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December 31, 2004


Paul F. Velleman: December 31, 2004

The juxtaposition of news about the disaster in the Indian Ocean basin and the prices of the Presidential inauguration parties presents too great a clash for me to ignore. According to the NY Times, the Presidential Inaugural Committee expects the tab to top $40 million. Tickets are selling in the range of $2,500 per person.

I don't want to belabor this. The moral is obvious. It's not that we're the richest country in the world; somebody's go to be that. Nor even that our contribution to assist the victims, large though it may be, is far from the size it could be. But to spend millions on a gaudy party in the name of the President while so many are in such dire need seems to me to be the epitome of everything we should not stand for.

So maybe we shouldn't stand for it.

This isn't--or shouldn't be--a Left/Right issue. People of good will are horrified by the scale of this disaster, and don't think of it in terms of domestic politics. The scale is unprecedented in our lifetimes. Here is an opportunity to both do great good and to be seen as doing great good. And that's something the U.S. could use a bit more of these days. But, I suppose that any suggestion that the inaugural parties be canceled or scaled down and that the funds be sent where they could do real good will be seen as partisan.

That would be a shame.

So I'll open this for discussion:

  • Should we try to start a groundswell (dare I say tsunami?) of popular support for scaling down the parties and sending the money to those in dire need?
  • How can this be discussed and advocated free of partisan positions as something that active workers--those who really do get things done--from both Left and Right could accomplish together?
  • Indeed, can it be done?

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December 30, 2004

school choice

Don Herzog: December 30, 2004

Here is one more reason the left -- and the right! -- ought to be gleeful about charter schools.  I know one of the two founders, an astonishingly talented and committed guy.  But it's a cautionary reminder of how hard and expensive it can be to turn things around for kids in blighted communities.  As the latest fundraising letter says, "our program costs more than a traditional school and more than we receive through our public charter school funding.  We rely on private contributions to support the range of services we offer."

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December 29, 2004

Posner and some distinctions

Gerald Dworkin: December 29, 2004

David takes on our fellow blogger Richard Posner for his moral skepticism. “The rhetorical punch of [Posner’s] diatribe comes in its penultimate sentence, which is of course a rhetorical question: "One can give reasons for them, but would they be anything more than rationalizations?"  Here Posner concedes that reasons can be given for our moral strictures against infanticide, animal cruelty, and so on; but he then poisons the well for anyone who would attempt to give those reasons, by tainting them wholesale and in advance with the label of "rationalization".  There is then no arguing with Posner, because any argument would give reasons, which would be nothing but more rationalization.”

There may be no arguing with Posner but, in the general spirit of our blog which is to at least try and argue with those with whom we disagree, let me try to interpret his claims in a way which leaves them open, in principle, to reasoned disagreement. It seems to me to be an empirical issue, perhaps a very difficult one to find evidence for, whether the typical reasons, arguments, considerations in favor, we (any of us) give for our moral opinions are the basis on which we hold, believe, accept them. 

We have to distinguish at least between the historical explanation of how we came to hold our moral convictions (which will at least in many cases be of the sort that Posner makes reference to—what our parents believed, who we liked to hang out with, our native culture, etc) and the reasons we now give to justify our beliefs, It can’t be simply a coincidence that most of the medical personnel in Istanbul that I once gave a lecture to about patient autonomy thought there was no such thing—that the family of the patient is the only unit that has the right to make decisions about the patient. 

Now the fact that I originally came to hold a belief because of certain historical considerations is compatible with my continuing to hold it for different, justificatory reasons. I might have reflected on the causes which led me to hold the belief, come to think they are insufficient, but continued to hold them on the basis of what I now believe to be good reasons. The question Posner raises is whether these reasons are (always, mostly) rationalizations, and the true explanation(s) for out continuing to hold these beliefs are the various, non-justificatory causes.

Analogy: I came to believe there were an infinite number of primes because a friend passed on this information to me when I was 11. But he also, I learned later, passed on lots of other things which were not true. But I now actually have a proof of this fact and so hold the belief now on that basis. The claim that my belief is just a rationalization requires showing one of two things. Either that such proofs are not themselves good reasons or that I would have continued to believe the claim even if I had no such proof.

Posner must believe one or both of the these things about moral beliefs. Either there are no good arguments for moral beliefs or that even if there are these do not explain why we hold them. 

Arguing about the first claim is a philosophical task. Nothing in Posner’s post is evidence for the radical claim that there are no better or worse reasons for accepting various moral positions.

Arguing about the second is a very complex empirical issue. Relevant evidence would include things like the following. After having shown someone that the justificatory arguments she presents for some conviction are faulty, and she concedes this, she continues to hold the belief. This is not by any means irrational. I find this to be true of many of my normative beliefs. Of course, I believe (hope) that a better argument can be found. But suppose I never discover one. Do I, must I, abandon the belief?

If people hold their beliefs on the basis or reasons, then reasoning should be the way to get them to change their beliefs. But we know that in many cases getting them to look at things differently, or to have a certain kind of experience, or allaying their anxiety, or appealing to their sympathy, or shaming them, will be the effective lever of change. Of course, one could tell a story linking these to arguments or reasons, but will this story be explanatory?

My own conjecture is that some substantial number of our moral convictions are (in fact) held for the kinds of reasons that Posner refers to. But this is compatible with there being good reasons that could justify holding them or abandoning them.

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December 28, 2004


Don Herzog: December 28, 2004

That one, too, killed tens of thousands.  That one, too, featured tsunamis that flabbergasted eyewitnesses.  But the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 is now remembered mostly for sparking a debate between the likes of Rousseau and Voltaire on providence and theology.  Voltaire, bless him, found it impossible to believe this was the best of all possible worlds.

Today, we turn to seismologists, not philosophers, to illuminate the earthquake:  no one who writes for this blog is fielding any calls from The New York Times, thank you very much.  And that is a happy sign of progress.

But we do mix together scientific and political perspectives.  We don't think of an earthquake as a trial and tribulation sent by God or nature before which we can only repent for our sins or cower.  Instead, as Amartya Sen did in his pathbreaking work on famine, we ask what could and should have been handled differently, what background policies made the natural events go the way they did.  It's heartbreaking to learn, for instance, that Western scientists with advance warning couldn't alert regional governments because "it's hard to find contact information."  It's heartbreaking to think of the mix of poverty, infrastructure, communications, and the like that means that thousands more will now die of the likes of cholera.

I want to suggest that we can take up both "scientific" and "political," or "explanatory" and "critical," perspectives on all kinds of social problems, too.  (And no, I don't say this because I'm languishing by my phone waiting for that damned Times reporter to call.)  Consider teen pregnancy, urban violence, rapes, drug use and deaths from drug overdoses....  "The left" often takes up explanatory perspectives.  So for instance the proposal that we think of school shootings and other gun killings as a public health problem.  "The right" often insists on responsibility, blame, reward, punishment, and derides "the left" as spineless wimps, while "the left" cheerfully reciprocates by marveling at how callous "the right" is about the unfortunate circumstances that produce social pathologies.

But these aren't rival perspectives, at least not in any wholesale way.  They're compatible.  Think of Tony Blair's "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime."  We can punish terrorists and we can think about how to reform the social contexts that produce terrorists.  There's nothing paradoxical about smashing al-Qaeda and moving against the unholy alliance of repressive Arab governments, madrassas vigorously promoting fundamentalism and violence, and so on.

Why do we act as if we have to choose one or the other?  It may sound goofy, but I suspect it's all about gender.  "The right" has a pose that is tough-minded, macho, masculine, and "the left" has one readily derided as feminine, even effeminate.  Snort at the conjecture all you like; snort at me for offering it, too, if you like beating up on academics doing armchair political psychology.  But next time you find yourself presented with what's supposed to be an either/or choice, do me a favor and think again.  One of the deep structural conflicts between left and right is just a mirage.  Jack Sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean:  a recipe for turning any roast into a happy dinner.

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December 27, 2004

on blogosphere manners

David Schmidtz: December 27, 2004

I have a slightly different take on the mud-slinging aspect that some of us have been lamenting. When I'm dealing with people I know, especially face to face, they're almost alway civil, supportive, encouraging, and so on. More to the point, they're discrete. In the blog universe, it's a different crowd and a different set of rules, so one gets an altogether different kind of feedback, in some cases altogether unguarded. And it's all voluntary. We talk only when we want, and people listen only when they want. Pretty cool, really.

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on equality and meritocracy

David Schmidtz: December 27, 2004

When Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” he was dreaming of a world where his children could count on equal treatment, not equal shares. He was dreaming of the kind of equality that is not contrary to meritocracy but is instead meritocracy’s foundation. 

Very roughly, a regime is meritocratic to the extent that people are judged on the merits of their performance. A meritocracy will satisfy a principle of “equal pay for equal work.” Rewards will track performance, at least in the long run.  A pure meritocracy is hard to imagine, but any regime is likely to have meritocratic elements.  A corporation is meritocratic as it ties promotions to performance, and departs from meritocracy as it ties promotions to seniority. Note: no one needs to intend that rewards track performance.  While a culture of meritocracy is often partially a product of deliberate design, a corporation (or especially, a whole society) can be meritocratic to a degree without anyone having decided to make it so.

Paying us what our work is worth may seem like a paradigm of fairness, but some philosophers see conflict between equality and meritocracy.  Norman Daniels says many “proponents of meritocracy have been so concerned with combating the lesser evil of non-meritocratic job placement that they have left unchallenged the greater evil of highly inegalitarian reward schedules.  One suspects that an elitist infatuation for such reward schedules lurks behind their ardor for meritocratic job placement.”   

Such remarks are, if not typical, at least not unusual in the academy, but liberalism has an older, populist tradition that deployed the concept of meritocracy against hereditary aristocracy. Even the socialist tradition once was partly a meritocratic reaction to a social hierarchy that prevented workers from earning fair wages. Contra Daniels, meritocratic liberalism fought against elitism, not for it. Liberalism won, and indeed won so decisively that today we hardly remember that a battle had to be fought. In the western world today, no one expects us to bow. No matter how rich or poor we are, the proper way for us to introduce ourselves is with a handshake, which implies that we are meeting as equals. Mundane though that fact is, the very fact that it is so mundane—that we take it for granted—is inspiring.

Today, we see people as commanding equal respect qua citizen or qua human being, yet we need not and do not pretend that every auto mechanic (for example) is equally competent and equally honest. We know perfectly well that auto mechanics do not command equal respect in every respect. We prefer to do business with people who are good at what they do. There would be something wrong with us if we did not. In everyday life, egalitarians intuitively grasp that genuine respect has meritocratic elements, and thus to some extent tracks how we distinguish ourselves as we develop our differing potentials in different ways.

WHAT EQUALITY IS FOR: Suppose we have a certain moral worth, and there is nothing we can do to make ourselves more or less worthy. If this were true, then we might turn out to be of equal worth. Now suppose instead that, along some dimensions, our moral worth can be affected by our choices. In that case, it is unlikely there ever will be a time when we are all of equal worth along those dimensions. Thus, only a cartoon form of egalitarianism would presume all of us are equally worthy along all dimensions.

What is the true point of the liberal ideal of political equality? Surely not to stop us from becoming more worthy along dimensions where our worth can be affected by our choices, but to facilitate our becoming more worthy.

