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The World Goes To Pot

In science news:

In laboratory tests, cannabinoids, the active components in marijuana, were found to slow the spread of lung and cervical cancer tumors, according to researchers Robert Ramer and Burkhard Hinz of the University of Rostock in Germany.

Of course, even if marijuana didn't have positive health effects, autonomous adults should still have the right to smoke, snort, inject, or otherwise ingest whatever substances they choose.

And while we're on the subject of cannibis, I really need to sample some of the stuff the guy in this video has been smoking:

I've always wanted an Australian accent. Is that one of the listed side-effects?

If You're Paying, I'll Have Top Sirloin

Patri has private health insurance. I do not. Both of us have chronic sleep apnea, both of us have had Uvulopalatopharyngoplasties in the past without much success, and both of us have had doctors recommend undergoing Maxillomandibular Advancement Surgery.

Since Patri is not an ideal candidate, his insurance may not cover the surgery. In which case, "the combination of cash discounts and tax writeoffs should bring the cost down to $30k-$40k." Ouch. That sounds even more painful than the surgery itself!

Since I do not have any kind of health insurance, the taxpayers of Georgia will be paying for my surgery, with a total out-of-pocket-cost to me of about $3. If You're Paying, I'll Have Top Sirloin.

Something is wrong here. Yes, I am somewhat of a hypocrite, but "free" $30-$40 thousand surgery is awfully tempting! I just couldn't help myself, fellow Georgia taxpayers. I'm sure you'll understand.

When you increase the cost of labor, people substitute capital

Etch that into your arm with the nearest pen. That is pretty much all of economics in a nutshell, the What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen in blunter prose.

From that same excellent comment thread over at Will's, commenter secret asian man writes,

Suppose you have a labor-intensive factory with a hundred workers that manages to make a tiny profit offering ten minute lunch breaks [in] Ghana. Given how competitive international markets are, this is not an unlikely situation - competition is strong, and there is very little money to be made off destitute Ghanians anyways (although there is plenty of money to be made fleecing the Stuff White People Like crowd with Ghanian products).

Now let's suppose some SWPL activist causes half-hour lunch breaks to be mandatory. As a result, this labor-intensive Ghanian factory is no longer profitable, because this means half-hour lunch breaks for hundred of Ghanian workers - hundreds of lunch breaks.

All of a sudden, it becomes cheaper to shut down the Ghanian factory, and replace those goods with products made in a ten-person Mexican factory that has roads, power, internet, and a CNC machine. Ten lunch breaks are cheaper than a hundred.

Why? Because when you increase the cost of labor, people substitute capital.

And yet this mistake gets made again and again. It boggles the mind. Getting people to understand this basic economic lesson would do far more than one thousand angrily written pamphlets on the source of natural rights and the reasons why one particular conception of natural rights is the most consistent and true one. If you want to make good libertarians - heck, if you want to make a good society, teach people economics, and the libertarianism will come naturally.

And what a great term, the "SWPL activist". I need to remember that one.

The Myth of Human Trafficking

I comment elsewhere on the issue of human trafficking, in response to this comment by Sanjay:

I really, _really_ don't grasp why you think activists are wrong to oppose human trafficking: most of the cases I'm aware of, and certainly the ones activists try to focus attention on, aren't about "options," they're about people backed into situations they didn't realize they were signing up for, and effectively jailed by the threat of violence. Worse, it often happens when people get trapped in (say) sexual slavery right here in this or another rich country. It seems like what we generally mean when we talk about human trafficking, isn't really in the kind of domain as the sweatshop thing.

The issue of human trafficking is overblown. Yes, it exists, and is wrong, insofar as it is coercive and harmful. And yes, there is certainly anecdotal evidence that it occurs. The problem is the statistical aggregate described by the term "human trafficking" is often bogus, and includes non-coercive, non-harmful cases of (often illegal) labor mobility lumped in with the coercive, harmful kind.

This is one of Kerry Howley's frequent topics of inquiry. Here she writes:

I’m inclined to see the hugely exaggerated statistics regarding human trafficking as driven by economic realities; sex slavery, thanks to evangelicals domestically and other social forces abroad, is where the money is. No one–least of all an NGO vying for that money–has an incentive to suggest that there are fewer victims than previously believed, or that the data suggests very few victims of trafficking are women sold into sex as opposed to men and boys forced into less titillating forms of labor; correct the misperception and you may shut off the tap. But clearly, there has to be some deeper will to believe among those who continue to parrot the now-discredited numbers.

In that same post she cites this Washington Post article:

Human Trafficking Evokes Outrage, Little Evidence
U.S. Estimates Thousands of Victims, But Efforts to Find Them Fall Short

And the money quote:

Ronald Weitzer, a criminologist at George Washington University and an expert on sex trafficking, said that trafficking is a hidden crime whose victims often fear coming forward. He said that might account for some of the disparity in the numbers, but only a small amount.

"The discrepancy between the alleged number of victims per year and the number of cases they've been able to make is so huge that it's got to raise major questions," Weitzer said. "It suggests that this problem is being blown way out of proportion."


Although there have been several estimates over the years, the number that helped fuel the congressional response -- 50,000 victims a year -- was an unscientific estimate by a CIA analyst who relied mainly on clippings from foreign newspapers, according to government sources who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the agency's methods. Former attorney general Alberto R. Gonzales told Congress last year that a much lower estimate in 2004 -- 14,500 to 17,500 a year -- might also have been overstated.

Also, the issue of human trafficking is closely tied to the issue of sex work, and so there are lots of biases and assumptions that predictably go along with any discussion of trafficking. For example, Howley often cites Laura María Agustín,

a sociologist who studies migrant sex workers. In her writings, she is critical of the conflation of the terms "human trafficking" with "prostitution" and "migration", arguing that what she calls the "rescue industry" often ascribes victim status to and thereby objectifies women who have made conscious and rational decisions to migrate. She advocates for a more nuanced study of migrant sex workers without pre-conceived notions.

Kerry interviewed Agustín for Reason here, in The Myth of the Migrant.

Kerry excerpts a piece by Agustín on the gender biases coloring our view of human trafficking here:

Single men’s decisions to travel are generally understood to evolve over time, the product of their ‘normal’ masculine ambition to get ahead through work: they are called migrants. Then there is the case of women who attempt to do the same…

It is striking that in the year 2001 women should so overwhelmingly be seen as pushed, obligated, coerced or forced when they leave home for the same reason as men: to get ahead through work. But so entrenched is the idea of women as forming an essential part of home if not actually being it themselves that they are routinely denied the agency to undertake a migration. So begins a pathetic image of innocent women torn from their homes, coerced into migrating, if not actually shanghaied or sold into slavery. This is the imagery that nowadays follows those who migrate to places where the only paid occupations available to them are in domestic service or sex work.[3] The ‘trafficking’ discourse relies on the assumption that it is better for women to stay at home rather than leave it and get into trouble; ‘trouble’ is seen as something that will irreparably damage women (who are grouped with children), while men are routinely expected to encounter and overcome it. But if one of our goals is to find a vision of globalisation in which poorer people are not constructed solely as victims, we need to recognise that strategies which seem less gratifying to some people may be successfully utilised by others.

To sound the left-libertarian note, this is yet another case where patriarchal "traditional" cultural values about the proper role of women in society and the moral legitimacy of sex work leads to unlibertarian conclusions: millions of dollars wasted, mostly by governments, on essentially an urban legend popularized and believed by prudish traditionalists.

Natural Rights Collapse Into Consequentialism

Suppose someone favors restrictions on immigration and regulations on sweatshop labor. Why? I can see a few possible reasons:

  1. This person doesn't agree with the libertarian conception of self ownership, initial property aquisition, the right to exclude etc.
  2. This person doesn't fully grasp the concept of comparative advantage and the astronomical potential gains from trade.
  3. This person has a strong sense of tribalism, and places much greater importance on the welfare of people within the tribe than outside the tribe.

Given these three possibilities, I see #2 as the easiest and most likely path to lead to successful persuasion. The only response to #3 is shaming and ridicule. #1 has many points of failure, as the chain of argument is lengthy and complex, and many links in that chain are extremely weak without resorting to some sort of consequentialist underpinnings. For example, David Schmidtz asks "how [could we] justify any institution that recognizes a right to exclude"?

The way Judith Thomson puts it, if “the first labor-mixer must literally leave as much and as good for others who come along later, then no one can come to own anything, for there are only finitely many things in the world so that every taking leaves less for others”


Original appropriation diminishes the stock of what can be originally appropriated, at least in the case of land, but that is not the same thing as diminishing the stock of what can be owned. On the contrary, in taking control of resources and thereby removing those particular resources from the stock of goods that can be acquired by originally appropriation, people typically generate massive increases in the stock of goods that can be acquired by trade. The lesson is that appropriation typically is not a zero-sum game. It normally is a positive sum game. As Locke himself stressed, it creates the possibility of mutual benefit on a massive scale. It creates the possibility of society as a cooperative venture.

The argument is not merely that enough is produced in appropriation’s aftermath to compensate latecomers who lost out in the race to appropriate. The argument is that the bare fact of being an original appropriator is not the prize. The prize is prosperity, and latecomers win big, courtesy of those who got here first. If anyone had a right to be compensated, it would be the first appropriators.

This is the argument for property rights. This is the only good argument for property rights. At it's base, it is a consequentialist argument. If property rights - the right to exclude - were not the precondition for good consequences, they would not be justified. Intellectual property, better described by Tom Bell as Intellectual Privilege, offers a perfect example of this, as it is so clearly artificial. Intellectual Privileges to exclude others from use are only justified to the extent that these exclusions "promote[s] the Progress of Science and useful Arts". To the extent that they exclude more than they promote, they are not justified.

So dealing with problem #1 requires dealing with problem #2. Why not just cut out the middle man and start from economics?

Two Cheers For Utilitarianism

Libertarians who like to talk in terms of natural rights often bash utilitarianism, but it's worth remembering that it is a lack of utilitarianism which leads people to the wrong answers on immigration and sweatshop labor standards.

dclayh comments at Patri's blog:

I think people who hate sweatshops are anti-utilitarians who see an important difference between causing suffering and allowing suffering. Viz., they would say that we have a much greater degree of control over the citizens of our own country than, say, Cambodia, so we we have a correspondingly stronger moral duty to our poor than to the poor of Cambodia (and moreover that a "sweatshop" is some kind of absolute evil regardless of the alternatives).

I would call that a nauseating example of tribalism.

Will Wilkinson, distilling the takeaway from Lant Pritchett, makes the same point:

There is ample evidence showing that there is no single policy that would increase the welfare of the world's poor than a small increase in openness to immigration among the world's wealthy countries. The net effect of this to the wealthy countries is mildly positive -- not even a net cost. You can try to argue that it is not immoral to forgo a huge costless gain in human liberty and welfare, but you'll fail and leave people wondering what kind of person you are.

Breaking News: TGGP Nabs Dain

With the dramatic implosion of The Art of the Possible blog, Dain has moved in with TGGP. I say we steal them both. Here's a taste of Dain's first post:

Diana C. Mutz of the University of Pennsylvania has done some excellent work on the degree to which deliberation and participation in our modern representative democracy are working at cross purposes. The problem is that exposure to different viewpoints - deliberation - is negatively correlated with political participation, because people don’t often voluntarily pursue intellectually antagonistic relations. In other words, individuals associate with like-minded others. Duh. When people get involved in politics it’s to get that “fellow feeling” based upon a shared…hobby, quite frankly, albeit one with a sense of intrinsic worth that can rival that of a religion.

Mutz’s rather bleak finding is that inducing deliberation can inadvertently strengthen partisanship, as the increase in potentially heated and uncomfortable political disagreement causes conflict-avoiding folks (most of us) to retreat to friendlier territory. [...] When you’ve already shared a hookah watching the final episode of Battlestar Galactica at your friend’s cousin’s house, what kind of monster would you be to rebuke said cousin after learning she is a member of the Save Darfur Coalition? (As a libertarian with an Old Right disposition toward world affairs living in the bay area, the above hypothetical rings familiar.)

Which calls to mind that great Learned Hand quote: "The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women."

I have reached (or am in the process of reaching) that Zen-like post-libertarian state. You can break the social rule of talking politics or religion at the dinner table as long as you don't take yourself too seriously. I get along great with both diehard Republicans (having been one myself way back when) and wooly-headed lefties (becoming one more so each day), but I still haven't figured out how to mediate between the two, without just changing the topic to something less controversial. And that's just admitting defeat, as far as deliberation is concerned.

The problem with deliberative democracy isn't the deliberation part; it's the participation part. If all talk of politics ended after the dinner party was over, and never reached the ballot box, things would be peachy.

Beg, Borrow, And Steal

Rad Geek makes the simple yet radical claim: people should never be forced to pay debts that they never agreed to take on.

In fact, discussions of government debt should not focus on mediated settlements or relief from creditor governments, but rather on unilateral repudiation of so-called public debt by debtor governments. Not because enforcing the collection of these debts is scroogish or because it ought to be tempered by considerations of charity, but rather because the debts themselves are completely illegitimate and enforcing the collection of these debts is absolutely unjust. Whether that’s the debts of the governments in Ecuador, or in Tanzania, or, for that matter, in the United States of America — where we are all being extorted to pay off US$ 10,000,000,000,000 of debts that we never once agreed to. Debts that were taken out without our permission, then inflicted on us against our will, so that this government could pay for its murderous wars, its tyrannical surveillance and intelligence apparatus, its brain-dead federal programs, its byzantine busybodying regulation, and its multitrillion dollar preservation programs for endangered capitalists and their habitats in the economic status quo.

Steven Pinker's Zen Koan

Okay, it's not really a Zen Koan, and it's not even original to Steven Pinker, but this line was my takeaway from Pinker's recent NY Times magazine ode to evopsych:

The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

I cannot think of a more concise and witty defense of procrastination and beta-ness.

Pinker's piece also touches on one of my favorite topics, the similarities between the mechanism of evolution and the mechanism of economics:

In theory, we should hardly differ at all. Natural selection works like compound interest: a gene with even a 1 percent advantage in the number of surviving offspring it yields will expand geometrically over a few hundred generations and quickly crowd out its less fecund alternatives. Why didn’t this winnowing leave each of us with the best version of every gene, making each of us as vigorous, smart and well adjusted as human physiology allows? The world would be a duller place, but evolution doesn’t go out of its way to keep us entertained.

It’s tempting to say that society as a whole prospers with a mixture of tinkers, tailors, soldiers, sailors and so on. But evolution selects among genes, not societies, and if the genes that make tinkers outreproduce the genes that make tailors, the tinker genes will become a monopoly. A better way of thinking about genetic diversity is that if everyone were a tinker, it would pay to have tailor genes, and the tailor genes would start to make an inroad, but then as society filled up with tailor genes, the advantage would shift back to the tinkers. A result would be an equilibrium with a certain proportion of tinkers and a certain proportion of tailors. Biologists call this process balancing selection: two designs for an organism are equally fit, but in different physical or social environments, including the environments that consist of other members of the species.

Of course, that great bugaboo of sociobiology, Stephen Jay Gould, put it best when he wrote:

The theory of natural selection is a creative transfer to biology of Adam Smith’s basic argument for a rational economy: the balance and order of nature does not arise from a higher, external (divine) control, or from the existence of laws operating directly upon the whole, but from struggle among individuals for their own benefits.

In unrelated Structural Libertarian news, my friend and fellow KFP alum Pete Eyre tells it like it is in A Personal Plea for Liberty.

Thick Libertarianism As The Alternative To Benevolent Imperialism

I share Todd Seavey's belief in the importance of letting local/tribal/traditional cultures be left alone to do their own thing, in the sense that they should not be physically forced to change by a benevolent imperialist power. I hold this belief for the pragmatic truce reasons Todd mentions.

I would even take the position further than Todd does: In many cases, it is not wise to physically interfere with other cultural practices even when those practices explicitly violate property rights, despite us being justified in doing so. (For an explanation of where I'm coming from, see Chandran Kukathas' Two Constructions of Libertarianism, which touches on many of the same issues as Jacob Levy's Liberalism's Divide.)

But this doesn't mean that libertarians as libertarians have to or should keep silent about cultural practices we deem morally praise- or blame-worthy. Thick libertarianism is that much more important when you adopt a "Federation of Liberty" over a "Union of Liberty" approach, to use Kukathas' language, or when you adopt a pluralist over a rationalist approach, to use Levy's. The only way to convince other cultures that liberty is worth preserving is by engaging them in that argument, and rooting out those aspects of their culture that are inimical to freedom. Removing benevolent imperialism from the libertarian tool-kit makes the tool of peaceful but critical persuasion all the more necessary.

If the Saudis want to keep their women dressed in beekeeper costumes, I don't think it would be wise for libertarians to physically interfere with them, but we might want to persuade them that this is a bad idea, if for no other reason than dissenting women are likely to be physically attacked if they don't comply.

Children indoctrinated in intensely religious environments may never fully develop their capacity for autonomous consent precisely because of their lack of exposure to other options. Libertarians, as pluralists, have an interest in exposing these other options and persuading the sheltered that theirs is not the only way to live, if for no other reason than to better maintain the pluralistic pragmatic truce.

Bill O'Reilly: Anarchist?

[skip to the 4 minute mark]

Bill O'Reilly: The whole federal government frightens me. There isn't anything about it I like.

Jon Stewart: Really?

Bill O'Reilly: Yeah, I'm an anarchist. Power to the people.

O'Reilly was against anarchy before he was for it.

Songs in the key of Bailout

The White Stripes - The Big Three Killed My Baby (1999)

The big three killed my baby
no money in my hand again
the big three killed my baby
nobody's coming home again

Their ideas made me want to spit
a hundred dollars goes down the pit
30,000 wheels are rollin'
and my stick shift hands are swollen
everything involved is shady
the big three killed my baby

The big three killed my baby
no money in my hand again
the big three killed my baby
nobody's coming home again

Why dont you take the day off and try to repair
a billion others dont seem to care
better ideas are stuck in the mud
the motors runnin' on tuckers blood
dont let them tell you the future's electric
cause gasolines not measured in metric
30,000 wheels are spinnin'
and oil company faces are grinnin'
now my hands are turnin' red
and i found out my baby is dead

The big three killed my baby
no money in my hand again
the big three killed my baby
nobody's coming home again

Well i've said it now, nothings changed
people are burnin for pocket change
and creative minds are lazy
and the big three killed my baby

And my baby's my common sense
so dont feed me planned obsolescence
yeah my baby's my common sense
so dont feed my planned obsolescence
im about to have another blowout
im about to have another blowout

Encirclement and Easements

TGGP asks Will Wilkinson:

Do you really think that by locking my door I am coercing against anybody?

I'm not sure I entirely agree with the argument, but if I were to make a libertarian argument that by locking your door you can coerce someone, I would mention the encirclement problem and the common law solution of easements:

Suppose that the states owns all the land along the border. Then we have the same situation as one in which one person buys all the land surroundig another person’s property, thus keeping them prisoner (if they were on it at the time) or keeping them away from their proeprty (if they were off it). Since you can’t legitimately use your property in a way that interfere’s with the liberty and property of others, you are obligated to provide an easement.

Can a theory of easements be used to justify anti-discrimination laws on libertarian grounds? The public accommodations provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were upheld by the Supreme Court on Commerce Clause grounds, but it seems to me that easements should be (and generally are and were) granted only if absolutely necessary, and not just in cases where they make life significantly more convenient. Of course, distinguishing between cases of absolute necessity and mere convenience is a tricky thicket.

Biological Determinism and Empirical Evidence

Reason commented in the thread below:

Many norms have developed more or less universally because humans are fundamentally wired that way - for example, feminism has not led to equality in the workforce because women, in the aggregate, value children more and career less than men.

I asked how we know that this is a result of biology and not conservative, socially constructed norms. Constant answered: "You look across societies for constants."

I look across societies throughout history and see the constants of slavery, genocide, disease, and abusive governments. What does this observation tell us about the biological necessity of these things? What does it tell us about their adaptiveness or desirability?

One of my favorite pieces by Anthony de Jasay comes from chapter 5 of Justice and Its Surroundings:

Throughout its history, humanity has permanently displayed a physical condition classified in ordinary language as “illness” or “disease.” There has always been what Hume would call a “constant conjunction” between human life and illness.

The Hobbesian hypothesis that illness is a necessary condition of the survival of the human species has strong empirical support. It has never been falsified.

Throughout its history, humanity has permanently displayed a social condition classified in ordinary language as “the state” or “government.” There has always been what Hume would call a “constant conjunction” between human society and government.

The Hobbesian hypothesis that government is a necessary condition of social life has strong empirical support. It has never been falsified.

Arguments in favor of the prevention or eradication of disease are evidently misguided and may be dangerous. They are often put forward by naïve persons with little understanding of reality.

Arguments in favor of fostering society’s capacity to evolve anarchic orders and live with less or no government are evidently misguided and may be dangerous. They are often put forward by naïve persons with little understanding of reality.

Be careful with claims of biological or historical determinism. You may prove far more than you intend.