To Carry the Past Around with You

by Gabriel Winant on June 17, 2015

Citizenship is waning. There are the obvious, brutal signs of this: the police apparently have a free hand to kill and cage certain citizens, more or less as they see fit; the fiscal state is crippled by the ability and willingness of its wealthier subjects to refuse taxation; voters must now share political space with corporations, their new legal equivalents in significant elements of democratic life. In many places, especially poorer places like Greece and Detroit, unelected bureaucracies now explicitly overrule the will of electorates. Then there are the more paradoxical data points indicating the civic crisis. As the value of democratic citizenship declines, for example, those who still have it behave more defensively, throwing up border walls and voting for neo-nationalists. The deportee prison, the mass drownings in the Mediterranean, the rise of Golden Dawn, UKIP, and the National Front: these phenomena signal the dissipation of citizenship as much as the overweening power of the European Central Bank or the quasi-colonial occupation of Ferguson do. When your portion is diminishing, you want to ration it out more stingily. If you’ve only got a little at all, though, what do you do?

This is the question at the core of Danielle Allen’s Our Declaration. What has become of what she calls “the democratic arts”? How can we get our citizenship back? [click to continue…]

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§1. The Declaration of Independence is a living document; and our every reading provides it the breath of life. Danielle Allen suggests as much when she writes: “We are all part of the ‘world’ to which the Declaration submits its facts. With every fresh reading, the Declaration calls out again for our judgment.” (89). This makes the Declaration a wily document of sorts. It purports to establish something politically important about the necessity of securing political independence from the British crown (and we’ll get to what that something seems to be in a moment), thus to regulate the affairs of men and women. And Yet. The Declaration seems to rely upon our engagement for it to have significant meaning: “The Declaration has expectations of its readers. A reader of the Declaration must be a judge….The Declaration assumes that its readers are […] equipped with moral sense. In calling out to its readers as members of the candid world, the Declaration identifies its audience as consisting of the kind of living organisms that can connect facts with principles in order to make judgments.” (90-1). It co-opts the judgment of readers to substantiate its democratic aims, thus implicates us in the quest for independence and equality from tyranny by asserting in its first line that as a people, the colonists were right to claim for themselves “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them”. [click to continue…]

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Here’s another draft excerpt from my book in progress, Economics in Two Lessons. To recap, the idea of the book is to begin with the idea that market prices represent opportunity costs for the households and business who face them (Lesson 1), and then go on to explain why market prices won’t in general equal opportunity costs for society as whole (Lesson 2). A lot of the book will be applications of the two lessons, and this section is an application of Lesson 1.

As before, all kinds of comment and criticism, from editorial points to critiques of the entire strategy are welcome.

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Justice for Janitors Day

by Harry on June 15, 2015

Today is Justice for Janitors Day. Its the 25th anniversary of the police brutality in Century City that resulted in one miscarriage, numerous broken bones and serious injuries and, according the article linked, only 38 arrests: a a remarkable organizing victory. Congratulations to SIEU, and all involved for 25 years of sterling work!

I was one of the supporters of the striking janitors at the June 15 1990 demonstration. We’d held a demonstration a week or so earlier, just before the strike began, which was pretty rowdy but extremely good-humoured. To be honest, I’m not sure anyone anticipated the strike succeeding—if they did, I certainly wasn’t among them. The unprovoked, and quite extreme, police attack on the demonstration was probably key to victory: everything was televised, to the extent that when I went into my bank on the Monday, two of the tellers recognized me from the TV coverage, and commiserated (having demanded to see my injuries—half stripping in a bank is a little weird) and congratulated me on being involved in a cause they clearly supported. I believe the full story is that, having seen coverage on CNN Europe, a Danish union threatened secondary action against the company unless it settled, which it did, promptly, the following week. (The City of Los Angeles settled its lawsuit less quickly, because the Rodney King beating took place shortly afterward, and as I understand it all LAPD brutality suits were put on hold till that was settled). I know first hand that the attack was entirely unprovoked because shortly before the police went nuts one of the organizers had requested that I come to the front line, on the flimsy grounds that I was the only person they knew to have had prior experience of this sort of situation. Here’s a video about the event (I’m the overweight English-looking guy being dragged around at some point), with some reminiscences below the fold.

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In Our Declaration, Danielle Allen writes neither as a philosopher’s philosopher, a historian’s historian, nor as a textualist’s textualist. She writes instead a dazzling scholar in the midst of a full-blown academic obsession. And, strangely enough, she writes like a lawyer. Indeed, much to my surprise, Allen’s project displays deep continuities with the project of constitutional law. Like constitutional lawyers, she derives a robust set of democratic commitments from a thin textual guarantee, and her project shares the same imperfections and glories as constitutional law’s. [click to continue…]

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Sunday photoblogging: Liverpool, pier head

by Chris Bertram on June 14, 2015

Liverpool: Pier Head

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The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss

by John Holbo on June 14, 2015

Continuing my ‘great art books I bought this year’ series, it turns out that, secretly, Dr. Seuss liked to draw cats and architecture, in a Seussian style. You can buy the book. Or just browse the gallery. Mostly it turns out the secret is: he liked color. (That’s a reason to buy the book. Nice printing.) Also, a bit more sex.

