19 March 2019

PryorPostsIndia 4.2

For some of the fun stuff. (For those interested in what I'm doing to justify your tax dollars read PryorPostsIndia 4.1 here.)

Although we've had many enjoyable times since we've arrived in India I'll post about two of them here. First was the annual Fulbright Scholars Conference in Kochi in late February. 

The Conference brought together Fulbrighters from India as well as other parts of South and Central Asia. Channeling our two daughters, we attended a number of panel presentations on public health and engineering issues. We noted that scholars and graduates from the University of Wisconsin, Madison were very well represented. The food was great:


Before (sans rice)

After

We enjoyed a leisurely boat ride through the backwaters near our hotel:


Slow Speed Ahead
Nets drying in the sun.
Fisherman at Work
Fisherman at Work


And an afternoon venture into the historical areas of Kochi.


Kochi Jewish Settlement
Dating Back to 1st Century

Kochi Christians of
a Variety Traditions

Syrian Orthodox Church
Most recently, we spent a week in Jodhpur. At NLU-Jodhpur I gave three lectures to students and facilitated a faculty discussion on "Is Law Teaching a Service? Are Our Students Customers?"  Visiting friends from ten years ago was the high point of our stay.



In fact, we were so busy enjoying ourselves that I felt I needed to return to work in Delhi to catch up on rest. (For posts from a decade about about the city of Jodhpur go here, here, and here.)

More slowly than a decade ago, we've adapted to life in India. Adjusting to the mega-city of Delhi (> 19 million residents) and living on our own in a flat (rather than a university guest house) took some time. But it has been time well-spent as we have come to think of Atulya Apartments as "home," to appreciate buying staples from vendors operating stands outside the gate, and "going to the market" meaning choosing between the many shops in Sector 4 or the ones in Sector 12. Not to mention making new relationships with folks at Dwarka Community Church and National Law University, Delhi. And finding our favorite chaiwala on Sector 18B Road.

All in all, life is good. God has blessed us and we are pleased that he is doing so here.

18 March 2019

PryorPostsIndia 4.1

(For earlier posts about this term as in India as a Fulbright-Nehru Research Scholar go here, here, and here.)

My work with colleague Dr. Risham Garg continues in the phase of data collection. We have prepared a questionnaire for Indian insolvency professionals that addresses their perceptions of four matters: the work of their Insolvency Professional Agency (IPA), the work of other IPAs and their affiliated professionals, the work of the adjudicating authorities (NCLT and NCLAT), and  issues with regard to the substance of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) and attendant Regulations.

We are always looking for additional respondents!

Email scottc.pryor@nludelhi.ac.in if you or someone you know is an Indian Insolvency Professional and link to the survey will be sent.

I have also spent time interviewing insolvency professionals and representatives of the IPAs as well as officials at the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India. Various conferences and round-tables on the IBC where I have been a presenter or panelist have also proved a useful investment of my time

Finally, I have learned a great deal about the IBC by co-teaching with Risham Garg a seminar on Comparative Bankruptcy Law at National Law University, Delhi as well as lecturing at National Law University, Jodhpur. The students at both schools ask good questions. Other lecturing opportunities are in the offing.

In short, I've so far been earning my keep. I hope that the final report on the implementation of the IBC proves useful to lawmakers, regulators, and professionals.

(Of course, we've also had time for fun so those interested in a travelogue can stay tuned for my next post.)

26 February 2019

Biblicism as Worldview-ism?

How often have I posted about the dangers of worldview thinking? I can't recall but for a couple of them go here and here

What's wrong with the idea of worldview? Agreeing with Peter Leithart whom I quoted here,
I’m ready to delete “worldview” from Christian vocabulary. It’s an especially clunky category for evaluating art. Drama and poetry can’t be reduced to clever ways of communicating ideas, which is what happens in “worldview” analysis. To get the worldview, you extract ideas about man, society, God, and nature from the plays and organize them into a system; you ignore the poetry and the plot and everything that makes the play a play or the poem a poem. You come to the plays with a preconceived framework that makes it impossible to learn anything from them, much less enjoy them. You produce students who are glib know-it-alls, who don’t need to read the plays carefully because they already know what they think.
In short, worldview analysis takes a few important categories (truth, goodness, beauty, etc.), abstracts them from the historical context in which they have understood, and provides a simplistic definition. Any bright high-school student can then slot a thinker, writer, theologian, or artist into a predigested rubric. And, once slotted, analysis is at an end.

