Reason Bounded by Experience

The Constitution by Barry Faulkner, Mural the Rotunda of the Capitol. Source: National Archives

To say legislation is not a discretely rational exercise is not to say it is positively irrational. But what of the fundamental law that is often taken to be the apex of legislative reason: the Constitution of the United States?

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Millennials, Technology, and Short Attention Spans

Obviously, the way in which culture and ideas are presented have changed in recent decades.  One often hears that we are in a world of short attention spans.  Thus, people don’t read books anymore.  They read short pieces on the internet, like blogs.  People don’t listen to albums any more, they download songs instead.  This short attention span is also thought to be reflected in the use of cell phones, with people constantly multi-tasking and not being able to focus on one matter at a time.  All of this is sometimes thought to be a reflection on the undisciplined habits of mind of the younger generation.

But that’s not my view.  To begin with, it seems clear to me that the causation runs in the opposite direction.  It is not the short attention span or undisciplined minds of the young that is causing this.  Instead, it is the technology that promotes these behaviors that is the primary cause. Part of the proof for this is that older people, who presumably had more disciplined minds back in the day, often behave in much the same way as the younger people when using this new technology.

Another problem with a short attention span being the cause of this behavior comes from the world of modern TV shows, especially of the pay TV or cable variety.  The old style TV shows could be watched in any order.  They were designed that way.  One could watch All In The Family or ER in pretty much any order.  There was a reason for this: in a world with either no or limited VCRs, people could not be expected to catch every TV show in order.

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Fear Not, the Federal Reserve’s Relevance Is Declining by the Day

United States Federal Reserve System symbol.

“The sole use of money is to circulate consumable goods.” – Adam Smith

 

In a recent op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Morgan Stanley economist Ruchir Sharma observed that while the world is seemingly “turning inward,” this comes “in a period when countries are more beholden than ever to one institution, the U.S. Federal Reserve.” Interesting about Sharma’s piece is that if anything, it revealed the Fed’s growing irrelevance.

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Standards v. Diversity in Law School Accreditation

The ABA has generated a revealing debate between those who want to strengthen law schools’ accreditation standards and advocates of diversity. Given the many recent stories about law students burdened by huge debt and yet unable to pass the bar, the ABA is considering requiring law schools to get 75 percent of their students to pass the bar within two years to retain accreditation.. Put aside for the moment arguments that we should not require graduation from an accredited law school to take the bar—arguments with which I have some sympathy. Assuming states do accredit law schools, it hardly seems like a draconian requirement that a large majority of their graduates be able to pass the bar

But a variety of schools and groups have objected that this requirement will threaten diversity, because minority candidates from lower ranked schools fail the bar at substantial rates.  This argument seems a desperate one.

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George Will’s Constitution

Constitution word written wood block. Wooden ABC

George Will has enjoyed a long career as a public intellectual, an especially illustrious one for a Right-of-center figure. For over four decades, Will’s commentary has appeared in intellectual magazines and newspapers including National Review, the Washington Post, and Newsweek. He has many books to his name as well as a widely syndicated newspaper column, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1977. A Ph.D. from Princeton, he’s also a familiar talking head on television, often sporting a bow tie and playing the role of the sober, erudite Washington insider.

Those four decades have been a tumultuous period in our political culture; it would not be surprising if Will’s political views had evolved over that time, and indeed they have. His 1983 book, Statecraft as Soulcraft, was a full-throated paean to strong-government Tory conservatism, in the Burkean tradition. He has lately been tacking in the libertarian direction.

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How Did Our Politics Go Insane?

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Jonathan Rauch of the Brookings Institution, a dear friend and one of the nation’s most insightful and thoughtful political observers, explains in a provocative Atlantic piece “How American Politics Went Insane.” The short answer, more fully elaborated in Jonathan’s earlier e-book, is disintermediation—that is, the demolition of political structures and mechanisms that, in a system of divided powers, make politics work and enable “middlemen” and power brokers to protect the system against crazies. Primaries and campaign finance reforms have weakened the parties. The destruction of the seniority and committee system has disabled Congress from legislating even when a (latent) consensus does exist. “Open government” reforms  have constricted the space that is needed for political bargaining. The “pork” that once greased the system has mostly disappeared. Over time, the institutional immune system has collapsed. The ensuing chaos has produced further public disaffection and populist agitation against “the establishment.” It’s a feedback loop, and not a good one.

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Why Libertarians Should be Originalists

Richard Primus has argued that it would not make sense for a libertarian to be an originalist. But his arguments impose an unreasonably high standard for a libertarian’s choice of interpretive method, and reflect, like another recent post, a misunderstanding of originalism.

First, he says that the Constitution does not entrench libertarian principles as such.  True enough. Libertarianism is a philosophy of the twentieth century. The key provisions of the Constitution are from the late eighteenth and mid-nineteenth century. But for a libertarian  who wants to decide which constitutional interpretive philosophy should be instrumentally useful (to be clear that is not I), it should not matter that the Constitution does not perfectly capture libertarianism.  Instead, the question should be whether an originalist view would move constitutional law today toward  more libertarian results than plausible competing interpretive theories. And here the answer is yes.

First, the original Constitution sharply limited the scope of the federal government and constrained it through the separation of powers.

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Secondhand Gulag

Children Standing on a Fallen Statue of Stalin   (Photo by David Turnley/ Getty Images)

Svetlana Alexievich’s Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets can only be compared to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago (1973). It is an absolutely indispensable look into the human condition.

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The Libertarian Party Grows Up

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By the time Abraham Lincoln had won the election of 1860, the young Republican party had been through significant upheaval and ferocious infighting but it had a very general set of core values. It was a party opposed to the expansion of slavery along with two corollaries: granting land to independent farmers who didn’t use slavery, “free soil,” “free labor” and support for industrial development.

Just eight years later, during the administration of President Grant, many of the party’s founders had left the GOP to support Horace Greeley’s candidacy as a Democrat.  The party was nearly destroyed electorally over Reconstruction, unprecedented political corruption in the White House and several business contractions during the late 19th century.

New parties, particularly those caught up in a moment of changing political dynamics and crisis are subject to wild shifts and growing pains.  UKIP’s evolution in the UK is but one example of this trend.  It’s obvious that from election to election minor changes in the content and emphasis of platforms occur, but in potentially seismic political moments volatility can be much greater.  This is especially true within smaller political organizations that are not anchored to entrenched interests and established leadership.

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Paradise Lost?

Medieval Muslims in al-Andalus playing chess. From the Book of Games by King Alfonso X.

In 711 A.D., a Muslim raiding party, made up mostly of recently conquered and converted Berbers, crossed to Spain from Africa and unexpectedly defeated Roderic, the king of the Visigoths. This represented the farthest western expansion of the Ummayad Empire, which had come to power in 656 in the first Islamic Civil War, and whose seat was in Greek-speaking Damascus.

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