Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What Is The Point of Racial Integration Laws?

Of course, these days, the term "integration" has been updated with euphemisms like "fair housing", "social justice", etc.

That said, such laws intend to replace free choice of association with government-mandated social engineering to produce an outcome where the "correct" proportion of people in each neighborhood/school/etc. have certain superficial facial characteristics.

Specifically: People who write, support, and sue for these laws want to place black people into settings where there apparently aren't "enough" black people.

Why? In education, the values, study habits, and intelligence of white students is supposed to somehow be transmitted to black students who are presumed to be otherwise incapable of achieving "white" levels.

Now, almost universally, white people resist the imposition of these initiatives. And for that, they are called any number of nasty things: Elitist, racist, redneck, etc. But if that is so, then why would anyone want such repellent values transmitted to black students?

Answer: Maybe they don't want those values transmitted.

But then what does integration accomplish? Well, we know that it angers a lot of white people, so perhaps that is the "accomplishment". That is, the laws punish white people who do not live (or send their kids to school with) enough black people.

Living with people similar to yourself is a crime? How so?

Everyone lives with "their own", however they define that term. Just look at any demographic map for confirmation. "Diversity" is temporary, and lasts as long as it takes for demographic shifts to be complete.

Which means that everyone is guilty. But punishment is selective, and is politically based.

That is: Integration laws are unlawful.

And immoral.

And ineffective (at least insofar as achieving their ostensible goals).

Which brings us back to the original question: What is their point? Probably some combination of moral outrage, granting political favors, and good old bullying...because they can.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What Might A Harvard University 150,000-Subject Study Be Missing?

They studied foods that make people gain weight.

If you want to gain weight, you should eat: Potato chips, sugar-sweetened beverages, unprocessed meats, etc.

If you want to lose weight, you should eat: Nuts, fruits, vegetables, yogurt, etc.

The study says that "adjustments were made for lifestyle". No doubt they did, but I wonder how complete those adjustments were. Look again at that list of foods. Is there no implied lifestyle associated with a diet of Lays and Dr. Pepper vs. cashews and sprouts?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

How Should I Think About My Opinion, In Three Easy Steps?

1. Are the facts correct? Saying that an aspirin will make your headache go away only makes sense if it is a fact that you have a headache.

2. Is the reasoning sound? Saying that an aspirin will make your headache go away because the word "aspirin" contains three vowels is not correct, even if the premise is correct.

3. Is it moral? If taking an aspirin for your headache will somehow kill one billion people, then perhaps it is time to reconsider your plan.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What is "Progressivism"?

Progressivism is, like many other mass movements, tribalist, and based lies, arrogance, hatred, and hypocrisy.

1. It rests on fabricated, though emotionally appealing narratives, in order to generate support. The world is heating up. White people are racist. Recycling cardboard boxes is beneficial. America "rushed" to war in Iraq. Women earn 59% of what men earn -- and, for good measure, this non-fact is attributed to "sexism". Worse, these narratives are arrogantly stated as axioms, and the burden falls on others to "disprove" them.

2. They arrogantly know what is best for you, and will make you pay for it. Public schools. Restrictions on commerce. Penalties and prohibitions against improving your property. They also rely very heavily on the guilt-generating illusion of attempting to help the "other". In other words, "How can you possibly enjoy 'X' when someone, anyone, else is suffering with 'Y'?" And their solution to this "problem" is to take your property and control your behavior.

3. Their "causes" are never in support of anyone; their causes are instead are based on who they hate and are intended to incite. Example: Their 1990s boycotts against South Africa were ostensibly to support the black victims of the apartheid system, but they displayed an utter disregard for the routine slaughters and famines elsewhere in Africa. Conclusion: Their real "cause" was hating white people. Example: They display hypersensitivity to the "plight" of the "Palestinian" people when Israel defends itself against their attacks -- but are indifferent to the far larger number of Palestinian Arabs who are murdered by other Arabs. Conclusion: Their real "cause" is hating Jews.

4. Philosophy and logic are absent, and are instead replaced by base-instinct universal "wants". For example, they want clean air -- as if anyone else wants dirty air. They want "peace", as if anyone (at least in the western world) wants senseless wars. They want "health care", as though anyone else wants to be sick. Even their "positions" are meaningless: Discrimination against gays was fine when one of theirs (President Clinton) signed the Defense of Marriage Act. And war was fine when he authorized (without Congressional approval) the bombing of a European country (Serbia) that was no threat to the United States -- and when he launched missiles at Iraq. Similarly, their objections to the budget deficit under President Bush vanished when said deficit was to become much larger under President Obama.

5. Their support rests on dependency. They create entitlements (actually, coercive government-enforced claims against others) that leave the "beneficiaries" dependent on oppressive government. The main progressive entitlement is welfare for old people; i.e., Social Security. But after being compelled to make "contributions" to this "fund" for their entire working lives, who would want to vote for dismantling it? Who would, after being compelled to pay for Medicare for year after year, would vote to deny themselves this "benefit" when it becomes their turn to collect? What parent, after paying years of real-estate taxes, would want to abolish "free" government schools and subsidized state colleges? And so progressivism oozes along, growing, and using democracy as a weapon to further itself.

What is "Racism"?

Aside from being used to demonize those with whom you disagree, so-called "racism" is a catch-all term that includes many different concepts. Here's a list that elaborates, bearing in mind that the word "race" itself is poorly defined (and, in our belief, does not exist at all).

1. Racism. This is the belief that there are innate and immutable biological differences that differentiate between all members of different races, and that these differences nearly classify races into different species. Usually, racism involves pseudo-scientific theories that reinforce the racist's beliefs.

2. Prejudice. This is pre-judging an individual based on their race, but without a basis in biological (or any other) theories. Unlike racists, they may not "know" why people of different races behave differently, and they may not care why they act differently, but they nevertheless perceive a difference -- and will act on it. It is also possible for a prejudiced person to change their assessment of individuals within a race once they get to know them. A true racist must be prejudiced, but a prejudiced person need not be a racist. Generally, this is more benign that racism.

3. Bigotry. With a foundation in racism and/or prejudice, the bigot's group is "best".

4. Visceral attraction/revulsion. This is the sense of certain aspects of races that vary in each individual, and that these aspects can be inherently good or bad. Examples include people on dating sites that exclude/include certain races because of some perceived inherent quality.

5. Utopian Racialism. This is the idea, endorsed by racists and the prejudiced, that coercive racial intervention by the state is required to achieve their idea of proper racial representation. Examples range from school and neighborhood "integration" to "affirmative action" to genocide.

6. Statistical Discrimination. This is a conscious decision to tentatively treat individuals in a certain manner because, lacking more detailed information, only group characteristics are available. It is different from prejudice because, unlike prejudice, it does not make assumptions about individuals. Instead, it says, "I do not know enough about you to make an intelligent assessment. So, for the time being, my optimal guess about you as an individual can only be based on generalizations about your group." It also says, "I prefer to (not) work/socialize with large numbers of people belonging to Group "X" because, on average, that group has been demonstrated to exhibit a certain type of behavior.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What Are Rights?

Rights are very confusing. Some people say that The Constitution defines their rights, others say that their rights are defined by God, and others say that they have a right to whatever they need.

