The Commons

The Commons hosts commentary from contributing writers across the political spectrum, advancing American Compass’s mission through discussion that combines intellectual combat and personal civility.

Why China Matters to You Share This

| Nov 19, 2021 | Foreign Policy

In hindsight, it was the happiest of coincidences that global markets integrated during an era of American hegemony. In the moment, though, policymakers took for granted the presence of some indelible linkage: “Globalization” was synonymous with “liberalization.” Countries with McDonald’s didn’t fight each other. And trading freely with a communist, mercantilist dictatorship ruling over more than a billion impoverished peasants would help that nation transition to liberal democracy, enriching everyone along the way.

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California Dreamin’ Share This

| Nov 12, 2021 | Poverty

San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities, by Michael Shellenberger (Harper, 416 pp., $28.99)

“I just took [my son] to our local Walgreens to buy him a toy. While there, a man shoved past me so firmly that he sent me into the shelving. Then he proceeded to fill a brown paper bag with Halloween candy and waltzed out of the store. This is one of five Walgreens stores in SF that will be closing in the next two months, in part because of rampant theft. And our city leaders all keep insisting crime is down.”

I didn’t need to read Michael Shellenberger’s new book, San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities, to know what has happened to the city on the Bay. The above quotation is taken from an email from a former student, herself a San Francisco native. Earlier she reported that a homeless man had defecated in front of her townhouse.

San Francisco’s mainstream media and political elite have tried to downplay such stories. But the trends are impossible to ignore. California is one of just a handful of states to see dramatic increases in its homeless population. Between 2015 and 2020, San Francisco’s homeless population grew by 32%, despite the city tripling its funds to address homelessness. Public health and safety have been jeopardized. The entire state has witnessed a spike in shoplifting, particularly in San Francisco. Meanwhile, homeless encampments have become breeding grounds for all sorts of diseases, some of them distinctly medieval. Read More

The Cult for Growth Share This

| Nov 05, 2021 | Economics

It is a peculiar thing, the terror with which inhabitants of early 21st-century America crawl into bed each night, uncertain if they will awake the next morning to an economy still growing. It is Growth to which they owe their prosperity, they believe, and Growth on which they must pin their hopes for their children. Yet they cannot see this Growth, nor hold it in their hands. They know not from whence it comes, nor how, nor why—only that its spirit surrounds them and shapes the course of their lives. From within ivory towers dotting the landscape, marble temples clustered in the Capital, and the pages of the Wall Street Journal, a powerful priesthood sets forth the precepts by which a pro-Growth society must live, measures the amount of Growth that has occurred, and predicts the amount to come.

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The “Big Quit” Is an Opportunity to Fix Our Broken Education System Share This

| Oct 27, 2021 | Education

COVID-19 sent a shock wave through an already changing U.S. job market, provoking “a great reassessment of work in America.”

This broad rethinking of work and human capital development is occurring while 10.4 million jobs sit unfilled and more than 8.4 million unemployed individuals look for work. There is a clear disconnect, but the ultimate outcome is far from clear.

As Bob Dylan asks in “Ballad of a Thin Man,” “…something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mister Jones?”

But even without this clarity, reassessment has an upside.

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Of Snowflakes and Slip-and-Falls Share This

| Oct 22, 2021 | Culture

In this week’s Compass Point, The Snowflakes Aren’t Melting, Michael Brendan Dougherty offers a sharp, revisionist account of “safetyism.” The term commonly refers to the phenomenon of young people coddled through their childhoods and thus unable to cope with the conflicts and travails of adulthood. But while that surely must be going on, Dougherty argues that it does not explain most of what we observe: the problem is less quivering balls of frailty than aggressive litigators of alleged harm. The college student who demands protection from another’s microaggression is not melting under the oppressive heat of real life, but wielding a politicized claim of injury as a dagger.

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Gimme Shelter Share This

| Oct 21, 2021 | Taxes

Only the Rich Can Play: How Washington Works in the New Gilded Age, by David Wessel (PublicAffairs, 352 pp., $14.99)

 

The rapper T.I. may never have read Kevin Williamson’s infamous suggestion that struggling communities need “real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul,” but he is clearly familiar with the mindset. As he tells Brookings Institution senior fellow David Wessel, a friend of his once asked “Hey, man, why is it that the answer to the problems in our community is always for us to get rich and move out and never come back?”

The approach typified by Williamson and lamented by T.I.’s friend has long been conventional wisdom among economists and policymakers. Increasing opportunity meant promoting geographic mobility and getting people out of declining areas, rather than throwing good money after bad. Public funds, the thinking went, should be spent on poor people, not poor places. Read More

The Work-Ethic Welfare State Share This

| Oct 15, 2021 | Social Insurance

Paul Krugman famously called the federal government “an insurance company with an army.” In this, unlike most things, he is not entirely wrong. When it comes to domestic policy, the lion’s share of government spending is social insurance payments (Medicare, Social Security, the SSDI disability program, unemployment insurance) and social assistance via the safety net (TANF, food stamps, housing vouchers, the SSI disability program, and so on). Many of our most contentious political debates concern how and why to expand, contract, supplement, or reform these various programs: from welfare reform in the 1990s, Social Security privatization and Obamacare in the 2000s, entitlement reform (mainly Medicare “premium support”) in the 2010s, and now proposals for a child allowance or universal basic income.

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When Student Loans Pay for Nothing but Palm Trees Share This

| Sep 30, 2021 | American Dream

My husband and I are proud to have two very intelligent and well-educated children. Yes, every parent thinks their kids are special, but they’ve always done well in school and our family paid a great deal of money to help cultivate their minds. We sent them both to college in hopes of them having the best opportunities for lucrative employment.

What did we get in exchange for four years of massive expenses, plus the extra years on their own dime, plus the many (far-too-easily-attained) student loans they will be working for years to repay?

If you thought a solid job opportunity and a pathway into the middle class, you’d be wrong.

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Extending the Child Tax Credit to Undocumented Immigrants Is Playing with Fire Share This

| Sep 29, 2021 | Family Policy

Buried within the Democrats’ multi-trillion-dollar reconciliation package is a provision to extend the recently expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) to undocumented immigrants. This would be a grave mistake, and I say that as both a supporter of the CTC expansion and as a proponent of more liberal immigration.

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Woking 9 to 5 Share This

| Sep 24, 2021 | Business

In their adoption of “progressive” agendas, both unions and corporations have ignored entirely the preferences and interests of workers. (Whether an agenda that abandons workers can rightly be called progressive is a question for another day.) Not What They Bargained For, the American Compass survey of worker attitudes, highlights the ways that the labor movement’s focus on progressive politics has undermined its own popularity and alienated the lower and working classes. Workers similarly disdain “woke” employers.

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