From the monthly archives:

October 2011

Occupied interview

by John Q on October 31, 2011

A week or so ago I did an interview by Skype videolink with Taryn Hart of Occupied Media, talking about the issues raised by Occupy Wall Street. It’s now available online. I never watch myself on video, but I did listen to the whole thing and, allowing for a fair number of ums, ahs, and circumlocutions, I think the questions gave me the chance to state my ideas, and in some cases to work out on the spot what I thought about various issues.

British government pulls down the shutters

by Chris Bertram on October 31, 2011

Today brings a well-argued critique of the British government’s latest moves on immigration policy by the Matt Cavanagh of the Institute for Public Policy Research (see also video; New Statesman column) . The UK now proposes (subject to a consultation) to make almost all immigration into the UK by non-EU workers temporary, with an upper limit of five years. There are a few exceptions for footballers, Russian oligarchs and others able and willing to deposit millions of pounds in a UK bank account, but even highly-skilled professionals will be kicked out when their time is up. Though hardly the most vulnerable group globally, I imagine this directly affects a substantial number of regular Crooked Timber readers: postgraduates and early-career academics from places like the US and Australia who apply in droves when we advertise permanent academic positions. In the Cameron-Clegg future, there will be no more Jerry Cohens, Ronald Dworkins, Amartya Sens or Susan Hurleys.
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New York City Cops

by Henry Farrell on October 29, 2011

Outsourced to “Patrick Nielsen Hayden:”:

bq. I don’t reflexively think ill of all cops, and in my 27 years in New York City I’ve had some interactions with local cops who seemed impressively decent, grounded, and on-the-ball.

bq. But I would really like someone to convince me that “this”: demonstrates anything other than widespread and deeply-felt contempt, by the NYPD, for the law and for the everyday citizens of this city.

bq. It’s not the fact that 16 police officers were indicted in the Bronx for ticket-fixing and other chicanery, it’s the fact that their arraignment was greeted by over 100 off-duty officers swarming the courthouse and physically blocking reporters from covering the event:

The assembled police officers blocked cameras from filming their colleagues, in one instance grabbing lenses and shoving television camera operators backward.

bq. This is far worse than anything any of the Occupy groups have done. Where are the helicopters, the tear gas, the tasers, the rubber bullets being deployed to pacify this threat to public safety? Oh yeah. They’re in the hands of “these guys”:

bq. It’s almost like they’re “incapable of self-governance and unable to maintain the place in a safe condition”:

Keeping the state out of your bedroom

by John Q on October 28, 2011

A standard theme in (propertarian) libertarian thinking is that personal freedom in matters such as choice of sexual partners goes naturally with economic freedom, defined as the lack of state interference with property rights. To summarise this in a slogan, “If you want to keep the state out of your bedroom, you should support keeping it out of your (and others) business as well”.  But this is not only a false equivalence, it’s self-contradictory, as can be seen by example.

Suppose A rents a house from B, who requires, as a condition that no-one in class C (wrong race, religion, or gender) should share the bedroom with A. Suppose that A signs the lease, but decides that this contractual condition is an unreasonable violation of personal freedom, and decides to ignore it. B discovers this, and seeks the assistance (or at least the acquiesence) of the state in evicting A. On a propertarian/contractual view, B is in the right, and is entitle to call in the state into the bedroom in question.

And, this is the fundamental problem. Is it A’s bedroom or B’s? If we understand the phrase in its normal sense, no-one including a landlord, has the right to tell you what to do in your own bedroom. But, from a propertarian viewpoint, C’s ownership rights over the bedroom, derived from and ultimately enforced by, the state, trump all other considerations.

Of course, this example stands in for many others like this one

If you really want personal freedom, you can achieve it only by constraining property rights.

Poetry and People

by Ingrid Robeyns on October 26, 2011

Over the last two years, I’ve given a couple of interviews to journalists, mainly about my research on issues of justice, or, sometimes, about my reasons to swap economics for political philosophy, and my views on those fields. But now those same journalists are calling or e-mailing me back with questions where I really don’t have any expertise at all. They could ask any of us, really. Here’s one, that I thought is interesting to share.

