Oh; ye of little faith

The sly and neurotic Kentuckian Hong Konger Lyman Stone has recently written a piece arguing that China’s population is destined to fall and converge with that of the imperialist countries and their Pacific puppets. While I do agree with some of this argument -China’s high economic growth isn’t going to last forever, much of its demographic stagnation for the next couple decades is built in, and it is doubtful whether the whole country can economically converge with the typical European First World- it suffers from vastly insufficient faith in the Party’s mechanisms to implement its goals. Never mind the specifics of alliances, which can be debated later, I want to argue against this idea that China, of all countries, is destined toward demographic doom.

Throughout the 2010s, the party has been encumbered with at least three major problems, completely irresolvable by any of the imperialist countries had such problems been faced by them. Consider Xinjiang. In 2009, the province was chaotic and volatile, with hundreds of Chinese being killed by marauding Uyghurs.  Today, in a stunning demonstration of the success of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, the problem is completely solved, Uyghur fertility has been forced to sub-replacement, nonstate violence in Xinjiang  is nonexistent, the population has been almost completely reeducated in the virtues of Xi Jinping Thought and the necessity of assimilation into Chinese society. Could anybody back at the beginning of the decade have predicted that China would solve its Uyghur problem so thoroughly? Hundreds of American and European ghettos remain -and, indeed, today they are expanding with vicious speed with the enthusiastic encouragement of the state; this does not mean that such a thing would be possible in the People’s Republic of China.

The government faced a severe crisis due to the 2019 autonomist protests in Hong Kong, which crippled that city’s status as a major zone of interaction between East and West. Today, Hong Kong is on its way to being a triumphant showpiece of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the Twenty-First Century, with resistance crushed and the city pacified, with all the American State Department’s promotion of the riots and demonstrations gone to waste.

The People’s Republic of China was, as is well known, the first country to experience a major outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Today, it has, unlike all the countries greater than 50 million other than Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Burma, and South Korea (not coincidentally, all neighbors of China), nearly eliminated the virus, while it continues to spread completely unabated through vast swathes of the United States, its foremost imperial rival.

Anybody who did not have faith in the will and means of the party to achieve its goals of preventing chaos, mass death, and disaster in China utterly failed in his predictions in each of the above three events. While there is no guarantee the Chinese state’s will shall not fail in the question of demographics, its growing comfort in the use of authoritarian methods to enforce its social vision certainly seems likely to grow, not shrink, over the coming decade, and there is no reason to believe this comfort will not extend to the question of increasing Han fertility.

The party state’s will and control of the means of force appear firm. Thus, in a country as willing to use state power as China, the future total fertility rate is entirely dependent on the Party’s preferences. If it wants it to be 12, it will be 12. If it wants it to be 4, it will be 4. And if it wants it to be 2, it will definitely be 2. The methods to achieve heightened fertility are straightforward -bans on women from employment if they fail to bear a sufficient number children, strict and large fines on urban couples if they fail to have children after a certain age, strong incentives for young men to marry, a lowering of the age of marriage, promotion of marriage and childbearing in the means of mass information and among the elite. Given the party state’s already excessive inconveniencing of the public with checkpoints at public transportation, there is no reason to believe the party would sacrifice such a vital national goal as increasing fertility for the sake of some trivial public inconvenience about performing such a biologically necessary and ancient task.

Never mind experiencing demographic doom. With such methods as the party state has already very recently tried and used, China could (and likely will) comfortably expand its population while sending tens of millions of friendly emigrants directly to the West to promote its interests there.

Now, certainly, talk is cheap, it is, thus, firmly appropriate here for me to make a concrete prediction. I thus make two. While America’s White population will certainly decline between today and 2040, China’s Han population will rise. And while America’s White total fertility rate will stay consistently below 2 between now and 2040, China’s will rise to above 2.2 by the year 2035.

We’ll see who’s right soon enough. All I know is that when Xi has talked before, he meant business.

Why the Soviet System Failed

1. The economy was bad

2. The leadership quality was garbage

3. The leadership experienced no negative incentives for bad performance

1. and 2. are quite natural properties of Classical Leninism, which emphasizes socialism in regards to economic matters and the promotion of the working class and ideological dogmatists in matters of government. Though the Soviet economy did experience substantial economic convergence with the West from the end of the Civil War to the mid-1970s, and, due to 2. and 3., it clearly could have squeezed out a few more points of convergence with the imperialist countries, it is very clear the Classical Leninist system has inherent disadvantages over capitalism. 2. and 3. also resulted in the influx of antileninist subversive elements into the sinews of the polity, which ultimately resulted in its destruction politically as well as economically.

America currently experiences 2. and, despite elections being more competitive than ever before in its history, 3. So far, it does not experience 1, which saves it from being discredited from a purely economic standpoint, though by no means saves it from political collapse. Individual parts of the American system may experience penalties for bad performance, but the leadership structure as a whole never does, as the electoral penalty is usually over only one axis of bad performance. The competition is also, quite often, literally over if a person with a red or a blue colored hat, who differ with each other on about 1% of the policies they could realistically diverge on, gets to implement the exact same stupid policy in exactly the same fashion. Even primaries totally fail at producing competent leadership, due to ability to please the crowd being at best imperfectly correlated with ability to competently govern. Consider Cuomo. Also, term limits and powerful incumbency advantage, both de facto and de jure, make it impossible for there to be any political advantage in doing a good job relative to doing a bad job. Thus, no state governor except Steve Bullock so much as bothered to contain the coronavirus. Western-style democracy, as well as the current sovereign democratic Russian system, have failed. Chinese Communism has, so far, succeeded. It is, of course, essential for the thriving of the Chinese economy that the party’s control be laxened in certain areas, but, so far, the leadership has prioritized the economy over the extent of its reach, and has sought to find ways to ensure that there is no contradiction between the two goals.

