Links on Distribution and Workplace Democracy

Good Stuff, and Bad

  • Charles Stross is doing an “IamA” on Reddit right now.
  • Vincent Ostrom died. (Am I wrong to find this kind of quick death following the loss of a spouse and co-researcher seriously romantic? Probably, but there it is.)
  • Children bully an elderly bus monitor. The internet responds with $650,000 in donations. Also, many plot elaborate revenge fantasies for the bullies. Everyone always learns the wrong lesson from the Stanford Prison Experiment and the Milgram Shock Study: we always think it means that other people are horrible. We ignore the possibility that we might be horrible, too, given the right circumstances. I can’t help thinking that all pubescent boys and girls are potentially sociopathic for the simple reason that their brains are not yet fully formed. We’d all likely do the same thing if nature turned off our capacity for empathy and then society placed us in a setting where peers led us to believe that we should bully or be bullied.
  • There’s a fascinating debate brewing on group selection. Here’s one take, from Steven Pinker. I love the “simple model needlessly complicated” putdown Pinker has, but the conceptual argument is much less important than the empirical one. If his last section is right, there’s no EVIDENCE of real genetic imperatives to sacrifice, only reciprocal cooperation (and rule-following punishment) when reputation matters, except in hive species. That seems to settle the matter. As West et al. note:
  1. “No group selection model has ever been constructed where the same result cannot be found with kin selection theory”.
  2. “The group selection approach has proved to be less useful than the kin selection approach.”
  3. “The application of group selection theory has led to much confusion and time wasting.” It is, as the authors say, “easy to misapply, leading to incorrect statements about how natural selection operates,” it is “not distinct from kin selection”, and it “often leads to the confusing redefinition of terms and the use of confusing jargon.”

The master narrative of High Liberalism is mistaken factually.  Externalities do not imply that a government can do better.  Publicity does better than inspectors in restraining the alleged desire of businesspeople to poison their customers.  Efficiency is not the chief merit of a market economy: innovation is.  Rules arose in merchant courts and Quakers fixed prices long before governments started enforcing them.

I know such replies will be met with indignation.  But think it possible you may be mistaken, and that merely because an historical or economic premise is embedded in front page stories in the New York Times does not make them sound as social science.  It seems to me that a political philosophy based on fairy tales about what happened in history or what humans are like is going to be less than useless.  It is going to be mischievous.


Updates and Tidbits

I’ve been neck-deep in some writing projects of late, but I wanted to post a couple of cool links and give a hint of what’s coming next:

  • Mark Lance, Daniel Levine, and I will be running a free course at the Baltimore Free School on Freedom.
  • Daniel Levine has been doing some pretty kick-ass work publishing the lectures from his Moral Dimensions of Public Policy course here.
  • Megan McArdle envisions a post-campus America. Sounds devastating, but where is she wrong?
  • In a recent post, Peter Levine points us to the work of Lisa Bingham, who has argued for a Collaborative Governance Act to involve more citizens in regulatory rule-making. This mostly involves dismantling public hearing rules, and I’m skeptical, but I like the underlying theory:

the idea is that we govern by shaping our common world. Law is one instrument for that, but law is not sharply different from norms and incentives. Law isn’t merely executed by government; without broad and active popular support, it becomes a dead letter. Besides, government is not unitary. It comes in layers and separate offices and agencies. No part of government monopolizes any kind of power. In the end, government is a bunch of people, and they are not sharply distinguishable from other people.

According to the data, 61 percent of all Disqus comments are made via pseudonyms, versus 35 percent anonymous and 4 percent using real names (i.e. Facebook). People with pseudonyms also comment 6.5 times more than those who comment anonymously and 4.7 times more than commenters who use real names… Disqus maintains that not only does allowing pseudonyms produce more comments, but the quality of the comments is also better, as measured by likes and replies.

  • I’ve hatched a plan to work through some of the classical political theory of the middle class, because some of the entailments in this post are troubling me and I’m not sure if I’m ready to give up on the middle class just yet. I’m thinking of doing posts on Aristotle, Montesquieu, Marx, and Stephen Elkin. Any requests?
  • I’ve also working on a paper on the fungibility of money and the difficulties this creates for the attribution of agency. It’s mushrooming out of control as I realize how many differing examples there are:
  1. Susan G. Komen and Planned Parenthood
  2. Health insurance plans and contraceptive
  3. Apple products and Chinese labor conditions
  4. Boycotting companies because of the politics of their CEO or campaign contributions
  5. Taxes and War, Welfare, Social Policy, etc.
  6. Ethical consumption and buy local campaigns v. marketing an ethical life and greenwashing

Thoughts? Consider this an open thread.


Sentence Lover

Tyler Cowen writes:

I have an irrational fondness for this sentence of Mann’s:

The First World War distracted governments from the task of monitoring insect movements.

The sentence from Charles C. Mann is quite good, but Cowen’s sentence is better: it encapsulates his exuberance for the written word and for heterodox points of view. (And of course, it includes Mann’s sentence, so it’s kind of a twofer. Like Tom Townsend’s callow claim in Metropolitan: “I don’t read novels. I prefer good literary criticism. That way you get both the novelists’ ideas as well as the critics’ thinking.”)

If you look around the internet, his “good sentences” trope is everywhere. In this exuberance for the epigrammatic, he has something in common with the science-fiction writer Samuel R. Delany:

I begin, a sentence lover. I’m forever delighted, then delighted all over, at the things sentences can trip and trick you into saying, into seeing. I’m astonished—just plain tickled!—at the sharp turns and tiny tremors they can whip your thoughts across. I’m entranced by their lollop and flow, their prickles and points. Poetry is made of words, Mallarmé told us a hundred years back. But I write prose. And prose is made of sentences.

More good sentences from Delany.

In Socrates’ Wake

If you teach philosophy, you should be reading In Socrates’ Wake, a group blog devoted to pedagogy.

Here are some highlights:

Becko summarizes the “disengagement compact” (and further coverage of Academically Adrift)

Michael Cholbi on testing and study strategies.

Chris Panza parses our outlier GRE scores.

Discussion of Martha Nussbaum’s Not for Profit (1, 23, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) with a reply from Nussbaum.

To teach is to learn twice, indeed.