libertarian paternalism

Not-So-Random Thoughts (XVI)


Links to the other posts in this occasional series may be found at “Favorite Posts,” just below the list of topics. This is an especially long entry in the series, so I’ve labeled each item. You can navigate directly to items by clicking on any of the following links:

“Libertarian” Paternalism

Drug Prohibition

Unconstitutionality of Social Security and Medicare

Où est Charlie Hebdo?

Speaking of Censorship

Censorship-Plus

The Disparate Impact of Government

Putting the Civil War in Perspective

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“Libertarian” Paternalism

Timothy Taylor asks “Who Will Nudge the Nudgers?” in a post about a paper by W. Kip Viscusi and Ted Gayer:

Viscusi and Gayer point out a number of reasons why less-than-rational behavioral responses may be more prevalent among government decision-makers than for economic actors in the private economy. Here are some examples: 1) Private actors (like consumers and firms) need to bear the immediate costs of their decisions in a direct way, while elected officials and regulators do not. 2) Public policies are often influenced by the loud voice of concentrated special interests, who can overwhelm the quieter and more diffuse voices for the general interest. 3) Market actions evolve from an interaction of many buyers and sellers, and the checks and balances that such a process provides, but government actions can evolve from a much smaller number of potentially overconfident technocrats, who have a personal and career interest in pushing their own agendas. [The Conversible Economist, July 21, 2015]

There’s much more. Read it, then see my post, “The Perpetual Nudger.” I point out that “nudgers” (e.g., Richard Thaler) are really wannabe dictators:

What seems to bother Thaler is that most people aren’t Econs [hyper-rational calculators]; their tastes and preferences seem irrational to him, and it’s his (self-appointed) role in life to force them to make “correct” decisions (i.e., the decisions he would make).

There’s much more in the many posts to which I link at the end of “The Perpetual Nudger.”

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Drug Prohibition

The estimable Theodore Dalrymple strikes again:

[I]t is not true that problems with drugs arise only when or because they are prohibited.

The relationship between crime and drug prohibition is also much more complex than the legalizers would have us believe. It is certainly true that gangs quickly form that try to control drug distribution in certain areas, and that conflict between the aspirant gangs leads to violence…. But here I would point out two things: first that the violence of such criminal gangs was largely confined to the subculture from which they emerged, so that other people were not much endangered by it; and second that, in my dealings with such people, I did not form the impression that, were it not for the illegality of drugs, they would otherwise be pursuing perfectly respectable careers. If my impression is correct, then the illegality of drugs might protect the rest of society from their criminality: the illegal drug trade being the occasion, but not the cause, of their violence.

What about Prohibition, is the natural reply? It is true that the homicide rate in the United States fell dramatically in the wake of repeal. By the 1960s, however, when alcohol was not banned, it had climbed higher than during Prohibition…. Moreover, what is less often appreciated, the homicide rate in the United States rose faster in the thirteen years before than in the thirteen years during Prohibition. (In other respects, Prohibition was not as much of a failure as is often suggested: alcohol-related problems such as liver disease declined during it considerably. But no consequences by themselves can justify a policy, otherwise the amputation of thieves’ hands would be universal.) Al Capone was not a fine upstanding citizen before Prohibition turned him into a gangster. [“Ditching Drug Prohibition: A Dissent,” Library of Law and Liberty, July 23, 2015, and the second in a series; see also “The Simple Truth about J.S. Mill’s Simple Truth,” op. cit., July 20, 2015, and “Myths and Realities of Drug Addiction, Consumption, and Crime,” op. cit., July 31, 2015]

This reminds me of my post, “Prohibition, Abortion, and ‘Progressivism’,” in which I wrote about the Ken Burns series, Prohibition. Here’s some of it:

Although eugenics is not mentioned in Prohibition, it looms in the background. For eugenics — like prohibition of alcohol and, later, the near-prohibition of smoking — is symptomatic of the “progressive” mentality. That mentality is paternalistic, through and through. And “progressive” paternalism finds its way into the daily lives of Americans through the regulation of products and services — for our own good, of course. If you can think of a product or service that you use (or would like to use) that is not shaped by paternalistic regulation or taxes levied with regulatory intent, you must live in a cave.

However, the passing acknowledgement of “progressivism” as a force for the prohibition of alcohol is outweighed by the attention given to the role of “evangelicals” in the enactment of prohibition. I take this as a subtle swipe at anti-abortion stance of fundamentalist Protestants and adherents of the “traditional” strands of Catholicism and Judaism. Here is the “logic” of this implied attack on pro-lifers: Governmental interference in a personal choice is wrong with respect to the consumption of alcohol and similarly wrong with respect to abortion.

By that “logic,” it is wrong for government to interfere in or prosecute robbery, assault, rape, murder and other overtly harmful acts, which — after all — are merely the consequences of personal choices made by their perpetrators. Not even a “progressive” would claim that robbery, assault, etc., should go unpunished, though he would quail at effective punishment.

“Progressives” just don’t know where to draw lines. (Witness the many phantom red lines that Obama has drawn for Syria and  Iran.) It’s centuries too late to prohibit the consumption of alcohol (not that I’d wish it had happened); it’s still not too late to prohibit the consumption of hard, death-dealing drugs. If those drugs are legalized, it won’t be long before taxpayers are forced to pay for the drug habits of a growing population of drug abusers. That’s the “progressive” way.

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Unconstitutionality of Social Security and Medicare

Mike Rappaport makes the case, and concludes with this:

Now that we have had Social Security and Medicare for generations and people have relied upon them, I don’t think that the original meaning can be enforced to hold them unconstitutional.  Precedent should allow them to continue.  But it is worth remembering that these programs would have never taken their pernicious form if the Constitution’s original meaning had been followed in the first place. [“The Unconstitutionality of Social Security and Medicare,” Library of Law and Liberty, July 23, 2015]

This comes as no surprise to me. Here’s a bit from a recent post, “Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power? (II),” which refers to a much older one:

[T]he power to tax is not unlimited. Taxes levied by the central government must be levied for the purpose of executing powers specifically enumerated in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. Nevertheless, the majority NFIB v. Sebelius chose not only to distort the individual mandate — which is clearly a penalty, not a tax — but also to willfully disregard the Constitution’s expressed limitations on the powers of Congress. Even if the individual mandate were a tax, Congress cannot constitutionally levy such a tax because the Affordable Care Act isn’t contemplated in its enumerated powers. (ACA derives its supposedly constitutional status from the Court’s decision in 1935 to declare the Social Security Act constitutional, even though it isn’t. See my post of October 31, 2004, “Social Security Is Unconstitutional.”)

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Où est Charlie Hebdo?

As dead (in spirit) as the 12 who were murdered in January. Mark Steyn writes:

I mentioned a few days ago the announcement by Charlie Hebdo that they are no longer in the business of Mohammed cartoons:

So another non-senseless act has paid off bigtime for the Islamic enforcers. I regret the decision, although I understand it.

Which I do. Almost everyone who mattered at Charlie Hebdo is dead. What did they die for? A hashtag and a candlelight vigil? None of those who seized eagerly on #JeSuisCharlie as the cause du jour, from Angela Merkel and François Hollande to George Clooney and Helen Mirren to thousands in the streets of Paris and millions across the Internet, were willing to do the one thing that would have mattered, and show the reason why they died. Which is why such sterling champions of free speech as PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas and Sultan Erdogan’s vizier Ahmet Davutoglu were happy to march in the big post-slaughter parade. Do you think they’d have been there if any of the dead’s multitudes of new “friends” were waving Charlie magazine covers?…

And so, after a similar but fortunately less bloody attack in Texas [link added], virtually the entire American media decided to blame the victim and took it as read that Islam now has an opt-out from the First Amendment. You can’t fence off Islam and contain the damage to freedom of speech: the decision to surrender it incrementally leads inevitably to its total loss. On the day of his murder, I quoted the words of Stéphane “Charb” Charbonnier, Laurent Sourisseau’s predecessor as Charlie editor, from two years earlier:

It may seem pompous, but I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.

It’s not pompous, but it is lonely. And the slippery, weaselly nature of the post-bloodbath support told Charlie Hebdo it was only going to get lonelier. It’s hard standing on your feet when everyone else with the #JeSuisCharlie buttons is on their knees, bottoms in the air, prostrate before the fanatics. And so Charb’s successor has opted to live on his knees. [“The Knees Have It,” SteynOnline, July 22, 2015]

Color me unsurprised. In the aftermath of the slaughter in January, I wrote “Sober Reflections on ‘Charlie Hebdo’.” Here’s some of it:

[Charlie Hebdo is] a stridently left-wing rag that mocks religion (of all kinds), and anything else deemed too “respectable” for the adolescent tastes of its staff.

What’s most striking about the “Je suis Charlie” movement is its pure hypocrisy….

Yes, the left gets up in arms when some of its members are slaughtered by Muslim pigs (I love that phrase). But this is the same, hypocritical left that condones and promotes censorship….

The slaughter at Charlie Hebdo is not a reason for solidarity with the left, but a reason to oppose the left and its clients — especially (but not exclusively) the murderous adherents of Islam.

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Speaking of Censorship

Erick Erickson writes about

an organized movement within the gay rights community that is sometimess referred to as the “gay mafia.” They want to harass those who disagree with their agenda and silence any dissent from their agenda. They have worked overtime in the past twenty-four hours because an AP poll shows that the number of Americans who now support gay marriage has declined since the Supreme Court’s ruling and a majority believe Christian businesses should not be compelled to provide goods and services to gay weddings.

They cannot have that. They also cannot have books and data that dispute their claims. One such book is by my friend Ryan Anderson. The book is called Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom. A subgroup of the gay mafia who call themselves “Flying Monkeys” are flinging poo in the direction of Ryan’s book.

In particular, they have organized a campaign to down vote Ryan’s book on Amazon.com. The Daily Signal has screenshots of the gay mafia’s online conversations encouraging people to go “review” Ryan’s book and give it one star reviews.

The people have not read the book. But they want you to think the book is a terrible read. They are attacking Ryan personally and attacking arguments they have not even read. Anyone who knows Ryan knows he takes a very scholarly approach to the marriage arguments and has provided a great deal of foresight into the movement again marriage.

You can order Ryan’s book on the Kindle now or get a print edition next month via Amazon. I highly recommend it. [“The Gay Mafia Wants to Stop You from Doing This,” RedState, July 21, 2015]

I have ordered it.

We in the U.S. have thus far been spared the excesses of censorship that plague Canada. One such excess is the subject of my post, “Free Speech Ends at the Northern Border.” That an overstatement, of course, because censorship is rife in America, especially on college campuses. Just check out the website of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

See also my posts “The Gaystapo at Work,” “The Gaystapo and Islam.” “The Beginning of the End of Liberty in America,” and “The Tenor of the Times.”

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Censorship-Plus

In a closely related development, there’s a portentous recent ruling by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:

Last week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission dropped an astounding ruling: By a 3-2 vote, it concluded that “sexual orientation is inherently a ‘sex-based consideration,’ and an allegation of discrimination based on sexual orientation is necessarily an allegation of sex discrimination under Title VII.”

This is a big deal: The Commission’s recommendations shape rulings on federal employees’ workplace-discrimination claims, and its field offices deal with claims made by employees at private organizations, as well. But the ruling is also a reminder of how complicated—and unresolved—the post-Obergefell legal landscape is. The Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage at the end of June has set the country up for two new waves of discrimination claims: those made by same-sex couples and LGBT workers, and those made by religious Americans who oppose same-sex marriage. The two may seem distinct or even opposed, but they’re actually intertwined: In certain cases, extending new rights to LBGT workers will necessarily lead to religious-freedom objections, and vice versa.

Right now, it’s impossible to know how these claims will fall out. It’s been less than a month since the ruling, and much of the legal theory on these issues is just that: theory. In Congress, there’s at least some effort to reconcile the two sides. As my colleague Russell Berman wrote on Friday, Democrats are pushing for legislation which would include prohibitions on discrimination in education, housing, and public accommodation, and Republicans may well sign on—if that legislation allows for religious exemptions. No matter what passes, the issues will remain tangled. These will be some of the questions courts and legislatures have to untangle in the wake of Obergefell. [Emma Green, “Gay Rights May Come at the Cost of Religious Freedom,” The Atlantic, July 27, 2015]

It’s not just religious liberty that’s under attack, it’s liberty — period. It’s clear that the federal government is gearing up to tell Americans what they may say about others and who they must associate with, like it or not:

Most citizens will, of course, attempt to exercise their freedom of speech, and many business owners will, of course, attempt to exercise their freedom of association. But for every person who insists on exercising his rights, there will be at least as many (and probably more) who will be cowed, shamed, and forced by the state into silence and compliance with the new dispensation. And the more who are cowed, shamed, and forced into silence and compliance, the fewer who will assert their rights. Thus will the vestiges of liberty vanish.

That’s from my post, “The Beginning of the End of Liberty in America,” which I published on the day of the Obergefell diktat.

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The Disparate Impact of Government

Speaking of impending atrocities, Michael Barone takes on “HUD’s ‘Disparate Impact’ War on Suburban America“:

Disparate impact. It’s a legal doctrine that may be coming soon to your suburb (if you’re part of the national majority living in suburbs).

Bringing it there will be the Obama Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing program. It has been given a green light to impose the rule from Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision [link added] in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project. [Kennedy must have been warming up for his Obergefell diktat, which came on the following day. — TEA]

The decision purports to interpret the Fair Housing Act of 1968 as authorizing lawsuits if municipal policies have a “disparate impact” as measured by the racial percentages of those affected — this despite the fact that the words of the Fair Housing Act prohibit only intentional racial discrimination….

In every large metropolitan area with a significant black population, you won’t find a single census tract with 0 black residents. Blacks sometimes encounter resistance when trying to buy or rent a house that they can afford, which is unjust and infuriating, and a problem for which the Fair Housing Act provides remedies.

But, of course, that has not created an America in which every community has the same percentage as the national average of blacks and whites, Hispanics and Asians, marrieds and singles, gays and straights, Protestants and Catholics and Jews and Muslims.

Free choice never shakes out that way. Throughout history, Americans and immigrants have tended to choose to cluster with likeminded people….

How did disparate impact come into the law? In a 1971 Supreme Court case, Griggs v. Duke Power Co., the Court, acting when memory was still fresh of Southern resistance to desegregation, ruled that the company’s aptitude test amounted to discrimination because whites passed at higher rates than blacks. But that’s true of most aptitude tests — which as a result aren’t used much in hiring any more. [creators.com, July 21, 2015]

Don’t tell it to the “social justice” police in D.C. They don’t want to hear it.

The 1971 “disparate impact” ruling by the Supreme Court ranks among the 16 cases that I list as examples of “the judicial betrayal of the constitutional scheme of limited government, and of order and traditional morality,” in “The Fall and Rise of American Empire.” (I would now add the Kennedy Court’s decisions about “disparate impact,” same-sex “marriage,” and Obamacare subsidies.)

“Disparate impact” isn’t just about where people live and work. Malcolm Pollack is on the case:

Here is an item that’s been going around over the past couple of days: an essay by Paul Sperry describing the Obama administration’s latest race-leveling operation.

The idea is to fish for “disparate impact” violations, wherever they can be found — in housing, lending, school discipline, academic performance, enrollment in gifted-student programs, etc. — and to use the coercive power of the State to flatten outcomes.

The Left has a secret weapon here, and in the current cultural climate, it’s a beaut. Here’s how it works:

1) If you go looking for disparate outcomes by racial groups (or by sex), you’ll certainly find them. They are real, and persistent. (See, for example, just how persistent they can be, here.)

2) When such disparate outcomes occur, there are only two possible causes: either they are due to an external obstacle, or something intrinsic to the group itself.

3) If all racial groups are assumed, as by current social convention they must be, to have exactly identical distributions of every cognitive and behavioral trait, then any variation in outcome that disparately affects a particular racial group must be evidence of some external obstacle. This can only be due to racism and injustice, and therefore it is just and proper for the State to detect and remove it, by whatever means necessary.

4) If however, you suggest that disparities under neutral policies may be due, even in part, to innate differences in the distribution of cognitive and behavioral characteristics in different racial groups, then you are a racist. (If you present actual evidence of such differences, you’re a “scientific” racist.) Moreover, the fact that you are even thinking such things is evidence of the persistence and prevalence of racism in general, which in turns confirms the assumption that disparate outcomes are the result of pervasive and intractable racism, and not innate differences. This is what justifies redoubled efforts on the part of the State to bring every aspect of our lives under racial scrutiny, and impose corrective measures wherever disparate outcomes are found.

So: notwithstanding that race, as we are told, is a “social construct” with no basis in reality, the government will spare no effort to group people by race, and to scour vast collections of intrusively gathered data to find inequalities in social and economic outcomes — not on any individual basis, but by race. But despite race being real enough, apparently, to justify making such racial categorizations, race can have no deeper reality as regards any shared characteristics that might contribute to such inequalities. Race is, in other words, real, but only real enough to serve, somehow, as a marker for defining groups, and thereby to serve as the basis of racism, without having any other actual properties. Moreover (and this is what makes the whole thing work so beautifully): if you disagree with any of this, you are yourself a racist — and you have thereby just demonstrated that persistent racism is indeed the problem.

Thanks to this secret weapon, we have moved beyond — far beyond — the idea that particular differences in outcomes may be due to specific and remediable instances of conscious and intentional racism. As we go Forward, we have a new paradigm: differences in outcomes simply ARE racism, now and forever.

That’s some catch!

[“A Respectful Whistle,” waka waka waka, July 21, 2015]

(I couldn’t resist reproducing Pollack’s brilliant post in its entirety. If you don’t already follow his blog, you should do so.)

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Putting the Civil War in Perspective

Walter Williams does it brilliantly:

Was President Abraham Lincoln really for outlawing slavery? Let’s look at his words. In an 1858 letter, Lincoln said, “I have declared a thousand times, and now repeat that, in my opinion neither the General Government, nor any other power outside of the slave states, can constitutionally or rightfully interfere with slaves or slavery where it already exists.” … Debating Sen. Stephen Douglas, Lincoln said, “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes nor of qualifying them to hold office nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races, which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.”

What about Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation? Here are his words: “I view the matter (of slaves’ emancipation) as a practical war measure, to be decided upon according to the advantages or disadvantages it may offer to the suppression of the rebellion.” …

Lincoln did articulate a view of secession that would have been heartily endorsed by the Confederacy: “Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government and form a new one that suits them better. … Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can may revolutionize and make their own of so much of the territory as they inhabit.” Lincoln expressed that view in an 1848 speech in the U.S. House of Representatives, supporting the secession of Texas from Mexico.

Why didn’t Lincoln share the same feelings about Southern secession? Following the money might help with an answer. Throughout most of our nation’s history, the only sources of federal revenue were excise taxes and tariffs. During the 1850s, tariffs amounted to 90 percent of federal revenue. Southern ports paid 75 percent of tariffs in 1859. What “responsible” politician would let that much revenue go? [“Historical Ignorance II,” creators.com, July 22, 2015]

(There’s more in William Sullivan’s “Lincoln vs. Lee: How History Is Distorted to Preserve Legends,” American Thinker, August 1, 2015.)

Yes, it can be asserted (with some degree of accuracy) that slavery was the proximate cause of the Civil War, because it was the issue of slavery that brought to a head the longstanding tension between North and South. But the leaders of the South also had a righteous cause, in principle: the cause of constitutional government. This is from my post, “The Southern Secession Reconsidered“:

What tends to be forgotten is the South’s pre-Civil War stance with respect to the central government. Southern resistance to the centralization of political power, and to the central government’s unconstitutional exercises of power, long pre-dated the Southern secession and was founded on a valid interpretation of the Constitution.

The Civil War, as a forcible act of reunification, is defensible only insofar as a main result was the end of slavery in the United States. On constitutional grounds, however, the Southern secession was valid and should not have been contested. [Chapter and verse follow.]

My current view of the Constitution — “How Libertarians Ought to Think About the Constitution” — is more cynical and sweeping:

What does all of this mean for secession? Here it is, from the beginning and by the numbers:

1. The Constitution was a contract, but not a contract between “the people.” It was a contract drawn by a small fraction of the populace of twelve States, and put into effect by a small fraction of the populace of nine States….

2. Despite their status as “representatives of the people,” the various fractions of the populace that drafted and ratified the Constitution had no moral authority to bind all of their peers, and certainly no moral authority to bind future generations….

3. The Constitution was and is binding only in the way that a debt to a gangster who demands “protection money” is binding. It was and is binding because state actors have the power to enforce it, as they see fit to interpret it….

4. The Constitution contains provisions that can be and sometimes have been applied to advance liberty. But such applications have depended on the aims and whims of those then in positions of power.

5. It is convenient to appeal to the Constitution in the cause of liberty … but that doesn’t change the fact that the Constitution was not and never will be a law enacted by “the people” of the United States or any State thereof.

6. Any person and any government in the United States may therefore, in principle, reject the statutes, executive orders, and judicial holdings of the United States government (or any government) as non-binding.

7. Secession is one legitimate form of rejection….

8. An  act of secession may be put down — through legal process or force of arms — but that doesn’t alter the (limited) legitimacy of the act.

9. Given the preceding, any act of secession is no less legitimate than was the adoption of the Constitution.

10. The legitimacy of an act of secession isn’t colored by its proximate cause, whether that cause is a desire to preserve slavery, or to escape oppressive taxation and regulation by the central government, or to live in a civil society that is governed by the Golden Rule. The proximate cause must be evaluated on its own merits, or lack thereof.

If the feds continue their assault on liberty, secession will become an increasingly attractive option. There are other options, including de facto secession.

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Signature

Not-So-Random Thoughts (XII)

Links to the other posts in this occasional series may be found at “Favorite Posts,” just below the list of topics.

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Intolerance as Illiberalism” by Kim R. Holmes (The Public Discourse, June 18, 2014) is yet another reminder, of innumerable reminders, that modern “liberalism” is a most intolerant creed. See my ironically titled “Tolerance on the Left” and its many links.

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Speaking of intolerance, it’s hard to top a strident atheist like Richard Dawkins. See John Gray’s “The Closed Mind of Richard Dawkins” (The New Republic, October 2, 2014). Among the several posts in which I challenge the facile atheism of Dawkins and his ilk are “Further Thoughts about Metaphysical Cosmology” and “Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life.”

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Some atheists — Dawkins among them — find a justification for their non-belief in evolution. On that topic, Gertrude Himmelfarb writes:

The fallacy in the ethics of evolution is the equation of the “struggle for existence” with the “survival of the fittest,” and the assumption that “the fittest” is identical with “the best.” But that struggle may favor the worst rather than the best. [“Evolution and Ethics, Revisited,” The New Atlantis, Spring 2014]

As I say in “Some Thoughts about Evolution,”

Survival and reproduction depend on many traits. A particular trait, considered in isolation, may seem to be helpful to the survival and reproduction of a group. But that trait may not be among the particular collection of traits that is most conducive to the group’s survival and reproduction. If that is the case, the trait will become less prevalent. Alternatively, if the trait is an essential member of the collection that is conducive to survival and reproduction, it will survive. But its survival depends on the other traits. The fact that X is a “good trait” does not, in itself, ensure the proliferation of X. And X will become less prevalent if other traits become more important to survival and reproduction.

The same goes for “bad” traits. Evolution is no guarantor of ethical goodness.

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It shouldn’t be necessary to remind anyone that men and women are different. But it is. Lewis Wolpert gives it another try in “Yes, It’s Official, Men Are from Mars and Women from Venus, and Here’s the Science to Prove It” (The Telegraph, September 14, 2014). One of my posts on the subject is “The Harmful Myth of Inherent Equality.” I’m talking about general tendencies, of course, not iron-clad rules about “men’s roles” and “women’s roles.” Aside from procreation, I can’t readily name “roles” that fall exclusively to men or women out of biological necessity. There’s no biological reason, for example, that an especially strong and agile woman can’t be a combat soldier. But it is folly to lower the bar just so that more women can qualify as combat soldiers. The same goes for intellectual occupations. Women shouldn’t be discouraged from pursuing graduate degrees and professional careers in math, engineering, and the hard sciences, but the qualifications for entry and advancement in those fields shouldn’t be watered down just for the sake of increasing the representation of women.

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Edward Feser, writing in “Nudge Nudge, Wink Wink” at his eponymous blog (October 24, 2014), notes

[Michael] Levin’s claim … that liberal policies cannot, given our cultural circumstances, be neutral concerning homosexuality.  They will inevitably “send a message” of approval rather than mere neutrality or indifference.

Feser then quotes Levin:

[L]egislation “legalizing homosexuality” cannot be neutral because passing it would have an inexpungeable speech-act dimension.  Society cannot grant unaccustomed rights and privileges to homosexuals while remaining neutral about the value of homosexuality.

Levin, who wrote that 30 years ago, gets a 10 out 10 for prescience. Just read “Abortion, ‘Gay Rights’, and Liberty” for a taste of the illiberalism that accompanies “liberal” causes like same-sex “marriage.”

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“Liberalism” has evolved into hard-leftism. It’s main adherents are now an elite upper crust and their clients among the hoi polloi. Steve Sailer writes incisively about the socioeconomic divide in “A New Caste Society” (Taki’s Magazine, October 8, 2014). “‘Wading’ into Race, Culture, and IQ” offers a collection of links to related posts and articles.

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One of the upper crust’s recent initiatives is so-called libertarian paternalism. Steven Teles skewers it thoroughly in “Nudge or Shove?” (The American Interest, December 10, 2014), a review of Cass Sunstein’s Why Nudge? The Politics of Libertarian Paternalism. I have written numerous times about Sunstein and (faux) libertarian paternalism. The most recent entry, “The Sunstein Effect Is Alive and  Well in the White House,” ends with links to two dozen related posts. (See also Don Boudreaux, “Where Nudging Leads,” Cafe Hayek, January 24, 2015.)

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Maria Konnikova gives some space to Jonathan Haidt in “Is Social Psychology Biased against Republicans?” (The New Yorker, October 30, 2014). It’s no secret that most academic disciplines other than math and the hard sciences are biased against Republicans, conservatives, libertarians, free markets, and liberty. I have something to say about it in “The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament,” and in several of the posts listed here.

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Keith E. Stanovich makes some good points about the limitations of intelligence in “Rational and Irrational Thought: The Thinking that IQ Tests Miss” (Scientific American, January 1, 2015). Stanovich writes:

The idea that IQ tests do not measure all the key human faculties is not new; critics of intelligence tests have been making that point for years. Robert J. Sternberg of Cornell University and Howard Gardner of Harvard talk about practical intelligence, creative intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, and the like. Yet appending the word “intelligence” to all these other mental, physical and social entities promotes the very assumption the critics want to attack. If you inflate the concept of intelligence, you will inflate its close associates as well. And after 100 years of testing, it is a simple historical fact that the closest associate of the term “intelligence” is “the IQ test part of intelligence.”

I make a similar point in “Intelligence as a Dirty Word,” though I don’t denigrate IQ, which is a rather reliable predictor of performance in a broad range of endeavors.

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Brian Caplan, whose pseudo-libertarianism rankles, tries to defend the concept of altruism in “The Evidence of Altruism” (EconLog, December 30, 2014). Caplan aids his case by using the loaded “selfishness” where he means “self-interest.” He also ignores empathy, which is a key ingredient of the Golden Rule. As for my view of altruism (as a concept), see “Egoism and Altruism.”

The Mind of a Paternalist, Revisited

If there was any doubt that Richard Thaler is not a “libertarian,” even though he implies that he is one when he calls himself a “libertarian paternalist,” read this:

There is another possible argument for including the rich in these tax cuts, one based on “fairness.” By this reasoning, the wealthy are entitled to low tax rates because they have temporarily had them, and it would now be unfair to take them back.

But by that same argument, unemployment insurance should never expire, and every day should be your birthday. “Temporary” has no meaning if it bestows a permanent right.

By Thaler’s convoluted logic, the money one earns is a gift from government, and those who pay taxes have no greater claim on their own money than those to whom the government hands it. How is this “libertarian,” by any reasonable interpretation of that word?

As I have said in various ways, Thaler is a paternalist but not a libertarian. One cannot be both.

Related posts:
Beware of Libertarian Paternalists
Columnist, Heal Thyself
Discounting and “Libertarian” Paternalism
The Mind of a Paternalist

Rawls Meets Bentham

Steven Landsburg writes:

Paul Krugman is at it again, casting aspersions on everyone who opposes extended unemployment benefits while offering absolutely no positive argument for those benefits. Let me explain what would count, to an economist, as a positive argument.

There’s no question that extending benefits would be good for the currently unemployed, and no question that it would be bad for those who are called on to foot the bill. Economists usually deal with that kind of conflict is by asking what policy you’d prefer if you had amnesia, and and didn’t know your own employment status…. The amnesiac is an impartial judge who is forced to care about everyone, because he/she might be anyone.

I have no wish to defend the indefensible Paul Krugman, but Landsburg’s attack is equally indefensible, combining — as it does — John Rawls’s “veil of ignorance” and the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham and his philosophical progeny. The “veil of ignorance,” according to Wikipedia, requires you to

imagine that societal roles were completely re-fashioned and redistributed, and that from behind your veil of ignorance you do not know what role you will be reassigned. Only then can you truly consider the morality of an issue.

This is just another way of pretending to omniscience. Try as you might to imagine your “self” away, you cannot do it. Your position about a moral issue will be your position, not that of someone else. Moreover, it will not truly be your position unless you put it into practice. Talk — like happiness research — is cheap.

Pretended omniscience is the essence of utilitarianism, which is captured in the phrase “the greatest good for the greatest number” or, more precisely “the greatest amount of happiness altogether.” From this facile philosophy grew the patently ludicrous idea that it might be possible to quantify each person’s happiness, sum those values, and arrive at an aggregate measure of total happiness for everyone.

But there is no realistic worldview in which A’s greater happiness cancels B’s greater unhappiness; never the twain shall meet.  The only way to “know” that A’s happiness cancels B’s unhappiness is to put oneself in the place of an omniscient deity — to become, in other words, an accountant of the soul.

Landsburg, in the space of a single post, has put himself in company with “liberals” like Krugman, who arrogate to themselves the ability to judge the worthiness of others. A pox on both their houses.

Related posts:
On Liberty
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
Inventing “Liberalism”
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Beware of Libertarian Paternalists
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Mind of a Paternalist
Accountants of the Soul

Accountants of the Soul

In a post about two of the founders of modern “liberalism,” T.H. Green, and L.T. Hobhouse, I say

Green and Hobhouse . . . were accountants of the soul. Green’s apparent delicacy in warning of too much intervention [by the state] is overcome, in the end, by his recognition of the British state (embodied in Parliament) as the proper arbiter of human conduct. Hobhouse, more boldly, presumed that he and others of his ilk (but not those who disagree with him) could determine how much of one’s property arose from “social organisation,” how much of one’s property was “held for power,” and how to expand liberty by adopting different forms of coercion than those imposed by social norms.

Once again, we are met with (presumably) intelligent persons who believe that their intelligence enables them to peer into the souls of others, and to raise them up through the blunt instrument that is the state.

