Enough Philosophy!!!

Michael R. Strain, an AEI guy writing on The Corner at NRO has a great post on philosophical debates.  Michael is talking about conservatism debates but we have seen it in numerous academic situations.  We had a colleague who was sincerely convinced that if we came to an agreement on principles that every other issue could be resolved from those principles.  Our accounting/economics background lets us play the principles game but we realize that the practical needs more than principles.  Michael seems cut from the same cloth.  Perhaps we can make him an honorary accountant. Oh, and we think of that as a great honor for an economist.

Do read all of Michael’s post.  We have a long quote below because we need it for our discussion of conservatism.  Michael starts out:

Rich’s post this morning, which builds off Matthew Continetti’s excellent column, addresses a feature of the intra-conservative debate that has been on my mind for quite some time: The emphasis on doctrinal discussion above specifics.

Rich’s post is forward looking. He accurately observes: “The questions, What and How? almost never appear, i.e., what policies are we talking about and how are we going to achieve them?”

There is a backward-looking component to this as well. I commonly come across some variant of the following: “I’m a free trader. I just think trade should be put in its proper place. It isn’t more important than family and community.” But what, specifically, does that mean? [f we are honest it means the speaker is not a free trader.]  Was the president right not to enter TPP? Should the United States not have formed NAFTA? Should we have actively tried to keep China out of the global trading system?

In his first paragraph we think Michael is being kind about the contributions of Rich and Matthew but kindness is a good thing.  The conclusion is exactly right because doctrinal discussions don’t lead to specifics.  They can be useful but we need both doctrine and specifics.

The second paragraph is exactly right except he (or Rich) leaves out priorities.  We would end the last sentence in the second paragraph with “rather than others.”

The third paragraph shows how folks defeat proposals that they do not agree with or are not their priorities.  The bold phrases can be rearranged so that the first two are something specific like free speech, lower taxes, or entitlement reform.  You could change the third one to any meaningless generality or keep it the same.

Rather than dissing David French let’s find some specific proposal that we can support.  The Donald and the Democrats may make passage problematical but we need to get specific on a good proposal.  It could be health care but we can’t find Avik Roy’s proposal.  If we don’t like it then Michael tells us how to answer.

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The Challenge Of Free Speech

The Best Of The Web discusses the reaction of the media and Twitter to the movie “Unplanned” that tells the story of Abby Johnson who left Planned Parenthood to be come a pro-life activist.  The media, according the Best Of The Web has largely ignored the movie with few reviews.  TV stations have refused to run ads for it.  And then its Twitter account was suspended.  The tempest for that could not be confined to a teapot.  Folks were angry and properly so but some of it was misguided.  From a quote from the Hollywood Reporter in the Best Of The Web:

“It is a sad time we live in when corporations can remove individuals freedom of speech at will. When did we empower these corporations to have such authority? More importantly, why do we empower them to do so?” Cary Solomon, co-writer and co-director of the film, said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter.

Freedom of speech is really important but it is not the issue with Twitter.  Here is the First Amendment from Wikipedia:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. [Emphasis added]

Social media has a big impact of speech but, as the first word in the First Amendment makes clear, the Constitution protects us from the government infringing on our right to speech.  Perhaps we should make a law to regulate social media.  Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive at Facebook, has some ideas on that subject in a Washington Post op-ed. His bad ideas show the difficulty of regulating speech.  After clearing his throat Mark ignores the First Amendment:

I believe we need a more active role for governments and regulators. By updating the rules for the Internet, we can preserve what’s best about it — the freedom for people to express themselves and for entrepreneurs to build new things — while also protecting society from broader harms.

Restricting speech to protect society from broader harms or any other reason is unlikely to pass constitutional muster.  Later on he supports global standards as related to privacy (and perhaps other stuff):

I also believe a common global framework — rather than regulation that varies significantly by country and state — will ensure that the Internet does not get fractured, entrepreneurs can build products that serve everyone, and everyone gets the same protections.

Here we see how  social media and free speech interact in the US.  We have our legal system that is different from others but we have social media based on the Internet that crosses boundaries, usually, with ease.  We have free speech but only a few others do.  Thus, global solutions are unlikely to be acceptable to the US.

We don’t see an acceptable solution coming from either the US government or globally.  We live with press bias.  We live with social media bias.  Press bias has reduced the influence and the financial success of the press.  It is better than living without free speech.  Our best hope it that the social media giants will not accept the reduction in financial success.  Mark is a smart guy.  We hope he finds a realistic solution.

