Archive for February, 2012

Why Religion and Logic Don’t Mix

February 25, 2012

My wife challenged me to answer an essay by Alvin Plantinga, a professor of philosophy, attempting to justify religious belief through logic. My response: LOL.

For millennia, religious apologists have advanced innumerable supposed logical arguments. It’s a fool’s errand.

Plantinga starts with the familiar idea that religion and science (particularly, evolution science) don’t conflict, because “obviously” God “could” have orchestrated the whole thing. (As could the Flying Spaghetti Monster.)

But what he says is inconsistent with theistic religion is an optional add-on to evolution theory: unguided evolution. The latter idea he labels “naturalism,” and not necessarily implicit in the theory of evolution itself.

And marrying evolution to naturalism, Plantinga says, has a big problem. We assume our cognitive faculties are reliable, “they produce an appropriate preponderance of true over false belief.” But accepting naturalism together with evolution produces a “defeater” for that assumption: “because the probability of our cognitive faculties being reliable, given naturalism and evolution, is low.”

 Accordingly, any belief they produce is more likely wrong than right – including the belief in naturalism-cum-evolution. So Plantinga concludes it isn’t religion that conficts with science – it’s naturalism!

That’s where I laughed out loud. Plantinga’s “defeater” argument is a paradox analogous to:

The sentence below is true.
The sentence above is false.

If whatever we believe is likely false, that would apply to Plantinga’s own proposition – it would likely be false that whatever we believe is likely false. It’s a logical black hole, as in my pair of sentences above. (And if there’s a low probability of any human ideas being true, that should apply much more forcefully to any religious beliefs than to any scientific ideas which, after all, are grounded in methodical investigation, unlike matters of religious faith.)

Moreover, Plantinga’s factual premise is simply wrong. Again, he asserts that “the probability of our cognitive faculties being reliable, given naturalism and evolution, is low.” This cockeyed statement, the key to his argument, is without basis or explanation, and shows total misunderstanding of evolution. It’s the essence of evolution by natural selection that successful organisms survive to propagate their genes, hence successful traits spread. The caveman who spotted the lurking lion lived to pass along his genes for such reliable cognition; the guy whose cognition was not as good got eaten. Thus does evolution (even if unguided) militate toward reliable cognitive faculties, and a “preponderance of true over false belief.” Naturalism in no way implies our beliefs are likely wrong.

(That’s not to say all our beliefs are right, or that evolution gave us perfect cognition. For example, while it did endow us with a darn good capability for seeing what’s really there, an important part of that toolkit is pattern recognition; and our pattern recognition is turned up so high that sometimes we see things that aren’t really there. Like God.)

The Law of Gravity

Meantime too, while Plantinga talks as though “naturalism” is just another woo-woo type of belief system, it’s actually the way every sane person understands the world 99+% of the time. When you drop a ball, it falls down, not up, as you are sure it will. That’s naturalism – the idea that every phenomenon that occurs is natural – it has a reason, an explanation, conforming to the laws that govern existence (even if we don’t fully understand them). Naturalism is true by definition, while “supernatural” is a contradiction in terms. If something happens or exists, then it’s “natural.”

This applies to evolution. It’s entirely reasonable to ascribe the workings of evolution to “natural” causes rather than looking for something supernatural behind it. And not hard either; the naturalist understanding of evolution makes perfectly good sense.

Plantinga was discussing a debate of sorts he had with philosopher Daniel Dennett, who said that if Christianity is not incompatible with science, the same could apply to numerous silly beliefs, such as a belief in Superman. Plantinga’s answer, quoted in full: “Superman, despite being able to leap tall buildings at a single bound and being more powerful than a speeding locomotive, is pretty small potatoes compared to God (and that’s even if we ignore the sizeable handicap of being a mere comic book character).”

Superman finds God

In other words, God is way more powerful than Superman. Shouldn’t that make belief in God way more silly than belief in Superman? (As for his being a comic book character, I fail to see why being a character in a 2,000 year old book imparts greater credibility.)

That a religious belief may not be ruled out by science doesn’t make it true, or believable. If you say the Universe is governed by the Flying Spaghetti Monster, it’s up to you to prove it to me, not up to me to disprove it.

And what all this really proves, for the zillionth time, is that religion and logic don’t mix. Believe whatever matters of faith you like. But apologists attempting logical arguments for them only make fools of themselves.

(Note: Prof. Plantinga has continued this discussion. See the comments.)

The Two Americas: Cash Is Not The Answer

February 20, 2012

“The Two Americas” (well-off and not) was a theme of John Edwards’s presidential campaign.* Half a century earlier, Michael Harrington wrote The Other America, focusing on the very poor. More recently, “Occupiers” have tried to divide the 99% against the 1%.

Comes now Charles Murray (of Bell Curve fame), with a new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010. Setting aside the non-white underclass (a small population percentage) as a special case, Murray sees two increasingly separated societal segments. One is an upper class of maybe 5% of the population (I’d say it’s higher), mostly well educated, well employed, married, fit and healthy non-smokers. In the lower class (around a fifth of the population), many don’t even complete high school, have lower paid jobs or none, beget children outside of marriage, smoke, and grow overweight. The two groups don’t tend to live in the same communities, eat in the same restaurants, watch the same TV shows or movies, or read the same things (if they read at all, in the second group). And the upper class has almost no contact with the lower.

There’s also the great middle, but Murray sees the uppers as out of touch with them as well; and lower class pathologies are creeping upward. Nationwide, over 40% of U.S. births are now outside marriage**; and waistlines are creeping (well, ballooning) outward. In many ways, the middle shares more with the bottom than the top.

Snobbery you might call it, but Murray doesn’t like this picture, and he has a point. Single parenthood might be termed a lifestyle choice; obesity not entirely people’s fault; and so forth. Murray also laments declining religiosity, and for that I might say good riddance. But underemployment is no lifestyle choice; and indeed, as Murray argues, the total picture is not a pretty one for those stuck in it. The upper class’s values, habits, practices, and overall culture are conducive to a rewarding life; for the lower group, not so much.

Now, progressives and the Left, with their numerical egalitarian obsession, seem to think this can be fixed with money. Just give the second group more cash (preferably from first group wallets) and all will be well. (And these are the folks who decry “materialism.”)

Not so fast says David Brooks in a recent column. He argues that over the past half century, while America has become more prosperous, peaceful, open, and fair, the social fabric deteriorated. Perhaps an ethos of greater tolerance in general meant more tolerance for dysfunction; e.g., illegitimacy losing its stigma. But in any case Brooks is dismayed how liberal economists (while they haven’t shouted down conservatives) have completely eclipsed liberal sociologists and psychologists, advancing a crude economic determinism regarding the problems at issue. They’re wrong, Brooks believes; this isn’t just about money. Even in the Depression, we didn’t see 40% illegitimacy. There was more social trust, and sense of community, even among the disadvantaged. Note particularly that black families were likewise far more stable then, despite the far greater severity of racism and consequent economic deprivation. (So “it’s not the economy, stupid.”)

Brooks disavows that people in “disorganized communities” have bad values. Their goals aren’t different, but they’re blocked from living out those aspirational values, not just by low incomes, but by their social realities – a dysfunctional environment. Thus, Brooks adds, even if we miraculously got back all those old time manufacturing jobs (that Obama and the Democrats keep uselessly prattling about), we actually wouldn’t have the stable, responsible people to fill them. Economic policies are not enough; we also need policies to rebuild orderly communities, he says, which requires sociological thinking. But, alas, “the public debate is dominated by people who stopped thinking in 1975.”

Murray similarly doubts we can fix the problem via redistributionist economics or even, again, the “good jobs at good wages” panacea. Indeed, he believes America is hugely erring by copying Europe’s reliance on government programs, run by bureaucrats, to address pathologies of broken families and communities, an approach that’s bound to fail. (In fact, we’ve been trying it for half a century and matters only worsen.)

What Murray urges instead is a “civic great awakening,” with the upper classes venturing out of their enclaves to engage with the rest and talking up marriage, education, working harder, and neighborliness. Unfortunately, even if Murray’s diagnosis of the problem makes sense, this answer seems utterly naive. The Economist’s “Lexington” columnist wondered “how the lower class will respond to hearing that the main help it needs is an infusion of its betters’ morals.”

