Public

Public posts will appear on the Community blog, and may be promoted to the front page.

Cultural gender imbalance

Dave comments on "liberal eugenics" about the issues of being able to chose the sex of one's children.

Currently we use "biological planning", but what would market production of babies be? Assume everyone could chose the sex of their children.

As a marxist would put it, it is men's "gender interest" to produce women and women's interest to produce men... indeed theoretically more women than men benefits men whose value increase and vice versa. Not quite true. First of all, it seems that wanting to produce men is a general bias... if cultures are patriarchal (gosh now I sound marxist AND feminist), it is indeed an evolutionnary advantage to breed boys that will spread your culture. Second, it seems that in societies with a deficit of women, rather than women's value increasing women tend to be treated more like commodity... if the women are no self-owners their scarcity is more of a curse. It is possible that with increased gender imbalance these tendencies invert, but it is also possible to imagine that the majoritarian gender gets power and control thus creating an incentive to increase the imbalance.

These arguments ignore the multiplicity of cultures, and surely different culture would have different gender ratios. Which culture would be at a reproductive - hence cultural - advantage thereby spreading this ratio? My guess is that it would be a polygynous society. There are two reasons for this.

- Biologicaly eggs are the limiting reagent not sperm, it is currently a waste to raise so many males
- Less men and more women means less deadly competition among males. Since males are naturally more violent is is more efficient than the opposite.

Why didn't such a ratio evolve biologically? Well it may give a specie an advtange over another specie but it does not give a reproductive advantage to an individual within a given specie. If I live in a 50/50 society, having more daughters will not guarantee me more grandchildren therefore the mutation is lost.

In the distant futures, with biotechs, we might live in such a society (but let's not be utopians).


Impoverished world

Randy brings up the hypothetical question first asked by Bryan Caplan, “How Would the World Change If Everyone Shared Your Factual Beliefs?” Randy points out that factual beliefs are not enough that he would also need to change peoples values. Well what if we changed the question to include values. I’ll answer for myself.

If everyone shared my factual beliefs and values then in many ways the world would be better. However in other ways we would live in an impoverished world. There would be no sports stadiums, no disco, no boxing, no dancing, no cosmetics, no more foreign languages, no native cultures except my own, etc,

I value using many things that I don’t actually value producing as much as others. So assuming everyone’s talents stayed the same certain goods would be produced less and the salaries would have to rise to compensate. However it’s clear that I’m not willing to pay more for those things. I’m not particularly fond of producing music because I don’t value it as highly as other activities. Yet I don’t mind listening to it when it’s free. So I benefit in many ways from things I don’t currently pay for that it seems just would cease to be produced in this new utopia.

Of course, I’m not sure my values wouldn’t change given different talents. If I were not so good at math and science I might value them less. So I’m not exactly sure what values should be considered universally identical to my current values given this hypothetical. If I was real good at dance and couldn’t think my way out of a wet paper bag would I really value math and science so much? I doubt it. Would I bother to obtain all the “facts” I know? I doubt that too. I think such a world of people with varying talents sharing all my factual beliefs and values is an impossibility.

So long as we have different talents we will have different factual beliefs and values. I wouldn’t sacrifice the former to obtain the latter either. The efficiency of division of labor depends on our differing talents. Without our differences we would indeed suffer and impoverished world.

Otherwise, like the other guy, I think this is mental masturbation. Although I’m not the kind of guy to criticize other people’s leisure activities because I’m not certain that this kind of discussion won’t produce an interesting thought.


Old School Gaming

Interesting article in the NY Times. I recognized that screen in the picture instantly; it was my first game on my first system: Colecovision. I also "flipped" Zaxxon six times in a single sitting - a 10 hour marathon session - which I firmly believe would have been some sort of world record if anyone was keeping track at the time.


Political Theory 101, or Little Known Facts About the Social Contract

I was reading TPMCafe yesterday when I stumbled across this short little post from Greg Anrig, Jr. I was moved to write about it largely because I found it so very surprising. Anrig, over the space of just a few paragraphs, makes two political theory-ish claims that I’d never heard before. I was so shocked to realize how badly I’d misunderstood some of the basic principles of government and of foreign policy that I just had to bring it to everyone else’s attention, too. Anrig’s post, initially bearing the provocative title “Actually, It Is Terrorism,” takes conservatives to task for refusing to provide funding to shore up the nation’s aging infrastructure. I guess that the implication is supposed to be that opposing highway funds constitutes an act of terrorism. I had no idea, really. I mean, at first I was looking around for some DHS people to send after Ron Paul. But then when I checked Anrig’s post later, I saw that he’d changed the title to, “Actually, It’s A Lot Like Terrorism.” So I'm guessing that Rep. Paul will probably be spared a trip to Gitmo.

Still, I thought that maybe I should look into this whole terrorism business a bit more. I mean, I didn’t realize that opposing the Department of Highways might make one a terrorist (or even a lot like a terrorist), so I figured that I should maybe find out what other things might make me almost a terrorist. So I started by looking for a definition of terrorism. Turns out, the U.S. State Department uses the term “terrorism” to mean

premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.

Now to be fair, I found several people who didn’t much like this definition, but most of that disagreement seemed to center around the issue of whether or not to restrict terrorism to “subnational groups or clandestive agents.” Pretty much everyone, however, seemed in agreement that terrorism has to be premeditated and politically motivated. That left me puzzled, since it’s not at all clear to me that any of the evil conservatives out there actually plotted to blow up a bridge.

My instinct is to ask Anrig to maybe lay off the old everything-bad-is-really-like-terrorism line. And possibly to suggest that such comparisons (a) provide far more heat than light, while (b) rendering the previously useful term “terrorism” meaningless by turning it into a synonym for “bad.” Plus, it's just confusing; apparently he didn't get the memo that that's a Republican strategy.

But, as if the whole terrorism thing confusing enough, Anrig goes on to offer an opinion on basic political theory:

Making us less vulnerable to sudden, out-of-the-blue preventable disasters is the job of government.

Really? Now I’ll admit that I’m no Century Foundation scholar, and it has been a while since I engaged with the political theory thing, but I honestly couldn’t recall ever reading anything about the function of government being to prevent sudden, out-of-the-blue disasters. I remember a lot of stuff about tyranny and liberty and individual freedom, but really not so much about preventable disaster. Still, I figured that maybe I’d just forgotten. I mean, Locke says a lot of stuff; maybe it was all just buried somewhere.

The responsible thing to do, obviously, would be to re-read all the core texts in political theory. Leviathan, The Second Treatise, and On Liberty for starters, with maybe some Jefferson and Madison thrown in for good measure. That plan, I quickly surmised, had a rather serious flaw: it’s an assload of reading, and I’m fairly lazy. So I cheated. Using a nifty little online copy of Locke’s Second Treatise, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution, I searched for “preventable disasters.”

Alas, much to my surprise, I found no such thing. Which is really puzzling, what with Anrig being a scholar and all. Nothing at all about preventing disasters. Just a lot of stuff about protecting individuals from the tyranny of the state. Very strange. I guess I’ll have to keep searching. Anybody know where there's a searchable copy of A Theory of Justice?


Liberal Eugenics

A little behind the power curve on this one, but...shorter Ross Douthat:

  1. Eugenicists support the use of abortion as a way of eliminating debilitating but non-life-threatening characteristics like Tay Sachs or Downs Syndrome from the human race.
  2. Some would-be parents choose to abort fetuses that have debilitating
    but non-life-threatening characteristics like Tay Sachs or Downs
    Syndrome.
  3. Liberals support the rights of parents to choose to abort fetuses that
    have debilitating but non-life-threatening characteristics like Tay
    Sachs or Downs Syndrome.
  4. Thus liberals are modern eugenicists.

Plenty of people have jumped all over Douthat for this argument. But I’ve yet to see anyone point out the real fundamental problem. Namely, that for all his pointing to famous people who say similar things, Douthat’s simple little argument manages to contain two fallacies in its four short steps.

First, notice that (1) deals with a claim about abortion’s usefulness as a way of perfecting the human race, whereas (2) and (3) deal with a claim about an individual parent’s decision about a specific child. To make parents' decisions about abortion (and hence also liberals’ support of those decisions) parallel the eugenicist, Douthat would need an additional premise, namely something like

2a. Parents who choose to abort fetuses that have debilitating but non-life-threatening characteristics like Tay Sachs or Downs Syndrome are really acting in such a way as to eliminate these debilitating characteristics from the human race.

And (3) would accordingly be altered as

3’. Liberals support parents who choose to abort fetuses that have debilitating but non-life-threatening characteristics like Tay Sachs or Downs Syndrome are really acting in such a way as to eliminate these debilitating characteristics from the human race.

The problem, of course, is that (2a) doesn’t in fact follow from (2). Indeed, it’s an instance of a composition fallacy. It’s the claim that because A has a particular view about one specific human being, then A holds that same view about the human race as a whole.

Though properly speaking, I suppose I should say that the fact that the amended argument relies on a composition fallacy is a problem, as there’s still another to go along with it. Douthat’s conclusion is, one presumes, supposed to follow from (1) and (3’). The problem? Well, the argument has the form

A believes X
B believes X
Therefore A is B

That, however, is what logicians like to call the fallacy of the undistributed middle.

So can we please stop complaining about whether or not Douthat has conflated liberals with old-style progressives and whatnot? Indeed, I think it should be a firm principle of blogging that any post that contains as many fallacies as it does inferences really ought to just wither away into unlinked and unremarked-upon obscurity.


In Which the NY Times Ignores Asian Americans

You know how black students who do well in school are accused of "acting white"?  Mary Bucholtz, a linguist at UC Santa Barbara, has devoted her career to promoting that stereotype, and the NY Times thinks she's tops!

By cultivating an identity perceived as white to the point of excess, nerds deny themselves the aura of normality that is usually one of the perks of being white. Bucholtz sees something to admire here. In declining to appropriate African-American youth culture, thereby “refusing to exercise the racial privilege upon which white youth cultures are founded,” she writes, nerds may even be viewed as “traitors to whiteness.” You might say they know that a culture based on theft is a culture not worth having.

So white youth culture is defined by its "theft" of black youth culture?  Those who decline to imitate the latter are actually rejecting the former?  To adopt aspects of a foreign culture is to transgress against it? See, this is why I never really got into linguistics.


Voting somewhat rationally-my solution

A couple of weeks ago I attended a book forum for Bryan Caplan's book, The Myth of the Rational Voter, at the CATO institute. I had thought the CATO institute was a libertarian think tank but found out otherwise when they served a free luncheon after the forum. During the Q&A after Caplan's presentation I asked if it was possible for layman to know how to vote for a rational economic policy without putting in the time and trouble to become an expert in economics. His reply was bascially," No, only PhDs in economics should vote." I have been thinking it over since then and have come up with a way to make voting somewhat more rational.

 My first thought was that even if I did get a PhD in economics I would not be a qualified voter. There is much more to government than economic policy. There is criminal justice, education, foreign policy, social policy, etc.. So to be a qualified voter one would need degrees in constitutional law, sociology, and international relations. The only qualified voters would be professional students and the actual productive people in society would be out of luck.

My second thought was to rely on specialization. It works so well in the rest of the economy. If I want a rational opinion on my health I go to a doctor who has studied for years so I don't have to. I could pick an expert in economics, foreign policy, and domestic policy and vote the way they do. The problem with this is how do I know who is an expert. For economic policy should I rely on Paul Krugman or Greg Mankiw? Tyler Cowen or Brad Delong? I know who I like amongst those, but I really don't know who is a better economist. To really know I would have to become an expert myself which would defeat the purpose of relying on an expert.

The way around this would be to use specialization and aggregation. Rely on surveys of experts on particular topics. Caplan used one such survey in writing his book. There should be a Rotten Tomatoes type of index for experts in public policy where various expert opinions on topics are collected and policy initiatives are given ratings depending on the level of expert support. The problem with this approach is that, to my knowledge, no such sites exist and surveys such as the one Caplan used are rare.

After rejecting all these approaches I went back to Caplan's presentation. He breaks down the populace into three categories; economists, enlightened laity, population at large. Economists have the most correct views on the economy but almost as good was the enlightened laity. They have much less biased and more rational views on the economy. If only the enlightened laity voted, candidates supporting better economic policies would be elected. Probably not as good as if only economists voted but an incremental improvement, which I believe are the best kind. (See previous posts for an explanation why). I think I am an enlightened voter, my standardized test scores were always in the top 5% and I got all the answers correct on the Pew Research Centers quiz on current events the last time I took it.

