Should immigration laws be respected?

by Chris Bertram on September 19, 2018

I have a short piece in The Nation, Should Immigration Laws Be Respected?. Comment there or comment here. An excerpt:

The rule of law isn’t just about people obeying the law. It is about having a fair system that works for everyone. A system where some states get to impose their will on outsiders who get neither a chance to shape the law, nor the opportunity to defend themselves against incarceration or deportation, isn’t an example of law in action but of naked force. And people don’t have a duty to submit to naked force: they have a right to resist it.

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My last word on Nancy MacLean

by Henry on September 18, 2018

Attention conservation notice: This is a lengthy post looking to demonstrate, should demonstration be needed, that I am not a tool of the “Koch donor network.” Also: if you are interested in l’Affaire MacLean, your time is probably better spent reading this dissection of the book by Jennifer Burns in the new issue of History of Political Economy. [click to continue…]

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Time to join the generation game?

by John Quiggin on September 18, 2018

As regular readers will know, I’ve spent a generation or more [1] deriding what I call the generation game – the idea of dividing the population up into birth cohorts (categories based on year of birth) such as Boomers, X-ers and so on (Millennials weren’t invented when I started) and assigning them various supposed characteristics. Most of the time, this exercise is little better than astrology. To the extent that there is any semblance to reality it simply reflects the fact that young people are, and always have been, different from old people.

But just as I have managed to get some traction with this idea, genuine cohort effects have emerged in politics in many countries. The sharpest case is Britain, where people over 65 voted massively for Brexit in the referendum and the Conservatives in the recent election, while those aged 18-24 went even more sharply the other way. As the map linked here shows, if only 18-24 year olds were voting, based on current polling data, the Conservatives would not have won a single seat[2]. If only those over 65 voted, the Conservatives would win 575 and the combined opposition 54.

This is a massive difference and can’t AFAICT be fully explained by differences in education, ethnic composition and so forth. It also represents a huge shift on the part of older cohorts, who were part of the electorate that gave Labour three terms not long ago. While there is some tendency for people to become more conservative as they age, it’s normally much more limited than this.

The explanation in simple terms, is Brexit. Most of the time, elections involving competing visions of the future. In the UK case, from the 1990s until Brexit, the contest was between hard-line Thatcher-style neoliberalism and Third Way Blairite soft neoliberalism. In the course of such debates, both sides routinely claim to be on the right side of history, to own the future and so on.

By contrast, Brexit represented an appeal to a (partly imaginary) past, against the present and the future. With the exception of a handful of neoliberal ideologues, who saw Brexit as a path to a free-market future, most Leavers were motivated by nostalgia for the glories of the past, and were willing to sacrifice the interests of the young to make a gesture in that direction.

What’s true of Brexit is true, though not to quite the same extent, of the culture war politics that have now become dominant on the political right in much of the English-speaking world. It’s driven in large measure by old men who lost the cultural battles of the 1960s and 1970s, and have never got over the fact.

The result is a situation where the right is appealing directly to members of older age cohorts with the result that younger cohorts are moving left. The most immediate effect has been to wipe out the support base of centrists of the Blair-Clinton-Keating type, who fail to appeal to either group.’m

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Sunday photoblogging: Tenby

by Chris Bertram on September 16, 2018

Tenby

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Good Parenting vs. Good Citizenship?

by Gina Schouten on September 13, 2018

I’ve been a parent now for six months and change, and I have exactly nothing figured out. I have gotten pretty good at thinking of things in terms of stark tradeoffs. Hooray, he fell asleep while I was nursing him, and stayed asleep when he went into his crib! (Crap. This means a missed opportunity to put him down “drowsy but awake,” and thus to train him to fall asleep on his own.) Hooray, I am really enjoying singing this song to him right now! (Crap. This temporary alignment of my interests and his surely means I am losing all ability to discern my own interests when they diverge from his.)

Don’t judge me too harshly for this insanity. Everything written about parenting seems expressly intended to make its readers think of their choices in terms of tradeoffs. (Seriously. If you don’t want your kid to be sleeping in your bed when he’s sixteen, you must put him down drowsy but awake!)

And a lot about our social environment seems expressly intended to generate tradeoffs. Take just one example: Privileged parents generally face a choice between schooling options that middle-class parenting culture approves as best for their children, and schooling options that progressive politics regards as best ethically. A fair bit of attention has been paid to this choice in popular media over the past week, largely in response to a book by Margaret Hagerman about how progressive, middle-class parents make decisions—decisions about where to live and thus what schools their kids will attend, and with whom, etc.—that perpetuate racial inequality. This is to be welcomed. It’s an important issue. While the tradeoff is generated by policy-level decisions—our practices for funding schools, our willingness to tolerate residential segregation by race and social class, our willingness to tolerate the extreme social inequality that makes that residential segregation so consequential—the policy failure generates seriously difficult decisions for individuals.

The philosophical considerations that bear on those decisions are complex. I want to quibble with the way the ethical tradeoff is being framed in the popular media discussions of it, encouraged, perhaps, by the way Hagerman herself sometimes frames it. Consider this remark from her interview in the Atlantic:

“I really think—and this might sound kind of crazy—that white parents, and parents in general, need to understand that all children are worthy of their consideration. This idea that your own child is the most important thing—that’s something we could try to rethink. When affluent white parents are making these decisions about parenting, they could consider in some way at least how their decisions will affect not only their kid, but other kids. This might mean a parent votes for policies that would lead to the best possible outcome for as many kids as possible, but might be less advantageous for their own child. My overall point is that in this moment when being a good citizen conflicts with being a good parent, I think that most white parents choose to be good parents, when, sometimes at the very least, they should choose to be good citizens.” (Italics mine.)

Contrary to Hagerman’s worry, this does not sound even kind of crazy, and I hope her work helps to make it sound less crazy even to those who ultimately disagree with it. But we shouldn’t frame the tradeoff the way Hagerman does in this quote. It’s misleading and it’s bad marketing.
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Geoffrey Kabaservice:

One of the more influential studies of conservatism, Corey Robin’s The Reactionary Mind, insists that such seemingly disparate figures as Edmund Burke, Joseph de Maistre, Milton Friedman and Sarah Palin are all more or less the same, sharing the overarching goal of preserving the ruling order’s power and privilege against liberationist movements from below. In his view, the ideals conservatives tout (greater freedom, robust public morality, economic growth and deference to the Constitution) are nothing but fig-leaf cover for oppression, and anyone outside the elite who thinks otherwise is a victim of false consciousness.

Our Corey emitted a sigh over this, over on Facebook. This line of criticism of his book [amazon] was done to death years ago, no? Back when Mark Lilla was advancing the same criticisms – no better, but no worse? I will, as in days of yore, reply on Corey’s behalf. Since I think I can add a bit I haven’t said before.

The form of the objection is weird. “But, Socrates, how can you say that all triangles have three sides? That implies that all triangles are the same. But we all know that there are blue ones and red ones, big ones and little ones …”

How could you fail to see the fallacy in this pattern of reasoning?

There is nothing inherently illegitimate (‘reductionistic’) about looking and seeing whether all the things we call ‘X’ have something in common, plausibly explaining why they are grouped together.

Yet (as Corey himself says, over on Facebook) Kabaservice is smart. His book [amazon] is good. So why does he go wrong in this way – like Meno, to whom it simply does not occur to seek what all virtue cases have in common, rather than what makes them different?

Because politics ain’t triangles!

Very true. So let me put it another way. (And I’ll start calling Corey ‘Robin’. Because it sounds more official to refer to him that way!) Robin objects to what we might call the standard view. Let me quote a representative formulation by Peter Berkowitz. He’s introducing Varieties of Conservatism in America: [click to continue…]

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Sunday photoblogging: junk shop in Marseille

by Chris Bertram on September 9, 2018

Marseilles- junk shop in the Noailles district

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Absurdism

by John Holbo on September 8, 2018

As Sparknotes writes,

Endgame’s opening lines repeat the word “finished,” and the rest of the play hammers away at the idea that beginnings and endings are intertwined, that existence is cyclical. Whether it is the story about the tailor, which juxtaposes its conceit of creation with never-ending delays, Hamm and Clov’s killing the flea from which humanity may be reborn, or the numerous references to Christ, whose death gave birth to a new religion, death-related endings in the play are one and the same with beginnings.

I cannot help but think of this passage as I read Jonah Goldberg’s erudite musings in the pages of National Review.

In the classic absurdist dramas of the 1950s and 1960s, Brittanica.com explains, European playwrights “did away with most of the logical structures of traditional theatre. There is little dramatic action as conventionally understood; however frantically the characters perform, their busyness serves to underscore the fact that nothing happens to change their existence.”

