Public

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

Is God Angry?

AP reports:

LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) - The Rev. Jerry Falwell, who founded the Moral Majority and built the religious right into a political force, died Tuesday shortly after being found unconscious in his office at Liberty University, a school executive said. He was 73.


Newt '08

Hints of running:

Newt Gingrich for president? It could happen.

In an interview with Diane Sawyer on "Good Morning America," the former Republican speaker of the House said there was a "great possibility" that he would run for president.

He will make that decision sometime in the fall. Sawyer noted that previously Gingrich had only said he was "thinking about" a run for president.

"You said you'll make a decision at the end of the September,{is it} more likely, less likely this morning? Sawyer asked Gingrich.

"I think right now, it is a great possibility," Gingrich said.

"A great possibility you'll run? Sawyer asked. But Gingrich declined to elaborate.

"I don't want to get into all this stuff," Gingrich said. "I want to focus on what we have to do to make America successsful."

Newt Gingrich, despite the spotlight on Clinton, was the most charismatic politician of the 1990s. He was the heart of a small-government political movement that today no longer exists. I doubt he has any political capital left, but with his personality and charisma, he could make the next election very interesting.

"We're in this virtually irrational process," he said. "It's exactly wrong as a way of choosing a national leader."

Newt? Or Bryan Caplan?

Typical of his independent spirit, he thinks Bush was wrong about Iraq:

Polls show that the Iraq War is a big undertow for Republicans. Gingrich said as far back as 2003 that Bush had "gone off a cliff" with the Iraq War. Gingrich believes the United States should get out of Iraq as soon as possible.

"I think we have to turn over policing responsibility for the Iraqis as rapidly as possible," he said. "Pull our troops out as rapidly as possible."


Fake school attack

Not sure if it's appropriate to post an entire article, but here it is:

MURFREESBORO, Tennessee (AP) -- Staff members of an elementary school staged a fictitious gun attack on students during a class trip, telling them it was not a drill as the children cried and hid under tables.

The mock attack Thursday night was intended as a learning experience and lasted five minutes during the weeklong trip to a state park, said Scales Elementary School Assistant Principal Don Bartch, who led the trip.

"We got together and discussed what we would have done in a real situation," he said.

But parents of the sixth-grade students were outraged. (Watch student recount incident, mother react Video)

"The children were in that room in the dark, begging for their lives, because they thought there was someone with a gun after them," said Brandy Cole, whose son went on the trip.

Some parents said they were upset by the staff's poor judgment in light of the April 16 shootings at Virginia Tech that left 33 students and professors dead, including the gunman.

During the last night of the trip, staff members convinced the 69 students that there was a gunman on the loose. They were told to lie on the floor or hide underneath tables and stay quiet. A teacher, disguised in a hooded sweat shirt, even pulled on a locked door.

After the lights went out, about 20 kids started to cry, 11-year-old Shay Naylor said.

"I was like, 'Oh My God,' " she said. "At first I thought I was going to die. We flipped out."

Principal Catherine Stephens declined to say whether the staff members involved would face disciplinary action, but said the situation "involved poor judgment."


Neoliberalism and the Washington Consensus

It's nice to be able to create content, since I've always wanted to ask question like this on Catallarchy but would've been practically trolling to put this in the comments.

I'm curious as to how Libertarians like yourselves deal with the results of Neoliberalism and the Washington Consensus. As far as I can tell, the "structural adjustment programs" that have been shoved down the throat of every country that needs some IMF money are almost perfectly in line with everything that Libertarians advocate as policy. Here's a list of the basic conditions (culled from wikipedia):

* Cutting social expenditures
* Focusing economic output on direct export and resource extraction,
* Devaluation of overvalued currencies,
* Trade liberalization, or lifting import and export restrictions,
* Increasing the stability of investment (by supplementing foreign direct investment with the opening of domestic stock markets),
* Balancing budgets and not overspending,
* Removing price controls and state subsidies,
* Privatization, or divestiture of all or part of state-owned enterprises,
* Enhancing the rights of foreign investors vis-a-vis national laws,
* Improving governance and fighting corruption.

With the exception of last one (which is really so vague as to be meaningless) I should say that I've probably heard every single one of these programs defended on Catallarchy and can't remember any of them being disputed by any non-left-Libertarians (I could easily be wrong on that last one, though.) These programs have almost always been unmitigated disasters (indeed, the countries which have developed have always RADICALLY violated these rules) and so I guess i fail to see why this stuff hasn't just basically ended the economic argument for Libertarianism altogether. Actually, that's disingenuous, because i think I do understand but for a group as intellectually honest as ya'll, well I don't get it.

I suppose someone could get on here and argue that they haven't all been unmitigated disasters (there might be an example of certain exceptions, though I haven't seen them outside of city-states.) More likely though is the standard marxist-style claim that every single country this has been tried on (and there have been a LOT) has simply had some critical flaw in it that nobody could've seen beforehand that prevented our magic from working. I'm happy to refer anyone who makes this argument to some overheated rhetoric (probably culled from No Treason) about how we "can't afford to keep trying these horrific experiments when the consequences are so deadly" and "when will we stop imposing our utopias on other people's lives when we wind up killing them."

One last thing, and this could get controversial: I think the deaths caused from these programs and programs like these (which we can just go ahead and call "free market capitalism" unless anyone can present a good case why we shouldn't) are plausibly higher than those caused by marxism/communism as an economic system. Let me explain what I mean: while I probably agree with most the people here that something like the Stalinist purges are derivable from Marxism (that nonsense about a "Vanguard party" will probably lead inexorably to totalitarianism) I'll say that has to do with Marxism as a socio-political system rather than an economic one. With this same spirit of fairness in mind, I don't attribute to Capitalism the 2 million+ killed by the US in Vietnam. Famines attributable to communism (like in China) are fair game.


Why people oppose immigration

Most of what I have read about the immigration debate seems to focus on the economic implications of mass immigration to the United States. Maybe that is because it is the easy to quantify the arguments for or against immigration in economic terms or maybe it because most of the blogs I read are economic blogs. From my reading on this issue the pro-immigration people have the better argument. The tradeoff seems to be that some low income people are harmed by immigration while most of the rest of the country and the immigrants themselves are helped. Many people are genuinely interested in the fate of low skilled American workers, but for the most part the economic arguments against immigrations are superstructure.
One of the surprises (to some) that came about after the civil rights era is that even if you remove the laws that mandate segregation people will then voluntarily self-segregate. This is because people like being around people who are similar to themselves. One of the great attractions of living in small town America is that sense of similarity to ones neighbors. People feel that their norms of behavior are shared by those around them, and that feeling produces a peace of mind that whatever comes up they will be able to act appropriately. Constantly being around those who are different than us can produce feelings of normlessness. People feel as though they are playing a game where the rules are unclear. If people feel that the norms they grew up with are stifling they tend to move somewhere diverse, like a big city. This feeling of normlessness can be thrilling for short periods of time, but most tend not to like it over the long term. That is one of the reasons people have been moving away from cities and to the suburbs.
The sudden influx of immigrants to a community can replicate this feeling of normlessness. Studies have shown that people living in diverse communities feel less safe than those living in non-diverse communities even after adjusting for crime rates. Suddenly being confronted everyday by people, who look, talk and act differently makes people feel anxious even if the statistics do not show they have a reason to be. One of the differences in the most recent wave of immigration from previous waves is the extent that it has hit places that are not big cities. People are responding negatively to this wave of immigration not just because of largely mistaken economic concerns, but understandable psychological ones.


Killing your own child is genetic suicide

And that's okay

Somebody else's suicide is none of my business. Somebody else's child is none of my business either. If a child wants to defend itself against its parent by hiring protection, that is its business, but not really my concern. This ability/willingness/decision to effectively protect itself against its parent might in some future society mark the distinction between childhood and adulthood.

We need to punish people who murder non-family-members, because if we were to fail to implement that law, then natural selection would eventually produce a breed of human that felt no compunction about killing other humans outside of their family.

In contrast, we as a society (and especially we as individuals considering what to do about strangers killing their own children) do not have a need to punish people who murder their own children, because if we were to fail to implement that law, then natural selection would nevertheless keep down the number of people who murdered their own children. While I might need to worry about my own parents, that's my business - thanks but no thanks, I don't need your help. If it gets bad, I'll take care of my problems with Mom and Dad.

The instinctive horror that you and I and everyone have about murdering our own children once born is the basis of the massive distinction that we make between the baby that we do not see (i.e. before birth) and the baby that we see (after birth). Our instincts are evidently keyed to the visual stimulus of the baby. This is why pro-life groups believe that showing photographs of aborted babies is effective. Indeed, it is somewhat effective in getting a response because the dismembered corpses of unborn infants look like infants who are victims of horrifying murder (and some number of pro-lifers may have been persuaded by such images).

