Category Archives: Republic of Letters

Submit Your Proposals: Fifth Annual Midwestern History Conference

The Midwestern History Association and the Hauenstein Center at Grand Valley State University invite proposals for papers to be delivered at the Fifth Annual Midwestern History Conference, to be held May 30-31, 2019 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

This conference continues a discussion which has grown significantly over the last four years, at collaborative conferences designed to spark – and sustain – a revival of Midwestern studies in American historiography. Infused with varieties of original research pursued by scholars from many different career paths and stages, this annual gathering strives to cultivate rigorous historical understanding of a complex, dynamic, changing, and often misunderstood region.
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Sponsored and created by two great men: Gleaves Whitney and Jon Lauck.

Economics and the Good: Part II

Let’s briefly go over what we covered last time. When economists talk about ethical issues, they usually start with economic efficiency as a normative benchmark.  Efficiency means you can’t make someone better off without making someone worse off.  For any given distribution of income, if you reallocate resources from Al to Bob, you improve Bob’s welfare only by diminishing Al’s.  In competitive markets, efficiency has the interesting property of maximizing the dollar value of society’s resources.  If society’s resources did not command as high as a price as they could, it would mean there are unexploited gains from exchange. Those exchanges, once made, would make parties to the exchanges better off, and we could have additional winners without additional losers.


So far, so good.  But there are many unexamined assumptions behind economic efficiency and its desirability.  What are some of these assumptions?  To start, it’s important to remember that efficiency is defined with respect to people’s preferences.  Efficient situations entail people getting what they want.  This is why many economists don’t think efficiency advocacy is controversial.  After all, what could be wrong about people getting what they want?  Actually, it turns out a great deal could be wrong with it!  Imagine Al hates Bob and is willing to pay a million dollars to take out an assassination contract on him.  Bob likes being alive but is only able to pay half a million to bribe the assassin not to kill him.  While the assassination contract clearly fails the strict efficiency definition (nobody better off without somebody worse off), it fits the less stringent one (dollar maximization of goods/services).  But I would hope that no economists would reason from this that we ought to make assassination contracts legal on efficiency grounds!


More generally, we should be cautious in approving the lofty place efficiency has in most economists’ public policy recommendations.  Once we realize that there are plenty of situations where individuals ought not get what they want, efficiency becomes much less appealing as a policy goal.  Furthermore, efficient situations often entail distributional changes in resource allocations that can further burden those who are already struggling.  Economists tend to overlook this as long as the economic pie is getting bigger.  But surely it is reasonable to worry not just about the size of the pie, but who gets how big a slice.  This does not mean calls for distributive justice—many made by non-economists who do not have the training to recognize the disastrous probable consequences of their demands—ought to be acceded to unquestioningly.  But it does mean that there are valid ethical concerns that economists tend to ignore, because of what their analytical window allows them to see.


There is an entire world of ethical discourse outside of economists’ relatively narrow brand of consequentialism.  Economists are selling themselves short when they restrict themselves to the role of efficiency technocrats, rather than adapting their discipline’s invaluable tools towards the cultivation and preservation of a humane society.

When In Gotham . . . | Front Porch Republic

So far as the politics of our debased republic go, the mid-twentieth century quarrel of the leftist C. Wright Mills with his liberal critics comes to mind.  Said Mills by way of response to their demand for what he acidly termed “A Balanced View”: “I feel no need for, and perhaps am incapable of arranging for you, a lyric upsurge, a cheerful little pat on the moral back.”2  In our pitiable circumstance, we all, whether we’re making policy or casting votes, face nothing more immediately hopeful than prudential choices for compromised parties, positions, and politicians—which is not to say that all such options are equal.  We have real choices to make.  To my mind, the most urgent political action today centers on our systemic needs: protecting and promoting (negatively) the separation of powers and (positively) citizen rule.  Such a stance at least will keep us, whatever our take on globalism, from succumbing to nationalist fantasies of repristinated bliss.
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Home and Hearth: A Cautionary Christmas with Washington Irving ~ The Imaginative Conservative

Washington Irving has been credited with inspiring the romantic revival of Christmas in America. But does romanticizing the holiday and its trappings carry with it a moral danger? (essay by Christine Norvell)
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The Weird Thrillers Bundle, curated by Kevin J. Anderson: Just when you thought it was safe to go back to your e-reader! I’ve curated an innovative new StoryBundle, imaginative thrillers, each with a fantasy twist, some funny, some nail-biting, all enjoyable.

As always with, you get a lot of books and you name your own price—in this case (of strange cases!) you’ll receive 14 novels for as little as $15. A portion of the income goes directly to a wonderful charity, and the rest is split among indie authors.
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I’m always up for supporting Kevin J. Anderson, our greatest living sci-fi author.

Presidential Libraries: Treason to a Republic ~ The Imaginative Conservative

Presidential libraries symbolize so much that is wrong about our present-day republic: abuse, corruption, and decadence. For my money, a presidential library is treason, bribery, and a high crime and misdemeanor. A real republican leads because he is needed. When he is done, he does not ask for a monument. (essay by Bradley Birzer)
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[Full confession–I have a honorific from the Reagan Presidential Library, so I’m being a bit hypocritical]

Our Presidents Have Become God-kings

If we still had a republic, we would NEVER have allowed the kind of ceremony that disgraced the very essence of the Constitution yesterday.

It’s one thing to honor a worthy man for his service, it’s another to bury him as a god-king.

Without getting into his politics, George Bush seems to have been a good father and grandfather. Certainly, his service in World War II against the Japanese imperialists was extraordinary.

But, in the end, he was just a man. And, if a republican, he should have departed as once did Cincinnatus.

President Andrew Jackson even refused a simple monument, noting that real republicans die in peace, not in stone.

Sadly, yesterday’s pageant had far more in common with Caesar than with Cicero. Disgusting and abhorrent.

The Embodied Person as Gift ~ The Imaginative Conservative

First principle. The soul is “the principle of unity of the human being, whereby it exists as a whole—corpore et anima unus—as a person” (Veritatis splendor, 48). “It is in the unity of body and soul that the person is the subject of his… acts” (VS, 48). “The human person cannot be reduced to a freedom which is self-designing, but entails a particular spiritual and bodily structure” (VS, 48).

These statements, first of all, affirm the unity of the human being as a dual, or differentiated, unity of body and soul.
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