Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Pete Buttigieg's incredible "whiteness" (if not "white privilege")

Good to read a really nice bio in The New Yorker on Pete Buttigieg...

His use of religion is really annoying-- except that it makes clear that the Left (or at least Dems) are quite happy to use religion as a convenient and practical means to their ends. Otherwise, he comes across as quite reasonable-- and relatively impressive compared to their other top tier candidates.

Here's the kicker-- and it became clearer to me after this article. He seems like, quite ironically, the top candidate of "white privilege" or at least "whiteness". Trump's numbers with African-Americans will continue to grow, if the economy stays strong. But they'll pick up extra pace if the Dems choose Buttigieg (or Warren or Sanders).

Monday, December 23, 2019

Justice for all, when convenient: Hong Kong, Kaepernick (and LeBron)

When I teach about “personal discrimination,” I often use the example of bigotry against the number 13. You’ve probably heard that some people have the strange religious belief that 13 has supernatural powers.
Owners of tall buildings have succumbed to this bigotry by getting rid of the 13th floor. Well, not eliminating the entire floor, but pretending that it doesn’t exist by adjusting the numbers on elevators and office doors. (The bigotry is amusing when one realizes that the folks on the 14th floor are really on the dreaded 13th floor.)
Even if the owner doesn’t share this numerical bigotry, she’s likely to defer to it. She can probably find enough tenants who don’t personally fear or hate the number 13. But these tenants would still reasonably worry about prospective employees and customers who dislike 13. And that’s enough to make 13 unattractive to tenants — and thus, the owner.
Why do we tolerate this blatant discrimination? Because we don’t care about the number 13 — and because the costs of discriminating against it are quite low, for individuals and society.
Then, I turn to a tougher example. What if you own a restaurant in the Deep South in the 1950s? You’re not a racist, but if you hire black people or serve black people, there could be big trouble for you. Your home or business could be fire-bombed. You or your family might be attacked. You will lose friends and be ostracized by neighbors.
What should you do? In class, I allude to the moral and ethical standards at hand, but leave the question unanswered — as a matter of conscience for my students. Of course, the point is as clear as the question is difficult. Following a moral standard may be costly — and for many, too costly to follow.
What makes this case much more difficult? In contrast to the number 13, we do care about how African-Americans are treated, but we realize that doing the right thing could have been quite costly.
In recent years, to play further with the concept of personal discrimination, I’ve started to discuss Colin Kaepernick, Tim Tebow, Michael Sams, Kareem Hunt, Tyreke Hill, Joe Mixon and Ray Rice. All of these football players have characteristics beyond their performance “on the field” that has impacted their “productivity.”
For team owners, the two most prominent goals are to make money and to win games. These players might be capable enough on the field. But they might impact team chemistry or cause a media circus that would sacrifice wins and profits. Hiring a football player is not simply a matter of his productivity on the field.
Now, back to bigotry and personal discrimination. Aside from questions about their “productivity,” these players might be judged and disliked by owners for their off-the-field behavior or beliefs.
For example, an owner might have a problem with Kaepernick’s kneeling, Tebow’s Christianity, Sams’ homosexuality or Hunt’s domestic violence. But even if an owner doesn’t care about these things, what should he do if customers or other players are bothered by their character or behavior?
Finally, let’s turn to Hong Kong and the NBA’s recent troubles with China. Many pro basketball players stood with Kaepernick and for free speech — in his protest against police shootings and his support for the “Black Lives Matter” movement. But all of those NBA athletes (most prominently, LeBron) caved when it came to free speech and protest against China’s oppression of Hong Kong.
What’s the difference? Not principle, since the actual and potential human rights abuses against those in Hong Kong are far greater than those currently against African-Americans. Perhaps it’s nativism or xenophobia, but I think the most likely explanation is costs and benefits.
What’s the solution? Embrace core principles consistently. Be more focused on character and integrity than virtue signaling and accumulating wealth. And advocate justice for all people — not just when it’s cheap for you or only relevant to those you love, especially if you’re powerful or prominent.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Who are you—and what have you done with Elizabeth Warren?

As it appeared in the C-J (and elsewhere)...
When one of my sons does something unexpected, I like to joke: “Who are you and what have you done with my son?” After reading Elizabeth Warren’s three books on politics, I had the same question about her.

