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Paying for it twice (or more)

To complete the circle of mutual admiration, I'll comment on Joe Miller's post/response to Matt's TCS article on exploitation, to give a hearty "here, here" to this sentiment: Read more »

Neutral Institutional Monism strikes again

Will Wilkinson continues to be on fire with regard to all things Happiness Policy related. In this specific instance, in response to a suggestion that since individuals may be systematically bad at estimating their own happiness paternalism is justified, he illustrates once more the point of neutral institutional monism,[1] which in plainer terms I'd summarize as "sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander," and that institutions are made up of the same systematically mistaken people that are to be paternalized:[2]

Even if some experts know better than we do what will make us happy, it is very unlikely that those experts will be the ones determining paternalistic policy. Consider that the very same people who make systematic mistakes about their future feelings are the voters in democratic elections. And, as Bryan Caplan’s work shows [.doc], voters are likely to be even more profoundly mistaken about politics than about their own affairs.

Successful politicians are likely to reflect the biases of the voters. Take the War on Terror, for example. Gilbert’s work implies that whatever the harm of another terrorist attack may be, it probably will not be as bad as we imagine, and we would get over the wound rather more quickly than we think (indeed, more quickly than it may be comfortable to acknowledge). But that doesn’t keep voters or politicians (who share the same psychology, after all) from being extremely anxious about another terrorist attack.

There’s a good chance that lots of people mispredict how bad things would be if drugs were legalized, or if same-sex marriages were legally recognized. The consequence is that we get politicians who appeal to us because they make the same errors—or even because they convince us that things will be even worse than we thought (which was already way worse than it would really be) if they aren’t elected. And these are the people who determine paternalistic policies, not experts like Daniel Gilbert.

Even if you ask politicians to appoint experts, they will not consult experts on expertise to determine who the real experts are. Their beliefs about who is and isn’t an expert, like their beliefs about anything else, will reflect their biases. If I were President, Leon Kass might be the last person I would think of to head my Council on Bioethics. But if you look at his bio, you can certainly see why he looks like an expert to some people. The upshot is that happiness-based paternalistic policy may be more likely to be based on the work of Dr. Rick Warren than on the work of Dr. Daniel Gilbert.

So, a realistic account of human psychology shows that we can be pretty bad at predicting what is really going to make us happy. But a similarly realistic account of actually existing political institutions shows that they are likely to be even worse than individual decision-makers. If we make systematic errors, then democracy will simply aggregate our errors. And politicians, who make the same errors we do, will reflect our errors, and will often have an incentive to reinforce them to their political benefit. Even if expert knowledge exists—even if Daniel Gilbert knows better than you do about what will and won’t make you happy—democratic institutions will not be reliable at identifying it or applying it.

Notes: Read more »

Single White Lawyer seeks Offended Party for Lawsuit (No Pets)

Over at Liberty Belles, Anastasia explores the evils found within Craigslist's roommate/apartment advertisements.

Curiouser & Curiouser

Over at Crooked Timber, it seems we've been namedropped by Belle Waring in what appears to be a random non-sequitur in the course of responding to Eugene Volokh:

Now, I say this in the full knowledge that Eugene Volokh holds all sorts of views on many topics with which I completely disagree. Furthermore, since some of these views concern matters of serious moral import, I would seem to be pretty well committed to the idea that he is, in some sense, a bad person. But, in real life, we share polite aquaintanceship with all sorts of people who think all kinds of wrong and crazy stuff. We just don’t usually have to hear about those crazy things. At a party we will edge away from the crazy “let me tell you about my views on minarchy RIGHT NOW” guy. Then again, we might have a great time discussing the latest Italian election results, say, or poor draft choices recently made in the NFL, with someone who was, in fact, a crazy minarchist, but who didn’t go out of his way to tell you about it. Unfortunately, the blogosphere is like an extended drunken party in which the probability of you having to hear the crazy minarchist’s theories about government asymptotically approaches 1. But while it’s appropriate to get into high dudgeon if one of the Catallarchy guys (maybe they’re actually anarchists, but never mind) says something you find morally repugnant, it isn’t necessarily a good idea to start picturing him to yourself as some sort of moral monster, slavering away in a basement. (Unless it’s Captain Ed, in which case, go right along.)

Aherm. Several things come to mind from this passage, first of which being that if you think we're crazy then you haven't really delved much into the hard core libertosphere. Secondly, while some of us are minarchists proud and true, I imagine more than not would check 'anarchist' in the either-or box, or like me check 'other.' I'm personally a 'lessarchist'- less archos, please, and pass the gravy. I've no philosophical commitment to a state or lack of one, so unlike a true-blue minarchist I wouldn't draw the line and say "no, we can't privatize these last few bits of the state, just because," but unlike a radical market anarchist I would never press Rothbard's Magic Button, either[1]. Thirdly, Belle's got plenty of company in thinking minarchists are morally repugnant, though probably not the kind she imagined.
Read more »

C is for Cookie

Yes, it has been linked everywhere. But still- People should not be afraid of cookies, cookies should be afraid of people.

The Invisible Hand, Mk 2

Ron Bailey lays down some interesting facts and figures courtesy of the World Bank. It turns out that the accumulated institutional and other intangible capital of the US as a society amounts to something on the order of $400,000 a person.

Every immigrant who makes it across the border automatically gains access to over $500,000 of capital. What? That's right. The clever economists at the World Bank have figured out how to measure natural, produced and intangible capital. It turns out that natural capital (forests, minerals, oil) and produced capital (buildings, roads, and factories) while important pale in comparison to intangible capital for producing income and wealth. In fact, 80 percent of the capital of rich countries is intangible. Intangible capital encompasses raw labor; human capital, which includes the sum of the knowledge, skills, and know-how possessed by population; as well as the level of trust in a society and the quality of its formal and informal social institutions including an honest bureaucracy, a free press, the rule of law and so forth.

By World Bank measurements, Americans enjoy access to $513,000 worth of capital, the vast majority of it embodied in intangibles such as the rule of law, strong property rights, democratic governance, and high levels of education. This accumulated capital yields an average per capita GDP of about $38,000 per year.

Contrast this to Mexico, whose per capita capital amounts to $62,000 and yields a per capita GDP of $9,000 per year. Or Guatemala, whose per capita wealth is just $30,000 produces a GDP per capita of $4,000 yearly, and El Salvador, where per capita wealth is $36,000 yielding an annual GDP of $4,800.

This suggests a few things to me. First, that now more than ever we can say that simply pouring money/physical capital into the undeveloped places of the world is almost certainly going to disappoint in terms of delivering the goods- the multiplier, or at least the lion's share of Western economies' productivity and wealth production is due to the institutions, which are much harder to set up than a hydro plant here or a road there. Second, it reminds me of a Will Wilkinson post about how the world is spiky, not flat, which I will shamelessly almost completely reproduce: Read more »

Treaties, Sovereignty, and Binding Legal Authority

Joe Miller, a favorite Catallarchy commenter, sends some kind words and a response my way in the course of discussing War, the Constitution, and the UN Charter. While I'm just a humble biologist/economist, I do have more than a few opinions on war & the legality thereof, so I figured I'd return the favor of a response- and if I'm way off the mark, well, y'all know where the comments section is...

Regarding my comments in the thread for Sean's earlier post as to whether AsUMF[1] count as / are legally indistinguishable from declarations of war (they do, and are not distinguishable), Tom Anger popped in and brought up the supposed unconstitutionality of subordinating US warmaking power to the UN Security Council, as interpreted by many as forbidding any military action by the US that is either (a) not immediately defensive in nature or (b) sanctioned by the UN Security Council.

Joe's response is that Tom's objection is too quick:

Now if the Charter said that the U.S. must wage war when and only when the Security Council so directs, then I would be first in line to agree with Tom; that clearly would be unconstitutional. But the Charter doesn't require that at all. Rather, what the Charter says is that in any case other than immediate self-defense, the U.S. may declare war only with Security Council approval. The Charter, then, does not usurp Congress' role in declaring war. Rather, the Charter adds an additional requirement. For certain kinds of wars, Congress agrees to declare war only if the Security Council approves. On my reading, Congressional approval to wage war is still a necessary condition for a war's legality. It is not, however, always a sufficient condition for a war to count as legal.

Joe is, I believe, correct in his answer to Tom in that a particular congress of the US is not acting unconstitutionally to agree to prior limitations on its actions via treaty- the congress can set rules and legislate curbs on government activity whenever it desires (and when concordant with the Constitution; see below) and a treaty, by dint of the supremacy clause (if I am not mistaken), is on par with an act of congress. The congress can pass legislation saying "we promise not to raise taxes except if the president explicitly asks for it" and the act is not unconstitutional, even though taxation is an enumerated power of the constitution vested in congress. Where I believe Joe falls short is his suggestion/implication that by simple act of congress / treaty (which is an even lower standard of approval, which only takes one house to ratify- the Senate- albeit at a 2/3rds requirement), all future congresses can be bound and constitutional authority removed or amended. Read more »

Pilgrimage to Vienna - a bleg

This Friday I'm flying overseas to lovely & majestic Wien to spend the Christmas holidays. The trip is of course to see the birthplace of the Austrian school of economics and not at all because my buddy & his family live there and want me to come and hang out for a while and see the sights. Nope. Not that at all. Read more »

Lo, when the \"info superhighway\" was but a one lane country road...

Julian Sanchez has delved into the prehistory of teh intarweb in an interesting review of BBS: The Documentary. Read more »

Catallarchy’s College Football Top 25 - Week 13

For all games up to 11/26, here are the extremely belated & updated rankings:

Rank - Team
1 Texas (1)
2 USC (2)
3 Penn State (3)

4 Ohio State (4)
5 LSU (5)
6 Oregon (7)
7 VaTech (6)

8 TCU (8)
9 WVU (11)
10 Auburn (10)
11 UCLA (9)
12 Miami (12)
13 Notre Dame (13)

14 Georgia (14)
15 Texas Tech (17)
16 Oklahoma (19)
17 Alabama (16)
18 Louisville (22)

19 Boston College (23)
20 Michigan (15)
21 UCF (30)
22 Florida (32)
23 South Carolina (24)
24 Northwestern (26)
25 Clemson (33)

Dropped Out:
29 Georgia Tech (18)

32 Colorado (20)
35 Iowa State (21)
37 Wisconsin (25)

Other Catallarchy Teams of Interest:
41 Miami (OH) (55)
46 Western Michigan (34)

49 Purdue (54)

98 Kentucky (91)

Commentary below, full rankings on page 2, and rankings of conferences & schedules on page 3. Read more »

Catallarchy’s College Football Top 25 - Week 12

Christmas comes early as GT puts VT back in the driver's seat for the ACC championship. Huzzah! Read more »

Catallarchy’s College Football Top 25 - Week 11

For all games up to 11/12, here are the updated rankings:

Rank - Team
1 Texas (1)
2 USC (2)
3 Miami (5)
4 Penn State (4)

5 Ohio State (6)
6 LSU (8)
7 Oregon (10)
8 VaTech (9)

9 Alabama (3)
10 Oklahoma (16)
11 WVU (14)
12 UCLA (15)
13 TCU (7)
14 Michigan (17)
15 Auburn (18)
16 Fresno State (22)
17 South Carolina (24)
18 Notre Dame (30)

19 Texas Tech (11)
20 Colorado (12)
21 Louisville (27)

22 Georgia (13)
23 UTEP (29)
24 Minnesota (28)
25 Iowa State (31)

Dropped Out:
28 Georgia Tech (20)

29 Florida (21)
32 Northwestern (23)
42 Boise State (25)

Other Catallarchy teams of note:
40 Miami (OH) (35)
43 Western Michigan (45)

68 Purdue (72)

80 Kentucky (95)

Commentary below, full rankings on page 2, and rankings of conferences & schedules on page 3. Read more »

Catallarchy’s College Football Top 25 - Week 10

For all games up to 11/05, here are the updated rankings:

Rank - Team Week 9
1 Texas (1)
2 USC (2)
3 Alabama (4)
4 Penn State (8)

5 Miami (7)
6 Ohio State (10)
7 TCU (17)
8 LSU (9)
9 VaTech (3)

10 Oregon (13)
11 Texas Tech (11)
12 Colorado (15)
13 Georgia (12)
14 WVU (18)
15 UCLA (5)
16 Oklahoma (16)
17 Michigan (19)
18 Auburn (20)
19 Wisconsin (6)
20 Georgia Tech (22)

21 Florida (23)
22 Fresno State (21)
23 Northwestern (27)
24 South Carolina (26)
25 Boise St. (29)

Dropped Out:
26 Florida State (14)
33 Boston College (24)
39 Cal (25)

Other Catallarchy teams of note:
27 Louisville (30)
30 Notre Dame (36)
35 Miami (OH) (45)
45 Western Michigan (58)

72 Purdue (89)
95 Kentucky (86)

Commentary below, full rankings on page 2, and rankings of conferences & schedules on page 3. Read more »

Catallarchy’s College Football Top 25 - Week 9

For all games up to 10/29, here are the (belated) updated rankings, using a modified method including SOS and decreasing preseason rank effects:

Rank - Team - Week 8
1 Texas (1)
2 USC (2)
3 VaTech (3)

4 Alabama (7)
5 UCLA (5)
6 Wisconsin (6)
7 Miami (10)
8 Penn State (23) ~

9 LSU (8)
10 Ohio State (20)
11 Texas Tech (11)
12 Georgia (4)
13 Oregon (21)
14 Florida State (12) *
15 Colorado (13) *
16 Oklahoma (16)
17 TCU (26) ~
18 WVU (9) *
19 Michigan (27)
20 Auburn (14) *
21 Fresno State (34) ~
22 Georgia Tech (31)

23 Florida (44) ~
24 Boston College (22)
25 Cal (15) *

Dropped Out
27 Northwestern (24)
28 Iowa (25)
30 Louisville (17) *
33 Texas A&M (19)
43 Toledo (18) *

~ indicates a jump of more than 10 places after the method change
* indicates teams that won last week but still dropped, due to the method change

Other Catallarchy teams of interest:
36 Notre Dame (41)
45 Miami (OH) (62) ~
58 Western Michigan (68)
86 Kentucky (106) ~
89 Purdue (78)

Commentary & explanation of the method change below, full rankings on page 2, and rankings of conferences & schedules on page 3. Read more »