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.
[click to continue…]

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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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Sunday photoblogging: dusk

by Chris Bertram on June 7, 2015

Dusk in St Albans Road

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Tomm Moore and Harry Clarke

by John Holbo on June 6, 2015

My hand-drawn post drew a bit of interest. Folks seemed to think I should be talking up Tomm Moore’s films a bit more in this connection: The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. This is very true. I think Song of the Sea was my favorite film, last year.

And one of my favorite art books from last year was Designing the Secret of Kells. Which is sold out everywhere by now. Sucks to be you.

But let me console you with some alternative, Irish flat-style animation. [click to continue…]

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Hand-drawn!

by John Holbo on June 3, 2015

Complaining about conservatives is well and good, but I’m a conservative about anything true and good, so I love animation – so long as it is hand-drawn, the way God and Walt and the Nine Old Men intended!

I have actually made myself (mildly) depressed (for a few minutes) thinking that Tangled might be the end of the big studio production hand-drawn line, in its hybrid CGI-way. You can’t fight progress.

So it’s nice to know I was wrong. Maybe. This looks fantastic. Such a wonderful Chuck Jones-y-ness, a Maurice-Nobleity, with an Eyvind-Earliness, especially in the morning light.

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Not to mention the Carl Stallingness of the music.

The design for the little girl slays me.

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The Counter-Enlightenment as Gotcha!

by John Holbo on June 3, 2015

It’s hard to find time to blog when one of your hobbies is reading Rod Dreher. Dude doesn’t stop!

Where to start, where to start? Dreher, like a lot of conservatives, is aghast at the Kipnis case. [click to continue…]

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Just off the presses: a new book I have edited with Michael McPherson on philosophical problems in higher education, The Aims of Higher Education: Problems of Morality and Justice (amazon)

aims

Here’s the blurb:


In this book, philosopher Harry Brighouse and Spencer Foundation president Michael McPherson bring together leading philosophers to think about some of the most fundamental questions that higher education faces. Looking beyond the din of arguments over how universities should be financed, how they should be run, and what their contributions to the economy are, the contributors to this volume set their sights on higher issues: ones of moral and political value. The result is an accessible clarification of the crucial concepts and goals we so often skip over—even as they underlie our educational policies and practices.

The contributors tackle the biggest questions in higher education: What are the proper aims of the university? What role do the liberal arts play in fulfilling those aims? What is the justification for the humanities? How should we conceive of critical reflection, and how should we teach it to our students? How should professors approach their intellectual relationship with students, both in social interaction and through curriculum? What obligations do elite institutions have to correct for their historical role in racial and social inequality? And, perhaps most important of all: How can the university serve as a model of justice? The result is a refreshingly thoughtful approach to higher education and what it can, and should, be doing.

The contributors are Amy Gutmann, Kyla Ebels-Duggan, Paul Weithman, Allen Buchanan, Erin Kelly, Lionel McPherson (no relation to my co-editor) and our own Chris Bertram.

I imagine CT readers will be particularly interested in CB’s excellent chapter on philosophical defenses of the humanities, and, I hope, in my and McPherson’s concluding chapter which outlines a series of philosophical problems in higher education that are not discussed in the book, but we think merit further discussion. A version of Amy Gutmann’s excellent chapter is online here.

I should say that we encouraged authors to concentrate on problems arising in selective settings, not because we think they are more important (we don’t) but because we thought that we would get better essays if people reflected on what they knew best. The essays are all written in a style accessible to undergraduates, and in my experience undergraduates find them very engaging, and are troubled by the questions they raise. We are hoping that others will take up some of the problems addressed and some of the suggestions we make in the conclusion and do further work on them.

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Pulleys ... and davits

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David Runciman wrote a brief essay http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n10/david-runciman/notes-on-the-election in the LRB about the results of the British election. I want to focus on one peculiar passage. Runciman observes:

The two countries that have seen the greatest rise in inequality over the past couple of decades are Britain and the United States. Both have a first-past-the-post system designed to offer a clear choice between two main parties. Yet whichever of the two parties wins, the drift towards inequality has been inexorable.

This is, well, nuts or maybe just inexplicable coming from a political thinker of Runciman’s reputation. It tells us nothing about why inequality has accelerated or what might be done to mitigate it. Runciman conflates the British and US political systems because they both have “first past the post” voting—but he somehow neglects to then distinguish them because the US has a presidential model with separation of powers across three branches of government and a widely dispersed federalism, and the UK has a parliamentary model. Which means, of course, as nearly every knowledgable political writer has been screaming during the this time of divided US government, that the US system does not at all offer a “clear choice between two main parties.” In fact, as Juan Linz famously pointed out, in a presidential system two major parties or coalitions can both claim legitimacy by controlling a respective branch of government. (And thus the US can have, simultaneously, two warring “Prime Ministers”, eg, President Obama and Speaker Boehner.)

The American system offers a decidedly murky choice; Because the congressional party (whose election is spread over three cycles) does not merely oppose, but also obstructs the presidential party, the US way of democracy provides the electorate with no logical party accountability—presidential “failures” can be caused by minority legislative parties because the presidential party only appears to voters—and to Runciman, apparently—to be the governing party, but is not. The US system is really enormously different from the UK system. If Runciman had wished to argue that the Congress, whether controlled by Republicans or Democrats, has, in recent decades, abdicated the making and execution of foreign policy to the president, he’d have a point. But he writes as if clear party control of the levers of American politics was built into the system.

And there’s no need for the whole history lesson here, but that’s exactly how it wasn’t designed in the first place. It was, in fact, designed by people who did not anticipate the development of coherent political parties at all and, in fact, loathed the very idea (even if many of them then proceeded to become rather shrewd party politicians in the next phase of their careers). The whole point, as imagined by men who, with certain important exceptions, were very much determined not to replicate the powers of a monarchy in their fledgling nation, was to create conditions that would force elites to compromise and to limit the power of the propertyless (let alone the slaves) to even enter into the discussion. Compromise between powerful interests, not the clarity of unitary authority, was supposed to occur not only between the branches of government, but also between the national government and those of the states (and between the North and the slaveholding sub-nation of the South). There is absolutely nothing structurally about the American system of government, either in its inception or in its current dissipated condition, that offers voters a “clear choice” regarding domestic politics. (Even the rare historical circumstances that have seemingly given one party or the other effective control, eg, FDR’s already balkanized Democrats for, at most four years in the mid 1930s, in fact allowed a cross-party coalition of reactionaries to make the New Deal for “whites only.” http://www.amazon.com/When-Affirmative-Action-White-Twentieth-Century/dp/0393328511)

Later in the essay, Runciman expresses shock that the purportedly smooth running American political structure has crashed into a ditch like the regional trains that its warring parties of equal legitimacy refuse to fund. He writes contemptuously, comparing the squalid Brits with the squalid Yanks, “It is blackmail and veto power, with small groups clamouring to get what they want from the people in charge. This is the current model of American politics, which for all its premium on clarity and executive power is also extremely messy, with all sorts of minor players holding the big boys to ransom.”

But writers and scholars like Norm Ornstein, Thomas Mann, Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson (and many many others) have written copiously about how and why divided government does not engender clarity in the current iteration of the American presidential system. Runciman seems wholly unaware of this literature.

Sorry to be so sour, but has Runciman ever read The Federalist? Or Madison, in particular? Or just a good history about the ratification of the American constitution http://www.amazon.com/Plain-Honest-Men-American-Constitution/dp/0812976843? To frame his essay with this spurious comparison made it impossible for me to take the rest of his argument seriously.

