The Brief Case
Some recommended content about YIMBYism, liberalism, and free speech.
Due to recent travel and other priorities getting in the way, I am still working on the next installments of my Search for Common Ground series, in which I look at issues that bridge ideological and partisan divides and offer solutions that satisfy multiple values (Part 1 looks at zoning reform). I hope to have that piece ready next week, but until then, I wanted to share a few snippets of things I have been reading, watching, and listening to lately that I think are worth checking out.
Matt Yglesias on Why YIMBYism Is Winning
At Slow Boring, Matt Yglesias argues a lack of polarization among the YIMBY movement has contributed to its success:
Either way, the point is that YIMBY successes depend on pragmatism and compromise. One of the big failures this year came in New York, where Kathy Hochul endorsed a really ambitious set of reforms that then all fell apart. The more common and more successful model involves a layered approach to reform, where the most ambitious ideas don’t pass but some smaller stuff gets done as wavering legislators want to show that they aren’t totally indifferent to the issue.
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Slow Boring has a fairly technically minded audience, so the point I would make is that zoning generates enormous amounts of deadweight loss, so zoning reform unlocks a large surplus. That surplus means there are a lot of different benefits to zoning reform, and also that the surplus can be deliberately redistributed in a bunch of different ways. That means that there are a lot of different possible legislative coalitions and rhetorical strategies that align with the basic goal of reducing regulatory barriers to housing supply. Which ones are best and in which places depends on both the objective structure of public opinion and also who holds seats in the legislature.
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I used to think that the problem of housing politics in the United States was that YIMBYism naturally “reads” as right-wing deregulation but the biggest need for policy changes is in large blue state cities and their inner-ring suburbs. So I thought deliberately aligning YIMBYism with progressive politics would be a good idea. The people actually doing the work mostly disagreed with me, and I think events have proven them right. One issue is that regulatory constraints on housing supply are actually incredibly widespread, even if the problem is most severe in a handful of deep blue metros. But the other is that, in practice, it’s more productive to treat this as a state-level issue rather than as dozens of separate local dogfights, and in state politics it’s helpful to be bipartisan — even in New York or Texas.
The Pamphleteer: An Interview with Housing Expert M. Nolan Gray
Davis Hunt, founder and editor of Nashville’s alt-daily newsletter The Pamphleteer, recently interviewed M. Nolan Gray, research director at California YIMBY, about zoning reform and housing policy. They also discuss Nolan’s excellent book Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It, which I highly recommend. Davis raises some thoughtful concerns about YIMBYism, and Nolan delivers the goods.
Liberalism and Free Expression
Re-Imagining Liberty: The Liberal Virtues (w/ Peter Boettke)
This is a fantastic discussion between host Aaron Ross Powell and Peter Boettke, University Professor of Economics and Philosophy at George Mason University. Contrary to traditional arguments for liberal toleration, Powell has made the case that “[a] society permeated more thoroughly with the virtues of goodwill and sympathetic joy is likely to better maintain political liberalism than one grounded in mere toleration.” Powell asks Boettke, who has written about the case for liberal cosmopolitanism in his book The Struggle for A Better World, to critique his concept of sympathetic joy, which leads to a robust and inspiring discussion about the potential for liberal ideas to thrive in dark times.
Alex Morey and Eric Celler Take on Threats to Academic Freedom and Free Expression at Texas A&M
I want to highlight two great, related posts about recent incidents at Texas A&M. To summarize, A&M Professor Joy Alonzo, an expert on the opioid crisis, was recently placed on administrative leave after word got back to Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick that she had made critical comments about his policies during a presentation on campus. In another recent case, former New York Times reporter Kathleen McElroy was offered a tenured faculty position at A&M in the journalism program. After alumni complained to the administration that McElroy was “too progressive,” her offer was rescinded. A&M’s president M. Katherine Banks was forced to resign due to the scandal, and McElroy was awarded a $1 million settlement.
