Thursday, July 12, 2018

SCOTUS ruling, reduced union cartel power, and implications for teachers and parents/students

Good stuff but I think Pullmann misses a big point that is more subtle and more long-term: She notes that reduced union power will make teachers more vulnerable to government school districts in their monopsony positions (as the primary renter of particular labor services).

Of course, teachers frequently beg to be put into this position-- by avidly advocating government as the monopoly provider of K-12 services. So, the long-term implication is that teachers will be less prone to advocate both monopoly over others and monopsony power over themselves.  
 
#Charters  
#Vouchers  
#DoYouLoveTheGIBillOrNot

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

2018 vacation: St. Louis and Memphis

With the kids getting older and working, we didn't do a family vacation in 2017. This year, although we didn't have Zach with us, the other five of us took a modest excursion to St. Louis and Memphis. In terms of length, difficulty, and pleasure, it was similar to our vacas to Michigan in 2014 and 2015. In terms of complexity, cost, and length, it did not rival our big trips to NC in 2010 (sorry, not much detail in this blog post), to NY in 2011, to NC/SC in 2013-- and esp. to our huge trips to SD/CO in 2012 and from SF to Glacier in 2016. Still, it was a really nice trip-- and easier to pull off if you're looking for a great little vacation in the Midwest. 

We left Louisville on Sunday afternoon and got to St. Louis in time for dinner in Chesterfield (a bit west of St. Louis), a look at The Awakening (a sculpture of a giant emerging from the ground), and Incredibles II. The trip to Chesterfield was driven mostly by my desire to see The Awakening and show it to the kids. I used to visit it often with friends when I was in HS/College in No. VA. And it is cool, but I'm not sure it'd be worth the extra driving for the average person. 

On Monday, we saw the Gateway Arch. Of course, it was excellent. And I would definitely recommend the movie ($4). Then we went to the Cathedral Basilica which was amazing-- as good or better than any I've seen in Europe. It has a staggering amount of art-- most of it is the form of mosaics-- twice as much as the closest comparison. It was also cool/fun to see an American (and St. Louis) twist on the art/decor. I hadn't really thought of the European cathedrals as European per se, but instead imagined them as universal. (We didn't take time to see the Old Cathedral near the Arch. I'm guessing that would be worth a look too.)

I hadn't originally planned on visiting the "Museum of Economy", but we walked right past it-- and since it was free, we checked it out. It was ok-- and probably better for reasonably-interested non-economists. After lunch, we hit the Science Center just outside of Forest Park. It was also ok, but would have been (much) better for younger kids or for kids who hadn't already spent so much time in Louisville's similar effort. Monday evening we walked through the three blocks of Citygarden (a few cool statues, incl. Eros Bendato's head) and Union Station's Grand Hall light show (somewhere between ok and cheesy in a classy building).

We spent Tuesday at Forest Park-- St. Louis' amazing city park with tons of attractions to boot-- most of which were free. Definitely visit its renowned zoo and its strong art museum. Optional: the Jewel Box (beautiful place for a wedding, but not worth a visit even for its $1 charge), the World Fair Pavilion, and a nice little sculpture park (behind the art museum). The zoo was good, esp. the close proximity to the hippos, elephants, and penguins. But it was not as awesome as I expected, given its reputation. (Or again, maybe I've already been to the zoo too often!) 

Wednesday was City Museum-- an awe-inspiring, must-see combination of fun house, museum, and industrial reclamation project. It's filled with slides-- and giant slinky-like metal tubes and solid places to crawl through (wear jeans)-- some of which were too tight for me and Tonia. Outside, you can crawl through more slinkys that are eight stories above the ground! They had shells of old airplanes poised on towers, a bus hanging off the side of the building-- and then there was the roof, with more of the same (and worth the additional $5 cost). City Museum and the Arch make St. Louis a must-see destination for those in the Midwest with school-aged children. I can't imagine a better combination of things for a family to visit. 

