An Extra Lifetime
Five Things You Need to Read Today
1. Re-Fund the Police
I'm really hoping that our current re-enactment of the 1970s will be short-lived and we will learn our lessons more quickly the second time around.
That seems to be the case with last year's "Defund the Police" movement, which is quickly being turned around into an effort to re-fund the police, in cities from Minneapolis to Portland, as people start to experience the consequences.
Megan McArdle describes the benefits of policing, particularly for the very minorities in whose name the police were de-funded.
Even if you concede that policing does reduce crime considerably—which many "defund the police" advocates don't—it's possible that more policing does reduce crime for mostly whiter and more affluent neighborhoods, while historically disadvantaged groups mostly bear the substantial costs of being policed. Most of the debate over the past year has implicitly assumed such a tradeoff.
Yet a new paper distributed by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests this assumption isn't quite right. Policing really does disproportionately burden Black communities (especially when it comes to low-level offenses), but it also disproportionately benefits them—not just by protecting victims from the people police arrest, but by protecting people who might otherwise have turned to crime.
The authors looked at 38 years of police employment data for America's 242 largest cities, not just to see the policing's effect on crime, but specifically, what its differential impacts were on different racial groups. In tune with earlier research, they found that bigger police forces reduced "index" crime —serious offenses such as violence, burglary or robbery. Depending on the exact model, they found that hiring somewhere between 10 and 17 new officers averted one homicide every year. And as the opponents of the "defund police" movement have suggested, this indeed disproportionately benefited Black communities: "In per capita terms" they write, "the effects are approximately twice as large for Black victims."...
A broad decrease in crime doesn't just benefit homicide victims. It reduces rape and the associated trauma. It lowers the number of nonfatal injuries. It saves people from losing property they can't necessarily afford to replace. And it reduces the pervasive fear of crime, which is bad in itself—as are the things people do to avoid it, from staying home at night to paying for expensive alarm systems to barring all their windows and doors....
Here's the surprising part: More policing, they find, reduces not just victimization, but also arrests for index crimes, which can carry long prison sentences. It was reasonable to fear that adding police "solves" our crime problem through mass incarceration of black men, but that doesn't seem to be the case. In an associated note published through the Niskanen Center, the authors write, "The decline in index crime arrests is four to six times larger for black civilians than whites, which suggests that investments in policing are unlikely to have contributed to the massive and racially disparate growth in the scale of incarceration in the United States during the last four decades."
More policing does seem to lead to an increase in arrest for minor infractions, which is why it can be experienced as harassment or persecution. But this may simply be "broken windows policing" at work: more arrests for minor crimes working to deter the commission of major crimes. But hopefully, the more subtle affect of increased policing is that instead of just preventing crimes, it prevents a life of crime, which would have very a good long-term impact.
Yes, we need reforms of policing, because government, like fire, is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. But we also need to remember that professional policing is and has been a force for progress.
2. Barone's Law of Cancel Culture
There's been a lot of talk recently about the "failure of the elites." I think some of it is exaggerated and some of it is used as an excuse by people who want to replace the elites so they can fail in their own spectacular ways.
But then I think of Nikole Hannah-Jones, who spearheaded the 1619 Project, now notorious for its major distortions of history, who has been rewarded for this act of egregious intellectual sabotage by having awards and benefits heaped on her by the elites, from the Pulitzer Prize to (most recently) an appointment to a prestigious university teaching position. And now people on the left are screaming about "cancel culture" because that appointment wasn't generous enough.
"Last week, the journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, who led The New York Times Magazine's 1619 Project, was named the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Faculty at its Hussman School of Journalism and Media recommended her for tenure too. But the university's board of trustees didn't approve the faculty recommendation. Instead, UNC appointed her to a five-year contract with the option of a tenure review.
"That appointment may still strike many Americans as a great gig, even without the dream of lifetime job security. But many in academia and journalism see it as a politicized assault on academic autonomy and the First Amendment."
I think there's some merit to the claim that the decision not to make a more generous offer was politicized—but then again, the decision to offer her anything in the first place was entirely politicized.
"This matter has proved divisive in part because some observers believe that Hannah-Jones's appointment was motivated by viewpoint discrimination in favor of the 1619 Project, notwithstanding questions about its journalistic quality. To its defenders, it is a masterwork that now carries the imprimatur of the Pulitzer Prize; indeed, Hannah-Jones's work has been validated by all of the most prestigious honors available to journalists, including a MacArthur genius fellowship. But to an ideologically diverse group of critics, the 1619 Project was marred by multiple factual errors, damning revelations from a fact-checker, and obfuscatory stealth edits that many friendly to its thesis overlooked or waved away by focusing exclusively on the dumbest criticism of the project."
That's exactly it.
I've covered the massive historical obfuscation in the 1619 Project before, but I've also highlighted the thing most people missed: Hannah-Jones used nefarious methods to promote an even more nefarious message of ethnic chauvinism. Since my coverage of that was buried in a much longer end-of-year review back in 2019, I have pulled it out separately for use in the current controversy.