Worse, there are all sorts of different rights that academics fight over: Claim rights, privilege rights, power rights, immunity rights, etc., etc. etc.

But here's one way of looking at rights that simplify matters: There are no rights.

Instead, consider a rights-free world where all behavior is constrained by obligations. Initially, that doesn't sound like too much fun; most people don't like being burdened with obligations. But negative obligations are not burdens.

For example, the "right to free speech" can be written as "other people are obligated to not interfere with your speech". Similarly, the government's right (or, if you prefer, power) to declare war can be thought of as "the citizens are obligated to respect the decision of Congress to declare war."

The advantage of this formulation is that it is easier to determine which actions ought to be rights. For example, the "right to healthcare" sounds like a fine idea, but listen to how it sounds when it is rewritten: "Other people are obligated to provide you with healthcare." Now it doesn't sound as good.

Of course, there are still ambiguities, such as the "right to clean air". Does that mean that other people are obligated to provide you with clean air? Or does it mean that other people are obligated to not dirty your air? And that doesn't address your obligation to not interfere in other people's affairs (like operating factories) that do not directly affect you.

So, we aren't left with a simple answer to everything, but "obligations" vastly simplifies the confusing vernacular of "rights", and it also helps us better determine what sort of behaviors are permissible.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Does "Income" Have Any Meaning?

You say to me, "Please hold this apple for thirty seconds and return it to me." I then take the apple, and return it to you. Did you just make "income"?

Then you say to me, "Please hold this 25-cent apple for thirty seconds, and then return either the apple or 25 cents to me." I take the apple and return 25 cents to you. Now did you just make "income"?

If you answered the first question with a "yes", then please explain how you just became richer by shuffling an apple across a table and back.

If you answered the first question with a "no" and the second question with a "yes", then please explain how replacing your property with something of equal value has made you richer.

Obviously, there is something very wrong with the idea of "income".

Point #1: What About Expenses?

Let's say you give me an apple in exchange for my tomato. What is your income? A) The "market value" of the tomato? Or B) The extra gain in your pleasure derived from trading up from an apple to a tomato?

If you answer (A), then if you pay $1000 for a box of apples and sell them at a loss for $900, your "income" is nevertheless $900. You just got $900 richer! Would you care to pay taxes on this $900?

Now let's say you spent your last four years in school, paying tuition. You graduated and now have a job. What is your income from this job? What you see in your paycheck? Or, should your "true" income reflect the cost of your tuition? And the several years of forgone income when you went to school instead of having a job? Aren't those expenses similar to the $1000 you paid for the apples?

Let's say that your job happens to pay $100K per year, and that you would not have accepted less than $75K for this job. That is, the job is "worth" $75 to you. Wouldn't your gross income therefore be $25K? Isn't that $25K similar to your gain in trading up from an apple to a tomato?

So, when we see that someone has an income of, say, $500K, what does that really mean? If we don't know how much was invested to get that $500K, how much was forgone to get that $500K, and what your "trade up" gain (i.e., your marginal utility) was to get that $500K...then we really don't know what your income is.

Point #2: Exchange results in "income" in both directions

You sell me an apple for 25 cents. You gained 25 cents and I gained an apple. Your income is 25 cents and my income is an apple. Of course, you are not really 25 cents richer -- and that's because you had to surrender an apple. And I am not richer by an apple -- because I had to surrender 25 cents. But yet, we are both richer because if either one of us did not gain, then the exchange would not have taken place. By how much are we richer? You are richer by the 25 cents less the value of that apple. And I am richer by how much I value that apple less 25 cents. And it is very very difficult to calculate those amounts.

But the main point here is that that "income" accrues to both parties. But that is rarely recognized. To say nothing, of course, of actually calculating what those two incomes actually are.

Point #3: "Income" is a pejorative term for "adding value".

You sell apples for 25 cents each. Your customers place a value on these apples of at least 25 cents each. (If they valued each apple at less than 25 cents, they would be pretty stupid to buy any.) But many customers undoubtedly place a higher value on the apples. Some of your customers (but you don't know which ones) would pay 35 cents and are getting a 10 cent discount.

That is, you are making all of your customers better off by selling those apples. Some are made a little better off, and some are made a lot better off. But they all, via a simple exchange, now posses greater value. If you sold four apples, you just increased value by one dollar. And if your four customers secretly would have paid 50 cents for each apple, then you just (unwittingly) increased value by two dollars.

So, why must people say that others "make money" instead of "create value"? Isn't the point of the transaction to create value? My guess is that envy drives people to tear down those who are productive -- and demonize them by casting them as criminals who are undeserving of their wealth.

The crime is "income" and the penalty is "redistribution". They're both meaningless terms that are part of the lexicon of leftist/statist propaganda -- and this malignant ignorance has been threaded into the popular culture so successfully that it is universally accepted as a mass virtue, to the detriment of almost everyone.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Is It OK To Confiscate Jewish Assets?

Regarding Europeans complicit in The Holocaust:

The Hungarian government used the assets seized from Jews to extend its pension system and reduce inflation.

And how is this different from seizing assets of people making more than X dollars for government purposes? Are we supposed to feel revulsion at the confiscation of Jewish assets, but feel that it is proper to take the assets of affluent (i.e., productive) people? Why?

Also: Given that Jews tend to be among the most affluent people, and tend to pay higher than average taxes, could it be that the American tax system is in violation of "disparate impact" laws?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Are "Bailouts" and "Economic Stimuli" Effective?

Of course not.

Unless you define "effective" as the compulsory transfer of property from a productive person to another who has not earned it.

And, unless you define "effective" as reducing overall wealth; e.g., "The economic stimulus has was effective in making people poor."

Let's examine a simple case where there are only three people in the world; you, me, and a politician. And let's say that you grow potatoes, I do nothing, and the politician does politics. One day, the politician declares that the economy of our three-person society will be better off with a "stimulus" comprised of you giving me a large bag of potatoes. The idea, according to the politician, is that I will spend my new wealth -- which will "stimulate" the economy.

OK, I then spend my new wealth on...well, your potatoes -- because that's the only thing to buy in our world. We can obviously simplify this process by declaring that some of what you produce must be given to me. This makes me richer and you poorer, with a net effect of zero. Unless, of course, you grow tired of wasting your effort to produce things for ungrateful people who choose to not work, and you cut back on potato growing. In that case, the net effect of the "stimulus" is negative. That is, I am richer -- but you grow more poor than I have grown rich.

But the politician might say that if I was loaned a few potatoes, as in a "bailout", I would then have the energy to create a potato-mashing machine that would make everyone better off. However, if my machine would make you better off, then you would voluntarily lend me potatoes so that I could make my machine. The fact that the politician is forcing you to give me potatoes ought to set off alarms about the viability of my machine plans.

The real world is obviously more complex that this example, but the principles are the same:

1. The net economic effect of taxation (i.e., forcibly transferring things from the productive to the unproductive) is, at best, zero -- and is probably negative.

2. The morality of the above point is summed up in a word called "stealing". Or, if you resist the theft, you can add the terms, "aggravated harassment", "menacing", and "assault".

3. Back to economics, encouraging people to buy things makes others worse off. If the "economic stimulus" money is used by the unproductive to buy things, then there will be fewer things for the productive to enjoy. The only way to increase affluence is though abundance, and the only way to increase abundance is through production. And if the recipients of "stimulus money" are not producing, then there will be no increase in wealth.

