Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The war on drugs (like most politically proclaimed wars) has been a disaster. Even if you do not consume illegal drugs (I prefer red wine or an occasional glass of Bookers), the cost of the war on drugs should be of great concern.  Incarceration rates have skyrocketed (as have the financial and human costs). With 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States houses about one-quarter of the world’s prisoners, and many of these are serving mandatory sentences for drug-related offenses in prisons that are already running over capacity. Moreover and there is evidence that the focus on interdiction has had an unintended consequence.  Marijuana is bulky and easy to detect; the risks of trafficking have both driven up the costs of marijuana and created incentives for dealers to shift to drugs like heroin, crack cocaine, crystal meth and prescription pain killers. The result: the costs of more dangerous drugs have fallen significantly. For for many young people, experimentation with drugs involves far more dangerous and addictive drugs than in the past.

One can take some pleasure at the news that Attorney General Holder is going to announce a significant change in federal policy. As the Washington Post reports,” low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with no ties to gangs or large-scale drug organizations will no longer be charged with offenses that impose severe mandatory sentences.”

Holder is calling for a change in Justice Department policies to reserve the most severe penalties for drug offenses for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers. He has directed his 94 U.S. attorneys across the country to develop specific, locally tailored guidelines for determining when federal charges should be filed and when they should not.

Such a move is certainly a step in the right direction (although I can imagine that it will attract the ire of many social conservatives and those in the GOP who automatically reject any policy proposals from the Obama administration). Unfortunately, the change in policy does not appear to extend to the issue an marijuana legalization in the states. As the Washington Post notes: “Holder does not plan to announce any changes in the Justice Department’s policy on marijuana, which is illegal under federal law. Two states, Colorado and Washington, legalized marijuana in November. Supporters of the measures argued that hundreds of millions of dollars have been wasted on a failed war against marijuana that has filled American prisons will low-level offenders.”

The Controlled Substances Act classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug.  This places  it in the same category as heroin–an absurdity from a public health perspective. One could only hope that Congress would promote the legislative changes that would allow the states to make their own policies with respect to marijuana while embracing Holder’s announced changes in mandatory sentencing.

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Journalists R us

Chris Matthews of MSNBC was defending his network against the idea that they are in bed with the Obama Administration:

Well, he agrees with us, and we agree with him sometimes.

One might riff on that quote in any number of directions.  I think the most interesting word there is “us.”  All people, including journalists, have political opinions that one might agree or disagree with.  And it is no secret (lots of surveys tell us this) that journalists are more to the left than the average American.

But what Matthews is saying suggests a strong group think, one that is coordinated, shared and enforced.  If Obama agrees with us, then we must have a unitary opinion on all things political.  I mean, it isn’t logically possible to agree with a group of people unless they all believe the same thing, is it?

Of course this is nothing but completely obvious.  It is just unusual for the most recognized voice in the MSNBC one-note choir to come out and say, “we are not even pretending to be a news organization.”


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@JasonSorens on Twitter

I’ve finally broken down and joined Twitter. If you want to read my occasional (judicious) microblogs, you can follow me here.

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A few days ago, I mentioned the Concord, NH police department’s request for a grant to purchase an armored truck due to the risk of “anti-government…domestic terrorism.” The grant specifically named “Free Staters,” as well as Occupy New Hampshire, as presenting “daily challenges.”

Now the Free State Project is demanding an apology from the Concord PD and reminding them that false statements on the grant application threaten its success. I myself received an e-mail from a former Free Stater working in Singapore who is now worried about deportation because of this story. Will the Concord police correct their mistake? Stay tuned.

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  • Concord, NH is about to acquire a Bearcat “tank” with federal grant money, similar to the one that spurred protests from all walks of society in Keene, NH recently. (One Keene councilman looks back and describes the purchase as a “waste of money.”) More disturbing is the fact that the Concord police cited “Free Staters” and “Occupy New Hampshire” as examples of potential domestic “terrorism” justifying the armored truck’s acquisition.
  • The New Hampshire Union-Leader criticizes Chris Christie’s recent attack on Rand Paul and libertarianism: “New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has no patience for people who are concerned that the government might be violating their civil liberties in pursuit of increased national security. That is going to make a run through the New Hampshire primary really annoying for him.” The Union-Leader‘s influence on the GOP primary is often overstated (they endorsed Gingrich last time), but they are most effective when in attack mode. Their attacks on Romney helped suppress his vote share well below what was initially expected in the 2012 primary.

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The Onion mocks so many of us so effectively in this piece titled “Unambitious Loser With Happy, Fulfilling Life Still Lives In Hometown.”  It must leave Rod Dreher, author of The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life, smiling!

Longtime acquaintances confirmed to reporters this week that local man Michael Husmer, an unambitious 29-year-old loser who leads an enjoyable and fulfilling life, still lives in his hometown and has no desire to leave.

Claiming that the aimless slouch has never resided more than two hours from his parents and still hangs out with friends from high school, sources close to Husmer reported that the man, who has meaningful, lasting personal relationships and a healthy work-life balance, is an unmotivated washout who’s perfectly comfortable being a nobody for the rest of his life.

Here is a link to Dreher’s book on this subject and a review of his book at TAC (where Dreher also blogs).

Despite being attracted to some of Dreher’s themes, I’m not sure his book has been subject to the critique it deserves.  But please pass along candidates for that honor. Nonetheless, it is an important book whose themes we should all consider.

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Thoughts on Two Photos

Two photos in the news elicited a few thoughts:

Photo 1

Dawn Blitz













Even though my brain knows that Japan is a US ally now and that World War II was a long time ago, it was still a bit jarring to see this picture of a Japanese military platform bearing the “rising sun” military flag amphibiously “attacking” the US coast as part of a military exercise.  Like South Koreans and Chinese – as the Wikipedia (!) entry on the flag notes – many people associate that flag with militarism and imperialism.  I do too.  In particular, I think of Nanking and Pearl Harbor.  I wonder why the US didn’t forbid the use of this flag after WWII, especially since it only inflames anti-Japanese sentiment around Asia.

Photo 2










Pretty darn cool for George H.W. Bush to shave his head in support of a child’s fight against cancer.  The child in the picture is the kid of one of the members of Bush’s security detail – pictured above.  But aside from thinking well of Bush the Elder’s action, I was struck by how large his security detail is.  If all of those men are securing a former President, imagine the cost to the US taxpayer!  Those men don’t come cheap in terms of salary and benefits.  Of course, it makes sense to offer protection to former Presidents, especially since this one was actually targeted after he left office.  But are this many security personnel required at this point in time – 20 years after he left office and years since the death of Saddam?

HT: Farley at LGM.

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According to a Chinese news source:

A wheel-chaired Chinese man set off a home-made explosive device outside the arrivals exit of the Terminal 3 at around 6:24 p.m.. The man was injured and is currently under treatment.

The explosion caused no other injuries.

Glad to hear no one else was hurt.  But did wonder if this man had seen Breaking Bad.

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Marriage and maturity

Articles about the sex lives of college students always create a fair amount of buzz.  The article about University of Pennsylvania students last week in the NY Times is part of a much larger set of stories and articles (I recommend Ross Douthat’s take on the story).

The average age of marriage of both men and women has risen considerably in the last 40 years.  For women, the age was steady from 1950 through the early 70s (it had been higher in the past) at about 21, but it has risen steadily since then, to around 27 today.  Divorce during that same period rose sharply, but then fell.  Dana Rotz finds that about 60% of the decline in divorce between 1980 and 2004 can be explained by the increase in women’s age at first marriage. The effect of age is also non-linear, meaning delaying marriage from age 18 to 22 leads to a much greater effect than delaying from 22 to 26 (there isn’t much gain for waiting beyond that point).

The decline in divorce since the early 80s should, however, be viewed in the larger context.  Divorce rates are still much higher than they were in the 1950s and 60s.  The probability of divorcing within the first 20 years of marriage is still close to 40%.  For those marrying in the early 1950s, it was less than 20%.

There are costs and benefits from delaying marriage.  According to the Times story, the women at Penn are actively weighing those costs and benefits, and are largely concluding that “hooking-up” is better than serious relationships.  There are economic factors of course—finishing college has a huge effect on lifetime earnings, for instance—but the benefits and costs are highly idiosyncratic.

This story is troubling at a number of levels that I won’t delve into today.  What really causes me to pause are some of the attitudes among the interviewees in the article.  Let me quote this one in particular, from a woman who has a regular “hook-up buddy” who, according to her own account, she doesn’t even like when she is sober.

I’ve always heard this phrase, ‘Oh, marriage is great, or relationships are great — you get to go on this journey of change together,’ ” she said. That sounds terrible.

I don’t want to go through those changes with you. I want you to have changed and become enough of your own person so that when you meet me, we can have a stable life and be very happy.

This view strikes me as both naïve and immature (indeed, she probably isn’t ready for a relationship).  Successful marriage always takes accommodation and sacrifice.  A marriage, in my view, isn’t as much about two people who have molded themselves into a particular kind of person and then find another “complete” person who is an ideal fit as it is about two people who are willing to work towards a common goal of figuring out how to make a good fit.

Marriage takes, in a word, maturity.  Because age is strongly correlated with maturity, the effect of early marriage on divorce existed back before the sexual revolution, maybe forever.  Immaturity is, to a large extent, selfishness, an unwillingness to accommodate the views, feelings and desires of other people.

What we have done to a disturbing extent in our modern world is that we have made immaturity permanent.  We see this in the attitudes reflected by the women in this article.  We see it in the millions of young men who are failing to grow up and take on the mature responsibilities of marriage and family.  We see it in the persistently high rate of marital dissolution in our society and the increasing percentage of people not marrying.

The dynamics of marriage over the past 60 years is a fascinating and perplexing area of research.  I’m convinced that as much as we may focus on demographic and economic factors to explain trends, the changes in underlying social norms and attitudes are still the most important factors.

No norm is more valuable—or threatened—than the old-fashioned one that marriage is about different people coming together willing to work and sacrifice and create something greater than the sum of its parts.

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Elites have really failed to educate Americans about the importance of the 1st Amendment when this happens, as reported in Reason:

In a survey released today by the Newseum Institute, 34 percent of Americans say the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees, up from 13 percent in last year’s survey. This is the largest single-year increase in the history of the State of the First Amendment national survey.

Depressing.  Of course, there is an even more depressing possibility: These Americans have been well-informed about the benefits and grounding of the 1st Amendment and have still come to this conclusion.

Are we at the point at which this is appropriate?



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Disappearing Work?

I think libertarians need to figure out a good response to the forecasted developments discussed here in this Wilson Quarterly piece.  But first, is a response unnecessary since these developments won’t really come about (perhaps due to Say’s Law*)?  Or will there indeed be a larger and larger number of difficult to employ people around due to technological changes – and also more fodder for a policy response to redistribute wealth to them?

* Is the reemergence of domestic help a sign that Say’s Law will come into play and save the day?  But will the policy responses advocated here actually make the supply of people willing to meet such demand harder to find?  File this under market distortion!

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Shame and courage

Here is a simple truth.  It isn’t surprising or even terribly interesting.  This is it: I’ve done shameful things in my life.  I’m not going to say any more because—obviously—I’m ashamed.  I try to be a good person, but I can look back over nearly a half century of living and still recall actions that bring up feelings of shame and remorse when I think about them.  Fortunately.

Shame and guilt, however, don’t have a very good reputation these days.  We live in an age where the cardinal public virtue has become tolerance.  We are supposed to accept who we are and accept others without judgment.  Certain attitudes, like racism, cannot to be tolerated, of course.  Other traits, like integrity or kindness, are declining in prevalence but are still holding on fairly well—for the moment.  But traditional virtues of fidelity, chastity, temperance, humility, modesty, self-denial and self-sacrifice often lack defenders in the public square.

Public shame these days is short-lived and often contrived.  In New York, we have now have two  formerly disgraced public officials, Anthony Weiner and Eliott Spitzer trying to make a resurgence as public servants.  South Carolina’s Mark Sanford, the governor who followed the Appalachian Trail all the way to the lair of his Argentinian mistress, is also trying for a comeback.  One wonders why these intelligent men who are capable of many things are so insistent on living in the public eye—that craving for attention may be even more disturbing than their sexual dalliances.  Any shame or embarrassment they may have felt is clearly covered up by a bottomless well of narcissism. This is what we want for leaders?

Americans tend be a forgiving and tolerant lot.  Bob Dole asked in 1996, “Where is the outrage?” during the campaign against Bill Clinton.  At the time he asked this question, the bimbo druptions and long string of ethical lapses by the Clintons were well known.  Perhaps the saddest thing about the Lewinsky scandal that came later was not that we had a President with so little self-mastery and so willing to abuse his position of public trust for cheap gratification.  The really sad part was that we knew about it and chose him anyway.  Shame on us.

I understand that people have different views on the morality of sexual indiscretions or their relevance to political life. But there are usually other issues wrapped around the sexual indiscretions.  Clinton’s infidelities may not be of public concern, but the imbalance of power in that relationship between the President of the US and a lowly intern should concern us.  Spitzer’s use of prostitutes while Attorney General and Governor involved not only sex, but gross hypocrisy, not to mention law-breaking. The people of Massachusetts may think little of the drinking and carousing of Teddy Kennedy, but does this mean they should overlook—ever?—his leaving a young girl to die in the cold water off Chappaquiddick?  [See also Grover's excellent points about sexual virtue in public life.]

In our society we do not have legal sanctions for all actions that are immoral.  Dishonesty, for instance, is a crime in certain contexts (such as when testifying in court), but generally liars go unpunished.  There are no sanctions for adulterers or those who say mean things to children.  Poor sportsmanship is not a crime.  Without legal recourse, we depend critically on social disapproval to sanction immoral actions.  Indeed, our social order is threatened when people feel no shame for shameful things.  The Founders understood well that we needed both to have our liberty protected and a civil society that valued public virtue.  In other words, we depend on shame to create a society worth living in.  Unfortunately, our popular culture often celebrates public behavior that was once thought shameful.  Those who may condemn public indecency are castigated for pointing out what is shameful, while those who act shamefully are lauded as heroes.

In a civil society, condemning shameful acts needs to be balanced against the social benefits of forgiveness and charity.  Wearing a scarlet letter does not allow people to change and move on, and it reinforces hypocrisy and hidden acts (which everyone has).  Privately, a forgiving heart is essential to happiness, I maintain.  Yet we have little hope as a society if we reach a point where most people feel no shame for that which is truly shameful.

Recently the New York Times’ “Room for Debate” feature asked the question, “Would support for abortion rights grow if more women talked publicly about their abortions?”  It is still largely the case that women who have had abortions do not talk about them widely, even among friends and family.  In some cases, they feel ashamed; in others, they fear being made to feel ashamed.

That we live more or less peacefully with an astronomical 1.2 million abortions a year is possible only because abortionists have managed to do what those who commit atrocities (slavery, genocide, caste systems of various types) have always done: they dehumanize the victims. As imaging technology becomes better and better, this fraudulent dehumanization project is harder and harder to maintain. The percentage of Americans who claim to be “pro-choice” has slipped from 56% in 1995 to 45% in 2013.  Abortionists fight tooth and nail against regulations that require women seeking abortion to confront the humanity of the fetus rather than buying into the deceitful language of “uterine contents” or similar euphemisms used in the industry today.  They don’t want the public debate to center around what abortion is at its core.  This is because the truth of abortion can yield nothing but shame.

Those who want to reduce the shame associated with abortion face a Catch-22: the more people realize how commonplace abortion is, the more they will realize how that commonality is evidence that most American abortions are performed not to protect the health or life of the mother, not because the fetus is deformed or disabled, not because of abject poverty of the parents, not because the mother is a young teenager.  The central fact of abortion in America today is that it is performed mostly for the sake of convenience.  Unplanned pregnancies can cause significant inconvenience, to be sure, but, in most cases, the circumstances are not desperate.  Because there are morally legitimate reasons to have an abortion, one can make the case (not a strong case, mind you), that such a decision should not involve the government.  But even though there is sharp disagreement about abortion policy, it will be a truly sad day if the shame associated with illegitimate abortion is removed from our social norms.

This past week the Times published a shameful essay entitled, “My Mother’s Abortion,” in which a woman talks about how her family was there to proudly support Wendy Davis in Texas as she waged a filibuster against stronger abortion restrictions.  She argues:

What the movement for reproductive rights needs is for the faces of freedom to emerge from the captivity of shame. To my mother’s generation, I ask: Speak openly about the choices you have made. To all women: ask your mothers, grandmothers, godmothers, aunts, sisters, daughters and partners about their reproductive histories. Show that abortion has myriad faces: those of women we love, respect and cherish. You have the power to cement in the minds of your communities and families the importance of reproductive freedom. You have made decisions that are private, even anguishing, but the weight of this political moment demands that you shed light on those decisions.

The author, Beth Matusoff Merfish, urges that women like her mother tell their stories so that we will all understand the importance of “reproductive freedom” (as if abortion has anything to do with freedom).  Her mother’s abortion took place when she and the father were in their early twenties, students at a prestigious state university, and engaged to be married.  Does this sound like hardship?  Is Ms. Merfish’s mother really the “courageous” woman her daughter makes her out to be?

No. This is simply shameful. To say so doesn’t make me any better or worse than the people involved  because my moral failings have nothing to do with the shamefulness of what happened here.  Should we forgive?  Of course.  But no one’s forgiveness will bring back the life that was taken.  That is truly a shame.

The courageous are those who hold themselves accountable for their actions, who take responsibility.  They are those who defend and preserve life, not take it.  Everyone on this planet has a mother.  All of those mothers made personal sacrifices in having children.  Some of them made extreme sacrifices.  They are the ones who are truly courageous.

In the Times debate mentioned above, Daniel Allott concludes his essay fittingly: “The closer we get to abortion, and the more we understand about fetal development and the effects of the procedure on women, the more repellent it becomes.”

Let’s hope he is right.  And let’s hope we don’t lose our capacity for feeling shame or take advice from those who want to turn our moral compass upside down and call that which is shameful courageous.

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There should probably be an award for blog posts that are so utterly lacking in generosity in interpreting the motives of others as to be absurd.  Here is my nomination for today, a post on abortion restrictions by the amazing Eric Loomis at LGM:

The reality is that all of us, no matter what progressive movements we believe in, need to understand that Republicans have declared war on the nation we believe should be created and are determined to roll back all of it to a Gilded Age, patriarchal, and racist structure that grants rich white men full rights to control the nation and makes poor white men at least feel superior to women and people of color.

No doubt this is true.  I mean Republicans certainly couldn’t be up to something less nefarious, could they?  Do you think Loomis could pass an ideological Turing test?

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One of the things I remember hearing back during Bill Clinton’s presidency was that his extracurricular activity should be given less attention or even forgiven because “It’s only sex.”  Unfortunately, we forget that sex can be used as a weapon by others (states, non-state actors, individuals) bent on compromising those in power.  Foreign Policy recently discussed how “sexpionage” is used in the affairs of state (pun intended) and how even top leaders have been ensnared.  Here is one juicy case from the UK during the Cold War:

One of the most significant episodes in the annals of sexpionage occurred during the depths of the Cold War in 1963, when Britain learned the hard way that mixing sex and spying could cause even the best-laid plans to go off the rails. Britain’s MI5 security service successfully dangled showgirl Christine Keeler in front of the Russian naval attaché Yevgeni Ivanov. But Keeler’s knack for making men swoon had a downside. John Profumo, the British secretary of war, was at a party that summer when he saw Keeler swimming naked in a pool. He fell for her too.

As Melton put it, “You have a situation where the equivalent of the secretary of defense is having an affair with the same woman who is having an affair with the Russian naval attaché. This was not to end well.” Indeed, after Profumo emphatically denied the affair on the floor of Parliament, Keeler decided to sell his love letters to theExpress newspaper. Profumo resigned, and Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government crumbled.

Not surprising, the US has allegedly had cases of its own to worry about:

In the United States, these kinds of scandals may have gone all the way to the top of the government. Suspected East German spy Ellen Rometsch, for instance, was a call girl at the Quorum Club, a favorite spot for politicians (who used the side entrance) in Washington, D.C., who allegedly became involved with none other than President John F. Kennedy. While the president had plenty of affairs, this one was of particular concern to his brother, Robert Kennedy, who had the unenviable task of sending her back to Europe, making sure she didn’t talk, and getting FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to drop his investigation into the matter.

Given the danger that such escapades could lead to national security secrets being compromised, a bit of sexual virtue* on the part of politicians might be of some value and thus shouldn’t be discounted when we think about selecting leaders in a democracy.

