Beyond Labels

A 360° Discussion of Foreign, National and Local Policy Issues

Monday: The Jan 6 Riots and Aftermath

Having given the subject ten days to “marinate,” we’ll discuss the event itself, the actions of various parties before and after the event, and speculate about implications going forward.

As always, it will likely be a far-ranging discussion. But here are some potential sub-topics:

  • Which parts of Trump’s speech should not be protected by the First Amendment? (Annotated here by the WaPo.)
  • Was impeachment the “right” consequence for Trump’s action? What other alternatives could have been chose?
  • Which members of government distinguished themselves in a positive way? A negative way? What “consequences” for those “negatives?”
  • Has media coverage been fair?
  • What should happen with the Articles of Impeachment going forward (i.e., how to handle the competing demand for time vs. confirming executive branch appointees, legislating, etc.)?

And I’m sure there will be much more…

Jan 11: What Does “in the Public Interest” Really Mean?

Monday’s Topic

For several hundred years, governments and societies have focused on certain activities as being “in the public interest.” (In fact, I suppose some would say that the purpose of government itself is to establish an appropriate (whatever that means) balance between the public interest and individuals’ interests.)

The “public interest,” “public good,” and “common good” are often used as rationales underlying various policy prescriptions. They presume that such an “interest” and “good” can readily be identified. And, more importantly, that the specific policy being promoted is actually the most efficient, efficacious and fairest way to achieve that “public interest.” Amongst moral philosophers, there appears to be more skepticism that this is the case than most of us might think. For example, here is an extract from the introduction to a paper on the public interest in a planning (like city planning) context—sorry for all the “academic-ese”:

The ‘public interest’ has long been used to justify planning as an activity that restricts
certain private property rights….

[Recent] research has demonstrated how many of the traditional arguments for planning in the public interest are rooted in the perception of it as a ‘technical’ profession predicated on the possession of design skills and conducted according to a model of rational comprehensive decision-making….Indeed, it is now generally accepted that planning is an inherently political activity, informed by values and often conducted against a backdrop of competing interests and power asymmetries….This view has weakened the position of the public interest justification for planning. Indeed, there now exists a well-established critical suspicion of potentially universalising concepts that approach the idea of the public interest in planning with a significant degree of cynicism…. Some have gone further in suggesting that the idea of the public interest provides little more than ‘a flexible construct for the articulation of disparate views’…, as contending positions exploit the public interest concept to support their arguments. Moreover, recent research has empirically demonstrated the difficulty experienced by planning practitioners in identifying what the ‘common good’ or the ‘public interest’ may entail…. This side-lining of the public interest concept has been reinforced by the current prevalence of collaborative-oriented approaches in planning academia…and the growing interest in agonistic theory…which generally eschew rather than contest debate on what may constitute the public interest.

So…that’ll be the subject of Monday’s discussion. Is there a “universal public interest,” or is “public interest” a much more malleable, political concept enmeshed in a group’s moral foundations (in the Jonathan Haidt sense)?

Willing to Read More?

Here are some resources to read/skim/glance at:

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