Month: January 2006

(Final?) Words about Preemption and the Constitution

Toward the end of “Libertarianism and Preemptive War: Part II” I said that

[t]he decision to preempt is a political judgment in which Congress puts America’s sovereignty and the protection of Americans’ interests above putative treaty obligations. It seems unlikely that a court (the U.S. Supreme Court, in particular) would find that the constitutional grant of power to declare war, which is so fundamental to America’s sovereignty and to the protection of Americans’ interests, can be ceded by treaty to an international body that cannot be relied upon to protect our sovereignty and our interests.

When I quoted a portion of that passage in a comment thread at Catallarchy, Joe Miller took exception in a post at his blog, Bellum et Mores. Joe and I then had an inconclusive exchange in the comment thread. We focused on the constitutionality (or lack thereof) of those provisions of the UN Charter that bear on the conduct of war by members:

The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security. (Article 39)

Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defense shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security. (Article 51)

I won’t repeat the whole exchange between Joe and me (which you can read here), just some of my main points:

[The Charter] (in theory) delimits Congress’s authority to declare war, even though that authority isn’t delimited in the Constitution. (There’s no mention there of “self defense,” for example.) The . . . UN Charter, therefore, amounts to constitutional amendment by treaty. That’s not how the Constitution is supposed to be amended. . . .

. . . Our membership in the UN . . . amounts to a general concession that the Security Council (not Congress) gets to decide when we are acting in self-defense and when we can go to war when we are not acting in self-defense (as the Security Council sees it). . . . [T]he provisions of the UN Charter with respect to war do not merely implement Congress’s authority to declare war — rather, they fundamentally modify that authority.

. . . I have no problem with treaties that implement powers granted to Congress and the president (e.g., the negotiation and ratification of trade treaties). I have a fundamental problem with a treaty (the UN Charter) that circumscribes the power of Congress to declare war. That isn’t an implementation of a constitutional power, it’s a denial of a constitutional power. . . .

In ratifying the Charter, the Senate essentially surrendered a good chunk of (if not all of) Congress’s constitutional authority to declare war. . . . In other words, if the U.S. were to abide by the letter of the UN Charter (as interpreted by the Security Council, not Congress), the president and Congress would be prevented from taking actions that they judge to be in the best interest of Americans. That, it seems to me, vitiates the Framers’ intent, which was to place the decision about going to war in the hands of the elected representatives of the people of the United States — and certainly not in the hands of foreign powers. . . .

It all comes down to [this] question: Who gets to decide whether certain conditions [for going to war] are met — Congress or an international body over which Congress has no authority? Answer: international body over which Congress has no authority. The U.S. (in theory) can go to war only with the approval of both Congress and the international authority. Again, I submit that that’s an unconscionable violation of American sovereignty.

Brian Doss says it very well in a post at Catallarchy, which ends with this:

[S]ince the Constitution is the ultimate source of authority in the US government, and as it trumps both law and treaty when there is conflict; and as the Constitution may not be amended by treaty but by manner prescribed by the Constitution; and as it would require an amendment to the Constitution to substantively modify Congress’ warmaking authority; the UN treaty therefore is not a legal constraint upon the US Congress’ warmaking authority, and Congressional [authorizations for the use of military force] or declarations of war are necessary and sufficient for a US war’s legality.


But I’m confident that we’ll be hearing more from Joe. Stay tuned.

Related posts: War, Self-Defense, and Civil Liberties (a collection of links)

Pseudo-Science in the Service of Political Correctness, which is funded by the National Science Foundation (your tax dollars) and a branch of McGraw-Hill, is “a web site for students, teachers, and others interested in the causes and consequences of prejudice.” In its pages one can “find more than 2,000 links to prejudice-related resources, as well as searchable databases with hundreds of prejudice researchers and social justice organizations.”

I came across the site while I was searching for information about The Authoritarian Personality, about which I was instructed when I took my one and only college-level psychology course from Prof. Milton Rokeach, author of The Open and Closed Mind (related links). reminds me very much of The Authoritarian Personality and Prof. Rokeach’s teachings, in that it perverts science and logic in an effort to “prove” that conservative views are based on blind prejudice and will lead humanity into the abyss of authoritarianism.

Here is an example of what tries to pawn off as rigorous analysis:

[C]onsider the following hypothetical problem:
Suppose your school or organization is accused of sex discrimination because the overall percentage of female job candidates offered a position in the last five years is less than the overall percentage for male candidates. To get to the bottom of this problem, you launch an investigation to see which departments are discriminating against women. Surprisingly, however, the investigation finds that within each department, the percentage of female job applicants who are offered a position is identical to the percentage of male applicants who are offered a position. Is this possible? Can each department practice nondiscrimination, while the organization as a whole hires more men than women?

This problem is a variant of Simpson’s Paradox [link added] (a well-known paradox in statistics), and the answer to it is yes — nondiscriminatory conditions at the departmental level can result in hiring differences at the organizational level. To see how this might happen, imagine a simplified organization with two equally important departments, Department A and Department B, each of which receive the same number of job applications. As shown in Table 1, if Department A were to offer a position to 10% of its job applicants (female as well as male), and Department B were to offer a position to 5% of its job applicants (female as well as male), neither department would be discriminating on the basis of sex. At the level of the organization, however, more positions would be going to men than to women, because of the higher number of jobs offered by Department A than Department B. Unless there is a good reason for this difference in hiring, the pattern may represent a form of institutionalized sex discrimination.

Table 1. A Hypothetical Example of Sex Discrimination

of Applicants
of Job Offers
Offered Jobs
Department A
Women 500 50 10%
Men 1000 100 10%
Department B
Women 1000 50 5%
Men 500 25 5%
Combined Total
Women 1500 100 6.67%
Men 1500 125 8.33%

First of all there’s the presumption that the school is acting discriminatorily if it does not offer jobs to female applicants at the same rate as it offers jobs to male applicants. This is stated without mentioning the possibility that qualified candidates are more likely to be male in some cases (e.g., math teachers) and female in other cases (e.g., art teachers).

Moreover, the writer of the quoted passage blithely promotes the illogical proposition that the school as a whole can discriminate even if individual departments do not discriminate. But the whole cannot be greater than the sum of the parts. If each department does not discriminate with respect to applicants for its positions, that’s that: Department A cannot discriminate against Department B’s applicants, and vice versa. The aggregation of departmental statistics is therefore nonsensical.

Nevertheless, if the thought police find it necessary to aggregate departmental statistics in order to point the finger of suspicion at an institution, you can be sure that the thought police will aggregate those statistics. Of course, if Department B were to bend over backward toward women by giving them 75 job offers instead of 50, the aggregate statistics would come out “right”: a total of 125 offers for women and 125 offers for men. That result — discrimination in favor of a “protected” group — is precisely the objective of the thought police, which is why they stoop to statistical tricks.

I know. I’ve been there.

Related posts:

The Cost of Affirmative Action
The Face of America
Is There Such a Thing as Legal Discrimination?
More on the Legality of Discrimination
Affirmative Action: A Modest Proposal
Race, Intelligence, and Affirmative Action
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy
Affirmative Action, One More Time
A Law Professor to Admire
Guilty Until Proven Innocent

The Fatal Naïveté of Anarcho-Libertarianism

The anarcho-libertarians at the Ludwig von Mises Institute are at it again. They’re flogging “The Production of Security,” by Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912). The idea, as usual, is to sell the notion that police services and even national defense can be provided through competitive, private firms. Toward the beginning of the essay Molinari asserts that

if everyone had, in one word, an instinctive horror of any act harmful to another person, it is certain that security would exist naturally on earth, and that no artificial institution would be necessary to establish it. Unfortunately this is not the way things are. The sense of justice seems to be the perquisite of only a few eminent and exceptional temperaments. Among the inferior races, it exists only in a rudimentary state. Hence the innumerable criminal attempts, ever since the beginning of the world, since the days of Cain and Abel, against the lives and property of individuals.

Well, there seem to be enough of “the inferior races” (of all races) to guarantee that “criminal attempts” will continue, without abatement, unless the potential victims of those attempts establish institutions for the purpose of deterring and punishing crime. Molinari, of course, believes that private institutions can do the job. Toward the end of the essay he says that

[u]nder the rule of free competition, war between the producers of security entirely loses its justification. Why would they make war? To conquer consumers? But the consumers would not allow themselves to be conquered. They would be careful not to allow themselves to be protected by men who would unscrupulously attack the persons and property of their rivals. If some audacious conqueror tried to become dictator, they would immediately call to their aid all the free consumers menaced by this aggression, and they would treat him as he deserved. Just as war is the natural consequence of monopoly, peace us the natural consequence of liberty.

Under a regime of liberty, the natural organization of the security industry would not be different from that of other industries. In small districts a single entrepreneur could suffice. This entrepreneur might leave his business to his son, or sell it to another entrepreneur. In larger districts, one company by itself would bring together enough resources adequately to carry on this important and difficult business. If it were well managed, this company could easily last, and security would last with it. In the security industry, just as in most of the other branches of production, the latter mode of organization will probably replace the former, in the end.

The “customers would not allow themselves to be conquered”? Tell that to those who pay gangsters for “protection” and to the residents of gang-ridden areas. Molinari conveniently forgets that the ranks of “competitors” are open to “the inferior races,” who in their viciousness will and do “unscrupulously attack the persons and property of their rivals.” If not everyone is honorable, as Molinari admits, why would we expect private providers of security be honorable? Why would they not extort their customers while fighting each other? The result is bound to be something worse than life under an accountable state monopoly (such as we have in the U.S.) — something fraught with violence and fear. Think of The Roaring Twenties without the glossy coat of Hollywood glamour.

Molinari and his anarcho-libertarian descendants exhibit the Anne Frank syndrome. About three weeks before Frank and her family were betrayed and arrested, she wrote this:

It’’s a wonder I haven’’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.

Molinari and his ilk do not express the jejune belief that all “people are truly good at heart,” yet they persist in the belief that the security can be achieved in the absence of an accountable state. That is, like Anne Frank, they assume — contrary to all evidence — that “people are truly good at heart.” But competition, by itself, does not and cannot prevent criminal acts. Competition, to be beneficial, must be conducted within the framework of a rule of law. That rule of law must be enforced by a state which is accountable to its citizens for the preservation of their liberty.

The present rule of law in the United States is far from perfect, but it is far more perfect than the alternative dreamt of by anarcho-libertarians.

Related posts:

Defense, Anarcho-Capitalist Style
But Wouldn’t Warlords Take Over?
My View of Warlordism, Seconded

Democracy vs. Liberty, Again

Arnold Kling adds a dimension to the critique of democracy:

I think that [Bryan] Caplan gives too much credit to well-educated citizens. While educated Americans might score somewhat better on measures of knowledge of economics, educated Americans are still far from trustworthy as policy formulators. Our most highly educated citizens, ensconced in the academy, are stuck on 1968 in the worst way. This includes many Ph.D economists.

Just as Caplan’s treatment of political power is too one-dimensional, his treatment of political wisdom is too one-dimensional as well. He caters to the view that more education implies greater wisdom, thereby catering to the vanity of professors who hold that their left-wing views should be a model for the rest of us.

