Issue 46 (2011)

Communitarian Observations

I have recently written about rather different matters, but in my mind they all deal with one core question: the guidance our shared values, especially the common good, provide to our public policies.

From My Diary

I assume the New York Times did not mean to be ironic—and was merely inattentive—when it wrote about Ezra Vogel’s new bookDeng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China and noted that it was “equally compelling” to his previous book: Japan as Number One: Lessons for America. This book is widely considered Exhibit A of our tendency to see other powers as rising to the leading global position and the notion that we ought to learn from them or die. Well, Japan turned out not to be number one or a nation one would like to imitate. The NYT article refers to China as “another Asian superpower.” Well, we shall see… (For more discussion, see “Is China a Responsible Stakeholder?”)

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As someone who studied with Danny Kahneman at the Hebrew University and at Berkeley, I would like to add to the much deserved chorus of praise he is earning. He has been generous to a fault to Amos Tversky. Danny keeps crediting Tversky as a co-founder of behavioral economics although Tversky sadly died in 1996 and much of the work was done by Danny.

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Kol Nidre. Eve of Yom Kippur. New prayer book in the synagogue. My eye is caught by a prayer for a “good life” which is then characterized as “peace and prosperity.” However, in Hebrew it refers to “Parnassa tova” which means a decent living… We better remember the difference. (For more see Spent.)

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Some readers may be unaware that while editors of both print and online publications seek authors’ approval for any change in wording, even the placement of a comma, they feel free to give the articles any title they want and, as a rule, do not even let the authors know what the title is going to be. Authors find out—after publication. (One of my colleagues was horrified when his article about rehabilitation of criminals got the title “let them rot.”) My op-ed on drones (see below) was given the title “the great drone debate.” I called it “Drones: the best of a bad lot.”

Recent Publications

Face It, Tough Times Are Ahead

President Obama has repeatedly stated, “We are tougher than the times we live in.” Although the president may not have intended to signal a whole new approach to our future, the line has Churchillian implications. Speaking of tough times, he could call on Americans to recognize we face at least a decade of rough sledding, ask us to face the challenges and express confidence that we shall prevail.

The tough times approach differs radically from the prevailing wisdom that if we merely did X, Y or Z, we would be rolling in clover again. All we need to do is cut deficits, reduce taxes some more and lighten up on regulations, and the nation will be back on the right course…

Read the rest at


Who lived beyond their means? The war profiteers who had their taxes cut? The Wall Street Barons who still run unaccountable? The two unfunded wars? This is an insult to the hard working middle class. We are the hardest working and most productive people on earth and our incomes have declined over the last 14 years as the result of Wall Street and out corrupt government.

– civilliberty

Read history. Recovery from the Great Depression took 30 years and 2 wars. You think this time around some Democrat or Republican politician is going to create a recovery in just a handfull of years? Ain’t going to happen. And, if the financial community is allowed to continue it’s unsupervised run for your last dollar, we may never recover.

– azclimber

The majority of us have ALWAYS known how to sacrifice & make do. It’s the freakin’ greedy pigs who think they’re always entitled to double-digit profits, huge bonuses & stock options regardless of what happens to the general welfare!

– myrtlemay

For more comments, click here.

The Great Drone Debate

The Obama administration is criticized for greatly increasing the use of drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and, most recently, in Yemen and Somalia. The Pentagon reports that these drones have been successful in taking out leaders of al-Qaeda and various insurgent groups. The State Department is raising concerns about the use of drones against “rank and file” members of these organizations. Critics are up in arms against all drones. A recent investigative report on public television’s Frontline made much of one case in which Afghans reported that election workers were killed by a drone, while the U.S. military claims that the dead included Taliban fighters. And Frontline points to an incident in which it seems that the wrong Afghan leader was killed. As I see it, the real issue is: Should we be involved in such fighting in the first place? Only after answering that should we ask: If kill we must, should we use drones? These questions represent an analytical turning point…

Read the rest at The National Interest.

Benjamin H Friedman Responds: “Etzioni and the Great Drone Debate”

Amitai Etzioni’s contribution to the great drone debate makes the sensible point that drone strikes often offer our leaders a superior alternative to bombers, longer-range missiles and ground raids in places like Yemen and Pakistan. What drone critics miss, Etzioni says, is that all foreign attacks kill noncombatants, alienate locals and undermine their government. Drones (unmanned aerial vehicles is a more accurate but less common usage) do so with less trouble and offer various tactical advantages…

Read the rest at The National Interest.

