From their amazing album God Save the Clientele
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What I’m Listening To:
From their amazing album God Save the Clientele
Over at Slate, Timothy Noah is putting together an homage-a-Krugman; that is, a lengthy description of the growing inequality of America.
I’m reading it with interest. So far, I am initially perturbed by the number of Krugman cites he has thrown in and the way he has quickly mentioned and disregarded important factors like income mobility. But perhaps he will return to the point, so I will withhold judgment.
I’m interested in whether he’ll have any novel conclusions to offer as to why the supposed income inequality increase is a problem. I understand that possibilities of class warfare may be a cause for practical concern, but is it a cause of moral concern? That is, if zero-sum theories of wealth are not true (and they aren’t), and the rich aren’t causing the poverty of the poor, then what is immoral about income inequality?
I understand that I am asking fundamental questions of political philosophy. Many egalitarian-minded thinkers may think I’m crazy for even asking the question. Fairness is the problem, they say. Inequalities are unfair.
What strikes me as fascinating, however, is whether moral descriptions of broad-brush categories can be meaningfully transcribed into moral imperatives about individual members of the class. Incomes are not earned by classes, after all, they are earned by individuals. For example, is saying that it is unfair for certain classes to become rich while others become (or stay) poor the same as saying that a given poor person X deserves more income in tandem with a given rich person Y earning more money?
It is hard to imagine how it these statements could not be the same. It is the individual instantiation of egalitarian policies (among other things) that I disagree with.
On Sept. 14 Obama will once again address American children in the classroom. Commander in Chief will become Chief DemaPedagogue.
Last year’s speech created quite the hubub. And rightfully so. As Neal McCluskey pointed out, the speech was not only unnecessary (and came conveniently packaged with a left-leaning lesson plan), but it was an example of the general problems with centralized education. I dislike the address because it is emblematic of the Orwellian-style mission to socialize the nation’s children into a common ethos via the public school system.
Now, I’m not Justice Scalia; I do not wish to blithely overuse the “Orwellian” epithet. It is difficult, however, to come up with any reason why the government must run schools other than the idea that socializing children with common attitudes is somehow the mission of the state.
Those who oppose vouchers often have this idea undergirding their objections. When I explain to them that I believe in universal, state-funded education, they still construct elaborate arguments for why this universal, state-funded education must be run by the government. I’ve already made a concession–a heresy to some libertarians–that government should pay for education. Evidently, this is not enough.
But why? Because all children need to be instructed in the same things? Because instilling some sense of collectivism is vital to the goals and aspirations of the leftist? Both. I’ve been told that privately run schools may not teach an adequate respect and appreciation for the environment, that creationism/intelligent design should not be allowed inside children’s heads, that racism/nationalism may be taught rather than “tolerance.” All are cited as dangers of publicly funded, but not publicly administered, education system.
The “it takes a village” attitude has long been a cornerstone of collectivism. Public education partially originated with aspirations towards common socialization and collectivization. John Dewey, acolyte for progressive education, created an entire philosophy of education based on theories of socialization and collectivization.
Having started school in the 80s, I got my healthy dose of such faddish attempts at socialization. I was forced to endure a thoroughly insipid class called P.A.W.S. (Positive Action With Students) that was as vacuous as it sounds. Of course I also had my time in D.A.R.E., a substantial dose of eco-mania (although it pales in comparison to what modern children get), and the daily pledge of allegiance. Thankfully, my parents consistently warned me to not pay too much attention to these brazen attempts by the edu-cratic establishment to mold me into a good citizen.
As I have written before, how we educate our children is a bizarre thing to choose democratically. We demand more brands of cereal than we demand varieties of education. And, instead of fighting for a market system that will fill nearly all our demands, both sides fight for control over the “commanding heights” of pedagogy and the monopolistic power to teach everybody else’s children.
Excellent live performance. For fans of the Afghan Whigs, Primal Scream, general rock and/or roll.
The N.Y. Times is reporting that fewer young voters see themselves as Democrats.
This is a quite surprising development in such a short period of time. Obama seemed to fill the 18-29 year olds with energy and commitment. Alas, it seems to be dissipating:
Kristin Johnson, 23, like many other students interviewed here in recent days, said that a vote for Democrats in 2008, however passionate it was, did not a Democrat make. But she bristles just as much at the idea of being called a Republican.
“It’s like picking a team when you really don’t want to root for either team,” said Ms. Johnson[.]
I’m sure I’m not the only libertarian who hopes that those disillusioned with both sides will give our team a look.
In the “I Told You So” file:
Over at the Boston Globe, Jeff Jacoby details the failure of the “cash for clunkers” program. We now have numbers to back up the dire prognostications from the pundits (read Cato adjunct scholar Jeffrey A. Miron’s here). In many cases they are worse than expected: used car prices have risen 10%, we paid an average of $24,000 per sale, and prices on the most affordable vehicles have skyrocketed. Moreover, we paid $237 per ton of CO2 we removed from the air, nearly 12 times the price of a ton of carbon emissions on the carbon credit market.
Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of economics should not be surprised. The idea that productivity can come from destruction (the broken window fallacy) always returns. But environmentalists, who have generally never been gifted in the economic way of thinking, are sure to label this a success. They’ll cite the incalculable gains to long-term environmental “sustainability.”
Politics is largely pageantry anyways; putting on a good show for the audience matters more than results. The pageant will move forward, ensuring that we have not seen the last of cash for clunkers-type programs.
