The Politiconomist

Where Politics and Economics Hang Out

The Problem with The Problem with the Gay Community

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Edit: I spelled Mr. Guenther’s name wrong; the piece now accurately reflects his name.

The Indiana Daily Student has run a troubling piece by Andrew Guetner that warrants a famed Politiconomist line-by-line. I’ll be going through each of his points one-by-one and responding with my usual critical eye.

Unlike most of my line-by-lines, this one had passages that resonated, passages that irked me, and passages that managed to do both at the same time. It’s a fascinating study in both internalized homophobia and clarity of social-justice vision. There are unhealthy tendencies in Bloomington’s gay community. There are unhealthy ways to articulate them.

When you grow up as a member of the LGBT community, your peers often tell you “Just be yourself” or “Individuality is a beautiful thing.”

Though these beautiful, philosophical nuggets of wisdom would look great crocheted on a pillow, they don’t prepare members of the LGBT community for the harsh realities of the gay community.

This thesis is thorny: gay culture erases individuality. Hang onto your seats kids, because this is a crazy ride.

When you first enter it, which is in college for some, you’re in for a culture shock. The happy-go-lucky “It gets better” image projected in public is worlds away from the behind-the-scenes version of the gay community.

I think this is an excellent moment to address a certain in-group tendency by minority groups to circle the wagons when this kind of dirty laundry is aired. I’m interested in doing no such thing; there’s dirty laundry and a noticeable portion of the community isn’t ready to do the needed cleaning.

Of course, we circle the wagons because we still have to worry about bigots quoting this conversation to FIGHT AGAINST THE GAY AGENDA!!!

In reality, some people are rejected from the culture just because they don’t conform to the standards that exist. If you don’t dress a certain way, if you don’t enjoy certain music or TV shows or if you simply don’t look a certain way, it’s common that the gay community will just brush you aside.

So many mixed feelings here!

First of all, a hardy bit of solidarity for addressing classicism in LGBT spaces. The stereotype of gay (and bi) men standing around a party discussing sunglasses that cost more than I pay on rent is not made out of whole cloth. For whatever reason, being openly gay in Bloomington in particular, though it seems in most places I’ve come in contact with, comes with a huge pressure to purchase and display status symbols. The unexamined economic privilege among certain circles is not unique to gay culture, but I at least feel it is more prevalent.

“More prevalent” and “tendency”, though, gets you into trouble when you try to say things like…

Now, it’s important to note that being gay is different from being a part of gay culture. Being gay means you’re attracted to someone of the same sex, while being part of gay culture means you follow a monolithic, culturally-formed “ideal” for what being gay means.

No.

We have a word for people who reduce groups of gay people down monoliths: homophobic. And that word can apply to gay people. It is sadly common to be an out gay man who believes that other out gay men are, on balance, inferior to straight people.

Mr. Guenther can try to make a distinction between the “good gays” who don’t follow the “ideal” set out by society and the “bad gays” who do, but there are two problems here. The first is the generic difficulty in claiming this kind of stereotyping isn’t harmful.

But more specifically, it falls into precisely the kind of trap many out (and closeted, by the way), gay and bi men fall into: fetishization of “straight-acting” and “masculine” traits. To Mr. Guenther’s credit, he doesn’t make such a distinction and I don’t know him or his personal politics on this matter. Regardless, his disdain for people who “act gay” in accordance with our ideas of “gayness” is a homophobic one that is present in both gay and straight spaces. That he’s at times hooking his argument up to actual problematic structures in gay circles doesn’t get him out of the burden of navigating other problematic structures.

Gay culture as a whole is a racist, male-dominated social structure that inherently is discriminatory against people of color, women and those who are religious. Besides being a disgusting way to discriminate against those who come to the community to feel accepted, these social barriers hold us back as a community as well.

We now return to my previously scheduled ambivalence. If this quote appeared as part of a critique that didn’t also explicitly value not acting like society’s image of a gay man, it would resonate fully. Anecdotally, I can tell you that gay spaces are far too often hostile to people of color and misogynistic. This is a problem and it needs to stop. Neither racist comments and sexualization nor the creation of gay boys clubs are appropriate. Both are happening right now in Bloomington.

I quibble a bit on the comment about religion. Many gay people are insensitive about matters of faith. Of course, people of faith are usually objecting to our existence as a matter of faith, so the hostility is (at least partially) warranted self-defense. But both sides of that extraordinarily unproductive conversation are actually erasing the liberal churches who are working hard to fight for their right to legally marry same-sex couples. In my experience, when you get most LGBT people to calm down and look past the very legitimate pain faith has inflicted on our community, LGBT folks are not only majority religious themselves, but respect faith that is not based on attacking others.

The Angry Godless Fag is a stereotype and mostly a myth—and in Keeping with Mr. Guetner’s internalized homophobia. Likewise, there are many members of the gay community who speak up when they see racism and misogyny and try to limit their own participation in those structures. (HI!)

While the LGBT community is often the first to reject the heteronormative culture that most of the country follows, we’ve created our own little culture of exclusion and conformity.

I’d submit that the sub-culture within the community I think a more nuanced critique would be addressing is heteronormative. I could probably write a post about this alone, but let’s look to his previous paragraph for a taste. Apart from all of the homoeroticism, how is Mr. Guetner’s description different from Frat Culture*? Boys club? Classism? A complicated relationship with race involving broad stereotyping and tokenization? Closed to outsiders? Fetishization of appearing straight?

Not only are these problems endemic to college life as a whole and not just the gay community, they are the same heteronormative problems.

It’s not uncommon that gay men and women will come out of the closet just to discover that they then have to battle against their own community to maintain their identity.

And when people are unwilling or unable to battle their own community, they
conform.

This resonated even in spite of the context, if I’m being honest. Many of the easiest to find gay spaces place an enormous value on conformity. Maybe I’m the chubby, nerdy feminist who hates talking about clothes, but I have had my moments of internalized homophobia where it felt like me versus the gays for who I was. I’m not proud of the time when I held this kind of thing as more than a passing thought, but I can tell you there are LGBT spaces where this pressure is looked upon unkindly.

This conforming leads to caricatures of the gay community, which grow into hurtful stereotypes.

And then I remember the context!

No piece of this genre would be complete without some victim blaming! You see, it’s not a homophobe’s fault that they have stereotypes about us. It’s our fault. If only we’d acted more straight!

To be honest, it was the this paragraph that made me perfectly fine with linking up Mr. Guetner’s opinions with the tendency to look down on people who aren’t “straight-acting”. Whether he explicitly holds that view or not, it underpins the notion that gay people are responsible for their attackers’ actions.

Now, I’m not judging people who just happen to dress a certain way or who happen to like Madonna.

Fine, you’re just defending those who do. Forgive me if I still think that’s homophobic.

However, people who purposely put out this aura of conformity, of racism or of exclusion are no better than the conservative Republicans who vote to strip the LGBT community of their rights.

Yes, acting a certain, possibly inauthentic way is the same thing as actively trying to hurt other people.

I think Mr. Guetner is getting lost in his inconsistent attempts at nuance. If at issue is the harmful enforcement of norms by gay people on each other—something I’ve more than conceded is a real issue—then the comparison is apt. Possibly overblown, but apt.

But Mr. Guetner is forgetting that’s the auspices under which he’s attacking those people who don’t act straight enough for his tastes and comparing them to those hurting others.

You cannot create a community based on the idea that all people are equal, that everyone is beautiful in their own way, and then pollute and sour that community with conformity and hatred.

Agreed, but with the ongoing caveat that I think this comes from a place of homophobia in Mr. Guetner.

Creating tangents from mainstream society, such as gay fraternities or restaurants, already creates an image that we are separate from the rest of the world.

The politics of gay separation are much more complicated than this little quip can capture—a fact we could generously chalk up to word count, though why breach it in that case?

Gay separation serves two functions. First, it allows us to create spaces where we don’t have to put up with microagressions and outright homophobia. As these things have become less of an issue, the need for gay spaces has worn down and, I’d argue, has the divide between straight and gay people. Second, and this is less obvious to straight people, it gives us spaces where our odds of finding romantic partners are more in line with our straight friends odds most everywhere else.

To whit, some straight people still insist on separating us and what I’ll term “dating pool spaces” will forever serve a function.

I have never encountered a “gay restaurant”, though I do support local gay-owned businesses when possible because, hey, someone else is probably boycotting them. IU’s first gay fraternity**, Sigma Phi Beta, was founded to explicitly combat homophobia in the Greek system here; if it survives past the unlikely end of Greek homophobia we’ll talk. (Also, many of you know I feel they have worked hard at times to outdo the problematic aspects of Greek community. No, those displays of heteronormitivity haven’t gotten them into the fold of bros.)

The point is, this fight isn’t won and we won’t win it by pretending we’re we’re straight and blending in with straight folks. Gay guys! Do us a solid and stop acting like women are poisonous and straight people have nothing to offer. But let’s not pretend that it’s totally out of the blue either.

You may not like the way a person dresses, the fact that they go to church or that they don’t do drugs or drink, but we all belong to the same community. We all have struggles—some more so than others.

Let me hedge my commentary a bit. Insofar as gay men are actually shaming Mr. Guetner for going to church or being a bit straight edge, that is wrong. As is the classism, racism, misogyny, and other ills I’ve candidly acknowledged many of my gay friends and acquaintances (and myself) need to do a better job addressing.

Insofar as this erases the actual segments of the gay community which try to navigate issues of class, respect your choices of faith and body, and are respectful of those of different backgrounds, Mr. Guetner is way out of line.

The reason that the LGBT community has the potential to have such beauty in unity is that it can bring together people from all walks of life. Stop tearing the community apart with how you “think” people should act. Start bringing the community together with who we are.

Indeed. But let’s start with the tendency to reduce the gay community down to the people who participate in these structures. Let’s next stop valuing “straight” construction of identity as somehow more valuable and authentic. Once we’ve done that, we can construct an argument about the very real problems that gay people have inherited from wider society.

If you’re wondering what that argument looks like, by the way, you should check out Rohin Guha’s “The Myth of the Fag Hag and the Secrets of the Gay Male Subculture” at Jezebel. This is the piece I wanted Mr. Guenthner’s to be. While I think Mr. Guha occasionally falls into a few of the pitfalls that Mr. Guenthner did, the piece navigates the interplay between problems and expectations much more masterfully. Where it succeeds is showing that what’s wrong with these groups isn’t gay culture, but straight culture repackaged for gay sexuality. (Where it fails is giving the impression that the gay community is still homogeneous, though I still got the inexplicable sense his exasperation is because he’s seen other kinds of LGBTQ spaces.)

As for Mr. Guenthner, I urge him to seek out the (often activist) spaces that have out, proud, sometimes-femme-because-they-want-to-be gay men. He might learn a thing or two about how there isn’t one, monolithic gay community.




*You’re allowed two jokes each about homoeroticism within fraternities before I cut you off.

**You’re allowed two more jokes each about homoeroticism within fraternities before I cut you off.

I know, Jezebel. What can I say? When they’re on, they’re on—and this was on.

Written by Rick Stark

April 14, 2014 at 8:03 PM

Was The Mother put in the fridge?

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Didja hear?  How I Met Your Mother ended its 9 year run on March 31st, and lots of people are upset about it!  Obviously…

 

Not only did the finale confirm a long-held, dreaded fan theory – that The Mother had died before Ted started telling his kids the story – it provided a really contrived ending that managed to essentially undo the entire message of the show.  I’m going to try to set aside my personal indignation at the last few minutes for a second (though, seriously, if my dad had pulled some shit like that when my mom died, I would not speak to him again), and focus instead on The Mother’s death.  Which, incidentally, the finale barely did.

Before I launch into all of that, a brief explanation of the term in the title.  “Women in Refrigerators” Syndrome is when  a female character is killed, maimed, or stripped of her power/agency as a way to further a male character’s story arc, usually by motivating a revenge plot.  There’s a whole website called Women in Refrigerators that lists instances of this trope in comics…it’s a long list.  The term is a reference to Green Lantern #54, when the hero, Kyle Raynor, came home to discover that the villain had dismembered his girlfriend and, you guessed it, stuffed her in the refrigerator.  Now that we’ve defined our terms, let’s move on.

Although people have been predicting for years that The Mother, Tracy, was dead, the show only confirmed it in the last few minutes of the final episode.  Ted makes a vague reference to Tracy’s illness, we see a single shot of her in a hospital bed with Ted by her side as he tells us in voice over how much he loved her, and that’s that.  That’s all the time given to the death of this woman that we’ve spent nine years watching him try to find.  The problem is not that Tracy died.  That could have been a meaningful look at loss, recovery, and the love that survives death.  The problem is that Tracy’s death is treated like a non-event.  It was one last cheap twist designed to pull at our heartstrings. There was plenty of time devoted to Barney’s trite metamorphosis into a non-womanizer following the birth of his daughter, but no details about Tracy’s death.  We don’t even learn what she died from.  There are so many ways the writers could have given her death some context.  They could have shown us the moment that Tracy got diagnosed, or a scene of her and Ted talking about what his life will be like without her.  They could have shown the moment when they decided to revisit Farhampton for the weekend in Vesuvius.  They could have shown the gang getting together again to support Ted at Tracy’s funeral – another one of the “big moments” Lily always talked about.  But for whatever reason, the writers weren’t interested in those things.  Instead, we got a shallow, predictable “twist.”