A religiously-inspired progressively-leaning magazine is starting a new series, namely asking people which book “provides support, or is a book to which one often returns”. And the answer cannot be the Bible. I actually don’t think I can answer this question. Most fiction, with very few exceptions, I’ve only read once. Non-fiction I read is either informative (like King Leopold’s Ghost, or Joris Luyendijk’s book on the Middle East), or else it is scholarly, but then I don’t think I see it as providing (moral) support or as an inspirational book. Of course, I’ve opened A Theory of Justice or Inequality Reexamined or Justice, Gender and the Family many times, but that’s mostly because I want to return to the arguments to examine them. Moreover, most of the (non-professional) reading I do is on blogs and the internet.

So what, if anything, could be similar to an atheist as the Bible is to a Christian? I really don’t know. But if I’m forced to give an answer, I would say: I prefer talking to people over reading books if I need (moral) guidance or support, and if I need inspiration or some distance and non-analytical reflection, I turn to poetry. I still have, ripped from a student’s magazine when I was studying in Göttingen in 1994/5, a page with a Poem written by Nazim Hikmet, translated in German – a poem to which I have returned many, many times:

einzeln und frei
wie ein Baum
und brüderlich
wie ein Wald
ist unsere Sehnsucht.

So give me poetry and people if I need inspiration or support. And you?

Expansionary austerity: some shoddy scholarship

by John Q on October 24, 2011

I’ve just read ‘Tales of Fiscal Adjustment’ by Alesina and Ardagna, which appears to be the founding text for the idea of expansionary austerity. The level of scholarship, at least as it applies to Australia (which is their first illustration) is exceptionally poor, to the extent that it requires a rescuscitation of the ancient Internet tradition of Fisking. I’m going to quote excerpts from their text (about 50 per cent of the total), and intersperse them with my comments.

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The 6-6-6 plan

by John Q on October 23, 2011

Inspired by Michelle Bachmann, I’ve been thinking about what a 6-6-6 response to Herman Cain might look like. Being multiply disqualified from seeking election to the US Presidency, I decided to put in as much work as Cain and his team appear to have done, but no more. Hopefully, the magic of crowdsourcing will turn this into a comprehensive blueprint. So, here are the basic goals, and over the page, some of those devilish details.

The aim of the plan would be
(a) Reverse pro-rich and anti-worker policy changes of the past three decades to reduce, by 6 percentage points, the share of market income going to the top 1 per cent.
(b) Increase, by 6 percentage points of national income, the personal income tax revenue raised from the top 20 per cent of the income distribution
(c) Reallocate, or use more efficiently, current public expenditure equal to 6 per cent of national income

The aim would be to raise post-tax incomes for those in the bottom 80 per cent of the income distribution by around 20 per cent, while making around 10 per cent of national income available for new or better public expenditure.

For reference, US national income is currently around $13 trillion, so 1 per cent is $130 billion.

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Neoliberalism and OWS

by John Holbo on October 22, 2011

This comment by Yglesias is on target: “the TNR staff editorial on the subject [of OWS] feels distinctly like an op-ed penned eleven years ago about anti-globalization protestors, put on ice, and then re-animated with a hasty rewrite that fails to consider the actual political and economic circumstances.”

The staff editorial itself is not so important. What’s important is that, once upon a time, there were debates about trade ‘liberalization’ – globalization – that used to divide neoliberals and liberals and progressives. Basically, the neoliberals were gung-ho for trade on the grounds that the alternative was protectionism that amounted to shooting your own foot, and didn’t do any good for the poor in the Third World. And the progressives saw jobs being outsourced, labor unions weakening. Liberals were those caught in the squishy middle, per usual. We’ve had some debates on Crooked Timber of late about what ‘neoliberalism’ means. I’ve not participated because, honestly, term’s more trouble than it’s worth, worrying what it means. (I have other terms that are more trouble than they’re worth to worry about that I worry about. As a philosopher, I need to limit the number of such that infest my mental life.) The thing is: in the current situation, there is not – and should not be – anything analogous to the neoliberal side of the trade debate. No one sane thinks that this whole 99/1 business might be like NAFTA, i.e. something we have to go for, in an end-justifies-the-means spirit. [click to continue…]

Wealth and Recession

by Brian on October 21, 2011

Nate Silver had “a tweet”:!/fivethirtyeight/status/127352379866742784 this morning that’s relevant to a debate that went on here a month or so ago.

bq. The median American’s non-household wealth declined by 14% between 2001 and 2007. So when household wealth evaporated, guess what happened?

I’m not sure of the source of this, so take some of this with a grain of salt. But if it’s true, it is relevant to something Daniel Davies “claimed”: and Brad DeLong “rejected”:, namely (to quote Daniel) “we are in a recession basically because of the disppearance of a huge amount of household sector wealth”.

I basically think Daniel is right on this, and Brad wrong, for reasons I’ll go into below the fold. And I take it Nate is endorsing Daniel’s line, namely that the recession was brought about by a huge collapse in household wealth.

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I’ve spent the day at a workshop on benefit-cost analysis where a lot of discussion is on valuing policies that reduce risks to life of various kinds.  US policy, for better or worse, is focused on  the idea of Value of a Statistical Life. Typically a policy that reduces  risks of death will be approved if the cost per life saved is below $5million, and not otherwise.  (There are similar numbers applied to publicly funded health care services, prescription  drugs and so on, usually per year of life saved).

A striking thing I found out is that anti-terrorism policies of the Department of Homeland Security are subject to  the same benefit-cost requirements as EPA  and Transport. But Homeland Security is only one way  the  US  government spends money with the aim of protecting Americans against attacks from terrorists and other enemies. Defense spending is far bigger and not subject to BCA, even though money spent on defense is money that can’t be spent on reducing terrorism risk through DHS or more reliably on reductions in environmental, health and transport risk

The numbers are quite striking. The ‘peacetime’ defense budget is around $500 billion a  year, and the  various wars of choice have cost around $250 billion a  year for  the last decade (very round  numbers here). Allocated to domestic risk reduction, that  money would save 150 000 American lives a year.

So, since 9/11, US defense spending has been chosen in preference to measures that would have saved 1.5 million American lives. That’s not a hypothetical number – it’s 1.5 million  people who are now dead but  who could have been saved. I think its fair to say that those people were killed by the Defense Department, or, more precisely, by the allocation of scarce life-saving resources to that Department.
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Kevin Drum on “the left and illegal immigration”

by Chris Bertram on October 20, 2011

Kevin Drum writes:

bq. … I think the federal government should do its best to stop illegal immigration …. If you’re in favor of completely open borders, then fine. Make your case. But if you’re not, then no matter how liberal you think our immigration laws should be, you do think we should have immigration laws. And if you think we should have immigration laws, then you think they should be enforced.

Now I’m not part of the “we” in question, but similar issues arise in Europe, and similar considerations apply. But what Kevin says doesn’t seem right, because it depends on an equivocation. Supposing there are justly permissible immigration laws and that open borders are wrong, it might follow that those justly permissible immigration laws should be enforced. But it surely doesn’t follow that the _actual_ immigration laws, far more extensive than those just laws, should be enforced. But that’s what he’s claiming in the linked article. There’s certainly room for discussion about what just laws would look like, and maybe reasonable people, concerned about the rule of law should (out of respect for their fellow citizens) favour the enforcement of laws that deviate from the ideal somewhat. But that doesn’t get you to the conclusion that the existing, manifestly unjust, immigration laws imposed by rich northern states should be enforced. (Example: discriminatory laws dividing people form their same-sex partners – unjust and shouldn’t be enforced.)

Doing Well By Doing Good

by Henry Farrell on October 20, 2011

I’m eagerly awaiting Rob Reich‘s forthcoming book about the political implications of relying on private charity as a means of achieving public goals. In the meantime, this report by the “Center for Public Integrity”: on AT&T’s campaign to build support for a merger with T-Mobile is very much worth reading.

bq. At first sight, it’s hard to understand why the Shreveport-Bossier Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter and clinic in Louisiana, would lobby the Federal Communications Commission. … “People often call on God to help the outcasts and downtrodden that walk among us,” Martin wrote to the FCC. “Sometimes, however, it is our responsibility to take matters into our own hands. Please support this merger.” Not included in Martin’s letter to the FCC was the fact that his organization had received a $50,000 donation from AT&T just five months earlier. Indeed the Shreveport-Bossier Mission is one of at least two-dozen charities that were recipients of AT&T’s largesse and have written in support of the T-Mobile buyout … The marriage of AT&T’s lobbying and charitable efforts is reflected in the company’s organization. James Cicconi , AT&T’s chief lobbyist and a senior executive vice president of the company, is also chairman of the company’s charitable arm: the AT&T Foundation. … Many of the charities, including the Shreveport-Bossier Mission, say that while they take AT&T’s money, it in no way affected their decision to lobby the FCC. “Their money that they gave was in no way connected with what we did,” said Martin, in a phone interview. “We endorsed the merger because we think it’s a good thing for rural people.”

Yep. It’s all for the benefit of the rural people. I imagine that AT&T money supports a number of good causes. Shelters for homeless people are good things to have. Even so, I don’t think that AT&T should be able to take any tax deductions for donations which on the very kindest interpretation seems to shade into their for-profit activities.

Scanlon contra libertarianism

by Chris Bertram on October 19, 2011

T.M. Scanlon has a very nice little piece in the Boston Review, discussing and rejecting the main grounds adduced by libertarians in favour of limited government and lower taxes. I’m not sure that I’d express the distinction between the limited rights a person has over things in a state of nature and property rights in quite the same terms as he does, but that’s probably just linguistic. His discussion of the crop-stealing marauders case is important because it grants the force of a libertarian intuition whilst limiting the mileage that libertarians can get from it for a complex society. Good stuff. Read the whole thing.

Mine’s a Costa Light

by Maria on October 19, 2011

A few weeks ago, the Tesco a playing field away from my house re-opened with a new look and a Costa café. The new look seems to be simply the re-situating of the booze section to the middle of the shop, so you now have to pass by the beer offers before getting at frozen foods or cleaning products. And the eggs have been put somewhere so unlikely – and of course miles from other staples like milk or bread – that the staff laugh or frown when you ask where, they have to answer so often.

Not much else has changed; the vegetable section is either bulging with unlikely and out of season produce or empty like in a zombie movie or communist Russia. The price war turns out to be just lower prices than in August when they were hiked up ahead of time. And there are a couple more self-checkouts barking orders and requiring on average two staff interventions to make each transaction go through.

But the Costa. That’s changed everything.

This is a suburb of Edinburgh about a mile from the nearer villages and with a mix of public and private housing. It’s by no means isolated, but on a wet and blustery day twenty minutes walk feels too far for a pint of milk or the morning paper. I can’t imagine I’d do it more than once a week if I had a buggy to push or arthritis, no matter how lonely or fed up I was. And when you work from home, a burst of fresh air and a face to face conversation with a real, live human is a godsend.

Now, one of my daily highlights is my overpriced, under-caffeinated and much loved light latte sipped at a plastic table under piped music drowned out by the endless cheeping of supermarket scanners. A mix of the same people is there most days.

One is an elderly woman bent over a stick who waits discreetly at her table while the counter staff bring over her tea and biscuits. Another is any one of the buggy-pushing set enjoying a guilt-free sit down before getting on with the shop. My favourite is the older woman I always have to repeat my order to but who always seems uncommonly pleased to be there.

I suppose the point is that however annoying the perpetual encroachment of large corporates and their vertical integrations and tie-in deals, the day to day of mega-commerce can still boil down to people in a community using the place to find, talk to or just quietly appreciate each other.

Calm down, dears

by Maria on October 19, 2011

The Government is worried about women. Not worried in the sense of;

‘Concerned the female unemployment rate is higher and getting worse’;

‘Troubled that axing child benefit nudges middle class women out of work for good’;

‘Alarmed that women know health and education cuts doom their children to shorter, poorer lives’;

‘Horrified that targeted cutbacks to legal aid mean demonstrably more women will be murdered by the men they love’.

Not at all.

Silly women, the government thinks! Just because of our blue-sky thinking to cut parental leave in the never-ending War on Red Tape, why would women think we have it in for them?

But the UK equivalent of the American soccer mom is deserting the coalition government in droves, and she must be won back. How? The coalition can’t miss this once-in-a-generation chance to destroy the welfare state in order to pay for banks and the imaginary economy they’ve destroyed. The cuts must go on.

Then what shall they do to win women back? How about some cheep ‘n cheerful eye-catching measures that show our hearts are in the right place? Let’s;

• Ban forced marriages, because that’s too simple an issue to cock up
• Pretend we can stop porn on the Internet, because women are too stupid to know it doesn’t work like that, and we can still get ours anyway
• Talk very loudly about how hideous it is to sexualize children, especially working class ones who don’t know any better
• Spend bazillions on our buddies’ flagship ‘free schools’ in west London to show we really care about the kids
• Remind everyone constantly that the Prime Minister’s heart is in the right place; he has NHS frequent flyer miles and he feels our pain

And you know what? Cameron is right to be a little perplexed that women are losing faith in him. Because the government’s faux-regretful gouges at the post-war social contract don’t just hurt women. They hurt everyone who’s not been sensible enough to be born or become wealthy. It’s just that women voters seem to be among the first to cop on to it.

But you can’t play the ‘trust me because I’m a reasonable, personable man with a clever wife I adore’ card more than once. Women aren’t stupid, and neither is the electorate.