23 Nov 2013

The NYT on Filibusters, and a Note on Methodological Individualism

Austrian School, Libertarianism 84 Comments

Scott Sumner has a hilarious analysis of the New York Times’ views on filibusters over the years. Here’s Scott (and I’m not indenting it because it would get too confusing):
============ Start Scott Sumner quotation ==========
PPS.  Here’s the NYT endorsing the Senate’s filibuster vote:

In a 52-to-48 vote that substantially altered the balance of power in Washington, the Senate changed its most infuriating rule and effectively ended the filibuster on executive and judicial appointments.  . . .

This vote was long overdue.

And here’s what the NYT said in 2005:

A decade ago, this page expressed support for tactics that would have gone even further than the “nuclear option” in eliminating the power of the filibuster. At the time, we had vivid memories of the difficulty that Senate Republicans had given much of Bill Clinton’s early agenda. But we were still wrong. To see the filibuster fully, it’s obviously a good idea to have to live on both sides of it. We hope acknowledging our own error may remind some wavering Republican senators that someday they, too, will be on the other side and in need of all the protections the Senate rules can provide.

That’s right.  During the Clinton Administration the NYT opposed the filibuster. When Bush took over they realized they’d made a horrible mistake, and that the filibuster actually was a wise policy.  No, it was more than a wise policy:

But its existence goes to the center of the peculiar but effective form of government America cherishes.

And now that the Dems are back in power the NYT recognizes that they were right all along, and that their 2005 apology was misguided.
============== End Scott Sumner quotation ============
So I think we can all appreciate the humor in the above. However, let me raise a concern: When we teach basic economic principles, Austrian economists often stress “methodological individualism” and may even use examples such as, “Japan bombed the United States” to illustrate sloppy thought and language. We stress that it is always individuals who act.

So, does that present a problem for Scott’s analysis above? In other words, before we chuckle, do we have to (at least) go make sure it’s the same group of people who wrote the three editorials in question?

What about more generally, if a libertarian wants to say something like, “You don’t think the USG would round up militia people and put them in detention camps because they’re threats? You know it locked up Japanese Americans during World War II, right?”

As with my ill-fated link to Pamela Stubbart’s comment, I’m not here “blowing up” standard Austro-libertarianism, I’m just pointing out what is at least (but perhaps at most) a surface tension in the typical discussion of certain topics.

84 Responses to “The NYT on Filibusters, and a Note on Methodological Individualism”

  1. Ken B says:

    That’s not methodological individualism at all. Not by a factor of a billion. By “individual” you mean a huge collection of neurons in their brain. The neurons can fire independently, making a small information processing decision. The “individual” is an emergent entity. If that emergent “individual” can act why is this the only legitimate example of emergence? Why cannot a collection of “individuals” be a decision-making machine? Why cannot apology or a group act just as an ensemble of cells acts?

    To hit off the deliberate misinterpretation I am not suggesting that we need to conduct economics in terms of cells or molecules with them. I am suggesting that this hard division you’re making is unwarranted,

    • Ken B says:

      A polity not apology. Siri.

    • Keshav Srinivasan says:

      I think Austrians actually are methodogical individualists, because they believe that the mind is a single entitity that is seperate from the brain.

      • Gamble says:


        I just think my mind and brain are separate/distinct from other minds and brains.

        I suppose there many be an invisible cable connecting all of us
        but now are we are talking about the religion of “oneness.”

        • Keshav Srinivasan says:

          When you say “no” are you saying that Austrians don’t believe in a distinction between the mind and the brain, or simply that you don’t? I’m pretty sure that the action axiom is concerned with a mind/brain distinction.

          • Bharat says:

            The Austrian economist qua Austrian economist does not necessarily believe in a distinction between the mind and the brain. The methodological claim to view human beings in terms of purposeful action does not necessarily imply that.

            • Ken B says:

              Keshav May be making a subtle logical point here. Rothbard claims that The deductions of Austrian economics cannot cannot be wrong. If they are founded on a theory of the mind and if the mind is dependent on the actual working of brains this is not possible because the science of brains cannot be apodictically true. Rothbard’s claim of infallibility depends logically on a separation of minds and brains.
              Printing the Axiom action is an unquestionable truth rather than as a postulate is the point that Keshav is addressing i think.

      • Ken B says:

        I have had the same thought. I am mulling over a comment trying to explain many of the Austrian errors in precisely these terms. The gist of my argument is that Austrians do not see rights or morality as relations between people. They always place a physical object in between. Austrians or at least Rothbard you conceive of ownership as a relationship between a person and a physical object. They extend this even to bodies and brains which they see as separable from the acting person. I think this is both mistaken and mystical.
        In my comment above I am simply making a point that Austrians unjustifiably single out one level of emergence without providing a logical justification for excluding other forms of emergent entities.

        • Joseph Fetz says:

          “The gist of my argument is that Austrians do not see rights or morality as relations between people.”

          Well, considering that rights and morals are ideas of a normative nature, then it would make sense that one not analyze them or theorize upon them in their positive economic analysis other than to say that they exist in one form or another. However, I don’t know anybody who thinks that rights or morals can come about without there being more than one individual, because after all, there would be no purpose for rights or morality in the case of a single actor. But such a question is not in the realm of economics, which deals with individuals using scarce means to pursue certain ends.

          It certainly would not make sense to say that a cell acts in an economically meaningful way, because economics is the study of human agents, and it is thus not in the realm of that discipline. Also, cells do not use reason to decide between two alternative courses of action by valuation, nor are they self-aware of the consequences of their actions. It would sound pretty ridiculous to speak of cells in terms of utility or happiness, or any host of other things dealing with human reason and rationality. Economics deals with rational agents, and as far as the science can determine, those agents are human beings.

          Now, with regard to a polity or group of people acting, sure they can seemingly act as one, but they certainly cannot think as one undivided whole. It wouldn’t make sense to speak of values or utility in terms of a collective, because there will certainly be much disparity found amongst the parts of the whole. We could attempt aggregate these disparate values to come to a single figure, but then that would be disproving the very thing of which you wish to prove (and it is not something that is possible to begin with).

          You really must decide whether you wish to speak about Austrian economics or libertarianism (i.e. positive vs normative statements) or something else, because you appear to be confusing the two, as well as adding in unrelated material.

          • Ken B says:

            It is pretty plain Rothbardians blur the distinction We see that every time major freedom accuses non Rothbardians of supporting oppression.

            • Joseph Fetz says:

              Oh, I know. Rothbard was an economic and political theorizer, and many of his readers/supporters don’t compartmentalize these two things. I know because I used to do it, too.

              But that is still no excuse for you to be doing the very same thing here.

              Economics is the study of human beings in the physical world around them (and all that that implies), and the root emergence of the human being *is* the individual (in this sense).

              The argument that you’re making is something akin to: “hey, why are you psychologists so focused on the mind and it’s thoughts? Shouldn’t we really be looking at the hands and the feet?”.

            • valueprax says:

              Ken B suffers from Rothbard Derangement Syndrome.

              No one even mentions Rothbard and yet the poor fellow always finds a way to bring him up.

    • Gamble says:

      I can see how the neurons inside my head are connected, can you show me how this “collection of individuals” are connected?

      • Keshav Srinivasan says:

        Individuals are connected by interpersonal relationships and communication, just to give two examples. Is that so different from neurons connected by electrical impulses?

      • valueprax says:

        The two pieces of cloth making up the shirt I’m wearing are conned by pieces of thread. Is that so different from neurons collected by electrical impulses?

        It’s all relative, you see.

        • Ken B says:

          No it’s about function. Words can communicate information as Can electric signals.

          • Sean says:

            No. Neurons do not communicate information. They interact neurochemically with other neurons, nerves, and glands. Information requires some conscious entity for whom the physical reaction counts as information. For a materialist brain theorist, neuro-chemical interactions count as explanations of consciousness. That is theory. It may or may not be true. Whether it is or is not true requires another level of explanation for which the idea of ‘information processing’ is a metaphor or analogy. It is no different than the old pressure system analogy that was employed by many psychologists in the 19th and early 20th century, like Freud, Jung, etc., and many other less well-known names.

            • Ken B says:

              Take that Claude Shannon.

      • valueprax says:

        Thanks iPad auto correct.

        • Ken B says:

          iPad AutoCorrect drives me crazy. So sometimes does Siri. Gene Callahan may be correct sometimes it seems that Siri has its own version of English quite unlike any other.

    • Ben says:

      Wouldn’t you have to first determine whether or not cells or neurons “acted” in the sense that they make concious decisions (“to fire or not to fire”)? It seems that for you analogy to work, you would have to first prove that cells and neurons are “acting” entities.

      • Ken B says:

        No more than I have to argue neurons speak because men do. Anyway I am not making an analogy at all. I am pointing out that human behavior is based upon the action of neurons. Austrians have accepted one level of emergence and claim that others do not exist. I am merely pointing out that requires justification.

