Month: April 2012

Obama and Obamacare: Twin Disasters

A picture worth 2,000 words:


Sources: Rasmussen Reports, Obama Approval Index History and Health Care Law.

I could have added graphs about the unemployment rate  (2 percentage points above the peak reached during GWB’s administration), the employment/population ratio (5 percentage points below the GWB peak), and the federal debt (which has grown almost 50 percent in the 3 years and 3 months of Obama’s presidency, as against a 25-percent rise in the first 3 years and 3 months of GWB’s presidency) — but why rub it in?

A Man for No Seasons

A Man for All Seasons, originally a play by Robert Bolt and later an acclaimed film, is about Sir Thomas More (or Saint Thomas More, if you prefer),

the 16th-century Chancellor of England, who refused to endorse King Henry VIII‘s wish to divorce his ageing wife Catherine of Aragon, who could not bear him a son, so that he could marry Anne Boleyn, the sister of his former mistress.

Thomas More

opposed Henry [VIII]’s separation from the Catholic Church [because it forbade divorce] and refused to accept the King as Supreme Head of the Church of England…. In 1535, [More] was tried for treason, convicted on perjured testimony and beheaded.

The title of the play

reflects … Bolt’s portrayal of More as the ultimate man of conscience. As one who remains true to himself and his beliefs under all circumstances and at all times, despite external pressure or influence, More represents “a man for all seasons”.

More’s constancy to principle stands in high relief against the amorality and immorality of normal political practices, past and present. These range from opportunism, flip-flopping, and log-rolling to deceit and lying to theft (disguised as “compassion”) and back-stabbing (both figurative and literal).

More’s constancy to principle also stands in high relief against the practice of tailoring one’s principles to fit the data at hand — or the data that one selects to justify one’s prejudices. I have found economists to be especially prone to such tailoring. For example, too many economists justify free markets on utilitarian grounds, that is, because free markets produce more (i.e., are more efficient) than regulated markets. This happens to be true, but free markets can and should be justified mainly because they are free, that is, because they allow individuals to pursue otherwise lawful aims through voluntary, mutually beneficial exchanges of products and services. Liberty is a principle, a deep value; economic efficiency is merely a byproduct of adherence to that value.

Economists are by no means the only practitioners of utilitarianism. It is rampant in the ranks of public intellectuals, and is exemplified in “Empiricism in politics: On opinions beyond the reach of data,” a piece by Will Wilkinson (hereinafter WW), which begins with this:

DAVID FRUM quotes the following passage of Charles Murray’s new book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960 – 2010″, in the midst of a long, scathing review (about which I here enter no opinion):

Data can bear on policy issues, but many of our opinions about policy are grounded on premises about the nature of human life and human society that are beyond the reach of data. Try to think of any new data that would change your position on abortion, the death penalty, legalization of marijuana, same-sex marriage or the inheritance tax. If you cannot, you are not necessarily being unreasonable.

I found this exceedingly odd. I can easily imagine what evidence would cause me to change my position on any of these issues. How about you? It’s a fun exercise, let’s try.

I will address, in turn, WW’s views on abortion, the death penalty, legalization of marijuana, same-sex marriage, and the inheritance tax.

Abortion. This is far and away the hardest one. I favour legal abortion…. I would seriously weigh this moral benefit ]a “culture of life”, which pays off in terms of greater general humanity and diminished cruelty] against the moral cost of reducing women’s control over their bodies….

Clearly, WW is a man in search of a principle upon which to hang his preference to allow persons “control over their bodies.” This– as a principle — would justify many immoral acts. For if one’s use of one’s body is not to be interfered with, on what basis could WW condemn murder, for example? And yet he does condemn it, implicitly, when he quibbles about the death penalty as a punishment for murder.

WW (I strongly suspect) might respond that he is talking only about control over what one does to oneself, as in the use of marijuana (to which I will come). But WW is unconvincing with respect to abortion. He is willing to recognize “robust moral rights” for children at birth because that is “the convention.” But before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned long-standing State laws rooted in moral tradition, it was the convention (in most States) to recognize robust moral rights for children at conception. (By contrast, the convention of slavery, which was recognized and fostered by several States, stood on flimsy moral ground.)

The lack of a firm principle (e.g., abortion is murder) leads WW into sophistry and hair-splitting. These abound in the elided portions of the preceding quotation:

…I don’t think embryos or fetuses are persons, and I don’t think it’s wrong to kill them. I also don’t think infants are persons, but I do think laws that prohibit infanticide are wise. Birth is a metaphysically arbitrary line, but it’s a supremely salient socio-psychological one. A general abhorrence of the taking of human life is something any healthy culture will inculcate in its members. It’s easier to cultivate the appropriate moral sentiments within a society that has adopted the convention of conferring robust moral rights on infants upon birth than it would be in a society that had adopted the convention of conferring the same rights on children only after they’ve reached some significant developmental milestone, such as the onset of intelligible speech. The latter society, I suspect, would tend to be more generally cruel and less humane. This is just an empirical hunch, though I feel fairly confident about it. But I could be wrong. And I could be wrong in the other direction as well. If it were shown that societies which ban abortion, or which ban abortion beyond a certain point, exceed societies which don’t ban abortion in cultivating a “culture of life”, which pays off in terms of greater general humanity and diminished cruelty, I would seriously weigh this moral benefit against the moral cost of reducing women’s control over their bodies. Also, if it were shown that abortion tended to damage women’s mental and physical health more than forcing women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, I would tend to look more favourably on restrictions on abortion, especially for minors.

Fetuses may not be persons, in WW’s view, but fetuses are human life. WW’s defense of abortion amounts to a defense of taking blameless, defenseless humans. He cannot bring himself to admit that, so he adopts the language of Roe v. Wade (a fetus is not “a person within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment”). But, as WW acknowledges, there is no specific point at which a human being becomes a “person.” The fetus-person distinction is an entirely arbitrary one, concocted for the purpose of justifying abortion.

If WW is willing to accept birth as the point at which the taking of innocent life becomes unacceptable, why not seven or eight months into a pregnancy, when the chances of survival outside the womb are high, especially given the life-sustaining technologies that are now available? And if a fetus is “viable” at seven or eight months, it is “viable” at earlier stages of development, as long its life is not ended artificially. The “logic” of abortion based on “viability” is circular because a fetus is (almost always) “viable” unless it is aborted.

And why is it not even “easier to cultivate the appropriate moral sentiments within a society that has adopted the convention of conferring robust moral rights on infants” upon conception? Such a society, I believe, would tend to be less cruel and more humane than the one that allows abortion at every stage of fetal development.

WW’s next suggestion is fatuous in the extreme. It need not be shown that societies which ban abortion, or which ban abortion beyond a certain point, exceed societies which do not ban abortion in cultivating a “culture of life.” Societies that ban abortion, ceteris paribus, have a culture of life, by definition. By the same token, societies that encourage or acquiesce in atrocities against humanity on a par with abortion (e.g., the Third Reich) have a culture of death. One very good reason for resisting the practice of abortion is to avert the next steps down the slippery slope toward that culture.

Looking unfavorably upon abortion if it tended to damage women’s mental and physical health is putting a possible side effect of abortion above its abhorrent moral status. But that should come as no surprise because, on this issue, WW clearly betrays a lack of moral sense.

This brings me to WW’s next moral test:

Death penalty. This is a lot easier. I oppose the death penalty. But if the death penalty were shown to be (1) a very effective deterrent of murder and violent crime, (2) non-prejudicially applied, and (3) very rarely applied to the innocent, I would support it in especially heinous cases of murder.

This is a lot easier for me, too. You are either for the death penalty as a matter of justice (taking its deterrent value as a bonus), or you are against it because, say, you cannot condone the taking of life by the state. WW, as an advocate of abortion, cannot take the latter position, so he dances around the death penalty — treating it entirely as an exercise in utilitarian calculation. In reality, he takes no position at all because he uses wiggle-words like “very effective,” “non-prejudicially,” “very rarely,” and “especially heinous.”

Thirdly:

Legalisation of marijuana. I support legal weed! If it were shown that marijuana is super-addictive, impossible to use responsibly, and that its users predictably harm others and/or egregiously harm themselves, I’d support something in the neighbourhood of status quo prohibition.

I have a strong suspicion that only a small fraction of the users of marijuana are detected and prosecuted for their use. That is to say, I view legalization as a bogus issue. But the purported harmlessness of marijuana allows libertarians to replay the pro-abortion theme: control over one’s body. However, WW (unlike most libertarians who write about drug use) seems willing to concede that the use of marijuana ought to be made illegal if it would “egregiously harm” the user. This suggests that control over one’s body is not sacrosanct.

But what is the deeper principle that determines where and when one has control over one’s body? I find no clue in WW’s article. There is no “moral there” there. Being pro-abortion, anti-death penalty, pro-marijuana, and pro-same-sex marriage are attitudes, the possession of which marks one as “liberal” and “open-minded.” But bottomless.

And so on:

Same-sex marriage. I’m so pro, I almost wish I were gay so I could have one. If compelling evidence were unearthed that showed that widespread same-sex marriage really would precipitate the unraveling of the traditional family and subsequently the stability of society and the ruin of us all, I suppose I’d settle for the right of same-sex couples to shack up.

“Compelling evidence” about the effects of same-sex “marriage” on society can be had only by the widespread legalization of same-sex “marriage” over a long period, by which time it would be impossible to undo the damage caused by same-sex “marriage.” Would it not be better to exercise one’s moral judgment about the effects of state action before that action is taken?

In the case of same-sex “marriage” the judgment goes like this: Marriage, as the union of a man and a woman, is a social-religious convention, which (until modern times) had a legitimacy and standing that did not depend on state action. State involvement in marriage — as in other social arrangements — undermines its significance as a deep and socially beneficial commitment. The undermining process began in earnest with state action that eased divorce. Widespread governmental recognition of same-sex “marriage” would accelerate the undermining process. The state would effectively convert marriage from a social-religious commitment to a licensed arrangement devoid of social-religious meaning. This would reinforce the trend toward cohabitation, with all that it implies: convenience rather than commitment, greater ease of breakup, temporary couplings where one partner (usually the man) has no stake in the proper upbringing of  the other partner’s children, psychologically and (all-too-often) physically damaged children who are more prone than their “traditional” counterparts to economically unproductive and socially destructive behaviors.

Why not think things through instead making a show of demanding “evidence” that can be obtained only when it is too late to do any good? Well, the answer to that question is obvious: WW wants same-sex “marriage” — the evidence be damned.

Finally:

Inheritance tax. I don’t have an especially strong opinion about this, other than that the “death tax” tends not to be very efficient and that large bequests aren’t an especially important source of inequality or the reproduction of class. So, I guess I’d need to learn that inheritance taxes don’t create a lot of wasteful, evasive resource shuffling, and do significantly contribute to class mobility if I were to develop a more favourable opinion of them.

That is about as clueless as it gets. Where is the right to do with one’s property as one likes, as long as the doing is not harmful to others? What a strange oversight by WW,  given his commitment to the control of one’s own body. If a person cannot control the legitimate produce of his bodily labors, he lacks effective control of his body.

If consequences were all, as they seem to be for WW, the ability to leave an inheritance is an incentive to do productive things, either directly or by making loans and investments that enable others to do productive things. For what earthly reason would anyone want to blunt or cancel that incentive? Out of a sense of “fairness”? What gives the likes of WW and Barack Obama the ability to reach into the minds and souls of millions of Americans and judge their relative worthiness to make and receive bequests? The inheritance tax is an exercise in social engineering that any self-respecting libertarian ought to reject categorically, not provisionally, as WW does.

WW often posts sensible things at his various outlets. But “Empiricism in politics” is a sign that WW should take a break from punditry, as he has said he might. On the basis of “Empiricism,” I would characterize WW as a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. He pays lip-service — but nothing more — to the value of social traditions. He stands ready to jettison them at the drop of a statistic. As I have said, he is far from the sole possessor of that trait. I single him out here because “Empiricism” is an exemplar of utilitarian amorality.

*   *   *

Related reading: Jay W. Richards, “Should Libertarians Be Conservatives?: The Tough Cases of Abortion and Marriage

Related posts (with many more linked therein):
Libertarian Twaddle about the Death Penalty
Law, Liberty, and Abortion
Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty
Another Argument for the Death Penalty
Crime, Explained
A Wrong-Headed Take on Abortion
“Family Values,” Liberty, and the State
Is There Such a Thing as Society
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Enough of “Social Welfare”
The Case of the Purblind Economist
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
The Golden Rule and the State
Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
Substantive Due Process and the Limits of Privacy
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
On Self-Ownership and Desert
In Defense of Marriage
What Is Justice?
Myopic Moaning about the War on Drugs
Creative Destruction, Reification, and Social Welfare
Burkean Libertarianism
Crimes against Humanity
Abortion and Logic
What Is Libertarianism?
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
The Libertarian-Conservative Fusion Is Alive and Well
Cato, the Kochs, and a Fluke
Why Conservatism Works
Abortion, Doublethink, and Left-Wing Blather

Higher Taxes, Higher Government Spending, Slower Economic Growth

J.D. Foster and Curtis Dubay, writing at The Foundry (“Of Course Higher Taxes Slow Growth — A Response to Diamond and Saez“), make mincemeat of Peter Diamond and Emmanuel Saez’s arguments for higher taxes on “the rich.” Implicit in Foster and Dubay’s takedown of Diamond and Saez is the demonstrably strong (and negative relationship) between government spending and economic growth.

Spending is funded by taxes, after all. And even when spending is funded by borrowing it amounts to a tax on the productive sectors of the economy. How is that? When government sell bonds to the public it redirects money from productive uses in the private sector to unproductive and counter-productive uses in the so-called public sector (i.e., government). The thievery is no less destructive — but more apparent — when the Fed creates money out of thin air to finance government spending.

So, the focus should be on spending, for which taxation is a proxy. The effect of government spending on economic growth is nothing less than disastrous. I have treated the subject at length in “Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Inhibits Economic Growth.” Here is another version of the final graph in that post:

The bottom line is that for every 10 percentage points by which government spending rises, the rate of growth declines by 0.7 percentage points. If you think that 0.7 percent is negligible, try compounding it over a lifespan of 80 years. In that time, a sustained 10 percent rise in government spending will reduce the average person’s real income by more than 40 percent.

That, my friends, is soak-the-rich Obamanomics at work. Apologists for Obamanomics, like Diamond and Saez, should be ashamed of themselves for abetting economically destructive demagoguery.

Related posts:
The Causes of Economic Growth
A Short Course in Economics
Addendum to a Short Course in Economics
Enough of “Social Welfare”
The Case of the Purblind Economist
Economic Growth since WWII
The Price of Government
Does the Minimum Wage Increase Unemployment?
The Price of Government Redux
The Mega-Depression
The Real Burden of Government
Toward a Risk-Free Economy
The Rahn Curve at Work
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
Society and the State
The “Forthcoming Financial Collapse”
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Inhibits Economic Growth
The Deficit Commission’s Deficit of Understanding
Undermining the Free Society
The Bowles-Simpson Report
The Bowles-Simpson Band-Aid
Build It and They Will Pay
Government vs. Community
The Stagnation Thesis
Government Failure: An Example
Taxing the Rich
More about Taxing the Rich
Voluntary Taxation
Money, Credit, and Economic Fluctuations
A Keynesian Fantasy Land
“Tax Expenditures” Are Not Expenditures
The Keynesian Fallacy and Regime Uncertainty
Why the “Stimulus” Failed to Stimulate
The “Jobs Speech” That Obama Should Have Given
Regime Uncertainty and the Great Recession
The Real Multiplier
Vulgar Keynesianism and Capitalism
Why Are Interest Rates So Low?
Don’t Just Stand There, “Do Something”
Economic Growth Since World War II
The Commandeered Economy
We Owe It to Ourselves
In Defense of the 1%
The Real Multiplier (II)

More about Luck and Baseball

In “Luck and Baseball, One More Time,” I make the point that

it takes a lot more than luck to succeed at almost anything, from winning high office to making millions of dollars to painting a masterpiece to building a house to cutting hair properly. To denigrate the rich and famous by calling them lucky is to denigrate every person who strives, with some success, to overmaster whatever bad luck happens to come his way.

The backdrop for that claim is some statistical evidence from the history of major-league baseball:

In the 111-year history of the American League, 60 different players have led the league in batting. Those 60 players have recorded a total of 367 top-10 finishes in American League batting races over the years — an average of 6 top-10 finishes for each of the players. It is not surprising, therefore, that most of the 60 players also compiled excellent career batting averages. Specifically, through 2010, 57 of the 60 had made at least 5,000 plate appearance in the American League, and 43 of the 57 are among the top 120 hitters (for average) — out of the thousands of players with at least 5,000 plate appearances in the American League. Were those 43 players merely “lucky”? It takes a lot more than luck to hit so well, so consistently, and for so many years.

Here is more evidence to the same effect. Two days ago, a young pitcher for the Chicago White Sox named Philip Humber threw a perfect game against the Seattle Mariners. Humber’s was the 19th perfect game since 1893, when the distance from the pitcher’s plate (rubber) to the back point of home plate (where the foul lines intersect) was increased to 60 feet, 6 inches. The 19 perfect games were pitched by 19 different men. And the total number of major league games played from 1893 through today numbers well above 300,000, which means that the potential number of perfect games (if thrown by both teams’ pitchers) is well above 600,000.

Aha, you might say, a perfect game is a matter of luck. Well, it may be partly a matter of luck, but baseball (despite some elements of randomness) is a game of skill, applied intentionally. A perfect game, like many other aspects of baseball, is the residue of the applied skills of pitchers and fielders, just as (the prevalent) imperfect game is the residue of the applied skills of batters and base runners.