It is hard to distinguish the mindset of the “liberal” from that of the “libertarian” paternalist, who does not cavil at the prospect of using the power of the state to “nudge” lesser mortals toward “choices” that he deems in their best interest. “Liberals” and “libertarian” paternalists are alike in their abstract love of mankind and particular disdain for individuals.

Related posts (broken links have been fixed):
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
Fascism and the Future of America
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
Tocqueville’s Prescience
State of the Union: 2010
The Shape of Things to Come

The Mind of a Paternalist

The April 2010 edition of Cato Unbound, “Slippery Slopes and the New Paternalism,” is about “libertarian” paternalism and whether it deserves to be called libertarian, without the scare quotes. Richard Thaler, of whom I have written extensively (e.g., see this, this, and this), is a key contributor to the colloquy and a fierce defender of his ideas, which have had their fullest exposition in Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. The co-author of Nudge is Cass Sunstein, which should be enough to tell you that “libertarian” paternalism is about paternalism, not liberty. (Even The New York Times Magazine can’t disguise Sunstein’s arrogance.)

Thaler’s method of defending his position is to insist, repeatedly, that it is “libertarian,” even as he oozes paternalism. Consider one of his entries (“The Argument Clinic“) in the Cato Unbound colloquium, where he says the following:

[S]ince the word paternalism is what seems to give [the colloquium’s lead essayist Glen] Whitman fits, let’s re-label our policy “Best Guess”. “Best Guess” is the policy of choosing the choice architecture that is your best guess of what the participants would choose for themselves if they had the time and expertise to make an informed choice.

If that isn’t pure, presumptive arrogance, I don’t know what is. It conveys a presumption of omniscience on the part of the “best guesser,” along with a presumption that the “best guesser” ought to be making decisions for others.

Here’s another passage from Thaler’s post:

In many domains we [paternalists] can drastically improve on what is customary. Consider organ donations. In most states in the United States, to make your donation available you have to take some action such as sign the back of your driver’s license and get two witnesses to sign it. In some countries such as Spain they have switched to an “opt out” system called presumed consent. In Nudge we endorse a third approach, in this domain called “mandated choice.” It also happens to be used in my home state of Illinois.

Under this plan, when you go in to get your drivers license picture retaken every few years, you are asked whether you want to be a donor or not. You must say yes or no to get a license. About two thirds of drivers are saying yes, and lots of lives will be prolonged as a result. This is a great example of libertarian Best Guess in action. Although a large majority of people say in polls that they would want their organs harvested, many never get around to opting in, and a vocal minority in the United States object strenuously to the idea of presumed consent. So it is worthwhile to find a policy that gets many of the benefits of presumed consent without while honoring the preferences of those who object to having to opt out. Mandated choice has some other advantages in this context, namely that families are less likely to overrule the choices of the donor if that choice has been made actively rather than passively.

Let me count the assumptions: (1) Organ donation is the government’s business. (2) The government should deny a driver’s license to a person does not wish to say whether or not he wishes to be an organ donor. (3) This oppression of an individual is justified by the supposed fact that “a large majority of people . . . say that they would want their organs harvested.” Why give the government yet another excuse to intrude into private matters? The obvious answer to that question is that Thaler can’t resist the urge to lead others toward the decisions that he wants them to make. If, when you renew your driver’s license, you’re asked if you want to be an organ donor, your likely (politically correct) response is to say “yes,” even if you don’t really want to be an organ donor. This is not freedom of choice; it is subtle coercion.

Thaler stretches hard to discredit Whitman’s objections to “libertarian” paternalism; for example:

One of the examples we discuss in Nudge is an innovation by the city of Chicago on a dangerous curve on Lake Shore Drive. The city painted horizontal lines across the road that get closer and closer together as the driver approaches the apex of the curve. As we recently posted on our blog, this innovation has reduced accidents by 36%. Does Whitman think this is bad because it was implemented by the government? Should only private toll roads be allowed to think creatively? And notice that the “customary” signage in this location, which included a reduction in the speed limit to 20 mph, was less effective than the nudge.

What does this have to do the subject at hand? The government of Chicago is already in place as the paternalistic provider of Chicago’s streets — having usurped voluntary private decisions about the placement, construction, upkeep, and regulation of those streets. Given that the government is the provider of Chicago’s streets, it has assumed the duty of making those streets “safe” for their users, without the benefit of market feedback about users’ preferences as to the the tradeoff between safety and other attributes (e.g., speed). The government merely adopted an innovation (the horizontal lines), which replaced (or supplemented) another innovation (a speed-limit sign). Horizontal lines are no more or less paternalistic than speed-limit signs, merely different in their effectiveness along one dimension of street-users’ preferences.

In the examples I have given, Thaler simply assumes that government is “the answer.” Instead of arguing that decisions are best made in by private, voluntary actors, he too readily accepts the role of government and, instead, seeks ways to embed it more deeply in our lives by making it seem more effective. That is one path down the slippery slope toward serfdom — a slope that Thaler denies, even as he pours intellectual lubricant on it.

Thaler’s invocation of the Lake Shore Drive innovation is especially revealing. Only a hardened paternalist (if a closeted one) would stretch so hard (and fail) to find something non-paternalistic about one of America’s most paternalistic institutions: the government of Chicago.

Discounting and “Libertarian” Paternalism

Richard Thaler is a leading proponent of “libertarian” (or “soft”) paternalism. But there is nothing “libertarian” or “soft” about paternalism, no matter what it’s called. (See this, for example.)

Thaler’s embrace of paternalism springs from arrogance — the presumption that he knows how others should lead their lives. A sign of that arrogance, and one that finds its way into Thaler’s rationale for paternalism, is the identification of well-being with wealth-maximization.

The surest route to wealth-maximization — for the Thalers of this world — is to evaluate alternative courses of action by discounting projected streams of revenues (income) or costs (expenses). Consider the following passage from an old paper of Thaler’s:

A discount rate is simply a shorthand way of defining a firm’s, organization’s, or person’s time value of money. This rate is always determined by opportunity costs. Opportunity costs, in turn, depend on circumstances. Consider the following example: An organization must choose between two projects which yield equal effectiveness (or profits in the case of a firm). Project A will cost $200 this year and nothing thereafter. Project B will cost $205 next year and nothing before or after. Notice that if project B is selected the organization will have an extra $200 to use for a year. Whether project B is preferred simply depends on whether it is worth $5 to the organization to have those $200 to use for a year. That, in turn, depends on what the organization would do with the money. If the money would just sit around for the year, its time value is zero and project A should be chosen. However, if the money were put in a 5 percent savings account, it would earn $10 in the year and thus the organization would gain $5 by selecting project B. (Center for Naval Analyses,  “Discounting and Fiscal Constraints: Why Discounting is Always Right,” Professional Paper 257, August 1979, pp. 1-2)

More generally, the preferred alternative — among alternatives conferring equal benefits (effectiveness, output, utility, satisfaction) — is the one whose cost stream has the lowest present value:

the value on a given date of a future payment or series of future payments, discounted to reflect the time value of money and other factors such as investment risk.

It is my view that economists seize on discounting as a way of evaluating options because it is a trivial exercise to compute the present value of a stream of outlays (or receipts). I should say that discounting seems like a trivial exercise because the difficult tasks — choosing a time horizon, choosing a discount rate, and translating outlays into future benefits — are assumed away.

Consider the choices facing a government decision-maker. In Thaler’s simplified version of reality, a government decision-maker (manager) faces a choice between two projects that (ostensibly) would deliver equal benefits (effectiveness, output), even though their costs would be incurred at different times. Specifically, the manager must choose between project A, at a cost of $200 in year 1, and equally-effective project B, at a cost of $205 in year 2. Thaler claims that the manager can choose between the two projects by discounting their costs:

A [government] manager . . . cannot earn bank interest on funds withheld for a year. . . .  However, there will generally exist other ways for the manager to “invest” funds which are available. Examples include cost-saving expenditures, conservation measures, and preventive maintenance. These kinds of expenditures, if they have positive rates of return, permit a manager to invest money just as if he were putting the money in a savings account.

. . . Suppose a thorough analysis of cost-saving alternatives reveals that [in year 2] a maintenance project will be required at a cost of $215. Call this project D. Alternatively the project can be done [in year 1] (at the same level of effectiveness) for only $200. Call this project C. All of the options are displayed in table 1.

Discounting in the public sector_table 1

(op. cit, pp. 3-4)

Thaler believes that his example clinches the argument for discounting because the choice of project B (an expenditure of $205 in year 2) enables the manager to undertake project C in year 1, and thereby to “save” $10 in year 2. But Thaler’s “proof” is deeply flawed:

  • If a maintenance project is undertaken in year 1, it will pay off sooner than if it is undertaken in year 2 but, by the same token, its benefits will diminish sooner than if it is undertaken in year 2.
  • More generally, different projects cannot, by definition be equally effective. Projects A and B may be about equally effective by a particular measure of effectiveness, but because they are different things they will differ in other respects, and those differences could be crucial in choosing between A and B.
  • Specifically, projects A and B might be equally effective when compared quantitatively in the context of an abstract scenario, but A might be more effective in an unquantifiable but crucial respect. For example, the earlier expenditure on A might be viewed by a potential enemy as a more compelling deterrent than the later expenditure on B because it would demonstrate more clearly the government’s willingness and ability to mount a strong defense against the potential enemy.
  • The “correct” discount rate depends on the options available to a particular manager of a particular government activity. Yet Thaler insists on the application of a uniform discount rate by all government managers (op. cit., p. 6). By Thaler’s own example, such a practice could lead a manager to choose the wrong option.
  • For a decision to rest on the use of a particular discount rate, there must be great certainty about the future costs and benefits of alternative courses of action. But there seldom is. The practice of discounting therefore promotes an illusion of certainty — a potentially dangerous illusion, in the case of national defense.

The fundamental problem is that Thaler presumes to place himself in the position of the decision-maker. But every decision-maker — from a senior government executive to a young person starting his first job — has a unique set of objectives, options, uncertainties, and risk preferences. Because Thaler cannot locate himself in a decision-maker’s unique situation, he can exercise his penchant for arrogance only by insisting that each and every decision-maker adhere to a simplistic rule of thumb — one that obtains results favored by Thaler.

In the context of personal decision-making — which is the focal point of “libertarian” paternalism — the act of discounting serves wealth-maximization (a favored paternalistic objective). But, as I have said,

[t]here is simply a lot more to maximizing satisfaction than maximizing wealth. That’s why some people choose to have a lot of children, when doing so obviously reduces the amount they can save. That’s why some choose to retire early rather than stay in stressful jobs. Rationality and wealth maximization are two very different things, but a lot of laypersons and too many economists are guilty of equating them.

The 34-year-old Richard Thaler of 1979 was arrogantly wrong about government decision-making. The 65-year old Thaler of 2010 is — and has been — arrogantly wrong about personal decision-making.

I will have more to say about Thaler’s wrong-headedness. In the meantime, read this post and follow the links therein.

More about Paternalism

To complement my earlier post, “Beware of Libertarian Paternalists,” I offer the following links:

Pitfalls of Paternalism (Ilya Somin, The Volokh Conspiracy)

Hayek on the Use of Superior Expert Knowledge as a Justification for Paternalism (Ilya Somin, The Volokh Conspiracy)

The Knowledge Problem of New Paternalism (Mario Rizzo, ThinkMarkets)

Little Brother Is Watching You: The New Paternalism on the Slippery Slopes (Mario Rizzo, ThinkMarkets)

New Paternalism on the Slippery Slopes, Part I (Glen Whitman, Agoraphilia)

Be sure to read the posts and articles linked therein.

Beware of Libertarian Paternalists

I have written extensively about paternalism of the so-called libertarian variety. (See this post and the posts linked therein.) Glen Whitman, in two recent posts at Agoraphilia, renews his attack on “libertarian paternalism,” the main proponents of which are Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler (S&T). In the first of the two posts, Whitman writes:

[Thaler] continues to disregard the distinction between public and private action.

Some critics contend that behavioral economists have neglected the obvious fact that bureaucrats make errors, too. But this misses the point. After all, wouldn’t you prefer to have a qualified, albeit human, technician inspect your aircraft’s engines rather than do it yourself?

The owners of ski resorts hire experts who have previously skied the runs, under various conditions, to decide which trails should be designated for advanced skiers. These experts know more than a newcomer to the mountain. Bureaucrats are human, too, but they can also hire experts and conduct research.Here we see two of Thaler’s favorite stratagems deployed at once. First, he relies on a deceptively innocuous, private, and non-coercive example to illustrate his brand of paternalism. Before it was cafeteria dessert placement; now it’s ski-slope markings. Second, he subtly equates private and public decision makers without even mentioning their different incentives. In this case, he uses “bureaucrats” to refer to all managers, regardless of whether they manage private or public enterprises.

The distinction matters. The case of ski-slope markings is the market principle at work. Skiers want to know the difficulty of slopes, and so the owners of ski resorts provide it. They have a profit incentive to do so. This is not at all coercive, and it is no more “paternalist” than a restaurant identifying the vegetarian dishes.

Public bureaucrats don’t have the same incentives at all. They don’t get punished by consumers for failing to provide information, or for providing the wrong information. They don’t suffer if they listen to the wrong experts. They face no competition from alternative providers of their service. They get to set their own standards for “success,” and if they fail, they can use that to justify a larger budget.

And Thaler knows this, because these are precisely the arguments made by the “critics” to whom he is responding. His response is just a dodge, enabled by his facile use of language and his continuing indifference – dare I say hostility? – to the distinction between public and private.

In the second of the two posts, Whitman says:

The advocates of libertarian paternalism have taken great pains to present their position as one that does not foreclose choice, and indeed even adds choice. But this is entirely a matter of presentation. They always begin with non-coercive and privately adopted measures, such as the ski-slope markings in Thaler’s NY Times article. And when challenged, they resolutely stick to these innocuous examples (see this debate between Thaler and Mario Rizzo, for example). But if you read Sunstein & Thaler’s actual publications carefully, you will find that they go far beyond non-coercive and private measures. They consciously construct a spectrum of “libertarian paternalist” policies, and at one end of this spectrum lies an absolutely ban on certain activities, such as motorcycling without a helmet. I’m not making this up!…

[A]s Sunstein & Thaler’s published work clearly indicates, this kind of policy [requiring banks to offer “plain vanilla” mortgages] is the thin end of the wedge. The next step, as outlined in their articles, is to raise the cost of choosing other options. In this case, the government could impose more and more onerous requirements for opting out of the “plain vanilla” mortgage: you must fill out extra paperwork, you must get an outside accountant, you must have a lawyer present, you must endure a waiting period, etc., etc. Again, this is not my paranoid imagination at work. S&T have said explicitly that restrictions like these would count as “libertarian paternalism” by their definition….

The problem is that S&T’s “libertarian paternalism” is used almost exclusively to advocate greater intervention, not less. I have never, for instance, seen S&T push for privatization of Social Security or vouchers in education. I have never seen them advocate repealing a blanket smoking ban and replacing it with a special licensing system for restaurants that want to allow their customers to smoke. If they have, I would love to see it.

In their articles, S&T pay lip service to the idea that libertarian paternalism lies between hard paternalism and laissez faire, and thus that it could in principle be used to expand choice. But look at the actual list of policies they’ve advocated on libertarian paternalist grounds, and see where their real priorities lie.

S&T are typical “intellectuals,” in that they presume to know how others should lead their lives — a distinctly non-libertarian attitude. It is, in fact, a hallmark of “liberalism.” In an earlier post I had this to say about the founders of “liberalism” — John Stuart Mill, Thomas Hill Green, and Leonard Trelawney Hobhouse:

[W]e are met with (presumably) intelligent persons who believe that their intelligence enables them to peer into the souls of others, and to raise them up through the blunt instrument that is the state.

And that is precisely the mistake that lies at heart of what we now call “liberalism” or “progressivism.”  It is the three-fold habit of setting oneself up as an omniscient arbiter of economic and social outcomes, then castigating the motives and accomplishments of the financially successful and socially “well placed,” and finally penalizing financial and social success through taxation and other regulatory mechanisms (e.g., affirmative action, admission quotas, speech codes, “hate crime” legislation”). It is a habit that has harmed the intended beneficiaries of government intervention, not just economically but in other ways, as well….

The other ways, of course, include the diminution of social liberty, which is indivisible from economic liberty.

Just how dangerous to liberty are S&T? Thaler is an influential back-room operator, with close ties to the Obama camp. Sunstein is a long-time crony and adviser who now heads the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, where he has an opportunity to enforce “libertarian paternalism”:

…Sunstein would like to control the content of the internet — for our own good, of course. I refer specifically to Sunstein’s “The Future of Free Speech,” in which he advances several policy proposals, including these:

4. . . . [T]he government might impose “must carry” rules on the most popular Websites, designed to ensure more exposure to substantive questions. Under such a program, viewers of especially popular sites would see an icon for sites that deal with substantive issues in a serious way. They would not be required to click on them. But it is reasonable to expect that many viewers would do so, if only to satisfy their curiosity. The result would be to create a kind of Internet sidewalk, promoting some of the purposes of the public forum doctrine. Ideally, those who create Websites might move in this direction on their own. If they do not, government should explore possibilities of imposing requirements of this kind, making sure that no program draws invidious lines in selecting the sites whose icons will be favoured. Perhaps a lottery system of some kind could be used to reduce this risk.

5. The government might impose “must carry” rules on highly partisan Websites, designed to ensure that viewers learn about sites containing opposing views. This policy would be designed to make it less likely for people to simply hear echoes of their own voices. Of course, many people would not click on the icons of sites whose views seem objectionable; but some people would, and in that sense the system would not operate so differently from general interest intermediaries and public forums. Here too the ideal situation would be voluntary action. But if this proves impossible, it is worth considering regulatory alternatives. [Emphasis added.]

A Left-libertarian defends Sunstein’s foray into thought control, concluding that

Sunstein once thought some profoundly dumb policies might be worth considering, but realized years ago he was wrong about that… The idea was a tentative, speculative suggestion he now condemns in pretty strong terms.

Alternatively, in the face of severe criticism of his immodest proposal, Sunstein merely went underground, to await an opportunity to revive his proposal. I somehow doubt that Sunstein, as a confirmed paternalist, truly abandoned it. The proposal certainly was not off-the-cuff, running to 11 longish web pages.  Now, judging by the bulleted list above, the time is right for a revival of Sunstein’s proposal. And there he is, heading the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. The powers of that office supposedly are constrained by the executive order that established it. But it is evident that the Obama adminstration isn’t bothered by legal niceties when it comes to the exercise of power. Only a few pen strokes stand between Obama and a new, sweeping executive order, the unconstitutionality of which would be of no import to our latter-day FDR.

It’s just another step beyond McCain-Feingold, isn’t it?

Thus is the tyranny of “libertarian paternalism.” And thus does the death-spiral of liberty proceed.