 

Bye-Bye Jonah

Jonah Goldberg is leaving the National Review to start a new conservative outlet.  We can’t work up the spittle like Matthew Walther at The Week can but we generally agree with this part:

Which is why I cannot figure who the audience for Steve Hayes and Jonah Goldberg’s new journalism project is supposed to be. According to Axios, the former editor of The Weekly Standard and the founder of National Review Online are “seeking investors” for “a reporting-driven, Trump-skeptical” conservative periodical.

We don’t see a big segment for this project and and we are scared to death that they are really seeking investors.  The major investors should already be signed on but many of us can expect a letter soon.

Sidebar: Here is a taste of Matthew’s spittle:

The rise of NeverTrump publications that will be read by nobody reinforces the long-standing view that conservative media is a form of welfare. Here are people who are not clever enough to be academics, not disciplined enough to practice law or any other useful profession, with no particular skills except writing things that no one agrees with who have still ended up rich. No wonder they all believe in “charity.” [Emphasis added]

We love the suggestion of Matthew’s article that we have made bold that somebody besides him thinks this.  We wonder what the mechanism is that Matthew thinks has caused all these people to be rich.  Perhaps the Koch brothers are buying all the books?  End Sidebar.

We wish Jonah well on his journey.  He was Never-The Donald and then came to recognize that there was a “transactional” rationale for voting for The Donald.  The next step is to realize that every general election vote for an elected representative is transactional and comparative.  Rarely do we get to vote for Reagan versus Mondale or Ron Johnson versus Russ Feingold.  To be fair, we got to do the latter twice but the other 49 states did not.  Most of the time it is Ford versus Carter or Dole versus Clinton [if you don’t know who these folks are you can look them up on your own] up and down the ballot.  Oh, Jonah and Steve, we wish you success but are sorry but that is not an investment opportunity MWG is interested it.

 

Irony

We were reading Ask Amy this morning and she was organizing some old columns into themes.  Today’s theme was to be tolerant of opposing view.  A writer was complaining that her friends were bashing the 44th president.  The writer gives no examples.  Amy then said that she had heard Glenn Beck refer to him as a socialist and call filmmaker Michael Moore a “fatty-fatty fatso.  Then she goes on to say, “you may have been sheltered from this sort of passion during the Bush years” but she does recognize that there was shocking and disrespectful bashing of W.

Does Amy think this person was off-planet during W’s presidency?  The examples that Amy gives are rather weak compared to Bushitler and so on.  We should be tolerant of opposing views.  We wish there were politic free zones but there aren’t and there shouldn’t be.   We are stuck with free speech.

Porn And The Regent

We recently wrote about Joe Gow’s, the Chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (UWL), failure to protect freedom of expression.  It is not far back if you want to look for it.  We had missed Bob Atwell’s, a Regent in the University of Wisconsin System, opinion piece on Joe and porn.  We have almost nothing in common with Wisconsin’s new governor but we see an opportunity..

We see now that the pressure on Joe was coming from the Regents.  We wish that he had the courage to stand up to them and, if necessary, fall on his sword.

Porn, like alcohol, weed, and gambling, to name a few, has all kinds of bad outcomes.  None of those things can be legislated out of existence.  We have tried and failed with all of them.  We can’t even define porn.  Inviting a former porn star or a current conservative doesn’t mean that the university supports either one.  Few people have been more wrong than Bob when he says:

There is ample scientific evidence that what [Joe] apparently admires as free expression, is in fact a massive public health problem.

I am hopeful this will result in a deep conversation about pornography rather than a shallow one about freedom.

If Bob is suggesting that Joe admires porn then he is dishonest.  He is correct that porn is a big problem.  His preferred solution, ignoring it, is not working.  Preventing a discussion about porn and all of the variants of near-porn is worthy of a deep conversation.  Bob doesn’t want one.  The conversation about freedom is anything but shallow.  Somebody needs to tell Bob that.  We hope Tony will use a pink slip to try and convince Bob about the importance of freedom of speech.  It would be our first opportunity to agree with Tony and a chance for him to show everyone that he is more than an empty chair.

Porn At The University

There is a big controversy at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (UWL) involving freedom of expression.  The facts are, as we understand them, that UWL invited noted sex educator and free expression advocate Nina Hartley to visit and speak at the campus.  Of importance to the tempest is that Nina is, or at least was, a porn star.  Here is the Wikipedia entry on Nina.  After Nina spoke to 70 students there was controversy and Chancellor Joe Gow took to the local newspaper to defend the decision.  As the answer to why did he invite a porn star to campus Joe said:

My primary motive in inviting Hartley was to help promote the UW System’s “Commitment to Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression,” implemented last fall by our Board of Regents.