That’s a pretty good description of the sound and fury signifying nothing on display this week from Democrats and protesters alike.

In this blog post I would like to argue that, as in the classic absurdist dramas of the 1950’s and 1960’s, in Goldberg’s essay, “Theater of the Absurd Has Taken Over The Senate,” what we see is a conservative intellectual tradition that is ‘finished’, and yet at the same time intertwined with its own beginnings. The life of the conservative mind is cyclical, juxtaposing attempts to kill the stubborn flea of liberalism with lofty dreams of the rebirth – ever-promised, never fulfilled – of the conservative mind.

To put it another way, as Shmoop writes:

Waiting for Godot is hailed as a classic example of “Theater of the Absurd,” dramatic works that promote the philosophy of its name. This particular play presents a world in which daily actions are without meaning, language fails to effectively communicate, and the characters at times reflect a sense of artifice, even wondering aloud whether perhaps they are on a stage.

In conclusion I would like to argue that, just as the ‘theater of the absurd’ is about dramatic works that promote the philosophy of its name, so ‘conservatism’ is about works that promote the philosophy of its name: namely, conservatism. And, just as this particular play presents a world in which language fails to effectively communicate, so Goldberg’s essay fails, effectively, to communicate. It seems like “a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets [its] hour upon the” front page of National Review, then is heard of no more.

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Improving instruction on campus: concrete ideas.

by Harry on September 4, 2018

A while ago I promoted this event, slightly anxious that no-one would turn up. Contrary to my fears, it was packed, and a huge success. I asked 5 students to describe and motivate a pedagogical practice that they had experienced, and that they think should be more widely shared among faculty. Inside Higher Education has run an article today containing the text of all the student contributions—which are great! Please feel free to add your own tips, ideally there, but here if you like; and do me, and the students, a favor, by sending the story to people you know! Also, think about replicating the event on your own campus (if you have one).

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Think-tank Fiction

by Maria on September 3, 2018

Reading the intro to what turned out to be Gardner Dozois’ final SF anthology (RIP – his collections were my favourite by a country mile. In memory and thanks, I finally took his beseechings to heart and renewed subscriptions to a couple of SF magazines), I discovered there’s a name for a thing we’ve started to see a lot of and which I’ve also started doing in the last year or so; think-tank fiction.

Apparently, Jonathan Strahan coined the phrase to describe what Dozois said are ‘Futurology anthologies, many of them with corporate or government sponsors”. Henry wrote a nice piece on Philip K. Dick for the Boston Review dystopia one. Wired is at it, Slate, too. MIT, and various tech firms. I’ve even had a chat with the BBC about one. Let’s see what happens.

In a much smaller way, I wrote a bunch of 500-word future newspaper articles on the theme of ‘the Internet in 10 years’ for a report by the Internet Society, last year. The idea was to do three per report theme, I think, and they’d go with those sections, but in the end they were all bundled into a section of their own. I’m writing some again this year, but now the brief is for 1000 – 1500 words, and just three or four of them. So, by way of writing long as I don’t have the cognitive bandwidth to write smart, some observations: [click to continue…]

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Sunday photoblogging: Chair, Pézenas France

by Chris Bertram on September 2, 2018

Chair, Pézenas

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Oh I feel old

by John Holbo on August 30, 2018

But I was charming and non-arbitrary in my lovely youth. Buy me a drink, will you, lad?

Gone are the happy days when we dialed up to submit a comment to Salon.com, only to be abused by Glenn Greenwald or destroyed — respectfully — by the academics at Crooked Timber. Back then, we could not have imagined feeling nostalgic for the blogosphere, a term we mocked for years until we found it charming and utopian. Blogs felt like gatherings of the like-minded, or at least the not completely random. Even those who stridently disagreed shared some basic premises and context — why else would they be spending time in the comments section of a blog that looked like 1996? Today’s internet, by contrast, is arbitrary and charmless.

Link.

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Economics in Two Lessons: Acknowledgements

by John Quiggin on August 30, 2018

Nearly seven years after I started, I’ve finally submitted the manuscript of Economics in Two Lessons to Princeton University Press. There’s still a lot of work to be done in turning it into a published book, and some changes are still needed, but this is as close to a milestone as I’m going to get.

Over the fold are the Acknowledgements. As I mention, I’m sure to have omitted someone, so if you have contributed comments and your name is missing, please point this out. Also, if there’s anyone commenting under a pseudonym who’d like me to use their real name, or vice versa, I’ll be happy to make the change.

