Month: August 2014

Egoism and Altruism

From Wikipedia:

Psychological egoism is the view that humans are always motivated by self-interest, even in what seem to be acts of altruism. It claims that, when people choose to help others, they do so ultimately because of the personal benefits that they themselves expect to obtain, directly or indirectly, from doing so. This is a descriptive rather than normative view, since it only makes claims about how things are, not how they ought to be. It is, however, related to several other normative forms of egoism, such as ethical egoism and rational egoism.

I addressed psychological egoism and altruism several years ago in “Redefining Altruism” and “Enough of Altruism.” In the extended version of the second post, I wrote:

There is no “egoism” or “altruism,” there’s simply behavior that reflects an individual’s values, and which seeks to serve those values….

What we call “altruism” and “egoism” are simply manifestations of an integrated, internal decision process that thinks not in terms of “altruism” or “egoism” but in terms of serving one’s values.

My purpose was to deny the existence of egoism and altruism as “forces” that exist independently of human thought. I was especially set on showing that the motivation for an act which is considered altruistic can only be understood in terms of its effect on the the actor. That is, the actor necessarily advances his own values, even if he seems to make a sacrifice of some kind.

I admit that my position can be taken as a defense of psychological egoism. So, although “psychological egoism” stands for a simplistic explanation of complex behavior, it’s a better explanation than altruism.

Here is Jason Brennan, writing at Bleeding Heart Libertarians:

Peter Singer made famous a thought experiment like this:

You are walking down the street when you see a small toddler drowning in a shallow pool. You can save the toddler easily, but only if you jump in right now. Doing so will destroy your hard-earned smart phone, costing you $500.

Most people judge that we must save the child here; it would be wrong not to do so.

Now, what does ethical egoism say about this case? …

Ethical egoism isn’t quite the same thing as psychological egoism. Returning to Wikipedia:

Ethical egoism is the normative ethical position that moral agents ought to do what is in their own [sic] self-interest. It differs from psychological egoism, which claims that people can only act in their self-interest.

Nevertheless, what follows from Brennan can be read as an attack on the idea of psychological egoism and a defense of the idea of altruism:

Many people … are deeply confused about what counts as egoistic action….

Consider the following argument: Saving the kid is egoistic, because I care about kids….  Therefore, if I voluntarily save the kid, I save him out of self-interest.

But,

If I care about the drowning toddler and thus save him, I am acting to promote his welfare, not my own. It’s true that I am interested in his interests, or that his interests are an interest of mine, but that’s just a funky way of saying that I am altruistic. To be altruistic is to hold other people’s welfare as an end in itself….

If my sons died, I’d be sad. But the reason I feel joy when things go well for them and sad when things go badly is that I love them for their own sake–I view them as ends in themselves apart from my own welfare. Consider: Suppose my younger son is hurt. A genie appears and gives me two options. 1. He fixes my son’s injury. 2. He casts a spell instantly killing my son, erasing him from everyone’s memory, erasing all traces of him, and thus allowing us to go on as if he never existed at all. If I were just trying to avoid the bad feelings, I’d be indifferent between these two options. But I’m not–I’d pick option 1 over option 2, hands down. This means that I’m concerned not merely to avoid bad feelings, but to help for his sake. Again, it means I’m genuinely altruistic.

This reminds me of Rawls’s “veil of ignorance,” wherein the reader is invited to imagine an impossible counterfactual. In Brennan’s case, the impossible counterfactual is the non-existence of his son. The fact of his son’s existence colors Brennan’s evaluation of the the options posed by the genie. Brennan has feelings about his son, feelings that he (laudably) values over the alternative of having no such feelings.

What about Brennan’s assertion that he is genuinely altruistic because he doesn’t merely want to avoid bad feelings, but wants to help his son for his son’s sake. That’s called empathy. But empathy is egoistic. Even strong empathy — the ability to “feel” another person’s pain or anguish — is “felt” by the empathizer. It is the empathizer’s response to the other person’s pain or anguish.

Brennan inadvertently makes that point when he invokes sociopathy:

Sociopaths don’t care about other people for their own sake–they view them merely as instruments. Sociopaths don’t feel guilt for failing to help others.

The difference between a sociopath and a “normal” person is found in caring (feeling). But caring (feeling) is something that the I does — or fail to do, if the I is a sociopath. I = ego:

the “I” or self of any person; a thinking, feeling, and conscious being, able to distinguish itself from other selves.

I am not deprecating the kind of laudable act that is called altruistic. I am simply trying to point out what should be an obvious fact: Human beings necessarily act in their own interests, though their own interests often coincide  with the interests of others for emotional reasons (e.g., love, empathy), as well as practical ones (e.g., loss of income or status because of the death of a patron).

