URLs du Jour — 2014-10-08

  • Traditional marriage (or, as I like to think of it, "marriage") is apparently headed toward the ash heap of history. At the Federalist, David Harsanyi makes a small plea for language honesty:

    […], I’m asking on what logical grounds can a person argue that gay marriage is okay but polygamy is not—or any other type of marriage? If your answer is an arbitrary declaration like “the ideal union is between only two individuals” then all you’ve done is redefine the parameters of marriage. You support gay marriage, not “marriage equality.”

  • Nick Gillespie is at his snarky best writing about Harvard students asking—nay, demanding—that the college sever ties to the "Teach For America" program (which puts college grads directly into schools that lack quality teachers and/or resources) unless TFA only places participants in unionized government schools.

    The Harvard prodigies and the organizers at USAS ["United Students Against Sweatshops"] are about the last people standing who think that unionizing teachers is the last, best hope of improving American education, especially for students from lower-income, higher-risk-for-failure backgrounds. Good luck to them as their reactionary attitudes leave them further and further in the rear-view window as the rest of the country moves into a future of increased options for all, regardless of family income and ability to pay.

    I can only imagine the thought processes of the typical Harvard student who tries to reconcile these demands with their default moral preening about their compassion.

  • From Charles C. W. Cooke, more analysis of Scripps College's disinvitation to George F. Will.

    For all the elaborate apologias and tortuous self-justifications, the enemies of open expression are in practice singing the same song now as they ever were: “Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, we don’t want you here!” That, of course, is their right, but it is not a right that can be exercised without cost. To deprive a speaker of his chance to speak is, by definition, to deprive his listeners of a chance to listen — no small crime in a school purporting to teach “liberal arts.” Today, we roll our eyes at the peculiar uniformity of the American college campus. Tomorrow, though, we should laugh, for the losers here are not George Will and the nation’s many conservatives, but instead the students of Scripps, who, thanks to the prim and delicate scolds who run their grubby, insipid little establishment, will remain cosseted in their bubble for yet another day.

    Mamas, don't let your daughters grow up to go to Scripps.

  • Some default-view readers may be interested in my take on Bourgeois Dignity by Deirdre N. McCloskey, over on the Pun Salad books area.

  • Your Tweet du Jour:

    Background if necessary here and here and (even) here.

Bourgeois Dignity

[Amazon Link]

The subtitle is: "Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World". It is the second volume in Deirdre McCloskey's exploration of how the bourgeois mindset caused the miracle of prosperity that has lifted much of the world out of abject poverty, and can do the same for many more, if we let it. My report on the first volume in the series is here.

The emphasis here is on varying explanations for the "astonishing enrichment" that occurred in many countries in a relative historical eyeblink. (E.g. Norway, where incomes went from $3/day/person in 1800 to $137 in 2006—and way more today.) As the subtitle implies, McCloskey argues this economic miracle did not have economic causes. Explanations need to meet various challenges: why did the miracle occur here and here, and not there, or there? Why then, and not before, after, or never? And (most important, and often missed) why a hockey-stick increase in prosperity, and not a "mere" modest 2-4% increase per annum? Instead, McCloskey says, the root cause was a flip-flop of respect and encouragement for the commercial professsions and the ideas and values that undergird them.

It's a little funny that this needs to be explained at all: the historical facts are pretty well known. Everybody had their eyes open at the time. Yet the explanations often come with the baggage of ideology (you've heard of Karl Marx, perhaps?). And others resemble the methodology of the blind men exploring the elephant: author A finds semi-plausible cause B, and flogs it mercilessly for a couple of academic papers or perhaps a popular tome that might crack the best-seller list.

So: McCloskey does a pretty good job of shooting down multiple alternative explanataions. It's clear that this is an ongoing academic debate. (And, caveat lector, we are only getting her side of the story here.)

As I noted about the previous volume, McCloskey's style is at the opposite pole from much academic prose. I will plagiarize myself: it's personal (lots of "I"s and "you"s) very funny in spots, fearless and aggressive in argument. Not condescending at all.

I'm not (however) totally persuaded. I tend to the "just dumb luck" theory of economic prosperity: a synergistic combination of factors that nobody intentionally combined or designed, not even obvious in retrospect. Certainly McCloskey's "dignity" revolution is one of those factors; but maybe not the only one?

But I'm a dilettante in this field, so I'm probably wrong. Or maybe I missed or misunderstood the part where McCloskey discussed this. Ignore me.

I was also slightly disappointed by McCloskey's dismissal of Gregory Clark's argument that genetics might have some role in the human social behavior that underlies economic activity. Probably because I'd just read Nicholas Wade's recent book that treats that argument more fully and respectfully. McCloskey gets pretty rude, for example her gratuitous use of "Untermenschen" to caricature Clark's description of various nationalities. That's argumentum ad Hitlerum. Unworthy.

But whatever the details, the point remains: if you want a prosperous society (with all the attendant bells and whistles of peace, health, and opportunities for human flourishing), it's very important that the bourgeois virtues be honored, and the forces of innovation and trade be respected. What was done can be undone.

Virginia Postrel (of course) makes the explicit point better than I: the left wing political elite (including our President) thinks that it's deeply insightful to mock and deride business ("You didn't build that"). Also see Michelle Obama's unsage advice to avoid "corporate America" in your career plans. After reading McCloskey, those attitudes are, at best, a source of head-shaking despair about the future of our country.

Last Modified 2014-12-10 12:21 PM EST