But can the Bible itself be reduced to a worldview rubric? On any orthodox understanding of the authority of the Bible as God's revelation to humanity would suggest the answer must be no. While it takes a lot of wisdom to get to fine-grained answers to many specific questions raised by the biblical text, the Bible's place as the norm that norms all subsidiary norms makes its claims unimpeachable. 

Even so, there is a risk that those who make assertions about a biblical norm for this, that or the other thing may confuse their understanding of the biblical text with the meaning of the text and/or extend the application of the biblical text beyond its scope.

For a fuller exploration of this concern go here to read a piece by Alastair Roberts, "Being Biblical: When the Bible Becomes a Brand." A taste from Alastair's introduction:
Over the past few decades, the temptation to turn Christianity into a brand has proved irresistible not merely among the Joel Osteen’s of the world, but even in many of the strongest and most intellectual holdouts of Reformed and evangelical Christianity. If ideas are to survive at all in a branded world, they must do so as ideologies, as -isms, a neat, pre-packaged, name-it-and-claim-it (or name-it-and-damn-it) system of ideas. 
And some of his words of conclusion:
An abundance of non-Christian influences—ideological, cultural, and material—have been ground into the ‘pure’ sausage of biblical™ worldview. If we simply trust the trademark on the label, we might never closely investigate the ingredients. The alternative is not to eliminate such influences—many of which we have a great deal to gain from—but to be more forthright about what we are taking from them and why, while testing all against Scripture.
There's much more meat in the middle so don't take my word for it. Read the whole thing for yourself. 

15 February 2019

A Place for Modesty: More on Contracts and Liberalism

Enhancing (and advancing) human autonomy has always played a part in the role of contracts in society. Years ago autonomy was one of the three legs of the stool of the social practice of contracting I described in Mission Possible (download here or here). Contract law, at least as I see it, is a second-order phenomenon designed with the ambitions of both commutative justice (here) and corrective justice (here) in mind 

Contract law theories are the particular province of legal academics. But they are not on that account of no importance. Only the most pedestrian would assert that there's no place for wondering about the why of what is, especially when "what is"--contract law--is backed by the coercive power of the State.

Nate Oman is among the most insightful of younger generation of contract scholars and theorists. My posts here, here, and here are some of examples of what has intrigued me. Now you can add his Contract Law and the Liberalism of Fear (download here) to the list. Oman writes clearly so I won't belabor his argument except to report that it follows on his Markets as a Moral Foundation for Contract Law (observations here) in which the softening virtues of the market, rather than the pretensions of expanding human autonomy, are at the core of contract law. And taking the matter one step further, the concept of contract cannot be at the center of the contemporary liberal project. If autonomy doesn't justify contract law, a fortiori it can't justify a social contractarian vision of political ordering. 

But read Contract Law and the Liberalism of Fear for yourself and let me know what you think.

12 February 2019

PryorPostsIndia 3.0

More than a few weeks have passed since my earlier posts here and here about my return to India as a Fulbright-Nehru Research Scholar. In the interim we have moved into a nice flat in Dwarka, about 2 km. from the campus of National Law University-Delhi. Still in early spring, I can walk to work most days.

LaDonna quickly tracked down opportunities to be of service and has checked out the Sweet Home Children's Village, which provides care for girls ages 5-18 who are orphans or who have been abandoned, and the Ashish Foundation, which provides non-residential educational services for folks with a variety of disabilities.

