I wonder if Israel’s cheerleaders realize the damage they do their own cause when they write things like “Israel, unlike Hamas, isn’t trying to kill civilians. It’s taking pains to spare them” and “But in the Gaza war, it’s clear that Israel has gone to great lengths to minimize civilian deaths. The same can’t be said of Hamas.” Both sentences are taken from William Saletan’s extraordinary “The Gaza Rules”. At the time of writing this blogpost, the current death score is 159-0. If I may mix vernaculars, Saletan is plainly an asshole, but here he is just taking the piss. Anybody who is not parti pris can see that the Netanyahu government has partially contrived and partially been trapped by a domestic political climate that requires them to kill numbers of Palestinians in order to satisfy the Israeli electorate. Of course there’s the usual blather about “operatives” and “terrorist infrastructure”, but it is hard to take seriously the idea that anyone believes this as a description of Israeli aims. In fact nobody does, but lots of people in political power in the West think they have to go along with the story and pay lip service to Israel’s “right to defend itself”, even though concretely this takes the form of airstrikes against densely populated urban areas with predictable civilian deaths. Meanwhile, those who speak for the Israeli government go around claiming that no state could tolerate missiles being fired into its territory and that any state would have to retaliate. This is false, indeed absurd: much of British policy in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 80s was deplorable, but though the IRA fired plenty of mortar rounds across the border, nobody seriously contemplated taking out “terror operatives” by aerial bombardment of civilian housing in the Irish Republic.
There’s an excellent piece on the background to the latest events in the Jewish Daily Forward , by J.J. Goldberg. Goldberg demonstrates that the Israeli government knew that the three murdered teenagers were dead from the start, and so that the search for them (which resulted in further deaths) was just politics and public relations. Goldberg argues that the claim that Hamas was responsible for the kidnap and murders was weak. The pretext for the current attack on Gaza — rocket attacks — is likewise bogus. Hamas hadn’t fired any rockets since November 2012 and had been actively trying to stop other jihadi groups from doing so, but the Israeli demand for vengeance forced them underground and meant they could no longer do this. In other words, Israeli demands for action against Hamas were the proximate cause of the very rocket attacks that now serve as a pretext for action.
I can’t help thinking that Israelis have a better friend in Goldberg who exposes the bullshit than in Saletan who manufactures it.
Rhetoric Review, Vol. 33, No. 3, 03 Jul 2014 is now available online on Taylor & Francis Online.
This new issue contains the following articles:
Embroidered Feminist Rhetoric in Andrea Dezső’s Lessons from My Mother
Cultural Studies <=> Critical Methodologies Special Issue: Collaborative Writing as Method of Inquiry
This looks really freaking interesting.
Cultural Studies <=> Critical Methodologies
The Coin Will Continue to Fly: Dismantling the Myth of the Lone Expert
Sharing a Different Voice: Attending to Stories in Collaborative Writing
Ben Smith has a good suggestion, but I think I can improve it. The conservatives he wants to call ‘liberty conservatives’ should be called ‘anti-freedom conservatives’ (to signal that they are opposed to the people Smith calls ‘freedom conservatives’.) The conservatives he wants to call ‘freedom conservatives’ should be called ‘anti-liberty conservatives’ (to signal that they are opposed to the people Smith calls ‘liberty conservatives’).
This is superior to what Smith is proposing insofar as it is just a notational variant, but appealing to liberals, insofar as it nods at their correct perceptions that both sides, on the other side, are awful. Sauron or Saruman. Kodos or Kang. (I mean: what decent person opposes either liberty or freedom?)
Seriously. The semi-interesting thing that is going on here is this: the sort of typology one is going to need, for analytic purposes, is never going to align with the typology one is going to get, for self-identification purposes. Analytically, we want to know the distinguishing characteristics of each group or sub-group or sub-sub-group. Since most Americans aren’t conservatives, and most conservatives aren’t any particular flavor of conservative, we should expect an accurate thumbnail label of each faction to make it sound like not the sort of club most decent Americans would want to join. There is no such thing as the freedom sub-faction or the liberty sub-faction or the mom splinter cell or the apple pie rebel insurgency. If there were, each of these would already have transcended faction status and set itself up, comfortably, as the ruling party or coalition. But, for advertising purposes, every party is, aspirationally, the freedom party and the liberty party; the scrappy, mom-loving rebels, circulating apple pie recipes in samizdat form. This isn’t lying, exactly. Although it is advertisement. Every group wants to make the case that the good things will come from what they propose.
Getting back to Smith:
“I propose replacing the messy old terminology with a simple new vocabulary, one that has evolved organically, which has deep and consistent intellectual roots, no pejorative implications, and which political leaders use effortlessly and without reflecting.”
This is a perfect storm of incompatible and inadvisable goals, due to Smith’s desire to combine analysis and marketing considerations. For marketing purposes, conservatives need a way to sound like they are opposed to other conservatives, for deep, principled reasons, while preserving a sense that all conservatives are, in principle, always right. You need that pivot for electoral reasons, even though it’s analytic doom. You also need a way for conservatives to come across as deep and consistent and intellectual while actually being rather … uneffortful and unreflective in the thought department – because, hey, politics ain’t political theory. Analytically, if your characterization of each group, or sub-group, doesn’t sound a bit pejorative, you aren’t doing the analysis right. Because any correct analysis is going to make any political faction sound philosophically half-baked and unlikely to appeal to most voters. Whatever the distinguishing characteristic of a given faction may be, it’s certainly not going to be ‘love of freedom’ or ‘love of liberty’.
And of course the same goes for Democrats. Fair is fair. You should no more expect to be able to carve up the partisan terrain, analytically, and have that match the lines drawn in the sand by partisans, than you should expect that a serious analysis can be constructed by stringing together press flak talking points. Partisan self-descriptions are one species of partisan talking point, after all.
This is going to be a long and wonkish post, so I’ll just give the dot-point summary here, and let those interested read on below the fold, for the explanations and qualifications.
