17 Jul 2015

“The State Has Become Our God”

Big Brother 4 Comments

This performance could actually work in an improv night.

17 Jul 2015

GMOs: Pro and Con

All Posts 26 Comments

Mark Spitznagel and Nassim Taleb deploy their “fat tails” framework (initially developed for financial markets) to GMOs.

This guy on Forbes is not a fan.

16 Jul 2015

More Divisive Thoughts on the Supreme Court and SSM

Bryan Caplan, SSM, Steve Horwitz 65 Comments

[UPDATE: I made a few edits to my original version. The substantive changes are adding the points about Sheldon Richman’s and Bryan Caplan’s recent posts.]

I really thought I was done writing on this topic, but the further comments by many libertarians compel me to speak. In the interest of brevity, I’m going to fire off points, which will start off very conciliatory and then get more critical:

==> I had an epiphany on why we are having such fights over this. I realized that when I hear someone use the term “illegals,” my brain instantly shuts down. I don’t care about the person’s policy argument; I simply hear, “Poor Mexicans make me uncomfortable, I would rather not be around them.” So, by the same token, I think many cosmopolitan libertarians simply shut down when they hear someone use the term “traditional marriage.” I’m not saying whether these reactions are fair or proper, I’m just stating facts.

==> As a Christian and a libertarian, I am appalled that gay people–especially kids at school–would be bullied or worse. I can remember how bad things were even when I was younger. For example, when I was pretty young my friend from school proudly told me how some “f*ggot” had tried to approach his dad in a bathroom, so his dad knocked him out. Presumably the story was BS, but the point is, that’s how my friend thought he would impress others. Even at that time I was nonplussed, since this attitude was so foreign to me.

==> I don’t think she fully appreciates the dangers that I perceive in this ruling, but Ali Havens had a very balanced take on this issue.

==> Shikha Dalmia opens her Reason piece with this statement: “By advocating for limited government that stays out of the bedroom, we libertarians have played a crucial role in the American victory for same-sex marriage.” That statement is utterly bizarre, bordering on Orwellian. If libertarians had waged a PR campaign to get local voters to overturn a local statute that criminalized sodomy, then THAT would be an example of libertarians playing a crucial role in advocating for limited government that stays out of the bedroom. But her language does not at all describe the federal government forcing lower levels of government to follow certain rules when issuing marriage licenses.

==> If you don’t share my above shock at Dalmia’s statement, it’s because you think the people who oppose SSM are crazy. Well, the definition of marriage is one of the things that is under dispute here. If the Supreme Court ruled that state universities couldn’t teach about evolution without ALSO teaching about Intelligent Design, presumably the folks at Reason wouldn’t call that “limited government staying out of religion.”

==> If the Supreme Court invalidated state or city government minimum wage laws, on the grounds that the Constitution gave every worker the right to earn a living, I would object to that as an unwarranted expansion of federal power. If you ever catch me being a hypocrite on the matter of federalism, by all means point it out.

==> Sheldon Richman defends the principle of SSM flowing from equality before the law, by asking us to imagine a world where some states barred black people from driving on interstate highways. OK, and now let me ask you to imagine a world where states barred children from driving on interstate highways–in other words, our world right now. That doesn’t horrify people. It’s because people think, “It makes sense to discriminate against child drivers, but not against black drivers.” So, look where that puts us: It’s consistent with equality before the law for state governments to not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, so long as you think it makes sense to do that. In other words, “equality before the law” has no bearing on this issue, if the opponents of SSM really don’t think it even makes sense to talk of a man marrying another man, i.e. that such language misconstrues what marriage is.

==> When people guffaw at the above type of argument from definition, opponents of the ruling often ask, “OK then, if this is really just about personal autonomy and subjective preferences, then are we going to issue marriage licenses to polygamists? What about…” and then they go on to list other, more provocative things, which causes defenders of the ruling to go nuts, saying, “Oh, so you think gay people are just like _____ do you?!” Well, Bryan Caplan is on record supporting polygamy without even a caveat, so the first step isn’t a strawman.

==> (Yes, I know there is polygamy in the Bible. I’ve read the book.)

==> Many libertarians loved it when David Boaz claimed that libertarians supported gay marriage back in the 1970s. Specifically Boaz wrote: “In 1976 the Libertarian Party issued a pamphlet calling for an end to antigay laws and endorsing full marriage rights.”

Now I read that and was extremely skeptical. Surely even the Libertarians wouldn’t have been so tone-deaf as to go out on a limb, on an issue that hardly flowed directly from their principles, in a way that would guarantee electoral suicide at that time? Well, if you click the link, it goes to a Ralph Raico essay titled, “Gay Rights: A Libertarian Approach.” As I certainly expected, it focused on protecting vulnerable minorities from State violence as punishment for consensual acts, positions which clearly do flow naturally from libertarian principles. Raico’s essay has ONE OCCURRENCE of the word “marriage,” and here it is (when Raico summarized the positions in the 1976 pamphlet): “Repeal of legislation prohibiting unions between members of the same sex, and the extension to such unions of all legal rights and privileges presently enjoyed by partners in heterosexual marriages.”

At first it sounds like the Libertarian candidates in 1976 were all campaigning on a platform of gay marriage, doesn’t it? But read it again. That’s not what it says. Rather, it says members of the same sex should be legally allowed to form unions which enjoy the same legal rights and privileges afforded to heterosexuals when they marry.

People who are older than me can tell me I’m wrong, but I’m reading that as saying something like, “The State shouldn’t impose a higher tax burden on two men who want to be romantic partners for life, than for a man and woman who are married.” I don’t see that saying, “The Justice of the Peace should issue a marriage license to two men who request it.”

==> I saw several libertarians–ranging from younger “cool kids” to older icons–mock those who worried that the Supreme Court ruling would lead to a loss of liberty for Christians. Well, check out Felix Salmon’s thoughts, and the principles he espouses (not just his particular policy recommendation).

==> Steve Horwitz had a piece in USA Today where he laughed at people warning of social decay from SSM, going back to those who worried in the past whenever society’s notion of marriage changed. Horwitz writes: “It’s true that the divorce rate has risen since the 1950s, but it leveled off in the 1980s and has slowly fallen over the past two decades as people have adjusted to changes in gender roles and marriage.”

What’s weird, though, is that if you click the link, you’ll see it’s to a piece announcing a new study that says Horwitz’s description is false, and that when the researchers in the new study “controlled for changes in the age composition of the married population…they found that the age-standardized divorce rate has actually risen by an astonishing 40 percent” since the 1980s. Here’s the graphic from the article Horwitz linked to, in a piece making fun of people who warned in the past that marriage was in trouble:

Boomers Divorce

As this chart shows, people aged 55-59 had a failed-marriage rate (specifically, percentage of ever-married who were ever divorced or separated) of about 18% in 1970, but about 46% in 2010. That’s an increase of more than 150%. What would have had to happen to validate the fears of people who didn’t like Elvis shaking his hips on national TV? Would the divorce rate of his fans have had to triple? (The article also explains that the rate among younger people hasn’t continually risen, but only because they are shacking up now instead of getting married.)

==> Please do not interpret my reaction to Horwitz’s column as an endorsement of colored vs. white water fountains, etc. I am simply pointing out that the level of argument I’ve seen on this topic has been quite low (which is why I feel I have to say something). If progressives had started the hashtag “#HealthWins” after the SCOTUS ruling on ObamaCare, I’m sure the people at Reason et al. would understand why that was a rather useless way to frame the policy dispute. So at least you know how some of us feel when we were bombarded with “#LoveWins.”

16 Jul 2015

OK Sumner, You Win This Time…

Scott Sumner 13 Comments

…but we’ll be back!

Recently David R. Henderson had a very gallant post in which he admitted that he thought he was going to catch somebody in a bout of hypocrisy, but had been wrong. So let me do the same thing here.

This morning, I read Scott Sumner really letting people have it for arguing that a currency depreciation could help a country’s real GDP by boosting its (net) exports. “Oh boy, here we go,” I thought. “Another example of Scott wagging his finger at people for making ceteris paribus assumptions and taking a shortcut, when he himself has done the same thing a dozen times on his blog while touting the virtues of looser money.”

Well, I spent ten minutes looking and couldn’t find an example of Sumner making the same “mistake,” and what’s worse I found several examples of him making the same (correct, in terms of the framework he’s using) point in the EconLog post. Namely, Scott was pointing out that if currency depreciation occurs because of looser monetary policy in a situation where that promotes growth, for all we know net exports might FALL (even as real GDP rises), because the richer population now buys more imports.

So, I am happy to report that Scott has been pretty consistent on this point. However, I still will die on the hill for my claim that Scott “reasons from a price change” when it comes to interest rates all the time.

16 Jul 2015

Tom Woods and I Are Pro-Choice?!

Shameless Self-Promotion 9 Comments

Check it out here.

15 Jul 2015

Unintended Consequences

Shameless Self-Promotion 44 Comments

My latest FEE article briefly describes five examples of “unintended consequences.” I bet you haven’t heard of all of them.

Before you write and tell me, “Bob, you should’ve included such-and-such,” I want you to reflect on the fact that (a) there are thousands of possible examples and (b) the whole point was to include NON-obvious examples.

(In case it’s not clear, my patience with online libertarians is at a decade-low at the moment.)

13 Jul 2015


Potpourri 85 Comments

==> Justin Mohr asks me about the Great Depression.

==> Tyler Cowen posted this interesting excerpt on ACA (“ObamaCare”) enrollment.

==> Like Walter Block, Daniel Kuehn hates the term “market failure.”

==> MK Lords is disillusioned with certain elements of libertarianism. Just to warn all of you, after I get caught up on my day job, I am going to push back against the writings in support of the SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage coming from many libertarians. So partly to defuse the reaction that, “Oh jeez Bob you can’t stand it when people criticize your buddies,” that’s why I’m highlighting MK Lords’ piece here, because I know exactly what she means. In other words, I am a huge critic of annoying libertarian traits (especially if you follow me on Facebook you’ll know what I mean). So when I am going to push back on the SSM stuff, it’s because I really think the targets of my criticism are missing the boat.

==> It is astounding how the two (main) sides in the climate change debate have such different narratives. In this piece, for example, the message is that climate scientists are afraid to raise the alarm because they’ll be blacklisted and have their careers ruined. (?!) And it contains this gem of a sentence: “For more than thirty years, climate scientists have been living a surreal existence. A vast and ever-growing body of research shows that warming is tracking the rise of greenhouse gases exactly as their models predicted.” I think the only response is this.

==> Attention Josiah Neeley and others who thought I was attacking a strawman: Here is one of my star former pupils arguing that if only 1% of the population understood the benefits of vaccination, they would be justified in forcing the other 99% to undergo it. I wait for you to rush to my defense (after you apologize of course), now that you see this isn’t merely a matter of government school policies.

==> Which economist said it? “Real estate is one of the easiest forms of consumption to hit with a progressive tax. We already have property taxes, and we already estimate the value of properties. Just do it!” Thomas Piketty? Paul Krugman? Joseph Stiglitz?

12 Jul 2015

“Down There By the Train”

Religious 1 Comment

Johnny Cash opens his heart and soul.