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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire March No. 2, organ version]
01 — Intro. And Radio Derb is on the air! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is your meritocratically genial host John Derbyshire with some topics from the news.
As you may perceive, all is not well with my upper respiratory tract. I have the fall cold — a consequence, according to my research assistant Sandy, or going out in the rain without my overshoes.
This podcast will therefore be a race between me and the rhinovirus, to see if I can get through my topics before my voice gives out. Let the race begin!
02 — Fifty years of demographic revolution. This weekend, ladies and gentlemen, marks a dismal anniversary. On October 3rd, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Immigration Act of that year.
The 1965 Act did two big things, and a multitude of small ones.
The first big thing it did was to abolish the old national-origins quotas, established in 1921, revised in 1924 and 1929. The idea of the quotas was to maintain demographic stability by limiting settlement from any European country to some fixed percent of that country's representation in a recent census.
The 1921 Act used the 1910 census as its benchmark. The 1924 Act used the 1890 census in order to reduce the quota numbers on South and East Europeans, who it was thought did not make as good citizens as north and west Europeans. The 1929 revision went to the 1920 census.
That was the national-origins quota system set up in the 1920s, abolished by the 1965 Act. To present-day sensibilities it all sounds very horrible. "Whaddya mean, an Italian or a Pole doesn't make as good a citizen as a German or Irishman? Whoa!"
That was then, though, and this is now. And personally, I decline to join in the screaming and fainting. I take the old-fashioned view that a nation has the right to admit for settlement whomever it pleases, on any grounds at all, rational or otherwise. It's up to the people of that nation and their legislators to say who they want to settle. It's not up to foreigners.
If, say, New Zealand were to decide that they won't admit for settlement any red-haired people, or people with unsightly moles, or people who think that "criteria" is a singular noun, that's their business.
If, when I applied for U.S. citizenship in 2001, the immigration authorities had said: "Sorry, pal, we don't like the look of your teeth, and we have enough Brits anyway," it would not have occurred to me that I had any grounds for complaint. I might have wheedled and pleaded a bit — "Come on, just one more won't hurt, and I'll find an orthodontist, I promise" — but if they'd sent me back to Blighty at last I would have understood. This country belongs to Americans. It's for them and their legislators to say who they want joining them.
That is of course an outrageously reactionary viewpoint, and I won't scandalize you further with it.
Those 1920s quotas applied to Europeans, by the way. Americans at that time didn't want immigrants from Africa or Asia at all. A few hundred were admitted on exceptional bases, but they weren't allowed to naturalize.
Latin America was also left out of the quotas. Within an absolute and quite low ceiling on total immigration, Western Hemisphere numbers were not restricted, although there were literacy tests and job requirements that kept them low in practice.
As always when discussing our grandfathers' views and laws on immigration, you have to remember that what we now call the Third World didn't seem very consequential to them. It occupied very little space in their minds.
Africa, Asia, and Latin America weren't just civilizationally inconsequential, they were numerically inconsequential compared with the developed world, the white world.
Population of the British Isles, Britain and Ireland, in 1921: 47.3 million. Population of Mexico in 1921: 13.9 million. So there were only thirty percent as many Mexicans as Brits back then.
Population of the British Isles today: 68.6 million. Population of Mexico: 120.3 million. So today there are 75 percent more Mexicans than Brits. If you throw in the thirty or forty million people of Mexican origin in the U.S.A., it's over twice as many. There are people alive today who have seen the ratio of Mexicans to Brits go from thirty percent to two hundred percent.
And yes, as well as being numerically not worth thinking about much, back then the black, brown, and yellow nations weren't civilizationally consequential. Today Pakistan has the atom bomb. In 1921 Pakistan didn't even exist!
That's the story of our age. Across a single lifetime the nonwhite peoples have gone from being backward and few to modern and many — way many. The civilizational gap has closed, technologically if not politically; the demographic gap hasn't merely closed, it's flipped.
Half the issues we argue about have numbers like that behind them. Immigration especially: If you don't know the numbers, haven't engaged with the numbers, nothing you say about immigration is worth listening to. "Numbers are of the essence."
OK, so there was this national quota system set up in the 1920s. Was it fair? As I've said, I don't think that's a meaningful question. You might as well ask: Was it turquoise? It was what the American people wanted, so it was what their legislators gave them. That's called "democracy."
The 1965 Act abolished the national origins quota system. Why? And what was the second big thing the 1965 Act did? I'm going to need another segment.
03 — The Great Society's most thoughtless act. Why did the 1965 Act abolish the national-origins quota system?