My view: yes, we have problems. Every advancement brings its problems; life is complex, and changing ever faster; and it’s often hard to judge the balance among what’s improving and what’s deteriorating. But in the big picture most people live way better now than ever.*** So maybe the price we pay for, say, more openness and tolerance, is well worth it. (For example, a key factor in declining marriage and legitimacy rates is that many women are now free from the societal and economic constraints that once pushed them to marry.)

Of course, none of this means we should just shrug at the downsides. I agree with Brooks that government could be helpful, but not by giving people checks. Obviously, a big part of the problem lies in the education system, which government runs. I keep mentioning our high school drop-out rate, which should be literally unacceptable. Injecting competition and choice into the system would help a lot.

Geoffrey Canada

Meantime, more broadly, culture passes from generation to generation, and this includes the lower class cultural dysfunctionalities at issue. But culture can change, and be changed. A wonderful model for what can be achieved is Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone, with a “Baby College” for parents to show them what many don’t realize they’re doing wrong. We know that how children are socialized in their earliest years enduringly affects how they behave in society for the rest of their lives. HCZ has demonstrated that all children –all people — can succeed, and none should be just written off – or, dare I say it – left behind.

* Did you know it’s still operating? Yes, it reported spending almost a million bucks of contributions last year – on flights, hotels, restaurants, etc. Isn’t this a wonderful country?

** Ominously, for women under 30, it’s reached 50%; for blacks, 73%! Single mothers aren’t necessarily bad mothers; yet statistics show that, for a host of obvious reasons, their children do tend to fare worse in life.

*** My own last book has a chapter titled The Two Americas – Rich and Richer – arguing that nearly all Americans today are actually “rich” on any reasonable historical or global comparison.

The Eventual GOP Nominee: None of the Above?

February 15, 2012

In a presidential nominating contest, what has tended to happen in modern times is that, as the primaries unfold, candidates fall by the wayside, one consolidates a front-runner position, and that momentum or gravitational force (boosted by an influx of campaign cash) swings the rest of the party into line, so it’s all over before the convention actually meets to ratify the choice. The front-runner will have amassed a delegate majority, and any further squabbling is moot.

This modern era follows a long previous one where things were different; without pervasive primaries to winnow the field and bind delegates, conventions tended to be more wide-open, with the outcome decided through horse-trading and often repeated balloting. In 1920, most famously, the party bosses met in a “smoke filled room” to pick Warren Harding.

 That system was undermined not just by primaries but especially by winner-take-all primaries. That means that if you win a state’s primary, no matter by how small a plurality, you get all its delegates. (Just like in the electoral vote.) That obviously tends to magnify the front-runner’s advantage and load him up with delegates.

But lately both parties have moved away from winner-take-all. There is some sense of unfairness about a candidate getting 49% of the vote and 0% of delegates. So more delegates are now being awarded on a proportional basis. This made for a protracted battle among Democrats in 2008, with two candidates fairly evenly matched, and neither able to gain (till the end) a decisive delegate lead because of proportional allocations.

Turning to 2012, the conventional wisdom has always been that in the end, the nominee will have to be Romney. If nothing else, he has way more money to deploy, and we saw how he carpet-bombed Newt in Florida with negative ads. And of course none of the alternatives seems viable. Santorum is now on his second coming as the non-Romney du jour, but let’s not forget that he lost his Senate re-election (in the swing state of Pennsylvania) by an historically large margin – and there was a reason for that. Santorum does have some things going for him – a January David Brooks column about this was quite intriguing – he does speak to some real concerns and feelings – but he’s short on presidential gravitas. And while many Republicans may love his extreme positions on social issues, they can’t possibly imagine the nation as a whole will embrace this. Again, look what happened in Pennsylvania.

But here’s what I am leading up to. Romney will still ultimately have to cobble together 1144 delegates (a majority of the 2286 total). At least 117 are unbound superdelegates, and there are additional delegates that won’t be bound (it’s complicated; you can check out the details on this Wikipedia page). But Romney’s biggest problem is that a large majority of delegates (larger than ever) will be awarded proportionally rather than on a winner-take-all basis. Thus, even if Romney wins most of the remaining primaries, he will still have a tough time amassing 1144 delegates, if he wins primaries with less than 50% of the vote. And so far, Romney has never attracted 50% of the GOP electorate. As long as two or three other candidates remain in the race and gather up proportionally-allotted delegates, 1144 will be elusive for Romney.

Admittedly, if Romney actually does win most remaining primaries, the gravitational momentum will swing the party into line and he couldn’t really be denied the nomination. But to date he hasn’t even won as many contests as Santorum. (Meantime, it’s even harder to see how Santorum could get to 1144 either.)

Romney is having such a hard slog because so many Republicans, probably most, don’t want him and very much want to find a way to avoid nominating him. “Front-runner” he may be, but if Romney is not at least very close to having 1144 committed delegates at the convention, I don’t think he’ll be the nominee.

Does that mean Santorum, or Gingrich, or Paul will be the nominee? Certainly not. It means that Chris Christie, or Mitch Daniels, or Jeb Bush will be the nominee. If Romney can’t win the first ballot, it will be an open convention like in olden times – a “brokered convention” some might call it, with another “smoke-filled room.” Of course, today nobody smokes; more important, “party bosses” are essentially an extinct species. An open convention in 2012 will be a lot messier and unpredictable; there will be a whole lotta politics going’ on. The convention could pick anybody who momentarily captures the delegates’ fancy.

How likely is this scenario? If I were a betting man, I’d still bet that Romney manages to limp to the nomination; but an open convention is a very real possibility.

I think it would be terrific, for the party and the country, and a fascinating spectacle, a real case of “democracy in action.” The nation would be riveted; and a fresh candidate, pulled, as it were, like a rabbit out of a hat, would electrify voters.

 Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Racism by the Numbers (or, Black is White)

February 9, 2012

            “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” – Mark Twain

Bank of America* recently agreed with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to pay $335 million to settle allegations of racially discriminatory lending by its Countrywide subsidiary. Specifically, DOJ had found that in 2004-08, of 525,000 black or Hispanic borrowers, 210,000 paid higher fees or rates than the average for non-Hispanic whites.

That’s just disgusting – that such outright discrimination could still be practiced by a major national corporation in 21st century America. A great day for cynics who say nothing ever changes, that racism is alive and well, and America’s pretensions to progress and equality are hollow.

But you can’t argue with the numbers. Fully 40% of minority people paid more than the average white. Bang – a smoking gun.

But . . .

Wait a sec. If 40% paid more, doesn’t that mean 60% of minorities paid LESS than (or equal to) the average for whites? Who actually got the worse deal here – minorities or whites? Yet of course the bank was accused of screwing the former, not the latter.

Are we in Alice’s Wonderland where, almost literally, black is white?

A fifth grade math student should be able to see the DOJ’s mistake – it’s obvious when stated as I have. Yet in fact this is the standard way discrimination law works in today’s America. When analyzing any situation like Countrywide’s, anything that effectively disadvantages whites doesn’t count. And anything that effectively benefits some minority people doesn’t count either. All that counts is some minority people getting a worse deal than the average white. Heads-I-win, tails-you-lose. And so we get Countrywide branded with the scarlet “R” of racism based on a statistic that actually shows the majority of the “disadvantaged” group was treated better than the average white.**

Such disparities are due to the bargaining that typifies home loan deals. If you think a moment, any business that bargains would be vulnerable to the Countrywide treatment if any minority people did worse than the white average. And meantime how did a majority of Countrywide’s minority applicants apparently manage to do better than the average white? Who knows? Maybe Countrywide was actually practicing a little affirmative action. Anyhow, DOJ’s policy should constitute a strong deterrent to allowing any negotiation – consistent with the egalitarian mentality that everyone must get the same results and any deviations from uniformity are intolerable (or against “social justice.”)

If the DOJ’s case was so obviously bogus, why did the bank agree to pay $335 million? Because this was a no-win situation. Even if it might ultimately prevail in court, that would follow months or years of news coverage linking the bank’s name with blood-curdling words like “racism” and “discrimination.” Better to just take the hit and move on.

Of course, the DOJ fully understands this, so its action against the bank is tantamount to a shake-down: pay up or get dragged through the mud. Columnist Holman Jenkins sees this as political – “those in power loot for the benefit of constituencies that keep them in power.” The bank’s millions will be distributed, by the Democratic administration, among blacks and Hispanics (overwhelmingly supporters of Democrats) who paid more than average, but not to any whites who paid more. Further, any surplus funds are “explicitly reserved for donations to Acorn-like groups that typically align with the Democratic party.” (Holman again, his emphasis.) In other words, government policy perverted into a racial spoils system.***

Recall my recent review of The Dictator’s Handbook. It’s not only dictators who stay in power by paying the Pauls who support them by robbing the Peters who don’t; that’s politics in democracies too. And the more power we vest in government, the more such corruption we get.

