Month: May 2015

1963: The Year Zero

[A] long habit of not thinking a thing WRONG, gives it a superficial appearance of being RIGHT…. Time makes more converts than reason.

Thomas Paine, Common Sense

If ignorance and passion are the foes of popular morality, it must be confessed that moral indifference is the malady of the cultivated classes. The modern separation of enlightenment and virtue, of thought and conscience, of the intellectual aristocracy from the honest and common crowd is the greatest danger that can threaten liberty.

Henri Frédéric Amiel, Journal

The Summer of Love ignited the loose, Dionysian culture that is inescapable today. The raunch and debauchery, radical individualism, stylized non-conformity, the blitzkrieg on age-old authorities, eventually impaired society’s ability to function.

Gilbert T. Sewall, “Summer of Love, Winter of Decline

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If, like me, you were an adult when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, you may think of his death as a watershed moment in American history. I say this not because I’m an admirer of Kennedy the man (I am not), but because American history seemed to turn a corner when Kennedy was murdered. To take the metaphor further, the corner marked the juncture of a sunny, tree-lined street (America from the end of World War II to November 22, 1963) and a dingy, littered street (America since November 22, 1963).

Changing the metaphor, I acknowledge that the first 18 years after V-J Day were by no means halcyon, but they were the spring that followed the long, harsh winter of the Great Depression and World War II. Yes, there was the Korean War, but that failure of political resolve was only a rehearsal for later debacles. McCarthyism, a political war waged (however clumsily) on America’s actual enemies, was benign compared with the war on civil society that began in the 1960s and continues to this day. The threat of nuclear annihilation, which those of you who were schoolchildren of the 1950s will remember well, had begun to subside with the advent of JFK’s military policy of flexible response, and seemed to evaporate with JFK’s resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis (however poorly he managed it). And for all of his personal faults, JFK was a paragon of grace, wit, and charm — a movie-star president — compared with his many successors, with the possible exception of Ronald Reagan, who had been a real movie star.

What follows is an impression of America since November 22, 1963, when spring became a long, hot summer, followed by a dismal autumn and another long, harsh winter — not of deprivation, and perhaps not of war, but of rancor and repression.

This petite histoire begins with the Vietnam War and its disastrous mishandling by LBJ, its betrayal by the media, and its spawning of the politics of noise. “Protests” in public spaces and on campuses are a main feature of the politics of noise. In the new age of instant and sympathetic media attention to “protests,” civil and university authorities often refuse to enforce order. The media portray obstructive and destructive disorder as “free speech.” Thus do “protestors” learn that they can, with impunity, inconvenience and cow the masses who simply want to get on with their lives and work.

Whether “protestors” learned from rioters, or vice versa, they learned the same lesson. Authorities, in the age of Dr. Spock, lack the guts to use force, as necessary, to restore civil order. (LBJ’s decision to escalate gradually in Vietnam — “signaling” to Hanoi — instead of waging all-out war was of a piece with the “understanding” treatment of demonstrators and rioters.) Rioters learned another lesson — if a riot follows the arrest, beating, or death of a black person, it’s a “protest” against something (usually white-racist oppression, regardless of the facts), not wanton mayhem. After a lull of 21 years, urban riots resumed in 1964, and continue to this day.

LBJ’s “Great Society” marked the resurgence of FDR’s New Deal — with a vengeance — and the beginning of a long decline of America’s economic vitality. The combination of the Great Society (and its later extensions, such as Medicare Part D and Obamacare) with the rampant growth of regulatory activity has cut the rate of economic growth from 5 percent to 2 percent.  The entrepreneurial spirit has been crushed; dependency has been encouraged and rewarded; pension giveaways have bankrupted public treasuries across the land. America since 1963 has been visited by a perfect storm of economic destruction that seems to have been designed by America’s enemies.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 unnecessarily crushed property rights, along with freedom of association, to what end? So that a violent, dependent, Democrat-voting underclass could arise from the Great Society? So that future generations of privilege-seekers could cry “discrimination” if anyone dares to denigrate their “lifestyles”? There was a time when immigrants and other persons who seemed “different” had the good sense to strive for success and acceptance as good neighbors, employees, and merchants. But the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its various offspring — State and local as well as federal — are meant to short-circuit that striving and to force acceptance, whether or not a person has earned it. The vast, silent majority is caught between empowered privilege-seekers and powerful privilege-granters. The privilege-seekers and privilege-granters are abetted by dupes who have, as usual, succumbed to the people’s romance — the belief that government represents society.

Presidents, above all, like to think that they represent society. What they represent, of course, are their own biases and the interests to which they are beholden. Truman, Ike, and JFK were imperfect presidential specimens, but they are shining idols by contrast with most of their successors. The downhill slide from the Vietnam and the Great Society to Obamacare and lawlessness on immigration has been punctuated by many shameful episodes; for example:

  • LBJ — the botched war in Vietnam, repudiation of property rights and freedom of association (the Civil Rights Act)
  • Nixon — price controls, Watergate
  • Carter — dispiriting leadership and fecklessness in the Iran hostage crisis
  • Reagan — bugout from Lebanon, rescue of Social Security
  • Bush I — failure to oust Saddam when it could have been done easily, the broken promise about taxes
  • Clinton — bugout from Somalia, push for an early version of Obamacare, budget-balancing at the cost of defense, and perjury
  • Bush II — No Child Left Behind Act, Medicare Part D, the initial mishandling of Iraq, and Wall Street bailouts
  • Obama — stimulus spending, Obamacare, reversal of Bush II’s eventual success in Iraq, naive backing for the “Arab spring,”  acquiescence to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, unwillingness to acknowledge or do anything about the expansionist aims of Russia and China, neglect or repudiation of traditional allies (especially Israel), and refusal to take care that the immigration laws are executed faithfully.

Only Reagan’s defense buildup and its result — victory in the Cold War — stands out as a great accomplishment. But the victory was squandered: The “peace dividend” should have been peace through continued strength, not unpreparedness for the post 9/11 wars and the resurgence of Russia and China.

The war on defense has been accompanied by a war on science. The party that proclaims itself the party of science is anything but that. It is the party of superstitious, Luddite anti-science. Witness the embrace of extreme environmentalism, the arrogance of proclamations that AGW is “settled science,” unjustified fear of genetically modified foodstuffs, the implausible doctrine that race is nothing but a social construct, and on and on.

With respect to the nation’s moral well-being, the most destructive war of all has been the culture war, which assuredly began in the 1960s. Almost overnight, it seems, the nation was catapulted from the land of Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, and Leave It to Beaver to the land of the free- filthy-speech movement, Altamont, Woodstock, Hair, and the unspeakably loud, vulgar, and violent offerings that are now plastered all over the air waves, the internet, theater screens, and “entertainment” venues.

Adherents of the ascendant culture esteem protest for its own sake, and have stock explanations for all perceived wrongs (whether or not they are wrongs): racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, hate, white privilege, inequality (of any kind), Wall  Street, climate change, Zionism, and so on.

Then there is the campaign to curtail freedom of speech. This purported beneficiaries of the campaign are the gender-confused and the easily offended (thus “microagressions” and “trigger warnings”). The true beneficiaries are leftists. Free speech is all right if it’s acceptable to the left. Otherwise, it’s “hate speech,” and must be stamped out. This is McCarthyism on steroids. McCarthy, at least, was pursuing actual enemies of liberty; today’s leftists are the enemies of liberty.

There’s a lot more, unfortunately. The organs of the state have been enlisted in an unrelenting campaign against civilizing social norms. As I say here,

we now have not just easy divorce, subsidized illegitimacy, and legions of non-mothering mothers, but also abortion, concerted (and deluded) efforts to defeminize females and to neuter or feminize males, forced association (with accompanying destruction of property and employment rights), suppression of religion, absolution of pornography, and the encouragement of “alternative lifestyles” that feature disease, promiscuity, and familial instability. The state, of course, doesn’t act of its own volition. It acts at the behest of special interests — interests with a “cultural” agenda….  They are bent on the eradication of civil society — nothing less — in favor of a state-directed Rousseauvian dystopia from which morality and liberty will have vanished, except in Orwellian doublespeak.

If there are unifying themes in this petite histoire, they are the death of common sense and the rising tide of moral vacuity — thus the epigrams at the top of the post. The history of the United States since 1963 supports the proposition that the nation is indeed going to hell in a handbasket.

Read on.

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Related reading:

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Related posts:

Refuting Rousseau and His Progeny
Killing Free Speech in Order to Save It
The Adolescent Rebellion Syndrome
The Ruinous Despotism of Democracy
Academic Bias
The F-Scale Revisited
The Modern Presidency: A Tour of American History
The People’s Romance
Intellectuals and Capitalism
On Liberty
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
Liberalism and Sovereignty
The Interest-Group Paradox
Getting It Wrong and Right about Iran
The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
The State of the Union 2010
The Shape of Things to Come
Sexist Nonsense
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
Delusions of Preparedness
Inside-Outside
Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare
A Grand Strategy for the United States
The Folly of Pacifism
The Unconstitutionality of the Individual Mandate
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power?
Does Congress Have the Power to Regulate Inactivity?
Is the Anger Gone?
Government vs. Community
Social Justice
The Left’s Agenda
More Social Justice
Why We Should (and Should Not) Fight
Rating America’s Wars
The Public-School Swindle
The Evil That Is Done with Good Intentions
Transnationalism and National Defense
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
The Left and Its Delusions
In Defense of Wal-Mart
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
The Folly of Pacifism, Again
An Economist’s Special Pleading: Affirmative Action for the Ugly
September 20, 2001: Hillary Clinton Signals the End of “Unity”
The War on Terror, As It Should Have Been Fought
Obamacare: Neither Necessary nor Proper
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Our Perfect, Perfect Constitution
Free Will, Crime, and Punishment
Constitutional Confusion
Obamacare, Slopes, Ratchets, and the Death-Spiral of Liberty
Obamacare and Zones of Liberty
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
Obama’s Big Lie
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
The Capitalist Paradox Meets the Interest-Group Paradox
Genetic Kinship and Society
America: Past, Present, and Future
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
Left-Libertarians, Obama, and the Zimmerman Case
“Conversing” about Race
The Fallacy of Human Progress
Fighting Modernity
Political Correctness vs. Civility
IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition
AGW: The Death Knell
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
Defining Liberty
The World Turned Upside Down
“We the People” and Big Government
Evolution and Race
The Culture War
Defense Spending: One More Time
The Fall and Rise of American Empire
Some Inconvenient Facts about Income Inequality
Modern Liberalism as Wishful Thinking
Mass (Economic) Hysteria: Income Inequality and Related Themes
Presidential Treason
Getting Liberty Wrong
Romanticizing the State
The Limits of Science (II)
The Pretence of Knowledge
“The Science Is Settled”
“Wading” into Race, Culture, and IQ
“Liberalism” and Personal Responsibility
Income Inequality and Economic Growth
Round Up the Usual Suspects
Walking the Tightrope Reluctantly
Poverty, Crime, and Big Government
Evolution, Culture, and “Diversity”
A Case for Redistribution, Not Made
Greed, Conscience, and Big Government
Ruminations on the Left in America
The Harmful Myth of Inherent Equality
My View of Libertarianism
Crime Revisited
Getting “Equal Protection” Right
McCloskey on Piketty
The Rahn Curve Revisited
The Slow-Motion Collapse of the Economy
A Cop-Free World?
Nature, Nurture, and Inequality
Tolerance
How to Eradicate the Welfare State, and How Not to Do It
Does Obama Love America?
The Real Burden of Government
No Wonder Liberty Is Disappearing
Diminishing Marginal Utility and the Redistributive Urge
How to Protect Property Rights and Freedom of Association and Expression
Obamanomics in Action
Democracy, Human Nature, and the Future of America
Rationalism, Empiricism, and Scientific Knowledge
The Gaystapo at Work
The Gaystapo and Islam
AGW in Austin?

Signature

The Principles of Actionable Harm

I prefer — as a minarchistic libertarian (a radical-right-minarchist, to be precise) — an accountable, constrained state to the the condition of anarchy. This leads to warlordism and thence to despotism. But the state must be held to its proper realm of action, namely, dispensing justice and defending citizens. Its purpose in doing those things — and the sole justification for its being — is to protect negative rights (including property rights) and civil society. (For more about the proper role of the state, go to “Parsing Political Philosophy” and under the section headed “Minarchism,” see “The Protection of Negative Rights,” “More about Property Rights,” and the “Role of Civil Society.”)

Specifically:

1. An actionable harm — a harm against which the state may properly act — is one that deprives a person of negative rights or undermines the voluntarily evolved institutions and norms of civil society.

2. The state should not act — or encourage action by private entities — except as it seeks to deter, prevent, or remedy an actionable harm to its citizens.

3. An actionable harm may be immediate (as in the case of murder) or credibly threatened (as in the case of a conspiracy to commit murder). But actionable harms extend beyond those that are immediate or credibly threatened. They also result from actions by the state that strain and sunder the bonds of trust that make it possible for a people to coexist civilly, through the mutual self-restraint that arises from voluntarily evolved social norms. The use of state power has deeply eroded such norms. The result has been to undermine the trust and self-restraint that enable a people to enjoy liberty and its fruits; for example:

  • Affirmative action and other forms of forced racial integration deny property rights and freedom of association, prolong racial animosity, and impose unwarranted economic harm on those who are guilty of nothing but the paleness of their skin.
  • The legal enshrinement of gay rights leads to the suppression of speech and the denial of freedoms of expression and association, at the expense of citizens who have done nothing worse than refuse to recognize a “lifestyle choice” of which they disapprove, as should be their right.

4. An expression of thought cannot be an actionable harm unless it

a. is defamatory; or

b. would directly obstruct governmental efforts to deter, prevent, or remedy an actionable harm (e.g., divulging classified defense information, committing perjury); or

c. intentionally causes or would directly cause an actionable harm (e.g., plotting to commit an act of terrorism, forming a lynch mob); or

d. purposely — through a lie or the withholding of pertinent facts — causes a person to act against self-interest; or

e. purposely — through its intended influence on government — results in what would be an actionable harm if committed by a private entity (e.g., the taking of income from persons who earn it, simply to assuage the envy of those who earn less). (The remedy for such harms should not be the suppression or punishment of the harmful expressions; the remedy should be the enactment and enforcement of restrictions on the ability of government to act as it does.)

5. With those exceptions, a mere statement of fact, belief, opinion, or attitude cannot be an actionable harm. Otherwise, those persons who do not care for the facts, beliefs, opinions, or attitudes expressed by other persons would be able to stifle speech they find offensive merely by claiming to be harmed by it. And those persons who claim to be offended by the superior income or wealth of other persons would be entitled to recompense from those other persons. (It takes little imagination to see the ramifications of such thinking; rich heterosexuals, for example, could claim to be offended by the existence of persons who are poor or homosexual, and could demand their extermination as a remedy.)

6. It cannot be an actionable harm to commit a private, voluntary act of omission (e.g., the refusal of social or economic relations for reasons of personal preference), other than a breach of contract or fiduciary responsibility. Nor can it be an actionable harm to commit a private, voluntary act which does nothing more than arouse resentment, envy, or anger in others. A legitimate state does not  judge, punish, or attempt to influence private, voluntary acts that are not otherwise actionable harms.

7. By the same token, a legitimate state does not judge, punish, or attempt to influence private, voluntary acts of commission which have undesirable but avoidable consequences. For example:

  • Government prohibition of smoking on private property is illegitimate because non-smokers could choose not to frequent or work at establishments that allow smoking.
  • Other government restrictions on the use of private property (e.g., laws that bar restrictive covenants or mandate public accommodation) are illegitimate because they (1) diminish property rights and (2) discourage ameliorating activities (e.g., the evolution away from cultural behaviors that play into racial prejudice, investments in black communities and black-run public accommodations).
  • Tax-funded subsidies for retirement and health care are illegitimate because they discourage hard work, saving, and other prudent habits — habits that would lead to less dependence on government, were those habits encouraged.

8. It is also wrong for the state to make and enforce distinctions among individuals that have the effect of advantaging some persons because of their age, gender, sexual orientation, skin color, ethnicity, religion, or economic status.

9. Except in the case of punishment for an actionable harm, it is an actionable harm to bar a competent adult from

a. expressing his views, as long as they are not defamatory or meant to incite harm (voice); or

b. moving to a place of his choosing (exit).

(As a practical matter, voice is of little consequence if the state’s power of the lives and livelihoods of citizens has grown so great that it cannot be undone except by revolution. Further, exit becomes meaningless when the central government’s power reaches into every corner of the nation and leaves persons of ordinary means with no place to turn. In the present circumstances, it follows that the state daily commits actionable harms against citizens of the United States.)

10. The proper role of the state is to enforce the preceding principles. In particular,

a. to remain neutral with respect to evolved social norms, except where those norms deny voice or exit, as with the systematic disenfranchisement or enslavement of particular classes of persons; and

b. to foster economic freedom (and therefore social freedom) by ensuring open trade within the nation and (to the extent compatible with national security) open trade with (but selective immigration from) other nations; and

c. to ensure free expression of thought, except where such expression is tantamount to an actionable harm (as in a conspiracy to commit murder or mount a campaign of harassment); and

d. to see that just laws — those enacted in accordance with the principles of actionable harm — are enforced swiftly and surely, with favoritism toward no person or class of persons; and

e. to defend citizens against predators, foreign and domestic.

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The principles of actionable harm are not rules for making everyone happy. They are rules for ensuring that each of us is able to pursue happiness without impinging on the happiness of others.

The state should apply the principles of actionable harm only to citizens and legitimate residents of the United States. Sovereignty is otherwise meaningless; the United States exists for the protection of citizens and persons legitimately resident; it is not an eleemosynary institution.

By the same token, those who would harm citizens and legitimate residents of the United States must be treated summarily and harshly, as necessary.

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Related posts:

Why Sovereignty?
Parsing Political Philosophy
Negative Rights
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Golden Rule and the State
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
Facets of Liberty
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
Defining Liberty
Conservatism as Right-Minarchism
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Getting Liberty Wrong
Romanticizing the State
Libertarianism and the State
My View of Libertarianism

Signature

The Perpetual Nudger

Richard Thaler, about whose “libertarian” paternalism I’ve written many times, is at it again. Thaler, in case you don’t know of him, is co-author (with Cass Sunstein) of Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Thaler’s partnership with Sunstein should be enough to tell you that “libertarian” paternalism is about paternalism, not liberty. (My many essays about Thaler, Sunstein, and their works and minds are among the “related posts” at the bottom of this one.)

What’s Thaler up to now? It seems that he’s written a new book, Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics, from which he has drawn “Unless You Are Spock, Irrelevant Things Matter in Economic Behavior” (The New York Times, May 8, 2015). The article displays three of Thaler’s pet tricks:

  • He misrepresents classical microeconomics.
  • He assumes (implicitly) that everyone should make economic decisions from an omniscient, end-of-life perspective.
  • He substitutes his economic desiderata for the free choices of millions of persons.

Regarding Thaler’s misrepresentation of classical microeconomics, consider these passages from his article:

Economists [who adhere to traditional microeconomic theory] discount any factors that would not influence the thinking of a rational person. These things are supposedly irrelevant. But unfortunately for the theory, many supposedly irrelevant factors do matter.

Economists create this problem with their insistence on studying mythical creatures often known as Homo economicus. I prefer to call them “Econs”— highly intelligent beings that are capable of making the most complex of calculations but are totally lacking in emotions. Think of Mr. Spock in “Star Trek.” In a world of Econs, many things would in fact be irrelevant.

No Econ would buy a larger portion of whatever will be served for dinner on Tuesday because he happens to be hungry when shopping on Sunday. Your hunger on Sunday should be irrelevant in choosing the size of your meal for Tuesday. An Econ would not finish that huge meal on Tuesday, even though he is no longer hungry, just because he had paid for it. To an Econ, the price paid for an item in the past is not relevant in making the decision about how much of it to eat now.

An Econ would not expect a gift on the day of the year in which she happened to get married, or be born. What difference do these arbitrary dates make?…

Of course, most economists know that the people with whom they interact do not resemble Econs. In fact, in private moments, economists are often happy to admit that most of the people they know are clueless about economic matters. But for decades, this realization did not affect the way most economists did their work. They had a justification: markets. To defenders of economics orthodoxy, markets are thought to have magic powers.

This reads more like the confession of an Econ than an accurate description of the principles of microeconomics. Even in those benighted days when I learned the principles of “micro” — just a few years ahead of Thaler — it was understood that the assumption of rationality was an approximation of the tendency of individuals to try to make themselves better off by making choices that would do so, given their tastes and preferences and the information that they possess at the time or could obtain at a cost commensurate with the value of the decision at hand.

Yes, there are Econs, but they’re usually economists who also know full well that the mass of people don’t behave like Econs (as Thaler admits), and for whom the postulate of utter rationality is, as I’ve suggested, shorthand for an imprecise tendency. The fact that most human beings aren’t Econs doesn’t vitiate the essential truth of the traditional theory of choice. What seems to bother Thaler is that most people aren’t Econs; their tastes and preferences seem irrational to him, and it’s his (self-appointed) role in life to force them to make “correct” decisions (i.e., the decisions he would make).

I’ll say more about that. But I can’t let Thaler’s views about markets pass without comment. He continues:

There is a version of this magic market argument that I call the invisible hand wave…. Words and phrases such as high stakes, learning and arbitrage are thrown around to suggest some of the ways that markets can do their magic, but it is my claim that no one has ever finished making the argument with both hands remaining still.

Hand waving is required because there is nothing in the workings of markets that turns otherwise normal human beings into Econs. For example, if you choose the wrong career, select the wrong mortgage or fail to save for retirement, markets do not correct those failings. In fact, quite the opposite often happens. It is much easier to make money by catering to consumers’ biases than by trying to correct them.

This is a perverted description of the role of markets. And it betrays the peculiar vantage point from which Thaler views economic decision-making. Markets provide information, much of which reflects decisions already made by others. Markets, in other words, enable persons who are contemplating decisions to learn from the decisions of others — whether those others view their decisions as bad, good, or indifferent. But it’s up to persons who are contemplating decisions to take advantage of the information provide by markets. I’ve never known anyone to suggest that markets are antidote of sorts for choices already made.

Moreover, markets don’t merely “cater to consumers’ biases.” Markets enable businesses to shape consumers’ tastes and preferences by presenting them with information about the availability and advantages of new and improved products and services. Markets transmit information in two directions, not just from consumers to producers.

What about people who make “bad” choices, such as choosing the “wrong” career, selecting the “wrong” mortgage, or failing to save for retirement? That’s Thaler the Nudge talking. He wants to save people from such fates. While he’s at it, perhaps he can also save them from choosing the wrong spouse or the wrong number of children.

I say that because when Thaler writes about “wrong” choices in such matters, he writes as if people can and should make their minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day, week-by-week, and year-by-year decisions by reckoning (like an Econ) how those decisions will affect their “score” when they reach the finish line of life, or some other arbitrary point in time. What about all those points in between, don’t they count, too? And who knows when the finish line will arrive? Given such quandaries and uncertainties, how are the irrational masses supposed to cope? Well, they don’t — or so Thaler would like to believe. So it follows that Thaler must cope for them, but only when it comes to his pet projects (e.g., automatic enrollment in 401(k) plans). He’s silent about the myriad other decisions that real people face.

Why should Thaler care if X chooses the “wrong” career, takes a mortgage he can’t afford, doesn’t save “enough” for retirement, chooses the “wrong” spouse, or has “too many” children? It’s paternalistic thinking like Thaler’s that leads politicians to concoct programs that transfer the cost of bad choices from those who make them to those who are just trying to live their lives without making them. I expect that Thaler would respond by saying that government is already in the business of making such transfers, so the best thing is to reduce the need for them. No, the best thing is to make individuals responsible for the consequences of their choices, and let them — and others — learn from the consequences. The best thing is to dismantle the dependency-creating, handout-giving functions of government. And a behavioral economist like Thaler is just the kind of person who could mount a strong economic case against those functions — if he were of a mind to do so.

Thaler doesn’t seem to be of a mind to do so because what he really wants is for people to make the “right” decisions, by his lights. Why? Because he knows what’s best for all of us; for example:

Consider defined-contribution retirement plans like 401(k)’s. Econs would have no trouble figuring out how much to save for retirement and how to invest the money, but mere humans can find it quite tough. So knowledgeable employers have incorporated three [features] in their plan design: they automatically enroll employees (who can opt out), they automatically increase the saving rate every year, and they offer a sensible default investment choice like a target date fund. These features significantly improve the outcomes of plan participants…. [TEA: This assumes that everyone should care more about retirement income than about anything else, at the margin.]

These retirement plans also have a supposedly relevant factor: Contributions and capital appreciation are tax-sheltered until retirement. This tax break was created to induce people to save more….

[The authors of a recent study] conclude: “…Automatic enrollment or default policies that nudge individuals to save more could have larger impacts on national saving at lower social cost.”

Get it? One of the objectives of nudging people to participate in 401(k) plans is to raise the national saving rate. Anyone who’s passingly familiar with this blog knows that I often decry government policies that discourage saving, especially by imposing more taxes on high-earners, because such policies reduce saving and therefore reduce investment and economic growth. But saving should be a voluntary thing, and the national saving rate should emerge from voluntary decisions. It shouldn’t be dictated by those, like Thaler, who view a higher national saving rate as a holy grail, to be advanced by policies that effectively dictate the “choices” that people make. But that’s Thaler for you: Imposing his economic desiderata on others.

I learned one thing from Thaler’s article: He’s a quintessential Econ. Pot. Kettle. Black.

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Related reading: John Cochrane, “Homo Economicus or Homo Paleas?,” The Grumpy Economist, May 22, 2015 (In which Professor Cochrane reinforces some of my points and makes some others — all telling.)

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Related posts:

The Rationality Fallacy
Libertarian Paternalism
A Libertarian Paternalist’s Dream World
The Short Answer to Libertarian Paternalism
Second-Guessing, Paternalism, Parentalism, and Choice
Another Thought about Libertarian Paternalism
Back-Door Paternalism
Another Voice Against the New Paternalism
Slippery Paternalists
The Feds and “Libertarian Paternalism”
A Further Note about “Libertarian” Paternalism
Apropos Paternalism
Irrationality, Suboptimality, and Voting
Beware of Libertarian Paternalists
More about Paternalism
Columnist, Heal Thyself
Discounting and Libertarian Paternalism
The Mind of a Paternalist
The Mind of a Paternalist, Revisited
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
Irrational Rationality
Not-So-Random Thoughts (III) (third item)
The Sunstein Effect Is Alive and Well in the White House (see “related posts” for many more about Sunstein)
Not-So-Random Thoughts (XII) (eighth item)

Signature

The Gaystapo and Islam

Politics, as usual, makes strange bedfellows. The Gaystapo — which includes a lot of non-gays — wants to punish anyone who declines to endorse same-sex “marriage” by providing such things as flowers, cakes, and pizzas for occasions related to such “marriages.” Islamists want to punish (quite literally) anyone who dares to draw, exhibit, or publish an image of Muhammad.

Here’s where it gets really weird — if you’re a stickler for logical consistency. Islamists are well-known for their condemnation and punishment of homosexuality. But it is safe to say that persons who are sympathetic to Islam and willing to overlook such “peccadillos” as the stoning to death of queers (and unfaithful female spouses) constitute a large fraction of the Gaystapo. Oh, I should have mentioned Shari’ah law, which doesn’t seem to bother the typical member of the Gaystapo, even though it forces Islam down the throats of all who are subject to it — and the goal of Islamists is to subject everyone to it.

Which brings me to the common denominator of Islamism and the Gaystapo (and the left, generally): a strong taste for repression. They’re not such strange bedfellows, after all.

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Related reading:

Related posts:

See especially Wrong for the Wrong Reasons

Also:
FDR and Fascism
An FDR Reader
The People’s Romance
Intellectuals and Capitalism
Fascism
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Inventing “Liberalism”
The Shape of Things to Come
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Accountants of the Soul
Invoking Hitler
The Left
Our Enemy, the State
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
America: Past, Present, and Future
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
The World Turned Upside Down
The Fall and Rise of American Empire
Presidential Treason
“A Date Which Will Live in Infamy”
The Criminality and Psychopathy of Statism
Romanticizing the State
Ruminations on the Left in America
The Gaystapo at Work

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AGW in Austin?

“Climate change” is religion refracted through the lens of paganism.

Melanie Phillips

There is a hypothesis that the purported rise in global temperatures since 1850 (or some shorter span if you’re embarrassed by periods of notable decline after 1850) was or is due mainly or solely to human activity, as manifested in emissions of CO2. Adherents of this hypothesis call the supposed phenomenon by various names: anthropogenic global warming (AGW), just plain global warming, climate change, and climate catastrophe, for example.

Those adherents loudly advocate measures that (they assert) would reduce CO2 emissions by enough to avoid climatic catastrophe. They have been advocating such measures for about 25 years, yet climate catastrophe remains elusive. (See “pause,” below.) But the true believers in AGW remain steadfast in their faith.

Actually, belief in catastrophic AGW requires three leaps of faith. The first leap is to assume the truth of the alternative hypothesis — a strong and persistent connection between CO2 emissions and global temperatures — without having found (or even looked for) scientific evidence which disproves the null hypothesis, namely, that there isn’t a strong and persistent connection between CO2 emissions and global temperatures. The search for such evidence shouldn’t be confined to the near-past, but should extend centuries, millennia, and eons into the past. The problem for advocates of AGW is that a diligent search of that kind works against the alternative hypothesis and supports the null hypothesis. As a result, the advocates of AGW confine their analysis to the recent past and substitute kludgy computer models, full of fudge-factors, for a disinterested examination of the actual causes of climate change. There is strong evidence that such causes include solar activity and its influence on cloud formation through cosmic radiation. That truth is too inconvenient for the AGW mob, as are many other truths about climate.

The second leap of faith is to assume that rising temperatures, whatever the cause, are a bad thing. This, despite the known advantages of warmer climates: longer growing seasons and lower death rates, to name but two. This is so because believers in AGW and policies that would (according to them) mitigate it, like to depict worst-case scenarios about the extent of global warming and its negative effects.

The third leap of faith is related to the first two. It is the belief that policies meant to mitigate global warming — policies that mainly involve the curtailment of CO2 emissions — would be (a) effective and (b) worth the cost. There is more than ample doubt about both propositions, which seem to flow from the kind of anti-scientific mind that eagerly embraces the alternative hypothesis without first having disproved the null hypothesis. It is notable that “worth the cost” is a value judgment which springs readily from the tongues and keyboards of affluent Westerners like __________ who already have it made. (Insert “Al Gore”, “high-end Democrats,” “liberal pundits and politicians,” etc.)

Prominent among the leapers-of-faith in my neck of the woods is the “chief weathercaster” of an Austin TV station. We watch his weather forecasts because he spews out more information than his competitors, but I must resist the urge to throw a brick through my TV screen when his mask slips and he reveals himself as a true believer in AGW. What else should I expect from a weather nazi who proclaims it “nice” when daytime high temperatures are in the 60s and 70s, and who bemoans higher temperatures?

Like any nazi, he projects his preferences onto others — in this case his viewership. This undoubtedly includes a goodly number of persons (like me) who moved to Austin and stay in Austin for the sake of sunny days when the thermometer is in the 80-to-95-degree range. It is a bit much when temperatures are consistently in the high 90s and low 100s, as they are for much of Austin’s summer. But that’s the price of those sunny days in the 80s and low 90s, unless you can afford to live in San Diego or Hawaii instead of Austin.

Anyway, the weather nazi would make a great deal out of the following graph:

12-month average temperatures in Austin_1977-2015

The graph covers the period from April 1977 through April 2015. The jagged line represents 12-month averages of monthly averages for the official National Weather Service stations in Austin: Mueller Airport (until July 1999) and Camp Mabry (July 1999 to the present). (There’s a history of Austin’s weather stations in a NOAA document, “Austin Climate Summary.”) The upward trend is unmistakeable. Equally unmistakeable is the difference between the early and late years of the period — a difference that’s highlighted by the y-error bars, which represent a span of plus-and-minus one standard deviation from the mean for the period.

Your first question should be “Why begin with April 1977?” Well, it’s a “good” starting point — if you want to sell AGW — because the 12-month average temperature as of April 1977 was the lowest in 64 years. After all, it was the seemingly steep increase in temperatures after 1970 that sparked the AGW business.

What about the “fact” that temperatures have been rising since about 1850? The “fact” is that temperatures have been recorded in a relatively small number of locales continuously since the 1850s, though the reliability of the temperature data and their relationship to any kind of “global” average is in serious doubt. The most reliable data come from weather satellites, and those have been in operation only since the late 1970s.

A recent post by Bob Tisdale, “New UAH Lower Troposphere Temperature Data Show No Global Warming for More Than 18 Years” (Watts Up With That?, April 29, 2015), summarizes the history of satellite readings, in the course of documenting the “pause” in global warming. The “pause,” if dated from 2001, has lasted 14 years; if dated from 1997, it has lasted 18 years. In either event, the “pause” has lasted about as long as the rise in late-20th century temperatures that led to the AGW hypothesis.

What about those observations since the 1850s? Riddled with holes, that’s what. And even if they were reliable and covered a good part of the globe (which they aren’t and don’t), they wouldn’t tell the story that AGW enthusiasts are trying to sell. Take Austin, for example, which has a (broken) temperature record dating back to 1856:

12-month average temperatures in Austin_1856-2015

Looks just like the first graph? No, it doesn’t. The trend line and error bars suggest a trend that isn’t there. Strip away the trend line and the error bars, and you see this:

12-month average temperatures in Austin_1856-2015_2

Which is what? There’s a rise in temperatures between the 1850s and the early 1890s, consistent with the gradual warming that followed the Little Ice Age. The gap between the early 1890s and mid-19naughts seems to have been marked by lower temperatures. It’s possible to find several mini-trends between the mid-19naughts and 1977, but the most obvious “trend” is a flat line for the entire period:

12-month average temperatures in Austin_1903-1977

Following the sudden jump between 1977 and 1980, the “trend” remains almost flat through 1997, albeit at a slightly higher level:

12-month average temperatures in Austin_1980-1997

The sharpest upward trend really began after the very strong (and naturally warming) El Niño of 1997-1998:

12-month average temperatures in Austin_1997-2015

Oh, wait! It turns out that Austin’s sort-of hot-spell from 1998 to the present coincides with the “pause” in global warming:

The pause_from WUWT_20150429
Source: Bob Tisdale, “New UAH Lower Troposphere Temperature Data Show No Global Warming for More Than 18 Years,” Watts Up With That?, April 29, 2015.

What a revolting development this would be for our local weather nazi, if he could be bothered to acknowledge it. And if he did, he’d have to look beyond the egregious AGW hypothesis for an explanation of the warmer temperatures that he abhors. Where should he look? Here: the rapid increase in Austin’s population, combined with a drought.

The rapid increase in Austin’s population since 2000 probably has caused an acceleration of the urban heat-island (UHI) effect. This is known to inflate city temperatures above those in the surrounding countryside by several degrees.

What about drought? In Austin, the drought of recent years is far less severe than the drought of the 1950s, but temperatures have risen more in recent years than they did in the 1950s:

Indices of 5-year average precipitation and temperature

Why? Because Austin’s population is now six times greater than it was in the 1950s. The UHI effect has magnified the drought effect.

Conclusion: Austin’s recent hot weather has nothing to do with AGW. But don’t try to tell that to a weather nazi — or to the officials of the City of Austin, who lurch zombie-like onward in their pursuit of “solutions” to a non-problem.

BE SURE TO READ THE SEQUEL, IN WHICH I QUANTIFY THE EFFECTS OF PRECIPITATION AND POPULATION, LEAVING NOTHING ON THE TABLE FOR AGW.

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Related reading:
U.S. climate page at WUWT
Articles about UHI at WUWT
Roy W. Spencer, “Global Urban Heat Island Effect Study – An Update,” WUWT, March 10, 2010
Anthony Watts, “UHI – Worse Than We Thought?,” WUWT, August 20, 2014
Christopher Monckton of Brenchley, “The Great Pause Lengthens Again,” WUWT, January 3, 2015
Anthony Watts, “Two New Papers Suggest Solar Activity Is a ‘Climate Pacemaker‘,” WUWT, January 9, 2015
John Hinderaker, “Was 2014 Really the Warmest Year Ever?,” PowerLine, January 16, 2015
Roy W. Spencer, John R. Christy, and William D. Braswell, “Version 6.0 of the UAH Temperature Dataset Released: New LT Trend = +0.11 C/decade,” DrRoySpencer.com, April 28, 2015
Bob Tisdale, “New UAH Lower Troposphere Temperature Data Show No Global Warming for More Than 18 Years,” WUWT, April 29, 2015
Patrick J. Michaels and Charles C. Knappenberger, “You Ought to Have a Look: Science Round Up—Less Warming, Little Ice Melt, Lack of Imagination,” Cato at Liberty, May 1, 2015
Mike Brakey, “151 Degrees Of Fudging…Energy Physicist Unveils NOAA’s “Massive Rewrite” Of Maine Climate History,” NoTricksZone, May 2, 2015 (see also David Archibald, “A Prediction Coming True?,” WUWT, May 4, 2015)
Christopher Monckton of Brenchley, “El Niño Has Not Yet Paused the Pause,” WUWT, May 4, 2015
Anthony J. Sadar and JoAnn Truchan, “Saul Alinsky, Climate Scientist,” American Thinker, May 4, 2015
Clyde Spencer, “Anthropogenic Global Warming and Its Causes,” WUWT, May 5, 2015
Roy W. Spencer, “Nearly 3,500 Days since Major Hurricane Strike … Despite Record CO2,” DrRoySpencer.com, May 8, 2015

Related posts:
AGW: The Death Knell (with many links to related readings and earlier posts)
Not-So-Random Thoughts (XIV) (second item)

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