Tag Archives: United States

D’Souza is a Travesty of an Analyst… and I have to let go of that…

Dinesh D’souza is speaking in a week here.  A student club is bringing him.  He is a travesty to literary analysis as he bases his whole “Obama wants to destroy America” on a wacky reading of Obama’s book.  I would get nothing out of going and challenging him.  But it irks me no one else might not.

Link to talk: http://susquehannavalleyconservatives.com/community-corner/

Stanley Fish says what I would like to: “This is disappointing. While a viewer could certainly disagree with D’Souza’s analysis of the genesis and emergence of Obama’s views, it is nevertheless an analysis to which one could respond in the usual spirit of intellectual debate by saying things like “you’ve left something out” or “you draw your conclusion too quickly.” But as the movie picks up polemical speed, philosophy, political theory and psychology are left behind and replaced by name-calling, and by a name-calling that brings D’Souza close to positions he rejects. For instance, he rejects birtherism, the contention that Obama was born in Kenya and is hence not an American citizen; but he replaces it with a back-door, or metaphorical, birtherism when he characterizes Obama as an alien being, as a fifth-column party of one who has pretended to be an American, and technically is one, but really is something else.”  http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/27/obama-dsouza-and-anti-colonialism/

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Filed under Bucknell, Politics, Power, Activism, Scholars

Happy Belated Labor Day

x-posted at Biz Gov Soc

I have been meaning to comment on labor day, this past Monday all week. There is some kind of irony in Bucknell’s lack of observance of labor day. Do we not think learning and teaching are “work”? Of course some classes of employees are off, but not students nor faculty. I am not whining about wanting a day off, just wondering what the institution is say9ing, or not, in its scheduling choices. Bucknell aside, what are they key “issues” of the day, as C. Wright Mills would have us describe them? What is the state of working for a living in the ol’ US of A? The NY Times provided two interesting views on labor on the day in question. First, Robert Reich, professor (but Micheal Reagan thinks this is a disqualification to speak on matters of bread and butter), former Labor Secretary under Clinton, author, and very funny short man (one of his book titles was Let Me Be Short) tackles the two big issues of the day: the stagnant economy and rising inequality. Reich provides an interesting set of graphs to accompany his points. (Click to enlarge). First, the evidence: productivity is up, incomes are flt, and the wealthiest are wealthier at a faster rate than everyone else. Whether this is a problem or not can be divided into two pieces. First- are there negative effects to rising inequality? Second- can rising inequality understood not as a problem, but as the outcome of a more virtuous process? In this case, the process would be a well-functioning economy that allows individuals to find their own optimal point of rewards in the labor market relative to what they put into it (effort, capital). In other words, a free market will produce inequality as a result of liberating the engines of wealth-seeking. I’ll leave it to a reader to determine whether or not the inequality is a problem. The data are clear and it should be beyond debate that there is increasing inequality. His chart sums up the explanation of why. Wages stagnated starting around 1980, but the great “middle class” of America kept spending thereby creating enough demand to sustain economic growth for the producers of America (and the world). How did they do it? First,WOMEN. The women moved into the workforce in massive numbers. Whether it was to express their autonomy, enact a feminist vision of gender-equality, or to make the ends meet, the raw fact is they entered the economy. AS historians and sociologists have pointed out, this was really a re-entry into labor as the myth of the domestic, lesiure-oriented housewife was a historical anomaly. From hunter-gatherers to pioneer homesteads to early industrial work in homes, women did much, if not most, work. Second, taking on debt. Lots of it. At some point in the recent past, the average US household savings rate was negative. Negative! I remember when I heard this , it was like a punch to the stomach. You can’t sustain that. Blind faith in rising house prices and the slick sales pitches of elements of the mortgage industry played a big part in the bloating of debt. Anyway, that brings our story quite nicely up to the stories of the housing bubble, the role of Wall street in the bubble, and then AIG and the other Wall Street players at the center of the “great recession.” The other article, by Harvard Business school professors (woo hoo! Go Management Scholar), Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, shifts our focus from the buig picture to the small details of everyday work. At their conclusion, they offer this seemingly unobjectionable thought: “Work should ennoble, not kill, the human spirit.” This reminds me of another irony of labor day- shouldn’t we work on labor day? My grade school had school on MLK day so we could learn about him and the history of civil rights in our country. Anyway, digressions aside, what Amabile and Kramer found is disheartening: most professionals are disengaged, frustrated, and disatsified with work. They are unhappy. Using a HUGE amount of data (12,000 diary entries form 238 “professional” employees), they found that 33% were unhappy. What would make them happier? Is it some sort of Enron-like PRC with huge bonuses attached to the best reviewed? No. Is it little rewards and trophies? No. Is it more pay overall? No. Is it getting to lord over a prized working spot over co-workers? No. What is most motivating is making progress on meaningful work. So, Edward Freeman’s “responsibility hypothesis”– that people innately want to take responsibility for their work, finds some empirical evidence. Meanwhile, I am reminded of a clip from a food documentary I saw at our campus theatre the other day: Fresh. Chicken Farmers talk about how it is so hard to find people to “process” chickens (butcher) that they use work crews form a local prison to do it. Can manual labor be as meaningful as the professionals in Amabile and Krmaer’s study long for? Can butchering chickens be experienced as meaningful work? Or would simply paying more (and thereby reversing a little the flow of wealth Reich talks about) do more good? Do my students feel their academic assignments are meaningful work? Do I, as a professor-manager, provide the tools to enable them to be motivated by progress on meaningful work?

