How Fake is American Niceness? How Is American Niceness Fake?

Two chatty German Youtube girls who live in Texas discussing whether American niceness is fake.

Ask any European who's been to America (except New York, and sometimes even then) what their impressions are, and "niceness" will be one of the first things they mention. Strangers smile, ask how you're doing, sometimes call you "honey". Most Europeans instinctively find this insincere, and ascribe it to superficiality and/or with corporate pressure to present a chipper, eternally happy exterior. Others see it as hypocritical. An American English professor makes the argument in the Washington Post:

In fact, Trump epitomizes the conventional version of American niceness, which assumes that Americans are fundamentally decent and benevolent people with the best of intentions, whose acts of aggression are reluctant and defensive necessities designed to protect us. (Or, as the office of first lady Melania Trump put it in response to the president’s latest Twitter tirade: “When her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder.”)

In a sense, this is quintessential American niceness: a tendency to insist on one’s own affability and friendliness while dismissing all unwarranted or unnecessary acts of cruelty as necessary evils. This is the kind of amiability that obscures the shadowy side of American life. On the other hand, Americans have also historically attempted to transform our niceness into a national attitude rooted in justice and mutual respect by acknowledging American cruelty and using it as an impetus to live up to an ideal of moral integrity based on the courage to tell the truth.

In the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville was among the first to comment on American amiability, comparing it with the “unsociable mood of the English.” In the 1840s, Charles Dickens, who couldn’t imagine an Englishman being happy living in the United States, nonetheless described Americans as “friendly, earnest, hospitable, kind.” By the end of the 19th century, the link between Americans and niceness had become accepted tradition, with Rudyard Kipling noting in 1891: “It is perfectly impossible to go to war with these people, whatever they may do. They are much too nice.”

Americans themselves regarded their famed niceness as the cornerstone of a democratic personality. The actress and writer Kate Field remarked in 1873: “To try to please everybody, is democratic; to be indifferent to everybody is aristocratic: consequently, Americans, men and women, are the best bred people in the world.” As a refreshing alternative to European stuffiness, American niceness conveys democratic informality while sustaining the myth of American exceptionalism: Americans are not just nice but the nicest people on earth. As Walt Whitman once put it, Americans are “the peaceablest and most good-natured race in the world.”

Since the 19th century, Americans’ belief in our own niceness has never wavered. Yet even then, American niceness obscured a tendency to refuse accountability for aggression and offense — and even unspeakable cruelty.

Europeans have two different "niceness" problems with the US.

The first is that the niceness is fake.

I don't think this problem is very important. American niceness is just being pleasant, friendly, and obliging to random people you meet. This is one of those common things, an accurate stereotype. Especially in really nice places, like the South, people are indeed damned friendly and helpful. 

This sort of ordinary, everyday niceness is, in my view, an unambiguously good thing. It just makes life easier for all concerned. Who cares if it's superficial? I take a consequentialist view of this kind of niceness: if it works, it's good.  A world in which everyone constantly expressed their deepest, most honest reactions would quickly drown in blood. Niceness is great social lubricant, every society should aspire to as much of it as possible.

That being said, the American advantage here isn't that great. When it comes to niceness, there is probably a bigger niceness gap between urban and rural people in any one country than there is between people in general in different countries. Berlin, New York, Paris, London — you're not going to be showered in gooey, spontaneous affection in any of these places. But in rural Germany and France — and even in fairly large cities  – people are quite friendly, as long as you at least try to speak their language and observe common behavioral norms.

The other kind of niceness problem is not that the niceness itself is fake, but that it is somehow hypocritical or inconsistent. This is a somewhat more sophisticated niceness critique, and the one that's being made in this op-ed. This one goes: "Oh sure, Americans are nice and friendly to other Americans or to 'acceptable' kinds of strangers such as tourists, but this is just an attempt to paper over inequality, racism, and militarism. Who cares how nice Americans are in America while their government is dropping more explosives on Cambodia than all the Allies used during all of World War II? Who cares whether that guy in the truck gave you a ride to the next gas station when he supports capital punishment and has Trump stickers all over his bumpers?"

This is a more serious objection, but it's not really logically consistent. The bombing of Cambodia had nothing to do with being friendly and helpful to strangers. The bombing of Cambodia would not have been more or less acceptable if Americans had been ruder at home. What these Europeans are complaining about is not American "niceness", but American moral posturing as the "shining city on the hill" which is a beacon unto the nations and the most morally upright of countries, etc. And to that extent, they're on solid ground. Too many Americans swallow this sort of guff about their country.

The association comes from the fact that the people most likely to uncritically swallow (only positive) American exceptionalism also tend to be really nice. But they're not nice because they believe in an air-brushed version of American history. You can like them for being nice while rejecting their blinkered opinions.

In Which I Admire Millions of Tiny German Lawsuits And Annihilate Several Canards About the Law

The U.S. is famous in Germany for its 'runaway' juries which hand down zillion-dollar lawsuits against poor defenseless companies. Yet, as I told my dumbfounded students, Germany is a far more litigious society than the USA. In fact, according to a book-length 1998 study, Germany is the most lawsuit-happy country on earth:

Country Cases per 1,000 Population

• Germany 123.2
• Sweden 111.2
• Israel 96.8
• Austria 95.9
• U.S.A. 74.5
• UK/England & Wales 64.4
• Denmark 62.5
• Hungary 52.4
• Portugal 40.7
• France 40.3

My German students were dumbfounded by this fact. Most of them got their image of the world from the mainstream press. And, as usual, German journalists tended to obsess over the real or imagined failings of other countries, while remaining ignorant of what was going on in their backyard.

But aside from the good clean fun of this tu quoque response, it's interesting to think about why Germany is so litigious. I think there are 4 main reasons:

  • Legal insurance (Rechtschutzversicherung). Millions of Germans have legal insurance policies that pay for lawyers both to file claims and defend against them. This insurance is affordable because litigation costs in Germany are low. Legal insurance is actually an excellent idea, every country in the world could benefit from widespread legal insurance. What it means in Germany, though, is that if you have a policy, you don't have to think twice about filing a lawsuit. Granted, the lawyer is not supposed to file if you don't have a claim, but many do anyway. Legal insurance also provides a lifeline for many small-time lawyers — they can patch together a decent livelihood by having a constant docket of 40-50 small time cases going on at any time. None of these cases will generate a huge verdict, but a steady stream of small payments is enough.
  • Lawsuits are a fact of life. Nobody really takes them seriously. If your landlord hikes your rent, you use your legal-insurance lawyer to fight it. The landlord uses their legal-insurance lawyer to defend. After all, if you don't sue, you'll certainly have to pay the extra 10% in rent. If you do sue, you might end up with a discount. The landlord would probably do the same thing in your position, and knows this.
  • Close neighbors make bad blood. Germany is a small country packed with people. Everything you do in public is going to have some effect on your neighbors. If a potted plant falls off your city balcony, it's going to hit someone or something below. If your cat likes to relieve themselves on your neighbor's lawn, they're going to notice. And might just take lethal action. Your barbecue smoke is going to trigger someone's asthma 5 houses down. The list goes on and on. Every German state has a long, complex "neighbor law" (here's the one (g) for my state), and many lawyers do nothing else. And once again, these petty squabbles are going to end up in court because it's so easy to go to court because of legal insurance. 

And finally, no lawsuit is too tiny. As Wagner once said, a German is someone who will always do something for its own sake. Which means Germans will file a suit over anything. Why, here's a story (g) from the excellent criminal-defense blog lawblog. Two retirees went fishing for deposit bottles in Munich, a favorite pastime of poor Germans, or just ones who need some way to fill their days in the fresh air.*

They approached a large man-sized glass-recycling container, whipped out their grabbers, and started fishing around inside the container. Recycling containers are supposed to be reserved for bottles which don't have a deposit on them, like wine bottles. But many people don't care or don't know how to tell a deposit from a non-deposit bottle, and just toss everything in.

Sure enough, our two hunters found 15 deposit bottles with a total value of € 1.44. Two other Germans, who were certainly feeling very German that day, called the police and reported the bottle-fishers for theft. Wait, what? Two people minding their own business, helping recycle glass, augmenting their puny incomes, harming nobody, and their fellow Germans report them to the cops? Welcome to Deutschland, my friends.

Now German prosecutors are obliged to investigate every credible accusation of crime that comes to their attention, the famous "Principle of Legality"**. This they did. The first thing they had to determine was what the value of the theft was. Technically, this was a theft — once you throw a glass bottle into a recycling bin, it becomes the property of the recycling company. So you might think that the amount of the theft was the deposit value of the bottles. But no! It turns out that the recycling company does not separate out deposit bottles from other ones. Scandalous, I know. So all the bottles just get melted down. The prosecutor asked the recycling firm how much value the bottles would have as recycling material, and the firm said: basically, it's too small to even put a number on.

At this time, the prosecutor chose to halt the proceedings (einstellen) based on the idea that there was no public interest in prosecuting the offenders. The writer at lawblog thinks this was the wrong reason to stop the prosecution — he thinks a better theory is to deny the people had any attempt to commit theft, because they had no intent to take possession of the bottles — their ultimate goal was simply to transfer them to a different owner. 

Be that as it may, the main thing to notice here is that several different government employees spent hours of their time and used considerable resources to investigate an accusation of a crime which, at the very most, involved the lordly sum of € 1.44. It's probably only a slight exaggeration to say that the German state spent 1000 times more money investigating the theft than it was actually worth in the first place.

Now, am I going to snigger about this? Of course I am, and so are you. But at the same time, I'm not going to go too far. The most important thing to keep in mind about high numbers of lawsuits is that they are an important sign of social health. In the vast majority of societies, lawsuits are prohibitively expensive and courts are woefully underfunded and corrupt, so nobody trusts them. Germans and Americans trust courts to usually resolve legal disputes in a fair and equitable manner, otherwise they wouldn't seek them out so often. They're right to do so; both the USA and Germany have exceptionally fair and efficient legal systems, despite their imperfections. A fair, professional, and generally non-corrupt legal system is one of humanity's most important achievements, full stop. Most countries don't yet have one. If you happen to live in a country which does, take a moment and thank your lucky stars. 

* You'd be surprised how many Germans decide they just don't fancy showing up to work anymore and having someone boss them around and tell them to do things. So they develop something hard to pin down, such as a bad back or burnout stress, hire a good employment lawyer, and presto! They're still technically employed in a certain sense, but they don't actually have to, you know, do anything. Everybody wins: their former employers are free of someone who wasn't really contributing, the employee has all the free time he wants, and most importantly, the government doesn't have to formally add this person to the unemployment rolls. Northern European welfare states are notorious worldwide for using a million different tricks to lower their official unemployment rate, and this is just one.

** Some German lawyers, or wanna-be lawyers, believe a lot of adorably misguided things about the principle of legality. If you begin talking about the American legal system, they will get up on their hind legs and begin intoning something like this: "Well, you see, in America most criminal cases are resolved by plea-bargains, where the defendant admits a crime — quite possibly not the one he actually committed — in return for a lighter sentence. This shows the irresponsible, frivolous gamesmanship of the system, where the objective truth of what happened can be bargained away as if justice were nothing more than a poker game. Here in Germany (string music starts swelling in the background), we believe in the principle of legality, which means the prosecutor must investigate all crimes and must prosecute based on the objective facts of what the defendant actually did."

It's at this point that I usually interject to point out that this speech is, not to put too fine a point on it, a crock of shit. First, German prosecutors are absolutely not obliged to bring every case to prosecution. As with all German legal principles, the principle of legality has a pragmatic loophole so big you could fit Saturn through it. A prosecutor is always permitted to "suspend" (einstellen) a prosecution if it is deemed a petty offence (§ 153, Criminal Procedure Code). Suspend is yet another German euphemism, it means the case is dropped. Although there may be a tiny theoretical chance of it being re-started, this basically never happens.

There are many other sections of the Code that permit the prosecution to suspend the investigation or to not bring charges on a variety of different grounds, the most frequently used being the prosecution's belief that bringing charges is "not in the public interest" for some reason. As you might guess, there are hundreds of stories of prosecutors suspending prosecution of high-powered or well-connected people for vague reasons. In fact, there's a whole book (g) ("Prosecution Unwanted!") about this, although it's not very convincing overall.

Also, if you believe plea bargains don't exist in Germany, I've got a bridge in Moscow I'd like to sell you. Even before plea bargains were legally allowed in Germany, it was common knowledge that prosecutors used their huge discretion to plea-bargain all the time. Like American prosecutors, German prosecutors are hopelessly understaffed, and the entire justice system would collapse if cases couldn't be resolved informally.

The practice became so notorious that eventually the federal legislature decided to stop pretending and legalize it. In 2009, it passed a law which, for the first time, legally recognized plea-bargaining in Germany. The law was full of procedural safeguards meant to ensure that the defendants' rights were respected and the principle of legality was not undermined. Would the law pass constitutional muster? The German Federal Constitutional Court held that it did, in 2013:

The Simple Joy of Bashing A Culture

https://player.vimeo.com/video/28627261

Mystery of the Missing Million from Phil Rees on Vimeo.

Germans love Japan. I live in Düsseldorf, home to one of the largest Japanese expat communities in Europe, and it shows. There's an annual Japan Day, a cultural institute (the Eko-Haus) — complete with temple, garden, bell, and a traditional Japanese house – and excellent Japanese food everywhere you turn.

When I visited Japan, most of the other tourists seemed to be from Northern Europe. Like me, they all raved about the discreet hospitality, the cleanliness, the attention to detail, the love of traditional handicrafts, the organization, the quiet, the world-class museums, the excellent fresh food everywhere, and all the many other things that make Japan such an intense pleasure to visit (seriously, drop everything and go now). Northern Europeans have an instinctive preference for cleanliness, order, and discretion, and they immediately sense they are among kindred spirits in the Japanese. And if you think that's a crude generalization based on outdated national stereotypes, loosen up. We're not in a seminar room here.

But of course these are only surface impressions. They obscure two central facts: First, many of the things cultured Europeans love about Japan (the tea ceremony, Noh theatre, Kabuki) are like organ music in Europe: followed only by a tiny, graying minority of aficionados.

Second, Japanese society overall is in long, possibly near-terminal decline.

Which brings us to an interesting 2007 book about Japan written by an American journalist who spent years there: Shutting Out The Sun: How Japan Created its Own Lost Generation (book excerpt and interview here). The first part of the book deals with the bizarre Japanese phenomenon of hikikomori: young people, 80% male, who simply drop out of society altogether. They cannot take the pressure to conform, the endless high-stakes testing, the cram schools, the bitter rivalry to get into the best colleges, and the myriad other pressures of Japanese life. 

So they simply drop out, like Bartleby. They retire to a room in their parents' house, and never leave. They usually change their sleep schedule to stay inside during the day and leave, if at all, only at night. They don't go to school, don't work, just sketch or read or play video games or watch porn. Their parents allow them to stay and provide them with food and other necessities, and often cover up the fact that their son or daughter has become a recluse to save face.

The defining factor of hikikomori is that they're not mentally ill. They are also usually of above-average intelligence, since it is these children who are under the most pressure to perform. Usually, their reclusion starts after some stinging failure (failed exam, university rejection, bullying) along the assembly-line route of school-college-job. These people have simply decided to reject a society which they see as forcing them through a bunch of meaningless and terrifying hoops, all in service to a failing and irrelevant social model which nobody seems to be able to change. Estimates are that there are between 500,000 and a million hikikomori in Japan. The consensus seems to be that this precise phenomenon happens only in Japan.

The author, Michael Zielenziger (who speaks Japanese) interviews a number of hikikomori and the counselors and psychologists who try to help them. What's refreshing about his book is that Z pulls no punches. He obviously likes the Japanese, has enormous admiration for their many achievements as a society. He's not simply spewing a rant, he backs up many of his assertions with interviews, statistics, and other staples of good journalism. And many of the harshest indictments come from Japanese themselves. But still, to use an appropriately American phrase, he tears Japan a new asshole

American and Japanese psychologists have demonstrated that when faced with a social situation they do not like, Americans readily try to influence others to change their behavior. Japanese, by contrast, are far more likely to adjust their own behavior to the demands others make upon them, to accommodate the wishes of the collective….

The group harmony this homogeneous people struggled so obsessively to achieve—through the pressure to conform, the resistance to criticism, the repression of dissenters, and a desperate, almost pathological need to keep “outsiders” at bay—carried a dark and destructive seed. Not only did this system seriously constrain individuality to the point of “infantilizing” many of it own people, effectively robbing them of their own identities; it also stripped the nation of its ability to adjust to the unforeseen changes in the world and in business practices that the inexorable process of globalization was now stirring up. Until this moment, Japan had been able to appropriate the trappings of the modern world without creating for itself a critical consciousness, a truly democratic sensibility, or a vision of how a “unique” people might interact easily and equally with the rest of the world. “The essence of Japan is to have no essence,” one famous Japanese political scientist concluded, arguing Japanese had never learned to properly differentiate between the instrumental and the ideal. His society, he said, was like a pot crammed with octopus, unable to discern a world separate from its own outsized tentacles. By analogy, he suggested, Western societies, where Judeo-Christian values had taken hold, or the Chinese culture, where Confucianism remains central, more resembled the sort of whisk broom used in a traditional tea ceremony, in which a sturdy, unitary wooden base splays itself into a finely separated tip, with space for each long and articulated tine of bamboo fiber to stand free and apart from the others….

As I got to understand it better, I saw that, rather than a vibrant free market, Japan actually functions more like a highly controlled, quasi-socialist system where bureaucrats feel they know best how to organize the system of production, and have the power to make life unpleasant for those who don't agree….

Predictably, the book has stimulated as many howls of outrage as it has nods of understanding. Which is a good thing.

Polite society these days enforces an unspoken code of never criticizing other cultures. You wouldn't want to be accused of cultural imperialism, or Orientalism, or condescension, or any of the other mortal sins of orthodox politically-correct sensitivity. But these taboos do what taboos always do: reduce everything to mush.

Some cultures are just more successful at certain things than others. In fact, some cultures are more successful at almost everything than others (here's lookin' at you, Scandinavia!). Everyone who's lived abroad understands this. And a bracing, well-informed critique is more honest and useful than a bunch of feel-good pabulum. The book was published in Japan. Many of his interviewees told him, they would never have spoken to a Japanese journalist, since they would be ashamed to discuss embarrassing secrets with someone who shared the same complex social codes.

It's not the be-all and end-all, but is a refreshingly blunt and lively book. Perhaps one day I'll write something similar about Germany. Germany, I love you, but I know just about all of your dirty secrets….

Mark Blyth on The Origins of Neo-Nationalism

It's not often you stumble across some professor who says he's going to explain the world, and then watch him actually do it.

I stumbled across Mark Blyth via MetaFilter. Mark Blyth is political science professor at Brown University — Wait! I know, you're thinking Brown University, the tiny, ultra-expensive US liberal arts college which is a hotbed of the most demented form of political correctness? Can any professor there be capable more than soft-focus P.C. pieties?

Well, Mark Blyth can. Perhaps because he's Scottish. Very Scottish, if you listen to him. In 2016, Blyth accomplished a pretty impressive trifecta in 2016: he accurately predicted Brexit, the Italian constitutional referendum, and Trump. His big idea is Global Trumpism, which involves defections both to the right and the left from the globalist neoliberal consensus. Whether it's Podemos in Spain or Trump in the U.S., middle-class voters in the West are reacting to 30 years of tectonic changes in the global political and economic landscape which have seen their quality of life being gradually eroded.

The end result is a sense of seething frustration in the middle and lower classes of Western countries. Unions have been crushed, more and more risk shifted onto the shoulders of individuals, job security is a thing of the past, international competition and automation are destroying millions of jobs which will never come back, the small luxuries of middle-class life are drifting out of reach, and each generation is seeing a decline in its standard of living compared to the last one.

All the while, the rich are getting almost exponentially richer, and mainstream politicians — whether center-right or center-left, there is no meaningful difference — seem at best helpless or disinterested at worst actively corrupt.

Here's some remarks he published in Foreign Policy (previous link), which are a bit heavy on the economics but still get the point across:

Back in 1943, [Michal Kalecki] he argued that once you target and sustain full employment over time, it basically becomes costless for labor to move from job to job. Wages in such a world will have to continually rise to hold onto labor, and the only way business can accommodate that is to push up prices. This mechanism, cost-push inflation, where wages and prices chase each other up, emerged in the 1970s and coincided with the end of the Bretton Woods regime and the subsequent oil shocks to produce high inflation in the rich countries of the West in the 1970s. In short, the system undermined itself, as both Goodhart and Kalecki predicted. As countries tried harder and harder to target full employment, the more inflation shot up while profits fell. The 1970s became a kind of “debtor’s paradise.” As inflation rose, debts fell in real terms, and labor’s share of national income rose to an all-time high, while corporate profits remained low and were pummeled by inflation. Unions were powerful and inequality plummeted….

But if it was a great time to be a debtor, it was a lousy time to be a creditor. Inflation acts as a tax on the returns on investment and lending. Unsurprisingly in response, employers and creditors mobilized and funded a market-friendly revolution where the goal of full employment was jettisoned for a new target—price stability, aka inflation—to restore the value of debt and discipline labor through unemployment. And it worked. The new order was called neoliberalism.

Over the next thirty years the world was transformed from a debtor’s paradise into a creditor’s paradise where capital’s share of national income rose to an all-time high as labor’s share fell as wages stagnated. Productivity rose, but the returns all went to capital. Unions were crushed while labor’s ability to push up wages collapsed due to the twin shocks of restrictive legislation and the globalization of production. Parliaments in turn were reduced to tweet-generating talking shops as central banks and policy technocrats wrested control of the economy away from those elected to govern.

Seen this way, what we see is a reversal of power between creditors and debtors as the anti-inflationary regime of the past 30 years undermines itself—what we might call “Goodhart’s revenge.” In this world, yields compress and creditors fret about their earnings, demanding repayment of debt at all costs. Macro-economically, this makes the situation worse: the debtors can’t pay—but politically, and this is crucial—it empowers debtors since they can’t pay, won’t pay, and still have the right to vote….

The traditional parties of the center-left and center-right, the builders of this anti-inflationary order, get clobbered in such a world, since they are correctly identified by these debtors as the political backers of those demanding repayment in an already unequal system, and all from those with the least assets. This produces anti-creditor, pro-debtor coalitions-in-waiting that are ripe for the picking by insurgents of the left and the right, which is exactly what has happened.

In short, to understand the election of Donald Trump we need to listen to the trumpets blowing everywhere in the highly indebted developed countries and the people who vote for them. 

The global revolt against elites is not just driven by revulsion and loss and racism. It’s also driven by the global economy itself. This is a global phenomenon that marks one thing above all. The era of neoliberalism is over. The era of neonationalism has just begun.

Blyth actually shines in videos; he's an outstanding and engaging speaker. I switched this video on to run in the background while I did some housework, but found myself repeatedly rushing to the computer to replay something I didn't quite get. This video is the best exposition of his theory as a whole. You'll have to get used to his Scottish burr:

Although his main critique is aimed at the technocratic managers of national and international economic policy, he also directs withering critiques at center-left politicians, who hurl accusations of politically-incorrect thoughtcrime to appear "left" while simultaneously suckling at the teat of the financial and technological elite and doing nothing to improve the lot of the middle class.

Blyth thinks the U.S. will stumble through, but Blyth believes that the outlook for Europe is much bleaker (this discussion starts at about 41:00). The Euro is a disaster which cannot be fixed, but European technocrats still refused to understand this, and continue to inflict crippling austerity on the European South in a doomed attempt to save it.

Melania Wasn’t “Sad”, She was Slavic

During Donald Trump's inauguration, his Slovene wife Melania looked sober and serious most of the time. This has led Americans to believe she was sad, depressed, horrified, anguished, perhaps even trapped in an abusive relationship.

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What these slightly fatuous Americans don't understand is that the European conception of personal dignity and institutional respect demands that public figures taking part in official ceremonies look serious at all times. In Europe, there is no penalty for looking stiff, even scowling, during official ceremonies; that's expected. There can be a significant penalty for a smile, or for any sign of levity. So everyone plays it safe and refrains from all except fleeting smiles.

Let me make my point with pictures of Supreme Courts. First, the American:

US Supreme Court

By my count, we have a whopping six smiles: the entire back row (Sotomayor, Breyer, Alito, Kagan) and two in the front (Roberts and Kennedy). Justice Scalia, the balding Italian man sitting next to the black guy, is wearing a sort of half-smile. Justice Thomas, the black guy, is wearing an angry scowl, his resting face, which seems out of place in this photograph, but would be perfectly normal in Europe.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, on the far right, seems to be cringing in terror. In fact, she seems to be looking at the same thing which has attracted Justice Thomas' attention. Maybe this photo was taken just seconds after the naked knife-wielding maniac broke into the photo studio screaming about CIA mind control: so far, only Thomas and Ginsburg notice him. Fortunately, he was tased by security before he could reach the Legal Minds.

Anyhoo, where was I? Oh right, facial expressions. Since Melania is Slovene, here's the Slovenian Supreme Constitutional Court:

Slovene

The first thing you notice about this official picture from the Court's website is how shitty it is. It's only 71 KB in size, and 60% of that is the surroundings. The picture is so crappy that if you zoom in to try to see whether any of the Justices are smiling, their faces devolve into pixelblurs. You get the definite impression that the Justices probably thought the entire idea of having their picture taken is a ridiculous waste of time, and tried to make it as unrevealing as possible. Nevertheless, I think we can still safely say: no open-mouthed smiles, possibly a mild expression of amusement on the woman in the center's face. That's all.

Bundesverfassungsgericht-senat_2

Here's the Second Senate of the German Federal Constitutional Court. Two open-mouthed smiles, the rest tight-lipped neutral expressions. Here's the First Senate:

Bvg_senat_1_2010

One open-mouthed grin. I can't even find a decent group photo of the French Court de Cassation (which has 85 members divided into a bunch of different groups), but the individual photos of the group leaders here (f) feature no open-mouthed smiles I can find.

And just to round things out, the European Court of Justice:

RTEmagicC_European-Court-of-Justice-Members-2013.jpg

A few smiles, a few scowls, but mostly neutral, purposeful expressions.

And in this particular respect, Slavs seem to be even more serious and scowly than Western Europeans. Here's the Polish Constitutional Tribunal:

Members-of-Polands-Supreme-Court

Being a Slav, as they say, is serious business.

So Melania wasn't "sad", you chirpy, fleering American flibbertygibberts. She was just showing respect by adopting a serious Slavic scowl.

Shiny Happy Dutch People Make Shiny Happy Dutch Babies

Dutch children are the happiest in the developed world. A Brit and an American raising children in the Netherlands ask why:

When it came to Dutch children rating their own happiness levels, more than 95 per cent considered themselves happy. Several other research surveys have likewise highlighted the positive benefits of growing up in the Netherlands – Britain’s Child Poverty Action Group and the World Health Organisation, for example. The Unicef report was a follow- up to one conducted in 2007, in which the Netherlands were first heralded as a prime example of childhood prosperity. The UK and the US ranked in the two lowest positions.

In addition, new research also suggests that Dutch babies are happier than their American counterparts. After examining the temperamental differences between babies born in the US and the Netherlands, Dutch babies were found to be more contented – laughing, smiling and cuddling more – than American babies. Dutch babies were also easier to soothe, while American babies displayed more fear, sadness and frustration. Psychologists attribute this discrepancy to the different cultural mores of child-rearing in the two countries. It’s quite astonishing to us that no one seems to be making more of a fuss about this.

  • Dutch babies get more sleep.
  • Dutch kids have little or no homework at primary school.
  •  Are not just seen but also heard.
  • Are trusted to ride their bikes to school on their own.
  • Are allowed to play outside unsupervised.
  • Have regular family meals.
  • Get to spend more time with their mothers and fathers.
  • Enjoy simple pleasures and are happy with second-hand toys.
  • And last but not least, get to eat chocolate sprinkles (hagelslag) for breakfast.

The Netherlands have a reputation for being a liberal country with a tolerance of sex, drugs and alcohol, yet beneath this lies a closely guarded secret: the Dutch are actually fairly conservative people. At the heart of Dutch culture is a society of home-loving people who place the child firmly at the centre. Parents have a healthy attitude towards their kids, seeing them as individuals rather than as extensions of themselves. They understand that achievement doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness, but that happiness can cultivate achievement. The Dutch have reined in the anxiety, stress and expectations of modern-day parenting, redefining the meaning of success and wellbeing. For them, success starts with happiness – that of their children and themselves.

The first caveat is, as always, genetic confounds. The main reason Dutch children are happier is that they were born to Dutch parents. The Netherlands has been one of the most successful societies on earth — often the most successful — for 5-6 centuries now. The Dutch are tall, good-looking, smart, happy, healthy, and have moderate, prudent, sensible habits. They avoid unnecessary risk, have strong sense of social responsibility, accept limits on their freedom (such as high taxes or bicycle lanes crowding out cars) to enhance overall flourishing, and take care of each other. These are all hallmarks of societies made up of people with high general levels of intelligence, risk-avoidance, ability to delay gratification, and impulse control. As this landmark 2015 study (whose lead authors are Dutch!) shows, all of these traits are heritable to a certain extent, usually between 30 and 50%.

But still, I'd be willing to bet there's a pretty big environmental component. There are hundreds of thousands of non-Dutch babies being raised in the Netherlands. My guess would be that they tend to do worse than ethnically Dutch children, but better than children in their own home cultures. We can safely assume that their own home cultures are more chaotic and less prosperous than the Netherlands, because almost every other country on earth is more chaotic and less prosperous than the Netherlands.

If anyone knows any good studies on this, I'd be interested to learn of them.

How Do You Influence Your Local Bundestag Rep?

A group of liberal former Congressional staff members calling themselves 'Indivisible' got together after Trump's election and have released a guide for grass-roots organizing to oppose Trump. Their model for effective opposition is the conservative Tea Party movement, which successfully pressured members of Congress (MoCs) to oppose Obama's agenda from day one.

The basic message of the guide is that MoCs are focused on only one thing: re-election. They want positive press coverage and photo opportunities from local media inside their district, burnishing their image with their own constituents. The Tea Party was effective because they applied constant pressure to their own representatives locally, making it clear that any cooperation with Obama's agenda would result in immediate negative feedback. 

Here are a few graphs from the document:

Congress

Congress2
Here's a guide for influencing your MoC at a town hall meeting, an informal gathering where politicians answer local residents' questions:

At the Town Hall

 1. Get there early, meet up, and get organized. Meet outside or in the parking lot for a quick huddle before the event. Distribute the handout of questions, and encourage members to ask the questions on the sheet or something similar.

2. Get seated and spread out. Head into the venue a bit early to grab seats at the front half of the room, but do not sit all together. Sit by yourself or in groups of 2, and spread out throughout the room. This will help reinforce the impression of broad consensus.

3. Make your voices heard by asking good questions. When the MoC opens the floor or questions, everyone in the group should put your hands up and keep them there. Look friendly or neutral so that staffers will call on you. When you’re asking a question, remember the following guidelines:

  1. Stick with the prepared list of questions. Don’t be afraid to read it straight from the printout if you need to. 
  1. Be polite but persistent, and demand real answers. MoCs are very good at deflecting or dodging question they don’t want to answer. If the MoC dodges, ask a follow up. If they aren’t giving you real answers, then call them out for it. Other group members around the room should amplify by either booing the Congressman or applauding you. 
  1. Don’t give up the mic until you’re satisfied with the answer. If you’ve asked a hostile question, a staffer will often try to limit your ability to follow up by taking the microphone back immediately after you finish speaking. They can’t do that if you keep a firm hold on the mike. No staffer in their right mind wants to look like they’re physically intimidating a constituent, so they will back off. If they object, then say, politely but loudly: “I’m not finished. The Congressman/woman is dodging my question. Why are you trying to stop me from following up?” 
  1. Keep the pressure on. After one member of the group finishes, everyone should raise their hands again. The next member of the group to be called on should move down the list of questions and ask the next one. 

