Saturday, June 16, 2018

links for the weekend

1. Rags to riches – a steady rise from bad to good fortune
2. Riches to rags – a fall from good to bad, a tragedy
3. Icarus – a rise then a fall in fortune
4. Oedipus – a fall, a rise then a fall again
5. Cinderella – rise, fall, rise
6. Man in a hole – fall, rise
According to Olga Khazan a reason to worry about declining birth rates is connected to a rise in populist sentiments ... ?
Discussion about the great American baby bust often seems meant to induce fear. The concern is that with fewer babies, economic growth will plummet, and too-few workers will have to shoulder the burden of an aging population. But if I’m being honest, the latest news about the drop in American births did not raise my blood pressure much.
Maybe it’s because I, myself, am kind of “eh” on kids in general. Maybe I’ve just been watching too many men beseech women to do their feminine duties on Handmaid’s Tale. So American women are opting out of parenting? Good for them! More time for Netflix, making money, reading my articles—to name just three very pleasurable activities that don’t cause stretch marks.

Or at least, so I thought. I recently came across something that’s made me sit up and pay attention to fertility rates: There is research linking falling fertility to rising populism.
Definitions of populism vary, but it’s often thought to be a political philosophy in which “the people” are pitted against elites and outsiders in a struggle for domination. The rhetoric of President Trump is often considered to be populist.


The problems typically associated with falling fertility are a struggle to pay for Social Security and Medicare in the long run. Fewer babies today means fewer workers in the future, which means less money in the Social-Security pot.

These might seem like relatively manageable threats: We could simply raise immigration quotas to boost the number of “missing” workers, for example. But it’s the very arrival of these immigrants that might fuel populist sentiment. The way this would work, as my colleague Derek Thompson has explained, is in a sort of doom loop: Population plummets, immigration increases, people get scared by the influx of newcomers, they become more xenophobic, and thus more inclined to support nationalist parties.

“There is a growing body of evidence that as rich majority-white countries admit more foreign-born people, far-right parties thrive by politicizing the perceived threat of the foreign-born to national culture,” Thompson writes.


This being an article by Khazan at The Atlantic the societal self-imposed double bind of native women (as distinct from immigrants) foregoing childbirth and childrearing plays a part in the decline of births of those who could contribute to the future welfare network and be perceived by reactionary sentiment as a sign of decline that has to be averted by increasing the birth rate.  The doom loop doesn't seem like something that can be averted if the native birth rate goes up. 

But what a blue-state approach can often forget is that many immigrants can be more socially conservative than the bleu state mainstream may wish them to be.  Anyone remember that Trump got ANY votes from the Latino demographic or the African American demographic?  The DNC assumption that people of color have or will automatically vote their way could be a strategic mistake over the next twenty-five years.  It's not that people of color necessarily have reasons to just go vote for Republicans so much as the sheer assumption that they never would seems like it could have played a role in 2016 being what it was, however small that role might have been compared to stuff like gerrymandering.


But there are also some important differences between the Trump and Bush eras. The current round of anti-Americanism is taking place at a moment of anxiety about the fate of the U.S.-led world order and the relative decline of American power. Anti-American sentiments in Europe have often been linked to fears about expanding U.S. military power, economic clout, or the pervasiveness of American culture. These days, by contrast, Europeans seem less concerned about an unrestrained “hyperpower” flexing its muscles around the world, and more worried about an America withdrawing from the transatlantic relationship.

After World War II, Washington exerted its outsize power on the world stage to build that relationship. In 1947, the British writer and politician Harold Laski said that “America bestrides the world like a colossus; neither Rome at the height of its power nor Great Britain in the period of economic supremacy enjoyed an influence so direct, so profound, or so pervasive.” A year later, the United States would launch the Marshall Plan and work with its European allies to shape the liberal world order. Of course, even during the Cold War, there were rifts between the America and its European allies: the 1956 Suez crisis, the Vietnam War, and the debate over deploying intermediate-range missiles in Germany during the Reagan presidency. But the Soviet threat offered a terrifying incentive for the nations of the Western alliance to get over their differences.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, U.S. power was essentially unrivaled, and after 9/11 the extraordinary reach of U.S. military might worried many Europeans. There was widespread opposition to the Iraq War, plus a widely shared view that the Bush administration was pursuing the broader war on terror unilaterally. Majorities in most of the European countries polled by Pew during the Bush years believed that the United States was looking out for its own interests and not taking into account the interests of other nations. Back then, America’s poor global standing was linked to fears of unconstrained U.S. power and its disregard for international norms or multilateral cooperation.

