Category: Political Science

Do people have cultural rights?

Culture talk is not so very far from the race talk that it would supplant in liberal discourse…

No, that is not Larry Summers.  Kwame Anthony Appiah, a Princeton professor, argues that culture is too often used as a not totally legitimate means of separating in-groups from out-groups.  In his view we should sooner reform cultural identities — encourage more tolerance and polyglot interests — than respect current cultures and cultural views as a matter of legal or moral right.

That is from his new The Ethics of Identity, highly recommended.

Here is an interview with Appiah.  This is one good bit:

Look, farming as a way of life is dying in the United States, but it’s not dying because people are shooting the children of farmers, or abusing them, or denying them food or loans or anything–in fact, we massively subsidize them. It’s just that people don’t want to be farmers. Do I think that it would be a great tragedy if the form of life of a Midwestern farmer disappeared? Well, I don’t want to sound un-American, but no, I don’t.

And the guy isn’t even an economist.

The culture of spending

The political scientist James Payne argued that there is a culture of spending in Congress.  Even people elected on a platform of cutting government become enured to higher spending as week after week they hear witnesses saying how much more money is needed and how many more problems could be solved if only you, the great Congressperson, would use your power to spend.

    Here is a great illustrative graphic (click to expand) from The New York Times.  It shows proposed spending in 1995-96 and 2004-05 from the 30 of the 75 freshmen Republicans elected to the House in the Gingrich revolution of 1994 who remain in the house.  Almost all proposed big spending cuts in 1995 but today only 1 (Sue Myrick of NC) continues to propose big cuts.  (Yeah Sue!).  Almost all of the rest are now big spenders.

    It’s somewhat unclear whether Payne’s hypothesis of a culture of spending explains the pattern.  It could be that more senior members spend more and thus as the freshmen gain power they increase their spending (thus term limits, for example, would not solve this problem).  It could also be a selection effect, perhaps only those who become big spenders are reelected.  I tend to favor the latter explanation.  We get the government we deserve, unfortunately.


Black markets in red

[In Saudi Arabia] Every heart, every rose and every item that’s red or that suggests
love and romance descends underground, to the black market, where its
price triples and quadruples. Red flowers are hidden in back rooms.

Ibrahim al-Ghaith, chief of the 5,000-man religious police, told
Al-Hayat newspaper his men were "acting upon instructions to confiscate
manifestations" of Valentine’s Day, birthdays and other celebrations.

"The feast of love is based on love and passion and things that are not proper for a Muslim to respond to," he told the paper.

Salesmen and waiters avoid wearing red; entrepreneurs whose stores maintain a red hue risk days in jail.

religious lectures at schools, teachers and administrators warn
students against marking the occasion, noting Saint Valentine was a
Christian priest, according to an educational supervisor, who spoke on
condition of anonymity.

Saint Valentine is believed to have been a 3rd-century martyred Roman priest or bishop.

Here is the story.

A Swiss Miss Doesn’t Miss Much

Switzerland continues to have more guns and less crime.  Here is a charming portrait by Stephen Halbrook of a Swiss shooting competition for boys and girls.

The greatest shooting festival in the world
for youngsters takes place every year in Zurich, Switzerland. Imagine
thousands of boys and girls shooting military service rifle over three
days amid an enormous fair with ferris wheels and wild rides of all
kinds. You’re at the Knabenschiessen (boys’ shooting contest).

This girl, one of 1,585 who competed, being coached in sharpshooting with the Assault Rifle 90, the Swiss service rifle.

Held since the year 1657, the competition traditionally has been both a
sport and a way of encouraging marksmanship in a country where every
male serves in the militia army. Today, girls compete along side the
boys. In fact, girls are now winning the competition.

