Education for pacifying the population with illusory promises of prosperity

From the headline, one might take it as yet another unwarranted slam on Bernie Sanders: “Young voters embrace Sanders, but not democracy.” Read the article, however, and it turns out that its author, Christopher Beem, actually sees young voters’ attraction not only to Bernie Sanders but to Donald Trump as well as a sign that these voters may be attempting to reclaim ‘democracy’ from partisan gridlock and unresponsive politicians.[1] Read more

  1. [1]Christopher Beem, “Young voters embrace Sanders, but not democracy,” Conversation, January 29, 2016,

Will conservatives break up?

Jonah Goldberg, whom I mostly see in the National Review, has published a column in the Los Angeles Times expressing a fear that, to borrow the title, “This time, the conservative crackup is real.”[1] It’s not his best writing and his conclusion is so devoid of substance as to be worthless. But that’s not to say the entire column is without substance:

The level of distrust among many of the different factions of the conservative coalition has never been higher, at least not in my experience. Arguments don’t seem to matter, only motives do. . . .
Wherever the truth lies, questioning motives is poisonous, because such claims are not only unfalsifiable, but they also give an instant excuse to ignore sincere, reasoned, [sic] arguments.[2]

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  1. [1]Jonah Goldberg, “This time, the conservative crackup is real,” Los Angeles Times, January 26, 2016,
  2. [2]Jonah Goldberg, “This time, the conservative crackup is real,” Los Angeles Times, January 26, 2016,

Cheering political incorrectness and irresponsible speech

I’ve been mostly holding my fire[1] on an issue that has surfaced in two places. It’s associated with “microaggressions,” “trigger words,” and, in university classrooms, the freedom to discuss or even teach on sensitive issues.[2] It has also appeared in an authoritarian populist backlash with Donald Trump’s and Ben Carson’s campaign rhetoric which, some of their supporters say, resist the demands of ‘political correctness.’ Read more

  1. [1]But see David Benfell, “We need to talk,” Not Housebroken, June 6, 2015,
  2. [2]Jonathan Chait, “Not a Very P.C. Thing to Say,” New York, January 27, 2015,; Jonathan Chait, “Is the New Political Correctness Already Dying?” New York, June 3, 2015,; Freddie DeBoer, “I don’t know what to do, you guys,” January 29, 2015,; Laurie Essig, “Russia, Land of Free Speech,” Chronicle of Higher Education, October 11, 2015,; Koritha Mitchell, “I’m a professor. My colleagues who let their students dictate what they teach are cowards,” Vox, June 10, 2015,; Edward Schlosser [pseud.], “I’m a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me,” Vox, June 3, 2015,; Amanda Taub, “The truth about ‘political correctness’ is that it doesn’t actually exist,” Vox, January 28, 2015,; Amanda Taub, “I was a liberal adjunct professor. My liberal students didn’t scare me at all,” Vox, June 5, 2015,

Just in time for the 2016 election

I am not an economist. For good reason, I also don’t trust economists. Their record in prediction leaves much to be desired. And there is a sense I’ve been hearing about for a while now that their faith in capitalism, so-called “free trade,” and austerity is more ideological than scientific, even or perhaps especially when they are influential or powerful.[1] It is pretty damned damning, for instance, that “Berkeley’s Brad DeLong defines [mathiness in economics] as ‘restricting your microfoundations in advance to guarantee a particular political result and hiding what you are doing in a blizzard of irrelevant and ungrounded algebra.’”[2] And it’s pretty damned damning when economists cherry-pick their data to justify austerity and are somehow mostly excused from accusations of intellectual dishonesty.[3] Read more

