Archive for October, 2013
That’s an OpEd from the NY Times, and I’m sure I’m going to see it pasted all over FB this afternoon.
And I’ve got a few things to say.
The first is that I know from off that the writer doesn’t understand a word Nozick said.
How do I know?
Because he cites as evidence of a more “Nozickian” society the fact that there are more “protections for corporations.”
One of the biggest difference between society today and a Robert Nozick/Ayn Rand/Adam Smith social order is that there are protections for corporations, lots of them.
In a N/R/S society, there would be no bank bailouts. There would be no GM bailouts.
If you run your business into the ground, you fail. You lose the business. People can sue you and make you lose your money.
In a “more Nozickian” society, Dick Fuld would be living in a raised ranch in Hoboken and Linda Lay would be selling burgers at McDonald’s.
What we have is not a free market society, but a corporatist one, run by and for large institutions of several types (not just private corporations, but large nonprofits and many large government departments).
The first objective of such a system is to make sure that such institutions never fail, and that the people who head them are safe from competition of any kind.
Such a system will, indeed, produce HUGE income and wealth inequalities, because the full weight of government is brought to bear to protect the already-rich from every being in any danger of not being rich any more.
It also protects the upper middle class from ever being not upper middle class any more, and makes sure the children of all these people have safe sinecures for life.
It does this in ways it is often difficult to see, and therefore manages to get lots of enthusiastic cheerleading from the very people it is milking dry.
This includes virtually every one of the people who put up articles like this one to “show” that their version of “welfare state liberalism” is ‘more moral.”
They’ll shell out $300 to get somebody else to do their taxes because they don’t understand the forms, watch one small business after another drop out of the field leaving them with nobody but corporations to work for, find that they need “insurance” to pay even routine medical bills because regulations forbid doctors from charging less than Medicare rates to patiencts who aren’t covered–
And never connect the dots.
I also object to this article’s contention that you “have to” answer yes to each of the writer’s four questions if you agree that a free market is more moral than a welfare state.
On that, he’s just flat out wrong. And mostly because he continues to confuse what we’ve got now with a free market economy.
But let’s get to his questions, and sometimes a few parts of his answers:
1. Is any exchange between two people in the absence of direct physical compulsion by one party against the other (or the threat thereof) necessarily free?
I won’t give his answer at length, you can look at it yourself.
But it comes down to the usual confusion between “free” and “without any compelling circumstances whatsoever.”
My answer to the above is yes.
And yes, I DO believe that a woman whose children are starving and who sees no other way to make money but whatever some individual offers at any particular time IS FREE to make a choice.
The fact that one of those choices results in consequences that are highly negative for the chooser doesn’t mean the chooser can’t choose.
The freedom to choose does not mean, and never has meant, that there are no circumstances recommending one choice instead of the other.
It means only that when you choose, you could have chosen otherwise.
And yes, you could have, no matter how compelling your and your children’s starvation might be.
2. Is any free (not physically compelled) exchange morally permissible?
The answer to this is no, and I have no idea why this writer believes I would have to answer yes to it in order to defend a free market economy.
Is it the case that, in a free society, some people will choose to do things that are morally reprehensible?
Yes, of course they will.
And some of these things will be illegal, and some of them will not be.
I have no patience with legislating morality. We should have the laws we need to keep the peace. After that, you should be free to go to hell in your own handbasket.
But the example the writer gives is–well, here it is:
If you say yes, then you think that any free exchange can’t be exploitative and thus immoral. Suppose that I inherited from my rich parents a large plot of vacant land, and that you are my poor, landless neighbor. I offer you the following deal. You can work the land, doing all the hard labor of tilling, sowing, irrigating and harvesting. I’ll pay you $1 a day for a year. After that, I’ll sell the crop for $50,000. You decide this is your best available option, and so take the deal. Since you consent to this exchange, there’s nothing morally problematic about it.>>>
And I look at it and go–what?
Yes, I find this morally unproblematic.
Assuming, again, an ACTUAL free market society–not a corporatist one–then you make the offer and your neighbor has the option to say yes or not, to strike out on your own, to sell your labor to somebody else, whatever.
Like everything else, your labor is worth what somebody is willing to pay for it.
And nobody owes you a living. The purpose of an offer of employment is not your well being, but an exchange to get X done.
Nobody is morally, or otherwise, obliged to pay more for it than it is worth to him.
3. Do people deserve all they are able, and only what they are able, to get through free exchange?
If the word is DESERVE–then yes, that’s all you DESERVE.
And that would be the way I would answer it, except the writer gives us this:
>>>If you say yes, you think that what people deserve is largely a matter of luck. Why? First, because only a tiny minority of the population is lucky enough to inherit wealth from their parents.>>>
Here, I’ll give him his due–Paris Hilton doesn’t DESERVE her money.
But it’s not Paris Hilton’s just desserts that are at issue here.
Paris Hilton might not deserve to have it, but old Conrad Hilton deserved to do with it what he wanted to do with it, since he DID deserve to have it.
The matter of right involved in a case of inheritance is the right of the person who made the money to dispose of it as he willed.
Then we get to this:
>>>Second, people’s capacities to produce goods and services in demand on the market is largely a function of the lottery of their birth: their genetic predispositions, their parents’ education, the amount of race- and sex-based discrimination to which they’re subjected, their access to health care and good education.>>>>
Finally, an actual address to the issue, instead of an attempt to change the subject.
This is absolutely true. Some of us are born smarter, prettier, with better parents, in better places and at better times.
Welcome to reality.
No, it is NOT therefore “more moral” for the state to attempt to fix this. The state cannot fix this, and will actually make things LESS fair every time it tries.
The simple fact is that in a free market society–NOT a corporatist one–lots of people who start at the bottom will make it up, and lots of people who start at the top or close to it will find their way down.
In fact, absent a lot of tinkerers trying to rig the game, shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations is a pretty good bet.
4. Are people under no obligation to do anything they don’t freely want to do or freely commit themselves to doing?
The answer to this one is downright peculiar:
If you say yes, then you think the only moral requirements are the ones we freely bring on ourselves — say, by making promises or contracts. Suppose I’m walking to the library and see a man drowning in the river. I decide that the pleasure I would get from saving his life wouldn’t exceed the cost of getting wet and the delay. So I walk on by. Since I made no contract with the man, I am under no obligation to save him.>>>
And it’s peculiar for a number of reasons.
The first is that the answer above pretty much describes the law–you’re NOT legally obligated to try to save the drowning man.
In fact, it goes further than that.
There are lots of times when trying to save the man will leave you legally in the wrong. Saving a man trying to commit suicide when he really wants to die can end you with a wrongful life suit. Messing up while you’re trying to save him and causing him an injury can end you with other kinds of lawsuits.
Whether our laws should be this way is an open quesiton, but it makes the example problematic in itself.
The real problem with this answer, though, is that it entirely ignores the reality of the web of obligations we take on by being a member of any society.
We live in a society that was formed almost three centuries ago. Once we accept the protection of such a society–by allowing it to uphold our contracts, for instance, and police our streets so that we’re no mugged when we try to come home for work–we take on the obligation to follow its laws whether we agree with them or not.
BUT our obligation to follow such laws is predicated on the assumption that the society will keep up its part of the bargain by remaining within the terms of our contract with it.
This includes things like restricting its interference in our lives to those areas we have granted it (tell me again where in the Constitution it says the federal government is allowed to even know what my weight is, never mind try to get me to do something about it).
At the moment, I don’t have a free market government. I have a corporatist government hell bent–no matter which party is in power–in shoring up the power and privilege of the already rich at the expense of me.
It offers me (in the Democratic Party guise) tenth rate medical insurance and a few crumbs of “food assistance” and “housing assistance” on the condition that I allow it to regulate every aspect of my life, what I eat, where I send my children to school and what they can learn there, even what I can think and say (see “hate crimes” legiation), never mind who I can hire and on what basis, etc, etc, etc.
Don’t kid yourself that the “welfare state” is anything but what it is–putting the muscle of the government behind the preferences of the people in that one percent you’re always yelling about.
Give me an ACTUAL free market government any time.
And my grading is done and submitted, which is the good news.
THERE’S something that’s going to land me in the hospital some day.
But, to get back to the subject–
1) Michael F misunderstood what I meant when I said the working poor weren’t the issue.
They may be the issue NOW, but that should be taken care of (more or less) under the ACA.
The people who will end up without health insurance under Obamacare will not be the working poor, but the people–like me–who must buy insurance on the INDIVIDUAL market.
It was also the effect of the Romney health care policy on the INDIVIDUAL market that was at issue, not that of what happened to employer-provided plans.
The ACA will not provide anything like universal coverage. It will cover only half the number of uninsured. On top of that, and the half left out are going to come from the ranks of those of us who do NOT have employer sponsored plans and who must therefore buy on the individual market.
And yes, of course, we’re a minority, but I don’t understand why forcing us to go from insured to uninsured and to do so based on requiring us to purchase coverage for things we neither need nor want is an acceptable price to pay.
As to the things I don’t need–I’m a sixty two year old female. If I ever again in my life require maternity coverage, it will shake my atheism to the core.
I do understand the way insurance works, but I do not see why it requires me to buy a one-size-fits-all, everybody must do the same thing plan now when it never did before.
But there’s more.
In the don’t want and don’t need category is something that is, for me, a matter of principle.
No insurance policy I have ever bought has included “mental health” coverage.
And yes, I’ve always checked.
That’s one of the advantages of working freelance and buying on your own, instead of being covered by an employer.
I don’t buy “mental health” coverage not only because clinical psychology, which controls such services, is neither science nor medicine.
I don’t buy it because the “mental health” system is largely an instrument of social control, allowed by the courts to redefine inconvenient people as not really competent and therefore not really citizens and therefore not really people who have rights, including the right to refuse “treatment.”
I’ll be happy to rethink my refusal here at such time as “mental health professionals” are barred from offering testimony in courts and barred from having any influence on whether or not people are locked up–in mental institutions as well as in jails.
Until that happens–and I’m not expecting it any time soon, since both parties are equally enamored of allowing “mental health professionals” to lock people up for indeterminate periods based only on their “professional judgment” or, worse, the “consensus of the field”–I’m not going to be buying in to the new health care system.
I admit, as well, that it’s frustrating as hell that even with “reform,” I and millions of people like me are still classified as nonpersons.
People who have employer sponsored health plans didn’t need reform.
People like me did.
And right now, even those of us who WILL buy “mental health coverage” are being forced out of the market by rate hikes we can’t afford to pay, caused by “increased coverage” we’ll never get.
We’re being reformed right out of having any health insurance at all.
So it’s Sunday, and things should be pretty calm around here, with Bach, or Mozart, or Charles Mingus.
But that’s not going to happen, so some notes on the comments on the last post.
1) Michael’s post was a perfect example of exactly what I was talking about.
The shutdown was Christmas in October for the Obama administration on the subject of the launch of the ACA.
A lot of things went wrong–and continue to go wrong–with that launch, and none of them had to do with the shutdown.
But when the screwups continue to cascade, the administration can go, “look! it was the Republicans who wouldn’t open up the government and give us money!”
In reality, h owever, not that much of the government every actually got shut down, and the administration had considerable discretion in what it decided to call “essential” workers and what it didn’t.
We’ll leave for a discussion at another time the administration’s decision to reduce rations to troops in the field to two meals a day while funding NPR with$1.4 million.
But the fact is that HHS was not subjected to shutdown austerity at all. It was kept fully up and running and operational all through the sixteen days of the shutdown.
Granted, it couldn’t get any more money, but we’ve already spent about a billion dollars trying to get this thing operational, and you’ve got to wonder why that wasn’t enough.
2) No, it WASN’T because the system had to be in compliance with HIPPA.
Or, if it was, the attempt failed.
One of the biggest issues with the system at the moment is exactly that your personal information is not secure.
The way this thing was set up, if you’ve put your information out there, it’s pretty much up for grabs.
3) Admitting the obvious–that this thing has been badly implemented–is not the same thing as saying you’re opposed to government provision of health care.
4) Neither is pointing out that this particular bill was a very bad bill–a VERY bad bill–on about fifteen different levels.
It was, in the first place, corporate welfare for insurance companies on a grand scale.
It was, on top of that, the most blatant example I’ve ever seen of the complete betrayals of democracy.
Instead of passing the actual law, what it did was to go “the secretary will decide” on literally thousands of different questions.
In other words, it gave Katherine Sebelius the impression that she’d inherited the divine right of kings, and she’s been using her power that way ever since.
That’s the real issue behind the “contraceptive mandate.”
An issue like that should have been debated in Congress and only passed by elected representatives.
Instead, it will go to the SCOTUS, and if the SCOTUS lets it stand, that will be the end of freedom of religion in the US.
Because freedom of religion doesn’t mean going into the privacy of your home or church and believing things and praying.
It means living your religion day by day, identifying yourself with it and using your actions and words to set an example of how that religion is to be lived.
And no, don’t tell me that this means religious employers will be allowed to “deny access” to birth control to women who don’t believe as they do.
There’s no denial of access involved.
The condoms and the diaphragms and the pills will still be in the drug stores. Consultations between doctors and patients will still be private. You’ll still be able to get a prescription for birth control pills–or even the morning after pill–and go get it filled. You’ll just have to use your own money.
And since most birth control is dirt cheap, the use your own money thing won’t deny anybody access either.
5) Anecdotes aren’t evidence, and that anecdote isn’t even an attempt at evidence in the direction of how awful it is that the US doesn’t have “unversal health insurance.”
I’m sure some people don’t go to a doctor or a hospital because they don’t have the money. Some people don’t go because they have to be forced at knifepoint to go under any circumstances.
But lots of people do go, even when the money is tight. The largest difficulty with that is that doctors and hospitals are not allowed–get that, NOT ALLOWED–to charge patients anything less than Medicare pays.
But on top of that–why is NOT going to the doctor or the hospital when it isn’t necessary a bad thing?
Since the people in the examples given were all right significantly after the event, then the visits would not actually have been necessary.
6) Canada may or may not provide health care for “everybody,” but the ACA won’t.
The administration’s own estimates are that it will cover only about half the people who were uninsured at the time of its passage, and will not–without further legislation–ever cover any more.
The issue is not the “working poor.” The issue is people who do not work for giant corporations, who own their own small businesses or work freelance, and who therefore have to buy their insurance in the individual market.
Every single plan available to me will be at least twice as expensive as the cheapest insurance available to me as of January 1, 2013.
Of course, it will be that much more expensive because it will provide me with all this new, extra coverage!
The problem is that I don’t want any of the new, extra coverage. And I don’t get a choice whether to buy it or not.
7) I have always been a big fan of single payer, and I am now, but I am not naive.
What we should have had was a system that got rid of Medicaid and put everybody into what is now the Medicare system. The roll out would have been a lot smoother, the confusion would have been a lot less, and it would have been operational a lot more quickly.
But there is no chance in hell that we will ever have a system here that BARS private medical care. Any public system we erect will have at least some competition from doctors and hospitals that choose to operate outside the public system (that is, not accept government funded patients, as some places don’t accept Medicare patients any more) and some patients who will choose to pay out of pocket for everything rather than deal with waiting lists, restricted choices of doctors or health care plans that carry coverage for things they don’t want or even actually object to.
Actually, that was already happening long before the arrival of the ACA.
At least some of the people who don’t have health insurance in this country are the very richest among us. Concierge doctors take only very limited numbers of patients, who either pay entirely out of pocket whatever the doctors may ask for or pay a premium (around $7500 to $10,000 a year) over what their insurance companies pay.
In return, they experience no waiting times for anything, and in the most expensive practices, they even get housecalls.
Most hospitals these days are perfectly happy to take cashier’s checks for prime private rooms with no waiting and first-in-line access to surgical facilities, MRIs, cat scans, and the rest of it.
Any government system will not only not fix this, it will accelerate the trend.
In England, the government provides that NHS and does not much regulate private insurers, so in that system, the middle class has been steadily bailing for private insurance plans for decades.
I know I haven’t been around much, but the book has actually picked up speed and started action like a book. I figure I’d better take the good news while I can get it.
In the meantime, though, I’ve been reading a book by Steven Pinker called The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.
This is a very long book, and I have been reading it for a very long time. I started on October 1st, and I will probably finish sometime today.
When I do finish, I’m going to have a lot to say, m ost of it not complimentary.
In the meantime, however, I wish to point out that it gave me a piece of information I am very happy to have.
Do you know all those studies that purport to show that liberals are just smarter, brighter, more intelligent than conservatives?
We all roll our eyes and go: politicized social “science.”
And that’s probably true.
It turns out the liberals the study finds to be more intelligent than conservatives are not left-liberals or progressive.
They’re classical liberals.
(At one point Pinker says something about how libertarians have “a lot in common” with classical liberals. That’s because libertarians are classical liberals.)
Anyway, on top of that, the smartest of the classical liberals are the ones who are classically liberal–
Free minds and free markets, as the Reason Foundation likes to say.
Although, according to left-liberals, I’m supposed to ate them, because they get a lot of money from the Koch brothers.
At any rate, it was sort of good that that came along to make me happy, because I was having a fairly stunned reaction to the stupidity of conservatives over the last couple of weeks.
Welcome to the shut down and the dumbest political maneuver anybody’s made in a very, very long time.
For those of you who do not live in the US, it’s important to note that the shutdown started on the same day (October 1, again) as the health care exchanges opened for the start of Obamacare.
And it’s also important to know that the shutdown happened because some members of the Republican Party wanted to defund Obamacare in any future continuing resolution, as a step to getting rid of it.
So for the last two weeks, what we’ve had is nothing but stories about the shutdown and the looming debt ceiling crisis and yada yada yada.
Into which have dropped stories here and there about how the launch of Obamacare is coming along.
And when we’ve heard that the launch is not going well, we were told: that’s because the Republicans won’t fund the government.
And the launch of Obamacare has not been going well. In fact, it would be difficult to exaggerate just how badly it’s been going.
Some of the problems have to do with the fact that the software seems to have been designed by a malignant chimp.
It’s the government, so for some reason I can’t understand, they couldn’t just go out and buy a bunch of existing software that had proven workable and fit the paradigm.
Apple didn’t even bid on doing the design. Which says something about the bid process or something.
But the software mostly just doesn’t work, and there are too many and the process is set up in such a way that some mistakes can only be corrected by filing standard appeals, instead of just going in to rework your account.
The system declared a friend of mine to be unmarried and earning no money in 2013 and directed him to Medicaid. He’s married and makes more money than will even allow him to get a subsidy. He has to file an appeal. The system has spoken. End of discussion.
But there’s a lot more that’s going wrong, and it’s not a matter of software.
Practically everybody who has been buying insurance in the individual market is getting royally screwed.
Virtually everybody who has plans from the individual market is having their plans cancelled as of January 1, 2014, because the plans don’t comply with Obamacare requirements about coverage. They don’t include things like maternity coverage, well child coverage, mental health coverage, and a whole laundry list more.
The replacement plans people can buy come with premiums twice as high as the ones they’ve been paying–but with the same large ($4500 or more) yearly deductibles.
A fair number of people are looking at a situation where they will not be able to buy insurance at all, with or without a subsidy, and some of those people are chronically or severely sick.
Even a number of liberal bloggers have started to blow up about this–writers tend to be freelance, and if they’ve got insurance they’ve been buying it in the individual market–and the more official liberal commentators having started calling the whole thing “a disaster.”
That was Ezra Klein. “A disaster.”
In other words, if Ted Cruz and his friends in the House had kept their mouths shut and passed a “clean’ CR, they’d right now be very close to getting that year postponement of the individual mandate, they’d have a country full of people leaning more to their side on the subject of the ACA–hell, they might even be on the way to maneuvering a rollback or a repeal.
Instead, they’ve given the Obama administration the perfect cover, and the Obama administration is going to use it.
The first thing to say, of course, is that JD was right–I got the name of the Theodore Dalrymple wrong. It’s Farewell Fear, not “Forever” Fear.
But I want to go back around to something else.
Some time ago, I said on this blog, and meant, that only about ten percent of high school students could really handle a course in the Great Conversation–that only about ten percent would ever be qualified to go on to “college” as I defined the term.
I said it, and I meant it, but I meant it exactly the way I said it.
Very few high school students will ever be qualified to go on to that kind of work, and about half of the ones who qualify aren’t interested.
But that is not the same thing as saying that only ten percent of the population will be interested in taking part in the Great Conversation or capable of doing so.
A true liberal arts education is very demanding, and as far as I know it’s the best way we’ve arrived at so far to hand down the Great Conversation in all its complexity.
But the Conversation itself is a constant part of all of us.
It’s not just geniuses and demi-geniuses who want to know why death exists and what it means, or where morality comes from and what it consists of, or if life has purpose and direction and what it is, or how other people live and think and feel.
I’d think that pretty much anybody who isn’t functionally brain dead thinks about these things.
And although only a minority talks about these things or reads about them or writes about them, that minority is far larger than the ten percent who will be able to handle doing a regression analysis of the Nichomachean Ethics or situating Beyond Good and Evil in both event and intellectual history.
There are a lot of things here that I think are confusing.
For one thing, I think being able to situate all this in place and time and the history of ideas is a very good thing. It prevents a lot of misinterpretation. It puts at least some brakes on the human tendency to read their own preferences into anything that’s labeled “important.”
