Let’s try a new experiment. Each weekend, I will put up a post called “Weekend Links,” including links from All Things Eph, both recent and ancient. Below the break, I will also include long quotations from the links.

The main goal is to provide my co-bloggers with a buffet of topics to choose from, should they wish to do so. Readers may also find the links interesting. And I need to free up some tabs on my browser!

Comments will be turned off so that any discussion about these topics is saved until another blogger chooses to write about them during the week. I don’t want these conversations to start ahead of time.

Here goes!

Oren Cass ’05 on “The Communal Power of a Real Job” in the New York Times.

Anthony Kronman’s ’68 latest book discussed in the New York Times.

The Communal Power of a Real Job

The conservative blueprint envisions a flourishing society built upon a foundation of strong families and communities, buttressed by a free market. But cracks in that foundation are widening, the structure is swaying, and market forces are providing little support. In response, conservatives are turning their focus to workers.

This response emerges from an insight that I like to call the working hypothesis: that a labor market in which workers can support strong families and communities is the central determinant of long-term prosperity and should be the central focus of public policy. Genuine prosperity depends upon people working as productive contributors to their society, through which they can achieve self-sufficiency, support their families, participate in their communities, and raise children prepared to do the same. And it is the labor market that determines where, how, by whom and at what price most work gets done.

The labor market’s outcomes, like any market’s, depend on the conditions in which it operates. Crucially, while a labor market left alone will seek an efficient equilibrium, economic theory never promises that the equilibrium will be a socially desirable, inclusive one. A genuine conservatism values markets as powerful mechanisms that foster choice, promote competition and deliver growth, but always in service to the larger end of a cohesive society in which people can thrive. Observing that deficiencies in the labor market’s outcomes have become acute, conservatives are beginning to ask which conditions are leading to those outcomes and how to change those conditions.

The Republican senators Marco Rubio and Josh Hawley are in the vanguard of that effort. Read Mr. Rubio’s report from May, “American Investment in the 21st Century,” which interrogates the business sector’s failure to make long-term investments in the nation’s economic future. Or watch Mr. Hawley’s maiden speech on the Senate floor, also from May, in which he excoriated the “new aristocrats” who “seek to remake society in their own image: to engineer an economy that works for the elite but few else.” Instead, Mr. Hawley said, “we need a society that offers rewarding work for every worker who wants it, wherever she is from, whatever degree he might have, whether their ambition is to start a business or to start a family.”

Intuitively, progressives might seem the likely vindicators of workers’ interests. But the serious structural changes that the labor market needs will entail real trade-offs with other priorities that progressives see as more important.

Consider the constellation of issues emphasized thus far in the Democratic Party’s presidential primary: free college and health care, relaxed or nonexistent immigration enforcement, and various “Green New Deals” whose explicit goal is suppression of the energy-producing and -consuming sectors that form the backbone of the blue-collar economy. Such policies are more likely to harm than benefit workers, in their capacity as workers. Offers to help come typically as redistribution to compensate for what people can no longer accomplish themselves.

The appeal of redistribution is its promise of painless progress. Yes, the winners have to compensate the losers. But so long as they pay their taxes, they can structure society however they like. Actually changing the conditions that weaken the labor market and harm those left behind, by contrast, requires real concessions from the people commanding society’s cultural, economic and political heights.

Conservatives will be the advocates for such concessions because theirs is the perspective that sees no alternative, while progressives will more likely be attracted to the possibility that some novel configuration of society could work just as well. Conservatives will tend to view human nature and abilities as a constant to which policy must adapt, while progressives will see greater potential for transformation. Progressives will trust social and economic progress to provide the foundation for a healthy society, while conservatives will argue that a healthy society must instead provide the foundation for any progress.

In some cases, this will lead conservatives in directions they might already lean. The United States has cleaned its air to the point that Brussels, headquarters of the European Union, would be our dirtiest city. Recognition of the enormous social value of well-paying jobs for less-educated workers in manufacturing, construction and resource extraction argues for tolerating more of the pollution that comes with them.

In other cases, conservatives will head in new directions or even reverse course. Our society’s intensive commitment to the college pathway might make sense if we plan to have the one-fifth of students who move smoothly from high school to college to career take care of everyone else. But an insistence that workers throughout the labor market share in productivity growth will shift the education system focus from college completion to alternative pathways from high school to productive careers.

Conservatives’ longstanding hostility toward organized labor will give way to an emphasis on reform. The 1930s-style unions mandated by the National Labor Relations Act have passed their expiration date, but new forms of organizing through which workers can support one another, engage with management and contribute to civil society should be a conservative priority.

Rather than focus safety-net debates on budget savings, conservatives will ask how to use existing budgets better — for instance, by transforming at least some portion of the safety net into a wage subsidy delivered directly into each low-wage paycheck, encouraging less skilled workers to enter the labor force and businesses to employ them. Mr. Hawley proposed such a work credit in his successful campaign to unseat Claire McCaskill.

And yes, conservatives will bring a skepticism of unfettered international trade and immigration to the discussion as well. If the emphasis is on a healthy labor market, rather than merely rising consumption, then borders matter. Few things could benefit American workers more than forcing companies to rely on them — something progressives always acknowledged in their calls for greater worker power, until it began conflicting with other priorities.