Of course, Tracy’s death is missing the violence usually associated with fridging, but the most important element is there: her death had no meaning on its own.  It only served to free up Ted to ask out Robin.  So…yeah, they did fridge her.

Aside from, but related to, fridging The Mother, the ending the show gave us treated Robin and Tracy as interchangeable.  It doesn’t seem to matter that Robin and Ted completely lack the romantic chemistry that he had in spades with Tracy; Robin’s a hot lady that Ted has always had a crush on, so she’s in!  Let’s also ignore that the problems that broke Ted and Robin up in the first place – like the fact that she doesn’t want to have children, or that her job takes her all over the world – are still going to be there.  The only difference now is that Ted actually has children, so getting together with Robin is an even more shortsighted choice.  In fact, let’s all just ignore the entire point of the show!  This isn’t supposed to be the story of how Ted realized that love is about more than grand romantic gestures and childish lists of arbitrary qualities.  It’s certainly not about how true love is based on compatibility of temperament, goals, and values.  Nope, this is the story of how everyone ends up with someone, and it doesn’t really matter who.

 

Let’s all just enjoy this fan edit instead.

Written by Kelly

April 10, 2014 at 12:01 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

Can Circular Effects Justify a Wage Hike?

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I couldn’t help but notice Ben Studebaker was doing one of his old saws about how circular effects can justify a minimum wage hike.

I know, I shouldn’t get sucked back into this. But I am. I have a new perspective I want to come at it with, and I was actually planning a similar post before Mr. Studebaker posted his. Down the rabbit hole we go!

I’m going to make a simple point in a very exacting way. The heart of my claim summarizes neatly: If the problem is a broken link between consumption and wages, you cannot fix the problem by trying to exploit that link.

I will first look at the underlying accounting model Mr. Studebaker employs. I’ve never been one to leave out explicit accounting equations when doing accounts, so I will develop it with a Social Accounting Matrix (SAM). This is nothing more than addition. I will show that it is impossible for the problem to be strictly a private sector model and still comport with the facts at hand.

I will then show that Mr. Studebaker’s analysis of the 1950s and 60s economies holds even when we include government accounts.

Next I will move onto an open economy model to establish the plausibility of other explanations. This, of course, only shows Mr. Studebaker is wrong to assume a tight consumption/compensation link and suggest alternatives. I will have to link this to his empirical considerations to evaluate which model we ought take.

I will then wrap together his empirical points as well as a few of my own to show that the problem rests very much in the Current Account. The money available for wages is very likely being sent abroad. I acknowledge this isn’t a perfect model, and I offer some other accounts to look for the difference in, but I think the case for it is compelling.

Finally, I’ll put the New Labor findings in a wider context so as to more fairly judge them. It is my position that both the statistical methods and conceptual explanations for those findings are flawed, as outlined above.

A Compensation-Consumption Model

Let me turn your attention to an early claim of Mr. Studebaker’s:

As productivity rises, the economy is able to supply more and more goods and services with the same number of workers. However, increases in the capacity of the economy to supply goods and services are not sufficient to grow the economy–to do this, consumers must be able to purchase those additional goods and services. Until the 1970′s, consumers were able to do this because their wages rose alongside productivity. Instead of firing workers or reducing their hours and salaries, businesses in the 1950′s and 1960′s increased wages and worker benefits, allowing workers to purchase the goods and services they were producing. As a result, the economy expanded quite rapidly during that period. Productivity and wages helped one another in a virtuous cycle.

(Emphasis mine.)

Broadly I agree, but I’ll take exception to the bolded part when the time is ripe.

As a simple thought experiment, let’s imagine we resided in a closed libertarian economy. The macroeconomy is divided into three sectors—households, firms, and investment. Each pays the other. This is traditionally shown as a so-called Societal Accounting Matrix. As I’m presenting it, you read it as [row] pays [column] [entry].

 \begin{array}{c|ccc}  & H & F & I \\ \hline  H &  & C & S \\ F & W &  &  \\ I &  & I &  \end{array}

For example, Households pay Firms Consumption, C. W stands for Total Compensation, I for investment, and S is Household Savings.

The beauty of the SAM is that rows must equal their corresponding columns. There is no great mystery to this; by accounting identities everything bought must be paid for. This is the essence of the argument Mr. Studebaker is making; supply must meet demand*. Firms obviously cannot claim any payment on things not bought; consumers cannot buy things with wages unpaid!

We find ourselves facing three identities:

\begin{array}{l} W=C+I. \\ W=C+S. \\ I=S. \end{array}

Notice that from the first equation we can deduce that production (Y=C+I) is equal to compensation. Households drive the economy. Mr. Studebaker is unequivocally correct in a closed libertarian economy about consumers driving the economy.

The trouble is that productivity is locked into compensation! The break in compensation from productivity that he presents, as a matter of accounting, is impossible without other sectors of the economy! I will make the case for this in a moment.

But first, let’s tackle another of Mr. Studebaker’s claims:

The economy attempted to make up for the absent wage growth by making it much easier for consumers to borrow money. Instead of paying for goods and services with wages, consumers paid for these things with credit, which took the form of household debt:

Now, if we look back to our accounting identities, this is a conceivable argument. Borrowing for consumption must be credited to Consumption. (I mean, accounting tautology is a tautology.) In order to keep wages from rising proportionally, we must then debit savings. The trouble with this is that savings (investment) has increased empirically:

Granted, this data is not from a closed libertarian economy. Granted, Personal Savings—the account that better corresponds to the question Mr. Studebaker asked in a more open economy—has fallen with Compensation.

But that’s the point. We can also take this as a partial analysis model of an open economy with a government. We can assume these are the only accounts able to move, as Mr. Studebaker’s analysis implicitly does.

The logic Mr. Studebaker employs does not bear out either the claim that wages fall with falling productivity or that their fall necessitates more borrowing unless we include more accounts.

*The argument that supply creates demand is a stronger one. Instead of supply equaling demand, it says any increase in supply will be met with a increase in demand; we now know there are reasons to believe this is generally not true. Despite often claiming I fall back on Say’s Law, this is precisely what he is doing!

Adding in a Government

More complicated SAMs are, well, more complicated. As the number of sectors increases, the number of sub-accounts tends to increase faster, meaning that we have to make behavioral assumptions to make claims. This comes with the downside that behavioral assumptions lack the tautological umph! that comes with just being able to point to a simple accounting truth.

Still, we can still see some similar consequences from a 4×4 SAM with a government:

 \begin{array}{c|cccc}  & H & F & I & G \\ \hline  H &  & C & S_H & T_H \\ F & W &  & & T_F  \\ I &  & I & & \\ G & G_H & G_F & S_G &  \end{array}

There are now 4 accounting identities:

\begin{array}{l} W+G_H=C+S_H+T_H. \\ W+T_F=C+I+G_F. \\ I=S. \\G+S_G=T. \end{array}

Now, these equations more or less describe the state of affairs pre-1971 when the economy was much closer to closed*. Regardless, they offer a theoretical insight into how the state effects accounts without being muddied by international effects.

Mr. Studebaker’s proposal is that an increase in compensation suggests an increase in consumption is still plausible from the first two equations. I would like to point out the identities it does not necessitate it! An increase in wages could be balanced by any of the other accounts, including state ones.

However, the claim is borne out in the data he puts forward. I’m inclined to agree: prior to 1971, compensation increases meant consumption increases. The first paragraph I pulled above I believe is a fair analysis of that state of affairs.

*I will explore this in more detail in the next section. The barriers to trade in that era came down in 1971, offering an excellent natural experiment.

International Accounts

Yep, it’s time for a 5×5 SAM. We’ll add in an A account for Abroad.

 \begin{array}{c|ccccc}  & H & F & I & G & A \\ \hline  H &  & C & S_H & T_H &  \\ F & W &  & & T_F &  \\ I &  & I & & & NL_P   \\ G & G_H & G_F & S_G & & NL_G  \\ A & NX_H & NX_F &  & &   \end{array}

This gives us 5 accounting equations:

\begin{array}{l} W+G_H+NX_H=C+S_H+T_H. \\ W+T_F=C+I+G_F+NX_F. \\ S=I+NL_P. \\ G+S_G+NL_G=T. \\ NX=NL. \end{array}

This is where things start to get very interesting.

It remains a possibility that a consumption increase will end an increase in compensation. But Mr. Studebaker’s own evidence suggests this has not been the pattern of things since 1971.

In my first quote from his piece, I bolded the part about consumers. As it turns out, there is a whole host of possibilities. If compensation increases any of the following things must happen: an increase in consumption, household savings, household taxes, total investment, government subsidies to firms, or net exports by firms; or a decrease in government subsidies to households or on taxes on firms. (All of this is delightfully confounded by the fact that there is a lot of noise from other trends and policy changes.)

Let’s look at where we’re at. Neither a simple Compensation/Consumption model nor a more nuanced one involving the state is sufficient to explain the post-1971 trends. Further, there are a deluge of possible suspects present in an open economy model.

The Narrative in the Facts

Mr. Studebaker is very fond of the following graph:

For what it’s worth, I’m also very fond of this graph. I’ve written about it before—both independently of this ongoing discussion and in a previous response. It shows, quite clearly, that something happened in 1971 to cause the already drifting wage-productivity relationship to unhook. There’s no mystery to all of this!

That’s the year that Nixon ended Bretton Woods in favor of a more open regime. Prior to that, currency revaluations kept the Current Accounts of nations much closer to balanced. A look at the data shows that the Current Account wasn’t completely balanced pre-1971, but it was much closer to 0:

I want to draw your attention to a few similarities between this and the wage trend, but with a word of caution. Eyeballing time series data is doubly dangerous. Eyeballing any data opens you up for bias and false pattern spotting. Further, seeing lagged effects is more or less impossible. Still, both follow a pattern that I think merits some examination. Post-1971, both briefly rise and then fall together. (I’m not sure why the Current Account briefly went positive after the fall of Bretton Woods; it seems we were a significant lender to nations hit by the fallout?)

There’s also a period in the 90s where this hypothesis fails. I’ll print the graph momentarily, but this is not fully explanatory. Wages aren’t simply going abroad—which I’ll admit I’ve previously represented. While the R2 if calculated isn’t likely to be terribly impressive, the graph between wage share (vertical axis) and balance of trade as a fraction of GDP (horizontal axis) makes me think it’s part of a good model:

I’d be comfortable doing estimations on the fly with a rule of thumb along the lines of:

\frac{W}{Y}=\frac{CA}{Y}+0.48

but I’d also clearly be missing something. Those clusters indicate some other variable is shifting around.

Again, without doing any formal statistical analysis, we can look at the Personal Savings account against the wage share. This is pretty weak, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it fit into a more complicated model robustly:

We find a much closer relationship—though, it’s hard to say how close without firing up R—between government subsidies to persons and wage share:

The point being, a lot of things are at work here, and they may well be working with and against each other.

How would I summarize these findings?

  1. The fall in the wage share cannot be a direct issue of the private, domestic market.
  2. Current account imbalances, including those driven by the deficit, are contributing to the wage shift. Because of the sharp change in the accounts following the demise of Bretton Woods, they are the single clearest explanation for wage decline, but they cannot be the whole story.
  3. Government subsidies and personal savings also have something to do with it, but teasing out causation is a bit harder. I’m inclined towards the argument that says that, at very least, government subsidies are helping keep wages low by keeping wage-earners from having to push for higher wages on the supply end and sending wages abroad on the demand end. I’m inclined to view the much weaker personal savings relationship as an obvious corollary of stagnated wages and rising debt, but I’m open to other ideas.

Wait, So What Happens if We Raise the Minimum Wage?

A full detailing of my thoughts on the state of the relevant empirical literature has been published, but it summarizes nicely enough. I don’t buy that it’s appropriate to control for being a state which raised the minimum wage and then report no correlation when the minimum wage is raised. Of course not—you implicitly controlled for it. This means I fall on the side that says there is a significant decrease in employment (in terms of wage-hours) following a minimum wage hike.

To be fair to Mr. Studebaker, those controls have a respectable acceptance among a minority of economists, but let’s not overstate his position. Most studies, including some which employ the New Labor methods, find that employment falls as the minimum wage rises. For a thorough, 150 page study detailing of the state of the literature, have this bit of light reading. The money quote starts at the bottom of page 114:

This wide range of estimates makes it difficult for us to draw broad generalizations about the implications of the new minimum wage research. Clearly, no consensus now exists about the overall effects on low-wage employment of an increase in the minimum wage. However, the oft-stated assertion that this recent research fails to support the traditional view that the minimum wage reduces the employment of low-wage workers is clearly incorrect. The studies surveyed in this paper lead to 91 entries in our summary tables (in some cases covering more than one paper). Of these, by our reckoning nearly two-thirds give a relatively consistent (although by no means always statistically significant) indication of negative employment effects of minimum wages—where we sometimes focus on results for the least-skilled—and fewer than 10 give a relatively consistent indication of positive employment effects. In addition, we have highlighted in the tables 20 studies that we view as providing more credible evidence, and 16 (80 percent) of these point to negative employment effects. Correspondingly, we have indicated in our narrative review that, in our view, many of the studies that find zero or positive effects suffer from various shortcomings.

To whit: the lit’s there for Mr. Studebaker, but it’s not a robust majority in any sense. And it goes on for several pages detailing specific trends that are very damning to any claim of New Labor ascendency. So, while for much of the preceding I’ve just assumed a compensation hike, it seems that may have been far too generous to Mr. Studebaker’s position.

And that follows from more careful accounting and the evidence he provided.

If the accounting doesn’t speak to you, let me pose it in a more essential way. Mr. Studebaker’s explicit position is that the wage-rate is not necessarily linked to either production or consumption, and presents evidence to this effect. But, he asserts that an increase in the wage-rate would, through this same broken link, increase both compensation and production as a whole.

It simply doesn’t follow.

Written by Rick Stark

April 10, 2014 at 12:00 PM

Tyler Cowen Doesn’t Deserve Your Ire

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People trying to derive irony out of Tyler Cowen getting pepper-sprayed don’t have the irony they think they have:

  • Well, okay, they have the irony that he was teaching a class about vigilante justice when someone placed him under citizens arrest and then turned pepper spray on him. But it doesn’t hook up to Cowen’s politics.
  • Libertarinism is complex. By my count, there are 3 distinct traditions—with a fair number of variations on each—with force in the United States. (Misesean/Rothbardian, Nozekian, and Hayekian if you’re wondering. Some would include a fourth, the Randian Objectivist tradition, but that gets complicated.) These have some pretty fundamental disagreements considering they all have claim to a single unified idea. Rothbard was essentially an anarchist; Hayek believed in state-implemented guaranteed income. The point being, “libertarian” doesn’t tell you much about what a person believes.
  • Cowen is something of an a-la-carte, as-the-evidence-suits-it libertarian. Consistent data and analysis will get him to take a statist position if the evidence so warrants. Yes, he thinks that’s less often than liberals—no surprise. But if you read his blog, you’ll get a taste of what a wonky libertarian argument looks like. If all well-respected lefties were this intellectually honest and thoughtful, we’d have the movement snide, morally superior liberals making jokes about how backwards the right universally is think we have.
  • His belief that libertarianism is on balance a good philosophy comes from two observations, both of which are borne out in many empirical cases. First, the state is bad at implementing programs. His objections are essentially Hayekian—the state has trouble collecting as much information as the private markets to make a decision. He doesn’t believe that’s universally true.
  • Second, policymakers often substitute their own preferences for objectively good ones. For example, at this point, I would say that Mayor Bloomburg should just stuff himself with straw and be done with it. His habit of enforcing bourgeois values on lower income citizens of New York is pretty much the libertarian boogeyman come to life. Again, Cowen doesn’t imagine this is universally happening, but it is endemic to the liberal project, and Cowen rightly engages it!
  • Cowen believes in state institutions that protect property rights. Like most libertarians, he’s wary of the police in practice. But unlike some, he doesn’t take that to believing the world would be better if, say, anyone could walk into a college classroom and spray the professor with pepper-spray and “arrest” him. As far as he’s argued previously, that’s the reason we let the state prosecute criminals. Sorry, this isn’t likely to be a wake-up call or an exercise in cognitive dissonance. His worldview squarely takes this kind of event into account.
  • Yes, I would enjoy someone doing this to Rand Paul. Yes, that’s probably wrong and in bad faith and something-something what about decorum. But Rand Paul doesn’t believe it’s his place to tell his supporters to not beat people on the street on his behalf, so how outraged can you really get? It would be actually be the irony people imagine Cowen’s incident involves. And it would be delicious.

In short, the left is poorer for writing Cowen off as a simple-minded, straightforward libertarian. Even if we reject his conclusions—and as a lefty I don’t even think that’s always warranted—he is attacking actual weak-spots in left-wing theory and practice.

We are stronger for treating Cowen as the intellectual force he is.

Written by Rick Stark

March 28, 2014 at 12:00 PM

Posted in Thought Dump

Why are We Mourning Common Core Again?

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For those who have been watching, Indiana formally pulled out of the Common Core requirements in favor of setting their own.

As a first answer to the question posed by the title of this piece, we really ought not mourn the passing of Common Core because, for most purposes, Indiana remains a Common Core state. The General Assembly is reserving the right to deviate from Common Core if it so chooses—and in some minor ways, has chosen to exercise that right in the new standards.

While I’m naturally suspicious of the GOP controlled Indiana General Assembly setting any education standards, this strikes me as a fairly sensible course to take. (Acknoweledged: “sensible” has not characterized the Republican backlash against Common Core.) Fixing our course to national standards but preserving the power to set education at a level our citizens can more directly impact is the kind of compromise I wish Indiana was undertaking for the right reasons.

This picture of the Statehouse is Old-Timey, dated, and backwards---like the IGOP's stance on everything.

This picture of the Statehouse is Old-Timey, dated, and backwards—like the IGOP’s stance on everything.

With Common Core achieving victory in all but name, I must also ask why the left would mourn it if it really had done worse? In short, it is exactly the kind of corporate driven, amoral, standards-oriented swill we’ve been saying is poisoning our education system for years. Even if I’m suspicious of its supposed murderers, why would I show up for its funeral but to dance on its grave?

Tomorrow’s Workers

What is the purpose of our education system, anyway?

According to the front page of the Common Core organization’s web page:

Preparing America’s students for success.

This is so nebulous as to be meaningless, so they helpfully divided proposals into two kinds:

First, the college- and career-readiness standards, which address what students are expected to know and understand by the time they graduate from high school

Second, the K-12 standards, which address expectations for elementary school through high school

Success, in other words, is only concretely defined in (presumably measurable) facts obtained and subsequent economic life. Take President Obama on the subject:

Of course, it’s not enough to train today’s workforce. We also have to prepare tomorrow’s workforce, by guaranteeing every child access to a world-class education…

and later in the same State of the Union address:

We’re working to redesign high schools and partner them with colleges and employers that offer the real-world education and hands-on training that can lead directly to a job and career.

And while the details remain enough to stop the whole process, Cathy McMorris in her official response to Obama’s State of the Union seemed to agree in broad strokes with the idea that our schools need to do a better job making workers:

Every day, we’re working to expand our economy, one manufacturing job, nursing degree and small business at a time. We have plans to improve our education and training systems so you have the choice to determine where your kids go to school…so college is affordable…and skills training is modernized.

There is a crisis in American education, it seems. Namely, our corporations aren’t happy with the final product.

Why Education?

The whole idea is faintly ridiculous. Imagine if instead the President had said:

We’re working to create a 13-year core job training program to make sure today’s 5 year-olds are, in a decade and a half, ready to work positions at a major corporations which may or many not currently exist. Given that that is usually inadequate, we’re trying to make the following 4-10 year training program more affordable. This is all done with taxpayer money to subsidize corporate interests.

The left would throw a temper-tantrum. And rightly! The idea that corporate America’s agenda is in some way a sacred measure of whether or not we’ve successfully raised the next generation is the kind of lunacy usually reserved for free-market fundamentalists! Say it with me: I am more than my job!

This blog, of course, is a (left-leaning) capitalist affair. I think we need to give some deference to the charge that our students aren’t leaving school prepared for the work-force, even if it’s coming from corporate America. It’s a piece of the puzzle of what is wrong and is indicative of such. We’ll bear it in mind as we discuss the shortcomings of Common Core.

So, to raise the question of purpose one more time: Why education in the first place?

The answer is complicated and multi-faceted. It spans 13+ years of a citizen’s life and has room for a myriad of goals. Yes, preparation for economic life is one of them, my exasperation with the primacy of that answer notwithstanding. That goal hardly needs any defense from most of the political spectrum at this point.

But there are also humanistic and liberal reasons for educating people—ones that create a tension with economic goals. I’ll get into specifics below, but there are enormous benefits to studying our cultural inheritance, grappling with what it means to be human, solving abstract problems, acquiring a working knowledge of science and history, and learning the language of a foreign culture that extends beyond the economic benefits to the state.

Common Core has no time for these things.

The Liberal Objection to Common Core Language Arts

Common Core has this to say for it’s changes to the Language Arts curriculum:

Students must be immersed in information about the world around them if they are to develop the strong general knowledge and vocabulary they need to become successful readers and be prepared for college, career, and life. Informational texts play an important part in building students’ content knowledge. Further, it is vital for students to have extensive opportunities to build knowledge through texts so they can learn independently.

In K-5, fulfilling the standards requires a 50-50 balance between informational and literary reading. Informational reading includes content-rich nonfiction in history/social studies, sciences, technical studies, and the arts. The K-5 standards strongly recommend that texts—both within and across grades—be selected to support students in systematically developing knowledge about the world.

In grades 6-12, there is much greater attention on the specific category of literary nonfiction, which is a shift from traditional standards. To be clear, the standards pay substantial attention to literature throughout K-12, as it constitutes half of the reading in K-5 and is the core of the work of 6-12 ELA teachers. Also in grades 6-12, the standards for literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects ensure that students can independently build knowledge in these disciplines through reading and writing. Reading, writing, speaking, and listening should span the school day from K-12 as integral parts of every subject.

At first blush, no objection here! Students should be reading more than The One True Textbook in Science and Social Studies courses. A major problem with how we approach these subjects is giving students the impression that these issues subjects are based on Facts, instead of academic consensus that almost always has dissenting opinions. This is simply untrue. Reading more non-fiction of varying opinions in those subjects could only do our students good in evaluating the world we live—understanding that science and history aren’t discrete piles of facts, events, and definitions.

But Common Core is trying to take this problem on in the classes we’ve traditionally called “English”. Perhaps we need to do more arithmetic in our Language Arts classes to address math deficiencies? No, of course not. And it’s also silly to think we should fix what’s rotten in Science and Social Studies in time we usually spend on our cultural inheritance. If Common Core wants to take that on, it should address those subjects—there’s a lot to get done.

The purpose of English class isn’t (just) to prepare students to write memos and read tax-forms. It is a chance for students to interface with some of the greatest thinkers in human history. The traditional canon extends back before English was English and includes the Viking saga of Beowulf and the midivil stories of Chaucer. Sure, reading them is good for literacy that will help you understand written instructions at work. But Chaucer in particular puts forward ideas about faith and hypocrisy, fealty and impulse, and justice and injustice that bear discussion to this day.

Chaucer is not alone. Questions of justice are central to Shakespeare’s histories. The complexities of the South are present in Huckleberry Finn (and more interesting for knowing Twain’s vision was romanticized). The Crucible explores fear and paranoia in closed groups. These kinds of dilemmas come to life in a way “factual” presentations can’t—morality and justice aren’t facts*. People aren’t just facts.

And more, there is a literary tradition that fits no where else that is valuable simply because it is our artistic tradition. The last thing schools need to be doing—at least us lefty liberals should be able to agree—it’s cutting arts. This is a window into how people at other times and places thought and lived. I’ve focused on the Western literary tradition, but this goes for most places and times.

Common Core replaces the humanistic elements of challenging students to approach problems we all face with more factual readings. We would be poorer for its success.

The Liberal Objection to Common Core Mathematics

I will be upfront about this section: it is deeply influenced by the delightful Lockhart’s Lament.

My guru of choice notwithstanding, Common Core falls prey to the same mistake as Language Arts: it fundamentally fails to understand it as a subject in its own right. Where Language Arts tries to become a reading class for Science and History, Common Core makes the mistake of trying to make Mathematics the computational class for science. This emphasizes arithmetic over the actual mathematical concepts—their promise to emphasize concepts thrown to the wayside.

For a concrete example, we can look to the ellipse. The ellipse was studied as an object in its own right, a mathematic fancy cut out of a conic. The beauty of the Ellipse isn’t that Johannes Kepler fit Tycho Brahe’s data to it, but rather the actual properties of an ellipse. By all means, physics is an excellent time to reinforce the relevant properties and discuss the ellipse in the heliocentric model. (Also, given the primacy of the parabola in other physical problems, discuss the conics’ importance to motion as a whole.) But the ellipse is an object worthy of its own attention outside of the physical realm.

What we don’t need more is “word problems” in math. We need actual, honest problems. These will of course come in the form of words, but not the contrived boring word problems that people dread. “Are all sections of an ellipse with the same angle the same size? If true, prove it. If false, give a counterexample.” That should keep students working in groups interested and engaged for at least few minutes.

Instead, Common Core confuses “applicability” for actual math. Most mathematical discoveries are made not for the sake of applications, but because mathematics, when not cluttered by the sciences, is an interesting and worthwhile subject on its own. And one that can expand the liberal mind’s ability for problem solving.

In Conclusion

Of course, the corporate entities dissatisfied with public school alumni are not interested in students who take literature’s questions of ethics, justice, and morality seriously. They don’t need people who see mathematics as a worthwhile pursuit in their own right, an art on its own terms. And since it is their agenda President Obama is taking seriously, are we surprised he endorsed Common Core?

