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This is the Way the World Ends....

Monday, January 31, 2005
In the New York Times magazine, Gregg Easterbrook criticizes the work of Jared Diamond, author of "Guns, Germs, and Steel" and the recently released "Collapse." Easterbrook argues that Diamond's first book fails to explain the failure of China to develop after around 1200 or so, while Europe did. Diamond says that China created a centralized monarchy while Europe remained divided, but fails to explain why. According to Easterbook, this is part of Diamond's lack of recognition of the power of ideas.

Easterbrook's more serious criticism is for Diamond's current work, where Diamond suggests that unsustainable environmental policies bring down civilizations with appalling regularity. Our own society bears all the hallmarks of such a system collapse. Easterbrook thinks that the environmental alarmism is overblown for the following reasons: 1) too much of the work on extinction comes from islands, while the world is not an island. Other research indicates that only 9% of vertebrates are going extinct - no big deal; 2) Diamond gives no solutions to population pressure and his endorsement of Meiji Japan's population control policies is mistaken given that Meiji's society collapsed; and 3) present trends to not necessarily indicate future events. Maybe technology will save us.

Now I will make two comments before defending Diamond. First, I read and liked his first book very much, although I did have some reservations about it. I agree that he gives short shrift to the relevance of intellectual history. Second, I have not read Collapse, so I am more in the mode of defending environmental "alarmists" than defending Diamond specifically.

Here is my rebuttal, in order. In regards to the China-Europe problem, Easterbrook is looking for an environmental explanation of China's "choice," which Diamond fails to provide. Okay, how about this one, pointed out by a prominent historian (whom I can't quote directly because I can't find the book!) who stated that the geography of China is dominated by a central plain, while Europe is divided by mountain ranges. It is far more difficult for one power to control western Europe, while once any state wins control of the central Chinese river valleys they will inevitably control the whole region. I'm NOT saying this is the only reason. I'm just providing the geographic explanation that Easterbook says Diamond lacks.

The attack on Collapse is a heck of a lot more relevant, so let me respond in order:

1) 9% of vertebrates is a lot. Easterbrook fails to appreciate the ripple effect of extinction. If one species goes extinct, then every animal associated with it is likely to go extinct, and every species associated with THAT species goes extinct, and so one. So humanity's elimination of a tenth of the world's species could result in a whole lot more going down with them (including us!)

2) To say that there is no solution to a problem is not to say that the problem doesn't exist. It could be that there IS not solution, or at least not an easy one. This is why makes Greek Tragedy what it is: there is no "right" answer to a problem. Overpopulation and the west's overconsumption of natural resources is a regrettable fact. Just because population controls are unpopular or might be considered violations of personal liberty is not to say that under some circumstances they might be necessary. (Now who's being P.C.?) As for Meiji Japan, Diamond was endorsing their population control policy, not Japanese civilization. And the collapse of the Tokugawa Shogunate can scarcely be considered a system collapse - it's not like the Japanese culture suddenly ceased to exist. Easterbrook is committing a sleight of hand here with the word "collapse": the "collapse" of the Shogun's government is not exactly the kind of collapse Diamond is interested in.

3) Finally, it is true that present trends do not necessarily lead to future results. But this does not mean that present trends will NOT continue either, does it? In conditions of moderate uncertainty (when you think you know but are not totally sure) the smart thing to do is plan for the worst. The rational approach to dealing with our environmental problems is to behave AS IF we are correct that there is a problem. Think of it as a Pascal's wager. If the environmentalists are right, we have prevented the collapse of civilization at what is really a very minor cost (slightly slower economic growth). If the environmentalists are wrong, then we have squeezed some economic inefficiencies out of the system of global capitalism at a short-term price (because pollution is by defintion a form of economic waste). Environmentalists aren't saying we need to just stop the train of the world economy, only that we need to take sustainable development and conservation seriously. It is just madness to hope for the Deus Ex Machina of technological progress to rescue us.

So there.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:47 AM

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Minority Politics

Sunday, January 30, 2005
In the New York Times a couple of days ago, Paul Starr suggested that Democrats have failed to win national majorities lately because they have become too identified with minority causes and have relied overmuch on the courts. The Democrats need to finesse, compromise, or re-frame issues on which they are unpopular (abortion, gay rights, affirmative action) and focus on issues in which they have an advantage.

Starr is really making two different, although related, arguments here. The first is that Democrats have lost the ability to persuade people to support civil rights for minorities. Since they can't win at the polls, they have relied on the legal system. This has failed in the long-term because a) the Republicans are changing the composition of the courts, and b) they have not generated a long-term political majority in favor of these positions. By using the courts to advance civil liberties, they have ignored the importance of political persuasion.

I think there is some truth to this accusation. However, it has scarcely been "the Democrats" who have done so. Instead, it is has been the champions of those minority interests who have pushed their agenda in the courts, in part because it was there that they had the best chance, but also because it is the job of the courts to protect unpopular minorities from oppressive majorities. John Kerry didn't ask the Massachusetts judge to legalize gay marriage, but he was identified with the voters as in favor of it because gay rights advocates are part of the Democratic coalition.

Furthermore, you could even argue that using the courts to advance civil liberties is a way of finessing the issue for Democratic candidates: "I don't agree with the judges, but I will respect their decision. Now as I was saying about health care... Now of course this doesn't work if the other party is waging war on the courts, but that doesn't mean the strategy doesn't make some sense. But Starr's broader point, that civil liberties will not be preserved over the long term unless a majority of the voters supports it, is obviously true. The Democrats have failed to craft a sufficiently persuasive justification for minority rights, part of their overall narrative failure.

Which brings me to the second part of Starr's argument, that Democrats have been hurt by the Pluralist element of their coalition, the part identified with identity politics. As I have discussed in the past, pluralists are one part of the Democrats' ideological coalition, the other being Progressives and Populists. The pressure of identity groups has driven a lot of Populists out of the party and delivered the Republicans their majority. You could say this has been THE problem facing liberals since the 1960's.

But Starr's advice is only partially useful. He suggests that we use race-neutral politics which emphasizes our common citizenship and shifts the subject to populist themes that unite Democrats. This makes political sense not only because it brings us a majority, but also because if you emphasize class politics, minorities (who are poorer) will inevitably benefit even though they are not the overt subject of the policy.

Unfortunately, Starr's approach won't work for gay rights or abortion. This is because there is not one Pluralist position, but two. Starr's strategy solves the problem of ethnic minorities (African-Americans, Hispanics) but not the problem of cultural minorities (gays, feminists). The former are subject to direct populist appeals, but are ultimately less controversial (and these days I don't think affirmative action is an issue with all that much salience). The latter groups' issues are the ones that are driving culturally traditionalist working class voters into the Republican party. Ethnic minorities just want a share of the pie, but cultural minorities want to overturn the existing social order. Becoming race-neutral just won't solve that problem.

So what does Starr suggest we do about unpopular cultural minority issues? Here we have the dilemma that I have yet to see an solution for. Finessing the issue doesn't work, because Kerry tried this (he was for civil unions and said he was personally against abortion) and he was portrayed as a waffler and defined as a supporter of extreme positions anyway (because extremists supported him and were identified as part of his coalition). Compromising on these issues would, I suspect, just alienate our supporters while not winning any new converts, while at the same time making us look like wafflers again. Changing the subject doesn't seem to work, because voters do seem to care about these issues. Which leaves us with the "re-framing" strategy (recently attempted by Hilary on abortion), which has some promise but which has also generated a lot of suspicion from those it is meant to persuade while pissing off the people we already have.

So I do think that Starr is right that the Pluralists in the party are costing us some votes among Populists, but I don't think Starr has identified the right culprit or the right strategy for dealing with it. The political problem that Democrats face, that salient cultural issues divide our party, remains. I'm still waiting for an answer.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:46 AM

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Market Fundamentalism

Friday, January 28, 2005
Some people never learn. In today's New York Times, Robert Wright writes that Bush's foreign policy is incoherent because it lack sufficient faith in markets. Sounds weird, doesn't it? Well, what Wright is proposing is that free markets and democracy are inextricably linked. Capitalism inevitably creates and in turn requires popular government. So the best way to spread democracy in the world is to spread capitalism. Onward to the libertarian utopia! Down with all trade barriers! To add insult to injury, Wright thinks that Clinton was an advocate of such a policy and the Democrats would do well to imitate him.

Wright betrays a real ignorance about history. Having a strong middle class is certainly a prerequisite for a stable popular government, but it is scarcely a sufficient condition. There have in the past been powerful industrial machines with authoritarian governments: Napoleon III's France, Tojo's Japan, Bismarck's Germany are the first examples to spring to mind. China could one day be another. The implicit political contract is that as long as the government delivers the economic goods (and provides some rationale like nationalism) the middle class will not demand political power. Now in the long run this contract might be unstable, but then again in the long run we are all dead.

Let me quote Wright directly:

Capitalism's pre-eminence as a wealth generator means that every tyrant has to either embrace free markets or fall slowly into economic oblivion; but for markets to work, citizens need access to information technology and the freedom to use it - and that means having political power

Let's play the game of "spot the fallacy." Can you see it? He is arguing that economic liberalization requires political liberalization. Can someone please tell me why authoritarian governments can't permit technological research while prohibiting elections? Now execessively harsh tyrannies with oppressive ideologies (like Communism) are certainly incompatible with such a strategy, but a quasi-fascist system might work quite well.

Furthermore, Wright makes the classic mistake of confusing capitalism with free trade. You can have a wealthy industrial economy with no middle class to speak of. Laissez-faire economics, strictly interpreted, lead either to system breakdown (because of the instability generated by ferocious ups and downs) or to corporatization. Free market capitalism almost inevitably results in large monopolies governed by a tiny elite. These corporations can then cut the legs out from under the small proprietors and prevent unionization, therefore forestalling the formation of a broad middle class. It can also provide political support for authoritarian regimes.

I am unaware of a single example in which laissez-faire capitalism has led to industrial development in any country on earth. Not Japan, not Germany, not France, not Britain and certainly not the United States. In each case the state took an active role in developing the economy. In only the latter two instances were the governments democracies.

Finally, Wright needs to read his Weber. Capitalism is not a force of nature, but a social practice which requires other, background social practices. It exists within, not outside, of society. You can't just write laws and set up corporations and expect the machine to suddenly spring into being. Like democracy itself, the existence of capitalism is predicated on a society prepared for it. Flowers cannot grow on stony soil.

In conclusion, while I do believe that capitalism (properly structured) is a vital adjunct to constructing a viable democratic regime, alone it is not enough. Alone, in fact, it is nothing at all. Did the abject failure of the Washington Consensus teach us nothing?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:45 AM

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Back to the Past!

Thursday, January 27, 2005
The essence of conservatism's political appeal is nostalgia. The problem with nostalgia is that it's "better days" never really existed. The old days are gone, and in most cases we can wish them good riddance.

Many observers have noted that the purpose of today's right-wing "reform" is simply reactionary. Conservatism's political success over the last few decades have inspired them to retreat to an ever-distant past. First they wanted to repeal the Great Society, then the New Deal, and lately the Progressive Movement (the Square Deal and New Freedom).

What I never suspected is that the right has now decided to repeal the Pendleton Act.

The Bush administration is attempting to remove civil service protections. They do so in the name of management flexibility, which sounds great. But the problem is that by permitting public managers to more tightly control their employees, you invite the return of the Spoils System. The Republicans' obvious aim is to eliminate public employee unions, thus undermining the labor movement and the Democratic Party. But the second, less obvious aim is to convert the U.S. bureaucracy into a servant of the Republican party. Now I generally think that the Progressive attack on the parties was a mistake, but re-instituting political patronage in federal employment? Are you kidding me?

But wait, we still aren't done! We are going to go back even further, to the 1790's! We are all familiar with Fox News and the New Partisan Press (much like the old party-sponsored newspapers of the 19th century). By that late 19th century, newspapers had become independent of parties. What you may not know is that Thomas Jefferson financed Philip Freneau's National Gazette as a mouthpiece for the Democratic Party. What made it shocking is that Jefferson did so while Secretary of State! There was a scandal about it at the time. So it's pretty scary that the Bush Administration has decided that Jefferson was right use public funds to suborn public opinion. Sure, I know he says now that paying Armstrong Williams and Margaret Gallagher was wrong. But am I the only one who doesn't believe him?

There are no apparent limits to how much of history the right wants to repeal. I suppose the next step would be to withdraw the Declaration of Independence and become colonies of England again. Or maybe we should undo the Protestant Reformation and restore the Inquisition. Or even revive the Roman Empire!
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:44 AM

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The Jacksonians

Wednesday, January 26, 2005
James Pinkerton's recent article argues that what ails the Democrats is the loss of the Jacksonian element of the party: working class voters who are militaristic, anti-big government, anti-business, culturally conservative, and in favor of middle class protections. They are also typically rural. If you add it all up, he says, you have what sounds like a Bush voter. What the Republicans have to worry about is that the pro-corporate, pro-wealthy, anti-welfare state element of the party, as well as failure in Iraq, might drive these voters back into the arms of the Democrats.

If this sounds familiar to my long-time readers, it is because what Pinkerton describes as a Jacksonian, I describe as a populist. I wrote on ad nauseum on this topic for weeks. So I think Pinkerton is right on the money. Democrats have a real opportunity to win back these voters. I don't think the Jacksonians are crazy about the religious right, whatever their cultural conservatism, and the destruction of social security isn't quite what they had in mind, either.

Remember, what got Jackson going in the first place was his animosity towards wealthy bankers. And which of today's parties has more of them? We should work vigorously to recover that tradition. It'll be like going home.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:43 AM

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Billy Can't Read OR Figure

Tuesday, January 25, 2005
In reponse to Susan Jacoby's article about the creationism debate, one of the letters-to-the-editor said that:

My guess is that our high schools and colleges spend altogether too much time and effort on the social sciences to the great detriment of students who leave their classes with barely a smattering of science instruction.

I really don't know what this person is talking about. The freshmen I get in my classes don't know anything about the social sciences either. They have no background knowledge in any subject, be it anthropology, history, math, literature, whatever. They don't know how to think in abstractions or analyze a problem critically. They don't know how to take notes or determine what is important. They don't know how to absorb anything they have read (on the rare occasions when they do read). The majority of them (there are always exceptions for good or ill) are well-meaning, earnest, and utterly ignorant.

And I get the college bound. I can only imagine what it's like in high school.

The U.S. educational system is a disgrace. Anyone who has even a passing familarity with the problem knows that we need longer school days (to end the latch key kid syndrome and put back arts and tutoring), an end to summer vacations (since students lose half of the information over the dead time), better trained and paid teachers, greater teacher authority over the classroom, more parental involvement and support for educators, and a tighter curriculum that actually challenges children. In case you didn't know, in Britain they learn in middle school what we learn in high school, and in high school what we do in college. Come on, are you saying that Americans are just dumber?

If so, it is because we have chosen to be. The efforts of the religious right certainly don't help (as I referenced yesterday), but for the most part it is simply that we don't make education a priority. Whether it's the money required, or time, or political and emotional support, we would much rather just pretend it's the fault of the "system" rather than our own.

Shame on us.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:41 AM

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The New Religious Wars

Monday, January 24, 2005
I am a secular person. Not irreligious, or atheist, but secular. This is a distinction that many on the Christian right find confusing. Which is what is so scary about them. They believe that because they believe a truth, it is the only truth. They have the epistemological arrogance to assert that their perceptions of reality are necessarily correct. In this regard they are rejecting the compromises reached at the end of the religious civil wars. In the seventeenth century, people realized that matters of faith were irreconcilable, and therefore for the sake of civil peace should be removed from the domain of politics. It was the beginning of civil liberties, and the foundation of the enlightenment. It is this compromise that the religious right is determined to overthrow.

Why am I bringing this stuff up now? Well, there is a lot of it floating around the net. There is the Spongebob controversy, which David Neiwert reveals is really about attacking the notion of tolerance itself. There is the fight over creationism in schools, recently discussed by Susan Jacoby in the New York Times. There is the gay marriage issue and abortion, of course. And there is William Raspberry's cogent piece about the unwillingness of believers to accept the necessity of compromise.

There are two principal threats generated by the fundamentalist worldview. The first and most familiar is its other-regarding character. The Christian right is easily offended: they are not satisfied with their own method of life unless everyone else is living it too. The existence of alternative modes causes them psychic discomfort. So they are forced to impose their beliefs on everyone else, hence their illiberalism. And because the "traditional family" requires women to accept a subordinate position, fundamentalists have to make sure they have a steady supply of submissive women. This need requires them to intervene in the affairs of others.

The second danger is less well-known but equally disturbing: the death of reason. Fundamentalists are opposed to the very idea of critical reasoning (this is one reason why you don't see so many of them in the academy). This is due in part to the nature of fundamentalist religious belief, which frequently takes the form of submission to a diety. Appeals to religious belief are necessarily fallacies in the form of Appeal to Authority. The suspension of reason a believer takes on makes him uneasy about rational argument, because this sort of belief is by nature very fragile.

But the difficulty goes deeper. Because fundamentalists have a strong desire to pass their truth on to their offspring, they are forced to war against every external influence on their childrens' development (another reason for their intolerance). To guarantee the transmission of their beliefs, they are forced to raise their children without the ability to think independently. If the kids did think for themselves, they might reject The Way. So sadly enough many on the Christian right have drifted into the realm of anti-intellectualism. They really do want to make their kids stupid, because to do so makes them obedient to religious indoctrination.

This conspiracy of infantilization has real consequences for democracy. Free governments require citizens who are capable of thinking intelligently about the world, who are willing to compromise with others, and are not overly submissive to authority. To raise a society full of people who react rather than think, who obey rather than resist, and who persecute rather than discuss is to make a nation fit only for masters.

And that is why I am a secular.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:40 AM

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Why American Journalism is So Awful

Sunday, January 23, 2005
I'm trapped inside due to the Great Blizzard of 2005. They'll probably label this the "storm of the century" as well. Last night my wife and I were reading about the snowstorm when she discovered this article in the New York Times. It is an amazing display of poor writing, with its overwrought language and hackneyed phrases. But it is also a wonderful example of everything that is wrong with contemporary American journalism.

Journalists are all frustrated novelists and movie actors. This is why we have become so obsessed with "narrative" and "framing," with how to tell a "story." I doubt there are many print journalists who would not rather be writing books (which they do at the slightest opportunity) or T.V. journalists who wouldn't jump at the chance to do some acting.

The problem is that the news shoud not be about storytelling, but about fact. Try as you might to destroy the existence of reality, it is still there. For some reason we have decided that people who report the news require the skills to craft language more than they need the ability to understand their subject. News anchors know about camera angles and makeup but nothing about elections and less about economics. Most of them believe pretty much anything they read.

Ideally, we would find experts (or at least people who are informed) in a relevant field to report on it. The key should be logic, not storytelling. Rigorous analysis is far more important for an educated public discourse than sound bytes and pretty pictures. And I would contend that it is far easier to teach an economist or political scientist to write than it is a journalist to understand Duverger's Law or the principle of Diminishing Marginal Utility.

Sure many (but not all) of today's journalists would be out of work. But then they'd have an opportunity to pursue what it really is they desire anyway. They could stop slumming it and leave the news to someone who knows something about it. And who knows, maybe some of them could write bestsellers.

Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:39 AM

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Saturday, January 22, 2005
Some disparate comments for today.

There is a new liberal blogger on the net whom I would recommend, New Age Democrat. Go read his first post. I don't agree with everything he says, but he is certainly approaching the right questions in the right way. It's good food for thought.

As for the inaugural, everyone who claims that Bush's speech represents some brave idealistic venture (i.e. my bete noire David Brooks, among others) need to read the Washington Post. Apparently the 2nd Inaugural heralds only more of the same: torture, imperialism, and hypocrisy. I doubt the rest of the world takes expressions of American ideals very seriously when the same person enunciating them is grossly violating those very same ideals. There is something very ironic about the AP headline "Bush Starts New Term, Seeks to End Tyranny" (kudos to my wife for spotting that one).

Finally, I want to redeem myself with Ed Kilgore by endorsing his latest post on winning in the South. I think Democrats should study not just Schweitzer's campaign but those of Warner, Easley, and Bredesen. It has been argued that it is difficult to translate those sorts of successes to the national level, but the emphasis on developmental economics that makes these candidates successful is precisely what we should be doing at the national level. Our country needs a strategy for creating new jobs, and God knows the Republicans aren't going to come up with one. And I certainly think that the party (and the country) would benefit from prominent centrist black politicians. It's long past time.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:38 AM

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A Useful Exercise

Friday, January 21, 2005
I was planning on writing a rebuttal to the Bush 2nd Inaugural Speech, but E.J. Dionne has already done it for me. He said it better than I could have.

Instead, I would like all of you to take up the challenge issued by the American Prospect. They have sponsored a competition for the most persuasive definition of liberalism in 30 words or less. I encourage all of my readers to take a stab at it. I spent all morning at the task. It was both difficult and very helpful in distilling my own beliefs. The winner of the contest even gets a prize!
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:37 AM

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Synthesizing the Advice

Thursday, January 20, 2005
Don't talk to me about the inauguration today. I'm trying not to think about it.

Today I'm going to try to synthesize the three articles in the Prospect by Lind, Judis & Teixeira, and Sirota. To summarize, Lind thinks that the Democrats are in trouble as the party of Greater New England and need to nominate someone from the midwest. Judis & Teixeria believe that Democrats are still in fairly good shape for the long term, and that this election was really just a blip. Sirota argues that a new Populism is being created in red states. Its sweeping anti-corporate message might enable Democrats to win previously Republican voters and restore Democratic prospects.

I've already commented on what I like and question about each article in previous posts, so let's move to the conclusion.

The underlying strategic imperative generated by each piece is clear: Democrats must improve their performance among the white working class. To do so we need to find a way to mute the culture wars and shift the emphasis to economic issues. The middle and working classes are being severely pressed by corporate behavior and the international economy, and many families are up to their necks in debt. The Republican "ownership society" is only going to worsen their situation. When you combine the old white working class base of the party with its growing strength among urban professionals and its backing among minorities, the Democrats would be in a dominating political position.

But how is this going to be done? Well, what we need is an overarching critique of conservative economics, distilled into a clear message that is comprehensible to people. The basic narrative needs to speak to core American values (like fair play) while being linked to specific policy issues. Sirota's New Populism is at least a good first stab on how to do this.

The weakness shared by each is their exclusive focus on domestic economic issues. All think that the "values" debate needs to be marginalized. But none has a very clear idea on how to cope with the displacement of economic with cultural issues, which is what is driving the working class movement to the right. I asked a while ago if anyone had a specific idea on how to neutralize cultural issues without making us look weak. I have yet to hear an answer.

The second problem is that none of the three writers has taken up the serious challenge of foreign policy. We are no longer in the 1990's - we need to develop a serious response to heightened sense of international insecurity. Unless we do so, we are never going to have enough credibility to win back the Presidency. This is not to say that there is not already an implicit Democratic agenda, it is only to point out that we have not integrated this agenda with out domestic policy narrative.

What we have is a pile of bricks and some steel girders. What we are missing is an architectural plan.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:36 AM

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Populism Redux

Tuesday, January 18, 2005
The third article in the American Prospect dedicated to analyzing the electoral fortunes of the Democratic Party, and where to go from here, is by David Sirota. Sirota's piece has become a real lightning rod of criticism and support, and has generated a debate I have discussed frequently in the past. Here I am just going to lay out the basic points that Sirota makes, and what I think are the strengths and weaknesses of his analysis.

Sirota wants to revive Democratic prospects in "red" areas of the country by reviving and reformulating populism. Sirota argues that Democrats should embrace economic populism directly be rejecting pure free trade dogmas and using a thorough-going anti-corporate rhetoric. Democrats can reach out to independent proprietors (small businesses and small farmers) by labeling big business as the source of their woes. They can appeal to the exurbs and hunters by re-framing environmentalism from one of pristine preservation to protecting use by ordinary people. They can also win converts by assailing corporate crime and business influence in Washington. By doing so, Democrats can reclaim their historic role as the champion of the "little guy."

There is a lot of merit in Sirota's piece: he has enunciated a specific strategy for creating an overarching narrative that connects political positions, and has identified constituencies for wooing: the white working class and the self-employed. It is a strategy which, if successful, would unite the Democratic coalition and divide the Republicans. It is also an approach very much in keeping with the liberal tradition.

But there are some problems. Sirota's attack on free trade would alienate a good portion of the upscale professional Democrats that Teixeira has argued are essential to future Democratic success. It is Sirota's position on trade which has so enraged the DLC wing of the party. In addition, it is a matter of dispute as to whether the culpability of the big-business/corporate lobby for America's problems is believed by enough people to constitute a real wedge issue. Sure people don't like corporations, but right now they seem to trust government less. Bashing corruption in government might actually make things worse.

Which brings me to the other problem, namely that the exclusive focus on economic issues neglects the continuing salience of cultural and foreign policy issues. Sirota has no real advice for how to deal with divisive issues like gay marriage except to change the subject, a strategy which didn't appear to work for Kerry. And given the continued importance of the so-called War on Terror, it seems shortsighted to neglect foreign policy considerations.

None of this is to say that Sirota isn't on to something. I think his New Populism is a key component of any successful Democratic strategy. I'm just not sure that it is enough.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:35 AM

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David Brooks Hates Women

Monday, January 17, 2005
Am I cheating? Whenever I need something to write about, I read Brooks or Will and they always, always provide me with a topic. One of the original purposes of this blog was to critique conservative arguments: to provide a ready guide to explain to your friends why conservative arguments were wrong. Is this helpful? Or should I stick to other stuff? I write many kinds of posts - philosophical application to politics, rebutting points for conservatives, strategic analysis for liberals. Which kind of post do you prefer? Where should I specialize? I'd like to get some input from my readers.


As per the title, David Brooks has been particularly offensive in his latest New York Times op-ed. Brooks wears a false cloak of sensitivity when he sympathizes with the dilemma of today's professional women. What they really want (of course) is to have children (lots of them) but that more and more of today's women are never able to do so because of the career paths they have chosen. Professional women wait too long to have children, which means that often they don't even get married. What we should be doing is helping women stay home and make babies before they begin a career, rather than after. This would be both more helpful in terms of women's real interests and might also increase the birth rate, which Brooks seems to think is a real problem.

This is a very evil piece. It evokes compassion for the working women and even offers policy changes that sound very nice (like tax credits for stay at home parents). At the same time its underlying assumptions are insidious. What Brooks is suggesting is that for women to be truly fulfilled, they must embrace their role as mothers rather than as workers. This is the basic conservative backlash argument so well documented by Susan Faludi. I wonder at Brooks' statistic that 70% of women over 40 who have never reproduced regret not having done so, since it is a loaded question (there is a "right" answer - like when asked "did you vote in the last election" people are likely to lie).