My work so far has been centered around four activities. With the help of a graduate assistant trained in empirical research, I have developed a questionnaire for circulation among the insolvency professionals of Delhi. The project for which I obtained my grant is to investigate the implementation of the new Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code of India. In effect since only 2017, the early days of the IBC give me a chance to see how a nation can begin a legal, professional, and administrative system of corporate restructuring virtually whole-cloth.

Second, I am looking for speaking opportunities and so far have addressed the Insolvency Professional Agency of the Institute of Cost Accountants of India. I managed to keep their interest for over an hour on the topic of an introduction to U.S. reorganization law (better known as Chapter 11). The thirty or so in attendance were an astute bunch who asked good questions.

Next, I've worked diligently with colleague Dr. Risham Garg to create a syllabus and collate materials for an elective course in Comparative Bankruptcy Law. Wednesday will be only our second session but so far all looks good.

Finally, Risham has asked that I join him as a contributor and co-editor of a "Handbook of Comparative Insolvency Law." I have been diligently plugging away on a very brief overview of U.S. bankruptcy law with an emphasis on Chapter 11.

LaDonna and I have also managed to enjoy ourselves with visiting a nearby church for worship, attending a wedding, cooking a previously-unknown vegetable, and exploring our part of Dwarka. Dwarka, in turn, is only a part of greater New Delhi. We hope to see more of the city as time progresses so stay tuned for occasional updates.

29 January 2019

More Grinching

Notwithstanding my recent post here, I want to avoid being that "stay off my grass" kind of guy. Nonetheless, I want to send folks to another downer of a piece: Corporate Capitalists Killed American Identity. How, one might wonder, can the free market and not, say, cultural Marxism or immigration, account for the ever-deracinated nature of what it means to be "American"? In The American Conservative David Mascriotra asserts that

All arguments about immigration aside, changing demographics did not transform the country into the planetary capital of asphalt and replace its rich terrain with the endless suburban sprawl of office complexes, strip malls, and parking lots. The reduction of the American character to a giant Walmart and the mutation of the American landscape, outside of metropolitan areas, to the same cloned big box stores and corporate chains is not a consequence of immigration.
Mascriotra expands on Cotton Mather's observation about the decline of Puritanism ("Religion brought forth Prosperity, and the daughter destroyed the mother"):

A culture of corporate capitalism demands conformity, and most people cooperate. But because its center is hollow, few people feel any sense of connection to each other, even as they parrot the same values. It is no wonder that most forms of rebellion in the United States are exhibitions of stylized individualism—inspiring theater and often enlivening to observe, but politically fruitless. Rather than a “marketplace of ideas,” the United States is a mere marketplace.

Ouch. 

That the ever expanding place of the market has contributed to the disintegration of natural and social bonds cannot plausibly be denied. So I've argued here, here, and here. Alternatively, take a look at my two-parter on Adeline Allen's excellent work on surrogacy contracts here and here. Or what I had to say about Margaret Radin's "contract degradation" here, here, and here.

But that the market is a useful tool of exchange and development is equally the case as I noted here and here. In other words, without a highly efficient, decentralized series of market exchanges, I doubt that I would enjoy the benefits of AC in Delhi in the coming weeks. And that, dear readers, would be a BAD state of affairs.

(Of course, no one said I had to come to India. If I'd stayed home and not participated in two 6+ hour flights with their attendant degradation of the ozone layer, and if I weren't able to stay in India surviving by dint of pollution-generating electricity powering my AC, then perhaps the world on balance would be a better place. Well, let's not go too far down that road. After all, even folks spending their entire lives in India can live them better by virtue of AC.)

While I appreciate a good curmudgeon as much as the next guy, any critique of corporate-consumer capitalism must also take its benefits into account. And, as I concluded in the my post noted above, only be creating a new social imaginary can we hope to reverse the relentless tide of reducing all of life to the marketplace.

In other words, Mascriotra overstates the case. The market alone can't explain what's happened to Americans (and America) over the past 150 years. There has long been a bent toward pragmatic consumerism in the hearts of Americans. And as for Walmart, who knows if it will long survive the collapse of big-box retail?

