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Open Data Seminar

Open Data Seminar

by Henry Farrell on July 17, 2012

For those who wanted a more print-friendly version of the open data seminar that we’ve been running, here’s a “PDF”: (bog-standard memoir class document I’m afraid – I don’t have John H.’s design skills). It’s available under a Creative Commons non-commercial license – those who want to do their own remixes may want the underlying LaTeX file, which is available “here”: Below, links to the various posts, in order of publication:

“Tom Slee”: draws connections between James Scott and the awkward relationship between open data and actual empowerment.

“Victoria Stodden”: suggests that people interested in the political aspects of open data should learn from the efforts of computational scientists to preserve the step-by-step process through which final results were produced.

“Steven Berlin Johnson”: argues that open data platforms can attract, empower and even create people interested in solving complex problems.

“Matthew Yglesias”: makes the case that open data is crucial to journalism, and that there is often a case for government to produce it.

“Clay Shirky”: argues that there are two different strands of open data advocacy, one devoted to improving services, the other to actually tackling corruption, and that the former works rather better than the latter.

“Aaron Swartz”: finds that open data and transparency don’t address _either_ structural problems of corruption, or help make life more efficient.

“Henry Farrell”: argues that open data will not change politics, but would have advantages under a different political configuration than the one we have.

“Beth Noveck”: sees open data as a foundation for complex democracy and a wellspring of innovation in government.

“Tom Lee”: worries that open data advocates tend towards a blithe over-optimism, but maintains that it still has democratic benefits.

Open Data Seminar

by Henry Farrell on June 25, 2012

Another Crooked Timber seminar, albeit on an issue rather than an author. Last month, Tom Slee wrote “two”: “posts”: on the Open Data movement which got a lot of interesting argument going. To push the contradictions further, we’ve invited a number of people with differing perspectives to write short pieces on the theme of when and how, if ever, open data makes for better politics. Contributors are:

Henry Farrell (blogger at Crooked Timber)
Steven Berlin Johnson (author of _Emergence_, _Where Good Ideas Come From_, and the forthcoming _Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age_)
Tom Lee (director of Sunlight Labs at the “Sunlight Foundation”:
Beth Noveck (professor at New York Law School, author of _Wiki Politics_, and former Deputy Chief Technology Officer at the White House)
Clay Shirky (author of _Here Comes Everybody and _Cognitive Surplus_)
Tom Slee (author of _No-One Makes You Shop at Walmart_)
Victoria Stodden (assistant professor of statistics at Columbia, Big Data public intellectual)
Aaron Swartz (in no need of introduction to CT readers
Matthew Yglesias (author of Slate‘s Moneybox column).

As per the last seminar, posts will be put up (nearly) every weekday for the next several days. And yes – as commenters will surely notice, the sex ratio is off again (all I can say is that this is not the result of any lack of effort, I’m not happy about it, and I’d be grateful for suggestions in comments).

Welcome to a new Crooked Timber seminar, this one on Steve Teles’ recent book _The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement: The Battle for Control of the Law_ (Amazon, Powells). This has already become a landmark book in the burgeoning literature on American conservatism, charting out the organizational strategies through which economic conservatives and libertarians (as the book notes, it doesn’t have much to say about religious conservatism) sought to respond to the liberal legal culture of 1960s America, and to turn it back. It’s a great story, not least because Teles talks about the mistakes that the conservatives made as well as their successes. There is a tendency on the left to see the conservative movement as an incredibly efficient institutional Borg that adopted a masterplan in the 1960s, implemented it through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, and then saw it all collapse in the last couple of years. Teles gives this account the lie, showing us the organizational false starts as well as the success stories.

We have a great series of responses to Teles’ book – see below for links to all of them. Those who prefer to read this seminar as a PDF can find it “here”:

As with other seminars, all the contents are made available under a Creative Commons With Attribution Non-Commercial Sharealike license. To make it easier for people to remix the content as they will, we are making the TeX file for the seminar available “here”:

Our contributors this week:

“Jack Balkin”: is Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment. He blogs at “Balkinization”: His contribution – “What Teles Can Tell Us About Constitutional Change”:

“Tyler Cowen”: is professor of economics at George Mason University, and author of the forthcoming book “Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World”: He blogs at “Marginal Revolution”: His contribution – “One Economist’s Perspective on the Law and Economics Movement”:

Henry Farrell blogs here. His contribution – “Fabians and Gramscians in Law and Economics”:

“Kimberly Morgan”: is associate professor of political science at the George Washington University. She is author of “Working Mothers and the Welfare State: Religion and the Politics of Work-Family Policies in Western Europe and the United States”: Her contribution – ”
Legal Conservatives as Closet Gramscians”:

“David Post”: is I. Herman Stern Professor of Law at Temple University. He has just written “In Search of Jefferson’s Moose: Notes on the State of Cyberspace”: He blogs at “The Volokh Conspiracy”: His contribution – “Living Life Forwards”:

“Rick Perlstein”: is author of _Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus_ and _Nixonland_, which has “just come out in paperback”: His contribution – “What Liberals Shouldn’t Learn from Conservatives”:

“Fabio Rojas”: is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Indiana University. He blogs at “OrgTheory”: He is author of “From Black Power to Black Studies: How a Radical Social Movement Became an Academic Discipline”: His contribution – “The Failed Conservative Revolution”:

“Mark Schmitt”: is executive editor of _The American Prospect._ He previously has been a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, Director of Policy and Research at the Open Society Institute, and a speechwriter for Senator Bill Bradley. He was also the author of much-missed blog, _The Decembrist._ His contribution – “Bunglers, Egos, and Law vs. Politics”:

“Aaron Swartz”: co-founded Reddit, and is now an activist, writer and hacker. He is involved or has been involved in Change Congress, the Open Library project, the Sunlight Foundation’s Open Congress project, and other stuff too multitudinous to list. He blogs at “Raw Thoughts”: His contribution – “Political Entrepreneurs and Lunatics with Money”:

“Steve Teles”: is associate professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University. He is also a fellow at the New America Foundation. His response to all the above is “here”:

A way of Reforming the House of Lords

by Harry on January 19, 2020

Rebecca Long Bailey is proposing an elected Senate to replace the House of Lords (one, presumably, without John Bercow in it). I haven’t seen much detail so won’t comment (if someone can point me to published details, I’d be grateful). But it reminded me of something that Erik Olin Wright and I talked about many years ago when the Tories were carrying out moderate Lords reform but didn’t seem to know what it would look like. We wrote up a short paper which we never published. From the fact that we never published it you should be able to infer that we didn’t feel strongly that this was the best possible option: but we did think that a proposal like this should be on the table.[1] Link to pdf is here. The text is below the fold.

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The lead story in today’s New York Times is a devastating attack on CUNY, where I’ve been teaching for nearly two decades, and the state’s criminal under-funding of a once-great institution. An above-the-fold photograph of a library at one of CUNY’s senior colleges features students studying at tables, surrounded by buckets strategically placed to catch the gallons of water dripping down from the ceiling. It’s a near perfect tableau of what it’s like to teach at CUNY today: excellent, hard-working students, encircled by shabbiness, disrepair, and neglect.

Though you should read the entire piece, here are some of the highlights.

The infrastructure is collapsing

The piece begins thus—

On the City College of New York’s handsome Gothic campus, leaking ceilings have turned hallways into obstacle courses of buckets. The bathrooms sometimes run out of toilet paper. The lectures are becoming uncomfortably overcrowded, and course selections are dwindling, because of steep budget cuts….

—and it doesn’t let up, across 50 paragraphs and seven columns, relentlessly documenting an institution facing near collapse.

It reports on a college library with an entire annual book budget of $13,000—that’s less than the individual research budgets of many professors at elite universities—and books covered in tarps to protect them from rainstorms and leaky roofs. At another college, a biology professor is stalked across the stage of her genetics lecture by giant water bugs. There are computers that still use floppy disks, Wi-Fi that doesn’t work, elevators and copy machines out of commission, and more.

The piece makes a brief nod to my campus, Brooklyn College, whose “rapidly deteriorating campus” has earned it the moniker “Brokelyn College.”

I can personally attest to that. On Thursday, as I left campus, I stopped in the men’s room of our wing of James Hall. One of the two urinals was out of business, covered by a plastic sheet. I sighed, and thought back to the time, about a year ago, that that urinal was so covered for about six months. The clock in my office has been stopped for over a year. Our department administrator tried to get it fixed: it worked for two days, and broke again.

Last fall, our union launched a hashtag campaign #BroklynCollege. Go on Twitter, and you’ll see photographs like this: [click to continue…]

Magical Realism, and other neoliberal delusions

by Corey Robin on April 15, 2016

Apologies in advance for all the formatting foul-ups. My usual formatting guru, John Holbo, is off somewhere arguing about the Commerce Clause…


At Vox, Dylan Matthews offers a sharp analysis of last night’s debate, which I didn’t watch or listen to. His verdict is that the three big losers of the night were Hillary Clinton, the New Democrats, and liberal technocrats. (The two winners were Bernie Sanders and Fight for $15 movement.) As Matthews writes:

But just going through the issues at tonight’s debate, it’s striking to imagine a DLCer from the ’90s watching and wondering what his party had come to. Sanders was asked not if he was sufficiently tough on crime, but if his plans to let millions of convicted criminals out of prison would actually free as many felons as promised. Clinton was criticized not for being insufficiently pro-Israel, but for being insufficiently willing to assail the killing of Palestinian civilians. Twenty years after Clinton named former Goldman Sachs chief Robert Rubin as his Treasury secretary, so much as consorting with Goldman Sachs had become toxic.

Though I’m obviously pleased if Sanders beat Clinton in the debate, it’s the other two victories that are most important to me. For those of us who are Sanders supporters, the issue has never really been Hillary Clinton but always the politics that she stands for. Even if Sanders ultimately loses the nomination, the fact that this may be the last one or two election cycles in which Clinton-style politics stands a chance: that for us is the real point of this whole thing.

I‘m always uncertain whether Clinton supporters have a comparable view. While there are some, like Jonathan Chait or Paul Starr, for whom that kind of politics is substantively attractive, and who will genuinely mourn its disappearance, most of Clinton’s supporters seem to be more in synch with Sanders’s politics. They say they like Bernie and agree with his politics; it’s just not realistic, they say, to think that the American electorate will support that.

Which makes these liberals’ attraction to Clinton all the more puzzling. If it’s all pure pragmatism for you—despite your personal support for Bernie’s positions, you think only her style of politics can win in the United States—what are you going to do, the next election cycle, when there’s no one, certainly no one of her talent or skills and level of organizational support, who’s able to articulate that kind of politics? [click to continue…]

§1. The Declaration of Independence is a living document; and our every reading provides it the breath of life. Danielle Allen suggests as much when she writes: “We are all part of the ‘world’ to which the Declaration submits its facts. With every fresh reading, the Declaration calls out again for our judgment.” (89). This makes the Declaration a wily document of sorts. It purports to establish something politically important about the necessity of securing political independence from the British crown (and we’ll get to what that something seems to be in a moment), thus to regulate the affairs of men and women. And Yet. The Declaration seems to rely upon our engagement for it to have significant meaning: “The Declaration has expectations of its readers. A reader of the Declaration must be a judge….The Declaration assumes that its readers are […] equipped with moral sense. In calling out to its readers as members of the candid world, the Declaration identifies its audience as consisting of the kind of living organisms that can connect facts with principles in order to make judgments.” (90-1). It co-opts the judgment of readers to substantiate its democratic aims, thus implicates us in the quest for independence and equality from tyranny by asserting in its first line that as a people, the colonists were right to claim for themselves “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them”. [click to continue…]

Political Economy is Political

by Henry Farrell on May 27, 2014

The best explanation of the current Piketty-Financial Times brouhaha was “written by Mike Konczal”: a few weeks before it actually happened.

As Foucault argued, the ability of social science to know something is the ability to anthropologize it, a power to define it. As such, it becomes a problem to be solved, a question needing an answer, something to be put on a grid of intelligibility, and a domain of expertise that exerts power over what it studies. With Piketty’s Capital, this process is now being extended to the rich and the elite. Understanding how the elite become what they are, and how their wealth perpetuates itself, is now a hot topic of scientific inquiry.

Many have tried to figure out why the rich are freaking out these days. Their wealth was saved from the financial panic, they are having a very excellent recovery, and they are poised to reap even greater gains going forward. Perhaps they are noticing that the dominant narratives about their role in society—avatars of success, job creators for the common good, innovators for social betterment, problem-solving philanthropists—are being replaced with a social science narrative in which they are a problem to be studied. They are still in control, but they are right to be worried.

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My colleagues Diana Hess and Paula McAvoy will publish a book later this year called The Political Classroom, containing a study of high school teachers who teach controversial issues. Their presentation at a recent conference for philosophers made me think it might be a good idea to articulate my answer to one of the questions the book raises: whether teachers of controversial issues should disclose their views about the issues they teach about (their earlier discussion of disclosure is included in Hess’s book, Controversy in the Classroom). I’m articulating it not to try and persuade anyone, but to broaden the discussion – I’ve only ever discussed these issues with my students themselves, and with close colleagues.
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Socialism Without a Map

by Henry Farrell on March 28, 2013

There is much to admire in Erik Olin Wright’s _Envisioning Real Utopias._ It’s an intelligent and thoughtful exploration of our current situation (capitalism, and the injustices thereof), the aporias of old-style radicalism (standard issue Marxism-Leninism – maybe not so useful in explaining the early 21st century), and various small-bore examples of what a better world might be that could perhaps be expanded into something bigger. The examples of little quasi-utopias that Wright discusses are familiar ones – but in the case of popular budgeting in Porto Allegre, Wright can hardly be blamed, since his work with Archon Fung did a lot to highlight this case for English-speakers such as myself. And, of course, I’m biased. I start from a position that is in strong sympathy with Wright – I’ve been influenced both by his work, and the work of people who he’s engaged with in both friendly and argumentative ways over the last couple of decades (the various tendencies within the _Politics and Society_ crowd). If I aspire to a political tradition, it’s Wright’s tradition of an interest in radical change, combined with a strong respect for empirically guided analysis. [click to continue…]

Remembering Aaron Swartz Again

by Henry Farrell on February 8, 2013

As Crooked Timber readers will already know, there was a memorial service for Aaron in DC this week. Like “Rick Perlstein”:, I wasn’t able to go. Unlike Aaron’s funeral, it was a specifically political event, intended to draw publicity both to Aaron’s causes and the causes of Aaron’s death.

Public deaths are strange. When someone dies, what is left is an imperfect aggregation of different people’s memories, which can never surprise you in the way that the real person could. But when the aggregation of memories is mostly made up of the memories of people who never knew Aaron directly, it is stranger again. The person whom you knew becomes a mythological figure, onto whom others map all sorts of things that may, or may not, have anything to do with the actual individual. It must be much stranger for the people who knew Aaron much better than I did (we were good friends, but not intimate ones).
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Seeing Like a Geek

by tom_slee on June 25, 2012

Yes, as through this world I've wandered
I've seen many men, I guess;
Some will rob you with a six gun,
And some with a GIS. 

In the state of Tamil Nadu, near the town of Marakkanam, right next to a reserved forest, lies a contested plot of land. Records say these three acres belong to a member of the Mudaliar caste, but lower-caste Dalits living nearby claim the plot should be part of the reserved forest, which is not privately owned. The Dalits claim that the Mudaliars have pulled a fast one, using their influence in the local bureaucracy to fix the land records, and that older records will bear out the Dalit claim. Complicating the case, officials say that boundaries between land parcels in the area are often difficult to ascertain.1

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The Dangers of Pricing the Infinite

by malcolmpharris on February 23, 2012

“The notion of infinite debt comes in when this logic slams up against the Absolute, or, one might perhaps better say, against something that utterly defies the logic of exchange. Because there are things that do. This would explain, for instance, the odd urge to first quantify the exact amount of milk one has absorbed at one’s mother’s breast, and then to say that there is no conceivable way to repay it.”
– David Graeber, Debt

“Could all of this be thought ‘a normal upbringing’? Everyone seemed to think so and my parents, bless them, paid for it. So much that my father proudly presented me with a complete set of receipts on my twenty-first.”
– Derek Jarman, At Your Own Risk

It’s worth stating from the outset that this seminar and the rest of the deserved attention this book has received in all likelihood would not have occurred if we weren’t in a sequence of global debt crisis. David’s status as an “out” anarchist and the role that alignment plays in his theory and practice would most likely have (continued to) exclude his ideas from these kinds of forums under more stable circumstances. But these are not more stable circumstances. For that reason I want to leave the scholarly refutation to the scholars, and put the book to work.

In April of last year I wrote an article for N+1 on the astronomic growth of student debt in America since the 70s. At the time, student loans had just passed credit cards as the largest source of consumer debt at $800 billion. Less than a year later, the total has topped $1 trillion with no real signs of slowing, while the other measures I referenced, including youth unemployment, have increased to new record levels as well. The conclusion that “the most indebted generation in history is without the dependable jobs it needs to escape debt” is more valid than ever.
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by george_scialabba on August 6, 2009

The previous symposium posts and comments are an embarrassment of riches. Doing them justice is out of the question, of course, but here goes.

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by Steven Teles on May 1, 2009

Chapter One of The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement opens with a quote from Stephen Skowronek, which I think sums up much of what I was trying to argue in the book: “Whether a given state changes or fails to change, the form and timing of the change, and the governing potential in the change—of these turn on a struggle for political power and institutional position, a struggle defined and mediated by the organization of the preestablished state.” In writing this book, Skowronek’s words haunted my own attempt to make sense of what was going on so many decades later. As Skowronek so powerfully argued, politics never starts from zero—it always starts somewhere . In order to make sense of what conservatives did, therefore, I needed to start with “the organization of the preestablished state.” [click to continue…]