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Hypothetical Question On The Sequencing Objection

Here is something fun to think about related to the sequencing problem of deregulation/privatization:

Given that nobody is legitimately entitled to hold political power over anyone else without their permission, i.e. no one has a moral right to run for political office (or vote), would you

Support or oppose a new law that only convicted felons could become president?

What about a law that only members of the Communist Party could become president?

[via Bob Murphy]

Smoking Is Healthier Than Fascism

In an op-ed arguing for a smoking ban in prisons (and we all know what a bang-up job prisons do in banning narcotics and rape), this bit caused a double take:

Extensive studies have shown that the use of tobacco in the vicinity of others is hazardous to their health and life. No one would think that you should be forced to drink water or eat food that has passed through another individual. In a precedent-setting policy over 20 years ago, Kimball Physics of New Hampshire eliminated all tobacco on its campuses at the instigation of its workers. They do not want to be exposed to tobacco smoke from the clothing of those who enter the premises, so they require a two-hour waiting period before people are allowed in the gate. Their business flourishes. Since that time, schools, universities and other businesses have adopted smoke-free policies, again with no problems.

A two-hour waiting period before a smoker can reenter the property?! Jesus Christ, could the anti-smoking movement get any crazier? (Please do not answer this question.)

It's For The Children - Do You Hate Children, Sir?

The reason why "for the children" justifications for public policies are so common is because they work, even when (as is often the case) the connection between the policy in question and a benefit to actual children is extremely tenuous.

The reason is rhetorical: To oppose the policy in question is to risk being portrayed as "not for the children," which is not a winning quality for policy debate.

Alas, even the usually even-handed Jim Henley seems to have fallen for this rhetorical trick, agreeing with one of his commenters who wrote,

Absolute NO to Mary Ruwart. Anyone who can’t forcefully deny the legitimacy of child pornography needs to be kept as far away as possible from anything called “libertarian.” That’s not the publicity we need. She could do real damage.

Of course, as Roderick Long explains here, Ruwart was never unwilling to "forcefully deny the legitimacy of child pornography"; she merely had the chutzpah to point out that what counts as child pornography depends on what counts as a child, and what counts as a child for these purposes depends on one's ability to consent, an ability that in reality does not magically burst into existence on every child's 18th (or 21st) birthday, but tends to vary with the individual.

Ruwart’s comments were taken out of context. Now, one can criticize a public figure/political candidate for speaking (and writing) in such a way that one’s comments are likely or at risk of being taken at of context, but the only alternative then is to speak only in soundbites, where nothing of actual substance is ever said.

If libertarians primary and overriding concern is getting elected without any risk of scaring the public, then I agree: stay as far the hell away from people like Ruwart as possible. By even agreeing to analyze and address issues surrounding age of consent, Ruwart risks courting controversy. The only way to avoid that possibility is to refuse to discuss difficult issues; most politicians choose this safer route.

But if our concern as libertarians is not merely to attain political power, but to educate and improve the quality of political discourse, then there is no getting around the fact that in depth discussions do not always make for safe soundbites.

If libertarians are content with letting anyone and everyone get away with using “for the children” as a catch-all excuse, because challenging that rationale means risking being portrayed as “not for the children,” then so much the worse for libertarianism.

Intelligent Design, Austrian Economics, and Mainstream Academia

Advocates of Intelligent Design theory frequently complain that they are being shut out of mainstream biology. Advocates of Austrian economics frequently complain that they are being shut out of mainstream economics.

Whereas I am perfectly comfortable saying that all IDers are kooks and should be kept as far away as possible from teaching or publishing anything to do with mainstream science, I am not as willing to say the same about Austrians. Why?

One of the main differences is that Austrians--when they do good work--can get published in mainstream journals, even when the content of what they are writing about is thoroughly Austrian, whereas IDers cannot get ID "scholarship" published in mainstream scientific journals. I think Milton Friedman had it right: There is no such thing as Austrian economics (if understood as entirely separate from neoclassical economics); there is only good economics and bad economics.

I don't see the difficulty Austrians have in dealing with neoclassical economists as necessarily a bad thing. I think the Austrians at NYU and GMU--Pete Boettke representing--are doing just fine getting their work published and accepted by others. The folks at Mises Institute like to portray Austrian and neoclassical as an Us vs. Them sort of thing, where never the twain shall meet. That may be great for funding purposes, portraying the LvMIers as the lone libertarian truthseekers in a world where Chicago School economists are "worse than Communists" and "intellectual criminals" and other Hoppean claptrap, but it's not a great way to get published or to influence the mainstream. I certainly wouldn't want to be called worse than a Communist or an intellectual criminal if I was an academic gatekeeper deciding whether or not to hirer or publish someone.

I'm not a fan of conspiracy theories, and that's exactly what Intelligent Design and the LvMI-flavor of Austrian economics depend upon. They both depend upon believing in an academic conspiracy that is intentionally keeping them out of mainstream circles, not because of truth, but because of an irrational bias in favor of atheism or statism, respectively. It's a lot easier to believe it's just a function of bad scholarship: when ID is packed up in decent philosophical wrappings, it gets published in respected philosophy journals (see Plantinga), and when Austrian economics is packed in decent non-hostile LvMI wrappings, devoid of methodenstreit ramblings, it gets published in respected economics journals.

The Kuhnian explanation of science as it is practiced has obvious advantages to an alternative free-for-all that allows any and all-comers to challenge and dispute the basic building blocks of a research paradigm. Without a consistent set of internal rules, interests, goals, terminology, and styles, academic disciplines cannot get very far, because every use of a technical term would need to be immediately followed by a definition and a defense of the underlying epistemological assumptions inherent in that term.

This sort of activity of definition and justification is perfectly fine and appropriate for certain purposes - introductory texts, interdisciplinary work, and the philosophy behind the discipline itself. But when doing actual science, economics, or whatever, having to reinvent and rejustify the invention of the wheel each and every time a wheel needs to be mentioned is not likely to lead to productive results.

ID has failed to convince those working within the existing scientific paradigm that it even rises to the level of competing scientific theory. IDers should be--and are--free to create their own journals, found their own academic publishing houses, and even try to submit their methodological arguments to philosophy of science journals. But don't expect actual scientists to willingly let them sabotage the day-to-day practice of science, any more than expect the Catholic Church to hire Richard Dawkins to participate in its inner workings of policy and dogma.

[inspired by discussion from this thread]

The Rush Limbaugh Style In Libertarian Politics

Responding to Constant.

I was born and currently live in the South; my father speaks with a Southern accent. Some of my Yankee friends sometimes say I have a small hint of a Southern accent. Does that make me a self-hating Southerner?

Constant is absolutely right about the disagreement being conceptual and not only terminological. And it's precisely the concepts of "law-abiding" and "hard-working" that I'm criticizing.

I'm not claiming that avoiding using these concepts would be costless for the users; I'm claiming that avoiding using these concepts would be net beneficial for liberty, even while we ignore the racial angle.

When conservatives and libertarians advocate for smaller government, lower taxes and less welfare, there are lots of different ways they can structure their message. One way, which is especially popular among conservatives and unfortunately has spread to libertarian circles through talk-radio political shock-jocks and other more populist, less intellectual, less academic venues, is to create a picture of a world in which there is a group of hard-working, law-abiding, tax-paying, non-welfare using people - these people are generally the targeted audience of the speaker; you are made to feel as if you are part of this group. Then, in contrast, there is a group of lazy, criminal, tax-immune, welfare abusers - these people are considered the "other", to be derided, hated, treated with ridicule, contempt, and disgust. Neal Boortz and Rush Limbaugh are both experts at playing this game.

Even if we divorce the racial implications from this approach, the approach is still inimical to liberty. It turns the focus of the listener to look at the poor as the enemy, when the real enemy is the state and its enablers, very few of whom are actually poor - poor people don't tend to vote much or have much political power, nor do they actually benefit from all the government programs created allegedly for their benefit. It is factually, empirically, and sociologically untrue - poor people are not generally lazy or evil. And it tends to cripple the emotional capabilities of those who buy in to it - they no longer see the poor as worthy of sympathy, they are more likely to associate wealth with virtue and therefore apologize for corporatism, they treat those who are able to accrue wealth in business through government favoritism as Randian heroes, they end up looking exactly like the caricature that leftists make conservatives out to be.

None of this is desirable for promoting liberty, so even if we entirely ignore the racial angle, eliminating this conceptual strategy is itself a good thing for liberty, not a cost.

Mike Huben Strikes Again!

[followup to If Mike Huben Didn't Exist, Would Libertarians Have to Invent Him?]

Given that Mike Huben is the proprietor of web site dedicated to critiquing libertarianism, one would think that he has either heard all of these arguments before, isn't capable of understanding them, or understands them but is feigning ignorance for a nefarious or perhaps some more benevolent but unknown reason. Since I prefer not to view people I disagree with as evil or stupid, at least not without good reason, I remain bewildered as to why Huben appears to have no clue what he is talking about when discussing libertarianism.

Writes Huben,

[I]f you want to use the dichotomy monopolistic versus competitive, then you have to say that jury trial is monopolistic the same way that elections are monopolistic or markets are monopolistic. After all, markets are imposed by governments instead of competing with alternative arrangements such as socialism or mixed models.

Jury trials and elections are monopolistic, in an important way that markets are not. Markets are simply the sum of voluntary transactions conducted by freely acting individuals. For that matter, socialism can be voluntary too, if people freely choose to aggregate their wealth and income unanimously. Neither of these need to be imposed by governments.

And of course there is competition in a trial: that is the nature of an adversarial system. Good competitors are rewarded on both sides: prosecution and defense.

Yes, some competition is better than none. Even more is better than some.

Nor is there a history of "better" methods of conviction for crimes in the sense of accuracy, though there has been an enormous amount of experimentation in the innumerable governments, national and local. Largely because there's no good way to measure the accuracy rate: no better "truth" to compare to.

We know that juries can be biased. We know that witnesses have a far higher error rate than forensics labs. We know that defense and prosecution attempt innumerable invalid arguments attempting to sway or mislead juries. We know that there are "hanging judges". We know that laws can be unjust and biased.

But there's no evidence that "let the market sort them out" will work any better than "kill them all and let god sort them out". Perhaps markets could fix this one source of evidence: but of course, there is the same moral hazard of corruption because of the large stakes. The difference is that hiding behind private rights, we're less likely to observe the corruption than in a public process.

Hmm...I wonder why it is that we lack sufficient data to determine when and how frequently the government makes mistakes. Could it have something to do with the fact that a competitive market is first and foremost a tool for generating human knowledge? That without this tool, under a system of central planning, we lack access to important kinds of information?

I'm reminded of the reason why anti-death penalty groups have such great difficulty finding a single, legally proven case of wrongful state execution. Could it have something to do with the fact that the government tends to dispose of evidence once the execution has taken place and in numerous other ways makes it difficult if not impossible to prove it has murdered an innocent person? Might this have anything to do with the fact that the state is *gasp* a monopoly, answerable to no higher authority but itself and the conservative lackies who prefer its very observable and frequent corruption to the scary thought of change to the foreign and lesser-known?

I mean, it's amazing we ever got democracy, trials, and the adversarial system in the first place; certainly whatever we had before that--however corruption infested it may have been--was still better known and therefore safer-feeling than progressive change, amirite?

To be fair to Huben, (though, again, as a supposed expert in criticizing libertarian thought, I expect him to know better), the inability to see outside the status-quo, government-mandated box is widespread. Gil, in the same comment thread, writes,

The only Libertarian solution (for those wanting a Libertarian solution) is the one I suggested - let property owners deal with trespassers and let two people in the street dispute and duke it out or they can find an arbitrator. The police, courts, judges, jails, juries, laws, etc., are all entities of a central government system.

Of course, as Gil himself should have noticed with his mention of an arbitrator, these are not all entities of a central government system. Courts, judges, juries, and laws are all entities of private arbitration systems as well. And police and prisons would be potential entitles of such non-central government legal systems were they not forcibly banned from competing with the government monopoly.

I supposed the best libertarians can do in situations like these where imagination is lacking is come up with sociological analogies. Bob Murphy gives us two John Hasnas-style good ones:

We're all arguing here about how much falsely convicted people should be paid, how many independent tests should be conducted, what the right tradeoff is between false positives and false negatives, etc. But to me this is like Cubans arguing about how many loaves of bread a kidney transplant should cost, etc.

Again, it's a bit tricky to even imagine how you could meaningfully have a "free market" in law enforcement, evidentiary procedures, etc., but if you could it would solve all of these problems. The ratio of false positives to false negatives would be a market outcome, just as the number of broken eggs to non-broken eggs in cartons in your grocery store.

What Is The Purpose Of Creation Science?

I've been having a bit of an ID/Evolution tussle with Bob Murphy here and here, and a question just occurred to me: What exactly is it the purpose of Intelligent Design/Creation Science?

Yes, yes, the obvious explanation is that theists want God taught in the science classrooms. But doesn't this violate a central tenet of theism? Namely, don't all theists have to account for the hiddenness of God? That is, if God exists, why doesn't God make its own existence obvious, and eliminate all of the time wasted (and sins committed) as a result of reasonable doubt?

Most versions of theism that I have encountered give a similar answer to this question: the hiddenness of God is a test of faith, for which believers will be rewarded. Open, obvious evidence for God's existence would remove a significant element of free will - we would not be believing because we choose to believe, but because we must believe.

But if that's the case, then why the urge to prove, scientifically, that God is in the gaps? Why are IDers/Creationists looking for, not just any evidence, but scientific evidence, in the form of irreducible complexity as an argument for the existence of a designer?

If God really did exist, why would God provide complex, statistical, scientific evidence for its own existence only in the micro-world of biochemical processes, and not instead, say, host his own public access television show called Jesus and Pals? Are microbiologists more deserving than the rest of us to bask in the knowledge and glory of the Divine? Or does God want us all to give up our day jobs and become microbiologists?

If Mike Huben Didn't Exist, Would Libertarians Have to Invent Him?

In response to the very sensible observation that the problem with criminal forensics is that it is embedded within a throughly monopolistic system, Bob Murphy writes

I loved the article, but I think Koppl doesn't push it far enough when he says the problem is monopoly, and therefore we need the government to require multiple tests, etc. That's like saying the problem with oil prices is OPEC, and that's why we need to ask Saudi Arabia to pump more.

Case in point: Koppl discusses a guy who was wrongly convicted of rape and held for four years. His compensation? $118,000. If those are the penalties the government faces for mistakes, no wonder they are so sloppy. In a voluntary system where people could patronize different legal frameworks (and yes we can argue about how/whether that would work), I think the fines might be such that the agencies that survived the competition fixed the leaky roofs over their crime labs.

In response, Mike Huben writes,

Even if libertarian fantasy competing privatized crime labs existed and were 100% correct, why would you think that would make a significant difference?

You would have to presume that conviction is an accurate process: but there's no good measure of it, and lots of reasons why we know it is frequently inaccurate.

But it makes a nice story for libertarians to bash government with, even if it is stupid.


Black America, The Cycle of Poverty, and Time Preference

In a surprisingly well-balanced look at both conservative and liberal academic scholarship on contemporary black America, The Economist tells the remarkable story of Roland Fryer:

When Roland Fryer was about 15, a friend asked him what he would be doing when he was 30. He said he would probably be dead. It was a reasonable prediction. At the time, he was hanging out with a gang and selling drugs on the side. Young black men in that line of work seldom live long. But Mr Fryer survived. At 30, he won tenure as an economics professor at Harvard. That was four months ago.

Mr Fryer's parents split up when he was very young. His father was a maths teacher who went off the rails: young Roland once had to borrow money to bail him out of jail. His great-aunt and great-uncle ran a crack business: young Roland would watch them cook cocaine powder into rocks of crack in a frying pan in the kitchen. Several of his relatives went to prison. But Mr Fryer backed away from a life of crime and won a sports scholarship to the University of Texas. He found he enjoyed studying, and was rather good at it. By the time he was 25, the president of Harvard was hectoring him to join the faculty.

Fryer's academic focus seems to be on IQ and education:

He is obsessed with education, which he calls “the civil-rights battleground of the 21st century”. Why do blacks lag behind whites in school? Mr Fryer is prepared to test even the most taboo proposition. Are blacks genetically predisposed to be less intelligent than whites? With a collaborator from the University of Chicago, Mr Fryer debunked this idea. Granted, blacks score worse than whites on intelligence tests. But Mr Fryer looked at data from new tests on very young children. At eight months to a year, he found almost no racial gap, and that gap disappeared entirely when he added controls for such things as low birth weight.

If the gap is absent in babies, this suggests it is caused by environmental factors, which can presumably be fixed. But first they must be identified. Do black children need better nutrition? More stimulation in the home? Better schools? Probably all these things matter, but how much? “I don't know,” says Mr Fryer. It is a phrase that, to his credit, he uses often.

His most striking contribution to the debate so far has been to show that black students who study hard are accused of “acting white” and are ostracised by their peers. Teachers have known this for years, at least anecdotally. Mr Fryer found a way to measure it. He looked at a large sample of public-school children who were asked to name their friends. To correct for kids exaggerating their own popularity, he counted a friendship as real only if both parties named each other. He found that for white pupils, the higher their grades, the more popular they were. But blacks with good grades had fewer black friends than their mediocre peers. In other words, studiousness is stigmatised among black schoolchildren. It would be hard to imagine a more crippling cultural norm.

Mr Fryer has some novel ideas about fixing this state of affairs. New York's school system is letting him test a couple of them on its children. One is to give pupils cash incentives. If a nine-year-old completes an exam, he gets $5. For getting the answers right, he gets more money, up to about $250 a year. The notion of bribing children to study makes many parents queasy. Mr Fryer's response is: let's see if it works and drop it if it doesn't.

Another idea, being tested on a different group of children, is to hand out free mobile telephones. The phones do not work during school hours, and children can recharge them with call-minutes only by studying. (The phone companies were happy to help with this.) The phones give the children an incentive to study, and Mr Fryer a means to communicate with them. He talks of “re-branding” academic achievement to make it cool. He knows it will not be easy. He recalls hearing drug-pushers in the 1980s joking “Just say no!” as they handed over the goods, mocking Nancy Reagan's anti-drug slogan.

What's puzzling is how such a self-defeating cultural norm came to be in the first place. In a response to Ezra Klein on the connection between education and health outcomes, Will Wilkinson points to time preferences:

The causes of differences in dispositions to act now to gain distant future rewards are unknown to me. I guess it has a great deal to do with an early sense of the stability or volatility of one’s practical environment. If you come to feel that involved plans tend to be dashed and that resisting gratification leaves you with less than you could have had, you’ll learn not to form involved plans or defer desire. I think having consistently enough money is a major factor in developing the sense that long-term projects can be successfully carried through. But having enough is itself largely a function of being able to carry through long-term plans. Poverty can be so pernicious precisely because it carries with it the conditions for its own reinforcement.

