Month: August 2016

The Rahn Curve Revisited

REVISED 10/18/16, to report a new estimate of the Rahn curve after correcting a slight error in the previous estimate.

REVISED 10/20/16, to add a fourth explanatory variable, which improves the fit of the equation.

The theory behind the Rahn Curve is simple — but not simplistic. A relatively small government with powers limited mainly to the protection of citizens and their property is worth more than its cost to taxpayers because it fosters productive economic activity (not to mention liberty). But additional government spending hinders productive activity in many ways, which are discussed in Daniel Mitchell’s paper, “The Impact of Government Spending on Economic Growth.” (I would add to Mitchell’s list the burden of regulatory activity, which grows even when government does not.)

What does the Rahn Curve look like? Mitchell estimates this relationship between government spending and economic growth:

Rahn curve (2)

The curve is dashed rather than solid at low values of government spending because it has been decades since the governments of developed nations have spent as little as 20 percent of GDP. But as Mitchell and others note, the combined spending of governments in the U.S. was 10 percent (and less) until the eve of the Great Depression. And it was in the low-spending, laissez-faire era from the end of the Civil War to the early 1900s that the U.S. enjoyed its highest sustained rate of economic growth.

In an earlier post, I ventured an estimate of the Rahn curve that spanned most of the history of the United States. I came up with this relationship (terms modified for simplicity:

G = 0.054 -0.066F

To be precise, it’s the annualized rate of growth over the most recent 10-year span (G), as a function of F (fraction of GDP spent by governments at all levels) in the preceding 10 years. The relationship is lagged because it takes time for government spending (and related regulatory activities) to wreak their counterproductive effects on economic activity. Also, I include transfer payments (e.g., Social Security) in my measure of F because there’s no essential difference between transfer payments and many other kinds of government spending. They all take money from those who produce and give it to those who don’t (e.g., government employees engaged in paper-shuffling, unproductive social-engineering schemes, and counterproductive regulatory activities).

When F is greater than the amount needed for national defense and domestic justice — no more than 0.1 (10 percent of GDP) — it discourages productive, growth-producing, job-creating activity. And because government spending weighs most heavily on taxpayers with above-average incomes, higher rates of F also discourage saving, which finances growth-producing investments in new businesses, business expansion, and capital (i.e., new and more productive business assets, both physical and intellectual).

I’ve taken a closer look at the post-World War II numbers because of the marked decline in the rate of growth since the end of the war:

Real GDP 1947q1-2016q2

Here’s the revised result (with cosmetic changes in terminology):

G = 0.0275 -0.347F + 0.0769A – 0.000327R – 0.135P


G = real rate of GDP growth in a 10-year span (annualized)

F = fraction of GDP spent by governments at all levels during the preceding 10 years

A = the constant-dollar value of private nonresidential assets (business assets) as a fraction of GDP, averaged over the preceding 10 years

R = average number of Federal Register pages, in thousands, for the preceding 10-year period

P = growth in the CPI-U during the preceding 10 years (annualized).

The r-squared of the equation is 0.73 and the F-value is 2.00E-12. The p-values of the intercept and coefficients are 0.099, 1.75E-07, 1.96E-08, 8.24E-05, and 0.0096. The standard error of the estimate is 0.0051, that is, about half a percentage point. (Except for the p-value on the coefficient, the other statistics are improved from the previous version, which omitted CPI).

Here’s how the equations with and without P stack up against actual changes in 10-year rates of real GDP growth:


The equation with P captures the “bump” in 2000, and is generally (though not always) closer to the mark than the equation without P.

What does the new equation portend for the next 10 years? Based on the values of F, A, R, and P for the most recent 10-year period (2006-2015), the real rate of growth for the next 10 years will be about 1.9 percent. (It was 1.4 percent for the version of the equation without P.) The earlier equation (discussed above) yields an estimate of 2.9 percent. The new equation wins the reality test, as you can tell by the blue line in the second graph above.

In fact the year-over-year rates of real growth for the past four quarters (2015Q3 through 2016Q2) are 2.2 percent, 1.9 percent, 1.6 percent, and 1.3 percent. So an estimate of 1.9 percent for the next 10 years may be optimistic.

And it probably is. If F were to rise from 0.382 (the average for 2006-2015) to 0.438, the rate of real growth would fall to zero, even if A, R, and P were to remain at their 2006-2015 levels. (And R is much more likely to rise than to fall.) It’s easy to imagine F hitting 0.438 with a Democrat president and Democrat-controlled Congress mandating “free” college educations, universal “free” health care, and who knows what else.

Oh, the Horror!

I constructed the following graph with the aid of Advance Title Search at IMDb.

Horror, musical, and comedy films as percentage of total

How would you explain the shifting popularity of the three genres? Here are my thoughts:

The rising popularity of comedies in the 1930s and 1940s can be attributed to the tensions of the Great Depression and World War II. The renewed and rising popularity of comedies in the 1960s to 2010s can be attributed to the rising social tensions of those decades. The relative unpopularity of comedy in the 1950s attests to the “normalcy” of that decade.

There were a few silent “musicals,” but real musicals didn’t arrive on the scene until the late 1920s, so the rise in popularity in the 1930s is unsurprising. The further rise in the 1940s is probably the due to the impetus of World War II, and the need for “light” escape. The decline in the relative popularity of musicals since the 1940s reflects the growing “sophistication” of the populace. Musicals defy belief in ways that comedies and horror films do not. People often crack jokes; horror simply exaggerated the brutal reality of twisted bodies, twisted minds, and the destructiveness of man and nature. But people don’t begin a sentence and then break into song, with the backing of a full orchestra and the accompaniment of choruses and dancers.

What about horror films, the taste for which seems to have risen through the 1980s, dropped in the 1990s, and since resumed its climb? Viewing a horror film is a way of fighting fire with fire: immersing oneself in the phony frights of the screen in order to make the traumas of everyday life seem milder by comparison. The Great Depression was followed in turn by World War II and the Cold War that ended in 1991 (and during which nuclear annihilation seemed a possibility). The Cold War was studded with lesser but controversial wars (Korea, Vietnam), assassinations, social unrest, and oil shortages, to name some of the lowlights of the post-World War II era through 1991. Then came the “peace dividend” of the 1990s: a decade of 1950-ish “normalcy” (compared with what had preceded it). That brief era ended shockingly on September 11, 2001, and it has been followed by wars, seemingly unextinguishable terror, and economic stagnation (punctuated by the worst recession since the Great Depression). So moviegoers resumed their antidotal intake of horror.

Your turn.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

I have been scathing about Geoffrey R. Stone, a law professor at the University of Chicago. I vented my wrath about his “liberal” casuistry in “Killing Free Speech in Order to Save It” (2005) and “Liberal Claptrap” (2006). I must admit, however, that I like and agree with most of Stone’s recent essay, “Free Expression in Peril.”

Stone writes, for example, that “[w]e live today in an era of political correctness in which students themselves demand censorship, and colleges, afraid to offend those students, too often surrender academic freedom.” Stone then catalogs some of the many offenses against free speech that have been committed by students, often with the aid of administrators. Stone then asks

[h]ow did we get here? It was not long ago when college students were demanding the right to free speech. Now they demand the right to be free from speech that they find offensive or upsetting.

One often-expressed theory is that students of this generation, unlike their predecessors, are weak, fragile, and emotionally unstable. They’ve been raised, the argument goes, by parents who have protected, rewarded, and celebrated them in every way from the time they were infants. Therefore they’ve never learned to deal with challenge, defeat, uncertainty, anxiety, stress, insult, or fear. They are emotionally incapable of dealing with challenge.

But if that is so, then the proper role of a university is not to protect and pamper them but to prepare them for the difficulties of the real world. The goal should not be to shield them from discomfort, insult, and insecurity, but to enable them to be effective citizens. If their parents have, indeed, failed them, then their colleges and universities should save them from themselves.

There is, however, another possibility. It is that students, or at least some students, have always felt this way, but until now they were too intimidated, too shy, too deferential to speak up. If so, this generation of college students deserves credit, because instead of remaining silent and oppressed, they have the courage to demand respect, equality, and safety.

I think there is an element of truth in both of these perspectives, but I am inclined to think that the former explains more than the latter.

I agree with Stone. Today’s students seem to be spoiled brats, and their anti-free speech behavior is nothing better than a tantrum.

Stone, later in the essay, poses and answers some questions:

Should students and faculty be allowed to express whatever views they want, however offensive they might be to others?

Yes. Absolutely.

Should those who disagree and who are offended be allowed to condemn that speech and those speakers in the most vehement terms? Yes. Absolutely.

Should those who are offended and who disagree be allowed to demand that the university punish those who have offended them? Yes. Absolutely.

Should the university punish those whose speech annoys, offends, and insults others? Absolutely not.

That is the core meaning of academic freedom.

Though he does wimp out at that point:

Does that mean the university’s hands are tied? No.

A university should educate its students about the importance of civility and mutual respect. These values should be reinforced by education and example, not by censorship.

A university should encourage disagreement, argument, and debate. It should instill in its students and faculty members the importance of winning the day by facts, by ideas, and by persuasion, rather than by force, obstruction, or censorship. For a university to fulfill its most fundamental mission, it must be a safe space for even the most loathsome, odious, offensive, disloyal arguments. Students should be encouraged to be tough, fearless, rigorous, and effective advocates and critics.

At the same time, a university has to recognize that in our society, flawed as it is, the costs of free speech will fall most heavily on those who feel the most marginalized and unwelcome. All of us feel that way sometimes, but the individuals who bear the brunt of free speech — at least of certain types of free speech — often include racial minorities; religious minorities; women; gay people, lesbians, and transsexuals; and immigrants. Universities must be sensitive to that reality.

Although they should not attempt to “solve” this problem by censorship, universities should support students who feel vulnerable, marginalized, silenced, and demeaned. They should help them learn how to speak up, how to respond effectively, how to challenge those whose attitudes, whose words, and whose beliefs offend and appall them. The world is not a safe space, and we must enable our graduates to win the battles they’ll have to fight in years to come.

What about conservatives who believe in free speech, free markets, traditional morality, and the defense of America and the aforementioned principles that seem to be disappearing from the land? Speak up, Professor Stone, I can’t hear you.

Anyway, Stone continues [with my occasional comment in brackets]:

But hard cases remain. As simple as it may be to state a principle, it is always much more difficult to apply it to concrete situations. So let me leave you with a few cases to ponder.

A sociology professor gives a talk on campus condemning homosexuality as immoral and calling on “normal” students to steer clear of “fags, perverts, and sexual degenerates.” What, if anything, should the chair of the sociology department do? In my judgment, this is a classic case of academic freedom. The professor is well within his rights to offer such opinions, however offensive others might find them.

A student hangs a Confederate flag, a swastika, an image of an aborted fetus, or a “Vote for Trump” sign on the door of his dorm room. What, if anything, should administrators do? The university should not pick and choose which messages to permit and which to ban. That is classic censorship. But in the context of a residence hall, where students are a bit of a captive audience, the university can have a content-neutral rule that bans all signs on dorm-room doors. [This is fair enough, but wimpish.]

The dean of a university’s law school goes on Fox News and says “Abortion is murder. We should fire any female faculty member and expel any female student who has had an abortion.” The university president is then inundated with complaints from alumni saying, in effect, “I’ll never give another nickel to your damn school as long as she remains dean.” What should the president do? A dean or other administrator at a university has distinctive responsibilities. If she engages in behavior, including expression, that renders her effectively incapable of fulfilling her administrative responsibilities, then she can be removed from her position. [As a former executive, I concur.] This is necessary to the core functioning of the institution. At the same time, though, if the dean is also a faculty member, she cannot be disciplined as a faculty member for the exercise of academic freedom.

We needn’t rely solely on hypotheticals. There was the situation at DePaul University in which a student group invited a highly controversial speaker who maintains, among other things, that there is no wage gap for women, that as a gay man he can attest that one’s sexual orientation is purely a matter of choice, and that white men have fewer advantages than women and African-Americans. A group of student protesters disrupted the event by shouting, ultimately causing the talk to be canceled. They maintained that their shouting was merely the exercise of free speech.

What should the university do in such circumstances? Should it permit the protest? Arrest the protesters on the spot? Allow them to protest and then punish them after the fact?

Such a disruption is not in any way an exercise of free expression. Although students can protest the event in other ways, they cannot prevent either speakers or listeners from engaging in a dialogue they wish to engage in without obstruction. In such circumstances, the protesters should be removed and disciplined for their behavior. (DePaul’s president, the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, apologized to the speaker but also criticized “speakers of his ilk” for being “more entertainers and self-serving provocateurs than the public intellectuals they purport to be.” [Holtschneider is clearly a thoroughly indoctrinated leftist.])

Or consider the incident last year at the University of Oklahoma when a group of fraternity brothers, in a private setting, chanted a racist song. Someone who was present at the time filmed the event and circulated it online. Was the university’s president, David Boren, right to expel the students? In my judgment, no.

This statement occurs in the middle of Stone’s essay:

Faced with the continuing challenges to academic freedom at American universities, the University of Chicago’s president, Robert J. Zimmer, charged a faculty committee last year with the task of drafting a formal statement on freedom of expression. The goal of that committee, which I chaired, was to stake out Chicago’s position on these issues. That statement has since become a model for a number of other universities.

The work of Stone’s committee found its way into the candid and refreshing letter of acceptance from the University of Chicago’s Dean of Students to incoming freshmen; for example:

Once here you will discover that one of the University of Chicago’s defining characteristics is our commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression. This is captured in the University’s faculty report on freedom of expression. Members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn, without fear of censorship. Civility and mutual respect are vital to all of us, and freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to harass or threaten others. You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion, and even disagreement. At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort.

Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.

Two-point-nine cheers for Geoffrey Stone; three cheers for the University of Chicago.

Consistent Conservatism

[A] person’s political philosophy — if he may be said to have one — is likely to consist of a set of attitudes, many of them logically irreconcilable. This, I believe, is due mainly to the influence of temperament on one’s political views. It is a rare human being who does not interpret the world through the lens of his preferences, and those preferences seem to be more a matter of temperament than of knowledge and reason. Even highly intelligent persons are capable of believing in the most outlandish things because they want to believe those things.

Parsing Political Philosophy (II),” Politics & Prosperity

*       *      *

I offer myself as an example of the operation of temperament on political preferences. I am, by nature, a conservative person. For example, I’m cautious about change. It’s my view that if a thing works reasonably well, tinkering with it will probably cause it to stop working well, or at all. For that reason, I dislike meddling in the affairs of others. I don’t know what they know about their own circumstances, so I presume that they’re acting in their own best interests. And if they mess up their lives, it’s up to them to make things right if they can. And if they can’t, it’s not my responsibility to clean up the mess that they’ve made. But, in typically conservative fashion, I will try to help them if I’m attached to them by blood or another strong bond.

By extension, I intensely dislike government meddling because it can mess up so many lives, even (and especially) lives that would otherwise be well lived. It follows that government has only one legitimate function, which is to protect Americans from force and fraud. That implies a vigorous defense of Americans and their overseas interests against enemies, foreign and domestic. The purpose of a vigorous defense is to enable Americans to lead their lives (lawfully) as they deem best; it is not to make America safe for governmental meddling in social and economic affairs.

Government, in short, should be conservative in the way that I am conservative. Some would call me a libertarian, but it is my long-held position that conservatism is true libertarianism.

My consistent conservatism is reflected in my attitude toward WikiLeaks. I was gladdened by this recent news:

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange promised he’s not done leaking information that could be damaging to Hillary Clinton. During an interview this week with Fox’s Megyn Kelly he said the documents would be “significant” in perhaps turning the tide of the 2016 election by giving voters a better understanding who they’re electing.

Not that I’m a Donald Trump fan; I’m not, as you will know if you’re a regular reader of this blog. But I welcome almost any development that might keep that lying, hypocritical statist Hillary Clinton out of the White House.

Am I a hypocrite, too? My visceral (conservative) reaction to activists, protestors, and rabble-rousers is “go away and mind your own business.” That was my reaction to WikiLeaks when I first heard of it — and Julian Assange — six years ago, in connection with the release of documents related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When it comes to war-making in defense of Americans and their overseas interests, my conservative (i.e., cautious) view is that it’s better to kill enemies sooner rather than later. Delay gives enemies a chance to build their strength, and to use it in unexpected ways.

