No sex please, we’re the government

For all the controversy about the increasing use of “gender” instead of “sex” recently, some of it has nothing to do with ideology. Several years ago I worked on the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages program. As part of my introduction I read the Bureau of Labor Statistics internal style guide. I regret not saving a copy, and I don’t see it through a cursory web search, so I can’t quote exactly, but I noted at the time:

BLS publications used “sex” (instead of “gender”) until the internet blew up, after which “sex” as a search term because troublesome, then switched to “gender” gradually

This approach, for this reason, was surely widespread in official circles long before any of them were concerned with how much influence biology has versus culture.

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Why are so many governing bodies French?

Part I

Over the years I’ve noticed many international organizations—subjectively it seems disproportionately many—were founded in France. A partial list is in part II of this post, so skip ahead and come back if you like.

Why is this the case? There are two reasons I can think of, one natural and one ideological. France has been a large and influential nation for centuries, at some points the most influential in the West, and Paris is famously beautiful and pleasant to visit. It’s in a relatively convenient geographical location, especially before air travel became widespread. It stands to reason many European and international meetings to found things would be held there. I’m sure that explains some of them without the need for a deeper explanation.

The more interesting reason is an extension of Hayek’s idea that among Continental and especially French thinkers since Descartes, Rousseau, and the French Revolution there was/is a tendency to think social institutions must be directed centrally. It was probably inevitable that almost all of these organizations would eventually form somewhere, but my guess is that this constructivist rationalist mindset tended to get them founded in France earlier than they otherwise would have elsewhere rather than having them come up organically here and there.

What really got me thinking about this was noticing French organizations for non-French things, e.g. FIFA, on which I spent a lot of time last November and December. Why would the French take the lead in creating the international governing body of one of the great English cultural products? Considering the history of the sport this case might fall a little into both categories* but once I noticed this case I noticed many more that were clearer. The proximate cause of my writing this post was a mention in this piece by Eli Dourado of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, “an international organization that sets standards for tracking, measuring, and verifying aviation records”. It makes all the sense in the world for the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie to be headquartered in Paris. There’s nothing particularly French about aviation records. Or association football. Or diplomacy. Or the rest of the things listed below. The stronger connection to France is constructivism, thinking somebody, preferably them, ought to be in charge of these things. The people who have this thought more consistently than others will tend to become the people in charge of these things.

After World War II and continuing to the present, many organizations were founded under the auspices of the United Nations, the EEC/EU, World Bank/IMF, etc., so headquarters tend to be created in other places like Switzerland, Belgium, New York, Washington D.C., etc. France still gets many of them, but that has more to do with politicking than with constructivist rationalism. Readers will notice the range of dates in the French list is from the period broadly representing the height of the practical power of constructivist rationalism worldwide—coming after the height of its intellectual power—which period is after the height of specifically French cultural power. (Pardonnez-moi, mes amis, mais c’est vrai.)

Part II

Here is a list of organizations founded in France. English translations follow the names, either direct translations or more common translations where applicable. Plain font indicates still in France, bold indicates moved to the French-speaking part of Switzerland, italics indicates moved to the German-speaking part. Note how few have anything to do with uniquely French things.

  1. Académie Diplomatique Internationale (International Diplomatic Academy), 1926
  2. Académie Internationale d’Héraldique (International Academy of Heraldry), 1949
  3. Association Internationale Permanente des Congrès de la route (Permanent International Association of Road Congresses), 1909 – named changed in 1995 to Association mondiale de la Route (World Road Association)
  4. Bureau International des Expositions (International Exhibitions Bureau), 1928
  5. Bureau international des poids et mesures (International Bureau of Weights and Measures), 1875
  6. Chambre de commerce internationale (International Chamber of Commerce), 1919
  7. Comité international olympique (International Olympic Committee), 1894
  8. Comité International des Sports des Sourds (International Committee of Sports for the Deaf, 1924 – since moved to Maryland
  9. Conseil international des archives (International Council for Archives), 1948
  10. Conseil international des musées (International Council of Museums), 1946
  11. Conseil international des unions scientifiques (International Council of Scientific Unions), 1931 – renamed in 1998 to Conseil international pour la science (International Council for Science)
  12. Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (International Aeronautics Federation), 1905
  13. Fédération Internationale des Archives du Film (International Federation of Film Archives), 1938
  14. Fédération Internationale des Associations de Producteurs de Films (International Federation of Film Producers Associations), 1933
  15. Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (International Automobile Federation), 1904
  16. Fédération Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing (International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation), 1923
  17. Fédération Internationale des Échecs (World Chess Federation), 1924 – since moved to Athens, Greece
  18. Fédération Internationale d’Escrime (International Fencing Federation), 1913 – superseded the Société d’encouragement de l’escrime, founded in France 1882
  19. Fédération Internationale de Football Association (International Federation of Association Football), 1903 – one of the most famous orgs in the world and known everywhere by its French acronym
  20. Fédération Internationale des Journalistes (International Federation of Journalists), 1926 – since moved to Brussels, Belgium
  21. Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l’homme (International Federation for Human Rights), 1922
  22. Union Cycliste Internationale (International Cycling Union), 1900

There are more, but I’ll stop here. (Time is the ultimate scarce resource.)

Part III

I’ll be the first to admit this isn’t conclusive. I wouldn’t swear by it. But just look at that list. I know my sample is not random, but you’ll notice the phenomenon too. I first drafted this post in 2016 and completed the last 10% now because I’ve been thinking about FIFA and it still strikes me as an interesting question. I repeat, in many or most of these cases it was probably inevitable that a central global body would emerge. Association football is a clear case: people would want cross-border competitions. And often it’s a good thing to have a focal governing or coordinating body. (Je ne vous accuse, mes amis.)

Moreover I don’t think the end result is necessarily suboptimal. I don’t have an opinion about the quality of governance by these organizations except FIFA and UCI, which were bound to have their problems no matter who ran them or where. However, I do think this is another grain of evidence on the scale in favor of Hayek’s assessment.


* A bit of history from FIFA’s website:

When the idea of founding an international football federation began taking shape in Europe, the intention of those involved was to recognise the role of the English who had founded their Football Association back in 1863. Hirschman, secretary of the Netherlands Football Association, turned to the Football Association. Its secretary, FJ Wall, did accept the proposal but progress stalled while waiting for the Executive Committee of the Football Association, the International FA Board and the associations of Scotland, Wales and Ireland to give their opinion about the matter.

Guérin, secretary of the football department of the Union des Sociétés Françaises de Sports Athlétiques and a journalist with Le Matin newspaper, did not want to wait any longer. He contacted the national associations on the continent in writing and asked them to consider the possibility of founding an umbrella organisation.

The rest here.

OpenAI: Smart on two fronts

OpenAI has done two smart things lately. First, its ChatGPT tool is an amazing technical accomplishment. While neither perfect nor a mature technology, what it can do so far is very impressive. The second smart thing OpenAI has done is to handicap ChatGPT. Ever since it first debuted I’ve been seeing criticisms about its clumsy biased results, especially from people who fundamentally want it to work. For example:

They can disappoint their friends or they can piss off their enemies. OpenAI made the rational choice. Few will try to sink a project they want to succeed because it gives awkward, weaselly, or transparently wrong answers to certain questions the asker already knew to test it with. Many will be happy to wreck the whole thing, and anybody associated with it, for natural answers, and they are more influential to boot. Imagine the hysterical, bad faith piece a certain WaPo orthodoxy enforcer would write given the slightest pretext. That could be fatal for investor interest or business partnerships. Everybody with any skin in the AI game knows this. Why would they hand her the gun to shoot them with? Much better to let the product mature and become entrenched first.

For the record, I agree that a lot of its answers are not good. That is the result of trying to give answers to questions on their own terms, which humans often do. Occasionally, this will produce either uncomfortable, misleading, decontextualized, or false answers, as humans often do. This is a reason to keep developing it while taking advantage of its current uses rather than a reason to ruin the whole enterprise, but try telling that to media enforcers and social media NPCs.

The cancelation of Alan Freed was not your fault

The first one, that is, though the second wasn’t either.

One of my favorite podcasts lately is A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs. I am a little late to the dance and still going through the backlog, but I’ve recently finished episode #106 and it is still going strong, so give it a try if it sounds interesting. There are so many interesting things to note that I wouldn’t even try to write it up here except that one particular part of the story has been in the back of my mind since I heard it, and it has direct relevance to today.

In episode #35 on “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” the podcast mentions Frankie Lymon’s solo performance on Alan Freed’s short-lived television show The Big Beat. The show was short-lived because during his performance Lymon, who was black, danced with a white girl. Young people in the live studio audience danced with each other, and it seemed pretty natural to him to dance too. The uproar from Southern network affiliates soon led to the show’s cancelation in both the dictionary sense and the modern jargon sense, which I use here.

