Cultural Values and Free Trade

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179 Responses

  1. Avatar Chris says:


    [Comments are now closed.]Report

  2. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    Japanese love for rice farming as an example.

    Depends, is rice farming in Japan an efficient use of it’s limited real estate?Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Even if it’s not, it can legitimately be a price they’re willing to pay in the preservation of what they see as their core identity.

      Of course, the same can be said of a zero-immigration policy. Or a European countries only immigration policy. Or virtually anything. It comes down to value system (all of which, it shouldn’t need to be said, shouldn’t be viewed equally).Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Its more than just a concern with core cultural identity. From what I can tell the Japanese do not like the idea of not being able to produce all the food they need in their own country. They think that being able to feed Japan with Japanese grown food is a source of defense, protection, and independence even though importing would be cheaper and more efficient. Rice is the food product they want to be most self-sufficient in for a variety of reasons. They also seem to really prefer Japanese rice over other rice.Report

      • Avatar Autolukos says:

        I’m all for people who value Japanese-farmed rice having the option to pay extra to support it. It’s just not clear to me why they should be able to force people who don’t share their values to do so.Report

        • Avatar Francis says:

          because in a democracy you don’t always win?

          Would your analysis change if the Japanese government put the rice support payments in the military budget? We spend money on tanks; they spend money on rice. If there’s no market for California rice in Japan (or Israeli tanks in the US) that’s not a trade dispute; that’s a matter of defense spending.Report

          • Avatar Autolukos says:

            That doesn’t address the question of why this particular value is a matter for state intervention. People who want domestic rice can buy it even if it’s more expensive than the alternatives; I’m not seeing the case for state intervention to push their preference on their neighbors.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


          Francis has it. Perhaps a majority of the Japanese feel this way about rice. Why shouldn’t they? Do you believe in democracy when it suits your purposes only?Report

          • Avatar Autolukos says:

            So anything a majority wants goes? If a majority votes that left-handed people should pay an extra tax, there should be no recourse?Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


              Not necessarily but democracy is pretty silly if everyone takes it to mean “I am for majority rules when I am in the majority and against majority rules when I am in the minority.”

              Different countries have always had different beliefs on the scope of government. Most countries have always accepted and used more economic regulation than the Anglo World. Champagne must come from Champagne, Parmesean must come from Modena, Japanese swords and knifes are built to exacting standards, etc.

              Why should the Japanese or French follow your notions about what is and what is not the proper scope of government and regulation? Please try to answer without using questions.Report

              • Avatar Autolukos says:

                There is a longer answer, but it boils down to the same thing as anyone else who believes in universal values: because my views about the proper scope of government are (as far as I can tell) correct.

                Now, obviously, I may have the wrong values, so there may be a principled reason why the policies under discussion are within the legitimate scope of the state. Or maybe there are no universal values, in which case whether the state’s scope is limited and whether it does or does not follow the desires of the majority are arbitrary. But I don’t find the mere existence of a law a persuasive argument for its legitimacy.Report

              • Avatar LWA says:

                This thread seems oddly familiar….Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Now, obviously, I may have the wrong values, so there may be a principled reason why the policies under discussion are within the legitimate scope of the state.

                Well, isn’t one such principle that if the policies under discussion are enacted by a legislature elected by “the people” (subject to judicial review), then those policies are definitionally within the legitimate scope of the state?

                I don’t mean that to sound … trivial … either.

                I mean, you can reject a policy because you view it as “unprincipled” while another person rejects it because it doesn’t conform to their values. Why think that your “principled” objection matters more than one based on values? Doesn’t that beg all the questions in play?

                Edit: I guess the shorter here is that valuing principles is just another value.Report

              • Avatar Autolukos says:

                Yes, that was poorly phrased on my part. Rather, I should have said, “perhaps the true set of values justifies these policies.”

                Now, I find naked majoritarianism a spectacularly poor principle of legitimation. In fact, I find it so unpersuasive that I don’t actually believe that @saul-degraw and @francis support it. If the tax on left-handedness doesn’t raise objections, we can ramp up the hypothetical as far as we want: prevent gay people from marrying, kill (insert unpopular minority here), etc. At a certain point, I’ll bet that just about everyone here will agree that we’ve passed what can be justified by the mere fact of 50%+1 approving of it. So, assuming I’m correct, we are fundamentally in agreement that there are limits on what majorities may legitimately demand. Obviously, we disagree on what those limits are, though.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                So, assuming I’m correct, we are fundamentally in agreement that there are limits on what majorities may legitimately demand.

                I don’t know what this even means, to be honest. No policy in the history of this country has ever had 100% support, so by the logic you’re invoking none of those demands are legitimate. Based on *that* criterion. They must accord with the (or a) principle, yes? But what determines the principle? What *justifies* it except for a private proclamation?

                Or are we talking about pragmatics here? (I’d love it if we were!)Report

              • Avatar Autolukos says:

                I don’t know where you’re getting the idea that I think a policy must have 100% support. All I’m saying is that in my experience most people (in the English-speaking world, at least) agree that there is some limit on what governments should be allowed to do, even if they have impeccable democratic credentials.

                Personally, I’d go even further and say that the level of public support for a policy is irrelevant to whether it is a legitimate use of state power. But I expect that claim to be controversial, to say the least.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


                Freedom from “tyranny of the majority” is freedom from bigotry and prosecution including the ability to voice your ideas without censure or censorship. Originally it was probably mainly used for religious minorities like Jews and later became used for other political, ethnic, sexual, etc minorities.

                I don’t think it ever meant that free traders win even if 60-70 percent of the population is against free trade and believes in the deep culture values of protecting various industries.

                The U.S. does not have the Japanese rice issue. We have as LWA and Morat20 noted, an insecurity over our jobs and pensions issue and the “cheaper Ipads” argument is not working. People want jobs with benefits and pensions. Not freelancing and 401Ks or crummy service jobs without insurance or PTO.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Protection from the majority means that 50.1% of the country (through its representation) can’t necessarily decide everything with their own consensus. That doesn’t just apply to your preferred issues. It applies to anything that cannot get a sufficient majority to be enacted. Which typically requires more than 50.1%. A more-than-majority to, among other things, reduce trade barriers. (Or to erect them.)Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                @autolukos Do you consider yourself a libertarian? Libertarianism is a distinctly Anglo-American phenomenon. With a few exceptions, it does not seem to exist outside countries without some historical connection to the United Kingdom. Even in those countries with historical connections to the United Kingdom, it is a distinctly minority political opinion that few people support without reservations. If the libertarian perception of government is correct than why is it so rare?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Libertarianism is a philosophy for heterogeneous societies. A homogeneous society that engages in libertarianism will find itself heterogeneous in short order.

                Heterogeneity is not, I’m coming to discover, a virtue in and of itself.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                Even in heterogeneous societies most people do not want libertarianism. The disadvantaged groups tend to want laws and programs to help them overcome past discrimination. The non-disadvantaged groups want laws that help them maintain a middle or upper class lifestyle while tending not to want to give anything to the disadvantaged groups at all or even make things worse for them if they are particularly hostile. How do you get everybody to go along with libertarianism without force?Report

              • Avatar aaron david says:


                ” How do you get everybody to go along with libertarianism without force?”

                How do you get everybody to go along with liberalism without force? As we become a more liberal society, we seem to have a greater police presence, both state and federal. We seem to kill more people with our various laws than necessary, our most liberal cities that aren’t massively homogeneous have police like an occupying army.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                They ain’t all AlbuquerqueReport

              • Avatar Autolukos says:

                I’m happy to go by either libertarian or liberal; for a reference point, I’m a huge Will Wilkinson fan.