How do we ensure the economy is good? Select the best economic policies. The economy is a machine for producing goods and services; finding ways to maximize output is relatively straightforward.

How do we ensure the leadership quality is good? Make the sovereign body (in the United States, the sovereign body is the overly large and unwieldy Congress, which should clearly be much smaller if it is to have impact) run by a council of superforecasters, who all believe exactly the same things and deviate from their understanding of future reality neither to the right nor to the left, which should make resolutions of questions of values much easier.

These superforecasters should freely design incentives for bad performance not just for themselves, but for all levels of society. They should understand the public will is quite malleable and hard to determine, so it is best not to rely too much on that thin reed.

China’s coronavirus response was basically Korea-level

We knew very little about the Chinese response to the coronavirus or about its appropriateness as of the first of January. We knew a lot more as of the first of February. Today, after the experience of over ten dozen countries, we know a lot more than we did on the first of February. It consistently reflects well on China relative to all but half a dozen or so countries, most of which border China- Mongolia, Burma, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Slovakia, and consistently reflects poorly on the imperialist countries.

The novel coronavirus was first discovered in the city of Wuhan on December 26 and was first reported to the WHO on December 31. At the time, the government had almost no information to make decisions off of. How fast did it spread? How did it spread? What was the length of spread? For how long had it been spreading? What was the time from infection to symptom onset? Most importantly, was this basically H1N1 flu (a notorious overreported nothingburger which required no action whatsoever) or a highly deadly infection like MERS? None of the answers to these questions were known in late December. They are known now. It is now known the virus results in a large number of asymptomatic cases. It is now known that asymptomatic spread is quite common, except in children. It is now known that spread varies greatly depending on the nature of activities a person engages in, with mass gatherings with close face to face contact like a seafood market being far more likely to result in a large cluster of symptomatic cases than public transportation on which mask-wearing is universal and talking is rare. It is now known that universal mask-wearing is a great aid to helping keep the reproductive number of the virus down. It is also now known that when a significant spike in deaths is noticed in a city, the number of infections there immediately starts declining, not because of herd immunity, but due to rising social distancing due to growing awareness of the new deaths. It is also now known that counts of cases and deaths are notoriously lagging indicators of actual infections. None of this was known to Chinese authorities at the beginning of this year. Considering all this massive and fully excusable ignorance, their missteps make a great deal of sense and their overall response from December to this day appears quite admirable. The city of Wuhan was limited to some four thousand deaths and four hundred thousand infected, the latter number consistent with by seroprevalence tests and basic logic. Wuhan has the same population as Belgium, but, due to China’s much better response, less than half as many coronavirus deaths. Much worse undercounting took place in Italy; every country that experienced a major pandemic undercounted both coronavirus deaths and cases. The situation in the rest of China isn’t really relevant, since China’s government put out all the sparks emanating out of Wuhan (China’s most important transportation center) successfully, more or less as I expected them to at the time. I was correctly worried about Indonesia and India, though I overestimated the reproductive number in the southerly climes and incorrectly worried about Thailand and Malaysia.

It is pretty clear that China’s original response was less proactive than that of most of its neighbors -Thailand, Korea, Burma, Mongolia, Vietnam, Taiwan, etc. The only truly good way to have prepared for this possibility was to have mandated mask-wearing in indoor areas in public every winter. Ideally, once the novel coronavirus was discovered, Chinese authorities would have engaged in a Vietnam-style strategy to contain its still minor outbreak -massive isolation of contacts combined with a quick rampup of testing to discover asymptomatic cases in order to quarantine them and their contacts, as well as shutting down outbound travel from Wuhan. But given the lack of existing knowledge of sustained community transmission with a high reproductive number until mid-January, this is a rather tall order for a country with no pre-existing knowledge about the peculiar features of the virus, and would have been well above typical First World levels of competence. I, for one, consistently favored the somewhat deficient, but still generally functional Korean-style approach from mid-January until April. Such proactive, affirmative, offensive measures to curb the spread of a virus causing just a few pneumonia cases was an approach only such a sublime republic as Mongolia could pull off with no error. Korea didn’t even begin testing all pneumonia cases for the coronavirus until February 18, more than twenty days after the first recorded case in the country. New viruses are discovered every day. It seems Chinese authorities chose not to respond proactively until more information about the virus could be known to confirm it would neither burn itself out nor would be as as much of a nothingburger as H1N1 flu. The high age of those most severely hit by the pneumonia must also have struck the authorities into some degree of complacency. As a result of mistakes committed by the Chinese authorities, Wuhan had as many as a hundred thousand infections by January 15, when overcrowded hospital videos began to become prominent on Chinese social networks. The long lag between infections, symptoms, and deaths combined with the high rate of asymptomatic cases and spread blindsided the authorities. Wuhan eventually had some four thousand deaths (or possibly as much as 2-3x more). Hong Kong, the pro-CCP leadership of which began to be concerned about the new virus as soon as it was reported and the first government in the world to Tweet out concern over it in English, had four deaths. New York City already has over twenty five thousand, and this pandemic isn’t even over. The situation in Wuhan roughly paralleled that in New York City with a difference of two months, with the exception that Wuhan’s infections obviously fell much faster than those in New York City once the Chinese government began taking anti-pandemic measures there. In both cases, infections during the portion of the epidemic during which they were still increasing were clearly undercounted by the authorities because of lack of early mass testing. It is questionable to the extreme that any but half a dozen other countries could have been as effective in countering the virus had its first superspreader event been within their borders. Overall, I am forced to agree with Ren Yi that “On a 10-point scale, I grade the Chinese government a 9 to 9.5.”. Certainly it confirms China has extraordinary levels of state capacity, far superior to those in any of the imperialist countries, and certainly far superior to any of the other BRICS. Of all the great countries exceeding seventy million in population, it’s clear only China, Vietnam, Japan, and, to a lesser extent, Germany and Turkey have any real ability to combat epidemics (we have yet to see about Ethiopia).