However, I am probably not the best judge of my own political rationality. After all the guy I met at Home Depot who was convinced the draft was going to be reinstated just after the 2004 election if Bush won, and my friend who is convinced that corporations have way too much power, both are convinced of their own rationality. What is needed is an objective standard for who is and is not a member of the enlightened laity. The most common and easy to measure objective standard is a test. There needs to be a test that will tell you if you are a member of the enlightened laity and should vote. Since I am not aware of the existence of such a test, I am going to create one. The question is what should go on this test? I am looking for multiple choice questions on history, current events, economics, etc. Leave any ideas in the comments and I will create a test that will tell people if they should be voting or not.


Race to the bottom in tax policy

From Instapundit, Eastern Europe knows where it's at.

Why don't we see more of this?  Is this a trend or just a couple of data points?  What does the future hold?


Do targeted tax breaks give you more choice?

Constant and I have been having a debate in the comments entry to a prior post.

His most recent reply argued that targeted tax cuts give you more choices, because you have an option to do what the government wants and so pay the government less.

In a certain narrow sense this is true. If you don't have the tax break you don't have the possibility of taking advantage of the tax break. But tax breaks don't exist in such splendid isolation. They are part of a larger tax code, and the break itself has effects beyond just the effects on the person who can take advantage of it.

You can say that a targeted tax break is giving you the option to do X and get some benefit from the government. But its just as reasonable to look at the whole picture and say that such targeted tax break is not a break but rather a penalty for not doing what the government wants.

True you don't have a simple one for one situation where imposing tax break X will cause rates to increase, or getting rid of tax break Y will cause rates to decrease, but there is a connection between the two. If you have a high number of targeted tax breaks you are likely to have higher tax rates (then you would otherwise have had).

Instead of looking at the choice to eliminate one specific highly targeted tax break or keep it in place, imagine instead the hypothetical where there is a proposal for an extra hundred thousand targeted tax breaks? Is it really wrong or "anti-libertarian" to oppose the plan? I don't think so. Such a plan is a mess, and will cause more harm then good. Its likely to result in higher base rates for taxes (absent a reduction in spending), and the higher base rates are not the only source of harm from the proposal.

Looking at such a huge plan its obvious that you have an attempt on the part of politicians to control society. Giving politicians that additional control is a harmful. Its harmful because it distorts incentives and gives less efficient results, but its harm extends beyond that. I submit its intrinsically harmful. Even if the politicians could and did make choices for people that where better then the choices they would make for themselves (and in general terms that will never be the case), greater power in the hands of politicians is harmful to freedom. That's still true even when the power can be expressed as giving people more choices.

What's true for the huge proposal is also true, on a smaller scale for individual targeted tax breaks. They allow greater government/political control.

When you combine the harm to freedom from that greater control, with the practical harm caused by compliance costs and the fact that these political decisions often provide perverse incentives and lower efficiency; its obvious that a complex tax code full of such targeted breaks is hardly something libertarians should be supporting.


Peace Through Superior Firepower

So, Sunday evening rolls around, and what better way to end perhaps the best weekend in recent memory than with a trip to the Drafthouse and a showing of Hot Fuzz.

For those of you who have been living under a rock, Hot Fuzz is the buddy cop spoof from the Shaun of the Dead guys. If you’ve not seen either one, then it’s pretty clear that you’re a sad, culturally illiterate soul. You’re also not the sort of person I’d like to go drink a beer with. And that, my friend, is far worse fate. Or something like that. Seriously, you should go see it if you haven’t done so yet. Preferably in a place where no one minds if you shout things back at the screen. And clap during the movie. At any rate, I’m not going to really try to explain the movie itself, other than to say that buddy cop clichés, played straight and with just a hint of slightly stiff and formal British mannerisms and set in small-town England: now that’s some seriously funny shit.

But there’s more to the film than mere humor. Not to pile too much pretension onto a film that features a scene with an exploding head, but I think that there’s a case to be made for Hot Fuzz as Animal Farm for the 21st century. Now I’m sure that this seems a strange claim, but just bear with me a moment. And if you’ve not seen the film yet, you may well want to stop reading here, ‘cause I can’t really write this thing without more-or-less giving away a big chunk of the ending. So consider yourself warned.

After gleefully unraveling Sgt. Nick Angel’s bit of detecting (and thereby nicely avoiding a standard cop-movie cliché plot), the film’s denouement finds that under the scary black cloaks at the spooky graveyard gathering lies a collection of small-town busybodies who murder their fellow-citizens for such grave offenses against the common good as misspelling words in the local paper and offering really horrendous performances of Hamlet at the community theater. About the only really spooky thing about this collection of aging British gentry is their collective chanting of “the common good” at weirdly inappropriate moments.

Mostly all this is set up for the shootout scenes, which are replete with pretty much every set piece from several cheesy cop movies. But for all the silliness of the plot itself, there is, I think, a fairly straightforward lesson here: central planning by groups of elites in the name of the greater good has a tendency to go a bit haywire. At the end of the day, it’s up to rugged individuals – preferably ones with lots of really big guns and maybe a couple of good friends – to protect individual liberty from the central planners. It’s an Orwellian warning against collectivism…only coupled with a rather charming faith in the power of heroic American individualism. Except with a British accent.

I’d say that it’s a nice libertarian theme except that, as it turns out, the bad guys are the members of a private protective association (the neighborhood watch). And the heroes are cops. Make of that what you will.


Inside view and outside view

At Overcoming Bias, Robin Hanson writes:

Instead of watching fireworks on July 4, I did 1500 piece jigsaw puzzle of fireworks, my first jigsaw in at least ten years. Several times I had the strong impression that I had carefully eliminated every possible place a piece could go, or every possible piece that could go in a place. I was very tempted to conclude that many pieces were missing, or that the box had extra pieces from another puzzle. This wasn't impossible - the puzzle was an open box a relative had done before. And the alternative seemed humiliating.

But I allowed a very different part of my mind, using different considerations, to overrule this judgment; so many extra or missing pieces seemed unlikely. And in the end there was only one missing and no extra pieces. I recall a similar experience when I was learning to program. I would carefully check my program and find no errors, and then when my program wouldn't run I was tempted to suspect compiler or hardware errors. Of course the problem was almost always my fault.

According to Robin Hanson, these illustrate the distinction between the inside and the outside view. To explain this distinction, he quotes "Kahneman and Lovallo's classic '93 paper":

Two distinct modes of forecasting were applied to the same problem in this incident. The inside view of the problem is the one that all participants adopted. An inside view forecast is generated by focusing on the case at hand, by considering the plan and the obstacles to its completion, by constructing scenarios of future progress, and by extrapolating current trends. The outside view is the one that the curriculum expert was encouraged to adopt. It essentially ignores the details of the case at hand, and involves no attempt at detailed forecasting of the future history of he project. Instead, it focuses on the statistics of a class of cases chosen to be similar in relevant respects to the present one. The case at hand is also compared to other members of the class, in an attempt to assess its position in the distribution of outcomes for the class. ...

If we consider the programming example, at least part of what seems to be happening is one or both of two things:

1) We are slightly overconfident about the individual statements of the program. That is, we should be 99% sure about each step but we erroneously overestimate the probability of success as 100%. It is a slight overestimate but it adds up. If your program has 100 lines of code, then if you estimate the probability of the correctness of each statement as 100% then you will estimate the probability of the correctness of the whole as 100%; but if you had more realistically estimated each statement as only having a 99% probability of correctness, then you might then have concluded that the program had a significantly lower than 100% probability of being correct.

2) We fail to do the math. Even if we correctly estimate the probability that each statement is correct, we fail to combine the probabilities when estimating the probability that the whole is correct. For example, if the correctness of each of two statements is unrelated to the correctness of the other, and if each one has a 99% probability of being correct, then the two statements only have about a 98% probability of (both) being correct. All it takes is one bad statement to make a program incorrect, so if a program has 100 or 1000 statements then even if each statement is almost certainly correct considered by itself, then the whole could very well have a high probability of being incorrect.

Anyway, this seems to be part of the reason that the "inside view" is error-prone. We are slightly overconfident about each step, and/or we fail to do the math when estimating the probability that all our steps together are right.

Something like this may also apply to the jigsaw puzzle. Some pieces are easier to place than others, and the ones that are easier to place are the ones that are placed first, and the ones that are harder to place are the ones that are placed last. If we take this into consideration, then it should not be surprising that the last pieces left over are very hard to place. We may make at least two errors here. First, we may erroneously assume that all the pieces are equally easy to place. We may fail to consider that there is a range of difficulty. Second, we may underestimate the average difficulty by basing our estimate on the earlier pieces that we placed.

Compounding this problem is that we may not really know what the difficulty distribution is. Estimating the difficulty of placing a valid puzzle piece near the end may be hard to do not only because the math is hard, but because we don't have enough empirical data from which to draw an estimate.

One question which these considerations raise is, what exactly is the relevant distinction between an "outside view" and an "inside view"? Is the relevant distinction that the "outside view" considers the situation as a whole? Or is the relevant distinction that the "outside view" assigns probabilities and does the math? These are two distinctions, and they seem to be combined into one distinction. Consider the description of the outside view:

It essentially ignores the details of the case at hand, and involves no attempt at detailed forecasting of the future history of he project. Instead, it focuses on the statistics of a class of cases chosen to be similar in relevant respects to the present one.

There are two elements to this description. One element is that the details are ignored and the situation is considered as a whole. Another element is that the whole is considered as a member of a class and statistical reasoning is applied to the class. One could, however, as I pointed out, pay attention to the details but consider the details as members of classes and apply statistical reasoning to those - combining one aspect of the outside view with one aspect of the inside view - and still produce a correct estimate of uncertainty.

We might want to break the distinction apart into two distinctions (or even three). One distinction concerns what level of detail the matter is considered at. Another distinction concerns whether uncertainty is recognized and statistics are applied or swept under the rug. The second distinction breaks apart into recognizing uncertainty, and applying statistical reasoning.

Why, by the way, should we ever sweep statistics under the rug? I think the obvious answer is: it takes time and effort to estimate uncertainty and apply statistics to something, and in some cases it's just not worth the effort. What may be happening here is that when we consider matters in detail we err on the side of sweeping uncertainty and statistical reasoning under the rug.


Mafia loans

And by mafia I mean the Hollywood version mafia... I don't know the mafia, but I've seen movies where it was featured prominently. From what I gathered watching movies and TV I noticed a few things

- The mafia makes cash loans
- The rates are insanely high
- The default probability is high
- The recovery rate is close to 100%

This strikes me as odd... the default risk is essentially 0 to the mafia because even if the guy wants to default, they always manage to get the money back, by using kneecaps as collateral. In this case, why the high rates? There are a few possible explanations all of which are linked

- There are costs incurred in recovering the money, paying goons, bullets, renting huge empty warehouses with a single chair, fixing the chainsaw once in a while... True, but one would assume the mafia has so much dissuasive power no one dares to default *, keeping the costs fairly low. ( *which contradict the high default observation from movies).

- The mafia maintains a coercive monopoly on underground lending. The bank won't lend you money to bet on a fixed boxing match but the mafia will and there's only one boss in the area.

- There is a huge demand for mafia loans but the mafia only has so much money. This means the mafia cannot really borrow from the bank to meet the adequate supply.

-  Mafias have humongous returns on their ventures and therefore will only lend at very high rate. (This also means the mafia cannot borrow from the bank)

 

Any thoughts ? What about the actual mafia ? Could they fix the subprime loan crisis the medieval way ?


Is trust really all that important?

Point and counterpoint.

Point: Trust is economically important

Imagine going to the corner store to buy a carton of milk, only to find that the refrigerator is locked. When you've persuaded the shopkeeper to retrieve the milk, you then end up arguing over whether you're going to hand the money over first, or whether he is going to hand over the milk. Finally you manage to arrange an elaborate simultaneous exchange. A little taste of life in a world without trust--now imagine trying to arrange a mortgage.

Being able to trust people might seem like a pleasant luxury, but economists are starting to believe that it's rather more important than that. Trust is about more than whether you can leave your house unlocked; it is responsible for the difference between the richest countries and the poorest.

Counterpoint: Trust may not be all that economically important

How would busy people in bustling cities react when confronted with seemingly abandoned cell phones? Would their instinct be to help, to ignore -- or to play finders, keepers.

To get the answer, reporters in 32 countries where Reader's Digest is published "lost" 30 phones apiece in those countries' most populous cities.

[...]

The highest-ranking city happened to be the smallest: Ljubljana, Slovenia. Twenty-nine of 30 phones were returned in this picture-postcard city in the foothills of the Alps, home to just 267,000 people

[...]

On the low end of the spectrum, Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur, and Hong Kong tied for the worst performance.

Going by this result, which is admittedly highly specific but nevertheless suggestive of a low general level of trustworthiness, Hong Kong seems to be a pretty rotten performer in the trust department. If trust were all that important, I would have imagined that Hong Kong would not be the symbol of economic success that it is. Furthermore, re-examining the Forbes excerpt, the level of distrust described in the example seems to be extreme. It makes the point of course: if there is no trust at all then transaction costs can be insurmountable. But what if there is some trust? What is the difference between a typical "highly distrusting/untrustworthy" society and a typical "highly trusting/trustworthy" society? How are transaction costs impacted by typical variations in the level of trust between societies? Hong Kong seems to manage to avoid being an economic basket case despite so miserably failing the cell phone test.

 


Of Buffy, Barnett, and Bellicosity

Okay, so I’m not exactly sure how much I can add to Jonathan’s discussion of Barnett and libertarian just war doctrine. But give me a Buffy reference, and I’m all over it like Vitter and...yeah, okay, that’s too easy. Still, the point is that I’m gonna own those 10 points.

For those of you not paying attention (bastards!), the assignment was to find three links between Jonathan’s post and the Buffy episode from which the post takes its name (Once more, with feeling!). Part of me wants to insert a big honkin’ recap of the entire episode right here, but as this isn’t The ‘Verse (and since I don’t have permission to post there anyway), I’ll try to control said impulses. Instead, here in all their glory are three links between Buffy’s musical extravaganza and Jonathan’s post.

1. So tell me what you really think.

So this is really more of a meta-connection. But. Sweet’s make-everyone-sing-and-dance spell (an odd spell to have in one’s arsenal, btw. Seems more like the sort of power one would find among the Mystery Men. But I digress.) The point is that all the singing leads to some soul-searching, and the soul-searching leads to some…tensions…among the Scoobies. Basically, people who seem to all be on the same side turn out really to have these deep underlying differences. And while under normal conditions those differences are masked by more pressing battles against various assorted vampires and demons, Sweet manages to bring some of those underlying tensions up to the surface.

Similarly, Ron Paul’s libertarian take on Iraq has re-exposed differences within the libertarian camp, As Barnett explains, there are nonetheless deep libertarian divisions over legitimate uses of American military might. Those differences are typically papered over by libertarian struggles against vampires and demons…er, Democrats and Republicans. Or, more specifically, by general libertarian disgust with the state of the nation-building process in Iraq – and, of course, by more immediate libertarian concerns like the massive expansion of federal entitlements and the usual economic issues that tend to unite the many disparate schools of libertarianism.

2. Sunnydale sure ain’t heaven.

Barnett quite rightly points out that one of the main libertarian reservations about the war in Iraq was “the risk of harmful, unintended consequences.” You know, things like, say, getting all our troops bogged down in the desert, inadvertently creating more terrorists than we caught, precipitating civil war, giving Iran an even larger voice in the Middle East, that sort of thing. Aren’t we lucky that all those fears proved empty? Seriously, though, fear of unintended consequences forms a big part of the libertarian worldview. Even well-intentioned actors often fuck things up pretty royally, and all those public choice folks have pretty well taught us that very few governments are really all that well-intentioned in the first place.

So what does this have to do with Buffy? Well, it turns out that the Scoobies are not much better when it comes to unintended consequences. You see, Buffy’s friends believed her to be stuck in hell. Yes, the literal one. If you have to ask... So they decided to resurrect her. Unfortunately, Buffy wasn’t actually in hell. Okay, I guess that’s not actually unfortunate. What is unfortunate is that Buffy’s friends pulled her out of heaven. Now I’ve not actually been to heaven, but I’d be willing to bet a fairly large sum that it beats the crap out of Sunnydale. And Buffy certainly thought so, at least. So, despite their really good intentions, Buffy’s friends ended up making her worse off.

3. Ass-kicking vigilantes.

This one isn’t so much related to the specific episode. For that matter, it’s a point that applies pretty much equally well to any Joss Whedon project. Well, okay, maybe not Toy Story. But the rest of ‘em. When Barnett says of Ron Paul that “like all libertarians, even Mr. Paul believes in the fundamental, individual right of self-defense, which is why libertarians like him overwhelmingly support the right to keep and bear arms,” he could be speaking equally well of Buffy or Giles (or Mal or Jayne or Angel). Indeed, in Whedon’s world, it is up to the resourceful individual – and her trusted companions – to save the day. Hiding behind the might of the state is never an option. In fact, the state is just as often a hindrance (if not an outright enemy) as a help.


Eco-terrorism comes to the burbs

Watch out Hummer owners, there are eco-terrorists on the loose!

On a narrow, leafy street in Northwest Washington, where Prius hybrid cars and Volvos are the norm, one man bought a flashy gray Hummer that was too massive to fit in his garage.

So he parked the seven-foot-tall behemoth on the street in front of his house and smiled politely when his eco-friendly neighbors looked on in disapproval at his "dream car."

It lasted five days on the street before two masked men took a bat to every window, a knife to each 38-inch tire and scratched into the body: "FOR THE ENVIRON."

I don't know about you guys, but I know a couple of people who become absolutely enraged at the mere thought of Hummers.


Caption the pic

"Somedays, I just love being heir to the throne"


The working rich

Today even the rich make money by the sweat of their brow.

[T]he share of top incomes coming from capital is much lower now than it has been historically. According to Emmanuel Saez, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, for the richest Americans — those in the top 0.01 percent of the distribution — the percentage of income derived from capital fell to 25 percent in 2004 from 70 percent in 1929.

If your image of the typical rich person is someone who collects interest and dividend checks and spends long afternoons relaxing on his yacht, you are decades out of date. The leisure class has been replaced by the working rich.

(via Instapundit)


Re: sinners and saints

Replying to: Sinners and Saints

The accusation that market proponents are 'religious' is a non-argument which is, sadly, apparently somewhat persuasive to the sufficiently gullible. But setting that aside, I find it unsettling that economists are often leading the charge against markets and freedom. Here are some possible explanations of it.

  1. The case for markets is not really all that strong.
  2. It is strong, but people are managing to get degreed in economics without actually getting it.
  3. There is such a strong anti-market bias in people that years of study is not enough to cure them of it.
  4. The economics profession has relatively little salable value except as avisors to the state, and therefore the profession itself can never completely cure itself of a self-interested statist bias. Selection at work: economists who tell the state to go to hell are replaced with economists with something more "interesting" to say.

Perverting isonomy

...or as I call it, the fallacy of isodomy (in poetic fashion)

Isonomy is a great thing, it says everyone should have the same rights. If everyone has the same rights, and since rights can't infringe on one another then isonomy roughly boils down to natural rights (there are degenerate solutions, for example it's possible to have isonomy where no one has any right at all). Well isonomy is more about law than rights, everyone should face the same rules, but if we apply isonomy to the law making process itself, we land back on our feet with isonomy as equal rights.

One may or may not agree with the possible equivalence between natural right and isonomy... that's not really what I want to discuss. There is a tendency among many people, including libertarian, to justify coercition based on a false view of isonomy.

It generally goes like this. A group of people X is being agressed with the exception of individual x. Isodomy claims that x should be facing the same laws as X and therefore should be agressed. There is a long list of example of the isodomy fallacy :

- Calling for the end of "subsidies" to a given industry / sector, even though these subsidies are really tax-cuts, immigration visas, etc. Only taxation should be opposed. Any "distorsion" created in the market is the fault of the State alone, it is not a legitimate motive to tax a company.

- Saying that "all immigrants should face the same waiting periods" (implying the end of "privileged" immigrants who face shorter waiting period) (Ron Paul)

- Claiming that a flat-tax is a "fair-tax" because everyone faces the same rate.

- Historically, allowing women in a government :o) (ok, extreme case here, but really no one should)

I coined the world isodomy from a parable I once wrote on the subject, explaining how being spared by a rapist was hardly a privilege. It's definitely not subtle but I think it conveys the message pretty well, please spread the word :)


Fatboy Slim

Mexican Carlos Slim is now the world's richest man.

Everyone knows Mexico is a corrupt country.  But does that mean Slim is a bad guy?  What if you rise to the top of a corrupt system playing by the same rules everyone else does?  Would you have done any different?