Now, one might say, "Hold on fella, poor people need the money!"

Misleading as that assertion is, it is also unrelated to the stated purpose of a stimulus. You can try using the "poor people" argument to defend taxes, but that is not the same as a "stimulus" argument. And so are other irrelevant arguments, like taxation to correct for externalities. Whatever the merits of those arguments, they are nevertheless unrelated to a general "economic recovery" by way of taxation.

Why, you might ask, does not the citizenry therefore reject the demands of stimuli and bailouts? Because the appeal of utopia is too attractive to decline.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

What Is The Basis Of Morality?

This is an update of an earlier post.

It's still incomplete, but here are ten items that can define a philosophical basis of morality:

1. Utilitarianism (The most people the most happy; e.g., democracy) vs. Individual rights

2. Free will (You have the ability to make choices) vs. Determinism (Your choices are predetermined by your biology)

3. Violence vs. Nonviolence

4. Absolutism (Truth is universal) vs. Relativism (All views are equally valid)

5. Absolutism (Truth is universal) vs. Contextualism (Truth can be dependent on context.)

6. Skepticism (All claims must be backed by proof) vs. Faith (Claims can be accepted unless proven wrong)

7. Individualism (Only individuals have rights) vs. Collectivism (Only groups of people have rights)

8. Cooperation (Agreement and collusion) vs. Defection (Disagreement and competition)

9. Liberalism (Individual responsibility) vs. Paternalism (Forced guidance by others)

10. Equality (All outcomes must be the same) vs. Equity (All opportunity must be the same)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Does Welfare Stimulate The Economy?

It sure does, if you ask Congress and The President:

Deal Struck to Send Checks to Taxpayers

Most single taxpayers would get $600 and most two-wage households would get at least $1,200. The deal includes an additional amount of $300 per child. A total of 116 million taxpayers will receive checks of some size.

Why only $600? Imagine what $6,000 government checks would do.

Does anyone know what the disturbing phrase "stimulate the economy" actually means, anyway?

President Bush, saying the deal would give the economy a shot in the arm, urged quick passage.

"Our economy is structurally sound, but it is dealing with short-term disruptions in the housing market and the impact of higher energy prices," Bush said. "These challenges are slowing growth."

What, exactly, is he talking about? "Shot in the arm?" "Short-term disruptions in the housing market?" What is a "market disruption"?

Well, it appears that:

A) We might or might not have a "financial crisis", at least on paper.

B) If one group of people takes property from a second group of people, then apparently everyone benefits.

"This is a middle-class initiative to strengthen the middle class and those who aspire to be in the middle class," said Pelosi. She said the relief was targeted to "those who need the money and will spend the money."

Just make sure that the money stays out of the hands of people who do NOT need the money...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Is Wealth Acquired by Accident?

Is Wealth Acquired by Luck?

It is an accident that you just happened to be born to parents with the means to provide for you. And it is also by luck that you happened to be born in a country that permits you to get a decent job. And it is also your luck that you were not born in the 15th Century. And, for that matter, it was also a winning gamble that you were not born with a debilitating birth defect.

Further, you are lucky to have inherited characteristics that have enabled you to become wealthy -- whether it's a superior physical ability or a high IQ. And, perhaps your parents used those lucky genetic traits to accumulate wealth to pass to you in the form of an inheritance.

And it could be pure luck that enables you to have the patience and diligence to perform difficult, tiresome, and tedious work -- the sort of work that might make you wealthy.

But...you are, by definition, who you are. You are no more lucky that you were born rich than you are lucky that you weren't born a cockroach. There was never any chance that you would have been born a cockroach, and there was never any chance that you would have been born anything than what you are. If you were born as someone different, then "you" would not be "you".

So, what does all this mean? What are the implications? What is the "therefore..."?

Would it therefore be correct to say that "the implication is that wealth is not really earned, and should therefore be distributed to those who are less well-off?"

If the answer is "yes, my wealth is unearned and should be given to others", then you should give all your money to cockroaches. And maybe you should give your money to plants and bacteria as well.

Or, if you prefer to give to your own species (and why would you?), then your every last "lucky" penny could be transferred to the unlucky poor around the world. You would then be brought down to their absolute poverty, and they would not notice any change in their living standards. Ten million dollars is enough to give a penny to one billion poor people.

In the end, we would have one billion and one poor people.

Unless, of course, all the lucky people in the rich countries were forced to turn over everything they have to the folks in Burundi and Malawi. That way, everyone in the world can be unlucky. Problem solved.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Is the "Collapse" of Housing Prices a Good Thing?

Sure is.

If you think that lower gas prices, lower tuition prices, lower insurance premiums, etc. are a good idea, then why wouldn't lower house prices also be good? Because maybe you have a house to sell? Well, someone else has your house to buy, so that's good for that someone else.

Or perhaps it would be "good for the economy" if, say, food prices doubled because it would mean better times for supermarkets and food shippers?

Why didn't the "collapse" of the price of memory chips, and for that matter, almost all technologies, prove ruinous for the economy?

What is an "economy" anyway?

Ideally, housing prices should drop to nothing. Just as the price of everything should drop to nothing in an ideal world of unlimited abundance. Unfortunately, though, they won't -- so, if you own a house, you'll always be able to sell it for something.

And, probably for much more that what you originally paid -- notwithstanding "collapsing prices" hysteria.

Are Slavery Reparations a Smart Idea?

Are slavery reparations a smart idea?


1. Some people (who happened to white) enslaved others (who happened to be black). How does this lead to, generations later, other people (who happen to be black) having a claim on the money of other people (who happen to be white)?

2. Having a claim on someone's money is the same as having a claim on the work they did to produce value. That is, reparations are also slavery. Therefore, legitimizing reparations is identical to legitimizing slavery. But if slavery is legitimized, then by what basis can anyone claim a right to the slavery known as "reparations" -- other than "you have something, so I'm taking it"?

For argument's sake, let's accept the fiction that white people's wealth (including white people who recently migrated to the USA) is somehow related to the slavery of black people many generations ago -- and that black people (even if they do not have American ancestry) have a claim on all white people:

3. If blacks have a claim on whites, then it's a safe assumption that Jews have a claim on Germans. But blacks also have a claim on (white) American Jews. So, would it be efficient to simply bypass the Jews and have Germans pay American blacks directly? Or do Jews have a bigger claim on Germans than blacks have on Jews? How does one calculate this?

4. Care to sort out the Balkans to figure out who owes what to whom?

5. Exactly how does one calculate the amount to be turned over, even in relatively clear cases? It would require the rewriting of history to estimate, among many possible outcomes, what would have happened if slavery had not occurred. Would American blacks otherwise be affluent? Or would there be no American blacks, as their ancestors would have been left in Africa?

And now, let's assume that we do have the ability to develop alternative outcomes, had slavery not happened:

6. The American enslavement of blacks, as we learned above, was not unique. Throughout history, each group had its turn to enslave (and murder) people in other groups. At which point do we rewrite history? At the start of American slavery? Or when man began to walk upright? Or in 1970? The selection of a start date changes everything, as the enslaved of yesterday might have been the slave owners on the day before.

Conclusion: Any group, any injustice, and any date can be selected to justify a claim of some people on others. If you go in with your mind made up that people in some category should take things from people in a different category, then it is a simple matter to choose your favorite history to justify anything.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Can Tax Cuts be Harmful?

Can Tax Cuts be Harmful?

Perhaps so.

In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, "Pete" du Pont points out that lower tax rates increase tax revenues. (The Heritage Foundation keeps a more permanent thesis on low taxes = more revenue here.)

So, let's accept this premise: Lower tax rates encourage production, which then raises incomes, which then increases government revenue. Win, win, win, win, win.

But what will the government do with this extra revenue? They will spend it. And they will spend it on either government employees or some other part of the parasitic sector: Expanded government agencies, new entitlements, idiotic programs, etc., etc., etc. And that will tend to shift people from productive work to the parasitic dole. Instead of being productive, they will be net consumers of resources.

Now, doesn't that bring us to a disturbing paradox; i.e., lowering taxes might actually expand the stagnating welfare state.

Does that mean that raising taxes might sometimes be beneficial precisely because it reduces government revenue?

Of course, there's some point where raising taxes, to say, 100% reduces revenue and productivity. But can a 1% tax increase be beneficial if it lowers government spending?

I don't know -- and apparently neither Pete nor The Heritage Foundation cared to look into this.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Should Cities Ban Jewish-Made Products?

Should Cities Ban Jewish-Made Products?

For that matter, should they ban black-made, female-made, homosexual-made, etc. products?

Well, why not? At least one city has no problem with banning Chinese products:

Florida city proposes ban on goods from China

Mr Mazziotti said: "I don't think people have the slightest idea how much is from China. I remind people every day. Pick up that label and see where it's made. You might surprise yourself.

"Palm Bay is not going to change the world but this raises public awareness."We are losing out on this war of economics. It's free trade for them but not for us."

His idea had received considerable support from Palm Bay's largely blue collar, 107,000-strong population, said Mr Mazziotti.His hope that other parts of America will follow suit may be fulfilled.

I don't think people have the slightest idea how much is made by Jews...

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Is Bush Violating The U.S. Constitution?

That's not even a valid question, unless you're also upset over all the routine constitutional violations by the Federal Government in areas such as striking down local abortion laws, criminalizing drugs, implementing "affirmative action" laws, and doing whatever the Department of Education does.

None of these areas are permitted in The Constitution, so if you're happy with Roe vs. Wade, then you ought not be upset with Bush for his constitutional "violations". Unless constitutional violations are just dandy, if they're your kind of constitutional violations. Or, unless you enjoy cherry-picking "evidence" to support your propaganda...

Friday, July 6, 2007

What is "Heritage"?

In everyday use, "heritage" usually refers to a culturally inherited trait that the individual receives from his parents. And so, there's American heritage, Irish heritage, Korean heritage, Jewish heritage, the poorly-defined Latino/Hispanic heritage, Black heritage, and, of course, never a White heritage.

(Does "White Heritage" sound disturbing? If so, then are the other heritages also disturbing?)

In general, it sounds simple: If your parents are of Heritage X, then you are also of Heritage X. Of course, it can get a little more complicated: If Mom is Heritage X and Dad is Heritage Y, then you can "claim" two heritages. Or maybe you would just claim one and ignore the other. (To illustrate, people with a black parent and a white parent usually seem to lean towards a black heritage.)

Now, what if your mom claims Heritages A and B, and dad claims Heritages C and D? Or worse, what if...

Mom = A, B, C, and D, and

Dad = E, F, G, and H?

Well, if any one of those eight heritages is "Native American", then you can open a casino. Otherwise, you would probably select your favorite heritage -- perhaps based on affinity with a group that has many accomplished members, or perhaps based on a group that has many members who claim victimhood, or...whatever your preference is.

Next problem: If your parents are from Germany, and you are born in Chile and then move to America, then what's your heritage? If you say "Chile", then that means that your heritage can be both inherited from your parents and formed by your residence. (And, presumably, your children can claim heritages of Germany and Chile -- and whatever heritages their other parent happened to claim.)

Can heritages extend beyond nationalities? Can one also have an Islamic heritage? Or a gay heritage? If so, that means that heritages can be formed by:

A) Where your parents were born
B) Where you are born
C) Your parent's beliefs
D) Your beliefs
E) Your parent's lifestyle
F) Your lifestyle

Pick and choose any or all?

And when one considers that heritages can grow exponentially from one generation to the next (by a power of 2) , then that's a lot of heritages to be burdened with.

Another problem: Adoptions. If a baby is adopted by a Jewish family, then can the baby claim a Jewish heritage? If that same baby is discovered to have Catholic genetic parents, can the baby also claim a Catholic heritage? Can a Chinese baby adopted into an Irish family also claim a Chinese heritage? If "yes", then on what basis? Genetics? That would imply that cultural traits are transmitted genetically.

And besides, how could a baby possibly have any heritage (let alone a religious heritage) when the only things it can understand are eating, eliminating, and screaming?

In a world of constant migration and "intermarriage", the idea of heritage is obsolete, as it is just optional membership in tribe tribe of your choosing. And in a period of relative enlightenment and education, heritage demands that individual thought and behavior be subordinate to irrelevant tribal rituals. And in a world that recognizes individual accomplishment, heritage assigns credit and blame based on other people in "your" group.

And in a powerful state, heritages are used to coercively take (and kill) for the benefit of other heritages.

Heritage seems like a pretty bad idea.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Can Slavery Be A Good Thing?

Yes it can.

In fact, when slavery is beneficial, it goes by the term "taxes." Of course, all taxes are harmful in some way, but they might be the best option in certain cases, such as with the provision of public goods like defense, pollution control devices, etc. In theory, private armies and police forces might be a pretty good idea, but we don't know for sure -- as empirical evidence is lacking.

Regardless, taxes are still slavery. How so? Well, it's easier to see in a barter system. Say that your job is trading apples. And whenever you trade two apples for other items, a bully comes along and forces you (with threats of violence) to give one apple to him without getting anything in exchange. Now, the bully can eat the apple or give it to someone else, but regardless, he forced you to produce an apple and hand it over. He forced you to work for his benefit. That is slavery.

If it happens that he gives your apple to someone who is not as affluent as you, then you are a slave who is indirectly working for a less-affluent master. And yet, this bothers relatively few people. In fact, the tangible benefits of slavery are often subordinate to the high morality of this sort of slavery. Redistributing apples is considered a valuable end in itself.

Which makes on wonder: Why does anyone object to slavery?

Once again, the answer has nothing to do with "freedom" or "rights" or any similar lofty abstraction. Instead, it once again comes down to envy. Slavery is considered bad if the slave masters are more affluent than the slaves -- but slavery is considered highly moral when the slave masters are less affluent than the slaves.

To summarize: Slavery can be a good thing under some circumstances -- and there will be no objection if it feeds into envy as well. Which, among other things, explains why modern-day slavery (taxation) is as popular as it is.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Is Suburban Sprawl Bad?

First, we need to remove the biases from this question:

1. The phrase "suburban sprawl" is the opposite of "urban suffocation" -- yet we rarely hear people ask, "Is urban suffocation bad?"

2. This question assumes a negative starting point; why not ask: "Is suburban freedom good?"

So, a more neutral phrasing would be: "What is the optimal population density?"

And most people would reply to the effect of "The optimal population density is where I am living now." No surprise there, considering that people are free to live where they please, and population density is a factor they use to select a place to live.

In other words, an equivalent question would be: "Is strawberry a bad flavor?" Or: "Is blue a bad color?" It all depends on who you ask; to each his own.

However, there are people who claim that population densities have negative externalities; i.e., my choice to live in a low-density area makes your life more miserable. Or, for that matter, my decision to live in a high-density area makes your life more miserable. Specifically: If everyone else likes low densities, then there won't be a sufficiently large demand to produce your preferred high density. And if everyone like high densities, then there won't be sufficient demand to produce low-density areas.

If everyone else likes strawberry ice cream, then there won't be a sufficiently large demand to produce your mustard ice cream.

People often use rationalizations to support mandated densities. Generally speaking, everyone feels that any added density to their neighborhood is a bad thing. And so, cities cap urban development to "preserve the character of neighborhoods". And suburbs cap development to keep out the riffraff. But if the population grows, and the law prohibits increases in existing areas, then the only place to build will be on undeveloped land further from the core. Hence, "sprawl". And, it seems like a good thing for most residents, as sprawl limits the population growth in their areas.

And so, we come to the final objection, which is: People who come to live in new "sprawling" areas really ought to live in a manner prescribed by people who live in the existing areas. Or, at a minimum, the newcomers should not live in densities that are less than existing densities elsewhere. Why? Supposedly, low densities are less efficient that high densities, and the new space hogs will use more fuel. Of course, they might also live in new fuel-efficient homes. Or they might spend less time in highway congestion (assuming that enough highways are built). Or, maybe they will have fewer children -- and therefore be less of a drain on "our resources". Or maybe their fewer children will not be enough to produce things for the rest of us.

Or maybe this or maybe that.

None of which answers the original question: What is the optimal population density? The answer is mostly likely parallel to: What is the optimal ice cream flavor?

Monday, May 14, 2007

What is The Difference Between Buyers and Sellers?

Almost none.

To illustrate, consider barter: If I give you a potato in exchange for an orange, then who is the buyer and who is the seller? Now, if I gave you a potato in exchange for a slip of paper (or a credit card number) promising an orange next week, then, in the strictest sense, I am the seller and you are the buyer because I gave you a potato in exchange for an IOU; i.e., in exchange for money.

So, this simple example shows that there are two minor differences between sellers and buyers:

1. If a potato is exchanged for an IOU then it is "sold" by me and "bought" by you -- even though this could also be thought of as bartering the potato for an IOU, or bartering for money.

2. The terms "bought" and "sold" help define the direction of the good (and its reverse; the direction of the money).

(As an aside, this also related to gambling. If we exchange the potato and the orange today, we are betting that the relative value each item will not increase tomorrow.)

In the popular culture, however, buying and selling usually have false definitions. Instead of one being seen as the mirror of the other, the buyer is usually a selfless and relatively powerless consumer battling against a "greedy" seller who can dictate terms at will.

In fact, there are three categories of buyer to seller arrangements:

1. Many-to-One. This refers to many individual buyers trading with a handful of sellers. Generally, this includes consumers trading with airlines, insurance companies, banks, pharmaceutical companies, auto dealers, etc., etc., etc. In the popular culture, this category is often thought of as the only buyer/seller relationship.

2. One-to-Many. This is where many sellers trade with a few buyers. The best examples are companies that derive most of their sales from very few customers, such as Proctor & Gamble with Wal-Mart, franchisees and and franchisers, ComAir with Delta Airlines, Tyson Chicken and McDonald's, etc.

3. Many-to-Many: Lots of sellers and lots of buyers. eBay is probably the best example, although real estate and used cars are also fairly good examples.

4. One-to-One. This is where two separate entities work almost exclusively with each other. It's not common, but labor unions come to mind. Companies buy labor from a single union local, and the union local sells labor to that single company (although its influence is usually industry-wide).

For some reason, popular sympathies are neutral in Examples (2) and (3) -- but lean heavily towards the buyer in Example (1) and the seller in Example (4).

For example, in (1), consumer boycotts against specific companies are often considered appropriate, but company boycotts against specific consumers are never considered appropriate -- and are in fact illegal. The only exception to this, when the rules are actually reversed, is where the seller has a total monopoly; i.e., the seller is the government. In that case, boycotts against the seller are extremely illegal (just ask the IRS) and boycotts against individual buyers are the law ("affirmative action" is a good example of a single-seller government might boycott whites, males, etc. once a quota is reached).

Objectively, though, the differences that exist between any traders are related to market conditions (e.g., scarcity, preferences, alternatives, etc.) and have nothing to do with who the "buyer" and who the "seller" is. But when politicians speak to the "many", they use the language that the "many" understand; i.e., the speak to those in Example (1), where there are a lot of people in the "many", and nothing unites them better than inciting them against a common enemy -- and an "enemy" that is very easy to identify.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Is Racial Profiling Morally Acceptable at Airports?

If anything, "racial profiling" is morally required at airports.

Of course, there are a couple of caveats here:

1. Since "race" is just a cultural abstraction, what we really mean is that it profiling on appearances should be required.

2. "Profiling" does not mean "arresting" or "punishing" or "guilty!" or any other emotionally-charged term that is intended to make a point by lies and/or hyperbole.

3. "Profiling" refers to "give extra scrutiny".

All inspected people at airports fall into one of four categories:

1. True Positives. These are people who are correctly deemed as being dangerous, and are therefore kept from flying. All security precautions, machinery, and procedures are intended to catch these people -- but have any true positives actually been caught? If they were, they were not publicized .

2. True Negatives. These are people like you (I hope), me, and almost everyone else: Innocent and are deemed as innocent. Walk through the metal detector, and go to your gate.

3. False Positives: These are people who are flagged as being suspicious, but are really innocent. They are (we are told) flagged because of their suspicious behavior; e.g., buying a one-way ticket with cash and no bags, for instance. Theoretically, this group also includes the "flying imams" of Minneapolis, whose behavior was consistent with terrorism, but actually posed no threat.

4. False Negatives: People who clear security and then crash planes into skyscrapers; Mohammed Atta is a famous false negative.

The problems with airport security and profiling are related to Categories (3) and (4). Specifically, false positives and false negatives are errors that, in an ideal world, would be zero. That is, in our perfectly-calibtrated world, only Categories (1) and (2) would exist.

The trouble is that (3) and (4) cannot be eliminated together; in fact, when one category is reduced, the other will need to increase. Specifically, the best way to eliminate (3) is to clear everyone through security. Put another way, if no one is stopped, then no innocent people will be stopped.

And the best way to eliminate (4) is to stop everyone. If every last passenger is carefully screened, then we know (by definition) that bombers and hijackers will be screened, too.

However, neither of the above is practical. It isn't practical to automatically clear or screen everyone (unless passengers would be willing to pay much more for air travel, in both time and money).