The decision to restrict within-country travel was easily the smartest decision Chinese authorities made relative to most of the world. It greatly decreased the number of sparks the various provincial governments had to put out in the majority of the country while the situation in Wuhan was getting under control. Very few other countries prevented outbound travel from their leading pandemic epicenters. Ultimately, however, the Chinese authorities’ delay in restricting internal travel might have been a highly salutary thing. It demonstrated to the entirety of the world that democracy had no impact whatsoever on good governance, that the Chinese system (so far) is largely superior to that of the First World, and that the West’s riches did not result from current “good institutions” so much as a set of past institutions that resulted in the creation of an innovative private sector in much earlier days. Had the Chinese government snuffed out its pandemic without it spreading to the rest of the world, the rest of the world might have thought China’s mistakes during its pandemic were demerits against its system, rather than common problems the rest of the world currently faces. The Chinese lockdown (or stay-at-home order), the portion of the response that most hurt its economy, was, in retrospect, a blunt, dumb, and unnecessary measure, and was seen as so by Western media at the time. But given the sheer number of supposedly competently administered countries that adopted it, it may well have been one of China’s smartest moves, as it demonstrated the imperialist countries were too racist to learn from their own vassals in Korea and Taiwan. Without the mass unemployment caused by the American lockdown, would the Anglo-American riots of May-June 2020 have even happened? Today in America, Britain, and Sweden, ideologues on both the left and right are actively encouraging people to spread the virus and work to obstruct contact tracing. But Biomaoist America and its English and Swedish pals are so much better than Dengist China!

On a related note, Australia has once again proven itself to be by far the most dynamic country in the Anglosphere in general, and, thus, the White world.

The China shock did hurt the American economy, but not in the way most explain

There is a common meme, true but misstated, that the rise of China 2003-2011 reduced the consumption of Americans. Behind it, though never explicitly stated, can only be the idea that newly rich Chinese consumed goods and services that would otherwise have been consumed by Americans.

The much more common statement of the view that the rise of China reduced the consumption of Americans is that the exchange of Chinese manufactured goods for American assets resulting from the U.S. capital account surplus with China transferred wealth from U.S. manufacturing workers and domestic industrial capitalists to U.S. construction workers, governments, and landlords. This is true enough. However, it does not constitute an overall consumption transfer from Chinese to Americans. Rather, it constitutes consumption transfer within the United States, e.g., from Michigan to Florida. Even the increasingly high price of U.S. assets (e.g., housing) resulting from the American capital account surplus with China could not have possibly decreased overall U.S. consumption on net. It would simply have been another within-country consumption transfer, that is, a transfer from domestic asset buyers to domestic asset owners. In a two-country model, anything other than perfectly free trade between the U.S. and China would only make economic sense by making tariff incidence fall on the producer, something only possible given very high importer levels of monopsony power (cf. economists’ optimal tariff theory).

However, the two country model does not apply for the 2003-2011 period. The rise of China did transfer overall consumption from Americans to Chinese, as well as to Russians, Saudis, and Brazilians. This was the case because the rise of China reduced U.S. export prices and increased its import prices.

Imagine three countries, the U.S., China, and Saudi Arabia. There are two commodities, oil and manufactured goods. Both the U.S. and China export manufactured goods and import oil, while Saudi Arabia imports manufactured goods from both and exports oil to both. An increase in Chinese exports increases the price of oil, thus hurting Americans by increasing import prices and helping Saudis by increasing export prices. It also decreases the price of manufactured goods, thus hurting Americans by decreasing U.S. export prices and helping Saudis by decreasing Saudi import prices. This is, more or less, what happened to the U.S. during the 2003-2011 period, though I will not try to quantify the effect here. Between 2003 and 2011, the U.S., Portugal, and Italy all experienced unusually slow economic growth, while Brazil, Russia, Saudi Arabia, etc. and, of course, the engine of this entire movement, China, all experienced unusually fast economic growth. Developing countries in South and Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe also experienced unusually fast economic growth due to greater credit supply during this process (Greece and Spain experienced this before 2009, but not after).

American protectionism against China in the period 2003-2011 would have worked to increase its consumption only insofar as it decreased U.S. import prices and (less plausibly) increased U.S. export prices. For this to be true, it would require a substantial amount of American monopsony power over Chinese manufactured goods, as well as smaller U.S. consumption gains from cheaper domestic prices of manufactured goods than U.S. consumption losses from more expensive imported commodities.

After 2011, the U.S. increasingly began to remedy its heavy reliance on imported oil while U.S.-China trade as a percentage of U.S. GDP stagnated, thus bringing an end to (though obviously not a full reversal of) the China shock. If the U.S. becomes a net commodities exporter, it will definitely economically benefit, on net, from the rise of China, and protectionism would be indisputably economically counterproductive.

Five myths of COVID

EDIT as of June 20: Though much of the reasoning in the below post has been proven wrong, especially Russia/Hungary/Poland having the best European responses to coronavirus (the actual best responses in Europe were in Greece, Finland, the Baltics, former Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia -the best response in Western Europe was Ireland’s), each of the five points clearly and firmly stands. I will, however, leave the post up for posterity without emendation. Pakistan, Nepal, and Afghanistan performed terribly (though Burma, Laos, and Cambodia did very well). The general pattern of coronavirus cases as of June 17 is here. Once again, there no evidence at all populism solves anything. The virus has been controlled by democracies (New Zealand, Australia, Korea, Mongolia, Taiwan, Uruguay, Paraguay, Tunisia, the Baltics, Ireland, Czechoslovakia, former Yugoslavia, Greece, Lebanon, Georgia), traditional monarchies (Morocco, Jordan, Brunei), hybrid regimes (Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, Uganda, Cambodia), and Communist regimes (Cuba, Laos, China, Vietnam). Not a single “populist” government handled the crisis well, other than perhaps Serbia and Hungary, both of the governments of which are less “populist” and more “ethnonationalist”. “The exception that proves the rule” was much larger than I originally thought.

These are the five most pernicious myths I have seen regarding the COVID crisis from sources I regularly read. All are contradicted plainly by the facts.

1. Libertarians are at fault

The central problem in containing the epidemic in America in its early stage was a lack of testing. This lack of testing was not a natural process. It was a product of CDC incompetence and FDA overreach. America has many great healthcare companies, who would have loved to step up to the plate in the fight against COVID (as the great South Korean companies did in South Korea). They were prevented from doing so by the FDA delaying approval and the CDC deciding it would do all COVID testing for the United States, delaying the mass production of its own test, and creating testing criteria that guaranteed the virus would, unlike in Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, the United Arab Emirates, or Russia, spread entirely undetected. The failure to contain the epidemic in its early stages in America was not primarily a failure of libertarianism or capitalism. It was a failure of socialism. Further deregulation- on state licensing, on remote diagnosis, etc. will be the most lasting consequence of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. Those claiming current problems with the FDA and CDC are products of underfunding must explain how greater funding for these agencies would have fixed anything of importance in relation to this crisis. Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and Korea all have smaller governments as a percentage of GDP than the United States, Spain and Italy both have larger.

The current shortages of personal protective equipment in the West are primarily a product of price gouging laws and export restrictions (and import taxes) by overzealously nationalist governments, not to mention FDA regulations on mask sterilization, not primarily failures of libertarianism or offshoring. If these restrictions did not exist and never had a chance to exist, then having redundant productive capacity for medical equipment around the world would be entirely improper. The expansion of capitalism around the world (“offshoring”) has dramatically increased the world’s capability to supply needed personal protective equipment. It is not a liability for the world in countering the pandemic, but perhaps its greatest asset.

2. Chinese lies are at fault

Of all myths of COVID, this is perhaps the least true and most pernicious. The Russian government, one of the friendliest neighbors of China, did not trust its lies one bit and unilaterally shut down travel from China even before Russia recorded its first cases. South Korea, the single friendliest country to China and Russia in the developed world, had one of the most competent responses in the world with the mildest travel bans. The United Arab Emirates, a tireless champion of China’s policies towards its Uyghur minority, had one of the best responses to the pandemic in the world and shut down travel to all China except Beijing on February 3. Italy, also friendly with China by Western standards, was one of the first countries to shut down travel with it. The less relevant countries with strong China ties- Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, etc.- all got a huge dose of coronavirus fears -and, just as importantly, a sense of identification with the struggles of China- from the messaging spread by their respective Chinese ambassadors. From this evidence, it seems much more that lack of listening to Chinese truths -and, just as importantly, lack of empathy with China was the central disease of the West. Chinese messaging primarily hurt China, mostly prior to mid-January. It had either no (Russia, Italy, the UAE) or a beneficial (South Asia) impact on China’s closest partners. The countries that had the worst responses were precisely those that have a tendency to least listen to “Chinese lies” and to least empathize with Chinese concerns.

3. Populism could have helped things

One of the best responses to the pandemic came from South Korean President Moon Jae-In. He might be considered a “populist” in a loose sense, but is closer to the opposite of the current vision of the “populist” in the Western media. Relatively China-friendly, left-wing, liberal, and skeptical of restrictions on migration, Moon’s government, unlike American authorities of both and of no parties, recognized the inevitability of the spread of the epidemic into the country and prepared for it without greatly disrupting the economy at any point by massively expanding testing and the tracing of infected. The people most responsible for the spread of the pandemic in Korea turned out to be not Chinese, but local cult members. For this, Moon was berated by the Western media, even as his approach proved to be among the most successful in the world.

Some have suggested the crisis represents the failure of parts of the West to maintain its domestic manufacturing. Say what you will, but globalization expands world production; it does not contract it. By allowing one country to manufacture medical supplies when another is down, it makes the world more resilient to disasters, not less. The only reason one would want to make products at home at higher cost than elsewhere is if countries elsewhere refuse to abide by the norms of globalization and resort to beggar-thy-neighbor policies.

Immigration restriction, another core element of populism, is at best tangentially relevant to the current crisis. While it’s certain the early spread of COVID was primarily due to Chinese immigrant communities, a future pandemic may originate anywhere on the globe. The benefits of normal global trade and travel substantially outweigh potential vulnerability to once-in-a-decade pandemics, especially to immigrants themselves.

There is only one grain of truth in the meme that populism could have alleviated the spread of the pandemic. It is this: the three most demonized countries of Europe in the Western press -Russia, Hungary, and Poland- had by far the best responses to the pandemic in Europe. But the sort of populism practiced in powerful countries aligned with imperialism, as exemplified by Trump, Johnson, and Bolsonaro, could never have countered the pandemic. Fundamentally, resistance to countering the illness relies on a sort of cultural chauvinism -as exemplified by Western advice against mask purchasing, rabid Sinophobia, and resistance to disruption in normal Western ways of life that are part and parcel of the drug of exceptionalism peddled by the merchants of imperialism in powerful countries. To these merchants of exceptionalism, the successful response of the East Asian and Arab countries to the virus did not provide inspiration for dealing with the virus in their own countries, but, rather, only confirmed the supremacy of ways of life introduced by Western imperialists- and, therefore, the mode of life existing within the core of the imperialist countries- over Chinese Communism. In contrast, the central ideology of the governments of Europe (once again, Russia, Hungary, Poland) that had the best responses to the pandemic was substantially closer to resistance against Western cultural overreach than the proud championing of Western cultural chauvinism universal among Western powerful-country “populists”.

Taiwan is the exception that proves the rule- the island is suffering a severe brain drain to the mainland, and the current government’s identity is so strongly embedded in literal Sinophobia -not hatred of Communist China, but actual, near-psychotic fear of it that any new strange illness coming out of the mainland rapidly becomes a source of concern at every level of government. Something similar can be said for Australia.

4. The media is particularly blameworthy

By polls, the media is one of the least trusted institutions on the pandemic. Though the Western media certainly had its failures, it is not the job of the media to respond to pandemics. It is the job of the media to report on them. The Wuhan pandemic was covered in fairly decent quantity in most mainstream Western sources, as was the spread of the virus to Korea, Iran, Italy, etc. Though many news sources did try to downplay the pandemic, this downplaying was assuming a competent response by the authorities actually responsible. It is not the job of the news media to replace the leaders in power, and it would have been quite difficult for anyone in January to have guessed how utterly stupid the authorities in the Western countries truly were. It is these authorities, not the media, who primarily failed in responding to the COVID pandemic. News media speculation about the stupidity of the people in power in the developed West would almost certainly have been just that, speculation, not reporting. The CDC, the FDA, the Surgeon General, the President of the United States, the Secretary of Commerce, state governors, the American public, etc., and their counterparts in Western Europe are all far more at fault than news sources giving the public information about the pandemic’s spread. In fact, many reporters did a fantastic job of covering how China contained its own crisis. Had the media been in charge of containing the pandemic, despite its flaws, I think the Western response would have been substantially superior to that in real life.

5. The danger of fear and misinformation

This is more a myth of the past, but still retains a surprising amount of currency among those more prone to trust authority. As anyone today understands, fear of fear turned out to be a substantially more damaging emotion than actual fear of the virus. The powerful today also tend to substantially underestimate how much more centralized the online media ecosystem is today than it was a decade or a decade and a half ago. There was (is) substantial concern from people in power about “misinformation” during the pandemic. In fact, misinformation from unofficial sources had almost no harmful impact on the public at all. Actual disinformation generally (and all influential disinformation) came from the people up top -the Surgeon General, the CDC, the WHO, Boris Johnson with his “herd immunity” strategy, the President of the United States, state governments, health officials, etc. It is worth remembering that the country that did most to counter “fear” and “disinformation” within its own borders was… China in December-early January. If there is anything this pandemic shows, it is the danger of trusting the people in power and of ignoring intelligent and powerless people on Internet.

The Myth of Desperation

One narrative that’s been floating around the lyin’ press throughout the past two years is that that Trump and Sanders voters were mainly driven by desperation -that one wouldn’t vote for a candidate of dramatic change if one was perfectly satisfied with one’s affairs.

Perhaps the perfect counterexample to that is the county in Michigan with the highest median household income and lowest poverty rate in the state -Livingston.

Livingston County is many things, but it ain’t desperate. It’s rich, very Republican -it went for John McCain with 55% of the vote in November 2008, and 61% of the vote for Mitt Romney in 2012- and is not the place where one would find out-of-work factory workers or coal miners discontented with their economic situation, because there aren’t much of them. And, during the 2016 primaries, the candidate there who got the most votes was Donald Trump. The candidate who got the second-most votes there was Bernie Sanders (indeed, Livingston County had a higher Bernie share in the Democratic primary than all the counties surrounding it). The candidate who got the third-most votes there was John Kasich -this county isn’t as socially conservative as the western part of the state. Nor did woke neocon Marco Rubio appeal there much -he got a lower share of the Republican vote there than in the rest of the state, and Rubio and Kasich’s vote share combined would not have sufficed to prevent Trump from winning it in the primary.

Now, before 2016, Michigan hadn’t had a real Democratic primary for ages. But it did have real Republican primaries in 1996, 2000, 2008, and 2012. And guess who won the vote in Livingston County (a solidly Republican county, it must be remembered) each time? Mitt Romney by double digits in 2012, Mitt Romney by double digits in 2008, George W. Bush by single digits in 2000 [most MI counties went for McCain at the time], and Bob Dole by double digits in 1996 (Buchanan did well in Lapeer and St. Clair, though, and nearly won the famous Macomb). Not Ron Paul. Not Mike Huckabee. Not Alan Keyes. Rich guy Mitt Romney and establishment candidate George W. Bush.

There are other examples of this. Nevada’s third congressional district. Long Island. In the general election only, Minnesota’s sixth and second congressional districts (though Trump did far worse than Rubio there in the caucuses, he did better than Romney there in the general election).

Now, yes, Trump and Sanders really did appeal more to those among the really desperate who are White, at least, relative to Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton. The results of the 2016 primaries in the poorest non-Hispanic White majority congressional district in the country (KY-05) are enough to prove this. But that does not mean economic or social desperation was either a necessary or sufficient condition for Trump or Sanders support (many Whites in desperate rural areas in the South also voted for HRC in the primary).

How to actually measure partisan gerrymandering (Part II of a three-part series)

I. NC plan>>>PA plan
In the previous post, I attempted to show the tradeoffs available to a designer of a gerrymander with this graph (see previous post for an explanation):

This approach would work well in states in which the districts of the favored party are all roughly equal in partisanship, such as North Carolina.

(X-axis is the name of the district, the Y-axis is the two-party Democratic vote share on the presidential level in each district)

However, not all states wanted to create a bunch of Likely Favored Party districts that would give the incumbent party supermajorities in neutral years, but would risk the opposing party gaining every seat in the state in a wave year favorable to the opposing party. An example of this is Pennsylvania’s House districts (note Tom Marino of PA was selected to be the President’s Drug Czar just today, so this post is perfect timing).

Pennsylvania has, in my judgment three tossup districts, all of which are held by Republicans, two Lean R districts, six Likely R districts, and two Safe R districts (one of which is Marino’s). There is also one Lean D heavily Obama-Trump district (PA-17), which actually was close enough in 2012 as to be acceptable for a wiser (or more partisan) Republican state legislature to turn into a Lean R district even then under more aggressive lines, and actually went for Trump by its present boundaries by more than both the Lean R districts and, naturally, all three of the the tossups. The fact it has a Democratic representative now is a huge and inexcusable failure of the Republican state legislature in 2011. The current Pennsylvania plan is, in my judgment, a mess, much inferior to North Carolina’s, and unnecessarily creates opportunities for the Democrats where, by any Republican’s judgment, there should be none. It would be relatively easy to create a redistricting plan for Pennsylvania with four Safe D seats and the other fifteen Likely R. My judgment is that the risk of all seats going to the opposing party in a wave year is worth it, and is much superior to being subject to the whims of “moderates” who are afraid of alienating their district’s swing voters in a general election while the favored party is in power. But how does one judge plans such as PA’s, anyway?

II. How does one measure the utility of tossup seats?

Another question, obviously related to the above one, is how does one measure the utility to a party of redistricting a district from Likely Opposing Party to Lean Opposing Party. For example, here’s my proposed Republican gerrymander of Indiana (no county splits, resulting in some serious malapportionment in Marion, but that’s not important here). The 2016 U.S. Senate race is used as a guide:

IN-01: In green. Two-party vote for Bayh: 52.47%. Rating: Lean D, instead of the current Likely D. This is an Obama-Trump district. The right kind of Republican can definitely get elected here. Certainly it would not be left the only uncontested seat in Indiana, as it actually was.
IN-02: In dark blue. Two-party vote for Bayh: 44.32%. Rating: Likely R.
IN-03: In red. Two-party vote for Bayh: 42.14%. Rating: Likely R.
IN-04: In orange. Two-party vote for Bayh: 38.21%. Rating: Safe R.
IN-05: In light blue. Two-party vote for Bayh: 39.84%. Rating: Safe R.
IN-06: In white. Two-party vote for Bayh: 36.52%. Rating: Safe R.
IN-07: Marion (yellow). Two-party vote for Bayh: 61.87%. Rating: Safe D.
IN-08: In light yellow. Two-party vote for Bayh: 44.35%. Rating: Likely R.
IN-09: In purple. Two-party vote for Bayh: 39.18%. Rating: Safe R.

For the current (actual) Indiana map, see here and here -click on the districts for info about them.

HRC got 47.50% of the two-party vote in my IN-01 and Obama in 2012 got 54.70%. In real life, HRC got 56.57% of the two-party vote in the actual IN-01 in 2016 and Obama in 2012 got 62.01%. Obviously, my redistricting plan significantly improved the GOP’s position in Indiana’s first district while not reducing the utility of the rest of the GOP-held seats for the GOP. The reason my IN-01, which has very similar political demographics to the actual PA-17, is more acceptable in Indiana is because Indiana is a more Republican state. Thus, it would be an improvement over the present plan. But how does one measure that? How does one display that using this curve?

I do not see a way for the above curve to be useful in cases in which districts within each side’s are of heterogeneous partisanship.

After thinking about it, the best advice I can give in regards to measuring gerrymandering is to multiply each seat by the probability of victory of the favored party. The maximization of these seat equivalents should be the measure of the worth of a gerrymander. Relative to the actual Indiana House map, my redistricting plan increases the chance of a GOP victory in IN-01 by more than it increases the risk to the Republican-held districts. I thus consider it a better gerrymander for the GOP than the actual GOP plan.

Measuring the probability of victory of the favored party in each district should be fairly simple (I will do this in the third post of this series), and historical data should be used for this purpose. Of course, the most important variable for determining the probability of victory of a party in a district is the district’s presidential vote. If it’s lower for the favored party, the probability of victory for that party is, all else being equal, lower. Historical swing data for congressional districts for the past few cycles should also be brought into account.

So, the above is how to measure a partisan gerrymander.

III. A fair map

Of course, for every villain -the partisan gerrymander- there necessarily has to be a hero to compare it to -the fair map. Of course, the question now becomes: what is a fair map? Certainly, a fair map cannot be a map in which each district is representative of the state in an identical fashion. Otherwise, Massachusetts’s map would be called a fair map, and Tennessee’s map would be considered as biased toward the Democrats. Obviously, neither is the case. Ideally, a fair map should have its median seat (now it enters into play) be representative of the state, though this is obviously not important (as I’ve shown in the previous post, comparing the median seat to the state is not an important measure of gerrymandering).

Perhaps this could be a fair map for a 60% Democratic state:

Of course, when each district becomes 10% more Democratic, the state as a whole won’t become 10% more Democratic, because districts 1 and 2 in the above graph cannot get any more Democratic. Of course, Dem chance of victory can also be used in place of Dem vote share in the y-axis of the above graph.

IV. Issues with the Princeton Gerrymander Tests

The Princeton Election Consortium developed three tests for gerrymandering. I don’t think the current ones are especially valid or useful.

The first test is right out; Texas is penalized because of Will Hurd’s narrow victory, despite the fact he’s obviously going down in 2018. A streak of luck in closely-contested tossup races is obviously no sign of a gerrymander, it’s just a sign of a side’s better campaigning.

The second test is also barely useful; it only measures the partisanship of one seat, the median seat, and, as the authors of the site admit, isn’t very useful at all in safe states.

The third test is a votes-seats curve. To which extent the specific votes-seats curve used is accurate is debatable.

The biggest problem with the tests is that they use the House vote instead of the presidential vote. The problem with this is that this makes no sense due to candidate heterogeneity. Collin Peterson ain’t Keith Ellison. The presidential vote should be used instead of the House vote to account for such differences.

Explaining partisan gerrymandering

In the United States, both state legislative and congressional districts are designed by politicians. These politicians, especially in the Republican-controlled states (this has only been true since 2010 or so) tend to design districts to give a clear and consistent advantage to their party. The canonical example of this is North Carolina (current [smoother] district lines):

The x-axis indicates the district, the y-axis shows the two-party Democratic presidential vote. Given the highly sorted party system currently existing in the United States, the presidential vote functions as a very good proxy for House candidate vote and is more appropriate here than House vote since the candidates are the same in every district. As one can readily see, in North Carolina, Democrats are packed into only three out of thirteen congressional districts, even though they won over 48% of the two-party presidential vote in both 2016 and 2012. Only in 2011 were the lines redrawn to favor the Republicans (and they will continue to favor the Republicans for a long time), before, they favored the Democrats since the 1890s.

Given that not all gerrymanders are created equal, several ways have been proposed to measure this phenomenon.

I. Insufficiency of commonly used methods

One way has been to compare the difficulty of recapturing the majority of the seats relative to winning the majority of the two-party vote in a state by looking at the difference between the presidential vote of the median district and the statewide presidential vote. However, one of the most gerrymandered states by this measure is Tennessee, which is a 60%+ Republican state with two Democratic seats (out of nine total)! Massachusetts (a 60%+ Democratic state with the same number of seats as TN) does not have even a single Republican seat! Yet, nobody can seriously call Massachusetts gerrymandered against the Republicans. Tennessee’s creation of more Democratic seats almost necessitates a higher difference between the median seat and the state due to more Democratic voters having to be taken away from the state’s median seat into the Democratic-held seats. Thus, the median district approach cannot be used as a serious way to measure gerrymandering, as it only looks at one district-the median one.

Another way to measure gerrymandering has been some kind of way of comparing share of seats won by v. share votes cast for a party. This is also a very flawed method.

The problem with these approaches is that they cannot distinguish between this (super-weak Democratic gerrymander in an evenly tied state with ten districts):

and this (strong Democratic gerrymander in an evenly tied state with ten districts):

But pretends there are giant differences between this (super-weak Democratic gerrymander in an evenly tied state with ten districts):

and this (super-weak Republican gerrymander):

As you can see, the problem with this approach is that the most gerrymandered maps by this measure will inevitably be dummymanders -that is, maps in which the party drawing the districts is so thinly spread out, if the popular vote shifts uniformly to the opposing party just a little, the map will look identical to a gerrymander designed by the opposing party.

In any case, any gerrymander has to be judged on two criteria: seat maximization and safety. There is a direct trade-off between the two (as thus, for an evenly tied state in which any and all district boundaries are permitted):

Notice that the curve is bowed in. However, in practice, the difference between a two point and a ten point presidential win margin is worth much more in terms of a House member’s win probability than that between a thirty point and fifty point presidential margin. Given this, the top and the bottom portions of the y-axis should be compressed and the middle expanded. With the axis like this, the curve would be bowed out, and the point of most correct gerrymander be placed at the outermost point of the curve.

Such curves should be designed for every state in the union with a reasonable number of House districts to test for gerrymanders there. Generally, the optimal average win margin for a favored party (that is, one that does not waste votes, but still keeps seats reasonably safe) is probably around ten points for an evenly tied state. Any good gerrymander should be directly on the possibilities frontier (as my strong D gerrymander graph with red bars is), not within it (as my super-weak D gerrymander graph with red bars is).

Ideally, a gerrymander should have

  1. Zero seats flipping on the presidential level between elections outside wave years (on the logic that it is better to have a bird in the hand than two in the bush)
  2. Total unity between the House member’s party and the party of the presidential candidate that wins the district (the state that is easily farthest away from fulfilling this ideal is Minnesota; the closest states to this ideal are, as far as I can tell from a quick glance, Maine, Missouri, and North Carolina).
  3. Maximized number of seats given a state’s partisan lean

Goals 1. and 3. are obviously inconsistent if a state hugely changes partisanship between elections.

Pennsylvania failed all the criteria in 2016 (it had split districts both ways, seats flipped in presidential vote between 2012 and 2016, and obviously it didn’t maximize GOP seats in 2016, and probably not in 2012, either), but it’s a pretty clear GOP gerrymander regardless. Wisconsin blatantly failed all the criteria in 2016 and probably failed the third criterion (though not the second) in 2012, though it was a very clear pro-GOP gerrymander in 2012. Michigan and Ohio satisfied all the criteria in 2012, but did not satisfy the last criterion in 2016, due to the state changing partisan lean between those years and there being obvious Democratic seats in both states which could be removed in 2016. North Carolina clearly satisfied all the criteria in 2016, but had some disunity between House member’s and district presidential candidate victor’s party in 2012. Texas satisfied none of the criteria in either 2012 or 2016.

House district partisanship map-link will be updated as news arrive

https://fusiontables.google.com/embedviz?q=select+col5%3E%3E1+from+1QVyAZxFvArMqkEAVnTeLmAhebS0bwzgiDhn3qdhK&viz=MAP&h=false&lat=37.05628800013914&lng=-93.02554824999993&t=1&z=4&l=col5%3E%3E1&y=2&tmplt=2&hml=KML
The “composite” is calculated as thus.

