DR Editor in Economic Affairs

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My article “Is Commerce Good for the Soul?: An Empirical Assessment” was published in the latest issue of Economic Affairs. The abstract reads,

Numerous empirical studies suggest that market exchange helps (a) create the conditions for liberal values to flourish, (b) refine our sense of fairness, (c) promote cooperation with those who are different from ourselves, (d) develop networks of mutual trust and trustworthiness, (e) generate tolerance and respect towards others, and (f) undermine hostility and conflict in favour of peace. This article reviews this empirical evidence and argues that markets make us better people, morally speaking.

You can read the full thing here. Check it out.

Half of Us Are Now Middle Class

From the Brookings Institution:

For the first time since agriculture-based civilization began 10,000 years ago, the majority of humankind is no longer poor or vulnerable to falling into poverty. By our calculations, as of this month, just over 50 percent of the world’s population, or some 3.8 billion people, live in households with enough discretionary expenditure to be considered “middle class” or “rich.” About the same number of people are living in households that are poor or vulnerable to poverty. So September 2018 marks a global tipping point. After this, for the first time ever, the poor and vulnerable will no longer be a majority in the world. Barring some unfortunate global economic setback, this marks the start of a new era of a middle-class majority.

The authors classify the middle class as “households spending $11-110 per day per person in 2011 purchasing power parity, or PPP.” They “have some discretionary income that can be used to buy consumer durables like motorcycles, refrigerators, or washing machines. They can afford to go to movies or indulge in other forms of entertainment. They may take vacations. And they are reasonably confident that they and their family can weather an economic shock—like illness or a spell of unemployment—without falling back into extreme poverty…In the world today, about one person escapes extreme poverty every second; but five people a second are entering the middle class. The rich are growing too, but at a far smaller rate (1 person every 2 seconds).” 

Number of people who are Poor, Vulnerable, Middle Class, and Rich Worldwide

Sing it, Paul.

Scholarship or “Scholarship”?

A group of academics performed another Sokalesque sting operation, but took it to eleven with multiple articles in multiple journals.

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The authors explain,

We spent that time writing academic papers and publishing them in respected peer-reviewed journals associated with fields of scholarship loosely known as “cultural studies” or “identity studies” (for example, gender studies) or “critical theory” because it is rooted in that postmodern brand of “theory” which arose in the late sixties. As a result of this work, we have come to call these fields “grievance studies” in shorthand because of their common goal of problematizing aspects of culture in minute detail in order to attempt diagnoses of power imbalances and oppression rooted in identity.

How did they come up with ideas for papers?:

Sometimes we just thought a nutty or inhumane idea up and ran with it. What if we write a paper saying we should train men like we do dogs—to prevent rape culture? Hence came the “Dog Park” paper. What if we write a paper claiming that when a guy privately masturbates while thinking about a woman (without her consent—in fact, without her ever finding out about it) that he’s committing sexual violence against her? That gave us the “Masturbation” paper. What if we argue that the reason superintelligent AI is potentially dangerous is because it is being programmed to be masculinist and imperialist using Mary Shelley’s Frankensteinand Lacanian psychoanalysis? That’s our “Feminist AI” paper. What if we argued that “a fat body is a legitimately built body” as a foundation for introducing a category for fat bodybuilding into the sport of professional bodybuilding? You can read how that went in Fat Studies.

At other times, we scoured the existing grievance studies literature to see where it was already going awry and then tried to magnify those problems. Feminist glaciology? Okay, we’ll copy it and write a feminist astronomy paper that argues feminist and queer astrology should be considered part of the science of astronomy, which we’ll brand as intrinsically sexist. Reviewers were very enthusiastic about that idea. Using a method like thematic analysis to spin favored interpretations of data? Fine, we wrote a paper about trans people in the workplace that does just that. Men use “male preserves” to enact dying “macho” masculinities discourses in a way society at large won’t accept? No problem. We published a paper best summarized as, “A gender scholar goes to Hooters to try to figure out why it exists.” “Defamiliarizing,” common experiences, pretending to be mystified by them and then looking for social constructions to explain them? Sure, our “Dildos” paper did that to answer the questions, “Why don’t straight men tend to masturbate via anal penetration, and what might happen if they did?” Hint: according to our paper in Sexuality and Culture, a leading sexualities journal, they will be less transphobic and more feminist as a result.

We used other methods too, like, “I wonder if that ‘progressive stack’ in the news could be written into a paper that says white males in college shouldn’t be allowed to speak in class (or have their emails answered by the instructor), and, for good measure, be asked to sit in the floor in chains so they can ‘experience reparations.’” That was our “Progressive Stack” paper. The answer seems to be yes, and feminist philosophy titan Hypatia has been surprisingly warm to it. Another tough one for us was, “I wonder if they’d publish a feminist rewrite of a chapter from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.” The answer to that question also turns out to be “yes,” given that the feminist social work journal Affilia has just accepted it. As we progressed, we started to realize that just about anything can be made to work, so long as it falls within the moral orthodoxy and demonstrates understanding of the existing literature.

What were the results? 7 papers were accepted (including one recognition of excellence), 2 were revised and resubmitted, 1 was still under review, 4 were in limbo, and 6 were rejected. Here are a few highlights:

The put it crudely, the paper argued that men should have the “rape culture” trained out them in ways similar to dogs. Reviewers described it as an “incredibly innovative, rich in analysis, and extremely well-written and organized given the incredibly diverse literature sets and theoretical questions brought into conversation.” More telling, the editor wrote to them,

As you may know, GPC is in its 25th year of publication. And as part of honoring the occasion, GPC is going to publish 12 lead pieces over the 12 issues of 2018 (and some even into 2019). We would like to publish your piece, Human Reactions to Rape Culture and Queer Performativity at Urban Dog Parks in Portland, Oregon, in the seventh issue. It draws attention to so many themes from the past scholarship informing feminist geographies and also shows how some of the work going on now can contribute to enlivening the discipline. In this sense we think it is a good piece for the celebrations. I would like to have your permission to do so.”

To sum up, the paper argues that social justice warriors shouldn’t be made fun of, but that they maintain the right to make fun of others. One reviewer wrote, “Given the emphasis on positionality, the argument clearly takes power structures into consideration and emphasizes the voice of marginalized groups, and in this sense can make a contribution to feminist philosophy especially around the topic of social justice pedagogy.” Another thought it was an “Excellent and very timely article!” 

Bottom-line: feminazi is apparently a thing. The reviewers found it “interesting,” stating that the “framing and treatment of both neoliberal and choice feminisms well grounded.” In their view, the paper had “potential to generate important dialogue for social workers and feminist scholars.”

If you will excuse the language, this is why others have referred to this brand of scholarship as scholarsh*t.

You can see what other academics are saying about the hoax here.

Sorting out meta-narratives around the Kavanaugh question

Kavanaugh has been cleared from the committee to the Senate floor. Sen. Jeff Flake, a crucial swing vote, has said he will vote for Kavanaugh on the floor if and only if an FBI investigation of no more than one week is completed into the claims. Trump has authorized such an investigation, saying that it must be no more than one week and may only look into currently pending credible allegations.

In the coming week, our national discourse will center around the issue of whether or not Kavanaugh should be confirmed.

And in all of the talking, we will make points either for or against Kavanaugh’s nomination, some points good and some points bad. These points will form part of a narrative, making up a way to look at the issue. And as we argue, more and more of the narrative will get beaten down to just the central nuggets of it, which I’m going to call a meta-narrative. While the narrative is formed from the arguments we make and the stories we tell about the situation, the meta-narrative is what motivates our formation of those narratives. And so in the interest of pushing us along further, I think I’d like to strip us down to just the meta-narratives in this discussion.

Hopefully, knowing what the meta-narratives are can help us discuss this in a way that isn’t emotionally traumatic to too many people, and get closer to the truth of what we want as a nation.

I’d like to say that there are two, but I think there are four. Two of them I consider beneath consideration. Those two are as follows, with the names I will give them for this post:

  • Liberalizing: Kavanaugh can’t be confirmed because he will be Trump’s second SCOTUS nominee and the 5th conservative on the Court, after which, for a long while, we can expect the Court to rule in favor of conservatives in any major political issue.
  • Conservatizing: Kavanaugh must be confirmed because he will be Trump’s second SCOTUS nominee and the 5th conservative on the Court, after which, for a long while, we can expect the Court to rule in favor of conservatives in any major political issue.

No one would ever say that this is their position; but people do in fact hold these meta-narratives, and they bubble forth in the sorts of arguments that they will end up making either for or against. I think these are beneath consideration because they are sub-rational and purely tribal. Notice that neither of these meta-narratives really cares about whether Kavanaugh is guilty, whether Dr. Ford is telling the truth, whether or not Kavanaugh has been unfairly smeared by the press for the auxiliary other charges, or anything. It only cares about who has the Court. And honestly, it’s a sad disgrace to our nation that we’d go to this level.

In the Liberalizing meta-narrative, any charge, at all, is worth disqualifying him over, no matter how ridiculous. Kavanaugh fighting on a boat in Rhode Island? Sure, why not. Kavanaugh participating in organized gang rape rings as a teenage boy of 15? Sure, why not. Throw whole fistfuls of spaghetti against the wall, see what sticks.

In the Conservatizing meta-narrative, no charge, at all, is worth disqualifying him over, no matter how credible or serious. Ford is probably lying; but if she isn’t, then she’s probably misremembering; but if she isn’t, then it doesn’t matter because it was a long time ago; and it wasn’t even that bad anyway, she should get over it.

So let’s just table these two indefinitely. Real people are driven by these meta-narratives, but they are really only strawmen positions. Let’s look to rational people, who want to examine the issue fairly, if not dispassionately. These meta-narratives, to me, are the ones worth discussing.

  • Victim-Affirming: The confirmation on Kavanaugh is a referendum on how we as a nation respond to survivors of sexual assault and rape. If we deny him the Court, we are sending the message to millions of women (or men) that when you come forward we will hear you and we will take action, even at the highest levels of power. And if we vote to confirm him, we are sending the message to those same millions that we won’t take you seriously and your voice is powerless.
  • Decency-Affirming: The confirmation on Kavanaugh is a referendum on how we as a nation respond to the ritual defamation tactics exhibited by Democrats, the press, and others driven by the Liberalizing meta-narrative. If we confirm him to the Court, we will deny this sort of tribalistic tactic and prevent it from being reinforced and send the message that this will not work. If we deny him the Court, we are sending the message to Democrats (and then to Republicans, and then to the nation more broadly) that when we do not like your opinions on politics, we have carte blanche to descend to the level of the Salem witch hunts in attacking every aspect of you we can find.

Now, if you’re politically liberal, then I know that you’re probably wondering why you should care about the Decency-Affirming meta-narrative. I know that you don’t like Kavanaugh, and you probably think he is actually guilty, and if he is actually guilty then why do we care about his reputation? I’ll get back to that.

The Victim-Affirming and Decency-Affirming meta-narratives provide an outlet that is actually concerned with the factual guilt or innocence of Kavanaugh under the claims.  Even if you think Victim-Affirmation is essential, you might not think it’s that essential when the person is innocent; and even if you think Decency-Affirmation is essential, you might not care all that much if the charges are actually true.  Both meta-narratives are serving ends beyond tribal politics, and ends that I’m going to say are both good.

Here are a few things we can draw from recognizing that both of these meta-narratives exist:

Firstly, if you are a victim of sexual assault, or a strong ally for victims of sexual assault, then please understand that anyone you know who is wavering towards Kavanaugh or firmly pro-Kavanaugh is probably not arguing within the same meta-narrative as you. Which is to say, you are interpreting a support of Kavanaugh within your meta-narrative, where supporting him means telling other survivors not to bother coming forward. Whereas the support may in fact be coming from the Decency-Affirming meta-narrative. No one is intending to send you this message, even though that is unfortunately the message being sent.

Secondly, if you are strongly concerned about the smearing of Kavanaugh in the press, then please understand that anyone you know who is leaning to Dr. Ford’s side or firmly and strongly on her side is also probably not arguing within the same meta-narrative as you. They are not necessarily intending to support the behavior of the Democrats or the press, even though that is also unfortunately the message being sent.

Seeing how both Victim- and Decency-Affirming meta-narratives send a bad message without intending to, I really hope will help both sides understand how this message can be sent, regardless of intention.

Thirdly, as mentioned but really worth reinforcing, the messages get sent regardless of intention. If you only want to send the message that we will believe and take seriously witnesses, then you also send the message that we can perform this same circus again in the future and it will work.  Maybe we’ll do it when it’s your guy up to the bench; or even when you yourself are u to the bench.  And if you only want to send the message that this circus is intolerable, indecent, and a threat to our democracy that we won’t stand for… then you also send the message that we’re not going to listen to future survivors of sexual assault. There’s no way to send both desired messages. There’s no way to send either desired message without sending an undesired message. That’s where we are.

And so I think this suggests a synthesis meta-narrative that will better serve us in this discussion.

  • Synthesis Meta-Narrative: We want to affirm the survivors of sexual assault, but we also want to strongly condemn the tactics of ritualistic defamation and press libel campaigns and set high standards. We can’t do both, and we need to decide which message is more important to send.

Now we are somewhere, at least, because I think reasonable people driven by this meta-narrative can see good and bad on both sides. We can construct points and arguments around this, and not have to assume someone else is holding a strawman position such as “witch hunts are cool” or “I like rapists.”

But hold on, you say. You’re a reasonable person, and you really don’t get the problem in the Decency-Affirming meta-narrative.

I can  understand it.  I am not a Republican, but I do lean conservative. I was very disappointed by Kavanaugh’s nomination. In his past, he has been instrumental in the Patriot Act and ruling on cases that greatly expand the power of the government to invade our privacy and kill us.  Like many on the left, I too immediately thought he looked like a frat-boy douchebag and spoke like he was about to go to a kegger with the broskis (and like many on the left I that means I immediately didn’t like him).  When the allegations came out, I was already indifferent on him, and was ready to put him away and move on to the next judge (hopefully Amy Coney Barrett), without even really caring if the charges were absolutely positively true.

But as the week progressed and more and more people driven either by the Liberalizing or Conservatizing meta-narratives made their arguments, things ramped up more and more. The Conservatizers’ denial that any of it mattered no doubt spurred the Liberalizers to think of even more things to bring out hoping just the sheer volume of charges would make it impossible to look away from them. I actually thought the Republicans on the committee (not the Republicans on random facebook comments; but the ones on the committee) were very accommodating to the charges, while the Democrats were clearly using the charges to their own political ends.

