Monday, April 30, 2018

Bergman on eugenics, economics and political economy

The Darwin Effect: Its Influence on Nazism, Eugenics, Racism, Communism, Capitalism and Sexism. By Jerry Bergman. Green Forest, AZ: Master Books, 2014. Paper. 358 pages. $16.99

Jerry Bergman’s The Darwin Effect is a wide-ranging survey on the impact of Charles Darwin and Darwinism on culture, political philosophy, social policy, and economic policy.
His first three chapters serve as an introduction to Darwin and Darwinism. Among many interesting details, Bergman notes the impact of Darwin’s family tree. Of particular interest to economists, he connects Darwin to John Maynard Keynes: his sister-in-law was Darwin’s grand-daughter; his mother and Darwin’s daughter worked for an organization that promoted eugenics. (12)
From there, Bergman turns to Darwinism’s role in American culture. In Chapter 4, he ties the growth of racism to Darwinism. “Racism has a surprisingly recent origin” and its growth “parallels the rise of evolutionary thought.” (25) “Skin color was of little importance in most parts of the world throughout much of recorded history.” (26) Or as Stephen Jay Gould wrote: “biological arguments for racism may have been common before 1859, but they increased by orders of magnitude following the acceptance of evolutionary theory.” (135)
In Chapter 8, Bergman extends the argument by connecting KKK rhetoric and practice to Darwinian philosophy. Darwinists believed that blacks were closer to apes than whites. (17, 37) As an aside, Bergman notes the irony that gorillas, chimps and orangutans all have white skin! (35) Darwin believed that the Negro race and all other “lower races” would eventually be eliminated by survival of the fittest. (66) He believed in living “primitive races” (67), including blacks and other immigrants. His cousin, Galton Darwin believed that some dogs were smarter than “some races” of humans. (56-57)
Some of the confusion stemmed from early science on brain size and intelligence. Brain size is correlated with intelligence, but the causation is with diet and environment, rather than size per se. Fortunately, “research has slowly demolished the view that some races are biologically inferior to others, demonstrating the brotherhood of all humans as taught in Genesis.” (75)  
Along the same lines, Bergman points to the biblical concept of “monogenism”—where all humans are related and biological inferiority is far more difficult to assert. In contrast, “polygenism” is implied by Darwinism. And so, the evolution of different classes of people became tenable, since natural selection could, in theory, yield profound differences. (27-28) Moreover, Christianity makes no claims about racial inferiority (38)—whether the inclusion of Jews and Gentiles in God’s redemptive plan; the incident in Numbers 12 where God supports Moses’ interracial marriage; or the “every race, tribe, people” references in Revelation.
Bergman also notes that females were routinely judged as inferior to males, using evolutionary rationales. (12) “Female inferiority was a logical conclusion of the Darwinian worldview, because males were believed to be exposed to far greater selective pressures…A male must prove himself both physically and intellectually superior…a woman must be superior only in sexual attraction.” (219) For awhile, men and women were even classified as distinct species. (220) As such, evolutionists and progressives often held a dim view of women in politics, including opposition to women’s suffrage. (229)
Bergman devotes chapters 9-11 to the impact of evolutionary thinking through circuses, zoos, and “freak shows” in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Barnum & Bailey’s circus plays a central role. Ota Benga, a Pygmy, was displayed at the Bronx Zoo in the early 20th century as an Ape-Man. People with handicaps, diseases, and genetic deformities (microcephalic, dwarfism, hirsutism) were sold to the public as “missing links” into the 1970s. In a word, Bergman argues that millions of people were influenced through pop culture and pseudo-science.
All of these historical details are fascinating and sobering. But then, Bergman turns to the connections between Darwinism, political philosophy, and public policy. He notes “how often—and how easily—Darwinism has been exploited for sinister political ends” (9), ranging from “the radical Right to the extreme Left”. (10)
Bergman has three chapters on “eugenics”. Eugenics was promoted as a social good—or even for the good of the individual as “mercy killings”. (83) Again, science crossed into pseudo-science and ethics with little difficulty. Breeding had been effective with animals and plants. Progress and science might dictate the same for humans.
At the national level, Bergman notes how governments embraced Darwinist ideas, leading to mass murder and genocide. From the British in Tasmania (chapter 6) to Marxist Communism (chapter 14), Chinese Communism (chapter 15), and general fascism and genocide (chapter 17), he argues that Darwinism was not the only factor, but still primary. (353)
Bergman devotes chapter 16 to the impact of Darwinism on the atavistic theories of criminality that dominated the criminal justice field through much of the 20th Century. He also notes how Darwinism wrongly influenced the courts (63-64)—ironic given the unscientific faith in courts by those who enjoyed the judicial black eye given to Intelligent Design theory in Kitzmiller v. Dover (2005).
Unfortunately, at least for an economist, Bergman’s weakest effort is (chapter 13) on “Social Darwinism” and what he labels “ruthless capitalism” (a term he uses 16 times). He describes “robber barons” in general, but focuses most of his attention on the views of Andrew Carnegie. Bergman notes the immense philanthropy of the “barons”, but dismisses it since the money did not go to “the direct relief of the unfortunate classes.” (261) He rightly notes that Christianity exhorts disciples to take care of the needy, vulnerable, weak (39)—whereas Social Darwinism calls for survival of the fittest and argues against such efforts. But laying this at the feet of the “robber barons” is an unwarranted stretch.
Bergman’s history is consistent with “conventional wisdom”, but not supported by a coherent definition of greed or capitalism—or an understanding of the role of competition (or not) in economic markets. Worse, he conflates laissez-faire economics with the pursuit of government to enhance monopoly power. The irony in all of this is that businesses were often worried about laissez-faire and “cut-throat business practices”—and thus, sought government protection for their industries. (Gabriel Kolko’s The Triumph of Conservatism [1977] is must-reading on this topic.)
You can skip the chapter on economics, but Bergman’s work is still helpful for understanding the impact of Darwinism on cultural norms and social policy.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

on anti-science (on both the Right and the Left)

This is a slightly-edited version of an email to a colleague...
I don't know if you're *particularly* interested in the topic we talked about the other day. But I've read on it widely and thought about it a lot. "The Left" has certainly been able to make the case in the public arena that they're paragons of virtue in this regard while "the Right" is a mess. And there's certainly a good bit of this on "the Right". But from what I can tell, the reality is somewhere between "far more complicated than that" and "leans significantly the other way". 

For one thing, there are different takes on the areas where the Right is supposedly a mess-- for those who want to read liberally. For example, on our specific topic the other day:

And of course, good people can disagree on the inherent trade-offs within, say, economic growth vs. mandated environmental quality. Of course, an economist would insist that the costs be at least acknowledged. But this is not all that common on "the Left"-- or even, in general (as is common in political economy and public policy). For example, when was the last time you heard someone talk about the benefits of global warming, well-define the benefits of policy proposals against global warming, or detail the costs of policy RX's? This is a common problem-- that is inconsistent with an emphasis on scientific thinking-- that is quite/more common on the Left.

And then there are the clear cases where the Left struggles with science and scientific process-- from the recent ironic and painful struggles with free speech and critical inquiry on college campuses to policy positions such as anti-nuclear and anti-GMO. Even "social issues" are relevant in this context-- with the recent de-emphasis on biology in matters of gender and elevating metaphysics over what science says about life on the topic of abortion. There's more to life than science, but one can't champion science and then conveniently downplay or ignore it!

Another great way to distinguish Liberals vs. mere Democrats and those on the Left: the latter pair downplay (or even hate) science in many ways-- and I just figured out another example! They usually don't like federalism-- allowing states to experiment with various social programs (e.g., welfare, health care/insurance). They don't want to collect data, run experiments, acknowledge the complexities at hand, etc. Not impressive; not scientific; not liberal.

trying to define "liberal"

How could one define "liberal"-- as opposed to someone on the Left, a progressive, or various posers among self-styled liberals? (Here's an essay on this topic from me a decade ago (!) to define liberal with an emphasis on different types of self-styled liberals.) The exercise is difficult and my efforts would be debatable. But it's an interesting exercise. Let me give it a try (and then stick it in my blog!).

"Liberal" would include an emphasis on:
1.) freedom and choice (with its implied connections to the importance/usefulness of knowledge and education),
2.) equality of opportunity (at least rule of law and equality before the law-- but could extend into questions about access to resources and redistribution to allow more choice);
3.) tolerance socially and in terms of legislation (allowing and extending freedom to others);
4.) humility vs. self-righteousness in style (given their understanding about limits on knowledge and acknowledging the validity of different preferences); and
5.) openness to change and experimentation, esp. socially (see: tolerance) and politically (avoid limiting freedom; look to expand freedom; state and local is more promising than federal).

This is along the lines of what is often called a "classical liberal" today. Anything to add to my list here?

Some prominent, ironic, nasty contemporary examples of illiberal positions held by self-styled liberals: insisting on an overly-expensive govt monopoly in education over the poor (instead of giving them resources so they can exercise choice-- as the GI Bill, Food Stamps, etc.); shouting down speakers at universities instead of engaging in dialogue; insisting on federal approaches to health care or how to handle the gun/violence problems in schools.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

why give your employer so much monopoly power over you?

Why would folks be so passionate to make sure that government is their primary employer-- giving huge monopoly (monopsony) power to entities that are often inept, sometimes corrupt, and almost always horrible with budgets?

When K-12 teachers work so hard to enhance their monopoly power over parents, students, and taxpayers (by opposing charters, vouchers, etc.), they are necessarily asking for the same power to be used against them.

Do they not understand this trade-off-- or they don't like it and are just doing what they can to tilt the trade-off in their direction?

Thursday, April 5, 2018

don't insist on having the govt be your only possible employer (to the detriment of students and taxpayers) and then complain about the results

It seemed like a stretch for Dr. Jones to appropriate Dr. King's work in this essay-- except the Memphis problem was about the government mistreating its employees. Thoughts on what Jones writes here
-If K-12 teachers are underpaid, it's because they're dealing with a monpsonist that they have insistently constructed and defended, by fighting school reform (e.g., vouchers, charters) through their unions. If you are (and don't want to be) underpaid, don't set things up where the govt is your only significant employer. #WhoWillBuildTheRoads
-We pay college coaches so extravagantly (in men's b'ball and football) because of the monopsony established by the NCAA labor market cartel, supported by the government. #Exploit
-He notes that K-12 teachers aren't eligible to receive Social Security-- as if that's some sort of curse. What a great blessing! They aren't required to pay into an expensive system that yields a 0% rate-of-return!
-Does he have something useful to add on pension reform-- dealing with the tension of accepting an incoherent compensation package? Here, he just complains about the problem. 
-He is in favor of continuing the massive regressive subsidies to higher-ed. OK, but I think that disqualifies you from being considered a "liberal". 
-He complains about the prospects of tenured profs getting fired for budgetary woes. This is a legitimate point, but it's always been a last-resort for universities (unless KY has unreasonably been different in this regard; UPDATE from Chris Lang: they can fire folks with ten days' notice independent of budget woes or program dissolution).

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

the four questions to ask/answer about "global warming"

The four questions to ask/answer about global warming (GW):
1.) Is GW significant;
2.) Is the man-made portion significant;
3.) benefits/costs of GW; and
4.) benefits/costs of policy RX's. 
When you hear someone talking about the topic without addressing all four, you can know that you're dealing with a rube or a demagogue.