deal with."

If education is signaling, does moral signaling become a viable major?

In a recent post, I encountered an interesting empirical fact about the college wage premium accruing to low-ability college grads over the period 1979-1994. Looking at a 2003 article by Tobias,  I wrote: "There is a lot of temporal volatility for the class of low-ability individuals. In fact, for low-ability individuals there is not even a consistent wage premium enjoyed by the college-educated until 1990."

I have begun to wonder if this pattern has anything to do with the non-linear relationship between GPA and PC. If the low-ability college entrants feel they are much less certain to enjoy a wage premium over the "townie losers" they left behind, what better strategy than to invest their college-specific word games with extreme moral significance?  That way, even the dumbest college grad can be confident that they will remain distinguished from the more able among the non-college-grads.

[Hat tip to a few high-quality comments on this blog recently, I don't recall exactly but I think someone may have made a point similar to this; the seed of this post might have been planted there, thank you.]

Although this last point is only conjecture, it is curious that right when the wage premium for low-ability college grads arrives is right when the first wave of campus political correctness kicks off — the early 1990s. Especially if you buy Caplan's signaling theory of education, it's not at all implausible that for low-ability college grads their wage-premium is secured primarily through a specialization in moral signaling

The non-linear effect of ability on earnings in the computer age

A reader/watcher/listener has brought to my attention another paper, which shows that, for college-educated individuals, earnings are a non-linear function of cognitive ability or g — at least in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth from 1979-1994. The paper is a 2003 article by Justin Tobias in the Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics.

There may be other studies on this question, but a selling point of this article is that it tries to use the least restrictive assumptions possible. Namely, allowing for non-linearities. In the social sciences, there is a huge bias toward finding linear effects, because most of the workhorse models everyone learns in grad school are linear models. Non-linear models are trickier and harder to interpret and so they're just used much less, even in contexts where non-linearities are very plausible.

A common motif in "accelerationist" social/political theories is the exponential curve. Many of us have priors suggesting that, at least for most of the non-trivial tendenices characterizing modern polities, there are likely to be non-linear processes at work. If the contemporary social scientist using workhorse regression models is biased toward finding linear effects, accelerationists tend to go looking for non-linear processes at the individual, group, nation, or global level. So for those of us who think the accelerationist frame is the one best fit to parsing the politics of modernity, studies allowing for non-linearity can be especially revealing.

The first main finding of Tobias is visually summarized in the figure below. Tobias has more complicated arguments about the relationship between ability, education, and earnings, but we'll ignore those here. Considering college-educated individuals only, the graph below plots on the y-axis the percentage change in wages associated with a one-standard-deviation increase in ability, across a range of abilities. Note that whereas many graphs will show you how some change in X is associated with some change in Y, this plot is different: It shows the marginal effect of X on Y, but for different values of X.

Tobias 2003, pp. 13.

The implication of the above graph is pretty clear. It just means that the earnings gain from any unit increase in g is greater at higher levels of g. An easy way to summarize this is to say that the effect of X on Y is exponential or multiplicative. Note also there's nothing obvious about this effect; contrast this graph to the diminishing marginal utility of money. Gaining $1000 when you're a millionaire has less of an effect on your happiness than if you're at the median wealth level. But when it comes to earnings, gaining a little bit of extra ability when you're already able is worth even more than if you were starting at a low level of ability.

The paper has a lot of nuances, which I'm blithely steamrolling. My last paragraph is only true for the college educated, and there are a few other interesting wrinkles. But this is a blog, and so I mostly collect what is of interest to me personally. Thus I'll skip to the end of the paper, where Tobias estimates separate models for each year. The graph below shows the size of the wage gap between the college-educated and the non-college-educated, for three different ability types, in each year. The solid line is one standard deviation above the mean ability, the solid line with dots is mean ability, and the dotted line is one standard deviation below the mean ability.

Tobias 2003, pp. 23

An obvious implication is that the wage gap increases over this period, more or less for each ability level. But what's interesting is that the slope looks a bit steeper, and is less volatile, for high-ability than for average and low-ability. There is a lot of temporal volatility for the class of low-ability individuals. In fact, for low-ability individuals there is not even a consistent wage premium enjoyed by the college-educated until 1990.

Anyway, file under runaway intelligence takeoff...

Study finds the relationship between genes and earnings increased after 1980

Someone sent me a recent NBER working paper by Nicholas W. Papageorge and Kevin Thom on polygenic scores and educational attainment/earnings. Most pertinent to my theoretical interests is that the link between genes and income appears to increase over recent decades.