But if the Great Conversation was an academic exercise only, or even principally, it wouldn’t matter at all, and it wouldn’t have come down to us. The first universities arose in the Middle Ages in Europe. There had already been an awful lot of water under the bridge.
People take part in the Great Conversation on a lot of different levels and in a lot of different ways. They do it in novels of science fiction, fantasy, and mystery–and even in the “mainstream” ones. They do it in movies and video games. They do it in song lyrics.
Like I said, part of me feels that you really have to be close to brain dead not to do it–although I’ve met enough people who don’t, and who resent people who do, to make me wonder what goes on in people’s heads.
It isn’t even true that only people who have been formally educated in the liberal arts who read or discuss the actual authors in the tradition.
Penguin Classics makes a living putting out volumes by virtually every recognized writer in that tradition, and they’re not making money with them as CATs (course adoption texts).
There are people today who are reading their way into the Great Conversation, picking up used books here and free-for-e-readers books there, plowing their way through first one branch and then the other, trying to fit it all together in their heads.
That approach is messy and wasteful of time and effort–I know, I spent my late childhood and adolescence working that way–but it’s not the same thing as not being part of the conversation at all.
What I’m getting at here is that saying that only about ten percent of the population is ever actually capable of real college work is not the same thing as saying that only ten percent of the conversation can think or read about these things at all.
The people who can do these things is a systematic and comprehensive way are vital, because they are the only way we keep the entire history of ideas alive and available.
But almost everybody joins the Great Conversation in one way or the other.
We couldn’t stop them if we tried.
Things have been a little hectic, so here I am, finally posting the September list nearly two weeks after I usually do.
A lot of these I’ve already talked about. But here’s the list proper:
56) Erle Stanley Gardner. The Case of the Queenly Constestant.
q) Allen Tate. “The Man of Letters in the Modern World.”
r) Allen Tate. “To Whom is the Poet Responsible?”
s) Allen Tate. “Miss Emily and the Bibliographers.”
57) Azar Nafisi. Reading Lolita in Tehran.
58) Kathryn Hulme. The Nun’s Story.
59) Wendy Kaminer. Worst Instincts: Cowardice, Conformity and the ACLU.
60) Theodore Dalrymple. Forever Fear.
I’ll start by saying that I don’t think it’s one of my more interesting lists.
Allen Tate is my favorite literary critic of the post-WW I period.
“Miss Emily and the Bibliographers” concerns the issue that exercises us here–whether a work of fiction must in some sense be “real” (as in true to actual life) to be good.
Critics had been complaining that Faulkner’s short story, “A Rose for Emily,” was outlandish and impossible. Real life did not consist of actual people who murdered their lovers and then slept by the corpse for the next twenty years.
Tate doesn’t directly challenge the era’s critical assumption, but he does drag up an actual example of a nearly identical case from New York state, and then goes on to ask what real actually is.
I love almost everything by Tate, so I may like this one more than any of you would.
The Erle Stanley Gardner was definitely one of the better ones. It also constituted the first time I’ve ever wanted Perry Mason’s client to be guilty.
I’m not sure this was what Gardner was going for, but–my God, this woman was a world class jerk.
The Kathryn Hulme represents the first time I’ve read the novel on which one of my favorite movies was based. That is, of course, the Audrey Hepburn film The Nun’s Story.
The changes from book to film were relatively minor, which was nice. I don’t generally like changes when changes are made, with the exception of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, where the movie is definitely better than the book.
But what got me involved while reading the book for the first time was as much the material I was finding about the author herself and her life.
When the book came out just after WWII, it was widely supposed to be based on the life on Hulme’s long time friend, a former nun named Marie Louise Habets.
In the years since, a lot of this story has been debunked, or half debunked, in various ways.
But what interests me is that Hulme and Habets lived together for many years, in what looks, these days, very much like what we used to call a “Boston marriage.”
It’s never a good idea to make anachronistic assumptions about the way in which other people at other times lived there lives, but in this case it turns out that Hulme spent quite a bit of time in the years between the wars in Margaret Anderson’s circle in Paris.
And there was nothing closeted about Anderson’s circle in Paris.
Anderson and her lover Jane Heap founded and ran The Little Review, one of the small magazines that were the first to publish then avant garde writers like Hemingway, h.d. and Djuna Barnes.
Anderson and Heap–but not Hulme–are subjects of chapters in one of my favorite books, Women of the Left Bank by Shari Benstock.
It’s one of a small stack of books that explains why I haven’t written off Women’s Studies altogether.
