America: Politically Correct, and Politically Free


Pew research looks at the level of support for free speech across the globe and finds that it's highest (according to their measure) in the U.S.:

Enshrined in the Bill of Rights, free expression is a bedrock American principle, and Americans tend to express stronger support for free expression than many others around the world. A 38-nation Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2015 found that Americans were among the most supportive of free speech, freedom of the press and the right to use the internet without government censorship.

Moreover, Americans are much more tolerant of offensive speech than people in other nations. For instance, 77% in the U.S. support the right of others to make statements that are offensive to their own religious beliefs, the highest percentage among the nations in the study. Fully 67% think people should be allowed to make public statements that are offensive to minority groups, again the highest percentage in the poll. And the U.S. was one of only three nations where at least half endorse the right to sexually explicit speech. Americans don’t necessarily like offensive speech more than others, but they are much less inclined to outlaw it.

To get a summary measure of support for free expression around the world, we built an index based on five survey questions about free speech and three about free media. Using this measure, Americans emerge as the biggest supporters of free expression among the 38 nations studied. And unlike so many other issues in the U.S., wide open, free-ranging public debate has an appeal across party lines. There are relatively few differences between Democrats, Republicans and independents when it comes to free expression.

However, there are some important generational differences on this issue. For instance, 40% of U.S. Millennials think the government should be able to prevent people from making statements that are offensive to minority groups, compared with 27% of those in Generation X, 24% of Baby Boomers, and just 12% of Silent Generation Americans. Nonwhite respondents (38%) are also more likely to hold this view than whites (23%).

Apart from debates over whether offensive language should be legal, most Americans believe people are just too easily offended nowadays. In a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, 59% agreed with the statement “Too many people are easily offended these days over the language that others use,” while only 39% said “people need to be more careful about the language they use to avoid offending people with different backgrounds.”

Yet another stereotype of American society down the drain. Germans consider America to be the homeland of political correctness, the dastardly censorship of controversial views which is spreading like a virus into German society. This impression, like so many others, is created by selective German news coverage. Most Germans still unthinkingly rely on the mainstream media to decide what it's important to know about the United States.

Which they do, according to their own narrow, nearly-identical criteria, determined by the tastes and preferences of educated urban haute-bourgeois Germans. And they have decided, for reasons which would be interesting to know, that Americans are afflicted by the worst case of political correctness on the globe. Journos pounce on every story showing the excesses of politically-correct scolding in the United States. 

Yet what Pew shows us is that Americans likely have the highest tolerance for offensive speech of anyone in the world.

The problem here is one of definition. Political correctness as a tendency of private persons in civil society to denounce someone's remarks, or Halloween costume, or state flag as offensive. There is a lot of that sort of thing in the United States. And there is certainly some chilling effect on college campuses, which are full of people whose job is essentially to have opinions.

Yet in another way, America is much more free than all other nations on earth. The Constitution and American culture prevent the government from punishing offensive speech to a greater degree than anywhere else. In America, the government cannot pre-emptively stop a newspaper from printing offensive speech, or stolen secret documents. Publications generally cannot be seized after they're printed. Ordinary citizens may advocate violence, deny the Holocaust, use ethnic slurs, and espouse racism without fear of government intervention. (As long as these are words alone -- you can still be punished for actions such as workplace discrimination or bias-motivated hate crimes). You can neither be punished by the government nor sued for money by a private citizen for an insult, not matter how vicious or crude it is. You can protest at the funeral of a soldier with signs which insult "fags" and say "Thank God for Dead Soldiers".


In almost all other countries on earth, any one of these actions or statements could expose you to criminal prosecution by the government or an order to compensate victims with money damages in civil court. Not in the U.S. And, as the Pew survey shows, the majority of Americans approve of this state of affairs. Even millennials, the most PC group of them all, are not clamoring for restrictions on free speech.

So in the United States, if you say something quite rude and non-PC, you may be castigated on Twitter and denounced by your audience.

If you say the same thing in many other countries, you could be hit with a government-imposed fine or civil damages verdict. Perhaps even a prison sentence.

The amount of politically-correct scolding in a country has no relation to the level of genuine freedom of expression. After all, politically-correct scolding is freedom of expression. The U.S. is a hotbed both of political correctness and of free speech.

There's More Routine Political Violence In Germany than in the USA

A Republican Party office in Orange County, North Carolina, was firebombed, and the attackers sprayed graffiti calling on 'Nazi Republicans' to leave. This was considered so unusual and ominous in the USA that it made national headlines. And it comes during what is unquestionably the most divisive and emotional Presidential campaign in modern history. Hillary Clinton responded:

Yet political violence of this sort of thing happens every single day in Germany. Members and employees of the right-wing AfD have been shot at (g), beaten (g), and targeted with demonstrations blockading the entrance to their own homes "mourning" their deaths (g). The AfD has created a central registry (g) of criminal attacks against its members and employees. The car owned by the chairwoman of the AfD was destroyed in an arson attack (g). Both right-wing (g, in Dresden) and left-wing (g, in Berlin) hooligans rampage through the center of large German cities, attacking people and things they associate with their political enemies, causing millions of Euros in damage. The offices of the left-wing Die Linke party have been attacked hundreds of times (g). Attacks on police officers in Germany are rising steadily (g) and becoming a problem for recruitment (g).

Of course, there have been riots, looting, and fatal shootings in the US related to protests against police violence. Once again, the disastrous consequences of the large number of guns circulating in the US can be seen. But aside from these spectacular incidents, the level of routine politically-motivated property damage and physical attacks is probably higher in Germany than in the United States. Just as the overall level of violent crime in Germany is higher than in the US.

Germany is not on the brink of collapse, and serious injury or death from these events is extremely rare. But the notion that Germany is an Arcadia of reasoned discourse while the US is a Wild West nightmare of flying bullets -- an assumption that underpins much German reporting -- is false.

UPDATE -- A Massachusetts Democrat started a Gofundme page to repair the burned Republican field office and raised $13,000 from fellow Democrats within hours.

Royal Intermarriage Prevented Wars

This fascinating paper (pdf) by Seth G. Benzell and Kevin Cooke argues that intermarriage among European royal houses played a significant role in decreases in the number of wars in early modern Europe:

Specifically, we show exogenous increases in kinship network distance lead to an increased likelihood of war. While our framework predicts we should also see a decreased likelihood of fighting as allies, evidence on this is inconclusive. We conclude that the rise in kinship connections is an important factor in the well-known long-run decrease in the frequency of war.

We tentatively estimate that increased kinship ties explain 30 percent of the decrease in European warfare. Suppose, conservatively, that the presence of a kinship connection reduces the chance of war between a pair of states by .67 percent. This number is a lower bound on the effect of disconnecting onpath deaths in the latter part of our sample. Relative to pre-1600, the share of monarchs connected after 1800 increased by 53 percentage points. Preventing all these new ties from being formed would therefore be expected to increase the share of dyads at war after 1800 from 1.17% to 1.53%. This is approximately 30 percent of the decrease in war over the same period.

Our data provides a rich environment to study the influence of interpersonal relationships on long-run macroeconomic, political and institutional outcomes. In this paper, we have focused on the relationship between kinship and conflict. However, the same data and network tools might well be applied to more traditional economic questions. We think future work investigating the long-run implications of kinship networks for trade, growth, and development will be fruitful. Another interesting path for future study is explicitly modeling the network formation in this environment. Strategic marriages played a major role in international relations during our period of interest. Building a structural model of strategic marriage and fertility decisions is also an interesting direction for future research.

We New Worlders, almost all of whom grew up in republics, always find odd to think that the mere fact that Prince X married (or refused) Princess Y would change the lives of millions of people. But it did!

Fun with Pattern Recognition: Shots Fired by German Police, 2007-2015


From reddit's Data is Beautiful. Gee, I wonder what caused the big jump in 2015?

The first 2 comments:

[–]TheGogglesDoNothing -- I suspect that this graph will correlate pretty well to a graph of "shootings by police in Chicago from 9/1-9/7".


[–]foll-trood -- that's not how you format hours and minutes

Bleg: Has Angela Merkel Ever Criticized the German Justice System?

At a conference in Vienna, I made a statement that might well turn out to be bullshit, as is often the case with me. What I said was:

"In all her years as Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel has never made a public statement in which she has (1) called for reform of the German criminal justice system or (2) criticized its unfair treatment of ethnic minorities."

I certainly can't remember her ever doing such a thing. In fact, I can't remember her ever saying anything at all about the German criminal justice system, except for platitudes congratulating judges and cops for their selfless service, etc.

The point was to contrast her with Obama, who has made countless such statements. And to make the point, which I do over and over on this blog: Europeans who obsess on the flaws, real or imagined, of the U.S. criminal justice system generally have no idea how their own system works, and blissfully presume it works just fine. 

Europe, the USA, and the Death Penalty: 13 Slides to Collect and Trade with your Friends

I'm off to Vienna in a few days to talk about the death penalty. Specifically, why Europe got rid of it and why the USA still (just barely) has it. Here are the slides I'm working on right now, in case anyone's interested. If the hive mind spots any errors or has any suggestions, comments are eagerly welcome!


Welcome, Sturdy, Sober, Hard-Working Danes! (Other Danes Need Not Apply)


Tyler Cowen reviews a new book calling into question Scandinavian welfare states as a model for the world, and working out its implications for immigration policy:

Nima Sanandaji, a Swedish policy analyst and president of European Centre for Entrepreneurship and Policy Reform, has recently published a book called "Debunking Utopia: Exposing the Myth of Nordic Socialism." And while the title may be overstated, his best facts and figures are persuasive. 

For instance, Danish-Americans have a measured living standard about 55 percent higher than the Danes in Denmark. Swedish-Americans have a living standard 53 percent higher than the Swedes, and Finnish-Americans have a living standard 59 percent higher than those back in Finland. Only for Norway is the gap a small one, because of the extreme oil wealth of Norway, but even there the living standard of American Norwegians measures as 3 percent higher than in Norway. And that comparison is based on numbers from 2013, when the price of oil was higher, so probably that gap has widened.

Of the Nordic groups, Danish-Americans have the highest per capita income, clocking in at $70,925. That compares to an U.S. per capita income of $52,592, again the numbers being from 2013. Sanandaji also notes that Nordic-Americans have lower poverty rates and about half the unemployment rate of their relatives across the Atlantic.

It is difficult, after seeing those figures, to conclude that the U.S. ought to be copying the policies of the Nordic nations wholesale. It is instead more plausible to think that Americans might learn something from the cultural practices of Nordic-Americans. Sanandaji says those norms include hard work, honesty, a strong civil society and an ethic of cooperation and volunteerism....
For one thing, Nordic immigrants to the United States probably came from the better trained, more literate and more ambitious segments of the population. For instance, data on Danish migrants from 1868 to 1900 show that laborers were underrepresented in the group and artisans and craftsmen were overrepresented by a factor of two. It is perhaps no wonder that the ethnic Danes in the U.S. are relatively high earners, because they are the results of a process of positive selection.  And there is a growing literature showing that the cultural traits of migrants can persist to some degree for generations in their new countries....

Most of all we should consider the option of greater freedom of choice for residence decisions. For all the anti-immigrant sentiment that is circulating at the moment, would it hurt the U.S. to have fully open borders with Denmark? It would boost American gross domestic product and probably also improve American education. History teaches that serious assimilation problems would be unlikely, especially since many Danes already speak English. 

Open borders wouldn't attract Danes who want to live off welfare because the benefits are so generous at home.

How's this for a simple rule: Open borders for the residents of any democratic country with more generous transfer payments than Uncle Sam's.

A few observations: Simple one-to-one comparisons of Danish to American living standards are not very meaningful, because even if Americans make more money, they have higher living expenses. They have to pay for (or do without) many things a Scandinavian welfare state provides for free or subsidized. How exactly do you calculate the effect on living standards of guaranteed paid parental leave, health insurance, pre-school education, and public transportation so effective that nobody has to buy a car?

That aside, though, notice the argument Cowen is making. Cowen is a professor of economics, a centrist with libertarian tendencies, and an interesting blogger. Being libertarian, he tends to be in favor of immigration in general. Economists tend to like many kinds of immigration, because it fosters economic growth and comparative advantage and those sorts of things.

But since Cowen is a pragmatic American, he accepts two arguments as so obvious as to need no elaboration. First, that immigration should favor the talented and intelligent. The Danes America got are doing well in America because they come from a successful culture, and because they were some of the most enterprising people in that culture. Second, he notes that immigration policy should obviously not attract people "who want to live off welfare". (Also, note that he uses the word "selection" in reference to getting better Danes. The German version of this word, Selektion, is thermonuclear-level verboten in Germany because it was the term used for the process of determining which new arrivals at Nazi death camps would be selected for immediate death, and which would be put to work).

Both of these arguments will immediately be disputed in European Urban Haute Bourgeois circles. Trust me, I know from personal experience. European urban elites who have liberal-arts educations are educated in hothouses of deontological thinking, in which experiences and policies should be evaluated according to abstract universal principles of humanism. In this view, selecting immigrants is denounced as elitist, as ignoring the "sacred principle" of human equality, as treating some persons as more inherently valuable than others, and as implicitly asserting the supposed "superiority" of Western culture.

Discouraging welfare tourism is denounced for similar reasons. Also, you often encounter the notion that Europeans have no "right" to live in comparative safety and prosperity, and therefore have no legitimate objection to foreigners coming to their country and living off state assistance their entire lives. What are you trying to say, that Joseph from Cameroon somehow has less right to live off German welfare than Josef from Dibbersen? Both are human beings, both have the same entitlement to inviolable human dignity, and therefore both must be treated equally by the welfare state. You didn't choose which country you were born in, so how is it fair for you to reap the incalculable privileges of being born in a place like Germany as opposed to, say, Zimbabwe?

To which the average Brit or American (but not Peter Singer) responds: What's all this bosh? These arguments may have abstract appeal in a seminar room, but as guides for formulating policy in a Western democracy, they're useless, not even wrong. Principles are all well and good, but they're hardly a guide to practical policy-making. Favoring skilled immigrants is legal, proper, does not violate any mutual obligations we may owe to others, and benefits us. Same with making sure foreign welfare cases don't burden our system, which is designed for our people. And no, we think the notion that making sure our welfare system helps our people is not only proper, but that it's the only remotely sane approach. And we feel no need to justify or explain these views. As Disraeli said, "Never complain, never explain."

This, gentle readers, is one of the most fascinating and enduring differences between the mindset of the educated elites of the English-speaking world and those of continental Europe.

The U.S. Is Much Less Xenophobic Than Europe

Foreigner poll

Here's another cultural difference to add to the others.

If you believe it's a good thing for a country to have a generally positive attitude toward diversity, then you must acknowledge that the USA is morally superior to any European country. European elites overwhelmingly think diversity is a good thing, which makes the results of this survey problematic to them. How can a country which embodies so many things they disapprove of 'score' so well on a value they desperately wish their countrymen shared?

If you're neutral on that question, as I am, this is just an interesting difference. Doubtless the main factor here is that the US is a nation of immigrants, while European nations all have native traditions and populations and thick, deep cultures and identities.


Anglosplaining and the Amusingness Gap

The Economist looks at why the most high-middlebrow shows and books about Germany are written by Brits:

This popularity of Anglo-Saxon storytellers “really is astonishing”, says Hermann Parzinger. He is a German archaeologist (best known for his work on the Scythians) and president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which owns museums, libraries and archives in Berlin. He is working with MacGregor in dreaming up how to curate the Humboldt Forum’s exhibits.

German academics, Parzinger says, write books to impress the five most important experts in their field. Popularity is suspect in German academia. The German word unseriös, etymologically the same as “unserious”, in fact means “lacking credibility”. But Anglo-Saxons, Parzinger thinks, “have it in their blood to make these things suspenseful and interesting even for lay people”. In particular, they know how to integrate into their storytelling “both the high and the low, without anything being banal”. Thus MacGregor effortlessly mixes Luther and Goethe with sausages and garden gnomes into one analysis that makes Germans feel they’ve understood something about themselves.

The Anglos also come across as likeable rather than belehrend, says Parzinger. That German word means “lecturing”, and is often used by Germans of Germans. The greatest fear of intellectuals in Germany and other continental countries is to appear shallow. The greatest fear of Britons is to seem pompous, says MacGregor. So they enliven their knowledge with good delivery and showmanship....

But even among outsiders the Anglos have the edge in Germany over, say, French, Polish, Dutch or Danish intellectuals. These neighbours were often part of German history – as enemies, victims or collaborators. German audiences expect them to reflect that perspective. A French historian talking about the 1940s, say, should probably also expound on Vichy and French collaboration.

The Brits, however, were always “geographically more outside”, says Parzinger, which makes them appear credible. Since the 1960s, for example, it has been all but taboo for German writers to argue anything other than that Germany bears sole responsibility for starting the first world war. Clark gleefully ignored that taboo in “The Sleepwalkers” – and outsold all the Germans, even in Germany. Clark can say the question of guilt is complicated, says Parzinger, but hearing it “from a German would have been more difficult”.

This goes back to a fundamental cultural difference which virtually every Anglo-Saxon picks up on quickly in Germany: Most Germans just aren't funny in ways Anglo-Saxons recognize, and a substantial minority aren't funny at all. Free-floating, value-neutral absurdity; obscene wordplay; sarcasm and irony; casual teasing insults among friends -- these styles of communication are much rarer in Germany than in the Anglo-Saxon world. Unless you know someone fairly well, the safest mode of communication is straightforward communication about mundane details of everyday life or anodyne remarks about current affairs which do not reveal a controversial personal opinion.

This is not to say there ain't no funny Germans, etc. etc. As with everything in life, this is a matter of probability distributions and bell curves, not of absolutes. Behold this scientific-looking graph:

DddThe more to the left you are on this graph, the more sincere and loyal. You become more entertaining as you move to the right. Germany is the bell curve with the peak of 52. England with the peak of 76. The separation is too wide, but it still makes the point. There's plenty of overlap (i.e. decent and funny people) in both directions, but the average Brit you meet is likely to be more entertaining than the average German.

The canon of values the average German has been raised with tend toward sincerity, honesty, credibility, punctuality, and loyalty. You can be a worthy, admirable person on this scale while being crushingly boring. In fact, being crushingly boring can actually be a helpful strategy, since humor, used inappropriately or at the wrong time, can undermine your reputation. Leave humor to the professionals. Or if you are called upon to be funny yourself, have a few memorized jokes or sayings on tap, just in case. Even if they're crushingly unfunny, people will laugh. Out of politeness.

Maybe I can't make you laugh, says the German, but I will take time out of my busy schedule to visit you in the hospital, and bring a thoughtful gift. Which is more important?

Growing up in the Anglo-Saxon world, there's a premium on being entertaining. Your cultural heroes are likely to be comedians rather than violinists or human-rights activists. You're likely to spend hours each day consuming humor. Dull people are ostracized. Unlike in Germany, where you might bring them along even though you know they'll just sit there silently, in England and the USA you will simply avoid them and mock them.

In this atmosphere, even renowned historians often learn to be decent storytellers and amusing chaps, because everyone is expected to be a decent storyteller and an amusing chap. In Germany, you can live a life that you and others would consider rich and full without ever (1) intentionally provoking (2) sincere laughter in another human being.

