Monday, February 28, 2005

How to Deal with Left-Wing Academic Blather

David French, over at FIRE's The Torch, writes about a speech by Newt Gingrich (my comments bolded in brackets):
Gingrich asks, “What obligation does society have to fund its own sickness?” This is a good question—but it is constitutionally dangerous. One of the most common statements we hear at FIRE (in the context of both public and private schools—since almost every college and university in the United States receives significant government funding) is: “Sure, they have their right to free speech, but why do I have to fund it?” [Good question. It's your tax dollars at work.]

In essence, what Gingrich (and others) wants is to attach viewpoint-related strings to public funds. We will “fund” speech, but only the speech we like. In the public university context, I can think of few ideas more catastrophic to free speech and open debate than the notion that the funding entity controls the political discourse of a university community. [But the funding entity can and should control a university's academic emphasis.] Do we really want state legislators injecting themselves into tenure disputes? Deciding which English teachers deserve their salaries? The obligation of the funding entity should be viewpoint neutrality, not ideological conformity. [So, we leave ideological conformity in the hands of the left-wingers who dominate university faculties?]

Within the university setting, think of the state as funding not a point of view but a marketplace of ideas. [Balderdash! See previous comment.] The goal is to advance knowledge and freedom through public institutions that foster and support the free exchange of ideas. [The kind of blather espoused by academic left-wingers isn't remotely related to knowledge.] The existence of a Ward Churchill is no more evidence that the marketplace is broken than the existence of the Edsel (or, even worse, the AMC Pacer) was evidence of fundamental problems in the American car market. [But the Edsel and Pacer were evidence of fundamental problems in the American car market, which have been cured to some extent by competition from Japanese makes.] Even in a perfectly functioning marketplace, Ward Churchills would exist, teach (sometimes to packed houses), and maybe even get tenure. [In a perfectly functioning academic marketplace there would be conservative and libertarian counterparts to Ward Churchill, who would also be heard.]

The real problem in our public universities is not that “bad ideas” are funded but that the marketplace of ideas itself has broken down. [As I was saying.] Through speech codes, mandatory diversity training, viewpoint discrimination in hiring and other mechanisms that violate basic constitutional protections, universities have closed the free marketplace and are often simply vendors for the prevailing political orthodoxy. If Newt wants to create positive change at our universities, he should be talking about opening them up to more ideas, not adding yet another “forbidden topic” to the long list that currently exists. [Agreed. But how does one open them to more (non-left-wing) ideas?]

How have we improved our universities if we add just one more “ism” to the long list of banned thoughts and words? Campuses have already banned subjectively defined expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, and so on. Do we solve anything by including “anti-Americanism”? If the state and federal government have any role in this dispute, it is to take steps to restore the free marketplace, not to add further restrictions. [Perhaps restoring the free marketplace at universities requires the application of something like an intellectual anti-trust act, to break up the left's stranglehold on most universities.]
Actually, although Ward Churchill and his ilk are despicable human beings, I don't care what they say as much as I care that they represent what seems to pass for "thought" in large segments of the academic community. Clearly, universities are failing in their responsibility to uphold academic standards. Left-wing blather isn't knowledge, it's prejudice and hate and adolescent rebellion, all wrapped up in a slimy package of academic pretentiousness.

The larger marketplace of ideas counteracts much of what comes out of universities -- in particular the idiocy that emanates from the so-called liberal arts and social sciences. But that's no reason to continue wasting taxpayers' money on ethnic studies, gender studies, and other such claptrap. State legislatures can and should tell State-funded universities to spend less on liberal arts and social sciences and spend more on the teaching of real knowledge: math, physics, chemistry, engineering, and the like. That strikes me as a reasonable and defensible stance.

It isn't necessary for State legislatures to attack particular individuals who profess left-wing blather. All the legislatures have to do is insist that State-funded schools spend taxpayers' money wisely, by focusing on those disciplines that advance the sum of human knowledge. Isn't that what universities are supposed to do?

Favorite Posts: Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Free Riders to the North

From the Associated Press:
Canada Opts Out of U.S. Defense Shield

TORONTO - Prime Minister Paul Martin said Thursday that Canada would opt out of the contentious U.S. missile defense program, a move that will further strain brittle relations between the neighbors but please Canadians who fear it could lead to an international arms race.

Martin, ending nearly two years of debate over whether Canada should participate in the development or operation of the multibillion-dollar program, said Ottawa would remain a close ally of Washington in the fight against global terrorism and continental security.
It's the old "arms race" bugaboo. In other words, when we stop arming the bad guys will stop, too. Ha! As Reagan proved in the 1980s, when we continue to arm, the bad guys are (a) outmatched, (b) give up because they can't afford to keep up with us, or both.

Actually, Martin's decision smacks of an excuse to free-ride at the expense of American taxpayers. Martin and his advisers know full well that our defense shield must provide at least partial protection for Canada -- especially for the most densely populated parts of Canada, which lie along or near the border with the U.S.

As for the rest of it, I'm not impressed by Canada's politically correct stance on terrorism. Nor am I aware of any significant Canadian contributions to continental security.

The Canadian anthem is a parody of the political views now dominant in the land of my forbears.* Read it and weep:
O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.

With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!

From far and wide,
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
* With the notable exception of the Red Ensign Bloggers:

Absinthe & Cookies
All AgitProp, all the Time...
Angry in the Great White North
Babbling Brooks
bound by gravity

ESR | Musings...
Gen X at 40
Hammer into Anvil
John The Mad

Just Between Us Girls
Minority of One
Musings of a Canadian Slacker
Nathan's Updates from Seoul
North Western Winds
Raging Kraut

Ravishing Light
Rempelia Prime
Skeet Skeet Skeet
Stephen Taylor
Striving Against Opposition
Taylor & Company
The Freeway To Serfdom
The Green Baron

The Last Amazon
The London Fog
The Meatriarchy
The Monger
The Phantom Observer
The Tiger in Winter
West Coast Chaos

The Stupid Party

Orin Judd, writing at Tech Central Station, observes of the Democrat Party's suicidal behavior:
[W]e should be reluctant to label a whole political party "stupid." But the only other description that seems to fit this behavior pattern is insanity: doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. So, take your pick, stupidity or insanity?
And the right answer is: stupidity. As I have shown, the right is smarter than the left.

See, People Can Think for Themselves

Craig William Perry and Harvey S. Rosen (both of Princeton) have published a paper that goes by this provocative title: "The Self-Employed are Less Likely to Have Health Insurance Than Wage Earners. So What?" Here's the abstract:
There is considerable public policy concern over the relatively low rates of health insurance coverage among the self-employed in the United States. Presumably, the reason for the concern is that their low rates of insurance lead to worse health outcomes. We use data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey conducted in 1996 to analyze how the self-employed and wage-earners differ with respect to insurance coverage and health status. Using a variety of ways to measure health status, we find that the relative lack of health insurance among the self-employed does not affect their health. For virtually every subjective and objective measure of health status, the self-employed and wage earners are statistically indistinguishable from each other. Further, we present some evidence that this phenomenon is not due to the fact that individuals who select into self-employment are healthier than wage-earners, ceteris paribus. Thus, the public policy concern with the relative lack of health insurance among the self-employed may be somewhat misplaced.
In other words, the self-employed tend to make an informed calculation about the risks to their health and don't waste money on unneeded health-insurance coverage. No doubt many persons who work for others make the same rational calculation.

