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Hungry Hungary Hypocrites
Two breakfast burritos?! C'mon, man.
I regret to inform you that Matt Yglesias is at it again:
Oh, Yiggy. I suppose in this corner of the internet, our favorite neoliberal needs no introduction. We know by now that for certain disciples of Jeremy Bentham and The R Project for Statistical Computing, life can be turned into something pretty simple; a graph of gross domestic product. Gee Dee Pee.
If the line stays flat, that’s bad, if it goes down, that’s very bad indeed. As the saying goes, these peoples' dearest policy wish is to make the “line go up”.
There’s something compacted, though, underneath the pendulous folds of his latest fixation, and it’s not just repeated use of their ethnonym as an English speaker to refer to all things Hungarian (Yglesias, knowing his readership well, likes to drop hints he’s aware of taboos in human genetics research which are often historically contingent and wrapped up in densely written national histories of the kind his followers also enjoy.) but rather the grounds on which he contests Tucker and other populists’ admiration of Hungary; an objection at how American conservatives have finally dared to look abroad for solutions to their gripes, combined with an attempt at being patriotic. It’s this jiggling, marbled, rotund hypocrisy we hack at for juicy gibbets of truth and insight.
Having put out his missive on M*gyar-lovers and the Hungary Question ahead of schedule, Matthew may yet treat us to another set of tired arguments against Tucker Carlson’s calls for immigration restrictionism:
He should try intermittent fasting. In any case, this microniche internet blogger can’t wait for Monday, as he will be in recovery from a weekend in Las Vegas of snorting rails off hookers’ asses, larceny and property damage, and drunkenly cage fighting tweaker bitcoin maxi HODLers at DEF CON.
So let us examine all at once why predictable, slow and boring Matt Yglesias is wrong about everything we knew he’d say about Hungary and will have to say on immigration.
After some standard fare progressive tripe and noting Hungarian sex scandals;
Elon Musk (an immigrant) has made these reusable rockets. We have the most Olympic medals. We played a leading role in the development of mRNA vaccines. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with Hungarian people; it’s just a small country that doesn’t accomplish that much. But beyond that, Hungarians actually also played a key role in the development of mRNA vaccines. However, Karikó Katalin did her important work in this field in the United States of America.
And nobody is surprised to learn that crucial research was done by a Hungarian-born person living in the United States rather than vice versa. The world’s most talented and ambitious people tend to try to come to America, and nobody tries to go to Hungary.
This is all true. Even this author’s parents are immigrants. It’s without a doubt that many US citizens and permanent residents who have contributed to American industrial and scientific preeminence were not native-born and are not of the historical founding stock; those from Europe (primarily Anglos), nor African slaves, nor Amerindian natives, who in time melded into an identifiable nation with a complex history that is not merely English in character and scantly resembles various African or aboriginal nations. People around the world, including our close neighbors, know ‘Americans’ quite well.
And yet, Yglesias has chosen to lead with one of the richest men on the planet, one of the wealthiest in human history. Is this really the modal immigrant? It is true, and perhaps will remain so, that the world’s most talented and ambitious people tend to try to come to America, but is this the only set?
We know from investigations of data everyone can audit, from entities both clearly partisan and linked with political action, and those with a pretense of neutrality that are obviously tendentious about immigration’s externalities, that immigrants simply consume public resources—y’know, welfare?—at much higher rates. It’s true that this reliance lessens over time (though there’s a marked difference in that reduction, it appears, between Mexican and Cuban immigrants), but even those who claim that there is nothing about entry per se to the US, but simply the circumstances of poverty which increase this reliance would be very hard pressed to explain how increasing numbers of the world’s poor and desperate people would not further strain public resources.
Not Matthew Yglesias, though! No, no, Matthew, a very serious scholar who deals in facts, doesn’t even acknowledge this. It’s not a part of his fact pattern, and never will be. This isn’t because he doesn’t know it—he does—it’s because he thinks you’re too stupid to ever think about it, and is hoping that you won’t.
In fact, more than 750 Million people worldwide would immigrate to the US, if they could. As the zenith of Matthew Yglesias’s intellectual efforts is a book making a titular case for One Billion Americans, this is excellent news! But is it good news for you? Is it good for the quality of your children’s schools, the social cohesion of your country at large and your community in particular? None of this occurs to Matt, who just so happens to live in a “good school district”, and mostly hang out with white people. Now, don’t get it twisted: There’s nothing wrong with the fact that Matt Yglesias is a wealthy white man who hangs out primarily with other rich white people, and lives in a posh, almost exclusively white neighborhood. It just seems like he might be somewhat insulated from the consequences of the policies he advocates for.
