Paranoid xenophobia in America

I write today in Financial Times that it is hardly surprising that Americans shun foreigners in light of the threat posed by global terrorism:

Virtually every nation state goes through episodes of paranoid xenophobia, and the US is no exception. After the Haymarket bombing in Chicago in 1886, for example, it was revealed that most of the suspects behind the attack were of German descent. Immigrants across the city were then promptly rounded up and arrested by the police.

A similar logic led President Franklin Roosevelt, after the attack on Pearl Harbor during the second world war, to order that more than 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry who lived on the west coast be forcibly removed from their homes and put in internment camps surrounded by armed guards and barbed wire. It did not matter that most of them were American citizens. Meanwhile, in Europe, thousands of Japanese-Americans were sacrificing their lives to protect their country against fascism while serving in the ethnically segregated 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Infantry Regiment.

During the same war, America also severely restricted migration flows from Europe, again citing national security concerns. Fear of Nazi infiltration was reflected in public opinion; Gallup released a poll that asked whether the government should permit “10,000 refugee children from Germany — most of them Jewish — to be taken care of in American homes”. More than 60 per cent said no.

Read the full piece here.

Simon Hedlin

Sweden’s refugee crisis

Today I write in The New York Times a response to those who argue that Sweden has brought itself to the brink of collapse by admitting too many refugees. It is true that Sweden has approached the situation naively, but it also seems unfair to me to blame the Swedes for being too compassionate:

Sweden’s overly generous asylum policy is not the main reason that the country is in serious trouble. The real cause, obviously, is the turmoil in the Middle East, for which Sweden bears very little, if any, responsibility. To tell the Swedes that they brought their refugee crisis on themselves is like telling firefighters who rush into a burning building and get injured in the process that they only have themselves to blame.

Read the full response here.

Simon Hedlin

Are politicians really no action?

Donald Trump says in one of his new ads that “politicians are all talk, no action.”

That may sound all good at first, but if you take a moment and think about it then it does not necessarily make much sense. America’s politicians do actually get a lot of things done. A few examples:

The federal tax code has grown by 18,700% over the past hundred years.

America spent over $2 trillion on the Iraq War.

The last Congress enacted more than 290 new laws, equivalent to 6,459 pages or 4,264,363 words.

President Barack Obama has issued more than 200 executive orders since taking office.

Last year, Congress spent $120 million on upgrades of the M1 Abrams tank that the Army does not want; $15 million on the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund; $5.9 million on the East-West Center; and $4 million on the aquatic plant control program.

So to the extent that there is a problem, it does not seem to be “no action,” but rather too much action, or at the very least misdirected action.

Simon Hedlin

Ben Carson’s kryptonite is substance

My prediction is that Ben Carson will flame out as soon as the Republican voters start to look for substance and qualifications. The interview that Carson did with George Stephanopoulos on ABC This Week a couple of weeks ago is pretty revealing.

On his best example of negotiating in his professional life that has prepared him to sit down with Russia, China, and Iran, he mentions the Carson Scholars Fund, and the fact that its awardees hail from all fifty states, which “is not done without the ability to negotiate.”

Sure, because asking people to help dole out $1,000 scholarships is similar to sitting down with vicious dictators and deal with the extreme zero-sum game that is international politics.

Carson also reiterated his claim that Saudi Arabia would have turned over Osama bin Laden on a silver platter if only America had declared itself petroleum-independent. When faced with the fact that bin Laden already had been expelled from Saudi Arabia and had seen his Saudi citizenship revoked, Carson merely says, “Well, you may not think that they [the Saudis] had any loyalty to him. But I believe otherwise.”

So the Saudis were in fact still loyal to bin Laden, they actually knew were he was, and if they only had wanted to, they could have easily got him out of the tribal areas of Afghanistan and extradited him to the United States?

When asked to explain how this Saudi Arabia-Afghanistan-bin Laden-process would have worked in practice, Carson simply responds:

My point is: we had other ways that we could have done things. I personally don’t believe invading Iraq was an existential threat to us. I don’t think Saddam Hussein was an existential threat to us.


Simon Hedlin

Do Long Ballots Offer Too Much Democracy?

As (some) people are heading to the polls today to vote in the off-year election, I write in The Atlantic about decision fatigue and how people make biased selections when they are faced with a long list of choices.

When fatigue kicks in, voters may be more likely to vote “no.”

On November 3, voters at polling stations across the country cast their ballots in state and local contests. In addition to elections for offices such as school boards and city councilor, state and local ballot measures will also be decided. Texans, for instance, are voting on seven constitutional amendments, including a proposal that would repeal the requirement that elected state officials reside in Austin, the state capital. People living in Portland, Maine, are deciding whether or not to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour for private employees.

To persuade voters, some campaigns have spent millions of dollars, particularly on controversial issues. One hot button in this election is Issue 3 in Ohio, which would legalize limited sale and use of marijuana, if it is approved. The backers of the yes campaign, named ResponsibleOhio, have reportedly committed more than $20 million. But campaign spending is not the only factor that can sway voters. Research suggests that even the position on the ballot where a certain contest appears will determine how some people vote. If the proposal appears earlier on the ballot, it is more likely to pass. And the difference between a “good” and a “bad” position on the ballot is not small: It can result in a swing of several percentage points.

Read the full article here.

Simon Hedlin

Overestimating the significance of the Asian-American vote

Understanding Asian-American political behavior is surely interesting, but I am sorry to tell you that it does not have “important electoral ramifications,” as Cecilia Mo claims in this piece for The Conversation today.

Mo overestimates the significance of the Asian-American vote for several reasons. First, she confuses population size with population growth; the fact that the Asian-American vote has grown a lot over the past two decades does not matter because the share of the American population that is of Asian origin is tiny.

Second, the turnout among Asian-Americans is still embarrassingly low, and it is lower than among Hispanics, blacks, and whites. This is unlikely to change much any time soon.

Third, more than half of all Asian-Americans live in California, New York, Hawaii, Washington, and Massachusetts. These are hardly lean-Republican swing states where a few more Democratic votes could make a big difference and hurt the GOP.

Simon Hedlin

Gun violence? Insurmountable challenge. ISIS? No problem!

Donald Trump has said that he “would knock the hell out of” ISIS.

But on gun violence in America, he is strikingly passive:

You know, no matter what you do, guns, no guns, it doesn’t matter. You have people that are mentally ill. And they’re gonna come through the cracks.

So regarding 11,000 firearm-related homicides ever year in the United States (allegedly because of mental illness), “[n]o matter what you do, you will have problems and that’s the way the world goes,” but when it comes to tens of thousands of crazy terrorists some six thousand miles away that keep women as sex slaves and behead prisoners that is no problem because “there is a method of defeating them quickly and effectively and having total victory.”

Simon Hedlin