A Modest(y) Proposal: Muslims, Build Your Own Pools

The Washington Post looks at the burqini ban:

While the burqini may sound straightforward, it is quite controversial. German media recently reported that a public pool in Neutraubling in the German state of Bavaria had banned swimmers from wearing burqinis. According to Abendzeitung, the decision had been made after a young woman had turned up to a water aerobics class in a burqini. A number of other women in the class had complained, which led town officials to decide the outfit was not appropriate at the pool and should not be allowed.

Town Mayor Heinz Kiechle told the paper that there was no “burqini ban” per se, and that instead swimming pools simply required conventional swimwear. For women, that would be a standard one-piece swimsuit or a bikini. A burqini would not be allowed, but nor would a wetsuit or a T-shirt. An additional reason for the rule, Kiechle told the Mittelbayerische Zeitung, was that there had been complaints about male asylum seekers in the area attempting to use the pool while wearing underwear.

Swimming pools have become a surprising battleground in Europe’s culture wars in recent years. At the start of this year there were reports that asylum seekers and migrants in a number of countries had been banned from swimming pools after alleged sexual assaults. A more complicated issue is female modesty: In Sweden, a country that prides itself on gender equality, the idea of female-only swimming hours has prompted a backlash by those who say it goes against the country’s ethos.

There are two cultural divides at work here. First, the obvious one between the burqini wearers and the other women.

The other is between an American and a European reading this article. When an American reads this article, the question that pops up is: why are all these people sharing the same pool? If the Muslims want special rules and conditions for pool use, then they should all get together, pool their money (so to speak), and build a pool.

European society still reflects an ever-diminishing glimmer of the idea of communal ownership and enjoyment. You don't have to buy your own car, big plot of land, or swimming pool. We will provide trains, parks, and public pools for you. You'll have to share them, of course, but you'll get 80% of the enjoyment at 1% of the price. And besides, sharing is good for society. Helps combat alienation and selfishness. Sweden's social democrats once lived by the motto: 'Nothing is too good for the people'.

But communal goods presuppose a community of people which can agree on how to use them. There has to be social trust and consensus. Immigrants who don't understand or accept that you have to bathe in different clothes than you live in screw that up. And it's important. I won't go into details, but bathing in clothes causes disgusting hygiene problems.

America is a place with lots of room, prosperous immigrants, cheap real estate, plenty of different ethnic groups, and no broad sense of entitlement that the government should provide free amenities to all. So if Muslims want to swim in a way that fits their culture, they can build a private swimming pool. They can keep everyone else out, if they want, or let them in. It's up to them.

America is full of communal gathering places for various ethnic groups -- there's even a Slovenian Hall in San Francisco. Now, the name is merely historical, you can rent the Slovenian hall for weddings. This is because Slovenes moved out of the immigrant ghettos in a few generations, forgot Slovenian, and no longer feel the need for ethnic solidarity.

The US Midwest is plastered with hundreds of thousands of remnants of the era when German-Americans created their own Singvereine, Kulturvereine, restaurants, festivals, cultural meeting places, and other institutions. There are thousands of American hospitals with ethnic and religious names, which were founded to provide medical care mainly -- and sometimes exclusively -- to one religion or ethnic group. New York City used to have a German hospital located in 'Little Germany'. It changed its name to Lenox Hill Hospital in 1918.

And all of these buildings were built with private funds. Jews built their own hospitals for their fellow Jews, Germans for their fellow Germans, Catholics for their fellow Catholics. Now the objection might be that the kind of conservative Muslims who might want a private swimming pool might not have enough money to build one. As is the case almost everywhere, there's an inverse relationship between how devout people are and how rich they are. The typical American answer to this question is: tough toenails. American-style cultural laissez-faire means nobody will interfere if you want to build your own separate institutions, and that nobody will help you.

Muslim Germans are a minority in a country whose majority doesn't share their cultural predilections. They have a right to fair treatment, but can't expect any sympathy or help from that majority to help them preserve their own alien traditions. Gentiles didn't build Jewish hospitals for American Jews, nor did the US government help Catholics build their own hospitals. If Muslims want their own swimming pools, but cannot yet afford them, they will just have to be patient and keep saving. Or follow the rules at public pools.