Is it still just sex?
Last Friday, Craigslist censored the Adult Services section of its website after attorneys general in 17 states accused the site of aiding human trafficking and prostitution. By all accounts, the move is almost entirely symbolic. There are still plenty of thinly-veiled references on the site to erotic services. And Melissa Grant at Alternet condemns the singling out of Craigslist as hypocritical and counterproductive.
The crimes that Craigslist is accused of abetting – human trafficking and prostitution – are separate but related. One is the unlawful movement of people for exploitive purposes, namely forced sex or labor. The other is the unlawful involvement of people in sex acts for money. Read more
Project Syndicate has an ongoing series by Columbia University economist Jagdish Bhagwati on “The Open Economy and its Enemies.” There is more or less a consensus among economists that free trade promotes economic growth; the law of comparative advantage still holds nearly two centuries after it was formulated. But the opinions of both the public and other social scientists are more ambivalent.
Competition is the means by which actors in an open economy are disciplined. But competition generates losers and winners, too –at least in the short run. Non-economic concerns with free trade include growing inequality, the constant displacement of people under conditions of ruthless competition, environmental degradation, the globe-spanning hazards of mutual dependency, and national security.
Critics of free trade may accuse economists of linear thinking for ignoring the messiness of reality. But economists might equally accuse critics of free trade for ignoring the bottom line –that increased wealth will expand the possibilities of what a society can accomplish.
The free trade debate, like many others, asks how willing we are to trade increased levels of wealth for other values, and under what conditions. Not surprisingly, this debate tends to come to the fore in times of economic uncertainty.
Image by Flickr user free range jace used under a Creative Commons Attribution License
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
Mainstream media lets us down. Again.
Last night's Daily Show had its usual fun with the political controversy engulfing plans to build a mosque and Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero. We're going wall-to-wall on this topic here at TPP this week, both because it's an important debate and because it touches so many basic moral and philosophical questions.
Of many pokes at the mainstream media during this clip, one worth noting in particular is Stewart's scathing attack on news outlets that seem more concerned with the political fallout of what politicians say about the cultural center than whether building the thing is right or wrong. A New York Times headline from today underscores this media focus: “G.O.P. Seizes on Mosque Issue Ahead of Elections.”
Are there any issues where it is simply wrong to play politics? Read more
Last Friday, President Obama weighed in publicly on the mosque at ground zero. In doing so, he has joined Mayor Bloomberg as one of few major political figures who have openly voiced support for the project on the basis of freedom of religion.
However, polls indicate that Americans as well as New Yorkers overwhelmingly oppose the mosque’s construction to the tune of 68 percent. The poll reaffirms a truism that the writers of the Bill of Rights were grimly aware of: freedom often runs afoul of democracy. As one opponent of the mosque argues: ‘…[Obama]'s lost sight of the germane issue, which is not about freedom of religion,” she said. “It's about a gross lack of sensitivity to the 9/11 families and to the people who were los
Except the germane issue is exactly the balance between sensitivity and principle, and whether, as Jonathan asked yesterday, something can be “legally harmless but unpleasant enough for us to rightly or morally require legal intervention at the cost of others’ legal rights?” Namely, do people have a right not to be offended? Do they also have a right for their faith, beliefs, or values not to be challenged?
Greg Gutfeld of Fox News clearly believes not. In one of the most creative responses to the Ground Zero Mosque controversy, Gutfeld argues for both supporting the mosque's construction and opening a gay bar next door. Now that might take equal opportunity offending to an extreme. But in a society in which we value both the principles of religious freedom and the “marketplace of ideas,” should we want it any other way?
Image from Flickr user Johnnie Utah used under a Creative Commons Attribution license
Should the poor be allowed to choose?
The New York Times reports that malnutrition and starvation remain stubbornly entrenched decades after India’s Green Revolution, which modernized agricultural practices, massively increased agricultural yields and eliminated the specter of famine.
The existing government food distribution system relies on bureaucratic rationing, through which the poor are given ration cards to purchase food from government-run distributors. It is notoriously inefficient and plagued by corruption. Some reform proposals emphasize improving monitoring and delivery within the system. Others favor entirely dismantling the system, replacing it with vouchers or cash payments to the needy. Read more
The BBC reports that several federal police officers in Ciudad Juarez have arrested their own commander on grounds of corruption and racketeering. On the heels of the Wikileaks case and in the midst of two ongoing wars, it is worth considering the moral role of the individual in security-related institutions like the military and police.
Millennia of human experience demonstrate that discipline and professionalism distinguish effective security forces. Such forces can do tremendous good. But institutions are fallible. The uncertainties of both violent conflict and day-to-day human life also provide endless opportunities for rigid adherence to orders to cause grievous harm. When is it appropriate for those who are vested with the protection of a society to disobey orders and even turn on their superiors? Read more
The gay marriage debate in California and beyond
In a 136-page decision, Federal Judge Vaughn Walker has overturned California’s Proposition 8, which provided that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid.” A (temporary) triumph for supporters of gay marriage, the case will likely be appealed and eventually find its way to the Supreme Court.
The gay marriage debate is but one battle in a larger “culture war” between two diametrically opposed worldviews, with differing beliefs about human flourishing and the societal consequences of social liberation. Read more
Or can the poor simply not afford nutritious meals?
A few weeks ago I explored whether we should subsidize healthy habits and tax unhealthy ones. In the post, I quoted Harvard economist Greg Mankiw, who questions if we should “trust” the government to act as our “guardian.”
To what extent should we use the power of the state to protect us from ourselves? If we go down that route, where do we stop?
The market, responsibility and perfectionism
The New York Times has an article from last week on a duo of internet filmmakers, known as the Internet Celebrities, who use humor and YouTube to spread a unique brand of social criticism. One of their most watched videos has them entering the world of Bronx food bodegas to highlight the diverse, yet disgusting food options available to many New Yorkers.
Beyond the humor – for example, the bodega food pyramid – their video raises important normative questions about the availability of healthy foods in low-income communities.
It is a well documented fact that middle- and upper-income communities have many times more supermarkets than low-income neighborhoods. As a result, people in these communities are forced to purchase food at corner markets, convenience stores and bodegas. And these food providers have little in the way of healthy options. This matters because a diet short on healthy foods increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, obesity and other illnesses. So if healthy foods have such a direct impact on the life of individuals, whose responsibility is it to ensure that everyone, including those in low-income communities has access to them?
We’ve long called for philosophical issues to play a larger role in public debate. Well, on Wednesday, recently crowned Kentucky Senate nominee, Rand Paul, got himself into a bit of trouble trying to do just that. Paul was discussing the legitimate role of government in regulating private institutions and ended up suggesting that government shouldn’t be able to stop a restaurant from discriminating against African Americans The Washington Post’s Chris Cilliza concludes that “theoretical arguments are stone cold losers in the context of political campaigns.” Of course, political campaigns are only one aspect of the public debate – philosophy can play a less problematic role in these other domains. And while we don’t think philosophical arguments are necessarily losers in the campaign sphere, they clearly have their perils. So be careful out there campaign managers – philosophy has an important place in public debate; just make sure you know where it will take you.