Legitimacy and Efficacy

Joshua Cohen’s emphasis on deliberative democracy stresses the philosophical notion of legitimacy, which he frames in terms of justice, social justice, and equality. What is missing is any notion of efficacy—that is, do the claimed benefits actually obtain, and if they don’t, then why do they not? This kind of efficacy analysis is not usually performed because, for the political left, legitimacy is preeminent over efficacy.

One might be tempted to conclude that efficacy doesn’t matter, which is to say that consequences don’t matter, but that’s not quite true. Consequences do matter, but they’re tailored to be delivered to carefully selected groups, while taxing the one group with resources to tax, the American and British middle classes. So there’s a natural strategy of persuasion build into deliberative democracy, which is the latest in a long line of democracy-based influenced strategies:

I will end this note with an admittedly too-long quote from C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters:

Democracy is the word with which you must lead them by the nose. The good work which our philological experts have already done in the corruption of human language makes it unnecessary to warn you that they should never be allowed to give this word a clear and definable meaning. They won’t. It will never occur to them that democracy is properly the name of a political system, even a system of voting, and that this has only the most remote and tenuous connection with what you are trying to sell them. Nor of course must they ever be allowed to raise Aristotle’s question: whether “democratic behaviour” means the behaviour that democracies like or the behaviour that will preserve a democracy. For if they did, it could hardly fail to occur to them that these need not be the same.

You are to use the word purely as an incantation; if you like, purely for its selling power. It is a name they venerate. And of course it is connected with the political ideal that men should be equally treated. You then make a stealthy transition in their minds from this political ideal to a factual belief that all men are equal. Especially the man you are working on. As a result you can use the word democracy to sanction in his thought the most degrading (and also the least enjoyable) of human feelings. You can get him to practise, not only without shame but with a positive glow of self-approval, conduct which, if undefended by the magic word, would be universally derided.

The feeling I mean is of course that which prompts a man to say I’m as good as you.

I heard a phrase at the end of the 20th century, “the advertising ethic,” which means, “the truth is that which sells.” Cohen’s deliberative democracy, to the extend that it is based in ethics, is rooted in the advertising ethic because its efficacy or consequences never seem to be evaluated. In the real world, legitimacy is transformed into a strategy for persuasion, a kind of “get out of argument free” card. Causal critics are employed only as a cudgel to bash one’s political opponents. True ethics is based in efficacy, consequences, and results: as Jesus said,  “A tree is known by its fruits.”

Deliberative or Delusional Democracy?

I was traveling with a colleague of mine this weekend who brought up the concept of deliberative democracy (DD). Whenever thinking about DD, I turn immediately to Professor Joshua Cohen who is arguably one of the greatest geniuses of political philosophy in the history of the world—right up there with Plato, Kant, and Herbert Marcuse. Cohen defines DD with great sensitivity, learnedness, and dare I say, bravery—in 1989:

  1. An ongoing independent association with expected continuation.
  2. The citizens in the democracy structure their institutions such that deliberation is the deciding factor in the creation of the institutions and the institutions allow deliberation to continue.
  3. A commitment to the respect of a pluralism of values and aims within the polity.
  4. The citizens consider deliberative procedure as the source of legitimacy, and prefer the causal history of legitimation for each law to be transparent and easily traceable to the deliberative process.
  5. Each member recognizes and respects other members’ deliberative capacity.

DD can thus be thought of as the legislative process that we “owe” one another, which includes giving reasons for one’s proposals. Cohen’s DD is more of a theory of legitimacy that is based on the idea of achieving ideal deliberation.

Cohen presents deliberative democracy as more than a theory of legitimacy, and forms a body of substantive rights around it based on achieving “ideal deliberation”:

  1. It is free in two ways:
    1. The participants consider themselves bound solely by the results and preconditions of the deliberation. They are free from any authority of prior norms or requirements.
    2. The participants suppose that they can act on the decision made; the deliberative process is a sufficient reason to comply with the decision reached.
  2. Parties to deliberation are required to state reasons for their proposals, and proposals are accepted or rejected based on the reasons given, as the content of the very deliberation taking place.
  3. Participants are equal in two ways:
    1. Formal: anyone can put forth proposals, criticize, and support measures. There is no substantive hierarchy.
    2. Substantive: The participants are not limited or bound by certain distributions of power, resources, or pre-existing norms. “The participants…do not regard themselves as bound by the existing system of rights, except insofar as that system establishes the framework of free deliberation among equals.”
  4. Deliberation aims at a rationally motivated consensus: it aims to find reasons acceptable to all who are committed to such a system of decision-making. When consensus or something near enough is not possible, majoritarian decision making is used.