                I deal with the unpopularity of libertarian views the same way as any other argumentum ad populum: by not taking it as evidence for or against the proposition.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

                I gave you the answer. Freedom from the “Tyranny of the Majority” always meant that minorities have a full right to participate in economic and civil life. It was about non-discrimination and anti-bigotry. It was never about “40 percent of the country does not believe in this economic regulation so we will go with what they say.”Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                The way I’ve always understood tyranny of the majority (not that any one else necessarily views it this way) is when a majority deprives a minority of certain expressions, actions, protections or opportunities which the majority already claims. So it’s context dependent rather than natural right dependent. (Thankfully!)Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                That may be what you think it means. There isn’t much basis to suggest that it was it has always meant. The phrase and the concept came up during the drafting. I don’t think their concerns were limited to ethnic and religious minorities being persecuted.

                Madison (who outlined the concept, if not the phrase) was warning against factions and I’m not sure “Adams was really just opposing discrimination and bigotry” really works.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


                You aren’t saying anything that proves Autolykos is correct either.

                I am a bit perplexed about what is going on here. Obama received a huge and largely bipartisan set-back against his desire to fast-track TPP. Obviously the pro-TPP crowd is upset but complaining about majority rules here seems odd? I am not finding Autolykos very persuasive here.Report

              • Lee,

                You seem to be making Autolukos’s point for him. A lot of positions that are right are nevertheless rare, or at least have been. Take ssm. Maybe now, at least in the West (and for all I know, the non-West), support for ssm is now the majority thing. Does that mean opposition to ssm was right when support for it was rare?Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                There is a difference between support or lack of support for ssm and libertarianism. Regardless of a person’s opinion on ssm, it or at least LGBT rights were at least something that crossed the minds of a lot of people in the world at some point in their life. The idea of limited government per libertarianism just doesn’t even come up in people’s minds except for small groups in the Anglophone countries. Your Egyptian, Peruvian, Pakistani, or European never thought about it while the problem did have some thoughts about LGBT rights.

                What I am saying is that libertarianism is such a particular philosophy with a particular audience that it really seems weird to advocate it as universal solution.Report

              • My main point is that someone can be right and still be in a minority. Just because someone’s views are unpopular doesn’t make those views wrong.

                Now, you’re probably right that libertarianism, depending on how we define it, is largely an Anglosphere thing, especially if we except the Austrian economists and 19th-century liberals on the continent, and earlier views (such as Philippe du Plessy Mornay’s advocacy of right of revolution in 16th century France during the civil war there). Of course, I must say I’m pretty ignorant of most of the rest of the world’s history to comment knowledgeably on whether something like a libertarian critique of government was ever held. So you might be right.Report

            • Avatar Francis says:

              Depends on your form of government. We have a constitution that has a relatively strong equal protection clause. So in theory a tax on the left-handed should fail an EP analysis. (This is being written off-the-cuff after a very long day. Anyone who thinks I’m wrong is welcome to jump in.)

              But in a true democracy without any kind of court system to restrain the legislature, then sure that tax would be enforceable. Why not? Who, in your system of government, will prevent the enforcement of that tax? Under what authority?

              (Personally, my view about the proper scope of government is that I can barely figure it out for myself and I don’t nearly have the courage to tell the Japanese what the limits on their government’s power should be.)Report

              • Avatar Autolukos says:

                As in all forms of government, “people with weapons” is the answer to who enforces laws.

                But you’ve moved from a law’s legitimacy to its enforcement. Personally, I think that the system that allows people to sue to prevent the enforcement of the tax is superior to the one that does not.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Actually, hell, the most proper analogy writes itself:

      If California wants to remain an agricultural state, why shouldn’t it divert most of its water to agriculture and tell the cities when they can water their lawns and replace their pool water?Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        If California wants to remain an agricultural state, the obvious choice is to secede and be annexed by Mexico: (1) cheap labor both domestically and from Central America (with fewer worries about immigration and labor laws), (2) lax regulations, (3) er… organized control of the agricultural industry at the local and state level, (4) and no one will complain if the farms steal all the money (see #3, and the scared shitless politicians and police who come with it). The same American businessfolk can still make buttloads of money, become wealthy oligarchs, and import water from Fuji to pipe into their own homes.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          I didn’t mean solely an ag state. If it just has the same sentimental attachment to agriculture in the state as “a deeply held value.” That would seem to justify the sacrifices of the other residents in the same manner described.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            Yeah, I’m just being silly.

            Though I wouldn’t mind giving Texas back.Report

          • Avatar North says:

            in fairness Will, if California’s legal water rights weren’t tied up in a massive snarl and the farmers dirt cheap water was dependent on the electorates’ good will towards farming there’d be a hell of a lot less farming going on in the central valley right now.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

        Or, on it’s head, why are there rice paddies in production in the central valley during a drought (I saw this when I drove down to the Bay Area last month)?Report

        • Avatar North says:

          Oddly cattle feed is the most wasteful water crop. If they did away with alphalpha farming the cities would be drowning in water.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:


            They would have to import the alfalfa from somewhere, as cows depend on it quite a bit.Report

            • Avatar North says:

              Oh no no @oscar-gordon you’re not truly grasping the crazy. The alfalfa IS the export. They pack it into shipping containers going back to Asia. It’s one of the few things they send back overseas.

              Now, in fairness, alfalfa is also a nitrogen fixer so there’s a biological element of reason to it but it’s only because farmers get their water for nearly free that they can grow alfalfa, in the desert, for export.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                Oh, you’re talking about THAT alfalfa.

                Yes, that is nuts.

                Actually (& I bet Francis is probably going to take me to the woodshed for this), but what is nuts is CA positioning itself as an Ag powerhouse through reclaiming desert by acting as if the available water was unlimited, despite knowing better.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                This is what I don’t get. People say, “We need California for our produce!” But why California? Aren’t there better, wetter states?Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


                California’s temperate climate provides pretty much a nearly 365 day growing cycle. There are cold winters but not covered in snow East Coast kind of cold.

                Plus a lot of the farms have been here for a long time and it would take a lot of money to uproot all the fruit trees, move them, replant them, etc. Some crops like wine grapes and citrus would not do well in most parts of the United States.

                So there are a lot of accidents of history that made California one the largest agriculture producers in the world. One of these is that the 19th and 20th centuries were abnormally wet. The last time California had a drought this bad was in the 1500s.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Thanks, @saul-degraw . What is the long-term prognosis for California with regards to agriculture/sustainability?Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Well if they keep pumping the whole valley’s just going to sink into the ground. Basically if the water use was cut back (either by fiat or by the populace getting sick of ever escalating water prices and simply voting themselves more water) then there’s be a massive disruption in the California agriculture industry. Prices would jigger all over the place for a while as agriculture adapted. California would switch to higher margin less thirsty crops. Almonds would probably remain, alfalfa and rice would probably be out. We’d probably have higher pressure to import those agricultural crops from South America and Latin America. Personally I’m not exactly horrified at the idea. in the short term though food prices for some things would probably jump up.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Well it’s really that they’re victims of their own brilliance. They and the Feds figured out a way to deliver tons of water more than they needed for urban use… so agriculture expanded to soak up all that excess cheap h2o. Now the cities have grown, environmental concerns have swelled, the land under the valley is quite literally sinking and agriculture doesn’t want to contract nor does the legal divisions and systems that evolved around water have the exact flexibility to easily adapt so there’s a lot of friction.Report

        • Avatar Francis says:

          senior and/or riparian rights and/or groundwater pumping. Plenty of farmers are still planting this year.

          (we are in a serious drought, but that doesn’t mean our big rivers are running dry.)Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

            Yes yes yes, but we are playing hypotheticals here.

            In a drought, is it an efficient use of water to grow rice? The answer would need to balance multiple factors, such as the price of rice as opposed to the cost of water, etc.Report

            • Avatar North says:

              Not remotely, but the legal water system is, as Francis has gone on at length about in the past, an absolute byzantine mess.Report

            • Avatar Francis says:

              Ah, those old friends ‘efficient’ and ‘cost’.

              The water, my friends, is free. It falls from the sky as an ever-renewing flow. [Which is why anyone who talks about stocks of water except in the context of groundwater basins needs to be smacked.]

              The cost of water is in capturing, storing and delivering it to the right place, at the right time, in the right quantity, at the appropriate quality. That means infrastructure. Or, in the case of California, INFRASTRUCTURE!

              The water delivered to Imperial County is essentially free because its downhill from Hoover Dam to the Salton Sea and the infrastructure (Hoover Dam, All-American Canal, etc.) has all been paid for. It’s also not potable and the farmers have to schedule deliveries.

              The citizens of San Diego, by contrast, live much farther away from the water source and insist on very substantial amounts of potable water on demand. So their water is just a tad more expensive.

              Sure, the water rights system is complex. But the real problem is that water in industrial quantities is a terrible market good. It’s heavy, liquid, cheap, and impossible to track accurately. It evaporates and sinks into the ground. Moving it uphill requires enormous energy. In California, the drain (the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate) is located between the supply and the demand! As I pointed out at the start of this comment, the good itself is absolutely free. All of the cost is in the infrastructure required to get it to the point of demand.

              Getting back to efficiency and cost, a lot of the answer is going to depend on your timeframe. The billions in infrastructure was invested and paid for based on a complex but reliable water rights structure. It may seem unfair (or, even worse, inefficient) today that rice farmers are planting when Marin County millionaires are being told to cut back because there is no water available at any price. But can you get the water from Sacramento to Marin? What is the planning window for building the infrastructure needed to increase flexibility? Who pays?

              California has a very strong environmental protection act, the California Environmental Quality Act or CEQA. CEQA requires every governmental agency to analyze the environmental impacts of its decisions. What are the environmental impacts of increasing water trading? When Los Angeles emptied out Mono Lake it created staggering dust pollution that is essentially an unsolveable problem. Reducing farming in the Imperial Valley will cause the Salton Sea to shrink, with the same effect, and go hypersaline (well, faster than it would anyway) resulting in a major impact to birds moving up and down the Pacific Flyway. In the Central Valley, rice paddies provide great habitat for ducks. When those dry up, where do the ducks go? What is the mitigation for that impact? Who pays?

              What about economic impacts of transfers? Reduction in farmed land reduces the demand for labor which ripples through the poor farming communities – fewer car dealerships and restaurants, smaller tax base for the school system etc. Who studies those impacts? Who pays for them?

              It can be very difficult to educate voters, especially in a drought, that water supply planning is done on a 10 to 50 year arc. And since water is provided either by the government, at cost, or by a regulated utility, at cost plus, there really isn’t a retail price signal. It’s politics all the way down.Report

              • Avatar aaron david says:

                Fantastic comment @francisReport

              • Avatar North says:

                Indeed an excellent comment. There’s not a ton to disagree with per say. But we’re not talking about millionaires cutting back on lawn watering here, we’re talking about the overwhelming majority of the people in California being told to cut back on their water use. Agriculture uses roughly 80% of California’s water… yet the urban non-agriculture dependent overwhelming majority of Californians pay for the majority of the cost of that same water. The farmers get it, generally for free or for pennies on the dollar. If you erased the entire urban water use in total from California the agricultural industry could soak it up and thirst for more. In contrast if you reduced agricultural use by even a few percentage points then Californian cities would be awash in water at enormously lower prices than they suffer now.

                There’s a deep history of how it’s come to be that way, there’s a labyrinthine network of legal systems interlocking, interrelated and interconnected that maintains the entire system. Changing it is not remotely easy but I would be skeptical at anyone suggesting that California’s water use right now is anything approaching what a rational person would desire if you were setting it up from scratch.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                There is a similar dispute of water rights going on in Colorado right now. The Colorado legislature is trying to pass legislation that would allow Colorado residents to collect rain water into barrels for their own use. Every resident would be allowed to barrels total. The total amount of water that resident could collect in a year would be less than that an average American uses in a week. The ranchers and farmers, heavily subsidized by the Federal government, are screaming bloody murder at the destruction of their water rights.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                It’s all part of the same system. Colorado, California etc all are linked by water. Francis has an absolutely stunning grasp of the minutiae. I am not surprised the ranchers are screaming though, it’s like any big social or economic debate, you’re always looking out for the camel’s nose. For farmers and ranchers who use all that water the camel’s nose must be especially terrifying considering how badly they’re outnumbered if it ever comes down to the brute calculus of electoral power.Report

              • Avatar Francis says:

                “the urban non-agriculture dependent overwhelming majority of Californians pay for the majority of the cost of that same water. ”

                You sure about that? Some of the CVP dams were wildly mis-priced, but that’s federal money, not state. Within the State Water Project, ag water is cheaper than M&I water, but it also is subject to cut-off first. And as the SWP is state-run, all those decisions were voted on.

                And second, so what? Water allocation is political, not economic. And what we subsidize (assuming that we do) we actually recover on the harvesting side with enormous amounts of low-cost, high-quality food.

                (Some of which is exported. But then again, California also imports food. Embedded water calculations are not easy.)

                Urban Californians (and Americans) also pay for the roads that farm goods travel on, and the medical system that treats the workers, and the prison system that houses their convicts and …. Do we really want to battle over every last ‘subsidy’ between urban and rural living, or do we want to try to live together in rough accommodation?Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Yes, and you can be sure the urban regions pay more federal taxes than the rural farmers do.

                But I agree that California’s farmers and urban regions have to live together in accommodation. It’s pretty obvious that the farmers are going to have to face and accept rising costs for their water. They’re reaching the limits of their ability to pump it out of the aquifer and as costs of water keep hiking in the cities the electoral patience for farmers getting virtually free water will run out. It’s not an either farmers can grow rice and alfalfa in the desert or agriculture ceases to exist proposition; they’re just going to have to adjust to slightly higher water costs which just means they’ll have to rejigger what crops they grow and what they don’t. Sooner or later it’s gonna come about.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Obvious is it?
                I certainly don’t think so — have you looked at the weather models lately?
                Be lucky if Sacramento isn’t underwater…

                El Nino is coming, run for the higher hills!Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                I just want to echo @aaron-david and @north here to say that your comment here, @francis , is really aces.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:


                Do you deal with CA water rights & infrastructure professionally, or is this just how you spend your free time?

                Seriously awesome comment.Report

              • Avatar Francis says:

                Graduated law school in 92. Worked as a land use / endangered species compliance lawyer for about 7-8 years. Didn’t make partner. Joined a solo water lawyer. Practice crashed in ’08 (no more houses being built meant much less in the way of water demand). Flailed around for a bit, then got licensed to practice patent law. Now in-house counsel to a mid-sized company doing general corporate counsel / patent prosecution work.

                But I did love water law. It’s so critical to what the State of California is, and yet is a great mystery to most people. I’d go back to it in a heartbeat if anyone were looking to hire someone with my (seriously checkered) background.

                One final comment to North: Farmers will certainly need to get used to reduced supply. Whether costs are going up is going to be very location- and farmer-specific. Farmers who plant trees and other perennials will need to (a) buy more senior rights, (b) keep on pumping groundwater, and/or (c) install lower-use irrigation systems. Rice farmers, by contrast, can let the fields go fallow and sell their rights to the big city agencies.

                Moving to higher-value crops isn’t a panacea, because the higher-value crops are fruits and nuts, which grow on trees, which need to be watered even in a drought. I think a better course of action is for the big irrigation districts to set policies that encourage a mix of uses within the district, so that fallowing can be done more easily. And even though people sneer at alfalfa and other forage crops, the low cost of beef is directly linked to the low cost of its food.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                So professional & hobby. Well I certainly appreciate your willingness to constantly share your knowledge with all of us.

                Re: Irrigation – I’m actually surprised that CA has not done something to incentivize farmers to install high efficiency/low waste irrigation systems (tax breaks, loan guarantees, etc.).Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Yes, but that’s more connected to Ogalalla than to Cali.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      When I lived in Japan, it was not uncommon to see a little rice paddy on an urban patch of land that was probably too small for another building.

      The Japanese are willing to build with much more density than people in the United States. This is by necessity. For example, they have what I would call bar and restaurant buildings. These were about four to five stories high and filled only with bars and restaurants. Sometimes there would be two or three restaurants on a floor.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

        Tiny rice paddies are the equivalent of hobby farms – i.e. their contribution to the rice market is probably minimal.

        I’m talking industrial farming ventures.Report

  3. Avatar morat20 says:

    I think we’re seeing a resurgence of populism for the simple reason that the bulk of Americans feel things aren’t really getting better for them, even if they can get flatscreen TV’s and iPods. (In short, the “You’re rich! You have an iPod!” argument is failing).

    This is a resurgence on both sides of the aisle, although it’s reflected a bit differently.

    It’s also been 30 years since Clinton and NAFTA and triangulation, and since the end of the tech boom the economy has not been entirely roses, it’d also not be unusual for Democrats to be questioning whether the pro-business orientation of the Clinton and after years is really working, and whether it’s really helping with elections.

    But to answer your question: Trade barriers represent both pluses and minuses, and I agree that viewing it entirely on an economic bottom line is foolish. It’d be like choosing what to do with your life based entirely on your future earnings, with no other considerations allowed. Maybe you’re poorer, but happier, in another occupation.

    (That being said, I also wonder if we’re looking at free trade and trade agreements through an overly simplistic lens. If reducing a trade barriers makes America, as a nation roughly 5% richer but does so by making 90% of Americans 5% poorer and 10% of Americans a lot more than 5% richer — well, is that really a good deal? Bottom line, the pie gets bigger. But if it reduces the size of the slice for most Americans…..)Report

    • Avatar North says:

      It’s deeply complicated and definitely problematic. I’m skeptical that we will see a resurgence of full blown protectionism per say but I am willing to believe that free trade support has weakened to the point where further trade liberalization may remain as stagnant as wages. A lot probably depends on what happens as we continue slowly pedaling out of the penumbra of the great recession.
      China’s kind of an open question too. What happens there will talk to what happens here. Though I suspect that’s more of a fifty year question than a ten year one.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      “I think we’re seeing a resurgence of populism for the simple reason that the bulk of Americans feel things aren’t really getting better for them”

      Funny how feelings are important and valid about some things but not others. For example, should we permit unrestricted firearm ownership based on the fact that many people feel unsafe? Or can we use all sorts of facts and figures and simple logic to prove that their feelings are irrational?Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        Should we permit open carry and unrestricted firearm ownership because some people feel unsafe?Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        Feel: (transitive) To think, believe, or have an impression concerning.

        Now, assuming you actually didn’t confuse the rather clear use of the word ‘feel’ — you seem to object to my rather straightforward thought that politicians might be reacting to the beliefs of a growing segment of the population.

        I’m happy to discuss whether or not that belief (that things are not getting better) is rational or not, but given the figures on income inequality you’ve got a particularly tough row to hoe there.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Arguing about income inequality is an argument about the distance between the ceiling and the floor. Using this argument against people who themselves see “where the floor is” as a moral argument in itself will be about as fruitful as the last hundred times we’ve done this.

          I mean, this is the argument that says “can you believe how differently whites and blacks are treated by the police?” as if more whites being shot would give a solution to the problem!

          The problem is not the distance between the floor and the ceiling. That’s orthogonal to the moral issue of where the floor is.

          Inequality is only interesting insofar as it is a proof of concept for what is possible.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            Inequality is only interesting insofar as it is a proof of concept for what is possible.

            If that’s right, then it’s certainly *possible* that after 2007 “total wealth owned by the top 1% of the population [grew to] 37.1%”, and it’s most definitely possible that “in 2011 the 400 wealthiest Americans “have more wealth than half of all Americans combined.” ” (Wiki)Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              And Q.E.D., then?Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

              Well that’s not a problem of income inequality, but of wealth distribution, which is a whole different kettle of fish (& why I’m starting to regard discussions of income inequality as populist rather than technocratic).

              We should be having a discussion as to why our wealth distribution is closer to a triangle instead of a diamond, & what is a good diamond shape to strive for (& the most just path to get there, which pretty much requires understanding the why of it all).Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                YOu’re right. I got confused and thought the issue was wealth inequality. Gimme a sec and I’ll pull up the income inequality – and rising income inequality – numbers.

                Hold on!Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                Symptoms versus disease. Wages are not stagnant because all employers conspired to suppress them. They are stagnant for more structural reasons.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Wages are not stagnant because all employers conspired to suppress them. They are stagnant for more structural reasons.

                I disagree with the first claim (even including the conspiracy part; there’s lots of conspiracy but it’s of the Adam Smith “whenever businessmen get together the talk always seems to turn to” variety). For sure on the second part, tho I wonder what you think liberals are talking about when they talk about this stuff.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                In recent weeks (spoiler: I am somewhere around the end of my process in which I finish renouncing libertarianism), I’ve been thinking about the structural thing and I’m struck by the various cost/benefits associated with homogeneous culture.

                A structurally heterogeneous culture will have inequalities baked into the cake and these inequalities will have multipliers. Homogeneous cultures have a governor on inequality.

                But I’m still chewing on this.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

                Still stuck in traffic?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Soon to no longer be.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Renouncing libertarianism, alright doppleganger, where’s Jaybird?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                “Renouncing” is probably a word that has connotations that I don’t want to give.

                Libertarianism doesn’t work unless it’s in very certain, limited circumstances and, I’m beginning to suspect, the creation of those very certain, limited circumstances are a lot more important than the libertarianism itself.

                Attempts to achieve libertarianism without those very certain, limited circumstances does more harm than good.

                (For example, see the sex-selective abortion numbers in Asian countries.)

                I’m interested in exactly what those circumstances are and how we might be able to make them and what the costs of doing so might be and the extent to which attempting to create those circumstances might prevent their being created at all.

                Don’t worry. I’m sure I’ll still vote for weird candidates that most people have never heard of.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                “Libertarianism doesn’t work unless it’s in very certain, limited circumstances and, I’m beginning to suspect, the creation of those very certain, limited circumstances are a lot more important than the libertarianism itself.”

                So, what you seem to be saying here is that if the circumstances that allow libertarian philosophy to maximize fulfillment exist, then libertarian philosophy will self-evidently be the way to go, and there won’t need to be an attempt to convince people to follow it.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                The link between cultural homogeneity and inequality is not precise. The Nordic countries were at least until recently famously homogenous and really equal in terms of wealth. However, South Korea and Japan are just as homogeneous as the Nordic countries but they have less generous welfare systems than the United States but are generally very wealthy countries. Many of the Arab countries are also ethnically and religiously homogeneous but are bedeviled by inequality. Getting equality right seems to require a combination of homogeneous culture, economics, and just enough class politics to encourage the emergence of a social democratic party and politics.Report

              • Many of the Arab countries are also ethnically and religiously homogeneous but are bedeviled by inequality.

                Is this functionally true? While these countries may appear homogeneous to our eyes or by standard statistics, my understanding is that this homogeneity is a bit misleading. For instance, in Iraq, I’ve read some things lately that the most important loyalty is often to one’s clan rather than Shia/Sunni, and Saudi Arabia is likewise heavily clannish, with the added issue that the Shia minority is heavily oppressed. Though technically Iraq has a rather low Gini number (the House of Saud does not release enough data for SA to have a Gini number).Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Ya know, I started to look thru all that stuff again to link it (again) so’s to have the discussion (again) but I just don’t think I’ll do that. For one, I don’t have all this stuff bookmarked (tho maybe I should). For seconders, I think trying to overcome the idea that income inequality is populist (on the one hand), and populist rather than technocratic (!!???!!) (on the other) is just too much to take on right now. The hill is too steep to climb just to die on it, yeah?Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:


                Agreed, I don’t have the energy or time to run that out.

                Another day, perhaps.Report

            • @stillwater [EDIT: Whoops – just saw that you already walked this back. My apologies.]

              Ugh. Not this statistic again. Once again, this statistic is useless except as a measure of what percentage of Americans owe more on loans than they have in their bank accounts. Make minimum wage, live in a cheap apartment and own a POS car and a few pieces of POS furniture, live paycheck to paycheck, but have no debt because you can’t get credit and couldn’t afford college (so you’ve got no student loans)? Congratulations, you may not be part of that “half of all Americans,” and at minimum, according to this statistic, you’re solidly middle class. Have a giant income with millions in your bank account but have tens of millions in mortgages to pay off for your various homes? Congratulations, according to this statistic, you’re one of the poorest people in America.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                My wife and I had negative wealth until roughly 2011. We may be now, depending on whether the value of our home counts as wealth (which it should, but I don’t know if it does). But in 2010, we were a drag on the average wealth of the non-400.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                One of the things that makes me think a lot of this is structural is the fact that as it stands, once my son is out of day care & in public school, my wife & I would be better off if one of us too a significant pay cut, or started a business as an S-Corp.

                I’ve said this before, we make too much money in an area with a high cost of living. So we get pinched from both high taxes & high non-disposable expenses, with little ability to save beyond the 401K.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                There’s always moving to Pittsburgh! We’re relatively cheap here.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Your house counts, the part you own, as opposed to the part the bank rents to you.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                So the value of the house doesn’t count? Seems to me that it should since it is collateralized. We either have the house, or we have the value of the house removed from our debts. (This being in contrast to, for example, student loans.)Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                How is it collateralized? I thought it was simply insured. If your house collapses into a sinkhole (or is hit by an actual act of god), your bank doesn’t show up and take your car.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                The house is insured, as a requirement of the loan.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Once again, this statistic is useless except as a measure of what percentage of Americans owe more on loans than they have in their bank accounts.

                If that’s right, then it’s not useless at all. It shows that … well … the 400 wealthiest Americans have more wealth than over half of all Americans. That’s not useless, seems to me, even with the clarification.Report

              • Avatar James K says:


                A good rule of thumb is that you should never calculate percentage shares of something that can take negative values.Report

            • One more thing on this subject – to the extent inequality is a problem per se, it’s specifically rising inequality that is the issue, rather than a straightforward look at the Gini coefficient or even just a look at what the wealthiest make or maintain compared to the poorest.

              If you just look at the latter, then Afghanistan is close to a paradise.Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck says:

            “this is the argument that says “can you believe how differently whites and blacks are treated by the police?” as if more whites being shot would give a solution to the problem!”

            Actually, there are plenty of people who do think that would be a solution; at least in the sense that if white people started being shot, then white people with political power would actually care about the problem instead of just saying “well, I’m sure he had it coming” or “we just aren’t seeing the whole story” or “innocent people don’t run from the police”.Report

    • Avatar LWA says:

      The “You’re rich! You have an iPod!” argument cuts both ways.

      If we assert that the purpose of policy is to increase the wealth of the populace, by most figures, we should be in blissful utopia by now, as argued by Roger and many other market advocates.

      But that argument cuts both ways. If the liberal project is to increase the wealth of the bottom 99%, what makes us think this will lead to a greater happiness?

      Suppose every single welfare mother and immigrant farmworker were to see their net worth balloon to double or triple, within a 30 year period- why, given what we know about human conditions, would we expect their happiness and fulfillment to be higher? Who says we would see riots and violence even then?

      I argue that viewing policy only through the lens of economics misses the bigger part- that what people, universally, seek to achieve is the broader measure of prosperity.

      That is material wealth, plus communal belonging, personal growth, peace, harmony and a spirit of goodwill.

      Which gets back tot he original post- rice for us is a consumer good, but for the Japanese it has deeper connotations and transcends economics.

      What makes Americans unhappy isn’t that our phones cost more (they don’t) but that we no longer have a sense of economic security- instead of a defined benefit plan we have 401ks that ride on the roulette wheel of Wall Street; instead of jobs with lifetime security we have the temp gig economy, and so on.

      Telling people that they can buy phones that are even yet cheaper is absurd when most of us have no idea if we will even be employed tomorrow.

      When we ask “Is free trade working” we aren’t asking the important question- “working to do what?”Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Well yeah LWA but there’s a measurement issue. Measuring happiness is as hard as hell, especially since what makes one person happy makes another miserable so measuring happiness for populations is nearly impossible. Instead people measure economics because economics are comparably easy to measure.

        This runs the other way too of course, liberals who sneer at economic measurements immediately fall back to policies that are aimed at and impact economics directly because, again, economics are what can be easily measured.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


          I suspect that the problem is that the TPP and Free Trade crowd generally does not have an answer for American labor concerns on the rise of the gig economy and the replacement of pensions with 401K plans. I suspect that a good number of them would want to tell labor to “just deal”.

          Morat20 is right. The Ipads are Cheaper argument is not working and so far the response of the pro-TPP crowd is just to jump up and down and say “Why aren’t you listening to me???? Ipods are cheaper!!!”

          I am much more cynical than you about a future where we all live without the need for labor and with maximum GBI. I suspect that there is going to be much more people trying to eek out livings on a week here, a few days there of labor. That is no way to live.Report

          • Avatar North says:

            Well sure Saul, but the problem is that neither do liberals. I mean liberals have better answers than the TPP crowd at least since we support solid safety nets but a solid safety net does little to nothing to answer questions about the gig economy or the replacement of pensions with 401k plans. Hell, strip away the vulture capitalists and the pensions still went tits up on their own, they weren’t sustainable because it was too easy to overpromise and under deliver leaving the future businesses and governments to deal with the mess (which they did by going bankrupt or reneging mainly) so I don’t see much to speak in favor of pensions.

            As for the gig economy what do liberals have? Restore unions (somehow, I gather there’s a wand somewhere)? Roll back free trade? That’s just populism, all indications are one would just be trading gig jobs for no jobs. Europe has tried it the liberal way and they peddle in vast unemployment instead of lousy employment. That’s not exactly appealing.

            Now the TP/conservatives are even worse off because on top of having no good answers to these disruptions they want to go after the safety nets on top of everything else.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              Liberals 99% of the time can’t even identify the Problem We’ve Got. Oh, I’m sure Franken knows, as does Warren, but I’m equally sure that their hands are about as tied as they can possibly be.Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


              So your answer is basically to tell people that they just have to deal with insecurity and learn that sometimes they might get 6 months of work in a row and other times they will need to learn to make 2 weeks of pay stretch for 6 weeks? And wait until next year for their ACA discounts?

              Can you see why that argument doesn’t go well in a democracy? Secure upper-middle class media owners might like such brave “truth-telling” but not people who are insecure economically.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Just happy little kulaks. But please, don’t try and tell me you aren’t one of them.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Saul I don’t accept your base premise there. The gig economy exists, there’s more of it than there was. I agree with that. That the gig economy will expand and devour all or most employment? I think that’s hyperbole and while , credit where it’s due, I love hyperbole I don’t feel obligated to refute it; if you don’t want to work in the gig economy then get a non-gig job.

                So what would my affirmative position be? We’re slogging out of a historic recession, it sucks, things are recovering but slowly. So I’m for solid safety nets to help the unemployed out and while I understand that many people left and right are inveigling about trade I am very confident that some kind of push for trade restrictionism is not going to yield the jobs they’re looking for and would be a fool’s errand. Domestically I’m pretty favorably inclined to the idea that a business has to pay you for the time they want you to be available to work which should squash some of the worst abuses of dynamic scheduling.

                What’re you for Saul?Report

        • Avatar LWA says:

          We don’t need to measure it.

          If we grant that our desired outcome of policy is more than material wealth, that those real but unquantifiable things like human flourishing and sense of well-being are important to people, then we also need to address the fact that those unquantifiable things require faith.

          Its not a justice system unless people have faith that it actually produces justice.
          In order for the justice system to protect property claims, those who erect it (meaning the taxpayers) have to have faith that the underlying claims are legitimate.

          This addresses Damon’s point about feelings- if we don’t believe that NAFTA and TPP or neoliberalism is making us better off, charts and graphs won’t help that argument.

          No one wants merely to be better off than their former self- people insist on being treated fairly and equally, which means if a small minority are seeing vast fortunes out of neoliberalism, the suspicion rises that this claim of theirs on the wealth is not valid, that it isn’t fairly earned.

          This isn’t a leftist argument only- its the core of the hatred for welfare mothers on the right. Its the suspicion that freeloaders are making out while we saps work hard.
          And believe me- charts and graphs don’t win this argument. We’ve been doing that for 30 years and have lost every round.

          The argument needs to be made, as to why “free trade” will benefit everyone fairly.Report

          • Avatar North says:

            But that’s kinda circular LWA. Human flourishing and sense of well-being are unquantifiable so why would further left liberals think that the responsibility of assuring those things should rest with the state when the state works best/most effectively where it’s dealing with things that can be objectively quantified?

            Shouldn’t the goal for the state to be to try and achieve the best measurable indicators of material wellbeing for the most people possible and then leave the individuals to figure out how to tailor the flourishing bit best for themselves?

            I mean if the pesky charts, numbers and facts aren’t going to do the trick are you saying that neoliberals, capitalists and the like need better propaganda?Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck says:

              “Shouldn’t the goal for the state to be to try and achieve the best measurable indicators of material wellbeing for the most people possible and then leave the individuals to figure out how to tailor the flourishing bit best for themselves? ”

              But isn’t this just a restatement of “iPods exist and are cheap now, refrigerators are cheaper and better now”?Report

              • Avatar North says:

                I dunno DD, however cheap the ipods and refrigerators are people ain’t gonna buy them if they don’t have a job.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                I dunno, the guys at Occupy didn’t seem to think it was particularly hard to get them (remember those long discussions about how “OWS has iPhones” was not a valid rebuttal of their claims to economic hardship?)Report

            • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

              “I mean if the pesky charts, numbers and facts aren’t going to do the trick are you saying that neoliberals, capitalists and the like need better propaganda?”

              Well, you do have to convince the working class that it’s impossible to have cheap iPad’s and jeans from WalMart along with pensions and well paid blue collar jobs and from there, convince them that cheap iPad and jeans are better in the long run than the security of pensions and well paid blue collar jobs.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                That sounds plausible, or cynically as they’re somewhat in the status quos position I suppose your average neolib could argue that neither the liberals nor the conservatives nor the Tea Partiers (though that latter ain’t hard) have a plausible proposal on tap that can square that circle.

                Well who’m I kidding, the conservatives don’t even have a program beyond copy libertarians homework and chase immigrants around.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                If they are copying libertarians’ homework, I think they need glasses.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                They’re only copying the parts they like obviously. When it comes to doing the work libertarians prescribe they, of course, punt or shirk.Report

            • Avatar LWA says:

              You want to restrict the sphere of influence of the state to “measurable indicators of material wellbeing “?

              But that’s exactly the problem we have now, even in liberal places.

              Yet it isn’t paying dividends- People are wealthy but still miserable.

              Look at the Preamble- “domestic tranquility, general welfare” that sort of thing.

              Were civil rights laws grounded in economic advancement? Obviously not.

              For that matter, what is measurable about “liberty”?Report

              • Avatar North says:

                If you don’t LWA then how do you know if your proscribed programs are working? How do you know they’re not making things worse? What on earth is the appeal of the idea of sinking billions into programs where the government just flails around randomly?

                Liberty? There seem to be some pretty tolerably measurable ways to measure liberty out there: how many people do you have in jail, for what, what’s their demographic and racial breakdown? How many citizens does your administration kill? Why? How? That kind of stuff. Civil rights legislation falls in that square to my mind.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                Well, if you assume that anything the government does is preferable-in-the-long-run-on-a-whole-society-basis than anything a private actor does, then ipso facto more government spending is always better.Report

              • Avatar LWA says:

                “Are you better off now than you were 4 years ago?” is a damn potent measurement.

                We’re probably talking about different thing. I’m not proposing a Bureau of Happiness Quotient.

                I’m saying that when we the citizens are asked to evaluate trade proposals, national policy, or candidates, we feel free to include the unquantifiable aspects of solidarity and community.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Well sure they are. Just as others are free to complain about their aggregate decision to, or to praise it.Report

  4. Avatar Kolohe says:

    1. Why shouldn’t people value deeply held cultural values over free trade or no tarrifs and quotas?

    The part that Yglesias quoted from Summers but didn’t bold is more important I think than the part his did

    What we call trade agreements are in fact agreements on the protection of investments and the achievement of regulatory harmonization and establishment of standards in areas such as intellectual property

    This is a significantly different economic model (and mental model) of what most people probably think ‘free trade’ is – i.e. no tariffs. Summers insight here is that trade now in the era of the multinational globocorp has a great deal to do with individual sovereign government laws and not so much with taxes. It’s the pressure on sovereignty that is the pressure of ‘deep cultural values’ (

    For instance, it’s what we saw with pushback on US country of origin meat labeling standards. It’s not that Americans have a deep love of meat, but that traditionally (at least since The Jungle) it’s the US government that gets to say what labels are slapped on meat, and not the Canadian or Mexican governments.

    I do think Summers underestimates ‘protectionist interests’ in the individual fights, but the larger fight that unites left and right and factions in various nations against these trade deals in sovereignty.

    2. Is Matt Yglesias correct when he calls free trade an important totem for “slightly-economics-literate people”? Is it merely a stand-in for “enlightened and serious”?

    This snark coming from Yglesias is pretty rich considering he’s always been for ‘classic’ free trade unless he is being self deprecating and I’m missing the sarcasm.Report

  5. Avatar LWA says:

    I think its also important to point out that trade agreements are not about free trade, they are about enlarging the state to better regulate trade in a way favoring certain interests.

    If it was about reducing barriers to trade, the entire agreement would be a single sentence- “We aren’t going to enforce laws X, Y, and Z anymore.”

    Which ties to my other points about how the marketplace requires government and boundaries and regulation so as to protect property and ensure stability and security.Report

  6. Avatar aaron david says:

    By the way, California exports 1 billion pounds of rice to Japan. If i remember correctly, Japan cannot feed its population

    California is in many ways one of the world breadbaskets. Ag may only be 2% of GDP, but that is only because of how large our economy is.Report

  7. Avatar Murali says:

    Why shouldn’t people value deeply held cultural values over free trade or no tarrifs and quotas?

    Why shouldn’t people value deeply held cultural values over equal liberties or legalised SSM?Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      You don’t have an answer for the insecurity issue that LWA and Morat20 is writing about above. The cheaper Ipads argument is not working. You are just continuing to jump up and down and say cheaper Ipads.Report

    • Avatar LWA says:

      “Why shouldn’t people value deeply held cultural values over equal liberties or legalised SSM?”

      What a strange pairing!

      Favorable regulations on trade = a fundamental human right?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Why should your cis-het white male constructs of “fundamental human rights” trump the long-standing concepts of countries you’ve been exploiting for thousands of years?

        Because you are willing to shoulder the white man’s burden and drag these savages into civilization (only you mean it this time and you’re not just saying this as a pretext to screw them over for a millionth time)?Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq says:

          There are actually people who do argue that fundamental human rights are a form of imperialism. They usually tend not to be the people that would use phrases like cis-heterosexual white man. Most of the people who argue that human rights are a form of Western imperialism tend to be Islamist, of the Muslim Brotherhood/Iranian ayatollah form rather than ISIL/Boko Haram form, apologists like Tariq Ramadan.Report

          • Avatar North says:

            Let’s not whistle past the left wing graveyard Lee, there’s a vibrant strain of the further left wing that does preach a cultural surrender line on foreign cultures non-liberal beliefs.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq says:

              This is true for the leftists that decided to define anti-colonialism, vaguely defined, as the soul of leftism. They form a non-trivial faction of the further left but are basically powerless and only act as useful idiots. They aren’t even that useful anymore.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              there’s a vibrant strain of the further left wing that does preach a cultural surrender line on foreign cultures non-liberal beliefs.

              Can you give some examples of this?Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                Postcolonialism is the critical destabilization of the theories (intellectual and linguistic, social and economic) that support the ways of Western thought—deductive reasoning, rule of law and monotheism—by means of which colonialists “perceive”, “understand”, and “know” the world. Postcolonial theory thus establishes intellectual spaces for the subaltern peoples to speak for themselves, in their own voices, and so produce cultural discourses, of philosophy and language, of society and economy, which balance the imbalanced us-and-them binary power-relationship between the colonist and the colonial subject.

                (em added).

                There’s a whole world of leftist academy thought, spun off from Edward Said, among others, that took a critique of the economic explotation from the colonial era and the economic imbalances from the post-colonial multinational corporation era, and expanded it to a more comprehensive critique of Western socio-politcal norms.

                They don’t have much influence in Western politics itself, but it does underpin any given anti-western regime around the world, and allows illiberal power centers (e.g. the mullahs of Iran, Chavistas in Venezuela, the ‘Communist’ ruling clique in China, or for that matter, Bin Laden and his gang) to claim legitimacy despite illiberal (by Western Standards) tendencies and actions.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Yeah, I’m familiar with Said and his influence, but I’m not sure that’s “preach[ing] a cultural surrender line on foreign cultures non-liberal beliefs.” Perhaps I just interpret it more charitably, though, since I agree with it, or at least with related social theory, to a large extent. What y’all see as “surrender” I see as dialectic.

                I’d love to see Bin Laden or his supporters using post-colonial theory as a justification for their actions, though. Got some examples of that? (I suspect we have different viewson Venezuela, where you will likely hear left wing social theory used sometimes, though not preaching :cultural surrender… on foreign cultures non-liberal beliefs”).Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                The university where I work has a lot of Muslim students, many of whom come to this country to study. They’ve made some efforts to accommodate them, such as prayer areas in the libraries and certain hours that only females or only males can swim in the university gym pools. I suppose you could see such things as either “accomodation” or “surrender” depending on how compelling you feel liberal values, such as a secular university space open to all genders, are.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                To me it seems that reasonable accommodation is itself a “liberal value.” We can debate what’s reasonable, but letting women have some time to swim in the pool without men around hardly seems like surrendering.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Chris: letting women have some time to swim in the pool without men around hardly seems like surrendering.

                Flip the genders around and see how it looks. A little stranger to Western liberal eyes, no?

                ETA: To make it even more clear, maybe we should just propose separate pools for the genders.

                Those pools can even be “equal”.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                I think they have added a males only swim time as well. I just know for sure about the female-only time because I unknowingly went in to clean and got yelled at by the lifeguard.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Yeah, I should have noted that, as Rufus said in his original comment, they had times for women and times for men. I’m not sure I’d think of the two the same way (that is, I’d be more OK with a women only time without a men only time than I would with a men only time without a women only time). I’ve linked to this many times before, but one more time won’t hurt.

                Pools already tend to schedule time for specific groups. Why would this particular scheduling be a problem?Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Chris: Pools already tend to schedule time for specific groups. Why would this particular scheduling be a problem?

                In one light, it’s not – until we start looking at it in terms of “public accommodations” and identities/protected classes and such.

                We end up tying ourselves in knots, a bit. Let’s say the campus LGBT group wants to schedule an hour solo at the pool. Cool!

                Now let’s say the campus Cis-Het group wants an hour to themselves. Uhhh…..

                This particular Muslim-accommodation situation runs into that problem, a bit, since you have been excluded from the pool for a set time specifically based on nothing more than your gender – moreover, that exclusion is happening because a religion you don’t even belong to says it should – that is, you are essentially being discriminated against based on gender, and an agent of the state – the school – is imposing that discrimination in deference to someone else’s religious ideal.

                It kind of tweaks two Western liberal [with ‘liberal’ used here in a general non-L/R sense] buttons, there, even if you personally have a “live and let live” attitude towards what you see as the religious beliefs themselves.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Put another way, the reason we HAVE these rules and norms about public accommodations and protected classes and such in the first place, is that people are prone to discriminating against certain groups, often in the name of religion.

                So, for someone to be discriminated against on the basis of something like gender – because someone’s religion says so – sets off warning bells.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Yeah, I don’t see it that way, though I get why you do.

                I don’t think there’s anything wrong, again, with accommodating religious norms in a minimally impactful way if you have a substantial population. And how you work out what’s reasonable, or minimally impactful, is through dialogue.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                Yeah, I agree. My point is that not everyone does.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                What I mean is there are people who see liberal values as something we’ve progressed into and religious values as something we’ve evolved out of. So, something like letting women swim in isolation so that they won’t be seen in bathing suits and give rise to sinful thoughts seems to them like a step backwards. To me, it’s not such a big deal, but I think the idea is today the pools, tomorrow the school.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Right, I find that unfortunate, and ironically illiberal.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                Right, this. If Christian fundamentalists or Orthodox Jews or even Hindus demanded similar things to the Muslims than they would be laughed at and ridiculed. Muslims are taken seriously in these demands for a variety of reasons. A lot of this is because Muslims occupy the current wretched of the earth status.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Again, you will not have to look far, even in your big ol’ city, for accommodations made for both Jewish and Christian people. This is just standard and entirely unquestioned, because it’s always been that way.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Chris, off the top of my head:

                The largest university in London planning to impose a ban on the sale of alcohol on campus to accommodate the cultural sensitivity of its Muslim students.

                British social welfare offices have banned novelty pig calendars and toys lest they offend Muslims. Workers in the benefits department at Dudley Council, West Midlands, for example, were told to remove or cover up all pig-related items, including toys, porcelain figures, calendars and even a tissue box featuring Winnie the Pooh and Piglet.

