Thursday, July 20, 2017

Birth rates by state

This week I am reading Jane Mayer's remarkable book, Dark Money, on the ultraconservative billionaires who have orchestrated the rise of the modern right wing, including Charles and David Koch, Richard Mellon Scaife, and John Olin.  It is an extraordinarily researched book with enormous implications for the crisis that the nation is going through, and I will eventually discuss it here at some length.  But meanwhile, I'm going to share some interesting demographic data that I turned up some months ago that also has implications for our political future.  It breaks down our fertility rate by state.

The fertility rate is generally  defined as the number of births per thousand women aged 15 to 44.  Recent stories stress that our overall fertility rate is at an all time low--but that is only part of the story.  Like so much else in our society, fertility rates have become a cultural characteristic, and culture is highly correlated with politics.  Red states, to put it bluntly, are reproducing at substantially higher rates that blue ones.

My data comes from a recent year, but I must apologize that I didn't note what the year was when I found it and haven't been able to find the table quickly just now.  The fertility rate in the 21 states that voted for Hillary Clinton ranges from a high of 69.3 per thousand in Hawaii, through 62.4 for California (where half a million children were born in the year under review), and more than 60 in Minnesota, New Mexico, Washington state, Maryland, Virginia, Illinois, Delaware, and Colorado.  The lowest fertility rates in the nation--under 55 per 1000--are in the six New England states and the District of Columbia, all of which, of course, voted for Clinton.  All told in this particular year there were 1.67 million births in Clinton's states--and 1.01 million deaths.

The Trump states show a different pattern.  Utah, not surprisingly, leads the country with a rate of 80 births per thousand women of child bearing age, followed by the Dakotas, Alaska, Nebraska, Idaho, Texas, and Kansas.  All these states of a fertility rate of at least 70, that is, higher than any Clinton state.  After that, the entire South, except Florida, has rates in the 60s (Louisiana and Arkansas, surprisingly, are the highest), and only Florida and Pennsylvania among Trump states have rates as low as 59.  The Trump states had more deaths than the Clintons, 1.25 million to 1.01--presumably because they include to may retirees.  But they had about 33% more births, 2.32 million to 1.67 million.  That is a large part of the reason that the red states are expected to gain yet more Congressional seats in the new census.

I am not going to include any racial breakdowns here, because the only convenient table that I have found, from teh Kaiser Foundation (no relation), combines whites and hispanics, which surely gives a misleading picture.  But I have before me a table showing the household income level of women giving birth in 2014, which is rather remarkable as well.  The median household income in that year was about $53,000, and from the table it would appear that more than half of the women giving birth were above that level.  Only 38% of birthing women lived in households with incomes of less than $50,000, while 56.4% of their households earned $75,000 or less. 

Based on my own personal experience, the lowest birth rates in the country seem to come from my own demographic--well-off, well-educated people in the blue states.  Among my close friends and relatives I know only two people who have more grandchildren than children.  Late in the second year I spent teaching at Williams, in 2012-13, I suggested to some students that they might consider having kids in their 20s, and the idea was not well received.  The problem of left wing politics today, I think, is their moral certitude, their sense that what they know to be right simply must come to pass.  But the blue states are losing the demographic battle, and that is just one of many trends working against liberals today.  I should be discussing a much bigger one next week.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Competing views of history

I belong to a private facebook page that was created to discuss issues relating to generational theory.  It has a fairly broad range of opinion, including a few Trump acolytes.  The other day we got into a discussion of the nature of p.c. One poster, a bright young man who has just graduated from college, made the following comment to explain the modern leftism to which he has been exposed in college--but clearly without adopting it fully.  Keep in mind that the author is only 23, I believe, and probably has only some dim memories of Bill Clinton.  I have edited slightly just for readability. 

"Many view the progression from slavery -> Jim Crow -> what people call "New Jim Crow", as an all-around trajectory of progress.
Ta-Nehisi Coates views it as the culmination of an intentionally subtle and insidious web of formal and informal institutions descendant from slavery. Same with people who view crony capitalism and income inequality as more sophisticated incarnations of aristocratic and/or oligarchic systems from the past, designed to entrap citizens. Same with a Glenn Greenwald or Oliver Stone, who look at the military industrial complex + surveillance state + multilateral institutional architecture, and see an intentionally complex web of systems and institutions that entrench (what they call) Western imperialism and make it hard to step away from.

"A lot of it is based in Critical Theory/Marxism, which we discussed a ~month ago. Left philosophy/ideology is based in a goal of emancipation from old exploitative systems. Thus leftists (Coates, Stone, Greenwald) have far more cynical perspectives of America that say we're simply moving into more inconspicuous--thus unseen and difficult to prove to well-to-do decision-makers far away from issues of the underclasses-- incarnations of slavery in the social realm, an oligarchic + crony aristocracy in the economic realm, and imperialism in the foreign realm. You're right, it isn't the full story/perspective of history, but it is one side of the coin that we have to be aware of. It's why people on the left view incremental change as a non-starter. It's viewed as preserving or further entrenching descendant systems of: slavery, oligarchy, and imperialism.

"Imo, the tricky part is that those views of our social, economic, and foreign paradigms are more true than false. The part I've grown to criticize, is the inherent cynicism that accompanies this view of history. Coates says, we still have significant forms of oppression, inequality, and imperialism entrenched complex institutions; it's a tragedy that says exploitation is both feasible and profitable without much consequence. On one end, leftists may be driven to activism. On the other hand, leftists may say, "America is hopeless" while only despairing about our society without getting politically involved because the system is too icky to reformulate from the inside.

"Ideally for me, we'd recognize how complex and dichotomous America is, being conscious of our institutional history while not neglecting how we overcame/evolved beyond certain paradigms and behaviors. To me it's as simple as, positive and negative exists; it's part of life. In my more romantic view, challenges create stronger people and societies if we confront them without fear, but rather with an interest in creating success stories and improving life."


What struck me is that John had grasped the essential belief of Ta-Nehisi Coates, Oliver Stone, Glenn Greenwald, and many others: that the system is hopelessly rigged and always has been.  That is a slight oversimplification in Stone's case, at least, since he has made clear at various times that he thinks American history might have been very different if Henry Wallace had remained  Vice President in 1945, or if John F. Kennedy had not been assassinated. (For the record, I think things would have been quite different had JFK served out two terms in the short run but that we would probably be in about the same place now anyway.)  Coates, whose father was a Black Panther in the 1960s, has emerged as the Generation X's leading spokesman for black rage, in the tradition of James Baldwin (GI), Eldridge Cleaver (Silent), and Nathan MacCall (Boomer.)  Fame and fortune have if anything made him more shrill, and at a recent event on Harvard and slavery, he said,
“We talk about enslavement as though it were a bump in the road,” nd I tell people it’s the road, it’s the actual road.”  The idea that the United States is fatally flawed by original sins of racism, sexism, and homophobia is extremely popular in academia and has been eagerly embraced by many young protesters on campus.

My own view is close to John's, but I would put it differently.  Yes, racism has always existed in the United States and had terrible consequences, beginning with the introduction of slavery and continuing to this day.  Yes, corporate power has posed a potential or actual danger to liberty, as recognized by Presidents including Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy.  Yes, women could not vote until 1920 and did not begin to secure equal rights in the workplace until the 1960s.  Yet I would always keep two things in mind.

The first and most important is to take a broader historical perspective to place US history in the context of world history.  White males in Europe and the US did not invent racism, economic oppression, racism, homophobia, or imperialism.  All those phenomena have characterized all the major civilization that we have been aware of since the beginning of time.  Few, if any major ethic groups now live on land which they did not take from some one else. Economic inequality has been the norm, not the exception, for most of human history, especially among developed civilizations.  To get specific, in the context of western civilization, Ta-Nehisi Coates is wrong: slavery in North and South America was a detour from the road. It had been abolished in western Europe well before the 16th and 17th centuries, when settlers introduced it into the Americas.  They did not bring their slaves form Europe, but bought them in the very active slave markets of West Africa, where different tribes continually enslaved one another.  The United States fought a successful and very bloody war to abolish it, after most of the Latin American nations and the colonial powers in the Americas had already done so.

