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A stratagem to delegitimize democracy

This paper should be familiar. It was featured by Levitt in the New York Times and has been discussed at length in these circles. It describes what happened when a Swiss Canton allowed mailing ballots in an election. Participation fell dramatically. The article concludes that most people vote because showing up at the poll booth signals you are participating in the election.

I was recently reminded of this paper by an article on Slashdot telling a similar story:

Voting fell 83% in an all digital election

Why should we care? Many anarchists, including me, argue that if one is to vote, it is better to cast a blank ballot than to pick the least worst candidate. If the least worst candidate gets a sufficient number of votes, it may send a weak and noisy signal to the population about the ideas held by some anarchists. However, non-voting sends a better signal. A low turn out indicates that people do not really care about the election. It indicates they perceive the different candidates as similar. Better, it attacks the myth that democracy is representative. It creates a visible distance between the state and the citizens.

Indeed, the success of democracy has relied on letting people believe that as long as anyone could become an institutional exploiter there was no exploitation going on. In Democracy: the God that Failed, Hoppe argues that in monarchies, people clearly understand the nature of the state as a separate organization. A democracy with a lot of eager participation is a recipe for collectivist arguments about the “will of the people”. Low turnout allows the state to be viewed as a separate parasite.

Therefore, I suggest that libertarian pushs for internet or text message ballot in the US. I do not think the government would see that one coming. It seems to me that any proposal to have Internet voting would look like the will of technology and democracy enthusiasts, not anti-democracy activists.

Imagine for a second Internet voting is used during the next election and voting drops 83 percent... This would deal a serious blow to the collectivist rhetoric about a government “by the people”. It would also considerably increase the proportion of principled votes which might be a good thing.

I want to make it clear that I am not calling for change through the ballot. If you have that impression, I have been terribly misunderstood. I do NOT think this is a magic bullet, and it will obviously not lead to libertopia. Still, it is a reasonably easy battle to win. Politicians want to appear as technology savvy and might go for it, and the public might go for it. There's a nice opportunity here.

Say No to Email Taxes

Today's new tax proposal comes from the British Prospect magazine:

Internet service providers (ISPs) have proposed price mechanisms to control it, but users objected. The time has come for a public sector remedy: a tax, perhaps no more than 2p, or 3c, on every email sent.

There's something strange about this argument. Here we have someone admitting that public opposition killed the private proposal to charge for email. Presumably this is because they thought the expense of paying an email charge was greater than the cost of dealing with spam. What does government involvement change about that calculation? Nothing. So why should the result be any different?

I also get incredibly annoyed at this argument:

How much would it cost? An average employee might send 100 emails a day. At 2p or 3c, the tax would be £2 or $3, less than a large caramel macchiato.

It's very common to compare some tax or cost to a cup of coffee a day, as if to make the point that it's completely trivial. But it isn't at all. For someone who works a full year, that's $750. Sure it's a 'cup of coffee', but guess what? I love vanilla lattes and almost never drink them because I can't afford them. Now you're going to tell me that emails will become as unaffordable to me as coffee. Great.

Then there's what the author wants to do with the revenue:

Above all, an email tax could safeguard the future of the internet itself. Peer-to-peer data transfers, video streaming and voice services like Skype demand ever greater bandwidth. When new capacity is needed, part of the tax proceeds could be used for investment.

Now this makes no sense, right? Suppose, as I have no reason to doubt, Skype and video streaming are what are causing internet bandwidth problems. Even if you accept this is a reason for government investment (rather than, say, abolishing net neutrality regulation), wouldn't you want to fund this investment from a tax on Skype, which is causing the problem in the first place?

As a libertarian-leaning fellow, I'm temperamentally opposed to new taxes in general, but this seems like an uncommonly bad proposal, even among tax hike initiatives.

What's Wrong With Empathy

What's wrong with empathy?

It does not take all that much imagination to answer that question. Here's a simple answer: people tend to feel greater or less empathy for other people for a variety of reasons but largely because of who and what they are, i.e., their identity - their ethnicity, their class, their gender, their physical attractiveness.

A judgment based on empathy will consequently tend to be biased in favor of certain parties on the basis of their identity.

Granted, it is probably unrealistic to expect a judge not to be influenced by empathy for some of the parties. But that doesn't mean it should be advocated!

And also granted, a mention of "empathy" in relationship to judging could mean any number of things. For example, it might mean placing oneself in another's shoes - an act which does not necessarily involve any consideration of their identity, but may involve merely a consideration of their situation in the case being judged regardless of who or what they are. But considering the current political climate (in which, for example, people who complain about the actions of the Obama administration are called racists - a charge which has nothing to do with the specific complaint and everything to do with the identity of the president), the interpretation I offer is hardly a stretch.

Will Wilkinson's interpretation of Obama's statement construes the president as speaking in code (which is the very thing he complains of in others). On Will Wilkinson's interpretation, Obama isn't looking for empathy (as opposed to lack of empathy), but rather, Obama is looking for a redistribution of empathy. To defend Obama's remark, Wilkinson writes:

But holding ideology fixed, I think there’s a strong reason to prefer a well-qualified woman to a well-qualified man. And I think another woman would likely increase the scope of empathy on the court in a pretty straightforward and desirable sense.

Will Wilkinson isn't talking about increasing the amount of empathy, but increasing the scope. Wilkinson is not claiming, or implying, that a female judge would have more total empathy than a male judge. He is implying that a female judge's empathy would be better attuned to a different group of people than a male judge's empathy, and thus increasing the proportion of female judges would redistribute some of the court's empathy to that group.

But that is not actually what Obama said. Obama was talking about empathy versus lack of empathy, not about empathy for one group versus empathy for another group. Will Wilkinson complains about conservatives' interpreting Obama's talk about empathy as "code" for "judicial activism", but Wilkinson himself is interpreting Obama's talk non-literally - i.e., as "code" for something he is not actually saying. It is, moreover, perfectly defensible to interpret anything Obama says non-literally, as the right does, as Wilkinson just did, indeed as Obama's left-wing supporters do. Obama's supporters trust him because he lies.

Notice, however, that Wilkinson's interpretation agrees with mine on the important point of linking empathy with identity. Wilkinson's argument assumes the truth of my claim, which is that judges don't have the same amount of empathy for everyone, that identity is a key factor in who gets a judge's empathy, and finally that this fact is Obama's reason for talking about empathy.

By the way, here is one of Obama's explanations of his talk about empathy:

[Lilly Ledbetter] didn't know that she was getting paid less, when she discovered it, she immediately filed suit to get back pay and the suggestion was somehow that she should have filed suite earlier.

