I hope you all already read Brad DeLong, but if not, at least check out what you need to know to respond to Republicans who assure you the economy is going great, pointing to the low unemployment rate.
Apparently, there's good reason to think that the London bombings could have been prevented, were it not for another typical case of the Republicans pursuing political gain at the expense of security.
This describes some data absolutely everyone should know about. I wonder what the situation is like in philosophy, which is as male-dominated as any science but which rarely is the subject of detailed studies. I fear there's little reason to think we do any better.
A fascinating development in the Rove case, presented in a manner I find irresistable. BTW, names aren't really rigid designators; cluster theories can be saved! (disclaimer: as mentioned earlier, I cannot claim to be a specialist in philosophy of language, so my opinions in this area, while of course correct, should not be treated as authoritative or supported by decisive argument).
I've seen a few references to this story in the lefty blogs, and it's certainly one worth hearing about. Apparently, Toyota is building a new plant in Ontario rather than in the American south. Toyota cites two reasons for favoring Ontario, despite promises of larger subsidies and tax breaks from southern states. First, Ontario has better educated workers, so Toyota expects to save money on training. Second, Canada's single-payer health care system means Toyota won't have to pay for health insurance for the full time workers.
The main lesson the lefties have been drawing from this is that spending money on education and health care can be good for your economy, despite requiring higher taxes. This is almost certainly true, and is a good supplement to all the moral arguments in favor of providing everyone with good education and health care. I hope that aspect of the issue continues to be widely discussed.
However, I would also like to point out another lesson of this story, one on which I will disagree with some of my fellow liberals. I've mentioned in previous posts my enthusiasm for free trade. This story highlights one of the reasons I do not think the "fair trade" some of my fellow leftists endorse is a necessary or desirable alternative to simply making trade as free as possible. Many leftists fear that free trade will encourage some kind of race to the bottom, with businesses moving all operations to countries with the least regulations and fewest public services (and so lowest taxes). This does not actually seem to be what happens. To a great extent, wages are (relatively) high in the wealthy countries because there are so many advantages to doing business in a country with a functional infrastructure, political stability, and healthy and educated people that in quite a lot of industries it is worth the cost of paying more for workers in those countries. Conversely, wages are extremely low in poor countries largely because most industries could not afford to both pay high wages and deal with all the massive inconveniences of operating in a third world country. Freeing up trade won't change those facts; it will just mean more specialization (those industries better suited to rich countries will be more concentrated in rich countries, and conversely) and so more productivity all around as countries focus more on what they're good at (which is the whole point of trade, of course).
Of course, other factors do operate (I am somewhat inclined to believe Adam Smith's conspiracy theories about how and why wages tend to be kept lower than they would be in a truly free market), but those factors have nothing to do with how much free trade is allowed, and restricting free trade does nothing to address those factors (indeed, Adam Smith argued that the larger, more complex, and freer the marketplace, the harder it is for those conspiracies to influence wages).
I should add that when I say I advocate straight up free trade, not tied to labor restrictions or environmental restrictions or anything like that, I do mean it in both directions. Many "free trade" agreements not only fail to include provisions to increase labor and environmental standards, they include provisions to restrict those standards. I object to both ways of tying free trade to unrelated issues, and the latter ties are probably overall the more damaging.
I don't know how to make an issue of this, but I am quite annoyed that there are people who think America's not having been attacked again since 9-11 indicates that the Republicans have been doing something right on keeping us safe. 8 years elapsed between the first attack on the WTC and the second, successful attack. Of course, good things were being done on security in the mean time (by Clinton), but one other conclusion that seems obvious is that Al Qaeda has never been in a position to make frequent attacks. So the lack of attacks on us in the past few years is quite insufficient to suggest that we're doing anything new and productive on security. Al Qaeda failed to launch an effective attack on us for 8 years when there was no Patriot act, so there's no reason to think the Patriot act is responsible for their recent lack of successful attacks in the U.S. Al Qaeda failed to launch an effective attack on us for 8 years when we weren't occupying any Middle Eastern countries, so there's no reason to think our occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq is responsible for their recent lack of successful attacks in the U.S.
I realize that so far it has proven nearly impossible to stop the Republicans for taking credit for successes that aren't really successes, but I guess I'm unwilling to give up trying.
I've now been linked by Majikthise, which makes me feel obligated to post something decent. This is probably a good thing; I usually work better under pressure.
I've been reading Freiheit und Wissen recently, and it has made me think about an issue to which I don't know the solution. A particular recent post that has made me think about the issue is cntodd's discussion of CAFTA. Now, I do not know if CAFTA is a good idea or not. Some people I respect make the argument that any free trade agreement at all should virtually always be supported, because free trade is generally good, so it's vital to keep up the momentum toward more free trade. I find that argument somewhat suspect; surely accepting really bad free trade agreements will have the undesirable effect of encouraging future free trade agreements to include equally bad elements. On the other side, I've encountered arguments that CAFTA is in fact really bad, that in particular it imposes the absurd, draconian U.S. intellectual property approach on other countries, and also actively hinders pro-labor efforts in the poor countries which would be part of the deal. Thus, I am inclined to be tentatively anti-CAFTA.
So that's my position. Cntodd makes an additional argument against CAFTA which I would like to examine. First, he argues that CAFTA isn't really providing free trade, because it has too many exceptions. Fine; this is one of the reasons I'm tentatively on the anti-CAFTA side. Surely if the point is to encourage free trade, only agreements that actually produce more free trade are desirable. However, cntodd takes this as a launching point for one of the most bizarre anti-trade arguments I've ever seen from a leftist. He argues that the conservatives who have posed as champions of free trade, such as Reagan and the Bushes, have consistently failed to practice what they preached; in general, their agreements have fallen far short of free trade goals. Cntodd suggests that this is because they realized free trade isn't really good for the economy, and so preferred other policies.
Of course, "good for the economy" can be interpreted in many different ways. Since cntodd seems to be agreeing with Reagan and the Bushes, I'm assuming he's interpreting it as "good for the prosperity of everyone, or at least most people." In that case, I am quite astonished; I would not have thought that someone as generally far left as cntodd would have had any inclination to think that being good for Americans in general would ever be a central motivation for a Reagan or Bush policy. Personally, I quite agree with cntodd that Reagan and the Bushes have been poor free traders, but I can't understand why he thinks this is because they knew free trade would be bad for the country.
Perhaps the reason is that, like many far leftists, he is suspicious of the value of free trade, and so he's automatically assuming that anybody who agrees with him in finding free trade suspect must be right, even if they're wrong about lots of other things. And that, finally, brings up the main issue I wanted to discuss. My opinions on economic policy are, to a considerable degree, determined by what I can pick up from economists. I'm not an economist myself, so I feel like the best course I can take is to, for the most part, defer to experts. However, it is clearly necessary to be cautious in so doing, and try to correct for obvious biases in the experts when I can detect them.
Notably, a majority of economists seem to have a pro-wealthy bias. They tend to conflate policies which are good for the rich with policies that are good for the people in general. It is not difficult to see why economists would tend to have such biases; anybody with even a passing familiarity with economics will be able to see the obvious there. The wealthy have a lot more money with which to pay economists, and economists are, if nothing else, quite perceptive about which side of the bread has the butter on it.
Still, economists are scientists of a sort. They construct theories on the basis of evidence about what the effects of various causes are, and while they'll generally spin their conclusions to suggest that effects for the rich are generally desirable, they do know some things about how particular causes link to particular effects. Further, they do not all share the irritating bias toward the rich; economists like Brad DeLong and Adam Smith seem to be genuinely interested in making everyone better off. So, when Brad DeLong and Adam Smith agree with all the other economists in saying that free trade is good (as they do), I tend to conclude that the evidence suggests it probably is one of those policies that's really good for everyone, not just for the rich.
However, sadly, economic policy is not generally decided by the Adam Smiths and Brad Delongs of the world. The economists who favor the rich tend to have more influence, and non-economists tend to have more yet. So any actual "free trade" agreement will tend to have been heavily influenced by lobbying groups which are not interested in the well-being of everyone, and which in many cases are pursuing (often not even competently) the well-being of a very narrow class indeed.
This doesn't happen only in the area of free trade. When the IMF imposes conditions on loans, the conditions are usually devised on the basis of fairly uncontroversial economic principles. However, exactly how to meet the IMF conditions is always up to the government seeking the loan. Obviously, those governments tend to do their best to make sure their supporters (the entrenched wealthy kleptocracy) do not end up suffering any of the pain of the conditions, and since it is the corruption of that class which is usually responsible for the biggest problems in third world countries, immunizing them from the costs of reforms (by finding clever ways to impose the costs on others) largely guarantees that the reforms will not end up actually having the benefits the IMF hopes for.
So free trade agreements will often tend to not provide the kind of free trade benefits the few idealistic economists hope for, and IMF-inspired reforms and austerity programs are well-known not to provide the kinds of benefits the IMF is (I am idealistically hoping) genuinely trying to achieve.
Of course, one of the effects of both of these phenomena is to encourage the well-justified suspicion of economics among the leftists. Economists have some good evidence about what will be good for everyone, but they also have some good evidence about what will be good for the rich or for their particular patrons, and they try to sell policies in the latter categories as if they were in the former category. So it is quite understandable that many would come to see all their recommendations as part of a great scam.
So, my questions are, first, how do we get the policies which are known to be good for people in general on the public stage; how do we separate them from the self-serving policies of the few? And, second, how do we get anyone to support them? If we do manage, by some miracle, to get policy-makers discussing policies which will bring genuine free trade, or anything else that is of general benefit, how do we persuade the justifiably skeptical that these policies are not just more scams?
I am not a subscriber to any newspaper. I read the Providence Journal somewhat frequently, since I live in Rhode Island so it's frequently lying around a bar where I'm having a beer or some food or something. I read the Boston Globe somewhat frequently for similar reasons, since I spend plenty of time in Massachusetts, and for that matter the Globe can be found in places in Rhode Island as well. And I read the New York Times somewhat frequently because the Brown philosophy department subscribes, so it can be found lying around in the lounge.
The ProJo I mostly read when I want to be annoyed. It's a Republican rag, which is odd considering the prevailing views in Rhode Island. The Globe is usually pretty decent. The New York Times also annoys me, not because it's as bad as the ProJo, but because I usually don't find it to be as good as the Globe; it seems to fall far short of its reputation these days.
However, another newspaper I sometimes find lying around and so happen to read is USA Today. I am not under the impression that it has a sterling reputation. But whenever I read it, I find amid the excessive use of color and insipid polls there seems to be a rather astonishing amount of detailed, balanced coverage of genuine news. Further, when I read the editorial page, I often find myself agreeing with their positions, and hardly ever find them idiotic. Have I lost my mind, or has this become one of the better newspapers in America these days?
Von at Obsidian Wings criticizes Kerry for arguing that we need a specific timeline for pulling out of Iraq. He gives the usual argument that any timeline will encourage the insurgents to simply wait us out. Now, a case can be made that he has misinterpreted Kerry's comments; taking the whole speech in context, Kerry could easily be interpreted as saying that we need to be more specific about our goals, in order to evaluate whether we're achieving them and in order to better determine how to improve our progress.
But I think an argument can be made for a specific timeline. Most Iraqis want us out of Iraq, the sooner the better. The insurgency is a fairly loosely organized affair, mostly obsessed with booting us out. There seems rather good reason to think that if we had a specific timeline for pulling out, one of the major effects of that timeline would be to undercut recruiting for the insurgency. The less we appear to be an occupying power trying to steal their oil, the less resentment we generate, and specific plans for pulling out in the not too distant future clearly make us look less imperialistic.
Similarly, an American pull-out would increase the legitimacy of the current Iraqi government. Combine a strengthening of the government with a weakening of the insurgency, and there is reason to think a fairly rapid withdrawal would in fact be the best possible thing for Iraqi stability.
I think what we should in fact have done is to hold elections much sooner after the invasion, and left rather soon after the elections. I have heard that this is what General Garner recommended at the time. The problem with that plan is that the Republicans, for all their appearance of unity, had diverse goals in Iraq. Some just wanted to get Hussein. Some wanted to show off how powerful our military is. Both of those goals would have been served by the quick election and withdrawal approach. However, some wanted to create a model democracy in Iraq, and elections in a country with no democratic traditions are inevitably going to produce something far short of the desired model, so many members of the model democracy crowd felt an irresistable urge to stay around and meddle, in hopes of shaping the democracy into something more to their liking. I sympathize with the model democracy crowd, but external shaping never helps things; leaving Iraq an imperfect democracy and hoping it would improve over time would probably have been the best way to pursue that objective.
Still others wanted to turn Iraq into a model of American economic policy. That would certainly require long-term meddling; no rapidly constructed elected government could be expected to produce the kind of economic reforms the right-wing economic idealists wanted. And, last but certainly not least, largely allied with the economic idealists are the war-profiteers, who wanted Iraq to be as open as possible to American business. Again, a more or less democratically elected government, if it were given real power, could be pretty confidently expected not to give that crowd everything they wanted.
Thus, I think the relatively incoherent policy the Republican administration has been pursuing in Iraq has been a result of their inconsistent objectives. It's clear that the economic objectives have been most influential in determining policy, but the other objectives have also had some influence. However, none of our goals are served by an insurgent victory, and I hope everyone agrees that long-term occupation is not in the interests of America either. I maintain that at present, the primary effect of extending the occupation is to increase the perception that the Iraqi government is an American puppet, and so that as far as American interests are concerned, a rapid withdrawal is by far the most desirable strategy, and for the reasons given at the outset, we should not only begin planning such a withdrawal, but publicize the timetable we intend to follow, just as Senator Kerry has recommended.
There's an interesting examination of the connection between freedom and property rights on Left2Right. Elizabeth Anderson seems to be developing an argument that even if you consider freedom the ultimate value, libertarian politics will not ensue. So far, her case looks promising, but I would like to try a different line of attack. I would like to ask what version of freedom, if any, could justify libertarian political views.
I am, myself, a considerable fan of freedom, and I certainly agree with the libertarians on a number of issues. I oppose censorship, support the legalization of drugs and prostitution, and so forth. But I do not accept the libertarian elevation of private property to the status of seemingly the highest right there is. Indeed, I don't believe in absolute rights of any kind.
Instead, when I advocate freedom, it is for Millian reasons. Mill, of course, advocated giving people a large amount of control over their own lives in On Liberty, but his arguments were all consequentialist. One theme that runs through much of the essay is that people are generally best placed to determine what will contribute to their own happiness and to determine how to get it, so in most cases they'll be happiest if left to take care of themselves. He has many other arguments, of course, but the important point is that they all view freedom as a means to an end, as a way of increasing the general happiness. As a result, they are also all contingent; if circumstances are such that in a particular kind of case freedom is not contributing to happiness, it ceases to have value. To connect this to concrete policies, I am fairly certain that freedom from taxation does not have sufficient benefits to outweigh the benefits of a well-run democratic government with decent social programs.
Being a compatibilist, I cannot see how freedom could have value as other than a means, so for me the Millian view of freedom is the only one that can make sense. But of course compatibilism is hardly uncontroversial. Does a believer in contra-causal freedom have a better argument for libertarian politics than a compatibilist? Nozick perhaps thought so. Certainly, making freedom a more extraordinary thing might increase the plausibility of assigning it intrinsic value.
However, constructing an account of contra-causal freedom which gives the libertarians what they want is not as easy as might at first appear. If one is a contra-causal extremist, a la Sartre, then it would appear that no political consequences whatever follow. According to Sartre, our freedom is, by its nature, competely unlimited; we always have total freedom, in the sense of being totally responsible for what we make of our lives. This view is, of course, not original with Sartre; Descartes also thought a free will had no limits.
But if freedom is absolute like this, government policies can't take it away. Government policies thus can't be evaluated on the basis of how they affect freedom, because they can't affect freedom at all (well, with one possible exception; killing someone will take away their freedom according to Sartre, though not according to Descartes). Thus, Sartre wasn't in any way compromising his belief in the importance of freedom in his sense when he endorsed communism.
What the libertarian needs, then, is some intermediate kind of freedom, between compatibilist freedom and the extreme freedom of Descartes and Sartre. It must be somehow special, probably contra-causal, but still subject to being restricted by outside forces. There have, of course, been efforts to describe freedom of exactly that kind. I find all such accounts deeply problematic, unsurprisingly, but the important point is that this is where one's metaphysics are required to be if one is to use the intrinsic value of freedom to endorse libertarian politics.
There's an interesting item by Don Herzog on Left2Right. I won't give away the ending by discussing it here.
This philosoraptor post argues plausibly that Bush should be impeached for having never read Euthyphro.
The blog's title refers, of course, to Otto Neurath, the sociologist, economist, and philosopher who usually gets third billing in lists of the great Logical Positivists (after Carnap, the star, and Schlick, the Vienna Circle's leader). I'm a huge fan of Carnap as well,
but couldn't think of a good title based on his work but wanted to pick someone who connected more to politics, which is something to which I expect to devote a decent amount of time here. Neurath was the most politically active of the Logical Positivists. His economic theories were somewhere in the near vicinity of Marx on the left/right spectrum (it's hard to say who was more of an extremist), and I think he was mistaken in those views, though I think given the evidence available to him it wasn't silly for him to have believed what he did. However, this reminded me of one of the areas where I think Neurath had things right (and Ezra is being too cynical, or at least his cynicism is unproductive). Unlike so many of his fellow extreme socialists, Neurath had an unwavering dedication to democracy; the fact that voters could not be reliably counted on to vote for his policies only meant, for Neurath, that he had to work harder on education and persuasion. I continue to find that to be a much more appealing vision for improving politics than either defeatism or copying the corrupt tactics of the Republican extremists.
I assume most of those who are reading this have noticed that while the Republicans accuse any Democrat who speaks on economic issues of class warfare, they have themselves been engaged in an aggressive policy of enriching the already rich at the expense of the poor. This has led me to think a bit about the history of philosophical discussions of the seemingly never ending class war.
One infrequently commented upon place in which the class war is discussed is in the writings of Nietzsche. Nietzsche is famous for presenting his contrast between what he called the master morality and the slave morality. They do end up roughly corresponding to morality as the rich would like the rules to be, and morality as the poor would like the rules to be. But Nietzsche hardly ever mentions money. His tendency to ignore money is a little bit odd, given what I'm sure some of his sources are.
I expect one of the primary sources of the great classical philologist's ideas has to have been Plato. In Republic, we see a sophisticated attack on the master morality. But Plato makes money central to his argument; the first spokesman for the moral theory Plato seeks to undermine, Cephalus, is notable almost exclusively for being wealthy. Further, the theory of Cephalus that money is equivalent to virtue is one of Plato's main targets. The argument Thrasymachus and eventually Glaucon and Adeimantus take up exploits the contradiction between the beliefs of Cephalus that being rich and being honest both are part of being good. It is evident to all that one can become richer by being dishonest under the right circumstances, so since being rich equals being good, Thrasymachus argues that we should really think it is dishonesty that makes us good.
Further, the emphasis on money is not just present in the first book and a half. More than two thousand years before Marx, Plato makes a very big deal of the importance of class struggle. He argues that his ideal republic will effortlessly win in a conflict with any Greek rival, because in every city in Greece apart from his ideal republic, there are really two cities. There are the rich and the poor, and they are ever ready to go to war with one another. So all the republic needs to do to have an overwhelming advantage over any rival city is to make an alliance with one of the perpetually warring factions against the other.
Plato, in what is perhaps an over-reaction, seems to try to resolve the contradiction between saying wealth is good and saying honesty is good by ditching both; his philosopher-kings are supposed to not care about wealth, but are also supposed to freely lie for the good of the state. However, the important point is that money is quite central to the discussion in Plato. Why does it not appear in Nietzsche?
The innocent explanation would be that wealth is only important to the extent that it is a source of power. Nietzsche certainly talks a lot about power, so it could be argued that he is simply concentrating on what is more fundamental.
However, there is another explanation, which reflects less well on Nietzsche. Recognizing the degree to which master morality is morality as the wealthy would have us see it would involve seeing that the master morality is quite widespread in modern times. While Nietzsche does not claim that the master morality has died out, he writes as if the slave morality were dominant in the modern era. Further, while he is not an enthusiast for the master morality, almost all of his most pointed criticisms are directed at the slave morality, perhaps for this very reason that he saw the slave morality as dominant. However, if the master morality is interpreted as morality according to the rich, it becomes apparent that it is still far more powerful than Nietzsche seems to have recognized. It is not clear why Nietzsche didn't recognize this, but it seems to stand as one of his larger mistakes.