Streetwise Professor

September 6, 2020

Batting 500: Striking Out on Evictions, A Four-Bagger on Coercive Critical Theory Indoctrination

Filed under: Economics,Politics — cpirrong @ 5:13 pm

The Trump administration announced two policies over the last week. It batted 500, and its slugging percentage is 2000. It had one strikeout and one home run.

The strikeout was the CDC moratorium on evictions, due to the covid panicdemic. The short term political benefits are manifest here, but the longer term consequences are malign–as is usually the case with emergency measures.

This is a classic case of the seen and unseen. The seen will be fewer evictions prior to the election–although it should be noted that to the extent that there are gains from trade between landlords and tenants in adjusting the terms of rental contracts due to exigent circumstances, the main impact of this is to change the balance of negotiating power between them, rather than to affect the number of evictions. In a frictionless Coasean world, the policy would not affect the number of evictions. In the real world, there are bargaining frictions, so the policy will reduce the number of evictions, but I am guessing that this (efficiency) impact will be small. Thus, the main impact of the policy will be distributive.

But perhaps that is not surprising, because the primary engine of politics is the distribution of wealth and income.

The longer run impacts are unseen. To the extent that this “emergency” policy is considered to be a precedent, and that such moratoria are more likely in the future, the effect will be to cause rents to rise, and the quality and quantity of rental units to decline. That’s what expropriation of property rights does. These higher costs will be borne by all renters.

Thus, in the long run, the policy is inefficient. The welfare losses will be borne not primarily by landlords (due to essentially free exit from the sector in the long run), but by the alleged beneficiaries–renters. But those people–and pretty much everybody–will not connect the higher rents and crappier apartments to the policies allegedly adopted for their benefit.

The four-bagger is the ban on requiring federal workers to take courses rooted in “critical race theory” or theories of “white privilege” or “systemic racism” and the like. These programs are beyond malign. They are oppressive and sow strife, rather than ameliorate it.

Moreover, they are based in lies.

Any “theory” that is self-labeled “critical” is pseudo-scientific rubbish. If you want to do a deep dive into the subject (warning: you are risking your mental health if you do!), I recommend the New Discourses website. I will just hit a few highlights–or, more accurately, lowlights.

As New Discourses points out, critical theories tend to be rooted in Marxism, post-modernism, or a Frankenstein amalgam of both. To dive into the distinctions between Marxist and post-modern flavors of these theories is to court migraine. But there are some broad similarities that can be expressed succinctly.

To greatly oversimplify, but at the same time to capture the essence, critical theories deny objective truth. Instead, everything is “narrative,” and the narratives are simply brainwashing/propaganda intended to rationalize, justify, and perpetuate the power of certain classes. In the case of critical race theory, the class is white people.

These theories are essentially gnostic. The theorists claim to have special insights into hidden structures of power relationships, based on their unique ability to “deconstruct” (i.e., decode) hidden meanings in ordinary speech, literary texts, and even scientific works.

Ironically, the theorists claim that nothing that anyone else says is objectively true–but you are expected to take their deconstructions as truth.

The mechanism by which this process works is also unspecified. At least classic conspiracy theories involve identifiable conspirators, and acts of coordination among them. Theories claiming vast Masonic plots, for example, can at least point to secretive meetings among powerful people at Masonic lodges. But just how, exactly, do all white people (or all men, or all cis-people, or all hetero people, depending on the particular brand of critical theory) agree on the narrative, and agree to oppress The Other?

It is notorious that collusive arrangements are hard–and frequently impossible–to maintain, especially among large numbers of far-flung individuals, even if it is putatively in their collective interest for the conspiracy to succeed. How do these massive conspiracies survive the forces that make collective action very difficult to maintain, even within small groups, let alone within massive groups of strangers separated by space and time?

Critical theories do not even pose the question, let alone answer it: they basically advance a deus ex machina theory of causation.

Moreover, these theories tend to have the feature of pseudoscience that Popper pointed out eons ago: they are not refutable. The theory of “white privilege” (yeah, tell that one to my hillbilly ancestors and relatives, e.g., the Hatfields) is a perfect example. The premise is that all white people are racist. If you admit you are racist, well, QED. But if you deny you are racist, well, QED! Everyone is a winner! Your denial merely reflects your internalization of the white power structure and your steadfast refusal to admit it exists. Proof of how powerful that structure is!

The theory is always right. It cannot be disproven. That is the essence of pseudoscience.

The related theory of “systemic racism” is also pseudoscientific. It takes evidence of differences in outcomes among races as irrefutable evidence of racism (again produced by some unspecified coordination mechanism across hundreds of millions of individuals). Yes, one implication of the theory is that in a systemically racist society, blacks will experience worse outcomes (income, health, mortality, etc.) than whites. But there are alternative explanations for the same patterns that do not involve systemic racism. (Cf., inter alia, Thomas Sowell’s numerous books.)

That is, there are other hypotheses that are observationally equivalent to some implications of the systemic racism hypothesis. Rejection of the no-systemic-racism null does NOT imply acceptance of the systemic racism alternative hypothesis–a logical error that advocates of this theory repeat, usually at high volume and in high dudgeon. Other alternative hypotheses are also consistent with the rejection of the null. What is necessary is to find implications of systemic racism theory that differ from other theories that imply disparate outcomes, and to see which theory best explains the data.

But that’s where the Popperian element of pseudoscience kicks in: only racists deny that evidence of disparate outcome is not due to systemic racism.

The denial of objective truth in critical theories is a denial of all the premises of the Enlightenment, and all the methodologies of the Enlightenment–including the scientific method. Look around you, and witness all of the products of the Enlightenment that have freed you from the poverty, drudgery, and ignorance of the pre-Enlightenment. If you embrace critical theories, you are willingly throwing away all of those things.

Talk about Died of a Theory.

I would also note that there is a huge element of projection in critical theories, critical theorists, and those who embrace them. Recall that the core of critical theories is that they claim that social and cultural institutions, norms, and beliefs are merely instruments to advance and protect the power of one group (e.g., “white people” as if that is some kind of homogeneous group, cf., Ireland) over The Other. But it is abundantly clear that the advocates of critical theories have an overwhelming will to power. Deconstruction is merely a mechanism for them to dissolve existing institutions so that the gnostics can achieve the power to order things as they will. Thus, when those spouting critical theory say that everything is about power, they are revealing far more about themselves, than about the things and people that they critique.

And the fact that critical theories are merely a cloak to the will to power is exactly why the administration is absolutely correct in its efforts to banish the coercive propagation of such ideas to federal employees. Would that the administration find the legal means to banish it in other spheres as well, higher education included.

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  1. Thanks for the interesting article! Did you hear news about Turkish Stream? Turkey is going to buy almost zero gas from Gasprom. It’s so funny to remember how many people considered Turkish Stream to be huge achievement of Putin.

    Comment by mmt — September 7, 2020 @ 5:02 am

  2. As a landlord, I would like to comment on the first half of the article. For many years, I had rentals in SoCal. And, for many years I made good money on those properties, including a nice bump in equity along the way. Several of my tenants wonder why I raised their rent, when they had been with me for 3 or 5 or even 9 years. I felt they were owed an explanation so I wrote them back about the higher cost of insurance, and taxes(prop 13 helped, but didn’t stop inflation), and then there’s all the ancillary stuff that tacks on costs. Like when a tenant complains to the city about some detail of their home, and then the landlord has to go spend time and money to take care of it.

    Also the added trouble of the various commissions, and panels, and inspectors, and do-gooders that ‘help’ tenants avoid eviction. If a bad tenant can’t be evicted, or it costs $3000 to complete an eviction, those are costs borne by the landlord. Sadly, good tenants, just like bad tenants get those higher costs added on to their rent. My goal as a landlord is to provide clean, safe places to live while earning a modest 7-10% ROI per year, on which I pay taxes, so my after tax gains may be around 5-7%. When I evict someone, the ultimate cost assigned to that unit is around $5500 in lost rent, legal, cleaning and repairs. That means that others have to make up the loss so that I may maintain my profit margin. I’m straight up with the tenants on this, and tell them I invested millions of dollars in rental RE, and I did it to make money, not out of the goodness of my heart. It’s an investment, and they are paying dividends to me, while I provide them with a nice place to live.

    Tenants come up with some creative ways for me to manage my rentals so that they are not burdened with the added costs. To that I tell them that the entire market reacts the same. And whether my rents increase or the next owner raises the rent, it’s always due to rising costs, and rising costs are the result of bad tenants, and bad laws that are intended to ‘help’ tenants but they almost always result in rising rents, as they get more and more state sponsored help. Right now, finding a rental in SoCal has become quite difficult because like myself, most of the owners have sold and moved on to greener pastures. I’ve invested in TX, OK and NM. So far much better ROI, and most important much less hassle, and overhead costs. Tenants will always be tenants, but the overseers who are intended to make tenants life easier comes at a cost. Not a cost that I bear, but that they ultimately will always bear – unless the State decides to limit our ROI, in which case, there will ultimately be NO homes avail anymore because all landlords will leave the business and seek greener pastures in comm RE, stock market, coins, etc.

    Comment by doc — September 7, 2020 @ 10:45 am

  3. Snowflake

    Comment by [email protected] — September 8, 2020 @ 12:05 pm

  4. Critical Theory is nominally opposed to power structures: power that one group has over the oppressed, and it’s always one group. No prizes for guessing who that is. So they had a problem with “Black Power” and had to rebrand it as “BLM.” To keep your mind straight, when you read “BLM” subconsciously do a global replace with “Black Power.”

    Disclosure: I’m OK with Black Power. That’s what politics is about: power.

    Comment by Michael van der Riet — September 9, 2020 @ 11:32 pm

  5. If it’s all about power, then CRT folks have no moral case. When they come to power, they’ll just be the oppressors that others will fight to displace.

    Where’s the possibility and satisfaction of high moral dudgeon, when all one basically wants is to displace a set of looters, imprisoners, and murderers, in order to gain the opportunity to loot, imprison, and murder?

    Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

    The point that knocks the whole thing down is found in that old — very old — adage: better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

    Why would anyone now oppressed want a new oppressor? They’ve already figured out how to work their way around the old one.

    The whole pseudo-scholarship of critical theory, so very easy to refute, is further proof that there isn’t any idea so stupid that a large cadre of academics will not embrace it.

    Comment by Pat Frank — September 11, 2020 @ 9:52 pm

  6. @Michael van der Riet–Watching the BLM frenzy I have often been reminded of the Black Power movement of the 1960s. We are just seeing a reprise of what Tom Wolfe wrote about in Mau-mauing the Flack Catchers.

    Marx also comes to mind. Specifically his remark about history repeating itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. There was at least something of an objective justification for the Black Power movement of the 1960s. Any claim that such a justification exists today is farcical. The outrage is inversely related to the objective basis for it.

    Comment by cpirrong — September 12, 2020 @ 12:37 pm

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