Pirates: Terrorists of the Seas

Italy’s defense minister has just announced that the country will provide armed Marines to Italian ships that travel in pirate-infested waters. Other ships have retained private security guards. Many nations, though, still try to deal with pirates by using water hoses, surrounding the deck with barbed wire, and providing safe rooms in which the crew could barricade themselves once the pirates take over the ship. Meanwhile, the pirates are doing very well indeed. In the first half of 2011, there were 266 pirate attacks (a 36 percent increase from 2010). Somali pirates collected approximately $238 million in ransom in 2010. Hundreds of crew members and passengers have been held as hostages, some for over a year. And now pirates are branching out onto land. On October first, Somali pirates kidnapped a disabled French woman from her home in Kenya who has since died in captivity. Three weeks earlier, pirates killed a British publisher and kidnapped his deaf wife…

Read the rest at The National Interest.

“Cybersecurity in the Private Sector.” Issues in Science and Technology. 28.1 (Fall 2011). p. 58-62.

The nation’s businesses manage a significant share of online activity related to national security and must play a larger role in ensuring the overall integrity of the system.

“No Marshall Plan.” Prospect. 187 (October 2011). p. 18-19.

David Davis’s call for a Marshall Plan in the Middle East (Prospect, July 2011) has been echoed by Hillary Clinton, Tony Blair and General Jim Jones. Although the Marshall Plan did not cover Japan, the great success of the US and its allies in introducing democracy and a free economy into both Japan and Germany are widely cited as proof of what can be done with economic aid. But what was possible in those countries, at the end of the second world war, highlights precisely what cannot be done now in the Middle East-and why…

“Citizenship in a Communitarian Perspective.” Ethnicities. 11.3 (September 2011). p. 336-349

This article argues that a good citizen accepts several basic responsibilities toward the common good of the nation, but is otherwise free to follow his or her own preferences. Thus all citizens may be called upon to serve in the armed forces or national service, be expected to vote and to serve on juries and obey the laws while having the freedom to worship as they wish, maintain secondary loyalty to their country of origin, and so on.

I Read

An article in The Economist on the role of women in the Middle East after the Arab Spring notes that more than 60% of Egyptians think sharia should be the only source of law in their country and an additional 25% think it should at least be one of several sources. For a discussion on how then U.S. should approach Egypt is this comes to pass, see “Toward a Nonviolent, Pluralistic Middle East” and “The Global Importance of Illiberal Moderates.”

Communities happen in public places. It is here where people reconnect. When these places are not safe or eroded by private interests, communities are diminished. Read what happened in New York City when companies were given development rights in exchange for building public spaces—but very little oversight ensuring that such spaces were useable.

From Our Mailbox

Comments from the last newsletter

Re: Marshmallow ExperimentIf you have been or if you have studied a poor community you learn quickly that when you are poor you do not know whether and when the next chance for gratification will occur. Consequently, common sense would argue for taking advantage of the one that has come around.

Herbert Gans
Robert S Lynd Prof. Emeritus of Sociology, Columbia University

It seems to me that many such experiments are given to children, informally, in the teaching-learning environment, and that the ‘experiments themselves’ carry with them ‘meta-lessons’ that distort the innocent/natural ground that they attempt to investigate.  this is one of the ways that cultural views are perpetuated.  It is the ‘observer effect’ of the type where, when the volt-ohmeter is plugged into the naturally performing circuitry to be investigated, the internal processes in the observing/investigative device introduce an inevitable disfigurement of what was there prior to the attempt to measure it.

Ted Lumley

Seems to me that poor kids are aware that promises to give something tomorrow are not as valuable as having something now. Tomorrow is not always a reliable time for anything in their real world experience. Poor kids do not have the same infrastructure supporting organizational development, time for study, and stimulating discussions at home. They also rarely have as much time for solitude and many other factors. Kids who did not want to delay satisfaction could also come from families in which promises were simply not reliably kept. Such families would have less stable environments for intellectual development. In other words, this study could be subject to many interpretations.

Jonathan Granoff


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Edited by Julia Milton.