C.S. Lewis on Anscombe, France, and Meritocracy

Saturday, June 5, AD 2010

Perusing the local used bookstore last weekend, I came across a copy of the Third Volume of the Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis. On the whole (or, rather, through the first hundred pages or so), they make an enjoyable light read, at least for Lewis fans. He is always readable and often insightful. Moreover, the letters offer an interesting window into life in mid-twentieth century England. It’s rather striking that six years after the end of the Second World War, common items like envelopes and certain foods were still either rationed or unavailable (many of the letters are expressions of thanks to sympathetic American friends who have sent Lewis one package or another). Here, in no particular order, are a few passages I found either amusing or interesting:

Writing to a U.S. Friend About the Korean War

“Seriously, though, we all sympathize with you in the position into which you have been forced; it’s all very well to call it a UNO war, but so far as I can gather, it is a USA war. Have you noticed the French contribution? One gunboat!”

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose….

Continue reading...

3 Responses to C.S. Lewis on Anscombe, France, and Meritocracy

Chutes, Ladders, & Progressivism

Monday, September 21, AD 2009

I came across this comment a while back, and I think it summarizes the experience of many of my fellow law and MBA classmates (all of whom are recent graduates or current students):

I don’t know how it was elsewhere, but the game my friends and I were sold had breezy constant ladders and shallow painless chutes. Now the ladders are falling apart or growing queues, and the chutes have proved to be sudden and devastating.

Now, on the one hand, it’s almost never rational to expect wonderful career opportunities to be awaiting one at every turn. And the graduates he’s talking about – people with sparkling resumes from the most prestigious undergrad and graduate schools – are hardly Dickens-level sympathetic protagonists. On the other hand, endless career opportunities are what many grad school admission offices are selling. And for many students and recent graduates of these institutions, six figures in debt with rapidly eroding job prospects,  the recession has been a rather traumatic experience.  This is certain to have a number of consequences, but I’ve been idly speculating that twenty to thirty years down the line, when they will be in a position to influence public policy, these individuals are likely to be more sympathetic than they might otherwise to redistributive policies. And, as it turns out, there is actually a recent academic study from the National Bureau of Economic Research that supports this idea. Here is the abstract:

Do generations growing up during recessions have different socio-economic beliefs than generations growing up in good times? We study the relationship between recessions and beliefs by matching macroeconomic shocks during early adulthood with self-reported answers from the General Social Survey. Using time and regional variations in macroeconomic conditions to identify the effect of recessions on beliefs, we show that individuals growing up during recessions tend to believe that success in life depends more on luck than on effort, support more government redistribution, but are less confident in public institutions.  Moreover, we find that recessions have a long-lasting effect on individuals’ beliefs.

Continue reading...

3 Responses to Chutes, Ladders, & Progressivism

  • Good point, John. I suppose the other influencing factor might be how quick and what kind of a recovery we see in the years to come.

  • After this administration I expect the political pendulum to swing strongly against anything smacking of government redistribution of wealth for a good long while. In this administration I think we will see a New Deal that is a flat failure. (It is arguable that the first New Deal was also a flat failure but such was not the opinion of a solid voting majority of the American public.)

  • I was more thinking of the different ways that economic downturns seem to have affected people. My dad’s parents were both 19 in 1929, so they had a very, very depression era mentality. Nothing was ever thrown away which might be useful, a huge emphasis on savings and paying off debt, always working extra hard and squirreling things away for the expected next crash.

    Compare that to people who weathered the 1980/1982 recession, or like me who came out of college in the post 9/11 slow-down. Maybe my co-workers and I are way a-typical, but aside from a tendency to brag back and forth over beer about layoffs that we’ve seen or experienced, seeing a couple years of rough employment doesn’t seem to have slowed anyone down much or changed their habits.

    I think the big determining factor will be: in 2015 or 2020, will people remember long years of uncertainty and hard times, and feel like they need to save all the time and avoid debt in order to be prepared for the next one, or will they talk about how they worked up from the bottom and had it as hard as everyone, but from the vantage point of having basically “caught up” within 2-3 years?