Notes on a Theory…

Thoughts on politics, law, & social science

Some thoughts about politics

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I keep having the same thoughts pop up as I participate in or watch various conversations about politics. I also think that trying to offer frameworks for understanding things differently in the middle of arguments is generally worthless. So I thought instead I could try to spell them out here. They will end up being somewhat abstract, precisely because I do not want to tie them to the controversies of the day, or of last week, etc. I hope they will be read in the spirit in which they are written–not proclamations, but provocations. I may be wrong. And surely nothing I am saying here hasn’t been said before or better by someone else. But hopefully some people will find them useful, which is about the best you can hope for in most conversations. I will plan on linking to them all here. They won’t add up to a theory or anything like that, although I hope writing them will bring me closer to one. I always like reading comments from readers, but I’m especially curious what you think about this, even if your thoughts, like mine, are fluid and difficult to articulate.

Axis 1: What is important?

Axis 2: What is changeable?

Axis 3: What do you have leverage over?

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Written by David Kaib

April 17, 2017 at 3:21 pm

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Radio: Political Parties and Social Change

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I was interviewed by David Shen and Zach Schalk for the first episode of their podcast, Square 1. I touch on a lot of the themes I talk about here, but you can hear them instead of read them. The short version is that I am skeptical of the possibility that electoral activity alone can bring about significant change, and emphasize the important of non-electoral activity even in producing electoral outcomes.

You can listen here.

Here are the works I mentioned:

Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems by Thomas Ferguson

Party Politics in America by Marjorie Randon Hershey

Politics, Parties, & Pressure Groups by V.O. Key

Written by David Kaib

February 13, 2017 at 8:32 pm

The Most Basic Fact About Politics is Slack

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What’s the most important thing you should understand if you want to make sense of American politics? Ask most well-informed people, and then answer will be Polarization. The parties–both party-in-government and party-in-the-electorate–have gotten more ideological, less willing to compromise, leading to gridlock. Some will rightly note that this has been largely asymmetrical, a product of changes in the Republican Party not the Democrats. But the rest of the story remains the same. Less often it is noted that polarization isn’t really an issue among the public, only among the elites–especially members of Congress.

The polarization story often treats this as some sort of natural phenomena, or a tendency that was always there with fragile efforts to stop it failing to do so. Or it is chalked up to the power of money, or even of the Koch brothers themselves. Rarely is it treated as something about which something can be done.

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Written by David Kaib

November 29, 2016 at 8:26 pm

Hypocrisy Arguments are Bad

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Hypocrisy arguments are bad and you should stop making them. I want to distinguish here between an hypocrisy argument–one where hypocrisy is pointed out to delegitimate a  person or position without more–and a hypocrisy claim. By a hypocrisy claim, I mean an accusation of hypocrisy embedded within a larger argument. My argument here applies to the former, not the latter.

Hypocrisy arguments are overrated. In life in general, and in politics in particular, consistency is the exception not the rule. I am favor of striving for consistency, but skeptical of anyone who claims their own group in uniformly consistent while their opponents are not. If hypocrisy were rare, it might pack more of a punch. But it not and it doesn’t. I’m unconvinced they have ever convinced anyone of anything. 

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Written by David Kaib

September 15, 2016 at 11:58 am

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Not Everyone Must Work

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Everyone must work. So they say.

Here’s André Gorz, in Reclaiming Work: Beyond the Wage-Based Society:

The imperative need for a sufficient, regular income is one thing. The need to act, to strive, to test oneself against others and be appreciated by others is quite another. Capitalism systemically links the two, conflates them, and upon that conflation establishes capital’s power and its ideological hold on people’s minds. It admits no activity which is not ‘work’, done to order and paid for by those ordering it. It admits no regular income that is not earned from ‘work’. The imperative need for a regular income is used to persuade people of their ‘imperative need to work’. The need to act, to strive, to be appreciated is used to persuade people that they need to be paid for whatever they do.

And here is Kathi Weeks, in The Problem With Work:
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Written by David Kaib

July 26, 2016 at 10:01 pm

Disciplining the poor through the market

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Anonymous Guest Post

One of the most striking features about the way the poor are disciplined in the United States is the total banality of it all. For an example, let’s take a look at the 2014 Farm Bill and regulations proposed in February 2016 by the USDA for the implementation thereof.

Prior to the 2014 Farm Bill, in order to qualify as a SNAP retailer, a merchant needed to carry three varieties of each of four categories of staple foods: meat, fish, and poultry; bread and cereals; fruits and vegetables; and dairy products. The February regulations define these as “foods used primarily for home preparation and consumption that provide the main sources of nutrition intake for households.” Retailers also needed to carry perishable foodstuffs in two of these categories.

The 2014 Farm Bill amended these requirements to from three to seven varieties of each type of staple food, as well as increasing the categories where perishables were required from two to three. The rules further require a minimum stock of six of each variety. This amendment was presented as making a larger stock of fresh food, particularly fruits and vegetables, a requirement for a store to accept SNAP benefits.

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Written by David Kaib

April 8, 2016 at 1:36 pm

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