For a glaringly obvious reason, electoral victory cannot be regarded as necessarily a popular ratification of a candidate’s outlook. The voice of the people is but an echo. The output of an echo chamber bears an inevitable and invariable relation to the input. As candidates and parties clamor for attention and vie for popular support, the people’s verdict can be no more than a selective reflection from among the alternatives and outlooks presented to them. Even the most discriminating popular judgement can reflect only ambiguity, uncertainty, or even foolishness if those are the qualities of the input into the echo chamber. A candidate may win despite his tactics and appeals rather than because of them. If the people can choose only from among rascals, they are certain the choose a rascal.
V.O. Key, The Responsible Electorate
The idea of diverting huge sums of money to thin suburban growth at the expense of starving city districts was no invention of the mortgage lenders (although they, as well as suburban builders, have now acquired a vested interest in this routine). Neither the ideal nor the method of accomplishing it originated logically within our credit system itself. It originated with high-minded social thinkers. By the 1930’s, when the FHA methods for stimulating suburban growth were worked out, virtually every wise man of the government–from right to left–was in favor of the objectives, although they might differ with one another on methods. A few years previously, Herbert Hoover had opened the first White House Conference on Housing with a polemic against the moral inferiority of cities and a panegyric on the moral virtues of simple cottages, small towns and grass. At an opposite political pole, Rexford G. Tugwell, the federal administrator responsible for the New Deal’s Green Belt demonstration suburbs, explained, “My idea is to go just outside centers of population, pick up cheap land, build a whole community and entice people into it. Then go back into the cities and tear down whole slums and make parks of them.”
The cataclysmic use of money for suburban sprawl, and the concomitant starvation of all those parts of cities that planning orthodoxy stamped as slums, was what our wise men wanted for us; they put a lot of effort, one way and another, to get it. We got it.
Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
I was watching MSNBC earlier this evening, where Ari Melber, sitting in for Chris Hayes, was covering the beginnings of what is being called a “humanitarian intervention” in Iraq in response to ISIS which allegedly* is at this point only about delivering food and water. I’ve argued before that the word ‘intervention’ ought to be avoided, for two reasons. First, it implies that one is getting involved in an area of the world, when typically, the actor doing the ‘intervening’ has long been heavily involved. Second, it covers both war making and non-war making activities, and that means obscuring a very important difference. The legal, moral and political questions between say, offering asylum or providing medicine are not at all connected to those related to mass aerial bombing or a ground invasion. But helping people tends to more popular than war, despite what people claim about the public, so elites that prefer more war tend to avoid talking about it explicitly.
You may have noticed that I have referred to “popular governments” in Greece, Rome, and Italy. To designate their popular governments, the Greeks, as we saw, invented the term democracy. The Romans drew on their native Latin and called their government a “republic,” and later the Italians gave that name to the popular governments of some of their city-states. You might well wonder whether democracy and republic refer to fundamentally different types of constitutional systems. Or instead do the two words just reflect differences in the languages from which they originally came?
The correct answer was obfuscated by James Madison in 1787 in an influential paper he wrote to win support for the newly proposed American constitution. One of the principal architects of that constitution and a statesman exceptionally well informed in the political science of his time, Madison distinguished between “a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person,” and a “republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place.”
This distinction had no basis in prior history: neither in Rome nor, for example, in Venice was there “a scheme of representation.” Indeed, the earlier republics all pretty much fit into Madison’s definition of a “democracy.” What is more, the two terms were used interchangeably in the United States during the eighteenth century. Nor is Madison’s distinction found in a work by the well-known French political philosopher Montesquieu, whom Madison greatly admired and frequently praised. Madison himself would have known that his proposed distinction had no firm historical basis, and so we must conclude that he made it to discredit critics who contended that the proposed constitution was not sufficiently “democratic.”
However that may be (the matter is unclear), the plain fact is that the words democracy and republic did not (despite Madison) designate differences in types of popular government. What they reflected, at the cost of later confusion, was a difference between Greek and Latin, the languages from which they came.
Robert A. Dahl, On Democracy
Bryce Wilson Stucki has an interesting piece called Breaking the School-to-Prison Pipeline: Rethinking ‘Zero Tolerance’ discussing recent efforts to challenge so called “zero tolerance” policies in public schools. Such policies, which grew out of the Drug War and political efforts to get “tough on crime,” have ended up pushing many youths out of school and into the “school to prison pipeline.” She notes that some places have been moving in a different direction, attempting to enact a less punitive approach to discipline, in particular the adoption of restorative justice. One example is the Kensington Creative & Performing Arts High School (KCAPA) in Philadelphia, “where about 90 percent of students are Latino or black and 100 percent are below the poverty line”. Read the rest of this entry »
Alexis Goldstein interviewed me on the Disorderly Conduct podcast on my three part series on Wall Street and ed reform. It was my radio debut.
You can listen to the interview here.
[Update: The other guest was Kshama Sawant. You can hear the whole episode here. And you should!]
[Update 2: You can also read the full transcript of my interview.]
And here are the posts. Don’t forget part three – it needs some love.
Dan Greene contributed some additional thoughts here: There’s always another market: Liquidity, Wall Street and Ed Reform
It’s a pretty standard thing to see: in an argument about whether we should either decriminalize or legalize some thing, oftentimes the argument revolves around one thing. Is this thing harmful? The best example, although it’s not the only one, is drugs. Obviously, if the argument in favor of criminalizing something is that it’s harmful, than evidence that it is not supports ending legal prohibitions.
Is prison harmful? Is ripping apart families harmful? Is the endemic sexual assault found in prison harmful? What about the risk of violence, or the torture of solitary confinement? Or overcrowding, or lack of medical care? How about the collateral consequences of imprisonment–unemployment, being barred from public housing, food stamps, federal education aid and a whole host of professions or voting? What about the impact on communities where many people are shuffled between prison and the neighborhood? What about the police harassment that comes with hyper-aggressive law enforcement?
Few things we criminalize because they are ‘harmful’ are anywhere close as harmful as prison.