Friday, August 17, 2018


Giovanni de Min. Spartan women wrestling, fresco, 1835-36. Villa Patt, Sedico, via .scclub.  

Victor Davis Hanson denounces the educated classes for the enjoyment and edificaton of the unlettered readership of the National Review:
rumpism is sometimes derided as an updated know-nothingism that rejects expertise and the input of credentialed expertise. Supposedly, professionals who could now save us tragically have their talent untapped as they sit idle at the Council on Foreign Relations, the economics Department at Harvard, or in the offices of the Brookings Institution — even as Trump’s wheelers and dealers crash and burn, too proud, too smelly, or too ignorant to call in their betters to come in and save Trump from himself.
But do the degreed classes, at least outside math, the sciences, engineering, and medicine, merit such esteem anymore?
You can tell by his plain, colloquial language that he's a hardscrabble man of the people himself, at ease with chainsaws.

For the record, 75.4% of National Review readers have a bachelor's degree or better, and 42.5% a postgraduate degree, according to the magazine's media kit, and Hanson himself has a Ph.D. from Stanford, in classics, specializing in military history of ancient Greece, and a perch at the Hoover Institution. Though given that the median age of the National Review reader is 66, I guess it's possible that they were all educated before "the education brand" got "deflated".

Only that can't be what he means, because his critique also applies to people who went to college before he did himself, like John O. Brennan (Fordham '77), James Clapper (U. of Maryland '63) and Robert Mueller (Princeton '66, U. Va. School of Law '73)
The Mueller team — along with a group of now disgraced, reassigned, and retired officers at the top echelons of the FBI, the descent of ex-CIA head John Brennan and ex-DIA chief James Clapper into caricature, the shenanigans of unmaskings and leaking at the Obama National Security Council, the warping of the FISA courts, the disingenuous operatives at Fusion GPS, and the implantation of informants into the Trump campaign — recalls the arrogant self-righteousness of the degreed geniuses who took us into Vietnam.
Not to mention Robert S. McNamara and Dean Rusk, who are so old as to be beyond the reach of the National Review entirely.

Also, there is no multiplicity of "FISA courts", just one Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and no informants were "implanted" into the Trump campaign (unless he's referring to something other than Professor Stefan Halper, in London, entertaining Carter Page at the Garrick Club in July 2016 and George Papadopoulos at the Travellers Club in early September—he was certainly not implanted anywhere, and there was only one of him). And I don't see how he can assert without explaining what he means that Brennan and Clapper "descended into caricature" at some point or that there was something shenanigan-like in the decision to find out what Trump transition official was discussing Russia sanctions in NSA-recorded phone calls with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak (unmasked, the party turned out to be Michael Flynn) or the FISC got "warped". When I was in college, we were taught to say what we meant, not hint at it with insult words and guilt-by-association, and to be able to back it up with evidence.

But VDH's main job here is to insult congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Córtez:
The liberal Washington Post recently fact-checked some of the claims of the new socialist candidate for Congress in New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She has often boasted of her college erudition. (“How many other House Democrats have a degree in economics like I do?”) Indeed, Ocasio-Cortez has repeatedly noted that she graduated fourth in her class at Boston University, with a joint degree in economics and international relations. Yet most of her major statements that she has made since coming onto the national scene have proven either wrong or unhinged....
Crazier was her statement that the “upper middle class does not exist anymore.” In fact, its numbers are at a near all-time high, nearly encompassing one-third of adults.
A series of Ocasio-Cortez’s assertions about Medicare and Obamacare turn out to be equally fallacious. She claimed that ICE had a “bed quota” that had to be filled by unsuspecting immigrants. That too is a false statement. ICE keeps a minimum of 34,000 beds for surges of detainees, but it is absurd to suggest that the agency must keep them filled.
In fact Kessler at Wapo, which Hanson doesn't link, far from saying that "most of her major statements" are "wrong or unhinged", hastens to add that "the average member of Congress might easily make many bloopers over the course of so many live interviews". Kessler examined just five particularly controversial statements, not "most" of the "major" ones, and the record is somewhat more mixed than Kessler reports.

The claim that the unemployment rate is low "because everyone has two jobs" is nuts on its face, because if multiple employment had an effect on the rate, which it doesn't, it would obviously be to raise it—it would be more plausible to turn the statement upside down and say that the tight labor market without adequate wage increases encourages people to work more than one job, because the jobs exist and don't pay well enough. But that doesn't seem to be happening either, at least on a nationwide basis. It would have been interesting to think about the point she might have been trying to make. Not everybody knows that relatively few people work two or more jobs; for example, the Washington Post ran a story pretty much intimating that everybody works two jobs in December 2014, a time like now when the U3 unemployment rate was steadily shrinking and wages weren't rising to match. Kessler didn't give them a hard time as far as I know.

Also, by the way, there are plenty of people of one particular type working multiple jobs, and they're all AOC's age, which is 28; as recently as September 2016, around a third of Millennials had two or more gigs, in what we were calling the "gig economy", and I doubt that's gotten a lot less since the topic subsided as a conversation thing. She's talking about real problems of real people, her friends, and just because she has a relatively limited view of the economy as a whole doesn't mean she isn't seeing something real. She isn't wrong the way Republicans in the Obama years were wrong to say their taxes were going up when they were going down. She's wrong in that when she says "everybody" she means a bunch of people she knows, which is a pretty Millennial thing to do.

The claim about the Affordable Care Act—"it may not seem like we pay that tax on April 15th, we pay it every single month or we do pay at tax season if we don’t buy, you know, these plans off of the exchange"—sounds more garbled to me than wrong: people who don't have employer insurance or Medicare or Medicaid do pay a tax that was originally billed as a fine if they fail to buy individual health insurance, but I don't understand what point Kessler thinks she's trying to make with the remark: when he says that Justice Roberts "was not referring to the monthly premium payments, as Ocasio-Córtez claims," but "the individual mandate to buy insurance," her last 12 words suggest she knows that.

What debate point was she responding to? I imagine it was about the Sanders Medicare for All plan and how she'd justify the big personal tax hike it would entail (a 4% surcharge on everybody with an income of more than $29,000, and a 7.5% payroll tax on employers), and she was trying to explain what should be obvious, that we're paying as it is under the Affordable Care Act, in premiums or, if we refuse to pay the premiums, in tax; if everybody pays the tax, then everybody with a job loses the bite that's taken out of the paycheck. If you think of it that way, and look back at the quoted sentence, you can see she was probably simply right, and Kessler was being deliberately stupid.

Hanson doesn't discuss that one at all, or her reference to the Mercatus Center study of the Sanders plan suggesting it would save the government around $2 trillion, which we were all delirious over a couple of weeks ago. I imagine that's a little bit too mathy for his taste. Nobody had health insurance during the Peloponnesian Wars, and Hanson liked it that way. But Kessler had a verdict, and it wasn't positive:

We recently gave this sort of claim Three Pinocchios. Some Democrats have seized on a reference in a study released by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, which receives some funding from the Koch Foundation, that a Medicare-for-all plan advanced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) would reduce the country’s overall level of health expenditures by $2 trillion from 2022 to 2031. That’s because the Sanders plan would slash payments to providers by 40 percent.
I really don't think it's fair to single out AOC on that one, since if it was a hallucination, it was very widely shared (I may have sent out a tweet or two on the subject, though I really think scoring the Sanders plan is something of a waste of time, since whatever a Democratic Congress ends up constructing as its Medicare For All plan is going to look different and will, in fact, be very strong on reducing cost growth). Also, that "40%" "slash" is mainly asking providers to accept for all patients the pay schedule they already accept from Medicare for old folks, and I'm inclined to believe that Mercatus isn't calculating it right (for one thing it's a rise on the 70% of payments that aren't Medicare or Medicaid already or just the 56% that are private insurance, according to Matt Bruenig, who notes that Kessler himself acknowledged this error a couple of days before repeating it in the Ocasio-Córtez sliming, and for another it's surely the case that getting drug prices under control is way more important in the general calculations).

On the subject of the ICE bed quota, Kessler is right in a manner of speaking to note that, as Obama's DHS administrator Jeh Johnson stressed, it's not a people quota, it's a bed quota that's been imposed on ICE by Congress since 2009, but the way it works is not exactly the way Kessler says it:
As our friends at PolitiFact documented, this is an urban legend. There is language in the 2016 appropriations bill that requires ICE to have 34,000 beds available — ICE “shall maintain a level of not less than 34,000 detention beds through September 30, 2016” — but it is not required to fill them. The main point of such language, a version of which dated to 2009, is to make sure the money is not spent on something else.
But it is effectively a people mandate, and always has been. Kessler may be convinced by the rationalization, but people in the inside of the system know it's meant to pressure the officers to detain more people;

If border crossings and apprehensions continue to stay low, the administration could struggle to fill additional detention beds, unless it increases “arrests of undocumented immigrants in the interior with no criminal convictions and cuts back on releases of asylum seekers found to have legitimate claims,” said Kevin Landy, who served as assistant director at ICE during the Obama administration.
“ICE is going to be under enormous pressure to fill those beds” to prove to Congress that the funding was needed, said Landy, who left his post in January. Democrats raised similar concerns during budget negotiations, a Congressional aide with knowledge of the negotiations told Reuters. (Julia Ainsley and Mica Rosenberg/Reuters)
And Kessler is plain wrong (or "disingenuous", to use a favorite word of his) about the program's ending: it dropped at the end of the Obama administration in FY 2017, but came back in 2018.

Finally, is the "upper middle class" disappearing, as AOC suggests, or is it actually swelling, as Kessler (with Hanson tagging along) claims, to the point where it's now encompassing a third of the population?
But the data show that while the middle class overall may have shrunk a bit, the upper-middle class has actually grown. In a 2016 paper Stephen J. Rose documented that the upper-middle class has grown substantially, from 12.9 percent of the population in 1979 to 29.4 percent in 2014. His analysis showed that there was a massive shift in the center of gravity of the economy, with an increasing share of income going to the upper-middle class and rich.
The data don't "show" that! They show that if you define "upper middle class" the way Stephen Rose did when he was doing the research in 2014, which was entirely in terms of income level ($100,000 to $349,999 in 2014 dollars), then it was a lot bigger in 2014 than it was in 2014. But that's not even a normal way to define it. The normal way to define it is in approximate fifths, with the top fifth minus the unspeakably rich as the "upper middle", about 15 to 18% of the total

because that's where they break down, in the gap between 4 and 5. Also defined in functional terms as
In academic models, the term "upper middle class" applies to highly-educated, salaried professionals whose work is largely self-directed. Many have postgraduate degrees, with educational attainment serving as the main distinguishing feature of this class. Household incomes commonly may exceed $100,000, with some smaller one-income earners earning incomes in the high five figures.[5] Typical professions for this class include lawyers, physicians, physician assistants, military officers, psychologists, nurse practitioners, certified public accountants, pharmacists, optometrists, financial planners, editors, dentists, engineers, professors, architects, school principals, urban planners, civil service executives, and civilian contractors
But the security definition of the class
members of this class are also secure from economic down-turns and, unlike their counterparts in the statistical middle class, do not need to fear downsizing, corporate cost-cutting, or outsourcing—an economic benefit largely attributable to their postgraduate degrees and comfortable incomes
is the tell. That kind of security is being lost everywhere: university tenure is getting to be a thing of the past, doctors are moving out of private practice into becoming clinic employees, publishers are relying on freelancers, nobody's safe. The squeeze is on almost everybody, and that is the disappearance of the upper middle class AOC is talking about. It's absolutely real!

The attempt to show that there's something somehow ditzy about this view, or the view that ICE has a quota, or that an improved healthcare delivery system could save money, is just ridiculously false, and it's not just idiots like Victor Davis Hanson who are promulgating it. Anyway brava AOC. She knows more about what's going on than more than half the clowns who are in Congress already, and I bet she's a faster learner.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

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