The incident fits in with our knowledge of the period—it was a much more racist time, especially in the South, and that kind of innocuous thing would have outraged many people. It seems like an open-and-shut case that confirms our priors about racism in US history.

But something kept bouncing around in my mind about it. Anybody who has been awake in the US for the last five or ten years has seen how easy it is to get shows canceled, initiatives ended, campaigns aborted, and personas declared non gratas. One of the recurring themes with today’s cancelations is how the joke or behavior or opinion expressed is often not very controversial to the average person, maybe not at all, maybe clearly misinterpreted or taken out of context, maybe a venial rather than a mortal sin. Modern cancelations are often driven by activists who are not representative of the population at large, with other people and companies going along to be on the Right Side of History and to avoid negative publicity. Why would we—why would I—think the demise of The Big Beat was according to the popular will? Even the popular will in the South? Why should it be different from today’s cancelations?

Freed’s teenage audiences probably, in general, didn’t throw a fit when they saw Lymon and the white girl dancing. We must assume television network affiliates back then were averse to negative publicity for bland business reasons, as they and other firms are today. All it would have taken was a few squeaky wheels to make them scramble for cover.

And yet anybody with even a passing familiarity with history and the civil rights movement will know there were far more than just a few people who would have complained. There really was a lot more racism back then. So which explanation is it?

From what we know about the past and by analogy to today, maybe it looks like this: people were on average more racist in 1957 than in 2022 (while less racist than in, say, 1892). However, some were still fairly hardline racist, and they complained to their local ABC affiliates for showing something they found extremely unacceptable. The great mass in the middle may not have been able to work itself into fever pitch but would not oppose extreme elements. There was no social media, but there were the traditional avenues of letters, phone calls, perhaps even angry denunciations at city council meetings and the like. Local stations wanted to avoid bad press of any kind and so passed the complaints up the ladder. Whoever was in charge of programming at ABC decided it was best to cancel the show. Advertisers may have weighed in with the same kind of thinking. This was only a temporary setback to Alan Freed’s career, so we can assume it wasn’t a deeply held position.

I guess it is not very comforting to think white people in 1957 were probably not as racist on average as we usually think, because they were still, again on average, pretty racist by modern standards. It is also only halfway comforting to think that the cancelation was likely driven by a small percentage of people dedicated to their cause. On the one hand, we don’t want bad people to have the kind of power they demonstrably are exercising, but on the other hand, at least it doesn’t reflect as badly on the rest of us. And it is helpful to understand the phenomenon of cancelation. It is not new. The social media age did not create these instincts, it only offers them new outlets.

P.S. You can tell I really like this podcast because I am willing to listen to it at 1x playback speed when my modal setting for podcasts is 2x. Because of the frequent musical examples used, it is less of a hassle to listen to the whole thing at 1x than to constantly adjust the speed, or, God forbid, listen to the musical examples at other than 1x.

The meetings will continue until morale improves (or the lights go out)

There’s a great recent piece in The Intercept about how internal struggles in progressive non-profits are becoming a serious problem for the organizations, hampering their ability to advocate by keeping energy directed inward. I should have finished and published a draft I wrote in November 2020, but since I neglected to do so I will first quote from the article about how this recent trend may self-correct:

Executive directors across the space said they too have tried to organize their hiring process to filter out the most disruptive potential staff. “I’m now at a point where the first thing I wonder about a job applicant is, ‘How likely is this person to blow up my organization from the inside?’” said one, echoing a refrain heard repeatedly during interviews for this story. (One executive director noted that their group’s high-profile association with a figure considered in social justice spaces to be problematic had gone from a burden to a boon, as the man now serves as an accidental screen, filtering out activists who’d be most likely to focus their energy on internal fights rather than the organization’s mission.)

I had been thinking about this in terms of private businesses. This was in 2020, when we were all reading about the internal reckoning large, visible employers were doing, or at least talking about doing for the previous six months. At the time, progressive non-profits were riding high, and I suppose the internal struggles the article focuses on were still in infancy.

My draft:

——————–

Every society needs troublemakers, but like anything else, there is an optimal amount of troublemaking. For all of the salutary consequences of the recent protest movements, and indeed in the broader social movement they extend, there is always the risk of excess. And in certain smaller level contexts, the optimal amount of troublemaking might be zero.

