History in the Breaking and Making of India

I have argued elsewhere that Republic of India is a Civilization-State, where Indic civilizational features will find increasing expression as the Indian state evolves away from its legacy of the British Raj. However, India’s history is an area of immense concern and a rate-limiting step in the evolution of the Civilization-State. The past seventy-five years of Indian independence have shown that to break away from the influences of intellectual and cultural imperialism is far more complicated than to draw away from political servitude because the foundation of colonization is cultural and spiritual illiteracy. 

Colonization influences Indians in unusual ways as it alienates us from our past. For instance, we refer to our Indic formals as ‘ethnic wear’ whereas a suit and a conservative tie in the heat of tropical India is our ‘natural’ formals. The Constitution of India is written in English when only 0.1% of independent India spoke the language. Likewise, the knowledge about India among the English educated elite is generated with an alienating European view when India was colonized. The main interest of the British was to write a history of India that justified their presence. So, they had to acknowledge the legitimacy of preceding violators like the Turks, Persians, and Mongols while accentuating only those Indic kings who either reformed or renounced the Hindu way of life. Several generations of Indians, including me, have grown up studying Indian history textbooks that scarcely evaluate our impact on the outside world even as we painstakingly document the aftermaths of ideas and actions of the outside world on us. 

Elites from colonized societies educated in the wake of the colonial rule often standardize colonial scholarship and legitimize it to the extent of rejecting most native insights about their own land, society, and culture. This dynamic largely explains the bloated investment in defining highly racialized tribes and ethnic types in colonized countries. Consider the state of African studies—with a nauseating inflection of Marxist narrative—is affected by similar categories: static tribes, decadent villages, and clashing ethnic groups. These frameworks were essential narratives that justified foreign rule— devices of hierarchical control by colonizing powers. Professor of African and world history Trevor Getz warns us, “the story we often tell of African tribes, chiefs, and villages tells us more about how Europeans thought of themselves in the period of colonization than of the realities in Africa before they came.” 

The same holds for the history of Indic civilization. On the threshold of intellectual and cultural decolonization in 1947, when rehabilitating Indic wisdom traditions and the dignity of Hindu civilization was the need of the hour, newly independent India saw the emergence of a new movement in writing its history. Though more self-reliant than Europeans in broadening the scope of Indian social and economic history, this movement deeply dyed Indian history in an expression of Marxism. India’s ancient past became a theater to assert European society’s preconceived class and material conceptions while obliterating the importance of Indic ideas in defining its own historical events. India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, the Cambridge graduate whose fascination with Marxism and Fabian Socialism had made him an outlandish mix of the East and West, victimized the Indian civilization with his neither here nor their disposition. 

Jawaharlal Nehru, July 1957 | Flickr
India’s textbooks were written with Nehru in mind. It rejected the past. Source: Print

Commenting on the sly attempt at thought-control and brainwashing of future generations of newly independent India through a European/Marxist view of Indian history, celebrated Indic thought leader Ram Swarup writes: “Karl Marx was exclusively European in his orientation. He treated all Asia and Africa as an appendage of the West and, indeed, of Anglo-Saxon Great Britain. He borrowed all his theses on India from British rulers and fully subscribed to them. With them, he believes that Indian society has no history at all, at least no known history —implying our history is just a bunch of ancient myths—and that what we call its history is the history of successive intruders. With them, he also believes that India has neither known nor cared for self-rule. He says that the question is not whether the English had a right to conquer India, but whether we are to prefer India conquered by the Turks, by the Persians, to India conquered by the Britons. His own choice was clear.”

As a result of such Marxist scribes, the brutal history of repeated invasions and the forced proselytization of Indic people is described in charitable words, often as the harbinger of an idealized syncretic culture that “refined” the Hindu society. Though I understand the emergence of syncretic cultures, it is absurd for anglicized elites to use them as an all-weather secular rationalization of blatant cultural and intellectual subjugation the Hindu psyche still confronts. The iconoclasm practiced by invading hordes and the resulting ruins of some of the most sacred Hindu sites find no place in our history books because it would ‘communalize’ history. Any inquisitive young Hindu will have to go out of the way to read the works of the trail-blazing Hindu publisher and historian Sita Ram Goel to understand the omitted sections from our history books. His two-volume work titled Hindu Temples, What Happened to Them analyzes nearly two thousand Hindu and Jain temples destroyed by Turkic/Mongol occupiers and their repercussions on the Indic ecosystem.

How was Hampi destroyed? - Quora
The city of Hampi (the nucleus of Karnata Empire of Southern India) that is majestic even in its ruin, was a city often compared to Rome for its size, its riches, its flourishing art, architecture and literature, and also its abrupt destruction. Source: Google Images

In a bizarre continuation of subjugating the Hindu temple ecosystem, the “secular” Indian state in 1951 under the Indian National Congress and its ideological Marxist and Communist allies selectively usurped Hindu temples and its lands to bring them under state control, and they continue to stifle the temple ecosystem of India. Every non-Hindu has a say on how Hindu temple rituals should be modified but a Hindu talking about Abrahamic practices will amount to a transgression of secularism and religious bigotry. I urge you to watch a quick primer on the crisis of Hindu temples in India — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=js936p_cvTE.

Source: Upword

As though the mainstream Marxist narrative of Indian history wasn’t enough, they have even captured the space of alternative history. Professor Vamsee Juluri, in his book, Rearming Hinduism, compares the dominant and alternative History of India. Here, I present an excerpt from his work:

Mainstream Indian history, as we learned it in school (India): 

-Indian history begins with the Indus Valley Civilization (which is not Hindu) 

-Hinduism begins with the Aryan Invasion bringing Vedic Religion of Sacrifice 

-Hinduism is full of violent animal sacrifice until Buddhism reforms it 

-There is a brief Golden Age for Hinduism in which art and culture ‘flourishes,’ and the epic poems, The Ramayana and Mahabharata are composed. 

-There are Islamic invasions, but the Mughals bring harmony under Akbar

-The British colonize India; Hinduism is once again reformed 

-Gandhi and Nehru free us. 

Mainstream history, as it is taught in American schools, from a California textbook: 

-Indian history begins with the Indus Valley Civilization (which is not Hindu) 

-Hinduism begins with the Aryan Invasion bringing Vedic Religion of Sacrifice 

-Hinduism is full of violent animal sacrifice until Buddhism reforms it 

-The Ramayana and Mahabharata are composed. They have talking monkeys and bears and Hindus primitively animal-worship them. They also have the holiest text of Hindus, the Gita, which tells Hindus to do their caste duty and war. 

The outline of the ‘alternative’ history proposed in Wendy Doniger’s book:

-The Indus Valley Civilization (is not Hindu) 

-Hinduism begins with the Nazi-like Aryans bringing Vedic Religion of Sacrifice.

-Hinduism is full of violent animal sacrifice until Buddhism reforms it.

-There is no real Golden Age for Hinduism, but the Greek Invasion leads to great ideas and works of fiction like The Ramayana and Mahabharata. Greek women presumably inspired the fierce and independent Draupadi. 

-After chapters called ‘Sacrifice in the Vedas’ and ‘Violence in The Mahabharata,’ at long last, we have ‘Dialogue and Tolerance under the Mughals.’

-The British colonize India; Hinduism is reformed. 

-Once India gained independence, without those civilizing external forces, the Hindus became Hindutva extremists. 

How can Doniger’s work be an ‘alternative,’ Vamsee Juluri asks, when its claims are the same as the dominant narrative? He notes that this ‘alternative’ history of Hinduism is at the top of the heap in most bookstores in the West, and its thesis dominates the press coverage of Hindu India. In a normal world, if there were ten titles written by ‘Hindu apologists’ on the shelf, then an ‘alternative’ would have indeed been worthy of the respect that term brings. Hence, the mainstream and the so-called alternative narratives of Indian history are both contemptuous for India of Hindu religion, culture, and philosophy. It is fortified in the republic of letters as ‘progressive’ criticism. This narrative still holds sway over academic appointments, research grants, crafting syllabi, and promoting textbooks. In other words, postcolonial Indian historians have primarily pursued the same blinkered colonizing vision of their masters who saw history only through a narrow prism of class, material wealth, and outsiders descending upon Hindus to ‘reform’ our heathen culture. In contrast, the history of the Hindu past is framed strictly within the confines of a region or sectarian terms. Therefore, instead of seeing the invaders for who they were, the history of Hindu India provincializes itself in this process and legitimizes self-hatred.