What distinguishes western civilization in general and the United States in particular is that they were the first civilization to develop a doctrine of equal rights, and to design institutions based upon it.  Of course their original application of the doctrine was limited to free men, but they did not state it in that way--certainly not in the US Constitution--and inevitably, excluded groups were going to demand the rights proclaimed in founding documents. The same drama played out rather rapidly in the European colonies elsewhere, as soon as South Asians, Vietnamese and Africans were educated in the principles of British and French liberty.  Unfortunately, very few young people learn much about the true history of civilizations before the modern era nowadays, and are more likely to learn about the hopeless defects of the West.  In the last 30 years colleges and universities have usually replaced Western Civ with World History, which often turns into the story of the west's exploitation of the rest of the world.

The history of the United States has in fact been divided into periods tending towards more democracy (1801-1836, 1861-1876, and 1901-1980) and those tending towards oligarchy and corporate power (1787-1800, 1877-1900, 1981 to the present.)  An understanding of those different periods would allow young people today to see where the wretched state of the nation is coming from and how it truly could be improved.  Instead, young people are being taught a Manichean view of a society based upon oppression, faced with a vision of a world free of all evil which colleges are trying to bring to life on their own campuses.  It is not surprising that so many young people (although not my young friend) are completely disillusioned with politics in general and politicians in particular, and even hope for a kind of Democratic Donald Trump--Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey, or Mark Zuckerberg--as a presidential candidate.

My young friend, whose opinions I have learned to respect over several years, has not given up hope for the US, although he thinks today's leftist view is "more true than false."  I agree that inequality and imperialism have been on the rise again, although I'm not so sure about racial inequality.  What he seems to understand, however, is that the pessimistic left wing view simply can't be the basis for an effective political movement.  Having seen it first emerge in the late 1960s, take over academia, and now become mainstream within a good deal of the media and the Democratic party, I think that that is true.  Liberalism has declined as leftists have lost all faith in it.  My friend does have some ideas of pursuing a career in politics and government, and I hope he does--armed with a true sense of the place of the US in world history and the possibilities for change its history offers.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

What the Russians wanted

My posts here are usually designed to provide a long-term perspective on events, not add to the cacophony about the news of the day, but there are times when the major media seem so brain dead that I feel I have something different to contribute.  It seems pretty clear to me what was going on last summer, but no one seems to be paying very much attention.

The Russian government and people have been hurt significantly--although hardly critically--by the American sanctions imposed after the annexation of Crimea, and other measures taken in response to human rights violations within Russia.  As the election campaign unfolded, they knew that Hillary Clinton would continue or even increase the sanctions.  On the other hand, Donald Trump had long-standing ties to Russia.  It is also possible,. according to news reports, that Russian intelligence possessed compromising information about Trump.  In any case, the Russian government had some reason to believe that Trump might be willing to ease the sanctions.

Now while I doubt that any of the participants in the famous meeting of a year ago among Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and Natalia Vesenitskaya has been completely frank about their discussions as yet, the emails that surfaced yesterday, combined with Trump Jr.'s testimony, give a reasonable picture of what was up.  As the New York Times points out today, Ms. Vesenitskaya is a trusted Moscow insider with many high-level connections.   Working through the publicist Rob Goldstone, she offered dirt on Hillary Clinton developed by the Russian government to the Trump campaign in order to arrange a high-level meeting.  Such dirt may well have been discussed at the meeting, although no one has confirmed that as yet.  But in the course of the meeting, she turned the discussion to specific sanctions against Russians--the so-called Magnitsky Act--which she hoped a Trump Administration might lift.  She also brought up the ban on US adoptions of Russian children that Putin had imposed in retaliation for that act, in effect proposing a deal, and confirming, critically, that she was at least claiming to be acting on behalf of the Russian government.

Now this was not the only instance we have discovered of negotiations for a quid pro quo between teh Trump campaign and Russian officials during the campaign.  Last March my brother Charles brought some tweets from a statistician (not a journalist) named Carolyn O to my attention, in which she demonstrated the results of simple triangulation.  Here is what I said here then:

"On September 2, President Obama met with President Putin at a G-8 Summit.  They discussed US sanctions against Russia that Obama had imposed the day before, and Putin described them as an obstacle to cooperation between the two nations.