The first, The Two-Income Trap (TT) in 2003, is moderate or even conservative. Some of her arguments on public policy consequences are so well-reasoned that it brings a tear to an economist’s eye. But really, the book is what you’d expect from an academic—thorough work, thoughtful analysis, and careful conclusions.
Warren’s thesis: when financial troubles come, life often falls apart—even for two-income families who “play by the rules”. Higher household incomes could have meant more savings and less risk. But household spending increased as well. With both parents working, a family has less flexibility—thus, “the two-income trap”.
Warren notes that most of the increased spending came from housing. And she rightly saw a connection between housing prices, K-12 school quality, and neighborhood safety. This led her to advocate greatly expanded school choice—vouchers, charters, and so on—to break the link between housing and schools.
The policy prescriptions in TT are mild, compared with her later books and her proposals today. This stemmed from her understanding of how subsidies distort markets and inflate prices: “America simply cannot afford mass subsidies for its middle class to buy housing. Besides, direct subsidies are likely to add more ammunition to the already ruinous bidding wars, ultimately driving home prices even higher.”
She made similar arguments to criticize subsidies for day care. But her analysis and prescriptions were not always impressive. She complains about inflation in higher education without noting the impact of its massive subsidies. And her level of trust toward consumers, particularly the poor and certain minority groups, is not very high.
Unfortunately, the impressive things about Warren went out the proverbial window when she became a politician. It’s easy to see when you compare TT to her other two political books: A Fighting Chance (FC) in 2014 and This Fight Is our Fight (FF) in 2017. Both move toward rhetoric, biography, and boilerplate—and away from careful analysis.
New policy preferences emerge which look like a crass grab for political power. And beyond grand plans that can’t possibly be financed through wealth and income taxes, Warren’s avid embrace of wide-ranging and extensive subsidies—for college, student loan forgiveness, child care, and health care—makes no sense and has no apparent cause.
So, here’s the most amazing story in Warren’s books: Her research on bankruptcy leads to political influence. She gets the opportunity to meet with First Lady Hillary Clinton and argue against a bill penned by industry lobbyists. Congress and President Bill Clinton support the law. But Elizabeth persuades Hillary—who persuades Bill to veto the bill.
But here’s the kicker: The bill is reintroduced in Congress the next Spring. “This time, freshman Senator Hillary Clinton voted in favor of the bill…The bill was essentially the same but Hillary Rodham Clinton was not…Her husband was a lame duck at the time he vetoed the bill; he could afford to forgo future campaign contributions. As New York’s newest senator, however, it seems that Hillary Clinton could not afford such a principled position.” Ouch!
Eleven years later, Warren tells the story again in FC. This time, she shares Hillary’s role in persuading Bill to veto the bill, but does not mention Hillary’s affirmative vote in 2001. Of course, Warren’s redacted re-telling is a smart political move. But it is also indicative of her emergence as a political animal in her own right.
Her flips on public policy are staggering enough—from one who knew better and opposed to someone who pretended not to know better and supported. The hypocrisy is even worse because she crushed Hillary for the exact same move—and Warren’s own sins in this regard are far worse.
So, what happened to Elizabeth? I heard Rod Dreher speak at the 2019 Touchstone Conference on “The Benedict Option”. Dreher had been a devoted Catholic, but “lost his faith” as he investigated the Catholic sexual abuse scandal for The New York Times. He started to obsess on the important work he was doing. He began to imagine that he was indispensible. He didn’t take steps to ground his work in something greater. In Christian terms, “the good fight” became an idol—and idols always fail.
When Dreher used the term “fight” to describe his crusade, it immediately brought Warren’s last two books to mind—with “fight” in both titles and “fighting” as her most prominent metaphor to paint her own efforts. My best guess—and I think, the most gracious interpretation of her hypocritical flips—is that she has traveled a similar path to Dreher.
Hopefully, Warren will not get to enforce her preferred version of society and her hypocrisies on others. And as Dreher eventually learned, hopefully Warren will find that there are things much more important than “the fight”. When the ends justify the means, it’s never ultimately good for those who misunderstand—or those they try to influence and control.