The Imprints’ Archive

by Ingrid Robeyns on October 12, 2019

Almost ten years ago, Chris wrote a blogpost announcing that the last issue of Imprints had been sent to the subscribers. Political philosophers beyond a certain age had greatly enjoyed the articles, bookreviews and interviews published by Imprints, but it was not possible to continue. But we should not forget – and this post is merely a reminder for us not to forget – that the entire Imprints’ Archive is online.

I was reminded of this yesterday, when I went to a lecture by Elizabeth Anderson in Amsterdam, who – to my surprise – during her talk endorsed limitarianism. Chris remarked on FB that this was a departure from her earlier views in which she merely supported sufficientarianism. The 2005 interview with Anderson in Imprints seems to support Chris’ observation, since she said (p. 15) the following:

‘Some people care about getting lost of this stuff [that doesn’t matter from a political point of view]. Once citizens’ satiable interest in securing social equality are satisfied, and he system secures for all a decent chance to get more, the state has no further interests of justice in micromanaging how the gains from cooperation are divided.”
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The third lesson ?

by John Quiggin on October 9, 2019

Another review of Economics in Two Lessons has come out. It’s by David Henderson and appears in Regulation, published by the Cato Institute (link to PDF). There’s a blog post with extracts here.

Unsurprisingly, given the source, it’s mainly critical of the analysis, but still has some kind words about the book. This para gives the flavour

Quiggin is a good writer who lays out much of the economics well. His analysis of rent control and price controls in general is a thing of beauty. Along the way, though, he makes small and big mistakes. He also shows by omission that the book, to be complete, badly needs a third lesson, on why government works so badly even when it intervenes in cases where markets work badly.

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Sunday photoblogging: 2-headed cow (from 2007)

by Chris Bertram on October 6, 2019

What are you looking at?

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At Five Thirty Eight, Maggie Koerth-Baker has yet another article bemoaning the way partisanship biases our views. Apparently, one side, based on eyeballing, thinks the earth is flat, while the other, relying on the views of so-called scientists, or the experience of international air travel, regards it as spherical, or nearly so.

In the past, before the rise of partisanship, we would have agreed on a sensible compromise, such as flat on Sundays, spherical on weekdays, and undetermined on Saturdays. Moreover, there was a mix of views, with plenty of Democratic flat-earthers, and Republican sphericalists.

Of course, there is no way to resolve questions of this kind, but apparently, ““warm contact” between political leaders” will enable us to agree to differ, which would be a big improvement, at least until we decided whether to risk sailing over the edge of the world.

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For a long time, I’ve been convinced that we can only improve our teaching practice in a reliable, systematic way up to some threshold. Below that threshold, we can read books, talk to those who have more experience, and refine our teaching by growing our knowledge of best practices for getting students to learn. But once we’ve really effortfully done all that, further gains just aren’t something we can get through any sort of studied practice. We hope we continue to improve, but our best bet is just to figure out over time how to fully inhabit our teaching skin.

This was never meant as an excuse for complacency: Further reading and study might make improvement more likely, so we shouldn’t let up our efforts once the low hanging fruit begins to seem depleted. (For one thing, we might be wrong about its being depleted!) But the kind of progress we can hope to make is different above the threshold than below. Above it, for example, there are few standards of success that aren’t endogenous in important ways to questions of value that we settle at early stages of thinking about what we as teachers want for our students.

To put it roughly: I thought that below some threshold, teaching is a science, and above it, an art.

Harry’s contribution to the Fall 2019 issue of Daedalus is beginning to convince me otherwise.  The issue “Improving Teaching: Strengthening the College Learning Experience,” features thirteen essays that focus on “what goes on inside the ‘black box’ of teaching and learning.”

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Sunday photoblogging: storm in the Venice lagoon #2

by Chris Bertram on September 29, 2019

And yes, this is a colour photo!

Venice: storm in the lagoon

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On photos and parental smirks

by Gina Schouten on September 27, 2019

Since becoming a parent I’ve been experiencing a new flavor of gentle inter-generational antagonism. The thing that I call a “pack-‘n-play? My parents call it a “play-pen.” This linguistic development is amusing to them. I kind of think they’re right to be amused. I’m not sure if it’s funny that we can’t handle product names that evoke a sense of our children as animals, or if it’s funny that we can’t accept that our children basically are (sometimes) just animalistic things to be contained. But they’re right that there’s some plausible story behind this product’s evolution that says something sweetly laughable about those of us on this end of it.

