Public

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Feed the Leeches More Blood - Get Better Leeches

I am doing a personal research project on Singapore and I noticed an interesting bit of information: in 2007, the Singapore government came under criticism when it increased the salary of its Prime Minister to about $2 million. That is certainly very different from the American philosophy on politician compensation, which holds that it should be as small as possible. Our President is paid a salary of $400,000 and our congressmen all make less than $200,000.

On a possibly related note, international organizations regularly rank Singapore as one of the least corrupt countries in the world, while the US does a little worse (however, it is still pretty good). I wonder if paying our politicians so little contributes to corruption. After all, there must be some reason why presidential candidates were willing to spend $1 billion this year to get a position that pays only $400,000, or why Rod Blagojevich was offered $500,000 for Obama's senate seat which carries a salary of less than half that sum.

The optimistic take is that the warm fuzzy feeling of public service (or more realistically, prestige) is so powerful that people are willing to sacrifice to get it. The pessimist in me thinks that they do it for non-direct benefits of the job, including future lucrative positions with lobbyist firms and industry groups that they help out while in office.

Perhaps paying politicians more would reduce the incentive for them to deal under the table. When I see the salary of the Singapore Prime Minister, I am reminded of the salary of a CEO. When I see the pay package of our politicians, I am reminded of a college athlete: they are contractually bound to receive a low compensation, but your star center didn't buy those rims with his momma's money.

Our low compensation structure reduces the appearance of corruption (and Americans have something against people that make high salaries), but it increases the probability of actual corruption.

More formally, let's define an action by a government official to be objective when his purpose is to act for the good of society (whether or not he is correct). Then define an action by a government official to be corrupt when his purpose is to use his position for private gain. The principal of good governance would hold that we should try to increase the ratio of objective actions to corrupt actions by government officials.

In this framework, an official should be well-compensated to the point so the utility of corrupt act is small. This is especially true if the cost to society of a corrupt act is large compared to the personal gain of the official. It would be cheaper to just pay him what he would have made by dealing under the table, straight from the public treasury.

Perhaps high-level officials should even be guaranteed public jobs for life to reduce the incentive to lobby for corrupt acts from other officials after they leave office. An ex-official that siphons off $billions for a lobbying firm every year is surely more expensive than one that is put up in an office somewhere in the Washington catacombs, sipping a coffee and bossing around an intern. Perhaps this is the true purpose of Presidential Libraries.

Best of all would be to eliminate the difference between public benefit and private benefit for each official by paying them according to their performance. Many industries have this already, like football quarterbacks. They are paid extra if they throw a lot of touchdowns or if their team makes the playoffs. Unfortunately, I don't know how you would design an incentive scheme for, say, a legislator. Perhaps you could pay them based on net migration to the jurisdiction they legislate for.

It strikes me that in thinking up ways to make government better, I am actually just mimicking the thought process that the compensation committee in a private government-firm would go through in some sort of market anarchy.


Secular Right

The new blog Secular Right is a sensation in the conservative/libertarian blogosphere. If you like that irrepressible old codger John Derbyshire, and I love me some John Derbyshire, then you will love this blog since he is responsible for its genesis. Secular Right provides such fine fair as this post showcasing contributor Heather MacDonald as she challenges people who refuse to vote for atheist candidates:

Warren would apparently feel more secure if a president said: “After consulting God, I have decided to bomb Iran,” than if he said, “After consulting my advisors, all available intelligence, and our allies, I have decided to bomb Iran.” A Warren defender would likely say that the two statements boil down to the same thing. But if consulting God merely ratifies what a president learns from his human sources, then the consultation is a meaningless superfluity.

No, a properly religious President, in Warren’s view, is presumably prepared to change his merely human-derived knowledge based on what God whispers in his ear. If he is not prepared to revise his conclusions, then his decision-making is no different from that of an atheist.

So why would Warren be so confident that God has spoken to the president and that the president has properly interpreted the message?

If the president of Iran said: “After consulting God, I have decided to bomb the United States,” Warren (and most other Americans) would presumably be utterly certain that the Iranian president had not been taken into God’s confidence. But why? Perhaps Warren is naively ethnocentric. God, in this view, would either never answer a Muslim’s prayers, or would do so only in ways that protect America.

Count me among the people that feel uncomfortable when his political leaders place too much emphasis on consulting their invisible friends.


The Anti-Climax of the Bailout Saga

There was plausible speculation that the auto bailout saga would come to a conclusion this week. Instead, nobody was surprised when the Bush administration decided to follow the path of least resistance and punt. The $17 billion loan provided by the White House is enough to keep GM and Chrysler in business through February, but not much further.