I know that the politicians and generals who wage war aren’t always or often brilliant about how they do it. But perfection is hard to come by, so I’m willing to tolerate mistakes as long as they err on the side of “too much” defense. (LBJ’s Vietnam vacillations were maddening to me; he should have gone all out or bugged out, but he did neither.) I was therefore angered by the revelations six years ago because it seemed to me that they put America’s war-fighters in jeopardy, or at least compromised America’s ability to wage war.

So, no, I don’t think I’m hypocritical in the least. Anything (non-violent) that helps to take down a domestic enemy like Hillary Clinton is acceptable. Anything (violent or non-violent) that damages America’s defenses against foreign enemies is unacceptable, and often treasonous.

Conservative in temperament, conservative in politics, consistently conservative. That’s my motto.

Utilitarianism vs. Liberty (II)

Utilitarianism is an empty concept. And it’s inimical to liberty.

What is utilitarianism, as I use the term? This:

1. (Philosophy) the doctrine that the morally correct course of action consists in the greatest good for the greatest number, that is, in maximizing the total benefit resulting, without regard to the distribution of benefits and burdens.

To maximize the total benefit is to maximize social welfare, which is the well-being of all persons, somehow measured and aggregated. A true social-welfare maximizer would strive to maximize the social welfare of the planet. But schemes to maximize social welfare usually are aimed at maximizing it for the persons in a particular country, so they really are schemes to maximize national welfare.

National welfare may conflict with planetary welfare; the former may be increased (by some arbitrary measure) at the expense of the latter. Suppose, for example, that Great Britain had won the Revolutionary War and forced Americans to live on starvation wages while making things for the enjoyment of the British people. A lot of Britons would have been better off materially (though perhaps not spiritually), while most Americans certainly would have been worse off. The national welfare of Great Britain would have been improved, if not maximized, “without regard to the distribution of benefits and burdens.” On a contemporary note, anti-globalists assert (wrongly) that globalization of commerce exploits the people of poor countries. If they were right, they would at least have the distinction of striving to maximize planetary welfare. (Though there is no such thing, as I will show.)

That’s enough about utilitarianism for now. Turning to liberty, I have defined it as

the general observance of social norms that enables a people to enjoy…peaceful, willing coexistence and its concomitant: beneficially cooperative behavior.

Where do social norms come into it? The observance of social norms — society’s customs and morals — creates mutual trust, respect, and forbearance, from which flow peaceful, willing coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior. In such conditions, only a minimal state is required to deal with those who will not live in peaceful coexistence, that is, foreign and domestic aggressors. And prosperity flows from cooperative economic behavior — the exchange of goods and services for the mutual benefit of the parties who to the exchange.

Society isn’t to be confused with nation or any other kind of geopolitical entity. Society — true society — is

3a :  an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another.

A close-knit group, in other words. It should go without saying that the members of such a group will be bound by culture: language, customs, morals, and (usually) religion. Their observance of a common set of social norms enables them to enjoy peaceful, willing coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior.

Free markets mimic some aspects of society, in that they are physical and virtual places where buyers and sellers meet peacefully (almost all of the time) and willingly, to cooperate for their mutual benefit. Free markets thus transcend (or can transcend) the cultural differences that delineate societies.

Large geopolitical areas also mimic some aspects of society, in that their residents meet peacefully (most of the time). But “cooperation” in such matters as mutual aid (care for the elderly, disaster recovery, etc.) is forced by government; it isn’t true cooperation, which is voluntary.

In any event, the United States is not a society. Even aside from the growing black-white divide, the bonds of nationhood are far weaker than those of a true society (or a free market), and are therefore easier to subvert. Even persons of the left agree that mutual trust, respect, and forbearance are at a low ebb — probably their lowest ebb since the Civil War.

Therein lies a clue to the emptiness of utilitarianism. Why should a qualified white person care about or believe in the national welfare when, in furtherance of national welfare (or something), a job or university slot for which the white person applies is given, instead, to a less qualified black person because of racial quotas that are imposed or authorized by government? Why should a taxpayer care about or believe in the national welfare if he is forced by government to share the burden of enlarging it through government-enforced transfer payments to those who don’t pay taxes? By what right or gift of omniscience is a social engineer able to intuit the feelings of 300-plus million individual persons and adjudge that the national welfare will be maximized if some persons are forced to cede privileges or money to other persons?

Consider Robin Hanson’s utilitarian scheme, which he calls futarchy:

In futarchy, democracy would continue to say what we want, but betting markets would now say how to get it. That is, elected representatives would formally define and manage an after-the-fact measurement of national welfare, while market speculators would say which policies they expect to raise national welfare….

Futarchy is intended to be ideologically neutral; it could result in anything from an extreme socialism to an extreme minarchy, depending on what voters say they want, and on what speculators think would get it for them….

A betting market can estimate whether a proposed policy would increase national welfare by comparing two conditional estimates: national welfare conditional on adopting the proposed policy, and national welfare conditional on not adopting the proposed policy.

Get it? “Democracy would say what we want” and futarchy “could result in anything from an extreme socialism to an extreme minarchy, depending on what voters say they want.” Hanson the social engineer believes that the “values” to be maximized should be determined “democratically,” that is, by majorities (however slim) of voters. Further, it’s all right with Hanson if those majorities lead to socialism. So Hanson envisions national welfare that isn’t really national; it’s determined by what’s approved by one-half-plus-one of the persons who vote. Scratch that. It’s determined by the politicians who are elected by as few as one-half-plus-one of the persons who vote, and in turn by unelected bureaucrats and judges — many of whom were appointed by politicians long out of office. It is those unelected relics of barely elected politicians who really establish most of the rules that govern much of Americans’ economic and social behavior.

Hanson’s version of national welfare amounts to this: whatever is is right. If Hitler had been elected by a slim majority of Germans, thereby legitimating him in Hanson’s view, his directives would have expressed the national will of Germans and, to the extent that they were carried out, would have maximized the national welfare of Germany.

Hanson’s futarchy is so bizarre as to be laughable. Ralph Merkle nevertheless takes the ball from Hanson and runs with it:

We choose to be more specific [than Hanson] about the definition of what we shall call the “collective welfare”, for the very simple reason that “voting on values” retains the dubious voting mechanism as a core component of futarchy….

We can create a DAO Democracy capable of self-improvement which has unlimited growth potential by modifying futarchy to use an unmodifiable democratic collective welfare metric, adapting it to work as a Decentralized Autonomous Organization, implementing an initial system using simple components (these components including the democratic collective welfare metric, a mechanism for adopting legislation (bills)) and using a built-in prediction market to filter through and adopt proposals for improved components….

1) Anyone can propose a bill at any time….

8) Any existing law can be amended or repealed with the same ease with which a new law can be proposed….

13) The only time this governance process would support “the tyranny of the majority” would be if oppression of some minority actually made the majority better off, and the majority was made sufficiently better off that it outweighed the resulting misery to the minority.

So, for example, we should trust that the super-majority of voters whose incomes are below the national median wouldn’t further tax the voters whose incomes are above the national median? And we should assume that the below-median voters would eventually notice that the heavy-taxation policy is causing their real incomes to decline? And we should assume that those below-median voters would care in any event, given the psychic income they derive from sticking it to “the rich”? What a fairy tale. The next thing I would expect Merkle to assert is that the gentile majority of Germans didn’t applaud or condone the oppression of the Jewish minority, that Muslim hordes that surround Israel aren’t scheming to annihilate it, and on into the fantasy-filled night.

How many times must I say it? There is no such thing as a national, social, cosmic, global, or aggregate welfare function of any kind. (Go here for a long but probably not exhaustive list of related posts.)

To show why there’s no such thing as an aggregate welfare function, I usually resort to a homely example:

  • A dislikes B and punches B in the nose.
  • A is happier; B is unhappier.
  • Someone (call him Omniscient Social Engineer) somehow measures A’s gain in happiness, compares it with B’s loss of happiness, and declares that the former outweighs the latter. Thus it is a socially beneficial thing if A punches B in the nose, or the government takes money from B and gives it to A, or the government forces employers to hire people who look like A at the expense of people who look like B, etc.

If you’re a B — and there are a lot of them out there — do you believe that A’s gain somehow offsets your loss? Unless you’re a masochist or a victim of the Stockholm syndrome, you’ll be ticked off about what A has done to you, or government has done to you on A’s behalf. Who is an Omniscient Social Engineer — a Hanson or Merkle — to say that your loss is offset by A’s gain? That’s just pseudo-scientific hogwash, also known as utilitarianism. But that’s exactly what Hanson, Merkle, etc., are peddling when they invoke social welfare, national welfare, planetary welfare, or any other aggregate measure of welfare.

What about GDP as a measure of national welfare? Even economists — or most of them — admit that GDP doesn’t measure aggregate happiness, well-being, or any similar thing. To begin with, a lot of stuff is omitted from GDP, including so-called household production, which is the effort (not to mention love) that Moms (it’s usually Moms) put into the care, feeding, and hugging of their families. And for reasons hinted at in the preceding paragraph, the income that’s earned by A, B, C, etc., not only buys different things, but A, B, C, etc., place unique (and changing) values on those different things and derive different and unmeasurable degrees of happiness (and sometimes remorse) from them.

If GDP, which is is relatively easy to estimate (within a broad range of error), doesn’t measure national welfare, what could? Certainly not systems of the kind proposed by Hanson or Merkle, both of which pretend to aggregate that which can’t be aggregated: the happiness of an entire population. (Try it with one stranger, and see if you can arrive at a joint measure of happiness.)

The worst thing about utilitarian schemes and their real-world counterparts (regulation, progressive taxation, affirmative action, etc.) is that they are anti-libertarian. As I say here,

utilitarianism compromises liberty because it accords no value to individual decisions about preferred courses of action. Decisions, to a utilitarian, are valid only if they comply with the views of the utilitarian, who feigns omniscience about the (incommensurable) happiness of individuals.

No system can be better than the “system” of liberty, in which a minimal government protects its citizens from each other and from foreign enemies — and nothing else. Liberty was lost in the instant that government was empowered not only to protect A from B (and vice versa) but to inflict A’s preferences on B (and vice versa).

Futarchy — and every other utilitarian scheme — exhibits total disregard for liberty, and for the social norms on which it ultimately depends. That’s no surprise. Social or national welfare is obviously more important to utilitarians than liberty. If half of all Americans (or American voters) want something, all of us should have it, by God, even if “it” is virtual enslavement by the regulatory-welfare state, a declining rate of economic growth, and fewer jobs for young black men, who then take it out on each other, their neighbors, and random whites.

Patrick Henry didn’t say “Give me maximum national welfare or give me death,” he said “Give me liberty or give me death.” Liberty enables people to make their own choices about what’s best for them. And if they make bad choices, they can learn from them and go on to make better ones.

No better “system” has been invented or will ever be invented. Those who second-guess liberty — utilitarians, reformers, activists, social justice warriors, and all the rest — only undermine it. And in doing so, they most assuredly diminish the welfare of most people just to advance their own smug view of how the world should be arranged.

“And the Truth Shall Set You Free”

The truth contained in Drs. Lawrence Mayer and Paul McHugh’s “Sexuality and Gender” (The New Atlantis No. 50, Fall 2016) will fall on the same deaf ears as many other truths. The “party of science” is really the party of magical thinking — about many things, including economics, climate, race, war, and (most recently) “gender.”

“Gender” is the latest egregious example of seeing the world as one wishes it were, instead of the way it is. “Gender” smacks of Victorian prudery; it’s a euphemism for “sex.” But it’s more than that, because it connotes more than a mere biological fact of life; it connotes a state of mind that somehow transcends biology. (Very Zen, don’t you think?)

Among the subjects addressed by Drs. Mayer and McHugh is “gender identity” The executive summary of Part Three, which addresses that subject, gives these findings:

● The hypothesis that gender identity is an innate, fixed property of human beings that is independent of biological sex — that a person might be “a man trapped in a woman’s body” or “a woman trapped in a man’s body” — is not supported by scientific evidence.

● According to a recent estimate, about 0.6% of U.S. adults identify as a gender that does not correspond to their biological sex.

● Studies comparing the brain structures of transgender and non-transgender individuals have demonstrated weak correlations between brain structure and cross-gender identification. These correlations do not provide any evidence for a neurobiological basis for cross-gender identification.

● Compared to the general population, adults who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery continue to have a higher risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes. One study found that, compared to controls, sex-reassigned individuals were about 5 times more likely to attempt suicide and about 19 times more likely to die by suicide.

● Children are a special case when addressing transgender issues. Only a minority of children who experience cross-gender identification will continue to do so into adolescence or adulthood.

● There is little scientific evidence for the therapeutic value of interventions that delay puberty or modify the secondary sex characteristics of adolescents, although some children may have improved psychological well-being if they are encouraged and supported in their cross-gender identification. There is no evidence that all children who express gender-atypical thoughts or behavior should be encouraged to become transgender.

Don’t get me wrong, I bear no animus toward those few persons who are truly conflicted about their sexuality. But I have no sympathy for juvenile faddishness and the unseemly (and temporarily halted) eradication of privacy in the name of “gender equality.” It’s as if time-honored codes of conduct have somehow become unnecessary and unduly discriminatory. (Where have we heard that before?)

And, as usual, the rush to remake the world in a new, trendy image won’t stop with “equality.” It will become (and has become, in some places) verboten to refer to anyone by anything but an approved label, just as it has become verboten in some places to refuse to bake a wedding cake or provide flowers for a homosexual “marriage.”

It’s easy enough for a black, a woman, or any one of a long list of “protected groups” to march into an EEOC office and file a baseless discrimination claim. It’s unsurprising that the list of protected groups now encompasses anyone who identifies as LGB or T. (What’s wrong with Q?)

What I want to know is why the EEOC and all of the other equality-enforcing agencies of government are still in business. Given the relatively small number of persons who aren’t in a protected group — namely straight, white, non-Hispanic males under the age of 40 who are neither disabled (a broad category) or veterans — it seems to me that equality has already been achieved. Except for the unprotected, of course, but only their mothers give two hoots about them (maybe).

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Related posts:
Two-Percent Tyranny
The Culture War
Ruminations on the Left in America
The Euphemism Conquers All
The War on Conservatism
How Government Subverts Social Norms
Identity and Crime
There’s More to It Than Religious Liberty
The Authoritarianism of Modern Liberalism, and the Conservative Antidote
Privilege, Power, and Hypocrisy
The Beginning of the End of Liberty in America
The Technocratic Illusion
Equal Protection in Principle and Practice
Society, Polarization, and Dissent

Laugh of the Day

Facebook, for me, is a mildly amusing diversion. I have only 39 Facebook “friends,” and I follow only about a third of them. The rest are obligatory friends whose doings don’t interest me.

I strive to make Facebook as unintrusive as possible. To that end, I have long used the F.B. Purity extension for Firefox, which eliminates a lot of clutter and unwanted features. I also use Adblock Plus, though Facebook has found a way to work around it and plops an ad or two in my newsfeed every day.

I’ve just learned that Facebook categorizes the politics of its users. I was amused to find that I’m a Liberal. I guess it’s because of the postings of some of my friends — postings that I usually hide to avoid irritation.  It’s easy to delete the political preference setting, so I did.

And I’ve just come to understand the meaning of the popular abbreviation for Facebook: FB = For the Birds.

Film Fiasco: Mon Oncle Antoine


This is a review of Mon oncle Antoine, a 1971 French-Canadian film. The film is set at Christmastime in a remote village in Quebec, the main adornment of which is the mountainous pile of dirt leavings (or whatever they’re called) at an asbestos mine.

The story starts with Jos Poulin working at the mine. Jos doesn’t like the job, so he quits and goes to work at a logging camp. Jos doesn’t like that job either, so he wanders home.

In the meantime there’s Benoit, a 15 year old who lives with his Uncle Antoine and Aunt Cecile. Antoine and Cecile own the general store, and Antoine is also the local undertaker. Antoine and Cecile employ a clerk named Fernand, who is also the undertaker’s assistant. They also employ a girl of about 15 named Carmen, who lives with them. Her father drops by on payday to collect Carmen’s pay. Carmen seem to be an unhappy person. She and Benoit lust after each other, but nothing comes of it.

Benoit is an altar boy. He drinks from the bottle of communion wine, then he watches the priest do the same thing, so that’s okay.

On Christmas Eve, Jos’s oldest son, Marcel, dies. Jos doesn’t know this because he’s still slogging home from the logging camp. Antoine goes to fetch the body, but he takes Benoit instead of Fernand with him for no discernible reason other than to allow Cecile to play Cougar to Fernand. So she does. And they do.

Antoine and Benoit set out by horse-drawn sleigh to collect Marcel’s body. Although it’s the late 1940s (or the late 1960s, judging by the shortness of Carmen’s dress), Antoine doesn’t seem to have an automobile. But if he had one the main event of the film wouldn’t have happened, and the film would be more pointless than it is.

The main event is this: After arriving at the Poulin house with the pine box for Marcel’s body, Marcel’s mother offers Antoine and Benoit a meal, of which Antoine partakes in a rather crude fashion — grunting and belching all the while. Oh, he’s also drinking from the 1.5 litre bottle of grappa (or something more lethal) that he brought along for the trip. Antoine and Benoit get Marcel’s body into the pine box and onto the back of the sleigh. And off they go, as Antoine continues to chug the bottle of grappa. When Antoine falls asleep (or into a semi-comatose state), Benoit decides to liven things up by stirring the horse into action. Now the thing that I expected to happen does happen. The pine box containing Marcel’s body slides off the back of the sleigh.

Benoit brings the sleigh to a halt about 100 feet from the box. After pounding on Antoine to bring him to half-awakeness, they trudge to the box, which Antoine is unable to budge because his muscles have turned to mush after so many oral doses of grappa. He cries about his wasted life.

Antoine and Benoit return to the store — which, cozily, is also where Antoine, Cecile, Benoit, Carmen, and Fernand live. Benoit, of course, opens the door to Cecile’s boudoir to find Fernand there. Some muttering (but no violence) ensues before Fernand and Benoit set off to retrieve the box. Benoit, amazingly and despite the remarkable event that has just befallen him, can’t remember which of two possible routes to follow back to the box.

Well, it doesn’t matter. Because they eventually arrive back at the Poulin house, sans box, which has somehow transported itself into the Poulin’s parlor. There, the wandering Jos and his family are kneeling around the open box, staring at the dead Marcel. And wondering, no doubt, why the hell they agreed to act in such a pointless film.

But maybe they knew that it would someday be voted the best Canadian film of all time. I’d hate to see the second-best one.

True Confession, New Resolution

I spent 30 years at a defense think-tank. There were many things that I liked about it, and a few things that I didn’t like about it. The thing that I disliked most was the way in which some senior managers and many analysts offered criticism. They practiced a perverted version of the Socratic method. Instead of working with the author of an analysis to improve it, they would keep probing the weak points of he work — or more correctly, the analyst’s ability to explain and defend it — and leave the analyst melting in a puddle of mortification.

I resented that kind of criticism when it was aimed at me, and when I saw it being aimed at others. (I was involved in the creation of a mock “seal” for the  hazing sessions that were led by a former president of the think-tank. The seal displayed the motto “Nibbled to death by ducks.”) But I often resorted to the method when I was the critic. Human nature is like that.

I am here to confess (as I just did), to repent (as I hope I am doing), and to enter onto the path of righteousness (as I hope I will).

The most constructive way to offer criticism, in my experience, is to put yourself in the place of the person you are criticizing. Try to understand the issue at hand, as he sees it, and try to understand the way he comes at the issue. If you get “inside” that person’s mind, you can then talk to him about the problem in a way that he understands. From there, you can work with him to improve whatever it is he is seeking to improve — be it the Navy’s choice of a new weapon system or the opportunities available to low-income persons.

I know that a person’s political views are largely a matter of temperament, and for that reason not always susceptible to change by appealing to facts or logic. But political views are nevertheless changeable, in the way that a person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol will overcome his addiction — if he understands that he can do it, and will live a miserable life and die miserably if he doesn’t.

I am also aware that leftists — who are the usual targets of my criticism — do not often (or perhaps ever) respond constructively to conciliatory statements. As I say here,

leftists can be ruthless, unto vicious. They pull no punches; they call people names; they skirt the law — and violate it — to get what they want (e.g., Obama’s various “executive actions”); they use the law and the media to go after their ideological opponents; and on and on.

Nevertheless, this blog is but a pinprick on the vast hide of leftism. Perhaps it will be more effective if I make a greater effort to understand what leftists want, and try to appeal to them on that basis, instead of preaching to the choir of libertarian-conservatives as I often do.

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Related reading and viewing:

Jonathan Haidt, “Why the Centre Cannot Hold in America, Europe, and Psychology” (Heterodox Academy, August 9, 2016). This is an introduction to Haidt’s recent speech at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention in Denver, where he addressed the causes and consequences of political polarization.

A video of the speech:

PowerPoint slides:

PDF version of the slides:

Affirmative Action Comes Home to Roost

There are some people — a lot of them, in fact — who simply can’t abide the truth:

Professors at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. are being denounced as white supremacists after private messages were leaked in which they claim affirmative action sets up students for academic failure at the school.

The controversy in question concerns two letters sent by faculty in Smith’s School for Social Work to school administrators….

The first letter, sent by professor Dennis Miehls, warns that the school was failing in its “gatekeeper” function by admitting too many academically unprepared applicants….

A separate letter, signed only “Concerned Adjuncts,” isn’t as explicit about race, but voices similar concerns that lowered standards for certain groups were setting them up for failure.

“There is clearly something terribly faulty with the admission policy when scores of students develop, from the very start, serious problems in both their academic performance and their field experience,” the letter said. “What many people are thinking but afraid to say is that when students are admitted who do not have the academic qualifications to do well enough in a rigorous, demanding, stressful program … these students are being set up for failure….

The claims in the letters reflect prior research that suggests affirmative action may hurt beneficiaries by sending them to schools they are underqualified for, where they are then outclassed by other students.

Both letters appear to have been well-intentioned, but since being leaked, they have caused a firestorm at Smith. The unknown person who leaked them said the letters demonstrated the existence of “white supremacist systems” at the school.

Hundreds of students held a public protest Tuesday, denouncing the alleged racism within the School for Social Work.

“We bear witness to the violence of racialized, differential treatment of students of color,” student Katherine Roubos said at the protest, according to the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Ironically, though, the protesters seem to share many facts with the complaining letters. Christopher Watkins, a protest leader, complained that a “disproportionate amount” of black and Hispanic students at the school have been placed under academic review, which seems to reflect the situation the letters complained about. The protesting students, though, believe their poorer performance reflects systemic racism in the school, rather than lower overall readiness.

Which doesn’t compute. It’s a reasonable surmise that the faculty of Smith College, like that of most colleges (especially the elite ones of the Northeast), is dominated by leftists. And we know that leftists, by self-definition, are anti-racists in the nth degree. So, either Smith’s faculty is riddled with crypto-racist hypocrites (not a remote possibility) or Smith (like almost all colleges in the U.S.) eagerly admits unqualified students in the name of “diversity,” etc., etc., etc.

But the victims of affirmative action — the unqualified students — don’t want to hear that. So their plight is the result of racism. What else is new?

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Related posts:
Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
“Conversing” about Race
Evolution and Race
“Wading” into Race, Culture, and IQ
Evolution, Culture, and “Diversity”
The Harmful Myth of Inherent Equality
Let’s Have That “Conversation” about Race
Non-judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension

Pontius Pilate: Modern Politician

Thou art a king, then? Pilate asked. And Jesus answered, It is thy own lips that have called me a king. What I was born for, what I came into the world for, is to bear witness of the truth. Whoever belongs to the truth, listens to my voice. Pilate said to him, What is truth? And with that he went back to the Jews again, and told them, I can find no fault in him. You have a custom of demanding that I should release one prisoner at paschal time; would you have me release the king of the Jews? Whereupon they all made a fresh outcry; Barabbas, they said, not this man. Barabbas was a robber.

John 18:37-40


But the chief priests and elders had persuaded the multitude to ask for Barabbas and have Jesus put to death; and so, when the governor openly asked them, Which of the two would you have me release? they said, Barabbas. Pilate said to them, What am I to do, then, with Jesus, who is called Christ? They said, Let him be crucified. And when the governor said, Why, what wrong has he done? they cried louder than ever, Let him be crucified. And so, finding that his good offices went for nothing, and the uproar only became worse, Pilate sent for water and washed his hands in full sight of the multitude, saying as he did so, I have no part in the death of this innocent man; it concerns you only.

Matthew 27:20-24

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Pilate is a modern man. In asking “What is truth?” he marks himself as a moral relativist, someone who scorns the idea that one moral system can be better than another. He would have reacted to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in the vein of many leftists: “We were asking for it.”

And like a politician who “accepts full responsibility” for a disastrous decision — but pays no penalty — Pilate ceremonially absolves himself of blame in the death of Christ. As if the ceremonial act (or rote apology) somehow rectifies a grave error of judgment or dereliction of duty. Pilate, having gone through the motions, remains in high office — just like a modern politician.

A Resolution of Secession

In Convention, __________ 20__.

The Declaration of the people of the State of _______________.

It has become necessary for the people of _______________ to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with the United States of America, and to assume the separate and equal status of an independent nation. A decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that the people of _______________ should declare the causes which impel them to the separation, and explain its legality.

The Constitution is a contract — a compact in the language of the Framers. The parties to the compact are not only the States but also the central government.

It was  by the grace of nine States that the Constitution became effective in 1789. Those nine States voluntarily created the central government and, at the same time, voluntarily ceded to it certain specified and limited powers. The States and their people were given to understand that, in return for the powers granted it, the central government would exercise those powers for the benefit of the States and their people. Every State subsequently admitted to the union has ascribed to the Constitution with the same understanding as the nine States whose ratification effected it.

Lest there be any question about the status of the Constitution as a compact, we turn to James Madison, who is often called the Father of the Constitution. Madison, in a letter to Daniel Webster dated March 15, 1833, addresses

the question whether the Constitution of the U.S. was formed by the people or by the States, now under a theoretic discussion by animated partizans.

Madison continues:

It is fortunate when disputed theories, can be decided by undisputed facts. And here the undisputed fact is, that the Constitution was made by the people, but as imbodied into the several states, who were parties to it and therefore made by the States in their highest authoritative capacity.

Moving closer in time to the ratification of the Constitution, this is from Madison’s report on the Virginia Resolutions of 1798, a report that was adopted by the General Assembly of Virginia in 1800:

The third resolution is in the words following:–

“That this Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare, that it views the powers of the federal government, as resulting from the compact to which the states are parties, as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting that compact–as no further valid than they are authorized by the grants enumerated in that compact; and that, in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by the said compact, the states who are parties thereto have the right, and are in duty bound, to interpose, for arresting the progress of the evil and for maintaining, within their respective limits, the authorities, rights, and liberties, appertaining to them.”…

The resolution declares, first, that “it views the powers of the federal government as resulting from the compact to which the states are parties;” in other words, that the federal powers are derived from the Constitution; and that the Constitution is a compact to which the states are parties….

The other position involved in this branch of the resolution, namely, “that the states are parties to the Constitution,” or compact, is, in the judgment of the committee, equally free from objection…. [I]n that sense the Constitution was submitted to the “states;” in that sense the “states” ratified it; and in that sense of the term “states,” they are consequently parties to the compact from which the powers of the federal government result. . . .

. . . The Constitution of the United States was formed by the sanction of the states, given by each in its sovereign capacity.

Finally, in The Federalist No. 39, which informed the debates in the various States about ratification,  Madison says that

the Constitution is to be founded on the assent and ratification of the people of America, given by deputies elected for the special purpose; but, on the other, that this assent and ratification is to be given by the people, not as individuals composing one entire nation, but as composing the distinct and independent States to which they respectively belong. It is to be the assent and ratification of the several States, derived from the supreme authority in each State, the authority of the people themselves. . . .

That it will be a federal and not a national act, as these terms are understood by the objectors; the act of the people, as forming so many independent States, not as forming one aggregate nation, is obvious from this single consideration, that it is to result neither from the decision of a majority of the people of the Union, nor from that of a majority of the States. It must result from the unanimous assent of the several States that are parties to it, differing no otherwise from their ordinary assent than in its being expressed, not by the legislative authority, but by that of the people themselves. Were the people regarded in this transaction as forming one nation, the will of the majority of the whole people of the United States would bind the minority, in the same manner as the majority in each State must bind the minority; and the will of the majority must be determined either by a comparison of the individual votes, or by considering the will of the majority of the States as evidence of the will of a majority of the people of the United States. Neither of these rules have been adopted. Each State, in ratifying the Constitution, is considered as a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act.

Madison leaves no doubt about the continued sovereignty of each State and its people. The remaining question is this: On what grounds, if any, may a State withdraw from the compact into which it entered voluntarily?

There is a judicial myth — articulated by a majority of the United States Supreme Court in Texas v. White (1869) — that States may not withdraw from the compact because the union of States is perpetual:

The Union of the States never was a purely artificial and arbitrary relation. It began among the Colonies, and grew out of common origin, mutual sympathies, kindred principles, similar interests, and geographical relations. It was confirmed and strengthened by the necessities of war, and received definite form and character and sanction from the Articles of Confederation. By these, the Union was solemnly declared to “be perpetual.” And when these Articles were found to be inadequate to the exigencies of the country, the Constitution was ordained “to form a more perfect Union.” It is difficult to convey the idea of indissoluble unity more clearly than by these words. What can be indissoluble if a perpetual Union, made more perfect, is not?

The Court’s reasoning is born of mysticism, not legality. Similar reasoning might have been used — and was used — to assert that the Colonies were inseparable from Great Britain. And yet, some of the people of the Colonies put an end to the union of the Colonies and Great Britain, on the moral principle that the Colonies were not obliged to remain in an abusive relationship. That moral principle is all the more compelling in the case of the union known as the United States, which — mysticism aside — is nothing more than the creature of the States, as authorized by the people thereof.

In fact, the Constitution supplanted the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, by the will of only nine of the thirteen States. Madison says this in The Federalist No. 43 regarding that event:

On what principle the Confederation, which stands in the solemn form of a compact among the States, can be superseded without the unanimous consent of the parties to it? . . .

The . . . question is answered at once by recurring to the absolute necessity of the case; to the great principle of self-preservation; to the transcendent law of nature and of nature’s God, which declares that the safety and happiness of society are the objects at which all political institutions aim, and to which all such institutions must be sacrificed.

Moreover, in a letter to Alexander Rives dated January 1, 1833, Madison says that

[a] rightful secession requires the consent of the others [other States], or an abuse of the compact, absolving the seceding party from the obligations imposed by it.

An abuse of the compact most assuredly necessitates withdrawal from it, on the principle of the preservation of liberty, especially if that abuse has been persistent and shows no signs of abating. The abuse, in this instance, has been and is being committed by the central government.

The central government is both a creature of the Constitution and a de facto party to it, as co-sovereign with the States and supreme in its realm of enumerated and limited powers. One of those powers enables the Supreme Court of the United States to decide “cases and controversies” arising under the Constitution, which alone makes the central government a responsible party. More generally, the high officials of the central government acknowledge the central government’s role as a party to the compact — and the limited powers vested in them — when they take oaths of office requiring them to uphold the Constitution.

Many of those high officials have nevertheless have committed myriad abuses of the central government’s enumerated and limited powers. The abuses are far too numerous to list in their entirety. The following examples amply justify the withdrawal of the State of _______________ from the compact:

A decennial census is authorized in Article I, Section 2, for the purpose of enumerating the population of each State in order to apportion the membership of the House of Representatives among the States, and for none of the many intrusive purposes since sought by the Executive Branch and authorized by Congress.

Article I, Section 1, vests all legislative powers in the Congress, but Congress has authorized and allowed agencies of the Executive Branch to legislate, in the guise of regulation, on a broad and seemingly limitless range of matters affecting the liberty and property of Americans. Further, in violation of Article III, which vests the judicial power in the Judicial Branch, Congress has authorized and allowed agencies of the Executive Branch to adjudicate matters about which they have legislated, thus creating conflicts of interest that have systematically deprived millions of Americans of due process of law.

Article I, Section 8, enumerates the specific powers of Congress, which do not include many things that Congress has authorized with the cooperation and acquiescence of the other branches; for example, establishing and operating national welfare and health-care programs; intervening in the education of American’s children in practically every village, town, and city in the land; intrusively regulating not only interstate commerce but also intrastate commerce, the minutiae of manufacturing, and private, non-commercial transactions having only a faint bearing, if any, on interstate commerce; making and guaranteeing loans, including loans by quasi-governmental institutions and other third parties; acquisition of the stock and debt of business enterprises; establishment of a central bank with the power to do more than issue money; requiring the States and their political subdivisions to adopt uniform laws on matters that lie outside the enumerated powers of Congress and beyond the previously agreed powers of the States and their subdivisions; and coercing the States and the political subdivisions in the operation of illegitimate national programs by providing and threatening to withhold so-called federal money, which is in fact taxpayers’ money. The view that the “general welfare” and/or “necessary and proper” clauses of Article I, Section 8, authorize such activities was refuted definitively in advance of the ratification of the Constitution by James Madison in The Federalist No. 41, wherein the leading proponents of the Constitution stated their understanding of the Constitution’s meaning when they made the case for its ratification.

One of the provisions of Article I, Section 10, prohibits interference by the States in private contracts; moreover, the Constitution nowhere authorizes the central government to interfere in private contracts. Yet, directly and through the States, the central government has allowed, encouraged, and required interference in private contracts pertaining to employment, property, and financial transactions.

Contrary to the express words of Article II, which vests executive power in the President, Congress has vested executive power in agencies that are not under the control and supervision of the President.

The Supreme Court, in various holdings, has curtailed the President’s ability, as commander-in-chief, to defend Americans and their interests by circumscribing his discretionary authority in matters concerning the capture, detention, interrogation, and appropriate imposition of military punishment for offenses against the law of war, of enemy prisoners captured in the course of ongoing hostilities pursuant to a congressional declaration of war or authorization for use of military force.

Amendment I of the Constitution provides that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” But Congress has nevertheless abridged the freedom of political speech by passing bills that have been signed into law by Presidents of the United States and, in the main, upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States.

Amendment IX of the Constitution provides that its “enumeration . . . of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” But Congress, in concert with various Presidents and Supreme Court majorities, has enacted laws that circumscribe such time-honored rights as freedom of association, freedom of contract, and property rights. That such laws were enacted for the noble purpose of ending some outward manifestations of discrimination does not exempt them from the purview of Amendment IX. As Amendment XIII attests, freedom is for all Americans, not just those who happen to be in favor at the moment.

As outlined above, the central government has routinely and massively violated Amendment X, which states that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

We, therefore, the representatives of the people of _______________ do solemnly publish and declare that this State ought to be free and independent; that it is absolved from all allegiance to the government of the United States; that all political connection between it and government of the United States is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as a free and independent State it has full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

[Signatures of the people’s representatives]

Unintended Consequences

Now comes this unsurprising revelation from The Economist:

Forcing job applicants to declare they have a criminal record—whether or not it is relevant to the post—allows employers to filter out ex-convicts, it is argued, and prevents them finding the sort of work that would help them stay out of prison. So activists across the world have called for “ban-the-box” laws, which prohibit employers from inquiring about criminal histories prior to job interviews or offers.

Some 24 states and many municipalities in America have now introduced laws along those lines….

A paper by Jennifer Doleac of the University of Virginia and Benjamin Hansen of the University of Oregon, published on August 1st, looked at the impact of introducing ban-the-box policies on labour-market data from America’s population census. It found that withholding criminal-record data from employers encouraged them to treat certain minority groups as if they were more likely to have criminal pasts. In areas where ban-the-box laws have taken effect, the study found, the probability of being employed has fallen by 5.1% for young, low-skilled African-American men, and by 2.9% for young, low-skilled Hispanic men….

Other research backs up this conclusion. Amanda Agan of Princeton University and Sonja Starr of the University of Michigan sent 15,000 fictitious job applications to employers in New York and New Jersey. Before ban-the-box was introduced in these states, white applicants received around 7% more callbacks than similar black applicants. But when the policy took effect the gap increased to 45%.

How do you think a lot of employers cope with racial hiring quotas affirmative action? They use names and other clues to identify those applicants for employment who are black. They then weed out all but those black candidates who seem exceptionally well-qualified, and obviously better-qualified than the white or Asian candidates — which is often none. Why? Because once a black person shows up for an interview, he or she becomes a potential liability — a prospective employee who, if not hired, can file a racial discrimination claim. And it costs a lot of money to defend racial discrimination claims.

Result: Racial hiring quotas affirmative action means that fewer blacks are hired than would otherwise be the case.

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Related posts:

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action


Jonathan Swift Redux?

Bryan Caplan seems to be muscling in on Jonathan Swift‘s literary territory: satire. Consider Caplan’s post “Murder Equivalents“:

Economists’ [sic] have long struggled to get non-economists to put a dollar value on human life.  We’ve almost completely failed.  No matter how high the dollar value you use, non-economists hear callous minimization of human suffering.  Is there any way to quantify the magnitude of Awful without seeming awful yourself?

I say there is.  From now on, let us measure each horror in “Murder Equivalents.”  The Murder Equivalent of X, by definition, is the number of ordinary murders that would be just as bad as X.  The concept allows for the reasonable possibility that some deaths are less bad than a normal murder.  The Murder Equivalent of an accidental death, for example, might only be .5  The concept also allows for the reasonable possibility than some deaths are worse than a normal murder.  The Murder Equivalent for a death by terrorism, for example, might be 2.  A terrible war that lays a country waste might be twice the number of deaths from war crimes, plus the number of civilian deaths, plus .5 times the number of soldier deaths, plus one per $10 M in property damage.

Logically, this re-scaling is no better than a sophisticated Value of Life calculation.  Psychologically, however, it’s far better.  Comparing something to murder doesn’t sound callous.  Nor does it minimize the badness.  It only puts the world in perspective.  Many salacious front-page horror headlines are clearly less bad than one murder.  Thinking in terms of Murder Equivalents would help diffuse such distractions, reducing the risk of costly crusades against relatively minor problems.

Yes, I know that many people will angrily reject any metric that potentially implies their gut emotional reactions are unreasonable.  As usual, I’m working at the margin.  How can we get more people to think numerately about the horrors of the world?  Murder Equivalents is the best idea I’ve got.

Caplan’s modest proposal is Swiftian, even if it’s not meant to be. I refer, of course, to Dean Swift’s A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick, wherein the author (an Anglo-Irishman) “suggests that the impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food for rich gentlemen and ladies.”

Numerate thinking about the horrors of the world seems to belong in a category with Swift’s idea. Why, pray tell, is thinking numerately about the horrors of the world an improvement on thinking emotionally about them? An emotional reaction to horror is a valid reaction. Murder and terrorism are abhorrent, and ought not be smoothed over by equating them with accidental death or death by old age. Yet, that’s what Caplan’s cold-blooded alternative invites.

Death by old age is death by old age; death by accident is death by accident; death by murder or terrorism is neither, and can’t be calibrated with either of them by an arbitrarily assigned coefficient. Murder is an intentional act that can be deterred and avenged. (The best way yet devised of deterring murder is by executing murderers, swiftly (no pun intended) and surely. Not only does execution send a “message” to would-be murderers, many of whom will heed it, but it prevents murderers from murdering again.) Terrorism is an intentional act that can be prevented, deterred, and avenged, it’s not just another “risk” — like being struck by lightning — as some fatuous economists would have it. Murder and terrorism are not merely death by accident or old age with higher coefficients.

In any event, how would the coefficient (relative value) of death by murder or terrorism be assigned? By a know-it-all professor of economics like Bryan Caplan? Even a first-year student of economics could tell you that the only meaningful relative value is the one that results from a market exchange between a willing seller (the prospective victim) and a willing buyer (the prospective murderer). In a word: price. The problem (for Caplan) is that every murder would have a different price, and a lot of murders would have a price of infinity, because the prospective victims would be unwilling to be murdered at any price.

Fascism, Pots, and Kettles

The syllabus for a “course” called Trump 101 is entertaining, especially for this anti-Trump (but not pro-Clinton) reader. But there’s a lot of tailoring in the selections and descriptions thereof to fit the popular view of Trump. Take fascism. Here’s a proper (non-genocidal) definition of fascism, straight from the pen of Benito Mussolini:

Fascism conceives of the State as absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, on to be conceived of in their relation to the State….

The Fascist State organizes the nation, but leaves a sufficient margin of liberty to the individual. The latter is deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom, but retains what is essential. The deciding power in this question cannot be the individual, but the State alone [emphasis added].

Trump, if elected, would fit right into an American political tradition that dates back to Woodrow Wilson, and which is associated with the party of the Clintons. (See, for example, Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning.) A Democrat calling Trump a fascist is exactly like the pot calling the kettle black.

Multiplicative Hogwash

The Economist offers an almost-balanced view of the Keynesian multiplier, starting with its inception in Keynes’s General Theory, its theoretical refinement by Alvin Hansen and Paul Samuelson, and subsequent theoretical and empirical work. This sums it up: “Decades after its conception, Keynes’s multiplier remains as relevant, and as controversial, as ever.” It’s relevant only in the sense that a lot of economists and policy-makers still believe in it. What it is is hogwash:

The Keynesian Multiplier: Phony Math
The True Multiplier
Further Thoughts about the Keynesian Multiplier

Three Now-Obscure Actors

The 1950s were as dull as they’re made out to be. (Oh, to have them back!) Among the landmarks of that dull decade were three actors who, between them, seemed to appear almost every night on one TV drama or another: Henry Jones (1912-1999), John Newland (1917-2000), and Harry Townes (1914-2001). All three had long acting careers, and Newland was also a producer and director. But you probably can’t put faces with the names. Here they are:

Henry Jones
Henry Jones


John Newland
John Newland


Harry Townes
Harry Townes

Economic Mobility Is Alive and Well in America

Scott Burns writes about a study

from the Urban Institute, a think tank more inclined to worry about the poor than celebrate the rich. Stephen J. Rose, the author of the study, is an accomplished labor economist with a Ph.D. from City University of New York.

Rather than dividing all of us into quintiles and examining income changes in each quintile, Rose starts with a level of inflation-adjusted income and examines how different slices of income have done over time. In this case, he has examined 1979 through 2014, a period believed full of economic duress for most working Americans.

He divides us into five income classes:

  • The Poor and Near Poor, with incomes from $0 to $29,999 in 2014.
  • The Lower Middle class, with incomes from $30,000 to $49,999.
  • The Middle class, with incomes from $50,000 to $99,999.
  • The Upper Middle class, with incomes from $100,000 to $349,999.
  • The Rich, with incomes of at least $350,000.

All of these incomes are for what he calls a “three-person equivalent family.” A single person could have less income and be in a group, but a family of four or more would need more income to be in a particular group.

What has happened to the distribution of incomes? I pulled these numbers from figure 2 of Rose’s study:

Income distribution_Urban Institute

Color me unsurprised. I’ve seen similar results before, in these pieces, for example: Mark J. Perry’s “Yes, America’s Middle Class Has Been Disappearing…into Higher Income Groups” (Carpe Diem, December 17, 2015), and David Harsanyi’s “Sorry, Everyone: The American Middle Class Is Winning” (The Federalist, June 22, 2016).

Rose, of course, wants to make much of the inequality between the groups. But the groups don’t comprise the same people in 2014 as they did in 1979. Moreover, as the table suggest, Americans were a lot better off in 2014 than they were in 1979.

But that’s the left for you. If it ain’t equal, it ain’t right. That’s because leftists are always looking for victims instead of celebrating real progress — the kind that happens despite the best efforts of government to screw things up.

*     *     *

Related posts:
Taxing the Rich
More about Taxing the Rich
The Keynesian Fallacy and Regime Uncertainty
Creative Destruction, Reification, and Social Welfare
Why the “Stimulus” Failed to Stimulate
Regime Uncertainty and the Great Recession
Regulation as Wishful Thinking
In Defense of the 1%
Lay My (Regulatory) Burden Down
Economic Growth Since World War II
Government in Macroeconomic Perspective
Keynesianism: Upside-Down Economics in the Collectivist Cause
How High Should Taxes Be?
The 80-20 Rule, Illustrated
Economics: A Survey
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Spending Inhibits Economic Growth
The Keynesian Multiplier: Phony Math
The True Multiplier
Some Inconvenient Facts about Income Inequality
Mass (Economic) Hysteria: Income Inequality and Related Themes
Social Accounting: A Tool of Social Engineering
Income Inequality and Inherited Wealth: So What?
Income Inequality and Economic Growth
A Case for Redistribution, Not Made
McCloskey on Piketty
The Rahn Curve Revisited
Nature, Nurture, and Inequality
How to Eradicate the Welfare State, and How Not to Do It
Diminishing Marginal Utility and the Redistributive Urge
Capitalism, Competition, Prosperity, and Happiness
Further Thoughts about the Keynesian Multiplier
From Each According to His Ability…
Bubbling Along

Facts about Hall-of-Fame Hitters

In this post, I look at the batting records of the 136 position players who accrued most or all of their playing time between 1901 and 2015. With the exception of a bulge in the .340-.345 range, the frequency distribution of lifetime averages for those 136 players looks like a rather ragged normal distribution:

Distribution of HOF lifetime BA

That’s Ty Cobb (.366) at the left, all by himself (1 person = 0.7 percent of the 136 players considered here). To Cobb’s right, also by himself, is Rogers Hornsby (.358). The next solo slot to the right of Hornsby’s belongs to Ed Delahanty (.346). The bulge between .340 and .345 is occupied by Tris Speaker, Billy Hamilton, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Harry Heilmann, Bill Terry, Willie Keeler, George Sisler, and Lou Gehrig. At the other end, in the anchor slot, is Ray Schalk (.253), to his left in the next slot are Harmon Killebrew (.256) and Rabbit Maranville (.258). The group in the .260-.265 column comprises Gary Carter, Joe Tinker, Luis Aparacio, Ozzie Smith, Reggie Jackson, and Bill Mazeroski.

Players with relatively low batting averages — Schalk, Killibrew, etc. — are in the Hall of Fame because of their prowess as fielders or home-run hitters. Many of the high-average players were also great fielders or home-run hitters (or both). In any event, for your perusal here’s the complete list of 136 position players under consideration in this post:

Lifetime BA of 136 HOFers

For the next exercise, I normalized the Hall of Famers’ single-season averages, as discussed here. I included only those seasons in which a player qualified for that year’s batting championship by playing in enough games, compiling enough plate appearances, or attaining enough at-bats (the criteria have varied).

For the years 1901-2015, the Hall-of-Famers considered here compiled  1,771 seasons in which they qualified for the batting title. (That’s 13 percent of the 13,463 batting-championship-qualifying seasons compiled by all major leaguers in 1901-2015.) Plotting the Hall-of-Famers’ normalized single-season averages against age, I got this:

HOF batters - normalzed BA by age

The r-squared value of the polynomial fit, though low, is statistically significant (p<.01). The equation yields the following information:

HOF batters - changes in computed mean BA

The green curve traces the difference between the mean batting average at a given age and the mean batting average at the mean peak age, which is 28.3. For example, by the equation, the average Hall of Famer batted .2887 at age 19, and .3057 at age 28.3 — a rise of .0017 over 9.3 years.

The black line traces the change in the mean batting average from age to age; the increase is positive, though declining from ages 20 through 28, then negative (and still declining) through the rest of the average Hall of Famer’s career.

The red line represents the change in the rate of change, which is constant at -.00044 points (-4.4 percent) a year.

In tabular form:

HOF batters - mean BA stats vs age

Finally, I should note that the combined lifetime batting average of the 136 players is .302, as against the 1901-2015 average of .262 for all players. In other words, the Hall of Famers hit safely in 30.2 percent of at-bats; all players hit safely in 26.2 percent of at-bats. What’s the big deal about 4 percentage points?

To find out, I consulted “Back to Baseball,” in which I found the significant determinants of run-scoring. In the years 1901-1919 (the “dead ball” era), a 4 percentage-point (.040) rise in batting average meant, on average, an increase in runs scored per 9 innings of 1.18. That’s a significant jump in offensive output, given that the average number of runs scored per 9 innings was 3.97 in 1901-1919.

For 1920-2015, a rising in batting average of 4 percentage points mean, on average, an increase in runs scored per 9 innings of 1.03, as against an average number of runs scored per 9 innings of 4.51. That’s also significant, and it doesn’t include the effect of extra-base hits, which Hall of Famers produced at a greater rate than other players.

So Hall of Famers, on the whole, certainly made greater offensive contributions than other players, and some of them were peerless in the field. But do all Hall of Famers really belong in the Hall? No, but that’s the subject of another post.