4. Support the group and reinforce the message. After one member of your group asks a question, everyone should applaud to show that the feeling is shared throughout the audience.  Whenever someone from your group gets the mike, they should note that they’re building on the previous questions – amplifying the fact that you’re part of a broad group. 

5. Record everything! Assign someone in the group to use their smart phones or video camera to record other advocates asking questions and the MoC’s response. While written transcripts are nice, unfavorable exchanges caught on video can be devastating for MoCs. These clips can be shared through social media and picked up by local and national media.

You get the picture. My questions is: would any of these tactics work in Germany?

My initial temptation is to answer no. German politics is much more party-based than US politics. Most local representatives are part of a strong party organization that tells them how to vote on most issues. When they return to their districts, their role is not so much to listen to constituents but to explain to them (the notorious German verb 'vermitteln') what the party is doing and why that's a good idea. They do of course listen to constituents, but the purpose of listening is not so much to think about whether to change their own vote (which is often impossible) but to report back to party headquarters on the 'mood' in their districts (i.e. 'They're pissed off about immigration, we need to change our messaging.').

This means that politics is much less responsive in one way. However, Germany's split-ticket voting system makes it responsive in other ways: If you don't like your current Bundestag member, you can vote for one from another party, or you can cast your vote for a different party. Thus, even if you can't change who represents you, your vote can still strengthen a party who opposes their agenda. This is basically impossible in America's two-party system.

Do I have this about right, or am I missing something?

Lead Exposure and Violence in the Middle East and North Africa — And Now Germany

Kevin Drum has an important point about levels of violence in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). First, an image showing the time frame in which MENA countries phased out leaded gasoline:

Blog_middle_east_leaded_gasoline_phaseout_0

Drum explains why this is important:

[T]here's a lot of evidence that leaded gasoline produced a wave of violent crime between 1960-1990 in the developed world, and that the introduction of unleaded gasoline eliminated that wave and eventually brought crime rates down nearly to 1960 levels. In most developed countries, leaded gasoline was phased out starting around the mid-70s, which benefited children born after that. When those children reached their late teenage years in the early 90s, they were much less prone to impulsiveness and aggression, which led to lower crime rates.

But not every part of the world followed that timetable. In particular, leaded gasoline continued to be used in the Middle East up through the late 90s. Egypt began phasing it out in 1998, and most other countries followed over the next decade or so. Only a few—including Iraq and Afghanistan—still sell significant amounts of leaded gasoline.

Since lead poisoning affects infants, its affects show up about 18-20 years later. What this means is that in the bright red countries, the cohort of kids who reach their late teen years around 2020 should be significantly less aggressive and violent than previous cohorts. Around 2025 the countries in lighter red will join them. Around 2030 the countries in pink will join. By 2040 or so, the process will be complete.

If you want the longer version of Drum's argument, go this this article, which contains ample citations and further sources. Suffice it to say that I am convinced lead exposure is the main environmental factor in increasing violent crime.

As for the picture, you will no doubt notice that these are precisely the countries from which young males streamed into German in 2015. They are, of course, committing large numbers of all kinds of crimes here in Germany, as you would expect from young males anywhere. That is not open to dispute.

It's still too early to determine whether they are committing proportionately more violent crimes than people who grew up in (relatively) lead-free Germany. I have my suspicions that there are a large number of mentally-disturbed people among the new arrivals, judging by thousands of incidents of criminal and/or bizarre behavior, including public masturbation. Childhood lead exposure leads to lifelong permanent increases in impulsive behavior, and what could be more impulsive than deciding to whip out your penis and masturbate in front of a crowd of strangers?

In any case, if the lead-crime hypothesis is right, and I think it is, then young males from these countries will show an above-average tendency to commit impulsive violent actions which will probably persist until their testosterone levels drop when they reach their 40s. Of course, this doesn't mean most of them will commit violent crimes, only a minority will. Lead exposure varies considerably by geography. Nor does lead exposure turn everyone it affects into monsters, of course. It has marginal, population-wide effects of increasing the incidence of violent actions in a given cohort. But still, the increase is very noticeable and very measurable.

It seems like this is the sort of thing policymakers might want to have considered before letting hundreds of thousands of young males from these areas into the country, no?

Random Murders and the Corrosive Damage of Stranger Violence

The revelation that a young male who entered Germany illegally (he claims to be 17 and an Afghan citizen, but Germany doesn't check, believe it or not) in 2015 is the suspect in the random rape-murder of a 19-year-old medicine student in Freiburg, Germany is still echoing throughout the German press and German society. The broadsheets can't avoid reporting on this crime, but are obviously straining mightily to avoid drawing any implications from it. Meanwhile, the comment sections are on fire. There, you can read everything from reasoned critiques of Merkel's policies to sputtering xenophobic tirades.

The national broadsheets will soon stop covering the case, anxious as always to downplay crime by illegal immigrants. But this case, and others like it, will certainly increase Germans' fears about crime and security to levels even higher than they are now. The main reason is that so many of the new crimes committed by the hundreds of thousands of young males who entered in 2015 are stranger on stranger violence. How could they not be? Most of the new arrivals are still strangers to German society, and will be for years yet.

This introduction (pdf) to a criminology symposium gives a good introduction to the sinister force of stranger violence:

Stranger violence represents one of the most frightening forms of criminal victimization. Conklin and McIntyre have argued that the fear of crime is basically a fear of strangers. It is suggested that people fear the unknown person who commits an unpredictable and violent attack on a vulnerable and innocent citizen going about routine daily activities. The perceptions that the attacker is indiscriminate in his selection of the victim and that the victim can do little to avoid attack or protect himself also elicit fear in society. The urban dweller, in particular, confronts what Silberman refers to as a "startling paradox":

Life in metropolitan areas . . . involves a startling paradox: we fear strangers more than anything else, and yet we live our lives among strangers. Every time we take a walk, ride a subway or bus, shop in a supermarket or department store, enter an office building lobby or elevator, work in a factory or large office, or attend a ball game or the movies, we are surrounded by strangers. The potential for fear is as immense as it is unavoidable.

The fear of crime from strangers has important consequences for life in a civil society. People stay behind locked doors and travel by taxi or car rather than public transportation or on foot to avoid contact with strangers. When people go out, they travel in groups and avoid returning to their homes at a late hour. They stay away from cultural and educational events if traveling to a certain section of the city at night is required. Such avoidance behavior represents what economists refer to as "opportunity costs." When people stay home, they are not enjoying the educational and cultural advantages of their community. By restricting with whom they will interact, the general level of sociability decreases. Such responses not only undermine the trust essential for a civil society, but diminish the quality of life as well.