The insanity that gripped our media institutions closely resembles ritualistic defamation, afore alluded to.  This is a process identified by Laird Wilcox back int the 90’s, which describes the mentality of the Salem witch hunts, the McCarthy hearings, the anti-Jewish pogroms of Europe, and the violence of the Inquisition.  You can walk through those points and see how all of them are applicable here.  Some key points of this are: that the defamation is ultimately indifferent to the actual charges presented, and only begins because a social taboo is violated; the subject of the defamation becomes the representation of the worst form of the accusation (such as a leader of organized rape gangs); and any form of defense is irrelevant and interpreted only as further evidence of guilt.

All this withstanding, I decided firmly that I was not going to let the behavior of the Democrats and their press influence my opinion on the truthfulness of Dr. Ford.  I would listen to her present her testimony, and on the basis of the hearings come to my own conclusion on what to think about this all.

And she totally sold me. I can’t not believe that she’s telling the truth. And if I believe she’s telling the truth, the logical conclusion is that Kavanaugh did try to assault her and is thereby disqualified (both for the assault itself and for lying about it under oath).

All of this to say, I understand why you wouldn’t care about Kavanaugh: you think he’s a douchey frat boy who tried to rape a girl.

So then, don’t be worried about Kavanaugh, specifically.  Be worried about yourself, your friends, your family, your future sons or grandsons, or other men close to you. Just like you aren’t worried about Dr. Ford specifically, but worried about all the women in your life who might have been abused in the past or future by someone like Kavanaugh.

Setting aside Dr. Ford and her allegations (as I think they are vastly different), from the time she came forward with her story the press has been breathlessly repeating everything they can get anyone to say. They have canvassed basically the entire population of 1980’s Maryland hoping to find anyone else who is willing to say anything else about Kavanaugh. And the things they came up with were absurd on their face. The charges became so ridiculous newspapers have had to print retractions or clarifications or started refusing to print them in the first place. The Democrats have repeated these and encouraged this behavior. There could have been a way to settle this issue discretely, without a media circus, by means of a confidential Senate investigation. The Senate has those means. The witnesses could have been interviewed in person under threat of perjury, the evidence could have been examined, and a conclusion reached long ago, without having to bring either Dr. Ford or Kavanaugh out into the public for it. The Democrats purposefully did not do that, because they needed the last-minute feeding frenzy to delay the vote. The Democrats’ goal is really simple. They don’t care about Ford, they don’t care about her feelings, they don’t care about whether she was assaulted, they only care about the letter after Kavanaugh’s name (R) and keeping one more of those letters off the court.

Is this an acceptable way for a democracy to work? Is this even a functional way for a democracy to work?

I don’t think it can be. I don’t think we will be able to live together as a society if we can’t agree that this is not an acceptable process.

An acceptable process, as I alluded to, would have respected the confidentiality of Dr. Ford and not brought her name into the press, while at the same time investigated the serious and credible claims to see what other corroborating evidence could be found.

Today it’s Kavanaugh, and yeah, Trump appointed him and Trump’s bad. But in ten years Trump will be gone, and this new norm will remain. In ten years it will be you. And whether you’ve ever sexually assaulted anyone or not, we will know all it will take is the accusation that you did, and suddenly your entire life and career will be over, with global newspapers reporting you guilty of the very worst crimes a private individual is capable of. The standard is not being set at the level of “guilty”; it is going to be permanently set at the level of “accused.”  And while it’s not all that hard to avoid sexually assaulting anyone in your life, it’s a lot harder to be able to prove that you’ve never sexually assaulted anyone in your life.  This will not stay with Kavanaugh. This will become the new norm in all society as we quickly approach an abyss that I’m increasingly worried bottoms out in another civil war.

I realize now that I’m not giving any voice to explaining the Victim-Affirming side. That’s mostly because I consider it self-evident that telling survivors of sexual assault to stay silent is bad, whether we say it unintentionally or not. It’s also because I think I’m largely aiming this at reasonable liberals, who I assume are already there. But just for the sake completeness, rape or sexual assault is a terrible and evil thing, and when a woman (or a man) has suffered it, it is very difficult to come forward. It makes you feel weak and vulnerable, and also ashamed of yourself. The experience is traumatic, and most who suffer it want to just forget it and not give it any more space in their heads. Coming forward is extremely difficult for the survivors, but it is also extremely important that they do come forward. We need a world without rape or sexual assault. And we can move to that world only if the survivors of abuse feel confident in coming forward that they will be accepted and heard. And that respect for victims is also essential to the fabric of our society.  So it is important that we believe Dr. Ford, especially after her very vulnerable sworn testimony.

So what do we do?

I don’t know, really.

We can look at the evidence. If Kavanaugh is guilty, then he’s disqualified. On multiple levels.  No need to worry over negative messages.

But there isn’t a lot of evidence to help us decide this, and the evidence that exists is exculpatory. He kept a detailed calendar-diary of the summer in question that he clearly marked with his ongoings and whereabouts. The only entry that has been found that might the incident Dr. Ford described the entry for Timmy’s house, and it seems that Timmy’s house is actually 10 miles away from the Chevy Chase country club (according to information in the linked thread on democraticunderground), essentially ruling that option out. There were witnesses who Dr. Ford said were there, but they have said they either do not remember it or that it did not happen. We have Dr. Ford’s credible allegation, and Kavanaugh’s credible denial, the denial of witnesses, and a piece of exculpatory evidence.