With a deep concern for such self-hatred in historical narratives, the Nobel Laureate V. S. Naipaul said: “This inveterate hatred of one’s ancestors and the culture into which they were born is accompanied by a hatred deep enough to want to destroy one’s own land and join the ranks of the violators of the ancestral land and culture, at least in spirit. Pakistan is an example. Its heroes are not the Vedic kings and Indic sages who walked the land but invading vandals like Ghaznavi and Ghori, who ravaged them.”

Accounting for the history of any country is a delicate task. However, it is far more sensitive for a civilization that has had a long colonial past. So, while reading mainstream Indian history, one must be mindful of what the foreigners wanted to know first. Because what they wanted to perceive foremost was beneficial to them in ruling the place as handily as possible, which effectively explains the dominance of hollow postulates surrounding racialized ethnic Aryan and Dravidian divides, and confounding European class concept with Hindu Varna in colonial and Marxist literature. These factors make it practically impossible for modern observers not to visualize previously colonized societies as changeless and unevolved for centuries. They never question if Indic social features are also aftermaths of several invading powers, the resulting conflict, and instinctive adaptations. Entities like factions and castes are often not static social constructs that result from endlessly contested histories. In Indic civilization and other colonized lands, such identities were often situational and flexible, not wholly rigid, and all-encompassing; wholesale rigidity is often a bug that needs exploration and explanation, not a feature to be endorsed unquestioned. A.M.Hocart, regarded by the philosopher-traditionalist Ananda Coomaraswamy as perhaps the only unprejudiced European sociologist who has written on caste, states: “It is at present fashionable to rationalize all customs, and to write up the “economic man” to the exclusion of that far older and more widespread type, the religious man, who, though he tilled and built and reared a family, believed that he could do these things successfully only so long as he played his allotted part in the ritual activities of his community.”

Indeed, the rigidity of the caste system was not the cause but the effect of the breakdown of political order. Moreover, the fixation with caste in Indian historical writings has made us oblivious to the profound ontological assumptions underlying the complexities of Indian society. Hindu society conceived multidirectional relationships at different levels of existence. This ideal of the individual-community relationship assumed that although human beings differ in temperament, each of them must try to develop and realize the full potential of being human through seeking greater intercourse with other members as part of cosmic reality. Dumont misunderstands this notion and argues that the individual in Indian thought did not exist beyond the idea of caste. It is simply not true because the concept of Indic autonomy is different from Individualism. Rights in Western liberal traditions are ‘claims’ against others in the society, but Indic society gave prominence to duties first, as it presupposed the consideration of others without obliterating autonomy. According to treatises like Sukraniti and the grand wisdom of Atharvaveda, autonomy is the state when no one can dominate us against our will or fundamental nature. Indian thought refers to this state as Swaraj; the Indian struggle for independence was predicated on Swaraj

Several other Indic scholars have highlighted the adverse effect of excessive emphasis on caste coupled with a de-emphasis of equally important other Indic social concepts. Factors such as ashrama, shreni, Kula and Jati, and above all Dharma (Global Ethic) are overlooked, leading to a grave misunderstanding about the character of Hindu society through its historical writings. Indeed, in the Ramayana (venerated Indian epic-poem composed by an author not belonging to the “upper class”) and Mahabharata (revered Indian epic-poem composed by an author born to a fisherwoman) and in the broad scope of Puranic literature, there is a notion of an individual who gives life and substance to the existence in this world. Indeed, so great has been the weight attached to the individual that Indic art and literature are sought to be expressed through the lives of such individuals, be it limited but the exuberant personality of Sri Rama or the unlimited personality of Sri Krishna (a cowherd who is the ultimate avatar; he also happens to be dark-complexioned) or the non-dimensional, half-man half-woman personality of Shiva. Needless to add that the importance of the themes discussed here springs from the fact that Hindu society of 2021 is still largely organized around them.

Indic pantheism may look absurd to atheists and those of Abrahamic persuasion alike. Nevertheless, the Indic tradition has always had a transnational characteristic and considerable geopolitical sphere of influence. Therefore, in the future Hindu scholarship will understandably reject the notion of the colonial or Marxist intelligentsia that overemphasized the ‘local’ or ‘regional’ as more ‘authentic’ than the larger society, territory, or neighborhood of the Hindus. Hindu scholars of today already investigate more into the interplay of local, regional, national, and global settings that have historically responded to Hindu thought and actions. As native scholarship course corrects Indian history, the updated Indian history textbooks of the future will undoubtedly give way to a bad press in the global north with alarmist headlines such as ‘Hindu revision of Indian history.’ Still, anyone with a reasonable amount of grey matter needs to recognize the mobility of Hindu predecessors and think through the different spatial frameworks they occupied and traversed Bhārata (the original name of Indic Civilization mentioned in the Indian constitution).

When external forces become overpowering, or the body of society is unable to assimilate them, inevitable tensions are generated, leading to its decay. The interaction of the outside influences with the total personality of the Hindu society and various traditions within it can be a fascinating study. I’m not suggesting that the mainstream discourse has no valuable insights in this regard. I’m only pointing at the enormous biases and gaps and how native Hindu scholarship is best equipped to address them. As I see it, an inevitable manifestation of cultural and intellectual decolonization of the Indian Civilization-State is the progressive recognition of the depth and scope of its Hindu character. A character that remains currently truncated for ‘communal’ comfort in the dominant narrative of Indian history.

Social Care: Who should pay, other than those who benefit?

Guest post by Dr Wesley Key

Image source

When Boris Johnson became Prime Minister in July 2019, he promised from outside 10 Downing Street that “we will fix the crisis in social care once and for all.” With his premiership since being dominated by Brexit and then Covid-19, little has since been heard about how this may be achieved, but reports in July 2021 suggest that a rise in the basic rate of income tax or in National Insurance Contributions (NICs) is being considered in order to increase Social Care funding for England. Such a move would break a Conservative manifesto pledge and would also be highly contentious in terms of intergenerational fairness.

Other potential options put forward to help to fund Social Care (and other public services) in England have included: An extra tax on people aged 40-plus (similar to the system in Japan), levying NICs on private pension income, reducing tax relief on pension contributions (to a maximum of 20% for higher rate taxpayers), raising the Upper Earnings Limit (UEL) for NICs, and making workers over state retirement pension age liable to pay NICs at the same rate (or a reduced rate) as ‘working age’ employees. Work by the IFS in 2018 implied that NICs paid by workers over state pension age could potentially raise £1-1.5 billion annually, not accounting for the behavioural changes that such a policy would inevitably lead to. Regardless of the amount of revenue raised, such a system would be morally justifiable in terms of: Older workers losing their current privileged position within the personal taxation system; older people who are sufficiently healthy to carry on paid employment helping to fund the social care needs of others in their birth cohort who are in poorer health (perhaps due to working in more physically demanding job roles earlier in life).

Whilst this reform would see the national insurance system return closer to its Beveridgean roots (Beveridge did not intend that NICs were solely a way of accumulating state pension entitlement), it would be insufficient to properly fund a Social Care system that included a lifetime cap on care costs along the lines of that proposed in the Dilnot Report on Social Care: Commission on Funding of Care and Support, 2011. It is therefore also recommended that the UEL for National Insurance contributions is significantly increased, along with the NICs rate for earnings above the UEL, as it is iniquitous that, in 2021-22, earnings over £967 a week are liable to just 2% NICs, compared to 12% NICs paid on earnings of £184-967 a week.  

By reforming National Insurance in the above ways, this could help to better fund England’s creaking Social Care system, potentially enabling a lifetime care costs cap to be introduced, and without raising taxes on employees aged under 66 who earn less than £50,000 per year. Such an approach would be compatible with Boris Johnson’s 2019 pledge to ‘fix’ social care and with retaining his expanded support base among lower paid working age people across the Midlands and Northern England. It would also be justified in terms of intergenerational fairness in a period when government spending on pensioners has risen by more than spending on younger age groups.

An Alternative to Chasing New Variants of SARS-CoV-2

In discussing the push to vaccinate against COVID-19 in developed economies like the US, UK, etc., what gets lost in political rhetoric is the importance of effective vaccination among the immunosuppressed, especially the HIV+ group.

In groups with underlying immunosuppression [i.e., people with hematological malignancies, people receiving immunosuppressive therapies for solid organ transplants, or other chronic medical conditions], there have been reports of prolonged COVID-19 infection. The latest one is from South Africa, where an HIV+ patient experienced persistent COVID-19 infection –of 216 days– with moderate severity. The constant shedding of the SARS-CoV-2 virus accelerated its evolution inside this patient. This is possible because suboptimal adaptive immunity delays clearance of the SARS-CoV-2 virus but provides enough selective pressure to drive the evolution of new viral variants. In this case, the mutational changes of the virus within the patient resembled the Beta variant.

The largest population of immunosuppressed [HIV+] is in South Africa. So an alternative to chasing variants like Delta and Beta after their largescale emergence or trying to convince people who reject vaccination in the Global North is to tackle super-spreading micro-epidemics of novel variants among the immunosuppressed in the Global South. Since Novovax and J&J are demonstrably ineffective among the immunosuppressed, the Moderna vaccine is the best bet to slow down the emergence of future variants.

Who has millions of unused mRNA Covid-19 vaccines that are set to go to waste? The answer is the United States. As demand dwindles across the United States and doses will likely expire this summer, why not use them in the Global South, especially South Africa, by a concerted international effort?

Some Monday Links – Of bloody summer stains, busted hopes and laundries

Also lingo. And beards.

Why Cuba is having an economic crisis (Noahpinion)

The Language of Totalitarian Dehumanization (Quillette)

On the Cuba events. Governments and protests, now that’s a strained relationship. Talking about the so-called “Second World” countries, Nikita Khrushchev did not even know what booing is, until he encountered it in his visit to London in 1956.

Few years later, during a massive strike in the Russian city of Novocherkassk, a crowd stormed the central police station. Whether it was a genuine assault, or a naive display of defiance from a people inexperienced in protesting, the government’s fearful puzzlement turned to cold, brutal aggression. Unarmed protesters at the center of the city, mistakenly thinking that those days were over, remained steadfast at the face of warnings to disperse. That is, until security forces opened direct fire against them. The ensuing massacre was covered-up for three decades. Since this was an à la Orwell un-event, no high-ranking officials’ records were stained.

Khrushchev’s aloof ignorance strikes a nerve, contrasted with the people’s heartbreaking one. Both glimpses are captured in the brilliant (though somewhat uneven) Red Plenty, by Francis Spufford.

All things said, Karl Marx Loved Freedom (Jacobin). More beards.

The Greek government, like its French counterpart, is escalating the push for vaccinations. As constitutional scholars argue the limits of state power regarding personal freedom and the public good, historical precedents are brought forth (for the US, c. early 1900s), involving mandatory vaccinations, quarantines and discrimination. The discussion draws from equal protection of the laws jurisprudence and smoothly led me to Yick Wo v. Hopkins (1886):

Yick Wo v. Hopkins established fair implementation of statutes (History Net)

The decision set a milestone and has been cited some 150 times.

The backdrop of the case is rich. As it turns out,

An 1880 ordinance of the city of San Francisco required all laundries in wooden buildings to hold a permit issued by the city’s Board of Supervisors. The board had total discretion over who would be issued a permit. Although workers of Chinese descent operated 89 percent of the city’s laundry businesses, not a single Chinese owner was granted a permit.

Oyez

The regulation was one in a series of many that reflected the anti-immigrant (especially anti-Chinese) sentiment, following the influx due to the Gold Rush (1849).

An illustration of the time, echoing the 3-day pogrom vs Chinese immigrants, San Francisco Jul. 1877 – Source

Yick Wo: How A Racist Laundry Law In Early San Francisco Helped Civil Rights (Hoodline)

A particularly badass line, from the unanimous opinion authored by Justice Stanley Matthews, shows that the Court did not hold back:

Though the law itself be fair on its face and impartial in appearance, yet, if it is applied and administered by public authority with an evil eye and an unequal hand, so as practically to make unjust and illegal discriminations between persons in similar circumstances, material to their rights, the denial of equal justice is still within the prohibition of the Constitution.

A Lot Better than Others

The 1776 Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of 1787 were all flawed. The first ten Amendments that followed quickly (around 1789) hardly began to fix them.

It’s idle to pretend that the group of highly educated, very cultured men who composed and promulgated them only allowed slavery because it sounded like the right idea at the time. In fact, there was never any moment in pre-American history when abolitionism was not a doctrine vigorously and clearly enunciated – by the Quakers among others.

The writers of the Declaration and the writers of the Constitution (two much overlapping groups) were all, if not Christian themselves, close descendants of Christians living in a Christian society. Of course, they knew that slavery was wrong. Of course, they spent a lot of intellectual energy minimizing in their own minds how dreadful it was in practice.

So, yes, slavery on a large scale tarnished the founding of the American Republic. The Founding Fathers were not saints in any way, shape of form. Few men are saints, by the way (or women, for that matter!) That’s why they need constitutions. The Founding Fathers were just way ahead of everyone else. The institutions they devised lasted us largely for nearly 250 years. They were copied more or less everywhere. They still are.

Caging the leaders of the future

My journey back to school has made me realize the skill school forbade me from learning is the single most important one I use in my job: delegation.

I have been running a research company I founded for 5 years now, and no single skill I have learned matters to my leadership abilities more than delegation. The only reason our company thrives is that other people do things I could never do myself, and it would be self-destructive and short-sighted to even try to hog the work on any task.

However, I returned to law school to finish my degree, and felt the limitations of my student life fall again squarely on my shoulders. Every assignment, every class felt uncomfortably heavy almost immediately, not because they were meaningless or useless, but because I could not treat them like a problem seeking a solution. Like an obstacle for me to overcome with my greatest asset–my team.

This simple rule, that I must turn in only my own work, makes sense only in the sterile world of the bean counting metric junkies, who worry not about whether I build great things but whether I built them alone. No client has ever peered suspiciously over my work, suggesting that perhaps I may have gotten outside, illicit assistance. Or worse, Googled and found someone else’s solution.

I’m not saying that all schools must immediately revise their grading systems to teach leadership or fit my needs. Far from it–I am telling anyone else struggling under the burdens of leadership, your school simply cannot help you. Recognize that there is no way to prepare for real challenges by getting high grades on fake ones. And learn to value the skills of others, lest you drown in your own inbox and incompetence.

US and China: Knowledge Deficit or Trade Deficit?

The problems with headlines such as this: “US Trade Balance With China Improves, but Sources of Tension Linger” are twofold. 

https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-trade-deficit-narrowed-in-december-as-exports-outpaced-imports-11612532757

A: It furnishes support to the notion that trade surpluses are FOREVER safe and trade deficits are INVARIABLY grave. That is not accurate because foreign countries will always wish to invest capital in countries like the US, which employ it relatively well. One clear case of a nation that borrowed massively from abroad, invested wisely and did excellently well is the United States itself. Although the US ran a trade deficit from 1831 to 1875, the borrowed financial capital went into projects like railroads that brought a substantial economic payoff. Likewise, South Korea had large trade deficits during the 1970s. However, it invested heavily in industry, and its economy multiplied. As a result, from 1985 to 1995, South Korea had enough trade surpluses to repay its past borrowing by exporting capital abroad. Furthermore, Norway’s current account deficit had reached 14 percent of GDP in the late 1970s, but the capital it imported enabled it to create one of the largest oil industries.

B: The headline makes a normative claim while equating bilateral trade deficit with the overarching narrative of bilateral tensions. Such normative claims follow from the author’s value-based reasoning, not from econometric investigation. China and the US may have ideological friction on many levels, but the surplus or deficit has much to do with demographics and population changes within a country at a given time. Nonetheless, a legacy of political rhetoric relishes on inflating and conflating matters. We hear a lot about the prediction that China is forecasted to become the largest economy by 2035, provoking many in the US to bat for protectionist policies. But we ignore the second part of this prediction. Based on population growth, migration (aided by liberal immigration policies) and total fertility rate, the US is forecasted to become the largest economy once again in 2098. 

Therefore, it is strange that a lot of the “trade deficit imbalance” headlines neglect to question if the borrower is investing the capital productively or not. A trade deficit is not always harmful, and no guarantee that running a trade surplus will bring substantial economic health. In fact, enormous trade asymmetries can be essential for creating economic development.

Lastly, isn’t it equally odd that this legacy of political rhetoric between the US and China makes it natural to frame trade deficits with China under the ‘China’s abuses and coercive power’ banner but intimidates the US establishment from honestly and openly confronting the knowledge deficit in SARS-CoV-2’s origin? How and when does a country decide to bring sociology to epistemology? Shouldn’t we all be concerned more about significant knowledge deficits?

