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No Agitation at work

No, this isn't a substantive post about not being able to organize or mess with your bosses. It's more mundane-

Radley Balko's blog is blocked at my work.

Now, I don't precisely know what he may or may not have done to incur the wrath of the [Quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization] corporate web monitors, but in the meantime I see lots of new posts up and am unable to read more than just a few sentences from the aggregator. Curses!

Now here\'s cause for celebration!

This just in: Palestinian President for Life Yasser Arafat is still dead.

More with honey than with vinegar

Back in early 2003, when the Democrats were casting about for potential votes & alliances for the recent electoral struggle, the thought passed through the lefty blogosphere that libertarians ought to come on board and sign on for the opposition. Read more »

The ugly truth

Radley Balko stages his own sort of intervention, laying down the ugly truth to political Libertarians: Read more »

Get out the Fraud

After my peevish defense of voting, here is more evidence that Jonathan and Micha are right after all: Voting machines found "pre-loaded" with Kerry votes in Philadelphia.

Brian: :dunce: or :bigcry: ?

UPDATE: Oops. Incompetent poll workers strike again, misreading the total cast "ever" vs. those cast today. Its a head scratcher why an electoral vote machine would have an odometer, but whatever. Seems that the coast is clear. For now....


Being a voter and someone who encourages others to vote (libertarian) if its not too much trouble, I'm in the minority amongst my Catallarchy fellows. And while my fellows' desire not to vote is understandable, their mockery of those who do is unfortunate. Its especially unfortunate when even partially assembled around a particular straw man argument that is a pet peeve of mine.

"Voting is not instrumentally rational."


This statement presumes to know what it is that someone is trying to achieve when voting, and seems to invariably include vote tallies in the hundreds of thousands with an additional +1 added to various candidates, saying "see! you've achieved nothing! Cease your silly activity at once!!", when of course economists (especially Austrians, but also neoclassicals) know better than to presume to know other peoples' ends, desires, tastes, etc. The assumption is that one votes in order to "influence" the election directly, and thus if you do not do so then there is no point to voting.


I call this a massive straw man because the only people making this argument about voting are the people who are against voting in general. I have yet to run into voters who believe that their vote, their particular vote, is the one that is going to push their candidate over the edge, nor have I come across the activist that encourages people to vote because their particular vote will be the one to push the candidate over the edge.

If Diana's (to continue Jonathan's example) goal is to increase her candidate's tally by one, then voting is instrumental (and has a high probability of success). If her goal is to signal to the general political class what type of candidate (in terms of personality & mix of policies) will win her legally relevant support in an election, then voting is instrumental. If her goal is long term and involves moving a party in one direction or another, then voting is instrumental. Pretty much, so long as her goal is anything other than "being the particular vote that is responsible for putting my candidate over the edge," it is instrumental to vote. In all of these cases your vote either directly achieves your goal or serves that end.

Of course, one could put all sorts of caveats and baroque exceptions on the the term 'instrumental' in an effort to salvage the position (such as saying "oh, well, you could gain psychic profit from voting, I suppose, but that's not really instrumental"), but that would tend to make the definition so idiosyncratic and particular as to be useless. It is true that the argument survives against sillier reasons for voting, such as the idea that your vote will directly determine policy (which is but a subset of the 'my vote will be the deciding vote' line), but aside from that its weak broth indeed.

And not even being a market anarchist/polycentric voluntarist need philosophically disqualify one from voting, as even Roderick Long is planning to vote, mostly for strategic reasons as well as from a sense of imperfect duty:

My argument is not intended as a criticism of those who think, not unreasonably, that the Prince President is so egregiously horrific that this election really is a case where preventing his re-election immediately is worth the setback to any longterm LP strategy (especially if they have doubts about the LP's longterm viability anyway). These are trade-offs that each individual must judge for herself. (I would note, however, that those who do not live in a swing state still have no good reason to vote for a major-party candidate.) It's also not intended as a criticism of those who are so disgusted with the electoral process that they prefer not to vote at all. While I don't buy the argument that voting is inherently immoral (see my counter-argument here), nor the argument that voting is pointless unless a single vote is likely to determine the outcome (I believe in an imperfect duty to contribute to public goods, so the fact that something would be good if lots of people did it is a reason, albeit a defeasible one, to do it), there is nothing inherently obligatory about voting (since the duty to contribute to public goods is imperfect, we can pick and choose which public goods we contribute to -- which is also why I'm not a vegetarian, but that's another story) and the whole process is pretty distasteful.

Dr. Long is right to say that those who don't want or care to vote are not in the wrong; there are many principled reasons not to vote, including the most important one, which is "I don't enjoy it; I don't want to do it; It is a cost to me if I went to vote and gives me no pleasure/benefit in excess of said cost." But there are plenty of reasons to vote as well, both strategic and defensive. A strategic view is that, ala David Friedman's point[1] in The Machinery of Freedom, one must generate enough votes to deny a major party victory, and thus cause them to position themselves to thwart your success. Quoting Dr. Long again (link to the original source):

In playing chess, a sure way to lose is to spend your first few moves capturing as many of the opponent's pieces as possible. It’s much more important to let those juicy-looking pieces go than to allow them to distract you from your main mission of building a strong presence at the center of the board.

I think the same lesson applies in politics. In crafting our strategy we need to plan several elections ahead, not just one. ... If we plan ahead only as far as the next election, then it's absolutely true that a vote for a candidate who loses is an ineffective vote.

But if we think ahead four years, or eight years, or twelve years, then a vote can do more than just elect a candidate. A vote can help to build a vote total which, even if it is a losing vote total, can, if it's big enough, draw more attention and support to the losing candidate and his party or cause.

This has two beneficial effects: First, it increases the good guys' chance of winning in the future. Second, it forces the major candidates to move in our direction in order to avoid precisely that.

Voting as defense stems from the responses to tyrannical, bad, or merely just profoundly irritating government that libertarians can take. If you don't like the system, you can drop 'off the grid' and live a minimalist lifestyle such that the state takes as little interest in you as possible; you could endure multiple petty incarcerations in the course of unrepentently resisting the state's edicts on small matters; you could move, essentially shopping among extant governments for one marginally more tolerable than the one you can't stand now, or you could roll your own, etc. The problem with this is that when those who love liberty drop out of the political system, all that are left are the hardcore tribalists who wish to take complete control over the machinery of coercion. The reason that libertarianish groups are able to keep government respecting property rights, contracts, civil rights, etc, are because the current government is constituted in a way that according to its own dictates, its activity is bound and circumscribed. Once the tribalists have no political opposition in their way (which is the intended outcome of exhortations not to vote), the dictates change, activity is unbound, and real coercion & violence can get underway (far worse than anything we've seen in the US to date). With the political solution off the table, the remaining options for libertarians who find the oppression intolerable are fight or flight. I don't particularly like either option, so to me its worth putting my $0.02 into the process to keep it political.

In the article linked by Micha, Jonathan David Morris agrees:

If there’s someone worth voting for this year, it’s probably the Libertarian Party’s Michael Badnarik. I had a chance to speak with him a couple of weeks ago for an interview for “The Aquarian" (on newsstands October 27, 2004). I asked him why, if he thought government was a problem, he was willing to be a part of it. He told me, “If Americans do not wake up and take charge of the government that they are responsible for, then, ultimately, the government will become so tyrannical that the only way to correct it will be through violent revolution.” This makes sense to me. I’ve heard it said that voting is an act of violence—the idea being that it perpetuates an abusive government—but I would suppose breaking out the Jiffy Pop and watching our infrastructure crumble is an act of violence, too. Revolution sounds romantic until you realize you might lose your brother in it. Then all of you sudden you start to realize you’re pro-change but anti-losing-your-family-in-an-unnecessary-war.

I agree with Micha that there are many different ways that people can make a difference without recourse to voting. But I don't believe that there is any reason to reject voting a priori. In the meantime of helping my friends convince others of political liberalism, encouraging those who'd help us circumvent, push back, or otherwise render moot the state (either by seasteading new territory, virtual worlds, private alternatives to public good provision, or by creating a new frontier in space for people to go), I also intend to use the process available to me to thwart those that would turn the state to greater evil.

Note: Read more »


For those of you, like me, who are swing dancers, there's a party coming to town tonight: The world famous Ray Gelato and his band is at the Clarendon Ballroom in Arlington, VA. They kick it off at 9pm, and between you and me, its only $10 to see the band that played at Paul McCartney's wedding.

Ray Gelato

Those of you in the area, come on down and swing, baby...


The Governator has vetoed ~25% of the bills that have come across his desk.

:deal: -> :evil: -> :dead: = Awesome! If only W could do the same...

(via Hit and Run)

Appropriate Moniker

If you missed the news lately, DC has decided to pay rich people to provide toys for the affluent- i.e. DC has managed to wrest away the mediocre Expos from Montreal, subsidizing the new owners ahead of time with municipal tax funds (via sales & corporate taxes, which are passed on also to the consumers, i.e. Read more »

The Questions of the Day

As one of the few pro-Iraq-liberation bloggers here at Catallarchy, it falls upon me to answer Orin Kerr’s questions to the hawkish blogosphere. I’m not much of a general hawk, and my default position towards US foreign policy is to have as little of it as possible (bring the troops home, a strong presumption towards non-intervention, etc) while allowing for as much trade & peaceful commerce by Americans as possible with the rest of the world. Read more »

Theory of Perfect Competition = Bollocks

There. Had to be said. Lynne Kiesling and Don Boudreaux say as much without quite calling the spade a spade. The standard textbook theory of "perfect competition" exists only when there is no competition. Any analysis that starts with the assumption that the textbook theory of perfect competition is in any way related to reality is DOA.

Don explains further why the theory is bollocks: Read more »

What do prediction market prices mean?

That's the question of the moment, brought up in a paper by Charles Manski, and highlit by Michael Stastny at both his guest gig at Marginal Revolution, and at his own pad Mahalanobis. Daniel Davies makes an interesting point on the way to disagreeing with the Manksi conclusion that the prices reported on the prediction markets are "not a meaningful measure of the central tendency of the distribution of beliefs, other than that the true average belief has to fall somewhere within fairly wide bounds of the market price, these bounds being determined by the distribution of the size of trading accounts," by examining the assumptions of the Manski model:

However, I think that the actual state of the world is somewhat better for the markets crowd than Manski’s paper suggests. As I see it, the engine of the paper is that it has two big assumptions, both of which I regard as unrealistic:

1) traders in the market are assumed to be price-takers
2) the distribution of account sizes is assumed to be independent of the distribution of beliefs.

I think that the first assumption is unreasonable as a characterisation of markets in general; it’s a sort of Arrow-Debreu world in which prices are arrived at by a process of tatonnement or sealed envelope auction, and then set “all at once” at a price that equates total supply to total demand. I personally think that this is sociologically an unrealistic characterisation of all market processes1 everywhere, a particularly bad way of describing securities markets in general2 and, importantly, factually wrong as a characterisation of the IEM.

1 Historically, it was this assumption which marked the big split between the Austrian economists and what was to become the neoclassical school. For an Austrian, abstracting from the actual things people do in a market to start talking about a frictionless abstraction of a market, is about the dumbest thing you can do. This is related to the point of Hayek scholarship I keep making; that markets are social institutions that (in my opinion, others differ) can’t be conjured out of thin air.

2 This view is now mainstream in economics; the field of “market microstructure” deals with the way in which the price discovery process works itself out in securities markets.

I've been meaning to link to Daniel's points on the Hayekian requirements of a market (that a market has to have both hedgers and speculators to work, and ultimately thus has to have a real world rationale for existing and cannot be conjured up just for speculation) but kept forgetting[3]. I think this goes to Patri's point about Hope vs. Belief somewhat- what people's beliefs are about the likelihood doesn't matter unless they are acted upon, and its the action (and interaction with others in the market) that "draw[s] out more beliefs and less hope", the latter being what I think Manski's proposed "distribution of beliefs" actually is. Daniel further points out:

And when you think about it, this stylised fact means that the size of your endowment or trading account can’t be independent of your beliefs. Assumption 2) was always unrealistic (it’s a feature of Manski’s model that there are no such things as weakly or strongly held beliefs; you just decide on your own fair value and buy units below that price), but in a world of limited liquidity, it’s simply unsustainable.


If Fatty thinks that the fair value of the contract is 55 or higher, he will spend his entire $500 endowment in Manski’s model. But if he only thinks the contract is worth 52, then the fact that his account is worth $500 is irrelevant; he’s only going to invest $100 @50 and $50 @51, so his account might as well only have been a $150 one. So I don’t think it makes sense to make the strong assumption that the size of trading accounts is independent of beliefs about fair price; people with extreme beliefs are going to be able to deploy big accounts but people with beliefs near the market aren’t.

Given the way the market seems to work, it would seem that Daniel's analysis is probably correct. I'd also think that big accounts and extreme positions would not be sustainable in the long view if they're too far from reality (though even such distortion would be information).

One last note: Read more »

Hand Waving on Bias

When I was in grad school, my lab and an 'allied' lab would have joint meetings every two weeks or so to go over what had been going on in the interim between the two, with rotating presentations by the grad students & post-docs on their research. If it had not been a particularly good time in the lab between your last presentation and your current one, one would be tempted to 'stretch out' the presentation by exploring many different hypotheses on your data or engaging in a meta discussion on your work. One of the professors in the joint lab meeting coined such bloviation as "hand waving." Not exactly bullshit, but also nothing much of substance, either, being that its an exercise in distracting your audience from the fact that you... have few facts that would allow you to say something definitive. That is, an excess of verbiage and speculation in the service of killing time & dressing up a gaunt position. Not that I ever had to stretch out lean data... :eek:

Surprisingly enough (or perhaps unsurprisingly), a great deal of the weekly seminar speakers we had in the Genetics dept. were masters at hand waving, so much so that at the end of the session (if I had not lost my perpetual battle with sleep during seminars) I ended up knowing either the same or less than when it began.[1]

Bringing the anecdote home, with the latest CBS 'scandal'[2] bringing light again to the usual charges of "liberal media bias," John Holbo has decided to weigh in on the topic over at Crooked Timber. And I mean 'weigh in' more literally than usual, as John seems to be filling in (for the left) the hole Stephen Den Beste left in his indefinite hiatus from blogging; not content to use 1000 words where 4700 will do, John waves his hands frantically on the topic of media bias, throwing up definitions, analogies to John Rawls, extended psychological analyses of what righties mean by 'liberal media bias', more definitions & discussions of the definitions, etc. The end result, though, is that after all that I'm left scratching my head at precisely what it all means, aside from the obvious implication of "there ain't no such thing as liberal media bias, son."

I suppose it could be:[3]

1. Media bias must be defined to be asserted.
2. Righties haven't defined it.
3. Thus, no media bias. QED.


1. The media's reporting is leftish.
2. Leftism[4] is the truth[5].
3. Telling the truth isn't bias.
4. Thus the media are not biased. QED.

or perhaps even

1. Media folk are lefties.
2. Media critics are righties.
3. Media, subject to the market, serves right and left.
4. Thus media will play it straight to stay in business. (oh, and No Bias, QED.)

Afterwards, John settles down to what I believe is the actual point:

I guess I’m just sayin that, between the rock of not really having a good ecological theory of the media as a whole, and the hard place of not having really worked out exactly what sort of bias is bothering them, I suspect certain bloggy media critics could slow down before trying to leverage Dan Rather’s pain into a world-historical moment.

Oh, ok.

However, another explanation for perceptions of lefty bias in the media that alternatively goes straight to the thesis is offered by Russell Roberts:

If you call someone in the media, you might think them rude. They're not. They're just coping with a thousand calls a day and a thousand emails and you're one of them. They have a very short attention span. It has to be that way. They are under constant bombardment from people trying to get their attention.

Newspapers and news programs are filters for this torrent of information. Yes, there is investigative reporting. But much or most of what the media reports comes to them. Virtually every scientific study, every health study, every economics study that you read about in the paper is the result of a press release that someone from the university, think tank or institute wrote and sent to a media outlet. The good reporters try and parse those press releases for bias and exaggeration. They are likely to be both biased and exaggerated becuase the writer of the press release knows that the press release is one of a hundred or a thousand arriving that day. You have to stand out.

A while back I wrote about the CBO study that examined the burden of recent tax cuts. Every newspaper covered that story. Every wire service. All on the same day. How did that happen? Did the economics reporters at those places just happen to notice that the CBO had released the study? No, the Democratic Joint Economic Committee sent out a press release. As I wrote when the study came out, the media didn't quite get the findings of the study right. I suspect this happens all the time. It has nothing to do with bias. It's the way the business works. Too much information and too little time to deal with it carefully.

Combine the fact that the "mainstream media" (the MSM, an unfortunate new acronyn) are filters and gatekeepers of information flowing to them rather than primary generators of news/analysis with uncontroversial reports that MSM members are strongly Democrat in affiliation, then it seems to follow that given the information overload, the initial (and perhaps undetected, subconscious) biases of the filters will tend to notice and emphasize stories amenable to a lefty/Democrat worldview, and sometimes that bias will out due to the amount of info and the time constraints. No conspiracy, or even conscious bias, needed.

I agree with Holbo's sentiments regarding lame calls by conservatives/righties for, in essence, affirmative action on viewpoints. The answer, as always, is more speech. Speech-facilitating technology will bring us ever more asymptotically towards the truth and serve as a corrective for whatever biases seep through the cracks (the hyper-partisan flap over the hoax memos led to lightning-fast error correction on both sides- in this case, high bias on both sides ultimately drove people to the truth). With the addition of Fox News on cable and Air America on radio, it would seem that the market is already correcting perceptions of bias through proliferation of views.

Notes: Read more »

More Technical Difficulties

Cursed, be we. No idea why the blog reverted to the old MT interface, unless the ghost of the MT blog became a poltergeist. Much apologies for the withdrawal symptoms our devoted fans have experienced in the meantime... :lol:

Tribal Ugliness

Hate Bush or Kerry all you like, but leave 3-year-old girls out of it. Read more »