come work with us: new senior research position at CIRCLE

Senior Researcher: The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE), Tisch College. Apply here.

Description

The Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life prepares students in all fields of study for lifetimes of active citizenship, promotes new knowledge in the field, educates Tufts students and beyond for a life of active citizenship, and applies our research to evidence-based practice in our programs, community partnerships, and advocacy efforts. Tisch College’s work is central to Tufts University’s mission. Tisch College offers several opportunities to engage Tufts students in meaningful community building and and other civic and political experiences, explore personal commitments to civic participation, and take on active and effective roles in public life and to engage faculty in expanded active citizenship research and teaching. Tisch College also seeks to influence higher education in the US and abroad to embrace active citizenship maintly through its work via Institute for Democracy in Higher Education. CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement) is a research-base think tank that studies how young peole in the United States learn to become active participants in our democracy, and studies a broad range of topics, from K-12 civic education, youth organizing, youth and civic media, to community characteristics that promote civic development. Although CIRCLE studies civic development and engagement of all youth, the central focus of its work is on expanding access to civic learning and engaement opportunities especially for marginalized youth from various backgrounds. CIRCLE is an influential force and a premier source of information —facts, trends, assessments, and practices—related to youth civic engagement. CIRCLE reaches both academic and practitioners audiences through both academic and popular media, including a large number of features in major news outlets. Founded in 2001, CIRCLE has been part of Tisch College since 2008 and CIRCLE staff are fully integrated into the organizational life of Tisch College and Tufts University, offering CIRCLE staff a number of opportunities to develop skills in and outside of research.

CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement) is a research center that studies young Americans’ civic development. CIRCLE is seeking a Senior Researcher with deep backgrounds in quantitative research methodologies, and varied experience in planning and executing research projects of various scales, independently and as part of a professional team. The Senior Researcher will be a Tufts University employee and will work in the main CIRCLE office on the Tufts campus in Medford/Somerville, Massachusetts. Responsibilities include serving as the lead quantitative researcher on a range of research projects that may include secondary data-analysis, large dataset creation/analysis, literature reviews, field experiments, and original surveys. The Senior Researcher’s tasks include producing analytic plans, methodology documentations, datasets, reports, fact sheets, formal and informal research briefs and press releases on timely and relevant topics, often in close collaboration with CIRCLE colleagues. The Senior Researcher will assist research grant proposals writing especially with the methodology sections, and occasionally represent CIRCLE at a wide range of events including research conferences, practitioner forums, press events and other public events. The Senior Researcher will work alongside colleagues, including a current Senior Researcher, Director of Impact, and Researcher, and provide inputs and peer training to other CIRCLE staff who produce research (quantitative and qualitative). All CIRCLE staff report directly to Director of CIRCLE, who reports to Associate Dean of Research at Tisch College.

Qualifications

Basic Requirements:

  • Minimum 5 years’ experience.
  • Master’s degree in a discipline related to social science.
  • Knowledge of statistical package, such as SPSS and STAT.
  • Because of CIRCLE’s explicit focus on improving civic education and engagement for young people of color and other underserved youth, and because of Tisch College and Tufts University’s foundational commitments to diversity and inclusion, candidates with diverse backgrounds and experiences, broadly defined, are especially encouraged to apply.

Preferred Qualifications:

  • Research experience in a professional setting in which quick deadlines and collaborative team work were common.
  • Comfort with multiple projects and delegating and receiving tasks, and making decisions about research and analytic design choices with minimal guidance.
  • Experience with multivariate statistical techniques, evaluation methods, and psychometric analysis.
  • Experience with developing and executing surveys.
  • Ability to communicate effectively with practitioners, reporters, scholars, and young people through writing, speech, and graphs.
  • Ability to produce reliable, accurate, and readable research products on short deadlines.
  • Ability to work collaboratively with CIRCLE colleagues from varied backgrounds and to interact with practitioners of diverse backgrounds, views, and positions.
  • Ability to teach research methods to colleagues and student/workers.
  • Concern for youth civic engagement is necessary; however, prior research in this specific area is not required.
  • An employee in this position must complete all appropriate background checks at the time of hire, promotion, or transfer.

Equal Opportunity Employer – minority/females/veterans/disability/sexual orientation/gender identity.

Primary Location: United States-Massachusetts-Medford/Somerville

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Ukraine means borderland

This isn’t a travel blog, and my photos aren’t very good, but here are some images that hint at Ukraine’s history as a borderland (which is its very meaning).

For instance, a minbar (the staircase a preacher ascends in a mosque) is preserved inside the rococo church of St Nicholas in Kamyanets-Podilsky.

The same city’s cathedral preserves a minaret. The Ottomans had built towers all around this building, as at Aya Sofya in Istanbul. When the Poles regained the city, they removed the other minarets but had to retain this one for structural reasons. They surmounted it with a gold Madonna.

At Khoytn, the border is symbolized by a massive fortress, built and partially leveled in sequence by Christian, Muslim, Christian, and modern totalitarian armies.


In Chernivtsi, while it was still Austro-Hungarian Czernowitz, each “nation” had a handsome cultural house of its own: the Romanians, the Ukrainians, the Germans, the Poles, the Jews. The Ukrainian house made space for the first international Yiddish conference in 1908, because the city’s Jewish leadership favored German and Hebrew.

Today, the former Jewish People’s House still sports Atlas-type sculptural figures, two of whom are unusual in that they look upward.

In the old auditorium on the third floor, where the stair-rail still shows a Star of David, the stage was set with a cross when I wandered in. The building is understandably used for various community functions today, in a city that is overwhelmingly Christian. This sight was nevertheless a bit disconcerting. (I suspect the Nazis smashed the other Jewish symbols in this room.)

But downstairs is a fine museum celebrating and mourning the annihilated Bukovinian Jewish community, including this mass-produced Hebrew typewriter from the interwar period.

Here is a raffish Art Nouveau/Orientalist building called the “Sorbonne,” in the University area of Chernivisti. I saw it at dusk, when the sunflower’s face had sagged.

That could be an elegy for the faded elegance of Austria-Hungary. But the sunflower must have turned upward again the next morning, because there’s always a dawn. Half a century after the “Sorbonne” opened, Chernivtsi’s now-Soviet citizens could take off from their space-age airport under a frieze of Sputniks and ICBMs.

History didn’t stop then, either. Since I was last in Chernivtsi in 2015, a cheerful new 24/7 pharmacy has opened across the street from the “Sorbonne.”

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civics road trip: from Philadelphia to Ukraine

I’m in Philadelphia for the Action Civics Initiative Summer Convening, a gathering of students, educators, and NGO leaders who are working to make civic education more action-oriented. From the closing plenary tomorrow, I’m heading to Ukraine to participate in the third annual European Institute of Civic Studies, this year at the Chernivtsi National University. The Institute draws practitioners, scholars, and activists involved with strengthening democracy in Ukraine and its neighbors. On my way home, I’ll stop in Kiev to talk with civic educators who work at the high-school level.

I predict some consistent themes (polarized societies, fragile democratic norms, inequalities of power and agency) as well as some important differences. I plan to blog periodically as I travel, or at least on my return.

See also: action civics goes mainstream and gets controversiallessons from a large youth service program, creating good citizens, and the European Summer Institute of Civic Studies.

Posted in advocating civic education, democratic reform overseas, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

job opening: the Newhouse Professor of Civic Studies

The Department of Political Science and the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University invite applications for the Newhouse Professor of Civic Studies in Arts & Sciences. Civic Studies encompass civic engagement, political participation, social capital, civil society, citizenship, civic virtue, the public sphere, and related topics. The Newhouse Professorship is a joint appointment between the School of Arts & Sciences and the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University. The Newhouse Professorship will promote the intellectual inquiry into civic life necessary to fulfill the University’s mission to shape students into active and engaged citizens. Teaching responsibilities will focus on the undergraduate level.

From the perspective of Tisch College: this is one of a small set of senior faculty positions that we are filling across the University. The new professors will form the nucleus of an intellectual community here that is dedicated to understanding civic life in all of its aspects. They will also connect to numerous existing Tufts scholars and students who study relevant topics. Our goal is to develop new approaches to defining, investigating, and improving civic engagement in the US and around the world.

QUALIFICATIONS
The position requires a Ph.D. in Political Science or a related field, and a record of excellence in scholarship and teaching. Current rank of Full Professor or advanced Associate Professor is required. The position is open with respect to subfield and methodological approaches.

APPLICATION INSTRUCTIONS
All application materials must be submitted via Interfolio at: https://apply.interfolio.com/43187. Applicants should submit a cover letter describing their research and teaching, a curriculum vitae, two representative scholarly works, and contact information for three references. References will only be contacted with prior candidate approval. Review of applications will begin on September 15, 2017, and will continue until the position is filled. Please contact Peter Morency, Administrative Assistant, at peter.morency@tufts.edu with any questions.

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libertarianism and democracy

In  the Washington Post, Michael Chwe argues that the “beliefs and values” of James M. Buchanan “conflict with basic democratic norms.” Buchanan (1919-2013) was a hugely influential public choice economist. Chwe is intervening in the debate about him that has been provoked by Nancy MacLean’s recent book Democracy in Chains. Although I haven’t read MacLean, I want to offer a theoretical point.

If freedom means non-interference, and if democracy means equitable decision-making in groups, then freedom and democracy are in tension.

“Non-interference” means not being told what to do or what not to do. “Equitable decision-making” means a process that yields a result binding on the whole group, based on everyone’s input. It need not mean majority-rule; democratic processes can be more complex and demanding than that. But democracy does yield binding outcomes, which may interfere with what individuals want to do. Therefore, democracy as equitable decision-making conflicts with freedom as non-interference.

This means that libertarians and classical liberals should own up to the fact that they are critics of democracy. Yes, they favor certain forms of liberty and equity, but those don’t equal democracy. Libertarians are leery of binding decisions by non-voluntary groups.

For their part, strong democrats–people who want to defend and expand the scope of democratic decision-making–should admit that they are critics of freedom as non-interference.

But one can compromise. I happen to think that non-interference is a real good. People rightly don’t like to be told what they may and may not do, except when it is strictly necessary. I also happen to think that democratic decision-making is a real good: people should deliberate and shape their common world. If the two goods trade off, then we can design institutions that offer elements of democracy along with strong constraints to protect individuals from unjust interference by the group. For those who favor a compromise, Buchanan’s work is full of important insights and cautions, but is not a satisfactory political theory all by itself.

Two important complications:

  1. Non-interference is a problematic concept. We tend to think of a person as free from interference insofar as she goes about her everyday life without anyone else making explicit commands or threats. But that person lives in a world shaped by institutions, norms, and powerful decisions by other people, starting with her parents and including her employer, competing companies in the marketplace, celebrities who shape the culture, etc. It’s not clear that she is more free if she faces fewer explicit, immediate rules.
  2. There are other kinds of freedom, besides non-interference. In a post that still draws daily traffic, I summarized six types. I actually omitted an important seventh type on which Philip Pettit is an expert: freedom as non-domination. This means freedom from any other person’s arbitrary will or discretionary choice. One can be highly limited by rules that are non-arbitrary, or one can be subject to arbitrary decisions that happen not to be very consequential. If you think that arbitrariness (rather than constraint) is the main threat to liberty, then you can favor strong democratic institutions. But they can’t be simply majoritarian. Instead, they must be aimed at producing non-arbitrary decisions: decisions that are justified by reasons, influenced by all opinions, and consistent with rules. I find this very promising, but I also believe that we must attend to the insights of Buchanan and others about how real institutions fail to honor such abstract principles.
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lessons from a large youth service program

I’ve previously posted a link to my evaluation of Points of Light’s ServiceWorks program, which engages thousands of disadvantaged teenagers and young adults in service projects. In addition to yielding good outcomes for the participating youth, the program also suggests lessons of general interest to anyone who promotes youth civic engagement. This is a summary of four issues, taken from the CIRCLE website:

  • Scale vs. Depth: Programs that aim to provide compelling positive experiences for young people must weigh the competing goals of reaching many youth and deeply affecting the participants, particularly those who are highly disadvantaged. ServiceWorks sought to reach 25,000 youth over three years with a medium-dosage program (more sustained than a one-time service project, but less intensive than a full-time opportunity lasting months such as YouthBuild, City Year, or the National Guard’s Youth ChalleNGe program). Although ServiceWorks has found a reasonable balance between size and depth, this demonstration project reinforces that trade-off. Pushing for large numbers may have shifted at least some ServiceWorks sites toward enrolling not-as-disadvantaged youth or lowering expectations for how much each Scholar would accomplish. Focusing resources on fewer youth might produce higher impact and increase the proportion of participants who are particularly disadvantaged.
  • Demonstrating Skills for the Labor Market: Although the evidence collected here shows that ServiceWorks Scholars gain skills, particularly project-management skills that would help them in the workforce, prospective employers may not always recognize the value of these skills. ServiceWorks and similar programs should consider offering reliable certificates or credentials for participants who demonstrate job-relevant skills (and not automatically for those who complete the program). The challenge of connecting youth who have 21st century skills to jobs will require shared understanding and partnerships between youth-serving nonprofits and employers.
  • Incorporating Youth into Diverse, Intergenerational Teams: At least some ServiceWorks sites bring youth of diverse backgrounds together with adults to collaborate on social issues. Youth contribute distinctive knowledge and talents, as do the VISTA members, unpaid adult volunteers, program staff, and professional educators. The atmosphere is one of mutual respect, shared learning, empathy, and collaboration. Scholars value that atmosphere and find it atypical in their lives. ServiceWorks and similar programs should give explicit attention to creating such climates.
  • Youth Voice: ServiceWorks encourages Scholars to choose issues and strategies for their service projects. Scholars often identify very difficult issues, discuss these topics with sophistication and nuance, and then struggle to implement projects that would address the underlying causes that they have identified. Although giving young people choice and voice is important, asking them to plan and implement a whole social change initiative in a short period may produce frustration. Possible solutions include structuring deliberations so that young people are more likely to choose successful projects, connecting youth to ongoing initiatives, or recognizing that they have natural talents and affinities for awareness-raising, media-production, and policy advocacy, and highlighting those activities (along with conventional community service). That would mean viewing programs like ServiceWorks as a potential space for youth-driven media-literacy education or Action Civics (a recent movement that emphasizes youth voice in policy) as well as examples of service-learning and workforce education.
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Josh Patten’s satire

I’m very amused by Josh Patten’s project: replying to President Trump’s tweets as if they were texts for him personally:


Imagine going back to 1990 and trying to explain the humor here. “We have a president, you see, who makes a fool of himself daily by tweeting inane remarks to about 34 million followers. Yes, the President of the United States. A tweet? Well, it’s a short message that you type and anyone who wants to read all your ad hoc thoughts can subscribe. Yes, lots and lots of people do this all the time. OK, so a comedian imagines that the president’s tweets are messages just for him. (We all get these ‘texts’ on fancy phones that we carry everywhere.) The comedian responds in the banal way you might answer a friend’s texts, imagining that he’s part of the president’s private circle instead of a mass audience. And this is funny because … I guess you’d have to live in 2017.”

A serious point is buried in Patten’s humor. Companies and governments have long sought to infiltrate private spaces in order to increase their influence. FDR arrived in Americans’ living rooms during “fireside chats.” The TV screen brought “Friends” into your house. To various degrees, most people have protected their real lives from these infiltrations by drawing distinctions between actual and fake friends, authentic and artificial messages. Now that we lead a lot of our private life online, where anyone can “follow” it, and now that almost all leaders (popes and Dalai Lamas as well as heads of state) broadcast messages through the same media that we employ for social purposes, the borders are harder to police. Donald Trump is intruding–often counterproductively, but still pervasively. Patten’s satire pushes back.

See also: protecting authentic human interactionDoes Twitter “smoosh” the public and private?Habermas illustrated by Twitter.

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deliberation depends on social movements

Why would people deliberate? Here I’ll argue that citizens will only come together to exchange reasons if they are empowered to make decisions. In turn, it often takes a social movement to  change institutions so that any particular group of citizens has power. And social movements cannot be (fully) deliberative.

In an important passage in Talking to Strangers, Danielle Allen argues that it’s an error to assume that speakers “enter [any] deliberative forum already mutually well-minded toward one another.” She writes, “If they do so enter, the battle to achieve a reasonable policy outcome is already 75 percent won. The hard part is getting citizens to that point of being mutually well-intentioned.”

Allen proposes rhetorical solutions to this problem: ways of communicating that encourage other people want to hear your reasons and respond with good arguments, rather than walk out or shout you down. For example, you can begin a conversation by making an unsolicited sacrifice, which is “the most powerful tool for generating trust.” You can also “aim to convince 100 percent” of the audience instead of trying to build a mere majority, and you can look for ways to “ameliorate the remaining disagreement and distrust” after a decision has been reached. These are techniques for creating the conditions under which people will exchange reasons about what is right to do.

The rhetorical techniques that Allen suggests manifest political friendship, in Aristotle’s sense. First you act like a friend; then people will trust you enough to deliberate with you. The good news is that many people exhibit a desire for such friendship that makes deliberation possible. In 1982, my friend James Youniss, a developmental psychologist who had studied with Habermas, wrote:

Persons enter discussion, debate, negotiation, and so on … to clarify uncertainties, check doubts, receive criticism, justify views, gain different opinions, or explore novel ideas. But that is not all. Persons who respect one another seek to maintain their relation, and they communicate voluntarily for this purpose. They want to understand and to be understood. They want to show that they care and want to be cared for in return. In the reciprocal cooperation epitomized in friendship, each retains freedom of thought by acknowledging freedom in the other and, thus, communication is essential so that the respective parties do not lose the opportunity for truth seeking in common. [“Why Persons Communicate on Moral Matters: A Response to Shweder,” Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, vol. 28, no. 1, 1982]

These relational motives make deliberation seem plausible. Talking can be its own reward, if and when people value friendship. However, the mode of discussion may have to be emotional and personal and may have to involve speech-acts like making sacrifices. Abstract arguments will fall on deaf ears unless trust has been built.

Allen’s rhetorical suggestions are valuable as long as relevant citizens have chosen to gather together at one time and place in order to communicate. But most people allocate their time and energy to purposes other than meetings. Those who stay away may be foolishly renouncing their influence, or selfishly free-riding on others’ efforts–but both behaviors are predictable.

If group exists, we can try to invite, entice, cajole, or reward people to participate. But we cannot just assume that a group exists that has the capacity to make decisions. To be sure, once a group forms, then (almost regardless of its assets) it can empower itself by creating goods that it allocates. A Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) raises money at a bake-sale, which gives it a budget to deliberate about. In such cases, the deliberation depends on a prior solution to a collective-action problem: getting parents to contribute goods for the sale.

In many circumstances, the problem is more difficult than that. It’s not just a matter of generating a resource that can be discussed, but of capturing it from someone else. For instance, if the municipal government sets the city budget, then a public meeting about priorities is not really a deliberation; it is just a forum for talking to power. Forcing or persuading the city to share ts power would require an organized political effort that would precede a citizen deliberation about taxing and spending. But how to get people involved in that political effort is again a problem of motivation and coordination.

The broader point is that any reasonably decent conversation depends on rules, which must not only cover the speech itself (e.g., by giving everyone an equal chance to talk) but must also create groups that have the power to make decisions that are worth talking about. Since power rarely yields voluntarily, the main way to change unacceptable rules is to organize social movements. Such movements may harbor some internal deliberations, but they cannot be deliberative fora. They must aim for specific reforms that then create groups that are worth deliberating in.

This is why I think that “Ostrom, Habermas, and Gandhi are all we need.” See also: Habermas, Ostrom, Gandhi (II) and how to get a deliberative democracy.

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varieties of neoliberalism

Jonathan Chait laments the use of the word “neoliberalism” to denounce Democratic Party leaders like President Obama and Hillary Clinton–even Elizabeth Warren–from the left. Chait tells a story that begins in the 1980s, when the word “neoliberalism” was “the chosen label of a handful of moderately liberal opinion journalists, centered around Charles Peters, then-editor of the Washington Monthly.” Chait began his own career with Peters and shares at least some of this group’s views. He feels attacked by those who call neoliberalism “the source of all the ills suffered by the Democratic Party and progressive politics over four decades, up to and (especially) including the rise of Donald Trump.”

The word “neoliberalism” was virtually unused before 1950 and has rapidly become popular of late. But what does it mean?

“Neoliberalism” as a percentage of all the words in all English-language published books, 1950-2016, from NGram

In a reply to Chait, Mike Konczal distinguishes three kinds of neoliberalism, of which Chait’s is the first. Konczal argues that the left critique–a valid one–is against the second and third versions. All three have developed since 1980, probably contributing to the trend shown here.

Konczal’s three-fold distinction is better than the two-fold one I was going to propose before I read his piece, so I’ll follow his scheme.  This is how I would define the three versions:

Neoliberalism I

In the 1980s, certain leaders of the Democratic Party (Charles Peters, Bill Galston, Bill Clinton, and others) argued that if you seriously evaluated social programs, you’d find that many didn’t work. Spending scarce resources ineffectively did the recipients no good and reinforced the voters’ sense that Democrats just threw money at problems. Some of these people were centrists, arguing with their party’s left. They called themselves “neoliberals” to assert a break with the positions of people like Walter Mondale, the supposed “paleoliberals.” However, in principle, their argument could appeal to leftists, who would reallocate funds from poorly performing programs to better ones. I can easily imagine a version of this agenda flourishing within a socialist system. It’s about measurement, accountability, managerial expertise, and innovation, which are features of modernity that have been quite influential on the left. If you “see like a state,” you will be interested in measuring impact and allocating resources to the most effective uses. The reallocations will be made by state agencies, which actually centralizes power.

Neoliberalism II

In the 1950s and 1960s, Keynsian economics reigned pretty much supreme on both sides of the Atlantic. Then stagflation delivered an intellectual blow, and soon Chicago School economists were making increasingly influential proposals for tax cuts, deregulation, and monetary responses to recessions. Their arguments were welcome to political and economic interests that never liked the taxes and regulations of the New Deal. The economists didn’t call themselves neoliberals, but that label made some sense in a global context, where “liberalism” typically means laissez-faire–what Americans call economic conservatism. Reagan and Thatcher were neoliberals in this sense, many continental European countries also moved in that direction, and the shift was dramatic in the Global South, partly because of pressure from the IMF and World Bank. The arguments tended to be utilitarian: if you cut taxes, then you will see more total wealth for the whole population. An authoritarian state, such as Pinochet’s Chile, could endorse these policies, in which case there would be a dramatic gap between political liberties and neoliberal economics. Indeed, some critics hold that this form of neoliberalism is mostly about using militarized state power to promote corporate economic interests.

Neoliberalism III

Since Victorian times, a social philosophy has been available that says market exchange is natural, whereas states are artificial; that exchanges of goods or labor for money manifest freedom; that success in a market reflects virtues (thrift, industry, creativity) rather than vices like greed; that governments are coercive, whereas market exchanges are voluntary; that people should be individually responsible for the consequences of their actions; that markets embody collective wisdom, whereas centralized planning is subject to massive error, etc. That philosophy was called “liberalism” ca. 1850. It gained momentum and picked up the name “neoliberalism” in the 1980s, although most actual proponents called themselves “libertarians,” “classical liberals” or (in America) “conservatives” rather than “neoliberals.” I have mentioned a lot of different ideas in this paragraph, and proponents need not endorse them all. However, the thrust here is neither pragmatic experimentation (as in Neoliberalism I), nor utilitarianism (Neoliberalism II), but a set of normative views about society and character. One of the greatest thinkers of the left, Michel Foucault, expressed some support for neoliberalism in this form, seeing it as potentially emancipatory. Foucault certainly wouldn’t have appreciated Neoliberalism I or II.

Put together, these three movements invoke a long list of ideas, and most people would refuse to endorse them all. Hardly anyone calls himself a “neoliberal”; it’s an epithet coming from further left on the political spectrum.

It’s not clear that we’ve really moved in a Neoliberal II direction. The federal government spends about 3 percentage points more of GDP today than it did in the 1960s, when the Great Society (and the War in Vietnam) were in full force.

However, there has definitely been a shift of rhetorical emphasis. The 1948 Democratic Party platform on which Harry Truman ran was unabashedly pro-government and critical of business. No modern Democrat would sound like that. They all order some of their dishes from column I, II, or III of neoliberalism’s menu.

Specifically, the Obama Administration loved concrete new policy interventions that could be rigorously evaluated. In 2o13, for instance, the administration proposed $200 million in a competitive pool for state governments that cut energy use and expanded HOPE (Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation and Enforcement scheme), which had performed well in evaluations. But they proposed to cut Social Security by $130 billion and Medicare by $380 billion. They didn’t like these cuts; they felt forced to offer them in a budget battle with Congress. But the result of expanding evaluated social programs while cutting entitlements would be Neoliberalism I.

Similarly, when modern Democratic leaders tout their superior economic management–Look at the GDP growth and stock market increases when we’re in charge!–they are making a utilitarian case for voting Democratic. It’s not exactly Neoliberalism II, because it doesn’t say: “Less government produces more net wealth.” Instead, it says: “A combination of competent management, fiscal prudence, targeted investments, and free trade produces more net wealth.” That claim may be true and reasonably popular, but it leaves a lot of space to its left, particularly when it carries a whiff of Neoliberalism III in the form of admiration for business leaders. It isn’t surprising, then, that a substantial number of people would want to criticize mainstream Democratic policy, and the word “neoliberalism” works pretty well for their purpose.

See also:  Foucault and neoliberalismEdmund Burke would vote Democraticthe core of liberalism, and what defines conservatism?

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Anachronist review

The Anachronist is my interactive novel. Several readers have posted reviews of it on the Interactive Fiction Database. (If I may say so, the one person who gave it a low quantitative rating had a complaint about a technical issue that I’ve fixed since then.) A reviewer called CMG makes some helpful and valid critical points, but in the interest of blatant self-promotion, I’ll quote from the good parts of the review, which nicely summarize my intent:

You play as a woman about to be burned at the stake for witchcraft. She is lashed to it when the story starts. It is being lit. But she doesn’t burn just yet. She has been apprenticed to an alchemist, and has gleaned the art of memory. This allows her to retreat into her own mind and escape the fire — temporarily.

A single moment expands to encompass days, weeks, years, lifetimes as she plunges deeper and deeper into her memories. …

Time obviously goes out the window. Anachronism isn’t a mistake: it is the truth. The more time decomposes, the more we understand as we come to learn the circumstances surrounding the present moment. It’s a complex little plot, with conspiracies and double-crosses. Bit players enlarge to take central roles as our protagonist’s focus sharpens. Structurally, this means that the story is based around increasingly dense telescopic descriptions. We have a scene, we concentrate on a detail, that detail becomes another scene, we concentrate on another detail in that scene…

More than any other interactive fiction I’ve played, this feels like a novel. …

I faced the hardest decision I’ve had to make in a choice-based game in this story. At multiple points, you can break your concentration and return to focusing on the stake, the rising fire. I didn’t do that. I stayed in the protagonist’s head (or maybe the protagonists’ heads). And finally I reached a point where I had been reading for hours, for days, while the stake was still burning, and the game confronted me: what was I accomplishing by living in my memories? Shouldn’t I focus on the fire, what’s actually happening?

I didn’t know what to do. After playing for so long, I really felt as though I was avoiding the story’s reality. I had stretched out my time on the stake in real time by reading the text. It was absurd. I should’ve been burnt to a crisp. Here was the story’s most glaring anachronism, and I was the anachronist enabling it.

What I chose to do next doesn’t matter as much as the fact that the game created this situation in the first place. This isn’t a story whose strength rests on making the “right” choices. Its strength comes from how its themes are reflected in the reader’s own experience, which can only happen because it’s interactive.

In this sense, it’s some of the strongest interactive work I’ve seen.

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