Ship of Fools

Tucker Carlson’s book “Ship of Fools: How a Selfish Ruling Class Is Bringing America to the Brink of Revolution” is getting a ton of media coverage and has been reviewed by iSteve and others on the so-called dissident right. Right now we are living through what can be described as a sort of obsession with elites. Conservatives and liberals seem to be in agreement that elites are steering America in the wrong direction. I haven’t read the book, but just going by the reviews and cover art, I think the cover is an inaccurate depiction of who the fools really are. Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, and Mark Zuckerberg, all of whom are depicted in cartoon form on the cover as fools steering a ship over a waterfall, have a combined net worth of $150 billion. If that is ‘foolish’, sign me up. But is Jeff Bezos really a bad guy? He caved into leftist pressure and raised the minimum wage, and as of 2018 Amazon employs over 600,000 people. My take is, these elites, although unpopular, know what they are doing given that they have been in power for so long and every economic and social metric such as geopolitical stability, unemployment, stock market gains, inflation, etc. is doing better than ever. Compared to earlier decades, despite the perception of increased partisanship and polarization of politics, there is less civil unrest than ever. The “misery index,” which is the sum of the unemployment rate and the current rate of inflation, is at multi-decade lows.

If the elite are willfully steering America off a waterfall for their own personal gain (which does not even make sense from a self-preservation angle because the elite also stand to lose the most in terms of money and status if America were to falter), it is not showing up in the economic data. This is even more pronounced when you compare the U.S. economy to that of the rest of the world, which is worse-off overall, with higher inflation, more corruption, lower stock market returns, higher unemployment, lower standards of living, and more unrest. Furthermore, many countries with further right-wing governments than the U.S., such as Turkey and Russia, are a lot economically worse-off on a per capita basis and have more unrest and higher inflation despite being more culturally conservative. My explanation for this is that IQ matters more than even culture or ideology, meaning that low-IQ countries will always lag smarter countries regardless of social factors.

All of this could mean there is no waterfall or we’re further from the waterfall than expected. Or that productive, high-IQ business elites such as Jeff Bezos are the ones keeping the ship away from the waterfall, but the politicians are counterproductive, which is why a distinction needs to be made between business elites and political elites. My prediction is there is no waterfall. Transgender bathrooms are bullshit, I agree, but they will not be the undoing of America (and if they are, the data does not yet show it, but I could be wrong). This ruling class, like it or hate it, is here to stay, and as the data shows won’t end or lead to any any crisis or instability.

Usually, the response is “but what if…” or “what about…” and then my response is “we’ll see what happens” because no one actually knows what will happen.

I agree with Tucker and others that elites are indifferent to people who are not like them, and most have abdicated any sort of noblesse oblige to their fellow citizens. And because they are so wealthy and are welcomed by most countries, unlike most Americans, they have a much weaker cultural or geographic anchoring. Someone like Bill Gates cannot relate to a blue collar worker who has an IQ of 90. These are tired arguments you keep hearing about why elites are bad. But that is not the same as elites engendering America’s collapse, nor that that make them bad people, but rather just out of touch. Even centuries ago, elites ensconced themselves from the masses such as by building castles, plantations, or gated palatial mansions, so elites being ‘out of touch’ is not exactly a new development.

Another mitigating factor is, even if elites are working against the interests of Americans, most Americans are too apathetic to do anything about it. It’s hard to predict how bad things would have to get before that changes. But as discussed above, the data shows things are not that bad. By comparison, look at the Macron protests. France is a really politically polarized nation and activism runs through its roots. You got far rightists and far leftists of all ages. But America is the opposite and most people are either apolitical or somewhere in the middle and just generally indifferent.

Also, for example, to answer the question “if elites are so inept, why is the U.S. economy so strong?,” the answer is, the public sector runs parallel to private one. The public sector, although much less competent and much slower than the private one, does not interfere too much, allowing companies such as Amazon and Tesla to keep innovating and selling, without needless interruption. Furthermore, as alluded to above, compared to most foreign countries, America’s private sector not only has a lot of autonomy but is also very strong and insulated from the public sector. However, for most foreign countries, the private sector is smaller relative to the size of the economy and at the mercy of the government. A political crisis in America remains mostly relegated to the public sector, but in these small, low-IQ countries it ripples to the private sector too. Also, low-IQ countries have even worse elites than America does, further compounding the problem.

What about the French Revolution? Historical parallels may seem convincing, but often there are subtleties that render them problematic for predictive purposes. Economically, France was in much much shape during its revolution than America is now. Same for Russia during its revolution, too. An example is, from 2008-2010 a lot of pundits were certain that there would be a repeat of the Great Depression or Japan’s multi-decade stagnation, but the U.S. economy and stock market rebounded much faster and quicker than anticipated even though the parallels between 1929 and 2009 were convincing. These pundits underestimated the ability of the U.S. consumer and tech companies to rebound.

A common argument against the competence of elites is that economists failed to predict the financial crisis and the housing crisis. Consider Alan Greenspan, who in 1996 warned of “irrational exuberance”, but he was either too early or his warnings were not heeded and the market surged for another four years. But he is also blamed for the 2008 financial crisis. Very seldom is there such a thing as an ‘economic consensus’ but rather differing opinions about many issues, so to say “economists were wrong about 2008” glosses over the fact some economists did warn of potential problems. Contrary to the common misconception that everyone was optimistic about housing, were as many pundits in 2005-2007 predicting a fall in the housing market as those predicting a rise. Economists cannot predict but neither can doctors. A doctor cannot predict who will get cancer or not, only provide a possible range of probabilities based on risk factors and other variables. Does that mean doctors are incompetent. No, because we can accept there will be epistemological limitations. All they can do is provide treatments and explanations.

I think elites tend to be high IQ is because by being smart enough to understand complicated/interconnected problems and systems better than most people, they rise to leadership roles by providing solutions to such problems. If there is a dispute, you need someone who is smart enough to understand both sides and the stakes, in order to try to devise a compromise. It’s also harder to measure the efficiency of political leaders than business leaders, so the relationship between competence and results is more muddled in politics than in business. Also also lesser elites such as doctors, STEM academics, and engineers, who are maybe only in the top 1% instead of top .1%, are also in general pretty competent. If America has a caste of elites, it’s likely one stratified by IQ than by consanguinity, with smarter people being at the top.