Month: November 2007

Republicans Are Happier Than Democrats

This content of this post is now incorporated in “Intelligence, Personality, Politics, and Happiness.”

Related reading:

Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?
Does the Libertarian-Conservative Fusion Have a Future?
Libertarianism and Conservatism
Where Conservatism and (Sensible) Libertarianism Come Together
Common Ground for Conservatives and Libertarians?
The Nexus of Conservatism and Libertarianism
Liberal Claptrap
“Liberalism,” as Seen by Liberals
Wrong, Wrong, Wrong
A Political Compass: Locating the United States
Where I Stand

A Wrong-Headed Take on Abortion

Sigrid Fry-Revere opines:

I take issue with Radley Balko’s characterization of the abortion debate in “Getting Beyond Roe”…as being about “setting community standards” and that issues such as abortion “are best dealt with in those diverse laboratories of democracy, the states.” Abortion should no more be a question for local politics than slavery.

Does she mean to equate slavery and the bearing of a child conceived as a result of a consensual sex (which it almost always is)? Yes, as we shall see.

Fry-Revere continues:

The right to have an abortion per se is not the issue, but the right to self-determination, the right not to be used as a means to an end against one’s will, the right not to be considered a communal resource — in short, the right for women to have the same control over their own bodies and their own fates as men.

But don’t women have “control over their own bodies” when they agree to engage in an act that might well result in pregnancy? By what standard would the outlawing of abortion cause women to be treated as a “communal resource”? Does the illegality of murder make a “communal resource” of murderers? Are unaborted children forced to repair public highways when they come of age? What the hell is a “communal resource” and what does it have to do with abortion?

Let’s give Fry-Revere another chance:

I believe abortion is morally wrong, but I also believe that in a conflict between mother and fetus, a woman’s right must always take precedence.

What does she mean by “conflict”? Abortion seldom is the result of a conflict, other than the conflict between a woman’s and/or her mate’s convenience and the life of the child they conceived.

Fry-Revere suggests that a fetus has fewer rights than an adult because:

A human being’s rights under the law increase with maturity.

I have never heard of such a thing. If it were true, the murder of a new-born child, a one-year-old child, or a 50-year-old adult would be treated as a lesser crime than, say, the murder of a 90-year-old person.

Fry-Revere concludes:

Fetuses are potential children, not full grown adults, and women are full grown adults, not children. It is time we start treating each with the respect and dignity they deserve.

Fry-Revere’s reference to fetuses as “potential children” is just another way of saying that fetuses have no rights. But where does she actually talk about the “respect and dignity” a fetus deserves? Nowhere. It’s all about what women want, about the false equivalence of pregnancy and slavery, and about the wacky theory that rights somehow accumulate with age (but only from birth, not from conception).

The title of Fry-Revere’s post (“What about Fetal Rights?”) is supremely ironic. The content is supremely cynical.

Paleocons and the Legacy of Samuel Francis

My thanks to Liberty Corner for allowing me to guest-post.

I voted for Pat Buchanan in 2000, and so long as paleoconservatism spent its time critiquing mainstream conservatism for its compromises, it had my sympathy. But old-rightists have increasingly called for political separatism which seems helpful only to the polarizing forces of extremism. In such cases, the left will always benefit more than the “right.” Perhaps no better illustration of this was the encomiums lavished on the late Samuel Francis, exponent of American ethno-nationalism.

The sad thing was that commentators offered glowing praise of Francis’s journalism while overlooking some major intellectual blemishes. Others were less restrained, as for example the anti-immigration group VDARE which opined that: “With the end of the Cold War, [Francis] emerged as a type of white nationalist, defending the interests of the community upon which the historic United States was, as a matter of fact, built….”

Francis first got into hot water for his Washington Times column from July 27, 1995 in which he berated the opportunism of various religious groups—in this case the Southern Baptists—for their “apologies for slavery.” Most conservatives would agree that this was shameless political posturing. But Francis went further.

If the sin is hatred or exploitation, they may be on solid ground, but neither “slavery” nor “racism” as an institution is a sin…. Not until the Enlightenment of the 18th century did a bastardized version of Christian ethics condemn slavery. Today we know that version under the label of “liberalism,” or its more extreme cousin, communism.

Whatever his other talents, Francis’ dearth of historical and theological expertise is staggering. It’s true (though not a popular view) that there are worse things than slavery—abortion or mass murder for instance. Bur it’s simply wrong to imply that only some sort of later-day, liberalized Christianity condemned slavery. In 1462, Pope Pius II called slavery a “great crime” and Catholic leaders opposed the revival of a practice which had been so successfully stamped out in the Middle Ages.

In a parting gesture (November 26, 2004), Francis condemned an ad on ABC’s Monday Night Football which featured a risqué situation between a football player and a woman as an “act of moral subversion.” What really rankled him, however, was the fact that the football player was black and the woman was white. His conclusion was that “interracial” sex (rather than mere promiscuity) is the “major weapon of cultural destruction.” But Francis was, after all, an admirer of Nietzsche and an editor of the racial-eugenicist Occidental Quarterly. In conclusion, whatever good Francis might have done was certainly annulled by an atavistic, fringe theorizing that has no relevance to the classic conservative outlook. At any rate, Mr. Francis’s legacy is apt to be a divisive one, if short-lived.

A First Amendment Right to Anonymity?

Orin Kerr reports about such a ruling:

Federal prosecutors have withdrawn a subpoena seeking the identities of thousands of people who bought used books through online retailer Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN), newly unsealed court records show.

The withdrawal came after a judge ruled the customers have a First Amendment right to keep their reading habits from the government.

Lest you think that the feds were merely poking around for the fun of it, read on:

Federal prosecutors issued the subpoena last year as part of a grand jury investigation into a former Madison official who was a prolific seller of used books on Amazon.com. They were looking for buyers who could be witnesses in the case.

The official, Robert D’Angelo, was indicted last month on fraud, money laundering and tax evasion charges. Prosecutors said he ran a used book business out of his city office and did not report the income. He has pleaded not guilty.

D’Angelo sold books through the Amazon Marketplace feature, and buyers paid Amazon, which took a commission.

“We didn’t care about the content of what anybody read. We just wanted to know what these business transactions were,” prosecutor Vaudreuil said Tuesday. “These were simply business records we were seeking to prove the case of fraud and tax crimes against Mr. D’Angelo.”

Orin’s comment:

I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a First Amendment right to anonymity trumping a grand jury subpoena obtained in a criminal case. The general rule is that if the grand jury issues a subpoena, there’s no third party right to assert a First Amendment interest of others against the grand jury subpoena.

I agree with Orin. In my post, “Privacy: Variations on the Theme of Liberty,” I say:

It is sometimes necessary for government to intrude on privacy for the sake of liberty. If, for example, the punishment of crime fosters the security of life, limb, and property by deterring yet more crime, then liberty is served by certain types of governmental intrusion on privacy (e.g., searches of private property, questioning of suspects and witnesses, and compulsion of testimony in criminal cases).

Those who rush to defend privacy at all costs have put privacy ahead of liberty on their scale of values. (Anarcho-libertarians do much the same thing when they treat the non-aggression principle as the be-all-and-end-all of libertarianism.)

Privacy is important. It is, as I say in “Privacy: Variations on the Theme of Liberty,”

one among many values that liberty should serve. An individual’s desire for privacy is as legitimate as a desire for, say, a Lamborghini, a full head of hair, and perpetual youth. Seriously, privacy is a legitimate pursuit, yet (like a Lamborghini) it cannot an absolute right. For — as I have argued elsewhere — if privacy were an absolute right, it would be possible to get away with murder in one’s home simply by committing murder there.

The judge in the D’Angelo case hasn’t abetted murder, but he may be abetting tax evasion. Thanks a lot, judge.

The Fear of Consequentialism

I like to revisit old issues from time to time. This is one of those times. I have changed the name of the blogger whom I quote throughout this post because the issue isn’t personal, and I don’t want to it to seem personal. I am merely drawing on an old exchange of views for the purpose of expounding on the concept of “natural rights” and its opposite in libertarian theory, which is consequentialism. I enclose “natural rights” in quotation marks because I find the concept invalid, for reasons detailed here.

More than three years ago, Rand (as I will call blogger X), in a post that responds (in part) to a post of mine, wrote the following:

I don’t like consequentialism, because it’s usually an excuse for exchanging principles for popularity. Deducing one’s way from principles of human nature gives a grounding for any policy—that’s the great thing about natural rights theory. But drawing one’s policy conclusions from the opposite pole—from “consequentialism”—means looking to “social welfare” as one’s standard of value, rather than individual welfare. And “social welfare” is practically impossible to measure,… so that one’s consequentialism could easily be a license for any silly thing.

I have two problems with Rand’s dismissal of consequentialism. The first problem is his reliance on “principles of human nature” or “natural rights.” The second problem is his dismissal of consequentialism by invoking “social welfare.”

Before I address the two problems, I should say a bit about the underlying issues, which are captured in these questions:

  • Is liberty justified because it enables us to exercise our “natural rights,” or is it justified because it produces better outcomes (consequences)?
  • If the former, what makes “natural rights” natural (i.e., innate in the human condition), what rights are comprised in “natural rights,” and whose judgment delineates “natural rights”?
  • If the latter, what outcomes are made better, for whom, and in whose judgment?

I believe that liberty is justified by its consequences, and I have given my reasons elsewhere — here, here, and here, for example. But I am compelled to give them again, in different words (with the same result).

What does it matter how liberty is justified? Liberty is liberty, right? Wrong. The “natural rights” theory opens the door to abuses of liberty. Consider, for example, the following passages from Mortimer Adler’s “Natural Needs = Natural Rights“:

But what is a moral right as contradistinguished from a legal right? It is obvious at once that it must be a right that exists without being created by positive law or social custom. What is not the product of legal or social conventions must be a creation of nature, or to state the matter more precisely, it must have its being in the nature of men. Moral rights are natural rights, rights inherent in man’s common or specific nature, just as his natural desires or needs are. Such rights, being antecedent to society and government, may be recognized and enforced by society or they may be transgressed and violated, but they are inalienable in the sense that, not being the gift of legal enactment, they cannot be taken away or annulled by acts of government.

The critical point to observe is that natural rights are correlative with natural needs. I said a moment ago that where one individual has an obligation — legal or moral — to another, it must be in virtue of some right — legal or moral — possessed by that other. There is a deeper and more significant connection between rights and obligations, but one that obtains only in the case of moral rights and moral obligations. I do not have any moral rights vis-a-vis others unless I also have, for each moral right that I claim, a moral obligation to discharge in the sphere of my own private life. Every moral right of mine that imposes a moral duty upon others is inseparable from a moral duty imposed upon me.

For example, if I have a moral — or natural — right to a decent livelihood, that can be the case only because wealth, to a degree that includes amenities as well as bare necessities, is a real good, part of the totum bonum, and thus indispensable to a good life. The fact that it is a real good, together with the fact that I am morally obliged to seek it as part of my moral obligation to make a good life for myself, is inseparable from the fact that I have a natural right to a decent livelihood….

Our basic natural right to the pursuit of happiness, and all the subsidiary rights that it encompasses, impose moral obligations on organized society and its institutions as well as upon other individuals. If another individual is unjust when he does not respect our rights, and so injures us by interfering with or impeding our pursuit of happiness, the institutions of organized society, its laws, and its government, are similarly unjust when they deprive individuals of their natural rights.

Just governments, it has been correctly declared, are instituted to secure these rights. I interpret that statement as going further than the negative injunction not to violate the natural rights of the individual, or deprive him of the things he needs to make a good life for himself. It imposes upon organized society and its government the positive obligation to secure the natural rights of its individuals by doing everything it can to aid and abet them in their efforts to make good lives for themselves — especially helping them to get things they need that are not within their power to get for themselves [emphasis added].

Adler openly admits the essential (if unintended) nature of the “natural rights” doctrine. It is open-ended. In the wrong hands, it becomes an excuse to take from the more-productive members of a society and give to the less-productive members of a society by claiming that there is a “natural right” to a certain level of income — which must be determined arbitrarily, by those who claim that there is such a right. (How convenient.) Worse, perhaps, is that the notion of “natural rights” can justify the unfettered pursuit of “natural desires,” without regard for the cumulative effect of such pursuits on the moral fiber of society.

Do libertarian adherents of “natural rights” really believe that it makes no difference whether they live in a confiscatory and debauched society or in a society that eschews confiscation and debauchery? I doubt it.

We are all consequentialists, at heart. Some of us just like to play with the idea of “natural rights,” in the manner of children who play with matches.

Let us now consider this question:

Are “Natural Rights” Natural?

According to Rand (blogger X), “A right is a moral claim based on the nature of human beings….” But the nature of human beings is complex; there are many “principles” of human nature, aggressiveness being among them. In order to have a conception of rights that is founded on human nature (i.e., natural rights), one must first decide which of the “principles” of human nature one is willing to countenance. It is one thing to assert that we have natural rights; it is another thing, entirely, to reach agreement about what those rights include. Some proponents of natural rights would, for example, have those rights include the right to steal from others, via the state (“for the general welfare,” “for the public good,” “to eradicate poverty,” etc.). Libertarian proponents of natural rights would deny that natural rights encompass legalized theft. In sum, there is nothing “natural” about natural rights.

Rand effectively concedes that point, when he writes:

Our natural rights and our liberty derive from nature, more specifically, from our nature as human beings.

The link leads to the Declaration of Independence, which contains one relevant passage:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Rand is an ostentatious atheist, who proudly displays this link at the top of his sidebar. When he relies on a political document (which the Declaration of Independence is) to back up his claim that rights (which ones?) are innate in human beings, and when he ignores the plain words of that document, which attribute those rights to a Creator, it is evident that the concept of “natural rights” is arbitrary (i.e., not natural).

If the concept of “natural rights” is not arbitrary, why must Rand spend so much time (as he has) explaining to others why such-and-such is or isn’t a “natural right.” This strikes me as priestly behavior. It certainly belies the naturalness of “natural rights.”

Breathing is natural, in that it is in our nature to breathe in order to live. But that does not rule out suicide, murder, death at the hands of someone acting in self-defense, death by “natural causes,” or anything else that causes the cessation of breathing and life. In sum, breathing is natural, but it is not a “natural right.” Given that, what can be an unqualified “natural right”?

The answer is “nothing,” as explained as Jonathan Wallace explains so well in “Natural Rights Don’t Exist.” This passage captures the essence of Wallace’s long argument (which you should read):

We believe there is a natural right to do anything which we think should be permitted (or mandated) under a human rulebook. Anything which should be forbidden under a human rulebook therefore cannot be a natural right, even if it is physically possible and can be justified by the same arguments used to support the idea of natural rights.

Is There Anything Natural about Rights?

Something that is natural — in the sense that it can arise spontaneously from within us — but which is by no means universal, is the Golden Rule. This is from my post, “The Source of Rights” (September 6, 2006):

Stephan Kinsella of Mises Economics Blog, in a pugnacious and meandering post, finally gets around to naming the source of rights, as he sees it. That source is empathy, which is:

1. Identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives. See Synonyms at pity.
2. The attribution of one’s own feelings to an object.

Empathy has something to do with it. But my view is that rights arise from self-interest, best expressed as the Golden Rule….

The Golden Rule implies empathy; that is, the validity of the Golden Rule hinges on the view that others have the same feelings as oneself. But the Golden Rule also encapsulates a lesson learned over the eons of human coexistence. That lesson? If I desist from harming others, they (for the most part) will desist from harming me. (There’s the self-interest.) The exceptions usually are dealt with by codifying the myriad instances of the Golden Rule (e.g., do not steal, do not kill) and then enforcing those instances through communal action (i.e., justice and defense).

The lesson here is three-fold:

  • Rights are “natural,” but not in the sense that they are somehow innate in humans. Rather, rights are natural in the sense that they arise from a nearly universal sense of empathy and an experiential belief in the value of mutual forbearance.
  • Those “natural rights” have no force or effect unless they are generally recognized and enforced through communal action.
  • Rights may therefore vary from place to place and time to time, according to the mores of the community in which they are recognized and enforced.

That is the natural explanation for rights. They are not universals floating in the air, waiting to be grasped by a priestly caste and handed down to the rest of us (like Kant’s categorical imperative, in its various incarnations). Rights simply are the best bargains that we can make with each other about behavioral norms, to the extent that we have the political freedom to make such bargains. Those bargains will be honored by the unempathic and predatory among us only as the rest of us are able to force them to do so.

The rights that arise from the Golden Rule are bound to have much in common across disparate groups because they arise from the human traits of empathy and self-interestedness. But they are not bound to be identical across disparate groups because of divergences in social evolution.

Rand would now (as he has) resort to a last-ditch defense of “natural rights” by asking this:

If a woman is raped in a forest and nobody hears, are her rights being violated?

Now, there’s a lawyerly question for you. It’s designed to elicit embarrassed agreement. The casual reader will see “woman is raped” and think “of course her rights are being violated” and “I wouldn’t want it to happen to me/my wife/my sister/my mother, etc.” What we have here is evidence of the prevalence of empathy and self-interestedness as human traits, not proof of the immanence of rights. The proper answer to Rand’s question isn’t “yes” or “no”; it is this: Almost everyone — but, unfortunately, not everyone — would condemn the rapist for having done something wrong.

To test the robustness of Rand’s technique for identifying “rights” — which is to posit a “right” in opposition to an instance of repulsive behavior — I pose this series of questions:

1. If A premeditatedly kills B, have B’s rights been violated?

2. If C kills D in self defense, have D’s rights been violated?

3. What about D’s rights if, in retrospect, an investigator concludes (by trying to put himself in C’s shoes) that C could have defended himself without killing D?

4. If the state electrocutes A for having premeditatedly killed B, has the state violated A’s “natural rights”?

5. If the state punishes C for having killed D unnecessarily, has the state violated C’s “natural rights” by relying on an investigator’s after-the-fact judgment instead of C’s contemporaneous judgment?

6. If E procures an abortion, have the rights of her fetus (F) been violated?

7. If E kills her infant (G) upon its birth, has she violated G’s rights? What if she waits until G is, say two years old?

8. If the answer to question 6 is “no,” and the answer to at least one part of question 7 is “yes,” when and how does a fetus/child acquire rights?

9. With respect to question 8, who makes the judgment as to when and how a fetus/child acquires rights?

10. Even if the answer to question 6 is “no,” doesn’t the legalization of abortion jeopardize the rights of others by fostering, say, involuntary euthanasia among the conscious, but infirm, elderly persons?

11. H, who lives in squalor and abject poverty, makes far less money than I. Does H have a right to steal from I in order to ameliorate his (H’s) lot?

12. If H doesn’t have a right to steal from I, does the state violate I’s “natural rights” by taxing I in order to ameliorate H’s lot?

Reasonable persons will disagree reasonably about the answers to many of those questions. Which leads me to another series of questions: Would Rand’s answers be superior to the answers of other reasonable persons? In other words, who decides when rights have been violated, and on what basis are such decisions made? Is Rand the sole judge of what constitutes a right, and whether it is a “natural right” or some other kind of right? Does he have, somewhere, a list of rights that we can consult and, having consulted it, make unanimous judgments about the answers to all twelve questions (and others like them)? How did Rand obtain his list? Did he inspect his “human nature” and find written on it a list of “natural rights” and a guide for determining what is or isn’t a right? Or did he make some (undoubtedly reasonable) judgments about what ought to be rights, just as others do (with differing results)? Or, if is he borrowing from others who have made such judgments, how did they arrive at their judgments?

Don’t get me wrong about the role of the state in all of this. I agree wholeheartedly with Rand when he says that “rights exist before the state enforces them.” As I have said before (here, for example),

rights do not necessarily depend on the existence of a state, but do arise from politics because politics “is the process and method of decision-making for groups of human beings…[which] is observed in all human group interactions….” And those “group interactions” began long before the creation of a state.

Therefore, I now return to Rand’s question and restate it in a way that is consistent with human nature and human behavior:

If a woman is raped in a forest and nobody hears her, does she feel harmed? Would other persons, upon learning of the rape, generally agree that she was harmed? Would enough such persons concert to (a) exact justice on the victim’s behalf and (b) ensure (to the extent possible) against the rape of any other person within the territory over which they can exert control?

In sum, rights — when properly understood as man-made bargains — are consequentialist to their core, arising as they do (in part) from empathy and (in part) from self-interestedness.

Consequentialism Is about Norms, Not “Social Welfare”

I turn now to Rand’s dismissal of consequentialism, a dismissal that is justified because (in his view) consequentialism depends on the concept of “social welfare.” That concept (in this context) is a red herring. Consequentialism does not depend on “social welfare” because it cannot do so; there is no such thing as “social welfare.” (See this, for example.) “Social welfare” is not “practically impossible to measure,” as Rand says in the first quotation above; as a nullity, it is impossible to measure.

I am perfectly willing to admit the arbitrariness of consequentialism; arbitrariness in the classification of rights is unavoidable. The best one can hope for is a systematic and generally accepted kind of arbitrariness that tends to limit the harm that predators and parasites do to the rest of us.

In its simplest form, such a system operates like this:

  • A, B, and C — knowing that each of them has different notions of acceptable behavior toward others — agree that murder (among other things) is a forbidden activity, and that one may not murder another except in self-defense. (They further agree as to the ways and means of enforcing their prohibition of murder, of course.)
  • That is liberty, for it enables each of them … to “pursue happiness” within their respective means.

But…

What if A and B agree, honorably, not to kill each other, whereas C “leaves his options open”? It then behooves A and B to reach a further agreement, which is that they will defend each other against C. (This is analogous to the decision of the original States to adopt the Constitution because it bound each of them to provide men, matériel, and money for the defense of all of them.) A and B therefore agree to live in liberty (the liberty of self-restraint and mutual defense), whereas C stands outside that agreement. He has forfeited the liberty of self-restraint and mutual self-defense. How so? A and B, knowing that C has “left his options open,” might honorably kill or imprison C when they have good reason to believe that C is planning to kill them or acquire the means to kill them.

In sum, there can be no system makes everyone happy (unless you believe, foolishly, that everyone is of good will). Try to imagine, for example, a metric by which C’s happiness (if he succeeds in his predatory scheme) would offset A and B’s unhappiness (were C successful).

The inescapable fact is that someone must define and enforce norms that rest on consequences (or perceived consequences) of certain behavior. The big questions, as always, are these: Who defines and enforces the norms, and how (if at all) are the deciders and the enforcers constrained in what they do?

Jonathan Wallace says this in “Natural Rights Don’t Exist“:

I prefer this freedom, which seems to me simple and clear: we are all at a table together, deciding which rules to adopt, free from any vague constraints, half-remembered myths, anonymous patriarchal texts and murky concepts of nature. If I propose something you do not like, tell me why it is not practical, or harms somebody, or is counter to some other useful rule; but don’t tell me it offends the universe.

Were that life so simple.

There are, in fact, four basic possibilities (which I explore in “A Political Compass: Locating the United States“), anarchy, libertarianism, communitarianism, and statism:

According to anarchists (or anarcho-libertarians, as I call them), an individual’s freedom of action should be limited only by (a) voluntary observance of social norms and (b) contracts (enforced by third parties) that bind the members of a group to observe certain restraints and to pay certain penalties for failing to observe those restraints….

Rights and liberty, it must be understood, are not Platonic abstractions; they are, rather, social phenomena. They are the best “deal” we can make with those around us — the set of compromises that define acceptable behavior, which is the boundary of liberty. Those compromises are not made by a philosopher-king but through an evolving consensus about harms — a consensus that flows from reason, experience, persuasion, and necessity.

Minarchism is true libertarianism because it provides a minimal state for the protection of the lives, liberty, and property of those who adhere to it; a state that otherwise remains neutral with respect to its adherents’ affairs; a state that does not distort the wisdom embedded in tradition, that is, in voluntarily evolved social norms; a state that is nevertheless sufficiently powerful to protect its willing adherents‘ interests from predators, within and without….

Communitarianism is the regulation by the state of private institutions for the purpose of producing certain outcomes desired by controlling élites (e.g., income redistribution, “protection” from learning by our mistakes, “protection” from things deemed harmful by the worrying classes, and “social (or cosmic) justice“). Such outcomes, contrary to their stated purposes, are unwise, inefficient, and harmful to their intended beneficiaries….

[S]tatism…is outright state control of most social and economic institutions….

Statism may be reached either as an extension of communitarianism or via post-statist anarchy or near-anarchy, as in Stalin’s Russia, Hitler’s Germany, and Mao’s China. We have come to statism via communitarianism, which leads inevitably to statism because the appetite for largesse is insatiable, as is the desire (in certain circles) to foster “social (or cosmic) justice.”

None of the four systems rests on the concept of “social welfare,” regardless of its proponents’ claims. Each system simply offers a different way of defining and enforcing behavioral norms within a polity. Each, in its own way, is consequential. It’s all a matter of consequences for whom.

Related posts:
The Origin and Essence of Rights
A Footnote to My Theory of Rights
The Source of Rights

Where I Stand…

…on the “World’s Smallest Political Quiz.” I am glad to report that I have advanced from the reflexive libertarianism to which I adhered in the early days of this blog. Thus:

ACCORDING TO YOUR ANSWERS,

You fall exactly on the border

of two political philosophies

.

CONSERVATIVE

LIBERTARIAN

CONSERVATIVES tend to favor economic freedom, but frequently

support laws to restrict personal behavior that violates “traditional
values.” They oppose excessive government control of business,

while endorsing government action to defend morality and the

traditional family structure. Conservatives usually support a strong

military, oppose bureaucracy and high taxes, favor a free-market

economy, and endorse strong law enforcement.

LIBERTARIANS support maximum liberty in both personal

and economic matters. They advocate a much smaller government;

one that is limited to protecting individuals from coercion

and violence. Libertarians tend to embrace individual

responsibility, oppose government bureaucracy and taxes,

promote private charity, tolerate diverse lifestyles, support the

free market, and defend civil liberties.

The RED DOT on the Chart shows where you fit on the political map.

Your PERSONAL issues Score is 50%.
Your ECONOMIC issues Score is 100%.

Related posts:
Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?
Does the Libertarian-Conservative Fusion Have a Future?
Libertarianism and Conservatism
Where Conservatism and (Sensible) Libertarianism Come Together
Common Ground for Conservatives and Libertarians?
Social Norms and Liberty
The Nexus of Conservatism and Libertarianism
The Political Case for Traditional Morality

Schrödinger’s Cat Returns

Physicist Erwin Schrödinger devised a thought experiment known as Schrödinger’s cat:

It attempts to illustrate what he saw as the problems of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics when it is applied to systems large enough to be seen with the naked eye, and not just to atomic or subatomic systems.

It is accepted that a subatomic particle can exist in a superposition of states, a combination of possible states. According to the Copenhagen Interpretation, the superposition only settles into a definite state upon observation. This is known as collapse or measurement.

Schrödinger proposed his “cat”, after a suggestion of Albert Einstein‘s. Schrödinger states that if a scenario existed where a cat’s state of life or death could be made dependent on the state of a subatomic particle, and also isolated from any possible observation, the state of the cat itself would be a quantum superposition — according to the Copenhagen interpretation, at least.

Schrödinger did not wish to promote the idea of dead-and-alive cats as a serious possibility. Rather he believed the “absurd” conclusion indicated a flawed assumption.

The thought experiment serves to illustrate the strangeness of quantum mechanics and the mathematics necessary to describe quantum states.

We now read this:

Astronomers may have unwittingly hastened the end of the Universe by simply looking at it, according to a theory reported in the latest edition of New Scientist….

[C]osmologists have discovered that the Universe is still expanding.

And, they believe, a strange, yet-to-be-detected form of energy called dark energy pervades the universe, which would explain why the sum of all the visible sources of energy fall way short of what should be out there.

Dark energy, goes the thinking, is a result of the Big Bang and is accelerating the universe’s expansion.

If so, the universe is not in a nice, stable zero-vacuum state but simply [in a] state that may abruptly…again – and with cataclysmic consequences.

The energy shift from the decay would destroy everything in the universe, “wiping the slate clean,” says Lawrence Krauss of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

The good news is: the longer the universe survives, the better the chance that it will mature into a stable state. We are just beyond the crucial switching point, Mr. Krauss believed.

The bad news is: the quantum effect, a truly weird aspect of physics that says whenever we observe or measure something, we reset its clock.

Mr. Krauss and colleague James Dent pointed to measurements of light from supernovae in 1998 that provided the first evidence of dark energy.

These measurements might have reset the decay clock of the “false vacuum” back to zero, back before the switching point and to a time when the risk of catastrophic decay was greater than now, said Mr. Dent and Mr. Krauss.

“Incredible as it seems, our detection of the dark energy may have reduced the life expectancy of the universe,” said Mr. Krauss.

“We may have snatched away the possibility of long-term survival for our universe and made it more likely it will decay.”

The report says the claim is contested by other astrophysicists and adds reassuringly: “The fact that we are still here means this can’t have happened yet.”

And it ain’t gonna happen. My money is on Schrödinger.

The "Southern Strategy"

Paul Krugman claims that

the political successes of the G.O.P. since it was taken over by movement conservatives, …had very little to do with public opposition to taxes, moral values, perceived strength on national security, or any of the other explanations usually offered. To an almost embarrassing extent, they all come down to just five words: southern whites starting voting Republican.

Barry Goldwater, the Republican Party’s “loss leader” in 1964 wasn’t a “movement conservative”? Anyway, Krugman’s charge is answered here (by Matt Yglesias), here (by Edward Glaeser), and here and here (by Ross Douthat). Among many telling points Douthat makes in the last-linked item is this one:

Southern whites were, and are, natural conservatives who happened to find themselves in the more liberal of the two parties; once Democrats associated themselves with the civil-rights movement, there wasn’t anywhere else for white Mississippians and Alabamans to go except the GOP.

There’s much more — in all of the linked items — and all of it is compelling (and not forgiving of GOP race-baiting, to the extent that it occurred).

My purpose here isn’t to rehash Yglesias, Glaeser, and Douthat, but to tell the tale of the numbers. Specifically, I look at the share of popular votes garnered by GOP presidential candidates in the 11 States of the former Confederacy, in relation to the GOP candidates’ shares of the national popular vote. For example, the GOP candidate in 1944 (Thomas E. Dewey) garnered 17 percent of the popular vote in Texas; Dewey’s nationwide popular-vote share in that election was 46 percent. The index for the Texas vote for 1944 is therefore 0.37 (17 percent divided by 46 percent).

Here are the maximum, minimum, and median values for the 11 States, from the election of 1896 through the election of 2004:

As Reconstruction ended in the South, Democrats gradually reasserted political control and began to suppress the black vote, which had been heavily Republican. The suppression of the black vote was, by 1904, as complete as it would be, and the median value of 0.46 reflects that. (The dip in 1912 reflects the siphoning of GOP votes by Teddy Roosevelt’s potent third-party candidacy, which relegated the GOP to an ignominious third place in the popular and electoral vote counts.)

The median value remained at or below 50 percent through 1948, with the exception of 1928, when the Democrat candidate was Al Smith, a Roman Catholic. (The pro-GOP spike in 1928 suggests that about half of the South’s Democrats defected because of Smith’s Catholicism.) The noticeable dip from 1932 through 1944 points to the vein of Southern populism that was exploited by Democrats’ anti-capitalist rhetoric. (See, for example, this post about FDR and this Wikipedia entry about Louisiana’s Huey Long.)

Southern voters began to abandon the Democrat Party in 1948, when Strom Thurmond ran under the banner of the “Dixiecrat” Party. That party (formally, the States’ Rights Democratic Party) arose in response to the national party’s adoption of an anti-segregation plank at its convention. Thurmond was on the ballot in 17 States, but most of his support came from the 11 former Confederate States. He garnered only 2.4 percent of the popular vote, nationwide, but carried four Southern States — Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina. Thurmond’s victories there, and his good showing in several other Southern States, came at the expense of the Democrat Party’s nominee, Harry Truman, and do not show up as a gain for the GOP in 1948.

Having nowhere else to turn in 1952, many Southern Democrats defected to the GOP, and continued to do so in 1960, when the Democrat Party chose John F. Kennedy (a Catholic in name) as its presidential candidate.

Before you conclude that the GOP is strong in today’s South because of the events of 1948 and 1960, consider these points:

1.What Krugman conveniently ignores in his anti-Republican screed is the South’s long embrace of the Democrat Party, for blatantly racial reasons. Democrats Woodrow Wilson and FDR — who held the presidency for 20 of the first 45 years of the twentieth century — enjoyed strong support in the South and were, therefore, segregationist in their policies. Southern Democrats disproportionately voted for FDR and his New Deal, about which Krugman’s only complaint could be that it wasn’t socialistic (or fascistic) enough.

2. The South’s defection to the GOP peaked in 1964, the year of Barry Goldwater’s inglorious defeat — another “lost cause” for the South. Goldwater, who was anything but a segregationist, simply had strong views about the proper role of the federal government in relation to the States, namely, that it should butt out of the affairs of individuals and businesses. Such views were then more widely embraced in the South than in the North, and had as much to do with the South’s Jeffersonian tradition as with racial segregation.

3. The GOP’s grip on the South has, if anything, weakened since 1964. Whatever Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan might have done to woo Southern voters did not cause those voters to flock to the Republican Party. Barry Goldwater’s conservatism caused that.

4. What about the sharp drop in Southern support for the GOP in 1968? That drop coincides with George Wallace‘s segregationist, third-party candidacy in 1968. Krugman would say: “Aha! That defection, and the GOP’s recovery from it in 1972 (when Wallace was out of the picture), demonstrates that the GOP depends (or depended) heavily on the Southern racist vote.” Not so fast, Paul: Southern Democrats defected to George Wallace in 1968 at the same rate as Southern Republicans.

5. Why was it legitimate for a super-majority of white Southerners to support the New Deal out of desperation, but illegitimate for many of them (and their children) to turn, years later, to a party more in tune with their conservative inclinations? The South merely has become the North in reverse: strongly Republican (as the North is strongly Democrat) for reasons of ideology, not of race. On that point, here is a harder-to-read but more accurate depiction of the South’s attachment (or lack thereof) to the Republican Party:

In sum, it is plain that the South’s attachment to the GOP since 1964, whatever its racial content, is much weaker than was the South’s attachment to the Democrat Party until 1948, when there was no question that that attachment had a strong (perhaps dominant) racial component.

Krugman’s condemnation of racial politics in a major political party comes 60 years too late, and it’s aimed at the wrong party.

Case closed.

* * *
Krugman’s real complaint, of course, is that Republicans have been winning elections far too often to suit him. His case of Republican Derangement Syndrome is so severe that he can only pin the GOP’s success on racism. I will refrain from references to Freud and Pinocchio and note only that Krugman’s anti-GOP bias seems to have grown as his grasp of economics has shrunk:

Krugman and DeLong: A Prevaricating Pair
Professor Krugman Flunks Economics
Paul Krugman, an Inspiration to Us All
Social Security: Myth and Reality
The Last(?) Word about Income Inequality
Krugman and Monopoly
Rich Voter, Poor Voter: Revisited
Setting the Record Straight about Paul Krugman’s “Who Was Milton Friedman?”
Krugman vs. Krugman

Election 2008: Second Forecast

My eighth forecast is here.

REVISED, 5:05 PM, 11/18/07

The Presidency – Method 1

Intrade posts odds on which party’s nominee will win in each State and, therefore, take each State’s electoral votes. I assign all of a State’s electoral votes to the party that is expected to win that State. Where the odds are 50-50, I split the State’s electoral votes between the two parties.

As of today, the odds point to this result:

Democrat, 302 electoral votes

Republican, 236 electoral votes

(No change since the first forecast, 11/16/07.)

The Presidency – Method 2

I have devised a “secret formula” for estimating the share of electoral votes cast for the winner of the presidential election. (No, it’s not “method 3,” described here.) The formula is based on the 35 presidential elections from 1868 through 2004. The standard error of the estimate is 3.6 percentage points, as against the winner’s average share for the 35 elections, which is 71.7 percent. Here’s how formula-based estimates for the 35 elections compare with the actual results of those elections:

The only “wrong” pick is the one for the election of 1876, which was decided even more crookedly than the 1960 election (see below).

The largest errors (greater than 5 percentage points) occur in these seven instances:

  • McKinley’s re-election in 1900 — EV share underestimated by 8.2 percentage points, that is, by 37 EVs.
  • T. Roosevelt’s election in 1904, after having become president following McKinley’s assassination in 1900 — Share overestimated by 5.3 percentage points, 25 EVs.
  • FDR’s re-election in 1940 — Share underestimated by 5.1 percentage points, 27 EVs.
  • Truman’s election in 1948, after having become president following FDR’s death in 1945 — Share overestimated by 5.7 percentage points, 30 EVs.
  • Kennedy’s election in 1960 — Share underestimated by 5.6 percentage points, 30 EVs. (Illinois, thanks to Chicago’s mayor, Richard Daley, delivered its 27 EVs to Kennedy. Otherwise, the legitimate outcome, 276 EVs for JFK, would have been uncannily close to my estimate of 273 EVs for JFK . I assume, perhaps wrongly, that JFK’s narrow win in Texas, with its 24 EVs was owed to LBJ’s ability to pull in votes as JFK’s running mate, not to LBJ’s ability to rig elections.)
  • Reagan’s initial election in 1980 — Share underestimated by 8.1 percentage points, 44 EVs.
  • G.W. Bush’s re-election in 2004 — Share overestimated by 6.1 percentage points, 33 EVs. (By the way, I chose to use a model that’s wide of the mark in 2004, for the sake of getting a better fit across the board. It bothered me, at first, to show a bad estimate at the right-hand edge of the graph, where it looms so obviously. But a statistical model should be chosen for how well it fits all of the observations on which it’s based, not just the outliers — statistical or graphical.)

My formula currently yields these estimates of the outcome of next year’s presidential election (CORRECTED, 12/13/07):

Democrat nominee — 241 to 280 EVs

Republican nominee — 258 to 297 EVs

In sum, the prospect of a Democrat victory isn’t as clearcut as method 1 suggests.

Will method 1 or method 2 prove to be the more accurate one? The answer is less than a year away. Stay tuned.

U.S. House and Senate

Later.

* * *

How did I do in 2004? See this and this.

"The War": Final Grade

See this, this, and this for my reactions to the first six episodes of Ken Burns’s The War.

REVISED, 11/17/07

Having now seen the seventh and final episode of The War, I give the series a grade of “D”; it escapes an “F” only for its willingness to say, hesitantly, that

  • World War II was, for the United States, a necessary war because of the nature of the enemy. It was, therefore, worth its cost in lives, limbs, and money.
  • It was, in the end, necessary to drop A-bombs on Japan in order to bring the war to avert an invasion of Japan — an invasion that would have cost the lives of millions of Americans and Japanese.

But we already knew those things, didn’t we?

Like episodes two through six, episode seven suffers from viewpoint confusion. The War makes the points I list above, then — time after time — retracts or undermines them. In episode seven, for example, we hear again from the egregious Paul Fussell (see this), who clearly implies that the war wasn’t worth fighting until the Holocaust came to light, late in the war.

And there is the insistence on presenting “balanced” reactions to the dropping of A-bombs on Japan. One of the “witnesses” who appears throughout the series staunchly defends the act. Another notes its strategic wisdom but still wishes it hadn’t been necessary. But it was necessary — and, really, an act of mercy toward the Japanese as well as to America’s fighting men. Why pander to the nay-sayers, who will go to their graves condemning the act, in spite of its moral necessity?

Burns and company, I fear, simply wanted to make a “blockbuster.” To that end, they chose World War II and the “greatest generation” — subjects guaranteed to elicit sympathy and lull the viewer into agreement with the film’s subtext, which has two main elements.

One element is voiced at the very end of the final episode, in the dedication. It is to those who served in World War II, “that necessary war” (emphasis added), not “a necessary war,” as the first episode has it. The implication is that no later war was or is necessary — certainly not the present one.

The second element of the subtext reinforces the first one, and it is less subtle. That second element is The War‘s insistence on playing up America’s moral failings (as discussed above and in my second and third reactions to The War). The intended message is that because of our moral failings, and because war is hell, World War II was barely worth fighting, although it seemed necessary at the time (even to the Left). Therefore, given the murkiness of our present cause — as proclaimed loudly by the Leftists who have come to dominate the media and academe — the war in Iraq (and perhaps the war on terror) is unjustified because America remains morally imperfect and war remains hellish. The Left proclaims an act of war against anyone but Hitler (not a Hitler, the Hitler) to be an act of hypocrisy and brutality by a morally imperfect nation.

That is Metaethical Moral Relativism (MMR), about which I have written:

It treats different groups as if they had different moral imperatives. By and large, they do not; most groups (or, more exactly, most of their members) have the same moral imperative: The Golden Rule.

There are, of course, groups that seldom if ever observe The Golden Rule. Such groups are ruled by force and fear, and they deny voice and exit to their members. The rulers of such groups are illegitimate because they systematically try to suppress observance of The Golden Rule, which is deep-seated in human nature. Other groups may therefore justly seek to oust and punish those despotic rulers.

I go on to point out that MMR, these days, seems to take this form:

The United States is imperfect. It is, therefore, no better than its enemies.

Such is the relativism we see in those who excuse despotic, murderous regimes and movements because “we asked for it” or “we are no better than they are” or “war is never the answer” or “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” or “terrorists deserve the protections of the Geneva Convention.” That kind of relativism empowers the very despots and terrorists whose existence is an affront to The Golden Rule.

The War is a barely redeemed exercise in Metaethical Moral Relativism. I say that only because its subtext may escape many viewers who are not of the Left. As for the Left, it had embraced MMR long before The War appeared on PBS; The War merely affirms

the American Left’s long-standing allegiance to anti-defense, anti-war dogmas, under which lies the post-patriotic attitude that America is nothing special, just another place to live.

Related posts:
Shall We All Hang Separately?
Foxhole Rats
Foxhole Rats, Redux
The Faces of Appeasement
We Have Met the Enemy . . .
Whose Liberties Are We Fighting For?
Words for the Unwise
More Foxhole Rats
Post-Americans and Their Progeny
Anti-Bush or Pro-Treason?
Com-Patriotism and Anti-Patriotic Acts
Depressing but True
Katie Couric: Post-American

Election 2008: First Forecast

My eighth forecast is here.

The Presidency

Intrade posts odds on which party’s nominee will win in each State and, therefore, take each State’s electoral votes. I assign all of a State’s electoral votes to the party that is expected to win that State. Where the odds are 50-50, I split the State’s electoral votes between the two parties.

As of today, the odds point to this result: Democrat, 302 electoral votes; Republican, 236 electoral votes.

U.S. House and Senate

Later.

* * *
How did I do last year? See this and this.

Dig This

The trailer for Indoctrinate U, a film about the suppression of speech on today’s campuses.

Academia has been quick to validate the film’s message. This is from the producers of Indoctrinate U:

Due to a threatened lawsuit from a major taxpayer-funded university, the Indoctrinate U homepage has been taken down temporarily. On The Fence Films LLC is deciding how best to proceed, and we will not be commenting on anything until after our final response has been executed.

Don’t worry, though, this will not derail the film.

One can only hope.

"The War": A Third Reaction

My first and second reactions.

I write this post after having watched the first six episodes of Ken Burns’s The War. I will not repeat what I’ve already said; it still applies.

I focus here on the fifth episode because it features three new themes. The first:

“No plan survives contact with the enemy.” –Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke (1800-91)

That’s a reasonable observation, especially given its source. But the fifth episode of The War, after making that observation (in slightly different words and with the wrong attribution), goes on to conflate it with a second theme about defective leadership. To that end, the episode leans heavily on scenes about a few dunderhead commanders (notably this one) who wasted men’s lives to no good end.

The fact that war is an unpredictable endeavor is a thing entirely apart from the fact that some commanders aren’t fit to lead men in battle. We can thank The War for reminding us that the unpredictability and bad decisions can be part of any war, including a necessary one. But the fifth episode focuses too much on bad leadership, and slights the unpredictability of war and the necessity of working through it to the end, which is victory. It is almost as if the possibility of a few bad leaders coming to the fore should preclude our going to war for any reason.

The idea that war is unconscionable is underscored by a third theme: disgust with the horrors of war, especially as expressed by Eugene Sledge and Paul Fussell. Fussell has become an outspoken critic of the military, and of the war in Iraq. He seems to have forgotten, conveniently, that it can be a necessary thing. In any event, the parts of the fifth episode that focus on the horrors of World War II are unleavened by any clear reference to the necessity of war. They stand on their own, denying the message of the first episode, “A Necessary War.”

The sixth episode, though generally balanced, gives a lot of attention to the fire-bombings that took the lives of so many Japanese and Germans. But the episode glosses over — or misrepresents — the military rationale for those fire-bombings.

I reserve judgment on the entire series, pending the seventh episode. But the trend does not bode well for a good final grade.

Whither the Stock Market?

UPDATED (12/14/07)

I have, for several years, been tracking what is now called the Dow Jones Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index, in particular, the D-J Wilshire 5000 Full Cap, a capitalization-weighted index of U.S. stocks. The index now, and since its inception, has included more than 5,000 stocks, and is reputed to offer the best measure of the overall performance of U.S. stocks, in terms of price. (See this paper about the origin and calculation of the index, and this chart for a broad comparison of the Wilshire 5000 some other U.S. stock indices.)

My spreadsheet on the D-J Wilshire 5000 Full Cap goes back to December 1970, the first month for which the index was calculated. (The official site no longer provides data for the period December 1970 through December 1987.) In addition to tracking the current-dollar value of the index, I have converted it to an inflation-adjusted index by applying the CPI-U (available here, among other places). Here is a picture of the inflation-adjusted index from December 1970 through September 2007 (to enlarge, right-click and select “open in new tab”):

The black line at the left covers the period from December 1970, through the bull-market peak in December 1972, to the bear-market bottom in September 1974. (There was a secondary bottom in July 1982, but its inflation-adjusted value was 49 percent higher than that of the bottom in September 1974.) The green line covers the period from the bear-market bottom in September 1974, through the bull-market peak in March 2000, to the bear-market bottom in September 2002. The black line at the right covers the period from the bear-market bottom in September 2002 to September 2007 (the latest month for which I have the CPI-U).

The regression line fits the entire period, December 1970-September 2007, and indicates real growth in stock prices of 10.4 percent annually. The real rate of price growth from the bottom in September 1974 to the peak in March 2000 was 12.1 percent. But how many investors get in at the bottom and out at the top? A more realistic measure of long-run returns to stock investors during the past 30-odd years is the real rate of price appreciation from the bottom in September 1974 to the bottom in September 2002: 8.5 percent annually. That’s nothing to sneeze at, mind you; patience pays off when it comes to the stock market. (UPDATE: The real rate of return on the index from September 1974 through November 2007 was 9.0 percent, which is almost identical to the exponential trend for the period after removing the “bubble” that began late in 1996 and ended early in 2001. This underscores the idea that it is reasonable to expect something like an 8.5 real rate of return, in the long run.)

In light of the stock market’s recent volatility, which reminds me of the volatility that preceded the crash of 2000-2002, I have had second thoughts about the sustainability of the current bull market. (My first thoughts are here.) The market’s recovery since the bottom in September 2002 has brought it back to the inflation-adjusted peak reached in March 2000. As a result, the market may now be meeting some “resistance” (in addition to other factors that may be roiling it, such as the price of oil, uncertainty about the economy, and uncertainty about interest rates). The resistance, if it is that, would be led by those investors who were in the market at its peak in 2000, and held on through the bottom in 2002. Many of them may now be trying to cash out as they break even (in real terms), especially after having reaped (on average) a real, annual gain of more than 13 percent since the market bottomed five years ago.

If I am right about the import of volatility and the possibility of resistance , the broad market may be headed toward a secondary bottom, one not as deep as the bottom reached in September 2002. Long bull markets often are interrupted by dips (see graph above). (In fact, in the long view, the U.S. stock market has been a bull market since its inception — a bull market punctuated by dips known as crashes. See this table and this graph, for example.) The first dip in the bull market of 1974-2000 began in earnest around November 1980. That dip did not end until 20 months later, when the market reached a secondary bottom in July 1982.

Is it possible that the current bull market reached a temporary peak in May of this year, and is now descending toward a secondary bottom that it will not reach for a few years? Consider the parallels between the market of 1970-1982 and the market of the past nine years:

A reversal that lasts a year or two seems entirely possible to me.

I have only one thing to add: Don’t bail out now, unless you absolutely, positively need the money. I could be wrong about the reversal. In any event, stocks are for the long run.

Related post: “Whither the Stock Market? (II)” (16 Jan 2008)

A Political Compass: Locating the United States

This post builds on “A Political Compass” and its predecessor, “The Inevitability of the Communitarian State, or What’s a Libertarian to Do?” I apply the concept of the political compass to assess, harshly but realistically, our present location. Most of the links herein point to supporting posts at Liberty Corner.

Introduction

The left-right, liberal-conservative taxonomies of the political spectrum are inadequate because they are linear and lacking in subtlety. The political spectrum is more usefully thought of as a compass, with anarchy, libertarianism, communitarianism, and statism as its four main directions.

In the history of the United States, the compass’s needle has swung from a point near libertarianism, through communitarianism, and toward statism.

To change the metaphor, the tide of communitarianism — which began to swell around the turn of the twentieth century — rose inexorably to engulf the United States in the aftermath of the Great Depression and World War II. The tide has continued to rise, slowly and silently engulfing us in statism.

But let us begin with anarchy, the point of the compass that, thankfully, we have not visited.

Anarchy

According to anarchists (or anarcho-libertarians, as I call them), an individual’s freedom of action should be limited only by (a) voluntary observance of social norms and (b) contracts (enforced by third parties) that bind the members of a group to observe certain restraints and to pay certain penalties for failing to observe those restraints. Who keeps the third parties honest? Who arbitrates inter-group disputes in cases where the different groups clearly have different norms, interests, or objectives? What happens when a person or faction within a group or a faction outside any group attains superior force and decides to employ that force in the service of its norms, interests, or objectives. (See this and this for more in that vein.)

Anarchy, in other words, boils down to “might makes right,” even though its adherents would like it to be otherwise.

We in the United States have been spared anarchy. Our founding experience, in fact, held the promise of libertarianism.

Libertarianism

Given the inconsistency of anarchy with liberty (for liberty cannot thrive where might makes right), we turn to the only political arrangement that (if it is nurtured) can assure liberty, namely, minarchy.

Rights and liberty, it must be understood, are not Platonic abstractions; they are, rather, social phenomena. They are the best “deal” we can make with those around us — the set of compromises that define acceptable behavior, which is the boundary of liberty. Those compromises are not made by a philosopher-king but through an evolving consensus about harms — a consensus that flows from reason, experience, persuasion, and necessity.

Minarchism is true libertarianism because it provides a minimal state for the protection of the lives, liberty, and property of those who adhere to it; a state that otherwise remains neutral with respect to its adherents’ affairs; a state that does not distort the wisdom embedded in tradition, that is, in voluntarily evolved social norms; a state that is nevertheless sufficiently powerful to protect its willing adherents‘ interests from predators, within and without.

Minarchy, unlike anarchy, is possible, given sufficient luck and vigilance. As I wrote here,

[t]here must…be an overarching, non-market institution which enables markets to operate efficiently, that is, to reach outcomes that are seen as beneficial by all those willingly operate within markets. The necessary supervening institution is the minimal state (a minarchy) that is vested with enough authority to protect market participants from force and fraud, but not so much authority so as to enable its interference with market outcomes.

Only a wise (and rare) élite can establish such a state. The existence of such an élite — and its success in establishing a lasting minarchy — depends on serendipity, determination, and (yes) even force. That we, in the United States, came close (for a time) to having such a minarchy was due to historical accident (luck). We had just about the right élite at just about the right time, and the élite‘s wisdom managed to prevail for a while.

The dichotomy between anarcho-capitalism and minarchy is a false one. The true dichotomy is between minarchy and warlordism (which follows from anarchy).

That we have moved on to something worse than minarchy is not proof of the superiority of anarcho-capitalism. It is, rather, proof that our luck ran out.

For the 100-plus years between the ratification of the Constitution and the rise of the first Roosevelt, we had something close to minarchy here in the United States: a “night watchman” state of limited powers, standing guard over a collection of quasi-independent States. The people of those States (all of them, since the Civil War) were free — in the world of reality that lies beyond the ken of anarchists — to choose the most amenable State and locality in which to make the best possible “deal” for themselves.

We had nothing to fear but…that the minimal state would exceed its charter and descend into

Communitiarianism

Communitarianism is the regulation by the state of private institutions for the purpose of producing certain outcomes desired by controlling élites (e.g., income redistribution, “protection” from learning by our mistakes, “protection” from things deemed harmful by the worrying classes, and “social (or cosmic) justice“). Such outcomes, contrary to their stated purposes, are unwise, inefficient, and harmful to their intended beneficiaries.

Communitarianism is the stage that we passed through as our “luck ran out.” Which is to say, our vigilance faltered and we succumbed to the ruinous despotism of democracy: the voterenabled substitution of state-imposed and state-endorsed behavioral norms for socially evolved ones — always in the name of “liberality” or “progress.”

The communitarian state simply is too seductive. It co-opts its citizens through progressive corruption: more spending and regulation, to curry favor with certain voting blocs, higher taxes to fund more spending and to perpetuate the regulatory mechanisms of the state; still more taxation, spending, and regulation; and so on.

Each voting bloc insists on sustaining its benefits, and increasing them at every opportunity, for one of three reasons. Many voters actually believe that the largesse of the communitarian state is free to them, and some of them are right (but only for the short run). Other voters know better, but they grab what they can get because others will grab it if they don’t. Then there are those voters (and well-heeled political contributors) who exude noblesse oblige toward the “less fortunate” and “oppressed.” Such voters (and contributors), who now are predominant among the very-to-super rich, view the paying of taxes as a sacred duty (even a privilege), and consider the state a massive charitable and social-leveling organization.

Whatever the motivation for the communitarian state, those who vote for it and those who enable it through their political contributions are profoundly irrational. This irrational, communitarian urge began to dominate American politics with the rise of the first Roosevelt. Our descent into full-blown communitarianism was hastened by the Great Depression, a government-made and government-prolonged tragedy, exploited (then and now) by the proponents of communitarianism and statism.

Statism

We were, for decades, poised on the brink of the abyss of statism, which is outright state control of most social and economic institutions (e.g., medicine, notably but far from exclusively). I have concluded that we have gone over the brink and slid, silently and docilely, into the abyss.

Statism may be reached either as an extension of communitarianism or via post-statist anarchy or near-anarchy, as in Stalin’s Russia, Hitler’s Germany, and Mao’s China. We have come to statism via communitarianism, which leads inevitably to statism because the appetite for largesse is insatiable, as is the desire (in certain circles) to foster “social (or cosmic) justice.”

I was once optimistic that our transition to all-out statism would lead, in turn, to overthrow of statism:

[S]tatism is an easier target for reform than communitarianism. The high price of statism becomes obvious to more voters as more facets of economic and personal behavior are controlled by the state. In other words, statism’s inherent weakness is that it creates more enemies than communitarianism.

That weakness becomes libertarians’ opportunity. Persistent, reasoned eloquence in the cause of liberty may, at last, slow the rise of statism and hasten its rollback. And who knows, perhaps libertarianism will gain adherents as the rollback gains momentum.

My optimism has vanished, as I have come to understand that politicians their enablers (voters and contributors) are profoundly irrational. They prefer statism to liberty, regardless of what they say. They (most of them) mean to be benign, but statism is not benign. Statism may seem benign — as it does to Europeans, for example — but it is dehumanizing, impoverishing, and — at bottom — destructive of the social fabric upon which liberty depends.

Conclusion

Our statism is better-disguised than Europe’s, but it is there, in the insidious, voter-supported machinery of government that has caused us to be so heavily regulated and legislated by so many federal, State, and local agencies. Try to think of an aspect of your life — what you can do, what you can buy, what you can afford to buy, the income you earn as an employer or employee, and so on — that is not dictated by government, either directly or through taxation and regulation. As you think about your life, consider these things:

  • how zoning and building codes affect the cost, location, and specifications of your dwelling
  • how licensing and zoning affect the numbers and types of businesses that offer the goods and services you seek
  • the availability (or non-availability) to you of beneficial drugs because of testing mandates that result in more death and illness, not less
  • limitations on the numbers and types of doctors and other health-care providers from which you can choose
  • where you may smoke (even if the venue is private property)
  • whether or not you may own and carry a firearm with which to defend yourself
  • the security of your property from arbitrary seizure by government
  • the provision of myriad government “social services” (e.g, bike trails and nature preserves for yuppies, hippies, and tree-huggers) for which you have no need but for which you are nevertheless taxed because such services have voting constituencies and politicians who benefit from catering to those constituencies
  • relatedly, the provision of so-called federal money to your State and local governments, which money comes from taxes imposed by the federal government, over which you have even less control than you do of your State and local governments
  • the number, location, and characteristics of highways (which often are built as pork-barrel projects), none of which monitor or restrict the of entry or incompetent, drunk, or cell-phone-using drivers (as could be the case with private highways for selective users who are willing to pay the price to be able to drive sanely and safely)
  • the failure of government to defend you adequately against enemies and likely enemies, foreign and domestic, so that it may fund “social services” and cosset criminals
  • the number of public-utility providers who can serve you, and the rates that they may charge you
  • the persons whom you (or your employer) may hire, fire, and promote — almost regardless of their credentials and performance, and certainly regardless of how they affect your performance (or your employer’s ability to continue your employment)
  • the benefits that you (or your employer) must provide employees, regardless of the effect of such mandates on your ability (or that of your employer) to start or stay in business
  • how much you may contribute to a political campaign, and what may be said on the air about an upcoming election
  • the provision of “government” funding to political campaigns
  • the provision of your tax dollars to “scholars” who scoff at your morality and propound schemes to further regulate and impoverish you
  • whether, how, and where your children must be schooled

The list could go on and on. But you get the idea — I hope.

If you believe in the necessity of the things I have listed, and believe that you are better off because of them, you haven’t been paying attention — or you are an enabler of statism.

A bit of taxation here and a bit of regulation there, and before you know it you are living under the thumb of the state.

Religion and the Inculcation of Morality

Read this, by Maverick Philosopher.

Related posts at Liberty Corner:
Same Old Story, Same Old Song and Dance
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Beware of Irrational Atheism
Religion and Personal Responsibility
Religion and Liberty
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
Science, Logic, and God
Capitalism, Liberty, and Christianity
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
The Big Bang and Atheism
The Universe . . . Four Possibilities
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
Religion as Beneficial Evolutionary Adaptation
A Reminder
Collegiate Crap-ola
A Non-Believer Defends Religion
Evolution as God?

The Bill of Rights and Kelo v. City of New London

REVISED, 11/11/07

I hereby recant my earlier argument that the Bill of Rights was meant, originally, to apply to the States. It is now clear to me that it was meant to apply only to the central government, even though Madison had hoped that the passage of a federal Bill of Rights would cause the States to more jealously safeguard the liberties of their citizens. (On the latter point, see Irving Brant’s The Bill of Rights: Its Origin and Meaning, 1965 edition, pp. 49-50. For more about the history of the Bill of Rights, go here.)

Having recanted, I must now ask whether the Fourteenth Amendment really “incorporatesany of the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights; that is, whether any article of the Bill of Rights properly applies to the States. I am now persuaded that the first eight articles of the Bill of Rights (the First through Eighth Amendments) were meant to apply to the States by the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment.

First, there is Justice Hugo L. Black’s dissent in Adamson v. California; for example:

My study of the historical events that culminated in the Fourteenth Amendment, and the expressions of those who sponsored and favored, as well as those who opposed, its submission and passage persuades me that one of the chief objects that the provisions of the Amendment’s first section, separately and as a whole, were intended to accomplish was to make the Bill of Rights, applicable to the states. [n5] With full knowledge of the import of the Barron decision, the framers and backers of the Fourteenth Amendment proclaimed its purpose to be to overturn the constitutional rule that case had announced. This historical purpose has never received full consideration or exposition in any opinion of this Court interpreting the Amendment.

In construing other constitutional provisions, this Court has almost uniformly followed the precept of Ex parte Bain, 121 U.S. 1, 12, that

It is never to be forgotten that, in the construction of the language of the Constitution . . . , as indeed in all other instances where construction becomes necessary, we are to place ourselves as nearly as possible in the condition of the men who framed that instrument.

See also Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1, 8, 28, 33; Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 U.S. 88, 95, 102; Knowlton v. Moore, 178 U.S. 41, 89, 106; Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 162; Barron v. Baltimore, supra, at 250-251; Cohens v. Virginia, 6 Wheat. 264, 416-420.

Second, there is Richard L. Aynes’s article, “On Misreading John Bingham and the Fourteenth Amendment” (Yale Law Journal, October 1993); for example:

Shortly after the Fourteenth Amendment had been proposed, John Norton Pomeroy authored a treatise entitled An Introduction to the Constitutional Law of the United States. At the time, Pomeroy was Dean of the Law School and Griswold Professor of Political Science at the University of New York. [203]

In this treatise, Pomeroy described the provisions of the first eight amendments as “the immunities and privileges guarded by the Bill of Rights.” [204] He suggested that the generality of the language used in the first eight amendments could be read to indicate the amendments applied to the states as well as to the national government. [205] Pomeroy recognized that Barron v. Baltimore [206] and state cases following it held the first eight amendments applied only to the federal government. [207] He declared this result “an unfortunate one” [208] which called for a remedy. [209] According to Pomeroy “[s]uch a remedy is easy, and the question of its adoption is now pending before the people.” [210] Citing the portion of the Fourteenth Amendment drafted by Bingham–all of Section One but the Citizenship Clause–Pomeroy considered this provision “by far more important” than any other amendment except the Thirteenth Amendment. [211] Echoing Bingham’s views that the Amendment infringed on no right of the states, Pomeroy wrote: [Page 90]

[The Fourteenth Amendment] would give the nation complete power to protect its citizens against local injustice and oppression; a power which it does not now adequately possess, but which, beyond all doubt, should be conferred upon it. Nor would this amendment interfere with any of the rights, privileges, and functions which properly belong to the individual states. [212]

Pomeroy’s publications, like those of Farrar and Paschal, were known nationally. [213] Secretary of State Elihu Root, a student of Pomeroy’s, remembered him as possessing “broad and accurate learning and a powerful and discriminating mind, capable of the most accurate analysis, and a strong sense of proportion.” [214] Pomeroy was an important Republican theoretician who, like Paschal, has been described as a “state-rights nationalist.” [215] Illinois Senator Lyman Trumbull relied on Pomeroy on the issue of voting qualifications in congressional elections. [216] Furthermore, West Point and various other colleges used his treatise as a textbook. [217]

In a contemporary review of Pomeroy’s volume, the Nation praised it as a “statesmanlike” investigation of the Constitution and labelled the author “so impartial a writer.” [218] The Nation endorsed Pomeroy’s view that the Bill of Rights was not as yet enforceable against the states and, consequently, argued that the pending Fourteenth Amendment should be adopted. [219]…

[Representative John Armor] Bingham [principal author of the Fourteenth Amendment] was a respected lawyer and congressman; his reasoning was cogent and consistent; and his view that the Fourteenth Amendment applied the Bill of Rights to the states was widely shared by contemporary politicians and legal scholars. An analysis of the initial judicial interpretations concerning the Fourteenth Amendment reveals that several judges also believed that the Fourteenth Amendment applied the Bill of Rights against the states….

In United States v. Cruikshank, [270] the Court, in an opinion by Justice Waite, held that the Fourteenth Amendment did not apply the Bill of Rights to the states. [271] This was a repudiation of original intent rather than an attempt to apply it.

Indeed, many contemporary observers of the Court’s decisions agreed with this assessment. [272] In 1876, Senator Oliver Morton suggested that the Supreme Court had distorted the intent of the Fourteenth Amendment: “The fourteenth and fifteenth amendments which we supposed broad, ample, and specific, have, I fear, been very much impaired by construction, and one of [Page 100] them in some respects almost destroyed by construction.” [273] Similarly, in 1886 former Congressman and U.S. Senator James Blaine lamented that as a result of Supreme Court decisions:

[T]he Fourteenth Amendment has been deprived in part of the power which Congress no doubt intended to impart to it….

Undoubtedly a large proportion of the members of the Congress, while following the lead of those who constructed the Fourteenth Amendment, sincerely believed that it possessed a far greater scope than judicial inquiry and decision have left to it. [274]…

Although Bingham had his critics, his colleagues in the House of Representatives and the leaders of his party respected him and frequently commended his reasoning ability. Moreover, Bingham’s view that the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applied the Bill of Rights to the states was not “singular.” Many of his contemporaries shared this view, including three highly-regarded legal treatise writers. The first federal courts to apply the Fourteenth Amendment decided cases consistently with Bingham’s position. In fact, as Michael Kent Curtis found, no contemporary source explicitly denied the contention of Bingham and his allies that the Fourteenth Amendment would enforce the Bill of Rights against the states. [296] Immediately after Senator Howard’s speech in the Senate stating that the Bill of Rights constituted a major portion of Fourteenth Amendment privileges and immunities, the Chicago Tribune reported that the caucus of Union Republican Senators agreed to limit debate on the Fourteenth Amendment. This action was taken because the Amendment had “already [been] thoroughly discussed and understood.” [297] Likewise, Governor Reuben E. Fenton of New York urged speedy ratification of the Amendment insisting that its provisions “are understood, appreciated and approved.” [298]

In sum, the first eight amendments to the Constitution, in their entirety, apply to the States. And they do so without resort to the kind of piecemeal “incorporation” that has failed to apply some of the amendments (or portions thereof).

With regard to the Fifth Amendment’s Takings (or Public Use) Clause, the application of which was at issue in Kelo v. City of New London (2005), many libertarians (myself included) were outraged by the Court’s decision to allow the seizure of private property for the benefit of private parties. My view, at the time, was that the Fifth Amendment (in toto) applies to the States because it was meant to at the time of its adoption (along with the rest of the Bill of Rights). That the Fifth Amendment actually applies because of the intent of the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment (as discussed above), does nothing to alleviate my outrage at the Kelo Court’s action. The Court’s 5-4 majority found for the city and against the persons (Susette Kelo et al.) whose property had been seized. In doing so, the pro-government majority (led by Justice John Paul Stevens) applied dubious precedent:

This Court’s authority…extends only to determining whether the City’s proposed condemnations are for a “public use” within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment to the Federal Constitution. Because over a century of our case law interpreting that provision dictates an affirmative answer to that question, we may not grant petitioners the relief that they seek.

The majority opinion is a transparently statist and unconstitutional screed. As Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in dissent,

[t]he disagreement among state courts, and state legislatures’ attempts to circumvent public use limits on their eminent domain power, cannot obscure that the Public Use Clause is most naturally read to authorize takings for public use only if the government or the public actually uses the taken property.

Our current Public Use Clause jurisprudence, as the Court notes, has rejected this natural reading of the Clause. Ante, at 8-10. The Court adopted its modern reading blindly, with little discussion of the Clause’s history and original meaning, in two distinct lines of cases: first, in cases adopting the “public purpose” interpretation of the Clause, and second, in cases deferring to legislatures’ judgments regarding what constitutes a valid public purpose. Those questionable cases converged in the boundlessly broad and deferential conception of “public use” adopted by this Court in Berman v. Parker, 348 U. S. 26 (1954), and Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff, 467 U. S. 229 (1984), cases that take center stage in the Court’s opinion. See ante, 10-12. The weakness of those two lines of cases, and consequently Berman and Midkiff, fatally undermines the doctrinal foundations of the Court’s decision. Today’s questionable application of these cases is further proof that the “public purpose” standard is not susceptible of principled application. This Court’s reliance by rote on this standard is ill advised and should be reconsidered…

The “public purpose” test applied by Berman and Midkiff also cannot be applied in principled manner. “When we depart from the natural import of the term ‘public use,’ and substitute for the simple idea of a public possession and occupation, that of public utility, public interest, common benefit, general advantage or convenience … we are afloat without any certain principle to guide us.” Bloodgood v. Mohawk & Hudson R. Co., 18 Wend. 9, 60-61 (NY 1837) (opinion of Tracy, Sen.). Once one permits takings for public purposes in addition to public uses, no coherent principle limits what could constitute a valid public use-at least, none beyond Justice O’Connor‘s (entirely proper) appeal to the text of the Constitution itself. See ante, at 1-2, 8-13 (dissenting opinion). I share the Court’s skepticism about a public use standard that requires courts to second-guess the policy wisdom of public works projects. Ante, at 16-19. The “public purpose” standard this Court has adopted, however, demands the use of such judgment, for the Court concedes that the Public Use Clause would forbid a purely private taking. Ante, at 7-8. It is difficult to imagine how a court could find that a taking was purely private except by determining that the taking did not, in fact, rationally advance the public interest. Cf. ante, at 9-10 (O’Connor, J., dissenting) (noting the complicated inquiry the Court’s test requires). The Court is therefore wrong to criticize the “actual use” test as “difficult to administer.” Ante, at 8. It is far easier to analyze whether the government owns or the public has a legal right to use the taken property than to ask whether the taking has a “purely private purpose”-unless the Court means to eliminate public use scrutiny of takings entirely. Ante, at 7-8, 16-17. Obliterating a provision of the Constitution, of course, guarantees that it will not be misapplied.

For all these reasons, I would revisit our Public Use Clause cases and consider returning to the original meaning of the Public Use Clause: that the government may take property only if it actually uses or gives the public a legal right to use the property.

Thus:

  • I was right about the applicability of the Bill of Rights to the States, even though I was wrong about the circumstances under which the Bill of Rights became applicable to them.
  • I was right about Kelo v. City of New London for the right reasons, namely, that (contra some States’ rights absolutists) it was a proper issue for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide, and the Court decided it wrongly.

Crime, Explained


Background

As defined by the FBI, violent crime comprises murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault; property crime comprises burglary, larceny-theft, and motor-vehicle theft. Here are the numbers:

Steven Levitt, of Freakonomics fame, has hypothesized thusly about the drop in the violent-crime rate: more abortion (because legal), therefore fewer illegitimate babies, therefore fewer “unwanted” babies, therefore fewer young men (about 18 years later) whose upbringing was bound to have included more than a normal share of neglect and abuse, therefore less violent crime.

Levitt focuses on violent crime, which (conveniently for him) peaked just as the first abortion generation failed to come of age. But property crime, which is eight times more prevalent than violent crime, peaked about ten years earlier. Property crime, if Levitt is right, must be the preserve of pre-adolescent or middle-aged criminals. It is far more likely that Levitt is wrong.

Several months before I became aware of Levitt’s hypothesis, I said this:

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

I’m sure there are other causal factors, but those are probably the big ones. The first and third of those factors — incarceration and spending on the criminal justice system — go hand in hand. And they are the public-policy weapons of choice in a society that values individual responsibility. (May 15, 2005)

I later backed it up with this:

Rather than rehash all the debates about Levitt’s work…, I decided to take a fresh look at the numbers. I drew on the U.S. Census Bureau’s “Mini-Historical Statistics” to derive the following statistics for the United States (each descriptor links to the Excel spreadsheet from which I derived the relevant statistics):
Violent crimes per 100,000 persons
Percentage of population aged 15-24
Births and illegitimate births per 100,000 women aged 15-19
Blacks as a percentage of the population
Persons incarcerated per 100,000

I selected the 15-24 year age range because persons in that age bracket are most prone to the commission of violent crimes. Because the midpoint of that age bracket is approximately 19, I lagged the birth statistics by 19 years so that birth rates in a particular year are measured against crime statistics 19 years later (e.g., births in 1960 vs. crime in 1977, births in 1973 vs. crime in 1990). I used the overall rate of incarceration rather than a rate for violent offenders because locking up offenders of any kind must ensure that persons who would otherwise commit violent crimes are unable to do so.

Before plunging into a regression analysis, I indexed the series to 1960 (the first year in the violent-crime series) and plotted them (again, with a 19-year lag on the birth-rate series). Here are the plots:

The relationships suggest strongly that the legalization of abortion did not have a significant effect on the rate of violent crime in the U.S. The violent-crime rate rose almost steadily from 1960 until 1991, when it peaked. The lagged rate of illegitimate births for women aged 15-19 (probably the best available proxy for “unwanted” children) leveled off about when the crime rate peaked, but the illegitimacy rate then resumed its steady rise, even as the violent-crime rate dropped dramatically. It is therefore improbable (if not impossible) that abortion — as measured by the rate of illegitimate births — had anything to do with the drop in the crime rate. Using the total rate of births for women aged 15-19 as a proxy for “unwantedness” yields even more problematic results: the lagged rate peaked in 1976, fully 15 years before the crime rate peaked.

I nevertheless ran many regressions on the violent-crime rate and various combinations of the key variables. Only one regression yields credible results (high R-squared, standard error of estimate among the lowest, intuitively correct signs on all coefficients, and high t-statistics on all coefficients). That regression takes the following form:

Number of violent crimes per 100,000 persons =
– 3723
+ 37058 x number of Blacks as a decimal fraction of the population
– 0.568 x number of persons incarcerated per 100,000 of population

The t-statistics on the intercept and coefficients are 15.854, 17.047, and 5.042, respectively; the adjusted R-squared is 0.936; [the standard error of the estimate/mean value of dependent variable = 0.097].

(January 3, 2006)

New Numbers

I have since extended my analysis, in time and in scope. I have looked at the rate of violent-plus-property crimes; I have added data for the five years from 2000 through 2004; and I have considered as explanatory variables the existence of mandatory federal sentencing guidelines (1989-2004), number of male enlisted personnel in the armed forces (in proportion to population), and year-over-year growth in real GDP per capita — in addition to the number of persons aged 15-24, number of prisoners, and number of blacks in proportion to total population, as before. (For sources, see the footnote to this post.) Here’s a graphical depiction of the crime rates and all of the variables I considered:


Key: VIC, violent crimes per 100,000 persons; VPC, violent+property+crimes per 100,000 persons; BLK, blacks as a proportion of population; ENL (active-duty, male, enlisted personnel as a proportion of population aged 15-24; GRO(C), growth of real GDP per capita as a proxy for year-to-year growth (GRO) used in the regression analysis; PRS, prisoners in federal and State penitentiaries as a proportion of population; SNT, mandatory sentencing guidelines in effect (0 = no, 1 = yes); YNG, persons aged 15-24 as a proportion of population.

A few comments about each of the explanatory variables: BLK, unfortunately, stands for a segment of the population that has more than its share of criminals — and victims. Having more men in the armed forces (ENL) should reduce, to some extent, the number of crime-prone men in the civilian population. (It would also help to alleviate our self-inflicted impotence, by putting moreboots on the ground” — and missiles in readiness.) I use the annual rate of real, per-capita economic growth (GRO) to capture the rate of employment — or unemployment — and the return on employment, namely, income. (The use of year-over-year growth vice cumulative growthavoids collinearity with the other variables.) PRS encompasses not only the effects of taking criminals off the streets, but the means by which that is done: (a) government spending on criminal justice and (b) juries’ and courts’ willingness to put criminals behind bars and keep them there for a good while. SNT ensures that convicted criminals are put away for a good while.

I focused on violent-plus-property crime (VPC) as the dependent variable, for two reasons. First, there is a lot more property crime than violent crime (VIC); that is, VPC is a truer measure of the degree to which crime affects Americans. Second, exploratory regression runs on VPC yielded more robust results than those on VIC.

Even at that, it is not easy to tease meaningful regressions from the data, given high correlations among several of the variables (e.g., mandatory sentencing guidelines and prison population, number of blacks and prison population, male enlistees and number of blacks). The set of six explanatory variables — taken one, two, three, four, five, and six at a time — can be used to construct 63 different equations. I estimated all 63, and rejected all of those that returned coefficients with counterintuitive signs (e.g., negative on BLK, positive on GRO).

Result and Discussion

Of the 63 equations, I chose the one that has the greatest number of explanatory variables, where the sign on every explanatory variable is intuitively correct, and — given that — also has the greatest explanatory power (as measured by its R-squared):

VPC (violent+property crimes per 100,000 persons) =

-33174.6

+346837BLK (number of blacks as a decimal fraction of the population)

-3040.46GRO (previous year’s change in real GDP per capita, as a decimal fraction of the base)

-1474741PRS (the number of inmates in federal and State prisons in December of the previous year, as a decimal fraction of the previous year’s population)

The t-statistics on the intercept and coefficients are 19.017, 21.564, 1.210, and 17.253, respectively; the adjusted R-squared is 0.923; the standard error of the estimate/mean value of VPC = 0.076.

The minimum, maximum, and mean values of the dependent and explanatory variables:

VPC: 1887, 5950, 4773 (violent-plus-property crimes/100,000 persons)

BLK: 0.1052, 0.1300, 0.1183 (blacks/population)

GRO: -0.02866, 0.06263, 0.02248 (growth in real GDP per capita during year n-1/real GDP per capita in year n-2)

PRS: 0.0009363, 0.004842, 0.002243 (federal and State prisoners in December of year n-1/average population in year n-1)


Even though the coefficient on GRO isn’t strongly significant, it isn’t negligible, and the sign is right — as are the signs on BLK and PRS. The sign on the intercept is counterintuitive — the baseline rate of crime could not be negative. The negative sign indicates the omission of key variables. But forcing variables into a regression causes some of them to have counterintuitive signs when they are highly correlated with other, included variables.

In any event, the equation specified above does a good job of explaining variations in the crime rate:

I especially like the fact that the equation accounts for two policy-related variables: GRO and PRS:

1. Crime can be reduced if economic growth is encouraged by rolling back tax rates. Crime will rise if growth is inhibited by raising tax rates (even for the very rich).

2. Crime can be reduced by increasing the rate at which it is prosecuted successfully, and by ensuring that prisoners do not receive lenient sentences. Therefore, we need to (a) spend even more on the pursuit of criminal justice and (b) restore mandatory sentencing guidelines, which had been in effect (and effective) from 1989 to 2004. (Look at the relationship between SNT and the indices of crime, in the next-to-last graph, and you will have no doubt that mandatory sentencing guidelines were effective and are represented in the equation — to some extent — by the variable PRS.)

ENL and YNG, like SNT, are key determinants of the crime rate. Each of the three variables appears, with the right sign, in many of the 63 equations. So, I am certainly not ruling out ENL and YNG as important variables. To the contrary, they are important variables. But, just as with SNT, I can’t satisfactorily quantify their importance because of the limitations of regression analysis.

Crime, then, depends mainly on two uncontrollable variables (BLK and YNG), and four controllable ones: ENL, GRO, PRS, and SNT. The controllable variables are salutary means of reducing crime, and the record shows that they work. Whatever else abortion is, it is not a crime-fighting tool; those who herald abortion as such are flirting with genocide.

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

Crimes per 100,000 persons, 1960-2002: Historical Statistical Abstracts, No. HS–23. Crimes and Crime Rates by Type of Offense: 1960 to 2002 (http://www.census.gov/statab/hist/02HS0023.xls).

Crimes per 100,000 persons, 2003-04: Statistical Abstracts, Table 295. Crimes and Crime Rates by Type of Offense: 1980 to 2004 (http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/tables/07s0295.xls).

U.S resident population, 1960-99: Historical Statistical Abstracts, No. HS-2. Population Characteristics: 1900 to 2002 (http://www.census.gov/statab/hist/02HS0002.xls).

U.S. resident population, 2000-05: Statistical Abstracts, Table 13. Resident Population by Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin Status: 2000 to 2005 (http://www.census.gov/popest/national/asrh/NC-EST2005/NC-EST2005-03.xls).

Persons aged 15-24, 1960-2002: Historical Statistical Abstracts, No. HS-3. Population by Age: 1900 to 2002 (http://www.census.gov/statab/hist/02HS0003.xls).

Persons aged 15-24, 2003-04: Statistical Abstracts, Table 11. Resident Population by Age and Sex: 1980 to 2005 (http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/tables/07s0011.xls).

Blacks, 1960-99: Historical Statistical Abstracts, No. HS-2. Population Characteristics: 1900 to 2002 (http://www.census.gov/statab/hist/02HS0002.xls).

Blacks, 2000-04: Statistical Abstracts, Table 13. Resident Population by Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin Status: 2000 to 2005 (http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/tables/07s0013.xls). Specifically, I used the entry “Black or African American,” under “Race alone or in combination.” Regardless of the entry for “black” chosen from the table, there is a discontinuity between the number of blacks in 1999 (preceding source) and the number of blacks in 2000. To eliminate the discontinuity, I derived the growth rate for the number of blacks during 2000-05 (about 0.04 percent/year) and applied that rate to the number of blacks in 1999, for a consistent and continuous estimate of blacks as a percentage of population.

Real GDP per Capita, 1960-2004: What Was GDP Then? (Louis D. Johnston and Samuel H. Williamson, “The Annual Real and Nominal GDP for the United States, 1790 – Present.” Economic History Services, July 27, 2007, URL : http://eh.net/hmit/gdp/).

Federal and State prisoners, 1960-2001: Historical Statistical Abstracts, No. HS-24. Federal and State Prisoners by Jurisdiction and Sex: 1925-2001 (http://www.census.gov/statab/hist/02HS0024.xls).

Federal and State prisoners, 2002-04: Statistical Abstracts, Table 337. Federal and State Prisoners by Sex: 1980 to 2004 (http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/tables/07s0337.xls).

Male enlisted personnel in the armed forces, 1960-2004: Statistical Abstracts, Table 500. Department of Defense Personnel: 1960 to 2005 (http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/tables/07s0500.xls).

Sentencing guidelines: Start here: United States Sentencing Commission.