To reiterate, the IGOP’s reasons for scuttling Common Core in Indiana aren’t the thoughtful considerations above. It’s the kind of poisonous, reactionary politics that have come to define our society. But the enemy of the my enemy is not always my friend—Sun Tzu wrote on warfare, not statecraft. Just because the IGOP wants the state to call the shots, that doesn’t mean Common Core would call good ones in their stead. (Nor am I naïve; scuttling Common Core may well turn out to be a prelude to the depreciation of Indiana’s standards. Hardly a reason to celebrate Common Core.)

But we should demand our public school system be more than an expensive, prolonged job-training program. It should also be a chance for students to grapple with real problems and timeless ideas—some of which corporations will be deeply uncomfortable with.

It is with that I say we not mourn the passing of Common Core in Indiana, should it ever really be defeated.




*There’s been a good deal of writing about empirical findings relating to justice and morality that don’t clearly belong in either the Science or English curricula. I’m am enthusiastic about those kinds of readings happening in English classes. But let’s not go crazy.

Written by Rick Stark

March 27, 2014 at 2:00 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

The (Gay) Male Gaze, Homophobia, and Gender Swap Protests

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TW: This post contains an image of a transphobic comment as well as discussions of eating disorders.

EDIT: A clarification regarding the link to eating disorders was added

Over the last few years, it has become vogue in feminist internet protests to recast the male gaze over men:

The results have been interesting, to say nothing else.

The results have been interesting, to say nothing else.

Despite largely supporting these protests and the reasons behind them, I have to register two concerns. The first has been covered fairly widely elsewhere, but it bears repeating: the protests hook up to homophobic and transphobic aspects of our culture. Care in needed in their execution. Second (and I believe less widely discussed) is that it taps into problematic objectification by gay and bi men.

I don’t ultimately believe that these protests ought to be abandoned, but I do take the stance that they need to be handled with care and directness. But first, let’s frame this around the male gaze.

A Few Words on the Male Gaze

Male Gaze as a concept was first popularized by Laura Mulvey. I’ll be using a novel wording of the concept, partially to avoid making women necessarily the object. However, the essence is hers:

Male Gaze: When the choice of camera angle puts the viewer in the position of a man.

A stipulation and a following tangent are in order. While this piece won’t do more than touch on them, “a man” is not wholly sufficient to address certain concerns in the lesbian community. There are patters of objectification and misogyny that are familiar, but aren’t strictly through a “male” lens. The argument is that this is still inherently patriarchal and thus abstractly male, but I know some of my lesbian friends (and particularly my trans lesbian friends) would bristle at such a reduction to maleness. The point being, understanding this as a “patriarchal” or “objectifying” gaze might be better terms than the ones we’ve inherited from theorists in the 70s.

Regardless, “male gaze” is sufficient for the question at hand.

A good example of the classic phenomenon is here:

Notice the way the camera slides over Megan Fox’s body the way a heterosexual man presumably would look her. It ostensibly serves the narrative purpose of highlighting Shilo Labeouf’s interest in her, but let’s be honest: it’s about letting the audience objectify Fox. Film is rife with examples of this kind of cinematography, and the idea is fairly straightforward.

The Protests

As mentioned, a group of protests have taken to reframing the male gaze on powerful men. Because I’m a tremendous nerd, I first became aware of the phenomenon with The Hawkeye Initiative. The idea is to take the ludicrous poses female characters seem to wind up in and pose Hawkeye in them.

Do notice that while Hawkeye has not been posed in an explicitly sexual way, he has been posed as a hunk of hunky man hunk; objectification is complex.  (Image from Marvel Studios)

Do notice that while Hawkeye has not been posed in an explicitly sexual way, he has been posed as a hunk of hunky man hunk; objectification is complex. (Image from Marvel Studios)

That pillar of masculinity winds up as:

My choice of the phrase "hunk of hunky man hunk" takes on new, erm, contours.

My choice of the phrase “hunky hunk of man hunk” takes on new, erm, contours. (I believe credit goes to Kiss My Wonder Woman.)

The Hawkeye Initiative Tumblr has a veritable feast of these which boil down to a simple formula. Take feminine sexual pose, put Hawkeye (or sometimes another character) in it, laugh at the absurdity of objectification culture.

The Brosie the Riviter story, problems I’m going to highlight aside, is a fantastic tale of misogyny in the workplace getting called out. And all with a half-naked dude:

How could you fire someone for creating abs like that?

How could you fire someone for creating abs like that?

But let’s venture down into the comments of HuffPo—a place no man or woman, no matter how posed, should ever go:

Guys_POV, his insecure defensiveness about just being here for the sideboob aside, has a fair point.  (http://huff.to/1lSF9Iv)

Guys_POV, his insecure defensiveness about just being here for the sideboob aside, has a fair point. (http://huff.to/1lSF9Iv)

I do hope Sidewayz Bob means everyone, not just gay and straight men.  I should probably assume the best, even in internet comments.  (http://huff.to/1lSGUWl)

I do hope Sidewayz Bob means everyone, not just gay and straight men. I should probably assume the best, even in internet comments. (http://huff.to/1lSGUWl)

All, told, not too terrible. But this kind of thing does seem to make everyone think of the gays.

The Lara Croft parody down the same lines is case in point. The Buzzfeed write-up is basically a bunch of sexual innuendos written by an (apparently) gay man. In fairness, this is what the parody-ers gave him to work with:

Say something NOT sexual.  That's right.  You can't.

Say something NOT sexual. That’s right. You can’t.

If this guy were any more fabulously sexualized, he'd be on a Vodka Float at PRIDE.

If this guy were any more fabulously sexualized, he’d be on a Vodka Float at PRIDE.

Again, we shall venture down into the comments. It’s mostly bickering about whether or not he’s wearing the proper amount of clothes for this to be a fair comparison and some assertions that sexism died in, like, the 80s or something. But there are some gems:

A friendly reminder that, while I'm hitting homophobia and homoeroticism very hard, transphobia is a real issue with these protests.

A pointed reminder that, while I’m hitting homophobia and homoeroticism very hard, transphobia is a real issue with these protests.

The Problems

With all this in mind, I turn to my two main points. First, protests against the male gaze should not reinforce hetero and cisnormative norms. Second, protests against the male gaze should not be appropriated as opportunities for the male gaze.

One of the major shortcomings of the classic male gaze—both as a feminist theory and as phenomenon—is that it assumes the viewer to be male. Because heterosexuality is not universal, switching the gender of the object is not sufficient to change the gender of the objectifier. Further, gender swaps remain fraught as an idea in our transphobic society. At best, they are widely perceived as a punchline. At worst, trans people are subjected to shameful violence and brutality at an alarming rate.

At the same time, male consumers of the this material turn the point on its head. So much of gay culture is about objectification. I made a joke about Vodka floats at PRIDE parades above. There’s a reason:

I mean, having multi-nationals fighting for our money is a nice change, but given the rates of alcoholism and binge drinking in the gay community, having some gays wave their junk at me in hopes I drink more has always felt really icky.

