Launching CouchDB

Created a new EC2 instance on Linux 2018.

Log in with SSH, with key in the directory

Install dependencies

yum install gcc gcc-c++ libtool curl-devel ruby-rdoc zlib-devel openssl-devel make automake rubygems perl git-core

Enable EPEL repository

sudo yum-config-manager --enable epel

Build SpiderMonkey JS Engine

tar xvfz js185-1.0.0.tar.gz
cd js-1.8.5/js/src
sudo make install

downloaded dependencies, got spidermonkey, and all that. I’ve been using

The challenge is

Once you have installed all of the dependencies, you should download a copy of the CouchDB source. This should give you an archive that you’ll need to unpack. Open up a terminal and change directory to your newly unpacked archive.

Configure the source by running:


But I don’t have a good way yet to download the CouchDB source. I believe I will need to use curl url-to-couchdb-source.bin –output usr/local/couchdb-bins.bin

RedHat 8: Place the following text into /etc/yum.repos.d/bintray-apache-couchdb-rpm.repo:

 ^ I used vi ....filename above and found that it wouldn't let me write - try again as root?

Update: sort of fixed by using nano and the CentOS option. Now the next step sudo yum -y install couchdb gives:

Error: Package: couchdb-3.1.1-1.el8.x86_64 (bintray–apache-couchdb-rpm)
Error: Package: couchdb-3.1.1-1.el8.x86_64 (bintray–apache-couchdb-rpm)
Error: Package: couchdb-3.1.1-1.el8.x86_64 (bintray–apache-couchdb-rpm)
Requires: systemd
Error: Package: couchdb-3.1.1-1.el8.x86_64 (bintray–apache-couchdb-rpm)
Error: Package: couchdb-3.1.1-1.el8.x86_64 (bintray–apache-couchdb-rpm)
Error: Package: couchdb-3.1.1-1.el8.x86_64 (bintray–apache-couchdb-rpm)
Error: Package: couchdb-3.1.1-1.el8.x86_64 (bintray–apache-couchdb-rpm)
Error: Package: couchdb-3.1.1-1.el8.x86_64 (bintray–apache-couchdb-rpm)
Error: Package: couchdb-3.1.1-1.el8.x86_64 (bintray–apache-couchdb-rpm)
Error: Package: couchdb-3.1.1-1.el8.x86_64 (bintray–apache-couchdb-rpm)
Error: Package: couchdb-3.1.1-1.el8.x86_64 (bintray–apache-couchdb-rpm)
Requires: mozjs60

Now, did

sudo yum --enablerepo=epel update

sudo yum groupinstall "Development Tools"

sudo curl -O

tar -xvf js185-1.0.0.tar.gz

cd js-1.8.5/js/src/

sudo make install

sudo yum install libicu-devel ncurses-devel openssl-devel
mkdir couch-compile && cd couch-compile

This is from , but sudo curl -O had to be prepended by sudo.

Personal Statement Prep

Academic Statement: How will a ### Masters degree help you meet your career and educational objectives? (max ~250 words) *

I anticipate using a ## Masters primarily to prepare to lead organizations that use novel data and methods about complex systems to improve the effectiveness of public- and private-sector interventions aimed at U.S. social and health problems. This may include future work in academia. To me, creative financial instruments, long-standard technologies, and existing streams of data are underused in planning such interventions. The organizations that lead them often are incapable of leveraging such resources — and often view them as distractions or nice-to-haves. Finally, such resources are underused in financial decisionmaking, systematically excluding financially viable interventions from investment by private investors.

Personal Statement: How have your personal background and life experiences, including social, cultural, familial, educational, or other opportunities or challenges, motivated your decision to pursue a graduate degree? (max ~250 words)

I have a complex background and identity, but one that consistently reminds me of the urgency of resourceful action by public institution and the civil sector. I was raised mostly by my brother, 3 years older than me, while my mother worked tirelessly to establish a new California State University and my father conducted environmental research in Mexico. With my brother, I grew up in a military-base-turned-university-campus where education loomed large; relatedly, in both our boredom and our interactions with our parents we fostered bold curiosity and a methodic and cheery approach to conducting meaningful projects.

Time spent in Mexico showed me how institutional failures could harm everyone, by way of drawing stark contrasts to California. Simultaneously, I returned to America to reckon with the inequities in my community: how my school had no art program while the school three towns over funded new stone arches for its large theatre.

Planning a Hectic Quarter

Priority Activities

  • Project Report
  • Seeking funding
  • Creating pool of prospective TA sites
  • Developing automated TA products
  • Creating reproducible research
  • Publication


I will feel great momentum if I get a draft of the project report together, using a clear structure and leaving placeholders where I am not best suited for the writing task.

I should keep the data dictionary open while integrating the code segments from across the Shiny app, Rmd, and R scripts.

I should continue with my approach, creating an R script that outputs pngs and csvs (add), and then pulling these and outputing them in the Rmd. The Rmd could present a lot more info by using tables in lieu of some vizzes.

Week of 10/5 Activities

  • Project Report Draft
  • Data dictionary
  • Combining the maps, histograms, and other graphs into a single document
  • List of leads for (1) government interest (2) academics who could use this (3) prospective funders (4) prospective TA sites
  • Identify waitlist data options – note that waitlists may be capped or diverted
  • % Elders on SNAP % Elders receiving meals on site (day centers, MOW)

Projects Beyond Eldercare Data

  • Water – ECHO and SDWIS; Census ACS to most granular level – all in R.
  • SDOH – Write up common forms of bias seen in social-intervention literature that monetizes and evaluates health effects of social interventions. – before Thursday and after RWJ?

Mindful and Reflexive Compassion

Today, I’m thinking about how many people need/expect their friends to reflexively express emotional support when they experience hardships. How often and cheaply our friends will lob insults at the perceived wrongdoers (never present) in a story we recount. How ready and fake the ego-reinforcing mantras are, when reflexively served up after we concede our shortcomings or failures to win external validation.

I could never do that: I was the silent one off to the side, wishing we could talk about action steps, about structuring a response for our despondent friend to effect, or about talking about what our emotions really are telling us – surely we feel something more nuanced when we break it down to it’s nuts and bolts.

Kassie and I talked about the lost opportunity in my approach, which is also so common among my friends. I viewed it as cheap, as fake, and as degrading of the person we are trying to cheer up. We are treating them like a one dimensional object, a leaf being blown around in a wind of emotion. We offer them nothing substantive to reflect on or learn from. We neuter their drive to improve themselves and exert agency over the situation.

But that is not the only story, and many people do require that reflexive compassion to reestablish their emotional footing.

It’s a matter of communication style, and I would frankly be doing my friends wrong to impose my style – seeking to dig in during the rawest feeling of emotion – onto other people. Understanding their style and meeting them with what they need to heal -/ that is compassion, and it is attainable.

Creating a habit of supporting certain friends in this way – with my own flavor of reflexive compassion that is meant to be genuine — can coexist with a mindset that looks for improvement opportunities, for agency, and for exploring the emotions granulay and honestly.

Two solutions:

  • Ask my friend, “hey, I see things are not going to plan, and you’re having a hard time but also preparing yourself to deal with it.” This leads us to meet the style that’s right in the moment, and to have an open conversation about emotions (centering on them).
  • Consider “wise compassion,” the sort of helpful scrutiny most people expect from a therapist, in appropriate dose and at appropriate times. Offer “reflexive compassion” as a rule, and “wise compassion” as an act of lovingkindness for my friends.

The Business Candidates

Notoriously, the race for at-large city council member in DC is 24 candidates deep. The seat is open because of the retirement of David Grosso, an incumbent I’ve respected since 2015 for his work on juvenile justice reform. Two business-friendly candidates running for the seat are worth analyzing.

An established former at-large member, Vincent Orange, is in the mix after losing his seat in 2016 and then stepping away from the Council before his term ended, to lead the DC Chamber of Commerce. That resignation process was telling: he resisted calls to leave the seat, which would have prevented any conflicts of interest. The Chamber is, after all, the primary advocacy and lobbying heavyweight representing the big tent of the business community, and thus a major lobbying force jockeying for influence in the Council. In resisting the calls to resign and avoid overlapping job obligations, he tried to justify his situation by comparing it with (or more generously, “comparing it against”) the tragically low standard set by Jack Evans’ conduct at that time. Evan’s, then Ward 2’s councilmember, is since ousted. He is both a snollygoster and a two-time Wikipedia vandal.

