What should Google do about China’s insistence on internet censorship? The world has been watching this evolving conflict with great interest.
If Google continues to stand up to China, it may lose highly lucrative partnerships with Chinese companies. But China loses each day it goes without the world’s #1 search engine and draws ever more attention to its oppressive information policies.
What I find particularly interesting about this is how this negotiation, involving some of our most sacred political rights, is going on not between governments or advocacy organizations, but by a corporation. Hey, money talks. And when it does, even the most stubborn regimes listen.
David Leonhardt’s “Economic Scene” column in today’s New York Times, entitled “In Health Care Bill, Obama Attacks Wealth Inequality,” is a must-read.
Equality, particularly of resources, is a much more popular topic among political philosophers than among politicians. After we get past the idea that all people are created equal, Americans tend to have an ambivalent relationship with equality and what it entails.
Many prize the value of personal responsibility and believe that inequality driven by working harder and better is, in some ways, a sign that our entrepreneurial capitalist system is working.
In debates about social welfare, discussions of inequality are largely veiled. Addressing poverty or promoting economic opportunity garner broader support than “narrowing income equality” or “redistributing wealth.”
Whether or not they arrive at similar conclusions, political philosophers tend to be much more candid about what’s really at stake in these discussions: equality (what kind, how important, by what means?). That’s a good thing. It’s one reason we have political philosophy–to introduce clarity to public debate over values.
Although no one has really mentioned it until now, David Leonhardt makes clear that the health care bill is the biggest, most active federal effort to promote equality in almost 50 years:
The bill is the most sweeping piece of federal legislation since Medicare was passed in 1965. It aims to smooth out one of the roughest edges in American society – the inability of many people to afford medical care after they lose a job or get sick. And it would do so in large measure by taxing the rich.
A big chunk of the money to pay for the bill comes from lifting payroll taxes on households making more than $250,000. On average, the annual tax bill for households making more than $1 million a year will rise by $46,000 in 2013, according to the Tax Policy Center, a Washington research group. Another major piece of financing would cut Medicare subsidies for private insurers, ultimately affecting their executives and shareholders.
The benefits, meanwhile, flow mostly to households making less than four times the poverty level – $88,200 for a family of four people. Those without insurance in this group will become eligible to receive subsidies or to join Medicaid. (Many of the poor are already covered by Medicaid.) Insurance costs are also likely to drop for higher-income workers at small companies.
Love it or hate it, health care reform is a big deal. The real question is whether it promotes the society we want, or erodes the one we have. Or both.
The Washington Post yesterday described the intention of the Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to challenge the health care reform bill in court by arguing that requiring individuals to purchase health care – the individual mandate — exceeds the federal government’s authority to regulate interstate commerce. Today, liberal health care blogger Ezra Klein investigates whether or not Cuccinelli has a legitimate legal case against the health care bill.
Via Sullivan, WaPo has an interesting debate regarding what action clergy must take if they have privately come to doubt God. Clergy that resign face terrible job prospects — older, with no training to do any other job, little personal savings, and having just alienated their personal and professional network.
My own take is that religious leaders play a critical role in maintaining a community, a service that is separate from belief in God. As long as that leader is able to carry out his duties, I see no problem. My view may be informed by a good college friend who, despite his atheism, has been able to become a successful rabbi. (Though one could certainly argue important differences between Judaism and Christianity, the focus of this debate).
Health care reform and future uncertainty
At lunch today, I overheard a conversation about Sunday’s health care vote. The conversation began with an unexpected questions: “If the Democrats lose Congress in November, would passing health care reform have been worth it?” The question is simple enough, but determining how to answer it most certainly is not.
For the sake of this post, I will discuss the considerations those who support health care reform would make when answering this question. The same kind of considerations would apply to any other piece of legislation – conservative or liberal.
So, was it worth it?
Well-known “new atheist” and neuroscientist Sam Harris took on this controversial question at this year’s TED conference.
Harris suggests that conventional wisdom tells us that science has nothing to say about questions of right and wrong. It cannot give us a foundation for values – it cannot give us goals, it can only help us get to our goals.
But, he says, all moral beliefs reduce to both facts about the brain (since beliefs, culture, experience all take place there) and factual claims about the mind, consciousness, and the world around us, etc. Since we can study these beliefs, claims, and their effects, science and reason can guide us to right and wrong answers about human well-being.
What does science tell us about the possibility of moral realism? Within the philosophical debate, science’s relevance is often neglected.
For the sake of human rights?
Gita Sahgal, head of Amnesty International’s gender unit, objected publicly to Amnesty’s collaboration with Moazzam Begg, a former Guantánamo prisoner working with Amnesty to convince European nations to take current Guantánamo detainees. “To be appearing on platforms with Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgment,” Sahgal said. Here are two pieces that discuss the competing definitions of human rights involved in the resulting brouhaha: One by D.D. Guttenplan and Maria Margaronis in The Nation and another by Christopher Hitchens in Slate.
To what end should we reform our public education system?
Education reform season is upon us once again, and not a moment too soon. America’s education statistics, or at least the meaningful ones, are overwhelmingly foreboding. For example, over one million students drop out of high school every year, and that number includes an approximately 50 percent dropout rate among urban schools.
This can only trouble you enough to be a cause for action if you believe that having an educated populace is a good for democratic societies (either in itself or insofar as it contributes to our economic competitiveness or political stability), but I will assume that the majority of us do.
Downward trends in education will probably rankle you further if you believe that it is somehow the responsibility of one’s government to provide this good. This belief is often supported by the thought that a well-educated populace is an indispensable part of a healthy democratic society. But is it? Read more
If you’re like me, your NCAA tournament bracket is a big mess right now. That’s because you had a bunch of teams from the Big East conference in the second, third, and even fourth rounds of the Big Dance. Unfortunately, yesterday was Big Trouble for the Big East. High-seeded teams Georgetown (3), Marquette (6), and Notre Dame (6) all lost, while Villanova (2) barely escaped Robert Morris in overtime.
As I’ve written before, the reason you have so many Marquettes in the NCAA tournament and not a lot of Ohios (who downed Georgetown) is that the field is structured to privilege so-called major conferences. This has big economic implications when it comes to TV, revenue sharing, and national publicity, and smaller schools often get the short end of the stick.
Maybe yesterday’s result is a wake-up call. The major conferences may not be so major anymore. If that’s true, the Robert Morris treatment is patently unfair–to the players, and the students.
Dissecting the “sliperry slope” argument
Political candidate J.D. Hayworth stirred up some controversy earlier this week when he stated that gay marriage could eventually lead to people marrying horses. Even Hayworth recognized his comment was somewhat outlandish, but his basic line of reasoning is not uncommon. Many commentators believe that legalizing gay marriage will open the door for the recognition of other sorts of relationships such as polygamy. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, who interestingly is open to both the legalization of gay marriage and polygamy, argues just this: Read more