Let me be precise: my point about Moore was not specific to this particular incident. From my reading of this one, Miramax agreed to funding but made no promise of distribution, and Moore knew that. I'm not claiming that he did this all intentionally as a publicity stunt, although that wouldn't be out of character for him. My point was more general: given the man's past patterns of being very loose with the truth, there's no reason to accept anything he says at face value. Ever.
For those who haven't followed the controversy over whether Bowling at Columbine should have been considered documentary or fiction, a good place to start is David Hardy's very thorough page. If you prefer something about Moore's more recent book, try Spinsanity. I should also note that there are times I agree with Moore, but nothing serves a good cause less than the sorts of intellectually dishonest and ethically challenged things Moore does to make his points. He's welcome, of course, to make whatever books and movies he wants, but no one should ever treat them as nonfiction. He's a damn fine saleman, but a really morally questionable human being.
Don't know if anyone's been following the story of the Wisconsin-Madison student who was the subject of much news attention for having, apparently, been abducted last Saturday. Well, it turns out that it looks to be a hoax. There are inconsistencies in her story, she apparently was caught on camera buying the materials she said her abducter used, and someone used her computer to search for wooded areas and check the weather while she was supposedly abducted. I find this story interesting coming on the heels of the story out of Pomona College about the faculty member who faked a racist attack. And some quick searching on the web will find you a variety of similar stories, often at small schools but not always.
It's interesting to think about what might motivate stuff like this. There's the obvious explanation that some folks are just crazy, but when we see these things clustering in a way they appear to be, and when they seem to cluster around race/gender/ethnicity, then there might be larger forces at play. I saw a forensic psychiatrist on CNN talking about the Wisconsin woman and suggesting that it was designed to generate the sympathy and emotional reaction of the community. Perhaps. It may also be a way of pleasing people who share your concern about the issues the hoax calls attention to. For example, if you are taking a course on racism and hanging out with other students and faculty who have a deep political commitment to fighting racism, staging a racist attack could be seen as a way to please those folks by providing evidence for their beliefs. This would appear to be particularly powerful on a small campus like Pomona where a student or faculty member would have intense relationships with peers/faculty and where being the victim of a racist incident would be perceived as one way to establish the legitmacy of the cause and to gain esteem in their eyes.
It also seems plausible that these are intentional political acts designed to call the community's attention to some urgent issue, e.g. racism on campus, gender-based violence on campus, etc.. This piece from the Claremont Colleges student newspaper (brief registration may be required) comes close to defending doing just that:
With its greater context in mind, what implications should students draw from such an event? First, it would be incorrect to make assumptions about Professor Dunn's mindset or her goals if she did in fact vandalize her own car. Instead, students should keep in mind that faking a hate crime is not necessarily the work of an irrational person. In addition, if students and the administration interpret this hoax correctly, as an extreme expression of legitimate grievances, this disturbing scandal does not have to negatively affect on-campus dialogue on race nor hinder the progress of activist organizations like SLAM.
(Note the idea that there is a "correct" interepretation of this event. Evidently student journalists at Claremont have learned from their faculty that the belief that reality isn't objective and multiple interpretations are possible doesn't apply if the cause is noble.) This paragraph comes after one analogizing the professor's hoax to W's claim about the Iraqis buying uranium from Niger, concluding: "Although manipulating popular opinion through deceit is unethical and unjustifiable, it is not a new phenomenon." So if it's good enough for the president....?
In any case, this just feels to me like a disturbing trend that ultimately will backfire on those involved. If more hoaxes are uncovered, the often legitimate causes to which the hoaxers are calling attention will suffer from the problem of "crying wolf." Ultimately, the fight against racism etc. is best fought with the light of truth shining brightly. There's enough real racism, gender violence, etc. around that there's no need to threaten to undermine the legitimacy of those concerns by making them up where they aren't. If that's what these events are about, it's a shame on multiple levels.
