Friday, January 17, 2003

In the new National Review, John O'Sullivan has an article (not online) in which he says what a shame it is that the "self-righteous mob" of "libertarians, conservatives, and neoconservatives," especially bloggers, succeeded in hounding poor Trent Lott from office. I'm going to comment more extensively next week. But to begin with:

"Into this political gap [between the national and the southern Democratic party] stepped the Republicans-- including Trent Lott-- to persuade a resentful reagion to accept a steady movement toward racial equality. In order to soothe the South into accepting the Civil Rights Act, such politicians had to treat their constituents not as bigots but as essentially good people open to change... [T]hey had to make speeches to bodies like the White Citizens' Council.
"What did those speeches say? Usually, behind closed doors, they went like this: 'Look, boys, I know you all are decent folks. But we gotta admit we treated the Negroes badly, and there have to be some changes. Some of those changes I don't like any more than you. Others-- let's admit it-- are long overdue. And all of them will help us attract new industries and make everybody, white and black, better off. But we need responsible leadership. And that sure as hell doesn't mean the northern Democrats.'
"This kind of politics is uninspiring, which explains why a master of it, like Trent Lott, strikes Charles Krauthammer, Andrew Sullivan, and the philosophers of the blogosphere as insincere and opportunist."

This sounds like Georgia. It doesn't sound like Mississippi. And it sure doesn't sound like Trent Lott.

Is there anyevidence that Lott was a master of this sort of politics? That he ever lifted a finger to bring his fellow white southerners along in this way? That he ever told them that any of the changes of the civil rights era were "long overdue"? In his floundering statements after the Thurmond speech, I did not hear someone who knew in his heart that Jim Crow was wrong, but had had to compromise with the sensibilities of those who didn't know. I heard someone who was only just then beginning to think about Jim Crow at all. Lott's astonishment and befuddlement, as much as anything else, indicted him and makes O'Sullivan's portrait implausible.

Now I've never been tro a meeting of a White Citizen's Council; maybe O'Sullivan has and knows what he's talking about. But even if--if!-- this was the message that some enlightened southern Republicans were spreading to their neighbors, I don't see anything in Trent Lott's public career that would suggest that he was one of them.
Don't miss Virginia Postrel's "State of the States" posting. She quotes the following from USA Today on those poo, impoverished state governments:

The printed sidebar includes a great chart, unavailable online,
that shows the average annual change in each state's budget
from 1997 to 2002 and the projected change for 2003. Examples:
California's state budget grew 9.4% a year from 1997 to 2002
and is projected to shrink by 0.2% this year; Colorado's grew
8.1% a year and is shrinking 2.7% this year; Virginia's grew
8.0% a year and is projected to grow 1.6% this year.

A 9.4% annual growth rate means a doubling of the state budget every seven-and-a-half years.

Regardless of how one feels about Keynesian stimuli, state spending ought to be countercyclical on simple grounds of responsiveness to need. There is something perverse about having to cut spending (even if by .2%) at the moment when legitimate claims on unemployment insurance and poverty relief are rising. But that means that spending should fall during the flush times. Instead, the states went on an astonishing spending binge during the second half of the 90s.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

Best of the Web often seems to be a bit sarcasm-and-irony impaired. Witness:

[Quoting Will Saletan:]
You know this isn't going to be a standard Democratic presidential
campaign kickoff when the guy introducing Sen. Joe Lieberman asks
everyone to stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance. With cameras
rolling, Lieberman turns to the wall and recites the magic words:
allegiance, flag, America, God. Stepping to the podium, he speaks
of our "God-given talents." He says he feels "blessed by God" and
believes "God's work must truly be our own." "My faith is at the center
of who I am," he continues. "I'll not hesitate to talk about faith when it's
relevant or to invoke God's name. . . . If the spirit moves me occasionally
to say a word or two of faith, I think it's a very American thing to do."

He smiles and sips from his glass as the audience applauds.
Nobody's going to out-Christian Joe Lieberman.

[now this is Taranto's comment:]
Lieberman is not Christian at all. He's Jewish. Then again, Saletan may be better off for not having known this fact. It would've sounded really bad if he'd written: "Nobody's going to out-Jew Joe Lieberman."

It's sometimes tricky to explain the blindingly obvious without sounding stupid oneself, but let me give it a shot. Will Saletan knows perfectly well that Joe Lieberman is Jewish. That's why he wrote what he wrote. Y'see, the whole point is that one might think that Lieberman's Judaism was going to be a problem in a majority-Christian country-- that some other candidate would "out-Christian" him because, well, he's not Christian. But Lieberman's shtick is to use his religious Judaism as an asset, because it allows him to demonstrate how much he has in common with believing, church-going Christians. He can pre-empt anyone who tries to out-Christian him because he'll out-religion them.