On the way out of town, we saw Ready Player One at Keller Plaza (their version of Village 8) and then dropped by the Laumeier Sculpture Park-- the best park and the best sculpture park we visited (highly recommended: bring a meal, a soccer ball and a frisbee).

We did have a lot of scheduling and parking snafus in St. Louis-- which was somewhere between funny and irritating. We missed the opening of the refurbished museum at the Arch by one day. I missed two restaurants that were not open on the days we visited. (I really wanted to get the BBQ Brisket nachos at Big Baby Q, but they're only open Thurs-Sat. We tried Failoni's on a Monday, the only day they're closed. Also on Monday, we missed Bahn Mi So, but returned on Wednesday to get some excellent spring rolls and some really-flavorful but really-low-meat Bahn Mi sandwiches. Then, we headed to Ted Drewes, just down the street.) Parking was a bit strange too: I missed the small print at Hotels.com that the Marriott Airport was going to charge us $13/day. And a local garage had a posted special on the entrance sign, but it required you to stay until mid-afternoon. A few oops, but the family thought it was all very amusing, so that's something! 

One more funny parking story (where I might save you some money): When we went to City Museum, there were workers wearing safety vests and vigorously waving flags to direct you to their lot. The first lot was charging $15; the next lot was charging $10; the next lot was charging $5. (As it turns out, there was one right around the corner that would have been free.) They're preying on low-info tourists, so take your time, use your head, and check out your options! (Likewise, you can park for $15 next to the zoo or head down the street to park and walk.)

We ate well in St. Louis. We had Byrd and Barrel for lunch-- great sandwiches and chicken "nuggz". Ted Drewes' frozen custard was excellent. I had initially heard great things about it, but then was counseled to lower my expectations. But it was as good as I had heard at first-- a solid notch better than the DQ Blizzard, richer and more flavorful. We got three flavors of "Gooey Butter Cake" from Park Avenue Coffee-- good but not great. I wanted to get to Seoul Taco for a bulgogi burrito, Half and Half for breakfast (if just me and T), the Balkan Treat Box for cevapi (couldn't find the food truck), and Failoni's (a restaurant recommended by Hugh Halter in Flesh)-- but they didn't work out. On our way to Memphis, we tried some of St. Louis' semi-famous Provel thin pizza at Imo's-- good but not great. The highlight of our eating was Fitz's-- big portions of good food and huge ice cream floats with a variety of home-brewed sodas to finish things off.

We spent Wed PM in St. Genevieve-- the oldest European settlement west of the Mississippi. We saw a decent fireworks show there before heading to the hotel. The town was a back-up plan in case we finished early in St. Louis. So, for us, it was mostly a stop-over. Thursday was our travel day to Memphis. We hiked at Trail of Tears SP (ok) and saw its good little museum on the history of the Trail (particularly the role of the Cherokees). Next up was lunch: we tried Lambert's (seemed like a cross between Golden Corral and Cracker Barrel with them throwing rolls to you), but the line was too long, so we settled for Imo's pizza in the car. We stopped by the New Madrid Earthquake museum-- a solid account of earthquakes in general and the big New Madrid quake in particular. (Strangely, we later saw better pictures of the earthquake's aftermath, recorded a century later, in the Pink Palace's museum in Memphis.) 

Our last stop pre-Memphis was the Art Deco Greyhound Station in Blytheville, AR. It was cool enough to look at from the outside, with a brief detour. But one of the board members happened to stop by and give us some history/explanation as we looked in the windows. (He tried to call the caretaker to let us inside, but got no response.) He also mentioned a little museum at the Kress Five-and-Dime (also apparently of architectural interest), so maybe doing both of those would make it doubly worth your while. 

