In which someone actually manages to disgust me

Arnold Kling recently wrote one of the most disturbing posts I can ever remember reading. You should read the whole thing once or twice. I’ll excerpt (lots of) relevant bits in case you don’t:

Tyler pictures an economy evolving over the next twenty years to one with a slice of high earners (the 20 percent or so whose skills complement the ever-expanding power of computers) and then a large group that lives comfortably but without a financial cushion to protect against adverse shocks to health or other major risks.

This is a nice (modern) way of saying that 80 percent of the population will be poor.

(My anecdotal evidence (which is substantial, since I live about half a mile from some Section 8 housing) is that poor people consume a lot. Most of them drive nicer cars than me, have more channels on their TVs than I do, wear more expensive clothing/electronics/jewelry than I do, and enjoy a considerably larger amount of leisure time I do.)

A recurring topic of discussion around these parts of the interwebz is the idea that society is getting so advanced that lots of people have: 1) no need to actually work to maintain a high standard of living; and 2) don’t have the intellectual ability to do anything of value in such an economy anyway.

On one hand, this vision is incredibly optimistic – we’re so rich that large swaths of the population don’t need to work to maintain first world living standards.

On the other hand, this vision is darkly pessimistic – we really have no idea what to do with people that aren’t working. Humans don’t seem to be made for not working, even if they’re being provided for (passive voice intentional). The results from early experiments, e.g. modern Detroit, are chilling even to the most pessimistic. Moldbug has referred to this problem as the Dire Problem (among others).

The Detroit solution still has its defenders, but we can always count on apologists for mainstream theories to apologize for them, despite the mounting evidence to the contrary. (Indeed, their best defenses don’t appear to be very serious).

(One reasonable idea would seem to be to stop importing more of the bottom 80%, but I guess the next paragraph explains why that won’t happen . . .)

Back to Kling:

Matt Yglesias wonders how, in a world that requires technical skill and social skills, those of us in the room [i.e. Court or Official Intellectuals] have survived. It seems that most work for think tanks, newspapers, and other non-profits. Tyler replies that our presence in the room is indicative of marketing skills. Each of us has proven adept at marketing, with wealthy donors as our consumers in most cases. Steve Teles points out that as society’s rich accumulate wealth beyond what they can consume, their philanthropic ideas will, for better or worse, allocate society’s resources. Afterward, it occurs to me that this suggests that there will emerge a toady class, meaning people whose work in one way or another flatters the wealthy.

I’m not sure any Neoreactionary (or Walter Lippmann) ever put it better. Nevertheless, if you make your living by manufacturing consent for the elite, aren’t you supposed to at least pretend that you’re doing something else? There’s something incredibly chilling about someone admitting that they make their living by shilling for the establishment.

What most concerns the discussants, including McArdle, William Galston, Jonathan Rauch, and Brink Lindsey, are the social implications of losing the middle class. (Hanson comments on this focus.) [ed: not that this stops them from importing more competition for them] Tyler insists that societies will not fracture, nor will redistributionist demagogues take power. Factors favoring stability include aging, surveillance technology, the skill of the rich at controlling the political environment, nativism, NIMBYism, and the basic comfort achieved by the lower class. He points out that Britain and Germany are farther along than the U.S. in the growth of the new lower class, and their societies appear to be stable–Merkel just won re-election by a wide margin.

Tyler says that in the long run mood-altering drugs may be a solution.

In other words . . . are you ready for it? . . . these Court Intellectuals are generally comfortable with destroying the middle class (or at least intend to justify it on behalf of their patrons) because: 1) those that get screwed will still live[] comfortably; 2) hey, that’s how these guys get paid; 3) they’re pretty sure the guys getting screwed will just keep taking it; and 4) if not, everyone can always be drugged.

It’s difficult to offend or disgust me, but these views might just have achieved that result. I always wondered what this felt like . . .

Update: See #5 here. It appears we can add: 5) even though Americans are getting screwed, they’re pretty sure it’s probably helping some other people somewhere else (even though it’s not at all clear why physically locating certain people in the US causes people in other parts of the world to increase their entrepreneurial zeal and love of democracy).

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33 Responses to In which someone actually manages to disgust me

  1. asdf says:

    “There’s something incredibly chilling about someone admitting that they make their living by shilling for the establishment.”

    Do you not see the connection between this and your other post?

    These people are societal engineers. This is their solution. Did you think the solution would be good for the rest of us? Why? Do you think a monarch wouldn’t look at the solution above and go, “yeah, that’s a pretty good solution.”

    “Most of them drive nicer cars than me, have more channels on their TVs than I do, wear more expensive clothing/electronics/jewelry than I do”

    I think we can assume that most of it is paid for with debt, and that a lot of that debt might very well be the bonds in your 401k. File this under we might not be as rich as we think we are.

    That said, the problem has never been manufactured goods. It’s always been safety, healthcare, and opportunity (presently, education). Those are the restricted resources we all fight over.

  2. Phoroneus says:

    Anyone know when the public intellectuals in failing societies go from arrogant to fearful? I’m looking to get rich betting it all on rope around then.

  3. B says:

    But this is nothing new-just a Brave New World with iPhones. Of course, the economics of ABNW were kind of sketchy…

  4. Henissart says:

    I’m surprised you are bothered by this to be honest. You seem to agree that the IQ threshold for productive employment is rising when the average IQ of the population isn’t. You will also probably agree that this will lead to higher inequality in pretty much the way Kling et al predict. Assuming you don’t favor large scale violence, what other solutions are there than bread and circuses for the economically useless masses? Moldbug came up with either turning them into fertilizer or plugging them into the Matrix. Cowen works some Soma into his chalupa recipe. Same difference. I’m all ears to hear your non disgusting solution to this huge problem.

    That said, these guys are insane of course. I have no idea why anyone would want to import even more bottom 80% people after noticing they are already a problem. And bread and circuses obviously won’t solve anything in the long run. Large scale eugenics could do it I guess, but the simple idea and the actual execution of that idea as a working policy are two very different things. Besides, it doesn’t get more politically taboo than eugenics so it doesn’t really matter anyway.

    • Foseti says:

      “Assuming you don’t favor large scale violence, what other solutions are there than bread and circuses for the economically useless masses?”

      How about not importing more of them until we figure it out? That seems like a minimum threshold for a serious plan. Frankly, I’d be happy if we just put people to work – even useless work – in exchange for their “wages.”

      • Handle says:

        You can always find a use for more people in security.

      • Henissart says:

        Yes, I agree. That’s why I called them insane. But you obviously were not shocked about Kling favoring mass immigration, which isn’t exactly news, so let’s keep that issue out of it and stick to your own little list.

        “1) those that get screwed will still live[] comfortably; 2) hey, that’s how these guys get paid; 3) they’re pretty sure the guys getting screwed will just keep taking it; and 4) if not, everyone can always be drugged.”

        What’s so shocking about any of this?
        1) They seem to get screwed by technological advancements that are more or less out of anyone’s hand. Still living comfortably doesn’t sound that bad in that scenario.
        2) Yes, these guys get paid for manufacturing consent. Which seems like a pretty important security function until someone comes up with a solution to the underlying problem of people not being smart enough anymore to be economically useful.
        3) Again, until you figure out a solution to said problem, that people “keep taking it” sounds like a best case scenario to me.
        4) Not pretty, yes, but not worse than any other stopgap solution I have heard of either.

      • asdf says:

        Henissart,

        What is “living comfortably”?

        What your basically arguing is that because people get a welfare check that pays for day to day minimum expenses things are ok. If they get sick, they die (medical care is an expensive scarce resource). If they have a kid with potential, sucks to be him can’t afford college or any of the myriad of things you need to get into college.

        Moreover, it ignores the massive breakdown in the things that made people’s lives meaningful even when standards of living were much lower. Family, purpose, religion, community, tradition, order. All of these things have disappeared amongst this class, mostly because of policies pushed by these toadies.

        What we are left with is a bunch of people not in immediate physical suffering day to day but living miserable lives bereft of hope nonetheless. This is in stark contrast to the lives these people lived not so many decades ago, an era where they had all those things and were materially provided for as well.

      • B says:

        ASDF-

        Health care of decent quality is widely available for free. The argument is about the marginal cases, not about pneumonia, tb, trauma or even HIV.

        Poor kids with promise generally have plenty of opportunities to get as much college education as they can take. I know, I are one. It’s part of the Fabian system of identifying and assimilating potential class threats as early as possible.

        The issue is not that people are useless below a certain IQ threshold. The threshold, even in an automated economy, is very low, and above it, there is lots of utility in even an obedient adult with a 70 IQ. Try building a robot capable of functioning at a similar level, then see what the maintenance will run you.

        The issue is that the mass enstupidation of the lower and middle classes designed by the Fabians (the “Cathedral,” as the kids today say) has formed a positive feedback loop and affected all of society, turning the lower class into feral Idiocracy-type dependents, the middle into what the lower class used to be (dummies holding jobs of no real inherent value they can understand, laden with debt and incapable of reasoning) and the brights into that toady class, Yglesias and Tom Ricks.

      • asdf says:

        B,

        “Health care of decent quality is widely available for free.”

        This might be the case in other countries, but in America at least its not true. Bankruptcy from health costs is common, and you should see how much I’ve racked up in my lifetime (more then I’ve earned most likely). Further, health cost trend is not under control and will always be a limiting resource. Healthcare isn’t a manufactured good whose price can go to zero with enough automation. Healthcare is fundamentally the labor of smart people. The labor of smart people is a limiting resource.

        “Poor kids with promise generally have plenty of opportunities to get as much college education as they can take.”

        They go to college (one worse then they would have gotten into if they had grown up in a wealthier household), get loaded in debt, and never have the opportunities that come from the habits, connections, and advantages of those that grew up in better circumstances. And those are the ones that manage to get on that track, many adopt the culture they are brought up in to a degree they never unlock their potential. There is a reason that parents pay a ton of money to get their kid in a “good school”. Because they’ve seen plenty of smart kids who don’t get into a good school get sucked down and have worse lives because of it.

      • B says:

        >This might be the case in other countries, but in America at least its not true.

        Consult your local emergency room.

        >Bankruptcy from health costs is common,

        Yes, if you have a serious condition, society may demand that you pay as much of the cost of your treatment as possible before picking up the tab. Being bankrupt is better than being dead, so it seems like a good deal to me.

        >and you should see how much I’ve racked up in my lifetime (more then I’ve earned most likely).

        Yet amazingly you are not dead in a dumpster behind the hospital, and haven’t been turned into Soylent Green.

        >Further, health cost trend is not under control

        True.

        >Healthcare is fundamentally the labor of smart people. The labor of smart people is a limiting resource.

        True but misleading. In reality, 95% of the health care you get over your lifetime could be done by a nurse, PA or paramedic with a year or two of training. Most patient-doctor interaction is formulaic and doesn’t require a lot of brainwork.

        >They go to college (one worse then they would have gotten into if they had grown up in a wealthier household)

        Not necessarily, and it really doesn’t follow that learning math/physics/chemistry from a TA in an Ivy League school is better than learning it from your local community college professor.

        >get loaded in debt,

        Not necessarily. Community college is dirt cheap, state schools for state residents are inexpensive, there are plenty of scholarships, work-study programs, lucrative but difficult summer jobs, etc. It is quite realistic to finish a STEM degree in 4-6 years with no or little debt.

        >and never have the opportunities that come from the habits, connections, and advantages of those that grew up in better circumstances.

        This is either a tautology (obviously, the community college crowd will not have the same connection as the Bushes or Roosevelts in ANY society) or an assertion that needs proof (had Richard Feynman been from the upper class, he would have gotten a Nobel at 20?)

        >And those are the ones that manage to get on that track, many adopt the culture they are brought up in to a degree they never unlock their potential.

        Stupid choices have high costs.

        >There is a reason that parents pay a ton of money to get their kid in a “good school”. Because they’ve seen plenty of smart kids who don’t get into a good school get sucked down and have worse lives because of it.

        No-because they are stupid sheep willing to throw money away, or because their kids are mediocrities who can’t do anything without the right connections (and probably with them.) For every smart kid too poor to go to the Ivies for his undergrad and thus forced to get his electrical engineering degree from Community College/State U, there are five who went to an Ivy and got a massive amount of debt, a degree in Self Exploration and Recreational Drug Use, and a future of working for $30K a year.

        For all that I hate the Cathedral, lack of health care and educational opportunities are not its problems.

      • asdf says:

        B,

        How crass. I’m not dead because I had health insurance through my fathers job. And my father had a job because it was illegal to fire him for being sick.

        The emergency room method of health care delivery is so pathetic as to not warrant a response. As for nurses, going to a nurse instead of a doctor to save money nearly killed me once.

        As to college, the advantages of Ivy League are obvious over state. It’s not about the textbooks, its about who you are going to school with and the brand name, which provides immense opportunity.

        BTW, Rutgers, my state flagship, runs $25,077 a year. That’s six figures and four years of opportunity costs.

        As to not understanding the effect that peers, community, and school district have on someone growing up and their life outcomes I don’t know what to say. Obviously you never saw smart people get roped into bad crowds, or mediocrities do well in life because they get put on the right path with training wheels.

      • B says:

        >I’m not dead because I had health insurance through my fathers job.

        And if you hadn’t had insurance, the hospital would have chucked you out into the street?

        >The emergency room method of health care delivery is so pathetic as to not warrant a response.

        Works ok for most urgent stuff.

        >As for nurses, going to a nurse instead of a doctor to save money nearly killed me once.

        Would you like anecdotes on incompetent doctors killing people, or would you like to check the stats on yearly deaths caused by their mistakes?

        >the brand name, which provides immense opportunity.

        To those who had enough money from their parents to get by for a few years while doing unpaid internships at the NYT, sure. Or to those with sufficient talent that they would have done alright anyway. But there are plenty of Ivy grads in dead ends. I believe delicioustacos.com is written by one of them, although you can sense he made some suboptimal choices.

        >BTW, Rutgers, my state flagship, runs $25,077 a year. That’s six figures and four years of opportunity costs.

        For out of state students, before Pell Grants, SMART Grants, etc. In-state is $10K, and nobody pays that anyway. As for opportunity costs-what opportunities are you forgoing by not getting a college education?

        >As to not understanding the effect that peers, community, and school district have on someone growing up and their life outcomes I don’t know what to say. Obviously you never saw smart people get roped into bad crowds, or mediocrities do well in life because they get put on the right path with training wheels.

        Obviously, it’s my first rodeo. Do you want equality?

      • asdf says:

        B,

        If I didn’t have insurance I would have been hesitant to go to the hospital, and doctors would have been hesitant to treat me. Given my condition the delay would have killed me.

        Ivy gets you the good jobs. You know how many kids with prole parents I met in IB? Zero. With family connections and lots of money? At least half.

        Without room an board its about 8k less or so, but last time I check one has to eat and sleep. The opportunity cost is having a job for four years.

  5. oogenhand says:

    Reblogged this on oogenhand and commented:
    Solution: Force Saudi-Arabia and China to supply a guaranteed minimum income to the inhabitants of e.g. Zimbabwe.

  6. Porphy's Attorney says:

    Oh, what a Brave New World that has such Cathederalists in it!

    When I first read Moldbug’s “Dire Problem and the Virtual Option” I was disgusted by the “Virtual Option.”

    But now…well if this is the alternative, the Cathedral’s reality of the future, I’ll take Moldbug’s “Virtual Option.” Stick me in a tube and let me format the parameters of my fantasy.

    Of course, there has to be a better option. As a Neoreactionary there is nothing I hope for so much as change…

    • “Of course, there has to be a better option.”

      But does there? Why? Why can’t the “virtual option” be the best — or should I say, least bad — option? I don’t see where there’s any “of course” about the existence of any other, better alternatives. From whence do you conclude the necessary existence of such an option?

      • nydwracu says:

        Did eugenics stop existing?

        That seems like an obvious solution for what to do with people too stupid to work: set incentive structures such that the percentage of them in the country will be lower every generation.

      • In the long run, perhaps, but eugenics is slow; requiring, by definition, multiple generations. At least initially, the movement of the “employable/unemployable” threshold up the bell-curve is likely to outpace any reduction of the birthrate among the unemployables; see, for example, this Oxford study [pdf] which estimates that 47% of current American jobs are vulnerable to automation/computerization in the next 20 years (less than one generation). So while eugenic incentives would eventually prevent an economically unviable class from persisting in the sufficiently long term (centuries), you still have to deal with them in the short term (meaning decades); and, again, it still seems that the choices there remain either the Moldbug Matrix or Cowenian welfare + soma.

  7. anon666 says:

    I thought a hierarchical caste-based society is exactly what neoreactionaries advocated. That’s exactly what we already have and always have had since complex societies developed. Yes, the Cathedral promotes an ideology advocating egalitarianism, democracy and universal altruism, but the present system only pays lip service to these goals. Democracy is largely ceremonial and is bounded by the policies of the permanent bureaucracy and ideology of the Cathedral.

    I doubt that reactionaries’ issue with the present system is that it’s insufficiently populistic. Is it instead that it isn’t explicitly darwinist in terms of ideology, and that it denies its true nature? It’s unlikely that it will ever become explicitly Darwinist, as it’s a basic Machiavellian tactic for the state to claim its legitimacy derives from a higher moral principle, be it religious or secular.

    I also don’t think most neoreactionaries desire to become the new Oberschicht themselves. I suspect that if the current system recognized freedom of association as sacrosanct, thus allowing you to discriminate according to any criteria that you wish, you wouldn’t take as much issue with it. The main complaint that I see as a common thread within all neoreactionary blog discussions is that the state deprives the middle class the means of protecting themselves from barbarians. The elites have broken a fundamental term of the social contract.

    • Doug says:

      “I thought a hierarchical caste-based society is exactly what neoreactionaries advocated.”

      I don’t understand either. I though neoreactionaries weren’t suppose to shy away from unpleasant facts about human societies. This all frankly sounds like some Sailer-ite nostalgia for “da good ole’ days.”

      As a neoreactionary I recognize the fact that the strong do what they want, they weak do what the must. In 2013 America the strong are those in the technological and managerial elite. The weak must subsist on government cheese and broke-ass PS2s. Frankly the situation for them could be quite worse. I’d imagine that a Roman technological and managerial elite would probably deal with their dire problem by culling their numbers in the Coliseum.

      The Cathedral still buys into this equality bullshit, but frankly it’s de facto approach to the poor has improved quite a bit. No more push for busing, integration or mollifying the anti-social as “the true victims.” Now our approach to the poor is the to seal them away either in prisons or areas that are approaching quite literal ghettoes. Keep the safe parts of society safe with ubiquitous surveillance, de facto racist policing, and buffering with imported peasants from racial groups that are much more naturally servile. Add in a few token well-socialized tokens to keep up appearances.

      Frankly complain all you want, but the policy is working reasonably well. Certainly much better than the Cathedral’s mid-20th century lunacy. An actual productive member of society is far less likely to be endangered by a feral human than she was three decades ago.

  8. DrBill says:

    On the other hand, this vision is darkly pessimistic – we really have no idea what to do with people that aren’t working. Humans don’t seem to be made for not working, even if they’re being provided for (passive voice intentional).

    I posted on this here (far down in the guts of the post). In short, I speculated that there are two different groups of the unproductive. These are, first, the unproductive but unthreatening-to-the-elite (blacks, mestizos, indios, and anyone else bad at organizing things), and, second, the unproductive but potentially threatening-to-the-elite (white holders of humanities degrees, and anyone else good at organizing things but bad at math).

    Only the second group needs to be kept employed, to keep them out of trouble. As the bad-at-math terminator moves up through the distribution of math ability, the number of people we need to keep busy at something unproductive goes up. What shall we keep them busy with? How about taking care of the unthreatening unproductive? That’s labor-intensive, hard, distracting work. So, we need to import more unthreatening unproductives as technology advances.

  9. ve says:

    >Factors favoring stability include aging, surveillance technology, the skill of the rich at controlling the political environment, nativism, NIMBYism, and the basic comfort achieved by the lower class. . . . mood-altering drugs may be a solution

    So, basically, a synthesis of Brave New World and 1984. Constant surveillance, propaganda, an inner party/ruling class, comfortable lifestyles for the masses and, if needed, free Soma for everybody.

    • spandrell says:

      a synthesis of Brave New World and 1984.

      After all these years discussing which was more likely to happen, it’s only natural that we get both.

      And it follows that we need a synthesis of 1984’s proles and Malpais.

      • Foseti says:

        Caste is the wrong word, but don’t over complicate things. Believing in natural hierarchy doesn’t necessarily mean that you want the bottom class to sit on its collective ass all day doing nothing.

        If 80% of the population is going to have nothing at all to do, any stability is almost impossible. That’s the problem.

      • nydwracu says:

        Plenty of the population has nothing at all to do, and they’ve approximated the virtual option already.

        Of course, it probably helps that their diets are full of sugar and their water is full of estrogen.

  10. tryptophan says:

    Why couldn’t a hypothetical reactionary government just guarantee an income to everybody on the condition that they have a 30hr/week job. If wages can float towards 0 or below then Everyone will be given some employment, and employers have an incentive to a) get productive work out of their employees and b) Keep them happy.

    Useful people would get actual pay, anyone of little use gets close to the guaranteed basic income.

    The problem is, of course, creating a government which is Paternally concerned with human welfare and secure. Once you have a good and rational government, good outcomes follow.

  11. […] going to eat my profession’s lunch.  Yours too, eventually.  Maybe the toadies will give us nice drugs to smooth out our […]

  12. […] disgusting view of the Cathedral toadies. Related: Everyone hates environmentalists and feminists, but they always win […]

  13. […] Foseti has not been as inactive as me. His disgust at what I’d call the treason of consent manufacture in late liberal democracies seem rather well placed. Why can’t these people get honest jobs […]

  14. VXXC says:

    Can we revisit this say late October? October is coming sooner than later, come what may.

    Steiner’s offensive will fix everything, the Jodl class need not worry.

  15. […] up for a fun little discussion of the future of the free world, and manage to thoroughly disgust Foseti in the […]

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