Following the most recent Internet dust-up over the state of macroeconomic theory, I’ve been thinking a bit more about search models of unemployment. I first ran across these models when I was a student in the 1970s, a period of very high unemployment.
The basics of search models are simple and seemed, at least in the 1970s, reasonably realistic. Workers can look for jobs in various ways, all more or less time-consuming: looking at help wanted ads (which used to come out twice weekly in Oz), cold-calling potential employers, and asking friends and relatives to look out for openings. Since workers aren’t fully informed about the labour market, it doesn’t (at least in a good market) make sense to accept the first offer that comes along. Rather, it’s worth looking until you have a good idea what wage the market is willing to pay, then taking a job at that wage. What was new about the search theories was the idea that this process could explain not only the inevitable frictional unemployment, but also cyclical unemployment associated with recessions. Various different ideas come into play here. First, the models imply that if there is a sudden but temporary shock leading to large-scale job losses, it will take some time to return to full employment (or ‘normal’ rates of unemployment). Second, economic shocks may create more uncertainty about market wages, leading workers to search longer.
The Internet changes all of this. It’s possible to find all the publicly advertised jobs in any given field, anywhere in the world, in a matter of seconds. With a little more effort, it’s possible to get lots of information about firms that may be hiring, even if they haven’t advertised vacancies. And, much more than in the past, its possible to get lots of information about potential employers, to assess whether the jobs they have on offer are in fact likely to be good ones.
With such a massive improvement in the efficiency of search we’d expect to see two things:
(i) shorter time spent searching, and therefore lower unemployment; and (ii) better matches between workers and jobs, which should increase productivity and wages, and reduce subsequent quits and fires.
Both predictions were made in the early years of the Internet and, at least until 2008, the general view was that they were proving correct, though more slowly than had been expected.1
But experience since 2008 has been completely the opposite of what a search model would predict. Unemployment rates have risen and employment rates have fallen. Worse still, the duration of unemployment has increased greatly. And there’s no evidence that this has been offset by an improvement in matching. Rather, lots of people have been forced to accept jobs that make little use of their education and experience, suffering wage losses as a result.
What has been the response of academic macroeconomists? As far as I can tell, almost nil. I was prompted to write this post by the debate over Kartik Arthreya’s Big Ideas in Macroeconomics. Responding to my observation that the word ‘unemployment doesn’t even appear in the index, Steven Williamson pointed out that Athreya spends several pages on the general properties of search models 2, presenting them as the primary basis of unemployment theory. And Athreya seems to be on the money here. The Economics Nobel (yes, yes, Bank of Sweden etc, I know) is a lagging indicator, but the 2010 award to search theorists Diamond, Mortensen and Pissarides certainly does not indicate a view that such models are fundamentally flawed.
Athreya acknowledges the problem, sort of, by saying that “search is not really about searching” and observing that, if it were, the Internet should have reduced search costs. But if search isn’t about searching, what is it about? Athreya doesn’t say, and his brief discussion of housing markets doesn’t get us far – these are much more location-specific than job markets, and the Internet hasn’t changed the process all that much.
If search models aren’t the right way to think about unemployment, what is the right way? The simple answer is that unemployment is primarily a problem of macroeconomics not of labor markets. If aggregate demand is far below the productive capacity of the economy, workers will be unemployment and capital will be idle.
But there is still a puzzle here, one that search models were designed to solve. Why doesn’t competition between unemployed and employed workers work quickly to reduce wages to the point where demand equals supply and where there is no involuntary unemployment 3? The problem seems not be, as search models assume, that employers and potential workers don’t know about each other. Rather, it’s that employers can’t easily use the threat of new hires at lower wages to drive down the wages of existing workers (of course, this happens, but it’s clearly costly and risky in terms of worker morale). There’s quite a lot of literature looking at this, and I’ll try to post on it another time.
Autor, D. H. (2001): \Wiring the Labor Market,” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 15, 25-40.
Krueger, A. B. (2000b): The Internet is lowering the cost of advertising and searching for jobs,” The New York Times, July 20.
Jordan Ellenberg has devised an ingenious way of working out what books get bought but not read:
Using this method, he finds that Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch has an HI of 98.5%, whereas Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century has an HI of just 2.4%, worse even than Stephen Hawking’s Brief History of Time, widely known as the ‘most unread book of all time’.
I find the Tartt result unsurprising because when, recently, I read her first book,The Secret History I spent the first 350 pages wondering why on earth I was reading it. Not only were all the characters repulsive, but, worse, I strongly suspected the author thought they were really cool. The picture of the author did not inspire confidence that I might be wrong. And, there really seemed to be no plot and I am someone who has no compunction putting down a bad book, so the fact that despite all that I remained hooked impressed me a lot (and it was completely worth it: from around p.350 it is riveting).
But (in Jordan’s spirit of this being entertainment, not science) several comments. First, in defense of Piketty, it is a great read, not at all what I had been led to expect, so if people are giving up they are missing out. Second, though, most copies of Hawking’s book were sold prior to Kindle, and I suspect that hard copies of books, which are sometimes bought for show, are more likely to go unread than kindle copies, which are often bought in order not to show (see 50 Shades). So, Hawking, I think, is still a winner. Next, though, the problem with the method is that I suspect that the kind of people who mark passages in their kindles are unrepresentative readers (not being rude, or anything, just seems quirky). But, finally. When I was a teenager, I saw Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago on the bookshelves of just about every house I ever went to, including the houses of people whom I never saw reading even a shopping list, let alone talking about a book. I do believe there are, or at least have been, people who have read it, but I’d be amazed if it would have gotten a HI of 0.5%.
Finally, finally, I wonder about academic books? I am pretty sure my first book has been cited much more often than it has read, and I have pretty compelling evidence that two of the reviewers didn’t read it (one reviewer based his entire review on the blurb for the book; and a second attributed to me, and criticized, exactly the opposite thesis from the one that I was defending).
Anyway, other nominees for unread, or ought-to-be-unread, books, with or without evidence?
It’s lazy days of summer, so here’s some low-hanging fruit: a long essay by Adam Bellow at NR, advocating for a conservative literary counter-culture to the totalitarian thing we’ve got now.
What is it that Bellow actually wants? Is it: let a thousand flowers bloom, so long as they are all paranoid dystopias about the liberal fascist not-so-distant-future? Surely not. A new T.S. Eliot? But what’s stopping him? Ignatius P. Reilly, but not treated like some sort of dunce? What? Consider this bit:
By harnessing the passions of offended minorities to the power of social media, the Left has created a hurricane of politicized indignation that can be directed wherever it likes and levels everything it touches. Meanwhile the general response is the same as it was for me at Clarion: embarrassed silence and the fear of being targeted yourself. This is a key point, for just as bad as outright censorship (which cannot be imposed to the extent the Left would like) is the censorship people impose on themselves in order to avoid being punished with the loss of their reputation and livelihood.
The Left has adopted this strategy for obvious reasons: They cannot win the argument on its merits, and unlike their counterparts elsewhere they can’t consistently win (or steal) elections.
It seems like the aspiration is this: a safe place where I can think these thoughts without fear of being mocked or accused of being in the wrong. But which thoughts are they? Bellow doesn’t say.
The new conservative counterculture is a rebellion from below and from without. Fueled by the rise of digital self-publishing technologies, it is a simultaneous revolt against the hierarchical control of mass media and the ideological narrowing of acceptable discourse.
But what is it that he wants to say that is beyond the bounds of current discourse?
Recently Mel Brooks observed that one of his funniest movies, Blazing Saddles, couldn’t be made today.
So the goal is Blazing Saddles II: Blaze Harder?
This cresting wave of right-wing creativity is raw and untamed. But what it lacks in polish it makes up for in invention and energy.
But if the problem is supposed to be that conservatives are currently too daunted by the discourse police, then the problem is the opposite: too much polish, as oppressed conservatives try (unsuccessfully) to ‘pass’, not enough raw, untamed energy.
Now, many liberals believe (and many on the right privately agree) that conservatives can’t “do” culture. They can’t produce great music, they can’t be funny, and they can’t keep their political ideas out of the way of their stories and novels.
But we aren’t going to form a gulag archipelago of conservative writing programs just to teach conservatives how to keep their conservative ideas from shining through. Isn’t the idea supposed to be to wave your conservative freak flag proudly? That’s the point of the counter-culture analogy, right?
These are the voices not of ideologues but of free individuals exercising their birthright as Americans to think and write with fearless independence. But they are up against tremendous odds. Scattered all over the country, they are isolated geographically and culturally. They feel embattled and excluded. Many are aware that they are taking a risk and prefer to publish pseudonymously.
What non-ideological thing are they saying, which they are allegedly being persecuted for saying?
Back to the beach for me!
RSA Executive Committee Statement
The executive committee of the Rhetoric Society of America writes to add its voice to the numerous organizations and individuals who have expressed serious concerns about the incident involving Professor Ersula Ore on May 20, 2014 and its aftermath. Professor Ore is a respected and valued member of our association.
Sam Tanenhaus has a long piece in the NY Times, lamenting the failure of the latest attempt to convert the Republicans into a “party of ideas”. His star candidate for this role (one of only a handful of possibles) is Yuval Levin, and Exhibit A is Levin’s journal National Affairs, which he lauds for its mind-blowing wonkiness, in a way that’s impossible to summarise without parody. Here’s TanenhausThis was the sterile soil in which Levin planted National Affairs, which exudes seriousness of an almost antiquated kind. Each issue is the size of a small book, unleavened by illustration or even reported narrative. The typical Levin-assigned-and-edited article leads the reader through a forced march of acronyms and statistics and of formulations like this: “The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (P.R.W.O.A.) replaced A.F.D.C. with a new program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Under TANF, families can draw federal aid for only five years, to underline that welfare is supposed to be temporary. And where federal funding for A.F.D.C. had been open-ended, for TANF it is fixed, so that states must pay for any expansion of welfare.”
On it goes, article after article — “Taxes and the Family,” “Social Security and Work,” “Recasting Conservative Economics,” “Reality and Public Policy.” And yet with its stodgy prose, its absence of invective and red meat for the angry right, its microscopic circulation (6,000 subscribers, though some articles reach as many as 100,000 digital readers) and its one blogger who provides links to academic writings, National Affairs has become the citadel of reform conservatism. Wow! an article that actually names a policy and describes its central features. It’s hard to believe that anyone still does this stuff. The tone is as if Tanenhaus had encountered a tribe in some remote wilderness engaged in ritual debates about tensor calculus.
And of course this is pretty much what is going on. The Republican party is, in essence, a combination of an ethnic voting bloc (Southern whites) and an economic interest group. The latter is dominated by the 1 per cent, but including small business owners, and high income members of the “white working class”, as defined by the lack of a college education. The tribalists don’t care about policy analysis, and the 1 per cent would prefer that their policies be implemented as quietly as possible. Nevertheless, open tribalism is hard to sell to the majority of US voters who don’t fall into the core category of white, (heterosexually) married, non-poor, Christians, so some pretence of having ideas is desirable.
It’s worth looking at the pieces mentioned by Tanenhaus. “Reality and public policy” sounded promising, for example, given that the primary critique of the Republican Party is its divorce from reality. It turns out to be a bizarre panegyric to (now former) Pope Benedict for restating the fundamental importance of the differences between men and women.
“Recasting conservative economics” is mostly standard blame-shifting about the causes of the financial crisis (mercifully not peddling the Community Reinvestment Act) but it gives an interesting insight into the assumed intellectual level of the readership with the following definition and gloss Keynesian economic theory — named for early-20th century English economist John Maynard Keynes — calls on governments to step in with an active program of expansionary fiscal policy when the private economy is contracting.
I couldn’t find “Work and Social Security” but the general line is what you would expect: privatisation and raising the retirement age. This is about as close as the reformicons get to a substantive debate over policy issues.
As I said with respect to Ross Douthat, the point here isn’t to think about policy issues, but to talk about policy in a way that isn’t obviously crazy, while not saying anything that contradicts the interests of the 1 per cent or the tribal taboos of the Republican base.