The element of skill involved in pitching a perfect game is evidenced by the fact that most of the players who have pitched perfect games are the holders of above-average to exceptional pitching records:

Career Record*
Year of perfect game Pitcher Seasons played Wins Losses W-L % ERA+** Hall of Fame?***
1904 Cy Young 1890-1911 511 316 .618 138 Yes
1908 Addie Joss 1902-1910 160 97 .623 142 Yes
1922 Charlie Robertson 1919-1928 49 80 .380 90 No
1956 Don Larsen 1953-1967 81 91 .471 99 No
1964 Jim Bunning 1955-1971 224 184 .549 114 Yes
1965 Sandy Koufax 1955-1966 165 87 .655 131 Yes
1968 Catfish Hunter 1965-1979 224 166 .574 105 Yes
1981 Len Barker 1976-1987 74 76 .493 94 No
1984 Mike Witt 1981-1993 117 116 .502 105 No
1988 Tom Browning 1984-1995 123 90 .577 98 No
1991 Dennis Martinez 1976-1998 245 193 .559 106 No
1994 Kenny Rogers 1989-2008 219 156 .584 108 Not yet eligible
1998 David Wells 1987-2007 239 157 .604 108 Not yet eligible
1999 David Cone 1986-2003 194 126 .606 121 No
2004 Randy Johnson 1988-2009 303 166 .646 136 Not yet eligible
2009 Mark Buehrle 2000- 162 121 .572 120 Active player
2010 Dallas Braden 2007- 26 36 .419 102 Active player
2010 Roy Halladay 1998- 191 93 .673 139 Active player
2012 Philip Humber 2006- 12 10 .545 110 Active player
Combined W-L 3319 2361 .584
* Through April 22, 2012.
** Earned run average adjusted for ballpark and the league’s mean ERA in each season. An ERA+ of 100 is therefore an average performance over a career; ERA+ >100 is above average; ERA+ <100 is below average. (Details here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ERA%2B.)
*** Membership in the Hall of Fame is noted for the sake of completeness, though it is not conclusive proof of greatness. (See: http://libertycorner.blogspot.com/2006/10/anti-hall-of-fame-and-baseball.html; http://libertycorner.blogspot.com/2007/12/hall-of-famers.html.)

The point of this excursion into baseball is stated in an old post of mine:

A bit of unpredictability (or “luck”) here and there does not make for a random universe, random lives, or random markets. If a bit of unpredictability here and there dominated our actions, we wouldn’t be here to talk about randomness….

Human beings are not “designed” for randomness. Human endeavors can yield unpredictable results, but those results do not arise from random processes, they derive from skill or the lack therof, knowledge or the lack thereof … , and conflicting objectives…

In baseball, as in life, “luck” is mainly an excuse and rarely an explanation….

Related posts:
Fooled by Non-Randomness
Randomness Is Over-Rated
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
Luck and Baseball, One More Time

Mysteries: Sacred and Profane

A philosopher named Jamie Whyte, about whom I have written before (“Invoking Hitler“), is the author of Bad Thoughts – A Guide to Clear Thinking. According to the publisher, it is a

book for people who like argument. Witty, contentious, and passionate, it exposes the methods with which we avoid reasoned debate…. His writing is both laugh-out-loud funny and a serious comment on the ways in which people with power and influence avoid truth in steering public opinion.

Bad Thoughts is witty — though “laugh-out-loud funny” is a stretch — and, for the most part, correct in its criticisms of the kinds of sloppy logic that are found routinely in politics, journalism, blogdom, and everyday conversation.

But Whyte is not infallible, as I point out in “Invoking Hitler.”  This post focuses on another of Whyte’s miscues, which is found under “Mystery” (pp. 23-26). Here are some relevant samples:

…Consider … the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Unity of the Holy Trinity. The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are three distinct entities — as suggested by ‘Trinity’. Yet each is God, a sinle entity — as suggested by ‘Unity’. The doctrine is not that each is part of God, in the way that the FM tuner is part of your three-in-one home stereo. Each is wholly God.

And there’s the problem. It takes only the most basic arithmetic to see that three things cannot be one thing. The doctrine of the Unity of the Trinity is inconsistent with the fact that three does not equal one.

Whyte goes on and on, but the quoted material is the essence of his “case” that the Blessed Trinity (Catholic usage) is impossible because it defies mathematical logic. What is worse, to Whyte, is the fact that this bit of illogic is “explained away” (as he would put it) by calling it a “mystery.”

I am surprised that a philosopher cannot accept the idea of “mystery.” Anyone who thinks for more than a few minutes about the nature of the universe, as Whyte must have done, concludes that its essence is beyond human comprehension. And, yet, the universe exists. The universe — a real thing — is, at bottom, a mystery. Somehow, the mysteriousness of the universe does not negate its existence.

And there are scientific mysteries piled on that mysteriousness. Two of those mysteries have a common feature: They posit the simultaneous existence of one thing in more than one form — not unlike the Blessed Trinity:

Wave–particle duality postulates that all particles exhibit both wave and particle properties. A central concept of quantum mechanics, this duality addresses the inability of classical concepts like “particle” and “wave” to fully describe the behavior of quantum-scale objects.

*   *   *

The many-worlds interpretation is an interpretation of quantum mechanics that asserts the objective reality of the universal wavefunction, but denies the actuality of wavefunction collapse. Many-worlds implies that all possible alternative histories and futures are real, each representing an actual “world” (or “universe”).

As Shakespeare puts it (Hamlet, Act I, Scene V), “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Or in your physics.

If Whyte wants to disprove the Blessed Trinity, he must first try to disprove the existence of God — a fool’s errand that I have addressed in other posts; for example:

A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps
Not-So-Random Thoughts (II)” (see the first section, “Atheism,” which inter alia addresses Lawrence M. Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing, which is summarized in this article by Krauss)

The Pool of Liberty and “Me” Libertarianism

Ted Levy makes some excellent points in “Is the Pool of Liberty Drying Up?“:

…[A] few years ago [David Boaz, executive vice president of Cato Institute] made a well received but, I think, incomplete analysis of liberty….

Boaz’s thoughts were well articulated in a 2010 piece, found here on Reason.com: Up From Slavery: There’s No Such Thing As A Golden Age of Lost Liberty.

… Boaz notes Cato pamphlets used to include as the Institute’s raison d’être, “Since [the American] revolution, civil and economic liberties have been eroded.” And then, Boaz notes, a visiting Clarence Thomas, prior to his ascension to the Supreme Court, pointed out black people didn’t look at matters quite that way.

And not only black people, of course, though the awfulness of slavery is hard to trump. But the political liberties, or lack thereof, of Jews, gays, and women were also not proud applications of individual liberty in America’s past.

Then there’s Brink Lindsey’s argument, quoted by Boaz, from Lindsey’s The Age of Abundance (2007): Looking at liberty’s gains in the last half-century, Lindsey writes: “Compare conditions now to how they were at the outset of the 1960s. Official governmental discrimination against blacks no longer exists. Censorship has beaten a wholesale retreat. The rights of the accused enjoy much better protection. Abortion, birth control, interracial marriage, and gay sex are legal. Divorce laws have been liberalized and rape laws strengthened. Pervasive price and entry controls in the transportation, energy, communications, and financial sectors are gone. Top income tax rates have been slashed. The pretensions of macroeconomic fine-tuning have been abandoned. Barriers to international trade are much lower. Unionization of the private sector work force has collapsed. …cultural expression, personal lifestyle choices, entrepreneurship, and the play of market forces all now enjoy much wider freedom of maneuver.”

Lindsey’s is a hopeful message, and makes points similar to those made by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch in their 2011 book The Declaration of Independents. Gillespie and Welch note that in all areas of life not touched by the mailed fist of government, things have improved dramatically in much less than a century. Save for the areas government controls–our educational system, our health care, our retirement plans–things are quite rosy.

But of course our educational system, health care, and retirement needs are not de minimis aspects of our lives…. The financial sector has undergone massive re-regulation since Lindsey wrote, and there is a resurgence of opposition to both international free trade and simple rules to limit the political power of public-sector unions. Finally, “the pretensions of macroeconomic fine tuning” have hardly, in the days of Obama, been “abandoned,” and Gingrich, Santorum, and Romney disagree only with Obama’s choices, not the principle of fine-tuning the economy from Washington.

…Things are better for blacks, for women, for a diverse and important subset of Americans. But this captures only part of the dynamic. We now, all of us, have our rights recognized equally. And we now, all of us, equally, have less rights than some of us did before. Is this a gain from a libertarian perspective?

Liberty is like the water in a swimming pool. You can dive in, and be surrounded by freedom. In the past, the pool was large and deep. Those who could dive in were engulfed in liberty. It was everywhere. There was so much liberty you could drown in it if you were not careful, but people exposed to liberty were buoyant, and liberty lifted you.

And entry into the pool, for many, was their birthright. It could not be taken away. The lifeguard at the pool was like a night watchman, seldom needed, helpful in emergencies.

Sadly, though, and wrongly, the pool was restricted. No blacks allowed, with only token exceptions. No Jews. No gays. No women. Property owners preferred. Yet despite all this, the pool and the opportunity to dive into it attracted millions from all over the world.

