Cutting through the headlines. Demystifying the future. Creating sensible policy.


In Politics: Fast and Slow. More on Medium.

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We watch movies about individual heroes saving the day, read history books in which individual men build empires, and read think pieces about how individuals in poverty make good (or bad) choices. Because this ideology is so universally accepted, it has become “common sense.” Even suggesting that individuals may not be primarily, much less entirely, responsible for their circumstances is mocked and dismissed out of hand. To blame structures, or systems, or society is seen as childish weakness — as an attempt to shield yourself or others from accountability.

The trouble is that individualism is an utterly absurd way of explaining the world. …

The end of the year newsletter and message from Politics: Fast and Slow.

Our first (partial) year as a publication is coming to an end. After launching in April, almost entirely because I was bored in lockdown, we’ve built a great platform, with a rapidly growing following which now stands at 551.

We’ve seen some great articles on the publication this year, and as the year (from hell) draws to an end, why not share some of the very best with you all, to boost spirits and give some inspiration for the New Year? (below)

With season’s greetings,

Dave Olsen

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In a well-argued essay, Jonathan Adler argues that libertarian environmentalists ought to take property rights seriously. No writer has had a greater impact on classical liberal and libertarian thinking about property than John Locke. It follows that any would-be free-market environmentalist must take Locke seriously. And not just Locke’s theory of property. His theory of government, as laid out in his 1690 Second Treatise, is equally important. In what follows, I will argue that considering Locke’s ideas on both property and government leads to conclusions that justify even stronger policy actions that Adler advocates.

Locke on property

Locke states the essence of his theory of property in this famous…

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Writing this week in the Wall Street Journal, Bobby Jindal asks what the GOP should propose on healthcare, in order not to be “caught flat-footed next time they are in charge.” And by the way, why wait until the GOP is in charge again? Going by what Jindal says, there are ample grounds for at least incremental bipartisan reforms beginning as soon as the Biden team takes over the White House.

Jindal asks good questions and suggests some promising answers. Here is what I think he gets right.

Do conservatives continue fighting for a full repeal of Obamacare spending and taxes, or do they accept current spending as the baseline?

Or: How Your Son became a Socialist.

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Senator Bennet and a very young Matthew Barad

Over the last decade, there has been a massive generational shift in American politics. Where in 2010 it appeared that the future of the Democratic party was a wave of young Obama-loving liberals, today essays and articles are being written to explain how a generation of far-left progressives, socialist, and anarchists sprouted from the harsh soils of American capitalism.

I suspect that once Biden takes office, and once the tide of climate, BLM, and economic protests continues to rise in spite of a Democratic victory, there will be renewed interest in this question — how did a generation of left-leaning kids and liberal millennials become a juggernaut for leftist, not liberal, politics? …

Part 3: “common sense” and the escalating narrative.

This is the second part of an ongoing series on defeating conservative arguments. Read the introduction and Part 2: Argument ad Hypocrisy.

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A key part of modern conservatism’s success is the creation and weaponization of “common sense.”

Used by Antonio Gramsci to describe a set of political and ethical values which have become so widespread that they are accepted as fact, “common sense” allows the most powerful ideology to dismiss facts outright if they oppose a widely accepted belief.

Police and prison abolition, for example, are seen by America’s political mainstream as absurd and dangerous ideas with no basis in reality. It is just “common sense” that police should be called to resolve every issue from domestic violence to an elementary school mental health crisis. Even though the overwhelming majority of studies show there are far better alternatives to policing for solving social ills, adopting those policies instead of building more prisons is seen as radical and absurd.

If there’s an argument to be made on the perils of debt, China serves as the prime example.

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Source: SCMP

While the United States reckons with slowing growth and surging debt at home, China’s economic recovery is picking up steam: it reported a 4.9% increase in GDP in the third quarter of 2020. This is almost exceptional — considering that China didn’t slash interest rates like many of its Western counterparts — but hidden beneath this success story are signs of a worsening debt crisis that will surely affect its economic trajectory in the long run.

How Large Is China’s Debt?

As of June 2020, China’s total government debt amounted to 70% of GDP, though leading credit firms like S&P Global and Chengxin Ratings believe this number is largely understated. In fact, hidden debt accumulated by local government financing vehicles, or LGFVs, could add on another 29–38% to the total debt-to-GDP ratio. …

The swift passage of a second stimulus package is essential to American economic recovery.

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Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

During a year in which millions of Americans face food insecurity, evictions, and periods without health insurance during a global pandemic, Congress and the White House have portrayed the passage of another stimulus package (after March’s CARES Act) as an incredibly contentious and impossible endeavor. While people are suffering because of circumstances outside of their control, our leaders have been unable to compromise on a bill that would demonstrate that they put people’s well-being ahead of accumulating political leverage.

This stalemate might seem surprising if it wasn’t representative of several political and economic trends that have permeated American policymaking for the last four decades. Most social programs are stigmatized because America’s reigning political ideology (neoliberalism) holds that the state mustn’t interfere much in the economy. The government provided largely inadequate support to people in need before the pandemic and pushed more social support functions onto nonprofits and the private sector. …

Every year, Americans spend more on lotteries than they do on music, movies, sporting events, and books combined. Despite all the odds, it’s seen by many as a viable form of savings.

As a math teacher, I don’t know how to process that. The expected return is basically zero yet so many of us are still tricked into funding it. The real problem, though, is that the majority of people who frequently participate in the lottery are from the lowest levels of education and socioeconomic status (tend to come from the bottom 20%).

It’s a tax on people who don’t understand probability, and, while, in some cases, that money may be going into public services that improve the lives of people who fund the lottery, it’s fairly easy to imagine how it can end up being a net negative. For instance, lotteries are often partially used to find education, but education investments don’t always have clear social returns and it doesn’t end up clearly improving the lives of lottery participants. …

The fight of our lives.

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A few weeks ago, a landlord in Colorado sent his tenants a letter threatening to raise their rent should Trump lose the election, and promising to freeze it if he wins. As shockingly undemocratic as it may seem, a quick Google search tells us that this is not a rare phenomenon. Whether it’s bosses telling their employees to vote Trump in 2016, or threatening layoff if Obama wins re-election in 2012, using ones’ wealth and capital to coerce how other people vote is as old as American democracy.

Some of these tactics are transparently illegal — a number of states have statutes which forbid a boss to tell their workers how to vote — but others are murkier, or even explicitly protected by the constitution. Take the Colorado landlord’s letter, for example. Though the intentions were clear, the letter explicitly said it was not an instruction on how to vote, and phrased the possible raise in rent as an inevitability if Biden is elected, rather than a choice being made by the property owners. …

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