It should go without saying that the world would be a better place if it had fewer sociopaths in it. Voluntary, mutually beneficial relationships are more than merely transactional; they thrive on the mutual trust and respect that arise from social bonds, including the bonds of love and affection.

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Related posts:
Sophomoric Libertarianism
On Liberty
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Society and the State
Our Enemy, the State
The Golden Rule and the State
Government vs. Community
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
The Meaning of Liberty
Evolution and the Golden Rule
Empathy Is Overrated
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
Facets of Liberty
Why I Am Not an Extreme Libertarian
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
The Criminality and Psychopathy of Statism

My Claim to Prescience

On April 24, 2009, just three months after Obama ascended to the presidency, I posted “Sizing Up Obama“:

On the one hand, we have FDR II, replete with schemes for managing our lives and fortunes.

On the other hand, we have Carter-Clinton II, ready to: kowtow to those who would bury us, create the illusion that peace will reign perforce, and act on that illusion by slashing the defense budget (thereby giving aid and comfort to our enemies).

Through the haze of smoke and glare of mirrors I see a youngish president exhorting us to “fear nothing but fear itself” while proclaiming “peace for our time,” as we “follow the yellow-brick road” to impotent serfdom.

I wouldn’t change a word of it.

Case closed.

Poverty, Crime, and Big Government

Dr. James Thompson (Psychological Comments) reports the results of a thorough study of the link between poverty and crime. Near the end of the piece, Dr. Thompson quotes The Economist‘s summary of the study’s implications:

That suggests two, not mutually exclusive, possibilities. One is that a family’s culture, once established, is “sticky”—that you can, to put it crudely, take the kid out of the neighbourhood, but not the neighbourhood out of the kid. Given, for example, children’s propensity to emulate elder siblings whom they admire, that sounds perfectly plausible. The other possibility is that genes which predispose to criminal behaviour (several studies suggest such genes exist) are more common at the bottom of society than at the top, perhaps because the lack of impulse-control they engender also tends to reduce someone’s earning capacity.

Neither of these conclusions is likely to be welcome to social reformers. The first suggests that merely topping up people’s incomes, though it may well be a good idea for other reasons, will not by itself address questions of bad behaviour. The second raises the possibility that the problem of intergenerational poverty may be self-reinforcing, particularly in rich countries like Sweden where the winnowing effects of education and the need for high levels of skill in many jobs will favour those who can control their behaviour, and not those who rely on too many chemical crutches to get them through the day.

In brief, there is a strong connection between genes and criminal behavior. Inasmuch as there are also strong connections between genes and intelligence, on the one hand, and intelligence and income, on the other hand, it follows that:

  • Criminal behavior will be more prevalent in genetic groups with below-average intelligence.
  • Poverty will be more prevalent in genetic groups with below-average intelligence.
  • The correlation between crime and poverty must, therefore, reflect (to some extent) the correlation between below-average intelligence and poverty.

As The Economist notes “merely topping up people’s incomes … will not by itself address questions of bad behaviour.” This would seem to contradict my finding of a strongly negative relationship between economic growth and the rate of violent-and-property crime.

But there is no contradiction. Not all persons who commit crimes are incorrigible. At the margin, there are persons who will desist from criminal activity when presented with the alternative of attaining money without running the risk of being punished for their efforts.

How much less crime would there be if economic growth weren’t suppressed by the dead hand of big government? A lot less.

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Related posts:
Crime, Explained
Lock ‘Em Up
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Spending Inhibits Economic Growth
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
“Conversing” about Race
Evolution and Race
“Wading” into Race, Culture, and IQ

Murder Is Constitutional

A federal judge says so:

Ruling that Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage murder “stems entirely, or almost entirely, from moral disapproval of the practice,” a federal trial judge in Tallahassee on Thursday ruled that the prohibition is unconstitutional.

The judge evidently moonlights as Humpty Dumpty:

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

Walking the Tightrope Reluctantly

A friend sent me a link to Peter Baker’s recent article in The New York Times, “As World Boils, Fingers Point Obama’s Way” (August 15, 2014). You can read it for yourself. This was my initial reaction:

All the world’s a stage…

…and whether the play’s a tragedy, or not, seems to depend on how its critics (the media) depict it.

Obama’s policy toward the Middle East seems to have been based on wishful thinking about rapprochement with “progressives” in the Middle East. His underlying “strategy” of disengagement hasn’t gone unnoticed, especially because it’s consistent with the continued shrinkage of U.S. military power.

This mixture of bumbling and willful impotence could only have invited aggressive moves — even  though not aimed directly at the U.S. Thus Putin’s adventures and the growing militancy of China may seem to flow from Obama’s handling of foreign and defense policy. Would such things have happened anyway? Perhaps. They certainly did in the past, and in ways more directly threatening to U.S. interests (from the Berlin blockade to the Cuban missile crisis). But memories are short, and it’s easy to think of the relatively quiescent decade after the first Gulf War as the norm.

If the aggressiveness continues, and especially if it’s aimed more directly at U.S. interests, the next administration — and the public — will come face to face with the crucial choice: Withdraw more completely or reengage (with requisite rearmament). Obama has tried to walk a tightrope between the two alternatives, but it’s a tightrope that can’t be walked for long.

Having given the matter more thought, I must add that Obama is walking the tightrope reluctantly. He cannot overtly abandon the world stage and leave American interests entirely unprotected. That way lies greater disgrace than he is almost certain to endure, if not removal from office.

But aside from that consideration — and no other — Obama would make America into a “pitiful, helpless giant.” I turn (not for the first time) to Norman Podhoretz:

… [A]s astute a foreign observer as Conrad Black can flatly say that, “Not since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, and before that the fall of France in 1940, has there been so swift an erosion of the world influence of a Great Power as we are witnessing with the United States.”

Yet if this is indeed the pass to which Mr. Obama has led us—and I think it is—let me suggest that it signifies not how incompetent and amateurish the president is, but how skillful. His foreign policy, far from a dismal failure, is a brilliant success as measured by what he intended all along to accomplish….

… As a left-wing radical, Mr. Obama believed that the United States had almost always been a retrograde and destructive force in world affairs. Accordingly, the fundamental transformation he wished to achieve here was to reduce the country’s power and influence. And just as he had to fend off the still-toxic socialist label at home, so he had to take care not to be stuck with the equally toxic “isolationist” label abroad.

This he did by camouflaging his retreats from the responsibilities bred by foreign entanglements as a new form of “engagement.” At the same time, he relied on the war-weariness of the American people and the rise of isolationist sentiment (which, to be sure, dared not speak its name) on the left and right to get away with drastic cuts in the defense budget, with exiting entirely from Iraq and Afghanistan, and with “leading from behind” or using drones instead of troops whenever he was politically forced into military action.

The consequent erosion of American power was going very nicely when the unfortunately named Arab Spring presented the president with several juicy opportunities to speed up the process. First in Egypt, his incoherent moves resulted in a complete loss of American influence, and now, thanks to his handling of the Syrian crisis, he is bringing about a greater diminution of American power than he probably envisaged even in his wildest radical dreams.

For this fulfillment of his dearest political wishes, Mr. Obama is evidently willing to pay the price of a sullied reputation. In that sense, he is by his own lights sacrificing himself for what he imagines is the good of the nation of which he is the president, and also to the benefit of the world, of which he loves proclaiming himself a citizen….

No doubt he will either deny that anything has gone wrong, or failing that, he will resort to his favorite tactic of blaming others—Congress or the Republicans or Rush Limbaugh. But what is also almost certain is that he will refuse to change course and do the things that will be necessary to restore U.S. power and influence.

And so we can only pray that the hole he will go on digging will not be too deep for his successor to pull us out, as Ronald Reagan managed to do when he followed a president into the White House whom Mr. Obama so uncannily resembles. (“Obama’s Successful Foreign Failure,” The Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2013)

Jackson Diehl offers wise counsel about the situation in Iraq, where Obama snatched defeat from the jaws of victory: “To fix foreign policy mistakes, President Obama must first admit them” (The Washington Post, August 14, 2014). But the headline says it all — Obama won’t admit his deliberate “mistakes” in Iraq, or anywhere else.

No, he’d rather play the victim of G.W. Bush’s decisions and world events beyond his control. (See Peter Wehner’s “Obama Still Feeling Sorry for Himself,” Commentary, August 17, 2014.) Petulant whining is unattractive, but it’s better (for Obama) to be called a whiner than to be outed as a traitor.

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Related reading:
James A. (Ace) Lyons (Admiral, USN, retired), “The fallout from foreign policy malfeasance and nonfeasance,” The Washington Times, August 14, 2014)
Ed Lasky, “Obama’s Willful Blindness,” American Thinker, August 25, 2014

Related posts:
Why Sovereignty?
Liberalism and Sovereignty
Delusions of Preparedness
A Grand Strategy for the United States
The Folly of Pacifism
Why We Should (and Should Not) Fight
Rating America’s Wars
Transnationalism and National Defense
The Folly of Pacifism, Again
Patience as a Tool of Strategy
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
The World Turned Upside Down
Defense Spending: One More Time
The Fall and Rise of American Empire
Presidential Treason

Round Up the Usual Suspects

UPDATED BELOW

From Obama’s remarks about events in Ferguson, Missouri:

[I[t’s important to remember how this started.  We lost a young man, Michael Brown, in heartbreaking and tragic circumstances.

Yes, let’s remember how “this” started:

A suburban St. Louis police chief on Friday identified the officer whose fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager ignited days of heated protests, and released documents alleging the teen was killed after a robbery in which he was suspected of stealing a $48.99 box of cigars.