So, perhaps it would be better to say that Americans killed America while corporate capitalists ran away with the loot.




22 January 2019

Liberalism's Latest Critic (and Why It's Not Quite Enough)

Yoram Hazony, author of  "The Virtue of Nationalism" (2018) (see some earlier posts about Hazony here, here, and here), has given us a "cheat sheet" when it comes to his book in a post at First Things titled Conservative Democracy.  Not a commonly-reference liberal democracy but a conservative one.

The form of democracy we experience throughout the West today finds its immediate roots in the thinkers of 18th century.  Generally known as Liberals, they moved away from the more distinctively Christian past toward Classical Liberalism described by Hazony as
an Enlightenment political tradition descended from the principal political texts of rationalist political philosophers ... By “rationalist,” I mean that this kind of political thought is intended to imitate a mathematical system, which begins with axioms taken to be self-evident and proceeds by supposedly infallible deductions.
So what are Liberalism's axioms? Per Hazony:
  1. The availability and sufficiency of reason (at least for all public purposes).
  2. The free and equal individual ... in all respects.
  3. Obligation arises from choice -- all of life is contractual.
What's wrong with this picture of human, social, and political realty? Quite a bit, actually. 

As Hazony observes, many important aspects of human life--God, God's revelation in the Bible, and the legitimate authority of the family, the traditions of a nation among them--are neither among Liberalism's axioms nor can they be deduced from those axioms. In fact, Liberalism effectively undermines claims of authority from outside its rationalist bubble.

So what's Hazony's alternative to Classical Liberalism's three axioms? In a word, conservatism. But not what passes for "conservative" in the American context, which is Classical Liberalism bent toward individualism (libertarianism) and/or the market as panaceas for the problem of social ordering.

So, to ask the next question, what does Hazony mean by conservatism? A cluster of five principles describe his understanding:
  1. Historical empiricism
  2. Nationalism
  3. Religion
  4. Limited executive power
  5. Individual freedoms
The first principle, historical empiricism, is the antithesis of Liberalism's axiom 1. Instead of a finding its justification in reason abstracted from the historical, cultural, and social life of a people
the authority of government derives from constitutional traditions known, through the long historical experience of a given nation, to offer stability, well-being, and freedom. These are refined through trial and error over many centuries ... Such historical empiricism entails a skeptical standpoint with regard to the divine right of the rulers, the universal rights of man, and all other abstract, universal systems.
Hazony's second and third principles respond to Liberalism's second and third axioms; the warrant for a polity's continued existence comes from within its lived experience, not from an abstract "without." And, by the way, that "within" is fully human, not a deracinated brain on a stick.

The final two principles on Hazony's list, however, overlap with the outworking of Classical Liberalism's axioms. Certainly standing alone his fifth principle would be roundly applauded by libertarians and libertines alike. Hazony's piece explains that the individual freedoms (better, "liberties") identified in conservatism are local and historical: "like all rationalists, liberals are engaged in applying local truths, which hold good under certain conditions, to quite different situations and circumstances where they often go badly wrong." Iraq, anyone? Whatever the case, conservatism's liberties don't come from Olympian pronouncements by five folks wearing black gowns.

Everything Hazony describes in his piece is fundamentally sound. Just read it and see for yourself. But I would like to comment on three problems I see. First, not every religion has been part of a conservative tradition in which Hazony's other four principles abide. As he observes, conservatism has been particularly (albeit not exclusively or perfectly) the gift of 16th and 17th century Protestantism. Similarly, a variety of contemporary expressions of that religion, which were once a dynamic element of conservatism, have themselves drunk the Kool-Aid of Liberalism and have little to offer any contemporary conservative renaissance.

And yet ... yet, isn't there more than a historically successive connection between the insights, values, and traditions of early Protestant conservatism and contemporary Liberalism?  The significant overlap between the conservative tradition's conception of historically-grounded ordered liberty and Liberalism's focus on individual freedom suggests that Liberalism might not be all bad. Liberalism has formed many good things as well as deformed many, many others.

Thus third (in two parts): does Hazony's conservatism have room for the good fruit of Liberalism? And does it have a plausible chance of rooting out Liberalism's pathologies while preserving its blessings?

For an answer to both parts of my question go here to read John Medaille's "Why Anti-Liberalism Fails." I won't try to summarize Medaille's lengthy discussion except to say he agrees that Liberalism has generated good fruit. Yet, to reverse its deforming effects Medaille concludes that it will take a better story. In other words, Liberalism's pathologies cannot simply be eliminated with arguments like Hazony's, cogent as they are. Liberalism's grasp on our affections is so strong and deep that even Hazony's limpid prose fails to make an impression lasting enough and deep enough to reorient the Liberal social imaginary that is continually expanding its grip. Indeed, in my current posting to Delhi I can see that grip inexorably spreading. 

Thus, perhaps overcoming Liberalism with conservatism isn't the full answer. Perhaps, in Medaille's words,
We have to give a new narration which reconnects the Christian values of Liberalism with their Christian roots so that they may gain new life, and can deliver what they promise. And every good story, at least in Christian lands, is really just a retelling of the Gospel story, a record how the images of God play out in history. But no version of that story can be compatible with secularism, and no area of life can escape the story. Alongside the economic and political task, there is the literary task, because culture cannot be reformed without all three. And without this new reformation, the West cannot be saved. In truth, we cannot rid ourselves of Liberalism unless we rid ourselves of Christianity, but neither Liberalism nor Christianity can survive a totalizing secularism. 
Only a story or, rather, the Story ramified through individual and historical stories together with the insights of folks like Hazony and Roger Scruton can alter the imaginary of Liberalism to recover the virtues of conservatism. Can this be done? I must say yes. Will it happen? Stay tuned for the next 50 years.

21 January 2019

Compromise

Links to two previous posts on the place of compromise (here and here) that seem apropos of current political discourse. Not every hill is to die on and the majority of political judgments are matters of prudence. Even though a majority of those decisions may reflect poor judgment, they are not on that account morally evil. And, given some appropriate epistemic humility, the purveyor of poor judgment may be me.

12 January 2019

PryorPostsIndia 2.1

For those wondering what's happened since I posted PryorPostsIndia 2.0, read on.

Hurry up and wait is a bit of an overstatement but only a bit. Since arriving in Delhi shortly before midnight (IST) this past Tuesday, I've spent a fair amount of time in my hotel room. Turns out that students National Law University-Delhi, have a longer than typical Winter Break to give them time for an internship in the winter as well as the summer. A good idea, really, but one that slows arranging for a place to stay in the university's guest house because a number of administrators are also taking a break.

But not to worry. Professor Risham Garg, my colleague in my Fulbright project, has been on campus and we have met several times to discuss the research that should be done for my project as well as talk about a syllabus for a joint LL.M. course in comparative bankruptcy law. And I have spent many hours reading some of his books providing, on the one hand, a practice-oriented approach to the workings of India Bankruptcy Code (IBC) and, on the other, integrating regulations as well as administrative and judicial decisions construing the IBC. So far I've identified a number of questions to be pursued (somewhere around 40) so there's little chance of getting bored while here.

07 January 2019

PryorPostsIndia 2.0

This blog began a decade ago when this post featured an account of our delayed arrival in India. Why India? Now as then I'm heading (departing IAD at 18:30 on 7 January) to the Subcontinent as a Fulbright Scholar. This time I'm going to do research on the implementation of the new India Bankruptcy Code of 2016 (IBC).

Now as then I'll use my blog to discuss both my professional, academic work as well as personal insights on life, living, and folks I meet in India. I'll be posted to National Law University-Delhi and collaborating with Dr. Risham Garg who's focused his legal scholarship on the IBC. Several others of the NLU-D faculty were on faculty at the National Law University-Jodhpur where I taught on my first Fulbright ten years ago. It will be good to renew their acquaintance. 

