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Relentless Perpetuation of the “Equal Pay” Myth via Legislation

Helpful headlines notwithstanding, the Rhode Island Senate once again passed legislation to address the mythical “wage gap”:

A plan to close the gender wage gap in Rhode Island by adding new, sharper teeth to the state’s fair pay law and banning employers from asking job candidates their salary history sailed through the state Senate again Thursday.

“Rhode Island first passed an equal pay law in the 1950s, and I am sure it was revolutionary at the time, but we have not gone back and updated it unlike many other states,” said Sen. Gayle Goldin, lead sponsor of the pay equity legislation. “Passing this bill is not going to resolve the wage gap on its own, rather, this bill in combination with so many things we have worked on… is the way we will address the gender wage gap.”

And so it goes.  As long as progressives want to foster division and grievance, this legislation will keep appearing.  Maybe some year the gears of political necessity will get it over the finish line.  As that process plays on from year to year, opponents will tire of saying the same thing over and over again.  That’s the advantage of the left-wing approach to public “debate”:  When you refuse to acknowledge the other side’s arguments and just keep repeating the talking points, the other side moves to other topics, and the public just becomes used to the deception.

By way of a preventative measure, here’s my op-ed on the topic, from the Providence Journal last year around this time, which I published in more casual, expansive form in this space the month before:

Plainly put, this gives the government power to investigate just about any business and dictate changes to its pay policies, because the only pay differentials that wouldn’t have legal risks would be those between people of the same race, religion, sex, orientation, gender identity, disability, age, and nationality.  That is, for any two employees who aren’t more or less demographically identical, the lower-paid one could initiate a complaint with the state with the same treatment as complaints that the employer withheld pay, and the burden is on the employer to explain it and to prove that no other business practice could erase it.

Think about how much of an encroachment on private activity and interactions that is, as well as the presumption that government is some sort of neutral judge that can accurately assess every business decision.

If this legislation ever passes, I expect it will have some degree of the same effect as the ill-advised paid leave legislation which progressives did manage to pass last yearl.

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Dealing with RI’s Endangered Place

Something seems odd about declaring the Providence Superman Building as “endangered,” making one wonder whether the designation is the result of lobbying by interested parties:

Rhode Island’s tallest — and vacant — landmark, the former Industrial Trust Building in downtown Providence, otherwise known as the Superman Building, is on this year’s list of the nation’s most endangered historic places.

For more than 30 years the National Trust for Historic Preservation has produced a list of the 11 most endangered places in the country to call attention to what it considers “one-of-a-kind treasurers.”

The 91-year-old art deco Superman tower, which earned its nickname for its resemblance to the Daily Planet building from Superman comics, joins Nashville’s Music Row and the National Mall Tidal Basin in Washington, among others, as this year’s threatened places.

On the topic, Matt Allen expresses the extremity of the opposing point of view:  “This is not an ‘iconic’ building. It’s an eyesore and a terrible investment. Tear it down.”  My views are somewhere in the middle, still bogged down in questions I haven’t answered completely.

How do we measure the value of some publicly accessible (or at least publicly visible) thing, like a building or geological feature that has contributed to an area’s character?  Who gets to determine what can, can’t, should, and shouldn’t be done?

The simplest answer that conforms with my philosophy is that people who want to preserve it should find a way to buy it with private money, and then to maintain it at least to a baseline standard for health and safety.   One complication arises in my belief that local areas can answer the relevant questions differently, so if the people of Providence want to use some measure of public resources to preserve the building, then to the extent the city is acting independently from the rest of the state, I’m not going to tell them they can’t.

This only raises the next question: On the state level, do we want to be the kind of place that preserves its landmarks?

My answer on this one is “no.”  Our state isn’t so thoroughly thriving that we can afford nostalgia.  Just like protectionism with dying industries, if we manipulate the market value of a building like this, we don’t allow the best use of that property.

Let the skyline change.  Let the city’s character change.  That’s the sign of human adjustment, and we should embrace it.  Anybody who disagrees should use their own money and sweat to find some use for the antiquated hulk.

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Millennial Suffering and the Right to a Coastal Lifestyle

As a general proposition, I find debate about the conditions of different generations — Millennials, GenX, Boomers, etc. — to be not much more than merely amusing.  However, a point that David Harsanyi makes in The Federalist touches more broadly on the way a certain sort of coastal elite looks at people’s conditions and rights.

Broadly, Harsanyi acknowledges that Millennials do show slower growth in wealth and delayed achievement of life milestones, but he argues that this is a function of their choices.  Indeed, delaying milestones like marriage and home ownership are likely the causes of slower growth in wealth, rather than the effects of it.

However, the interesting point about perspective comes with this:

… millennials aren’t compelled to rent apartments in the middle of the most expensive cities in America. Yet, many are happier living in urban areas than previous generations were. Pew Research found in 2018 that 88 percent of millennials now reside in metropolitan areas. That’s also a choice.

And the urban areas that millennials choose are more expensive partly because they are far better iterations of cities than previous generations encountered. In the past 30 years, these places have undergone waves of gentrification and revival, in part to cater to the tastes of younger Americans. Most are cleaner, safer, and more livable in numerous ways—and thus, more pricey. Yes, Brooklyn was a lot cheaper in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. It was also more dangerous, dirtier, and less enticing for families and businesses.

True, Harsanyi grants, half-million-dollar “veritable castles” in high-demand suburbs are out of reach for young adults, but starter homes in more reasonable zip codes are not.  That’s why we call them “starter homes.”

Of course, this point gets tangled up in the self-contradictory beliefs of modern progressives — for instance, that nobody needs a large house with all the fixin’s, but that anybody who cannot have such a house is unjustly deprived.  Just so, the insinuation on behalf of Millennials is that they have a right to live the lifestyle that coastal elites consider to be de rigeur and are deprived if they cannot.  The hardship of the generation, in other words, is that they cannot afford the things that a traditional lifestyle lived over a at least a decade helps a family to achieve.

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Solving Government’s Bad Attitude About Lunch Bills by Replacing Parents with Government

It appears that another embarrassing Rhode Island story has captured the imagination of the nation: Lunch shaming, or giving students a minimal meal when their parents have built up a tab for school lunches.  Locally, the topic has been around for quite a while; it was a topic in one of my podcasts from April 2017.

In a nutshell, my take was to suggest that we’ve lost our way if we’re having public policy debates about how school districts should deal with parents who are deadbeats when it comes to lunch money.  I mean, can you imagine a private school shaming their customers’ children over a $5 lunch tab?  The whole attitude is different, even to the point of seeing students and their families as customers rather than something more like wards or even burdens.

The expansion of that attitude rears its head in a policy proposal that is making its way through Rhode Island’s brain trust:

[Elizabeth Burke Bryant of RI Kids Count] is advocating for the approval of a community eligibility provision which would provide free and reduced lunches to all students and avoid singling out children based on their family’s finances.

The community eligibility provision, which is part of Governor Gina Raimondo’s proposed budget, would provide free meals for all students within districts that have a large percentage of low-income families.

The unhealthy perspective engendered by big government has had the unhappy consequence of shaming children.  The solution, we’re told, is to expand government further into the role of parents, thus expanding the reach of the big-government attitude.  This will have consequences for Rhode Island families that can be as disastrous, in aggregate, as they are unmeasurable.

Providing for your children is part of what makes parenthood worthwhile.  Packing a lunch with love is one of the most straightforward and basic expressions of that responsibility.

Go away, big government.  Let us be families.

The dynamic is reminiscent of the argument that government schools have to instruct all children according to the state’s beliefs about sex because some minority of parents will do a poor job educating their own children.  In the case of school lunches, statists don’t want to single out children who need help funding lunch, so they’re going to edge in on the relationship of most parents and their children.

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Disclosure and the Separation of Politics from Life

During a Twitter debate online concerning campaign finance and anonymous donations to think tanks and the like, Public’s Radio reporter Ian Donnis summarized his perspective thus:

Entities with millions to drown out their opponent is ‘part of an open & free democracy’? OK then!

That’s what the best interpretation of the pro-donor-disclosure point of view comes down to.  As Mike Stenhouse noted in the thread, the other side of the coin is that the people who donate those “millions” to such organizations aren’t only, or even mainly, the powerful rich, and disclosing donors is a way to allow targeted political campaigns against them.

The fact is that people whose views are not in line with the progressive mainstream narrative do have an entirely reasonable and well-substantiated fear that their political donations will make them targets for activists.  This possibility — and the countless iterations that occur on lower levels — strikes at the heart of our democracy.

Carry the logic out a bit: Why not identify every person’s ballot and make it public, in the name of transparency?

We manage peace in a diverse and free society because we separate out politics from other areas of life.  If donating to a particular candidate or cause puts my family or business under threat, then our society is no longer answering political questions through a discrete set of rules.  We can no longer have our political contests and then return to other interactions with maximum cooperation.

But isn’t using wealth to political advantage a violation of the principle that politics should be a separate matter?  Perhaps in a manner of speaking, but there are all sorts of ways to have disproportionate influence in politics based on other areas of our lives — whether because of a job in media, family connections, affiliation with a government labor union, or whatever — and we can’t root all of them out of politics.  Moreover, our personal interests obviously influence the public policy that we prefer, and it would be plainly tyrannical to prevent people from voting according to their interests, from wherever they derive.

So, we should be hesitant to limit different types of influence, so as to maintain balance, while striving to keep those sources of power from being used by citizens against each other outside the intermediary of politics.

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From GOT to the Meaning of Life with Matt Allen

Honestly, I was a little bit more apprehensive than usual going on Episode 27 of Matt Allen’s Uncut podcast.  I’ve gotten used to talking about topics, and this was just… a conversation.  It ranged from casual life talk to deep political philosophy.  Give it a listen and let me know what you think.

Listen to “Episode 27: Justin Katz” on Spreaker.

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RI Down in Jobs and Innovation, Up in Lack of Hope

In terms of politics, it seems to me that the trend is the key question with news like this:

According to Bloomberg’s U.S. State Innovation Index, California and Massachusetts are ranked first and second respectively, but Rhode Island was in steep decline over the past three years.

Rhode Island is ranked 23rd in the 2019 ranking — far behind Connecticut which is ranked fourth. Most concerning is that Rhode Island fell seven positions in the ranking from the 2016 Index — the last time Bloomberg released the Index for innovation.

Now, Rhode Island is the second lowest ranked in New England — only Maine is ranked lower at #41.

This is the opposite of what ought to be happening if we have a governor who prioritizes and understands innovation.  We’ve long been able to observe as job and employment growth has slowed under Governor Gina Raimondo, and it’s turned into job and employment loss.  Now, even contrived ratings for innovation are showing a decrease in strength in a metric that the governor ought to be able to present as contrary evidence to the broader employment data if her method of economic development worked.

Read further down the GoLocalProv article linked above, and you’ll see the usual talk from government insiders presenting all the wrong metrics.  It’s always about how much money the government is managing to spend.

Raimondo somehow managed to get herself reelected, so Rhode Islanders shouldn’t expect much change in execution over the next four years.  The General Assembly, for its part, has been mainly intent on showing its fealty to organized labor.

Looking out over the landscape, the most depressing deficit is the lack of somebody to be a leading light of opposition.  In a system doing this poorly, people ought to be emerging in unexpected places to provide the right answers to a growing population of malcontents.  Where are they?

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The Undeserved Confidence of the New Upper Class

One common suggestion for those who wish to be aware of current events and engage in civil dialogue is that they should seek out alternate opinions and actually listen to the other side.  This practice does create a deeper understanding, but deeper understanding doesn’t necessarily bring a softening of reactions.  That was my thought while listening to former long-time PR guy for Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo, Michael Raia, on the Bartholomewtown Podcast.

Listening to Raia talk about opportunities for our state and region, I couldn’t help but feel my impressions of the Raimondo administration affirmed and my concern about its type of thinking amplified.  The listener can hear how confident Raia is that he’s got the region all figured out, as if a society is just a puzzle for which placement of the correct pieces provides the solution.

Whether it’s the operation of businesses and the economy, the development and modification of the infrastructure, the operations of the healthcare system, or the quality of life of particular demographic groups, like senior citizens, one gets the impression that Raia has a firm belief that he and other go-getter experts can think it all through, plan it all out, wind it all up, and set the great society in motion.  Unfortunately, the human community doesn’t work like that.

Intelligent as they may be, the Raias and Raimondos aren’t smart enough to plan a society even if everybody wanted to live in neighborhoods like the ones they prefer and spend their senior years playing pickleball. Such an accomplishment would require infinite expertise and a God-like perspective.

The fact of the matter, though, is that most other people do not share the tastes of what Charles Murray called “the new upper class” in his book Coming Apart, and those people have a right not to have their societal preferences bulldozed aside by a powerful government.  Moreover, as Murray explains, the ethos of that new upper class is destructive of society in the long run.

Even in the immediate, direct trends of the economy, we can observe the economic sluggishness since Governor Raimondo took office, which suggests that her approach does not work.  In February, Rhode Island was the only state in the country that had fewer jobs than it did a year before.  Yet, one hears no trace of doubt in Raia’s voice that maybe (just maybe) crafting a society isn’t so easy.

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The Violence Inherent in the Mainstream Narrative

Here’s a little story, from Brian Amaral in the Providence Journal, that oughtn’t be lost in the shuffle of day-to-day news:

A group of juveniles [apparently 15 years old and younger] holding “Trump flags” outside the Brown University bookstore on Thayer Street Friday told police a man accosted them and choked two of them.

According to a police report provided by Commander Thomas Verdi, the five juveniles flagged down police at about 8 p.m. to report the incident in front of the bookstore at 244 Thayer St. They told police they were holding the two flags when they were approached by the man, believed to be in his 20s. The man began to stare at them, then asked what they were doing, they told police.

This is a consequence of the prevalent attitude in much of the mainstream of the political and media classes that Americans with certain points of view are evil and therefore have no rights.  When the narrative flows from “punch a Nazi” to “Trump is a Nazi,” a dangerous atmosphere develops.  In this narrative, somebody “Trump flags” (whatever those might be) is trying to usher in a new fascism.

Sure, the 20-something guy walking down the street who decides to take it upon himself to do something violent about this incipient fascism probably has something wrong with him, but this isn’t an isolated incident.  Let’s not forget the mass hysteria over the viral video of the Covington Catholic students in Washington, D.C., after the latest March for Life.

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Numbers, Facts, and Another Budget Battle

Over in Tiverton, we’re engaged in our annual budget debate, during which I have the new-to-me experience of being on the Town Council, this year.  This budget year is also unique because the full $3 million in minimum revenue from the new Twin River casino is in the budget for the first time.

Given these realities, I’ve been pushing for a compromise that would allow the town to reset local politics and spend the next year developing a long-term plan that allows us all to get our expectations on the table.  Maybe, just maybe, we could move forward from that exercise working together like a community rather than lurching from election to budget to election in a whipsaw of factions.

Unfortunately, given the recent history of the town, trust is an issue, and (from my perspective) it seems as if the old familiar strategies are difficult to move beyond:

During his initial pitch to the Budget Committee, Tiverton’s new superintendent, Peter Sanchioni, suggested that people had to trust him to set our school system aright.  He is correct that trust is critical, and distrust is the major hurdle facing anybody who wishes to bring Tiverton back to a place of compromise and cooperation.  That is why the superintendent’s final presentation to the Budget Committee before it voted on a budget for his department was so disappointing.

At the highest level, the School Committee never really compromised.  They asked the town for the highest budget they could possibly request by law.  (Actually their request exceeded the maximum by $3,624.)  On top of that, they appear to have overestimated state aid by $92,004 (which local taxpayers would have to make up for) and added $311,000 in “critical” capital expenses that they’d planned to fund out of their own reserves but now want the town to cover.

Two more-specific parts of the presentation, however, are where trust really takes a hit.

The closing sentiment of the post is key for Rhode Island as well as for Tiverton:  numbers have to be seen as an area of common ground rather than as an opportunity to mislead.  If I present numbers that lead me to a particular conclusion, somebody who opposes my position should explain which statements are incorrect or why they should lead to some other conclusion.  We at least have to share the the goal of agreeing on what the facts are, even if nobody changes his or her views because of them.

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Paths of Injustice

This week, my ongoing efforts to be better cultured landed Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 film Paths of Glory on my television.

The generals in the French army order a regiment to take a German fortification during the First World War.  It’s an impossible command, and the attack fails, with large segments of the force pinned down such that to charge is to die instantly.  The general in immediate command demands a show trial and execution of three randomly chosen soldiers as an example to the others, and their colonel asks to represent them as their defense.

The officers conducting the court martial hearing give Colonel Dax no chance.  They treat one soldier’s medals and proven bravery as no defense against the charge of cowardice in this case.  Another soldier’s testimony that he didn’t charge because he had been knocked unconscious by, and pinned under, a falling dead body is insufficient to overcome rank speculation that he could be lying and could have inflicted a serious head injury on himself after the fact.

Kubrick subtly interweaves the very human tendency of the generals to rationalize their acceptance of injustice because they had conflated their own interests with the good of the  military and the country.  In his closing argument, Colonel Dax expresses shame at being a member of the human race:  “The case made against these men is a mockery of all human justice.”

Watching that scene, I wondered how it is that we have not all been acculturated against such behavior.  (Unfairness in state and local politics were in my thoughts.)  But then my mind separated the themes of the movie and its imagery.  The court martial consisted of a group of white men in military costumes before a national flag in a large room at Schleissheim Palace.  One can’t deny that our society has been well trained to see injustice in such settings and with such characters as that.

We too easily lose sight of the reality that the particular cause in whose name human beings treat each other unjustly is not ideological or demographic.  Not only traditional authority types are wicked or prone to rationalizing harm to others.  Any one of us can fall into the same role.

Insisting in the name of identity politics or intersectionality that only certain types of people can be inhumane is a dangerous mistake that our civilization seems at risk of making.

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Finland’s Health Care and a Culture That Can’t Balance

Maybe progressives are right.  Americans should look to Finland for lessons in government-driven universal health care:

The government of Finland collapsed Friday due to the rising cost of universal health care and the prime minister’s failure to enact reforms to the system.

Prime Minister Juha Sipila and the rest of the cabinet resigned after the governing coalition failed to pass reforms in parliament to the country’s regional government and health services, the Wall Street Journal reports. Finland faces an aging population, with around 26 percent of its citizens expected to be over 65 by the year 2030, an increase of 5 percent from today. …

Sipila said “there’s no other way for Finland to succeed” besides these reforms, which could have led to $3.4 billion in savings for the government.

In political philosophy, there is always a challenging balance to be struck when finding the boundaries for government action and defining what some citizens can demand from others using government force.  At the end of the day, most of the work ensuring that the balance doesn’t tip must be done in the culture, with our un-legislated sense of what is right and what is unjust.

We’re reaching the point in the United States that the balance is no more subtle than the political ability to force a change through.  (Witness ObamaCare.)  It is our deteriorating culture more than anything that ensures that any benefit, once granted, can never be taken away, even in the face of calamitous unintended consequences.

(Hat tip: Legal Insurrection)

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Clay Johnson: Handicapping the Race for Chairman of the RI GOP

Perhaps chairwoman would be the more appropriate term, as two of the five announced candidates seeking to serve as the next chair of the Rhode Island’s Republican party are women. A fairly broad diversity of personal characteristics, philosophies, and histories will be presented to central committee voters at the party’s scheduled March 30 election.

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