Therefore, a balance has to be found between minimizing Errors (3) and (4). But no matter which balance is found there will be problems: Either too many innocent people will be screened or not enough bombers and hijackers will be screened. So, the best approach is to minimize Error (4) to the point where any additional additional reduction would create a disproportionate rise in Error (3). That is, a 1% error rate in allowing hijackers on planes might be better than a 0.9% error rate if that means screwing up the system but good.

So...how do we decrease the Error (4) rate without making thousands of travelers even more upset over airport delays? The answer (as you might have probably guessed) is to pre-screen people based on their likelihood of trying to blow up a plane. Put another way, at a given level of "passenger inconvenience", the probability of a disaster is lessened by profiling. Or, put yet another way, if profiling were to be discontinued, one of the error rates will need to go up: Either all passengers will have to go through more arduous security delays (without any added security), or more planes will be blown up. Take your pick.

The people in Category (3) are apparently less concerned about either of the above choices than they are about being singled out as a false positive. They say: "Profiling should cease, and other people should be singled out, too." Never mind that they will still be singled out -- what matters to them is that they will no longer need to feel envy of people in other groups that are waved through. That is, to lessen their sense of envy, everyone else must also be inconvenienced and/or more planes must crash. Adding huge costs to flying to ameliorate envy: Is that defensible? Sacrificing lives to ameliorate envy: Is that the moral solution?

Incidentally, profiling does not require that everyone from one group (say, people in Islamic garb) be singled out to the exclusion of everyone else. In fact, a (non-random) mix of checks would be better; if "looking Muslim" is the only way to get stopped, then hijackers would learn that they can get a free pass onto a plane by not "looking Muslim" -- as they did on 9/11. A probabilistic approach would be best; a completely random screening procedure, as stated above, is not only dangerous, but also ridiculous.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Why Do People Tell Jokes?

First, let's define "joke" as not being a one-liner, or a brief witticism. Instead, it's referring to the interminable story that places an enormous demand on the audience's patience in exchange for a "punchline" that is intended to evoke laughter. It's debatable whether anyone really enjoys being at the receiving end of this treatment, unless they wanted to acquire a new joke to repeat to others.

There are several reasons why people find jokes annoying:

1. They are often not funny.

2. It is hard to know when the joke ends, requiring the listener to provide interim false chuckles when he thinks the joke might be ending.

3. Even if the punchlines are funny, they are rarely worth waiting for.

4. They demand that you pay attention to someone who you would otherwise be ignoring.

So, why do people tell jokes?

1. To feel acceptance by others, as displayed by the audience's laughter -- although their laughter (and occasional clapping) might just be a display of relief that the joke has mercifully ended.

2. To compete (or, rarely, to exact revenge) against others who might also be telling jokes.

3. To affirm their membership in the "guy's club"; women never tell jokes. And the louder the laugh, the more you are in the club.

4. To become the center of attention without any effort beyond repeating things.

5. To break the silence at social functions; i.e., some people prefer jokes to staring quietly at the floor.

Some other time, we will need to explore why women don't tell jokes.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

How Do Labor Unions Work? What Benefits do They Bring?

Labor unions exist to gain above-market benefits by eliminating competition through coercion. Without unions, any employer who is unsatisfied with employee demands can simply hire replacement workers who are willing to work for less.

Union coercion can either be through formal laws ("closed shops", "prevailing wage laws", etc.) or through informal intimidation (pickets, violence against "scabs", threats to shut down other businesses, etc.) -- but coercion is nevertheless necessary because there are many people who are very willing to work for much less than union wages.

The monopoly-power status of unions enables them to compel employers to pay their members more than they would have otherwise. That is, there's a transfer of wealth from the employers to the employees. This makes for good populist rhetoric, but no one outside the union benefits -- and many people are harmed. Specifically, unions do not create affluence; affluence can only be created by abundance -- and unions do not create abundance. In fact, the reduction in competition reduces abundance and therefore makes everyone outside the union worse off.

Relatively speaking, even union members derive little benefit from unions. This is because unions "re-divide" the wealth pie without making it bigger, and most of our affluent living standards come from the size of the pie, and not how the pieces are distributed. For example, the luxuries that we (including union members) take for granted were all generated outside of unions; in fact, union work rules interfere with such progress. Specifically, central heating, air-conditioning, electricity, plumbing, cell phones, medicines, computers, etc., etc., etc. are the products of innovation and individual initiative, and not of unionized labor forces. And the areas which are union-dominated, such as American-made automobiles, have lower quality than the innovative non-union competition.

Internationally, the recent rise in living standards in countries such as Korea, China, and Singapore was created by free trade -- which is one of the main things that unions try to stop.

But their public-relations is generally very effective. They portray themselves as fighting for the every-man, but the every-man has benefited mostly by the absence of unions, and not their grabbing of a bigger piece of the pie.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Why Do People Help Complete Strangers?

Would you help someone who was just hit by a car? Someone who you do not know, and will never see again? Of course you would (I hope). But why?

It's not because it's the "right thing to do" because that answer only changes the phrasing the question; i.e., Why is helping someone the right thing to do?

But here are some possible reasons:

A) Conscious reciprocity. Some people like the gratification of hearing a big "thank you"; it makes them feel good. This implies that the motivation to help was not altruism, but instead was a selfish desire for gratification. Or, more cynically, one might help a stranger for a monetary award, or even for an outside chance of having sex. (If that sounds a bit "harsh", then consider who would get more assistance: An attractive young woman or a fat middle-aged man.) Nevertheless, the desire for reciprocity "works" in that the helper and the victim both come out ahead compare to an identical situation where the helper would otherwise keep walking.

B) Irrational justifications. Many people are self-deluded into believing things that don't hold up well to logic. An example might be: "If I were hit by a car, I would want someone to help me!" Though that sentiment might be true, the logic doesn't work; i.e., helping a complete stranger has no bearing on whether a different complete stranger will help you someday. Similarly, some people might think, "That could be my parent/child!" But it isn't your parent or child -- and your helping them does not increase the chances that your relatives will be similarly helped someday. Still, the justifications, though not rational, help everyone.

C) Social or religious pressures. This works to the extent that your society or religion does not instruct you to instead kick the victim -- or worse, run your car over him to begin with.

D) No idea why; "I just did it". This does away with all reasoning and assumes an adaptive biological trait that somehow increases procreation among those who help others -- which in turn increases this trait's frequency in the population. That is: You help others because an ancestor with this trait, a long time ago, had lots of children. (The assistance-for-sex idea might seem a bit more plausible now...)

Two more things to note:

1. None of the above reasons are related to altruism -- or at least of the moral posturing variety. ("I am selflessly sacrificing so that someone else might have a better life etc., etc., etc.)

2. It was an easy example; the helper's cost was minimal, and the victim's benefit was great. There's a big difference between people who, on the scene, would be willing to punch "911" on their cell phones -- and people who make anonymous kidney donations. The real altruists are on that kidney donation line.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Is "Equal Pay" a Good Idea?

No, it is a terrible idea.

"Equal Pay" goes by other names, such as "Comparable Worth", and is intended to remedy the dubious claim that men earn more than women. And in the interest of understanding why it is such a bad idea from an economic perspective, we'll ignore several other issues:

1. It has not been shown that, when all other variables are held constant, women make less than men.

2. The phrasing "equal pay" is loaded; opposition to it implies that you are opposed to equal rights.

3. It is a tribal concept, designed to instill resentment against the male "tribe". Otherwise, it would be called "More Pay", as opposed to the envy-laden "Equal Pay".