. . . Protectionism is based in part on anti-foreign bias, which is more pronounced among the uneducated than among the academic elite. However, the other biases–anti-market bias, pessimistic bias, and make-work bias–are nearly as prevalent inside the academy as out. The academy is a hotbed of folk Marxism. But by sticking to the protectionist example, Caplan allows his academic readers to preen and wallow in their illusions of superiority.

However, one of Caplan’s elitist ideas intrigues me. At a couple of points, he suggests that “get-out-the-vote” efforts, which expand participation of uneducated voters, might be harmful. This is something to think about. We have expanded the franchise considerably over the past two hundred years. It seems to me that this expansion has been correlated with increases in government power–voting rights for women, who at the time tended to be less educated than men, seem to have clearly had this effect.

It might be the case that the academy has responded to democracy. That is, rather than continue to teach the virtues of markets and limited government, academics have responded to political reality by developing theories that conform more closely to popular prejudices. For example, one might see Keynesian theory as make-work bias dressed up as technical economics.

It could be that if we had kept a restricted franchise, then government would have stayed smaller. If government had stayed smaller, then perhaps academics would have been less focused on supporting government expansion.

As things stand today, I share Caplan’s doubts about the wisdom of ordinary people. But in addition I have much bigger doubts about the wisdom of the educated elite.

The influence of elites (academicians among them) on policy certainly has a lot to do with the fact that democracy — as it is practiced in the U.S. and other Western nations — tends to undermine liberty. As I wrote here,

[w]e have been following the piecemeal route to serfdom — adding link to link and chain to chain — in spite of the Framers’ best intentions and careful drafting. Why? Because the governed — or dominant coalitions of them — have donned willingly the chains that they have implored their governors to forge. Their bondage is voluntary, though certainly not informed. But their bondage is everyone’s bondage. . . .

[B]ecause we have undone the work of the Framers . . . , we have descended to tyranny by the majority, where the majority is a loose but potent coalition of interest- and belief-groups bent on imposing its aims on everyone.

Unchecked democracy undermines liberty and its blessings. Unchecked democracy imposes on everyone the mistakes and mistaken beliefs of the controlling faction. It defeats learning. It undoes the social fabric that underlies civility. It defeats the sublime rationality of free markets, which enable independent individuals to benefit each other through the pursuit of self-interest. As “anonymous” says, with brutal accuracy, “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on lunch.”

Related posts:

Liberty, Democracy, and Voting Rights

More about Democracy and Liberty
Yet Another Look at Democracy
Conservatism, Libertarianism, Socialism, and Democracy

Economist, Heal Thyself

Bryan Caplan (EconLog) “proves” that comparative advantage makes people better off, even if some of the people are less capable than others:

Trade between two people or groups increases total production even if one person or group is worse at everything. Suppose, for example, that Brains can make 5 Computer Programs or 10 Bushels of Wheat per day, and Brawns can make .1 Computer Programs or 5 Bushels of Wheat per day.

Computer Programs Bushets of Wheat
Brains 5 10
Brawns .1 5

Brains and Brawns can still trade to mutual benefit: Just have one Brain switch from farming to programming (+5 Programs, -10 Bushels of Wheat), and three Brawns switch from programming to farming (-.3 Programs, +15 Bushels of Wheat), and total production rises by 4.7 Programs and 5 Bushels of Wheat.

What Caplan has shown is that, for a given population, it makes economic sense for individuals to specialize in those occupations in which they have a comparative advantage. In Caplan’s example, the Brains’ comparative advantage lies in the writing of computer programs (20:1) over the growing of wheat (2:1), whereas the Brawns’ comparative advantage lies in the growing of wheat (1:2) over the writing of computer programs (1:20).

So far, so good. But in a later post Caplan tries to apply the same principle to the question of population growth, specifically, the relative rate of growth among Brains as compared with Brawns:

What happens when low IQ people have more kids? It encourages greater specialization and trade. High-IQ people have a stronger incentive to focus on brainy work, because there are more low-IQ people to handle the non-brainy work.

The implication is that it doesn’t matter if population growth is faster among Brawns than among Brains. Not so. To continue with the example from Caplan’s earlier post, the addition of a Brain increases total output by 5 programs or 10 bushels of wheat, whereas the addition of a Brawn increases total output by only .1 program or 5 bushels of wheat. On the economic dimension, then, I would always prefer the addition of a Brain to the addition of a Brawn.

I’m not making an argument for eugenics — just an observation about the mathematics of the issue. The only lesson to be drawn from this is that economists often tend to misapply the principles of static analysis to dynamic situations.

Related posts:

More about Social Security
Understanding Economic Growth
Wal-Mart and Jobs

Wal-Mart and Jobs

Thomas DiLorenzo, writing at the Mises Economics Blog, asks “Is Wal-Mart Overpaying?“:

If the idea of prices and wages is that they should clear the market, leaving neither shortages or surpluses, consider that Wal-Mart might be overpaying. According to “The new Wal-Mart Stores Inc. location opening Friday in suburban Evergreen Park received a record 25,000 applications for 325 positions, the highest for any one location in the retailer’s history.”

My comment:

There are a few things missing from your formulation. First, Wal-Mart is seeking persons with certain qualifications (as low as those qualifications might seem to us lofty bloggers). Having been in the business of hiring people (my portfolio included what’s now called “human resources”), I can tell you that job openings typically attract dozens of unqualified applicants for every qualified applicant.

Second, it’s also conceivable that Wal-Mart is offering better compensation than the applicants (including the qualified ones) are able to command elsewhere in the relevant geographic area. Given Wal-Mart’s superior business model, a person with a given set of qualifications is worth more to Wal-Mart than he or she is to, say, a 7-11 down the road.

Third, it’s also conceivable that there is presently a “surplus” of persons with the requisite skills in geographic area; reluctance to move, for various reasons, tends to create a kind of geographic “stickiness.” Thus, Wal-Mart’s entry creates jobs and soaks up some of the surplus.

The market-clearing notion applies only in the “perfect” microeconomic world where there is no stickiness and no growth.

Joel Stein’s "Logic"

For those few of you who haven’t read Joel Stein’s op-ed piece (“Warriors and Wusses“) in the L.A. Times — the one that begins “I don’t support our troops” — here’s the “logic” of the piece:

  • The U.S. has imperialistic ambitions (except when it doesn’t).
  • People who after 9/11 enlisted in the Army had noble motives (defense of the country) — but they really knew that they were signing up to advance the (sometimes) imperialistic ambitions of the U.S.
  • Those soldiers who knew that they were signing up to advance the (sometimes) imperialistic ambitions of the U.S. were “tricked” into signing up for the war in Iraq. (Okay, Stein, which is it?)
  • The war in Iraq is “immoral” (just because Stein asserts that it is).
  • Bush is to blame for the “immoral war” in Iraq (no mention of Congress, which authorized the war and still supports it).
  • But the soldiers who serve in Iraq really are to blame for the “immoral war” there because they refuse to lay down their arms. Why do they refuse? Because (according to Stein) they really enlisted either (a) to advance their country’s imperialistic ambitions or (b) because they were “tricked” into enlisting (by Bush, presumably) and persist in fighting even though (I’m reading between the lines here) they must by now be aware that they were “tricked.” Got that? (Stein never deigns to mention the possibility that the soldiers who serve in Iraq are executing a legal war in accordance with their contractual obligations, which they entered into because they chose to risk their lives in the defense of their country.)
  • Therefore — even though Stein is willing to concede that the U.S. should honor its contractual obligations to those “immoral” soldiers (e.g., health care and pensions) — it should not honor them with a parade because to do so would make traffic worse than it is already.
  • In sum, the price of “immorality” is to be denied a parade, but only because the resulting traffic jam would inconvenience Stein. Wow!

What a piece of work is Stein. Not a logical bone in his head or a patriotic bone in his body. He belongs with these people.

More Foxhole Rats

First, there’s Joel Stein:

I DON’T SUPPORT our troops . . . .

But when you volunteer for the U.S. military, you pretty much know you’re not going to be fending off invasions from Mexico and Canada. So you’re willingly signing up to be a fighting tool of American imperialism . . . .

[W]e shouldn’t be celebrating people for doing something we don’t think was a good idea. All I’m asking is that we give our returning soldiers what they need: hospitals, pensions, mental health and a safe, immediate return. But, please, no parades.

Seriously, the traffic is insufferable.

What’s with this “we” business, you insufferable jerk?

Then, there’s William Blum

a Washington, D.C. writer, [who] responded delightedly last Thursday on learning that Osama bin Laden had cited his book in an audiotape. Blum called the mention of Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower “almost as good as being an Oprah book”. . . .

Blum explained his response by saying he found bin Laden no worse than the U.S. government: “I would not say that bin Laden has been any less moral than Washington has been.” He even refused to distance himself from bin Laden’s views: “If he shares with me a deep dislike for certain aspects of U.S. foreign policy, then I’m not going to spurn any endorsement of the book by him. I think it’s good that he shares those views.”

Blum describes his life mission as “slowing down the American Empire…injuring the beast.”

What’s with these Leftists and their fixation on an American “empire”? These two, in particular, ought to be grateful they didn’t live in Nazi Germany, the ambitions of which were truly imperial — and genocidal, to boot.

Related posts:

Shall We All Hang Separately?
Foxhole Rats
Foxhole Rats, Redux
Know Thine Enemy

The Faces of Appeasement
Give Me Liberty or Give Me Non-Aggression?
We Have Met the Enemy . . .
Words for the Unwise

O(kay) Canada!

With apologies to my Canadian friends for some cheap jokes at the expense of Canada.

Okay, so Canada’s Conservative Party will succeed the Liberal Party as the largest minority in Parliament. It looks like the Conservatives have picked up about 25 seats in Parliament while the Liberals may have lost 30 seats. That’s a big swing. It was made possible, in large part, by the financial scandals* surrounding the Liberal government of Prime Minister Paul Martin. But I think it also reflects some degree of discontent with Canada’s politically correct, anti-American, anti-defense, socialistic policies.

I suppose there were many Canadian celebrities (an oxymoron?) and other Leftists who vowed — like their Hollywood counterparts — to leave Canada should Conservatives gain control of the government. But where will those Leftists go? Not to Bush country, that’s for sure. Britain’s not a good bet, either, given Tony Blair’s “unseemly” determination to defeat terrorism. France is out, now that Chirac has vowed to nuke a terrorist-sponsoring state if terrorists attack France.

The resurgence of Canada’s Conservative Party also puts the damper on loose talk among American Leftists about moving to Canada. (Talk that is quickly quelled by the reality of actually living in Canada.)

I think all of that points to the only viable option for Canadian and American Leftists: They must walk toward the Great Lakes and meet each other halfway (in the middle of the lakes, that is).
* I didn’t actually follow the financial scandals that plagued Paul Martin. It’s hard to take Canada seriously when it comes to money: Canada’s $1 coin is known as the Loonie 🙂

Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty

Here’s my position (from 10/04/04):

The econometric evidence is there, for those who are open to it: Capital punishment does deter homicide. See, for example, the careful analysis by Hashem Dezhbaksh, Paul Robin, and Joanna Shepherd, “Does capital punishment have a deterrent effect? New evidence from post-moratorium panel data,” American Law and Economics Review 5(2): 344–376 (available in PDF format here). Dezhbaksh, Rubin, and Shepherd argue that each execution deters eighteen murders. That number may be high, but the analysis is rigorous and it accounts for relevant variables, such as income, age, race, gender, population density, and use of the death penalty where it is legal. It’s hard to read that analysis and believe that capital punishment doesn’t deter homicide — unless you want to believe it. I certainly wouldn’t take “Ouija Board” Goertzel’s opinion over that of careful econometricians like Dezhbaksh, Rubin, and Shepherd.

Now, I must say that I don’t care whether or not capital punishment deters homicide. Capital punishment is the capstone of a system of justice that used to work quite well in this country because it was certain and harsh. There must be a hierarchy of certain penalties for crime, and that hierarchy must culminate in the ultimate penalty if criminals and potential criminals are to believe that crime will be punished. When punishment is made less severe and less certain — as it was for a long time after World War II — crime flourishes and law-abiding citizens become less secure in their lives and property.

John McAdams, a professor of political science at Marquette University, makes a succinct case for the death penalty, regardless of its deterrent effect:

I’m a bit surprised . . . [by the] claim that “the burden of empirical proof would seem to lie with the pro-death penalty scholar.” If we execute murderers and there is in fact no deterrent effect, we have killed a bunch of murderers. If we fail to execute murderers, and doing so would in fact have deterred other murders, we have allowed the killing of a bunch of innocent victims. I would much rather risk the former. This, to me, is not a tough call.

I wish I’d said that.

(Thanks to my son for the lead to the McAdams quotation.)

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

More "McCarthyism"

No, it’s not that we’re having another spate of “McCarthyism” — it’s simply time to revisit the myth of “McCarthyism.” More than a year ago I wrote this:

. . . McCarthy was right, but his methods backfired and caused otherwise sensible people to conclude that the “witch hunt” was nothing more than that. From Wikipedia, here:
In 1995, when the VENONA transcripts were declassified, it was learned that regardless of the specific number, McCarthy consistently underestimated the extent of Soviet espionage. VENONA specifically references at least 349 people in the United States–including citizens, immigrants, and permanent residents–who cooperated in various ways with Soviet intelligence agencies.

It is generally believed that McCarthy had no access to VENONA intelligence, deriving his information from other sources. VENONA does confirm that some individuals investigated by McCarthy were indeed Soviet agents. For example, Mary Jane Keeney was identified by McCarthy simply as “a communist”; in fact she and her husband were both Soviet agents. Another individual named by McCarthy was Lauchlin Currie, a special assistant to President Roosevelt. He was confirmed by VENONA to be a Soviet Agent.

And here:

The VENONA documents, and the extent of their significance, were not made public until 1995. They show that the US and others were targeted in major espionage campaigns by the Soviet Union as early as 1942.

The decrypts include 349 individuals who were maintaining a covert relationship with the Soviet Union. It can be safely assumed that more than 349 agents were active, as that number is from a small sample of the total intercepted message traffic. Among those identified are Alger Hiss, believed to have been the agent “ALES”; Harry Dexter White, the second-highest official in the Treasury Department; Lauchlin Currie, a personal aide to Franklin Roosevelt; and Maurice Halperin, a section head in the Office of Strategic Services. Almost every military and diplomatic agency of any importance was compromised to some extent, including, of course, the Manhattan Project. Even today, the identities of fewer than half of the 349 agents are known with any certainty. Agents who were never identified include “Mole”, a senior Washington official who passed information on American diplomatic policy, and “Quantum”, a scientist on the Manhattan Project.

Some known spies, including Theodore Hall, were neither prosecuted nor publicly implicated, because the VENONA evidence against them could not be made public. VENONA evidence has also clarified the case of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, making it clear that Julius was guilty of espionage while Ethel was guilty of cooperating, while also showing that their contributions to Soviet nuclear espionage were less important than was publicly alleged at the time. In fact, Ethel had been only an accomplice, and Julius’ information was probably not as valuable as that provided by sources like “Quantum” and “Pers” (both still unidentified.)

This is an extremely different picture from the one that which had developed over most of 50 years in the absence of solid evidence. While critics debate the identity of individual agents, the overall picture of infiltration is more difficult to refute. The release of the VENONA information has forced reevaluation of the Red Scare in the US….

Now comes David Berstein of The Volokh Conspiracy, who is reviewing Martin Redish’s book, The Logic of Persecution: Free Expression and the McCarthy Era. Among the many things Bernstein has learned while doing research for his review are these:

. . . .

(2) Hollywood scriptwriters who were members of the Communist Party (CPUSA) were expected to use their positions to promote Communist doctrine and the Party’s agenda, or, if that was not possible, at least to work to exclude anti-Soviet sentiment. (And I already knew, but you might not have, that each of the Hollywood Ten was a member of the CPUSA.)

(3) The first federal prosecution under the Smith Act (later used to prosecute CPUSA leaders) was the prosecution of eighteen leaders of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party 1941. The CPUSA not only applauded this action; Party leaders assisted in the prosecution.

(4) The Smith Act prosecutions of CPUSA leaders were largely a result of the fact that top government officials had recently learned from decoded “Venona cables” between the Soviet Union and its agents and affiliates abroad that the Soviet Union used American Communists to engage in wide scale espionage against the United States. The CPUSA leaders were not prosecuted for espionage and related charges (conspiracy) because that would have involved revealing that the U.S. had deciphered the Soviets’ code, and also much of the additional evidence the government had was obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Instead, the government resurrected the Smith Act, and proceeded with prosecutions of highly dubious constitutionality (though upheld by the Supreme Court, which implicitly recognized that these prosecutions were “special”).

(5) Not only did the CPUSA recruit spies for the Soviet Union through its “secret apparatus,” it was prepared to engage in violence on behalf of the Soviet Union.

(6) The Smith Act prosecutions and other government and private anti-Communist activity destroyed the usefulness of the CPUSA to the Soviet Union for espionage.

(7) Many of the questionable tactics used by the government against domestic Communists in the late 1940s and 1950s, including Smith Act prosecutions, were previously used by the government against domestic Nazis and fascists in the late 1930s and early 1940s by the Roosevelt Administration.

(8) Alger Hiss was not prosecuted for spying because the statute of limitations had expired.

(9) During the “Red Decade” of the 1930s, Hollywood Communists ran their own blacklist againist their political enemies. Because the studio bosses didn’t support this blacklist, it wasn’t as effective as the 1950s blacklist of Communists, but it seriously harmed careers nevertheless. Also, many in Hollyood boycotted those who testified before HUAC, allegedly as revenge for “naming names”. But is there any serious doubt that the boycotters’ attitudes would be very different if their targets had discussed with Congress Nazi, as opposed to Communist, infiltration of Hollywood?

(10) Then there’s this quote from historian Ellen Schrecker, who is generally sympathetic to the Communists, regarding the blacklist, which conflicts with the theme of a couple of major Hollywood movies: “Most of the men and women who lost their jobs or were otherwise victimized were not apolitical folks who had somehow gotten on the wrong mailing lists or signed the wrong petitions. …Whether or not they should have been victimized, they certainly were not misidentified.” On the other hand, anti-Communist historian Klehr states that “many innocent people were harassed.” But Redish concludes that “for the most part, it seems that the blacklists were accurate.”

(11) Much of what is now labeled “McCarthyism” consisted of spontaneous action by private individuals and groups to boycott Stalinists. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a sound source that persuasively explains to what extent these private actors interacted with the government. For example, I still don’t have a firm sense to what extent the Hollywood blacklist was the result of a fear of bad publicitly and threats to boycott the industry from various anti-Communist groups, and to what extent it was motivated by fear of potential government regulation.

The use of “questionable tactics” should not diminish the fact that the enemy was in our midst. The “scare” wasn’t a scare — it was about the real thing.

"Natural Rights" and Libertarianism

UPDATED, 01/25/06

Some relevant reading:

Natural Rights: Useful Fiction, by John Henke at QandO NEW

Government: The Social Contract Market, by Jon Henke at QandO

Rights Schmights, by Max Borders at TCS Daily

The Right in My Garage, by Jon Henke at QandO

The Paradox of Libertarianism, A Footnote to My Theory of Rights, and The Origin and Essence of Rights, by moi

Back-Door Paternalism

Shane Frederick, an assistant professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, suggests (in so many words) that the “best and brightest” should make decisions for the rest of us. He makes his case in “On the Ball: Cognitive Reflection and Decision Making.” Frederick begins well enough, with premises that seem well supported:

  • Bright people have a lower time preference than less-bright people; that is, bright people are more likely than the less-bright to forgo current gratification in favor of greater future gratification (e.g., more income), where the attainment of the greater gratification is fairly certain.
  • In addition, bright people are more risk-tolerant than less-bright people, where there is the prospect of a gain; that is they are more willing than the less-bright to gamble a given amount of money for the prospect of winning an even larger amount of money.

Here are excerpts of the evidence adduced by Frederick:

People with higher cognitive ability (or “IQ”) differ from those with lower cognitive ability in a variety of important and unimportant ways. On average, they live longer, earn more, have larger working memories, faster reaction times, and are more susceptible to visual illusions. . . .

Despite the diversity of phenomena related to IQ, few have attempted to understand – or even describe – its influences on judgment and decision making. Studies on time preference, risk preference, probability weighting, ambiguity aversion, endowment effects, anchoring, and other widely researched topics rarely make any reference to the possible effects of cognitive abilities (or cognitive traits). . . .

Many researchers have emphasized the distinction between two types of cognitive processes: those executed quickly with little conscious deliberation [System 1] and those that are slower and more reflective [System 2]. . . . System 1 processes occur spontaneously, and do not require or consume much attention. Recognizing that the face of the person entering the classroom belongs to your math teacher involves System 1 processes – it occurs instantly and effortlessly, and is unaffected by intellect, alertness, motivation or the difficulty of the math problem being attempted at the time. Conversely, finding [the square root of] 19163 to two decimal places without a calculator involves System 2 processes – mental operations requiring effort, motivation, concentration, and the execution of learned rules. . . .

By contrast, consider the problem below:

A bat and a ball cost $1.10. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball.
How much does the ball cost? ____ cents

Here, an intuitive answer does spring quickly to mind: “10 cents.” But this “impulsive” answer is wrong. . . .

In a study conducted at Princeton, which measured time preferences using both real and hypothetical rewards, those answering “10 cents” were found to be significantly less patient than those answering “5 cents.” Motivated by this result, two other problems found to yield impulsive erroneous responses were included with the “bat and ball” problem to form a simple, three item “Cognitive Reflection Test” (CRT), shown in Figure 1. The three items on the CRT are “easy” in the sense that their solution is easily understood when explained, yet reaching the correct answer often requires the suppression of an erroneous answer that springs “impulsively” to mind.

Figure 1. The Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT)

(1) A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs a dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
____ cents

(2) If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100
machines to make 100 widgets?
____ minutes

(3) In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake?
____ days

Over a 26-month period beginning in January, 2003, the CRT was administered to 3,428 respondents in 35 separate studies that also measured various decision making characteristics, like time and risk preferences. . . .

The notion that more intelligent people are more patient – that they devalue or “discount” future rewards less steeply – has prevailed for some time. . . .

The widely presumed relation between cognitive ability and patience has been tested in several studies, although rather unsystematically. . . .

Collectively, these studies offer some support for the view that cognitive ability and time preference are somehow connected, though none has identified the types of intertemporal decisions over which cognitive ability exerts influence, nor explained why it does so. Toward this end, I examined the relation between CRT scores and a wide variety of items intended to measure various aspects of “time preference.” . . . .

As predicted, those who scored higher on the CRT were generally more “patient”; their decisions implied lower discount rates. For short term choices between monetary rewards, the high CRT group was much more inclined to choose the later larger reward. . . . However, for choices involving longer horizons . . . , temporal preferences were weakly related or unrelated to CRT scores.

A tentative explanation for these results is as follows: a thoughtful respondent can find good reasons for discounting future monetary outcomes – the promiser could default, one may be predictably wealthier in the future (with correspondingly diminished marginal utility for further wealth gains), interest rates could increase (which increases the opportunity cost of foregoing the immediate reward), and inflation could reduce the future rewards’ real value (if the stated amount is interpreted as being denominated in nominal units). . . . However, such reasons do not apply with the same force for short term options; they are not sufficiently compelling to justify choosing $3400 this month over $3800 next month (which implies an annual discount rate of 280%). Hence, for choices . . . where the careful deliberation associated with “System 2” ought to strongly oppose one’s intuitive “System 1” preference for the more immediate reward . . . one observes considerable differences between CRT groups. . . .

Thus, greater cognitive reflection seemingly fosters the recognition or appreciation of considerations (like interest rates) that may favor the later larger reward. . . .

To assess the relation between CRT and risk preferences, I included several measures of risk preferences in my questionnaires, including choices between a certain gain (or loss) and some probability of a larger gain (or loss). For some items, expected value was maximized by choosing the gamble, and for some it was maximized by choosing the certain outcome.

. . . In the domain of gains, the high CRT group was more willing to gamble, particularly when the gamble had higher expected value . . . , but, notably, even when it did not. . . . This suggests that the correlation between cognitive ability and risk taking in gains is not due solely to a greater disposition to compute expected value or adopt that as the choice criterion. For items involving losses . . . , the higher CRT group was less riskseeking; they were more willing accept a sure loss to avoid playing a gamble with lower (more negative) expected value. . . .

Frederick then reinforces the connection between CRT and intelligence; for example:

[T]hough the CRT is intended to measure cognitive reflection, performance on it is surely aided by reading comprehension and mathematical skills (which the ACT [American College Test] and SAT [Scholastic Aptitude Test] also measure). Similarly, though Cacioppo et al. . . . claim that NFC [the “need for cognition scale] is “clearly separable” from intelligence, their list of ways in which those with high NFC were found to differ from those with low NFC sounds very much like the list one would create if people were sorted on any measure of cognitive ability. Namely, those with higher NFC were found to do better on arithmetic problems, anagrams, trivia tests, and college coursework, to be more knowledgeable, more influenced by the quality of an argument, to recall more of the information to which they are exposed, to generate more “task relevant thoughts” and to engage in greater “information-processing activity.”

The empirical and conceptual overlap between these tests suggests that they would all predict time and risk preferences. . . .

In his concluding discussion, Frederick jumps to the unwarranted implication that the “best and brightest” should make decisions for the rest of us; viz.:

[T]ime and risk preferences are sometime tied so strongly to measures of cognitive ability that they effectively function as such a measure themselves. For example, when a choice between a sure $500 and a 15% chance of $1,000,000 was presented to respondents (along with an eight item version of the CRT), only 25% of those who missed all eight problems chose the gamble, compared to 82% among those who solved them all. Should this result be interpreted to mean that choosing the gamble is the “correct” response for this item? . . .

. . . I suspect that if respondents were shown the respective test scores of those who chose the sure $500 vs. those who chose the 15% chance of $1,000,000, they would, in fact, feel more disposed to take the gamble; the correlation between cognitive ability and preference would hold some normative force for them. . . .

[A] relation between cognitive ability and preference does not, by itself, establish the correct choice for any particular individual. Two individuals with different cognitive abilities may experience outcomes differently, which may warrant different choices (for example, what magazines to read or movies to attend). But with respect to the example motivating this discussion, one must ask whether it is really plausible that people of differing cognitive abilities experience increments of wealth as differently as their choices suggest. It seems exceedingly unlikely that the low CRT group has a marked kink in their utility function around $W+500, beyond which an extra $999,500 confers little additional benefit. It seems more reasonable, instead, to override the conventional caveat about arguing with tastes . . . , and conclude that choosing the $500 is the “wrong answer” – much as 10 cents is the wrong answer in the “bat & ball” problem.

Whatever stance one adopts on the contentious normative issues of whether a preference can be “wrong” and whether more reflective people make “better” choices, respondents who score differently on the CRT make different choices, and this demands some explanation

Frederick, in effect, makes the following argument:

  • Bright people are good at getting right answers to questions for which there are right answers.
  • Bright people are good at evaluating prudent risks.
  • Bright people, therefore, are likely to be correct in all forms of risk-taking.
  • Thus all of us would do well to follow the instruction of bright people.

Frederick’s logic fails, first, because he blurs the distinction between (a) the kind of prudent risk-taking that’s involved in short-term financial transactions with fairly certain outcomes (which bright persons do well) and (b) straight-out gambling (for which bright persons seem to have a penchant). He compounds his confusion by treating gambling as a mere mathematical problem to which there is a right answer:

[C]hoosing the $500 is the “wrong answer” – much as 10 cents is the wrong answer in the “bat & ball” problem.

But getting the right answer to the “bat & ball” problem is trivial; it’s a closed problem to which there can be only one right answer. Frederick seems to think that getting the “right” answer to the betting problem depends only on being able to calculate the “expected value” of the prize (value of the prize x probability of winning it). Well, when the expected value is $150,000 and one stands to lose “only” $500, it would be stupid to take the $500 instead gambling on the million. Right? Wrong:

  • Expected value is an artificial construct; one cannot win the expected value of anything.
  • If there’s a 15% chance of winning the million, there’s an 85% chance of not winning the million.
  • A person to whom $500 is a lot of money (a month’s rent, for example) is stupid to gamble it with an 85% chance of losing it.

By Frederick’s logic, bright jerks should be put in the position of gambling away other people’s rent money. Or, to put it more generally, our affairs should be placed in the hands of the “best and brightest” — empowered by government to regulate our lives. (Frederick doesn’t come right out and say that, of course, but the subtext is clear.)

Actually, since the New Deal, successive Congresses, presidents, and Supreme Courts have been regulating our lives with the help of the “best and brightest” (a.k.a. the “brains trust”). And see where it has landed us.

In sum, Frederick’s paper amounts to nothing more than a contrived justification of statist paternalism.

Related posts:

Fear of the Free Market — Part I
Fear of the Free Market — Part II
Fear of the Free Market — Part III
The Rationality Fallacy
Socialist Calculation and the Turing Test
The Social Welfare Function
Libertarian Paternalism
A Libertarian Paternalist’s Dream World
The Short Answer to Libertarian Paternalism
Second-Guessing, Paternalism, Parentalism, and Choice
Another Thought about Libertarian Paternalism
“The Private Sector Isn’t Perfect”
Three Truths for Central Planners
Risk and Regulation

A Quick Thought for a Friday Afternoon

Most Democrats (and everyone to their left) favor abortion, oppose capital punishment, and oppose defense. (No, really, how can one claim to be in favor of defending the country when — just for example — one is opposed to intercepting enemy communications, detaining terrorists caught in battle, and questioning them rigorously?) Anyway, here’s how those preferences play out:

Murder innocents. Spare murderers.

It would make a great bumper sticker.


A president speaks:

“The leaders of states who would use terrorist means against us, as well as those who would consider using in one way or another weapons of mass destruction, must understand that they would lay themselves open to a firm and adapted response on our part,” Bush said during a visit to a nuclear submarine base. . . .

“This response could be a conventional one. It could also be of a different kind.”

Bush, who is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, said all of [his country’s] nuclear forces had been configured with the new strategy in mind and the number of nuclear warheads on . . . nuclear submarines had been reduced to allow targeted strikes.

It was the first time he had so clearly linked the threat of a nuclear response to a terrorist attack.

Oops. “Bush” est vraiment Jacques Chirac. Zat cow-boy.

Obtuse Nonsense

Mark A.R. Kleiman (The Reality-Based Community) closes a post with this observation:

All judges judge by their personal beliefs. Whose beliefs would you expect them to judge by?

Kleiman misses the point entirely. Judges should judge from their “beliefs” about the law: what it requires, like it or not. Too many judges, however, judge from what they would like the law to require. There is a vast difference between those two positions, but Kleiman is too obtuse to grasp it or too argumentative to admit it. Kleiman’s relativistic standard allows him to excuse seven decades of Leftist opinions that have made a mockery of the Constitution and denuded it of liberty. Just what one would expect from a “reality-based” blogger.

Fie on Steve Bainbridge, who recommends Kleiman’s post.

Too Many Shots

No, not too many shots of bourbon. Too many injections of vaccine in one day: tetanus/diptheria/pertussis, pneumococcal conjugate, and inactivated influenza. That was yesterday morning. By last night I began to experience the side effects: fever, aches, tiredness. They’re still with me today.

Well, getting all three shots in one office visit does mean fewer trips to the doc and less money out of pocket for co-payments. And it’s not like I have a real job to slog through. And a shot or two of bourbon in the evening does help to alleviate the aches. Thanks, doc.

Brian Leiter, Exposed

Brian Leiter — whose lunacies I have exposed here, here, and here — is now the subject of a blog titled, appropriately, Brian Leiter, Academic Thug. The blogger is Keith Burgess-Jackson, himself a philosopher (as Leiter claims to be) and an attorney (which Leiter is). Burgess-Jackson’s first post (12/25/05) sets out the purpose of the blog:

Brian Leiter has been abusing people with impunity for far too long. It’s time someone stood up to him. This blog is devoted to exposing his abusiveness. . . . If you have been abused by Leiter (as I have) and wish to become a member of this blog, please contact me through my blog AnalPhilosopher. I will allow you to blog anonymously, especially if you are untenured.

Nothing of a defamatory nature will be posted on this blog. That is to say, everything posted will be true. Nor is it an attack blog. It is a blog devoted to publicizing the awful truth about a very bad man—a man who uses his power as a tenured professor (and as a prominent ranker of law and philosophy programs) to humiliate, intimidate, degrade, and punish those with whom he disagrees. If you know of instances in which Leiter has abused (or tried to harm) someone, please bring them to my attention. Anonymity is assured. I will investigate the matter and, if appropriate, post links. . . .

The purpose of this blog, therefore, is to hold Leiter responsible for his abominable behavior. It is to give him his due. That is the essence of justice.

Thug now consists of 23 posts — all worth reading. I’ve added Thug to my daily reading routine.

(Thanks to Maverick Philosopher for the pointer.)