Tag Archives: Liberal

Big Government NOT Linked to Greater Corruption

You hear it all the time: “Big government is the problem.” “We need to reduce the size of the government if we want to eliminate corruption.” As it turns out, just because the government grows in size doesn’t mean that corruption will grow along with it.

From a journal article published last year [Emphasis added]:

This study’s findings suggest that anticorruption policy is regularly hindered by oversimplistic analyses suggesting that “government size” must be synonymous with “corruption,” and that by cutting its government a country is concomitantly reducing the opportunities for the abuse of public office. In contrast with such analyses, this study found no evidence that government size is directly associated with corruption. In fact, the findings presented here indicate that generally the reverse is true. Government size is inversely linked to the level of corruption across nations.

You read that right — the size of the government is inversely linked to the level of corruption across nations. Meaning, as the size of the government grows, the level of corruption seems to go down.

If you had to guess, what would you say would be the most effective way to reduce corruption? There’s a strong hint in the title of the journal article. From the article [Emphasis Added]:

This study’s analysis suggests that an increase in nonprofit sector size should have the greatest anticorruption effect.

This study was done on a global-scale. Here’s a list of some of the countries that were included (there were 50 in all): Argentina, Canada, Denmark, India, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Sweden, and South Korea. The study also looked at corruption at the national level.

Maybe this is a good time to clarify that one can’t actually measure corruption as it happens because by definition, corruption happens in secret. In order to get around this, proxies like “Black Market” activity are used. In this study, the researchers relied on the “Corruption Perception Index.”

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Even with studies like this being published, I worry that folks hellbent on “drowning government in the bathtub” will continue to use corruption in the opening salvo. And when pressed to face the facts of studies like this, they’ll explain it away as not being “relevant” to the US. So, I’d really like to see a study that specifically looks at government corruption in the US. Again, I realize the limitations of taking on a research question like this, but I think it would be interesting to look at the level of corruption in local and state governments. In fact, I’m sure there’d be differences in the level of corruption when moving from state to state, but I wonder if the difference in corruption would be negligible or if we might find something substantial. More than that, I’d be interested to see if government corruption is more strongly linked to one party or the other.

ResearchBlogging.orgThemudo, N. (2014). Government Size, Nonprofit Sector Strength, and Corruption: A Cross-National Examination The American Review of Public Administration, 44 (3), 309-323 DOI: 10.1177/0275074012465791

Evidence that Liberals and Conservatives Can Have Civilized Conversations on Climate Change

This past summer, I talked about a segment on a cable news show in the US called, “All In With Chris Hayes.” I first started watching Chris Hayes when he started his weekly weekend show, “Up With Chris Hayes,” (that has since been renamed for the new host, Up With Steve Kornacki). I really liked his show because he often had guests on the show who were of differing ideologies. For some cable news networks, that’s big, but what was even bigger was that the people that were on the show — rarely — would scream at each other to make a point. That’s not to say the arguments never got heated — sometimes, they did — but there was still an element of civilized conversation. It’s what I imagine good political discourse should look like.

When Chris’s show moved to primetime, he tried to bring some of those same elements. There was a graphic a while back (this is the closest I could find) that showed Chris Hayes’ weekend show (or was it Melissa Harris-Perry’s? I don’t quite remember) was — by far — the most welcoming show for non-white male guests. Meaning, proportionally, the show had far more women and non-white people on the show than any of the other shows on cable news.

Anyway, back to the segment from this summer.

In the segment, Chris Hayes had on Tim Carney — a noted conservative. They were talking about what was a bit of a hot button issue at the time, but the two of them were able to actually participate in a civil discussion. No one tried to yell over the other and as a viewer, I left the segment feeling more informed about the issue from both perspectives.

A couple of days ago, Chris had Tim on the show again — this time to talk about climate change. When Chris first introduced the segment, I wondered if the discussion might descend into a yelling match, but I was pleased to find that wasn’t the case. In fact, someone of a liberal ideology (Chris Hayes) and someone of a conservative ideology (Tim Carney) were actually able to have a civil discussion about climate change. It was kind of amazing to see. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a cable news segment where that’s happened on the matter of climate change.

The end of the segment was my favourite part:

If we get to the point, Tim, if we get to the point where James Inhofe goes to the floor and says, ‘you know what the world is warming and carbon emissions are contributing to that warming, but the liberals are wrong with their solution’ and [Matt] Drudge goes on the front page of Drudge [Report] and says the world is warming, but the liberals are wrong about their solution,’ … nothing would make me happier.

In case you’re not very familiar with the climate change “debate,” there’s a sect who purport that climate change isn’t real. Usually, the ideology of people who makeup these kinds of groups are conservative, (but that doesn’t mean they speak for all conservatives or that they’re the only ones). As a result, this tends to make conservative politicians — as a way to cater to these voters — espouse the same kinds of opinions (Senator James Inhofe from Oklahoma being one of them).

That’s why Chris is saying that nothing would make him happier than to see noted conservative outlets (the Drudge Report) submit that climate change is real, but that the liberals are wrong about how to fix it. As far as I can tell, this is what many liberals have been wishing would be the case for some time. That is, ‘it’s okay if you don’t think we have the right solution, but can we at least agree that this thing is real and we have to do something about it?’

Listen — Let It Swirl Around Your Head, Then Form Your Opinion

In the past two weeks, I’ve seen a lot of people make a lot of different arguments about why they support/oppose intervening in Syria. Of all the arguments I’ve heard, the ones that irritate me the most: “I’m a Democrat/liberal and Pres. Obama thinks we should go to Syria, so I think we have to intervene.” OR “I’m a Republican/conservative and we can’t give Pres. Obama what he wants, so we shouldn’t intervene.” Both of these arguments (and the many derivatives thereof) are quite frankly, awful. They’re just awful.

Basing your opinion on a label like Democrat or a label like Republican is so near-sighted. A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about labels for political ideologies and parties. In that post, I linked to a video from Chris Rock talking about political ideologies and parties. The video has since been taken down, but I did find a few other versions of it (here, here, and here). My purpose in sharing this clip is not because I want you to change your mind and support intervening or change your mind and not support intervening, no. It’s because I want you to make up your mind for yourself.

As I said a few days ago, it’s difficult to know when being in the minority is the right thing to do. It’s even harder to know if that’s right when you’re blindly following the opinion of someone else. So, take a minute (that’s the length of the clip!) and watch Chris Rock.

Warning: NSFW language!

Note: The title of this post is a line from the video.

Musings on the Future of Cable News

After reading Kelefa Sanneh‘s piece in The New Yorker that took an in-depth look at MSNBC, it got me thinking about what I wrote a few days about about the future of TV. In that post, I mostly talked about the idea of moving television programs to online streaming or mobile streaming. I didn’t, however, talk about the idea of unbundling TV packages and allowing people to choose which networks they wanted.

This is one of the the things that Sanneh briefly touches on in his article. In particular, he questions whether the unbundling of TV packages would hurt cable news programming. That is, would CNN, MSNBC, and FOX News keep their heads above water if they weren’t part of a bundle? For instance, Sanneh tells us that FOX News (the leading cable news network since 2002), gets about half as many viewers as the lowest-rated network news program. That’s significant. Would FOX News survive if it wasn’t bundled? Might it do better if it weren’t bundled?

Chances are that cable news — barring something unforeseen — would be in trouble if TV packages became unbundled.

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About a quarter of the way into the article, Sanneh has a quote from the President of MSNBC that I find rather startling. I’ll include the lead-in, so the quote makes sense [Emphasis mine]:

“I’m building for the future,” Griffin said, not long after the switch. He was sitting in his office, reviewing a series of promotional clips that highlighted Hayes and the network’s other stars. “You’ve got a young guy who’s incredibly smart, who’s got a following,” he said. “We’re making a bet that this is what our audience wants.” 

The startling part is the bit that I’ve bolded. I don’t understand that a company as big as MSNBC would be gambling in the way that Griffin claims to be. They’re making a bet that this is what the audience wants? They don’t have the resources to find out if that’s what their audience wants? Maybe Sanneh hasn’t included the whole quote, but this to me makes it sound like Griffin is being a bit cavalier with the most important time slot.

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FOX News consistently outperforms other cable news networks in an older demographic: 35-64. Take this past Monday’s cable news ratings, for example. FOX News outperformed all the other cable news networks in this demographic at every time slot. The closest any network came in this demographic was in the 9 o’clock hour when Hannity beat The Rachel Maddow Show by over 200,000 viewers. I don’t know how to put this delicately, so I’ll say it like this: what happens when this demographic “passes on?”

Yes, FOX News still outperforms the other networks in the coveted 25-54 age bracket, but their lead is substantially smaller. The largest lead FOX News has is during the 8 o’clock hour and that’s a little more than 250,000 viewers (over the next closest show). If I were Roger Ailes (or the guy who was likely to replace Roger Ailes), this is something I would be thinking considering, in addition to the prospect of unbundling TV packages.

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The last thing I wanted to talk about is this idea that those people who MSNBC is trying to reach may not like cable news or TV:

One explanation for MSNBC’s struggles is that the network is trying to do something nearly impossible: it is a cable news network for people who don’t like cable news, and may not even like television.

MSNBC, in its current format as I understand it, is still quite new. It’s only recently switched over to a more partisan-esque feel. I wonder if there’s still a bit of a lag before the viewers they’re trying to reach will show up. I also wonder if TV does start to move in a new direction (simultaneous online streaming), will this open up a new audience for MSNBC? I’m particularly interested in MSNBC because of this idea that the people who MSNBC is targeting are those people who wouldn’t normally watch cable news or TV. I wonder if these people had another avenue to watch these programs, would they?

 

Rebranding the Liberal Arts: General Intellectual Capacities

A couple of days ago, someone alerted me to an older article (2011) about the job skills that one learns from the “Liberal Arts.” After I read it, my first inclination was to share it. Having already completed two degrees in the liberal arts, I understand the importance that the liberal arts can have on teaching us how to think about the world around us. Then, I remembered that, for some people, saying “Liberal Arts” is almost like profanity.

I don’t know if it’s because of the word “Liberal” is in there and for those folks who are politically inclined (or hear that word tossed around when talking about politics) think that only “Liberal” people should go to liberal arts schools, but there certainly is a stigma out there — real or imagined. As a result, I thought I’d do some digging to find the phrase’s origin and compare it to some of the other phrases that describe higher education programs.

According to Webster, liberal arts is defined as:

college or university studies (as language, philosophy, literature, abstract science) intended to provide chiefly general knowledge and to develop general intellectual capacities (as reason and judgment) as opposed to professional or vocational skills

Well, that seems simple enough: intended to provide chiefly general knowledge to develop general intellectual capacities. Although, the second half of that is a bit distressing: as opposed to professional or vocational skills. Are we meant to assume that general intellectual capacities are in opposition to professional or vocational skills?

My next search took me to Wikipedia:

The liberal arts (Latinartes liberales) are those subjects or skills that in classical antiquity were considered essential for a free person (a citizen) to know in order to take an active part in civic life. In Ancient Greece this included participating in public debate, defending oneself in court, serving on juries, and most importantly, military service (slaves and resident aliens were by definition excluded from the duties and responsibilities of citizenship). The aim of these studies was to produce a virtuous, knowledgeable, and articulate person. Grammarrhetoric, and logic were the core liberal arts.

This explanation certainly ties in with the dictionary definition. Having general intellectual capacities would allow one to participate in public debate and to become a virtuous, knowledgeable, and articulate person.

At this point, it’s still not clear to me exactly why we’re parsing liberal arts from vocational or professional skills, so I thought I’d check out the entry for higher education on Wikipedia. Not surprisingly, this entry also separates vocational and professional schools from the liberal arts. It includes 4 different types of higher education:

1. General. This amounts to what we usually think of when we think of university. There’s a great deal of focus on the abstract and the theoretical.

2. Liberal Arts. This is what we’ve already been discussing. Although, there are two other types embedded within: performing arts or plastic/visual arts.

3. Vocational. There’s a focus on practical experience at these types of institutions of higher education, with a bit of theory. These are sometimes referred to as trade schools.

4. Professional. These institutions usually require that the person applying already have a bachelor’s degree. Examples here could be business school, law school, medical school, etc.

It’s still not entirely clear why the liberal arts should be separate from some of these other types of higher education. For instance, when we revisit the definition of developing general intellectual capacities, isn’t that what the majority of higher education does for its students? Would someone really argue that going to a vocational school, a professional school, or going to a “general” school would deprive someone of developing their general intellectual capacities? Certainly not.

Although, I do think that there are things you learn from some of the different disciplines in the “liberal arts” that you can’t get elsewhere. For instance, psychology is such an important subject for understanding the people around you. I really think that “General Psychology” should probably be a required course in every higher education institution, but with a background in psychology, I’m certainly biased — at least a little. That being said, it’s still hard to understand why people wouldn’t want to take this course. Knowing about what “makes people work” could be so advantageous to getting by in the world.

This quick bit of research led me to believe that the “Liberal Arts” may be in need of a rebranding strategy. Of course, I’m not the first one to suggest this. I found an article in the Journal of College Admission from 2009: “The Liberal Arts Rebranded.” In the article, there were references to a number of examples of strategies used for rebranding. For instance, there’s the example of the “Liberal Arts and Sciences,” or the “Practical Liberal Arts and Sciences.” There’s also examples like “Liberal Education” or “Liberal Learning.”

I haven’t seen any data, but I don’t think that any of these would really sway too many people from their previously held bias against the liberal arts, but I don’t know that anything would for some folks.

If I’m brainswarming ideas for a way to rebrand liberal arts, I would think that the name would need to changed completely. Both ‘liberal’ and ‘arts’ are words that, to some, are too “soft.” If it’s not math and science-y, then they want no part of it. So, I would try to find a way to incorporate that definition we first looked at: general intellectual capacities. Those three words are quite a mouthful, so it wouldn’t work just like that. There’d have to be something that succinctly conveys that message.

 

Plutocrats Author Running for Parliament in Canada

I happened to be reading through some of my old posts and noticed that I was going to write a post after I’d finished reading Plutocrats. I guess somewhere along the way it got removed from my to do list. I did write something that came to me while reading the book about looking down our noses, but nothing really about the book after that.

I think the author, Chrystia Freeland, did a really good job of bringing the issues to light and explaining them in ways that were accessible. It’s been more than a few months since I read it, a couple of the main points stuck with me.

1. It’s not just the wealthy that control the global economy, but the uber-wealthy.

Meaning, it’s not the 1% that are controlling the economy and affecting the 99% (as was the main message from Occupy Wall Street), but it’s the 0.1% who control the economy and affect the 99.9%. This may seem like splitting hairs, but Freeland offers compelling data that shows even the “wealthy” (i.e. the 1%) look like small potatoes next to the 0.1%.

2. The wealth gained by these folks wasn’t necessarily from unsightly means.

I don’t know remember if she says unethical, but some may consider it unethical. She makes the case that the uber-wealthy got that way — and continue to stay that way — because they’ve manipulated the market to funnel the wealth in their direction. She also does a little bit of debunking of the “trickle-down” economics perspective.

Overall, like I’ve said before, it’s a book that’s certainly worth reading.

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Something that I find fascinating — Freeland was (as of a few days ago) a Managing Director and Editor of Consumer News at Thomson Reuters. As you learn from the book, this position allowed her to cultivate the contacts with people in high places to make the book that much more compelling (with stories and anecdotes).  Anyway, like I said, she had this position. She recently left it. Why? She’s running for a seat in Parliament. The Canadian Parliament (she is Canadian).

One of the most storied politicians in Canada in recent history (Bob Rae) left his seat in Toronto Centre to become the chief negotiator for the James Bay area First Nations in negotiations with the provincial government. This vacated his seat and as a result, they’ll be a by-election in the Fall (date not set, yet). Freeland has met with some of the Liberal Party of Canada leaders and decided to seek the seat.

I don’t know if she’ll win the seat (she hasn’t even won the right to represent the Liberal Party just yet), but if she does, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her become part of the “brass” very quickly. In fact, if Justin Trudeau and the Liberals can win enough seats to form a minority or majority government, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Freeland become a Cabinet Minister or at the very least, a senior advisor. Of course, the Federal election isn’t until 2015, but it’s certainly something to think about.

If Cats and Dogs Could Vote, Which Party Would They Vote For?

The other day I was playing with my dog and I said something about moving ‘to the left.’ Naturally, my wife recalled the Beyoncé song, “To The Left.” However, since I spend a lot of time watching and thinking about politics, my first thought was that our dog was moving “to the left” — politically. That then made me think, if cats and dogs could vote, who would they vote for?

Now, we can quickly descend into a discussion about animals’ ability to think, but that’s not where I’d like to go with this. Let’s assume that animals would be “rational actors” and vote in their best interest (regardless of how they may or may not be swayed from charismatic politicians or issue ads). Keeping in mind that this is all meant in jest, let’s begin!

If dogs could vote, who do you think they’d vote for? If I had to choose, I think they’d probably vote for the Democrats (or a Liberal party). Why? Well, let’s look at a dog’s life — they’re really interested in ‘programs’ (take me or a walk, feed me, etc.) where the government (owner) takes care of them. Of the two main political ideologies, who do we think is more likely to offer this?

Okay, now let’s look at cats. If cats could vote, who do you think they’d vote for? If I had to choose, I think they’d probably vote for the Republicans (or a Conservative party). Why? Well, look at a cat’s life — they really say (well, they don’t speak, do they?) and do whatever they want, whenever they want. They’re not interested in coming when you call them and they pretty much take care of themselves. To me, this *sort of* gets to the whole idea of ‘personal responsibility that you hear from politicians/parties on the right.

This experiment was meant in jest, but it’s a great way to exercise your thinking muscles. Can you think other pets and which parties they might prefer? Let us know in the comments!