Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Koch Brothers attack "Democracy In Chains"

The book Democracy In Chains by Nancy Maclean first popped up on my radar when a Twitter account called "Kate Reads Books" provided citations and commentary. (Here is a link to her thread.) In addition to this welcome public service, KRB also recommends some background reading. The subject of the book, the Koch brothers, are data mining political dissidents. There is a direct line between slavery in the past and America today.

It's also been brought to my attention that the Federalist Society has been demanding MacLean be withdrawn from the National Book Award. The foul woman has been been discredited left, right and center! After reading the book reviews,  it's become clear there is only one that would elicit this kind of condescension. In reality, it has not been discredited by the left, right and center. It has only really been criticized in the right-wing, led by a think tank fundedfounded and lobbied by the main subject of MacLean's book, the Koch Brothers.

Cato's review comes across as pulling no punches. It is in the highbrow conservative font (eg like my blogspot), and it's longform, but doesn't succeed at finding a single falsehood in any of of MacLean's research. Once you take away grandstanding, what Cato's argument really amounts to is this: American Libertarianism, as represented by James Buchanan, is fancy and cutting edge, so it can't be connected to old bigots. Most of their review is talking up Public Choice Theory's brand, supposedly a secular contribution to science that Buchanan worked on. But a hefty amount is just outright sneering at MacLean for deigning to think of Koch scholars as less than reputable. In parts, the book review goes beyond a standard practice and onto complaining that MacLean is threatening to undo classical liberalism in its entirety. Nancy MacLean is scum and you should hate her because she draws a connection between the Koch brothers, James Buchanan, and racism.  Public Choice Theory can't be racist because "the argument for school choice has a long history outside the context of race. For example, it appears in nearly identical form in John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty."

Surely without knowing the context, you might think you were reading too much into things to hear segregationism in the demand that school enrollment involve the freedom "to associate with persons of his own choosing." But it's hardly an eisegetic sin to call it racism when James Buchanan argued that Black people in America, unlike the successful Whites, lack an innate "thirst for freedom, and responsibility" which is "perhaps not nearly so universal as so many post-Enlightenment philosophers have assumed" (MacLean p37).

In other words, with no hint of self-awareness, Cato chose to claim James Buchanan as a forefather of PCT, and in order satisfy any doubts of lingering racism, add in a gloss by an Enlightenment hero, John Stuart Mill, even though the two claims are in direct, entirely racist contradiction.They note proudly that James Buchanan has never once cited famous Southern slaver and segregationist John C Calhoun. But they omit one crucial fact: other Koch scholars have. Alexander Tabarrok and Tyler Cowen, both funded by Koch, openly admired antebellum South Carolina.  Murray Rothbard — a diehard racist that James Buchanan reveres alongside Adam Smith — made that connection himself explicitly. "Calhoun's insight [was] that it was the intervention of the the state in itself [which] created the classes and the conflict... some people in the community must be net payers of tax funds, while others are net recipients... Calhoun was quite right." This is fairly early on in the book.

One can also find this thread in Cato's history of lobbying the US government. In 1995, Cato lied to the Senate that the welfare state causes crime, referring to "black teens," "black men," "black children" etc. In 2005, Cato testified before Congress that "healthists" were taking too much power and we were getting too upset about health protections regarding indoor cigarette smoke. If this is a champion of precise scholarship and racial integration, I have a bridge to sell you.

In some instances the pretense of a book review fails and you can almost hear the raging spittle dripping from the author's mouth:

Good historians don’t have to take the statements of historical figures at face value, but finding a meaning other than the plain words of the subject requires actual evidence from other sources or statements of the actors. Otherwise, one ends up with pages of confirmation bias. Unfortunately, a lack of such evidence is not a barrier to MacLean’s continued insistence that what Buchanan and others are really talking about is something very different than their plain words, especially with respect to race.

Public Choice Theory admirers say that the book has been discredited. This defensiveness is understandable to those who have dedicated their research projects to this theory, and on an individual level, it doesn't seem that evil. Nobody wants to think of themselves as participating in racism, they want to be revolutionaries. But that's your job as an intellectual, to seek out truth, not what makes your pet idea sound nice. It doesn't seem to be Koch's.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Smoke and mirrors and charter schools

I went through the book “A Chance to Make History” by Wendy Kopp. Kopp was one of the leading organizers of the charter school push. 

Several claims are made:
(1) “In Philadelphia, an organization called Mastery is turning around previously low-performing district schools and dramatically outperforming district wide averages.” (p47)
(2)”so many of the highest-performing charter schools in the country” are “working with fewer dollars per pupil than traditional schools.” (p114)
(3) Kipp Gaston Prep has educated majority-Black, “school lunch” children and the “results are impressive…. 100 percent of seniors were accepted to college.” (p114)
By my estimation, (1) and (2) are very misleading. 

According to Daniel Denvir ( ret:10/9/2015) in the September issue of the Nation last year:
“Michael Masch, the school district’s former chief financial officer and a progressive fan of Mastery’s work, makes a point of noting that the charter network engages in prodigious outside fundraising. Mastery is “not doing more with less,” Masch says. “They’re doing more with more.” [paragraph] In fact, the basic structure of school financing in Philadelphia is rigged to benefit these privately managed companies….” And “Renaissance schools run by Mastery have demonstrated strong test-score gains. Even so, the district-run Promise Academies showed the same encouraging results—until their budgets were gutted.”

Claim (3) is probably the most horrendous, ignoring poverty’s effect on non-English speakers and disabled people. Moreover, Kipp does not graduate all their students. According to Education Week, a think tank funded partially by the pro-charter Gates Foundation, “KIPP schools have substantially higher levels of attrition than do their local school districts. Our analysis revealed that on, average, approximately 15% of the students disappear from the KIPP grade cohorts each year.” The Gaston Prep also “enrolled a lower percentage of students classified as English Language Learners (11.5%) than did their local school districts (19.2%)” and “enrolled a lower percentage of students with disabilities (5.9%) than did their local school districts (12.1%). (Source ret: 10/9/2015)

It’s a shame. People are really being thrown under the bus here.