Jane Mayer at the New Yorker recently did a shameless hit-piece on the Koch brothers and the think tanks and organizations they fund (often termed the “Kochtopus,” a creative name I’m willing to endorse). My employer, the Cato Institute, gets mentioned in a brief but typically sneering fashion. The entire article oozes with bias and spite. Pure journalistic failure.
To give you an idea of the tone of the article, at one point, on page 5, it seems as if the article may, if only for a moment, attempt to discuss other political Daddy Warbuckses and the causes they fund. Quickly coming to her senses, Mayer then nearly trips over herself trying to explain the difference:
Of course, Democrats give money, too. Their most prominent donor, the financier George Soros, runs a foundation, the Open Society Institute, that has spent as much as a hundred million dollars a year in America. Soros has also made generous private contributions to various Democratic campaigns, including Obama’s. But Michael Vachon, his spokesman, argued that Soros’s giving is transparent, and that “none of his contributions are in the service of his own economic interests.” The Kochs have given millions of dollars to nonprofit groups that criticize environmental regulation and support lower taxes for industry. Gus diZerega, the former friend, suggested that the Kochs’ youthful idealism about libertarianism had largely devolved into a rationale for corporate self-interest. He said of Charles, “Perhaps he has confused making money with freedom.”
This is typical leftist reportage. The article constantly insinuates that people like George Soros are magnanimously and selflessly committed to truth and justice. The Kochs, however, are not driven by belief, but rather narrow self-interest. They champion self-serving and intermittent alliances that only pad their pocketbooks and bolster their portfolios.
Perhaps the worst bias in the article is scrawled across the top: “Covert Operations: The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama.” The article paints libertarians into the right-wing of the American political spectrum and gives a scant, sneering mention (“its [Cato’s] scholars have at times been critical of both parties”) to our consistent attacks on Republicans, particularly Bush. This small concession is quickly withdrawn when, in the following paragraphs, the author tries to ensure that the reader is not fooled by Cato’s attacks on Republicans because “[Cato] has consistently pushed for corporate tax cuts, reductions in social services, and laissez-faire environmental policies.”
Amidst this manifest inability to scrounge up even a semblance of neutrality, it is no surprise that the Kochs’ activities are said to be “covert.” Although they are about as clandestine as Major League Baseball, the leftist media has chosen to fawn over Soros rather than the Kochs. How else does someone become a household name, which Soros certainly verges upon, except by sufficiently tickling the media’s fancy? When they do look at other side all we get is inexcusable and inaccurate trash like Mayer’s article.
David Weigel at Slate has offered an excellent rejoinder, urging us to revel in the epithets because it means the Kochs’ mission is working. Weigel even mentions the Koch Summer Fellow Program, a fellowship I recently completed and absolutely loved. Yes, I’ve spent my time living in the majestically adorned “Kochwood.” I too have suckled at the oil-filled teet of the Koch bros. I guess everything I have to say can be discarded as self-interested brainwashing.
By calling Cato right-wing, however, Mayer’s article stumbles into a timely discussion. The dust-up here at Cato, the departure of Brink Lindsey and Will Wilkinson, Cato’s champions of “liberaltarianism,” has produced some hemming and hawing from around the blogosphere over whether Cato is moving to the right. Daniel Foster at NRO has asked whether or not there is a “liberaltarian” purge at Cato. At Volokh, Ilya Somin does a good job putting the situation into context.
Despite losing two fine scholars, Cato will continue being Cato—treading water amidst a sea of partisan epithets—and Will and Brink will continue to produce their undoubtedly excellent work. I am somewhat miffed from a personal standpoint. Brink Lindsey wrote one of my favorite books of the last five years, and Will Wilkinson writes an amazing blog and has intellectual interests, as well as aesthetic tastes, that are eerily congruent with my own.
Brink and Will’s liberaltarianism is an admirable project that was “officially” inaugurated a few years ago with Brink’s piece in the New Republic. Whether or not libertarians should align themselves more with conservatives or liberals is a valid and important question. Like any group seeking political action, who our strange bedfellows will be is a prudent question.
Personally, I agree with my Cato colleague Julian Sanchez: I don’t particularly care about the answer to these questions other than the “boringly obvious one: Libertarian individuals and institutions should make whatever tactical alliances on specific issues that best suit their dispositions and concerns.”
But are libertarians shutting out one side of the political spectrum? On an individual level, libertarians have varying affinities for either one of the two parties. I’ve found this to be mainly a function of which side of the political spectrum a given libertarian came from. Perhaps, however, which side we are shutting out is the wrong question. Maybe we should look to which side is shutting us out and ask why they are doing so.
Which brings me back to the New Yorker’s left-wing bombing run over the fields of the libertarian landscape. Why does Mayer hate us so? Why does she shut us out and yet the Tea Partiers, by and large, are willing to listen to us despite the fact that we are pro-gay rights, pro-immigration, anti-torture, anti-Iraq war, anti-Afghanistan war, anti-Patriot act, etc… In other words, why are economic policies the deal-breaker? Beliefs on economic policy seem to have become the sine qua non for locating oneself in this mythically one-dimensional political landscape.
I will use later posts to discuss why I think this is so. For now I will endorse Weigel’s call to rejoice at our besmirching by the New Yorker. There are few worse insults than to be ignored and considered beneath response.