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Prisoner's Dilemma in WWII or Vietnam?

TGGP writes,

During the Second World War, many observers supposed that soldiers with low morale (that is, they didn’t like being soldiers in general or being in this war in particular) would be less effective in combat than those with high morale. In fact, as Samuel Stouffer and his colleagues showed in their classic study, The American Soldier, there was during World War II no correlation between morale and combat effectiveness.” Instead effectiveness seems to be the result of helping out and fulfilling the expectations of one’s buddies in the squad and respect for one’s officers. The problems in Vietnam were traced to individual (as opposed to unit) rotation out which reduced group cohesion and trust. Soldiers were at their least effective and most cautious as they were about to be shipped back.

This seems rather obvious in retrospect (things often do). If the solution to a prisoner’s dilemma is repeated interactions fostering collusion/cooperation, then as the certainty of repeated interactions draws to a close (i.e. when the end is in sight), collusion/cooperation will tend to diminish and eventually collapse.

If true, this example taken from Vietnam seems like it could be an even better expression of the principle than the classic WWII example.

Other People Are Not Your Property

Ah, what the hell, one more blog post inspired by another comment from a Will Wilkinson comment thread.

Grumpy Realist writes:

Would all those of you who don’t want to pay income taxes please move to a country that doesn’t have them and STFU…..

This argument is circular. It assumes that the imposer of income taxes (the government) is the legitimate owner of the geographic territory that is called United States and has carte blanche discretion to impose whichever policies it pleases. This legitimacy is entirely what is in question; it cannot be shrugged off with a “like it or leave it” bromide without begging the question.

Look, you nitwits–we’re living in a democracy. A DEMOCRACY, capisce? If you don’t like the level of taxation that’s imposed get together with enough of your neighbors and vote to a) cut the programs, and b) cut taxes. If you can’t get enough of your neighbors to vote the way you want them to do, then tough noogies–go back to the drawing board and get better arguments.

Again, this is circular argument question begging. Grumpy Realist is trying to justify the legitimacy of democratic decision making by appealing to… democratic decision making. Democracy does not justify itself.

What Libertarians are really bellyaching about is that not enough of their neighbors have the same view of government programs as they do.

This is correct. The central libertarian insight is that Other People Are Not Your Property.

They are not yours to boss around. Their lives are not yours to micromanage. The fruits of their labour are not yours to dispose of.

It doesn’t matter how wise or marvelous or useful it would be for other people to do whatever it is you’d like them to do. It is none of your business whether they wear their seatbelts, worship the right god, have sex with the wrong people, or engage in market transactions that irritate you. Their choices are not yours to direct. They are human beings like yourself, your equals under Natural Law. You possess no legitimate authority over them. As long as they do not themselves step over the line and start treating other people as their property, you have no moral basis for initiating violence against them – nor for authorising anyone else to do so on your behalf. ...

Nor is this requirement lifted merely because you happen to be a police officer, or an elected legislator, or a member of a majority of citizens casting their votes.

John Markley also had a really good response to the complaint about libertarian "bellyaching" in the original thread:

Well, yes. This is what any political group or ideology in a democratic country that does not currently have its program in place is “bellyaching” about. What antiwar activists are really bellyaching about is that not enough of their neighbors have the same view of war and militarism as they do. What socialists are really bellyaching about is that not enough of their neighbors have the same view of government ownership of industry as they do. What members of the organization Stop Prisoner Rape are really bellyaching about is that not enough of their neighbors have the same view of stopping people from being raped in prison as they do. Do you have some sort of point beyond “People who disagree with me should shut the fuck up”?

Arguing against (i.e. "bellyaching" about) democratic results is absolutely necessary if one is to argue against the status quo. Otherwise, one is simply a reactionary, standing athwart history yelling "Stop!", on the grounds that conserving the status quo is the necessary consequence of respecting the "will of the people".

Well, sometimes the "will of the people" gets it wrong. Even more than that, "the people" have no business waving their will around in public in the first place.

Combinatorial Explosion

More blog material culled from Will Wilkinson's comment threads...

MK, who has clearly watched Minority Report one too many times, writes:

I think our term “free will” is a pragmatic way of interacting with humans for whom our best prediction mechanism is at the level of beliefs/desires/etc. If we really could take a supercomputer and predict your actions based on atoms, all hell would break loose. We would be like the remote tribe who you show them a camera and it completely blows their freaking mind.

The supercomputer is not logically impossible and it could happen someday.

The moral perspective is interesting here. If we could predict people’s actions precisely, does it change morality? Well yeah it does. Game-theoretically, uncertainty has just been radically reduced. The optimal “play” now involves locking people up who are about to do something bad. Or, showing them the supercomputer results so they know they are at risk and can take some classes and otherwise “shape up” appropriately.

We already try to do this. If you commit enough crimes, we predict you will commit more so we lock you up for life. If you get a DUI, we predict you will drink more in the future so we mandate AA meetings. With a predictive supercomputer, it’s the same thing except we do it more preemptively.

This is not wrong. Society would be much improved.

Putting aside the questions of justice surrounding prior restraint, I'd like to focus just on the question of the logical impossibility of the Laplace's demon scenario.

In the first chapter of Consciousness Explained, Daniel Dennett tackles the very similar issue of brain-in-the-vat scenarios and argues that while these sorts of technological achievements are not logically impossible, their practically is highly unlikely, given the enormous computing power they would require and the extremely low pay-off for systematically predicting an individual’s actions. The information processing capacity and continual feed-back loops necessary to achieve such a feat would be prohibitively costly and unlikely to ever be as complete or convincing as mere logical possibility would imply. Mathematically, this practical (though not logical) limit is a result of combinatorial explosion. So, if you buy Dennett's argument, there is no need to worry that you are currently a brain in a vat or that Tom Cruise will be arresting you for crimes you have not yet committed.

Incidentally, I don't know if our co-blogger Patri has ever read any Dennett, but Patri seems to have independently developed the same objection as Dennett to Nick Bostrom's Simulation argument, a combined technological/economic "impossibility" argument. Maybe this stuff just comes naturally to those more familiar with computer engineering and combinatorics than to regular old philosophers who focus too much on mere logical possibility.

Biology Doesn't End With Darwin; Economics Doesn't End With Ricardo

[followup to The Difficulty in Countering Economic Creationism...]

More gems from Muirgeo. This time using a tactic I've frequently seen used by Chomsky-ites and other neo-protectionists: Acknowledge the wisdom and truth found in the writings of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, but then immediately deny that any of these insights are applicable in the "real world" in which we live. You will see the connections with biological creationism shortly.

[I]t’s untrue that people who are against our [U.S.] trade policies are against the principles of Ricardian comparative advantage.

Ricardo has 3 requirements for comparative advantage to be successful.

1) No flow of capital across borders
2) Full employment and freedom of labor to move from job to job
3)Trade is equal.

None of these requirements is met by our current trade policies. I would argue that I am more “Ricardian” in principle then those claiming our current policies fit the bill.

Notice how Muirgeo failed to mentioned that Ricardo is not God. Economics does not progress by appealing to the infallible words of long-dead economist Popes. Ricardo is credited with originating (or at least popularizing) the concept of comparative advantage, just a Adam Smith is credited with originating (or at least popularizing) the concept of absolute advantage. But neither men are Saints to which we can appeal biblically.

Economics has come a long way since both Smith and Ricardo, and some of the things they wrote were later expanded upon and shown to be not true or at least more complicated than they believed. Ricardo's concept of comparative advantage is a perfect example of this phenomenon, because it came to replace Smith's older and incomplete view of absolute advantage. Adam Smith was wrong and Ricardo was right.

So too, Ricardo was wrong (or at least incomplete) on some things. It turns out, even when Ricardo’s conditions for comparative advantage are weakened or even entirely eliminated, the principle of comparative advantage remains intact.

It’s as if Muirgeo is arguing against the concept of Darwinian evolution by pointing out mistakes and incompletenesses found in Darwin’s original work. Sure, Darwin was wrong about a few things, but the central insight of his discovery remains as true as ever. So too the insight of comparative advantage. The progress of biology did not end with Charles Darwin; the progress of economics did not end with David Ricardo.

Bad Samaritan by Joon Chang is a good book which dispels some of the myths of our “free trade” policies.

Joon Chang is either a fool or a charlatan, or both. Tyler Cowen completely demolished his critique of free trade in a recent online debate. Joon could not answer Tyler’s very basic objection (found in any introductory International Economics textbook) to the infant industry argument: it is next to impossible for the government to get the infant industry policy right, to decide which industries the country has a comparative advantage in and then protect those industries in order for them to grow, and then have the wisdom and political will to end those subsidy protections after the fact once the protections have received long standing political support. There is a reason why it is next to impossible for the U.S. to get rid of its farm subsidies. Give farmers huge subsidies for nearly a century and it comes as no great surprise when farmers develop powerful lobbies to protect their protectionist interests. Promoting and encouraging that impulse by actively embracing the infant industry argument, as Joon does, is shear foolishness for someone with a PhD in economics. Again, it’s the intellectual equivalent of someone with a PhD in biology failing to understand rudimentary evolutionary theory. Such people exist, and they generally work for the Discovery Institute.

Which reminds of a quote which applies in equal strength to evolutionary biology as it does to economics:

"It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a 'dismal science.' But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance."

– Murray Rothbard

The Difficulty in Countering Economic Creationism... exactly the same as the difficulty in countering biological creationism. You are attempting to explain a concept to a hostile audience who doesn't want to understand the concept in the first place, for ideological reasons.

Muirgeo writes, in a comment thread to Will Wilkinson's post on liberaltarianism:

We are successful animals because we think and organize. The idea that a market, an economy or a society is better left to its own then planned and regulated by intelligent beings is sheer hoccum with not an ounce of factual support.

To which the very patient Renato Drumond responds,

Maybe the reading of this Hayek seminal paper will help you to rethink your statement:

I suggest the artticles with good faith, because this space isn’t appropriate to develop good answers to your questions. I hope you read them.

Honestly, anyone who reads and truly understands the crucial points Hayek makes in that essay could not possibly make the claim that Muirgeo just made, to which Renato was responding. That’s why it’s so frustrating explaining markets to economic creationists; it’s exactly like trying to explain Darwinism to committed and unread biological creationists. The spontaneous order of emergent systems is a central insight that some people simply refuse to understand, even after it is explained to them repeatedly, because the do not want to understand.

For some, the disastrous empirical results of Five-Year Plans is enough to make them understand, but others fail to make even the most obvious empirical connections between central planning and human disaster. To them, one can but incredulously stare.

Update: After skimming through The Use of Knowledge in Society, Muirgeo has this to say:

I’m pretty sure self-order in the markets is often a good idea but I can think of lots of times when it’s failed and when planning worked better. … And even here some one had to plan where to build those huts and who would wear red and who black.

Muirgeo clearly does not yet understand the point Hayek is making in the article. Hayek is not claiming that all intentional human planning is impossible; obviously, that is not true. Centrally-directed human planning exists and is often very successful on the individual, family, small village, and firm level. But planning is not and cannot be successful on a large scale, on the scale of national economics that we are concerned with here.

And again, I always resort to my claim that no unplanned society has ever existed…

And as Matt Simpson pointed out, there is no sense in which any Western (i.e. non-Communist) society is planned, in the Hayekian sense. That doesn’t mean that planning does not exist within Western societies on the individual, family, small village, and firm level. It just means that planning does not exist on a society, economy-wide national level.

Playmobil Police Checkpoint

The Customer Reviews are pretty funny.

Unions, The Principal-Agent Problem, and Luddism

In response to Karen De Coster's objection to unions on the grounds that organized labor tends towards Luddism, Charles Johnson rightly points out that this problem is merely a function of the larger principal-agent problem. If I just get paid an hourly wage while my employer owns the firm and reaps all the profits, I will tend to actively oppose any technological or efficiency improvements that increase productivity on the grounds that doing so will reduce the labor hours needed and thus the amount I'll get paid.

Charles argues that this needn't be so; the principal-agent relationship need not be set up this way. Alternative arrangements, such as where labor collectively owns the means of production, through a co-op, for example, are also possible and in many ways more desirable.

However, it's not so clear to me the principal-agent problem is as easy to solve as Charles suggests it is. And it becomes even more difficult the lower down you get on the food chain, where labor is less-skilled, less-educated, and lower paid, and where labor may therefore be more averse to risk than otherwise. After all, one of the myriad justifications for profits going to the capitalist is that the capitalist takes on the most risks, using her own money as an entrepreneur to start an uncertain business, with a high failure rate, and also extending in time when she will get recompensated, assuming the business becomes successful. Whereas a poor laborer just scratching by may not have the wherewithal to take such a large risk, nor be willing or able to withhold present consumption for the chance at a bigger future payoff - the poor laborer just wants a certain payoff now, in the form of wages.

Now, one can certainly imagine a group of people getting together, pooling their resources, and collectively engaging in entrepreneurship, with the plan that they will all work together as laborers in the firm, share the profits, and also share the risk of loss. Instead of starting a new firm, existing workers within a firm might even pool their resources and collectively buyout the assets of the firm from the existing capitalist owners. Or, organized labor could just demand some compensation in the form of stock options or other claims on portions of future profit. And we already see some of these models in existence.

But becoming an investor and a risk-taker generally presupposes some level of acquired wealth, where you have taken care of basic needs and have some money left over to risk and save. Poor laborers aren't generally going to have access to that sort of capital, and they are the ones who seem to benefit from organizing their labor the most.

The Jewish People And Israel Have No Right To Exist

I was a bit coy in my previous post, Might Be Time To Check Your Premises, and didn't actually come out and explicitly say which premises needed checking. But Constant followed my train of thought well enough in the comment thread that it's worth coming out now and actually saying what needs to be said: The Jewish People And Israel Have No Right To Exist.

That's a pretty extreme thing for anyone to say, and the fact that I am Jewish probably won't shield me from charges of anti-Semitism any more than that tactic worked for Norman Finkelstein or Noam Chomsky, or any other from that shameful cadre of self-hating Jews.

Perhaps what will shield me from the charge is this: I say this not to pick on Jews in particular, but to make a more general point. No human collective has a right to exist, including the collective group comprised of humanity as a whole itself. That means no government has a right to exist, no nation has a right to exist, no ethnicity has a right to exist, no race has a right to exist, and no religion has a right to exist.

The only entities that can legitimately make arguments from self-preservation are individual people, making the argument for their own individual self-preservation, and perhaps for the preservation of their own immediate families. The further you get away from that, the further you get to justifying genocide on the grounds that the existence of my collective alone is the highest value, for which all other values--and thus all other people outside my collective, and even some of the ones within it--may be sacrificed.

Entire cultures may be lost - a tragedy. Religions lost - a tragedy. But neither of these entities have any moral claim to existence that trumps the "liberal and humanitarian values [and] support for human rights."

When races and ethnicities intermingle, there is a risk that eventually, with enough miscegenation, maybe one or more of these distinct groups will be lost forever. (Some people, myself included, would view this as a good thing.) If people, for whatever misguided reasons--perhaps out of some strange commitment to preserving the remnants of the past, because history books and museums just aren't good enough--if some people want to preserve these institutions through voluntary means, by associating only with members of their own race or ethnicity and not associating with outsiders, I say to them: go in peace. I may not approve of your goals, but I won't violently interfere with your methods, for your methods don't violently interfere with mine.

And the same goes, a fortiori, for nations and states, which at best are nothing more than arbitrary lines drawn on maps by long dead (mostly white) men, and at worst--unlike the other kinds of collectives, which can theoretically be maintained without violence--are collectives held together only with the bitter mortar of violence, suffering, and international apartheid.

Kathy Griffin Self-Referential Comment Thread Spoof Proof

So I'm browsing through the Greatest Hits section of economic anthropologist Grant McCracken's blog and I come across this illuminating post psychoanalyzing/anthropologizing (?) Kathy Griffin's shtick.

The take away is that Griffin is a border shifter, able to play multiple, mutually incompatible roles: simultaneously portraying herself as a no-name, amateur D-list celebrity, and thus getting the crowd to feel like she's "one of us", while at the same time obviously being a celebrity herself, with the authority and "authentic personal knowledge" of celebrity culture that brings. But it's a delicate balancing act, and Griffin is quite good at it.

SO good at it, in fact, that we get the humorous blog happening of a stream of clueless but endearing fan-club Googlers (with a frighteningly disastrous command of the written form, natch) stumbling upon Grant's post and mistaking it for Kathy Griffin's homepage.

Apparently the comedienne's father died, and she talked about this on her show. Some of the fans leave their condolences in McCracken's comment thread, some just leave their praise and adulation, some fans sort of realize that it isn't really Kathy Griffin's homepage so instead criticize McCracken for overanalyzing their hero (and indirectly analyzing them), others wish for (expect?) some personal contact with the down-to-earth diva, while still others offer free HYPNOSIS services (!) as well as a personal demonstration that CAPSLOCK is cruise control for cool.

I guess the HYPNOSIS guy compares to the one and only clip I've ever seen of her Bravo show, in which a flamboyantly, LOUD TALKING, pushy, possibly (probably?)coked-up gay Asian gynecologist offers Griffin a free pap-smear, and won't take no for an answer. One thing I know for sure, if I ever wake up with a vagina one day, this is my go-to-guy for gynecological upkeep.

What better proof of Grant's thesis that Kathy Griffin is adept at navigating multiple worlds, and connecting with her audience on a personal (sometimes too personal) level?

Explain All Of Politics Standing On One Leg

Mobius encapsulates all of politics into a single, perfect sentence:

It was as if the speakers had each held up a red colored card, pointed to it and said, “This is green! This is sooooo green! This is the greenest green that green has ever been,” and everyone in the room applauded while nodding to each other and kvelling, “How true! It’s like crazy green!”

My own run in with President Bush wasn't quite as emotional as Mobius's. As an intern at Cato in the summer of '05, we were invited to hear Bush give a speech about Social Security reform at a local high school. Ben Stein (yes, that Ben Stein) played the role of emcee, warming up the crowd of mostly think-tank interns and congressional aides, and engaging in light banter with the President on stage once he arrived.

Not much was said that I disagreed with, but the combined aura of celebrity and bodyguard-created self-importance was palpable, and just a wee bit over the top. Multiple swat-teams were set up in vans in the parking lot with full military assault gear, rifles and shit. Every other dude had a short haircut and an ear-piece. Just being in a crowd with hundreds of other cheering people makes you sort of excited for the main attraction, even if the main attraction isn't all that attractive.

A number of times I found myself wishing I was standing with the young A.N.S.W.E.R. protesters who remained throughout at the requisite many-hundreds-of-meters away "free-speech zone" across the street than with all these stuffy D.C. suit-and-tie jobs, even though I didn't actually disagree with the stated purpose of the event.

And then there was that time in '04 when Randall and I went to hear Dennis Kucinich give a stump speech at Georgia Tech. Imagine waiting a not-insignificant length of time for Dennis Kucinich to show up late and yet still be excited like a Japanese schoolgirl (the best kind of schoolgirl) when the cute little man-midget finally arrives and rushes down the theater isle to the stage, with all his glorious entourage in tow.

Crowd mentality is truly a wonder.

This One's For Randall

To begin with, black has class. It's the best color. This is no other color that is better than black. There are many other colors that are appropriate and happy but those colors belong on flowers. Black is a color that is man-made. It is really a projection of the brain. It is a mind color. It is intangible. It is practical. It works 24 hours a day. In the morning or the afternoon, you can dress in tweed, but in the evening, you look like a professor who has escaped from a college. Everything else has connotations that are different, but black is good for everything. My house is covered in black.

- Massimo Vignelli

A Tool For Master Debaters

So this website is kinda neat: Debategraph. It's like wikipedia for debates, where users can contribute all the known arguments to various sides of common debates. At first I was worried that lengthy debates would become harder and harder to follow as more and deeper nested trees are created, but it looks like they have some nifty tools for navigating through the stormy seas of argument. My one complaint is that it seems difficult (impossible?) to link directly to individual sub-arguments.

Anyway, check it out.

Capitalist Acts Between Consenting Adults

Bob Murphy notes the creeping socialism hidden deep within Beatles lyrics:

And in the end
the love you take
is equal to the love
you make
aaaaa aaaaaaa.