Over time, two things happened, one good, one bad. Rules were changed to allow more people to enter the pool. Over time first blacks, then Asians, Jews, women–now, though not yet fully, even gays–have been allowed to join the club and enter the pool. Sadly, at the same time, the pool has been shrinking. Once the pool was gigantic in size. As James Wilson might have said, “Measure the size of the pool? I am sure, sirs, that no gentleman in the late Convention would have attempted such a thing.”…

Blacks can now enter the pool. Women can now get their toes wet. Gays are now free to wear the most outrageous swimsuits poolside. But no one–white or black; gay or straight; male or female; young or old–NO ONE can now do high dives into the deep end. It is too shallow. It would be dangerous. It is prohibited for our own safety. The waters of liberty now engulf no one, equally….

We do, clearly, today have more liberty in the sense it is available to more people. More people are allowed into the pool. But it is hard to appreciate how much the pool has shrunk. The shrinkage takes place over time, and on any given day the shrinkage may be difficult to notice….

When we watch a race where some runners are shackled, we recognize it as unfair. We see the liberty of the shackled runners restricted if they are weighted down by the force of law. When we call out for greater equality, should we be satisfied if the laws are changed so as to shackle all runners equally, or should we remain unsatisfied until shackles are removed, and no one is weighted down?

On the March 8th episode of his eponymous Fox Business Network (FBN) show, John Stossel provided the second in a series on the huge expansion of laws under which we suffer in America, “Is Everything Illegal in America Today?” He noted in the last year alone the Federal government has generated 160,000 pages of NEW laws and regulations, restrictions on freedom, excuses to imprison citizens. These are not further descriptions and elaborations of rape and murder, robbery and home invasion. Stossel tells of the man who was imprisoned for SIX YEARS because he sold seafood in the wrong containers, lobsters that, while not mislabeled to consumers, were nonetheless smaller than the legal salable size. Opening a lemonade stand in your front yard requires, in NYC, preliminary attendance at a 15 hour Food Protection class, and filling out many legal forms….

We are now, in the words of Proudhon, watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded. We are all in the pool now. And our feet are all equally barely wet. And while there was no Golden Age of Liberty, Americans today seem oblivious to a real and tragic loss, seem unaware they can no longer immerse themselves in liberty, can no longer swim unimpeded. Can no longer be everywhere surrounded by freedom.

Contrast Levy’s analysis with that of Jim Peron, writing in “The Disaster of Me Libertarianism.” Peron begins by repeating some “critiques of libertarianism”:

Libertarians are just conservatives who like drugs!

Libertarians are only concerned about themselves!

Libertarians don’t care what happens to other people?

Libertarians are selfish!

He then piles on:

I just spent a couple days at a libertarian conference. It was an experience that I find increasingly dismaying and disappointing because there has been a clear rightward shift in the libertarian movement….

But, what is interesting is listening to libertarians dismiss issues that are important to people who aren’t like them. Let us be truthful: the typical libertarian, and certainly the typical attendee at this conference, is a middle-aged, white, straight male. And, they seem utterly incapable of seeing freedom through the eyes of anyone who isn’t the same.

Mention equal marriage rights for gay people and they simply dismiss it as unimportant. If they aren’t actively opposed—and some were—they see it as inconsequential. If you talk about guns they often are interested since so many of them own firearms. If you talk about pornography they are interested. But when it comes to the barriers to immigration they don’t give a damn since they aren’t immigrants. They hate tax laws, but then they pay taxes. [Ed. note: The last is a fatuous observation. Of course they pay taxes, given the alternative of imprisonment and/or hefty fines.]

They really are libertarians who only see liberty as an issue as it applies to white, middle-aged, straight men (WMASM).

David Boaz wrote about the same thing by implication….

The piece by Boaz is the one mentioned by Levy. But Peron, unlike Levy, seems unaware that the pool of liberty is drying up, so focused is Peron on those “libertarians” who (according to him) do not share his (verbal) compassion for all creatures great and small. He recites some examples of un-libertarian attitudes, and summarizes them in this way:

All of this is what I call “me” libertarianism. That is the tendency of individual libertarians to interpret political trends only through their own experiences, without caring what the broader reality happens to be.

What is that “broader reality”?

We have millions of our fellow citizens who are freer today than they would have been had they lived in the golden age of liberty—whenever you think that might be. We have to be aware of their concerns as well. “Me” libertarianism references liberty only as it effects [sic] the speaker, without consideration of the freedom of others. It does send the message that libertarianism is selfish and about protecting privilege for white males only.

Others, who were not so privileged in the past, have trouble seeing how liberty will help them because so many advocates of liberty simply don’t care about how others are oppressed today. These libertarians do care about the issues that impact their own lives, but everyone else is inconsequential. Is it any wonder that so many African-Americans don’t see libertarians as interested in them? Is it really a surprise that libertarian meetings are so overwhelmingly male? Why is anyone surprised when the LBGT community ignores libertarianism, after libertarians have spent decades ignoring them?

The “libertarians” to whom Peron refers bear no resemblance to the libertarians who dominate the blogosphere. The latter are — almost to a white, middle-aged, straight man — very much pro-black, pro-illegal immigration, pro-LBGT (especially pro-homosexual “marriage”), pro “choice,” and so on.

But that contradiction is not the most serious flaw in Peron’s rant. This is:

[W]e should … fight for issues like marriage equality, the rights of immigrants, and reproductive rights for women…. We need to listen to people who are not like us.

In other words, Peron believes that liberty can be attained by destroying marriage (the bulwark of civil society); allowing illegal immigrants to pick the pockets of working Americans and vote for Democrats (world-class pickpockets themselves); and enabling state-sponsored murder, which encourages other eugenic practices.

Peron seems not to have noticed that the gains made by blacks, by women (in the workplace), by immigrants, and by homosexuals often have been proximate causes of the shrinkage of the pool of liberty. Those gains have been made by mainly through the agency of the state, by such techniques as restricting freedom of speech, punishing “incorrect” thoughts, redistributing income,, denying property rights, suppressing freedom of conscience, forbidding freedom of association, and granting admissions, jobs, and promotions to favored groups. (I must note that Levy slides by these specifics when he gives his reasons for the shrinkage of the pool of liberty.)

Finally, Peron wants us to believe that “freedom is indivisible.” Actually, it is divisible, as a mere glance at the outside world would tell hm. Some enjoy a lot of freedom; others enjoy less, very little, or none. But it is not libertarian to take freedom away from those who enjoy it, for the sake of “liberating” others — especially when those acts of “liberation” cause the pool of liberty to shrink.

I am all for the expansion of freedom, but not if it comes at the expense of my freedom. If that is “me” libertarianism, so be it.

Related posts:
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
The Interest-Group Paradox
Parsing Political Philosophy
Is Statism Inevitable?
Inventing “Liberalism”
Law and Liberty
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
An Encounter with a Marxist
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
Our Enemy, the State
The Golden Rule and the State
A Not-So-Fine Whine
Social Justice
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
More Social Justice
Facets of Liberty
Burkean Libertarianism
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
What Is Libertarianism?
Nature Is Unfair
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
A Declaration and Defense of My Prejudices about Governance
The Libertarian-Conservative Fusion Is Alive and Well
Libertarianism and Morality
Libertarianism and Morality: A Footnote
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
More about Merit Goods
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?
Prohibition, Abortion, and “Progressivism”
Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts
Conservatives vs. “Liberals”
Why Conservatism Works

Constitutional Confusion

Will Wilkinson’s “The individual mandate: A taxing distinction” is rife with confusion about the Constitution:

…Suppose I sell a novel to a publisher. If the publisher cuts a check to my agent, and my agent cuts a check to me, did I really not do business with the publisher? Of course I did. The middle man is irrelevant to whether or not business has been done between the publisher and I. Likewise, if I cut a check to the government and the government cuts a check to Raytheon, I did business with Raytheon.

…If forcing me to hand a dollar to Raytheon and taking a dollar by force and handing it Raytheon are two materially equivalent ways of making me do business with Raytheon, and they are, then the undisputed power of Congress to tax and spend was a power to force me to do business with private companies all along.

One principled libertarian line on this question is that government has the power to tax only for the purpose of spending on the provision of those public goods, such as the common defence, which voluntary exchange on the free market cannot be relied on to provide…. A ruling to the effect that government may not force citizens to do business with private entities could be useful to a libertarian legal activist precisely because there really is no sound distinction between mediated and unmediated transactions….

The “libertarian line,” principled or not, is irrelevant to the meaning of the Constitution, which is not a libertarian document but a political one. The issue at hand — the constitutionality of the individual mandate — cannot be resolved by invoking libertarian principles; it must be resolved by invoking constitutional principles.

The Constitution gives the federal government the power to raise and employ armed forces in the defense of the nation. The taxing power is used legitimately (in constitutional terms) when it enables the exercise of that power. When Wilkinson is taxed to help defray the cost of national defense, he is not being forced to do business with Raytheon. He is being forced (legitimately, under the Constitution) to support the national defense, which happens to involve purchases from Raytheon (among many things).

One need not get into the messy business of defining public goods to find fault with the individual mandate, as a constitutional matter.  The mandate is constitutionally wrong because there is no constitutional writ for such a thing. Obamacare, of which the mandate is an integral element, is nothing less than an attempt on the part of the federal government to commandeer and direct all economic activity that is conceivably related to a fictional entity called the “market for health care.” The mandate is an attempt to further that scheme by forcing individuals to engage in commerce — a power that can be read into the Constitution only by those who would prefer to have a federal government of unlimited power.

Finally, it is hogwash to say that “there really is no sound distinction between mediated and unmediated transactions.” I am not “doing business with Raytheon” because some of my tax dollars go to Raytheon. I am doing business with the federal government as a (constitutionally legitimate) provider of national defense. But if the federal government forces me to buy health insurance (or pay a hefty penalty), I am doing business with an insurance company, not with the federal government.

Related posts:
Unintended Irony from a Few Framers
Freedom of Contract and the Rise of Judicial Tyranny
Social Security Is Unconstitutional
The Constitution in Exile
What Is the Living Constitution?
Blame It on the Commerce Clause
The Slippery Slope of Constitutional Revisionism
The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
The Unconstitutionality of the Individual Mandate
Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power?
Does Congress Have the Power to Regulate Inactivity?
Obamacare: Neither Necessary Nor Proper

Too Much Protection for the President?

How much protection does the president need? The current scandal surrounding the Secret Service raises this question: Does the president really need so many protectors that large numbers of them have the luxury of arranging and attending parties with prostitutes?

To answer the question, I adopt the case-study method: Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley could have used more SS protection than the none or little available to them. In every case, the VP who succeeded was a worse president than the man he succeeded. (No fan of TR am I.)

JFK had a lot of SS protection, but not as much as presidents of latter years. JFK’s death led not only to the elevation of (ugh!) LBJ but also helped LBJ ram through the Great Society legislation that has had dire consequences for the country.

My conclusion: I should be in charge of deciding the level of SS protection afforded a president, given his policies, the identity of his VP, and the likely effect of the president’s demise on the next president’s ability to “get things done.” Sympathy passage of Obama-Biden policies, followed by the election of Biden would be a bad thing.

Therefore, I would protect Obama as if he were the holiest of holies, so that he can be defeated in November.

Race and Reason: The Derbyshire Debacle

Race is one of the several badges of identity that have been recognized by leftists in their generally successful quest to obtain unmerited privileges for the bearers of those badges. Leftists will have no truck with freedom of association, property rights, or actual merit. No, their clientele must be given special dispensations, even if doing so means that others are penalized for the “sin” of not being on the left’s list of preferred identity groups.

This post is about a particular identity group: blacks. Specifically, it is about the specter that haunts every discussion of blacks: racism.

Since I began blogging at Politics & Prosperity in February 2009, I have not written much about the “race issue.” (My post about the Trayvon Martin case was about Obama’s race-baiting, not about race per se.) It is time to end this blog’s avoidance of the race issue, especially in light of Fisher v. University of Texas, a case that will be heard later this year by the U.S. Supreme Court.

It is not that I expect to influence the outcome of Fisher v. UT. Nor do I expect to influence the views of the smug, self-deluding, racist leftists who dominate UT and the political life of Austin. But as a taxpayer, I am an unwilling supporter of the racist admission policy of the University of Texas. Therefore, I can no longer stifle my disdain for that policy. If nothing else, perhaps fate (and Google) will send an errant leftist in this direction, so that he or she may be offended by what I have to say.

I wrote a lot about the race issue and its evil spawn, affirmative action, at my old blog, which I maintained from 2004 to 2008. I am not sure why I stopped writing about race when I created Politics & Prosperity soon after the inauguration of Barack Obama. Perhaps, subconsciously, I did not want my criticisms of Obama’s leftist predilections and policies to be tainted by the suggestion that I disdain him for his racial identity (which is black, despite his mixed parentage). In fact, Obama’s policies are loathsome on their own merits. The man is nothing more than a tan version of Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, LBJ, and FDR — all of whom I disrespect deeply. My loathing for leftists is color-blind.

Anyway, here is Politics & Prosperity‘s initial foray into the issue of race, or — more precisely — racism.

*   *   *

I do not mean by racism the view that there are races and that they differ by virtue of genetic and cultural heredity. That proposition, despite much evidence in its favor, is widely thought to be a racist one. But it is not.

Racism is undiscriminating distrust, suspicion, scorn, or hatred directed toward a racial group and its members, just because the racial group is identifiably different than the racial group with which the distrustful, suspicious, scornful, or hate-filled person — the racist — identifies. Racism knows no bounds; it is found in blacks, whites, Asians, aboriginals of all kinds, and in sub-groups of each.

Racism is an extreme form of in-group allegiance, that is, identification of oneself with a group because that identification satisfies prudential and/or emotional needs. A desire for mutual defense is a valid prudential need. Who better to turn to for defense against predators than one’s kin, neighbors, community, and network of communities linked by a common heritage? Predators may be found in each of those groups, but such groups (unless controlled by predators) can be counted on to resist predation, both internal and from without. Nor is defense against predators the only prudential need that can be satisfied by in-group allegiance; there is also, for example, mutual aid in times of natural disaster.

In-group allegiance, when rewarded by such benefits as mutual defense and mutual aid, can satisfy an emotional need for belonging, which sometimes manifests itself as patriotism. But patriotism, like racial identity, has negative consequences when it blinds its adherents to the virtues of individuals outside the in-group. The result is self-defeating insularity, which finds expression in policies that are harmful to many members of the in-group (e.g., protectionism, bans on social and economic fraternization with blacks). Racism, in other words, is a virulent kind of in-group allegiance that satisfies an emotional need while causing harm — even to its practitioners. It is akin to (though far more serious than) the kind of hooliganism that results from cultish attachments to sports teams, as in the case of European football.

Thus blinded to the virtues of individuals outside his in-group, a racist condemn all members of a despised out-group. A racist may praise the accomplishments of some members of a despised group (athletes are particular favorites), while attributing those accomplishments to racial traits or otherwise belittling the individuals whose accomplishments are noteworthy. A racist may justify his racism by citing evidence of racial differences (e.g., the lower average intelligence of blacks, compared to whites). But the racism (usually) precedes the evidence, which a racist will cite in support of his racism.

It is not racist to recognize the fact of inter-racial differences, on average, as long as one evaluates and treats individuals as individuals and recognizes that group averages do not obliterate individual differences.

It is not racist to recognize the risks of venturing into the “territory” of a racial group other than one’s own. But that recognition is racist if it is not matched by equal caution about venturing into the “territory” of certain sub-cultures of one’s own racial group. Specifically, a middle-class white person foolishly ventures into an area known as a redoubt for black gangbangers. But the same middle-class white wears racial blinders if he insouciantly ventures into Deliverance country.

Having said all of that, I admit the difficulty of telling racism apart from realism.

An excellent case in point is John Derbyshire‘s column of April 5, “The Talk: Nonblack Version,” which appeared in Taki’s Magazine. Derbyshire, for the sins of realism and candor, was immediately fired from his long-standing gig as a columnist for National Review, a creature of William F. Buckley Jr. which proclaims itself “America’s most widely read and influential magazine and website for Republican/conservative news, commentary and opinion.” Derbyshire’s offense, according to Rich Lowry, editor of NR, was to

lurch[] from the politically incorrect to the nasty and indefensible. We never would have published [“The Talk: Nonblack Version”], but the main reason that people noticed it is that it is by a National Review writer. Derb is effectively using our name to get more oxygen for views with which we’d never associate ourselves otherwise. So there has to be a parting of the ways. Derb has long danced around the line on these issues, but this column is so outlandish it constitutes a kind of letter of resignation.

(Three days after firing Derbyshire, NR fired another columnist, Robert Weissberg, for participating “in an American Renaissance conference where he delivered a noxious talk about the future of white nationalism.” I may address that case in a future post.)

Was Derbyshire’s piece “nasty and indefensible,” or simply too realistic for NR, which — as a conservative outlet — is always a prime candidate for the “racist” label that leftists like to stick on their opponents. (I often, and quite properly, refer to leftists as racists because they condescend to blacks and pursue policies that favor blacks simply for being black.)

Here are excerpts of Derbyshire’s article:

There is much talk about “the talk.”

“Sean O’Reilly was 16 when his mother gave him the talk that most black parents give their teenage sons,” Denisa R. Superville of the Hackensack (NJ) Record tells us. Meanwhile, down in Atlanta: “Her sons were 12 and 8 when Marlyn Tillman realized it was time for her to have the talk,” Gracie Bonds Staples writes in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Leonard Greene talks about the talk in the New York Post. Someone bylined as KJ Dell’Antonia talks about the talk in The New York Times. Darryl Owens talks about the talk in the Orlando Sentinel.

Yes, talk about the talk is all over.

There is a talk that nonblack Americans have with their kids, too. My own kids, now 19 and 16, have had it in bits and pieces as subtopics have arisen. If I were to assemble it into a single talk, it would look something like the following.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

(1) Among your fellow citizens are forty million who identify as black, and whom I shall refer to as black….

