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Culture War Roundup for the week of October 3, 2022

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Please just tell me where you think white people are supposed to live

A friend of mine (white, very left-leaning) recently made an offhand remark that the large US city they live in is has "sooo many white people" upon discovering that said city is roughly 50% white. By the way they said it, it was clearly meant as a complaint. Knowing this person pretty well, this was about par for the course for them so I just ignored it, but I've heard similar things from other friends and it seems to be a general theme on the left in the US lately that there are too many white people everywhere, in a country comprised of 60-75% white people (depending on how you define it) as of the most recent census estimates [1]. I've heard this about cities, and I've heard it about rural areas in the form of "Yikes, I'd never live in {rural area}, too white". Importantly, I often hear the claim absent any other explanation of why that is intrinsically bad. Being somewhat progressive myself, I definitely recognize the impact on city demographics of slavery and redlining inflicted by white populations. I just don't see why the remedy is then to complain about the actual number of white people themselves, since in cities people in general are more progressive and therefore likely to vote for policies that work to alleviate long-lasting effects of racial injustice.

As someone who doesn't have a preference for an exact racial makeup in the place they live, but generally likes places that embrace multiculturalism like many large US cities do, I don't know what the reasoning behind such a complaint is, or what anyone who takes it seriously would like to see done about it. I'd like to hear from other progressive people what the steelman version of this is. For one thing, it is a basic fact of statistics that with a population of 60-75% white people, you shouldn't be surprised to find a city with roughly 50% white people. Second, do these people realize what scenario we'd end up in if they were to get what they seem to be advocating for (have all the white people move out of whatever area they're in)? Taken to the extreme, you get one area with all the white people and then 0 white people everywhere else, by definition what white nationalists advocate for, not to mention something I and everyone else who isn't a white nationalist finds detestable. This becomes even more confusing when the person complaining is white, by I'll chalk that up to just plain old stupidity.

More concretely, if a white progressive like my friend wants to act on their dissatisfaction and move to a place with far fewer white people, they are increasing the new place's white population and becoming part of the problem that made them relocate in the first place. What is the reasoning here? They get a pass on being white due to their progressive bona-fides? What are they even trying to signal? If we chalk it up to virtue signaling, why not just advocate for better/more just zoning and housing policy? I realize this post is heavy on me sharing anecdotes from my friend group, but I've heard it enough times now that I felt like I had to finally ask.


"Yikes, too white" is in fact a dumb meme. By itself, there isn't really a way to steelman it, any more than you can meaningfully steelman "keep the government out of my social security" or whatever. Some memes are just really stupid for how catchy they are.

Memetically or genetically, pure fork-in-the-socket stupidity is not adaptive. Generally speaking, if you see people doing something dumb, it's either because you don't fully understand what they're doing, or because you don't fully understand how they came to be doing it. I think it's surprisingly rare for people to do things for no intelligible reason at all.

I think the proper approach here is to keep stepping up the meta-levels until you get to something solid. This meme works because Blue tribe people care about race in a general sense. Blue tribe people care about race in a general sense, because to a first approximation all Americans care about race in a general sense. Race is relevant to our politics in a way it simply wasn't in, say, 1990 - 2010, and appears to be growing more and more relevant over time. This happened for specific reasons, and the reasons bear discussion in a way the ground-level dumb meme doesn't. If you want some interesting exploration, I'd recommend starting from there and seeing where the history leads you.

Second, do these people realize what scenario we'd end up in if they were to get what they seem to be advocating for (have all the white people move out of whatever area they're in)?

I don't think any of them are thinking all the white people should go in one spot. To the extent that this is a problem, mass immigration will solve it, and while the meme may be dumb, it nonetheless serves basic interests for the tribe that is pushing mass immigration. The broader pattern explains the meme's fitness, its relevance, in a way taking the meme itself at face value does not. The reducto you propose isn't actually relevant.

What are they even trying to signal?

"Whiteness bad, diversity good". It's not complicated, and unlike the dumb meme, it can be steelmanned. Whether the steelman is persuasive is another question; certainly many seem to find it so.

I liked this post, but I have one quibble.

there isn't really a way to steelman it, any more than you can meaningfully steelman "keep the government out of my social security"

I can steelman this one, at least if we're talking about the elderly. The way social security is set up in the US is as a "national insurance" system. The way it was proposed to the public, and the way in which it is still justified to the public in the famously-social-welfare-averse US, is as a system in which you pay in, and then, one day, you get paid out. It's not merely "here's some money from the government treasury," it's "this is your money that you paid in as an insurance policy given back to you now that you need it." For that reason, the money from Social Security isn't technically a part of discretionary spending, but is part of a trust fund for the benefit of Social Security's beneficiaries.

But that's just how it's sold to the American people, and therefore why people think of Social Security as something they're owed, which the government should keep their filthy hands off of. Trustees are obligated to keep their filthy hands off a trust's funds and instead use them wisely for the benefit of the beneficiaries.

As always, of course, the government is made up of lying liars who lie while lying. And in reality, the "trust fund" is just as liquid and real as treasury bonds -- as the OMB 2000 budget described:

These [Trust Fund] balances are available to finance future benefit payments and other Trust Fund expenditures – but only in a bookkeeping sense.... They do not consist of real economic assets that can be drawn down in the future to fund benefits. Instead, they are claims on the Treasury that, when redeemed, will have to be financed by raising taxes, borrowing from the public, or reducing benefits or other expenditures.

Excess funds from the Social Security "trust fund" have always been plundered by the government to apply to general spending. Sorry, not plundered, borrowed, I forgot to refer to my Newspeak politician dictionary. And over 6 trillion dollars (I'm going to parenthetically repeat that: 6 trillion gazillion motherfudging dollars) of the rapidly-ballooning national debt is actually "intra-governmental debt": it's money that should be for the use of Social Security (and other mandatory spending programs), keeping the bloody thing solvent, but which has actually been used by the government to fund overseas forever wars underwater basket-weaving classes anti-racism trainings foreign aid to Afghanistanis with AIDS the Senate Launch System embarrassment to rocket science pork-barrel projects in West-North-East-South Georgia discretionary spending.

And the actual reality that Social Security isn't a real insurance program but a disguised welfare payout system has been a complaint of fiscal conservatives since the beginning, reaching a fever pitch in Ronald Reagan's 1964 "The Speech" endorsing Barry Goldwater, which launched Reagan's national political career:

They've called it "insurance" to us in a hundred million pieces of literature. But then they appeared before the Supreme Court and they testified it was a welfare program. [Sounds familiar to me.] They only use the term "insurance" to sell it to the people. And they said Social Security dues are a tax for the general use of the government, and the government has used that tax. There is no fund, because Robert Byers, the actuarial head, appeared before a congressional committee and admitted that Social Security as of this moment is 298 billion dollars in the hole. But he said there should be no cause for worry because as long as they have the power to tax, they could always take away from the people whatever they needed to bail them out of trouble.

It's stuff like this that makes American fiscal conservatives so angry. So when an angry American pensioner says, "keep the government out of my social security," he means, "stop God-damn lying about what the program is, and keep the damn thing solvent by not plundering from it and calling it 'borrowing.'"

It’s not actually possible for the social security trust fund to be saved. There’s no realistic way for the government to transfer that amount of money to be saved today and available tomorrow. The government controls the money supply. Their decisions effect the price of all financial assets and investing it in stocks would distort all market prices.

A small country could actually save the money by investing in larger economies without distorting prices. Switzerland does this. The US can’t.

In defense of the social security situation, what safe assets is the government supposed to buy? There is nothing safer than US government bonds, which are funded by future tax revenues. Buying foreign or corporate bonds could make sense at the margin, but it opens you up to a lot of risk.

For a large, closed economy like the USA whose inability to collect taxes would not just mean the downfall of its own economy, but the whole world order, I don't think anything else makes sense but relying on your taxation powers.

You could argue that the government should borrow less in general, but that is a separate issue from Social Security.

Yeah, I was going to make a similar point.

So, Social Security has a lot of money, right? What are they supposed to do, put it in a giant mattress and sit on it? No, if they can safely pick up even a few percentage points of return, they should . . . and, well, the safest place to put the money is US Government bonds.

Not just objectively (it is objectively the safest place, but besides that), but because the only way those bonds aren't getting paid back is if the US Government implodes. And if that happens, the entire social security system is dead anyway. So it's not picking up any added risk, just getting some absolutely free percentage points of yearly returns.

There are certainly criticisms one can make of this setup, but "the US social security system has a synergistic risk-free financial relationship with the rest of the US government" isn't one of them.

It doesn't really matter if they put it into US treasuries or cash those are just government liabilities the same as the liabilities the Social Security administration has to it's members. That is my point. The fact US treasuries pay a few percent interest over cash doesn't matter, because the Federal Government is paying money from it's right pocket to it's left.

The only thing that would matter to it's position would be if it offloaded risk or earned interest from some other entity than itself.