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Ideas in Progress Newsletter

An Institute for Humane Studies Newsletter

Yascha Mounk on Political Polarization

America sits in the throes of a political polarization storm, warns Yascha Mounk, a political scientist at John Hopkins University and an IHS alum and speaker. Mounk will also be discussing his recent book “The Great Experiment” at an IHS event on June 23. “Among countries whose political institutions have been relatively stable, the pace and extent of American polarization is an eye-popping outlier,” Mounk writes. The heightened degree of polarization has serious effects on our discourse, he says.

Mounk explains that because polarization in the United States runs along political fault lines — rather than racial or ethnic ones — the level of polarization could be overstated. “Perhaps America is not so much uniquely polarized as polarized in a unique way. Fifty years ago, out-group hatred in the United States primarily involved race and religion: Protestants against Catholics, Christians against Jews, and, of course, white people against Black people. Most Americans did not care whether their children married someone from a different political party, but they were horrified to learn that their child was planning to ‘marry out.’” To address the unique state of polarization in the U.S., Mounk argues that “we urgently need visionary leaders and institutional reforms that can lower the stakes of political competition. Imagining what a depolarization of American politics would look like is not too difficult. The only problem is that America’s political partisans may already hate one another too much to take the steps necessary to avoid catastrophe.”

Read Yascha Mounk’s article in The Atlantic

Free Speech for Teachers

In the heat of cultural and societal debate, teachers have faced high degrees of censorship if they say something that a school administration disagrees with, according to Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor in education at the University of Pennsylvania and an IHS faculty partner. “Welcome to America, where everyone talks a good game about teachers and free speech,” he writes. “At the end of the day, though, we want teachers to echo our own view of the world. And if they don’t, we’re perfectly happy to discard them.” He notes that the double standard for teachers’ free speech rights “should embarrass all of us, no matter our views on white privilege. The real privilege of democracy is that each of us gets to decide what we think. If you believe in that ideal, you should want students to hear from both Tony Kinnett [a conservative] and Matt Hawn [a progressive]. My question to you, and this is going to be a tough one, is whether we have enough faith in our teachers — and in our democracy — to let that happen.”

Read Jonathan Zimmerman’s op-ed in The Hill

IHS Alumni Weigh In on Baby Formula Shortage

The FDA’s restrictive policies for importing European baby formula have worsened an already fretful time for families with infants, write Scott Lincicome and Emily Ekins, researchers at the Cato Institute and IHS alumni. They write that “the FDA’s actions have exacerbated the problem they were trying to solve.”

The authors argue that tariffs, import restrictions, and heavy regulations on baby formula are harmful policies, especially during an existing supply chain shortage. “By trusting American parents to make sound choices, the FDA would help to maximize U.S. formula supply during a shortage, diversify a highly concentrated domestic formula market and put thousands of worried families’ minds at ease. The approach carries its own risks, but isn’t it better than seizing and destroying thousands of pounds of baby formula in the middle of a national crisis?”

Read Scott Lincicome and Emily Ekins’ op-ed in The Wall Street Journal


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