The Discourse Report: June 30, 2021

Reforming antitrust laws, media viewership is down across the board, Biden on infrastructure, and more

Welcome to DiscRep, your guide to the public discourse. I’m Berny Belvedere (@bernybelvedere), editor in chief of Arc Digital.

Reads

  1. Does the Infrastructure Compromise Signal a Return to Moderation? by Jonah Goldberg in The Dispatch on 6/30/21

For most of U.S. history, major legislation worked its way up the committee system in Congress. Deal-making, logrolling and agenda-setting would get hammered out over months of negotiations shepherded by committee chairs. Such “regular order” has withered away over the last two decades, replaced by what is now called “party government,” where the leaders—the House speaker, the Senate majority leader and the president—drive everything.

This, in turn, is why the nature of the job for rank-and-file senators and representatives has changed. Rather than legislating, the path to attention and influence goes through cable TV studios and social media, where you whip up the base to apply pressure to leadership.

That’s the backdrop of the infrastructure brouhaha.

Spending money on things such as roads, bridges and sewers, as well as more modern stuff such as electric-car charging stations and 5G networks, is popular. That’s partly why a group of 21 senators—11 Republicans, nine Democrats and one independent—agreed to a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill last week. …

The popularity of infrastructure is also why progressive Democrats call $6 trillion of additional spending (on social services and “transformational” Green New Deal projects) “human infrastructure.”

It’s like one of those game shows where you can cram as much stuff as possible into a shopping cart. So long as progressives can claim that the items on their wish list fit in the infrastructure cart, they think they can make it happen. But if the moderates fill a cart solely with the traditional stuff, it will make it infinitely harder for Democrats to claim a second cart is actually infrastructure, no matter the terminology.

  1. The Internet Is Rotting by Jonathan Zittrain in The Atlantic on 6/30/21

The project of preserving and building on our intellectual track, including all its meanderings and false starts, is thus falling victim to the catastrophic success of the digital revolution that should have bolstered it. Tools that could have made humanity’s knowledge production available to all instead have, for completely understandable reasons, militated toward an ever-changing “now,” where there’s no easy way to cite many sources for posterity, and those that are citable are all too mutable.

Again, the stunning success of the improbable, eccentric architecture of our internet came about because of a wise decision to favor the good over the perfect and the general over the specific. I have admiringly called this the “Procrastination Principle,” where an elegant network design would not be unduly complicated by attempts to solve every possible problem that one could imagine materializing in the future. We see the principle at work in Wikipedia, where the initial pitch for it would seem preposterous: “We can generate a consummately thorough and mostly reliable encyclopedia by allowing anyone in the world to create a new page and anyone else in the world to drop by and revise it.”

It would be natural to immediately ask what would possibly motivate anyone to contribute constructively to such a thing, and what defenses there might be against edits made ignorantly or in bad faith. If Wikipedia garnered enough activity and usage, wouldn’t some two-bit vendor be motivated to turn every article into a spammy ad for a Rolex watch?

Indeed, Wikipedia suffers vandalism, and over time, its sustaining community has developed tools and practices for dealing with it that didn’t exist when Wikipedia was created. If they’d been implemented too soon, the extra hurdles to starting and editing pages might have deterred many of the contributions that got Wikipedia going to begin with. The Procrastination Principle paid off.

  1. What Cultural Marxism Really Is by Matthew McManus in Arc Digital on 6/30/21

Marx’s thinking was a product of the mature Enlightenment. His critique of political economy was forged through a union of Hegelian dialectical philosophy, French radicalism and socialism, and English economic theory. This synthetic grandeur gives Marxism much of its power, but also means it is open to objection from many different angles.

For what it’s worth, Marx seemed to regard himself primarily as a theorist of humanity’s gradual emancipation through history, who had triumphantly discovered “laws of motion” active in human societies analogous to those Newton had formulated for physical reality. His writings served to demystify the claim that capitalism and capitalist societies had been around forever, and demonstrated how history shows various transitions in the way human beings organized their economic life. These transitions could be understood dialectically, but only once one had stripped away the veil erected by bourgeois ideology. Once this was accomplished, one could recognize capitalism as the “highest” form of society and economic organization yet to emerge, but also acknowledge that it was just one more stage we would eventually pass through.

  1. Options for Fighting Crime Beyond the Biden Plan by Megan McArdle in The Washington Post on 6/30/21

I believe that the hundreds of millions of guns in this country do a lot of damage, including making our policing worse, because police officers are always worried about getting shot and are correspondingly more aggressive. I also believe, however, that there is no practical, much less constitutional, way to get rid of all those guns, most of which are in the hands of law-abiding people who understandably resent being asked to give them up because criminals abuse theirs. Given the fantastic oversupply of available weaponry, “reasonable gun control” is more likely to please the Democratic base than to meaningfully reduce crime.

I also believe that, with some targeted exceptions, such as community violence interventions or aggressive outreach on mental illness, social programs are not a cost-effective way to fight crime, because most people benefitted by that sort of spending would not commit a crime in the first place. As criminal justice policy expert Mark Kleiman pointed out in his 2009 book, “When Brute Force Fails,” transferring all government spending on criminal justice to education would increase education budgets by a fraction — perhaps a third. Yet no one seriously thinks that a 33 percent increase in the education budget would eliminate crime, or even hold it to current levels, without police on the street.

  1. Congress Faces Renewed Pressure to ‘Modernize Our Antitrust Laws’ by David McCabe and Steve Lohr in The New York Times on 6/29/21

On Monday, a pair of rulings dismissing federal and state antitrust lawsuits against Facebook renewed questions about whether the laws were suited to taking on tech power. A federal judge threw out the federal suit because, he said, the Federal Trade Commission had not supported its claims that Facebook holds a dominant market share, and he said the states had waited too long to make their case.

The decisions underlined how cautious and conservative courts could slow an increasingly aggressive push by lawmakers, regulators and the White House to restrain the tech companies, fueling calls for Congress to revamp the rules and provide regulators with more legal tools to take on the tech firms.

Tweets

  1. Jeffrey Sachs (@JeffreyASachs)

  1. Ryan Teague Beckwith (@ryanbeckwith)

  1. Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy)

  1. Alan Levinovitz (@AlanLevinovitz)

  1. Thomas Chatterton Williams (@thomaschattwill)

Clips

  1. Biden Calls Bipartisan Deal ‘a Generational Investment’ in U.S. Infrastructure (ABC)

  1. Majority Say Abortion Should Be Illegal After First Trimester: Poll (The Hill)

  1. The Space Economy is About to Get a Lot Bigger (Bloomberg Quicktake)

  1. Will China Become the Center of the World Economy? (Financial Times)

  1. Wuhan Lab Hypothesis or Animal-Human Leap? The Hunt for Covid-19’s Origins (The Wall Street Journal)