* A nice description of this can be found here in reference to Aristotle: “Lust is not a virtue because it is a tendency to feel too much sexual desire and to respond to it too indiscriminately.  Lust lies at the extreme of excess.  At the other extreme is the state of character we sometimes call frigidity which consists in a tendency to feel too little sexual desire or to react too little to it.  Sexual virtue, will lie at the mean between these extremes on Aristotle’s view.  Sexual virtue will consist in feeling and responding to sexual desire under the right circumstances and to the appropriate degree.” [emphasis added]

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According to the BBC (HT: MR), McDonald’s is pulling out of Iceland:

The fast food giant said its three outlets in the country would shut – and that it had no plans to return.

Besides the economy, McDonald’s blamed the “unique operational complexity” of doing business in an isolated nation with a population of just 300,000.

Iceland’s first McDonald’s restaurant opened in 1993.

Tom Friedman, who famously developed the bogus Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention*, will now have to worry about the new increased possibility of war between Iceland and dyadic partners that still have their McDonald’s.  I mean, how will the special sauce of globalization and economic development now work its magic in the North Atlantic without Mickey D’s?  Of course, as Dan Drezner has pointed out, Mickey D’s didn’t stop war between Georgia and Russia in 2008 nor did it prevent Indian and Pakistan in 1999 from fighting the Kargil War.  And I’m skeptical about these types of economic theories in the first place, McDonald’s Theory and its more sophisticated kin in IR Theory.  But these cases and other critiques haven’t stopped Friedman from proposing a similar alternative” “Dell Theory.”  I’m reading Patrick McDonald’s The Invisible Hand of Peace to see if Capitalist Peace Theory might do the trick where others in this family of theories have failed.

*As Walter Russell Mead has succinctly explained, “The ‘McDonald’s theory’ holds that no two countries with McDonald’s in them will ever go to war.  Once you have a middle class big enough to support hamburger franchises, the theory runs, war is a thing of the past.”

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I wrote recently about some nuggets of hope for the Republicans.  But unfortunately it didn’t take long for them to disappoint – which they do so often it is hard to sustain more than one cheer for today’s GOP (which is one more than I could muster for today’s “progressive” Democrats).  Of course, the latest fail is the Republican House backing another Farm Bill that is – and has been - a poster child for crony capitalism.  Michael Tanner of Cato had the best line on this fine piece of legislation:

“Republicans demonstrated that they are just fine with bloated welfare programs as long as those welfare payments go to well-heeled special interests.”

However, the Post article that quotes Tanner argues that there is another theory that attempts to explain political support for farm subsidies without relying on the power of agribusiness money: “Farmers and farm owners have disproportionate political sway in key districts.”  Unless I’m too tired to tell the difference, aren’t these consistent explanations rather than competing?  Both rely on the “concentrated benefits, diffuse costs” model familiar to all political scientists and economists.  So Republicans are happy to satisfy rent-seekers (agribusiness and farmers) who are part of their winning coalition, especially those in key districts - and are happy to exploit what seem to be “welfare measures” as a cover to satisfy them.  Of course, it would be useful to tease out how much they support the welfare part (splitting the bill won’t necessarily solve the problem because food stamps provide indirect subsidies to farmers too) but I’m guessing Tanner is smart enough to realize that the key district theory is an important part of the story – so I’m not sure there is the explanatory tension here that the Post suggests.



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According to the newest issue of the Economist:

A new collective-bargaining organisation, the Association of Unmanned Operation (AUO), aims to represent civilian drone operators. (Military ones are barred from joining unions.) Sam Trevino, the AUO’s president, frets about long hours and falling pay. Newly-qualified drone pilots used to make well over $100,000 a year, but as America’s wars wind down and the sequester bites, wages have slipped and discontent among operators has grown. Mr Trevino says the AUO is poised to win recognition at one large drone contractor, and hopes to organise workers at others soon.

In an age of cost-cutting, unionization may lead to outsourcing. Nightmare scenario for Pakistan: the DOD outsources to India.

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According to a report from the Center for Investigative Reporting, between 2006 and 2010, some 148 pregnant women were given tubal ligations (there may have been another 100 before this period). The claim: the sterilizations were conducted without the required state approvals and often as a product of coercion.

Some rationalized the sterilizations by citing the potential risks of future pregnancies for women who have had multiple Caesarean sections. But there was another justification. As one of the key actors explained, the overall costs ($147,460) were minimal given the benefits:

“Over a 10-year period, that isn’t a huge amount of money compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children – as they procreated more.”

One of the former inmates who had worked in the infirmary stated things a bit more clearly:

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s not right’… Do they think they’re animals, and they don’t want them to breed anymore?”


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It is often said by critics of libertarians that even one of our intellectual heroes had the sense to recant his youthful libertarianism.  Yet this is a vast exaggeration, as we are reminded in Julian Sanchez’s interview of Nozick in 2001 (and I love Nozick’s particular, shall we say, “manly” claim about how he would defend his professorial rights.  Would his colleague Harvey Mansfield have done the same?).  The entire piece is worth reading, especially for philosophers..  Here are a couple of short bits:

JS: In The Examined Life, you reported that you had come to see the libertarian position that you’d advanced in Anarchy, State and Utopia as “seriously inadequate.” But there are several places in Invariances where you seem to suggest that you consider the view advanced there, broadly speaking, at least, a libertarian one. Would you now, again, self-apply the L-word?

RN: Yes. But I never stopped self-applying. What I was really saying in The Examined Life was that I was no longer as hardcore a libertarian as I had been before. But the rumors of my deviation (or apostasy!) from libertarianism were much exaggerated. I think this book makes clear the extent to which I still am within the general framework of libertarianism, especially the ethics chapter and its section on the “Core Principle of Ethics.” One thing that I think reinforced the view that I had rejected libertarianism was a story about an apartment of [Love Story author] Erich Segal’s that I had been renting. Do you know about that?

I did hear about that. The story that had gone around was that you had taken action against a landlord to secure a certain fixed rent?

That’s right. In the rent he was charging me, Erich Segal was violating a Cambridge rent control statute. I knew at the time that when I let my intense irritation with representatives of Erich Segal lead me to invoke against him rent control laws that I opposed and disapproved of, that I would later come to regret it, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

[SNIP by GC]

JS: The students were not overly hostile either?

RN: Ah, that’s different. The Harvard graduate students of the late 60s and early 70s were the center of SDS activity on campus. I had been here for two years as an assistant professor, and left and went to Rockefeller University for two years, and came back in 1969 when I was 30 years old as a full professor. In the previous semester, students had taken over the university’s main administration building; their occupation was ended by police action. Feelings ran high. I announced a course, and it was printed in the catalog, titled “Capitalism,” in the philosophy department. The course description was “a moral examination of capitalism.”

JS: I see. I imagine the students expected something very different from what they got.

RN: That’s right. Somehow a rumor had spread, or maybe they saw what books were there in the textbook section of the bookstore, where in addition to something by Marx and some socialist book were Hayek and Mises and Friedman. So one graduate student came up to me at the beginning of the term and said, “We don’t know if you’re going to be able to give this course.” This was a graduate student in philosophy. And I said, “What do you mean?” He said: “Well, you’re going to be saying things…” and he mumbled something, “there may be interruptions or demonstrations in class.” And I said — I was then, you have to remember, 30 years old — I said, “If you disrupt my course, I’m going to kick the shit out of you.” [emphasis added] He said, “You’re taking this very personally!”


I said, “It’s my course. If you want to pass out leaflets outside the classroom door, and tell people that they shouldn’t come in and take the course, that’s fine. I won’t allow you to do things inside the classroom.” He said, “Yes, well, we may pass out leaflets.”
Time went by and nothing happened during the first week, the second week. So I saw him in the hallway and asked, “Where are the leaflets?” He said, “Well, you know, we’re very busy, we have a lot of things to do these days.” I said, “I called my mother living in Florida and told her that I was going to be leafleted, now come on!” But nothing ever happened.

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Donald Shoup of UCLA:

“Minimum parking requirements act like a fertility drug for cars.”

HT: MR citing NYT.

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This – and other attempts to stymie freedom-reducing legislation (like the Senate gun control measure) - is why I have some small hope for the Republican Party.  Weigel at Slate:

Republicans don’t want to tweak the law as much as they want to bind it in chains and set it on fire, like some jargon-filled Necronomicon. Their strategy in 2009 and 2010 was to stop it from passing. Their strategy in 2011 and 2012 was to win an election and repeal the law.

Their strategy today is both to win an election and repeal the law, and to have it collapse in failure. Today’s GOP is approaching TED levels of innovation in undermining the law. [links in original]

Of course, the Republicans will no doubt frustrate libertarians on so many other issues.  But at least they appear to be on the right side of this one.


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Luigi Zingales, in his book A Capitalism for the People, brings back a traditional American concern about “bigness” in government and markets.  Libgressives seem to worry only about that latter, libertarians/conservatives only the former.  Zingales isn’t so much worried about the economic problems associated with monopoly* as the danger of large corporations throwing their weight around in the political arena.  This is indeed a worry and Zingales’ work is an important contribution.  But we might also want to think about how “bigness” can impact the cultural realm as well, and not always for the good.

Big and extensive businesses like Taco Bell and Amazon can make certain products and experiences more available to people outside of urban centers.  I, for one, was happy to have Taco Bell give me my first taste of “Mexican” food in the ethnic food desert I grew up in and went to college in.  Sure, it wasn’t the best food but it was consistent and cheap - and induced me to seek out better and higher quality variants in the future.   Likewise, Amazon allows us of us to have almost all books – popular and esoteric – delivered to our doorstep in a few days no matter where we live in the US.

But now Amazon’s dominant market position may make things pricier – at least in the short-term - for book lovers to get their fix.  Here is a New York Times article on this, which notes:

It is difficult to comprehensively track the movement of prices on Amazon, so the evidence is anecdotal and fragmentary. But books are one of the few consumer items that still have a price printed on them. Any Amazon customer who uses the retailer’s “Saved for Later” basket has noticed its prices have all the permanence of plane fares. No explanation is ever given for why a price has changed.

I’m less worried about this problem (in the long-run) given that barriers to entry in book selling are very low, especially with the internet here to stay.  But Ted Striphas of Indiana University makes a good point in that article:

“Amazon is doing something vitally important for book culture by making books readily available in places they might not otherwise exist,” said Ted Striphas, an associate professor at Indiana University Bloomington. “But culture is best when it is robust and decentralized, not when there is a single authority that controls the bulk of every transaction.” (emphasis added)

So even if the New York Times isn’t picking up on a trend and prices remain low at Amazon, there is also a potential cost to all of us in having such a large and powerful force as a gatekeeper of sorts in the cultural diffusion process.  It isn’t that Amazon will prevent us from getting any book we want.  It is that its pricing policies and marketing strategy can hugely impact what types of thing Americans are incentivized, so to speak, to read.  So that concerns me.**  Furthermore, in an age in which corporations are induced or threatened by government pressure to do their bidding, it makes me even more concerned.  No, I’m not saying Amazon is trying to sell ObamaCare or anything else by pushing low prices on liberal defenses of such things – but we have seen the government try to get the NFL to sell its policies and TV networks did pitch the drug war to unsuspecting consumers.  Moreover, libraries around the country will now be used by the Feds to pitch ObamaCare to the masses.  So it isn’t out of the realm of possibility.  And a private company should have every right to do so if it wants to support a political cause in this way (assuming no government pressure).

But I think Striphas is right to suggest that society is healthier when we have a great deal of decentralization in cultural production and transmission.  Fortunately, many factors – not least markets in general (including the internet and cable tv parts of it) - do more than enough to alleviate much concern about cultural monopoly.  But that doesn’t mean we have to be entirely sanguine about bigness in this particular book selling part of the market.  Long live Amazon but may its competitors stay alive too!

* See Stigler for why this isn’t that much of a problem.

** Even though I reject the notion popular with my students and many Americans that marketeers rule the world and can induce demand for anything and manipulate our preferences.

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From a site linked to by Drudge:

















Sadly, a lot of people don’t.

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I recently received Michael Huemer’s The Problem of Political Authority in the mail.  I’m looking forward to having the time to read this challenging book.*  Did peruse it for a few minutes and noticed this interesting quotation in one of the footnotes:

Nor do I pretend to understand the stark nihilism that drove the terrorists that day and that drives their brethren still.  My powers of empathy, my ability to reach into another’s heart, cannot penetrate the blank stares of those who would murder innocents with abstract, serene satisfaction. 

This is from Barack Obama back in 2004.  Now what is remarkable about this quotation is that it flies in the face of one of the few things that terrorism experts actually agree on.  Indeed, no matter how much they disagree about what does motivate terrorists  - foreign occupation, religion, they hate our freedom, etc – they stand relatively united against the claim that terrorists are nihilists.  Here is just one example – from terrorism expert Scott Atran in his 2006 article “The Moral Logic and Growth of Suicide Terrorism”:

It is nonsense to claim that Al Qaeda and its sympathizers have no morality and simply want to annihilate Western civilization. In general, charges of nihilism against an adversary usually reflect ignorance of the adversary’s moral framework or an attempt publicly to cast it as simply evil to mobilize domestic support for war.     

*Huemer has Bryan Caplan to thank for my purchase – and I’m probably not the only one who ordered based on Caplan’s recommendation.

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Andrew Cohen’s piece at the Atlantic on the VRA decision has the following headline:

On Voting Rights, a Decision as Lamentable as Plessy or Dred Scott

And no, it isn’t just the headline writer saying this since Cohen himself writes:

It will be viewed by future scholars on a par with the Court’s odious Dred Scott and Plessy decisions and other utterly lamentable expressions of judicial indifference to the ugly realities of racial life in America.

Really?  As lamentable?  On par?  I am not an expert on the legal issues involved and thus don’t have a strong or well-informed opinion of the case.  Given my knowledge of American history (and the fact that I’m a Yankee), I have a knee-jerk sympathy to the idea that southern states should be watched closely when it comes to civil rights issues.  But would even most critics of the Court’s decision really say it was “as lamentable” as – or “on par” with - cases that respectively: 1) “declared that slaves were not citizens of the United States and could not sue in Federal courts,” “declared that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional and that Congress did not have the authority to prohibit slavery in the territories,” and required two amendments to the Constitution to fix (Library of Congress); and 2) upheld the racist Jim Crow legal regime that allowed for segregation and created the awful “separate but equal” standard???

If Cohen is right, why are we talking about anything else since these are two of the most pernicious court cases in the history of the Republic?  Or is Cohen engaging in hyperbole that undermines the reality that Dred and Plessy were wayyy worse than anything contemporary courts would say or could get away with today?

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Our regular readers may remember Jason’s run-in with the law due to his non-standard front yard.  Fortunately, that situation ended reasonable well.

Unfortunately, his city isn’t the only one trying to enforce a one-size-fits-all approach to front yards.  Orlando, Florida also has issues with property owners exercising their property rights in ways it does not like but which do not violate the law of equal freedom or raise health/safety concerns.  In particular, Jennifer and Jason Helvenston are being threatened with serious fines if they don’t comply with the city’s code for this egregious threat to the vision of city leaders (see below and see it in this Institute for Justice article on the subject that tipped me off to the case):


Thankfully, IJ is on the case – and that excellent institution and the Helvenstons are taking the fight to the public with the Patriot Garden movement.  You can learn about it here at their website: www.patriot-gardens.com.  According to that site, you can help their cause (and the broader fight for property rights protection) by planting your own food garden in lieu of a lawn: “Stand up for your rights!  Help us tell our leaders ‘hands off our food.’  Be involved in a peaceful protest by planting your seeds and placing your Patriot Garden sign in a visible, sunny area of your front yard.”  In short, “Plant a Seed.  Change the Law.”

Good luck!  You have my support.  I’d join you but I rent and need to respect my contract with the landlord as much as the city needs to respect your property rights!   But I hope others, especially citizens of Orlando, will be able to help you fight the powers that be in city hall.

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A reply to James

This started out as a comment on James’ post but ended up long enough to stand on its own….

James, I appreciate your sentiments here.  However, I think your conception of marriage is too atomistic (or perhaps I should say “dyastic”).  I think marriage is best understood as a multilateral compact with the married couple at its core.  The marriage compact also includes the connection between families, principally through extended families, but also through neighborhoods and a variety of social associations, such as schools and churches.  Married couples expect things from the community (such as assistance in safeguarding children), and the community expects things from the couple (such as responsible parenting).

A radical redefinition of marriage will alter what marriage means in society and how it functions.  Thus gay marriage may, indeed, threaten marriage (though it may strengthen it, too).  Some argue that internalizing gay couples into the social fabric through marriage makes that fabric stronger.  Perhaps.  But stripping gender from our concept of marriage is a fundamental change in what marriage is. Indeed, I think it is creating something that (though it may be valuable or rewarding in some ways) is definitely not marriage.  It is not just intimacy or commitment that makes a marriage a marriage, though those are essential traits; marriage is a man and a woman, very different creatures, coming together in a permanent union where a new family can be created and flourish.  The man and woman bring to this union their very different backgrounds and cultures, which are profoundly shaped by gender, and they produce and raise children in an environment that is profoundly influenced by gender.

In short, two men may love a child, but neither of them will ever be a mother.  There have always been motherless and fatherless children, but that is something to be mourned, not celebrated.

Libertarians often argue that the state should get out of the marriage business.  I’m not going to try to articulate a political theory of marriage, but I think that the state has an important role to play in recognizing and sanctioning marriages.  I think that in the “state of nature” marriages are a social fact that pre-exist the state and that the state must respect, encourage, and protect marriages from forces that threaten them.   In a pluralistic society, state-sanctioned marriage creates bonds between different cultural and religious traditions by identifying a common thread that runs through these different traditions.  Marriage is so embedded in our common and statutory law that extracting the state from marriage is likely to have all sorts of unintended consequences.  The state also provides a common commitment mechanism in a pluralistic society that is weaker than the “sacred compact” you refer to, yet which still functions to tie a couple to each other and to the community.

Marriage is the primary institutional force through which society conditions men to behave themselves (through fidelity to wives and children). Marriage is already threatened by a variety of social forces not having anything to do with homosexuality, nor is gay marriage the greatest threat to the marriage institution.  I think an atomostic, secular view of a marriage as a bilateral contract between consenting sexual partners strips marriage of much of its value.

Taking God out of the social compact also weakens marriage bonds.  In my view, couples who do not draw on the power and love of God in making their marriage work leave a valuable source of marital strength untapped.  Religious communities are also an extremely valuable source of strength in creating successful marriages.  Certainly, couples should be under no religious obligations with respect to their marriage, but the decline of marriage as a sacred covenant couples make with their God is something to be mourned as well.

The past half century of social change has unleashed a set of pernicious forces that have undermined marriage and, thereby, social norms (though some of that change, such as greater social equality of the sexes, has been positive).  In some countries, marriage is disappearing and marital childbearing is no longer the norm. When we fundamentally change what marriage means and its importance in society, we undoubtedly shake the foundations of the world that my children and grandchildren must live in.

So, James, that is what I fear.

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My marriage is a sacred compact between my wife and me before God. No law, proposition, or court decision can ever change that. The government’s recognition of my marriage did not make it the sacred compact that it is; the government’s recognition of anyone else’s relationship does not affect what mine is; and no legal definition or redefinition of any term touches it in the least.

To paraphrase Psalm 27: Whom, then, shall I fear?

The recent Supreme Court decision did not redefine Christian marriage, because no court could ever do so even if it wanted to. For a Christian, a marriage was and remains a sacrament before God between a man and a woman, and its authorities derive from sources other than, indeed beyond, those of the state. The fact that others have different conceptions of marriage, or that some want to call a relationship a “marriage” that a Christian does not recognize as counting as a “marriage,” is, frankly, irrelevant. I am thankful to live in a country where we do not have to agree on everything in order to live with one another peacefully and respectfully.

It is beyond passing strange, however, that some of the same Christians so vehemently resisting the Affordable Care Act’s decrees that violate their religious freedom—and they are right to do so, in my view—are among those so anxious to have the government validate their religiously based conception of marriage. As Albert Jay Nock reminded us, whatever power you give the government to do something for you, you give it also to do something to you. You lose your right to complain when the government you have empowered and supported when it aligned with your worldview then decides to stray from your worldview and begins employing the power you gave it in the service of other ends. As the saying goes, government is, like fire, a dangerous servant and a fearful master: You should have known what deal you were making. 

The solution, it seems to me, is to return to the beginning: We must recognize freedom of religion, and the freedom of conscience it implies, as our first freedom, and abolish all government connection to it. No special favors, no legal protections, and no legal restrictions. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” as a wise man said a long time ago.

Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of this affair, however, is the incredible speed with which public opinion changed on the subject of same-sex marriage. Remember, the Defense of Marriage Act passed overwhelmingly (342–67 in the House; 85–14 in the Senate), enjoyed broad bipartisan support (even among many who subsequently called for its repeal and who now applaud the Supreme Court’s decision), and it was signed into law by President Bill Clinton (who also later decided to oppose it). And all that happened only in 1996. Contemplate for a moment that in the compass of just seventeen years, our culture went from broad and deep opposition to same-sex marriage to not only support for legalizing same-sex marriage but finding it obvious, even self-evident, that it should be legal and assuming that any opposition to it could come only from gross stupidity or blind bigotry—or both. I cannot think of another complete cultural about-face of this speed and magnitude.

In light of these recent events, I say to those who are disheartened by the Supreme Court’s striking down of DOMA: take heart! You now have the opportunity to witness to the world what your conception of marriage is not by relying on statutory props but by living your conception. Have the marriage you espouse; be the parents you extol; live the life you preach. Do not underestimate the power of personal example.

Moreover, if our culture can change this quickly about one matter, it can change this quickly about other matters as well. Perhaps this decision, along with other recent government mischief, can awaken from its dogmatic slumbers the American spirit of liberty—a spirit, that is, that once chafed not only at one or another particular invasion of conscience and privacy, but at invasions of conscience and privacy generally. Lord knows there remain many threats to our liberties to which a revivified love of personal choice and freedom could fruitfully turn its jealous scrutiny.

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We’re all haters now

A child faced with limits on her behavior will often lash out at the adult who is imposing those limits as being mean or hateful.  We ignore or forgive such words because we do not really expect children to understand the true motivations behind adult actions.

We would expect a Justice of the Supreme Court to have a more mature response, but this week Justice Kennedy showed such an expectation to be false.  That the Court struck down DOMA was not surpising, nor was the due process rationale unexpected.  I don’t agree with those arguments, but I can see how reasonable people would make them.

The disturbing part of Kennedy’s claim was his amazing rhetorical leap where he claimed (slurring, in the process, a large majority of Congress, former President Clinton, and the millions of Americans who supported the Act) that the only motivation for the act was “animus.”  Hatred.  Hostility.  That is all he can see.  Now, humility is not ubiquitous among jurists, but sweeping judgments on the true motivations of lawmakers (without any evidence on the matter, mind you) is not common.

In dissent, Justice Scalia summarized the Kennedy argument better than I could:

To hurl such accusations so casually demeans this institution. In the majority’s judgment, any resistance to its holding is beyond the pale of reasoned disagreement. To question its high-handed invalidation of a presumptively valid statute is to act (the majority is sure) with the purpose to “disparage,” ”injure,” “degrade,” ”demean,” and “humiliate” our fellow human beings, our fellow citizens, who are homosexual. All that, simply for supporting an Act that did no more than codify an aspect of marriage that had been unquestioned in our society for most of its existence—indeed, had been unquestioned in virtually all societies for virtually all of human history. It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race. [emphasis in original]

So, whatever your cause may be–gun rights, climate change, universal health care, abortion, tax reform, whatever—you now have license to judge the motives of those who oppose you, a justification not to give them the benefit of the doubt or not to assume they have reasons why they oppose your view, however illogical or errant those reasons may be.

Justice Kennedy has now provided you with the moral legitimacy you need.  Just say it.  “I’m right, so you’re a hater.”

Case closed.

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From Pietra Rivoli:

“The USITC [U.S. International Trade Commission] estimated that the removal of all textile and apparel quotas and tariffs would have resulted in an economywide gain of $10.4 billion in 1996, but at a cost of 117,150 jobs.  Using these estimates, textile and apparel protection in the United States cost approximately 88,000 per year in the mid-1990′s for each job preserved.  Hufbauer and Elliott estimated the consumer cost of protecting an apparel job in 1990 to be $138,666, while a later USITC study estimates the cost of textile and apparel quota at between $7 and $12 billion.  Using the USITC’s most conservative estimate, 2002 textile and apparel quotas cost $174,825 per job saved.” (175)

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Stephen Grover Cleveland, 22nd and 24th U.S. President

After no fewer than six attempts, United States president Grover Cleveland has finally been inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame. (Yes, there is such a thing, apparently.) It is a long-overdue honor, but it is well deserved. Of course, President Cleveland has to share the honor with co-inductees like Whitney Houston and Joe Piscopo, but one has to take what one can get. 

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During my visit to the Centre Maurits Coppieters Foundation in Brussels, I made a brief video for them about what my research implies for the conduct of independence referendums. You can view it here or here:

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An article on the plight of adjunct professors in higher education, “Labor of Love or Cheap Labor? The Plight of Adjunct Professors,” was brought to my attention by its author, Celine James. Ms. James kindly asked me for my thoughts about her article. I thought Pileus readers might be interested in what I sent her. Here it is in full:

Dear Celine,

I have had a chance to read your article. I empathize with the plight of adjunct instructors that you describe. It is, or can be, a terribly difficult life. I am afraid, however, that I cannot endorse the solution you suggest, namely unionization.

Higher education is operated like a medieval guild, with special protections for the lucky few who make it in and special benefits to them that come at the expense of all those who were not lucky enough to get in. The problem is the rigidity in the labor market that this creates: once a person is in, he or she cannot be fired, regardless of performance, for life.That is a great deal for those who get in, and it explains why so many try so desperately hard to get in, but it is a model for maintaining an unjust, and slowly dying, status quo rather than responding to changing economic realities we actually face.

The solution would be not to extend the guild system to a slightly larger cohort, but, rather, to abandon it altogether. In other words, we should abolish the tenure system. In a world with thousands of institutions of higher education, along with now an almost unlimited upper bound of educational opportunities online, there can be no justification for the economically stifling and restricting system of guild benefits for a privileged elite.

In earlier times, the guild system was so detrimental to those not lucky enough to enter one that it often prevented people from finding gainful employment of any kind. That led to obvious and predictable disastrous results for the unlucky, even while it enriched and protected the lucky. Exactly that same dynamic is being played out now with the lucky few members of the restrictive guild (i.e., tenure-stream professors) and the unlucky many who are locked out (i.e., the adjuncts).

The one saving grace for today’s unlucky adjuncts is that we now live in an economy that is, compared with earlier eras, extraordinarily dynamic, diverse, and productive. So they have other options if they don’t land a winning lottery ticket admitting them into the guild. But until the core of the problem—restrictive guild membership rules—is recognized and addressed, the other suggestions you make in your article will, unfortunately, have only marginal effect at best. And recommending unionizing would merely contribute to the problem—especially when we are probably on the cusp of a bursting educational bubble.

With best wishes,


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Liberty is an important condition that allows for the growth of individual responsibility and virtue (indeed, it is difficult to talk about true virtue without liberty).  And virtue is an important guardrail in a free society where admittedly the liberty to be virtuous also provides the space to do great harm to one’s self and to others.  Individual irresponsibility leading to problems for self and society provides an entry point for political entrepreneurs (“statemakers” to coin a term) to move the state to interfere with our freedom.  Thus the misuse of freedom by individuals leads to calls for greater and greater state action (often by Yandle’s “baptists” or by those who wish to placate these baptists) and many are eager to support such calls (either because they too are baptists or they are “bootleggers” who will benefit from the restrictions).

Fortunately, there are many free men and women who when given the chance to choose, choose the right.  Here is an artistic rendering of the idea from Shaftesbury:
















The Online Library of Liberty notes the following about this illustration:

One might conclude from this image that men are free to choose between vice and virtue, harmony and cooperation or disharmony and violence, whereas animals (such as bees, ants, birds, etc) cooperate with their kind naturally. Shaftesbury however is confident that when mankind is left free to choose then s/he will and does choose virtue over vice, with the result being cooperation, harmony, and prosperity.

My worry, though, is that Shaftesbury and many other libertarians are too confident that enough men and women will relatively reflexively choose virtue over vice.  Or perhaps better put, my worry is that there is at least a small percentage of men and women who won’t and that this will provide enough grist for the mill of the “baptists” and “statemakers” who will then grind out both the freedom and true virtue of many of the rest of us.  Their creation will grow and erode the preconditions for virtue and many of the incentives for exercising our muscles of individual responsibility (which will then grow flabby from underuse).  This will only reinforce the leviathan and those who support it.  Hence the need for other guardrails in a still free society - scolds, shaming, education, and holding up examplars of virtue (sorta like Plutarch does, though often using men who provide the wrong example!) rather than celebrating lives of vice.

We are all fallen, imperfect beings and such guardrails help.  Or we can have the Bloombergs of the world to “save” us.  I’m not sure that freedom and a relativistic attitude towards all behaviors is going to work to keep the Bloombergs at bay, even if we admit our humility about knowing what types of behaviors and lifestyles are the “right” ones.  Thus I’d like to see libertarians take more seriously the dangers of, for example, drug use rather than just celebrating the freedom to use drugs, the costs of sexual liberation as much as the need for politicians to stay out of the bedroom, and so forth!  Yes, to paraphrase Nock, the state is frequently our enemy.  But we are often our own as well when it is so easy for free choices to go wrong and for these behaviors to meet less resistance when no one speaks up about them.

With so many ways in which freedom can be eroded and destroyed, it is a wonder there is any left.

HT: Frank Meyer, Albert Jay Nock, Aristotle, Bruce Yandle

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Michael Barone, whose journalism I admire, seems to make a common mistake on libertarianism and abortion in a piece titled “More freedom, fewer guardrails.”  In that article, he points out that, “Young Americans, contrary to their libertarian leaning on same-sex marriage, are slightly less pro-abortion rights than their elders.”  But at least Barone realizes the possible tension between liberty and abortion when a sentence later he writes: “from the point of view of the unborn child, abortion is the opposite of liberating.”  I’ve written before on the relationship between libertarianism and abortion (see here and here).  In short, there is nothing in libertarianism that demands a particular position on the issue of abortion policy.

If you read the Barone piece, you’ll see that he and others on the Right are (rightly) worried about a world of greater freedom without some of the social guardrails of the past.  But perhaps rather than restricting (or keeping legal restrictions on) freedom today we need to build (or rebuild) more guardrails to go along with that freedom.  Part of how we get from here to there is that libertarians have to be more accepting of “scolds” and elite shaming of bad/irresponsible uses of freedom.  Indeed, they might be wise to participate in that guardrail building.  Moreover, as we increase the realm of liberty, our freedom should naturally lead us to develop some of these guardrails on our own – assuming that the state doesn’t interfere with the internalization of costs!   When the cost of too much drinking is a bad hangover, we soon learn to be more moderate in our consumption.  Likewise for other decisions in our lives. 



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Public opinion clearly shouldn’t drive policy – especially foreign policy – even in a democratic regime.  However, it is interesting to see that the American public seems more realistic when it comes to Syria than many elites, particularly those on the Right who would have the US wade more deeply into the internal affairs of Syria.  Here is a new poll from the Pew Research Center that shows Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to arming anti-government groups in Syria:


But before we get too excited about the wisdom of the crowd, notice the potential contradictions – or at least tensions – between that opposition to arming groups and these more general views:


The last finding worries me most, though the silver lining is that “what it can” might be seen as pretty limited by Americans who think the U.S. military is already too overcommitted.  Nonetheless, moralism in foreign policy is a dangerous sentiment that can be tapped into by a motivated President (see McKinley, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton, and Bush II in particular).

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Friday Links

A few links to fill those empty moments until the weekend finally arrives:

A Defense of US Policy via Vladimir Putin (Unfortunately, Putin will not be rewarded with a shirtless safari with President Obama).

Time Poll: Bush More Careful than Obama in Protecting the Right to Privacy (Most find no difference between the two).

Justice Elena Kagan’s Questionable Tastes in 80’s Pop (One only wishes this would have come out during her confirmation hearings).

Delightful Irony: NSA Surveillance and Criminal Defense (One can wish the defendant success).

New Opportunity to Text Extraterrestrial Intelligence (Will this create more work for the NSA?)

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Our own James Otteson on the Wall Street Journal’s video Opinion Journal: here (having trouble embedding).

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Art Carden, while discussing a couple of interesting passages in Atlas Shrugged, offers what would be a nice coda to my recent post “In a Funk” (which talks a bit about how to deal with the depressing reality that we are in a difficult stage in the history of liberty):

I’m reminded by passages such as these that while Adam Smith was right that “there is much ruin in a nation,” I owe it to my children to do what I can to fix it.

I’m surprised that he, as an economist, didn’t take up the opportunity cost angle and cost-benefit analysis angle.  I would imagine that someone like Bryan Caplan, his fellow blogger, would say that almost all attempts to “fix it” will be wasteful given the low expected returns on such behavior especially compared to tending your own garden (perhaps in a way that makes the children better able to survive that decaying nation and be happy in the bubbles that they can create within it).

But I’m with Art.  Keep fighting for liberty until nature (or the state in some places) chokes the last breath out of you!  And remember that part of the job of “fixing it” is to transmit a love of the spirit of independence, an understanding of what it means to be a free person, and an appreciation of the philosophy and literature of liberty to the next generation (especially to our own children).


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The Washington Post reports on the new Census Bureau release:

More white people died in the United States last year than were born, a surprising slump coming more than a decade before the Census Bureau says that the ranks of white Americans will likely drop with every passing year.

The decline in fertility is likely a consequence of the poor economy, and so there is every expectation that the “natural decrease” (i.e., births minus deaths) will prove temporary when (if) whites realize that the recession is over. But it will become permanent in the 2020s. (more…)

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