It’s all a kind of cargo cult. The central dogma is that, if a suitable simulacrum of a landing strip (in this case, a policy “journal” that looks vaguely like the Brookings Papers) is constructed, the cargo of intellectual credibility will magically arrive. At least as far as Tanenhuas goes, the magic seems to have worked.
Well, that didn’t take long. It’s been 72 hours, and the Supremes have flipped from arguing that the administration could have been more accommodating to signing a temporary injunction on behalf of a plaintiff, refusing the terms of the accommodation. Kevin Drum has it about right: “It’s worth noting that quite aside from whether you agree with the Hobby Lobby decision, this is shameful behavior from the conservatives on the court. As near as I can tell, they’re now playing PR games worthy of a seasoned politico, deliberately releasing a seemingly narrow opinion in order to generate a certain kind of coverage, and then following it up later in the sure knowledge that its “revisions” won’t get nearly as much attention.”
Then again, as PR, this seems doomed to backfire generally. Whatever one makes of the legalities, there’s no missing the spirit in which these decisions are being celebrated on the right. It’s hard to believe many women voters will be inclined to say ‘well, if religious liberty means my boss gets to interfere with me getting what the law says I have a right to, in ways that feel very private and non-work-related, without that technically being a violation of my rights, I guess that’s alright. I guess my boss is exercising his rights, even though it feels like I’m taking a little symbolic walk of shame here!’ Conservatives are working hard to console themselves for recent cultural and legislative losses by building a relatively small, largely symbolic patriarchal dominance display out of ‘religious liberty’. But I’m guessing most women voters are not interested in playing the role conservatives want to cast them in here – i.e. being the loose woman rightfully, if only symbolically, scourged by the spiritually superior employer, all in the name of ‘liberty’. There is no way to make this little morality play palatable to conservatives without making it unpalatable to most women. A lot of conservatives are taking a ‘what’s the big deal!’ line, while at the same time making it clear that, to them, this is a big deal. It’s really not realistic to suppose women will be more immune to the symbolism of the drama than conservatives themselves, however it plays out in terms of provision of birth control to women who need it.
Happy 4th of July! Freedom is a great thing, if only we could agree what it is!
UPDATE: it occurs to me someone is going to complain that I’m cruelly indifferent to the real harm done to some poor women by these recent decisions. In fact, I’m aware of that. It’s really bad and I hope some workaround is found. It’s not clear one will be, which is a damn shame. Nevertheless, the point of the post is that people are getting exercised by the symbolism of the victory, one way or the other. There is no possible symbolism, along these lines, that will please conservatives, that won’t displease most women, because conservatives are in the market for a way to dominate women, in as public a way as possible, while reassuring themselves this is all just ‘liberty’. And most women aren’t in the market for some way to be publicly subordinated, under cover of ‘liberty’, I’ll bet. In the best case, it will just be symbolic. Who has to sign what piece of paper, etc., rather than women actually not getting certain goods the law promised them. But the very thing that makes it acceptable to conservatives, even if it’s symbolic, is going to make it unacceptable to women, even if it’s symbolic. So: good luck with that outreach to women, conservatives.
Belle and I are on vacation, with intermittent internet. But sea and sun are lovely.
Crooked Timber needs a Hobby Lobby thread, since everyone’s got one. (But don’t expect to hear from me in comments. Wi-fi could die any minute.) You will not be surprised to hear I am sympathetic to Ginsburg’s much-quoted ‘startling breadth’ assessment. Here’s my semi-original question, bouncing off this assessment, via the dissent’s footnote 1.
“The Court insists it has held none of these [startlingly broad] things, for another less restrictive alternative is at hand: extending an existing accommodation, currently limited to religious nonprofit organizations, to encompass commercial enterprises. See ante, at 3–4. With that accommodation extended, the Court asserts, “women would still be entitled to all [Food and Drug Administration]-approved contraceptives without cost sharing.” Ante, at 4. In the end, however, the Court is not so sure. In stark contrast to the Court’s initial emphasis on this accommodation, it ultimately declines to decide whether the highlighted accommodation is even lawful. See ante, at 44 (“We do not decide today whether an approach of this type complies with RFRA . . . .”).”
So: Hobby Lobby wins because Obamacare is not compliant with RFRA because of a less restrictive route not taken. But it could turn out that this less restrictive approach is itself not compliant with RFRA, i.e. is not a route after all. (Cases concerning this are still pending, as I understand it.) What if the Supremes decide this is so (as they are expressly reserving the right to do)? Could it turn out that there is no ‘least restrictive’ RFRA option, due to a sort of judicial uncertainty principle, arising out of the order in which the cases are taken up? That is, the court is really now saying, not that there is a less restrictive option, but that they are not yet sure there is NOT a less restrictive option? Either the cat will be dead when they open the box of their own pending decision about the accommodations for religious nonprofits, or it won’t be. But, until we open the box, there isn’t a legal fact of the matter. But surely there is no chance that they will decide in favor of the plaintiffs in pending religious nonprofit cases and thereby retroactively falsify the basis for their decision in favor of Hobby Lobby?
Or possibly I’m jetlagged.
Best of the Independent Journals in Rhetoric and Composition 2012
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In December 2012 the Australian Labor government introduced plain packaging laws for cigarettes. The effect was that cigarettes are supplied in drab olive/brown packages, with the main visual element being an (often disturbing) picture of the health effects of smoking. The tobacco industry (in co-ordination with the ubiquitous American Legislative Exchange Council) has fought tooth and nail to stop the laws, notably by ginning up trade disputes with Hong Kong and Ukraine, jurisdictions which have no significant tobacco trade with Australia and which (you might think) have more serious problems of their own to deal with. But so far, they have lost in every Australian court, including the court of public opinion. Despite a change of government, there’s no significant likelihood that the laws will be repealed or substantially modified.
Nevertheless, the leading Murdoch press outlet, The Australian, lovingly known here as the Oz, has launched a bizarre campaign, using secret tobacco industry data to claim that, by depressing prices, the laws have led to an increase in cigarette sales. These claims have been shot down in flames by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Treasury, and by health experts and bloggers, most notably Stephen Koukoulas .