Liberal political equality is not premised on the absurd hope that, under ideal conditions, we all turn out to be equally worthy. It presupposes only a classically liberal optimism regarding the kind of society that results from giving people (all people, so far as this is realistically feasible) a chance to choose worthy ways of life. We do not see people’s different contributions as equally valuable, but that was never the point of equal opportunity, and never could be. Why not? Because we do not see even our own contributions as equally valuable, let alone everyone’s. It matters to us whether we achieve more rather than less. If we invent something, we think it matters whether it actually works, and we expect it to matter to our customers too.

Traditional liberals wanted people—all people—to be as free as possible to pursue their dreams. Accordingly, the equal opportunity of liberal tradition put the emphasis on improving opportunities, not equalizing them. The ideal of “equal pay for equal work,” within the tradition from which that ideal emerged, had more in common with meritocracy, and with the equal respect embodied by the concept of meritocracy, than with equal shares per se.

There has been much debate within the academy over what should be equalized. There are hardly any vocal meritocrats in the academy. (Although I would not lump meritocrats together with conservatives, this reminds me of Elizabeth Anderson's note a while ago about how rare vocal conservatives are in the academy.) Anyway, if meritocrats were to come forward, they would find they disagreed among themselves in the same way egalitarians do. After all, what are meritocratic rewards supposed to track? Like equality, merit has numerous dimensions: how long people work, how hard people work, how skillfully people work, how much training people need to do the work, how much people are contributing to society, and so on.

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Egalitarian scholarship

David Schmidtz: December 27, 2004

So, I'm on the list on contributors, and haven't contributed anything yet, although I've been reading posts with interest, often finding them genuinely edifying.  Anyway, David V is prodding me, so here's something I've been thinking about for a while.  It's the first time I've ever contributed anything at all to any kind of blog.  I welcome your corrections, or simply reactions. 

Recent developments in egalitarian scholarship are promising in two ways.  First, egalitarians like Michael Walzer, Iris Marion Young, and Elizabeth Anderson seem to be regrouping under the banner of an egalitarianism that has roots in a 19th century rebellion against oppression, when egalitarianism was a genuinely liberal movement, allied with 19th century utilitarianism in opposing authoritarian aristocracy.  Where this first development recalls the civil libertarianism of 19th century classical liberals and of civil rights leaders of the 1960s, a second development in egalitarian scholarship recalls the humanitarian element of those same movements.  What I have in mind is that egalitarians like Richard Arneson are reformulating egalitarianism in such a way that it has a point that can be appreciated even by those who do not already subscribe to a radically egalitarian ideology.  “The point of equality I would say is to improve people’s life prospects, tilting in favor of those who are worse off, and in favor of those who have done as well as could reasonably be expected with the cards that fate has dealt them.”   This new egalitarianism is not the revolt against economic mobility (sometimes deceptively packaged as an empirical thesis that upward mobility is a myth) that egalitarianism seemed to become for a while in the mid-20th century.
Egalitarianism cannot survive inspection as a proposal for forcibly maintaining a static pattern, but that is not what liberal egalitarianism was.  Societies whose members do not grow and change and distinguish themselves do not survive; a workable egalitarianism makes room for growth and change.  There is room, though, within a genuinely liberal theory of justice, for egalitarianism focused on improving (not leveling) general life chances.   Likewise, there is room for egalitarianism focused on proportional justice—on things like equal pay for equal work.  Societies that succumb to a temptation to experiment with more dictatorial forms of equality must soon either abandon those experiments or be suffocated by them.

When the topic is oppression, it becomes critical to be aware of ways in which society is not a zero-sum game.  To fight oppression in a nonoppressive way, we must aim for gains in freedom from oppression that come not at someone else’s expense (that do not merely shift the target of oppression to classes who “cannot reasonably complain”) but that are instead universally liberating.  This will of course seem utopian to those (and there are some) who think the only way to win is to make other people lose. 

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December 25, 2004

equality of opportunity: two

Don Herzog: December 25, 2004

A while ago, I started thinking about equality of opportunity.  I suggested that the familiar contrast between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome is too quick.  So is the familiar maneuver of accusing the left of being committed to equality of outcome, a gruesome ideal that requires endless coercion for no point.  Instead, I suggested that any viable conception of equality of opportunity requires some accompanying conception of equality of starting points, and in turn that any viable account of the latter has to focus on a minimally acceptable floor, not literal equality.

Here I want to (barely) sketch a case for the scope, reach, and justification of antidiscrimination laws.  A historical point first:  these are not some new and odd incursion on private property.  Common-carrier doctrines stretch back centuries in the common law:  if you held yourself out to serve the general public in transporting goods, people, or messages, you couldn't simply turn prospective customers away and say, "it's my property, I can do as I like."  Those principles were quickly extended to inns, taverns, and the like:  places offering "bed, board, and hearth" to travellers similarly couldn't turn prospective customers away.  There were exceptions:  you didn't have to take someone diseased and contagious, say, into a coach or an inn.  But the general rule was, no discrimination against paying customers.

A line from Blackstone's Commentaries -- "There is nothing which so generally strikes the imagination and engages the affections of mankind, as the right of property ; or that sole and despotic dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual in the universe" -- is sometimes cited as a prize nugget of classical liberal insight on property rights.  But Blackstone invokes it only to launch a long and complicated history of how this intuition properly gives way to wide-ranging historical developments.

These historical points don't settle what we should do; I introduce them only to continue my nefarious project of showing the deep continuities between us left-liberals and our classical-liberal ancestors.  If you're a libertarian, you're free to argue that the line in Blackstone is (more or less) right as it stands.  And then we have the usual fun dilemmas:  should I be permitted to buy a donut ring of property surrounding yours and then refuse to allow you to leave your lot, on the grounds that it would be trespass?  Less whimsically, absolutism about property has always yielded in the face of pollution.  In Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Nozick has a brief discussion oddly set off in italics.  A subordinate clause  -- "Since it would exclude too much to forbid all polluting activities" -- gives away the game.  On the absolutist view, if a single propertyholder refuses to consent to having pollutants enter her property, that should be enough to shut down industry and other polluting activities.  If you think that view wacky, you're now playing the same game we always do, the game I'm about to continue:  what sorts of property rights ought to be extended in what sorts of social settings with what sorts of conditions and exceptions?  In the modern image, property is a bundle of rights, not a simple unitary right, and it is shrill and misleading to think of the spectacularly complicated rules about the bundle as the eradication of private property.

I think antidiscrimination norms ought to be extended in some public settings -- in line with the Civil Rights Act, to labor markets and public accommodations.  Here "public" doesn't mean, "title held by the government."  It means, "generally open to strangers."  (Notice that in the former sense, all the firms of a capitalist economy are private; in the latter, we distinguish the private ones, owned say by the founding family, from the public or publicly traded ones, where anyone can plunk down cash to buy shares of stock.)  Critics on the right and left have complained that antidiscrimination laws make their alleged beneficiaries think of themselves as victims and spend a lot of time whining.  I think that criticism overplayed.  And yes, you can write down simple models in which markets will weed out and punish discrimination.  But you can also write down models -- George Akerlof has -- in which markets won't do that.  (Diagnostic test:  you can tell whether your attachment to free markets is principled or tactical by asking, would I stick with markets even if I thought that they'd never eradicate unjust discrimination?)  A market with antidiscrimination norms will not somehow guarantee that blacks and Hispanics will earn as much as whites, women as men, and so on.  But it will guarantee everyone a fair shot at success, the kind of starting point I think is required by equality of opportunity.  Likewise, antidiscrimination regulations in housing markets, which I also support, needn't produce desegregation.  If each household wants to live in a neighborhood that is just 51% people "like us," you'd observe 100% segregation; if people have varying preferences, you'd observe varying patterns.  So no equality of outcome is in the cards, and that's just plain fine.

Are there limits to what I'd have the state do here?  You bet.  First, there are many settings in which I wouldn't legally impose antidiscrimination rules.  Not in churches, not in small private clubs, not at people's dinner tables or wedding parties, and so on.  The workplace and public accommodations, though, are settings where everyone needs and deserves access on equal terms.  There are as always lots of controversies at the margins.  I might disagree for instance with facets of current American contract law.  But I also see no reason to think the regime is fundamentally wrongheaded.

Second, contempt for any number of pariah groups -- women, workers, Jews, blacks, gays and lesbians, the disabled, hairdressers (yes, really, at least in Britain around 200 years ago), &c ad nauseam -- has a viciously lively life of its own in many social settings.  I don't believe that equality under the law or antidiscrimination legislation is enough to eradicate that contempt, but I wouldn't have the state go further.  I would never sentence people who offend against antidiscrimination norms to attend classes in sensitivity training -- yuck!  I'd just tell them to shape up or ship out.  Objects of contempt are still going to have to struggle for dignified public standing, but I think those struggles should be left to private actors, not legislators and bureaucrats, and fought with such nonlegal tactics as debates, cartoons, novels, rallies, sermons, leafleting, and the like.  This, for me, is a crucial example of a political struggle the state should have nothing to do with.

"But the state doesn't belong in the free market!"  Well, if that means the state shouldn't be slapping on tariffs to protect Harley-Davidson bikes or steel, shouldn't be imposing wage-price controls or subsidizing tobacco, I quite agree.  But the state is of course extensively involved in setting up the legal framework of the market:  so the law of contract, property, and tort.  I see antidiscrimination laws as the same kind of ground rules.  They "intrude" on the market if and only if they're unjustifiable.  So yes, when the Civil Rights Act bans racial discrimination in the workplace or in public accommodations, it does indeed limit the property rights of employers, hoteliers, and the like, and if needed the state will exert coercion by intervening or supplying private rights of action as remedies.  But if the Act's provisions are justifiable, there's no more room for complaint about the coercive might of the state than there is when the state strips slaveholders of the rights to buy and sell people, or strips aristocrats of the right to conduct private wars with their armed retainers, or refuses to enforce contracts based on fraud.  And once we give up on absolutism about property, it's easy to see the case for antidiscrimination measures.

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December 22, 2004

a Christian nation?

Don Herzog, Herzog: "A Christian Nation?": December 22, 2004

A while ago I wondered what would change if we publicly affirmed that this is a Christian nation.  My dilemma shapes up this way.  I don't want to believe that the people urging that are doing right-wing identity politics, slinging around vacuous slogans; I assume they want concrete policy change, not feel-good gestures.  But on the other side, I don't want to believe that the people urging that are what I'd style extremists who might think, for instance, that a public university could fire me as a faculty member if I couldn't demonstrate that I was a Christian in good standing.  (If there are people who'd do that, I'd argue against them.  Strenuously.  Not just label them extremists.  But hey I'd do that too.  Any port in a storm.)  So I keep looking around for some position that skirts the horns of that dilemma.

And then I found this language from the 2004 Texas Republican party platform:

Christian Nation – The Republican Party of Texas affirms that the United States of America is a Christian nation, and the public acknowledgement of God is undeniable in our history. Our nation was founded on fundamental Judeo-Christian principles based on the Holy Bible. The Party affirms freedom of religion, and rejects efforts of courts and secular activists who seek to remove and deny such a rich heritage from our public lives.
Free Exercise of Religion – The Party believes all Americans have the right to practice their religious faith free from persecution, intimidation, and violence. While recognizing one’s freedom from religion, this recognition should not limit others’ free expression of their religious beliefs. Our Party pledges to exert its influence to restore the original intent of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and dispel the myth of the separation of Church and State. We support the right of individuals and state and local governments to display symbols of our faith and heritage. We call on Congress to sanction any country that is guilty of persecuting its citizens because of their religious beliefs.
Religious Institutions – The Party acknowledges that the church is a God–ordained institution with a sphere of authority separate from that of civil government; thus, churches, synagogues and other places of worship, including home Bible study groups, seminaries and similar institutions should not be regulated, controlled, or taxed by any level of civil government, including the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service. We reclaim freedom of religious expression in public on government property, and freedom from governmental interference.