Economist article via Charno at ASC

Leon Kass Hates Ice Cream

Worst of all from this point of view are those more uncivilized forms of eating, like licking an ice cream cone--a catlike activity that has been made acceptable in informal America but that still offends those who know eating in public is offensive. ... Eating on the street--even when undertaken, say, because one is between appointments and has no other time to eat--displays [a] lack of self-control: It beckons enslavement to the belly. ... Lacking utensils for cutting and lifting to mouth, he will often be seen using his teeth for tearing off chewable portions, just like any animal. ... This doglike feeding, if one must engage in it, ought to be kept from public view, where, even if we feel no shame, others are compelled to witness our shameful behavior.

- Kass, quoted by Steven Pinker, via Hit & Run

Sad Fish

Those Damned Cosmotarians!

Gene Callahan on the perils of multiculturalism:

Man, those multi-culturalists! I recall the story of one Jewish dude who apparently was not satisfied with his local folkways. He imported a melange of ideas from Greek philosophy and Eastern religion into his native inheritance and came up with some weird hybrid mix. His followers, after his death, immediately became "rootless cosmopolitans," trotting all around the Mediterranean world, asserting that the culture you came from didn't matter as long as you accepted their new "globalist" creed. They sucked into their "ideology" an obviously incompatible blend of Greek philosophy, Roman civic and political ideas, and Hebrew revelation.

Good thing that nonsense had no lasting impact on the world!

Spontaneous Orders: Ecology and Economics

Gus diZerega of Liberty & Power writes:

Both markets and ecologies are complex processes relying on negative and positive feedback to coordinate otherwise independent actions into more productive and adaptive patterns of interaction than could ever be accomplished by deliberate planning. Both are resilient and fragile. ...

People who are exquisitely sensitive to distortions generated in markets by external political intervention enthusiastically endorse central control or overriding of ecological processes.

For their part, many environmentalists who are well versed in ecological understanding are insensitive to the deep distortions arising from political intervention in the market. Sometimes they blame markets for what is really the result of political intervention. Sometimes they seek political intervention without appreciating how it is likely to backfire.

Despite these similarities, I'm still more inclined to be an environmental engineer than an economic engineer, for at least two reasons.

First, economic markets are for humans and by humans (by human action, not human design), whereas ecological markets are for humans, animals, plants, and other natural processes. As a humanist, I care more about humans than I do about non-humans, and I am willing to sacrifice the interests of plants, animals, and the environment if doing so is in the bests interests of humans. It seems to me that many ecologists and environmentalists are in an important sense anti-humanist; they do not give the interests of humans additional weight over the interests of the rest of the natural world.

Second, we have good theoretical reasons for thinking that socialist economic calculation in the absence of a price system is impossible. Do we have similar reasons for thinking that completely or even mostly artificial ecological calculation and engineering is impossible or very likely to lead to unintended consequences? I don't know, I'm not an ecologist. What is the equivalent of the price system for the environment? Who are the ecological Mises and Hayek?

Anarcho-Capitalist Non-Voters For Obama

David Friedman gives his endorsement. Can we start an ancap non-voting Obama caucus?

Too Bad It's The Fake News

If only it were real:

CARSON CITY, NV—The Nevada legislature voted Monday to repeal all laws within the state and prohibit the proposal of any new laws. ...

"Critics always argued that if we allowed gambling and prostitution, it was just a short leap to lawlessness," said Senate Majority Leader William Raggio (R-Washoe), flanked by a pair of armed strippers. "It didn't sink in for a while, but we eventually just sort of looked at each other and said, 'Why not?' Without laws, Nevada could offer a whole range of entertainment and lifestyle options never before imagined."

As a result of the eradication of laws, more than 20,000 police officers and other law-enforcement officials stand to lose their jobs. The loss should be offset, however, with the creation of jobs in new fields.

"Nothing stimulates employment like lawlessness," Raggio said. "We estimate that this move will create more than 400,000 jobs in such newly legal professions as prizefight rigger, ticket scalper, drug runner, bribe coordinator, and arsonist. In the construction industry alone, some 20,000 workers will be needed to build whorehouses and install stripper poles in fast-food restaurants."