It examines a long list of women who went to Paris during the same period as the men we’ve all heard about (Hemingway, Joyce and company) and wrote, produced, and published.
A remarkable number of these women were not only gay, but solidly part of established Lesbian couples. All of them did work that is intrinsically interesting, but many of them did work that was necessary to make the reputations of the writers who are now considered part of the canon.
What’s even more intriguing to me is that so many of the women who did make good lives for themselves were part of this lesbian company. The ones who had recurrent bouts of work-destroying personal trouble all seemed to be straight.
That may be Benstock’s bias, or the luck of the draw, but I think I could make a case that there was, inherent in a culture which did not take women seriously, a structural cause of the differences between gay and straight couples.
Maybe I’ll reread the Benstock at some point and report on how it sounds after a distance of several years.
Right now, though, I think I’m going to go off and do some chores.
Because chores hate me…
Today, I opened my email to find this
That’s a link to a conservative article on ending federal (and other government) money to the arts.
Originally, I didn’t think very much of it, except that I was mildly annoyed. The person who sent it to me implied that I, of course, would be in favor of such government money to the arts, and gave me a set of reasons why that would be so.
It was one of those “For God’s sake, isn’t ANYBODY listening?” moments, because I’m on record several times on this blog as being opposed to such expenditure.
In fact, I’m on record at length.
The article itself was no sparkling font of originality and wisdom. It says what these articles more or less always say, and I agree with it.
What caught my attention was something I already knew but don’t usually think of when I think of funding for the arts, and that I should.
And that is–that arts funding goes to non-profit organizations.
And that the big problem with non-profit organizations in this country is not that we don’t require them to be politically neutral, but that we don’t require them to behave like non-profits.
The part of the article that got me thinking about this was a short paragraph about how such non-profit and publically funded theater companies routinely charge $70 apiece for tickets, thus pricing most of the people whose tax money they are using out of the experience.
This would be the case even if they didn’t get money from the NEA or other government sources, because the money they don’t pay in taxes is money that is not available for other public functions. This is especially true of property taxes, since property taxes are what fund public schools in most municipalities.
There are, of course, some kinds of tax exclusions that have other rationales besides public utilities. We don’t tax churches because, as Jefferson said, “the power to tax is the power to destroy.” The free exercise of religion being our first and most important right, we don’t trust governments to tax churches (or synagogues or mosques or humanist chapels) fairly and without taking sides.
Most of the time, when we grant organizations and institutions non profit status, it is because we are convinced that they are providing an important service that we want to encourage. We assume that such organizations will provide these services in such a way that will make them largely available to the general public.
In other words, we decline to take their taxes under the assumption that they will be operating at a loss so that more people can benefit from them.
Does this sound to you like the way major nonprofits operate these days?
Even a little bit?
Let us pass over, for the moment, the way in which many of these organizations pay their top administrators as if they were the employees of an investment bank.
The heads of such nonprofits as the Red Cross, Harvard College and the Yale-New Haven Hospital are compensated like any other members of the Major CEOs Club–at the lowish end of it, but only lowish. A seven figure salary is a seven figure salary, and it doesn’t begin to unearth the perks of a first class benefits package.
What’s far worse is that most high-end nonprofits are dedicating to charging the public whatever the traffic will bear.
Yale University has an endowment large enough so that it could eliminate tuition for every one of its students. It has vast property across the landscape of the city of New Haven, a minority-majority municipality that has persistant problems funding public schools and basic services.
All that property is untaxed, but far from providing education at a discount, Yale provides it at a premium. Not only are the sticker prices high–in the $60,000 range for tuition, room and board for a single year–but even its discounted prices are too high for most middle class families to cover without going into very significant debt.
Then there is the Yale-New Haven hospital, which not only charges the top end of everything for medical care, but also goes after “deadbeats” (read: sick people without the money to pay up, with no or insufficient insurance) just like any for-profit medical center.
The question, for me, is–what are we abating these taxes for?
If nonprofits are going to behave like for profits, why accord them all these special privileges?
Why not insist that nonprofits earn their tax exemptions by behaving like nonprofits: by charging less than a forprofit company would, by paying lower compensation than a forprofit would, by actually being charities?
And if theaters are going to have nonprofit status, with or without government money, why not insist that their ticket prices be low enough so that most people can actually afford them?
As far as I can tell, these days “nonprofit” has come to mean “need charismatic jobs for people like us, and the public be damned.”