But this horror itself is instinct, and that instinct arose no doubt through natural selection. The very existence of this instinct keeps down the practical problem of people killing their own children. (Which is, of course, really their own problem to begin with, genetically speaking.)

We have, curiously, discovered a loophole in our instincts: we are horrified by killing our born children (presumably because of the visual and tactile and olfactory stimuli that they provide, which normally creates a parent-child bond about as strong as what has held the Golden Gate Bridge together), and so rare is the parent (other than a desperate parent) who kills his or her own infant child. However, the same logic of natural selection, one might think, would dictate that we should be extremely reluctant to abort an unborn fetus. The loophole is that for the most part we cannot get any stimuli from the unborn fetus that would attach us to the fetus, and so many of us feel very little reluctance to kill these little infants of ours whom we have not yet seen or touched or smelled.

Significantly, the fetus starts visibly bulging the mother's belly at around three or four months, which, curious coincidence, is also about when we stop aborting our unborn children. The baby having made its existence unmistakably seen and felt, is now rather safer than before, though not entirely out of the woods.


Evil is real - an argument for

From a comment:

I can conduct an objective study on whether beating your children causes them to be more likely to commit violent crimes, and to conduct it in such a way that people can objectively judge the evidence I give.

You say you can conduct an objective study about violent crimes. A crime is an evil act. It would appear, then, that you can conduct an objective study on whether beating your children causes them to be more likely to commit violent evil acts.

I have been down this path so I will anticipate the most frequent sort of objection and answer it. The most likely objection is that one can define "crime" as "act which is against the law", and "law" can be in turn defined as whatever the state says it is.

But if this were all there really were to crime, then it would mean that the results of the study would be valid only relative to the state under which the study was conducted. It could not be generalized beyond the state, nor could it even be generalized beyond the moment, as laws may change. It would be of almost no interest at all. It would be almost as senseless as an objective study of whether beating your children causes them to share Barack Obama's musical preferences (whatever those might be - I have no idea). Obama's musical preferences are of course subjective, specific to him, at most shared by only some other people. It would be odd to conduct an objective study that has as one of its key measures, something subjective (Obama's preferences). Of course technically there is an objective fact about what Obama's preferences are, but nevertheless it would be odd to conduct that study. And similarly, it would be odd to conduct a study about whether beating your children causes them to commit violent crimes - if violent crimes are merely whatever the state says they are and nothing more than that.

Briefly: the study that you describe makes sense because violent crime is what it is independently of what the government says. It is, in other words, an objective category of action. But what is crime if crime is not merely whatever the state says it is?

Crime is evil.

So you can conduct an objective study of evil.

I do not know how to conduct a study to show whether beating your children is "immoral" that would yield a similar kind of evidence.

But you are not being fair at all here. The two studies are not at all parallel. Do you know how to conduct a study to show at what point beating begins, along the continuum of possible contact? How fast must the hand be going in order for contact to constitute a beating? Can you conduct a scientific study to discover this? One that does not merely study the concept of beating, the limits of what people consider to be beating? That would be merely a linguistic study. And similarly, the study that you propose would be a merely conceptual, linguistic study.

I've been down this road, so I'll anticipate and answer an objection. "Now wait a second", someone might object. "If morality is merely a linguistic and conceptual question of what people consider to be moral, then doesn't that show that morality isn't objective? "

To answer, morality is "merely" a question of what people consider to be moral, in the same sense that a beating is "merely" a question of what people consider to be a beating. And yet you were ready to conduct a scientific investigation of beating. If "beating" were merely an arbitrary category that just happens to exist in English for whatever reason, then, for reasons I outlined above, it would be of scant interest to study it scientifically.

It is of general and lasting interest to study beatings because "beating" is a natural category. It is for language to adapt itself to natural categories, and not to arbitrarily create them. And similarly, crime is a natural category. Which is why it is interesting to study crime.

By the way I've supplied you with a rule of thumb in discovering whether a category is a natural category. I pointed out that it is of general and lasting interest to study the effects of beatings because "beating" is a natural category. That gives you at least one method to distinguish natural categories from other categories.


The War on Terror

Writing in part to respond to McIntosh and Constant, I thought I'd make a few simple points about the so-called war on terror.