A question for readers. Did anyone besides James Taranto fail to immediately understand what "Nobody's going to out-Christian Joe Lieberman" meant?
Pejman is impressed by this story about an alleged shift in American public opinion against abortion. I'm not. Abortion polls are notoriously sensitive to changes in wording, and "are you in favor of restoring legal protection for unborn children?" is hardly a careful or subtle way to phrase the question. The sponsoring organization didn't publish the precise results or the list of questions asked-- never a good sign. The reputability of the pollster isn't at issue. The best pollster in the world, if commissioned to conduct a survey using loaded questions, will yield loaded results. The most professional sampling and phoning and weighting won't fix the bias in the questions.

This USA Today poll shows that the shift against abortion has been a matter of a few points. As I recall, the traditional rule of thumb was that the population could be divided into thirds-- a third would answer that abortion should always be legal, a third never or close to never, and a third would be in the middle (oppose public funding, or oppose third trimester abortions, etc, but not want early abortions to be banned or regulated based on the reason for the abortion). The hardcore pro-life answer is up to 38% (plus or minus 3%). Only about 30% (same margin of error) oppose a ban on partial-birth abortion (NB: stipulated to be "during the last six months of a pregnancy"-- a thirteenth-week abortion is hardly the image circulated by proponents of the partial-birth ban), which I think we can take to be the hardcore pro-choice constituency. That's a shift, but not an overwhelming one. The remaining 32% or so remain in the middle. I think it's worth noting that the ban-partial-birth-abortion figure is virtually identical to the "are you in favor of restoring legal protection for unborn children?" figure from the other survey. This suggests to me that when people heard that question, they were thinking about partial-birth abortion (or even, e.g., about the questions involving criminal assault or murder against both mother and fetus), not about all abortion as such.

Advocates and opponents of affirmative action both seem to me to have overinflated expectations about the importance of the Michigan case. As long as O'Connor is the swing vote in affirmative action cases, we're not going to get a sweeping, dramatic statement from the Court one way or the other. We're going to continue in the Bakke/Powell holding pattern-- probably steadily reducing the number of approved policies, but never flatly ruling out state-sponsored affirmative action. In the Michigan case, O'Connor's opinion will abstain from judging whether diversity is ever a sufficient rationale for racial preferences in university admissions but will hold that the Michigan policy crossed the Bakke line of acceptability even if the diversity rationale is legitimate. The policy will be struck down (certainly the undergrad policy, likely the law school policy as well), but the diversity argument won't be decisively disallowed or decisively allowed.

Tapped is keenly interested in getting opponents of affirmative action to talk about legacy admissions. I'm much more interested in athletic admissions-- a problem that interacts with affirmative action in complicated and unpleasant ways. I can't understand why the current degree of atheletic admission-preference (much greater than either race or legacy preference) isn't treated as an obvious scandal requiring action long before the hard question of affirmative action is even reached...
As part of my ongoing interest in the fate of liberal parties, I'd been planning to post something about the Israeli party Shinui, its recent upturn in the polls, and about what good news that is. Matthew Yglesias has gotten there first, praising Shinui's foreign policy. I'm a bit more interested in their domestic platform-- resolute secularism combined with moderately market-oriented economics. But, in any event, keep a hopeful thought for Shinui's prospects. It would be very good if Shinui emerged ahead of Shas, and very very good if it emerged ahead of Labor-- and both now seem at least possible. (Beating Likud isn't in the cards-- this time...)

UPDATE: See Noah Millman's guide to Israeli parties.
The inspectors have found warheads for chemical weapons. CNN doesn't say, but I think it's safe to assume that, even empty, these warheads are on the list of prohibited items. It's also safe to assume that they weren't in the disclosure, or finding them wouldn't have mattered much...

UPDATE: Iraq claims that the warheads were listed in the disclosure.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Rod Dreher asks

Turkish authorities are investigating a Catholic priest who baptized
a Muslim who later turned on him. According to the news organization
Zenit, Turkish authorities have seized the Capuchin's passport...Can
anybody imagine the government of any historically Christian EU
member state putting an imam under investigation for receiving a
Christian into the Muslim faith?

to which the answer is: of course. Throughout the lands of the Eastern Empire, through the areas governed either by Islam or by Orthodox Christianity, the traditional understanding of freedom of religion for those not of the dominant faith is: you may believe (though we'd rather you didn't), you may practice (under severe constraints), but you may not attempt to convert a member of the dominant faith. Proseletyzation, apostasy, and conversion have all been deeply frowned upon from Russia to Greece to Muslim India to Indonesia. Greece's statute, overturned by the European Court of Human Rights in 1993, prohibited anyone who was not Greek Orthodox from speaking about their beliefs to anyone who was. [Kokkinakis v. Greece (25 May 1993), Strasbourg 3/1992/348/421 (Eur. Ct. H.R.)]