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LIBOR for the universities?

by Daniel on May 26, 2015

This is a post I’ve been planning to write for a while, with various other CT members alternately encouraging me to do so, and sternly reminding me that the consequences will be entirely on my own head ;-). It’s based on a point I’ve been making over the last few years to all sorts of friends when they’ve been trying to bait me on the subject of LIBOR, forex and the various scandals of the financial profession.

The point is quite simple. 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. It’s not that these sectors are especially dirty and the rest are especially clean – it’s just that politics, finance, religion, journalism and broadcasting have, so far, had their day under the microscope. One day, it’s going to point somewhere else. Particularly (because a lot of my friends are academics), one day it’s going to point at the universities. How confident are we that when it does, that they’ll be found pure?

At this point I tend to get either nervous laughter or outrage. Comments boxes don’t do nervous laughter very well, so readers of a ragey disposition might as well skip the details…
[click to continue…]

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Opportunity cost: a Fabian idea?

by John Quiggin on May 26, 2015

As part of the research for Economics in Two Lessons, I’m looking in to the history of some of the ideas I’m talking about, including Pareto optimality, externalities and of course opportunity cost. I’m undecided as to whether I’ll include this material, perhaps as starred (skip if you feel like it) sections, or in an Appendix. Suggestions on this point are welcome.

My research on the intellectual history of opportunity cost has so far gone no further than Wikipedia, which attributes the term to Friedrich von Wieser, an Austrian economist in both the national (he was Minister for Finance there in 1917) and theoretical senses. Turning to the article on von Wieser, I was surprised to read that he put forward an argument very similar to mine regarding the relationship between opportunity cost and the distribution of wealth

Instead of the things that would be more useful, there are things that pay better. The greater the difference in wealth, the more striking are the anomalies of production. The economy provides luxury to the capricious and greedy, while it is deaf to the needs of the miserable and poor. It is therefore the distribution of wealth that decides what will be produced, and leads to a consumer of a more anti-economic variety: a consumer wastes on unnecessary, guilty enjoyment that which could have served to heal the wounds of poverty. —Friedrich von Wieser, Der Wert Natürliche (The Natural Value), 1914.
It turns out, even more surprisingly to me, that von Wieser was linked to a Viennese group of Fabians.

I’m still trying to digest this, and work out where to go next with it. Can anyone point to useful information about von Wieser?

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A Paris memoir from 1978

by Chris Bertram on May 25, 2015

One thing about the interwebs is that you sometimes get to find out about someone you’ve been disconnected from for years. It happened to me yesterday, when I discovered that the guy who had been my “handler” in Lutte Ouvière had died in 2011 aged 62, following a stroke. I’d noticed that some prominent French administrator had the same name and googled to see if it was the same guy. It wasn’t, but up came the obituary of Denis Robin, comrade Cerdon, and with it a whole bunch of memories of the nineteen-year-old me from 1978.

Back then I had finished school, having taken the Oxbridge entrance exams before Christmas. I therefore had about nine months on my hands and wanted to spend it in Paris, where I had friends (and still do) through a language exchange with a family there. I landed a job as a courier with an agency called the Banque Centrale de Compensation which recorded transactions on the Paris commodity exchange, the Bourse de Commerce. This meant that I spent my days running from our office to the Bourse and to the HQs of the various coffee, cocoa, soya and sugar companies.

I’d long been interested in the French left and had even done a school project on May 1968, sucking up lots of information on the various groupuscules. This was, I think it fair to say, alternately irritating and amusing to my French friends who were stalwarts of the Socialists, then in electoral alliance with the barely post-Stalinist Parti Communiste. After one dinner-table debate they expressed scepticism about whether my money would ever follow my mouth, and I took this as something of a challenge. The following day, when I was making a delivery to the main offices of the Crédit Lyonnais, I encountered a bunch of militants selling Lutte Ouvrière, a Trotskyist weekly newpaper and engaged them in conversation. One of the people there was comrade Cerdon, and I agreed to meet him on the evening of Mayday for a conversation, ideally having joined up with their contingent on the big demonstration. I never found LO demonstrators that day and ended up marching with UNEF, the Communist student union. But we did meet in a café in the Place de la République that evening and began one of a series of long conversations about politics and related matters, the purpose of which was to recruit me to the organization. [click to continue…]

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Fight Racism. Confirm Clarence Thomas. (Updated)

by Corey Robin on May 25, 2015

I’ve been reading Jill Abramson’s and Jane Mayer’s Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas, the definitive account of Thomas’s confirmation battle, which came out in 1994. Here are eight things I’ve learned from it. Among the many surprises of the book is how men and women who were connected to the confirmation battle, or to Thomas and/or Anita Hill, and who were little known at the time, would go on to become fixtures of and issues in our contemporary politics and culture.

1. Edward P. Jones, author of The Known World, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004, was Clarence Thomas’s classmate at Holy Cross. They had long conversations.

2. Clarence Thomas was head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for eight years. When Bush nominated him to the Supreme Court, Strom Thurmond proudly declared, “I’ve known Clarence since he was head of the Unemployment Commission.”

3. Gary Bauer and Bill Kristol vacationed together at the beach each summer, along with their families. In the summer of 1991, at the Delaware shore, they planned the Christian right’s campaign to get Thomas confirmed to the Supreme Court.

4. Citizens United was formed by Floyd Brown in 1988 in the wake of the failed effort to get Robert Bork onto the Supreme Court. Brown helped make the Willie Horton ad. Getting Clarence Thomas confirmed by the Senate was one of the organization’s first missions. In 2010, Thomas was part of the slim majority that ruled in favor of Citizens United in Citizens United v. FEC. Though several arguments for his recusal in the case were brought up at the time, no one mentioned Citizens United’s contributions to his confirmation.

5. One of the ads pushing for Thomas’s Senate confirmation to the Court featured a photo of Thomas with the headline “To the Back of the Bus!” The copy read:

As the left strives to keep Judge Clarence Thomas from his seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s like forcing blacks to take a seat in the back of the bus. Fight racism. Call your U.S. Senators and urge them to confirm Judge Clarence Thomas.

6. Angela Wright, one of Thomas’s accusers whose testimony was buried by the Senate Judiciary Committee, worked for Charlie Rose when he was a Democratic congressman from North Carolina. [Update: Actually, the congressman Charlie Rose whom Right worked for was not the Charlie Rose of TV fame. My mistake! Thanks to Steve Hageman and Rick Perlstein for the correction.]

7. Kimberlé Crenshaw was part of the legal team advising Anita Hill.

8. Thomas liked to say that his favorite character in Star Wars was Darth Vader.

Updated (May 26)

9. One of the charges levied against Thomas in the hearings was that he had once spoken favorably about the views of Steve Macedo, the Princeton political theorist, who was at the time a conservative (and a professor at Harvard). There was an extended colloquy during the hearings between then Senator Joseph Biden, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Thomas—Utah Republican Orrin Hatch also got in on it at one point—about whether and why Thomas was attracted to Macedo’s views on natural law and property rights.

10. Along with Kimberlé Crenshaw, Janet Napolitano, Obama’s former Homeland Security Secretary, was also part of the legal team advising Anita Hill. Now she is the President of the University of California, where Crenshaw is a professor.

11. One of the leitmotifs of Mayer’s and Abramson’s book is how much Biden botched the Thomas/Hill hearings. From beginning—when Hill’s allegations first came to light—to end, when the Senate voted to approve Thomas, Biden got played, was cowed, caved into pressure from the White House and the Republicans, or simply didn’t care or understand enough of the issue to push for a fuller and fairer investigation of the facts.

12. When Howard Metzenbaum, also on the Judiciary Committee, found out the specifics of Anita Hill’s allegations about Thomas, the Ohio senator said, “If that’s sexual harassment, half the senators on Capitol Hill could be accused.”




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