“The 2013 median income remained a whopping 8 percent — about $4,500 per year — below where it was in 2007. The 2008 recession depressed wages for middle-income Americans, and they haven’t recovered in any meaningful way. And 2007 household incomes were actually below the 1999 peak.”—You Can’t Feed a Family With G.D.P. - NYTimes.com (via rhpolitics)
I appreciate they’re against wasteful spending. But everybody is against waste, fraud, and abuse. It’s just that sometimes identifying fraud and abuse can be expensive, frustrating, and occasionally wasteful. (Think: IRS auditors). And reducing waste on a scale that impacts the deficit turns out to be similarly hard. (If this sub-department of whatever agency starts replacing office furniture every fifteen years instead of every ten years it’s going to have a negligible effect on the deficit.) Sometimes reducing waste turns out to be politically impractical in the short term. (Joint strike fighter?)
Question: Does the Institute to Reduce Spending care enough about the deficit to advocate for tax hikes as part of a budget-balancing package?
I’m just worried that this hole “reduce spending” stuff is a thin veneer over another of those Koch-affiliated 501(c)(4) organizations putting lofty language on a not-so-lofty attempt to slash the safety net so many Americans depend on to survive. I’d really appreciate some reassurance that this isn’t the case.
Man, there’s a lot to respond to here. First, we’d probably quibble with the assertion that “everybody is against waste, fraud, and abuse,” since there are many programs that fit that category that are adamantly defended. The Overseas Contingency Operations slush fund that allows the Pentagon to spend massive amounts “off-budget” and strong opposition to Pentagon audits are both good examples. Some departments have proverbial waste, fraud, and abuse that certainly not everyone is against (follow the money!) Likewise, recent failures to stop rampant Medicare fraud show that reform is much harder to accomplish than it should be.
You definitely hit on a good point when you say that cutting spending on the scale large enough to affect the debt is difficult. Conservatives especially do themselves a disservice by harping on, let’s say, a couple million dollars for PBS, while ignoring trillions on the broken F-35 program (like you mention) or billions on the MEADS missile system even after the military requested to end it. The odds of ending many of these programs are often slim, but as a 501(c)(3) research institution, our purpose is to provide balanced research and analysis on the spending issue alone.
That’s why we don’t take any position on taxes, for example, (we leave others to fight about that!) except to point out, as the CBO’s recent report did, that spending will rise much, much faster than revenues can within just a few years. If you’re inclined to increase tax revenue as part of the solution, you still have to realize that spending is the key.
As a side note since you mention our funding: it comes from a combination of private individuals and foundations. We don’t, as a habit, publicize our donors out of respect for their privacy, but many of these individuals are more than welcome to talk about their support for us. You also can review our 990s. In our work, we coordinate with many groups across the political spectrum, generally equal parts left and right-leaning, on the issues where we agree. Transpartisan education and cooperation on this single issue is the only way, we believe, to truly solve it.
As a quick caveat for others, although the Institute to Reduce Spending may be a 501(c)(3), the Coalition to Reduce Spending, which shares a President with the Institute, is not. I’m not actually sure how one would go about reviewing the 990s. As best I can tell, they haven’t been filed yet. (If anybody else wants to check, you’re looking for EIN: 61-1701005). So we’re basically talking about a “research” organization connected with a political advocacy organization that is criticizing “corporate welfare” but is also funded by undisclosed corporations.
I realize that sounds harsh, but that’s the gist of it, isn’t it? It would be super cool if ya’ll could have a bit of transparency on who is footing the bills so I don’t feel the need to put a giant disclaimer on everything. Because as it is, I think there’s some incredibly valid criticisms on the military spending and some of the Departments. But it’s a bit like taking medical advice from some dude you met at a truck stop. You just don’t know where it’s coming from. I mean, the dude could be a doctor…. Except the 501(c)(4) designation means the only thing we know is that there is a political agenda.
So in response to my post how dominant white males are as elected
Republican members of Congress, I got this reply:
"Only 2% of black people are republican so this makes sense right? Try to turn this into a racist thing?"
Because white people can’t vote for black candidates? Or, let’s say, men can’t vote for women?
#How to not use statistics intelligently
I don’t want to reflexively back your probably-dumb interlocutor—but the statement can’t be dismissed quite that easily. Before candidates can be elected you’ve got to recruit them. If your political party is mostly white men, that’s your candidate pool.
Then you have the problem that basically all politics are identity politics. White people can vote for black candidates. But … for some reason a party disproportionately composed of white dudes elects an awful lot of white dudes.
I don’t think there’s any need to “try to turn this into a racist thing.” Maybe the disproportionate racial makeup of the Republican Party is a coincidence?
“Although every statewide elected official in Kansas is a Republican and President Obama lost the state by more than 20 points in the last election, Mr. Brownback’s proudly conservative policies have turned out to be so divisive and his tax cuts have generated such a drop in state revenue that they have caused even many Republicans to revolt.”—Conservative Experiment Faces Revolt in Reliably Red Kansas - NYTimes.com
Considering the number of radicals I hang out with and the number of strong opinions I’m happy to share, I still think of myself as a sort of moderate. After all, my core political beliefs seem awfully uncontroversial.
The way power, wealth, etc. is distributed in society is affected by relatively arbitrary rules and conventions that should be improved if we can figure out how to do it.
The whole “do unto others” thing still counts (and applies to everybody) when we’re making decisions about this sort of social policy.
The journey is, in many ways, as important as the destination—at least in the sense that nobody who dies on the journey makes it to the destination. So maybe that revolution is a bad idea if it mostly consists of destroying actual things in the name of an improbable goal.
Also a dumb policy supported by clever arguments is still a dumb policy.
“I would prefer more educated voters than a greater increase in the number of voters.”—Georgia state Sen. Fran Millar complaining about DeKalb County’s decision to open early voting on a Sunday in an area “dominated by African American shoppers.” via Think Progress (via officialssay)
Apparently TD Bank decided it’s okay to hit customers with overdraft fees without regard to whether there is an actual overdraft. Or whether the account balance ever goes close to zero.
It’s no surprise that a bank would reorder transactions to reap extra fees—but this one is a new one. Here’s…
Didn’t recent legislation (as in a few years ago) require overdraft protection to be opt-in? I always opt out to avoid this. If for some reason I did overdraft, charges beyond my balance would be declined, but most businesses don’t charge a fee for a declined debit, just canceled checks.
The recent law changed the rule for overdraft fees for debit cards. This was a very good law. Before it I had seen some very poor folks who were routinely hit with $400 in fees each month. They did not know the bank would keep honoring debits even though the account was overdrawn. After all, one of the defining features of a debit card is that you’re spending money you already have.
Now you can still get overdraft charges for checks or other deductions. And that, in itself is fine. If you accidentally make a mistake and write a check that dips the balance below zero, it’s way better to have a bank fee than to worry about criminal consequences for passing bad checks.
So now some of the banks do a hard sell on opting in to debit card overdraft fees. There’s really no reason to do it—and it can be really expensive. But marketing! With TD Bank, it’s called TD Debit Card Advance(TM). I take it a bit personally. All those splash screens might as well say, “We’ve decided that YOU are a great fit for our Product for Suckers(TM)!”
Apparently TD Bank decided it’s okay to hit customers with overdraft fees without regard to whether there is an actual overdraft.1 Or whether the account balance ever goes close to zero.
It’s no surprise that a bank would reorder transactions to reap extra fees—but this one is a new one. Here’s how it seems to work.
Your account has $800 in it to begin with.
You deposit a check for $2,000. This triggers an automatic hold for all but the first $100.
TD structures this hold as a $2,000 deposit and a (presumably temporary) $1,900 debit.
TD orders these transactions so the debit goes first. So for a moment your account is $1,100 overdrawn.
You are then charged a $35 overdraft fee because your account dipped below zero.2
On the upside, if you don’t mind waiting on hold for a while TD has lovely customer service reps available at all hours. The representative was, of course, unable to determine why the fee had been assessed. I was told the fee would be reversed as a “one time courtesy.” Then I was given advice on how to avoid “overdrawing my account in the future.” I was not amused.
How many people wouldn’t have challenged the bogus fee? Is this negligence or something more deliberate?
When making appropriately tagged posts about large companies on the Internet, I assume there’s likely a social media intern or something who reads it. If TD Bank tells me that I’ve gotten something wrong, I will promptly update this post here. Or retract it or something if I got it really wrong. But I did my diligence on this one. ↩
Edit: I’m sort of a stickler for accuracy if I’m going to go making accusations of potentially criminal behavior—so I wanted to update this post because I think something (very) slightly different happens. It looks like all check-related deposits are processed simultaneously. See, e.g.. But they are reordered. So if you’d written three checks for $25 in addition to making your deposit, you could be assessed with three overdraft fees for each of the three checks, which could somehow be processed between the $1,900 hold and the $2,000 deposit. But you would not be charged a fee on the $1,900 hold. ↩
Steve Grossman, whose mother got him a SuperPac, is basically an old rich guy trying to pander to millennials. “More summer internships.” “My mother contributed to an independent expenditure campaign. I of course had nothing to do with that.” He says things like, “I believe in solutions first and lawsuits last.” Great buddy. You believe in solutions. Except you said that you believed in solutions rather than offering some kind of specifics. He seems like the rich guy wing of the Democratic Party.
Don Berwick is basically the single-payer anti-casino guy. Needless to say, I’m sympathetic. I like him. I’m not sure he’s serious. He listed his biggest weakness as “my big heart.”
Martha Coakley seems like the most serious candidate. Not the best campaigner. But she’s clearly concerned about income inequality in a serious and credible way.
Full disclosure, I may be biased toward Coakley for her excellent work suing banks. Also I’m worried the male candidates are going to pull a Spitzer and embarrass the state.
“I should have called the Estonians when we were setting up our health care website.”—President Barack Obama, after noting that in Estonia, people can access children’s grades and health records online. (via officialssay)
“The net worth of the average black household in the United States is $6,314, compared with $110,500 for the average white household, according to 2011 census data. The gap has worsened in the last decade, and the United States now has a greater wealth gap by race than South Africa did during apartheid.”—After Ferguson, Race Deserves More Attention, Not Less - NYTimes.com
Over the last month, I’ve learned that a lot of us have enough money that we can be persuaded to give a chunk of it to a worthy cause if presented with the opportunity to publicly douse ourselves with ice water. If that’s all it takes, most of us really ought to be giving away more. And we should be doing it regularly and with sufficient generosity that we notice it.
What do I want that I don’t have because of all the money I’m giving away? I’m particularly fond of the question because it doesn’t let anybody entirely off the hook—but it gets increasingly tricky as your income goes up.
If there’s not a good answer to the question, find a nonprofit. These folks are awesome. Or, for the slightly less radical, these guys. Or a local food bank. Or reblog with a suggestion you prefer.
Today is Labor Day which is meant to celebrate the workers movement (as an aside, in Germany and much of the rest of the world this is held on May 1). That might be a good time to think about what organizing labor might mean in the future.
One of the major economic trends we are currently seeing is the breakdown of traditional employment and the rise of labor marketplaces for free lancers, such as Uber, Task Rabbit and WorkMarket (to name just a few). The valuations for at least some of these companies suggest that investors expect them to be very profitable in the longrun. During the growth phase it is entirely possible to create value for both freelancers who participate in the marketplace and for the investors who own it but eventually there is a tradeoff where on the margin an extra dollar for investors means a dollar less for labor.
So what influences the bargaining power in the future that determines how these marginal dollars get split? I would suggest that it is information. To the extent that the marketplaces have a lot of information and each participant (e.g., driver) has only very limited information the bargaining will heavily favor the marketplaces. One might argue that there could be competition between marketplaces, but due to network effects there are likely to only be a couple of big ones that matter.
With respect, I’d like to imagine the labor movement could dream a bit bigger than aspiring to marginally increase decentralized individual’s bargaining power against massive corporations. Bargaining parity on those terms will never be anywhere close to equal.
If you’re working essentially full time as an Uber driver, an App store developer, an Amazon seller or in any of the other “labor marketplaces of free lancers,” your job is propping up these companies. You may have a significant capital investment in it. But you’re not really a free lancer. You’re drawing all your income from one company—and there isn’t generally an easy way to switch to another. So if Uber changes its policies, you’re screwed. You have no rights. You have no recourse. More information won’t solve the underlying problem.
Are traditional labor markets actually breaking down? (Not really, but let’s pretend they are.) Wouldn’t labor be better served by organizing Uber drivers into a union so they could bargain collectively? Or by pushing for legislation or legal precedent to recognize Uber drivers as employees?
This isn’t to say that there aren’t glorious innovations in labor’s future—but I’m inclined to ask a bit bolder.
A Georgia man died after police shocked him with a Taser as many as 13 times because he said he was too tired to walk due to a foot chase, his attorney said this week.
At a press conference on Tuesday, attorney Chris Stewart said that police records showed that East Point officers had discharged their Tasers 13 times to make Gregory Towns, who was handcuffed, get up and walk.
“This is a direct violation of their own rules,” Stewart explained, according to WSB-TV. “You cannot use a Taser to escort or prod a subject.”
“They used their Tasers as a cattle prod on Mr. Towns.”
Stewart said that he pieced together what led up to Towns’ April 11 death using official city records and eyewitness accounts.
“He wasn’t cursing. He wasn’t being abusive. He was saying, ‘I’m tired,’” the attorney pointed out.
Taser logs showed that Sgt. Marcus Eberhart fired his Taser 10 times, and officer Howard Weems pulled the trigger three times. However, the logs did not indicate how many times the Taser made contact with Towns.
In all, records indicated a total shock time of 47 seconds. Stewart called the situation “indefensible.”
Autopsy results obtained by WSB-TV showed that Towns’ death was ruled a homicide because the Taser shocks — combined with physical activity and heart disease — contributed to his death.
But Police Benevolent Association lawyers representing Weems continued to insist that the officer’s actions did not cause Towns to die.
Attorney Dale Preiser issued a statement saying that the “use of drive stun to gain compliance is permitted under federal and Georgia law.”
Stewart said that he would file a lawsuit against the city this week.
"Use of a stun gun to gain compliance."
That’s pretty horrible. The taser isn’t being used for defense. It’s being used to punish somebody for being uncooperative. At this point it’s basically an instrument of torture. Or if you want choose a different word for when you inflict unbearable pain on people to make them do what you want. I’m sure there are synonyms for torture.
“States could have saved more than $24 billion annually if they had increased/decreased the employment of administrators and other non-teaching staff at the same rate as students between 1992 and 2009.”—
Many of these support staff, though, are either legally required or necessary to cope with legal and financial burdens placed on schools by lawmakers, and the reason the support staff has ballooned is directly related to the increase in regulation placed on public schools.
Are the regulations at issue the ones that say folks living with physical or cognitive disabilities still get a decent education? It’s true that IEPs are going to require some staffing to support. But scrapping resources for the most vulnerable children isn’t a step in the right direction.
For the record, I don’t mind the rich. I find poverty a much more pressing social ill than affluenza. If you’ve got a pile of money and manage to turn it into a bigger pile of money, great for you, buddy. But if it’s all the same, maybe you don’t need a trophy?.
Liberals seem to want wealth without the rich. Yet most real wealth originates in individual minds in unpredictable and uncontrollable ways. A successful economy depends on the proliferation of the rich, on creating a large class of risk-taking men who are willing to shun the easy channels of a comfortable life in order to create new enterprise, win huge profits, and invest them again. It will be said that their earnings are “unearned” and “undeserved.” But, in fact, most successful entrepreneurs contribute far more to society than they ever recover, and most of them win no riches at all. They are the heroes of economic life, and those who begrudge them their rewards demonstrate a failure to understand their role and their promise.
How exactly is investing your massive quantities of money “shunning the easy channels of a comfortable life”? Who invests so heavily in a new enterprise that there isn’t enough left over for a comfortable life? It could be a parent who goes hungry so a child can eat. It might be a student who borrows against a better future. Maybe it’s the guy starting a small business who skips a mortgage payment to pay an employee. But none of these people are rich. At least not in the Capitalist Overlord sense.
But let’s grant the beginning of Gilder’s point. Suppose some special flowers have a real talent for investing money in new, socially important enterprises. Surely the best thing for society is to identify them, support them, and make sure they have resources to do their magical capitalist thing? So if Josefina shows great promise from a young age as a Capitalist but has the misfortune of being born into a poor family, maybe we put a wealth tax in place to siphon money to her capable hands instead of the hands of a less competent capitalist? We’d also better make sure to dump some of the money into education to make sure we don’t let any underprivileged genius capitalists slip through the cracks.
Unless Gilder’s point is that any sort of redistribution is unnecessary because the people who happen to have money can do a perfectly adequate job of investing it. In other words, they aren’t all that special and unique. In which case I guess they have a job to do and should be paid for doing it. Like everybody with a job gets paid. Maybe twenty bucks an hour would be a good compensation for something that apparently doesn’t take any special skills?
Vacation starts today. Which means maybe I should bring some books to plan to read? And maybe actually read?
Past reading has included epic fantasy (GRRM, Jordan, Sanderson, etc.) and post-modern fiction (Barthelme, Coover, O’Brien, etc). So I’m basically looking for something to read for entertainment rather than edification. Guilty Secret Pulpy1 is okay—but Self Injury Pulpy is maybe not.
What should I be reading?
We generally have bookshelves in at least three rooms. One room gets the books that are displayed so we can intimidate impress on visitors how impressive we are. Think of Facsimile Edition of Shakespeare’s First Folio shelved next to Black’s Law Dictionary. Then there’s a room full of fiction which we can be in to feel good about and to impress upon guests that we own a great quantity of books for sophisticated and literary people. Then there’s another room—which is usually a basement or a closet—full of Dan’s Other Books. This one is not shown to visitors at all. Unless one of the visitors says something like, “I’m a huge nerd.” In which case do not worry you are not alone. And also, this is my Kingdom and if you want to stare into the abyss of who is a bigger nerd you will find me staring back at you. I own a rapier. ↩
Maybe some of the lenders should adopt a “one vacant home at a time” policy. If there is already a boarded up, vacant home owned by a bank on the same block, maybe stop trying to evict another guy until you find somebody willing to live in the first home?
Isn’t this the basic rule you learn in kindergarten? You have to put away one toy before you get to play with another? Clean up your first mess before making another.
With regard to Palestinian shelters, it should be noted that tens of millions of dolalrs and tons and tons of concrete have been given to the government in Gaza. The vast majority of those resources went into building tunnels.
Perhaps we should apply the same standard and hold off on the Iron Dome money until Israel certifies that its past military aid has not been spent in a way that has exacerbated this conflict? Or maybe ensure that the Palestinians have the remainder of the $225 million headed toward the IDF so we’re funding both sides of the conflict equally?
As you know (and hopefully others can infer), I wouldn’t seriously support either of these proposals. I also don’t understand how sending $225 million to subsidize the IDF is a good use of our money. I understand why, politically, it is happening. But if we’re going to spend $225 million toward some nominally humanitarian end we could do a lot better, dollar for dollar. And, given the existing effectiveness of Iron Dome and the one-sided nature of the conflict, I’m not persuaded that subsidizing the IDF in any manner is a humanitarian end at all. It seems a bit like shipping advanced body armor to Gaza and hoping for the best.
Israel’s supporters often claim that Israel is being held to a double standard. After all, a lot of countries do bad things. But we don’t provide anywhere near this level of military assistance to those other countries. We generally consider them enemies. I just think that Israel’s recent behavior is more than enough reason to reevaluate Best Buds status.
I’ve seen a bunch of negative comments about continued U.S. funding for Israel’s Iron Dome system and I find this curious. They mostly take the form of “Israel is terrible” and thus don’t provide a lot by way of specific arguments against the bill that President Obama signed.
What exactly is the complaint against the U.S. providing funding to Israel for a system that is designed to defend against rocket attacks on civilians?
Also, relatedly, is there any chance that this will finally put an end to the ongoing nonsense about how much Obama hates Israel?
LTMC: I wouldn’t hold my breath on Obama. Ironically, Netanyahu is probably the only world leader whom right-leaning Israel supporters wouldn’t have a problem with Obama bowing in front of. Even then, they would presumably argue that he didn’t bow low enough.
With respect to U.S. appropriations for the Iron Dome project, I think Jakke's response is on point here:
jakke said: Dollars spent on Iron Dome are perfectly substitutable for dollars spent on the Israeli military, so subsidizing Iron Dome lets the Israeli government keep financing huge military operations without its finances going in a Greece type direction.
Precisely this. What the Israeli government receives from outside sources it need not spend from its own budget. U.S. funding for the Iron Dome defense system allows Israel to take funds it would have spent on Iron Dome and spend them elsewhere in its defense budget (e.g. financing military incursions into Gaza). Wars cost money, and what the Israeli government doesn’t spend on Iron Dome, it can spend on the tank shells, missiles, bombs, and bullets it brings with it into Gaza.
In addition to this, I think outside financing of Israel’s defense systems has the indirect effect of making Israeli citizens more enthusiastic about supporting the Occupation—and periodic military incursions into the Occupied Territories—than it otherwise would be. When the U.S. sponsors a piece of Israel’s defense budget, Israeli citizens aren’t actually bearing the full cost of Israel’s foreign policy. I think the Israeli electorate might be less hawkish if they had to pay the full cost of their defense budget themselves, since scarce public resources come out of taxpayer’s pockets.
Lastly, since U.S. financing of Israel’s defense systems indirectly helps Israel to spend its remaining resources on military missions which I believe are unnecessary, counter-productive, and in many cases inhumane, I feel that as a U.S. citizen, I have a duty to oppose any U.S. appropriation that makes it easier for the Israeli government to engage in those activities.
For the record, I think the Iron Dome system is a fantastic idea, and its implementation has saved countless Israeli lives. I just don’t think that the U.S. should be funding it for the reasons stated above. Bearing the full cost of their defense budget might have the laudable effect of encouraging the Israeli electorate to be less enthusiastic about expending limited public resources on military incursions into the Occupied Territories.
My question is whether we can also kick in $225 million to fund some civilian bb shelters in Gaza. And if the answer is, “Of course not,” why subsidize Israel’s military to that extent? It’s clearly not an even-handed concern for human life.
Pretty much everybody agrees that there is a legitimate moral and humanitarian crisis on the border.
Obama asked Congress to do something.
The House attempted to pass an immigration bill that everybody in the House knew would never pass the Senate, primarily in order to allow Republicans to have something to say when their constituents asked them why they were drawing a salary to dick around and be a national embarrassment.
The Senate attempted to pass an immigration bill that everybody in the Senate knew would never pass the House, primarily in order to allow Democrats to have something to say when their constituents asked them why they were drawing a salary to dick around and be a national embarrassment.
Both of these attempts failed. Neither chamber managed to pass even a waste of time face-saving bill.
Republican leaders released a statement saying, “There are numerous steps the President can and should be taking right now, without the need for congressional action, to secure our borders and ensure these children are returned swiftly and safely to their countries.” In other words, “The President should do something because we’re totally defective.”
Steve King—and doubtlessly a boatload of other Republicans—are now mad that Obama is acting without Congress.
Can somebody build me a browser extension that replaces the word “Congress” with “an unruly mob of children”? That way headlines will read, “Obama to circumvent an unruly mob of children on minimum wage for federal contractors.” Yes. I’m glad Obama gave a wide berth to those unruly children. One of the children could have been hurt. Or, “Obama introduces legislation to an unruly mob of children.” Well … it’s nice that he’s treating those children with dignity. But I won’t hold my breath that these unruly children will accomplish some sort of legislative purpose.
Bottom line? The branches of government are supposed to be coequal, not codependent.
“The U.S. Congress on Thursday is set to debate “emergency” border security legislation that lawmakers acknowledge will not be enacted but will enable them to campaign for re-election by arguing they worked to address a humanitarian crisis.”—
“The Republican-led House approved a resolution on Wednesday authorizing Speaker John Boehner to sue President Barack Obama over claims he abused his powers at the expense of Congress and the Constitution.”—
Perhaps surprisingly, I’m okay with this. At least, mostly. I mean, it’s still a party-line vote by America’s Most Defective Branch.
But it might be time for some new rules on executive orders. On one hand, the legislature is supposed to make the law. But the legislature is pretty unambiguously incapable of fixing things everybody agrees are broken.
It’s not that elite colleges don’t include borderline sociopaths with shriveled souls who have never learned to love. It’s just that you can find those folks anywhere. I’ve been traveling in mixed circles lately. I was recently at my ten-year reunion at one of the elite colleges named in Dersiewicz article. I spend a lot of time with assorted academics. I also spend a lot of time with people who are facing imminent homelessness. All these groups have truly amazing and inspiring people in them. All of them also have some pretty wretched people in them.
I can’t speak for Deresiewicz experience at Yale. He laments that “Very few [students] were passionate about ideas. Very few saw college as part of a larger project of intellectual discovery and development.” Maybe Yale is full of uninteresting zombies.1 Or maybe it’s unique to his classes. Perhaps most likely, the general population doesn’t contain a lot of people who are passionate about the ideas Deresiewicz thinks people should be passionate about. Perhaps little of the general population sees college as part of a larger process of intellectual discovery and development.2 I can say that most of the people I know who are the most nerdily passionate about ideas I met at an elite college.
But suggesting that an elite college doesn’t have enough people who are passionate about ideas is a bit like suggesting that a Seattle doesn’t have enough coffee shops. Maybe it doesn’t. But you’re not going to find a better selection elsewhere.
Then there’s this:
Look beneath the façade of seamless well-adjustment, and what you often find are toxic levels of fear, anxiety, and depression, of emptiness and aimlessness and isolation. A large-scale survey of college freshmen recently found that self-reports of emotional well-being have fallen to their lowest level in the study’s 25-year history.
You know that’s true of everybody everywhere? The elite schools hardly have a monopoly on toxic levels of fear, anxiety, and depression.
I guess, in summation, Deresiewicz thinks people should build a concept of self by caring about ideas but also promote diversity and improve the world by eliminating bad things and improving good things and generally implementing a laundry list of the sorts of policy goals opposed only by the World Congress of Strawmen. The way to do that is to avoid the elite colleges and to go to a state school3 instead because … I guess because that’s the sort of controversial proposal that’s going to get William Deresiewicz a lot of attention. Who even publishes this drivel?
Yo, Zombiecuddle: I know I’m talking about your alma mater. But … you’re sort of tautologically disqualified from protesting Deresiewicz thesis “the nation’s top colleges are turning our kids into zombies.” ↩
And perhaps those that do disproportionately end up at liberal arts schools. ↩
Important note: I’m not for a moment hating on state schools or any other schools. I just think that Deresiewicz’s claim, go to a public university because True Economic Diversity is insipid. It’s not remotely clear that a dorm full of first years at an elite school where everybody lives on campus in the same dorms—whether they’re on a full, need-based scholarship or a quintouple legacy is going to involve less interraction between people from different backgrounds than you’d have on a campus where a lot of the highest income kids end up in Greek housing and the lowest income kids commute. ↩
Matt Bruenig,1Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, and I guess Matt Bruenig’s wife2 have had on one of those internet fights where serious adults discuss serious topics pertaining to law and theology … but intersperse some fantastically juvenile name calling. So basically it’s about my speed. In the spirit of internet fights, I’m going to jump in midstream without familiarizing myself with the beginning of the conversation.3
PEG’s position, if I may excerpt, is essentially this:
[T]he problem that has been my problem from the start, is that to pose the question this way is to skip a teeny tinsy step, which is the step I call attention to and the step that always, but always gets skipped by the Burenigs, which is that we should choose the best arrangement “what belongs to who” consistent with respect for the rights of actual existing humans. In many places, people have decided to rearrange “what belongs to who” based on grand designs for human flourishing while paying no attention to the small matter of the rights of the actual people owning the things, and as a result lots of suffering happened (no, Sweden doesn’t count). This is the problem from the start, and has always been the problem. If you do not have a step in there that says “…btw, people have human rights, lol" you are, by definition, inviting totalitarianism.
Matt Bruenig’s position includes this:
I have taken it upon myself to deeply interrogate nature and her majestic edicts, and I have found that every person has an inherent, natural human right to the distributive share that they are owed under Rawlsian egalitarianism. Nature, nay the universe, commands it.
I don’t know if this is representative of Bruenig’s position. I just judged that first sentence so hard I twisted my spleen. Then I read the next sentence and decided that reading the rest could be fatal.
But I have a serious question for PEG. I don’t see any inherent conflict between the following propositions:
Our concept of property is a social construct.
People have a some kind of moral right to their property—or at least some portion thereof.
In the same vein we could acknowledge that adolescence is a socially designed and potentially changeable concept without abandoning our convictions that adults should not try to date adolescents. But I’m wondering if you (or anybody—particularly the libertarians out there) would like to navigate the following (admittedly stacked) hypothetical:
Hezekiah Bonad was a saint of a capitalist in virtually every way. He ran a profitable toothpaste factory that employed the majority of a small town making toothbrushes. And he did it in a way where he paid his employees well. Then he died with no children and no will. By law, everything he owns (which is most of the town) goes to his second-cousin and closest relative, Jamie Grumpus.
Mr. Grumpus already has a fortune, inherited from a different cousin. He gives the instruction to liquidate everything in the estate and buy a sports team or two. Needless to say, liquidating the factory would functionally wipe out the town and result in an immense amount of human suffering. Does Mr. Grumpus have a natural right to do this? And if an enterprising attorney from the town identified a law that would stop this and save the town, would that law be an unjust law?
Is a right to this particular style of personal property still sacrosanct, even in the most extreme outer-limit? At some point there’s going to be a limiting principle on the savage capitalism, right?
(On the topic of limiting principles, PEG pushed Bruenig to set a limiting principle on his redistributionist tendencies. I’ll offer a rough proposal. 1) Person A’s right to security in food, shelter, health, and her person trump Benjamin’s right to capital assets he does not require for such basic needs. 2) We suck at massively disruptive change, so let’s not do anything stupid. If the primary concern is avoiding totalitarianism, I think either of those should do it.)
If you want to subscribe to the Matt Bruenig digest, you may do so here. I don’t know who Matt Bruenig is. But maybe you do. Or maybe you really like weekly digests. ↩
Sorry for the impersonal reference, Matt Bruenig’s wife. You probably have another name by which you’d prefer to be called, but I know who Matt Bruenig is so I can’t really track it down. I mean, I could if I managed to get through the prior discussions, but see fn. 3, infra. ↩
Sorry, PEG. I tried. Your initial piece on Patheos had one of those autoplaying video ads with no obvious mute button. On the topic of things that are ruining the Internet, I find anything by the Axe company inherently and irredeemably offensive and sexist and I haven’t been able to get those ads off my Tumblr dashboard. What I’m saying is that I’m contemplating wirecutters and a newspaper subscription. ↩
The school's abandoned. It's not a working school. It's not clear why you're so sure there's no way to secure those weapons such that the best or only possible option is to give them to people who might very well fire them at civilians.
I’m clearly not 100% certain that there wasn’t *some other way* to secure the weapons. Maybe there was a hobbyist munitions disposal expert on staff. But … there probably wasn’t.
Israel has a pretty clearly telegraphed pattern of bombing buildings it believes weapons are being stored in. There is certainly not an exception for abandoned schools. Getting the things out of the school is a priority. I just don’t anticipate that UNRWA has munitions expert on staff. Arranging for the Palestinian Authority to haul them off is probably the least bad option.
Is there a chance that the Palestinian Authority will turn them over to somebody else who would attempt launch them at civilians? Maybe. Let’s assume there is. And is there a chance that these 20 missiles will actually be launched? Maybe—though quantity of missiles doesn’t seem to be the limiting factor.) Is there a chance that one of those 20 missiles will defy the odds and actually hurt somebody? It’s slim. But there’s a chance.
The alternative seems to involve inviting an airstrike from Israel on the school. Those kill people.
Edit: Ari comments, ” It’s not the Palestinian Authority. The rockets were turned over to people in Gaza who they think are under the direction of the unity government. Are they? Who knows. But you’re making it seem that this school is filled with people, mostly children.” I don’t really have a source for any of this except Ari and the press release, so I’m trying to make a few inferences.
I assume “Who knows?” is intended as a rhetorical question—but it strikes me that UNRWA probably does know.
I’m not trying to make it look like the school is being used as a school at the moment. This post began with Ari’s statement, “The school’s abandonned,” which seems pretty unambiguous that there aren’t a ton of children running about it. However, the school is clearly not so abandoned that nobody is ever in it. Somebody found the rockets during a routine inspection. And any effort to secure said rockets beyond a padlock would require somebody to be there securing them. I would not be eager to volunteer for that particular job. I don’t know if I’d be more worried about the people who stowed the rockets or the airstrikes.
“According to longstanding UN practice in UN humanitarian operations worldwide, incidents involving unexploded ordnance that could endanger beneficiaries and staff are referred to the local authorities.”—
It’s not entirely clear to whom the rockets were given, but there’s the suggestion that it was Palestinians who are apparently under the authority of the unity government in Ramallah rather than Hamas militants.
Either way, I don’t see how this can be seen as anything but an astonishingly foolish thing for a UN agency to do.
I’m not quite sure what the alternative is. You’re running a school. Presumably you run it like a school rather than a prison—so maybe something gets smuggled in. Somebody stows something extremely dangerous in the basement. your options seem to be fourfold.
Ignore it and hope for the best. (What could go wrong?)
Try to have some amateurs dispose of some missiles. (What could go wrong?)
Call the occupying authority.
Call the nominal local authority.
Option four isn’t a particularly great option. Options one through three are terrible. (I think that Option 5: Contact another U.N. agency that actually has the technical capability of disposing of unexploded ordinance and hope they can teleport there is not a fake option.)
I won’t say that Israel single-handedly created the situation where the local authorities are plausibly connected with the people storing missiles in a school. But as between UNRWA and Israel, UNRWA isn’t an occupying power destabilizing civil authorities to the point that “just call the police” is somehow a punchline.