Arnold Kling  

Manzi's Manifesto

Life Extension and the Economy... Win APEE's Money...

James Manzi writes,

The level of family disruption in America is enormous compared to almost every other country in the developed world. Of course, out-of-wedlock births are as common in many European countries as they are in the United States. But the estimated percentage of 15-year-olds living with both of their biological parents is far lower in the United States than in Western Europe, because unmarried European parents are much more likely to raise children together. It is hard to exaggerate the chaotic conditions under which something like a third of American children are being raised -- or to overstate the negative impact this disorder has on their academic achievement, social skills, and character formation. There are certainly heroic exceptions, but the sad fact is that most of these children could not possibly compete with their foreign counterparts.

...In a nation where about 40% of births occur outside of wedlock, many children will be left behind. Nonetheless, schools remain one of our primary policy instruments for enhancing both social mobility and our competitive position. They are essential to the task of balancing innovation and cohesion...We now need a new vision for schools that looks a lot more like Silicon Valley than Detroit: ­decentralized, ­entrepreneurial, and flexible.

...we should think of immigration as an opportunity to improve our stock of human capital. Once we have re-established control of our southern border, and as we preserve our commitment to political asylum, we should also set up recruiting offices looking for the best possible talent everywhere: from Mexico City to Beijing to Helsinki to Calcutta. Australia and Canada have demonstrated the practicality of skills-based immigration policies for many years. .. It would be great for America as a whole to have, say, 500,000 smart, motivated people move here each year with the intention of becoming citizens.

His essay dwells on the theme that economic innovation threatens social cohesion, a theme that can be found in Schumpeter, Fukuyama, Brink Lindsey, and no doubt many others.

I find the issue interesting, but I find that I have little to say. I think that I know what economic innovation is, what its benefits are, and some of the conditions that foster and impede it. Book 1 (with Nick Schulz) reflects my thinking there.

But I do not know exactly what we mean by social cohesion. I mean, if you have a civil war, that would seem to represent a loss of cohesion, and clearly civil wars are very bad things. But beyond that, the concept has a vague, "I know it when I see it" connotation.

I think libertarians need to take a stand on the topic of social cohesion. If we do not think it is important, we have to say why. If we think that it is best promoted by libertarian means, we should say how. Serious people like James Manzi worry about social cohesion, so I think we owe them a response.

Note: WIll Wilkinson seems to be making social-cohesion arguments near the end of his post.

Comments and Sharing

CATEGORIES: Growth: Consequences

COMMENTS (11 to date)
Jeremy, Alabama writes:

Re: Social cohesion. The problem is the left considers this as cohesive dependency on government. The right considers it as non-dependency. The left therefore has obvious strategies to increase what it calls social cohesion (and is very effective at increasing dependency). The right believes social cohesion happens by itself when government gets out of the way, but "getting out of the way" is not an activist plan.

Re: Manzi's "improve stock of human capital" proposal. Too late. America is not the best place to be any more, now the US has made it clear it will punish achievers. Why would a Chinaman come here? Or an Indian? They can do as well or better in their home country and be near their families.

This is sad because e.g. a large proportion of the tech boom was engineered by Asian immigrants. But now we will be competing with them instead of hosting them. (See Spengler articles, there are more Chinese children learning classical piano than there are US children total).

However, free health care, federal giveaways and high taxes will have an obvious filtering effect on the "human capital" that is attracted.

E. Barandiaran writes:

I've yet to read Manzi's essay. Two comments on your post on the essay.
1. On economic innovation. It looks like you have in mind "small" innovations and Manzi "big" innovations. In a recent post, Bryan assumed stability in discussing a "big" innovation (life extension) when the relevant issues are related to the dynamics of society (not just the economy) in response to the innovation.
2. On social cohesion. My first reaction was to relate this concept to the concept of social order that has a long tradition in sociology (see Hechter&Horne, Theories of social order). According to the Wikipedia article on social cohesion, in addition to social order (=passive relationships) it includes four other dimensions raising serious doubts that it can be useful except for analyzing families and small groups.

Marc writes:

Easy travel threatens social cohesion. Two income earners threatens social cohesion. Educated women threaten social cohesion. Change in anyway threatens social cohesion.

Why is economic innovation a special case?

Daublin writes:

It is also a source of social cohesion to have a shared concept of what we consider a right. For example, Americans overwhelmingly favor the right to free speech. It would engender just as much cohesion, I think, if we also favored freely enterred contracts, abhorred victimless crimes, and stopped thinking of money as dirty and started thinking of it as a means to enable cooperation.

To draw another comparison, we all like books and libraries. However, we somehow enjoy the fact that they are all different. Instead of trying to establish good "book values" through any sort of fiat, we allow libraries to carry any books that play by the rules. Would that we thought of our citizens the same way.

