5 am, looking for food for her kids

19 11 2013

I haven’t said much about the OBAMA-DOOM-CARE APOCALYPSE because, well, I don’t have much to say.

Yeah, I believe the reports that the launch of the website was a huge cock-up, and that Obama has taken hits on both the cock-up and the you-can-keep-it mantra, but I don’t know how much any of this matters, at least at this point. I’m with Bernstein on this: the much-ado is much too soon.

(And honestly, who was surprised by the problems? Romneycare had issues in its roll-out in Massachusetts, but anyone who’s ever worked for an institution of substantial size knows exactly what’s involved in introducing a “new! improved!” software program, and it ain’t pretty. This is not an excuse, but it does mean the ACA’s site problems should also not be a surprise.)

I’m a single-payer kinda gal for simplicity’s & justice’s sake; the kludge necessitated by the ACA is a turn-off. But I also don’t think a single-payer plan could have made it through Congress (tho’ it would have been nice had there been a bigger push for a public option), and generally believe that the ACA is better, much better, than nothing.

The problems need to be fixed, but as important as those fixes are for the president’s legacy and for Democratic electoral success, even more important is that millions and millions and millions of Americans will soon have access to health care.

That’s who those fixes are really for: those millions and millions and millions of Americans who’ve gone without.

A crappy website for a program is an embarrassment; that program will only become a failure if its site’s crappiness keeps millions and millions and millions of people from seeing doctors, nurses, therapists, and getting the help they need.

Don’t want to be a richer man, pt II

29 08 2013

Back to unpacking that hastily stuffed post:

2. Losing status is not an injustice. It’s not fun, and it may feel unfair, but the loss of status in and of itself is not unfair.

Status can be earned or unearned, related to deeds, to relationships, to kinship, something taken or something granted. It almost certainly is culturally dependent—what earns you status in one culture may earn you contempt in another—and, depending upon that culture, may be related to justice or not. In cultures in which people think they deserve their status, they are likely more likely to believe that changes in the culture which lead to changes (loss) in status are unfair.

This could be seen as the aims of the civil rights movement in the US were absorbed into society and instantiated in governmental and corporate policy. As a result, those who had formerly only to compete with one another for position were instead forced to compete with those who had been kept out of the game.

To switch up the metaphor: white men could no longer count on always being first in line for jobs, promotions, college admissions, and sundry other social goods. They lost status.

That they did so, however, was not unjust. American society was formed out of the ungainly mess of egalitarianism, white supremacy, patriarchy, justice, toleration, conformity, segregation, integration, settlement, escapism, hard work, and luck, and as the polity shifted away from over supremacism in terms of both race and sex, the sense of “who was best (for the position, say)” shifted.

The liberationist in me would say Not damned nearly enough, but I do recognize the shift has occurred, and in a direction which has benefitted me and, I would argue, society as a whole: I think it is better to live in a society in which the placement of one’s reproductive organs  does not determine one’s prospects in that society, or where  people”will not be judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character.”

(I know that’s an overused phrase and not even his best one, but on the 50th anniversary of the speech, it seemed apropos.)

Now, I admit that I’m overloading “status” somewhat, leaving “justice” untouched. No, I don’t think justice exists outside of culture, but one of the enduring fictions of American culture is that, supremacism notwithstanding, justice bears some relationship to deeds, and that everyone deserves a fair shot at a decent life. The definition of justice didn’t change so much as did the “everyone” who deserved the fair shot: the pool of who were to be considered in matters of justice got a whole lot more crowded.

With the expansion of “everyone” to include almost every citizen, the status which had accrued to white male citizens simply for being white male citizens was necessarily lessened—not because status was taken away in an absolute sense, but, because it was granted to so many other people, meant relatively less.

To bring in yet another analogy: it’s not that white men got kicked out of the pool but that they had to share it. And yeah, if you’re used to having the joint to yourself, having to share it is a loss.

But it is not unjust.

Give me the gun

4 08 2013

Yet another article about yet another shitty government official and in the comments, the usual:

Yeah, we should totally give up our guns to these tyrants!

Okay, yeah, comments (often a cesspool, not representative, blah blah), but this sentiment is so commonly expressed in the comments that someone less obsessed with gun regs/rights (take yer pick) is likely simply to skip past them.

I, for example, usually skip past.

But today a new thought hit: Guns are a simple answer to a tough problem.

I’m a good-government type of gal, but any leftist who isn’t at least skeptical of governmental power isn’t doing it right. I like big, messy, pluralist, complicated societies, and the only way to live well in a big, messy, pluralist, complicated societies is to establish some kind of rule of law to navigate those messes and complications.  And if that law is to have a chance at approaching justice, good government is required.

But it’s also manifestly the case that government isn’t always good, that law falls short of justice, and sometimes you really do have to defend yourself by any means necessary.

Thus, while it’s easy for me to roll my eyes at so-called gun-nuts, there is some small part of me that gets some small part of their agenda. There’s a lot I don’t get and a lot I don’t agree with, but the notion that the government is not always to be trusted. . . ?

Anyway, trying to wrest good government out of bad is hard, hard work, rarely straightforward, and almost always takes too long. And even if you think you’ll fail, you have to believe enough in the worth of good government to try.

Not everyone believes this, of course, which is why some prefer the quick recourse to weaponry. But there may be others who are driven less by animus against the government (or the big messy society which requires it) than a frustration that the Right and the Good are just so goddamned obvious and just as goddamned obviously never to be achieved by standard operating procedures, that the best way to the Right and the Good is to blow a hole through those SOPs.

Thus, the gun: It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s done.


h/t: Brad DeLong

Na na na na, hey hey-a, good bye

26 06 2013

I have sympathy for people who lose political contests. I know what it’s like to be on the losing end—it hurts—so on those occasions in which my side wins, I don’t much feel like grinding down ordinary folk on the losing side. (Leaders and sundy celebri-pols are another matter. . . .)

But on the DOMA case, my reaction is pretty much We won you lost; good! (And to the leaders and sundry celebri-pols rending their garments over the decision, my reaction is: We won, you lost, fuck you.)

The winning or losing of elections is not in and of itself a matter of justice: it’s a sorting mechanism for governance which can may lead to (un)just legislation, but any justice is located in the fairness of the contest itself, not the outcome. If you lose, it sucks, but it’s not unfair; as such graciousness is called for.

And if you win, that’s great, but it’s not a triumph of justice; as such, graciousness is called for.

But some laws are unfair, and as such, graciousness doesn’t apply. The Defense of Marriage Act was manifestly unfair, preventing same-sex couples full coverage under the law and thus equal protection of those same laws. DOMA actively disfavored a minority of citizens just because a majority thought they were icky.

(Yes, I know SSM opponents say that’s not at all the case, but I don’t believe it.)

DOMA was unjust. Those who supported it supported injustice. Whatever else they think DOMA stood for, it stood for injustice.

Thus, my ungracious response to DOMA defenders: You lost. You deserved to lose. And you deserve no sympathy for the loss.

You put the load right on me

27 03 2013

I don’t believe in rights.

No, no, that’s not, mm, right. I don’t believe in natural rights, inalienable rights, rights granted by the Creator. . . you know Imma ’bout to tag-team this off to Bentham, don’t you?

Natural rights is simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense — nonsense upon stilts.

Rights are, instead, rhetorical artifacts, crafted out of history and philosophy and given heft in political culture. They haven’t always existed; they may not always exist. But, for now, we act as if they do, and grant them such privileged status in our theories of liberty (another rhetorical artifact) that a claim of right serves to silence alternate claims of expedience and desire.

(Or, y’know, start a fight  if one’s rights claim is countered with another. Then Mill is invoked: The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people, i.e., my right to swing my arms ends at your nose. And when that doesn’t work, well, that’s another post.)

Where was I? Ah, yes: the durability and privileged status granted to rights.

Which brings me to Prop 8 and DOMA and Constitutional rights and democracy.

I’m not a Constitutional scholar, nor even a dedicated Court-watcher (more of a Court-peeper, actually), so I have nothing to say regarding the juridical strength and weaknesses of the petitioners arguments before the Court. I do find issues of Constitutional interpretation interesting, mainly because I find issues of interpretation interesting (and will blow a gasket at Scalia’s claims regarding originalism), but, today, I don’t have anything to say on what the justices may or ought to say about the Constituion vis-a-vis same-sex marriage.

This doesn’t mean I have nothing to say, of course. (D’oh!) Let’s talk politics! Yay! More specifically, let’s talk about the politics of rights-claims versus majoritarianism, and which is the better way to cement a political victory.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg has famously argued that Roe v. Wade was decided too broadly, that more and more states were moving to relax their abortion laws, and that by creating a federal right to abortion, the Court simultaneously energized the anti-abortion opposition and imperiled reproductive rights.

It is a plausible interpretation of events. I am not at all sure, however, that it is the correct one.

Which, roughly, brings us to the question: When ought claims be treated as preferences and run through majoritarian processes, and when ought they be treated as rights and granted (near) absolute status, safe from majority preferences?

I don’t know that there’s any good answer to this. On the one hand, I prize liberty, for which rights are a if not the crucial component, but I also prize representative democracy, in which majorities may legitimately impose their preferences on minorities. Turn everything into a right, and the collective may do nothing; disregard rights, and majorities become tyrannies.

It is demonstrably the case that majorities (or the fervent sub-majority among them) can get irritated when they are prevented from imposing their views on others, and, sometimes, may so strongly react against such prevention that the backlash may be worse than and last longer than would have the original situation.

So what’s a minority to do?

The Ginsberg approach argues in favor of the slog: get in and chip away, chip away, chip away, until the mountain pressing down upon you crumbles away. Once it’s gone, it’s damned well gone.

There’s a lot to recommend to this approach, and, on the whole, I favor it.

But that doesn’t mean one can’t or shouldn’t occasionally stick some dynamite into that mountain, yell FIRE IN THE HOLE! and blow that sucker to smithereens. Sometimes justice—oh, yeah, justice!—demands the weight removed in all due haste.

Sometimes justice says to hell with the backlash.

Justice, too, sits alongside and occasionally jostles rights and liberties in a democratic society. Minorities must have justice, but so, too, must majorities; is there any way to determine ahead of time who must carry the weight?

No, there isn’t. You go with what you’ve got, and if you lose in one arena, you try for the win in the other. If you think you’re right, if you believe your claim is a matter of liberty and justice for all, then you fight in every way possible.

That’s politics.

And a right to marry? I honestly don’t know if there is a right to marry, for anyone. But it seems that if that right is granted to some, then—liberty and justice for all—it should be granted to all.


h/t for that fantastic Michael Bérubé link—go ahead, click on it!—to Scott Lemieux, LGM

Nothing left to lose

7 07 2012

I’m a lazy, lazy woman.

Sometimes this can lead to problems (especially when laziness is combined with or otherwise abets procrastination), sometimes it makes my life easier (as when a desire not to do things in a particular way leads to a better way to do those same things), and sometimes means someone else gets there (wherever “there” is) first.

Not getting there first is usually considered a bad thing, but in the case of laying out my objections to libertarianism, my laziness has meant that others have done the work—to which I will now simply link.

Libertarianism is a philosophy of individual freedom. Or so its adherents claim. But with their single-minded defense of the rights of property and contract, libertarians cannot come to grips with the systemic denial of freedom in private regimes of power, particularly the workplace. When they do try to address that unfreedom, as a group of academic libertarians calling themselves “Bleeding Heart Libertarians” have done in recent months, they wind up traveling down one of two paths: Either they give up their exclusive focus on the state and become something like garden-variety liberals or they reveal that they are not the defenders of freedom they claim to be.

That is what we are about to argue, but it is based on months of discussion with the Bleeding Hearts. The conversation was kicked off by the critique one of us—Corey Robin—offered of libertarian Julian Sanchez’s presignation letter to Cato, in which Sanchez inadvertently revealed the reality of workplace coercion.  [more]

That intro was written by some of the good folks at Crooked Timber, Corey Bertram, Corey Robin, and Alex Gourevitch, in a kickoff post on workplace coercion, Let It Bleed: Libertarianism and the Workplace. This was followed by Coercion vs. Freedom (taking on Tyler Cowen & Alex Tabarrok’s critical responses to the post) by John Holbo; Infringements on Worker’s Rights (where are the women in all of this?) by Belle Waring; Let Me Be the First To Second. . . (again on Cowen, and different schemas of coercion), by Henry Farrell; and, Henry again, Markets and Freedom (commenting on Matt Yglesias’s misunderstandings). I assume there will be more posts on CT about this, but this gets one satsifyingly into the weeds on workplace conditions.

