Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why the RKBA movement turns off highly-educated urban dwellers.

A little speculation, spurred on by some of the remarks made at the Bill of Rights Day event held today in Phoenix:

Educated people, even highly educated people, are seemingly more prone to holding crazy positions on two topics more than any others: gun control and anthropogenic global warming. To slander scientists and make silly statements about the state of climatology is nearly a tribal trust signifier among both conservatives and libertarians; among highly educated urban dwellers--especially academics and graduate students--to oppose any and all forms of gun liberalization is a similar shibboleth. Try challenging either on facts, or asking the latter just where passage of shall-issue concealed carry has proved problematic. The answers you get will be amusing.

Both AGW deniers and hoplophobes deserve public and private shaming, as their positions are not rational. But it's worth keeping in mind that they're not rational and tailoring one's rhetoric accordingly. One cannot say that anticapitalists have dominated environmentalism, but they're screaming the loudest. To the uninitiated, that is what environmentalism is: opposition to humanity, liberty, civilization, and markets. This is why it's important to be the visible environmentalist. You want your peers to think of you, and not the unwashed, half-deranged lifestyle-activist, when they think of people who take seriously scientific studies of Man's effect on the climate (or, more generally, his fouling of the nest).

The RKBA movement has its own lifestyle-activists, who signal clearly (if incorrectly) to the uninitiated that people who advocate liberalization of firearms laws are Not Like Us. Do you know the type? Think of the person who believes that the purpose of the right to keep and bear arms is to give a universal heckler's veto over the government by means of murder. Some official isn't following your ab initio interpretation of the Constitution? Shoot him and put his "head on a pike", to borrow the phrase I heard one too many times tonight. A thousand Carl Dregas, that's the ticket. Every man, woman, and child, rightly or wrongly, can draw a line in the sand and shoot officials who cross it. Natural rights all the way!

I propose a rule. You can call it Kalafut's Rule, if you will. If you consider yourself a respectable person, do not hide your beliefs. It is better that your neighbors and colleagues think of you and not the screaming, outlandish bozo when they read of activism concerning this issue or that, or when they hear that a bill that you would support has been introduced at the legislature. If you've taken the only honest position on global warming that isn't "I don't know enough", be the visible supporter of the AGW hypothesis. And if you support RKBA, be the visible RKBA supporter.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The difference between Democrats and the rest of us.

Democrats, like presumed President-Elect Barack Obama speak of "creating jobs". The rest of us: classical-liberals, conservatives, Libertarians, Republicans, moderates, speak of prosperity and wealth.

If increasing the quantity of "jobs", whatever that even means, is the proper object of economic policy and the route to prosperity, then I recommend that the Federal government fund a major public works program. Create a five hundred foot tall memorial to Franklin Roosevelt, out of Lego (green lego, if you like), atop Mt McKinley. Then coat it with silver and put it into orbit at L2.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Wilkinson's especially astute remark on Naomi Klein

We all know by now that Naomi Klein writes and speaks about matters she never bothered to study. It's also become evident that, like most of the far-leftists I've encountered who are younger than 75, she's so far from being an analytic thinker as to sound not just dippy but pseudo-insane. And she rarely misses an opportunity to remind us of these two points. Take her recent speech at the University of Chicago, as reported in the New Yorker:
My grandparents were pretty hard-core Marxists, and in the thirties and forties they believed fervently in the dream of egalitarianism that the Soviet Union represented,” Klein told the audience in Chicago. “They had their illusions shattered by the reality of gulags, of extreme repression, hypocrisy, Stalin’s pact with Hitler. . . . The left has been held accountable for the crimes committed in the name of its extreme ideologies, and I believe that’s been a very healthy process. . . . When you start issuing policy prescriptions, when you start advising heads of state, you no longer have the luxury of only being judged on how you think your ideas will affect the world. You begin having to contend with how they actually affect the world, even when that reality contradicts all of your utopian theories.

The difference is so elementary I'd expect even the slouching illiterates and grade-beggars taking noncalculus physics at the State Megauniversity from which I've posting this message to spot it: Repression followed from revolutionary socialism as a consequence of the ideology. Repression in a few states that (to Klein, at least) are nominally free-marketeer merely happened in the same place and, to a person who sees time in "eras" and not in minutes and seconds, the same time. It's worth noting that market reforms only came to Chile after several years of the repressive regime. To claim that repression somehow followed from free-marketeer economic advice is, to anyone with a civilized idea of time, absurd. But even in other cases the causal link has not been established, and Klein has not lifted a finger to try to establish it. Guilt-by-association is easier and association-by-error is easier still.

It is clear that Klein is not an intellectual in the narrow sense and that ideas are not driving her writing. Will Wilkinson remarks on what might make her tick:
Klein and her husband, Avi Lewis, come off as so saturated in familial left-wing politics that their ideology, such as it is, seems less a set of propositions that might be true or false than an ethnic identity or tribal commitment that can neither be chosen nor forsaken. Bred-in-the-bone cultural assumptions rarely cohere when articulated; their logic is emotional.

There's more; the whole post is worthwhile.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The strangest thing I've ever been paid to write on the Internet.

Christmas Gifts for Libertarians, Free-Marketeers, an article for Associated Content. It wasn't even a wildcat submission, either, but rather a response to a request for content, albeit one I didn't expect actually to be accepted: the call was for "Christmas Gifts for _______ Lovers" articles!

Is this, in part, the Obama Recession?

I cannot say that this is the Obama Recession, but is worry about what will be coming our way post-inauguration exacerbating the crisis? After all, Obama has said he will look to Franklin Roosevelt's do-somethingist empiricism for inspiration.

To many of us, that carries undertones of punitive treatment of business, class warfare, cartelization, and intervention for intervention's sake. Already during Obama's campaign we were treated to health care and health insurance reform proposals the effect of which would be (and the intent of which almost must be) not to fix the market but to destroy it, a plan that would fit right in with the NRA and AAA. We also know these days that uncertainty and fear of Roosevelt and the New Dealers caused businesses to sit on cash instead of re-invest. Is Obama scaring investors? Is he making things worse? Should he already be taking Jonah Goldberg's advice, to stop, back off, and shut up?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Kling explains credit-default swaps, succintly.

On EconLog today, Arnold Kling provided a clear explanation of the credit-default swap. I've suspected that regulation arbitrage was at work here, and he makes it quite clear what the forbidden alternative is.

The post is worthwhile reading for anyone trying to understand the current troubles in finance.

In the end, Mookie throws a garbage can through the pizzeria window.

The title of Mike Huckabee's new book: Do The Right Thing.

My question is: will it cause blacks to riot?

Friday, November 14, 2008

I'm OK, you're a shill. (An unsubsidized response to Matthew Yglesias.)

Matt Yglesias starts out well enough in his contribution to this month's Cato Unbound, but by the end retreats to where those with leftist tendencies tend to go when they have nothing to say: accusations that everyone else is shilling. To quote:
it’s striking to me that on what would seem to me to be the simple and straightforward libertarian case that we should make Social Security benefits less generous, Cato has nothing much to say. Instead, it has an elaborate Project on Social Security Choice aimed at restructuring the program into one of mandatory, privately managed savings accounts. It’s not immediately obvious to me what this proposal has to do with libertarianism, but it would seem to offer some prospect of profits for fund managers. Whether monetary contributions from individuals working in the financial services industry, or else a desire to align more closely with the partisan political agenda of the Republican Party (itself largely dominated by the interests of American business rather than free market principles), or some combination of the two motivate the preference is beyond my ability to say.
Maybe it hasn't occurred to Yglesias that there is libertarianism beyond the "straightforward" Mises Institute schoolboy stuff, but I doubt it, as, if his writings for the Atlantic are indicative, he seems reasonably intelligent and well-read. Perhaps this ridiculous "straightforward libertarian" solution is a consciously created straw man and perhaps it indicates that, however well-read Yglesias is, he still doesn't know much about contemporary, cutting-edge libertarianism.

I similarly doubt that he can only envision two "when did you stop beating your wife" reasons Cato promotes Social Security restructuring rather than making payouts less generous, and instead suspect that the disinginuity was a deliberate attempt to hoodwink sympathetic readers into thinking something unsavory is going on at 1000 Massachusetts Avenue. Two other possibile reasons for Cato's position immediately present themselves:
  1. Cato personnel responsible for the Project on Social Security Choice doubt the American people will accept Yglesias's "straightforward libertarian solution", a Social Security phaseout that reduces payouts to current takers without having given them the decades of notice needed to adequately prepare.
  2. Cato personnel think that it is wrong to phase out Social Security by reducing payouts to those who currently or soon will depend on it and seek a more ethical, intermediate solution.

I cannot speak to whether either of these is the case, nor can I rule out other possibilities, but they are much more plausible than "a group of intellectuals changed their mind because unspecified mutual-fund managers possibly made a contribution to their think-tank."

It goes on:
Similarly, the free-market case for a revenue-neutral carbon pricing scheme seems fairly impeccable to me. But instead of organizing its climate change efforts around seeking to ensure that any future carbon pricing plan be as close to revenue neutral as possible, Cato prefers to steadfastly defend the rights of industry to unload air pollution unimpeded.
Yglesias fails to mention one thing: a considerable portion of the Cato crowd still thinks that, concerning the question of the existence of anthropogenic global warming, there are two sides, on reasonably equal footing, at that! Most of them haven't the background (or the willingness) to read technical papers at the level needed to judge them on their merits and are thus incapable of distinguishing the latest from JGR-Atmospheres from Christopher Monckton's "amateur hour" excursions. I suspect that they are suffering from Ronald Bailey Syndrome, that is, that they have chosen their position not due to honest scientific concerns, but rather because it fits more conveniently with their other, perhaps sounder, beliefs on policy.

This is made worse by two factors. The first being the bizarre apoplexy that flares up in elderly libertarians (even those unaffiliated with Cato) when presented with anything that looks "environmentalist". The second being Patrick Michaels's status as some sort of "Policy Scholar" at the institute. I'd entertain the idea that some AGW denialists are shills. It's not unlikely that Robert Balling, for example, goes on talking to nonscientific audiences (he wouldn't dare make some of his claims before a room full of experts) about how wrong climatologists actually working on global climate change are, despite not working in that subfield in years, because it brings in money to support his more legitimate research. Michaels, however, is probably, like S. Fred Singer, deranged. Consider that he (like Singer) was still going on about how CFCs don't cause ozone depletion as late as 2000. It's more plausible that, hearing Michaels's loud contrarianism, Exxon-Mobil sends money his way, than that his position was caused by the receipt of such funds. Again, most people at Cato, and most people in general, cannot critically evaluate science and probably don't know that they are incapable of doing so, nor what doing so entails. They've had Michaels whispering cute nonsense in their ears, and flattering their political prejudices, too, for well over a decade, and are half-convinced that environmentalism has something to do with leftism, Al Gore, and butterfly scientists' concerns about human population. It is more likely by far that they oppose creation of a carbon market because they believe stupid things about the state of atmospheric science--poke them enough and you can get them to say stupid things!--than that they oppose creation of a carbon market because someone paid them to do so or because they expect to be rewarded later.

Consider the following:
  1. Any think-tank scholar exposed as a shill will be difficult to take seriously ever again, on any topic.
  2. If it were truly possible to pay commentators and scholars to change their minds, wouldn't the money be better spent reversing the positions of environmetalists?

One could say that Yglesias must be taking a payment from the labor unions. After all, why would he put in such a good word for them in his Cato Unbound essay even though they are At Least As Evil As Exxon-Mobil? But that would be stupid. It's more plausible that Yglesias genuinely believes that the unions are a source of good. In order to have any reasonable discussion at all, or even to benefit from reading others' writing, we need to acknowledge that intelligent people can disagree and even, like Patrick Michaels, believe ridiculous things for ridiculous reasons.

I propose a new rule for commentators, the Russell's Teapot rule: Do not attribute someone's opinion to having taken a payment or even insinuate that said opinion might be the result of shilling behavior unless you either have compelling evidence for it or have ruled out all other possibilities. To do otherwise makes you seem foolish, dishonest, or malicious. Mr Yglesias, take note!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Milton Friedman Insitute controversy continues.

For fellow spectators of the tempest in a teapot at the University of Chicago, a few updates from around the Web:

It appears that the name of the institute has been changed to the Milton Friedman Institute for Research in Economics. That doesn't look like much of a change to most of us, but perhaps it will mollify the paranoid sort who thought that the Milton Friedman Institute would be some "right-wing think tank". Nevermind that the Institute was being established for economics research even before the name was extended. Nevermind that Milton Friedman can hardly be considered "right-wing". The complainers' position didn't make sense from the start, so perhaps what is a non-change to sensible people will look like substantiative change to them.

If I could buy stock in silly remarks about the economics profession, it would be a great countercyclical asset. The recent economic downturn has brought out the bozos and resulted in all sorts of strange categorical pronouncements about free markets, the Chicago School, or some special "free market economics" separate from the rest, that nobody knows about. This piece from Al-Jazeera English is representative; search the blogosphere or even the newspapers and you will find many more just like it.

Therein, Robert Lucas says what needs to be said:
...Why don't you ask these guys [critics] what should be done specifically and what should be done now?

People like [Josef] Stiglitz [the US economist and critic of free markets] use name-calling instead of just diagnosing the problem and saying what should be done.

Should there have been regulation to prevent this? Well sure, but what sort of regulation? Let them spell out what regulation we should have in place.

These are the questions any reporter who wishes to be an asset to his profession (Ms. Brown at Al-Jazeera, take note!) must ask. If the Chicago School is to blame, what peculiar normative advice was given that was wrong and resulted in the financial situation we are now facing? Did Milton Friedman and his fellows at the University of Chicago (hardly a single-minded group!) advocate for the peculiar FNMA (Fannie Mae) policies that largely caused the housing bubble? Did they advocate against splitting up "too big to fail" Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? Did they say that the systemic risk problem didn't exist in the credit-default swaps market or elsewhere? Why blame the house Frank Knight built?

Elsewhere, Gary Becker makes a strong case for naming such a research institution after Friedman the man. Richard Posner addresses the concerns of those who think that the Institue will reflect poorly on the University or produce only servile work in honor of Friedman, and takes a great jab at the "'Free market' econ is dead" set:
If the religion professor who is leading the movement against the naming is right that "Friedman's over"--that the current economic crisis has consigned Friedman, along with Greenspan, to the dustbin of economic history--he should have no fear that the new Institute will be biased in favor of Friedman's views. If a physics institute were named after Albert Einstein, would the institute's researchers reject quantum theory?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Sometimes you just misjudge people.

There's a reason we have face-to-face meetings even in the Internet age. Some people don't present themselves well in writing.

I helped Laissez Faire Books move in to its new Arizona headquarters last Sunday and joined the principals for dinner. A surprise drop-in, midway through, was gun-book publisher Alan Korwin.

Korwin, as readers of this 'blog may know, has in the past struck me as a hateful, right-wing boor. That's awfully far from the truth. In person the man is affable and polite, with a genuine intellectual curiosity. On top of that, he has a good liberal instinct; he's just coming to this from a different starting point than many of the rest of us.

It doesn't hurt matters, either, that he knows how to pick out a good Cabernet. And yes, this is an apology.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Trite, and in bad taste.

It is neither witty nor accurate nor fair to refer to economics as "something that we thought was good until a couple of weeks ago", as though the banking crisis reveals some serious flaw in economic science, as though economic scientists were caught by surprise by the systemic risk problem, or as though we can simply start ignoring economists' advice and let ideology hold sway.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A curious use of self-selection at the airport

At Midway Airport, TSA signage splits passengers entering the terminal into three groups: families and passengers with special needs, "casual travelers", and "expert travelers". The first category needs no explanation, but the demarcation between the latter two--or even what it means to be an "expert" at traveling--is unclear.

Nevertheless, after a few moments of thought, I moved to the "expert" line, which moved more quickly than that for the "casuals". Perhaps there is something to it, or perhaps the line is merely faster because fewer people will self-identify as "expert" anything. One would have to sit at security for a couple hours and count the number of fumblers and nincompoops going through each line, or better still, time each passenger's delay at the metal detector, to be sure.

There was no check for expertise, and no meaningful social sanction--not even a dirty look--for fumbling. Plainclothesed TSA workers didn't watch for "experts" who stood still on Midway's famous "moving walkways" ("Caution, the moving walkway is ending...") We can't rely on people even to not smoke on the sidewalk or in doorways, or to control their conversational volume; can anyone explain why in this situation they should be expected to meaningfully segregate themselves by ability to efficiently pass the security screening?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Things one wouldn't suspect exist.

In the Biosciences West building at the University of Arizona, there is a refrigerated snack machine stocked with Fermentas brand reagents and standards, the 'Enzymatic' Automatic Freezer.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Yes, Sarah Palin is a "federalist."

Over at the Daily Kos and elsewhere, fellow amateur pundits are making the claim that because a group historically known as the Federalists supported a stronger central government than their chief rivals, "federalist" is a synonym for "supports stronger central government than one's chief rivals."

That's ridiculous. Not only does it reveal ignorance of a widespread modern movement, it also misses the point: "federalist" describes a position concerning the structure of government. Here the somewhat-educated Palin gets it right and her would-be betters get it wrong.

I explain in livelier terms over at Associated Content.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Fastest lesson in human biology:

From a new mom, re: her son: "He's just about the coolest thing I've ever seen."

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Does official metion of "gouging" do harm or good?

In a competitive marketplace, such as that for gasoline and other motor fuels in the USA, outside of lifeboat situations (which are few), there is no such thing as "price gouging".

That having been said, the term seems to have lodged permanently in the popular consciousness as slang for "the price is higher than I'd like it to be and I don't understand why."

A conundrum: does use of the term by public officials such as President Bush, including reassurances that the practice--whatever it is--will be "investigated", do good by keeping demand for price controls and other harmful interventions in the marketplace low, or do harm by perpetuating the myth that there is such a thing as "gouging" and that increases in gasoline prices in the wake of a natural disaster may be it?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Scenes from a game of Settlers (2 of 2)

Last Saturday's Settlers of Catan was between four physicists, an astronomer, and a classical musician. MF is the astronomer, WF is one of the physicists; YHN is "your humble narrator":

MF: There should be a computer program to tell us the prices of the commodities.
YHN: But the value of each is subjective; why would you trust a computer program to value them for you?
MF: It's just supply and demand!
YHN: So you're going to assume the players are rational and devise a utility function for Settlers?
WF: By that point, you might as well let the computer play for you.

"It's supply and demand" is a slogan, not an answer. Should I take it as a good sign, though, that economics has injected something of that sort into the popular consciousness?

Scenes from a game of Settlers (1 of 2)

...and I'll trade you three sheep if you exchange two through your port for one bricks and then give me the bricks...

It looks obvious now, to trade for use of ports in Settlers of Catan, but last weekend's game was the first time I'd seen it. The rules make no mention of trading for services, but it appears to emerge naturally. The rules of Go don't mention deadly shapes or ko threats, either.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Quotation du jour

"Democratic politics, in the end, is not about rational deliberation. It is about coalitional signaling. It is about expressive solidarity. It is about identity and emotion. That’s why I have a deep mistrust of democratic politics."

That doesn't at all imply its context; it's from a Will Wilkinson post regarding Sarah Palin's speech at the Republican convention.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Career death penalty for police officers: a modest proposal.

A thought, as reports of the arrests of Alicia Forrest and Asa Eslocker (neatly summed up by CLS) and others come in.

Police officers who are found to have used unncessary force or made arrests without probable cause should be forbid to work in law enforcement in all jurisdictions, and made to register like sex offenders. Those who obstruct investigations of police misconduct ought be prosecuted a la RICO.

Simple as that: with special privileges should come not only responsibility but rigid accountability.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

How many more times do we have to hear this narrative?

Repeating it over and over won't make it true, nor will it change that it is the product of intellectual laziness and a sign that the commentator is passing on opinions third-hand.

Consider anthropologist Marshall Sahlins's take on Milton Friedman and the "Chicago Boys", in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education:
Does the university expect us to "disappear" the memory of the Friedman-trained Chicago Boys, who supplied the economic programs for the draconian regimes of Augusto Pinochet in Chile and the generals in Argentina? The sacrificial reduction of social values to monetary calculations is the essence of Friedman economics, and helps explain its historic taint as the complement of state terror.

Let's put aside the silliness embodied in the noun "Friedman econcomics" and consider the following:

  • Augusto Pinochet only became aware of "El Ladrillo", the Harberger- and Friedman-trained "Chicago Boys"' economic whitepaper, after the coup d'etat.
  • "El Ladrillo" does not call for the repressive policies used by Pinochet and his allies in consolidating their overthrow of the socialist Allende government.
  • Martinez de Hoz, Argintine Minister of Economy during most of the National Reorganization Process, was Cambridge-educated.
  • de Hoz's disastrous monetary policy centered on a very tight control of exchange rates. Friedman was an advocate of either "automatic" gold standards or freely floating currencies and quite opposed to manipulation of exchange rates.

The idea that repressive practices of some of the regimes--why doesn't Sahlins mention China, the UK, or the United States under Carter and Reagan?--which received Chicago School advice or put such recommendations into practice have foundation in the thought of Milton Friedman is prima facie ludicrious, and Sahlins doesn't even implicitly reference, let alone make a case for, such a link. A reading of Capitalism and Freedom, a very "thin" book well-suited for airplane rides or the café, would reveal to Sahlins that Friedman was quite the advocate of free political institutions and an open society, and that he advocated liberal economic policy in part because it makes the first more likely and reneders the second possible.

Perhaps among left-wing academics, Milton Friedman is a mythical catch-all bogeyman, a folk demon. Can we get an anthropologist on the case?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bad Netizenship

Rule number aleph-null: If you would like to unsubscribe from an e-mail list to which you have opted in, follow the instructions you were sent when you subscribed and which are mailed to you periodically, often at the bottom of each message. Do not click "This is spam" in a webmail client, especially if your e-mail service provider is Yahoo, Gmail, or some similar broadly-subscribed national service.

One too many boorish dummkopfs (yahoos?) using Yahoo mail told their client that Randy Cassingham's This Is True was spam instead of unsubscribing properly. As a result, tens of thousands of subscribers--many of them subscribers to the paid "premium" version--did not receive their newsletter for several weeks.

In the last newsletter, Cassingham reported that after a lot of back-and-forth with Yahoo support, his e-mails are now reaching subscribers and customers. However, there's no doubt that losing 15% of his subscribers for several weeks hurt Cassingham's business.

The lessons: Internet users should take spam reporting seriously, and service providers should ask "are you sure this isn't an opt-in list?" before accepting the user's click. This sort of thing has happened before. I was webmaster for an aquarium club, using the free Crosswinds service as host, when the site was blackholed because a spammer faked a Crosswinds origin for the e-mail, meaning members couldn't access the site for weeks. If the reporters had checked the headers, as is good practice, they'd have found that it was sent from an open relay elsewhere.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


I've written a few wine reviews attributing flinty or chalky "minerals" in wines to the soil in which they are grown, but the scientist in me has always puzzled over how the grapes do that.

The answer is, quite simply, that they don't. Weather, soil chemistry, and soil structure, of course do play a role in gene expression and thus in the sensory qualities of wine, but the idea that the vines slurp up aroma-of-rock and excrete it in grapes is pure fancy.

Randall Graham a winemaker at Bonny Doon, reportedly experimented with adding rock to wine the way some add oak chips. Results were somewhat amusing, with the rocks buffering the pH and drastically altering both the taste and mouthfeel.

Harold McGee and Daniel Patterson, writing in the New York Times magazine attribute terroir more to the local winemaking traditions than to the soil. I find the argument rather convincing, that it is the winemaker and not the dirt that is steely or chalky, but I'm not as completely sold on it as Patterson and McGee. Yes, the grapes are not expressing the taste of the dirt, but topography, rainfall, soil structure, and composition play more than minimal roles in determining character. Some of the lesser-known "cult" wineries and upstarts will bring out pours of unblended wine from different vineyards to more enthusiastic tasters.

I recall a very proud owner-operator in Livermore giving me a sip of this and a sip of that (supposedly vinified the same way), then pouring three Zinfandels blended largely from the vineyards. All Zin, and all quite different. Granted, they could be from different clones; I didn't think to ask.

Terroir is still a mystery. What is genetic, what is environmental, and what is winemaker has yet to be pinned down. Even the question of what we mean by "minerals" in the wine--it isn't a higher salt concentration!--remains unanswered. Some might like the mystery to remain, but as for me, these investigations enhance my enjoyment.

Three negatives in a row.

My July posts consist of two hits and a link to a hit. Next post will be "positive", I promise!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

'CLS' to farmers: "To a gas chamber, go!"

As Whittaker Chambers said of Ayn Rand in his famous (and hilarious) review of Atlas Shrugged, I dislike much of what 'CLS' the anonymous (by request) 'blogger at Classically Liberal dislikes, quite as heartily as he does.

Nonetheless, much as I didn't have the stomach for Atlas Shrugged's painfully bad dialogue and Saturday-morning cartoon moral landscape, never finishing the book and having no desire to do so, I'm finding that, although I promoted CLS's 'blog back when it was getting started, his recent posts' moralistic turn makes my eyes cross and my brain hurt. Ordinarily speaking I have no trouble reading those with whom I disagree, but when the modesty of a true intellectual is set aside in favor of the cheap certainty of an ideologue, it becomes difficult to not dismiss the passage literally by reflex. The eyes--my eyes, anyway--have a tendency, on finding that a writer hasn't thought things through, has no intention of thinking things through, and doesn't even appreciate that the matter at hand is of sufficient subtlety to require being thought through, to skip to the next sentence or paragraph, as if not to spend more time processing an author's mistake than the author spent writing it.

So it is with a recent post about the effects of a change in ethanol blending mandates, wherein farmers who planted their crops expecting mandates to continue as is at least until the end of the season are treated much as the sociology professors, schoolteachers, and playwrights (etc.) who perished in the Taggart Tunnel. To quote:
One farmer said: “We bought fertilizer and corn seed, decide our crop mix on the basis of ethanol being where it was. To change the mandate in the middle of our growing season, that’s really not right.” He apparently never worried if the mandate was right in the first place.

I would like to be able to attribute the post to the casual libertarian's (usually somewhat willful) lack of appreciation for stickiness, but CLS goes on to accuse the quoted farmer and many others of theft and looting and to actually gloat over the farmers' losses.

Bailing out people who benefited from previous government policies is not libertarian. Their failure, if anything is a bit of justice. It returns some of the booty that they stole back to the productive economy.

CLS has perhaps forgotten that he and nearly everyone else is a beneficiary of government policies, as he lives and does business under rule of law. This does not make him a thief unless all men are thieves. If the law should change in a way to hurt his livelihood, as he is not profiting from slavery or some other malum in se conduct, I would want the change to be done in such a way as to smooth the transition.

It would seem, however, that in CLS's newly twisted moral landscape, those who respond to price signals that happen to be perturbed by government policies with which one does not agree are "stealing" and their profits are "booty". Forget that the ethanol mandate, however poorly thought out, had a legitimate purpose, that being moving toward carbon neutrality. (I don't think it's relevant here that CLS dismisses the work of climatologists for reasons that amount to "just because".) Forget that that purpose is not mystically erased if farmers happened to have lobbied for the mandate's passage. It is the duty of everyone to not only anticipate all possible changes in the law, but also to pretend, as actors in the marketplace, that the law does not exist if CLS does not think it should exist. To do otherwise is to be a thief, to steal, to not participate in the "productive economy".

CLS claims that to advocate for bailouts and smoothed transitions is not libertarian. Apparently his bookstore didn't carry Epstein's Takings and the passage, largely by libertarians, of regulatory takings laws in Oregon and Arizona eluded him while he was out of the country. I'm not saying that changing what is essentially a crop-use mandate mid-season is a takings, but it does sit on a continuum with regulatory takings, and I can see how one could argue that it is. I suspect that despite his stance on this particular matter, CLS would like for the filthy polluting pigs or those profiting from habitat destruction to be compensated when sensible environmental regluations are passed. (Life is full of shades-of-grey, of naturally diffuse "drop in the ocean" harms, and the like; that's one of the reasons we have markets.)

Why, in CLS's mind, should bailouts and smoothed transitions not occur? It puts us on a slippery slope to socialism. Ridiculous! Moving on to something with at least a semblance of merit, we find that CLS argues that the government should not "bail out" those negatively affected by a change in its policies lest it subsidize everyone all the time. Reductio ad absurdum has its uses, but this isn't one. The claim that laws can either be changed on an abrupt timescale and without compensation to those harmed, irrespective of the consequences, or all businesses must be subsidized forever whenever the law changes is sloppy. The quoted farmer himself presents middle ground, written right between the lines. When crops are in the field is not the time to change policy. Therefore, a fair transition would be to lower, or better still, to end the mandates on a timetable such that next year's crop mix is determined based on a market in which there is no ethanol blending mandate.

I'd say that I don't understand how this could have eluded CLS, but that would be a lie. I understand how it eluded him. The peculiar self-lobotomy of the moralist or ideologue creates a mental "blind spot" that nearly always obscures the middle ground.

The extremes are ruled out, yes. Keeping the subsidy for all time is fairly clearly wrong, and cutting it off immediately, mid-season, is just as bad albeit for different reasons. Considering Man as a member of society, an actor in the marketplace, and a limited being, CLS's policy prescription is faulty. Perhaps, pace Chambers, this is to be expected: we should not "place much confidence in the diagnosis of a doctor who supposes that the Hippocratic Oath is a kind of curse."

The more interesting questions remain:
  1. How can we best, given the moral and practical concerns surrounding the matter, eliminate the ethanol blending mandate?
  2. What policy can better satisfy its legitimate purposes?

These are questions of the sort to which ideologues and moralists do not have answers. That is my accusation and in many ways their boast.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Joe Horn, Texas, Alan Korwin give Castle Doctrine a bad name

UPDATE: Korwin ain't so bad.

A runaway jury in Texas refused to indict Joe Horn ("I'm gonna kill 'em!...Move, yer dead!") on any criminal charges whatsoever related to his murder of two men burglarizing his neighbor's home. Grand jury proceedings in Texas are sealed, so we do not and likely will never know the reasoning, but the matter is already being linked in the popular press (one example) to Castle Doctrine laws removing the duty to retreat during a criminal invasion of one's home or business, no doubt in part because Horn himself mentioned the change in the law to the 911 operator.

This despite Horn's actions (even according to the law's author) not falling under castle doctrine protection. The letter of the law is clear: the Castle Doctrine bill creates a presumption that a person breaking into one's home or business is there to cause, primarily or incidentially, bodily harm, and clarifies (as the Supreme Court affirmed for Federal case law, way back in 1895) that there is no duty to retreat.

What it does not do is allow a man, in a fit of stupid machismo or for any other reason, on witnessing a crime in which others are not in iminent danger, to load his firearm, shout "Move yer dead!", seek out trouble, and shoot the culprits in the back. The Castle Doctrine only applies if trouble comes to the shooter! Nevertheless, that the Castle Doctrine gives semi-literate rubes like Horn or W.C. Frosch even the idea that they have a right to shoot people not invading their homes or businesses--in Frosch's case, a kid cutting across his lawn--will make it all the more difficult to get Castle bills passed in states which impose a statutory duty to retreat.

Alan Korwin, publisher of Gun Laws of the United States, isn't making the situation any better. From his 17 July 2007 "Page Nine" e-newsletter:

News reports generally failed to mention that the two dead criminals, caught red-handed burglarizing Horn's neighbor's house, were in the country illegally. News media policy is to ignore or avoid the illegal immigration aspects of crimes when possible, because they believe it might expose a stereotype, create a stereotype, or is not important, though nearly everyone who reads their tripe believes it is very important. Reasons for the difference in opinion are unclear.

Texas has robust "Castle Doctrine" laws protecting homeowners and the innocent, and making things tough on home invaders even if they aren't illegal aliens committing crimes here. Horn said on tape that he knew of those laws, and the officer on the other end of the line acknowledged the laws were in place, but tried in many ways to convince Horn to do absolutely nothing and let the burglars rob his neighbor.

Korwin may publish books on the law, but he's no lawyer, and it shows. That Hown knows of the Castle Doctrine law does not justify--legally or morally--his actions when the Castle Doctrine simply does not apply. Yet nevertheless Korwin is taken, popularly, to be an authority on firearms law. His invocation of the Castle Doctrine will make it more difficult, at the margin, for us to get these laws passed elsewhere.

As will, of course, his stressing of the burglars' immigration status. To imply that their status is a mitigating factor for Horn is vile, moreover, even a half-wit understands that Horn could not have possibly known the burglars were unlawfully in the country when he shot them in the back. To answer Korwin's question, the reason newsmen didn't report the burglars' immigration status is because, legally, it doesn't matter, and morally, it doesn't matter. That "illegals have no rights" is a right-wing myth, the product of Mugabe-like or Hitler-like imaginations. "If you shoot someone in the back, and it turns out that they don't have a government permission slip, that makes it OK." The press, better educated than the plebs, understand that immigration is irrelevant and have no obligation to report on it simply because morons and bigots think it's important.

Korwin is reminding me in some ways of Jack "Pal" Smurch from Thurber's classic The Greatest Man In The World. What kind of self-respecting, thoughtful human being thinks immigration status of the victim is relevant to the question of whether or not someone should be indicted for murder? The same sort of childish lout who writes of a "lamestream media" and who believes Oregon Petition hype about anthropogenic global warming. Flying around the world didn't make Smurch anything but the boor he was, and likewise publishing success hasn't transformed Korwin into Eugene Volokh or Dave Hardy. A boor can become successful in business, he can be dressed up in a suit, given awards, receive ass-kissing admiration from better men, but he remains a boor. Class doesn't follow success.

Lack of class has hurt the pro-RKBA movement in the past and, at the margin, will continue to hurt it. Unfortunately, there's no good way to even induce the classless to clean up.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Best. 'Blog Smackdown. Ever.

What Megan McArdle had to say about University of Chicago humanities faculty's letter protesting the creation of the Milton Friedman Institute:

...their assessment of the effects of the "neoliberal global order" is forehead slapping, head shaking, did-they-really-say that? stupid. I haven't heard such transparently wishful claptrap since my fifteen-year-old boyfriend tried to convince me that sex provided unparalleled aerobic exercise.

Speaking as an aspiring academic, it's about damn time the stupids are called stupid. More and harder, please!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Giving credit where credit is not due, or CNN's dumbed-down reporting.

From cnn.com's coverage of today's DC vs Heller ruling:

The National Rifle Association said the high court had given it the ammunition to challenge other cities' gun-control measures.

After the ruling, Wayne LaPierre of the NRA said his organization would immediately file court challenges to the bans in Chicago and San Francisco.

This might lead the casual reader to think that the NRA brought the Parker challenge (which metamorphosed to Heller). On the contrary, up until the time the case was granted cert, they fought to derail the effort, fearing a bad ruling.

But what can we expect; CNN and many other lowbrow outlets don't deal well with cases that violate the rules. The rules are:

  1. There are legitimately two sides to every issue.
  2. There are none but two sides to every issue.
  3. Each of these sides is a solid camp, with a leader or a leading organization.
  4. The opinion of the leader or leading organization is an accurate and thorough summary of the views of the camp.
  5. A reporter must thus seek "quotes" from two sources: a representative of the leadership of the one camp, and a representative of the leadership of the other.

This is false balance's dual, and it's equally obnoxious. How sloppy, to not so much as mention the Cato Institute or Bob Levy in a standard news piece on Heller!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

College does not imply middle-class values

While I was tutoring a local community college student in the basement of the University's main library, the boys--and I can't call them anything else--in the next glass-enclosed study room over were playing techno music, occasionally shouting/braying to each other (in between mumbles), and belching loudly and deliberately after guzzling their Cokes.

Chewing-tobacco containers and Burger King bags littered the floor. Barzun would call it "emancipation", and it not only debases the academic enterprise, but also devalues the degree of the more serious students. A college degree, especially from a "we have to take just about everyone" state university, no longer almost necessarily implies middle-class values.

Kids, that's why, right or wrong, college degrees are almost always required to get the "good jobs".

Thursday, June 12, 2008

IQ 126? Make him chief!

The city of New London is in the news again, or at least (oddly, as the incident is nine years old) getting hammered in the blogosphere, this time for refusing to hire a man because he scored too high on the Wonderlic Test of intelligence. His score was a 33, which corresponds approximately to an IQ of 126. Not bad, but not genius level, either; it puts him in the same league as your average MD.

One would think that police departments would fall over themselves to hire this man. He's educated, he's not a career thug worked in other fields, and he's purportedly in it out of a desire to protect and serve (rather than to kick some ass.) Supposedly he'll get bored with being a patrolman and quit. Put him in charge of something.

Better supervision of the common policeman will go along way. Just ask the Dickson City, PA city council a year or two from now, when they're shelling out hundreds of thousands to settle a 28 USC § 1983 suit brought about by their Keystone Kops harassing and arresting people for legal behavior and legal refusal to present identifying papers

Smart cops save money, lives, and liberty in the long run.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Sketchy Continent

I often find that happenings in Africa are strange beyond what reasonable people could imagine. Something posted today on Marginal Revolution really "takes the cake": albino Tanzanians are being maimed and killed so hucksters can sell their body parts as good-luck charms and folk medicine.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Things I didn't imagine existed.

In Mississippi, cucumber pickles are now being pickled a second time in double-strength Kool-Aid.

And from a a website selling canning supplies, the remark "Douche alum is not food grade." Douche alum? Ouch! Why? I put alum on my face to stop bleeding when I cut myself shaving. I can't imagine doing that, voluntarily, to mucous membranes.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

What happens when soixante-huitards go senile?

What happens when soixante-huitards start to go senile? If the case of Diane Craig, of Danville, CA is indicative, they burn gas stations--and Starbucks, too--to "take a stand."

"I'll have none of this, these so-called 'laws' of 'economics', and commodification of mostly-good coffee!"

As can be expected, the poor old dingbat didn't even do a good job getting the fires started. A fireplace log makes a lousy accelerant. Where's Chesa Boudin to clue her in?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Why Will Wilkinson rocks my socks.

Wilkinson, of the Cato Institute, is well on the way to establishing himself as one of this generation's most thoughtful commentators.

Last Friday he put forth a positive description of modern classical liberalism and the place of libertarianism in the post-socialist world, that should be required reading.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

No, that's the sound of a gathering in a Big Tent!

Unable to attend the LP convention, I am getting a sense of it from weblogs such as Brian Holtz's Libertarian Intelligence and Reason Hit and Run. 2008 will go down as the year LP Libertarians decided to act like a political party, when those who truly desire to use the political process to move policy in a more libertarian direction stood up to the village anarchists and gave the ideologues their comeuppance for insults ranging from the 1983 convention to the bait-and-switch tactic to relentless attempts at "internal education" whereby those who don't accept "natural rights theory"--usually because they are well-educated and well-read enough to know better!--get slandered as "statist" and "socialist" and stabbed in the back during their campaigns.

The delegates in convention today adopted a unity platform, one that does not undermine registration efforts and political campaigns, as it represents what thinking Libertarians believe, not what a few loutish sophomores would rather us believe.

Alone, regardless of who wins the nomination for President, this restores my faith in the Party, giving me reason to give it a second chance, or an Nth chance, for another few years.

The anonymous-by-request author of Classically Liberal, with affected nineteenth-century bombast, decries the Reform Caucus effort and this new platform as wanting to "dim the libertarian torch or make the battle cry an "uncertain sound". Nonsense. The Reform platform is the sight and sound of a Big Tent. Political victories are won by bringing people to the cause, not driving them out because they won't mouth filoque clauses about total ends to taxation or privatizing national parks. Disagreement is a sign of health in such an organization.

Torches? Biblical horns? Who would listen? Who does listen? Anyone who believes in a Libertarian priesthood, that the voter will treat the Libertarian as his conscience or treat him as his better needs his head examined. (Anyone who thinks that I should recognize Rothbardites as my better doesn't even need the exam, as he is certifiably nuts.) Political parties that cannot be even a credible threat at the polls are non-entities. Chasing off people who disagree on bits of the agenda is a step away from being a credible threat. Unlike membership in a single-issue organization, which is binary (do you support the abolition of slavery or do you not?), membership in a political party is a matter of shades of grey: libertarianism is not a unified whole or a package deal. "Do these people and me share enough of a common policy direction to justify collaboration?" If the Party were Dave Nolan and Eric Garris: no. Those gentlemen plus Brian Holtz and Tim West and Tom Stevens and the like? Yes.

I presume that the author of Classically Liberal understands the difference between a single-issue organization and a coalition. Perhaps, in the fit of bombast, he simply forgot. Purism of a certain sort makes a single-issue group strong and a political party weak. How many members will a political party have if made up only of people who agree on everything? A "village anarchists'" club cannot be a stronger political force than a real libertarian political party. There aren't enough villages!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Bernie Sanders, move over for Maxine Waters!

Senator Sanders, Ms. Waters is now seated to your left.

"This liberal will be all about socializing...basically...taking over, and the government running all of your companies.”

Will the voters have good enough sense to throw her out of office in 2010? Do we have a PAC devoted to sending Reds back home to find honest work? If we don't, we should. Anti-liberal sentiments have no place in American public discourse, let alone Congress.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Stochastic Gain Medium

As though I didn't have enough 'blogs already, I've started a science weblog: Stochastic Gain Medium.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Platform worthy of activists and candidates.

They're at it again. Those statist, socialist, nerf-core asshats of the Libertarian Reform Caucus, disguised as a legitimate Platform Committee, are presenting to the delegates at this week's LP Convention (which I am not attending, for professional reasons) what could be the Party's first respectable Platform since long before I joined up in '96.

Gone are the bizarre extremism of Murray Rothbard, Williamson Evers, and co. Gone are explicitly anarchist/nihilist clauses calling for a total end to taxation, an individual right to secession, and the like. Gone also is the bizarre four-part format which necessitated sloppy plank writing, encouraged sloppy thinking, and made dragged out, knock-down fights between the ideologues and the casuists inevitable.

If the delegates do not decide to take a step backwards and "Restore '04"--a good possibility given the outright veneration some give to Dave Nolan--the Party will have for the first time since the ideologues ruined it in the early 1980s a platform worthy of its activists. The committee's proposal is a platform candidates can stand on, a platform which won't make reporters think we're all anarcho-nihilists, a platform that won't turn people off to the party before they even encounter an active member, and a platform street-level organizers, like myself, won't have to explain away. ("No candidate in his right mind would advocate such a policy; that thing is flypaper for the ideologues and dunces!")

Jacob Hornberger, of course, will foam at the mouth due to paranoid fantasies of "compromise and concealment", as though we all really secretly believe in legal animal sex, a torts-only approach to environmental law, a total end to taxation, individual secession, and man-boy love. Just pat ol' "Bumper" on the head and recommend he submit an amendment.

Blog of Rights

The ACLU's national office has today officially announced its weblog on the topic of civil liberties. To date, its focus has been on Federal matters.

Writing quality is rather high; they've recruited Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com and Daniel Larison of American Conservative to supplement their staffers' contributions. This is worth a daily "hit", and I've added it to my blogroll.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

U. Chicago announces Friedman Institute; Norberg demolishes Naomi Klein

It would be an exaggeration to claim that Milton Friedman singlehandedly restored to economic liberalism a sound intellectual footing, but he nevertheless was both the towering giant of postwar economics and the US's foremost defender of liberty in the latter half of the 20th Century.

Today the University of Chicago announced that, to honor his contributions (and, of course, to attract contributions and entrench its prestige), it will establish the Milton Friedman Institute.

Explains Gary Becker, in the University's announcement:
The Institute will build on this important tradition by focusing on research questions that support development of economic models grounded in economic theory and empirical evidence and designed to evaluate a variety of questions related to economic policy.

Nearly as soon as Milton Friedman slipped in the tub, those whose ideologies are incompatible with Friedman's intellectual legacy began to attack it, sometimes with a savage dishonesty that could not have been brought to bear were he here to defend himself. Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine, is the prime example.

That Klein distorted history and failed to fulfil the affirmative duties of the scholar is already well-known. Tyler Cowen summed up the trouble with her book in his review. Earlier this week, the Cato Institute released a more extensive, and damning, rebuttal, penned by Johan Norberg. Were Klein an academic, I could say she was headed for ruin, Michael Bellesiles-style. Since she's merely a more industrious version of the common Che Guevara t-shirt wearing, "people before profits"-screaming lout, nothing of the sort will happen, although thinking people will be less likely to take her claims at face value in the future. Joseph Stiglitz is, of course, excepted.

This week's score: 2 for respect for the dead, zero for the radical Left.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

But more seriously: one can still mess with airport security!

Airport security is very good at putting on a show for the rubes--"we make you take off your shoes so stupid people feel safer"--but when it comes to novel situations, anything goes.

Last night, on the way from San Jose to Tucson, the through count in Las Vegas had one passenger too many. After letting some passengers on the plane, the stewardess, list in hand, asked the passengers who originated in San Jose to raise our hands. Twelve people answered, each of whom was on the list. Puzzled by this result, the process was repeated. I spoke up: "If I were a stowaway wanting a free flight to Tucson, I wouldn't raise my hand."

Were I wearing an untucked T-shirt and a baseball cap indoors, or black, or perhaps not reading Susan Jacoby's (mediocre) Age of American Unreason, or not flying Southwest, I might have been harassed, reported to security, or bounced from the flight. But instead my interjection elicited a laugh from the other passengers and the stewardess not in charge of the count, a nervous giggle from the counter, and little more.

The raised-hand name check was attempted once more, with the same result. The rest of the passengers boarded and, other than a 45-minute delay due to dangerous wind conditions, the flight proceeded as planned. Somebody who knows the routes got a discounted flight!

I now have one more reason to fly Southwest: they take being relaxed seriously. Code Orange? Is that a techno band?

Downing an airliner, part III

For quite some time, the Chinese, with a large vegetarian subculture, have been able to make passable meat-substitutes out of wheat gluten.

I'm not an expert in explosives chemistry, but it would seem as though if one can make gluten into duck, one can make explosive or poison-gas precursors into paper, to be torn out and thrown in the toilet or mixed with the $4 mini-bottle of Jim Beam. It shouldn't be much more difficult than disguising them as instant soup.

Tuesdays with Morrie? So bland, it's suspect; if you were a terrorist, isn't that the book would you choose to look innocent? You certainly wouldn't pick something like the Koran or the Anarchist Cookbook, right? And that gloss on the pages of Maxim may not be what you think it is!

Airline magazines and Sky Mall are it from now on!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Classier than a Che Guevara t-shirt, and it's got electrolytes.

If you couldn't figure out with what to wash down that Extra Big-Ass Taco, now with more molecules, take heart in knowing that one can now purchase Brawndo without use of a Time Masheen.

Buying a product primarily to make some sort of statement used to be confined primarily to greeting cards. (Please don't beat me over the head with The Substance of Style; I know I'm being coarse.) Ready-made blatant signaling has apparently moved from the Hallmark aisle ("glad you were there for me after you ran over my dog...") and t-shirts to the beverage aisle. Unlike the Che t-shirt ("I'm spiteful and ignorant, and I vote!"), this one's a little more of a nerd in-joke, but from a certain perspective, it still falls into the category of things trite people can purchase to make a statement against "consumerism", whatever that is.

Putting my snobbery aside for a moment, however, this one's more interesting than the usual. I can't recall any other independently proposed and developed movie knockoff being produced with the studio's blessing. Given our culture's shift away from a top-down "television" model with clear demarcation between performers/producers and consumers towards a more distributed, amateurist "internet" model, it was bound to happen sometime, but to date the studios have been firmly opposed.

For those with particularly acute electrolyte cravings, Amazon is selling single cans.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Machine guns and all that.

It's been an interesting (lunar) month for me, in that I've had my mind changed about two matters of policy by some method other than study. First Joe Cobb has me thinking that free banking is sensible even most of its advocates like it for merely ideological reasons, now today, after having, thanks to a very classy RKBA enthusiast at the Tucson Rifle Club who hosted a group from the University, fired a full automatic, I have changed my mind in a sense, having formed opinions about the matter.

  1. Federal regulation of full automatics is working, but needs some liberalization.

    Opponents of the right to keep and bear arms love to point out when a pro-RKBA line of thought would allow for ownership of "machine guns", or even to ask RKBA proponents if people should be allowed to own full automatics. People already own full automatics, and it hasn't been a problem. The answer should not be "no", the answer should be "yes, they already do, and it hasn't been a problem." Why ban something that hasn't been a problem. That was my position already, but I add to it a corollary: firearms regulation is largely about matters of degree, but the amount of mischief one could carry out with a submachine gun like the MP5 is not so much greater than that of an ordinary pistol to justify moving to an outright ban. Likewise the switch from AR-15 to M-16 gives but a marginal advantage. Keep pulling that trigger, and one can empty a clip quite quickly.

    What sort of liberalization do I have in mind? Allowing the three-shot burst version of the M-16 (currently in use by the military, as leadership found full auto to be troublesome!) would make sense; from one shot to three, as opposed to the spraying that keeps hoplophobes up at night, is a matter of nearly infinitesimal degree, yet it restores the civilian parity with the military that is such an important part of American tradition. More importantly, lower the cost of all full autos by allowing some new ones on the market. The high cost of a full auto resulting from the ban on sale of any manufactured after 1986 is almost surely one of the reasons legally owned machine guns are just about the least likely firearms to be used in crime. People who own full autos tend to be characterized by affluence, not anomie. But the cost is also surely keeping most responsible shooters out of the market unnecessarily, threatening the very concept of a well regulated militia and perhaps making the notion that there is no legitimate civilian use of a fully automatic weapon a self-fulfilling claim. $2000 is a good enough barrier to entry; $12000 is excessive.

  2. The police should not have fully automatic weapons, or at the very least should be prohibited from using them except when engaging criminals with fully automatic weapons.

    The difference between a fully automatic and a semiautomatic weapon is largely a matter of degree, yes, but the difference is important in some situations. Favored by the militaristic SWAT teams which have become common without enough citizen protest or discussion, submachine guns like the MP5, especially when equipped with high-tech "red dot sights", are so comfortable and easy to use that they make killing the target like playing a videogame. To a maniac hell-bent on murder, it doesn't make a difference, but the delay, the necessity to pull a semi-automatic weapon's trigger once per shot, may very well keep testosterone-pumped, three-quarter-witted "peace officers" from making deadly mistakes, especially during the no-knock, military-style raids which should be illegal in the first place.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Understanding your local europhile.

The local Europhiles--you know the sort: affluent social-democrats, the sort who advocate big-government while being educated enough to know it doesn't work--may be easier to understand due to Stuff White People Like.

Some of the information may also deepen your appreciation of overeducated snobs like me. Caveat lector!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Poll: Libertarian presidential hopefuls

At this point, were I someone who participated in prediction markets, I wouldn't put my money on the LP's presidential candidate getting more than 5% in the November general election. Yet, for reasons I can't understand, there are between eight and fifteen people seeking the Party's nomination.

Stephen Gordon of Third Party Watch is conducting a poll on the matter, including a rank-ordering of the candidates. My response is as follows:

  1. Bob Barr. Bob Barr isn't actually in the running, but if he were, he'd be the most qualified candidate. An eminently decent ex-Congressman and collaborator with the ACLU, Barr has drifted toward a (pragmatic) libertarian position since the LP targeted him, then a notorious drug warrior, as a demonstration of the spoiler effect.

    That isn't to say that his record in Congress wasn't, from a libertarian's perspective, respectable. While not as purely liberal as Ron Paul, Barr, who understands the meaning of compromise, accomplished a great deal more.

  2. George Phillies. George is un-charismatic, even for a physicist, and he and I disagree on several policy questions, most notably immigration, but I recognize and appreciate his thoughtful, cautious approach to most issues. Moreover, alone among the candidates, he seems to understand what it takes to conduct a campaign. Whether or not he wins the nomination, his privately-conducted polls will do the party good.

  3. Steve Kubby. Steve Kubby has a solid record as an activist and mounted respectable third-party candidacies in California. His ability to raise funds--like every candidate lower on the list--should be cause for embarassment. He's made up for it by calling in his connections in the libertarian movement and putting together a bit of a brain trust, including maverick Chicago School economist Joe Cobb.

    Kubby's endorsement of Ron Paul was a statement that, as the LP's candidate, he'd under certain circumstances commit a gross impropriety. Likewise, rolling around in the mud with born-again purist Christine Smith is not to his credit. With Paul out of the running, his respectability has been restored by events out of his control. I suspect that, on the issues, I am more in agreement with him than with Phillies, but Phillies so far has run a more solid campaign.

  4. Mary Ruwart. Ruwart is not actually seeking the nomination, although there are rumors that she will jump in, Jacob Hornberger-style, at the last minute. That's tawdry, but I'll forgive it, as, unlike Hornberger, and despite her role in driving my sort of libertarian out of the Party in the '80s (read up on the history of the Bergland nomination!) she is not a willful idiot worried about the effects of "compromise and concealment"--Hornberger's term for taking thoughtful positions on policy matters rather than always talking about the Best of All Possible Worlds--on her immortal soul.

    Ruwart has somewhat of a broad appeal in the libertarian movement, although in my 12 years as spectator and minor participant I can't say I've ever been a "fan". Said appeal stems largely from style, and it isn't the "macho flash" style which usually wins a libertarian street-cred. Her training as a biophysicist, even though most of her publications are about rat guts, wins additional points with this 'blogger.

    Like Phillies and Kubby, Ruwart would, despite her lack of political experience, be a respectable candidate and an asset to the Party. Too bad she's not running!

  5. Bob Jackson. Jackson's approach to the issues is solidly libertarian and solidly sane. His campaign, however, has not gotten off the ground and it's not clear that he even remotely understands what it takes to win the nomination, let alone be a player in the general election. Nobody without any experience in government really belongs in the race (sorry George, Steve, and Mary!), but Jackson is the only one of the three people listed so far actually seeking the nomination who seems to be running for dog-catcher.

  6. Wayne Allyn Root. Talk about opportunity lost! Root is a zillionaire and a minor celebrity. His libertarian credentials are a bit lacking--he emphasizes being an ex-Republican and a "conservative" more than anything else--but his policy views are broadly libertarian. However, his campaign has been about as serious as Bob Jackson's.

  7. Robert Milnes. Milnes is among the nobodys, or at least the "people nonexistent in the movement until they decided they could run for President. He proposes a Libertarian-Green alliance. Given the ideological climate of both groups, with Libertarians largely hostile to both environmentalism and soft-communitarianism and Greens having tolerance or even affection for market abolitionism, Parecon, and other totalitarian schemes, that'll happen soon after pigs learn to Use the Force. Not a bad idea, however, for reasons I may discuss some other time.

  8. Michael Jingozian. Is Jingozian a Milnes clone, or vice-versa. From my perspective, the answer is "yes." Ranking these two was a toss-up, and done randomly.

  9. Daniel Williams. Demerits go to Williams for basing his whole website around video. If I wanted TV, I'd buy a TV. Video works at its own pace; creating a video means you expect the audience to sit and take as much time as you would have them take. Especially when you're a "nobody", that's unacceptable. Williams is ostensibly the author of The Naked Truth About Drugs and, like your humble narrator, a low-level LP activist. He's done very little to even let the community know where he stands on the issues, and hasn't been campaigning.

    Note that this implies that I'd take a libertarian who I don't know much about over the rest of the candidates!

  10. Jim Libertarian Burns. That's his real name, by the way; Burns's record of party activity goes back to the '70s. Of late--you can call it his retirement--he's taken to running for the Presidential nomination every four years, to tell us all that the LP candidate won't win so policy questions are irrelevant.

  11. Alden Link. Link is the inventor of the wheatgrass juicer, and one of the first candidates to declare. His campaign never picked up much steam, despite his having been taken under the wing of prominent New York-area activist Tom Stevens. Perhaps it has something to do with his cluelessness about the libertarian approach to the issues.

    Worth noting, however, is that Link stands as evidence that the rhetoric of liberty and prosperity can attract people to the movement who don't care the slightest about ideas.

  12. Mike Gravel. Gravel is in Gordon's poll due to a statement made during a campaign stop in Alaska about running on the Libertarian ticket, which came to nothing. He shows up at this point in my list as my way of saying, "I'd rather have Mike Gravel than any of the candidates ranked lower."

    Insert "Hillary Clinton"--who I'd rather have than Mike Gravel--and my point becomes more clear.

  13. Christine Smith. Smith was yet another newcomer to the movement who decided she could run for President. Unlike most in that mold, she brought a background as an organizer and raiser-of-money for humanitarian causes. Like Alden Link, she was a bit soft on Libertarian ideas, but seemed promising for quite a while.

    In the past few months, she's taken to opposing much-needed reform of the LP and has joined--with some wild, off-the-deep-end, Hornberger-esque releases--the "purist" camp. For those unfamiliar with the internal culture of the libertarian movement, a "purist" is not someone who believes the same thing the rest of us do but is just more honest about it. Rather, a "purist" is someone who believes in many ridiculous things, has trouble with prioritization and shades-of-gray, and insists that if others agree, they must be evil. The libertarian calling you a "socialist", a "central planner", or a "fascist" because you believe in cap-and-trade or school vouchers is a purist.

    Such a person clearly has no business running for President. If we needed any further confirmation of Smith's lack of suitability, her recent temper-tantrum shows her true colors. The Libertarian Leadership Forum, held in Las Vegas, charged candidates for the Presidential nomination $500 to participate in the debate. The debate cost money to put on (more on this later), moreover, with anywhere between eight and a dozen candidates in the running, there needed to be some way of filtering. To a respectable campaign, $500 is a peppercorn fee. To the bozos, it's steep. Smith refused to pay, then sent messages to every contact list she could find condemning the practice and confirming her place among the bozos.

    Even Jim L Burns paid the fee. Smith would rather have been a free-rider. She's new to the libertarian movement and her positions have been evolving. I wonder if she's heard or read the term "free rider" before. Most don't get that far.

  14. Barry Hess. Outwardly a perfectly respectable Hadacol salesman turned Jesus Junk salesman turned currency speculator, Hess is a profoundly vain man. As such, he has more in common with most Presidents than the other Libertarian contenders do--see what Greenspan had to say!--but I nonetheless maintain that he is of insufficiently sound moral character to carry the Party's standard.

    In Arizona, Hess is the man who Runs For Things. Not local offices, mind you, but the top. Always the top. He ran for Senate in 2000, coming in last behind an independent and a Green, and for Governor twice, receiving about 2% of the vote and coming in last each time. Reasons why are manifold. Hess has no background in government, nor in public policy. His credentials as a man-of-the-community are limited to his church. He comes off as not understanding the issues.

    Worse still, he's unmanageable, and doesn't know how to take advice or criticism in stride. He's told me, repeatedly, to "watch and learn"--insisting that the things winners do to win are all wrong--and and even had the gall to tell me I should admire him. Why should I learn about success from a repeat failure who's been an embarrassment to his Party and refuses to learn from his mistakes?

  15. Ron Paul. I don't care what his ideological roots are, and I don't care what sort of mold his followers would like to fit him in. Ron Paul, of the candidates in Gordon's list, is the only one who would be antagonistic to liberty, were he elected, with his veto pen, with court nominations, and with administration-authored legislation.

    Paul talks a lot about the Constitution, but isn't properly a Constitutionalist. He believes strange things about said document, not supported by legal scholarship, and has introduced several bills--google the "We The People Act"--threatening to de-fund the courts if they deviate from his creative re-interpretation. The most insidiously Christian Dominionist and anti-gay member of Congress, Paul wouldn't actively oppress, rather, he'd remove Federal protections and nominate judges who would remove Federal protections, knowing that localities would establish religion or move to punish gays for being who they are.

    Paul's record in Congress is unimpressive. Being "Doctor No" has meant that the Doctor has not advanced his agenda, whatever it may be. I cannot think of another Congressman of Paul's seniority who has accomplished so little. Jeff Flake and Tom Coburn, only one of whom is libertarian, provide useful comparisons. Aside from Barr, Paul, who is not seeking the LP's nomination, is the most likely on Gordon's list to actually win the Presidency were he nominated. A man who does not understand how to compromise and prioritize cannot serve as President, and a man with Paul's absolutism may very well wreck the country to show us.

    No matter: George Phillies got this one right. Paul may be a small government man, but he's a homophobic bigot. He thus would not deserve the nomination of a party that represents a movement in which gays have played a role akin to that Jews played for socialism.

  16. Dave Hollist. There may be something profoundly wrong with Barry Hess, but the real nutcases begin here. Hollist doesn't want to be President, he wants to sell us "contract insurance". An interesting idea, straight out of Rothbard's book, but not the role of a President as defined in the Constitution. Hollist doesn't seem to understand why he runs for the nomination, every four years, since (at least) 1996, and I don't, either. If he wants to bring about the anarchists' Age of Aquarius, surely there's a way that at least begins to make sense. This is not it.

  17. Daniel Imperato. Imperato is certainly an interesting character, but the issues he cares about don't make it clear, any more than Hollist's, that he understands what the President does, why he is running, what the concerns of the day even are, or what the Libertarian Party is all about. Combine the information in the Wikipedia article with some of the emotional, nonsequitur-filled communications he's sent around, and you get the impression that Imperato is a certifiable nut, albeit a high-functioning one.

  18. John Finan. Speaking of nonsequiturs, have a look at Finan's website. Someone is off his meds.

Don't get the impression that I like to pick on the mentally ill. I have a couple of sad cases in the family, and I don't take the topic lightly. However, what is one to say when nutcases run for the US's highest office? Sometimes you have to call them as you see them.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Buckley on Rothbard.

I'm too young for Bill Buckley to have been an acquaintance. The best I can say is that he was a friend of a friend of a friend. Such distance does not preclude admiration, at least not of a man's clear strengths.

Buckley, or at least the public Buckley, was at his best when looking for the faults of others. Consider his 1995 National Review obituary of Murray Rothbard, a balanced piece with two real zingers:

Murray couldn't handle moral priorities.

It was a great pity, but his problem ought not to be thought of as tracing to the seamless integrity of libertarian principles. In Murray's case, much of what drove him was a contrarian spirit, the deranging scrupulosity that caused him to disdain such as Herbert Hoover, Ronald Reagan, Milton Friedman, and--yes--Newt Gingrich, while huffing and puffing in the little cloister whose walls he labored so strenuously to contract, leaving him, in the end, not as the father of a swelling movement that "rous[ed] the masses from their slumber," as he once stated his ambition, but with about as many disciples as David Koresh had in his little redoubt in Waco. Yes, Murray Rothbard believed in freedom, and yes, David Koresh believed in God.

One has trouble finding a more astute criticism of Rothbard-style libertarianism (not to be confused with Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism), this "purism" which consists of inventing bumper-sticker scruples, then throwing a fit when reality, sense, or ethics causes one to deviate from the last moment's invention by some tiny epsilon, or worse still, to reject the scruple but not the underlying values. Believe that pressing the "button" to get rid of all government overnight would be disastrous and even morally wrong? You're a socialist, no better than Hitler or Stalin: out you go! Believe that "self-ownership" is sophist's hooey? You're even worse. The guru's own weirdness, of course, gets a free pass.

This is the "libertarianism" of LP chair candidate Ernest Hancock, of presidential candidates Christine Smith and Barry Hess, and of numerous lumpen activists in the movement and the Party, including quite a few involved in the center of downmarket libertarianism down at Auburn. (Lincoln apologist? Must be a socialist!) To Hancock and the rest, Buckley's words still apply today.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A new solution to the Cuba Question?

The USA embargoes Cuba ostensibly for three reasons:

  1. To prevent the fencing of American property stolen in post-revolutionary expropriations and give Cuba an incentive to give full compensation.
  2. To punish Cuba for the attack on unarmed airplanes in international airspace.
  3. To induce the Cuban people to overthrow the socialist regime.

Perhaps 2 and 3 are the same. Regardless, the embargo has been ineffective on all counts. It has not induced Cuba to compensate victims of the expropriation, nor has it induced regime change. One may argue that it has strengthened the socialist state, by giving it an alibi for its own failings. Consider the Castroist line the newest version of "Socialism is great in theory, it just hasn't been properly done yet.": "It isn't socialism that is causing mass deprivations, but rather the Yanqui bloqueado". Stupid, yes, but even a US Congressman, Jose Serrano from the Bronx, NY, has bought it. (Any Congressman mistaking the embargo for a blockade is not thinking critically and possibly taking his talking points from the Cuban socialists, leaving him unfit for office either way.)

Reasons for failure are complex; Europe's lack of solidarity, Cuban authoritarianism, and simple poverty are all possibilities.

The US has since learned that trade can subvert authoritarianism and socialism itself, as has been done in China, Vietnam, and (arguably) the social-democracies of Europe. Reform, be it democratizing or merely liberalising, does not change the fact that the Cuban government stole something, or rather billions of dollars worth of somethings.

Everyone in the world would be owed compensation by everyone else were all historic wrongs to be righted by transfer from one group of descendants to another. It would be ridiculous to require Mongolia to pay reparations to anyone who had ancestors in Poland, Hungary, or Damascus in the 1200s, or even for the USA to pay the descendants of United Empire Loyalists or descendants of slaveholders to pay descendants of slaves. Such claims are anhistorical inventions, in the case of slavery reparations, rediscovered generations later by those with a victim complex, and in the case of the Godfrey-Milliken Bill, childish jokes.

Claims that have been consistently pursued through the decades, with the struggle carried on--not invented--by heirs are a different matter, as are claims made by living victims. The call for a right of return and compensation for property expropriated under the Absentee Property Law from Arabs who fled fearing atrocities at the hands of militant Jewish nationalists is essentially legitimate and cannot be made otherwise by stalling tactics.

Inconsistency concerning Israel aside, this is the position of the United States, even toward Native American bands, like the Sioux, who have kept up the legal fight continuously. It is an extension of the common law rights of heirs to continue to pursue the civil claims of the decedent, and it is the policy of peace. Just as thieves must never be allowed to keep their gains, so too must conquest, by outside aggressors or socialist guerillas, never be allowed to yield permanent material gain.

Compensation to victims of expropriation is not currently being collected. Cuba refuses to even discuss the matter. Trade provides a means to collect: a surcharge of 20% on purchases of American goods or services made by the Cuban government (or its straw buyers) and 5% on purchases by Cuban private enterprise could be levied until victims are compensated with interest. The rate disparity is to shift the burden to the real perpetrators and to incentivize development of capitalism. Surely, Cuba can also trade with Europe, Mexico, Brazil, and others not imposing such a surcharge--as is already possible--but given its objection to the embargo, and that the USA is currently its primary food source, it's unlikely that it will completely forgo trade with the US. Note that any trade at all is an improvement from the status quo.

There's one catch: Article I Section 9 of the US Constitution prohibits export duties. Could a useful fiction (a la "socialism with Chinese characteristics" or the penumbra of an inkling of a whiff of a Constitutional right to privacy) be created to circumvent this? "This isn't an export duty, it's collection of restitution from Cuba."

Thinking of those pesky Europeans, lifting the embargo might just shut them up twice over. They could no longer blame the US for the misery of the Cuban, and might even become shamed by the truth; unlike the European's, the American's prejudices (Michael Moore excepted) will not lead him to be duped by Potemkin hospitals and hotels and silly UN metrics designed to reward countries with socialized healthcare. Strange as it seems, what would at first appear to be a softening might lead to long overdue international pressure on the socialists to liberalize, or at least to allow elections. Even if mere democratization is the result, Cuba is so socialist that votes can only take it in one direction.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Text-bite: George Phillies on anti-environmentalists

From his campaign's statement on energy and the environment:

Attacks on scientific global warming observations have substantially passed their time. Many attacks are a political waste product, resulting from 1970s feuds between Republicans and environmentalists over air and water pollution. The feuds are so ingrained that they are being recycled.

I've felt for several years like a lone-gunman in the libertarian movement. Many old libertarians have had Patrick Michaels and Fred Singer whispering in their ears for so long that they come from a different planet, where climatologists are so incompetent as to neglect solar effects, concern for the environment is a socialist ploy, and the anthropogenic global warming thesis simply Must Be Wrong: liberty depends on it. One, of late, said that talk of biodiversity loss was "eco-theology".

How can I even have an intelligent discussion with someone so ignorant, who has had at least eighteen years to learn why scientists and the educated public find such things of concern, but simply hasn't bothered? Worse still, the man's a PhD economist!

Thanks to one of the frontrunners in the LP race, or at least a well-informed campaign staffer, for easing my burnout, if only momentarily.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Have you heard the one about Big Government and the Gold Standard?

(Proof that even dull 'blogs can inspire interesting questions:)

Ron Paul has popularized it of late, but it is an opinion long current among downmarket libertarians, that going off the gold standard enabled the Federal government to grow to its current size and that going back on the gold standard is a sensible route to decreasing the size and scope of government.

There may even be a kernel of truth to it: going off the gold standard meant that the US as a nation could run up a current account defecit without provoking an attack on the dollar, doing away with Triffin's Dilemma, carrying with it two side effects, the first being that private business was free to import according to market prices, without a need for quotas in order to prevent a major depression, and that the government, too, was free to spend more on foreign aid and defense. The balance of payments was no longer a make-or-break issue; the dollar's peg to gold, which to a modern eye looks artificial and superstitious, no longer unnecessarily complicated everyday economic activity.

That isn't what vulgar libertarians have in mind, though, when they denounce the Federal Reserve and call for a return to a gold standard. Triffin's Dilemma is also resolved when the US Dollar is no longer the base currency for the rest of the world, but massive government interference in the marketplace, in the form of export subsidies, high tariffs, and import quotas, would nonetheless be necessary to prevent an attack on the dollar, deflationary spiral, and depression. I doubt that even Ron Paul would give up free trade to get gold.

The argument instead is that the "government can and does Just Print Money to finance Wars, Welfare, and All That." Translating crass ignorance of the money creation process out of that statement, the libertarian gold bugs' allegation is that the Federal Reserve is a major enabler of defecit spending.

Is that so? The numbers don't bear the story out. As of the seventh of January, 2008, according to the Treasury Dept's Bureau of Public Debt, the total US public debt was $9,199,557,987,743.58, of which $4,083,366,539,555.28 is intragovernmental (owed by the government to itself: think "Social Security Trust Fund") and $5,116,191,448,188.30 is held by the public, including by the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve, as of October 2007 held $775,000,000,000 of the public debt. That amounts to roughly 8% of the total, or 15% of the portion held by the public.

The Federal Reserve thus enables about eight percent of Federal defecit spending. Is taking a purchaser of eight percent of the debt out of the picture really worth going back to the days when imports and exports were a political issue, or worse still, to the era of Great Depressions and even greater Panics of 1873, of cyclical depressions and deflationary spirals?