Leaving that aside, Brooks just assumes that women must be the primary caregivers. Why is that? In our new, modern society, why is it that we must continue with these hoary old traditional roles in which men are assumed to have no interest or capacity to raise children or take care of the home, while women don't "really" want a career? Why can't we design social policies that allow BOTH parents a chance to raise their kids? And what about divorced households? Brooks's position would seem to push us either to making divorce laws more restrictive or returning to the "bad old days" or welfare for single mothers who don't work. Which is it Dave?

As for the idea that women should defer their careers until after reproducing.... Well, we have already tried this. It was called the 1950's, and the result was a common social belief that women are not serious about or truly suited to long-term employment because they are going to quit and have kids. You still see this kind of discrimination today, even in academia, where universities won't give women tenure-track jobs because they fear the female Ph.D.'s are just going to quit on them one day in order to stay home with babies. The fact is that if women have children early, they will never have meaningful careers, because they will be 35 year old entry-level candidates competing with 22 year-old men. Yeah, that's going to work. So this argument is just a very sly way to force women back into the kitchen. Again.

And what is this crap about "marrying earlier"? Do you really think there are millions of people in their early twenties who meet wonderful potential spouses and turn them down because they want a career? Maybe sometimes, but I think the real reason that women are getting married later is that they finally have choices other than marriage. Fifty years ago, if you were an 18 year old girl, getting married was the only choice you had, unless your family was affluent enough to permit you to go to college. Then you were a 22 year old expected to get married. No real substantive change. I think that most people wait to get married because it takes awhile to a) figure out how to be in a real relationship and b) it's not easy to find what you're looking for (once you figure our what you're looking for!). So asking people to get married younger is asking them to settle. How romantic.

Finally, whose crazy idea is it that he U.S. isn't producing enough children? Are you aware of much of the world's resources Americans consume? That's right, a quarter, with only 5% of the world's population. Don't you know that each additional child puts tremendous strain not only on the environment but on household finances? Don't you know that the U.S. has the fastest growing population of any industrialized nation? Sigh.

So don't be taken in by David Brooks' seeming sympathy. What his approach really calls for is a return to Ozzy & Harriett, when men were men and women knew their place.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:34 AM

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Still Emerging?

Friday, January 14, 2005
On the face of it, the 2004 election results got a little egg on the faces of John Judis and Ruy Teixeira. Bush improved his margins among women and hispanics and consolidated his majority in the South, exceeding his 2000 performance by 3%. So is the Emerging Democratic Majority dead on arrival?

In the American Prospect, Judis and Teixeira try to explain why their overarching thesis still holds true. They argue that Bush's victory is no grand departure, but just one more hoary re-assembling of the Reagan coalition, which is showing real signs of weakness. Bush's gains among Latinos were restricted to a few states, while his gains among women seem driven entirely by the War on Terror.

The Democrats continued to show strength among singles, the young and minorities; and also developed important new institutional resources. And the Democrats did suprisingly well given Kerry's real limitations as a candidate (his inability to present a clear economic or foreign policy position and his patrician demeanor). So given a decline in the salience of foreign policy and continued Democratic re-organization, we might see a new political majority after all.

Furthermore, Judis and Teixeira diss the idea that the exurbs are delivering the Republicans an insurmountable advantage. Exurbs are still a very small part of the population, and the combined share of exurb and rural voters has remained stagnant at around 25%. So no worries there.

For those of you who had read The Emerging Democratic Majority, this should all be very re-assuring. The basic thesis of the work is that demographic changes (larger numbers of seculars and minorities and the rise of the left-leaning "ideapolis"), social developments (increasing secularization) and economic re-structuring (the proletarianization of professionals) will gradually give the Democrats a political advantage.

What has always bothered me about this analysis is that it assumes past is prologue. There is no reason to necessarily believe that Latinos will remain a bedrock of Democratic voting or that we will keep now-young voters as they mature. I don't believe Judis and Teixeira really think that we just need to sit back and wait for things to go our way, but it certainly encourages that tendency.

Ultimately what Judis and Teixeira give us is a map of political opportunities. They tell us where we should look as we try to construct a majority coalition: Latinos, professionals, and the white working class. We know that we need to get those voters, but we still don't know HOW to get them. If you accept their analysis (which is in the main pretty good), what he have is an agenda, not a strategy.

Furthermore, there are contrary tendencies in the electorate which might disprove the Teixiera-Judis hypothesis: the further displacement of economic with cultural populism by the white working class and Latinos, the shrinking of old (liberal) urban centers and unions, and a continued perception of foreign policy crisis, as well as old-fashioned vote fraud, might make the Democratic majority far further away than we might like.

We still have a lot of work to do.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:34 AM

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Looking For a New Map

Wednesday, January 12, 2005
This is Part I of a multi-part series on some suggestions on how to transform the Democratic party and recover its majority. Three articles in the latest American Prospect (by Michael Lind, John Judis & Ruy Teixeira, and David Sirota) present three very different analyses of the Democrats' current situation and how to improve it. At the end I'm going to try and synthesize them and come to some general conclusions.

Today I'm going to take a look at Michael Lind's piece, Mapquest.com. Lucky for me, it is available at the New America Foundation webpage, if you don't subscribe to the Prospect (and if you don't, shame on you!).

Lind argues that the Democrats have become far too dependent on Greater New England, which he defines as the Northeast, Great Lakes, and Pacific Northwest. This region has been the political base of four minority parties: the Federalists, the Whigs, the post-Depression Republicans, and the post-Vietnam Democrats. It is no accident that these parties were in the minority, because they shared the region's political culture: pacifist, elitist, and reformist. These three political positions (particularly the first two) are unpopular in the country at large. So it is no surprise that today's Dems are in the minority, and they will continue to be so as long as they rely on this marginal part of the country.

The answer, of course, is to break out the regional ghetto and go national. The Democrats need to return to the tradition of regional parties, with a renewed emphasis on the Midwest, which intersects New England, Western, and Southern Culture. In doing this, Democrats would be following the Lincoln strategy, the only time a New England party was in the majority. Furthermore, the Democrat must abandon the cultural litmus test (abortion, gay rights, etc.) and focus instead on economic valence issues. The Democrats are not going to win over the hard-core religious right, but they might persuade moderate traditionalists. Finally, the Dems need to not just nominate Presidential candidates from the Midwest, they need to embrace a progressive version of Bush's universal capitalism, which has the potential for great appeal in red-state suburban regions.

Okay, what should we make of this piece? I generally like Lind's work: it is interesting even when I disagree with it. This article is no exception. Emphasizing the Midwest as a target region and emphasizing economics rather than culture seem like perfectly sensible strategies to me (a strategy that will come up several times in the next couple of days). I am intrigued, although I have some reservations, about using economic empowerment as a way to win in the suburbs. I also like Lind's development of the Lincoln analogy, pointing out old Abe's populist roots. Something like a modern Homestead Act is worthy of consideration.

But I do think Lind's piece has a variety of problems, some pedantic and some not. First, his definition of Great New England is a little strange. Why include the Great Lakes, which is the very region he wants to target? Unless he is just referring to the Upper Midwest (Minnesota, Wisconsin). More bothersome, his reading of American History is a bit odd. When Lind describes the "New England" parties, he is describing brands of New England Conservatism, which was nationalistic, pro-corporate, anti-slavery, and socially conservative. They old New England Federalists, with their elitist, pro-business, pro-Protestant ideology have just as much in common with today's Republicans than today's Democrats.

I have more substantive problems with Lind's article, however. First, it is a bit ridiculous to condemn the Democrats for their marginal regionalism, but not the Republicans. The Republicans, after all, are totally dependent on the South. If there has ever been an out-of-the-mainstream part of the country, it is certainly Dixie. As Kevin Phillips has pointed out, the Democrats have a northern strategy, just as the Republicans have a southern one. And given the closeness of recent elections, I don't see why the Democrats are as doomed to obsolescence as Lind suggests.

Second, I am surprised at Lind's ready dismissal of Democratic strength among minorities. In his piece, he says that Democrats won only in Greater New England, and in cities with large numbers of blacks and hispanics. Given the latter's growing share of the U.S. population, this is a pretty big thing to exclude. If you include ethnic minorities into the Democratic coalition, you start transcending the "Greater New England" definition of liberalism, which undercuts Lind's thesis.

Finally, Lind appears to fall into the same trap that the DLC has. He suggests that Democrats have a cultural litmus test. This is just GOP propaganda. There are plenty of anti-choice, pro-gun, anti-gay marriage Democrats. In fact, the last 2 Senate leaders have fit this profile. And if you are talking about the Presidential level, where certainly no candidate could get the Democratic nomination without being pro-choice, can I please ask you the last time a pro-choice Republican was nominated? That's what I thought. Lind appears conflicted, as many people are, between reaching out to red-staters (by blurring differences on culture) with not giving in on core Democratic principles (because it makes us look weak). I have yet to see any concrete suggestions on how we can thread that needle.

So overall I think that the Democrats are stronger than Lind argues, but that there strategic problems are more complicated than Lind suggests. We'll see.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:33 AM

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Politics and Science

Tuesday, January 11, 2005
Just a quick note: I have been invited to post at BTC News (there's a link on the left column). So if one post a day isn't enough, go there for your fix. There's a lot of good stuff from other people there too. I guess you can consider this a cross-endorsement.

My wife likes to tell me that as a Political Scientist, I'm not much of a scientist. I am at least familiar with the the forms of scientific investigation as well as the nature of politics. I believe this gives me some authority to speak to the question raised by Roger Pielke in the New York Times: should political considerations be admissable when organizing a White House scientific advisory panel? Pielke takes the eccentric position that the politics of scientists is relevant criteria, while most of the scientific community thinks that it isn't.

Pielke argues that the divison between science and politics is an artificial one, most particularly when you are attempting to invoke science in political disputes. He believes that there are two sides to every issue, and the organizers of science advisory panels need to make sure that these opinions are represented.

These are feeble arguments. The statement that there is no sharp division between science and politics (or the world generally) is either boring or bizarre, depending on how he means it. If Pielke intends to say that, at the epistemological level, we can have no clear distinction between what we know about science and what we know about human relations, then fine. So what? But if he is saying that the scientific method is indistinguishable from the forms of contemporary political debate, then he is either a very poor scientist, a very naive politician, or both.

The scientific method relies on empirical evidence to test hypotheses and to construct theories. Political discourse is a matter of persuading the citizenry, which in practical terms requires framing reality in a way favorable to your position. Science deals with objective reality and political argument with human belief. These are profoundly different approaches.

The objection to the Bush Administration's policy of using political criteria to decide scientific questions is that the purpose of these panels is to provide an objective grounding of fact when debating matters of scientific import. What the Bushies are doing is the opposite of science: they have decided their conclusions and are looking around for evidence to support it. Anything which supports their position is good evidence, anything that refutes their position is bad evidence. This is scarcely science, and perverts the basic mission of the scientific panels.

From the perspective of critical philosophy, of course people cannot stand outside themselves, to abstract themselves from their beliefs and experiences. But from the point of view of ordinary human relationships, we expect people to do this all the time. We operate in various roles (friend, husband, brother, employee, manager) and are expected to behave in a manner consistent with the essential nature of those roles. Whenever we blur those roles, say if I as an employee start treating my boss as I would by wife, we are confusing the situation (to say the least).

So when we hire scientists to evaluate evidence and present conclusions, we are asking them to act as scientists, not as politicians. We need to respect the integrity of that role, and trust that the many sides of the question will be fairly represented. Once the scientific conclusion is reached, the politicians can then use the evidence in the contexts of political debate. We do this so that there is an objective grounding to our conversation. What we should not do is decide that all scientists, because they use things called "facts" and "logic" are somehow all closet Democrats and that therefore science must be massaged.

Unless you think that Republicans really are all a bunch of liars, hypocrites, and fools.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:32 AM

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Why Lying is Wrong

Monday, January 10, 2005
Matt Yglesias is in a quandry. He can't seem to explain why lying is wrong. He is not referring to the question of personal morality, but to the problem of political ethics. Cavour said famously "if we did for ourselves what we did for our country, what scoundrels we'd be." The idea is that there is a separate set of ethics for those in a position of political power, that personal and political ethics are just different.

This is a very interesting question, and one that I have spent a lot of time thinking about. Questions of personal ethics are notoriously complicated because there are so many competing considerations and so many conflicting traditions. And applying a standard of personal ethics to politics is usually a mistake. Whether someone is a "good man" may have nothing to do with their effectiveness as a leader. Political ethics is primarily focused on the question of responsibility - we are responsible for what happens to others in a much more profound way when we are in a position of political power than when we are just private citizens.

I would contend that lying remains wrong whether we are referring to private or personal ethics, although for slightly different reasons. There are a variety of reasons for condemning deceit in private matters, the most persuasive of which is the Kantian argument: when you lie to (or manipulate) someone you are depriving them of free choice and are treating them as a means rather than an end. You are reducing your fellow man to a "thing."

Given the almost inevitable utilitarian calculus that comes into any political decision, political leaders are very tempted to treat their constituents are objects rather than subjects. After all, it's not like they really know them. So the Kantian argument (at least in the form I presented it) is inappropriate for political ethics.

So does this make lying okay? No. In a democracy, the leadership is elected by the people, who therefore require sufficient insight into the actions and motivations of their leaders in order to evaluate them. If you lie to your constituents, either as to what you are doing or why you are doing it, you are depriving them of the information they need to judge your worthiness for re-election. So lying to your constituents about political matters (rather than one's personal behavior) remains a moral wrong because it undermines the democratic process and vitiates republican accountability. I think a version of the Kantian ethic still holds, that lying is wrong because it deprives the one lied to of free choice.

The anti-Republican syllogism therefore retains its truth and its validity: Liars are bad, Republicans are liars, therefore Republicans are bad, QED.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:32 AM

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The Two Horatios

Saturday, January 08, 2005
There are two famous Horatios.. One is the American Horatio Alger, who wrote a series of novellas in the last century, stories in which penniless boys by dint of hard work, talent and luck rose to the top. The other is the Roman Horatio, the man of courage and duty in the old Republic who held a bridge alone against an army and who slew his own sons for plotting against the state.

The first Horatio is far more famous, but of far less relevance, in our society. As the Economist has pointed out (via Bull Moose), social mobility in the U.S. is in decay even while social stratification is increasing. We are, in other words, seeing the development of an American aristocracy. You can see this in dry statistics, but also by visiting any town in America and really seeing it. We are divided between flourishing McMansions and gated communities on the one hand, and decaying middle class neighborhoods on the other.

This decay in America's middle class society imperils not only the economic future, or the chance for a just society. It is a betrayal of our own best self, our vision of what we want America to be. It is also a dangerous sign for any democracy. Right now the two front-runners for President in 2008 are Jeb Bush, the brother of a President, and Hilary Clinton, the wife of a President. America is not supposed to work that way. We are in the process of creating an aristocratic republic dominated by a few great families. But these families do not possess the sense of public duty that the classical Horatio possessed. We are embracing aristocratic injustice without aristocratic virtues.

The Economist argues that the Republicans are actively enabling the process of feudalization (although I think they give Bush's NCLB law too much credit, since it is an indirect method to a school privatization which will only broaden the gap between rich and poor), which is obviously true. But they also blame the Democrats for being "more interested in preferment for minorities than building ladders of opportunity for all." This is a vicious slander, given the historic mission of the Democratic Party in guaranteeing equality of opportunity. But the fact that such a respectable publication could believe such calumny indicates the need for liberalism to remind everyone what we stand for.

Liberals have a great, even heroic task before us. We must stand against the forces that are sapping the strength of our middle-class democracy. We need to resuscitate Mr. Alger, and we must do so by standing on that bridge, alone if we must, against those who want to destroy our country.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:31 AM

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Is the Republican Base Bigger?

Friday, January 07, 2005
Pandagon in a piece a few days ago raises a very important question: is the Democratic base smaller than the Republican base? Here's is Pandagon's basic position: the mobilization strategy for Democratic victory is to organize and turn out the left, while the median voter strategy is to win over undecideds. In the last election, the Democrats did both fairly effectively and still lost. Kerry won among moderates and enjoyed substantial and enthusiastic support among self-described liberals. So the mobilization strategy and the median voter strategy to be effective both require an expanded liberal base.

I think that Pandagon's statements about "growing" liberalism and creating a strategy of persuasion is very well taken, and consistent with what I and others have been saying. What I question is whether ideological self-identification is really the best measure of the respective sizes of the 2 party's bases. After all, two-thirds of voters who describe themselves as independents are reliable partisans. That is why political scientists rely more on behavior than attitude: the latter is reliably unreliable.

To get a better idea of the basic strength of liberalism (or at least its potential strength), we need to ask people not "are you a liberal" but "what is your position on the following issues...." If you do that, then you learn that liberalism as an issue profile remains in a substantial majority on most issues, particularly in domestic policy. So a lot of self-described "moderates" are really liberals. Or so I would contend.

The fact that they don't call themselves liberals returns to the point Pandagon was making: the term "liberal" has been negatively branded, and needs to be rehabilitated. What we should keep in mind is that, because of the inherent popularity of liberal positions, the task of expanding liberalism won't be quite so difficult as we have been thinking. A Democratic majority may be far closer than it appears.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:30 AM

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Missing the Point

Thursday, January 06, 2005
Boy I've been spending a lot of time arguing with Ed Kilgore, haven't I? Anyway, a couple of days ago he wrote that Democrats in their defense of abortion rights need to de-couple the issue from other "values" issues. He thinks that the war over the judiciary is really just about abortion and nothing else. And by the way, being anti-choice does not make one misogynistic.

I think this is a very large mistake. Conservative judicial doctrine is about a heck of a lot more than abortion. The Federalist Society and its ilk are determined to use the courts to overturn the New Deal (and perhaps even the Square Deal). They want to return to the Lochner Court, in which the property rights of corporations were so strong that neither the states nor the federal government would be permitted to regulate them. If they are successful, the results would be near-permanent. Liberals would either have to wage a generation-long campaign to re-pack the court or just destroy the power of the independent judiciary. I'd much rather draw a line in the sand now.

The other distrubing thing about Kilgore's blog is his mis-understanding of the abortion issue. By suggesting that abortion is somehow distinct from misogyny or general social conservatism, he fundamentally misconceives the centrality of abortion rights. The key reason that women have been able to enter the workforce and claim an equal place in the sun is that they are no longer condemned to stay home and make babies. The religious right is not just about abortion - they are about all reproductive rights. If women, upon the moment of conception, are forced to bear a child to term, they are then returned to the days of either a) never having sex (wow that's realistic), b) becoming baby-making machines, or c) forcing women to risk their health with back-alley abortions. They are reduced to things rather than people.

Let me put this more simply. If you are anti-choice, you are anti-woman. Believing that women should not have control over their reproductive choices is to say that women should be stuffed back into their "traditional" family roles. Any judicial nominee who will not defend female equality is one that must be defeated. If that makes me an advocate of the "litmus test," so be it.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:29 AM

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More Fallacious Comparisons with Europe

Wednesday, January 05, 2005
There is a rash of bad reasoning over at the New York Times editorial page lately. This time Carol Adelman asserts that America, despite its low level of state-sponsored international charity, is pretty generous after all. She argues that the while official government contributions as a share of GDP are low for the U.S. in comparison with other industrialized nations, these statistics are misleading. Charity, Adelman argues, is becoming privatized. To accurately guage the level of U.S. charity, you need to include private giving as well. If you do so, the U.S. gives a total of over 51 billion a year. Wow!

Adelman leads her readers to believe that she is not going to make the ridiculous argument that the U.S. is generous because it gives a far larger total than other nations. This is a very bad argument because the U.S. economy is also far larger, so Americans might be giving pennies on the dollar. Let's say that Japan gives 10 billion and we give 12 billion. The U.S. is more generous, right? Not really, because our economy is twice as big as theirs. Per person, the U.S. is nearly half as generous. Unfortunately, after not making this false comparison early in her op-ed, she then makes it near the end, when she says that Norway, while giving a high .92% of its GDP to charity, still gives far less than many American corporations. This is silly, since Norway is a very small country of 5 million people. Lots of companies dwarf Norway in size. Sigh.

