Saturday, May 26, 2012

Do Not Underestimate the Power of the Dark Side

Do not underestimate the power of the dark side.  Which dark side?  Political theory.  Well, specifically political theorists.  I have long teased my soon to be ex-colleague Jacob Levy about his field's apparent fact-less-ness.  Why need grant money to do research when it mostly involves sitting in a comfy chair and thinking deep thoughts?  Why need RAs?  Of course, most of this came out of a deep jealousy: that Jacob was able to build McGill's political theory program over the course of actually a few short years (about half my time at McGill), that it has its own space, and, more importantly, a deep reality of community.  Not my subfield, which has stagnated via spin-cycle.  Theory has accumulated positions while IR has stood still (well, backwards next year after I leave and the place only begins the replacement process).

Anyhow, I always knew Jacob to be very, very bright, and was always amazed with his ability to speak eloquently in paragraphs at the drop of a hat.  Well, he marshaled his intellect to ponder the Quebec higher educational system.  Check it out here.  The combination of high taxes and cheap tuition for Quebeckers (and higher tuition for those coming from outside QC) leads to this:
 even if some number of high-earning francophones leave (and therefore never "pay back" the cheap university educations they receive) the system broadly tends toward making francophone Quebec a more self-contained economic world in which people do spend their whole life cycles, while simultaneously subtly encouraging anglophone out-migration and discouraging anglophone in-migration.
Jacob goes on to note his sympathy with this system in that it is a less coercive strategy to "sustain the French fact" even if it probably "depress the overall prosperity of Quebec."  This is quite a tradeoff.  A second significant set of costs would be alienating the Anglophones within Quebec and alienating those beyond as well.  A less diverse Quebec is, well, a less diverse Quebec.  While I remain deeply skeptical in debates about ethnic conflict about diversity as independent variable (that more diverse populations might have more ethnic strife), I do think that more diversity is better than less.  Pushing Anglophones and allophones (immigrants who speak three or more languages) to leave Quebec is damaging to Quebec's future because it will not have the necessary population to sustain the social programs without significant help.  Aye, there is the rub.

The Quebec distinct society currently depends on huge subsidies from Canada (that would be Alberta mostly these days and Ontario in the recent past).  The question then becomes: does sending out alienated Anglos to populate the political systems of the rest of Canada [ROC] build glue between Quebec and ROC so that folks out there remain willing to fund Quebec (guess who pays for the low tuition ultimately--Canadians elsewhere to a significant degree) or does it just give those outside more facts, more attitude that decrease tolerance of paying for the "French fact"?

The only thing that is really clear to me is if you spot a sharp political theorist with a few facts, they will blow your mind.


Jacob T. Levy said...

Thanks. I just want to put into the record that our subfield-building has been very much a team effort, not something I did.

Steve Saideman said...

Understood. But as the senior person in the field, you could have been the US of hegemonic instability theory, blocking progress. And much of the progress is after you arrived. We folks who deal in facts notice things like variation over time ;)