The scholarship on inequality has been producing a wealth of empirical findings about how inequality is created, expanded and perpetuated, building on the work of Thomas Piketty in tracing capital flows. Read the rest
The same disinformation campaigns that epitomize the divisions in US society -- beliefs in voter fraud, vaccine conspiracies, and racist conspiracies about migrants, George Soros and Black Lives Matter, to name a few -- are a source of strength for autocracies like Russia, where the lack of a consensus on which groups and views are real and which are manufactured by the state strengthens the hand of Putin and his clutch of oligarchs.
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Using information security to explain why disinformation makes autocracies stronger and democracies weaker
The same disinformation campaigns that epitomize the divisions in US society -- beliefs in voter fraud, vaccine conspiracies, and racist conspiracies about migrants, George Soros and Black Lives Matter, to name a few -- are a source of strength for autocracies like Russia, where the lack of a consensus on which groups and views are real and which are manufactured by the state strengthens the hand of Putin and his clutch of oligarchs. Read the rest
More than 40% of US federal judges have attended Manne seminars, a notionally "bipartisan" educational conference presented by a Florida "Law and Economics" institute whose invited ideological allies explained to judges why pollution is good for minorities (polluted neighborhoods are cheaper and therefore affordable by poor people), unions are bad, monopolies are economically efficient, discrimination in punishment is economically efficient, insider trading is economically efficient, and so on. Read the rest
Political scientist and sf fan Henry Farrell (previously) argues persuasively that the dystopian elements of our everyday life are best viewed through the lens of Philip K Dick (whose books repeatedly depicted a world of constructed realities, whose true nature was obscured by totalitarians, conspiracies, and broken computers) and not Orwell or Huxley, whose computers and systems worked altogether too well to be good parallels for today's janky dystopia. Read the rest
My latest novel, Walkaway, was published today, and the Crooked Timber block has honored me with a seminar on the book, where luminaries from Henry Farrell to Julia Powles to John Holbo to Astra Taylor to Bruce Schneier weigh in with a series of critical essays that will run in the weeks to come, closing with an essay of my own, in response. Read the rest
In a new paper in International Studies Quarterly, John Quiggin and Henry Farrell argue that politicians get in trouble when they buck a consensus among economists, but when economists are divided, they can simply ignore the ones they disagree with -- so politicians spend a lot of time looking for economists who agree with their policies, then elevate them to the same status as their peers in order to create a safe, blame-free environment to operate in. Read the rest
Democratic party partisans like Sean Wilentz, George Packer and Michael Kinsley spent the Bush years condemning the tactics they now defend under Obama -- apart from sheer intellectual dishonesty, how can this be explained? Read the rest
A study [PDF] published in a journal of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence found that sites that have a "downvote" button to punish bad comments lock the downvoted users into spirals of ever-more-prolific, ever-lower-quality posting due to a perception of having been martyred by the downvoters. Read the rest
Gabriel Michael, a PhD candidate at George Washington University, subjected the IP Chapter of the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership, leaked by Wikileaks last week to statistical analysis. The leaked draft has extensive footnotes indicating each country's negotiating positions. By analyzing the frequency with which the US appears as the sole objector to other nations' positions, and when the US is the sole proponent of clauses to which other nations object, Michael was able to show that TPP really is an American-run show pushing an American agenda, not a multilateral trade deal being negotiated to everyone's mutual benefit. Though Canada is also one of the main belligerents, with even more unilateral positions than the USA. Read the rest
Henry Farrell (George Washington University) and Cosma Rohilla Shalizi (Carnegie-Mellon/The Santa Fe Institute) have just posted a paper, "Cognitive Democracy," to Crooked Timber. Farrell and Shalizi argue that neither the "libertarian paternalist" idea of "nudging" people to good choices, nor the market-based approach of letting price signals steer our decisions produce the best possible outcome for all. They see, in the Internet, a means by which knowledge about the world can be shared widely and usefully, to help democracies function as systems for producing good outcomes for everyone.
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Yet at first glance, this interchange of perspectives looks ugly: it is partisan, rancorous and vexatious, and people seem to never change their minds. This leads some on the left to argue that we need to replace traditional democratic forms with ones that involve genuine deliberation, where people will strive to be open-minded, and to transcend their interests. These aspirations are hopelessly utopian. Such impartiality can only be achieved fleetingly at best, and clashes of interest and perception are intrinsic to democratic politics.
Here, we concur with Jack Knight and Jim Johnson’s important recent book (2011), which argues that politics is a response to the problem of diversity. Actors with differing—- indeed conflicting—- interests and perceptions find that their fates are bound together, and that they must make the best of this. Yet, Knight and Johnson argue, politics is also a matter of seeking to harness diversity so as to generate useful knowledge. They specifically do not argue that democracy requires impartial deliberation.
In a New Scientist op-ed, Henry Farrell and Cosma Shalizi take aim at the trendy idea of "nudging" people towards healthy, socially beneficial choices. The authors find the evidence for the effectiveness of nudging isn't supported by the literature, and policy-by-nudging misses the key to good governance: an informed citizenry who are part of the solution, not the problem to be solved.
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This points to the key problem with "nudge" style paternalism: presuming that technocrats understand what ordinary people want better than the people themselves. There is no reason to think technocrats know better, especially since Thaler and Sunstein offer no means for ordinary people to comment on, let alone correct, the technocrats' prescriptions. This leaves the technocrats with no systematic way of detecting their own errors, correcting them, or learning from them. And technocracy is bound to blunder, especially when it is not democratically accountable.
As political scientist Suzanne Mettler, from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, argues, libertarian paternalism treats people as consumers rather than citizens. It either fails to tell people why choices are set up in particular ways, or actively seeks to conceal the rationale. When, for example, Obama's administration temporarily cut taxes to stimulate the economy, it did so semi-surreptitiously to encourage people to spend rather than save.
Mettler uses experiments to show how ordinary people can understand complicated policy questions and reach considered conclusions, as long as they get enough information. This suggests a far stronger role for democratic decision-making than libertarian paternalism allows. People should be given information, and allowed to reach conclusions about their own interests, and how to structure choices to protect those interests.
Henry Farrell sez:
The US Department of State wants hackers to help build civil society in the Middle East and Africa. They're offering up to $2.5 million in grants for pilot projects that use wikis, blogs and social networking platforms to connect and educate young people and improve civic participation.
Siva sez, "Crooked Timber is hosting a great seminar on Yochai Benkler's new book, The Wealth of Networks. CT solicited commentary essays from Henry Farrell, Dan Hunter, John Quiggin, Jack Balkin, Eszter Hargittai, and Siva Vaidhyanathan. Benkler has responded to all of them. The discussion ensues in the comments. This is an excellent teaching tool."
I've just started reading Wealth of Networks and it's just blowing my mind. Benkler's articulating the case for open source, open content and other collaborative efforts in a way I've never encountered, making the case that what we've got here is a new mode of industrial production, something not subject to the traditional economics of charity, government spending, or capitalism. As a reminder, the full text of the book is available under a Creative Commons license, too.
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Henry Farrell argues that not only formal institutions but also informal norms are necessary for these technologies to enable proper collaboration. Dan Hunter celebrates the book, but worries that it covers too many topics, and that it’s written in language that non-academic readers may have difficulty in understanding. John Quiggin examines the underlying motivations behind the production of common resources, and suggests that Benkler’s arguments point to major flaws in innovation policy. Eszter Hargittai suggests that inequalities in the ability to participate may mean that these new technologies won’t do as much to flatten social hierarchies as they might seem to. Jack Balkin claims that Benkler’s book isn’t so much about new modes of cooperation replacing market mechanisms, as existing side-by-side with them.
Reader Henry Farrell says:
Forbes magazine suggests that Family Movie Act's Clearplay clause not only allows fundamentalists to snip out SpongeBob wearing fishnet stockings from family viewing, but also gives free rein to Star Wars fans to get rid of Jar Jar Binks and the like. As long as it's purely excisive, it's OK.
Clearplay and its movie-filter ilk aren't new. Neither is the debate surrounding the technology with Hollywood and smut-routing lawmakers. I filed a related story in 2002 for Wired News: Film Moguls: Let Sex, Gore Stay Read the rest
My pal Henry Farrell, a poli-sci prof, is conducting an "open seminar" on sf/fantasy writer China Mieville's brilliant novel Iron Council. Mieville is a second-generation Marxist, and his works are extremely politicized; Farrell's seminar is bound to be very interesting. The whole thing is licensed under a CC license for you to distribute, teach, remix and play with.
China’s most recent novel, Iron Council was published in August. Michael Dirda of the Washington Post describes it as “a work of both passionate conviction and the highest artistry.” A few months ago, the Mieville Fraktion within CT decided that it might be fun to put together a mini-seminar around Iron Council, and to ask China to respond. He very decently said yes; you see the result before you. We’ve invited two non-CT regulars to participate in the mini-seminar. Matt Cheney blogs on literature and science fiction at The Mumpsimus; he also writes for Locus magazine and SFSite. Miriam Elizabeth Burstein blogs at The Little Professor, and teaches Victorian literature at SUNY Brockport. Miriam very kindly agreed to join the project in its later stages, revising a long comment/review that she had already written (and that China had independently cited to).