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Filed under economics, Political Economy, sociology

Political Typology Quizzes Annoy Me

I put this on Facebook.  Then, 40 minutes later, I had this stab at an explanation…

According to this: http://www.theadvocates.org/quiz I’m a a “liberal.” And in this one I am “solid liberal” or “post-modern” depending on how I answer. http://people-press.org/typology/quiz/. Why do I find myself arguing with lots of liberals then?

I find myself able to take either side in almost all of these forced choice pars in these things.  They are designed to squeeze people into set categories.  Neither one of them even has “progressive” as a political ideology.  I am not sure it is one, but it is worth thinking about. Off the top of my head, an embrace of pragmatism as an approach to knowledge and action is part of being progressive.  Let’s talk about what can work for this problem and not look to “ideology” to decide how we should approach an issue.

Three examples come to mind.

One, schools and religion.  I don’t think banning any whisper of religion from public schools is the best reading of the establishment clause.  As  I get it, even the supreme court recognizes religious expression as a form of culture.  The bright line is coercion or proselytizing.  However, for many schools or other public entities, it is simpler to ban than to handle the nuance of deciding if a menorah, cross, or whatever is clearly cultural as opposed to endorsement of a religion.  To pull it off, you need to trust officials to use judgement.  So, a pragmatic response is to figure out how to balance trusting judgement with means to redress clear violations of religious freedom and the establishment clause.

Second, educational funding.  I had an interesting discussion the other day with a friend and I mentioned that I would rather have MORE diversity among schools, and if a school choice- voucher system accomplishes that, fine.  Basically, focus public education policy on some broad outcomes and free up schools to differentiate and yes, compete, for families and their students.  Among his concerns was what happens if school officials are given too much autonomy and they enact discrimination or other harms.  He is invoking racial segregation under Jim Crow.  I get it; we don’t want to re-create that, but a system where each family and each school can be distinctive is not the same as forcing some to go to inferior schools.  Smaller schools that can create a sense of difference and cohesion will work better and hence a liberal approach of equalizing inputs through enforced sameness is a mistake.

Third, the tax code.  I believe in progressive taxes.  There are two reasons.  One, the wealthiest should pay more proportionally because their wealth is created and supported by more of government spending- courts, police, military, transportation, disaster relief, education (yes, we pay to educate the workers who create value in firms the wealthiest own).  Two, apart from economic fairness, we believe in social fairness.  Capitalism always exacerbates inequality and therefore it is good to tax progressively to create avenues to reduce inequality.  The periods of the greatest amount of activity to reduce inequality in the US, roughly the 1930s to the 1980s, saw the lowest rates of inequality.  Since the onset of neo-liberal economics in the a980s, roughly, economic growth increased along with gross measures of inequality.   Anyway, this is my case for progressive taxation.

However, that does not mean defending the current status quo tax code (at the federal level).  I’ve not done the math or seen anyone else do it, but I can imagine getting behind a simplified, progressive, LOWER set of tax rates.  The complexity of the tax code sucks up a lot of human capital.  Is it necessary?  Well, yes, for me.  I can’t stand doing income taxes.  What would happen if we had federal marginal rates at 0% (for people at living wage or less), 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25%  No other exemptions or deductions.  This would decouple a dynamic national economy, as well as personal financial decisions like getting a mortgage, from the tax code.

It would also obsolesce a chunk of the accounting profession.  But maybe their human capital could be redirected to tasks that they may like more and may create other economic or social value…

But, as to typology and ideology, I’ve never seen a “liberal” politician discuss anything like this.

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Filed under Political theory, Politics, Power, Activism

Kill this Neologism Now- “Majority-Minority.”

Put this on FB this morning.

Heard news peeps, based on recent census, describing how the US will become a “majority-minority” nation by 2020 or so.  Can we kill that phrase now?  If no single group is more than 50%, it is called pluralism folks.  Or, multiculturalism.  Or anything but majority-minority.


Among various problems. it perpetuates some idea that white majority is the natural or desired state of the USA.  Look, when the “white” population falls below 50% it is just not the majority.  OK?  Deal with it.  The term sounds like whities get together at my house on Wednesday while the blacks, browns, yellows, reds, and all other hues get together at Denzel Washington’s.  It is just not that bipolar anymore.  I’m not saying some sort of utopia of “i’d like to sing the world a song” will happen, just that identity, justice, controversy, politics, love and marriage, and schooling will be full of problems and promises in new ways.

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Filed under Politics, Power, Activism, Research, sociology

Torture still not cool.

Short thought:

Even IF the attack on Osama BL had been 100% due to torturing prisoners, it would not mean a vindication of the torture cheerleaders. Why? 1) It is only a colossal failure of the imagination to think that any action is the result of one and only one course of action. There are always other ways. 2) What price can we put on our national integrity? As John McCain said once: it is not about them, it is about us.

Source for McCain (WaPo article 2005):

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Filed under activism, Terrorism, Torture