"Five days later, on September 7, James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, suggested for the first time that Russia had hacked the Democratic National Committee.

"On the very next day, September 8, Trump told a Russian TV correspondent that he did not believe Russia was behind the hack, and Sessions met with Kislyak. [n.b.: This was the meeting that Sessions did not disclose in his confirmation hearing.] Trump also said publicly that, 'If we had a relationship with Russia, wouldn't it be wonderful if we could work on it together and knock the hell out of ISIS?' And on that same day, Trump and Pence made a whole series of statements praising Putin's leadership style. and on the same day, Tass announced, 'Moscow expects Washington to display political will on building good relations with Russia after the presidential election," quoting Dimitry Peskov.'"

The July meeting, it seems, may have been the start of something.  By September, it looks as if a deal was in operation.  Russia would continue releasing hacked emails, and perhaps trying to hurt the Clinton campaign in other ways.  Trump would try to exonerate the Russians for the hack (as he still intermittently continues to do.) He and his surrogates would also promise better relations.

Trump did, of course, win the election, but the clear evidence that the Russians had hacked the DNC and the evidence of contacts between them and his campaign have made it difficult to carry out the deal.  Early last month it seemed that the Russians had won one victory since the Trump Administration was reported to be ready to allow them to re-open two listening posts in the US that the Obama Administration had ordered closed.  And the President himself still speaks intermittently about the possibility of more cooperation with Russia.  The Congress, however, has moved to impose more sanctions.

The Trump campaign, in short, appears to have secured help from a foreign government that carried out the modern equivalent of a Watergate break-in to help it win the election, in exchange for unknown promises of better relations which it has not been able to keep.  The situation would truly be parallel to Watergate were any evidence to surface that the Russians carried out the DNC attack after discussing it with the Trump campaign, but there does not seem to be any such evidence as yet.  The Russian hacks began perhaps a year before the meeting that is in the news this week.  A careful analysis in today's New York Times tends toward the conclusion that what has been revealed this week does not rise to the level of a crime.

Putin's investment in Trump has already paid off handsomely in the form of disarray within the NATO alliance and a general loss of respect for the US around the world.  But his government has not gotten what it wanted.  This raises the question of whether he can, or would, turn to sticks as well as carrots--perhaps threats to release compromising information about Trump, which a respected retired British intelligence officer concluded that he probably had.  The real story, in any case, is about the evolution of a long relationship between Trump and Russian interests, before, during, and perhaps after his campaign.  Given the level of indiscretion revealed in the recently released email chain, more evidence seems very likely to emerge.


Friday, June 30, 2017

What next for Eastern Europe?

While President Trump tweets, the United States and Russia drift towards war over Syria, and the new Thirty Years War between Shi'ite and Sunni continues on many fronts, another critical drama is playing out in the Eastern half of the European continent.  I find it particularly interesting because it is a replay of the drama I described about 40 years ago in my first book, Economic Diplomacy and the Origins of the Second World War, which is linked at left and available as an e-book.

For the first few centuries of the modern era the peoples of Eastern Europe lived under large empires.  The Ottoman Empire had reached Europe in the 15th century and eventually included what is now Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, Rumania, some of the nations of the former Yugoslavia, and Hungary.  The Tsar of Russia ruled what are now the Baltic States and, by the 19th century, Poland.  The Holy Roman Empire--which in 1806 became the Austrian Empire, and in 1867 the Austro-Hungarian Empire--included parts of Poland and the present-day Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia and Slovenia.  All these peoples, to varying degrees, developed nationalist movements during the 19th century.

The enormous strain of the First World War proved too much not only for the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires, but also for the German Empire.  The Allies--France, Britain, Italy and eventually the US as well--sponsored the claims of some of the national movements in their territory.  In January 1918, in his Fourteen Points, Woodrow Wilson endorsed an independent Poland and autonomy (not independence) for the peoples of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires.  When those nations collapsed ten months later, various national movements proclaimed new states.

