Tuesday, May 31, 2005

In the "So What?" Department

Slate's Timothy Noah thinks he's onto something:

Here is what [Scott] Norvell[, London bureau chief for Fox News,] fessed up to in the May 20 Wall Street Journal Europe:

Even we at Fox News manage to get some lefties on the air occasionally, and often let them finish their sentences before we club them to death and feed the scraps to Karl Rove and Bill O'Reilly. And those who hate us can take solace in the fact that they aren't subsidizing Bill's bombast; we payers of the BBC license fee don't enjoy that peace of mind.

Fox News is, after all, a private channel and our presenters are quite open about where they stand on particular stories. That's our appeal. People watch us because they know what they are getting. The Beeb's institutionalized leftism would be easier to tolerate if the corporation was a little more honest about it.

Norvell never says the word "conservative" in describing "where [Fox's anchorpeople] stand on particular stories," or what Fox's viewers "know … they are getting." But in context, Norvell clearly is using the example of Fox News to argue that political bias is acceptable when it isn't subsidized by the public (as his op-ed's target, the leftish BBC, is), and when the bias is acknowledged. Norvell's little joke about clubbing lefties to death should satisfy even the most literal-minded that the bias Norvell describes is a conservative one.
That's news?

If ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC (in its various incarnations), PBS, and most of the "newspapers" and "news magazines" of America fessed up to liberal bias, that would be news.

I Dare Call It Treason

The New York Times today reports on a CIA cover operation. Winds of Change summarizes:
Today's New York Times provides intimate detail on the charter flights used by the CIA to ferry prisoners across the globe. The names of the charter companies are disclosed. The types of aircraft flown are revealed. The points of departure and destinations of these flights are stated. There is even a picture of one of the charter craft, with the identification number of the aircraft in full display.

All of this is extremely valuable to al Qaeda members who may have an interest in rescuing, or if deemed appropriate, conducting a suicide attack against suspected extraction flights. A successful attack resulting from this story can endanger the lives of CIA, security and civilian personnel involved in these missions, as well as deprive the intelligence and military communities of valuable information that can be gained from interrogations....

What exactly is the purpose of the New York Times in reporting on sensitive issues such as these? Do they even care about the consequences of making such information pubic? It appears the editors of the New York Times feel that breaking a titillating story about sensitive CIA operations is much more important than national security and the lives of those fighting in the war. All to our detriment.

If the Times's reporting isn't "aid and comfort" to the enemy, I don't know what is. As I wrote here:

The preservation of life and liberty necessarily requires a willingness to compromise on what -- in the comfortable world of abstraction -- seem to be inviolable principles. For example:

  • The First Amendment doesn't grant anyone the right to go on the air to compromise a military operation by American forces...
The NYT article about a CIA operation being conducted in support of an authorized war amounts to the same thing. The right to publish cannot be absolute and should not exempt anyone from a charge of treason.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Eine Kleine Schadenfreude!

France Says No to EU Constitution

Two reasons to rejoice: (1) the prospect of something like self-rule for Europeans and (2) the rebuke to Jacques Chirac, le premier con de France.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

War and Other Bad News

John Tierney's latest NYT piece ("Give Peace a Chance") puts war in perspective:*
You would never guess it from the news, but we're living in a peculiarly tranquil world. The new edition of "Peace and Conflict," a biennial global survey being published next week by the University of Maryland, shows that the number and intensity of wars and armed conflicts have fallen once again, continuing a steady 15-year decline that has halved the amount of organized violence around the world....

Meanwhile, the number of people fighting has plummeted, even though population has grown enormously....

These benign trends may be hard to believe, especially if you've been watching pictures from Iraq or listening to warnings about terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons. One explosion could indeed change everything.

But before you dismiss the optimists as hopeless naifs, you might ask yourself if you're suffering from the malaise described in a book by [Gregg] Easterbrook called "The Progress Paradox": the better life gets, the worse people feel. The more peaceful and wealthy the world becomes, the more time we all have to watch wars and warnings on television.

The only antidote is to look at long-term trends instead of daily horrors. For a really long-term trend, consider that of 59 skeletons found in a Stone Age graveyard, at least 24 died from violence. Or that a quarter of the male population died fighting in some pre-agricultural societies.

In the 20th century, despite two world wars, humans had less than a 2 percent chance of dying in war or a mass killing, according to John Mueller, a political scientist at Ohio State. Today the risk is lower still - about a quarter the chance of dying in a car accident.

Tierney focuses on war, but the same story applies to disease, nutrition, poverty, our ability to cope with bad weather, the quality of the products and services we buy, and on and on into the night.

Most of us are so busy making progress that we hardly notice it. Then we catch the news, where bad things are played up because they're unusual, which is what sells advertising. And so, deluded by the media, we forget that progress is almost universal and constant.

I like to remember what I once told my boss's secretary, who kept nagging me for my monthly progress report: "I'm making so much progress that I don't have time to report it." Think of that the next time you see a disaster headline.

Better yet, ignore the disaster headline. What can you do about it, anyway?
* Tierney, as usual, appends a bibliography:

"The End of War?: Explaining Fifteen Years of Diminishing Violence"” by Gregg Easterbrook. The New Republic, pp. 18-21, May 30, 2005

The Progress Paradox : How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse by Gregg Easterbrook (Random House. 400 pp., November 2003)

Why Isn't There More Violence? By John Mueller. Security Studies 13, p. 191-203, Spring 2004

The Remnants of War by John Mueller. (Cornell University Press, 272 pp., September 2004)

The Ultimate Resource 2 by Julian L. Simon. (Princeton University Press, 778 pp., July 1998)

Peace and Conflict 2005: A Global Survey of Armed Conflicts, Self-Determination Movements, and Democracy by Monty G. Marshall and Ted Robert Gurr

Friday, May 27, 2005

Don't Go South, Young Man

Zimran Ahmed (Winterspeak) joins James Lileks (The Bleat) in despairing of Northern weather. Here's James, who was born in Fargo, N.D., and has lived in Minneapolis, Minn., since 1976 (minus 4 years in D.C.):
I should note that it rained today. All day. It's cold, too. The time has come, perhaps, to plot the Great Move to Arizona. Not now; not soon. I just ordered a light fixture for the dining room, for heaven's sake, and I don't think I'll be prying it off the ceiling anytime soon. But in five years? Sure. I can take five more winters, five miserable springs, five desperate summers, if I knew I was heading to my reward. I jumped once before, left in haste, and that was the move to DC. Can'’t do that again. I have to move up in every way. DC was a move sideways or down; from ease of mobility to living conditions to the aroma of the grocery stores to the weather to the civic services to the crime, it was all for the worse. It had its compensations, and had I been in my 20s it would have been a great adventure. But my life kept getting smaller and smaller, and after a point the promise of a new Tibetan / Peruvian fusion tapas restaurant in Adams-Morgan seemed to be insufficient compensation.
And here's Zimran, who has lived in Chicago, New York, and New England:
Hear hear I'm with James. I'm tired of the cold. I'm tired of the rain. I'm tired of the high cost. I'm tired of having to run out at 8 in the morning and look for parking on street cleaning days, only to find none, and then having to decide whether to suck up the parking ticket (again) or feed a meter and run out at 10 to do it all over again.

Like the rest of New England, I'm moving South. And/or West.
I feel their pain. I grew up in Michigan, went to university there (and briefly in Cambridge, Mass.), lived for three years in upstate New York, and spent 37 "temporary" years in the D.C. area, "enjoying" it as little as did James Lileks. I moved to central Texas two years ago, where I finally have found almost all the heat and sunshine I can stand.

But take it from me, if you want to live in a Sun Belt city with a "cultural" ambience -- a good selection of restaurants offering varied cuisines, live theatre, museums, plenty of live music (classical and otherwise), and nice places to hike and bike -- you are going to put up with everything that's bad about almost all mid-size and large cities: Leftist politics, high taxes, traffic congestion, crazy drivers, and rude people.

Don't move to the Sun Belt unless you really crave sunshine and heat. I do, and so I'm happy in central Texas. Not because it offers any more ambience than the D.C. area (it doesn't), but because it's sunny and hot.

If sunshine and heat are all you crave, you might as well stay in the North. Who says global warming is bad?

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Anarcho-Capitalism vs. the State

Anarcho-capitalism is a branch of libertarian political philosophy which calls for a free market, private property, and a society without a state. Anarcho-capitalists favor a completely private system of law and order based on common law and explicit contract. [Source: Wikipedia]

But who adjudicates the common law and enforces the contracts? The toughest anarcho-capitalist on the block? What if he doesn't like free markets or private property (except for himself)?

Or has human nature evolved to the point where the toughest guy on the block can be counted on to prefer free markets and universal private property, and to refrain from imposing his will on others -- unlike the state?

Anarcho-capitalism rests on invalid conceptions of human nature and the state. Contrary to the evidence of history, it presumes that no one would or could accrue and exercise enough power to flout the common law and treat other persons coercively. Contrary to the evidence of history -- especially American history -- it presumes that a properly constituted and governed state cannot increase the quotient of liberty.

There is no choice between anarchy and the state. Anarchy leads inexorably to coercion -- except in a dreamworld. The real choice -- for American anarcho-capitalists -- is between the toughest guy on the block or a state whose actions are capable of redirection through our representative democracy.

The proper task at hand for American libertarians isn't to do away with the state but to work toward a state that defends free markets, property rights, the common law, and freedom of contract.


Defense, Anarcho-Capitalist Style
Fundamentalist Libertarians, Anarcho-Capitalists, and Self-Defense
The Legitimacy of the Constitution
Another Thought about Anarchy

Talk Is Cheap

Last month I commented on a post by Bryan Caplan at The Library of Economics and Liberty, in which he said:
One reaction to my recent piece in Econ Journal Watch is "economics isn't about what people say or believe; it's about what people DO." The easy response is: Not anymore, it isn't! Survey research has exploded in economics....

I know by introspection that my beliefs affect my behavior, and I know by experience that asking people what they are doing is often informative. So how did a doctrine so contrary to common sense ever become conventional wisdom?...

How can asking people be so useful for getting new ideas, but so useless for testing existing ideas? It's not impossible, but highly implausible. If people have insightful new things to tell us, they probably have informative old things to tell us too....

I hate to speak ill of the dead, but duty calls. Behaviorism had a lot of smart adherents, but their arguments on its behalf were lame from the start. Furthermore, I strongly suspect that even in its heydey, a lot of economists didn't believe it, but were too scared to say so.
I posted this comment:

"I know by introspection that my beliefs affect my behavior, and I know by experience that asking people what they are doing is often informative. So how did a doctrine so contrary to common sense ever become conventional wisdom?"

Yes "beliefs affect behavior" and "asking people what they are doing is often informative." But stated beliefs don't reliably affect behavior, and people often don't give informative answers. Most people say, for example, that they oppose government spending, but most of those same people will scream like mad when the programs they favor are threatened.

The reliable prediction of economic choices on the basis of expressed beliefs or attitudes requires a degree of skill in posing questions that is beyond the ability of most surveyors. The rare, skillful survey is so intrusive or annoying as to deter all but the two-sigma cases who enjoy responding to surveys. That is to say, surveys are likely to produce either garbage or unrepresentative views.

Talk is cheap, inconsistent, and often at odds with behavior. The only reliable way to understand behavior is to observe behavior.

As the old saying goes (revised slightly to fit the occasion): Don't believe a word I say, just watch what I do.

"...How can asking people be so useful for getting new ideas, but so useless for testing existing ideas? It's not impossible, but highly implausible. If people have insightful new things to tell us, they probably have informative old things to tell us too."

That's sloppy reasoning. Here's why: "Asking people" can suggest testable hypotheses, which can be tested only by collecting data about economic behavior. But, as I explain above, "asking people" isn't a valid way of collecting data with which to test hypotheses.

Glen Whitman of Agoraphilia seems to be on my side of the argument:

[P]eople will say all kinds of things, but what they say means very little unless accompanied by real choices, with real sacrifices and trade-offs. “Actions speak louder than words,” goes the old cliché.

Of course, speech is also a form of action. In evaluating a speech act, the revealed preference approach would conclude that the subjective benefit of speaking must be greater than the subjective cost of speaking, and no more. It would not foolishly assume the meaningfulness of what’s been said. Saying “I want X” does not reveal that I want X; it reveals that I want someone to think I want X. If the behavioral objection to revealed preference is right, then the speech act may reveal even less – but it certainly doesn’t reveal more.

If lots of people say, “I want to quit smoking,” maybe they really do wish to quit, all things considered, including the pain and difficulty of quitting. Or maybe they just know the “right” answer to the question. Quitting smoking is hard; saying you’d like to quit is easy. Ask people if they’d like to visit Jamaica, and I’ll bet most of them say yes, and they won’t be lying. But tickets to Jamaica are expensive, and talk is cheap. The real test is whether they’re buying the tickets and boarding the plane.
I rest my case.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The State, a Creature of Love or Fear?

Robert Higgs and Daniel Klein offer complementary views about the state's hold over us. Klein's "The People's Romance: Why People Love Government (as Much as They Do)," acknowledges several factors, then focuses on our communitarian impulse:
If government intervention creates an official and common frame of reference, a set of cultural focal points, a sense of togetherness and common experience, then almost any form of government intervention can help to ‚“make us Americans.‚” If people see government activism as a singular way of binding society together, then they may favor any particular government intervention for its own sake -- whether it be government intervention in schooling, urban transit, postal services, Social Security, or anything else -- because they love the way in which it makes them American.

Of course, love of government as a binding and collectivizing force does not exist in anyone's sensibilities as an absolute. Everyone seeks other goals as well and understands that some government interventions are more costly than voluntary solutions, and people make their judgments according to their understanding.

People may favor government for other reasons: they fancy themselves part of the governing set; they yearn for an official system of validation; they want to avoid the burden of justifying a dissenting view; they fear, revere or worship power. All such factors work in conjunction with self-serving tendencies of less existential nature‚—privilege seeking, subsidy seeking, and so on‚—and with the rationalizations of these tendencies. Furthermore, people may be biased toward government because cultural institutions indoctrinate and cow them.

All such tendencies may be part of a general account of “collectivism‚”—in the sense of statism. In this article, I seek to expand our understanding of just one factor of collectivism that never operates in isolation from the others and not necessarily the most significant: people‚’s tendency to see and love government as a binding communitarian force.
Klein concludes, hopefully:
[B]arring major war, the prospects for deflating TPR [the people's romance with government] are looking up (for this reason, I suspect the Democratic Party is in serious trouble). Correspondingly, the prospects for a libertarian enrichment of culture are also looking up. Even if policy isn’t fixed, even if the overall political culture is not improving, wealth and technology are increasingly enabling individuals to resist and withdraw from the dominant political culture. That culture does not engulf people as it did previously. We may look forward to diverse political cultures that accommodate vibrant communities of the mind wise to the statist quackeries and misadventures that surround us.
Higgs, some of whose writings are in Klein's bibliography, focuses elsewhere in "Fear: The Foundation of Every Government's Power?":

All animals experience fear—human beings, perhaps, most of all. Any animal incapable of fear would have been hard pressed to survive, regardless of its size, speed, or other attributes. Fear alerts us to dangers that threaten our well-being and sometimes our very lives. Sensing fear, we respond by running away, by hiding, or by preparing to ward off the danger....

The people who have the effrontery to rule us, who call themselves our government, understand this basic fact of human nature. They exploit it, and they cultivate it. Whether they compose a warfare state or a welfare state, they depend on it to secure popular submission, compliance with official dictates, and, on some occasions, affirmative cooperation with the stateÂ’s enterprises and adventures. Without popular fear, no government could endure more than twenty-four hours. David Hume taught that all government rests on public opinion, but that opinion, I maintain, is not the bedrock of government. Public opinion itself rests on something deeper: fear.[1]

Higgs's conclusion is more wistful than hopeful:

Were we ever to stop being afraid of the government itself and to cast off the phoney fears it has fostered, the government would shrivel and die, and the host would disappear for the tens of millions of parasites in the United States‚—not to speak of the vast number of others in the rest of the world‚—who now feed directly and indirectly off the public’s wealth and energies. On that glorious day, everyone who had been living at public expense would have to get an honest job, and the rest of us, recognizing government as the false god it has always been, could set about assuaging our remaining fears in more productive and morally defensible ways.

Human nature is complex; both Klein and Higgs's explanations are therefore plausible: We look to government out of fear (or mistrust in others and in our own abilities) and out of a need for a social bond. Leviathan will wither -- if ever it does -- only as we become more competent and knowledgeable as individuals, therefore more skeptical about politicians' motives and the state's efficacy, and thus less dependent on the state.

Speaking of the Senate...

The Frank Capra classic, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, was invoked often during the recent debate about filibusters. Mostly forgotten is the 1976 "remake," Billy Jack Goes to Washington. Here's a plot summary, courtesy iMDB:
After a senator suddenly dies after completing (and sealing) an investigation into the nuclear power industry, the remaining senator and the state governor must decide on a person who will play along with their shady deals and not cause any problems. They decide on Billy Jack, currently sitting in prison after being sent to jail at the end of his previous film, as they don't expect him to be capable of much, and they think he will attract young voters to the party. Billy is pardoned, released and nominated, after which he begins his duties. He soon notices that things aren't right, and starts trying to find out just what is going on.
Now, there's a movie with everything Hollywood loves: sleazy corporations, sleazy politicians, a wronged "little guy," vengeance, etc., etc. etc. I'm glad I missed it.

The director and star of the movie was Tom Laughlin. Other than making "B" movies, his claims to fame seem to be that he beat up Gene Wilder (when he and Wilder were in high school) and garnered 147 votes in the 2004 New Hampshire primary.

Oh, and the producer of the movie was none other than Frank Capra Jr. A rather little chip off the old block.

High Fences Make Good Neighbors

Here's why:

The goat must be a sensitive soul. The rat is my kind of guy.

What Economics Isn't

Economist Steven D. Levitt is co-author of Freakonomics and the Freakonomics blog with Stephen J. Dubner, a journalist who carries the writing burden. In an article at Slate, Levitt allows Dubner to say this:
What is economics, anyway? It's not so much a subject matter as a sort of tool kit -- one that, when set loose on a thicket of information, can determine the effect of any given factor.
Actually, that's statistics, not economics. Economics is about understanding why and how resources are allocated among alternative uses, and why and how the course and level of economic activity is influenced by individuals, businesses, and governments. Statistics is but one tool in the economist's tool kit.

Levitt's confusion illustrates Arnold Kling's point:
The most distinctive trend in economic research over the past hundred years has been the increased use of mathematics. In the wake of Paul Samuelson's (Nobel 1970) Ph.D dissertation, published in 1948, calculus became a requirement for anyone wishing to obtain an economics degree. By 1980, every serious graduate student was expected to be able to understand the work of Kenneth Arrow (Nobel 1972) and Gerard Debreu (Nobel 1983), which required mathematics several semesters beyond first-year calculus....

The raising of the mathematical bar in graduate schools over the past several decades has driven many intelligent men and women (perhaps women especially) to pursue other fields. The graduate training process filters out students who might contribute from a perspective of anthropology, biology, psychology, history, or even intense curiosity about economic issues. Instead, the top graduate schools behave as if their goal were to produce a sort of idiot-savant, capable of appreciating and adding to the mathematical contributions of other idiot-savants, but not necessarily possessed of any interest in or ability to comprehend the world to which an economist ought to pay attention.
That is why I take most economists (Kling is an exception) with two grains of salt. One is for their dependence on mathematical techniques (including statistics). The second is for their belief that rationality is all about wealth maximization.

Reconciling the Reconcilable


Slate's Will Saletan accuses President Bush of hypocrisy and challenges him to reconcile his statements about stem-cell research and the death penalty; these statements, for example:
"The President is committed to medical research that does not violate the dignity of human life or exploit one human life for the benefit of another."

—White House fact sheet, State of the Union, Feb. 2, 2005

"I happen to believe that the death penalty, when properly applied, saves lives of others. And so I'm comfortable with my beliefs that there's no contradiction between the two."

—Bush, April 14, 2005

Such statements are reconciled easily, by inserting the understood but unspoken word "innocent" in the proper places:
"The President is committed to medical research that does not violate the dignity of human life or exploit one innocent human life for the benefit of another."

"I happen to believe that the death penalty, when properly applied, saves innocent lives...."
It's easy to understand the President's point, if you are willing to do so.

UPDATE: Eugene Volokh (he of the eponymous Conspiracy) points out that the White House and the President did make the point about innocence in the very transcripts linked to by Saletan. But Saletan selectively (and dishonestly) omitted those portions of the transcripts.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Course of the Mainstream

When I hear liberals complain that conservative-libertarian judicial nominees are "out of the mainstream," this is what I visualize:



The mainstream has shifted considerably to the left in the past 70 years. Being in the mainstream of current political thought is no virtue; being out of the mainstream of current political thought is no vice. A conservative-libertarian judicial nominee should be proud of being out of today's mainstream -- and on the side of liberty

No Wonder Families Are Fleeing the Cities

Headline: Child Population Dwindles in San Francisco

San Francisco has the smallest share of small-fry of any major U.S. city. Just 14.5 percent of the city's population is 18 and under.

It is no mystery why U.S. cities are losing children. The promise of safer streets, better schools and more space has drawn young families away from cities for as long as America has had suburbs.

But kids are even more scarce in San Francisco than in expensive New York (24 percent) or in retirement havens such as Palm Beach, Fla., (19 percent), according to Census estimates.

Why? This is part of it:

San Francisco's large gay population — estimated at 20 percent by the city Public Health Department — is thought to be one factor.... [No kidding!]

Then, there's this:

Another reason San Francisco's children are disappearing: Family housing in the city is especially scarce and expensive. A two-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot starter home is considered a bargain at $760,000.

And this:

Determined to change things, Mayor Gavin Newsom has put the kid crisis near the top of his agenda, appointing a 27-member policy council to develop plans for keeping families in the city.

"It goes to the heart and soul of what I think a city is about — it's about generations, it's about renewal and it's about aspirations," said Newsom, 37. "To me, that's what children represent and that's what families represent and we just can't sit back idly and let it go away."

Newsom has expanded health insurance for the poor to cover more people under 25, and created a tax credit for working families. And voters have approved measures to patch up San Francisco's public schools, which have seen enrollment drop from about 62,000 to 59,000 since 2000.

One voter initiative approved up to $60 million annually to restore public school arts, physical education and other extras that state spending no longer covers. Another expanded the city's Children's Fund, guaranteeing about $30 million a year for after-school activities, child care subsidies and other programs.

"We are at a crossroads here," said N'Tanya Lee, executive director of the nonprofit Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth. "We are moving toward a place where we could have an infrastructure of children's services and no children."

"Children's services" cost money, which requires higher taxes, which in turn will drive more young, middle-class families out to the suburbs. But "city planners" just don't get it:

Other cities are trying similar strategies. Seattle has created a children's fund, like the one in San Francisco. Leaders in Portland, Ore., are pushing developers to build affordable housing for families, a move Newsom has also tried.

Why should families stay in the city?

They can enjoy world-class museums, natural beauty and an energy they say they cannot find in the suburbs.

Well, the enjoyment of museums and so-called beauty doesn't happen through osmosis. It takes an active effort. The same enjoyment can be had by occasionally commuting into the city from the suburbs. As for "energy," that's just another word for crime, pollution, congestion, and weird people.

Monday, May 23, 2005

A Libertarian Paternalist's Dream World

I wrote recently -- and unadmiringly -- of libertarian paternalism. What is it? It's a "brave new world" in which corporations, acting at the behest of the state, dictate our choices -- for our own good of course:
The underlying notion is that people don't always choose what's "best" for themselves. Best according to whom? According to libertarian paternalists, of course, who tend to equate "best" with wealth maximization. They simply disregard or dismiss the truly rational preferences of those who must live with the consequences of their decisions. Richard Thaler [an economist who is a leading proponent of libertarian paternalism] may want you to save your money when you're only 22, but you may have other things to do with your money, such as paying off a college loan.
A libertarian paternalist who isn't fixated on wealth maximization might prefer the European model, in which the state dictates the amount of leisure one should enjoy. As Chris Bickerton, writing at spiked, explains:
The 'European social model' serves to rationalise low growth through the prism of individual wellbeing. In reality, this means that the cost of low growth is paid by Europe's working population. Governments that find it politically expedient to promote policies for tackling unemployment do so by reducing working hours by diktat and forcing through moderated wage claims or even wage freezes. They get away with this because of the demonisation of growth and productivity as social goals.

Faced with this situation, we should refuse to accept that work can only be conceived of as a limitation to the development of human capabilities. We should also refuse to accept the idea that the path to human happiness is through idleness. Contrary to what Jeremy Rifkin [author of the wrongheaded The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream] might think, our modern world is about something more than the number of weeks' holiday we get each year.
Bickerton, a PhD student in international politics at St John's College, Oxford, has a much firmer grasp of reality than do economics professor Richard Thaler and his statist collaborator, law professor Cass Sunstein.

It's true that happiness, for many of us, is about more than wealth maximization. But if wealth maximization makes you happy, you have a better chance of attaining nirvana in the U.S. than in Europe. Not because of libertarian paternalists, but because the choice between wealth and leisure is yours to make (for now). Liberty is all about choice, not about being forced to make the "right" choice by libertarian paternalists.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Where Do You Draw the Line?

How far can you go down the following list before you disagree with a statement?
1. "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" summarizes the American ideal.

2. America's sovereignty provides a shield behind which Americans may pursue the American ideal.

3. Americans' ability to pursue the American ideal therefore depends on the successful defense of American interests and America's sovereignty.

4. Americans, acting through the state, should defend American interests and America's sovereignty.

5. It is foolish and irresponsible to wait until an enemy strikes a blow before acting in self-defense.

6. The American ideal is subverted when, in the pursuit of specific ends that seem laudable, some Americans use the power of the state in ways that effectively deprive Americans of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

7. There is a slippery-slope effect in human affairs; the acceptance of behavior that had been unacceptable establishes a new "baseline" of acceptable behavior, from which departures then become acceptable, and so on.

8. Abortion and involuntary euthanasia are steps down a slippery slope toward the use of state power to shape human destiny.

9. Heterosexual marriage with a stay-at-home mother is the backbone of a civil society, that is, a largely self-regulating society in which the norms of acceptable behavior are inculcated within a family.


If you disagreed before you get to #5, you probably should live in a different country, or in a Blue State.

If you made it through #7 without disagreeing, you might be a libertarian realist.

If you agreed with all 9 statements, you are a libertarian realist, that is, someone who puts "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" above libertarian cant.
But there's more, for those of you who agreed with all of the statements above. Do you agree or disagree with the following statements?
1. There are just some things people shouldn't be allowed to say in the presence of anyone who might be offended.

2. It's all right to say anything, as long as what you say doesn't constitute a direct threat to anyone.

3. It's all right to say anything, period.

4. It's not all right for anyone -- not even the press -- to divulge information that would help an enemy harm Americans or their interests.


If you agreed with #1 you are either of the Left or Right. Game's over. You lose.

If you agreed with #2 you are half-way to being a libertarian realist.

But if you then agreed with #3 you are a libertarian idealist who is wedded to libertarian cant. Game's over. You lose.

Whereas, if you disagreed with #3 and then agreed with #4 you are truly a libertarian realist. Welcome to an exclusive club.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Getting It Right about Terrorism

This makes sense to me:
In Poverty, Political Freedom, and the Roots of Terrorism (NBER Working Paper No. 10859) Alberto Abadie...finds that the risk of terrorism is not significantly higher for poorer countries, once other country-specific characteristics are considered. In particular, Abadie finds that a country's level of political freedom better explains the presence of terrorism....

After controlling for the level of political rights, fractionalization, and geography, Abadie concludes that per capita national income is not significantly associated with terrorism. He finds, though, that lower levels of political rights are linked to higher levels of terrorism[.] [C]ountries with the highest levels of political rights are also the countries that suffer the lowest levels of terrorism. However, the relationship between the level of political rights and terrorism is not a simple linear one. Countries in an intermediate range of political rights experience a greater risk of terrorism than countries either with a very high degree of political rights or than severely authoritarian countries with very low levels of political rights.

Why this relationship? Abadie offers two possibilities. "On the one hand, the repressive practices commonly adopted by autocratic regimes to eliminate political dissent may help [keep] terrorism at bay," he explains. "On the other hand, intermediate levels of political freedom are often experienced during times of political transitions, when governments are weak, political instability is elevated, so conditions are favorable for the appearance of terrorism."

(Thanks to EconoPundit for the pointer.)

Friday, May 20, 2005

Proof, If Proof Were Needed...

...that Slate and most of its readers are Left-leaning, from Leftist Timothy Noah:
The New York Times will soon start charging to read its op-ed columnists online. The Times is offering its columnists as an all-or-nothing deal, but I proposed that each columnist be priced according to his or her value. I invited readers to allocate a $25 fee among the eight op-ed regulars....An even allocation, I noted, would be a subscription price of $3.13 to read any given columnist online for one year. But not all Times op-ed columnists are equally worth reading. Hence my reader poll....

The Times columnists, in descending order of perceived value:

Paul Krugman: $6.90

Thomas L. Friedman: $4.10

Frank Rich: $3.92

Maureen Dowd: $3.42

Nicholas Kristof: $2.35

Bob Herbert: $1.42

David Brooks: $1.39

John Tierney: $0.31

...That the two most conservative Times columnists—Tierney [a libertarian, actually: ED] and David Brooks —are the two lowest-ranking may reflect some liberal bias among Slate readers, or even some liberal bias within Chatterbox himself. (Let he who is without sin…)

"Liberal bias"? No kidding!

Here's how I allocated my $25 (a negative amount means that I'd have to be paid to read a columnist):
David Brooks $100
Maureen Dowd - $100
Thomas L. Friedman $0
Bob Herbert -$100
Nicholas D. Kristof -$100
Paul Krugman $0 (not negative only because he produces easily rebuttable material for econ bloggers)
Frank Rich -$100
John Tierney $325

Net amount = $25
As for Slate, I read it for the same reason that econ bloggers read Paul Krugman: It propagates easily rebuttable Leftist cant.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Bambi Blogging

Bambi (or Bambette), in our front yard around 9:30 on Tuesday morning:

After about 5 hours in that spot, the fawn finally skeedaddled to find Mom, who seems to have stashed it in a more secure place on our property. We see one or the other of them from time to time, as they venture out to feed.

They're beautiful animals but a major threat to expensive landscaping. They must think they "own" the land on which our house was built. Well, they do, in a way.

Thoughts of Winter

As I welcome summer to central Texas -- after a rainy fall, a drizzly winter, and an unusually cool spring -- I reflect on the seasons and their associations. Winter, much as I dislike it -- even in the relative warmth of central Texas -- has its compensations:

The soft glow of twilight through the trees

A rumbling fire in the hearth

A chamber work on the sound system

A fine single-malt at my side

The Viking Book of Poetry of the English-Speaking World in my hand:
I have had enough of wisdom, and enough of mirth,
For the way's one and the end's one, and it's soon to the ends of the earth;
And it's then good-night and to bed, and if heels or heart ache,
Well, it's sound sleep and long sleep, and sleep too deep to wake.
From Wanderer's Song, by Arthur Symons (1865-1945)

The Lord knows what we may find, dear lass,
And the Deuce knows what we may do --
But we're back once more on the old trail, our own trail, the out trail,
We're down, hull-down, on the Long Trail -- the trail that is always new!
From The Long Trail, by Rudyard Kipling (1869-1936)

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses;
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.
Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Inchohare Longam, by Ernest Dowson (1867-1900)

I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,
Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, all the time, because the dance was long:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

I cried for madder music and for stronger wine,
But when the feast is finish'd and the lamps expire,
Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is thine;
And I am desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yes, hungry for the lips of my desire;
I have been faithful to thee Cynara! in my fashion.
From Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae sub Regno Cynarae, by Dowson

Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charley,
The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer, the fighter?
All, all, are sleeping on the hill.

One passed in a fever,
One was burned in a mine,
One was killed in a brawl,
One died in a jail,
One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife --
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.
From The Hill, by Edgar Lee Masters (1869-1930)

The beauty, shattered by the laws
That have creation in their keeping,
No longer trembles at applause,
Or over children that are sleeping;
And we who delve in beauty's lore
Know all the we have known before
Of what inexorable cause
Makes Time so vicious in his reaping.
From For a Dead Lady, by Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935)

"For Auld Lang Syne." The weary throat gave out,
The last word wavered, and the song was done.
He raised again the jug regretfully
And shook his head, and was again alone.
There was not much that was ahead of him,
And there was nothing in the town below --
Where strangers would have shut the many doors
That many friends had opened long ago.
From Mr. Flood's Party, by Robinson

Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind.
Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky
And the affrighted steed ran on alone,
Do not weep.
War is kind.
From War Is Kind, by Stephen Crane (1871-1900)

Time, you old gipsy man,
Will you not stay,
Put up your caravan
Just for one day?....

Last week in Babylon,
Last night in Rome,
Morning and in the crush
Under Paul's dome;
Under Paul's dial
You tighten your rein --
Only a moment, and off once again;
Off to some city
Now blind in the womb,
Off to another
Ere that's in the tomb.
From Time, You Old Gipsy Man, by Ralph Hodgson (1871-1962)

Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from falling hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
From In Flanders Fields, by John McCrae (1872-1918)

And they that rule in England,
In stately conclave met,
Alas, alas for England,
The have no graves as yet.
From Elegy in a Country Churchyard, by Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1956)

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Fire and Ice, by Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Pocahontas' body, lovely as a poplar, sweet as a red haw
in November or a paw-paw in May, did she wonder, does
she remember? . . . in the dust, in the cool tombs?
From Cool Tombs, by Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)

"We are earth's best, that learnt her lesson her.
Life is our cry. We have kept the faith!" we said;
"We shall go down with unreluctant tread
Rose-crowned into the darkness!" . . . Proud we were,
And laughed, that had such brave true things to say,
-- And then you suddenly cried and turned away.
From The Hill, by Rupert Brooke (1887-1915)

Heart, you were never hot,
Nor large, nor full like hearts made great with shot;
And though your hand be pale,
Paler are all which trail
Your cross through flame and hail:
Weep, you may weep, for you may touch them not.
From Greater Love, by Wilfred Own (1893-1918)

Stick your patent name on a signboard
brother -- all over -- going west -- young man
Tintex -- Japalac -- Certain-teed Overalls ads
and land sakes! under the new playbill ripped
in the guaranteed corner -- see Bert Williams what!
Minstrels when you steal a chicken just
save me the wing for if it isn't
Erie it ain't for miles around a
Mazda -- and the telegraphic night coming on Thomas
a Ediford -- and whistling down the tracks a headlight rushing with the sound....
From The Bridge ("The River"), by Hart Crane (1899-1932)

Leave now
The shut gate and the decomposing wall:
The gentle serpent, green in the mulberry bush,
Riots with his tongue through the bush --
Sentinel of the grave who counts us all!
From Ode to the Confederate Dead, by Allen Tate (1899-1979)

It's no go the merry-go-round, it's no go the rickshaw,
All we want is a limousine and a ticket for the peepshow.
Their knickers are made of crepe-de-chine, their shoes are made of python,
Their halls are lined with tiger rugs and their walls with heads of bison....

It's no go my honey love, it's no go my poppet;
Work your hands from day to day, the winds will blow the profit.
The glass is falling hour by hour, the glass will fall for ever,
But if you break the bloody glass you won't hold up the weather.
From Bagpipe Music, by Louis MacNeice (1907-1963)

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
From Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night, by Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

But those thoughts are for the melancholy and nostalgic reveries of winter. I now rejoice in glorious summer:
Into the rooms flow meadow airs,
The warm farm baking smell's blown round.
Inside and out, and sky and ground
Are much the same; the wishing star,
Hesperus, kind and early born,
Is risen only finger-far;
All stars stand close in summer air,
And tremble, and look mild as amber;
When wicks are lighted in the chamber,
They are like stars which settled there.
From Country Summer, by Leonie Adams (1899-1988)

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

A Contrarian View of Segregation

TheFreeDictionary.com reminds us that today is the 109th anniversary of the Supreme Court's ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896):
In 1890, the State of Louisiana passed a law that required separate accommodations for blacks and whites on railroads, including separate railway cars. Concerned, several black and white citizens in New Orleans formed an association dedicated to the repeal of that law. They eventually persuaded Homer Plessy, an octoroon (someone of seven-eighths Caucasian descent and one-eighth African descent), to test it. Plessy purchased a first-class ticket on the East Louisiana Railway from New Orleans to Covington. The railroad company had been informed already as to Plessy's racial lineage, and after Plessy had taken a seat in the whites-only railway car, he was asked to vacate it and sit instead in the blacks-only car. Plessy refused and was arrested immediately....

Announced on May 18, 1896, the 7-1 decision, with one abstention, upheld the Louisiana statute.
Segregation of the type considered by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson suffers two fundamental flaws:
  • It allows for no subtlety, as in the case of Plessy, who -- as an octoroon -- may have been no less "white" than many "whites" who rode in "whites only" railway cars.
  • It declares an entire group of otherwise law-abiding persons "off limits" to society, rather than allow the members of that group to be considered on individual merit.
The second point goes to the heart of Justice John Marshall Harlan's famous dissent in the case (as quoted in Wikipedia):
[I]n the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved.
I agree with Harlan, up to that point. The law should be racially neutral. By the same token, the law should not tell private parties whom they must employ and with whom they must trade and associate. As I wrote recently,
we would be much better off, socially and economically, if government intervention were limited to the equal protection of everyone's life, liberty, and property. Such a regime would enable persons of ability -- regardless of race or gender -- to prove their worth and earn the trust of others. That is true progress.

The Economy Works, in Spite of Zany Economists

This post is from the archives of the pre-blog version of Liberty Corner. I wrote it in 1998. I still like it.

Even though Stephen Jay Gould once accused social scientists of "physics envy," he did not deter economists' efforts to practice the dismal science as if it were really a science. Thus, for example, a Robert Shiller of Yale University arms himself with data about the past performance of the stock market and warns us that the Dow will lunge from 8,000 (make that 9,000 . . . 10,000 . . . 11,000) to 6,000 or less. The problem with such analytical exercises is that they tell us what has happened but not what will happen. Statistics predict the past with uncanny accuracy.

Not that Professor Shiller is entirely wrong about the future performance of the stock market. He is almost certainly right, in principle, because the only known monotonic trends in the universe are its expansion and its aging -- and a lot of physicists aren't sure about the permanence of those trends. No, Professor Shiller will probably be right, some day, because -- as the old saying goes -- a stopped watch is right twice a day.[*]

John Maynard Keynes (created Lord Keynes for his services to economic thought and to some members of the Bloomsbury Set) averred that a government could spend an economy out of a depression. In spite of Keynes, the United States and Great Britain remained mired in the Great Depression for most of the 1930s. Some have argued that Keynes was vindicated by post-World War II prosperity, which they attribute to the the binge of consumer spending spawned by the massive infusion of government spending in wartime. That argument overlooks the inconvenient possibility that the Great Depresssion, like earlier depressions, would have ended without the benefit of government largesse. The argument also overlooks the fact that, unlike the United States, Great Britain did not plunge into prosperity at the end of World War II.

One could argue that Germany and Japan proved Keynes right because unemployment in those countries vanished in the face of their massive arms buildups. Yes, and one could say that the members of a chain gang are well off because they have "jobs."

Enough of old feuds. Let us return to the present scene.

Today's "green economists" advance the notion that free markets are all right in their place -- but not when it comes to protecting the environment. Conjuring dire results for humankind if markets continue to cater to the crass demands of consumers, those economists would commandeer the economy in the name of future generations yet unborn. (Sound the trumpets! Wave the flag!) If one reasonably assumes that such economists know that there are market-based ways to solve the problems caused by pollution, what is one to make of their anti-market rhetoric? Answer: Just like any consumer of "political pork," they're perfectly willing to have the government aggrandize their own (psychic) income at the expense of the general welfare. That is, they simply don't like economic growth and don't care who is hurt by their anti-growth propoganda.

Consider, finally, the antediluvian agitators for antitrust actions against successful companies. The scions of Roosevelt the First seem to be stuck in a zero-sum view of the economic universe, in which "winners" must perforce be balanced by "losers." Or perhaps they, like their green brethren, suffer a form of success envy.

Whatever the case, the antitrusters forget (or wish not to remember) that (1) successful companies become successful by satisfying consumers, (2) consumers wouldn't buy the damned stuff if they didn't think it was worth the price, and (3) "immense" profits invite competition (direct and indirect), which benefits consumers. On the third point, if the USPS -- a government monopoly that claims to own my mailbox -- can't stave off competition from alternative delivery services and e-mail, what's to keep a new Bill Gates from building a better mouse (pun) trap? Only the fear of being pursued by the almighty federal government. Thanks a lot, feds.

All of which underscores another old saying: A sucker is born every minute -- and then he moves to Washington.
* In fact, I agreed with Prof. Shiller and had already moved the bulk of my investments from the stock market to fixed-income securities. Better too soon than too late; when the market crashes, it crashes fast.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Class in America

The New York Times is running a series on "Class in America," the introduction to which includes the usual Leftist cant,* and which assumes that class is tied to occupation, education, income, and wealth:
At a time when education matters more than ever, success in school remains linked tightly to class. At a time when the country is increasingly integrated racially, the rich are isolating themselves more and more.[**] At a time of extraordinary advances in medicine, class differences in health and lifespan are wide and appear to be widening.

And new research on mobility, the movement of families up and down the economic ladder, shows there is far less of it than economists once thought and less than most people believe....In fact, mobility, which once buoyed the working lives of Americans as it rose in the decades after World War II, has lately flattened out or possibly even declined, many researchers say....

One way to think of a person's position in society is to imagine a hand of cards. Everyone is dealt four cards, one from each suit: education, income, occupation and wealth, the four commonly used criteria for gauging class. [Click here to see where you fit in the American population.] [***] Face cards in a few categories may land a player in the upper middle class. At first, a person's class is his parents' class. Later, he may pick up a new hand of his own; it is likely to resemble that of his parents, but not always.

Well, success in school, income, and health are linked tightly to intelligence, and those who have the genes for high intelligence tend to have more schooling, make more money, stay healthy, and pass their genes on to their children. Is that somehow wrong? The Times implies that it is.

In spite of the tight link between genetic inheritance and success, there is a lot on intergenerational mobility across the income distribution. (Who are you going to believe, the lying NYT or me?)

In any event, the Times swings and misses twice when it comes to defining and measuring class.

First, the Times deploys the card-game analogy quoted above, which suggests that life is a zero-sum game in which the winners win at the expense of the losers -- when that isn't the case. The Times reinforces the zero-sum notion by introducing a class scale that measures relative status; someone must move down the scale if someone else is to move up it.

Second, and more fundamentally, class is something that one possesses independently of job, education, income, and wealth. A super-rich person can inhabit the lowest class, while an extremely poor person can inhabit the highest class. We could be a nation composed entirely of high-class persons. There's nothing to prevent it -- nothing, that is, but the choices each of us makes about three facets of life:
  • Tastes - our likes and dislikes. A high-class person eschews loudness, crudeness, and ostentation and adopts reflective pursuits (e.g., writing, reading demanding works of fiction and non-fiction, understanding music and art).
  • Manners - overt behavior toward others. A high-class person is polite toward and considerate of the feelings of others, even in fleeting encounters.
  • Ethics - the rules by which we live. Regardless of tastes and manners, a person cannot be high-class without also being honest, fulfilling obligations, and avoiding the temptation to use power to dictate to others.
Money makes it easier to have good taste and good manners, but money is no guarantee of either; Paris Hilton and scores of rock musicians, sports stars, movie stars, and other celebrities are cases in point. Ethics seems to have little do with money or high station, as business and political "leaders" are wont to remind us by their actions, year after year.

Consider the presidents of the U.S. from FDR through Clinton. Based on their tastes, manners, and ethics, I rate them as follows:
  • Low-class: Roosevelt, Johnson, Nixon, Clinton
  • Middle-class: Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Carter
  • High-class: Ford, Reagan, Bush 41
In other words, it's entirely possible to be something less than high-class even if one has held the most prestigious job in the world, earned a college degree (or two), made a high income, and possessed considerable wealth (as have most modern presidents). Class comes from within, not from the material attainments by which the Times would judge us.
* Leftists like Charlie Rangel like to think that by attacking the rich they are helping the poor, when just the opposite is true. Well, Rangel is evidently a lot richer than I am, so I guess he is going to hell, if I am to believe this exchange with Chris Matthews on 04/07/05:

Matthews: "I mean Charlie, Jesus didn't hang around with the swells- the rich people."

Rangel: "Well, he said the rich people are going straight to hell." [Courtesy Trey Jackson]

Just the place for him. He'll like the company, which undoubtedly includes at least one other infamous racial demagogue.

** What people do with their money is -- or should be -- a personal matter, subject only to the proviso that they do no harm to others. Gated community? Fine. I'd like to live in one, as would many if not most of the poor with whom the Times seem to identify. What's wrong with keeping the riff-raff at bay? Do you think that law-abiding poor people enjoy living where they do? When the poor finally make enough money to afford a move to the suburbs, they do so to escape their former neighbors, not to mingle with them.

*** I followed the link (bracketed in the original) to learn my "class standing" and wound up in the 87th percentile, based on my pre-retirement job and (in today's dollars) income and wealth. By the same criteria, my father was somewhere in the 40th to 50th percentile. Not bad. But my grandfather undoubtedly was somewhere near the bottom. I didn't steal from anyone to move up, nor did my father, nor did the vast majority of those who now stand higher than their parents and grandparents on the Times's class scale. But my standing on the Times's scale would be meaningless had I the tastes, manners, and ethics of a Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Racist or Realist?


From AP via Yahoo! News:
Mexico's Fox Defends Comment on Blacks

MEXICO CITY - President Vicente Fox refused to apologize Monday for saying Mexicans in the United States do the work that blacks won't....

Lisa Catanzarite, a sociologist at Washington State University, disputed Fox's assertion. She said there is intense competition for lucrative working class jobs like construction and that employers usually prefer to hire immigrants who don't know their rights.

"What Vicente Fox called a willingness to work ... translates into extreme exploitability," she said.

No, it translates into a willingness to work. No one forces Mexicans to cross the border to work -- and work hard -- for low wages.

Here's the acid test: Given a choice between hiring an anonymous group of Mexicans and an anonymous group of American blacks to do the same job at the same hourly rate, which group would you choose? I think most employers would choose the Mexicans.

That's not to say American blacks are lazy, but that they're less likely to perform well at low-wage work because the welfare system removes the incentive to perform well. Illegal immigrants, on the other hand, don't have full access to the welfare system. It's another example of the perverse consequences of the regulatory-welfare state, which destroys income and wealth.

UPDATE: So Fox has "regretted" his statement. But he hasn't withdrawn it.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

The End of MSM as We Know It?


Three blogging powerhouses -- ArmedLiberal.com, RogerLSimon.com and LittleGreenFootballs.com -- are spearheading the formation of a consortium of news bloggers, to be known as Pajamas Media (announcement here, followup here, signup form here).

Here's the deal: For a long time, the MSM got away with editorializing disguised as reporting. The rise of conservative talk radio and FoxNews began to expose the MSM for what it is, namely, a propaganda machine for the brand of Leftism that is pretty much responsible for America's economic, moral, and military decline. The rise of blogging has exposed the MSM's biases in detail, and in something close to real time.

Bloggers aren't unbiased, of course, and I don't expect PJ Media to be unbiased. What I do expect is that PJ Media will serve as a viable blogging alternative to the MSM because it will be the equivalent of a news network, major daily paper, or weekly news magazine -- one-stop shopping for news and views on a variety of subjects -- with a news cycle of seconds or minutes instead of hours, days, or weeks.

Will PJ Media (and its inevitable imitators) hasten the decline of the MSM or force the MSM to clean up its act? Decline seems more likely than reform: Blogging news services will suck advertising dollars away from the MSM, which the MSM will try to recoup by playing to its strength, which is a Left-oriented sensationalism, for which there will always be a market. Then, too, the MSM may simply begin to use the blogosphere in the same way as PJ Media and its ilk, further hastening the decline of print and broadcast media and setting up a classic Left-Right/Libertarian confrontation in cyberspace.

Now there's a digital divide for you.

UPDATE: Newsweek sort of fesses up to a colossal error:
May 23 issue - By the end of the week, the rioting had spread from Afghanistan throughout much of the Muslim world, from Gaza to Indonesia. Mobs shouting "Protect our Holy Book!" burned down government buildings and ransacked the offices of relief organizations in several Afghan provinces. The violence cost at least 15 lives, injured scores of people and sent a shudder through Washington, where officials worried about the stability of moderate regimes in the region.

The spark was apparently lit at a press conference held on Friday, May 6, by Imran Khan, a Pakistani cricket legend and strident critic of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. Brandishing a copy of that week's NEWSWEEK (dated May 9), Khan read a report that U.S. interrogators at Guantánamo prison had placed the Qur'an on toilet seats and even flushed one. "This is what the U.S. is doing," exclaimed Khan, "desecrating the Qur'an." His remarks, as well as the outraged comments of Muslim clerics and Pakistani government officials, were picked up on local radio and played throughout neighboring Afghanistan. Radical Islamic foes of the U.S.-friendly regime of Hamid Karzai quickly exploited local discontent with a poor economy and the continued presence of U.S. forces, and riots began breaking out last week.

Late last week Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita told NEWSWEEK that its original story was wrong. The brief PERISCOPE item ("SouthCom Showdown") had reported on the expected results of an upcoming U.S. Southern Command investigation into the abuse of prisoners at Gitmo. According to NEWSWEEK, SouthCom investigators found that Gitmo interrogators had flushed a Qur'an down a toilet in an attempt to rattle detainees. While various released detainees have made allegations about Qur'an desecration, the Pentagon has, according to DiRita, found no credible evidence to support them.

How did NEWSWEEK get its facts wrong? And how did the story feed into serious international unrest? While continuing to report events on the ground, NEWSWEEK interviewed government officials, diplomats and its own staffers, and reconstructed this narrative of events:

At NEWSWEEK, veteran investigative reporter Michael Isikoff's interest had been sparked by the release late last year of some internal FBI e-mails that painted a stark picture of prisoner abuse at Guantánamo. Isikoff knew that military investigators at Southern Command (which runs the Guantánamo prison) were looking into the allegations. So he called a longtime reliable source, a senior U.S. government official who was knowledgeable about the matter. The source told Isikoff that the report would include new details that were not in the FBI e-mails, including mention of flushing the Qur'an down a toilet. A SouthCom spokesman contacted by Isikoff declined to comment on an ongoing investigation, but NEWSWEEK National Security Correspondent John Barry, realizing the sensitivity of the story, provided a draft of the NEWSWEEK PERISCOPE item to a senior Defense official, asking, "Is this accurate or not?" The official challenged one aspect of the story: the suggestion that Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, sent to Gitmo by the Pentagon in 2001 to oversee prisoner interrogation, might be held accountable for the abuses. Not true, said the official (the PERISCOPE draft was corrected to reflect that). But he was silent about the rest of the item. The official had not meant to mislead, but lacked detailed knowledge of the SouthCom report.

Given all that has been reported about the treatment of detainees—including allegations that a female interrogator pretended to wipe her own menstrual blood on one prisoner—the reports of Qur'an desecration seemed shocking but not incredible. But to Muslims, defacing the Holy Book is especially heinous. "We can understand torturing prisoners, no matter how repulsive," says computer teacher Muhammad Archad, interviewed last week by NEWSWEEK in Peshawar, Pakistan, where one of last week's protests took place. "But insulting the Qur'an is like deliberately torturing all Muslims. This we cannot tolerate."

NEWSWEEK was not the first to report allegations of desecrating the Qur'an. As early as last spring and summer, similar reports from released detainees started surfacing in British and Russian news reports, and in the Arab news agency Al-Jazeera; claims by other released detainees have been covered in other media since then. But the NEWSWEEK report arrived at a particularly delicate moment in Afghan politics. Opponents of the Karzai government, including remnants of the deposed Taliban regime, have been looking for ways to exploit public discontent. The Afghan economy is weak, and the government (pressed by the United States) has alienated farmers by trying to eradicate their poppy crops, used to make heroin in the global drug trade. Afghan men are sometimes rounded up during ongoing U.S. military operations, and innocents can sit in jail for months. When they are released, many complain of abuse. President Karzai is still largely respected, but many Afghans regard him as too dependent on and too obsequious to the United States. With Karzai scheduled to come to Washington next week, this is a good time for his enemies to make trouble.

That does not quite explain, however, why the protest and rioting over Qur'an desecration spread throughout the Islamic region. After so many gruesome reports of torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, the vehemence of feeling around this case came as something of a surprise. Extremist agitators are at least partly to blame, but obviously the reports of Qur'anic desecration touch a particular nerve in the Islamic world. U.S. officials, including President George W. Bush, are uneasily watching, and last week Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pointedly remarked that any desecration of the Qur'an would not be "tolerated" by the United States. (As a legal matter, U.S. citizens are free to deface the Qur'an as an exercise of free speech, just as they are free to burn the American flag or tear up a Bible; but government employees can be punished for violating government rules.)

After the rioting began last week, the Pentagon attempted to determine the veracity of the NEWSWEEK story. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers told reporters that so far no allegations had been proven. He did appear to cryptically refer to two mentions found in the logs of prison guards in Gitmo: a report that a detainee had used pages of the Qur'an to stop up a crude toilet as a form of protest, and a complaint from a detainee that a prison guard had knocked down a Qur'an hanging in a bag in his cell.

On Friday night, Pentagon spokesman DiRita called NEWSWEEK to complain about the original PERISCOPE item. He said, "We pursue all credible allegations" of prisoner abuse, but insisted that the investigators had found none involving Qur'an desecration. DiRita sent NEWSWEEK a copy of rules issued to the guards (after the incidents mentioned by General Myers) to guarantee respect for Islamic worship. On Saturday, Isikoff spoke to his original source, the senior government official, who said that he clearly recalled reading investigative reports about mishandling the Qur'an, including a toilet incident. But the official, still speaking anonymously, could no longer be sure that these concerns had surfaced in the SouthCom report. Told of what the NEWSWEEK source said, DiRita exploded, "People are dead because of what this son of a bitch said. How could he be credible now?"

In the meantime, as part of his ongoing reporting on the detainee-abuse story, Isikoff had contacted a New York defense lawyer, Marc Falkoff, who is representing 13 Yemeni detainees at Guantánamo. According to Falkoff's declassified notes, a mass-suicide attempt—when 23 detainees tried to hang or strangle themselves in August 2003—was triggered by a guard's dropping a Qur'an and stomping on it. One of Falkoff's clients told him, "Another detainee tried to kill himself after the guard took his Qur'an and threw it in the toilet." A U.S. military spokesman, Army Col. Brad Blackner, dismissed the claims as unbelievable. "If you read the Al Qaeda training manual, they are trained to make allegations against the infidels," he said.

More allegations, credible or not, are sure to come. Bader Zaman Bader, a 35-year-old former editor of a fundamentalist English-language magazine in Peshawar, was released from more than two years' lockup in Guantánamo seven months ago. Arrested by Pakistani security as a suspected Qaeda militant in November 2001, he was handed over to the U.S. military and held at a tent at the Kandahar airfield. One day, Bader claims, as the inmates' latrines were being emptied, a U.S. soldier threw in a Qur'an. After the inmates screamed and protested, a U.S. commander apologized. Bader says he still has nightmares about the incident.

Such stories may spark more trouble. Though decrepit and still run largely by warlords, Afghanistan was not considered by U.S. officials to be a candidate for serious anti-American riots. But Westerners, including those at NEWSWEEK, may underestimate how severely Muslims resent the American presence, especially when it in any way interferes with Islamic religious faith.

So much for all those layers of editing and fact-checking. So much for candid acceptance of blame. Newsweek doesn't have a motto (that I know of) but if it did, it would be this: "Sensationalism for the sake of sensationalism, and the consequences be damned." Or this: "Pass the buck."

Democracy and Great Art

I have written much about democracy's insidious effect on liberty. For example, in Part V of "Practical Libertarianism for Americans" I said:
[P]ublic opinion, elite opinion, and the media have combined to undo the great work of the Framers, whose Constitution prevented tyranny by the majority. Unchecked democracy has become the enemy of liberty and, therefore, of material progress. As Michael Munger says, "The real key to freedom is to secure people from tyranny by the majority, or freedom from democracy."

The last best hope for liberty and prosperity lies in the neutralization of public opinion through a renewal of constitutional principles.
To which I added, in Part VI:
Unchecked democracy undermines liberty and its blessings. Unchecked democracy imposes on everyone the mistakes and mistaken beliefs of the controlling faction. It defeats learning. It undoes the social fabric that underlies civility. It defeats the sublime rationality of free markets, which enable independent individuals to benefit each other through the pursuit of self-interest. As "anonymous" says, with brutal accuracy, "Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on lunch."...

Human nature has overcome constitutional obstacles. The governed and their governors -- locked in a symbiotic relationship that is built on a mistrustful worldview, economic illiteracy, and baser instincts -- have conspired to undermine the Constitution's checks and balances. People, given their mistrustful and ignorant nature, have turned to government for "solutions" to their "problems." Government, in its turn, has seized whatever power is necessary to go through the motions of providing "solutions." For rare is the legislator who doesn't want to legislate, the executive who doesn't want to act, and the judge who doesn't want to exercise his judgment by interpreting the law rather than simply apply it...

[L]iberty has been vanquished in the mistaken belief (or hope) that government can effectively and efficiently make us better off, salve our woes, and put an end to social and racial divisions. To those ends, the governed and their governors, walking hand in hand, have taken liberty for a stroll down a slippery slope. Every step they have taken down that slope has made more problematic our journey back up the slope.
Think of the Constitution as a great work of art that has been altered through the operation of public and elite opinion. The result is analogous to this:

That's da Vinci's Mona Lisa, in case you don't recognize it.

Abortion and Crime

REVISED 05/15/05 (9:11 PM)

Several months ago, in "How to Fight Crime," I said:
According to an article in today's NYTimes.com, "Most Crimes of Violence and Property Hover at 30-Year Lows." Three important things happened after 1995 -- the year in which the rate of violent crime began to drop markedly. First, the incarceration rate continued to rise: Persistence pays off. Second, the percentage of the population that is male and 20-24 years old continued to drop, in keeping with the general aging of the population. (Age usually brings with it a greater degree of maturity, stability, and aversion to committing criminal acts.) At the same time, spending on criminal justice functions (police, corrections, and courts) continued to rise, especially spending on police.

I'm sure there are other causal factors, but those are probably the big ones. The first and third of those factors -- incarceration and spending on the criminal justice system -- go hand in hand. And they are the public-policy weapons of choice in a society that values individual responsibility.
Then Freakonomics was published. In it economist Steven Levitt challenged that orthodoxy. Here's how The Washington Post reported Levitt's findings about the drop in crime:
Freakonomics is packed with fascinating ideas. Consider Levitt's notion of a relationship between abortion access and the crime drop. First, Freakonomics shows that although commonly cited factors such as improved policing tactics, more felons kept in prison and the declining popularity of crack account for some of the national reduction in crime that began in about the year 1990, none of these completes the explanation. (New York City and San Diego have enjoyed about the same percentage decrease in crime, for instance, though the former adopted new policing tactics and the latter did not.) What was the significance of the year 1990, Levitt asks? That was about 16 years after Roe v. Wade . Studies consistently show that a disproportionate number of crimes are committed by those raised in broken homes or who were unwanted as children. When abortion became legal nationally, Levitt theorizes, births of unwanted children declined; 16 years later crime began to decline, as around age 16 is the point at which many once-innocent boys start their descent into the criminal life. Leavitt's [sic] clincher point is that the crime drop commenced approximately five years sooner in Alaska, California, Hawaii, New York and Washington state than it did in the nation as a whole. What do these states have in common? All legalized abortion about five years before Roe .
Well, Steve Sailer (among others) has attacked Levitt's findings:
First, Levitt's theory is predicated -- at least publicly -- on abortion reducing the proportion of "unwanted" babies, who are presumed to be more likely to grow up to be criminals. The empirical problem with this is that legalization (which occurred in California, New York, and three other states in 1970 and nationally in 1973), didn't put the slightest dent in the illegitimacy rate, which is, by far, the most obvious objective sign of not being wanted by the mother and father, and has been linked repeatedly with crime:

You'll note that the growth in the illegitimacy rate didn't start to slow down until the mid-1990s when the abortion rate finally went down a considerable amount.

My article offers a simple explanation, drawn from Levitt's own research, of why legal abortion tends to increase illegitimacy.

Second, the acid test of Levitt's theory is that it predicts that the first cohort to survive being culled by legal abortion should have been particularly law-abiding. Instead, they went on the worst teen murder rampage in American history. Here's a graph showing the homicide rate for 14-17 year olds, and below each year is the average birthdate of the 14-17 year old cohort.

For example, the 14-17 year olds in the not particularly murderous year of 1976 were, on average, born about 1960 (i.e., 1976 - 16 years of age = 1960), so they didn't "benefit" from being culled by legalized abortion the way that the 14-17 years olds during the peak murder years of 1993 and 1994 should have benefited, according to Levitt.

In contrast, the homicide rate for the 25 and over cohort (none of whom enjoyed the benefits of legalized abortion) was lower in 1993 than in 1983.

Levitt seems to have a good answer to Sailer's second point. But Sailer has the better of it on the first point, which is the critical one to Levitt's case. As Sailer puts it in his American Conservative article:
The most striking fact about legalized abortion, but also the least discussed, is its pointlessness. Levitt himself notes that following Roe, “Conceptions rose by nearly 30 percent, but births actually fell by 6 percent …” So for every six fetuses aborted in the 1970s, five would never have been conceived except for Roe! This ratio makes a sick joke out of Levitt’s assumption that legalization made a significant difference in how “wanted” children were. Indeed, perhaps the increase in the number of women who got pregnant figuring they would get an abortion but then were too drunk or drugged or distracted to get to the clinic has meant that the “wantedness” of surviving babies has declined.
If the legalization of abortion did result in less crime it's only because abortion became more prevalent among that segment of society that is most prone to commit crime. (I dare not speak its name.) What policy does Levitt want us to infer from that bit of causality? Would he favor a program of euthanasia for the most crime-prone segment of society? Now there's a fine kettle of fish for Leftists, who favor abortion and oppose "oppression" of the the segment of society that is the most crime-prone.

I stand by my original assertion that " incarceration and spending on the criminal justice system...are the public-policy weapons of choice" in dealing with crime. Whatever abortion is, it isn't a crime-footing tool.

Related posts:
Does Capital Punishment Deter Homicide?
Libertarian Twaddle about the Death Penalty
Crime and Punishment
Saving the Innocent?
Saving the Innocent?: Part II
More on Abortion and Crime
More Punishment Means Less Crime
More About Crime and Punishment
More Punishment Means Less Crime: A Footnote
Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty
Let the Punishment Fit the Crime
Another Argument for the Death Penalty
Less Punishment Means More Crime
Crime, Explained