But if the health-care hysterics on the left had their way, the U.S. government would force health insurance down the throats of everyone, driving up health-care costs and premiums. But it would be "free" because we (as taxpayers) would share the burden. Right.

(Thanks to Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution for the pointer to the abstract.)

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Creation Model

In a post at The Panda's Thumb, Timothy Sandefur says this:
[T]he reason many people complain about evolution education is because they believe that it is a kind of “religion” which is receiving preferable treatment over their own religions....There are three problems, however, with this argument. First, evolution, being science, differs from religion in that it is a testable, confirmable theory, which can be compared with observed results. The “creation model”—that is, a miracle story—is usually stated in an untestable way, and when it has been stated in a testable way (e.g., that the world was created in 4004 B.C.) such “models” have failed the tests.
Not so fast. Here's some of what Wikipedia has to say in today's featured article about the "Big Bang":
The term "Big Bang" is used both in a narrow sense to refer to a point in time when the observed expansion of the universe (Hubble's law) began, and in a more general sense to refer to the prevailing cosmological paradigm explaining the origin and evolution of the universe....

According to current physical models, 13.7 billion (13.7 × 109) years ago the universe was in the form of a gravitational singularity, time and distance measurements were meaningless, and temperatures and pressures were infinite. As there are no models for systems with these characteristics, and in particular, no theory of quantum gravity, this period of the history of the universe remains an unsolved problem in physics.

In 1927, the Belgian priest Georges Lemaître was the first to propose that the universe began with the "explosion" of a "primeval atom"....

A number of Christian apologists, and the Roman Catholic Church in particular, have accepted the Big Bang as a description of the origin of the universe, interpreting it to allow for a philosophical first cause.
The "creation model" posited by Sandefur isn't the only "creation model" put forth by religionists. Father Lemaître offered a testable model, one that seems to be holding up as fact and which is accepted by many religionists. And Father Lemaître wasn't simply trying to evade the consequences of scientific thought:
He based his theory, published between 1927 and 1933, on the work of Einstein, among others. Einstein, however, believed in a steady-state model of the universe. Lemaître took cosmic rays to be the remnants of the event, although it is now known that they originate within the local galaxy. He estimated the age of the universe to be between 10 and 20 billion years ago, which agrees with modern opinion.
Einstein posited (and later renounced) a cosmological constant so that his equations for general relativity would yield a steady-state universe rather than a collapsing one. It now seems that there is a cosmological constant, but not of the kind envisioned by Einstein: The universe is expanding at an accelerating rate because of something called "dark energy," the origins of which are unknown.

And it took a Belgian priest to point the scientific world in the right direction.

Sandefur is too anxious to paint all religionists as know-nothings. He should relent if he wants his ideas to resonate beyond the circle of ardent atheists, whose grasp of scientific rigor is tenuous, as I've explained here, here, and here.

Unlimited Government?

Well, that's what J. Peter Byrne seems to advocate in his online debate with Richard Epstein about Kelo v. New London (discussed in an earlier post):
[In the city of New London's taking,] I see self-government, which while never pure, gives most of us a voice and is capable of innovation....I think that the democratic process provides the best and most legitimate accountability, especially if it is amenable to reform from above, as municipal decision making is by state statutes. The abuses in eminent domain can be addressed through statutes improving procedures and changing the measure of compensation.

Not incidentally, I think New London's plan here is quite reasonable, so far as I understand it. They are redeveloping some 90 acres, strategically located between a new Pfizer research facility—the largest private investment in New London in many years—and the water; they are constructing a new park and providing substantial infrastructure and environmental remediation in their best shot to encourage private development of offices, hotels, and residences. The plaintiffs' property lies in the middle of the 90 acres and in a flood plain. The elevation of the land needs to be raised for development and that cannot be done with functioning inholdings. This is not warehousing, but a sensible, long term development plan, which the people of New London have knowingly approved and financed.
In other words, government can do anything it wants to do, as long as it is done in the name of "social progress" or "economic development" -- and as long as it pretends to draw its legitimacy from the "people." By Byrne's rule, government is entitled to tell us where to work, where to live, how many children to have, and on and on. If government is so "smart," why don't we just let it run all of our businesses and lives? We could then stop pretending that we live in something approximating liberty.

It all reminds me very much of Hitler's abuse of German law to advance his repugnant agenda. Just go through the motions and what do you get? Absolute power of the kind that makes mincemeat of schnooks like Byrne.

Great Minds Agree, More or Less


Randy Barnett, writing at The Volokh Conspiracy, says:
In hindsight, I think that the creation of the Libertarian Party has been very detrimental to the political influence of libertarians. Some voters (not many lately) and, more importantly, those libertarians who are interested in engaging in political activism (which does not include me) have been drained from both political parties, rendering both parties less libertarian at the margin....

While some libertarian political activists are certainly Republicans and Democrats, the existence of the Libertarian Party ensures that there are fewer activists and fewer voters in each major party coalition than would otherwise exist. Therefore, each party's coalition becomes less libertarian. I do not mean to exaggerate the extent of this effect. But even a handful of political activists in local and state party organizations can make a big difference. Whatever one thinks of the initial creation of the Libertarian Party, its continued existence seems to be a mistake for libertarians.
Here's my take (from October 26, 2004):
Max Borders, writing at Jujitsui Generis, says:
A viable Libertarian Party is going to have to change its ways: 1) its platform, i.e. to moderate its views; 2) it’s [sic] image, i.e. of geeks and pot-smokers; and 3) maybe even its name and brand, i.e. a name and brand sullied by 1 and 2.
Here's a better plan. Don't run LP candidates for office -- especially not for the presidency. Throw the LP's support to candidates who -- on balance -- come closest to espousing libertarian positions. Third parties -- no matter how they're packaged -- just don't have staying power, given the American electoral system. The LP's only hope of making progress toward libertarian ideals is to "sell" its influence to the highest bidder.
My approach would keep the LP intact, as an ideological center of gravity for politically active libertarians, who would determine which major-party candidates and causes are worthy of endorsement and active support. It seems to me that such a scheme would give libertarian ideas greater visibility and leverage than the alternative posed by Barnett.

Given a say in the matter, I would argue that the LP ought to lean toward Republican candidates and causes, for reasons I have discussed in earlier posts (here, here, and here):
[L]ibertarians and conservatives generally see eye-to-eye on so-called social programs, affirmative action, Social Security reform, school vouchers, campaign-finance laws, political correctness, and regulation. Libertarians will never see eye-to-eye with conservatives on all issues, but it seems to me that they see eye to eye on enough issues to make a political alliance worthwhile.

