Saturday, April 29, 2006

"Dangerous Dan" McCain

My reference is to the title character of Robert Service's poem, "The Shooting of Dan McGrew." But John McCain is far more dangerous than any Klondike gunslinger, because McCain would use (and has used) the power of government to suppress speech in the name of "clean government."

Many bloggers have picked up on McCain's latest outrageous utterance:

He [Michael Graham] also mentioned my abridgement of First Amendment rights, i.e. talking about campaign finance reform....I know that money corrupts....I would rather have a clean government than one where quote First Amendment rights are being respected, that has become corrupt. If I had my choice, I'd rather have the clean government.

But no blogger whom I have read has gone to the heart of "Dangerous Dan" McCain's twisted agenda. When speech is suppressed in the name of "clean government," the essential element of "clean government" -- namely, competition for control -- is removed.

McCain and his ilk like to pretend that money "buys" politicians. Money may buy criminal acts -- such as those committed by Duke Cunningham -- but those acts are easilty dealt with as matters of criminality. In the main, money only "buys" politicians to the extent that it helps to elect those politicians whose views are already attuned to the views of their contributors.

Incumbents already have been "bought" in the sense that their success has been abetted by like-minded supporters. The best way to keep incumbents "honest" is to ensure that they face strong challenges at election time. But the power of incumbency requires that challengers have access to more money than incumbents. McCain will have none of that because his real agenda is to make it difficult for challengers to raise enough money to defeat incumbents. It's a power-grab, pure and simple.

It should be obvious to anyone who thinks about it for more than a nanosecond that "Dangerous Dan" McCain -- that arrogant hypocrite -- is opposed to free speech and "clean government." His twisted agenda is to suppress potential challenges to the power of incumbency.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Disposing of a Few Idiocies

Late Friday afternoon, fresh from a nap after a delightful lunch at a lakeside restaurant. I can muster only a few quick comments.

Dale Carpenter, writing at The Volokh Conspiracy, asks "Why So Few Gay Marriages?" He fails to suggest the main reason: "Gayness" is mostly about sex, not about lifetime bonding centered mainly around children.

Publius (with a little "p"), of legal fiction, chastises Americans for their obliviousness to history. His aim -- which he disavows, of course -- is to suggest that Americans are somehow responsible for Islamic terrorism because of their ignorance of the "villainy" of (some of) their European ancestors during the Crusades. According to publius, Americans' obliviousness to history also blinds them to the fact that America's efforts to "export democracy" have been failures, though he somehow fails to mention Germany and Japan. Nor does he acknowledge that our real aim in the Middle East isn't so much to export democracy as it is to establish friendly regimes that are (at least) not oppressive.

Publius goes on to say that "Americans just haven’t had to internalize defeat, loss, and humiliation in the same way that other people have." But in the next paragraph he contradicts himself by acknowledging "two [sizeable] groups of people in America that do have a collective consciousness of resentment . . . white Southerners and blacks. Say what you will about both groups, they don’t forget." I'm not sure whether little "p" objects to the defeat of the Confederacy or to the failure of the effort to remove all freed slaves to Liberia.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Come the Millenium . . .

. . . or Nirvana, or the Left's day-dream . . . and the price of gasoline will be pegged by the government at $1.00 a gallon, everyone will have free access to a state-run healthcare system, and everyone (but the intelligentsia and commissars, of course) will be paid the same "living wage" regardless of differences in what they do or how well they do it. The result? Gas will be available only on the black market, there will be less healthcare (and what there is will be lousy), and the American standard of living will be reduced to a depth not reached during the Great Depression. But Leftists, naifs (that's most Americans), and power-crazed politicians will be happy -- because government is doing something!

A "Living Constitution" Means Anything and Everything

Keith Burgess-Jackson (AnalPhilosopher) points out that the

editors of The New York Times, in their infinite wisdom, conclude that capital punishment violates the United States Constitution. See here. In this, they disagree with the framers of the Constitution, who wrote that "No person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." I go with the framers. You?

Me? I'm with the Framers. But then, I don't believe in the "living Constitution," wherein one may find anything one wants to find, not only deep in the penumbras but also in open contradiction with the Framers' plain words.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

True Federalism

Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution observes that

[c]ompetitive federalism has many advantages. Citizens can move to communities that better reflect their preferences for public goods, they can vote with their feet, thereby penalizing poorly performing governments, and they can serve as a salutary example for others by trying out new ideas in governing.

Yet, in 1789 the United States had 13 states and four million people. If the number of states had grown as fast as the number of people or if we in the United States had about the same amount of federalism as do the contemporary Swiss we would today have about 1000 states.

I think we need more states. If 1000 sounds extreme why is 50 the magic number? And why is 50 the magic number when the population is 150 million as when it is 300 million?

I agree that the ability to vote with one's feet is essential to liberty. As I wrote here,

Exit -- the ability to flee a highly taxed and regulated State (that is, one of the United States) for a somewhat less taxed and regulated State -- remains an option, and those who avail themselves of it are sending a message that is lost in the tumult and shouting of electoral politics. Despite the erosion of local and regional differences in governance -- owing to the centralization of power in Washington and the general expansion of government power at all subordinate levels -- there is net migration from the Northeast and Midwest toward the "sun belt" States of the South and West (excluding California), which generally have lower tax rates and less unionism than the Northeast and Midwest. (Summary statistics on internal migration are here, at Table H on page 14. An index of economic freedom, by State, is here.)

It is therefore no coincidence that the mean population center of the U.S. has since 1960 moved smartly southwestward, from southern Illinois into south central Missouri. Incentives matter; that which enhances economic liberty also enhances personal liberty, for the two are indivisible. The urge for liberty drives people out of high-tax States and toward (relatively) low-tax States, as illustrated by this graphic from "Revolution on Wheels" (Barron's Online, February 13, 2006):

The lesson here is simple: As long as there is meaningful exit there can be a race to the top. Exit serves liberty because it enables each person to find that place whose values come closest to his or her preferred way of life. Places deemed among the most attractive will grow in numbers and prosper; places deemed less attractive will wither, economically if not in terms of population. Under the right conditions (to which I will come), the balance will tilt toward liberty, that is, toward a modus vivendi that seems, for most people, to offer happiness. That is the essence of federalism, as it was envisioned by the Framers.

But how many States do we need? Ideally, a lot more than 1,000. In the same post I proposed the establishment of a

zone of liberty [which] would be something like a "new city" -- with a big difference. Uninhabited land would be acquired by a wealthy lover (or lovers) of liberty (call him or them the "developer"). The zone would be populated initially by immigrants, who would buy parcels of land from the developer, and who would be allowed to build the home or business of their choosing on the land that they buy. Sub-developers would be allowed to acquire large parcels, subdivide those parcels, and attach perpetual covenants to the use of the subdivided parcels -- covenants that initial and subsequent buyers would knowingly accept. Absentee ownership would be prohibited.

Infrastructure would be provided by competing vendors of telecommunications and transportation services. Rights-of-way would be created through negotiations between vendors and property owners. Any resident homeowner or businessperson could import or export any article from or to any place, including another country; there would be no import controls, duties, or tarrifs; the only restrictions on commerce would be those that are imposed by outside governments.

A zone's government would comprise an elected council, a police force, and a court (all paid for by assessments based on the last sale price of each property in the zone). The police force would be empowered to keep the peace among the residents of the zone, and to protect the residents from outsiders who come into the zone without permission from a resident and/or who breach the peace. Breaches of the peace would be defined by the development of a common law through the court. The elected council (whose members would serve single, four-year terms) would oversee the police force and court, and would impose the assessments necessary to defray the costs of government. The council would have no other powers, and it would be able to exercise its limited powers only by agreement among three-fourths of the members of the council. The members, who would not be salaried, would annually submit a proposed budget to the electorate, which would have to approve the budget by a three-fourths majority. The electorate would consist of every resident who is an owner or joint owner of a residence or business (not undeveloped land), and who has attained the age of 30.

A zone of liberty would not be bound by federal, State, or local statutes, except that the federal government could impose a per-capita tax on residents of the zone that is sufficient to defray the zone's per-capita share of the national budget for defense and foreign affairs. The actions of the zone's government would be reviewable only by the U.S. Supreme Court, and then only following the passage of a bill of particulars by two-thirds of the number of U.S. Senators and Representatives, which must be signed by the President. (A zone could be abolished only with the approval of four-fifths of both houses of Congress and the President.)

Absent such an experiment, I fear that organized minorities will continue to constrain liberty, mooting even the modest degree of inter-State migration that now prevails. Our only hope for liberty -- albeit a slim one -- would then rest in the hands of the Supreme Court.

I am being realistic in my assessment of what it would take to attain something like liberty in the United States: either an upheaval of the Supreme Court or the creation of something like zones of liberty. Politics as usual will only take us further down the road to serfdom. Frankly, I see little chance of averting serfdom. All I can do is propose an alternative -- unlikely as it is -- and pray.

How many persons would inhabit a zone of liberty?

I would constrain the size and membership of each zone of liberty, creating more of them instead of allowing any one of them to grow beyond the size of a small village -- perhaps not exceeding a population of 150.

That's 2 million zones of liberty (or States) for a population of 300 million. Hmmm . . .

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

It's the Spending Stupid

. . . as I've explained many times, most recently here. The Skeptical Optimist has a rosy outlook because his focus is on near-term prospects for eliminating the deficit. But look at the following chart (and ignore the revenue line).

I'm certainly not picking on The Skeptical Optimist, who has a rather sensible view of the deficit. But I am picking on "deficit hawks" who want to attack the deficit by raising taxes. All that does is lend an air of legitimacy to the government's confiscation of resources through spending.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

E Pluribus Unum?

In the preceding post bemoaned the fact that the United States has become

a geographically defined collection of regionally, ethnically, politically, and culturally diverse identity groups. In that respect, what we ironically call the United States has become less coherent than at any time since the Civil War.

All of that splintering would be all right, if it weren't for the fact that most of the splinter groups try to use the power of the state to bring the other splinter groups to heel. What's so desperately needed is a return to federalism, in its original conception. As I wrote here,

[t]he constitutional contract charges the federal government with keeping peace among the States, ensuring uniformity in the rules of inter-State and international commerce, facing the world with a single foreign policy and a national armed force, and assuring the even-handed application of the Constitution and of constitutional laws. That is all.

With the federal government as a protective shield, citizens could "vote with their feet," choose their associates, and argue among themselves about the role of government. I explore that topic in "Finding Liberty," where I say that

[a]s long as there is meaningful exit there can be a race to the top. Exit serves liberty because it enables each person to find that place whose values come closest to his or her preferred way of life. Places deemed among the most attractive will grow in numbers and prosper; places deemed less attractive will wither, economically if not in terms of population. Under the right conditions . . . , the balance will tilt toward liberty, that is, toward a modus vivendi that seems, for most people, to offer happiness. That is the essence of federalism, as it was envisioned by the Framers.

That post is part of a series, "The Meaning of Liberty," the several parts of which are consolidated here . The bottom line of the series:

  • Liberty suffers when a central government does more than make war, conduct foreign affairs, and regulate inter-State commerce for the sole purpose of ensuring against the erection of barriers to trade.
  • Liberty suffers when a central government imposes rules on all at the instigation of the majority or coalitions of minorities.
  • Liberty thrives when the rules that govern relations among the members of a group are agreed among the members of the group -- even if those rules vary from group to group. One group's liberty may be another group's strait-jacket, and vice versa.

The motto of the United States -- e pluribus unum (out of many, one) -- will not be realized unless and until "Blue Staters" embrace true federalism.

P.S. Think of true federalism as being like a family in which all the children are grown. (No, I am not positing an all-wise, all-caring government as parent.) In most such families, the members get along best when each goes his or her own way, which is why Ma and Pa live in Michigan, Junior lives in Virginia, Sis lives in Iowa, and The Twins have split their act and gone to Oregon and Texas. They keep in touch, and they help each other through personal crises, but otherwise they stay out of each other's hair (as the saying goes).

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The State of the Union . . .

. . . is truly abysmal, when I think about it. And I was prompted to think about it by Mike Rappaport's post, "The Decline of American Civilization," at The Right Coast. Rappaport says that

the criticisms of Donald Rumsfeld by retired generals are another example of the violation of traditional norms that have served our country. Such criticisms both undermine civilian control of the military and can be exploited by our enemies. Norms of this sort are important and valuable but are increasingly ignored. Retired Presidents used to avoid strongly criticizing the current President, especially when the criticisms would be made on foreign soil and would be about foreign relations. But Presidents Clinton and Carter are happy to do it.

I suppose that the country will continue to exist, even though these norms are violated. But the nation will change for the worse. It will be harder to stay unified and to deal with one another in a civil way. And that, in the long run, is a big concern.

My reaction: The generals' criticisms of Rumsfeld won't make the nation worse off. Rather, they are symptoms of the already decrepit condition of the nation. In fact, as nationhood used to be understood, we no longer have a nation -- as evidenced, to take but one example, by the Left's resistance to the war on terror. What we have is a geographically defined collection of regionally, ethnically, politically, and culturally diverse identity groups. In that respect, what we ironically call the United States has become less coherent than at any time since the Civil War.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Hang Her High


(If she's guilty, of course.)

CIA Officer Fired for Leaking Classified Info to Media

P.S. to Bush-bashers: A leak is an unauthorized disclosure of information. The head of the executive branch is authorized to authorize disclosures.

P.P.S. (from Wizbang!):

[T]he CIA officer's name is Mary McCarthy. She worked at the Inspector General's office and testified in front of the 9/11 Commission.

Intelligence sources tell NBC News the accused officer, Mary McCarthy, worked in the CIA's inspector general's office and had worked for the National Security Council under the Clinton and and George W. Bush administrations.

The leak pertained to stories on the CIA's rumored secret prisons in Eastern Europe, sources told NBC. The information was allegedly provided to Dana Priest of the Washington Post, who wrote about CIA prisons in November and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize on Monday for her reporting.

Sources said the CIA believes McCarthy had more than a dozen unauthorized contacts with Priest. Information about subjects other than the prisons may have been leaked as well.

Update II: The Jawa Report says that McCarthy gave $2,000 to Kerry's 2004 campaign [emphasis mine, all mine].

MY UPDATE (04/22, 1:15 PM):

McCarthy may have been a serial leaker, and -- hah! -- she may have been caught in a sting operation.

Cell Phones and Driving: Liberty vs. Life

For more evidence of the link between cell-phone use and highway fatalities, see also this post.


(My sentiments, exactly.)

And cell-phone users do die . . . but they take others with them:

Study: Distractions Cause Most Car Crashes

By KEN THOMAS, Associated Press Writer

BLACKSBURG, Va. - Those sleep-deprived, multitasking drivers — clutching cell phones, fiddling with their radios or applying lipstick — apparently are involved in an awful lot of crashes.

Distracted drivers were involved in nearly eight out of 10 collisions or near-crashes, says a study released Thursday by the government. . . .

"We see people on the roadways talking on the phone, checking their stocks, checking scores, fussing with their MP3 players, reading e-mails, all while driving 40, 50, 60, 70 miles per hour and sometimes even faster," said Jacqueline Glassman, acting administrator of the government's highway safety agency.

A driver's reaching for a moving object increased the risk of a crash or potential collision by nine times, according to researchers at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

They found that the risk of a crash increases almost threefold when a driver is dialing a cell phone. . . .[Emphasis added.]

Researchers said the report showed the first links between crash risks and a driver's activities, from eating and talking to receiving e-mail.

"All of these activities are much more dangerous than we thought before," said Dr. Charlie Klauer, a senior research associate at the institute. Data from police reports had estimated that driver inattention was a factor in about 25 percent of crashes.

Some safety organizations said the study was part of a growing body of research and worried it might lead to reactionary laws.

"I urge legislators not to interpret these results as a need for new legislative initiatives. It is simply not good public policy to pass laws addressing every type of driver behavior," said Lt. Col. Jim Champagne, chairman of the Governors Highway Safety Association. . . . [Why not? Pray tell.]

Assessing cell phone use, the researchers said the number of crashes or near-crashes linked to dialing the phones was nearly identical to those tied to talking or listening on the phone.

Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and the District of Columbia have laws that prohibit people from talking on handheld cell phones while driving.

A government report last year found that about 10 percent of drivers are using cell phones. . . .

Also Thursday, a preliminary report from the safety agency said the highway death rate rose slightly in 2005 after falling for two years. The government said 43,200 people died on the road, compared with 42,636 in 2004.

A question for hard-core libertarians: Should there be strictly enforced laws (with harsh penalties) against talking on a cell phone while driving? I say "yes." If you disagree, tell me why. And don't waste words on a diatribe against the existence of the state. Start with reality, and take it from there.

UPDATE (5:10 pm): The Gonzman offers some good points:

[T]he laws of consequence should apply. I’m against seat belt laws, but for insurance companies declining to pay for your injuries if you refuse to wear one, per their contract with you. Same thing with motorcycle helmets.

Cell Phones? The consequences are predictable. And cell phone LUDS are easy to check. So, if you have an accident while talking on one, it should be a rebuttable presumption the accident is your fault, and further, if injury or death results, you should be subject to criminal charges.

I used to regard it as similar to drunk driving, but there is a distinction that my thinking has led me to over the years. A drunk is always impaired; someone talking on a cell phone, or eating lunch, or changing the radio, or lighting a cigarette is merely distracted to a lesser or greater degree, depending on traffic and/or road conditions. There are ways to do these responsibly. . . .

Here's my reaction:

If cell-phone use is potentially as dangerous as drunk driving, why shouldn't a cop pull over a person he sees holding a cell phone to her ear (or reading a paper or doing her nails), just as he would (and should) pull over a person whose driving suggests drunkenness? That is, why not try to prevent the preventable when the opportunity arises? If the cops are going to be out there anyway (and it's probably a good thing that they are), they might as well do something preventive if they can.

I don't mean that cops should pull over drivers for failing to wear seatbelts or motorcycle helmets. The failure to wear a seatbelt or helmet doesn't have murderous externalities, unlike talking on a cell-phone or driving drunk.

I like the Gonzman's point about deterrence, but I wouldn't rely solely on it in cases where there are potentially murderous externalities. Let it be known that phone records will be checked and criminal charges will be filed if the driver was on a cell phone at the time of an accident. Let insurance companies write policies that do not cover the life, limb, and property of the person at fault. Such measures might deter a lot of yakkety-yak. But that's no reason not to haul drivers over when they insist on hands-on yakking while driving.

So, I would go for a combination of deterrence and preventive enforcement. But -- again -- I would apply preventive enforcement only where a police officer sees behavior that potentially risks the lives of other persons, as in the cases of drunk driving and having a hands-on cell-phone conversation.

We may be hearing more from the Gonzman. Stay tuned.

UPDATE 2 (6:20 pm):

I am not buying in to the nanny-state mentality that bans smoking in privately owned establishments, such as bars and clubs, for the ostensible purpose of preventing death and disease. The main excuse for such bans (the main reason is anti-smoking prudery) is that smoking endangers the health of non-smokers as well as smokers. Pardon me, but the last time I looked there were places other than bars where one could drink or hold down a job. No one is forcing non-smokers to socialize and work at places where smoking is allowed.

But for the vast majority of drivers there is no alternative to the use of public streets and highways. Relatively few persons can afford private jets and helicopters for commuting and shopping. And as far as I know there are no private, drunk-drivers-and-cell-phones-banned highways. Yes, there might be a market for those drunk-drivers-and-cell-phones-banned highways, but that's not the reality of here-and-now.

So, I can avoid the (remote) risk of death by second-hand smoke by avoiding places where people smoke. But I cannot avoid the (less-than-remote) risk of death at the hands of a drunk or cell-phone yakker. Therefore, I say, arrest the drunks, cell-phone users, nail-polishers, newspaper-readers, and others of their ilk on sight; slap them with heavy fines; add jail terms for repeat offenders; and penalize them even more harshly if they take life, cause injury, or inflict property damage.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Courtly Doings

First, the bad news: the worst choices made by a president when faced with two finalists. Ed Whelan goes with Bush I's selection of David Souter over Edith Jones, followed closely by Ford's choice of John Paul Stevens over J. Clifford Wallace.

Now, the good news: Tom Parker, a justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, chastises his colleagues for following the U.S. Supreme Court's precedent in Roper v. Simmons, which declared that Christoper Simmons couldn't be executed for a murder he committed when he was not yet 18 years old. Here's Justice Parker:

[M]y fellow Alabama justices freed [Renaldo] Adams from death row not because of any error of our courts but because they chose to passively accommodate -- rather than actively resist -- the unconstitutional opinion of five liberal justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Those liberal justices declared last spring in the case of Roper v. Simmons that "evolving standards of decency" now make it "unconstitutional" to execute murderers who were minors at the time of their crime. The justices based their ruling not on the original intent or actual language of the United States Constitution but on foreign law, including United Nations treaties.

Ironically, one of the UN treaties invoked by the U.S. Supreme Court as a basis for its Roper decision is a treaty the United States has refused to sign. By insisting that American states submit to this unratified treaty, the liberals on the U.S. Supreme Court not only unconstitutionally invalidated laws in 20 states but, to do so, also usurped the treaty-making authority of both the President and the U.S. Senate. . . .

. . . I am surprised, and dismayed, that my colleagues on the Alabama Supreme Court not only gave in to this unconstitutional activism without a word of protest but also became accomplices to it by citing Roper as the basis for their decision to free Adams from death row.

The proper response to such blatant judicial tyranny would have been for the Alabama Supreme Court to decline to follow Roper in the Adams case. . . .

After all, Roper itself was established as new U.S. Supreme Court "precedent" only because the Missouri Supreme Court refused to follow prior precedent. The U.S. Supreme Court used the appeal resulting from the Missouri decision to overturn its previous precedent and declined to rebuke the state court for disregarding the prior precedent.

State supreme courts may decline to follow bad U.S. Supreme Court precedents because those decisions bind only the parties to the particular case. Judges around the country normally follow precedents in similar cases because they know that if those cases go before the Court again they are likely to receive the same verdict. But state supreme court judges should not follow obviously wrong decisions simply because they are "precedents."

After all, a judge takes an oath to support the constitution -- not to automatically follow activist justices who believe their own devolving standards of decency trump the text of the constitution. . . .

Nullification of judicial activism by principled adherence to the U.S. Constitution. I like it. Very much. It gives "judicial supremacy" a brand new, delicious meaning.

Related posts:
When Must the Executive Enforce the Law?
More on the Debate about Judicial Supremacy
Another Look at Judicial Supremacy
Freedom of Contract and the Rise of Judicial Tyranny
Judicial Interpretation
Is Nullification the Answer to Judicial Supremacy?
The Alternative to Nullification
No Way Out?
The Wrong Case for Judicial Review
Raich and the Rule of Law
The Last Straw?
An Agenda for the Supreme Court
What Is the Living Constitution?
The Supreme Court: Our Last, Best Hope for a Semblance of Liberty
Tom DeLay and James Madison
The Case of the (Happily) Missing Supreme Court Nominee(s)
Kelo, Federalism, and Libertarianism
States' Rights and Skunks
A Useful Precedent
Speaking of States' Rights and Judge McConnell
An Answer to Judicial Supremacy?
Oh, *That* Privacy Right
Don't Just Take My Word for It
The Original Meaning of the Ninth Amendment
Substantive Due Process, Liberty of Contract, and States' "Police Power"
Amend the Constitution or Amend the Supreme Court?

The Importance of Deficits

Here's the conclusion of "Deficits: Do They Matter?" by Brian S. Westbury and Bill Mulvihill of First Trust Portfolios L.P.:

The one worry we have is that government spending has soared – from 18.4% to 20.1% of GDP between 2000 and 2005. This spending represents resources shifted from the private sector to the public sector. With entitlement spending set to rise dramatically in coming decades, this spending is the real threat to the economy.

Precisely. The focus on deficits is misplaced; the real threat to the economy is the amount of government spending. The more government spends, the less there is for the private sector to consume and invest.

Related posts:
The Destruction of Income and Wealth by the State
Curing Debt Hysteria in One Easy Lesson
Understanding Economic Growth
The Real Meaning of the National Debt
Debt Hysteria, Revisited
Why Government Spending Is Inherently Inflationary
Joe Stiglitz, Ig-Nobelist
Professor Buchanan Makes a Slight Mistake
More Commandments of Economics
Productivity Growth and Tax Cuts
Do Future Generations Pay for Deficits?
Liberty, General Welfare, and the State
Starving the Beast, Updated
Trade, Government Spending, and Economic Growth
The Causes of Economic Growth

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A New National Anthem?

I have always been rather attached to "La Marseillaise." Wikipedia's article about it includes this:

The song was banned in Vichy France and German occupied areas during World War II and singing it was an act of resistance (see also Chant des Partisans). . . .

In France itself, the anthem (and particularly the lyrics) has become a somewhat controversial issue since the 1970s. Some consider it militaristic and xenophobic, and many propositions have been made to change the anthem or the lyrics.

What do the objectors find objectionable? This:

Verse I
Arise children of our fatherland,
The day of glory has arrived!
Against us, tyranny,
Has raised its bloodied banner,
Do you hear in the fields
The howling of these fearsome soldiers?
They are coming into your midst
To slit the throats of your sons and consorts!
To arms, citizens!
Form your battalions!
Let us march, let us march!
Let impure blood (of our enemies)
Soak the furrows (of our fields)
Verse II
What does this horde of slaves,
Traitors, and plotting kings want?
For whom these vile chains
These long-prepared irons?
Frenchmen, for us, ah! What outrage,
What fury must it arouse?
It is us they dare plan
To return to the old slavery!
Verse III
What! These foreign cohorts!
They would make laws in our courts!
What! These mercenary phalanxes
Would cut down our warrior sons
Good Lord! By chained hands
Our brow would yield under the yoke
The vile despots would have themselves be
The masters of destiny
Verse IV
Tremble, tyrants and traitors
The shame of all good men
Tremble! Your parricidal schemes
Will receive their just reward
Against you we are all soldiers
If they fall, our young heroes
France will bear new ones
Ready to join the fight against you
Verse V
Frenchmen, as magnanimous warriors
Bear or hold back your blows
Spare these sad victims
That they regret taking up arms against us
But not these bloody despots
These accomplices of Bouillé
All these tigers who mercilessly
Ripped out their mothers' wombs
Verse VI
Sacred patriotic love
Lead [and] support our avenging arms
Liberty, cherished liberty
Fight back with your defenders
Under our flags, let victory
Hurry to your manly tone
So that your enemies, in their last breath [before death]
See your triumph and our glory!
Verse VII
We shall enter the career
When our elders will no longer be there
There we shall find their ashes
And the mark of their virtues
[We are] Much less jealous of surviving them
Than of sharing their coffins
[For] We shall have the sublime pride
Of avenging or joining them

If the French (unsurprisingly) find it too ferocious, let's make it our own by replacing "Frenchmen" and "France" with "Americans" and "America." Given the present state of the world, "La Marseillaise" is much more fitting (and rousing) than the rather airy (and almost un-sing-able) "Star Spangled Banner."


Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi devoted an entire book to Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience:

You have heard about how a musician loses herself in her music, how a painter becomes one with the process of painting. In work, sport, conversation or hobby, you have experienced, yourself, the suspension of time, the freedom of complete absorption in activity. This is "flow ." . . . (from, linked above)

According to an article at, here's what happens during "flow":

Everybody has experienced a sense of “losing oneself” in an activity – being totally absorbed in a task, a movie or sex. Now researchers have caught the brain in the act.

Self-awareness, regarded as a key element of being human, is switched off when the brain needs to concentrate hard on a tricky task, found the neurobiologists from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel.

The team conducted a series of experiments to pinpoint the brain activity associated with introspection and that linked to sensory function. They found that the brain assumes a robotic functionality when it has to concentrate all its efforts on a difficult, timed task – only becoming "human" again when it has the luxury of time.

When an athlete says "I lost my concentration," he means that his state of "flow" was interrupted. In "flow" he doesn't actually "concentrate" (or think) about what he is doing. To the contrary, he simply lets his training and innate skill take over. But when his "concentration" is broken he becomes more aware of what he is doing, that is, self-conscious. And, in his self-consciousness, he does things that interfere with his performance.

I used "flow" when I was a student. I tried to deeply understand each subject (or at least those in which I was interested) by making the material "mine" through diagramming and outlining -- rather than mere memorization. Come exam time, I would spend my evenings at the movies and get plenty of sleep. If I had "crammed" it would have broken my "flow."