It sounds so deep and just when the issue is love or satisfaction with the world. But when a free market economist says the wealth you take is equal to the wealth you make, he sounds like a jerk.

Why? Is it because Paul McCartney's voice is so much better?

Love-making has a nicer ring to it than money-making.

Unless you're a porn star, in which case you get to do both simultaneously.

Also, if I wanted to be a prick, I would dispute the claim that the wealth you take is equal to the wealth you make. The producer's surplus (the wealth you take as a producer) is never equal to the sum of both the consumer's surplus and the producer's surplus (the wealth you make as a producer), unless the consumer's surplus is zero, in which case the consumer would be indifferent to trade, and Austrians don't believe in indifference curves, instead favoring the "double inequality of value". And when we take third-party positive externalities in to account, things get even hairier. Hairier not in a good way, if you know what I mean.

I leave you with a money makin' song to counter Bob's love makin' song:

Well it's 50 cups of coffee and you know it's on
I move the crowd to the break of break of dawn
Can't rock the house without the party people
Cause when we're gettin down we are all equal
There's no better or worse between you and me
But I rock the mic so viciously
Like pins and needles and words that sting
At the blink of an eye I will do my thing
It's Like a needle in the cartridge when the record spins
Like diggin down deep in the record bins
Everybody gettin down make no mistake
Nothing sounds quite like an 8 0 8

Money Makin Money Money Makin Manhattan
Super Disco Disco Breakin'
Money Makin Money Money Makin Manhattan
Super Disco Disco Breakin'

Sometimes I like to brag sometimes I'm soft spoken
When I'm in Holland I eat the pannenkoeken
World is the the spice you bring the sauce
You can kiss my ass you funky boss
Now that you got what you want, you want more
I'll be with the hammer and the nail at your door
With these funky beats I be goin' head huntin'
Shouts to my peeps let me know if you feel something
Cause I can give you all you need
A little beat for the rhythm and some words to read
Let me tell you now that's my favorite shit
And when I got a new rhyme I just say it
So Money Makin Money Money Makin Manhattan
Super Disco Disco Breakin'
Money Makin Money Money Makin Manhattan
Super Disco Disco Breakin'

I now declare this to be my best post ever.

Might Be Time To Check Your Premises


Of course people will not voluntarily make that accommodation. At this point the right of self-preservation comes into effect. And when attempts to settle the difficulty in an amicable way are rejected the clenched hand must take by force that which was refused to the open hand of friendship. If in the past our ancestors had based their political decisions on similar pacifist nonsense as our present generation does, we should not possess more than one-third of the national territory that we possess to-day and probably there would be no German nation to worry about its future in Europe.


Regrettably, human history refutes the idealistic claim that in order to exist for long, a state, society or people has to be moral. Given the foreseeable realities of the 21st century and beyond, harsh choices are unavoidable, with requirements of existence often contradicting other important values. ...

When important for existence, violating the rights of others should be accepted, with regret but with determination. Support or condemnation of various countries and their policies should be decided upon primarily in light of probable consequences for the existence of the Jewish people.

In short, the imperatives of existence should be given priority over other concerns — however important they may be — including liberal and humanitarian values, support for human rights and democratization.

The second set of remarks was given by Yehezkel Dror, in an op-ed for The Forward last week.

The first set of remarks was given by You Know Who.

Hey, I'm just sayin'...

[Hat tip: Mobius]

[Followup DR post]

Libertarians against Truth

So this is quite amusing: at the Libertarian Party convention, a 9/11 Truther group, Libertarians for Justice, is asking all LP candidates to pledge to open a new 9/11 investigation. What are their demands?

For the researchers and experts who have dedicated their lives to researching the government’s conspiracy theory;

And for the American people whose freedoms were surrendered to the terrorists by our own government.

We, the undersigned, demand a publicly conducted Congressional inquiry, with full subpoena power, into the largest terrorist attack in American history.

The committee shall meet, ask questions, and demand answers until We the People are sure beyond a reasonable doubt that the terrorists have been brought to justice.

So let me get this straight: The same government that successfully pulled off the greatest conspiracy in history is the group that the Truthers want investigating itself? Wouldn't any conclusions reached sort of be, you know, a product of the conspiracy?

[via Weigel at H&R]