A further piece of evidence may come in the form of what “boof” means. Many point to this as a possible lie. Kavanaugh said this was a fart joke, but according to many that is definitely not what it means. Since that isn’t what it means, that means Kavanaugh is guilty of perjury, and perjury disqualifies you from being on the Supreme Court. Whether you did rape a girl or not. If Kavanaugh lied during these questions, then we can dismiss him. However, I’m not sure how you can ever prove someone is lying about what he meant when he used a slang word 30 years ago.

Looking at the evidence that exists, it seems that Kavanaugh is probably innocent.

But then how do we make sense of Dr. Ford’s testimony? How can we possibly fit that into a picture of Kavanaugh’s innocence?

I again don’t know. 

Now, I’d like to reiterate. If the Liberalizing narrative hadn’t been spun about Kavanaugh raping puppies in New Mexico while free-basing the ashes of Hitler or whatever else it is, then I would think that Dr. Ford’s testimony, all by itself, would be enough to disqualify Kavanaugh, without new information. I think it wouldn’t matter because there would be no negative message to send by simply voting no on his nomination.

But that narrative was spun, and now there is a negative message to send.  And so I think we need a good reason before sending either.

I think that in the week ahead, we will get to this Synthesis meta-narrative, and start arguing about which message we really need to send. And I think most people are going to side with the Victim-Affirming side. And so I think Kavanaugh will ultimately not be confirmed.

In the meantime, I suppose the FBI investigation is the closest to a kind of compromise we can come to in the meta-narrative. It sends the message that we’re taking the claims seriously, or at least seriously enough to postpone a vote and investigate them. If the investigation finds nothing new (and I doubt it will), then Kavanaugh can be confirmed without necessarily sending the message that the allegation wasn’t taken seriously (obviously some people will still see it that way, but it is not as direct). If the investigation does find something new and finds Kavanaugh is guilty, he can be denied without sending the message that the ritualistic defamation that followed Dr. Ford’s allegation is also good.

Part of the problem, of course, will be when people driven by the Conservatizing or Liberalizing meta-narratives learn this, and begin using these talking points to their own strictly tribal ends. They are served by the fact that we have to send one of these messages, so even if a compromise is pointed out, it is in their interest to convince us that the compromise is not a compromise. They will be very loud about this.

In closing, I hope people of good faith on both sides of this divide can better understand why other people of good faith might be on the other side. I hope you can understand how to better have this conversation, to hopefully move us closer to the truth of the matter and to a best course of action. Disagreement with you doesn’t make someone evil or irratonal. There are irrational people in this discussion, and they exist on both sides. If we can agree on nothing else, let’s at least agree to politely ask the irrational people on our own side to shut up, so the adults can talk about this very serious problem facing our nation.

“The Captured Economy” Site

I picked up Brink Lindsey and Steve Teles’ book The Captured Economy last week at Half-Price Books and added it to my never-ending to-read list. Turns out they’ve created a website based on the book. They describe the site as follows:

Image result for the captured economyIn November 2017, Oxford University Press published The Captured Economy: How the Powerful Enrich Themselves, Slow Down Growth, and Increase Inequality. Coauthored by Niskanen Center scholars Brink Lindsey and Steven M. Teles, The Captured Economy argues that systematic breakdowns in democratic governance have allowed wealthy special interests to capture broad domains of the policymaking process and twist the rules for their own benefit. Steadily worsening “upward redistribution” via “regressive regulation” has contributed significantly to the American economy’s twin woes of stagnating growth and sky-high inequality.

This website builds on and expands the analysis provided in The Captured Economy. In the book, Lindsey and Teles briefly examined four broad policy areas that showcase the problem of regressive regulation: financial regulation, intellectual property protection, occupational licensing, and land-use regulation. They admitted, though, that space constraints permitted them to cover “only the tip of the iceberg.” This website is dedicating to explore the phenomenon in all its murky depths.

We begin by focusing on the four policy areas covered in the book, but over time we plan to include additional, related policy and issue areas. For each covered area, capturedeconomy.com will serve as a comprehensive repository of analysis and news, including not only academic research and journalistic analysis but also the latest news on policy developments. Our goal is to make capturedeconomy.com an indispensable resource for journalists, policymakers, and concerned citizens interested in better understanding and remedying the deep structural problems that afflict American policymaking and economic performance.

Seems like an exciting development.

The Economic Consequences of Gender Inequality

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BBC reports,

Saudi Arabia has issued driving licences to women for the first time in decades just weeks before a ban on female drivers is lifted. Ten women swapped their foreign licences for Saudi ones on Monday in cities across the country…”Expectations are that next week an additional 2,000 women will join the ranks of licensed drivers in the kingdom,” a statement from the Saudi information ministry said. It added that the 10 women who had collected their new Saudi licences had “made history”. “It’s a dream come true that I am about to drive in the kingdom,” Rema Jawdat, who received a licence, was quoted as saying by the ministry. “Driving to me represents having a choice – the choice of independent movement. Now we have that option.” The lifting of the driving ban was announced last September and is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s programme to modernise some aspects of Saudi society.