The professorship Hannah-Jones was offered is one usually reserved for a journalist without an academic background. But the contempt for facts shown in the 1619 Project should disqualify her for a position in either journalism or academia. Certainly, the message UNC is sending—along with the Pulitzer committee and the MacArthur Foundation—is that the way to rocket straight to the top of the profession is to make up facts that support the favored political narratives of the elites.
Cathy Young has a good, balanced account of the affair, and she puts the left's complaints about conservative cancel culture in context.
"When 'cancellation' targeting journalists or academics comes from the right, it is almost invariably met with a strong pushback from within the profession. This is already the case with both Wilder and Hannah-Jones.
"When 'cancellation' targeting journalists or academics comes from the left, it almost invariably comes from within the profession. Who speaks for Donald McNeil or Mike Adams? Certainly not their colleagues.
"That makes right-wing 'cancel culture' more episodic and easily contained. Yes, it can still be damaging and should be resisted by any genuine advocate for freedom of speech.... But to argue that the real 'chilly climate' for speech in the mainstream media and the academy comes from occasional right-wing hits? That's projection on a par with claims that it's the Democrats who are really responsible for subverting democracy by delegitimizing election results."
What I think we're seeing here is Barone's Law applied to cancel culture: Everyone is for it when they like the results—and suddenly discover that politicization is an outrage when when they don't like the results.
3. "Where Did Israel Go?"
The latest war in Gaza has been going on for a few weeks now with no particular end in sight. In Gaza, Hamas does not have a plan for any kind of tactical victory and never had a plan. Israel, for its part, seems content to hunker down behind a very effective (for now) missile defense system, inflict a couple hundred million dollars' worth of damage on Hamas infrastructure, and other than that just wait until Hamas runs out of rockets.
But this tactical impasses just reflects a larger strategic impasse, which is nicely explained in a long article in the Times of Israel. The whole thing is worth reading, but here is its explanation of how things look from the perspective of Hamas.
"On Monday, Hamas deputy political chief Musa Abu Marzouk gave an interview to Russia Today in which he clarified what Hamas believed the war was about.
"The current war, he said, 'is not the final war' with Israel. There will be more. 'It's not like it was in Vietnam and elsewhere, where things ended up with negotiations. This is just one of a [series] of wars, and a war will come when we negotiate with them [i.e., the Jews] about the end of their occupation and their leaving of Palestine,' Abu Marzouk said, according to a translation by MEMRI.... 'Until recently, the whole world supported the white government in South Africa, but things have changed. Where did the Soviet Union go? Where did the Berlin Wall go? The day will come when people ask: 'Where did Israel go?'
"The interview is one of countless expressions of what amounts to Hamas's most fundamental belief about its enemy: that the Jews of Israel are an illegitimate usurper polity, the last vestige of European colonialism, and therefore doomed to failure like all other European colonial projects from the last century. Israel in Hamas's telling is not a people competing with the Palestinians for a single uncomfortably narrow strip of land. It is, like the Soviet Union, East Germany, or the South African apartheid regime before it, a thin patina of political institutions and concepts that will burn away in the harsh light of sustained resistance."
This is why Hamas is willing to sustain one tactical loss after another while regarding them all as strategic victories. They believe each is an act of resistance that wears down the enemy, bringing them closer to a Berlin Wall moment.
But this is also a complete miscalculation based on a fantasy.
"In the mid-1990s, two IDF major generals were coming to the end of their long and storied military careers.... By the mid-1990s, the two grizzled veterans, newly released from their military duties, planned to travel together to Vietnam. Both were avid students of military history, including of the Vietnam conflict. They applied for visas and made a special request to the Vietnamese authorities: to meet General Vo Nguyen Giap....
"When the Israelis rose to leave, Giap suddenly turned to the Palestinian issue. 'Listen,' he said, 'the Palestinians are always coming here and saying to me, "You expelled the French and the Americans. How do we expel the Jews?"'
"The generals were intrigued. 'And what do you tell them?'
"'I tell them,' Giap replied, 'that the French went back to France and the Americans to America. But the Jews have nowhere to go. You will not expel them.'"
That is the basic impasse of this conflict.
I referred to the Palestinian strategy as a miscalculation based on a fantasy, but I should also add that it is motivated by unreasoning hatred. Don't take that from me, take it from the two sons of Hamas founder Sheikh Hassan Yousef, both of whom have defected. One of them says, "Hamas hates Israel more than they love their own children," and the other calls Hamas "a racist terror organization."
That racial hatred merely strengthens Israeli resolve because the Israelis believe, with good reason, that their enemies' only real goal is a second Holocaust.
4. The Case for Zionism
Giap is right that "the Jews have nowhere to go"—a fact reinforced by a wave of resurgent anti-Semitism outside of Israel.
The whole rationale for modern Israel is that the Jews need their own state because they can never rely on anybody else to protect them. That's a theory that's looking pretty good right now.
The recent conflict in Gaza has been the pretext, the excuse, for a wave of anti-Semitic attacks, even in America.
The "even in America" part is important. We have never been immune to anti-Semitism, but in part because of the impact of the Holocaust and stories of the concentration camps after World War II, it has been much weaker here. There are signs this might be changing, and my former Federalist colleague Melissa Braunstein laments that "the sort of antisemitic chants, threats, and attacks Jews have become accustomed to seeing in Europe" are starting to come here.
What's more disturbing is that this is getting cover from left-wing politician, a bunch of whom adopted the odd talking point of denouncing anti-Semitism only when they could balance it by denouncing "Islamophobia"—an obvious evasion, since there has been no corresponding wave of attacks against Muslims.
A key driver of this new anti-Semitism is the fact that the American left has turned decisively against Israel on basic ideological grounds. Note in the item above the rhetoric about Israel being a "colonial" occupier? Railing against "colonialism" is a central idea of "woke" racial politics, and the Palestinians have found a way to use that to their advantage. Hence the spectacle of a left that has been loudly screaming about "antiracism" while shrugging its shoulders at anti-Semitism.
In a long and somewhat rambling piece, Peter Savodnik gets at this:
"Over the past two decades, this obsession with [racial] identity has intensified and spread. Progressives are now incapable of talking about anything important without mentioning human beings' immutable traits.
"Any politics of identity was bad for the Jew. On the right, the identiarians said that the Jew lacked whiteness.... On the left, the Jew was said to have too much."
It's almost as if the attempt to fight racism by embracing tribalism is not working.
5. An Extra Lifetime
That's the bad news, and, well, here's a little more bad news before we get to the good.
Here I'll give the floor to Jonathan Last, who notes with some bitterness that everyone else is now finally realizing that global population decline is going to be a problem, years after he literally wrote the book on it.
"A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I wrote a book about demographics called What to Expect When No One's Expecting....
"If all you ever did was read the New York Times, this...might seem crazy to you. The Times—and most middlebrow media—has been stuck in The Population Bomb mode for half a century. Despite all of the research from demographers and economists, they continually fretted about the dangers of runaway population growth. Which is like worrying about tsunamis while you're wandering through the desert....
"This weekend the Times ran a giant, triple-bylined reporting piece on demographics.
"It's a very nice piece. It is also nothing more than a truncated summary of the book I wrote that the Times trashed."
Here the article he's referring to. I don't know if the trend toward shrinking population makes me alarmed so much as it makes me sad, because I realize how many people are missing out on one of the best parts of life—and because this seems to show a basic lack of confidence in the future.
On the other side of this—and perhaps it is related—is the big story of progress. What we haven't gotten in growing population, we have gotten in increased lifespan.
"The period from 1916 to 1920 marked the last point in which a major reversal in global life expectancy would be recorded. (During World War II, life expectancy did briefly decline, but with nowhere near the severity of the collapse during the Great Influenza.) The descendants of English and Welsh babies born in 1918, who on average lived just 41 years, today enjoy life expectancies in the 80s. And while Western nations surged far ahead in average life span during the first half of the last century, other nations have caught up in recent decades, with China and India having recorded what almost certainly rank as the fastest gains of any society in history. A hundred years ago, an impoverished resident of Bombay or Delhi would beat the odds simply by surviving into his or her late 20s. Today average life expectancy in India is roughly 70 years.
"In effect, during the century since the end of the Great Influenza outbreak, the average human life span has doubled. There are few measures of human progress more astonishing than this. If you were to publish a newspaper that came out just once a century, the banner headline surely would—or should—be the declaration of this incredible feat. But of course, the story of our extra life span almost never appears on the front page of our actual daily newspapers, because the drama and heroism that have given us those additional years are far more evident in hindsight than they are in the moment. That is, the story of our extra life is a story of progress in its usual form: brilliant ideas and collaborations unfolding far from the spotlight of public attention, setting in motion incremental improvements that take decades to display their true magnitude.
"Another reason we have a hard time recognizing this kind of progress is that it tends to be measured not in events but in nonevents: the smallpox infection that didn't kill you at age 2; the accidental scrape that didn't give you a lethal bacterial infection; the drinking water that didn't poison you with cholera. In a sense, human beings have been increasingly protected by an invisible shield, one that has been built, piece by piece, over the last few centuries, keeping us ever safer and further from death."
I find this amusing because, like Jonathan Last, I recognize every part of this. It's what a lot of us have been pointing out for years.
I don't agree with the approach of the rest of the article; reflecting the biases of the New York Times, it focuses excessively on the role of government regulation rather than on technological innovation and increasing wealth. But I think "What are the sources of all this amazing progress?" would be a much more interesting and productive debate to be having than most of what we're arguing about now.
It would also instill some of the confidence in the future that might inspire more of us to have babies whom we can expect to long and wonderful lives.