September 13, 2004. In the U.S. on this date, the Clinton fake “assault
weapon” ban sunsets. In Zurich, some 5,631 teens – 4,046 boys and 1,585
girls, aged 13-17 – have finished firing the Swiss service rifle, and
it’s time for the shootoff.

rifle is the SIG Strumgeweher (assault rifle) model 1990 (Stgw 90), a
selective fire, 5.6 mm rifle with folding skeleton stock, bayonet lug,
bipod, and grenade launcher. The Stgw 90 is a real assault rifle in
that it is fully automatic, although that feature is disabled during
the competition. Every Swiss man, on reaching age 20, is issued one to
keep at home. Imagine all those teenagers firing this real assault
rifle while their moms and dads look on with approval, anxiously
awaiting the scores.

Do state pension funds meddle in corporate affairs?

Over the last 20 years, public pension funds have grown nearly sevenfold – to more than $2 trillion nationwide, outpacing private-sector fund growth by more than one-third and making them tremendously powerful in boardrooms across the country.

Why do they want to meddle? Because they can. Although private-sector fund managers focus on picking lucrative investments – because that’s how they get paid – public fund trustees have different incentives. Sure, they want funds to perform well. But if they don’t, they know that taxpayers will make up the shortfall. So they’re free to pursue political objectives.

Public funds first discovered their political strength in the mid-1980s, when they successfully pressured companies with business in South Africa to lobby against apartheid or to withdraw from that nation. For years, activist pension funds focused on broad-brush issues like apartheid. They didn’t meddle with corporate management.

But the public funds have taken the corporate scandals of the Enron era as a license to step up their interference with corporate boards. "The age of investor complacency must be replaced by a new era of investor democracy," said Phil Angelides, California treasurer and a member of the board of CalPERS, the state’s main pension fund.

Read more here.  Tomorrow I will consider the more general question of whether we should trust our federal government to invest social security funds in private equities.

Republican fact of the day

The speed with which Republicans have forgotten their "core values," as David Brooks put it after the vote on the DeLay rule, has been shocking. Earlier this year, a Boston Globe article made a few comparisons between the 1993-94 Congress that Newt Gingrich ousted and the one now ending. The Republican Congress added 3,407 pork barrel projects to appropriation bills in conference committee, compared to 47 for 1994, the last year Democrats held both houses. The Republican Congress allowed only 28 percent of the bills on the floor to be amended, "barely more than half of what Democrats allowed in their last session in power in 1993-94." The number of nonappropriations bills "open to revision has dropped to 15 percent."

Read the whole thing, but please note I don’t think a contemporary Democrat majority would be any better.

Addendum: Alex said it best.

Diversity in Academia?

Of course not.  The New York Times reports on new survey research by Dan Klein on the voting behavior of academics.  Anthropologists are comfortable living with cannibals in South America but they vote Democrat 30 to 1.   Economists are among the least "biased", they vote Democrat to Republican at about 3 to 1. 

This reminds me of the great Adlai Stevenson lineA supporter once called out, "Governor Stevenson, all thinking people
are for you!" And Adlai Stevenson answered, "That’s not enough. I need
a majority."

Addendum: Thanks to Vicki White for directing me to the correct quote which I had earlier misattributed.

Senatorial Privilege

In February we reported on a new study showing that the stock picks of Senators, as revealed in their financial disclosure forms, outperformed the market by a whopping 12 percent.  Insider trading anyone?  Although it’s not clear whether any laws have been broken, Alan Ziobrowski, one of the study’s authors says "there is cheating going on, at a 99 percent level of confidence."

The SEC looked at the study but, surprise, surprise, it seems that they are too busy going after Martha Stewart to have the time to look into evidence that our leaders are using their political power and influence for personal gain.  An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer notes slyly, "the SEC may have little incentive to tangle with the Senate, given their relationship. Senators approve members of the SEC’s governing body, as well as the agency’s budget."

Unfortunately the article is not yet published, it is forthcoming in the Journal of Financial and Quantiative Analysis

Thanks to Professor Bainbridge for the pointers.