And it’s not just money, and not even just the bank’s reputation, at issue. This also feeds the cynical, pessimistic perception exemplified by my own second paragraph here. America has changed, for the better; in race relations, it’s a completely different country from the one I grew up in half a century ago.****  Bogus government accusations of racism undermine that truth and actually worsen race relations by making minorities believe there is more discrimination than actually exists. That’s the really disgusting part of this story.

* Disclosure: I have owned stock in Bank of America. I sold it. I lost a bundle. I have no affection for the bank.

** Admittedly on these numbers it’s still possible the average white did better than others (if the 40% were below by a lot and the 60% above by a little), but it’s unlikely.

*** Note that France takes a very different approach: it’s actually illegal to gather any data broken down by race or ethnicity.

**** If you doubt this, read Isabel Wilkerson’s wonderful book, The Warmth of Other Suns, about the black migration from south to north — and the conditions that caused it.



Where are the suicide bombers when they’re needed?

February 5, 2012

There’s been a plague of suicide bombers – throwing away their lives (and their victims), to achieve nothing, for causes that are bad ones anyway. Wouldn’t it be nice if, just once, a suicide bomber did something good: like blowing up Bashar Assad.

Am I advocating this as the solution for Syria? Not really; life is rarely that simple. But I can’t help reflecting on the legions of people willing to die to kill innocents, while not a one tries to kill this monster. Yet of course it’s explicable, in a way. Suicide bombers have something greatly twisted in their minds. Their ranks would not include any rationalist humanistic people – the kind of people who would loathe Assad. And the latter sort would not be suicide bombers.

The Syrians who go into the streets don’t want to throw away their lives; but are willing to risk them in a just cause. That’s not irrational. It’s the tragic aspect of the human condition that sometimes confronts us with such awful choices. And so, for want of a single suicide bomber, probably thousands more Syrians will have to lose their lives before Assad is done (or done for).

 I must reiterate that this is not a “government.” It is a criminal gang ruling Syria the way Al Capone ruled Chicago. Assad apparently believes he can prevail if he kills enough people. And he’s still a long way from his daddy’s death toll.

The Obama administration is on the right side – sort of. Yet again, the U.S. is “leading from behind,” much too slow and much too timid. How long was it before the administration finally said Assad must go? Why the squeamishness? This guy was never one of our sonofabitches – to the contrary, always our outright enemy.

Indeed, as Charles Krauthammer explains in an excellent recent column, the U.S. interest in scuppering Assad goes way beyond just Syria – because he’s been a linchpin ally of Iran – its only Arab ally, and its only Sunni Muslim ally. (Iran is non-Arab, and Shiite.) Assad’s fall would be catastrophic for Iran’s strategic position. It would also pull the rug out from Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and Gaza’s Hamas, backed by Syria. And let’s not forget that the Iranian regime itself vulnerably rules (like Assad) a rebellious population kept down only by brutality. Iran is the final domino. And tipping over that one would be a gigantic boon for us and world peace.

So, as Krauthammer argues, aggressive action to crunch Assad would not only serve our ideals, of democracy and human rights, but would also serve our hard-nosed geopolitical interests.

What should we do? Krauthammer says, “Force the issue. Draw bright lines. Make clear American solidarity with the Arab League” in its stand against Assad and Iran. (If even the once-feckless Arab League now wants to be on the right side of history, so should we!) Push a total economic and arms embargo on Syria; rush aid for the resistance; and insist that Assad scram or else. Military measures should not be ruled out. Why not a little bombing to raise the cost for army guys sticking with Assad? The payoff could be huge. This is a fantastic opportunity for us.

We should not be deterred by the fact that the Russians and Chinese vetoed the UN resolution. Their shameful obstructive role renders the UN irrelevant in situations like this. We must not allow their Bad Guys Protection League to dictate what the good guys may do.

What’s stopping us?

The Dictator’s Handbook

February 1, 2012

Browsing a bookstore for a gift for my daughter, I found The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics, by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith. Not that I want her to grow up to be a dictator – not even a “benevolent dictator.” That’s almost an oxymoron, as the book makes clear. In the dictating game, benevolence is for losers.

