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So True It Hurts

IOZ drops it like its hot on Phallibertarians, riffing off the exchange between Kerry Howley and Todd Seavey:

Male libertarians who denigrate the pervading social constraints on women and people of minority racial groups and people with less common sexual predilections--i.e., most male libertarians--do so because their ideology is grumpy and reactionary; it is forged of the same stuff as crybaby conservativism; its concerns with genuine liberty are purely tactical, and entirely personal. These scattershot beliefs, which consist principally of disliking taxes, regretting surveillance, and smoking weed hardly constitute a political identity at all. [...]

[M]any self-identified libertarians are in fact bourgeois white men firmly ensconced in a patriarchal heteronormative social order that they fundamentally do not wish to change. They seek to remove impediments to their petit bourgeois hedonisms, and they have the vague sense that if the government got its mitts out of business, everything would be fine.

I've largely stopped thinking of myself as a libertarian; obviously the drift of this blog has been toward blow-up-the-world-and-die-laughing anarchism. But a truly minarchical social order requires a revolutionary change far, far beyond that which most internet spouter-offers envision. It would require a deep, abiding alteration in almost every aspect of daily existence; it would require the complete dismantling of the current economic order; it would require redrawn political borders, disbanded militaries, the destruction of whole industries, the wholesale dislocation of huge populations. Even very particular policies that libertarians might seek to ameliorate represent immense alterations in our extant society. Freeing the majority of the 2 million prisoners in our penal system requires more than deciding to decriminalize marijuana. It requires a wholesale restructuring of our jurisprudential understanding, a change, from top to bottom, in the way that justice is delivered, from beat cops to DAs to judges to jury selection to the appeals process . . . and so on.

Feminism's challenge to our bedrock assumptions are to be embraced, not dismissed, by anyone actually dedicated to the radical change that such libertarianism envisions, but most soi-disant white male libertarians don't actually contemplate radical change. [...]

This is libertarianism as practiced by Glenn Reynolds, full of joyous Barbarellas, nanobots, and manly men doing manly things, like shopping for gadgets and dreaming of meeker, more compliant chicks.

It always amuses me when white male libertarians wonder why there are so few non-white non-male libertarians out there. This is why.

Ugly Porn

Patri writes:

I have also seen studies that men who have just read a porn mag rate themselves as less happy with their relationships.

The theory is obvious - having a fantasy of perfection makes you rate what you have less highly because you compare it to the fantasy.

If this theory of causation is correct, I wonder if it also works in the other direction. Would exposure to unattractive porn actors and actresses help relationships, by making reality look better than the fantasy? I can see a potential business opportunity here. Marriage counselors and pornographers, get to work.

Who Needs A Hummer?

At a recent dinner party, discussion turned to the environment. My friend, who was hosting, claimed that nobody needs a Hummer. Which is partly true - outside of a few military and off-road applications, most Hummer owners could probably get by just as well with smaller vehicles with better gas mileage.

As it happens, my friend spent last summer on a road trip driving across the continental U.S., camping at various national parks, taking nature photographs, and doing other crunchy sorts of things. He owns a mid-size sedan, which I'm sure gets respectable gas mileage.

So I asked him if he really needed to take this trip. Wasn't this just another form of recreation? What is the difference between burning gasoline to drive thousands of miles touring the country and burning that same amount of gasoline to drive far fewer miles but in a Hummer? If what we care about is the impact fuel usage has on the environment, then we should care about fuel usage - full stop. Choosing to drive tens of thousands of additional miles in a relatively fuel efficient vehicle may be no better for the environment than choosing to drive far fewer miles in a Hummer.

My friend responded that many people drive Hummers for ostentatious reasons, which is surely true. They like to show off their money, and attract attention. But then the same is true for many hybrid car owners, as South Park famously lampooned:

Nobody needs a hummer, just like nobody needs to go on a cross-country road trip, just like nobody needs to attend a friend's dinner party across town. But people enjoy and want to do these things, sometimes for intrinsic reasons, but sometimes for superficial or ostentatious reasons too. As economists like to say, De gustibus non est disputandum - there’s no disputing about taste.

Stephen Colbert, of course, would disagree:

"Aren't we getting closer and closer to, like, socialism, and stuff?"

Jon Stewart, like Lord Acton and Hayek before him, recognizes the absurdity of mainstream libertarian/conservative fusionism, which these days seems to take as its motto, "Standing athwart history, yelling To a gas chamber — go!" - a conglomeration of the worst aspects of both.

Wrote Hayek, in Why I Am Not a Conservative:

[T]he conservatives have already accepted a large part of the collectivist creed - a creed that has governed policy for so long that many of its institutions have come to be accepted as a matter of course and have become a source of pride to "conservative" parties who created them. Here the believer in freedom cannot but conflict with the conservative and take an essentially radical position, directed against popular prejudices, entrenched positions, and firmly established privileges. Follies and abuses are no better for having long been established principles of folly.

Though quieta non movere may at times be a wise maxim for the statesman it cannot satisfy the political philosopher. He may wish policy to proceed gingerly and not before public opinion is prepared to support it, but he cannot accept arrangements merely because current opinion sanctions them. In a world where the chief need is once more, as it was at the beginning of the nineteenth century, to free the process of spontaneous growth from the obstacles and encumbrances that human folly has erected, his hopes must rest on persuading and gaining the support of those who by disposition are "progressives," those who, though they may now be seeking change in the wrong direction, are at least willing to examine critically the existing and to change it wherever necessary.

The future of liberty lies with the left - with persuading and gaining the support of Daily Show progressives. The "South Park Republican" marriage, like Kenny McCormick, must be killed again and again, you bastards.

Gun Show Loopholes And Social Science Caveats

Brian Doherty cites a recent academic study examining the impact of gun shows on gun-related deaths. While the study's conclusion, according to the press release, matches my ideological biases and expectations - "The absence of gun show regulations does not increase the number of gun-related deaths as proponents of these regulations suggest" - the methodology used to reach this conclusion has two pretty glaring loopholes/caveats:

The study focused on the geographic areas surrounding the gun shows, and would not capture the effect when weapons were transported more than 25 miles away. In addition, the data tracked the effects only up to four weeks after the gun shows, which would exclude later gun-related deaths.

Suppose the study had only looked at gun-related deaths within 25 feet of a gun show, and only from the time the gun show began until the time that it ended. Would anyone care if the results of this study showed no evidence of substantial increases in either gun-related homicides or suicides within 25 feet of gun shows at the time the gun shows take place? What about within one mile and one day of gun shows? Five miles and one week? 100 miles and one year?

I understand that the further out you get - in both time and space - from the source of the gun show, the more data you have to collect and process, the more expensive your study, and the more overlap you get between observational groups. So there are many reasons to keep your study limited.

But these limits seem pretty arbitrary, and thus highly susceptible to selection bias, whether intentional or not. What percentage of gun show purchases are made by customers who live within 25 miles of that gun show? What percentage of guns purchased at gun shows remain with the original customer (for how long?) and are not later resold? What percentage of gun-related deaths involve guns purchased within four weeks of that death? Unless we have good reason to believe that these percentages are particularly high (how high?), we have no good reason to think this study tells us anything useful or interesting.

Blame It On Brian Leiter

When playing pin the blame on the deregulators, one should start not with Ayn Rand, but with Brian Leiter, for offering this passionate critique of government regulation:

[T]here is no reason to have confidence that the agents of the state in America will excerise their regulatory powers in the service of human well-being and enlightenment.