Maurice Sendak wrote the introduction, just as he did for my other new Seuss book.

Ted and I met years ago and liked each other immediately. I gave him reason to laugh mightily on more than one occasion when I launched into one of my “wacky” (his word) subtext theories relating to my favorite Seuss books. I was a product of fifties psycho-analysis, and he forgave me that and my terrible earnestness.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall as an earnest young Maurice Sendak expounded his theory of Green Eggs and Ham. “I would not, could not, in the dark.” Hey, sometimes a tunnel is only a tunnel.

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Yeats’ birthday

by Henry on June 13, 2015

Today’s the 150th anniversary of the birth of William Butler Yeats. From what I’ve heard (including a couple of first hand accounts), he wasn’t a particularly nice man. But he was a great poet. So, if you want to quote favorite bits in the comments, quote away. One of mine (not one of his great and famous poems, but some nice lines all the same), Two Songs from a Play:

I SAW a staring virgin stand
Where holy Dionysus died,
And tear the heart out of his side.
And lay the heart upon her hand
And bear that beating heart away;
Of Magnus Annus at the spring,
As though God’s death were but a play.

Another Troy must rise and set,
Another lineage feed the crow,
Another Argo’s painted prow
Drive to a flashier bauble yet.
The Roman Empire stood appalled:
It dropped the reins of peace and war
When that fierce virgin and her Star
Out of the fabulous darkness called.

II
In pity for man’s darkening thought
He walked that room and issued thence
In Galilean turbulence;
The Babylonian starlight brought
A fabulous, formless darkness in;
Odour of blood when Christ was slain
Made all platonic tolerance vain
And vain all Doric discipline.

Everything that man esteems
Endures a moment or a day.
Love’s pleasure drives his love away,
The painter’s brush consumes his dreams;
The herald’s cry, the soldier’s tread
Exhaust his glory and his might:
Whatever flames upon the night
Man’s own resinous heart has fed.

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Why TPP sucks

by Susan Sell on June 12, 2015

On June 10th the Washington Post’s editorial page chastised Congress for “making free trade difficult”. Champions of Trade Promotion Authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) continue to label all skeptics as “opponents of free trade.” Many skeptics actually favor free trade, but the Trans-Pacific Partnership appears to be less about “free trade” and more about domestic regulatory harmonization. The post-WWII trade regime has been very successful in its aims of reducing tariffs and barriers to trade, expanding global market access, and integrating new players into the global trade regime. The spectacular economic rise of countries such as China, India, and Brazil is testament to the value of the trade route to lift millions out of poverty.

The House may vote on Trade Promotion (“Fast Track”) Authority (TPA) as early as Friday, June 12th. The Senate has already voted in favor of TPA and Obama has been working hard to get skeptical House Democrats on board to support it. If the House grants Obama TPA, it ties its hands to an “up or down” vote on TPP with no possibility for amendment. There is much at stake and citizens and representatives need to know who is drafting it, what it means for US democracy and sovereignty, and the effects it will have on public health. [click to continue…]

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Economics in Two Lessons (draft excerpt)

by John Quiggin on June 12, 2015

I’m still redrafting the opening section of my book, on the concept of opportunity cost. Some applications to specific problems coming soon, I promise. In the meantime, comments and criticism, including editorial corrections and nitpicks, much appreciated.
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Big Oil changes sides in the War on Coal

by John Quiggin on June 11, 2015

As the time left to save the planet from uncontrolled climate change gets shorter and shorter, the previously glacial pace of movement on the issues has speeded up. One of the most important, and surprising, developments has been a string of increasingly sharp attacks on coal, coming from representatives of major oil and gas companies. As this (rather excitable) piece explains, the reason is simple. The policy debate has crystallised around the idea of a carbon budget – the remaining amount of CO2 that can be emitted while keeping atmospheric concentrations at levels consistent with 2 degrees of warming or less.

Obviously, if such a budget is imposed and adhered to, a lot of fossil fuel resources, currently sitting on corporate account books, will have to be left in the ground. Unsurprisingly, fossil fuel companies have done their best to prevent such an outcome, promoting science denial, and encouraging national governments to shirk their share of the burden with the argument that others should do more. Such a strategy implies a united front among fossil fuel owners, since the longer the imposition of a budget can be delayed, the better off they all are.