We got to Memphis on Thursday evening, grabbed dinner at Gus' Famous Fried Chicken, and sat on a blanket to watch Jonny P in concert at the Levitt-Shell amphitheater. Good times! But not good enough for the kids to do it again the next night. ;-)

Friday was Graceland. It was immense in cataloguing Elvis' impact and his possessions. It was also strange for reasons I did not anticipate. It was professionally done in terms of presentation, impressive logistics (earphones and IPads to communicate info; shuttle buses to get people to Graceland and the museum exhibits), and pricing (expensive but probably profit-maxing). But the staff ranged from average to impersonal; it was difficult to know where to go; and we didn't get a map from anyone. 

We never saw a brief overview of the productive/prolific aspects of his life. The timeline became obvious after awhile but it would have been helpful to see it on the front end. In a word, it was music, military, movies, and his semi-comeback in music.The history of Elvis they presented was thorough where it spoke, but left out all of the nasty or off-putting stuff-- e.g., the early courtship of Priscilla starting at age 14, distance and then infidelities in their marriages, separation after 4.5 years and then divorce 18 months later, the damage of his movie career to his musical career, his substance abuse for at least five years, and the reasons for his untimely death-- or other key aspects (that distract from Elvis' glory?) like the immense role of Colonel Tom Parker (who is credited with revolutionizing music mgmt). 

It was also odd in that I had little idea how prolific he had been, especially in terms of movies (33 films [mostly low-budget, formulaic B-movies], beginning at age 21), despite the year and a half of military service, and his early death. I plan to research his life a bit more-- both because I understood so little and because I wonder how much they left out! (Researching Elvis, I found a significant connection to The Imperials-- the first musical group I saw in concert!)

The rest of the day, we did a few miscellaneous things available to us in the later afternoon and evening: the pavilion at the St. Jude Research Hospital (lovely with some cool history, esp. Danny Thomas' insistence on serving all races in the Deep South, his leveraging of Lebanese and Syrian Americans to support America, and the first leader-doctor's insistence on trying to cure vs. treat cancer); the pomp and ceremony of the duck march at the classic Peabody Hotel; a walk on a segment of Beale Street (including a quick stop at Schwab's); and the Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid (spectacular for both the Bass Pro Shops and the Pyramid). We tried to find the Mud Island River Park, but with its $10 cost and marginal value, we decided to skip it-- apparently a wise decision, according to the locals. 

Saturday started with the National Civil Rights Museum-- located at the Lorraine Motel where MLK Jr. was shot and the boarding house from where he was shot. Again, this was an immense museum-- somewhere between impressive and trying too hard. For me, it was an odd combination of overkill on stuff I already knew (from my reading and our visits to Selma and Atlanta) and tons of info on conspiracies about King's murder by James Earl Ray that I had somehow not heard much about (related PBS video here-- h/t: Chris Lang). Again, the attendees were left with tons of questions: were the conspiracies real, pseudo, or imagined? Was the perspective of the museum curators biased or unbiased? After lunch, we toured the Gibson Guitar Factory. None of us are big guitar people, but it was very interesting, as plant tours usually are. Rodney works in the plant and did a terrific job giving the tour. 

Then, we headed back to the Pink Palace where, thankfully, we had received free tickets when we tried to go on Friday and the electricity had been knocked out. The first problem was that the mansion and the Piggly Wiggly display were closed until the Fall (advertised as closed until the Summer, so pooh on that). Why didn't they have lower prices while half the museum was unavailable? This may be the ultimate dork econ move, but I was geeked to see the PW display since it was the first large grocery store. The big tech advance that made it possible: the invention of the bas-kart, which allowed stores to evolve from carry your own small basket to cruising around with a huge basket on wheels. (How do I know this?! My old buddy/roomie wrote about PW in his dissertation in the field of Industrial Organization.)

The second problem was that the bulk of it was a solid natural history museum. Not a problem exactly, except, again, I've seen this sort of thing a bunch of times-- and often, done better. And this one was really aggressive and dogmatic about evolution-- at least when it was convenient. The presentation chastised opponents; it provided a self-righteous statement of beliefs; and then it got really vague when the narrative was obviously narrative-- and not an impressive narrative at that. Hilarious. How did language evolve? Oh we're not sure how that happened but we're sure that it did. Vital organs like the eye? Oh, that was easy; evolution could have-- and must have-- accomplished that. God of the gaps and hand-waving, anyone? The soul, the conscience, the vast gap between apes and men? Not a word. Sure, present the science and assert the narrative, but leave the dogmatism, the not-so-natural selectivity, and the self-righteousness behind. At $14, without Piggly Wiggly, the Pink Palace would have been a big ripoff. 

All that said, the most memorable thing about Memphis was that we ate so WELL! I already mentioned Gus' Chicken-- the kids' favorite meal of the trip. We tried to go to Rendezvous which has dry-rubbed ribs and service with attitude, but the lines were too long. Instead, we ended up at the midtown version of Central BBQ-- apparently preferred by the locals-- and it was excellent. We had a terrific, cheap lunch buffet at Pho Binh. We had a great dinner at the Arcade-- a diner-style establishment that is the oldest restaurant in Memphis at 99 years old! Make sure to order the syrup and sweet potato pancakes which were both the best I've ever had. 

Our third dessert highlight of the trip was Jerry's Sno Cones. Life-changing stuff-- the best sno-cone I've had by far (great consistency in the ice and a huge variety of rich flavors for the ice) PLUS soft-serve ice cream in layers. For $4, you get the coolest dessert ever. It was good enough that we're wondering why it isn't a craze across the nation. And we're trying to figure out if we can start a business to sell them or something like them. Wow!

If I had to sum up our time in Memphis, it would be great food in a poor man's New Orleans with two important, strange, overwhelming museums that left us with tons of knowledge but tons of questions. Maybe those are the best sort of museums after all?

I had intended to stop for dinner in Brownsville at Helen's Bar-B-Q and to see Billy Tripp's Mindfield. But the sno-cones came too late to have dinner so soon. So, we skipped Brownsville and headed home. Five hours later, we had completed a wonderful little vacation in 14 hours less than a full week. If you're looking for a weeklong vacation, I'd edit ours slightly and duplicate it!

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Don't Pray So Often


In Isaiah 1:15, God says, “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening.” God tells Isaiah to tell the Israelites that their prayers and sacrifices are offensive to Him. The message is don’t pray—you’re wasting your time—at least until you walk in obedience, love and faith. 

In Isaiah 37:4-6, King Hezekiah sends officials to Isaiah, asking him to pray on behalf of Israel, given the blasphemies and threats of the king of Assyria. Isaiah’s response: “Tell your master, ‘This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard…” Perhaps Isaiah prayed, but nothing is recorded. It’s as if he already knew what God wanted to say without asking Him directly.

In Joshua 10:5-8, Joshua goes into battle against the five Amorite kings without praying. In previous chapters, he had walked closely with God, receiving God’s commands and counsel for the battle of Jericho and the battles at Ai. But here, Joshua jumps into battle to save the Gibeonites, with whom he had made a covenant. Joshua honors his word and responds to their distress—without prayer. God delivers victory including the famous miracle of making the sun “stand still.” 

What do these examples have in common? Prayer is not “the answer.”

In fact, prayer can even be counterproductive to obedience. Why? In the first case, prayer was accompanied by rank disobedience. Asking God for anything while we thumb our noses at Him is ridiculous. 

When you’re disobeying God, cut it out. Pray to Him—not as Santa Claus to bail you out, but as the God of your salvation. Repent and embrace His gracious lordship in your life. 

In the second case, Isaiah already knew the answer. So asking God was unnecessary and wasteful. How powerful was it that Isaiah could speak God’s words to them immediately—from his relationship with God—without directly asking God again! 

In the third case, Joshua already knew what to do. So asking God was a temptation to inaction and a potential cop-out. If you know what to do, just do it. Don’t pray. 

In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul instructs us to “pray continually.” This speaks to the distinction between prayer as a lifestyle and an event. We commonly think of prayer as an event—something to do before meals, during one’s quiet time or before a big moment in one’s day. But prayer is more important as another angle on living a “Spirit-filled life”—a lifestyle or something akin to breathing.