(2) American blacks are descended from West African populations, with some white and aboriginal-American admixture….

(3) Your own ancestry is mixed north-European and northeast-Asian, but blacks will take you to be white.

(4) The default principle in everyday personal encounters is, that as a fellow citizen, with the same rights and obligations as yourself, any individual black is entitled to the same courtesies you would extend to a nonblack citizen….

(5) As with any population of such a size, there is great variation among blacks in every human trait (except, obviously, the trait of identifying oneself as black)….

(6) As you go through life, however, you will experience an ever larger number of encounters with black Americans. Assuming your encounters are random—for example, not restricted only to black convicted murderers or to black investment bankers—the Law of Large Numbers will inevitably kick in. You will observe that the means—the averages—of many traits are very different for black and white Americans, as has been confirmed by methodical inquiries in the human sciences.

(7) Of most importance to your personal safety are the very different means for antisocial behavior, which you will see reflected in, for instance, school disciplinary measures, political corruption, and criminal convictions.

(8) These differences are magnified by the hostility many blacks feel toward whites. Thus, while black-on-black behavior is more antisocial in the average than is white-on-white behavior, average black-on-white behavior is a degree more antisocial yet.

(9) A small cohort of blacks—in my experience, around five percent—is ferociously hostile to whites and will go to great lengths to inconvenience or harm us. A much larger cohort of blacks—around half—will go along passively if the five percent take leadership in some event….

(10) Thus, while always attentive to the particular qualities of individuals, on the many occasions where you have nothing to guide you but knowledge of those mean differences, use statistical common sense:

(10a) Avoid concentrations of blacks not all known to you personally.

(10b) Stay out of heavily black neighborhoods.

(10c) If planning a trip to a beach or amusement park at some date, find out whether it is likely to be swamped with blacks on that date (neglect of that one got me the closest I have ever gotten to death by gunshot).

(10d) Do not attend events likely to draw a lot of blacks.

(10e) If you are at some public event at which the number of blacks suddenly swells, leave as quickly as possible.

(10f) Do not settle in a district or municipality run by black politicians.

(10g) Before voting for a black politician, scrutinize his/her character much more carefully than you would a white.

(10h) Do not act the Good Samaritan to blacks in apparent distress, e.g., on the highway.

(10i) If accosted by a strange black in the street, smile and say something polite but keep moving.

(11) The mean intelligence of blacks is much lower than for whites….

(12) There is a magnifying effect here, too, caused by affirmative action. In a pure meritocracy there would be very low proportions of blacks in cognitively demanding jobs. Because of affirmative action, the proportions are higher. In government work, they are very high. Thus, in those encounters with strangers that involve cognitive engagement, ceteris paribus the black stranger will be less intelligent than the white. In such encounters, therefore—for example, at a government office—you will, on average, be dealt with more competently by a white than by a black. If that hostility-based magnifying effect (paragraph 8) is also in play, you will be dealt with more politely, too. “The DMV lady“ is a statistical truth, not a myth.

(13) In that pool of forty million, there are nonetheless many intelligent and well-socialized blacks [ISWBs]…. You should consciously seek opportunities to make friends with IWSBs. In addition to the ordinary pleasures of friendship, you will gain an amulet against potentially career-destroying accusations of prejudice.

(14) Be aware, however, that there is an issue of supply and demand here….

(15) Unfortunately the demand is greater than the supply, so IWSBs are something of a luxury good, like antique furniture or corporate jets: boasted of by upper-class whites and wealthy organizations, coveted by the less prosperous. To be an IWSB in present-day US society is a height of felicity rarely before attained by any group of human beings in history. Try to curb your envy: it will be taken as prejudice (see paragraph 13).

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

You don’t have to follow my version of the talk point for point; but if you are white or Asian and have kids, you owe it to them to give them some version of the talk. It will save them a lot of time and trouble spent figuring things out for themselves. It may save their lives.

Derbyshire’s “talk” (hereafter DT) should be judged on two criteria: appropriateness and accuracy. If it is accurate, it is appropriate. Parents have a duty to educate their children in the facts of life, sexual and otherwise. To neglect that duty is to leave them open to harms that they are better able to avoid with foreknowledge and forewarning. DT (if accurate) can be called inappropriate only by persons who put political correctness above the well-being of children. To take a non-racial example, parents who fail to teach their children of the health risks of male homosexuality, and who condone homosexual experimentation by male adolescents because “there’s nothing wrong with that,” are endangering the lives of those adolescents through their politically correct passivity.

Is DT accurate? Derbyshire assiduously documents almost all of his points, in the links reproduced above and in others that are in elided passages. One weak point is (9), where Derbyshire lapses into generalizations about the percentage of blacks who are openly hostile to whites (about five percent) and the fraction of blacks (about half) who will follow the lead of hostile blacks. But these lapses do not negate the advice that follows. It is incontrovertible that some blacks have and will harm whites, and it is a staple of human nature that the “masses” (of any color) will flee from, ignore, or acquiesce in acts of savagery. (The heroism of some passengers on United 93 is nothing compared with, say, the silent acceptance of the Holocaust by masses of Germans — to offer but one case in point.) But Derbyshire’s guesses about proportions do not vitiate the points that follow: (10a)-(10i).

I find (14) and (15) to be strained, but generally accurate. However, no one is in a position to assert, as Derbyshire does in (15), that

[t]o be an IWSB in present-day US society is a height of felicity rarely before attained by any group of human beings in history.

This is pure hyperbole. Neither Derbyshire nor any other observer is in a position to judge the “felicity” of IWSBs, individually or as a group. (Group felicity is an empty construct, in any case, because one cannot sum individual states of well-being to attain a collective measure of well-being.) The assertion is also condescending, and thus suggestive of a racist attitude toward blacks.

My few objections aside, DT is accurate (on the whole) and therefore appropriate. The powers-that-be at NR are guilty of bowing to the false gods of political correctness.

I do not mean to say that Derbyshire is not a racist. He may well be one. But a racist, like a stopped clock, can sometimes be right about racial issues, just as a poor marksman can sometimes hit a bulls-eye if he expends a lot of ammunition.

This brings me to Derbyshire’s next column at Taki’s Magazine, “Talking Back,” which addresses some of the blogospheric commentary about DT. Near the end of “Talking Back,” Derbyshire offers the following:

Lefty commenters waxed large on my piece as promoting eugenics, arguing for genetic inferiority, and so on.

Now, I do have opinions about eugenics. I support, for example, the eugenic requirements in the marriage laws of my state (see under “Familial Restrictions” here)

Similarly, I have opinions about the notion of genetic success (as I prefer to frame the issue). In the long biological view, the only criterion is survival… [T]he premise of the movie Idiocracy is that coarse, dumb people will inherit the Earth by out-breeding refined, smart people. If that happens (and I wouldn’t be surprised) then from a biological perspective, which is actually my own perspective as a stone-cold empiricist, the coarse, dumb people will have proven “superior” to the refined, smart ones. Personally I prefer the latter type, but Ma Nature doesn’t care what I prefer.

Sure, I have opinions; sure, I’m willing to discuss these topics. There was nothing of them in my piece, though. I just stated facts, based on statistics gathered over decades, by both private and government agencies, accumulated and checked beyond the range of dispute. Those facts might have any of several causes, with corresponding remedies. They might be “cultural”: Perhaps a nationwide ban on rap music and malt liquor might change them. They might be biomedical, fixable by some not-yet-discovered pharmacological wonder we could put in the water supply such as fluoride. They might be manipulated by extraterrestrial powers lurking in the fogs of Jupiter, beaming malign rays at us. I didn’t speculate. I framed no hypotheses. Just the facts….

Were there any reasoned non-hostile critiques I thought were good?

Even there, I only looked at three or four, at the urging of friends. Of those, the best was Noah Millman‘s. It deserves a formal, collegial rebuttal, but I’m so far behind with absolutely everything, I daren’t think about it. I haven’t done my damn TAXES yet. Sorry, Noah. In any case, most of the points I’d make are already there in the comment thread to Noah’s piece.

It is going somewhat too far to say that DT recites “just the facts.” But it is heavily fact-based and accurate in its thrust. It is a big improvement on touchy-feely political correctness, which substitutes hopes for facts.

What about Millman’s column, “A Quick Word on the Derb,” at The American Conservative? For one thing, Millman says that Derbyshire’s injunctions (10a)-(10i) are

bad advice. To be a good application of statistical common sense, it’s not enough to know that, for example, crime rates (on average) are higher in majority-black neighborhoods. You’d need to know that the disparity was large enough, and the variance around the average small enough, so that following such a rule would actually be a decent heuristic; not to mention that there were no more finely-grained heuristics available and that the cost of applying such a sweeping heuristic in terms of the loss of experience of life and its manifold pleasures was not prohibitive.

Because here’s the thing. Granting that nobody has an obligation to be politically correct in their behavior, and granting (for the sake of argument) all of Derbyshire’s premises, what he’s still saying is that the risks are so great that it’s better simply to wall oneself off from African-Americans to the greatest degree possible. But he hasn’t actually measured the risks in absolute terms, only in relative terms: would this action reduce risk; if yes, then follow it. I wonder: does he take a similar attitude toward other risks? Toward, to take a few examples, eating raw food, bicycling without a helmet, traveling alone to a foreign country, or writing whatever one wishes for a publication like Taki’s Magazine?…

The “race realists” like to say that they are the ones who are curious about the world, and the “politically correct” types are the ones who prefer to ignore ugly reality. But the advice Derbyshire gives to his children encourages them not to be too curious about the world around them, for fear of getting hurt. And, as a general rule, that’s terrible advice for kids – and not the advice that Derbyshire has followed in his own life.

Twaddle. Derbyshire’s advice is cautionary — it is of a kind with warning one’s children about the dangers of street-racing and para-sailing. They may do such things anyway, but they may do so after taking duly precautionary measures.

Moreover, Millman’s proffered alternative is fatuous:

To be a good application of statistical common sense, it’s not enough to know that, for example, crime rates (on average) are higher in majority-black neighborhoods. You’d need to know that the disparity was large enough, and the variance around the average small enough, so that following such a rule would actually be a decent heuristic; not to mention that there were no more finely-grained heuristics available and that the cost of applying such a sweeping heuristic in terms of the loss of experience of life and its manifold pleasures was not prohibitive.

And where does one obtain these fine-grained statistics and heuristics? And on short notice? And what is the “loss of experience of life” next to the very real possibility of a dire outcome, including loss of life itself?

Millman goes on:

The “race realists” like to say that they are the ones who are curious about the world, and the “politically correct” types are the ones who prefer to ignore ugly reality. But the advice Derbyshire gives to his children encourages them not to be too curious about the world around them, for fear of getting hurt. And, as a general rule, that’s terrible advice for kids – and not the advice that Derbyshire has followed in his own life.

I have no idea about “the advice that Derbyshire has followed in his own life,” nor do I know how Millman knows what that might be. But it is evident that Derbyshire has not been killed by a black thug or black mob. Further, I cannot imagine that Derbyshire’s advice stifles his children’s curiosity, though it may help to channel that curiosity away from situations and events that are best avoided by any sensible person. There is plenty to be curious about in this world; most of it is far more interesting than wandering into strange neighborhoods and mingling in crowds of strangers.

Later:

Which brings us to the supposed point of the column. That point, I take it, is to argue that just as African-American parents have to brief their sons on how to keep themselves from ending up like Trayvon Martin, white parents have to brief their sons on how to keep themselves safe from personal violence at the hands of African-Americans. But there’s a profound lack of parallelism between the two conversations. “The Talk” is about how you are perceived by others, and how to comport yourself so as to counteract that perception. Derbyshire’s talk is about how you should perceive others. There’s no analogy. They have nothing to do with each other.

The “talks” have everything to do with each other: They are about how to avoid harm.

In sum, I am unpersuaded by Millman’s commentary. Derbyshire’s children — and other non-black children — should follow Derbyshire’s advice, just as black children should heed “the talk.”

Whether Derbyshire is a racist or a realist matters not. On the whole, he is right.

*   *   *

I will address affirmative action and other policy fiascoes in future posts.

The Candle Problem: Balderdash Masquerading as Science

UPDATED 04/12/12

The hot new item in management “science” appears to be the Candle Problem. Graham Morehead discusses the problem and its broader, “scientifically” supported conclusions:

The Candle Problem was first presented by Karl Duncker. Published posthumously in 1945, “On problem solving” describes how Duncker provided subjects with a candle, some matches, and a box of tacks. He told each subject to affix the candle to a cork board wall in such a way that when lit, the candle won’t drip wax on the table below (see figure at right). Can you think of the answer?

The only answer that really works is this: 1.Dump the tacks out of the box, 2.Tack the box to the wall, 3.Light the candle and affix it atop the box as if it were a candle-holder. Incidentally, the problem was much easier to solve if the tacks weren’t in the box at the beginning. When the tacks were in the box the participant saw it only as a tack-box, not something they could use to solve the problem. This phenomenon is called “Functional fixedness.”

Sam Glucksberg added a fascinating twist to this finding in his 1962 paper, “Influece of strength of drive on functional fixedness and perceptual recognition.” (Journal of Experimental Psychology 1962. Vol. 63, No. 1, 36-41). He studied the effect of financial incentives on solving the candle problem. To one group he offered no money. To the other group he offered an amount of money for solving the problem fast.

Remember, there are two candle problems. Let the “Simple Candle Problem” be the one where the tacks are outside the box — no functional fixedness. The solution is straightforward. Here are the results for those who solved it:

Simple Candle Problem Mean Times :

  • WITHOUT a financial incentive : 4.99 min
  • WITH a financial incentive : 3.67 min

Nothing unexpected here. This is a classical incentivization effect anybody would intuitively expect.

Now, let “In-Box Candle Problem” refer to the original description where the tacks start off in the box.

In-Box Candle Problem Mean Times :

  • WITHOUT a financial incentive : 7:41 min
  • WITH a financial incentive : 11:08 min

How could this be? The financial incentive made people slower? It gets worse — the slowness increases with the incentive. The higher the monetary reward, the worse the performance! This result has been repeated many times since the original experiment.

Glucksberg and others have shown this result to be highly robust. Daniel Pink calls it a legally provable “fact.” How should we interpret the above results?

When your employees have to do something straightforward, like pressing a button or manning one stage in an assembly line, financial incentives work. It’s a small effect, but they do work. Simple jobs are like the simple candle problem.

However, if your people must do something that requires any creative or critical thinking, financial incentives hurt. The In-Box Candle Problem is the stereotypical problem that requires you to think “Out of the Box,” (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?). Whenever people must think out of the box, offering them a monetary carrot will keep them in that box.

A monetary reward will help your employees focus. That’s the point. When you’re focused you are less able to think laterally. You become dumber. This is not the kind of thing we want if we expect to solve the problems that face us in the 21st century.

All of this is found in a video (to which Morehead links), wherein Daniel Pink (an author and journalist whose actual knowledge of science and business appears to be close to zero) expounds the lessons of the Candle Problem. Pink displays his (no-doubt-profitable) conviction that the Candle Problem and related “science” reveals (a) the utter bankruptcy of capitalism and (b) the need to replace managers with touchy-feely gurus (like himself, I suppose). That Pink has worked for two of the country’s leading anti-capitalist airheads — Al Gore and Robert Reich — should tell you all that you need to know about Pink’s real agenda.

Here are my reasons for sneering at Pink and his ilk:

1. I have been there and done that. That is to say, as a manager, I lived through (and briefly bought into) the touchy-feely fads of the ’80s and ’90s. Think In Search of Excellence, The One Minute Manager, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and so on. What did anyone really learn from those books and the lectures and workshops based on them? A perceptive person would have learned that it is easy to make up plausible stories about the elements of success, and having done so, it is possible to make a lot of money peddling those stories. But the stories are flawed because (a) they are based on exceptional cases; (b) they attribute success to qualitative assessments of behaviors that seem to be present in those exceptional cases; and (c) they do not properly account for the surrounding (and critical) circumstances that really led to success, among which are luck and rare combinations of personal qualities (e.g., high intelligence, perseverance, people-reading skills). In short, Pink and his predecessors are guilty of reductionism and the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

2. Also at work is an undue generalization about the implications of the Candle Problem. It may be true that workers will perform better — at certain kinds of tasks (very loosely specified) — if they are not distracted by incentives that are related to the performance of those specific tasks. But what does that have to do with incentives in general? Not much, because the Candle Problem is unlike any work situation that I can think of. Tasks requiring creativity are not performed under deadlines of a few minutes; tasks requiring creativity are (usually) assigned to persons who have demonstrated a creative flair, not to randomly picked subjects; most work, even in this day, involves the routine application of protocols and tools that were designed to produce a uniform result of acceptable quality; it is the design of protocols and tools that requires creativity, and that kind of work is not done under the kind of artificial constraints found in the Candle Problem.

3. The Candle Problem, with its anti-incentive “lesson,” is therefore inapplicable to the real world, where incentives play a crucial and positive role:

  • The profit incentive leads firms to invest resources in the development and/or production of things that consumers are willing to buy because those things satisfy wants at the right price.
  • Firms acquire resources to develop and produce things by bidding for those resources, that is, by offering monetary incentives to attract the resources required to make the things that consumers are willing to buy.
  • The incentives (compensation) offered to workers of various kinds (from scientists with doctorates to burger-flippers) are generally commensurate with the contributions made by those workers to the production of things of value to consumers, and to the value placed on those things by consumers.
  • Workers agree to the terms and conditions of employment (including compensation) before taking a job. The incentive for most workers is to keep a job by performing adequately over a sustained period — not by demonstrating creativity in a few minutes. Some workers (but not a large fraction of them) are striving for performance-based commissions, bonuses, and profit-sharing distributions. But those distributions are based on performance over a sustained period, during which the striving workers have plenty of time to think about how they can perform better.
  • Truly creative work is done, for the most part, by persons who are hired for such work on the basis of their credentials (education, prior employment, test results). Their compensation is based on their credentials, initially, and then on their performance over a sustained period. If they are creative, they have plenty of psychological space in which to exercise and demonstrate their creativity.
  • On-the-job creativity — the improvement of protocols and tools by workers using them — does not occur under conditions of the kind assumed in the Candle Problem. Rather, on-the-job creativity flows from actual work and insights about how to do the work better. It happens when it happens, and has nothing to do with artificial time constraints and monetary incentives to be “creative” within those constraints.
  • Pink’s essential pitch is that incentives can be replaced by offering jobs that yield autonomy (self-direction), mastery (the satisfaction of doing difficult things well), and purpose (that satisfaction of contributing to the accomplishment of something important). Well, good luck with that, but I (and millions of other consumers) want what we want, and if workers want to make a living they will just have to provide what we want, not what turns them on. Yes, there is a lot to be said for autonomy, mastery, and purpose, but there is also a lot to be said for getting a paycheck. And, contrary to Pink’s implication, getting a paycheck does not rule out autonomy, mastery, and purpose — where those happen to go with the job.

Pink and company’s “insights” about incentives and creativity are 180 degrees off-target. McDonald’s could use the Candle Problem to select creative burger-flippers who will perform well under tight deadlines because their compensation is unrelated to the creativity of their burger-flipping. McDonald’s customers should be glad that McDonald’s has taken creativity out of the picture by reducing burger-flipping to the routine application of protocols and tools.

UPDATE:

In an e-mail to a friend, I put it this way:

The Candle Problem is an interesting experiment, and probably valid with respect to the performance of specific tasks against tight deadlines. I think the results apply whether the stakes are money or any other kind of prize. The experiment illustrates the “choke” factor, and nothing more profound than that.

I question whether the experiment applies to the usual kind of incentive (e.g., a commissions or bonus), where the “incentee” has ample time (months, years) for reflection and research that will enable him to improve his performance and attain a bigger commission or bonus (which usually isn’t an all-or-nothing arrangement).

There’s also the dissimilarity of the Candle Problem — which involves more-or-less randomly chosen subjects, working against an artificial deadline — and actual creative thinking — usually involving persons who are experts (even if the expertise is as mundane as ditch-digging), working against looser deadlines or none at all.

Abortion, Doublethink, and Left-Wing Blather

I recently had the frustrating experience of reading and responding to the blatherings of a young woman who attends what used to be called a liberal-arts college, but should now be called a left-wing indoctrination and reinforcement center. I can only liken the experience to that of attempting conversation with a parrot.

The nexus of our interchange was the subject of abortion. All I need say about the young woman’s stand on the issue is that she is a scion of a “progressive” family* in a “liberal” bastion of this beleaguered republic. Having swallowed whole the leftist cant of her parents and peers, she was only able to regurgitate it. She is a living, breathing advertisement for the wisdom of forbidding a college education to anyone who has not yet worked in the real world of profit and loss.

The discussion began with the posting by my daughter-in-law of this image:

My daughter-in-law accompanied the image with this comment:

Just imagine the hoopla that would surround such a discovery if it were made on Mars. If it’s a discovery made in the womb of the next-door-neighbor, for some strange reason, it doesn’t count as life.

The young woman chimed in with this:

I think at least, the real problem is when this cell (arguably living or not) becomes more important than the life and well-being of the woman it’s inside of. If this were found on another planet it would not probably exist in another being–whereas on earth, there are so many other factors to consider. Just my two cents. I do agree at least this is a thought-provoking way to present this.

To which I responded:

There is no “not” about it, the cell is living. It is, moreover, a living human being in the earliest stage of its existence. It is “viable” even then, as long as it is not aborted. “More important than the life and well-being of the woman” means what? I do not believe that “life and well-being” is a major reason for abortion. The major reason, overwhelmingly, is convenience. The brutality of abortion cannot be justified by the small number of cases in which a woman’s life and health might actually be at risk.

There followed an exchange between the young woman and my daughter-in-law, with a few pertinent contributions from another party. Near the end of the exchange, the young woman admitted her imperviousness to facts and logic:

I personally feel that it is perpetuating violence to deny women full reproductive freedoms. In that case, I also feel we do indeed have different priorities/viewpoints and this probably isn’t a very productive discussion for either of us.

My daughter-in-law’s reply:

I should like to observe that if a woman is killed while she’s still gestating in the womb, she will never have the chance to be denied reproductive freedoms. Or put another way, women must be born to enjoy reproductive freedom. It is an irony that if reproductive freedom means abortion, then women will be denying other women their rights.

The young woman’s feeble rejoinder:

Reproductive freedom is not about abortion…it’s having the freedom to do what you want with your reproductive capacities.

My daughter-in-law’s knockout punch:

While it is true that abortion is not the only thing a woman can do with her reproductive capacities, it’s still part of what is called “reproductive freedom.” Simply being one option among many others does not exclude it from that classification. So it remains that women who choose abortion do, in fact, deny other women their reproductive rights as well as their very lives.

And that was the end of that exchange. I was drafting some comments about the young woman’s inane observations, but forbore when I saw that she had been routed and had withdrawn from the fray.

What follows are various of the young woman’s assertions (in italics), followed by the responses (in bold) that I had drafted:

And you [referring to my daughter-in-law] are correct, when a class of humanity is declared disposable [i.e., children in the womb], then no class is safe. I would argue however, in the United States, many kinds of people are already considered disposable: people of color, the less abled (mentally or physically), the elderly, the homeless, low-income, gender-queer and sexually-queer, etc. And are seen as disposable populations considering the high rate of incarceration of people of color, the refusal/ignorance of natives’ rights, the unequal access to education, the unequal access to reproductive health, the high rate of nursing homes, mental institutions, etc.

Another good example of inverted logic, where you attempt to justify abortion by asserting that “many kinds of people are already considered disposable.” So, if there are some disposable persons it is all right to add to the list? It is trite but true to say that two wrongs don’t make a right. As the author of Being Logical puts it, “What two wrongs make, in fact, is two wrongs.”

“People of color, the less abled (mentally or physically), the elderly, the homeless, low-income, gender-queer and sexually-queer, etc.” have nothing to do with the morality of abortion. By introducing them, you are changing the subject from abortion, not addressing it.

*   *   *

I personally feel that it is perpetuating violence to deny women full reproductive freedoms.

“It is perpetuating violence to deny women full reproductive freedoms” is another way of saying that to ban violence against a fetus is, somehow, an act of violence. George Orwell would have called this Doublethink.

*   *   *

[T]his probably isn’t a very productive discussion for either of us.

If you find yourself in a discussion that “isn’t very productive,” you should ask yourself why that is so. Is it because your interlocutor is being illogical or ignoring facts, or is it because you find yourself unable to respond logically and factually to your interlocutor? Until you are able to carry on a discussion without committing logical errors and resorting to left-wing clichés, you are well advised to share your opinions with like-minded persons.

My objections to abortion are moral and prudential. I cannot condone a brutal, life-taking practice for which the main justification is convenience. (See, for example, tables 2 through 5 of “Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Qualitative and Quantitative Perspectives,” a publication of the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion organization.) Prudentially, I do not want to live in a country where blameless life can be taken easily, with the encouragement of the state or at the state’s insistence. Abortion is a step down a slippery slope.

The history of abortion since Roe v. Wade is a case in point: First, it was abortion in the first trimester. Then it became abortion at any time during a pregnancy, up to and including murder at birth. (Let us not dress it up in fancy language.) There have been serious (academic) proposals to allow post-natal abortion (i.e., infanticide). The next step, which has been taken in some “civilized” countries (not to mention the Third Reich and Soviet Russia) is involuntary euthanasia to “rid the populace” of those deemed unfit.

Ah, but who does the “deeming”? That is always the question. Given the rate at which power is being centralized in this country, it is not unthinkable that decisions about life and death will be placed in the hands of faceless bureaucrats, accountable only to their masters in high places. And those bureaucrats will not care about a person’s politics when they render their decisions, for they will be drunk on the power that is vested in them.

If anyone thinks it cannot happen here, think again. No nation or class of people is immune from the disease of power-lust. The only way to prevent it from spreading and becoming ever more malevolent is to resist it at every turn.

__________
* The young woman’s parents are “yellow dog” Democrats, and decidedly well to the left of center. For example: The young woman’s father is the “friend” I addressed in “Taxing the Rich” and “More about Taxing the Rich“; the facts I adduced in those posts had absolutely no effect on his view that the rich do not deserve their riches, and that taxing them heavily would not in fact harm the economy and therefore harm the “poor” with whom he claims solidarity. The young woman’s mother reluctantly agreed to move to the more affluent, northwestern part of Austin, so that the young woman could attend better schools; the mother was loath to associate with what she called “northwest Nazis” — a Nazi (in her perverted view) being a person who had the gall to resist and resent the dictatorial, money-wasting, redistributionist policies of Austin’s solidly Democrat ruling class.

Related posts:
Law, Liberty, and Abortion
Substantive Due Process and the Limits of Privacy
Crimes against Humanity
Abortion and Logic