In my lectures on the politics of media (really about the politics of technology more generally), I dedicate a session to the topic of skill-biased technical change (SBTC). While the econometrics and specific interpretations are debated, there is a literature in Economics that suggests certain technological innovations (i.e. computing) increase the earnings of the highly skilled relative to the less skilled. I would sometimes wonder to what degree "skills," which sound like primarily acquired things, in fact reflect heritable traits. Or if one could separate these out...

Papageorge and Thom provide one of the first efforts to study this question explicitly. "This is the first study to estimate the returns to genetic factors associated with education using micro genetic data and disaggregated measures of earnings and job tasks across cohorts."

Here is their summary of the genetic effect, conditional on time period:

The returns to these genetic endowments appear to rise over time, coinciding with the rise in income inequality after 1980. Accounting for degree and years of schooling, a one standard deviation increase in the score is associated with a 4.5 percent increase in earnings after 1980. These results are consistent with recent literature on income inequality
showing not only an increase in the college premium, but also a rise in the residual wage variance within educational groups (Lemieux, 2006). We also find a positive association between the score and the kinds of non-routine job tasks that benefited from computerization and the development of more advanced information technologies (Autor, Levy, and Murnane, 2003). This provides suggestive evidence that the endowments linked to more educational attainment may allow individuals to either better adapt to new technologies, or specialize in
tasks that more strongly complement these new technologies.

Basically, they observe what you would expect to observe if the computerization that begins around 1980 allowed the escape and takeoff of "non-routine analytic" power or abstract intelligence by those most genetically blessed with it. Implicitly, individuals less genetically blessed with "non-routine analytic" powers begin to be left behind around 1980.

Their findings cannot explain the entire postwar dynamic of increasing inequality and relative stagnation of the lower classes, however, because the flatlining of median wages begins around 1973 if I recall correctly. The study seems somewhat coy about naming or even labeling the polygenic score; but my non-expert intuition is that it would have to be something quite akin to what is called the "g-factor" or general intelligence, right?

One limitation of the study is that they use a dummy variable for the period after 1980. I would be curious to see what happens if one re-runs their models with a continuous variable for year. My intuition is that individual-level economic outcomes are more skill-biased/g-loaded today than in the 1980s, but I'm not yet up on any studies this precise on that question in particular.

Occupations and Their Ideologies

Occupations are strongly sorted by ideology. Political scientist Adam Bonica has produced reliable and consistent estimates of ideological placement for a huge number of individuals, politicians, and organizations. As he writes here, he was especially struck by how extreme are the mean ideology scores for various occupations:

Although the ideological orientation of these industries is not much of a surprise, the extent to which these industries favor the extreme, rather than moderate, wings of each party far surpassed my expectations. Some of the distributions more closely resemble what I would expect from occupations that were subject to the spoils system–for instance, US postmasters prior to the Pendleton Act–than major contemporary industries with no official partisan ties.

In Bonica's AJPS article, he makes a similar observation:

In some industries, ideological sorting easily exceeds the levels of sorting observed along geographic or economic lines.

Ideological Ranking of Occupations and Industries, by Adam Bonica
Workplace Ideology: Selected Firms and Institutions (2004-2008), by Adam Bonica

Left-wing occupations are farther to the left than right-wing occupations are to the right

An interesting wrinkle in this data is that the left-leaning occupations are more left-leaning than the right-leaning occupations are right-leaning. Of the left-wing occupations and organizations, there are many firmly below -1, but for the right-wing occupations there are very few above 1. Indeed, even iconic representatives of evil right-wing military-industrial capital — such as Boeing or Exxon Mobil — are essentially centrist, at least with respect to their staffing.

You can see this again when he places industries into three buckets: Left, Right, and Divided. In the graphs below, it's easy to eyeball that the peak of the left-wing distributions are further to the left than the peak of the right-wing distributions are to the right.

Industries aligned with the Left
Industries Aligned with the Left (2008)
Industries Aligned with the Right (2008)
Ideologically Divided Industries (2008)

Social performance for status vs. mundane thing manipulation?

What are the underlying variables that explain how occupations sort into these three baskets? Just speculating, the left-wing occupations seem to be mostly about social performance and they garner high status. The right-wing occupations are mostly about mundane things and garner zero or negative status. And the divided occupations are those that call for ambiguous combinations of these things (person-facing but socially unimpressive).

And because some of those graphs are a bit old (2008), here is some confirmation that the basic patterns have not changed, at least as late as 2012.

Mapping the Ideological Marketplace (Bonica 2014)

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