With all due respect to William's experiences, I simply don't believe the data support the sort of negative picture of the economy that he and Wendy are painting. Again, I'm not a Pollyana here, and I can think of a whole bunch of ways the Bush administration has made matters worse than they could be (e.g., out of control spending, trade barriers, resources devoted to destruction here and abroad), and I can think of lots of ways things could get worse down the road, but the bigger picture right now isn't that bad. Responding to a couple of specifics:
The market basket that comprises the CPI does get adjusted from time to time, but not nearly as quickly as individuals can react to price movements. Additionally, in composition of the basket always lags behind the real consumption choices of households.
And yes, the Fed continues to increase the money supply. As someone whose professional work has been one long sustained critique of the Fed, including calling for closing its doors, I'm hardly a Fed fan. I've also written a great deal on the costs of inflation. I also agree that increases in the money supply during the 90s had much to do with the dot.com run-up and collapse, especially during the last few years. However, at the moment, the growth rates in M2 are not particularly high. During the last quarter of 2003, M2 actually fell in absolute terms. As of February 1, it was growing at an annual rate of 4.19%, hardly rampant inflation although higher than it probably should be.
The claim that the job situation has led people to exit the labor force has some truth to it. The number of people not in the labor force is up by 1.8 million from last February to this February. Is that "many persons?" That's a subjective call. Is there "considerable" unemployment? Again, a subjective call. The current unemployment rate of 5.6% is more or less precisely what it was during 1995 and early 1996, when that rate was considered "dangerously" low.
Economic data can't deny the reality of people's personal experiences of the economy, but if we're going to talk about the economy as a whole, and particularly if we're going to propose policy or assess credit/blame, then we need to get beyond individual experiences to look at the larger picture.
It's easy to find lots of economic problems to blame on over-reaching government, but I think the issues raised by Wendy are more complex than the overall tone makes it appear.
First, when we talk about prices going up, we also need to consider wages. As the work of Cox and Alm and others has argued, the prices of nearly all goods and services have been falling when calculated in terms of the labor-time needed to purchase them at the average industrial wage. Stuff's never been cheaper, including food and all the rest. This is, of course, a long-term trend, but even as wages rise in the short run, and the costs of production of goods fall, things get cheaper. A hundred years ago Americans spent about 75% of their income on food, clothing, and shelter. It's half that today.
Second, there is a long-standing belief among many economists that the official measures overstate inflation because the fixed market baskets that are used to measure it do not take into account the real-world substitution that people engage in when prices rise. If the price of chicken rises, people switch to pork or beef. Keeping chicken in the basket will then overstate its impact on consumers. The general belief is that the CPI overstates inflation by about 1%. Both of these points are address in the "Economic Myths" section of my website.
Third, calling what we have "stagflation" reflects a pretty short historical memory. The current unemployment rate of 5.6% compares to an average annual unemployment rate of 6.2% during the 1970s, and an annual average of 5.4% during the first half of the 70s. Calling that "elevated" is really questionable. The inflation rates of the 1970s were:
Year Inflation Rate
Even if 2.05% understates the real inflation rate, it's hardly in the range we saw during the "stagflation" years.
Bottom line: yes the economy could be performing better, but by historical standards we are hardly in bad shape. Considering that we're still, in some sense, in the recovery phase after the dot-com boom, things could be a lot worse. Comparisons to the really bad old days of the 1970s are, in my view, really far-fetched.
I just wanted to follow up on the whole bias in the classroom incident on my campus by noting that the academic dean and the president issued a campus-wide email today articulating their position on the whole affair. I quote below the relevant parts:
This memorandum has two goals: to remind us of our shared commitments as a university to freedom of speech and to the maintenance of a climate of open inquiry; and to put recent campus events and discussions surrounding the weblog of Prof. Robert Torres into that context.
St. Lawrence has a single purpose. As a liberal arts college we are a community of learners. Teaching and learning require unfettered thought, inquiry, and expression. A vital campus is one where ideas meet, mix, conflict, engage, and emerge changed by the interaction.
