Issue 57 (2012)

Communitarian Observations

I often write 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

Best way to cut the deficit: Recently GlaxoSmithKline paid a $3 billion fine, Barclays will have to pay $453 million, and HSBC is preparing to pay more than $700 million. If we continue in this way and fine all American corporations that commit major fraud, making them truly disgorge all their ill-gotten gains and maybe throw in a small penalty—we would be soon back in clover.

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John B. Bellinger III writes on the International Criminal Court in theWashington Post: “In 10 years of high-cost operations, the ICC has had mixed success in delivering international justice. It has indicted 28 African political or military leaders but has completed the trial of only one.”

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Dennis Overbye discusses the growth of “Big Data”—the massive amounts of aggregated information about our lives, society, and systems available on servers all over the world. He includes an anecdote in which a woman discovered her husband was a bigamist—after Facebook suggested she befriend his wife.

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Monsieur Lazhar is the best movie I saw since Sarah’s Key, but bring at least one hanky.

Are kids a “happiness hit”???

Like the annual outbreaks of flu, every year brings a new round of attacks on having and raising children. Some years, it takes the form of articles pointing out how expensive children are. You could buy a fully loaded Porsche for the $250,000 a child costs you these days, we are told.

Some years, those who have no children complain that the tax code and workplace discriminate against them, denying them tax breaks and time off that parents enjoy. The theme this year is that children are not a reliable source of happiness. Indeed, several researchers claim that they take the fun out of many marriages, causing a “happiness hit.”

Read the rest at

Obama Should Pull a Truman

More speeches, photo ops, and minor policy modifications will not save the flailing Obama presidential campaign. He needs to produce a drama, an event that will highlight the core of his message in ways that will deeply speak to the public and stay with it. I am not speaking of drama for drama’s sake, to grab headlines, but for a showdown on a very real issue. In effect the number one issue: the way the gridlock in Congress prevents the economy from recovering, by not enacting the jobs bill and blocking a deficit cutting deal.

To proceed, Obama should pull a Truman. In 1952 the United States economy was threatened by a strike by the steel workers, whose employers refused to make a deal. (In those days, steel was a crucial commodity for a well functioning economy.) When the strike dragged on and on, President Truman invited the head of the steel workers union and a representative of the steel industry to the White House. On arrival they were told “this is not a social visit.” Truman informed them that he would keep them in the White House until they struck a deal. It was reached the same day.

Read the rest at The Huffington Post.

It Is a User Fee

It is not a bird, plane, penalty or tax, but a user fee — to be collected from those who seek to rely on the health care system but would rather avoid paying for it, the “free riders.” The whole idea of insurance of any kind, as even a diehard capitalist will agree, is to throw some money into a communal piggy bank to cover the costs of those who will eventually need it. Some may end up taking out of the “bank” less than others, some a great deal, but because health care costs can be enormous, it is rational to purchase insurance at a reasonable fee and, as they say, share (or ‘pool’) the risk.

Most Americans already contribute to the health care insurance pool, either by purchasing insurance themselves or by getting it from their employers. Others are covered by Medicare or by Medicaid, soon to be expanded under the new law. The roughly one percent who are left, and hence are to be charged a user fee if they do not get insurance, must be reminded that unlike most other insurances — for cars, fire, earthquakes and such — which one can reasonably hope to never need, sooner or later, we all will need health care.

Read the rest at the Huffington Post.

The End of China’s Rise

Just as most everybody has come to agree that China is the rising global power—with an economy that shortly will supersede that of the United States, a model of state capitalism preferred by many Third World nations over democratic capitalism, colonization of parts of Africa and Latin America and increasing influence among its neighbors—the world’s largest emerging power is already plateauing. While China weathered the financial crisis that has bedeviled the West since 2008, it faces serious challenges of its own. If major trends continue to unfold, those who wrote that we are about to enter a Chinese century will soon discover that it ended before it started.

China’s exceptionally high economic growth rate is what first called attention to its rising power. Strong economies can play a key role in the global marketplace and pay for major military buildups. However, China’s growth rate has slowed from 10.4 percent in 2010 to 7.5 percent in 2012. The rate, which economists predict will only decline further, may already be lower. The figures used by the media are based on Chinese data, the veracity of which many question.

Read the rest at The National Interest.

NRA and bad law block a way to catch killers

The gun lobby is fiercely, and so far successfully, blocking what easily could be the greatest technological breakthrough to catching killers and deterring others.

The simple method allows bullet manufacturers to stamp a numeric code on shell casings that would make it very easy to identify the gun that fired the shot. But the National Rifle Association is lobbying against states enacting laws to require such “microstamping.”

The gun lobby is likely to prevail, given that in 2008 — for the first time in American legal history — the Supreme Court interpreted that the Second Amendment guaranteed an individual’s right to own guns for personal use, rather than as the tools of a “well-regulated militia.”

Read the rest at

Recent Publications

“The Folly of Nation Building.” The National Interest. 120 (July/August 2012) p. 60-68.

There is a growing consensus that the United States can’t afford another war, or even a major armed humanitarian intervention. But in reality, the cost of war itself is not the critical issue. It is the nation building following many wars that drives up the costs.

For every war of the kind we are waging in Afghanistan, we could afford five hundred interventions of the type America carried out in Libya in 2011. The war in Libya cost the United States roughly $1 billion, according to the Department of Defense, and the war in Afghanistan so far has cost over $500 billion, according to the National Priorities Project.

If costs are measured in blood and not just money, the disparity is even greater, both in terms of our losses and the losses of all others involved. Particularly important in this context is the fact that nation building, foreign aid, imported democratization, Marshall Plans and counterinsurgency (COIN) with a major element of nation building are not only very costly but also highly prone to failure. Thus, they are best avoided.

Click here to read the rest.

The Best Government Money Can Buy

Jack Ambramoff writes in The Atlantic about the “Congressional culture of corruption”: “No one would seriously propose visiting a judge before a trial and offering a financial gratuity, or choice tickets to an athletic event, in exchange for special consideration from the bench. Yet no inside-the-Beltway hackles are raised when a legislative jurist—also known as a congressman—receives a campaign contribution even as he contemplates action on an issue of vital importance to the donor.”

Is China a Foe?

The head of a major Indian multinational conglomerate has called China a “second-class enemy” of (close U.S. ally) India because of its role in arming Pakistan. Click here to read our perspective on the China-Pakistan-India issue.

Illiberal Moderate Muslims

Now that they are in power, members of Egypt’s political Muslim groups are making decisions on whether to compromise their commitment to implementing sharia law. The Muslim Brotherhood, of which Prime Minister Mohamed Mursi is a member, has emphasized implementing sharia by ending corruption and police abuses and has said that it will not seek to implement dress codes or ban bank interest. Even members of the more hard-line Salafi movement seem to be content with emphasizing the social justice aspects of sharia. And while some elected Salafi officials introduced measures to curtail women’s rights to seek divorce and retain custody of their children, none of these proposals were enacted into law.

Click here to read our thoughts on “The Salafi Question.”

I Read

The Spirit of Cities: Why the Identify of a City Matters in a Global Age by Daniel A. Bell and Avner de-Shalit identifies the defining ethos of nine at nine cities (Jerusalem, Montreal, Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing, Oxford, Berlin, Paris, and New York), explores how those values are expressed, and shows how they can protect the city from excessive nationalism and globalization. Both authors are highly respected communitarians.

Stuart E. Eizenstat’s The Future of Jews: How Global Forces Are Impacting the Jewish People, Israel, and Its Relationship with the United States examines the global forces affecting the Jewish people and Israel including emerging powers, globalization, upheaval in the Muslim world, new security threats, and demographic factors affecting the global Jewish community. He is also a founding endorser of the Responsive Communitarian Platform. Click here for a list of endorsers.

Richard Thaler reports on the progress of the British government’s Behavioral Insights Team, which is attempting to use behavioral economics findings to improve policy outcomes. The Team found that appealing to norms regarding taxes (suggesting that most of one’s peers pay taxes) improved the timeliness of income tax payments by 15%. It also identified ways to incentivize installing better insulation by making it easier for consumers to deal with the hassle.

For our perspective on behavioral economics, click here.

“Graduates” of ICPS

Marissa Cramer successfully completed a Rotary Fellowship in Morocco and has been awarded the Emile-Boutmy Scholarship at Sciences Po in Paris. She will be working towards a master’s degree in International Security (focusing on the Middle East).

Riane Harper is an analyst studying public opinion in Afghanistan and Eurasia at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and has traveled through Afghanistan, Moldova, London, Prague and the Netherlands.

Stephanie Cencula is working with the Center on Children’s and Families at the Brookings Institution.

Upcoming Events

20th Belle R. and Joseph H. Braun Memorial Symposium:

The Development of Privacy Law from Brandeis to Today

Thursday September 27, 2012 – Friday September 28, 2012

Opening Keynote: Privacy and the Common Good, Amitai Etzioni

Center for International Property Law, The John Marshall Law School

Chicago, IL


The Responsive Communitarian Platform can be found here. We invite all those who agree to endorse it by sending an email to [email protected] with the subject “endorse RCP.” For a list of those who have already endorsed it, click here.

The Diversity Within Unity Platform is here. We invite all those who agree to endorse it to send an email to [email protected] with the subject “endorse DWU.” For a list of those who have already endorsed the Platform, click here.

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