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E-Pluribus | October 6, 2021
The arts aren't just for the left, progressives' regressive economics, and why can't progressives acknowledge progress?
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Christos A. Makridis: Reclaiming the Arts
While cultural institutions, including those involved in the arts, often seem to lean left, Christos Makridis at City Journal writes that’s no reason for the right to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Makridis argues that arts education is indispensable in child development as well as for creating well-rounded adults. He also points out that the arts contribute to a shared sense of society that can cut across many different cultures and backgrounds.
Arts education is an important tool for cognitive and non-cognitive skill development among children, as empirical research from cognitive psychology and other social sciences demonstrates. For example, the discipline of learning an instrument is linked with lasting improvements in verbal and numerical literacy. Moreover, while musicians practice for hours independently, artists necessarily come together for rehearsals and performances, thereby promoting teamwork and coordination skills among participants. In part because of the amount of memorization involved, the arts stimulate areas of the brain vital for developing language and creative capabilities.
The arts also benefit society. By convening people with varied socioeconomic and political backgrounds though a shared devotion to principles recognized as beautiful and true, the arts can reduce political polarization and promote social capital—trust, norms, and networks—within communities. These are the ingredients for healthy living both individually and collectively.
As Heather Mac Donald and others have documented, the Left has politicized cultural institutions to a depressing degree. The solution, however, is not to disengage but to galvanize like-minded people willing to support the arts—and, in particular, arts education. […]
Read it all here.
Paul H. Rubin: The Woke Left’s Primitive Economics
While the term of choice these days for those on the left is “progressives,” Paul Rubin writes at the Wall Street Journal that the prevailing economic ideas on the left are anything but. There is an all-or-nothing mindset that underlies much of progressive thinking that ignores the lessons of recent centuries and is antithetical to advances seen throughout the world, and not just economic advances either.
Zero-sum thinking was well-adapted to this world. Since there was no economic growth, incomes and wealth didn’t grow. If one person had access to more food or other goods, or greater access to females, it was likely because of expropriation from others. Since there was little capital, a “labor theory of value”—the idea that all value is created by labor alone—would have been appropriate, and there was little need to protect capital through property rights. Frequent warfare encouraged xenophobia.
Adam Smith and other economists challenged this worldview in the 18th century. They taught that specialization of labor was valuable, that capital was productive, and that labor and capital could work together to increase income. They also showed that property rights needed protection, that members of other tribes or groups could cooperate through trade, that wealth could be created with the proper incentives, and that the creation of wealth would benefit everyone in a society, not only the wealthy. Most important, they showed that a complex economy could work with little or no central direction.
Members of the woke left want to return to policies based on this primitive economic thinking. One of their major errors is thinking that the world is zero-sum. That assumption drives identity politics, which sees, among other things, an intrinsic conflict between blacks and whites. The Black Lives Matter movement and Critical Race Theory foment racial antagonism and resurrect xenophobia. Leftists vilify “millionaires and billionaires” like Bill Gates and Elon Musk as evil and exploitative. They should recognize them as productive entrepreneurs whose innovations benefit us all.
Dislike of the rich makes sense in a world where one can become rich only by exploiting others, but not in a society full of creativity and useful inventions. Changing tax laws to soak the rich makes sense with a labor theory of value, but not with a sophisticated understanding of continual investment and technological change.
Read it all.
Jason Crawford: Why Liberals Should Care About Progress
Writing at Robert Tracinski’s Symposium Substack, Jason Crawford addresses some of the same issues as Rubin at the Wall Street Journal in the above item. Advances in reducing poverty, famine, disease, and infant mortality, among other things, are real and should not be ignored or downplayed in an attempt to advance political or cultural agendas, and the spread of classical liberalism has played no small role in that progress.
Since about 1800, most of the world has escaped from poverty. In the industrialized world, the average person, who once lived without refrigerator, toilet, or running water, now has all of these conveniences; many also enjoy a vacuum cleaner, dishwasher, and microwave. Working conditions have improved as jobs moved from farms to factories to offices and as machines took over physical labor, while working hours declined from over 60 hours per week to under 40. Famine, once relatively common, is only a distant memory in most of the world. Where almost 1% of mothers once died in childbirth, and half of all children died before the age of fifteen, child and maternal mortality today have plummeted by orders of magnitude. Speedy powered transportation and instant electronic communications have connected the world like never before, to the benefit of commerce, science, education, and cultural understanding. And the ability for the majority of the globe to access virtually the entirety of world art, literature, and philosophy has enabled unprecedented intellectual and spiritual enrichment.
These benefits have not been shared evenly, but they have been shared broadly. Every country on Earth today has a life expectancy higher than any country did in 1800. Every continent has now achieved a food supply of over 2,600 calories per person per day. And global poverty is declining by almost any metric you choose—not only in relative terms, but by many metrics, in absolute terms as well. (And no, it’s not just China.) All of these metrics still have a long way to go, but they have come far in the last two centuries—further than they had in all the millennia before.
These grand achievements are due at least in part to liberalism: free markets, free trade, free migration, and most fundamentally the free and open exchange of ideas.
Read the whole thing.
Via the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an odd reaction by Emerson College to some anti-Chinese government stickers:
A thread from Dr. Sally Satel of the American Enterprise Institute and Yale School of Medicine based on her essay about Critical Race Theory and Medicine. Click through for the whole thread, which is excerpted here:
Finally, when is a whistleblower not a whistleblower?