Colby Cosh asks whether we should tax unused land, instead of taxing corporate income, personal income, or consumption. Answering “yes,” surprisingly enough, are economists like Milton Friedman and Paul Krugman.
Eve Tushnet, a celibate, lesbian Catholic, points out that “there are strong indications that young adults increasingly support gay marriage, and weaker indications that they are increasingly pro-life.” She says the (slight) increase in pro-life support comes from seeing fetuses in sonograms. Similarly, gay marriage support comes from knowing gay people. Familiarly leads young adults view the issues as questions of fairness. Young adults can see themselves in the fetus or the gay person, so they don’t want to treat them differently.
But, Tushnet argues, the support for these “contradictory” positions has a weak basis. Pro-life positions are only safe when Roe v. Wade keeps abortion restrictions to things like parental notification and waiting periods. Take away Roe, and horror stories about illegal abortions win.
Gay-marriage support is shallow for a different reason. That support comes from the idea that gays are the same as straights, but
[t]he norms and culture of marriage arose to meet the needs of heterosexual couples: to minimize the damage of unregulated intercourse and maximize the great social good of childrearing within the natural family.
I have to disagree. Marriage has been many different things. Stephanie Coontz’ Marriage, a History, showed that property and power were the main rationales for marriage for most of history. It was only a couple centuries ago that love became important for marriage. Now, love has eliminated the other rationales for marriage. You can argue whether that’s good or bad—I think it’s bad or maybe neutral, Coontz thinks it’s good. But it means that today people don’t get married to regulate intercourse (Let’s just call it sex?) or to ensure childrearing within a natural family. Expanding marriage to include loving gay couples makes sense when gay love is equal to straight love. If that’s the equation, gay marriage should win. (And that’s why it is winning.)
But that doesn’t mean I think Tushnet is all wrong. To the contrary: it’s dandy for love to be such an important thing in marriage, but that means that the sex-regulation and the childrearing get shoved out to No Man’s Land. There’s no shortage of advice on sex or childrearing, but we no longer have an institution that automatically triggers new sets of obligations and responsibilities. Maybe it’s time for a new institution? But of course, new societal institutions develop organically, so you can’t just order one up on your Social Planning App.
Stephen Fry on English and its lovers and pedants, all interpreted by Roger. Lovely.
H/t: Roger (a different one).
The Road is Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2006 novel about a man and his son surviving in a post-apocalyptic dystopia. A spare, nerve-wracking, often frightening tale, it’s the sort of book you can’t put down but want to, lest the images invade your nightmares. But in the end, though the plot is relentlessly bleak, McCarthy is telling a valuable story about the power of moral steadfastness in the face of danger and starvation.
I didn’t choose to read The Road. That is, someone else in my book club chose it, and I went along with the choice because That’s What You Do in Book Club. McCarthy has a reputation for gripping, violent works, not normally Yours Truly’s cup of tea. (He wrote No Country for Old Men, the book that inspired the 2007 movie—I haven’t partaken of either of those.) I warned my fellow book-clubbers that I was liable to stop the book if it got too gory. I was ready to stop halfway. But after I looked up the synopsis on Wikipedia, I was satisfied that I wouldn’t totally hate the rest of the book, so I finished it, and I’m glad I did.
The novel’s nameless protagonists journey along a road in an unrecognizable America where nothing lives or grows. Nothing, that is, except for the humans who can get to the dwindling food stores left behind in abandoned homes and the occasional fallout shelter. And the heinous gangs of brigands who survive through cannibalism.
One reviewer believed that The Road was “the most important environmental book ever,” because its bleak vision of the future could stir readers to avoid ecological holocaust. That’s good and well, and perhaps even true, but to me it misses the point. The ashen setting that McCarthy so aptly portrayed is just that, a setting. The man and boy’s resolve to survive, and to survive without eating other humans—the barest minimum of civilization, and probably the most essential instance of the golden rule—are more powerful “teaching moments.” In his review, Ron Charles suggested that, despite a McCarthy’s weakness in depicting women (“Most middle-school boys have a more nuanced understanding of the opposite sex than McCarthy demonstrates in his fiction, and he does nothing to alter that impression here.”), the novel’s lessons about “innate goodness” and the “simple beauty of this hero’s love for his son” are “profound.”
I agree. The book engaged me and provoked deep thoughts about living in extremis. Is survival worthwhile when the world is barren and most eveyone you meet is a savage barbarians? Are any principles binding when survival is on the line? Do principles matter when there is no society to speak of? McCarthy implies his own answers to these questions through the protagonists, while showing that the calculus of principled survival can be harsh and unpleasant. If you have a strong-enough stomach for that sort of book, I recommend The Road.
“Make Shadowy Campaign Money the Issue This Election.” The White House is “stepp[ing] up attacks on what it describe[s] as a tidal wave of secret outside money.” Corporations, freed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, are making large, unreported donations to “charities” like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and Norm Coleman’s American Action Network. Public interest groups like the Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center are wringing their hands over the money pouring into the system, fearing that it will corrupt the process.
Now, I understand the reasons for concern. No reasonable person wants bribery or quid pro quos in the political process. But I’m here to stand for what is apparently a remarkable proposition: corporations are people too. Or rather, corporations are groups of people with justifiable interests and deserve to be heard and to participate in the political process.
Corporations are taxed, they are subject to laws and regulations, and they are independently liable for their actions. In short, they are legal actors, just as much as you. And, likewise, they are affected by the political process, just as much as you.
Remember, the injustice of “Taxation Without Representation” was a key motivation behind the American Revolution. If the ability to suffer detriment without a say in the process justifies revolution, then shouldn’t corporations get at least some say in the political process? If a coal company is being targeted by energy legislation, shouldn’t it be able to raise its collective head and suggest that maybe its interests—and its owners’, employees’, and customers’ interersts—be taken into consideration? Or should we exclude the entities with the most expertise from the political process, ensuring that we don’t understand what the legislation is going to do to the affected industry?
I’m not suggesting that corporations have the right to vote or that they should be treated the same as natural persons. I am not even suggesting that corporations shouldn’t be treated differently from natural citizens when it comes to campaign finance regulations. But the working assumption among many commentators that corporations have no legitimate interest in the political process, and particularly not in the legislation that attempts to target them. That’s remarkable.
Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice is so ubiquitous that I thought it would be familiar and unsurprising. After all, my sisters tortured me through one junior-high summer with repeated viewings of the BBC miniseries, and I saw the 2005 Keira Knightley film in the theater. But after reading the actual text I can repeat that trite dictum: the book was better.
Because you’ve probably already been acquainted with P&P, there’s no need to dilly dally by summing up the plot. (If you don’t know who Lizzy and Mr. Darcy are, you’re either a sisterless guy or a romanti-phobic gal, and you should check out Wikipedia.) Instead, I want to focus on Austen’s writing: deft and witty. Her prose is tight and her dialogue is engaging. As one might expect, she uses cadences and words that are a touch foreign to the modern ear, but the words and descriptions are so clear that the foreign “accent” becomes familiar.
A few samples from the book—
Mr. Darcy explaining his views on character defects to Lizzy:
“There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil—a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome.”
“And your defect is to hate every body.”
“And yours,” he replied with a smile, “is willfully to misunderstand them.”
Mr. Bennet discussing the sniveling Mr. Collins’ marriage proposal with Lizzy and his wife:
“I understand that Mr. Collins has made you an offer of marriage. Is it true?” Elizabeth replied that it was. “Very well—and this offer of marriage you have refused?”
“I have, sir.”
“Very well. We now come to the point. Your mother insists upon your accepting it. Is it not so, Mrs. Bennet?”
“Yes, or I will never see her again.”
“An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day, you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.”
And, of course, the famous opening line:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Which reminds me: one must be careful reading Austen. A modern reader might be tempted pass on her, perhaps considering her an outmoded traditionalist. But that famous opening line is imbued with the trenchant, cutting cultural criticism that fills the novel. Austen evaluates her characters honestly, and so she skewers many them in a way that prefigures 20th-century criticism of “traditional” family roles. Lizzy’s sisters do not simply want to be married, they are marriage hungry. Her father is a well-meaning but reclusive and neglectful man, one who is very nearly emotionally absent toward his family. And the upper class are not always afforded the dignity that they think they deserve.
I was surprised and thrilled by how much I enjoyed Pride & Prejudice, and by how familiar it was, though set in the early 19th century.
Robin Hanson sets out descriptions of two different types of people in a post this morning:
TYPE *A* folks . . . love nature, travel, and exploration, and they move more often to new communities. . . . They talk openly about sex, are more sexually promiscuous, and more accepting of divorce, abortion, homosexuality, and pre-marital and extra-marital sex. They have fewer kids, who they are more reluctant to discipline or constrain.
. . . .
TYPE *B* folks travel less, and move less often from where they grew up. They are more polite and care more for cleanliness and order. They have more self-sacrifice and self-control, which makes them more stressed and suicidal. They work harder and longer at more tedious and less healthy jobs, and are more faithful to their spouses and their communities.
These types correspond–roughly but well–to the cultural divide in the West. They also correspond to the divide between farmers and foragers.
Type As, the foragers, do well in times of plenty when providing for minimum needs is easy. Type Bs, the farmers, do better in lean times, when strong communities and being able to provide for oneself and one’s family is difficult and thus paramount. Has the West’s prosperity for the last half-century or so has made Type As dominant? If anything, at least in the United States, Type Bs were politically dominant. If the forager-against-farmer dichotomy is correct, why? Was it the fear of imminent destruction by the Soviets or the memories of the Great Depression and the World Wars that made the farmers ascendant? If so, will fear of terrorism or environmental apocalypse keep them ascendant?
Hanson will be blogging about the types this week. I’m looking forward to it.