Today's Best Reading

Mutiny on the Potomac:

The generals are revolting, by Herbert E. Meyer, at The American Thinker
The Shineski troop strength myth and the generals' revolt, by Douglas Hanson, at The American Thinker
Understanding General Zinni, by Kim Priestap, at Wizbang!
The Marine sends (and the subject is GEN Zinni), Austin Bay Blog

When scientists were patriots:

Science for Better Government, book review by Peter Pettus, at The New York Sun

Reversing the tide of radical feminism:

The 'new woman' is a housewife, by Sarah Baxter and Tom Baird, at Times Online

We're in a war, dammit!

Facing Down Iran, by Mark Steyn, at OpinionJournal
Goodbye to the Way We Were, by Gerard Vanderleun, at American Digest

Lefties on parade:

Professor Sally Jacobsen Apologizes, by Kim Priestap, at Wizbang!
Ohio's Marketplace of Ideas, by Scott Norvell, at Tongue Tied

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Climate Debate: A Postscript

In my most recent posts about the climate debate (here and here), I forgot to note a suppressed article about greenhouse gases, which has been rescued from oblivion and republished here and here. Some excerpts:

According to Vladimir Shaidurov of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the apparent rise in average global temperature recorded by scientists over the last hundred years or so could be due to atmospheric changes that are not connected to human emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of natural gas and oil. . . .

Shaidurov has used a detailed analysis of the mean temperature change by year for the last 140 years and explains that there was a slight decrease in temperature until the early twentieth century. This flies in the face of current global warming theories that blame a rise in temperature on rising carbon dioxide emissions since the start of the industrial revolution. Shaidurov, however, suggests that the rise, which began between 1906 and 1909, could have had a very different cause, which he believes was the massive Tunguska Event, which rocked a remote part of Siberia, northwest of Lake Baikal on the 30th June 1908. . . .

Global warming is thought to be caused by the "greenhouse effect". Energy from the sun reaches the earth's surface and warms it, without the greenhouse effect most of this energy is then lost as the heat radiates back into space. However, the presence of so-called greenhouse gases at high altitude absorb much of this energy and then radiate a proportion back towards the earth's surface. Causing temperatures to rise. . . .

[T]he most potent greenhouse gas is water, explains Shaidurov and it is this compound on which his study focuses. According to Shaidurov, only small changes in the atmospheric levels of water, in the form of vapour and ice crystals can contribute to significant changes to the temperature of the earth's surface, which far outweighs the effects of carbon dioxide and other gases released by human activities. Just a rise of 1% of water vapour could raise the global average temperature of Earth's surface more then 4 degrees Celsius.

The role of water vapour in controlling our planet's temperature was hinted at almost 150 years ago by Irish scientist John Tyndall. Tyndall, who also provided an explanation as to why the sky is blue, explained the problem: "The strongest radiant heat absorber, is the most important gas controlling Earth's temperature. Without water vapour, he wrote, the Earth's surface would be 'held fast in the iron grip of frost'." Thin clouds at high altitude allow sunlight to reach the earth's surface, but reflect back radiated heat, acting as an insulating greenhouse layer.

Water vapour levels are even less within our control than CO levels. According to Andrew E. Dessler of the Texas A & M University writing in 'The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change', "Human activities do not control all greenhouse gases, however. The most powerful greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is water vapour, he says, "Human activities have little direct control over its atmospheric abundance, which is controlled instead by the worldwide balance between evaporation from the oceans and precipitation."

As such, Shaidurov has concluded that only an enormous natural phenomenon, such as an asteroid or comet impact or airburst, could seriously disturb atmospheric water levels, destroying persistent so-called 'silver', or noctilucent, clouds composed of ice crystals in the high altitude mesosphere (50 to 85km). The Tunguska Event was just such an event, and coincides with the period of time during which global temperatures appear to have been rising the most steadily - the twentieth century. There are many hypothetical mechanisms of how this mesosphere catastrophe might have occurred, and future research is needed to provide a definitive answer.

Read the whole thing. Also read John Ray's Greenie Watch, where Ray posts daily updates about unscientific "science" in the service of the Left's anti-humane agenda.

Related posts:
Global Warming: Realities and Benefits
Words of Caution for the Cautious
Scientists in a Snit
Another Blow to Climatology?
Bad News for Politically Correct Science
Another Blow to Chicken-Little Science
Bad News for Enviro-nuts
The Hockey Stick Is Broken
Science in Politics, Politics in Science
Global Warming and Life
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Hurricanes and Global Warming
Global Warming and the Liberal Agenda
Debunking "Scientific Objectivity"
Hurricanes and Glaciers
Remember the Little Ice Age?
Science's Anti-Scientific Bent
A Possibly Useful Idiot

Monday, April 17, 2006

Liberalism vs. Leftism

Joe Miller has an excellent post on the subject at Bellum et Mores. I cannot resist quoting from my comment:

An excellent post. I [Tom] think the heart of the matter lies in this statement [from Joe's post]:

Roughly, then, I [Joe] take liberalism to consist of three main theses:

  • Respect for individual autonomy.
  • A commitment to equality of opportunity.
  • State neutrality.

Liberalism (of the classical variety, which I [Tom] call libertarianism) differs from Leftism mainly in that libertarians favor process over outcome. . . . Leftists, on the other hand, do not respect individual autonomy, are not committed to equality of opportunity (they want to slant the playing field in a certain direction), and they definitely do not want a neutral state. What they want is for certain "classes" and ideas to triumph over others, and they will violate autonomy, equality, and neutrality to get their wishes.

Here's what I didn't think to say in my comment: The question remains whether there is such a thing as a middle ground, in which "liberalism" (of the modern variety) can be distinguished from Leftism. Joe seems to think that there is such a middle ground. I do not.

I will amend this post if Joe replies to my comment and/or this post.

The Romney Plan

Massachusetts has a new health-care panacea, which the Commonwealth's governor, Mitt Romney, outlines and defends in a recent OpinionJournal op-ed. Cutting through all the bleeding-heart rhetoric and pseudo-economics, here's the bottom line:

  • The already over-burdened taxpayers of Massachusetts now face a heavier burden, in the form of subsidies to persons who don't need health insurance.
  • Persons who don't need health insurance will be forced to carry it. And having it, they will probably try to get their "money's worth" out of it -- thus driving up the cost of health care.
  • Businesses will be taxed if they don't contribute to employees' health-insurance premiums. That tax will be paid by workers in the form of lower wages, and by consumers in the form of higher prices.

It is possible that the Massachusetts plan will enable insurers to offer coverage with high deductibles and low premiums. But such a reform is unlikely to last very long in Massachusetts, where politicians thrive on big-brotherhood. The Massachusetts plan is otherwise a decided step backward because:

  • It adds a heavy burden of government bureaucracy to the Commonwealth's already burdened health-care providers.
  • It reduces individual responsibility for health care, thus making it even less likely that health-care resources will be used sensibly.

What's the difference between Democrats and Republicans in Massachusetts? Not a dime's worth, as someone used to say.

Recommended reading:
What's wrong with RomneyCare (an OpinionJournal article by Brendan Minter)
The Massachusetts Delusion (a TCS Daily article by Arnold Kling)
Romney and Kling on Massachusetts Health Care (an EconLog post by Arnold Kling)

Related posts:
Fear of the Free Market -- Part I
Fear of the Free Market -- Part II
Fear of the Free Market -- Part III
Free-Market Healthcare
Where's Substantive Due Process When You Need It?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

A Possibly Useful Idiot

Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace, opens a Washington Post op-ed with this admission:

In the early 1970s when I helped found Greenpeace, I believed that nuclear energy was synonymous with nuclear holocaust, as did most of my compatriots.


Thirty years on, my views have changed, and the rest of the environmental movement needs to update its views, too, because nuclear energy may just be the energy source that can save our planet from another possible disaster: catastrophic climate change.

Nature -- not human activity -- is mainly responsible for climate change. But opposition to nuclear power has made energy more costly. I therefore welcome Moore's change of heart, regardless of his reasons.

I almost referred to Moore's "change of mind," buy anyone who thought of nuclear energy as synonymous with nuclear holocaust cannot be credited with having a mind.

(Thanks to Brainster's Blog for the pointer.)

Related posts:
Global Warming: Realities and Benefits
Words of Caution for the Cautious
Scientists in a Snit
Another Blow to Climatology?
Bad News for Politically Correct Science
Another Blow to Chicken-Little Science
Bad News for Enviro-nuts
The Hockey Stick Is Broken
Science in Politics, Politics in Science
Global Warming and Life
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Hurricanes and Global Warming
Global Warming and the Liberal Agenda
Debunking "Scientific Objectivity"
Hurricanes and Glaciers
Remember the "Little Ice Age"?
Science's Anti-Scientific Bent

Sophomoric Libertarianism

From "The Liberalism of John Paul II," by Father Richard John Neuhaus:

Liberalism, needless to say, is a wondrously pliable term. There is the laissez-faire economic liberalism condemned by Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum, and also by John Paul II. In American political culture that liberalism goes by the name of libertarianism, and, despite its many talented apologists, including Charles Murray (no relation to John Courtney), it has never acquired many adherents beyond what Russell Kirk called its "chirping sectaries." In the American context, libertarianism remains in the largest part a thought experiment for college sophomores of all ages.

There's something to that last sentence -- a lot, actually. I find it true of many blogospheric libertarians, and especially true with respect to the anarcho-capitalist branch of libertarianism. There, the state is rendered unnecessary, and therefore illegitimate, because the lambs who would dwell together in idyllic contractarianism believe that they can keep the lions at bay by closing their minds to the real world of real people and thinking of Lew Rockwell.

(Thanks to Keith Burgess-Jackson for the pointer to Fr. Neuhaus's article.)

Related posts:
Defense, Anarcho-Capitalist Style
But Wouldn't Warlords Take Over?
My View of Warlordism, Seconded
Anarcho-Libertarian Stretching
QandO Saved Me the Trouble

Friday, April 14, 2006

Let the Punishment Fit the Crime

Donald Boudreaux, chairman of George Mason University's economics department, is an excellent economist. I'm a devoted reader of his blogs, Cafe Hayek and Market Correction. Boudreaux also writes a twice-monthly column for His most recent column reminds me of this old joke:

An engineer, a priest and an economist are trapped together at the bottom of a well. The engineer looks around for a while and thinks he has a solution.

"Given the materials we have amongst us, I should be able to build a contraption to get us out of here," says the engineer.

The priest replies, "No. That will never work. We must pray, and put our faith in God. He will show us a way out of here."

To that, the economist says, "You're both wrong. Assume a ladder."

Boudreaux, who has both a J.D. and a Ph.D. in economics, fancies himself an expert in the "game" of sentencing. In the course of his recent column he asks why we don't "punish rape even more severely -- say, by executing convicted rapists?" His answer

is "if rapists were punished as severely as murderers, the number of murders would rise."

Put yourself in the place of a man who is a threat to rape women. If you learn that rapists will no longer merely be locked in prison for years but, instead, executed, you're a bit less likely than before to rape. That's good. But suppose that this higher "marginal" cost of committing a rape isn't sufficient to prevent you from raping a woman. So you rape a woman. Once you commit the rape, you are subject to being executed if you're caught and convicted.

What will you now lose by becoming also a murderer? Nothing. In fact, you have everything to gain by killing your rape victim. If you let her live, you run a real risk of being identified, captured and convicted -- and then executed. But if you murder the woman after you rape her, you reduce your chances of being caught and convicted. (The chief eyewitness to your heinous crime, after all, will be in her grave.) So with nothing to lose and much to gain by killing your rape victim, you're more likely to kill her than you would be if the penalty for rape were lower than is the penalty for murder.

Punishing rape less severely than murder ensures that rapists still have something more to lose if they kill their victims.

Notice the critical assumption that Boudreaux makes so glibly: "If you learn that rapists will no longer merely be locked in prison for years but, instead, executed, you're a bit less likely than before to rape." (My emphasis in bold italics.) How does Boudreaux know that the threat of capital punishment would make rape just a bit less likely? And just how much is a bit? In short, Boudreaux has arrived at his preferred answer -- don't execute rapists -- by making a critical and unsubstantiated assumption, namely, that the net effect of imposing capital punishment for rape would be more murder.

It is also possible, of course, that the effect of imposing capital punishment for rape would be a lot less rape and, therefore, a lot less murder (to borrow from Boudreaux's arsenal of imprecise terminology). That is, the threat of capital punishment for rape would, at the margin (as Boudreaux is wont to say), deter rape and therefore avert many instances in which rapists would otherwise kill their rape victims because they have "nothing to lose" by doing so.

The correctness of Boudreaux's assertion is an empirical question, not one to be decided by assumption. If, on balance, the threat of capital punishment deters murder, it ought to deter rape. There is empirical evidence that capital punishment does deter murder, just as crime generally declines as the certainty of punishment rises. Score one for me.

Boudreaux isn't finished, however. He goes on to offer us his theory of finely calibrated punishments:

Of course, the same logic applies also to other crimes. We don't execute armed robbers not because we don't want to further reduce the incidence of armed robbery; it's because we don't want to strip armed robbers of incentives to let their victims live.

And likewise for the entire range of criminal sanctions. For all of its imperfections, our current criminal law generally -- and sensibly -- punishes crimes of lesser significance less severely than it punishes crimes of greater significance. Pickpockets impose real costs on society, but (because pickpockets are both unarmed and don't invade the privacy of people's homes) these costs aren't as high as those costs imposed by robbers and burglars. So the law recognizes that it would be a fool's gambit to attack pickpocketing by increasing the severity of its punishment so much that pickpockets shift into robbery and burglary.

I find it hard to believe that Boudreaux believes this. If he does, it's because he's been locked in the ivory tower for too long. For one thing, not all criminals are capable of or interested in committing all crimes; a pickpocket, for example, isn't necessarily a repressed murderer. For another thing, criminal law, which varies from State to State, is roughly calibrated "to let the punishment fit the crime." The kind of precision posited by Boudreaux simply doesn't exist.

The loose and variable hierarchy of punishments imposed by various States, courts, and judges owes more to Biblical precedent ("an eye for an eye") than to Boudreaux's game-theoretic version of sentencing guidelines. Some States impose capital punishment but others do not, for example. If the effects of punishment on crime were as well understood and agreed as Boudreaux makes them out to be, every State would impose capital punishment. And every State would impose it -- with fierce certainty -- in cases of rape as well as in cases of murder.

Related posts:
Does Capital Punishment Deter Homicide?
Libertarian Twaddle about the Death Penalty
Crime and Punishment
Abortion and Crime
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
Another Argument for the Death Penalty
Less Punishment Means More Crime
Crime Explained

The Real Thomas Jefferson

David N. Mayer of MayerBlog posted "Thomas Jefferson, Man vs. Myth" yesterday in observance of the 263rd anniversary of Jefferson's birth. Mayer debunks a lot of bunk that's been written -- and believed -- about Jefferson, including his standing as the "father of American democracy":

Many people today – including historians, political scientists, and even Jefferson scholars – misunderstand Jefferson’s commitment to republicanism and particularly his advocacy of “self-government,” confusing it with democracy. But democracy is government by the majority of the people; republican government is government by the representatives of the people; and limited, constitutional, republican government – the American system – is government by the people’s representatives whose power is limited by various constraints imposed by the constitution. “Self-government,” as Jefferson understood it, meant, literally, individuals governing themselves, without the interference of government. Early in his presidency Jefferson wrote, “Our people in a body are wise, because they are under the unrestrained and unperverted operation of their own understandings.” He viewed the United States as the leading model to the world for “the interesting experiment of self‑government”; that it was the nation’s destiny to show the world “what is the degree of freedom and self‑government in which a society may venture to leave it's individual members.” To “leave” them to do what? To be free – to govern themselves.

Mayer, who devotes a section of the post to a clear-eyed assessment of Jefferson (no idolator is Mayer), also writes about the Sally Hemings myth and several aspects of Jefferson's belief system, including his deism and embrace of free markets. Read the whole thing.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Hillary's Latest Brainstorm

Thirteen years ago Americans were saved from HillaryCare. Now the wannabe president-of-us-all wants to undermine one of the pillars of economic growth, which is capital investment. Larry Kudlow has the story; here's his opening:

In a speech delivered in Chicago earlier this week, the New York Senator went on ad nauseam about all these alleged problems plaguing our booming American economy and how to fix them. She said “we cannot go on letting our basic infrastructure decay and failing to invest in new technologies if we expect America to maintain its economic leadership.”

Mrs. Clinton’s idea? She wants to see us put into place a “national investment authority.” This brilliant idea is based on a recent report by Felix Rohatyn and Senator Warren Rudman that would create some newfangled government institution to help “finance accelerated commitment to rebuilding our national infrastructure.” Read between the lines and all this means is just more intrusive meddling and spending from Washington. We know where that gets us.

Kudlow goes on to explain why Hillary's latest brainstorm is yet another dangerous Clintonian fantasy. And yet, Ms. Rodham Clinton's proposal will resonate with the intelligentsia, who like to believe that they are smarter than markets, and who certainly would like to tell us what to eat for breakfast (for starters).

One of the intelligentsia who probably applauds HillaryInvest is Nobel laureate Joe Stiglitz, who thinks he has proved the superiority of government over the private sector in the realm of R&D. I popped that thought balloon a while back, in this post, where I concluded that

[t]he true private rate of return to R&D is about 4 to 6 times that of the government rate of return. What else would one expect, knowing that the private sector responds to the signals sent by consumers while government just makes it up as it goes along?

But logic and facts will not daunt committed statists like Hillary Clinton and Joe Stiglitz.

How Time Flies

About two years ago I drew on the archives of Dead or Alive? to list a number of erstwhile celebrities who were then alive at the age of 90 or older. I updated that list about a year ago. Here's how the list looks today:

Charles Lane 101, George Kennan 101, Max Schmeling 99, Eddie Albert 99, Dale Messick 98, Michael DeBakey 97, John Kenneth Galbraith 97, George Beverly Shea 97, Ernest Gallo 97, John Mills 97, Estée Lauder 97, Al Lopez 97, Fay Wray 96, Luise Rainer 96, Henri Cartier-Bresson 95, Peter Rodino, Jr. 95, Gloria Stuart 95, Kitty Carlisle 95, John Wooden 95, Joseph Barbera 95, Mitch Miller 94, Jane Wyatt 94, Byron Nelson 94, Karl Malden 94, Constance Cummings 94, Artie Shaw 93, Art Linkletter 93, Lady Bird Johnson 93, Frankie Laine 93, Ruth Hussey 93, Oleg Cassini 92, Risë Stevens 92, Robert Mondavi 92, Ralph Edwards 92, Tony Martin 92, Jane Wyman 92, Kevin McCarthy 92, Sammy Baugh 92, William Westmoreland 91, Frances Langford 91, Irwin Corey 91, Jack LaLanne 91, Richard Widmark 91, John Profumo 91, Harry Morgan 91, Geraldine Fitzgerald 91, Archibald Cox 91, Julia Child 91

Here are some newcomers: Herman Wouk 90, Les Paul 90, Sargent Shriver 90, Eli Wallach 90

For many, many more names, go to "People Alive Over 85" at Dead or Alive?

Slippery Paternalists

Glen Whitman of Agoraphilia echoes my objections to "libertarian paternalism." He says, for example, that

[t]he paternalists’ rhetorical purpose . . . is to get us to think of paternalism as all one thing, a nice continuous spectrum from policies that restrict choice slightly to those that restrict choice substantially. As they slide along this spectrum, they fail (I think deliberately) to draw attention to when they’ve crossed the line from libertarian (non-coercive) to unlibertarian (coercive). . . .

If paternalism can be coercive (as with a sin tax) or non-coercive (as with an employers pension plan rules), it is crucial to distinguish between these two types; acceptance of one form of paternalism does not imply acceptance of the other. Lest it seem I’m drawing a distinction without a difference, we should note that private non-coercive paternalism can be avoided much more easily than the public coercive variety. You can choose whether to take a job with a restrictive benefits package; you cannot choose whether to contribute to Social Security. You can choose whether to join AA or Weight Watchers; you cannot opt out of a sin tax.

Moreover, what "libertarian paternalists" really seem to want is for government to require such things as restrictive benefits packages (e.g., automatic opt-in to retirement plans).

UPDATE: I have just discovered an excellent article by Arnold Kling at TCS Daily. Some excerpts:

Roll over, Adam Smith. You said that we can trust the self-interested actions of individuals to benefit others. You said that an "invisible hand" guides markets, meaning that they did not require government control. But some of your economist descendants now claim that the self-interested actions of individuals do not even benefit themselves. Instead, government should intervene to make sure that individual choice serves to promote subjective well-being.

Alan Krueger and Daniel Kahneman hail the progress that has been made in measuring subjective well-being, or happiness. They say that researchers in this field, which is on the boundary between economics and psychology, have developed reliable methods to measure how well a person is feeling. This in turn enables them to make reliable assessments of how happiness is affected by income (both in absolute terms and relative to that of others), marital status, and how people allocate time among various activities, from socializing (good) to commuting alone (bad). . . .

[T]he reader may have surmised that I am not altogether sympathetic to Krueger and Kahneman. In fact, you may think that the totalitarian examples I have come up with are an unfair distortion of their work. They merely claimed to be "interested in maximizing society's welfare." Hasn't that always been the goal of economists?

Indeed most economists, with the exception of the Austrian school, have seen the economist as an adviser to government. The advice of Adam Smith and David Ricardo was to promote free trade. To this day, I believe that the most reliable advice economists can give on topics such as trade, outsourcing, and immigration, is to point out the broad, long-term and often unappreciated benefits of these activities relative to their narrow, short-term and exaggerated adverse effects.

In the twentieth century, economists refined their analysis of the social benefits of markets. They proved that free markets lead to an optimal allocation of resources. This proof rests on a specific definition of "optimal allocation" and, more importantly, on perfectly competitive markets.

Because some important industries clearly are not perfectly competitive, economists conceded the desirability of regulation of such industries. Then, during and after the Great Depression, economists focused on the need for government to manage the business cycle and in particular to fight unemployment.* Finally, in the 1970's and later, economists discovered many types of market imperfections, notably problems related to information, that could be used to justify government intervention -- see my essay on Hayekians and Stiglitzians.

My point is that -- with the exception of the Austrians -- economists have been going down a slippery slope of interventionism for a long time. Krueger and Kahneman are simply further down that slope.

Here's my take on "libertarian paternalism" and related matters:

Libertarian Paternalism
A Libertarian Paternalist's Dream World
The Short Answer to Libertarian Paternalism
Second-Guessing, Paternalism, Parentalism, and Choice
Another Thought about Libertarian Paternalism
The Economics of Corporate Fitness Programs
Another Voice Against the New Paternalism

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Science's Anti-Scientific Bent

Richard Lindzen, Alred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT, writes about "Climate of Fear" at OpinionJournal:

Everything from the heat wave in Paris to heavy snows in Buffalo has been blamed on people burning gasoline to fuel their cars, and coal and natural gas to heat, cool and electrify their homes. Yet how can a barely discernible, one-degree increase in the recorded global mean temperature since the late 19th century possibly gain public acceptance as the source of recent weather catastrophes? And how can it translate into unlikely claims about future catastrophes? . . .

Global temperature has risen about a degree since the late 19th century; levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have increased by about 30% over the same period; and CO2 should contribute to future warming. These claims are true. However, what the public fails to grasp is that the claims neither constitute support for alarm nor establish man's responsibility for the small amount of warming that has occurred. In fact, those who make the most outlandish claims of alarm are actually demonstrating skepticism of the very science they say supports them. It isn't just that the alarmists are trumpeting model results that we know must be wrong. It is that they are trumpeting catastrophes that couldn't happen even if the models were right as justifying costly policies to try to prevent global warming. . . .

So how is it that we don't have more scientists speaking up about this junk science? It's my belief that many scientists have been cowed not merely by money but by fear. An example: Earlier this year, Texas Rep. Joe Barton issued letters to paleoclimatologist Michael Mann and some of his co-authors seeking the details behind a taxpayer-funded analysis that claimed the 1990s were likely the warmest decade and 1998 the warmest year in the last millennium. Mr. Barton's concern was based on the fact that the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] had singled out Mr. Mann's work as a means to encourage policy makers to take action. And they did so before his work could be replicated and tested--a task made difficult because Mr. Mann, a key IPCC author, had refused to release the details for analysis. The scientific community's defense of Mr. Mann was, nonetheless, immediate and harsh. The president of the National Academy of Sciences--as well as the American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Union--formally protested, saying that Rep. Barton's singling out of a scientist's work smacked of intimidation.

All of which starkly contrasts to the silence of the scientific community when anti-alarmists were in the crosshairs of then-Sen. Al Gore. In 1992, he ran two congressional hearings during which he tried to bully dissenting scientists, including myself, into changing our views and supporting his climate alarmism. Nor did the scientific community complain when Mr. Gore, as vice president, tried to enlist Ted Koppel in a witch hunt to discredit anti-alarmist scientists--a request that Mr. Koppel deemed publicly inappropriate. And they were mum when subsequent articles and books by Ross Gelbspan libelously labeled scientists who differed with Mr. Gore as stooges of the fossil-fuel industry. . . .

Alarm rather than genuine scientific curiosity, it appears, is essential to maintaining funding. And only the most senior scientists today can stand up against this alarmist gale, and defy the iron triangle of climate scientists, advocates and policymakers.

The phrase "scientific objectivity" conjures an image of the super-human scientist -- devoid of ambition and dedicated only to "the truth." Such beings are few and very far between.

Scientific objectivity is an emergent phenomenon; it is not something that resides in a person or group of persons. Scientific objectivity happens when there is an open presentation of and debate about the validity and meaning of putative facts. Science -- which is done by flawed, biased humans -- yields useful results only if all voices are heard, most especially the voices of dissent.

When the scientific "community" circles its wagons around a particular thesis, it's a pretty good indication that the thesis has flaws which the "community" wishes to hide from public view. That is the opposite of objectivity.

Sir Isaac Newton said "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants." The scientific "community" today seems to be populated heavily by pygmies.

P.S. On that note, read this piece by John Stossel.

Related posts:
Global Warming: Realities and Benefits Words of Caution for the Cautious
Scientists in a Snit
Another Blow to Climatology?
Bad News for Politically Correct Science
Another Blow to Chicken-Little Science
Bad News for Enviro-nuts
The Hockey Stick Is Broken
Science in Politics, Politics in Science
Global Warming and Life
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Hurricanes and Global Warming
Global Warming and the Liberal Agenda
Debunking "Scientific Objectivity"
Hurricanes and Glaciers
Weather Wisdom
Remember the Little Ice Age?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Grand Strategy

This article by James Lewis at The American Thinker captures it in fewer than 1,000 words.

Related posts:
Why Sovereignty?
Why We Fight

The Intellectual Life

Alanyzer posts a review of The Intellectual Life, by A.G. Sertillanges, O.P. Read the review, then buy the book. A faculty adviser gave me a copy about 45 years ago. I read it then, and re-read it many times before passing it along to my son. I think I'll buy another copy and read it again.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Where's Substantive Due Process When You Need It?

McQ at QandO asks "Massachusetts 'health care' prelude to government takeover?" -- and answers in the affirmative. When it happens, I am sure that the U.S. Supreme Court will be asked to step in. The Court ought to invalidate any such takeover as a violation of liberty of contract, which is guaranteed in Article I, Section 10, of the Constitution. The Court used to invoke the doctrine of substantive due process to uphold liberty of contract. As I pointed out here:

The Framers understood very well that obligation of contracts (or liberty or freedom of contract) is both a matter of liberty and a matter of property. For to interfere legislatively with liberty of contract amounts to a deprivation of due process because such interference prevents willing parties from employing their labor or property in the pursuit of otherwise lawful ends. That is, the legislature finds them "guilty" of otherwise lawful actions by forbidding and penalizing those actions.

State-run health insurance would deprive health-care providers and their patients of the freedom to decide the terms under which they will do business with one another.

This post at The Volokh Conspiracy suggests that the concept of substantive due process, which came to maturity in Lochner v. New York (1905), only to be cast aside during the New Deal, may be regaining respectability. If that's true -- and I hope it is -- it will be just in time to save the citizens of Massachusetts from the Commonwealth's version of socialized medicine.