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Public Property and the Homeless

The Las Vegas City Council is catching some flack in the libertarian 'sphere for passing an ordinance making it illegal to distribute free food to the homeless in city parks. Read more »

I, for One, Welcome Our New Robot <del>Overlords</del> Underlings

Michael at Half Sigma worries about a time when robots will render our less intelligent brethren obsolete:

The Robot Revolution will be different than the Industrial Revolution, because it's not going to simply be a matter of replacing certain jobs. Robots will be capable of doing any menial job that a human could do. Thus people who are not smart enough to do something more than just menial tasks will become economically worthless and unable to find any job at any wage.

I don't see this happening any time soon, if ever. We live in a world of scarce resources and unlimited desires. No matter how much robots can do for us, there will always be additional desires that they will be unable to satisfy, even if only because we can't build them fast enough, or because the raw materials are too expensive. In particular, it's unlikely that there will ever be any shortage of service jobs. If 10% of the people do all the real work, the other 90% will be able to earn a living by performing services for them.

But let's suppose for the sake of argument that scarcity is eradicated. Robots make everything, including other robots. They perform all manner of services as well as or better than humans, and no feasible desire, however trivial, goes unfulfilled. There's no work left to do except to maintain the robots, and a small minority will be sufficient to handle that. I don't see the problem. A world without scarcity would, by definition, be a world so fantastically wealthy as to allow the productive minority to support the idle majority at virtually no cost.

Note that a welfare state would not be necessary to achieve this. With no scarcity to temper the benevolence of the wealthy, pure charity would be far beyond sufficient to provide for the needs of the rest.

No, It Doesn\'t Have Profound Philosophical Significance

Via GNXP, the philosopher-king of the dinosaurs reminds us that while exploring the philosophical significance of theoretical physics may occasionally serve to impress college girls, it has no place in serious philosophical inquiry.

On the other hand, the ability the impress college girls is arguably preferable to anything serious philosophical inquiry has to offer.

Redistribution and the Argument from Extortion

In a comment on my post on approximating a consumption tax by eliminating caps on IRA contributions, Brad Warbiany refers ironically to an argument for redistribution which I like to call the argument from extortion: Read more »

Quick 'n' Easy Consumption Tax

It seems to me that a rough approximation of a consumption tax could be implemented quite simply just by eliminating the cap on IRA contributions. In theory, allowing unlimited traditional IRA contributions should ultimately have more or less the same effect as uncapping Roth IRA contributions, though the latter may be more politically feasible since the former would result in a dramatic fall in current tax receipts, which would have to be made up for by heavy borrowing for a couple of decades.


Interpersonal Utility Comparisons

One of my least favorite arguments against redistribution is the claim that you can't make interpersonal utility comparisons. For all practical purposes, this is dead wrong. Granted, it's true that you can't make interpersonal utility comparisons with 100% certainty, and it's also true that in many cases you can't even come up with a reasonable guess.

But in some cases, particularly those in which proponents of redistribution are most keenly interested, you can guess with near certainty which of two people will value a particular resource more. In virtually all cases, taking $1,000 from a billionaire and giving it to a starving beggar will help the beggar more than it hurts the billionaire. No, it's not true 100% of the time, but you don't need complete certainty; if you're right 95% of the time, that's good enough for government work.

What I particularly dislike about this argument is that the flaw is obvious to anyone who isn't already a libertarian. When we use this argument and defend it to the death against obvious counterexamples, it confirms their view of libertarianism as a utopian philosophy that can't deal with the vagaries of the real world. That's not true, and we shouldn't give them cause to think it is. Read more »


At Crooked Timber, John Quiggin comments on a dubious assumption made by many supporters of the Iraq war: Read more »

Soap Skepticism

Shampoo skeptics are in the news:

Former Conservative MP and author Matthew Parris threw down the gauntlet last week when he announced that he hadn't washed his hair in a decade, and suffered no ill-effects, socially or otherwise. (Hair as light and fluffy as a kitten's coat and odour-free, he assured me.)

Income vs. Transfers

Michael at Half Sigma doesn't see why we should tax income but not inheritance: Read more »

There Is No Social Security Crisis

In all the talk of Social Security reform, there's one important fact that's overlooked far too often: Social Security can easily be funded at current levels indefinitely, without raising taxes. The only thing unsustainable about Social Security is politicians' promises to provide each successive generation with longer and more lavish retirements.

The rising costs of Social Security have been driven by two major trends. The first is the increase in the worker-to-recipient ratio. In 1960, there were 4.9 workers for each OASDI recipient (see tables 4.B1 and 5.A4 here). By 2004, the ratio had fallen by a third to 3.3 due to increases in life expectancy and college enrollment. Read more »

Charles Murray Really Is a Monster

In the past, I've been inclined to attribute the attacks on Charles Murray and The Bell Curve to the fact that leftists love the word "racist" and hate anyone who claims that there are problems that can't be solved by raising taxes. However, I started reading TBC over the weekend, and the following excerpt from the introduction leaves no doubt in my mind that Murray is indeed a soulless monster: Read more »

Hanging Chads

Apparently some people are still arguing over who really won the 2004 election. Read more »


New frontiers in radio programming, via Nick Gillespie.

Radley Balko points to some refreshing honesty from Greenpeace.

Fun stories from the commenters at 11D.

The Iron Law of Benefits

One of the stock criticisms of Wal-Mart is that Medicaid subsidizes it by allowing it to avoid providing health insurance to all of its employees. The usual libertarian response is that this is Medicaid's problem, not Wal-Mart's. Read more »

When Liberty And Sovereignty Conflict

Apropos the recent discussion of colonialism in response to Matt's recent post on Mill and polycentrism, I'm moving a comment I made on the Liberal Intervention post from the Mill-Fest---that we cannot consider national sovereignty sacrosanct because Read more »