Saudi Arabia is an extreme case of gender inequality. But what is the economic impact of gender inequality? Here are some major findings from a May 2018 World Bank report:

  • Globally, women account for only 38 percent of human capital wealth versus 62 percent for men. In low- and lower-middle income countries, women account for a third or less of human capital wealth.
  • On a per capita basis, gender inequality in earnings could lead to losses in wealth of $23,620 per person globally. These losses differ between regions and countries because levels of human capital wealth, and thereby losses in wealth due to gender inequality, tend to increase in absolute values with economic development. For these reasons, in absolute terms the losses are largest in OECD countries.
  • Globally, for the 141 countries included in the analysis, the loss in human capital wealth due to gender inequality is estimated at $160.2 trillion if we simply assume that women would earn as much as men. This is about twice the value of GDP globally. Said differently, human capital wealth could increase by 21.7 percent globally, and total wealth by 14.0 percent with gender equality in earnings.

Read the full report here.

Thoughts on Alfie Evans

Anger is toxic, and it has no place in ordinary political disputes. I’m very reluctant to add to it.

And yet, it is less with anger and more with a sense of bone-deep bewilderment that I–reluctantly–read a few articles about Alfie Evans.

Aflie is a baby with a severe neurological affliction that–according to doctors–has left him in a vegetative state with no conceivable chance of recovery. This is tragic, and no one is to blame for Alfie’s condition.

The UK courts have decided that no further care should be given to Alfie because there’s no hope of his recovery. This is tragic, but also defensible. It’s not possible to expend unlimited resources on every tragic case, and hard calls have to be made.

But where things stop making sense to me is where the UK government has refused to allow Alfie to be transported to Italy for additional care. Alfie has been granted Italian citizenship, the Italian military sent a plane to UK to fly him to a hospital in Italy, and all of this was done–one guesses–largely in response to the Pope’s public support for Alfie.

The UK government’s response is, essentially, that Alfie’s parents don’t know what they’re doing. The doctors know better. That may be true. Even the Italian hospital admits it can do no more than keep Alfie alive while doctors study his case. No one things there is a miracle cure.

But here’s the thing: why does the UK government, or any group of doctors, get to decide?

It gets more baffling still. Now Alfie’s parents, haven given up on the Italian option, just want to take him home. But even that they cannot do unless the doctors say so. In what universe is that a morally defensible position to take? Quoting an anonymous British father:

When my son was born nearly 16 months ago, I found to my amazement that I could not take him home until a paediatrician had signed a small slip of paper, to be handed in at the exit, authorising his release. I joked to my wife that we were only parenting under licence from the State. It seems less of a joke now.

The last straw–and the cause of the anger I can’t deny I feel about this–is the insufferable arrogance of the UK politicians and medical experts. For example:

Lord Justice McFarlane said parents, like those of Alfie Evans, could be vulnerable to receiving bad medical advice, adding that there was evidence that the parents made decisions based on incorrect guidance.

and:

Hospital officials at Alder Hey say they have received “unprecedented personal abuse” from the global backlash to Alfie’s case. The Liverpool hospital has faced several protests in recent weeks, organized by a group calling itself “Alfie’s Army.”

“Having to carry on our usual day-to-day work in a hospital that has required a significant police presence just to keep our patients, staff and visitors safe is completely unacceptable,” the hospital’s chairman, Sir David Henshaw, and chief executive Louise Shepherd said.

Oh, is it “completely unacceptable” for people to protest what is essentially government-sanctioned kidnapping? I’m so sorry! I come from this crazy moral universe where parents–and not the government–are the guardians of their own children.

Or here’s another one:

Sometimes, the sad fact is that parents do not know what is best for their child,” Wilkinson said. “They are led by their grief and their sadness, their understandable desire to hold on to their child, to request treatment that will not and cannot help.

The UK was, in many ways, the birthplace of our political heritage of individual liberty and rights. It’s mystifying–and tragic–to see the sorry state of decay it has fallen into today.

So tell me, folks, am I missing some really vital aspects to this story that make it something other than a micro-dystopia?

DR Editor in BYU Studies Quarterly: “Ye Are No More Strangers and Foreigners”

I’m excited to announce that my article “”Ye Are No More Strangers and Foreigners”: Theological and Economic Perspectives on the LDS Church and Immigration” has been published in the latest issue of BYU Studies Quarterly. From the abstract:

Issue 57:1 CoverImmigration policy is controversial topic in 2018. In response to refugee crises and legal situations that can break up families, the LDS Church announced its “I Was a Stranger” relief effort and released a statement encouraging solutions that strengthens families, keeps them together, and extends compassion to those seeking a better life. This article seeks to shed light on a correct understanding of immigration and its effects. Walker Wright gives a brief scriptural overview of migration, explores the public’s attitudes toward immigration, and reviews the empirical economic literature, which shows that (1) fears about immigration are often overblown or fueled by misinformation and (2) liberalizing immigration restrictions would have positive economic effects.

From the editors:

Walker Wright’s article on religious and economic perspectives about immigration, strangers, and refugees is marvelously timely. He approaches the debate over immigration through a double lens: the Church’s official statements and scholarly research on the economic effects of immigration. He demonstrates that the Church’s accommodating approach is overwhelmingly supported by the research. Migration is often impelled by external pressures, but it is ultimately the voluntary response of those fleeing to improve their lives. Immigrants come unassigned, so people can reach out to them without needing to be asked (pg. 5).

The article is divided into the following sections:

  • “I Was a Stranger”
  • Migration in Scripture and Sacred History
  • Strangers, the Sin of Sodom, and Zion
  • Public Opinion on Immigration
  • The Economy as a Whole
  • Global Poverty
  • Refugees
  • Common Objections to Immigration
    • “Stealing” Jobs
    • Depressed Wages
    • Culture and Institutions
    • Fiscal Burden and Welfare Cost
    • Terrorism and Crime

Check it out. You can also access it on my Academia.edu page.

 

Wright vs. Hart: Which Translation is Better?

Translating the N. T. Wright and David Bentley Hart Tussle

I’m a big fan of both Anglican New Testament scholar N.T. Wright and Eastern Orthodox theologian David B. Hart and have read a number of books by both. A few years ago, Wright published his translation of the New Testament. Hart recently published his own translation through Yale University. And apparently, the two have been sparring over Hart’s translation. According to Christianity Today,

One notable scholar who does not appear to be particularly impressed by Hart’s translation is Wright, who is probably the closest thing current New Testament scholarship comes to having a celebrity. His review of Hart’s New Testament, published January 15 in The Christian Century, details a lengthy list of disagreements with Hart’s translation choices, and ends with the backhanded compliment that Hart’s translation is “as idiosyncratic as it is bold.”

Wright’s primary concern seems to be Hart’s understanding and use of language—both Greek and English. Hart claims his translation will in many parts be “an almost pitilessly literal translation,” intending to “make the original text visible through as thin a layer of translation as I can contrive to superimpose upon it.”

While Wright seems to respect what Hart is trying to accomplish, he nevertheless argues that instead of making the original text visible, Hart may actually be obscuring it by trying to render Greek syntax and idioms in English. “Greek and English, as Hart knows well, do not work the same way,” Wright argues. “… The strange English here has nothing to do with a cultural clash between the first Christians and ourselves.”

Hart didn’t waste any time in his response:

Hart’s rejoinder is, like Wright’s initial review, full of zingers and jabs and worth a full read. Hart grants Wright a few basic premises, then wades right into the details of Wright’s critique—meeting him point for point, and then some. Hart notes in the comments on the blog post that he was “annoyed … that Wright wrote any review at all … because he has a competing version out there [published in 2011], and it’s an old rule that one doesn’t write reviews—especially caustic reviews—of competing books.”

Hart characterizes Wright’s review as a “catalogue of complaints,” and thinks that Wright’s own work “suffers from a dangerous combination of the conventional and the idiosyncratic, with a few significant historical misconceptions mixed in … imposing meanings on the text that best conform to his own convictions, plausible or not.” Hart concludes one particular point about how to translate a noun in Greek that lacks an article by saying, “Here I am right and Wright is wrong,” but it would not be a stretch to say that this statement characterizes much of Hart’s response.

So what’s the heart of the issue? The article concludes,

Where Wright is trying to translate the Greek of the New Testament (replete with its Greco-Roman and Second Temple Jewish valences) into modern English, Hart instead is attempting to translate the Greek of the New Testament (in all of its original “mysteries and uncertainties and surprises”) in modern English.

For Hart, the focus is communicating the “strangeness” of the Greek words and phrases themselves, which occasionally requires dips into esoteric vocabulary in order to find just the right word and a willingness to forgo normal syntax in order to allow the “Greekness” to come through. By contrast, for Wright the focus is communicating the strangeness of what those Greek words were conveying, meaning removing as many barriers to receiving and understanding the difference between a first-century viewpoint and our contemporary one.

They are both aiming at very similar goals, but their methods are starkly different. They both want the original to shine through as much as possible, to give, as Wright puts it, “a first-hand … understanding of what the New Testament said in its own world.” For Hart, this means making English say things as “Greekly” as he can manage; for Wright, it means making English mean Greek things as much as he can.

The translations of both of these scholars are impressive achievements, and both deserve praise and appreciation for their careful and dedicated work to produce them. Neither is necessarily “better” or “more faithful” than the other; they are simply aimed at different things (as their acrimonious repartee displays). Likewise, as both scholars attest in their introductions, neither of these translations is intended nor fit for regular use in church or for devotion. Rather, they both serve as valuable and faithful opportunities to encounter the text of the Bible anew and afresh.

Read the whole thing.

Campus Free Speech Crisis a Myth?