Ferguson, Mo., Police Chief Thomas Jackson said that the robbery took place just before noon on Saturday at a nearby convenience store roughly 10 minutes before a police officer identified as Darren Wilson fired the bullet that killed Michael Brown. Police say that the shot was fired after a struggle touched off by Wilson’s confronting Brown. Jackson said Wilson is a six-year veteran with no disciplinary action on his record….

Police released still images and were planning to release video [here] from the robbery, at a QuikTrip store in Ferguson. Jackson said Wilson, along with other officers, were called to the area after a 911 call reporting a “strong-arm robbery” at a nearby convenience store….

According to the police reports, Brown and his friend, Dorian Johnson, were suspected of taking a box of cigars from a store in Ferguson that morning…. [Johnson has since confirmed that he and Brown committed the theft.]

Police have said Brown was shot after an officer encountered him and another man on the street. They say one of the men pushed the officer into his squad car, then physically assaulted him in the vehicle and struggled with the officer over the officer’s weapon. At least one shot was fired inside the car before the struggle spilled onto the street, where Brown was shot multiple times, according to police.

Why am I inclined to believe the account offered by the police chief? Because the “martyrdom” of Michael Brown bears an uncanny resemblance to previous cases involving “blameless” victims; for example:

  • the “rape” of Tawana Brawley, a black female
  • the fatal beating of Matthew Shepard, supposedly because of his homosexuality (more here)
  • the “rape” of a black female members of Duke University’s lacrosse team
  • the media lynching and unwarranted prosecution of George Zimmerman for defending himself from a violent punk named Trayvon Martin.

The “usual suspects” in the Ferguson fiasco are Obama, “liberals,” and (pseudo) libertarians. Obama converted a local problem into a federal issue, à la Trayvon Martin. “Liberals,” as usual, chose to depict a black thug as a victim.”Liberals” and (psuedo) libertarians (i.e., most self-styled libertarians) — speaking from the comfort of their affluent enclaves, where they rarely encounter thugs like Martin and Brown — began to shout “police brutality” without benefit of the facts.

Do I have all of the facts? Of course not. But I’m not the one who’s rushing to proclaim another innocent victim at the hands of a brutal policeman. If it turns out that the policeman deliberately shot a non-threatening victim, I’ll be the first to acknowledge it.

UPDATE 1 (08/18/14): It seems that Brown was not shot in the back. Nor does it seem that he was shot at very close range, that is, close enough to leave powder burns on skin or clothing:

This seems to contradict the statements of Brown’s friend, Dorian Johnson, who said the officer … grabbed Brown’s neck with one hand and shot him with the other.

The location of the bullet wounds, especially one in the top of the head, suggests that Brown was “giving up, or … charging forward at the officer.” My money is on “charging forward” — all 6’4″ and 292 pounds of him. Thus the seemingly large number of shots (six), which probably were fired in rapid succession. Why? Here’s an analogy: When a beast charges a hunter, the hunter doesn’t shoot once; he keeps shooting until he runs out of bullets or the beast drops dead.

UPDATE 2 (08/19/14): Consider the source, but this version of the shooting is consistent with the (plausible) explanation offered in Update 1.

UPDATE 3 (09/07/14): Speaking of (pseudo) libertarians, I just happened across this post, in which the author empathizes with the destructive goons of Ferguson; for example:

I cannot possibly imagine the rage and indignation that I would feel if I were regularly accosted by the police, questioned, detained, searched, arrested, or even just heckled. Or even just ignored when I needed help. I would feel not like a citizen but like a subject. Not like a fellow American, but like a detained, suspected, alien.

Jefferson said that he thought this the strongest government on earth, “the only one where every man, at the call of the law, would fly to the standard of the law, and would meet invasions of the public order as his own personal concern.” If many black and Hispanic Americans, and the residents of our inner cities, do not feel this way–especially after four decades of an unconstitutional, unwinnable, immoral war on drugs–well, I find it hard to blame them.

Where is the outrage about the high rates of “real crime” committed by blacks against persons and property? Where is the hint of understanding that socioeconomic status is related to intelligence? Where is the condemnation of a culture that fosters crime and indolence? For some relevant background, see “The Freespace Posts,” especially the third of the introductory paragraphs.

UPDATE 4 (09/18/14): An experienced police officer with no stake in the Brown case offers a convincing analysis (which just happens to parallel mine):  http://chrishernandezauthor.com/2014/08/24/a-dose-of-reality-for-ferguson-missouri/

UPDATE 5 (10/25/14): This story, from The Washington Post, summarizes the state of play:

Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown fought for control of the officer’s gun, and Wilson fatally shot the unarmed teenager after he moved toward the officer as they faced off in the street, according to interviews, news accounts and the full report of the St. Louis County autopsy of Brown’s body….

Some of the physical evidence — including blood spatter analysis, shell casings and ballistics tests — also supports Wilson’s account of the shooting, The Post’s sources said, which casts Brown as an aggressor who threatened the officer’s life….

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch late Tuesday night published Brown’s official county autopsy report, an analysis of which also suggests that the 18-year-old may not have had his hands raised when he was fatally shot, as has been the contention of protesters who have demanded Wilson’s arrest….

Experts told the newspaper that Brown was first shot at close range and may have been reaching for Wilson’s weapon while the officer was still in his vehicle and Brown was standing at the driver’s side window. The autopsy found material “consistent with products that are discharged from the barrel of a firearm” in a wound on Brown’s thumb, the autopsy says.

Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist in San Francisco who reviewed the report for the Post-Dispatch­, said it “supports the fact that this guy is reaching for the gun, if he has gunpowder particulate material in the wound.”

Melinek, who is not involved in the investigation, said the autopsy did not support those who claim Brown was attempting to flee or surrender when Wilson shot him in the street….

Seven or eight African American eyewitnesses have provided testimony consistent with Wilson’s account, but none have spoken publicly out of fear for their safety, The Post’s sources said.

“Fear for their safety.” Imagine that.

UPDATE 6 (11/28/14): A post by Paul Cassell at The Volokh Conspiracy seems to cap this story. It reads, in part:

As those who have been following the case closely are aware, Wilson testified before the grand jury that Brown reached for his (Wilson’s) gun and a struggle for the gun followed, during which Wilson fired two shots.  Later, Wilson pursued Brown and, after he turned and then charged toward Wilson, fired multiple shots bringing him to the ground about 8 to 10 feet away from him.

The physical evidence is consistent with his testimony.  The County Medical Examiner was one of the first witnesses to testify before the grand jury.  He explained the autopsy he conducted on Brown. It will be useful to show the injuries discussed and, for these purposes, I insert a chart prepared by an examiner hired by Brown’s family.  (The parallel chart from the ME has not been publicly released, although the ME’s testimony has been released).

The ME found a tangential injury on Brown’s right thumb that traveled along the surface of the thumb — grand jury testimony Volume 3 (Sept. 9), page 114, line 12 etc. (hereafter cited by just page and line number).  The ME further explained that he saw what appeared to be “soot” in the wound, which was consistent with a shot from close range (116:22).  Indeed, based on his training and expertise, the ME thought that the soot would be indicative of the gun that fired the bullet causing the wound having been only 6 to 9 inches away (118:12). The soot was consistent with that discharged from a gun (122:13).  The official report from the Office of Medical Examiner later confirmed that “the previously described particles of foreign particulate matter are consistent with products that are discharged from the barrel of a firearm.”

The significance of this wound and related physical evidence is that it places Brown’s right hand within 6 to 9 inches of the barrel of Wilson’s firearm.  This physical evidence is thus quite consistent with Wilson’s testimony that Brown was trying to get hold of Wilson’s weapon, creating a fear in Wilson that he was going to get shot….

At some point in the altercation, it appears undisputed that Brown (and his friend Dorian Johnson) ran away from Wilson.  Wilson pursued on foot and, according to Wilson, Brown eventually paused, turned around, and then charged at him.

The ME’s testimony also aligns with Wilson’s testimony on this point.  The ME found various wounds to Brown’s arms, upper torso, and head. Focusing on the head wounds, a detailed report and summary report from the Office of the Medical Examiner indicated that one wound with an entrance to the vertex of Brown’s  head was “downward and rightward” (detailed report at p. 2) and the wound with an entrance to central forehead was “downward, slightly backward, and rightward” (summary p. 1).  The report also describes the entrance to the wounds on Michael Brown’s chest as “downward” or “slightly downward” (id.).  

The ME explicated these findings at great length to the grand jurors.  He explained that the entry direction for the head wounds, for example, was “slightly downward” (157:6).  The earlier wounds would not have been disabling (151:1) and would not have been disabling in combination, until the final wound to the top of the head (159:15).  In the ME’s opinion, the first wound was the wound to the thumb, the last was the wound to the top of Brown’s head (197:7).  The ME specifically testified that if Brown was bent over, that would be consistent with the entry to the head wounds, although he cautioned that he could not say for certain what position Brown was in at the time he received the wound (166:11).

Perhaps most important, the ME carefully explained how he was able to identify entry points and exit points for the wounds to Brown.  With regard to the wounds on the torso and head, there  were no wounds from the back (197:18).  With regard to the arms, there was only one injury that was from the back — an injury to “the posterior portion of the right forearm” (198:25).  The ME indicated that it is extremely difficult to identify, from bullet wounds, the position of the arms at the time of a shot because “you’ve got . . . an elbow joint, you have a shoulder joint and then the wrist, you have a lot of mobility within that arm and it can be in a lot of scenarios” (133:11).

