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E-Pluribus | November 4, 2022
The Great Left-Right Flip; occupational licensing can be a dream-killer; and what President Biden didn't say but should have said in his democracy speech.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Ross Douthat: How the Right Became the Left and the Left Became the Right
In recent years, some on the right (and not just Donald Trump fans) have been increasingly fed up with their treatment by the left and have adopted the mantra “we didn’t make the rules” to justify their pushback. Ross Douthat at The New York Times says both sides have actually flipped the script in a way that elevates tribalism over principle.
One of the master keys to understanding our era is seeing all the ways in which conservatives and progressives have traded attitudes and impulses. The populist right’s attitude toward American institutions has the flavor of the 1970s — skeptical, pessimistic, paranoid — while the mainstream, MSNBC-watching left has a strange new respect for the F.B.I. and C.I.A. The online right likes transgression for its own sake, while cultural progressivism dabbles in censorship and worries that the First Amendment goes too far. Trumpian conservatism flirts with postmodernism and channels Michel Foucault; its progressive rivals are institutionalist, moralistic, confident in official narratives and establishment credentials.
[ . . . ]
[I]f you had been told in George W. Bush’s presidency that a trove of government documents would reveal the Department of Homeland Security essentially trying to collude with major corporations to regulate speech it considers dangerous or subversive, an effort extending from foreign threats to domestic ones, you would have assumed that this was all Republican overreach, a new McCarthyism — and that progressives would be up in arms against it.
[ . . . ]
The point of emphasizing this reversal isn’t to suggest that either side is likely to flip back. The evolving attitudes of right and left reflect their evolving positions in American society, with cultural liberalism much more dominant in elite institutions than it was a generation ago and conservatism increasingly disreputable, representing downscale constituencies and outsider ideas.
But a stronger awareness of the flip might be helpful in tempering the temptations that afflict both sides. For progressives, that could mean acknowledging that the Department of Homeland Security’s disinformation wars, its attempted hand-in-glove with the great powers of Silicon Valley, would have been regarded as a dystopian scenario on their side not so long ago. So is it really any less dystopian if the targets are Trumpistas and Anthony Fauci critics instead of Iraq War protesters?
Read it all.
Conor Norris: Occupational Licensing: Taking the Shears to the American Dream
The freedom America offers has been attracting immigrants for decades, but West Virginia University’s Conor Norris writing at Real Clear Policy says sometimes this country’s regulatory structure throws up unnecessary and harmful barriers to those pursuing the American Dream.
The stated purpose of licensing is to protect consumers. In theory, it can be hard to know whether a professional will be good until you actually receive a service from them. For some professions, these harms can be costly or dangerous. To alleviate this challenge, states can require a license, where professionals demonstrate their ability before they practice. The hope is that this can prevent low quality services and injuries caused to consumers.
So what’s the problem with licensing?
To start, occupational licensing usually doesn’t live up to its goal. Research struggles to find evidence that licensing improves the quality of services. Sometimes, it can even harm people, when they are forced to do-it-themselves or turn to the black market.
That’s not to say that licensing has no effect. Consumers end up paying more for the same services. That’s because licensing laws make it more difficult for aspiring professionals to start working. Research on barbers finds that states with stronger licensing requirements have fewer barbers. Being forced to go through long and pricey education programs, pass exams, and pay fees upfront discourages many from entering the profession.
[ . . . ]
Licensing requirements often act as a barrier to entry, protecting professionals from competition instead of consumers from harm. Removing unnecessary licensing requirements and making them voluntary would help immigrants take the first step to achieving the American Dream.
Read it all here.
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Wall Street Journal Editorial Board: Biden’s Missing Democracy Pages
In the wake of President Biden’s rather partisan pre-election speech on the precarious state of democracy in the U.S., the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal has offered some addenda to broaden the appeal of the president’s warning. Chances appear slim that the president will step back up to the podium to implement the Journal’s suggestions.
“My fellow Americans, I’ve mentioned the MAGA threat. But to preserve democracy, it will take the efforts and honesty of both political parties. And we Democrats need to acknowledge that most Republicans feel as strongly and sincerely about fair elections as we do. After the 2020 election, hundreds of Republicans were the most important obstacle to Trump’s false claims of a stolen election.
[ . . . ]
“There were the many judges appointed by Donald Trump who examined the evidence and ruled against the fraud claims. Thank you, Mitch McConnell and Federalist Society for supporting those judges.
“Truth be told, some in my own Democratic Party have also contributed to the climate of political mistrust and animus. The ranks of election deniers include Georgia’s Democratic candidate for Governor Stacey Abrams, who refused to accept her defeat in 2018. My own press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, tweeted in 2020 that Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp ‘stole the gubernatorial election from Georgians and Stacey Abrams.’
[ . . . ]
“I also can’t absolve myself for sowing doubts about democracy. In my first year as President I referred to election changes being considered in Georgia as ‘Jim Crow 2.0,’ and I said the midterm election would be ‘illegitimate’ if laws like that passed.
“Well, the Georgia law did pass, and it looks on the evidence so far that voter turnout in Georgia will set midterm records. I was wrong to use such divisive language, and especially to invoke the shameful era of government racial segregation, to make a partisan point.”
Read the whole thing.
Another example from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression that they’re not just concerned about the “right”:
Megan McArdle with a good question for the UN regarding violence against journalists:
And finally, a reminder that Hyperbolic Discourse Is Literally Destroying Democracy: