Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Cooperation, Interdependence, and the Democrats

Posted 1/22/2005 on Matthew Yglesias in response to this piece by Timothy Burke.

I just don't think the independence vs. inter-dependence idea is sufficiently reflective of reality to work. Whatever you think of Evangelicals, Evangelical religion (both belief and practice) is very centered on interdependent communities. To the extent where non-minority communities that function as communities still exist, they are almost entirely Republican (rural areas and small towns have the strongest everyone-looks-out-for-everyone ethos). And unions? Private-sector union members are majority Republican--the Democrats lost them 20 years ago; they were the "Reagan Democrats." It's only the government-based unions (AFSCME, NEA) that are generally Democratic.

And Thresholder, you're right; President Bush is not conservative. The seriously conservative portion of the Republican Party (National Review, Club for Growth) is not very happy with him--on immigration, on NCLB, on DHS, on the growth of government spending in general, most especially on Medicare. BUT the party is stronger than he is and is growing in strength nationwide(look at state races, Senate races, House races) and is growing in strength among some traditionally Democratic constituencies (Jews because of Israel, Blacks because of homosexuality).

I think that the core issue has already been captured in this thread; the Democratic Party thinks government is the solution to most problems; Republicans (and a majority of voters) don't.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Comment 1/20/2005 on Left2Right

Biological explanations can do two things: they can justify different policies, or they can explain outcomes. I would argue that the first is almost always illegitimate, but the second is very useful.

Sam’s rule of government: governments should consider individuals as individuals, not as members of a group. Making group-based policies strengthens factionalism, increases tensions between the groups and hardens definitions of the group, and is thus dangerous and corrosive to liberty.

However, government treating people as “equal before the law” does not mean that all groups will end up proportionately represented in every field of endeavor. Studying how groups differ in ability, inclination, etc is useful for understanding why that happens.

One area of law and practice where this realization is very helpful is in anti-discrimination law. On principle, I oppose anti-discrimination law that applies to non-government actors—but that’s another issue. One big problem with anti-discrimination law as currently implemented is that numerical disparities are considered evidence of discrimination. (If there is significant under-representation of a protected group, the burden of proof is on the employer to prove that it does not discriminate.) Realizing that there can be real biological reasons that groups will not, in every endeavor, be represented proportionately, helps show why this presumption is inaccurate and can be dangerous.

Just to clarify--I believe biological differences almost never justify governments treating people differently. Most of the abuses mentioned above (eugenics, segregation) are examples of governments treating people differently on the basis of biology.

Democracy vs democracy

Posted 1/21/2005 to Left2Right

Part of the problem here is the confusion between(what I'll denote as) "democracy" (the majority rules) and "Democracy" (used by politicians and the public to denote a liberal state). So Hong Kong in 1997 was a Democracy but not a democracy; Zimbabwe today is a democracy but not a Democracy.

In practice, democracy is dangerous--as Jeff Cooper said, "It's the system that says that in a boat with 5 castaways, 3 can legitimately decide to eat the other two". There are plenty of historical examples--the Terror in France, Hitler in Germany, the Tojo government in Japan--of democracies treating minorities horrifically; pure democracy doesn't protect minorities.

When the President opposes Democracy to tyranny, he is clearly using the second meaning--Democracy as in liberty, respect for minority rights, and so forth.

The USA is not designed as a democracy; that was very clearly not the intent of its Constitution or of its Founders. Many of the un-democratic features of US government--the Senate, the Supreme Court, the Electoral college--were explicitly designed to protect minorities. First-past-the-post elections are beneficial in some ways; they protect geographical minorities, and they reduce the influence of fringe groups (Greens, nativists, etc) which is often desirable.

There are numerous national laws, though, that reduce the ability of the States to experiment with different electoral arrangements; almost all of these are in the democratic direction. For example, the Motor Voter Act and the proscription of a requirement to show ID before voting (which make effective controls on election fraud much more difficult to implement), the proscription of literacy and property qualifications for voting (which protect property-owners against others), and the proscription of geographically based voting districts in the States (although they are permitted in the Senate).

So while I certainly wouldn't argue that the US system of government is perfect, I think it does a better job of protecting minority rights, and has proven to be more stable and resilient over time, than any other system that's out there. As such, I think it prudent to let States and cities experiment, but to be very hesitant to do so at the national level.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Comment on Left2Right, 1/14/2005

Pat Robertson’s criticism of the universities is familiar; in my opinion, it has three bases.

1) The change in emphasis from learning particular bodies of knowledge to learning habits of thought. For example, most universities still do teach courses in writing; however, a much smaller proportion of college students today can write consistently formal English and get complicated grammatical structures correct than was the case 50 years ago. Similarly, a smaller proportion can list the Presidents in order, describe the main Greek philosophers and the differences among them, or summarize the main plots and characters from Shakespeare’s plays. Many traditionalists argue that the primary focus of education should be learning existing bodies of knowledge.
2) To the extent that the university is based on some body of knowledge, that body of knowledge has changed in ways that conservatives dislike, particularly within the humanities. There is much greater emphasis on race, class and gender in readings of history, philosophy, and literature; correspondingly, there is much less emphasis on Western Civilization as uniquely good. There is more emphasis on respect for different ways of thinking about morals; correspondingly, less effort is devoted to learning traditional systems of moral thought thoroughly. For me (one of the UnReconstructed), there seems to be a pervasive effort to eliminate positive portrayals of the South and the Confederacy.
3) Certain professors (whom it is to be hoped are atypical) have definitely brought politics into the classroom in inappropriate ways. Most of the horror stories center around one of two things; designing classes that presuppose particular political views and effectively exclude those who don’t share them (for example, by requiring activism on behalf of particular causes as part of the course work), or requiring agreement with the professor, in politically loaded ways, to get good grades.

These problems are not new. Changes in the body of knowledge have been happening since there were universities; the change to include philosophy in the theological curriculum was controversial in its time, as was the inclusion of modern languages in the curriculum.

Secondly, these problems seem to most frequently occur in lower-tier state schools. That’s the thing to realize about Liberty and Regent; they aren’t competing with Harvard, or even with U. Va. They are primarily competing with the second-tier state schools.

Thirdly, diversity both within and among institutions is a good thing. The attempts of some to fight the accreditation of explicitly Christian schools because they are Christian and conservative have definitely made the academy look bad. And the sense that most conservatives have of being unwelcome in the Academy at every stage (which has been endlessly discussed elsewhere) has also angered conservatives and made real diversity of opinion less common in the universities than would be desirable.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Posted in comments on Left2Right

Interesting points! I believe the taxation=theft equivalence comes from Bastiat, whose rule was that governments had no legitimate right to do anything individuals could not. Given Locke’s statements, one might argue that individuals legitimately can take from others, by force, what they need for survival.

I think, though, that the above interpretation may be mistaken. Note Locke’s words:

“As justice gives every man a title to the product of his honest industry, and the fair acquisitions of his ancestors descended to him; so charity gives every man a title to so much out of another's plenty, as will keep him from extreme want, where he has no means to subsist otherwise.”

Many political scientists put justice as the only legitimate concern of government. Charity is a moral virtue, but governments cannot force people to be charitable; they can force them to act charitably, but that harms their ability to actually BE charitable. This point is very strongly argued by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn; I am not a sufficient scholar of Locke to know whether he made this distinction, but the idea that charity is not a proper concern of government is fairly old.