Sunday photoblogging: magpies

by Chris Bertram on February 25, 2024



Platforms, Polarization and Democracy

by Henry Farrell on February 21, 2024

So Cosma Shalizi and I have an article (messy pre-print) coming out Real Soon in Communications of the ACM on democracy, polarization and social media. And Nate Matias, who I’m friends with, has forceful objections. I’ve promised him a response – which is below – but am doing it as a blogpost, since I think that the disagreement could be turned into something more broadly useful.

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Death, Lonely Death

by Doug Muir on February 19, 2024

Billions of miles away at the edge of the Solar System, Voyager 1 has gone mad and has begun to die.

Let’s start with the “billions of miles”. Voyager 1 was launched in early September 1977. Jimmy Carter was a hopeful new President. Yugoslavia and the USSR were going concerns, as were American Motors, Pan Am, F.W. Woolworth, Fotomat booths, Borders bookshops, and Pier 1. Americans were watching Happy Days, M*A*S*H and Charlie’s Angels on television; their British cousins were watching George and Mildred, The Goodies, and Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor. If you turned on the radio, “Hotel California” by The Eagles was alternating with “Dancing Queen” by Abba (and, if we want to be completely honest, “Car Wash” by Rose Royce). Most cars still ran on leaded gasoline, most phones were still rotary dial, and the Internet was a wonky idea that was still a few weeks from a working prototype.

_The Thorn Birds_ was on top of everyone’s bestseller list. The first Apple II home computer had just gone on sale. The Sex Pistols were in the studio wrapping up _Never Mind The Bollocks_; they would tour on it for just three months and then break up, and within another year Sid Vicious would be dead of a heroin overdose. Barack Obama was a high school junior living with his grandparents in Honolulu, Hawaii: his grades were okay, but he spent most of his time hanging with his pot-smoking friends in the “Choom Gang”.  Boris Johnson was tucked away at the elite Ashdown House boarding school while his parents marriage was slowly collapsing: although he was only thirteen, he had already adopted his signature hair style.  Elvis had just died on the toilet a few weeks ago.  It was the summer of Star Wars.

And Voyager 1 was blasting off for a tour of the Solar System.

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The Crack-Up of the Michigan GOP

by Liz Anderson on February 19, 2024

Some of you may have heard that the Michigan GOP is in the midst of a power struggle between Kristina Karamo, who won the party chair election in Feb. 2023, and former U.S. Representative Pete Hoekstra, who got the RNC to install him in her place her a year later after he won a contested vote.  Karamo, following Trump’s principle that Republican candidates are entitled to deny the legitimacy of any election in which they are not declared the winner, has refused to concede.  She has declared that she will hold a rival GOP caucus-style convention to Hoekstra’s official one, to select fake delegates to attend the national presidential nominating convention.  (This is on top of the delegates that will be elected in Michigan’s presidential primary on Feb. 27.)  The party has discovered that it cannot sow anti-establishment chaos to defeat its external enemies without bringing that chaos home.

There is no question that the delegates selected in Karamo’s convention will be support Trump just as much as the ones selected in Hoekstra’s.  So what is the point of this conflict?

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Sunday photoblogging: long-tailed tits

by Chris Bertram on February 18, 2024

The weather hasn’t been great, but the other day the sun came out for a bit so I could get the long lens out. These characters came out to feed. Long-tailed tits (Aegithalos caudatus):

Long-tailed tit

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Nobody likes the present situation very much

by Kevin Munger on February 16, 2024

There is a great gap between the overthrow of authority and the creation of a substitute. That gap is called liberalism: a period of drift and doubt. We are in it today.

I think that the pace of technological change is intolerable, that it denies humans the dignity of continuity, states the competence to govern, and social scientists a society about which to accumulate knowledge.

But we’ve had technological change before! some object. And things turned out fine!

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A little bit of good news from Australia

by John Q on February 15, 2024

Over the last few years, the Australian and UK Labor/Labour[1] parties, have followed strikingly parallel paths.

  • A better-than expected result with a relatively progressive platform (Oz 2016, UK 2017)
  • A demoralizing defeat in 2019, followed by the election of a new more conservative leader (Albanese, Starmer)

  • Wholesale abandonment of the program

  • Failure of the rightwing government to handle Covid and other problmes

Because we have elections every three years, Australia is now ahead of the UK and we now have a Labor government led by Anthony Albanese. In its election campaign and its first eighteen months in office, Labor ran on a platform of implementing rightwing policies with better processes and minor tweaks to the most repressive aspects. This is, AFAICT, what can be expected from Starmer in the UK.

But over the last month or so, we’ve had a series of significant policy wins, which may set the stage for more.
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Moving to Rwanda

by Doug Muir on February 14, 2024

So when I joined the team last month, I mentioned that I work in development. That means I move around to different countries, to work on various projects. And in two weeks, I will be moving to Rwanda, in Central Africa.

A couple of notes on this, for those who find such things interesting.

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The Implosion of the Retirement Contract

by Eric Schliesser on February 13, 2024

One structural source of weakness in contemporary liberal democracy is that it does not seem to be able to solve some important, even bread and butter, policy challenges.  That it does not do so with the threat that global warning involves is, while highly regrettable, no mystery. It’s very difficult for democracies to take non-existing voters’ needs seriously, especially when there are powerful lobbies who have an interest they don’t. But other sources of democratic disenchantment are more puzzling.

I have in mind, especially, the accessibility of housing in popular, urban environments relative to income of younger workers, especially. I call this the “accessibility problem.” People find themselves living with their parents or with many roommates for financial reasons long after they had expected to do so. This is true in most OECD countries (see here).+

For a long time I used to think this was caused primarily by a toxic combination of rent-control, restrictive zoning laws (and building codes), mortgage deductions, and easy money by central banks (which lead to asset price inflation): all of which reduce supply and increase price of housing as population grows. Perhaps, as our very own John Quiggin suggests, lack of investment in social housing, too. Undoubtedly all of these play a contributory role. But even in places where these causes are absent or less present the accessibility problem is a hot political issue.

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If you’ve studied game theory, you’ve probably come across the mixed-motive coordination game, a simple one-shot game in which two representative actors have to figure out how to coordinate so as to find a mutually beneficial equilibrium – but have different interests over which equilibrium they choose. And if you studied it a couple of decades ago, you very likely have heard it referred to as “the battle of the sexes,” a term that has fallen out of common usage, for obvious reasons. But when I read Tyler Cowen’s short piece on the actual historical struggle between women and men for recognition, I was immediately was reminded of Jack Knight’s argument, based on mixed-motive coordination games, for why power is more important to the emergence of social rules than most economists think. [click to continue…]


Sunday photoblogging: let sleeping dogs lie

by Chris Bertram on February 11, 2024

Let sleeping dogs lie


What’s wrong with free public college?

by Harry on February 5, 2024

My paper with Kailey Mullane on what’s wrong with free public college has been published in Educational Theory, open access so anybody who wants to can read it. Obsessive readers of CT (are there any?) will know that I’ve had a bit of a bee in my bonnet about the issue for quite a while, and the arguments we’ve had here helped me and Kailey refine our views and develop the paper. What we did in the end was look at and analyze a hybrid of the Warren and Sanders proposals from the 2020 primary, evaluating it against two relatively simple normative criteria – equity (which we explain) and whether it would raise the average level of educational outcomes across the population. (Later in the paper we consider other values that might also be relevant).

Free public college might sound great if you ignore the cost and compare it with what we have now. But given the way public higher education is actually funded currently, and given the persistent patterns of enrollment (and even on very optimistic assumptions about how those patterns would change if public college were free), for various structural reasons almost none of the new spending would be on students from the bottom 50% of the income distribution and most of it on students in the top 25% of the income distribution. Some people (here) have defended this by saying that under these plans the funds would all come from taxes on the super rich. Even if you believe that, mightn’t there better feasible alternative ways of spending those funds in education? We compare the proposal with i) spending those funds in k-12 (which, unlike higher education, is a universal program) and ii) spending the funds on expanding the Pell Grant program (a very popular and successful program for supporting lower income students). Either of those will be much more equitable (in any reasonable sense) ways of spending the money, and will probably (there’s a caveat to this that you can see in the paper) in raising the average level of educational outcomes.

