Morning Links

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011
  • Bill Easterly on how U.S. national security interests and national building have taken over foreign aid.
  • New poll shows that 73 percent of Americans think there are too many or shouldn’t be any more “rich people.” If this poll is accurate, I’m with Jason Kuzinski, here. This is insane. Whatever you think about the people who currently, er, occupy the one percent, that nearly three-quarters of the country think we’d be better off with fewer wealthier people overall shows just that all this class warfare—some of it understandable, even justified—is also making people crazy.
  • Judge rebukes FBI for lying to a federal court.
  • Joe Henry sings for you.
  • Obama continues his paltry and spineless use of the pardon power. He issued five pardons and one commutation yesterday. The five pardons were for people who have already served their sentences.
  • Man asks shuttle service to stop so he can pee. Shuttle service obliges. Man steps in a hole while walking out to relieve himself, breaks his leg. Man sues shuttle service. Federal judge denies shuttle service summary judgment.
  • 569 days after he was arrested, detained, and held in isolation, Bradley Manning gets a date in court for a pre-trial hearing to see if the government has enough evidence to charge him.
  • The myth of the meth-damaged brain.

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69 Responses to “Morning Links”

  1. #1 |  John C. Randolph | 

    It’s known that flatter wealth gradients, i.e., more equality of econ. outcome, are correlated with greater health and happiness among the population, and are therefore a desirable function of government.

    They’re a consequence of economic liberty. We used to have quite a bit of that in the USA.

    -jcr

  2. #2 |  Matt D | 

    Can we all stop making fun of the puppeteer? I know an MFA in puppetry just begs for it, but the fact is, the guy was responding pretty rationally to incentives. He went back to school to earn an advanced degree that, at the time, commanded a wage premium in his field.

  3. #3 |  John C. Randolph | 

    The telltale signs of the closed mind are not engaging worthy critiques

    You have yet to provide anything resembling a worthy critique.

    -jcr

  4. #4 |  La Rana | 

    Jcr – this is a longstanding dispute. I have been heckling radley for years.

  5. #5 |  Radley Balko | 

    The telltale signs of the closed mind are not engaging worthy critiques…

    I have respectfully engaged you in discussions of economic issues in the comments section on several occasions. You tend to respond by calling me and other free market types ignorant, naive, embarrassing, and other puerile name-calling. So who exactly has the closed mind, here?

    And you haven’t hurt my feelings. I’ve banned people for insulting other regular commenters on this site, particularly when they do so without also contributing something substantive. It’s about keeping up the level and tone of the discussion. I’m now giving you the courtesy of a warning.

  6. #6 |  Elliot | 

    Radley Balko:…all this class warfare—some of it understandable, even justified…

    I’d be very interested in seeing some explication of that particular aside.

    Class warfare presented as have vs. have-not generates strife on artificial boundaries, manufacturing boogeymen instead of seeing the underlying causes of injustice.

    A more useful “class struggle” would be between the political class and the private class. That’s not a perfect demarcation between bad and good, but it’s much closer to reality than have vs. have-not.

  7. #7 |  Gray Woodland | 

    Boyd Durkin @ 47: For the most part I agree with albatross, if that helps.

    The clearest I can summarize my own main point is that unconstrained wealth distribution is a valuable liberty in and of itself, but that very high levels of inequality make general liberties strategically difficult for most individuals to defend from abuses by the lawlessly powerful. The more costly it can be made to convert market clout into coercive clout, the more unconstrained the market can be without self-destructing. Which would be a good thing.

    I think that concentrating power in the government in order to prevent such dangerous concentrations of power, has neither history nor logic to commend it.

    I suspect I consider the present market more distorted than you do, and its dominant actors more effectively integrated with the State.

    On this:

    Tiny stateless solutions will be first to succeed and they won’t be available for everyone, they won’t want everyone, and not everyone will want them (fear). But for some of us, we’ll have the problem solved.

    we at least share an aspiration, and I wish I shared a greater measure of your confidence.

  8. #8 |  John C. Randolph | 

    I have been heckling radley for years.

    Have you considered getting a life?

    -jcr

  9. #9 |  John C. Randolph | 

    . It’s about keeping up the level and tone of the discussion.

    I’m glad that you do so. Pharyngula really went to seed when PZ quit caring about civility.

    -jcr

  10. #10 |  John C. Randolph | 

    A more useful “class struggle” would be between the political class and the private class.

    I’d describe that as the thugs versus the peaceful citizens.

    -jcr

  11. #11 |  JOR | 

    “Sam, see USSR, 1922-1990.”

    Yes, the USSR was such a bastion of equality that it was all owned by a select caste of deciders.

    Oops.

  12. #12 |  JOR | 

    North Korea is another wonderful example of a society where control of resources is equal. That’s totally why the whole country is basically a cross between a prison camp and amusement park for one guy.

  13. #13 |  JOR | 

    “Class warfare presented as have vs. have-not generates strife on artificial boundaries, manufacturing boogeymen instead of seeing the underlying causes of injustice.”

    Not necessarily. It could be fairly argued that wealth inequalities underly your supposedly-underlying causes (use of coercion) rather than the other way around. I don’t actually think that’s true, or rather I don’t think it’s always true; actual real life history is more complicated. Often enough, vast, lasting wealth inequalities result from the use of coercion. But the buildup of wealth inequalities also makes coercion easier for the wealthy to carry out (other things equal). People are not Randian caricatures that can be filed into classes of “producer” and “parasite”, set in stone for life. Moral reasoning aside (I don’t throw in this caveat lightly, I understand the importance of ideas), people are basically opportunistic, social-climbing hunter-gatherers. They’ll trade when it’s profitable, steal what they can, and keep down those they perceive as inferior by any means possible. If they can sell themselves a rationalization about how they “deserve” to be above whoever they’re above because they’re smarter, or more productive, or stronger, or braver, or whatever, then so much the better.

  14. #14 |  Ryan the Sea Lion | 

    Radley, don’t forget about Obama’s most meaningful pardon yet:
    http://nation.foxnews.com/thanksgiving/2011/11/23/one-lucky-bird

  15. #15 |  Matt | 

    Statists are inherently pro-inequality. The free market is a profit-minimizing device. This falls straight out of econ 101 math; as more and more conditions for a free market are satisfied, profit approaches zero. If you look at the most “profitable” industries in the US you will see the industries with the significant government regulation and control. The regulations put on these industries is what allows them to maintain their high level of profit through reduced competition.

  16. #16 |  Elliot | 

    JOR (#63):It could be fairly argued that wealth inequalities underly your supposedly-underlying causes (use of coercion) rather than the other way around. … Often enough, vast, lasting wealth inequalities result from the use of coercion. But the buildup of wealth inequalities also makes coercion easier for the wealthy to carry out (other things equal).

    Wealth and aggressive coercion are not inherently connected.

    Government and aggressive coercion are inherently connected, by definition. Government, as the assertion of a monopoly on the use of force, requires it. For that reason, people with wealth can leverage the power of government as a force multiplier. Campaign contributions are much cheaper than hiring your own muscle, and you don’t risk as much blow back in public sentiment when using rent seeking, as opposed to mafia-style intimidation.

    In a laissez faire free market, Wal-Mart or GE cannot force me to buy their products. They can’t deduct anything from my paycheck. But once the government intervenes, such corporations can use rent-seeking to steal from me.

    Also, most discussions of “wealth inequalities” are laden with all sorts of false ethical premises and epistemological incompetence. The most blatant error stems from interpreting the technical statistical term “distribution” as a verb, employing such analogies as dividing up a pie or other such departures from reality. Wealth is created. It doesn’t grow on trees and no evil cabal divides it up. As a corollary, wealth is not a zero-sum condition. If one group increases production and has an increase in income as a result, that doesn’t mean that there will be a decrease in income for others.

    People are not Randian caricatures that can be filed into classes of “producer” and “parasite”, set in stone for life.

    You’re the one bringing that woman into the discussion. I’m not an Objectivist, so I have no interest in defending that philosophy. I’d rather discuss my points.

    That said, the vast majority of critics of Rand are embarrassingly ignorant, their political ideas far less accurate than hers. For all her flaws, she could easily run circles around most intellectuals, from Chomsky to Krugman. Decades ago, it was easy to dismiss her (or Orwell, for that matter), as overly cynical. But in recent years, it’s frightening how real life politicians and journalists have become more like Randian or Orwellian villains, almost as though they used those books as blueprints for their corrupt behavior. And, that sort of rot runs the gamut from NHS/Patriot Act/renditions/predator drones to ObamaPelosiCare/TARP/GM/NLRB, all in parallel to the War on Drugs which has been a constant source of judicial precedents and frog bath temperature increases.

    Moral reasoning aside (I don’t throw in this caveat lightly, I understand the importance of ideas), people are basically opportunistic, social-climbing hunter-gatherers. They’ll trade when it’s profitable, steal what they can, and keep down those they perceive as inferior by any means possible.

    Speak for yourself. Many of us are better than that.

    Granted, due to cultural decay (driven by big government and post modernist philosophical nonsense), younger generations seem to have fewer people who are better than that. But that’s an argument against government and for reason.

    If they can sell themselves a rationalization about how they “deserve” to be above whoever they’re above because they’re smarter, or more productive, or stronger, or braver, or whatever, then so much the better.

    That psychobabble works both ways. If some Occupy loser can sell himself a rationalization about how he “deserves” to be coddled and rewarded for drawing breath, at the expense of others who are “evil”, then he can justify plundering what he took no part in producing.

    Note that I don’t include the valid objections to corporatism. On matters such as TARP, I think even Rick Santelli and some of the Occupy protesters could find common ground.

    Instead, I’m referring to idiotic demands, like the adult child who stated on camera that he wants other people to pay his student loans but who couldn’t manage to offer even a seed of justification.

  17. #17 |  Elliot | 

    Matt (#65):This falls straight out of econ 101 math; as more and more conditions for a free market are satisfied, profit approaches zero.

    So are you actually claiming that Steve Jobs and Oprah Winfrey would be paupers if people had the freedom to choose what computer to buy or what TV show to watch?

    Through division of labor and free trade, most people are able to profit through mutual, consensual exchanges. If they couldn’t profit, they wouldn’t choose to make them. So, if you punch rivets into widgets for $10/hr. and you pay $600 for an iPad, you’re profiting by getting a device that you couldn’t build with 60 hours of your time. Apple profits because they have more use for your money than for a warehouse full of identical devices.

    You really should refrain from phrases like “econ 101” if you’re going to get such basic things completely wrong.

  18. #18 |  John Spragge | 

    I believe real wealth can increase two ways: technical change and concentration. Consider: if you had taken the memory size, disk size, and processing power of the computer I am working on right now to IBM in 1975, the year the US Navy launched the USS Nimitz, IBM would have called c computer of those specifications impossible to build. If the US Navy had taken the specs to IBM, and told them to duplicate the computing power whatever it took, IBM would have charged them about the cost of the USS Nimitz. In 1975 dollars. So does that make me a multi-billionaire because I have three computers in my office? No, but it does mean I have access to knowledge and resources that no billionaire before 1980 could have afforded. General societal wealth has gone up, but the actual effect does not show as an increase of money; rather it shows up as new, or substantially less expensive, goods available.

  19. #19 |  Mairead | 

    In response to JOR (63):
    people are basically opportunistic, social-climbing hunter-gatherers. They’ll trade when it’s profitable, steal what they can, and keep down those they perceive as inferior by any means possible. If they can sell themselves a rationalization about how they “deserve” to be above whoever they’re above because they’re smarter, or more productive, or stronger, or braver, or whatever, then so much the better.

    You’re making the mistake of presuming nature.

    “Human nature” is made up only of those characteristics common to all unimpaired human individuals. If we don’t find it everywhere, it’s not inbuilt, not “nature”.

    If we look at humans cross-culturally, the single characteristic that’s common to all humans is adaptability. We are able, perhaps alone among all other creatures, to completely change our behavioral repertoires within our personal lifespans. That, and only that, is our “human nature”.

    When we do that cross-cultural survey, we also see that in cultures that haven’t crossed the little-tribe/big-tribe boundary people are egalitarian, open, social, and not exploitative. Columbus wrote in his journal about how astonishingly welcoming, honest, and generous the Taino people were — it completely went against what he thought “human nature” was from having lived only in Europe. He concluded that they must be mentally defective in some way, but would make good slaves!

    Of course they were the opposite of mentally defective. Since the life of such tribes depends on their members cooperatively getting along with one another and pulling their own weight, the elders look for psychopaths among the children. Those they find that are obligative – that can’t or won’t conform their behavior – are diagnosed as being possessed and expelled or killed. The adult members of the tribe are therefore people who are naturally cooperative, eager to share, etc – all the traits that Columbus thought make them daft.

    It’s only when the culture becomes too big for the elders to monitor the kids closely that psychopaths survive to adulthood and gain positions of power as shamans or chieftains, and begin to manipulate the tribal culture for their own benefit.

    Our modern nation states are the result of ~ 20K years of that psychopathic shaping, and so it’s hardly surprising that a lot of people behave psychopathically at least some of the time.

    But, as the Ultimatum Game (and similar) shows, simple fairness – definitely not a psychopath-approved value – is still the number one desideratum among ordinary people across cultures around the world, more important than money. “Homo Economicus”, as most of us suspected from our own experience, is a Big Lie.