Our most common error is failing to pray when we should, as an event or especially as a lifestyle. But when prayer is a prospective event—and you already know the answer—don’t pray; just obey.

Monday, June 18, 2018

the work and legacy of Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe was a great writer of both non-fiction and fiction. His work in both genres was informed by his passion and ability to understand his subjects. Aside from excellent writing and an eye for detail, what made him particularly amazing was the breadth of those subjects-- from 1960s beatniks and astronauts to 1980s yuppies and a turn-of-the-century college campus. 

Wolfe dressed the part of a genteel writer but was able to transcend that look to work with people of amazing diversity. He was at the heart of Rolling Stone in his early years, but routinely skewered liberals. He was a member of the vanguard that became "new journalism", along with others such as Hunter Thompson and George Plimpton. He was the height of "social" conservatism, but a liberal-in-outlook enigma. He was a visionary, perhaps a genius, and certainly a hard worker at the art and science of writing.

If you haven't read Wolfe, I'd start with whatever subject most interests you: astronauts and the space program in the heady days of the 1960s (The Right Stuff); the beatnik liberals and establishment largely-faux-liberal elites from the 1960s (Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Radical Chic / Mau-Mauing); the travails and peer pressures of higher society-- from career to higher education, from lifestyle to peer pressure in the 1980s and beyond (Bonfire of the Vanities, Man in Full, Charlotte Simmons, Kingdom of Speech).

In order of value-added for me, here are the articles I've compiled on Wolfe from his passing...

An excellent insider piece by David Browne in Rolling Stone-- where the magazine was a key part of Wolfe's early work (and Wolfe was a key to the success of RS.

A terrific piece in Vanity Fair by Michael Lewis (of Moneyball, The Big Short, etc. fame). Lewis credits Wolfe as a key inspiration-- and is a sorta of poor man's Wolfe, really. Lewis' opening is a hilarious intro to Wolfe's funniest book, Radical Chic/Mau-Mauing

Another excellent piece by Roger Kimball in The New Criterion. Kimball closes by describing Wolfe as "a literary treasure and a sly if undeclared culture warrior on the side of civilization". But Kimball focuses on Wolfe as satirist and argues that he would have found it more difficult to be successful today, since the gap between satire and truth is neither clear nor as-agreed-upon as decades ago.

In World, Lynde Langdon notes how Wolfe trashed the failure of Darwinian evolution to explain language in The Kingdom of Speech-- a book ignored by his eulogists.

Bob Tyrell reminisces about Wolfe and identifies him as our "greatest social critic" and one of our greatest novelists: "His artistic gift was multifaceted. He had the eye of a great reporter, the tenacity of a great researcher, the sense of language of a poet." And then a great last line: "He died while I was on vacation in Italy. I wonder what he meant by that."

Here's video of Wolfe receiving an honor from the Manhattan Institute in 2006, with various luminaries singing his praises and Wolfe giving a short speech.

Among other things, Lawrence Mone gives Wolfe credit for getting New Yorkers to consider the need for social change in New York and Giuliani's reference to Wolfe as "the Charles Dickens of our era". 
 
Here's Monica Showalter on Wolfe's repeated skewering of the cultural Left elites. She asks how he didn't receive a Nobel Prize and sees it as cultural bias by the same elites.

Leonard Madia with a brief review of The Right Stuff...
Steve Sailer focuses on his late-in-life first-efforts at novels-- the difficulties and his weaknesses as a writer of fiction...

Finally, a longer reflection piece by Michael Anton in City Journal: "Reading Wolfe [is]...like a combination of ice cream, champagne, laughing gas, and the most intellectually satisfying brain teaser you’ve ever solved." FWIW, he recommends Radical Chic as the first taste of Wolfe.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

fascinating Freakonomics on CSR

Corporate Social Responsibility...

And then the next episode with a focus on the pharmaceutical industry (interviewing the CSR rep at Pfizer)

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Insights about politics and public policy from James Scott’s Seeing Like a State


Scott’s project started with trying to understand government attempts to make society “legible”—to classify and organize the population and simplify taxation and protection against internal and external threats. He began to see legibility as a key problem for governance.
The issue? “The pre-modern state was, in many crucial respects, particularly blind; it knew precious little about its subjects, their wealth, their landholdings and yields, their location, their very identity. It lacked anything like a detailed ‘map’ of its terrain and its people…As a result, its interventions were often crude and self-defeating.” (2)
How did the State make society more legible? Scott noted that a wide range of processes—from the creation of permanent last names and population registers to the standardization of weights, measures, language and legal terms—were all useful as efforts to increase legibility.
This knowledge is necessary for “effective” governance, whether benign or corrupt. If corrupt, political agents cannot maximize their own goals without such knowledge. If benign but lacking knowledge, government can only achieve success through blind luck—or more often, find failure even with the best of intentions.
How the State Can Lead to Profound Evil
But Scott’s work evolved as he considered brutal outcomes in the history of governance. In his words: “It is not so difficult, alas, to understand why so many human lives have been destroyed by mobilized violence between ethnic groups, religious sects, or linguistic communities. But it is harder to grasp why so many well-intended schemes to improve the human condition have gone so tragically awry.” (4) He hoped “to provide a convincing account of the logic behind the failure of some of the great utopian social engineering schemes of the twentieth century.” (4)
Scott argues that “a pernicious combination” of four conditions is required (4-5, 88-89). First is his original topic of study: “the administrative ordering of nature and society” as detailed above. “By themselves, they are the unremarkable tools of modern statecraft; they are as vital to the maintenance of our welfare and freedom as they are to the designs of a would-be modern despot…”
Second is “a high-modernist ideology”—strong confidence about progress through science and technology, growing dominion over nature and human nature, and the rational design of governance to promote an effective society.
Third is an authoritarian state that is willing to use the weight of its monopoly on legitimate force to bring their designs to life. Combining the first two with the third is when governance can easily become lethal.
As a fourth condition, Scott notes that a weakened civil society (family, religion, and civil organizations) is helpful for the state that wishes to implement its plans. Taken as a set, “the legibility of a society provides the capacity for large-scale social engineering, high-modernist ideology provides the desire, the authoritarian state provides the determination to act on that desire, and an incapacitated civil society provides the leveled social terrain on which to build…”
Observations and Clarifications on “Modernist” Faith
Scott develops the idea of “modernism” in chapter 3 and discusses it throughout the book. He notes that faith in “high-modernist ideology” started in the West, following its remarkable successes in science, production, and technological advance. But this emphasis on science should not be confused with Science or ideal scientific practice. The ideology is more blind faith and optimism about “progress” than a careful understanding of how science and government work in practice.
Second, the emergence of this ideology aligns with the Progressive Era in the United States—with its faith in progress, science, and elites aggressively governing society. The means to those ends ranged widely—from regulation of business to America’s leading role in the eugenics movement.[1]
Third, this ideology can be captured by self-interests. Businesses want to restrict competition and pursue “state action to realize their plans…There [is], to put it mildly, an elective affinity between high modernism and the interests of many state officials.” (5) Progressive regulatory efforts were often captured by industry in ways that bolstered market power and profits.[2]
Fourth, high-modernism is “no respecter of traditional political boundaries; it could be found across the political spectrum from left to right.” The key: the desire to “use state power to bring about huge, utopian changes in people's work habits, living patterns, moral conduct, and worldview.” (5) In our sloppy contemporary political rhetoric, it is common to refer to “liberals” as those who prefer more government activism. Of course, most self-styled conservatives (and certainly most Republicans) prefer their types of optimistic activism as well.
Fifth, Scott avers that this utopian vision [is not] dangerous in and of itself. “Where it animated plans in liberal parliamentary societies and where the planners therefore had to negotiate with organized citizens, it could spur reform.” (6) But Scott is certainly concerned with any form of State-based idolatry—whether economic or social, whether driven by nationalism or moral concerns.
An Illiberal Irony
Liberals are also said to value choice and freedom—and to focus on individuals (particularly the vulnerable) and to defend the rights of individuals (at least those who have been marginalized). But government activism, by construction, is necessarily illiberal in fundamental ways.
One of the ironies of historical and contemporary Progressivism is its low view of the people they seek to govern. Of course, in contrast, the elites are capable—and far more capable than those they want to help. “What is perhaps most striking about high-modernist schemes, despite their quite genuine egalitarian and often socialist impulses, is how little confidence they repose in the skills, intelligence, and experience of ordinary people.” (345)
The calculus behind efforts to govern are “necessarily abstract, ignoring citizens as individuals.” (346) One can govern based on an individual or some “average” individual, but this is inherently reductionistic and flawed. More likely, policymakers aim at abstract groups of individuals. A “planned social order is necessarily schematic; it always ignores essential features of any real, functioning social order.” (6)  “The lack of context and particularity is not an oversight; it is the necessary first premise of any large-scale planning exercise.” (346) Moreover, as population size and diversity increase, such aggregations are increasingly ineffective and illiberal.
In contrast, economists and policymakers should strive to understand what models and statistics say—and don’t say. They are always—merely—proxies for the state of the world they purport to describe and measure. Taking them too seriously, too literally, too far, will likely lead to various errors—or even, evils.[3]
Implications for Public Policy
Scott warns that his arguments should not be misunderstood as a defense of all voluntary efforts or an argument against all government activity. He wants to “plead innocent to two charges”—“uncritically admiring of the local, the traditional, and the customary” and “an anarchist case.” (7) Likewise, “I am emphatically not making a blanket case against either bureaucratic planning or high-modernist ideology.” (6) One might disagree with Scott on the extent of the ethical arguments for government’s use of force as a means to various ends. But anyone can appreciate his closing points about pragmatic “rules of thumb” for better policy prescriptions—or at the least, to “make development planning less prone to disaster.” In his words (345):
1.     Take small steps. In an experimental approach to social change, presume that we cannot know the consequences of our interventions in advance. Given this postulate of ignorance, prefer wherever possible to take a small step, stand back, observe, and then plan the next small move...
2.     Favor reversibility. Prefer interventions that can easily be undone if they turn out to be mistakes.
3.     Plan on surprises. Choose plans that allow the largest accommodation to the unforeseen...
4.     Plan on human inventiveness. Always plan under the assumption that those who become involved in the project later will have or will develop the experience and insight to improve on the design.
Knowledge and humility, foresight and flexibility, modest proposals and sunset clauses. Outside of those who pursue power for its own sake or see Statism as a desirable end, who could disagree with Scott’s concerns about the State, utopian impulses, and government’s proclivity for dangerous policy blunders?


[1]  Indiana was the first state to implement a eugenics law in 1907. (See: “Hoosier Eugenics: When It’s Bad to Be First,” The Indiana Policy Review, Winter 2017: 24-27.) For a broader look at Progressivism, social policy, and economic policy, see: Thomas Leonard’s Illiberal Reformers (2016) and my review of it, “Exposing the Paradoxes of Progressivism," Journal of Markets & Morality 19 # 2, Fall 2016: 357-371.
[2] See: Gabriel Kolko’s The Triumph of Conservatism (1963) and “A Centennial Anniversary for the Bull Moose 'Progressives’,” The Indiana Policy Review, Fall 2012: 19-22.
[3] Scott notes that “the discipline of economics achieves its formidable resolving power by transforming what might otherwise be considered qualitative matters into quantitative issues with a single metric and, as it were, a bottom line: profit or loss. Providing one understands the heroic assumptions required to achieve this precision and the questions that it cannot answer, the single metric is an invaluable tool. Problems arise only when it becomes hegemonic.” (346)