Michael writes:

Re: Social cohesion. This concept usually refers to whatever it is that constitutes in-group/out-group evaluations. Clearly there are no necessary and sufficient criteria here, but common candidates are all those things that are thought to unify peoples or nations: language, mutually recognized values, religious and moral beliefs/frameworks, hope for a better tomorrow. I think that libertarians (and liberaltarians) should rightly emphasize opposition to such notions. To my mind, a helpful pointer to keep in mind in free societies is that there is a presupposition of distance and lack of cohesion among nonetheless cooperative subjects. You're my neighbor, we work in the same town, I invite you over for barbeque, we both vote pay taxes, but all on the understanding that I don't bother getting into your private life (into your head) and you don't get into mine. The liberal model really is unique insofar as it is a way of enabling massive cooperation without the need for social cohesion measures. Of course, this is just an ideal. Opponents might argue that liberal societies only work on the supposition (and maybe disavowal) of cohesive group-membership identities.

Randy writes:

Social Cohesion... sounds like a good thing, but not something I want to be forced into. I reserve my right to subvert tyrants who only claim to speak for society.

Douglass Holmes writes:

A lot of Jim Manzi’s account of US history in our lifetime is accurate and appropriate. I’m not sure I share his pessimism, despite my total lack of confidence in the current administration. One thing I think we all forget about capitalism is that capitalists find ways around regulation. Think of the market for recreational drugs. After years of our nation being at war with drugs, anyone who wants to can get marijuana. The costs are high to the dealers and Mexico, but the market is there.
And, I’m not concerned with the US being in second or third place with regard to the international economy. As long as the world economy is growing, we will be wealthier.
I have concern in regard to his statement that “Regulation to avoid systemic risk must therefore proceed from a clear understanding of its causes.” Good luck getting people to agree on the causes of the economic meltdown. I suspect that we will have disagreement on that topic just as long as we have had disagreement on the causes and course of the Great Depression.
His prescription for education is vague to the point of being useless. Again, I think the marked will work here. For years, families have supplemented their children’s education in music with private lessons, in physical fitness with sports leagues, dance schools, and karate schools. Now, they are supplementing their children’s math education through education franchises (I know there are at least three national franchises that supplement math education). I expect the market to work its magic here. The cost of education supplements will come down as the market expands. That will make available even to single parent families.
His proposal for immigration proceeds from an outrageous assumption. He says, “Once we have re-established control of our southern border” as if that can be easily done. I have yet to read anyone’s analysis of our immigration issues that is realistic or workable, and Jim Manzi isn’t contributing much, either. Sure, his idea of recruiting more talent is a great one. But it will never fly with the populace as a whole, as long as a significant portion of our labor force sees immigrants as competition.
Still, I appreciate his articulate explanation of the dynamic between innovation and social cohesion. It explains a lot to me. I think he has helped me understand part of the gulf between me and my brother. It has helped me understand why so many people who vote Republican because they are socially conservative still gravitate towards Democrats on economic issues.
Maybe it even applies to the difference between cat lovers and dog lovers. ;-)

Joe writes:

Social Cohesion frequently sounds to me like, keeping the people in their place.
It's a backwaters where nothing changes, and the same people are running the town as have always run the town, but it has social cohesion!

SteveM writes:

Social Cohesion frequently sounds to me like, keeping the people in their place.

That's absurd. Social cohesion means that the members of a society feel loyalty towards one another. It's a precondition for any sort of society to exist.

SteveM writes:

His proposal for immigration proceeds from an outrageous assumption. He says, “Once we have re-established control of our southern border” as if that can be easily done.

What is so difficult about it? Most countries have control of their borders. There is nothing preventing the US from doing the same, other than lack of will in Washington.

Harry Springer writes:

There is a close relation between unsustainable bubble economies and so-called innovation.

Whereas the introduction of appliances like washing machines & refrigerators led to a domestic revolution that persisted for 100 years, the introduction of digital innovations creates much shorter commercial success runs, often a year or less... to date none lasting an entire decade.

A 100 year sustained market for hard goods enables predictable lives to center on their production, and around their use, building society.

A mere single year sustained market lacks the power to uphold lives, and can be rightly called a fad.True, a series of interlocking fads, each of short duration, but in total sustaining over several decades, can appear in aggregate similar to the former revolutions, but with each promotion lacking the longevity that could create universal kept wealth, it becomes clear the "digital revolution" is nothing more than a series of induced bubbles.

Inured to a repetitious series of bubble promotions, society loses cohesion not over wealth disparities, or ethnic disparities, but rather over the inability of the ordinary citizen to develop lifeways teachable to younger generations, younger generations seeing only the latest bubble as relevant, and all other aspects of life as less relevant.

Assaulted on all sides by the trivially new, younger generations hear no message of persistence, sacrifice, dependability... and discount these qualities as being of no merit. With no teaching of forebearance in any of its aspects, society drifts to the rags-to-riches paradigm as a root mythos, generating reality TV stars by the sickening dozens, millionaire athletes lacking basic socialization skills, and politikoes dedicated to the art of pandering to the delusions of the naive.

Rather than the putative "National Guilt" described by Mr. Manzi, I see the driven search for "Bubble Next" as the main acid dissolving society from the middle down, creating a gated wealth-world for stars & bubble kings, and a paltry desert of hand-held digital trinkets for all the impoverished rest.

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