4. Enforcement would require new armies of bureaucrats to police the private affairs of others.

So, let's assume that, on average, women really do earn less than same-age, same-skilled, same-experienced, and same-educated men -- and are also equally productive at identical jobs with the same employer under identical conditions -- and that this can be ascertained by objective and politically-neutral parties without any interest in the outcome.

Note, by the way, the phrase "on average" in that sentence. That implies that, on balance, women earn less than men -- which means that there are times when women might make more than men. So, in order to ignore the idea of men also being entitled to "equal pay", then we need to further assume that women universally make less than men under the above conditions. That is, assume that the highest-paid woman never makes more than the lowest-paid man.

One would think that under these conditions, it would be prudent to investigate why women make less than men before passing legislation to "fix" the problem. Or, perhaps it is simpler to just assume the most inflammatory reason and make that the basis of your legislation. In this case, that assumption would be, "Men discriminate against women."

OK, there are two situations where women might be discriminated against:

1. Women are less valuable/productive/skilled than men for some jobs, and this is reflected in their pay.

2. Women are NOT less valuable than men, but employers gratuitously pay male employees more for some reason.

By the process of elimination, Item #1 seems much more plausible. Alternative #2 appears rather unfounded, and would be illustrated by an employer paying everyone $100, and then declaring, "To hell with the bottom line. I'm going to give each male employee an extra $50 simply because they're male." Or, it's the equivalent of an auto salesman telling a male customer, "The price of the car is $20K, but since you're a guy, I'll hand over $2K of my profits, and sell it to you for $18K."

Or, it would require a mass conspiracy among every employer to "underpay" women with the understanding that no other employers will attempt to offer them more; all employers agree to ignore the temptation of higher profits for the sake of underpaying women.

And so, we are left with Item #1, which implies that employers are "guilty" of paying men and women what they are worth -- and that the solution is to force them to pay women more than what they are worth. This is where commerce ends and welfare begins. And it is where employers will follow the laws of supply and demand: If the price of labor is forced higher than its equilibrium, then the quantity demanded will decline. In other words, "equal pay" would result in female unemployment.

There are only two ways to avoid this resulting female unemployment:

1. Employers can ignore the spirit of the law by cutting back elsewhere; e.g., women's benefits, a comfortable working environment, etc.

2. Another layer of legislation can be added that would require employers to not only pay women the government-approved rate, but also compel them to hire women. That is, we could have a government-directed workplace, where employers are told who to hire and how much to pay them. This would result in a decline in affluence and personal freedom for everyone, male and female -- and is a little too close to fascism for, we would hope, most people to be comfortable with.

"Equal Pay" is a bad solution to a problem that does not exist.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

What Good is Envy?

Envy is a good example of a biologically-driven impulse that, on average, benefits us all -- although it might hurt the person who suffers from it.

Basically, envy provides a motivation for people to produce things that indirectly benefit others.

For example:

- If I am envious of your baseball skills, I might practice to become a better ballplayer -- and thereby produce more entertainment for baseball fans.

- If I am envious of your status, I might attempt political maneuverings to become more popular -- and thereby do favors for others.

- If I am envious of your money, I might work harder to make more money -- and thereby benefit the recipients of my efforts.

- If I (with "I" being used only in the most abstract sense) am envious of your girlfriend, I might try harder to be more appealing to her -- and thereby make her happier.

That fourth example is probably the main reason why envy is such a common trait. Those people who acted on their sexual envies were more likely, over the long term, to produce more offspring -- who will inherit the "envy gene". And they will then compete against each other to produce even more envious offspring. Given the direct connection between sexual jealousy and procreation, it is little wonder that sexual jealousy is the most potent of all envies -- if not all emotions.

Also note that the first three examples are probably outgrowths of sexual jealousy; i.e., people (especially men) who are athletic and/or powerful and/or rich are highly demanded by the other gender for procreation. That is, men can satisfy their sexual envy by first working on their other envies. And along the way, third parties benefit.

Of course, envy is not entirely wonderful. For starters, it induces people to expend much effort for relatively little tangible gain. Even with no potential mates to impress, the envy impulse might still function senselessly. ("He worked how many hours to own the most expensive car on the block?") And, of course, acting on envy can alienate people, can cause your friends to disappear, and even get you killed. (Perhaps many fatal conflicts over a female were not, in hindsight, really worth it?) And many people whose envy drives them to seek power and money do so by illegitimate means -- through lying, cheating, stealing, threatening, and killing.

In short, it is very unproductive to feel sick over the fact that a co-worker won Lotto -- but maybe that impulse, someday, will do some good for someone else.

Monday, April 23, 2007

How Can We Get More Banks in Poor Neighborhoods?

A new report by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition finds that most of the largest metropolitan areas of the United States have markedly lower numbers of bank branches in working class and minority communities than in the upper class and white neighborhoods.

Setting aside the curious vernacular ("working class" and "minority"), the NCRC is concerned that there are neighborhoods without enough banks, and is proposing that existing banks be forced to open branches in undesirable locations by way of the Federal Reserve Board's "Community Reinvestment Act".

But instead of using force, here are two more palatable ways of bringing more banks to these neighborhoods:

- The NCRC, instead of lobbying for government controls, can open a bank themselves.

- The NCRC can explore reasons why banks, and many other merchants, are reluctant to locate in these neighborhoods. Or, maybe the NCRC can just ask themselves: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the NCRC
chose to locate in census tract 1303 (West Roxbury, MA) that is 92.5% white.

Of course, there can be many reasons why there might be fewer banks in these neighborhooods. Perhaps the residents prefer to do their banking in other neighborhoods -- like where they work. Or perhaps there are regulations, like usury laws, that make banking unprofitable in these areas. Or perhaps these areas are better served by pawn shops and check-cashing stores than they are by "traditional" banking services.

And this is ignoring the fact that these neighborhoods have many banks. Go to Yahoo Maps, pick the poorest area you can think of, and then "browse by category", "community services", "banks". Look at the South Side of Chicago, and you will find over 300 banks. Apparently, 300 is not enough. What is enough? Probably no number is enough, as that would give the NCRC nothing to do.

And, apparently, it would give celebrity politicians one less lobbying group to please, as well.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Does Determinism Have Internal Contradictions?

Yes, it has a major one.

If we accept the premise of determinism that everything has a cause, then it follows that every cause has a cause. That is, if the cause of my buying a green shirt instead of a yellow shirt is a very complex "equation" that uses biological inputs to return "green shirt", then what was the cause of those biological inputs? My parents genes? And what was the cause of that? And what was the prior preceding cause. And then the cause before that, and the cause before that, ad infinitum.

To continue in Latin, we end up with the reductio ad absurdum conclusion that we can never find the "real" cause because there must always be a prior cause. In other words, if everything has a cause, then nothing has a cause.

But in practice, a determinist will generally stop at a (highly speculative) biological level as the "real" cause. That seems like an arbitrary point in the cause-and-effect process, though. Why not choose an observable point in the process; e.g., the point at which you might say, "I can buy green or yellow -- and though it hardly matters to me, I will choose the green shirt."

