From the monthly archives:

April 2023

Sunday photoblogging: Bologna

by Chris Bertram on April 30, 2023


The 13th-Amendment Case for a Right to Abortion

by Liz Anderson on April 29, 2023

A federal judge recently ordered a briefing on whether the 13th Amendment grounds a Constitutional right to abortion.  Legal academics such as Michele Goodwin, Peggy Cooper Davis, and Andrew Koppelman have made serious originalist arguments for a right to abortion on 13th Amendment grounds.  I am no originalist.  But I believe that a deeper historical understanding of the law and its evolution is a valuable resource for interpreting it.  Here I want to add to Goodwin, Davis, and Koppelman by linking their arguments, tied to the experience of slaves forced to reproduce before emancipation, to the civil status of free married women in the 19th century.

In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Justice Alito rejects the 14th Amendment Due Process case for a right to abortion on the ground that unenumerated substantive Due Process rights must be “deeply rooted in the nation’s history” and “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.” He refutes the claim of deep rooting by arguing that abortion was widely prohibited under the common law in England and the U.S. before the 14th Amendment, and that such bans were extended soon after the 14th Amendment was ratified.  In other words, since people didn’t think there was a constitutional right to abortion around the time of ratification, the 14th Amendment doesn’t include such a right.  On his originalist methodology, the same evidence could equally well be used to refute a 13th Amendment grounding for abortion rights.

I will argue that Alito is wrong, because both before and after the Reconstruction Amendments were passed, married women were civil slaves under the law, and that the 13th Amendment bans civil slavery as well as chattel slavery.  Although it took some time for the feminist movement to persuade people that the civil slavery of married women was wrong, any laws passed on the presumption of their civil slavery, such as the laws against abortion, are invalid under the 13th Amendment (and therefore cannot count as evidence against the 14th Amendment case for abortion rights either). [click to continue…]

When we announced several new timbers last Fall we promised more to come. So, now we are delighted to welcome on board the newest member of the CT collective: Elizabeth Anderson. Liz will be well known to the philosophers who read CT, as author of numerous papers and of the recent books The Imperative of Integration and Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (And Why We Don’t Talk About It). She is Max Shaye Professor of Public Philosophy, John Dewey Distinguished University Professor and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and was recently awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. We hope you’re looking forward to her contributions as much as we are!

“Red Team Blues” and the As-You-Know-Bob problem

by Henry Farrell on April 27, 2023

I’ve just finished reading Cory Doctorow’s great, fun novel, Red Team Blues, and I’ve been thinking about how well it exemplifies one of the strengths of good science fiction. Back when we ran our seminar on Francis Spufford’s novel, Red Plenty, there was a back-and-forth between Francis and Felix Gilman. As Francis described it post-hoc, he wanted to write the novel of the socialist calculation debate, in part because of the challenge:

I was positively attracted to the whole business of being the first person in thirteen years to consult Cambridge University Library’s volumes of The Current Digest of the Soviet Press; and in general to the challenge of taking on the most outrageously boring subject matter I could find, and wrestling it to the floor, and forcing it to disgorge its hidden jewel of interestingness

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There’s been a lot of recent discussion about relative economic performance of the EU and US as well as (mostly separately) discussion of differences in mortality rates.

One way to integrate the two is to think of living in the US as a (very) dangerous occupation, and think about the wage premium demanded by workers to take up such occupations, relative to comparable low-risk jobs.

The typical estimate from econometric studies is that a 0.1 per cent chance of death on the job (a really dangerous job) implies a wage premium of around $10000/year.

For Americans aged between 25 and 65, the annual death rate in 2019 (pre-Covid) ranged between 0.13 and 0.88. EU mortality rates were one-third to half of that.

Doing the math, the wage premium that would be needed to take on the extra risk of being a working-age American, compared to the EU, is somewhere between $10000/yr and $40000/yr.

Even the lower figure would push the US down to the middle of the rich-country pack based on standard comparisons of median income.

(From my Substack)

On Public Reason & Inflated Concepts

by Eric Schliesser on April 17, 2023

Hélène Landemore enthusiastically shared a piece, “The Inflation of Concepts,” published at Aeon by John Tasioulas (who she describes as her “Oxford colleague”). Appealing to the work of Jürgen Habermas and John Rawls, Tasioulas focuses on a “threat to the quality of public reason” (which he claims) “tends to go unnoticed. This is the degradation of the core ideas mobilised in exercises of public reason.” And, in particular, what he has in mind is ‘conceptual overreach’. This “occurs when a particular concept undergoes a process of expansion or inflation in which it absorbs ideas and demands that are foreign to it.”

At this point I kind of expected Tasioulas to suggest as an example ‘democracy’ but he initially focuses on “human rights or the rule of law” [he is a legal philosopher] which “is taken to offer a comprehensive political ideology, as opposed to picking out one among many elements upon which our political thinking needs to draw and hold in balance when arriving at justified responses to the problems of our time.” Near the end of his essay he does focus on democracy (which he thinks of as a more “contestable” example!) and while drawing on the excellent work of Joshua Ober, he complains that some people mistakenly use ‘democracy’ and ‘liberal democracy’ interchangeably. (Our reading habits are clearly different because most of the conflations I see involve ‘democracy’ and whatever views a theorist expects/wishes to see approved by their imaginary demos.)

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Sunday photoblogging: Girona, El Call

by Chris Bertram on April 16, 2023

Endless steps in what was, until 1492, the Jewish quarter of Girona and where there is now a wonderful museum dedicated to the city’s long Jewish history.

Girona, Jewish Quarter

There’s been yet another big leak of US secret intelligence. As usual, the main result was embarrassment for the US state, from the (re)confirmation that it routinely spies on its allies, and from the publication of some unflattering comments on those allies. The substantive content was uninteresting, revealing no greater insight (and sometimes) than that available to careful observers with no access to secret information (Daniel Drezner has more on this).

There don’t seem to be any lessons to be learned here that weren’t already evident from the last big leak (Snowden), except that believers in the spy myth never learn any lessons. I’ve been over this again and again, as did Daniel Davies, back in the day.

I’m appending my first post on this, going back to an article published in the Australian Financial Review around the turn of the century.
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Industrial policy and the new knowledge problem

by Henry Farrell on April 13, 2023

This post is a memo that I just presented at a workshop organized at the EUI by Kate McNamara, Frederic Merand and Catherine Hoeffler. Some of its key ideas were articulated in an informal discussion with Bill Janeway, Margaret Levi, Suresh Naidu, Dani Rodrik and Gabriel Zucman a couple of weeks back. None of them are at all to blame (I’ve benefited greatly from their various comments, suggestions and disagreements but probably not nearly so much as I should have).

In this brief and very informal memo, I argue that the “knowledge problem” critique of industrial policy has itself become a problem for knowledge. For decades, economists have argued that state policy makers lack the requisite knowledge to intervene appropriately in the economy. Accordingly, decisions over investments and innovation ought be taken by market actors. Now, the “market knows best” paradigm is in disrepair. It isn’t just that “hyperglobalization” has devoured its own preconditions, so that it is increasingly unsustainable. It is also that some goals of modern industrial policy are in principle impossible to solve through purely market mechanisms. To the extent, for example, that economics and national security have become interwoven, investment and innovation decisions involve tradeoffs that market actors are poorly equipped to resolve. There are good reasons why Adam Smith did not want to see defense policy handled through the market’s division of labor. [click to continue…]

Sunday photoblogging: Palazzo d’Accursio, Bologna

by Chris Bertram on April 9, 2023

Palazzo d'Accursio, Bologna

My son’s autistic language

by Macarena Marey on April 5, 2023

My son’s language is made of a bundle of sounds that do not exist in the Spanish that we speak around the Río de la Plata. He repeats syllables he himself invented, he alternates them with onomatopoeias, guttural sounds, and high-pitched shouts. It is an expressive, singing language. I wrote this on Twitter at 6:30 in the morning on a Thursday because Galileo woke me up at 5:30. He does this, madruga (there is no word for “madrugar”, “waking up early in the morning” in English, I want to know why). As I look after him, I open a Word document in my computer. I write a little while I hear “aiuuuh shíii shíiii prrrrrr boio boio seeehhh” and then some whispers, all this accompanied with his rhythmic stimming of patting himself on the chest or drumming on the walls and tables around the house.
My life with Gali goes by like this, between scenes like this one and the passionate kisses and hugs he gives me. This morning everything else is quiet. He brings me an apple for me to cut it for him in four segments. He likes the skin and gnaws the rest, leaving pieces of apples with his bitemarks all around the house. He also brings me a box of rice cookies he doesn’t know how to open. Then he eats them jumping on my bed. He leaves a trace of crumbles. Galileo inhabits the world by leaving evidence of his existence, of his habits, of his way of being in the world.
When we started walking the uncertain road to diagnosis, someone next of kin who is a children’s psychologist with a sort of specialisation in autism informally assessed him. She ruled (diagnosed, prognosed) that he wasn’t autistic, that we shouldn’t ask for the official disability certificate (because “labels” are wrong, she held), and that he should go on Lacanian therapy and music therapy on Zoom —now I think this is a ready-made sentence she just gives in general to anyone.

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Kicking against the Ticks

by Henry Farrell on April 4, 2023

Attention conservation notice: short but entirely speculative exercise in amateur sociology/game theory, by someone who has no professional license to do either, and had a blue tick for a couple of years but was always bemused as to why.

A quick note as to what went wrong with the Elon Musk strategy of giving power to the peasants. My take is that the Tyler Cowen case that “Elon is already ahead of the critics on this one, and was all along” was wrong, and that the politics of online aristocracy aren’t nearly what Musk thought they were. [click to continue…]

No-Bullshit Democracy

by Henry Farrell on April 4, 2023

Hugo Mercier, Melissa Schwartzberg and I have two closely related publications on what we’ve been calling “No-Bullshit Democracy.” One is aimed at academics – it’s a very short piece that has just been officially published in American Political Science Review. The other just came out in Democracy. It’s aimed at a broader audience, and is undoubtedly livelier. An excerpt of the Democracy piece follows – if you want to read it, click on this link. The APSR academic letter (which can be republished under a Creative Commons license) is under the fold. Which one you might want to read depends on whether you value footnotes more than fisticuffs, or vice versa …

The New Libertarian Elitists

What might be called “no-bullshit democracy” would be a new way of structuring democratic disagreement that would use human argumentativeness as a rapid-growth fertilizer. … But first we need to sluice away the bullshit that is being liberally spread around by anti-democratic thinkers. … . Experts, including Brennan and Caplan (and for that matter ourselves), can be at least as enthusiastic as ordinary citizens to grab at ideologically convenient factoids and ignore or explain away inconvenient evidence. That, unfortunately, is why Brennan and Caplan’s books do a better job displaying the faults of human reasoning than explaining them.

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Sunday photoblogging: Bologna

by Chris Bertram on April 2, 2023