Cost Disease and the Alt-Right

As I mentioned yesterday, among many important things, Scott’s post on Cost Disease explains (IMO) the rise of the Alt-Right (VERY broadly defined) and Trump’s victory in a way that I don’t think any mainstream publication can. (Not explicitly, mind.)

“Cost disease” is Scott’s (and others’) term for “things getting more expensive without any increase in quality or quantity.”

Over the past 40 years or so, some of the most expensive–and important–things in life like housing, education, health care, and infrastructure have doubled, tripled, or dectupled in price with very little improvement to show for it (except maybe in healthcare, where we are in fact living longer.)

Getting less bang for your buck is downright frustrating.

Now let’s suppose you’re an American conservative of some stripe. Maybe you think abortion is immoral. It’s been about 40 years since Roe V. Wade, and abortion is still legal. Maybe you’re opposed to gay marriage. Sorry, that horse has left the closet. Did you hope to bring democracy and freedom to the people of Iraq? Yeah… Good luck with that.

picture-5ba Maybe you’d just like to live in a community full of people who share your religious beliefs and cultural norms, like the average person actually did back in 1950 and before. Well, demographics have not been on your side for a long time–not only have whites gone from about 88% of the country to <50% of babies and thus soon a minority overall, but the whole country is becoming increasingly atheistic.



screenshot-2016-12-08-16-48-331Or perhaps you’d just like to get an entry-level job without going 100k into debt and having your entire paycheck cleaned out by health insurance and rent, in which case you and Scott are on the same page.

So what, exactly, have Republicans been “conserving” all this time? Tax cuts for the wealthy? Hell, they didn’t even succeed at building a democracy in Iraq, and they spent trillions of dollars on it! And that’s our money, not theirs! They killed a bunch of people in the process, too.

Looking back, the two biggest Republican victories (that I can see) in my life time have been “getting tough on crime” and overseeing the Fall of the Soviet Union. That one was basically a coincidence, rather than the results of any specific Reagan/Bush I policies, but they do generally get credit for the Tough on Crime business. Note that this is all stuff that happened in the 80s and early 90s; for the past 20 years

And come this election (2016,) who were they running? JEB BUSH. Yes, little brother of the last Bush. You might as well make his campaign slogan “Just like last time, but with more Mexicans!”

Disclaimer: I understand wanting the Mexican vote. I understand wanting to appeal to Hispanics. They live here, they’re a huge voting block, (most of them are great people,) and I hear they’re not really down with the whole SJW agenda thingie.

But do you know the problem with Bush II?

It was pouring our money into a black hole in Iraq, inflating housing prices, and then crashing the economy. It was the general progression of every single thing outlined above that has made life harder for everyday Americans.

Maybe I’m missing some finer details here, but “not enough Mexicans” was not even remotely on the list of complaints.

The folk running the Republican Party had their heads so far up their asses they thought they could just play demographic games (“It works for the Democrats!”) without offering a plan to actually CONSERVE anything.

Okay, I am pissed that these incompetents have any role in our politics.

I stole this graph from Steve Sailer
I stole this graph from Steve Sailer

I’ve noticed that people tend to be liberal when they’re young and become more conservative as they age, essentially locking in the liberalism of their college years but then erecting barriers against the liberalism of college students a decade younger than themselves. While this is natural and probably sensible in many ways, it leads to certain inconsistencies, like people who champion “women’s lib” but criticize “feminism.” Um. So many of the older conservatives I know basically just want to return to sometime in the late 70s/early 80s–you know, the cusp of the AIDs epidemic, the crack wars, rising crime turning America’s cities into burnt-out shells, etc. Great times!

Some people try to correct for this by invoking their grandarents’ or great-grandparents’ time–as though anyone were actually eager to re-live WW2 and the Great Depression. I don’t know about you, but I hear those times were pretty awful. And if we go back further than that, we start hitting things like “Massive epidemics kill millions of people.”

