The problem with inequality
Writing for The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof
criticizes the rising inequality in America, comparing our economic situation to the famous “banana republics.” According to Kristof:
In the past, many of us acquiesced in discomfiting levels of inequality because we perceived a tradeoff between equity and economic growth. But there’s evidence that the levels of inequality we’ve now reached may actually suppress growth. A drop of inequality lubricates economic growth, but too much may gum it up.
First, we can wonder why inequality makes us uncomfortable in the first place. One possibility is that there may be something intrinsically valuable about equality. However, it’s hard to imagine this being the case – even if there was some truth to this, the value of equality would be easily outweighed by many other mitigating factors. Consider this famous thought experiment by Harry Frankfurt:
Suppose that ten people have a deadly disease, and they need
two shots of a certain medicine in order to be cured. Anything less would mean certain death. However, there are only ten shots of the medicine available. If we gave the medicine out equally, everyone would get one shot, and all ten would die. Obviously, equality is not the best policy here.
But, some might argue, the economy is different than the medicine example. Read more
The Wall Street Journal ran a piece recently Generic viagra online without prescription
001424052702304879604575582192395853212.html?mod=WSJ_WSJ_US_News_5″>about the current anti-Washington sentiment reviving an old debate over the 17th Amendment. This Amendment, which provides for the direct election of US Senators, has been denounced by some Republicans. A repeal of the law would involve appointing senators by state legislators.
“People would be better off if senators, when they deliver their messages to Washington, remember the sovereignty of the states,” Mike Lee, who supports repeal, told reporters recently. Mr. Lee is a Republican running for the U.S. Senate from Utah. Proponents of repeal say the amendment wrecked the founding fathers’ balance between national and state governments, removing one of the last checks to unbridled power in Washington. Opponents counter that direct election of senators, long a goal of the Progressive movement of that era, expanded democracy.
This raises several interesting questions. First, the idea of “remembering state sovereignty,” or “Senators representing states,” is worth exploring. What exactly does this mean? A state, after all, is not a moral agent that is capable of being represented the same way a person or group of persons is. Perhaps this just means representing the citizens living in that state – but if this is true, why does direct election of senators not provide for this?
Second, we can ask what the status of Federalism and state sovereignty is in modern America. At the time of the Constitution’s writing, it was reasonable to assume that different states had different political and economic values. But geography no longer seems to correlate as strongly with political or economic beliefs, considering how often Americans move and how quick information is disseminated. So, is Federalism an historical artifact, or somehow central to American political values?
Finally, even if Federalism is essentially American in some important way, is there any truth to the Progressive stance that direct election of Senators limit democracy? If so, what should be done about it?
Photo by Flickr user Marion Doss used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
Video games, value, and free speech
The Supreme Court will soon hear a case
concerning the state of California’s right to regulate the sale of violent video games to minors. Writing for The Washington Post, game designer Daniel Greenberg thinks that the First Amendment should protect video games. His argument relies on the value of video games:
Gameplay is a dialogue between a player and a game. Reading a book or watching a film can also be considered a dialogue, but the ability of the audience to respond is far more limited. […]The exploration and self-discovery available through books and movies is magnified
in video games by the power of interactivity. A new generation of games features real changes in the story based on the morality of a player’s decisions. Mature-rated games such as “BioShock,” “Fable 2″ and “Fallout 3″ go far beyond allowing players to engage in imaginary violent acts; they also give players meaningful consequences for the choices that they make.
Leaving aside the specific jurisprudence of the First Amendment, this raises a number of moral issues.
First, does speech have to be valuable in order for it to be protected? In order to answer this question, we should ask why we protect free speech at all. Read more
Medea Benjamin of the anti-war organization CODEPINK soft tab cialis
>posted an open letter to Jon Stewart in which she complained about being labeled as one of the “loud people” who are getting in the way of sane discourse. She thinks Stewart’s point of view is in fact engendering political complacency and “slacktivism.”
So let’s get this straight: people who were so horrified when the U.S. invaded Iraq that they joined millions of others to protest are not sane? We shouldn’t speak out against Wall Street bankers whose greed led to millions of Americans losing their jobs and homes? It’s irrational to be angry when you see the Gulf of Mexico covered in oil because BP cut corners on safety? Don’t get upset when the Supreme Court rules that corporations are people and can pour unlimited funds into our elections? Stewart often roasts the warmakers and corporate fatcats on his show, but he seems to think that his viewers should be content to take out their frustrations with a good belly laugh.
Of course, Benjamin also realizes Stewart’s main criticism is not with the protests themselves, but the method of the protests – such as one where protestors dipped their hands in fake blood. But Benjamin also has a response:
It was because of this insanity that we began to interrupt the war criminals during their public appearances, shouting — yes, shouting — for an end to the madness. It was because of this insanity that we put fake blood on our hands to represent the hundreds of thousands of innocents who died as result of their lies. In our post-9/11
24/7 news cycle, we learned that the more audacious and outrageous the action, the
more likely we were to get our anti-war message into the national conversation.
If Benjamin is correct in her diagnosis this points to a sad problem in the impoverished public dialogue. In an atmosphere wanting for “sanity,” it is the insane that get the results. Thus, activists like Benjamin choose what they think is the lesser of two evils – preferring to dress in costume and shout over losing to their political opponents. And in this arms race of extreme discourse, like any arms race, everybody loses in the end.
Photo by Flickr user @mjb used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
Moral disagreement and demonization
Writing for The Washington
Post, Robert Samuelson claims that dysfunction in American politics has reached a new low. Samuelson diagnoses several reasons for the surging dysfunction in politics, but one strikes a particular chord with me:
Second, politics has become more moralistic from both left and right. Idealistic ideologues campaign to “save the planet,” “protect the unborn,” “reclaim the Constitution.” When goals become moral imperatives, there’s no room for compromise. Opponents are not just mistaken; they’re immoral. They’re cast as evil, ignorant, dangerous, or all three.
Anybody who is familiar with the basic premise of this blog can probably guess I disagree with this statement. As I’ve written before, the solution to this problem is not to avoid moral philosophy – but to do better moral philosophy. Read more
A small town in the United Kingdom, hometown of Thomas Hobbes, order viagra online
world/2010/oct/18/malmesbury-philosophy-town?intcmp=239″>hopes to become the world’s first “philosophy town.” There are many proposals, including a festival, a philosophy walk, and a bookstore/coffee house for philosophical discussion. “Town philosopher” Angie Hobbs on the project:
“I think people are hungry for this stuff,”
she said. “We’ve got ourselves in such as mess in the world – the environment, the banking crisis, the whole issue of fairness. Philosophy may be able to help a bit. We don’t have all the answers but we can help the debate.” […] But she is excited at the prospect of non-academics getting stuck into philosophy. “You don’t have to want to be a professional philosopher,” she said. “You don’t have to be able to wrestle with the knottier passages of [Immanuel] Kant to be able to get a huge amount out of the subject. “It’s OK to dabble. Don’t be scared. There are a lot of people thinking we really need this because we’ve got into such a mess not using human reason to its full potential.”
I share Hobbs enthusiasm for the project, although I think it should proceed with caution. Learning philosophy – its arguments, its theories – is one thing, but all students of philosophy also want to argue and push back. This is one interesting aspect of teaching philosophy that separates it from teaching, for example, the sciences. When this type of engagement is done carefully and with intellectual honesty, it is a great way to learn and explore the contours of an issue. However, if it is done in haste, without sufficient commitment, it can result in confusion and even dogmatism. The architects of the project should be careful about how they present material in a non-academic setting in order to combat this tendency.
Photo by Flickr user Dogfael used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
Feeding the national dialogue
“The dialogue is impoverished.” This lament
is heard across the political spectrum, echoing between the margins of opinion pages and muttered by graying professors in an air of resignation. It’s the reason this website was created. It’s a statement we all seem to agree on, and one thing we are all trying to fix. This makes it all the more regrettable when an attempt at the solution only adds to the problem.
Writing for The Wall Street Journal, Professor Peter Berkowitz begins well enough: liberal commentators have been dismissive in their views of the Tea Party movement, and this is wrong. I agree completely with this statement – there are many powerful (and perhaps ultimately correct) reasons to believe in the principles of personal liberty and limited government. These reasons constitute philosophical arguments, and they’re arguments that opponents of the Tea Party should engage with in good faith, clear logic, and intellectual honesty.
Berkowitz, unfortunately, believes the debate should lie elsewhere. Read more
A buy cialis online without a prescription
ml”>piece from Newsweek explores (and criticizes) tea party veneration for the Constitution. What I found most interesting is a distinction between two types of “originalism” in Constitutional interpretation.
While conservatives generally prefer the second approach, many disagree over how it should be implemented—including the Supreme Court’s most committed originalists, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Thomas sympathizes with a radical version of originalism known as the Constitution in Exile. In his view, the Supreme Court of the 1930s unwisely discarded the 19th-century’s strict judicial limits on Federal power, and the only way to resurrect the “original” Constitution—and regain our unalienable rights—is by rolling back the welfare state, repealing regulations, and perhaps even putting an end to progressive taxation. In contrast, Scalia is willing to respect precedent—even though it sometimes departs from his understanding of the Constitution’s original meaning. His caution reflects a simple reality: that upending post-1937 case law and reversing settled principles
would prove extremely disruptive, both in the courts and society at large.
The piece goes on to criticize the Tea Party’s “Constitution in Exile” beliefs. My own distaste for Constitution and history worship has been well documented on this site, but I wonder if this distinction makes any difference in the final analysis. After all, if the Constitution really is in exile, maybe there is an argument responsible citizens should try to bring it back.
Photo by Flickr user bsryan used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
Earlier this week in California, a Green Party gubernatorial candidate was viagra soft tabs
tp://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/10/13/california.candidate.arrested/index.html”>arrested for attempting to enter a debate she was not invited to. Candidates were invited based on their showing in the polls, but the candidate, Laura Wells, thinks the polls are biased. From her blog:
The polls are a fraud against the voters. I received a letter that congratulated me on my primary win and invited me to the debate, if I received 10% support among California likely voters. They didn’t tell me what the survey question was. If it were, “Do you want debates with only the Republican and Democratic candidates?” a huge majority of voters, especially this year, would say, “No!” But a couple of my supporters were surveyed and they told me the survey question: they were asked whether they preferred Jerry Brown or Meg Whitman. Not even other. And then when the pollsters report the results, they still didn’t say
other, they say undecided. As if the only choices were Pepsi and Coke, not something we might like that’s healthy, like crystal clear
water, or juice, smoothies or red wine!
In addition, she complains about the media:
We hear all the time about how much money the candidates are spending, but you know what? Give my campaign and our Green ideas the same no-charge media coverage that Meg and Jerry get, and it wouldn’t matter how much money my campaign has.
Her point seems to be that we don’t think third parties have a chance, so we ignore them. But this very thought tends to make us act in such a way that hurts third party chances. In a country where many essential election-related activities, such as reporting, debates, and polls, are handled by non-government organizations (such as the media, or the parties themselves), such a vicious cycle of third party neglect is certainly a possibility.
How to solve such a problem, if it actually exists, and if it’s worth solving, is another issue.
Photo by Flickr user dominicanuniversityofcalifornia used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
Facts and opinion in a liberal democracy
A recent video produced for the “10:1
0” campaign, which seeks to cut carbon emissions by ten percent a year for the next ten years, has come under intense criticism. The video begins with an elementary school teacher explaining the 10:10 project to her class, and asking for her students to sign up. All but two students agree, and in response, the teacher presses a little red button that causes the dissenting students to explode in a torrent of blood and gore.
The work of British filmmaker Richard Curtis, the four minute spot has been called a “snuff film” by National Review columnist Jonah Goldberg. Goldberg writes:
This isn’t a joke for the benefit of you and me. No, this is a knee-slapper for those already committed to the cause. The subtext is, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could just get rid of these tiresome, inconvenient people?” That’s why they’re blown up without anyone trying to change their minds. That’s the joke: “Enough with these idiots already.
Goldberg considers this to be part of a larger trend within the environmentalist movement, where opponents are regarded as somehow beneath the debate.
Frustrated with the perceived environmental threat of economic freedom and the inconvenience of political freedom, many environmentalists yearn for shortcuts. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wishes we could learn from China’s one-party system […] NASA scientist James Hansen wants to put corporate CEOs on trial for crimes against humanity. Al Gore compares his opponents to Holocaust deniers and insists that the time for democratic debate is over.
This raises interesting questions about the nature of democratic debate. Environmentalists’ frustration with their opponents, if it exists, is understandable to a degree. The scientific consensus firmly agrees that man-made climate change is happening. And in a debate that is heavily scientific and technical, environmentalists can do little more than cite the experts’ work.
is similar, for example, to the debate over teaching evolution. Evolution is the central tenet of biology, and to any scientist, a biology course not focused on evolution is simply deficient. Yet, the public debate still goes on. Read more
Next Page →