Political Theory RSS feed for this section
justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Escaping Backwards Thinking in Education

Future generations may study the education system in our day as a lesson in how difficult it is to make government do the right thing when there are entrenched interests involved.  Indeed, reading a post by Annie Holmquist on the Foundation for Economic Education site, I wondered if our progeny will think us downright backwards.

Quoting a former public-school-teacher-turned-homeschool-mom named Nikita Bush, The Monitor explains this movement:

“Despite the promises of the civil rights movement, ‘people are starting to realize that public education in America was designed for the masses of poor, and its intent has been to trap poor people into being workers and servants. If you don’t want that for your children, then you look for something else,’ she says.”

Bush is not alone in thinking that the public schools are keeping minority children from reaching their potential. According to a poll released in 2016 by The Leadership Conference Education Fund, minority parents “strongly reject the notion that students from low-income families should be held to lower standards.” In fact, “Nine-out-of-ten African Americans and 84 percent of Latinos disagree that students today work hard enough and instead believe that students should be challenged more to help ensure they are successful later in life.”

According to Holmquist’s post, black students who are homeschooled perform as well or better than the national average in reading, language, and math, and the contrast with black public school students is stunning.  (Having not reviewed the underlying research, I should note the possibility that there may be factors affecting the numbers, such as the relative income of the group.)

The thing that seems backwards, though, is that only in Georgia is it possible for parents to work together for a sort of homeschooling co-op.  How did we get to a place in a supposedly free country in which the government’s underlying assumption is that parents cannot be trusted to educate their children?  That doesn’t strike me as the proper relationship between government and the governed.

Of course, it may be an exercise in unreasonable optimism to think that future generations will have a better sense of how that relationship ought to be structured.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

When the Tide Has Nowhere to Turn

Although his title may not really capture the point, Jim Geraghty is on to something with “Crazy Theory: This Year the Right Is Winning the Culture Wars.”  Here’s one item of his evidence:

Target Corp. said it will spend $20 million to add a private bathroom to each of its stores by next year, after customer protests of its policy allowing transgender individuals to use whichever restroom corresponds with their gender identity.

My wife mentioned to me, the other day, that at least one Target store in the area had porta-potties outside, with some sort of cleaning station, and when her friend asked what they were for, an employee told her they’re “for the transgendered.”  My first reaction was to suggest that’s what happens when there’s such disconnect between corporate big-wigs and the people.  Making a grand politically correct statement using an entire chain of stores seems very important when perched at the cocktail party top, but as with universities’ capitulating to the whiny brats among their student population, the broader public has different views.

That is to say that Target has learned what happens when your leadership really does have contempt for a plurality of views.

The incident brings to mind Plato’s description of the steps by which an oligarchy deteriorates into a democracy:

This state, then, is in the same precarious condition as a person so unhealthy that the least shock from outside will upset the balance or, even without that, internal disorder will break out.  It falls sick and is at war with itself on the slightest occasion, as soon as one party or the other calls in allies from a neighbouring oligarchy or democracy; and sometimes civil war begins with no help from without.

In Plato’s reasoning, the elites of the oligarchy have become so soft and unlike their fellow countrymen that when anything happens to throw them all together, “the poor man, lean and sunburnt,” will observe of his social betters that they “are rich because we are cowards.” Applying this to Geraghty’s thesis, we might say that the lesson isn’t that “the Right is winning,” but merely that the Left hasn’t yet won — meaning that the self-righteous elite cannot yet impose its every will and fashion on the country with no consequence.

Another way to phrase it would be to say that the cultural tide appears to have hit progressive dams, with none of the releases that a free and equal representative democracy has in place to allow for self governance.  Unfortunately, the turmoil has brought Donald Trump to the forefront, so the next question will be what happens if the dams should hold in November, bottling up the pressure, or if they should break more expansively than is healthy for our society.

Either way, although the Left might be said to be losing, I’m not sure those of us on the right will really consider ourselves to be winning.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Practical Distance Between America and Venezuela

A post on by Daniel Greenfield got me to thinking why the United States couldn’t suffer a similar fate to Venezuela’s:

After the fun of electronics stores forced to discount televisions at gunpoint, there were no more televisions. And no more cars. Then no more toilet paper, milk and other basic necessities.

