The Commons

The Clash of Communisms Share This

| Jul 29, 2020 | China

Not without reason do China critics tend to observe a rival across the Pacific strong everywhere the US is weak, especially under the sway of coronavirus. For most on the Right, the focus of such criticism centers around ideology: if only the Chinese weren’t communist, we wouldn’t find ourselves in this mess. Some anti-communists take a more globalist bent (“true capitalistic democratization hasn’t been tried”), others a more nationalist one (“America must once again defeat an evil empire”). Despite the conceptual punch of these thought vectors, the situation on the ground grows increasingly complicated. A surefooted analysis of the geopolitics of China must pay close attention to the relationship between Chinese thought and technology, upon which much hangs in the balance.

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The Seduction of the Not-Profit Economy Share This

| Jul 29, 2020 | progressives

Over the last several decades a major shift has occurred in how many U.S. elites – pundits, advocates, policy makers, and others – think and talk about corporations. For much of the 20th century most elites viewed corporations as an institutional tool by which America could best achieve its most important economic goals: innovation and increasing living standards. To be sure, there would always the occasional Enron or Tyco scofflaw, but these were seen as the exception, to be prosecuted and shunned.

No more. Today anytime anyone wants to delegitimatize any company or industry for any reason, it’s enough now to note that the company or industry in question is seeking to make a profit. Trying to earn a return on invested capital is now assumed to mean that the corporation’s entire mission is tainted by this original sin. (It’s still okay for small business to be motivated by profit, just not big business.)

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The Shy Trump Voter Share This

| Jul 27, 2020 | Politics

A new poll of Michigan voters by Robert Calahy’s Trafalgar Group indicates a tight race. What explains the other polls that show Biden ahead by a wide margin? Calahy points to “social desirability bias.” Put simply, people don’t want to admit to socially stigmatized views, and thus won’t admit they are willing to vote for Trump. Calahy thinks this effect is greater today than it was in 2016.

I made a trip to the Midwestern swing states in early July. My experiences reinforce Calahy’s assessment.

The shame heaped on the “deplorables” and “racists” who put the current president in office is not a new phenomenon. Since Nixon, the liberal establishment has derided popular Republican politicians as criminal, incompetent, and race-baiting cynics. This intensified during George W. Bush’s years as president and has been amped up since. Read More

A Trailer in the Country: Working-Class Attitudes about Redistribution Share This

| Jul 27, 2020 | Welfare State

At the beginning of a lane of public housing units pink balloons mark the mailbox and a disposable tablecloth flutters in the wind, held down on a plastic table by a box of sprinkled cupcakes with high-topped icing and another box of assorted party favors. On the driveway a few people sit in more-or-less socially distanced lawn chairs and Ashley, the expectant mother, sits under a blue canopy receiving gifts from family and friends at her drive-by baby shower.

Ashley and her husband Seth married in January in a country-chic themed wedding. Though they currently live in a government-subsidized brick duplex in a small town in southwestern Ohio, the two of them would like to live on land of their own someday. Ashley says she doesn’t care if they live in a trailer, as long as it’s theirs. She regularly peruses Pinterest for ideas about building DIY tiny houses, and once considered rehabbing an old shed to make it livable.

“I just want something that is going to change our lives,” Ashley told me a few years ago, complaining of “drama” and drugs on their street. “I want to get out of our neighborhood.” It’s a common attitude among lower-income young adults who are eager for independence. As another young man from Ashley’s town said of his ideal, “If I could get a trailer out in the country with an acre lot, it’s fine with me.” Read More

Pod Life or Pod School? Share This

| Jul 26, 2020 | Education

“I will not live in the pod.” This commonplace rallying cry among younger Right-aligned people on social media is approaching the status of a credal opening statement. For the uninitiated, it simply marks a public refusal to accept the lifestyle of the young urban singleton residing in the microapartment, feeding the pet, streaming the Netflix, ordering the Postmates, smoking the weed delivered to their door.

It is most intriguing then to see that not just the rising generation of Right-aligned parents are rushing to establish tutoring “pods” as Zoom education sets in under sway of the pandemic—and the looming likelihood that many public and private schools will begin the new term converted into “remote” woke madrasas:

parents around the country have started organizing “pandemic pods,” or home schooling pods, for the fall, in which groups of three to 10 students learn together in homes under the tutelage of the children’s parents or a hired teacher.

These pods could provide families with a schooling option that feels safe — yet also allows kids to have fun and build social skills. And, depending on how the pods are set up, they may offer parents a break. But given that pods can be pricey, complicated to organize and self-selecting, they are likely to be most popular among families of privilege, experts say, and may worsen educational inequality.

Here obviously are two very different types of pods: one an engine of atomization that strips human agency and competency away, the other an engine of little platoons that enlarge the heart and loose the springs of generative competence through reciprocal and mutual action at human scale.

While the pandemic is, one hopes, a short term problem, the deepening failure of the educational “system” from preschool to graduate school is almost certainly a challenge that stretches beyond any one generation’s time horizon. Policymakers should think now about how to protect and strengthen tutoring co-ops, and prepare for howls of criticism from threatened quarters.


A Culture Canceled Share This

| Jul 25, 2020 | Culture

The current debates over cancel culture are odd because few involved in them have been canceled, or risk being canceled, while entire institutions are indeed being canceled. Institutions that serve and amplify the interests of the working class, such as local newspapers, unions, and churches.

The death of local journalism is at least acknowledged by those involved in the debate as a problem. They are rightly concerned that smaller local newspapers being replaced by far away conglomerates hurts “left-behind” communities since it closes a forum where their issues could be heard, elevated, and addressed.

Getting less attention is the death of churches and unions. Lower income neighborhoods are littered with boarded up versions of both, a result of America’s embrace of a noxious mix of centralized economic power and de-centralized personal freedom.

Both are essential in giving power to the working class, providing them communities where they can go to be heard, and have any needs acknowledged, and perhaps brought to a higher authority to be solved.

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Immigrants and the American Dream Share This

| Jul 20, 2020 | Immigration

From my ten years documenting the poverty, pain, and frustration of lower-income communities it is easy to conclude that the American Dream is dead for the working class. There is one big exception though: Newer immigrants, who despite poverty, are still optimistic.

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A COVID-19 Economic Recovery Package That Spurs Short-term and Long-term Recovery Share This

| Jul 20, 2020 | Coronavirus

With surging COVID-19 cases in many parts of the country and a widely available vaccine months away—and with consumer and investor confidence and spending likely to be weak even with a vaccine—the odds are quite high that economic recovery will be long, drawn-out, and weak. As such, Congress is rightly debating a fifth economic recovery package.

Other than the size of the package, the most important issue for debate is whether it should be designed to support a weakened economy in the way that hopes most existing businesses will come back to full strength, or should recognize that significant industrial and occupational reallocation is likely and that policy should accelerate, not retard this. Making the former choice might result in somewhat less short-term pain, but it would also result in a much more drawn-out recovery with slower rates of overall GDP growth for many years.

Lawmakers should address both challenges by structuring a recovery package that addresses the short-term economic contraction while also effectively laying the groundwork for more robust long-term recovery, growth, and competitiveness. Read More

John Ruskin and the Purpose of Political Economy Share This

| Jul 20, 2020 | Culture

As we seek a realignment in American political economy we would do well to rediscover the thought of a 19th-century critic who did not like us very much. John Ruskin (1819–1900) found Americans obsessed with a liberty he considered license and naively committed to an ideal of equality he believed impossible: “also, as a nation, they are wholly undesirous of Rest, and incapable of it.” In her utilitarian preoccupation with commercial ventures, America had inherited Montaigne’s English vice of inquietude and seemed unlikely to recover. Despite this disdain, or perhaps because of it, we should attempt to learn from the man. Long-time readers and friends may find this me—if not beating—still massaging a dead horse, or rolling out a beloved soapbox battered with use, but I beg no excuse. Repetitio est mater studiorum.

While the skepticism of liberty and egalitarianism might suggest a man firmly of the right, it has been socialists who have kept Ruskin’s political memory alive. I recommend this essay on him from the left by Eugene McCarraher. Today, Ruskin is largely remembered for his early work, as an aesthetic theorist focused on painting and architecture. But by 1860, when he published Unto This Last, from which most of the quotes here are taken, he was writing and working almost exclusively on social issues in general and political economy in particular, though still very much with an eye for beauty.  Read More

More on Social Insurance and Conservatism Share This

| Jul 14, 2020 | Social Insurance

Re: Beware “Social Insurance” Salesmen

In his latest contribution to our ongoing debate over social insurance and conservatism, Oren Cass clarifies some of our points of disagreement. One of them concerns the meaning and nature of “social insurance” itself. Another is whether certain proposals are sufficiently “conservative.”

To Cass, social insurance, or at least the kind of social insurance acceptable to a conservative like himself, would be “something paid for and earned by its recipients, and claimed when needed.” As examples he suggests unemployment insurance system or programs of retraining for displaced workers.

Social insurance, in that sense, does not differ greatly from an ordinary product like fire insurance for one’s home, except that government intervention could be justified by market failures that make certain risks commercially uninsurable. For example, a commercial insurer might be reluctant to offer unemployment coverage because of the moral hazard arising from the fact that it is often hard, ex post,  to distinguish among quits, layoffs, and dismissals. Read More