                British schools increasingly are dropping the Jewish Holocaust from history lessons to avoid offending Muslim pupils, according to a report entitled Teaching Emotive and Controversial History, which was commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills.

                Muslim doctors and nurses in Britain are now allowed to opt out of strict hygiene rules introduced by the National Health Service to restrict the spread of hospital superbugs. The change was made after female Muslims objected to being required to expose their arm below the elbow under guidance introduced to reduce the number of patients who were falling ill, and even dying, from bacteria.

                Now calling it cultural surrender is probably over the top, I concede, perhaps excessive deference?Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                dude, the “dropping the Holocaust” bit is a hoax. The others I can only find suspect sources for (tabloids and anti-Muslim websites), suggesting they may not be any less made up.

                The only story that appears to be true is the “strict hygiene” one, and the rules are strictly related to sleeves (for Muslim women) and jewelry (for Sikhs) which hardly looks like surrendering, but instead sensitivity. If you think this is new, or restricted to the left, you should look at the way rules have always been bent or thrown out for certain American Christian sects, particularly when it comes to clothing (e.g., ankle-length skirts for girls/women, covering of arms, etc.).

                But if you think other cultures having different mores is by its very nature illiberal, this conversation is already over.

                Added: In fact, by choosing such blatantly anti-Muslim hoaxes, I think it already is over.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                No I don’t have a problem with other cultures having different mores, but at what point does a different cultures mores begin applying to people who are not a member of said culture?Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                When the kidnapping occurs, of course.
                What? I’m citing historical fact.
                Capture Marriages were a thing, once upon a time.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Also see the movement at the UN to enshrine the “Defamation of Religions Resolution” which would nonbindingly forbid heresy against Islam.

                In a lot of this it’s Muslims invoking liberal strains of thought to demand this special treatment or liberals uncomfortably accommodating it but it’s most assuredly a thing.

                For the record, also, I’m fine with accommodating religious, including Muslim, desires up to the point where you start seriously infringing on the freedom of other people. At that point you start crossing into the “attack open gays or scantily clad women” territory and I flip to full opposition.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                George Galloway and his respect party in the UK is an example of this sort of Leftist. Friend to Saddam Hussein and Assad of Syria and frequent guest on Iran’s Press TV. Galloway also sprouts a lot of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.Report

  8. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Whittaker Chambers and William F Buckley argued over whether Capitalism was compatible with Conservativism. The argument goes that Capitalism is too dynamic and will force too many changes on too many traditional structures and everything goes topsy turvy. People who used to live in the small towns would find themselves forced to live in cities, that sort of thing.

    The way of life that people had known for decades and had changed slowly and incrementally would be put on fast-forward and, next thing you know, people who grew up without cars will find themselves watching moon landings on television.

    It’s hard not to remember this particular argument as we argue about Free Trade.

    Capitalism is so very, very dynamic. We assume that our values are the pinnacle of the evolution of values but I suspect that we’re going to learn that we did a much better job of being shaped by our environment than we did of chosing to get here and we’re going to find that other places will be just as likely to be shaped by their own and the rapid changes that Capitalism will force will result in a lot of things that, say, tastemakers will find distasteful.

    And part of what will fuel these changes and allow them to spread like wildfire will be, of course, iPhones.Report

  9. Avatar James K says:

    There are no irrational preferences, if someone prefers X to Y, there is no generic argument that one can (or should) use to change their mind.

    Having said that, there are issues with the expression of preferences in the way you describe through government.

    For one thing, are we sure that the subsides are the result of a genuine preference for supporting domestic rice farming? The Japanese (like the rest of us) vote for large bundle of policy positions aggregated into a handful of candidates – are we sure that the Japanese voters actually want rice protectionism?

    And even if they are voting for it specifically, votes are too low-consequence to be credible. Someone might vote for supporting domestic rice production (after all, it sounds like a patriotic thing to support) while personally buying cheaper foreign rice whenever given the choice. That is the distinction between what people claim to value and what they actually value.

    Also, have the costs of this policy (and their distribution across the Japanese people) been debated publicly in Japan? A policy like this will make rice more expensive, and that will hurt the poor more than the rich. That sort of thing usually make liberals uncomfortable.

    Also, if the goal is to preserve Japan’s agricultural heritage you don’t have to hijack an entire market to do that. Why not run a handful of subsidised farms that can act of a showcase of Japan’s history with rice.

    And that’s before we get into the question of whether it is just for a majority to impose their preferences on a minority. Some things have to be decided collectively, but most things do not. Is it fair for any majority to use its electoral power to impose itself on any minority?Report

    • Avatar Damon says:

      Oh please @james-k

      “For one thing, are we sure that the subsides are the result of a genuine preference for supporting domestic rice farming? The Japanese (like the rest of us) vote for large bundle of policy positions aggregated into a handful of candidates – are we sure that the Japanese voters actually want rice protectionism”

      “have the costs of this policy (and their distribution across the Japanese people) been debated publicly in Japan? A policy like this will make rice more expensive, and that will hurt the poor more than the rich. That sort of thing usually make liberals uncomfortable.”

      ” that’s before we get into the question of whether it is just for a majority to impose their preferences on a minority. Some things have to be decided collectively, but most things do not. Is it fair for any majority to use its electoral power to impose itself on any minority?”

      All your examples and questions are the DEFINITION of modern ..democracy. We can’t have the rubes actually debating policies. They are too busy earning money for taxes to pay for stuff the politicians tell them they want and need.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      Good comment, James K. What you said should probably be the start of the conversation, rather than an unanswered (except for Damon) response it.Report

    • Avatar LWA says:

      Is it fair for any majority to use its electoral power to impose itself on any minority?

      Again with the deja vu.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        What’s weird about the phrasing is that it singularizes – almost personalizes – “the majority”, making it into a mass noun (like you could point at it – “over there, that’s the majority imposing it’s power!) rather than a bunch of individuals (yay individualism!) who happen to vote a certain way.Report

        • Avatar LWA says:

          Well it also leaves it entirely unbounded by any limits and begs for argument ad absurdum.

          “Can the majority impose itself on the minority…”

          1. Always.
          2. Never.
          3. Sometimes, within limits, depending on certain conditions.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            “If I like the result.”

            One of the problems I have with the “it’s unjust when the majority imposes its will” thing is the absence of a politically viable recourse. Which is to say, there are all sorts of protections in place in the US and other democracies to prevent legislatures from enacting whatever the majority wants, but those aren’t sufficient. They’re not good enough. What we really need is a principle – one I agree with, which excludes certain actions from legislative manipulations.

            But that’s a purely private principle, yes? It’s not a political principle, almost by definition. Seems to me the argument (at least the one that doesn’t trivialize democracy and reduce it to absurdity) is for the most part subjective: ie., that since I disagree with this action it’s a form of tyranny. But that just begs all the questions about what democratic government is tasked to do. (It’s certainly not tasked with conforming to any specific individual’s perception of what’s just, that’s for sure…)Report

            • Avatar LWA says:

              Democracy also shouldn’t be tasked with producing justice.
              Like any abstract system, it can be used to just or unjust ends.

              There isn’t really any justice-producing system other than a bunch of people working together and forging something that they mostly agree resembles justice.Report

        • Avatar James K says:


          I never used the phrase “the majority”, I used “a majority” precisely to avoid what you are describing.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            James K,

            Yeah, noted and you’re right to point that out. I was focusing more on the generic “tyranny of the majority” schtick than anything in particular you said and I got a little loose there. Sorry.Report