The Garland Texas Art Exhibit on Muhammad

The attack by radical Muslims on the Garland Texas event organized by Pamela Geller has been the subject of contentious debate.  I thought I would weigh in.

The Garland Texas show included an art exhibit and contest for the best cartoon of Muhammad.  Pamela Geller’s critics appear to have two main charges against her and the show:  That the show was insensitive towards the sentiments of religious Muslims and that the show provoked the attackers.

The charge that the show was insensitive towards religious Muslims is the more serious one.  There is no doubt that one should not say something simply because one has the freedom of speech to do so.  On the other hand, one should also not refrain from saying something simply because it will offend someone.  In these matters, it depends in part on the reasons why one is saying the thing.

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The Culture and Politics of Economic Growth

‘Why can’t a woman be more like a man?’ asked Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, expecting no proper answer. In another context, that of economics, he might have asked ‘Why can’t one country be like another?’

I thought of Henry Higgins as I read a letter recently in the Financial Times. It was written by an Irish civil servant in praise of German efforts to save their weaker brethren of the European Union.

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A British Victory for Liberty

David Cameron’s unexpected victory in the British elections Thursday is also an important victory for liberty. Rather than increasing spending after the financial crisis, he pursued what the left terms “austerity” policies. An austerity program is better described as a liberty program because it curbs the reach of the state by shrinking it. By contrast, government stimulus programs, like those supported by most of the intelligentsia in the UK and elsewhere, make the state more powerful by allowing politicians to direct a firehose of money where it will do them the most good.

Cameron’s constitutional thinking is sound as well. He wants to reform Britain’s relationship with the EU to make the latter more a free trade zone than a super state. Subsidiarity within a free trade zone can foster freedom while preserving accountable government. Within the UK, Cameron is also for the devolution of powers, not only in Scotland, but also in England, which should further align government with the people. Local jurisdictions could be more responsive to their citizens, and those who do not agree with the local politics may be able to move to another jurisdiction within the United Kingdom with policies they prefer.

Cameron’s differences with Ed Miliband’s Labor Party were huge.

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Aristocratic Morality Properly Understood

So this is really interesting:  The Court, according to John McGinnis, doesn’t really deliberate about the law when it comes to high-profile cases. It functions instead as a “cognitive elite”— the aristocratic part of a mixed regime.  It’s job, I guess, is to supply wisdom and virtue to counter popular and legislative ignorance and expediency. First off: I don’t know about the virtue part; after all, they were trained to be lawyers and not philosopher-kings. And if what they were doing were “cognitive” in the sense of listening to reason, why do they so often divide 5-4 on the high-profile cases? All reasonable men and women should assent to the truth. when they hear it.

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“We Will Fight for a Fair Contract!”

Labour movement, workers union strike

Until recently, the public paid little attention to government-labor relations. The subject is technical and the action backstage. Government workers in most states and municipalities work under collective bargaining agreements, the details of which are negotiated by representatives of the employees and the public employer. Eyes glaze over at this point (or before).

Not so fast, writes political scientist Daniel DiSalvo in his definitive account of America’s 50-year experiment with unionized public employment. Meticulously weighing an array of empirical studies, and drawing from a cross-country collection of newsworthy anecdotes, Government Against Itself: Public Union Power and Its Consequences concludes that public sector unions have transformed state and local politics, and mainly for the worse.

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Our Two Supreme Courts

Speaking at Northwestern University Law School this semester, Justice Elena Kagan may have revealed more than she intended.  Amidst her entertaining and witty remarks, she described two very different kinds of discussions that take place at the conferences where the justices decide cases.  In shorter conferences, the justices, in order of seniority, with the Chief going first, state their votes with brief statements of reasons.  Justice Kagan observed that shorter conferences tend to be the high profile cases that appear on the front page of the newspaper.  She surmised that further debate in these cases would likely make her colleagues irritated with those of opposing views.

She then described longer conferences, where the justices after stating their positions—sometimes tentative ones– entertain more general deliberations, trying to figure out exactly what the right answer should be.  They then focus on and often resolve thorny legal questions.  Justice Kagan said that during her time on the Court one of the longest conferences revolved around an obscure jurisdictional issue of the kind that would draw no public attention.

Justice Kagan’s remarks are consistent with my view that we have not one but two Supreme Courts. One is a political court, in which the justices play the aristocratic element in a mixed political regime. Today our aristocratic element consists not of landed nobles but the cognitive elite well represented in judiciary by those who graduated from the nation’s best law schools.

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The Differences Between the Political Parties

Bryan Caplan recently linked to one of his older posts arguing that there is not that much substantive difference between the political parties.  Bryan believes there are two big misconceptions about the differences between the parties:

The first big misconception is the parties’ key differences are substantive. They aren’t. Reps don’t want to get rid of the welfare state. Almost all Reps support spending a big chunk of GDP on America’s poor and old. And Dems don’t want anything like socialism. Almost all Dems want America to remain a country where markets are the default and people can get rich if they play their cards right.  So what is the “key difference” between the parties? Rhetoric.

The second big misconception is that the parties’ rhetoric makes sense on its own terms. It doesn’t. If Dems really cared about poor human beings, they would quit worrying about the American old, most of whom aren’t poor.  Similarly, if Reps really cared about “over-burdened” tax-payers, they would try to diminish the burden in the only sustainable way: Big cuts in spending. They would be crusading against the popular programs like Social Security and Medicare that absorb most of our tax dollars.

Bryan does offer some explanations for these phenomena:

I understand, of course, that if either party tried to bring its substance in sync with its rhetoric, it would go down in flames. . . . What’s going on? My best guess is that the rhetoric is the bone each party throws its idealists – “If you vote for us, we’ll pretend to want radical change.”

Let me address each of these points separately.  1. The Substantive Differences: Bryan’s post should be understood as part of long line of similar claims made by radicals of different stripes – the idea that the Democrats and the Republicans are not that different, that they are Tweedledum and Tweedledee.  And this understandable enough.  If you are a radical, by definition you favor significant change.  The differences between two moderate parties will seem small by comparison.

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Softly and Tenderly Democratic Shepherds Are Calling

herd of white sheep

General elections in modern democracies bore much of the population—perhaps most of it. They even seem to many a form of slow torture by means of constant and inescapable publicity and propaganda in favor of the nonentities who stand for public office. Nevertheless, it is dangerous to despise practical politics on the grounds that politicians are all the same, which is to say no good. Such indiscriminate disdain creates an opening for a more extreme and dangerous form of politics that preys upon universal discontent.

Still, in almost every Western democracy, there is a growing feeling that the political class (including its bureaucratic allies) has become more like a caste—a self-enclosed and self-perpetuating group of people that arrogates privileges to itself, through the enjoyment of which it insulates itself from the rest of the population, whose interests it has therefore no reason to share or understand. We the people increasingly believe that the division between the political class and everyone else is much greater than any factional divisions within the political class.

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FERC and the Fight in the Weeds

Here’s a quick update on two pending Supreme Court items, both of huge interest to a vast range of commercial actors and actually the country. Non-event: still no decision in Comptroller v. Wynne,  a “dormant” Commerce Clause case over the double taxation of income earned in interstate commerce. Next to Zivotofsky v. Kerry,  the Jerusalem passport case, Wynne is the only case still open from the Court’s November arguments. As I wailed here and here, the Court’s highly unusual cert grant in Wynne—to a state court, in a case involving no lower court splits and on a ruling that affirmed the…

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Overdue for Strict Scrutiny: Race Preferences and Cronyism at the University of Texas


Ironies abound in the long-running affirmative action case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, which has come before the U.S. Supreme Court (again) following its 2013 remand to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit for reconsideration.

Abigail Fisher’s cert petition is scheduled for conference later this month. In Fisher I, the Supreme Court decided by a vote of 7 to 1 (Justice Kagan abstaining) that the Fifth Circuit had failed to apply correctly Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), the inscrutable 5 to 4 decision that upheld the University of Michigan’s use of racial preferences in admissions based on Justice O’Connor’s controversial notion that, if necessary, race could be used as a factor to achieve the mix of minority students necessary to realize the perceived “educational benefits” of diversity.

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