The campaign is interesting for a couple of reasons
A quick gloss on John’s post below. American educators now and then decry the failure to remember World War I. Of course that’s only an American failure – World War I is etched into the civic landscape of even small villages throughout the British Empire (starting with Canada).
Meanwhile, at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, you will find this exhibit:
Which is laughable here in California – here that’s the only war we do remember.
It’s terribly easy to find an inadequate memory of one or another war – all you have to do is ask a child, or someone in the wrong region of the country, or of the world. Where would we look to find an adequate memory of the war? Where do we want it enshrined?
It’s 100 years today since a political assassination in the Balkans set in motion the Great War which, in one form or another, has continued ever since. In destroying themselves, and millions of their subjects, the German, Austrian and Russian empires brought forth Nazism and Bolshevism, which killed in the tens of millions. After 1945, the killing mostly stopped in the developed world, replaced by the threat of instant nuclear annihilation, which remained ever-present for decades and has by no means disappeared. Instead, the War moved to the Third World, and a multitude of proxy conflicts. The fall of the Soviet Union saw the renewed outbreak of the War in Europe, most bloodily in Yugoslavia and more recently in Georgia and Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the British and French imperial War plans, embodied in the (secret) Sykes-Picot treaty and the contradictory assurances offered to Jews and Arabs in the Balfour declaration and the McMahon-Hussein correspondence1, continue to work their evil consequences long after all the original participants have gone to their graves. Syria, Iraq and Israel-Palestine are all products of the Great War, as is modern Iran (the product of a revolution against British and later American suzerainty imposed after 1918).
And, after 100 years, nothing has been learned. The architects of the most recent catastrophe in Iraq are still respected commentators, as are the many historians and others who defend the conduct of the British-French-Russian imperial alliance in the 1914-18 phase of the Great War (most British and French apologists ignore or explain away the alliance with the most oppressive European empire of the day, but I imagine there are now Putinist historians hard at work producing defences of Tsarist war policy).
More fundamentally, despite 100 years of brutal and bloody evidence to the contrary, the idea that war and revolution are effective ways to obtain political ends, rather than catastrophic last resorts, remains dominant on both the right and the left.
Perhaps in another 100 years, if we survive that long, the world will have learned better.
Responding to the latest attempt to breathe some life into the zombie of “reform conservatism”, Matt Yglesias noted a revealing silence on climate change. As he observedThe thought process that ended with this approach is easy enough to understand. Whether climate change is a massive conspiracy orchestrated by Al Gore, 99 percent of scientists, and a dazzling array of foreign governments or a genuine problem is hotly debated inside the conservative movement. Whether or not fossil-fuel producers should be hampered in their activities by regulatory concern about pollution, by contrast, is not controversial. For smart, up-and-coming conservatives to mention climate change, they would have to pick a side on the controversial issue. Do they sound like rubes by siding with the conspiracy theorists, or do they alienate the rubes by acknowledging the basic facts and the coming up with some other reason to favor inaction? The optimal choice is not to choose.
I made much the same point a year ago in response to Ramesh Ponnuru’s <a href=””http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/349428/missing-point-conservative-reform”>plaintive observation that “To be a good reformer [in liberal eyes] a conservative has to agree that the vast bulk of conservatives are insane.”
In this NYT piece, Ross Douthat tries to respond to Yglesias. He ends up both confirming the point regarding climate change and illustrating the true nature of reform conservatism.
Since Douthat can’t refute Yglesias’ point about the craziness of the Republican base, he doesn’t try. Rather, he dismisses the point as “silly” and moves straight to his own apologia for lining up with the crazies. This is rather challenging. As Douthat admits, its not long since Republicans like John McCain were on the sane side of this debate. And it’s not as if the recent evidence (that is, the evidence coming from science rather than the rightwing parallel universe) has changed anything.
Still, Douthat tries desperately to claim that, in following his party where it leads, he is merely responding to the changed circumstances of the post-2008 economic slump. Supposedly, a relatively modest slowdown in economic growth means that it is now imperative to do nothing about climate change.
The best way to understand Douthat’s piece is by reverse engineering his argument as a constrained minimization problem The objective is to minimize the craziness he needs to embrace, subject to the constraint that he must end up in line with the denialist conspiracy theorists who dominate the base. The best approach is to combine the most inflated estimates of the cost of mitigation, with the rosiest projections of the implications of doing nothing.
This is “reform conservatism” in a nutshell. The Republican party is a coalition of crazies, racists and plutocrats. But there is a political requirement to talk about policy in a way that is not obviously crazy, racist or pro-rich. The task of conservative1 intellectuals is to square this circle.
Jill Lepore deserves an award for her New Yorker essay against the gospel of disruption. The last paragraph alone is a sufficiently fine piece of writing to warrant reading the whole thing.
For those of you blessedly unfamiliar with the theory of disruptive innovation, it goes like this: Everyone, every institution that is superb at providing a product or service is in truth a Goliath, merely waiting for a little innovative David to topple him with a better way to do his job. Why work up your muscles to carry a cudgel if you can deal death with a slingshot?
Amazon has disrupted book-selling. Online commentary has disrupted journalism. MOOCs will disrupt the university (people swear).
You who are merely doing your job exceptionally well and profitably – you are a complacent fool.
In her essay, Lepore beats the tar out of the scholarship that gave rise to this preaching. Apart from pointing the article out to you, I want to comment briefly on how she says what she says. In truth, Lepore gives two arguments for the price of one, and it’s the second that I find more fetching and worth a little extra remark.
Mainly, and entertainingly, she points out the entire theory of disruptive innovation is bunk on its own terms. It neither explains what it’s meant to explain, nor predicts what it’s meant to predict. It’s a fable that comforts the comfortable, by depicting their rapacious waste as the inevitable manner of capitalism’s progress. I won’t try to summarize what Lepore says about the embarrassing failures of the theory, because she already says it well.
