Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Business, Markets, and the Structure of Social Change

Reason links to on why the biggest threat to libertarianism isn't big government; it's big business.

I've said it here before and I'll say it again: being pro-business does not equal being pro-market. Sadly, the business world contains more James Taggarts -- who want to use government to rack up political profits -- than it has passionately pro-market Dagny Taggarts. But as I also said in that post, all too many young libertarians don't understand that point clearly.

I don't know exactly why the fallacy persists, but I suspect it's at heart a structure of social change problem. See also. That is, most of the libertarians whom I've met who work at Level 1 of the structure of social change (the universities) or Level 2 (think tanks) are completely clear on this point. It's younger libertarians and pro-market conservatives, usually interns who are newer to the professional libertarian community, who get most tangled up on this point. So I suspect something's getting jammed in the transmission of libertarian ideas from the think tank world to larger audiences. That happens; it's an inevitable weakness of social change enacted along the model.

I'm tempted especially to blame Atlas Shrugged, which is of course one of the most popular introductions to libertarian thought out there. I don't mean to hate on Rand. It's an excellent novel. But it does deliberately romanticize big business, and so it perpetuates the unfortunate stereotype that all free market types are just shills for large business.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Obama and Girondinism

This NRO article is sufficiently over the top that I probably should leave it alone. Except a single line -- the crack about the Obama administration's "attempt to realize the vision of the 1960s" -- grated in a very particular way that led me to want to get out something I've been thinking for a while.

Which is that Barack Obama is a Girondin according to the idiosyncratic typology I set out in this post. This demands full-on, Atlantic Monthly-style exposition, but Obama may be one of the purest Girondin figures in our national life. Much of his rhetoric about post-partisanship and post-racialism might have been fluff, sure, but it was fluff tailor-made to appeal to Girondins' penchant for compromise and moderation. As annoying as David Brooks often is, I find him indispensable because he understands Girondinism better than any other writer of comparable stature. He wrote the book on Girondinism, after all, which is why he "gets" Obama better than most conservative writers.

Back circa 1999, a high school friend of mine and I were sitting around the lounge of our school, fretting about where we'd go to college. I wondered aloud if, somewhere, there was some American high school senior so perfect that he or she didn't suffer from any of our anxieties. The two of us started sketching this imaginary person's profile. High SATs and grades were necessary, of course, but plenty of our friends had those credentials in spades and we still didn't sleep easy at night. Our ideal applicant should be "diverse," which probably meant black. No, wait, biracial might be better. Having lived abroad at some point would have been good. And he should also an excellent athlete -- maybe a basketball player -- and naturally charismatic and gifted at public speaking. It was disconcerting, some five years later, to see how closely Barack Obama approached the left pro-meritocracy Word made Flesh.

The corollary to Obama's being Girondin, of course, is that he is not a Montagnard. Kahane -- and plenty of other writers -- seem eager to assume that Obama is. It's the wrong tactic. Girondins and Montagnards shouldn't be fought the same way. Better that what's left of the American right focus on trying to understand Girondinism and attack it for what it is, rather than re-fighting the Montagnard battles of yore.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

On Bill Henderson's thoughts on the life of law schools

Via Jonathan Adler at the VC, I came across this interesting post on how legal education is out of touch with current practicioners' needs. It might serve as a valuable addendum to my series of advice posts on whether libertarians should go to law school.

Like most of what Henderson writes, it's well worth reading. Still, I am not sure I agree entirely. Though I admit that the Archer/Pnin household has a vested interest in the structure of legal academia not changing much. With respect to his first point about the nature and cost of civil litigation, it's really quite... easy... to name people who work on these issues. All the tort reform types; David Bernstein and other people who have written on Daubert; and, really, wide swaths of the law and economics movement appear to be using economic tools to explain why the civil litigation system may be inefficient or excessively expensive.

I suppose "reduce costs" and "improve access" are also in tension; the people that I listed above are mostly right of center types concerned with minimizing costs, whereas there are plenty of left-leaning academics who write extensively about ways of improving access. I'm less familiar with work by the latter, admittedly because of my own biases.

Granted, I am probably far less well read than Henderson on these issues. Still.

Regarding Henderson's rules, I am also skeptical. I am not really a Burkean conservative... except, well, when I am a Burkean conservative, and I fear that I am one when it comes to university education generally and legal education specifically. Most "bold" or "outside the box" thinking attempts that I encountered in my own legal education cratered spectacularly. See, e.g., the Legal Methods course I had to take in first year, which, despite a fantastic professor, was an unfortunate melange of sixth grade Study Skills ("This is how to brief a case, and also, how to use different colored highlighters effectively!") with watered down versions of Jurisprudence and Administrative Law thrown in for good measure. I liked the latter enough that I had the good sense to sign up for real Admin Law with the same prof, from which I actually learned something useful, so I suppose all was not lost. Ditto whatever the professionalism series thing we had to do in first year was called, which involved sitting around awkwardly in small groups, led by faculty we didn't know, discussing our relative willingness to narc on our law school classmates. I am somewhat kinder to my law school's Trial Advocacy course, which was at least sort of fun. But I have at least some interest in litigation, and I imagine I would view the program far less warmly if I'd always thought I wanted to do transactional work. So, given that track record of innovation, I would politely discourage my law school from further attempts to think outside the box.

Friday, July 3, 2009

my back pages

Pnin sends me a fascinating post on parenting and peer groups. Friedman (Milton's son) claims that, while most children identify with their peer groups over their parents, there are a few interesting cases in which children come to see Parents as Us and peers as Them. He also argues that this Us v. Them mechanism explains why unusual religions flourish even in secular societies.

I agree with Friedman, though I suppose I was also somewhat of an unusual case of his chosen phenomenon. Growing up, I generally felt that I had far more in common with my parents -- and, more broadly, with my mother's entire extended family of Ukrainian aunts, uncles and cousins -- than with almost anyone else I knew my age. One, most of my peers didn't seem to value academic achievement for its own sake and hard work nearly as much as anyone in my extended family did. Two, my peers had imaginations that always seemed curiously constricted and ahistorical. I felt that I understood the world of the 1930s as well as my own world because I spent so much time around older relatives when I was very small. Almost nobody else I knew my own age understood as intuitively that the past wasn't yet past. I did myself coming closer to rebellion much later - in college or in my early twenties, past the usual rebellion stage - because I'd actually found a peer group that felt more like Us than Them. Most people don't go through things in that order.

Elsewhere, this comment thread asks if people who prefer childhood to adulthood are more likely to be libertarian than those with the reverse preferences. For what it's worth as a lone data point, I do prefer childhood to adulthood and lean quite libertarian. There might be some correlation: I'm not all that sympathetic to paternalists in my personal life either. Of course, I also found it frustrating as a teenager that I didn't have more flexibility to choose an attractive peer group. I found adult life (and college life as predecessor to adulthood) infinitely more satisfying because I was able to choose more interesting peer groups.