Clearly, Brian Leiter has grasped Ronald Coase's central point in "The Economics of the First Amendment: The Market for Goods and the Market for Ideas," American Economic Review, 64 (May, 1974): 384-391. [Link available for JSTOR users]:

In the market for goods, the government is commonly regarded as competent to regulate and properly motivated. Consumers lack the ability to make the appropriate choices. Producers often exercise monopolistic power and, in any case, without some form of government intervention, would not act in a way which promotes the public interest. In the market for ideas, the position is very different. The government, if it attempted to regulate, would be inefficient and its motives would, in general, be bad, so that, even if it were successful in achieving what it wanted to accomplish, the results would be undesirable.

I expect Leiter to abandon his Marxism and embrace market liberalism Real Soon Now.

Blaming The Messenger

Robin Hanson on the bearing of bad news:

I can't imagine Pearlstein suggesting closing newspapers for a week, or banning them from printing bad finance news for a few weeks. So Pearlstein doesn't get it: financial markets are news institutions, just like newspapers! [...]

It turns out our banking system was in bad shape, and now we are finally learning just how bad. Instead of sticking our head in the sand to block bad news, we should be grateful to those who have finally told us, be eager to learn more quickly, and be angry with those who kept us from learning sooner. But don't ban news, bad or good; we need news now, more than ever.

I also get a shout out from TGGP in the comments, which reminds me that I'm jealous of my 2004 self - that creep can roll, man.


Arnold Kling's ideological fallout:

My view of the crisis is that every sector of the establishment has been discredited. The financial establishment has been discredited. Government policymakers and regulators have been discredited. And academic economics has been discredited. The fact that we now have all three on the same page about policy going forward is hardly comforting.

Mencius concurs, chiming in with:

The Austrian School are the only people who come out clean on this one. I will not claim that Mises and Rothbard had the answer to everything. But all further work proceeds from them.

20th-century academic macroeconomics - modeling, basically - will be as discredited as alchemy by the time this is over. So will its partner in crime, Hamiltonian central banking.

This crisis has me reexamining my attraction to Chicago School econ. Misesians are looking better and better with each passing day. Mea culpa. You told us so; we should have listened.

In my defense, packaging sound economics with racism, gold-buggery, and other forms of kookery isn't a wise marketing strategy. Unfortunately, stigmatized knowledge tends to snowball. That is the unavoidable risk of stepping outside the mainstream.

DeVote: Do Your Civic Duty And Don't Vote

Bryan Caplan appeared on 20/20 with John Stossel last Friday. Since jam band concert promoters are unlikely to invite Caplan to speak at their venues any time soon, dudes sporting 70's style porn mustaches are our only hope. That, and South Park.

In his book "The Myth of the Rational Voter," Caplan argues that people who know little about our government ought to stay home on Election Day.

But aren't Americans always told it's their civic duty to vote?

"This is very much like saying, 'It's our civic duty to give surgery advice,'" Caplan said. "Now, we like to think that political issues are much less complicated than brain surgery, but many of them are pretty hard. If someone doesn't know what he's talking about, it really is better if they say, 'Look, I'm just gonna leave this in wiser hands.'"

But isn't it elitist to say only some people should vote?

"Is it elitist to say only some people should do brain surgery?" Caplan said. "The bottom line is, if you don't know what you're doing, you are not doing the country a favor by voting."

Since no one is qualified to run other people's lives for them, no one is qualified to vote. I will be doing my civic duty this election year by staying home.

Unsurprisingly, the democratic fundamentalists interviewed in the 20/20 segment were not pleased. As Cartman warned us, this is what happens when giggling stoners and drum circle hippies attract something much worse: an infestation of College Know it all Hippies.

Swimming With The Sharks

Will Wilkinson asks Why Don’t We Get the “Right” Regulations?

When the new regulatory settlement unravels, we’ll hear precisely the same things: that we didn’t have the right regulations in place because some opportunistic interests captured some part of the regulatory process. But if we know that’s going to happen in advance, shouldn’t we accept the limits on the possibility of effective long-term regulation and look for feasible alternatives to such thoroughly politicized financial markets?

Don Boudreaux makes the same point more poetically:

Among the articles of faith of "progressivism" is the theory - which never yields to experience - that you can fill the sea with enormous quantities of fresh red meat and then, Moses-like, successfully command the sharks not to devour it.