At Persuasion, Alex Morey, who leads the Campus Rights Advocacy team at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, contends that politics entering personnel decisions on campus threatens academic freedom and the First Amendment:
Taken together, these two Texas-sized controversies are a testament to what happens when universities bend over backwards to please powerful outside actors. They raise the question of how lawmakers, alumni, and donors nationwide are using their power and influence to dictate the ideas taught in college classrooms, particularly in red states.
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Make no mistake: the kind of ultra-polarized, vindictive political wheeler-dealing that pollutes so much of our national landscape has no place in academia. Our public universities are society’s knowledge factories, testing ideas and mining facts using objective scientific principles. Student and faculty autonomy is key to fulfilling that educational mission, and must always be top of the list. Higher education ceases to function under conditions that severely limit the words, ideas, and views up for consideration—no matter what you think of the underlying ideas themselves, and no matter whether the threat comes from the left or the right.
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And when it comes from the sort of pressure exercised against Alonzo and McElroy at Texas A&M, it’s the responsibility of college and university administrators to stick with their principles and resist the temptation to appease the powerful. Universities need administrators who treat their position as totally apolitical, who don’t sacrifice free speech to please alumni or donors who complain, and who value student and faculty rights above keeping the optics good for local politicians.
At The Oyster Club, Eric Celler takes an in-depth look at a recent op-ed in which Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick attempts to defend his actions against Professor Alonzo not as an attack on academic freedom but as simply raising concerns about what is being taught at “state-funded universities.” The problem, as Celler argues, is that Lt. Governor Patrick is not just a concerned parent or student — he is a state actor with political power:
What he found most worrying, though, was the response from the faculty senate. The Texas A&M “Faculty Senate” (which Patrick oddly put in scare quotes as if the body was made up) launched its own investigation into the investigation. According to Lt. Governor Patrick, “Their outrage seems based on the belief that anyone who dares ask a question about what is being taught or said in a classroom at a state university is somehow challenging their ‘academic freedom.’”
They’re right, and Lt. Gov. Patrick seems to misunderstand the issue at hand fundamentally. He isn’t just “anyone”; he is the Lt. Governor of Texas. He is a public official with tremendous power that he can wield against individual professors he deems troublesome. This is quite different from a parent or a student raising concerns with the university. States have a legitimate monopoly on force, and they have a duty to wield that responsibly. The most alarming aspect of his comments is how little the Lt. Governor appreciates this fact.
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The most troubling element of all this is the outlook for academic freedom and free speech on campus. In a world where administrators are comfortable doing the bidding of thin-skinned public officials, nobody is safe. If faculty can’t expect their institution to stand behind them when their academic freedom is questioned, they cannot conduct consequential research. Truth-seeking is often uncomfortable, inconvenient, and offensive. Questioning decisions made by public officials is, to use an overused phrase, a cornerstone of liberal democracy. These things go hand-in-hand, and without an expectation that they will be jealously guarded, we’re all in trouble.
Jon Styf at The Center Square: Report: Tennessee Titans' value rose 33% to $4.37B following $2.1B stadium deal
J.C. Bradbury: “Every NFL team is now worth *at least* $4 billion. Folks, there is no legitimate justification for taxpayers to ever subsidize an NFL stadium. None, zero, zilch.”
Field of Schemes: “Rays fans are showing up to games again, clearly they need to tear down their stadium and build a new one”
Associated Press: “Students in a Florida school district will be reading only excerpts from William Shakespeare’s plays for class rather than the full texts under redesigned curriculum guides developed, in part, to take into consideration the state’s new law that restricts classroom materials whose content can be deemed sexual.”
Walter Olson at The Unpopulist: “Nothing in the charges filed Wednesday seeks to punish [former President Trump] for speech or advocacy as such. While the indictment does recite many things Trump said and calls them false, it identifies each such statement as being part of an overall course of conduct satisfying the elements of a crime under one of four federal statutes.”
That’s all for now. Be sure to check out and read all of the full pieces discussed above.