I mean, having multi-nationals fighting for our money is a nice change, but given the rates the of alcoholism and binge drinking in the gay community, having some guys wave their junk at me in hopes I drink more has always felt really icky.

Some of this is endemic to the premise of gay culture. We’re held together by our sexuality and (hopefully responsible, moderate, and not single-minded) objectification comes with the territory. Even today, publicly acting gay is an act of subversion, albeit not what it was when PRIDE first got going.

But there’s a darker side to all of this. Gay men are not only more likely than their straight counterparts to develop an eating disorder, and once they do, more likely to show symptoms related to body image than their straight counterparts. (Aside 1: The source for this is scientifically sound, even if the write-up is a case-study in casual homophobia in science literature.) (Aside 2: Straight men are more likely to develop it because of fears associated with not being masculine enough, which is an interesting insight into the ways we objectify heterosexual men. Yes, men get to do instead of get consumed, and that’s a step up, but confining masculinity is still empirical harmful to men.)

Let me drive the point home: We’re doing this to each other.

To be sure, this is a lot more complicated than “male gaze exclusively and universally causes eating disorders”. But it’s hard to exonerate male gaze, either. The research has mostly focused on women, but there is circumstantial evidence linking eating disorders to how people believe others perceive them. (For example, here.) And regardless of the statistical science, I can anecdotally attest that the culture of objectification seems to have something to do with these disorders. The culture of objectification is harmful.

What’s to be done?

I believe in these kinds of protests, broadly speaking. Showing heterosexual men with their lens turned back around looks like is a powerful tool in the conversation about objectification and wider misogyny. Here are some tips for the people and groups putting them on:

  • Show these men as diverse in their sexual orientations. Hang Hawkeye off the arm of Wonder Woman wearing a modest suit like a trophy. And do the same with him hanging off a more traditional Wolverine.
  • Prompt for people better with visual arts than I: How can you visually show within this kind of protest that transphobia and homophobia are wrong? Comment! Please!
  • Make statements about how transphobia and homophobia are wrong. Just saying outright that you don’t support that interpretation of the protest can go a long way towards making sure it gets framed that way in coverage, and lessen the space for homophobic and transphobic commentary. (The Politiconomist acknowledges that, at some point, assholes will be assholes and we shouldn’t abandon protests simply because there is a space for those people to exploit.)

The advice for gay and bisexual men using this as a space to objectify other men is easier: stop. Reorient how you think of other men along less physical and more diverse lines. That is, take the spirit of this whole protest to heart.

Gender and sexuality are forever in an odd dance. When trying to advance one, we can’t ignore another. Just as gay men can’t claim misogynistic features of male privilege and call it progress, feminist activists must be careful not to act out harmful homoerotic objectification when protesting that same misogyny. And, in full circle, gay men—insofar as we’re interested in actual justice—shouldn’t claim those protests as a chance to do exactly what feminists are trying to combat. And we certainly can’t participate in ridiculing trans folks.

Written by Rick Stark

March 20, 2014 at 12:18 PM

For Once, A Few Hitler Comparisons are Warranted

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All this has happened before. All this will happen again.

—The Book of Pythia, Battlestar Galactica.

History does not repeat itself. It just rhymes a lot.

—Mark Twain

I’m generally disinclined to make Hitler comparisons. Even when apt, the rhetorical landscape around Hitler is abused, so hyperbolic that I shy away from him. (Not to mention each dictator is their own hellish special snowflake of tyranny so that Hitler comparisons often don’t do either he or the other strongman in power injustice.)

But as I’m watching the unfolding crisis in the Crimea, I’m struck by parallels to the late 30s. There are striking similarities between Nazi Germany and Russia, as well parallels in the wider world. To be clear, I’m not strictly predicting a repeat of WWII or really much of anything. But I think there are clear lessons for us at this juncture that can be gleaned by seeing the parallels. I think we have a real opportunity to avoid past mistakes by recognizing the similarities.

  • Putin will continue to seize land. Like Hitler, Putin is unlikely to stop seizing neighboring territories. (Have we really forgotten Georgia so quickly?) Western powers can help avoid making push come to shove by allying with neighboring powers and posturing to respond to future land grabs. However, if Putin calls our bluff, we’ll have to go to war or lose credibility.
  • We will fret about the legitimacy of Russia’s seizures. I have been seeing arguments that are weirdly reminiscent of the discussion about 1930s Germany. The Sudetenland was largely German speaking, politically aligned with Germany, and seized under dubious political circumstances. And Americans and Western Europeans had an extended conversation that took exactly the same contours we’re taking with respect to the Crimea.
  • It probably will be that serious to be “undesirable” in Russia. If you find Holocaust comparisons trite, Russia has its own history of Pogroms and purges. LGBT folks and others who are scapegoats for the Russian state may very well find themselves in dire circumstances soon, in parallel to both previous Russian nationalist surges and the German one. Western powers would be well-served to offer asylum to Russia’s “undesirables”—closing our borders to Germany’s in the 30s was one of the greatest tragedies of the decade.
  • Europe’s fragile economy will be a huge determiner. This depression (let’s call a spade a spade) has been in most ways shallower. A second crash like the one in 1936 would destabilize Europe’s political system tremendously. It’s incredibly difficult to guess what the New European Order might look like, but it’s hard to imagine the Russian Federation being a relative loser in the new state of affairs. One of the factors that contributed to Germany’s increased aggression was a weakening Europe.
  • Isolationism won’t work. It never does. Our fate is bound up with the rest of the West. Taking the stance that we’re separate from Europe does not comport with economic and cultural realities. The flip side, of course, is that we’ve benefited enormously from waiting to get involved in European affairs in the past—a hands off, Europe leads approach is likely in our best interest.
  • Going off that, this will set up a fairly clear face off in the American Presidential election. Yes, I know, 2016 chatter. Sue me. If Russia continues to be an aggressor, Clinton—largely a continuing of Obama’s foreign policy for obvious reasons—will probably face off against Rand Paul—an isolationist. One of the major issues in the 1940 election was Germany, and FDR took on Wilkie. (IU friends, yes, that Wilkie.)

There are major differences. Russia is not Germany. Russia is a nuclear power. The European political system is much more stable. East Asia is not at war. (Some are reading the situation over in that part of the world as significantly escalating, but I am not among them.) The United States has a much more noticeable effect upon and presence in European happenings.

Still, Putin is definitely following the part of the script of rising nationalist power grabbing land. Our experience with Hitler can give us firmer ground to draw cautious analogy when thinking about Russia.

Written by Rick Stark

March 2, 2014 at 4:20 PM

Posted in Thought Dump

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