6.2.16

FASCHING.



Prosit!

A PRIMER ON RENT SEEKING.

Here's Steven M. Teles, explaining how politics distributes wealth upward.
Much of the tension between equality and economic dynamism dissolves when we focus on inequality generated by public policies that distort market allocations of resources in favor of the wealthy — what we might call "upward-redistributing rents." These rents are large and growing, produced by inherent flaws in democratic governance that facilitate the use of the state to enrich the already advantaged. If high-end inequality is not diminished by removing the ways the wealthy use the state to extract resources from the rest of society, the inequalities that conservatives believe are just — those that flow from innovation and hard work — will be in danger. In short, inequality will become a threat to free exchange itself.

Any feasible attack on inequality must marry some degree of redistribution with an attack on the state's own role in producing inequality. The rich are getting richer because of some fundamental problems of democratic government, and these problems have been exacerbated by peculiar features of American political institutions and then super-charged by the recycling of high-end rents back into the political process.
Those are the essentials. Go, read, understand.

PROCESS, NUANCE, FAILURE.

John Horvat argues the failure is here.
The discontent comes from the fact that the cooperative structures of our union are breaking down. People sense this and it is becoming unsustainable.
They've been deconstructed on purpose.
To deal with these internal tensions, the founders of our national co-op started out with a few general rules that keep it going. They insisted upon a vague moral code that keeps everyone honest. They imposed upon themselves a certain amount of self-discipline and hard work to keep things running.

The system worked fine until many people started breaking the co-op rules, denying the moral code and resenting the call for discipline. To deal with mounting chaos and disorder, those in our co-op system enacted more rules to keep order -- many more rules -- so many, in fact, that it made it almost impossible for anyone to get things done. At the same time, they watered down the moral code and discipline with a stifling system of political correctness that accommodates the prevailing moral laxity and suffocates any dissent. Unsurprisingly, people aren’t getting along anymore.

As a result, people are frustrated and angry. The co-op that used to be a kind of materialistic paradise has now become a straightjacket. The co-op is, so to speak, not paying out dividends but causing anxiety, depression, and stress.
First, stop enabling dysfunction. Or wait, the dissolute and undisciplined don't have much evolutionary advantage come the collapse.

5.2.16

YES, THAT ENDED SO WELL.

Chris Matthews signed off Hardball last night with a wallow in the 1968 New Hampshire primary.


That's what the blurb promises, but perhaps it's mutual admiration between Mr Matthews and Mx Maddow and Mr Todd.  Perhaps the Obamacare webmaster is now handling content for MSDNC.

The pre-debate signoff featured Mr Matthews reminiscing about Eugene McCarthy's 1968 run in New Hampshire, which in his segment led to the abdication of Lyndon Johnson.  Let me finish the finish.

Left on the cutting-room floor:  Robert Kennedy, sensing weakness, gets into the race, only to be murdered by a Palestinian sympathizer in Los Angeles.  Hubert Humphrey gets in, then gets the nomination without a single vote cast in a primary.  The convention, in Chicago in August, was worthy of a banana republic, with the elder Mayor Daley playing the heavy.  Tell the whole story, Chris.

DELAY IS THE DEADLIEST FORM OF DENIAL.

Trains reports that Chicago Passenger Rail authority Metra is unlikely to meet the extended deadline for implementation of positive train control.
The Metra commuter railroad will miss a 2018 deadline for installing safety technology on all of its Chicago-area routes, but said Wednesday it still expects to meet its obligations under a federal law requiring the expensive and complex updates.

Metra is among four commuter railroads and three major freight railroads around the country that informed the federal government last week that they won’t hit the target. Instead, Metra outlined an implementation plan under which it expects to satisfy certain criteria for the government to grant it an extension through Dec. 31, 2020.

The technology known as positive train control, or PTC, uses GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor train positions and automatically slow or stop trains that are in danger of colliding, derailing because of excessive speed or approaching track where crews are working.

Metra has said the cost of its upgrade – between $350 million and $400 million – is one factor in its delay, especially in the face of Illinois’ state budget stalemate and absence of a state bond program this year.
Perhaps, we're looking at a political ploy to pry some funding out of Springfield, or out of Washington before the ranking Chicago politician leaves office.

SOMETIMES LABOR HIRES CAPITAL.

The efforts of Wisconsin's state legislature to change the governance structure of the University of Wisconsin involve worsened working conditions for senior professors.  There is a market for academic labor, and apparently there are deans and department heads willing to hire.
UW-Madison has spent at least $8 million since last summer to retain top professors after state legislators cut higher education funding and changed faculty tenure policies, Chancellor Rebecca Blank told the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents on Thursday.

Campus officials have said national attention from the budget fallout has emboldened other universities to go after UW-Madison’s top faculty, and made professors more open to their offers.

Blank said faculty are asking, “Is UW going to remain a top university, or do I need to go elsewhere?”
The mind-set of many administrators has been, "If you find a better offer, take it."  But U.S. News continues to sell those guides, and a lot of faculty turnover can affect the profile of a highly regarded university, which Wisconsin remains.

In that way, do limits to restructuring and re-engineering and downsizing emerge.

AS LONG AS YOU HAVE PERMANENT WAY.

Replace the guide wires with steel rails.
The municipality of Caen has confirmed its intention to develop a three-line light rail network for opening by the end of 2019.

The majority of the tramway would be converted from the existing TVR guided bus network under plans first announced in December 2011, but a feasibility study has suggested that several sections of new rail infrastructure should also be added to better serve local traffic generating hubs and optimise network operation.
This is Caen, as in the Normandy invasion. A fleet of 23 streetcars will protect three-minute headways at rush hours.

THE EMERGENCE OF NEW IDEAS.

Dependable Democrat court intellectual Eugene Robinson concern trolls the Republican party.
It is no longer possible to think of “the Republican Party” as a coherent political force. It is nothing of the sort — and the Donald Trump insurgency should be seen as a symptom, not the cause, of the party’s disintegration.
That's what an emergent vision looks like. The Democrats, and I watched part of last night's debate, are reduced to quibbling over what "progressive" means, because there's broad agreement between Mrs Clinton and Mr Sanders on raising taxes on richer people and centralizing more control in the national government.  That's what "comprehensive reform" inevitably turns into for Democrats.

The Republicans, on the other hand, might be pursuing a new governing coalition.
Once upon a time, the Republican Party’s position on a given issue usually dovetailed nicely with the views of business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But the chamber supports giving the undocumented a path to legal status. It also waxes rhapsodic about the benefits of free trade for U.S. firms and shareholders. Now, since Trump opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact (as does Mike Huckabee), other candidates have had to mumble about waiting to see the details before deciding pro or con.

The GOP electorate has changed; it’s whiter, older, less educated and more blue-collar than it used to be. Many of today’s Republicans don’t see globalization as an investment opportunity; they see it as a malevolent force that has dimmed their prospects. They don’t see the shrinking of the white majority as natural demographic evolution; they see it as a threat.
On the other hand,  Democrats control the majority-minority cities, and both of their presidential hopefuls have also objected to the Trans-Pacific pact; party unity isn't what it used to be.  Perhaps that's what's bothering Mr Robinson: he'll have to have an original thought, rather than recycling the usual talking points on the usual shows.  "One of our two major political parties is factionalized and out of control. That should worry us all."

Here are the editors of National Review explaining why the factionalization is necessary.
Republican voters are anxious about large-scale immigration and frustrated that the federal government repeatedly demonstrates no interest in doing anything about it. We strongly object to ham-fisted proposals, such as those of Donald Trump, to address these concerns, but it is clear that our thoughtless immigration policies have weakened, and continue to weaken, our economy, our social stability, and our security. Yet instead of responding to those concerns, Republicans sent the president a bill that will exacerbate them.
That's a missed opportunity. The congressional majorities took office in January, but somehow never managed to pass clean appropriations bills, department by department, for Our President to sign or to veto, and, come December, comes another cram-for-finals "bipartisan" continuing resolution.  And yet the wizards of smart act surprised that "we're being governed by stupid people" resonates?

Mike Needham of the Federalist extends the argument.  "While political parties can exist as factions rather than ideological entities, conservatism cannot succeed as a factional constituency to a political party."  But selling an idea (perhaps a package of ideas, there are several different strains to what the chin-pullers refer to as conservatism) requires understanding of facts on the ground, which is to say the lived experience of normal Americans.
Some concerned about the aggressively anti-Washington energy behind the outsider impulses in this year’s presidential field call it an ugly strain of thinking that pollutes the center-right movement. That’s not what is going on.

People are nervous about the economic, physical and moral security of our nation. They view Washington as complacent. They feel unheard by the process. The job of those involved in public policy—on both the inside and the outside—is to understand where this anxiety comes from and harness it towards a unifying, conservative reform agenda.
The Democrats call that "issues the American people care about" or "kitchen-table issues."  It's the failure of Democrats to deliver, in ways as telling as the sloppy roll-out of the health insurance website and as tragic as Detroit, or California, or the foreign policy reset, that's feeding the populist impulse.  But "bipartisanship" and business as usual don't work.  Thus Rush Limbaugh, also denouncing the continuing resolution as more fleecing of the electorate.
There is no Republican Party!  You know, we don't even need a Republican Party if they're gonna do this.  You know, just elect Democrats, disband the Republican Party, and let the Democrats run it, because that's what's happening anyway.  And these same Republican leaders doing this can't, for the life of them, figure out why Donald Trump has all the support that he has?  They really can't figure this out?

Repeated stabs in the back like this -- which have been going on for years -- combined with Obama's policy destruction of this country, is what has given rise to Donald Trump.  If Donald Trump didn't exist and if the Republican Party actually does want to win someday, they'd have to invent him.  It's just mind-boggling when you figure out everything that has been granted Obama. All the money, the tax increases, the Cadillac plans in Obamacare. All kinds of punitive things in Obamacare, delayed yet again so that people will not be made aware of the pain and suffering Obamacare's gonna cause.
That's what happens when Congress fails to take care of business, one departmental appropriation at the time. The crash compromise will not turn out well. "The Democrat leftist wet dream has just been paid for."

Dear reader, here is the state of things three presidential elections ago.
The problem the Democrats face as an opposition is that they -- in an interesting inversion of thirty years ago -- give the impression of being nostalgic for a past of programs and institutions they created and managed that worked. The evidence is that those institutions did not work very well.
The Republicans, meanwhile, appear to be grappling with those changing demographics, and with the economic interests of the wage class.

4.2.16

DENY COHERENT BELIEFS, ENJOY THE INCOHERENCE.

At Minding the Campus, Patrick Deneen sees that collegians have lost their bearings.
My students are know-nothings. They are exceedingly nice, pleasant, trustworthy, mostly honest, well-intentioned, and utterly decent. But their brains are largely empty, devoid of any substantial knowledge that might be the fruits of an education in an inheritance and a gift of a previous generation. They are the culmination of western civilization, a civilization that has forgotten nearly everything about itself, and as a result, has achieved near-perfect indifference to its own culture.
Yes, they're clueless at intellectual trivia.
But ask them some basic questions about the civilization they will be inheriting, and be prepared for averted eyes and somewhat panicked looks. Who fought in the Peloponnesian War? Who taught Plato, and whom did Plato teach? How did Socrates die? Raise your hand if you have read both the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Canterbury Tales? Paradise Lost? The Inferno?

Who was Saul of Tarsus? What were the 95 theses, who wrote them, and what was their effect? Why does the Magna Carta matter? How and where did Thomas Becket die? Who was Guy Fawkes, and why is there a day named after him? What did Lincoln say in his Second Inaugural? His first Inaugural? How about his third Inaugural?  What are the Federalist Papers?

Some students, due most often to serendipitous class choices or a quirky old-fashioned teacher, might know a few of these answers. But most students have not been educated to know them. At best, they possess accidental knowledge, but otherwise are masters of systematic ignorance. It is not their “fault” for pervasive ignorance of western and American history, civilization, politics, art and literature. They have learned exactly what we have asked of them – to be like mayflies, alive by happenstance in a fleeting present.
Put another way, the destructive forces have been working.
Our students are the achievement of a systemic commitment to producing individuals without a past for whom the future is a foreign country, cultureless ciphers who can live anywhere and perform any kind of work without inquiring about its purposes or ends, perfected tools for an economic system that prizes “flexibility” (geographic, interpersonal, ethical).

In such a world, possessing a culture, a history, an inheritance, a commitment to a place and particular people, specific forms of gratitude and indebtedness (rather than a generalized and deracinated commitment to “social justice”), a strong set of ethical and moral norms that assert definite limits to what one ought and ought not to do (aside from being “judgmental”) are hindrances and handicaps.

Regardless of major or course of study, the main object of modern education is to sand off remnants of any cultural or historical specificity and identity that might still stick to our students, to make them perfect company men and women for a modern polity and economy that penalizes deep commitments. Efforts first to foster appreciation for “multi-culturalism” signaled a dedication to eviscerate any particular cultural inheritance, while the current fad of “diversity” signals thoroughgoing commitment to de-cultured and relentless homogenization.
Maybe, although that de-cultured homogenization is too coherent a belief system for the trendy nihilists.  By their fruits shall ye know them.
I love my students – like any human being, each has enormous potential and great gifts to bestow upon the world. But I weep for them, for what is rightfully theirs but hasn’t been given. On our best days, I discern their longing and anguish and I know that their innate human desire to know who they are, where they have come from, where they ought to go, and how they ought to live will always reassert itself. But even on those better days, I can’t help but hold the hopeful thought that the world they have inherited – a world without inheritance, without past, future, or deepest cares – is about to come tumbling down, and that this collapse would be the true beginning of a real education.
The collapse might begin with the elite institutions, suggests Victor Davis Hanson.
In the past, there was a clear bargain. The university said, "Leave us alone to do our business that we know best, and we promise to turn out the best-educated and most inductive generation of American youth."

Universities are now breaking their word. Students, if they even graduate (about four in 10 do not, even after six years), are not "universally" educated. Instead, they are the least prepared yet most politicized graduates in memory. Arrogance and ignorance are a bad combination.

If the university cannot fulfill its original compact of broadly educating youth while keeping within bounds of American laws and protocols, then it will either have to change or slowly become irrelevant.

The market is already sensing a void -- and thus opportunity. Online degree programs proliferate. Private vocational and trade schools sprout up around college campuses. Even Ivy League degrees have become mostly empty brand names, like Gucci or Versace, that convey status and open doors but hardly guarantee that graduates are knowledgeable or inductive thinkers.

All of these growing alternatives to borrowing a collective $1 trillion for university education reflect that it may not only be a bad deal, but a rigged one as well.
"Least prepared yet most politicized" might be the U.S. News problem.  The breach of the social contract looks different from the land-grants and mid-majors.

WHY IT MATTERS.

I'm repeating myself.  But repeat myself I must.
It's long been a theme of mine that institutions of higher education ought think of themselves as in the same business as the Ivies and the hundred other institutions all claiming to be in the top twenty according to whatever rankings are popular at the time.  I'm not alone in this: there's a term of art, Spielberg Effect, referring to accomplished graduates of less-highly-regarded institutions who qualified for admission to the high-status institutions yet didn't attend.
There's even better news when it comes to students graduating with the STEM degrees that seem to be of particular interest these days.
STEM majors who go to inexpensive low-or-mid-tier schools do just as well, income-wise, as their counterparts who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an Ivy League education, suggests that there is plenty of room for cost-saving in these programs.
Perhaps cost saving relative to the Ivies. Or perhaps we're seeing evidence that the Ivies' high price is underwriting the world-class research, while the teaching fellows and contingent faculty are actually doing the teaching.

Or perhaps the land-grants and mid-majors aren't exploiting their advantages fully. "At a time when college costs keep going up, and middle and working class families keep getting squeezed, these data highlight the need to find more efficient ways to deliver knowledge at lower cost."

Dean Dad speaks to the same responsibility, for a different reason.
Talented students often stay close to home, and restrict their college choices to places nearby.  And that’s not because they don’t know any better.  It’s because they want to.  Believe it or not, people consider factors beyond what shows up in scorecards.  Family obligations, regional tastes, and a sense of being at home matter.
Yes, and developing local human capital has potential.
Community colleges are increasingly countercultural in a geographic sense.  As Richard Florida likes to point out, the geographic distribution of wealth and opportunity is becoming increasingly spiky.  But community colleges’ distribution is flat.  They’re built on the assumption that the Batavias of the world matter.

They do.  Students know that; they’re telling us with their feet.  I hope policymakers figure that out before they do even more damage.
Yes. I have to repeat myself. But repeat I must.
"What matters, though, to the citizens of Wisconsin is that Milwaukee, despite having neither high-visibility football nor royalties from rat poison, now has more Wisconsin residents enrolled than Madison, and Milwaukee's part of the social contract is to make sure that its brainiacs and strivers get the intellectual challenge they might have hoped to get at Madison, had Madison provided a slot for them. The incentive to the former teachers' colleges ought to be to lift their academic profiles as well."  Yeah, I've used that quote several times before, but in the words of the Distinguished Professor, even the brightest among you could benefit from a modicum of repetition.
If I have to run it again tomorrow, or next week, or for as long as there are conscious thoughts in my brain, I will.

HABIT GETS YOU KILLED.

Trains reports on the continuing National Transportation Safety Board investigation of the Amtrak 188 derailment at Frankford Junction.  Earlier, I raised the possibility of a disrupted routine affecting the performance of train crews.
It appears as though some of the duties are of the turn-on-a-wheel variety, and others are what I learned as a split, or two-piece run, and the two-piece runs can affect concentration more than the turn-on-a-wheel.  Somewhere, though, the business fad of the day, doing more with less, is going to run afoul of the reason economists speak of the factor-minimal production frontier.
Disruptions can also involve unfamiliar rolling stock.
[Engineer Brandon] Bostian told the investigators that he primarily was assigned round-trips out of his New York crew base to Washington, D.C., on Acela Express trainsets in both directions. It was only after he “bumped” into different assignments during the previous month that he would “very very sporadically” draw an ACS-64.

His most-recent Thursday through Tuesday work weeks in the month prior to the accident had involved running an Acela from New York to Washington and returning at the head of either train 90, the Palmetto, on the weekends, or Northeast Regional no. 198 on weekdays (the latter train has since been discontinued and combined with no. 90). Bostian told investigators that these New York-bound trains were generally assigned the older AEM-7 locomotives. That assignment was switched to a return on no. 188 as part of the shortening of layover times in Washington.

In response to a question, Bostian said, “I think it takes a long time to feel really familiar [with the new locomotive] but I felt comfortable with it.
The ACS-64 is the latest electric locomotive assigned to the Northeast Corridor. The Acela power cars are pushing fifteen years old. The AEM-7 motors have been around for 35 years. The ACS-64 is more responsive to throttle changes than are the AEM-7s.
Bostian explained the visual cues of the (clear) home signal at Shore interlocking and an overpass, as well as the sequence of speed limits leaving North Philadelphia: a 65 mph curve, then an 80 mph straightaway, then the 50 mph curve at Frankford Jct. On the second interview, he remembers incorrectly “targeting” 70 mph as the track speed for the straight stretch on that evening.

“For any type speed increase, I gradually increase the throttle. I don’t slam it all the way open if I’m going slow. But if you’re going kind of fast, it’s OK to slam it open. But I typically accelerate in full throttle and then back off as I approach maximum speed.”

The last thing Bostian remembered before the derailment itself, however, is increasing the speed above 70 mph after he realized that the target on the straightaway should have been 80 mph.

Then at the curve, he recalled making a 10-pound brake pipe reduction. “I realized from the force of my body that this this is something very serious and I need to bring the train speed down quickly.” He then made a full service application, and finally an emergency application in quick succession.

Though not specifically referenced in questioning, Bostian’s testimony does establish a possible link between the ACS-64’s quick acceleration compared to AEM-7s, a fact revealed by another Amtrak engineer during a Trains cab ride aboard one of the new locomotives on June 2, 2014, and the relative inexperience of train no. 188’s engineer with the engine.
Perhaps what would be a gentle tweak of the AEM-7 throttle to get to 80 is more like skinning back the ACS-64.  The curve comes up on you a lot faster, and now you're in trouble.  Watch for some additional speed testing of the locomotives.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS FREE FOOTBALL.

Like many of the Mid-American Conference members, there's not much student interest in football games at Northern Illinois University, which leads to nationally televised images of empty bleachers once weeknight football begins.  A recent initiative to get more students to attend backfired.
In August, the university made a push to get at least 6,000 of its more than 20,000 students to each of the team's home games. If 6,000 students attended each game, the university even offered to raffle off a semester of free tuition to one student who attended all six games and checked in with NIU's Red Black Rewards smartphone app. The promotion created buzz around campus and was covered extensively in the news. Before the end of the season, it was clear no one would be getting a free semester.

On average, 1,986 students went to each of the NCAA Division l team's six home games at Brigham Field at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, according to figures released by the NIU this week. Students get into games for free by swiping their OneCard ID. The team's first game of the season drew the most students: 2,965. When the Ohio Bobcats came to NIU for the final home game of season on a cold Tuesday night in November, 627 students turned out to cheer for the Huskies.
Didn't anybody buy a game theorist a cup of coffee to think about the incentives before rolling out the promotion?

To qualify for the prize, a student must consent to sit through all six games, to the end, no matter how lopsided the score is or how miserable those bleachers are on a November evening.  If six thousand students participate, it's straightforward enough to estimate the expected value of the lottery.  Even at today's prices, that's less than ten bucks.  And it's a prize that's contingent on sufficiently many other people participating. With such a low expected value, the dominant strategy is likely to be to not participate, as the reward is nothing if fewer than six thousand students attend one game.
A total of 86 students attended all six games. Of those, only 33 checked in using the rewards app and stayed the entire time. While no one will get a free semester, Huskies Head Coach Rod Carey offered a consolation prize.

"They're awesome," Carey said Wednesday. "I'd like to shake all their hands."
If not for the state drinking age, he could stand them all to a beer.

2.2.16

EASIER TO RESTORE THAN REPLACE?

In Forbes, Justin Shubow proposes to lead us back into Penn Station.  Yes, there's another makeover of the existing complex in the works, but it's more cookie-cutter meh.  Perhaps there is a better way.
McKim’s Penn Station is part of New York City’s patrimony. It was civic property stolen from New Yorkers, and indeed all Americans, and it should be returned to their rightful heirs: us.

The irony is that while opponents of classical architecture demand “innovation” and “novelty” at all costs, nothing would be more dramatic than rebuilding a magnificent civic temple. It would be an inspiring story of life after death, of urban resurrection.

Governor Cuomo is to be commended for his bold plans to revolutionize New York City’s foremost gateway. Rebuilding Penn Station is the best way to make that transformation a triumph.
There is an initiative to do just that.  With specifics.

BEYOND SKYHOOKS AND OTTO PILOT.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, public intellectual.  And a fan of Mycroft Holmes.  Multimedia here.

Sample.
You can get a job lifting things or you can get a job — I have a friend, his son is an underachiever at school. I told him to tell him if you can memorize eight words he can be employed for the rest of his life.

The guy said, “What are those eight words?” I said, “Welcome to McDonald’s. May I take your order?”
There's more, mostly in a more earnest vein. Enjoy.

SEEKING BIPARTISAN RESPECT?

Here's G. Murphy Donovan on the common roots of discontent, whether manifested by Sanders voters or Trump voters.
Elites, right and left, are not pleased with the wisdom of crowds. And if we are totally honest, Donald and Bernie are not the real worry for the establishment. The real threat to traditional elites comes from the people -- the voter folks with real jobs who pay taxes. Cooking the media books along with primary poll picks, the jackass class and media brass see their sinecures and monopolies at risk in 2016.
What have those wizards of smart brought us?
Unlike the Clintons and the Obamas, neither Trump nor Sanders are breeding lawyers. Indeed, both frontrunners are normal family men of a sort.

Both attract large enthusiastic crowds. Neither has much of a following among the media, party hacks, feminists, special pleaders, Islamists, cold warriors, moneyed interests, the legal profession, or race hustlers. Both seem to be inclined to fix things on the home front before they try to mend the dysfunctional world. Both also agree that Hillary shouldn’t get a third term in the White House. And neither Trump nor Sanders, quite frankly, seems to give a damn about what George Will, Rich Lowry, Nina Totenberg, or Chris Matthews thinks America should be.

Nonetheless, we are led to believe that both Trump and Sanders would be disasters. Really? Compared to whom? Surely not a Bush, an Obama, or another Clinton.  America has had three doses of Bush, two draughts of Clinton, and now two too much of Obama. At home, the country is still burdened with debt, deficit, and flirts annually with default. Abroad, those Muslim wars are now about to have Platinum Jubilee with no end to terror, or toxic religious refugees, on the horizon.

After seven seasons of inertia, fiscal incontinence, and yes, serial foreign policy disasters, a lottery might have picked better presidential timber than either of the two American political parties. So why not have the people pick a commander-in-chief 2016? Almost anyone should do better than the usual suspects.
What intrigues, is that in the middle of an endorsement of Senator Sanders, Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel leaves an opening for negotiations with libertarians and conservatives.
To escape the cruel grip of austerity, we need to have an adult conversation about the tradeoffs between taxes and crucial public investments. Until that happens, the best we can hope for is a watered-down version of Reaganomics, which poses a serious problem for Democrats regardless of whether Clinton or Sanders is the nominee.
A Nation editor has to frame the policy choices that way. All the same, it's encouraging to see a self-styled progressive acknowledging tradeoffs.  Perhaps there are some public investments that might not be made, and provision through open markets rather than taxes more effective.  In National Review, Ramesh Ponnuru and Rich Lowry suggest that Republicans have been remiss in making that case.
Conservatism’s economic agenda has overlapped too closely with the interests of big business and rich people. We should devote more attention to government-limiting steps that would be good for the broad mass of people — including the people who have been left behind in our economy — and we should highlight the concrete benefits of those steps. Neither Trump nor his supporters within conservatism have outlined much in the way of a practical agenda for these struggling Americans; but his opponents within conservatism have not always even paid attention to them. One hopes that Trump has opened up space for this conversation.
In that way, the wage class voters might get a piece of the action.

HABIT IS WHAT GETS YOU KILLED.

That's old-head advice to new railroaders.  There's a reminiscence by a retired Grand Trunk Western engineer in the latest Trains of a foggy day in the Detroit area in which a crew, relying on radio messages from what they thought was the nearest train ahead of them, operated a little more aggressively than yard-limits-stop-in-half-the-viewing-distance rules called for, and it must have been sheer luck or divine intervention that kept them from hitting the truly nearest train ahead of them, which belonged to another railroad, and was communicating with the yard master on a different radio frequency.  Everybody went home intact, that day.

There's a social-psychology term of art, normalization of deviance, that applies to habits, particularly bad habits, getting people killed.  "In laypersons’ terms, it describes a situation in which an unacceptable practice has gone on for so long without a serious problem or disaster that this deviant practice actually becomes the accepted way of doing things."  In railroading, the most common such practice involves anticipating signal aspects, such as the approach signal ahead of your train clearing before your train gets there, or the tower operator lining up your train rather than some other train, because that's the way it's always worked before.  Until it doesn't and you're out of braking distance.

Both of the fatal crashes of space shuttles also involved disregarding the signals.
As far back as 1979 (two years before the first shuttle launch and seven years before the Challenger exploded), engineers warned of concerns with the O-rings.

The Rogers Commission that investigated the Challenger explosion highlighted the history of concerns with the O-rings that went back to 1979, and included a copy of a Morton Thiokol memo that indicated that the design would be best used for unmanned space travel. In a 1979 Morton Thiokol memo, an engineer wrote that he believed the O-ring rocket design should be used with unmanned rockets, as he was concerned about their failure. Burn-through and the resulting erosion of the O-ring had been documented on several past flights. But in the absence of an explosion prior to the Challenger launch, NASA actually came to accept the failure of the O-rings because no disaster has occurred.

The same social psychology phenomenon would rear its ugly head 17 years later at NASA. When a large piece of insulation struck the shuttle Columbia orbiter just after a 2003 launch, several NASA engineers expressed concern that a hole could have been opened in the shuttle wing. NASA management dismissed the concern by saying that insulation had fallen off on multiple prior launches without harm to the shuttle occurring. A NASA engineer pleaded with his superiors to take a picture of the orbiting shuttle, as he was concerned that the foam insulation that had hit the shuttle upon takeoff had caused serious damage to the wing. His warnings were ignored, no picture or thermal imaging was performed on the Columbia orbiter during flight, and the ship disintegrated upon re-entry.
Had the engineer's advice been taken, NASA did have an opportunity to effect a rescue (although it would involve the kind of hurried preparation more often seen in time of war) but, because the habit was to launch despite foam strikes rather than rethink the insulation on the external tanks, the rescue shuttle would also be at risk of a foam strike.

Sometimes a psychologist can do no better than channel the Grumpy Old Road Foreman.
The normalization of deviance is one of the most dangerous aspects of human nature in preventing disasters.

If an unexpected and undesirable event is taking place in your organization, investigate and understand it thoroughly.

The absence of a disaster doesn’t mean that one won’t occur. Perhaps you’ve merely “beaten the odds” up till now, but statistics will catch up with you eventually, and the result could be tragic. If you find yourself or an employee explaining away known risks by saying, “We’ve done it this way before without problems,” the organization may be succumbing to the normalization of deviance.
The Grumpy Old Road Foreman would say "Read the Book of Rules and be governed accordingly."  Unfortunately, that was not the management culture at NASA.  You've got to have a Grumpy Old Road Foreman, and the Grumpy Old Road Foreman has to say no, and you've got to listen.
Research any tragedy or disaster, and you’ll almost always find that someone knew about the problem beforehand. From the lead in Flint’s water to the levy collapses in Katrina, from Challenger to the Titanic, it’s a rare calamity indeed that truly strikes without warning. Sometimes, these failures occur because our technological abilities have outstripped our understanding. Often, they occur because we fail to follow our own best practices.

The most sobering lesson of Challenger is that Challenger wasn’t unique. The managers and engineers who ultimately signed off on the launch weren’t trying to deliberately gamble with the lives of the seven astronauts who died that January morning. It would be more comforting if they had. It’s easier to declare people evil than to sit and grapple with how organizational culture can lead to such catastrophic failures.

We all cut corners. We all make compromises. We all skip our own best practices, whether that means a full eight hours of sleep every night, or sticking to a healthy diet. We all lie to ourselves in little ways, and because the majority of us are tiny fish in a very large pond, we don’t see much in the way of consequences.

The biggest lie we tell ourselves is that bigger fish than us automatically make better decisions than we do. Challenger, Columbia, and the hundreds of tragedies large and small that have played out in the intervening thirty years are proof they don’t.
Result: broken spacecraft and dead people.

1.2.16

LIVING AT THE EXPENSE OF EVERYONE ELSE.

There was a short and instructive snippet in yesterday's Meet the Press.


First, check out Mrs Clinton blistering a voter at a town meeting.  Her point is technically correct, as universal Medicare is a specific form of repeal-and-replace, and a President Sanders might have trouble getting that specific form through the House and the Senate.  It's unlikely, though, that her interlocutor was asking about medical savings accounts or interstate sales of health insurance, two forms of repeal and replace that might work.  Mrs Clinton also appears to be resisting some tax increases.  Perhaps Mr Sanders will steal Vice President Mondale's old line about raising taxes (She won't tell you.  I just did.)

Then catch the soundbite from Representative Pelosi.  "We're not running on any platform of raising taxes."

The state is that grand fiction ...

Nine months to run.

STICKING FINGERS IN THE EYES OF NORMAL AMERICANS.

Charles Marohn of Strong Towns goes beyond thinking about the follies of urban planning to suggest that resilient communities are not going to happen if Wise Experts Act Superior.  That produces a meditation on the Chattering Class types who demean Donald Trump voters.
Like many in the subset of Americans who are more passionate about policy than politics, I did not take the presidential campaign of Donald Trump seriously. For the past fifteen years, I've done a weekly radio segment on Minnesota politics and this past summer, when the issue of Trump came up, I said it wasn't an intellectually serious conversation and thus I had nothing to say. As I indicated, I was on that show to talk policy.

As time has gone on, I've watched my Facebook feed -- a self-selected group of people with largely similar education levels and worldviews as mine -- deride Trump and his supporters. They're stupid. They're ignorant. They're clueless. They should go back to their NASCAR and reality television, which is what they're likely to do when it is actually time to vote. This has all been very condescending in that elitist kind of way.
But it is not to the Chattering Classes that Mr Trump is speaking. And the Trump voters deserve respect from advocates of strong towns.
All those taunts of Trump supporters -- all those condescending statements of their ignorance and stupidity -- never sat well with me because they set off an innate sense of injustice. I wouldn't handle that injustice the way Trump seemingly wants to -- his commercial never appealed to me because I'm not the target audience -- but I now understand more fully why an entire class of Americans are willing to give it a try, why they see nothing appealing from any of the other agendas on offer.
That "not the target audience" refers to Lexus's Christmas adverts.  I've not been in the target audience, whether in 2005 or 2006 or 2008 or 2011 or 2014.  But the target audience seems to be headed downscale, too.  Maybe there is a thinner market for economy luxury cars.

Mr Marohn also recommended Archdruid Report's Donald Trump and the Politics of Resentment.  By all means, read it, it's not, despite the post-modern sounding title, the usual Kultursmog.  Here's the salient part.
To understand what follows, it’s going to be necessary to ask my readers—especially, though not only, those who consider themselves liberals, or see themselves inhabiting some other position left of center in the convoluted landscape of today’s American politics—to set aside two common habits. The first is the reflexive resort to sneering mockery that so often makes up for the absence of meaningful political thought in the US—again, especially but by no means only on the left. The dreary insults that have been flung so repetitively at Donald Trump over the course of his campaign are fine examples of the species: “deranged Cheeto,” “tomato-headed moron,” “delusional cheese creature,” and so on.

The centerpiece of most of these insults, when they’re not simply petulant schoolboy taunts aimed at Trump’s physical appearance, is the claim that he’s stupid. This is hardly surprising, as a lot of people on the leftward end of American culture love to use the kind of demeaning language that attributes idiocy to those who disagree with them. Thus it probably needs to be pointed out here that Trump is anything but stupid. He’s extraordinarily clever, and one measure of his cleverness is the way that he’s been able to lure so many of his opponents into behaving in ways that strengthen his appeal to the voters that matter most to his campaign. In case you’re wondering if you belong to that latter category, dear reader, if you like to send out tweets comparing Trump’s hair to Cheese Whiz, no, you’re not.

So that’s the first thing that has to be set aside to make sense of the Trump phenomenon. The second is going to be rather more challenging for many of my readers: the notion that the only divisions in American society that matter are those that have some basis in biology. Skin color, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability—these are the lines of division in society that Americans like to talk about, whatever their attitudes to the people who fall on one side or another of those lines. (Please note, by the way, the four words above: “some basis in biology.” I’m not saying that these categories are purely biological in nature; every one of them is defined in practice by a galaxy of cultural constructs and presuppositions, and the link to biology is an ostensive category marker rather than a definition. I insert this caveat because I’ve noticed that a great many people go out of their way to misunderstand the point I’m trying to make here.)
The tie to Strong Towns comes in a brief history lesson.
In 1966 an American family with one breadwinner working full time at an hourly wage could count on having a home, a car, three square meals a day, and the other ordinary necessities of life, with some left over for the occasional luxury. In 2016, an American family with one breadwinner working full time at an hourly wage is as likely as not to end up living on the street, and a vast number of people who would happily work full time even under those conditions can find only part-time or temporary work when they can find any jobs at all. The catastrophic impoverishment and immiseration of the American wage class is one of the most massive political facts of our time—and it’s also one of the most unmentionable. Next to nobody is willing to talk about it, or even admit that it happened.

The destruction of the wage class was largely accomplished by way of two major shifts in American economic life. The first was the dismantling of the American industrial economy and its replacement by Third World sweatshops; the second was mass immigration from Third World countries. Both of these measures are ways of driving down wages—not, please note, salaries, returns on investment, or welfare payments—by slashing the number of wage-paying jobs, on the one hand, while boosting the number of people competing for them on the other. Both, in turn, were actively encouraged by government policies and, despite plenty of empty rhetoric on one or the other side of the Congressional aisle, both of them had, for all practical purposes, bipartisan support from the political establishment.

It’s probably going to be necessary to talk a bit about that last point. Both parties, despite occasional bursts of crocodile tears for American workers and their families, have backed the offshoring of jobs to the hilt. Immigration is a slightly more complex matter; the Democrats claim to be in favor of it, the Republicans now and then claim to oppose it, but what this means in practice is that legal immigration is difficult but illegal immigration is easy. The result was the creation of an immense work force of noncitizens who have no economic or political rights they have any hope of enforcing, which could then be used—and has been used, over and over again—to drive down wages, degrade working conditions, and advance the interests of employers over those of wage-earning employees.

The next point that needs to be discussed here—and it’s the one at which a very large number of my readers are going to balk—is who benefited from the destruction of the American wage class. It’s long been fashionable in what passes for American conservatism to insist that everyone benefits from the changes just outlined, or to claim that if anybody doesn’t, it’s their own fault. It’s been equally popular in what passes for American liberalism to insist that the only people who benefit from those changes are the villainous uber-capitalists who belong to the 1%. Both these are evasions, because the destruction of the wage class has disproportionately benefited one of the four classes I sketched out above: the salary class.

Here’s how that works. Since the 1970s, the salary class lifestyle sketched out above—suburban homeownership, a new car every couple of years, vacations in Mazatlan, and so on—has been an anachronism: in James Howard Kunstler’s useful phrase, an arrangement without a future.
There's more at work.  The competition in wages among workers performing routine tasks is going to be different from the competition in wages among workers performing advanced technology tasks.  The comparative advantage of the United States has almost always been in knowledge-intensive, advanced technology products, thus airplanes and spaceships, clocks in the 1850s, and automobiles in the 1920s.  Thus no vast middle-management conspiracy is necessary.
It was wholly a product of the global economic dominance the United States wielded in the wake of the Second World War, when every other major industrial nation on the planet had its factories pounded to rubble by the bomber fleets of the warring powers, and the oil wells of Pennsylvania, Texas, and California pumped more oil than the rest of the planet put together. That dominance went away in a hurry, though, when US conventional petroleum production peaked in 1970, and the factories of Europe and Asia began to outcompete America’s industrial heartland.

The only way for the salary class to maintain its lifestyle in the teeth of those transformations was to force down the cost of goods and services relative to the average buying power of the salary class.
That global economic dominance, though, was in routine production.  And a lot of intellectual effort during the 1980s went down the rabbit holes of recrimination over oligopoly industries failing to invest in new plants, or over the work the Army Air Force did compelling Japan and Germany to build state of the art factories.  To imitate routine production.  Meanwhile the "salary class" remained involved in the newest advanced technologies, often involving methods of production that required fewer manual workers applying muscle.

And let us not forget that the "salary class" was where the vanguard of increased female labor force participation was.  That bids up prices.

And yet, there is room for more discontent among disaffected wage workers.
I trust none of my readers are naive enough to think that a Trump defeat will mean the end of the phenomenon that’s lifted him to front runner status in the teeth of everything the political establishment can throw at him. I see the Trump candidacy as a major watershed in American political life, the point at which the wage class—the largest class of American voters, please note—has begun to wake up to its potential power and begin pushing back against the ascendancy of the salary class.

Whether he wins or loses, that pushback is going to be a defining force in American politics for decades to come. Nor is a Trump candidacy anything approaching the worst form that could take. If Trump gets defeated, especially if it’s done by obviously dishonest means, the next leader to take up the cause of the wage class could very well be fond of armbands or, for that matter, of roadside bombs. Once the politics of resentment come into the open, anything can happen—and this is particularly true, it probably needs to be said, when the resentment in question is richly justified by the behavior of many of those against whom it’s directed.
In Iowa tonight, Senator Sanders tied with Senator Clinton, Senator Cruz ahead of Mr Trump and Senator Rubio.

WILL THE WELFARE STATE HAVE TO COLLAPSE OF ITS OWN WEIGHT?

Here's Reason's Jacob Sullum, contemplating cans kicked down the road.
Since Republicans are pushing entitlement reform and Democrats like taking money from rich people, you might think they could agree on means-testing Medicare and Social Security as part of a deficit reduction deal. Yet many Democrats are surprisingly hostile to the idea of tailoring these programs to help people who actually need them.
Hostile to do so in straightforward ways, perhaps. But then the reforms take place more subtly.
The strategic rationale for this position is that reducing or eliminating retirement subsidies for people who can easily get by without them would spoil the illusion that all of us are "entitled" to those benefits because we have "earned" them through our "contributions." In reality, Medicare and Social Security are funded through intergenerational transfers from relatively poor workers to relatively affluent retirees.

That does not sound terribly progressive, but left-leaning opponents of means testing worry that narrower versions of these programs would be politically vulnerable.
Because, the self-styled progressives fear, means-tested "Social" "Security" would be just another form of welfare.  Thus you hide the benefit cutting in the tax code.
Both programs do include some modest means tests. The monthly premiums that help fund Medicare are higher for wealthier beneficiaries, for example, and the share of Social Security benefits subject to tax is larger for retirees with higher incomes—functionally equivalent to reduced benefits.
Thus does the grand fiction of "all in this together" go on.  Until the "trust fund" has to be replenished with more increases in the retirement age and the tax rates.   While private retirement accounts subject to market risk are somehow less safe.

AS IF THERE AREN'T ENOUGH TSARIST PRINCES.

A Tsarina gets a piece of the action.  NIU’s Pres. Baker using college credit card on wife’s travel.


First class upgrades.  Plus commuting expenses for a chief inspiration officer?  (That part of the story doesn't check out.)

30.1.16

THIS WILL BOOST U.S. NEWS RANKINGS SALES.

Sara Goldrick-Rab proposes that higher education reframe the way it talks about itself.
College isn’t what it used to be. Today it’s full of those so-called “nontraditional” students in need of “remediation” and lots of “financial aid.” We have to adapt in order to accommodate their “needs” and “deficiencies.”

Right?

Nah.

This common discourse is all kinds of wrong. Today’s students are regular people. The privileged people are “nontraditional!” Those fortunate few who get to attend amazing high schools with great college preparation and who can afford college easily — they are in the minority. But colleges have long focused on catering to that elite group’s whims and desires, never referring to their “challenges” with, for example, conspicuous consumption.
I concur in part and dissent in part.  It is a libel to think of first-generation or non-traditional as synonymous with less capable of handling college work. That's her Tenth Suggestion.  I'd rank that as the First Suggestion.  Requiring administrators to teach a class?  I'd amend that to say, an upper-division class in a traditional field.  Carla Montgomery of Northern Illinois did so, in geology.  Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain at Bowdoin did so, years ago, in anything but mathematics, with rebel bullet fragments in his gut.  None of this Retention 101 stuff.  Professors advising students?  Helps both the professor and the student negotiate the bureaucracy.

And yet, without a commitment to provide such students with the intellectual challenges that are de rigueur at the hundred institutions claiming to be in the top twenty, the same dynamic of avoiding the subprime party schools and the institutions that are reprising high school will be at work.

GETTING OFF THE LIBERAL PLANTATION.

I believe the editorial writers of The Wall Street Journal coined that phrase.

Tea Party image.

Now comes Margaret Kimberley, calling out Michigan's politicians in a similar way.
Hillary Clinton stated the obvious, that the governor should ask for federal help. In return for stating the obvious Clinton received an endorsement from Flint’s mayor Karen Weaver.

That act shows that there is in fact no useful black politics in this country. The mayor had a golden opportunity to advocate for her constituents. She could have said that Flint deserved at least as much as Syrian terrorists. She could have demanded full restitution for property owners and free health care for residents poisoned by the water supply. She could have made those demands and withheld any endorsement without a commitment to restore her city. She could have acted like the bankers who pushed Detroit into bankruptcy with derivative schemes and still elbowed their way to the front of the line to be paid first.

Instead she acted like the supplicants that all black politicians end up becoming. Weaver was eager to get on the band wagon for some paltry reward like being a super delegate for Hillary while people in Flint can’t drink, wash or bathe without donated water.

Flint is ground zero in the campaign to get black people out of the nation’s cities. Once that happens capital will suddenly reappear and Flint will be declared “up and coming” or “hot.” Those words will be a sign that the neo-liberal mission has been accomplished. The poisoned people will be gone and the people who should have represented them will still be in place. Unless of course someone is willing to fight for a truly democratic country.
There's nothing new under the sun. Anybody else remember when "urban renewal" was transformed, Cockney-rhyming-slang fashion, into "Negro removal?"
Michigan’s emergency financial manager system – a weapon of corporate dictatorship imposed selectively on heavily Black and brown cities and school systems – is the lead-tipped point of the spear that is gutting urban Black America. It is not a unique instrument – and certainly not a Republican invention – but part of Wall Street’s tool kit to starve, bulldoze, redline, over-price, oppressively police, and even poison Black people out of the urban centers.
With, then and now, the connivance of technocrats and Democrat politicians.

NOW GO AFTER THE INTELLECTUAL FOUNDATIONS.

A computer science instructor at Portland Community College (via College Fixpushes back against the latest addition to Identity Politics Spring, which now adds "Whiteness History" to April (poor, overworked April, but February and March are already spoken for by the Oppression Olympics gold and silver medalists.)

He's thinking about the right things, but the intellectual foundations of his argument are much deeper.
We are told that power must be redistributed in a more equitable manner. But power isn’t distributed like coupons.
He's focusing on power, rather than on "privilege." These are distinct concepts, neither of which appear on the project's announcement page.  Loosely, "power" is the ability to compel others to do what you want, and "privilege" is the ability to interact easily with others.  Thus, the dissenting view addresses both concepts, although incompletely.
Power is acquired by personal effort. It is not given. But by all means teach the skills of acquisition of power. Become proficient in English. There is one of the most powerful tools available. Become proficient in the use of a computer and you will have at your fingertips a tool more powerful than any human before you has ever possessed.
Perhaps that's a gripe about the identity-politics complex stealing resources from the academic departments, which is a useful thing to do.   But without a stronger understanding of the meaning of the term, and about the evolutionary stability of mutually beneficial interactions, it's an incomplete gripe.

If, dear reader, you want to encourage students to master the fundamentals rather than whine about injustice, please consider this.
Let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that the Perpetually Aggrieved would like to extend the set of automatic operations [that people engage in almost instinctively] to offering employment or retail assistance or endorsement without regard to race, creed, color, national origin, family circumstance, or university degree.  Then there'd be less reason to call attention to flawed politically correct arguments, because there'd be fewer flawed politically correct arguments in the first place.
Perhaps the way forward is for the diversity bureaucracy at Portland Community to stop excusing the shortcomings of affirmative action admits, or something, or at least to stop mau-mauing the white students and faculty. That might be where the letter of protest is going.
But the grievance industry doesn’t want people to acquire personal power. It wants to reinforce their identity as victims. Only by keeping targeted groups convinced of their own powerlessness can it maintain its own control over them. The equity and inclusion people, the community organizers, the women’s resources groups, the minority studies “scholars” all reap huge benefits from their sordid and self-serving business.
Yes, and here is why their business is sordid and self-serving.
Bourgeois interacts with bourgeois: agreements are made, agreements are kept, mutually beneficial interactions emerge, living conditions improve.

Underclass interacts with underclass: lives are made worse, or lives are ended.

Underclass interacts with bourgeois: someone gets swindled, or the gentry intellectuals seek the sanction of the victim to get the bourgeois to kick in for the maintenance of the underclass.
The protest letter, incomplete though it is, represents a victim removing his sanction. Let the rebellion continue.

COMPETITION BIDS UP PRICES.

Fast Company reports that the day care business is not exempt from that law of conservation.
Recent analysis from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found that in 33 states and the District of Columbia, infant care costs exceed the average cost of in-state college tuition at public four-year institutions.
There's probably a simple regression analysis to run and clarify the extent to which higher day-care bills track female labor force participation and household incomes.  But it's rare to see, to a first approximation, day care expenses tracking incomes.
"Women lose $11,000 a year on average because of the pay gap, which incidentally is just about the average yearly cost of child care in the U.S.," Tracy Sturdivant, cofounder and codirector of Make It Work, a campaign to advance economic security for working women, men, and families, points out.
At the margin, oughtn't the equilibrium working mom be indifferent between staying attached to the labor force (which makes the so-called pay gap go away) or leaving the labor force (which depresses lifetime earnings).  Am I missing something here, to observe that the price of a service reflects the value of its marginal product?  But Ms Sturdivant isn't going to let an arbitrage argument get in the way of a good rant.
In order to retain talented parents, Sturdivant says there are some things employers can do to ease the strain, beginning by ensuring they're paying women and men the same amount for equal work.

"Additionally," she says, "employers can support working parents through policies like fair, flexible scheduling, paid sick days, and paid family leave, so that they’re never forcing their employees to choose between work and family."
It's likely that employers are already paying comparable workers comparable salaries, otherwise there are arbitrage opportunities for workers or for corporate raiders. It's also likely that managers don't want to antagonize single or empty-nester employees by sticking them with extra work and calling it a family-friendly policy.  And workers might be opting off the 24/7 treadmill, kids or not.

Heck, old New Leftist Nancy Fraser is having second thoughts about the way vanguardists deconstructed the existing institutions.
For me, feminism is not simply a matter of getting a smattering of individual women into positions of power and privilege within existing social hierarchies. It is rather about overcoming those hierarchies. This requires challenging the structural sources of gender domination in capitalist society — above all, the institutionalized separation of two supposedly distinct kinds of activity: on the one hand, so-called “productive” labor, historically associated with men and remunerated by wages; on the other hand, “caring” activities, often historically unpaid and still performed mainly by women. In my view, this gendered, hierarchical division between “production” and “reproduction” is a defining structure of capitalist society and a deep source of the gender asymmetries hard-wired in it. There can be no “emancipation of women” so long as this structure remains intact.
In the days before scientific medicine and agriculture, and mechanized manufacturing, heck, before manufacturing of any kind, that "hard-wiring" looks a lot like an evolutionary stable strategy. Those developments made a greater prosperity possible, but their adoption and diffusion have been emergent, although the most successful adaptations thereto have not emerged.  But women participating in the labor force cannot be faulted, as Ms Fraser is, for seeking more favorable terms of employment.  That's what identifying and acting upon gains from trade is all about, and working hours and vacations are two margins along which an employer and an employee can optimize.
Mainstream feminism has adopted a thin, market-centered view of equality, which dovetails neatly with the prevailing neoliberal corporate view. So it tends to fall into line with an especially predatory, winner-take-all form of capitalism that is fattening investors by cannibalizing the living standards of everyone else. Worse still, this feminism is supplying an alibi for these predations. Increasingly, it is liberal feminist thinking that supplies the charisma, the aura of emancipation, on which neoliberalism draws to legitimate its vast upward redistribution of wealth.
Let us draw the curtain of charity.

No, let's let Ms Fraser have a good wallow in the sixties.
In the 1970s, feminists developed a powerful critique of the postwar cultural ideal known as the “family wage.” That ideal held that women should be full-time homemakers and their husbands should be the family’s sole (or at least principal) breadwinners, earning enough to support an entire household. Certainly, only a minority of American families managed to achieve this ideal. But it had enormous currency in a phase of capitalism premised on mass-production manufacturing and relatively well-paid unionized work for (especially white) men. All that changed, however, with the eruption of second-wave feminism, which rejected the family wage as sexist, a pillar of male domination and women’s dependency. At this stage, the movement still shared the anticapitalist ethos of the New Left. Its critique was not aimed at valorizing wage labor, still less at denigrating unpaid carework. On the contrary, the feminists of this period were challenging the androcentrism of a society that prioritized “profits over people,” economic production over human and social reproduction. They sought to transform the system’s deep structures and animating values — in part by decentering wage work and valorizing unwaged activities, especially the socially necessary carework performed by women.
Fifty years of no-fault divorce and bastardy and the rise of the pick-up artists later, how well has that turned out?

Not well.  But it's more fun to rant than to analyze.
Today, the feminist critique of the family wage has assumed an altogether different cast. Its overwhelming thrust is now to validate the new, more “modern” household ideal of the “two earner family,” which requires women’s employment and squeezes out time for unpaid carework. In endorsing this ideal, the mainstream feminism of the present aligns itself with the needs and values of contemporary neoliberal capitalism. This capitalism has conscripted women into the paid work force on a massive scale, while also exporting manufacturing to the global south, weakening trade unions, and proliferating low-paid, precarious McJobs. What this has meant, of course, is declining real wages, a sharp rise in the number of hours of paid work per household needed to support a family, and a desperate scramble to transfer carework to others in order to free up more time for paid work. How ironic, then, that it is given a feminist gloss! The feminist critique of the family wage, once directed against capitalism’s devaluation of caregiving, now serves to intensify capitalism’s valorization of waged labor.
Would she rather that the manufacturing not be exported to the global south, thus setting off a Malthusian dynamic, rather than reducing the number of people scraping out a living the way their ancestors half a millennium ago did?

As far as "conscripting women into the paid work force," well, your income is somebody else's expenditure.  "Thus, to hope that a family can 'get by' on one income with current levels of labor force participation by women is to hope that the laws of conservation in economics don't work."  Deal with it.

29.1.16

INSTITUTIONS ARE CIVILIZATION

I've recently remarked favorably on research by Yale historian Timothy Snyder, whose work focuses on a part of the world that figures in my own history.  He recently finished another book, Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, that appears to be advancing the thesis that Hitler blamed "the Jews" for the moderating institutions by which people resolved their differences rather than killing each other.  And thus, mediating institutions put the stronger at a disadvantage relative to the weak.  I'm going to have to read through the work, to see how he develops this argument.  I have a vested interest, in years of teaching economics, of commending the mediating institutions, including the rules of contract, fraud, property, and propriety, in benefitting the stronger and the weaker alike.

But Professor Snyder has also taken, recently, to the popular press to caution the enlightened layman that a similar terror might be one bad harvest or one bad batch of immigrants away, should the objective circumstances be trying enough.  Thus, in a Guardian essay from last fall, here is the way the mediating institutions might crash, and why that would be bad.  (There's a lot more in the essay, by all means read it.  I have only the message about institutions this afternoon.)
States should invest in science so that the future can be calmly contemplated. The study of the past suggests why this would be a wise course. Time supports thought, thought supports time; structure supports plurality, and plurality, structure. This line of reasoning is less glamorous than waiting for general disaster and dreaming of personal redemption. Effective prevention of mass killings is incremental and its heroes are invisible. No conception of a durable state can compete with visions of totality. No green politics will ever be as exciting as red blood on black earth.

But opposing evil requires inspiration by what is sound rather than by what is resonant. The pluralities of nature and politics, order and freedom, past and future, are not as intoxicating as the totalitarian utopias of the last century. Every unity is beautiful as image but circular as logic and tyrannical as politics. The answer to those who seek totality is not anarchy, which is not totality’s enemy but its handmaiden. The answer is thoughtful, plural institutions: an unending labour of differentiated creation. This is a matter of imagination, maturity and survival.
If that sounds a little like emergence plus a conservative habit of mind plus be careful in deconstructing institutions, good!

Professor Snyder advances a similar argument in a New York Review of Books essay.
For Herbert Spencer, the British defender of capitalism, a market was like an ecosphere where the strongest and best survived. The utility brought by unhindered competition justified its immediate evils. The opponents of capitalism, the socialists of the Second International, also embraced biological analogies. They came to see the class struggle as “scientific,” and man as one animal among many, instead of a specially creative being with a specifically human essence. Karl Kautsky, the leading Marxist theorist of the day, insisted pedantically that people were animals.

Yet these liberals and socialists were constrained, whether they realized it or not, by attachments to custom and institution; mental habits that grew from social experience hindered them from reaching the most radical of conclusions. They were ethically committed to goods such as economic growth or social justice, and found it appealing or convenient to imagine that natural competition would deliver these goods.
Put another way, the use of mediating institutions is an evolutionary stable strategy. Here's Professor Snyder's hypothesis again: this time evolutionary stability confers evolutionary advantage on the undeserving, who in Hitler's view, are Jews.
When paradise falls and humans are separated from nature, a character who is neither human nor natural, such as the serpent of Genesis, takes the blame. If humans were in fact nothing more than an element of nature, and nature was known by science to be a bloody struggle, something beyond nature must have corrupted the species. For Hitler the bringer of the knowledge of good and evil on the earth, the destroyer of Eden, was the Jew. It was the Jew who told humans that they were above other animals, and had the capacity to decide their future for themselves. It was the Jew who introduced the false distinction between politics and nature, between humanity and struggle.
I'm going to have to read the book, which has many more pages to develop the argument than a relatively short passage in the New York Review does.

But what happens when you view "politics" and "humanity" as social constructions?  Here's James W. Ceaser, a Virginia political scientist, suggesting a weaker corollary to the proposition that you deconstruct institutions at your peril.  He's offering an analysis of the three pillars of so-called progressivism, namely the technocratic impulse, the Sixties "New Left," and post-modern philosophy.  It is through post-modern thinking that we find the intellectual foundation for viewing "politics" and "humanity" as constructions, and thus malleable.
Postmodernism is the last of the developments on the intellectual left that has influenced modern progressivism. Less directly connected to politics than the New Left or multiculturalism, it entered American thought from the academy. Its main premise is that there are no real or true theoretical foundations or philosophically grounded values. The Declaration of Independence's laws of nature and the theoretical idea of progress, not to mention Nature's God and God's providence, are fictions. In philosophy classes, this premise might be subsumed under the formula that "nothing is by nature, and everything is by convention." Expressed in a more popularized version, as one might hear it today in any course in cultural studies, it is that "everything is socially constructed." Exported from the classroom to the quad, this slogan is deployed to call into question any custom or institution that the left is currently targeting for extinction.
Here I stand with my bayonet and there you stand with your law.  What happens, though, if it is the rule of the Perpetually Aggrieved that is to be deconstructed?
Postmodernism's impact on politics was initially more tactical than theoretical. Intellectuals, already on the left before they ever became postmodern, discovered in postmodernism a useful weapon to advance their goals. Denying the truth of foundations served to undermine important parts of the tradition, from the claim of natural rights that underlay American exceptionalism to the religious tenets that supported older morality and customs. If all things are socially constructed, there is no reason not to discard any one of them and replace it with something else, it being self-evident that all social constructions are created equal. Progressives employed this tactic selectively, deconstructing only the ideas and practices they disapproved of. Yet since much of the culture at this point still rested on traditional beliefs, it made sense for progressives to embrace the general postmodern doctrine of nonfoundationalism, or what they called "pragmatism." The claim of social construction proved attractive to progressives in one other respect. It encouraged the view that everything is malleable. Reality is what we make it. This liberating notion gave impetus to creating new norms, lifestyles, and genders, with each breakthrough becoming an occasion for celebrating yet another festival of a first.
In practice, though, when you deny coherent beliefs of any kind, you get incoherence. Or perhaps a strongman.

How is that hopey-changey stuff working out for you?
The general public sees problems all around — a loss of opportunity, a low-growth economy, stagnant wages in the middle class, mounting debt, and lingering poverty. Yet who or what is accountable? For progressives the fault continues to lie with liberal capitalism. For conservatives it lies in the new system, progressivism, that was built supposedly to resolve these problems.

Where then is the left today? Gone is the pixie dust that Barack Obama sprinkled over American politics in 2008 that led so many, for a moment, to imagine a new dimension to American politics. The left today is all about the ideology of progressivism. It is fated to blame all ills on the shrinking part of the political order and society it does not yet fully control and to demand more measures to shrink it still further. Progressivism is on a treadmill, running either at a fast clip toward huge new piecemeal changes or at a faster clip toward a change to socialism. The direction is the same.
Or perhaps progressivism will collapse of its own internal contradictions, which would be enough to make a Marxist giggle.

It will take a good idea to replace a bad idea, though.  Where there are no ideas, there well might be strongmen.