Well, much of it had gone by the board anyway by 1965. The Chinese Exclusion Act, for example, had been repealed in 1943 out of deference to an ally in the war against Japan. The previous year, 1942, had seen the Bracero program to bring in contract labor from Mexico. The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 brought in half a million war refugees, mostly from Europe. The McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 ended most remaining racial restrictions. Other tinkerings and adjustments had been made.
So by 1965 the national-origins quota system had come considerably unraveled, though overall numbers were still kept low.
Two other factors were: the Cold War, and the civil rights movement. The two factors worked together in a sort of feedback loop.
The Cold War wasn't just a military competition, remember; it was a competition for prestige. There was a widespread feeling that the U.S.S.R., with its egalitarian ethos, had a moral edge over the U.S.A., with its segregated drinking fountains and such.
Here's an old Russian joke from Cold War days. Ivan, the generic Russian Everyman, is in conversation with a Communist Party official.
Ivan: Is it true that an engineer in America makes four times the salary of an engineer here in the Soviet Union?
So that was the mood at the time in America: a general feeling that some moral cleaning-up needed to be done on the race business, in part for its own sake, in part to show the rest of the world that it wasn't only the communists who had ideals about human equality.
It was in that atmosphere that the 1965 Act was written and voted on.
The second big thing the 1965 Act did was to change the balance between skills-based immigration and family reunification. It changed the balance rather strongly towards the family-reunification side, downgrading skill requirements. Seventy-four percent of settlement visas were allocated to family reunification — a proportion that has kept pretty steady ever since.
The politics behind this was straightforward. The labor unions, which in those far-off days still saw it as their business to protect the American working man, didn't want floods of skilled labor coming in to depress wages; and ethnic lobbies — which in those same days meant mainly East Europeans — wanted to bring relatives here.
The opening-up of immigration from the Third World, where families are bigger, pushed skill-based immigration further … into the shadows, if you like. There is no shortage of applications for family-reunification visas. That's why we not only got the Texas clock boy Ahmed Mohamad and his Dad, Mohamed Mohamad, we got his invalid illiterate grandma, too.
The 1965 Act thus replaced the strictly limited immigration regime of the previous forty years, whose main goal was demographic stability, with a mighty flood of immigrants, mostly from the Third World.
A mighty flood it truly has been. I've just been reading this September 28th report out of the Pew Research Center. Opening sentence, quote:
Fifty years after passage of the landmark law that rewrote U.S. immigration policy, nearly 59 million immigrants have arrived in the United States, pushing the country's foreign-born share to a near record 14 percent.
Fifty-nine million. Did the U.S.A. of 1965 need 59 million more people? Was that the goal of the 1965 Act?
Not according to its sponsors. The Senate floor manager for the Act, when it was still a bill, was Teddy Kennedy. Quote from him at the time, quote:
Under the proposed bill, the present level of immigration remains substantially the same …
That came with a raft of other promises: the promise, for example, to quote Senator Kennedy again, that, quote:
The ethnic mix of this country will not be upset …
Those assurances from Kennedy, and all the others, turned out to be false.
So what actually was the goal of the 1965 Act?
Ann Coulter, in a fine spirited column the other day, boiled it down to party politics. The Democrats, she wrote, knew they'd never get their progressive agenda through a supermajority-white electorate, so they decided to bring in a new electorate.
Well,it's certainly turned out that way. As Ann notes, quote:
Obama beat Romney by less than 5 million votes in a Presidential election in which about 125 million votes were cast. More than 30 million of Obama's votes came from people who arrived under Teddy Kennedy's immigration law; fewer than 10 million of Romney's did.
With all respect to Ann, whom I love like a sister, I don't buy her thesis of a deliberate plan to replace the electorate. Our politicians just don't think that far ahead. We're lucky if we can get them to think beyond the next election.
And the congressional votes on the bill sure don't look party political. True, only two percent of House Democrats voted against the bill; but only eight percent of Republicans did. The other 92 percent of Republicans voted for it. (I'm ignoring abstentions here.)
In the Senate the balance was actually reversed: only eleven percent of Republicans voted Nay, versus twenty-one percent of Democrats. There were conservative Democrats in those days, remember.
Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity. In any country, at any time, totally outdated views of the rest of the world are the norm among people who don't think much. The English people I grew up among in the 1950s all thought of France in terms of Gay Paree hedonism, the Folies Bergère and such, as if we were still in the Belle Époque of the 1890s. In fact 1950s France was prim and dull.