1. Can you declare war on a tactic? This is not as pedantic a point as one might think, since it may be deeply problematic to declare war on something so obviously bad if one if one is only masking more sinister aspirations. Sort of like declaring yourself "pro-family" or "anti-death."

2. Can you declare war on something you're definitionally guilty of? Which is to say, is it logically possible to declare war on oneself? To take a simple example, Orlando Bosch is a known terrorist (one of the worst, in fact- take a look) we funded and now keep in the United States, refusing extradition. Okay well step two simply requires that classic Bush quote "Those states which Harbor terrorists are no different than the terrorists themselves." Therefore, the US is a terrorist nation, QED. Could the US declare a war on terror in that case?

3. Can Iraq be considered part of a war on terror? Consider, first of all that the war in Iraq is drastically increasing active terror, the threat of terror, and recruitment for Al Qaeda-style groups (I don't know anyone who disputes this, but I'll happily provide a source if you like.) Furthermore, this was known ahead of time (the CIA for example, warned that invading Iraq would increase terror) and should have been perfectly obvious anyway- the US fighting an obviously unpopular war adds at least another 10 minutes of solid propaganda to the Al Qaeda recruitment videos. Either Iraq was simply not fought as part of the war on terror (obviously) or it was one of the most catastrophic military defeats ever recorded, one that actually saw the opposing army quadruple (at least) in size and spread even further around the globe rather than dwindle .

4. Is there then a war on terror? I've seen no evidence other than simply "it's true because the dear leader says so" and I would hope that people as devoted to anti-stalinism/statism as there are around here would despise such evidence. What might we expect a war on terror to look like? It'd start with the addressing of underlying grievances that lend public support to these inexcusable acts and it'd probably continue by avoiding the acts that give rise to terror (the most tell-tale, as I understand it, is illegal/unjust occupations of foreign land) and, well see point 3 again.

PS- this is a great look for the site- what a radical change. I'm excited about this.


Still trying not to vote stupidly

The second issue I use to determine who to vote for is abortion. I feel that an unborn baby is a human life and as such should be protected. My reasoning comes from my conviction that human life is the most valuable thing in the world and if there is a question about it one should always err on the side of protecting life. I don't think an unborn baby is the same as a human, but it is definetly close enough to protect. I can see the arguement that a unborn baby in the first two months is not developed enough to warrant protection but am not persuaded. I think the likelihood that I am right about this position is 75%. If I am wrong hundreds of thousands of women will bear unwanted children, though most will probably grow to want them. Also millions of women will have to more careful in their birth control, and hundreds of women will die in botched illegal abortions. If I am right millions of babies' lives will be saved, and although the crime rate may go up, I think it would be worth it.
The next issue I use to decide on a candidate is economic growth. I want a candidate to whom growth is the number one priority economically. I believe that governments that have low taxes, a small number of clear and simple business regulations, and a strong belief in fair trade encourage growth. I think that economic growth improves life for everyone, especially the poor. It will lead to healthier lives, a cleaner environment and happier lives for ourselves and our descendants. I think that the likelihood that I am right about this is about 90%. I am not worried about income inequality or the prospect of the superrich taking all of the money and making everyone else poor. The reason I feel so confident in my opinion is that I like to read economists and, even if they worry about the side effects of growth alot more than I do they seem to agree for the most part about what causes growth. I think that the government's role in the economy is overblown in the US so even if I am wrong about what causes growth I think that the national economy can overcome most anything without a catastrophe. If I am right the lives of hundreds of millions of peoples' lives will be improved slightly at first, and then more and more as time passes.
The last issue that I use to decide on a candidate is gay marriage. I feel that if gay marriage is allowed it will change the definition of marriage in a fundamental way. If marriage becomes more about love and the feelings of those involved and less about obligation to the spouse and the raising of children people will enter and exit marriage more frequently and with less thought than now. Marriage will lose some of its specialness and become just another option. Children will suffer as more people will have children out of wedlock and divorce will become more common. Poor children will be hit especially hard, as they benefit most from two paychecks and the stable environment that traditional marriage provides. On the other hand, maybe the ship has already sailed and traditional marriage will continue its downward trend no matter what the government says. Perhaps gay marriage is just a symptom of the culture change surronding family issues and will do nothing but provide recognition to what has already happened. I think the likelihood of my being right about this is around 65%. If I am wrong tens of thousands of gays and polygamists will be inconvenienced and may feel slightly worse about themselves. If I am right millions of children will grow up in better environments and will lead happier more productive lives.
If mutliple candidates agree with me on the issues I base my vote on effective they have been in the past in getting their policies implented and how well I think they will be in communicating their policy preferences to the people and getting more people to subscribe to those policies.
On the whole the likelihood that my vote will influence the world for the better is 0%, but the likelihood that my policy preferences would lead to a better world is about 75%. That is much better than deciding my vote based on race or sex or the flip of a coin, but I wish it were higher.


Trying not to vote stupidly

The two main Democrat contenders for the presidency Barak Hussein Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton have both attracted much of their support because of their identity. Most of Obama's support is because he is black. Much of Clinton's support is because she is a woman. If either is nominated I expect thousands of arm injuries at the Democrat convention from delegates patting themselves on the back over being enlightened enough to pick a woman or black man. To my way of thinking choosing a president because of the color of their skin or their sex is a pretty stupid way of picking someone for this important job. However it does have one major advantage over picking a candidate because of policy proposals and experience. If you pick a candidate based on who you think has the best policy, you could be wrong. If you want a candidate who will improve health care policy and you end up supporting the wrong candidate your choice has had the exact opposite effect as you intended. Instead of helping to fix health care, you have screwed it up even more. If you had picked a candidate based on race, there is no chance for you to find out later you actually voted for a white guy instead. No matter which issue your vote is based on, the other candidate will have a smart, well respected person who had studied the issue much more completely than you ever could supporting them. Both sides have experts much more knowledgeable than I that will say their candidate is the one. Is it possible for me as a layperson to actually choose the right side of an issue, so my choice isn't any stupider than picking by race or sex? Probably not, but my ego is big enough that I think I can and so have voted in every federal election since I turned eighteen. These are the issues that determine who I vote for, my reasons for picking these issues and my certainty about the issues.

I want a president who will keep fighting the war on terror until we win. I want someone who will keep trying tactics and generals until he finds one that works. The reason is that I think that the only way to make the world safer is to violently oppose those who would attack us. The terrorists think that we are a paper tiger. My reading of history says that people rush to join the winner's side and abandon the loser's. If we abandon the war in Iraq before it is won, we will have confirmed the terrorists idea of the US as a bully with a glass jaw. On the other hand my concern is that the war in Iraq is unwinnable, and like in poker, the moment you don't think you can win you should get out rather than throw good money after bad. Civil war in Iraq may be inevitable because it does not have a tradition of good government and is filled with people who would crawl over broken glass to spit at each other. On the whole I think the war in Iraq is winnable and must be won. I put the likelihood of my being right at 60%. Thus even though it is the top issue I use in evaluating candidates it is the one I am least opitmistic about being right. If I am wrong the price would be hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of American casualties to delay the inevitable by a year or so. However, if I am right hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved by preventing an all out civil war in Iraq. Also dealing the terrorist a decisive defeat in Iraq would be huge victory in the war on terror and save trillion of dollars and tens of thousands of lives in the long run. Because of the stakes involved the war in Iraq is my number on issue in choosing a candidate.
This is already a long post so I will post on my other issues later today.


Global War on Terror - sympathize with Matt but kinda disagree

Yeah, it's really hard to tell whether the GWOT making things better or worse. But for much of the twentieth century it was really hard to tell whether capitalism was doing better than communism.

The persistance of this disagreement should be setting off alarm bells no matter where on the spectrum you find yourself: If we can't even come to anything remotely resembling a broad consensus

Capitalism versus Communism

Even smart guys like Samuelson were fooled. From an account:

In very early editions, Samuelson expressed skepticism of socialist entral planning: "Our mixed free enterprise system ... with all its faults, has given the world a century of progress such as an actual socialized order--might find it impossible to equal" (1:604; 4:782). But with the fifth edition (1961), although expressing some skepticism statistics, he stated that economists "seem to agree that her recent growth rates have been considerably greater than ours as a percentage per year," though less than West Germany, Japan, Italy and France. (5:829). The fifth through eleventh editions showed a graph indicating the gap between the United States and the USSR narrowing and possibly even disappearing (for example, 5:830). The twelfth edition replaced the graph with a table declaring that between 1928 and 1983, the Soviet Union had grown at a remarkable 4.9 percent annual growth rate, higher than did the United States, the United Kingdom, or even Germany and Japan (12:776). By the thirteenth edition (1989), Samuelson and Nordhaus declared, "the Soviet economy is proof that, contrary to what many skeptics had earlier believed, a socialist command economy can function and even thrive" (13:837). Samuelson and Nordhaus were not alone in their optimistic views about Soviet central planning; other popular textbooks were also generous in their descriptions of economic life under communism prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The superiority of capitalism to communism is one of the most important realities that it would be civilizational suicide to ignore, and yet for much of the twentieth century, among the smartest people there were sharply conflicting views. In fact if one could say that intelligentsia had "come to anything remotely resembling a broad consensus", it was the wrong consensus.

Surely it's uncontroversial to say that if we must spend money, it should be spent on projects where we can easily tell if they're having the desired effect or not.

We spent money checking Communist expansionism, which protected capitalism. And yet, as we can see, it was not easy to tell if capitalism was superior to communism. And so it was not easy to tell if we were making things worse or better for ourselves by keeping the communists at bay.

The bad news is that, empirically, it's really hard to tell much of anything at all about the wide world, because it is just too complex. So what do you do? You think. You carefully combine a lot of observation and a lot of thought. And that, of course, is not enough to create consensus, for a variety of reasons. Adam Smith saw the world, he thought hard, he came to some (presumably we agree) mostly correct conclusions. But he did not create anything like a broad and lasting consensus - not enough to keep Samuelson from being bamboozled by communist propaganda (I presume that's what got him fooled).

The same can be said of war. When you start a war, it's not at all clear whether you'll win. I'm looking for a saying on war, it goes something like, "a successful war is a series of catastrophes followed by victory". That is, it looks just like you're losing until you win.

That is almost necessarily the case: if there were a clear consensus on which side will win, the losing side would quickly cave. War keeps going about as long as each side thinks it has a decent chance of winning. But in that case, it also probably looks as though the other side has a decent chance of winning.

So I would say that it is in the nature of war that it's commonly not clear which side is winning. Not clear whether your side's efforts are weakening your own side or the other side faster.

Another saying that I can't find, but goes something like, "both sides f-- up constantly, and who wins depends on which side f--s up the least." That more or less dulls even the criticism that our war on terror is utterly f--d up. (I'm not saying you should agree with a saying - I'm just trying to give vague credit where credit is due, though I can't actually trace the origins. I think these thoughts just seem intuitively right, I think war must be like this, it must be SNAFU and then you win.)

I'm not trying to defend the war. I am just saying the issue is harder than it looks.


Hate crimes?

Discussion at Agoraphilia.

Quoting from the Chicago Tribune:

The simplest answer to this is that when hatred for a particular group or class or race is the obvious motive for an attack, that attack becomes, in effect, two crimes. The first is the offense itself. The second is the implicit threat that offense makes to other members of that group, class or race.

Intimidation is already a crime, with or without hate crime law. Threatening someone is already an offense. So if hate crime law represents an improvement, it must be because it addresses a form of intimidation that is otherwise ignored in law. Presumably that is intimidation of a "group, class, or race". That is, it is diffuse intimidation directed against a group of people rather than a single person, against which there is presumably no law prior to hate crime law.

This makes hate crime law look like an attempt to address a public goods problem.

However, hate crimes are not in any way unique here. A criminal is a menace not only to his immediate victim but to everyone in the neighborhood, and when he is caught everyone breathes a sigh of relief. A mugger not only harms his immediate victim, but harms everyone else by making them afraid to go out at night.

It is nevertheless usually deemed "enough" to nab the criminal for the particular crime. The mugger, once caught, is tried for a particular crime, and then, if he is convicted, he is put away, making the whole neighborhood that much safer for everyone. There's a positive externality in defending yourself against a criminal, which might lead to an undersupply of defense against criminals.

In any case the public goods problem of defending against crime seems to be a general problem with crime and not a problem specific to hate crime.

Hate crimes, it is worth remembering, are first of all crimes, even if we ignore the element of hate. So there is already some defense against hate crimes: they can be prosecuted as regular crimes. If there is a problem, it is not that there is no defense against hate crimes, but only that there is an undersupply of defense against hate crimes. But as I mentioned before, much the same thing could be said of ordinary crime, because ordinary crime victimizes - via a diffuse intimidation - a lot more people than just the immediate victim.


Psychological Egoism

Some time ago, a debate raged across Catallarchy and Crooked Timber about whether psychological egoism was true. A standard objection to the doctrine is that there is no conceivable action which couldn't be ultimatle selfish, thus it is simply a tautology, akin to "a triangle is a 3 sided figure." I think this objection fails because there is an action which is inconsistent with psychological egoism.

