Friday, February 4, 2011

That is The Question

Megan McArdle suggest that we have too choice peaceful transfers of power from tyranny to something, presumabley, better or justice when it comes to violent tyrannts:
We satisfy the requirements of justice--but we make it more likely that dictators will cling to power, inflicting bloody purges on their people rather than share Pinochet's fate.
Of course, that's far from certain, because presumably hounding and/or prosecuting former dictators must have some deterrent effect.  Along with satisfying the requirements of justice, one hopes that it makes a would-be strongman think hard, and maybe take a gulp or two, before he orders that first mass execution.
She also asks if men who
 come to power through bloody conflicts that put them at great risk of losing their lives, and the violence and repression usually start during those conflicts.  Are they going to worry more about The Hague than the guy with the rival army?  Or the radical guerillas operating in the hinterlands?  By the time they're worrying about, um, succession planning, it may be too late to assure a secure future by being on their best behavior--the nasty process that brought them to office and cemented their power in the face of threats has probably pretty much guaranteed prosecution.
Well, one might answer, if we increase the likelihood that seizing and maintaining power through violence leads to successful prosecution and imprisonment then yes? Of course you could also could also make the argument that you can either have one thing or another but never both.
At any rate, it's something we should think about.  Which do we want more: peaceful abdication? Or justice?
Can we not have both?

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Just below, I posted a "tweet" from Matthew Yglesias which seems to suggests that he thinks that small farmers don't deserve a living wage.  I just went to his site and found a fuller context:
 [Mark Bittman argues that we need to b]egin subsidies to those who produce and sell actual food for direct consumption. Small farmers and their employees need to make living wages.
Now the context here is a larger program in which we’ve already ended corn and soybean subsidies, begun to tax unhealthy foods, and outlawed environmentally destructive CAFOs. So the hypothesis is that we’re aligning the incentives correctly—farmers are farming food, for people, not subsidies. Taxes encourage people to buy healthy food and regulations dissuade farmers from unsustainable practices. Under those circumstances, why on earth should the government add on extra subsidies for farms that are small?
 Now if you're the sort of feller who supports creative destruction because you can get a badly made tee-shirt for a few pennies off provided all the jobs are mechanized and shipped to China and two or three mega stores dominate the market  because economic efficiencies are the only way to think about social and political arrangements, and you believe in the closely related idea that the market functions in a natural way; well then, fine. There's no reason for people to step in and seize control of their future because the world works the way the world works and the present world is the best of all possible worlds and, what is more, not only is there no need to intervene but to do so violates all the laws of nature that created the nearly perfect world we currently inhabit.

And, of course, he wouldn't be a Neoliberal were he not to insist that the best way forward is for the small farmers to market themselves to the rich.
And of course if a smaller farm can produce a better product, that’s excellent for them and they should find a market niche on that basis. But there’s no more reason for public policy to put its thumb on the scale of smallness than to put its thumb on the scale in favor of corn. Personally, I like going to the farmer’s market when the weather’s nice and so do a lot of other people. In the more prosperous America of tomorrow, I bet even more people will enjoy paying a small premium for the premium wares available at such markets.
In closing he asks:
But what’s the case for smallness as such supposed to be?
Because organic farming is expensive, organic farms are a social good, and, consequently, worth paying for. On the other side of the ledger there's the dangers of mono-crop agriculture, mega hog farm run off, the chickens that taste like shit and are filled with crap, the beef that tastes like crap and is filled with shit, the vegetables that all taste like cucumbers, periodic outbreaks of food-borne illness because of the intermingling of shit and food, and so on. By supporting small scale sustainable agriculture we make the world a nicer place to live in for people who aren't so rich that they can be miffed when the co-op won't let them enlarge their already large living space.

It's not, in other words, a question of economic efficiency; it's a question of how you want to live and to what extent you think that the purpose humanity in a social situation is rather more elevated than the cost efficiencies associated with that great econ 101 concept of economies of scale; or, put another way, you think that the reason we do things is to make the world a more pleasant place.

Empathy Isn't Another Word For Narcissism

Meagan McArdle:
Yesterday, I came across this link to an absolutely heartbreaking photo series about an HIV-positive drug addict who the photographer found in a shelter, and then followed for 18 years.  Like Laura, I shamelessly cried at the images.  Then I noticed that the woman in them was ten months younger than I am.  By 2004 she looked like an old woman.  Her body and her life were ravaged by her infection; she died without reaching her 37th birthday.

It doesn't make it any sadder that she was my age, of course, but it does make it seem more real to me
There ya go. It's not sadder but the fact that the doomed drug addict is like her makes it more real; imagine McArdle's response if the drug addict would have been a 90 year old transvestite. It's almost as if she is proud of being so short sighted she can't see past her mirror.


Matthew Yglesias flunks various tests. Some "economic" some empathetic.

From the comments, we find this nugget:
"Small farmers and their employees need to make living wages" says @bittman, but why?
And there you have it in a nutshell: let them grow the flour but not yet eat of the cake, verily he saith unto the peons.  Way to go Think Progress.

Empiricism in Matters Big and Little

Getting the facts of the matter straight before making a judgment is a really, really good idea.  Ignoring, altering, making up, or garbling the facts of the matter tends toward creating unsustainable judgments, which is another of saying you'll be wrong.

Today, Jonah Goldberg, whose ability to ignore the facts of the matter in big matters is a matter of record, also ignored them in small matters with the same result.  He watched "Top Chef" last night and is upset by
[t]he real self-indulgence seemed to come from Tom Colicchio. Basically all of his personal preferences trumped other considerations. He thinks risotto must be cooked a certain way (I actually agree with him) and that’s all we need to know. I respect his judgment but, did a dish of steamed mussels really deserve to win? According to Colicchio the dish was great because it reminded him of his childhood. Well, that’s touching. But I think Fabio was absolutely right that it wasn’t even an Italian dish.
So, he's wrong, it seemed to me.  I know that as a matter of fact, Italian risotto is soupy and I was pretty sure that fennel and mussels is an Italian dish. Because the internet is such a marvel for finding things out.  I looked and, sure enough, Italian cooks cook mussels and fennel in Italy. But wait, there's more. Anthony Bourdain writes about TC every week he describes
the aforementioned steamed mussels with white wine and fennel with garlic bread from Antonia that, at very least, got the mood and the expectations of her clients exactly right. A big, steaming bowl of properly cooked mussels, with crusty, strongly-garlicked bread. (Fabio later complained that fennel is "French." I suggest he visit Sicily.).
Eric Ripert goes further and denies the Frenchness of the dish altogether.Colicchio argues that the dish is Italian-American cooking and therefore perfectly okay. And everyone involved agrees that real risotto is soupy.

Because he got his facts wrong, his conclusion concerning Colicchio domination of the judging process is wrong. Colicchio on the judging:
When I was growing up, chicken cacciatore was one of my mother's staples. She made it every two weeks or so and she made a good one. Fabio did, too. The flavors were great. That said, Antonia's dish was simply better. So much so, in fact, that it was the unanimous choice, not just of the judges, but of every single person at the table. Everything about it came together perfectly, and it was great. Truth be told, I don't even care that much for mussels. They're OK, but I have never been a big fan. And yet, that said, I felt definitively that Antonia's dish was the best of the evening. Anyone who writes to challenge the decision clearly did not taste the dish. Not only was Antonia's dish executed beautifully, but it also captured the spirit of the challenge of evoking family at the table in a simple and unforced way.
Why would you want to be factually inaccurate?  Especially when you want to accuse some one or some group of malfeasance, surely the grasp of the facts affects the accuracy of your conclusions.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


If you're interested in the events in Egypt, I would like to recommend "The New Yorkers" coverage, although I am still bitter about Brooks and to a greater extent Gladwell.

George Washington, It Seems, Hated Our Freedoms.

So some legislator wanted to teach the liberal fascist Obama and his unconstitutional health insurance reform requiring citizens to buy stuff a lesson by requiring all his fellow citizens to buy a gun for their own good. His assumption was that the measure wouldn't pass or would be found unconstitutional. Highlarrity ensues:
Does he think a gun mandate and the health care mandate are the same thing, I asked? "Yes," he responded.
I then asked him whether he had an opinion on the gun mandate that was signed into law by Washington in 1792. "I wasn't aware of it," he said after a short pause. "Is it still on the books or has it been removed?"
I explained that the Militia Acts were amended many times over the course of this country's history, and this provision was phased out a long time ago.
In the course of the interview, I asked whether this would change his opinion on individual mandates. "No," he said. "I really don't feel like a gun mandate would be constitutional under these circumstances."
What does he mean by the circumstances?
"Well, it was shortly after the Revolutionary War, and it was before the War of 1812," he said, "which may have been something that was on the radar screen -- that they knew there could be another challenge coming from overseas. I'm not a history major, though."
What I find especially humorous about this is that he assumes that Constitutional principles are relative.  Sure it's okay, he appears to argue, to force citizens to buy a gun if war is in the offing but not in time of peace; similarly, one assumes, the various other rights and restrictions disappear or appear only under the right set of circumstances.

ETA: When it comes to morality and Einstein, the Tea Party Patriots insist, relativity is evil or crazy elitist hatred of common sense; however, when it comes to the constitution relativity is just good old fashion patriotism.


As we contemplate a future in which the youth of today will find remunerative remuneration servicing the needs of the old and wealthy, let's pause and contemplate the wealthy they will be serving:

But the second-best thing is that the plaintiff, financier Alphonse Fletcher Jr., was moved to sue, according to the New York Times, after the Dakota board seemingly capriciously blocked his attempt to buy an adjacent apartment and expand his home into it "to accommodate his growing family":
Mr. Fletcher currently lives in an eight-room, 2,600-square-foot apartment with three bedrooms, three and a half baths, two maids rooms and Central Park views, according to an old sales listing kept by Michele Kleier of the brokerage firm Gumley Haft Kleier.
The Fletcher family, the Times wrote, consists of Fletcher, his spouse, and a two-year-old daughter. That's 867 square feet, 2.67 rooms, and 1.17 bathrooms for each person in the household.
Yes, indeed, the most pressing economic needs of this great land of ours is the deregulating of those pesky barbers with their haughty ways and whatnot.

History is a Discipline

Over to the NYRB blog, Ingrid Rowlands is lamenting the religious bigotry that motivated burning the library at Alexander and murdering Hypatia. She doesn't get the stories exactly right and her general point is that in this moment of unrest in Alexandria, of whom "[o]ne ancient writer claimed that there was no people who loved a fight more than those of Alexandria"[1], they Alexandrines are protecting the library and that this is a good thing. So in a discussion of the use and abuse of history for an argument, to paraphrase someone or another isn't that bad, although why  bowlderize I always wonder. Her argument, protection of important things by coalitions of folks willing to protect important things, is compelling enough on its own, the introduction of history, bowdlerized especially, really doesn't advance the argument.

Over to the Corner Duncan Currie quotes Reuel Marc Gerecht's argument that you can't get to Jefferson without Luther as prelude to approving the idea that the Muslim Brotherhood has to be allowed to participate in any Egyptian Election.  The conclusion is correct, but I wonder what he means by Luther?  There is, it's true, a sort of intellectual history that seeks to associated the Reformation with the development of modern political notions. There is also a historiographical tradition that seeks to link Luther to Hitler.  Neither is particularly compelling.  It seems to me what Gerecht means to argue is that absent the extended intra-Christian violence preceding and including the Thirty Years' War and the  increasing importance or acceptance of the so-called Politiques' ideas about toleration as a pragmatic good you can't get to Jefferson.  This might be slightly harder to sell, of course, since the suggestion is of the necessity for years of intra-Muslim violence.

Why not drop the historical analogies altogether, particularly as neither seems to have a very firm grasp on either historiography or the facts, and stick to stuff they know.  Gerecht and Currie are both willing to risk the MB's success at the ballot box because, I take it, they privilege full participation over predicted outcome.  If you exclude the MB from participating you can predict that they won't win any elections; you can also predict, they seem to argue, that the election won't be seen as legitimate. A position that seems sound.  Why pretend you understand history?

 [1] second link

Monday, January 31, 2011

Center Right Nation

Some of you may think that Reagan changed the way Americans think about the world and, consequently, you might think that insisting that Neoliberalism is the new orthodoxy and that soberly assessing the world from a Neoliberal point of view is simply accepting the world as it is. From Xpostfactoid we find a post from some guy with a chart based on data collected from some other guy that offers this view of public opinion:

This chart suggests that folks plumping for Neoliberal solutions are engaged in trying to sway the public's view of the world. You might suggest that public opinion and things as they are are two different things, by which you might mean the world works the way Neoliberals say it does. This is, as of course, difficult to maintain when much of the rest of the world operates outside the Neoliberal model.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Just So

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High Dudgeon

Matthew Ygelsias is in one because, he claims, "deriding" his future of more waitstaffing and catering to the rich on vacations is injurious to the laborers' dignity.  I leave it for others to judge the sincerity of his claims of concern for the dignity of the service industries, professional licenses, and so on based on his own denigration of barbering as profession, assault on economically successful licensed professionals, and suggestion that future of education lies in the adaptation of the Olive Garden's business model.

Instead of falling into a pointless debate about whole who loves labor more non sequitur, e.g., those whose preferred system of economic organization creates ever growing inequalities of wealth or those who would like to find away to reverse the trend Neoliberalism has created, in favor of pointing out that Yglesias' claim that the
whole essence of all economic transactions is that you’re doing things for other people[,]

is misleading.  If you leave the desire for profit out of you notion of economic exchange, its seems to me, that you have really got to brush up on your econ 101.Lo these many years ago Pierre Nicole, inter alia, made the argument that in the world as it is people exchange goods and services for profit. For Nicole, and others,in  a truly Christian society would exchange goods and services out of love for their fellow man. He, and they, argued that God gave humanity greed to preserve the world because, they argued, greed led to commerce and commerce soften manners, improved society, caused warfare to decline, and generally encouraged toleration and mutual respect; although, they were quick to point out, it was all a sham and shield because each actor acted so out of base, indeed sinful, motives. I am dubious of the latter claim and find the condition of the world as it is sufficient proof against the former.

What these founding fathers[1] of Neoliberalism, Reaganism, Thatcherism, and Glibbertarianism didn't discuss, so far as I know, is what Adam Smith latter pointed out: owners tend to screw their workers in an attempt to increase profits.  We see quite a lot of this in the world as it is.  The various things against which Yglesias rails, teachers unions, state licensing regimes, and the like, are some of the ways in which workers seek to improve their material conditions. Others argue for the continued expansion of the state's intervention into the market place to increase economic equality. Yglesias tends to argue that the liberal big governments' era has passed and little tweaking is all that is in order.

So, I'll just suggest that given that 30 years of Neoliberalism have created world rather different than the one you suggest several decades of continued Neoliberalism will create runs rather counter to your high dudgeon induced songs of the dignity of labor. And your inability to capture the essence of exchange in a market capitalism does little to build up my confidence in your knowledge of how things work.

[1]  You can read lots of this and other proponents of Yglesiasiam avante la lettre here for free, oddly enough.