By now we ought to be used to doublespeak from this administration. Apparently, "I believe that good policy is not to dump [Obama] a major catastrophe in his first day in office" means that Bush is okay with dumping a major catastrophe on Obama in his second month in office. "In any scenario that comes forward after this decision-making process, all those stakeholders are going to have to make tough decisions" means that the administration is comfortable forking over taxpayer money without any concessions from the unions or commitments from management.

Since the run-up to the Iraq War, I noticed that you get a much clearer picture of reality by believing the opposite of everything said by a Bush administration official. "Urgent threats" are not urgent and hardly any threat, "vital security measures with responsible oversight that protect the privacy of ordinary Americans" are expensive and useless policies, lacking any meaningful oversight, that violate the privacy of ordinary Americans. And so it goes.

Conservatives were hopeful that a successful long-term bailout plan mimicking bankruptcy restructuring would come from the White House, which would be similar to the deal offered by Senate Republicans and rejected by the unions a few weeks ago. Instead, the Bush administration settled on a band-aid measure that passes the buck to an incoming liberal Obama administration that is likely to be perfectly comfortable letting the unions suck at the national teat with no long-term concessions.

This one last act of spinelessness by the Bush administration is a perfect symbol to remember them by.


Rampant Moldbuggery

I discovered the blog of Mencius Moldbug when Patri linked to this post a few months ago. You should follow that link and also this one, Mencius is well worth your time. He is one of the freshest and most interesting writers on the web, though eccentric even by libertarian standards. His ideas are promising and deserve to be presented without the less palatable garnish of his acerbic writing style.

The most compelling idea in the sprawling Moldbuggian corpus is "neocameralism". Neocameralism is a close relative to Patri's theory of Dynamic Geography in that both are forms of practical market anarchism. Its reasoning is straightforward: If you believe that government should be given incentive to govern well, then modern democracy must be thrown out. Simply trying harder to elect better candidates will not fix the familiar structural problems of democracy, such as plundering special interest groups, ever-expanding bureaucracy, and election contests with the intellectual content of an American Idol finale. However, if you think that security service providers (AKA "governments") form geographic monopolies (500,000 years of human history provides good evidence for this), then the Rothbard/Hoppe/Friedman vision of anarcho-capitalism with a competitive market in security must also be set aside as a pipe dream.

Neocameralism, then, is statist anarchism. It envisions a world filled with small monopoly states run by for-profit corporations. Neocameralism addresses many of the shortcomings of democracy and anarchy. Moldbug defends it well:

To a neocameralist, a state is a business which owns a country. A state should be managed, like any other large business, by dividing logical ownership into negotiable shares, each of which yields a precise fraction of the state's profit. (A well-run state is very profitable.) Each share has one vote, and the shareholders elect a board, which hires and fires managers.

This business's customers are its residents. A profitably-managed neocameralist state will, like any business, serve its customers efficiently and effectively. Misgovernment equals mismanagement.

For example, a neocameralist state will work hard to keep any promise it makes to its residents. Not because some even more powerful authority forces it to, but because it is very pleasant and reassuring to live in a country where the government can be trusted, and it is scary and awful to live in a country where it can't. Since trust once broken takes a long time to rebuild, a state that breaks its own laws has just given its capital a substantial haircut. Its stock is almost certain to go down.

I am provisionally convinced that a neocameralist world is likely to be more libertarian and better-governed than a world run by universal suffrage democracy. For-profit states are likely to follow libertarian economic policies, since those policies tend to create prosperous and interesting places to live. Conversely, socialism is an expensive program that attracts the indigent, not exactly prime clientèle if you are trying to turn a buck. Culturally, I expect a neocameralist world to be a patchwork of diverse burbclaves ranging from a straitlaced, caffeine-free Mormonville to a hedonistic New San Francisco. While not every state will be cosmotarian friendly, each person will have the freedom to choose where to live, presuming they meet the residence requirements of their preferred state. That sounds fair enough to me.

More importantly, my initial impression is that the logic is tight. Neocameralism seems stable and practical, or at least more so than Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism.

There are certainly difficulties with neocameralism. Transitioning to a neocameralist world is the first hurdle that springs to mind. Moldbug never clearly spells out a plausible strategy for getting from here to there. Then there is the minor matter of how shareholders in the government will keep the management under control when management presumably has all the guns. After all, in a democracy corporate shareholders can ask the government to enforce contractual obligations when management shirks its duties. Hopefully you see the problem that occurs with this model when management runs the government. Moldbug offers some technological solutions to this problem that are interesting but unsatisfying.

Still, Moldbug gives me hope that a libertarian future might be practical, which is valuable as the libertarian movement doesn't exactly have a surplus of hope. In a world that has gone through the FDR presidency, I don't see how anyone can cling to the hope that libertarianism might be achieved through a constitutional democracy. I came back from Mises University an anarchist convert, but I have since strayed from the faith due to doubts about its practicality. The arguments for dynamic geography are well-considered, but it abandons the 25% of the world's surface that humanity has historically lived on to sclerotic statism. Also, it is going to entail significant startup costs.

IANAM, (I am not a Moldbuggite), but Mencius, consider me intrigued.


TASERs

I joined the Seattle Police Department in 1965. At 5-10 I was one of the smallest people in Academy Class 49. It was a new experience for me, being the short guy. We had a couple of females in the class but they were to become Police Women, a different civil service designation whose job description was to deal with children, females, and generally assist Police Officers when requested.

Police officers had minimum physical size requirements because we were expected to intimidate suspects and win fights. In the bad old days when the First Avenue beat had a dozen and a half bars and taverns, half "Indian" taverns, the old beat cops expected a least a couple of fights every night and, far as I know, won them all. Being "pre-grand jury" days and the statute of limitations has long run, I can say that beat cops were expected were expected to down two shots in every bar on every shift. Some old timers, I think I never saw sober. Rumor was that some sobered up after they retired, when they had to pay for their drinks. The point is that they won their fights, didn't have to shoot suspects, and TASERs had not been invented.

I was a terrible fighter, hated getting physical, and never lost a fight that I could recall, though over 30 years several suspects escaped. How come? Because I hardly ever got into a fight. I was big enough and ugly enough to look like a "real" cop . . . and Chinatown was a peaceful place one you got to know the people. Back in the bad old pre-grand jury days it was safe to walk downtown at midnight but now it is questionable at noon. What happened?

Four things happened: The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the grand jury investigation, the invention of electronic camaras, and Watts. In the bad old days your sergeant would say, "You have a problem on your beat. You handle it and I'll handle the heat." Bet you that no sergeant has said THAT in 20 years. Some people only understand pain. Back then, you could drag someone into an alley and convince them in a non-lethal way to leave your district. Now days, touch any person for any reason and it could be on the news in full color.

Then there is "equal opportunity." A five foot, 100 pound lady cop could be a black belt karate champ but a 6 foot, 250 pound drunk will have to see for himself. And if she isn't a black belt champ? She gets creamed. Read your local newspaper. Note the gender of injured police officers.

And law suits. Our new national sport is suing your local police department. In the bad old days the police officer's goal was to go home at least as healthy as when he started the shift. We now add, "and don't get sued." The best way to NOT get sued is to NOT do anything, specifically, NOT get physical. Better to spend two hours writing a report that explains why fighting wasn't appropriate than to spend two minutes fighting. And one can't drink coffee while fighting. And now that the officer PAYS for his coffee . . .

So as long as the courts hold that TASERs are non-lethal and a situation looks like it is getting physical . . . . I have read that the Washington State Patrol now instructs its people to TASER before laying a hand on anyone.


singing and microphoning

Compare the recent replays of Roy Orbison and Pavarotti on public tv. Orbison has a nice voice and nice tunes but would be dead in the water without a microphone. He doesn't know how to sing. Pavarotti has a nice voice, nice tunes, and knows how to sing. Yes, I'm a music snob.


Predetermined lessons

I think the financial meltdown teaches us that government interference in the economy is a very bad thing. Maybe this is a predetermined lesson, but at least I have specific reasons for believing this - such as, that the financial crisis is in large part a consequence of large numbers of people failing to repay loans which were foolishly made to them, and these loans were made at the insistence of politicians such as Barney Frank in order, essentially, to buy votes.

Meanwhile, Thomas Frank draws a different predetermined lesson (via Cafe Hayek). According to him:

The moguls whose exploits we used to follow with such fascination, it now seems, plowed the country into the ground precisely because of the fabulous rewards that were showered on them.

Massive inequality, we have learned, isn't the best way to run an economy after all. And when you think about it, it's also profoundly ugly.

Thomas Frank doesn't offer any reason aside from his own assertion for believing that "massive inequality" caused the financial meltdown. So, deleting the unsupported claims, we are left with:

Massive inequality [is] profoundly ugly.

Inequality, if it is profoundly ugly, has always been profoundly ugly. If Thomas Frank currently thinks that it is profoundly ugly, then he has, presumably, thought this for a long time. This ugliness has nothing to do with the financial meltdown. It appears, in fact, that the financial meltdown that Frank begins his essay with is no more than an excuse for him to write an essay about the supposed ugliness of inequality.

A woman named Alex Kuczynski hired a surrogate mother and then wrote about her own experience. Thomas Frank finds profound ugliness in that essay and uses this as evidence that inequality is profoundly ugly. Mr. Franks's specific examples of ugliness:

Ugliness 1) Ms. Kuczynski was a gossip columnist who eventually married a rich man. That Mr. Frank faults her for this (i.e. both for having been a gossip columnist and for marrying into wealth) is evident in the disdainful way he writes about it:

For years Ms. Kuczynski worked the plutocracy beat for the New York Times ...

Kuczynski's trademark concern for the moneyed ...

Ugliness 2) Ms. Kuczynski hired a surrogate mother. Mr. Frank faults her for this:

The story starts with Ms. Kuczynski's infertility, which is genuinely piteous, but quickly goes wrong, as she and her husband decide to hire a woman to carry their child and review applications from women with available wombs.

Strongly suggesting that it was wrong to hire a surrogate mother. Additionally Mr. Frank writes a long paragraph criticizing surrogate motherhood as immoral, victimizing the surrogate mother. He assigns this criticism to "some believe", but it is evident that he is among those "some". For instance, he offers no counterargument, except as something to jeer at.

Ugliness 3) Ms. Kuczynski is not appalled by the practice of surrogate motherhood, and is not convinced by the arguments against surrogate motherhood that he has outlined:

Ms. Kuczynski is not entirely oblivious to these issues; indeed, she considers them for several poignant paragraphs before inevitably brushing them off.

Ugliness 4) Ms. Kuczynski (with the willing assistance of the surrogate mother) prefers language which minimizes the relationship between the surrogate mother and the baby.

Ugliness 5) Ms. Kuczynski fails to understand that "how our system works" is the reason that college and surrogacy are available to people like Ms. Kuczynski and not to other people. It is also the reason that there is surrogate motherhood:

all this reproduction-for-hire was a product of her billionaire-centric world

Ugliness 6) Ms. Kuczynski lives the life of a rich, non-pregnant woman in the late stages of the surrogate mother's pregnancy.

Ugliness 7) Ms. Kuczynski, the author of the memoir, writes about her own experiences and only peripherally about the point of view of the surrogate mother, whom Mr. Frank calls a "remarkable woman", though he presents no reason for considering her remarkable apart from the fact that she is a surrogate mother. I will quote a short bit, to give a taste of Mr. Frank's disdain:

About Ms. Kuczynski's own feelings and fears and cravings we get paragraph after maudlin paragraph. The one who does the labor is almost completely silent.

Ugliness 8) Ms. Kuczynski is rich and the surrogate mother is not.

I haven't really commented on this from my point of view. Here I'm mostly restricting myself to examining Mr. Frank's point of view.


Gained in the Translation

Have you ever listened to the words of recorded music and you could not believe what you though they said? So much the more entertaining when the music is sung in a foreign language, particularly Hindi. Yet it seems that the music is in fractured English except that it full of all sorts of humorous non sequiturs. For instance try this gem from India along with the pseudo-translations. See this link

The part I especially like went

“ Dish herpes on the head
Pull slinky and make me fart.
Do me hard, yes in the ear
Yes in the ear
Your brains will die.”

And especially dedicated on this Sunday morning to Brian Macker , this English hymn, with accompanying translation. I don’t know how these will sound to the grave and earnest men at DR( Dour Republic) but at least I get to try to link some clips. See this U-Tube Link
I didn't figure out how to put in those direct links to U-tube.


Repeal Day is December 5th

Happy Repeal Day, everybody! Please join me in celebrating individual liberty by tossing back a stiff shot of bourbon or sipping a comely glass of scotch.


Bad Egg

I was surprised to learn that OJ had committed another major crime. It confirms the bad egg theory of crime, a theory which I now believe in more strongly than before: the commission of a serious crime either makes you into a bad egg, or else proves that you were a bad egg all along. Criminality is not just a kind of behavior, it's also a character trait.

If you commit a serious crime, you are a bad egg, or are made into a bad egg. If you are a bad egg, you will commit a crime again. If you commit a crime and get away with it, worry not. You will continue to commit crimes and will eventually be caught. Case in point.


Detroit Can't Sell Cars, Tries Theater

Two weeks ago, GM's CEO flew from Detroit to Washington on a corporate jet to ask the nation's lawmakers to rescue his embattled company.

The action provoked a loud Bronx cheer, so yesterday, acting like the ordinary American he is not, the hapless fellow was driven to the nation's capital.

He rode in a black hybrid Chevrolet Malibu, the kind of high-mileage vehicle that critics say Detroit should be concentrating on.

The trip through four states was 500 miles, and Wagoner - no elitist, he - did some of the driving himself. When not driving, he sat in the passenger's seat and made calls on his cellphone, wearing sunglasses to protect him from the glare.

The car ride is a gesture of self-humiliation intended to placate an audience that has been throwing ripe fruit at the stage. GM's latest product is the theatrical self-flagellation of its executives.

It's hard to blame GM. The management is fulfilling its obligation to its owners. Congress has sent out the signal that they are a gathering of gullible dimwits with a tremendous pile of cash and a ready ear for Fortune 500 sob stories. It would be irresponsible to the owners of GM not to act accordingly.

(via The Drudge Report)


If you don't understand, don't tinker

Russ Roberts writes:

How can any economist today argue for say, a stimulus package, with any confidence? Or a further lowering of interest rates by the Fed? ... Doesn't the current situation and the inability of macroeconomists to predict it (or to have any certainty about whether we are going to have a mild recession or a serious Depression) suggest some humility?

Someone could reply that this works both ways. If we really can't predict whether an intervention will help or hurt, then by the same token we can't predict whether failure to intervene will help or hurt. This symmetry can then be used as a license by those who are inclined to intervene.

But the real situation is not symmetrical. A blind intervention is (on average) harmful. We can clearly see this in familiar cases. Blindly hitting keys while editing a document will harm the document. Blindly cutting into a patient will harm the patient. Blindly operating on a car engine will harm the engine. Blindly drinking random chemicals will kill you. Blind activity is harmful.

Blind action is more harmful than no action at all. Russ Roberts is pointing out that interventions are blind. It follows that the expected outcome of these actions is to harm the economy.


A flimsy pretext for naked aggression

Bryan Caplan throws down the gauntlet on immigration.

It's reasonable to insist that people get your permission to come to your home. It's absurd to insist that people get your permission to live in your neighbor's house* - much less than people get your permission to live in a hundred-mile radius of you. That's on par with the schoolyard bully's grievance that "You're breathing my air." We should see it for what it is - a flimsy pretext for naked aggression.

The idea is not especially new - standard libertarian position on immigration - but the expression is stark and concise, and I like the phrase, "a flimsy pretext for naked aggression," which begs to be recycled, possibly as a heading.

Arthur B.! You're breathing my air!


Tweak Your Terms

Want to be a more persuasive classical liberal? Want to avoid some of the perennial perils and pitfalls of anti-state arguments? Try updating your libertarian lexicon. Here are some terms and suggestions I've heard thrown around that I really like.

1. Say "freed market" not "free market."

From the always awesome William Gillis:

You'd be surprised how much of a difference a change of tense can make. Free market" makes it sound like such a thing already exists and thus passively perpetuates the Red myth that Corporatism and wanton accumulation of Kapital are the natural consequences of free association and competition between individuals. (It is not.)

But "freed" has an element of distance and, whatsmore, a degree of action to it. It becomes so much easier to state things like: Freed markets don't have corporations. A freed market naturally equalizes wealth. Social hierarchy is by definition inefficient and this is particularly evident in freed markets.

It moves us out of the present tense and into the theoretical realm of "after the revolution," where like the Reds we can still use present day examples to back theory, but we're not tied into implicitly defending every horror in today's market. It's easier to pick out separate mechanics in the market and make distinctions. Also. Have I mentioned that it makes an implicit call to action?

2. Avoid "capitalism" and "socialism."

Roderick Long in his "Rothbard's 'Left and Right' Forty Years Later":

Libertarians sometimes debate whether the "real" or "authentic" meaning of a term like "capitalism" is (a) the free market, or (b) government favoritism toward business, or (c) the separation between labor and ownership, an arrangement neutral between the other two; Austrians tend to use the term in the first sense; individualist anarchists in the Tuckerite tradition tend to use it in the second or third.[12] But in ordinary usage, I fear, it actually stands for an amalgamation of incompatible meanings.

Suppose I were to invent a new word, "zaxlebax," and define it as "a metallic sphere, like the Washington Monument." That's the definition — "a metallic sphere, like the Washington Monument. " In short, I build my ill-chosen example into the definition. Now some linguistic subgroup might start using the term "zaxlebax" as though it just meant "metallic sphere," or as though it just meant "something of the same kind as the Washington Monument." And that's fine. But my definition incorporates both, and thus conceals the false assumption that the Washington Monument is a metallic sphere; any attempt to use the term "zaxlebax," meaning what I mean by it, involves the user in this false assumption. That's what Rand means by a package-deal term.

Now I think the word "capitalism," if used with the meaning most people give it, is a package-deal term. By "capitalism" most people mean neither the free market simpliciter nor the prevailing neomercantilist system simpliciter. Rather, what most people mean by "capitalism" is this free-market system that currently prevails in the western world. In short, the term "capitalism" as generally used conceals an assumption that the prevailing system is a free market. And since the prevailing system is in fact one of government favoritism toward business, the ordinary use of the term carries with it the assumption that the free market is government favoritism toward business.

And similar considerations apply to the term "socialism." Most people don't mean by "socialism" anything so precise as state ownership of the means of production; instead they really mean something more like "the opposite of capitalism." Then if "capitalism" is a package-deal term, so is "socialism" — it conveys opposition to the free market, and opposition to neomercantilism, as though these were one and the same.

And that, I suggest, is the function of these terms: to blur the distinction between the free market and neomercantilism. Such confusion prevails because it works to the advantage of the statist establishment: those who want to defend the free market can more easily be seduced into defending neomercantilism, and those who want to combat neomercantilism can more easily be seduced into combating the free market. Either way, the state remains secure.

3. Please, please, please, don't call it "anarcho-capitalism" or yourself an "anarcho-capitalist."

Murray Rothbard played an invaluable role in developing the movement and ideology of modern libertarianism. The unfortunate term he coined for his brand of icy-pure liberalism is not representative of the rest of his legacy.

Anarcho-capitalism is a term that aims to displease. Any leftist worth his salt most probably reserves the term "capitalist" as a universal label of opprobrium for everything that's wrong with the existing order--just like we use "statist"--and this will immediately turn them off. Worse yet, talking about anarchistic capitalism with social anarchists sounds like your are mixing together the familiar and beloved with the detestable, and is a good recipe for a black eye. Even if you can fend off bodily harm long enough to explain what you mean, you're still going to face an uphill battle against their subconscious, visceral response. There's a reason you'd complement a Chinese person on their "mother's pickled canola root" rather than their "mom's rape."

It's also just an ass-ugly phrase and makes you sound silly to people anywhere on the political spectrum.

If you didn't get the memo, the cool kids are into "free-market anarchism" or "market anarchism." If you're trying to navigate the mindfields of an academic career, maybe you pull a Randy Barnett and make up something like "polycentric legal order."

4. Support "de-monopolization" instead of "privatization."

From Steven Horwitz:

I would like to see us ditch the term “privatization” for two reasons. First, many of the things government does and then “contracts out” are things that no one should be doing in the first place, either publicly or privately. The use of private contractors in Iraq is the most obvious example here. Libertarians need to join, and many have joined, those on the left who have objected to the use of private contractors to do the dirty work of the war. We need to make it quite clear that this (and the war more generally) is not what is meant by free markets, despite what people like Naomi Klein seem to think.

Second, in the cases where state-provided goods and services could be better supplied in the market, the real goal is not “privatization” but “de-monopolization.” What advocates of free markets should be arguing is that the monopoly privilege bestowed by government is the source of trouble, regardless of whether the organization receiving that privilege is public or private. Rather than selling off or contracting out these monopoly privileges, we should abolish them and reduce any other barriers to entry in the industries in question.

If you hew to these rules I think you'll find it easier to tip-toe around people's prejudices and ingrained responses and slip dangerous ideas into their heads. Good luck!


pb > c

In this article, we find a possible justification of bias (yes, justification, not merely explanation). From the article:

whenever the cost of believing a false pattern is real is less than the cost of not believing a real pattern, natural selection will favor patternicity. They begin with the formula pb > c, where a belief may be held when the cost (c) of doing so is less than the probability (p) of the benefit (b). For example, believing that the rustle in the grass is a dangerous predator when it is only the wind does not cost much, but believing that a dangerous predator is the wind may cost an animal its life.

(actually, I believe the above should read: when the cost (c) of doing so is less than the probability (p) times the benefit (b))

This suggests a justification for belief which can differ from person to person, depending on their goals, because their goals affect the costs and benefits. Rationally, we should do whatever maximizes our expected benefit - and this means that in particular we should believe whatever maximizes our expected benefit. This makes sense, I think. We do indeed need to weigh false positives against false negatives. How can we weigh them, except on the basis of maximization of benefit to ourselves?

If Abe favors markets and Ben favors socialism and if Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is false, then the cost to Abe of the false belief that AGW is true is greater than the cost to Ben. This false belief will increase the scope of socialism within the mixed economy, which is a greater cost to Abe than it is to Ben.

And the same with the reverse: if Abe as above favors markets and Ben favors socialism, then if AGW is true, then the cost to Abe of the false belief that AGW is false is less than the cost to Ben of the false belief that AGW is false, because the false belief will increase the scope of capitalism within the mixed economy.

This is just a preliminary look at the idea of pb>c - my particular application here may be half-baked but I think there's something here.

Just to be clear: this analysis does not recommend believing a knowable falsehood. Maybe it potentially could, but to expand on the rustle in the grass example: if the rustle in the grass is wind, then it is better to believe that it is wind than a predator. And if the rustle is a predator, then it is better to believe that it is a predator than the wind. So, whatever the truth happens to be, it is better to believe the truth than to believe a falsehood. But if the only evidence available is the rustle in the grass, which might be a predator and might be the wind, then whether it makes sense to treat it as (and therefore to believe that it is) the wind, or as a predator, or (a third so-far unmentioned option) to suspend judgment, depends on probabilities and costs and benefits.


Without a compass, we walk in circles

Responding to Climate and Bias.

The world continually gives us information that we can use to compensate for our various biases - so that we can go through life without those biases ever manifesting themselves visibly. One reads about the tendency of people to walk in circles (consistently veering off course to the left, or consistently to the right) if they don't have any clues to tell them which way they're going. This tendency does not manifest itself in daily life on familiar ground and might never manifest itself, since few people walk deep into forests without preparation.

And I think that a similar situation exists with claims about the weather and the economy. The difficulty of really testing certain ideas about the weather and the economy is analogous to being lost in a forest without any directional cues. In that situation our biases shape our view much as a left/right bias shapes our walk. And it's not as though we could decide, "okay, now I will be unbiased." We need cues not only in order to correct for our biases, but even in order to tell whether and how much and in what way we are biased. If we're in a forest and we find ourselves walking in circles, we can at least calculate roughly how large the circle is if we happen to recognize a spot that we passed before. But in the case of many ideas about the economy and the weather we may not even have that much to go on.

The "global warming debate" is in any case less about competing specific claims than about the level of certainty that we can rightly claim to have about the world's climate.

Consider two kinds of disagreement. One disagreement is between specific predictions:

a) X will happen.

b) X will not happen.

Another kind of disagreement is about the level of certainty:

c) We can be pretty sure that X will happen.

d) We really don't know whether X will happen (a skeptical position, e.g. global warming skepticism).

When the subject is something like economics or the weather, my view is that the best answer between (c) and (d) is usually (d), with few exceptions. But the answer that is usually given, or at least implied, is (c).

And since (I think) (d) is the correct answer, then the disagreement between (a) and (b) cannot really be resolved. Both (a) and (b) are tenable - but they are not tenable with any certainty.

However, we can step back one level and consider the following two competing claims:

e) We can be pretty sure whether (c) or (d) is correct.

f) We really don't know whether (c) or (d) is correct.

That is, it may (e.g. to the satisfaction of all reasonable onlookers) be hard to decide whether it is hard to decide whether (a) or (b) is correct. The global warming debate is between statements like (c) and (d); the various parties are in agreement about (e), though they disagree about whether it is (c) or (d) which is clearly correct. Someone observing the global warming debate can step back and observe that, evidently, people are disagreeing about (c) and (d), which suggests that (f) may be true.


Libertarian pessimism

Responding to Libertarianism and Positive Psychology

What if it is objectively true (as I think it is) that it is safer for the meek individual to live in a free society than under a socialist state? In that case the individual who feels pessimistic might reasonably and rightly grab onto the market as onto a life vest.

In neither a market nor a socialist economy does the individual truly stand alone. In both cases the typical individual is entirely dependent on the system, without which he would die. The difference is that the support provided by the market is the unintentional byproduct of millions of people who are not, even in the abstract, trying to keep a particular person alive. But in the case of the socialist state, the state can be said to be trying to keep everyone, and therefore (in the abstract) each particular person, alive. For example, when I buy gasoline, I am not trying to feed the gasoline attendant. I am there for my car and for myself, not for the attendant. But I am, nevertheless, indirectly feeding the attendant - without intending to. In contrast, in a fully socialist economy people are not going to survive unless the state tries to keep them alive.

In case that last point is not clear, I'll explain. In a fully socialist economy, wheat is grown because the state directs it. Bread is baked because the state commands it. Everything that happens, happens at the command (the direction) of the state. So if the commands are not given, then the stuff will not be made. So, whatever the state commands, will be made, and what it does not, will not. If the higher-up does not direct his underlings to feed the people, then they in turn will not command that the wheat be grown, the flour be made, the bread be baked. In order for people to survive, then, the state must try to keep them alive. Socialism is precarious in part because it depends on the conscious intention of people at high levels, since they may, after all, forget, or change their minds. This is ironic, because it is this dependence of socialism on conscious intention that makes people think that it is especially safe and secure.

People tend to believe that things will not happen that are not willed. This has different facets. If something happens, people tend to think it was willed to happen (possibly by a witch). And on the other side, in order for something to happen, people think it needs to be willed to happen. And in a market, there is no such will, while in a socialist state there is. So people tend erroneously to think that in markets, things that they are worried about will not happen while in socialist economies they will. And so, erroneously, they favor socialism thinking that it will keep them safe, even though the truth is that socialism endangers them.


Brain Structure and IQ

Thanks to ThePenileFamily for binging to my attention the Steve Pinker video on Jewish IQ. I have a few comments and an additional reference.The interesting biochemical explanation is testable but single factorial explanations for IQ seem unlikely. This is especially ironic because of the attitude of some that IQ is some sort singularity. No, it is probably more like being a jock, the result of multiple innate abilities plus training.

It is interesting that other middlemen cultures such as the Chinese and Indian also produce an excess of high achievers in academia. Is there a biochemical basis for this? You can read this link.

I read this article in Scientific American that looked for the genetic linkages for IQ. There is no single gene or combination of genes controls IQ. Intensive DNA probing for genetic links to IQ have found no magic gene or combination of genes.

“ The researchers found only six genetic markers that showed any sign of having an influence on the test scores. When they ran stringent statistical tests to see if the results were flukes, only one gene passed. It accounted for 0.4 percent of the variation in the scores. And to cap it all off, no one knows what the gene does in the body.”

Many neuroscientists look at the brain not as an all purpose computer that may vary in power from one individual to another but as a coordinated system of behavior generating modules. Crude measures of brain weight are not sufficient . Sophisticated scans of the cortex show no one IQ center.

“Recently Haier and Rex Eugene Jung of the University of New Mexico surveyed 37 studies examining regional brain size or activity to look for an overall pattern to their results. As Plomin would have predicted, Haier and Jung found no one “intelligence spot” in the brain. Instead they identified a number of significant regions scattered around the cortex. Other studies have implicated each of these regions in different kinds of cognition. “It looks like intelligence is built on these fundamental cognitive processes, like attention and memory, and maybe language ability,” Haier says.

In Pinker’s lecture one of the possible causes of high Jewish IQ was the that people who have one copy of genes that promote various glycolipid accumulations in the brain, might lead to better neural transmission and hence a higher IQ . There is evidence that high IQ persons have larger amounts of white matter, possibly indicating better neural transmission within the brain.

“Along with describing the gray matter tissue that makes up the cortex, these studies also find the signature of intelligence in the white matter that links distant parts of the cortex to one another. People with high intelligence tend to have tracts of white matter that are more organized than other people. “The white matter is like the wiring,” Haier says. “If you think about it, you know intelligence really requires processing power and speed; the white matter would give it the speed; the gray matter would give it the processing power.”


Max Boot Loves Obama's Picks

Boot says:

As someone who was skeptical of Obama's moderate posturing during the campaign, I have to admit that I am gobsmacked by these appointments, most of which could just as easily have come from a President McCain. (Jim Jones is an old friend of McCain’s, and McCain almost certainly would have asked Gates to stay on as well.) This all but puts an end to the 16-month timetable for withdrawal from Iraq...


Prediction Markets for parole?

Michael Keenan writes:

When you have a future prediction problem, the best solution available is (in most cases, when some normal conditions like liquidity hold) prediction markets. I propose replacing parole boards with prediction markets on the likelihood of recidivism for each convict.

This is a great example of the problem with having criminal law instead of just civil law. With civil law, the whole thing obviously becomes an insurance problem. If you commit a crime, your future defense agency rates go up - and how much they go up depends on your chance of recidivism.

If you committed a crime and were uninsured and are now in debt, whether you are in prison (not working), in prison working, or out working depends on the relative income you can earn in those situations, and the recidivism rate that whoever takes responsibility for you (your defense agency) expects.