Imagine a man who is on the verge of suicide. He literally has a cocked and loaded gun in his mouth with his finger on the trigger. As he begins to squeeze the trigger, he realizes that he has no life insurance policy, has racked up $20,000 in debt, and would leave the entire mess to his wife if he killed himself. Out of concern for his wife, he takes the gun out of his mouth and decides to continue living.

The psychological egoist has a major problem with this thought experiment because it doesn't seem as if the man could possibly be acting out of his own self interest. His wife's predicament should play no role in his decision if he is an egoist. Even if he would feel guilty for hurting his wife or acting immorally, he can't feel these feelings if he is dead. If death is better than living before the realization, then death must be better after the realization.

One could object that he is worried about his potential afterlife. Realizing that hurting his wife could land him in hell, the man might be avoiding the lesser of two evils. This objection fails, however, because suicide could land him in hell. If the man was worried about going to hell, he wouldn't have tried to commit suicide in the first place.

The interesting thing about this thought experiment is that it isn't so much a thought experiment as history. The man is still alive and a friend of my adviser, who told me the story earlier today (minor details have been changed), which means that psychological egoism must be false. Or not, any objections? Comments?


Repubs to Obama

From the Times Online:

Tom Bernstein went to Yale University with Bush and co-owned the Texas Rangers baseball team with him. In 2004 he donated the maximum $2,000 to the president’s reelection campaign and gave $50,000 to the Republican National Committee. This year he is switching his support to Obama. He is one of many former Bush admirers who find the Democrat newcomer appealing.

Matthew Dowd, Bush’s chief campaign strategist in 2004, announced last month that he was disillusioned with the war in Iraq and the president’s “my way or the highway” style of leadership – the first member of Bush’s inner circle to denounce the leader’s performance in office.

Although Dowd has yet to endorse a candidate, he said the only one he liked was Obama. “I think we should design campaigns that appeal, not to 51% of the people, but bring the country together as a whole,” Dowd said.

Bernstein is a champion of human rights, who admires Obama’s call for action on Darfur, while Dowd’s opposition to the war has been sharpened by the expected deployment to Iraq of his son, an Arabic-speaking Army intelligence specialist.

But last week a surprising new name joined the chorus of praise for the antiwar Obama – that of Robert Kagan, a leading neoconservative and co-founder of the Project for the New American Century in the late 1990s, which called for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Kagan is an informal foreign policy adviser to the Republican senator John McCain, who remains the favoured neoconservative choice for the White House because of his backing for the troops in Iraq.

But in an article in the Washington Post, Kagan wrote approvingly that a keynote speech by Obama at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs was “pure John Kennedy”, a neocon hero of the cold war.

In his speech, Obama called for an increase in defence spending and an extra 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 marines to “stay on the offense” against terrorism and ensure America had “the strongest, best-equipped military in the world”. He talked about building democracies, stopping weapons of mass destruction and the right to take unilateral action to protect US “vital interests” if necessary, as well as the importance of building alliances.

“Personally, I liked it,” Kagan wrote.

Disagreements on the war have not stopped John Martin, a Navy reservist and founder of the website Republicans for Obama, from supporting the antiwar senator. He joined the military after the Iraq war and is about to be deployed to Afghanistan.

“I disagree with Obama on the war but I don’t think it is a test of his patriotism,” Martin says. “Obama has a message of hope for the country.”

Huh? Republicans are jumping ship and heading over to... Barack Obama? Next you'll tell me the French socialist candidate lost the election.


Sarkozy - We take what we can get

Chances were about nil that France would elect a non-statist. Anyway, the big news from France that I personally have been shocked and troubled by was the Muslim riots that were apparently followed up for the next year by a daily burning of an average of 112 cars. The riots started on October 27 2005, and one year later, on October 21 2006 the Times reported:

The figures are stark. An average of 112 cars a day have been torched across France so far this year and there have been 15 attacks a day on police and emergency services. Nearly 3,000 police officers have been injured in clashes this year. Officers have been badly injured in four ambushes in the Paris outskirts since September. Some police talk of open war with youths who are bent on more than vandalism.

“The thing that has changed over the past month is that they now want to kill us,” said Bruno Beschizza, the leader of Synergie, a union to which 40 per cent of officers belong. Action Police, a hardline union, said: “We are in a civil war, orchestrated by radical Islamists.”

Even more troubling are the related phenomenon of the no-go areas. The Times article mentions these without explaining them (presumably because their readers are assumed to already know all about them):

Nicolas Sarkozy, the Interior Minister who hopes to win the presidency next May, has once again taken the offensive, staging raids on the no-go areas and promising no mercy for the thugs who reign there.

Notice the mention of Sarkozy. I'm getting to that. But right now what strikes my attention is the mention of these "no-go areas". When I Google it I get the following description:

An increasingly commonly thing in European cities is the no-go zone. These are places where the police, medical rescue crews, and other government agents will not venture into. The areas are viewed as just too violent and/or risky to enforce rules. Following the rules of ungoverned spaces, anarchy does not reign for long. A group will enforce their own rule set and the no-go zone will become a microstate.

In France no-go zones are referred to as Zones Urbaines Sensibles (Sensitive Urban Zones). Approximately 12 percent of all French in France live in a Sensitive Urban Zone (5 million out of approximately 60 million French)! Some of the zones are governed under Islamic Sharia law. From these no-go zones Islamic militants are waging guerrilla warfare against French police.

That is from a blog, with the usual warnings on credibility; however, the page it cites is in French, so I am quoting the blog.

Anyway, I think that the reason for the high turnout and the support for Sarkozy is that the French are probably about a thousand times as alarmed by this as I am, since they have to live with it.


Earth women love Ferengi men

Caption the pic:


Freedom fries for everyone!

"Conservative" candidate Nicolas Sarkozy has won the French presidency and seems America-friendly:

Washington can "count on our friendship," Sarkozy told hundreds of cheering supporters, although he added that "friendship means accepting that friends can have different opinions."

U.S. President George W. Bush swiftly phoned the president-elect to offer congratulations.

"The United States and France are historic allies and partners. President Bush looks forward to working with president-elect Sarkozy as we continue our strong alliance," said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the White House National Security Council.


If the GOP is the party of small government, why isn't the government smaller

The past few years of GOP control of both branches of elected federal government have coincided with the growth of the federal government. This seems to falsify GOP claims to be the party of small government. However, this is not the case. The GOP hold on the government was very tenous with very small majorities in the house and senate and the president elected with a popular vote minority initially and relelected with a small majority. This is indicative of a voting populace split almost down the middle between the parties. The results of this split are growing government and growing deficit.
Neither party would like a deficit, but it results as a compromise between the parties. Both parties have a popular part of their agenda and an unpopular one. The GOP has low taxes as the popular part and small government as the unpopular part. The Democrat agenda has the opposite components with big government as the popular part and high taxes as the unpopular part. Both parties are able to pass the popular parts of the agenda, but are too weak to pass the unpopular parts. Thus we get bigger governnment but lower taxes. The deficits are the results even though neither party really wants them. The only way to break out of this equilibrium is for one party to gain a large enough majority of the voters to pass all of its agenda, or for smaller government or higher taxes to become more popular.


Will immigration lead to smaller government?

The increased diversity of the US has had many effects both positive and negative. From my perspective, the greatest positive effect is more ethnic food restaurants. However, the diversity may lead to an effect directly in opposition to what many marching in those rallies Tuesday may want. Support for income transfers is generally stronger if those receiving the transfers are like the voters. This is one explanation why support for wealth redistribution is higher in Europe which tends to be less diverse than the US (although they are getting more diverse recently). The surge in recent immigration from south america and mexico means that the face of poverty in America is changing. Although the idea of immigrants coming to America for the welfare payments seems to be largely a myth, myths can be very powerful things politically. I have heard several people who I consider to be solid Democrats complain about illegal immigrants getting benefits that should be reserved for Americans.
If the support for redistribution falls due to immigration, support for law and order may go up. A recent study claimed that people who live in diverse areas feel more unsafe than those who live in monocultural areas. If this is true it should translate into greater support for the Republicans who are seen to be the law and order party. If immigration undermines the Democrats call for more wealth redistribution and helps Republican calls for law and order, smaller government may be the result.


e-gold indicted for enabling fraud etc.

"This aggressive action against E-Gold appears to be intended to send a signal to others as well that you're responsible for setting up your system in a way that does not enable this kind of activity."

Washington Post May 1, 2007

In other news, the US Mint has been indicted for its contributions to a technology that makes virtually untraceable transactions trivially easy to set up, enabling fraud, drug purchases, prostitution, vending machine purchases, and countless other nefarious activities. (h/t reddit)