Thursday, January 16, 2020

Early January Reading Notes

The first week of January, I read two papers. The first was "The Brass Plates Version of Genesis," by Noel B. Reynolds in Interpreter, Vol. 34 (2020). The second was "Economic Insecurity and the Causes of Populism, Reconsidered," by Yotam Margalit in Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 33, No. 4 (Fall 2019). Here are a few notes I made while reading. "I don't care," you say? I know.

Reynolds makes two points that interested me. The first is, "David seems to play little or no role in the Book of Mormon understanding of the covenant between Israel and God" (p. 64). This struck me, I think, because I'm finishing my first-ever straight-through reading of the Old Testament, and I have been amazed by how much the book is about David. Both books of Samuel, both books of Kings, and both books of Chronicles are all David-centric, while David's ONLY mention in the Book of Mormon is a condemnation of his unapproved marriages. Whoever wrote the Old Testament was a MUCH bigger fan of David's than whoever wrote the Brass Plates. It would be interesting to contemplate why.

Secondly, Reynolds points out that Laman's criticisms of Nephi presented in 1 Ne. 16:38 are thematic allusions to the characterization of Satan presented in Moses 4:4. This is interesting because it makes Laman seem a little more reasonable when you understand that he has arguments, not just opposition. In fact, if Laman's arguments are scripturally based, it would indicate that Laman paid some attention to the contents of the scriptures. I've always wondered what type of reaction Laman would have to Nephi killing Laban; is one reason Laman and Lemuel are always plotting to kill Nephi because they think, "Holy cow, our kid brother KILLED A DUDE?! What WON'T he do?!"

The Margalit paper makes the point that minor changes in levels of political support can turn a loser into a winner, but those changes, while they have major results, probably have minor causes, too. So instead of looking at the election of Donald Trump as some bellwether of massive changes in public opinion, recognize that whatever "caused" Trump's election only produced a two- or three-percentage-point change in voters' choices.

Two interesting points Margalit makes are these. "[A]nti-immigration sentiments among natives center to a large degree on the social and cultural aspects. Where economic concerns do come into play, they rarely have to do with people's personal interests and mostly concern the way immigration affects society as a whole" (p. 163). So voters aren't populist because they care about the economy, but because they care about cultural cohesion. This seems to be directly opposed to Andrew Yang's argument about the economic changes that got Donald Trump elected. So would Trump voters prefer English classes for immigrants over job-protection programs with the same cost?

The second Margalit point: "Tabellini...finds that a populist-like political backlash was strongly and positively tied to the cultural distance between immigrants and natives. This occurred despite the fact that the economic impact of the migrants was neutral or positive" (p. 167). His reference is to a forthcoming paper by Marco Tabellini in Review of Economic Studies, entitled "Gifts of the Immigrants, Woes of the Natives: Lessons from the Age of Mass Migration." This was noteworthy to me because a lot of pro-immigration arguments, like Bryan Caplan's in his book with Zach Wienersmith, Open Borders, appeal to the economic benefits expected for natives. But it turns out natives don't care. You have to show natives that immigrants will assimilate. And, maybe it's just my perception, but I don't think immigrants assimilate more now than they did in the 1920s. My ancestors came here to become Americans, not for a larger paycheck. I don't think that's the attitude of many immigrants today.

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