I can't resist one more comment on the CBS memos thing. In the New York Times this morning, we have a lawyer for Bill Burkett, the Texan thought by some to be the source of the memos:
Asked what role Mr. Burkett had in raising questions about Mr. Bush's military service, Mr. Van Os said: "If, hypothetically, Bill Burkett or anyone else, any other individual, had prepared or had typed on a word processor as some of the journalists are presuming, without much evidence, if someone in the year 2004 had prepared on a word processor replicas of documents that they believed had existed in 1972 or 1973 - which Bill Burkett has absolutely not done'' - then, he continued, "what difference would it make?"
Is it me, or is this just an unbelievably cavalier attitude toward what constitutes evidence and an utter disregard for how one establishes truth? (Not to mention the "without much evidence" line. Tell me again how this is "not much?") Again, I'm pretty sure that W had help in and out of the Guard - just like lots of other folks at the time. But if you want to prove it, you better have the goods. Saying that we "know" he didn't fulfill his obligations so that the fact that the evidence for it might have been constructed ex post isn't important, just doesn't wash. Memo to Dan Rather: Orson Welles's character in Touch of Evil concocted evidence, often against genuinely guilty folks, but ended up swimmin' with the fishies by the time the curtain fell on that great piece of film noir.
I've been saying this over and over, but it bears repeating: no matter how right folks might be about Bush, the injustice of the War in Iraq or anything else, concocting evidence or playing Moore-like with the truth does more harm than good. The truth is bad enough - it doesn't need friends like this.
In my comments in the infamous sci-fi thread, I noted that the failures of most sci-fi are not purely "technological" but social, in that they can't get right the ways in which technology will be integrated into daily life. Well here's a good example of scientists not getting the future very right, precisely because they underestimated the power of their own disciplines and the speed of technological advance. It's also a good cautionary tale about extrapolating from the present to the future when we cannot even imagine the sorts of changes that will occur in the interim. Competition as a discovery process indeed.
(Hat tip to The Shape of Days)
Rod's recent posts here and here on the Mises-Cato "wars," as well as the conversation on Tom Palmer's site here, here, and here, prompts me to say a few words about a problem I see with elements of contemporary libertarianism, including and especially the folks at the Mises Institute.
There seems to be a view out there, and perhaps I'm attributing intentionality where there is none, that libertarians are, or should be, consistent "contrarians." That is, if the mainstream currents of the intelligensia believe "A," libertarians should adopt beliefs in contrast to A. This is surely understandable for those of us who strongly believe that the free markets are superior institutional arrangements than the alternatives, including the status quo. The intellectual defense of capitalism, particularly in its more laissez-faire forms, is indeed a contrarian position to take. But it's also a theoretically and empirically defensible position to take (in my view, of course).
What seems to have happened is that many libertarians, fueled by the fury of the outsider that comes from having to defend laissez-faire against a dominant intellectual environment that is hostile, transfer that same attitude and energy to other sets of beliefs that are "outsider" beliefs. If "everyone thinks" capitalism is wrong, but you think it's right, why not start to draw the conclusion that other things that "everyone thinks" are true might be wrong? The result? You begin to question the "received wisdom" on slavery and the civil war and then perhaps begin to find yourself associated with defenders of the Confederacy, not all of whom have the purity of your intellectual interest. You begin to flirt with controversial theories on race (see Hoppe's citation of Phillippe Rushton in the 5th note) that many others have branded as racist. You begin to flirt with the anti-Semitic right, conveniently forgetting to mention the Holocaust in a discussion of how many people Hitler killed as compared to Stalin or finding intellectual common cause with the Institute of Historical Review's Holocaust denials. (Note: opposing US aid to Israel or Zionism more generally does not ipso facto qualify as anti-Semitism. It's perfectly possible to be anti-Israel and not anti-Semitic.) And maybe theocracy doesn't seem so awful, because people have misunderstood the role of religion in the defense of liberty. I have also had conversations with self-described libertarians who are skeptics of Darwinism. And, of course, you become a fanatical opponent of "political correctness," without ever even asking how real the phenomenon is and whether it is so antithetical to libertarianism as that opposition suggests.
My point here is that it sometimes seems that libertarians who adopt these contrarian positions do so almost out of a principle. By that, I don't mean that they don't do any intellectual homework. Instead, it's more like the points I raised in the Dan Rather affair: one's intellectual priors lead one to look for evidence in some places and not others, and to read the evidence you do find through the lens of those priors. In this case, a lens that values contrarianism will lead one to particular places.
The irony of this to me is that it is people like Hoppe who accuse the left-libertarians of starting from a prior of juvenile anti-authoritarianism (see note 23) and deducing their political views from there. Could not one say that Hoppe et. al. suffer from a form of unreflective intellectual anti-authoritarianism that leads them to falsely reject mainstream intellectual views that may well be correct? If tradition and authority are sometimes right in the social world, can't they be right in the intellectual world as well? More important, isn't it truth we are after, not our own version of "political correctness?" If the historical truth seems to run contrary to our politics, then it's time to either rethink our politics or rethink whether that truth is really so contrary (or do better history - "better" history, not "libertarian" history).
As libertarians, we do ourselves no good by being contrarians for contrarianism's sake. It seems like that's where some self-described libertarians are ending up these days. Sometimes mainstream intellectuals are right, sometimes they're not. Our commitment to intellectual values of openness and scholarship must come first.
UPDATED 8:45pm EDT as noted in the comments
Blogging on post-hurricane price-gouging is quite the rage these days. My friends, and in the first case, former professor, Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek and Glen Whitman at Agoraphilia said most of what I'd say. However, I do want to make one more point. I find it interesting that most of the charges of "gouging" involve those who sell material goods, such as lumber or shingles or generators. Both Boudreaux and Whitman only give examples involving physical goods.
What you almost never hear are any complaints about gouging when the very same sorts of supply and demand considerations raise the wages of carpenters, carpet-layers, lumberjacks, etc.. Evidently, it's okay for sellers of labor services to benefit from emergency conditions of supply and demand, but not people who sell material goods. That observation then leads me to wonder why the difference. Certainly, the belief that "people like us" are the direct beneficiaries of higher wages while higher prices for "stuff" is seen to mean profits for nameless, faceless corporations might explain a lot of it. (Of course the profits to those firms means higher incomes for owners, who include "people like us" directly for small businesses and indirectly for stockholders and those with stock-driven retirement funds.) Perhaps there is something about the directness per se that leads folks to be more sympathetic and not see higher wages as "price gouging." It may also be that individuals are just more sympathetic than institutions in general.
It would be interesting indeed to see some attorneys general start proceedings against carpenters who start earning twice their normal wage in the wake of a hurricane. I'm not holding my breath.
The buzz in the blogosphere this morning is Ron Suskind's piece in yesterday's NYT magazine on the "faith-based presidency" of George W. Bush. The overarching theme is that this president not only brokers no disagreement, but prefers no contact with reality on the basis of his faith-inspired certainty and confidence. The quote that's getting the most attention is this one:
In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.
The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
Who besides guys like me are part of the reality-based community? Many of the other elected officials in Washington, it would seem. A group of Democratic and Republican members of Congress were called in to discuss Iraq sometime before the October 2002 vote authorizing Bush to move forward. A Republican senator recently told Time Magazine that the president walked in and said: ''Look, I want your vote. I'm not going to debate it with you.'' When one of the senators began to ask a question, Bush snapped, ''Look, I'm not going to debate it with you.''
Several bloggers, including our own Gene Healy, are now taking to proudly calling themselves members of the "reality-based community." I concur. In fact, it would be pretty cool to start a web banner campaign, or pick a ribbon color that's not taken, to publicize that we are members of said community.
Frankly, after reading Suskind's piece, I'm more tempted than ever to not just root for John Kerry, but to in fact vote for him. There may not be much that's new in that piece, but it brings together lots of stuff under a common theme that scares the living daylights out of me.
Another explanation of Bush behavior can be found in this excellent analysis by Julian Sanchez. I think he's got it right: for W, it's all about the nobility of one's intentions, not the consquences, especially the unintended consequences, of one's actions. Money quote:
This would also go a long way toward explaining Bush's visceral reaction to criticism. If one is in the habit of separating intent from outcome, not every mistake is shameful. Things can turn out badly even though one behaved as well as could be expected. When they're inextricably linked, however, every allegation of error rings like the accusatory cop-out of the failed revival healer: "It only works if your faith is strong." To accuse Bush of having made a bad decision is, if this is indeed his mind-set, in effect to call him a bad person, to question the quality of his heart no less than his judgment. Admitting error, acknowledging that things haven't panned out, becomes impossible.
Very good piece.
Those of you who know me or have seen some scattered comments on L&P before know that I have, suffice it to say, little love for the Mises Institute crowd. However, I calls 'em as I sees 'em and when they get it right, I'll be the first to acknowledge it. In that spirit, I offer today's column by Lew Rockwell, with the great title of "The Reality of Red-State Fascism." One money quote:
The American right today has managed to be solidly anti-leftist while adopting an ideology – even without knowing it or being entirely conscious of the change – that is also frighteningly anti-liberty. This reality turns out to be very difficult for libertarians to understand or accept. For a long time, we've tended to see the primary threat to liberty as coming from the left, from the socialists who sought to control the economy from the center. But we must also remember that the sweep of history shows that there are two main dangers to liberty, one that comes from the left and the other that comes from the right. Europe and Latin America have long faced the latter threat, but its reality is only now hitting us fully.
What is the most pressing and urgent threat to freedom that we face in our time? It is not from the left. If anything, the left has been solid on civil liberties and has been crucial in drawing attention to the lies and abuses of the Bush administration. No, today, the clear and present danger to freedom comes from the right side of the ideological spectrum, those people who are pleased to preserve most of free enterprise but favor top-down management of society, culture, family, and school, and seek to use a messianic and belligerent nationalism to impose their vision of politics on the world.
The whole piece is well worth reading.
And let me add a wish for a very happy new year to my co-bloggers here and the readers of L&P. May 2005 be filled with more liberty for all of us.
Well, I guess I better be an economist here for a little bit. In hitting that stagflation link, I couldn't help notice that there was not one mention of the money supply in all the discussion of "inflation." As is often the case, the media confuse "increasing prices in several sectors due to higher oil prices" with genuine inflation. If oil prices are going up, that's certainly going to cause some prices to rise. And it wouldn't be surprising, with this good now relatively more scarce, that growth would suffer as well. But that is not stagflation of the sort we saw in the 1970s, where the Fed was jacking up the money supply and genuinely causing across-the-board inflation. It's a simple point but increasing prices of some goods due to a scarcity (whether real or contrived) is not inflation, thus the stalling out of growth that results is not stagflation. The only thing that deserves to be called inflation is a true across-the-board increase in prices which can result, with only very few highly idiosyncratic exceptions, from an excess supply of money.
In addition, note the subtext: the whole term "stagflation" emerged because people thought, for a few decades, that higher rates of inflation would reduce unemployment and increase growth (what economists called the "Phillips Curve"). If true, this would make the notion of simultaneous high inflation and high unemployment to be a puzzle. When it happened in the early 70s, the financial press had to invent a word for it - "stagflation."
Of course the Phillips Curve trade-off was an illusion from the start, as Friedman, Phelps and others demonstrated theoretically and as the 70s showed empirically. Other economists had long argued that inflation in and of itself reduced growth, so that the notion of high inflation and low growth was completely comprehensible and to be expected. We don't need a word for it, rather we just need to better understand inflation. (I should note that the "costs of inflation" are a particular interest of mine - see my article "The Costs of Inflation Revisited" in the March 2003 issue of The Review of Austrian Economics, or the chapter on inflation in my 2000 book.)
Bottom line: I'm not worried about "stagflation" until I see the relevant money supply figures.
Now, as for which candidate would do a better job on monetary policy... good question. Do keep in mind that whomever is running the Fed, the biggest constraint on the Fed's behavior these days is the speed and ease of international financial transactions. The Fed simply can't afford to inflate because people can leave the dollar much more quickly and easily than 30 years ago. International competition has a great deal to do with the reduction in the US inflation rate (although Greenspan deserves credit, as does his predecessor), and that competition will face any new Fed chair regardless of who is president. There is a lot more consensus in the economics profession about the real costs of inflation, or at least its inability to produce any real benefits, than there was 30 years ago, so I'm less concerned about it than earlier.
I will give one caveat, though: as the deficits and debt continue to grow, the benefits from inflation to the central bank begin to grow, particularly where central banks are not so independent. It's not out of the question that continued high deficits in the US would up the political pressure on the Fed to monetize some of that debt. And that would give us inflation and, likely, stagnant growth.
Over at his wonderful blog, the economic anthropologist Grant McCracken has had several posts about the economics and culture of food. He poses the apparent contradiction between the growth in high-end, sophisticated tastes in food and the growth in fast food consumption, wondering how both might be true. He argues, in part:
But there is another, more interesting, possibility: that good food and bad food are happening to the same people. In this view, Americans are growing more sophisticated in their knowledge of food. They are stocking better kitchens with better food. But by and large, they are eating prepared food.
There was a time when we would have hunted out the “cognitive dissonance” this sort of thing causes. But not anymore. I think we may be looking at a “virtual consumption” as a result of which people “consume” the knowledge and image of good food and the stuff and substance of bad food. They eat what they eat: food that is prepared out of the house, often by fast food suppliers. But they consume what they read in magazines and cook books and watch on TV.
This approach would help explain how it is people can spend so much on kitchens, cook books, and cooking shows and so little time on cooking itself. This is what is going on in the Martha Stewart phenomenon, when people watch the show with pleasure without ever making or thinking to make the dining room center piece. In a sense, Martha’s making it for us. Martha’s making it so we don’t have to. Martha’s making it because, let’s be honest, we don’t have the time.
I'd like to propose an alternative hypothesis:
From an economic perspective, this isn't that odd. It may be that higher incomes have enabled us to indulge in the Martha Stewart fantasy and sometimes even live it out - we can afford to purchase the fine wines, fancy olive oils, and fresh exotic vegetables to make those slow cooked meals in our remodelled kitchens. At the same time, the "substitution effect" of the various pressures on our time pushes us to consume fast food, or even fast casual, on a more frequent basis.
In my own house, we tend to eat "fast" in various ways during the week, but indulge ourselves either eating out more fancy or cooking more slowly on the weekends, or between semesters, or on days when neither my wife nor I have late afternoon work commitments, all of which are when we have the time.
So it may be true that we are "virtually" consuming the concept of the high-end kitchen stocked with top-flight stuff, but it also may be true that we use it as our time permits. If higher incomes are associated with more valuable time, the apparent paradox of the Martha Stewart kitchen in which McDonald's is being consumed may vanish a bit.
McCracken also uses sushi as an example of the changes in American eating habits:
In the words of Darrell Corti:
Ten years ago, to eat sushi you had to go to specialized restaurants and even in big cities you’d find only a few. Today sushi is an industrial commodity. (87)
I live in a town of 7000 in a rural county in NY state. As of December, we now have an Asian buffet with very good sushi. It's both an economic and cultural phenomenon - costs are lower and people are more aware of sushi as an enjoyable meal. Adam Smith had it right - the division of labor is indeed limited by the extent of the market, and that "extent" continues to grow as costs fall and cultures intermingle. The lower costs of production make getting sushi to the middle of nowhere more possible, and precisely the sort of cultural awareness prompted by the rise of the Food Network and other media attention to creating the "good food image" McCracken talkls about, have altered the "extent of the market." And those of us in the boonies are all the better for it.
At the end of a story about Marines who dislike Kerry, the NY Post throws in this little comment:
In Harrisburg, Kerry noted that there was more bad news coming out of the financial markets yesterday, with oil prices reaching new highs and economic growth limping along at three percent.
"Limping" along at three percent? Yes, that was short of the 3.7 percent that was the consensus prediction by economists who make their living predicting stuff like this, but "limping"? Most countries in the world would kill for three percent annual growth, and that growth rate dwarfs the average annual growth rates throughout human history, even throughout the last 200 years. It is about dead average for US history. It's fine to say that three percent is "disappointing" compared to expectations, but it is still a robust rate of growth that, if continued over time, would significantly enrich any country who had it in fairly short order. Income and output would double in just under 25 years at that rate.
Now if "limping" was Kerry's word, then I suppose I could say that's just politics, but I'm not willing to let him off that easily. Again, disappointing and limping are two different things and some historical context is always useful. If the word was the Post's, well then, I'll just let that be.
Well, another step on the road for legal equality for gays and lesbians as a Washington State judge has ruled the state's definition of marriage as between a man and a woman violates the state constitution's protection of substantive due process. The actual decision (PDF) is a very solid piece of legal reasoning that also makes good use of the social scientific arguments against heterosexual-exclusive marriage. And I'm always heartened by the invocation of substantive due process and fundamental, yet unenumerated, rights arguments. Three cheers for the Ninth Amendment!! Let us hope we see thsoe arguments extended to economic issues, as in the Lochner era. I'll plug Randy Barnett's new book on these issues, while I'm at it.
And yes, for my radical libertarian friends, perhaps the state should be out of marriage altogether, but in the world of the second best, it is a violation of equality before the law, also a key libertarian principle, that gays and lesbians are denied the same right to marry that heterosexuals have.
I'm rereading Mill's On Liberty in preparation for teaching it for the first time in a couple of years. Early in the chapter on the liberty of thought and discussion, he argues:
First, the opinion which it is attempted to suppress by authority may possibly be true. Those who desire to suppress it, of course, deny its truth; but they are not infallible. They have no authority to decide the question for all mankind and exclude every other person from the means of judging. To refuse a hearing to an opinion because they are sure that it is false is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty. All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility.
Are you listening Nancy Hopkins?
More Mill, emphasis mine this time:
For, being cognizant of all that can, at least obviously, be said against him, and having taken up his position against all gainsayers - knowing that he has sought for objections and difficulties instead of avoiding them, and has shut out no light which can be thrown upon the subject from any quarter - he has a right to think his judgement better than that of any other person, or any multitude, who have not gone through a similar process.
UPDATE: Folks should also see Wil Wilkinson's neologism"pulling a Hopkins":
pull a Hopkins intr. v. 1. to become faint or nauseated upon hearing a statement contrary to one's ideology or dogma. 2. to leave the room, usually dramatically, because of such faintness or nausea. 3. to feign such faintness or nausea as part of a ploy to establish or reinforce a social convention about the limits of acceptable discourse.
- Any argument that says all differences are due to biology is silly.
- Any argument that says that the mere existence of any biologically-based differences is grounds for simply accepting such differences as unremediable is silly.
- The evidence on the degree to which biological differences explain different social outcomes is very complex and should be interpreted judiciously.
But the bottom line is that he didn't say either of the silly things in 1 or 2.
Question: is the following argument the intellectual equivalent of creationism or intelligent design?
"There is some scientific evidence that differences in the mathematical and scientific abilities of men and women, specifically the underrepresentation of women in these areas, may be due to differences in the brain biology of men and women. We can't be sure that these differences aren't the result of culture (i.e., culture might actually cause changes in brains), but there is some evidence that these differences appear very early in life. If such differences exist, they do not justify any discrimination against individual women. In fact, such differences should lead us to look for additional ways to encourage those women who do show real potential in math and science to pursue those fields, thus treating them as individuals of ability rather than members of a group who might, on average, not do as well in these areas."
Let me note my own agnosticism on this issue, due to my own lack of reading in these areas. However, the argument I lay out above seems to me to be in the bounds of legitimate discourse.
Two weeks ago, while accompanying one of those groups, this one of 15 university students from New England, on a tour of a Baton Rouge neighborhood being bought out by the ExxonMobil refinery, the group was stopped and questioned by law enforcement concerned about homeland security after taking pictures of the plant. Fontenot was asked to collect the student's driver's licenses and refused, saying he wasn't leading the trip. On Monday, Fontenot, 62, said he was told to retire or face a disciplinary hearing that would end in his firing. Concerned about the loss of his pension and health insurance, he chose to retire. >
Kris Wartelle, spokeswoman for Attorney General Charles Foti,
denied Fontenot was forced to retire, but could confirm that he was
The students from Antioch New England Graduate School in New Hampshire were touring the state to learn about environmental racism, and the photographs were to be used in PowerPoint presentations required for their class, said Abigail Abrash Walton, a professor who led the trip.
"We had just met with (Baton Rouge) Mayor Kip Holden and went out to drive around and look at the industry in the area," she said."We came to a house directly across from the facility and Willie let us know that the woman who lived there had decided not to relocate.
"So we pulled the van over on a side street and the students got out and took photos," she said.
"Two or three minutes later, two security vehicles showed up," she
said, and off-duty Baton Rouge police and East Baton Rouge sheriff's
deputies pulled the van over and demanded the licenses of those inside.
One other comment: when you present cases like these to many conservatives, they wind up saying things like"well, that was just some over-zealous individuals and really doesn't represent what the policy is all about." Funny how similar that sounds to"all those stories about problems with public education are really just about a few bad teachers or out-of-control administrators/bureaucrats - there's nothing fundamentally wrong with the system." When you give people political power to do what you think they should, don't be surprised when they do what you think they shouldn't. And don't blame the people, blame the power.
Oh yeah, forgot to mention: Fontenot is also blind and a cancer survivor, for whatever that's worth.
Not that a contest for dumb comments by politicians wouldn't bring in a lot of good entries, but Rep. Ed Markey D-Mass jumps out in the lead in this analysis of talk of extending Daylight Savings Time a month in each direction as part of an energy bill:
"The more daylight we have, the less electricity we use," said Markey
I'm very curious to hear how the two-month extension of DST will actually create MORE daylight. Congress indeed has many powers, but altering the rotation of the earth or its angle to the sun are not, last I checked, among them. Markey has clearly never heard the joke about daylight savings being akin to cutting six inches off the end of a blanket and sewing it on the other end in order to make it longer.
And, yes, I know what he meant was something like "more light at times of the day when more people are up and about." Even so, what this extension of DST would mean for me here in the North Country is November sunrises at around 815am, and sunrises as late as 900am in western parts of the Eastern Time zone. No thanks.