If libertarians were pragmatic they would adopt this view: An alliance with conservatives is, on balance, more congenial than an alliance with liberals because conservatives are closer to being "right" on more issues, and their theocratic leanings are unlikely to prevail (the social norms of the 1940s and 1950s are gone forever). If libertarians were to approach conservatives en bloc, libertarians might be able to help conservatives advance the causes on which there is agreement. If libertarians were to approach conservatives en bloc, libertarians might be able to trade their support (and the threat of withdrawing it) for influence in the councils of government. Libertarians could use that influence to push conservatives in the right direction on issues where they now differ with conservatives.

Many libertarians will reject such a strategy, but they would be wrong to do so. We will never attain a libertarian nirvana -- whatever that is -- but we can advance some libertarian causes. We shouldn't let the "best" be the enemy of the "good."

* * *

Getting the left (i.e., Democrats) to buy into economic liberty may prove to be just as hard as getting Republicans to buy into gay marriage, abortion, and decriminalization of drugs. Bill Clinton alienated much of his party by supporting welfare reform and NAFTA. He also raised taxes (against Republican opposition), tried to nationalize medicine by the back door after his 1993 plan failed (thanks to Republicans), and seldom saw a regulation he didn't like (whereas the Bush administration has slowed the pace of regulation considerably).

Are Democrats likely to offer us another "Clinton" (but not Hillary) anytime soon? Perhaps the results of the 2004 election will cause them to do so. But that prospect doesn't do much to brighten my day. Social freedom has advanced markedly in my lifetime, in spite of rearguard efforts by government to legislate "morality." Government control of economic affairs through taxation and regulation has advanced just as markedly, especially under Democrats.

In sum, libertarians may be repulsed by the moralists who have taken over the Republican Party, but that moralizing, I think, is a lesser threat to liberty than regulation and taxation. For that reason -- and because Republicans are more likely than Democrats to defend my life -- I'm not ready to give up on the GOP.

* * *

I view a stable society as a necessary condition of liberation. Stability helps to ensure that we keep the liberation we've gained as individuals, without sacrificing other values, such as the prosperity we enjoy because of somewhat free markets and the security we enjoy because we remain resolute about fighting criminals and terrorists.

Of course, there is such a thing as too much stability. For example, a society that frowns on actions that do no harm to others (e.g., a white person's trading with or marrying a black person) and then uses the government to bar and penalize such actions is not conducive to liberty.

But efforts to secure personal liberation can be destabilizing, and even damaging to "liberated" groups, when "liberation" proceeds too swiftly or seems to come at the expense of other groups (e.g., the use of affirmative action to discriminate in favor of blacks, the insistence that marriage between man and woman is "nothing special" compared with homosexual marriage). For, as I said here, "[t]he instincts ingrained in a long-ago state of nature may be far more powerful than libertarian rationality."

Where does that leave libertarians? Well, it leaves this libertarian rather more sympathetic to conservatives, who are more reliable than leftists about defending life and economic liberty....

When I say "defend my life," I mean on city streets as well as overseas.

...I think libertarians have a lot to lose by throwing in with leftists. And they probably have nothing to gain that won't be gained anyway, as society proceeds -- in its glacial way -- to liberate individuals from the bonds of repressive laws.

Why should libertarians make a Faustian bargain with the left to achieve personal liberation -- which, with persistence, will come in due time -- when the price of that bargain is further economic enslavement and greater insecurity?


For corroboration, I turn to Philip Klein's "Rifts and the Right" at Tech Central Station:
Whether libertarians like it or not, cultural issues most likely did more to reelect President Bush than enthusiasm for Social Security reform.

This does not mean that libertarians who want to influence conservative thought should throw their hands up in despair. A debate that has echoed in conservative and libertarian enclaves on the Internet over the past few days has focused on the rift between the two groups, but there is a common ground to be had. To achieve this common ground, libertarians must acknowledge that values are important and conservatives must push to remove government from the values debate.

Libertarians should realize that it is not, by definition, a contradiction of limited government principles to suggest that the erosion of traditional values has had adverse effects on American society. In fact, the existence of a culture that fosters shared values is essential to a free society....

The problem with social conservatives lies not in their ultimate goal of strengthening families or in their belief that religion has an important role to play in society, but in their means of getting what they want. If conservatives believe in small government, they can't make an exception on social issues.

Almost every major "values" issue originates from the government being overly involved in areas it shouldn't be in. The debate over stem-cell research is spurred by government involvement in medical research. School prayer is controversial because parents are denied control over their education dollars....

Libertarians and conservatives share a common interest in getting the government out of people's lives while preserving the values on which this country was founded.

As I wrote in Part IV of "Practical Libertarianism for Americans":
Forbearance from meddling in the socio-economic order implies laissez-faire, except to prevent or remedy an actual harm....As Hayek pointed out, liberty requires a degree of stability in society; otherwise, how can you decide, with any degree of confidence, what sort of life and livelihood to pursue? Of course, there can be such a thing as too much stability (as Hayek also argued), as well as too much instability. Thus it is equally damaging to liberty to use the law to bar interracial marriage, to foster affirmative action as it is practiced in the United States, to prohibit smoking on private property, or to regulate economic activity on the basis of environmental hysteria rather than sound science.

To paraphrase what I wrote here, you may want government to meddle in certain private matters because that meddling seems to advance liberty. But it should bother you that government can just as easily restrict liberty, all in the name of meeting a pressing social or economic need. Government has taken liberty down a slippery slope, and every instance of meddling -- always for a "good" cause -- creates a precedent for another step down the slope. It all reminds me of this exchange from Act I, Scene 6, of Robert Bolt's play about Sir Thomas More, A Man for All Seasons:
Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law.

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that.

More: Oh? And when the last law was down--and the Devil turned round on you--where would you hide? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Support Homeschooling

WriteWingNut, a homeschooler and co-blogger at Blogger News Network, writes about "Homeschooling and Socialization." There's much to be said in favor of homeschooling as an antidote to public education. But teachers' unions and their allies (notably the Democrat Party) have a lot of political clout, which they wield almost ceaselessly in an effort to undermine homeschooling.

Just take a look at the website of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), for a taste of the legal hurdles that homeschoolers face or are threatened with. Here's what HSLDA is and does:
Home School Legal Defense Association is a nonprofit advocacy organization established to defend and advance the constitutional right of parents to direct the education of their children and to protect family freedoms. Through annual memberships, HSLDA is tens of thousands of families united in service together, providing a strong voice when and where needed.

HSLDA advocates on the legal front by fully representing member families at every stage of proceedings. Each year, thousands of member families receive legal consultation by letter and phone, hundreds more are represented through negotiations with local officials, and dozens are represented in court proceedings. HSLDA also takes the offensive, filing actions to protect members against government intrusion and to establish legal precedent. On occasion, HSLDA will handle precedent-setting cases for nonmembers, as well.

HSLDA advocates on Capitol Hill by tracking federal legislation that affects homeschooling and parental rights. HSLDA works to defeat or amend harmful bills, but also works proactively, introducing legislation to protect and preserve family freedoms.

HSLDA advocates in state legislatures, at the invitation of state homeschool organizations, by assisting individual states in drafting language to improve their homeschool legal environment and to fight harmful legislation.