What could be more of a conflict-of-interest red flag than Orange’s past intention to simultaneously steer the council and lobby it on behalf of the broad business community? What Marcus Goodwin might do as a developer-turned-Councilmenber: actively engaging in business activity that has a narrower, more concentrated policy interest than the Chamber’s — a special interest premised on excluding large swaths of DC’s residents and homeowners from the Council’s priorities. Goodwin, who is a real-estate developer and second-time candidate for at-large Councilmember, could be a new guard in the Democratic establishment of DC: his Neighborhood Development Company can immediately point to its Benning Market development, at 3451 Benning Road NE for progressive credibility. That “food hall” concept would supposedly provide a venue in Ward 7 for a community market and black-owned businesses, at least for now. This dream has yet to come to fruition; its key tenant has an out-of-date website (from December 2019, as of October 2020), suggesting little forward momentum several years from its founding, and a year since NDC’s crowdsourced quarter-million dollar funding round. Other NDC projects are more run-of-the-mill: a lot of gentrifying projects and a sideshow of affordable housing, which can be targeted toward people with fairly high incomes because of DC’s high median income, which is used for defining affordable housing eligibility.

Do we overlook our concerns about Goodwin’s development-industry policy interests because his company sponsored one as-yet-unfulfilled project that it asserts will elevate community interests in Ward 7? Can we even trust that his company, the landlords, will keep black-owned businesses at center-stage in the property’s future, if Ward 7 continues to gentrify? Or will its joint food hall–grocery store design be home to the next Whole Foods by decade’s end?

Development ties imply several priorities that are out of step with many DC residents’ own. Developers want the opportunity to raise rents for businesses and homes. This is fastest aided by deprioritizing low-income residents’ needs and pushing out low-income residents from their current neighborhoods. Developers take this approach to create large swaths of the city that are highly appealing to high-income residents. (High-income residents in turn can sign high-end, high-profit leases and can purchase bottomless volumes of high-profit items from nearby businesses, increasing the businesses’ rent potential.)

Many pressing policy areas — like criminal justice, tenants’ rights, education, and behavioral health — are instrumental to push out or keep out lower income residents (including those trying to make an honest living) just as the city reshapes itself to appeal to prospective tenants in the upper classes. Appealing to higher-income residents can involve policies that improve services and rights for all — but this is slower. If Goodwin takes the at-large seat, what broad approach he will take to reshape DC via policy makes all the difference. At best, he would expand the pie and shepherd corporate interests to generate opportunities for the lower-income DC residents. Or he could shepherd lower-income DC residents out of town to generate opportunities for corporate interests. DC’s progress in offering economic opportunity and household stability to all residents is threatened if we replace the inclusivity-oriented ethic of David Grosso with someone who will not be a fierce negotiator on behalf of the district when facing business interests who want a place in our city’s economic activity.

Those concerns about how his development background would shape his political priorities should be weighted heavily because he is so young, and his career so promising: voters mistaking his intentions in this election could accidentally invite development-friendly policy angles — and perhaps related graft — for the next decades. He is 30, and last year was elected president of DC’s club for young Democrats.

Goodwin’s statement in the Post focused on his experience: that “the work that I’ve done in commercial development gives me the knowledge and savvy to know how public-private partnerships should be structured and how to preserve housing for residents that is truly affordable.” This is a fair point, for those looking for a community-oriented business voice. Goodwin is a DC high school graduate, with a pedigree from St. Albans, UPenn, and Harvard. He is deep into the financial and government-facing part of NDC’s work. He previously worked at Four Points and JBG Smith, according to his NDC profile.

On one hand, his election would reshape which groups of DC residents he will champion, with concerning likelihood that the poor would lose. On the other hand, his election would welcome new frontiers for graft and cronyism. His Neighborhood Development Company would be intensely embedded in DC or whatever firm he goes in later decades with his coupled political power and development skills. If Goodwin takes political office, development companies offering a better vision for DC land use might get cut out of a fair process — or might avoid competing with his firms altogether in key areas, to avoid his disfavor.

For that reason, keeping Goodwin on the bench seems a good idea, at least until he reveals more about his priorities and shows real commitment to equity, or until he commits to disentangling from his own industry to take on the $130,000/year salaried work of DC Councilmember. If he’s committed to equitable development for the right reasons, he will have much to do in the next decade anyway in our city. If he’s committed to bringing his business experience to negotiate and legislate on behalf of DC’s citizenry, I hope he would return to take a third shot at a Council seat in future elections.

I’m moving with way too little structure around learning about post-acute care. I have data that I want to analyze about patients’ post-acute care spending, and about conditions of the post-acute care users in Medicaid in each year.

Post-acute care has seen some efforts to make the payments setting-neutral. There are also alternative payment models that are bundling pay for post-acute care.

Understanding the options on DiD

With my Part D work, I am concerned and trying to protect our ability to do a strong causal inference study when I am worried about the power of the data structure that we have to do such a study. 

We are trying to estimate the effect that pharmaceutical access expansions have on long-term care use.

We assume that for the treatment population ages 65-69, the population ages 60-64 offers a good counterfactual for change in long-term care use. The population 65-69 has a shock, exogenous to long-term care use trends, that causes a portion of its uninsured population to switch to an insured population, and this uninsured-to-insured population is a good representation of [##ask-control or treated##] population of interest.

The policy question that Aparna is looking to address is

The empirical intention is to “estimate the impact of prescription drug insurance on elderly individuals’ utilization of formal and informal long-term care” – but impact for whom? the uninsured is assumed

The second empirical intention is to examine how changes in long-term care use affects informal caregivers, but is written as “how changes in LTC use affected labor market and mental health outcomes of informal caregivers.” I’ll need clarification here. 

Furthermore, we will do “heterogeneity tests”

The treated group is all Medicare-eligibles. Because they had a shift in drug access caused by Part D. But grouping the three major treated categories (uninsured->uninsured, uninsured->insured, insured->insured) together will dilute the ability to best test our hypothesis about the effect of increased access upon LTC.

The whole endeavor seems ripe for SEM. 

But I am also coming around to using 

Future topics to cover:

– heterogeneity 

– power analyses

– ATET or ATC estimand – or can we develop a weighted 


When you selected the IV method in your 2018 proposal, did you choose not to do propensity score matching/weighting or synthetic control methods for any particular reason? Do you view the IV method as equivalent to using propensity score weights, or as fundamentally different? (I’m thinking that using uninsured-hat changes the estimand from average treatment effect on the treated to ATE on the treated & uninsured.) Are we generally flexible about the estimand? i.e., do we want to estimate average treatment effect of Part D on the treated (which is an overlap group – it includes pre-treatment uninsured and insured), and/or on the treated & pre-treatment uninsured?


If we’re flexible, perhaps we could try to use our study to extend the estimated effect over to today’s elderly population, weighting our study’s estimated ATE based on the demographics & insurance characteristics in today’s post-Part D Medicare-eligibles.

I continue to study ways we can strengthen our causal
inference, which we would need to settle prior to specifying a power analysis.
I am concerned about the applicability of an IV method using demographics
because I think, in theory, that demographics were relevant to changes in LTC
use during the studied period. I am worried about the pooling of effects of the
Part D treatment across multiple groups. I.e. they would not satisfy exogeneity
to the DV except for the ways they relate to Rx insurance. There may be a set of
demographic variables that we could carefully select as instruments that in
theory relate only to Rx insurance, and we could test their exogeneity in the
data. I also am studying if we could generate an estimand of ATE for

Power Analyses for Diff-in-Diff and Matched Diff-in-Diff

Estimating Power Analyses for Diff-Diff

but first, I want a fresh understanding of the alternatives to Diff-Diff designs.

Synthetic Control Method

I read about this on Sunday and totally forgot how it would be different from PSM

Synthetic control method (SCM) matches according to the Y variable in pre-intervention periods, as a time series. Untreated comparison cases are identified according to similarity to the treated case during the period (can be multiple but typically one or few case[s]). 

– Parallel trends assumption is dubious

– Assume unobservable confounders influence the Y variable and desire to get most accurate (how) estimates of treatment effect \alpha = \Y_treated_t=1,i=1 \minus \Y_untreated_t=1,i=1

– Economists with stronger design backgrounds tend to pool multiple treated cases – notably, they have also had multiple treatments, multiple cases. The inventors of SCM are usually  

Kreif, Noémi, Richard Grieve, Dominik Hangartner, Alex James Turner, Silviya Nikolova, and Matt Sutton. “Examination of the Synthetic Control Method for Evaluating Health Policies with Multiple Treated Units.” Health Economics 25, no. 12 (2016): 1514–28.