You can find the Regents document here.  The Regents saw the policy as a restatement of what they said over a century ago:

“Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.”

Joe’s response did not quiet the concern and he has taken action:

He agreed to personally compensate the university for Hartley’s $5,000 appearance fee, which was initially covered by student fees and interest.  He is also booking a speaker from Fight the New Drug, a Salt Lake City-based nonprofit dedicated to “raising awareness (of porn’s) harmful effects using only science, facts and personal accounts.”

One of the strange things about Nina’s presentation came out in the story about Joe’s actions.  They said:

The event [Nina’s talk]did not appear on the university’s online events calendar and, unlike many events, was not made known to the press.

It does seem odd to hide away your freedom of expression speaker.

So what do we have to say about this sad story?  First, we think Joe fails freedom of expression 101.  We could have agreed that refunding the money to the students was a grand but silly gesture.  Agreeing to bring in the alternative speaker was absolutely a failure to back free expression.  The Regents say:

Each institution in the University of Wisconsin System has a solemn responsibility not only to promote lively and fearless exploration, deliberation, and debate of ideas, but also to protect those freedoms when others attempt to restrict them. [Emphasis added]

Joe failed to protect Nina.

Second, how did the initial situation happen?   We have suppositions but only those from knowing how universities work.  We do not have any inside details about what really happened.  We think that the administration was looking at the first part of the Regent quote above and realized they were at risk because they had failed to promote the debate.  The administration is heavily progressive so nobody wants to bring in a conservative and the available conservatives often like to stir up controversy and that can lead to violence.  What are the other choices?

Sex.  We can see the meeting.  The students like sex and having a sexy speaker.  The administration thinks we have met the Regents’ requirement without a big controversy of bringing an Ann Coulter type to campus.  Everyone is happy but it still turns out to be a disaster.  Now they have failed to meet the Regents’ expectation.

The answer is that we need to support Nina and Joe.  Freedom of expression is freedom of expression.  The statement says fearless exploration and deliberation as well as debate.  Debate is only part of freedom of expression.

Yet, at the same time, somebody needs to be responsible for some balance over time.  Let us use a real example.  As chair of the accounting department we had a speaker at the banquet each year.  We kept track of each speaker’s affiliation so that there would be a variety types of organizations (Big Four, other public, corporate, governmental/NFP) and actual organizations.  Some organizations would volunteer every year and we told them no.

It is easy to see why administrators fail at free expression.  It is a tough job.  It is also part of their job description.

Academia And Politics

We know that the the vast majority of college professors are on the left.  Cass R. Sunstein, who at various times in his career has been a professor, is discussing a recent survey of faculty:

A few months ago, Mitchell Langbert, an associate professor of business at Brooklyn College, published a study of the political affiliations of faculty members at 51 of the 66 liberal-arts colleges ranked highest by U.S. News in 2017.

Of course, it comes up with the expected results that almost everyone, everywhere is a Democrat.  Cass says they don’t really mean it:

Such discrimination might take the form of unconscious devaluation of people whose views do not fit with the dominant perspective. For example, young historians who cast Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in a terrible light might not get a lot of job offers.

And says it only matters sometimes:

It is true that in some fields, political affiliations do not matter. In chemistry, math, physics and engineering, students should not care about the party affiliations of their professors. Sure, it’s conceivable that Democratic chemistry professors want to hire fellow Democrats. But that would be surprising. In all likelihood, they are looking for good chemistry professors.

He is wrong on both counts.  What is disappointing is that he has been in academia but did not seem to pay attention to the influence of faculty.

They, the folks on the left, mean it.  They set up curriculum, e.g., Woman’s Studies, and courses, e.g., Women and The US Economy, to attract fellow travelers.  Research works the same way as they create outlets for these areas.  Accreditation and hiring senior administrators happens in a similar manner.

Political affiliation matters in every field for at least three reasons.  First, folks on the left need the support of all faculty to create a leftist environment.  All faculty are involved in running the university.  Curriculum, courses, outside speakers, and senior administrators are largely to entirely selected by faculty.  Second, a big part of picking faculty is collegiality.  Of the folks that can do the job who do you want to spend the next twenty years with?  This is another way they do it on purpose.  Third, the scientists don’t just talk about science in classes.  Students should, as Cass says, be exposed to the joys of markets as well as market failure.  We commonly heard about the latter when scientists made research proposals at the university level.  We are certain that those comments made it to the classroom too.

We are glad that Cass recognizes that the political tilt of academia is a problem.  We wish he realized how serious it really is.