January 02, 2007
Ann Althouse has another . . . odd entry in the debate about Ann Althouse's views of federalism. Without wishing to touch-- because it is so hard to imagine saying anything more successful at refuting Althouse than her post itself-- the strange attacks on Jacob Levy, I did find this challenge worth responding to:
I said that if you are devoted an abstract theory of government that would have allowed racial segregation to persist indefinitely, then it raises the question whether the reason you like this theory so much is either that you actually desire segregation or that you are insufficiently concerned about it. Once this question arises, you need to talk about it, and the avoidance of the question makes those who have the question feel even more dissatisfaction with the theory.
If Althouse thinks that this question is a troubling one to defenders of federalism, it deserves a few responses.
1: The evidence that federalism-- in the form that the relevant modern mature adults conceive of it-- "would have allowed racial segregation to persist indefinitely" is mixed at best.
2: Even if it were true that the terrible evil of racial segregation would not have been cured if federalism existed, one still might think that going forward, it was a good way to run a country. Not because the evils of racial segregation are outweighed by the benefits of federalism, but because having federalism now doesn't affect the decision to have federalism 100 years ago.
3: Note that Althouse's suggestion is that one who likes federalism now is "either" insufficiently concerned about racial segregation or actively in favor of it. She omits the third, and obviously most likely, candidate. That those who favor federalism as a way to structure the government today are concerned about racial segregation, and that their concern is sufficient, but they nonetheless think that the benefits of decentralized power outweigh the costs.
4: The more I think about it, the less I am convinced by the premise of Althouse's question-- that an abstract theory of government should be judged ad hominem by the hypothetical presence of private racial animus (or private racial indifference) of those who propose it. It is unclear to me why one shouldn't just evaluate as best one can the optimal degree of constitutional governmental decentralization, without demanding to know whether other people agree with one's assessment for nefarious reasons.
It seems wise to admit now that, like many other critics of Althouse, I may not "get" the project she is engaged in. Apparently, she believes herself to be a "street-fighting thinker, or street-thinking fighter," which may perhaps include some mode of argument with which I am not familiar. If one is supposed to be concerned with why people who believe in decentralization of power do, one more plausible hypothesis might be, because it is a good idea! Comments (9)
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My home made pizza isn't as good as this guy's (linked from Stuart Buck), which is extraordinary (but which depends on rigging your home oven so that you can set it on self-clean, and yet still open, which I'm not going to do in my rented place), but it is very good. I craved pizza during the fantastic Boise State Fiesta Bowl victory last night, so I set to. For those who want to skip to the good part, completed pictures are here and here, and here I should say - given the caveats below, I do often produce better pizza, but this is as well as I've done without my stone and without white flour.
A couple of notes -
1) this was made mostly with King Arthur's "white" whole wheat flour. That accounts, I think, for the lack of color on the surface crust. Pure white flour browns better, I've found. The use of whole wheat was not intentional - I ran out of white flour.
2) Here's the dough. I use no oil in the dough itself (it's just flour, salt, yeast, and water), but I do very lightly oil the plastic bowl I rise it in. The ball you see there is for two pizzas of the size I made.
3) Here's the pizza before cooking. Two things here - I hate heavily topped pizzas, so my toppings are sparse. Second, my pizza stone (i.e, an unvarnished ceramic tile from Home Depot) is broken, so I just used a cookie sheet. Even without the stone, the results aren't bad.
4) I got the bottom to char properly by just throwing the thing on the bare floor of my gas oven, which is really hot. It occurs to me that I've just discovered how to make naan at home, which depends on blisters of this sort. I will experiment soon.Comments (1)
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Matthew Yglesias discusses the relatively uniform structure of state governments:
U.S federalism is somewhat unusual in that the states have essentially total autonomy in terms of how they want to arrange the institutions of state government. The federal constitution only contains a vague requirement of a "Republican form of government" which seems to offer a lot of leeway. Nevertheless, 49 out of 50 states choose bicameralism. Zero states out of fifty opt for parliamentary-style governance where the state executive must maintain the confidence of the legislature. All fifty states, including tiny Rhode Island, implement a an interstitial country (or "parish") level of government between the state and towns and cities. All the states elect their legislators on the basis of single-member constituencies. You'd think that some state, at least, would try something different along some of these dimensions and see how it works out.
This is the comment I posted there:
It's worth noting that some of the institutional uniformity you see here is the result of the Supreme Court decisions in the second half of the 20th century: multi-member districts have been rendered impossible to consistently defend after the Voting Rights Act and accompanying caselaw; the one-person-one-vote decisions have destroyed a great deal of diversity in state and local representative government, and so on. This doesn't necessarily negate the point that states are now kind of similar (although compared to what?) but does suggest that your reference to the Republican Form clause probably doesn't explain what's really going on.
On Matt's broader point, about the lack of radical state differences in regulation of most important policy issues (except for assisted suicide, pollution, alcohol, executions, etc.) I think the mechanism may be that it is in fact very difflcult, in our current structure of mixed federalism, for a high-salience policy choice to be devolved to the states because of the ability of other states to undermine the scheme.
But as the parenthetical in paragraph above hints, I'm also not sure I agree with the premise that state law differences are limited to "fairly trivial" regulatory matters. Certainly the fact that no state has adopted a single-payer health system shouldn't be taken as conclusive evidence alone (maybe single payer health care is just a really bad idea!). A lot of important issues simply aren't within state control except at the margins (like state criminal procedure, abortion, narcotics, etc.). And the difference in policy between, say, nearly-dry Utah and free-drinking California is huge. States differ quite a bit on the topics where federal law and federal courts currently give them freedom to do so, which admittedly are not as many as they used to be.
[UPDATE: It's true enough, and worth mentioning, that single payer health care programs at the state level are also made more difficult and more costly by the possibility of strong federal preemption from ERISA.] Comments (4)
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The New York Times has a story today about how content regulation on YouTube and similar mainstream sites has caused young users to begin substituting toward sites that run a looser ship. One can make the typical uninformed empirical speculations about whether this is a "race to the top" or a "race to the bottom," but for the moment, I won't bother.
I was more annoyed by the article's title: "Using Web Cams but Few Inhibitions, the Young Turn to Risky Social Sites." What bothers those who object to child sex, child webcams, and what-have-you is not really the "risk" but the fact that it is a risk of harm. If instead of causing massive damage to a few very unlucky children, the activity in question caused a small amount of damage to a whole lot of children, I take it that few of the critics would be mollified. I recognize that this usage has become quite commonplace, but I continue to think it's misguided and unwise to use the word "risky" when one is really talking about the harmfulness of the activity, not its risk profile.
We should worry-- to whatever extent-- about dangerous activities, not just risky ones.
UPDATE I'm pleased to see that the online version of the story now has a different title, "Young Turn to Web Sites Without Rules." The hard copy on my kitchen table has the "risky" headline.
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