“This paper extends the limited extant literature on the synthetic
control method for multiple treated units. A working paper by Acemoglu et al. (2013) uses the synthetic control method to construct the treatment‐free potential outcome for each multiple treated unit and is similar to the approach we take in the sensitivity analysis, but weights the estimated unit‐level treatment effects according to the closeness of the synthetic control. Their inferential procedure is similar to the one developed here, in that they re‐sample placebo‐treated units from the control pool. Dube and Zipperer (2013) pool multiple estimates of treatment effects to generalise inference for a setting with multiple treated units and policies. Xu (2015) propose a generalisation for the synthetic control approach, for multiple treated units with a factor model that predicts counterfactual outcomes. Our approach is most closely related to the suggestion initially made by Abadie et al. (2010), to aggregate multiple treated units into a single treated unit. In preliminary simulation studies, we find the method reports relatively low levels of bias in similar settings to the AQ study.”

Propensity Score Matching

is ideal in cases where

– Assignment to the treatment group correlates with variables relevant to the outcome variable (treatment assignment bias)

– Few cases eligible for comparison group are comparable to treatment group case (on covariates deemed relevant)

– Many relevant dimensions on which to match

Tactic: Generate a “propensity score” via logit regression of participation on confounders, giving the predicted probablity of participation in the treatment group.  

Then: Each treatment participating case gets one or more matched comparison cases based on their confounding variables, which give their propensity to have been participants. To do this, we need measures and thresholds of nearness.

I’m unclear about: But is it nearness on P-hat or is it nearness on the confounders? If the latter, does that still involve   it like there is a variable P for participation and P~X and P~Y, so model P~X, pick comparisons that look like group for whom P=1, and then assume relationship to Y operates similarly in treatment & comparison groups?


Liberalism’s Golden Boy Echoes “Why Liberalism Failed”

Neoclassical economics runs in my ideological veins. In my office, I am often the sounding board for economic policy ideas: couldn’t we impose a $30/hour wage for in-home caregivers? “No – inevitably,” I begin, “… inevitably, the demand for formal in-home care will plummet, and in fact families will turn to a black market for low-wage work.” This inevitability is despite the enormous value caregivers provide to society, and this is also because of the low socioeconomic status of the caregiving workforce — they’re immigrant women, and if they held any higher status, they would not be in the industry: better options would be available at McDonald’s or at Walmart. The issue is too far gone.

This example embodies the failure of liberalism as Patrick J. Deneen sees it in Why Liberalism Failed. We are not free, and the more we learn about how our state and our markets work, the less we consider our world to be one of opportunity. This example is a failure of our state (a failed immigration system) and our markets (a failure to meet dire need, reward valuable work, and establish true freedom for either consumer or worker).

Deneen claims that trends in the markets and the state are pushing liberalism away from its core values for humankind — “to secure liberty and human dignity through the constraint of tyranny, arbitrary rule, and oppression” — and toward a “remaking of the world in the image of a false anthropology.” 

This is Deneen’s key thesis: we began with a structure that held honorable goals that protected us from oppression but required us to collectively define the liberty, dignity, and culture we desired; at some point, our definitions rotted; since that point, the entire structure is decaying from its core, spread only more quickly by a polar politics pulling that ideology out to every last piece of the structure.

For the conscious-but-partisan among us, we see the rot only when it is spread by the other team’s favored institution: the market or the state. But in fact, we adopted the rotted definitions ourselves, and we are responsible for its spread. At best, we are left to be angry cynics mad at the state of affairs but acquiescent, unwilling to improve it except marginally. At worst, we are cruel cynics: both unwilling to act and uncaring about the harms arising. In either case, we are shepherded toward cynicism while chanting that the arch of the system bends toward liberty if it will bend our way. As Deneen wrote, “our liberation renders us incapable of resisting these defining forces — the promise of freedom results in thralldom to inevitabilities to which we have no choice but to submit.”

Take the Ideology of Competition, for Example

Now I want to return to that “false anthropology,” and to use the ideology of competition as an example of what Deneen may have meant by “false anthropology.” I interpret “anthropology” to mean a mental model of what humans value. Leaning on my caregiver example, the most obvious example of a false anthropology that’s common in liberalism (and neoclassical economics) is the equivalence of human incentives with competition: that direct competition is a key component of human life, and therefore that competition can suitably motivate all structures that govern human activity in our liberal society. The market is competitive, therefore its results are good. (Ah, Milton Friedman.) And the effect of this on human life and the state are clear. We made humanity subservient to competition. 

Specifically, under this competition ideology — just one ideology of many that has rotted the core of liberalism by improperly defining “liberty and human dignity” — human life has been shifted into a near-constant state of anxiety. We are not secure in our access to necessities. We are never secure. We live in a society where the elderly — even with the Social Security benefits due from a lifetime of hard (but low-paid or “competitively paid”) work — face 8-month waiting lists to access Meals on Wheels in many cities. The cruel cynic supposes they can simply make do in those 8 months; the angry cynic calls for more government action to support the individual’s need for state support under a “glitch” in competition’s benefits. But it’s not a glitch. The system is not a leaky boat (which we tell ourselves it is), but rather a life vest (which we’ve held onto for far too long). Its inadequacies are uncountable, but I’ll continue: your access to health care could disappear if your employer went out of business (especially pre-Obamacare). And, because of the subservience of humanity to the “false anthropology” of competition, we feel no responsibility to help our nearest neighbors in the event that they are without home, food, or health care. The competition example is just one of many to be made. But I will explore it further still.

(As I explore the competition example, I’d like you to consider what “false anthropology” means as you read it, and what exemplary definitions of liberty, dignity, and culture draw from a “false anthropology” as you see it. I’m reachable on Signal and iMessage at 831-402-2736.)

For a jarring break of pace about competition, I will recount a story from my childhood. In a made-for-radio contest called “hold your wee for a Wii,” a local mother competed for a Wii to give her children by drinking gallons and gallons of water. She died. The pressure of competition placed blinders over her vision, disappearing her humanity, long-term thinking, and health.

A true anthropology would exalt humankind’s ability to plan for the long term, to take care of future generations and of health and well-being, and would consider connectivity and collaboration as a wellspring of problem-solving. It need not be utopia, but it would be hard to summarize in a word and diminish to a process that induces anxiety to motivate human action. In conclusion, and applying it to a contemporary crisis: a true anthropology would not struggle to reconcile “motivat[ing] liberty and human dignity through the constraint of tyranny, arbitrary rule, and oppression” with the changes in human activity required to confront climate change.

This concludes my example about competition and draws me into some very-current events. Today, it is 2020; today, the political moment is coronavirus pandemic tumult. Today, debate rages about whether to reopen society from shelter-in-place orders after a month of social distancing. Merkel is on her way out — steady leader of the liberal order that she was — and Macron was embattled but is newly seen as steady-handed. Trump, Bolsonaro, Obrador, Erdogan, Duerte are in, but their styles are currently questioned by the fearful masses. For all the fuss over US’ top-level populism, it is Europe’s nationalists that set the pace for ascendant illiberalism in the West. The last five years, from Brexit to the EU elections, have demonstrated visceral disgust by the individuals liberalism liberated and the markets and states that perpetuate their individual liberties. But hold on, what liberties? The definitions we take to answer that question answer Why Liberalism Failed, and I have sampled above how those definitions shortchange humanity. Want to move to a new system and stop shortchanging ourselves? Pick a new, truer, richer anthropology to guide the future. Define and defend culture.

Macron’s Anthropological Shift

This is precisely what French president Emmanuel Macron charted out yesterday, in an interview with FT. (The article, the video.) He may well have read Why Liberalism Failed himself during his sheltering in place. (I imagine he is having less travel time.)

Emmanuel Macron, in his April 16, 2020 interview with the FT, shared a vision of liberalism’s shortcomings that echo the thesis of Patrick J. Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed down to a shared use of the word “anthropology.” If he is sincere, careful, and humble, the project of restoring France after Covid can kickstart this project of replacing liberalism’s rotten core — which he and Deneen both suggest is a misunderstanding of what humans value.

France is notorious among my peers in economics for the “friction” they introduce in their markets: “inevitably,” we jeer, “making harder to fire people makes a company slower to hire people.” After his bold actions to reduce these frictions to ensure economic competitiveness, the people seemed liable to fire Macron and hire a nationalist for president. Years-long protests undermined his political credibility. His pro-EU position faced the obvious skepticism of a people anxious about their security to access the necessities and anxious about their jobs and companies in the flows of trade, migration, and finance. But it is unlikely that the people would be satisfied with a tyranny of the majority and the results of a nationalist pivot — even if they were to vote one in. Nationalism does not solve the problems of liberalism; it extends them, because it has at its core the same rotten ideologies. Macron doubtless would make that argument on nationalism. 

