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E-Pluribus | August 24, 2023
Why the US shouldn't be pining for the fjords; the melting pot is working; and some educators finally find books worth banning.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Brian Riedl and John Gustavsson: Why The U.S. Can’t Be Nordic
Some American commentators speak so glowingly of Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, contrasting their success with the shambles of their own country, that one can’t help but wonder how they’ve resisted to urge to emigrate. Brian Riedl and John Gustavsson at City Journal shed light on why the utopian visions of those countries are illusory and also why what works there, or seems to work, can’t necessarily be replicated here.
On social spending, American progressives ignore U.S. priorities, while relying on an outdated caricature of Scandinavian social democracy. Importing Scandinavian social benefits without saving elsewhere would produce spending levels that far exceed those in any European nation.
Start with public expenditures. The Nordic governments at all levels spend roughly 50 percent of GDP, while the U.S. government spends nearly 40 percent, according to OECD accounting. Expanding American government by 10 percent of GDP would be radical enough (U.S. tax revenues are not sufficient to finance current spending). But adopting Nordic social welfare policies would push American spending far above Nordic levels.
This is because American progressive proposals seek to layer a Nordic social-welfare state on top of functions in which America already outspends other nations. The U.S. spends 3.5 percent of GDP on defense—roughly double the Nordic average—and is not likely to disarm itself significantly in the face of an aggressive Russia and emboldened China. (Finland, a new NATO member, and Sweden, a hopeful applicant, surely appreciate the security benefits of U.S. military largesse.) American veterans’ benefits add another 1 percent of GDP, and progressives are not rushing to reform an American infrastructure system that is more regulated, bureaucratic, and expensive than most of Europe.
[ . . . ]
Next, consider health care, the most expensive government function. Again, Nordic-style generosity would merely layer new benefits on top of America’s bloated cost structure. The 17 percent of GDP that America spends on health care—roughly half by government—does exceed the roughly 11 percent spent by more government-run Nordic systems. But while one can always find room for efficiency savings, much of these higher costs are the inevitable result of America spending decades building the world’s most extensive health infrastructure, with widespread technology, roomy hospitals, and massive drug-research-and-development investments. (Note that “more extensive” does not necessarily mean better). Americans cannot pay Scandinavian prices for the more vast American health technology and hospitals any more than we can pay typical Scandinavian home prices for larger American homes.
Read it all here.
Jesse Nathan: The Lines Between Red and Blue America Are Blurring, Not Hardening
While many progressives (and conservatives) believe the country is irredeemably split, University of California, Berkeley Professor Jesse Nathan writes in the New York Times that his experiences say otherwise. While Nathan tends to focus on the serious issues we face from a leftward perspective, he nonetheless suggests our great American melting pot is continuing to homogenize us more than we realize.
Nearly 20 years ago, Barack Obama insisted that we are one people. In the Pledge of Allegiance — which I found myself reciting for the first time in my life every morning before class in Kansas — we say we are one nation. But lately it can seem the red and blue are not only two different worlds but also doomed to an ever-warming cultural war.
These days, I travel several times a year between the Bay Area — where I’m raising a family of my own — and Kansas, sometimes spending a month or more on my parents’ farm, surrounded by wheat, soybeans, alfalfa and corn. And I’m here to tell you that our divisions are not so much hardening as blurring — rural and urban America are not as divided as many people think.
The possibility of this country, the promise, is based on a union mutually beneficial even as it contains multitudes of difference. What we might think of as blue-state values (environmentalism, support for L.G.B.T.Q. communities, internationalism, racial and cultural diversity) are also valued by people living in red states. And some of these values (conservation, land stewardship, growing your own food) were originally also red-state values that blue areas of the country tend to forget they didn’t invent.
Read it all.
Madeline Will: Is It Time to Retire ‘Harry Potter'-Themed Classrooms and Libraries?
While Betteridge’s Law of Headlines states that headlines ending with a question mark can be answered “no,” one gets the distinct impression that the conclusion to be drawn from this article in Education Week, a prominent publication for the educational community, is “yes.” In stark contrast to the attitude of many educators that “banned books” should and must be widely read by all, author J.K. Rowling’s perceived offenses against transgender rights should apparently render her books off limits.
Many teachers remain fans of the seven-book series, which debuted in 1997, and say that the books still capture the imagination and interest of students today. Educators note that many of the most prominent themes in the series—friendship, forgiveness, tolerance, and the power of love—align with the values they want to impart on their students.
But the enduring popularity of the Harry Potter series has clashed against a disavowal of what some fans see as anti-trans and exclusionary comments from its author. Rowling, who has denied that she holds anti-trans views, has written and tweeted extensively in recent years about her concerns about trans activism, youth transition, and the presence of trans women in women-only spaces, such as restrooms. Those comments have been extensively debated by opinion writers, media sites, and in the Harry Potter fan community.
These sentiments concern some educators, who worry that promoting Harry Potter now could indicate a tacit support of Rowling’s views. Already, they say, the rise in public rhetoric and legislation targeting transgender people has had a negative effect on LGBTQ+ students.
“There’s a chance that not every educator knows the comments she’s made. There’s a chance that not every child knows the comments she’s made,” said Jen Vincent, a middle school teacher in Bannockburn, Ill., and the chair of the National Council of Teachers of English’s Build Your Stack committee. “But for me, if one of my students knows, then I think that’s enough of a reason to not endorse her. That one student matters.”
Read the whole thing.
And finally, Canada’s Western University doesn’t want to hear any of your nonsense about “qualified” job candidates: