Random Links, 3/30/11

I’ll be somewhat off the grind for the next few weeks. Here’s some links I’d recommend in the meantime:

- Aaron Bady on both Libya and talking about Libya. The first part, about the work commenting and having an opinion on Libya does in the public sphere and especially the blogosphere – “where your name is your capital, and you’re trying to make it grow” – is spot on.

- Ryan Avent takes apart Tim Pawlenty’s views on “fiat money.” Short take – anti-Fed gold-bug influenced retrenchment is now mainstream GOP.

- Robert Kuttner on Treasury blowing a hole in Dodd-Frank. Treasury is looking to expand exemptions out the door, before Dodd-Frank is even up and running.

- With Notably Rare Exceptions is the best phrase ever.

- Video interview with Dorian Warren a political science professor at Columbia University and Roosevelt Institute fellow, discusses the gender-bias lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Big deal for future class-action lawsuits, as well as the future course the law takes with economics.

Serious question: Why didn’t Obama hit the ground running with judges? There’s a huge number of open seats. Considering he was the law professor President and all that, I don’t get it.

- Dissent Magazine, Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools, in case you missed it, is an amazing piece of journalism for a couple of reasons, even beyond the relevance for the Washington D.C. “incorrect-to-correct” scandal with high-stakes testing USA Today reported. First, the differential power under extreme inequality comes into focus, where public policy is geared towards the influence of select billionaires. (Per Walzer, inequality in the economic sphere creates inequality of power and influence throughout the public and policy spheres.)

Second, it shows how big foundations wanting to achieve very targeted goals corrupt the normal checks and balances of scientific research. I’ve been told that you can’t understand the problems here until you understand how the Gates’ funding of malaria studies prevents effective peer review and criticism among professionals, which the Dissent article covers.

Third, this:

In November 2008, Bill and Melinda gathered about one hundred prominent figures in education at their home outside Seattle to announce that the small schools project hadn’t produced strong results. They didn’t mention that, instead, it had produced many gut-wrenching sagas of school disruption, conflict, students and teachers jumping ship en masse, and plummeting attendance, test scores, and graduation rates. No matter, the power couple had a new plan: performance-based teacher pay, data collection, national standards and tests, and school “turnaround”…

Reminds me so much of the book Anti-Politics Machine by James Ferguson (that link is to a great online review). As the “development” fails it reifies and expands the power of the same group of experts and expertise that now will find yet another development program to try and implement while ignoring the political life – of poverty, incarceration, and isolation – that surrounds failing schools.

Jack Balkin writes something that I wish wasn’t true, but I now believe it is:

In 2006, Sandy Levinson and I predicted that the next president, whether Democratic or Republican, would ratify and continue many of President George W. Bush’s war on terrorism policies. The reason, we explained, had less to do with the specific events of September 11th, and more to do with the fact that the United States was in the process of expanding the National Security State created after World War II into something we called the National Surveillance State, featuring huge investments in electronic surveillance and various end runs around traditional Bill of Rights protections and expectations about procedure. These end runs included public private cooperation in surveillance and exchange of information, expansion of the state secrets doctrine, expansion of administrative warrants and national security letters, a system of preventive detention, expanded use of military prisons, extraordinary rendition to other countries, and aggressive interrogation techniques outside of those countenanced by the traditional laws of war….

The reasons for the creation of the national surveillance state were multiple; they concerned the rise of digital networks, changes in the technology of warfare, and the concomitant rise of networks of non-state actors as serious threats to national security….

The choice we face today, therefore, is not whether we will have a National Surveillance State, but the kind of National Surveillance State we will have– one that does its best to protect privacy, civil liberties and internationally recognized human rights in changing conditions, or one that debilitates or eliminates these protections and guarantees, and brings us ever closer to emergency government as a normal condition of politics….

My view…is that Obama has played the same role with respect to the National Surveillance State that Eisenhower played with respect to the New Deal and the administrative state, and Nixon played with respect to the Great Society and the welfare state. Each President established a bi-partisan consensus and gave bi-partisan legitimation to certain features of national state building.

Important post. I fear liberals need to go to “Plan B”, building up a movement of lawyers, judges and jurisprudence theory and realizing this is a long battle to curtail power.

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5 Responses to Random Links, 3/30/11

  1. Jacob Davies says:

    On schools & billionaires, one thing I’ve heard them talk about (pretty sure it was Gates) was the idea of leverage, of getting a small amount of private money to cause a large amount of public money to get spent in particular ways. Which sounds smart except … why should public money be directed by a small number of wealthy foundations as opposed to through the give-and-take of democratic politics?

    Shouldn’t the foundations be satisfied with the direct effects of their funding? When I give money to MSF, I don’t expect them to leverage it up 10x by getting government funding. I just expect them to spend it effectively.

    There’s another type of leverage which is the hope that the results of particular types of funding produce disproportionately large results. But that’s not quite the same thing.

    And when you see that the real problem with schools is poverty, and the cause of poverty is inequality, and the cause of inequality is very much these large concentrations of wealth, the whole thing starts to seem a little perverse.

    I don’t know how far to take that, I’m extremely glad that Gates spends his money trying to help people rather than on a succession of larger and larger yachts, say.

  2. Daedlus says:

    No! Forget all your other responsibilities—this is the best econ blog and I will undoubtedly lose brain cells without it!

  3. Consumatopia says:

    I’m curious to see how compliant other countries will continue to be with our National Security State. If our abuses of power become more offensive, might they become less likely to share intelligence data and cooperate with law enforcement efforts?

  4. John Morrison says:

    “Serious question: Why didn’t Obama hit the ground running with judges? There’s a huge number of open seats. Considering he was the law professor President and all that, I don’t get it.”

    If this is true, then it’s pretty much self-explanatory. It’s part of the betrayal. I suspect it’s an Obfuscating Stupidity act, making himself look dumb for whatever reason, since he could perfectly well have appointed judges against our progressive values without being called out too much. Obfuscating Stupidity and playing dumb is a way to drive us nuts and paralyze ourselves.

  5. Seth says:

    An even more direct statement of your point about billiionaire-directed charity vs. science, politics, etc. is available from John Fullerton in this INET interview:

    http://ineteconomics.org/john-fullerton

    He makes some interesting remarks about how he basically doesn’t understand politics and can’t be bothered with it. But (lucky for him!) that no longer matters. He can just go to his ultra-high-net-worth peers and pull together enough money to decide policy matters without reference to annoying political nonsense.

    Despite the fact that I probably agree with most of his policy goals — at least in the abstract — I found this point of view quite chilling. It was basically a “two cheers for plutocracy”.

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