Obama was much more popular in Europe than Bush, but even his administration occasionally bred fear and resentment. His increased use of drone strikes against terrorists in places like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia was widely unpopular. Meanwhile, Edward Snowden’s revelations about U.S. surveillance around the world highlighted what many saw as a troubling new dimension of American power: the capacity to reach through cyberspace and monitor the communications of almost anyone, anywhere. And the Snowden story had serious effects on American soft power. Pew surveys found that the share of the public who believed the U.S. government respected personal liberty declined in many nations following the disclosures. This issue was particularly important in Germany, where the United States reportedly eavesdropped on Merkel.

In contrast, Trump-era European anxieties are driven less by fears of unchecked American power, and more by a sense that the United States is stepping back from the world order it helped design.

The fate of that order has been the subject of considerable debate since Brexit and Trump’s election. Facing external pressure from the rise of China and other emerging powers, and internal stress from surging populism, the Western nations that shaped the international system for seven decades appear wobbly. And many Europeans believe the hegemon of the U.S.-led order is in decline. Pluralities of those Pew surveyed last year in France, Germany, and Britain, said China—not America—is the world’s leading economic power. A less-powerful America means uncertainty for the international system that has brought relative peace and prosperity to Europe for seven decades
Not that I'm particularly happy about Trump but for those who are, and can be more articulate than commentaries to the effect of MAGA hats, one of the things they have said in the last few years is that a key element in Trump's rhetoric has been to say that that world order the United States has helped design, or more probably bankrolled, is no longer worth bankrolling; the Atlantic-based coalition that played its part in the Cold War could be seen by those who back Trump with their votes as having reached and even passed its shelf life.  If the powers of Europe are taking this seriously it's no wonder they don't care for Trump because Trump's approach (if it could even be described as consistent, which plenty don't grant) has been to say that the shelf-life of the Euro-American coalition has passed and that American interests would involve brokering some new kind of deal. 

Actually ... as geopolitical trends go it's interesting that the cartoon The Miraculous Adventures of Ladybug and Cat Noir features a superheroine, Marinette, who is French-Chinese in lineage by way of a French-Chinese marriage.  The superpowers are derived from kwamis kept in the safekeeping of a Chinese master.  So it's not that hard to find in even the pulpiest lowest brow cartoons a reflection within French animation of the above-mentioned geopolitical shift, if you want to go with a Walter Benjamin style reading of lowbrow popular culture as an indicator of socio-economic and political alignment changes. 

From The Baffler, how puff piece journalism transformed into the power ... puff piece, title narrowly avoids one of my favorite pop cultural artifacts from the later 1990s ...

But one hundred years after the puff piece floated into our consciousness, it is being swept aside by a new kind of celebrity profile, developed within a newly engaged culture. It may be no less calculating than its predecessor, but its purpose is the opposite. Rather than meaning nothing, it means everything. The power piece positions itself as the celebrity profile as activism, and sometimes it even succeeds.
In September, Graydon Carter announced that he was stepping down as editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair. The moment the sexagenarian actually left the building, however, arrived months later. The March 2018 issue of the magazine featured a cover story on Jennifer Lawrence, who, it stated, “is imbued with insatiable curiosity, professionalism, a work ethic, and extraordinary natural talent.” Thousands of words long with virtually no content, the profile relied on bromides to bolster the twenty-seven-year-old actress’s already well-established Girl Next Door brand. “I have read a lot of painfully banal celebrity profiles but this new VF one on Jennifer Lawrence,” tweeted Petersen, “it’s like toothache-magnitude-painful levels of banality.” In an untimely retrograde affair, Lawrence modeled gowns on a twenty-four-acre farm and cooked—“I can’t work on a diet. I’m hungry.”—for interviewer Krista Smith, Vanity Fair’s executive west coast editor and, according to the site, “de facto ambassador to Hollywood.” As the New York Post pointed out, the cover was unsettlingly similar to Lawrence’s Hollywood Reporter cover from December, a coarse metaphor for the interchangeability of the form.

The nature of the puffery may slightly change but the puffery is still about power and status.

Elsewhere, Conor Friedersdorf has a riff on the problem of any academic, but one in particular, making a case that there's a reason to hate men in general.

Still, the core question warrants a dispassionate, substantive answer.
“Is it really so illogical to hate men?”
Yes, it is.
It is always illogical to hate an entire group of people for behavior perpetrated by a subset of its members and actively opposed or renounced by literally millions of them. It is every bit as easy, and more just, to assign collective rhetorical blame to groups that deserve it, like “murderers” or “rapists” or “domestic abusers” or “sexists.”
Fortunately a certain Richard Nixon of preachers has fallen in brand a bit but a Friedersdorf could argue that certain kinds of professorial bromides about the bros can paradoxically play into the hands of bros like Mark Driscoll. 

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