practical lessons from classic cases of civil disobedience

I have been teaching two classic examples of civil disobedience or satyagraha—Gandhi’s Salt March and the Montgomery Bus Boycott—to very smart and committed undergraduates. The readings are listed below. As I reflect on our discussions, I’m thinking about two lessons that may not be widely understood today.

First, the objective is not the same as the target. Your objective might be to dismantle white supremacy, but that is not a “target“ because you can’t directly affect it, especially if you are a group of Black citizens of Montgomery, AL in 1955. The bus company is a target because 75% of its riders are African Americans, and you can bankrupt it by boycotting it.

The bus company was not the worst offender against racial equity, even among local institutions. For example, the city’s chief law enforcement officer was a member of the White Citizens Council, which made the police a worse problem than the bus company. But the bus company was a better target because Black people had more leverage over it.

The pitfall is to choose the targets that you can affect even though affecting them doesn’t trouble the worst offenders. I think a lot of left activism in the US since 2000 has targeted city governments and universities, leaving Wall Street unaffected. That is because left activists know how to target cities and colleges, but not how to target Wall Street. On the other hand, you do need targets that you can actually affect. The Montgomery bus boycott and the British colonial police force in India were good examples. They were vulnerable to direct action, and targeting them caused problems for higher authorities.

Second, a social movement is not primarily a protest. In fact, I am not sure that any act of “protest” occurred during the whole Montgomery Bus Boycott, if that means a gathering in a public space to convey a message: a march or demonstration. The Great Salt March was (in fact) a march, but that was not what gave it power. Gandhi got many people arrested for making their own salt and thereby flooded British jails; the Montgomery Improvement Association boycotted a bus company. Both were accomplishments of organization more than expression, although both certainly conveyed meaning to their supporters, their targets, and third parties.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott, in particular, was a matter of getting thousands of Black workers to their jobs every day for many months without using the buses. A protest would have accomplished little. Building an alternative transportation system brought a company to its knees and conveyed a message of power.


  • Ramachandra Guha, Gandhi: The Years that Changed the World (2018), chapter 16 (“The March to the Sea”)
  • Bikhu Parekh, Gandhi, Chapter 4 (“Satyagraha”), pp. 51-62;
  • Gandhi, Satyagraha (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing Co., 1951), excerpts; and Gandhi, Notes, May 22, 1924 – August 15, 1924, in The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (Electronic Book), New Delhi, Publications Division Government of India, 1999, 98 volumes, vol. 28, pp. 307-310
  • Karuna Mantena, “Showdown for Nonviolence: The Theory and Practice of Nonviolent Politics,” in Shelby and Terry, pp. 78-110
  • Martha Nussbaum. “From Anger to Love: Self-Purification and Political Resistance,” in Shelby and Terry, pp. 114-135
  • Episode 1 of Eyes on the Prize, “Awakenings, 1954-1956”
  • Charles Payne, “Ella Baker and Models of Social Change“; and Ella Baker, “Developing Community Leadership“
  • Danielle McGuire, At The Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance–A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power.
  • James L. Farmer Jr., Lay Bare the Heart: An Autobiography of the Civil Rights Movement (excerpts)David Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1986), pp. 105-205.
  • Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63 , pp. 11-82
  • Martin Luther King, Stride Toward Freedom, chapters 3, 4, and 5.Charles Tilly, “Social Movements, 1768-2004“
  • Marshall Ganz, “Why David Sometimes Wins: Strategic Capacity in Social Movements,” in Jeff Goodwin and James M. Jasper, Rethinking Social Movements: Structure, Meaning, and Emotion (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004) pp.177-98.

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The French Republic denounces the French State

“In tribute to the thousands of Jews of the Rhone who were tortured and executed, deported and exterminated in 1942, 1943, and 1944.

Let the locations of their martyrdom be engraved in our memory:

Fort Montluc, The School of Military Medicine, the Hotel Terminus, Rue Sainte Catherine, Rue Sainte-Helene, the Catelin cul-de-sac, Venessieux Camp, Neyron, Rillieux, Dorieux Bridge, Bron, Saint Genis Laval.

Let those who helped them, at risk to their lives, be thanked forever.

The French Republic, in tribute to the victims of racist and antisemitic persecution and crimes against humanity committed under the de facto authority called the “Government of the State of France” (1940-44). Let us never forget.

This is a pair of plaques on the wall of the former School Military Medicine in Lyon, headquarters of Lyon’s Gestapo chief, Klaus Barbie. The building was used for frequent torture and executions until it was destroyed by Allied bombers; the site is now a small Museum of the the Resistance and Deportation.

What should we make of the French Republic denouncing the Government of the State of France?

One view might be that individual human beings are always the only responsible parties. In 1940-4 in France, human beings denounced Jews, or killed them, or saved them, or did nothing. They also actively supported, complicitly upheld, resentfully accepted, subtly undermined, or bravely resisted the government of France as it was constituted before, during, and after WWII. They should be judged on whether they hurt or helped people and whether they strove to make their governments just.

That view denies all moral agency to groups and institutions, which would have some problematic implications. It would mean, for one thing, that responsibility never survives a change of generations. If an individual didn’t denounce Jews in 1941, that person has nothing to be concerned about. We are born with a clean slate.

Yet an individual can inherit the advantages of an institution, such as the French Republic (or the USA). Not only does a state have has a treasury from which it pays benefits–and which represents the accumulated balance of all its past debts and credits–but it also shapes and realizes citizens’ rights. Insofar as our rights are important components of our identity, a state helps to constitute us.

Another view is that France (again, like the USA) is a morally responsible entity to which its citizens are tied, like it or not. The past belongs to the living. Today’s French inherit the responsibility for Vichy as much as for the Third or Fourth Republic that bracketed it, because they inherit France.

But surely we bear more responsibility for democratic governments than for authoritarian governments that rule us in our name. In that sense, the sins of the French republics should perhaps weigh more on modern French people than those of Vichy. Yet we know that Vichy was pretty popular, and the Third Republic was rickety. Public support is a sliding scale, not an on/off switch. So is any government’s responsiveness to the public.

Also, the laws and policies that result from a democratic process depend on precisely how the democracy is organized. Americans would have different laws if we elected one unicameral legislature with 10,000 members as our sole branch of government. We are constituted in one way; we (the same people) could be constituted differently. The US has not been re-constituted since 1789, although some of the changes have been pretty basic. France was definitely reconstituted in 1940 and again in 1945-.

I am inclined to think that the French Republic is an institution that is distinct from Vichy, as proven by the armed conflict between the two. The Republic can describe Vichy as an “it.” The Republic speaks just as it pays bills or forbids you from walking on the grass: as a corporate body.

However, the Republic has particular corporate responsibilities for the crimes of Vichy, not because the two states are the same thing, but because the Republic inherited the debts and assets of Vichy, like a business that buys a bankrupt firm. One of the Republic’s many assets is the address at which Klaus Barbie tortured his victims, and France is obligated to memorialize that space in the right way.

Meanwhile, French citizens have a particular obligation to assess whether the Republic is saying the right things. Reading those plaques on the wall, a French person should not ask, “Do I say that?” The speaker is the state, not the citizen. Instead, the citizen should ask, “Do I endorse the Republic’s saying that?” If not, the citizen should speak to the Republic by expressing a public criticism, because it is, after all, the citizens’ state (res publica).

By the way, I think the first plaque is the statement, and the second attributes it to the Republic as its author. Although the second plaque has no punctuation, I think the last three words form an imperative sentence in the third-person-plural: “Let us never forget.” The Republic expresses its view and then refers to a “we.” The metaphysics is odd here, but I this may be a way of capturing the particular relationship between a people and their state. The state is telling its own people to do something as individuals: read and remember.

In turn, the people may–and should–judge the state, including this declaration that they can read on the public plaques. However, the French people cannot unanimously and directly decide this position about the Deportation, or any different stance. Rather, they can act as individuals through the mechanisms of government to make a corporate change.

(Written on the way home from Lyon. See also: against methodological individualism; why social scientists should pay attention to metaphysics; what constitutes coordination?; rebirth without metaphysics; is social science too anthropocentric?; how many foundings has the US had?); Social Ontology 2018: The 11th Biennial Collective Intentionality Conference; and system, organism, person, organization, institution: some definitions.

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nature includes our inner lives

(posted in Montreal)

For natural philosophy everything perceived is in nature. We may not pick up and choose. For us the red glow of the sunset should be as much part of nature as are the molecules and electric waves by which men of science would explain the phenomenon.

Alfred North Whitehead, The Concept of Nature (1920), pp. 28-9

Here are three widely-held presumptions:

  1. All truth is scientific truth. Any claim that isn’t scientific is an opinion.
  2. Nature is everything that science investigates, including the human or social world.
  3. Science means a suite of methods that strive to represent nature without influence from the observer. A scientific truth is one that would obtain even if there were no scientist. This is an aspiration; any given scientific claim is actually subject to bias. But the goal is to remove subjectivity to understand nature.

Whitehead disputes these assumptions (as have many since him). I came across the quoted sentence in an article by Bruno Latour entitled, “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern.”* Latour’s provocative article sent me to Whitehead’s original text, which elaborates his argument. A little later in The Concept of Nature, Whitehead writes:

What I am essentially protesting against is the bifurcation of nature into two systems of reality, which, in so far as they are real, are real in different senses. One reality would be the entities such as electrons which are the study of speculative physics. This would be the reality which is there for knowledge; although on this theory it is never known. For what is known is the other sort of reality, which is the byplay of the mind. Thus there would be two natures, one is the conjecture and the other is the dream.

Another way of phrasing this theory which I am arguing against is to bifurcate nature into two divisions, namely into the nature apprehended in awareness and the nature which is the cause of awareness. The nature which is the fact apprehended in awareness holds within it the greenness of the trees, the song of the birds, the warmth of the sun, the hardness of the chairs, and the feel of the velvet. The nature which is the cause of awareness is the conjectured system of molecules and electrons which so affects the mind as to produce the awareness of apparent nature. The meeting point of these two natures is the mind, the causal nature being influent and the apparent nature being effluent

I acknowledge that we have often made progress in understanding specific phenomena (in the social world as well as what we call “nature”) by employing techniques that isolate the object from the perceiving human subject. An astronomer wants to know how the universe works regardless of how people perceive it, uncovering truths that would apply even if there were no sentient observers at all. Many methods that we label scientific aim for that kind of understanding. Quantification and blind experiments are two rather different examples.

Meanwhile, we have learned about human beings’ subjectivity. We have studied people’s experiences, their causes, and how they differ. Sometimes we treat subjectivity as another phenomenon that we can study objectively. And sometimes we express or convey our own subjectivity in first-person terms.

The problem that Whitehead decries is the bifurcation. When the earth rotates so that the line of sight between a human observer and the sun becomes partially obscured, molecules and waves are involved in the process. But you, the human observer, also truly see something that you call a “red sunset.” It has formal qualities and significance, even symbolism, for you as a human observer. It is not true that only the molecules and waves are “nature,” hence that only they can be understood using science. Your reaction to the sun’s setting is also part of reality, even if you phrase it as idiosyncratically as Edith Wharton did:

Leaguered in fire
The wild black promontories of the coast extend
Their savage silhouettes;
The sun in universal carnage sets ...

-- Wharton, "An Autumn Sunset"

*Critical Inquiry, Vol. 30, No. 2 (Winter 2004), pp. 225-248. See also introspect to reenchant the inner life and is all truth scientific truth?

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Civic Studies Major’s courses for fall 2020

This is an unofficial list of the courses that will count for Civic Studies at Tufts next fall. It is likely to change a bit at the margins but gives an insight into our curriculum.

Cluster: Civic Action and Social Movements
Children, Nature and the Development of Earth StewardsCVS 0032CHSD 0034-01George Scarlett
U.S. Elections: Rules, Strategies, and OutcomesCVS 0034PS 0112Eitan Hersh
Social PsychologyCVS 0035PSY 0013Som Sommers or Keith Maddox
Information, Technology, and Political PowerCVS 0036PS 0115Eitan Hersh
Families, Schools, and Child Development CVS 0132CSHD 165Christine McWayne
Topics in Economic Development CVS 0133ECON 0136-01Margaret McMillan
Organizing for Social Change CVS 0150-02PS 0118-02Daniel LeBlanc & Kenneth Galdston
Environmental Justice, Security, and Sustainability CVS 0174UEP 278Penn Loh
Cluster: Civic Skills
Education for Peace and Justice CVS 0041ED 0164Deborah Donahue-Keegan
Spanish in the CommunityCVS 0042SPN 0146Nancy Levy-Konesky
Science and Civic Action CVS 0050-03PJS 50Jonathan Garlick
Tisch Scholars Foundation A CVS 0083AGrace Talusan, Sara J. Allred
Tisch Scholars Fieldwork PracticumCVS 0084Sara J. Allred
Community Practice Theory and MethodsCVS 0141UEP 287Penn Loh
Introduction to Environmental FieldworkCVS 0145ENV 120John de la Parra, others
Mass Incarceration and the Literature of ConfinementCVS 0146AMER 0145Hilary Binda
Children and Mass Media CVS 0147CSHD 167Julie Dobrow
Environmental Data Analysis and VisualizationCVS 0149ENV 170Kyle Monahan
Philosophy for ChildrenCVS 0150-07PHIL 0091-02Susan Russinoff
Leadership in Civic ContextCVS 0170CSHD 143-02Diane Ryan
Negotiation, Mediation, and Conflict ResolutionCVS 0183UEP 0130Robert Burdick
Seminar In American Politics: Polling the 2020 ElectionCVS 0184PS 0119Brian Schaffner
Teaching DemocracyCVS 0251-01UEP 294-01Teaching Democracy
Communications and Media for Policy and PlanningCVS 0251-02UEP 294-02Penn Loh
Cluster: Social Conflict, Inequality, and Violence
War and Terrorism CVS 0015-01PHIL 0045-01Lionel McPherson
Sociology of ViolenceCVS 0022SOC 0075Brett Nava-Coulter
Intimate ViolenceCVS 0060SOC 0180Anjuli Fahlberg
Law, Religion and International Relations CVS 0124REL 08Joseph Walser
Democracy and Its Alternatives CVS 0134PS 138David Art
Cluster: Thinking about Justice
Critical Race TheoryCVS 0011ED 0167-01Shameka Powell
Western Political Thought CVS 0018PS 0041Ioannis Evrigenis
Political PhilosophyCVS 0150-03PHIL 191-03Erin Kelly
The Gap Between Law & JusticeCVS 0150-04UEP 0194Sonia Spears
Philosophy of LawCVS 0150-09PHIL 123-01Erin Kelly
InternshipCVS 0099Sherri Sklarwitz
Introduction to Civic StudiesCVS 0020PHIL 0020Peter Levine, Brian Schaffner
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Tufts University’s Tisch College launches Center for State Policy Analysis

This new center is consistent with a recommendation in our report entitled MassForward: Advancing Democratic Innovation and Electoral Reform in Massachusetts.

From the official announcement:

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLEMass. (Feb. 13, 2020)–Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life today announced the creation of a new, non-partisan Center for State Policy Analysis (cSPA) to ensure that lawmakers and residents in Massachusetts have access to the best information on effective public policy.

cSPA will conduct detailed, independent analyses of current legislative issues and ballot questions in Massachusetts and will widely share this research with the public. The Center aims to partner with experts at Tufts University and beyond to provide real-time analysis that informs legislative debates and helps voters better understand the stakes of ballot initiatives.

Former Boston Globe data-journalist Evan Horowitz will serve as cSPA’s executive director, supported by an advisory council that includes:

  • Governor Jane Swift, president and executive director of LearnLaunch;
  • Governor Michael Dukakis, Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Northeastern University
  • Alan Solomont, dean of Tisch College;
  • Michael Widmer, former president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation;
  • Michael Curry, deputy CEO & general counsel at the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers;
  • Katharine Craven, chief administrative officer at Babcock;
  • Ted Landsmark, director of the Dukakis Center at Northeastern;
  • David Cash, dean of the McCormack Graduate School at UMass Boston;
  • Carolyn Ryan, senior vice president for Policy and Research, Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce; and
  • Kate Dineen, executive vice president, A Better City.

“With a history of policy leadership, and facing gridlock in Washington, Massachusetts has the opportunity to take the lead on issues like climate justice, transportation investment and healthcare,” said Alan Solomont, ambassador (ret.) and dean of the Tisch College of Civic Life. “Given our mission to study and strengthen civic life, and to promote the power of people and communities to bring about change, Tisch College is proud to host and support this nonpartisan center that can help lawmakers and citizens better understand policy issues and identify solutions.”

Working with academics and policy experts at Tufts and beyond, cSPA will produce leading research on key issues in Massachusetts political and civic life, including assessments of the economic, environmental, geographic, budgetary and equity implications of pending legislation and ballot initiatives.

“Having spent time in academia, at think tanks, and in journalism, I think there’s a real opportunity to start bridging these worlds—producing relevant, rigorous, readable research on a timeframe that works for policymakers,” said Horowitz. “Massachusetts is the perfect place to begin. The commonwealth has the richest collection of academic expertise in the world and a long history of pushing the bounds on policy innovation, from 17th-century public schools to 21st-century healthcare reform.”

In the coming months, cSPA plans to release:

  • An analysis of the Transportation Climate Initiative, which would establish a regional cap-and-trade system for gasoline;
  • A review of the options—and trade-offs—for addressing rising prescription drug costs; and
  • Research on the projected impact of the fall 2020 ballot questions, potentially including right to repair, expanded sales of beer and wine in food stores, and ranked-choice voting.
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discussing school choice

In my public policy course, we are discussing school choice as an opportunity for exploring theoretical issues (What is a market versus a state? What is a public good versus a private good?); empirical questions (What happens when you implement various systems of choice? How should we measure the outcomes?), and normative principles (What counts as an acceptable outcome, or an ideal outcome?) Most policy questions involve a combination of mandates and choice, or choices structured and constrained by laws. School choice is therefore exemplary of broader issues.

Some quick notes from the readings so far:

1. Chubb, John E., and Terry M. Moe. America’s public schools: Choice is a panacea. The Brookings Review 8.3 (1990): 4-12.

This is a classic (1990) manifesto for the modern school choice movement. It presents a radical proposal, and is therefore not based on data or experience from the past. The main argument is theoretical, applying a certain strand of public choice theory. The authors argue that if you favor any particular approach to education, there is little point in advocating it to government-run schools, which work in the interests of government officials. The only reform that can succeed is to make schools accountable to parents, who will then demand the education they want–squeezing out bad practices and supporting a diverse array of schools that meet their diverse preferences. Note, however, that in their proposal, the government remains the funder of education, which is therefore as much a public good as Medicare is, or schooling in a country like the Netherlands that uses vouchers. Bernie Sanders’ college proposal is like theirs for k-12 schooling.

2. Sigal R. Ben-Porath and Michael C. Johanek, Making Up Our Mind: What School Choice is Really About

Johanek contributes a chapter on the history of how American kids have chosen, or been placed in, particular schools since colonial days. Ben-Porath presents and analyzes the main conflicting principles of justice that arise when we consider who should attend which schools, and who should decide. It’s a complex and wide-ranging book, but if I had to derive one summary statement, this would be it: We do not face a decision about whether or not to implement “school choice.” Which school you attend is inevitably a function of choice under constraints. The appropriate question is: Who should choose among which options for whom, and how?

3. Robert Pondiscio, How the Other Half Learns: Equality, Excellence, and the Battle Over School Choice (2019)

Pondiscio embeds himself in a school within the controversial charter network called Success Academy. He has written a nuanced and beautifully reported account that eludes easy categorization. But again, if I had to summarize it, I’d say something like this: Success Academy actually works extraordinarily well for the goals that its parents and teachers sincerely value–best defined not as high test scores but as winning a competition that they consider worthy. The school works because the parents and teachers share these goals, and both sacrifice to make it succeed. Although the parents are diverse individuals, a common profile is a culturally conservative working-class family of color that values discipline and is especially concerned about the variety of racism that manifests as low expectations. These families often thrive at Success Academy and have a right to the choice that it offers. But the model wouldn’t scale very far, because it depends on the specific value commitments and capacities of its parents and teachers.

4. Abdulkadiroglu, A., Angrist, J., Dynarski, S., Kane, T., & Pathak, P. (2011). Accountability and flexibility in public schools: Evidence from Boston’s charters and pilots. The Quarterly Journal of Economics 126(2), 699-748. 

This is a quantitative study that claims to measure causation, whereas Pondicio’s book is a qualitative study that offers a perspective on what it’s like to be inside one school. (We need both methods.) According to this paper, being randomly selected to attend and then actually attending a Boston charter school is associated with higher test scores regardless of other factors. However, random admission to a Boston “pilot” school is not associated with higher scores. Both charters and pilots are choice schools that use lotteries to admit students. The main difference is that the pilot schools come under the standard union contract, while the charters do not. The charter schools have smaller classes and longer hours, probably because they pay their non-unionized teachers less/hour. A reader could conclude that unions are the problem–or that spending more money on unionized teachers would allow regular schools to equal charters. It is also worth considering whether the measured outcomes (test scores) are what we should value.

5. Meira Levinson, “Is Pandering Ethical? Power, Privilege, and School Assignment”

Levinson describes the relatively new Boston Public School (BPS) assignment plan. Every child is assigned a basket of schools that includes all the local ones plus an equal mix of good, medium, and bad schools (as measured by scores) from across the city. Parents rank their preferences, and competing choices are randomly settled by an algorithm.

Putting distant schools in every student’s basket improves equity, because poor neighborhoods have worse-scoring schools. If every child had an equal chance of attending any BPS school across town, that would maximize equity, but it would sacrifice convenience and neighborhood schools. It would also alienate a set of middle class parents who believe in equity and diversity, do not argue that they deserve better schools, but would leave BPS if their kids were assigned to “bad” schools. If they stay in BPS, they improve it.

What to do about these families? Levinson says it’s not a matter of compromising, because they don’t claim a right that needs to be balanced against other parents’ claims. It’s not a question of coercing them, because they can leave. She thinks “pandering” is the best description, and it may be ethically obligatory to pander given unjust social contexts.

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how many foundings has the US had?

Here are six answers to the question in my heading. Arguments can be made in favor of each.

  1. The founding took place from 1776-1789, from the Declaration to the Constitution. Although the architects of the new republic sought to recycle some existing materials, they drew a new blueprint for the base on which our system stands. It was designed to be alterable–and it has been altered–but the foundation is still recognizable.
  2. The foundation was poured in 1492 and 1619. Once Europeans began seizing land from indigenous people and importing enslaved Africans to work that land for them, the basic arrangement was set. The 1788 Constitution essentially preserved that structure. Some better things have been built on top of it, but the original floor is still down there, not far below the surface and determining what can be constructed above.
  3. The social contract has been renegotiated at several key points: 1776 (Declaration), 1781 (Articles of Confederation), 1788-9 (Constitution), 1864-5 (post-Civil War amendments), 1938-45 (the Supreme Court reverses itself and allows the welfare state), 1954 (Brown v Board), and arguably again since the 1980s. These shifts are fairly fundamental and not well described by treating the 1788-9 contract as still foundational. The 21st-century political system is incompatible with the Framers’ plan, but that is because we have chosen to lay new foundations.
  4. The United States was founded in 1788-9. In the 1900s, we ignored some of its basic principles, such as the list of enumerated powers, without explicitly and legitimately renegotiating them. The foundation is still in place, but we have built unsound structures on top of or beyond it. The Constitution is “in exile” (a phrase apparently more used by critics of this view than proponents of it).
  5. The actual political-economic system in which we live is fundamentally based on publicly traded corporations, industrial production, organized labor, regulatory agencies, credentialed professions, public and private bureaucracies, mass media, mass schooling, securities markets, electronic networks, science (as a set of powerful institutions), databases of people and objects, and a permanent war machine. These elements are not envisioned in the US Constitution, which influences them somewhat but hardly determines them. The same basic structure is evident, for example, in Canada. The modern foundation has been poured one layer at a time, but if you had to pick a symbolic date for this option, it might be 1908, when the first Model T rolled off the assembly line.
  6. There is no foundation. A society is not well understood as a base and superstructure or as a single game with basic rules. It’s a complex, emergent system best understood as whole series of overlapping and interacting institutions, each with rules of its own that affect the other institutions’ rules. All is flux.

I realize that most people don’t explicitly discuss this question, yet I think that today’s opposing ideological camps would each answer it differently. It could even serve as an ideological Rorschach Test.

See also: constitutional piety; the Citizens United decision and the inadequate sociology of the US Constitution; the role of political science in civic education; polycentricity: the case for a (very) mixed economy.

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youth in the Iowa caucuses

Posted just now by CIRCLE:

Young people had an extraordinary impact on the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, representing a higher share of the overall vote than in previous caucuses and propelling Sen. Bernie Sanders to one of the top spots, according to a youth turnout analysis released by researchers from the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE)—the preeminent, non-partisan research center on youth engagement at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life.

Young people (ages 17-29) turned out at an estimated rate of 8% and made up a 24% share of all caucusgoers, the highest youth share since CIRCLE has been tracking Iowa entrance polls.

Young people strongly backed Sen. Bernie Sanders (48%), followed by former Mayor Pete Buttigieg (19%) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (12%). 

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The young speak to say something, to make a name.
The old repeat to hold themselves the same.
Midlife is for any age, a state of mind.
It’s saying what you think you’d better say,
Like it or not, because the words, not you,
Might budge some dense thing in someone’s way
(Although by speaking you are using time,
That dwindling light, that sinking sun).
Your words are not true, not original,
Not worth repeating, especially by you;
They have their purpose, they take their turn.
Midlife is the breadwinner, the driver,
The gentle nudge and the picture-taker.
Tender to those who speak to speak, and those
Who sing one more time what they fear to lose.

See also: youth, midlife & old-age as states of mind; echoes.

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inequality in India and the UK, 1930 and today

(Baton Rouge, LA) In 1930, Gandhi wrote to the Viceroy of India–one of innumerable such letters. His thesis: British rule in India was a “curse.” Among his complaints: the Viceroy was paid five thousand times as much as the average Indian, whereas the British Prime Minister was paid only 90 times as much as the average Briton. Gandhi didn’t quite spell it out, but I think he implied that a government that depends on the consent of the governed will not overpay its leaders, but an empire may.

Today, India has a Prime Minister of its own. His official governmental salary is about US $26,400 per year, which is about 414 times the median income of his countrymen ($616/year).* That ratio is less than a tenth of the ratio in 1930. As Gandhi would have predicted, democratic India pays its leader much less than imperial Britain did, at least in comparison to ordinary incomes.

PM Modi declares assets of about US $350,000, but I have no idea whether such disclosures are credible. Of course, his office comes with many perks–not only the usual ones (official residences, travel, etc.), but also things like free tolls on all national highways.

Gandhi didn’t calculate the ratio between the UK Prime Minister’s salary and the average Indian salary in his time, but based on his numbers, I think it was 640-t0-one. Today, the UK Prime Minister is paid just under US $200,000 per year. That is about five times the mean individual salary in the UK, 100 times the mean income in India, and 7.5 times the salary of his Indian counterpart. The first two ratios represent a considerable improvement in equity compared to 1930. Still, the PM’s salary (by itself) would put him in the top 1% in Britain. Boris Johnson is reported to hold assets of about $2 million. And he has a nice free house in Downing Street.

If someone today were paid 5,000 times as much as a median Indian, as the Viceroy was in 1930, that would translate to about US $3 million in annual income. That would be much higher than any government salary but far lower than the highest salaries in India’s private sector. Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar earned US $65 million last year. That is 105,000 times the median income. Mukesh Ambani, who leads Reliance Industries, has an estimated net worth of $58.4 billion.

What do these changes suggest? First, democratic and independent nations do put downward pressure on the salaries of their leaders. In fact, US $200,000 is a modest salary for the leader of the whole British Government, if one compares it to CEOs’ salaries in the private sector. However, democracies still tolerate large gaps between the pay of their political leaders and average people–perhaps wisely, to attract talent to the government. And they offer sometimes surprising perks that are not only valuable in market terms but also symbolically distance leaders from citizens. (Every Indian toll booth announces that the top officers of the national government can drive through for free.)

Meanwhile, independent democratic nations are currently tolerating enormous gaps between the average income and the highest salaries in their private sectors.

*The mean income in India is $2,016. I find that number less meaningful, but Gandhi may have been using the mean in 1930.

See also defining equity and equality; the remarkable persistence of social advantage; why some forms of advantage are more stubborn than others; and notes from India

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