  1. [1]Hites Ahir and Prakash Loungani, “‘There will be growth in the spring’: How well do economists predict turning points?” Vox, April 14, 2014,; Richard Alford, “Why Economists Have No Shame – Undue Confidence, False Precision, Risk and Monetary Policy,” Naked Capitalism, July 19, 2012,; Robert Atkinson and Michael Lind, “Econ 101 is killing America,” Salon, July 8, 2013,; Ha-Joon Chang and Jonathan Aldred, “After the crash, we need a revolution in the way we teach economics,” Guardian, May 10, 2014,; Barry Eichengreen, “Economists, Remove Your Blinders,” Chronicle of Higher Education, January 12, 2015,; Alan Greenspan, “Why I Didn’t See The Financial Crisis Coming,” Foreign Policy, November, 2013,; Paul Krugman, “How Did Economists Get It So Wrong?” New York Times, September 2, 2009,; Paul Krugman, “When Economics Gets Political,” January 3, 2012,; Paul Krugman, “The Austerity Debacle,” New York Times, January 29, 2012,; Paul Krugman, “Economics in the Crisis,” New York Times, March 5, 2012,; Paul Krugman, “How the Case for Austerity Has Crumbled,” review of The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire, by Neil Irwin, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea, by Mark Blyth, and The Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitalism in America, by David A. Stockman, New York Review of Books, June 6, 2013,; Paul Krugman, “Economics, Good and Bad,” New York Times, June 26, 2012,; Paul Krugman, “Triumph of the Wrong?” New York Times, October 11, 2012,; Paul Krugman, “When Prophecy Fails,” New York Times, December 23, 2012,; Robert Kuttner, “Austerity never works: Deficit hawks are amoral — and wrong,” Salon, May 5, 2013,; John Quiggin, “Austerity Has Been Tested, and It Failed,” Chronicle of Higher Education, May 20, 2013,; Dani Rodrik, “Free-Trade Blinders,” Project Syndicate, March 9, 2012,; John Paul Rollert, “Greed Is Good: A 300-Year History of a Dangerous Idea,” Atlantic, April 7, 2014,; Paul Romer, “My Paper ‘Mathiness in the Theory of Economic Growth’,” May 15, 2015,; Noah Smith, “Most of What You Learned in Econ 101 Is Wrong,” Bloomberg, November 24, 2015,; Cass R. Sunstein, “Why Free Markets Make Fools of Us,” review of Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception, by George A. Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller, New York Review of Books, October 22, 2015,; Mark Thoma, “Are Economists Driven by Ideology or Evidence?” Fiscal Times, November 3, 2015,
  2. [2]Mark Thoma, “Restoring the Public’s Trust in Economists,” Fiscal Times, May 19, 2015,
  3. [3]Dean Baker, “Discredited Harvard Austerity-Pushers Reinhart and Rogoff Keep Lying to Protect Themselves,” Alternet, April 26, 2013,; Eugenio Facci, “EU austerity hawks shrug off criticism of flawed academic paper,” Christian Science Monitor, May 17, 2013,; Mike Konczal, “Reinhart/Rogoff-gate isn’t the first time austerians have used bad data,” Washington Post, April 20, 2013,; Paul Krugman, “The Excel Depression,” New York Times, April 18, 2013,; Paul Krugman, “Academic Non-Obscurity,” New York Times, April 25, 2013,; Lynn Stuart Parramore, “Meet the 28-year-old Student Who Exposed Two Harvard Professors Whose Shoddy Research Drove Global Austerity,” Alternet, April 18, 2013,

Conservatives swimming against the tide

Conservatives have long felt that they are swimming against a liberal (as in whatever they oppose) tide. William F. Buckley famously wrote in the National Review’s mission statement that the publication “stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”[1] George Nash wrote of the capitalist libertarian Albert Jay Nock that he

abandoned his early Jeffersonian idealism in revulsion from the hopeless, uneducable masses. Nock the classicist, the man of culture, became convinced that the masses could never be saved. But—and here he appealed to many later conservatives—the Remnant could. For in every age there existed a small Remnant of truly intelligent people; it was the task of each would-be Isaiah, alarmed at decay and impending doom, simply to preach. The members of the Remnant would eventually find him; they would come.[2]

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  1. [1]William F. Buckley, Jr., “Our Mission Statement,” National Review, November 19, 1955,
  2. [2]George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, 30th anniversary ed. (Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2006), p. 18.