The Socialist government tried to solve its money problem by printing more money. But it wasn’t able to pay for the money it wanted to print because of the inflation which officially did not exist.

Greenfield goes on to note that some American politicians propound policies of a similar mindset, making one wonder whether there’s something in the American character that will eventually stop the process or it’s just a matter of luck and the erosion of principle.

The first argument of distinction between our country and the one that Hugo Chavez ruined is that we’re wealthier, and in a broader way. But that just means we have farther to fall, which could mean more time or it could only necessitate a bigger mess up… say a decade of quantitative easing and massive federal debt combined with a regulatory state that makes it more difficult for people to work off the extra burdens and a welfare state that promises to buy them off if dependence on government is an option they’re willing to entertain.

A second argument, related to the fact that we have more wealth and room to fall, is that we have a culture of self-reliance and rebelliousness. Well, we’re arguably engaged in an experiment to discover how few generations it takes to get out of the habit of self-reliance. And as for rebelliousness, that’s well and good to talk about and believe in, but the proof is in the doing.

Ultimately, if it can’t happen here, we better get to proving it soon.

 

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

When the Opposition Is Evil

This short Instapundit post by Sarah Hoyt caught my attention for two reasons:

The Problem With Politics Today? The Opposition Must Be PUNISHED! This is what comes of confusing civil law and religion. When your politics are your religion, those who don’t agree are evil.

First, the Tom Knighton post on PJMedia to which she links is about a “small town of less than 20,000 people” in which residents recently “voted down a tax increase,” and the social media reaction of some who wanted to punish voters.  If anything, Knighton’s example looks mild compared with the open, broad, and organized aggression we’ve seen in Tiverton after merely reducing a tax increase to 0.9%.

Second, the mention of “evil” brought to mind the reaction of RI Future writer Steve Ahlquist when I wondered why the Central Falls school district insists that substitute teachers have a “commitment to social justice”:

Because a commitment to social injustice is evil?

One can see the level of zealotry, here, by the assumption that a substitute teacher who would not claim to have an active “commitment to social justice” must therefore have an active “commitment to social injustice.”  As I argued yesterday, progressives believe everything must be political all the time, whereas conservatives are comfortable with the idea that some areas of human activity can be distinct from other areas.  A substitute teacher, for example, can keep the classroom safe and maybe even advance students’ learning without having to invoke the doctrine of “social justice.”

My ensuing discussion with Ahlquist became mired in his trying to have it both ways.  On the one hand, he wanted to seem less like a zealot by implying that “social justice” isn’t a political ideology at all, but simply a term for such beliefs as all Americans agree are obvious and correct.  On the other hand (and here he broke off conversation before we could really explore this inquiry), he clearly has a progressive’s concept of what “social justice” means, as does the Central Falls district, inasmuch as the job ad in question had other telling phrases, like “cultural pride.”

Honestly, I think there’s a real issue evident in progressives’ inability to structure their thoughts and beliefs logically as a step toward assessing and comparing contrary thoughts and beliefs.  What they believe is simply correct… because it is… and in order to believe differently, one must be evil.  And if you’re nice, or at least willing to engage in discourse, while being evil, then you are, as Ahlquist repeatedly accused me of being, “not an honest interlocutor.”

The attractiveness of this approach is obvious.  One’s own beliefs are so plainly correct that none can legitimately argue against them.  The opposition’s implicit evil justifies just about any strategy required to win political fights, and if the good guys should lose, they are further justified in lashing out to punish the maleficent victors.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Inequality Narrative

Not to pick on Ted Nesi, because he’s only trying to promote his work using a click-bait political narrative, but I had to ask him what the insinuation was when he tweeted that “just 5 of RI’s 27 best-funded politicians are women.”  Do people who attempt to buy Rhode Island politicians put sexism before corruption?  Or do fewer women run for office?  Or are the specific women who are currently politicians in Rhode Island not as effective at or interested in fundraising?

Nevermind.  Let’s all just assume sexism.

The problem is that such statements are part of what turns straight reporting of the news into another brick in the wall of a political narrative serving one side — in this case, the glass-ceiling-breaking Democrat presidential nominee Hillary Clinton (who will enter office with a large percentage of the population thinking she’s the archetype of corruption and thinking more of the cliché to “break glass in case of emergency”).  The entire inequality narrative, as Thomas Sowell argues, ought to be retired before it does anymore divisive harm:

People like Hillary Clinton can simply grab a statistic about male–female income differences and run with it, since her purpose is not truth but votes. The real question, however, is whether, or to what extent, those income differences are due to employers paying women and men different wages for doing the very same jobs, for the very same amount of time.

We do not need to guess about such things. Many studies have been done over many years — and they repeatedly show that women and men who work the very same hours in the very same jobs at the very same levels of skill and experience do not have the pay gaps that people like Hillary Clinton loudly denounce.

As far back as 1971, single women in their thirties who had worked continuously since high school earned slightly more than men of the same description. As far back as 1969, academic women who had never married earned more than academic men who had never married.

For the foreseeable future, I’m afraid, “equality” for women will continue to mean that women must have all the same positive outcomes as men, no matter what decisions they make.  If that doesn’t sound like “equality” to you, clearly you need to be reeducated.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Administrative Parasite or the Bureaucratic Supernova

Although the chart is from a post by Charles Hugh Smith from 2010, I saw this for the first time on Twitter, yesterday, and I think it captures an important dynamic:

lifecycle-bureaucracy

 

In summary, a new agency, department, office, program, or whatever you want to call it starts off with enthusiasm at some new mission (albeit one probably being grabbed from the private sector).  Early returns in services are relatively good, because employees are enthusiastic and not yet dug in.  It still seems like something special.

As things go on, though, the original mission becomes commonplace, and the organization looks to expand, but eventually finds its limit.  Meanwhile, the amount of effort and number of employees devoted to the institution itself grows.

Eventually, the budget hits its limits, and cuts might even become necessary.  But the administration is habit and the employees are dug in, so rather than downsize those, the organization concludes it simply can’t serve as many people or do as much of whatever it was doing, until it reaches the point that there’s hardly any mission left.

Smith emphasizes:

Although it seems “impossible” in an era where the Federal Reserve just conjures up $1 trillion and the Federal governments sells $1.3 trillion in bonds every year to fund its ballooning deficit, bureaucracies can and will implode.

And this paragraph from a related post Smith wrote in 2011 should sound very familiar to the Rhode Island ear:

Real reform would mean powerful constituencies would have to take real reductions in staffing, power, benefits and in their share of the national income. Rather than reveal this double-bind–reform is impossible but the Status Quo is unsustainable–the institution deploys its gargantuan resources to laying down a smoke-screen of bogus “reforms,” distracting sideshows and ginned-up statistics to “prove” that “we’re really changing things around here, yes-siree, and things are getting better and better, every day and in every way.”

Sadly, folks, it’s going to be up to us to defuse the pressure before the star explodes.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Central Falls Schools Literally Hiring SJWs

Anybody who’s glanced around the rightward side of the Internet and social media will have come across the pejorative acronym, “SJW.”  That stands for “social justice warrior,” and it’s pejorative because it connotes excessive and superficial self-righteousness, combined with a lack of self awareness that would be comical if the SJWs weren’t able to hurt people.

Unfortunately, in a world with an entire generation stewed in political correctness (an abyss into which college campuses appear to have fallen almost completely), SJWs are not as powerless as they would be in a sane world.  Still, it’s jarring to see a public school district in Rhode Island openly advertising jobs for them, although somehow that fact didn’t find its way into Linda Borg’s glowing article on the plan in today’s Providence Journal:

This year, a pool of 15 substitute teachers will be hired to serve the full 180-day school year. They will be offered a week of training this month and repeated professional development during the school year. They will also be mentored by certified teachers. And they will be offered a sweetener — either health-care benefits or $130 per day (typical pay is $100 per day).

The “teaching fellows” would also have an opportunity to lead after-school activities, although permanent teachers would have the first crack at these positions.

In exchange, they will be asked to learn about the school’s mission and values, to become part of a team of valued educators committed to high standards.

That such a plan seems like radical innovation may be a testament to just how rigid and averse to innovation the public school system is, but another layer becomes visible if one looks at the job ad for these positions.  Note, first, that the actual title the district has given these positions isn’t “teaching fellows,” but “Warrior Fellows” (Warriors being the school mascot).  Now consider some language from the ad:

The Warrior Fellowship will require passionate leaders to serve as education and social justice advocates and mentors in all six Central Falls schools while at the same time helping to bridge the gap between the academic and social-emotional support our students and families need in their schools and community.

Fellows are expected to “go through a rigorous training program” and “weekly and monthly workshops and seminars” that will help them develop “the courage and passion to inspire change in our schools, influence the lives of our students, and become advocates for the city of Central Falls.”  Among the areas on which they can focus is “Cultural Pride,” and we can infer that “Western Culture” is not what’s meant.  Among the job requirements (third on the list and the second mandatory one) is “commitment to social justice and urban education.”

In short, the school department in Central Falls, which is largely funded with state-taxpayer money, is literally looking to hire and train “social justice Warriors.”  Thus does Rhode Island endeavor to see just how far into the abyss it can dive.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Question of What They Do

As is typically the case, Kevin Williamson’s musings on society and economics are worth a read, although I think he’d have done well to spend a little more time exploring his main theme, which is the question of what “they,” the rich, actually do for their money:

Often, the answer is: They work in finance. The Left, and some of the Right, talks about “financialization of the economy,” or the “FIRE” — finance, insurance, real estate — economy, as though it were somehow necessarily unsavory. (It often is unnecessarily unsavory.) You can kind of see why that might be. I know peanut farmers, and a guy who makes peanut butter, and another guy who sells expensive peanut butter in his chain of grocery stores, but none of them probably makes as good a return on the smushed-peanut trade as does the guy who finances their smooth operations and insures their chunky assets. Money is the one good that’s always in demand (give or take a few hundred trillion Zimbabwe dollars), and so one sort of expects the money business to be pretty lucrative.

What really seems to drive people bats about finance — and what’s behind a great deal of our resentment-driven “inequality” politics — is that same question: “What do they do?” It’s the mysteriousness that vexes people, the sense that there exists in these United States a class apart whose ways and means are alien and incomprehensible.

I don’t know that it’s the mysteriousness per se that raises suspicions, but rather the fact that something mysterious can contain a scam.  If people don’t understand somebody else’s path to riches, it very well may be that the road was paved with unfairness.  The United States has a remarkable level of turnover, whereby families ride up and down the wealth escalators, but there is still a degree to which the system seems rigged such that the economy’s structure ensures more wealth for the wealthy.

My entire life, I’ve heard jokes about somebody’s being the VP of pencil sharpening.  If the answer to “What do you do?” is “I make sure all of the company’s pencils are ready for use,” then a six figure salary seems like a handout.

Unfortunately, the popular misconception is that people in private industry manage the rigging all on their own, without thought to the ability of competition to squeeze those perks of aristocracy out of the system.  If the explanation of a finance job, say, is that the person has a real talent for performing a great deal of research and takes substantial personal risk to ensure that people who invest money actually make a healthy return, then the mystery disappears.

But especially in our post-crisis, post-government-bailout world, that doesn’t feel like the way it works.  Rather, it seems as if the right connections puts privileged people in a position to sip riches from channels created by a corrupt restriction of money’s flow.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Putting Americans in the Business of Manipulating Government

Over the past year, I’ve been describing the concept of a “company state” in which Rhode Island’s economy becomes increasingly premised on the expansion of government services (in part by creating or importing new clients for existing services) as leverage to take money from other industries and other states.  That’s not the full extent of the model, though.  After all, private companies in those other industries have to react to changes in the economic landscape.

Boston University School of Law economist James Bessen has done some research finding that, throughout the country, corporations’ profits are increasingly premised on their ability to manipulate government.  Investment in “regulation and lobbying,” he calculates, accounts for around 1.2% of corporations’ increase in profitability, compared with around 1.4% deriving from investment in new capital assets and around 0.25% attributable to research and development.

This development has potential to be disastrous.  For one thing, it changes the nature of businesses.  Beyond having to devote resources to artificial activities that have nothing to do with their core products or services, they must also become adept at intertwining themselves with the government, making that a core activity common across the economy.  The nation’s major industry, in other words, becomes political manipulation.  As this progresses, less and less other stuff that actually grows the economy and improves lives will get done.

For another thing, this sort of institutional cronyism locks out competition.  Smaller companies that must remain nimble can’t afford to be greasing government palms and dodging fabricated obstacles.  Without that competition both for customers and employees, the average American has less leverage as a consumer and as a worker.  Progressives who think they can use government as the people’s voice in these transaction are delusional.