Matt then implies country homogeneity is inherently related to fascist evils:
Hungary was an open society that assimilated Slovenes and Ruthenians and Romanians to Hungarian culture. But the legacy of European ethnic nationalism has been felt very strongly in Central Europe — it sparked multiple world wars, multiple genocides, rounds of ethnic cleansing, and now we have lots of itty-bitty, fairly homogenous countries there. And of them, Hungary is the most overtly gender traditionalist and xenophobic, and that’s what some American conservatives have decided they envy.
In his first sentence, Yglesias isn’t sure what he’s actually arguing for or against. This is a classic case of a high verbal IQ type being so capable of arguing for two things of different meanings that he has fooled himself. Is he praising Hungary for its openness, or for its assimilation? It can’t be both, because assimilation means Hungarians valuing Hungary for what it is, and taking pains to ensure entrants of any sort come to resemble it, while openness absent such considerations would mean a Hungary that could change. Which is it? We’ll never know, and, hilariously, neither will Matt!
It’s true, Communists did indeed carry out deportations and (with the express diplomatic assent of the United States) that resulted in a more Hungarian Hungary, and a more Czech (and Slovakian) Czechoslovakia. Matt didn’t specify it was a Communist government doing this. But Matt also didn’t tell you that Hungary got more Hungarian as a result of Hungarians being deported into Hungary. Why didn’t he? I speculate, maybe uncharitably (but probably not!), that Yglesias was relying on the lazy historical education of his primarily US readership and was hoping you’d think only Hungarian NAZIS (like the Horthy government) ever deported people from Hungary in order to cleanse it of non-Hungarians.
But why fear homogeneity anyway? Saudi Arabia is quite homogenous, and so too is Japan. They didn’t accomplish this through genocide, nor are they itty-bitty countries on the world stage. In fact, when the issue is looked at by people not thinking about their next meal during their current one, as detailed in this Washington Post piece, surprising (to Matt, anyway) features are noted about homogeneity and country quality. Things like “Diversity correlates with low GDP per capita”, and “Strong democracy correlates with ethnic homogeneity”, and a relationship between “Diversity and conflict”.
Matt next waddles along with: Cosmopolitanism Makes America Great.
The problem with this is that the parts of America that the populist right has decided it hates are precisely the parts that make the United States richer than Hungary.
Our big tech companies dominate the global market capitalization listings. Our entertainment industry dominates global popular culture. Our universities dominate global higher education rankings. The foreign-born scientists and entrepreneurs are coming here, not Hungary. And it’s not just immigrants from the non-shithole countries that Donald Trump approves of — Steve Jobs’ biological father was a Syrian Muslim and Jeff Bezos’ adoptive father was a refugee from Cuba.
Is this true? This time, topping Elon Musk, Yglesias has so exhausted his inventory of exceptional immigrants after invoking someone who in no way at all reflected the culture or worldview of Syrian Muslims (at least conceding Steve Jobs’ relationship with his biological father was only that), that he has to bring in the most wealthy man on the planet and the wealthiest in human history. Is the immigrant profile of all Cubans closer to Bezos or the Mariel Boatlift? Why is Yiggy doing this? Why didn’t he just point out, say, the wealthy Indian immigrants in IC and leadership roles all over Silicon Valley?
It’s an American demographic reality which hasn’t eluded Biden, for instance:
Could it be that if Yglesias had to talk about Indian-Americans (who despite the gas stations, are the wealthiest and best educated ethnic group in the United States) he’d have to talk about things like the caste system? It turns out the Indian subcontinent’s population genetics (Yglesias is familiar with this, by the way) reflects more or less, the ingress of peoples we could call the Indo-Aryans who displaced but also syncretized with peoples we could call Dravidians, forming a cline of ancestry from Northwest to South of the Yamnaya peoples’ genes, roughly mapping to the ethnolinguistic distribution of those groups. But not just the ethnolinguistic distribution of those groups. Ancestry from the Steppe also seems to map closely to the hierarchy of Hindu castes; high-to-low Steppe ancestry corresponds to high-to-low castes.
India’s castes have historically been incredibly tightly endogamous—the extent is beyond the scope of this article, but it is significant. In India, Brahmins, at the top of the hierarchy, number around sixty million. Sixty million people is a lot of people, no doubt. But India has over a billion people. Estimates vary, but Brahmins are something like five percent of Indians, and ‘forward’ castes are another twenty-five percent of the total population.
In the US, according to a survey commissioned by the Carnegie Endowment, while only around half of Indian American Hindus in any way identify with their caste, of those who do, eighty percent are either Brahmins or forward caste. Put two and two together; Brahmins and other upper castes are an identifiably separate population constituting a minority, even a stark minority, of Indians. Indian-Americans are furthermore, a minority from within that minority. The US didn’t randomly get ‘immigrants’ from India writ large, but instead obtained an educated elite of an already highly stratified population.
Yglesias knows about this in greater detail than he lets on, but supplies a vastly thinner justification for Silicon Valley immigrants’ successes, because it could undermine his broader position favoring ‘more immigration’ by allowing Americans to think about how they might desire more selective immigration.
Yglesias, possibly in between his amply sized breakfast burritos, continues:
And if you want to argue for changes to the asylum system or for a reduced emphasis on family ties and more on labor market skills, that’s fine. But you don’t see Tucker Carlson making pilgrimages to Ottawa to meet with Justin Trudeau, and nobody is publishing Canadian Conservative magazine here in the United States.
You also don’t see NAFTA’s governing body put pressure on Canada to alter its immigration and border enforcement laws, or try to change them extralegally through a superior courts system. In addition, Tucker Carlson has pointed out in the past and deliberately invited guests who note the same that Canada has an explicit ‘points’ system governing its immigration laws and border control, where foreigners must pass a threshold of desirability, else be turned away. In defense of Yglesias, Tucker Carlson Tonight airs at dinner time.
J’accuse! Now Niskanen’s seniormost scholar (after they fired Wilkinson for being funny for once) tears off his shirt (having popped the buttons earlier):
What makes you reach for Hungary as an example is a desire to live in a country with very few immigrants of any kind, very little internal ethnic diversity, and lots of overt hostility to people with non-traditional ideas about gender roles.
But it’s worth saying that the United States already has places like that, and there’s nothing stopping anyone from moving there. One reason the non-diverse, non-cosmopolitan, highly traditionalist parts of the United States are much wealthier than rural Hungary is that they are connected to and subsidized by the much richer and more successful parts of the United States where you can find drag queen happy hour at the public library and the headquarters of big multinational corporations.
What a bold argument! We may never know exactly why Matt Yglesias, a father himself, isn’t at all bothered by drag queen story time at public libraries for children and can be so glib about the whole thing. But basically, he asserts that places in America without much in the way of ethnic variation, nor recently mainstreamed ideas about sexuality, are the poorer places, relying on subsidies from the places where such things reign. The causal link is not spelled out, but, what on earth was going on in America’s past, then?
Absent sexual and gender progressivism, how did America become responsible for: mass produced automobiles, power tools, the telegraph, the elevator, oil pipelines, the telephone, air conditioning, and airplanes?
Again, it’s hard to know what exactly Yglesias imagines is the link between ever more florid expressions of sexual desire, particularly around children, and technological progress, but it’s important for him to underline it. Odd.
He sidesteps this almost cleverly:
I don’t necessarily want to make a strong causal argument that if the United States adopts reactionary authoritarian policies it will kill the golden high-tech goose….Mostly, though, I’m just saying that on an aesthetic level, the parts of America that conservatives have decided they hate are the parts that make us rich and successful.
Ah. The notion about drag queens in contact with children having yielded a golden (egg laying, we suppose his Vox editors would have clarified) high-tech goose in the first place needs…no explanation at all; cool!
Having decided nationalists, populists, or conservatives, or Republicans, or whatever (nota bene) have no good reasons for preferring Hungary’s national cohesion to the smorgasbord of America’s race and gender politics, Yglesias next majestically reveals despite his pretensions of understated thoughtfulness, he is not in any way more sophisticated than Rachel Maddow:
Like, maybe conservative populism would have better prospects in the United States if its leader weren’t a louche, corrupt fraud who rambles nonsense all the time? I mean, we’re talking about a guy who got up on a podium and suggested we could cure Covid by shining ultraviolet light into people’s lungs.
Did you notice that President Trump was in the news doing a lot of stuff in Hungary recently? Or that he penned articles or did interviews with Hungarian leaders? Or have you actually heard Trump say something recently? Do you even remember the last time you heard from him?
…the basic ideas of “cops and troops are good, we should have less immigration and wave little flags a lot instead of obsessing over racism” just have a lot of appeal.
But the populist right looked at a sample of two, saw that Trump narrowly won in 2016 while Romney narrowly lost in 2012, and concluded that Trump was a political genius. The fact that Trump then lost in 2020 hasn’t caused them to revisit this at all.
Why’d he lose? Wait for, wait for it….
Then when Trump was president, right in the middle of this supposedly apocalyptical cultural battle, what do Republicans do? They try to kick millions of people off their health insurance. Then they follow it up with a toxically unpopular tax cut for multinational corporations. Maybe before you decide that Portuguese fascism is the answer to conservatism’s problems, you should just try to do basic politics in a halfway competent way?
Indeed, what did mainstream Republicans like Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Mick Mulvaney do, and Trump allow, with what the voters gave them? They tried to do things unrelated to the masses at rallies screaming things like “Build the Wall!”. They tried to do Republican things. Did they try to do things related to “conservative populism”? Are these people the same as populists?
Yglesias pretends there is no difference between populists looking towards Hungary and the Republicans (and sometimes Democrats) running the Trump administration—that populism begins, and ends, with Trump’s administration.
Well…Trump was elected in no small part because of the same forces that brought Viktor Orbán to power. Progressives used to know this and stated it openly. Observe this breathless article from the Guardian in 2015, “Hungary government condemned over anti-immigration drive” :
What came first – the refugees or the rhetoric? In Hungary, suddenly one of Europe’s most anti-immigration nations with its billboards and planned border fence, it’s hard to say.
Certainly public opinion has swung against migrants in a year when a record 61,000 asylum seekers have entered Hungary. A poll in April found that 46% of Hungarians classified themselves as anti-immigrant, more than three times higher than in the early 1990s when polling began.
Fidesz, which has lost ground to the far-right Jobbik party since the autumn, is running a Hungarian-language billboard campaign that the UN has denounced for stirring up xenophobic attitudes. Ostensibly aimed at illegal migrants, it features slogans that tell them to respect Hungarian culture and laws, and warns “if you come to Hungary, you should not take Hungarians’ jobs”.
Wow. I wonder if that has any relationship whatsoever to the stuff Trump ran on? To cut to the chase, in case Yglesias is not just dishonest, but starting to pay the Piper, the fascination with Hungary is populists wanting to see what making good on immigration promises looks like. They aren’t doing this because they tried but failed to do what Paul Ryan wanted, nor is Ryan a populist.
And yet Yglesias managed to trip over something very important about the metamorphosis of the American right. It has now totally lost its religion:
I do wish progressives would spend a little more time embracing America as an instantiation of certain progressive values.
Conservatives have started to notice this about America, too.
…a lot of contemporary conservatives just look at small, poor, backward, insular Hungary and think to themselves “this is great, this is better than living in Austin and having food from all over the world and a vibrant music scene and a world-class university and all these tech companies.”
What conservatives are noticing is the very same thing which makes Yglesias a devotee of soulless multistory Soviet-style housing, the liberal, market-oriented capitalism which most of their post-War political movement and certainly their formal political representation in the Republican party, espoused is an acid. It dissolves things which make America home and leaves only what is profitable. Hungarians, they notice, like many in Europe lack icemakers in refrigerators or washer-dryer set ups in a separate laundry room in a big house. But they also have a sense of themselves. They have Heimat.
Even outside of the cultural dimensions, which Yglesias pretends could only reflect genocidal bigotry, what about the conditions in which people live? Hungary is boosting its fertility rate. It's early days, but it looks to be working.
And in America? Do I need to link anything? Tucker articulated it best:
It’s important not to go full Neuschwanstein Castle (though, you are allowed to dunk on Yglesias in this way). This is a phenomenon where reactionaries post pictures of an especially beautiful building or stock photos of women in wheat fields and think “Yes. This is what it’s all about. Ancient castles and stock photos of women in wheat fields”. This is a sterile, moribund nationalism where you put your living nation in a freezer and then preserve its corpse for eternity. What matters isn’t a castle, of course, but the people who built it.
The nice lady from Mexico who sold me some breakfast tacos in downtown Kerrville this morning did not replace anyone, nor did the second-generation Vietnamese guy who was born in Houston and moved here to open a Chinese restaurant.
For Yglesias, these people are meat robots. They are there to give him new yummies in his tummy, and if homogenous Americans can’t delight him, it’s time to get some new biomass into the country, right away. The fungibility of people and the priority of diversity of experiential delights is the deepest of Yglesias’s hypocrisies and why his affectation of ‘patriotism’ rings so hollow:
And the people who think it would be better to live in a country where that kind of thing never happens — a country like Hungary — are nuts.
This is where we must leave him, and where he reveals the full sum of his anger about conservatives daring to ask, “Why can’t we have this in America?”
Nothing about Yglesias’s America is better in any way.
He just likes it because he can get ever fatter on a wider variety of restaurants.