"Social peace is just the condition under which patriarchal white supremacist violence is acting most fluidly and most thoroughly and is distributed most invisibly," writes Vicky Osterweil in her provocative tome, In Defense of Looting. "Only when we find such ‘peace' intolerable will we be able to envision what real peace might look like, and what it might take to get there." Osterweil, a self-described agitator who named a pet after a French tyrant (Robespierre), proceeds to lay out "what it might take"—in case chapter titles such as "All Cops Are Bastards" and "No Such Thing as Nonviolence" were too cryptic. Revolution is "the only way forward," and it won't be a nonviolent affair. Recent Stories in Politics Considering the target reader is already familiar with Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, the book is at least 200 pages too long. The casual reader, meanwhile, is likely to get bogged down in extended passages about NAFTA, El Salvador, and how "racialized hierarchies were crucial to medieval European notions of nobility and the formation of serf and slave populations." Not to mention the preponderance of descriptive adjectives, as mandated by intersectionality. Abolish capitalism? Nah. Abolish "cisheteropatriarchal white supremacist capitalism." Osterweil isn't pro-violence, per se. She's anti-anti-violence, and prefers the term "not-nonviolent" to describe the revolution she envisions. At the same time, she doesn't want to alienate any readers. "I want to make clear that this discussion is not meant to denigrate anyone who uses non-violent tactics in their struggles," she explains. That doesn't mean nonviolence is good or advisable. Far from it. History proves that nonviolence is "actually a collaborationist and misogynist affair." Osterweil trods literary ground that few intellectuals have dared to trod. You don't often see the word "egregious" used to describe "peacekeeping" efforts that don't involve the United Nations. The word "similarly" is utilized in courageous fashion to compare a "struggling business" threatened by riots to "a small white farmer who enslaved only one or two people." Some of the author's attempts to diminish nonviolence as a political tactic read like a bad liberal parody of a bad conservative meme. Martin Luther King didn't really believe in nonviolence, for example, because he "traveled with a heavily armed entourage." In a footnote, Osterweil attempts to burnish her anti-anti-violence bona fides by insisting that she does not intend "to make a moral distinction between looting and property destruction or to imagine that property destruction is ‘worse' or more white supremacist than looting." Phew, thanks for clarifying. The politics espoused in the book are, to put it mildly, slightly to the left of mainstream. The author praises Che Guevara for his "radical leadership" in promoting a system "distinct from China and the USSR, the latter of which most revolutionaries in the sixties recognized as a reactionary, capitalist state." She tries to assuage ideological purists who argue that looters "are acting as consumers and therefore furthering capitalism." What about the minority business owners who might not be so inclined to have their livelihoods destroyed in the name of abolishing [insert descriptive adjectives] capitalism? "There’s no really clean or easy way to struggle without ever hurting anyone," is the best answer Osterweil could come up with in a recent interview with the New Yorker. (She also elaborated on her comparison of small business owners to slaveholders, suggesting that all private property is akin to slavery.) Are we to take the author literally, seriously, or both? The mainstream media has been eager to dismiss In Defense of Looting as the rantings of a lone wolf radical perverting the beliefs of millions of peaceful demonstrators. In any event, it's less dangerous than a Tom Cotton op-ed. Looting should be downplayed—to prevent Republicans from seizing—but never defended. Except the book isn't really a defense of looting so much as a rebuke of capitalism, which can't so easily be dismissed as charmingly fringe. The Democratic Party avoided a reckoning with this reality when voters salvaged Joe Biden's zombie campaign to prevent a 78-year-old socialist from running away with the nomination. Bernie Sanders is old, but his influential allies in Congress aren't. Younger generations view socialism more favorably than capitalism, even if they don't really know what either term means. Democratic leaders, mainstream liberals, and "woke" corporations won't be able to defer that reckoning indefinitely. Time to start boarding up the windows.
