Ari Armstrong's Web Log (Main) | Archives | Terms of Use

Self in Society Roundup 20

Liberalism, property rights, schools, nihilism, abortion, Sparks, and more.

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
July 13, 2023; ported here on March 9, 2024

Global Classical Liberalism: Econ Journal Watch and the Fraser Institute have out a large collection of essays on classical liberalism by country, with a focus on economics. There's a related podcast series. The essays also are collected in three volumes, including the new third. I haven't read the essays, but offhand this seems like a remarkable resource.

Property Rights: I'm glad to see Yaron Brook take on problems of "the commons," a topic badly neglected by Objectivists. Brook's (standard) answer is to convert the commons to private property. Here are the two major problems that I see: Today's specific property rights are at least partly rooted in massive injustices, and virtually all land (and water) property starts off effectively "owned" in common. How do you justly privatize the commons?

I, Politician: The Center for a Stateless Society, sort of a leftist, socialist-friendly "libertarian" outfit, has out a critical essay by Kevin Carson of Leonard Read's story "I, Pencil." The thesis of Reed's story is that products in an industrial society are made through an intricate network of global trade, in which no individual fully knows how to make the finished good. Carson's thesis is that the property claims on which such trade is based often rest on very shaky moral grounds; e.g., many forests effectively were confiscated and redistributed by various governments. Carson is explicitly anti-"capitalistic," but he equates capitalists with state appropriators. I see the capitalist proper as doing fundamentally important work in organizing people to produce goods and services. See also my discussions of the Zwolinski/Tomasi book on libertarianism.

Schools: Chalkbeat: "There's been little, if any, progress making up large learning gaps that have emerged since the onset of the pandemic, according to a new analysis of data from the testing group NWEA."

Reading: Forcing kids to waste even more time in school won't help, argues Natalie Wexler. Instead, "If we really want to narrow gaps and make up for pandemic-related learning loss, we need to change what and how we teach—especially in the area of reading." Kids need phonics. For what it's worth, my child homeschools, and we do school work almost every day of the year—but we do formal (and meaningful) school work for a short period of time.

School Choice: Hanania (via Tabarrok): "On what basis did we as a society decide that the ideal way to spend a childhood was to attend government institutions 5 days a week, 7 hours a day, 9 months a year, for 12 years? . . . If someone proposed that any other population be placed in government buildings at set times organized by neighborhood and told what to do and think, people would recognize this as totalitarian." It's an interesting essay in which Hanania favors giving tax dollars to parents directly (which isn't full "privatization"). [August 5 Update: Hanania since has been found to have written horribly racist commentary under a fake name. I have removed the link to his essay, but for archival purposes I'll indicate it here: (first name)(last name).com/p/the-old-school-reformers-case-for.]

Moms for Liberty: Robert Pondiscio has the background. To me, it's obvious that, for the most part, these people don't really care about liberty or parental rights; they care about imposing their values on the public schools. Again: It's so weird how government-run schools become so political.

Charters: Yes, charter schools have better results, but just barely. Some important details from the Chalkbeat article: "Overall, Black, Hispanic, and low-income students seemed to benefit more from attending a charter school. Here, the size of improvement might be described as small to moderate. On the other hand, virtual charter schools had large negative effects, according to CREDO." CREDO tries to account for student characteristics by studying "twin" schools, but I don't see how this can account for the difference of some parents going out of their way to choose charter schools. That could go either way; those parents are probably more involved, but maybe some of them choose a charter because their student is doing poorly. What really matters is whether a specific student would do better in a charter school (or a specific charter school), but that's a difficult-to-measure counterfactual.

Heidegger: Tyler Cowen interviewed Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart. According to Hart, Heidegger thought "we have arrived at what he considered an age of nihilism, an age that values the will to power over physical environment above all other things, without any sense of the mystery of being, the piety of not trying to grasp and control and reduce all of reality to instrumentality and utility." There's a lot wrong with that view. As humans, we simply have to manipulate (work on) nature in order to live and prosper. Creating life-serving values is the opposite of nihilism. The view that Hart describes is what can become nihilistic, insofar as it attempts to tear down productive pursuits. The view that we can experience awe in the face of nature only if we do not produce values working with nature creates a fundamental schism between humans and nature. The view rests on a false premise. We can develop technology and also experience awe in the face of nature. Indeed, in many ways, developing better technologies helps us better-protect nature, as seen by environmental improvements in wealthier countries.

Abortion: A woman was sentenced to two years in prison for actions related to helping her daughter obtain abortion pills to kill a 29-week-old fetus (quite late in term).

Abortion II: The implication of the idea that abortion bans are a sort of "takings" is that, if government forcibly prevents a woman from getting an abortion, government should pay for the consequences. (Of course, if this was the case, some women would falsely claim they wanted an abortion in order to get the payout.)

Immigration: Somin: "Many people say that illegal migrants should instead 'get in line' and 'wait their turn' to enter legally. In a new Cato Institute study, immigration policy expert David Bier explains why, for the vast majority, that simply isn't possible. For most there simply is no 'line' that they can join."

Minds: Newell: "This emphasis on the unconscious driving our behaviour and influencing our judgements, decisions and choices has been vastly over-emphasised."

Sparks: Recently I saw Sparks put on an excellent rock concert in Boulder. The group pulled heavily from its new album—notable given its deep catalog. See The Sparks Brothers documentary for background. Here's a photo of the show.

Sparks concert, Boulder, July 2023, showing, facing the stage, a lighted room and a cheering crowd

Ari Armstrong's Web Log (Main) | Archives | Terms of Use