The muddle-class: A continuation

In the 1999 remake of the film The Thomas Crowne Affair, there is an interesting snippet of dialogue:

Woman: The thing that impressed me most… was getting from Glasgow to Oxford on a boxing scholarship.

Crowne: Not bad for a wee lad from “Glasgee.” It was easy. Rich kids can’t box.

As readers of NOL would know, Oxford doesn’t offer sports scholarships, meaning that this origin story is not only implausible, it’s impossible. What this speaks to, aside from the inattention of the screenwriter, is a phenomenon of performance for a certain demographic: That is to say the telling of stories with information tailored to the understanding and assumptions of a particular group, or groups, of people. In the case of The Thomas Crowne Affair, that group is Americans for whom collegiate sports and higher education are synonymous, or those whose understanding of higher education is framed by their local institution, which offers sports scholarships. By extension, such people are not in the Oxbridge or even the Ivy League’s orbit as they would then be aware that the former don’t offer sports scholarships and that at the latter, even though some sports-related scholarships are offered, sports are held in open contempt by the student body. No one works hard to attend these places to then be jocks. The problem with demographically targeted performance is that it creates division, one which is based on fiction but whose consequences can be all too real. If a person doesn’t know how things work in another part of society, if his or her knowledge is based on stories-with-an-agenda, then he or she will see discrimination or rejection where there is none.

I have written before about meeting a childhood acquaintance for the first time in over twenty years and discovering that she was angry and bitter toward society for not recognizing her imagined precocity. She had moved to a town which is known as a resort frequented by the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, visiting dignitaries, etc. Telling me of her experiences, she became distraught – distraught! – that these people were polite to her. She comes from a family which might be described as Gucci socialists, so I inferred that she had a worldview which presumed that rich people, successful people be rude or arrogant toward the “working man.” Realizing that she was not elite and that her perceptions of the elite were wrong was a massive blow to her constructs.

As the case of Anna Sorokin, alias Delvey – the young woman who swindled her way around New York City for a year before being caught and charged with fraud – revealed, what tripped Sorokin was her lack of knowledge of the way elites truly behaved. One of the girls whom Sorokin attempted to involve in her subterfuges stated that she could be exceptionally rude to service people, which was one of the red flags to the hotel management who eventually unmasked her. The exact words were: “she could be oddly ill-mannered for a rich person. Please and thank you were not in her vocabulary.” She was hoisted on the petard of her own fantasies. I, myself, am waiting to see if this little detail makes its way into the two upcoming television dramas about the Sorokin swindle.

There’s a film from 2004, In Good Company, which stars a young Scarlett Johansson, among others. The film is a fairly good representation of how a placid, self-satisfied middle-class man was dragged, kicking and screaming, into the digital age. But, interestingly, the first clue for the parents in the film that the world doesn’t work the way they thought it did is when their eldest daughter, played by Johansson, is injured, costing her her tennis scholarship to an unnamed college in upstate New York. She comes home and informs her parents that without the scholarship, there’s no point in returning to that college because its reputation isn’t good enough for her to be able to progress professionally and socially coming out of it. She’s already arranged to transfer to NYU but needs her parents to cover her fees as she’s transferring mid-year, when all scholarships or financial aid have already been awarded. The daughter’s announcement is the beginning of her parents’ world collapsing in an avalanche of new information: “Not all colleges are created equal! The tennis scholarship wasn’t worth it – now she has a damaged arm and is behind academically! Well at this rate, she’s never going to win a merit scholarship. No problem, we’ll take out a mortgage on the house. Oh, damn! Dad’s lost his job because the magazine where he works is moving from print to digital and he can’t figure out how to use a computer!” The film is an interesting study of what happens when a couple, that fancies themselves as worldly wise and upwardly mobile, discover how little they actually know. The world doesn’t work the way they thought it did and everything that they believe themselves entitled to is stripped away.

Arthur Schopenhauer wrote in his essay “Psychological observations,” published in English as part of a collection of his essays titled Studies in Pessimism, “Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.” This quote, taken out of context, is much beloved by self-help authors. The full quote is:

Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world. This is an error of the intellect as inevitable as that error of the eye which lets us fancy that on the horizon heaven and earth meet. This explains many things, and among them the fact that everyone measures us with his own standard—generally about as long as a tailor’s tape, and we have to put up with it: as also that no one will allow us to be taller than himself—a supposition which is once [and] for all taken for granted.

Schopenhauer was commenting on Shakespeare’s Hamlet in this paragraph. However, it is a succinct description of the intellectual heresy of the pseudo-middle class. They take their own limited experience as how the world works, e.g. sports scholarships, and measure society according to their tailors’ tapes, e.g. world views requiring rich people to be rude.

According to legend, American wit Dorothy Parker was asked at a party to create an epigram using the word “whore;” without hesitating, she said “you can lead a whore to culture but you can’t make her think.” Mental or knowledge poverty, be it social or cultural, cannot be alleviated by mere exposure. Such poverty has nothing to do with lack of material means. It exists solely in the four or so inches between a person’s ears. In the same way, mental or knowledge wealth cannot be redistributed. As the Bolsheviks found, the only way to redistribute this type of wealth is to blow a person’s brains out.

The pseudo-middle class (or the muddle-class), with its limitations and tailors’ tapes, isn’t the backbone of society. At best, it’s a parasitic entity; at worst, a cancer. The bourgeois, of the type studied by Deidre McClosky, with their high-quality educations, discipline, courtly manners, and work ethic, are the backbone. Not everyone who falls into the general category “middle class” is bourgeois. In fact, I go so far as to say based on my own experience that the majority of middle class people are not bourgeois because we are at a point in history where true bourgeois values and lifestyle are demonized as “elitist.”

Monday’s frivolous, flimsy, frail flailings

Or, some Monday links on flavors, figurative flags and fails

I mean, it would be impossible to have a business like this in the States, a wood-burning fire – illegal, the meat – illegal, the dog – illegal, the cheese sitting out uncovered – illegal. Basically, everything that makes this place good would be illegal in the United States.

Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations ep. 1 – 01 France: Why the French don’t suck (Jul. 2005)

The other day, Brandon highlighted (the review of) a cultural history book, one that documents the postwar shift of cultural gravitas from Paris to New York. So, the talk is about the big league, the respectful duo of countries that gave us, among other things, modern constitutionalism and an understanding of the natural hue of fundamental rights. Here, I venture to present a sincere, if arbitrary (and somewhat superficial, since I never learned French, to my mother’s disappointment) selection of other Franco-American bites, that shadowed greater trends, or even shaped them.

160 years ago, chef Charles Ranhofer, a Frenchman, traveled to the US for a second time. A year and a false dawn at another premise after, he was hired at Delmonico’s in New York, an already established name. There, he proceeded in making it the definite flagship of American fine dining for the next 30-35 years.

A note issued by the restaurant at the time chef Ranhofer joined the team (1862) – source

His achievements include the invention of renowned dishes, innovations in the dining business model and a massive Franco-American culinary encyclopedia (The Epicurean, 1894, complete with nearly 1000 dishes and thorough guidelines for the proper tables/ menu setting, depending on the occasion). The story fits well in the Gilded Age picture, though I would guess not at front center.

Our own Escoffier (Los Angeles Times)

My pastry trilogy came a full circle only last year, having started some ten years ago: a Mississippi mud pie, a cheesecake (early 2010s, both under the guidance of my wife) and a tarte Tatin (May ‘20 lockdown, unsupervised, our then nearly-5-year old provided merry company). Of the three creations, the final was the most refined, as deserves to a French recipe from late 19th century. Like, it needed some real – if basic – technique, not the average ingredient gathering I was used to. It was also a mild failure. I followed a modern take, one to safely blame without retort. Will try again, someday. There are relevant recipes aplenty, though not in its contemporary Epicurean.

Deconstructing tarte tatin, the classic French dessert (National Geographic)

The Gilded Age was nearing its end when the famous Lochner v New York decision was delivered (1905). The Supreme Court struck down a New York state law on regulating working hours, as a breach of the liberty of contract, which was protected under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. A few decades later, in United States v Carolene Products Company (1938), an interstate trade case, the Court lowered the standard of review for economic legislation, effectively demoting economic liberty vis-à-vis the other personal liberties.

Both decisions refer to the food industry, bakeries and milk manufacturers respectively. They hold vast importance and warrant further study (for starters – note to self – judicial activism in Lochner, individual rights in Carolene).

As a certain minstrel in a certain fantasy realm would have it, the truth of these decisions became something bigger than the facts. The two cases work as handy banners of the paradigm shift from “unrestrained economic liberty” to “state interventionism”, which happened as right/ left-wing totalitarianisms convincingly challenged the prewar liberal order. Liberal-minded thinkers from the two sides of the Atlantic tried to revitalize the liberal creed in the interwar years. Some of them convened at Paris – few months after the Carolene decision – to honor the visit of the American journalist/ author Walter Lippmann, a notable critic of the New Deal.

There were deep differences, but also a strong agreement on the threat posed by central planning and some tentative overlapping on the perceived failings of “old” classical liberalism and, interestingly, the potential of the state in enhancing personal freedom by pursuing limited social goals. The – middle – way forward needed free markets in a solid, impartial legal frame, which would enforce competition and even provide for a modicum of social justice. By one account, it was during this meeting that the term “neo-liberalism” took root (other ideas included “left-wing” or “constructive” liberalism. Chicago theorists – not represented at the Colloque Lippmann- had previously written about “positive” liberalism), though the term is older. The resolution led to nowhere in particular, since World War II broke out shortly after. It is nonetheless considered a kind-of precursor to the Mont Pelerin Society, the well-known organization founded after a conference in 1947, at the invitation of Hayek.

The neoliberal position is nicely summarized by Milton Friedman (who was present at the 1947 proceedings) in a short piece from 1951:

Neo-liberalism would accept the nineteenth century liberal emphasis on the fundamental importance of the individual, but it would substitute for the nineteenth century goal of laissez-faire as a means to this end, the goal of the competitive order… The state would police the system, establish conditions favorable to competition and prevent monopoly, provide a stable monetary framework, and relieve acute misery and distress.

Neo-Liberalism and its Prospects (Hoover Institution)

The term can also be found in scholarly papers from 50s-60s, but upon closer inspection they mostly focus on its German variant, “ordoliberalism”, which was closely associated with the “social market economy” – the postwar platform that defined West Germany (though voters could hardly tell what it exactly was).

My understanding is that, at some point postwar, the French involvement dwindled. Also, some German theorists fell from grace in the Mont Pelerin Society context, while US membership increased in number and clamor. The whole approach tilted closer to classical liberal/ libertarian (another note to my – European – self, Edwin van de Haar offers precious nuance regarding such terminology in a fresh post) and away from the “free market, strong state” convictions of Colloque Lippmann. However, Hayek retained cordial relations with the University of Freiburg – where the original ordoliberal theses formed.

Then the shade of neo-liberalism faded, only to be invoked as a nebulous catch-all characterization of free market policies a couple of decades later, almost devoid of its competitive and social security chops. It got a life though, since it was fleshed in the founding Treaties of the EU of the 50s. The institutional apparatus of the Union smugly radiates “free market within the properly defined lines” (the US influence is not be discounted, of course. Case in point, competition law).

EU, as with the Colloque: The French grabbed a coffee with the Americans and threw a party. Then, they took a step back as the Germans stopped being shy and hit the decks.

Back to the kitchen. Late 60s and into the 70s, gastronomic developments trace the retooling of society-at-large. That was the time various “new” national cuisines rose, with the French Nouvelle cuisine once again leading the way and the New American Cuisine taking clue from it (in Greece we usually talk about the “(new) urban cuisine” of that period, as the country experienced a rapid urbanization wave in the preceding decades).

Fantasy unchained: A cooking center in 1980 as imagined in 1973 – source

In the meantime: Political turmoil, be it protests or terrorism, there go Bretton Woods arrangements, productivity flattens, environmental concerns kick-in, enter competition from Asia, human rights against the Soviet Block, university studies expand, telecommunications and transport improve, oil crises, the lights go out in Britain and elsewhere, inflation runs, and so on and so forth. The next decade coincided with the emergence of new political leaderships across the West, as the turbulence discredited the previous guard.

The consensus got a drift for privatizations, deregulation and liberalization of international transactions, with US and Britain adhering to it (though to say that they indeed rolled-back the size and scope of State is questionable). This time, the Nobel Memorial Prizes in Economic Sciences awarded to Hayek (1974) and Friedman (1976) served as a flag (or a scarecrow) for the transition to market-based prescriptions.

The endgame was meant to play out in France. In May 1981, Mitterrand won the presidential election on a pretty standard socialist agenda. The program of nationalizations, hiked taxation, capital controls, grants and subsidies run its course till 1983, when the bad results in deficit, employment, inflation and the exchange rate – underlined by an equally poor performance in local elections – prompted a turn to anti-inflationary rigor and a realignment with more market-oriented policies (Spain and Greece, btw, more or less copycatted the French experience).

In a twist in the myth, three Mitterrand guys even went to assume head posts in international bodies, like the IMF (a member of the unholy trinity of the “Washington Consensus”), and promote capital account liberalization from there.

Endnote: The No Reservations show of late Anthony Bourdain had a role in our family’s inconsistent knack for things cooking/ baking. While writing this, I found out that a documentary on the man’s life just premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.

‘Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain’ Review: The Insatiable Life and Enigmatic Death of a Foodie Superstar (Variety)

Encore: To France”, Mike Oldfield’s cover by power metal band Blind Guardian, from their The Forgotten Tales album (1996). Pas mal.

American Classical Liberals Suck

This week Kevin Vallier published a new entry on neoliberalism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Neoliberalism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). It is a well-written, well-researched piece. However, it is also symbolic for the greatest deficiency of American classical liberals: they are unable or unwilling to defend the name, or label if you like, of the ideas they are associated with. Given the influence of American academia and thinks tanks on the rest of the world this is especially important. It has happened before, and it is happening now. It sucks.

This is how Vallier starts his entry:

“Though not all scholars agree on the meaning of the term, “neoliberalism” is now generally thought to label the philosophical view that a society’s political and economic institutions should be robustly liberal and capitalist, but supplemented by a constitutionally limited democracy and a modest welfare state. Recent work on neoliberalism, thus understood, shows this to be a coherent and distinctive political philosophy. This entry explicates neoliberalism by examining the political concepts, principles, and policies shared by F. A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, and James Buchanan, all of whom play leading roles in the new historical research on neoliberalism, and all of whom wrote in political philosophy as well as political economy. Identifying common themes in their work provides an illuminating picture of neoliberalism as a coherent political doctrine.”

The problem is in the words: ‘“neoliberalism” is now generally thought…’’.  Neoliberalism is a hotly debated term, there is certainly no consensus on its meaning. As Oliver Hartwich has emphasized in Neoliberalism, the genesis of a political swearword, it is still most often used as a swearword by the left for all that they think is wrong with capitalism, (classical) liberalism, (more or less) liberal policies by IMF, WTO and World Bank, et cetera. These left wingers are also found in academia, policy and in media circles, which has led to its routine use. However, it is not true that the work of Hayek, Friedman and Buchanan is generally thought to be covered by a neoliberal label. Only those who disagree with it call them neoliberals. It is painful to see that the ideas of these three Nobel Prize winners are now used to explain neoliberalism in a leading online source. They self-identified as classical liberals and just because opponents of their views use a different label is no reason to comply with that malicious practice.  

The worse thing is, it has happened before, also commencing in the US. Fairly recently, classical liberals began to use the label libertarian, as the Cato Institute has been promoting, for example on their (very useful) website  Libertarianism.org, or in David Boaz’ The Libertarian Mind.  Jason Brennan’s Libertarianism, what everyone needs to know is another example. The issue here is that the three aforementioned classical liberals, and others, are now thrown onto the same heap as Rothbard and Rand, to name a few rather different thinkers.

Decades earlier, Hayek and others noted with regret that the Americans were unable to defend the original meaning of the word liberal, with the result that a liberal in the American sense is now what people in other parts of the world call a social-democrat. It is also the reason Hayek and other started to use the name classical liberal.  

The result of all this changing of names is confusion and vulnerability. Nobody knows what label belongs to which ideas, which gives rise to a petty industry on liberal labels, yet without any clarity in the end. It also provides ample opportunity for opponents to negatively attack ideas loosely associated with the (classical) liberal movement, which results in a negative image, which also make liberal ideas less attractive for outsiders. The lack of clarity also makes vulnerable for any kind of criticism. Actually, embracing the swearword other use for you, by offering the ideas of your greatest and brightest thinkers, is a shameful act at least.

American classical liberals should stay firm and defend their ideas under the proper labels. There is no reason for change (see my Degrees of Freedom: Liberal Political Philosophy and Ideology), there is only a need for explanation and defense. Giving up clear and proper labels plainly sucks.         

Mother: A Verb and a Noun

I’m sharing what I gleaned from a very insightful discussion with the author, Sarah Knott, who visited Cincinnati early last year for an open house discussion about her book, Mother is a Verb: An Unconventional History.

Sarah points out that in the modern world, the mother is the only caregiver left. However, in traditional European and Asian societies (for example, the Indian society), mothering was—in the case of India, to a large extent still is—a communal effort. Aunts were central and were called Big Momma. Now they are just aunts. This clarifies for me why we in India, while growing up, refer to every stranger on the street of a certain age as an uncle or an aunt irrespective of who they are; it is a vestige of our traditional society heavily focused on ‘other mothering.’ 

From the open house discussion I discovered, after the First World War, there was despair about the world, leading to childlessness or child-free couples. This mirrors our generation’s cultural concerns and climate change anxieties in leading to more child-free couples. In this context, the American baby boom in the 1940s and 50s was not an everyday occurrence but a striking anomaly. After the baby boom, a period of childlessness (child-free couples) came back. Although many things are recorded about mothers and women in child-free marriages, what we know about fathers and childless men is nada. This is a gap in our history we need to correct. Back to the topic of mothers, the US and France, after the world wars, reduced their childbirths first. Women stood up for individual liberty—about time—in these countries. This trend eventually led to other places in the world adopting the same values. So, a trade-off the post-Second World War societies made was that they no longer cared for big families. Instead, they looked to invest in different versions of big and caring governments with mixed results.

As we decided to move from big, interconnected families, which helped protect (in terms of social capital) the most vulnerable people in society from the shocks of life to smaller, detached nuclear families, we made room to maximize talents and expand individual freedom. This shift has ultimately led to a familial system that liberates people of a certain capability and ravages others. 

Altogether, Sarah Knott reminds us that our contemporary society often forgets that a ‘mother’ is just as much a verb as it is a noun.

Health policy is a less mature field in India

The raging second wave of Covid-19 hasn’t just collapsed the Indian healthcare, it has devastatingly uncovered preexisting public health policy deficits and healthcare frailties.

[As of May 3, 2021]
[As of May 3, 2021]

In India, there is a need to revive a serious conversation around public health policy, along with upgrading healthcare. But wait, isn’t the term ‘public health’ interchangeable with healthcare? Actually, no. ‘Public health’ is the population-scale program concerned with prevention and not cure. In contrast, healthcare essentially involves a private good and not public good. Most public health experts point out, the weaker the healthcare system (such as in India), the greater the gains from implementing public health prevention strategies.

India focused its energies on preventing malaria by fighting mosquitoes in the 1970s and then regressed to treating patients who have malaria, dengue or Zika ineffectively. A developing public health policy got sidelined for a more visible, vote-grabbing, yet inadequate healthcare program. Why? Indian elites tend to transfer concepts and priorities, from the health policy debates of advanced economies, into Indian thinking about health policy without much thought. As a result, there is considerable confusion around terminologies. There is a need for a sharp delineation between: ‘public good,’ ‘public health’ and ‘healthcare.’ The phrase ‘public health’ is frequently misinterpreted to imply ‘healthcare.’ On the contrary, ‘healthcare’ is repeatedly assumed as a ‘public good.’ In official Indian directives, the phrase ‘public health expenditure’ is often applied for government expenditures on healthcare. It is confusing because it contains the term ‘public health,’ which is the antonym of ‘healthcare.’

Many of the advanced economies of today have been engaged in public health for a very long time. As an example, the UK began work on clean water in 1858 and on clean air in 1952. For over forty-five years the Clean Air Act in the U.S. has cut pollution as the economy has grown. Therefore, the elites in the UK and US can worry about the nuances of healthcare policy. On the other hand, the focus of health policy in India must be upon prevention, as it is not a solved problem. Problems such as air quality has become worse today in India. Can the Ministry of Health do something about it? Not much, because plenty of public health-related issues lie outside the administrative boundaries of the Ministry of Health. Air quality—that afflicts North India—lies in the Ministry of Environment and internal bureaucracy—“officials love the rule of officials”—deters the two departments from interacting and working out such problems productively. Economist Ajay Shah points out, Indian politicians who concern themselves with health policy take the path of least resistance—to use public money to buy insurance (frequently from private health insurance companies) for individuals who would obtain healthcare services from private healthcare providers. This is an inefficient path because a fragile public health policy bestows a high disease burden, which induces a market failure in the private healthcare industry, followed by a market failure in the health insurance industry.

In other words, Ajay Shah implies that the Indian public sector is not effective at translating expenditures into healthcare services. Privately produced healthcare is plagued with market failure. Health insurance companies suffer from poor financial regulation and from dealing with a malfunctioning healthcare system. No matter the amount of money one assigns into government healthcare facilities or health insurance companies, both these routes work poorly. As a consequence, increased welfare investment by the government on healthcare, under the present paradigm of the Indian healthcare, is likely to be under par.

The long-term lessons from the second wave of COVID-19 is that inter-departmental inefficiencies cannot be tolerated anymore. Public health considerations and economic progress need to shape future elections and the working of many Indian ministries in equal measure. India deserves improved intellectual capacity in shaping public health policy and upgrading healthcare to obtain a complete translation of higher GDP into improved health outcomes. This implies that health policy capabilities—data sets, researchers, think tanks, local government—will need to match the heterogeneity of Indian states. What applies to the state of Karnataka will not necessarily apply to the state of Bihar. The devastating second wave is not arguing for imposing more centralized uniformity in the working of healthcare and public health policy proposals across India, as it will inevitably reduce the quality of executing these proposals in its diverse states with various hurdles. Instead, Indian elites need to place ‘funds, functions and functionaries’ at the local level for better health outcomes. After all, large cities in India match the population of many countries. They deserve localized public health and healthcare policy proposals.

The need to address the foundations of public health and healthcare in India around the problems of market failure and low state capacity has never been greater.

What is “old?”: Middle-class pretensions

Recently to improve my German, I began viewing a soap opera titled Altes Geld (Old Money). The series was so bad, I stopped watching halfway through the first season. The show follows a super-rich family as they move from travesty to depravity and back. While the characters are presented as an old, established family, in truth they aren’t. The family made their fortune by collaborating with the Nazis. At the time the show aired, their fortune would have been only seventy years old. As a friend of mine said in response to the premise, “that isn’t old money—just an old way of making it,” meaning crony capitalism and opportunism, not siding with the Nazis. Despite my reaction to the series and its anti-rich message, it did make me think about what is “old” and what this means in the sense of legacy or tradition in a society, which in my view is turning increasingly toward fictions as part of a nostalgic utopian vision.

The so-called patriarch in the tv series pontificates on familial tradition and the way things have always been done. As they are a new family, I’m fairly certain the patriarch’s monologues are satirical; after all the family isn’t old enough to have any real traditions and the way they’ve done things is certainly not to be emulated. Yet, an attitude, a posturing of being people who know things, have tried-and-true ways of doing things which is (probably) satire on a soap opera appears in real life as a trope, repeated with gravity by public figures, often in the context of a “decline of the middle-class.”

A common feature in the declinist narrative is a supposed failure of public, or in American English, state schooling systems. Attached is an implicit or explicit middle-class proclamation of “this is the way we’ve always done things,” a claim which is taken at face value by both speakers and audience. Yet, it isn’t. At best, the “middle-class way” dates to post-World War II, much like the ersatz old family and their traditions in Altes Geld.

Anecdotally, I know one arch-Conservative who is devoted to the declinist narrative, particularly in relation to public education. He is a first generation public schooler. His own parents, who were of the War generation, attended private religious schools. Lest readers misinterpret the religious aspect, pre-World War II, private schooling offered by religious institutions was often the only option for children whose parents were of modest means but who wanted something better than a local state school.

The arch-Conservative’s parents were part of a phenomenon discussed by David Willett in his book The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children’s Future – And Why They Should Give It Back. Willett, who always has to issue a disclaimer that he is a boomer himself, talks about how the boomers were betrayed by the War generation as they were the ones who, for the first time in recorded human history, stopped putting the next generation first in that they stopped trying to find the best educations for the boomers. People who in previous generations would have sent their children to private schools, and who themselves had usually benefited from attending such schools, sent their children (the boomers) to public school instead. Willett argues that the boomers themselves were the victims of intergenerational theft; their crime was perpetuating it on their children, through repeating the patterns of their own parents.

Although Willett limited his study to Great Britain as that is his area of expertise, I can anecdotally say that a similar phenomenon occurred in the US. My grandfather was a boarding school boy, kept there at great expense and effort on the part of his coal miner father who wanted something better for his son. My grandfather, who fulfilled on his father’s dreams (graduate degrees from good universities, Naval commander, successful business owner) though, did not repeat the pattern exactly and his children attended (initially) an absolutely rubbish public school. If there was any logic to that decision, it was “that’s the way things are,” though he of all people should have known that there was no need for deterministic attitudes. To repeat: both coal miner’s son and boarding school boy – during the Great Depression!

Returning to the first-generation state schooler, his children are second-generation public schoolers, and he complains about how expectations for them have not matched reality—an infallible sign of decline. But the chasm between expectation and reality is society’s fault, in his declinist narrative. That his own parents betrayed him and he then foisted that betrayal on his children is not a factor. No, public school is a “tradition” in his family. Yes, in the same way a new money family whose fortune is not even a century old can have traditions.

The gulf between the pre-War and the War generations did not occur in a vacuum. To close, I ask the reader to contemplate the following paragraph from Virginia Woolf’s speech “The Leaning Tower,” which she, a devoted Marxist, gave in 1940 to the Workers’ Educational Association:

(NB: Virginia Woolf used the term “public school” to signify old, private preparatory boarding schools, not state schools in the American sense.)

There are two reasons which lead us to think, perhaps to hope, that the world after the war will be a world without classes or towers. Every politician who has made a speech since September 1939 has ended with a peroration in which he has said that we are not fighting this war for conquest; but to bring about a new order in Europe. In that order, they tell us, we are all to have equal opportunities, equal chances of developing whatever gifts we may possess. That is one reason why, if they mean what they say, and can effect it, classes and towers will disappear. The other reason is given by the income tax. The income tax is already doing in its own way what the politicians are hoping to do in theirs. The income tax is saying to middle-class parents: You cannot afford to send your sons to public schools any longer; you must send them to the elementary schools. One of these parents wrote to the New Statesman a week or two ago. Her little boy, who was to have gone to Winchester, had been taken away from his elementary school and sent to the village school. “He has never been happier in his life”, she wrote. “The question of class does not arise; he is merely interested to find how many different kinds of people there are in the world…” And she is only paying twopence-halfpenny a week for that happiness and instruction instead of 35 guineas a term and extras. If the pressure of the income tax continues, classes will disappear. There will be no more upper classes; middle classes; lower classes. All classes will be merged in one class. How will that change affect the writer who sits at his desk looking at human life? It will not be divided by hedges any more. Very likely that will be the end of the novel, as we know it. Literature, as we know it, is always ending, and beginning again. Remove the hedges from Jane Austen’s world, from Trollope’s world, and how much of their comedy and tragedy would remain? We shall regret our Jane Austens and our Trollopes; they gave us comedy, tragedy, and beauty. But much of that old-class literature was very petty; very false; very dull. Much is already unreadable. The novel of a classless and towerless world should be a better novel than the old novel. The novelist will have more interesting people to describe—people who have had a chance to develop their humour, their gifts, their tastes; real people, not people cramped and squashed into featureless masses by hedges. The poet’s gain is less obvious; for he has been less under the dominion of hedges. But he should gain words; when we have pooled all the different dialects, the clipped and cabined vocabulary which is all that he uses now should be enriched. Further, there might then be a common belief which he could accept, and thus shift from his shoulders the burden of didacticism, of propaganda. These then are a few reasons, hastily snatched, why we can look forward hopefully to a stronger, a more varied literature in the classless and towerless society of the future.

A classless society built on betrayal of the futures of the young generations and treachery toward the sacrifices of the pre-World War II generation, that is the “tradition” of the modern middle-class. Their society is not even a century old, but it is already presented as a utopia of stability and homogeneity. It is time to recognize it for what it is: an ill-informed charlatan aping both the mannerisms of true tradition and the honor and dignity that come with it, while proclaiming itself the epitome of a classless society.   

Transaction Costs are Injustice

Every Law Professor: ‘what is justice?’

In law school, I found that the central goal of legal academics and practitioners was to construct systems of thought, regulation, and courts providing justice. In that endeavor, my peers and professors constantly asked, “what is justice?”

I think well intentioned lawyers would agree, the law should provide access to justice via a system that is generally agreeable to those subjected to it, and that matches in rules what the general public aligns on in spirit. However, beyond these generalities, I find the conversation of ‘what is justice’ to be too abstract to be useful. However, that does not mean we should give up on it, we just need to change approaches, and instead ask ‘what is injustice?’

The Via Negativa

The basis for this is that it is easier to agree on what is unjust than on what is just: injustice in the form of concrete, tangible wrongdoing can be protested to, and people from diverse viewpoints can find agreement in what they mutually despise. Through the via negativa, then, we can fill in the negative space around justice, and by recognizing what it is NOT, we can start to give it form.

I know exactly where I would start, since I spend way too much time around lawyers, and I have noticed that they are open to any discussion of how lawyers can bring justice, but get very prickly if you suggest that the cost in time, money, and lost control by delegating justice to lawyers is in any way problematic. Let’s just say, lawyers don’t like being reminded that they are rent seekers in the process of achieving justice. So, my bold assertion is:

Transaction Costs are Injustice

Let me unpack this. What I mean by this is that, whatever a just outcome may be, it is unjust to delay this outcome when speed is possible, it is unjust to have complexity and opacity when simplicity is possible, and it is unjust to demand control when voluntarism and mutuality is possible. In effect, it is unjust to make the process of finding justice costly.

The Appeal Labyrinth: The Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales

This issue actually came up to me in a conversation about the heartbreaking case of The Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales. In June 1999, Jessica Lenahan-Gonzales was a resident of Castle Rock whose estranged husband kidnapped her children from her house, and when she called the police and asked them to enforce an active restraining order against him (he had been stalking her and her children). They did not react quickly, and 12 hours later, her children were found murdered in her estranged husband’s car after he engaged in a deadly shootout with the police.

Now, there is no good outcome from such a situation, especially for Jessica. However, one route for her was to sue the police department under, of all things, under a law originally passed to fight the KKK. In her lawsuit, she claimed the federal government had an interest in enforcement of the restraining order and alleged that the police department had “an official policy or custom of failing to respond properly to complaints of restraining order violations.”

Jessica’s case was initially dismissed by the District Court, but she appealed and, in 2002, it was reversed by the Tenth Circuit, which said she could recover under procedural due process but denied that she had a right to recover via substantive due process (for Scalia’s take on substantive due process in general, see this amazing video). However, the Circuit court also noted that while the town was liable, the officers were covered by qualified immunity.

The town appealed and actually was granted cert by the Supreme Court. SCOTUS reversed the Circuit Court in a 7-2 decision; Scalia wrote for the majority that officers were not required by law to immediately enforce restraining orders, that even if they were it would not give individuals a right to sue (instead, the right would be with the state). Lastly, he noted that even if enforceable, this would have no monetary value and could not lead to an individual payout via Due Process.

So, in the end, SCOTUS gave Jessica nothing. Now, we can all weigh in on whether Scalia ‘did justice’ to her; I have incredible sympathy for Jessica but happen to think his argument is correct, that under the law and Constitution, a restraining order does not give her the right to get money from the town. But I will say that the court did her a great injustice, in sending her down a 6-year rabbit hole of being denied, then allowed, then denied again from recovery. How, then, can we all agree that the court was unjust? The injustice was the delay. The injustice was the tremendous cost in time, money, and emotional damage. The injustice was that the process for answering the question of how a mother should react to the murder of her children and how a town should support her gave no closure, and instead just had transaction costs in landing her, in 2005, exactly in the same spot she was in 1999.

The Lazy Counter: justice takes time!

Now, angry lawyers out there, don’t mistake me here: I am not saying appeals never bring justice. I too am in awe of the work of the Equal Justice Initiative, which uses the appeals process to fight wrongful convictions. I am not arguing appeals are unjust. I am arguing that a legal system that takes 6 years and millions of dollars to answer any question is doing an injustice to EJI’s clients as well. Was Walter “Johnny D.” McMillian served well by a justice system that put him in jail for years while his appeal stagnated?

