Archive for June, 2010

This past weekend the New York Times published an opinion essay entitled “The Very Angry Tea Party.” Its author makes two main claims: (1) Tea Party activists are very, very, VERY angry; and (2) they are subscribers to a “metaphysical fantasy,” believe in “the most egregious of fear-mongering falsehoods,” have a “passionate attachment to wildly fantastic beliefs,” and act out of an unreasoning fit of immature emotion just like “an enraged, jilted lover.”

This sounds just a wee bit overwrought (I won’t call it seething anger). But is any of it true? One cannot judge from the article, since it contains no actual analysis of the Tea Party movement or its members, no examination of their words or their documents or their arguments.

But did I mention that the author believes they are angry? In his article one finds all of the following:

  • “The Very Angry Tea Party” (the title of the article)
  • “seething anger”
  • “the anger of the Tea Party members”
  • “an enraged, jilted lover”
  • “the incubus of Tea Party rage”
  • “fierce anger that pervades its meetings and rallies”
  • “animosities”
  • “passionate anger of the Tea Party”
  • “exorbitant character of the anger Tea Party members express”
  • “such anger and such passionate attachment to wildly fantastic beliefs”
  • “galvanizing anger and rage”
  • “hysterical Tea Party incriminations”
  • “great anger”
  • “rage”
  • “fury”
  • “the rage and anger”
  • “atmospheric violences of propagating falsehoods”
  • “nihilistic rage”
  • “such rage”
  • “the anger of the Tea Party”

Why, they are so angry that they even have a “fierce logic”!

And the second claim, that they are so fundamentally misguided? The author claims that they are in the throes of “the deeply held fiction of individual autonomy and self-sufficiency,” believing in the “metaphysical fantasy” that “each individual is metaphysically self-sufficient, that one’s very standing and being as a rational agent owes nothing to other individuals or institutions”; the Tea Party activists are “manufacturing, and even inventing, the idea of a sovereign individual who becomes, through them and by virtue of them, the ultimate source of authority” (emphases in the original). They are, moreover, “suppressing to the point of disappearance the manifold ways that individuality is beholden to a complex and uniquely modern form of life.”

A straw man. No one literally believes that he is entirely self-sufficient, that he is not dependent on a community, that he does not need the cooperation and assistance of untold others to get the goods and services on which he daily depends. That indeed is one of the great glories of markets, a point made repeatedly by Tea Party activists, that markets require widespread and far-flung cooperation that is mutually beneficial.

And “inventing” the notion of a sovereign individual? Perhaps the author has not read John Locke’s 1690 Second Treatise of Governmentfrom which America’s founders, and many of the Tea Party members, take explicit inspiration—which argued that people were by nature both free and equal, and that this equality begins with their natural sovereign jurisdiction over themselves. Or perhaps he is not aware that the Tea Partiers today are drawing on quite a venerable tradition that includes, of course, the 1776 Declaration of Independence, but also includes the 1689 English Bill of Rights, the English Leveller movement of the 1640s, the 1628 Petition of Right, the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath, and indeed the 1215 Magna Carta. This tradition, and each of these documents and events, affirmed the independence of individuals from the state, the subservience of the state to its people, and the right of the people to demand redress when their state became destructive of their “natural”—i.e., antecedent to the state—rights.

These precedents and this historical tradition do not by themselves justify positions for which Tea Party activists stand, but they are sufficient, I believe, to warrant actual attention. Whatever else might be true of the Tea Part activists, they have not invented these ideas.

The author uses Hegel—yes: not Lilburne or Locke or Montesquieu or Hume or even Kant, but Hegel—to criticize the Tea Partiers by claiming that they fail to understand that all of us “are bound to one another as firmly as lovers are.” He claims that the “rage” of the Tea Party is a result of jilted love: “when our love goes bad I am suddenly, absolutely dependent on someone for whom I no longer count”; “All the rhetoric of self-sufficiency, all the grand talk of wanting to be left alone is just the hollow insistence of the bereft lover that she can and will survive without her beloved.”

But of course she can and will survive. Yes, the Tea Party activists feel betrayed by a government they believe should protect their life, liberty, and property, but has now instead come to be a chief threat to them; yes, not all Tea Party activists all have exactly the same beliefs; and yes, some of the beliefs of some of them may actually conflict with some beliefs of others. Sure, yes, of course. But that is true for all political movements—indeed, for all human associations of any kind.

The federal government has been growing in scope and authority for some time now, and recently the rate of that growth has accelerated enormously. By some estimates, the total net present value of our public debt totals some $130 trillion, or approximately $433,000 for every man, woman, and child in America. That, and not Tea Party anger, is what is “not just disturbing, but frightening,” and it, more than anything else, is what has animated the Tea Party. No metaphorical jilted lovers, no metaphysical fantasies: the cold, hard reality of a fiscally reckless government that increasingly looks out of control and is endangering the freedom and prosperity of this and future generations.

What is so mysterious about that?

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Journalists and libgressives frequently try to paint Sarah Palin as a social conservative.  But this easy (and expedient) characterization doesn’t quite capture her and never has.  So her recent comments on marijuana policy reported in Politico might surprise some of them, and it certainly complicates the paint by numbers approach to politics that they take:

“If we’re talking about pot, I’m not for the legalization of pot,” Palin said. “I think that would just encourage our young people to think that it was OK to go ahead and use it.”

“However, I think we need to prioritize our law enforcement efforts,” Palin added. “If somebody’s gonna smoke a joint in their house and not do anybody any harm, then perhaps there are other things our cops should be looking at to engage in and try to clean up some of the other problems we have in society.”   

Palin then urged law enforcement to “not concentrate on such a, relatively speaking, minimal problem we have in the country.” 

As for the substance of what Palin said, I think she is half-right here.  Essentially turning a blind eye to marijuana use is better than ineffectively spending scarce government resources on relatively harmless behavior all in the name of prosecuting a failing drug war.  Moreover, it is a good sign when Republican leaders “go to China” on this type of issue (especially when they are supposedly ”social conservatives”). 

But two caveats.  First, if we are worried about what our actions teach kids, we should be concerned about the message we send them when we say, ”Sure, pot is against the law but, hey, we know it really shouldn’t be so we aren’t going to prosecute violations of that law.”  Doing this runs the danger of habituating citizens to ignore the law (in the same way the 55 MPH speed limit on interstates did). 

Second, Palin – like most people – has a confused understanding of the necessary relationship between politics and ethics.  Clearly the law need not make every morally or physically harmful activity illegal.  So why would legalizing drugs necessarily teach kids it is ok to use drugs?  Do we really think lying or promiscuity (or smoking cigarettes or drinking booze, for that matter) should be illegal simply because we could make an argument for why they are unethical behaviors? 

And is the law really the crucial teacher that some claim it is?  If so, are governments telling us it is morally acceptable to get drunk, sleep around, lie, and smoke em if you got em because these actions are legal?  Do we think murder is wrong because it is illegal (and it has taught us so through the ages) or because we understand that it contradicts the natural law (or our religious tenets), is inconsistent with human flourishing, and violates an individual’s fundamental right to life? 

So, let’s punish or forbid behaviors that have direct and significant negative externalities.  And leave teaching our kids ethics to us parents – we’re sure to do a better job anyway.

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The Big Shakedown

The Art of Misconstruction

As you know, BP agreed to set aside a $20 billion fund for those affected by the oil spill. It was a moment of high drama yesterday when Congressman Joe Barton (R-Texas), ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, held BP CEO Tony Hayward’s feet to the fire, noting:

“I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday… I apologize. I do not want to live in a country where anytime a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong is subject to some sort of political pressure, that is again, in my words, amounts to a shakedown. So I apologize.”

After being subjected to some significant pressure by House GOP leadership, Barton quickly apologized for his apology, noting: “If anything I’ve said this morning was misconstrued from that I want to apologize for that misconstruction.”(I will leave it to my colleagues in the humanities to deconstruct the misconstruction).

Did the agreement to set aside a $20 billion fund amount to a “shakedown?” There is little question that BP caused significant damages.   It also seems both politically expedient (for Obama and BP) and prudent to establish such a fund immediately. One can only hope that the fund will allow for some immediate compensation free from the extraordinary transaction costs that turned Superfund into a lawyers’ trust fund.

Of course, “shakedowns” are ubiquitous in Washington. Elected officials commonly extract campaign contributions as the cost of access (without, of course, referring to them as “shakedowns”).  Joe Barton, for example, may find some “shakedowns” unpalatable, but his campaign committee and leadership PAC have extracted close to $14 million in “donations” in the past decade (the leading industry contributors, unsurprisingly, have been in the energy sector).

Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have extracted some $3.2 million from the oil industry since 2008. This  may seem like a pittance, given that the industry as a whole has invested $88.3 million in House and Senate races since 2000.

Does any of this matter?

One of the core insights of public choice was that we should assume that the same models of behavior should be applied across institutions (the symmetry argument). We cannot restrict the model of homo economicus to the market and presume that different models of behavior (altruism, public-spiritedness) prevail in nonmarket settings. This is not to say that there are not altruists or public-spirited individuals. But, as Geoffrey Brennan and James Buchanan remind us in The Reason of Rules, they are “delicate flowers, and crucial to their blooming may be the existence of institutions that do not make social order critically dependent on their effectiveness.”

Our political institutions are designed to facilitate mutually beneficial exchanges between transfer seekers (corporations, interest groups of any given stripe) and vote-maximizing officials. One should not expect that such exchanges are normally executed with more than fleeting consideration of altruism or the public good (those “delicate flowers”).  Such exchanges usually have a monetary component (as the campaign donations to Barton, the Energy and Commerce Committee, the House and Senate suggest) and they almost always impose costs (some financial, some environmental) on the unorganized. That, my friends, is the big shakedown.

Most of the pieces on the misconstruction of Barton are rather predictable. Here is a sampling.

Michael Kieschnick at Huffington Post is obviously pleased by Barton’s comments and begs him: “please keep talking!”

Erick Erickson at Red State makes the case that Barton was right and the congressional hearing was little more than a show trial.

At NRO, Daniel Foster recognizes the political ham-handedness of Rep. Barton but argues that the $20 billion fund “if not illegal, [is]at least extra-legal, and another example of Democrats’ selective disdain for the rule of law when it gets in the way of a government-run redistribution scheme.”

At WaPo David Weigel correctly sees the political consequences of Barton’s statement, providing Democrats with “an opportunity here to discredit the GOP’s rhetoric in support of small government.”

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In part two of this miniseries (part one here), I bring together different indicators of libertarian political support at the state level in order to estimate the size of the libertarian bloc in each state. In addition, the method I use to bring these indicators together will tell us two things: 1) Is state-level libertarianism a valid concept, or are we just picking up random noise? In other words, can we discern consistent patterns in the data that are best interpreted as reflecting libertarian ideology in state populations? 2) Which of the different indicators of libertarianism is most and least reliable?

The first of these is an important point. State politics scholars have often studied “opinion liberalism-conservatism” in state electorates and have shown that popular ideology influences state policies. I am not aware of any previous study that has looked at opinion libertarianism-populism at the state level before (and nothing peer-reviewed at the national level either!). If we can find, in real data on mass political behavior, that opinion libertarianism can be distinguished from, say, conservatism, that will be a real advance, something no one has demonstrated before.

The second of the things I hope to learn from this exercise could also be important, as it may show us how to continue to measure the size of the libertarian constituency, even after unique events such as the Ron Paul candidacy have passed and even without state-level survey data.

The method I use is principal component analysis (PCA), which is related to the factor analysis often used by psychologists to explore the dimensions of human intellect or personality. PCA chooses the best linear representations of a combination of variables, that is, the “common elements” that minimize the sum of squared errors across variables. The procedure can tell us the dimensionality of a set of variables, that is, how the common variance among the variables in this set can be reduced to a smaller set of variables. These latter variables, the dimensions underlying the dataset as a whole, are completely uncorrelated with each other. The way PCA works is by extracting the first component, which explains the most variance, then choosing the next component based on how well it explains the remaining variance after the first component is taken – and so on.

To see whether libertarian constituency exists as a concept and is distinct from mere liberalism-conservatism, I run PCA on eight variables: the adjusted Ron Paul vote share described in my last post, the number of Ron Paul donors per state, Libertarian Party vote in the 2008 presidential election, the mean LP vote share in the 1996-2004 presidential elections, an indicator of citizen opinion liberalism based on survey data from Berry et al., the Berry et al. measure of government opinion liberalism (based on surveys of state legislators), the Democrat/Green/Nader/minor socialist party vote share in the 2008 presidential election, and the mean Democrat/Green/Nader/minor socialist party vote share in the 1996-2004 elections. I expect the first four variables to load onto a single component, to be interpreted as “size of libertarian constituency,” while the latter four variables should load onto another component, to be interpreted as “size of liberal constituency.”

Here are the results of the PCA:

. pca lp08 donors rpcons2 lpvote citi6006 inst6006 demgrvote demgr08 [aweight=lnpop]
(sum of wgt is   7.5674e+02)

(principal components; 8 components retained)
Component   Eigenvalue   Difference  Proportion  Cumulative
1        3.58679         1.63772      0.4483         0.4483
2        1.94907         1.01805      0.2436         0.6920
3        0.93102         0.39043      0.1164         0.8084

The results show that two and only two components can explain the covariance of these eight variables.

Variable  |  1       2
lp08      | -0.26730 0.41529
donors    | -0.19594 0.55189
rpcons2   | 0.02690  0.43189
lpvote    | -0.22137 0.45861
citi6006  | 0.47376  0.16200
inst6006  | 0.40256  0.14078
demgrvote | 0.49388  0.11632
demgr08   | 0.45828  0.25789

And what do you know? The first component, liberalism, tracks the latter four variables, while the second component, libertarianism, tracks the first four. What we have here is evidence that libertarian constituency is a Real Thing, distinct from liberalism-conservatism, and can be discovered in election results and donation statistics. Again, by construction the PCA extracts totally uncorrelated components. As a result, all of the variables load at least a little bit onto all of the components. To get a cleaner indicator of libertarianism, we can just take the first four variables and run a PCA on them, and do the same on the last four variables to get a cleaner indicator of liberalism. Here are the results:

Variable | 1
lp08 | 0.52354
donors | 0.58063
rpcons2 | 0.29841
lpvote | 0.54747

Variable | 1
citi6006 | 0.51624
inst6006 | 0.43417
demgrvote | 0.52494
demgr08 | 0.51907

So what we see here is that Ron Paul’s primary vote share, although it contributes something to the libertarianism component, is not a very reliable indicator on its own. Encouragingly, LP vote share in different elections is a reliable indicator – that’s something we can use in the future. Both 2008 numbers and 1996-2004 numbers contribute equally. The reason for that is that these numbers jump around from election to election based on idiosyncratic factors. For the liberalism indicator, each variable contributes about as much, but the one variable least directly tied to citizen political behavior, government ideology, is the least reliable indicator on its own.

So…drumroll please… Which states have the biggest libertarian constituencies? I’ve chosen to present the results in a chart, plotting libertarianism against liberalism, which has been reversed so that higher values represent smaller liberal constituencies and – effectively – larger conservative ones. The chart thus maps perfectly onto the Nolan Chart conceptualization of the political spectrum. Click the graph below for a bigger image.

These data seem to pass the “smell test.” Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Alaska are the most conservative states, while Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Connecticut, and New York are the most liberal states. The states with the most libertarians are Montana, Alaska, New Hampshire, and Idaho, with Nevada, Indiana, Georgia, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon, Utah, California, and Colorado following. (The Georgia result is due in large part to Neal Boortz, incidentally, which becomes apparent if you track the presidential results over time.) There is a slight positive correlation between states with fewer liberals and those with more libertarians.

Note that New Hampshire’s result is affected by the migration due to the Free State Project. Since only about 600 people have moved, however, I don’t think the FSP has affected their position dramatically. However, in separate research, I have found that New Hampshire towns with each additional Free Stater who had moved in gave two more votes to Ron Paul in the 2008 primary. Thus, Free Staters have had influence beyond their numbers. However, they (we) still have a way to go to catch up to Montana(*).

Now that we know libertarians actually exist in the general population in measurable numbers (although we still can’t put absolute figures down – those who vote LP are surely a subset of actual libertarian and libertarian-leaning voters), do libertarians actually influence politics? Are they so minuscule that they have no effect, or – consistent with the hypothesis that LP and Ron Paul voters are just the thin end of the tail of an ideological distribution – do they actually influence the overall policy regime of a state? This question will be answered in Part 3 of the series.

(*)Montana’s a bit odd, because in 2008 the Constitution Party put Ron Paul on their ballot in Montana, and he got more than 2% of the vote. I counted half of that toward the libertarian vote.


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David Bernstein has an eminently reasonable take on private-sector anti-discrimination law over at Cato Unbound. Excerpt:

[T]o say the least, segregation and exclusion of African Americans in public places in the South wasn’t entirely a voluntary choice of business owners.  Jim Crow segregation involved the equivalent of a white supremacist cartel.  The cartel was enforced not just by overt government regulation like segregation laws, but also by the implicit threat of private violence and extra-legal harassment of anyone who challenged the racist status quo.  This violence and extra-legal harassment was often undertaken with the approval of local officials; the latter, in fact, were often the perpetrators.

To break the southern Jim Crow cartel there were two options: (1) a federal law invalidating Jim Crow laws, along with a massive federal takeover of local government to prevent violence and threats against, and extralegal harassment of, those who chose to integrate; or (2) a federal law banning discrimination by private parties, so that threats of violence and harassment would generally be met with an appeal to the potential victim’s obligation to obey federal law.  The former option was arguably more appealing from a libertarian perspective, but it was completely impractical.

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Antonym Contest!

There appears to be no widely accepted antonym for “civil libertarian.” So how about a contest? Please post your suggestions for a new coinage in the comments, and I will select a winner at the end of the day. The winner will receive a free Pileus t-shirt the approbation of the impartial spectator and one’s peers.

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I’m sitting on a crowded flight from SLC to BWI.  I’m crunching some last minute numbers for a research presentation tomorrow in DC and preparing some notes.  The computer I’m using to do these calculations is actually sitting on my desk in Provo.  I’m blogging on a server located who knows where.  People around me are watching TV and movies in the seatbacks in front of them.   All pretty cool.  And let’s not forget, I’m flying.

The economic future is largely dependent on where we are on the technology growth curve.  Malthus implicitly assumed a long time ago that the curve was flat.  The Club of Rome and other neo-Malthusians assumed the curve is flat.  If there is any empirical regularity in social science over the past two centuries, it is that the Malthusians are always wrong, incredibly wrong.  In fact, I believe that not only are we not on the flattening portion of the logistic growth curve (which starts out slow, accelerates , decelerates, and then flattens out), I think we are still in the beginning stages of the accelerating portion.  Eventually technological growth will slow, but that eventuality is long in the future.  If I am right, all the resource constraints we face become largely irrelevant.  I could get more technical, but technology is (almost) everything when it comes to growth.

The conference I am presenting at tomorrow is sponsored by the Global Health Council.  These meetings will be filled with vast numbers of advocates for more government money and programs for improving global health.  I share their concern over the dreadful condition that much of humanity still finds itself in.  One of the research findings I will be talking about is the effect of foreign aid on health.  There have been enormous gains in health and life expectancy across the globe in the past 3 decades (dampened by the Aids epidemic, of course).   I am currently looking at the effect of health sector foreign aid as an explanatory variable for the huge improvement in infant mortality.   What I have found (confirming previous research) is that countries that have received a high amount of health sector foreign aid have done no better than countries receiving little aid.  No matter how I slice and dice the data, health aid has had no effect whatsoever on declining mortality.  None.

Yet there have been considerable improvements, so something is working.  It is clear that economic growth has a strong effect on mortality decline.  But much of the gains cannot be accounted for by any of the obvious candidates (such as democracy).  I think a big part of the story are knowledge spillovers, but that is just a guess.

One thing is clear to me.  Development assistance may play an important role if done right, but ultimately the answer is economic growth, and the obstacles to growth are not technology or limited resources.  The obstacles are political—how to put institutions in place that help countries solve their own problems.  I’ll let the political scientists solve that problem.

So, as I make the first Pileus post from 35,000 feet in the air, I say Bully!

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Note:  This is the third in an ongoing series of posts on NIB (Natural is Better) ideology.  The first can be found here, the second here.  More to come.

Consider the following mental image:

Picture a cupped hand. A capsule and a pill lie in the palm. The hand is extended toward a small child. The caption reads, “Take your vitamins.”

It’s better than a Rorschach test, that image: most people will erupt with a passionate visceral reaction, especially if they deduce that the proffered medications are not vitamins at all, but strong psychoactive drugs like Ritalin and Prozac.

The above is taken from a review by Abigail Zuger of journalist Judith Warner’s latest book, We’ve Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication.  This image incites passionate responses, including the sense by many that we are overmedicating our children “in the name of conformity and achievement,” notes Zuger.

In my previous post on the NIB ideology, I argued that NIB leads many people to pursue techniques of “alternative medicine” that are mostly quackery.  This can waste financial resources in addition to potentially doing harm, especially if choosing natural medicine leads to eschewing effective diagnostic  and treatment options available in conventional modern medicine.

In the area of mental health we see a similar rejection of modern medicine.  Mental illness is seen as either a function of the “toxic” environment caused by the modern, un-natural world, or it is seen as simply variations of normal.  Some even have a nostalgia for the days when mental illnesses were ignored and simply considered part of the spectrum of normal natural behavior.  What could be wrong with nature, after all? The last view is particularly pernicious because it encourages families to avoid seeking treatment that might make their lives significantly better.  This is merely the latest example of the abuse society has long inflicted on those with mental illness over the centuries.   Being told your child is normal might reduce anxiety in some, but for many it offers little relief for the pain and suffering in their families.

Warner obtained her book contract with the intent of showing how we as a society are ruining our kids with all these psychiatric drugs, how we are turning normal kids into hypermedicated zombies.  After years of trying to tell this story (thereby completing the terms of her book contract and getting paid), she finally came to the conclusion that she was trying to tell the wrong story.  She writes :

A couple of simple truths have become clear. That the suffering of children with mental health issues (and their parents) is very real. That almost no parent takes the issue of psychiatric diagnosis lightly or rushes to ‘drug’ his or her child; and that responsible child psychiatrists don’t, either. And that many children’s lives are essentially saved by medication, particularly when it’s combined with evidence-based forms of therapy.

…Believing that our toxic world is either producing symptoms in children or classifying them as abnormal when they don’t conform is seductive. After all, there is so much wrong with the lives of children today.

What I am arguing for here is not the blind acceptance of whatever psychiatric diagnosis or medicine that a doctor may prescribe.  Parents and family members are wise to be wary.  In psychology there has been an awful lot of quackery (I would put Freudian psychoanalysis in that camp, for instance), unverified theories, unproven treatment methods, and a vast amount of uncertainty and ambiguity.  But at the same time, recent decades have experienced an explosion of knowledge about the human brain and its chemistry.  Many remedies have changed the lives of millions for the better.  There have been countless failures, of course, but the treatment of mental illness has made quantum leaps forward both in terms of medication and in therapy.

A lot of what used to be thought of as defections in moral character (lack of impulse control, bad attitudes, poor self-control, etc.)  are now understood to be problems with the brain, particularly problems with neurochemistry.   The NIB ideology fears the truth that human nature is, at a fundamental level, about chemistry (I’m not saying it is only chemistry).   That human behavior can be changed for the better by chemistry challenges the nature v. science dichotomy that underlies the NIB worldview.  NIB believers would be highly accepting of “natural” treatments such as changes in diet (these can be important) or removal of toxic substances from the environment, but they are hostile to the view that human produced chemicals should be used to induce positive effects.  If we can, through science, produce chemicals that occur naturally in the brain (or use chemicals to produce a brain chemistry that is normal), are not those chemicals natural and should they not be embraced?


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This post is the first part of a Nate Silver-esque miniseries of posts reporting the results of statistical analysis on a macropolitics topic: the size of the “liberty constituency” in each state. Essentially, what I’m trying to estimate here is the relative percentage of the voting population in each state that would consistently prefer libertarian candidates. It’s similar to what David Boaz and David Kirby have done to estimate the “libertarian vote” nationally, but the main differences are that a) I am ranking states, not giving an absolute percentage for the nation as a whole; and b) the numbers are based on actual voting and donation behavior, rather than responses to questions about issue positions.

Readers should be careful not to interpret these results as giving a ranking of the “most libertarian states.” Any such designation would have to be based on an examination of the entire ideological distribution of voters. We cannot assume identical distributions in each state. To take an extreme example, imagine a state composed of 20% hardcore anarcho-capitalists and 80% stark raving Hitler lovers. Would this be a more or less libertarian state than one comprised of 15% moderate libertarians, 15% populists, 35% conservatives, and 35% liberals? Probably less. I’m only measuring the proportions of libertarians in each state.

The three indicators I will use are: vote percentage for libertarian candidates in the 2008 presidential general election (Bob Barr, Ron Paul in Louisiana only (where he was on the ballot), and George Phillies in New Hampshire (where he was on the ballot)); per capita donors to the Ron Paul presidential campaign (from ronpaulgraphs.com); and “adjusted” percentage vote for Ron Paul in the 2008 presidential primaries. Of course, many if not most libertarians did not vote for or donate to any of these candidates. However, the size of the libertarian constituency in each state should correlate strongly with the percentage of voters that did. That’s all we need to come up with a relative ranking of states on size of libertarian constituency.

The first step I want to take is to adjust Ron Paul’s 2008 primary results for state institutional context. Some states have caucuses or conventions rather than primaries, and of course these elections took place at different points in the electoral cycle. Ron Paul did much better in caucuses and conventions than primaries, because his supporters were particularly motivated compared to the rest of the Republican field. He also did better when turnout was lower. Two states that held conventions, Hawaii and Wyoming, do not have results available. If a state held both caucuses/conventions and a primary, I use the primary results.

I took the log of Ron Paul’s percentage of the vote in each state (plus D.C.) and regressed it on an estimate of turnout (total votes cast divided by population – an ideal denominator would be registered voters, but that would be difficult to acquire for all 50 states, and it should make very little difference to the results), a dummy variable for caucus/convention, a dummy variable for whether the election was held after McCain clinched, and the log of the number of candidates in the race. (Taking the log of the dependent variable is necessary to make it impossible for predicted vote share to fall below zero and to ensure normality. I also tested for heteroskedasticity in this regression and found no evidence of it.) These are the results:

lnrp     |      Coef.   Std. Err.      t    P>|t|     [95% Conf. Interval]
turnout  |  -.0070837   .0221658    -0.32   0.751     -.051756    .0375885
caucus   |   1.060498   .1955968     5.42   0.000     .6662991    1.454698
clinched |   .6133622   .1627105     3.77   0.000     .2854407    .9412838
lncand   |  -.2069483   .1333964    -1.55   0.128     -.475791    .0618944
_cons    |   1.999169   .2588205     7.72   0.000     1.477551    2.520788

Controlling for everything else, turnout actually does not predict Ron Paul’s vote share, but the results demonstrate that Paul did much better in caucuses than primaries and after McCain had clinched – and perhaps when the number of candidates on the ballot was smaller, although this result is not quite statistically significant. These last two results suggest that Paul was a protest vote for some people, and/or that some rather pro-Paul voters ended up going for one of the other candidates when it might have made a difference, and an agreeable alternative candidate was in the race (for instance, some libertarians supported Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani).

Now that we have estimated the effects of electoral institutions, we can adjust Ron Paul’s vote shares in each state accordingly and come up with a prediction of just how “pro-Ron Paul” each state was. Let us assume that every state had the exact same electoral institutions: primary not caucus, pre-clinching, with 5 candidates in the race, and a turnout of 6.27%. These are the median values on each variable. An “average” state (right on the regression line) would be predicted to give Ron Paul 5.06% of the vote under these conditions. We can add to this each state’s residual from the regression above (and convert out of logarithms) to get the percentage of the vote that Ron Paul would have won in that state under these conditions.

Here are the results:

State Prediction
New Hampshire 11.19589
Idaho 10.77407
South Dakota 8.623769
Washington 8.184763
District of Columbia 7.824208
Montana 7.780539
Pennsylvania 7.763993
Michigan 7.200534
North Dakota 7.124513
Maine 6.846468
New York 6.721992
Maryland 6.68655
Oregon 6.681799
Vermont 6.418495
Louisiana 6.35258
California 6.294377
Tennessee 6.275179
New Mexico 6.256058
Rhode Island 6.05923
Nebraska 5.881125
Alaska 5.555577
Illinois 5.435824
Missouri 5.199485
Nevada 5.072649
Minnesota 5.00343
Arkansas 4.858305
New Jersey 4.845448
Virginia 4.657678
Wisconsin 4.583703
Texas 4.53022
Ohio 4.441385
Arizona 4.346241
South Carolina 4.294139
Delaware 4.239972
Oklahoma 4.010873
Connecticut 4.000432
Kansas 3.990187
Indiana 3.976637
Iowa 3.830344
Kentucky 3.772909
Florida 3.756037
North Carolina 3.704741
Georgia 3.390078
Utah 3.010131
Massachusetts 2.954111
West Virginia 2.91586
Alabama 2.855571
Colorado 2.666248
Mississippi 1.943739

New Hampshire and Idaho were the most pro-Ron Paul states, while Mississippi was the least. These results give us some insight into the composition of the Republican Party in each state. States with a more “establishment” bent, especially those in the South, gave fewer votes to Ron Paul, while states with more of an anti-Washington bent gave him more votes. Ron Paul’s good score in the District of Columbia helps demonstrate my point about ideological distributions. D.C. is a hostile place to libertarianism overall, but there is a small contingent of very politically aware libertarians there, and they made a noticeable mark on the (tiny) Republican primary there.

Of course, this is just one of three indicators I will use to compile an aggregate measure of size of the liberty constituency in each state. If there are some quirks in these data (I am surprised by how low Colorado scored), they should drop out when combined with other, independent measures of the concept. I will discuss how that can be done in Part 2 of the series.


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The Speech

I must admit, this evening’s speech by Obama was rather odd. As one might have expected, there were the indicators of bureaucratic activity (number of boats, brains, etc. deployed to the Gulf). There was a predictable list of policy ideas (green economy, green jobs, technologies of the future) but nothing concrete. There were the folksy references to prayer (the blessing of the fleet). But the speech as a whole was poorly written and poorly delivered, most certainly far less than one might have expected given the President’s reputation for powerful rhetoric.

The best line of the night: “what has defined us as a nation since our founding is our capacity to shape our destiny – our determination to fight for the America we want for our children. Even if we’re unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don’t yet know precisely how to get there. We know we’ll get there.”

It might have been more effective if the President’s speech writers could have drawn on the old Simon and Garfunklel song: “Slow down, you  drill too fast.  You got to make  resources last. Just kicking down the cobble stones. Looking for fun and feelin‘ groovy.”

Did I miss something?


Apparently I was not the only one who was rather underwhelmed. I find the assessments offered by the Left particularly stunning, given that only a short time ago Obama literally walked on water.

The Huffington Post referred to the speech as a “junk shot.” Post bloggers were highly critical. Jason Linkens concludes: “So that’s the plan: pray like you were a bayou fisherman. Fantastic.” In a similar vein, Andrew Winston viewed the speech as a “wasted opportunity,” concluding: “In the end, the President suggested we all “pray” for courage and the people of the Gulf. It’s truly a shame that that’s the only thing he asked us to do.” Joseph Palermo remains uncertain whether this will stand as an FDR style fireside chat or a redux of the Carter energy speech (absent the cardigan).

At WaPo, Ezra Klein offered a mixed review which ended: “The pessimistic take is that Obama shied away from clearly describing the problem, did not endorse specific legislation, did not set benchmarks, and chose poll-tested language rather than a sharper case that might persuade skeptics.”

Over at the Daily Beast, Tina Brown notes that Obama did not exhibit a hint of managerial competence: “The speech made me no less uneasy about the grotesque spaghetti of the org charts for BP and the government cleanup effort: both of which have terrifyingly unclear chains of command.” Yes, there were appeals to the way Americans have mobilized in past crises. But Brown observes: “Obama’s speech begged the question of why, if America always pushes its bounds to what it can do, 57 days into it the Gulf clean-up is still in such head-scratching chaos.”

The post-mortem on MSNBC (which I watched live) was devastating. Chris Matthews noted the lack of specificity and drew parallels to Carter. Keith Olbermann claimed “It was a great speech if you were on another planet for the last 57 days” and concluded “I don’t think he aimed low, I don’t think he aimed at all. It’s startling.”

Daily Kos posted an additional set of responses, most of which are quite harsh and some of which were actually insightful.

Any thoughts from loyal Pileus readers? What is your assessment of the oil-side chat?

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As the world focuses on its most watched sporting event, many Americans (including an occasional Pileus political scientist or two) remain oblivious to every aspect of the game, missing many of the nuances that reveal volumes about national character, culture and politics. These Americans are missing something important.

To the true football fan, the World Cup itself is part of an ideological struggle between two competing corporate goliaths, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (“FIFA”) and the Union of European Football Associations (“UEFA”). Even the names of the two organizations are themselves indicative of the ideological divide. The stakes are high – in the hundreds of billions of the currency of your choice. The goal is nothing short of world domination. And the time for choosing sides is closing in upon us.

FIFA represents the distinctly twentieth century notion that nationhood is the most important and powerful bond between humans. While nations are free to define themselves, individuals, for the most part, are not. FIFA insists upon a competition between nations qua nations, but FIFA does not demand that nations define themselves in a particular way. There is no requirement that “a national,” or what we Americans commonly refer to as “a citizen,” be defined in same way that Germany, Serbia, Italy, or Spain choose to define those terms, namely, by ethnicity. Nationality, under these ethnic conceptions of it, is “closed” to those born outside the required genetic boundaries. As in race-horses, it is a matter of breeding.

But nationality need not be determined by ethnicity. It can be circumscribed, as we Americans have chosen, by shared values. We have no official language or blood-line requirements that prove dispositive of citizenship. As the pre-eminent bastion of individual freedom and personal responsibility, American nationality is largely a matter of choice. It is “open.” During the twentieth century, we Americans moved closer to the rest of the world by placing strictures upon the choice, but these markers are still largely markers of choice.

The American conception of “American nationality” explains why our football team, like our citizenry, looks like a melting pot. While other examples of more open conceptions of nationality can be found in the faces of the teams representing France, England, and the Netherlands, many nations competing in FIFA’s World Cup can be characterized as having closed conceptions of nationality.

UEFA, on the other hand, represents a distinctly different ideal, one that is timeless. It is also one with which Americans ought to sympathize, namely, freedom of contract. To be sure, UEFA also satisfies some of the thirst for nationalism, sponsoring its own competition between national teams every four years, the European Cup, in the interstices of the World Cup. But UEFA’s real claim to fame is its sponsorship of club competitions, the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa Cup. These two competitions are between club teams, not nations. These clubs are organized, for the most part, on free association and freedom of contract.

While some countries place limitations on the number of foreign nationals that can play on their club teams, European club competition permits footballers to play for whichever employer is willing to pay or develop them. These teams, and the UEFA-sponsored international competitions between them, generate billions of dollars, and drive the market for players around the world. The economic effectiveness of UEFA is evidenced by the ability of European clubs to draw players from around the globe. The best teams in the world (Barcelona, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Ajax, Chelsea and Bayern München) are the truest melting pots, boasting teammates from every continent, speaking as many as twenty different languages, and all focused upon one goal: the UEFA Champions League Cup.

FIFA and UEFA are openly critical of each other, and it is no secret that FIFA craves the power and success of UEFA. FIFA has tried to promote its own club competition, the World Club Cup, in which the winners of the various continental competitions around the world participate. This competition is largely ignored however, with virtually no television coverage, even in Europe. Instead, the real football world is focused annually on the Champions League, which every pre-eminent international footballer considers one of the two trophies he must hoist in a successful career. The other, of course, is FIFA’s World Cup.

But UEFA understands what FIFA does not, namely, that freedom works. National teams will never be as good, as entertaining, or as compelling as teams composed of free individuals willingly and contractually cooperating toward one common purpose. Open systems of nationality come closer to the ideal of freedom than closed systems, and the national teams themselves recognize this. Germany, for example, is a successful national team drawn from a “closed” conception of nationhood. But Germany fields players born outside the formal genetic constraints applied to mere mortal would-be citizens. The German national team boasts Cacau (a native of Brazil) and Jerome Boateng, one of the two Boateng brothers playing in the 2010 World Cup; the other is a member of the starting line-up for their native Ghana. In other words, if you are good enough, even closed nationalities can be open to you.

FIFA and its World Cup, like nationalism, will persist as long as we have nations and nationalists, ethnic pride and prejudice, to perpetuate them. These ideas that destroyed so many lives on so many occasions throughout the twentieth century are the not-so-beautiful underside of the beautiful game. The game is unquestionably more beautiful without them.

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The Fund for American Studies, which sponsors Pileus, is hosting a debate tonight on Georgetown University’s campus. The topic of the debate is “The Future of Liberty in America.” The debaters are Nadine Strossen, professor of law at New York Law School and former president of the American Civil Liberties Union, and Roger Pilon, B. Kenneth Simon Chair and Director of Consititutional Studies at the Cato Institute.

I will be moderating the debate. If you’re in town, it takes place in the auditorium of the Intercultural Center, beginning at 7:30pm. If you’re not in town, you can watch the live stream, available here.

Among the questions I will ask them to address:

1. What do you believe are the greatest threats to American liberty over the next ten years?

2. What do people not understand about American liberty that they should?

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News out of Washington is that the most famous man in uniform today, General David Petraeus,  fell ill and fainted during testimony in front of Congress.  Let’s hope the commander of CENTCOM recovers quickly.

This news provides an occassion to tell two interesting stories in General Petraeus’ bio that some might not have heard. 

The first one is that, back in 1991, General Petraeus was accidentally shot in the chest  and nearly killed during a training excercise.  As the BBC explained, “one of his soldiers tripped and accidentally fired a round during a training exercise in 1991.  Gen Petraeus spent five hours in surgery, during which he was operated on by Bill Frist, who later became a Republican Senate majority leader.”  The best part of this story is that the general wanted to be released right after the surgery and eventually was allowed to leave a few days later after doing 50 pushups to prove he was fit to go!

The second is that he later broke his pelvis while parachuting when his chute collapsed 6 stories above the ground!  

It also worth noting that the general has a Ph.D. from Princeton University and published an academic article in a peer-reviewed journal long before he was famous – so a warrior and a scholar.

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I’m trying to be open-minded and cosmopolitan about the World Cup.  This hilarious and wildly offensive post from The Other McCain makes my attempt very difficult.  Some snips:

… In an American context, avid soccer fandom is almost exclusively located among two groups of people (a) foreigners — God bless ‘em — and (b) pretentious yuppie snobs.

Which is to say, conservatives don’t hate soccer because we hate brown people. We hate soccer because we hate liberals.

American liberals love soccer not merely because it allows them to engage in displays of their imagined superiority — “Look at me! I’m a sophisticated cosmopolitan!” — but also because it’s usually the only sport they’ve ever actually played.

… Soccer is a great sport for sheltered wienie kids, so long as they are in a league where all the other kids are sheltered wienies, too — as is the case in the vanilla cul-de-sac suburban cocoon community where these kids grow up. Why? Because youth soccer requires no athletic ability.

… Go watch 7- or 8-year-olds play youth-league soccer somewhere in an upscale American suburb and what do you see? Twenty dorky white kids running around willy-nilly while the two kids with anything approaching genuine athletic aptitude score all the goals.

In America, if you’re too clumsy for baseball, too short for basketball and too weak for football, soccer is your game.

OK, I’m surpassing Fair Use limits and have to stop.

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The president will address the nation tonight from the Oval Office to discuss the BP/Deepwater Horizon fiasco. The New York Times reports: “It is Mr. Obama’s goal… to acknowledge the uncertainties and what one called “the new reality,” allay people’s fears and give reason to hope,” drawing parallels to FDR’s fireside chats.

One wonders: will there will be more in store this evening? Candidate Obama made a series of campaign promises about charting a course to a new green economy, reducing our reliance on carbon-based fuels through what amounted to a green industrial policy.

As political scientist John Kingdon reminded us in his classic Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies: “people in and around government sometimes do not solve problems. Instead, they become advocates for solutions and look for current problems to which to attach their pet solutions.”

What kinds of solutions can be attached to this problem? A new carbon tax? Increased CAFE standards? New investments in the “green technologies of the future” that will create “green jobs?” Cap-and-trade?

My best guess is that advocates in the administration, Congress, and the larger interest group universe are actively searching for means of coupling their favored solutions to the problem in the Gulf. A window of opportunity has opened, and as we know, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

Unfortunately, crises may result in good politics, but they rarely result in good public policies. More often than not, they also result in an expansion of the public sector often with minimal attention to whether the resulting policies will have the intended impact on the problems in question.

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It is probably fairly obvious to our readers that many (all?) of us here at Pileus support a more robust form of federalism (and decentralization) than we currently enjoy in the U.S.  So it is with much chagrin that I relay news from this weekend that President Obama wants more federal dollars to bail out irreponsible supposedly needy states.  I know, you are shocked, shocked to see the administration argue for more spending. 

Fortunately, Veronique de Rugy of the Mercatus Center is on the watch and makes a case here for why this is a bad idea.

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A soccer question

I watched the first half and the last 10 minutes of the US-England soccer match.  I enjoyed it, but mostly because I enjoy most sports and watching this match involved me sitting on my butt hiding out from my wife at a friend’s house instead of doing chores at home.  I can see myself rooting for the USA this year, but I doubt I will ever get that excited about soccer (and if the networks don’t figure out how to filter out that obnoxious hum coming from all the blow horns, they are not going to capture much of an audience).

My question for the day is this: How big is the intersection of NASCAR fans and World Cup fans?

For many of us Americans used to watching football and basketball, we need a good excuse (like hiding out from chores) to watch soccer.  No matter how many lectures we hear about how exciting it is even though there is almost no scoring, we just don’t get it.   But compared to NASCAR, a World Cup soccer game is like overtime of a NBA finals game.    They must sell prodigious amounts of alcohol at NASCAR events.  How else could a sane person tolerate it (around and around and around and around)?

But maybe a genetic ability to watch really boring sports can overcome the sociocultural dissonance that would occur from being simultaneously a World Cup fan and a NASCAR fan?  Has anyone met one?

I’ve always been afraid that if I start watching soccer, I’ll eventually lose my taste for beef,  start buying organic vegetables, and have a sudden desire to visit countries that don’t have enough brains or electricity to put ice cubes in my Diet Coke.   Soccer seems to be hugely popular with university professors, but I think very few of them actually watch soccer.  They just fake it.  They love soccer for the same reasons that they hate Dick Cheney.

I might say that they hate NASCAR for the same reasons.   But, then, it could be because of the around, and around, and around, and around…

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I scoffed before at the idea that mood shifts in the electorate reflect an anti-Washington or anti-incumbant atmosphere.  In the weeks since then, the anti-Washington story line continues to grow in prominence.

I still think I’m right.  I think people are mad at certain things and that, on balance, the things they are mad about reflect a rightward (though probably transitory) shift in the voter distribution (yes, yes, yes, I know that the left-right terminology is flawed).*  The mainstream media does not like the simple story that voters are mad at specific policy choices by politicians–particularly those policy decisions, such as ObamaCare and stimulus spending, that were strongly supported by mainstream media.

A Gallup poll released today gives evidence for my position.  Compared to early 2008, the number of Americans who think the Democratic party is “too liberal” has increased from 39% to 49%.  This holds true for Repulicans (77% to 85%) and — most distressing to the Democrats — among Independents (40% to 52%).

What I don’t know from this poll is how the distribution of party identification has shifted over this time period.  The number of Democrats who think their party is too conservative has shifted from 6% to 14%, suggesting that as moderate Democrats become Independents,  a higher percentage of those remaining in the party are extreme leftists.   Feelings about Republicans have remained relatively unchanged, which also suggests that the movement that is happening is moderates moving away from the Democrats.

If the Democrats have truly lost this much Independent support, they are toast, especially in close Districts.  This is especially true when you add in the results from another recent poll that  the percentage of Republicans (46%) who are “very enthusiastic” about voting in 2010 is almost double the percentage of Democrats (24%) who are enthusiastic.  The left got ObamaCare, but now they are depressed that most of the country isn’t excited about it.  They will be even more depressed in coming months and years as insurance premiums  begin to skyrocket.

Yeah, I know.  Democrats are in trouble.  Hardly a novel claim.  But, hey, it’s a Monday.

* Note: What I mean by “rightward shift” is that voter perceptions of the parties’ positions, relative to their own perceived positions, have shifted. It is hard (impossible?) to know whether voters are actually shifting or whether their perceptions of the ideological spectrum and where parties are positioned are shifting.

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Peter Singer’s views on population control have come up on this blog quite recently. Singer is also, of course, a hardcore animal rights-er who believes that all animals (at least, vertebrates) have the same moral status. But one doesn’t have to be a utilitarian or someone who believes that animals actually have rights that ought to be legally enforced to think that animals have some moral status. Here’s Robert Nozick’s quasi-Kantian position on animals (linky):

Animals count for something. Some higher animals, at least, ought to be given some weight in people’s deliberations about what to do. It is difficult to prove this. (It is also difficult to prove that people count for something!) We first shall adduce particular examples, and then arguments. If you felt like snapping your fingers, perhaps to the beat of some music, and you knew that by some strange causal connection your snapping your fingers would cause 10,000 contented, unowned cows to die after great pain and suffering, or even painlessly and instantaneously, would it be per­fectly all right to snap your fingers? Is there some reason why it would be morally wrong to do so?

Nozick argues that there are some things we should not do to animals, regardless of their consequences for humans. This position seems reasonable on an intuitive level; it is difficult to imagine that there is nothing wrong with torturing thousands of animals to death. Anyone who’s interacted with other animals knows that they possess some spark of intelligence and emotion, even if not full self-awareness, which elicits empathy in us (and possibly in them?).

So what about eating animals? In the 21st century post-industrial world, eating animals is unnecessary for human health – in fact, Americans eat too much meat. Eating animals, let us concede, adds a little bit of pleasure to the eating experience for humans. Does one have to be a utilitarian to weigh the small pleasure that humans receive from eating animals against the significant pain that the animals endure? I don’t think so. If one believes that animals have some moral worth but lack rights, then consuming them without any real need might be worse than not eating them – or even morally wrong (as Nozick believed).

There are of course other arguments for vegetarianism having to do with the health of humans and the environment. And it may be that some of these considerations turn the other way as well – certainly, strict veganism isn’t healthy for humans without vitamin supplements. But if we just consider the animal welfare argument, how far does it take us?

Incidentally, the animal-welfare argument for vegetarianism implies that eating invertebrates is OK (Slate on oyster-eating veganism here). Also, it probably implies that eating eggs and dairy, which require the slaughter of animals (male chicks in the former case, calves in the latter), is wrong.


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The discovery of large mineral deposits in Afghanistan, by some, perhaps dubious estimates up to $1 trillion worth, has stoked fears of corruption and even greater conflict due to the well-known “resource curse.” Steve Saideman throws cold water on this idea, as well as the notion that resources could be, as the saying goes, “a game-changer” for Afghanistan’s development. Exploitation could take decades, especially since there are more fundamental needs in Afghanistan than profits from copper mining, and Afghanistan’s institutional development is already at rock bottom due to decades of civil war. There’s nothing left to curse.

Besides, the resource curse is overrated.


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Agoraphilia has an interesting post discussing how a “surveillance citizenry” can help check government misbehavior.  It also talks about how governments in some jurisdictions are attempting to claim a right to privacy to protect themselves from being recorded while beating the heck out of people  engaging in inappropriate behavior. 

I’m all for (legal) positive action to counter government mischief and ultimately deter it from occurring in the first place – so kudos to those who watch the watchers.  But…

Included in the post is a link to a Glenn Reynolds piece (of Instapundit fame) on the same subject.  In it, Reynolds pours rain on the idea that we can limit surveillance, arguing that “in reality there’s not much we can do to ensure privacy anyway.”

But does Reynolds give up the game too quickly?   Aren’t there things we can do to at least limit the power of the surveillance state in the name of privacy? 

One possible answer might be, as depicted in the photo above, to engage in civil disobedience by smashing, burning, shooting, or otherwise disabling government cameras (such as by hooding them).  I am not advocating these solutions.   For those curious about groups that engage in them, here is an academic paper on legal and illegal countersurveillance measures

So what can we legally do? 

First, we need to make a positive effort to educate people about the virtues of privacy – or at least why we should not be constantly monitored by the government (especially since many people these days think that only criminals or people doing things they ought not be doing could be concerned about not wanting to be caught on camera). 

Second, we could raise awareness of the very large amount of money going into surveillance efforts that often reap little law enforcement benefit while reducing our privacy.  Here is an ACLU report  (as well as a NY Times story about several studies) on this admittedly complicated issue.  In this era of budgetary woes, I would think this tactic would be especially effective with the average citizen. 

Third, and most importantly, we could take the fight to city hall and either roll back or prevent the use of static electronic surveillance.  This would seem like a great example of a case in which we should be able to get a left-right coalition together to protect a liberty that, while not explicitly enumerated in the Constitution, is something we should not surrender without a fight.

Is the horse already out of the barn?  That seems utterly too defeatist.  So think locally and act locally – it will make your community a better, freer place to live.

And here is a potential resource for those who would like to learn about “how basic Bill of Rights protections apply during encounters with law enforcement.”

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Sorry for going dark for a few days. Friday was very busy, with the Sustainable Defense Task Force press conference in the morning, and the Darfur forum at Cato at noon. Then I did manage to watch most of the World Cup match between the U.S.  and England yesterday.

We had a terrific turnout for the presser, and have received some decent press coverage over the past 48 hours. C-Span aired the press conference Friday evening, and posted the clip online.

You can read the full report here (.pdf).

Some of the best stories were filed at Reuters, DefenseNews and TheHill.

The pushback so far is interesting. Few people question the argument that the U.S. military does too much, and should do less. This is the central theme of the portion of the report that I authored with Ben Friedman, but it is a concept that underlies the entire document.

It is becoming obvious that the United States cannot afford to be the world’s policeman forever. The money won’t run out, but Americans’ patience for defending other countries that should defend themselves certainly will. If it hasn’t already.

The questions at the presser all revolved around the political difficulty with cutting a particular program (TriCare, the C-17, the extra engine for the F-35, the entire F-35 program, etc) given the political constituencies that have grown up around these programs. There were also questions about whether a bipartisan coalition would embrace the idea, or if this was primarily a concern for liberal Democrats and a few (so far, a very few) Republicans. These questions reveal the extent to which the so-called defense budget has become a domestic political and economic issue, but not an issue closely connected to U.S. national security.

I encourage readers to look at the report, and I welcome comments. If cutting defense was easy, we would have done it by now. But the notion that we can close the budget deficit while leaving the Pentagon’s share off the table is becoming increasingly untenable. Meanwhile, the notion that Americans should be content to shoulder the burdens of being the world’s policeman, while the rest of the world free rides on our largesse, is just absurd.

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In the spirit of the World Cup, Robert Nisbet on sports:

It is good that sports are so important. They—and especially the contact or “violent” ones like football, hockey, and boxing—play a role of reliving pressures in human beings which once had no other outlets but wars, Bedlams, and public hangings. If by some major accident we ever lose the mayhem of the hockey rink, gridiron, and prize ring, if we are limited, say, to track and field, heaven help the ordinary American who wants only law and order and peace.  (1988)

Herbert Spencer disagreed and thought sports were part of the “rebarbarization” of civilizations – a trend destructive of peace and individual rights.

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Ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan escalated Friday and yesterday, as the new government struggles to cope. Most of the violence appears to be Kyrgyz on Uzbek, and Osh – a closely divided city in the south – seems to be taking the brunt of it. Ethnic Kyrgyz rioters are allegedly taking weapons from the military and funding from an unknown source, while the outgunned Uzbeks fight back with weapons of their own.

While the government asserts that the conflict began with a fight in a casino, the real trigger for the spread of the violence is the political instability in the country since Bakiyev’s overthrow. On his flight out of the country, the former president stopped in the south, which has given rise to rumors that he is behind the violence. Whether that is true or not, Kyrgyzstan has a history of ethnic clashes following the overthrow of governments, going back to 1990. Many Kyrgyz want to drive Uzbeks out of the country, and the violence is at its worst where the Uzbek population is largest, consistent with the “power threat” theory.

Ethnolinguistic map of Central Asia. Video from Jalalabad:


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Query: If you are a utilitarian soccer player selected to the U.S. national team, do you have a duty to try to throw your World Cup match against England? Clearly, a U.S. victory would be a net psychic loss for the world. (Also, since English joy might be somewhat alloyed with pique should your actions become known, perhaps you also hide the fact that you are acting thus?)


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Rants and Raves

1. When I drive the speed limit through the residential neighborhoods near where I live in New Jersey, people honk at me and give me the finger.

2. I sympathize with bicyclists who complain that drivers don’t treat them with enough courtesy on the roads. But if bicyclists want to be treated “like cars,” then they should not run red lights and stop signs, turn from the wrong lanes, ride between cars, etc.

3. The other day I was riding in a bus, sitting behind two medical school students fresh from their hospital shift, still in their scrubs. They were rather obnoxiously laughing and making jokes about the patients they had seen that day. Maybe not all your patients have high IQs, and maybe some of them are somewhat superstitious about medicine, but they still deserve more respect than that.

4. A woman on a train I was taking recently was loudly regaling the person next to her—and everyone else in the car—about her sexual exploits. The graphic detail was astonishing; I have never heard someone speak so openly, proudly, and profanely about such intimate details. Other passengers in the car pretended not to hear her, even including some parents with small children. What a sad scene all around.

5. Finally, on a more serious note: Moral outrage is a scarce resource, and it should therefore be preserved and allocated appropriately. The more it is used, the less effective it will be. So, if, for example, you are going to suggest that a person is like a Nazi war criminal, or that a policy is reminiscent of Nazi Germany, remember that what the Nazis did was actually kill people. Lots of them. They did not just dislike people; they did not just inconvenience people; they did not just disrespect people or fail to accord them the regard appropriate to their inherent dignity. They rounded people up and killed them. You dishonor, disrespect, and demean the memories of the victims of the Holocaust when you suggest that anything short of literally mass-killing people is “like” what happened during the Holocaust.

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A few choice things to do on the internet in case you are bored watching a 0-0 World Cup game:

1.  John Derbyshire recommends these five curmudgeonly books

2.  Now that Lost is gone, the only network television show I watch is Friday Night Lights – which I watch on the internets.  If you like well-drawn characters, great cinematography (for tv, at least), and an exploration of many aspects of middle America (a Straussian friend and I agreed that it is about “the regime” broadly understood), see it here.  You can then follow some commentary on Slate, which has a running discussion of the show.  And of course, there is Minka Kelly

If you too follow the show (and I didn’t see last night’s, so maybe it is mentioned), why haven’t they noted that Matt is likely to receive a huge check for 400K given that his dad undoubtedly had SGLI?  If Matt is some kind of Job-like character (see Slate), then it would add to the trial if he were told upon inquiry that his dad opted out (furthering the story about how Matt’s dad cared more about soldiering and other things than his family) – something you can do but also something that you as a soldier, sailor, airman, Marine must initiate (otherwise it is automatic). 

3.  Review of new Keynes books.  I’ll take Friedman or Hayek over Keynes.  But let’s face it, he was a titan in economics.

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Stuart Taylor on “Conservatives for Kagan.”  Note that Pileus and our own Marcus Cole are cited in the article. 

More Pileus coverage of Kagan here:

Marc Eisner here.  Jason Sorens here.   Sven Wilson here and here.

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This from the “Metroplis” blog on  WSJ.com:

“On Friday afternoon, Sen. Charles Schumer will join various union leaders, transit workers and transportation advocates outside of New York’s Penn Station to rally in support of a bill, introduced in May, that would authorize $2 billion in aid to restore transit service and prevent any fare increases or additional service reductions for public transit systems across the country. In a press release, Schumer’s office said the legislation would make New York, Connecticut and New Jersey eligible for a total of $345 million in federal aid.”

Instead, Chuck, how about “user pays?”  Or how about I send the straphangers in your state my car insurance bill?  When I come visit your city, I’ll be happy to pay a higher rate to use the subway.  Until then, why don’t y’all pay your own way!

[PS: I'm aware that my own state gets lots of Federal highway funds.  We shouldn't.]

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A demographic note

Jim published an intriguing post the other day that built on a conversation he had with a particularly revolting dinner companion.  The thrust was the accusation that Jim was being irresponsible for contributing to overpopulation by having children and should have chosen abortion.  Seriously.

Not only were the dinner companion’s assertions morally repulsive, but they are pretty clueless from a contemporary demographic perspective as well.

I have done several research presentations at the annual meetings* of the Population Association of America, the world’s leading association of demographers.  Naturally, fertility is one of the main pillars of demography (though not one of my research areas–yet!), and there are always several panels on fertility.   These panels are usually on some variant of Phillip Morgan’s presidential address to the Association in 2003: “Is Low Fertility a 21st Century Demographic Crisis” (which I had the pleasure of hearing him deliver, incidentally).  Professor Morgan notes, “Nearly half of the world’s population in 2000 lived in countries with fertility rates at or below replacement level, and nearly all countries will reach low fertility levels in the next two decades.”

The Population Bomb was influential in its day, but it no longer illuminates demography.  Now the focus is how the nation’s of the world are going to continue to thrive economically, politically, socially, when fertility is so low in most nations of the world.  Indeed, a fundamental factor affecting the financial woes of the developed world is an insufficient number of workers to support the social programs that have been designed for the ever-growing population of elderly.

Someone is going to need to pay those exploding Medicare taxes.  I’m trying to do my part.

* Suggestion: To those of you who may be empirical social scientists, I highly recommend the PAA meetings.  Panels are very good and well-attended.  I actually spend most of my time at PAA listening to interesting people rather that watching TV in my hotel room wishing someone would kill me (which is what happens, for instance, at political science conferences such as ASPA or MPSA ; they are by and large terrible).

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John Locke argues that resistance to an established and historical government should not be undertaken lightly. Indeed, only when “a long train of abuses, prevarications and artifices, all tending the same way, make the design visible to the people” should they consider revolt.

Jefferson adopts similar sentiments in the Declaration of Independence: “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes [...]. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce [a people] under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”

I think we should take the same attitude toward judging the character of other people.

Though each of us is one person, we all have several selves and many voices. We use them in different relationships—professor, lecturer, spouse, parent, friend—and we bring them out for various effects in various circumstances. Sometimes we are formal, sometimes informal; sometimes friendly, sometimes surly; mature or immature, patient or rash, forgiving and charitable or prickly and touchy. Some of these voices represent ideals to which we aspire, others personages to which we wish (sometimes secretly) we could give expression. Some we’re proud of, some we regret, some we wished no one ever saw.

And so on. All of us are therefore in constant construction. We are always trying to encourage and emphasize some of our better or nobler selves while also trying to weaken or disregard some of our lesser or meaner selves. Sometimes we change our minds about what aspects of our personalities—which of our selves or voices—we wish to emphasize. And we all know which of our loved ones, friends, acquaintances, even strangers are likely to bring out which of our selves.

But the internet age makes it seem as if all of our various selves are the same, as if each of our voices were equally representative of our total personhood. That is false. Unfortunately, however, our behaviors have not yet adapted to the feedback from the new internet age. We hear, now, warnings to the effect that one ought always to assume that every single thing one utters in any context will be viewed, heard, or read by absolutely every single human being on the planet—and will be preserved forever and can never go away. Many people are learning this lesson the hard way, but it will be some time before it is fully reckoned into our habits and mores.

I fear that the eternal digital presence of everyone’s every word can allow us to rush to judge others based on comments made in contexts the utterer did not intend for people in other contexts to see, hear, or know. A single word, phrase, or sentence should not condemn a person’s entire character because it does not—contemporary appearances to the contrary notwithstanding—represent his entire character.

Condemning a person’s character is serious business. Speaking ill of a person’s character can affect that person in ways you will not know, long after you might have forgotten the ill words you spoke. Because now our judgments of others, especially our condemnations of others, last forever and can never go away no matter what—even if they are disproved or even retracted, at best you have both the condemnations and the retractions—they acquire a gravity commensurate with eternity.

There is always more to the story: context we do not know, background we are unfamiliar with, reasons we don’t understand. Unless, then, there is a clear pattern that cannot be interpreted any other way, unless a person has shown a long train of abuses, pursuing invariably the same discreditable designs, resist forming—and especially resist communicating—a condemnatory judgment. Even when you finally conclude, after long sober deliberation, that a negative judgment is warranted, consider whether the person’s faults warrant the permanent stain you are about to create.

I say: let people have their voices; understand that they have many selves; appreciate that they live in various contexts not all of which are appropriate for every other. Not only will this help save others from misinformed or underinformed judgments, not only will it save them from suffering from enduring criticism: it may also make for a more civilized society based on charity and toleration instead of distrust and acrimony.

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All I know about Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the “bravest woman of our time,”  is what I got from this short piece in the Globe and Mail by Margaret Wente.  I found it fascinating and troubling.  Here is a snippet:

Why are so many liberal intellectuals, social democrats and feminists so silent on the more noxious features of Islam – the fierce intolerance toward unbelievers, the repression of individual freedom, the routine abuse of children, the misogyny, the forced subservience of women? “It’s the seduction of totalitarianism,” she says. In her view, Western defenders of Islam are the intellectual heirs of those highly intelligent men and women who used to heap praise on Comrade Stalin. “It’s a blind spot that left-wing intellectuals have always had.”

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David Bernstein, a very intelligent legal scholar at George Mason University and a Volokh Conspiracy blogger, goes just a bit too far today in criticizing critics of Israel.  And I say this as someone sympathetic to Israel’s security plight and as a big fan of both the VC and David Bernstein’s work.  Unfortunately, Bernstein is not at his best covering Middle East matters. 

What got my dander up was Bernstein’s opening assertion, one that shows his ignorance about the field of international relations:

A certain group of aging and mostly otherwise irrelevant academics have reinvented themselves as prophetic critics of Israel, despite a lack of real knowledge of the relevant subject matter.  Mearsheimer and Walt are two; Tony Judt, whose academic specialty is European history, is another.

I can’t speak with authority on Judt (though some of our readers can), but I can about John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt (though I was not a student of either professor). 

First, neither Mearsheimer nor Walt have  been irrelevant academics since their careers took off decades ago – and thus they did not need to reinvent themselves by criticizing Israel.  In the case of Walt, his highly-acclaimed book Taming American Power came out in 2005 before any of the “Israel Lobby” work and was a finalist for two book awards.  At the time of the original Israel Lobby article, Walt was also the Academic Dean of the Kennedy School at Harvard University and a full professor with a named chair.  Prior to that point, he had a consistent track record of publishing highly regarded academic and policy work, including pieces in Foreign Affairs, the American Political Science Review, International Security, the National Interest, Foreign Policy, and other outlets. 

As for Mearsheimer, he too has had a consistent distinguished record and is often considered to be the dean of American realism (since Kenneth Waltz’ retirement).  In 2001, he published a well-regarded book, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, that is frequently cited and often used in classes.  It won the Joseph Lepgold Book Prize and has been translated into Chinese, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Romanian, and Serbian.  Like Walt, he has also published numerous important articles for both general interest journals and IR outlets.   

Second, they do not lack serious knowledge of the Middle East.  Walt, for example, has written a landmark book on alliances (The Origins of Alliances) that is focused on the international relations/diplomacy of the Middle East from 1955-1979.  His research for the book included interviews with many experts on Middle East politics, including visits to Egypt and Israel.  It is published by Cornell University Press, the premier university press publisher in the field.  As for Mearsheimer, he is not a Middle East expert, but has deep knowledge of American foreign policy (which is the big focus of the Israel book anyway).

I wish David and I were both as “irrelevant” and “lack[ing] in real knowledge” as these two guys!  Of course, the question remains of whether M/W got it right in their work on the Israel Lobby.  We report, you decide!

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I’ve been hinting at this for the past few days, but tomorrow the Sustainable Defense Task Force will present its report “Debts, Deficits, & Defense: A Way Forward” at a Capitol Hill press conference. 

I was honored to contribute to the report, and I will be one of five speakers at the press conference, along with Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA), Laura Peterson (Taxpayers for Common Sense), Lawrence Korb (Center for American Progress), and Carl Conetta (Project on Defense Alternatives).

The report will be released to the public, and is embargoed before then. Check back here tomorrow for a link to the full report.

In the meantime, I can let you in on the gist by pointing out what people going back at least to Dwight David Eisenhower have known for years: a nation’s physical security is tied to its fiscal health.

It is not true that excessive defense spending will bankrupt us as a nation, but the diversion of talent and resources into the military at the expense of the civilian economy is neither necessary nor wise. We should spend as much as we need to defend ourselves from threats, and not a penny more. If you think this a left-wing argument, check out what Hoover’s Kori Schake, an advisor to the McCain-Palin campaign, had to say about this earlier this year.

Unfortunately, the size of the Pentagon’s budget is not driven chiefly by U.S. security requirements. Instead, it has been used by politicians as a means to dispense favors to constituents. The process is inevitable — one can’t get politics out the system — but greater pressure on the top-line defense budget would force more trade-offs among competing priorities (F-18 vs. F-35; submarines vs. aircraft carriers; population-centric COIN vs. offshore balancing).

The other problem is that the defense budget is misnamed. It does many things in addition to (inefficiently) employing people. But the relationship to keeping us safe from harm is actually quite tenuous. Much, perhaps most, of what we spend on our military goes to defending other countries that should be capable of defending themselves. Think of it as a form of foreign aid. I’ve blogged about this before at Cato – @ – Liberty (see, e.g., here and here).

If we were to adopt a grand strategy explicitly focused on keeping the United States prosperous and secure, and that relied on our unique advantages — strategic, economic, cultural — we could spend far less on the military without undermining our safety. We call it restraint.

If we fail to change our strategy, the mismatch between what we spend, and what we aim to achieve through this spending, is likely to grow. The burdens will fall disproportionately on our men and women in uniform, and on U.S. taxpayers, while our allies continue to grow weaker and weaker. That isn’t sustainable.

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Note:  This is the second in an ongoing series of posts on NIB (Natural is Better) ideology.  The first can be found here.  More to come.

In 1992, JAMA published an article that began with the following statement:

A new paradigm for medical practice is emerging. Evidence-based medicine de-emphasizes intuition, unsystematic clinical experience, and pathophysiologic rationale as sufficient grounds for clinical decision making and stresses the examination of evidence from clinical research. Evidence-based medicine requires new skills of the physician, including efficient literature searching and the application of formal rules of evidence evaluating the clinical literature.

Many people are surprised to learn that  “evidence-based medicine” (EBM) is a relatively new and controversial approach in modern medicine.   Hasn’t medicine relied on evidence for a long time, certainly long before the end of the 20th century?

It depends on what one means by evidence.  The EBM movement stresses using research from randomized controlled trials (RCTs), but a lot of what the best-trained doctors routinely do is founded in tradition, custom, personal experience, intuition, and scientifically-grounded logic – not on RCTs.  RCTs are not the only scientific pathway to evidence, but they are the best.    EBM defined more broadly is using procedures that are supported by the best available evidence.

There is an awful lot that scientific medicine does not know and surely a lot of what we think we know will be proven wrong in time.  Furthermore, many sick and suffering people fail to find the help they are looking for from scientific medicine.  When this happens, many people turn to “alternative medicine” (AM) for help.  AM encompasses a huge number of approaches and techniques.  Some of these approaches are based on ancient techniques and folk remedies, but what almost all of them share in common is any lack of scientific evidence.  AM is a (probably too kind) euphemism.  A more accurate term might be “non-scientific medicine,” “non-evidentiary medicine,” or even more appropriately, “people making stuff up to take other people’s money.”

Sometimes AM is couched in a scientific sounding language, and sometimes it appeals to spirituality or religion (however, your priest probably won’t charge you for a blessing—which is a crucial distinction).   But probably the most common draw is an appeal to nature.  A large part of AM is naturopathic medicine, which is based on two main ideas: first, that the human body has been endowed by nature with the ability to heal itself of disease and injury (true to an extent, for sure); second, that the cause of much disease is the result of humans creating toxic environments that cause disease to develop (certainly some truth there).   When naturopathy is reduced to concepts such as eating whole foods instead of processed ones, getting exercise, reducing stress, getting sleep, maintaining strong personal relationships, and acting in a moral fashion, it has a lot to add, since conventional medicine often ignores these ideas and is too quick to jump to medication, surgery and treatment (that is what they do, after all).

But naturopathy and AM more generally can be pernicious.  Much of what is going on in AM is simply just complete crap.  Nonsense.  Fraud.   A multitude of examples abound.  One particular example goes by the name of “therapeutic touch,” which is a pseudo-scientific attempt to manipulate the patient’s “energy flow” by waving one’s hands near the surface of the skin, but not actually touching them (I kid you not!)  A word of advice: if any AM practitioner mentions “energy flow” to you, you should grab tight to your wallet and run away fast.  My favorite medical article of all time appeared in JAMA several years ago (April 1, 1998) and contained the result of an elementary school science experiment done by a young girl named Emily (I use this study in my statistics classes, since it is so fun and simple to grab on to).  Emily tested a group of experienced practitioners to see whether they could detect her  energy field by placing her hand over one of the practitioner’s hands and them asking the practitioner if he/she could tell which hand she was near (they all thought they would be able to).  You can guess the result.  They made the right choice about 50% of the time, a little less actually, and their rationalizations were hilarious.

All this would be quite amusing if people weren’t spending loads of money on this nonsense.  It has even being taken seriously by nursing schools, and many practitioners are certified RNs.  Emily’s study dealt a blow to the practice, but it continues to thrive.  At least having someone manipulate one’s energy flow doesn’t do any damage other than to one’s pocketbook.

Another very popular claim these days in the AM market are substances which are supposed to do “detoxification.”  Colonics, in which the large intestine is flushed out (I won’t describe how), have been in use a long time, though they have never shown any medical benefit in controlled studies.   The sale of these products relies on two key elements of the NIB ideology.  The first is that modern society produces vast amounts of un-natural toxins that need to be removed to restore health.  The second is that whatever “natural” substance one takes into one’s body will be healthy, which is a clearly unfounded and potentially dangerous assumption (hemlock, anyone?).

Many hawkers of “natural” products and services make claims of effectiveness,  but it is the rare case when legitimate research verifies these claims (Quackwatch.com is an excellent web-site for the public).   The reason that AM doesn’t have evidence is that this multi-billion dollar industry does not want to look for evidence.  One might think that companies making nutritional supplements, for instance, would divert part of their huge marketing budget to doing RCTs that could be peer-reviewed and published in legitimate scientific outlets—just like the drug companies do (partly because they are forced to).    But when you can make billions of dollars just making stuff up, why spend the money to prove your claims? Is any industry going to do research that will drive it out of business?

But the main downside of the AM movement is that it leads some people to eschew proven, effective medical treatment and others to miss out on correct diagnoses that a competent medical professional can make.  I have a good friend who lost his mother because she refused to receive cancer treatment that would very likely have resulted  in her being able to spend a lot more time with her grandchildren.  She chose a “natural” approach instead.  That is the real tragedy that AM practitioners don’t want people to know about.  Modern medicine doesn’t know everything by any means, but it knows some things, and it can increase life expectancy and well-being for many sick people.

How do I know this?  Because there is a lot of evidence for it.

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World Cup 2010!

My thoughts here: Yawn!  Just because a billion or so people love it doesn’t make it a good thing.  

UPDATE: Two games, two ties.  Game 1: 1-1.  Game 2: 0-0.  Must be very satisfying as a fan to see hours of soccer with two goals and no victories!

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A few years ago I was attending an academic conference in New Hampshire. At one of the dinners my pride overcame me: I told the attendees at my table that my wife had just recently given birth to our fourth child. He was an unexpected blessing—and I was beaming with happiness about it.

One of the attendees was apparently not so happy. “How many kids do you have?” he asked. “This is our fourth.” He rolled his eyes. “Haven’t you heard of something called ‘abortion’?” he laughed. “Excuse me?” I said, taken aback. He continued: “Don’t you think there are enough people on this planet already?” I was, as the Scots say, gobsmacked. “If you really think that,” I said, gesturing to the Atlantic ocean, which was visible from where we were sitting in the restaurant, “there’s the ocean; go throw yourself in it.”

He laughed awkwardly, but my stare indicated to him—and, I fear, to the other people at the table—that I was not kidding. And indeed I wasn’t. It was not just the egregiously bad taste in saying something like that to a brand new parent. Even worse was the posture of claiming that because lots of people have done something he doesn’t like, therefore I need to atone for it.

That is not part of my moral code. I am not “people,” or “mankind,” or “the species”; I am me and me alone. I take responsibility for my actions, and I take those responsibilities seriously; others should take responsibility for their actions. There is no collective “we” that acts, no leviathan of humanity that is collectively responsible for things that all humanity does.

That does not mean that the results of lots of people’s individual actions cannot lead to results that no one of them intended. That indeed is the central insight behind Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” metaphor: individuals pursuing mostly their own, localized self-interest are led, by the dynamics of markets, to pursue activities that turn out to benefit others as well. We all benefit, Smith argued, from the existence of markets, even those of us who disdain or misunderstand markets.

So Peter Singer argues recently that we should consider being the “last generation” of humans on earth. I remember—it does not seem so long ago—when Singer’s claim that the argument for abortion should be extended to license selective infanticide seemed outrageous. Then Singer made some ripples when he discussed with approval “mutually satisfying [sexual] activities” between humans and non-human animals—so long, of course (of course!), as there is no cruelty toward the animal.

Now Singer wonders whether we might not have some obligation to sterilize ourselves to ensure that there is no future generation of humans. And why? Singer is worried about the number of humans on the planet already and the ‘stresses’ this creates. These stresses may well bear on other animals, but he’s primarily interested in future humans.

“Most thoughtful people,” Singer writes, “are extremely concerned about climate change,” and since the effects of our carbon production today will bear primarily on future generations, perhaps one way to avoid harming our progeny is not to have any progeny. If harming a child is wrong, then perhaps bringing a child into a world in which it is likely he or she will be harmed is wrong too.  “Are the interests of a future child a reason for bringing that child into existence? And is the continuance of our species justifiable in the face of our knowledge that it will certainly bring suffering to innocent future human beings?”

Put aside for the moment that Singer leaves out of his discussion any mention of God or of any of the obligations that the world’s major religions believe their billions of faithful have to be fruitful and multiply. Also put aside the projections of many demographers that world population will peak and plateau during this century, as well as the fact that many countries—including most of Europe, for example—are not reproducing themselves at all and thus might not survive this century; so this is probably a non-issue already.

Consider instead Singer’s lack of intellectual humility. He uses words like “likely” and even “certainly,” but let’s be honest: He has no way whatsoever of knowing. This is crucially important because this lack of knowledge is not peculiar to him: It applies to almost everyone else regarding almost everyone else’s children. I don’t know what kind of life your child will have, and neither does Singer; even you can only make guesses—and if you have children, you know just how bad our guesses about how our children will turn out can be.

The scenarios Singer poses involving decisions of whether to sterilize ourselves to prevent the creation of future generations also assume collective decision-making and collective responsibility. But you and I do not decide how many children “we” should have, and you and I are not jointly responsible for the children “we” have. Instead, I make my decisions, you yours; I am responsible for mine, you yours. If each of us tries to take these responsibilities for his or her own decisions seriously, then, the worrisome aggregate effects that Singer highlights diminish dramatically.

So although it may be true that the continuance of our species will bring suffering to some  future human beings, it is also true that it will bring tremendous joy and happiness as well. Since no one of us can tip the global balance in either direction, the prudent thing to do is to examine our own situations and make decisions for ourselves. If there are cases in which some potential parents ought, all things considered, not to have children, then there are similarly some in which some potential parents ought, all things considered, to have children.

This latter camp is the one I believe my family and I are in, and thus another reason why Singer and I seem to occupy different moral universes.


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I don’t think I have ever been disappointed with a John Tierney article.  His latest science column in the NY Times was no exception.  Therein he discusses some of the latest research on studies of gender differences in intelligence.

This research hearkens back to the statement of Larry Summers, former President of Harvard and current Obama economic guru, who suggested that the preponderance of males in math and science might be due to “some very deep forces here that are going to be with us for a long time.”

The media willfully misunderstood Summers’ statements, and his statements created a public outcry based on this misunderstanding.  The issue for Summers was not that the capability of women and men is different in terms of the mean or central tendency of the distribution, but that the extreme tails might be different.  Indeed miniscule differences in the mean or variance of two distributions can generate very large differences in the tails of those distributions — which is where the elite mathematicians and scientists are drawn from.

Some researchers have continued to misunderstand Summers’ point and have used studies showing that the mean male-female differences in test scores are narrowing to argue that these differences are cultural or institutional, not biological.  But new research focuses on the extreme right tail of the distribution indicates the gender differences have not narrowed.  A research team at Duke University has argued, “Our data clearly show that there are sex differences in cognitive abilities in the extreme right tail, with some favoring males and some favoring females.”

Not that any of this will mollify the politically correct.  Tierney points out that the House of Representatives has passed legislation (what he calls “Larry’s Law”)  that if passed

would require the White House science adviser to oversee regular “‘workshops to enhance gender equity.” At the workshops, to be attended by researchers who receive federal money and by the heads of science and engineering departments at universities, participants would be given before-and-after “attitudinal surveys” and would take part in “interactive discussions or other activities that increase the awareness of the existence of gender bias.”

Completely ridiculous and frightening, though not that surprising.  This is what happens when the Left tries to legislate biology.

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Conservative and libertarian opposition to the appointment of Solicitor General and Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan has been lackluster at best, and for good reason: President Obama’s choice to fill the seat of retiring Justice John Paul Stevens could be much worse. Indeed, there is some reason to believe that conservatives ought to breathe a collective (pun intended) sigh of relief.

Much of the opposition to General Kagan has been channeled to her treatment of military recruiters while Dean of Harvard Law School. In this regard, Kagan is completely without distinction among her peers. All AALS accredited law schools maintain an anti-discrimination policy that prohibits discrimination on the basis of, among other things, sexual orientation. Schools with such policies have refused to permit employers maintaining employment practices inconsistent with them to recruit on their campuses. The Justice Department, under President Bush, determined this to be a violation of the Solomon Amendment and threatened to remove all government funding from those institutions unwilling to abide by the law. Kagan, like many other law professors around the country, joined in a court challenge to the government’s interpretation.

That challenge suffered a unanimous 9-0 defeat in the Supreme Court, and forced Kagan, like all other law school deans across the nation, to choose between permitting military recruitment on campus or expose her university to the risk of losing millions of dollars in government funding.

The court challenge to the Solomon Amendment said much more about the state of American legal and higher education than it did about Kagan. It is difficult to refute the fact that large public research universities, like the rest of higher education in the United States, are within the capture and control of the left. As a 2005 study (McGinnes, Schwartz, and Tisdell) of political campaign contributions made by law professors has demonstrated, law faculties are overwhelmingly composed of and run by people with political sympathies similar to the ones held by the President and his nominee. The Justice Department’s interpretation of the Solomon Amendment forced university administrators, deans, and faculties to choose between two of the left’s most frequently articulated values, namely, nondiscrimination (over which they hold no demonstrable monopoly) and public funding of everything. When this choice between these values was put to them, we saw which one they held more sacred.

What does distinguish Kagan, however, is her track record as Dean at Harvard Law School, particularly with respect to the recruitment of conservative faculty. Contrary to popular understanding, law school deans do not hire faculty; law school faculties do. Nevertheless, few law school deans could (or would) boast of surpassing her efforts to introduce a sprinkling of conservative or libertarian scholars to the monolith of the left that is elite legal education. Some conservatives have argued that Kagan should not get credit for her efforts, since Jack Goldsmith, Adrian Vermuele, and John Manning could be hired anywhere. It is true that they should be hired anywhere, but is it really true that they would be?

I do not mean to imply that simply listening to an argument or two from the right qualifies one for the Supreme Court. It does, I think, distinguish General Kagan from many in the legal academy. It also suggests a measure of basic decency and a genuine interest in intellectual exchange that is becoming increasingly scarce. Would Kagan be the choice of a conservative or libertarian president? Of course not. The President is not likely to mimic the preferences of a conservative or libertarian. He is, however, a politician, and (in the wistful revisionist recollections of some at the University of Chicago) a legal academic. It is understandable that the President would admire someone evincing the qualities of both, and in this way, Elena Kagan permits him to replicate himself. Were the President to choose another from the legal academy, we could do far, far worse.

Examples? Don’t ask; I won’t tell.


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Washington City Paper has a story this week about how gun control became the issue that sank voting rights for the District of Columbia’s congressional representative. Over at Hit & Run, Matt Welch has blogged it, but what I want to focus on is the normative question of whether D.C. has a right to be represented in Congress – or equivalently, that Congress has an obligation to give D.C. residents voting rights. Welch seems very sympathetic to the position that they do: “It is always instinctively repellant (sic) to see a piece of legislation–particularly one having to do with basic enfranchisement–get saddled and ultimately sunk with a completely unrelated provision” (emphasis added).

But is enfranchisement really a human right? After all, the constitutional framers clearly had reasons for disenfranchising D.C. Perhaps they did not anticipate that the city’s population would grow so large, but surely they did anticipate that the city’s population would be dominated by federal politicians, bureaucrats, and people who serve them. If they wanted to put into the Constitution a little check, however minor, on the growth of government, disenfranchising D.C. would fit the bill. After all, isn’t there some conflict of interest in allowing government(-subsidized) officials to vote themselves more jobs, higher salaries, and less oversight? I don’t advocate totally disenfranchising government employees and contractors – after all, they (we, actually – I work for a state university) have a legitimate interest in curbing potential abuse of their rights too. But I just don’t think there’s an inherent individual right to vote. Voting is a means to an end, so I favor whatever enfranchisement scheme in the long run best protects everyone’s liberty, even if such a scheme disenfranchised me.


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