Trade

First, Assume Lots of Boats

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Ships and shipping containers at the port of Long Beach in Long Beach, Calif., January 30, 2019. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

There’s an old joke about an economist and an engineer who fall into a deep hole together. As the engineer is devising ways to get out of the hole, the economist says, “Don’t worry, I’ll get us out. First, assume a ladder.”

Mocking economists for assumptions in their theories has been around as long as economics has been around. Many of the assumptions are unrealistic on purpose. The assumptions exist to demonstrate things in theory, not to perfectly describe the world around us. The theory of perfect price competition, for example, assumes there are no transactions costs. In the real world, of course, there are always transactions costs. But the point of the theory of perfect price competition is to demonstrate how the prices of goods would behave in a perfectly competitive market. Thinking about transactions costs would muck that up, so economists assume it away. There are other theories that deal with transactions costs, and they assume away other things that would muck up looking at transactions costs.

Economic theory demonstrates that there are gains from trade when countries specialize in producing goods for which they have a comparative advantage and trading for other goods. That’s impossible to object to in economic theory. But that doesn’t mean those benefits are automatic in the real world. On the contrary, it takes a lot of work.

The economics-textbook case for free trade, to paraphrase the joke, starts with, “First, assume lots of boats.” The economics-textbook case for free trade doesn’t say anything about how the trade will actually happen. It doesn’t say anything about free-trade agreements or shipping companies or port authorities or longshoremen. The purpose of the theory is to demonstrate that there are gains from trade when countries specialize in producing goods for which they have a comparative advantage and trading for other goods, assuming that trade is possible.

That’s not to sell the economics-textbook case short. It’s an extremely powerful and counterintuitive insight. It’s not obvious that there are gains from trade, and those gains are potentially enormous. We’d be foolish to dismiss the theory.

The theory, however, is only a starting point, not the end of the conversation. How well the real-world results approximate the theoretical results depends on lots of people doing lots of work.

Rachel Premack wrote an article for Business Insider yesterday titled “Why the world is in a shipping crisis.” How much of a crisis? The Drewry World Container Index, which measures the going price for a shipping container, is about 300 percent higher today than it was one year ago. The price increases are even higher on some important routes. Shanghai to Genoa is up 449 percent from last year, and Shanghai to Rotterdam is up 524 percent.

The global shipping industry is still behind from the pandemic and likely will be for quite some time. Premack writes that when the pandemic started, shipping companies started canceling sailings. The massive cargo ships are only profitable when they’re pretty much completely full, so it’s better for the shipping companies to have fewer full ships than have more partially full ships.

Canceling a sailing has huge ramifications because, basically, boats are really slow. It takes about three weeks for a cargo ship to go from Los Angeles to Shanghai. If you have a cargo ship sitting in Los Angeles that’s scheduled for Shanghai and the shipping line decides to cancel the sailing, that stinks for people trying to ship things out of Los Angeles and for people trying to receive things in Shanghai. But it also stinks for people trying to ship things out of Shanghai because the people running the Shanghai port were planning on that boat being in Shanghai in three weeks. Now that it won’t be there, three weeks’ worth of containers are going to pile up on the docks at Shanghai. It’s fine, they can wait for the next one, you might think. It’s not that easy, though, because every boat is scheduled to be full, and there already are containers waiting on the dock scheduled for the next boat. The people running the port in Shanghai can try to find another boat to put it on, but the closest available boat might be a week away, and then that boat won’t be somewhere else it was expected to be, creating a new problem for the people expecting that boat three weeks in the future, on and on and on. At the start of the pandemic, shipping lines were canceling about 20 percent of their scheduled sailings, and we’re still feeling the reverberations from that.

Now that the economy is recovering, people are buying more stuff again. The latest piece of evidence that the Biden administration is wrong to pursue more stimulus spending is that American ports are jammed with boats as Americans buy more stuff than ever. Premack writes that the Port of Los Angeles, the busiest port in America, set a new first-quarter cargo record this year, and the Port of Long Beach, the second-busiest port in America, set a new monthly record in May. There’s so much traffic that some boats are waiting longer to be unloaded at their destination ports than it took them to cross the Pacific, she writes.

But wait, there’s more. Two critical shortages make the problem even worse. Premack writes that there’s a shortage of longshoremen in the U.S. When boats do arrive, there aren’t enough workers to unload them. The second shortage is even more fundamental: containers. Premack writes, “Import volume from China via ocean shipping is up 54% year-over-year. Exports have only ticked up by 4.4%. That means lots of containers are leaving Asia, but not enough have been returning there.” Shipping companies need to send empty containers back to Asia to be filled, but remember, they can’t operate profitably unless the ships are nearly completely full, so they can’t send back many empty containers. Premack writes that the imbalance in containers could persist well into 2022.

Essentially, right now there are not enough ships and not enough containers to move more goods than ever before and not enough workers to load and unload them. That’ll send up shipping prices 300 percent, you better believe it.

Economic theory informs us of the gains of trade and specialization. But it’s much easier to see the lines move on a graph than it is to see a container of electronics move from Shanghai to Los Angeles. As we’re seeing right now, what’s elegant and simple in economic theory is chaotic and complex in the real world. Debates over free trade are usually concerned with economists or politicians. Those debates matter, but they usually assume lots of boats. It’s in the execution that we cash in on the theory.

Dissatisfaction with high prices provides opportunities for entrepreneurs. We’ve seen it before in the shipping industry. In the 1950s, Malcom McLean pioneered the modern system of shipping containers. According to historian Marc Levinson, the average price of shipping cargo was $5.83 per ton in 1956. On McLean’s first containerized ship, the price was $0.16 per ton. Containerization is the top unsung hero for making our current standard of living possible, and it happened because an entrepreneur saw a chance to undercut his higher-priced rivals through better organization.

Do we have another McLean out there?

History

Hanks and Tulsa

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Charlie, I am perfectly willing to believe that Tom Hanks had not heard about the Tulsa massacre until reading an essay about it last year in the New York Times, but — doesn’t the guy from Bosom Buddies still watch television, from time to time?

Because the most-watched new television series of 2019, Watchmen, was in no small part about those events. An average of more than 7 million people watched each episode. It made a huge star out of Regina King (who is putting her success to good use).

It would be better if Americans learned more of their history from sources other than sci-fi series about giant space squids or whatever, to be sure. But I’ll bet there are more Americans under 35 who could tell you what happened at Tulsa than who could tell you what happened at, say, the Battle of New Orleans.

(My apologies to Charlie if that last item brings up a sore memory.)

Once Again: Everyone Opposes Rank Majoritarianism

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(jaflippo/Getty Images)

Jonathan Chait tries once again to cast Rand Paul and Mike Lee’s entirely mainstream skepticism toward unchecked majoritarianism as something sinister and unusual. The ideas that Paul and Lee have expressed, Chait writes, are common on the Right, and, indeed, “are not identified solely with the most extreme or Trumpy conservatives,” but “have frequently been articulated by conservatives who express deep personal animosity toward Donald Trump and his cultists.”

Yeah, they have. And do you know who else is skeptical of unchecked majoritarianism?

Everyone.

Chait takes specific aim at Rand Paul’s claim that the Jim Crow era shows the need for counter-majoritarian elements within the system. “Absurd,” he writes,

is the notion that “Jim Crow laws came out of democracy.” Southern states attempted to establish democratic systems after the Civil War, but these governments were destroyed by violent insurrection. Jim Crow laws were not the product of democracy; they were the product of its violent overthrow.

It is narrowly true that, in the wake of the Civil War, violence was used to suppress black votes, which resulted in the election of white governments by a reduced electorate, which resulted in those governments imposing Jim Crow — although I presume that Chait does not really believe that if the Southern states in question had allowed everyone to vote we wouldn’t have needed the 14th and 15th Amendments, given that Jim Crow laws were passed in multiple states where white citizens significantly outnumbered black citizens while only three states had a black majority. But this is hardly a solid case against minority protections per se.

