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E-Pluribus | March 27, 2023
Shout downs are not free speech; the real cost of 'free' money; and again, shout downs are not free speech!
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
David French: Free Speech Doesn’t Mean Free Rein to Shout Down Others
On Friday, we included an essay by Stanford Law School associate dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Tirien Steinbach, on her handling of federal judge Kyle Duncan’s attempt to speak at the school. In his New York Times newsletter, David French explains not only why the shout down was unacceptable, but examines the root of the problem at Stanford as well.
The fundamental problem in top schools like Stanford and Yale isn’t so much the individual choices of the students themselves (though they’re certainly responsible for their actions) but rather that the institutions are often prisoners of a social dynamic they helped create. America’s elite law schools are overwhelmingly progressive, and ideological dominance of any kind can breed groupthink and intolerance.
[ . . . ]
Moreover, there’s a cost to the status quo. One of the most helpful frameworks for understanding American division and polarization comes from Cass Sunstein at Harvard Law School. In a 1999 paper he identified and described a phenomenon he called the “law of group polarization.” The law is well stated by the first sentence of the abstract: “In a striking empirical regularity, deliberation tends to move groups, and the individuals who compose them, toward a more extreme point in the direction indicated by their own predeliberation judgments.”
[ . . . ]
This law of group polarization helps, as Sunstein writes, “to explain extremism, ‘radicalization,’ cultural shifts and the behavior of political parties and religious organizations; it is closely connected to current concerns about the consequences of the internet; it also helps account for feuds, ethnic antagonism and tribalism.”
The tie to the academy is obvious. A coalition of like-minded people who study together, often live together and learn from other like-minded people can often radicalize. And when they radicalize, they have trouble not just understanding opposing points of view but also seeing their opponents as decent human beings.
Read it all here.
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Steven Malanga: Local Governments Discover the Real Cost of Free Money
Although the pandemic wasn’t the beginning of the practice, it did unleash a tsunami of federal cash (read “taxpayer money”) to state and local governments. At City Journal, Steven Malanga writes that in many cases, this government largess accomplished little or nothing except to possibly give these local governments an appetite for funding that can no longer be satisfied.
What’s happened in the past few weeks has brought to a head a problem that started to emerge even before the Covid lockdowns. In the wake of the 2008 fiscal crisis and the accompanying Obama fiscal stimulus legislation, left-leaning economists increasingly argued that government deficits were irrelevant, that we could live indefinitely in an age of rising spending and growing borrowing fueled by low interest rates. State and local leaders enthusiastically signed on, increasingly beseeching Washington for more funding for their problems, including many caused by their own bad policies. The more that states and cities received and spent on dealing with issues like homelessness, affordable housing, and mental illness, and in expanding programs like Medicaid, food stamps, and school lunches, the more they demanded.
The arrival of the Covid pandemic helped supercharge this kind of thinking. The initial Trump administration stimulus bill in March of 2020 went well beyond emergency money for hospitals and health care, providing extensive economic aid that helped to encourage and prolong costly lockdowns in many places. The spending that followed, from Trump’s departing second stimulus act to Biden’s $1.9 trillion “rescue” plan—was nothing less than a spending blowout. Combined with Biden’s overflowing federal budget and other endeavors like the infrastructure legislation, the gusher became a flood.
Even before the banking failures of this month, all this free money began undermining the good but misbegotten intentions behind it. America already had some of the highest public-sector construction spending in the world when Biden pumped another $1 trillion into the till. That has produced too much money chasing not enough labor and scarce materials. The result has been double-digit inflation in public construction that is rapidly shrinking the value of that money. Project costs have soared, and public-sector contracting is now squeezing out private dollars.
Read the whole thing.
Alex Morey: A Shoutdown at Stanford
In yet another take on the Stanford shout down, this one at Persuasion, Alex Morey of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) addresses associate dean Steinbach’s contention that perhaps Judge Duncan’s visit just wasn’t worth all the trouble. Au contraire, says Morey - the juice is totally worth the squeeze.
On March 9, a group of Stanford law students shouted down Kyle Duncan, a Trump-appointed federal appeals court judge, as he tried to deliver remarks at a campus event hosted by the Federalist Society. Duncan’s rulings restricting access to abortion and implicating trans-rights have elicited harsh criticism, including from many at Stanford. In the lead-up to the Federalist Society event, signs were posted around campus accusing Duncan of delivering transphobic, homophobic, and racist rulings, and at the event itself, a crowd of several dozen protestors heckled Duncan relentlessly, forcing him eventually to give up on his prepared remarks. And in a uniquely troubling twist, Stanford Law’s Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Tirien Steinbach, took over Duncan’s podium after he had asked for an administrator to help restore order and, in her remarks, openly questioned whether Stanford ought to rethink its existing free expression policies. “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” Steinbach asked of the Federalist Society’s event. “Is this worth it?”
[ . . . ]
The trend towards intolerance on campus goes well beyond guest speakers. Recent data suggests campus conversations that dissent from a particular kind of progressive orthodoxy are routinely chilled by threat of punishment. Late last year, College Pulse and FIRE joined forces to survey nearly 45,000 students, over 60% of whom said they fear “damaging their reputations” if they speak their minds and that they “feel uncomfortable…expressing an unpopular opinion” to professors or peers. Similar questions posed to faculty in a different survey found that a third of professors describe themselves as self-censoring “often.”
[ . . . ]
Free speech advocates remain deeply troubled by what we saw at Stanford. But, on Wednesday, Jenny Martinez, the Dean of Stanford’s Law School, took a crucial step in the right direction. In a ten-page tour-de-force, directed to the Law School community, she painstakingly detailed what should have happened at the Duncan event, described the failings that caused Stanford to fall short, and outlined necessary steps for moving forward. Importantly, she didn’t simply commit to enforcing existing policies but delineated a broader philosophy of teaching students the importance of expressive rights in society.
Read it all.
In retrospect, George Orwell’s imagination was rather limited:
Charles Murray, who has personal experience with mobs, comments on Mary Eberstadt’s decision not to risk facing an angry mob at Furman University:
And finally, when your corrections need corrections, it might be time to throw in the towel: