From the monthly archives:

February 2013

What you Can’t Expect when you’re Expecting

by Kieran Healy on February 27, 2013

**Note:** _This post was written by [L.A. Paul]( and Kieran Healy. The paper it draws on is [available here]( as a PDF._

You should think carefully about whether to have kids. It’s a distinctively modern decision. Until comparatively recently, producing an heir, supplying household labor, insuring against destitution, or being fruitful and multiplying was what having a child was about. Nowadays the decision to bear a child is freighted with a more personal significance—assuming you are physically able to do so, and lucky enough to be well-off and well-situated. Children are an enormous responsibility, we are told, and you should be sure you really want to have one before you go ahead and do it. In particular, you’re supposed to reflect carefully on _what it would be like_. You weigh the options and make a decision.

Crucially, this involves assessments of your future experiences. You imagine your life with and without kids, and think about what it would be like or feel like to have that experience. In the language of philosophers, you must think about the _phenomenology_ of the experience. When it comes to children, people argue endlessly about what you ought to do. Some claim motherhood is a supremely fulfilling vocation. Some wearily raise their hands (after wiping off spit-up milk) and beg to differ. Others see liberation in the decision to avoid parenthood. They complain about the presumptions of a culture that equates child-rearing with happiness or self-realization, or that looks with pity or suspicion on the indecently happy and child-free. Insofar as there is any detente in the Mommy Wars, though, it’s around the idea that you should personally reflect with great care on these issues and decide for yourself whether this … this—what? Grand adventure? Prison sentence?—this _experience_ is for you.

That sounds like a reasonable compromise, until you realize _no-one knows what it’s like_ to have a child, until they have one.

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Hugo nominations

by Henry Farrell on February 27, 2013

“John Scalzi”: reminds me that there are only 10 days left before Hugo nominations close. Three recommendations (one the subject of a recent CT seminar; another the subject of a forthcoming one), and more about other 2012 f/sf books that I liked below the fold. People should obviously feel free to add other recommendations in comments.

Karin Tidbeck, _Jagannath_ (“Powells”:, “Amazon”: A lovely and original collection of stories by a Swedish author, most published for the first time in English. It’s hard to pick an individual story, but “Brita’s Holiday Village” is as good as any and “available online”: Tidbeck writes in the afterword about the profound influence of H.P. Lovecraft. However, the affect of her work is very different. Her stories are not motivated by self-loathing or disgust with the human race, but by a kind of wary affection. The monsters in her stories are our faintly embarrassing relations, and acknowledged as such.

Felix Gilman, _The Rise of Ransom City_ (“Powells”:, “Amazon”: Up for discussion soon at _Crooked Timber_, along with its sort-of-prequel, _The Half-Made World._ Like its predecessor, it’s an oblique take on the American Dream, albeit a different version of it – one which perhaps owes less to the mythologies of the West than to Mark Twain, and perhaps O.Henry’s Jeff Peters stories. It’s funny and self-aware in a way that few f/sf books are (another excellent example is Robert Charles Wilson’s _Julian Comstock_).

Francis Spufford’s _Red Plenty_ (“Powells”:, “Amazon”: All you could want to know here, and, arguably one of the best science fiction novels written in the last several decades. I say ‘arguably’ only because one might “claim”: that it isn’t, and shouldn’t count as part of the genre. The underlying question is whether you think about science fiction as a genre consisting of books about the future, or as a particular method of fictional inquiry. If the former, it plausibly should not be included (although the fact that it is _haunted_ by science fiction, as both Gilman and Holbo suggested in their essays for our seminar, explains some of its power). If the latter, it should be, and should indeed be taken as a model for _how you do_ ambitious sociological science fiction, while retaining an interest in individual human beings.

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Italian voters are revolting

by niamh on February 26, 2013

In yesterday’s elections in Italy, ‘voters defied a failing policy and a clapped-out political establishment‘, resulting in an indecisive outcome. Here is more evidence in the Eurozone of what the late Peter Mair called the conflict between ‘responsible’ and ‘responsive’ politics. The centre-left ‘responsible’ party of Pier Luigi Bersani won most votes, just about. But the über-‘responsible’ Mario Monti, the technocratic prime minister and Bersani’s most likely coalition partner, gained only half the support he had hoped for. Quelle surprise, one may be forgiven for thinking, since the mix of ‘austerity’-driven tax increases with no real structural reform, and with none of the stimulus that would enable reform to work, has proven highly unpopular with voters.

Once again, it seems to me, we see that it really is a mistake to leave the politics out of politics. I have some thoughts about why this is a bad idea in a recent talk (audio and slides here).

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I need a new word, something like ‘richness’

by Ingrid Robeyns on February 25, 2013

I’ve written a paper on the conceptualisation of the phenomenon that is the opposite of poverty. You know, the state in which people who are rich find themselves. Let’s call it ‘richness’. My problem is that ‘richness’ is, to the best of my knowledge, not a word in English. So I need a new word, one that is acceptable to the English language police but that captures what the Germans call Reichtum, the Dutch/Flemish rijkdom, and so on and so forth.
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Explaining Democracy

by John Q on February 24, 2013

I’ve very much enjoyed the conversation about The Priority of Democracy, and learned a lot about various kinds of arguments in favor of democracy. I’d like to look at a couple of related questions: why does (representative) democracy exist, and why has it become the dominant form of government in the modern world? Here’s a two-part explanation, which doesn’t invoke any ideal theory or even much of a pragmatic case that democracy will produce good policies.

(A) Representative government, with elections and a party system is attractive to those competing for political power because it provides a peaceful way of displacing one set of rulers with another, and gives the losers the knowledge they will always have another chance. It’s stable because it provides a set of rules for succession that (nearly) always work

(ii) Representative systems tend naturally to universal suffrage, since both those who gain the suffrage and one faction of the existing electorate will always benefit from extension

An obvious question on (i) is why representative government took so long to emerge. I have some ideas but I’ll leave it to commenters to discuss if you want.

If the explanation I’ve given works to explain the existence and survival of representative democracy, it doesn’t say much about the character of that democracy. It’s obviously consistent with a duopoly made up of two more-or-less similar factions in an oligarchic ruling class, but it doesn’t preclude versions closer to the ideal where representatives actually represent their constituents.

I’m an econ-blogger, not a political theorist, so I won’t be surprised to learn that these thoughts are wholly unoriginal. But they seem to have some bearing on our recent discussion, and not to have been raised there, so I’m opening up to others.

Has the tide turned?

by John Q on February 22, 2013

It’s easy to overestimate the significance of a single electoral cycle (look at the Repubs after 2010), but there really does seem to have been a big shift in US political debate. Of course, that’s from a position where centrists like (first-term) Obama were occupying the positions held by moderate Republicans 25 years ago. It’s reasonable to feel a bit ambivalent about ‘victories’ like repealing the most regressive bits of the wholly regressive Bush tax cuts. A couple of links of interest (a few weeks old, but I’m running behind on most things)

* The Hoover Institution’s Policy Review is ceasing publication, and its final issue includes a piece by longtime editor Tod Lingren who concedes defeat, at least for the moment, to what he calls Left 3.0. This is his name for the self-described “Democratic wing of the Democratic party” which has, in his view, absorbed and tamed the radical left, defeated the Clintonite New Democrats, and dominated the Republicans. Lingren is surprisingly sympathetic, essentially implying that the only thing wrong with Left 3.0 is that too much egalitarianism is bad for economic growth

* Michael Lind gives chapter and verse supporting a view that I advanced a while ago, that US politics is best understood by treating “Southern White” as an ethnicity. There’s an interesting comparison to the now-disappeared nativist movements among Northeastern Yankees in response to Irish and other European immigrants

If US politics does shift to the left, what effects will that have elsewhere? Even the most liberal Democrats would be centrist at best in most countries, and their most radical goals (single-payer health care, a progressive income tax, parental leave and so on) would be uncontroversial in most places, so there won’t be much direct effect. On the other hand, in Australia and other English speaking countries, a large slab of the right wing gets its talking points from the US Republican bubble, via the Murdoch press, and look to an idealised version of the US as a free-market model. If the Repubs are discredited at home, that will create some problems for their followers abroad.

Defending The Priority of Democracy

by Jack Knight and James Johnson on February 20, 2013

We’d like to start by thanking the crew at Crooked Timber for hosting this conversation and Henry Farrell in particular for coordinating it. It is reasonably rare to have a baker’s half dozen smart people offer critical commentary on your work. So we appreciate the willingness of our interlocutors to participate in this discussion. That said, while we are tempted to rest content with the opening superlatives the discussants offer, we instead will take the opportunity to respond to the various qualms they have expressed. These, we think, fall fairly neatly into three categories: (1) questions regarding the relation of our enterprise to the sorts of ‘ideal theory’ exemplified by Rawls and those who have written in his wake; (2) doubts about operational problems with our argument – stated in terms of whether the conception of pragmatist democracy we advance is coherent or stable; and (3) questions about the sorts of learning and inquiry our arguments presuppose. We address each of these sets of qualms in turn even though, as will become clear, they intersect in important ways.

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Two Risks for Second-Order Democracy

by Adrian Vermeule on February 19, 2013

If democracy is to be justified, it will have to be in consequentialist (or, if we prefer, “pragmatist”) terms; and as it seems _prima facie_ implausible to think that all political and social institutions could or should be democratic in a first-order sense, only a second-order version of the consequentialist case for democracy can succeed. Democracy will have to be justified, if at all, as the best second-order decision procedure for allocating competences among first-order institutions, including institutions that are arguably or partially undemocratic when viewed in isolation, such as the administrative state, markets, and constitutional courts. Such is the core of Johnson and Knight’s argument in _The Priority of Democracy,_ and I won’t stop to explain why it seems to me both correct and important.[^important]
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Did you ever wonder where the metaphor of falsely shouting fire in a theater comes from? Several years ago, I was co-writing a book about American political repression with Ellen Schrecker, the brilliant historian of McCarthyism. We came across a fantastic article by University of Texas legal scholar Lucas Powe that made a strong case for where Oliver Wendell Holmes, who came up with the metaphor, might have gotten the idea for it. Ellen followed up Powe’s hypothesis with some extensive sleuthing in the Michigan archives, and what follows is the result of her research and our writing. [click to continue…]

Village Life

by Kieran Healy on February 17, 2013

This classic piece of _New York Times_ [Style Section trolling]( on “Hipsturbia” wrestles with the bitter fact that while “Brooklyn no longer feels as carefree as it did”, to “pull up stakes in Brooklyn … one has to make peace with the idea that a certain New York adventure is over”. The hipsters flee to the suburbs, but of course not just any sort of suburb: ‘“[Hastings-on-Hudson is a village, in a Wittgensteinian sort of way](,” Mr. Wallach said.’ The mind boggles. Although penetrating Mr Wallach’s private language is perhaps impossible and almost certainly inadvisable, to show the fly out of the fly bottle we here present the …

### Top Ten Ways that Hastings-on-Hudson might be a Village in a Wittgensteinian Sense

10. It is filled with very rich people affecting to be quite poor people.
9. It’s located in a Remote Part of Norway.
8. If a lion could live in this village, we would not be able to find it a decent duplex. Maybe a condo.
7. The HOAs are *unbelievably* picky about exterior paintwork, door design, and
appropriate methods of kite-flying.
6. The configuration of the objects forms the atomic fact. In the atomic fact objects hang one in another, like the members of a chain. However, hanging laundry on chains at any time is absolutely forbidden.
5. Cutting-edge methods of elementary school instruction designed to enhance discipline, focus, and respect.
4. A property is internal if it is unthinkable that its object does not possess it, and is located inside the line demarcated on the relevant county plat map page.
3. Feeding the duckrabbits is forbidden by local ordinance.
2. Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must be silent after 10pm except on public holidays.
1. Slightly distressing sense of family resemblance amongst everyone you meet.

GOP Outreach Efforts Proceed Apace

by John Holbo on February 17, 2013

A post by Michael Walsh, at the Corner, advocating repeal of the 19th Amendment:

And women’s suffrage … well, let’s just observe that without it Barack Obama could never have become president. Time for the ladies to take one for the team.

Who’s with me?

Not enough women, would be my back-of-the-envelope guesstimate.

Just so you know I can explain a joke as well as anyone: the form of this ‘repeal the 19th’ joke is that he knows it’s not acceptable to say so. So he says so, knowing people will realize he must be joking. But the thing is: he isn’t! On some level! Otherwise it wouldn’t be funny. But you could never get him to admit that. He’ll always have ‘it was a joke!’ deniability, due to the manifest unacceptability of his opinions. Even though it wouldn’t be a joke unless, on some level, it wasn’t a joke. That’s what makes it hilarious! Hide in plain sight! Anti-feminism ninja! I wonder why more women don’t vote GOP? They must not have a sense of humor. Bwa-ha-ha-ha! Go team! Go team! Go team! (We are so clever. What? We lost again? Dumb broads, this is all their fault.)

Dissent Is the Health of the Democratic State

by Cosma Shalizi on February 16, 2013

This is a book with some important, even profound, ideas about politics,institutions, the virtues of democracy and what it takes to realize them, but it is written so so very, very diffusely that it will will have next to no impact, which is a shame. Let me try to lay out the main path of argument, which is rather lost amid the authors’ digressions and verbiage.

We live in big, complex societies, which means we are thoroughly interdependent on each other, and that we will naturally have different ideas about how our life in common should go, and will have divergent interests. This means that politics we shall always have with us. It also means that political problems are largely ones about designing and reforming the institutions which shape how we interact with each other. But because political problems are so hard, even if we could agree on what we wanted our institutions to achieve (which we don’t), we can basically never know in advance what the best institution for a given problem is. (That markets should always and everywhere be the default institution is a claim Knight and Johnson carefully examine before rejecting, whereas I would simply mock.) We also can basically never be sure when changed conditions will make existing institutions unsatisfactory. Put this together and what we need is, as they say, experimentation, with meta-institutions for monitoring how the experiments are going, and deciding when they should be changed or stopped. [click to continue…]

Institutional Problems Demand Institutional Solutions

by Peter Boettke on February 15, 2013

Knight and Johnson have produced one of the most profound books in recent memory dealing with the questions of political structure and the processes that are necessary to reconcile our differences and to learn to live better together. They begin with the profound recognition of our deep differences in beliefs, personality, talents, and circumstances, and yet acknowledge that we must find a way to coordinate our activities to realize the social gains from cooperation. The answer is to be found in the institutions within which we interact with one another. Ultimately, they provide a fresh argument for the strong claim in political economy— that being, while people no doubt populate the political landscape, effective social change isn’t about people, but about the proper institutions. Institutional problems demand institutional solutions. [click to continue…]

Can Ideal Political Theory Be Valuable For a Pragmatist?

by Ingrid Robeyns on February 14, 2013

Jack Knight’s and James Johnson’s book is fascinating, interesting and compelling. It is not the kind of book on which I could write deep or far-reaching criticisms, so I fear that I will have to limit myself here to quibbling about what could perhaps be seen as details – and that is their criticism of Rawlsian-style normative political theory. [click to continue…]

Ronald Dworkin has died

by Chris Bertram on February 14, 2013

Ronald Dworkin has died of leukaemia at the age of 81. I can’t speak to his work in jurisprudence, but his work in political philosophy has been some of the most original and creative of the past 50 years. In particular, the first two of his equality essays (welfare and resource), published by Philosophy and Public Affairs in 1981 and then featuring as the opening chapters of Sovereign Virtue had a major effect on the field and paved the way (for better or worse) for luck egalitarianism. I’m sure there will be obituaries over the next few days. In the meantime — though prephylloxera claret may be unavailable — I hope we all raise a glass to his memory.

(Here’s Dworkin talking about Justice for Hedgehogs, starts at about 12 minutes in.)

Obituaries: The Guardian, New York Times, Financial Times, Oxford Law Faculty (with links to radio), Daily Telegraph, Atlantic, Independent