To be honest, I would not have started my critique of libertarianism on these grounds—would have started with something even more basic, such as the misconception of the human condition on which libertarianism unavoidably rests—but another drawback to laziness+procrastination is those who get there first start where they want, not where I want.

More substantively, I think the CT critique, insofar as it is a liberal critique of libertarianism, fails fully to grasp the structure of workplace (or shall I say, labor? ) inequality and owner-domination—which is simply another way of stating that it is not a Marxist critique of labor relations.

Chris Hayes’s book, Twilight of the Elites, offers yet another perspective on this issue by taking on the notion of meritocracy. He notes

We hope that the talented children of the poor will ascend to positions of power and prestige while the mediocre sons of the wealthy will not be charged with life-and-death decisions. Over time, in other words, society will have mechanisms that act as a sort of pump, constantly ensuring that the talented and hardworking are propelled upward, while the mediocre trickle downward.

But this ideal, appealing as it may be, runs up against the reality of what I’ll call the Iron Law of Meritocracy. The Iron Law of Meritocracy states that eventually the inequality produced by a meritocratic system will grow large enough to subvert the mechanisms of mobility. Unequal outcomes make equal opportunity impossible. The Principle of Difference will come to overwhelm the Principle of Mobility. Those who are able to climb up the ladder will find ways to pull it up after them, or to selectively lower it down to allow their friends, allies, and kin to scramble up. In other words: “Whoever says meritocracy says oligarchy.” (via David Atkins)

Atkins notes that insofar as liberals and leftists focus on a merit-based politico-economic system, they miss the role of luck:

But to call Lloyd Blankfein “lucky”, or to say that Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg were simply “fortunate”–that’s something altogether different. That’s revolutionary. It cuts against the dominant discourse of the institutional left and right to reorient the entire social contract. It challenges not only the ethic of equality of opportunity, but also the legitimacy of much of the inequality of outcomes.

No, not revolutionary, not even close, but a charge which may destabilize pat theories of merit-based systems. And, anyway, I think John Rawls addressed this forty years in his Theory of Justice: you need to set up a system wherein the luckless may still lead decent lives.

More to the point, for the theory of “luck” to be revolutionary, it would have to go beyond (as Atkins does not) the usual genuflection to “hard work” (Hard work is still a key to success, of course.—DA) to inquire into both the nature of said “work” and what counts as “hard”, as well as what role luck plays in determining the definitions themselves.

Consider lazy-based example: If I set up a scheme which allows me to do more with less effort or work, would that work still be hard? Add luck: What position would I have to be in to allow me to set up said scheme? How would I have gotten into that position? And what are the chances that the politico-economic system in which I lived would not only have and allow me access to the resources necessary for set-up, but would also recognize the scheme and its outcomes as desirable?

Shorter version: what counts as merit and merit-worthy varies, such that luck is itself at least partially a function of that variation.

I’m interested to read Hayes’s book because I wonder how far he goes in his critique of merit, and whether he thinks the concept should be altered or expanded or should instead be tossed. I don’t know where I stand on this beyond the sense that the morality of merit should be downgraded, but even that sense is merely a suspicion, not a full-fledged argument.

Perhaps that’s one place I could add something to the critique of libertarianism (and, for that matter, capitalism): the justness—to the extent they care about justice—rests on a naive definition of merit, such that those who have more deserve to have more and those who have less deserve to have less.

Or maybe I’ll have lucked (!) out again with my laziness, and Hayes will have gotten there first.

With liberty and justice for all

20 09 2011

Don’t ask, don’t tell has been consigned to the dustbin of history.

Yes, there are those who like to rummage the bin for their political ideas, but, today, let’s applaud that gay, lesbian, and bisexual soldiers are able to claim their full selves while in uniform.

Yes, today, let’s celebrate that justice will did out.


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