Over at Reason, Stephanie Slade has a nice, thoughtful piece on whether watching football – providing the NFL and college football programs with revenue – is unethical, given the immense harms to players through traumatic brain injuries and the diseases they cause. A selection:

A person can believe an action is wrong even if she doesn’t believe it should be legally prohibited. As libertarians, we generally respect a person’s autonomy under the law to weigh risks against benefits and decide how to make a living. But we aren’t required to accept or encourage her behavior if we believe what she is doing is objectionable. Even if this particular example [prostitution] doesn’t strike you as immoral, chances are you can think of something you view as wrong without believing it should be illegal. Adultery is often a good example. Could playing professional football be one as well?

Now, adultery is wrong because it is a breach of the marriage contract. Even a “libertine libertarian” could acknowledge that. But I agree that there are some moral obligations that have nothing to do with respecting rights, like being kind and considerate to people, acting with beneficence toward those whom one can help, and, yes, respecting one’s own body and mind. If it’s immoral to do heroin, then a fortiori it’s immoral to play football, because football does much more damage to the mind than heroin, and the mind is what really gives us personhood and moral worth. And if it’s immoral for us to play football, it’s also immoral for us to encourage others to do so through financial incentives.

Would you watch a consensual gladiator show in which someone is killed? Or would you think it barbaric and wrong? If a gladiator show is barbaric and wrong, why not a football game? The argument against such a view might be that we don’t think coal mining or deep-sea fishing are immoral occupations even though they carry above-average risks.

To this I would pose three counterarguments. First, the severity of the risks of playing football were not fully known until quite recently. Thus, players have not been adequately compensated for the dangers. Second, even if they were adequately compensated, it seems wrong to accept extreme risks to oneself even for compensation. Would it be morally OK to pay someone to play Russian roulette for one’s own amusement, or to accept such a bargain? There’s good reason to think not. An elevated risk to one’s life – like the risks carried by deep-sea fishing or coal mining – is different from an extreme risk like that carried by football players (you are likely to develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy). What’s the line where risk moves from acceptable to unacceptable? I don’t know. We have to be comfortable with moral gray areas if that means not implausibly drawing the line at either the black or white extreme. Third, there’s something relevantly different between entertaining yourself by watching people injure or kill themselves (like paying someone to play Russian roulette or fight to the death or play football) and paying someone to do a risky job that results in a valued good or service. In the first set of cases, the viewer risks debasing herself by taking pleasure in the violent, destructive activity itself, not just in the outcomes of that activity (like a fish or a warm house).

Now a defender of football might say she doesn’t enjoy the violence of the game, but Continue Reading »

At the meeting of the American Economic Association in Boston last weekend, there were protests organized by a group calling itself “Kick It Over,” who, as the Washington Post styled it, were “battling for the soul of economics.” Their protest included heckling and disruptions of the talks given by Gregory Mankiw, Larry Summers, and Carmen Reinhart.

For his part, Mankiw wrote a short post on his blog after the conference recounting some of the protesting and responding to the charges of the protesters. He reports that one of them asked him how much the Koch brothers had paid him:

After the first session was over, one of the hecklers came up to me and asked, “How much money have the Koch brothers paid you?”  My answer, of course, was “not a penny.”

Mankiw argues in his post that if he is making mistakes, it is in good faith: “If I am wrong, it is sincere wrong-headedness, not the result of being on some plutocrat’s payroll, as some on the left want to believe.”

That is an important point to make. Assuming bad faith on the part of a person holding a position different from one’s own poisons, rather than furthers, the conversation. It is also, as Mankiw notes, not an effective strategy to get people to change their minds. Insulting people rarely is.

But there is an even more important point to make: Even if it is true that a person received funding from a donor or foundation with a specific point of view, nevertheless his or her arguments, claims, and positions should be evaluated on their merits. One’s motives—whatever they are, good or bad—are irrelevant to the truth of one’s positions and to the soundness of one’s arguments.

This is an elementary point in logic. Attacking the motives of a person is an example of the ad hominem fallacy, or more generally the genetic fallacy—both of which are, in fact, fallacies.

Now, it is true that there might be cases in which attacking a person’s credibility might be effective, and possibly even relevant. The testimony of a witness in a trial who stands to gain depending on the outcome of the trial might for that reason warrant less credibility. But merely pointing out that the source of one’s arguments might be questionable does not suffice to refute those arguments. The arguments might still be sound, after all.

Thus Mankiw concedes too much when he denies having received funding from the Koch brothers. What he should have responded to that protester instead is: “What difference does it make? If I’m wrong, demonstrate my mistake.”

Too often today speculation about people’s motives passes for acceptable rational discourse. But it is not acceptable. Whether you received funding from Charles Koch or George Soros or anyone else, we owe you the respect of assuming that you are a rational and autonomous person presenting a position in good faith. Our job, then, is to evaluate your position, charitably yet critically, on the merits.

Assuming that one’s intellectual opponents must be some combination of naive, ignorant, or evil is easier than attempting to refute their position. But it is not only disrespectful, it is also pointless. You do not know what your opponent’s motives are. One might be the most evil person in the world, but one’s claims might still be true.

There is a delightful piece in the New York Times on the reaction of the Harvard faculty to the reality of health care reform:

For years, Harvard’s experts on health economics and policy have advised presidents and Congress on how to provide health benefits to the nation at a reasonable cost. But those remedies will now be applied to the Harvard faculty, and the professors are in an uproar.

Members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the heart of the 378-year-old university, voted overwhelmingly in November to oppose changes that would require them and thousands of other Harvard employees to pay more for health care. The university says the increases are in part a result of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, which many Harvard professors championed.

The article makes clear that many faculty members assumed that Harvard’s $36 billion endowment would shelter them from the costs imposed by the health care reforms. Now that this assumption has proven to be false, there is something of an uproar.

Yes, indeed, ideas have consequences and they can prove costly.

My paper on the political philosophy of secession is now out in Public Affairs Quarterly, an open-access journal. Read it here. Teaser:

The United Kingdom currently sets the gold standard for management of secessionist politics. The British and Scottish governments negotiated in good faith over the terms of the independence referendum that Scotland held on September 18, 2014. If Scotland had voted to secede, the British government would have recognized its independence, thus affirming that the United Kingdom is a free partnership among its peoples.

Spain presents a different scenario altogether. Catalonia intends to hold its own “consultation” on independence, but the Spanish government has denied its right to do so, thus denying that Spain is a free partnership. The Catalan government has repeatedly sought to hold negotiations on the self-determination process, but has been rebuffed. What ought the Catalan government to do? By the criteria set forth in this paper, Catalonia has tried to conform to a just institutional regime for regulating secessionist politics, while Spain has not. Catalonia would be justified in using all proportionate means to secure a just outcome.

Happy New Year!

I’d like to wish all Pileus readers a very happy 2015. The last three years, we have had a tradition of making predictions for the upcoming year and reviewing those of the past year. This year, I haven’t had time to come up with predictions for 2015, but here’s a look back at those for 2014:

Oklahoma will win its case (carry over from last year).

This is the Halbig case, where I have predicted for 2 years a defeat for the Obama Administration. This one is still wending its way through the courts, but one district court has ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.

U.S. real GDP growth will top 3% in 2014.

Final numbers are not in, but so far this one is looking good. Real GDP rose 5% in the third quarter of 2014 after an anemic start to the year. This was a pretty bold prediction given how poor economic growth had been from 2008 to 2013.

Obama’s net approval rating will be higher on election day 2014 than it is now (-11.3).

Bzzt. According to RealClearPolitics, election day job approval for Obama was…-11.3.

Republicans will pick up a few seats in both the House and Senate, but not quite enough to take back the Senate.

Half-right. The GOP did pick up seats in both houses, but took the Senate easily. Basically, I thought economic growth would pick up faster in 2014, boosting Obama’s JA and cutting Democratic Senate losses. I wasn’t quite right about the timing. Today, Obama’s JA stands at only -9, which might have been enough to give the Democrats a couple more Senate wins.

Dems will retain control of the executive council and the governorship in New Hampshire, but the GOP will retain the Senate and take back the House.

Got 3 out 4. The GOP took the executive council too.

The Scottish independence referendum will fail by about 10 percentage points.

Virtually spot on. The referendum actually lost by about 10.6 percentage points.

Catalonia will hold an informal “public consultation” with multiple options, in which “independence” will win a plurality and not a majority. Without a strong mandate for any particular alternative, political wrangling will continue indefinitely.

This one was pretty good, but for some reason I hadn’t counted on a boycott by the anti-independence side. Catalonia did hold an informal public consultation with multiple options, but independence won about 80% of the vote because of the boycott. Depending on how you calculate the electorate, the pro-independence side won 35-38% of the eligible voters, more than the other options (yes to statehood, no independence and no to both statehood and independence). Political wrangling has continued.

There will be no successful deal to roll back agricultural trade barriers in the Doha Round.

Correct but easy.

I’m gonna score it 5.25 out of 7 correct, with one still out.

And it is Thomas Piketty:

“I do not think it is the government’s role to decide who is honorable.”

On his refusal to accept the Legion d’honneur (h/t Marginal Revolution).

With this post, I’m reporting updated results on the ideological ideal points of New Hampshire legislators, introduced previously here. In that analysis, I found that libertarians in the New Hampshire House in 2014 tended to vote with the right (and vice versa) on most roll-call votes scored by the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance. That included votes on bills to prevent localities from acquiring military vehicles for police, to reform civil asset forfeiture, to protect public school students’ privacy, and other civil-liberty issues where you would have expected the left to be more libertarian. In fact, the more left-wing you were, the more likely you were to oppose the libertarian position on those bills.

However, there were a few bills on which the left was more libertarian, mostly dealing with marijuana and other criminal-justice issues. When those were separated out, the analysis revealed a distinct cluster of 10-40 legislators (depending on the strictness of the criteria for inclusion) who tended to vote with the left or center on this just-mentioned subset of social issues but with the center or right, respectively, on the majority of roll-calls: a libertarian(-ish) caucus.

I am now updating the analysis with 2013 roll-calls included, to cover the entire biennial session. I’m also reporting more charts and tables for the geekily inclined.

To recap, I ran a Bayesian IRT analysis with imputation of missing data (abstentions and absences) using R package “pscl.” First, I began with the hypothesis that libertarianism-communitarianism was the first dimension underlying all roll-call votes. This hypothesis seemed to work for most roll-call votes, but it failed on some. In fact, a left-right dimension underlies most legislators’ voting decisions. So I separated out the bills on which the hypothesis failed and ran separate analyses on both sets. That resulted in two dimensions of ideology: how right-wing you are on right-libertarian issues (henceforth, “right-libertarianism”) and how left-wing you are on left-libertarian issues (henceforth, “left-libertarianism”).

I also corrected some errors in the NHLA data (votes coded the wrong way and one individual legislator vote miscoded) and made some different judgment calls from them. I mentioned some differences I had with their inclusion of votes against casino bills as pro-liberty and votes against a domestic violence bill as pro-liberty. I would have dropped them from the analysis if they had made any difference to the results, but they didn’t, so I didn’t bother. However, I did make some more substantial judgments. I dropped two voter ID/registration bills that the NHLA supported (loosening voting requirements). These were party-line votes: libertarian Democrats voted with their party in favor, and libertarian Republicans with their party against. NH’s voter registration rules are extremely lax, and the reform proposals so modest, that I could hardly count these bills, which undid some changes of the 2011-12 legislature, as clearly pro- or anti-liberty. Had I included them, they would have dominated the second dimension, reducing the additional information it supplies beyond mere left-right ideology. Finally, I counted votes in favor of a bill banning prison privatization as anti-liberty and votes against expanding the research and development tax credit as pro-liberty, directly contradicting the NHLA’s positions (but with good reason, I think – the data showed stronger fiscal conservatives voting against the NHLA on both).

There were 404 legislators that served at some point during the 2013-14 session (the maximum at any one time is 400). There were 149 total bills I looked at, but in the end 136 made it into the right-libertarianism analysis and 11 made it into the left-libertarianism analysis.

Another small difference from the last effort is that this time I ran a NOMINATE analysis first to get priors on each dimension for each legislator. The NOMINATE analysis also suggests 2 dimensions of ideology, just rotated slightly differently.

For the geekily inclined, here is a table of the discrimination parameters for the 10 most important bills contributing to the right-libertarianism dimension (here’s the intuition: a higher discrimination parameter means the bill is more important in distinguishing the right-libertarian from the left-communitarian):

bill	mean	stdev	lower	upper proliberty antiliberty notvoting
hb544	8.27	1.159	5.892	10.343	154	182	68
sb413	6.284	0.894	4.848	8.267	132	202	70
hb271	5.065	0.793	3.508	6.798	155	206	43
hb370	4.19	0.57	3.136	5.281	151	188	65
hb1570	4.048	0.536	2.894	5.226	142	161	101
hb1541	3.939	0.541	3.025	5.418	109	162	133
cacr1	3.938	0.523	3.123	5.086	149	206	49
hb1403	3.775	0.531	2.676	4.933	118	173	113
hb427	3.654	0.505	2.772	4.661	152	185	67
sb120	3.545	0.458	2.756	4.544	119	186	99

All of these were losses for liberty, and given the Democratic control of the House then, that’s not surprising. But only two of them passed both houses and were enacted into law: SB 413, Medicaid expansion, and SB 120, increasing campaign finance reporting and registration requirements. The top bill, HB 544, would have created a state-based Obamacare exchange.

Here are the bills that fed into the second dimension, left-libertarianism vs. right-communitarianism (all 11):

bill	mean	stdev	lower	upper proliberty antiliberty notvoting
hb573	10.171	0.24	9.735	10.804	286	64	54
hb492	2.092	0.297	1.531	2.94	170	162	72
hb1625	1.492	0.218	1.118	1.99	215	92	97
hb621	1.376	0.177	0.946	1.669	193	136	75
hb1325	0.872	0.147	0.56	1.162	66	219	119
hb249	0.807	0.149	0.566	1.105	266	68	70
hb1237	0.701	0.092	0.551	0.9	231	97	76
hb1577	0.674	0.124	0.475	0.943	209	116	79
hb1501	0.526	0.097	0.253	0.728	211	86	107
sb296	0.429	0.095	0.283	0.638	210	128	66
hb1624	0.327	0.109	0.147	0.567	256	40	108

HB573, medical marijuana legalization, dominates this list. The next on the list, HB492, was marijuana legalization. All of these were victories except Death with Dignity, HB 1325, again predictable given Democratic control of the House. Only medical marijuana and HB1624, modernizing the juvenile justice system, were passed and enacted into law. Of course, some of the victories consisted in defeating bad bills.

Here were the 10 most right-libertarian legislators in the last session:

name	party
Groen Warren	R
Sylvia Michael	R
Meaney Richard	R
Hoell J.R.	R
Murphy Keith	R
Sandblade Emily	R
Notter Jeanine	R
Baldasaro Alfred	R
Lambert George	R
O'Brien William	R

William O’Brien was the 2011-12 Speaker of the House. Several of these legislators are Free State Project movers.

Here were the 10 most left-libertarian legislators in the last session:

name	party
Winters Joel	D
O'Flaherty Tim	D
Vaillancourt Steve	R
Ketel Stephen	D
Levasseur Nickolas	D
Bickford David	R
Gardner Janice	D
Friedrich Carol	D
Arsenault Beth	D
Carroll Douglas	D

Joel Winters was the first FSP mover elected to the state house (2006). Steve Vaillancourt is a left-libertarian gadfly and served in the legislature for close to two decades, before losing this year.

I created an index of libertarianism weighted 3:1 toward right-libertarianism (on the theory that economic and personal freedom are equally important, and right-wingers are better on economics and half of personal freedom, and worse on the other half). Here are the most libertarian legislators according to that blend:

name	party
Lambert George	R
Sylvia Michael	R
Garcia Michael	D
Hoell J.R.	R
Sandblade Emily	R
Pratt Calvin	R
Warden Mark	R
Meaney Richard	R
Murphy Keith	R
Tasker Kyle	R

Here is a plot of the legislators on both dimensions, color-coded by party (click to expand):

2013-14 NH House Ideal Points

Note that a handful of communitarians do now reveal themselves: William Butynski, Daniel Hansberry, Katherine Rogers, Leigh Webb, Deanna Rollo, Richard Eaton, Mary Nelson (all Dems).


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