Author Archive | Jacob Levy


Speaking of Hit & Run, I notice a Badnarik for President blogad running there. (Right now it’s the 3rd blogad down, in the right-hand column.)

The headline text is “A PLAN FOR PEACE.” Superimposed on the image of Badnarik are the words “The Peace Candidate.” And right below the image we get the words “Priority 1: Get the warmonger out of the White House. Priority 2: Don’t put another one in.”

“Well,” thinks I, “this is interesting. If this is Badnarik’s strategy, then we might for the first time see a Libertarian presidential candidate really running left rather than running right. I don’t know how tactically sound that is, since it means he’ll be competing with Nader for the Kucinich vote, whereas he’s got the ‘Bush is a big-spending protectionist’ ideological space all to himself. On the other hand, Libertarians have been running the “Republicans are big spenders too” campaign since the year after I was born, to no great avail, so maybe this will pay off. Won’t win my vote, but best of luck to ’em.”

The ad made me wonder how Badnarik was going to describe his “Plan for Peace.” So I clicked on thw ad to get transported to his campaign homepage… where the words “war,” “peace,” “Iraq,” “terror,” and so on are entirely missing from the site’s front page. Instead, the first thing the enthusiastic Kucinich voter sees when clicking on the Peace Candidate’s ad is “Today’s Position Paper: Gun Control Means Being Able to Hit your Target.”

This, um, might not be the best way to capitalize on those blogreaders who were attracted by the run-to-the-left PEACE message… [...]

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Around and about:

Sports-writer extraordinaire Aaron Schatz has a new article up at TNR (registration required) about Kobe, Shaq, and class.

Liberty & Power bloggers David Beito and Charles Nickolls have an article at Reason that should (but of course won’t) put the enduring infatuation of some libertarians with the Old South to rest once and for all. Hit & Run has set up a comments thread on the piece here, and while it’s got some of the expected unpleasantness there are some very interesting posts as well.

Our guestblogger Neal has a very funny post up at his homeblog imagining Jeopardy if answers had to be in the form of the right question.

And Reason has posted a more complete version of the Julian Sanchez interview with my colleague Martha Nussbaum than appeared in print. Some very interesting bits and pieces for philosophy buffs got left out of the hard copy; Julian knows his stuff and knows the right questions to ask. (Contrast with this new piece in the Chicago Sun-Times about Nussbaum, or rather about how the reporter was in awe of her and couldn’t manage to read any of her books. Unlike most articles about Nussbaum, Julian’s (even the extended version) makes no mention of what she was wearing, and does press her on tensions among her various philosophical positions and commitments (see, e.g., the political liberalism question). [...]

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: one of my greatest blogospheric joys has been the chance to get introduced to the witty, insightful, and stylish writing of John Holbo. Over at “John and Belle Have a Blog” he’s got an epic post about epics, myths, and comic books that’s very funny and very thoughtful. Readers who (like me) have spent fanboyish time either generating continuity patches, arguing about published continuity patches, or arguing about continuity altogether should go read it. So should the rest of you, of course, but if you’ve never heard of Alan Moore or Crisis it contains references you will find obscure.

Meanwhile, at Crooked Timber, he’s answered Orin’s call (below) for a name “for when advocates on both sides of an ongoing debate switch rhetorical positions, and yet they insist on decrying the inconsistency of their opponents while overlooking their own inconsistency.” The name’s clever and yet right, and he has useful reflections on the underlying phenomenon as well. [...]

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Inside Base-ball

Noam Scheiber is clearly right that it’s a bad sign for Bush that he’s still struggling to shore up and rally the conservative base (posts here and here). I think his characterization of the political tactics and stakes are all just right. But there’s something odd in his diagnosis of how relations between Bush and conservatives have come to this pass.

Rove’s grand plan was to spend the first three years of Bush’s term stroking conservatives’ erogenous zones–lots of tax cuts, conservative judges, regulatory rollbacks, and religiously hued social policy (the administration’s marriage initiative, its efforts to restrict access to abortion, its retrograde stem cell research policies, etc.). The idea behind this stuff was that it would give Bush the political capital to tack leftward during his re-election campaign. But a funny thing happened on the way to the center: Rove discovered that conservatives don’t just want to win on some issues, they want to win on every issue. Conservatives went ballistic over last year’s Medicare prescription drug bill, over additional money for the reconstruction of Iraq, over the deficit and the failure to control spending generally, and over the administration’s perceived indifference to gay marriage. Equally maddening to conservatives were proposals like a manned mission to Mars and immigration reform.

I suppose that every committed activist “wants to win on every issue.” But that doesn’t mean that conservatives unreasonably expect to win on every issue.

Noam’s a smart analyst of party politics; does he really think it’s surprising that conservatives didn’t say, “Well, yeah, we lost on the 400-billion dollar entitlement that was really a 550-billion dollar entitlement, but we won on rolling back the OSHA ergonomic workplace regulations, so we can’t complain”? The marriage initiative is small potatoes. The anti-abortion efforts are (necessarily) restricted to marginal [...]

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Dan Drezner and Bruce Bartlett and Matthew Yglesias all enthuse about the idea of a Presidential challenger naming a shadow cabinet. Matt identifies some disadvantages:

The first is simply that the vetting and decision-making process would distract key campaign staff at a moment when they have the non-trivial task of running a presidential campaign. The other is that presumably anyone you would appoint would be expected to participate in the campaign, complete with harsh denunciations of the other guys, which could make the confirmation process much harder down the road.

and Dan others:

I can see downsides to this strategy — in particular, such an announcement increases the number of official mouthpieces — which increases the likelihood of one of them committing a gaffe that saps time and energy from Kerry.

The idea has always seemed like a nonstarter to me, for three major reasons, none of which Matt or Dan precisely touches on.

1) Naming a cabinet inevitably involves lots of disappointment among one’s allies, supporters, and subordinates. There are many more people on a campaign advisory staff who imagine themselves getting cabinet positions, or at least imagine themselves in the running for one such a position, than there are actual cabinet positions. This is salutary, from the candidate’s prspective. It provides a lot of very smart and/or politically important people with a spur to help the campaign as much as possible. Naming a shadow cabinet early dampens the enthusiasm of all those not selected who would otherwise have imagined themselves as possible choices, and might even dampen a certain competitive energy among those tapped. I think campaigns tend to benefit from a dynamic of advisors and supporters striving for future position by impressing the candidate and the voters. Of course, those tapped would then have a more-focused incentive [...]

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Chirac relents:

France will have a referendum on the proposed EU constitution in the second half of 2005. (Story is in French.)

Other bits and pieces from the President’s Bastille Day interview:

Chirac reaffirmed his commitment to the 35-hour workweek but expressed support for liberalizing the law to increase the freedom of workers “who want to work more in order to earn more.” He denounced gay marriage as “a parody of marriage,” but discussed further improvements and expansions of the rights associated with the French equivalent of civil unions. He reiterated his stock hostility to “communitarianisme” (“communalism” is probably a closer English match than “communitarianism”) and his stock endorsement of civic education, schooling for equality, etc.– i.e. there will be no movement on the headscarf issue. He mentioned the need to “rehabilitate work, responsibility, and merit in our society” in the context of discussing unemployment, sympathizing with those who “feel that they’re always paying more for those who don’t work” and insisting that “it is unacceptable for an unemployed person to refuse to ever get a job.” [...]

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FMA Fails

I’m struck by one thing on the list of who voted how on cloture on the FMA. The Republicans voting against cloture were Campbell, Chafee, Collins, McCain, Snowe, and Sununu.

Campbell’s an odd duck. McCain is a funny combination of highly principled and incredibly self-important, devoted to his public standing as a contrarian, Republican who opposes Bush whenever possible. Snowe, Collins, and Chafee are the usual suspects– Jeffords Republicans. Sununu and McCain are the only fiscal conservatives in the bunch, and McCain tilts left on lots of non-budgetary items. Three cheers for John Sununu Jr., a fiscal conservative, spending-cutter, free-trader, Social Security reformer who voted against the FMA.

It’s disappointing to libertarians that it’s so rare to see positions like Sununu’s. We intermittently get excited about some Republican who claims to be a fiscal conservative and a social liberal; but, almost inevitably, their fiscal conservatism disappears. Much as we wish otherwise, and much as we would like to believe that a drive for intellectual consistency will push people to be consistent anti-statists, the most consistent free-marketeers in Congress tend to be real social conservatives. The social liberals tend to be wet at best on economic questions. (Of course, there are lots of social conservatives who are also wet on economic and fiscal issues.) This isn’t as true in the commentariat as in Congress, and isn’t equally true on all “social” issues; free-market conservatives are a lot more likely to be drug-legalizers than to be pro-choice, and some free-market conservatives are pretty hardcore constitutionalist-civil libertarians on questions like criminal procedure and federal criminal law. But, in office, the free marketeer/ social conservative correlation is (from our perspective) unpleasantly high.

I’m enough of a believer in the long-term rationality of the parties as vote-seekers to think that this must be due to [...]

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Where is the shopping in our neighborhood?

and Phoebe
(multiple posts each; follow the links) have an exchange going
on a topic Dan
also recently mentioned: the stunning lack of commerce in Hyde Park, Chicago. The neighborhood has neither the amenities of a real college town nor those of a collegiate neighborhood in a big city (Phoebe compares it unfavorably with Morningside Heights, about which she is surely correct). The old joke goes that you can buy anything in the world you want to in Hyde Park, as long as it’s a book. Two of the country’s great bookstores are here, plus a very good used/ rare book shop, a very nice Borders, and a mediocre little Barnes & Noble. But (as Phoebe and Will point out) there’s nary a Gap in sight. No Banana Republic. No Indian food, no sushi, no Bed & Bath, no Whole Foods or Trader Joes, only one allegedly first-rate restauarant (though it isn’t) where outside speakers or job candidates can be brough without embarrassment, very few low-price studenty restaurants or bars. No comic book stores or gaming stores. No poster stores or boutiques selling precious little $200 Guatemalan peasant skirts. No Birkenstock dealer. And so on, and so on. The area around the U of C looks nothing like the area around any other American residential college or university I know of.
Says Phoebe:

Many Chicago students have a sort of shopping phobia, assuming that proximity to a source of, say, new tee shirts would cause the University to lose its intellectual edge.[…]If a GAP were to open on 55th Street, goes the argument, people would forget about Hegel and Aristotle and spend weeks on end trying to decide which jeans best flatter their asses. This is absurd–as much as they hate to admit it, Chicago

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Minimum wage

This Steven Landsburg piece in Slate has prompted blogospheric commentary (Brad DeLong, Tyler Cowen, John Quiggin, others) about the core empirical/ policy claim: that minimum wage increases (at least of the scale that we’ve seen in the U.S. in the past couple decades) have at most a small negative impact on employment.

I have a question, not about the economics but about one of Landsburg’s pieces of meta-evidence.

Twenty years ago, they’d have told you otherwise. Back then, dozens of published studies concluded that minimum wages had put a lot of people (especially teenagers, blacks, and women) out of work. As the studies continued to pile up, you might think we’d have grown more confident about their common conclusion. Instead, the opposite happened. Even though the studies were all in agreement, they managed to undercut each other.

Here’s how: Ordinarily, studies with large sample sizes should be more convincing than studies with small sample sizes. Following the fates of 10,000 workers should tell you more than following the fates of 1,000 workers. But with the minimum-wage studies, that wasn’t happening. According to the standard tests of statistical significance, the results of the large-scale studies were, by and large, neither more nor less significant than the results of the small-scale studies. That’s screwy. Screwy enough to suggest that the studies being published couldn’t possibly be a representative sample of the studies being conducted.

Here’s why that matters: Even if minimum wages don’t affect employment at all, about five out of every 100 studies will, for unavoidable statistical reasons, appear to show a significant effect. If you could read all 100 studies, that wouldn’t be a problem—95 conclude the minimum wage is pretty harmless as far as employment goes, five conclude it’s a big job-killer, you realize the latter five are

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I’d forgotten about this entirely. Way back in July of 2001, my former professor Robert P. George made the first public argument I know of for the Federal Marriage Amendment. He doesn’t claim to have originated it;

Pro-marriage activists are inclined to back an amendment that would read: “Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.”

But I had never heard of it before that, and I forgot about it pretty quickly thereafter. Most proposals for constitutional amendments put forward in opinion magazines can be safely disregarded. For that matter, most proposals for constitutional amendments altogether can be safely disregarded. And George is (as he would be the first to admit!) pretty far from mainstream legal thought or even mainstream Republican legal thought. This hardly seemed like the harbinger of a major constitutional fight, even in the pre-9/11 days when the idea of Congress wasting valuable time on a culture war shadow-boxing match wasn’t so far-fetched.

There’s a good reason I didn’t go into one of the predictive subfields of political science, I guess.

(By the way: I see that George’s interpretation of the amendment’s second sentence is the same as the one Ramesh Ponnuru pressed in an online exchange several months ago. I respect George– and Ponnuru– a great deal, but I still can’t see it. The second sentence appears to me to ban even the deliberate legislative creation of civil unions– because the state law creating such unions may not be construed as to create them. Somehow, George assures us, language at this level of [...]

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“Another Libertarian For Kerry”

Over at Liberty and Power, Steven Horwitz writes that

I’m a “conscientious abstainer,” and that if I were to vote, I would still vote Libertarian. However, if I was coerced into voting and could only vote for one of the two major party candidates, I think at this point I would, in fact, vote for Kerry. Or perhaps more accurately, as of now, I’ll be rooting for the Democrats to win come November.[…]Bush has governed as a social conservative and a fiscal liberal – precisely the opposite of what a libertarian would like to see[…] In the end, I think a world with Kerry as president and a GOP-controlled Congress is the least of all evils. Gridlock rules!!![…]Consider this an argument for just how bad the Bush administration has been. I so cannot stand both Kerry and Edwards on a personal level – the thought of a smarmy, elitist, faux-child of the 60s paired with a greasy, blow-dried, trial lawyer is making me reach for a bucket – that the idea of even verbally supporting their victory fills me with immense psychic trauma. (Only Al Gore would be worse.) However, my analytical side tells me that little could be any worse than the incumbents and that the 90s showed the power of gridlock. So I swallow hard and silently root for a split decision. For now.

In comments, his co-blogger Sheldon Richman agrees. Steven also stresses the importance of trade, saying that if Kerry-Edwards “run as protectionists, my earlier calculus is upset… I would have a hard time even verbally supporting a presidential ticket that was willing to keep the third world immiserated for the sake of a few votes in swing states.” Me, too.

Speaking of both trade and split decisions, I’m starting to look for Congressional races where [...]

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Senator Sam Brownback goes even farther than Stanley Kurtz, offering as a reason for supporting the Federal Marriage Amendment that

The experience of Europe also shows that the decline of the institution of marriage goes hand in hand with a decline in married fertility, and a corresponding decline in population. Because of the birth dearth in Europe, many countries find themselves faced with the prospect of aging (soon to be shrinking) populations and an impending collapse of their social-welfare systems because of a declining ratio of workers to retirees.

towhich, of course, the response is: there’s no variation on the dependent variable. All rich developed societies undergo a decline in fertility, regardless of the state of their marriage laws. The United States, Japan, Italy, Ireland, and the Netherlands have very different marriage laws and public cultures regarding sexuality and family life. All have seen very sharp declines in fertility, to levels below replacement. In the absence of immigration, all will see their populations shrink. (Not all of their populations will in fact shrink, as some of those countries have substantial immigration.) Yes, even Ireland, which has the strictest divorce laws of any developed country, no legal abortion, and certainly no same-sex marriage, has below-replacement fertility– and its fertility was falling fast even before divorce was legalized in the ’90s.

So, yes, rich developed countries that have embraced liberal attitudes on homosexuality and divorce and cohabitation have experienced fertility decline. So have all the other rich developed countries. There’s not only no causal argument here; there’s no correlation. [...]

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