Well, I think anybody who has ever worked in a job like that understands that they might not know that they were being discriminated against it. It doesn't make sense for their rights to be foreclosed.

That's the kind of case, where I want a judge not only to be applying the law in front of them, but also to understand that as a practical matter. A lot of times people have weak bargaining power.

Obama is advocating that the judge ignore the law in a case like this. His reason for making the exception: Ledbetter's "weak bargaining power." Why does she have weak bargaining power? She is presumed to have weak bargaining power and he gives no reason, but we can guess: she is an employee and she is a woman.

So, one reasonable interpretation of what Obama is saying is: the law should be bent in favor of employees and women. (And coincidentally, a majority of voters are employees and a majority of voters, a majority of Democratic voters, and a majority of those who voted for Obama, are women [or so my googling tells me].)

Obama is careful to say:

Now, in some ways it might cut the other way. I want a judge who has a sense of how regulations might affect the businesses in a practical way.

With the obvious intent to give the impression of evenhandedness.

But first, this is not at all obviously a case of it cutting the other way, because this is not described as a dispute between an employer and a female employee, but as a dispute between an employer and a regulator.

Second, if he were really for evenhandedness, he wouldn't advocate bending the law in the first place to favor women and employees (which is what he appears to advocate).

Would Obama really advocate tilting some cases in favor of women and employees and others in favor of men and employers? But Obama hasn't given any specific reason why Ledbetter as opposed to a random woman or employee has "weak bargaining power". What about Ledbetter makes her deserving of special favor from the court other than being a woman and employee? And if these are enough, then it follows that women and employees generally, always, deserve special favor from the court. Every woman is a woman, every employee is an employee, so if Ledbetter's only claim to special favor is that she is a woman and an employee, then necessarily anyone else with the same properties has that claim.

This has been a long entry so to summarize it, Obama advocates bending the law to favor people who voted for Obama. And this is what he means by "empathy".

All of which illustrates the tie that both Wilkinson and I see between empathy and identity.

Property Rights are Orwellian?

I'm having trouble working up outrage in defense of the civil right to noisy sex:

Yes, in modern-day Britain even the decibels of our sexual moaning can become the subject of a police investigation.

At the end of April, Caroline Cartwright, a 48-year-old housewife from Wearside in the north east of England, was remanded in custody for having "excessively noisy sex." The cops took her in after neighbors complained of hearing her "shouting and groaning" and her "bed banging against the wall of her home."

Now, if you were to say this is an inefficient use of resources because the cost of litigating are excessively high, that I understand. If you claim the ASBO procedures don't respect people's rights and circumvent good legal procedure, I'll agree with that too (not that I know all that much about it.)

But from a purely (non-anarchist) libertarian perspective, I'm not seeing much of a problem here. Most classically liberal people I know have great respect for the common law, and for handling matters through courts rather than through legislation. But isn't nuisance one of the oldest torts in existence, and hasn't the common law long held that excessive noise is a nuisance and abrogation of private property rights?

This is precisely the sort of issue which should be handled through local norms and practice (and, ideally of course, private property.) But it isn't 'Orwellian' for different communities to settle on different standards. Some may choose a free-for-all of blaring music and shouting sex. Others may choose to respect people's rights to quietly enjoy their own property. Neither is more libertarian than the other, though one may be more libertine.

On "Libertarian Outcomes"

At Hit & Run, Brian Doherty gives a nice shout out both to Patri and Jonathan's new Let a Thousand Nations Bloom blog and to Michael Strong's recent post. Brian quotes Strong's take on innovation before noting approvingly that "such innovations in governing styles won't necessarily lead to more libertarian outcomes, though."

I have to confess that I find Doherty's (and, for that matter, Strong's) claim to be a tad confused. Or, at the very least, I think that their observation conflates two very distinct ideas of "libertarian outcome."

Let me start by saying that I, like pretty much everyone else here, have a vision of libertopia. In my vision, people are free to do pretty much whatever they want in their own private lives, just so long as everyone involved is consenting. I may well personally disapprove of your heroin-injecting, meat-consuming, teenage sex-having, book-burning ways, and I might well try to talk you out of them. But neither I nor anyone else will turn the heavy hand of the state on you to force you to stop. But I will, in my same vision, turn that hand on you in order to keep you from dumping toxic sludge into the river from which we all draw our drinking water. And I'd use it to make you pay for some share of our common defense. In short, my libertopia contains a state that works to curb genuine collective action problems. And it'd probably also provide something of a safety net, perhaps in the form of a negative income tax.

Now I realize that my vision of libertopia is very different from the vision that most DR regulars have. And I've spent many hours defending various parts of it from commenters here. I think (obviously) that I have well-grounded reasons for my position and that those reasons follow from deeper beliefs about things like rule-utilitarianism, justice, fairness, rights and so on. In short, my conception of the ideal society is based upon "that which is equal, rational, planned, enlightened, and principled." I am, in short, very much in the rationalist camp.

The distinction I'm drawing, of course, comes from Jacob Levy's "Liberalism's Divide," an essay that FWIW, has probably had more of an impact on my thinking than anything else written post-Mill. There Levy argues that the welfare/laissez faire distinction is just one of two important distinctions that cut across liberalism. Levy sets the enlightened, principled rationalists against pluralists, who argue that freedom is instantiated in the "local, customary, unplanned, diverse, and decentralized." Levy actually puts most strains of libertarianism -- indeed, everyone from Narveson to Nozick to M. Friedman to Mises (and one can safely include Rand here, as well) -- into the rationalist camp.

But Patri, most DR-readers and Strong are far more in line with Hayek's pluralist approach to libertarianism. For Hayek, libertarianism is about creating space in which the local and the unplanned can thrive. It's about recognizing spontaneous order, and, perhaps more importantly, it's about recognizing that that order will take different forms in different places.

And that's really the point of the Thousand Nations thesis. It's about creating a world in which thousands of diverse, local societies can form. Some will organize in one way, and some in another. Many of those forms may well be an anathema to a Nozick or a Narveson or a Mises -- or, for that matter, to a Doherty or a Trillian or a third-generation Friedman. But that does not entail that the outcome is not libertarian.

Doherty is certainly right that Seasteading isn't a guarantee for creating what I've called a first-order libertarian outcome. That's just another way of saying that it's entirely possible that none of the Thousand Blooming Nations may turn out to be something that a rationalist libertarian would recognize as libertopia.

But it's simply inaccurate to suggest that a world with space for thousands of competing local systems of government would fail to be a libertarian outcome. It might fail to be a rationalist libertarian outcome. But it just is a pluralist (or, in my terms, a second-order) libertarian outcome.

Trouble in Paradise

I've written romantically before about what a nice place I live in. But, it seems that one of the locals is threatening to take away the property of a neighbor and lock him in a cage for a non-crime.

The original posting is at Doug Thompson's Blue Ridge Muse.

One of my longer cross-posted comments follows below:


I was not arguing for legalization of one particular substance: marijuana. I don't particularly care how dangerous it is or isn't to the person who decides to use it. I also don't care how dangerous any other substance is--alcohol, heroin, red meat, tobacco, pharmaceuticals or herbal remedies--it is not a crime for someone to ingest these substances. Further, I argued that it is expressly forbidden for federal legislators to make laws against substance use by the Constitution they all voluntarily agree to uphold upon taking office.

What I call a crime is when a person undertakes some action with intent to do harm to another party. According to the link you posted, Ted Bundy was a mass murderer. He should be punished and forced to make restitution to his victims' families. I am not arguing that nice people should not be punished. First and foremost, I am arguing that it is wrong to punish people who do not take some action with the intent to harm others, and you and I and your readers should not give such unjust punishment a shred of legitimacy.

Second, I am arguing that any federal laws that were created against ingesting substances are unconstitutional and were made "illegally". I put the terms in quotes, because we now have diverging meanings of the term "legal". Elected officials who were part of the legislative process you allude to took a solemn, voluntary oath to abide by the Constitution when they took their job. If they thought it was important to write laws against a substance, legislators had the means through the amendment process to do so, as was done with the 18th amendment prohibiting alcohol use. But this prohibition was reversed by the 21st amendment and never repeated for any other substance. The war on drugs uses government guns, jails, and confiscated revenue for a purpose the Constitution never authorized.

Contrast the legislators' "illegal activities"--violating a voluntary oath so they could lend legitimacy to violent actions--to the "illegal activity" you say we must avoid. I don't know the facts of the case against Patrick Fenn, but from your posting, I don't see mention of anything he did that was intended to harm another person. You said that he was growing marijuana for his own use, and that he was also giving it to friends. Even if he were selling it to strangers, this would be a voluntary exchange between consenting individuals. As far as I know, he is not accused of giving it to minors against the wishes of their parents, or misrepresenting what the product is that he is selling, or failing to deliver goods after accepting payment (each of which might fit my definition of crime). The things you say Patrick is accused of are only "illegal" by the decree of the authorities.

So, there seem to be two types of "illegal activity". Rulers are allowed to violate a solemn voluntary oath and authorize force against those who have committed no crime. Under what I take to be your view, this "illegal activity" is allowed. All's fair within the DC beltway because it makes up the "legislative process". But for you and I and Patrick, "illegal activity" is the result of that process, and we better follow it whether we like it or not, otherwise expect a gun in our face while our neighbors cower in fear. Our input into the "legislative process" is to vote for red team or blue team every few years and hope that whoever gets the spoils of our confiscated wealth doesn't find our lifestyle objectionable. Are there two types of people--rulers and ruled? Or are "all men created equal"?

Thirdly, I alluded to the argument that once you empower people to legitimately use force beyond self-defense, it is abused.

You say that you don't advocate "blind obedience to authority" but rather "obeying the law". Maybe you object to my use of the word "blind"--maybe you advocate obeying authority under the full understanding that the authoritarian is wrong, but still we should submit. This would be inconvenient for pot smokers in this case, and home-schoolers, homosexuals, conscripts, and various buyers and sellers in others. But I hope that you don't characterize Stephanie Shortt as "obeying the law". In her case, she is undertaking actions intended to harm another--threatening to lock Patrick in a cage and take his home. Such actions are criminal, and having a fancy title and the sanction of the federal government does not change this. Do you approve of Stephanie's choice (if she were to act upon it, your article suggests it is still under consideration) to prosecute Patrick?

I sincerely hope that the passion of my convictions hasn't alienated you or other readers. I spent years living under different governments, reading, and pondering before arriving at these views. In retrospect, it seems I should have known from the age of six that initiating force and fraud are always wrong. But we receive a lot of conditioning to obey our rulers, and it is too easy for us to succumb to peer pressure and think that we can take a shortcut and use violence to achieve our well-intentioned ends. I hope that, after consideration, you will agree that it is wrong to steal from an innocent, even if you disapprove of his choices in life.

You have your opinion about marijuana being dangerous and Patrick and his friends have their opinion. I believe you volunteer to help people deal with marijuana and other addictions and I find this very admirable. You should be allowed to live according to your opinion and Patrick should be allowed according to his, so long as neither of you intentionally harm another person.

I don't believe I even know Patrick. What is upsetting me in this story is that it is destroying a myth I held about Floyd--that the inhabitants of this small mountain community would value the peaceful choices of their neighbors above the decrees of Washington. It is probably too late to save Patrick, but we all better consider these ideas seriously. The steady accumulation of federal power over decades seems to me ready to collapse upon itself over the next few years. We had better decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong before we hurt each other any more by "obeying the law".

Why Would FDA Approval Cause a Stock to Increase Ten-Fold?

In the news:

Vanda Pharmaceuticals won U.S. approval for its first product, a drug to treat schizophrenia, the Food and Drug Administration said. ... Vanda, which closed at $1.08 in regular trading yesterday, soared to $9.98 in extended Nasdaq trading.

It would appear, going by the jump in price, that prior to the FDA's decision, investors gave the drug at most a 1 in 10 chance of being approved. If Vanda's case is typical, then, even moments before the actual decision is made, it is hard to predict what drugs the FDA will approve.

I can understand it being difficult to predict whether a new chemical will turn out to be a useful drug when all the testing is done five or ten years down the road. But once the testing has been done, at the very least the results of those tests are fully known. There is no uncertainty about the results that have already been observed. And the FDA decision is, necessarily, based entirely on the results available at the time the decision is made.

If the FDA's decisionmaking process is

a) not arbitrary, and
b) based on the available results,

then the FDA's decision should be highly replicable, and therefore highly predictable, by any independent entity with access to the same results. And yet the FDA's decision is, apparently, hard to predict. Two possible alternative explanations are:

1) The results that the FDA bases its decision on are extremely well-guarded right up until the very moment that the FDA makes its decision. I doubt this is possible.
2) The FDA's decisionmaking process is highly arbitrary. This is my tentative conclusion.

A few anticipated objections and responses.

Objection: Vanda's case is not typical.

Answer: Could be. However, this seems not all that atypical. When I read the story it didn't really stand out as atypical.