But the biggest fly in Adelman's ointment is that while including America's private giving in U.S. totals, she doesn't mention the level of private giving in Europe. She just assumes that it is less, probably because conservatives have bought into the crowding-out theory (that government charity just displaces public charity, for no net increase). Adelman doesn't give us a shred of data on private giving in Europe. For all we know, Europeans are more generous both at the public AND the private level. So we have yet another invalid conservative syllogism. This is becoming a habit. Now I don't think that Adelman is a stupid person, so I can only assume she is trying to deceive her readers.

Once again, Adelman demonstrates that liars sure can figure.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:28 AM

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The Latest Brooks Snowjob

Tuesday, January 04, 2005
In his most recent New York Times op-ed, David Brooks argues that the European model of social organization (and by inference, the liberal model) has been rendered impractical by changing demographics. Because the population of Europe (and to a lesser extent, the United States) is becoming more elderly, economic growth is going to be lower and hence generous social benefits to retirees and the poor will become infeasible. Brooks also suggests that the reason for Europe's slower growth since the 1970's has been its welfare state.

This is a very slippery piece. Brooks is conflating ideas and moving between assumptions with great (if sinister) skill. He identifies a basic problem confronting all industrial nations: flat population growth. This is indeed a challenge, since if the working population is smaller relative to the nonworking population, each worker will bear a higher burden. And population growth is a driver of economic growth, since it creates a new source of demand. But Brooks takes this real problem and uses it to push his pre-conceived political agenda: smaller government and less equality. But his analysis his faulty, and his solutions not necessarily the only ones.

First of all, Brooks is assuming that the current projections of flat population growth in Europe will continue. This is a very large assumption, since the past is not necessarily prologue. It is possible that Europeans, seeing a world with no children, decide to make some. But let's say that the expectations are correct, that Europe's population will continue to age and, eventually, shrink. The solution to this difficulty is precisely the same as that of the United States: immigration. By importing younger workers from the impoverished 3rd world, the U.S. has alleviated the severity of its demographic woes. There is no reason Europe could not do the same. There would be no need for an evisceration of the welfare state.

Which brings me to my second critique. Brooks deploys the conservative orthodoxy that Europe has had slower growth over the last generation because of its high taxes and expansive public services. But wait a minute, I thought the low growth was due to an aging population! Which is it David?

Now Brooks could reasonably argue that Europe's generous welfare state has slowed growth in the past, and that this growth will slow further as the population ages. But this assumes that Europe has in fact been experiencing slower growth over the last thirty years. And you guessed it - it hasn't. While the U.S. has experienced higher overall growth, its per capita growth since 1975 has been basically the same as Western Europe's. In other words, our higher titular growth rates are strictly the result of higher population growth. There is just no relationship between a larger welfare state and slower growth. Oh and of the per capita growth in the U.S., how much do you think has wound up the hands of the middle class? That's right. Zero.

Oh, but Europe has higher unemployment! Not really. When the EU calculates unemployment rates, they use the share of the working age population that is not employed. In the U.S., we exclude people in prison and people who have given up looking for work from the labor force, and count temporary and part-time workers as employed. If we measured the same way as they do across the pond, we've have roughly the same rate of unemployment.

But aren't Europeans poorer than Americans? In a word, no. They do have lower per capita incomes, but per capita figures take no account of a) currency fluctuations, b) government and corporate benefits, c) personal debt, or d) distribution. Median incomes in the U.S. are in reality no higher than in Europe. Anyone who has been to Europe will see that they are just as rich as we are.

So America's economic model has delivered average per capita growth and unemployment rates in exchange for 1) fewer government services and 2) greater wealth inequalities. In other words, Americans are running up their credit cards in order to tread water, while the Europeans are experienced greater median income gains AND free health care.

So what Brooks is doing here is taking a nonexistent past problem as evidence for a potential (and avoidable) future problem in the name of hurting people at the bottom and helping people at the top. Sound familiar?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:26 AM

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Check out THIS Guy

Monday, January 03, 2005
I've never heard of James Dobson, but according to the Washington Post he is pretty important. Apparently Dobson is the leader of the evangelical organization "Focus on the Family." According to the Post, "Dr. Dobson owes his grass-roots following primarily to his partly clinical, partly biblical advice on matters like marriage and child-rearing." I wonder whether, as a Ph.D., the national psychological or psychiatric associations could strip him of his supposed academic status. Biblically-inspired child rearing is scarcely consistent with the scientific method. I also want to know is whether this organization is a church or not. Because if it is, these guys should lose their tax-exempt status.

In any event, we should hang this freak around Bush's neck and keep him there. When is it that men of the cloth became men of power?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:25 AM

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No He Didn't!

Sunday, January 02, 2005
I like Bull Moose. It's a good blog, and the author has a lot of interesting things to say, particularly as they come from a former Republican. He has stayed focused on the hypocrisy and misdeeds of the DeLay-controlled House, for which I have nothing but admiration.

Of course, when you say nice things about someone, it is a set-up for a criticism.

I am appalled by the recent post on Bull Moose in which he speaks with respect for Newt Gingrich and his revolution in the House. He asserts that the Republican takeover was a much needed cataclysm required to reform the House. And in doing so he acts like Newt Gingrich is an honorable person of high principles and strong ethics.

To all of which I must say hogwash. I was in Washington in 1995 when the Republicans took over. The lobbyists were writing legislation then too, in the supposed "glory days." DeLay is more corrupt and more vulgar, but the essence of the Republican House is still Gingrichian. What we are seeing today is not a decline from a noble past, but the distillment of what was there all along. Gingrich is DeLay with a veneer of intellectualism.

I happen to know a little about Newt Gingrich. I went to the undergraduate institution that Gingrich taught at before his political career. He was long gone, of course, but I had many conversations with the people who knew him. The picture of the man that emerged was not a flattering one. Gingrich ran for the House as a Rockefeller Republican against an old-line segregationist Democrat, enlisting the support of much of the faculty at his college. Once he was elected, Gingrich morphed into Ronald Reagan. The whole country would later see evidence of this ruthlessness, of Gingrich's unprincipled ambition, when he proceeded to define anyone who disagreed with him as un-American, and when Gingrich repeatedly broke his word.

I am sure you have all heard how Gingrich divorced his wife while she was in the hospital, so I won't harp on that. I don't have to.

The most damning thing about Gingrich is his pseudo-intellectualism. Yes he got a Ph.D. (in history), but do you know what? He wasn't a very good academic. If he hadn't been elected to the House, he still wouldn't have gotten tenure. People who knew him said Gingrich was a fount of ideas, but that 90% of those ideas were total crap. Those tendencies certainly bore themselves out once he became Speaker.

Finally I will share a personal story. I met Gingrich on a trip to D.C. where he came to speak to us. I asked him real question: how can re-imposing the 19th century socioeconomic and political order be the appropriate strategy if we have as he claimed entered a brand new era in human affairs? And do you know what the big brain's answer was? He didn't have one, so he ducked the question. Not so impressive.

So go damn the DeLay-run House for its many sins, but please no romanticizing of the Gingrich Revolution. The two are one and the same.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:24 AM

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