In Turkey this inheritance is mixed together with the Ataturkish legacy of hostility to all religion. In any event, Greece was admitted to the EU, despite its Byzantine tradition of suppression of religious liberty; then the ECHR struck the laws down. If there's a civilizational breaking point between tolerant west and intolerant east, then Bosporus is the wrong place to draw it; and several states that lie on Turkey's side of the line are now officially in the queue (in addition to one, Greece, that's already a member).

Turkey has plenty of genuine human rights problems; but we should avoid making them seem unique, or overlooking the fact that some EU states have had to change rather a lot, or exaggerating the differences between Turkey and its neighbors to the west.

[Compare religious freedom in contemporary Russia.)

Mark Kleiman has a laugh-out-loud funny resolution to Newcomb's [-and-Nozick's] Problem. Well, at least I laughed out loud, though maybe that tells you more about me than about the resolution.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

A thought on Tim Noah's ongoing coverage of the are-the-poor-relatively-undertaxed question and associated problems about how to interpret the payroll tax.

It seems to me that Larry Lindsey's argument,

The way Social Security is set up, is when I pay another
dollar for Social Security tax, I buy an explicit, legislated
amount of benefits. … I pay the money in, I get the money
out, and that's all there is to it. Now, as a first pass, therefore,
it wouldn't make sense to me to call the OASDI contribution a
tax, even though we all do. … I can't see a logical reason why
we should include the Social Security OASDI portion of that,
in its entirety, as a tax. I think we should write our [distribution]
tables without it there. It is purely a private good.

(which Noah characterizes as "Lindsey invited the audience to think of the Social Security portion of the payroll tax as not being a tax at all, but rather something like a Christmas Club") is a very problematic one for Social Security privatizers. In perpetuating the myth that the "OASDI contribution" is something other than a tax, and Social Security something other than a redistributive spending program Lindsey risks making privatization look superfluous. After all, if Social Security is already structured as individuals paying into their own accounts and purchasing a private good (an annuity), then what's the big deal? Of course it's not. The Supreme Court has held that there is no property right (no "private good") in one's Social Security "account," that the "explicit, legislated amount of benefits" is subject to revision at Congressional whim. This is part of the problem with Social Security. It would be better if Social Security were organized in the way Lindsey describes, but it's not.

On the other hand, opponents of privatization typically like to characterize Social Security in a way similar to this. (No one's going to touch "your" Social Security benefits.) The pretense that payroll taxes are special and have some intimate link with future Social Security benefits is typically made by defenders of the system. Open admission that the payroll tax is just like any other source of revenue and Social Security is just like any other spending program is likely to do serious damage to the sacred status of Social Security. In other words, the argument being made on the left right now in the context of tax distribution could come back to bite them when talking about Social Security in particular.

One more complication: When payroll taxes are understood as having a tight relationship to future benefits, then the regressivity argument becomes more complicated, because the benefits structure on the other end is tilted progressive. (Once I was told by people who studied this sort of thing that the regressivity of the tax and the progressivity of the benefits pretty nearly balance out, though I certainly didn't do the math myself.) If, on the other hand, the payroll tax is just a tax, then it's clearly a regressive one.
Updates below on Senate rules and wacky web searches.
Don't miss Josh Chafetz on John Derbyshire.
Run, Dennis, run! In a largish primary field, anything that splits the Gephardt protectionist vote is a very good thing.
Quoth Mark Kleiman:

Glenn Loury makes an observation on the Trent Lott affair I haven't heard anyone
else make. While Lott was thrashing about madly in an attempt to keep his head
above water, he more or less offered to make concessions on various race-related
policy issues in return for support from African-Americans and those who identify
with their aspirations. That offer was not merely rejected, it was mocked. That seems
to Glenn to have been an unwise move, in purely interest-group terms.

That conservatives should have opposed any such deal is obvious. Lott's stepping
down was no great loss to them, and they certainly wouldn't have wanted to see
those concessions made. But why should Lott's overtures have been rejected with
such contempt by most of the black political leadership and its white allies? Was
it really so much more important to punish Lott than to secure practical advantage
from his misstep?

Even if his proclaimed rebirth as an anti-racist was insincere, he might still have
kept whatever deal he made. Now the Republicans have cast all their racist sins
onto this scapegoat, and neither he nor his party is left owing African-Americans

I haven't seen or heard the relevant Loury argument, so I can only comment on Mark's synopsis of it. The Bennie Thompson route would have been smart interest-group politics only in the shortest of short terms. To be seen to be cutting a deal of this sort with Lott would have left "the [left-progressive] black political leadership and its white allies" with their moral capital terribly diminished. This would amount to a public reconfiguring of race politics from a moral and a moralized issue into publiclu-acknowledged spolis system of interest-group politics. It would have made, for example, affirmative action come across as no different from the Robert Byrd National Gallery in West Virginia or Lott Air Force Base in Mississippi, or ADM's subsidies. The public knows and cares so little about those kinds of pork that they get through. There's a well-established base of opposition to affirmative action, and a largish group of people who are sympathetic to affirmative action despite finding it distasteful because they think it's the right thing to do. The latter would have been disspirited and alienated, and the former greatly energized, by this reconfiguring of the politics around affirmative action. For affirmative action to be publicly reunderstood as pure pork isn't in the medium- or long-term interest of affirmative action advocates; for civil rights groups to take on the public image of extortionists such as Sharpton isn't in their interest. The moral high ground is strategically useful.

I would add: this is as it should be. 'Tis better to at least try to make principled arguments in politics than to abandon the attempt...

Monday, January 13, 2003

Julian Sanchez has a very nice post about scholarly inquiry, the capacit5y to revise one's views, and public political commentary. The urge he's talking about represents an honorable part of the paradox of the public intellectual, to wit:
1) A good scholar is attracted to questions to which he or she does not yet know the answer.
2) This leads most good scholars to do something with their research other than writing elaborate justifications for the views of which they are already most certain. These views may be bedrock moral and political principles.
3) In public commentary, the scholar may:
a) comment on the areas of his or her primary expertise-- which ex hypothesi are the topics about which, at least at some point, the scholar considered the answers to be unclear, the disagreements to be interesting, the results to be interestingly nuanced and complicated-- which is likely to lead to public statements that the scholar knows to be oversimplifications or at least legitimately controversial;
b) comment on the topics about which his or her views are pretty firmly settled, which ex hypothesi aren't the topics on which the scholar has genuine professional expertise.

There are obvious easy cases. An economist doesn't have to be a specialist in rent-control to make professionally-informed public statements about its consequences; nor does he or she have to simplify or ignore ongoing debates and controversies. Those consequences are part of the well-established disciplinary knowledge of economics. A biologist needn't specialize in evolutionary biology to comment on the "only a theory" creationist claptrap. But across a wide range of subjects, I think this is a genuine problem.
Matthew Yglesias responds to Nick Denton's critique of libertarian hawks. But they both seem to me to miss some important points.

Both of them suppose that American hawkishness has some innate connection with antidemocraticness, as though the central case of U.S. intervention these days were an invasion to overthrow the elected Chavez. This allows Nick to say that libertarians trust individuals at home but distrust the people abroad, and Matthew to say that libertarians trust individuals but not the people as a collective body.

I'm hardly going to defend the administration's Venezuala screw-up. But is it even the teensiest bit relevant that Taliban wasn't and the Ba'ath regime isn't a democratically elected government? That it's against such overseas dictatorships that the libertarian hawks are advocating the use of force? It seems to me that regardless of whether one trusts individuals or democratic populaces, there's no argument derived from "trusting the people of Iraq" against an invasion. There are plenty of important arguments, but that's not one of them. (Nor is any argument based on the related idea of national self-determination.)

Now all libertarians, hawkish and otherwise, understand the paradox of libertarian hawkishness. It has nothing to do with trusting "the people." it has to do with trusting the state-- the government of the United States. The same agent that libertarians distrust in almost all circumstances, the agent whose failings they document all the time, the agent whose warped incentives and limited knowledge and political character and greed for power makes it so untrustworthy, is the agent that undertakes wars. Moreover, there's an especially strong tendency for even domestic state size and power to expand during wartime. For these reasons the standard libertarian position has traditionally been anti-interventionist. Roderick Long continues to argue for the primacy of those considerations, and for the libertarian moral theory that rests on the prohibition on the initiation of force (by states or anyone else). Brink Lindsey has argued at length that such considerations are provisional and of a ceteris paribus character and that there's no argument from libertarian principle prohibiting the use of force to increase the freedom of others. Tom Palmer and many others think that the balance of considerations justified action against Afghanistan but does not against Iraq.

But even Brink acknowledges that there are tensions and countervailing considerations. They're just not the ones Nick or Matthew pointed out.
I have little that's new to add to the discussions of the Illinois death sentence commutations. But I do want to register my tremendous relief; for a while it looked as if Ryan was going wobbly under massive political assault from prosecutors and victims' families. In the end, having no political future anyways freed him to do the right thing, the thing that he knew was right.
Political science news: Gabriel Almond has died at 91.