My book, Do States Have the Right to Exclude Immigrants? has now been published on the continent of North America, so the inhabitants of said continent are invited to buy it. (Amazon doesn’t seem to have stock yet.) By way of advance publicity for the book, and because it was a fun idea anyway, I recorded a podcast with my friend Avery Kolers of the Department of Philosophy at Louisville KY for his show on Forward Radio. You can listen to the podcast now on Soundcloud.

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Economics in Two Lessons Chapter 15

by John Quiggin on July 3, 2018

My long-running book-in-progress, Economics in Two Lessons is nearly done. Thanks to everyone who commented on the first 14 chapters.

Here’s a draft of Chapter 15: Monopoly and the Mixed Economy. Only one more chapter to come after this

Comments, criticism and praise are welcome.

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Head Lopper!

by John Holbo on July 3, 2018

I haven’t recommended any good new comics for a while. You should read Andrew MacLean’s Head Lopper. Its heart is in the right place. Everyone says it’s like Hellboy and they’re right. (Kind of a cross between Mike Mignola’s style and Guy Davis’, graphically.) But you could also say it’s Hellboy meets Adventure Time, with a bit of Samurai Jack on top. You can buy volume 1 on Amazon or Comixology pretty cheap [link]. It does that fast-paced, stylish, sword & sorcery with deadpan dialogue thing. Norgal, the barbarian hero, lops heads and (for reasons that remain obscure) hauls the lopped head of Agatha Blue Witch around. There are sea monsters and evil priests and foul beasts from the pit and giants and snakes and ghosts and cool maps and evil spirits trapped in bogs by goddesses and sinister stewards and queens and boy kings and giant wolves and bat creatures and amusing blacksmiths and etc. You’ll like it.

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Kennedy, The Magic 8-Ball Justice

by John Holbo on July 1, 2018

Some readers are failing to appreciate the aptness of my Kennedy-as-Magic-8-Ball analogy. In some cases this may by due to infirm powers of reading or reasoning; in other cases, to ignorance of the law, or of recent legal history. In some cases it may be due to insufficient familiarity with a children’s toy. No matter, I shall explain.

The Magic 8-Ball has 20 possible responses: 10 positive, 5 hazy or non-commital, 5 negative. And that is what Kennedy was. Half the time a rock-ribbed conservative, but half the time either liberal or hazy.

Thus, the following would be one way to keep the Supreme Court above the partisan fray, post-Kennedy, while acknowledging the power of partisanship, and according the sitting President a certain privilege when it comes to determining the make-up of the court. [click to continue…]

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Paying for news

by Chris Bertram on July 1, 2018

Well, my World Cup thread was a bit of a damp squib wasn’t it? And all because, as an afterthought, I linked to a piece in the Financial Times which, it turned out, was only easily accessible to subscribers (like me). People take exception to links to pieces behind paywalls. That’s understandable. People are used to the free internet and I’m personally willing to offer anyone who was offended by the link a full refund on their Crooked Timber subscription. But seriously, folks. We have the problem of fake or seriously distorted news right here. Either users are willing to pay for content from major news agencies, newspapers, etc or they are not. If they are not, and if advertising fails because too many people use adblockers, then they won’t be able to afford to meet the costs that their operation involves: overheads, staff salaries, travel, IT costs etc. So then one of two things happens: (a) they go bust or (b) somebody with a lot of spare cash and an interest in influencing opinion pays the bill. That would be members of the 0.1 per cent, or oligarchs, or maybe states. So if we want the quality and variety of information on which functioning democracies rely, rather than the news somebody very rich with a vested interest wants us to read, we’re going to have to find ways to get users and citizens to pay for information. Simple as.

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Sunday photoblogging: cranes and tracks

by Chris Bertram on July 1, 2018

Cranes and tracks

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What Now?

by John Holbo on June 30, 2018

Like lots of folks, I’m pretty shell-shocked by the latest round of Supreme Court decisions, capped off by Kennedy’s retirement. (I haven’t felt up to writing about it. I haven’t felt able to write up anything else.) It’s not that any of the decisions were so shocking (although the gerrymandering punt was deeply disappointing.) It’s not surprising that Trump, plus a retirement-age court, equals fresh appointments. But all this seems fearfully irreversible in two senses.

First, ‘the courts will save us’ is dead for liberals and progressives for a generation.

Second, the hope that America might still awaken from the bad dream of Trump before something Really Bad happens seems dead.

It all seems a lot more zero-sum and long-term now. Either the left struggles and wins by huge margins, to take the (undemocratic) heights the Republicans currently command, or the future of US politics is Trumpist. There isn’t any hope that the future of the Republican Party isn’t Trumpist, or that there is some neither/nor option consisting of leaving a major decision to a somewhat inscrutable Magic Eight Ball in the form of Anthony Kennedy.

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World Cup open thread

by Chris Bertram on June 30, 2018

The knock-out phase is upon us, and this World Cup seems more open then any I can remember. Of the remaining teams only Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and Japan seem utterly hopeless, which leaves us with 12 contenders, of whom Belgium, Brazil, France and Spain look the most likely. If James is fit, then maybe Colombia has a chance, and who would write off Uruguay? The FT has some useful stats ….

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Economics in Two Lessons: Chapter 14

by John Quiggin on June 30, 2018

My long-running book-in-progress, Economics in Two Lessons is nearly done. I have a nearly complete manuscript, and am hoping for news from the publisher soon. Thanks to everyone who commented on the first 13 chapters.

Here’s a draft of Chapter 14: Policy for full employment. Two more chapters to come after this

Comments, criticism and praise are welcome.

[click to continue…]

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Abolish the death penalty

by John Quiggin on June 29, 2018

The discussion surrounding the US Supreme Court led me to think about the death penalty, one of the limited number of issues on which Justice Kennedy was a swing vote.* In this context, that means that he supported the death penalty in general but was concerned about due process and the execution of minors. It can safely be assumed that his replacement will have no such concerns.

That’s bad. But it’s only possible because the death penalty exists. The Supreme Court can’t sentence anyone to death; all it can do is fail to save them.

The only (possibly) feasible option therefore is to change the law to abolish the death penalty.There has been some progress at the state level, but that’s not going to stop executions any time soon. The only effective response is to pass Federal legislation abolishing or restricting the death penalty. Of course, that requires Democratic control of Congress and the Presidency, but so does any action with respect to the SC.

IANAL but this discussion seems to show that it would be possible in practice. At the very least, Congress could legislate the kinds of protections Kennedy supported, and repeal the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996

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Say not the struggle naught availeth

by John Quiggin on June 28, 2018

With all the grim news from the US Supreme Court today, it’s easy to feel despairing. And there are certainly strong arguments to support a pessimistic view.

On the other hand, we’ve been here before many times before. Arthur Hugh Clough’s poem “Say not the struggle naught availeth” was written in 1849 the aftermath of the collapse of Chartism, a movement that demanded universal male suffrage, secret ballots and other democratic reforms. Clough himself spent 1848 in Italy during the “Year of Revolutions”, most of which were defeated within a few years. Yet, in the end, the Chartist demands were met*, and then surpassed through the struggle for women’s suffrage. The struggle for democracy in Europe as a whole has ebbed and flowed (it’s ebbing at the moment), but has so far been successful.

Coming to the US situation, even though the right has all the levers of power, they are still losing ground on lots of issues, both in terms of public support and in terms of actual outcomes

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Ocasio-Cortez beats Joe Crowley

by Henry on June 27, 2018

Talk away

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Breakdown values

by Henry on June 26, 2018

Today’s Supreme Court decision upholding the travel ban has renewed discussion of Mitch McConnell’s decision to prevent any Obama nominee to the Court from receiving consideration, and whether Democrats should run on packing the Court to redress this. If they did, they’d surely be greeted with deploring howls from centrist opinion makers in a way that Mitch McConnell was not. Michelle Goldberg points to a similar imbalance in the “civility” debate in a really great NYT piece today.

Naturally, all this has led to lots of pained disapproval from self-appointed guardians of civility. A Washington Post editorial urged the protesters to think about the precedent they are setting. “How hard is it to imagine, for example, people who strongly believe that abortion is murder deciding that judges or other officials who protect abortion rights should not be able to live peaceably with their families?” it asked.

Of course, this is not hard to imagine at all, since abortion opponents have assassinated abortion providers in their homes and churches, firebombed their clinics and protested at their children’s schools. The Roman Catholic Church has shamed politicians who support abortion rights by denying them communion. The failure to acknowledge this history is a sign of the reflexive false balance that makes it hard for the mainstream media to grapple with the asymmetric extremism of the Republican Party.

One of the big disputes among liberals and the left today is over norms. Some people who hate Trump, hate him because he is trampling over the norms that have previously restrained presidents and politics, and want a return to the status quo ante. Others hate Trump because they see him as the manifestation of a problem that has been there for a very long time – that the norms governing US politics have been systematically imbalanced in ways that favor the right, and that we’d be better off without them. This dispute has plenty of political dimensions – one of them is strategic. You can think of norms, like any informal rule or institution, from a game theoretic perspective, and see them as an equilibrium that represents the relative bargaining power of the two main parties in American politics. In this kind of analysis, as per Jack Knight and others, relative bargaining power depends on the breakdown values – the payoffs that people receive in the event that no agreement is reached. The less that I care over whether an agreement is reached or a norm is maintained, the more bargaining power I will have to shape that agreement or norm, so that it favors my interests rather than the other party’s.

Much of the implicit argument of ‘normcore’ people on the liberal side of politics has been that liberals and the left need these norms more than the right, because without them, we’d be even worse off than we are. In other words, liberals and the left are in a strategically weak position. They want to reach an agreement far more than conservatives do. Accordingly, conservatives are going to be able to bargain harder, because they are more indifferent to breakdown than liberals or left-leaning people are. From the normcore perspective, even if it is going to be a pretty cruddy deal, it is better than no deal at all.

But there’s another way to think about it. The more unbearable that status quo politics are, the less value there is to liberals and the left in reaching an accommodation. Under this logic, things are pretty shit already. They might be even more shit if we refuse to play ball, but who knows? Things couldn’t be much worse than they are – so why not try something different? The more that norms become a threadbare justification for a situation that is effectively that preferred by the side that is prepared to play hardball politics, the more likely that the other side is going to want to start playing hardball politics too. Their breakdown values are going to be higher when everyday politics is visibly breaking down.

I’ve seen (although I can’t find it right now) polling data suggesting that liberals, who have historically been much more interested in reaching agreement with the other side than conservatives, have now converged upon conservative preferences. The various self-organizing groupings around the country don’t seem to me, from what time I’ve spent with them, to be particularly ideological (for better or for worse). What they do seem to be is completely uninterested in compromise with the Republican party in its current configuration. Leaders like Pelosi and Schumer seem to be more attuned to the people writing hand-wringing editorials about civility than to the people whom they’re supposed to be representing. That’s probably not going to work out too great for them.

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Florence at the People's March

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The Example of Charles Krauthammer

by Henry on June 22, 2018

There’s a case to be made, though a limited one, for de mortuis nil nisi bonum. There isn’t any such case for actively misrepresenting the public record of a writer, as Peter Wehner does for Charles Krauthammer in today’s New York Times. Wehner says:

In an age when political commentary is getting shallower and more vituperative, we will especially miss Charles’s style of writing — calm, carefully constructed arguments based on propositions and evidence, tinged with a cutting wit and wry humor but never malice.

None of this is true. Krauthammer’s writing was a wasp’s nest of chewed over paper, spittle and venomous indignation. It employed spleen as a poor substitute for critical intelligence, characteristically and systematically misrepresented the evidence to the point where it was impossible not to think that he was deliberately lying, and was thoroughly riddled with malice. His vicious insinuation that Francis Fukuyama was an anti-Semite is one example of the last. His mendacious vendetta against Hans Blix, who had the impertinence to be right about WMD in Iraq (Krauthammer later preferred to brush his own WMD claims under the carpet), is another. There were many more. The best that can be said is that Krauthammer was a clear writer, not in the sense that he was usually a clear thinker, but that it was clear who his enemies were; that he was intelligent enough to have known better, and that very, very occasionally, he did. While his personal qualities may have made up for his faults as a writer to those who loved and admired him, as a public figure and as a public intellectual, he was and will remain an example to be avoided rather than emulated.

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