Sep 20Liked by Noah Smith

“And when Russia becomes a normal country, it’ll have Ukraine to thank, for finally and forcefully destroying its imperial illusions.” I hope this occurs in my life time.

Expand full comment

It feels a little bit rich to call the victory of phonics a victory for "progressives" as well as conservatives. Phonics is (plus or minus a rebranding) has been the normal way to teach literacy in alphabet-based languages for thousands of years. Progressives (I'll drop the scare quotes but please consider them to be still there) invented a whole new approach and managed to get it universally adopted without ever checking whether it worked, then conservatives fought against it, and after several decades of this the conservatives were proved right and the progressives eventually backed down when confronted with ovewhelming evidence.

I guess you could call it a victory for the Monte Carlo theory of social progress, in which progressives suggest a social change in a random direction, conservatives oppose it, the two groups fight it out for a while as we implement the change and figure out whether it's actually a good idea or not, and then one side backs down and we either keep the change or discard it. This way of running society actually works pretty well, but neither side seems to actually understand that this is the game they're playing -- they both seem to have a deep conviction that their side is always right, and a very short memory for all the times that their side has been wrong.

Expand full comment

"This episode, happily, seems like a win for both conservatives, who thought of an idea that worked, and for progressives, who followed the evidence." Yes, the Eagle Forum was weird, and it was weirder that they chose to promote phonics. Now, I am a fan of phonics. It has a strong and useful role to serve in learning how to read. But the conservatives certainly did not invent phonics. I was taught initial reading with phonics in the 1960's. One account attributes the origin of phonics to Quintilian in the first century AD: https://www.memoriapress.com/articles/history-phonics/. In my view, the either/or argument of phonics or whole language is misguided. Phonics is a valuable step in the process of learning how to read, analogous to numbers and arithmetic being early steps of learning mathematics.

It is encouraging to read that some state, especially Southern, are rediscovering the power of phonics.

Expand full comment

“ For example, Martinez (2018) looks at satellite photos of night lighting compared to GDP. He finds that in autocratic countries like China, there’s a much steeper relationship between night lights and GDP;”

That’s a metric he devised himself - it’s clearly full of holes.

Expand full comment

I think you were slightly mis-characterizing Yglesias’ view on economic issues vs social issues. He has pretty routinely argued that Democrats should do things that are popular, and avoid focusing on things that are not currently popular. I think you (in Hexapodia) and he were basically on the same page.

Expand full comment

Ironically it is Putin who suppresses the worst instincts of Russian ethnonationalism, as he consistently talks about the importance of multiculturalism in Russia (whether there's actually ethnic harmony is a different story of course). And Alexei Navalny's controversial comments come from his phase when he was supporting the nationalist crowd against stuff like Central Asian migration.

As you reference it points to complex tradeoffs between imperial polities and nation-states, where empires can actually be models of tolerance even if there can also be oppression imposed by the dominant ethnicity. Compare Austria-Hungary to Nazi Germany, for instance; while Nazi Germany may have been a more competent and coherent state, it was only pleasant if you were German, which was not necessarily the case for Austria with its multiethnic parliament.

Expand full comment

Only problem with the rosy picture you paint about the phonics "debate": we already knew phonics worked, it is built into the structure of the language. The pro-phonics people you thought were fringe in the 90s were always *obviously* correct, and only their opponents' academic credentials blinded people to that fact.

The academization of basic education research is, in fact, the problem. People waving degrees and meaningless research in our faces is what convinces us to give up functioning systems in the first place.

Expand full comment

Phonics wasn't really that controversial outside the US, where it became a culture war. It was troubling to see teachers reject it there because Bush was in favour of it. The research had been settled decades before

Expand full comment

I did a couple of years of undergrad psychology back in the mid-90s.

One thing they regarded as a pretty robust experimental finding was that explicit instruction in phonics resulted in better outcomes in reading than teaching approaches that didn’t include them.

It’s not like the psych department was some conservative corner of the university either.

And yet it seems that an entire generation of educators have been taught, and practiced, less effective methods.


Expand full comment

Thank you for another thoughtful post. I especially appreciated your insight that "interesting ideas are the raw material of intellectual progress." As an avid reader and fellow book blogger, I couldn't agree more. I've certainly learned a great deal from exploring the diverse perspectives and fascinating concepts you highlight in your writing.

As you noted, it's important we seek out and engage with novel concepts and viewpoints that challenge our thinking. Doing so stretches us intellectually and pushes discourse forward. I try to approach new ideas with an open yet critical mind, evaluating them on their merits while being aware of my own biases. There are always multiple lenses through which to analyze an issue.

I'm glad we have forums like this to exchange and debate ideas in a thoughtful manner. The free flow of information and ideologies serves us all. I look forward to continuing this conversation and encourage others to share their perspectives as well. The path of lifelong learning has endless vistas to explore.

Expand full comment

"... higher education seems to be becoming an ever-larger determinant of the cleavages in American society. This is fundamentally a class divide for the age of knowledge industries..."

What do you mean by "determinant" in this context? I suspect the class divide precedes the decision to attend college.

From Nate Cohn in the NYT in 2021 [https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/08/us/politics/how-college-graduates-vote.html]: "College graduates attribute racial inequality, crime and poverty to complex structural and systemic problems, while voters without a degree tend to focus on individualist and parochial explanations. It is easier for college graduates, with their higher levels of affluence, to vote on their values, not simply on economic self-interest. They are likelier to have high levels of social trust and to be open to new experiences. They are less likely to believe in God."

None of the views that Cohn ascribes to college graduates are necessarily learned in college, though they may be reinforced there.

Does anyone know of a study of generations of college graduates within the same family, and the effect on their views? I'm also curious whether college graduates continue to be more likely to encourage their children to attend college.

Expand full comment

Man, on the Hexipodia podcast, Brad badly mischaracterized Matt's argument (that defining contested issues as clear moral ones on which there can be no compromise is bad) on the podcast to the point that one of his counter arguments (that Democrats have a winning issue on abortion) restated something Matt advocated for in the text: "abortion rights are generally more popular than the Democratic Party, and Democrats do well post-Dobbs to talk a lot about their support of a woman’s right to choose."

... which made it hard to make any sense of what the articles you guys were arguing about were actually about or if you were just putting words in the author's mouths.

Expand full comment

I have to say, phonics-like instruction methods for math might be reasonable in general, but the idea of combining them with a policy of forbidding advanced students from opting out sounds truly nightmarish...

Expand full comment
Sep 20·edited Sep 20

I wrote this as a Reddit post but posting it here Noah what do you think in regards to #2 of this post.

Vivek Ramaswamy as a presidential nominee would be more of a negative than a positive for Indian Americans & Hindus.

CONTEXT: https://www.tiktok.com/@waltermasterson/video/7280311753739750699?is_from_webapp=1&web_id=7280435312252913194

Disregarding his policies and character as an observer who would not like to see any religious discrimination and racism, specifically against Hindus and Indian Americans, I find it distressing to contemplate the potential backlash that might follow the election of an Indian American and Hindu president. The possibility of prejudice and bigotry directed toward Indian Americans sadly eclipses the joy and sense of representation that Indian Americans would experience from having one of their own as the President of the United States.

Seeing Rishi Sunak win the PM title in the UK certainly would express the same joys Indians & Hindus across the globe would feel if Vivek Ramaswamy won the nomination let alone the presidency. As an American observing the UK reaction to PM Sunak it seemed they never cared about his skin color or religious views but will he fix the issues in the country and do a good job as the PM. Watching Vivek clips on his campaign trail, it seems people's main focus has been his religious and cultural background.

Expand full comment

Russia is always cast as a villain, I am not normalising things that Russia did but so do all the other states. Poland deported ethnic Germans post WW2. If Russia sees that Ukraine is mistreating ethnic Russians in Ukraine (increasing marginalisation of their language, etc. etc.), what was it supposed to do (maybe more talks but maybe that didn't work)?

When Russia invaded Ukraine in Feb 2022, nowhere Putin mentioned that he wanted to annex Ukraine, maybe just a more favourable govt & make it harder for NATO integration (still bad.. but not unique -> Iraq, Libya, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Central American countries, etc. etc. etc. -> most of them today are dysfunctional states apart from Vietnam and that is only because Vietnam won). Only after seeing that Ukrainians would fight for their country that Putin settled for limited goals of annexing Russian majority oblasts.

We forget that Cuba is still sanctioned even after more than 50-60 and long after Cold war has ended. And the current political discourse in America of declaring cartels as terrorist groups and hitting them inside Mexico..

And do we really think that America won't do anything if say tomorrow Mexico allows China military access.. Nahh.. they would go all Rambo style and probably annex remaining Mexico (current Mexico is less than half of the original :) ).

I have not even mentioned Hawaii, Puerto Rico, native Americans, etc.... Maybe they are happy now or maybe not but they didn't have any say in deciding that..

Russia is not collapsing, it would continue to pound Ukraine and turn it to a truly rump state (nice term John Mearsheimer) and what would Ukraine gain.. nothing... EU won't admit Ukraine, they have got enough problems of their own..

Sensible thing would have been for Ukrainians to commit to neutrality and serve as bridge between between Russia and EU.

When you are stuck with a bear in a cage, maybe you know, not poking it would be a sensible thing to do.

Expand full comment