But Lepore makes a secondary argument you could almost miss. She notes that even if the theory of disruption were sound, there are certain human activities to which it should not be applied.
Innovation and disruption are ideas that originated in the arena of business but which have since been applied to arenas whose values and goals are remote from the values and goals of business. People aren’t disk drives. Public schools, colleges and universities, churches, museums, and many hospitals, all of which have been subjected to disruptive innovation, have revenues and expenses and infrastructures, but they aren’t industries in the same way that manufacturers of hard-disk drives or truck engines or drygoods are industries. Journalism isn’t an industry in that sense, either.
Lepore says all this, but spends little time on it; having noted that people aren’t disk drives, she spends most of her essay observing that the theory of disruptive innovation doesn’t really apply to disk drives anyway.
I’d hazard a guess Lepore knows her essay works better this way. A significant portion of her readership would find it tedious to be told less briefly that we need to remember, or revive, the language of public trust, public interest, public service.
Lepore’s choice of emphasis reminds me of the origins of American liberalism in a different age. Back in the early 1900s, Charles Beard noted that merely to tell Americans that their factories were injuring workers more wantonly than those of any other country would fail to move a nation so fixated on profit. You had, he said (and I’m paraphrasing, because I’m not able to look it up at the moment), to tell the American people that it was inefficient to keep killing workers – that it was a waste of human capital, an unproductive use of resources.
This rhetorical tactic aims at moral ends by appealing to a venal calculus. Like the commuter who rescued his fellow-citizen from a train track because he didn’t want to be late to work, maybe we will rescue our public goods from disruption – not because it’s the right thing to do, but because we won’t profit if we don’t.
It is the end of Refugee Week, a week of campaigning for and celebrating the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. In Bristol there’s an event in Queen Square every year, with music, food, stalls for the campaigning groups and so on. These are the Tan Teddy Singers, a Jamaican women’s singing group. Very fine they were too.
My apologies for the delay in posting the second half of my reply to the symposium. I was traveling. Let me repeat at the outset my deep appreciation for the insightful comments provided by the contributors to this symposium. This is the sort of exchange that makes intellectual life rewarding. Given the delay since the original postings, I did not want to assume that readers of this post would remember what was said in the earlier ones, and I’ve tried to write this in a way that will be intelligible on its own. I take up here the six contributions that I did not discuss in the previous post. I’ll begin with David Owen, Michael Blake, Kieran Oberman and Ryan Pevnick, all of whom have related concerns. At the end, I’ll discuss the posts by Brian Weatherson and Patti Lenard.
In various, sometimes overlapping ways, David, Michael, Kieran and Ryan have raised questions about my theory of social membership. To recall (or, for those who have not read the book, to summarize), the central claim of that theory is that immigrants become members of society over time and their social membership gives them a moral claim to most of the legal rights that citizens enjoy and eventually to citizenship itself. It is important to note, however, that I do not start with a general theory of social membership that I try to justify on the basis of abstract principles and then apply to particular issues. Rather I start with the actual practices of democratic states and ask whether these practices seem to make moral sense. It is only after I have explored arguments about particular practices that I try to show that the idea of social membership is a common thread in many of these arguments. Moreover, my theory of social membership is not presented as a full account of why immigrants are morally entitled to legal rights. I contend that immigrants also have claims to legal rights based on the duty of every state to protect the human rights of anyone within the state’s jurisdiction and based on other considerations like reciprocity and proportionality as well. I think that this way of doing political theory “from the ground up” differs from the approach of some of my interlocutors, especially Kieran and Ryan. My approach is likely to be less systematic and involve more balancing of competing considerations, but I think that it is more closely connected to ordinary moral views, even when, as in the open borders chapters, it leads to radical conclusions.
One of the central cases for my account is the European experience with “guestworkers” in the post World War II period. As the name “guestworkers” suggests, these were people who were explicitly admitted with a time-limited horizon in view, and who agreed to the limitation on their admission. At the outset neither the guestworkers nor the receiving society expected their stay to become permanent, and some did return home within a few years. But many stayed on, and, after a while, it seemed unreasonable (in part to courts, in part to the wider public) to force them to leave. This experience has now been more or less officially codified in an EU rule that says that anyone who has been legally resident in an EU country for five years should be granted permanent resident status, regardless of the initial terms of admission. I think that the best way to make sense of that rule is to see it as reflecting a view like the one I have offered about the moral relevance of social membership.
Keep in mind that I am simply proposing a minimum standard, not a limit on more extensive grants of legal rights. Nothing in my proposal (or in the current EU rule) prevents a state from offering some immigrants quicker access to permanent residence and a fuller set of legal rights (so long as the reasons for distinguishing among different categories of immigrants are morally defensible). There are also prudential reasons for relying only on time and residence as measures of social connection. The main concern here is to avoid discriminatory or arbitrary distinctions. I discuss these concerns more fully in the book.
Both Michael and Kieran suggest that my account of social membership gives too little weight to the role of consent. If people agree to accept a lesser bundle of legal rights and/or to leave at the end of a specified period of time and if the agreement is truly voluntary, why isn’t that sufficient to trump the claims of social membership? Kieran also emphasizes the fact that giving immigrants fewer rights might serve the interests of the majority of current citizens, and that citizens generally feel entitled to put their interests ahead of the interests of foreigners.
I agree that consent matters morally and that one can sometimes decide voluntarily to give up the rights that come with social membership. After all, that is what immigrants do when they leave their country of origin, at least if they are acting freely. But consent is not a trump. It is not the only relevant moral consideration. And while states are sometimes entitled to favour citizens over foreigners, often they are not.
If we look at actual practices in democratic states, we can see this complex pattern. Sometimes we let consent play a decisive role and sometimes we don’t. Similarly, sometimes we put the interests of citizens ahead of the interests of (resident) foreigners and sometimes we don’t. Over the past several decades democratic states greatly reduced the differences that they drew between the rights of citizens and the rights of legally resident immigrants, not because (most) immigrants were unwilling to come under more restrictive terms but because the restrictions came to seem unfair. As I observed above, the European experience with guestworkers shows that democratic states found it difficult to send people back after they were settled for a while, even though the guestworkers had accepted that possibility at the time of admission and the states (and the majority of the citizenry) came to think that it would be in their interest to send at least some of the immigrants home. I think that my discussion of social membership (and other supporting considerations) makes sense of these developments. Of course, one could argue that we ought to give more weight to consent or to the interests of current citizens, but that would be a radical departure from the status quo and I don’t think either Michael or Kieran is actually arguing for that sort of position.
Let me qualify all this a bit. Michael’s story about Molly, the graduate student from Canada who has spent 10 years in the US, usefully separates out the question of time spent in the country from a range of other considerations that may make us sympathetic to the idea of letting people stay. But I don’t know how much work is being done in this example by the fact that Molly is a student. Would Michael’s view of whether or not it was acceptable to send Molly home be affected if she had been (legally) working in the US for this period instead?
I had once planned to write a separate section on foreign students in my book to explore the question of whether the fact that a foreigner is (legally) present as a student rather than as a worker or a family member makes any difference to her moral claims. One of the things that made many Europeans reluctant to expel the guestworkers was the recognition of how much they had contributed to building the economy. One could argue that students are recipients of societal benefits rather than contributors. On the other hand, there are alternative perspectives that emphasize how much foreign students contribute by their presence. Foreign students are often quite restricted in the kinds of work they can do. I’m not inclined to see that as morally problematic (if one accepts the conventional view about state control over immigration), but I might be wrong. In any event, I think there are many issues to explore about the moral claims of foreign students, and how they resemble or differ from the moral claims of other foreign residents. This is an underexplored topic and I hope that someone else will pursue it further.
All four of these interlocutors say something about irregular migrants and social membership. David defends a position similar to the one I take in the book (i.e., that irregular migrants become members over time and so are morally entitled to have their status regularized) while the others challenge it. It will come as no surprise to learn that I agree with David. I will acknowledge, however, that this is a very difficult issue.
Kieran thinks that this issue shows that it is a mistake to work within the conventional view of the state’s right to control immigration, because within the confines of that view one cannot make an effective case for letting irregular migrants stay or for protecting their rights. I disagree.
Take the firewall issue first. I say that states are morally obliged, even under the conventional view, to protect the human rights of irregular migrants. I then argue that to protect the human rights of irregular migrants effectively, and not just in name only, states are obliged to create a firewall between immigration enforcement and the protection of those rights so that information acquired in the course of protecting the human rights of migrants could not be used to identify them to immigration authorities or to deport them. The elements that Kieran would add to my account of the conventional view (the value of national self-determination, the priority due to the interests of citizens over foreigners, and the belief that irregular migration threatens important interests) do not alter the fundamental responsibility of the state to protect basic human rights, even of irregular migrants, on any ordinary understanding of democratic morality. Of course, some people do not accept this view of democratic morality but that takes us back to the issues discussed in my previous post.
Kieran’s discussion includes a hypothetical example of an irregular migrant named Anna who needs treatment for cancer but is afraid to seek it lest she run afoul of the immigration authorities. The use of cancer as an example creates complications that I don’t have space to explore here. To avoid those complications, imagine instead that Anna is hit by a car. Under those circumstances, the state is morally obliged to provide her with emergency medical care, and this obligation is reflected in the laws of almost every democratic state. Even in the United States, hospitals are legally obliged not to turn away a patient in need of this sort of urgent care, regardless of immigration status. But the state has that obligation precisely because the person is within its jurisdiction. This does not translate into an obligation to provide emergency medical care to people involved in accidents elsewhere (nor would it in an ideal world). I think that Kieran’s discussion ignores the moral relevance of physical presence within a territory. Every state has a moral responsibility to people present on its territory that does not extend to people elsewhere (and this would be true even in a world of open borders).
The problem is that Anna probably won’t seek care if she knows that the hospital will report her to immigration officials. So, I say, if we are serious about protecting her human right to emergency medical care, we need a rule that prohibits the hospital from reporting her. Contrary to Kieran’s claim, I explicitly acknowledge that this interferes with immigration enforcement, but I argue that the protection of basic rights often interferes with the pursuit of other important and legitimate state interests. There is a tradeoff, but the fact that a basic human right is at stake tells us that we should give priority to it rather than to immigration enforcement.
What about my argument that the passage of time erodes the right of the state to deport irregular migrants? I accept Ryan’s point that it is important to distinguish between the claim that a policy is morally permissible and the claim that it is a policy we should pursue. Ryan and I are in agreement on what policies we want the state to pursue: grant legal status to long-term irregular migrants. Ryan simply wants to argue that it is not unjust to pursue a more stringent policy, deporting irregular migrants even after many years of residence. I also agree with Ryan that some key examples in my book (Marguerite Grimmond and Miguel Sanchez) involve other considerations that strengthen their claims to remain (though I did explore briefly an imaginary Marguerite Grimmond who arrived as an adult). In any event, Michael’s example of Morgan (an artist from Canada who came to the US as an adult because he liked the art scene in Portland and who has been living there for ten years) clarifies some aspects of the debate by isolating length of irregular residence from other considerations.
I agree that the fact that irregular migrants are violating immigration law must be weighed against the claims of social membership. That makes their cases different from ones in which the state has authorized people to enter and settle. But I think that the claims of social membership still have moral force under these sorts of circumstances and that time erodes the moral significance of the fact that someone has settled without authorization. In my view it would be unjust to deport Morgan, even though he chose to come and even though it would not be a terrible fate to have to return to Canada. Overall, I don’t really have anything to add to David’s comments on this issue. I recognize that reasonable people may give different weight to these competing considerations.