The authors admit the book is somewhat cynical. I gave it to my daughter because she’s studying international relations at Tufts, and (like her Dad) has always been keen to understand how the world really works. I’m pleased she’s been reading it attentively.

 At the outset the book cautions that terms like “democracy” and “tyranny” may be somewhat misleading and unhelpful; there’s no such thing as one-man rule. What matters is how big the ruling coalition is; that is, the number of people whose loyalty and support are essential to the leader’s staying in power. Small, narrow coalitions of cronies are characteristic of dictatorships; as long as those few “essentials” stay loyal, the rest of the population doesn’t matter. The leader survives by keeping the “essentials” fat and happy, even at the expense of everyone else.

Democracies, in contrast, tend to be wide coalition systems; where there are genuine elections, a leader can’t just buy off a select few, but must satisfy a far wider population segment, often a majority.

The authors do perhaps cynically dissect the aspects of human nature that enable dictators to thrive by following its playbook. The lust for lucre and power is easy enough to understand. And once you become, say, President Mugabe, you really don’t have much choice about how to behave; it’s like riding a tiger; you’d better not fall off.

 In the authors’ view, the old adage that power corrupts has things at least partly backwards: actually, corruption empowers. That’s how you buy off the “essentials.” And if power does corrupt, it’s partly because corruption is necessary to maintain power. (Especially in small coalition systems, but also to a degree in wide ones. Hence I rarely vote for incumbents.)

The chapter on foreign aid is eye-opening. Most aid is not merely useless, it’s injurious, mainly by helping bad regimes entrench themselves. Obviously that’s true when they can steal much of the money. But even where an NGO project seemingly benefits directly the populace of a poor country, bypassing the regime, still that often relieves the regime of having to make such expenditures itself, leaving more money available for coddling the “essentials.”

But the book’s true take-away is not at all cynical. To the contrary, it casts in sharp relief the virtues and benefits of wide coalition systems – i.e., democracy.

Here’s an example. “Social justice” types are often suckered by the supposed wonderfulness of Cuban health care and education. The authors examine the matter. Their conclusion, consistent with their overall schema, is that such regimes merely do just enough to serve not the public interest but their own. Their chief need is for a populace able to do enough work to generate the cash to keep paying off the leader’s partners in crime, the “essentials.”

In health care, that means keeping people in working condition. Care for oldsters and infants is less important because they are, respectively, no longer productive or won’t soon be productive. While Cuba does have relatively low infant mortality, this is largely a legacy of the pre-Castro era, when it was one of the world’s lowest; and while Cuba’s infant mortality has improved further, it has improved much less than in the rest of the world.

Similarly regarding education: “just enough” means basic literacy. Cuba does achieve that better than some democracies. But that’s where the commitment to education stops. The regime does not want its general population better educated, which might give them “dangerous” ideas. Thus, higher education tends to be quite poor in small coalition nations; none of the world’s top universities are found there.

So it becomes clear that wide coalition systems are, in myriad ways, better for human welfare – not surprising, since you can hold power in such systems only by satisfying a broad population segment.* And political freedoms are themselves important elements of human welfare, which wide coalition systems necessarily provide, while small coalition regimes dare not.

Further, while an occasional rare dictatorship sincerely tries to do right by its people, instances of success are even rarer – because, not actually dependent on popular support, small coalition regimes are handicapped in understanding what their subjects really want or need. (Mao’s disastrous “Great Leap Forward” may conceivably have been well intentioned, but no democratic leader could be so hugely clueless.)

 So the authors deem it no coincidence that the world’s richer countries tend to be democracies, with tyrannies generally confined to poor ones. But poverty is a consequence, not a cause, of dictatorship; some nations are poor yet free. On the other hand, the authors seem to deny that being wealthy bars tyranny. Of that I’m dubious. History suggests that once a nation reaches a certain threshold level of per-capita GDP, its people will no longer tolerate mass exclusion from the ranks of the “essentials.”

China is fast approaching that level of wealth. Stay tuned.

* Note that U.S. gerrymandering considerably narrows the coalitions of “essential” supporters for legislators. That makes legislatures less democratic, and less responsive to broad voter concerns. It’s a major reason for the political problems we’ve seen.