The WaPo has an article claiming that there is no free-speech crisis, and providing stats to back up the claim. The article did not convince me. Here’s why.

It’s Not Just About Free Speech

The decline of free speech on college campuses is not the root problem; it’s a concerning symptom of a broader malady. In particular, the folks who are concerned about this issue posit that there’s a tendency of a radical minority to shut down political discourse as a political tactic. Although a lot of problems in the country are bipartisan, this one isn’t. It’s a peculiarly left-wing malady that reflects a growing contempt by many on the modern left for the values of liberalism that once defined it. I mean liberal in the old sense of the word, as in emphasizing individualism.

This isn’t an accusation from the outside, by the way, it’s an avowed element of one of the core intellectual components of Critical Race Theory. One definition states flatly that “CRT also rejects the traditions of liberalism and meritocracy.”

So it’s not that there’s this explicitly anti-free speech trend in college campuses. It’s that there’s a virulent new ideology that uses attacks on free speech as a first resort.

Not All Speech is Equal

This being the case, looking for general survey results that attack free speech is misguided on multiple levels. First, it’s possible that the anti-free speech crowd are too small to register much in surveys but still powerful enough to create a climate of fear. In fact, that’s basically exactly what people concerned about this issue are saying. Second, even if you can get a survey with enough granularity to pick up on this minority, they aren’t opposed to free speech in all cases, but only in some cases. If you ask them about the wrong cases, you won’t measure anything at all.

Bearing that in mind, what kind of survey does the WaPo piece rely on? One that asks whether or not gay people should be allowed to give a speech. I kid you not. That, and an example about an anti-American Muslim cleric, are the leading examples. If you wanted to design survey results to be willfully blind to the actual concern, you couldn’t do better than this.

What are We Trying to Measure?

Speaking of willfully blind, the last section cites research by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education that there were only 35 no-platforming attempts in 2017 with only 19 being successful. So, “In a country with over 4,700 schools, that hardly constitutes a crisis.”

The meaningless of this statistic is impressive, given that Jeffrey Adam Sachs went to the trouble of finding and citing a dataset, but apparently not copy-pasting it into Excel to do some super-basic charting. Your first question might be, “Well, 35 attempts in 2017 doesn’t sound too bad, but is there a trend?” That would be anybody’s first question, I’d think, and here’s what that chart looks like:

Well, gee. There’s an upward trend if ever I saw one. And remember, we said that this was an ideologically-biased trend. FIRE helpfully sorts the no-platforming attempts into left and right, so what does that breakdown look like?

We’ve got a more or less flat line from the right, and a pronounced, multi-year upward trend for the left starting a little less than 10 years ago. It’s almost as though all those people who are worried about a disturbing new anti-free speech trend coming from the political left might have something in the data to substantiate their concerns! Again: the same dataset that Sachs cited (but apparently didn’t really look at).

This doesn’t go directly to Sachs’ claim that 35 incidents out of 4,900 universities isn’t enough to care about, but that’s a questionable assumption if ever there was one. First of all, I’m curious as to what Sachs’ threshold is. How many times do left-wing radical have to shut-up speakers they don’t like in specifically the places ostensibly designated for discussing controversial, diverse ideas before it becomes a problem?

And then there’s the fact that this doesn’t reveal anything about how many controversial speakers never get invited at all because administrators don’t want to deal with protests? Counting free speech in terms of protests is fundamentally a strange concept. I would expect both a libertarian utopia and an Orwellian dystopia to have essentially zero protests, so what does the absence of protests say about free speech? Only that it’s not an issue. When it’s as prevalent as the air we breath, no one protests. And when it’s completely repressed, no one protests.

But when free speech is in a transitional period–away from or towards repression–well that’s when I’d expect to see a spike.

And keep in mind: there’s a lot more going on than just no-platforming. One of the most important functions of no-platforming is not only to dissuade controversial speakers from visiting the campus, but to create a climate of ideological intolerance and intimidation that keeps ordinary students from speaking their minds, something that is going on, as Sachs concedes: “Very conservative students also tend to report that they are less comfortable expressing themselves in the classroom than very liberal students.”

Final Thoughts

Some folks might not like that I’ve singled out the left in this piece, especially when I try to be even-handed. I get that. I do try to be even-handed. That’s not going to change. This post doesn’t represent a new, angrier, more partisan turn for me. This just happens to be one, specific, exceptional case where the cards don’t break evenly. The left has a bigger problem here.

But that doesn’t mean the right doesn’t have one! You could easily say that Trump’s populism and the entire Alt-Right is nothing but the right’s attempt to catch up with the left’s new-found identical politics. And you’d be right. And, lamentably, the right is a fast learner in this regard. It could very well be that–shortly–the right will have caught up with its own radical fringe of anti-free speech zealots.

Whether or not you call this a “crisis” is just semantics. What does seem evident is that there is a rise in no-platforming protests, that it is stemming primarily from the left, and that it is happening at the same time as a tide of research indicates ideological discrimination on campuses is widespread and pernicious for both students, professors, and research. For more on that, just check up on the Heterodox Academy’s problem statement.