Monday, December 31, 2007

The Best Advice Ever Given to Me

Let us not speculate.

Said by Anthony Y.C. Koo, professor of economics, when I asked him if he knew the whereabouts of my faculty adviser. Koo answered my question with the quoted statement, and a bit of research; that is, he checked my adviser's calendar. Prof. Koo's words, and example, have guided me these past fifty years.

My Year at the Movies (2007)

Actually, 2007 was (as usual) a year of sitting in the comfort of my home watching DVDs. I find movie theaters to be messy places filled with inconsiderate, blabbering idiots.

I watched (or started) 80 theatrical films in 2007. (I also saw 15 made-for-TV movies and mini-series.) I list below the 80 theatrical films, in the order in which I watched them. I indicate for each film the year of its release (according to IMDb) and my rating (on a 10-point scale). Most of my ratings are relatively high (6 points and up), which indicates selectivity in choosing films.

Not that I am always able to avoid stinkers, as you will see. Five rentals stand out as especially egregious choices: The Da Vinci Code, Black Snake Moan, Dreamgirls, Live Free or Die Hard, and Superbad. Five other almost-as-bad choices were Casino Royale, The Draughtsman's Contract, Seraphim Falls, Spider-Man 3, and Ratatouille.

Happily, I saw 26 films to which I have given a rating of 8 or higher: Roberta, The Others, Dear Frankie, The Browning Version (1951), The Navigator, Stranger Than Fiction, Empire of the Sun, Volver, El Aura, The History Boys, Notes on a Scandal, The Queen, Children of Men, The Painted Veil, Venus, Breach, Sweet Land, Flags of Our Fathers, The Accidental Tourist, The Chorus, The Lives of Others, Away from Her, Snow Cake, Vitus, The Cameraman, and The Ladykillers (1955).

Here is a guide to my ratings:
1 - unwatchable
2 - watched all the way through, to my regret
3, 4, 5 - varying degrees of entertainment value, but altogether a waste of time
6 - generally engaging, but noticeably flawed in some way (e.g., a weak performance in a major role, trite story, a contrived ending, insufficient resolution of plot or sub-plot)
7 - well done in all respects, with only a few weak spots; enjoyable but not scintillating
8 - a thoroughly engaging movie; its weak spots (e.g., a corny plot), if any, are overwhelmed by scintillating performances (e.g., the spectacular dancing of Astaire and Rogers), sustained hilarity, a compelling plot, a witty script, etc.
9 - an "8" that is so good it bears re-watching (a rating I have given to only 61 of the more than 2,000 theatrical films I've seen)
10 - a movie that I didn't want to end; a masterpiece of film-making (a rating I have given to only 5 of the theatrical films I've seen)

Here's my movie list for 2007:
Walk the Line (2005) 7
Little Manhattan (2005) 7
Roberta (1935) 8
The Others (2001) 8
The Illusionist (2006) 7
Foreign Correspondent (1940) 6
Happy Accidents (2000) 7
The Captain's Paradise (1953) 6
Conversations with Other Women (2005) 7
Counterfeit Traitor (1962) 7
Kinky Boots (2005) 7
Dear Frankie (2004) 8
Hollywoodland (2006) 7
The Heiress (1949) 7
The Browning Version (1951) 9
The Departed (2006) 7
The Navigator (1924) 8
Flushed Away (2006) 7
Keeping Mum (2005) 7
The Prestige (2006) 7
Stranger Than Fiction (2006) 8
The Da Vinci Code (2006) 2
Empire of the Sun (1987) 8
Casino Royale (2006) 4
Immortal Beloved (1994) 7
The Draughtsman's Contract (1982) 4
The Silent Partner (1978) 7
Volver (2006) 8
El Aura (2005) 8
Three Kings (1999) 6
The Good Shepherd (2006) 7
The History Boys (2006) 8
Notes on a Scandal (2006) 8
Modern Times (1936) 7
Plein Soleil (Purple Noon) (1960) 7
The Queen (2006) 8
Children of Men (2006) 8
Dreamgirls (2006) 2
The Painted Veil (2006) 8
Deja Vu (2006) 7
Venus (2006) 8
Seraphim Falls (2006) 4
Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) 7
El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan's Labyrinth) (2006) 7
Breach (2007) 8
Miss Potter (2006) 7
Becket (1964) 7
The Freshman (1925) 6
The Big Clock (1948) 7
Sweet Land (2005) 8
Black Snake Moan (2006) 1
La Tourneuse des Pages (The Page Turner) (2006) 7
Why Worry? (1923) 7
Hot Fuzz (2007) 6
The Woman in the Window (1944) 7
Cashback (2006) 7
Flags of Our Fathers (2006) 8
The Accidental Tourist (1988) 8
Fracture (2007) 7
Les Choristes (The Chorus) (2004) 8
The Lookout (2007) 7
Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) (2006) 8
The Ultimate Gift (2006) 7
Away from Her (2006) 8
The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006) 7
Snow Cake (2006) 8
Zwartboek (Black Book) (2006) 7
Spider-Man 3 (2007) 5
Ten Canoes (2006) 7
The Tracker (2002) 6
Live Free or Die Hard (2007) 2
Waitress (2007) 7
Vitus (2006) 8
Superbad (2007) 1
Ratatouille (2007) 5
The Cameraman (1928) 8
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) 6
Stardust (2007) 6
Amazing Grace (2006) 7
The Ladykillers (1955) 8

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Hall of Famers?

UPDATED (01/09/08)

According to Baseball-Reference.com, the following players are on the ballot for membership in the Hall of Fame:
Brady Anderson
Harold Baines
Rod Beck
Bert Blyleven
Dave Concepcion
Andre Dawson
Shawon Dunston
Chuck Finley
Travis Fryman
Rich (Goose) Gossage
Tommy John
David Justice
Chuck Knoblauch
Don Mattingly
Mark McGwire
Jack Morris
Dale Murphy
Robb Nen
Dave Parker
Tim Raines
Jim Rice
Jose Rijo
Lee Smith
Todd Stottlemyre
Alan Trammell
The question I ask and answer here is this: Which of the candidates should be in the Hall of Fame, based on his performance -- regardless of the credentials of any players who are undeservedly in the Hall? Here are my criteria for Hall of Fame pitchers and batters (revised slightly since I first published them):

A pitcher must have at least 15 seasons of 30 or more games pitched, and must have recorded

  • at least 300 wins, or
  • at least 250 wins and an ERA+ of 120 or higher (go here and scroll down for the definition of ERA+), or
  • at least 200 wins and a W-L average of .600 or better and an ERA+ of 120 or higher, or
  • an ERA+ of 120 or higher while relieving in at least 750 games.
A batter must have recorded
  • an OPS+ of at least 150 (go here and scroll down for the definition of OPS+) in a career of least 15 seasons of 100 games or more, or
  • at least 2,800 lifetime hits and a lifetime batting average of at least .300, or
  • an OPS+ of at least 120 and at least 2,000 lifetime base hits and a lifetime batting average of at least .300.
I make an exception for a batter with at least 15 seasons of 100 game or more, if
  • he is among the top 20 in home runs per at-bat for a career of at least 5,000 at bats, or
  • he led his league in fielding percentage for his position in at least 10 seasons, or
  • he won at least 10 Gold Gloves.
Against my criteria, who among the current candidates belongs in the Hall of Fame? Answer:
Goose Gossage
Lee Smith
UPDATE (01/09/08): No player, regardless of his accomplishments, should be in the Hall of Fame if it is proved, to the satisfaction of the Commissioner of Baseball, that the player used performance-enhancing drugs for a cumulative period of more than half a baseball season, when such drugs were banned by baseball. Moreover, no coach, manager, or executive who placed bets on baseball games while active in baseball should be in the Hall of Fame if such betting activity is proved, to the satisfaction of the Commissioner of Baseball.

It should go without saying that the involvement of any player, manager, coach, or executive in the throwing of games or shaving of scores, when proved to the satisfaction of the Commissioner of Baseball, must lead to that person's immediate banishment from the game. No such person should ever be eligible for the Hall of Fame.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

How to Manage

1. Do not read books, listen to audio presentations, watch videos, or attend lectures or seminars on the subject of management. The perpetrators of such material are "consultants," not managers with decades of hands-on experience.

2. Do not hire "consultants," unless you want someone you can blame for sweeping changes in your organization or its personnel structure. Don't do it even then, because you will have wasted money to no avail; you employees won't be fooled by the blame game.

3. Accept the traditional perks of your office, otherwise your employees might doubt your standing (and thus theirs) in the organization. But don't grab new perks for yourself. If you do, your employees (rightly) will think that your perks may (in lean times) cost some of them their jobs. Of course, if you don't mind envious, suspicious, and low-motivated employees, go right ahead and treat yourself to more perks. Better yet, pay lavish sums to have a "consultant" justify your new perks.

4. Do not agonize over decisions. It is better to make a few mistakes -- and correct them as necessary -- than to reveal yourself as an indecisive worrier. Gather the relevant facts, but don't chase down every loose end. Rely on the counsel of persons with relevant experience whose independence of judgment and discretion you trust.

5. Do not befriend any of your employees. Boss-subordinate friendships cause suspicion and resentment among the excluded, and can lead to nothing but trouble when an employee-friend screws up or stops being a friend.

6. Be friendly toward all of your employees. If you have an effective employee whom you can't stand, avoid him. If you can't avoid him, find a (legal) way to fire him. But don't put up with employees whose attitudes and behavior you dislike. Dislike breeds distrust. Distrust breeds bad decisions on your part.

7. Make it abundantly clear that you reward employees only for good performance. Make your standards of performance abundantly clear, through praise, perks, and pay. (See no. 11.)

8. Micro-manage, if that helps you sleep better at night. But accept the fact that your most effective employees will resent your micro-management, require extra compensation to put up with it, and curb their creativity and initiative in the face of it. In other words, try like the devil to avoid micro-managing, but do not go to the opposite extreme of complete hands-off management. Go to the middle ground: clearly stated expectations and prompt, regular feedback. If you are uncomfortable in the middle ground, you shouldn't be a manager; find a job doing something instead of managing it. If you wait too long to drop out of the management game, you'll be locked into it financially and to avoid the appearance of failure. The resulting stress will make you ill, and may kill you.

9. Do not undercut those you have placed in supervisory jobs by criticizing them openly or by implication (e.g., encouraging their subordinates to come through your "open door"). But do keep your ear to the ground; people love to gripe. If you hear of unacceptable behavior, dig into it (discreetly). If the story checks out, act on it, quickly. If a subordinate isn't doing his job, or has done something egregious, talk to him about it and explain what you expect him to do (or not do). If that doesn't fix the problem, find a job that he's better suited for, or help him move on to greener pastures.

10. Be sure that your employees know the bounds of their authority and initiative. Lack of clarity in such matters leads to frustration and poor performance. Give your employees as much leeway as you can, but not so much that they are put in conflict with each other or "empowered" to sabotage your operations or relations with customers.

11. Most importantly, know what you want your organization to accomplish. Be sure that your employees know what it is. Be sure that every part of your organization is aimed toward the same objective. Tie praise, perks,and pay to it.

12. If you have a boss, you have an additional job, which is to be a boss-manager. Your challenge as a boss-manager is to get your boss to observe the eleven preceding rules. You must be subtle but firm in that effort. You cannot expect down-the-line success, but if you fail on too many points, you will be miserable in your job. When you are miserable in your job because of your boss, you have three options: find another job, retire, or put up with your boss if you cannot do either. Nobody promised you a rose garden.

13. There is a fourth option for dealing with a "bad" boss, if the boss is incompetent or has committed an improper act: try to have him fired. But, as the adage goes, "if you strike at the king, you must slay him, lest he rise and seek retribution." If you are going to strike at your "king," you must have your exit plan ready.

The American Way of Grieving

The LA Times reports that Carlos Sousa Sr., whose son was killed on Christmas by a tiger at the San Francisco Zoo,
said he planned legal action in response to his son's death.

"Put yourself in my shoes," he said. "Money isn't going to replace my son. But I have to live with this for the rest of my life."
If it's true that money can't replace his son (and it is true), it must also be true that money cannot assuage the pain and emotional distress caused by his son's horrific death. Why, then, was Mr. Sousa so quick to hire a lawyer, one James Geagan, and to threaten legal action? Is the death of a loved one an opportunity for financial gain?

The American way of death may be the overblown funeral, but the American way of grieving has become the hasty resort to litigation.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Future of Tradition

I have written many times about the dependence of liberty on traditional norms. (See, for example, "Social Norms and Liberty" and "'Family Values,' Liberty, and the State.") Thanks to this article by Lee Harris, I have come across his long essay on "The Future of Tradition: Transmitting the visceral ethical code of civilization" (Policy Review, June & July 2005).

The essay is best read in its entirety, with all of its logical connections. However, I cannot resist quoting the passages that make Harris's central point:
[I]t is a mistake to conflate the automatic with the irrational, since, as we have seen, an automatic and mindless response is precisely the mechanism by which the visceral code speaks to us. It triggers a rush of emotions because it is designed to do precisely this. Like certain automatic reflexes, such as jerking your hand off a burning stovetop, the sheer immediacy of our visceral response, far from being proof of its irrationality, demonstrates the critical importance, in times of peril and crisis, of not thinking before we act. If a man had to think before jumping out of the way of an onrushing car, or to meditate on his options before removing his hand from that hot stovetop, then reason, rather than being our help, would become our enemy. Some decisions are better left to reflexes — be these of our neurological system or of our visceral system....

Imagine a stranger coming up to you and asking if he can drive your eight-year-old daughter around town in his new car. Presumably, no matter how nicely the stranger asked this question, you would say no. But suppose he started to ask why you won’t let him take your little girl for a ride. What if he said, “Listen, tell you what. I’ll give her my cell phone and you can call her anytime you want”? What kind of obligation are you under to give a reason to a complete stranger for why he shouldn’t be allowed to drive off with your daughter?

None. A question that is out of order does not require or deserve an answer. The moment you begin to answer the question as if it were in order, it is too late to point out your original objection to the question in the first place, which really was: Over my dead body.

Marriage was something that, until only quite recently, seemed to be securely in the hands of married people. It was what married people had engaged in, and certainly not a special privilege that had been extended to them to the exclusion of other human beings.... Was [marriage] defined as between a man and a woman? Well, yes, but only in the sense that a cheese omelet is defined as an egg and some cheese — without the least intention of insulting either orange juice or toast by their omission from this definition. Orange juice and toast are fine things in themselves — you just can’t make an omelet out of them.

Those who are married now, and those thinking about getting married or teaching their children that they should grow up and get married, may all be perfect idiots, mindlessly parroting a message wired into them before they were old enough to know better. But they are passing on, through the uniquely reliable visceral code, the great postulate of transgenerational duty: not to beseech people to make the world a better place, but to make children whose children will leave it a better world and not merely a world with better abstract ideals....

Marriage must not be mocked or ridiculed. But can marriage keep its solemnity now? Who will tell the rising generation that there are standards they must not fail to meet if they wish to live in a way that their grandfathers could respect?

This is how those fond of abstract reasoning can destroy the ethical foundations of a society without anyone’s noticing it. They throw up for debate that which no one before ever thought about debating. They take the collective visceral code that has bound parents to grandchildren from time immemorial, in every culture known to man, and make of it a topic for fashionable intellectual chatter.

Ask yourself what is so secure about the ethical baseline of our current level of civilization that it might not be opened up for question, or what deeply cherished way of doing things will suddenly be cast in the role of a “residual personal prejudice.”

We are witnessing the triumph of a Newspeak in which those who simply wish to preserve their own way of life, to pass their core values down to their grandchildren more or less intact, no longer even have a language in which they can address their grievances. In this essay I have tried to produce the roughest sketch of what such language might look like and how it could be used to defend those values that represent what Hegel called the substantive class of community — the class that represents the ethical baseline of the society and whose ethical solidity and unimaginativeness permit the high-spirited experimentation of the reflective class to go forward without the risk of complete societal collapse.

If the reflective class, represented by intellectuals in the media and the academic world, continues to undermine the ideological superstructure of the visceral code operative among the “culturally backward,” it may eventually succeed in subverting and even destroying the visceral code that has established the common high ethical baseline of the average American — and it will have done all of this out of the insane belief that abstract maxims concerning justice and tolerance can take the place of a visceral code that is the outcome of the accumulated cultural revolution of our long human past.

Thus, in the name of "enlightenment," the "reflective class" subverts liberty.

Harris, by the way, has no immediate, personal interest in the preservation of marriage as a heterosexual institution. He flatly states in the essay that he is homosexual.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The F Scale, Revisited

A post by Bryan Caplan reminds me of the F scale, an instrument designed by Theodore Adorno, et al., authors of The Authoritarian Personality. Their stated objective was to determine the degree of authoritarianism in a person's makeup. Their not-so-hidden agenda was to equate authoritarianism with conservatism.

In my earlier post on the subject, I quoted John Ray's
"Does Authoritarianism of Personality Go With Conservatism?" There, Ray explains that "Authoritarian personalities alone are equally likely to be found on either side of the Left-Right divide." Ray also makes that point in "Libertarians and the Authoritarian Personality." As I say in my earlier post,
the authors of The Authoritarian Personality define conservatism to be authoritarian. They then wrongly assert that "authoritarians" (conservatives) are psychologically "sick" and that they behave in an authoritarian manner. The fact, however, is that authoritarian behavior knows no ideological bounds. The histories of Germany, Japan, Italy, Russia, Britain (under Labour), and the U.S. (beginning especially with the New Deal) amply demonstrate that fact.
Leftism and Rightism are statisms with different agendas.

As for the real meaning of the F scale, Caplan point to another piece by John Ray, "The Old-Fashioned Personality," which I had not read. Ray concludes that
a view of the 'F' scale as primarily a measure of old-fashioned orientation has considerable explanatory force. It may be, of course, that having an "old-fashioned orientation" is not the most ultimately accurate way of characterizing high F scale scorers. That they could also fairly reasonably be characterized by related descriptions such as "cultural traditionalists" or "cultural conservatives" is admitted. "Old fashioned" would, however seem to be a simpler characterization so is perhaps to be preferred under the principle of parsimony.
I find Ray's term, "old fashioned," vague and even tautological in this context. An old-fashioned person prefers traditional things, which is but another way of saying that an old-fashioned person is a conservative one.

"Older" is more fitting than "old fashioned." That is, one's outlook tends to become more conservative with age, as one learns (usually from experience) that tradition merits respect, not scorn. Tradition is the glue that makes possible civil society and, hence, liberty. The peaceful pursuit of happiness -- liberty, in a word -- is impossible absent the mutual respect and restraint that arise from the observance of socially evolved behavioral norms. (For much more on this point, see this post and the posts listed at the end of it.)

Just for fun, I took this version of the F scale, presented by one Chuck Anesi, who (appropriately) scoffs at its creators. Here is my score, followed by Anesi's tongue-in-cheek interpretation of the scale:
Your F Score is: 4.033333333333333
You are disciplined but tolerant; a true American.
If your score is... You are...
Less than 2 A whining rotter.
2 to 3 A liberal airhead.
3 to 4.5 Within normal limits; an appropriate score for an American. (The overall average score for groups tested in the original study is listed in the 1950 publication as 3.84, with men averaging somewhat higher and women somewhat lower.)
4.5 to 5.5 You may want to practice doing things with your left hand.
5.5 or higher Have trouble keeping the lint off your black shirts?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Euthanasia Is Creeping Closer

It's about to pounce on Canada.

(For much more, see this post and the links at the end of it.)

Torture, Revisited

UPDATED (12/29/07)

Jonathan Adler, writing at The Volokh Conspiracy, says:
Waterboarding was a horrific thing to do to someone, even someone as evil as Abu Zubaydah. Such conduct should be forbidden and never sanctioned as official policy.... At the same time, there may be extreme (and extremely rare) circumstances in which life does imitate an episode of "24," and horrific measures may be necessary. This does not mean such measures should be legal. Rather... the specific context should be considered when authorities decide whether and how to prosecute those involved for breaking the law.
To which I say:

1. Adler, like most opponents of torture, frames the issue wrongly. If Abu Zubaydah is evil, he is evil because of what he does or enables others to do. The purpose of torture, when used against an Abu Zubaydah, is to prevent evil, not to commit it. By Adler's standard, it would be wrong to defend oneself against an armed aggressor because the possible result -- the aggressor's death -- would be "horrific." As if one's own death would not be "horrific."

2. The "authorities" should prosecute those who commit an illegal act. To do otherwise -- to wink at illegality -- is to undermine the rule of law.

3. Uncertainty about prosecutorial responses to acts of "aggressive interrogation" will, in some cases, cause interrogators to restrain themselves when they should not.

4. It is better to define torture by statute and, as Alan Dershowitz advises, allow its authorized use.

UPDATE: Mark Bowden, in this article, makes the same wrong-headed case as Adler does with respect to the legality of torture. Bowden, at least, acknowledges its effectiveness in certain circumstances:
Opponents of torture argue that it never works, that it always produces false information. If that were so, then this would be a simple issue, and the whole logic of incentive/disincentive is false, which defies common sense. In one of the cases I have cited previously, a German police captain was able to crack the defiance of a kidnapper who had buried a child alive simply by threatening torture (the police chief was fired, a price any moral individual would gladly pay). The chief acted on the only moral justification for starting down this road, which is to prevent something worse from happening. If published reports can be believed, this is precisely what happened with Zubaydah.

People can be coerced into revealing important, truthful information. The German kidnapper did, Zubaydah did, and prisoners have throughout recorded time. What works varies for every individual, but in most cases, what works is fear, fear of imprisonment, fear of discomfort, fear of pain, fear of bad things happening to you, fear of bad things happening to those close to you. Some years ago in Israel, in the course of investigating this subject exhaustively, I interviewed Michael Koubi, a master interrogator who has questioned literally thousands of prisoners in a long career with Shin Bet. He said that the prisoner who resisted noncoercive methods was rare, but in those hard cases, fear usually produced results. Fear works better than pain.

In order to induce fear, torture must be known to be an option. There must be a real threat of pain or psychological terror (as in the case of waterboarding) if fear is to play its role in extracting crucial information.

Related posts:
"Torture and Morality" (04 Dec 2005)
"A Rant about Torture" (16 Feb 2006)
"Taking on Torture" (15 Aug 2006)

Monday, December 24, 2007

And on earth...

...peace to men of good will. (Luke 2:14)

Where Left is Right, and Right is Outta Here

Where's that? At the Austin American-Statesman, which today
welcome[s] the comic strip "Prickly City" by Scott Stantis to our lineup. During a trial run last year, "Prickly City" was a hit with many of our readers, and we've had our eye on it ever since. Like "Mallard Fillmore," which it replaces, "Prickly City" is a conservative social and political strip, but with a little more levity.
I grant that Mallard Fillmore is an un-funny, heavy-handed strip. But it was conservative, that is, against political correctness and Leftism. But I do not grant that Prickly City is a conservative strip (though it is somewhat funnier than Mallard).

Today's Prickly City exemplifies paranoic Bush Derangement Syndrome, as do several of the recent strips that are currently available on the Prickly City site. Their common theme: Big Brothers Bush and Cheney are spying on all of us, everywhere. Then there's a strip that buys into "global warming," and a rather lame series about The Huffington Post, which attacks Arianna Huffington (the person) but not the political lunacy that prevails at HuffPo's blog.

This is the Statesman's idea of conservative? It just goes to show you how far to the Left the Statesman is these days. But the Statesman's editors probably consider themselves "moderate," just like this guy.

The Greatest Mystery

It is fitting, at Christmas, to contemplate the greatest mystery of all: the mystery of existence.

Monotheists say that God exists and existence is God:
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, saith the Lord God, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty. (The Apocalypse of Saint John, 1:8)
Atheists say that things simply exist, that's all. But atheism is a faith, not a scientific proposition. As a noted scientist and anti-religionist, Richard Dawkins, puts it:
I believe, but I cannot prove, that all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all "design" anywhere in the universe, is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection (emphasis added). It follows that design comes late in the universe, after a period of Darwinian evolution. Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe.
Even that seemingly forthright statement is evasive. It glosses over the atheistic assumption -- faith -- that the universe and its ingredients -- the stuff of life -- simply came to be. Atheism is a faith because the question of God's existence is beyond the grasp of science, untestable by scientific methods.

The mystery of existence always will be the greatest mystery. But our mode of grappling with the mystery reveals much about ourselves: religious belief is affirmative, atheism is cynical, and agnosticism is cautious.

(For a list of related posts at Liberty Corner, go here.)

This Is Too Much

What is? Eliezer Yudkowsky's post, "The Amazing Virgin Pregnancy," at Overcoming Bias. It is the nadir of tastelessness and offensiveness. Overcoming Bias is off the blogroll and off my list of RSS feeds.

The "Southern Strategy": A Postscript

I conclude "The 'Southern Strategy'" by saying that
it is plain that the South's attachment to the GOP since 1964, whatever its racial content, is much weaker than was the South's attachment to the Democrat Party until 1948, when there was no question that that attachment had a strong (perhaps dominant) racial component.

[Paul] Krugman's condemnation [in The Conscience of a Liberal] of racial politics in a major political party [the GOP] comes 60 years too late, and it's aimed at the wrong party.

Case closed.
Bruce Bartlett decisively slams the door on Krugman's case in "Whitewash: The racist history the Democratic Party wants you to forget"; for example:
[I]f a single mention of states' rights 27 years ago [by Ronald Reagan] is sufficient to damn the Republican Party for racism ever afterwards, what about the 200-year record of prominent Democrats who didn't bother with code words? They were openly and explicitly for slavery before the Civil War, supported lynching and "Jim Crow" laws after the war, and regularly defended segregation and white supremacy throughout most of the 20th century.
Bartlett then gives many examples of racist statements by prominent Democrats, beginning with Thomas Jefferson (1787) and ending with Joseph Biden (2007), with several stops in between at the Democrats' platform and the pronouncements of prominent Democrats, including FDR, Hugo Black, Robert Byrd, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Chris Dodd.

As I say in my earlier post,
Krugman's real complaint... is that Republicans have been winning elections far too often to suit him. His case of Republican Derangement Syndrome is so severe that he can only pin the GOP's success on racism. I will refrain from references to Freud and Pinocchio and note only that Krugman's anti-GOP bias seems to have grown as his grasp of economics has shrunk.
Amen.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

My "Favorite" Candidates

I went here, answered eleven questions, and found the three presidential candidates whose positions on various issues come closest to mine:
Fred Thompson (3 of 3 on Iraq, 1 of 2 on immigration, 1 of 2 on health care, 2 of 4 on other topics; overall, 7 of 11)

Rudy Giuliani (3 of 3 on Iraq, 0 of 2 on immigration, 1 of 2 on health care, 2 of 4 on other topics; overall, 6 of 11)

Ron Paul (0 of 3 on Iraq, 1 of 2 on immigration, 2 of 2 on health care, 2 of 4 on other topics; overall, 5 of 11)
Not a close match in the bunch. I like Thompson and Giuliani on Iraq (stay the course); Paul is right about health care (it's a matter for markets, not government); and the rest is a mixed bag. The best combination of the three candidates' positions matches mine on only 8 of 11 issues. It's not a field of dreams.

Moreover, none of the three seems destined to head the GOP ticket at the rate things are going. Which means that the likely nominee (e.g., Romney or Huckabee) will hold positions even further from mine.

Of course, it could be a lot worse: Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, or Barack Obama, for example.

The Republican field (as usual) is simply the lesser of two evils, which is why I vote GOP -- when I bother to vote. (No, I don't waste my vote on the Libertarian Party.)

At this point, I'm thinking of staying home on election day 2008. The GOP candidate is almost certain to win Texas without my help.

(Thanks to Bookworm for the tip.)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

"Global Warming," Close to Home

Arnold Kling writes:
My view of climate change is that we have about three data points--an increase in temperatures from 1900-1940, and slight decrease from 1940-1970, and a recent increase. There are a lot of variables that could affect climate, and I wonder how we can be confident about our understanding of the process, given that we have only those three data points to work with.
The weather station nearest my home has been recording temperatures since 1854. The average annual data reported for that station are consistent with Kling's statement: a warming trend from 1854 through 1933, a cooling trend from 1934 through 1979, and a warming trend from 1980 through 2007. Like Kling, I wonder how that pattern supports the theory that "global warming" is caused mainly by the rise in atmospheric CO2, a rise that could not have been reversed for 30-40 years if caused by human activity.

There are, in any event, many more relevant observations than those gleaned by weather stations. And those observations (from geological deposits and ice cores) cover much longer spans than 150 years. (See this post, for example.) What it all adds up to is this:
  • The current warm period is neither exceptionally warm nor caused by human activity.
  • We are in a phase of a climatic cycle that is determined mainly by solar activity and the position of our solar system within the Milky Way.
  • That phase probably will end relatively soon (a matter of years or decades, not centuries or millenia).
  • All we see when we look at (flawed and inconsistently recorded) temperature data from the past 100-150 years is the tail end of the phase through which we are passing.
By the way, the highest average monthly temperatures recorded by my local weather station are as follows (in degrees Fahrenheit):
January, 59.6 (1923)
February, 62.3 (1999)
March, 68.4 (1907)
April, 75.9 (1967)
May, 80.6 (1996)
June, 86.4 (1998)
July, 89.1 (1860)
August, 88.3 (1999)
September, 84.2 (1911)
October, 77.0 (1931)
November, 68.2 (1927)
December, 65.5 (1889)
Note the lack of record highs after 1999.

Also, half of the eighteen warmest years on record (years with an average temperature more than one standard deviation above the mean for 1854-2007) occurred before 1980.

Related reading, from around the web:
"The Courage to Do Nothing" (14 Dec 2007)
"Has Global Warming Stopped?" (19 Dec 2007)
"U.S. Senate Report: Over 400 Prominent Scientists Disputed Man-Made Global-Warming Claims in 2007" (20 Dec 2007)
"Good News! Earth Not Flat" (21 Dec 2007)

Posts at Liberty Corner:
"'Warmism': The Myth of Anthropogenic Global Warming" (23 Aug 2007)
"Re: Climate 'Science'" (19 Sep 2007)
"More Evidence against Anthropogenic Global Warming" (25 Sep 2007)
"Yet More Evidence against Anthropogenic Global Warming" (04 Oct 2007)

Plus, many more in this category.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas in Iran: Foreign Affairs According to Planet Rockwell

Guest post:

Maybe this time it's a case of too much eggnog at LewRockwell.com. But I could pull up dozens of articles which illustrate the jejune quality of much of that site's political analysis over the years. I can remember one item from awhile back which held up the Balkans as a good example of political decentralization and self-determination. The Balkans!? Well, never mind.

Instead, how about this slush piece on Iran (no pun intended): "A Christian Christmas in Snowy Iran" by William Wedin (December 20, 2007). Synopsis: the author sets out to prove that there is social normalcy and religious tolerance in Iran after "surfing the web for photos of Iran." An amazing depth of research from a college professor. Has he been to Iran? Does he take into account reports from just about everyone on the planet, including Amnesty International (not exactly "neo-con central") about the totalitarian abuses in Iran? Dr. Wedin also runs a site called Photo Activists for Peace. He wants to bring 1960s "flower power" pacifism back to the U.S. Didn't we already have enough of that? Apparently he didn't learn the lesson that the rest of us did, that the peace movements since World War II were largely tools for totalitarian apologists, bankrolled by rogue nations, and championed by ideological nitwits.

"Photos are egalitarian...." Wedin proclaims. "They are the most libertarian mode of communication that we have in common." The photos of a winter resort town in Iran are indeed charming to look at, but this a rather hasty assertion. Recent history demonstrates that there is probably no more potentially manipulative form of communication that the photograph. While browsing in libraries over the years I've found similar depictions of normalcy in the photojournalism of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany: people shopping, playing games, joking, eating, flirting, etc. In the case of the Third Reich one can even find pictures of Christians attending Church (just like the ones Dr. Wedin shows in his essay). The sensible deduction is not that Iran is an absolute social wasteland in which every single inhabitant is killed or locked-up. Not even Stalin managed that much. But a government doesn't have to be 100% bad to be a threat to its inhabitants or its neighbors.

Most of the hype is on Dr. Wedin's side. There may be some lowbrows who think we should "murder" Iran (as Rockwell puts it on his homepage). I don't think annihilation is the aim of the U.S. government now, anymore than it was when we were fighting Hitler in the 1940s. There were some nut-jobs advocating the extermination of the German people back then, but no one listened to them. In conclusion, while the Rockwell crowd likes to boast of its economic rationalism—and no doubt has some very sensible things on that score—the commentary on most every other subject is so consistently distraught one feels that the Rockwellians should stick to their core subject.

P.S. For a very different commentary that shows how Christians can work with non-fanatical Muslims (thanks to a little armed American intervention) see Chris Blosser's recent post on Christmas in Iraq.

Related comments, see: "Mike Huckabee and the View from Planet Rockwell."

Anthropogenic Global Warming Is Dead, Just Not Buried Yet

From around the web:
"The Courage to Do Nothing" (14 Dec 2007)
"Has Global Warming Stopped?" (19 Dec 2007)
"U.S. Senate Report: Over 400 Prominent Scientists Disputed Man-Made Global-Warming Claims in 2007" (20 Dec 2007)
"Good News! Earth Not Flat" (21 Dec 2007)
Related posts at Liberty Corner:
"'Warmism': The Myth of Anthropogenic Global Warming" (23 Aug 2007)
"Re: Climate 'Science'" (19 Sep 2007)
"More Evidence against Anthropogenic Global Warming" (25 Sep 2007)
"Yet More Evidence against Anthropogenic Global Warming" (04 Oct 2007)
Plus, many more in this category.

Culture Watch: Adolescent Marxism

Guest post:

UK environmentalist Paul Dickinson says in an interview:

School didn't agree with me at all so I left at 17. Having done one year of politics A-level [high school graduation exam course] I decided I was a Marxist.

Ideologically precocious fellow. It's not clear if Dickinson ever graduated from his teenage Communist views. Perhaps another interview?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ron Paul, Continued

Guest post:

I've heard that Ron Paul has publicly distanced himself from his extremist followers, although I've yet to see a report about it. Certainly I hope the rumor is true. However, even the ultra-libertarians at Liberal Values make the sensible observation that

After pulling in another six million dollars you would think that Ron Paul could afford to do the right thing and return that $500 contribution from [neo-Nazi] Stormfront founder Don Black. At very least you would think that... he would at least realize that returning such a contribution is what any other candidate would do and what he must also do if he wants to be credible. Failure to do so also fuels the suspicions of racism and anti-Semitism on Paul’s part which has been noted in some of his writings.

In my last post on the topic, I discussed critical coverage from the "neo-cons" at National Review. In all fairness to Paul, I agree with many of his positions, especially on economics, morals and the family. But that leaves some major gaps. The one point that will lose him the broad base of Republic/conservative support is his position on the war. Personally, I don't mind a little elbow room on policy. Foreign affairs are a prudential matter, unlike abortion, which deals with moral absolutes. I can agree with paleo-cons that Wilsonian interventionism is both unnecessary and risky. But I disagree with their dogmatic isolationism; the idea that there's a one-size-fits-all pattern to political exigencies.

The libertarian Volokh Conspiracy makes this point with reference to Paul's views on federal policy and racism. While traditional conservatives would agree that left-wing statist policies have exacerbated the problem, it simply not true that state government is inherently better than the federal level (perhaps that is why the Founders wanted a balance between the two). Volokh points out that "It was, after all, state governments that took the lead in defending slavery, segregation, and other forms of discrimination against blacks and (in the Western states) Asian-Americans."

Some others have pitched in with their constructive criticism, showing that a cautious view of Paul is hardly the product of neo-con persecution. The most impressive of these is Dave Nalle's Blogcritics Magazine commentary of December 14. In it, Nalle comes across as very sympathetic. Yet he cautions against the the direction that Paul's "largely uncontrolled campaign is taking and the people who are infiltrating it and shaping it...." He condemns the more fanatical supporters: "Self-righteous ideologues make terrible politicians, they don't win elections and they're dragging Ron Paul down with them." Yet it is Paul's campaign, after all, and if he can't control that then one wonders how well he would control the presidency. However, the latter scenario seems highly unlikely, despite the recent record-breaking intake of campaign money.

Earlier post on Ron Paul.

At the Movies: The Best and Worst Years

Further thoughts on the decline of the movie industry. (Earlier thoughts, replete with details, here.) Base on my ratings of films released since 1930, these are the best vintages:
1933 (56 percent rated 8 or higher on 10-point scale)
1934 (63%)
1936 (55%)
1938 (75%)
1939 (59%)
1941 (65%)
1954 (57%)*
1974 (60%)**
And these are the worst (also see footnote ***):
1963 (16%)
1969 (15%)
1976 (12%)
1978 (6%)
1985 (15%)
1996 (16%)
2007 (8%)
Excellent films (rating of 8 or higher) as a percentage of films seen, by decade of release:
1930s - 52%
1940s - 36%
1950s - 32%
1960s - 31%
1970s - 28%
1980s - 27%
1990s - 22%
2000s - 22%
Some things have improved markedly over the years (e.g., the quality of automobiles and personal computers). Some things have not: government and entertainment, especially.

Movies are no longer as compelling and entertaining as they used to be. Why? For me, it's film-makers' growing reliance on profanity, obscenity, violence, unrealistic graphics, and "social realism" (i.e., depressing situations, anti-capitalist propaganda). To rent a recently released movie (even one that has garnered good reviews) is to play "Hollywood roulette."
__________
* An aberration in what I call the "Abysmal Years": 1943-1965.
** An aberration in what I call the "Vile Years": 1966-present.
*** Tied at 17% are 1943, 1944, 1975, 1991, 1998, and 2005 -- all among the Abysmal and Vile Years.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Optimality, Liberty, and the Golden Rule

I ended a recent post by saying that
the only rights that can be claimed universally are negative rights (the right not be attacked, robbed, etc.). Positive rights (the right to welfare benefits, a job based on one's color or gender, etc.) are not rights, properly understood, because they benefit some persons at the expense of others. Positive rights are not rights, they are privileges.
Liberty, in other words, can be understood as Pareto-optimality, in which a right should be recognized only when doing so makes "at least one individual better off without making any other individual worse off."

This is not an argument for preserving the status quo. It is, rather, an argument against having gone as far down the road to serfdom as we have gone in the United States. The regulatory-welfare state, to which we have evolved, is rife with privileges: the harming of some persons for the benefit of others. Those privileges have been bestowed in two essential ways: (a) the redistribution income, and (b) the regulation of economic and social affairs to the economic and social benefit of narrow interests ("bootleggers and Baptists").

Liberty -- rightly understood as a Pareto-optimal endowment of rights -- is possible only when the Golden Rule is, in fact, the rule. As I say here,
the Golden Rule... encapsulates a lesson learned over the eons of human coexistence. That lesson? If I desist from harming others, they (for the most part) will desist from harming me.... The exceptions usually are dealt with by codifying the myriad instances of the Golden Rule (e.g., do not steal, do not kill) and then enforcing those instances through communal action (i.e., justice and defense).
Why communal (state) action and not purely private, contractual arrangements for justice and defense, as anarcho-capitalists propose? Because there is, now, no alternative to state action. The state has been commandeered by Leftist ideals. It feeds parasites, coddles criminals, and verges on acquiescence to our enemies. The restoration of liberty (or something more like it) is, therefore, impossible unless and until
social and fiscal conservatives... recapture the levers of power and undo the damage that the state has done to liberty over the past century.

There will always be a state. The real issues are these: Who will control the state, and to what ends?
Related posts:
"But Wouldn't Warlords Take Over?" (24 Jul 2005)
"Liberty As a Social Compact" (28 Feb 2006)
"The Source of Rights" (06 Sep 2006)
"The Golden Rule, for Libertarians" (02 Aug 2007)
"Anarchistic Balderdash" (17 Aug 2007)
"The Fear of Consequentialism" (26 Nov 2007)
"'Family Values,' Liberty, and the State (07 Dec 2007)
"Rights and Liberty" (12 Dec 2007)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

An Exercise in Futility

The Libertarian Party's presidential candidate in 1980, Ed Clark, received about 1.1 percent of the popular votes cast in the presidential election. That election marked the first appearance of the LP candidate on the ballots of 50 States, up from 2 States in 1972 and 32 States in 1976. The LP candidate has been on the ballot of 50 States, or nearly that, in every election since 1980, excepting the election of 1984 (39 States).

The LP's "breakthrough" in 1980 proved not to be a breakthrough at all. The following graph tells the story. The black line represents the percentage of popular votes received by the LP candidate in each election. The blue line represents the average percentage (0.36) for the elections from 1984 through 2004.

Sources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian_Party_(United_States) http://www.lp.org/organization/history.shtml
http://uselectionatlas.org/
Remember 1980, that year of great disaffection for Jimmy Carter and the boomlet for John Anderson, who wound up with 6.6 percent of the popular vote? The LP was still a novelty, and the LP ballot line was new to many voters. "A libertarian (whatever that is), why not?" Thus the wastage of almost 1 million votes on Ed Clark.

Voters haven't been as generous to the LP since 1980. Not even in 1992, when Ross Perot capitalized on the disaffection for G.H.W. Bush and drew 19 percent of the popular vote, probably swinging the election to Bill (not-fit-for the Supreme Court) Clinton.

Why does the LP keep wasting its money on presidential candidates, potentially causing the defeat of a Republican: just as the votes cast by Floridians for Ralph Nader in 1980 cost the Democrats that year's election? Stubborn pride. Too "pure" to play in the same sandbox as Republicans? Who knows?

I'll vote for a Republican -- any Republican, even a Bush-type -- before wasting my vote on a Libertarian Party candidate.

P.S. (12/17/07): Ron Paul seems to understand. The erstwhile LP candidate for president (0.47 percent of the popular vote in 1988) has won and held his seat in the U.S. House by running as a Republican. Paul's candidacy for the GOP nomination makes him visible to the public, and will do far more to inject libertarian ideas into the political mainstream than would another futile run on the Libertarian ticket. If Paul were to run on the LP ticket after losing the GOP nomination, he might do even better than Ed Clark did in 1980, but only because of his (Paul's) exposure to the public via the GOP race.

P.P.S. (12/17/07): What's my position on Ron Paul? I like his federalist, limited-government principles. I don't like his extreme isolationism. And I don't like his apparent willingness to accept the support of kooks, conspiracy theorists, and racists. UPDATE (12/20/07): On the third point, this doesn't look good.) One out of three isn't a good average, in my book. I pass on Paul. UPDATE (12/27/07): The item linked in the previous update has since been updated. Paul probably is not playing footsie with racist whites. That said, I'm still against him because of his extreme isolationism. UPDATE (01/11/08): There are so many smoking guns about Ron Paul in this piece that it is impossible for me to believe that the man is, in any way, a libertarian. For evidence that he is just plain nuts, see this.

Related posts:
I Wish It Were Thus
My Advice to the LP
Great Minds Agree, More or Less
Good Advice for the Libertarian Party

An Immodest Journalistic Proposal

This one is touted by David Hazinski, an associate professor at the University of Georgia's Grady School of Journalism:
Supporters of "citizen journalism" argue it provides independent, accurate, reliable information that the traditional media don't provide. While it has its place, the reality is it really isn't journalism at all, and it opens up information flow to the strong probability of fraud and abuse. The news industry should find some way to monitor and regulate this new trend (emphasis added).
The "news industry" (a.k.a. the mainstream media) isn't already a hotbed of "fraud and abuse"? How about Rather-gate? How about anti-war propaganda that's thinly disguised as news? How about the daily contributions to global-warming hysteria? How about the MSM's pervasive anti-Republican, big-government slant? And on, and on.

As Hazinski observes, "without any real standards, anyone has a right to declare himself or herself a journalist." And "anyone" does just that -- every day -- on ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, MSNBC; in the pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek; etc., etc., etc.

Hazinski proposes this:
Journalism schools such as mine at the University of Georgia should create mini-courses to certify citizen journalists in proper ethics and procedures, much as volunteer teachers, paramedics and sheriff's auxiliaries are trained and certified.
How can he say, with a straight face, that J-schools are fit to certify anyone's "proper ethics"? By that standard, Osama bin Laden would be qualified to certify the borders of Israel.

Hazinski acknowledges the argument that "standards could infringe on freedom of the press and journalism shouldn't be regulated. But," he adds, "we have already seen the line between news and entertainment blur enough to destroy significant credibility." Actually, the line between truth and reality has been blurred -- nay, obliterated -- by the MSM.

Citizen journalism is precisely what's needed to push the MSM in the direction of accuracy, honesty, and balance. "Professional journalists" like Hazinski don't want that. They want to keep feeding us their Left-biased distortions and lies -- without fear of contradiction.

UPDATE (12/17/07): There's a related post at The Future of News.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Superficially Sensible Proposal

Cato's Tom Firey warms to the idea of raising taxes:
[R]eaders of this blog probably won’t like last weekend’s column [in The New York Times‘s “Economic View”], penned by Cornell economist Robert Frank. Frank argues that “realistic proposals for solving our budget problems must include higher revenue,” i.e., new taxes or tax increases. However, he says, those proposals are being blocked by “powerful anti-tax rhetoric [that] has made legislators at every level of government afraid to talk publicly about a need to raise taxes.”...

Frank has spent much of his academic career arguing for raising taxes on wealthier people so as to create greater income equality (some of his work can be found here, here, and here). It would thus be expected that a Cato analyst would bash Frank’s column like a piƱata. But I believe there’s merit to what he writes....

Why have the tax cuts not slowed government growth? Because Uncle Sam is quite happy to borrow money. Frank points out that the national debt has increased $3 trillion since 2002, and it will likely rise an additional $5 trillion over the next decade. As NYU law professor Dan Shaviro notes in this 2004 Regulation cover story, that debt is future taxes....

This leads to the core problem of borrow-and-spend public finance: Because today’s taxpayers receive government services without paying the full cost, they (and their political leaders) are not forced to consider:

  • Is this service worth its cost?
  • Would we be better off if government spent its money differently?
  • Would we be better off if government did not tax that money away from us, but we instead spent it privately?

Instead, borrow-and-spend lets both the Big Government crowd and the Anti-Taxes crowd get what they want: the Big Government folks can keep expanding government and the Anti-Taxes folks pay lower taxes — for now.

That’s why there’s merit to Frank’s column — if we were to pay, today, the full cost of government, we’d give much more thought to the opportunity cost of government spending. I strongly suspect there’d be much less demand for government services and much stronger outcry against current spending and spending proposals....

So, Prof. Frank, I say bully for you! If we follow your proposal, I think we’ll move several steps closer to limited government.

Firey's argument makes sense if you read it quickly and uncritically. But three things are wrong with it. First, more borrowing today doesn't necessarily require a proportionate increase in taxes tomorrow. As I discuss here, the government's debt can rise interminably in a growing economy. (See also this and this for my views about the notion that government borrowing "crowds out" private investment.)

Second, tax increases usually mean higher marginal tax rates. ("Soak the rich.") But economic growth is financed and fueled by people at the high end of the income distribution, and by people who strive for the high end. Higher taxes = slower economic growth. It's as simple as that.

Third, higher tax rates won't change the political equation. Government spending comprises myriad specific programs, each with its own constituency (in and out of government). Voters and interest groups support politicians who promise (and deliver) specific programs that seem desirable (like the proverbial free lunch). Firey lists some of those programs:
Medicare Part D, the proposed farm bill, the latest round of energy subsidies, more and more corporate welfare, No Child Left Behind, and a whole new, giant federal agency
Would the supporters of Medicare Part D have backed off had they thought that taxes would rise in order to fund Part D? I very much doubt it. Despite the prospect of a tax increase, Part D would have yielded a net financial gain for its beneficiaries, psychic gains and political clout for the private interest groups that pushed it, a larger government bureaucracy (which is a plus, in Washington), and so on. In the perverse world of government, higher spending is an excuse for raising taxes. (Harry Hopkins, FDR's close adviser, is said to have put it this way: "We shall tax and tax, and spend and spend, and elect and elect.")

The real villain of the piece is the Supreme Court, for its failure to enforce the constitutional doctrine of limited and enumerated powers -- a failure that, in large part, can be traced to the New Deal era. The Court has allowed the federal government to do things for which the federal government has no constitutional mandate. Moreover, the unleashed federal government has fostered (through mandates and grants) the transformation of State and local governments from being providers of basic services (e.g., schools, streets, police, and courts) to being providers of a panoply of "social services."

In sum, the rise of big government cannot be traced to low taxes. It can be traced, instead, to the failure of the executive and legislative branches of the federal government to honor the Constitution, and the failure of the Supreme Court to enforce it.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Economists As Moral Relativists

Russell Roberts -- an econ prof at George Mason University with whom I usually agree -- says this about the use of performance-enhancing drugs by baseball players:
When everyone cheats, it's not cheating any more.
First, not "everyone" cheated. Second, cheating is cheating.

One example does not prove that all economists are moral relativists. But, in more than forty years of associating with economists and reading their work, I have observed that most economists focus on efficiency to the exclusion of morality.

How's that for a generalization?

An FDR Reader

Thanks to John Ray for bringing my attention to these items:
"How FDR Made the Depression Worse," by Robert Higgs (Feb 1995)
"Tough Questions for Defenders of the New Deal," by Jim Powell (06 Nov 2003)
"The Real Deal," by Amity Shlaes (25 Jun 2007)
Related posts at Liberty Corner include:
"Getting it Perfect" (04 May 2004)
"The Economic Consequences of Liberty" and an addendum, "The Destruction of Income and Wealth by the State" (01 Jan 2005)
"Calling a Nazi a Nazi" (12 Mar 2006)
"Things to Come" (27 Jun 2007)
"FDR and Fascism" (30 Sep 2007)
"A Political Compass: Locating the United States" (13 Nov 2007)
"The Modern Presidency: A Tour of American History since 1900" (01 Dec 2007)
Our descent into statism didn't begin with FDR. (His cousin Teddy got the ball rolling downhill.) But FDR compounded an economic crisis, then exploited it to put us firmly on the path to the nanny state. The rest, as they say, is history.

Thus we now have a "compassionate conservative" as president, and several "Republican" candidates for president who would have been comfortable as New Deal Democrats. Calvin Coolidge must be spinning in his grave at hypersonic speed.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ron Paul Roundup

Guest post:

A perusal of NRO commentary puts the Ron Paul campaign in perspective. It's acknowledged that he is reaching an audience that no else is. The question is, what is that audience?

On May 28, Jim Geraghty observes that "while supporters of the ten non-Ron-Paul GOP candidates tend to like at least some other Republican candidates besides their favorite, Ron Paul supporters only like Ron Paul." This kind of exclusivism is never a good thing. One senses that fans of Paul are so fixated on a few key points (opposition to the war and some far-reaching free-market views) that they can't see the forest for the trees.

On October 21, Geraghty says "with some begrudging admiration" that "Ron Paul is, like Howard Dean in 2004, the only candidate who could spawn a movement that will last beyond his candidacy." It sounds like a replay of Buchanan in 2000. Wouldn't it be better if Paul and his people were willing to work with other Republicans and push them in the right direction on certain issues? When they insist on being divisive (a tactic that favors the left in the long run) then I have to question their intentions.

On December 10, Jonah Goldberg refers to the militant optimism of Ron Paul supporters. They can't accept the fact that he won't win the presidency. It's a not a question of enthusiasm, it's a detachment from reality. Paul fans think their candidate's woes are the fault of a media conspiracy. This overlooks the fact that "Huckabee is much, much more popular than Ron Paul. And he got there with less money and, until recently, arguably less media exposure."

Finally, there is Mona Charen's article, "What Paul Is Running For." Now, unlike her, I admit that Paul's pro-life credentials (no small item these days) are impressive. Personally, the man appears impeccable. But he lacks political savvy. As Charen says:

Ron Paul is too cozy with kooks and conspiracy theorists. As syndicated radio host Michael Medved has pointed out, Ron Paul’s newspaper column was carried by the American Free Press (a parent publication of the Hitler-praising Barnes Review). Paul may not have been aware of this. But though invited by Medved to disavow any connection, Paul has so far failed to respond.

I've heard the same complaint from friends who are staunch social conservatives. When Paul's campaign received a contribution from notorious racist Don Black, Paul did nothing to distance himself from the fringe element.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Rights and Liberty

The most quoted sentence of the Declaration of Independence, I daresay, is this one:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The Founders' trinity of rights (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) really constitute a unitary right, which I simply call liberty. I do so because liberty (as a separate right) is meaningless without life and the ability to pursue happiness. Thus we have this: rights ≡ liberty (rights and liberty are identical). The identity of rights and liberty is consistent with this definition of liberty:
3. A right or immunity to engage in certain actions without control or interference.
The odd thing about the Founders' equation (rights ≡ liberty) is that they believed in "natural rights" ("unalienable rights"). Today's believers in "natural rights" would argue that such rights exist independently of liberty; that is, one always has one's "natural rights" (whatever those might be), regardless of the state of one's liberty.

I have put paid to that notion here, here, here, and here. The only rights that a person has are those which he can claim through social custom, common law, statutory law, contract, or constitution -- depending on which of them applies and prevails in a given situation. Moreover, rights have no reality unless they are enforceable and can be restored after having been violated.

I do not mean to imply that the restoration of rights is automatic, even in a polity where the rule of law generally prevails. Rights sometimes cannot be restored; for example:
  • A victim of murder no longer has any rights (though his estate might). The victim's murderer is prosecuted and punished for the sake of the living -- for justice (i.e., vengeance) and its deterrent effect.
  • A person who permanently loses something to a criminal (e.g., an eye or a fortune), no longer has the use of that which was lost. His pursuit of happiness is, therefore, impaired permanently.
Further, the restoration of the rights lost by most Americans over the past century is highly doubtful. Rights vanish as liberty recedes. Liberty recedes as the state broadens its scope beyond justice and defense, expands its regulatory regime, redistributes income, and "enables" some citizens at the expense of others.

Finally, but most importantly, the only rights that can be claimed universally are negative rights (the right not be attacked, robbed, etc.). Positive rights (the right to welfare benefits, a job based on one's color or gender, etc.) are not rights, properly understood, because they benefit some persons at the expense of others. Positive rights are not rights, they are privileges.

(See also Part II of "Practical Libertarianism.")

Election 2008: Third Forecast

My eighth forecast is here.

The Presidency - Method 1

Intrade posts odds on which party's nominee will win in each State and, therefore, take each State's electoral votes. I assign all of a State's electoral votes to the party that is expected to win that State. Where the odds are 50-50, I split the State's electoral votes between the two parties.

As of today, the odds point to this result:

Democrat, 306 electoral votes

Republican, 232 electoral votes

(A slight gain for the Dems since the first forecast, 11/16/07, and second forecast, 11/18/07.)

The Presidency - Method 2

I have devised a "secret formula" for estimating the share of electoral votes cast for the winner of the presidential election. I describe the formula's historical accuracy in my second forecast. The formula currently yields these estimates of the outcome of next year's presidential election (CORRECTED, 12/13/07):
Democrat nominee -- 274 to 313 EVs

Republican nominee -- 225 to 264 EVs
This is a much better outlook for the Dems than the one I issued on November 18. It is attributable mainly to the decline of Hillary Clinton's prospects for her party's nomination. Clinton, in spite of her strength within the Democrat Party, would be a weaker nominee than Barack Obama. As Obama gains ground on Clinton, a Democrat victory becomes more likely -- as of now. Obama could become damaged goods by the time he emerges from a bitterly fought contest for his party's nomination.

U.S. House and Senate

Later.

* * *

How did I do in 2004? See this and this.

John Warner's Exit Strategy

Guest post:

John Warner (R-Va.) has never been a favorite with real conservatives (here's why). Now that he tries to exit the Senate as gracelessly as possible, after thirty misspent years, I doubt they'll change their minds.

There's nothing worse than an aging politician, facing the prospect of eternity, who thinks that he'll ease his conscience by becoming a liberal. Actually, he's been a liberal on many issues over the years. Now he's just more consistent.

Having opposed costly and intrusive "greenhouse gas" limits as recently as 2005, he suddenly answered the environmentalist altar call and came down on the side of Al Gore. However, he assures us that this is all in the name of national security, since he lies awake at night worrying that the U.S. military might face new climatic threats!

"Patriotism," as Johnson said, "is the last refuge of the scoundrel."

Friday, December 07, 2007

"Family Values," Liberty, and the State

Among Maverick Philosopher''s answers to Dennis Prager's 23 questions in "Are You a Liberal?" is this gem:
The State is involved in marriage in order to promote a legitimate common interest, namely, that there be healthy families in which men are tamed, women are protected, and children are socialized. There is no reason to extend these protections to any two people who choose to cohabit.
MP points to a deeper truth, which is that civil society (and thus liberty) depends to a large extent (though not exclusively) on the exaltation of heterosexual marriage and "family values." As I say here:

Liberty requires a consensus about harms and the boundaries of mutual restraint -- the one being the complement of the other. Agreed harms are to be avoided mainly through self-restraint. Societal consensus and mutual restraint must, therefore, go hand in hand.

Looked at in that way, it becomes obvious that liberty is embedded in society and preserved through order. There may be societally forbidden acts that, to an outsider, would seem not to cause harm but which, if permitted within a society, would unravel the mutual restraint upon which ordered liberty depends. . . .

What happens to self-restraint, honesty, and mutual aid outside the emotional and social bonds of family, friendship, community, church, and club can be seen quite readily in the ways in which we treat one another when we are nameless or faceless to each other. Thus we become rude (and worse) as drivers, e-mailers, bloggers, spectators, movie-goers, mass-transit commuters, shoppers, diners-out, and so on. Which is why, in a society much larger than a clan, we must resort to the empowerment of governmental agencies to enforce mutual restraint, mutual defense, and honesty within the society -- as well as to protect society from external enemies.

But liberty begins at home. Without the civilizing influence of traditional families, friendships, and social organizations, police and courts would be overwhelmed by chaos. Liberty would be a hollower word than it has become, largely because of the existence of other governmental units that have come to specialize in the imposition of harms on the general public in the pursuit of power and in the service of special interests (which enables the pursuit of power). Those harms have been accomplished in large part by the intrusion of government into matters that had been the province of families, voluntary social organizations, and close-knit communities. . . .

The state has, in the past century, undone much of which society had put in place for its own protection. For example, here's Arnold Kling, writing about Jennifer Roback Morse's Love and Economics:

Morse argues that the incentives of government programs, such as Social Security, can have the same [destructive] consequences [as government decrees].

It is convenient for us who are young to forget about old people if their financial needs are taken care of...But elderly people want and need attention from their children and grandchildren...This, then, is the ultimate trouble with the government spending other people's money for the support of one part of the family. Other people's money relieves us from some of the personal responsibility for the other members of our family. Parents are less accountable for instilling good work habits, encouraging work effort...Young people are less accountable for the care of particular old people, since they are forcibly taxed to support old people in general. (p. 116-117)

Most Western nations have created a cycle of dependency with respect to single motherhood. Government programs, such as welfare payments or taxpayer-funded child care, are developed to "support" single mothers. This in turn encourages more single motherhood. This enlarges the constituency for such support programs, leading politicians to broaden such programs.

Earlier in the same article, Kling says:

There are a number of issues that provide sources of friction between market libertarianism and "family values" conservatism. They concern personal behavior, morality, and the law.

Should gambling, prostitution, and recreational drugs be legalized? Market libertarianism answers in the affirmative, but "family values" conservatives would disagree.

Another potential source of friction is abortion. It is not a coincidence that the abortion issue became prominent during the sexual revolution of the late 1960's and early 1970's. That was a period in which social attitudes about sex-without-consequences underwent a reversal. Prior to 1960, sex-without-consequences generally was frowned upon. By 1975, sex-without-consequences was widely applauded. In that context, abortion rights were considered a victory for sexual freedom. Libertarians tend to take the pro-choice side.

Gay marriage is another legacy of the sexual revolution. Again, it tends to divide libertarians from "family values" conservatives.

One compromise, which Morse generally endorses, is to use persuasion rather than government in the family-values struggle. That is a compromise that I would favor, although unlike Morse, I approach the issue primarily as a libertarian.

If one views a strong state and a strong family as incompatible, then a case can be made that taking the state out of issues related to prostitution or abortion or marriage actually helps serve family values. If people know that they cannot rely on the state to arbitrate these issues, then they will turn to families, religious institutions, and other associations within communities to help strengthen our values.

I am unpersuaded, for the simple reason that society cannot rebuild its norms without the state's help. Having sent the wrong signals about "family values," in general, and about heterosexual marriage, in particular, the state has wrought much harm; for example:

Abuse risk higher as kids live without two biological parents

Thursday, November 15, 2007

- David Crary, AP National Writer

....[M]any scholars and front-line caseworkers who monitor America's families see the abusive-boyfriend syndrome as part of a broader trend that deeply worries them. They note an ever-increasing share of America's children grow up in homes without both biological parents, and say the risk of child abuse is markedly higher in the nontraditional family structures.

"This is the dark underbelly of cohabitation," said Brad Wilcox, a sociology professor at the University of Virginia. "Cohabitation has become quite common, and most people think, 'What's the harm?' The harm is we're increasing a pattern of relationships that's not good for children."...

[T]here are many...studies that, taken together, reinforce the concerns. Among the findings:

-Children living in households with unrelated adults are nearly 50 times as likely to die of inflicted injuries as children living with two biological parents, according to a study of Missouri abuse reports published in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2005.

-Children living in stepfamilies or with single parents are at higher risk of physical or sexual assault than children living with two biological or adoptive parents, according to several studies co-authored by David Finkelhor, director of the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center.

-Girls whose parents divorce are at significantly higher risk of sexual assault, whether they live with their mother or their father, according to research by Robin Wilson, a family law professor at Washington and Lee University....

Census data leaves no doubt that family patterns have changed dramatically in recent decades as cohabitation and single-parenthood became common. Thirty years ago, nearly 80 percent of America's children lived with both parents. Now, only two-thirds of them do. Of all families with children, nearly 29 percent are now one-parent families, up from 17 percent in 1977.

The net result is a sharp increase in households with a potential for instability, and the likelihood that adults and children will reside in them who have no biological tie to each other....

"It comes down to the fact they don't have a relationship established with these kids," she said. "Their primary interest is really the adult partner, and they may find themselves more irritated when there's a problem with the children."
And the beat goes on:
The teen birth rate in the United States rose in 2006 for the first time since 1991, and unmarried childbearing also rose significantly, according to preliminary birth statistics released [December 5, 2007] by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)....

The study also shows unmarried childbearing reached a new record high in 2006. The total number of births to unmarried mothers rose nearly 8 percent to 1,641,700 in 2006. This represents a 20 percent increase from 2002, when the recent upswing in nonmarital births began. The biggest jump was among unmarried women aged 25-29, among whom there was a 10 percent increase between 2005 and 2006.

In addition, the nonmarital birth rate also rose sharply, from 47.5 births per 1,000 unmarried females in 2005 to 50.6 per 1,000 in 2006 -- a 7-percent 1-year increase and a 16 percent increase since 2002.

The study also revealed that the percentage of all U.S. births to unmarried mothers increased to 38.5 percent, up from 36.9 percent in 2005.

And on:

An ETS study reported by the NYT finds four family variables--including proportion of single-parent families--explain two-thirds of the variation in school performance.

And on:

[M]arriage qua marriage tends to be a much more important indicator of well-being, both for children and for parents, in the United States than it does in Europe. Perhaps this will not always be so; perhaps the coexistence, in the 1990s and early Oughts, of falling crime and higher rates of out-of-wedlock births are a leading indicator of the Swedenization of American social norms. But I doubt it, not least because the secondary consequences of family breakdown, persistent inequality and social immobility chief among them, appear to have worsened over the last decade....

What the state has sundered, it must mend. With respect to marriage, for example, I have argued that

it is clear that the kind of marriage a free society needs is heterosexual marriage, which...is a primary civilizing force. I now therefore reject the unrealistic (perhaps even ill-considered) position that the state ought to keep its mitts off marriage. I embrace, instead, the realistic, consequentialist position that society -- acting through the state -- ought to uphold the special status of heterosexual marriage by refusing legal recognition to other forms of marriage. That is, the state should refuse to treat marriage as if it were mainly (or nothing but) an arrangement to acquire certain economic advantages or to legitimate relationships that society, in the main, finds illegitimate.

The alternative is to advance further down the slippery slope toward societal disintegration and into the morass of ills which accompany that disintegration. (We've seen enough societal disintegration and costly consequences since the advent of the welfare state to know that the two go hand in hand.) The recognition of homosexual marriage by the state -- though innocuous to many, and an article of faith among most libertarians and liberals -- is another step down that slope. When the state, through its power to recognize marriage, bestows equal benefits on homosexual marriage, it will next bestow equal benefits on other domestic arrangements that fall short of traditional, heterosexual marriage. And that surely will weaken heterosexual marriage, which is the axis around which the family revolves....
....Although it's true that traditional, heterosexual unions have their problems, those problems have been made worse, not better, by the intercession of the state. (The loosening of divorce laws, for example, signaled that marriage was to be taken less seriously, and so it has been.) Nevertheless, the state -- in its usual perverse wisdom -- may create new problems for society by legitimating same-sex marriage, thus signaling that traditional marriage is just another contractual arrangement in which any combination of persons may participate. Heterosexual marriage -- as Jennifer Roback Morse explains -- is a primary and irreplicable civilizing force. The recognition of homosexual marriage by the state will undermine that civilizing force. The state will be saying, in effect, "Anything goes. Do your thing. The courts, the welfare system, and the taxpayer -- above all -- will "pick up the pieces." And so it will go.
Of course, the state not only continues to undermine heterosexual marriage (except where the general will is consulted through referenda), but it also continues to undermine other social norms. There is, for example, the new California statute known as SB777,
a public education bill prohibiting schools and teachers from "reflecting adversely" on gays and lesbians. The Democratic majority in both houses of the California State Legislature supported the bill, which was signed into law by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger [in October 2007]. Meanwhile, pro-family groups are mobilized and will challenge this bill with a petition to force a statewide referendum. The law's implementation has been postponed by court order until January 1, pending results of statewide signature gathering....

Although the bill adds "sexual orientation" to the list of protected groups in this State, supporters are playing down its significance, calling it instead a safety measure. Meanwhile, critics, including Republican members of the Legislature, all of whom were opposed, regard the legislation as an attack on the family....

On the face of it, the changes are simple and uncomplicated. Existing provisions of the Education Code that prohibit discrimination against members of protected racial, ethnic, national, gender, ancestral and disabled groups have been changed to include "sexual orientation," which specifically refers to members of homosexual, lesbian and bisexual groups.

Supporters of this change are right in one particular, at least from their point of view: the bill simply "updates" existing law. That is, existing law already gives protected status to members of designated groups. The question has always been whether that effectively denies protection (or provides less) to all not belonging to those groups, including especially white males. This sort of categorizing, critics have argued, puts members of all groups in gender conflict while opening the door to protected status for illegal aliens....

Not surprisingly, SB 777 adds the term "sexual orientation" to the categories of persons protected against "hate crimes," a concept based on the assumption that a violent crime against a gay or lesbian person is particularly heinous, more so than when committed against others.

The main part of the bill concerns public education. All public school districts will be responsible for forbidding any discrimination and monitoring for compliance. Thus, while religious schools whose tenets conflict with homosexuality and lesbianism are exempted, publicly funded alternative and charter schools are not. The new law specifies that "No teacher shall give instruction nor shall a school district sponsor any activity that reflects adversely upon persons because of [sexual orientation]." (Italics in text.) The same requirement is laid on districts’ adoption or use of textbooks or other instructional materials.

The bill does not define what constitutes adverse reflection. It could mean anything from simple good manners, which is wholly defensible; to failure to "celebrate" the homosexual lifestyle, as prominent writers such as Harvey Mansfield have noted. According to its advocates, diversity comprehends all protected groups. who should be celebrated and not merely tolerated.

According to press reports, only in September did State Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, the bill’s main sponsor, remove language that would have forbidden in public schools the use of "mom," "dad," "husband" and "wife." It is a fair question whether removing those terms has changed the intent or effect of this legislation.

This latest development in the so-called "culture wars" once again raises the question whether it is a zero-sum game in which, in this case, the protection against adverse reflection on gays and lesbians necessarily entails a rejection of traditional morality and even human categories. Many do not believe so. Time will tell whether this is part of a slippery slope or merely equal justice. Still, one wonders when the straighforward concept of protection takes the broader form of not "reflecting adversely," that the object is not tolerance but privilege.

I have no doubt that the object is privilege. The effect of SB777, should it become law, will be to suppress and further denigrate heterosexual marriage and all that it stands for. On that point, WND quotes Meredith Turney, the legislative liaison for Capitol Resource Institute:
[State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack] O'Connell, the bill's author Sen. Sheila Kuehl and Gov. Schwarzenegger have all maintained the party line that SB 777 merely "streamlines" existing anti-discrimination laws. However, these attempts to discredit the public outcry against SB 777's policies are disingenuous and misleading. In fact, SB 777 goes far beyond implementing anti-discrimination and harassment policies for public schools.

The new law states that "No teacher shall give instruction nor shall a school district sponsor any activity that promotes a discriminatory bias because of' … (homosexuality, bisexuality, and transsexual or transgender status). Including instruction and activities in the anti-discrimination law goes much further than 'streamlining." This incremental and deceitful approach to achieving their goals is a favorite and effective tactic of liberals. Expanding the law is not 'streamlining' the law.

Mr. O'Connell's doublespeak reveals his – and his peers' – arrogant attitude toward their "gullible" constituents. In fact, parents are not stupid and they recognize that their authority is being undermined by such subversive school policies. This is nothing less than an attempt to confuse the public about the true intention of SB 777.

The terms "mom and dad" or "husband and wife" could promote discrimination against homosexuals if a same-sex couple is not also featured.

Parents want the assurance that when their children go to school they will learn the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic – not social indoctrination regarding alternative sexual lifestyles. Now that SB 777 is law, schools will in fact become indoctrination centers for sexual experimentation.

Just as taxpayer-funded universities have become indoctrination centers for political correctness and other Leftist dogmas.

Yesteryear's rebels (the "kids" of the '60s and '70s) didn't get everything they wanted through their protests and riots. So they found a more effective way to destroy the social fabric, which -- being perpetual adolescents -- they despise. The more effective way was to seize the levers of power in academia and government, and thence to dissolve the social cohesion upon which liberty depends.

No, the answer isn't to take the state out of the "family values" business. The answer is for social and fiscal conservatives to recapture the levers of power and undo the damage that the state has done to liberty over the past century.

There will always be a state. The real issues are these: Who will control the state, and to what ends?

Related posts:

A Century of Progress?
Feminist Balderdash
Libertarianism, Marriage, and the True Meaning of Family Values
The Left, Abortion, and Adolescence
Consider the Children
Same-Sex Marriage
"Equal Protection" and Homosexual Marriage
Marriage and Children
Abortion and the Slippery Slope
Equal Time: The Sequel
The Adolescent Rebellion Syndrome
Social Norms and Liberty
Parenting, Religion, Culture, and Liberty
A "Person" or a "Life"?
The Case against Genetic Engineering
How Much Jail Time?
The Political Case for Traditional Morality
Anarchy, Minarchy, and Liberty
Parents and the State
Academic Bias
Ahead of His Time