As long as Uncle Sam continues to stock the Potomac by ripping from the body politic such enormous quantities of flesh and muscle - now more than three trillion dollars worth annually - sharks and vultures will inevitably swarm throughout Washington in a competitive struggle to gorge themselves on this unfortunate feast.

This is the message that market liberals need to keep hammering home: democratic fundamentalism cannot possibly work the way its advocates want it to work. It sows the seeds of its own destruction; its internal contradictions inexorably lead to either state socialism or truly free markets. There is no middle ground. As always, Mises was prescient:

The middle-of-the-road policy is not an economic system that can last. It is a method for the realization of socialism by installments. [...]

Many people object. They stress the fact that most of the laws which aim at planning or at expropriation by means of progressive taxation have left some loopholes which offer to private enterprise a margin within which it can go on. That such loopholes still exist and that thanks to them this country is still a free country is certainly true. But this "loopholes capitalism" is not a lasting system. It is a respite. Powerful forces are at work to close these loopholes. From day to day the field in which private enterprise is free to operate is narrowed down. [...]

The impact of this state of affairs is that practically very little is done to preserve the system of private enterprise. There are only middle-of-the-roaders who think they have been successful when they have delayed for some time an especially ruinous measure. They are always in retreat. They put up today with measures which only ten or twenty years ago they would have considered as undiscussable. They will in a few years acquiesce in other measures which they today consider as simply out of the question. What can prevent the coming of totalitarian socialism is only a thorough change in ideologies. What we need is neither anti-socialism nor anti-communism but an open positive endorsement of that system to which we owe all the wealth that distinguishes our age from the comparatively straitened conditions of ages gone by.

Rampaging Free-Market Anarchists On Wall Street

Joe Klein, in this week's TIME, writes:

The desire for more government activism is true across the board. All of a sudden, government-provided infrastructure programs — and that's what most of McCain's despised "earmarks" are — don't sound like such a waste of money, especially if they are married to alternative energy sources and conservation (which is why Obama talks constantly about "retrofitting" buildings to conserve energy). All of a sudden, boring bureaucracies like the Securities and Exchange Commission, which have been undermined and underfunded by Republicans, become a crucial bulwark against the rampaging free-market anarchists on Wall Street. This is, as Obama says, a fundamental change — but not a radical one. It is a modulation, a move to preserve the free market by controlling its excesses.

Where are all these rampaging free-market anarchists on Wall Street? Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

Goldilocks Political Economy

Will's recent Marketplace commentary is confusing. First, Will says that a market is only as stable as the regulations that define it, implying that regulations imposed by the state are a necessary precursor to functioning markets. Wasn't this Cass Sunstein's shtick a few years ago?

But then Will returns to the Caplanian point at the end of his commentary, expressing skepticism that the political process can deliver the right regulation. What, then, is the point of pushing for better regulation if you know that the political process is incapable of providing it? Is it not the case that ought presupposes can? And if the political process is incapable of providing what you want it to provide, isn't that a good reason to think it ought not try?

Update: Will responds and I rejoinder here.

Nick Thune

Today's delightful discovery is Nick Thune, stand-up comic and coffee house singer-songwriter parodist. If you like Jonathan Coulton and xkcd, you will definitely enjoy Thune.

Here is his masterpiece, Missed Connections:

Also see: Instant Messenger ("If you're laughing out loud while talking to someone on the Internet, you have to tell them") and Two Birds, One Stone ("When in history was there an abundance of birds and a shortage of stones?"). That last one is chock full of economic insights.

The Callahan Principle

"The Callahan Principle": Whenever someone tells you that "Doing nothing is not an option," you can be damned certain that doing nothing IS an option, and probably a pretty darn good one -- otherwise, why are these folks trying so hard to convince you that it's not one?

Did Someone Say Orgy?

Stephen Colbert Talks to Teens About Voter Abstinence: