04 Aug 2015

Framing Effects in the Name Game

Immigration, Nick Rowe 44 Comments

(We also would have accepted, “Tyranny by any other name…”)

In certain states, there are restrictions on your legal name. (For example, in some states there are length limits, and in some states you can’t use numbers.) Now some libertarians will probably say, “You should be able to name yourself whatever you want, screw the State!” while other people might say, “To foster an orderly society and avoid linguistic chaos, surely it is proper for the politicians to put in place some limits.”

But this is a false dichotomy, as I will now show. First, assume that there are only two people (refer to them as #1 and #2), and only two possible names: Alice and Bob. Further, assume that there are no costs to changing one’s name, and that each person is equally happy with either name per se. The only thing each person cares about is whether he or she has the same name as the other. We do not assume that #1 wants to have the same name, or would prefer to have a different name, as person #2. But, we *do* assume that #1 is just as happy as being named “Alice” or “Bob,” so long as it coordinates properly with what person #2 is named.

Now then, in this hypothetical world there are two possible legal systems:

(1) Each person is legally allowed to call himself whatever he likes.


(2) Each person is legally allowed to force the *other* person to name himself what the first person desires.

So, which legal arrangement is better?

Take *that*, libertarians!

(For further deep insights into the political battles of our day, see this post on immigration by Nick Rowe.)

44 Responses to “Framing Effects in the Name Game”

  1. Warren says:

    Well you certainly have your fingers on the pulse of the zeitgeist. This is the topic all Mercia is talking about.

  2. Z says:

    So we’ve gone from ‘Who will build the roads?’ to ‘Who will name the babies?’

    • Major.Freedom says:

      You gotta admit, it is a refreshing euphemism-in-waiting.

      • Gene Callahan says:

        Waiting to hear back from you, Major!

        • Keshav Srinivasan says:

          In case people don’t know what this is about, see here:


          Gene, your libel case doesn’t seem that strong to me. I think Major_Freedom did sincerely interpret your joke as a threat, at least in that thread. Even if in some subsequent thread you clarified that it was a joke, couldn’t he have assumed you were lying about it being to joke in order to avoid making yourself look bad?

          I think Major_Freedom could make a good case that he does and did sincerely believe that your threat was serious. It would be consistent with his worldview, according to which anyone who supports the state is implicitly threatening people with violence. So he could sincerely believe that your comment was “revealing your true colors” as someone who advocates violence against other people.

          • Keshav Srinivasan says:

            *being a joke

        • RPLong says:

          You’re really making yourself look bad here, Gene.

          • rob says:

            While all of this is very amusing and I almost hope that the case of Callahan v Freedom goes to court, I am amazed (given the hard-line he takes with his own commentators) that Gene thinks its OK to continually hijack the comments section of a fellow blogger to pursue a personal vendetta.

            Can you guys take it outside ?

            • Gene Callahan says:

              No “vendetta” here, rob: I want someone to stop saying “Gene threatened to kill me.” All he has to do is apologize for that and I will happily leave him alone.

            • Gene Callahan says:

              And all MF has to do is, you know, send me his contact info, and bing-badda-bing, all done with the “threadjacking.”

              And I don’t think two requests for his contact info comprise doing something “continually.”

            • Gene Callahan says:

              “Can you guys take it outside ?”

              Oh, and no: THIS is the blog where MF keeps lying about me, so, too bad: this is the blog where I will get him to stop doing that.

          • Gene Callahan says:

            Yes, you know, every night, I wake up worrying, “Do I look bad in RPLong’s eyes?”

            • RPLong says:

              Gene, I don’t know why Bob gives you so much latitude on his blog, but out of respect for him, you should can it. You’re just taking advantage of his hospitality.

  3. Tel says:

    I don’t really see the point of this “framing effect” business. In the case of names, it’s hard to find reason why either “Alice” or “Bob” is better than the other, and anyway who ever heard of a strictly limited supply of names?

    In Nick’s example, the case of land, of course some bits of land are more attractive than others. There’s climate, natural resources, mountains, soil, etc. What’s more, as a group of people occupy a piece of land they also work to improve it in various ways… this may include building infrastructure such as roads, rail, parks, dams, etc and they also work to dig up the minerals which are then not available to the next person. In addition, the cultural aspects and general philosophical outlook of some groups of people is more attractive than that of other groups.

    Given that the group of people who are occupying a certain piece of land have worked to get it how they want it, and given that these people have various cultural and legal agreements with each other to get along pleasantly, they therefore have some sense of ownership and don’t want to get kicked out, nor do they necessarily want to have someone else wander in from outside and partake in their property without asking.

    By the way, local neighbourhoods can now be demographically remade by Federal action. We’ll see how that one works out.


  4. Transformer says:

    I think you could extend the thought experiment to offer a third option:

    3) A dictator assigns a unique names to each person.

    If “The only thing each person cares about is whether he or she has the same name as the other” and they can not be certain if the other person shares this preference they will actually be better off under option 3).

    So I guess this proves that dictatorship is better than freedom, right ?

  5. Nick Rowe says:

    Ah Bob! Glad you found it.

    Another example: two identical beds.

    1. Open borders

    2. Forced emigration

    or 3. Sharing a bed by mutual consent?

    (for completeness: sleeping apart only by mutual consent)

    • RPLong says:

      Needless to say, #3 (both versions) is a variant on #1.

      • Gene Callahan says:

        No, #3 yields completely different results from #1. That is the whole point of Nick’s example.

        • RPLong says:

          Nick’s example is flawed. That is the whole point of my comment.

          • Gene Callahan says:

            The example may be flawed, but in it, #1 and #3 are not variants of each other. When you say they are, therefore, you just look like you don’t understand the example. The thing to do would be to note the flaw, and perhaps explain why if the flaw is corrected, #1 and #3 actually come out the same.

            • RPLong says:

              Gene, you obviously don’t understand my comment. I wasn’t offering an interpretation of Nick’s example, I was “cleverly” reinterpreting it to the benefit of my own position. If you don’t get that, you may want to take a refresher course in blog comment zingers.

              • Bob Murphy says:

                …you may want to take a refresher course in blog comment zingers.

                I actually teach just such a class this fall at Texas Tech.

  6. Andrew_FL says:

    A more realistic scenario would have to include not only physical differences between locations, but sociopolitical/legal differences, and in particular the fact that those moving from one location to another will likely in so doing change those characteristics.

    Although I suspect that Nick was getting at this last point in saying moving everyone from location A to location B and vice versa changes location A into location B, and vice versa, most commenters over a WCI seem to have fixated on the idea that people are “forced to live near” people from another location-i.e. the only reason to not like immigration is because you don’t want foreigners as neighbors, because they are foreigners.

    Personally I hate my neighbors based on how they vote. The native statists as much as the immigrant ones.

    Borders as ideological barriers is the essence of the right of secession, is it not?

    • Nick Rowe says:

      Yep. If all the English and all the French cross the Channel, which country is now England, and which country is now France? If one English person stayed behind, because he were unable to move, would he now be living in a foreign country?

  7. Zack says:

    Off topic but Noah Smith has a new article that may interest/irritate you


    • Major.Freedom says:

      It would help if those who cite Austrian economics actually understood that ABCT is a theory of booms, not busts per se.

      • Tel says:

        Seems Noah is recycling some of Krugman’s old material. Not that I think Krugman either needs nor deserves the money, but I do hope Noah is paying for what he borrows, just for the sake of keeping the system ticking over you understand.

        At any rate, with the Fed preparing to hike interest rates, it seems doubtful that the Austrian gold bugs will be redeemed anytime soon.

        I guess we can pretty soon see how Noah will react when he notices the Fed isn’t about to raise rates. I’m putting the flag in just before Christmas on that one. Peter Schiff might be a bit nutty at times, but when it comes to watching the Fed and the price of gold he’s pretty sharp.

    • Major.Freedom says:

      No need to really address it formally, since the commenters are doing an easy job explaining his misunderstandings.

