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Supply side, Martin Gardner, and Tomorrowland

One of the problems I have with the anti-supply-side is that they repeatedly go one ambitious step too far, and you get a sense that, all along, that's actually the step that they've been pushing.

It's not just the anti-supply-siders. Another recent example is China Mieville's attack on the more unrealistic seasteaders: he takes his attack one massive step too far, using an ultra-obscure, long-forgotten (if it was ever noticed), ludicrous example of seasteading (which is itself a topic so obscure that the two-line article stub it has in Wikipedia has the comment that it should be merged into Ocean colonization, which is itself a pretty lonely topic) to launch an implied attack on libertarianism, attempting to tar libertarianism by association with unrealistic plans that in all probability very few libertarians take seriously outside of the actual utopians whose brainchild the Freedom Ship is. And these supposedly libertarian utopians may not, in fact, be libertarians, as Dave points out at the end of his entry. What might have been a valid (if not particularly interesting) critique of the Freedom Ship had Mieville kept to the modest goal of critiquing it, is invalidated by his transparent attempt to tar libertarianism with the same brush, an attempt that evidently worked with his intended audience (the jubilation of the choir at which his article was aimed testifies to this). What would have been a valid attack on a tiny and not particularly interesting target, becomes a straw man attack on libertarianism (one that dupes its intended readership, which is not, it must be said, all that much of an accomplishment). As Patri has pointed out, Mieville's attack does not even refute seasteading, never mind libertarianism. It refutes the Freedom Ship, but in that it is superfluous, since a moment's glance refutes the Freedom Ship. The Freedom Ship meanwhile remains as charming as it ever was, because it is an unmistakable throwback to the science fiction visions of the 1940s and earlier. The computer illustrations of the boat remind us of the visions of tomorrowland, which we remember and miss even today.

The anti-supply-side has a point, a limited point, which is defensible. If only they'd stick to it. The particular tax cuts did not obviously increase revenue above what it would have been without the tax cuts. Okay, that's certainly possible. The data seems to support their critique. Supply side was, evidently, oversold.

But they don't quit while they're ahead - probably because it's not really the game they were hunting. They have bigger quarry in mind. For starters, they go on to say that it's "foolish" to think supply side might possibly have been right, for such-and-such basic reason. Well, no, it's not, as JTK has pointed out. Zubon has also raised a valid point about the long term effects of tax cuts. The anti-supply-sider quote that Zubon is reacting to mentions Cheney's comment about the long term effect of a tax cut, misidentifying it as yet another expression of debunked supply-siderism, but as Zubon points out, Cheney's claim is not the debunked short-term claim of the supply siders. Here again we see the anti-supply-siders overreaching, trying to refute more than they really can refute. Anti-supply-siders mislabel as "supply side" any suggestion that lower taxes might be good for the economy and therefore, indirectly, good for the government.

One contributing factor to the survival of support for supply side ideas may be that the attacks on it insisted on more than they had any right to insist on, thereby refuting themselves. In their overeagerness, they trip over themselves, like the Keystone Cops.

There was another attack on the Laffer curve that bit off more than it could chew. I'm referring to Martin Gardner's parody of the Laffer curve, dubbed the Neo-Laffer curve. Gardner's argument was that the Laffer curve assumes that the relationship between tax rate and revenue is a simple one (represented by the simple Laffer curve). Gardner pointed out that it might very well be complex (represented by the tangled Neo-Laffer curve). Well, that might be true, but there's an immediate problem with Gardner's attack on the Laffer curve: his attack, by the very same token, constitutes a critique of the idea that increasing the tax rate will increase revenues. This idea also assumes that the relationship between the tax rate and the revenue is a simple one. And this is the key idea that the Laffer curve critiques, and the idea that the anti-supply-siders are, ultimately, defending. Gardner's attack on the Laffer curve, then, is equally an attack on its critics.

Mieville and the Lefty Killjoys

I read the anti-libertarian article by China Mieville. OK, the big ship concept is an easy target, but not on libertarian grounds.

In fact Mieville is a good wordsmith who launches some pretty deadly torpedoes at the floating paradise, but his real target is libertarians. His motive, like most leftists nowadays is not to propose any credible plans for humankind’s improvement but to cut down or hollow out the plans of anyone who doesn’t agree with their authoritarian, collectivist, universalism.

Just what upsets Meivlle so much about the idea that people might want to pursue this enterprise or any enterprise for that matter?
His analysis of libertarianism is not entirely off base. For example he points out that most libertarians are not the super rich. He correctly points out that the people who have made it are already comfortably ensconced in their protected and controlled venues and need not take to sea in order to live like royalty. Many are politically connected and protected and feast at the public trough. A trip to Palm Beach or Ft Lauderdale, Fl will suffice to inform the uninitiated that the truly rich need not board ships peopled by 40 thousand. They already have their own 5 million dollar yachts parked behind their 20 bedroom mansions. When libertarians see the cozy relationship between the powerful wealthy and government, it does not make them love government. For doing things for themselves and succeeding anyway, the hungry, hard working, creative searcher gets cut down by the collectivist intellectuals.

It is not dreamer utopians sitting idly under trees that Meiville attacks but those entrepreneurs who would actually take the financial risks to do something. He hates the “free-market vulgarians.” The thing that Meiville and other intellectuals can’t stand is that a lot of Americans are individualistic, competitive and acquisitive. At the same time don’t love or trust the government and want it out of their business. In other words they are libertarians whether they verbalize it or not.
One observer ( Nicholas Capaldi) has identified intellectuals as secular individuals who believe that there is objective righteousness that is perceived exclusively by their own cognitive community and which gives them legitimate claim to direct the various institutions of the world. And they don’t want selfish, vulgar, freedom loving people to be able to escape this by boarding a boat. This the way Meiville thinks.