The very possible and increasingly probable President Trump

Ross Douthat is out with a slightly odd column which is, in significant part, about his initial attraction to Sarah Palin as a politician in 2008 and a redirection of that attraction in 2016.[1] There are a few points here I want to raise. Read more

  1. [1]Ross Douthat, “My Sarah Palin Romance,” New York Times, January 20, 2016,

On the feminist argument for Clinton

I’m getting annoyed with this kind of argumentation:

One could argue that, gender aside, [Hillary] Clinton’s policies are better for women than [Bernie] Sanders’s – Naral Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood’s endorsements speak to that some, as does Clinton’s vocal emphasis on repealing the Hyde Amendment, which denies poor women the ability to obtain reproductive healthcare. But there is also nothing untoward about pointing out that the groundbreaking first of a female president would also benefit women.[1]

One could indeed argue this, I suppose, but the truth is that Jessica Valenti does not. She cites examples of Clinton’s positions without saying how they are better than Sanders’. Does Sanders support the Hyde amendment? I doubt it and Valenti offers us no evidence that he does or that he would be any less ambitious in seeking its repeal.[2] Read more

  1. [1]Jessica Valenti, “Hillary Clinton supporters: it is OK to care about gender on the ballot,” Guardian, January 15, 2016,
  2. [2]Jessica Valenti, “Hillary Clinton supporters: it is OK to care about gender on the ballot,” Guardian, January 15, 2016,

Bloody hands

To be sure, I have complaints about Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, given Tuesday night. It is obscene to me that he now acknowledges that “Food Stamp recipients did not cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did.”[1]

In February 2014, Obama signed a bill that would cut food stamps by $8.7 billion over the next 10 years. The legislation was estimated to cause 850,000 households to lose an average of $90 per month, while poverty and hunger are on the rise — even though they are already at disproportionately high levels compared to other OECD countries. . . .

Citing its “Too Big to Fail” policy, the Obama administration rewarded Wall Street for crashing the economy, at the sum of a whopping $700 billion tax dollars.

Meanwhile, no one was punished. As of 2013, five years after the crisis, not one top Wall Street executive was convicted of related criminal charges.[2]

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  1. [1]Barack Obama, “Remarks of President Barack Obama – State of the Union Address As Delivered,” White House, January 12, 2016,
  2. [2]Ben Norton, “Obama’s hypocrisy: He said blame Wall Street, not food stamps — but he bailed out bankers and cut help for the hungry,” Salon, January 13, 2016,

No kumbaya for Clinton (Updated)

Update, January 8, 2016: At the time I originally wrote this entry, I was unaware of Juanita Broaddrick’s allegation that Bill Clinton had raped her.[1] As Silpa Kovvali puts it,

I personally don’t give a damn about Hillary and Bill Clinton’s marital arrangement, or about Bill Clinton’s “sex life.” But allegations of rape and harassment do not fall into that category. Rape is not an “affair.” Harassment is not “infidelity.” The terminology employed by political commentators and progressive icons alike suggests otherwise.[2]

Read more

  1. [1]Karen Tumulty and Frances Stead Sellers, “For Hillary Clinton, old news or new troubles?” Washington Post, January 6, 2016,
  2. [2]Silpa Kovvali, “Bill, Hillary and the women: Should millennials care about Bill Clinton’s sex scandals?” Salon, January 8, 2016,

History and the Bundy uprisings

It’s good to learn from history. But just as it is important to represent viewpoints accurately, it is important to represent history fairly.

Unfortunately, Adrian Covert relies on a partial account of Shays’ Rebellion in condemning the occupiers of a wildlife refuge in Oregon. He notes the horror expressed George Washington, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson when farmers rebelled against state tax laws.[1] Covert needn’t have gone far to find the other side of the story. Howard Zinn explains that the support for a strong central government had been greatest among the wealthy who, in Massachusetts where Shays’ Rebellion occurred, were the only people who could hold state office. Farmers were losing their cattle and their land because of debt at least partially accrued when the federal government had not paid Revolutionary War veterans in cash but rather in “certificates for future redemption”[2] and when the state legislature had refused to issue paper money to facilitate the settling of debts.  “By 1787 there was not only a positive need for strong central government to protect the large economic interests, but also immediate fear of rebellion by discontented farmers.”[3] Which is all to say that any parallel between the occupation in Oregon and Shays’ Rebellion is weak at best: The federal government does not owe these ranchers money, but rather subsidizes them and their industry at every step of the way.[4] And even if you accept the capitalist libertarian claim that the U.S. currency is debased, inflation benefits debtors at the expense of creditors (and savers). Read more

  1. [1]Adrian Covert, “Oregon militants ignore U.S. history,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 5, 2016,
  2. [2]Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present (New York: HarperPerennial, 2005), p. 92.
  3. [3]Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present (New York: HarperPerennial, 2005), p. 91.
  4. [4]Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: Penguin, 2007).