People don’t need elected and appointed nannies to make sure we don’t treat each other unfairly, and it’s simply too obvious to ignore that pretending we do concentrates a great deal of money and power in the hands of a select class.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Party of Trump, Which I Cannot Support

Maggie Gallagher succinctly describes the Trump policy platform, inasmuch as it is possible to discern and predict:

Here is the new Party of Trump that we saw in this convention: liberal in expanding entitlements, pro-business in terms of tax and regulations, non-interventionist in foreign policy, socially center-left (with the possible, but only possible, exception of abortion).

Americans who pay attention to politics and policy tend to err, I think, in allowing themselves to be drawn toward the exchange of discrete, independent policies as a form of compromise.  I give you this social policy; you give me that regulatory reform.  That’s how we end up with a worst-of-all-possibilities mix of policies that, for example, encourages dependency while socializing the losses of major corporations, all to the benefit of the inside players who are well positioned to manipulate the system to serve their interests.

Broadly speaking, policies are components of a machine that have to work together, with a basic operating principle.  As the most-charitable interpretation, the machine that Gallagher describes is designed to drive corporations forward in order to generate enough wealth for government to redistribute as a means of providing comfort and accommodating the consequences of an anything-goes society, with the world blocked out at the borders and not engaged in socio-political terms so as to avoid bleeding of the wealth.  (The only difference between that vision and a fully progressive one is that progressives don’t want the machine to be independent, but to be plugged in as a component of a bigger, international machine.)

Put that way (again, most charitably), Trumpian nationalism doesn’t sound too bad.  Unfortunately, the lesson of the past few decades (at least) is that the machine doesn’t work.  The corporations recalculate to the reality that the politicians’ plan makes them (not the people) the engine of the whole machine, while the value of promising entitlements leads politicians to over-promise and the people to over-demand, particularly in response to the consequences of loose culture, while the world outside the borders erodes the supports of our society and allows implacable enemies to rally.

Now add in the stated intention of Donald Trump to actively agitate against members of his own political party because they show insufficient fealty, and the policy mix points toward disaster.  The aphorism that “success is the best revenge” is apparently not good enough for Trump.  More than that, though, from his late-night tweets about the pope to this planned attack on Ted Cruz, John Kasich, and some unnamed foe, Trump shows no realization that these leaders have supporters.  Trump is free not to respect Pope Francis, but his behavior shows that he has little concern for the vast world of Roman Catholics.  His own supporters Trump loves, and he’s happy to condescend to them; those who aren’t his supporters are either enemies or inconsequential.

Nobody should have any trust that they’ll continue to have Trump’s support starting the moment their interests conflict with his, and that has implications for the instructions he’ll attempt to give the machine.

Yes, one of the very few arguments in favor of a Trump presidency is that he may remind certain sectors of American civic society about the importance of the checks and balances designed into our system.  However, Trump’s behavior has also proven that we should not assume he’ll moderate or react well to the reinstated rules of the game.

This isn’t to say that our electoral alternative is any better.  As I’ve written before, more than any I’ve ever seen, this election hinges on the timing of oscillating disgust with the two major candidates.  The wise move may very well be not to invest much wealth, energy, or emotion in the outcome, devoting personal resources instead to battening down the hatches.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Support for Families More Effective than Government Co-parenting

Grover Whitehurst of Brookings has made an attempt to compare research findings concerning the effects of different programs on the test scores of young students, and the findings conflict with the progressive preference for increasingly moving responsibility away from people and toward government:

brookings-welfareandtests

Whitehurst suggests:

The results illustrated in the graph suggest that family support in the form of putting more money in the pockets of low-income parents produces substantially larger gains in children’s school achievement per dollar of expenditure than a year of preschool, participation in Head Start, or class size reduction in the early grades. The finding that family financial support enhances academic achievement in the form of test scores is consistent with other research on the impact of the EITC showing impacts on later outcomes such as college enrollment.

The most important takeaway from this is that it reinforces conservatives’ contention that government should not seek to displace parents, relieving them of responsibility for raising their children.  Government policy should seek to strengthen families.

Of course, the fact that this would tend to reduce the influence of government and (therefore) progressives leads me to expect Whitehurst’s research not to have a significant effect on progressive policies.  Indeed, in his subsequent discussion, Whitehurst endeavors to speculate that imposing restrictions on families’ use of the funding would be even more effective than simply improving their financial standing. However, if giving parents money is so much more effective than public funding of pre-school programs, one might question Whitehurst’s belief that letting the public funding stop in the parents’ accounts for a moment would be better than both approaches.

Note, too, the limits of Whitehurst’s consideration.  The first and irreducible assumption is that government must do something to bring about specific social outcomes.  If supporting families through broad welfare that is largely free of strings is so much more effective than building government programs, one might expect even greater rewards from getting government out of the way of families.  Let people act in the economy without the weight of high taxes and oppressive regulations; allow communities and states to determine their own economic and social policies; allow the society, broadly, to follow cultural traditions that have proven, over time, to be the healthiest for human society (such as the traditional institution of marriage).

Unfortunately, it’s much more difficult to test for and make charts of the effects of progressive redistribution on the whole society.  Researchers can’t know (to simplify) that taking EITC money out of the economy wound up hurting other families, resulting in worse test scores.  Still, taking in all of the evidence, the weight of it suggests that leaving people free is not only the most moral approach, respecting civil rights, but is also likely to prove to be the most effective system by any standard apart from the wealth and power of government.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Cruz Shows the Contrast, in More Ways Than One

You’ve heard the hype.  Now, if you haven’t already done so, take 25 minutes and watch Ted Cruz’s Republican convention speech.

Actually watching the video, I’d say by far the most disturbing aspect is the booing — the inability of the assembled Republicans to muster some grace.  The new GOP apparently cannot accept somebody who articulates a beautiful vision of the party’s perhaps-erstwhile values if he doesn’t at the same time utter a magic phrase of endorsement.  In that regard, it truly is now Trump’s GOP.  Me, I agree with Jonah Goldberg:

This is part of the corruption of Trump. He called Ted Cruz a liar every day and in every way for months (it used to be considered a breach in decorum to straight up call an opponent a liar, never mind use it as a nickname). The insults against his wife, the cavalier birtherism, the disgusting JFK assassination theories about his Dad: These things are known. And yet the big conversation of the day is Ted Cruz’s un-sportsmanlike behavior? For real? But forget Cruz for a moment. For over a year, Trump has degraded politics in some of the most vile ways. His respect for the Republican Party as the home of conservatism is on par with Napoleon’s respect for churches when he converted them into stables.

Read the whole thing.  Goldberg, like Cruz, is intent on exiting the Trump era (whenever that may be) with his courage, integrity, and well-formed political philosophy intact.  People who claim to share at least some significant share of that philosophy and yet who can boo its articulation if it does not mix in Trump’s cult of personality bring home just how much this election may hinge on a seesaw of alternating disgust.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Trees in Warren and Government from a Distance

The man-made conflict between trees and federal disability law is a fine example of why most government should be done locally (to the extent it has to be done at all):

Town officials say they are facing a painful dilemma: They can’t make the sidewalks accessible to the handicapped and save the trees.

]Nearly 80 years after the Works Progress Administration installed the curbing and sidewalks during the Great Depression, the thick trunks and roots of the trees planted along the road are blocking and buckling the pedestrian way.

The situation came to a head recently when the town began reconstructing King Street, a quiet road one block east of Main Street and just south of the downtown. Once the town undertook substantial repairs to the road, it triggered federal requirements that the sidewalks comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to Public Works Director John Massed.

For a before-and-after picture, click the link above and watch the related video.  The camera shot at the 20-second marker shows the street with one side de-treed and the other not.

As communities, we do have a responsibility to accommodate those with the misfortune of being disabled, but dictating minute policies from Washington, D.C., is lunacy bordering on tyranny.  If the responsibility were local, neighbors could figure out solutions that work best for everybody involved, answering questions like, “What are the odds that a disabled person is going to go down this street so often that both sides have to be cleared of trees?”

We’ve reached the point of the absurd.  When the Tiverton Yacht Club reopened this year (after a fire and years of legal battles), members could not use the second floor.   Hefty barriers blocked the stairs, not because the upstairs was unfinished or otherwise unsafe, but because there had been a delay in installing the elevator required for people with disabilities.  A private club, using the property mainly for a children’s camp, a swimming pool, and the occasional social gathering, could not let members upstairs because some hypothetical disabled person wouldn’t be able to get up there for a couple of months.

Now apply this observation to the thousands and thousands of pages of laws and regulations passed at the national level that affect our lives in ways we can’t so obviously see.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Getting Credit for Identity Requires a Creditor

Ed Driscoll rounds up a few links to construct the argument that progressivism and, specifically, identity politics are no substitute for finding real meaning in life:

In this era of nihilism, in which traits substitute for accomplishments, a former POW running for the White House in 2008 is mocked for being too old and infirm, and an ultra-successful businessman four years later is mocked for giving his employees cancer. Meanwhile, a failed community organizer is compared to God by magazine editors who should know better (and actually do, somewhere deep down in their hearts). And we wonder why ISIS appeals to far too many disaffected youth, as a macho religious alternative to becoming Nietzsche’s dread “Last Man,” as personified by a sniveling figure such as Footie Pajamas Obamacare Boy.

One piece of this puzzle that hasn’t been adequately explored, that I’ve seen, is why Leftists would foster this fatal dynamic in the first place.  Yesterday, I came across somebody (I think Jonah Goldberg, talking to Bill Kristol in the middle of a lengthy interview) suggesting that progressivism is essentially a suicide cult.  That may explain the motivation of some key figures, but for most of those who constitute progressivism’s ranks, I’d argue that the explanation is more a mix of blindness and fashionable views, reliant on the subconscious belief that the safety and comfort of the world exists naturally.

But what of the leaders of the movement who aren’t suicide cultists?  Drisoll’s points on identity politics direct us toward an answer.  After all, in order for people to get credit simply for their identities — with a relative advantage over others who actually do something worthy of recognition — there has to be a creditor.  That is, somebody has to hold the legal and social power to recognize the identity claims and suppress those who reject their asserted value.  That is: progressive elites.

As one investigates the various angles of modern socio-politics, that theme arises again and again.  Progressivism is a thuggish route to power built on the model not of empowering the powerless, but of draining the intrinsic individual worth of each human being as a means to social dominance.  They claim to bestow advantages, but the real benefit goes to them.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

National Popular Vote and the Company State

Yesterday, Dan Yorke had Providence College Political Science Professor Joseph Cammarano on his 630AM/99.7FM WPRO show, discussing a variety of topics.  When I first tuned in, a caller was growing angry that the professor wouldn’t say for whom he intended to vote, and over the next hour or so of sporadic listening, I came to see how Cammarano might have inspired that response.  His bias came through, most notably in his drive for equivalence with Republicans whenever a caller brought up Democrats’ malfeasance.

One question that came out of nowhere was the professor’s opinion of the electoral college, and he clearly supports the efforts of states, including Rhode Island, to work around the Constitution with the national-popular vote movement.  In not so many words, he that it makes no sense — given our increasingly national culture — to have a system in which we think of states as states, regardless of their population.  That is, he thinks it’s obvious that states don’t have an equal standing of themselves, as political entities, necessitating that the votes of people in low-population states are weighted to give them greater balance against the national votes of people in high-population states.

When this topic came up a few years ago, I mainly thought of it in terms of politics and the calculation for Rhode Island.  After all, Democrats tend to do better in urban areas, so the General Assembly’s signing on to the national popular vote compact was a partisan act, not a representative one (as in advocating for the people whom one actually represents).  The reason Rhode Island gets no attention in national politics isn’t that we’re small; it’s that we’re one-sided.  Republicans have no chance, and Democrats don’t have to work for our electoral votes.  But the reality is that the national popular vote scheme would cut Rhode Islanders’ electoral sway in half.  Why would our representatives agree to do that?

Cammarano’s short statement was the first time I’ve considered this question since stumbling upon the idea of the “company state.”  I’ve been noting that certain cities and the whole state of Rhode Island are moving toward a civic business model in which government becomes the major industry, with incentive to import or create new clients for its services as justification for taking money away from other people in order to finance them.  As Rhode Island has long been learning, the flaw in this model is that the payers can simply leave, and the state is under constant risk that, due to recession or otherwise, people in other states will push back on the federal government’s subsidization of the scheme.

The electoral college, in other words, is one protection against having this “company state” model become truly national, such that municipal and state governments that rely on the compulsory transfer of wealth will be able to reach any wealth from sea to shining sea.