Of course the leftist intellectual can not literally shoot people who disagree with them and only want to escape, like they could when they had the Berlin Wall. They can’t even keep them from building a boat. Their weapons are not guns but words. Essentially they just call people names. Maybe they can make other people hate them and thus damage them. So you get “(Libertarians are)tragically non-ambitious, crippled with class anxiety,-- and maundering about a mythical ideal-type capitalism, libertarianism betrays its fear of actually existing capitalism, at which it cannot quite succeed. It is a philosophy of capitalist inadequacy.” Becoming ever more shrill- “Whites live among Whites and separate from Asians and blacks,” - and winding up with “The libertarian seasteaders are a joke. The pitiful, incoherent and cowardly utopia they pine for is a spoilt child’s autarky, an imperialism of outsourcing, a very petty fascism played as maritime farce---”
Stephan Hicks” Explaining Postmodernism” has described this snide attitude as the result of the collapse of leftist ideology due to of the failure of Marxism and its derivatives and the persistence of vigorous capitalism. Post modernist thought, reduced to utter fatuity, lashes out venomously hoping at least to ruin other people’s fun.

If you really want to have fun and a good laugh, look at the Freedom Ship’s website. For instance, why build the thing in Honduras? Oh it is too big to build in a shipyard. So it will be built by natives whose experience in ship building consists of building small coastal fishing boats. The Freedom Ship will get around the problem of big waves breaking the keel by making it like a barge like they use to transport bulky stuff along the protected waters of the intercoastal waterways, except topped by a massive city complete with airport, subways, storage for private and commercial planes, a marina, shopping malls, a football field, a hospital and plans for a medical school.
Environmentally pollution free toilets will electrically vaporize all human waste, thus saving the local waters from contamination by filthy bilge water. The thing will be the world’s slowest ship and will be driven by 400 high tech propellers driven by undisclosed means. Just don’t be late with your monthly mortgage payments. Since the thing is unsinkable, it won’t carry any life boats. I don’t think Katrina would have much trouble chasing down and dismantling this tub.

There is not one word in the document touting the project that mentions libertarianism. It clearly states that the investors who own this seagoing condominium will abide by local and international law and pay taxes in their country of origin. Its schools will teach all children bilingually and encourage the children to think environmentally and internationally. It will move in a circuit around the world every two years. Sounds pretty progressive to me.

Torture versus dust specks, pollution, and natural law

In Overcoming Bias, Eliezer writes:

Now here's the moral dilemma. If neither event is going to happen to you personally, but you still had to choose one or the other:

Would you prefer that one person be horribly tortured for fifty years without hope or rest, or that 3^^^3 people get dust specks in their eyes?

I think the answer is obvious. How about you?

Read the whole post if you don't immediately get what Eliezer is getting at here. His intention is to create a puzzle that challenges certain utilitarian assumptions. He doesn't mention utilitarianism explicitly, but it is so dominant in today's ethical thinking, and so obviously implied by the puzzle, that this is how I take it. To lay my cards on the table, my intuition is that the horrible torture is more wrong even if it does not, in some key sense, amount to the total suffering experienced when sufficiently many people get a speck in their eye. I think that most people would have a similar intuition. If they had any other intuition, then the example wouldn't be the interesting example it is, but would simply be yet another straightforward application of utilitarianism. [Edit: I don't mean to imply that Eliezer rejects the assumptions; he may accept the assumptions and reject an intuition if it goes against them.]

I'll try to explain this intuition by using a concept of natural law: What is against natural law (and, also, what is immoral, what is wrong, what is unjust) is what would tend to receive punishment (e.g., retaliation) under certain paradigmatic conditions (which will remain undescribed, but let us briefly call it "the state of nature", a condition that often comes up in discussions about natural law). Nothing more, nothing less.

The concept's application to minuscule harms: Annoying a very large number of people sufficiently slightly would receive no punishment in a state of nature, because it would be too costly for any individual annoyed person to deliver punishment. It would be even more costly (in the paradigmatic condition, the state of nature) for all the annoyed people to find each other, coordinate, identify the culprit, and deliver punishment (a public goods problem; I recognize that the state "solves" certain public goods problems, and so under a state the offender may be punished - but I am talking about how things would work out in a state of nature, without such an entity to facilitate retaliation). However you slice it, there is a per-person threshold of offense below which the offended person will not retaliate because it is too costly, and even if you multiply the harm by a large number of people, each offended person will not retaliate and so the offender will get away with the offense.

To recap, a wrong is what, under certain conditions, would be punished. A harm that is sufficiently small to each victim would not be punished, regardless of how many victims there were, and therefore regardless of the total size of the harm. Therefore, as we are defining "wrong" here, a sufficiently small per-person harm is not wrong, no matter how great the total harm is when all the harmed people are added up. This is in contrast to the severe torture of an individual victim, which is wrong even if its magnitude is much smaller than the total magnitude of a harm that is sufficiently small per person. This victim of torture would, in the paradigmatic condition, retaliate.

An example: pollution seems to fall into this category. An automobile throws out enough exhaust to kill a person many times over, but the exhaust is dissipated and the total harm it causes is shared by a very large number of people. Considering the costs of retaliation, it is not worthwhile for the victims to retaliate against the car owner. People are killed by pollution, but there are so many polluters that it would be astronomically costly for a killed person's family to track down each individual polluter and retaliate against him in an amount commensurate with his role in the death.

Utilitarians are committed by their philosophy to weighing the harms, the lost utiles or the disutility of the different afflictions (speck versus torture), and at some point the sheer numerical weight of a sufficiently large number of specks forces them (unless, of course, they manage to squirm out of it by some clever means) to conclude that barely noticeable specks in the eyes of sufficiently many people outweigh severe torture. And yet intuition says otherwise. I maintain that our actual moral intuitions are not really utilitarian calculations, but have their origin in our sense (evolved and learned) about what would receive punishment under certain paradigmatic conditions. Over long-enough stretches of time, those paradigmatic conditions re-assert themselves, in part or in whole. For example, for the most part, in their day to day interactions individuals deal with other individuals far away from the purview of the state. So in large part, something close to a state of nature exists between most people most of the time, and so natural law re-asserts itself as a guiding force regulating human interaction.

To sum up, something that is a puzzle for utilitarian morality is no puzzle for natural law.

Property rights and the extended phenotype.

It is not that hard to recognize an animal's body, nor to recognize its parts as parts. It is pretty clear to everyone that looks at a puppy in a pet shop that the head, the ears, the paws, the tail, the hair of the puppy all are part of the puppy's body, and it is equally clear that the cage, the glass, the carpet, and the hand of the person holding the puppy are not part of the puppy's body. It is, in short, pretty easy to divide the material world into that which belongs to the puppy's body, and that which does not.

This point can be extended to the things that animals make; primarily, their homes. A bird's nest and a rodent's burrow are recognizably distinct from the surrounding environment. There is an important common element shared by an animal's body and its made things. Both the body and the made things are made. The body itself is manufactured molecule by molecule, cell by cell, by a mostly invisible process that takes weeks, months, and years to produce a visible result. The made things that lie outside the body are made quickly and crudely in an easily viewed, macroscopic process of digging, carrying, carving, tamping, and so on. There are processes which are partly microscopic and partly macroscopic. A spider produces the material of its thread by a chemical process in its body, and then builds a web from the thread in a knitting process that is easily viewed and filmed.

Both the spider's legs, and its web, unmistakably belong to the spider. Both a bird's wings, and its nest, unmistakably belong to the bird. Animals' bodies and made things “belong” to the animals in a biological sense. The ownership is not a matter of opinion, it is not a matter of an observer's whim, but is a biological reality, and a failure to observe it is a failure on the part of the observer.

This is no less true of humans. People own property in a biological sense. Take away the state, even take away the laws, and biological ownership remains. It is independent of law, and law can be judged good or bad in reference to it. In particular, predation and parasitism are biological ideas that can be applied not only to the bodies of animals, but also to their made things, and therefore, also, to the made things of humans. Just as property is objectively real and independent of law, so are predation and parasitism objectively real. Law, then, can be judged by considering how well it minimizes predation and parasitism.

The body of an animal is what is violated by a predator or parasite. The distinction between what is and what is not part of an animal's body is therefore fundamental to the very ideas of predation and parasitism. This can be extended to an animal's made things, and applied, in particular, to humans. It follows that if we are to judge a system of law by considering how well it minimizes predation and parasitism, then the fundamental obligation of law is to protect property. By “property” I mean property in the biological sense of ownership mentioned above. I do not mean whatever the law considers property.

Human existence is almost completely symbiotic. An individual human makes almost nothing for himself, almost everything he makes he does so for others in exchange for something they make for him. So, as with other symbiotes, we must take this into account when identifying what an individual human owns. He does not only own what he himself has made for himself; he owns what his symbiotes have made for him. For example, to take a bee's store of nectar is predate upon the bee, even though the nectar was made for the bee by a plant. Similarly with things that a human has purchased on the market. (I wonder whether the term “symbiosis” is reserved for inter-species relationships; but even if I have misused the terminology, the point is unaffected.)

While we're on the topic of symbiosis, one way of harming both sides of a symbiotic relationship is to block that relationship. For example, to erect a glass partition between a beehive and the plants it visits. Human law may be judged by considering how well it defends (and refrains from interfering with) symbiotic relationships between humans. That is, law should defend and permit freedom of trade and freedom of association.

Background: There is an idea that law is the arbitrary creation of political will, and that, for example, the 'propertarianism' of libertarianism is arbitrary and whimsical, a matter of the weird taste of those nasty libertarians, a mere personal choice, an act of self-expression, rather than any sort of statement about the way things are. I'm talking about legal positivism, which seems to me to still be the reigning ideology among those who consider themselves to be politically savvy. The political views of libertarians are, from this point of view, above all expressions of the kind of people that libertarians are. The contrary position to legal positivism is the natural law position, which is pretty much were I stand. From the natural law point of view, the recognition that natural law is X and not Y is no more a personal choice or an expression of a person's character than is the recognition that gold does not tarnish or that running a current through water will separate it into oxygen and hydrogen.

Note on the title: The title, which alludes to Dawkins, is intended to avoid pretending that I originated the idea that an animal's made things can be thought of in much the same way as its own body has typically been thought of. I don't claim that I am rigoriously following or explaining Dawkins's thinking on the extended phenotype.

P. Z. Myers Hates You Worse Than the Nazis and the Communists

P. Z. Myers posted an article on his web site titled "Miéville takes a whack at the Libertarians"

"My least favorite political/economic group is the Libertarians, so it is a wonderfully pleasant experience to watch as China Miéville takes a sharp and dismissive rhetorical blade to a Libertarian pipe-dream.


Well said — I think the institutionalized selfishness, petty small-mindedness, and bourgeois values run amuck of the libertarians represent the worst of America — and that finding common cause, supporting both social and economic equality, and striving for a real community of liberty (not that penny-pinching masquerading as freedom that libertarians espouse) represent the best."

I think the fact that both the big "L" libertarians dislike me calling myself a libertarian, and the fact that libertarians have proposed stuff like this, was why I decided not to call myself a libertarian anymore. I'm a responsibilian for now till I come up with a better label. I do think however that P. Z. is being a little harsh on you libertarians.

Nice Headline

Making the truth win

Lew Rockwell reminds us that

Mises knew that it is not enough to hold the right views, though this is an essential step. It is just as important to do everything possible to see that these views are propagated and made compelling in a way that will transform society and politics.

There are different ways to do this. One is to pick up a book on persuasion and use the methods it outlines. The problem with this is that the other side can do the same thing, making the contest between truth and lies too often into a contest of salesmanship, where winning is a testament to the winner's skill rather than to the truth of his position.

Another way to do it might be to find a battleground on which the truth has a distinct advantage over a lie, where a less skilled defender of the truth has a fair chance of beating a more skilled defender of falsehoods. This will not, of course, prevent the lie from still winning contests of salesmanship on those other battlegrounds where the most skillful advocate tends to carry the day. But it will give the truth at least some more or less sure victories. Moreover, if people can be made to recognize these particular contests for what they are - contests of truth rather than of persuasive skill - then victories in these contests may over time come to eclipse the victories of cleverness, wit, dirty tricks, mind games, manipulation, doggedness and attrition that result from other contests.

I'd love to add a paragraph that provides specific guidance on finding these truth-friendly arenas. But unfortunately I have none to give.

Power, Liberty, and the Age of Consent

Proposals for the creation of new laws should be approached with skepticism. Laws set the boundaries for the legitimate use of violence. Within the realm of all lawful actions, society depends on the forces of social pressure, refusal of association, and economic and social competition, to prod,persuade, and cajole individuals into desirable forms of behavior. While these methods of social control do not elicit the sort of visceral power and authority of physical force, they constitute a more humane, dynamic, and adaptive solution to human problems and promote an environment of harmony and social amelioration.

This is not to say that all interactions within the realm of civil society take place between equals and are beneficial to everyone involved. Even without resorting to coercive force, people exploit and mistreat each other all the time. Whole institutions, norms, and other social structures within the civil sphere are devoted to the perpetuation and efficient administration of power over certain groups by others. It is certainly possible to imagine and observe instances of things like racism, sexism, workplace intimidation, sexual harassment, and charismatic cults, where people exert destructive power over each other without invoking or threatening violence.

The question of consensual sex between young people and adults is a sterling example of a form of social interaction where coercion is absent but concerns about other forms of “force” and social power are prominent. Even many individuals who generally follow a philosophy of “live and let live” and advocate tolerance for “anything peaceful” feel uneasy about something that combines the many important issues wrapped up in sex, like emotional and physical vulnerability, love, attachment, serious life-changing consequences like pregnancy and disease, with the problems of dependency, respect, and inequality of money, knowledge, authority, physical strength, found in adult-child relations. It is in cases such as this that defenders individual liberty and consensual relationships can assess the practical limits of their arguments and the power of their solutions to solve difficult social problems.

Should sex between adults and minors be legal? It is important to remember that the imposition of external rules and the enforcement of laws involve hierarchical authority and relationships of power. It is strange to suggest that the solution for legitimate concerns about power between individuals should be remedied through threats of prosecution and imprisonment. To solve problems of unilateral ability of certain individuals to effect the lives of others by granting unilateral power to the government to regulate these relationships and punish individuals involved only shifts the problem of power and changes it from an issue of “soft coercion” between individuals into a problem of physical force between the state and society as a whole. Just as a builder can not cannibalize bricks from the lower floors of a building to add higher floors, the limitation or elimination of aggressive physical force from social relations seems prerequisite for addressing other forms of illegitimate power in society.

The world is an incredibly varied place. The diversity of human personalities, relationships, lifestyles, values, and physical circumstances means that all legal restrictions are procrustean beds that demands one solution for all instances of a certain problem while ignoring extenuating circumstances, unusual conditions, and subsidiary considerations. Context matters and the tools of social shame or approval, reputation, and persuasion administered by individuals familiar with the conditions and people involved tend to be a much more flexible and just remedies for conflicts and problems than the clumsy and heavy handed law.

The flexibility of the libertarian solution also lends itself to harnessing the dispersed pieces of knowledge scattered through society and dealing with the limitations of human reason. Allowing people with different beliefs to experiment with different ways of living allows us to compare results and determine what works and what does not in the real world. Certainly many people will make mistakes but most of the damage caused by their mistakes will be limited to the small group of people decided to try the experiment. While the effects of failures are limited, everyone benefits from successful experiments by imitating them. Imposing one law for everyone stops experimentation and seriously retards the evolutionary mechanism that generates progress.

Some will say that sex between adults and children is obviously wrong and a bad idea and that social experimentation in this situation is unnecessary. Such arguments evince an ignorance of history and the diversity of human social institutions. Many cultures throughout history and in the world today tolerate or even encourage sex between people of disparate age with better and worse results. Even within our own tradition, our current laws and norms concerning the appropriate age for sex are relatively recent historical creations. The common law, from which America derives much of its legal principals, set the age of consent at 10. The state of California, in no way unusual in this respect, did not change its age of consent from 10 to 14 until 1897. Even if the present day status quo in this respect represents an immense improvement over the past, dismissing alternatives out of hand is very presumptuous.

Even if one decides that the nature of adult-child relationships in the present day necessitates legal sanctions against sex between minors and adults, this still does not mean that such laws will always be necessary or desirable. In a truly liberated society the considerations of power involved would be much less significant. The asymmetrical access to economic, social, informational, and physical means that creates much of the disparate power between adults and children grow largely out of legal restrictions on the freedom ofchildren. Limitations on the ability of young people to create contracts, work jobs, drive cars, stay out after dark, buy certain goods like spray paint and cough medicine, etc. all serve to turn children into second class citizens dependent on older people to get by. In our current society, children are kept in a state of bondage vis-à-vis their parents, schools, and social services. Children that run away from abusive and intolerable conditions at home are returned to their parents by the authorities or are forced into group homes, foster families, and other non-consensual living circumstances. Eliminating these sorts of restrictions would go a long way to fixing the problem of asymmetric bargaining power and agency between children and adults.

Politics as information

Not a huge insight or anything, just a pleasant thought while high:

A while ago Constant posted a link to a discussion about the overrepresentation of libertarians on the internet. The reason there are more libertarians is that people who use the internet are making use of a more advanced information technology than what other people use, so they are gleaning better information.

I think the internet is a better technology for disseminating and processing information (i.e. arriving at truth) because of increased competition created by the economies of scale of its network architecture.

Libertarianism represents better information than the political ideas proposed by those who don't use the internet. (Obviously libertarianism and other political philosophies exist both on and off the internet, I'm just simplifying from their respective proportional representation by medium.) This isn't to say that libertarianism is right, or proven, or any triumphalist claim like that; it could still be entirely wrong, but it refines the amount of information that can be processed about political philosophy and produces a rational explanation for all the discrepancies between what its refined information produces and what the coarser information of liberalism/conservatism produces.

This is reason for great optimism. As information-processing technology continues to improve, presumably so too will our ability to process better political systems than libertarianism (and better ethical systems than libertarianism's underpinnings), and for the wisdom embodied in libertarianism to spread inexorably among human populations in the same way that other new technologies do.

Ah the Perfect Evening for a Mad Scientist

I volunteered to do some halloweed decorations for a local charity event.    So I bought a Time Fountain Kit and I am assembling it right now.   It will be part of my mad scientist display.    I'm going to mount it inside an acrylic aquarium so the kids don't knock it over.

I am also watching Bordello of Blood on TV, and it's raining outside.  That shouldn't be too distracting and it sets the mood.

I am also trying to get a non-newtonian fluid display going.  I have an old subwoofer and a theramin which I hooked together but so far it isn't working.  I think because the subwoofer is too blown.

I better get back to work.  Bwahhahaa....

Brits resort to pulling own teeth

Socialized medicine. There's the theory (well, the half-baked theory), and then there's the practice. 

Desperate dental patients are pulling out their own teeth with pliers and fixing broken crowns with glue, a survey out today revealed.

Falling numbers of NHS dentists are forcing many to go without treatment because they cannot afford private fees.

Almost a fifth admitted missing out on vital work because of the cost. The research, involving more than 5,000 patients in England, also found that as many as six per cent had treated themselves because they could not find an NHS dentist.

One Lancashire patient claimed to have used pliers for 14 extractions while one researcher came across three people in a morning who had pulled out their own teeth.  

Mirror  (emph. mine. Via Google News. Title from CNN.)

Protest Against Whom?

The New York Times reported on a student protest that followed an unidentified racist hanging a noose on the office door of a teachers college professor at Columbia. The protest happened on Wednesday, one day after the noose was discovered on the professor's office door by a colleague. ABC News reports that the protest drew around 200 people including Columbia students that walked out of class and students from other New York colleges. My question is, a protest against whom or what? General racism in society?

The protest came only a day after the incident and everything I've read indicates that both Columbia and the NYPD are taking things seriously. Beyond cooperating with the NYPD to find the identity of the coward that hung the noose and expelling/firing the student/faculty member responsible, what else is Columbia responsible for? I couldn't find any criticism of the current Columbia administration's handling of the case.

There were some things that did catch my eye. From the Times article linked above:

“It’s like throwing a match on a haystack,” said Christien Tompkins, 21, a senior who is co-chairman of the United Students of Color Council. “This obviously really touched a nerve for a lot of folks.”

Mr. Tompkins was one of about two dozen students who met with Columbia’s president, Lee C. Bollinger, to discuss the case yesterday afternoon.

At that meeting, Mr. Tompkins said, students have used the noose as a point of departure to talk about other issues, including Columbia’s plans to expand into adjacent neighborhoods.


At a separate meeting, 600 Teachers College students and faculty members gathered to air their own grievances before Susan H. Fuhrman, the president of Teachers College, and other administrators.


Dr. Fuhrman said yesterday that she would work to retain and recruit more minority faculty members, and offer students more scholarships.

“There’s nothing good about this incident, this is horrible,” she said. “But we should be doing this talking, and if it takes this thing to make us do this, so be it.”

The Times piece mentioned that the targeted professor is involved in a lawsuit with another professor at Columbia. So, when (most likely) an angry colleague does something reprehensible and inexcusable to a coworker, immediate termination of employment and criminal and civil charges aren't enough? The University of Columbia itself must up its minority hiring quota and avoid expanding?

I sympathize with the targeted professor, who shouldn't have the threat of violence hung on her office door, but the peripheral demands of the protestors, tied into broader Progressive concerns, just don't carry a strong enough connection to the original incident for me to take all of the protestors seriously in light of people like Mr. Tompkins using the incident "as a point of departure to talk about other issues." If it takes all of a day for the co-chairman of the United Students of Color Council at Columbia to use the incident as a springboard to talk about the University's proposed expansion among other issues, it brings into question the sincerity of some of the protestors when the original incident is deserving of outrage.

Creeping totalitarianism?

I don't know if this is just journalistic detritus or if there is something to it.

Thanks to guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics and supported by the commonwealth, doctors across Massachusetts are interrogating our kids about mom and dad’s “bad” behavior.


The paranoia over parents is so strong that the AAP encourages doctors to ignore “legal barriers and deference to parental involvement” and shake the children down for all the inside information they can get.

And that information doesn’t stay with the doctor, either.

Debbie is a mom from Uxbridge who was in the examination room when the pediatrician asked her 5-year-old, “Does Daddy own a gun?”

When the little girl said yes, the doctor began grilling her and her mom about the number and type of guns, how they are stored, etc.

If the incident had ended there, it would have merely been annoying.

But when a friend in law enforcement let Debbie know that her doctor had filed a report with the police about her family’s (entirely legal) gun ownership, she got mad.


“I still like my previous pediatrician,” Debbie told me. “She seemed embarrassed to ask the gun questions and apologized afterward. But she didn’t seem to have a choice.”

She very well may not have a choice if she wants to retain her license, despite the view of the article's author that she has a choice.

What next: nationalized health care and the nationalization of creeping totalitarianism?

via Reddit


A True Case of Being Above the Law

I think this was and is a stupid incentive to set up. 

"Security contractors have immunity from Iraqi law under a provision put
into place in the early days of the U.S.-led occupation."

Even if there truly is some other legal framework under which they operate it sure looks bad. 


Defeating the Evil Twins

Some of today’s most serious problems are Global warming and Global inequality.

The left likes to think these two problems can be solved by the developed nations. All we have to do is live more simply, use renewable energy and solve inequality by transferring wealth to underdeveloped countries. No politician would survive if he actually voted to do this and it wouldn’t work anyway. With all due respect to Bill Gates, even though 2.3 trillion dollars have been spent on foreign aid in the last sixty years most of it has gone to waste. Politicians of both parties won’t even approve of limiting tariffs and reducing domestic subsidies that inhibit free trade and foreign development. This is a selfish position for leftists who often question other people’s altruism. Economic development is the only proven means out of poverty for undeveloped nations.

On the other hand, economic development means increased energy usage because energy is used to produce things and wealthier people use more energy. Wealth means energy does work so people don’t have to. Of course you could use peasants, servants and slaves to do your work but I thought we were trying to do away from that sort of thing. “Power to the people” is the slogan of leftist egalitarian. Now leftist environmentalists have rediscovered a renewable source of power. People power!

Now the rich can heat their pools, air-condition their mansions and jet around the world attending conferences on global warming and poverty. They can travel to exotic destinations to participate in enviro-tourism or demonstrate against the World Trade Organization no matter where it meets, all without a trace of guilt. They can do all this as Al Gore does by purchasing carbon offsets. Numerous organizations such as “Climate Care “ have begun accepting contributions to initiate projects in developing countries in which carbon dioxide production is supposed to be reduced by giving the natives alternative means of doing work, such as using foot operated pumps to run their irrigation devices instead of diesel engines. To cancel out the CO2 of a return flight to India from Great Britain on a per person basis it would take one poor villager three years of pumping water by foot. So, is carbon offsetting the best way to ease your conscience? This kind of scheme is a step backward. What do environmentalists have in mind next? What about doing away with those polluting motorized taxicabs and go back to rickshaws powered by coolies?

The use of draft animals would obviate the moral objections to people as a source of mechanical energy. This puts us back to the nineteenth century. It is a myth that draft animals as a type of renewable energy is environmentally friendly. Evidence for this comes from data that the cattle industry worldwide is a major source of global warming gasses. It is estimated that 18% of these gasses are produced by cows. Since horses and elephants have the same type of digestive tracts, they would add to the problem. One reference I have says that as late as 1910 the United States used 27% of its farm land to grow food for horses. To this day most of the world runs off of fats and carbohydrates, in the form of human and animal power. Incidentally, data such as this has been used by vegans as an additional reason to quit eating meat, and it seems valid to at least cut down on meat consumption to reduce greenhouse gasses. We could have a meat tax in addition to a carbon tax.

To develop their nation’s poor countries should be encouraged to use more carbon based power, go to school and start businesses, not pump water. We Americans are the ones who should offset carbon by the use of peddle power. Think of the health benefits. For example a peddle powered generator is available which is capable of powering a seventy five watt bulb. (link).It could also power a small television set or an X-Box. According to some newspapers parents are now being driven crazy by criticism from their environmentally fanatical children who are being loaded up with propaganda in school about saving the planet by saving energy. (link) Meanwhile an epidemic of childhood obesity is sweeping the nation. Now parents can get sweet revenge and take a little lard off of Junior. Think of the expression on your smarty pants kid’s face when you unveil his new bicycle powered television set and X-Box and wheel the old stuff out to the recycling dump.

I apologize for the way the text lines up but I cut and paste from Microsoft Word and the lines have a mind of their own

Global warming: don’t worry, be happy

I was reading a paper for my Economics and Law class, and it cited this statistic from a 2000 paper by economist William Nordhaus:

Damages of a 2.5 C Degree Warming As a Percentage of GDP,

India 4.93

Africa 3.91

OECD Europe 2.83

High income OPEC 1.95

Eastern Europe 0.71

Japan 0.50

United States 0.45

China 0.22

Russia -0.65

In other words, India will be 5% worse off GDP-wise than it would be otherwise because of climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change presented a ballpark of 1.8C to 4.0C for average climate change difference by 2100, so 2.5C is a reasonable, maybe slightly low, estimate of climate change in this century.

I’ll consider some math for India. Estimate a 4.5 percent annual GDP growth in India for the next 93 years, fairly conservative given current 9% growth rates and 2.5% growth for developed non-welfare states like the US.

India’s current GDP is $3,800 per capita. 1.045 ^ 93 = 60.0, so, by 2100 India will have 60 times higher per capita GDP than it does now, that is $228,000. Knock five percent off and we’re down to a paltry $217,000.

Worrying about global warming, then, seems a bit like rearranging the deck chairs on the Queen Elizabeth II. In 2100, we’ll be on a luxury liner whatever the seating arrangements, given reasonable growth rates.

And if we do want to rearrange those chairs, there are a lot simpler, more difficult to screw up ways to do it than to fight global warming.

Math again: a 5 percent reduction of India’s 2100 GDP is equivalent to a 0.0555% decrease in her growth rate over the intervening time period (1.05 = 1.000555^93).

So, how do we boost India’s growth rate by .0555%?

India has a 14.4 percent average tariff rate, according to the 2007 Index of Economic Freedom. Berkeley economist Brad DeLong estimated the roughly 50 percent tariff on capital goods in the US after the Civil War reduced economic growth from 0.14% to 0.36% annually. Apply those figures to India today, and its 14.4% tariff, if continued over the next 93 years, would reduce growth by 0.0403% to 0.103%, so about the same as global warming.

Oddly though, eliminating Indian tariff barriers has not turned into the next cause celebre.

(The paper, with data, is “Climate Change Justice” by Eric Posner and Cass Sunstein (working paper),

Acting White

To answer quickly and specifically, in the case that I mentioned, the people applying the social pressure were heavily armed and had already murdered one or more persons. This changes the math, by raising the stakes considerably.

Before answering more generally, I do not consider myself a rascist. The individual in question came from a failed community. Not all communities which contain black people fail, and not all failed communities fail quite this completely. Also, I Am Not A Social Anthroplogist.

Broadly, "Acting White" is more generally applicable. Academic achievement is, in theory, a virtue. The people who put pressure on me for achievement would first construct a premise; perhaps my achievement was interpreted as a slight, or perhaps some effort was put into balancing out my achievement in the context of my numerous faults and shortcomings. There is a form of emotional logic at work that has its own rules. Your achievement has made them feel small, has hurt them, and they will look for an excuse or context in which retaliation can be justified.

Acting white is different in two ways. First off, it interprets your achievement as a threat or insult to all black people. Within the context of emotional logic, it follows that every black person (who accepts that "acting white" is valid criticism) can feel insulted by the simple fact of your achievement, with no additional excuse or context necessary. You are literally construed as betraying your race.

The second difference has to do with the stakes. Of the various people I went to school with, the worst result of which I am aware is a man who now works at a gas station. He is gainfully employed, and has his hobies and distractions. Compared to a computer programmer, he has failed to take advantage of the education provided, but as failures go his is mild.

The difference between a computer programmer and the worst result in the failed community this individual came from is a great deal more stark. I don't have the citation handy, but there is a game theory involving a random distribution of money from the bank and a round (or two) of penalties, where players can bid some of their money to reduce the winnings of others. The study showed that the player allotted the most money used penalties the most, trying to preserve his relative wealth compared to the other players. The conclusion I drew was that individuals don't care as much about absolute wealth as with relative wealth. The sight of someone heading onward to a career that might earn ten or fifty times the income that you can expect to earn will be perceived as a much larger personal hurt. Emotional logic again, but the part of human nature that hates to see others succeed is most likely a great deal more engaged when the relative difference in success is larger. As it was in this case.

Conceptual Problems for Consequentialism

A Guest Post by John & Oskar

"Let us look more closely at the type of economy which is represented by the 'Robinson Crusoe' model, that is an economy of an isolated single person or otherwise organized under a single will. This economy is confronted with certain quantities of commodities and a number of wants which they may satisfy. The problem is to obtain a maximum satisfaction. This is . . . indeed an ordinary maximum problem, its difficulty depending apparently on the numher of variables and on the nature of the function to he maximized; but this is more of a practical difficulty than a theoretical one . . .

Consider now a participant a social exchange economy. His problem has, of course, many elements in common with a maximum problem. But it also contains some, very essential, elements of an entirely different nature. He too tries to obtain an optimum result. But in order to achieve this, he must enter into relations of exchange with others. If two or more persons exchange goods with each other, then the result for each one will depend in general not merely upon his own actions but on those of the others as well. Thus each participant attempts to maximize a function (his above-mentioned 'result') of which he does not control all variables. This is certainly no maximum problem, but a peculiar and disconcerting mixture of several conflicting maximum problems. Every participant is guided by another principle and neither determines all variables which affect his interest.

This kind of problem is nowhere dealt with in classical mathematics. We emphasize at the risk of being pedantic that this is no conditional maximum problem, no problem of the calculus of variation, of functional analysis, etc. It arises in full clarity, even in the most 'elementary' situatioins, e.g. when all variables can assume only a finite number of values.

A particularly striking expression of the popular misunderstanding about this pseudo-maximum problem is the famous statement according to which the purpose of social effort is the 'greatest possible good for the greatest possible number'. A guiding principle cannot be formulated by the requirement of maximizing two (or more) functions at once.

Such a principle, taken literally, is self-contradictory. (In general one function will have no maximum where the other function has one.) It is no better than saying, e.g., that a firm should obtain maximum prices at maximum turnover, or a maximum revenue at minimum outlay. If some order of importance of these principles or some weighted average is meant, this should be stated. However, in the situation of the participants in a social economy nothing of that sort is intended, but all maxima are desired at once—by various participants.

One would be mistaken to believe that it can be obviated, like the difficulty in the Crusoe case . . . by a mere recourse to the devices of the theory of probability. Every participant can determine the variables which describe his own actions but not those of the others. Nevertheless those 'alien' variables cannot, from his point of view, be described by statistical assumptions. This is because the others are guided, just as he himself, by rational principles—whatever that may mean—and no modus procedendi can be correct which does not attempt to understand those principles and the interactions of the conflicting interests of all participants.

Sometimes some of these interests run more or less parallel—then we are nearer to a simple maximum problem. But they can just as well be opposed. The general theory must cover all these possibilities, all intermediary stages, and all their combinations."

—John von Neumann & Oskar Morgenstern, The Theory of Games and Economic Behavior (p. 10-11)

Tobacco Vs Children

US President George W Bush has vetoed a bill to expand a children's healthcare insurance scheme, after it was passed with a large majority in the Senate. Mr Bush argues it takes the programme beyond its original purpose of insuring children from low-income families. The vetoed bill proposed higher tobacco taxes to provide an extra $35bn (£17bn) to insure some 10 million children.

A small tax on the evil tobacco smoker against poor children in need of medical care... can't possibly make it more emotional. This is probably a bad political move so I tend to think it is principled. For once, kudoz to Bush, it takes lot of balls to veto such a bill.

Arthur, you explain a puzzle

Arthur B writes:

Thus, they [socialists] would believe that a capitalist seastead cannot be tolerated as it produces poverty in the socialist seasteads. (And since poverty is relative to them, they'll even be right)

Arthur, you explain a puzzle.

I found myself puzzled by the time I reached the last paragraph of Mieville's article. Mieville writes:

It is a small schadenfreude to know that these dreams will never come true. There are dangerous enemies, and then there are jokes of history. The libertarian seasteaders are a joke. The pitiful, incoherent and cowardly utopia they pine for is a spoilt child’s autarky, an imperialism of outsourcing, a very petty fascism played as maritime farce: Pinochet of Penzance.

Which raises the obvious question, if "the libertarian seasteaders are a joke", if they are ineffectual, why did Mieville go to the trouble of writing about them? If you look at political writing, one of the unmistakable trends is that political writing is about stuff that scares the writer. Whatever his surface attitude, he is worried. Maybe he has intellectual contempt for his enemies, but he's worried because he sees they have met with some success and may meet with more. It's easy to come up with examples for myself. I'm worried that health care may be further socialized, and not liberalized. I'm somewhat worried that Marxists like Mieville will manage to live down or disassociate themselves from the catastrophic failure of Marxism's vision and get a chance to try again. And I see the same pattern everywhere: people write about what worries them.

Mieville brings up, pretty much out of the blue, Pinochet. Pinochet was many things but one thing he was, was a political disaster for the Marxists. Yes, he was a murderer and notable on that account, but we don't see Marxists endlessly bringing up every mass murderer in history (and there were much bigger ones than Pinochet even in very recent memory). They care about Pinochet because he killed their political dreams for Chile and, by extension, for Latin America and, by extension, the world. Of course he didn't really do all that by himself, but his overthrow of the Marxist Salvador Allende marks a turning point in the aspiration of Marxists, their desire to roll over the whole world. To most people, Pinochet was one mass murdering dictator among all too many, a footnote in history, but to Marxists he was much more than that. He was their Waterloo. This is why you see Marxists like Mieville repeatedly bring him up in totally unrelated contexts like the context of seasteading, of all things. The bizarrerie of bringing up the name of Pinochet here is thus explained. The Marxists, that superstitious lot, are still exorcising their demons. By bringing up Pinochet here of all places, by flashing back to that really bad experience shared by all Marxists, Mieville inadvertently reveals a discomfort.

So, I asked, why does he write about libertarian seasteaders if he thinks they are a joke? But the answer is staring me in the face. He's writing about them because he cares, and he cares because he actually does find them threatening for some reason he's buried. He's writing to comfort his ideological allies (he's certainly not writing to convince anyone else). You've mentioned one reason why they might threaten him.

China Mieville is fascinated by the idea of a floating polity. It captivates his imagination. The evidence is in the novel that he wrote about a floating city. The novel is The Scar. Admittedly, I didn't read it, it's still way back in my to-read list. I trust the descriptions. Amazon has one:

But her voyage to the colony of Nova Esperium is cut short when she is shanghaied and stranded on Armada, a legendary floating pirate city. Bellis becomes the reader's unbelieving eyes as she reluctantly learns to live on the gargantuan flotilla of stolen ships populated by a rabble of pirates, mercenaries, and press-ganged refugees.

It's not all that surprising that China Mieville, who is largely known for writing a handful of books, one of which is about a floating city, would feel threatened by competing visions of floating cities and seek to discredit them. There is probably more to it but this stands out.