Friday, September 21, 2007

Must... fight... urge...

to engage Ilya Somin in lengthy debate on federalism in Star Trek. (Via Amber Taylor. Much too much to do, yet urge is strangely strong...

But I will suggest that the arrangement is probably confederal rather than federal-- there's no case I can think of in which the UFP legislated in a way that reached directly onto the surface of the planets, as it were. The problem is that we see vanishingly little of the civilian-to-civilian interactions that would be needed to decide the case. It's hard to learn much about how confederal, federal, or centralized a system is by watching the activities of its centralized military...

Update: OK, one more thing. The comments thread at Volokh quickly spiraled into the old standbys of social-science-geekery-about-Star Trek-- the allegedly post-scarcity economy (unless you happen to be a dilithium miner) and foreign policy/ the Prime Directive. That's because Ilya gave a very quirky tongue-in-cheek resource-extraction account of what the UFP's internal structure was like, but partly because those are the things we know how to talk about. Ilya's actual question-- how, if at all, is the Federation federal?-- isn't a Prime Directive question, and is only very indirectly a latinum question...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Dworkin wins Holberg Prize

Via the Chronicle, this announcement:

The Ludvig Holberg Memorial fund was established in 2003 by the Norwegian Parliament. The Board of the Fund annually awards the Holberg International Memorial Prize for outstanding scholarly work in the fields of the arts and humanitites, social sciences, law and theology. The prize for 2007 is NOK 4.5 million (approx. € 555,000/$750,000).

Holberg International Memorial Prize 2007: Ronald Dworkin

Ronald Dworkin has developed an original and highly influential legal theory grounding law in morality, characterized by a unique ability to tie together abstract philosophical ideas and arguments with concrete everyday concerns in law, morals, and politics.

Dworkin provides a balanced solution to the intractable controversy between the two major legal schools of the 20th century: legal positivism and natural law. He understands the legal system as consisting of rules as well as principles, the latter being of moral nature (Taking Rights Seriously, 1977). Values and purposes become an inherent part of propositions of law through the activity of interpretation. A connected, important concept is the integrity of law, which requires judges to assume that the law must be structured by a coherent set of principles about justice, fairness and due process. In order to treat each individual equally, these principles must be enforced anew in each and every case (Law's Empire, 1986). Dworkin's most famous and contested thesis, namely the "one right answer" or "best possible interpretation" theory belongs in this context.

Dworkin has elaborated a liberal egalitarian theory emphasizing equality of dignity and respect and devoted to the conviction that at the heart of any decent conception of justified political action lies the idea of individual human worth (Life's Dominion, 1993; Freedom's Law, 1996; Sovereign Virtue, 2000). In recent years, Dworkin has worked on the conflict between majoritarianism and moral principles in a polarized society (Is Democracy Possible Here?, 2006).

Dworkin's pioneering scholarly work has had world wide impact. He has also participated extensively in public debate of contemporary political and legal issues.

A fuller tribute to Dworkin's career is provided here by Emilios Christodoulidis; it includes the following, which seems a little odd in a citation for a scholarly award.
It would be doing Dworkin an injustice, however, if one were not to conclude with what is most distinctive about his work: that is the way in which his theory informs his political interventions and his life as public intellectual. He is a passionate teacher, as generations of students in Oxford, New York and London will testify. But he is also an intellectual ‘engagé’: indicatively only, he is famous for his defence of affirmative action programmes; for his stance against apartheid; and for his frequent interventions to protect free speech.

It is the latter that is today perhaps the most poignant. It is to Dworkin’s great credit that he has raised his voice eloquently and clearly against the American Academy’s dubious complicity with its Administration’s harsh and illiberal anti-terrorist ‘Patriot Act’ and executive measures and practices.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Wake me up...

when September ends.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Mind the gaps

Good gap-closing.

Bad gap-closing.

With regard to the latter: I think that as an adopted Montrealer I'm not supposed to say unkind things about Eric Gagne. Fortunately for me, the LGM crowd is not so constrained.

Can you believe the Red Sox still have the best record in the majors?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Evolution and morality...

in today's NYT.

It just so happens that I counted the ballots today, and "Evolution and Morality" will be the topic for the ASPLP meeting in 2008, and the volume of Nomos that will follow.

Via Neil Gaiman, Robert Jordan has died. A family statement is here.
Revealing my ignorance

Could one of my Canadian and/or Quebecois friends or readers explain to me what this means?
As well, Quebec is negotiating free trade with Ontario and a Canada-wide manpower mobility agreement.

"I like the idea a lot, this vision of establishing a new space for the free circulation and mobility of persons," Charest said.

What is the sense in which Quebec doesn't already have free trade with Ontario? And what is the sense in which persons qua laborers aren't free to move around Canada? Is the latter just about licensed professionals? What's the former about at all? I was under the rather strong impression that Canada was an internal single market...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

On accommodation

My remarks at the "Reasonable Accommodation" panel on Friday follow.

Five minutes is too short a time for an argument, and accordingly I won’t offer one. Instead I’ll offer some observations and draw some distinctions—recognizing that the relevance of the distinctions rests in part on arguments I won’t have time to offer.

First observation: the debate about reasonable accommodation is normal politics. It is not a crisis. It does not, as some Anglophone Canadians seem ready to suppose, demonstrate some distinctive, deep, dyed-in-the-pur-laine racism of Quebec society. It is one of the recurring facts about normal democratic politics that there is a cleavage between relatively urban, wealthy, cosmopolitan, liberal, and highly-educated groups and relatively rural, working-class, conservative, and less-educated groups, especially on questions of internationalism, free trade, immigration, and multiculturalism. One often sees an elite consensus across the major left-right parties on those issues; that often creates an opening for a more-populist party to apparently come out of nowhere and give voice to rural and working-class frustrations; and inevitably the urban cosmopolitan elites are shocked. Herouxville and the rise of the ADQ represent something routine in constitutional democracies; they’re part of the give-and-take of democratic politics.

First distinction: Reasonable accommodation is not immigration, and neither is bilingualism. There have been deliberate attempts to blur all of these boundaries. But issues of reasonable accommodation do not arise only in the context of recent immigrants to Quebec or to Canada, and most immigrants raise no questions of reasonable accommodation. Questions of reasonable accommodation typically arise about religious minorities, some of whom like Orthodox Jews have been in Montreal for generations. Conversely, most immigrants to Quebec come from secular or Catholic backgrounds and never request anything that could be classed as reasonable accommodation. It is especially important not to run together either reasonable accommodation or immigration with bilingualism, as has sometimes been done. Multiculturalism is not a mere stalking horse for Anglophone Canada in Quebec. And it is dangerous, potentially explosive, to encourage Francophone Quebecois to take out generations of complicated relationships to Anglophone Canada on either immigrants or religious minorities.

Second observation: “reasonable accommodation” as a phrase shows the limits of linguistic tricks and framing devices in politics. “Reasonable accommodation” should be impossible to resist or deny; it’s got “reasonable” built right into the name! But of course it’s not. The large part of the population that knows it’s skeptical about multiculturalism won’t be fooled into changing its mind by being told ex ante that the accommodations are reasonable ones.

Second distinction, which follows: Not all accommodation is reasonable. Some accommodations are less-than-reasonable; some are forbidden by basic justice or human rights, for example. And some accommodations are more-than-reasonable; they are actually demanded by basic justice, religious freedom, and human rights. In the middle are all the complicated cases involving something more like manners than like justice. This is what’s most important, and where there’s the most work to be done. In many cases, when religious believers have a religious duty that conflicts with a relatively weaker obligation to the state, they have a basic right to accommodation. When their religious duty would prevent them from taking part in the public sphere—from serving in the Mounties or the military, from voting, from attending public schools, from being able to go to court—then liberal democracies have a very powerful reason in justice to make accommodation, to bring the minorities into the public sphere rather than ghettoizing them. And when the religion commands violence, whether against group members or against outsiders, it’s morally prohibited to bend the criminal law to accommodate them—and indeed no one in Canada to the best of my knowledge has tried to request such accommodation, though there are cases in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Agreeing on the easy cases seems not to be so easy. The Herouxville norms mixed together easy right answers, like no stoning of women, with spectacularly wrong answers, like an insistence that real Quebecois eat any kind of meat butchered any old way and therefore Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and vegetarians need not apply. But even with the easy right answers in place, there would be plenty of hard questions about manners. Many of these involve questions of seeing and being seen, and many involve sex and gender. The obligation to wear a headscarf or a yarmulke, the obligation to eat kosher or halal food, are from the state’s perspective self-regarding. They’re private rights. But all of the conflicts involving religious men seeing scantily clad women, or religious women being scantily clad, or men not shaking women’s hands in the workplace, or women wishing not to be examined by male doctors—these aren’t self-regarding. They involve sometimes-onerous requests that non-believers or believers in other religious change their own behavior. At the same time it’s not prohibited by justice for compromises to sometimes be made—though the compromises may well be irksome to both sides for a while.
Come to Montreal

The International Political Science Association is meeting in Montreal April 30 – May 2, 2008. This isn't one of their big triennial World Congresses, but a smaller International Conference. The Congresses only come to North America once a decade or so, though.

Montreal's lovely by then-- the snow will have been gone for weeks by that time, and spring will be in session.
Dependence day

There's been a lot of blogospheric chatter about this graph:

Radley Balko asked:
Perhaps someone on the left (or for that matter, the right--since they've mostly been in charge of the government the last six years) can explain why having more than half the country's income dependent on the government (and rising) is in any way a healthy development.

and Matthew Yglesias replied
I see a population that's a lot healthier, longer-lived, and better educated than the one of 1950; a population where radically fewer people suffer from severe economic deprivation in absolute terms even as millions of impoverished people form around the world have moved to our shores.

I also see a population that, as a result of prosperity, is aging and it's a society that's prosperous enough for elderly people to generally not work and where retirees are given some public-sector guarantees of health care and economic security in their golden years. Most of all, I see a society that's shown that both Marx and Hayek were wrong -- that there's no need for capitalism to entail the immiseration of the vast majority of the population, and no need for efforts to use the public sector to better the condition of the majority to lead to tyranny and Communism; it's a society of democratic capitalism and social insurance and, despite its problems, it's one of the very best places to live throughout the entire history of the world.

See also: Daniel Larison, Reihan Salam, Andrew Sullivan.

I haven't yet seen anyone look at the chart and say: "BS."

I'm pretty sure the magazine Insight is being treated as an authoritative source here, which is our first clue that we're looking at something less than especially rigorous social science. Second clue: Two lines that mirror one another perfectly, which is to say two categories that are being defined as mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive (they always sum to 100%). "Private workers" and "government beneficiaries" total to 100%-- according to the legend, "of the U.S. population"? Really? What about children? Stay-at-home parents or spouses? Unemployed workers living on savings? Retirees living on private pensions? I'm pretty sure that these categories are being constructed in something other than the usual way. Just by itself, the idea that "private workers" as a percentage of the U.S. population has fallen by almost half over the decades that women have roughly doubled their labor force participation rates doesn't pass the laugh test.

My guess? What we're looking at has a categories of "government beneficiaries" that was cobbled together by counting all prisoners, all government employees including military personnel, and all persons receiving Social Security, Medicare, any farm subsidy, any welfare program, or unemployment insurance. The category "private workers" was defined as (100%- that quantity). As the population ages, the number of people getting some combination of Social Security, Medicare, and VA benefits or military pensions has risen dramatically-- which tells us nothing about what proportion of their income comes from those sources. The prison population has steadily risen; but so has the number of different federal programs that some people get some bit of their income from. One doesn't cease to be a "private worker" because one also got an SBA loan, or unemployment benefits for a few weeks, or an interest subsidy on the student loans being repaid from the college degree several years ago. One can argue against all those programs, but not like this.

This graph is almost certainly a net subtraction from the knowledge in the world, and an uninteresting foundation for discussion about the role of the state in the economy.