Now we don't in this country have what political scientists describe as "responsible party government":  this language is manifestly not a concrete set of policy proposals that the Texas GOP pledges to try to pass in the next session.  Obviously much of it is just exhortation about federal policy, and I assume more generally that all party platforms in this country are some mix of what the activists really believe and what they think will appeal to their members and the broader public, spiced heavily with declarations of victory over vanquished party factions.

I don't suppose that the Texas GOP would adore me or my politics.  And their language isn't boilerplate.  (Here's the only mention of Christianity in the 2004 national party platform:  "America is a working example of religious liberty, home to millions of Christians, Jews, Muslims, and people of many other faiths who live in harmony and contribute to our culture."  Yes, I suppose they could have included atheists and agnostics, but we're a long way from Texas.  I dug up half a dozen other state GOP platforms and none of them whispered a syllable about Christianity.)  But none of this language makes me shudder or grimace or roll my eyes derisively.  I don't support a blanket exclusion of religion from public or government settings.  (Neither does current first amendment doctrine.)  I think it contemptible to teach American history and pretend Christianity has made no difference, though I also think some people overplay or misunderstand the differences it has made.  But that's just business as usual in the liberal arts, where we try carefully to sort out the merits of competing views.  (When Pat Robertson applauds Jefferson for his "eternal enmity against every form of tyranny over the mind of man," I want to say, wait! Jefferson was talking in part about priestcraft.)  I do worry about the state throwing its weight behind one religion, or religion generally, if that looks like carving the community into first- and second-class citizens.  (So does current doctrine.)  And I think the position that all religious institutions must not be taxed or regulated, no matter what, isn't right, but actually most jurisdictions are pretty hands-off.  So maybe under this proposal the Texas GOP would favor doing some things that I'd strenuously oppose; maybe not.  It's too early to tell on the basis of language this abstract.

I guess I'm still looking for some position that skirts the horns of my dilemma.  And though I fear some of you will think I'm facetious, I really don't want to believe all this talk of Christian America is cheap identity politics.  I'd like to find some concrete policy proposals that reasonable people could disagree about.  I'll keep looking.  Meanwhile, call this a lack-of-progress report.

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December 21, 2004

U.S. Education in the World Redux

Stephen Darwall: December 21, 2004

Just a quick update of my earlier post ("U.S. Education in the World").  The New York Times has a very interesting article today along similar lines ("U.S. Slips in Attracting the World's Best Students.")  Among the most interesting statistics: the number of students from Indian and China who took the most recent administration of the Graduate Record Exam dropped by half.  That is an utterly amazing decline in the number of students from two of the worlds' major suppliers of intellectual talent in math, science, engineering, and computing who are even putting themselves into a position to apply to American graduate programs.  (The GRE is the major exam for almost all U.S. graduate programs.)  Also, foreign applications to American graduate programs declined 28 percent this year.  That also is a very big drop.  (Imagine if demand for some other important economic product, say, U.S. automobiles, were to drop by that much in a single year.  GM and Ford are in the tank because of declines that are roughly a third of that.  (Yes, I know that American postgraduate education is not a product in the same sense.  Most graduate research-linked education is heavily subsidized by financial aid.  But that is because it is a major engine of future economic development.  And that is the problem: our goose is laying fewer golden eggs and may continue to do so.)

The article goes on to develop much further a point I made in my earlier post, that a post-9/11 immigration lockdown (however hard or soft, e.g., long visa delays) has coincided with intensive efforts by many developed countries (including Germany, Canada, Australia, and the U.K.) to increase significantly their recruitment of foreign students, and, in the case of countries like Singapore and China to develop their own quality graduate science, math, and engineering programs. 

I suppose it is a hopeful sign that this issue has made it as close to the public radar screen as an article in the New York Times

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