The recent break in the fossil fuel coalition therefore marks a new stage. Rather than try to expand the budget for all fossil fuels, the oil and gas companies have decided to get as much as possible for themselves, which means shutting down coal as fast as possible. The facts that have made such a strategic switch sensible are many and varied but the most important are

(a) the increasing recognition of the health effects of burning coal which gives national governments like that of China a strong incentive, independent of climate change, to reduce coal use
(b) the fact that the most immediately promising alternatives to fossil fuels are renewable sources of electricity which compete directly with coal, and are, to a significant extent complementary with gas (as a dispatchable source, gas-fired electricity tends to offset problems associated with the variability/intermittency of renewables.

What’s the appropriate response here? In the end, it will be necessary to phase out fossil fuel use altogether. But the logic of tackling coal first is inescapable. If that logic drives a wedge in the fossil fuel coalition, so much the better for all of us.

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Hannah Arendt and Philip Roth: Parallel Lives

by Corey Robin on June 9, 2015

In the second half of the twentieth century, a writer of uncommon gifts travels to Israel. There, the writer, who is Jewish and fiercely intellectual, attends the trial of a Nazi war criminal. When the trial’s over, the writer writes a book about it.

No, it’s not Hannah Arendt. It’s Philip Roth.

Arendt and Roth led oddly parallel lives. [click to continue…]

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I read Daniel’s LIBOR for the universities? with great interest, not least because I think the central thesis…

Bankers have had their day under scrutiny. But so have Members of Parliament (expenses scandal). So have journalists (phone hacking). So has the Church (paedophilia cover-ups). So has the BBC (ditto). This isn’t a specific issue about financial sector corruption. It’s a general trend, one of gradual social re-assessment of whether the fiddles and skeletons of the past are going to be tolerated in the future.

…is spot on, even translating it across the Atlantic.

However, I think his LIBOR comparison is a bit too literal, his scandals in potentia all hinging on system-gaming. In the U.S., kiting of research assessment and post-grad employment is small beer. Senior faculty claiming authorship is already regarded as a personal rather than systemic crime. U.S. New and World Report is simply making the previously tacit prestige ranking visible to the public. (I forget if it was Billy the Kid or Sun Yat-sen who said that academic politics is so vicious because the stakes are so low, but they both had a point.)

Nevertheless, I think there is a scandal brewing, though, like all academic change, it is moving slowly. That scandal is tied to growing realization that professors do far less teaching than the average citizen imagines.
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Hiding in Plain Sight (I)

by Maria on June 8, 2015

Daniel wrote recently about prima facie scandalous behaviours in academics, drawing a parallel with banking cultures pre-Crash. Pointing out that while activities like taking credit for grad students’ work or blatantly gaming independent review mechanisms may in some cases seem rational and even acceptable behaviour within certain academic circles, once these things are exposed to the light of day as, say LIBOR rate-fixing was, they appear rightly scandalous. Heads roll. It’s only a matter of time, therefore, before UK academics join the police, journalists and politicians and find the ‘but everybody does it’ excuse does not wash when you’re on the front page of a newspaper.

One commenter in that long, long thread asked how something can become a scandal when everyone already knows about it. Something everybody already knows about is the very definition of a scandal.

Let me draw your attention to some things that everybody knows or knew about. [click to continue…]

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How Corporations Control Politics

by Corey Robin on June 7, 2015

In my Salon column today, I look at new research examining how corporations influence politics.

Money talks. But how?

From “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” to Citizens United, the story goes like this: The wealthy corrupt and control democracy by purchasing politicians, scripting speech and writing laws. Corporations and rich people make donations to candidates, pay for campaign ads and create PACs. They, or their lobbyists, take members of Congress out to dinner, organize junkets for senators and tell the government what to do. They insinuate money where it doesn’t belong. They don’t build democracy; they buy it.

But that, says Alex Hertel-Fernandez, a PhD student in Harvard’s government department, may not be the only or even the best way to think about the power of money. That power extends far beyond the dollars deposited in a politician’s pocket. It reaches for the votes and voices of workers who the wealthy employ. Money talks loudest where money gets made: in the workplace.


Among Hertel-Fernandez’s findings:
1. Nearly 50% of the top executives and managers surveyed admit that they mobilize their workers politically.

2. Firms believe that mobilizing their workers is more effective than donating money to a candidate, buying campaign ads, or investing in large corporate lobbies like the Chamber of Commerce.

3. The most important factor in determining whether a firm engages in partisan mobilization of its workers—and thinks that that mobilization is effective—is the degree of control it has over its workers. Firms that always engage in surveillance of their employees’ online activities are 50 percent more likely to mobilize their workers than firms that never do.

4. Of the workers who say they have been mobilized by their employers, 20% say that they received threats if they didn’t.


My conclusion:
When we think of corruption, we think of something getting debased, becoming impure, by the introduction of a foreign material. Money worms its way into the body politic, which rots from within. The antidote to corruption, then, is to keep unlike things apart. Take the big money out of politics or limit its role. That’s what our campaign finance reformers tell us.

But the problem isn’t corruption. It’s…


Read more here.

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