a few good libertarians?

by Brian on July 8, 2003

It seems like it is Nozick-bashing day Down Under. First Ken Parish links to his favourite online criticisms of Nozick. Then John Quiggin follows up with a different criticism. Quiggin’s argument is that given some plausible assumptions about history, we can justfy (heavy) taxation even by Nozick’s lights. Premise one is that Nozick agrees that if one person, say the king, or one group, say the parliament, owned all the land, then they could justly charge rents on all who inhabited that land. Whether we call these taxes or not doesn’t change the fact that they are justified. Justification does not turn on whether something is called a rent or a tax. Premise two is that at some stage the land was owned by some such person or group. Premise three is that current states can be construed as owning the land they govern because they traded for it with the previous owners. Conclusion, all taxes are justifiable rents.

[click to continue…]

Household Hub

by Kieran Healy on July 8, 2003

I’m in the process of moving house. While packing up the kitchen last night, it occurred to me that the moral center of many houses (in the Durkheimian sense) is not the living room fireplace or even the TV. It’s the fridge. The Romans had their lares and penates, the ancestral spirits and household gods who kept an eye on everyone. We have the fridge and its family photos, magnets, possibly poetry, timetables, assorted cards, drawings and the like. Together the accumulated stuff represents the social world of the household’s inhabitants.

Surely someone has written a bit of amateur (or professional?) cultural anthropology about this before. For instance, given that there’s a fridge in the house, will it always be co-opted as the moral focus of daily life? Does this vary by class? Ethnicity? Has the shift away from homecooked family meals increased the practical — and by implication cultural — importance of the fridge in everyday life?

I see a short New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell or Adam Gopnik. A few well-chosen illustrations. An amusing fridge story. Historical speculation. (What was the functional substitute for the fridge in Victorian households?) The whole held together by an aphorism just plausible enough to be believed for as long as it takes to read the article. If it works out, they could spin the thing out into one of those “A Cultural History of x” books (watches, pencils, mauve, cod, etc), making sure to point out that x changed the world. As fridges undoubtedly did.

Compare and contrast

by Henry Farrell on July 8, 2003

Via “Harry Hatchet”:http://hurryupharry.bloghouse.net/archives/2003/07/07/talking_bloggocks_2.php, this “piece”:http://www.samizdata.net/blog/archives/003862.html#003862 by Libertarian Samizdata‘s Andy Duncan on the new European Union (EU) requirement that all businesses with more than 50 employees have work councils. Duncan (and Perry de Havilland in comments) see this as a step on the path to compulsory workers’ Soviets, and the subjugation of employers to their paid employees. Compare this however, with the Socialist Worker Party’s rather different “take”:http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/1853/sw185312.htm on the EU. The SWP claims that the EU is all about creating a “bosses’ Europe,” which allows “market forces to let rip.”

Now clearly, both can’t be correct. Either the EU is a worker’s paradise in the making or it’s a playground for global capital. So who’s right? In one sense, of course, neither; they’re both exaggerating for effect. But the Socialist Worker crowd are probably closer to the truth than the British libertarians. Like it, or like it not, the European Union’s driving force is market creation.

Wolfgang Streeck provides a good account of the reasons why, in this “paper”:http://www.mpi-fg-koeln.mpg.de/pu/mpifg_dp/dp98-2.pdf on industrial relations in the EU (readers be warned: Streeck has a distracting fondness for italics). As he says, major changes within the European Union require the consensus of all fifteen member states, especially when they touch upon sensitive issues such as workers’ rights and the organization of companies. It’s rather difficult for all fifteen to reach agreement on any but the most anodyne proposals in these areas (the workers’ councils in the Directive are rather limp by comparison with their German equivalents). In contrast, member states do usually agree that market integration is a good thing; they’re more likely to reach consensus quickly on measures that promote liberalization. Thus, proposals for works councils and the like get trapped in the legislative pipeline for decades, and finally emerge (if they do emerge) as pale and stunted things, blinking in the sunlight. Proposals to liberalize markets, in contrast, are usually (though not always) easier for member states to reach agreement on; they come out of the process as altogether beefier creatures. The bosses don’t have much to be worried about.

Cave. Hic Dragones.

by Henry Farrell on July 8, 2003

A.S. Byatt is “splendidly caustic”:http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/07/opinion/07BYAT.html?th=&pagewanted=print&position= in the NYT about the success of _Harry Potter_. It’s rather an interesting piece. Byatt rips into the Potter phenomenon, which she sees as part of a dumbing-down of fiction.

bq. It is written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons, and the exaggerated (more exciting, not threatening) mirror-worlds of soaps, reality TV and celebrity gossip.

But she does so without dismissing either good popular culture or children’s literature. The problem with _Harry Potter_, as she sees it, is that it’s too comfortable. It’s unoriginal, “a secondary secondary world, made up of intelligently patchworked derivative motifs from all sorts of children’s literature.” And it has no mystery about it – the Potter books are remarkably prosaic for all their emphasis on magic. In Byatt’s view, the books don’t have any counterbalancing concern with the serious things of life. Byatt contrasts Rowling with “children’s authors”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/000163.html like Ursula Le Guin, Susan Cooper and Alan Garner, who convey a real sense of mystery and danger in their books. Magic should bite.

Now Byatt is going a bit far – comfort books aren’t necessarily bad, even if they don’t have a scintilla of seriousness. First witnesses for the defence are the wonderfully scruffy _Molesworth_ public-school comedies (for a Molesworth-Hogwarts collision, read the wicked parody “here”:http://www.alice.dryden.co.uk/ho_for_hoggwarts.htm). And silly adult books can be good too; Wodehouse’s _Jeeves and Wooster_ stories are utterly frivolous, but they’re undeniably works of genius.

Still, Byatt puts her finger on something. _Harry Potter_ has been so successful because it feeds into two sets of fantasies. It gratifies children, who dream of being popular, good at sports, and possessed of spiffy magic powers. It gratifies adults, who fantasize about the uncomplicated joys of childhood. It has very little to say about the awkward in-between stages in which children become teenagers and then adults. Talking about messy and complex stuff like this would break the spell. This is why _Harry Potter_ doesn’t have the sense of mystery that Byatt is looking for. Magic is dangerous and exciting for the young adults in Garner and Cooper’s books precisely because it’s tied up with their burgeoning sexuality. Here be dragons. If Byatt’s right, the Potter series is likely to become increasingly awkward and dissatisfying as the protagonist moves further into his teenage years. Rowling won’t be able to pull off the balancing act for very much longer without looking silly.

Update: interested parties, pro and con, should read Ruth Feingold’s bit in the comments section to this post, as well as John Holbo’s “response”:http://homepage.mac.com/jholbo/homepage/pages/blog/blog22.html#9


by Chris Bertram on July 8, 2003

A common device in the broad-canvassed social-realist novel is to have events throw together people who don’t seem to belong in the same universe, in such a way as to reveal the deeper social reality. Bonfire of the Vanities is a good modern example (why was the film so bad?). Such a real-life even occurred yesterday when an express train hit a minibus in central England. On the train were the Bishop of Hereford and a Tory MP, in the minibus were men variously described as arabs and as Iraqi Kurds. Several of those in the bus were killed and the TV news thought the incident sufficiently serious to send crews to the scene. They interviewed some young women who had east European accents and probably came from Poland or the Baltics.

These people had all been drawn to Worcestershire by the promise of work. The agribusiness that hired them obtained their labour from gangmasters based in cities like Birmingham. Perhaps some of the shoppers who bought their broccoli or cabbages did so because they had a preference for “English produce” over the sugar-snap peas flown from Zambia. Who knows? Anyway, those fields are not tilled by cap-tipping yokels with pieces of straw between their teeth living in tied cottages.

The Times report of the incident blames the supermarkets for forcing low prices on producers. Certainly the domination of the British food market by a very few small chains – Sainsbury, Tesco, Walmart – puts the squeeze on farmers, but the firms who employed these Kurds and Poles would surely be trying to minimize costs anyway. These new migrants are, in any case, just the functional descendants of the Irish who built the railways and roads, the West Indians who drove the buses and the Pakistanis who worked in the textile trade.

I’m surely not writing this to say that it is bad that Latvians and Iraqis are here (though the ways they get treated may often be very bad indeed.) I want, rather, just to notice, that, though yesterday’s incident exposed something of the real workings of Britain and the world, that won’t prevent most of us (me included, unless I think about it) slipping back into a false and illusory view of the English countryside. Afghans, Poles and Estonians who keep us fed are usually invisible – and they will be again.

For the benefit of Mr Kite…

by Chris Bertram on July 8, 2003

The bringing of a new blog before the public is a practice now so common as scarce to need an apology. Nevertheless, such lists, assemblages, diaries, complaints, lamentations, polemics and records of triumph and disaster are now so common and so diverse that new entrants into the field must perforce struggle to be noticed. Notwithstanding such difficulties, we believe that our new enterprise – combining as it does the skills, talents and intelligences of personages of experience and distinction – will assuredly meet with the approval of readers of judgment and taste. Crooked Timber is a cabal of philosophers, politicians manque, would-be journalists, sociologues, financial gurus, dilletantes and flaneurs who have assembled to bring you the benefit of their practical and theoretical wisdom on matters historical, literary, political, philosophical, economic, sociological, cultural, sporting, artistic, cinematic, musical, operatic, comedic, tragic, poetic, televisual &c &c, all from perspectives somewhere between Guy Debord, Henry George and Dr Stephen Maturin. We hope you’ll enjoy the show.