I can’t speak for Kailey, but I was (naively) a bit shocked when reading the Warren and Sanders proposals how thin and lacking in detail they were, and how clear it was that they had not consulted anyone who knew anything about higher education funding as it currently works. For example, they seem not to understand within each state public colleges and universities are unequally funded, with much more government funding per student going to institutions attended by more affluent students, and much less to those attended by less affluent students; they also seemed not to understand that low income students usually pay very low rates of tuition at the institutions they attend: for those students the financial barrier to college is not, usually, tuition, but living expenses, which eliminating tuition does nothing about at all. Sanders’s requirement that states participating in the free public college not spend any more money on administrators, if it is serious as opposed to crowd-pleasing, reveals that he doesn’t know what administrators do (or what “administrators” means). As things stand the US government (all sources) spend about 30-40% more per student/year in higher education than in k-12, and both candidates (considering their overall education policy offer) were proposing to increase that differential considerably. When I pointed this out to my dad, who was a veteran observer of ill-considered political decisions, he said “That’s not really what they care about. It’s just that nobody in their campaigns has bothered to do the calculation that you have done”.

Because discussions here at CT have had such an influence on my own thinking, I thought some of you might be interested in reading the whole thing so here’s the paper. Please share it with your friends, and feel free to comment!


Sunday photoblogging: Rust

by Chris Bertram on February 4, 2024



Ethics Lab Yaoundé Fundraiser

by Ingrid Robeyns on February 2, 2024

One source of the Global Academic Gap is that many universities and academic resources in the Global South are underresourced (sometimes massively so). If there is no money to pay for a generator to deal with electricity blackouts, or in case there is no money to hire scholars, then it’s hard to even start doing research. And if we want to strengthen entire fields in a resource-poor country, we will also need resources for people to build the academic networks that we take so much for granted in (most) of the Global North (even when acknowledging that within the Global North there are also significant inequalities in budgets).

About 9 or 10 years ago, my institute hosted a visiting researcher – Thierry Ngosso. Thierry is from Cameroon, but did his PhD in Louvain-la-Neuve and held post-doc positions in Harvard and Sankt Gallen. For years, he tiredlessly prepared the launch of the EthicsLab in Yaoundé, now 5 years ago. Many political philosophers and ethicists from the global North and Africa met there, and discussed ethical and philosophical questions for several days. And of course, over tea-breaks and meals, we also discussed the many challanges that building an EthicsLab in Cameroon entailed.

Thierry and his friends are putting together another conference, to mark the fifth aniversary of the EthicsLab, and to strenghten the activities and networks of the EthicsLab. But they need financial support – for the conference, and for the EthicsLab more generally. It would be very ironic that they would end up with a scenario whereby there would be many more well-funded scholars from the US and Europe than from neighbouring African countries at this conference, only because of the global maldistribution of money. That’s why Thierry and his friends have started a fundraiser for the EthicsLab.

I just donated, and feel it’s a privilege to be able to make a small contribution to this fantastic initiative. Please join me in making a donation, if you are so inclined. Thank you!


Occasional Article: Cats Are Perfect

by Doug Muir on February 1, 2024

RIPLEY: How do we kill it, Ash? There’s gotta be a way of killing it – how, how do we do it?

ASH: You can’t.

PARKER: That’s bullshit!

ASH: You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you? A perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.

LAMBERT: You admire it…

ASH: I admire its purity. A survivor. Unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.

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Okay, this one is short.  In an interview, an evolutionary biologist explains why cats are, in an evolutionary sense, perfect.  There are big cats and little cats, but otherwise they vary surprisingly little in shape, diet and behavior.  They’re all doing one thing and they’re all doing it superbly well.
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