      • Zack says:

        I don’t necessarily consider myself an Austrian, but I will agree that almost all of these kinds of critiques are very weak. Good to see some of the commenters push back.

        • Z says:

          I’m more of a Hungarian myself.

          • Zack says:

            Hungarian Business Cycle Theory is crap.

    • Andrew_FL says:

      “It has never been very clear exactly why malinvestment causes an economic hangover. Why don’t businesses just cut their losses and immediately start investing in something more useful, as soon as they realize that they’re doing the wrong thing?”

      Noah Smith, intellectual heir of Frank Knight?

      “its notorious refusal to use precise mathematical models certainly doesn’t help”

      Nah, Frank Knight at least knew how to engage in economic reasoning.

  8. Major.Freedom says:

    Statesmen declaring laws against certain names are solely to make it easier for them to control people.

    Should, for example, the IRS enter the name “Deadmau5” into their database, it might cause errors in the coding procedures. They, well, the Canada tax collections in this case, want to take money from Deadmau5, and so they force him to submit an “approved” name.

    It is in the same sphere as the Nazis tatooing numbers on the arms of death camp prisoners.

    Just a little less crude.

    But only a little.

    • Gene Callahan says:

      Yep, preventing people from having digits in their name is a whole lot like numbering people you are about to execute.

      • Major.Freedom says:

        Involuntary, check.

        Requires aggression, check.

        Violation of property rights, check.

        System of social control by a small elite, check.

        Power concentrated by those democratically elected, check check.

        It is a difference of degree not kind.

        Try submitting a “non-approved” name when demanded for a name, try civil disobedience against ALL reactions from the state, try refusing not only their demands, but their threats as well. Heck, you can even say the whole time that you’ll pay taxes but your name is “Equality 7-2521”.

        Are you so naive that you believe there won’t be guns pointed at you at the end of the road? Sure, obey well before then and you can pretend the guns aren’t at the end of the road.

        But those of us who are not afraid like you are, I mean deep in our cores, we notice a striking similarity between the state enforcing rules about numbers in oir names, and states enforcing rules about numbers on our arms.

        Oh, and your lack of a substantive rebuttal hasn’t gone unnoticed. It is almost as if you cannot challenge it, so you retreat to your usual childish sarcasm.

        • Gene Callahan says:

          When my Uncle Ned used to insist he was a potted tree, we all rolled our eyes and said, “Sure, Ned!” Insanity does not need a “substantive rebuttal.”

        • Gene Callahan says:

          “Requires aggression…”

          And all it requires is throwing out the form where you filled in a number in your name and telling you to fill out another. No one gets arrested for *attempting* to put a number in their name!

          • Keshav Srinivasan says:

            Gene, I think what Major_Freedom is saying is that if you file for a name change that has a number in it and it gets denied, but you decide to continue using your preferred name anyway, and put that name on your tax returns, and you refuse to file tax returns under your actual legal name, and federal officials come to arrest you for tax evasion, and you refuse to be arrested, then they’ll point a gun at you. In Major_Freedom’s view, that amounts to saying that they’ll point a gun at you if you want to have a name with a number in it.

        • Keshav Srinivasan says:

          Major_Freedom, even if you refuse to file a tax return, I’m sure the government will send you a tax bill, and you can pay the tax bill in cash without ever acknowledging that your name is anything other than “Equality 7-2521”.

  9. Alex Stewart says:

    The real question is: if the government allows people to put numerics in their names, how many people will be named 3.14159?

    • Andrew_FL says:

      Just the ones who’s Uncles stayed in a Parisian hotel once.

    • Major.Freedom says:

      There can be only one John.

  10. khodge says:

    This brings to mind the musician Prince who had his name legally changed to some meaningless pictogram without a pronunciation. If he wanted to be known by a pictogram with no audio component, then that is his business but to have a judge give the state’s blessing?

    Anyway, not my problem because I don’t run in those circles. Now off to read what Nick has to say (no doubt something I can pronounce but not necessarily comprehend).

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