These congresscritters of 1965 didn't have their finger on the world's demographic pulse. They didn't spend their free time poring over population projections for Africa and Asia. Mentally, demography-wise, they were still in the 1920s, when the world's nonwhites didn't really count, weren't really important, and existed mainly so that they, the congresscritters, could make grand moral gestures.
Making grand moral gestures is a thing politicians really, really like doing; and they never liked it more than in the Johnson administration, the high tide of American liberal triumphalism.
Theodore White said that the 1965 Act was, quote, "probably the most thoughtless of the many acts of the Great Society." Historian Roger Daniels said, quote: "Had Congress fully understood its consequences, it almost certainly would not have passed."
A different historian, eighty years earlier, had famously said that the British Empire was acquired, quote, "in a fit of absence of mind." A lot of stuff happens like that.
04 — What's wrong with demographic stability? Just to round off this commemoration of the 1965 Immigration Act, I note that this year marks another immigration anniversary: the 20th anniversary of the publication, in the Spring of 1995, of Peter Brimelow's immigration bestseller Alien Nation.
Peter discusses the 1965 Act at length in Chapter Four of his book. Here is a longish quote from the end of that chapter. Quote:
In the end, Americans have to ask themselves very specific questions about the immigration flood unleashed upon their country by the politicians in 1965:
Just to wrap up the topic here: I've never seen anything wrong with that old ideal of demographic stability. What is wrong with demographic stability?
I've often pondered the following question, for example. Go back to the early 1960s, when the U.S. population was, to a first approximation, 90 percent white European, ten percent black African or mulatto, and other races at trace levels.
The outstanding social issue at that time was race — segregation, and all the issues associated with it.
If we had held on to the principle of demographic stability, kept immigration at low levels, might we have had a better shot at tackling the race issue?
I didn't say "solving it." In my opinion it can't be dispositively solved. Could we, though, have dealt with it more wisely, more fairly, with better results, without the distraction of mass immigration further confusing the ethnic mix?
We shall never know. The 1965 Act happened, the demographic revolution is under way, and we have to cope with the consequences as best we can. I can't help but wonder, though.
He'll simplify the tax code! He'll raise the income-tax threshold so millions of low-paid workers pay nothing! He'll reduce corporate tax! Eliminate penalties and deductions!
Please forgive my cynicism. Income tax is like the speed of light: It's a universal constant.
I was a salaried employee for thirty years, single and married, in two big modern English-speaking countries, under Labour, Tory, Democrat, and Republican administrations. Every one of those years I paid close to thirty percent of my income in taxes. The proportion never varied much.
It's the same if you look at it through the other end of the telescope. I am in fact, at this moment, looking at two charts created from the annual US Census Statistical Abstracts for the period from 1950 through 2009.
First chart, title: Total US Tax Revenue as a Percentage of GDP. The numbers went up a bit from 1950 to 1960, but since then it's been amazingly flat, the line totally contained between 15 and 20 percent.
Second chart, title: US Tax Revenue as a Fraction of GDP by Component. So this is just the previous chart but with that one line broken out into four. The four lines are for: income tax, corporate tax, social insurance, and miscellaneous. The income tax is the one that most interests me, and again it's surprisingly level. It dipped down below seven percent in 1965, and there was a wee peak up to ten percent in 2000; otherwise federal income tax receipts were seven, eight, nine percent steadily through sixty years.
That's truly amazing when you consider that, for example, the top marginal tax rate, the rate paid by the wealthiest Americans, was 92 percent in the 1950s, and today is only 40 percent.
So excuse me for doubting that anyone much is going to do anything much about taxes. Not Donald Trump, and not Bernie Sanders, who's also come out with a tax plan. Bernie naturally wants to soak the rich, with a return to those 90 percent marginal tax rates we had back in the Eisenhower administration. Uh-huh.
I feel the same about politicians promising to simplify the tax code. Don't people remember anything? Ronald Reagan promised to simplify the tax code — and he actually did, bless him. Then we looked away for half an hour, and when we looked back the tax code was more barnacled than ever.
I tell you, we're dealing with universal constants here, like the speed of light or the rest mass of an electron. I guess politicians feel they have to talk about this stuff, but personally I just tune it out.
Soak the rich? The rich will figure out a way to stay dry; or rather, their tax accountants will figure out a way for them. Seriously rich people don't buy a cup of coffee without running it by their accountants. Simplify the tax code? Then what will congresscritters do to retain the affections of their donors?
I call my philosophy here "tax fatalism." Embrace it! Taxes are all built in to the structure of spacetime, somehow. Understanding tax isn't a matter of economics; it's tensor calculus. Insh'allah.
06 — Fall of the meritocracy. How do you feel about meritocracy? You know, the idea that the people who rise to the top in society should be those who are smartest and most capable?
If you ask the average person that question, he'll probably say, "Yeah, that's the fairest way to do things. Sure better than the old aristocratic idea of rising to the top because of who you're born to."
What in fact could be more American than meritocracy? Isn't that what our country is all about — shucking off those old aristocratic privileges and letting everyone rise by his own talents?
Well, maybe. I started out early in life with a more ambivalent attitude to meritocracy. This was because of British sociologist Michael Young, who actually coined the word "meritocracy" in a book he published in 1958, title: The Rise of the Meritocracy. By the time I got to college in 1963, every thoughtful young person had read the book, and we talked about it a lot.
The book is a satire on an imagined Britain of the future in which everyone is scored on merit, defined to mean IQ plus effort. Society ends up totally stratified by merit. At last the low-merit underclass stages a revolution, and high-merit elites get stomped to death by the mob.
Plainly Michael Young didn't think meritocracy was necessarily a good thing. He was in fact an old-school socialist, a firm believer in human equality, both innate equality and equality of outcomes.
OK, forward 57 years. What should we think of meritocracy today? As I said, most people vaguely approve of it. The best people should get the best outcomes, right? Isn't that fair?
The problem is that we know things now we didn't know in 1958. Here's a longish quote, quote:
However, there's a problem here — let's call it the challenge posed by behavioural genetics — which is that cognitive ability and other characteristics that lead to success, such as conscientiousness, impulse control and a willingness to defer gratification, are between 40 per cent and 80 per cent heritable. I know that many people will be reluctant to accept that, but the evidence from numerous studies of identical twins separated at birth, as well as non-biological siblings raised in the same household, is pretty overwhelming. And it's probable that in the next few years genetic research scientists will produce even more evidence that important aspects of people's personalities — including those that determine whether they succeed or fail — are linked to their genes, with the relevant variants being physically identified.
End longish quote.
The writer there is Toby Young, the son of Michael Young. I've taken the quote from an article Toby wrote in the current issue of that excellent Australian magazine Quadrant. You can read the article yourself online; just google "quadrant meritocracy."
This is in my opinion the number one social-science issue of our time. How do we avoid the trap Michael Young described in 1958, the meritocracy trap, of a society stratified by ability, especially now we know that ability is largely inherited, and so presumably stamped in the genome?
And how shall we cope when the geneticists have located the genes that contribute to intelligence and personality? They are well under way — you'd be surprised. I actually got to that Quadrant article via the website of Steve Hsu, who is actually involved in the genetic work. I wrote up Steve in a TakiMag article a couple of years ago.
So here's how it'll be fifteen or twenty years from now. You want to have a baby. Using your sperm, some number of your wife's eggs are fertilized in a lab. The genomes of the embryos are scrutinized to see which one has the best genes for intelligence and personality. That one is implanted and taken to term; the others are destroyed.
This is not even genetic engineering, although we may have that too. It's just picking the best of many children you might have, if you had many children — a hundred, perhaps.
Who gets to do it, though? Just the rich and the powerful? Or everybody? What are the social consequences?
This is a great looming social issue of our time, and even more of our children's time. Read Toby Young's article in Quadrant. Don't skimp on the footnotes.
07 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Imprimis: At any given moment in the past thirty years there is some story in the news which, if I permitted myself to think about it for more than a couple of minutes, would lead me to the conclusion that I live in a society that has gone barking mad.
The current story that does that is the one about Ta-Nehisi Coates being given a MacArthur Foundation grant — $125,000 a year for five years — presumably for his bestselling book about some badwhite woman shoving his kid on an escalator.
In a society where stuff like this happens, it's absurd, and a bit sad, to talk about meritocracy. Of what does Coates' merit consist? What justifies this grant? He hasn't done anything useful and is not very good at his trade, which is writing.
But of course we all know what's going on here. This is a skirmish in the Cold Civil War. Coates, meritless in himself, is just a handy token. This is goodwhite elites — as represented by the MacArthur Foundation — sticking a finger in the collective eye of badwhites.
This is just affirmative action taken to the next level. Coates got the grant for being this year's Pet Black, just as Barack Obama got the Nobel Prize for being Pet Black of 2008. It's goodwhites' way of mocking and humiliating the tens of millions of nonblacks who are better writers than Coates, the tens of millions who are worthier of a Nobel Prize, on any rational meritocratic basis, than Obama.
In other words, it's goodwhites jeering at badwhites. There isn't much we can do but jeer back, so that's what Radio Derb will do.
To the Board of Directors of the MacArthur Foundation — to Julia Stasch, Marjorie Scardino, Jack Fuller, Donald Hopkins, Daniel Huttenlocher, Joi Ito, Julie Katzman, Paul Klingenstein, Martha Minow, Sendhil Mullainathan, and Claude Steele — to these persons I say: Kiss my badwhite bum, you stinking creeps.
To Ta-Nehisi Coates I say: Hey, guy, how ya doin'?
Item: While we're talking anniversaries, forty years ago this week — October 1st 1975 — was the date of the "Thrilla in Manila" Ali-Frazier boxing match, when Muhammad Ali took on Smokin' Joe Frazier for the third time.
It was a tremendous fight — went to fourteen rounds, with the advantage swinging from one man to the other all through. There are only fifteen rounds in a boxing match; Frazier's people conceded the fight after Round 14, giving Ali the victory.
It seems like ancient history now. Who watches boxing any more? Yeah, yeah, I know some of you do; but it's a niche thing, not a popular form of mass entertainment, as it was back then.
And no, for the record, I don't watch boxing either. If I see a match when channel surfing, I'll stop and watch a few rounds; but I couldn't name a current champion in any weight class.
Is the decline of boxing a good thing, or a bad thing? Pass. I guess there's less brain damage around among street kids who didn't have much brain to start with, but I think that effect was considerably exaggerated. I've met a number of old boxers, including one heavyweight professional, and they seemed none the worse for wear. Jack Dempsey lived to be 88, smart as a whip to the end.
On the other side, we — we traditionalist males — have ceded another stretch of territory to the girls and the homosexuals. I just quietly wonder how much more of that we can do before we lose sight of the masculine principle altogether. Sure, the masculine principle has its downside. It's part of human nature, though, which is part of Nature; and Nature is not mocked.
Item: As Radio Derb goes to tape here, the headlines are about the mass shooting at a community college in Oregon.
I'll skip the usual ruminations about gun laws and mental health, and go straight to this: Why didn't people rush him, as the three American guys rushed that Muslim shooter on the French train back in August? Sure, you'll likely get shot rushing an armed man, maybe killed. He's going to kill you anyway, though. At least you'll go down fighting, and probably save other people's lives.
So why doesn't it happen? Well, it does. In Thursday's shooting, 30-year-old Chris Mintz went for the gunman. He took five bullets for his trouble, although fortunately none of them hit anything vital and he's now recovering.
All right, so it happens. Why doesn't it happen more often, though?
Answer: To do things like that needs some training. Mintz has served in the U.S. Army. Of the three guys on that train in France last August, one was an Air Force vet and another was National Guard.
In a surprising number of situations in life, ninety percent of the secret to being able to to do something is just knowing it can be done. You don't need a whole lot of training, just awareness of possibilities. I doubt the Air Force or National Guard do much unarmed-combat training. They do some, though; and then it's not such a strange thing when life throws it at you.
Well, that's my thought: more constructive at least, I hope, than the routine gun-control blather we're getting from our mainstream pundits and our stupid President. And yes, I am aware that nothing could be more against the grain of our delicate, emoting, feminized culture than military training in schools. That's something we could fix, though, if we wanted to.
08 — Signoff. That's it, ladies and gents. Thank you for listening, and please commemorate Saturday's anniversary of the 1965 Immigration Act with a properly grim solemnity.
Just a follow-on from that last news item, about the college shooting in Oregon. Here's a recommendation for your next Netflix rental: William Macy's 2014 movie Rudderless, which works from a related theme.
This recommendation comes with no guarantee at all that you will like the movie. It's a little quirky. For example: You know how movies sometimes have a surprise ending? Well, this one has a surprise middle. It's well-acted and -produced, though, and sticks in the mind somehow, which is more than I can say for half the movies I've sat through.
It also has some halfway decent folk rock music. I don't have any songs from the movie lying around, but I do have some folk rock, so I'll play us out with some. Here's Hayes Carll with a title that, in my opinion, is as good as song titles get: "Bad Liver and a Broken Heart." When I play this one in the house, Mrs Derb and I shout out the chorus in unison, then fall around giggling.
More from Radio Derb next week.
[Music clip: Hayes Carll "Bad Liver and a Broken Heart."]