However, despite the soaring genius of Cohen and the heartbreaking beauty of his deliberative democracy, there is one slight problem, and that problem is—reality.

You could imagine whatever the collective noun is for philosophers, lawyers, and political scientists—let’s call it a murder—encamping in a legislature, parliament, congress, or the supreme soviet to debate and reach agreements. But the fact remains that agreements reached by that murder has no bearing on the outside world. There’s a kind of mania or delusion that occurs in such deliberative bodies in which those high on status and their own egos image the benighted souls not privy to the deliberations are waiting outside, breathlessly, for word of the vote and the agreements to they can be instructed on how to lead their lives. The fact that this is true is indicated by the number of councils and committees who have oil portraits done of themselves at testaments to their sagacity, virtue, and selflessness. In fact, these have just been prohibited in the US Congress.

YPC wouldn’t really mind though if these murderers did a good job—after all, rank has its privileges (RHIP)—but the fact of the matter is that these legislatures and the decisions they generate are terrible, and the fact that these murderers feel that their activities merit oil portraits is jus a single manifestation of delusional democracy.

Alexis de Tocqueville argued explicitly after traveling the length and breadth of this land taking notes and thinking about what he saw—as opposed to merely reading extensively the other theorists from one’s democracy echo-chamber and contemplating what one has read from one’s Ivory tower academic perch—said that democracy does not promote excellence and that democracy so overtakes one’s mind that one forgets that other matters like, reality.

The examples are near endless, starting with King Canute in 1027. His flattering courtiers engaged in deliberative democracy and decided that Canute could order the tide to stop. Canute ordered his throne placed on the beach and ordered the tide not to come in, and yet it did come in. Now Professor Cohen may argue that the illegitimate monarchical order of Canute could not stop the tide but an agreement arrived at through deliberative democracy could, but YPC has his doubts.

And yet the shortcomings of democracy keep on coming. Specifically, I think of the American and British government’s experiment with deliberative democracy in the 1990s in which they sought to reflect the will of their people. As it turns out however, the British people didn’t care to deliberate matters like bridge maintenance until they had deferred said maintenance for so long that the bridges, like London Bridge, were falling down. So as it turns out, deliberative democracy when implemented in its extreme for guaranteed an almost maximally dysfunctional society, but the citizens could warm themselves with the knowledge that the decisions were stamped with the imprimatur of deliberative democracy while their bridges were falling down, which is, in its own way, delusional too.

So too, the ballot issues in California form another kind of extreme democracy that is ultimately unworkable. I remember looking at a ballot with tens of confusingly worded questions and thinking, “I’m a smart guy who’s really interested and can’t keep this stuff straight. How is this going to work across the whole population in the whole state?” The answer is confusingly and poorly. But sadly, that’s the way California has been going for decades. Deliberative democracy works great in theory, it’s just that when applied in reality, it turns into delusional democracy.

The Trump-Davos Convergence

If history gods have a sense of humor, then they were on full display last Friday with the explicitly nationalist presidency of Donald J. Trump (DJT) starting on the same day that Davos was ending. This apocalyptic convergence of ideological opposites lead to endless reports of a nationalist miasma impacting the distinctly and explicitly pro-globalization Davos attendees. Its distressing to know that some of the attendees were so worried that it reduced their enjoyment of the conference, but these are indeed unusual and difficult times.

But how difficult are these times for the globalization project, and what can be expected to happen to globalization? Firstly, there is the matter of the reasons behind the project. Dick Cheney was decidedly pro-globalization, though that’s one supporter that Klaus Schwab may wish to forget, said that globalization can help many of the world’s poorest lift themselves from poverty while hurting very few people.

The problem is this isn’t quite true: it’s probably more accyrate to say that the benefits of globalization are concentrated and felt quickly while the costs of globalization are more diffuse and become apparent over the long-term. Although my experience is getting ever more seasoned, academia moves slowly, and the fields of economics and political economics don’t have a great track record of accounting for diffuse and long-term costs.

Moreover, some well-known economists were reduced to mere emotional political cheering rather than rational policy analysis during the Trump-Davos convergence. Reading the tweets of Nouriel Roubini of NYU, Dan Drezner of Tufts, Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group, and Paul Krugman of the New York Times definitely let me to wonder if perhaps their partisanship couldn’t be—uhm—somewhat better camouflaged. Also, please note that these were not the most egregious examples but merely those who most readily came to mind.

However, rather than casting stones seeing as how your poor correspondent (YPC) lives in a partisan glass house, let us instead consider how the economic analytic lacuna of long-term costs might be better addressed. What the Davos attendees call “populism” and what DJT and YPC call “nationalism” is fundamentally a group of political actors who have every right to organize and articulate their interests, even if that does upset the Davos attendees. Political economists Jeff Frieden and David Lake would recognize this split immediately as the traditional ideological separation of Nationalism, Marxism, and Liberalism has been augmented with the analytic tensions of elites and populations and institutions and economics. That is, with DJT and Davos, we see the classic tensions of elite institutions and the welfare of populations made manifest.

Recognizing this tension however begs the question of how the politics will play out over time. The Davos attendees fretted that the institutions of the post-war liberal international economic order (LIEO) such as the IMF, WTO, UN, and the World Bank will wither and die under the assault of populism and nationalism. To this YPC responds “perhaps,”  but rather than worrying about the future of these institutions, perhaps it would be better to consider what motivates these critics, consider why their criticisms were not heard, and then develop analytic methods and tools to address these issues. Just a suggestion.

Left’s Narrative Fail

On the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, Your Poor Correspondent (YPC) must confess that he was confused by the leftists’ reaction, both in Washington, DC and Davos. Part of their distress seems to have been driven by their narrative falling apart. That is, the absence of Barack Obama and the presence of Donald Trump both elicits extreme emotion and indicates that something significant has changed. But the meaning of what has changed remains—elusive.

The problem the left has is an unexpected one, which is based on the tension between the social and natural environments. The social environment is based on popularity, the status of a person in the group, which is achieved in various ways. In democracies like the Unites States, popularity and status can lead directly to leadership. Moreover, the powerful media are kingmakers who have perfected the dark art of building up and tearing down status. Barack Obama is the media’s creation because he received glowing press coverage and very, very little negative reporting. It is for this reason that Obama was able to claim after a string of scandals including Obamacare, Benghazi, Internal Revenue Service, Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Iran appeasement, and epic deficits that his administration was the first in history that was free of scandal. From this purely social worldview, it the press doesn’t report it, then it didn’t happen.

The social environment however isn’t the final arbiter of success, the natural environment, physical world, or reality is. The problem is that reality is messy, hard, and often unpleasant, which works against the popularity and status of the social environment. Moreover, the policies and actions taken by popular leaders have consequences, and those consequences are ultimately the measure by which they should be evaluated and judged. In the long run though, consequences rather than popularity matters. This perspective is holistic, which makes it in turn holy. At some point, in some way, the social and natural environments must align. So the political left, who concentrate almost exclusively on the social environment, this results in a set of cognitive pathologies including an emphasis on speech, image, and intentions rather than technical competence, results, and history. It seems unlikely that the left will turn away from the behaviors that have led, until recently, to such great political success. However, paying attention to the details of policy consequences might help to explain the recent success of populist candidates. It also suggests that democracy is working as it was supposed to do.

 

Davos and Populism

One of the major themes of Davos has been the lack of understanding and appreciation of populism, which has three tightly interrelated populist components: (1) nationalism, (2) income, and (3) crime. The disconnect can be understood in contrast with political establishment concerns of: (1) globalism; (2) equality; and (3) struggle. From a systems perspective, note how the populist concerns are “bottom-up”, those of everyday, middle-class, law-abiding people who simply want to pursue their lives. The establishment concerns are, in contrast “top-down”, set up to achieve equal results in opposition to the process of life and living.

The Davos attendees are the epitome of the top-down political establishment, who play with the lives of middle-class people as if they were chess pieces to achieve the results they desire, envision, and have promised to their funders. And yes, there are always funders because it is incredibly expensive to attend these functions and live that lifestyle, which after a while, after you taste that lifestyle, maintaining that lifestyle becomes the goal as opposed to pursuing some highter abstract goal. I remember when I went to MIT and started pursuing my personal research interests. After a time, it became apparent that I needed to find some funding, and that meant pursuing somebody else’s research interests rather than my own. The term “poitically correct” has come to encompass those interests that are rigorously enforced by these top-down establishment funders.

The opposite is the bottom-up way of pursuing system change, and one of the best articulations that I’ve seen is D. Scott Mann’s Game Changers: Going local to defeat violent extremists. In Afghanistan, America and its NATO allies pursued a top-down approach out of Kabul for eight ineffective years. The war was pursued out of Kabul because the capital was in Kabul, diplomats felt comfortable in Kabul, and Americans knew their way around Kabul. The problem is, Afghanistan is not Kabul, and the American-supported Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) was not connecting with the people because they were not out among the people. That Taliban, in contrast, were out among the people, and by 2009, it became glaringly apparent that something needed to change, so US Army Special Forces (SF) or Green Berets left Kabul, left the big fortified bases, and went out to live among the people. There SF came to appreciate the villages of Afghanistan and the lives of Afghans.  They listened to the concerns of the people, began to understand what “right looked like,”  and took steps to improve their lives not from hundreds of miles away in the capital but from right next door in their villages.

The political establishment might do well to learn the lessons of SF because the mountain town of Davos is just as removed from the concerns of middle-class Americans, Britons, and Germans as Kabul was from the average Afghan. That is, senior government decision-makers cannot formulate and deliver policy top-down from within an insulated diplomatic bubble. This is a lesson that keeps needed to be relearned, which in retrospect seems so unnecessary and costly. However, ignoring the bottom-up concerns of the people one’s government is supposed to represent is dangerous for the establishment because the status they have come to enjoy can be taken away by populism more quickly and permanently than they think possible.

Davos System

The number of globalist establishment talking heads tut-tutting over threats to the Liberal International Economic Order (LIEO) seem to be never ending: Xi, Biden, Summers, Lagarde, Khalid al-Falih, Kerry (actually half of those who came to mind are American, huh?). The LIEO involves a set of trade, currency, and institutional relationship that have helped to form the international system since World War II, most notably starting with Bretton Woods in 1944.

However, these so-called luminaries are beneficiaries of the LIEO system, they work in the system, they talk about the system, they may be considered leaders of the system, and they may even feel deeply about the system, but they don’t understand the system. Now what is meant by that? It means that they don’t understand that the LIEO because it differentially generates costs and benefits, the balance of which changes over time. Specifically, after WWII the United States was sitting pretty with pretty much all the world’s wealth. Great position, but one can’t expect that to last. A dynamic has developed over the past 70 years now in which American politicians travel the world dispensing advice and wealth to adoring and appreciative crowds, which is fun for the American politicians and the foreign crowds, but not so fund for the American taxpayers. So long as America had most of the world’s wealth, it all worked out; but now that it no longer does, the dynamic has come to an end. That is the problem.

The costs associated with American preeminent leadership—that is, hegemony—also include global environmental degradation that will eventually limit the combination of economic and population growth. Already large migration flows are resulting due to the inability of geographic regions to support the populations they generate. Traditionally LIEO counties accepted American hegemony so long as they were paid for their allegiance. For example, European countries became welfare states with the money they didn’t have to pay for defense because the Americans provided their defense. Once again, this can no longer be the case, which is especially problematic with a resurgent Russia. The dynamic of the LIEO adjusting to the reduced ability of the United States to provide wealth transfers, foreign aid, and defense to LIEO members will dominate international relations for years to come. Where it will end, nobody knows.

Davos Man

It has been asked, “Why are Davos elites always wrong?” and it’s a fair question. Last year at Davos, nobody expected Great Britain to leave the European Union or for Donald Trump to become president, and yet they both did. The primary reason that the Davos attendees always get everything wrong is that their intellectual project is normative rather than positive—that is, it’s based on “the way things should be” rather than “the way things are,” which is required for accurate prediction.

The globalist intellectual predisposition of Davos was captured by the term, “Davos Man,” which was coined by Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington. He described Davos attendees as “transnationals” who hold three core beliefs. First, they see very little need for national loyalty; second, they view national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing; and third, they see national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the elite’s global operations. What results is a perspective that views nationalism not as part of the natural order but as something harmful to be overcome, a vestigial remain of a less sophisticated era. However, if the twentieth century has taught us anything, it’s that large-scale social change projects undertaken based on utopian visions and inadequate understanding of the social systems inevitably end in disaster. The Soviet Union is perhaps the largest example, but the social policy of Detroit, the replacement of Penn Station with Madison Square Garden, and the destruction of Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow all provide similar examples. In the twenty-first century, the recent devastation of Venezuela provides an instructive case as well as the ongoing disasters of Stockholm, London, Paris, and Cologne due to excessive Muslim immigration. There is doubtless considerable social capital captured in nationalism, capital that underlies and makes possible the Davos meeting itself. However it appears that the grandees in attendance, the Davos People, are scarcely aware of what makes their attendance possible, so busy are they listening to themselves talk and congratulating themselves for being there.

Shakira at Davos

An important part of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting at Davos involves inviting stars who the billionaires and world leaders may not have met before. For example, the 2016 meeting ended with a cello performance by Zoe Keating. While excellent, I found wondering what this piece had to do with the world economy but was nevertheless happy that a talented musician was recognized.

This year Shakira will be attending to promote her “Barefoot Foundation” organization which helps vulnerable and impoverished children through quality education. While your poor correspondent (YPC) has certainly heard of Shakira, he can’t proclaim himself to be a fan. However, if Klaus Schwab has invited Shakira to Davos, YPC takes this as an opportunity to learn more about her work.

Shakira’s first US single was “Whenever, Whatever“, which goes back to 2001 and has 330M hits. That’s further back than I thought, and 330M is a lot of hits. Shakira’s music is a blend of world music and rock with a heavy Latin influence, which is not surprising as she is Columbian and lives in Spain. There is also a lot of dancing.

The Shakira expert living in our house, who I did not know was a Shakira expert, then told me the next song I must listen to is “Hips Don’t Lie“, which is from 2006 and has 400M hits. This Shakira expert then sang and extended section of the song and performed several dance moves of which I did not know she was capable. She also told me that Shakira’s baby is, “totally cute.”

Finally, Shakira recorded “Waka, Waka (This time for Africa)” for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and has received 1.3 billion hits, which is a lot. I can’t say that I’m a huge Shakira fan, but I’m thankful for knowing more about her know and am especially impressed by her longevity, the professional quality of her videos, and the views they have received. So I feel like Klaus Schwab has helped me to make a connection and learn more about globe, and isn’t that really what Davos is all about?

The Davos Question

Welcome to the 2017 version of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos. This meeting has been going on in various forms since 1971, when it was known as the European Management Forum, but today it is known for its over-the-top excess. Two years ago, it was reported that 1700 private jets flew into Davos for the meeting to discuss global warming. This is not the kind of headline that WEF’s founder, Klaus Schultz, desires because while the Davos annual meeting in is known for its parties, famous people, and even the skiing, but Shultz wants the meeting to be known for the high-minded exchange of ideas, and not just any ideas, but globalist ideas.

While Davos has had a good run pursuing globalism, the mood in 2017 is less optimistic as there has been unprecedented pushback in the form of “populism,” which is more properly though of as “nationalism.” This essay is about trying to understand the tensions between these two perspectives, the globalist and nationalist. The globalist perspective goes back to the beginning of modern international relations (IR) after the beginning of World War I with the advent of the Carnegie Endowment for International Affairs, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the League of Nations, all of which were allied to further the worthy if elusive goal of ending war. There is a traditional tension within IR between the study of war and economics, between guns and butter. Pacifists concentrate on economics to help avoid war.

In its modern form, the WEF concentrates on a palate of issues that extend far beyond economics: (1) 4th industrial revolution, (2) responsive / responsible leadership, (3) global collaboration, (4) building positive identities (Soros), (5) fixing market capitalism, and (6) restoring economic growth. Beyond that this years WEF annual meeting will feature advocates for basic income, borderless migration, and women’s equality. A first this year will be the attendance of China’s president, Xi Jinping, who will be attending as an advocate of globalism. Seeing how China has taken such a lead as a world trading power, it has a vested interest in reducing national borders and nationalism. 

But the conspicuous consumption at Davos and the virtue signaling of the WEF serve to detract from the fundamental question of who is paying for all this? The WEF sells memberships, and the higher the level of membership, the better the access. The WEF webpage is understandably coy about the cost of membership, but let’s just say that if you have to ask you can’t afford it and the WEF  does pretty well.

One might gain some insight into how WEF by looking at how the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) or Clinton Foundation is funded. Why is that? That is, why might the two organizations be considered similar? CGI notably features a similar palette of policy concerns. They are concerned about women’s issues, homosexual rights, wealth inequality, economic opportunity, and migration. In other word, CGI advocates the standard set of politically correct issues of the international political establishment.

However, the sources of GCI’s funding, being an American institution, is easier to determine than WEF’s. GGI’s funding comes from multiple countries including Saudi Arabia, who donated over $10 million, the Ukraine, which has donated millions, and Lebanese-Nigerian developer who donated more than $5 million dollars. Other significant donors to CGI include the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Brunei, and Algeria. These are not countries that are noted for their notably progressive policies. In fact, these countries are often noted for their repression of women, intolerance towards gays, persecution of journalists, and corruption of their institutions.

So why do such countries give so much money to the Clinton Foundation? Bill and Hillary Clinton contend that CGI is a charity, that those who contribute do so because of the good work the Clintons do, and that anyone who questions CGI is opposed to charity and good works. This is of course highly suspect as Hillary Clinton was the US Secretary of State and a candidate for the US Presidency while CGI was collecting funds. In fact, Hillary Clinton made a range of ethically questionable policy decisions as Secretary of State that were described by Peter Schweizer’s Clinton Cash, the reporting of which was rewarded with endless denials and counter-accusations by Hillary’s campaign. Schweizer describes possibly influenced decisions made in Kazakhstan, Russia, India, Africa, Columbia, Haiti, as well as the global banks. Any one of those policy decisions that looks like shady deals might be able to be explained away, but in an international environment in which relationships are essentially transactional, the Clintons’ overall pattern reveals a disturbing pattern of behavior.

Examining the sources of the Clinton Foundation’s stated goals, its funding sources, and the decisions Hillary Clinton made as Secretary of State and those she might have made as president of the United States reveals a significant disconnect that has been noted by other investigative journalists and inadequately explained by political operatives. Because the idea that foreign governments are giving “extra” money to the Clintons to do work is very, very implausible, it therefore appears that the donors are getting something in return that is being hidden by the laudable goals so visible on the Clinton Foundation‘s website.

In conclusion, it is worth considering if the combination of WEF’s well-advertised good works and intentions combined with the sky-high entrance fees needed to attend and participate in the annual meeting at Davos, which is so similar to the Clinton Foundation, results in similar transactions that its participants would prefer to be hidden. Clearly Davos has invested over forty years of effort into a meeting that has a quality of participant and status that those with the money find it valuable to attend. But what might be available that is of sufficient value to be traded? Rich countries have assets that are immensely valuable, and several of Secretary of State Clinton’s shady deals allowed foreigners granted access those assets so long as the donation to the Clinton Foundation was large enough. The globalism advocated by WEF involves a similar commitment to the reduction of sovereignty. This reduction goes under the name of globalism, which by definition involves a diminution of sovereignty and national borders. Because there are good reasons for sovereignty and borders, the WEF’s advocacy of globalism has resulted in a reaction they call “populism” but could also be called “nationalism.” The WEF says that the populist reaction should be listened to, but whether it will be remains to be seen.

CNN’s Russian Intelligentsia

Just have a minute to dash off something quickly, but Your Poor Correspondent‘s (YPC’s) wants to focus on Glenn Greenwald’s recent article, “The Deep State Goes to War With President-Elect, Using Unverified Claims, as Democrats Cheer.” The article is based on reports released by both CNN and Buzzfeed that Russia had compiled a dossier on incoming president Donald Trump that featured all manner of sexual impropriety.

Even with YPC’s dilettante-level intelligence analysis capabilities, it was pretty clear that this dossier, a 35 page of very specious innuendo, had major problems. But that didn’t prevent CNN and Buzzfeed to run with it. They did, and it was discredited fairly quickly and had continued to be increasingly discredited over time.

And yet the report has been accepted by smart people who should otherwise know better, and I’m thinking particularly of economists and political economists. It seems that having a PhD makes one even more included to accept the idea that Trump, Comey, or the American public was influenced by Russia, when it is far more likely that the Clinton Foundation was judged as corrupt, Hillary Clinton was deemed unlikable, or the emails of her campaign manager, John Podesta, were seen as creepy.

But on the night the so-called “dossier”—if a bunch of obviously made up allegations can be called a “dossier”—I counted like five otherwise intelligent people who immediately believed the dossier, believed it with minor qualifications or misgivings, or found the dossier not credible but “thought it was funny” or “if it’s not true, it should be true.”

Much of this agreement by otherwise intelligent people is driven not only by selection bias, the idea of agreeing with evidence that conforms to one’s previously established ways of thinking, but the effect is magnified by the persistent leftward bias of journalists and academics as well as the power and pervasiveness of the mainstream media. The result is the groupthink of a dominant narrative in which the political establishment, which includes the intelligentsia of academics and journalists, are very invested. They are well compensated and, to use a Marxist phrase, control the “commanding heights” of political and economic power. Trump represents an “existential threat” to that power, and it will not be wrested from them without a fight.