Friday, April 20, 2007

Can Mass Murderers be Stopped?


But NOT by these methods:

1. Gun control. Anyone who is risking life imprisonment, the death penalty -- or ending it all with suicide -- will probably not be deterred by the penalties of gun control legislation. As with drugs, guns will always be easy for criminals to obtain.

2. Better defenses; e.g., metal detectors, communications, etc. The most effectively fortified building will only shift the murderer's location to another venue, and for every potential victim who runs to safety, another (who was outran) will be killed. By analogy, a well-guarded home will not stop burglaries; at most, it will shift the burglaries to less-guarded homes.

3. Postmortem candlelight vigils.

Someone who is really determined to kill other people will find a way, and therefore must be "neutralized" beforehand in order to be stopped.

An objection to this sort of "neutralization" (i.e., jailed, killed, or physically incapacitated) is that it requires that punishment precede the execution of the crime. Whether or not this is a sound principal, such laws are enforced all the time -- from the seemingly useful laws against drunk drivers who haven't run over anyone yet -- to the seemingly useless drug prohibition laws. So, the question is: Under what conditions can potential murderers be stopped before they kill people?

It comes down to balancing the two types of error:

1. Mistakenly killing someone who fits the mass-murderer "profile" who in fact would not have done so.

2. Mistakenly NOT killing someone before they murder many people.

Criminal laws are designed to absolutely prevent Type (1) error, which results in the occasional occurrence of Type (2) errors. There's no good way of determining whether this approach lowers the "body count" (we have no idea how many innocent people would be killed by the government's preventive neutralization schemes) -- and besides, many people on principal would not want their governments to have the power to make such decisions.

[There is a big exception to this: The military, in war, will give much less benefit of the doubt to the enemy, and therefore kills first -- even at the expense of innocent civilians ("collateral damage"), and their own members ("friendly fire").]

A compromise solution is an armed citizenry that can restrain (or preferably, "neutralize") the murderer after the murders (or the immediate threats of murder) begin. An objection to this is that if, say, every college student had a gun, then there would be an increase in deaths -- presumably in the spontaneous "manslaughter" category. This seems like it should be of little concern, though, for two reasons:

1. Gun ownership could still be restricted to those who demonstrate firearms competence; people who cannot be trusted with weapons would be denied a permit. (Yes, criminals would have guns anyway. But this would at least keep guns away from incompetent law-abiding people.)

2. You don't need a gun to kill someone. A bat, a pipe, or even a pen will do. For that matter, a big person can kill a small person without any weapons. Has this been a problem on college campuses and office parks? The most weaponized institutions next to police stations are hospitals and doctor's offices; poison away, if you are a psychopath so inclined. But has this been a problem? Then why would armed teachers, or office managers, or college students, present a problem?

Reason #2, though, is a bit troublesome. This is because there is a weapon that is more deadly than any gun, easier to aim, easier to operate, perfectly legal, and ubiquitous: The automobile. Almost everyone "carries" an automobile. Is it used for murder? Rarely. Is it used in manslaughter? That depends on your perspective (absolute deaths vs. the percentage of the population), but it is certainly not zero. However, we feel that the benefits of automobiles are worth the costs.

Back to guns: Manslaughters would probably increase by a negligible amount with widespread gun ownership, but (the rare) mass murders would decline. But another benefit of widespread gun ownership would be a decline in burglaries and everyday muggings.

It all comes down to A) The comparative body counts, B) Which, on an emotional level, scares you more: Premeditated murders, burglaries, & muggings, or the negligence and impulsiveness of manslaughter, and C) Do the ends of less violence justify the means of obtaining it?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Do Trial Lawyers Have Morals?

The ones who only take cases of innocent clients might have morals; the others do not.

The purpose of a trial-by-jury is to protect the innocent, and not to protect the guilty. So, if someone is guilty (of an unambiguous crime like rape or murder), and their lawyer knows it, then a moral lawyer ought to refuse to take the case. Of course, lawyers need to earn money, which explains why they defend (and lie to defend) the guilty. But when lawyers knowingly attempt to persuade juries to free violent criminals, then it can hardly be considered "moral" if the reason is to make money.

Similarly, when trial lawyers attempt to have the courts punish innocent parties (like, say, McDonalds for allegedly making people fat, or drug companies for producing drugs with negligible side effects), then they are also without any morals.

The fact that lawyers often become very affluent by winning these cases does not make them less moral. If they did it "pro bono", they would be no better. In fact, it's the legal system itself that provides the incentives for unscrupulous lawyers to behave in such a depraved way. But still, lawyers do have the ability to turn down cases; they can make choices as well as anyone else.

Monday, April 16, 2007

What is "Third-Party Victimhood"?

Third-Party Victimhood was eloquently defined by H.L. Mencken:

"Whenever A annoys or injures B on the pretense of improving or saving X, A is a scoundrel."

And yet, time and again, "A" is viewed as a paragon of moral virtue, altruistically making sacrifices for the benefit of others.

The most obvious example of this behavior is among politicians, who continuously tax productive people for the sake of providing
welfare to others. It is often couched in altruistic terms, such as "helping the...

- Farmers
- Loggers
- Steel makers
- Minorities
- Women
- Single mothers
- Senior citizens
- Children
- Working people
- Unemployed
- Underclass
- Middle class
- Veterans
- Union members
- Disabled
- Consumers
- Immigrants
- Uninsured
- Borrowers
- People who are denied loans
- Descendants of slaves
- College students
- High school dropouts
- Environmentalists
- Family businesses
- Rural families
- Home owners
- Apartment renters
- Spanish-speaking population
- People with Spanish surnames
- Native Americans
- Motorists
- People who use public transportation
- People who fly
- Cancer victims
- AIDS victims
- Air pollution victims
- Obese
- Malnourished
- Museum visitors
- Public television viewers
- Public radio listeners
- Churches
- Wildlife enthusiasts

...and on and on and on...and ironically enough, they even promise to somehow "help the taxpayer".

From the above list, it's pretty clear that almost everyone falls into at least one (and often more) of those categories -- which implies that the money is simply being shuffled from some people to others, and then to others, and then back again to yet others, until the tax-and-welfare web is so complex that it is hard to determine who exactly is harmed the most. But to some extent, all are harmed because of the associated
taxation. All, that is, except for those who propose and administer these schemes, who are given their "cut" along the way.

Now, let's take one of those groups as an example -- say, museum visitors -- and compare the following TV ads:

1. Politician: "For the sake of art, and for the sake of our children, we must continue to increase funding to museums."

2. Typical affluent museum visitor: "For my sake, we must raise your taxes."

Of course, these statements are functionally equivalent; they are demands to take money from B and give it to X. But when A makes the demand, it appears selfless and moral -- and when X makes the demand, it appears selfish and inappropriate. But they are the same -- except that when X asks directly, at least middleman A does not get a cut.

Why is this such an effective tactic? Probably because A appears to be concerned about X (and we like it when someone shows concern) and X has the dignity to not ask (or demand) your money.

It is something to think about the next time...

- A politician makes a speech.
- A "community activist" makes a demand.
- A coworker asks for a "contribution" for someone else's retirement, departure, birthday, etc.
- An "advocate" for a cause asks for money on the street.

...and so forth.