Here again, this testimony was consistent with Wilson’s testimony. It aligned with Brown charging forward toward Wilson, coming to a halt only when Wilson was able to get a fatal shot to the head.  Significantly, the ME’s testimony did not align with those who claimed (before the grand jury or in the media) the Wilson had gunned Brown down in the back….

Of particular interest for evaluating Wilson’s testimony is the location of the 12 shell casings recovered.  Two of them were recovered close to Wilson’s car, conforming to his testimony about his firing two shots there (vol. V, 226:4).  After that, the remaining 10 casings were recovered adjacent to (or behind) the path that Wilson said Brown took when charging toward him.  This was consistent with Wilson firing a series of shots as Brown rushed toward him, all the while backpedaling to try and increase the distance.

These are the highlights of the physical evidence that I have reviewed in the case, compared to Wilson’s testimony. Based on my initial read, so far as I can see there are no significant inconsistencies between the physical evidence and Wilson’s grand jury testimony.  Other reviews have likewise not identified readily-apparent examples of problems with Wilson’s testimony.  For example, a review of the grand jury testimony by three Associated Press reporters noted numerous examples of witness statements inconsistent with the physical evidence, but offered no examples from Wilson’s testimony.

The physical evidence is important because, unlike witness testimony, it doesn’t lie and can’t be accused of bias (such as racism).  As the cliche goes, the physical evidence is what it is.  In this case, the physical evidence aligned with Wilson’s testimony.  To be sure, as my co-blogger Orin properly cautioned earlier this week, it is always possible for a potential target in criminal case to lie before a grand jury.  But it is also possible for him to tell the truth.  The grand jury had to sort out these competing possibilities — and the physical evidence gave no reason to doubt Wilson’s testimony.

UPDATE 6 (03/04/15): Quelle surprise (not). The evidence for self-defense is so compelling that the Department of Justice has to agree with it. See Allahpundit’s “Must Read: DoJ Report Totally Vindicates Darren Wilson in Michael Brown Shooting” (Hot Air, March 4, 2015).

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Related posts:
Obama’s Latest Act of Racism
Not-So-Random Thoughts (III) (see “Trayvon, George, and Barack”)
Left-Libertarians, Obama, and the Zimmerman Case

Bleeding-Heart Libertarians = Left-Statists (Redux)

ADDENDUM BELOW

Jim Manzi nails Matt Zwolinski’s call for a Basic Income Guarantee:

At the highest level, Zwolinski argues that a BIG is consistent with libertarian theory. And in the alternative, argues that in the real world of practical politics a welfare system of some kind will be with us for a long time, and a BIG is better than the dog’s breakfast of social welfare programs that we have today. Nested within this is another narrower argument in the alternative. He claims that social science evidence indicates that it not clear that a BIG would result in a reduction in work effort. But he argues that even if it did, this would not necessarily be a bad thing.

In other words, Zwolinski and his bleeding-heart ilk on the so-called libertarian left just want to dole out taxpayers’ dollars to satisfy their urge for “social justice.” Liberty has nothing to do with it. If it did, they’d care about the liberty of those taxpayers who would be forced to subsidize the indolent.

Yes, the indolent. Manzi explains:

It is fairly extraordinary to claim [as Zwolinski does] that the government could guarantee every adult in America an income even if they did zero work of any kind, and that somehow this would not reduce work effort. Zwolinksi should be able to provide strong evidence for such a claim. But we have scientific gold standard evidence that runs exactly the other way. A series of randomized experiments offered a version of Zwolinski’s proposal between 1968 and 1980. These tested a wide variety of program variants among the urban and rural poor, in better and worse macroeconomic periods, and in geographies from New Jersey to Seattle. They consistently found that the tested programs reduce the number of hours worked versus the existing welfare system, and the tested levels of progressivity of implicit tax rates did not get around this problem by encouraging work, as Zwolinski’s theoretical argument asserts they should.

But that doesn’t bother Zwolinski. In fact, he seems rather proud to be a proponent of indolence:

[S]uppose that a BIG actually would, on net, increase unemployment somewhat…. [S]o what? Is it so obviously a flaw in the system if it leads more parents to take time off work to stay home with their children? Or college graduates to take a year off before beginning to work? Or if, among the population as a whole, the balance between work and leisure is slightly shifted toward the latter? My point is not that there isn’t any story that could be told about why work disincentives might be a problem. My point is simply that, even if they were guaranteed to occur, they wouldn’t obviously be a problem.

Well, they obviously would be a problem, as Manzi points out. And, anyway, who is Zwolinksi to decide that my tax dollars should subsidize parental leave, gap years, or more leisure. Those are personal decisions to be made by the persons involved, not by Zwolinski.

One more thing. Zwolinkski’s defense of BIG on the ground that it might promote leisure is a faithful echo of the defense mounted by the left when confronted by a CBO study that estimates the work disincentives of Obamacare’s premium subsidies. Their defense? Those who work less will simply “choose more leisure.” The inconvenient fact that more leisure comes at taxpayers’ expense goes unmentioned.

I repeat what I say here. Zwolinski and his bleeding-heart brethren are birds of a feather with left-statists like Barack Obama, most Democrats in Congress, most professors of the so-called liberal arts, and most members of the media.

ADDENDUM (09/10/14): Just to put another nail in the coffin, I refer you to Stella Morabito’s “Licensing Parents: A Statist Idea in Libertarian Drag” (The Federalist, September 10, 2014). Excerpts:

Imagine you cannot raise your own child without special permission from the state. In this matrix, getting permission means getting a license. And getting a license means the state performs psychological evaluations and background checks and passes judgment on your fitness to be a parent. That’s that. No license, no kid—you are forcibly separated from your baby.

Now, who do you think would come up with a scheme? Marxists, you say? Of course, and for nearly two centuries. Gender theorists? Oh, yes, and for decades on end. Population control fanatics? No question. How about meddlesome, brain-dead bureaucrats? Check.

But what if I told you this idea came out recently, all dressed up as a “libertarian” essay?…

The essay in question is entitled, directly enough: “Licensing Parents,” authored by one Andrew Cohen, a philosophy professor. It was posted on a website that claims to be searching for common ground between free markets and far-Left statism, er, “social justice.” The blog goes by the name “Bleeding Heart Libertarians.” (For those who aren’t former Episcopalians or negotiators with communists, you’ll need to understand that a “search for common ground” is generally a time tested camel’s-nose-in-the-tent ploy. The more gracious the host, the more quickly the camel takes over the tent…)…

…[A]ccording to Cohen, parenting is merely another “service,” i.e., caregiving. And he believes we ought to license it as we do any other service, like practicing medicine or law or pharmacy. Actually, he doesn’t think we should license medicine, law, or pharmacy. You’re an adult, see, and you can make your own choices there. But because children can’t make their own choices and you might do the child harm, you must be licensed. Cohen provides some anecdotes about child abuse, and says the state should always step in before any such thing can ever even happen. Hence, this scheme to entrust all-knowing, always benevolent, deeply caring state bureaucrats to dictate the lifelong relationships of all vulnerable beings.

There’s much more. Read the whole thing and weep for liberty at the hands of bleeding-heart libertarians. They love liberty, you see, as long as it yields outcomes of which they approve.

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Related posts:
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
More Social Justice
On Self-Ownership and Desert
Corporations, Unions, and the State
Burkean Libertarianism
What Is Libertarianism?
True Libertarianism, One More Time
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?
The Morality of Occupying Private Property
Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts
Why Conservatism Works
Bleeding Heart Libertarians = Left Statists
Enough with the Bleeding Hearts, Already
Not Guilty of Libertarian Purism
Liberty and Society
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Getting Liberty Wrong

Income Inequality and Economic Growth

Standard & Poor’s adds fuel the the already raging fire of economic illiteracy with its research report entitled, “How Increasing Income Inequality Is Dampening U.S. Economic Growth, and Possible Ways to Change the Tide.” The S&P paper mines the Marxian-Pikettian vein of “underconsumption,” which (in the Marxian-Pikettian view) leads to economic collapse. (That Marx was wrong has been amply demonstrated by the superior performance of quasi-free economies, which have lifted the poor as well as the rich. Many writers have found grave errors in Piketty‘s reasoning– and data — these among them.)

The remedy for economic collapse (in the Marxian-Pikettian view) is socialism (perhaps smuggled in as “democratic” redistributionism). It is, of course, the kind of imaginary, painless socialism favored by affluent professors and pundits — favored as long as it doesn’t affect their own affluence. It bears no resemblance to the actual kind of socialism experienced by the billions who have been oppressed by it and the tens of millions who have been killed for its sake.

I have read two thorough take-downs of S&P’s screed. One is by Scott Winship (“S&P’s Fundamentally Flawed Inequality Report,” Economic Policies for the 21st Century at the Manhattan Institute, August 6, 2014). A second is by John Cochrane (“S&P Economists and Inequality,” The Grumpy Economist, August 8, 2014). Cochrane summarizes (and demolishes) the central theme of the S&P report, which I will address here:

[I]nequality is bad [because] it is bad for growth, and if the reason it is bad for growth is that it leads to insufficient consumption and lack of demand….

That bit of hogwash serves the redistributionist agenda. As Cochrane puts it, “redistributive taxation is a perennial answer in search of a question.” Indeed.

There’s more:

Inequality – growth is supposed to be about long run trends, not boom and slow recovery.

Professor of Public Policy at U.S. Berkeley Robert Reich argues that increased inequality has reduced overall aggregate demand. He observes that high-income households have a lower marginal propensity to consume (MPC) out of income than other households.

Let us begin at the beginning, that is, with some self-evident postulates that even a redistributionist will grant — until he grasps their anti-redistributionist implications:

  • All economic output is of two distinct types: consumption and investment (i.e., the replacement of or increase in the stock of capital that is used to produce goods for consumption).
  • The output of consumption goods must decline, ceteris paribus, if the stock of capital declines.
  • The stock of capital is sustained (and increased) by forgoing consumption.
  • The stock of capital is therefore sustained (and increased) by saving.
  • Saving rises with income because persons in high-income brackets usually consume a smaller fraction of their incomes than do persons in middle- and low-income brackets.
  • The redistribution of income from high-income earners to middle- and low-income earners therefore leads to a reduction in saving.
  • A reduction in saving means less investment and, thus, a reduction in the effective stock of capital, as it wears out.
  • With less capital, workers become less productive.
  • Output therefore declines, to the detriment of workers as well as “capitalists.”

In sum, efforts to make incomes more equal through redistribution have the opposite effect of the one claimed for it by ignorant bloviators like Robert Reich.

So much for the claim that a higher rate of consumption is a good policy for the long run.

What about in the short run; that is, what about Keynesian “stimulus” to “prime the pump”? I won’t repeat what I say in “The Keynesian Multiplier: Phony Math.” Go there, and see for yourself.

For an estimate of the destructive, long-run effect of government see “The True Multiplier.”

Abortion Rights and Gun Rights

Eugene Volokh quotes from yesterday’s decision by U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson in Planned Parenthood Southeast Inc. v. Strange (M.D. Ala. Aug. 4, 2014). Here’s part of the decision, with some obvious editing by me:

In order to give “real substance to the woman’s liberty ability to commit murder,” while at the same time fully honoring the State’s ability to pursue, in good faith, its own acknowledged legitimate interests, one of which is to prevent murder, this court concludes that it must hold that this requirement [that all doctors who provide abortions must have staff privileges to perform designated procedures at a local hospital] is unconstitutional. The evidence compellingly demonstrates that the requirement would have the striking result of closing three of Alabama’s five abortion clinics, clinics which perform only early abortions murders, long before viability the births of the children who in almost all cases would have become “viable” fetuses were it not for abortion. Indeed, the court is convinced that, if this requirement would not, in the face of all the evidence in the record, constitute an impermissible undue burden, then almost no regulation, short of those imposing an outright prohibition on abortion, would deny some women their manufactured constitutional right to commit murder….

In deciding this case, the court was struck by a false parallel in some respects between the manufactured right of women to decide to terminate a pregnancy murder defenseless fetuses and the right of the individual to keep and bear firearms, including handguns, in her home for the purposes of self-defense. At its core, each protected right is held by the individual: the manufactured right to decide to have an abortion commit murder and the time-honored right to have and use firearms for self-defense, that is, to prevent murder and other types of crime.

However, neither right can be fully exercised without the assistance of someone else. The manufactured right to abortion murder a fetus that would almost certainly have become viable cannot be exercised without a medical professional (a misstatement that bolsters my false analogy), and the right to keep and bear arms for defense against murder means little if there is no one from whom to acquire the handgun or ammunition….

With this parallelism in mind, the court poses the hypothetical that suppose, for the public weal the purpose of depriving citizens of their time-honored right to self defense, the federal or state government were to implement a new restriction on who may sell firearms and ammunition and on the procedure they must employ in selling such goods and that, further, only two vendors in the State of Alabama were capable of complying with the restriction: one in Huntsville and one in Tuscaloosa.

…Similarly, in this case, so long as the Supreme Court continues to recognize a manufactured constitutional right to choose to terminate a pregnancy murder a defenseless fetus that almost certainly would have become viable, any regulation that would, in effect, restrict the exercise of that right murderous act to only Huntsville and Tuscaloosa should be subject to the same skepticism condemned for not having gone far enough….

Judge Thompson’s patently biased analogy abets barbarism.

P.S. Only after publishing the original post and later making some editorial changes did I learn that Judge Thompson was appointed to the bench by Jimmy Carter. Jimmy must be proud of Myron’s use of twisted logic in the service of left-wing orthodoxy.

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Related posts:
Law, Liberty, and Abortion
Privacy, Autonomy, and Responsibility
Substantive Due Process and the Limits of Privacy
Crimes against Humanity
Abortion and Logic
Abortion, Doublethink, and Left-Wing Blather
Abortion, “Gay Rights,” and Liberty