Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Of Course, Why Have it At All?

Readers will know I dislike the Constitution largely because it gets in the way of democracy so goddamn much. Still, there is the question whether democracy itself is even "the good". Interesting paper I found over at the very libertarian Mises Institute Blog asking why political theorists don't even ask that question anymore, or provide proofs about why democracy is so damn good. Given that I think our conception of everyone's "right to vote" is so ingrained compared to 500 years ago, I also tend to believe 500 years from now people will find it just as absurd to be ruled over without your personal consent.

So yes, not many good philosophical arguments in favor of democracy according to the paper. Agree? I think our current world sticks with it based on cosequentialist arguments and evidience, that convince most of the democratic populace. But as we embrak on implanting democracy forcefully in the middle east, we'll see if there as easy to convince as well.


Defense is Out of Control... and Aparently Rightly So?

One of my favorite lines from the british classic spy series Sandbaggers is when Neil is being challenged on underhanded tactics he used to mount a secret operation against government policy. "What would the people say if they found out about this?" "The people would want me to do whatever I can to protect this country." A wonderful example where the elite wants to do something, the public would want him to do it, and it's some muddled middle management in Parliament that makes it verboten.

I'm sure all the liberal readers of my blog despise excessive defense spending in our government. It's a rather unaccountable field, we spend as much as the next 10 highest nations combined, a great deal of it seems to go to pork, and recent events show that having a large military makes us eager to use it. These feelings could be expanded to military power in general.

But can anyone give me a process-oriented reason to rein in the department of defense? Namely, I supply two propositions. A) The most educated and experienced people regarding the military tend to believe it should have more money and support. B) The majority of the populace believes it should have more money and support. (Let me know if I'm being too vague here.) That being said, why should an intelligenstia class, being just liberal educated people or the checks our constitution places on the military, have much say?

Sure, you can impugn the motives of the pro-military groups as myopic, selfish, or blindly jingoistic, but pointing out their subjectivism doesn't make our subjectivism any better or more reliable. Simply put, if I'm elitist that means the smartest people should decide (and they disagree with me), and if I'm democratic that means the interests of the majority as voiced by their votes should decide (and they too, disagree with me).

And I'm really looking for a legitimate reason to say military power needs to be curtailed. But so far I really don't have any argument besides broad consequentialist beliefs that it makes things worse off.


Friday, January 21, 2005

Government Mandates and other Paradoxes

Anybody want to give me a reason that mandates from the federal government are constitutionally acceptable? I bring this up since it’s clear that’s it’s absolutely part of our current government which couldn’t operate without them. And if we’re crossing the line this far, shouldn’t we be honest and just say scrap the constitution altogether, since it’d be much more efficient to operate directly.

Federal mandates are the central government proposing regulations that the states could adopt, and giving large gobs of money to the states that do this. The most famous example being federal highway funding that a state only gets if their speed limit is max 65 mph and the drinking age is min 21 years, both of which were the source of much anger.

This is basically how the entire Department of Education exists, since hey, the constitution specifically forbids the federal government from running education. But our populace demands some universal rules and funding for our school system (which makes sense to me; the state of Mississippi should not teach their kids from the same tax base as the state of Connecticut if we have any interest in any child unfortunate enough to be born in Mississippi to have a fair shot), so we have complicated systems where the US says all schools must have certain special education facilities, and gives the states money to build them, money which the states become dependent on for building all their schools.

(And the “voluntary” nature of these mandates seems bunk once you realize that both governments are competing over the same tax base.)

Still, how can these pass the “laugh test” by any constitutional scholar or federal court judge? It’s like (and no less constitutional) than the government saying “We can’t establish a Church, but we can tax everyone, and give you $10,000 if and only if you are Baptist”.

Unless there is something I am completely missing here. Please do enlighten me.


Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Question for Audience

It is my impression that there's a specific regulation against the Secretary of Defense being a member of the military. Civilian control of the armed forces and all.

If this is true, can anyone give me that specific rule, or any details behind it?


Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Libertarianism... Quick, Watch Your Six!

One of the reasons I didn’t like Nader was that when on the Daily Show, he repeated several times that he was the only presidential candidate to have opposed the Iraq war. Once you include all the small parties out there, this is clearly not true. For all that voting for him was supposedly a blow at the arrogant two parties who consider themselves the only political game in town and fairness for all, he was just as arrogant in never acknowledging the existence of anyone smaller than him (perhaps more arrogant, since the Dems and Reps have practical reasons to believe in their duopoly at least) and seemed to have no structural desire beyond changing a two party system into a three party system. I feel that libertarians easily fall into the same trap, perception wise, but with much worse consequences.

Quantitatively speaking, libertarianism is combining the anti-government social policies of the left and the anti-government economic policies of the right. (Qualitatively speaking, libertarianism is much more varied since everyone seems to have different ideas about how society works without coercive influence and what the end goal and qualitative decisions of a libertarian government should be). It is not a brilliant “third way” that transcends currently political perspectives and is alone in it’s intellectual purity (ie, this is not a world where there is just the left, the right, and the libertarians) but libertarians often view themselves this way.

The dark mirror of libertarianism would be pro-government social policies and pro-government economic policies. Authoritarianism, or populism. And as libertarianism tries to rise in influence as a distinct political voice, I think they should worry that so will populism. (I think the old school libertarian voices, such as the Economist recognize this best, as they frequently must report on the populist conditions in poor countries). There are libertarian politicians (say, Schwarzenegger) out there, but there are also populist ones (McCain being the most popular in my mind). Libertarians keep pushing to end the duopoly in political thought, but we’re more likely to become a 4 party system than a 3 party system. And what’s the scary part? There are almost certainly a lot more populist-inclined folk (poor, religious, raised to believe Father knows best) than there is fertile ground for libertarians (who tend to be over represented among elites because of intelligence and affluence).

Why do we here so much more about libertarians then over populists (I’m sure any reader of this blog can name Badnarik or CATO, but wouldn’t know their avowedly populist counterpart)? Their over-representation among the elites means they are more likely to fund think tanks, organize a political party on their own, identify their distinct philosophy (especially in eloquent qualitative terms). And they’re more likely to be internet users, so now they’ve got blogs, bulletin boards, ad campaigns, and all other sorts of political power. (Also the mantra that leaves the powerful in this country more powerful, guarantees some self-centered support [ie, tax cut advocacy generates more donations]).

Populists are yet the sleeping giant. Churches and unions (the pro-government branches and foot soldiers of their respective parties) dutifully help serve their political party leaders, getting crumbs in return (relative to their numbers). One day union workers and blacks will want to stop grimacing at the Democrat’s embrace of homosexual rights, and James Dobson will stop thinking it’s more important to ram a tax cut through Congress than various quasi-bans on abortion. The Ohioan steel worker probably is pulled apart enough, not knowing to vote the way his union leader tells him to vote, or the way his pastor wants him to. He wants to put his kids through college, and he also wants them to stop teaching about sex in school. Arguments about the Laffer Curve and the inefficient cost of the War on Drugs are not going to convince him once there is a candidate that directly meets all his populist needs.

So far the elite and leaders of such a populist movement have been rare, siphoned off into either political party, or thrown into extreme fringes (Neo-Nazi’s and Black Panthers). But they say the information age is changing everything. Probably the next big step in the internet is moving from how it’s changed the everyday life of the well connected and educated, to doing that for every American, rural or poor. And political movements are often born from new means of communication.

Don’t really know what a good libertarian could do about this. Stop yelling about the duopoly for one. But also try to actually identify the populist politicians, the ones who seem to think government can always be used as an answer (Bush once said he looks on America “like a parent loves their child”. Yipes!), even if they suit your agenda sometimes, don’t support them goshdarnit.


Friday, January 14, 2005

Question for libertarians (or people who desire to discuss libertarian philosophy)

If the government reduces taxes, but not spending, is that progress for libertarians?

(I realize there are many libertarian points of view, and such items was whether it’s actually true that “starving the beast” will one day shrink it, or whether unfair tax cuts are even libertarian in any way, are all valid and varied points. Just wondering what you think.)


School Uniforms

What do you all think are the benefits to school uniforms?

I don’t think they have much of a cost, consequentially speaking at least, and so am not passionately against them (as someone who went to a uniform school and a non uniform school in a similar time frame). But all the arguments for why we should have them seem to me trivial, and generated or exaggerated for the purposes of having the policy.

A) Less time spent worrying about what to wear. Since when is this really high on our priority list? If we really want to save kids time and worry, I’m sure there are many, many things society could do towards that end. And if kids thought the benefit wasn’t worth the worry, they can decide that for themselves (either individually, or if it’s a tragedy of the commons situation, then deciding it as a group and asking the school for said policy).

B) Cliquishness and kids judging each other on expensiveness and taste of clothes. Does this actually happen? Not that we can’t imagine scenarios where it does (or have them provided by our sitcoms), but how often have any of us seen it happen? In particular, whatever mocking that is based on clothes I feel is probably just an outlet for social ostracization that is going to happen anyway, and not the cause (saying this as someone mocked for clothes at a code-less school, and mocked anyway at a uniform code school). Even if it happens, with what frequency and how much damage? I don’t think it’s a common or lethal enough occurance that it really mandates universal change.

C) Apparently our kids are distracted from learning too much by bright shiny objects. Whatever. I’d like to see any study that confirms this first, and I’m pretty sure “clothes” fall pretty low on a list of what factors draw kids attention away in school. If distraction is really a concern, there are several rather proven solutions (same sex schools, expel/separate annoying kids, lower temperatures).

What are other arguments (well, arguments that claim to benefit the kids) available?
I personally feel that since these arguments seem to be made as rationalizations, and not “someone found this problem, and then thought of a uniform code as a way to fix it”, we should probably be aware of the more emotional root causes. People seem to like uniforms. I think a few real motivations are
-Uniting the school
-Dislike of kids choice in clothing (both style and the money they spend on it) in general, not just at school
-Trying to fix school systems which are failing, cheaply.

These authoritarian impulses concern me greatly. They seem to be dishonest, using the aforementioned silly arguments in their place, and avoiding the larger problems of schools (not enough money, what to do with disruptive kids, anti-intellectual culture). Now I did actually prefer my uniform school, but only slightly, and certainly not enough that I desire to take away the freedom of others for it (and it seems a pretty significant freedom to take).


The Hard thing to do is not the Right thing to do.

Goddamn machoist masochism.

This is mainly in reaction to various mentions I’ve seen of the “the hard thing to do is the right thing to do” dictum lately (a couple livejournals, a movie trailer, etc). I think believing it absolutely is so patently absurd (it’s better to spend $100 on a McDonald’s meal than $1?) that there’s no discussion on it usually, and so we have lots of general nodding when we hear someone make that statement. Oh, isn’t Michael Caine’s character so wise (uh, this being from the movie trailer ), or “well I’m glad he’s learned an important life lesson”. Unfortunately, I think this general belief in our culture is responsible for a lot of conflict, ignorance, and rationalization.

Clearly it is a successful meme because it’s an important algorithm in many instances. Believing something has high costs shouldn’t be a reason to not do it, and if something seems to easy, we should probably examine that closely. Eat healthily, don’t use the Ring, stand up to bullies – all examples where a short term easiness belies how difficult things will be in the long run, and so people need encouragement to face the hard path. And since people who are willing to got hat extra mile chasing the gazelle, we wish to install it in others in our primitive hunting cultures, or whatnot. Melodrama and stories particularly use this meme a lot, generally showing the hero has an easy chance for a comfortable life, but clearly it was the “hard choice” that saves the world or whatnot.

But the world just doesn’t friggin work like that. Sacrifice is bad, if we do not like it. If there are situations where it is outweighed by good results, then we can judge that for ourselves (or we should strive to be able to). Simply assuming the path of sacrifice is the best one is no more reliable a decision making algorithm than always doing what is easy in the short term.

Instead, what you get is people deciding on their own what is “hard” in certain instances, and thus using even the bad consequences as justification for what you want to do anyway. Think our overly patriotic culture where the costs of a war show just how noble our soldiers are for doing it. Screw that, let’s let them live and find a peaceful solution instead. Politically, this meme is often used as reason to PRAISE the fact that a politician ignores the other side completely. And in relationships, let’s not get started on how many things “because it’s difficult” has fucked up.

I suppose I just see this belief in far too many fantasy books. Well again, our life is not an action movie, an trying to make the world a better place simply by making everyone’s life easier is a much more important meme that crashing against the waves. Of course, it’s going to be hard to convince people that in our culture, but I have to try, damnit.


Posting again

Given my new job, I will probably be posting here a lot. Probably less constitution stuff, but who knows. Today there are 3 new posts, but those are mainly encouraging discussion and comments from people.

In the near future, I will probably be talking about: how we ignore our beloved constitution anyway, libertarianism, neo conservatives, whatnot. Exciting, no?

And yeah, been commenting a lot over at