How, I wonder, does Chait account for the counter-majoritarian decisions that his own side strongly favors? The anti-abortion laws that Roe v. Wade overturned were not the product of state governments being “destroyed by violent insurrection.” They were the product of democracy. The laws that protected traditional marriage were not the product of state governments being “destroyed by violent insurrection.” They were the product of democracy — and, in several cases, popular referenda. The laws permitting school prayer were not the product of state governments being “destroyed by violent insurrection.” They were the product of democracy.

All of these laws were swept away despite that democracy. Why? Because they were held to be in violation of the Constitution’s protection of minority rights. (In my view, these cases were incorrectly decided, but my objection is to the specifics of those cases rather than to the existence of judicial review). If Jonathan Chait were to call up a Democratic senator at random this afternoon and ask whether he thinks that this was a good thing, that Democratic senator would likely end up sounding very much like Rand Paul. I wonder: Is that an indictment of the Democratic party, its voters, and the broader progressive movement? Or does it only work the other way around?

Economics

Center-Left Think Tank: Biden Budget Would Hike Taxes on More Than Half of Filers

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As I’ve pointed out before, Joe Biden’s promise not to raise taxes on “anyone” making less than $400,000 doesn’t square with his actual plans. For example, his big hike to corporate taxes would, in part, be borne by workers, as well as by investors whose earnings put them below the cutoff.

The center-left Tax Policy Foundation has some new estimates out today, based on Biden’s recent budget, that make this point well.

If you look only at individual income and payroll taxes in 2022, the hikes don’t start kicking in until roughly the promised income level (though the analysis groups together everyone making between $200,000 and $500,000). But when the estimates include the burden of other major taxes, particularly corporate taxes, an incredible 60.7 percent of all “tax units” see their taxes go up.

Don’t take this too far: The burden will be much higher on the rich than on the poor, and this doesn’t include the benefits of the resulting spending, which will be directed largely toward poorer Americans. Biden’s budget would certainly redistribute income downward.

But you can’t hike corporate taxes through the roof and pretend no one making less than $400,000 will pay more. And some argue that these taxes impose a bigger burden on workers than the Tax Policy Center assumes.

Hat tip to Donald Schneider. And see a more Biden-favorable take on the results from the center’s own Howard Gleckman here.

Economy & Business

Unintended Consequences of a Minimum-Wage Hike

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Sheets of $1 bills on a light table at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, D.C., November 14, 2014. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

As I discussed in a piece earlier this year, hiking the minimum wage can cause a number of unintended consequences. The most obvious, and most studied, is that employers might buy less labor when labor is more expensive. Yet employers can respond in other ways too — such as cutting benefits or making jobs more demanding.

Today, Mark Perry points us to an interesting study of an anonymous “chain of fashion retail stores” with locations in Texas and California. The data run from 2015 through early 2018; the minimum wage was $7.25 for this entire period in Texas, but started at $9 and rose every year in California.

Interestingly, as the minimum wage crept up in California relative to Texas, stores in the Golden State did not measurably reduce the number of employee hours they paid for. What they did, instead, was to spread those hours around: hire more workers, but have each employee work fewer hours.

What’s the advantage of doing this? Well, as the authors note, “workers have to work at least 20 hours per week on average to be eligible for retirement benefits and work at least 30 hours per week for employer-sponsored health insurance based on the [Affordable Care Act].” They estimate that stores can save roughly a quarter of the cost of the higher wages simply by getting out of contributing to these benefits.

On top of that, workers’ hours became less consistent week-to-week, presumably because the stores wanted to be more careful paying for hours when work became more expensive.

As I put it before, a minimum-wage hike is a simple policy with extremely complicated consequences, and thus runs a far bigger risk of backfiring than most realize.

Health Care

Redefining Death

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A proposed change in the law would make organ procurement easier. That’s a bad reason to make it, I argue at Bloomberg Opinion.

Death can’t be denied but it can be edited.

In 1981, the Uniform Law Commission proposed a model law for the determination of death. It says that individuals have died when they have experienced an irreversible end to either their respiratory and circulatory functions or their brain functions. Most states have adopted this definition, and the rest adopted it in substance if not precise wording.

The commission is now considering whether the definition should be revised. One proposal has been gaining influence, but has dangers that ought to keep it from prevailing. . . .

Books

Were The ‘Dark Ages’ Dark?

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Here are two thoughtful essays, both worth your time, that question the viability of our conventional historical understanding of a Medieval “Dark Ages” followed by an Early Modern “Renaissance:”

The first, written for Aeon by Henrik Lagerlund, a professor of the history of philosophy at Stockholm University, is called “What Renaissance?” which you can read here.

The second is a book review by Brad S. Gregory for Law & Liberty of Seb Falk’s “The Light Ages,” a history of medieval science, which you can read here.

 

 

Politics & Policy

CRT Invades the Law Schools

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(utah778/Getty Images)

For many years, law schools have been moving away from teaching the nuts and bolts of our legal system and toward what Professor Charles Rounds of Suffolk Law School calls “bad sociology, not law.”  I have spoken with veteran lawyers who wring their hands over the fact that so many graduates have had their heads stuffed with dodgy theories but have difficulty with legal fundamentals.

Things are getting worse, as critical race theory invades the law schools. On her Dissident Prof blog, Mary Grabar has posted an excellent piece by Professor Matthew Andersson on the harm of CRT.

Andersson writes, “CRT, along with BLM, is a pleading tool: a position taken up by an organized — or more accurately by an incited — coalition of individuals and institutions opportunistically advancing a synthetic complaint in the public forum, especially through media, universities, and government organizations. These are needed to create the impression that their argument has an historical basis and  possesses moral weight. The sufficiently articulated demands can be seen as a path to both social and legal relief through remedies of financial damages and restitution, and through policy that codifies its demands and interests — despite any constitutional violations.”

This “pleading tool” is one that will do a great deal more damage to our concepts of equality under the law.

Read the whole thing.

Politics & Policy

Media Outlets Mislead on Gallup Abortion Survey

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Planned Parenthood employees look out from their building, St. Louis, Mo., June 4, 2019. (Lawrence Bryant/Reuters)

Last week, Gallup released new polling data on sanctity of life issues, and in their coverage, many mainstream media outlets have attempted to argue that there has been an increase in public support for legal abortion.

As Alexandra DeSanctis noted here at NRO last week, the new Gallup survey found that 47 percent of Americans think abortion is “morally acceptable,” a record high. A number of media outlets, including The Hill, the Independent, and Forbes have focused on this particular finding in their coverage of the poll.

However, it is worth noting that the percentage of Americans who find abortion “morally acceptable” increased by only three percentage points from the previous Gallup poll on abortion, conducted in May 2020. What’s more, this latest survey asked a number of questions about life issues, and considered as a whole, the data suggest a great deal of stability in public attitudes toward abortion. For instance, the same Gallup poll found that 47 percent of Americans identify as “pro-life,” which equals the average “pro-life” sentiment over the past five Gallup surveys.

Additionally, the survey found that since 2019, there has actually been a slight decrease in the percentage of Americans who want to see the Supreme Court uphold Roe v. Wade. Meanwhile, 52 percent of Americans report believing that abortion should either be “illegal” or “legal in only a few circumstances,” which is broadly consistent with previous Gallup polling.

It’s worth noting, too, that Gallup conducted this survey prior to the release of President Biden’s proposed budget, which did not include the Hyde amendment and thus would allow federal funds to directly underwrite elective abortion procedures. Since polls tend to find that taxpayer funding of abortion is unpopular, even among Democrats, it is possible that there has been a slight increase in pro-life sentiment since this was conducted.

As a result of the upcoming Supreme Court case considering a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi, life issues will be especially salient this year. As a result, media outlets and survey research firms are likely to conduct numerous polls on abortion, and shifts in public opinion can affect both legislation and court decisions. Given that reality, some journalists and commentators will continue to spin poll results to give the impression that public support for legal abortion has increased. But pro-lifers should not be misled. A substantial number of polls from a variety of research firms show that public attitudes toward abortion have been largely stable over the past few decades, and there tends to be strong support for both the Hyde amendment and a wide range of incremental pro-life laws.

Law & the Courts

Supreme Court Shows Interest in Harvard Anti-Asian Affirmative Action Case

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The Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., May 8, 2020 (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

This was another uneventful morning at the Supreme Court, with two uncontroversial decisions (one unanimous, one split between 9–0 and 8–1 decisions in two related cases) involving the First Step Act and the felon-in-possession statute. But the big news came in case number 20-1199, Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College. The Court has yet to decide whether it wants to hear the case, but this morning, it asked the Biden administration to file an amicus brief setting forth its views of the case. Cases in which the Court asks the Solicitor General for such a brief are not always taken by the Court, but they are much more likely to end up on its docket.

While there is little doubt that the administration will side with Harvard, its position could be politically sticky, and the case could be explosive. The petition asks the Court to overrule its pro-“diversity” rationale for allowing universities to consider race in admissions:

 (1) Whether the Supreme Court should overrule Grutter v. Bollinger and hold that institutions of higher education cannot use race as a factor in admissions; and (2) whether Harvard College is violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act by penalizing Asian-American applicants, engaging in racial balancing, overemphasizing race and rejecting workable race-neutral alternatives.

Roger Clegg has set forth the argument for why the Court should hear this case, and it now has the Court’s attention. The case involves blatant discrimination against a group of non-white, historically discriminated-against group (Asian Americans) who have been the subject of much recent attention over anti-Asian hate crimes. Democrats have been very touchy about being forced to admit that they support Harvard’s discrimination. The Biden administration dropped an investigation into anti-Asian discrimination at Yale. Democrats rejected, by a 49–48 vote in the Senate, a Ted Cruz amendment saying that no college “may receive any Federal funding if the institution has a policy in place or engages in a practice that discriminates against Asian Americans in recruitment, applicant review, or admissions.” Congressman Ted Lieu erupted in anger at a hearing in March when Peter Kirsanow raised the issue. Hardly anything is nearer and dearer to Asian-American parents than educational opportunity. Democrats are understandably hesitant to openly admit that they support discrimination against Asian Americans in that very area. But they do.

PC Culture

In Defense of Cancel Culture

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( wildpixel/Getty Images)

“Cancel culture” is really a tautology. All cultures involve the “cancellation” of certain behaviors and viewpoints, the public enactment or profession of which results in the social ostracization of the perpetrator. Without these taboos, there can be no social regulation of behavior and mores and hence no real culture at all. In the modern West, for instance, we cancel people who insist on being naked in public spaces. We also cancel racists and men who beat their wives, and our culture is all the better for it.

The recent public furor over cancel culture has not been about whether or not we will cancel people or ideas, but about which people or ideas we will cancel. The denouncement of “cancel culture” writ large is a characteristically small-“l” liberal way of trying to avoid this fact by drawing a curtain of false neutrality over social censure per se, as if the process or procedure of cancellation itself is what we really object to.

But if we’re honest with ourselves, this isn’t really true. We don’t object to “cancel culture,” we object to the cancellation of certain acts, ideas, and sensibilities that were recently uncontroversial. It’s the closing of the Overton window on certain positions we find reasonable that we so dislike. Once we accept this, we’re in the much more difficult — and yet, more honest — position of having to defend the ideas and practices under attack on their merits rather than simply ringing our hands over the procedural violation of an utterly fictional “viewpoint neutrality” that has never existed — at least in a cultural sense — at any time in human history.

The Right’s new rhetorical reflex to complain about cancel culture whenever social censure falls upon some public or semi-public figure or another is frustrating because it attempts to import the classically liberal notion of viewpoint neutrality from the legal world into the cultural world. This task is doomed to fail. A jurisprudence of viewpoint neutrality is only possible when there are enough important and shared cultural taboos and restrictions in a society to allow each person to tolerate the legality of viewpoints they hate, safe in the knowledge that said viewpoints are still subject to social censure, even if the avenue of legal censure is foreclosed. We tolerate the legal First Amendment rights of white-nationalist groups because we know we can crush them with overwhelming social stigma and geld them of all influence using cultural force. But no one in their right mind believes that because white-nationalist groups can avail legally of viewpoint-neutrality jurisprudence that we should therefore refrain from attempting to turn them into social pariahs as best we can.

It’s true that the Overton window among Western elites is contracting like the trash compactor in the Death Star not only upon morally acceptable positions, but also on morally edifying ones. But the response of conservatives cannot be to lament the existence of this cultural regulation, or to pretend that there was a time when it didn’t exist. Instead, they have to defend the moral merits of their positions and argue that others (like the reverse-racism of intersectional politics and the mutilation of children by transgender activists) should be cancelled with unapologetic fervor. Our civilization cannot hide behind procedural liberalism when it comes to first principles, and it’s folly to pretend we can. Genuinely moral and political conflicts are, in some cases, unavoidable. Cancellation is the price we pay for civilization.

Culture

Dante Men and Others

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Dante Della Terza in his office at Widener Library, Harvard, on February 21, 2018 (Jay Nordlinger)

For your reading pleasure — or at any rate for your reading — I have an Impromptus column today, with issues fair and foul. It begins with something foul, in a sense: the pervasiveness of marijuana, at least in New York City. And not the old kind of pot, but a new and skunky kind. Other items include Magdalen College, Oxford, and Cracker Barrel (two very different institutions).

Some reader mail?

In a column last Monday, I confessed to being an old fogey, as witness the fact that I persist in using “B.C.” and “A.D.,” instead of “B.C.E.” and “C.E.” (Note the periods, too — further proof of fogeyness.) A reader writes, “Jay, I too am an old fogey, but I use ‘B.C.E.’ and ‘C.E.,’ and have since I was a child, because I am Jewish.” Fair enough.

In a column last month, I had an item on George F. Will, who, astonishingly, has turned 80. A reader writes, “A consolation of living in a society with so many flaws is that I get to read George Will’s thoughts on them.” A higher tribute to a writer, I can hardly imagine.

But then there is Gilbert Ryle. Do you know this story? Someone said to the British philosopher — who lived from 1900 to 1976 — “You never read novels, do you?” Ryle answered, “Yes, I do: I read all six of them every year.” (He meant the novels of Jane Austen.)

Before leaving, I would like to mention Robert Hollander, the great dantista — Dante scholar — who died earlier this year. An obit appeared in the New York Times last week. It began,

Robert Hollander was the sort of literature professor to recommend “years of rereading” to understand a great book. To study his own favorite masterpiece, Dante Alighieri’s “The Divine Comedy,” Professor Hollander held himself to a yet higher standard. He mastered seven centuries of line-by-line commentary about the poem.

Such a body of writing more closely resembles Talmudic exegesis than literary criticism. Devotion to it is devotion to an extreme form of traditionalism. Yet the commentaries became, for Professor Hollander, the engine of his most innovative work.

Flipping around the Internet, I learned that Dante Della Terza, too, had died earlier this year (at 96). He was the great Dante scholar at Harvard. I went to see him three years ago. I’m so glad I did. Here is how my piece began:

“When I was a student, long ago, I heard about the famous Dante Della Terza,” I say. He says, “Dante Della Terza is me!” Yes, indeed. . . .

Dante Della Terza is one of the great dantisti, one of the great Dante scholars, of our time. They share a name, as you can see. It happened “innocently,” says the professor, with a smile. “That is what my mother named me.” He has another connection to Dante through his last name. The poet’s rhyme scheme, remember, is terza rima.

Some obits in Italy used the picture I took that day — a picture I am putting at the top of this post. What a spirit, Dante Della Terza. Indimenticabile (unforgettable).

Books

Peter Hitchens on the Marriage of Marxism and Consumerism

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From this review in The Lamp magazine of Helen Andrews’s book, Boomers: The Men and Women Who Promised Freedom and Delivered Disaster:

It was in the communist world that today’s socioeconomic hell — the hideous love-child of Deng Xiaoping and Margaret Thatcher — was pioneered. The Soviets had the compulsory two-earner household, with its children condemned to government nurture and raised to love the Party above their parents. They had its weak parents and state-dependent adults, and its incessant divorce, all leading to an eviscerated and futile caricature of marriage, to the point where marriage was drained of all meaning and power. They just did not have the post-1990 combination that almost nobody saw coming: the endless electronic consumerism, through which we may try to buy back our lost happiness and freedom in the form of pleasure and drugged stupor. If they had managed that, the U.S.S.R. would still be there, as Mao’s China is. Marxism really is not the enemy of consumerism. When it realized it needed to care more about the mind and morality than about money, it rejuvenated itself and made the future its own again. That was what the 1960s were really about. Capitalism, understanding this, has made its peace with the revolution. Having grasped that it can flourish in the absence of freedom and Christianity, it also now understands that it has no need or wish to keep its proletarians poor. On the contrary, they need to be affluent or indebted enough to purchase its products.

Politics & Policy

The Community College Alternative

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Harper College instructor Scott Nelson (left) shows students a welding technique on the community college campus in Palatine, Ill., in 2013. (John Gress/Reuters)

Not so long ago, most Americans thought that “real” college meant a four-year school. Those who earned their bachelor’s degrees had a mark of distinction, whereas anyone who attended a community college branded himself as a loser.

Things are changing. More and more people understand that a bachelor’s degree might represent four years of fun and academic nonsense, indicating little about the holder other than persistence. On the other hand, quite a few Americans avail themselves of useful training programs offered at community colleges. In fact, it’s not uncommon for BA holders to eventually enroll in a community college for some beneficial program.

In today’s Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins interviews Thomas Stith, the president of North Carolina’s community college system.

One good development appears to be the improved alignment between the training and apprenticeship programs offered and the personnel needs of business in the state. Another interesting feature is dual enrollment, which allows high-school students to take community college classes, thus possibly enabling them to get into the workforce sooner.

Another point Stith mentions is that the NC system is not trying to emulate “real” colleges by going into four-year programs. Four-year degrees for the most part just mean more cost, not more learning.

I am always skeptical about anything government does, but it appears that the taxpayers of the state might be getting pretty good value for the money they spend on community colleges.

Education

To CRT or Not to CRT?

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Ibram X. Kendi on CBS This Morning in 2019. (CBS This Morning/via YouTube)

So are we doing the thing where we are pretending that curriculum, instruction, and materials can’t be determined by school boards and state legislatures and should be left to radical education consultants who are hired by bureaucrats?

What is popularly known as critical-race theory in education debates is, effectively, an omnibus term for a series of propagandistic approaches to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) that are common in the corporate business sector, along with certain contested ideas about the extent and nature of systemic racism, and the appropriate remedies that follow.

Presenting these ideas in propagandistic mode is more common in business and in private schools, but you can find public-school teacher training with insane ravings such as how “objectivity” is “white supremacy culture” and Portland-area public schools where elementary-school children “do the inner work to figure out a way to acknowledge how you participate in oppressive systems”.

Whether to include or exclude these materials and curricula is a political decision. If a school system or a state legislature wants to teach Ibram X. Kendi–style social revolution, or to treat it as they would white-supremacist propaganda, is a prudential matter.

The various proposed bills banning “CRT” in schools are a mixed bag, and a first draft of restricting the propagandizing of students in places where the school board and state legislatures do not want students taught that a “sense of urgency” is white-supremacy culture. The places where school boards and state legislatures do want such instruction will have it, but it should be made with the understanding of the public. So it goes.