Taking the Political Personally

by Henry Farrell on June 19, 2006

Linda Hirshman wrote what seemed to me to be “quite a dreadful op-ed”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/16/AR2006061601766.html for the _Washington Post_ over the weekend, defending her claim that stay-at-home mothers are betraying the feminist movement, and (I really don’t think I’m exaggerating here) suggesting that her critics were dominated by a congeries of vomit-eulogizing housewives and Christian fundamentalists. And, which I suspect was the main point of the exercise, touting her new book (Hirshman’s professed surprise at the controversy that she’d created didn’t ring true at all to me – I read her original article as a quite deliberate exercise in bomb-throwing). I don’t want to start a discussion over the merits of Hirshman’s arguments; I’m quite sure that this would degenerate into the usual bloodbath . What I’d like to do instead is something that I tried a while back on Israel/Palestine issues without much success – to have a meta-debate about _why_ it is that this is such an emotive topic both for women who have decided to stay at home to raise kids and women who’ve gone to work instead (I note that the element of choice here is mostly only present for middle class and upper middle class women, but that’s another debate). So to be clear – what I’m interested in is why the bombthrowers like Hirshman (and Caitlin Flanagan on the other side of the debate) have become the dominant voices. I’m _not_ interested in back-and-forths about the merits of the two sides of the argument (we’ve had that in response to quite innocuous previous posts “such as this one”:https://crookedtimber.org/2005/09/20/mommy-tracking-the-ivy-leaguers/ and it hasn’t been very helpful) – rather in argument about why this is such a loaded and painful subject matter in the first place, for women who have made either choice. I’ll keep an eye on the comments section and – be warned – will vigorously delete comments which seem to be wandering off-topic in an unhelpful direction, which seem interested in laying the blame on one side of the debate etc etc. People may sincerely hold such views, and may even be right under the gaze of Eternity, but for the purposes of this argument, I’d like to take these claims as being stipulated. One place to start is this “FT article”:http://www.ft.com/cms/s/b700b1be-f7a4-11da-9481-0000779e2340,i_email=y.html (likely subject to rapid linkrot) from the week before last, which concludes:

bq. The real problem, it seems to me, is the notion that we can’t all be right if we are making different choices. My mother taught me never to say anything un-pleasant about the food other people chose to put on their plates. It might not look good to me but that doesn’t matter – it’s not my plate.

Why does it matter so much what is on other people’s plates? Why do we so often take other people’s choices as being value-judgements on our own in this area of social life? Have at it.

Global justice: taxing inherited social resources

by Chris Bertram on June 19, 2006

I want to flag an issue which I seem to have noticed in a variety of liberal egalitarian writings on global justice, namely the cut that philosophers and theorists often make between entitlement to land and natural resources on the one hand, and entitlement to socially created stuff on the other.[1] Liberal egalitarians usually reject any kind of libertarian finders-keepers principle with respect to the first category of goods. But in relation to the second, they often argue for the right of insiders to exclude outsiders from access to those goods that are the collective historical creation of the insiders’ political entity.[2] What follows is just a bit of thinking aloud: there are a lot of uncrossed ts and undotted is. I’d welcome both constructive comments and pointers to relevant papers.

This natural/social cut looks wrong and insufficiently motivated to me. With respect to natural resources and land, I guess the background thought might be that these resources come as manna from heaven, as it were, so that all of the worlds people and peoples have an original equal claim to them. We can then argue about the right way of progressing from that claim to operational property rights, but it is easy to see how arguments for (e.g.) something like a global resources dividend can go: those who actually use the resources need to compensate the others who share their original equal entitlement for that use.[3] The difficulty I see is this: that social resources also come as unequally distributed manna from heaven to each new generation. Those who inherit stable institutions, a culture conducive to economic growth etc., look to be just as arbitrarily lucky with respect to those resources as those (Norwegians for example) who are lucky with respect to the discovery of natural resources on their territory. So why not deal with the two kinds of resources in the same way: that is, initially posit an equal original right of all to ownership, and sanction transfers to those who have been comparatively unlucky in the initial distribution?

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