What is obvious here is that lawyers, in their blindered vision of pursuing justice, are doing their best to get to the right outcome, and while cost may be a consideration for process improvement, it is not a consideration for justice. Maybe a simpler, more transparent, faster court process would do a worse job. But I think that every complexity, opacity, and delay is an injustice done by our system to the people who are seeking justice through it, and I would be amazed if Johnny D would have been thankful for all the technicalities that could be used to get the right outcome after what the Alabama prison system put him through.

Is “justice” trying to do too much?

Unlike in the case of Johnny D, Jessica’s case may show how we stretch the bounds of the system to get to an outcome that feels right, rather than being by the rules. Johnny D was caught up by a racist abuse of criminal justice, which is intended to keep citizens safe; there was no ‘community solution’ available for the murder of which he was falsely accused.

Jessica, however, was simply not treated right by her town. Anyone, regardless of their politics or views, would hope that the town has some level of care for their aggrieved, and that the community could pull together around her. Obviously, this did not happen–and especially not by the town’s police department, which had the opportunity to admit it was asleep at the wheel under the knowledge that they had qualified immunity. Since community solutions were lacking, she brought a civil case, which had a desirable end–helping an aggrieved mother and recognizing that her case was mishandled–but inadequate and undesirable means: lawyers lawyering.

I would be amazed if Jessica herself thought of the connection of: restraining order->Ku Klux Klan Act->federal oversight of law enforcement->property recovery under the Due Process Clause->monetary damages for police inaction. From my legal education, this sounds like the highly technical argument of a creative activist lawyer, who wants to change the law as much as he wants to help his clients. So, were Jessica’s lawyers trying to do too much through the justice system? Was the better solution, then, not to turn back to the community and use public truth-telling or even honest requests for help?

The elites-for-the-people against the people

This made me react against a phenomenon I have seen across law schools, firms, and courts. At elite law schools, the administration touts the number of Access to Justice projects and amicus briefs written by faculty in cases like Gonzales. At elite law firms, they attract top performers with huge salaries, sure, but they mostly talk about how many interesting pro bono cases their associates can take on. And on top Circuit Courts, most famously the Ninth, my classmates go on to help judges think creatively about how to reach just outcomes via legal wrangling. All of these activities are done with a mix of noblesse oblige and self-importance, but are honestly intended to help find justice for the downtrodden. I simply think these do-gooders don’t notice that all these activities are costly.

If you are not a lawyer, you may not realize how systematic this cost has become. Non-lawyers view courts as places where people with causes of action come and get answers based on the law. Lawyers know better: this certainly happens, but in parallel, dozens of groups (plaintiffs lawyers and activist groups on all sides of every issue) are targeting certain laws and certain constitutional questions, and are searching madly for standing. As in, they comb the news and low-level lawsuits to find one they can fund through as many appeals as possible to get the law changed or even just to get a ruling on a fact pattern that is friendly to them. In this, let me pick on my own team: in Carpenter v. US, in which the government used the cell phone location records of Carpenter and his friends without a warrant to arrest and convict them of robberies, there were no fewer than 16 amicus briefs by privacy activists (the CEI, EPIC, EFF, the Fourth Amendment Scholars, and the list goes on). Carpenter v. US was about many deep legal deliberations on the importance of privacy, but I have to say, long before it reached SCOTUS, it was no longer about justice for Carpenter, who had been in jail for two years and who wasn’t getting out even if he won. While it was a victory for my ‘team’ in saying that the government needs warrants if it wants cell phone location records, maybe justice isn’t just about getting victories for my team, if that victory comes at the cost of multiple appeals, dozens of lawyers and clerks, national media coverage, uncertainty for cell phone users and companies, and those 16 institutions writing briefs.

I therefore ask proponents of justice, who are trying to use their elite position to improve the system’s outcomes for the downtrodden, to be a little bit more humble and self-focused. Instead of sitting in seminars or court sessions deliberating on ‘what is justice,’ ask whether the justice system is the right way to seek the right outcome. Ask whether, maybe, it would be better to go out and act positively toward your fellow man rather than demand money, time, and attention to the causes, cases, and opinions of the (all elite and elitist) members of legal groups.

Invasiveness is Injustice

Across all legal disputes, I think the thing that rankles me–and all non-lawyers–is how prominent law is in our lives. If I need to use the justice system, I know it will become a major part of my life’s spending, but even if I never am called into court, I know that court cases are going to continue to be high-profile, lawyers are going to continue to increase their share of the economy, and professors are going to keep publishing books, seminars, articles, and blogs about ‘how can people like me bring just outcomes?’

So, maybe, we can find some justice for all if the legal system simply recognizes that ‘what is justice’ is not a question of all-encompassing, existential values, but a question of how to run an institution. Maybe what is important here is not the rights that we seek to gain for the oppressed by any means necessary, but of building and maintaining a structure (a Constitution, if you will) where anyone can engage, or not, with a system that uses just methods. High cost, delay, opacity, and central control are not just methods and show that the system is not working effectively.

We can all agree, left and right, that regardless of the answer, the system, the method of justice is itself broken if it cannot help but be a burden. Justice should not be so costly in our lives, and it is a failing of lawyers and judges to make their own jobs so important, pervasive, in control. I hope, with all the fantastically intelligent amicus-brief-writers out there, we can find a way to at least cut back that injustice.

Liberal Democracies and Authoritarian Regimes: The Case for Law Enforcement. (Part 12 of 12)

Conclusions

To a large extent, the deficiencies in the application of legal norms were usually attributed to cultural issues related to a low level of regulatory compliance by the population because the first of the concepts – that of normative application – is extremely elusive when it comes to categorize it as a matter of law or politics. As has been pointed out, the law enforcement fulfills a function similar to that of the logical figure described by Ludwig Wittgenstein in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: it does not fully belong to one or the other discipline, but rather marks the contours that they limit each other. The law enforcement depends on a political decision, but such a political decision makes up the defining characteristics of a political regime: Rule of Law or Rule by Law. Systems that have a low regulatory application give governments too wide a margin of excessive discretion to selectively apply the law, without respecting the principle of equality of the law and with the purpose of persecuting dissidents and opponents, which results characteristic of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes.

On the other hand, although it concerns an eminently legal field of action, the dynamics of the incentives generated by a low regulatory application prevent it from being increased by intra-legal mechanisms. This is because, in general, a low level of regulatory application is accompanied by relatively high penalties, so that the activation of judicial mechanisms aimed at achieving a higher level of law enforcements by officials leads to the generalization of sanctions disproportionate to the protected legal assets.

Therefore, the solution to such problems of normative application does not depend on the judicial system, but on its political processing through the legislative branch, since, to get out of the trap in which the political system is involved, in addition to increasing the provision of resources destined to ensure compliance with the law, the penalties provided should be reduced in order to function with a lower degree of application.

A good example of this could be the reduction of taxes in a framework of high tax evasion, which can be proposed by virtue of principles of equity and which can also be aimed at achieving higher tax collection. This last aspect is of particular relevance when considering the political incentives to proceed with the aforementioned reform. This is because, as has been stated, any increase in the law enforcement implies a reduction in the level of discretionary exercise of power, that is, a greater limitation of the power of governments.

In this last aspect, the political action to be deployed in the legislative chambers once again takes on importance, since such reductions in the levels of discretion can only be obtained thanks to the exchange of laws that characterizes all legislative work.

Finally, it should be noted that, if what is sought is a higher level of law enforcement in order to limit the discretion of the executive branch, then the most effective strategy will be to demand a reduction in the levels of taxes, penalties and fines, since this will serve as an incentive so that, in order to maintain the previous level of social control, to proceed, in view of the reduction of penalties, to raise the levels of law enforcement, thus generating a virtuous circle according to which the rates of spontaneous regulatory compliance by the population.

Such a political strategy is entirely consistent with the notion of every constitutionally limited government and every free society, according to which each citizen must enjoy the widest sphere of individual autonomy. Likewise, the results to be obtained in this way contribute to materialize the ideal of individual freedom understood as the absence of arbitrary coercion, since this depends in a singular measure on the characteristics of the legal system and its enforcement by public authorities.

However, as was duly stated, when a political legal regime has deficient levels of law enforcement, it is positively fed back adding a low rate of regulatory compliance by the population, thus worsening in a process of incessant deterioration. Consequently, those objectives of institutional improvement can rarely be achieved without political determination on the part of citizens committed to defending their freedoms.

[Editor’s note: this is Part 12 in a 12-part essay; you can read Part 11 here or read the essay in its entirety here.]