Arnold Kling reviews Yuval Levin’s The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism:
Levin rejects the binary choice between strong central government and pure individualism. Instead, he extols what he calls the mediating institutions of families, local government, religious institutions, and charity. His idea of paradise would be a nation in which these institutions are allowed to experiment with a variety of ways of trying to help nurture and educate citizens who are capable of exercising freedom.
If Levin is right, then it would help to have the federal government back away from many of the responsibilities it has taken on over the past fifty years. Instead, more authority and responsibility should be left to these mediating institutions.
For me, Levin offers an appealing vision. However, I wonder if it can ever attract broad public support. In 2016, it appears to me that Americans do not value freedom as much as they used to. If President Obama represented the nostalgia for the era of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, then currently his party seems to be moving even further to the left, with many believing that some form of socialism is the answer. On the Republican side, it seems ironic that the candidate who gained ascendancy by promising to wall off our southern neighbors would appear to wish to run the United States like a Latin American strongman. And on college campuses, many students and administrators prefer “safe spaces” to free speech.
I worry that mediating institutions have lost their effectiveness. The broad middle class has given way to a bifurcated society, with the highly-educated and the less-educated no longer attending the same churches or sharing similar life experiences. The close-knit neighborhood has given way to the anonymous city, where local government is mostly responsive to powerful public sector unions and favor-seeking businesses. Perhaps this means that Levin’s vision is nearly as unrealistic as those that he criticizes. Restoring our mediating institutions might be yet another exercise in trying to squeeze the toothpaste back into the tube.
I share Kling’s pessimism. Not only will the left not allow government to back off, but even if government were to back off, it would be too late to rescue liberty in much of the country. In my commentary about David D. Friedman’s pro-anarchy tract, The Machinery of Freedom, I observed that the America of two or three generations ago
would have done quite will without government because its inhabitants — even the rich and powerful and best and brightest — were largely bound by common customs and common sense. [The America of today] — riddled as it is with dependency on the state and the divisions arising from the politics of “social justice” — has neither the collective will nor the wherewithal to resist the dictatorship or warlordism that surely would follow in the wake of the (extremely unlikely) replacement of government by anarchy.
Dictatorship or warlordism wouldn’t follow the restoration of constitutional governance in the United States, but neither would liberty blossom. For the reasons adduced by Kling and me, the partial vacuum left by the shrinkage of the central government would be filled by many a State and local government — at the behest of majorities of their government-addicted constituencies.
To find liberty, a person would probably have to move to a village, town, or small city in one of the States that has been solidly “Red” for a decade or more. But many such locales would eventually succumb to the influx of refugees from big-government, high-tax jurisdictions. Those refugees usually are fleeing the tax and regulatory consequences of the very programs that they support — and will continue to support because they don’t seem to understand that it is the programs they support which yield the high taxes and draconian regulations that they detest.
Liberty in the United States has been the victim of economic illiteracy and cupidity. Liberty might be rescued — temporarily — by the (unlikely) shrinkage of the central government. The permanent salvation of liberty would require eternal vigilance, accompanied by a strictly enforced ban on the promulgation of anti-libertarian ideas and anti-social practices. License granted in the name of liberty subverts liberty.
It is no coincidence that economic progress, which depends greatly on mutual trust and respect, has faltered badly since the arrival of the Great Society and the rise of the counter-culture. It is bread and circuses all over again.
The barbarians are within and at the gates.
* * *
“Cincinnati mourns gorilla killed to save boy.” That’s the headline of a USA Today story, which says (in part):
The Cincinnati Zoo was open Sunday for Memorial Day weekend tourists, but the gorilla exhibit was closed indefinitely after authorities killed a gorilla that attacked a 4-year-old boy who fell into the enclosure’s moat.
Zoo President Thane Maynard said the boy crawled through a barrier Saturday, fell 10 to 12 feet and was grabbed by the zoo’s 17-year-old male western lowland gorilla, Harambe.
The Cincinnati Fire Department said in a statement that first responders “witnessed a gorilla who was violently dragging and throwing the child.” The boy was with the 400-pound animal for about 10 minutes before the zoo’s Dangerous Animal Response Team deemed the situation “life-threatening,” Maynard said.
Police confirmed the child was taken to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center near the zoo and was treated for non-life threatening injuries.
“The choice was made to put down, or shoot, Harambe, so he’s gone,” Maynard said. “We’ve never had a situation like this at the Cincinnati Zoo where a dangerous animal needed to be dispatched in an emergency situation.”
Maynard said the Dangerous Animal Response Team followed procedures, which they practice in drills. He said no one had ever gotten into the enclosure in the 38-year history of the zoo’s gorilla exhibit.
“It’s a sad day all the way around,” Maynard said. “They made a tough choice. They made the right choice, because they saved that little boy’s life. It could have been very bad.”
After the gorilla was shot, zoo employees unlocked the gate and two firefighters quickly retrieved the child, according to the fire department.
Two female gorillas were also in the enclosure.
“We are all devastated that this tragic accident resulted in the death of a critically endangered gorilla,” he said in a news release. “This is a huge loss for the zoo family and the gorilla population worldwide.”…
The decision to shoot Harambe instead of tranquilizing the animal was made in the interest of the boy’s safety, Maynard said.
“In an agitated situation, it may take quite a while for the tranquilizer to take effect,” he explained….
Maynard also explained that while Harambe didn’t attack the child, the animal’s size and strength posed a great danger.
Before I get to the logical fallacy, I must comment on some aspects of the story. The first is the apologetic tone of Maynard’s statement. Why apologize for doing the right thing?
Then there’s the contradiction. Maynard is reported to have said that the gorilla didn’t attack the child. But the fire department’s statement says that the gorilla was violently dragging and throwing the child, which seems more plausible.
And why was the situation deemed life-threatening only after the child had been in the gorilla enclosure for 10 minutes? It was life-threatening the instant that he climbed into the enclosure. Perhaps it took the response team that long to arrive at the scene and decide to execute the gorilla — an unconscionable delay.
Anyway, the logical fallacy is that “Cincinnati mourns.” That’s typical headline guff, and a logical fallacy. To ascribe an emotion or trait to a geopolitical area (and thus to all of its inhabitants) is a form of reification, which is the treatment of an abstraction as if it had material existence.
There is no “Cincinnati” to mourn, grieve, or otherwise experience emotion. There are many, many Cincinnatians (and New Yorkers, Americans, etc.) who have many different emotional reactions to notorious events: the killing of a gorilla, the death of Princess Diana, and so on. One of those reactions is indifference, which is often the proper one.
The headline writer could have written “Cincinnati rejoices in rescue of child from gorilla’s clutches.” But that would have been just as fallacious. There are Cincinnatians (and others) whose main (and sometimes only) reaction to the killing of the gorilla was to mourn it, and even to claim that it had been deprived of due process of law. But such views — I suspect and hope — are in the vast minority.
Were I given to reification, I would say that the events in Cincinnati reveal the callousness of America. The headline writer focused on “mourning” for the gorilla, while giving second place to the child’s well-being. And there were several bystanders who recorded the event with their cameras instead of turning away in horror.
I report, you reify.
* * *
Pacifism has several definitions, all of which are consistent with this one: an opposition to war or violence of any kind.
How does one oppose violence? Let me count the ways:
Option 1 is useless against aggressors, of whom there have been, are, and always will be an abundance. Given the permanence of aggression, option 1 amounts to a futile gesture. It doesn’t break the so-called cycle of violence because there is no such cycle. Aggression is something that many people just do, regardless of any provocation or lack thereof. In fact, many aggressors view supineness as an invitation to attack. Bullies are drawn to those who are obviously weak or cowardly, and they see pacifists as either or both. So option 1 really does nothing to reduce violence, and may even provoke it. The only beneficiary of option 1 is the pacifist who practices it; his family, friends, and countrymen may suffer because of it.
In option 2, indoctrination can be applied only to members of one’s own group (club, gang, nation), which means that it makes that group vulnerable to aggression by outsiders; that is, internal indoctrination may foster violence against the indoctrinated group.
Option 2 also contemplates diplomacy toward other groups (e.g., other nations), which may take form of pleading for restraint or (in effect) offering a bribe.
Pleading for restraint (e.g., by appealing to the other party’s better nature). This is unlikely to sway a determined aggressor, regardless of soothing public pronouncements that he may issue.
Offering a bribe (e.g., an economic or military concession). This may (temporarily) assuage an aggressive party, but it does so by enabling that part to acquire at least some of its aims without incurring the heavier cost of violence. And a demonstrated willingness to make concessions just invites an aggressive party to demand more of them — or else. This is the “better red than dead” strategy of appeasement preferred by leftists during the Cold War. Leftists are so wedded to the strategy that they refuse to admit that it was Reagan’s “provocative’ defense buildup that broke the back of the Soviet Union and eliminated it as a military threat to the United States. (The subsequent military build-down has, of course, encouraged the military resurgence of the Soviet Union, in the guise of Russia.)
Option 3 — deterrence — is a kind of persuasion, but it’s persuasion backed by force. When deterrence works, it works because the other person or the other side’s leaders believe (with or without justification) that violence will be met with violence of an unacceptable degree. Credibility is the key to deterrence. It requires the appearance and fact of resolve and an overt display of prowess. In international affairs, a display of prowess requires a nation to build and maintain substantial and obviously capable armed forces. (American leftists have been undermining the resolve of the nation’s leaders and the attainment of military might since the end of World War II.) Deterrence encompasses the resolve and ability to strike first when it becomes obvious that the other side is preparing to strike. The first blow can, in some cases, be the last one. When deterrence doesn’t work, it probably wouldn’t have worked anyway — because the other side is recklessly aggressive, and would have attacked in any event.
The pacifist believes that the world ought to operate in a certain way, that there ought not to be violence. And so he commits himself to nonviolence. But the pacifist’s ought disregards the is of human nature. Pacifism works only if everyone is a pacifist to begin with — a demonstrably false proposition.
A true pacifist is a person who will die for the sake of his pacifism, by refusing to defend himself. That’s quite all right with me if my group’s gene pool thereby becomes less pacifistic. But it’s not all right with me to be dragged into subjection and defeat by pacifists. Or by leftists whose policies are no better than pacifism.
* * *
In sum, no two seasons are alike, and some are vastly different from others. To level the playing field (pun intended), I did the following:
I then sorted the rankings to find the top 25 player-seasons in each category:
I present all three statistics because they represent different aspects of offensive prowess. BA was the most important of the three statistics until the advent of the “lively ball” era in 1919. Accordingly, the BA list is dominated by seasons played before that era, when the name of the game was “small ball.” The SLG and OPS lists are of course dominated by seasons played in the lively ball era.
Several seasons compiled by Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire showed up in the top-25 lists that I presented in an earlier post. I have expunged those seasons because of the dubious nature of Bonds’s and McGwire’s achievements.
The preceding two paragraphs lead to the question of the commensurability (or lack thereof) of cross-temporal statistics. This is from the earlier post:
There are many variations in the conditions of play that have resulted in significant changes in offensive statistics. Among those changes are the use of cleaner and more tightly wound baseballs, the advent of night baseball, better lighting for night games, bigger gloves, lighter bats, bigger and stronger players, the expansion of the major leagues in fits and starts, the size of the strike zone, the height of the pitching mound, and — last but far from least in this list — the integration of black and Hispanic players into major league baseball. In addition to these structural variations, there are others that mitigate against the commensurability of statistics over time; for example, the rise and decline of each player’s skills, the skills of teammates (which can boost or depress a player’s performance), the characteristics of a player’s home ballpark (where players generally play half their games), and the skills of the opposing players who are encountered over the course of a career.
Despite all of these obstacles to commensurability, the urge to evaluate the relative performance of players from different teams, leagues, seasons, and eras is irrepressible. Baseball-Reference.com is rife with such evaluations; the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) revels in them; many books offer them (e.g., this one); and I have succumbed to the urge more than once.
It is one thing to have fun with numbers. It is quite another thing to ascribe meanings to them that they cannot support.
And yet, it seems right that the top 25 seasons should include so many of Ty Cobb’s, Babe Ruth’s, and of their great contemporaries Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker, George Sisler, and Honus Wagner. It signifies the greatness of the later players who join them on the lists: Hank Aaron, George Brett, Rod Carew, Roberto Clemente, Mickey Mantle, Willie McCovey, Stan Musial, Frank Thomas, and Ted Williams.
Cobb’s dominance of the BA leader-board merits special attention. Cobb holds 9 of the top 19 slots on the BA list. That’s an artifact of his reign as the American League’s leading hitter in 12 of the 13 seasons from 1907 through 1919. But there was more to Cobb than just “hitting it where they ain’t.” Cobb probably was the most exciting ball player of all time, because he was much more than a hitting machine.
Charles Leershen offers chapter and verse about Cobb’s prowess in his book Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty. Here are excerpts of Leershen’s speech “Who Was Ty Cobb? The History We Know That’s Wrong,” which is based on his book:
When Cobb made it to first—which he did more often than anyone else; he had three seasons in which he batted over .400—the fun had just begun. He understood the rhythms of the game and he constantly fooled around with them, keeping everyone nervous and off balance. The sportswriters called it “psychological baseball.” His stated intention was to be a “mental hazard for the opposition,” and he did this by hopping around in the batter’s box—constantly changing his stance as the pitcher released the ball—and then, when he got on base, hopping around some more, chattering, making false starts, limping around and feigning injury, and running when it was least expected. He still holds the record for stealing home, doing so 54 times. He once stole second, third, and home on three consecutive pitches, and another time turned a tap back to the pitcher into an inside-the-park home run.
“The greatness of Ty Cobb was something that had to be seen,” George Sisler said, “and to see him was to remember him forever.” Cobb often admitted that he was not a natural, the way Shoeless Joe Jackson was; he worked hard to turn himself into a ballplayer. He had nine styles of slides in his repertoire: the hook, the fade-away, the straight-ahead, the short or swoop slide (“which I invented because of my small ankles”), the head-first, the Chicago slide (referred to by him but never explained), the first-base slide, the home-plate slide, and the cuttle-fish slide—so named because he purposely sprayed dirt with his spikes the way squid-like creatures squirt ink. Coming in, he would watch the infielder’s eyes to determine which slide to employ.
There’s a lot more in the book, which I urge you to read — especially if you’re a baseball fan who appreciates snappy prose and documented statements (as opposed to the myths that have grown up around Cobb).
Cobb’s unparalleled greatness was still fresh in the minds of baseball people in 1936, when the first inductees to baseball’s Hall of Fame were elected. It was Cobb — not Babe Ruth — who received the most votes among the five players selected for membership in the Hall.
The New York Yankees won 40 American League championships in the 89 years from 1921 through 2009, and compiled a .585 record over that span (including inter-league games and games against American League expansion franchises). Here’s how Yankees teams fared against traditional rivals in that span:
The Yankees’ traditional rivals won 40 league championships altogether. Only the Athletics managed to win more championships (9) to the Tigers’ 7 during the 89-year span. The Orioles/Browns also won 7, followed by the Red Sox and Twin/Senators with 6 each, the Indians with 3, and the White Sox with 2. Expansion franchises won the other 9 championships.
Fittingly, the Tigers’ Frank Lary was the leading Yankee-killer among pitchers who had at least 20 decisions against the Yankees during 1921-2009:
* * *
Some related posts:
The American League’s Greatest Hitters: Part II (with a link to Part I)
If Austin had a larger black population, the decision about renaming one of the city’s elementary schools probably would cause rioting. The upshot will be a lot of verbal fireworks from patronizing white “liberals” — the kind who oppose the nickname “Redskins” even though most of the real ones don’t give a war whoop about it.
The decision about the school’s name, which has been months in the making, transforms Robert E. Lee Elementary to Russell Lee Elementary. It’s not only a late entry in the anti-Confederacy hysteria that swept campuses and Statehouses last year, but it’s a rather timid one. (Not that I care.) Here’s the story:
The Austin school board on Monday night voted to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary, the first time the district has changed the name of a school because of its ties to the Confederacy.
In an 8 to 1 vote, trustees chose Russell Lee Elementary, the name favored among the school’s parents and teachers….
Some community members voiced support for the name because the school already is referred to as just Lee. Two weeks ago, it appeared that a majority of trustees wanted to stick with the school community’s wishes.
Russell Lee was a critically acclaimed Depression-era photographer and the founding professor of the University of Texas photography department. He also lived in the neighborhood. A major collection of his work is archived at the University of Texas’ Briscoe Center for American History, and some of his work hangs in the hallways of the school.
Trustee Amber Elenz said hundreds of hours among the school’s community went into the decision and she felt the board should honor their choice.
“This name change is really only happening because the school asked us to make it happen,” Elenz said. “The decision of name choices came to us solely through the hard work, long hours and collaborative efforts of the school’s leadership within the campus’ advisory council. The recommendation to name the school Russell Lee Elementary is the result of a clearly defined, open, transparent and purposeful process that was developed by and for the Lee Elementary school community.”…
More than 240 suggestions were submitted as possibilities to replace the school name, including several sassy retorts probably from those opposed to making any kind of name change — such as Hypothetical Perfect Person Memorial Elementary School. In late April, the campus advisory council announced it had narrowed the list to eight.
The issue of whether to change the name of the campus was debated for months. In the wake of last year’s church shootings in Charleston, S.C. — which killed nine African-Americans and prompted a national conversation about whether flags and other Confederate symbols belong in public spaces and buildings — Austin community members called on the district to change the name of the school. Ultimately, more than 500 residents signed a petition calling for a new name for Lee, which was named after the Confederate general in 1939. Lee has been Austin’s only campus to request a name change.
Anyway, the thing that probably will cause the never-satisfied white “liberals” of Austin to rise up (verbally, of course) is the ironic fact that Russell Lee was white:
I would have voted for Hypothetical Perfect Person Memorial Elementary School.
I’m less than satisfied by yesterday’s post, for two reasons. First, my critical comments about David D. Friedman’s The Machinery of Freedom are rather less abundant than they could have been. Second, and more important, I omitted the most telling criticism of Friedman’s book — and of political philosophy in general — which is a fixation on system, to the neglect of human nature.
It’s ironic that Friedman, an avowed and articulate anarchist, devotes a large fraction of his 378-page book to detailed descriptions of how justice and defense could be provided in the absence of government. Well, you might ask, what’s wrong with that? Justice and defense are important functions, and it’s reasonable to explain how they could be provided in the absence of government.
Here’s what’s wrong: the pretense of knowledge. No one has the foggiest idea of how actually to eliminate government, nor of how to avert dictatorship or warlordism in the wake of its demise. This might not have been the case two or three generations ago, before the dominance of the regulatory-welfare state and the eclipse of Old America:
The United States, for a very long time, was a polity whose disparate parts cohered, regionally if not nationally, because the experience of living in the kind of small community sketched above was a common one. Long after the majority of Americans came to live in urban complexes, a large fraction of the residents of those complexes had grown up in small communities.
This was Old America — and it was predominant for almost 200 years after America won its independence from Britain. Old America‘s core constituents, undeniably, were white, and they had much else in common: observance of the Judeo-Christian tradition; British and north-central European roots; hard work and self-reliance as badges of honor; family, church, and club as cultural transmitters, social anchors, and focal points for voluntary mutual aid. The inhabitants of Old America were against “entitlements” (charity was real and not accepted lightly); for punishment (as opposed to excuses about poverty, etc.); overtly religious or respectful of religion (and, in either case, generally respectful of the Ten Commandments, especially the last six of them); personally responsible (stuff happens, and it is rarely someone else’s fault); polite, respectful, and helpful to strangers (who are polite and respectful); patriotic (the U.S. was better than other countries and not beholden to international organizations, wars were fought to victory); and anti-statist (even if communitarian in a voluntary way). Living on the dole, weirdness for its own sake, open hostility to religion, habitual criminality, “shacking up,” and homosexuality were disgraceful aberrations, not “lifestyles” to be tolerated, celebrated, or privileged.
It is now de rigeur to deride the culture of Old America, and to call its constituents greedy, insensitive, hidebound, culturally retrograde, and — above all — intolerant. But what does that make the proponents and practitioners of the counter-culture of the ’60s and ’70s (many of whom have long-since risen to positions of prominence and power), of the LGBT counter-culture that is now so active and adamant about its “rights,” and of recently imported cultures that seek dominance rather than assimilation (certain Latins and Muslims, I am looking at you)?
These various counter-culturalists and incomers have not been content to establish their own communities; rather, they have sought to overthrow Old America. Intolerance is their essence. They are not merely reacting to the intolerance that may be directed at them. No, they are intolerant, and militantly so. They seek to destroy what is left of Old America. — and they have enlisted the power of the state in that effort.
Old America would have done quite will without government because its inhabitants — even the rich and powerful and best and brightest — were largely bound by common customs and common sense. New America — riddled as it is with dependency on the state and the divisions arising from the politics of “social justice” — has neither the collective will nor the wherewithal to resist the dictatorship or warlordism that surely would follow in the wake of the (extremely unlikely) replacement of government by anarchy.
Now, it may seem that I am pretending to knowledge, and I am to some degree. But my assessment of the future of an (impossibly) anarchistic America is based on a realistic view of what America has been and become. What Friedman offers is, by contrast, a shallow and sterile exercise in dreamscape design.
Friedman is David D. Friedman, proprietor of Ideas and author of (among many things) The Machinery of Freedom, which is mainly a sustained argument for anarcho-capitalism. As Friedman explains in the preface,
[t]he first edition of this book was written a little over forty years ago, the second about twenty years later. In this third edition, as in the second, I have chosen to leave the original material for the most part unchanged; references in parts I-III are to the world c. 1970, in part IV to the world c. 1988….
What I have added in this edition, aside from minor stylistic changes … is in parts V and VI. Part V contains later, I hope deeper, thoughts on my earlier ideas, part VI new material.
Friedman’s attachment to anarcho-capitalism has held for almost 50 years. That’s a remarkable record of intellectual consistency. Whether it signifies the soundness of anarcho-capitalism or merely world-class stubbornness is another matter. (In the past 50 years, my own views have evolved from collegiate “liberalism” to limited-government libertarianism to Burkean conservatism.)
Before I go further, I will say that I admire and agree with Friedman’s lucid treatment of free markets and their advantages vis-à-vis government regulations and government-provided services. But I disagree with Friedman’s view that private entities can replace government when it comes to criminal justice. I also disagree with Friedman’s characterization of conservatives as stubbornly opposed to change.
I must note, also, that Friedman’s main style of argumentation in The Machinery of Freedom is to pile assertion upon assumption, and to do so at such length and in such temperate language that the unwary or receptive reader may be lulled into agreement. The Machinery of Freedom is a long book (378 pages in paperback), so I will only offer a few examples of Friedman’s style — examples that I consider representative. The first example is drawn from chapter 29, “Police, Courts, and Laws — on the Market,” in which Friedman argues for private protection and adjudication agencies. He begins reasonably enough:
How, without government, could we settle the disputes that are now settled in courts of law? How could we protect ourselves from criminals?
Consider first the easiest case, the resolution of disputes involving contracts between well-established firms. A large fraction of such disputes are now settled not by government courts but by private arbitration of the sort described in Chapter 18. The firms, when they draw up a contract, specify a procedure for arbitrating any dispute that may arise. Thus they avoid the expense and delay of the courts.
The arbitrator has no police force. His function is to render decisions, not to enforce them. Currently, arbitrated decisions are usually enforceable in the government courts, but that is a recent development; historically, enforcement came from a firm’s desire to maintain its reputation. After refusing to accept an arbitrator’s judgment, it is hard to persuade anyone else to sign a contract that specifies arbitration; no one wants to play a game of ‘heads you win, tails I lose’.
Arbitration arrangements are already widespread. As the courts continue to deteriorate, arbitration will continue to grow. But it only provides for the resolution of disputes over pre-existing contracts. Arbitration, by itself, provides no solution for the man whose car is dented by a careless driver, still less for the victim of theft; in both cases the plaintiff and defendant, having different interests and no prior agreement, are unlikely to find a mutually satisfactory arbitrator. Indeed, the defendant has no reason to accept any arbitration at all; he can only lose—which brings us to the problem of preventing coercion.
Friedman then explains market-based solutions to the problem of preventing coercion. What follows, until I signal a new topic, are excerpts of his discussion with my commentary (underlined in brackets):
Protection from coercion is an economic good. It is presently sold in a variety of forms—Brinks guards, locks, burglar alarms. As the effectiveness of government police declines [this seems to be an assumption disguised as a fact-based assertion], these market substitutes for the police, like market substitutes for the courts, become more popular [or they could become more popular as supplements to government policing, which is limited by the amount that governments are able to extract from taxpayers].
Suppose, then, that at some future time there are no government police but instead private right enforcement agencies. [Realistically, there would be no government police — or unregulated private police — only if government itself were to disappear. I view that as an impossible event.] These agencies sell the service of protecting their clients against crime. Perhaps they also guarantee performance by insuring their clients against losses resulting from criminal acts. [How would private agencies differentiate themselves from gangsters who sell “protection”? This is an issue of trust that seldom arises with government police (or only among a small fraction of the populace), and an important reason for the retention of government police.]….
[Private agencies] would be selling a service to their customers and would have a strong incentive to provide as high a quality of service as possible at the lowest possible cost. It is reasonable to suppose that the quality of service would be higher and the cost lower than with the present governmental protective system. [Whether the cost would be lower depends to some extent on the scale of private agencies relative to the government ones they would replace. It’s premature to make assertions about quality of service before addressing the problem of inter-agency conflict.]
Inevitably, conflicts would arise between one agency and another. How might they be resolved?
I come home one night and find my television set missing. I immediately call my agency, Tannahelp Inc., to report the theft. They send an agent. He checks the automatic camera which Tannahelp, as part of their service, installed in my living room and discovers a picture of one Joe Bock lugging the television set out the door. [The security camera is a nice touch, but it strongly suggests that Tannahelp is providing a supplemental service, not merely supplanting government police. A lot of people can’t afford supplemental police services. Who do they turn to if there are no government police?] The Tannahelp agent contacts Joe, informs him that Tannahelp has reason to believe he is in possession of my television set, and suggests he return it, along with an extra ten dollars to pay for Tannahelp’s time and trouble in locating Joe. Joe replies that he has never seen my television set in his life and tells the Tannahelp agent to go to hell.
The agent points out that until Tannahelp is convinced there has been a mistake, he must proceed on the assumption that the television set is my property. Six Tannahelp employees, all large and energetic, will be at Joe’s door next morning to collect the set. Joe, in response, informs the agent that he also has a rights enforcement agency, Dawn Defense, and that his contract with them undoubtedly requires them to protect him if six goons try to break into his house and steal his television set.
The stage seems set for a nice little war between Tannahelp and Dawn Defense. It is precisely such a possibility that has led some libertarians who are not anarchists, most notably Ayn Rand, to reject the possibility of competing free-market rights enforcement agencies.
But wars are very expensive and Tannahelp and Dawn Defense are both profit-making corporations, more interested in saving money than face. I think the rest of the story would be less violent than Miss Rand supposed. [Maybe, maybe not. It’s just as likely that the most successful agency, and the eventual monopolist in a geopolitical area, will be the one that’s most aggressive, and which can afford to be aggressive because it numbers wealthy people among its clientele.]
The Tannahelp agent calls up his opposite number at Dawn Defense. ‘We’ve got a problem. . . .’ After explaining the situation, he points out that if Tannahelp sends six men and Dawn eight, there will be a fight. Someone might even get hurt. Whoever wins, by the time the conflict is over it will be expensive for both sides. They might even have to start paying their employees higher wages to make up for the risk. Then both firms will be forced to raise their rates. If they do, Murbard Ltd., an aggressive new firm which has been trying to get established in the area, will undercut their prices and steal their customers. [How convenient.] There must be a better solution.
The man from Tannahelp suggests that the better solution is arbitration. They will take the dispute over my television set to a reputable local arbitration firm. If the arbitrator decides that Joe is innocent, Tannahelp agrees to pay Joe and Dawn Defense an indemnity to make up for their time and trouble. If he is found guilty, Dawn Defense will accept the verdict; since the television set is not Joe’s, they have no obligation to protect him when the men from Tannahelp come to seize it. [An aggresssive agency of the kind that I posit above is also likely to have a monopoly on arbitration services — either overtly or through sub rosa relationships.]
What I have described is a very makeshift arrangement. In practice, once anarcho-capitalist institutions were well established [but how do we get from here to there?], agencies would anticipate such difficulties and arrange contracts in advance, before specific conflicts occurred, specifying the arbitrator who would settle them.
In such an anarchist society, who would make the laws? On what basis would the private arbitrator decide what acts were criminal and what their punishments should be? The answer is that systems of law would be produced for profit on the open market, just as books and bras are produced today. There could be competition among different brands of law just as there is competition among different brands of cars.
In such a society there might be many courts and even many legal systems. Each pair of protection agencies agree in advance on which court they will use in case of conflict. Thus the laws under which a particular case is decided are determined implicitly by advance agreement between the agencies whose customers are involved. In principle, there could be a different court and a different set of laws for every pair of agencies. In practice, many agencies would probably find it convenient to patronize the same courts, and many courts might find it convenient to adopt identical, or nearly identical, systems of law in order to simplify matters for their customers. Before labeling a society in which different people are under different laws chaotic and unjust, remember that in our society the law under which you are judged depends on the country, state, and even city in which you happen to be. Under the arrangements I am describing, it depends instead on your agency and the agency of the person you accuse of a crime or who accuses you of a crime. In such a society law is produced on the market. A court supports itself by charging for the service of arbitrating disputes. Its success depends on its reputation for honesty, reliability, and promptness and on the desirability to potential customers of the particular set of laws it judges by. [No, its success depends on selling its services to the highest bidders, who will be willing to pay for partial “justice” — as opposed to the impartial kind that criminal courts in the U.S. usually dispense.]….
Several objections may be raised to … free-market courts. The first is that they would sell justice by deciding in favor of the highest bidder. That would be suicidal; unless they maintained a reputation for honesty, they would have no customers— unlike our present judges. [This assertion conveniently disregards the strong possibility of a monopoly acquired through force and bribery. The stakes are such that war-like competition for the top-dog position, as costly as it is, can’t be ruled out. See, for example, the history of the Chicago Outfit and rivals in the days when government police were relatively ineffective.]….
Until he is actually accused of a crime, everyone wants laws that protect him from crime and let him interact peacefully and productively with others. Even criminals. Not many murderers would wish to live under laws that permitted them to kill— and be killed. [Everyone? Surely not. There are large numbers of persons, especially among the least rational and most dangerous segment of the populace, who simply don’t think like economists. And even among rational persons of means, there are many who believe that they have the wherewithal to defend themselves while getting away with murder and other anti-social acts.]
I turn now to chapter 63, “The Conservative Mistake.” This is less an apology for anarchy than it is a defense of open borders and an indictment of those who resist change. I take it up because it further illustrates Friedman’s penchant for making broad, unsupported, and (sometimes) off-target assertions — in this case about conservatism.
Critics of free immigration worry that immigrants might change the country, make it more socialist, more crime ridden, more like the places they are coming from, but offer no strong reason to expect those particular effects. Leaving the place where you grew up to move somewhere very different is, after all, evidence that you prefer the latter. [But “you” prefer the latter for particular reasons. Among those reasons is the knowledge that the new country offers a rather cushy “safety net” relative to that of the old country.] As I pointed out in one exchange, the Volokh brothers, associated with the popular libertarian/conservative legal blog the Volokh Conspiracy, are immigrants from the ex-Soviet Union. While Eugene and Sasha Volokh are slightly more socialist than I am, they are much less socialist than most of their fellow academics, not entirely surprising given that they have experienced socialism at first hand. [They are also unrepresentative of the vast numbers of immigrants who pour into the country from the south, and whose presence predictably results in higher taxes and lower wages for the many citizens who don’t reap the benefits of immigration.]
The same assumption, that change is presumptively bad, appears in arguments over global warming. [That change, in the form of unfettered immigration, will impose costs on citizens is a reasonable position for many citizens to take. Friedman glibly lumps opposition to that kind of change with the religious fervor which accompanies opposition to and fears of global warming, genetically modified foods, and fracking. The opening sentence spoils this otherwise trenchant paragraph.] It seems likely that the average temperature of the globe will go up by several degrees C over the next hundred years due mostly to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. If I had to guess, my guess would be that the net effect of the change will be positive, for at least two reasons. The first is that human habitability is limited mostly by cold, not heat— the equator is populated, the poles are not. The second is that, for well understood reasons, global warming can be expected to increase temperatures more in cold places and at cold times than in warm. Combine those two and one might guess that a somewhat warmer world would be, on the whole, more suited to humans, not less. Yet most people discussing the issue take it for granted that the change is bad, indeed catastrophically bad. A similar pattern holds for a variety of other issues, from fracking to cloning to GMO foods.
I call it a mistake, but perhaps that is unfair. We know that the present is at least tolerable, since we are at present tolerating it. [Who is “we”? And what does it mean to “tolerate” something. I can “tolerate” a toothache, but for only as long as it takes to have the tooth treated or extracted.] A change might make things better, might make them worse, so why chance it? That sounds like a plausible argument, but it contains a hidden assumption— that stasis is an option, that if we do not have more immigration our cultural and political circumstances will remain the same, that without anthropogenic CO2, climate will stay what it currently is. [In the case of immigration, Friedman again resorts to an inappropriate collective view. There are many citizens whose lives are made worse because of immigration, even as there are many citizens who benefit from the availability of low-wage labor in yard maintenance, child care, and fast-food service.]
Both are demonstrably false. Over my lifetime the cultural and political institutions of the U.S. have changed for reasons that had little to do with immigration. [Immigration, however, imposes changes over and above those that would occur through the evolution of social norms in a more homogeneous polity.] Over the past million years, the climate of the earth has changed radically time after time for reasons that had nothing to do with anthropogenic CO2. A rise in sea level of a foot or two would create problems in some parts of the world, but not problems comparable to the effect of half a mile of ice over the present locations of Chicago and London.
The left wing version of the conservative mistake comes with its own pseudoscientific slogan, ‘the precautionary principle.’ It is the rule that no decision should be made unless one can be confident that it will not have substantial bad effects, that the lack of a reason to expect it have such effects is not enough. It sounds plausible, merely a matter of playing safe, but a moment’s thought should convince you that it is not merely wrong, it is internally incoherent. The decision to permit nuclear power could have substantial bad effects. The decision not to permit nuclear power could also have substantial bad effects. If one takes the precautionary principle seriously, one is obligated to neither permit nor forbid nuclear power and similarly with many other choices, including acting or not acting to prevent global warming.
Continuing with that example, I have long argued, only partly in jest, that the precautionary principle is a major source of global warming. Nuclear power is the one source of power that does not produce CO2 and can be expanded more or less without limit. A major factor restricting the growth of nuclear power has been the precautionary principle, even if not always under that name— hostility to permitting reactors to be built as long as there is any chance that anything could go wrong. That example demonstrates my more general point: Stasis is not an option. The world is going to change whether or not we permit nuclear power and there is no a priori reason to expect the changes if we permit it to be worse than those if we do not.
I am not arguing that there is never a good reason to fear change; sometimes a change can be reasonably predicted to have bad consequences. I am arguing that much opposition to change, across a wide range of different topics and disputes, is based on the mistaken assumption that if only that particular change is prevented, the next year, the next decade, the next century, will be more or less the same as the present. [Not so. Principled conservatives — and there are still a lot of us — understand and accept the beneficial role of evolutionary change, unforced by government policy.]
That is very unlikely. [No kidding!]
It’s not that I disagree with Friedman’s disdain for government, which is far, far more intrusive than is economically and socially healthy. But Friedman, whose high intelligence is beyond doubt, puts that intelligence to bad use in his biased argument for an unattainable nirvana and mistaken characterization of conservatism.
It has been revealed that the devastating explosion of a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, three years ago was caused by an act of arson. The usual suspects were quick to leap on the smoldering ruins and bodies of West to proclaim them victims of under-regulation.
The belief that human error and criminality can be defeated by regulation, and in complete disregard for its huge costs, is pathological. One (ugly) aspect of the same pathological urge is the commission of “hate crime” hoaxes in an effort to discredit anyone who isn’t committed to “diversity” and all that other socially destructive rot.
There’s work underway to
find any of the genetic variants associated with intelligence, however weak and inconsistent they may be, and then look up the published literature to see how frequent those variants are in any racial group.
I’m fairly certain how it will turn out, if the work isn’t sabotaged by those who fear the truth.
Proposition 1 was on the ballot in a special election held yesterday in Austin. The adoption of Prop 1 would have left background checks for Uber and Lyft drivers in the hands of the companies. But it was hard to tell what Prop 1 meant because of the contorted language concocted by the anti-Uber/Lyft majority of Austin’s city council. The contorted language made it necessary for Uber and Lyft to help finance a media campaign to explain Prop 1. (Austin’s “news” outlets — in their typically pro-government style — had a lot of negative things to say about the cost of the campaign, from which they profited.)
In the end, only 17 percent of Austin’s registered voters turned out to defeat Proposition 1 by 56 percent to 44 percent. The defeat of Prop 1 means that the background checks on prospective Uber and Lyft drivers will be conducted by the city, instead of by the companies. That’s just the seed from which bureaucratic control would inevitably grow to envelope Uber and Lyft, their drivers, and their customers. With the handwriting on the wall, Uber and Lyft probably will withdraw from Austin.
According to one report of the outcome,
Opposition to Prop 1 was concentrated in East, North and South Austin, with many downtown and West Austin voting precincts seeing a majority of their voters supporting the measure.
The election, in other words, pitted the “working class” sections of Austin against the “white collar” sections of Austin. The outcome reflects resentment toward Uber and Lyft (characterized as “big business” by some opponents of Prop 1) and their generally more affluent riders, who prefer Uber and Lyft’s less-plebian, higher-tech, surge-priced services.
What does this have to do with democracy in Austin? Here are two snippets from the source quoted above:
“The people have spoken tonight loud and clear,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler in an emailed statement. “
Councilmember Ann Kitchen…. “The voters have spoken and they want these requirements and I know that we can do that…”
This is from another source:
Former Austin City Council member Laura Morrison has been a staunch opponent of Proposition 1, speaking on behalf of Our City, Our Safety, Our Choice, a group opposed to the ordinance. She said Saturday’s election results were Austin’s way of saying, “that’s not how we do democracy in this city.”
How is it “democratic” for the city’s government to allow voters (and a relatively small number of them, at that) to override the voluntary choices of Uber and Lyft users? Adler, Kitchen, and Morrison are the kind of people (i.e., big-D Democrats) who would defend voluntary choice when it comes to abortion (i.e., killing a living human being). But it’s not all right (with them) if a person chooses to take the overstated risk of using Uber or Lyft instead of a taxi.
The intrusion of Austin’s government into the ride-sharing business (with the ardent support of local taxi companies), is yet another instance of “liberal” madness.
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Related reading: John Daniel Davidson, “How Austin Drove Out Uber and Lyft,” The Federalist, May 10, 2016
I write today about the mindset of so-called liberals and many of their emotional brethren of the bleeding-heart-libertarian-left (a compound oxymoron of the first order). They view the world from a lofty perch, in judgment of all and sundry; for example:
What’s missing from such statements? The particular instances of bad or good that cut in the opposite direction: the harm to those whose income and wealth are redistributed; the harm to those whose jobs are lost, and whose taxes rise to support indigent immigrants; the lives and livelihoods of family, friends, and countrymen that are saved by defeating foreign enemies.
The same mindset also operates on a smaller scale. Consider this, from reason.com:
Wages too low? Force employers to pay more.
Too many uninsured? Force Americans to buy coverage.
Not enough parental leave? Force companies to provide it.
Rich people speaking too freely about politics? Rewrite the First Amendment so you can stop them.
A horrific school shooting? Take guns away from people who didn’t do it.
Fantasy sports gambling getting too popular? Shut it down.
I would add: Some people not saving enough for retirement? Force others to subsidize them. That’s just a start; the list could go on and on.
All of this omniscience gives me a headache. It is my devout wish that liberals and liberaltarians would SHUT UP! No one died and made you God.
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Standing back (way back) from Donald Trump — the physically repellent, serial adulterer, misogynist, liar, braggart, flip-flopper, xenophobic race-panderer, economic illiterate Donald Trump — I will here attempt to assess Trump’s electability.
For both major parties, 2016 is somewhat of a rerun of 2008, with hotly contested primaries and no incumbent in the race. It’s due to Trump that the total popular vote in GOP primaries is up by about 50 percent over 2008; whereas, the total popular vote in Democrat primaries is down by about a third over 2008. So, Trump has that going for him, out of the gate.
A lot of the extra GOP votes probably have been cast by disenchanted working-class Democrats in search of “equal treatment.” But so what? There are a lot more of them than there are disenchanted middle-and-upper-middle-class-small-government Republicans. And will all of those disenchanted middle-and-upper-middle-class-small-government Republicans vote for Hillary? A few might, but most of them will hold their noses, vote for Trump, and hope for the best. Those who don’t do that will just skip the top of the ticket and vote for down-ticket GOP candidates.
What about Bernie’s supporters, many of whom will be royally ticked-off by the Democrat Party’s cornonation of Queen Hillary? Bernie’s bunch will divide this way (though in what proportions I can’t say): Stay home, vote for Hillary, vote for Trump. This will prove to be a net gain for Trump.
What about women? Trump has lost the Democrat women’s vote, and maybe some of the GOP women’s vote. But the former doesn’t change anything, and the latter is probably small change relative to Trump’s gains among working-class and middle-class men who are aggrieved about something (e.g., illegal immigration, same-sex “marriage,” higher health-insurance premiums due to Obamacare, Obama’s spineless foreign policy, and favoritism toward various “protected” groups, including feminazis).
Do those men care especially about Trump’s actual (if elusive) positions on various issues? Not really. He’s already shaped his image as the protest candidate who doesn’t like whiners (that’s what his “anti-protestor’ stance signifies). That image will stick to him for the next six months. And, to repeat, he’ll attract a goodly number of Bernie’s supporters, those who simply want to register their protest about something. (UPDATE 05/10/16: See “Over Four in 10 Sanders Voters in West Virginia Would Vote for Trump.”)
Perceptions: That’s what this election — like most others — is about. Trump has proved himself a master of the perception that he’s for the neglected “little guy.” A lot of people see themselves as the neglected “little guy” these days.
I used to expect Trump to lose in a landslide. I’m less certain of that now. (See these plausible scenarios for a Trump win, and this summary of anti-GOP bias in some prominent polls.) I’ll be keeping an eye on Rasmussen’s poll and the trend at RealClearPolitics.com.
I love it when someone issues a well-constructed argument that supports my position on an issue. (It happens often, of course.) The latest case in point is a post by Robert Tracinski, “Pascal’s Wager for the Global Warming Religion” (The Federalist, May 3, 2016). Tracinski address this claim by some global-warming zealots:
Across the span of their lives, the average American is more than five times likelier to die during a human-extinction event than in a car crash.
There’s a lot more wrong with that statement than the egregious use of plural (“their lives”) and singular (“is”) constructions with respect to “the average American” (singular). Here’s what’s really wrong, in Tracinski’s words:
There is something that sounded familiar to me about this argument, and I realized that it borrows the basic form of Pascal’s Wager, an old and spectacularly unconvincing argument for belief in God. (Go here if you want to give the idea more thought than it probably deserves.) Blaise Pascal’s argument was that even if the existence of God is only a very small probability, the consequences are so spectacularly huge — eternal life if you follow the rules, eternal punishment if you don’t — that it makes even a very small probability seem overwhelmingly important. In effect, Pascal realized that you can make anything look big if you multiply it by infinity. Similarly, this new environmentalist argument assumes that you can make anything look big if you multiply it by extinction….
If Pascal’s probabilistic argument works for Christianity, then it also works for Islam, or for secular versions like Roko’s Basilisk. (And yes, an “all-seeing artificial intelligence” is included in this report as a catastrophic possibility, which gives you an idea of how seriously you should take it.) Or it works for global warming, which is exactly how it’s being used here.
Pascal was a great mathematician, but this was an awful abuse of the nascent science of probabilities. (I suspect it’s no great shakes from a religious perspective, either.) First of all, a “probability” is not just anything that you sort of think might happen. Imagination and speculation are not probability. In any mathematical or scientific sense of the word, a probability is something for which you have a real basis to measure its likelihood. Saying you are “95 percent certain” about a scientific theory, as global warming alarmists are apt to do, might make for an eye-catching turn of phrase in press headlines. But it is not an actual number that measures something.
Tracinski later hits a verbal home run with this:
This kind of Pascal’s-Wager-for-global-warming is part of a larger environmentalist program: a perverse attempt to take our sense of the actual risks and benefits for human life and turn it upside down.
If we’re concerned about the actual dangers to human life, we don’t have to assume a bunch of bizarre probabilities. The big dangers are known quantities: poverty, squalor, disease, famine, dictatorship, war. And the solutions are also known quantities: technology, industrialization, economic growth, freedom.
A probability is a statement about a very large number of like events, each of which has an unpredictable (random) outcome. Probability, properly understood, says nothing about the outcome of an individual event. It certainly says nothing about what will happen next.
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