HSLDA advocates in the media by presenting articulate and knowledgeable spokesmen to the press on the subject of homeschooling. HSLDA staff members are regularly called upon for radio, television, and print interviews, and their writings are frequently published in newspapers and magazines across the country. HSLDA’s own bimonthly magazine, The Home School Court Report, provides news and commentary on a host of current issues affecting homeschoolers. And its two-minute daily radio broadcast, Home School Heartbeat, can be heard on nearly 500 radio stations.

HSLDA advocates for the movement by commissioning and presenting quality research on the progress of homeschooling. Whether it’s in print, from the podium, or on the air, HSLDA provides insightful vision and leadership for the cause of homeschooling.
You can support HSLDA's worthy efforts by shopping online through its Clicks for Homeschooling page:

Did you know that you can support homeschooling just by using the links on this page or special QuickLinks set from this page to get to your favorite online retailers? That's right, the online retailers on this page will give a portion of your online purchase amount back to HSLDA for the work of the Home School Foundation. So next time you want to shop online, please come to this page first or use one of our QuickLinks to get to the online retailer. It's easy and you will be helping the Home School Foundation support homeschooling through its Special Needs Children’s Fund, Widows Curriculum Scholarship Fund, and its other funds.

The list of participating retailers includes many familiar names (e.g.,, Circuit City, Home Depot,, and From now on, I'm going first to the Clicks for Homeschooling page before I shop online.

(Thanks to my daughter-in-law for the tip about HSLDA.)

Monday, February 21, 2005

Can Your Town Take Your Home?

It's a debate about eminent domain at Legal Affairs Debate Club:
This week, the Supreme Court hears the case of Susette Kelo and her neighbors in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood of New London, Conn. [Kelo v. New London]. The city intends to evict these residents and develop their waterfront neighborhood claiming that doing so will enhance the city's tax-base.

The Fifth Amendment describes the power of eminent domain as a taking for public use with fair compensation. Kelo and her neighbors argue that expropriation of their property for a redevelopment project cannot be a "public use" if private developers eventually will possess the land.

Is New London taking the principle of eminent domain too far?
The debaters are Richard A. Epstein, James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago, and J. Peter Byrne, Professor of Law at Georgetown University. Round 1 is over and it's already a TKO, in favor of Epstein. But Byrne is so groggy that he doesn't know that the fight is over.

Talk about being mentally flabby, here's Byrne's final punch of round 1:
Judgments about the wisdom of the project should be left to the people of Connecticut and New London, where the constitution places it.
The Constitution, quite obviously, places the judgment in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court. Whether the Court will do the right thing and find for Kelo is another matter. If Byrne is to be believed (a dubious proposition), U.S. Supreme Court precedent is on the side of New London. Fortunately, perhaps, there's more recent and directly applicable precedent in the reversal of Poletown.

What Is the Point of Academic Freedom?

Just read:

Marketplace of Fear

New Proof That Man Has Created Global Warming

How Global Warming Research Is Creating a Climate of Fear

Ego, Testosterone, and the Academy: Why the Controversy Over Larry Summers Is Important

And that's only the teeny-tiny pointy tip of the iceberg -- as you know well, unless your only source of news is Dan Rather.

Academic freedom isn't an end unto itself, it's a means to an end, which is to debate the truth. Where there is no debate, the truth (or something approaching it) is unlikely to emerge, to the detriment of education, in particular, and human progress, in general. As I wrote here (apropos Ward Churchill's aborted appearance at Hamilton College): Educators are paid not only to educate but also to educate well. Maybe it's time for political-point-of-view quotas for professorships.

Favorite Posts: Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech

Dancing with Chirac


James Lewis at The American Thinker doesn't think much of our apparent flirtation with Jacques Chirac and his band of continental cronies:

Even while Condi Rice was in Europe, the EU was planning to lift its arms embargo against China. Jacques Chirac flew to Beijing to sell stealth aircraft to China a few months ago, knowing that the Red Army has some 600 short-range missiles aimed at Taiwan. Against those bombers, the Taiwanese may be helpless. In the last Taiwan crisis the US had to interpose naval ships in the Straits, placing our ships in mortal danger to keep the peace. High-tech European arms could easily destabilize that fragile balance. This is a classic old Great Power gambit, to arm the enemy of your enemy. It is how the Kaiser knocked out Russia in 1917. Now the US military is forced [to] plan for a two-front war, one in Iraq, the other in the Pacific. Merci beaucoup, our European friends.

So while the American media go all moist and fuzzy about Europe’s willingness to forgive our sins, I would just ask one question: What European allies?
I don't think Bush has any illusions about the intentions of Chirac and Schroeder. The "opening to Europe" strikes me as a ploy to quell, if not dispel, the fashionable, uninformed (or malicious) grumbling about "unilateralism." When Bush shows you his left, look out for the hard jab with the right, followed by a left hook. In this case, I expect to see something like this: "I tried to make nice to Europe, but they're just bent on opposing our interests," followed by unilateral military action as necessary against Korea, Iran, or Syria.

Don't misunderestimate Mr. Bush.


Mark Steyn is on my frequency:

[T]he administration is changing the tone [vis-à-vis Europe] precisely because it understands there can be no substance. And, if there's no substance that can be changed, what's to quarrel about? International relations are like ex-girlfriends: if you're still deluding yourself you can get her back, every encounter will perforce be fraught and turbulent; once you realise that's never gonna happen, you can meet for a quick decaf latte every six – make that 10 – months and do the whole hey-isn't-it-terrific-the-way-we're-able-to-be-such-great-friends routine because you couldn't care less. You can even make a few pleasant noises about her new romance (the so-called European Constitution) secure in the knowledge he's a total loser.
Irrelevance, thy name is Old Europe.

Social Security: The Permanent Solution

Many, many posts ago I promised to unveil my plan for fixing Social Security. I have duly kept up with the continuing debate about Social Security "privatization," which is hardly what the President's plan envisions. (There's a selected bibliography at the bottom of this post.) Having weighed it all, I am reinforced in my belief that the only way out of the Social Security "mess" is to phase out Social Security.

Why? As a bleeding-heart libertarian who wants the best for others as well as for himself, and who understands that economics is a positive-sum game, I say this: The best way to incentivize people to work hard, to acquire new and higher-paying skills, and to stay sober is to allow them take responsibility for their old age. Put them on notice (reasonable notice, of course) that they are responsible for themselves; unless they can count on family, friends, or private charity to see themselves through old age, they should consume less, save more, and invest wisely.

What's the worst that can happen? Some form of public assistance would be demanded for the truly needy (and for their fellow travelers, the lazy and the imprudent), and by those who simply bleed envy or pity at the thought of "excessive" income inequality. But the accompanying tax burden would be much smaller than the burden that now hangs over future taxpayers if we try to redeem anything resembling the "promises" implicit in the present Social Security scheme. Moreover, the demise of Social Security would give added impetus to the coming economic boom (see here and here), as the higher rate of personal saving necessitated by the phase-out of Social Security would finance additional investments in productivity-enhancing growth. Lower taxes and a more robust economy would also foster a resurgence of private charity, in aid of the truly needy (if not the lazy and imprudent).

Here's my plan:

1. Abolish Social Security payroll taxes as of a date certain (Abolition Day).

2. Pay normal benefits (those implicitly promised under the present system) to persons who are then collecting Social Security and to all other qualifying persons who have then reached the age of 62.

3. Persons who are 55 to 61 years old would receive normal benefits, pro-rated according to their contributions as of Abolition Day.

4. The retirement age for full benefits would be raised for all persons who are younger than 55 as of Abolition Day. The full retirement age is now scheduled to rise to 67 in 2027; it should rise to 73 by, say, 2020. Moreover, partial benefits would no longer be available to persons between the age of 62 and full-retirement age.

4. Persons who are 45 to 54 years old also would receive pro-rata benefits based on their contributions as of Abolition Day. But their initial benefits would be reduced on a sliding scale, so that the benefits of those persons who are 45 as of Abolition Day would be linked entirely to the CPI rather than the wage index.

5. Persons who are younger than 45 would receive a lump-sum repayment of their contributions (plus accrued interest) at full retirement age, in lieu of future benefits. That payment would automatically go to a surviving spouse or next-of-kin if the recipient dies intestate. Otherwise, the recipient could bequeath, transfer, or sell his interest in the payment at any time before it comes due.

6. The residual obligations outlined in points 2-5 would be funded by a payroll tax, which would diminish as those obligations are paid off.

Repeat, with appropriate variations, for Medicare and Medicaid.


The Official State of Social Security
2004 OASDI Trustees Report: Contents
2004 OASDI Trustees Report: Conclusion
The looming deficit problem: Table VI.F8.--Operations of the Combined OASI and DI Trust Funds, in Constant 2004 Dollars, Calendar Years 2004-80
The underlying causes: Shrinking worker-retiree ratio, increasing longevity, and wage indexing

Some Alternative Solutions to the Problem
General Accounting Office
Brookings Institution
Cato Institute
Laurence J. Kotlikoff

Analytical Perspectives of Other Bloggers
Arnold Kling: Fighting Murphy (also known as "A Social Security Policy Primer")
Alex Tabarrok: The Microeconomics of Social Security Privatization
Tyler Cowen: Should We Privatize Social Security?
Arnold Kling: The Cost of Privatization
Will Wilkinson: How Much Does SS Screw You?
Alex Tabarrok: Prescott on Social Security Reform
Tyler Cowen: Social Security and Our Future
Tyler Cowen: Freezing Social Security Benefits
For much more, browse this list of articles by Arnold Kling, many of which are about Social Security.

My Posts on Social Security and Related Issues
Social Security Is Unconstitutional
Why It Makes Sense to Privatize Social Security
P.S. on Privatizing Social Security
Fear of the Free Market -- Part III
Social Injustice
Let's Just Say He's a Bit Evasive
A Good Reason to Favor the "Ownership Society"
That Mythical, Magical Social Security Trust Fund
The Real Social Security Issue
Social Security -- Myth and Reality
Nonsense and Sense about Social Security
More about Social Security
Social Security Privatization and the Stock Market
Oh, That Mythical Trust Fund!
Understanding Economic Growth
The Problem with Voluntary Personal Accounts

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Judeo-Christian Values and Liberty

Dennis Prager's first column of 2005 inaugurates "a periodic series of columns devoted to explaining and making the case for what are called Judeo-Christian values." Prager contends that

The collapse of Christianity in Europe led to the horrors of Nazism and Communism. And to the moral confusions of the present -- such as the moral equation of the free United States with the totalitarian Soviet Union, or of life-loving Israel with its death-loving enemies.

In fact, it was a secular Jew, the great German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, who understood that despite its anti-Semitism and other moral failings, Christianity in Europe prevented the wholesale slaughter of human beings that became routine with Christianity's demise. In 1834, 99 years before Hitler and the Nazis rose to power, Heine warned:

A drama will be enacted in Germany compared to which the French Revolution will seem harmless and carefree. Christianity restrained the martial ardor for a time but it did not destroy it; once the restraining talisman [the cross] is shattered, savagery will rise again. . . .

What is needed today is a rationally and morally persuasive case for embracing the values that come from the Bible. This case must be more compelling than the one made for anti-biblical values that is presented throughout the Western world's secular educational institutions and media (news media, film and television).

One need not be a believer to embrace the values espoused in the Bible, in particular, the last six of the Ten Commandments (from the Douay-Rheims Bible Online, Exodus 20, verses 13-17):
13 Thou shalt not kill. 14 Thou shalt not commit adultery. 15 Thou shalt not steal. 16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. 17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house: neither shalt thou desire his wife, nor his servant, nor his handmaid, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is his.
As the Catholic Encyclopedia puts it:

The precepts [of the last six of the Commandments] are meant to protect man in his natural rights against the injustice of his fellows.

  • His life is the object of the Fifth;
  • the honour of his body as well as the source of life, of the Sixth;
  • his lawful possessions, of the Seventh;
  • his good name, of the Eighth;
  • And in order to make him still more secure in the enjoyment of his rights, it is declared an offense against God to desire to wrong him, in his family rights by the Ninth;
  • and in his property rights by the Tenth.
That's a good summary of the precepts of libertarianism.

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Three Perspectives on Life: A Parable
Beware of Irrational Atheism

(Thanks to Mike Rappaport at The Right Coast for the pointer to Prager's column.)

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Feminist Balderdash

Judith Shulevitz, writing in The New York Times, reviews Judith Warner's Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety:
Warner has two points to make. The first is that, in affluent America, mothering has gone from an art to a cult, with devotees driving themselves to ever more baroque extremes to appease the goddess of perfect motherhood. Warner, who has two children, made this discovery upon her return from a stay in Paris, where, she says, mothers who benefit from state-subsidized support systems -- child care, preschools, medical services -- never dream of surrendering jobs or social lives to stay home 24/7 with their kids. In the absence of such calming assistance, however, American moms are turning themselves into physically and financially depleted drones.
Did I miss the part about where someone has held a gun to the collective head of those "drones" and forced them have children and work outside the home? And what kind of model is France, for goodness sake?

Later, Shulevitz notes that
Warner tends toward hyperbole, but she strikes me as right about the basic phenomenon. In a society that measures status in consumer goods and hard-to-come-by symbols of achievement -- grades, awards, brand-name colleges -- the scramble for advantage is bound to propel American upper-middle-class parents into exponentially goofier displays of one-upsmanship. Try giving your 3-year-old an old-fashioned cake-and-balloon birthday party at home, with neither facilitator nor gift bags, and you'll see that Warner's onto something, and that it's harder to opt out than you'd think.
It's not hard at all, if you have a sense of values. For instance, you might save the money for your children's education. But catered birthday parties and other status symbols are more important that bringing up baby:
Take the woman who decides to scale back when her baby is born. Her smaller paycheck makes her husband feel that he must bring in a bigger one, or at least make sure not to slip into a lower income bracket. That means longer hours and less time at home. Before long, the wife cuts back her hours even more to cope with the increased housework, shopping and cooking she has to do, and to care for the baby, who, as he gets older, needs more love and educational enrichment, not less. Soon she is wondering whether to keep her expensive part-time baby sitter (who is probably looking around for a full-time position) and whether her career, now barely recognizable as such, is worth what it costs to maintain it. ''Was I really a good enough writer to justify the sacrifice?'' Warner wondered when she found herself in that situation. ''Or should I, at long last, just hang it up?''
Why doesn't she write at home or tell hubby that he's in charge of the kids?

It gets worse:
Warner's second point, which is more openly political than her first. Our neurotic quest to perfect the mechanics of mothering, she says, can be interpreted as an effort to do on an individual level what we've stopped trying to do on a society-wide one. In her view, it is the lack of family-friendly policies common in Europe that backs American mothers into the corner described above -- policies that would promote ''flexible, affordable, locally available, high-quality'' day care; mandate quality controls for that day care; require or enable businesses to give paid parental leave; make health insurance available for part-time workers; and so on.
Since when is mothering a society-wide function? It's a responsibility that flows directly from the decision to become a parent. The so-called family-friendly policies common in Europe discourage mothering by encouraging women to work outside the home, and they foster unemployment (the rate of which is much higher in Europe than in the U.S.) by raising labor costs. There's no free lunch, even for the sake of motherhood.

After dispensing with Warner's book, Shulevitz slogs on:

[A] Families and Work Institute study...found that, compared with members of the baby boom generation, younger college-educated workers seem markedly less willing to sacrifice everything to advance in their careers. Many of the younger workers yearn to work fewer hours, and say they would turn down promotions if the new jobs required longer days and more work brought home -- claims that may well prove untrue in practice, but nonetheless say a lot about the people making them. More young professionals rank their families as equal in importance to their jobs, or even greater....

Which brings us back to overparenting. Warner deplores its dangers both to us and to our children, who, she says, are likely to wind up as spoiled, callow, allergy-prone, risk-averse success machines with no inner lives. I rather doubt it....For all its excesses, overparenting is still preferable to its alternative, which was depicted with quiet sadness by the sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild in her 1997 book, ''The Time Bind.'' Hochschild studied a Fortune 500 company with exemplary work-life balance policies for both men and women and discovered that few mothers and almost no fathers took advantage of them. Some were afraid of losing their jobs; some couldn't cope with the fear that they'd be diminished in their bosses' eyes; some wanted overtime pay; but a majority eventually admitted that they liked life in the office and even on the plant floor better than life at home. Work was orderly and companionable. Home crackled with the anger and acting-out of children cycled through jury-rigged baby-sitting arrangements and yanked through their lives like tiny factory workers keeping pace with a speedup....

What Hochschild forces us to consider is that we're losing the ability to imagine a world in which we work less and at more reasonable hours, and therefore that we no longer bother to fight to bring that world into being. It is our own internalized workaholism that threatens to devour us and our children -- that, and the increasingly untenable absence of a public infrastructure of care.

Shulevitz almost gets it right, then she blows it by throwing the problems of parenthood -- which is a choice made by individuals -- back into the lap of "society." Yes, working outside the home can be more immediately gratifying (both intellectually and financially) than facing up to the responsibilities of parenthood. But that's an irresponsible and short-sighted attitude.

It's irresponsible because there is no substitute for parenting (especially mothering). If you truly want and love your children, you don't abandon them to others to raise.

It's short-sighted because the often painful task of parenting -- when done right -- is rewarded, in the end, by the knowledge that you are responsible for those upstanding, hard-working adults who finally emerge from infancy, childhood, adolescence, and post-adolescence.

Related posts:

A Century of Progress?

The Marriage Contract

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Marriage Contract

This is a good idea:
Gov. Mike Huckabee took the former Janet McCain to be his lawfully wedded wife Monday night, just as he did nearly 31 years ago, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, until death do them part.

This time, although the actual vows were not repeated, the emphasis was clearly on the "until death" pledge.

Upgrading their vows to that of a covenant marriage, a legally binding contract available only in Arkansas, Arizona and Louisiana, the Huckabees hope to jump-start a conservative movement that has shown little sign of moving in recent years. A covenant marriage commits a couple to counseling before any separation and limits divorce to a handful of grounds, like adultery or abuse.

Here's an even better one (from my comment on a post at Agoraphilia):

The "wrong" [thing about the controversy surrounding same-sex marriage] is that government is involved, one way or the other. When I contract for services, I don't submit the contract to a government entity for approval. If the other party breaches the contract I may, if I wish, seek redress in a government-sponsored court. But government, in that case, is merely acting (or should be acting) as a neutral referee in a contract dispute. Actually, because of the demonstrated inability of government-sponsored courts to make sensible decisions, it would be better to take marriage out of government's hands by stipulating that marital disputes must be resolved by the parties themselves, through mediation, or through binding arbitration -- as the parties wish -- but not through the courts.

A "covenant marriage" needn't require the state's blessing, just an informed, binding commitment by both parties to the covenant.

As I Was Saying..., apropos Paul H. Rubin's Darwinian Politics: The Evolutionary Origin of Freedom:
I would like to be able to say that liberty is a paramount human instinct, honed through eons of human existence and experience. But we are surrounded by too much evidence to the contrary, both in recorded and natural history. The social and intellectual evolution of humankind has led us to a mixed bag of rights, acquired politically through cooperation and conflict resolution, often predating the creation of governments and the empowerment of states. The notion that we ought to enjoy the negative right of liberty is there among our instincts, of course, but it is at war with the positive right of privilege -- the notion that we are "owed something" beyond what we earn (through voluntary exchange) for the use of our land, labor, or capital. Liberty is also at war with our instincts for control, aggression, and instant gratification.

I do not mean that the social and intellectual evolution of humankind is right -- merely that it is what it is. Libertarians must accept this and learn to work with the grain of humanity, rather than against it. There is no profit in simply asserting the inherent wrongness of laws and government actions that undermine liberty. Nor is there much profit in arguing the unconstitutionality of illiberal laws and government actions; it is obvious that appeals to the Constitution will be of little avail unless and until we have a Supreme Court that abides wholeheartedly by the Constitution.
Will Wilkinson comes at it this way:

The key political lesson of evolutionary psychology is simply that there is a universal human nature. The human mind comprises many distinct, specialized functions, and is not an all-purpose learning machine that can be reformatted at will to realize political dreams. The shape of society is constrained by our evolved nature. Remaking humanity through politics is a biological impossibility on the order of curing cancer with pine needle tea. We can, however, work with human nature—and we have. We have, through culture, enhanced those traits that facilitate trust and cooperation, channeled our coalitional and status-seeking instincts toward productive uses, and built upon our natural suspicion of power to preserve our freedom. We can, of course, do better.

As Immanuel Kant famously remarked, "from the crooked timber of humanity no truly straight thing can be made." But, in the words of philosopher, Denis Dutton,

It is not . . . that no beautiful carving or piece of furniture can be produced from twisted wood; it is rather that whatever is finally created will only endure if it takes into account the grain, texture, natural joints, knotholes, strengths and weaknesses of the original material.

Evolutionary psychology, by helping us better understand human nature, can aid us in cultivating social orders that do not foolishly attempt to cut against the grain of human nature. We can learn how best to work with the material of humanity to encourage and preserve societies, like own, that are not only beautiful, but will endure.

Talk about Brainwaves!

Asymmetrical Information links to a fascinating article about
a machine that appears capable of peering into the future and predicting major world events.

The machine apparently sensed the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre four hours before they happened - but in the fevered mood of conspiracy theories of the time, the claims were swiftly knocked back by sceptics. But last December, it also appeared to forewarn of the Asian tsunami just before the deep sea earthquake that precipitated the epic tragedy.
How does it work? It began with
a humble-looking black box known as a Random Event Generator (REG). This used computer technology to generate two numbers - a one and a zero - in a totally random sequence, rather like an electronic coin-flipper.

The pattern of ones and noughts - 'heads' and 'tails' as it were - could then be printed out as a graph. The laws of chance dictate that the generators should churn out equal numbers of ones and zeros - which would be represented by a nearly flat line on the graph. Any deviation from this equal number shows up as a gently rising curve....

Again and again, entirely ordinary people proved that their minds could influence the machine and produce significant fluctuations on the graph, 'forcing it' to produce unequal numbers of 'heads' or 'tails'....

Dr [Roger] Nelson...extended [this] work by taking random number machines to group meditations, which were very popular in America at the time. Again, the results were eyepopping. The groups were collectively able to cause dramatic shifts in the patterns of numbers....

Using the internet, he [then] connected up 40 random event generators from all over the world to his laboratory computer in Princeton. These ran constantly, day in day out, generating millions of different pieces of data. Most of the time, the resulting graph on his computer looked more or less like a flat line.

But then on September 6, 1997, something quite extraordinary happened: the graph shot upwards, recording a sudden and massive shift in the number sequence as his machines around the world started reporting huge deviations from the norm....

For it was the same day that an estimated one billion people around the world watched the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales at Westminster Abbey....

So, in 1998, [Dr. Nelson] gathered together scientists from all over the world to analyse his findings....The Global Consciousness Project was born.

Since then, the project has expanded massively. A total of 65 Eggs (as the generators have been named) in 41 countries have now been recruited to act as the 'eyes' of the project.

And the results have been startling and inexplicable in equal measure.

For during the course of the experiment, the Eggs have 'sensed' a whole series of major world events as they were happening, from the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia to the Kursk submarine tragedy to America's hung election of 2000....

But the project threw up its greatest enigma on September 11, 2001.

As the world stood still and watched the horror of the terrorist attacks unfold across New York, something strange was happening to the Eggs.

Not only had they registered the attacks as they actually happened, but the characteristic shift in the pattern of numbers had begun four hours before the two planes even hit the Twin Towers....

What could be happening? Was it a freak occurrence, perhaps?

Apparently not. For in the closing weeks of December last year, the machines went wild once more.

Twenty-four hours later, an earthquake deep beneath the Indian Ocean triggered the tsunami which devastated South-East Asia, and claimed the lives of an estimated quarter of a million people....

Cynics will quite rightly point out that there is always some global event that could be used to 'explain' the times when the Egg machines behaved erratically. After all, our world is full of wars, disasters and terrorist outrages, as well as the occasional global celebration. Are the scientists simply trying too hard to detect patterns in their raw data?

The team behind the project insist not. They claim that by using rigorous scientific techniques and powerful mathematics it is possible to exclude any such random connections....

It is possible - in theory - that time may not just move forwards but backwards, too. And if time ebbs and flows like the tides in the sea, it might just be possible to foretell major world events. We would, in effect, be 'remembering' things that had taken place in our future.
For lots more, go to the website of the Global Consciousness Project. Among the links is one to an interview of Dr. Nelson, who strikes me as rather spacy. At the end of the interview with Dr. Nelson, the interviewer appends a statement by physicist Tom van Flandern:
I am extremely skeptical of “statistically significant” results that are so close to what chance would produce. There comes a point in any analysis at which systematic, rather than random, errors dominate, invalidating statistical conclusions. And when working so close to chance probabilities, it may be impossible to think of all the hidden ways that systematic errors might arise. To be intrinsically convincing, we need to see the result of a controlled, double-blind test that is well above what chance can produce. Until then, the default assumption must remain that no such phenomena exist.
Another link is to a paper by Brian D. Josephson, a Cambridge University physicist, who explains why thoughts might be physical, measurable phenomena:
[S]ome aspects of mentality involve a realm of reality largely, but not completely, disconnected from the phenomena manifested in conventional physics. The idea of a disconnected realm does have precedents, for example in the way two of the fundamental forces (the strong and weak forces) play no role in large areas of physics and chemistry, whilst in other contexts they have a very important part to play. Next note that string theory, involving as it does spaces having more dimensions than the usual consistent with there being such a ‘separate realm’....

But why should such a realm exist at all?....

[A] form of proto-life, defined as fluctuation patterns surviving longer than typical patterns do, can be hypothesised as occurring at the Planck scale, evolution of such life being expected to involve evolution of the accompanying informational systems also. We get to the proposed model by supposing that the ordinary physical component and the informational component can evolve separately. and that the informational component can even survive the creation and destruction of individual universes, remaining as an ever-present background with which new universes, Planck scale fluctuations and more developed life forms can all beneficially interact....

[W]e suppose that individual life forms can perturb the background state so as to create a localised ‘thought bubble’, tied to the individual concerned....

Assuming the validity of the scenario that has been described, the picture proposed can be adapted to account for the phenomena we set out to explain, namely telepathy or ESP....We assume, as would need to be assumed generally in the model, that the state of this bubble plays the role of information that is meaningful in the context and, by virtue of this, usable by the connected systems....

The problem any such analysis has to face is that of explaining how it is that, if such a mechanism for ESP or other paranormal processes exists, these processes manifest themselves only in very specific ways, and in ways that are not readily controllable....The right way to think about ESP is therefore to see it as a slowly developing phenomenon for a given individual, and one which may not develop at all if conditions are unfavourable. We see from this analysis that the frequently made counter-argument to the existence of ESP, that if it were possible it would have such a survival value that we would all evolve to be very good at it, is based on a misleading concept of what would be involved.

A related problem is the one raised by Weinberg (1993), who asks what possible physical signal could move distant objects and yet have no effect on scientific instruments? Such a question ignores the possibility that there might be a threshold for psychokinetic effects. A similar argument would lead one to be equally sceptical of claims that the heat of the sun can induce chemical reactions (i.e. burning) in a piece of paper, analogously something that happens only under special circumstances (e.g. using a magnifying glass to focus the sun’s rays on to a spot on the paper), the amount of burning under normal conditions being negligible.
All of which is very interesting, in a bizarre sort of way, but I'm not sure it posits any scientific (falsifiable) hypotheses.

If you have any thoughts on the subject, think hard. I'll try to pick them up.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Free Speech and Limited Government

As I said in an earlier post, I defend Ward Churchill's right to speak his mind, just as I defend the right of Hamilton College to decide whom to invite and disinvite to its campus. By the same token, it is my right to say that Ward Churchill is a despicable person and an obtuse moral relativist who seems bent on undermining the system that enables him to spew his vile opinions. (See for yourself.)

With that out of the way, I want to take up this statement by Minnie Quaich, writing at FIRE's The Torch:
Again and again, we find that anything that can be offensive, inappropriate, and counterproductive ravings to some might very well be provocative, useful, and critical discourse to others. The widely differing and competing reactions to even the most controversial expression like Churchill’s prove how vital it is to protect freedom of speech in this country, on campus, and beyond.
Wonderful. But what about speech that fosters the restriction of speech,* if not the wholesale suppression of liberty? Suppose that a compelling speaker is able to convince a supermajority of the populace that it's dangerous to have people running around saying certain things in public? Suppose that supermajority is able to pass a constitutional amendment that restricts speech? Or just suppose that government -- acting at the behest of "the people" -- effectively does the same thing by statutorily restricting certain forms of speech (as in campaign-finance "reform")?

In other words: Free speech cannot flourish unless government is restricted to its "nightwatchman" role. Yet free speech seems inevitably to produce an intrusive government.** And an intrusive government seem inevitably to issue restrictions on speech, among other forms of liberty.

Before you draw the wrong conclusion, consider this: If government could declare certain topics (e.g., the role of government) off-limits in the name of liberty, I have no doubt that government would be even more intrusive and restrictive of liberty.
*To be clear about it, I don't consider the following to be improper restrictions of speech:
  • non-governmental criticism of speech
  • non-governmental ostracism of persons or entities whose speech is disagreeable
  • the owner of private property dictating what may be said on his property
  • disciplining an employee for saying things that may damage the employer's business
  • prosecuting directly injurious speech (e.g., slander, libel, and intimidation).
** The existence of a written constitution that is supposed to restrict the scope of government seems to be ineffectual in the face of free speech. It is easy to coax the genie of big government out of the bottle, but damnably difficult to coax him back into the bottle.

Favorite Posts: Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech

A Different Perspective on the Ward Churchill Affair

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a nice summary of l'affaire Churchill, which prompts me to break my silence about the whole business.

Churchill's right to speak has its defenders among conservatives and libertarians (e.g., Stephen Bainbridge, Eugene Volokh, and FIRE). I agree fully that Churchill's right to speak shouldn't be abridged, though he must be prepared to pay the consequences of outrage, ostracism, and unbridled criticism for his assertion that those killed in the World Trade Center were not innocent civilians but "little Eichmanns."

But the cancellation of a speaking engagement at a university isn't an abridgment of speech. Neither Churchill nor anyone else has a right to speak on private property unless he is invited to do so. A university, after all, has the right to decide whom to invite and whom not to invite as a speaker. Suppose that instead of inviting Churchill to speak at Hamilton College, the Kirkland Project had invited a speaker who might actually have enlightened the student body with some facts instead of hateful opinion.* The world would be no wiser -- and the students of Hamilton would be better off in the bargain.

The real issue in this whole, overblown affair isn't Churchill's freedom of speech, which hasn't been abridged in the least. (He can stand in the middle of downtown Clinton, New York (the home of Hamilton College), and exercise his freedom of speech -- with police protection -- if feels compelled to do so.) The real issue is the university's right to decide how best to educate its students. Hamilton College was about to execute a bad decision and expose its students to a "professor" who has seems to have nothing to offer but vile opinions. Fortunately for the students, Hamilton's administration came to its senses. As William Klinkner, an associate professor of government at Hamilton, puts it:
"Colleges, if they choose to be a marketplace of ideas, have to be willing to bring in people who say pretty repugnant things." Nevertheless, he adds, "If I want to have someone come to class to talk about problems with the Treaty of Versailles, I don't have to bring in a Nazi."
Precisely. Educators are paid not only to educate but also to educate well. Perhaps the Churchill affair will serve as a reminder that gratuitous titillation isn't education.
* An unlikely event, given the Kirkland Project's agenda:
THE KIRKLAND PROJECT for the Study of Gender, Society and Culture is an on-campus organization committed to social justice, focusing on issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, disability, as well as other facets of human diversity.
Favorite Posts: Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech

Monday, February 14, 2005

Recommended Reading for Enviro-Nuts

Start with this: A Spiked! issue on Global warming.

Add this: A TCS piece about the scientic "consensus" on global warming.

And finish with this: The debunking of the "hockey stick" theory of global warming.

If that won't cure your environmental hysteria, nothing will.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Socialist Calculation and the Turing Test

"The socialist calculation debate" is a provocative post by Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution. Cowen links to a review he wrote of G.C. Archibald's Information, Incentives and the Economics of Control: A Reexamination of the Socialist Calculation Debate. The jacket flap says:
This book examines methods for controlling or guiding a sector of the economy that do not require all the apparatus of economic planning or rely on the vain hope of sufficiently "perfect" competition, but instead rely entirely on the self-interest of economic agents and voluntary contract. The methods involved require trial-and-error steps in real time, with the target adjusted as the results of each step become known. The author shows that the methods are equally applicable to industries that are wholly privately owned, wholly nationalized, mixed or labor-managed.
The suggestion seems to be that one can emulate the outcomes that would be produced by competitive markets -- if not something "better" -- by writing rules that, if followed, would mimic the behavior of competitive markets. The problem with that suggestion -- as I understand it -- is that someone outside the system must make the rules to be followed by those inside the system.

And that's precisely where socialist planning and regulation always fail. At some point not very far down the road, the rules will not yield the outcomes that spontaneous behavior would yield. Why? Because better rules cannot emerge spontaneously from rule-driven behavior. (It's notable that the book's index lists neither Hayek nor spontaneous order.)

Where, for instance, is there room in the socialist or regulatory calculus for a rule that allows for unregulated monopoly? Yet such an "undesirable" phenomenon can yield desirable results by creating "exorbitant" profits that invite competition (sometimes from substitutes) and entice innovation. (By "unregulated" I don't mean that a monopoly should be immune from laws against force and fraud, which must apply to all economic actors.)

I suppose exogenous rules are all right if you want economic outcomes that accord with those rules. But such rules aren't all right if you want economic outcomes that actually reflect the wants of consumers.

It reminds me of the Turing test:
The Turing test is a proposal for a test of a machine's capability to perform human-like conversation. Described by Alan Turing in the 1950 paper "Computing machinery and intelligence", it proceeds as follows: a human judge engages in a natural language conversation with two other parties, one a human and the other a machine; if the judge cannot reliably tell which is which, then the machine is said to pass the test. It is assumed that both the human and the machine try to appear human. In order to keep the test setting simple and universal (to explicitly test the linguistic capability of some machine), the conversation is usually limited to a text-only channel.
And so, the machine might -- sometimes -- emulate human behavior, but only then if it can engage in an interaction that's limited to textual conversation. And that's as far as it goes. The machine cannot be human, nor can it emulate the many, many other aspects of human behavior.

If you want to interact with a human, don't talk to a rule-based computer. If you want an economy that produces outcomes desired by humans, don't rely on an economy that's run by the equivalent of rule-based computer. Why settle for a machine when you can have the real thing?

Of course, the whole point of socialist planning is to produce outcomes that are desired by planners. Those desires reflect planners' preferences, as influenced by their perceptions of the outcomes desired by certain subsets of the populace. The immediate result may be to make some of those subsets happier, but at a great cost to everyone else and, in the end, to the favored subsets as well. A hampered economy produces less for everyone.