What’s the hurry?

by Micah on September 17, 2003

Bruce Ackerman has an “op-ed piece”:http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/17/opinion/17ACKE.html in the New York Times today arguing that the Ninth Circuit should not delay the vote in California. I have to admit that I was a bit surprised by Ackerman’s willingness to limit the possibilities raised by the equal protection claims upheld in Bush v. Gore. Here’s his argument:

bq. This time around, the candidates in California have already invested heavily in a short campaign. Their competing strategies have been designed to reach a climax on the Oct. 7 election date. If they had known they would have to compete until March, they would have conducted their campaigns very differently. By suddenly changing the finish line, the three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit disrupts the core First Amendment freedom to present a coherent political message to voters . . . Worse yet, the decision disrupts the First Amendment interests of the millions of Californians who have participated in the recall effort. State law promised them a quick election if they completed their petitions by an August deadline.

It also offered them a fair election. It seems reasonable for a court to postpone an election long enough to permit the installation of fair voting systems, rather than going through with error-prone machines and then trying to sort out the mess afterwards.

What about Ackerman’s First Amendment argument? It always helps to have the text around. So the First Amendment says: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The core of the First Amendment may be the protection of political speech. But even if that’s right, it’s a big stretch to say that its core is the freedom to present a coherent political message to voters. That’s either rhetorical flourish or wishful thinking. Ackerman is asserting a First Amendment right to have an election run on time. I’m sure it would be a good thing to have prompt elections, and there may be statutory law requiring it. But, if there’s a constitutional claim involved here, it is the right to have one’s vote counted equally in a fair election. Ackerman thinks that this claim isn’t strong enough to override his First Amendment concerns. I think those concerns are overstated, at best. But even if they aren’t, this is an opportunity to see whether the Supreme Court was serious about the equal protection arguments of Bush v. Gore. It’s worth waiting for a decision about whether the Court meant what it said about guaranteeing fair elections.

Adam Smith Institute Blog

by Maria on September 17, 2003

The UK Adam Smith Institute has started its own blog. It’s quite a good, snappy read, and the first few days cover many of the hoary old chestnuts you might expect; how vouchers are the panacea for under-performing public services, how Naomi Klein attacks branding, but actually is a brand herself (fair enough), and how, erm, left-wingers are too angry and put upon to be funny.

It’s worth keeping a look at to see how this blog develops. Though, as with other more ‘corporate’ blogs, the house style is a bit uniform. There seems to be a word limit on entries which has the effect of making the pieces sound a bit samey, and also rather superficial.

Funnily enough, on my way back from lunch today I was giving out (extremely superficially) that all the rich seem to do is distort markets by defending their privileges and/or monopoly rents. While the ASIs of this world seem to spend their time defending these guys (you know, ‘the rich’, i.e. suitably vague) – e.g. saying embezzlement and fraud should be dealt with by companies, not law enforcement – it seems to me that the really rich have no interest at all in truly competitive markets. Just ask Bill Gates, Halliburton, et al. And then the conversation turned to whether George Bush was a kleptocrat, plutocrat or just a plain old vanilla flavoured oligarch…

Maybe there’s a joke in there, but I was too down-trodden to see it.

Social Democracy reviving in the UK?

by Harry on September 17, 2003

I just got back from an interesting conference in Newcastle (UK) organised by the Institute for Public Policy Research, and presided over by Matthew Taylor as his last big act before going to direct policy at number 10. (Actually I got back a week ago, but pressures of work and technical set-backs have kept me silent till now). Basically it was a ‘looking for a new big idea’ kind of gathering for New Labourish types – IPPR had asked a bunch of academics to present their thoughts and findings about meritocracy, social mobility, and equality of opportunity, and a bunch of politicians, policy makers, and representatives of domestic NGOs to engage with them. I confess that I anticipated a kind of dialogue of the deaf, but it wasn’t like that at all. The academics (including John Goldthorpe, John Roemer, Stephen Machin, Adam Swift, Michael Hout) made brief, pertinent, and not-dumbed-down presentations; and the in-session and out-of session discussions were to the point and thoughtful. Gordon Brown gave a talk on the first afternoon with which I, very much not a New Labour person, was very impressed. He seemed not only to have a coherent, worked out view, and a straightforward comfortableness with the language and concerns of traditional social democracy, but also to have read and understood all of the preparatory readings. (Apparently he called up John Goldthorpe the previous Thursday to ask him about some of the technical points in Goldthorpe’s paper). My brief was to respond to the minister for school standards, David Miliband’s, speech on why the government is focussing its attention on teaching and learning more than on admissions and funding. Again, I was impressed by the thoughtfulness and reasonableness of his presentation, and the care with which he distinguished issues of what should ideally be done and what is feasible given political and constitutional constraints; though, fortunately, disagreed with enough to make it worth debating him. One large disagreement among the attendees was the extent to which a society should try to reward ‘merit’ financially. Again, though, whereas I’d assumed on going in that I’d be in a minority with Swift and Roemer against meritocracy, it was striking how soft the support for meritocracy was in all the discussions, and how well disposed Brown was, for example, to prioritizing the interests of the least advantaged.
Cynics will dismiss my impressions as the consequences of either being over-susceptible to politicians charm, or (more likely) jet lag, and in another couple of weeks I’m sure I shall relapse into my own negativity. But the fact remains (as Americans I’ve described the conference to keep saying) that such a conference, in which senior elected politicians discuss the work of serious left-wing academics on their own terms, in the presence of senior policy-makers, is utterly unimaginable in the US.
All the papers for the conference, by the way, are accessible here at Ippr.