Danielle Allen – a personal endorsement

by Henry on April 19, 2021

Danielle Allen phot

I imagine that many Crooked Timber readers are familiar with Danielle Allen – her book, Our Declaration, was the subject of a Crooked Timber seminar a few years ago. However, some people may not know that she is in the early stages of running for governor of Massachusetts. She is an extraordinary person, and would do extraordinary things if she were elected. I’m writing this both to endorse her (in a purely personal capacity – this is not a general CT endorsement, although I know that some other posters also know her and think she’s wonderful) and to suggest that if you agree and are in a position to, you should donate to her campaign.

The reason that I support her isn’t that she’s one of the finest academic political theorists of our age (she is; but that is beside the point). It’s that she is uniquely capable of bridging between a deeper understanding and the ordinary business of politics. I can’t think of anyone who even comes near to her ability to weave the two together to good purpose. She’s also someone who identifies problems and gets things done. And she has the kind of charisma that stems from deep moral seriousness combined with kindness and a real delight in other people.

The question is getting her to the place where voters can see who she is. This is a tough race – for starters, Democratic politics in Massachusetts is dominated by a well-oiled party machine. But it is far from impossible for her. A lot depends, as everywhere else in American politics, on money. Endorsements and political support depend on whether she can demonstrate that she has enough financial support from enough people. It helps that Massachusetts has donation limits that are lower than in many other states, making it harder for big donors to swamp the process. It also helps that her fundraising got off to a strong start, but a strong start isn’t enough on its own.

That’s why I’m asking that you donate, if you are a US citizen or a permanent resident, and are in a position to support her. If you want to find out about her campaign, you can get more information here. And if you want to find out more about how she helped shape the response to coronavirus, more details are here. There aren’t many people who have what it takes to potentially transform politics, if they get the chance. I believe she’s one of them.

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Sunday photoblogging: car reflections

by Chris Bertram on April 18, 2021

Another in a series

Car reflections

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I’m trying to get the MS of Economic Consequences of the Pandemic finished by May, while chasing a moving target. Over the fold, I return to a favorite topic of mine, the role of generational change. I’ve spent a lot of time pointing out the silliness of most talk about generations, but in the process I’ve learned quite a bit about the nuggets of insight that can be mined by thinking in these terms.

Comments much appreciated. Happy for anyone to raise nitpicking points about typos. There are always plenty in my work, and even more when I’m in a rush. Of course, substantive criticism is always welcome and praise even more so.

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Testing the Tebbit Test

by Harry on April 16, 2021

You can still listen to Testing the Tebbit Test on BBC Radio 4 Extra in which Rajan Datar documents how many English people with ancestors who migrated from Asia, and maybe even from the Caribbean find the test deeply hurtful and offensive. This response is entirely apt — Tebbit must have known that it was hurtful and offensive, indeed that seems to have been the point.

I used to be flippant about the Tebbit test. It goes against the Englishness I was raised into. When I started watching cricket seriously, in 1974, India and Pakistan were the underdogs. I supported them against England, and, however naïve it sounds now, I assumed that everyone else in England did too. Supporting the underdog is what English people do (unless, possibly, the underdog is Australia, a contingency that hasn’t really arisen during my cricket-loving life). Quite independently I was taught that authentic celebration and enjoyment of the other side’s performance is intrinsic to both Englishness and the spirit of cricket. So, even in the cases, increasingly common as I grew older, in which England was the underdog and it was, therefore, consistent with my national identity to support England, that support had to be quite unenthusiastic.

In 1976 England’s captain Tony Grieg threw another consideration into the mix. I don’t believe Grieg was racist, or even bad (and, in retrospect, the Packer revolution was great for the sport), but when he said of the West Indies, in an accent which, at that point, I’d only ever heard from supporters of apartheid, that “we’re going to make them grovel”, he made it impossible to want England to win. Throughout the subsequent decade or so in which that extraordinary West Indies team dominated world cricket, I could never support England, even as underdogs, against them and, again, I didn’t see how any self-respecting English person could. (My dad took me to the day of the Oval test in which Richards made that magnificent double century, and cheered every boundary with delight). Yes, I longed for England to play well; but every WI victory was a small poke in the eye for the racists. Again, naïve it may have been, but racism, to me, seemed not only wicked, but also a betrayal of the kind of Englishness I’d been raised to.

The Tebbit test, then, seemed to condemn English people of Pakistani and Indian origin for behaving in exactly the way that any other self-respecting English person, wherever their ancestors came, from would (even if too few did). It was incoherent.

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So, I promised reflections on Nietzsche’s Zarathustra and Seuss, to complement my ongoing brilliant double-parody, with special reference to Seuss’ late ‘cancellation’ – the withdrawal of six books from publication. I did muse a bit on Twitter. The best metaphor for it is: Seuss is the Evergiven of kid’s lit. All right, I’ll resay it a bit.

Seuss: he’s so big, if he runs aground on something – like some racist drawings in If I Ran the Zoo – he’s tough to ‘refloat’. Seuss Inc. had a branding problem, therefore, with these old books. They are really old. It’s a testament to Seuss’ evergreen style that they still look graphically fresh enough that one is shocked that he let in the racist stuff.

So, as others have pointed out, it’s not exactly surprising that Seuss Inc. decided to spruce up the brand by clearing out old, off-brand stuff that isn’t spinning the dollars anyway.

Here is one point that has been missed in a lot of the discussions, back and forth. Namely, five out of the six books that have been ‘cancelled’ (except for The Cat’s Quizzer) follow the familiar Seuss ‘story within a story’ formula. It’s all happening in some lunatic kid’s head, after page 1 and before the last page. But this kid is adorably innocent, eager to grow and ‘go get ’em!’ so his dreams are harmless and no doubt he’ll grow up fine and strong, a pillar of his community! But when the kid is this sort of paradigm little white boy from the American suburbs, in the 50’s, the world from his point of view is obtrusively normed as the sort of place where HE is the center, rightfully. It’s all a show for him. It produces a sour Cecil Rhodes in shortpants mood when he’s off stripping the rest of the world of beasts and resources, to build whatever the hell he’s dreaming.

Obviously Seuss is, himself, poking fun at the kid, who has such stereotypical visions of ‘funny foreigners’ at his beck and call. But the fact that he’s poking fun doesn’t fix it.

A kid is small! A kid should be able to dream of conquest without being a threat to anyone.

But Seuss isn’t small. Seuss is huge.

So these white boy idle dreams of conquest run heavily aground in the canal of ‘National Reading Day’, also known as ‘Dr. Seuss Day’ (because it’s his birthday, March 2.) You can’t ask every kid in America, in 2021, to indulge a white reverie of conquering Africa or Asia or the Middle East, and having a bunch of natives as your servants. (In a sense, it’s just like Mr. Sneelock in If I Ran The Circus. In his dream, Morris McGurk imagines making Sneelock do all sorts of crazy stuff – ‘I’m sure he won’t mind.’ That’s funny. But it’s not funny if it gets crossed with ugly racial stereotypes. That’s just history, folks. The past isn’t the past.)

I think five of the six ‘cancelled’ Seuss books are harmless for kids of all sorts. Except for Zoo, which is way over the line, and it’s amazing it took this long to pull it. But once you are viewing Seuss that way, through an ‘is this iffy?’ lens, it’s not too surprising the other five got swept up, too, in the corporate image clean-up. It’s a shame. A lot of people have been like ‘who’s read these old minor Seuss titles?’ Well, I say Seuss was at the height of his graphical and inventive powers in the 50’s. These are his best books, in a lot of ways. McElligot’s Pool is the most beautifully done – the watercolors. On Beyond Zebra is super clever, and the Circus book is lonely without it’s racist friend, the Zoo book. What are you gonna do? (Reforming copyright law to let these old titles go would be good, but that ain’t gonna happen.)

Anyhoo, I’m going to talk about something else today. (But I really gotta write my magnum opus ‘Seuss cancelled?’ thumbsucker someday. Ideally, after everyone is so bored by the topic that only a few read it.) [click to continue…]

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Twigs and branches

by John Quiggin on April 11, 2021

(Overdue again!) Another open thread, where you can comment on any topic. Moderation and standard rules still apply. Lengthy side discussions on other posts will be diverted here. Enjoy!

Note: Unfortunately there appears to be no way to turn moderation off selectively, so the discussion here will be a bit slow. Still looking into options.

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Sunday photoblogging: sparrow

by Chris Bertram on April 11, 2021

Sparrow

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Sunday photoblogging: flag

by Chris Bertram on April 4, 2021

Flag

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I spend yesterday reading Emily Kenway’s excellent The Truth About Modern Slavery (Pluto Press, 2021). Kenway, a former advisor to the UK’s anti-slavery commissioner has her sights set on one of the most pernicious moral panics of recent years, espoused by right-wing politicians and “radical feminists” alike and used to legitimize a range of policy interventions, but particularly the hardening of borders, increased surveillance and, in relation to the sex industry, the “Nordic model”. Kenway’s argument is that the “modern slavery” industry, leveraging a parallel with actual slavery that is unjustified, promotes a focus on practices of coercion and exploitation that are represented as exceptional and abusive and as contaminating a system of labour and employment that is otherwise well-functioning. It leads to a discourse that emphasises the rescuing of victims from the evil gangs that exploit them and obscures the fact that the everyday operations of capitalism and the nation state generate the the conditions under which people make choices, often freely and rationally, to accept pretty horrible conditions, because those conditions are, for them, the best ones on offer. The book is very much focused on the UK, but readers elsewhere will certainly find parallels in their own countries.

Kenway is very good on the way in which the very same politician who have made “modern slavery” into a crusade have also been the ones who have increased the precarity that marginalized workers and irregular migrants experience. At the same time as May was issuing declarations on the subject, she was pioneering, as UK Home Secretary, the Hostile Environment that made it far more difficulty for migrants to get employment in the regular economy. Kenway highlights the ambigious status that workers at the sharp end of this discourse have: victims, if they are found dead in a trailer or “rescued” from a brothel; perpetrators and immigration offenders if they emerge from a trailer alive. The book is very up to date, but since its publication Priti Patel, the UK’s new Home Secretary, introducing a yet more restrictive immigration regime has complained that “illegals” are “abusing” the modern slavery protections in order to remain in the UK. So it goes.
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As I’ve mentioned previously, when I started work on Economic Consequences of the Pandemic, I assumed I’d be writing a polemic against austerity, as I did in Zombie Economics. Based on the last crisis, it seemed likely that any stimulus measures would be wound back rapidly, leading to a sluggish and limited recovery. That’s pretty much what is happening in Australia, where I live, but not in the US, where the book will be published. On the contrary, Biden’s policies are pretty much what I would have advocated (certainly if you take into account the razor-thin majorities he is working with). And, with luck, the main elements will be in place by mid-year, long before my book can appear.

So I’m refocusing on the issue of debt and how it can be managed. This was the central issue after the Treaty of Versailles, and also in the return to the gold standard, which prompted The Economic Consequences of Mr Churchill. io o

My central conclusion is a simple one. Rather than aiming for a fixed ratio of public debt to GDP, governments should aim to control the long-term rate of interest on inflation-protected bonds, and set it at a rate of around 1 per cent, about equal to the long-term rate of productivity growth. Since rates are well below that now, there is plenty of room for more public investment.

More over the fold

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Last word (for now) on the Golden Age

by John Quiggin on April 1, 2021

Thanks to everyone who has made useful comments on my recent posts. I need to move on to present concerns, so I’m finishing my writing on the post-War Golden Age (or whatever you would like to call this period). Here are some thoughts I still need to organize

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Sunday photoblogging: Paris café

by Chris Bertram on March 28, 2021

What wouldn’t I give to be in Paris right now!
Paris café at night

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There really was a Golden Age*

by John Quiggin on March 27, 2021

The claim that the mid-20th century represented an economic Golden Age of near-full employment and economic equality, compared to both earlier and later periods, commonly meets two kinds of critical responses. Over the fold, I respond.
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Twigs and branches

by John Quiggin on March 25, 2021

(Long overdue!) Another open thread, where you can comment on any topic. Moderation and standard rules still apply. Lengthy side discussions on other posts will be diverted here. Enjoy!

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The Golden Age

by John Quiggin on March 25, 2021

In most societies, there is a myth of a ‘golden age’, a time when men and women lived simply and happily, free from the cares and troubles that afflcit them today. This myth usually includes an account of how, through foolishness or malice, the golden age was lost. In Western versions, the blame has been placed upon women – Pandora opening the box and Eve taking the apple.

In the economic history of the developed world, there is one historical episode which might reasonably be regarded as a golden age. Between 1945 and 1973, developed countries in Western Europe, North America and Oceania experienced strong economic growth, combined with minimal levels of employment and a sharp decline in inequality. In policy terms. the dominant features of this period were the use of Keynesian macroeconomics to stabilize the economy and the development of a fairly comprehensive welfare state, protecting citizens from falling into poverty due to old age, incapacity or unemployment.

Those are the opening paragraphs for Chapter 2 of The Economic Consequences of the Pandemic. Comments and criticism much appreciated.

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