21 Mar 2013

When Children Change Your Mind

All Posts 63 Comments

[Slight UPDATE in the text to clarify David R. Henderson’s position.]

Seeing Steve Landsburg doing everything in his power to get fired, I will take a shot at my own thought-provoking post that is sure to upset some readers for its apparent obtuseness:

==> A lot of people, including some libertarians but especially progressives, went out of their way to criticize were less than enthusiastic about Senator Rob Portman for supporting gay marriage after his son came out. Here’s the reigning internet arbiter of decency and monetary policy, Matt Yglesias:

Remember when Sarah Palin was running for vice president on a platform of tax cuts and reduced spending? But there was one form of domestic social spending she liked to champion? Spending on disabled children? Because she had a disabled child personally? Yet somehow her personal experience with disability didn’t lead her to any conclusions about the millions of mothers simply struggling to raise children in conditions of general poorness. Rob Portman doesn’t have a son with a pre-existing medical condition who’s locked out of the health insurance market. Rob Portman doesn’t have a son engaged in peasant agriculture whose livelihood is likely to be wiped out by climate change. Rob Portman doesn’t have a son who’ll be malnourished if SNAP benefits are cut. So Rob Portman doesn’t care.

It’s a great strength of the movement for gay political equality that lots of important and influential people happen to have gay children. That obviously does change people’s thinking. And good for them.

But if Portman can turn around on one issue once he realizes how it touches his family personally, shouldn’t he take some time to think about how he might feel about other issues that don’t happen to touch him personally? Obviously the answers to complicated public policy questions don’t just directly fall out of the emotion of compassion. But what Portman is telling us here is that on this one issue, his previous position was driven by a lack of compassion and empathy. Once he looked at the issue through his son’s eyes, he realized he was wrong. Shouldn’t that lead to some broader soul-searching? Is it just a coincidence that his son is gay, and also gay rights is the one issue on which a lack of empathy was leading him astray? That, it seems to me, would be a pretty remarkable coincidence.

==> I heard on the radio today that the parents who lost children at the Newton massacre are working with Vice President Biden in a gun control initiative. (I can’t seem to find a news story about it now, so I have to be vague on the details.)

==> Is Matt Yglesias going to write a post criticizing these parents? After all, they weren’t lobbying for gun control legislation until it affected them personally. Isn’t that exactly what he criticized Palin and Portman for doing?

Let me be clear:

==> I am NOT criticizing the Newton parents. I can’t even imagine how awful that would be, and while I don’t support gun control by the government (I’m a pacifist in my personal life), I can totally understand trying to do something to make sense of what happened, namely by preventing similar tragedies from befalling others.

==> Yet precisely because I understand that obvious psychological fact about humans, it never occurred to me to get huffy about Rob Portman, or about Sarah Palin if I had known she favored spending money on disabled kids.

==> So in summary, I am NOT criticizing the Newton parents for all of a sudden thinking gun control is worth their times, since the issue has now touched their families. But I’m wondering what people who criticized Sarah Palin or Rob Portman would say: why is this case so different? It can’t simply be, “Because it’s not a tragedy if your son turns out to be gay,” because that defense won’t work for Palin. It’s obviously a hardship if your kid is disabled, so if we’re going to criticize her, why not the Newton parents?

I suspect in the case of Yglesias, one obvious reason is: he doesn’t like Palin’s political views, but he supports more gun control legislation.

63 Responses to “When Children Change Your Mind”

  1. Daniel Kuehn says:

    I wish I could unread what I just read on Landsburg’s page.

    On your question – here’s a shot at it (just figuring what Yglesias means – not taking sides on the Portman thing). The concern doesn’t seem to be what brought Palin and Portman to support people with disabilities and gay rights. As Yglesias says: “good for them”. The concern is that Yglesias thinks Palin and Portman are so lacking in empathy in so many other ways. That’s the real glaring thing.

    Take for the sake of argument that gun control is the empathetic, correct way to go after the massacre (I disagree, but for the sake of argument). If you had a parent there that opposed gay rights, opposed helping the poor, the disabled, the uneducated, the sick, and the elderly – but took a massive stand on gun control after being personally affected by it, I imagine there would be more questions about why that sense of empathy for all potential victims of gun violence didn’t translate into a more generalized empathy.

    Remember it’s the transformational nature of Portman’s experience with his kid that’s important here. Did these people oppose gun control before and then became strong advocates of it, or did they always support it and then just enter the front lines after the tragedy?

    The thing with Portman is that he is assumed by guys like Yglesias to have a general lack of empathy that is disturbed in one specific instance without any generalization of that empathy. There is something inherently non-empathetic about Portman pre-son-coming-out, and then after the coming out he is wierdly non-empathetic in a bunch of ways but apparently very empathetic in this one way. That’s the juxtaposition that bothers Yglesias. The ingredients seem a little different from the Newtown case.

    • Jake says:

      I agree, Yglesias’ focus here is less on Portman changing his position on same-sex issues and more on why (in Yglesias’ perception) Portman’s newfound empathy doesn’t extend into other areas. He’s also assuming Portman makes policy decisions based on his heart or whatever, versus having a reasoned out theory or just doing whatever it takes to help his career.

      It’s hard to apply that specific criticism to the Newtown folks because they are private citizens, not public officials. We don’t know what their positions were/are on other issues.

      • Major_Freedom says:

        Different ethics for people depending on whether they are statesmen or citizens?

        • Jake says:

          Of course not. Read what Yglesias wrote again, he’s not criticizing Portman for flip-flopping on this issue because it affects him personally. He’s asking why this likely won’t lead to “broader soul-searching” for Portman on his policy preferences.

          It doesn’t seem like that criticism is as readily applicable to Newtown, because guns are the only issue where their opinions could potentially be relevant. No one really cares what those parents think about taxes or environmental policy.

          Personally, I think Yglesias is naive to take Portman at face value anyway, i.e. to assume he actually cares about gay people now. Portman’s handlers likely realized they needed to air this out now, instead of in a few years when he seeks re-election or higher office. He’s spinning the issue as best he can for personal gain, just like Biden is using the Newtown families and their dead babies to push his own career and agenda.

          • Major_Freedom says:

            Read what Yglesias said again:

            “But if Portman can turn around on one issue once he realizes how it touches his family personally, shouldn’t he take some time to think about how he might feel about other issues that don’t happen to touch him personally?”

    • Seth says:

      I think lots of folks are confusing being un-empathetic on just about everything with being un-empathetic on the issue that ‘I’ happen to be empathetic about.

    • Matt Tanous says:

      “I wish I could unread what I just read on Landsburg’s page.”

      That is the result of the moral ambivalence that is utilitarianism. And Lord, it can be really horrible. Any natural rights libertarian would reject that whole line of reasoning as spurious, and frankly, evil.

      • Ken B says:

        I’m curious Matt. What think you of this? From a comment on SL’s post.
        “I think the main difference is not respect for someone’s body, but respect for their wishes and choices. I don’t turn my wishes and choices and hopes off when I fall asleep. … If you base your moral thinking on the idea of persons as independent moral agents, who are allowed wide lattitude in their choices then it is not a conundrum. Her wishes and choices exist even while she sleeps, and demand respect and protection.”

        • Matt Tanous says:

          I own my computer, even when it is not being used. I own my body, even when I am not (according to some definitions) using it. It would be illegitimate to steal my computer and use it to do something before returning it to where you found it. Why? Because IT BELONGS TO ME. That’s the only reason necessary. And you have no right to my body, because it also BELONGS TO ME.

          My property rights do not cease because I cannot show demonstrable harm from the violation of them. That kind of utilitarian nonsense is just evil.

          • Christopher says:

            The legal analysis here is actually not quite correct. Theft requires intend to permanently deprive the owner of its position. Taking something without asking but with the intend to return it, isn’t theft and in many cases not even a criminal offense.


            • Major_Freedom says:

              “Taking something without asking but with the intend to return it, isn’t theft and in many cases not even a criminal offense.”

              Regardless of positive law, there is the standard by which taking someone’s property without their consent is theft, regardless of whether one intends to return it or not.

              For suppose I took your car without your consent, but did not intend to keep it permanently, just for a finite period of time, say 10 years, after which I will return it.

              I don’t care what the positive law says, I’ll consider that theft, and act accordingly.

      • Daniel Kuehn says:

        Interesting… that’s not how I read it at all. I mean there was some utilitarianism in there when he talked about weighing peoples’ psychic costs but I took it to be a more or less natural rights issue – he just had a narrowly circumscribed view of a person’s rights and invoked things like the porch light to demonstrate that we don’t actually consistently hold that we have a natural right not to be penetrated.

        It was a mix of perspectives, though.

        The problem for me was not a natural rights or utilitarianism problem – it was the hell-bent foundationalism of the argument.

        • Matt Tanous says:

          Utilitarianism views things in terms of psychic cost. According to a utilitarian, I have been aggressed upon if I have suffered a psychic cost due to a decision that was not my own.

          The natural rights argument is entirely ignored, even with the porch light comment. The Rothbardian natural rights position is such that one DOES have a right to not be interfered with due to the choices of others – even by someone’s light – and are owed recompense should they be able to demonstrate that occurred as a direct result of another’s actions. That’s not possible with light, for many reasons, unless that light is bright enough to interfere with one’s use of their property (i.e. keeping someone awake all night by shining a floodlight on their house).

          The argument presented here negates any property rights at all, by the way. The same reasoning could be used to justify any sort of violation of property. You’d basically just have to have it not be noticeable directly.

    • Major_Freedom says:

      I wish I could unread what I just read on Landsburg’s page.

      Sensitive now aren’t we…

  2. David R. Henderson says:

    @Bob Murphy,
    Good post.
    You badly misstated what I said. You write, “A lot of people, including some libertarians but especially progressives, went out of their way to criticize Senator Rob Portman for supporting gay marriage after his son came out,” and, in mentioning “some libertarians,” you link to my post.
    In fact, I wrote, “I celebrate Portman’s shift too, but my celebration is more muted.”
    Do you see the difference?

    • Ken B says:

      Flying pig alert! I think David you did implicitly criticize Portman, by counting his an yet another example of a lamentable tendency amongst human beings you have come to accept. So I don’t agree Bob “badly misstated” what you said.

      I’m not sure I’ve ever sided with Bob against David before. I need a drink!


    • Bob Murphy says:

      David, yep I updated the post. I don’t think I “badly” misstated it, since you said Yglesias summed up your feelings, and I certainly represented him correctly. I would just say I misstated you. 🙂

  3. The Narrator says:

    Not sure about how strong the analogy between the Newton parents and Portman can go. In the former case, the parents may have already been in favor of gun control but the death of their child may have been the reason to start actively campaigning for it, while in the Portman case the guy actually also changed his mind on the issue.[oh wait, Daniel said the same thing. Anyway, so I agree with Daniel on this]

    A better comparison involving the latter would be Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama explaining that they changed their minds on gay marriage in part because they have friends who are gay and want to get married http://www.twitlonger.com/show/las2ut

    Yglesias’s moral evaluation of Clinton and Obama may be a better indicator of his consistency or lack thereof.

    Glenn Greenwald also gives another great example: “I wish it weren’t that way. It’d be nice, for instance, if fewer people supported US militarism and aggression and civil liberties abridgments because those who are victimized are Invisible and Distant Others, but, as Tejun Cole pointed out (http://www.motherjones.com/media/2013/03/teju-cole-interview-twitter-drones-small-fates), that “empathy gap” is a major reason why US aggression and militarism are tolerated: because it doesn’t kill people whom most Americans care about.”

    Also, am I entirely misunderstanding what Steve Blank wrote? I saw it as a thought experiment, as a way of trying to figure out how these cases are different? Our intutive moral judgements indicate that we think they are different but the surprising thing is that it is hard to explain what this difference consists in. The most obvious proposed explanations don’t suffice.

    I did not read his post as meaning that he was actually in favor of raping unconscious women (No offense, Daniel)

  4. RPLong says:

    Bob, well done. This is an excellent point.

  5. Ken B says:

    I’m struck by Steve Landsburg’s position on Portman and the other examples too. People are not purely rational thinking machines, and emotions follow their own laws. This seems another example of Swift’s observation that you cannot reason a man outt of a position he was not reasoned into. That’s why we use rhetoric and persuasion not first order predicate logic when advocating positions.
    Lots of factors can be at work to make someone see the error of their ways (or believe they do). As I observed over at TBQ: “Franklin might have been swayed by the effect of realizing for instance that he could have acted and did not, or Portman that he could have been closer to his son and was not: of all the words of tongue and pen … Maybe not rational, but it’s how people actually work.”

    • Z says:

      I agree. And ‘moral intuitions’, if such a thing does indeed exist, are decided purely by emotion. There is nothing ‘rational’ about them at all.

      • Major_Freedom says:

        Another person’s claims I should take as emotional and irrational I see.

        • Z says:

          Well, I said moral intuitions are emotional, and they indeed are. I didnt say everything we say or claim is emotional.

          • Major_Freedom says:

            You indirectly elicited a moral imperative by the very act of trying to convince others that moral intuitions are purely emotional. Well, that means that your attempt at convincing others of what you think is the truth, is, by your own standard, purely emotional, and not rational.

            In other words, there is no rational reason to accept as valid what you are trying to do.

            As it stands, moral imperatives and intuitions are absolutely not “purely emotional”. They can be rational, through self-reflection, and deciding that this morality rather than that morality is superior.

            One can choose to ground one’s morals on emotions or on reason. Emotion is the default, when there is an absence of rational inquiry.

            Emotions are not unanalyzable givens.

            Even Hume, the philosopher who took the primacy of emotions to the ultimate conclusion, and said that ALL human ends are grounded in emotion, and that reason is secondary, and acts as a sort of technician to the emotions, was, in the course of his inquiry, compelled to regard emotions as secondary to reason:

            “…nature provides a remedy in the judgment and understanding for what is irregular and uncommodious in the affections…” – A Treatise of Human Nature.

            From an evolutionary standpoint, there is an argument to be made that humans have thrived because of their moral faculty, and hence nature herself has “rewarded” us accordingly. If moral beings are better able to thrive, then it stands to reason that morality can be scientifically scrutinized, such that we can figure out which morals are conducive to our prosperity, and which are not. So much for morality being purely “Yay!!!” and “Boooo!!” base feelings.

            • Z says:

              Yes, but who said that survival is important, as I gather that’s what morality is about from the evolutionary standpoint. Morality can certainly be rational up to that point. You can reflect and decide that a certain morality is indeed, based on whatever logic or empirical evidence, the correct way to get to prosperity. But to decide that prosperity is indeed the correct goal to get to, you use emotions. Maybe prosperity and survival should be subjugated to other ends, or maybe certain deontological rules are ends in themselves. In order to decide this final step, I don’t find anything to base those on other than what emotions we have.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                “But to decide that prosperity is indeed the correct goal to get to, you use emotions.”

                Not necessarily. One could argue that our faculty of reason is such that we require experiencing more than just bare survival in order for reason itself to flourish.

                For example, knowledge accumulation is greatly improved with material civilization than without. Reason expands by way of the joint knowledge-capital relationship.

                Since rational entities make choices, it is expected that what is conducive for reason to flourish requires us to make certain choices and do certain actions and abstain from making other choices and actions.

                Our reason makes us want more than to just be in a coma and have a heartbeat.

              • Z says:

                @Major Freedom:

                So one must prosper before one can use reason and increasing levels of prosperity will lead to higher amounts of reason being used. i can accept that. But I still don’t see where reason dictates what is moral or not. It seems to me that your reasoning only works if once you achieved prosperity then you used your reason to figure out other moral rules. In other words, the emotions that make us want to be prosperous is an initial first step, then once we achieve that, we are then able to use reason without emotion in order to formulate other moral rules.

              • Ken B says:

                You cannot decide what is desirable from pure logic. Logic is about what fits together. You can be perfectly logical and not care about suffering. Logic can help tell you what a system needs to work, not why you want it to work.

    • Major_Freedom says:

      “People are not purely rational thinking machines”

      Ah, so THAT’S why I should not take that statement to be a rational one…

      • Ken B says:

        Huh? You think people are swayed only by logic not by emotion?

        • Major_Freedom says:

          Not saying anything other than what I said.

          Also, I guess I should take it by your response that what you said may be the product of emotional sentiment rather than logic.

  6. Cody S says:

    I agree with Matt in this case, if only on the second example. (And with DK, that this is a pretty different example than Newtown)

    I don’t think Palin’s support for government spending on disabled children is the sort of thing we would find as a rarity in either political party; it’s an issue pretty cut and dry to most people. Disabled kids are a group few people feel are gaming the system for an unfair benefit. As well, disabled kids are not a group large enough to seriously hamper the economy without being sent to the spice mines or whatnot.

    However, Portman is a creature of a different species altogether. If your personal political philosophy isn’t well-thought-out enough to survive real-life examples inside your family, then I have to say you are of very little use in the thinking-things-out department. Portman is the perfect example of an oligarchic fool: he is apt to be making rules for all of the little people.

    Because of that, it is probable that Yglesias is perfectly right: If poverty or an illegitimate fetus enter into his family’s equation, Portman will be the next champion of welfare or abortion rights. Not because he is a bad person or something, but because he is clearly a fellow who espouses political theories based on the acquisition of power rather than because he has thought them through and reasoned out a well-founded philosophical framework.

    And as a man who doesn’t think very much, he should probably side with Yglesias on lots of things.

  7. Gamble says:

    Most everyone has that “one” expenditure they support. They do not care who has to be raped and maimed in the process of tax collection, their championed cause is so valid, so important, the means will always justify the ends, in their mind. Everyone has the “one thing”.

    What people fail to realize is when you approve of your “one” area of government expense, you are giving permission to all the other people and their “one” thing.

    Libertarians understand the only solution to this problem is to prohibit all “one” expenditures.

    Like Paul said in Romans 13, the only God ordained role of government is to punish evil. Everything else government has their paws in, is a violation of liberty (see Romans 14, The Law of Liberty).

    Oops, did I just give government permission to do “one” thing? Well yes I did. To punish evil. Well actually, it was Paul of the Holy Bible whom granted government this “one” authority…

    • RPLong says:

      …and what about that whole “vengeance is mine” thing?

      • Gamble says:

        Is revenge the same as punishment of evil?

        • RPLong says:

          Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

          The punishment of evil requires that we know evil for certain when we see it. The Christian god can certainly do this (He is omniscient). Thus when He punishes evil, he is certainly not engaging in vengeance.

          The rest of us are in no position to judge, and in fact Christians have been explicitly advised not to do so (“lest” they “be judged”).

          So, if someone who cannot conclusively judge what is evil decides to punish what they only think is evil, what would this be, if not vengeance?

    • Matt Tanous says:

      Government is evil, itself. You are giving the authority to punish evil to an entity that is itself evil. Can you not see why that would fail utterly?

      • Ken B says:

        Why is government evil and the mafia not? Like it not, some things need to enforced. Your proposal seems to be hired gangs. Why should I prefer your hired thugs to a govt I have some say in.

  8. Matt M says:

    Thanks, Dr. Murphy. You just gave me a great idea for a blog post!

    I’ll just go ahead and complete my rough draft/outline here.

    Allow me to be “that guy” and insist that we absolutely *should* criticize the Newtown parents. And Portman. And Palin. Their arguments are all based on emotion rather than an intellectual understanding of the issues. Surely we can all agree that emotion is not a valid basis for crafting public policy. The fact that the Newtown parents went through some ESPECIALLY bad emotional trauma is not a valid basis for granting them a free pass on this issue.

    Now, while I believe we can criticize their methods of using emotion as a basis for public policy, that is not to say that we should judge them. I believe Jesus said something about that. I won’t say that they are bad people. Only that their reasoning is unsound, and therefore should be dismissed. As should Portman’s. As should Palin’s. “Because my son was shot” is not an intellectually reasonable argument for gun control, just as “because my son is gay” is not an intellectually reasonable argument for gay marriage.

    To concede this ground on the topic of Newtown is essentially to concede that it’s a reasonable tactic to use emotion to dictate public policy. Because where do you draw the line? This would be an absolute game-changer for the progressives, who constantly rely on appeals to emotion to advance their policy recommendations. “Imagine how you might feel if your son was gay,” has been one of their chief arguments in favor of gay marriage for some time. Portman seems to be proving that contrary to all logic and reason, it’s actually a legitimate argument. Not legitimate in the sense that it is intellectually reasonable, but legitimate in the sense that apparently there *are* significant amounts of Americans, including those with high level positions, whose only reason for opposing gay marriage was that they didn’t know any gay people.

    That said, we must still insist that this is a terrible argument. The fact that it seems to have worked on Portman doesn’t make it less terrible. The same goes for the Newtown parents. “Imagine if it was your kid who was shot” seems to be working as an argument, but it shouldn’t. That’s where those of us who think about these issues thoroughly need to stand up and loudly declare that the issue is much more complicated than that. That gun control does not necessarily decrease violent crime, and may in fact increase it. That most of the proposed regulations absolutely would not have stopped the Newtown massacre.

    • Ken B says:

      “Surely we can all agree that emotion is not a valid basis for crafting public policy.”

      No we cannot. I don’t think Bob should be able to torture puppies even if he does it on a remote island in a sound-proofed bunker. I can find no chain of reasoning to support that which does not lead back to an emotion. Emotion is fundamental to to why people care about things.
      We should be logical in balancing principles and costs and benefits, and seek consistency and freedom from bias and animus. But that’s not the same thing at all.

      • Matt M says:

        Fair enough. Perhaps I should say that we cannot rely on emotion ALONE.

        Although now you’ve got my attention. Perhaps we ban puppy-torture because although animals are not entitled to the same rights as humans, we (as God’s stewards on Earth) are responsible for treating them in a certain manner of decency. Perhaps a secular argument could be made that animals are life just as humans are, just a lower form, and as a lower form they do not enjoy all privlieges of humanity, but they do in fact enjoy protection from torture.

        I would agree with you that a proper cost-benefit analysis should be conducted. I guess I might sympathize with a problem, such as puppy torture, where the benefits (although based in emotion) are large and the costs are minimal.

        Maybe I should modify from “emotion is not a valid basis” to “emotion is a very poor basis”

        • Z says:

          I would say that a proper secular argument would lead to animals and humans having the same status. Dogs would just be treated like small children or adults with mental retardation I suppose. Because there is no real fundamental difference from a secular point of view between the two. To make a distinction between the two based on evolutionary divergence is as arbitrary as separating the Aryan race from the rest of mankind.

          • Matt M says:

            I don’t really specialize in secular morality. Technically you’re probably right, but why stop there? Why not equal rights for rats, catfish, and spiders?

            I don’t know many secularists who would send someone to jail for ripping the legs off a spider.

          • Ken B says:

            If you mean by “secular” not dependent on the notion of Yahweh or Allah or other monotheist imagining than you are clearly wrong. For no human society has ever thought animals in general the same as people in general. And most have been godless in that sense.

            • Major_Freedom says:

              “For no human society has ever thought animals in general the same as people in general.”

              I agree with you that “society” doesn’t think, have feelings, or act in any way.

              Only individuals do.

            • Z says:

              Well yes, but I would say those societies are all wrong.

  9. Casual Reader says:

    …”Seeing Steve Landsburg doing everything in his power to get fired”…

    To fire people because of their ideas it’s a bit…. totalitarian, isn’t it?

    • Matt M says:

      What kind of a society did you think we were living in?

    • Matt Tanous says:

      Not really. It’s free association. To assault someone because of their ideas – to lock them in a jail cell for them… that would be totalitarian.

    • Ken B says:

      Bob is alluding to the thuggery Steve was subjected to, abetted by the president of his university, over Fluke about a year ago.

  10. joeftansey says:

    1) I would criticize the Newton parents. They obviously have a myopic and self-serving worldview. Probably a bad idea for them to leverage public sympathy for their obviously brilliant political ends.

    2) I don’t know about Portman’s thought process, but it could easily be the case that there are a lot of conservatives who are secretly pro gay-marriage, but don’t want to deal with all the fallout from their peers. But if you have a gay child, you raise the cost to criticize you substantially, because anyone who does looks like a giant douche.

    So I’d say this is par for the course. The first political “turncoats” on any issue will be those who can best defend themselves from peer criticism.

    • Tel says:

      They obviously have a myopic and self-serving worldview.

      If you start criticizing everyone who has ever served themselves, how many people would be left over?

      The point is that because we know there is an element of self-serving in this (not only on the part of the parents, but also on the part of anti-gun lobbyists who encouraged them) we can say that policy should involve a much wider circle of opinions (most of whom are also self-serving in their own ways).

      • joeftansey says:

        If I promote policy X just because it makes me feel good, do you think it’s a good idea for me to have a strong say in politics?

        And it’s not simply that the parents have changed their minds, it’s that they’re leveraging their victimhood status so they can have a bigger impact.

        • Tel says:

          Well I support Democracy. Not because it is a great idea or a wonderful system of government, but because other options have been demonstrated to be worse.

          The conclusion being that no one should have a strong say in politics.

          I’ll point out that mentioning self-interest is not advocacy, it is observation of what happens. But at least admitting that self interest does happen a lot of the time, is more honest than trying to hide in self deception. Thus, what I’m advocating is honesty, and I honestly believe that self interest is relatively normal (not 100% the rule for everything, but a pretty good rule if you just want to pick one simple rule).

          Once you have accepted this point, I think it is difficult to criticize people for being self interested. You can still criticize their methodology for achieving their goals… e.g. criticize the hypocrisy of do gooders who pretend to be acting for the greater good and all that.

          Personally, I would prefer that people avoided the use of stealth, cunning, skulduggery and deceit because if everyone used those methodologies we would get so bogged down into double-guessing one another that nothing would be achieved for anyone. However, I do accept that one cunning person may well catch a bunch of numpties off guard and thus further their own interests in that way. Who is the cunning person in this situation? Hmmm, if I had to guess I would say the Newton parents are more useful to some external party with an agenda to push, than they are to themselves (but that’s my opinion, I can’t really know their position).

          To be balanced in my point of view… a rifle is a weapon right? People demand access to a rifle for their own self defence because they feel afraid they will come in need of self defence.

          Let’s take this to the logical conclusion. Lies, cunning and depict are also weapons, and may under suitable circumstances also be useful as forms of self defence. Think about the implications. What is our criteria for deciding acceptable armaments vs unacceptable armaments? Not an easy one to answer.

  11. Jason B says:

    Since we’re on the topic of Yglesias, here’s some more palate wrecker:

    The concept of “redistribution” falsely implies that the existence of property is prior to the existence of the state. #mythofownership

    — Matt Yglesias (@mattyglesias) September 18, 2012

    • Major_Freedom says:

      And people have criticized me for saying Yglesias is a closet communist.

      Earth to Yglesias: Property precedes states. States arise through redistribution of property. States don’t produce anything. They are institutions of aggression and theft. Theft isn’t prior to production. Production is prior to theft.

      • Jason B says:

        And people have criticized me for saying Yglesias is a closet communist.

        The only criticism I can muster here is that it seems he’s been out of the closet for quite some time.

      • Matt M says:

        I fully disagree with Yglesias on just about everything, but I think you are mischaracterizing his argument. He is not claiming that states produce anything. Rather, I believe his point is that property could not possibly be *private* without the state standing around pointing guns at everybody and enforcing contracts and property rights. That in the absence of the state, we would have *de facto* communal property because there would be massive constant looting and plundering and you would have no way to stop anyone from using “your” property whenever they felt like.

        This is all absolute nonsense, but plenty of people who call themselvs “anarcho-socialists” actually believe it.

        • Major_Freedom says:

          “Rather, I believe his point is that property could not possibly be *private* without the state standing around pointing guns at everybody and enforcing contracts and property rights.”

          Property precedes theft of property. Theft cannot take place unless there is property to take.

          If the argument is that states are the only social institution that can protect property rights (which is wrong), then that still doesn’t preclude property or theft of property.

  12. SteveZ says:

    Obviously Yglesias, and DK are confused about property rights. They see the merit in allowing one to choose his or her own lifestyle, but then equate empathy for the poor with coercive government welfare (in which most of the money gets eaten up in bureaucratic excess).
    Landsburg must have been puffing some strong stuff. His thinking is even more confused. One reason i suspect he was high is that he changes the name of one of his fictional characters half way through his little thought experiment. Despite his inconsistancies, there is no moral conundrum, and all of his questions are simple to answer. That is, if you are using the correct theory of property rights.

    • Major_Freedom says:

      “Puffing” does not necessarily confuse one’s thinking. That’s just ignorant prejudice. In fact, in many cases, “puffing” can improve one’s thinking.

      I have a good example. I visited Amsterdam some years back, and asked one of the coffee shop guys for something that is mellow and intellectual. He recommended a sativa called “Amnesia.” I thought well, OK, I guess I could try a night of forgetting some things.

      That bastard! (in a good way). I soon discovered that the reason it’s called “Amnesia” is because it’s a joke. It actually tends to help people remember EVERY. SINGLE. DETAIL.

      My GF at the time was floored. I was recalling every word and every conversation we had that day, where we had it, who said what and when. It was like I was watching a movie of what happened that day, in my head.

      Now, I would consider this to be a vast improvement in my thinking, because I was able to develop new thoughts on the basis of past conversations that I otherwise would have forgotten.

      Just thought I’d put that out there. I just dislike anti-weed prejudice. Used responsibly, it can make many things better. SOME things get really better.

  13. SteveZ says:

    Haha, I agree. That can happen. But I think a more common reaction, obviously based only on my own empirical observations, is to ponder seemingly deep questions and come to conclusions that, at the time, dont sound as ridiculously illogical as they really are. Like wondering if we (in our blind lust for total democracy) need to take into account the utility lost or gained as a result of violating another’s property rights.

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