More trade is good, if that trade is balanced. But huge trade deficits represent supplies of foreign workers entering the United States market from afar with no commensurate rise in foreign demand for what American workers produce. Immigration, likewise, can be constructive — if those immigrants enter segments of the labor market where native workers are doing well. But if a lack of economic opportunity for less-educated Americans is seen as one of society’s great challenges, allowing yet more less-educated workers to enter the labor market won’t make sense.

Mr. Rubio has co-sponsored legislation with Senator Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat, to confront China’s unfair trade practices and held hearings and published research on its industrial policy. This past week, Mr. Hawley and Ms. Baldwin co-sponsored legislation that would require the Federal Reserve to close the trade deficit by taxing foreign purchases of American assets.

Political realignments occur when core values collide with changed conditions, creating rifts that both divide longstanding alliances and bring new sets of constituencies and concerns into contact. The one underway in America is frequently mischaracterized as pitting an “open” progressive side that favors desirable things like trade, immigration, the environment and college against a “closed” conservative side that finds them scary. But the actual divide is between a progressive enthusiasm for pushing ahead and a conservative concern about restoring fractured foundations.

Most conservatives see value in all those “open” priorities too, but their nonnegotiable starting point is a cohesive society built on work, family and community. Their task is to persuade enough Americans that building higher should be contingent on first establishing the strength of a sturdy base.

Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-Excellence

A former dean of the Yale Law School sounds a warning.

By Bret Stephens

Opinion Columnist

Aug. 2, 2019

Anyone who has followed the news from college campuses over the past few years knows they are experiencing forms of unrest unseen since the late 1960s.

Now, as then, campuses have become an arena for political combat. Now, as then, race is a central issue. Now, as then, students rail against an unpopular president and an ostensibly rigged system. Now, as then, liberal professors are being bullied, denounced, demoted, threatened, sued and sometimes even assaulted by radical students.

But there are some important differences, too. None of today’s students risk being drafted into an unpopular, distant war. Unlike the campus rebels of the ’60s, today’s student activists don’t want more freedom to act, speak, and think as they please. Usually they want less.

Most strange: Today’s students are not chafing under some bow-tied patriarchal WASP dispensation. Instead, they are the beneficiaries of a system put in place by professors and administrators whose political views are almost uniformly left-wing and whose campus policies indulge nearly every progressive orthodoxy.

So why all the rage?

The answer lies in the title of Anthony Kronman’s necessary, humane and brave new book: “The Assault on American Excellence.” Kronman’s academic credentials are impeccable — he has taught at Yale for 40 years and spent a decade as dean of its law school — and his politics, so far as I can tell, are to the left of mine.

But Yale has been ground zero for recent campus unrest, including a Maoist-style struggle session against a distinguished professor, fights about “cultural appropriation,” the renaming of Calhoun (as in, John C.) College, and the decision to drop the term “master” because, to some, it carried “a painful and unwelcome connotation.”

It’s this last decision that seems to have triggered Kronman’s alarm. The word “master” may remind some students of slavery. What it really means is a person who embodies achievement, refinement, distinction — masterliness — and whose spirit is fundamentally aristocratic. Great universities are meant to nurture that spirit, not only for its own sake, but also as an essential counterweight to the leveling and conformist tendencies of democratic politics that Alexis de Tocqueville diagnosed as the most insidious threats to American civilization.

What’s happening on campuses today isn’t a reaction to Trump or some alleged systemic injustice, at least not really. Fundamentally, Kronman argues, it’s a reaction against this aristocratic spirit — of being, as H.L. Mencken wrote, “beyond responsibility to the general masses of men, and hence superior to both their degraded longings and their no less degraded aversions.” It’s a revolt of the mediocre many against the excellent few. And it is being undertaken for the sake of a radical egalitarianism in which all are included, all are equal, all are special.

“In endless pronouncements of tiresome sweetness, the faculty and administrators of America’s colleges and universities today insist on the overriding importance of creating a culture of inclusion on campus,” Kronman writes.

“They stress the need to respect and honor the feelings of others, especially those belonging to traditionally disadvantaged groups, as an essential means to this end. In this way they give credence to the idea that feelings are trumps with a decisive authority of their own. That in turn emboldens their students to argue that their feelings are reason enough to keep certain speakers away. But this dissolves the community of conversation that the grown-ups on campus are charged to protect.”

This is a bracing, even brutal, assessment. But it’s true. And it explains why every successive capitulation by universities to the shibboleths of diversity and inclusion has not had the desired effect of mollifying campus radicals. On the contrary, it has tended to generate new grievances while debasing the quality of intellectual engagement.

Hence the new campus mores. Before an idea can be evaluated on its intrinsic merits, it must first be considered in light of its political ramifications. Before a speaker can be invited to campus for the potential interest of what he might have to say, he must first pass the test of inoffensiveness. Before a student can think and talk for himself, he must first announce and represent his purported identity. Before a historical figure can be judged by the standards of his time, he must first be judged by the standards of our time.

All this is meant to make students “safe.” In fact, it leaves them fatally exposed. It emboldens offense-takers, promotes doublethink, coddles ignorance. It gets in the way of the muscular exchange of honest views in the service of seeking truth. Above all, it deprives the young of the training for independent mindedness that schools like Yale are supposed to provide.

I said earlier that Kronman’s book is brave, but in that respect I may be giving him too much credit. Much of his illustrious career is now safely behind him; he can write as he pleases. Would an untenured professor have the guts to say what he does? The answer to the question underscores the urgency of his warning.

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