What Macron instead proposes is to replace the rotten core of liberalism and hope that the structure is renewed by a stronger, truer anthropology at the very center of it all. (Even if rotted, perhaps the structure is salvageable with a new set of definitions of liberty, dignity, and culture.) Macron names — multiple times — “anthropology” as the crux of what he wants to restore. This suggests that Macron is now thinking beyond just how policies can bandage the individuals’ wounds from competition or assuage a key constituency’s anxieties. No: Macron is thinking about nothing less than redefining what the state and market are geared toward, e.g. subbing out competition with collaboration.

Rather than hiding how the structure is shortchanging our dignity and culture, he lists off the anxieties liberalism wrought — anxieties he exacerbated — with a serious tone. He soberly states that liberalism is not just a post-Covid failure: it was a failure before Covid, and the writing was on the wall. The writing on the wall was addressed to him, liberalism’s poster boy. 

He expresses and exudes optimism, and he promises to replace the core ideology of our state and market. If he — and our generation generally — succeed to replace the ideology, we could move sustainably past this fail-state tug-of-war between liberalism and nationalism, between right and left. Human dignity and connectivity should come first, and economics should be subservient to those intuitions. We should not feel insecure in a society that’s so technically advanced. Speaking of Covid’s role in this shift, Macron hits the nail on the head: “I think it’s a profound anthropological shock.” he says. “We have stopped half the planet to save lives, there are no precedents for that in our history.” Covid is a temporary shock to the liberal order, not from a nationalist front but from an exogenous mortal reckoning. If used correctly, we can use it to pivot away from a painful decline. A decline of liberalism and resultant, unsatisfactory surge in nationalism. Instead, we can pivot toward enhancing our collective ability to plan and act on shared priorities, and to cherish life and a dignified existence.

We will know society’s rot has been excised from its liberal core when we neither ignore the suffering of a neighbor due to the supposed inevitability of that suffering nor feel so routinely insecure that we cannot act collectively or individually to protect our lives and dignity. And, you and I must pray that we excise the rot without excising the rest of the protective structure we cherish about this society. (In which case we will face both arbitrary oppression from above and anxiety from the dreadful sights just below.)   

It would be easy to see how Macron would be moved upon reading Deneen: he is a former investment banker, recently confronted with the incredible pains his rural constituents are feeling. He was the type of guy who began counterarguments with “inevitably, under competition,” but suddenly he was faced with the projections of havoc from a climate crisis, and then he was faced with the real pain of the French layperson, and now he is faced with most of his country fearing their lives or those of their parents. After facing the enormity of the challenges, the scope of his concern likely changed. “No,” he realized, “trade adjustment assistance and free community college won’t heal these anxieties.” (My apologies to Bernie, Warren, Biden, Buttigieg, 2019 Macron, Merkel, Obama, and Cameron.) The takeaway from Covid-19 is that our economic and state structures do not value what we value — even if they have bandages.

You can’t repeat  “suffering is inevitable” for long before you realize you’re shortchanging anthropology. In fact, now that we look around at our desolate place in the big wide ocean, and our mortality becomes salient, we realize we’ve been holding onto a rotten life jacket all along. 

We need something more solid: we need our friends and family to be valued, and ourselves to be secure. That was supposed to be the promise of society. What ever happened?

We need something more solid now. We need Macron, liberalism’s heir apparent at the end of this first quarter-century of a new millennium, to (1) keep thinking about that “truer anthropology,” (2) install credible changes in French society that better define its core values, including needed actions that humbly reverse his past policy positions and that genuinely empower the French people including his current opponents, (3) report honestly how this project succeeds and why it met resistance, and (4) remain committed to a true anthropology above his commitment to saving the vestiges of liberalism.

After all, he will have only several more years to take this Covid awakening forward into practice and into structural changes. There will be an unprecedented demand for those changes, but unprecedented external turbulence as well. The projects of fixing the Covid fallout must be seen as the substrate of piloting a new social order, not seen as a distraction from doing so. 

Excerpts from: Patrick J. Deneen. “Why Liberalism Failed.” Apple Books.