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The American Political Science Association is holding its annual convention this coming week in Boston. As luck would have it, the three hotels (all owned by the Marriott chain) at which the convention is being held are in the midst of a labor dispute with the hotels’ workers, who are members of Local 26 of UNITEHERE.

The issues are many, but the main one is that, as the union contract has expired and the workers renegotiate a new one, they’d like to make sure that a hotel worker should only have to work at one job—not two, not three—in order to support herself and her family. That’s the workers’ demand: “One job should be enough.” And that’s the name of their campaign, which you can read more about here.

Additionally, the workers are frustrated by the hotels’ cynical use of environmentalism to cut costs and increase the burden on workers.

Whenever you go to a hotel these days, you see these signs: don’t wash your towels every day, save the environment. Or don’t opt for housekeeping, make the planet green. Sounds great, right? For the workers, it’s a nightmare. According to this eye-opening expose in the Boston Globe:

But the housekeepers who would otherwise be cleaning these rooms, many of them immigrants, say the increasingly popular programs are cutting into their livelihoods by reducing their hours, making their schedules more erratic, and — ironically — making their jobs harder. That’s because rooms that go without housekeeping for several days are often a wreck — trash piled up, shower doors coated in gunk, crumbs in the carpet, and hair everywhere.

I can’t help noting the irony: The hotel industry, which depends on the carbon-emitting and planet-destroying activity of millions of people hopping into their cars and driving to the airport where they then fly hundreds and thousands of miles to their destinations, happily gives its customers the opportunity to do their little bit for the planet by cutting workers’ hours and making their lives and jobs harder. I guess this is the hotel version of carbon offsets, and as is often the case, it’s working class people of color, many from the Global South, who pay the price.

I reached out to one of the officers at Local 26, who said that the union is not asking people to boycott the hotel or to refuse to cross picket lines. At least not yet. Instead, here are three things the union would like members of APSA to do:

  • Sign this pledge to support Marriott workers at this dispute develops.

  • Refuse the “Make a Green Choice/Your Choice” program at check in.

  • Participate in an informational picket and action that is planned at the Sheraton, one of the main hotels of the convention, on Thursday, August 30, at 1 pm.

 

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The soft bigotry of low expectations

by Harry on August 26, 2018

Adam Grant offers excellent advice for students and administrators, and lets professors completely off the hook. Observing that the expert academic is often not an expert teacher, he advises students to look for professors who are good teachers, and advises administrators to create separate career tracks for researchers and teachers (something that, as we’ve talked about before, can work well only if the teaching faculty have equal governance rights and clear pathways for career advancement). So far so good.

But why are so many expert professors not good teachers? Well, it’s not in any sense their fault. Talking about his incompetent professors at Harvard he says:

It wasn’t that they didn’t care about teaching. It was that they knew too much about their subject, and had mastered it too long ago, to relate to my ignorance about it. Social scientists call it the curse of knowledge. As the psychologist Sian Beilock, now the president of Barnard College, writes, “As you get better and better at what you do, your ability to communicate your understanding or to help others learn that skill often gets worse and worse.”

Maybe, just maybe, that’s true of his professors. But its probably not. I would guess that, in fact, they didn’t care about teaching, or if they did they cared about it in the way that I care about the fate of the red squirrel: I really do wish it the very best but I am not going to do anything to help it. Most of his professors were probably good learners, and my educated guess is that they didn’t put a lot of that learning effort into learning how their students learn, or how to be effective instructors in the classroom. I do agree that being an expert in the field and having been top of the class when one was a student oneself are handicaps in acquiring and maintaining the complex skills that a teacher needs. But many can overcome them: observe excellent teachers; get others to observe you, talk to your students a lot, and especially to those who struggle with the material. Practice communicating effectively with students; keep practicing it. Talk to good high school teachers about how they motivate weaker students (I sat on a train yesterday while a 75 year old former headteacher gave my about-to-start-teaching daughter a brilliant refresher on how to approach her first 3 weeks in a secondary school—most of my colleagues, like me, are sufficiently good as learners and sufficiently limited as teachers, that sitting eavesdropping would have been as a fruitful use of their time as it was of mine). Establish formal mechanisms for discussing and improving teaching in your department. I can believe that one of his professors would have remained dreadful in the face of such effort, but not that all of them would have.

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