I’ve been thinking about pride’s role in politics. When I say pride, I am not talking about mere self-respect. I am thinking about vanity, about the insidious mistake of thinking we are superior to others when in fact we are their equals. This is pride in the grim, nasty, old-fashioned sense. I think there are two kinds of pride running amok today. One is associated with entrepreneurs, with those who consider themselves “self-made”. The other is associated with professionals, with those who consider themselves “educated”. Let me share them with you.
Remember the Biden administration’s proposal to spend $2 trillion on infrastructure? Traditional infrastructure spending accounted for roughly half of that proposal. It was less than half of what the American Society of Civil Engineers believes we need. According to them, the US faces a $2.59 trillion infrastructure shortfall over the next 10 years. Now a bipartisan deal has been announced which limits new spending to just $579 billion. That’s less than a quarter of what our civil engineers believe we need. To make matters worse, the administration has agreed to fund much of the spending with public/private partnerships. Many essential infrastructure projects can’t generate a profit–they require huge up-front investments and continuous maintenance. The more an infrastructure package depends on private funding, the more limited that package is in the kinds of projects it can fund. How did it come to this? Let’s run through some of the reasons why the infrastructure plan was so completely butchered.
As we saw in the years following the 2008 recession, lots of business owners are frustrated by labor shortages. They argue that these shortages are caused by a lack of incentive to work, and propose to generate that incentive by making life more difficult for the unemployed. In this case, they argue for restoring work requirements for unemployment and eliminating the federal unemployment supplement enacted in the waning days of Trump administration. This is a highly punitive way of generating incentive, and those who support these measures often accuse our unemployed citizens of laziness. They could instead generate incentive by raising wages. A recent study from the Federal Reserve indicates that the vast majority of workers aren’t being discouraged. As long as workers anticipate that their unemployment benefits may eventually come to an end, they will accept work even when the work pays less than the benefits do. Only the workers at the very bottom of the wage distribution face an incentive problem. Today I want to discuss how the study works and what it means for the minimum wage debate.
Have you seen those Kwame Brown videos? Kwame Brown is a retired NBA player, and he’s been advancing a critique of the culture industry. Brown never went to college and he doesn’t work for anybody, so he isn’t bound by the usual rules of contemporary discourse. This means his critique has rough edges, but it is also free from careerism. Many commentators have focused on the rough edges, fixating on Brown’s tone or the norms Brown is violating. Brown himself has pointed out that no one in the media has discussed his arguments. I’ve been waiting days for someone to take a close look at the things Brown is actually saying, but no one is doing it. So it’s down to me…
I was really happy to be able to give proper emphasis to the background social conditions that play such a large role in Plato and Aristotle’s work. Many popularizations of ancient philosophy take too many of their cues from the Stoics, presenting virtue as attainable in a vacuum.