As my last point in this section, I want to draw attention to David’s discussion of the distinction between the necessary conditions for a general rule regulating the distribution of legal rights and the necessary conditions for an individual entitlement to some set of legal rights. I did not myself articulate this distinction in my book, but it was implicit in some of my arguments and I am very happy that David has expressed it so clearly. I think that it captures an important general point about how we ought to engage in political philosophy. In trying to identify the principles that should govern our public life, we should pay attention to the normal course of events. There are few moral absolutes. Almost every principle admits of exceptions. Often these arise when some case departs from what is normally expected. And often the appropriate way to deal with such cases is to recognize them as exceptions rather than to see such cases as calling into question the merits of the general principle. Of course, it is preferable, other things being equal, to find principles that admit of fewer rather more exceptions, but we should be cautious about pressing our search for generality too far. Political philosophers sometimes write as though that it is sufficient to find one contrary example, however unrealistic or unusual, to refute a claim about a general principle. But there is an old saying in the common law: “Hard cases make bad law.” The point is that it is a mistake to focus on extremely unusual or ambiguous cases as distinct from typical ones in developing legal principles (since the common law builds its principles from particular cases). I think that the same caution should apply to the articulation of principles in political philosophy, and David’s comment helps us to see why.
I turn now to Brian Weatherson and Patti Lenard. Brian is generally sympathetic to my position, but he raises two challenges to which I want to respond. The first involves a clarification more than a disagreement. Brian suggests that it is a mistake to link the argument for open borders to concerns about inequalities between states given that the inequalities within states are as large as the inequalities between them. But the reason why I emphasize inequalities between states is that they often motivate people to migrate. People frequently seek to move from poor states to rich ones because they think (rightly, for the most part) that the economic opportunities in the rich states will be better. By contrast, inequalities of income and wealth between individuals within a state do not by themselves provide any reason for people to move from one place within the state to another. (Regional inequalities can generate motivations to move but these are not the sorts of inequalities that Brian was discussing.) Inequalities of income and wealth within states do raise important questions of justice, but my book is focused on the ethics of immigration, and so I simply bracket questions about distributive justice within a state for the most part. I also acknowledge that enabling people to move may not be the best way of reducing inequalities between states, but I contend that preventing people from moving helps to sustain those inequalities and rests implicitly on the assumption that those inequalities are not wrong. The open borders argument is intended to challenge that view.
The second challenge concerns my claim that we should regard international freedom of movement as a human right. In my book, I point out that freedom of movement within a state is widely recognized as a human right. I then suggest that every reason for seeing free movement within a state as a human right is also a reason for seeing free movement between states as a human right, and so I argue that we should recognize free movement between states as a human right. Both Brian and Patti criticize this argument, though in slightly different ways.
Brian focuses on what he believes most people think about the right to move freely within a country. He suggests that most people regard freedom of movement within a state as a right that belongs to members and that need not be extended to non-members who happen to be present. To support this claim, he asks us to consider a couple of hypothetical cases in which a democratic state decides to restrict the internal movement of non-members more than the movement of members, and he suggests that most of his readers would not find these restrictions very troubling.
From my perspective, this way of arguing places too much weight on the presumed intuitive responses of readers to a hypothetical and too little weight on the actual practices of democratic states. All democratic states have signed international human rights documents and these documents do not limit the right to free movement to members. For example, Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within each state.” This right is not limited to citizens or even to citizens and residents. The next sentence, however, says the following: “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” Notice how the use of the possessive adjective changes the nature of the right. Everyone has the right to leave any country, but the right to return is limited to one’s own country.
In my book, I suggest that we can take note of this difference by distinguishing between general human rights (like the right to a fair trial) which the state is obliged to establish as an identical legal right for everyone in its jurisdiction and membership-specific human rights (like the right to return to one’s own country or the right to participate in an election) which the state is obliged to establish as a legal right only for citizens or, sometimes, for citizens and residents. This is my terminology, by the way. So far as I know, the distinction between a general human right and a membership-specific human right is not commonly used in discussions of human rights, but I think it draws attention to an important feature that distinguishes some human rights from others, a feature that is obscured if one only speaks of human rights as universal.
In the open borders argument, I am asserting that what is now a membership-specific human right under international law (the right to enter one’s own country) should instead be accepted as a general human right. But internal freedom of movement is not a membership-specific human right under international law. It is a general human right, one enjoyed by everyone present on the territory of a state, whether most people understand that or not. You could argue that freedom of internal movement should only be a membership-specific right, but then you have to offer an argument as to why that is morally preferable. Appealing to intuitive reactions (which might change if people knew what the relevant human rights documents actually say) is not sufficient.
I would add that it is not an accident that Brian has to conjure up hypothetical examples to support his case. It would be very difficult to find any real examples of a democratic state distinguishing between citizens (or residents) and others with respect to internal free movement, in part because of the constraints of international law and human rights documents. And, as I noted above in discussing David’s contribution, this sort of general pattern matters. Even if one could find an isolated example of the sort that Brian imagines, that would not provide a sufficient basis for rejecting my claim internal freedom of movement is widely regarded as a (general) human right. There are exceptions to almost every rule.
Patti’s approach is somewhat different. She focuses on the ways in which restrictions on internal freedom of movement through zoning or other public policies can be challenged or defended from the perspective of democratic equality, the understanding of which will vary to some extent from one political community to another. Freedom of movement should be regarded as a membership-specific human right, she says, because “members especially are entitled to justifications that affect their movement.”
I don’t disagree with Patti that members have a stronger claim to justification than do those present on a temporary basis, and I find her discussion of the relationship between democratic equality and restrictions on movement helpful. Nevertheless, I don’t think that her analysis really challenges the claim that I was putting forward because she is using the term “membership-specific human right” differently from the way I used it. That is her prerogative, of course, but the consequence is that we wind up talking past one another. Her claim that freedom of movement is a membership-specific human right (in her sense of that term) does not challenge my claim that there is no justification for keeping freedom of movement as a membership-specific human right (in my sense of that term) rather than transforming it into a general human right. Indeed, in Patti’s usage, (almost) every human right should be regarded as a membership-specific human right since (almost) every human right is subject to restrictions and interpretations of one kind or another and it is (almost) always members (citizens?) who have a special claim to a justification of these restrictions and interpretations. By contrast, in my sense of the term, membership-specific human rights are relatively unusual (though sometimes perhaps justifiable). Ultimately, Patti’s argument here is perfectly compatible with my own.