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The Enigma of Clarence Thomas: On sale today!

by Corey Robin on September 24, 2019

I’ve been on an extended hiatus from Crooked Timber. Trying to finish a book, teaching new classes, and generally trying to stay off the internet to get some new writing and thinking done. But I’m really happy to come back to announce that The Enigma of Clarence Thomas, a book I’ve been working on for six years and periodically blogging about here, goes on sale today.

With the help of a rave review in this morning’s New York Times. In the Times, Jennifer Szalai writes:

It’s a provocative thesis, but one of the marvels of Robin’s razor-sharp book is how carefully he marshals his evidence. He doesn’t have to resort to elaborate speculation or armchair psychologizing, relying instead on Thomas’s speeches, interviews and Supreme Court opinions. Just as jurists make ample use of the written record, Robin does the same.

The result is rigorous yet readable, frequently startling yet eminently persuasive.

It isn’t every day that reading about ideas can be both so gratifying and unsettling, and Robin’s incisive and superbly argued book has made me think again.


If you’d like to read a little more about the book, there was a long excerpt of it two weeks ago in The New Yorker. It also has been widely reviewed—among other places, in BookforumThe AtlanticHarper’s, and National Review, which, despite the criticisms, called the book “thoroughly researched and engagingly written…a valuable and overdue engagement.” I was also interviewed about the book in Vanity Fair.

You can buy the book at Amazon, or if you prefer other vendors, there’s a list here.

I hope you will get the book. I worked long and hard on it, and not only do I think it does something new, but I think that you’ll learn something new. A lot of people have an understandable block against Thomas, not really wanting to hear much about him at all. This book won’t convince you he’s any less dangerous or toxic than you already think he is. Nor is it designed to do that. Instead, it will convince you that he’s far more interesting, and speaks to many more constituencies, than you might have thought. And is, therefore, perhaps, even more dangerous and unsettling. And thus worth learning about.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

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Meanwhile, what the grown-ups are doing

by Maria on September 24, 2019

As the UK’s Prime Minister has followed up his multiple parliamentary defeats with a devastating judgement by the Supreme Court on his honesty and competence today, an email from the Irish government popped into my in-box. Now, the Irish government is far, far from perfect, but this email is an example of the basic competence we expect from minimally adequate governments; it has informations about available resources and activities for businesses affected by Brexit.

Enterprise Ireland is encouraging businesses to step into new markets and ensure that their exports are sufficiently diversified. Find steps to support Irish companies here
The Construction Industry Stakeholder Forum took place last week, where discussion was held around no deal Brexit. Businesses manufacturing or using CE-marked construction products could be affected, learn more here
Free seminars on “Practical steps to keep agri-food trade moving” continue over the next week. Invaluable advice and information will be available at events in Wexford and Cork, further details below.
Panel discussions and engagements around Brexit were held in the Government of Ireland Village at the National Ploughing Championships, where thousands of the Getting your Business Brexit Ready – Practical Steps booklets were distributed.

It goes on in this vein with links to events, advice clinics and financial resources. I’ve been getting these emails for two years, now, and just wanted to post it here as a reminder of what governments are meant to do. Not lie and hide information about whether we’ll still have life-saving drugs, fresh food, access to markets or freedom of assembly.

Don’t get me wrong. Brexit is still all manner of cluster-f*ck for Ireland, and we won’t be offering more than the basic, self-serving cooperation to the UK any time, soon. But this is mitigation, folks. This is information. This is the minimum we should expect from an adequately functioning, medium-capacity late-capitalist state in the face of wholly man-made disaster.

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Cum/ex

by John Quiggin on September 24, 2019

Looking for a different story in the business pages of The Guardian, I happened across a headline stating The men who plundered Europe’: bankers on trial for defrauding €447m. That attracted my attention, but the standfirst, in smaller print, was even more startling

Martin Shields and Nick Diable are accused of tax fraud in ‘cum-ex’ scandal worth €60bn that exposes City’s pursuit of profit

I think of myself as someone who pays attention to the news, but I had missed this entirely. Google reveals essentially no coverage in the main English language media. There’s a short but helpful Wikipedia article and that’s about it. The scandal has been described as the ‘crime of the century’, but it’s just one of many multi-billion dollar/euro heists, with the GFC towering above them all.

It remains to be seen how the trial will turn out, but it’s already clear that, as usual, the banks have got away with it. The bank most closely involved in the scam, HypoVereinsBank in German has set aside €200 million euros to cover its potential liability. That’s less than 1 per cent of the tax avoided or evaded (the lawyers will be fighting out which, for some time, but the effect on ordinary citizens is the same).

The crucial point here isn’t the failure of the law to punish wrongdoing.

What matters is that crooked deals of this scale suffice for a complete explanation of the growth of the global financial sector since the 1970s. The point of the financial sector is not to allocate capital more efficiently, but to undermine the regulatory and tax systems that are supposed to make the economy work properly. Unsurprisingly the huge financial boom has been accompanied by miserable productivity growth, repeated business collapses and massive growth in inequality.

The only way to fix the problem is to shrink the financial sector to a tiny fraction of its current size, and tightly regulate what remains. The rational route to achieve this would start with the kinds of reforms being proposed by Elizabeth Warren. But we may be stuck with a messier path, in which courts tire of giving slaps on the wrist to recidivist banks and start shutting them down.

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I wrote a pamphlet for the Fabian Society in 2000, arguing for reform of the private school system, based on the assumption that it was impossible to abolish them (I still think it unlikely, and am quite curious what will end up in the manifesto). If you feel like reading it, here it is.

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*I have done some edits on September 24th, thanks to some input by Tim Waligor and Brian carey, whom I thank.

There is no need to point out to the readers of this blog that the debate between gender critical feminists (henceforth GCFs) and the supporters of strong transgender rights* is both as lively and, unfortunately, as toxic as ever.

I have long been sitting on the fence with respect to this issue, for very obvious reasons of self-preservation – apart from organizing a small workshop on the topic last May, whose primary aim was to bring people together hoping that a genuine debate might ensue, rather than taking a stand.

I still have no plan to leave the fence properly (let alone for the fact that I am no expert to say the least!), but let’s say that this post is a timid attempt to take a peek at what happens beyond it, largely by very tentatively making three points which, to my knowledge, do not feature in the debate as it is currently unfolding (although they are actually all fairly long-standing insights both within the feminist literature, and within transgender literature and avocacy). And by the way: I am very happy to be corrected if this is not the case and these points are actually being amde in the current debate! So – bracing myself – here we go. [click to continue…]

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Congratulations to Gina, whose book Liberalism, Neutrality, and the Gendered Division of Labor was published early in the summer (but I waited to say anything till fall, when I thought people would be more receptive).[1]

Here’s a very rough account of what the book’s about: Women and men do unequal amounts of domestic and caring labor, and this inequality contributes to unequal outcomes between men and women in their careers. This is the ‘gendered division of labor’. But are the inequalities, or the processes generating them, unjust? And, if so, should the government act to change anything?

Here’s the problem: No laws enforce the gendered division of labor; and while women face some discrimination in the labor market, most of the gendered division of labor seems to be explained, immediately, by people’s choices which are, in turn, responsive to influential social norms. We – liberals who believe in democracy and freedom – presume that people should be free to act on their own judgments, and are uneasy about government intervention that would attempt to change the social norms. This commitment is captured by the popular idea that, for the most part, the government should stay out of people’s personal lives – and that appears to include things like how members of a household decide to divide up the time doing the dishes, looking after a child, or caring for an ailing parent.

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Sunday photoblogging: Hamburg

by Chris Bertram on September 22, 2019

Hamburg: warehouses

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The most blasphemous idea in contemporary discourse?

by Ingrid Robeyns on September 21, 2019

I have no idea how he found it, but George Monbiot read an (open access) academic article that I wrote, with the title “What, if Anything, is Wrong with Extreme Wealth?’ In this paper I outline some arguments for the view that there should be an upper limit to how much income and wealth a person can hold, which I called (economic) limitarianism. Monbiot endorses limitarianism, saying that it is inevitable if we want to safeguard life on Earth.

As Monbiot’s piece rightly points out, there are many reasons to believe that there should be a cap on how much money we can have. Having too much money is statistically highly likely to lead to taking much more than one’s fair share from the atmosphere’s greenhouse gasses absorbing capacity and other ecological commons; it is a threat to genuine democracy; it is harmful to the psychological wellbeing of the children of the rich, and to the capacity of the rich to act autonomously when it concerns moral questions (which includes the reduced capacity for empathy of the rich); and, as I’ve argued in a short Dutch book on the topic that I published earlier this year, extreme wealth is hardly ever (if ever at all) deserved. And if those reasons weren’t enough, one can still add the line of Peter Singer and the effective altruists that excess money would have much greater moral and prudential value if it were spent on genuine needs, rather than on frivolous wants.

Monbiot wrote: “This call for a levelling down is perhaps the most blasphemous idea in contemporary discourse.”
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