For years, Germany had relatively few stranger homicides or severe beatings. I'm sure those numbers are going to tick up thanks to the 2015 influx. And it doesn't really matter by how much. Even one spectacular random crime such as the Freiburg rape-murder has a massively disproportionate impact. To put it crudely, it does as much damage to general perceptions of public safety as a hundred murders between intimate partners, criminal accomplices, or acquaintances.

Will this increased perception of danger lead to new laws? Probably not. As Michael Tonry pointed out long ago, German criminal justice policy remains highly stable even in the face of rising crime rates. The reasons include:

  • A press landscape dominated by state media which sensationalizes crime less than private media.
  • A higher level of trust in 'experts' such as criminologists, sociologists, and lawyers, most of whom still endorse a therapeutic, rehabilitative approach to corrections.
  • Criminal laws are made at the national level, not the local level.
  • Lawyers and civil servants are powerful gatekeepers who prevent fluid, responsive changes in criminal-justice policy.

None of these deep structural/institutional factors will change anytime soon. So we will have a situation in which the public feels increasingly exposed and insecure because of rising stranger violence, but has no way of actually changing policy in response to it.

The anxiety and anger won't disappear, it will instead run into other channels:

  • increasing support for extreme parties
  • mainstream parties experimenting with pungent anti-crime rhetoric to try to slow their decline
  • citizen watch groups and patrols
  • even more explicit "stranger danger" lessons in schools
  • revenge attacks on members of ethnic groups perceived as contributing to the problem
  • more traffic to tabloids and Internet press outlets which offer uncensored coverage of immigrant crime
  • taboo-breaking pop-culture themes that legitimize a desire for revenge against predators and a return to safety and order (think "Dirty Harry" or "Death Wish").

As I've said before, I lived through this before, in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. Many of these trends can be seen right now in Germany, and they're only going to increase. They won't be driven by overall crime rates (which may well remain stable as Germany's aging population counterbalances the new crimes committed by young male migrants), they'll be driven by an increase in stranger-on-stranger violent crime.

New York: The City That Never Cares

I'm visiting relatives in the USA and decided to make a stop in New York City, since that's usually a fun thing to do. After living in Europe for so long, seeing any New York airport is a reminder of just how shitty they are. America's public infrastructure really is crumbling. Three separate long lines at customs and passport control, which snaked far beyond the barriers and ended up haphazardly curling back and forth into the corners of the rooms. All the pens had been ripped away from their holders, so you couldn't use the tables to fill out the customs forms. 

No personnel to tell you where to line up. When you did encounter someone official, they usually spoke worse English than the foreign visitors. The luggage pickup displays directed us to the wrong carousel, where hundreds of people waited patiently as their luggage was delivered elsewhere. Since nobody was there to pick it up, the workers just stacked it into random piles. Most of the ceiling tiles were stained, some were missing.

The line for the cab was also 100 people long, snaking along a narrow concrete median with traffic on both sides. Since the area to line up for the cab was the same area for passenger pickup, you couldn't tell if people were in line for the cab or waiting for a car to pick them up. Tense confrontations resulted. Touts patrolled the cab line offering jacked-up rides to the inner city; nobody did anything about them. There was a strong stench of urine wafting along the line. A couple in front me of from Australia were chatting among themselves, incredulous that this malodorous, chaotic dump of an airport was the gateway to one of the world's great cities.

Finally got a cab after a 40-minute wait. The cab was falling apart, couldn't do over 50 miles per hour, and the driver had night vision problems which led him to constantly bleed into other drivers' lanes. He had no idea where the destination was and no GPS system. The Van Wyck Expressway has to be one of the ugliest roads I've ever seen. On each side is a pile of garbage and dead leaves, and the only barrier between it and the modest Queens neighborhoods on either side is a rusty chain-link fence. All the houses seemed to have burglar bars on all windows and doors.

The overall impression you get landing in New York is worse than in most developing countries I've been to. I am already looking forward to returning to Europe, where countries still at least try to make sure their public amenities are interesting, pleasant places to be.

Germans Ignore Dying Man in Bank Despite Law Telling them to Help

Inore

The police in Essen reported (g) on a case in which an 82-year-old man collapsed to the floor of a branch bank in Essen, Germany in early October. At least four people were seen on security cam footage simply walking over his body without offering help or calling an ambulance. The man was eventually taken to a hospital, where he later died. The police are now investigating these persons for failure to render assistance, which is a crime under German law. Section 323c of the Penal Code:

Whosoever does not render assistance during accidents or a common danger or emergency although it is necessary and can be expected of him under the circumstances, particularly if it is possible without substantial danger to himself and without violation of other important duties shall be liable to imprisonment not exceeding one year or a fine.

In common-law countries such as the United States, the law imposes no duty to rescue strangers. As long as you didn't cause the emergency and the bear no special duty to the victim (as a guest or relative, etc.), the law will not punish you for ignoring him. There are a number of justifications for this doctrine, both theoretical (you can't be held responsible for injuries you didn't cause), and moral (the state should trust its citizens to do the right thing uncoerced).

This is one of the most obvious differences between common-law systems and civil-law systems such as the ones in most European countries. When I was teaching, many of my German students professed to find the common-law doctrine shocking or cold-hearted. It's not hard to detect the attitude behind this: the still, small voice in every German's head which whispers: "Despite the recent unpleasantness, Germany is a more decent, moral, caring and sensitive society than all others in the world, except maybe Sweden, but at any rate definitely more caring and 'social' than the selfish, dog-eat-dog United States."

Am deutschen Wesen…*

The students assumed that the existence of a law requiring help made Germany a more caring place, and that it affected Germans' behavior toward one another. This is another typical German attitude — the notion that once a law has been passed to address a problem, the problem no longer exists.

Alas, I had to shatter their precious smugness idealism.

Studies show that 'duty to rescue' laws have no effect on whether people rescue their fellow humans in need. In the United States, where the law says you don't have to try to rescue people, a huge majority does exactly that, often risking their own lives:

As Table 3 reflects, there are approximately 1003 non-risky rescues (cell 2) and 263 risky rescues (cell 4) per year in the United States. Thus, verifiable rescues outnumber non-rescues by almost 800:1. If one loosens the standard for rescue only slightly, to encompass instances of rescue that were reported in a newspaper but did not pass initial screening by the Carnegie Hero Trust Commission, the ratio increases to approximately 1400:1.

Approximately 100 Americans lose their lives every year as a result of attempting to rescue someone else. Thus, even in the absence of a duty to rescue, deaths among rescuers outnumber deaths attributable to non-rescue by approximately 60:1 every year. Stated differently, there are six times as many rescuer deaths every year as there are deaths attributable to non-rescue in the past ten years combined.

Finally, injury is common among rescuers. Aggregate figures are unavailable, since most of the data sources did not separately track injury, but in those that did and as detailed below, a substantial percentage of risky-rescuers and a significant number of non-risky rescuers were injured – sometimes quite severely.

This isn't to say that Germans are more cold-hearted than Americans. Why, just five days ago, a staff member on a German Rhine cruise ship jumped into the cold water to rescue a woman who had fallen off a bridge into the Rhine (g).

The point is first, that law on the books, as usual, has little to do with what happens in the real world. Second, that laws drafted by tiny commissions staffed by elites (such as law professors) and then passed word-for-word by the national legislature do not necessarily reflect "the values of our civilization".

Points worth remembering!

*For German speaking readers, this short German phrase conjures up a universe of associations. For my non-German-Powered™ readers, here's a brief explanation. The words come from a paraphrase of a line in a 19th-century poem by the nationalist poet Emanuel Geibel: “Am deutschen Wesen soll die Welt genesen”. This roughly translates to "German values shall cure the world." I.e. shorthand for a particularly pompous notion of German national superiority.

This wasn't Geibel's original meaning. His original poem "Germany's Vocation" (from which the phrase is adapted), was meant as a rallying cry to the various small German-speaking principalities to unify themselves into a single German state. This unified state would then synthesize the best customs and political ideals of all the individual duchies and statelets into a new political organization capable of protecting German interests and encouraging healthy and moderate customs among the German people.

Ever since the phrase was misused by Kaisers and dictators, poor Geibel's been associated with German nationalism. This is the same fate as the phrase "Deutschland über alles" (Germany above all). It was originally a rallying-cry for German unification — i.e., let's stop putting the needs of our small local community first and unite to put the needs of the German-speaking peoples as a whole first, by unifying into a single, strong country.

So much misunderstanding of Germany comes from the fact that people don't know that modern Germany only emerged from a dizzying patchwork of small states into a national entity in 1871. And that this process took decades, was extremely controversial, and that the people in favor of unification were among the most progressive and liberal forces in society.

America: Politically Correct, and Politically Free

FT_16.10.15_Freedom-of-Expression

Pew research looks at the level of support for free speech across the globe and finds that it's highest (according to their measure) in the U.S.:

Enshrined in the Bill of Rights, free expression is a bedrock American principle, and Americans tend to express stronger support for free expression than many others around the world. A 38-nation Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2015 found that Americans were among the most supportive of free speech, freedom of the press and the right to use the internet without government censorship.

Moreover, Americans are much more tolerant of offensive speech than people in other nations. For instance, 77% in the U.S. support the right of others to make statements that are offensive to their own religious beliefs, the highest percentage among the nations in the study. Fully 67% think people should be allowed to make public statements that are offensive to minority groups, again the highest percentage in the poll. And the U.S. was one of only three nations where at least half endorse the right to sexually explicit speech. Americans don’t necessarily like offensive speech more than others, but they are much less inclined to outlaw it.

To get a summary measure of support for free expression around the world, we built an index based on five survey questions about free speech and three about free media. Using this measure, Americans emerge as the biggest supporters of free expression among the 38 nations studied. And unlike so many other issues in the U.S., wide open, free-ranging public debate has an appeal across party lines. There are relatively few differences between Democrats, Republicans and independents when it comes to free expression.

However, there are some important generational differences on this issue. For instance, 40% of U.S. Millennials think the government should be able to prevent people from making statements that are offensive to minority groups, compared with 27% of those in Generation X, 24% of Baby Boomers, and just 12% of Silent Generation Americans. Nonwhite respondents (38%) are also more likely to hold this view than whites (23%).

Apart from debates over whether offensive language should be legal, most Americans believe people are just too easily offended nowadays. In a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, 59% agreed with the statement “Too many people are easily offended these days over the language that others use,” while only 39% said “people need to be more careful about the language they use to avoid offending people with different backgrounds.”

Yet another stereotype of American society down the drain. Germans consider America to be the homeland of political correctness, the dastardly censorship of controversial views which is spreading like a virus into German society. This impression, like so many others, is created by selective German news coverage. Most Germans still unthinkingly rely on the mainstream media to decide what it's important to know about the United States.

Which they do, according to their own narrow, nearly-identical criteria, determined by the tastes and preferences of educated urban haute-bourgeois Germans. And they have decided, for reasons which would be interesting to know, that Americans are afflicted by the worst case of political correctness on the globe. Journos pounce on every story showing the excesses of politically-correct scolding in the United States. 

Yet what Pew shows us is that Americans likely have the highest tolerance for offensive speech of anyone in the world.

The problem here is one of definition. Political correctness as a tendency of private persons in civil society to denounce someone's remarks, or Halloween costume, or state flag as offensive. There is a lot of that sort of thing in the United States. And there is certainly some chilling effect on college campuses, which are full of people whose job is essentially to have opinions.

Yet in another way, America is much more free than all other nations on earth. The Constitution and American culture prevent the government from punishing offensive speech to a greater degree than anywhere else. In America, the government cannot pre-emptively stop a newspaper from printing offensive speech, or stolen secret documents. Publications generally cannot be seized after they're printed. Ordinary citizens may advocate violence, deny the Holocaust, use ethnic slurs, and espouse racism without fear of government intervention. (As long as these are words alone — you can still be punished for actions such as workplace discrimination or bias-motivated hate crimes). You can neither be punished by the government nor sued for money by a private citizen for an insult, not matter how vicious or crude it is. You can protest at the funeral of a soldier with signs which insult "fags" and say "Thank God for Dead Soldiers".

God-hates-fags

In almost all other countries on earth, any one of these actions or statements could expose you to criminal prosecution by the government or an order to compensate victims with money damages in civil court. Not in the U.S. And, as the Pew survey shows, the majority of Americans approve of this state of affairs. Even millennials, the most PC group of them all, are not clamoring for restrictions on free speech.

So in the United States, if you say something quite rude and non-PC, you may be castigated on Twitter and denounced by your audience.

If you say the same thing in many other countries, you could be hit with a government-imposed fine or civil damages verdict. Perhaps even a prison sentence.

The amount of politically-correct scolding in a country has no relation to the level of genuine freedom of expression. After all, politically-correct scolding is freedom of expression. The U.S. is a hotbed both of political correctness and of free speech.