Objection: The typical investor doesn't know how to interpret the data, doesn't know what the data is, etc.

Answer: This is true of most investors in most publicly traded companies. If it were a significant problem the efficient market hypothesis (EMH) would be not only wrong, but wildly wrong, all the time, and Vanda's case would provide a model for disproving the EMH.

Objection: Pharmaceutical companies really keep a tight lid on their results.

Answer: I have a hard time believing that. A tremendous number of people are involved in any study that gets to this stage. Even partial information should give a sense of how well a drug is working and what its side-effects are.

Objection: The cause of the unpredictability isn't that the FDA is arbitrary, but that the drug is borderline useful, and even the most predictable decisionmaking process will be unpredictable when it comes to borderline cases.

Answer: But surely the typical drug is not borderline.

Objection: The FDA can hardly be blamed because it is fundamentally hard to judge whether a drug is useful or not. It is unclear and/or subjective whether a given drug is useful or not.

Answer: Then why is the FDA making a decision for all of us?

Threatened By Exit

Unfortunately, I had jaw surgery a week after Peter Thiel's response to my Cato Unbound piece came out, and so I spent the ensuing firestorm lying in bed taking liquid Vicodin, rather than vigorously debating. Which is sort of sad, because I love a vigorous debate, especially with people who are being stupid and mean, qualities which were on prominent display in the responses to Peter.

The weird thing is that the firestorm was not over any of the basic ideas, but a throwaway comment he made that one of many reasons why democracy in the US is unlikely to produce libertarianism is that women are a large, non-libertarian voting bloc, and so it is no surprise that the era of female suffrage is also the era of big government. (Although both are the post-Depression era, so as always in country-level trends it isn't like we have clean randomized data).

It is always very telling when people freak out over a simple statistical observation, and I think Jason Kuznicki has the best post pointing out the absurdity of the freakout:

The astonishing thing — the really embarrassing thing for the left-wing blogosphere — is that so many people concluded from these lines that Thiel wants to end women’s suffrage.

People, it’s just not there — he’s not saying it. You should be ashamed of yourselves.
Thiel isn’t interested in making any changes at all to American democracy. He wants to exit American democracy. Thiel wants to found a new government with people who share his own (admittedly very eccentric) political views. In other words, he wants to leave you and your suffrage completely alone. Just to repeat, he’s not recommending any change to American government at all, except to subtract himself from it.

There are a lot of things you can accuse a secessionist of, but disenfranchisement is not one of them! The whole point of seasteading is to create more choice among societies. How can that hurt anyone? Oh, wait, I was thinking of a just, libertarian world. I forgot about the parasitic world of the left:

I find it tremendously revealing how threatened the left seems to be at the prospect of a talented, successful individual leaving to found a new society. It’s not enough to say that he’s cooked up a wildly utopian scheme with hardly any chance of success. This might have been more than enough to dismiss him. But no — it’s got to be much worse than that. So out come the lies and the smears. Or maybe the blank incomprehension. (I’m trying to be kind.)

And he closes by mentioning how Atlas Shrugged-sian this is. Which it is! If you doubt that the reaction to Peter's essay is a display of the looting instinct, one of the earliest and highest-profile reactions from the left was entitled "Libertarian inadvertently argues for 90% marginal tax rate":

I think we all know what a combination of watching too many sci-fi movies (plus “Waterworld") and being completely shielded from reality by your money can do. You become either Kim Jong Il, or you become Peter Thiel. We can’t reach Kim Jong Il, but what we can do to help Thiel is to tax away most of his wealth. While that doesn’t initially seem like it’s helpful to take 90% of what someone makes over X million a year, what it would do is force Thiel to get out there and actually work for his money if he wants to be stinking rich. Right now, he’s obviously not getting out of the house much, and all that sitting around counting his money and not associating with the real world is breaking his mind. He needs something to do, and needs to associate with people. Ideally, he’d be in a situation where he had occasional exposure to people who don’t indulge his crazy fantasies. And with the amount of money shielding him from the world, that’s not going to happen. For his own good, that pile of money he’s sitting on needs a dramatic reduction.

Wow. I mean, it pretty much caricatures itself. If you had any doubt that there are people out there who consider all the value you produce to be theirs to dispose of, at whim, "for your own good", this should end it. (If this makes you feel depressed, go join The Seasteading Institute, and you'll feel better).

Now's a good time to note that while I've spent most of my career as a libertarian thinking of Objectivism as a subject for mockery, I am now reading Atlas Shrugged for the first time, and loving it. It hasn't changed my mind about any of the things I think are wrong with the philosophy, and I do get annoyed by things like her constantly equating certainty with strength/good and doubt with weakness/evil (sorry Ayn, but the world is Bayesian and posteriors are rarely 100%. Certainty may be sexy, but it is rarely correct).

But the good things about it are things that hardly appear anywhere else, and are needed now more than ever. The whole theme of how bad laws turn honest people into criminals and outlaws, into hiding from other men instead of taming nature, and what an awful reversal this is of how a good society should be, is just awesome. That's how I've felt my whole life - I just want to create value, not constantly struggle with stupid artificial constraints, and to live my life openly, not constantly have to hide my consensual activities.

The commonalities between Gult's Gulch and seasteading are actually pretty hilarious considering that I had only the vaguest idea of what GG was until a couple weeks ago. There are some key differences, of course, but some strongly overlapping themes.


It is of nights like these that legends are built. Manny Pacquaio was a war god in the ring - inhuman, immortal. His fists were lightning, crossing the chasm to his opponent instantaneously. When the counter-punches came, he was mist.

Thus Manny destroys one of the best boxers in the world with an effortless six minutes of work. Such speed. Such polish. There is not a finer fighter living. My children's children will know his name.

People Don't Care about Global Warming or the Environment

The New York Times reports:

The problem with global warming, some environmentalists believe, is “global warming.”

The term turns people off, fostering images of shaggy-haired liberals, economic sacrifice and complex scientific disputes, according to extensive polling


The answer, Mr. Perkowitz said in his presentation at the briefing, is to reframe the issue using different language. ... In fact, the group’s surveys and focus groups found, it is time to drop the term “the environment” and talk about “the air we breathe, the water our children drink.”

The article implies that the ideas are fine but the words are not fine, and that new words should be used to relabel the same ideas - that the old wine should be sold in a new bottle. I think that's wrong as a true diagnosis though the suggested cure may work as a temporary palliative. People are not rejecting the words. They are rejecting the ideas.

Language does, of course, affect people's perceptions. Call a bill a "stimulus bill" and that will tend to make people think it is a stimulus bill. But the size of that effect depends on ignorance, and over time ignorance fades. Call enough wasteful legislation "stimulus", and over time the word will acquire a bad aroma. The fix - a temporary fix - is to find a new word, one which has not built up valid associations from long experience and therefore one which wipes the slate clean and pulls the wool back over people's eyes.

The terms "global warming" and "the environment" used to be fine and are fine, by themselves. What made the terms become radioactive was the ideas behind them. The words "global warming" call to mind economic sacrifice because that's what activists have been demanding. If they switch to new words, they may buy themselves a few years by the temporary confusion caused in people's minds, but eventually - if the activists don't stop demanding economic sacrifice - people will realize that the new words mean the same thing as the old words, the new words will become radioactive, and activists will have to find even newer words. Changing the words is a short-term fix. The long-term fix is changing the ideas behind the words.

A short term fix, of course, may confuse people for long enough to ram through the legislation that the activists want.

On Small Externalities

Megan McArdle, one of my favorite economics writers, makes this rather odd statement on whether or not a small (say, $0.40) gasoline tax is worth the trouble:

It did take a lot of increase to change driving behavior, which is why in Europe, taxes can account for as much as 90% of the price of a liter of gas. There's a plausible argument that a 40 cent tax won't do much to change driving habits. But then, why have the 40 cent tax at all?

Is this really an issue? The reason to impose a Pigouvian tax is to correct an externality. I'm no expert on carbon taxes, so I'll outsource to wikipedia

Many estimates of aggregate net economic costs of damages and benefits from climate change across the globe, the social cost of carbon (SCC), expressed in terms of future net benefits and costs that are discounted to the present, are now available. Peer-reviewed estimates of the SCC for 2005 have an average value of US$43 per tonne of carbon (tC) (i.e., US$12 per tonne of carbon dioxide) but the range around this mean is large. For example, in a survey of 100 estimates, the values ran from US$–10 per tonne of carbon (US$–3 per tonne of carbon dioxide) up to US$350/tC (US$95 per tonne of carbon dioxide.)
[. . .]
A tax of $100 per ton of CO2 translates to a tax of $0.978 per gallon of motor gasoline.

Let's take the numbers here as given (since I know little about it). It would seem the maximum optimal tax is about $1/gallon (Greg Mankiw would approve). Megan is probably right: This wouldn't reduce driving all that much. But what I don't understand is why that's a problem. If the optimal tax is low, that means precisely that behavior shouldn't change after a tax is imposed, because the externality is not high. Now, maybe you disagree with the scientists and economists and think the external cost of carbon is higher. But if you agree with the calculations, well, they are what they are.

The failure of a hypothetical carbon tax to raise transportation costs to European levels or to slam Americans into higher density living isn't a failure of Pigouvian taxation. It's a recognition of the underlying economics; namely, from an economics point of view, even if you follow the IPCC recommendations (as did the Stern report), there's little justification to be found in global wamring for stratospheric energy prices.

On Fallacies and Libertarianism

Okay, so I realize that there is little to be gained here, but this is annoying me. I suspect that few folks here are really paying attention, but there's a bit of a kerfuffle going on between Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon and Andrew Sullivan. Like many others on the left, Amanda didn't take all that well to Peter Thiel's Cato Unbound essay on seasteading. In particular, she was (IMO rightly) offended by Thiel's clumsily-worded assertion that all hope for libertarianism went down the tubes after women were enfranchised. (I think Thiel's observation is a glaring post hoc fallacy; libertarianism went down the tubes not because women are especially hostile to libertarianism but because there was a giant fucking depression that turned pretty much everyone against the idea of a free market.)

Of course, it's not really all that much fun simply to explain why Thiel is wrong. That would involve, you know, actual civil discourse. And we can't really have that at Pandagon. So Amanda, displaying her usual flair for nuance, instead decided to say of Thiel:

And his essay really drives home how much libertarians shouldn’t own the word “liberty”, because they are actually modern day feudalists who object to any government functions that don’t involve taxing the middle class to create an army to ransack other nations and take their wealth.

Andrew singled this bit out (again, rightly IMO) for his Moore Award. Apparently Amanda has also been besieged by irritated libertarians, all eager to point out that, as a matter of fact, libertarians don't really so much endorse taxing the middle class, creating giant armies, or using said armies to create empires. Amanda and her commenters respond by accusing libertarians of committing the No True Scotsman fallacy.*

Now, I'm a big fan of Anthony Flew's Thinking About Thinking, so I'm pretty familiar with the No True Scotsman fallacy. For those of you who might not be, here's the passage in which Flew outlines the fallacy:

Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the "Brighton Sex Maniac Strikes Again." Hamish is shocked and declares that "No Scotsman would do such a thing." The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again and this time finds an article about an Aberdeen man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says, "No true Scotsman would do such a thing."

So, it's not particularly hard to see why this is a fallacy. In most instances, it's out of bounds to redefine your terms in such a way as to explicitly exclude counter-examples. It may have the effect of making your term true, but it will be true tautologically, which is to say that it's not particularly interesting anymore.

Now, it's certainly possible to commit something that looks like the No True Scotsman fallacy in responding to Amanda's rather ridiculous charge. One could well argue along the lines of, "Look, anyone who wants to create a big army to plunder other countries isn't a true libertarian." I'll confess that I'm tempted by this approach myself. Anyone who really holds such a position is, at best, probably deeply confused as to what liberty really requires.

But, I think, it's wrong to argue that anyone who holds a view like this isn't really a libertarian. I'm a pretty big tent sort of person. There are lots of people with whom I am in huge disagreement but who nevertheless share my political label. The same really is true of pretty much any sort of general label: there are lots of different kinds of liberals, lots of different types of conservatives, lots of different kinds of Protestants and so on. Those of us who view nuance as something more than a talking point recognize this. That's why we invent subcategories like "welfare capitalist," "social democrat," "neoliberal," and the like to describe people who fall under the modern label of "liberal." That means that, like it or not, the racist-conspiracy-theorist Ron Paulites are part of our political movement, much as the left has to accept the rock-throwing World Bank protesters and the right has to accept the God Hates Fags crowd.

That said, there is a perfectly non-fallacious way of rejecting Marcotte's argument. Her claim, essentially, is that all libertarians are middle class-taxing, militaristic imperialists. Here's the form of the argument, translated from syllogistic form into modern predicate calculus:

    ∀x[Lx ⊃ (Mx & Ax &Ix)]

where L = libertarian, M = supports taxing the middle class, A = supports creating a large army and I = supports imperialism. In English, then, that works out to "For all x, if x is a libertarian, then x supports taxing the middle class and supports creating a large army and supports imperialism.

Now, logically, any sort of conditional claim is shown to be false by showing that the antecedent of the conditional claim is true while the consequent is false. Here's the truth table, in case you're wondering:

P Q P ⊃ Q P & Q

So, let's suppose that you want to demonstrate that Amanda's claim is false. What do you have to do? Well, mostly show someone who is a libertarian but who either does not support taxing the middle class, does not support creating a big army or does not support imperialism. Really, given the structure of the argument, one need only find a single libertarian who doesn't support any one of the three things. Finding a libertarian who doesn't support any of the three would just be gravy.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give! But if you're unhappy with that (I'm not, after all, the world's most orthodox libertarian), I give you: Cato's Benjamin Friedman, Cato's Chris Pebble, Cato's Malou Innocent, philosopher John Schwenkler, Will Wilkinson, most of the staff of Reason...I could go on here, but, frankly, I've spent about as much time on this as I want to now.

The point here is just that there is a perfectly good way to demonstrate that Amanda's claim is false, one that doesn't require wading into the weeds of what is or is not a libertarian.

To which Amanda's very gracious reply is: No True Scotsman fallacy!


I mean, look. Amanda is hardly known for her intellectual honesty (hence her willingness to dump all libertarians into a single category while huffing in righteous indignation when someone dumps all women into a single category). That's fair enough: people don't go to Pandagon for intellectual engagement; they go to watch Amanda pitch witty, entertaining, profanity-laced tirades. It's as reasonable a use of the Internet as any.

Still, this is a shockingly bad response, even by Amanda's standards. I mean, the only way that you can commit the No True Scotsman fallacy is by actually redefining a term. Pointing out counter-examples to universal claims is what we in the 21st century refer to as empiricism. It's the kind of stuff that makes science possible. In the Reality Based World (where some of us live, as opposed to others of us who use as a catch phrase to mock politicians), pointing out that the antecedent of a conditional is true and the consequent false is really just the way that logic actually works.

And, yes, I realize that this is all just shouting into the wind. Everyone here already knows that Amanda Marcotte is full of shit 9/10 of the time. And Amanda is totally unwilling to concede that she said something stupid even when it is beyond glaringly obvious to everyone else that she fucked up. It doesn't help that her echo-chamber is full of folks with precisely the same qualities.

Still, it's worth putting all this down here, I think, if for no other reason than as a warning. It's one that I give to my logic students, too. Cite fallacies cautiously. If you get them right, it makes you look smart and lets you win arguments. But if you cite them incorrectly, it just makes you look like an ass.

* Actually, accusing critics of committing the No True Scotsman fallacy is a favorite at Pandagon. Sometimes, they even use it correctly.

Flu frenzy

The Science in Society blog has posted a response to recent swine flu news, putting it in perspective with previous flu pandemics. Here is a piece comparing flu intervention in 1918 and today. An excerpt:

Just how important is starting countermeasures early, and what kind of interventions work? The tragedy of the Spanish flu provides a natural laboratory for public health measures, as cities throughout the US differed both in scale and timing of their interventions.

Medical science in 1918 was still getting on its feet. The majority of older physicians of the time were not educated under the scientific regimen of the Flexnerian revolution. The leading bacteriologists of the day mistakenly believed that influenza was a bacterial disease, and it was not until 1943 when it was recognized that a virus was responsible. As a result, medical intervention in the pandemic was of questionable value, not least because most of the best doctors had been drafted to serve in the military for WWI.

However, nonmedical interventions were also employed. These included quarantines, isolation of the sick in makeshift wards, closure of public gathering places such as churches and schools. Quick action (as measured by when flu cases rose to double the baseline number of cases) had a strong correlation with reduced mortality, and that maintaining the measures was important to keep the disease from spreading.

St. Louis, for example, closed schools and canceled public gatherings early, and maintained quarantines for over ten weeks, leading to a significantly lower mortality rate. However, not all cities were as proactive; the median duration of these interventions was only four weeks, insufficient to protect the population. Some cities were even counterproductive: Philadelphia hosted a military parade to promote war bonds, over the objections of numerous doctors and public health officials. Soon afterwards, it became one of the hardest-hit cities in the US.

A Cultural Note

While I agreed with many of their positions, in retrospect the anti-Bush movement was poisonous to the level of discourse in this country. At the time, I thought it was healthy for citizens to be vocal and active critics of the powerful. But millions of people, most of them my generational and cultural peers, became accustomed to viewing their political opponents as evil idiots. The battle lines drawn, they are incapable of thinking through a policy issue for themselves, adopting valid ideas from political movements other than their own, or perceiving a debate with a viewpoint uncolored by rank partisanship. Their politics reside at an unfortunate intersection of boring group-think and dangerous, assertive self-righteousness.

Moreover, the fanaticism of the anti-Bush movement fueled the emotional, messianic campaign of Barack Obama, whose Presidency has wiped out any remaining impulse to be critical of power. The smug assuredness professed by young urbanites in the rightness of Barack's policies, no matter how questionable the merit, eerily mirrors the manner of their cultural hero, Jon Stewart. All their critics get from them is a clever, sneering label. Repeat it enough, and the "debate" is won. Repeat it loudest, and receive adulation.

The battle of ideas is never engaged. Why should it be? Their opponents have silly and awful ideas. They know this because they laugh at their opponents and call them names. If they had any ideas worth listening to, then why would they be so widely ridiculed?

On the internet it has become widespread custom, even in places that profess political neutrality, to accept boorish and uncivil behavior towards those who hold incorrect opinions. If you don't believe me, try to say something nice about Mormons or Republicans in a mainstream online community. This author is not responsible for the flamewar that results.

Finally, the attitude has spread into real life. Hoodlums at UNC recently created a disturbance, and even broke a window, to prevent Tom Tancredo from speaking at their university. The irony that students who loudly support diversity and tolerance should act so violently in suppression of "dangerous" ideas is lost in a rush to action. If any in the crowd were to feel the tiniest pang of guilt, perhaps Jon Stewart will crack a joke about Tancredo, and that wonderful tonic of self-righteousness will soothe any doubts and return their minds to a smooth, untroubled state.

The ghosts of the French Revolution stir on our continent. Youths on the internet receive a hundred "up-votes" on social news sites for suggesting that bankers should be slain in the streets, a thousand for suggesting the same of Republicans (who, just to be clear, I don't like nearly as much as bankers). When discussing the morality of this, the voice of modesty that suggests that rich people, Republicans and Mormons have done nothing deserving of capital punishment is down-voted into oblivion. The idea that members of unpopular groups ought to have human rights, too, is met with the contention that they have forfeited their rights by behaving in unpopular ways. A finer group of Robespierres have never been seen outside of France.

The older folks have to tell me - was it always this way?

The Blind Leading The Rationally Irrational

In a recent post Constant explored the problem of identifying competence. He observed that some people were probably simply not up to the task:

I happen to think that many people are not competent, and that consequently they rely on false authority - they are the blind led by the blind.

I think this is undoubtedly true, but I also think that that the truly incompetent are a small subset of those following the blind. Most people are capable of more competence than they typically demonstrate in many areas.

Constant touches on the prospect of bootstrapping competence:

There are ways to "bootstrap" competence. But these employ a certain kind of competence. For instance, you need to have the competence to distinguish the cases where a specific kind of bootstrapping succeeds from the cases where it fails. (So the thoroughly incompetent are thoroughly screwed. The competent may, of course, guide them, but so may anyone else.) I happen to think that many people accept authorities without the benefit of proper "bootstrapping" - possibly as a result of tragically mistaken "bootstrapping" based on false signs of competence.

Again, I think that those who tragically fail in a honest effort to identify competence certainly exist, but they also are a small subset of those following the blind.

Most people tend to demonstrate competence only when they bear the costs of their own incompetence. In politics, religion, and many other areas people typically do not pay significant costs for incompetence and irrationality. So they often don't even bother to attempt to identify competence because there is little reason why they should.

Why, for instance, should the average man in the street bother to invest the effort necessary to identify the competent experts on global warming? Will the individual get a better climate if he correctly identifies the competent experts? No. Will he get a better public policy? Almost certainly not. So why bother?

We all have biases. There is a certain psychic cost to giving up your biases. Even when such costs are not large they can easily outweigh the microscopic benefits of developing competence in politics. So people quite reasonably prefer their irrational biases to competence in politics.

This is the greatest social problem humanity faces. And it is almost completely overlooked.

Robin Hanson: Not Enough Nazis

Finally, a principled utilitarian.

In a recent debate with Robin Hanson, Bryan Caplan said:

...Robin endorses an endless list of bizarre moral claims. For example, he recently told me that "the main problem" with the Holocaust was that there weren't enough Nazis! After all, if there had been six trillion Nazis willing to pay $1 each to make the Holocaust happen, and a mere six million Jews willing to pay $100,000 each to prevent it, the Holocaust would have generated $5.4 trillion worth of consumers surplus.

Let's consider another example. Suppose the only people in the world are Hannibal the millionaire, a slave trader, and 10,000 penniless orphan slaves. The slave trader has no direct use for his slaves, but likes money; Hannibal, on the other hand, is a ravenous cannibal. According to Robin, the "optimal outcome" is for Hannibal to get all 10,000 orphans and eat them.

In his review of the the debate Caplan confirmed:

I suspect that many attendees saw these examples as "cheap shots." But when I pressed Robin, he predictably bit both bullets.

...meaning, I take it, that Hanson conceded these are in fact his views and not exaggerations.

In a related post at Overcoming Bias, Hanson approvingly quotes Scott Sumner:

One of the most common strategies of the anti-utilitarian position is to assume some societal set-up which shocks our sensibilities, and then assume that it would satisfy the utilitarian criterion of maximizing aggregate happiness. Thus we might be asked to imagine a scenario where the total pleasures of the slave-owner exceed the suffering of the slaves ... Bryan has an even more shocking example where the benefits to Nazi’s from the Holocaust exceeded the suffering to the Jews. ... At the end of these thought experiments we are told that unless we are willing to embrace the society envisioned in the thought experiment, we must, on logical grounds, give up on utilitarianism.

I have several interrelated objections to this style of philosophical inquiry. I’d like to start with Richard Rorty’s assertion that the narrative arts (novels and film) produce liberal values. ... So if Rorty is correct, how do we know that slavery was so awful? Because we have been exposed to accounts of slavery in the arts which vividly showed how the suffering of slaves was immeasurably greater that the frivolous pleasures of the slave-owner. Can we then turn around and use an imaginary slave-owning society that passes the utilitarian test as an argument against utilitarianism? I’m not sure that we can, unless one can show that our initial visceral reaction against slavery is based on non-utilitarian grounds, i.e. based on some abstract philosophical principle. And that’s much harder than many people might imagine.

Hanson says "This seems to me a powerful argument" and "The argument, I think, is more that we overgeneralize from the stories where we first picked up our morals. For example, we first hear stories where slave owners gain less than slaves lose, and then come to see all slavery as bad."

The argument is that slavery gets a bum rap due to bad publicity: OF COURSE people are going to think slavery is bad when that's the moral of so many stories they hear!

It seems clear that Hanson sees no fundamental difference between a preference for vanilla ice cream and preferences for slavery, cannibalism, torture and genocide. All that matters is how much you will pay for your preferences and how much others will pay for theirs.

The Debt Problem

The United States national debt now stands at over $11,220,000,000,000 ($11.22 trillion). That is big. How big is it? Consider this: last year the federal government took in $2.66 trillion in revenue. If the US stopped spending money right now and only payed down the debt, it would take 4.2 years to pay off the debt. And that is assuming that the revenue will stay constant. Seeing how the economy has fallen off a cliff since last year, the federal revenues will most likely decrease this year. Pres. Obama is increasing spending, so the debt is set to skyrocket.

To make an analogy, imagine you buy a house with a mortgage. Let's say you make $40,000 (average American) a year, and you find a nice place for $170,000. This is quite reasonable, right? Now, the friendly guy at the bank sees that you are a busy guy with a family, so he fixes it up so you only have to pay the interest for a few years, that should make life easier, just pay it back when you can. This nice banker also signs you up for a home equity loan, just in case you need a little extra cash every once in a while. After moving in, you find your bills add up to just about what you bring home every month. Then your boss cuts your hours a bit. The kids want to take soccer lessons. And they want a new pool. And they want to go to the fancy private school. And your wife wants a new car and some pearl earrings. So you dip into that HEL and only pay the minimum due on your mortgage. You can do this for a while, but eventually the bank will want the money back. How soon will it be before you end up on the street?

I think the ruse will be up as soon as the lenders start asking for the principle back.

Reliance on consensus

By consensus I mean extreme majority but not necessarily universal view within some group - as this seems to be its meaning as it is commonly used today.

Someone competent in a field does not have much use for consensus. A mathematician can examine a proof and discover for himself whether it is valid or invalid, without relying on the opinion of other mathematicians. A scientist who doubts a result can reproduce the experiment for himself, without relying on the opinion of other scientists. This is not to say that scientists do not benefit from communication with other scientists, that they do not benefit from a sanity check provided by other scientists. But consensus can be built up in many different ways, many of them more likely to reinforce error than to discover truth, only some of them an improvement on independent thinking. So consensus - be it general, scientific, field-specific, or what have you, is not by itself very good evidence of truth. As was pointed out in the book by that title, to get the "Wisdom of Crowds" phenomenon it's important that people give their independent opinions, thus avoiding an information cascade - a condition that is not all that often fulfilled.

If you rely on consensus you are making yourself into part of the above-mentioned information cascade. We might hope, therefore, that people who rely on the consensus in a field are themselves all outside that field. That is not certain to be the case, which poses a problem for those who would like to rely on consensus.

If you wish to rely on the consensus of the group of people competent to individually judge claims in a given topic for themselves, you also have the problem of defining that group. If you are not yourself competent to judge, how do you know who is competent to judge? If you rely on someone else's definition of that group, how do you know that they are competent to judge? Ultimately you cannot avoid making a decision for yourself - you cannot avoid choosing who to rely on, and therefore you cannot, in the end, avoid relying on your own competence to make the decision. (I happen to think that many people are not competent, and that consequently they rely on false authority - they are the blind led by the blind. So this ultimate reliance on one's own competence is a real problem and not just of academic interest.)

There are some ways for the competent to identify others to delegate judgment to. For example, if you spot check someone's work, and all that you've checked is flawless, then it is reasonable to rely on the rest of his work without checking on it, treating him as an authority. This, however, presupposes your own competence - your own authority. It does not work for the incompetent.

You don't have to have the same kind of competence as the person whose competence you are testing. I don't know many words of Chinese (Mandarin or other dialect) but I can identify authorities on Chinese. There are ways to "bootstrap" competence. But these employ a certain kind of competence. For instance, you need to have the competence to distinguish the cases where a specific kind of bootstrapping succeeds from the cases where it fails. (So the thoroughly incompetent are thoroughly screwed. The competent may, of course, guide them, but so may anyone else.) I happen to think that many people accept authorities without the benefit of proper "bootstrapping" - possibly as a result of tragically mistaken "bootstrapping" based on false signs of competence.

Once you have identified a group of authorities, then relying on consensus, rather than relying on (say) the judgment of selected individuals from this group, may serve the limited function of checking your own tendency to cherry-pick authorities whose judgments coincide with what you want to be true. And it might, additionally, confer a Wisdom of Crowds benefit. But if there is dissent within your identified group of authorities, that is a significant fact. And of course, relying on consensus (as opposed to relying on one specific authority) is only meaningful (will only even potentially give you a different conclusion than relying on a single authority) if there is dissent. So the very occasions on which reliance on consensus might even possibly confer some benefit, are precisely those occasions where the significant fact of the existence of dissent may give you pause.

Thus, the useful function of reliance on consensus is restricted (it checks your own tendency to cherry-pick), and its value is dubious (since what it amounts to is ignoring the existence of dissent among your chosen authorities). Furthermore it completely fails to distinguish convergence by independent experience and thought from convergence by groupthink, which you should be keenly interested in distinguishing.

There is some evidence that the average ______ is incompetent. The linked evidence (the rate of correct answers was worse than random guessing) is for economics but why should this not be generally true? I suspect it is (based in part on my own experiences here and there). So as a rule of thumb, between eighty and 100 percent of accredited members of a field are incompetent and should not be trusted.

Good luck relying on the consensus within a field (as defined by accreditation) if that's the case!

Underlying the popular habit of relying on consensus may lie the consensus theory of truth. Certain philosophical notions are these days deeply embedded in popular thought, and the consensus theory of truth may be one of them.

Bill Simmons' Bizarre Statistics

I don't much care for Bill Simmons' columns, and this week's (HT: Newmark's Door) column reminds me why:

Q: Why won't you understand shooting percentages? 33 percent from beyond the arc is the equivalent of 50 percent from within. If a guy shot 50 percent from the field, would you be killing him for shooting? Of course not. You obviously realize how stupid that would be. Yet that's what you've been doing -- FOR YEARS -- with your mind-boggling argument against 3-point shooting unless the guy can hit 75 percent of his 3s. Just think about it for a couple of seconds. Please ... we are begging you.
-- Nick, New York

SG: Dozens of readers e-mailed me Nick's same stupid argument in a similarly condescending way, which is what makes the following so much fun: I'm not stupid, YOU'RE STUPID. That 33/50 logic only makes sense in a professional basketball league in which they aren't calling fouls and you aren't allowed to pass to a teammate ... which, as far as I can tell, doesn't currently exist.

Let's say that one player attempts 12 3-pointers and makes four (for 12 points). His teammate attempts 12 2-pointers and makes six, but during that time -- because he's not standing 25 feet away jacking up 3s like an idiot -- he also draws three fouls on his defender, creates two assists for teammates, makes three of four free throws, turns the ball over once, and misses one layup that gets tapped in by a teammate (we'll call it 19 points). You're telling me those two scenarios are equal?

I don't disagree with his point that you can't just compare shooting percentages in a naive way like the emailer suggested. But his numbers are senseless, for a number of reasons.

Simmons conflates two different actions: "Going inside" and "shooting a two point shot" are not the same thing. If you're looking at shooting the ball, then you've already gone through a great deal of action, and either you have to do that on the inside and outside, or for neither. For some reason, he's willing to allow his hypothetical interior player taking twelve shots to also get fouls and passes, but the hypothetical perimeter player isn't allowed to find someone cutting to the basket, since his only "action" seems to be jacking up twelve 3-pointers.

He also double-counts points in an irrational way. Consider his "two assists for teammates". If one of those is a kick out to the perimeter, then surely this isn't a knock against using a three-point shot as a weapon. And if it is to another interior player, then you can't count the same "shot" twice, both as an assist and the shot itself, which seems to be what he's doing.

Like I said, I'm completely willing to believe that interior shots are underrated, for a variety of reasons (rebounding, fouls, etc.). I bet it's already been done (Kyle surely knows more about this than me.) But Simmons' argument is fairly nonsensical, and he manages to be amazingly condescending about it as well. Not an appealing combination.

Another reason politicians cannot be believed

Via Instapundit:

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that Rep. John Murtha cannot be sued for accusing U.S. Marines of murdering Iraqi civilians "in cold blood," remarks that sparked outrage among conservative commentators.

Not that I paid much attention to politicians in the first place, but this immunity is yet another reason to disregard anything they say.