On the eve of World War II, there were roughly 130 million Americans, some 6 percent of the world's population. By comparison, mainland Japan had 72 million, Germany 69 million, and Italy just 43 million. Only the Soviet Union—168 million—could match the United States man-for-man. Though tactics and strategy mattered, the eventual Allied victory can be explained by these figures. The immense war-fighting might of America came first and foremost from its people. Recent Stories in Culture Today, America's share of the global population has declined to just over 4 percent. It will likely keep withering. The Census Bureau reports that in 2019 "natural increase"—the number of births less number of deaths—was less than a million for the first time in decades; annual immigration was around that level too. Meanwhile, other countries—India, fast-growing Nigeria, and particularly China—are set to or already vastly outnumber the United States. Of course, America has certain advantages baked in. We are more technologically advanced, more productive, and reap the benefits of a tradition of liberty and constitutional democracy. But the key point of One Billion Americans, the new book from Vox‘s Matt Yglesias, is that to remain global top dog and compete with the 1.3 billion-man dragon, America is going to need a heck of a lot more people. Yglesias is a liberal, though a frequent gadfly of the more-progressive left. His is rarely a popular voice among conservatives, and some of his discussion of conservative policy views, in One Billion Americans and elsewhere, amounts to filleting strawmen. But the basic idea of the book, that America needs to commit to remaining the world's most powerful, productive nation, is a project that conservatives should emphatically support. Because Yglesias is right: We need more people. There are myriad returns to population growth. Some of them scale linearly—the more people who produce things, the more consume. Others pertain to age structure: As the Baby Boomers cross 65, America is projected to have about two workers per retiree, an unsustainable ratio. But population growth can also have more-than-linear returns, producing the benefits that can only exist when enough people come together, through more refined diversification of labor or agglomeration effects. And population growth can make beneficial low-probability events more common—if the chance of an Einstein is one in a million, then adding 700 million Americans means 700 more Einsteins, with all the benefits they bring. If that sounds too technical, think about it this way: More people means not just more of the same, but more chances for the new and better. The long-run decline of the U.S. population, by contrast, will mean a stingier, less creative country. America's greatness is in its people—who doesn't want more Americans? Much of One Billion Americans is concerned with the policy question of how to actually achieve Yglesias's milestone. His proposals break down roughly into three sections, of varying quality: encouraging more kids, increasing immigration, and making it easier to actually live in the United States. On the kids front, the number of kids a woman can expect to have in her lifetime has dwindled since the Great Recession, down to 1.7 in 2019. That's not only below the number needed to replace the population (2.1)—it's also fewer than most Americans say they want, as demographer Lyman Stone has documented. A baby bust is bad for the economy, and for national greatness, but it's also just bad for the millions of Americans who want to be parents but aren't. In asking how to get those numbers up, Yglesias focuses mostly on the rising cost of childrearing and how government interventions can socialize those costs. Some of these ideas have merit—the costs of childrearing are generally internalized to parents, while society reaps the benefits of 18 years of raising another worker. It makes sense to balance that out with paid leave or with child transfers of the sort that command support even on the right. But others—like creating universal daycare—put too much trust in public services, given the evidence of adverse effects of such government-run programs. And Yglesias's focus on costs alone is both too narrow and too wide. He does not discuss both deeper causes of the fertility drop, like declining marriage rates, and more mechanical drivers, like the rise of elective c-sections. Conservative readers are likely to most object to Yglesias's discussion of immigration, not least because it is peppered throughout with lame dismissals of the restrictionist view as exclusively xenophobic and racist. Yglesias evinces a passing familiarity with Harvard's George Borjas, the leading economist of immigration skepticism, but only in the context of his long-running dispute with David Card. He might have done well to consult Reihan Salam, his former Atlantic colleague and current Manhattan Institute president, who makes the case against mass low-skilled immigration. That said, Yglesias is probably right that a bigger America will need not only more babies but more immigrants, who currently account for roughly a fifth of annual increase. To his credit, he acknowledges that our system should select more on the basis of merit (as is the case in Canada and Australia) and less on the basis of being loosely related to someone already living here. His discussion of place-based visas, in which individual states or cities bring in immigrants, revitalizing now-drained American centers with people who want to work hard and participate in the American dream, is worth weighing. Speaking of cities, Yglesias is on far stronger footing in the three separate chapters about making American cities and states better places to live. (One gets the sense that he pitched a book about urban renewal policy, and a savvy editor told him that wouldn't quite sell without a catchy tag line.) One of the main arguments against population growth is that density can lead to unpleasantness—traffic jams, pollution, etc.—and Yglesias's response is that America has a great deal of available space that simply needs to be made more livable. That means in part trying to revive the dozens of American cities with shrinking population, hollowed out by deindustrialization. Cities like St. Louis and Detroit have the raw stuff to be great once again—they just need more people, and more jobs and infrastructure to attract those people. Policymakers can lead the way on this, for example, by carefully decamping federal and state government agencies, which are major employers, across the country. Government subsidy can induce companies to relocate to underserved cities too, a trend that will likely be hastened by the post-pandemic rise of telework anyway. But those cities where people do want to live can be improved, too, and with deregulatory approaches conservatives should support. Yglesias backs slashing land-use regulations, particularly to encourage homebuilding in uber-expensive cities like New York and San Francisco. More supply means lower prices, which means more people can buy homes and build lives. Yglesias also has an aggressively wonky discussion of transportation reform, the basic point of which is that Americans could get around a more-dense country faster and more comfortably with just a little effort. Whether or not one agrees with Yglesias's policy vision, though, is to some extent beside the point. As he notes at the start of the book, "There's no way that all the specific ideas in this book will ever command broad consensus in American society. But I think the big picture idea of the book, that America should try to stay number one, already does." And Yglesias is right that if we really want to beat a nation of 1.3 billion, adding hundreds of millions of Americans would surely help. Conservatives, in other words, can and should offer a variety of counterproposals to Yglesias's. But the basic project, the agreed-upon means to renew American greatness and preserve our world-straddling dominance, ought to remain the same: one billion or bust.