Monday, February 28, 2005

Thought Experiment

In deciding whether we can trust our leaders.

There are two great theories of government overspending (which is a chronic problem, not cyclical), political science wise. A: Anyone given power wants to use it, and if they aren’t constrained by income, then will spend as much as they like. B: It’s a tragedy of the commons problem, where each representative wants to add money for their constituency, and doesn’t care about the avg cost of that to everyone else.

I think most political scientists believe that B is the answer. Particularly looking at the infamous story of the Hawley Smoot Tariff was my first game theory professor’s favorite analysis.

Does the empirical history support either hypothesis? If A is true, we might expect low spending under divided government, and high spending under unified government. Under divided government, the excesses of one party are checked, and the common consensus that is most easily reached is “fiscal sanity”, while when government is unified it will give as much to its supporters as possible while it can. It would follow that if we value fiscal sanity and other forms of pragmatism, we must force our rulers to compromise and be checked at every turn. We could say that people are bad, and systems are good.

If B is true, then we’d expect high spending under divided government. [In truth our government is always divided in some way, but there’s a qualitative difference between just many representatives, and two parties.] In order to reach agreement on any bill, each side will just have to give the other money in their important constituencies. While a unified government would have a decision maker that internalized all the costs of increased spending, and thus would keep unified government (one of the generally proposed solutions to tragedy of the commons problems). This would be a people are good, and systems are bad approach.

So which do you think happens more often? In the immediate past, Republican unified government has had deficits, and the previous divided government has had surpluses. Most economists feel that even accounting for the economic cycle (which the current administration is often quick to point out is perfectly fine thank you no recession here), these are big differences. But looking farther back, we see Reagan divided government was pretty deficit based too. It’s hard to get data from this, but I think it’s some template for historical analysis.

Also, I think there might be some good theories that “unified” government is more divided than divided government, because (in our loose political party system), a unified government has 300 agents competing for power, while a divided government has only 2. Such a theory would espouse that our current president does not have total control over his party, which is a very {controversial, subtle, hard to research, interrelated} point.

PS: Of course, this ignores theories C and D, that “Conservatives are better spenders” and “Democrats are better spenders” which many in the political community hold. Let’s assume not.


Current Events moved to Tuesday

A refreshing weekend with my good friend TW from . TW has just returned to the states from 2 years working in the Singaporan military, where he also grew up. Singapore, I think it is safe to say, is the most authoritarian developed state out there. TW once did me a great compliment by saying that if via the military he took over Singapore he would put me in charge. *Blush* I’m sure he says that to all his political geek friends. But he’s learning light design for Broadway shows right now, so suffice it to say that’s somewhat unlikely.

As you would imagine, my anti-constitutional polemics are often looked upon by my liberal American friends as exceedingly eccentric. It’s always nice whenever I talk to my foreign born friends, liberal or conservative or anything, and they evince the opinion “Dude, of course your constitution is f***ed up.” Even among American intellectuals, our respect for the Constitution of our birth and our elementary schools is so ingrained we often can’t realize there are other options besides it.

Moving to looking at this from a libertarian vs authoritarian spectrum, instead of right v left.

I also realize the desire for Constitution change (and not just change but abolition) will always face a systemic problem (outside the obvious “the current various branches of power have no desire for said change”). Libertarians feel that it does not make sense consequentially, and that even if government is acting inefficiently because of Constitutional limitations, it is certainly acting less and that’s important for them. While populists may be deontologically opposed to it, and not appreciate it intellectually. Namely, a populist or authoritarian tends to believe a good rule is a good rule, and “it will all work out as long as you let people choose what’s best” isn’t the sort of mental exercise they enjoy as much as our limited government friends. So even if they could be convinced to overturn our current set of super-laws, they’d want to replace them with another set.


Friday, February 25, 2005

Artificial Desires

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this topic lately, and have been inspired by Hugo’s post to write some thoughts down about it.

We all have different utility equations, and a good little pragmatic ethicist likes me just tries to raise overall utility. One problem comes, often, when someone’s desires differ from yours, it’s hard to generate sympathy, and that can lead to rationalizations and ignoring someone’s. It’s even harder in a world of socialization and culture, when we judge some desires as “fake”, or created.

Clearly for some things we all share they substantively hurt us. Physical pain, hunger, losing a loved one. There are some things we accept as substantive, even if we don’t necessarily feel the same desire regarding them, like loneliness or desire for a certain food. Any of us would be quick to help someone achieve desires regarding these things.

But there are some things that beyond that, it’s easy to believe people “choose” to get upset over. A person who thinks everyone should give them huge presents and attention on their birthday. A fan who’s crushed at his sports team’s loss. In my own life, I’ve had a decent amount of “look, it’s your choice to be upset at X, stop demanding sympathy from me.” I’ve seen this take place in political-cultural arguments, emotional discussions of relationships, and quibbles over religion.

What is the proper utilitarian response to that (not that consequentialism is the be all and end all of moral systems, but making the most happiness a common ground most people can at least relate to)? If someone values something, in a way that a) causes them net pain and b) could be made not-true, then what responsibility do we have to affect that value system. Do we respect it as as integral a desire as any, do we ignore the pain in this instance so we don’t encourage this value system at all, or something else?

I think I should try to separate the harm being caused at the moment, and what I can do about that, from distaste of an artificial desire. I can work to remove that desire in general, but mathematically speaking, this doesn’t mean
Ev = Expected pain of value system
Pv = Probability of removing value system this action would cause (or the proportional reduction here)
S = Sadness caused by ignoring person’s pain here

In general people are good about this (don’t know the last time I’ve seen an atheist at a funeral yell “there is no better place”), but certainly not always. And I think the calculations behind Ev and Pv are so difficult and fuzzy (particularly once we realize that our rationalizations tilt towards self indulgence), that we’re better off always assigning a higher value to S.

In the case of Hugo’s post, it means that it’s important that men turn away from viewing any sexually stimulating woman as distracting and content-less, but the time and place to do that is not when they are trying to worship.

(Amusingly, this means I actually agree rather strongly with Hugo in his post saying “manners are to make people feel comfortable”, I just don’t think he does.)


Left2Right On Originalism

The academics at Left2Right are disemboweling “originalism” as any type of coherent judicial philosophy. Rightly so. Our Constitution is a democratically made documents, spanning many different people, times, and arguments in its creation. Which is what leads to current tyranny as any one with constitutionally mandated authority interprets it to let them exercise more power.

The solution is not a clearer idea of what the Constitution means. I’ll eagerly link once Left2Right explains what judicial philosophy does make logical sense to them. It’s to not be bound by rules that we can no longer hold accountable or change.

Sidenote of academic-legal-pop culture geekery. Just saw a recent West Wing episode where there is a constitutional scholar called Lawrence Lessig played by Christopher Lloyd. Now I enjoy all of these things: Sorkin dramas, Lessig, Lloyd, and especially constitutional debate. Was great to hear arguments about how bad presidential systems are on prime time television (although annoyed that Lessig presented nothing but arguments from authority). But Lessig actually exists. He’s hardly focused on constitutional issues these days (best known for his cyber rights advocacy), and as a real person I’m weirded out by him being played by an actor. That’s all.


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Constitution in Action

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court will probably step down around June.

The Republican Chairman of the Judiciary Committee is adamantly pro-choice.

The Democratic Senate Minority Leader who'd lead a filibuster is pro-life.

Let the wheel of democracy spin, spin.... spin.


Friday, February 18, 2005

Judicial Activism and Conservative Complaints.

Republicans on teevee often complain about judicial activism. Courts overturning censorship, school prayers, and state definitions of marriage. All my liberal friends happily mock this as just being politically opportunistic, and say they just want conservative judicial decisions, like Bush v Gore. I’ve been thinking about this, and feel the conservative complaint against judicial activism is more rigorous than just that. For conservative readers, hopefully you’ll appreciate the thought out and (hopefully) objective defense, and for liberal readers hopefully you’ll understand more of this vicitimization complaint we’re hearing from the dominant political party. All are invited to the after-party in the comments section later, to give me counter-examples and imbibe apple-tinis.

Now, a clearer definition of what “judicial activism” is might be helpful here. I feel this is best: when the democratic process creates a law that is supported by a majority of the people, and it is overturned by the courts. It is clear why this definition is a good start, although there are easy complaints against it. Many would claim that only when you stretch the meaning of the constitution is it activism, but I feel any non-controversially unconstitutional actions are unlikely to ever pass the legislative process. (If people agree the Constitution or whatnot prevents it, they generally don’t try to pass it. Yes, people might rationalize and just claim the Constitution doesn’t apply here because it is convenient to them, but if the majority of the public believes this, then clearly there is too much room for interpretation going on.) Also, it’s not just one judicial injunction or another, but also to be a full overturning that means no amount of popular will and convincing can change it back.

1. The major issues of the day that have been affected by judicial activism are friendly to liberals. Flag-burning, role of religion in schools and public places, abortion, expanding marriage, criminal rights, conservatives feel they have solid majorities who want the conservative answer to this issue (at least locally speaking), and are foiled by arbitrary judges. How have liberals been similarly foiled by the courts? The second amendment is certainly annoying to gun-control activists, but since the SCOTUS arbitrarily decided it didn’t apply to the states while other amendments did (such as the first), it’s always been much more a matter of getting gun control legislation through, not it getting overturned. Any Democrat might point to Bush v. Gore of course, but I feel it was a very different scenario (and not enough Democrats seem to appreciate this) where the courts had to step in somehow, and it was picking between two very ambiguously (and corruptly) interpretations of the popular will. There is much reason to be upset with the result, and the blatant political consideration that was behind it is worthy of mockery, but it’s not the same as if the country routinely and clearly elected a Democratic president and the SCOTUS routinely just installed a Republican instead. There has been a decent amount of action about limiting federal workplace laws by the courts, but I don’t think this is very widely known or fuel for grassroots anger.

2. Having an issue overturned by the court bites. It’s one thing to lose an issue democratically. Often, the only people who can be blamed are the electorate, who’s will is considered a purer source of legitimacy than anything else in this country (although I fear that this is getting chipped away at). And you have a recourse, of “educating the public” and legislatures better. When it’s an autocratic judge, it is easy to focus a movement’s hate on that judge – especially since there is nothing else you can do to move the law forward. And without any spirit of compromise necessary to pass judicially written laws, no side even gets a bone tossed to them or ability to limit the extremes of the situation (such as in my previous post on abortion politics). All of these create far more anger than a law passed through Congress or the state legislature.

And let me note I worry this creates problems for the democratic process as a whole, because these energies will continue to express themselves. Politicians can eternally run against unpopular judicial decisions, but expect no accountability from their supporters when they have done nothing to overturn those laws (because they can do nothing). When a President who controls Congress and has expended a great deal of political capital can campaign, after 4 years in power, about how he is going to reform the system and still has to change various insider elements (like judicial decisions), this is very bad! We are electing people who we don’t hold responsible for what the government does or other results, and this distracts from judging them on the things we do get results for.

3. Lawyers are liberal. This is not a fact, but a perception. For various reasons (education level, ethnic identities, association with government bureaucracy, standing in opposition to large corporations, coastal locations, guild donations), lawyers in this country are affiliated with the left. “Judicial activism” among conservatives isn’t just a motto, but it’s a whole story. They feel an urban elite and minority uses the courts and complicated legal realities to achieve laws they can’t win otherwise. This may be inaccurate in many ways, but it’s something the Democrats have to deal with in addressing “judicial activism” as a political button the Republicans push (and nominating a trial lawyer as VP, or even a P in 2008, is perhaps not the best solution).


Monday, February 14, 2005

Free For All on Iraq

The only Iraq focused blog I can read is Juan Cole and I imagine most of you read it too. If not, he’s got the latest news on what’s what in Iraq, such as that the moderately hardline Islamic-Shiite party United Iraqi Alliance getting an absolute majority in the new Parliament (and enough hardline mini-parties such as followers of Muqtada Sadr to make that secure). Iraq has significant minorities, such as it’s oft-oppressed Kurds, the formerly ruling Sunni’s, and even some secular left. It’s quite possible we can expect religious and ethnic oppression against these groups and imposition of Shiite Islamic law over the entire country.

Such a thing is clearly distasteful to any enlightened Westerner, and causes all of us to be thankful for our Constitution that protects us from such abuse. “Haha,” you might say, if you were a former roommate of mine, “lets see how your ideals for purely majoritarian democracy play out in the religiously torn new Islamic democracy now!” (Yes there are limits on what they can do, for instance they need a one time supermajority vote of 2/3 to form a government, and the US still has a presence, but this parliamentary majority still has a great deal more power and options than any US political party ever has.)

Since I like falsifiable statements, I will admit that this is good situation to look at for deciding whether Constitutions are a Good Idea for You (™). My argument has always been, however, that limits on what a government can do impose more costs than just letting the people’s will act, not that majoritarianism is always costless. What options are there in comparison to letting a majority-Shiite government decide everything?

-Secular government: The Baathist revolution tried this, and it just became an excuse for the Sunni minority to oppress the rest.
-Strictly constitution enforced by a higher authority: And the Americans weren’t even appreciated by the minority they were supposedly protecting (ie, the Sunni’s and others).

So let’s say fine, we’re not talking about secularist government imposed by a powerful elite or outside power, but a new Constitution made now chosen by the democratic will of the Iraqi citizens, such as we might expect from the 2/3 vote that will be needed to make a new government. It’s still likely going to have Islamic law, just not purely Shiite, which in Iraq’s future (assuming it has a long future) will oppress minorities aplenty. Movements towards federalism are going to encourage Kurdish separation, help oppress Sunni’s (since the oil is generally located in Kurdish and Shiite lands), and encourage warlord-ism, as has plagued other post-revolutionary Arabic regimes. In contrast, the UIA seems to be at least somewhat aware of it’s responsibility, and will most likely work for stability when it has all the tools at its disposal – instead of having no need to moderate religious zealotry since they assume Constitutional limits will do that anyway.

It’s definitely a thorny area, but the absolute one-size-fits-all solutions of a Constitution I don’t think would do any better in this new regime than we can expect a majoritarian democracy to do. Any other creative governance ideas?


Friday, February 11, 2005

Hilarity Ensues

Just reading through a Weekly Standar post-mortem of the accusations against two high-powered Republican lobbyists, and it's such good reading I think you all really should check it out. Basically, two intensely partisan and ideological Republican lobbyists made a killing by dominating Indian-casino lobbying, and charging exorbinant prices and hiding their various conflicting interests. You know I take particularly enjoyment out of partisan publications ripping into their own side.

A few fun quotes include:

When one of Abramoff's tribes, the Tigua of El Paso, Texas, had trouble paying its retainer, the lobbyist came up with an innovative solution--a "brand new deal," as he put it to the tribe's representative, Marc Schwartz. Abramoff suggested an "elderly legacy program": The tribe would take out term life insurance on its oldest members, naming the school (Abramoff's pet non-profit) as beneficiary. As the oldsters dropped off and the money rolled in, the school would pay Abramoff's retainer out of the proceeds. "Once the group of tribal elders has completed [a medical] exam and are accepted by the insurance company," Abramoff explained in a memo, "the financing phase will commence immediately." According to Schwartz, the elders of the tribe declined the arrangement.

More interesting, I love the particular game they had going in Texas.

As we've seen, Abramoff prized casino tribes as "low-tax sovereign economic models." But even "laboratories of free enterprise" don't like competition. Often tribes hired Abramoff to make sure that other tribes did not develop their own sovereign economic models which might drain away business... Their [The Louisiana Coushattas tribe hiring Abramoff's] idea was to prod Texas Republicans to shut down the new casinos, either through the Texas legislature or the courts. Scanlon promised to launch a "grass-roots campaign" to pressure the Texans.

And he enlisted Abramoff's old colleague Ralph Reed to help... [Reed's foundation] was paid at least $4.2 million to organize a grass-roots campaign--working phone banks, writing letters--to shut down the Texas tribes' casinos and, as Reed put it in one email, "get our pastors riled up."... Sure enough, in February 2002, the Texas casinos were shuttered by a Texas court, acting pursuant to an order sought by the Texas attorney general John Cornyn (now a U.S. senator).

The Texas tribes were devastated, of course, but Abramoff was energized. Shortly after the court order, through an intermediary, he approached one of the tribes, the Tigua of El Paso, offering to use his lobbying magic in Washington to get their casino reopened. The Tigua had no way of knowing that Abramoff and Scanlon had been involved in the campaign to shut down their casino.

On February 6, 2002, Abramoff emailed Scanlon under the header I'm on the phone with Tigua: "Fire up the jet, baby, we're going to El Paso!"

Scanlon responded: "I want all their MONEY!!!"

Now I post this for a couple reasons. One, I think this is hella hilarious. You all have probably heard that they secretly got a casino shut down so they could represent it in trying to start back up. But that they were actually paid to shut it down by another tribe, is just wonderful. It sounds more like Jason being proud of a strategy of his in Risk 2010, than anything else. Make sure to check out their email evidence for more amusement.

But also, an important point of defense for our form of government compared to more parliamentary democracies are that it is a republic that gives strong powers to the individual representatives. People often do vote on the personal details of their congressman or other officials more than just their party line. Representatives have a great deal of freedom to buck the party on issues, make legislation on their own, and set up their own enclaves of power (committee chairmanships, PACs, lobbyist relationships, etc.) In fact, political theorists believe one of the reasons our two-party system is so resilient to any new parties is because the extant parties are so weak and allow independence for the rebellious political figures anyway.

I personally think this kinda of thing has got to stop. "Independence for individual politicians" means "inefficiency". Individual politicians tend to fly much more below the media radar than a whole party. The complexities it takes to get things done (state legislatures and bureacracies, house, senate, federal bureacracy) are all Constituionally mandated, and were ways for Abramoff to game the system without the right hand knowing what the left was doing. Throw into this a complex party heirarchy where a politico wants money not just for re-election or personal comfort - but to give to other politicians and gain power within their party, and the entire system is something that would make any arbitrager or hedge-fund analyst drool.

Thus my thesis: the “checks and balances” of the Constitution are inefficiencies that directly lead to abuse by lobbyists and other organizations. Not that this argument alone is reason to abolish our founding document, or that party-based parliamentary systems are completely immune from corruption (they just have less). But we are imposing a rather large cost on ourselves, and my goal is to get people to see these news items in that way.


Muahaha, Where is Your Precious Rights Now?

The House just voted to force states to issue electronically identifiable ID cards. For anyone who believes in rights-based government, you'd think this is a good place for the Constitution to step in. But hey, mandates and weird interpretation of privacy rights (particularly with respect to the US road system), make sure our House doesn't have to worry about that.

The security provided by these, the feasibility of implementing such technology, and the potential abuses I think are concerns only for the Senate to deal with.


Thursday, February 10, 2005

More on Hoppe and Churchill

One of the sad things about the Hoppe case is that we have no absolute record of what he said. No one in the class took precise notes, and he doesn't have the speech on record. A little in conflict with his claim that he's given the same basic introductory speech for 18 years, but whatever.

What struck me from this recent conservatve Las Vegas newspaper article was where it tries to defend his comments, first by saying

Very young and very old people, for example, tend not to plan for the future, he said. Couples with children tend to plan more than couples without. As in all social sciences, he said, he was speaking in generalities.

(The "very" on young and old people is a new iteration I hadn't heard before. I guess the paper assumes it's safer to say that, since no one considers themselves "very" old). But the "only generalization" caveat is interesting given that they then say

He said there is a belief among some economists that one of the 20th century's most influential economists, John Maynard Keynes, was influenced in his beliefs by his homosexuality. Keynes espoused a "spend it now" philosophy to keep an economy strong, much as President Bush did after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Did Hoppe say Bush may be a homosexual, and this is a way of interpretting his post-911 actions?! That's hilarious. Again, it's a pity that we don't have the full notes. And here's another reason pundits should shy from defending economists on the merits of what they say, and try to just stick to abstract academic freedom. (Even if he didn't say Bush is gay, I'd love to see Hoppe's defenders remember to quote that he claims "Bush is short-sighted" to their freeper supporters.)

In Churchill, politicians are making significant progress towards getting his Chair revoked and his butt fired because a) he claims to be an Indian on his resume and does not have the evidence to back that up and b) has shown pretty lazy scholarship (bordering on plagiarism and negligence) in previous work about early American's attack on Native Americans. And the Colorado legislature and governor are now going over the U. Colorado's budget with a fine tooth comb, since they feel disgust at funding a system that made this professor.

Resume and work sniffing, or budget analysis aren't free-speech prohibition per-se, since they would only create a result (one hopes and supposes) if they found actual malfeasance that should change. A lie on a resume, plagiarism, or non-accountable funding procedures are things that should be stopped regardless. But then this quickly becomes the equivalent of a cop not pulling anyone over for speeding until he sees a guy with a "Bush Lied People Died" bumper stick. Selective enforcement of laws with special selection aimed at people who upset you is precisely the sort of "chilling of free speech" that that the Supreme Court said was beyond the line. But then what about when it's journalists entering the frey - they don't have to follow the first amendment, and if they ferret out a violation and report it, then why shouldn't government authorities follow up?

Except now, especially if you approach a 1984 system where everyone is breaking a rule some of the time (which isn't that odd considering: taxes, immigrant labor, traffic violations, resume exaggeration, fake ID's, etc) the government can indirectly but strongly punish someone for what they say. Imagine a world where DailyKos and Instapundit have the ability to conduct IRS audits (it's just information, after all). How do we solve this?

You might expect this anti-Constitution blog to just decide that free speech is overrated and these institutions should just deal with the consequences. Not really, I find free speech and many things related to it (like academic freedom) to be very important, but a) I don't trust our society to be held back from doing what the popular will wants when it wants to punish speech and b) I think we need to learn how to respect the speech of others on our own and not because of artificial constraints.


Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Dear Economic Pundits,

I enjoy economics and it's sisters in rational choice theory a great deal. I feel it's a great tool for interpretting human behavior, and attempting to quantify social studies is very important, as it shears us of biases (to some degree) that are too dominating in more humanitarian fields. It's a very important tool for any student of social behavior.

That being said. YOU ARE NOT SCIENTISTS. We don't know crapola about our field of study. We've got some equations, they seem to make sense, and we can mathematically prove some things that are common sense and people have known for thousands of years. This is kinda good start, I guess. But we can't test any of our hypotheses like we would want, any surveys that claim to find strong results are riddled with errors, and the dataset from which people usually do judge (history: as in, socialism is bad because look at the soviet union) is way too freaking small to be respectable in any scientific method.

Every time I see someone over at Mises blog (Von Mises being a very libertarian economist) laugh at some professor because he's a Keynesian and that's a horribly disproven line of thought, or Krugamn mock a politician because he was a supply-sider and every economist knows that's just myth and shamanism, I die a little inside. There is no god damn "scientific consensus" in economics, because you're not a real science, nothing like "cell theory in biology".

Give me some falsifiable statements. Testable hypotheses. Useful predictions. That, or lose your arrogance in acting like you're anything better than Churchill's often maligned "Ethnic Studies Department", but with numbers.

I still feel economics is very important in the human endeavor, as it helps us solve some very important problems that we need to solve now. And it may one day lead towards a real system of analysis. But you have got to stop treating everyone with different thoughts on monetary policy like the American Biologist Association was invited to debate with the Intelligent Design Institute. We don't know sh*t.

Thank you,

Potential CC's: Paul Krugman, Cato Institute, Brookings, Heritage, EconLog, Bred Delong, Yglesias, Von Mises Institute, Bush administration, Martin Feldstein and his Anti-Soc. 10 colleague, etc...


Any idea where else I would send that? Shrug, how about I invite any of you to email that to any right or left wing pundit you see expounding on how hopelessly unrealistic their academic and political opponents are.


Rov v Wade from an "Unintended Consequences" Perspective

An elementary libertarian complaint about government control is that it is ham-handed in its regulations, not allowing for gradualism and gray areas that exist in the real world enough, and frustrating people in the process. The same could easily be said about having a Constitution that limits what a democracy can do: even when the limits are well-intentioned and generally good, they don’t deal with the nuance of the situation at all. (To be honest, I’ve been thinking for a while about the analogy of social planning:economic freedom::political super-rules:democratic freedom, and will write more about that later).

This all brings me to one of the most famous constitutional court cases,
Roe v. Wade. Much has already been said, on this blog and others, of how Roe and the Constitution make coming to terms over this controversial issue nearly impossible. The current losers feel they are denied on an important moral issue without ever getting a chance to express an opinion on it. The current winners have no motivation to reach out to the other side and convince America (calmly and coolly that is) to support pro-choice. And both political parties can use this issue ad infinitum for political support, but will never be able to do anything about it, meaning we are one step closer to electing our leaders without accountability.

Now over at Left2Right they are having an interesting discussion about America’s liberal abortion regime. America has one of the most licentious systems regarding abortion in the world, allowing abortions far later than any other country, because we’re going by Supreme Court absolutes (the body is inviolate) instead of trying to find any moderate compromises (like most of the nations in Europe, Africa, Asia, etc…). It doesn't seem right that America is more pro-abortion than Denmark or France, it's certainly not reflective of our culture or political will. The Court has repeatedly struck down late term bans that passed through the normal democratic process. Now, I don’t know whether “You can have abortion until 3 or 4 months into the pregnancy” is a good rule, and it’s probably not philosophically very consistent. But it does reflect what a democracy should be trying to do, satisfy all the people as much as they can – it’s a rule that doesn’t trap all women because of bad choices, but also doesn’t let us become inulled to a fetus that rapidly resembles human life. It’s not perfect - just democratic.

The point of this post was not to say “I hate Roe, so I want the whole Constitution gone”, but to convince both sides of the abortion divide that the absolutist solutions that our Constitution leads are not good for our country (and lead us to being in a very odd position. And for libertarians to see how the laws of unintended consequences and black-and-white world views apply and are destructive, even for a document written 200 years ago by a bunch of rich farmers.


Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Just in Case You Didn’t Know…

A previously unknown professor (politically speaking, at least) said some rather offensive statements reflecting the extremity of his political views, and was quickly jumped on by pundits and activists of the opposite political spectrum. The university administration is contemplating what action to take regarding this, and that lone fact has gotten a much larger outpouring of support from critics on his side of the political spectrum about how “politics shouldn’t interfere with academic free speech, no matter how objectionable you might find it”.

I’m sure anyone reading this blog has heard of the fuss involving one professor, but have you heard about the other one?

In one of the greatest alignments of poetic justice in the blogosphere since, well I don’t know what, there are both Ward Churchill and Hans-Hermann Hoppe scandals for the right and left to cry about at the same time. Churchill is the Chairman of American Indian Studies at U. Colorado, and 3 years ago wrote a speech glorifying the attacks on September 11th calling it the murder of “many little Eichmans”, among other things. Responses on the right have ranged from simply nitpicking his resume and claiming he lied and thus can be fired on those grounds, to eliminating his Chair, department, and questioning why academia is politically coerced into making such silly disciplines, to calls for his execution as a traitor (but that’s freepers, and can you blame them?)

Elsewhere, Prof. Hoppe was giving an introductory economics lecture, and labeling many groups into various stereotypical patterns and deducing their future-planning tendencies from that. In particular, homosexuals (because they cannot have children, and because they have more and riskier sexual partners) plan for the future less than heterosexuals. Also very old people don’t plan so much (for various reasons, this doesn’t come up so much). Oh, and many suspect that John Meynard Keynes (the biggest economic lefty out there) was gay, and this theory might explain how short-sighted his “tax and spend” economic theories were. A student was offended, lodged a complaint with the university, which asked that Hoppe explain himself and apologize, who did so in a rather mocking manner, and the student lodged another complaint.

Clearly these cases are pretty different, and the reactions from the various ends of the political spectrum are also different. But any blog you find that only mentions one case (such as conservative / libertarian blogs like EconLog or lefty academic blogs like Left2Right) should give you a definitive marking on where they stand politically if you were ever uncertain. And as much as we may like them (I enjoy both the aforementioned blogs), they should probably be disdained for a little while.

IMHO Edit: To note my personal feelings/snide remarks on these. Churchill is a kook and will certainly lose his Chairmanship, but questioning the academic validity of his department's existence and its use as a field of study because of those comments seems even more spurious and dangerous than just firing the tenured professor himself. I actually desire to defend Hoppe because he made such statements about many groups (like, old people). Being brave and "politically incorrect" should go both ways. But precisely because of that, I disdain Hoppe's defenders. Hoppe is being paraded around more so certain conservatives can complain about pro-gay sensitivities in colleges, and if all his comments as a cold and stereotyping economist were to be circulated in the blogosphere and fundraising community, then the outcries for his defense would quiet very quickly indeed.


Monday, February 07, 2005

Sorry, no luck for KickAAS

Part of Bush’s new budget proposal has a $6 billion decrease in farm subsidies [WSJ], by capping payments to single individuals or corporations at $250,000. Such a proposal would be good for many reasons. You know of my opposition to farm subsidies. They spend a lot of our money, are transfers of wealth to people who vote against the taxes that raise this money, they create unfair competition for third world countries trying to sell their farm products to US and US-competitive markets, and they’re a rationale for other countries keeping their own protectionist policies in place. Many economists say it’s the number one thing we can do to improve the third world’s problems. Heck, you Jeffersonians out there that believe America owes a lot to its backbone of independent farmers, should see how this discourages trends towards corporatization of farms. Also, the WTO has ruled that our subsidies are out of line and need to be cut or else we face retaliatory tariffs. Passing this in the new budget in full would be the best news I could hope for out of Washington this year.

I also don’t think it has a chance of passing or the support of the Administration. Why?

1.He seems unable to check government spending. Even opponents of Republicans must admit there are some benefits to have one party in total control. Creating a checked-government involved tradeoffs, and when you have highly focused authority, at least you get back what you traded off. “At least Mussolini made the trains run on time.” A strong unchecked leader should be able to be efficient at least, and solve tragedy of the commons problems like budgets being full of pork. Despite media perception though, it is unlikely that Bush is really a strong central leader, and he has been unable to reign in government spending at all. His own very ascendant Sec Def has been unable to prevent the Armed Services Committee from continuing to fund outdated and unneeded projects. Farm subsidies are exactly this type of tragedy of the commons problem that the current (and to be fair, past) administration have failed to stand up to.

2.Subsidies still have widespread support in Congress. Especially in the Senate. Democrats are pretty guilty for this, and I have to give props to my man Chuck Hagel (R-Neb), for voting against his interest pretty strongly here. But I do not expect the rest to follow suit, especially when they know the President needs help in so many other matters.

Edit: Note these strong words from Congression Republicans in today's LA Times analysis.

"Those who are currently advocating these draconian cuts would not be in office today if it weren't for rural America," said Rep. John E. Peterson (R-Pa.), co-chairman of the Congressional Rural Caucus.

Bush's farm proposals met a potentially fatal blow by drawing opposition from two key Senate panel chairmen: Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) of the Appropriations Committee and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) of the Agriculture Committee.

3. Bush has never been as free-trade as his rhetoric suggests. The most famous example of this being the steel tariffs he instituted in West Virginia, which were widely believed to be solely directed at WV’s electoral votes. These tariffs infuriated our trading partners, were sanctioned against by the WTO, and hurt Americans (via higher prices for manufacturers that use steel) more than it helped them. And they were only pulled back when they seemed to be affecting the votes of Ohio and Michigan more than WV. That’s just the most public, there have been many other contradictions in the ongoing Doha round of trade talks, especially regarding us not fulfilling promises to third world countries. Now, I completely understand his political needs here, and I don’t believe most Democrats would be any better. I just don’t expect farm subsidies cut by him anymore than a Democratic president, either.

4. This is a "Statue of Liberty" play. President's often do this, which is why their budgets are very bad for judging their priorities. The President needs to say his budget doesn't have a deficit and is doing many good things, like cutting spending (especially since he just spent last year campaigning that he would cut the deficit in half). You put in all your controversial items that matter the most to you, and in order to say your on-budget, you just cut spending hugely for things that won't happen. Leave out maintenance for the Statue of Liberty. Of course the Ways and Means Committee won't let the Statue of Liberty go unfunded, but this disingenuous tactic hides that. Example you may know of, everytime Amtrak get its funding slashed, it says the cut will come out of the Northeast Corridor, the most needed part. So yeah, the reason this is in the budget proposal at all is to hide the costs of other programs, not because there will be political backing for it.


No Honeymoon?

Isn't the first 100 days of a president's term, even when re-elected, supposed to be a honeymoon where everything goes right? This doesn't seem to be happening this time around. SS Reform looks to be a tough fight, moderate Republicans are being scared, and Dems are standing up more than they did last summer (compare Condoleeza's confirmation with Porter Goss's). More importantly, polls have only shown decline for Bush in his job approval and all particular issues (such as a plurality against SS reform) since election day. Any of you have theories why?

Increasing polarization of our culture may account for that (it seems so easy and convenient for everyone to forget that Reagan and Nixon were elected by 50 states to 1 - Republicans forget because it makes GWB look less stellar, and Democrats forget because they can't imagine their home territories voting for Reagan and Nixon*). Our culture seems much more well defined and certain in their political selections, and less likely to be swayed by non-partisan factors (like the start of a new term or the home state of a VP). If this is true though, shouldn't we be seeing a reversal in the decline of party-affiliation rates on surveys that's been happening since the 60's? I know of no evidence pointing that out.

*A recent episode of West Wing amused me when they mentioned attendance at a NASCAR race as key for red state support. I'm always amused when West Wing's history/politics is contradicted by their relationship to what they have stated before (such as they seem fine mentioned past president's as late as Johnson, but how does that match up with the non-leap year election cycle?). In this case, the "red and blue" state paradigm was only really pushed after the 2000 elections with a narrowly split electoral map. That it's held up is a sign that we are more partisan than usual, as in you can always expect NY or Arkansas to vote their certain ways. In our past history (and including a world where Jed Bartlett is elected by a landslide of 300 EV including Texas), since these states can actually switch sides a decent amount of time, such terms as "red state" would not be in common parlance.


Friday, February 04, 2005

War Doubling

I hang out in the elitist crowds who don't care as much as the rest of America about the war on terror, liberals and libertarians in big cities (ie the ones most likely to be bombed). There's a lot of fear that it's just a political power grab, and that this is an abstract concept like "the war on drugs" and not a real war.

Did you know the size of the government doubles every war? From the continental congress becoming something real in the Revolutionary War, our nascent government doubled in the war of 1812, again in the civil war, increased dramatically in WW1, and of course had huge expansion in WW2 (it'd be true for the Cold War if you counted that, but that's rather unfair to cover a 40 years period). We at least double in real dollars spent and people employed. Afterwards spending does not go down, and we never see government spending rise in peacetime anything like we do during wartime.

So, if you're a libertarian, please turn your focus to the war on terror more. And if you're a strong statist liberal or something, rest assured that this is just leading to more nanny-state than you ever desired.