Genuine dialogue is a difficult, even fragile, human endeavor. It entails both speaking and listening, articulating views and earnestly considering those of others. We believe it is our duty to protect the rights of all members of our community to think and speak freely and to foster the conditions that make dialogue possible. We expect members of our community to be passionate about ideas; in fact, we would be troubled if they were not. But passion and commitment only serve our purpose to the extent that they promote lively engagement, not shut it down, to the extent that they foster compelling expression, not impede the capacity to listen.
To this end, we will continue both to defend the campus as a place of free inquiry and exchange and to encourage modes of discourse that respect the basic human dignity of all engaged in its mission. As members of a university, we all know how much words matter. Words can be chosen to open dialogue or to shut it down, to encourage thoughtful listening or strident counter-point.
There have been legitimate questions raised about Prof. Torres’ offensive characterizations of college Republicans in his weblog. Though not directed specifically at St. Lawrence students—it is clear from the context that he is referring to those who wrote the recruiting manual on the national level—it is reasonable for our own SLU Republicans to feel included in his characterizations.
In a statement Prof. Torres shared with the St. Lawrence community last Friday he made clear that he takes his “responsibility of fostering an open classroom environment seriously,” and that he seeks to “respect differing views regardless of political orientation.” He went on to say that: “I will continue to provide an open classroom environment, and continue to respect different political views. Freedom of speech and the room that it provides for dissent is essential to democracy and to critical inquiry.” That is exactly right, and we believe that view is at the very center of commitments all St. Lawrence University faculty share.
Although some of that is surely what they "have to" say, I do think they get it right: we must defend free speech but encourage modes of discourse that invite in, rather than shut out, and that respect rather than denigrate. Whether or not Prof. Torres can follow through on his commitment to an open classroom is one thing, but my dean's and president's defense of free speech and recognition of the problematic nature of the original blog entry remind me why I remain proud to be part of the administration of this particular university.
Two quick things this morning:
1. William Marina's link to the anti-Israel screed on antiwar.com reminds me why I always go to that site with great trepidation. One can be opposed, even strongly opposed, to the war in Iraq and the US presence in the Middle-East more generally (not to mention critical of some/many Israeli policies) without turning Israel into the Great Satan, and without imagining the Jewish-Republican-neoconservative conspirators lurking around every corner and under every bed. Pieces like Pilger's are a good example of giving a good cause a bad name.
2. With a hat tip to Hit & Run, here's an interesting piece from Slate on the domestic economic policy views of the victorious Socialists in Spain. All I can say is "where's a platform like that in the US?!" Viva la revolution!!!
Of course it only goes to show that, at the end of the day, Mises and Hayek were indeed right.
Well, at some great risk, I'm going to try my hand at constitutional law for a few minutes. Those of you who read The Corner and Andrew Sullivan's blog may have seen today's discussion of the constitutional status of the right to marry (Andrew affirming it as a constitutional right and the Cornerites being significantly more skeptical). The issue here boils down to whether or not all constitutional rights are actually in the Constitution. The conservatives are, of course, insisting that if it's not in the text, then it's not a right (the ghost of Roe hovers in the air). Not surprisingly, I am not convinced.
I've emailed the participants with an argument something like the following: both conservatives and libertarians presumably agree that parents have constitutional rights with respect to their ability to raise their children as they see fit. Both groups (and many liberals as well) would want to see those rights protected against state intervention on some number of issues. (It's worth noting that liberals and conservatives will defend those rights for some things and not others, while libertarians are generally more willing to defend them across the board.) But the question is: where do those rights come from? Like marriage, parenting is not mentioned in the document itself. Nonetheless, there is a history of Supreme Court decisions defending those parental rights. A useful list can be found here. I call your attention specifically to the 1922 case Pierce v. Society of Sisters where Justice McReynolds wrote:
Under the doctrine of Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 , 43 S. Ct. 625, 29 A. L. R. 1146, we think it entirely plain that the Act of 1922 unreasonably interferes with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children [268 U.S. 510, 535] under their control. As often heretofore pointed out, rights guaranteed by the Constitution may not be abridged by legislation which has no reasonable relation to some purpose within the competency of the state. The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.
Subsequent case law has upheld this formulation, althoughPrince v. Massachusetts in 1944 attenuated it with a recognition of what today we'd call a "best interest of the child" exception.
The Lawrence case from last year cited these parental rights cases as examples of "broad statements of the substantive reach of liberty under the Due Process Clause," and then suggested that the most pertinent recent case was Griswold v. Connecticut. So there is a clear line in Kennedy's mind from parental rights through contraceptive rights and perhaps to the right to abortion in Roe that recognizes that there are some fundamental liberties that are constitutionally protect that are not explicitly described in the document itself. As I understand it, this is more or less Randy Barnett's approach to constitutional interpretation and the "presumption of liberty." It also seems consistent with the sort of Lochner revisionism that David Bernstein has engaged in. (And the arguments in Pierce would make a great starting point for the constitutionality of school vouchers and other choice programs.)
So, coming back to my original point, if one believes there is a constitutionally protected set of parental rights, which includes the right to raise one's children as one sees fit, then the same logic should lead one to believe there is, or at least could be, a constitutionally protected right to marry the person of one's choice. If you don't believe me, read Scalia's dissent in Lawrence, as he saw the line from the court's logic there to the legalization of same-sex marriage. Scalia finds that a bad outcome of course, and I don't, but he understood the line of thought.
The question for conservatives is how they can rescue any notion of a constitutionally protected set of parental rights yet deny a completely analogous constitutionally protected right of marriage. Whether the latter right extends to person's of the same gender is another question, but establishing the right to marry at the constitutional level (which I believe one can under the line from Meyer to Pierce to Lawrence) should be the starting point.
May libertarian law professors everywhere have mercy on my soul if this makes no sense whatsoever.
With so much depressing stuff in the news recently, time for some Spring Break cheer. Check out this piece from The Economist that provides some much needed perspective on the hand-wringing about the US economy (hat tip to Instapundit). One money quote:
Median income of American households, commentators often say, has been stagnant, though census figures give a rise of one-fifth since 1980. Lou Dobbs, on CNN's “Lou Dobbs Tonight”, is just one media fabulist who makes his living by claiming that, as America is being “exported”, so the well-being of middle Americans is in a parlous state.
It is a good story, but false on many levels. For a start, this slow growth in median income overlaps with a scale of immigration into America outpacing all immigration in the rest of the world put together. Many immigrants have come precisely to take up the lowest-paid jobs. As a result, in the 20 years to 1999 some 5m immigrant households were added to those defined as below the poverty level. Yet among native-born Americans, poverty rates have declined steadily since the 1960s. In the case of black families, median incomes have recently been rising at twice the pace for the country as a whole.
Strip out immigrants, and the picture of stagnant median incomes vanishes. Indeed, for the nine-tenths of the population that is native-born, middle-income trends continue their improvement of the 1950s and 1960s. For these people, inequality is not rising, but falling. Gregg Easterbrook cheekily points out in his excellent recent book, “The Progress Paradox” (Random House), that if left-leaning Americans seriously want better statistics about middle-income gains, then they should simply close their borders.
I'm not sure I've ever recommended this book since I've been blogging here, but W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm's Myths of Rich and Poor remains the single best book on this subject written in the last five years. If you want to counter the "decline of American well-being" rhetoric of the left, this is the book to read.
Well, my earlier blogging on the classroom bias issue here and here, has come home to roost. My own campus has now made the national press on this topic. Today's WSJ has an opinion piece by John J. Miller on the topic that is hooked by an incident here where a junior faculty member went after the national college republicans in his blog (run on his own server using his own equipment, but accessible through a couple of links from the Sociology department web site) in terms that were, shall we say, less than flattering.
Miller's piece is the usual conservative complaint piece about left-wing faculty bias. My two complaints in turn are 1) he said nothing about the fact that several campus conservatives responded by putting up posters around campus calling the faculty member a "reverse racist." A number of faculty called for them to be punished for doing so including claiming it was a form of harassment, but the administration (of which I guess I am a part) has held very firmly to free speech on both sides of this issue; and 2) it misses the bigger picture here which is, as my own experience suggests, a place that is pretty friendly to out libertarians who are engaged in the world of ideas and campus life. I just hate seeing us lumped in with places where someone like me really wouldn't have been treated so well.
Another point to make here is that the faculty member at the center of this is the only hard-left faculty member on campus who has ever assigned an article of mine and then invited me to class to talk about it. In a 200-level class on the sociology of development last fall, he assigned a piece of mine defending free trade and then gave me a full 90 minutes of class to talk about it, with him present. It was a very civil and productive class. Is it possible to be an angry name-calling hater of college republican fascists in your blog, yet be open-minded enough to invite the opposition to class and treat conservative or libertarian students fairly? Good question. Interestingly, in the wake of some faculty email exchange on this incident in which I called attention to the faculty member having invited me to class, I now have two more invitations from leftist faculty to do guest lectures. I think this is a good thing, but I have jokingly suggested to my dean that I need to renegotiate my teaching load!
In any case, I'm just really sad this morning. I love this place and it's been very good to me and I hate to see a story that takes a very particular incident and uses it as part of a broader picture that simply doesn't so easily apply here.
Time to change the subject.
I've been following the controversy over Bush's use of 9/11 imagery in his campaign ads, and I really don't get the objections. Let me preface this by saying that I can imagine some uses of 9/11 that would cross the line, but talking about 9/11 and using short, non-graphic images as part of a re-election campaign is totally in-bounds. However much I might disagree with decisions he has made, Bush has the right to run on what he perceives his record to be. If that includes his supposed leadership post-9/11, then so be it. As many have noted, if he didn't do that, he'd be the first president not to use his leadership of an ongoing war as a campaign issue.
What's bothering me more, however, is the way the objectors are couching their objections - specifically, the claim that 9/11 is a "national tragedy" and should not be "politicized." As Col. Potter might say: "Horsehockey!!" Although it's a "tragedy" in the dictionary sense, using that language drains the event of any moral dimension, as if it were just another example of "shit happens." The reality is that 9/11 was an act of mass murder and that mass murder was a politically-motivated act (again, whatever one thinks of what Bush has done since). To say that it is a tragedy that we can't even discuss but in tones of reverent wallowing in collective grief enables us to avoid asking the really tough questions about why it happened, how to prevent a repeat performance, and what if anything we should do to those who did it. It can't not be politicized - it was a political act. And, therefore, political actors in the US have every right to use it as part of their campaigns, within reason of course.
The attempt to stop reasonable discussion and use of 9/11 in favor of our collective self-pity is just one more sign of the "Oprahization" of American discourse, political and otherwise.
It seems to me that the worst mistake a fighter for our ideals can make is to ascribe to our opponents dishonest or immoral aims. I know it is sometimes difficult not to be irritated into a feeling that most of them are irresponsible demagogues who ought to know better. But though many of the followers of what we regard as the wrong prophets are either just plain silly, or merely mischievous troublemakers, we ought to realize that their conceptions derive from serious thinkers whose ultimate ideals are not so very different from own and with whom we differ not so much on ultimate values, but on the effective means of achieving them.Amen, brother Hayek, amen.
I am indeed profoundly convinced that there is much less difference between us and our opponents on the ultimate values to be achieved than is commonly believed, and that the differences between us are chiefly intellectual differences. We at least believe we have attained an understanding of the forces which have shaped civilization which our opponents lack. Yet if we have not yet convinced them, the reason must be that our arguments are not yet quite good enough, that we have not yet made explicit some of the foundations on which our conclusions rest. Our chief task therefore must be still to improve the argument on which our case for a free society rests.
As Chris noted when he introduced me to this wonderful corner of the blogosphere, among my interests is an almost fanatical devotion to the rock band Rush. It's not just that they are without question the most libertarian rock band of all time, but they are also one of the most supremely talented, both musically and lyrically. They have also largely avoided the rock cliches of sex, drugs, and bad boy behavior - they play rock with the mentality of professional jazz players. This is hard rock for those who appreciate musical complexity and challenging musicianship. The reason I bring this up is that the Volokh Conspiracy's "Sunday Song Lyric" this week highlights one of Rush's best and most libertarian sets of lyrics, those from "The Trees."
What Juan Non-Volokh doesn't note is that the theme of the song, while clearly borrowing from Rand and other anti-egalitarians, is most closely related to Vonnegut's wonderful story "Harrison Bergeron." Check it out. And check out Rush when the 30th anniversary tour rolls into your town this summer.
Grant is quite right in saying that the education of women, and the resulting higher wages available to them in the market, has made the dual-working family an increasing reality. It also creates the wealth that enables families to solve the problem posed by two working parents: how to accomplish the tasks of household production? Who is going to cook, clean, raise children, etc? The answer, of course, is that families now purchase those services on the market in increasing numbers compared to years past. People eat out more, they use dry cleaners more, and they use day care more.
In language I use elsewhere, families have certain functions they need to perform, and they can either apply their own labor directly to meeting those goals, they can purchase market substitutes for them, or they can rely on social networks/civil society institutions (as David's wonderful book points out). What's happened over the 20th century is that some of the functions of the family have shifted from"domestic labor" to the market, while other functions have shifted toward the state, as David and Grant acknowledge. However, I would argue that even had the 20th century been a libertarian one, many of the shifts in the family we've seen would have taken place. In fact, I'd argue that a libertarian society would have accelerated them because a) we would have been that much wealthier; b) state-created barriers to female education and employment would not have existed; and c) various government policies (e.g., the tax treatment of secondary earners, various subsidies that artificially enhance the demand and supply of"suburbia") that support the so-called"traditional" family would not have existed.
The last century saw the shrinking of many of functions families perform with their own labor. Some of that shrinkage has been good, on the assumption that substitutes for direct labor are no worse than direct labor (and I'd argue that's the case). Some of that shrinkage has been bad, to the extent the state is an inferior substitute for direct labor, civil society, or the market. The upside of this shrinkage is that it has opened up space for families to devote more of their time and energy to some of the psychological/emotional needs of their members. Rather than being predominantly economic units, as they've been through most of history, families are now spaces for love and emotional satisfaction. This also helps to explain the increased visibility of homosexuality in society - one need not be connected to a"traditional" family to be able to survive economically. It also relates to the same-sex marriage debate in that once marriage becomes predominantly about emotional satisfaction, rather than economic survival or procreation, the demand for inclusion by same-sex couples is a natural, and understandable, consequence.
It also shows one of the odd aspects of modern conservativism: the very same people who rhapsodize about how marriage should be about love and commitment between partners, and deride the quickie meaningless heterosexual marriage, can't seem to see why homosexuals might ask for the same thing. But the bigger irony for conservatives is that the reality of marriage as predominantly about romantic love, and the corresponding demand for same-sex marriage, is the product of the forces of capitalism. The Right has to recognize that the forces of the market cannot be"firewalled" off from cultural change. The wealth created by capitalism and the resulting dynamism of the market inevitably spillover to the culture. Ultimately, the attempt to defend the"traditional" family is an attempt to stifle the market.
Having said all this, I do not believe the family will ever, or should ever, disappear. Families cannot be replaced, and expecting the"village" to raise children will have roughly the same results as we've seen when"the village" runs agriculture or industry. Parents have, in Hayekian terms, the knowledge and incentives it takes to raise their children, and no other institution can do better. Yes, other institutions can help or hinder that process, and families can't do it all themselves, but the family is ultimately irreplaceable. Yes, it will continue to evolve, but that makes it no different from any other social institution.