Jodhpur, an Indian city of a bit over 1 million inhabitants, is small change compared to Delhi (a large metropolis of about 19 million souls). Navigating life in such a large (and polluted) city will present challenges.

I won't be changing the name of the blog but for most purposes it will be pryorpostsindia again.

06 January 2019

The Museum of the Bible

I returned to the Museum of the Bible for a second visit in two weeks. With my family I had spent about four hours moving through all of the exhibits except for the floor devoted to the "History of the Bible." Today I finished with several hours looking at the museum's collection of manuscripts and large number of early printed Bibles. As with each of the other presentations, the museum's curators have done an exceptional job of mixing artifacts with audio explanations and engaging video first-personal enactments and discussions.

Even before it opened some critics were ready to pronounce anathema on the Museum. It's heresy? One of the greatest bugaboos of identity-driven politics of: proselytization. After all, what else would one expect from something funded in large part by the family that owns Hobby Lobby? More thoughtful observers demurred. And so do I. 

The Museum of the Bible is just that. Its exhibits show rather than tell how the text of the Bible came to be, how it has been preserved, and the extraordinary effects it has had. The museum espouses no theory of biblical inspiration or even biblical authority. Instead, it presents the way of living in which the events described in the Bible took place and how it has been used for good and not-so-good in the ensuing millennia.

I was surprised at the scope of perspectives featured in the Museum of the Bible. Several exhibits were prepared or at least strongly influenced by Jewish scholars. Although the Green family are part of the American Evangelical tradition, the Vatican Library has space for an exhibit and some Protestant canards about the Medieval Church's opposition to vernacular translations are laid to rest.

In sum, the Museum of the Bible is not didactic. Instead, it demonstrates how thoroughly the Bible was (and to a significant extent still is) one of the primary threads of the Western tradition. Whatever may be your position with respect to the message of the Bible, this museum will enrich your understanding of Western art, society, and culture.

(For a more in-depth consideration of the Museum of the Bible and its early critics go here to read a good piece by Glenn Moots.)

20 December 2018

Greatest Hits of Student Loans

A few days ago a reader wondered if I could collate and summarize my multitude of posts on the topic of student loans. Anything for an interested follower!

Subsidizing all higher education here.

Subsidizing for-profit pseudo-education here.

Undoing the subsidy for private student lenders here and here.

One size does not fit all: pricing risk into student loans here and here.

Student loans can be discharged herehere, and here.

How to make money from deadbeat students here.

Is there really a student loan crisis here?

Of course there are more posts but this should be enough to keep folks busy for awhile.

But what about a fundamental question of policy: Wouldn't permitting student loans to be freely discharged in bankruptcy invite impecunious students to walk away from college with their enhanced "human capital" and shift the cost to hapless lenders (or taxpayers)? In other words, wouldn't they have their cake and eat it too?

Four thoughts. First, student loans were freely dischargeable in bankruptcy before 1979 and the earth didn't stop turning on its axis. Of course, much has changed over the past forty years so perhaps we should not look to history for guidance.

Second, there are long-term costs associated with bankruptcy that even today dissuade many folks who are otherwise eligible from seeking bankruptcy relief. Two that stand out are social stigma and the increased cost of credit down the road.

Next, many students are not actually repaying their student loans as it is. There's not as much downside risk as many folks believe in permitting students to discharge debt they aren't likely to pay anyway. Related to this point is the possibility that permitting the discharge of student loans might actually increase economic activity by letting those former students borrow money for more productive things like houses and consumer goods.

Fourth, combining bankruptcy dischargeability with risk-base pricing could have a deflationary effect on the cost of higher education. Without an unending pipeline of tuition dollars, colleges and universities might refocus their activities on the mission of education (or at least training) without the cruise-ship frills and administrative bloat that we have also seen over the past forty years.

Anyway, there are some rainy-afternoon thoughts on an always interesting topic.