As the brilliant but eccentric English historian A. J. P. Taylor noted in 1961, the post-1919 settlement in Eastern Europe reflected the astonishing fact that both Germany and Russia had been defeated. Only that allowed for the re-creation of an independent Poland, the new states of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia,a larger Rumania, independent Poland and Finland, and the three Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.  It seemed in 1918-9 that things might go even further and that Ukraine might become independent as well, but the Bolsheviks managed to secure control over it in the Russian civil war.  These states were economically and politically weak.  Nearly all of them initially formed some kind of democratic government, encouraged down that path by the western powers.

In the short run, several of the new states--Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Romania--were threatened by Hungary, which had lost huge territories at the peace conference, while in the long run Czechoslovakia and Poland had to worry about a resurgent Germany. France, eager to cement its status as the leading power in Europe, offered all those states some kind of alliance.  Clearly the French would have trouble defending them once the Germans or Russians regained their military strength, but the French were counting on keeping the Germans weak.  The alliances faced no serious threats until after the rise of Hitler.

By then all these countries had undergone profound political changes.  While all of them had begun as democracies, only Czechoslovakia, Finland and the Baltic States were still electing their governments by the early 1930s--the rest had come under some form of authoritarian rule.  The agricultural states among them, as I showed in my book, came under German influence after 1935 because the Germans, desperate for food, offered them a market for their produce.  In 1938 Hitler managed to destroy Czechoslovakia when the French abandoned their alliance.  In 1939-40, Hitler and Stalin concluded the Nazi-Soviet Pact. They partitioned Poland and the Soviets incorporated the Baltic States.  Hungary and Rumania became allies of Hitler while Yugoslavia was occupied by the Italians and the Nazis.  In 1945,  the whole region (except Finland) came under Soviet occupation and the USSR installed Communist governments.

The collapse of the USSR in 1991--77 years after the start of the First World War--started this process over again.  Once again, as in 1919, the entire region was liberated from foreign rule.  This time the proliferation of new states has gone much further, with Czechoslovakia and former Yugoslavia giving way to no less than 8 new states, and not only the Baltic States, but also Ukraine and Belarus, becoming independent.  Once again the new states established various forms of democracy.  And once again, powerful nations from outside the region offered them alliances. NATO, led by the US, offered membership to virtually every new state in the region, including the Baltic states--after initially promising the new Russian government not to do so.  The EU also offered many of them membership, choosing to ignore the enormous economic and cultural differences that still divide Europe somewhere around the frontiers of Germany and Poland.

Germany is no longer an imperialist nation, although it leads the EU and played a key role in its enlargement.  Russia once again went through a chaotic period but by 2000 it was recovering its strength under Vladimir Putin.  He is clearly determined to reassert Russian influence--if not more--over many of the states of the former USSR.  Belarus lost any real independence very quickly, and Putin is actively contesting the West in a bid for influence in Ukraine, and using the Russian military at the border to do so. He also very obviously has designs on the Baltic states, which are extremely vulnerable militarily.  And while Putin cannot offer these states markets the way the Germans did 80 years ago, he can provide them with energy.

And once again, democracy has proven fragile in Eastern Europe.  Rightist parties now lead the governments of Hungary, Poland, and some of the other states of the region. The governments of the Czech Republic and Slovakia are weak and subject to corruption and outside influence.  These nations face a choice between  western-style democracy--which is having enormous problems in the west--and Russian-style authoritarianism.  It is not at all clear which path they shall take.

Only a gigantic war settled the question of Eastern Europe's future 80 years ago.  Such a war does not seem in prospect now, but limited wars, such as a lightning Russian occupation of one or more Baltic states, cannot be ruled out.  Russian and NATO aircraft are constantly confronting one another in the region.  The Russians also seem to be using cyberwar against Ukraine, and they may use it elsewhere. To reach a new equilibrium diplomatically would require a level of statesmanship which is not apparent on the world scene.  Nearly thirty years ago, when the Soviet empire collapsed, I commented frequently that this time, Eastern Europe had taken a new shape without a new world war.  Now it seems that the process may involve a larger conflict--albeit of a possibly different kind.