Thursday, September 07, 2006

Google Recommends Objectivism For Children (or Federalism Scholars)


I like Google, whose corporate policy is "Don't Be Evil" (which might not extend to China, but....). I like everything about Google. I liked Google Scholar for looking up articles during the year I didn't have Lexis Nexis, Westlaw, or a campus-based subscription to JSTOR or HeinOnline. I like Picasa, the open source photo-storage and editing program that Google gives out for free. I like Blogger, which is free and not too hard to mess with (template wise) if you're so inclined for cheap soap-box shouting. I like my Gmail accounts. But more on why I now feel a bit less in love with that later.

Google runs a lot of ads on the top and side of its search pages that correspond to your search terms. That's the small price you pay for a pretty darned good search engine. Search topics are personal to many (and the weird ones that land you here, by the way), which is why AOL was in such hot water when it "mistakenly" leaked its members' web search data. But with Gmail, the topbar and sidebar suggestions for products and services are mined, frequently enough, from the terms in your personal and private communications. You are not broadcasting a search across the internet, casting your net widely. Most people think of email the way they think about letters--for the eyes of the addressee only. I feel that way, yet I use Gmail. Why? In return for 2 GB of free space, chat capabilities (big with my lawyer friends wasting firm time) and a pretty nifty web-based email program (I like how it "remembers" addresses without me having to go through the process of physically adding contacts to my address book, and the search function for all emails/conversations with a particular person or subject), I give up a little bit of privacy. It's the same compromise I do when I use Amazon for its steep 30-40% discounts. You give up a little (or a lot, depending on the privacy law expert) for something you consider to be a worthy exchange. Generally, I have felt that way. But today, I'm a little bothered.

So I was emailing a visiting scholar friend here about his conflict of laws book, thinking I might buy myself a copy (unfortuately am not taking it, as it doesn't focus on federal-state conflicts and I have too many units already). But even if I don't take certain classes, if it is necessary or useful, I'll look through the syllabus and maybe even buy the casebook (a good idea if your school doesn't offer certain courses, like say statutory interpretation). Though I didn't have to, I bought myself a copy of my advisor's Big Book O' Constitutional Fun just for a couple of chapters that might be useful to my thesis. So this is generally a fun and good thing to do, and I am glad I can peruse Typical French Guy's (the very cool visiting scholar's) book to see if I want to buy it.

I just looked at the page of the email. What, do you ask, does Google suggest I buy if I'm interested in (I'm pulling out words from our brief emails) "conflict of laws," "state and federal issues" and "preemption"?

A book, Google (or whoever) describes as:

"Dr. Seuss meets Ayn Rand. - Buy this beautiful illustrated book Warning against big government."

I went to the site, and this is the description of the book:

An Island Called Liberty

This book is a cross between Dr. Seuss and Ayn’s Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand would be proud of the message and Dr. Seuss would be proud of the beautiful illustrations and rhyming verse in this lively tale of free-markets versus excessive government regulation. Hardcover, 27 beautifully illustrated pages! Follow the trials of bright Bridget Blodgett as she struggles to produce her widgets and wodgets in the face of increasing taxation! Find out what happens when the islanders and their businesses can no longer support the bureaucracy that has somehow grown from the best of intentions! This beautifully illustrated hard-bound book extols the virtues of free markets, and shows what can go wrong when government bureaucracy gets out of control! For free market advocates of all ages!

Content of text is suitable for children 10 and up, although younger children will enjoy the rhyming verse and colorful pictures on each page. Older children and adults will love the intelligent message of freedom and the warning against excessive regulation.

Okay, so I admit that I'm becoming more open-minded about federalism arguments for state rights and sovereign immunity. I'm even beginning to think that there are areas in which the Federal government should not involve itself. Yes, states can be great "laboratories of experiment" for new laws in all sorts of areas, from environmental law, to hate crimes, to free speech protection, etc. True, there are legitimate concerns about the autonomy of individuals to be free from undue interfernece by either the state or federal government.

But I look at this weird "Objectivism for Kiddies" book suggestion, and I want to puke. Much as my own ideas about federalism are changing (particularly since I've been reading critically arguments on both sides, and under the guidance of Preeminent Federalism Scholar), I still maintain that "federalism" can be a neutral principle. "Federalism" is not linguistically or historically an argument for states' rights to the exclusion of the federal government regulatory power, or for federal power to the exclusion of the principle that each state has its own government, constitution, and special regulatory powers. We have a dual federalism system, and whatever hypocrises and inconsistencies there are in the principle that there are certain powers (police power for the states, plenary immigration powers for the federal government) limited to each--we have this weird dual system. Federalism is the study of the "proper" roles of and relationships between the federal and state governments, and you may say "federalism" without invoking an argument for one or another.

So if federalism can be a "neutral" principle, why do these terms invite a recommendation for some bizarre objectivist, capitalist, anti-regulatory (one may study federalism to argue for increased regulatory power by either the state or federal government), Ayn Rand meets Seuss book?!

Not only is the study of "federalism" wayyyy too politicized, but it is also weirdly absorbed into this objectivist, individualist, capitalist wacko-Libertarian scheme?!

I say this, not lightly:

What the ____?!