When Intellectual Property Is Theft

I liked Julian’s observation that legislated extensions of copyright terms are more like theft than copyright infringement:

[I]f the defining characteristic of theft is that it deprives the victim of something they were entitled to use and enjoy, then there are things that can accurately be described as “intellectual property theft.” When legislators—many of whom now support censoring the Internet to stop “piracy”—rewrote the copyright bargain with the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Exension Act, they retroactively extended the monopoly of rightsholders over existing works by 20 years. That retroactive extension, of course, did nothing to incentivize new creation. And since economists have estimated that the present value of a copyright monopoly was already barely distinguishable from the value of an unlimited term, it’s doubtful that even the prospective extension bought us much additional creativity. But it did mean that the general public would be denied, for another 20 years, the free use of works that had been slated to fall into the public domain under the original copyright bargain. That sounds more like “theft” of intellectual property—and not just theft from a particular creator or industry, but from the whole of the public.

If you’ve ever had a hard time understanding what Prudhon had in mind when he said “Property is theft!” you could do a lot worse than reflect on the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act. To define and assign property rights just is to rig the economic game a certain way. To divide a common meadow into private parcels does deprive the public from the use and enjoyment of the meadow. And this does amount to theft if members of the public cannot see the new assignment of rights to have merit by their own lights. It’s often (but not always) the case that dividing the commons is the only way to satisfy Locke’s requirement that everyone be left with as much and as good. If you’re duly compensated for losing access to a resource that would be otherwise depleted, we tend to think it’s a fair arrangement. Likewise, keeping intangible creative works out of the commons through the assignment of intellectual property rights is justified if it leaves us better off than we would be in a world with no IP.

I happen to think copyright does induce creation and that creators and consumers as classes would be worse off without it. And I think returning creative works to the commons in, say, 20 or 30 years also induces creation and that creators and consumers both are made worse off by longer copyright terms. That’s just a guess, but presumably there’s some vague fact of the matter about optimal terms for various types of creative work. Whatever that is, that’s what we’re entitled to. Extending terms past the optimum, locking down more than a lifetime flow of monopoly rents for a few at the expense of the many, doesn’t strike me as like theft. It’s a straightforward plundering of humankind’s common cultural inheritance.

Like Freddie de Boer, I’d like to have a serious, non-utopian conversation about the regime of intellectual property rights and intellectual property protection that would best encourage creation by making it possible to make a living selling the dearly created but easily and cheaply reproducible. (Unlike Freddie, I think a good place to start would be not to seethe with open contempt for those with whom we mildly disagree and not to preemptively ascribe irritation from those we’ve unfairly impugned to bad-faith tribalism.) One hopeful possibility here is that fair rules inspire respect and respect induces compliance. A more modest and limited scheme of copyright clearly focused on incentivizing and rewarding creators rather than on minting money in perpetuity for corporate copyright owners might make less draconian enforcement mechanisms sufficiently effective.

The Really Real Reality of Reality of TV

James Wood on John Jeremiah Sullivan’s essay collection Pulphead:

One feels that Sullivan shouldn’t be allowed to have it both ways: if reality TV is “really real” because it catches people in the act of being on reality TV, it has only a limited, or possibly null, reality, and Sullivan is just being cynical and jokey. On the other hand, if reality TV is really real because it connects us with Poe and Whitman, and displays America for us as we really are, then large claims are being made for reality TV’s (perhaps inadvertent and unwitting) powers of mimesis. It can’t quite be both, and the ambivalence perhaps alerts us to the fact that essays like this one have their own unexamined unreality, too.

Why does Wood say that reality TV has “only a limited, or possibly null, reality” if the reality it presents is how people behave on reality television? This comes as raw assertion, and it wasn’t at first clear to me that he might be right.

I’m familiar with Sullivan’s argument only through the passage Woods quotes, but it strikes me that Sullivan is indeed making a large claim, not at all inconsistent with the fact that reality TV is at best the really real reality of people caught on reality TV.  Isn’t the idea that when Americans accept the offer to make their lives public–when they get their fifteen minutes, when they’ve readied for their close-up–they mostly offer tearful confessions of stymied aspiration, outraged entitlement, myopic self-justification, avid but dumb cunning, and an unending parade of hurt feelings?

Of course, the casts of reality shows are manipulated by producers, are often “performing” the words and sentiments they think the producers think makes “good television,” and the final broadcast product has been heavily edited with a view to maximum drama. But what makes a good reality show so gripping is that these people are so willing to be goaded, that their hair-pulling performances of petty emotion are so authentic. And there is a remarkable implied consensus about the humiliations those of us at home most enjoy.

I think Woods’ strongest argument would be that reality shows cannot reveal America’s Freudian Id because we are only ever shown people who thought it was a good idea to appear on a reality show. Reality TV selects for vain, emotionally volatile extroverts. Fear Factor doesn’t prove that, as a general matter, Americans will eat bugs for money. It proves that Americans who won’t eat bugs for money don’t show up at casting calls for Fear Factor. Sullivan’s argument that “There are simply too many of them—too many shows and too many people on the shows—for them not to be revealing something endemic” pretty clearly fails to get around the self-selection objection. But it does suggest that America contains a huge number of vain, emotionally volatile extroverts. That’s significant in itself. And surely the verbal and emotional scripts America’s dim, neurotic, self-infatuated chatterboxes most readily deploy are drawn from and thus indicative of the broader culture. “[T]he test-tube babies of Whitman and Poe,” are the monsters among us who most guilelessly channel and enact the ambient American spirit, and a huge swathe of the rest of us want to watch. It’s hard to see that as a “null” reality.

The Gender Politics of Mad Men

Micha Ghertner takes me to task for saying that a lot of guys enjoy Mad Men because they like to glimpse the world when men were men who had hot secretaries and bars in their offices. Micha says:

I don’t know what Will was thinking of when he wrote this. Maybe he just hasn’t watched enough episodes yet? The overall point he is trying to make is a fine one, but Mad Men displays exactly the opposite of what he is trying to express.

What I see when I watch Mad Men is a bunch of privileged dominant white males – and their trophy wives – who are absolutely miserable, partly ( largely?) because they can see their privilege and dominance cracking under the weight of inexorable social change.

That’s why Peggy seems to creep everyone out except Don, who is too busy trying to juggle all of the various lies he has made to his wife, kids, coworkers, mistresses, and clients to care that Peggy is breaking the glass ceiling, getting impregnated out of wedlock, and doing all of the things a woman of her station in life shouldn’t be doing. Don sees himself reflected in Peggy, as a rule breaker and successful social status climber who has to navigate a new, false identity.

No one is truly happy in the show, and we the audience, with the advantage of 50 years of hindsight, know that things are only going to get worse for those characters desperately trying to clutch onto some romanticized, illusory past.

Notice the title sequence of a businessman falling from the top of a skyscraper, eliciting a sense of vertigo? It’s not that subtle Will, and you were an art major!

I think everything Micha says is right on. I like to watch Mad Men for the menswear and a sense of the superiority of my postmodern egalitarian consumption partnership. But that’s not inconsistent with the idea that lots of guys who like the show don’t get the point of it and like to imagine how sweet it would be to have women take care of all the annoying details of life and smoke at work.

Like Micha, I see Mad Men as a show about status and status anxiety in an age of cultural ferment. Let’s talk about it! In this week’s episode [SPOILERS, if my stupid tendency toward abstraction can actually spoil anything] I particularly enjoyed the contrast between Peggy and Joan.

Joan is omnicompetent, authoritative, and in full control of her abundant femininity. She has fully mastered the arts of mid-century haute bourgeois womanhood and she knows it. Yet her clear clerical, sexual, social, and domestic excellence cannot guarantee her a status among women–a status among wives–equal to her own sense of her worth. Her status, in the end, is a function of her husband’s. And she does not seem to second-guess that this should be so. She gambled and lost with Sterling and is now confronting the suspicion that her fiance is not really good enough for her. And she is getting on in years. Despite her flawless performance of womanhood, her ambitions may end up stymied by the flaws in her men.

Peggy is equally talented and ambitious. But in stark contrast to Joan’s knowing, cultivated breed-standard womanly completeness, she is a naive, raw, curious puppy of a female. She is anxious and awkward about how she stacks up in the world of women and she is anxious and awkward about how she stacks up in the world of men. But she is toughly confident in how she stacks up as a creative worker. The new willingness of the world to reward her for what she does rather than for what she is grants her a power to independently realize her ambitions unavailable to perfect, normatively realized women.

As I see it, Mad Men is centered on Peggy, not Don. The very possibility of Peggy’s success is the engine of dramatic conflict. It threatens to devalue the relative status both of the professional men with whom she directly competes and of their wives with whom she doesn’t compete so much as humiliate by rejecting the grounds of their social and self-esteem. She is not yet in a position to really much threaten anyone, but the broader movement of liberation she represents will seem to many as little more than a violent, unfair, ad hoc emendation to the rules of the game they shaped their lives around.

Don is comfortable with Peggy, for now, because he sees these rules as little more than a fixed creative constraint, like the form of a sonnet. Don knows everyone is a manufactured thing, a product, advertising him- or herself in some market niche or other. (Don cannot believe Sterling is happy rather than performing happiness, which he finds unbecomingly “foolish.”) The fact that Don is a self-conscious and thus superlative performer explains both his outward success and his sense that it is empty. But what if self-construction does not necessarily mean living a lie? What if something like authenticity is compatible with success? In the end, Peggy may threaten Don more than she threatens the hierarchies of the trads by proving the possibility of successful integrity–by creating a persona, however awkward, that is both outwardly successful and inwardly satisfying.

Anyway, I’m totally overinterpreting. But that’s how I’m guessing things might shape up. Also, menswear!

The "Menaissance" and Its Dickscontents

This City Journal piece by Kay Hymowitz perfectly exemplifies a time-honored form of conservative argument. It goes something like this: liberal equality is just too confusing!

I think I first saw this kind of argument clearly laid out in Tocqueville. If I remember correctly, he noted that there is a kind of soothing clarity in stratified societies with brightly marked class lines. When classes are stable over generations, and there is little mobility up or down, conventions that govern class relations become settled, making it easy to know how to behave toward those above and below one’s station. Moreover, when classes are fixed and mobility is limited, there is little anxiety about improving one’s position, since there’s so little prospect for doing so. American-style democratic equality creates a pattern of unceasingly stressful striving for relative rank, and all this mobility up and down produces a confusion in manners that can lead to dangerous social frictions and resentments. It becomes too hard to know what to expect of others, or what others expect from us.

This is, as far as I can tell, Hymowitz’s argument about gender relations in the post-feminist era. Women attaining something like social equality with men has created not so much liberation as a kind of toxic confusion. When women are free to be individuals, free to want different things than other women, men can’t be sure what any particular women might want from him. To open the door for her or not!? To pick up the check or not!? To be a nice guy like she says she wants or a bad boy like she really wants?! These unresolved and unresolvable questions have led inevitably to the contemporary condition in which men are either unlovable whining sad sacks or misogynist assholes who cite a cartoon version of Darwinism to justify treating a woman as little more than an upgrade from Jergens and a sock. If we don’t like it, we only have feminism to blame. Or something like that.

Look, the phenomenon Hymowitz describes is real enough. Rapid social change inevitably makes it harder to coordinate expectations. If it is a change worth having, then the pains of adjustment are worth it. Period. That doesn’t mean those pains are unimportant. Guys do suffer uncertainty about whether or not to open doors or pick up checks. It really can be frustrating for the sensitive guy to find out he’d be more generally attractive if he learned to be a bit more of a dick.

But annoyances and disappointments suffered in the process of realizing fundamental conditions of a decent society don’t call into question the desirability of those conditions. All this vexation is a very, very small price to pay for equality. For men, it is a very, very small price to pay for the opportunity to share a life with a peer, a full partner, rather than with a woman limited by convention and straitened opportunity to a more circumscribed and subordinate role in life. Sexual equality has created the possibility of greater exactness and complementarity in matching women to men. That is, in my book, a huge gain to men. But equality does raise expectations for love and marriage. The prospect of finding a true partner, rather than someone to satisfactorily perform the generic role of husband or wife, leaves many of us single and searching for a good long time. But this isn’t about delaying adulthood, it’s about meeting higher standards for what marriage and family should be.

I think Hymowitz’s story gives too small a part to resentment at the loss of male privilege. Many men aren’t angry and confused because they don’t know what women want. They’re angry because they want what their fathers or grandfathers had, and they can’t get it. They’re confused because they can’t quite grasp why not. I think part of the fascination for many white guys with the show Mad Men is that it is a window into an attractive (to them) world of white male dominance and privilege that has largely disappeared. It is still possible to create a traditional patriarchal household, but it’s harder than ever for men to find women who will happily play along. And, in any case, there is little assurance of the stability of this sort of arrangement, since the social esteem that was once accorded to it — which helped reinforce men’s and women’s confidence in their traditional roles within it — has largely dissipated.

To my mind, too little attention has been paid to reconsidering ideals of manhood in the age of equality. Since I was a teenager, I’ve found old-school machismo pathetic and somehow irrelevant to the problem of becoming a man. Without even knowing what or why it was, I was heavily influenced by gay culture, which provided me, and many other straight young men, a wide variety of templates for manhood that are at once unmistakably masculine, playfully ironic, aesthetic, emotionally open, and happily sexual. You can be manly and care about shoes!!! I’ll confess that I used to periodically regret my heterosexuality because there seemed to be greater scope for constructing a distinctive and satisfying male identity within gay culture. I think that’s telling. And the virulent homophobia that remains in most American dude subcultures has cut most young men off from the possibility of modeling their manhood after any of the delightful variety of types available to the homophile. And that really doesn’t leave them with much to work with. Most Americans these days seem happy enough to see women succeed as high-achieving go-getters. And who doesn’t love Tim Gunn? But most of us have not yet given up on oppressively restrictive, strongly normative conceptions of hetero masculinity. That, I submit, is what stands in the way of a real, um … renaissance for men.

Cultural Externalities and Harm

Robin Hanson’s ongoing discussion of positional goods, signaling, and consumption externalities at the new, exclusively Robin Hanson Overcoming Bias has been terrifically stimulating. I have a few thoughts about the relationship between externalities and “harm” that Robin’s discussion has stirred up.

Suppose you’re a Millian liberal devoted to the harm principle, which goes like this:

That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.

Now suppose you, like many economists, are inclined to leap a bit hastily from “negative externality” to “harm.” And then suppose you, like Robert Frank, have a strong view about consumption externalities. When I buy a really expensive car, this story goes, it subtly shifts my community’s frame of reference for signals of social status and for judging the the adequacy or socially acceptability of certain vehicles. By diminishing the status signal sent by older and/or less expensive models, my choice exerts a subtle pressure for others to increase spending simply to maintain the constancy of the signal sent by their cars. If we decide to count this kind of effect as a “harm,” then sumptuary taxes pass Mill’s test and therefore do not count as paternalistic. We need not even torture the language and call regulation to reduce consumption externalities anything stupid like “libertarian paternalism,” since it’s not paternalism at all! Sure, the person facing a steep tax on luxury may be helped by a fiscal inducement to stay off the conspicuous consumption gerbil wheel, but that’s by the bye. The point is to prevent “harm” to others through individual consumption choices.

As Robin has been insistently pointing out, how good-looking we are, the quality of our mates, how smart and funny we are when we talk, and the impressiveness of our children’s achievements signals at least as strongly as our cars. If our investments in appearance, mate selection, Bourdieuian cultural capital, and children are not equally harmful, then why not? If you think regulating luxury consumption passes Millian muster, then why wouldn’t regulating extremely impressive feats of oratory or athleticism?

I think this line of thinking can be taken even further. Many so-called “culture wars” are largely about cultural externalities. Consider Linda Hirschman-like arguments to the effect that women who choose to stay at home raising children impose a significant cost on women who wish to pursue professional success by reinforcing traditional stereotypes of women’s relative strengths and by creating rational expectations among employers that firm-specific investments in female employees will have a lower than average expected payoff due to the possibility of maternity leaves or long-term exit from the labor market. The argument that stay-at-home moms ought to be stigmatized, or at least be extended decreasing levels of social esteem, is basically an argument for the cultural version of a tax on choices that have negative spillover effects for others. If the state took a side on this and actually did tax stay-at-home moms, would that pass Millian muster, on the grounds that mothering choices have spillover effects that “harm” other women?

I think that at this point Mill would suggest that something has gone dreadfully wrong. It looks like we’ve defined “harm” so loosely that the harm principle, so understood, could be the basis for the state regulation of any action whatsoever that affects anyone else in a way they don’t like.

Consider pecuniary externalities. If I open a hot dog stand across the street from your hot dog stand, I will take some of your business, or force you to cut your margins, and thereby make you poorer. Have I “harmed” you in some way that requires that you be made whole, or that suggests the wisdom of the state’s preventing future instances of such harm? The law says no, and the law is right. You have no right to local monopoly profits from hot dog sales. Indeed, pecuniary externalities are so valuable that there is a whole body of antitrust law ostensibly intended to promote them.

Now, when a black family moves into a neighborhood of white racists, thereby causing great unhappiness, or when the recognition of the legitimacy of gay marriages causes traditionalists to feel that their traditional marriages have been “devalued,” that’s the cultural analogue of a pecuniary externality. Somebody really is getting hurt in some real sense. But I don’t much care, and Robert Frank probably doesn’t either, if some racists are disgruntled by their neighbors’ color, or if some religious folk feel aggrieved by a perfectly accurate sense that the social esteem afforded their particular type of marriage has fallen in relative value.

Coasean logic focuses us on the duality of externalities. In the land of the deaf, there is no noise pollution. In the land of cosmopolitan enlightenment, there is no “there goes the neighborhood.” Progressive social change occurs through a revaluation of where to locate “the problem.” Is it in the signal or in the receiver? To identify a “harm,” and to invoke the harm principle, the moment there is a complaint, is the essence of reactionary politics. It is to shut down the very possibility of relocating “the problem” from the source of a reaction to the reaction itself. This would be the very opposite of the intention of Mill in On Liberty, which is at bottom a call for the cultural version of dynamic, ideally competitive markets roiling constantly with the hurt of lost market share.

Easter Thoughts of Culture War

I was recently reading somewhere about Christopher Hitchens’ debate with William Lane Craig at Biola and someone in the comments of whatever blog I was reading made the observation that there are tons of Christian schools like Biola and Wheaton and so forth full of smart kids who undergo training in arguing for the existence of God. It’s not like it’s treated as an open question at these places. The Christian schools and their Christian students know the result they need, and they practice in the most persuasive arguments that deliver that result. None of these arguments are any good, of course, as there is no God, Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, and so on. But my sense is that there are about a gazillion works of theistic/Christian apologetics for every God Is Not Great. But write a God Is Not Great or a The End of Faith and you’re colored as some kind of obnoxious disrespectful lout out to set the lions on all those downtrodden Christian. Why is that? Even other atheists are encouraged to deplore the brazen “New Atheists'” alleged in-your-face lack of humility. I find this completely ridiculous. They’re right, after all. I also think it’s ridiculous that Christopher Hitchens represents the atheist side in approximately 75 percent of all debates about the existence of God. (Why should he hoard all the speaking fees!?) Why aren’t more philosophy professors–few of whom believe in God–standing up to fight for truth? Well, lots of them don’t like the dog and pony show of public debates, I’m sure. Lots of them don’t want to be impolite. But I’d also guess that they find the arguments so boring that it’s a drag to prepare. Nevertheless, this stuff matters and it’s important to wean the culture off superstition. Hitchens is more than pulling his weight, but I’m afraid most intellectuals who also happen to be atheists aren’t taking this culture war stuff seriously enough. So get in there faithless people! Mix it up! It’s true that pretty much only other Christians care about Alvin Plantinga or William Lane Craig, but there are hoards of bright young Christians who really do think this stuff is more than polish on their parochial cultural inheritance, and that’s really too bad.

The Revenge of Tucker Carlson

I’m with Tucker Carlson on Jon Stewart:

Cynics might assume that the fury [behind the excoriation of Cramer] was a pose. Humor requires ironic detachment, and nobody as funny and sophisticated as Jon Stewart could possibly be getting that mad on TV over something so abstract. A fair assumption, but wrong. Stewart really was enraged. It was all entirely, strangely real.

I know this from my own run-in with Stewart, on CNN’s Crossfire a few weeks before the 2004 election. Stewart spent a couple of segments lecturing Paul Begala and me about how we were somehow “helping the politicians and the corporations,” a charge that baffled me then (I’ve never particularly liked either one), as it does now.

Unlike most guests after an uncomfortable show, Stewart didn’t flee once it was over, but lingered backstage to press his point. With the cameras off, he dropped the sarcasm and the nastiness, but not the intensity. I can still picture him standing outside the makeup room, gesticulating as the rest of us tried to figure out what he was talking about. It was one of the weirdest things I have ever seen.

Finally, I had to leave to make a dinner. Stewart shook my hand with what seemed like friendly sincerity and continued to lecture our staff. An hour later, one of my producers called me, sounding desperate. Stewart was still there, and still talking.

No one this earnest can remain an effective satirist, and at times Stewart seems like less a comedian than a courtier to the establishment. In August 2004, a week before the Republican convention, Stewart got an interview with then-candidate John Kerry. At the time, reporters covering Kerry couldn’t get closer than the rope line, so the interview qualified as a booking coup.

Stewart squandered it embarrassingly. His first question (after, “How are you holding up?”) was: “Is it a difficult thing not to take it personally” when your opponents are mean?

“You know what it is, Jon?” Kerry replied. “It’s disappointing.”

Four years later, Stewart had become, if anything, even softer. Over the course of a reverential eight-and-a-half minute interview with Barack Obama six days before the election, Stewart failed to ask a single substantive question, much less venture into policy (though, as with Kerry, he did open with, “How are you holding up?”). Instead, like the cable-news morons that he often criticizes, Stewart stuck strictly to the horserace, at one point even resorting to a sports metaphor.

Here’s what I said about Stewart way back in 2004 after his Crossfire soapboxing:

You know what? I’m just gonna say it: I’m bored bored bored of John Stewart. The Crossfire thing was the final straw, the shark jumping. He’s permanently tainted, and from here on out we can only look forward to the long slide into “Remember when that guy was funny.” Sanctimony is death to satire. The last thing I need is the fake news guy thinking he’s King Shit protector of the public interest. Yes, Tucker Carlson is a dick. But we all have eyes. Damn, John. You used to be cool.

My feelings haven’t much changed. The long slide has taken rather longer than I expected, however. At least there’s Colbert!

(Yes, I know it’s ‘Jon’.)

On Going Galt

I can’t help but feel that threatening to withdraw from economic production, ala Atlas Shrugged‘s John Galt, is a certain kind of libertarian-conservative’s version of progressives threatening to move to Canada. For my part, I can’t imagine what would make me want to stop working, and each new president makes me want to move to Canada.

Despite my own inclinations, I’m among those who believe that labor supply is pretty sensitive to marginal tax rates, and I have no doubt that increasing the top marginal rate will make it so that some very productive people will quite rationally choose to produce less. But the effect comes from aggregating hundreds of millions of choices about the worth of an extra hour of work, not because the willing efforts of a small handful of productive geniuses are a necessary condition for ongoing economic production (and, therefore, civilization). Maybe vocally “going Galt” as a protest move is a useful way to put a dramatic face on optimal tax theory, but of course that’s not what folks who talk about it have in mind. They have morality in mind. And taxation is a moral issue, a matter of justice, and I’m glad Americans resist the idea that their government is entitlted to consume ever larger portions of their incomes. So I certainly don’t mind if a bunch of people declare they are “going Galt” if it reinforces healthy, deep-seated American norms about the injustice of excessive taxation.

But insofar as this is all about taxes on the wealthy (as the link to Malkin suggests) it’s a bit hard to see tax rates somewhat exceeding the Clinton era’s as a move over some inflection point from the tolerable to the completely outrageous. And of course none of these folks designed an engine that would have created basically free energy (and made global warming a non-issue). In the individual case, “going Galt” smacks of a kind self-aggrandizement in the same way that climate smuggery does. Because, really, your marginal contribution doesn’t matter that much.

By the way, Atlas buffs, the point of Atlas Shrugged is not that you are John Galt. The point is that you are not John Galt. The point is that you are, at your best, Eddie Willers. You’re smart, hardworking, productive, and true. But you’re no creative genius and you take innovation — John Galt — for granted. You don’t even know who he is! And this eventually leaves you weeping on abandoned train tracks. 

I think Obama’s policies will be bad for innovation, but not because higher marginal tax rates will lead our best and brightest to retire from the field of endeavor. I’m rather more worried that our best and brightest will follow the incentives and go Robert Stadler. I’m worried that our money, which might otherwise have gone to capitalize real innovation, will be confiscated in order to finance government directed “investment” instead. Our economy can readily absorb a passel of drop-out Willerses (though Eddie never quits!). It’s the misdirected capital embodied by the Stadlers and their Project Xes that really hurts.

I'm No Diderot, but…

I loved Ross’s headline about my reply to his worries:

When The Last Pentecostal Is Strangled With the Entrails of the Last John Bircher …

Let me emphasize that I’m a committed liberal pluralist, and I think freedom of conscience and state neutrality are bedrock virtues of a just society. At the same time, I think that a politics that takes the fact of pluralism seriously is perfectly consistent with vigorous culture war. Indeed, I think pluralist democracies demand culture war (call it “public reason” if you want to be fanciful). I think crazy conservative talk radio is a healthy part of pluralist culture war, and I think the attempt to whittle away the cultural prestige of people with crazy religion-saturated politics is also a healthy part of healthy pluralist culture war. I will go to the mat to defend the freedom of Pentecostals and John Birchers to do their things. And I will go to the mat to defend the idea that ours would be a better society if individuals come to be so embarrassed by Pentecostalism and John Birchism — by the ideas — that these communities of belief die peaceful natural deaths. Cultures become what they are through a process of selection, and this is a process we help along by arguing with one another. The reason there are so many meta-arguments about what we are going to count as good arguments–as good reasons, as considerations worth taking seriously–is that once we come to a broad social consensus on standards, some factions in the culture wars are left defenseless and end up an impotent doomed remnant. One reason I’m not that interested in partisan politics is that I think it is a higher-order manifestation of factionalism at a deeper level of the culture. I’m interested in engaging at that level. I’d like to argue for reason, science, the utility of the extended liberal order, and the authority of the liberal moral sentiments. I sincerely do not know what practical politics or partisan alignments this implies. It’s fun to guess, but I know our guesses are very likely to be bad ones. As Doug North likes to say, we live in a “non-ergodic” world.

Canadians Do It Better

Fareed Zakaria has an excellent piece in Newsweek arguing that Canada is superior to the U.S. in almost every non-weather-related way. I would agree entirely, expect that this weekend Kerry and I watched “Stick It,” an unlikely celebration of both ruthless, hyper-disciplined competitiveness and self-indulgent expressive individualism (featuring The Dude as a gymnastics coach and gratuitous montages set to Fall Out Boy), and it restored my love of America.

If you have an inner 12 year-old girl, she will thank you.

And, yes, Missy Peregrym is Canadian. Exactly.