Simply trying to rewind the clock to some earlier year doesn’t solve today’s problems, but I understand the urge to conserve the things you value and love about your own society, childhood, culture, etc.–and the Neocons/Mainstream Republicans have failed miserably at that.

Trump’s message–and the “alt-right,” broadly–has focused on Law and Order; safety (from Terrorism;) jobs (“it’s the economy, stupid;) Cost Disease (“repeal two regulations for every new one” and “repeal Obamacare;”) and the general preservation of Americans as a people/culture (by limiting immigration, especially from groups that didn’t contribute to America’s founding stock.)

Meanwhile, mainstream Republicans are still kicking and screaming that what the country really needs is more Bush II policies.


11 thoughts on “Cost Disease and the Alt-Right

  1. There is a more explicitly anthropological argument to be made here, as well. All of the institutions, cultural artifacts, and policies that could be conserved grew up over centuries of agriculture. We haven’t really developed solid cultural tools to deal with industrialization, and we’re already done with it. The left plays the “it’s not relevant anymore” game, and discards important tools, but we don’t have anything to replace them with. Politics are well downstream of this; the TFRs tell the story. Islam has a very mobile suite of tools, being based on nomadic culture, and orthodox Judaism has a solid set of urban tools, but there really needs to be a coherent postmodern religion, or we will slide all the way back to idolatry (if we haven’t already), and increase global disorder.


  2. So i think Scott simplified Baumol’s Cost Disease, and it gets simplified further here. The point isn’t that “the cost of things goes up” but “when the productivity of some things goes up, the cost of things with similar inputs goes up, even if their quality does not.”

    If “smart people who can be computer programmers” start being worth a ton of money, than the smart people in other fields are going to be able to demand more money, even if they aren’t doing anything more.” Or more likely, you’ll get a balance of somewhat worse employees for somewhat more money in those fields, which just feels terrible all around.

    In this case, it means the amount we pay government to do stuff keeps going up and up without giving us much of anything new, while capitalist businesses seem to be breaking a new ceiling every week. This can look extremely frustrating to conservatives, but it’s actually inevitable and the proper balance of resources.


  3. “Cost disease” is not universal. Computers cost an nth of what they did 30 years ago. OK, computers are special. More generally, the free market works. Products that are produced with minimal government intervention are still affordable. Stuff like groceries. Cars. Gasoline.

    It is large swathes of the economy in which the government is highly active that we find “cost disease”. Education. Housing. Medical care. This is no coincidence.


  4. Simply trying to rewind the clock to some earlier year doesn’t solve today’s problems.

    “Trying to” — without doing so — obviously not. But I disagree: actual successful rewinding would solve many problems. Alas (or not), a complete rewind is impossible, and probably nobody wants to give up his iPhone anyway. I don’t. What a lot of people are wondering, though, is whether we can wind back our political “progress”. Let’s keep economic “progress”, because it really is progress. But let’s unwind political “progress” which has turned out not to be.

    A neoreactionary will tell you why that will not happen within democracy. But a conservative won’t, nor will an alt-righter. Poor Trump.


  5. I would toss in that gun rights is one of the only actual victories conservatives have gotten, sometimes in spite of themselves.

    Even after several mass shootings, the left will grumble about it but go no where with it really.

    This isn’t near enough of course but it’s not nothing. I suspect it’s because enough people of enough variety know in the deep recesses of their minds that as long as there are enough guns around there’s a limit to how much the left can push.


  6. I think the frustration you describe here is very accurate. This is what I and other young white men my age are dealing with. We feel like the world sucking us dry of everything we have — our money, our time, our friendships, our culture, our ethnicity. It gets really depressing, and in order to avoid despair, we convert this depression into anger, that we may use it to exact revenge on the oligarchy which (we perceive) placed us in this situation — hence the rise of the Alt-Right and similar right-wing movements of the youth.


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