If the seats were uncontested, 2/3 of the weight is on the 2012 presidential vote, the rest on the 2016 presidential vote; i.e., uncontested seats are treated as if they were open seats. I have also calculated the open seats listed as open in 2018 in Wikipedia in this fashion. The weighing is based on David Shor’s data. https://gist.github.com/davidshor/5ea3e6c4e80cdc87243253e47c47bc41

If they are seats contested in 2016 with an incumbent, 50% of the weight is on the 2016 House vote, 30% is on the 2016 presidential vote, and 20% is on the 2012 presidential vote. This weighing is roughly based on comparing the 2014 and 2016 House elections and taking note of the increased importance of the 2012 presidential vote in the 2017 specials relative to 2016’s House races.

All data is from the Daily Kos.

The rank is the ranking of the districts by partisanship by the composite index.

You can get the source data by clicking “source” in the map legend.

The districts held by the 2017 special election GOP winners are calculated as though their House members in 2016 were still serving today, without regard to the 2017 special election results (as different from the 2016 results as apples are from oranges) as they really cannot be viewed as open seats in 2018.

No attempt is made to account for asymmetric deterioration of incumbent bonuses in bad midterms for a president’s party, as happened in 2006 and 2010 (thus Collin Peterson and other Trump district Dems are probably underrated with this composite).

Other House district maps:
2016 House (two-party):
https://fusiontables.google.com/embedviz?q=select+col5%3E%3E1+from+1Dg51R3pGS5r0HrSuoHSUXR_IxZIfcClrwl7gsLXk&viz=MAP&h=false&lat=37.05628800013914&lng=-93.02554824999993&t=1&z=4&l=col5%3E%3E1&y=2&tmplt=2&hml=KML
2016 presidential vote by congressional district (two-party):
https://fusiontables.google.com/embedviz?q=select+col18+from+1_NolOUGbBkWbAl5TMMZrpba-OazN7DBf7dvSTUie&viz=MAP&h=false&lat=37.05628800013914&lng=-93.02554824999993&t=1&z=4&l=col18&y=2&tmplt=2&hml=GEOCODABLE
2012 presidential vote by congressional district (two-party):
https://fusiontables.google.com/embedviz?q=select+col18+from+1T2Q2YVeHXfCqiV466yZqciXyOF48DMGD3cZ2hxac&viz=MAP&h=false&lat=37.05628800013914&lng=-93.02554824999993&t=1&z=4&l=col18&y=2&tmplt=2&hml=GEOCODABLE
Two-Party Swing between 2012 and 2016 presidential vote:
https://fusiontables.google.com/embedviz?q=select+col18+from+18XmouMM-7G0SD_6dykEyD9gfgNnGmoiPpfbIdMYV&viz=MAP&h=false&lat=37.05628800013914&lng=-93.02554824999993&t=1&z=4&l=col18&y=2&tmplt=2&hml=GEOCODABLE
Two-party House Dem vote performance over two-party HRC vote in 2016:
https://fusiontables.google.com/embedviz?q=select+col18+from+1IdPacdK9LIHkbXRyC2l4WdZx5E6RXCqDmwS70jSK&viz=MAP&h=false&lat=37.05628800013914&lng=-93.02554824999993&t=1&z=4&l=col18&y=2&tmplt=2&hml=GEOCODABLE

What American Independence?

Two years ago, I wisely wrote A Strange Utopia, which remains relevant even unto this day with Trump taking the place of Jeb (both are essentially the same figure for the purpose of the short story, as far as I’m concerned -look at how Trump has kept DACA in place and failed to remove sanctions on Russia).

Today is the day America celebrates its independence. And today is, as a prominent alt-right Twitter poster said (can’t find the tweet; I forgot the exact wording, spent some time searching for it), the first year in which I’ve become rather detached from the whole idea of American independence. What meaning is American independence when the country is bound down by the chains of endless immigration, to promote big government, and ultimately, its decline and supersession by firstly China and, secondly, yes, Russia and Japan, those infinitely media-maligned countries notorious for their low native fertility. Yet, what is the purpose of high native fertility if it is dysgenic; a transformation of the United States into Mexico or, just as bad, the tragic coast of Southern California (where my fellow American George Michael Grena lives, in one of the congressional districts with the most disgusting politics in the country -I, in Michigan, empathize!). Take a look at the Mississippi exit polls by age if you do not believe what America is becoming. Any hint of the expression of the great Democratic platform of 1852, by the 2030s, will be dead. The McGovernites will have won.

Likewise, America remains bound down by the toxic-fruited chains of foreign obligation -and look how its partisans admire them! All but four deeply conservative representatives out of four hundred thirty five -and not one Senator- voted to reaffirm America’s commitment to the horrendous and obsolete (despite the President’s statement to the contrary) North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which binds this relatively great (if not as much as it used to be) country to foolishly commit to the defense of such great (if one has low standards) nations as Albania, Montenegro, Romania, and Latvia. Happy slaves so many of your fellow citizenry are, American! And how they cheer their slavery! Independence? Bondage.

And as a final insult, America remains forced by its so-called “representatives” to pay billions of dollars a year in tribute to Israel, a country that has taken advantage of us so much -how can, as the President used to say, we call America great when the other countries are taking so, so much advantage of us in every arena? Now Israel, though a typical Southern European country in many respects, is certainly one that is an example for all the world in its commitment to its national sovereignty. Look at its border fence, its infinite arms and pockets stretching into so many of the great capitals of the world, its pro-natalism, its commitment against being forced to defend, pay tribute, or invite the residents of any other country. And how foolish is America not to follow in that example?

The reason I remain so detached is precisely because of the presidency being occupied by the only man who could even remotely break these chains binding America to slavery -and his consistent refusal to do so.

As long as America is bound down by the chains of immigration imperialism, the toxic terrorist organization known as the NATO alliance, and its perpetual and obliging treatment as puppet by the Jewish state, how can we celebrate Independence Day with any honor?