Author: Chang Che

Cancel Culture and the Republican Concept of Liberty

In June, an opinion piece published in the New York Times by Senator Tom Cotton arguing for federal troops to rein in the protests in Minneapolis sparked a political firestorm. The piece led to the firing of the editor in charge and a rare corrective from the op-ed department. The Times’s institutional response is now a familiar pattern in recent months. It reflects a wider cultural phenomenon, whereby those who espouse controversial or hateful opinions (either in the past or the present) can be punished by affiliated institutions. Cancel culture refers to the practice of pressuring institutions in the hopes that they punish a member with a controversial public profile. At the start of the #MeToo era, the targets of cancellation were often figures that had conducted themselves in morally reprehensible or inappropriate ways. Since then, however, the targets of cancellation have broadened significantly to include those who espouse controversial views. In this arena, cancel culture abandons debate and argumentation in favor of an institutional sanction. The essence of cancel culture lies herein: a form …

Is the New York Times Bad For Democracy?

In a recent column entitled “Why the Success of the New York Times May Be Bad News for Journalism,” media columnist Ben Smith outlines a number of anti-competitive practices by his parent company. His conclusion is that the Times may be well on its way to becoming a monopoly. But why does this matter to readers? I’d like to tally some of the problems that might arise from a lack of viable competition in the journalism industry. To summarize, the New York Times is now a behemoth in the digital news industry, massively outperforming its competitors when it comes to digital subscribers. It poaches the best editors and reporters from other news organizations, swallows their distinctive qualities whole, and now plans to move into the audio industry, with a potential purchase of Serial Productions (a prominent podcast studio that is currently valued at $75 million). Having talked to many aspiring journalists myself, I know that few would dare to refuse an offer at the Times. The Times’s success would be welcome were it not at …

Is Democracy Compatible with Extreme Inequality?

In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville took a 10-month trip to the United States to study the American penal system. In the resulting book—Democracy in America—he singled out one noteworthy feature: “Amongst the novel objects that attracted my attention during my stay in the United States, nothing struck me more forcibly than the general equality of conditions.” Although he ignored the fact of slavery, his reference to economic equality among white Americans was, at the time, accurate. According to economic historians Peter H. Lindert and Jeffrey G. Williamson, the share of national income going to the top one percent was less than 10 percent. Today, the share of national income going to the top one percent has doubled, while median wages have remained largely stagnant. In the last 40 years, CEO wages have grown nearly 100 times the rate of wages for average workers. The popularity of left-wing candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders—both with significant redistributive policies at the core of their platform—reflects the moral concerns many have about high levels of income inequality. But no moral case for economic …

The Case for Compulsory Voting

The right to vote is under relentless assault in the United States today. In 2013, the Supreme Court nullified a pivotal provision of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, which required states to secure approval from the government before changing their election laws. The consequences of the ruling were swift. North Carolina immediately proposed a voter suppression bill that eliminated same-day voter registration. In 2016, 14 states implemented new voting restrictions for the first time in a presidential election. Five years since the ruling, the number of polling closures has doubled. During a town hall event in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2015, Barack Obama commented on America’s disappointing culture of voter suppression: “We shouldn’t be making it harder to vote, we should be making it easier to vote.” He also considered the radical potential of a mandatory voting law. “It would be transformative if everybody voted—that would counteract money [in politics] more than anything.” The former president’s comments were immediately met with heavy conservative criticism. “Forcing people to vote violates their freedom of …