Suppose you run a small-to-medium-sized business. You focus on making money by moving units. You comply with workplace laws and try to keep a respectful workplace environment. You know there’s a greater emphasis lately on examining our assumptions about behavior and interaction, but you don’t always see how it relates to your workplace.

You begin to see more news stories about workplace unrest. So far it hasn’t reached your firm, but the stories keep coming up. When it comes time to hire people, you know have to think: is my company in danger of having these kinds of problems flare up? Employers already consider how a person will fit into a firm’s workforce in some measure; at the very least, they just don’t want applicants to be weird, but often there’s more consideration. This is one more factor to consider.

——————–

If I could conceive of this potential liability for private employers, surely they could as well. (Netflix recently made headlines for telling employees to focus on the mission or consider alternative employment.) My guess is that on the margin it pushed some of the employees they passed on towards the non-profits that are now feeling the heat. The Intercept piece notes how Bernie Sanders instructed his campaign staff to stop hiring activists in 2020 as he also noticed how the internal focus was playing out, but of course a presidential campaign is more goal-oriented than the larger ecosystem of progressive organizations. Now, if non-profits are increasingly wary of these potential employees, what will they do?

The tendency to call out excessively is not constant, even assuming that injustice or the perception of injustice is. A hungry person has a more immediate problem than fixing defects, real or imagined, in some institutional culture. The old wave of ’60s radicals shrank during the ’70s as many of them got on with the regular problems of life like keeping steady jobs to support families. And really, if even progressive non-profits compare your internal struggles to a right-wing op, society could probably benefit from you moderating a little. The pendulum may have swung too far.

It is not just within progressive organizations that the problems occur. As the piece mentions, the same dynamic plays out at the top of the food chain, where leaders at wealthy foundations who fund non-profits are, in effect, held hostage by their younger, more radical staffers. Because the foundations have few, if any, objective metrics of success, they do not stop writing checks when the orgs are paralyzed by internal dissent. But they surely have similar concerns about their own workplaces as the leaders of the orgs they fund.

The Intercept piece concludes by discussing the backlash within that world, but admits it is embryonic. Social movements are cyclical, and based on that alone we could expect some of this recent excess to slow. Add to it the micro-level adjustments individual people will have to make, and the diminishing ability to present personal grievances and power plays as social justice essentials as people eventually learn not to touch the hot stove, and a lot of the excess should be curtailed. Because of how cultural influence radiates outward from these organizations, that will be most welcome.

The popular vote in the popular imagination


I.

Every presidential election year brings new focus on the idea of abolishing the Electoral College, especially 2000 and 2016 when the popular vote winner lost the race. If only the truly democratic popular vote of the country had been followed, the idea goes, our candidate would have won!

Applied retroactively, this critique is a mistake, ignoring how the rules make the game. If the participants were operating under different rules, their strategies would have been different. Republicans would campaign more in California, and Democrats would put greater effort into Texas, for example, while both would spend less time in Florida. Moving from 48% to 50%+1 in Florida would be less valuable than taking 48% and campaigning elsewhere.

II.

The general assumption seems to be that a popular vote rule would favor the Democratic Party, but I don’t think that’s a guarantee. It’s based on two elections run under different rules. It assumes strategy doesn’t change when rules change—and not only for candidates. The popular vote rule would also change the calculus for voters, especially for hidden minority party members whose preferred candidate has so little chance of winning that they don’t bother to vote. Allow me to take the long way to the point. As reliably Republican as Utah is, the Democratic presidential candidate still tends to get about a quarter of the popular vote there in recent years. In two solidly Democratic states with larger, more culturally and ethnically diverse populations, California and New York, the Republican presidential candidate gets a few points over a third of the popular vote. That so many of them cast votes for candidates who are certain to lose the state hints at more voters with the same preferences but less motivation.

Not only that, but because state legislatures control Congressional district boundaries, down-ticket races tend to be more lopsided, and thus even more discouraging to minority party voters. The Cook Partisan Voting Index has New York’s 15th District, which covers Yankee Stadium and the Bronx Zoo, as the most partisan. The 15th District’s results were more assured ahead of time than anywhere, yet 4.9% of the voters there in 2016 still took the time to pull the lever for the other presidential candidate. I’m not suggesting there are a great many low-flying Republican voters there, but under the direct popular vote such as exist would have more incentive to vote.

The obvious counterpoint is the voters who would vote but realize their preferred candidates are going to win and don’t spend time running up the score. Under a direct popular vote, the incentive changes for them, too. What we don’t know is which of these groups, the discouraged local minority party voters or the assured local majority party voters, is larger. Keep in mind many people don’t vote now and still won’t vote if the rule changes. So if the popular vote rule were implemented, are we sure about who would gain more votes?

III.

In a country as large and heterogenous as the United States, there are good reasons to think the Electoral College helps reduce social conflict. It’s also embedded in the Constitution, so removing it requires a lot of political capital, a heavy strategic concern that requires other agenda items to give way.

Perhaps it would be a more fair, democratic system. It would also be fairly unique. To use an example, the German political system is generally regarded as democratic enough, and as producing tolerably good results, and it is not even close to the simple popular vote rule. The German chancellor is elected by the Bundestag, roughly the equivalent of the US House of Representatives. Direct election of a head of government by pure popular vote is less common than you’d think. Political parties, government bodies, and other institutions generally mediate between votes and outcomes, and the popular vote rule would have to overcome their resistance as well.

None of this is to say it’s not worth doing. That’s a subjective judgment I can’t make for you. But I see the impetus for the direct popular vote as either trying to relitigate past elections, or as a better way to achieve the proponent’s goals. The latter might be a mistake. The former certainly is.

There are more podcasts in heaven and earth, Horatio

The New York Times recently ran a devastatingly bad article about podcasts. The meta reading, as is so often the case, is that the article is about the New York Times itself and its view of culture, a view it shares with other elite media outlets.

The article profiles an abortive and unintentionally funny attempt at a podcast by two freelance writers who expected their mediocre efforts would be met with instant success. They were not, of course, but I suppose they were networked with the author of this piece and somehow consented to be interviewed. I don’t fault them for rolling the dice. Hell, failing and then being profiled in the NYT probably raises their profile, so it seems like a win-win.

But this is not just a story about a failed podcast. It’s a story about a failed podcast in the New York Times. The article focuses on only the largest podcasts (by audience), consigning everybody else to forgettability. It’s true that most podcasts don’t strike gold, and even more “fail” in the sense that they don’t catch on and eventually get abandoned by their producers. But this is true in many walks of life. Most new businesses fail. Most new products flop. Most new books are ignored by almost everybody. Would there be any point to writing an article about Peak Book?

Why am I giving the New York Times grief? Well, it’s only a small part of the podcasting world that is produced by large outlets you can see from 8th Avenue. There are many great podcasts out there with decent-sized audiences, a comfortable enough return for their producers, and probably no hope of ever getting on the radar of the elite media. I listen to as many as I have time for. (Sadly, there’s never enough time, especially during football season.) For example, The History of Byzantium is an excellent history podcast that is essentially one man’s passion project, with donations and some ads making it worth his time to keep it going. I couldn’t count the number of episodes of The Bible Geek podcast. Antiwar.com puts out a regular podcast I’m sure will never make the Times. These all have devoted listener bases but just aren’t big enough or official enough to attract notice in an elite media take on their field. A reader with no exposure to podcasts would have no idea of the richness of the field from reading the article, and in fact would get the opposite impression. NYT’s blinders with respect to organic, bottom-up cultural phenomena simply don’t allow them to tell the right story.

I’d love to continue and list more worthwhile podcasts, but I have to keep reading the multi-part Washington Post series about why summer is bad.

Worden on religion

On pp. 77–78 of his short book The English Civil Wars: 1640–1660, Blair Worden makes a very succinct statement about the social value of religion:

Religious tolerance went against the grain of seventeenth-century thinking. In a society without a police force or, ordinarily, a standing army, the preservation of order will seem dependent on the coherence, even the uniformity, of ideas and beliefs. The coexistence of faiths within a nation’s frontiers was generally assumed to be unattainable and undesirable.

Add to this how the church filled so much of the space now filled by the state—birth, marriage, and death records, for example, or relief for the destitute—and the more advanced economy—a very large part of the disposition of labor, property, and tax money—and disputes about the beliefs and organization of the church take on much greater importance than they possibly could in the 21st century.

Science vs. expertise

In the a recent episode of EconTalk, where Russ Roberts interviews the great Bill James, the father of sabermetrics, they discuss the distinction between science and expertise as James delineates it in a great essay called “The Note”. It begins:

Handwriting expertise, more clearly than any other field that I know of, illustrates the difference between science and expertise. Science uses general rules and principles, understood by millions of people, to work toward increasing our shared understanding of the world in which we live, a key word being “shared”. What is learned by the scientist is in no sense the property of the scientist, if it is truly science and not commerce. If in our field we were to discover, for example, that tall hitters do best against tall pitchers and short hitters do best against short pitchers, the value in this would not be to me, but to a baseball team by way of its manager. The manager would be as much the owner of this knowledge as the analyst who discovered it. Crucial to that fact—to the shared nature of its ownership—is how it is known. If I were to say that I know that tall hitters hit best against tall pitchers and you should believe me because I am an expert in this field, no one would believe me and no one should believe me. Others would believe me only if (1) I were to present evidence demonstrating that it is true, and then only if (2) others were able to study the same subject and reach the same conclusion. Studying the same subject and reaching the same conclusion or a different conclusion does not require expertise limited to a small cadre of persons; it merely requires that we apply the rules of scientific enquiry which are universally owned and widely understood. Shared principles yield shared knowledge.

Expertise, on the other hand, is the property of the expert. The only way that WE know that Document 1 and Document 2 were or were not written by the same person is that an expert says so. The only way to get a second opinion is to ask another expert. If the other expert cannot get access to the documents, you can’t get another opinion.

James is not the first to identify this division, but he puts it very well.

How should we deal with newcomers?

The Atlantic had an interesting piece recently about how gentrifying neighborhoods attract more police resources, due to calls from the newer residents, and how this disproportionately affects racial/ethnic minorities. I think it reads more productively as a criticism of policing rather than of gentrification per se, though the author doesn’t seem to, but more interestingly it evokes a widespread social issue. To begin my explanation, let me highlight these passages:

When low-income neighborhoods see an influx of higher-income residents, social dynamics and expectations change. One of those expectations has to do with the perception of safety and public order, and the role of the state in providing it. The theory goes that as demographics shift, activity that was previously considered normal becomes suspicious, and newcomers—many of whom are white—are more inclined to get law enforcement involved. Loitering, people hanging out in the street, and noise violations often get reported, especially in racially diverse neighborhoods.

In 2013, the city of San Francisco launched Open311, a mobile app that allows residents to easily report public disorder like loitering, dirty sidewalks, or vandalism by snapping a photo and sending their location. The app can feel altruistic; residents, for example, are able to report the whereabouts of homeless people who seem to be in need of assistance. But some worry that the dispatches can result in unnecessary citations or harassment. And while broken-windows policing remains controversial, a 2015 poll suggested that it’s still largely accepted by the general public, so when people see something, they’re likely to say something. After the app launched, 311 calls increased throughout the city, and one study showed that gentrifying neighborhoods saw a disproportionate spike.

Butler, who recently wrote the book Chokehold: Policing Black Men, believes that this is a result of newcomers refusing to assimilate to longstanding neighborhood norms. [emphasis added] “Culturally, I think the way that a lot of African American and Latino people experience gentrification is as a form of colonization,” he said. “The gentrifiers are not wanting to share—they’re wanting to take over.” One of the tools they can use to take over public spaces, he argues, is law enforcement.

This is interesting, and it reminds me of the neighborhood where I lived in Alexandria, Virginia, only in reverse. There was a lot of very recent immigration, largely Salvadoran, as there has been all over the DC metro area. Granted, I was a newcomer to the neighborhood, but of similar SES and background to the longer-term residents. Being from the US-Mexico border, this immigration doesn’t bother me, but I noticed it bothered a lot of other people because the Salvadorans, to use the language of the article, ‘refused to assimilate to longstanding neighborhood norms’ regarding noise, cleanliness of public spaces, junk cars parked on the street, etc. Indeed, this is a common occurrence all across the country, and for the last decade or more has been a simmering issue. This cultural friction is one of the reasons for the surprising result of the 2016 presidential election. The Atlantic’s political wing tends to regard people who are upset by immigration as, well, deplorable. No doubt some are motivated by racism, which is indeed deplorable, but cultural frictions exist that aren’t motivated by racism. (For the record, in my ideal world immigration rules will be greatly liberalized relative to current rules.)

So which is it? Are newcomers wrong for “refusing” to assimilate to longstanding area norms, or are older residents wrong for not accepting the changes? There’s no simple answer, and I don’t mean to suggest the writer of the article or anybody else thinks there is. I don’t think we’ve had much public dialogue on the issue, and I’d like to, especially as so much governance happens outside of formal systems, and better public understanding of good rules and norms would help us resolve more social issues with nuance and wisdom before they became political issues resolved with neither.