Cardinal Preferences Explain Why All Institutions are Woke
This is such a good piece. A few thoughts from a miscellaneous tech/finance guy that has been thinking about these issues as well:
1) When a society starts to get squeezed economically, some sectors get hit first,
and therefore get motivated first. E.g. Academia and the Media, where as you point out the pay is terrible. Well, that's where all the liberals are. So the liberals get motivated first. In general, all the conservative professionals & ownership class have done well over the past few decades economically and are not politically motivated. I've met plenty of 8 & 9 figure conservatives, and all they want to do is go hang out in Sun Valley etc.
2) Identity is another big driver in the disparity of political motivation. "Boomerism" spoiled the energy of a generation, but Boomerism is not evenly distributed across Identities. If I am Jewish, I grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust, not the warm embrace of post-WWII American prosperity. If I am an Indian or Chinese immigrant, or a Black American, I did not have this spoiling / demotivating Boomer experience growing up. The vast majority of these high motivation identities are Dem.
3) None of these dynamics are necessarily stable. My amateur sense is that in any given society, the left tends to radicalize first. Left people are inherently unhappy (lots of data on this point), and unhappiness is motivating. But, left radicalizing leads to right radicalizing. So, you get a race for the left to consolidate gains before the right can come back from the golf course.
4) So, to your point, if you are on the right, things are going to get worse before they (might) get better. Because until things get worse, you just can't effectively motivate your side. The scary thing for those of us that Just Live Here, is that the farther behind the right falls, the more aggressively it has to fight to catch up. So it gets trapped between either surrendering to the left, or empowering its own radicals & strongmen (perhaps this is the 1920's / 1930's Europe problem - obviously the socialists/communists "shot first").
5) Trump can be interpreted as the most radicalized part of the right, the non-college whites that have spent the last few decades getting hurt and therefore getting motivated, trying to force the elite part of the right to radicalize as well. It didn't work because Trump is a rich guy that doesn't really care and it was easier to just lie and get into twitter fights rather than take serious action against left controlled big institutions.
7) It remains to be seen what happens if and when the right wing elite does get motivated. That is, people like Sean Hannity go from *pretending* they think and care that they're losing the country to actually thinking and caring that they are losing the country. I think they will decide they prefer not fight, and either accept the "New America", or take their money and leave the country. But, TBD.
Thanks again for the piece.
>In a democracy, every vote is supposed to be equal. If about half the country supports one side and half the country supports another, you may expect major institutions to either be equally divided, or to try to stay politically neutral.
>Yet Republicans get close to half the votes
They do not.
This is fundamentally very flawed. 48% of Americans are democrats or democratic leaning independents as opposed to 38% identifying as Republicans or republican leaning independents.
So to start off with, an entire tenth of the populace is a massive difference when you are mass marketing. Then we can get into asymmetrical support for the parties by age. It is no secret that the democratic party is much younger than the republican party, and marketers prefer to target populations at the start of their consumption lifespan than at the end of them.
Also democrats are generally closer to empirical reality on issues than Republicans, meaning that supporting republican causes will generally involve intentionally being incorrect
And finally, the essential framing imposed by the first paragraph is wrong: nothing about the allocation of capital or the actions of market actors is "democratic"
Excellent post. I think that you could change each instance of "care more about politics" to "care more about imposing their will on everyone else" and come as close, or closer, to the truth.
This is so funny. Your data is interesting - love the ordinal voter distinction. What is funny is your bland equivalence of positions - "conservative" may have been a position pre-Reagan (when dog whistles on "welfare" proliferated) but post Donald the parties of racism, hate, misogyny and so on really do not have a constituency. The simpler truth is that the "right" is not right any more by any sense of values - it is a morally bankrupt collection of liars (Greene, Gaetz, Hawley, Cruz, ...and on) with most of the "thinkers" (Hoover, Cato, Heritage, Mercatus - with a couple of exceptions) being whiny corporate shills. Your bland comment on "National Review suggests limiting voting" as if that is a reasonable position that should be engaged with in a 21st century democracy is amazing - your unwillingness to count the Jan6th insurrection as "conservative protest" shows a hypocrisy when you are digging up a tiny pro gun march! Sigh- read you because I like Tyler Cowen often but if this is the best you guys have - good luck - your grrymandering is only getting you so far. And your stats on health etc are funny - lots of data to the contrary - but they are by academics and researchers so you are better off looking at facebook
Oh come on. You know what's not liberal? White evangelical churches and their congregations. And that activity is almost wholly wed to republican politics these days. Money given and active participation in the religious realm among conservatives dwarfs that of liberals. I'd argue that faith and faith adjacent politics are key to the cardinal preferences of conservatives. To exclude the institutions of faith in this analysis dramatically aids in the thesis that EVERYTHING is liberal.
Listening to political talk radio is similar. That's a choice made almost exclusively by conservatives. And it's a political choice that feeds the conservative inc. ecosystem. Instead of bopping to some tunes or getting updates on your favorite sports team (apolitical middle ground), many conservatives choose their local Rush clones to rage them all the way home. Liberal talk radio always fails. To say that all media is liberal is just plainly wrong.
Gerrymandering needs to end, it muddles our understanding of voter distribution in the US. It is not in fact a 50/50 split down the middle, there are on average more liberals than conservatives but you wouldn’t know that based on voting districts specifically drawn to favor republican control. It’s also why some people are in favor of ditching the electoral college system. I think things seem more left leaning now because that is what the majority of America is today. It’s a natural transition.
Great post. Shouldn’t conservatives just get into power and radically defund all the public institutions that are captured by woke orthodoxy. Universities, NGOs and Charities all have various directs streams of revenue from government grants to tax exceptions. Any culture war minded government could just whittle those back.
Another way to look at this is that the political distinction is, people who's sense of personal values combined with self reliance and responsibility results in a focus on individual freedom of endeavour verses people who go along with the leftist academic rhetoric that we would all be better off if collectivist empowerment catered for our desires. Thus explaining why the left are more "active" (in an activist way) because they are trying to convince and agitate a collective response. Whereas the right is primarily busy getting on with their personal endeavours.
This is the message the left will never admit... they want us to sacrifice personal freedom and responsible endeavour for collectivist benevolence. Without admitting that a balance is needed between the two.
I think the biggest mistake you make is this: "Elites naturally rise to the top of everything - media, academia, culture". Every group of elites attempt to decide who else becomes elite, in essence who joins the club. If the current elites value competency then the above statement is mostly correct. However, the current group of elites in the country do not value competency, they value adherence to ideology. Becoming an elite doesn't really involve being better or more competent at anything at this point, just how much you're willing to adhere to the dogmas of the elite's ideology.
So a much better explanation for why most institutions favor the democrats would be that the conservatives in those institutions value competency and so are willing to tolerate people who disagree with them. The other side of that equation values ideology and so is not willing to tolerate those who disagree. This leads to a sort of prisoner's dilemma where conservatives slowly are weeded out from the institutions until said institution becomes sufficiently liberal to fully purge the conservatives.
By the way, this valuing of ideology instead of competence is exactly why the current situation cannot last. When the elites stop producing good art, policy, products, etc. they will eventually stop being elites even as they try harder and harder to maintain their status. How long this takes and what comes after I don't think anyone can predict.
I think the greater point that you missed is the reason for the difference between liberals and conservatives at this moment in our history. Liberals are currently more engaged in terms of activism and donations, etc because politics has become their religion. They are expressing a quite literal religious fervor.
Part of the mistake of the author here is the assumption that Republicans are half the country, its certainly a big chunk but there are more democrats, just looking at elections dems have won more voted in 20,18,16,12,08,06,00 republicans have won in 14,10,04,02, and in the prez elections where more people turn out GOP has only won once since the 80s. And the real population disparity is greater than this would imply since dems are younger, under 18 cant vote (but teens still influence culture) and people in their 20s vote at much lower rates, plus long term immigrants who often arent registered also lean dem, plus on many issues the support for "liberal positions" is higher than a party may imply, gay marriage, interracial marriage, civil rights, environmental protection, are all more popular than the democratic party meaning many GOP have these "liberal" views. so institutions being slightly liberal means they do match their country. no need to do an analysis of "elites" when its much simpler
Interesting article, Richard, thanks for your work. But there are a number of points you make here that I'd like to contend with you on/ that legitimately frustrated me :)-
1) Regarding Republicans being more willing to be friends with/ date Democrats than vice versa, interpreting this as caring less about politics seems absurd. You said:
"Not letting politics interfere with personal relationships is a sign that politics isn’t all that important to you."
But if your ideology IS that people should be allowed to have different opinions without being ostracized, then your ideology itself encourages you to be open to friendships/ relationships with people holding different political opinions than yourself. The dividing line here isn't between "those who care and those who don't" but "those who are accepting of diverse opinions and those who are offended by/ can't mentally cope with diversity of opinion." Ironically, in today's political climate the "liberal" ones who are more open to diverse opinions happen to be the Republicans.
2) This sentence was quite the stretch:
"It’s not because they are poorer or the party of the working class – again, I can’t stress enough how little economics predicts people’s political preferences – but because they are the party of those who simply care less about the future of their country."
Are you serious? You are just blanket claiming that Republicans care less about their country than Democrats? Just as there is a "voter paradox" where people vote- even though logically their vote has 0% chance of making a difference in the election, there is also a "donation paradox" where your $500 donation to a political party has minimal chances of changing the outcome of the election. But people do it anyways. Why? Because of virtue signaling. And the Democrats have been much better at creating a culture of virtue signaling than the Republicans (in part because they can just ban Republicans who try to openly virtue signal on twitter...).
But Republicans do care a lot about the future of their country. They might make mistakes in their judgement (I think anyone who voted for Trump made a huge mistake, even though I'm generally right leaning), but it's not because they "don't care." This kind of blanket statement is the sort of casual arrogance and disregard for the other side that will probably make the left lose in 2024.
3) And... THIS quote...
"It is important to highlight just what an irrational decision going into academia is for a person who wants to maximize their lifetime earnings."
Are you kidding me? Do you know how much money MOST people in this country make? Yes, compared to some $200k+ job as a doctor or a computer programmer, going into academia might *seem* irrational. But there are only so many of those jobs to go around. And being a professor is just EASIER. These people going into academia aren't saints who simply don't care about themselves. They're self interested people looking for a comfortable middle class life WELL ABOVE the standard of living common in this country (median income is $43,000, the median professor makes more than twice that). So enough of this "going into academia is some heroic self sacrifice" talk. It's not. It's a comfortable life, just like being in the clergy in the middle ages was a relatively comfortable life. And the heads of that modern day clergy all happen to be Democrats, so it makes sense that those looking for a job in that clergy will adopt the Left's current positions on issues so they don't lose their comfortable upper middle class lives.
SO, in conclusion, I think you made some good points and brought to the fore some interesting data, but then jumped to claims that are simply inaccurate. Yes, Democrats donated more to political campaigns going back to 2008, and by huge margins. But Republicans out donated to political campaigns in 2004, 2000, and all through the 90s. Did Democrats not care about politics then? Democrats are clearly winning the funding game, and they clearly seem to control a lot of tech. But this isn't because they just "care" and Republicans don't. And economics DO matter, and while Republicans are (or were) the party of billionaires they're also the party of factory workers. And factory workers simply don't have $200 to throw at a political campaign in the way liberal professors do.
Maybe corporations aren't really "liberal" or "woke," they're "mainstream." The party that condoned an attack on Congress and an attempt to overturn an election could only be called "far right," no?
Excellent piece and a much needed effort to explain what seems like a baffling phenomenon for those of us who are conservative and working in politics and policy.
The only point of contention I have is in the solution - the hardline destruction of institutions isn't a viable option for anyone who wants a future U.S. with some of the historic principals that have set this country apart. Erdogan is a telling example...Turkey is 21 years into strongman rule, democracy is a façade, and basic civil rights don't exist for hundreds of thousands of Turkish citizens (Kurds and anyone even remotely connected to the coup of 2016).
That leaves one real solution - we have to galvanize action and retake institutions. This is the hard way, but the only way.
Would it be fair to say that, if liberals 'care more,' they also 'tolerate less' in terms of opposing views, and have begun to embrace dogma over debate and intellectual curiosity?
I was surprised to read this entire post without seeing a single mention of the word demographics, which I think is the single strongest reason why corporations tend to left leaning (relative to the American median).
Looking at tech and finance - the workers there tend to be very educated (again, relative to median), and working very closely with a lot of foreign born colleagues. If you merely conditioned ideology on age + education, that alone would get you most of the way in explaining why certain sectors overwhelmingly tilt left. The other side of the coin is that more “normal” corporations also tilt to the left out of self interest: not all demographic groups are equally valuable consumers, and, the groups that make up the bulk of the Republican Party (older people, etc) are the least valuable group to advertise too and to try to sell stuff too. As a cynical example: if you try to browse something like National Review without Adblock using anonymous mode, the ads you get are incredibly depressing - basically quasi scams targeting geriatrics.