        • Ben says:

          Again, neurons don’t “act” in the way humans do. Neurons don’t make concious decisions; there “actions” are reactionary.

          • Keshav Srinivasan says:

            How does a fact that neurons don’t act change anything?

            • Ken B says:

              And see RPM on what action means in a reply to me on this thread. According to Bob my thermostat and electrical AND gate both act because they make information processing decisions.

              • Ben says:

                Your thermostat and electrical gate have pre-programmed purposes; you do not.

                Their “decisions” are not really decisions since they couldn’t have chosen otherwise.

            • Ben says:

              Because neurons don’t choose between alternatives; they don’t ask themselves, “should I fire off or should I not? Should I fire in this direction or that direction? Should I hold off and fire in twenty seconds or thirty seconds?” And then to say that maybe human beings acting in groups is the same as neurons “acting” in the brain is a poor analogy. Humans can choose between alternatives; They can ask, “Should I defer to certain individuals within the group to act on my behalf? Should I do what everyone else is doing or should I do it slightly different? Should I wait five minutes from now to act or should I wait ten minutes? Or should I just say the hell with this group, I’m out of here?”

              Neurons have no decisions to make. So to compare neurons in “a group” to individuals in “a group”, and then to say, “see, can’t we say that groups can act”, seems fallacious to me.

              I’m sure you can make analogous connections between neurons, individuals, and groups, but the idea of purposeful behavior is not one of them.

              • Ken B says:

                This is just absurd. Neurons and nets of neurons make decisions all the time. You breathe when you sleep.

              • Bala says:

                And I thought a decision can be made only by a conscious being. It is interesting to know that biochemical responses of neurons and nets of neurons qualify for the label decisions.

        • Dyspeptic says:

          “I am pointing out that human behavior is based upon the action of neurons.”

          And the action of neurons is based upon the “behavior” of biochemical reactions. Which in turn is based upon the interaction of chemical compounds. Which in turn is dependent on the nature of atoms. Which in turn is based on the properties of sub-atomic particles whose characteristics are strange and otherworldly. Part matter, part energy. Appearing out of nowhere and disappearing just as quickly. Never 100% predictable. Kind of like human action.

          Maybe the properties of human consciousness are due to the strange and highly complex character of neural networks more that individual neurons. Perhaps there is some mysterious and synergistic effect here that is greater than the sum of it’s neuron parts.

          • Tel says:

            Since no one has reproduced human consciousness in a synthetic setup, the possibilities are open at this stage.

            Quite a lot of study has gone into neural networks, including attempts to model the biochemical components.

        • Bala says:

          Austrians have accepted one level of emergence and claim that others do not exist. I am merely pointing out that requires justification.

          Actually, the boot’s on the other foot. You’re the one making a positive claim about the existence another level of emergence. The onus is on you to demonstrate that it indeed exists.

          • Lord Keynes says:

            Unintended consequences of herd behavior is an easy example emergent property of mass human behaviour.

            • Bala says:

              The behaviour is still the behaviour of the individuals. Nothing has emerged except the (individual) realisation that individuals’ assessments can be influenced by their feeling affiliated to a group.

              • Bala says:

                And here’s one more point. The distinctive feature of man is that even his consciousness is volitional. Man is capable of blanking out and ignoring the voice of reason. That a man who has accepted the supremacy of the herd (even when his reason tells him it is to his detriment) might act like he is a part of that herd is quite unsurprising.

              • Lord Keynes says:

                “Nothing has emerged except the (individual) realisation that individuals’ assessments can be influenced by their feeling affiliated to a group.”

                Rubbish. Higher level unintended consequences can emerge.

                When a sufficient number of people save with the goal of paying off debt but without wanting to lose their jobs, they can nevertheless induce the consequence of causing a recession and throwing themselves out of employment: a clear example of an emergent property.

    • Bharat says:

      I was attempting to respond, Ken, but I’m really having trouble seeing where you’re going with this. Isn’t it obvious that neurons don’t purposefully act in the same manner that human beings do? Further, it’s clear only individual humans act (purposefully). It’s simply ludicrous to say that atoms act or groups act.

      If you’re not saying that economics should be done from the point of view of atoms, what are you saying? “Methodological individualism” is a phrase given in context of economics. One could posit methodological individualism outside of this context, and your talk about neurons, etc. could apply. But if we’re talking about methodological individualism inside of economics, I cannot see why your discussion does not imply that the methodology of economics should change.

      Perhaps you’re talking about individualism in the realm of political philosophy? If the important point of discussion is action, then again, it’s clear only individual human beings purposefully act. Let’s call “you and your mom” Group A. When you and your mom go to the store, Group A does not actually act. You and your mom individually act. Each of you made a decision to go to the store and purposefully chose to. Your neurons didn’t act either. You as a human being acted.

      If you’re going to claim that neurons (or groups) can purposefully act, it’s up to you to show how, because it seems a manifest absurdity to everyone else. Just like chairs don’t purposefully act, nor trees, mountains, air, computers, or toilets, neurons have no purposeful aspect (assuming no teleological metaphysics). When we talk about purposeful action, means toward an ends, choice, preference, and so forth, we are talking about individual human beings.

      • Ken B says:

        Since I’ve said at least once I do not think that neurons act I don’t see the point of your objection.
        If you want to say human beings act that’s fine. I give the example of speech human beings speak but individual neurons cannot speak. Speech is an emergent property. But there is nothing magical going on it can be explained in terms of the operations of cells.
        All I am pointing out is that that notion of action is an emergent concept. You are arguing that assemblages of cells when they become human being has a property of acting which individual cells do not have. But also denying that assemblages of human beings when they come together can have emergent properties. That requires some justification.

        • Bharat says:

          Are you criticizing methodological individualism in economics, Rothbard’s individualistic take on ethics, something else, or more than one?

          • Ken B says:

            Something else.
            Imagine a psychologist who said that you must analyze brains and human beings in terms of cells but that you may not analyze cells in terms of chemistry. do you think that a slightly arbitrary thing to say? Doesn’t it need some justification? Why is one level reducible and the other level not, in principle.?
            Well Austrians are doing the same thing.

            • Ken B says:

              Well some Australians, including some here.
              I do think this problem is inherent in the claim of a priorism but I don’t believe that all Ostrems accept that claim. I don’t think hayek would. I believe he rejected a priorism.

  2. Tel says:

    We stress that it is always individuals who act.

    A group of individuals together will often act differently to the way the same individuals will act outside the context of the group. Thus, the group has some decision-making power, although of course the individuals must also be there for the group to exist.

    The thing is, groups can’t take responsibility for those decisions later. Once it becomes obvious that a bad decision is made, all of the individuals claim they never supported it. Of course you can punish the group (and often the consequences of a bad decision will fall on the whole group) but the group itself doesn’t learn from these events. You can teach an individual socialist why there are problems with socialism, but you can’t teach socialism itself to be anything different to what it is.

    • Ken B says:

      This is an excellent comment tell but I’m not entirely convinced groups cannot learn. If you think just a simple groups then perhaps it’s hard to see a mechanism but if you think of large groups that make complex decisions through institutional processes then changes in those processes may change the decision-making properties of the group. That change in structure is a form of learning.

    • Bala says:

      A group of individuals together will often act differently to the way the same individuals will act outside the context of the group.

      It sounds more appropriate to say

      Individuals will often act differently when in a group as compared to the way the same individuals will act outside the context of the group.

      A group is not an entity with an existence beyond the individuals who constitute it and the understanding that their actions are, in some manner, coordinated.

      Thus, the group has some decision-making power

      Same quibble out here. Individuals make decisions as a group. The group must first have a separate existence with a decision making ability of its own for it to make decisions.

      The thing is, groups can’t take responsibility for those decisions later.

      More of the same quibble. I am unable to see how any entity other than the individuals, individually or jointly, can ever (now or later) take responsibility for the decision.

      Of course you can punish the group

      I am unable to see this as anything other than punish every individual in the group.

      • Ken B says:

        The decisions of the individuals need not be the same as the decision of the group. Individuals can decide in advance to agree to whatever decision the group makes on the issue. Or they might decide to go along if certain other individuals go along. These Are logically different decisions than the decision on the topic at hand. So you just cannot simply wipe away the group and it’s decision-making. Groups and individuals have different properties but both are meaningful for analysis.

        • Bala says:

          So you just cannot simply wipe away the group and it’s decision-making.

          Actually, you are imagining the group into existence. This is nothing more than epistemological inversion – just an instance of thinking that leads one to say“I possess a concept of something. Therefore I infer that it exists”.

          • Lord Keynes says:

            “Actually, you are imagining the group into existence. “

            No, Ken B is not.

            SetW of real concrete objects certainly exist.

            Not even the extreme nominalists would deny that.

            If we see 10 people on your front lawn, and someone says, “look, there is a group of 10 people,” Bala would say” “Don’t be stupid, you are imagining the group into existence!!”

            • Bala says:

              A set is an abstract concept. The term group is an abstraction that stands for the known/assumed/inferred relationship between the individuals gathered on the lawn.

              It is not the usefulness of the word group in encapsulating the relationship that I am denying. It is the existence and the claim that the group has a consciousness and is capable of acting.

              • Lord Keynes says:

                lol.. Ken B is not saying that a whole group has a single consciousness or “acts” as a single individual. Nice straw man.

              • Bala says:

                I said that I am questioning 3 things
                1. the very existence of the group (not the abstract concept group but the existent group)
                2. the claim that the group has a consciousness
                3. the claim that the group is capable of acting

                That which doesn’t exist can neither have a consciousness nor be capable of acting unless you believe in consciousness without a thing whose consciousness it is and in action without an acting entity that engages in it.

                So, your charge of strawmanning is hereby being thrown right back at you. By focusing on a trivial aspect, the use of a before consciousness, and failing to respond to the real substantive question of the very existence of the group, you are clearly creating a fairly gigantic strawman to deflect the discussion.

      • Tel says:

        The fact that a group cannot exist on its own (i.e. without members) does not imply that the group has no existence at all.

        A tidal wave cannot exist without an ocean under it, and yet the wave clearly exists… it is not the same thing as a flat ocean.

        • Bala says:

          The concept tidal wave refers to a mass of water with particular properties. The behaviour of the mass of water is determined by all the properties of the individual molecules. No individual molecule is in a position to behave in any other way than as dictated by its own properties and the influence of its environment including other water molecules around it.

          The same is not true of a group of people. What distinguishes people from water molecules is their free will and volition. There is no action as a group except for the members acting in unison or a coordinated fashion.

          So, the analogy is rather weak and, I would say, unsound.

          • Tel says:

            The individual molecules inside a tidal wave are exactly the same as the individual molecules in a glassy smooth ocean. The wave does not change the properties of the individual components. The energy is contained in the wave itself.

            • Bala says:

              But the wave itself is nothing more than the particles with particular properties. Isn’t the wave itself caused by nothing more than a burst of energy that imparts a particular motion to particular particles in the water, a motion that is transmitted as the wave due to the intermolecular forces of attraction and repulsion?

              AFAIK, the energy is stored in the kinetic and potential energies of the individual particles that constitute the wave. The sum total of the kinetic and potential energies of the particles in a tidal wave is surely more than that of the particles in a glassy smooth ocean.

              Isn’t this what happens when an undersea earthquake releases a massive amount of energy? I mean isn’t it that a portion of the energy released is manifested as the Kinetic and Potential energies of particular molecules and is transmitted as a wave?

              • Anonymous says:

                Even in a perfectly calm glass of water, the particles have kinetic energy (individually) and are bouncing around all over the place, but the energy is random and incoherent, so the water as a whole appears to be tranquil.

                What makes a macroscopic wave is when a big bunch of particles move in the same direction at the same time. Nothing changes with the laws of kinetic energy, but now it operates on a large scale instead of a small scale. That is to say, organized kinetic energy rather than disorganized kinetic energy (both can co-exist at the same time).

                The particles are the same, the organization is different.

              • Bala says:

                The particles are the same, the organization is different.

                What you call organisation is the set of properties of the particles. I too am saying that that’s what constitutes all the difference.

                Just out of curiosity, how do you see a wave getting triggered on a glassy smooth ocean without adding some energy to the water-body?

  3. Silas Barta says:

    Before Gene_Callahan catches wind of this thread, let me state, for the record, that there’s nothing wrong with saying “[the] Japan[ese government] attacked the US”; the problem is making (economic) claims that *can’t* in principle, be coherently broken down into individual actions.

    • Ken B says:

      This could be fun actually. Gene likely will agree about the existence of emergent entities I’m sure but will probably dispute but the human being could be an emergent entity from human neurons. But I’m not confident I can predict his reaction here.

      • Bob Murphy says:

        You are right that Gene has quibbled with the standard Misesian/Rothbardian position on this, Ken, but Gene is also (at his blog as we speak) objecting to people who say that a computer can “understand chess.” So I don’t think he would endorse your claim about neurons acting, if “acting” means purposeful behavior.

        • Ken B says:

          1 i dont say neurons act. I saw they make information processing decisions. People are not neurons they are assemblages of them, with emergent properties.
          2 I don’t expect Gene to agree with me. That’s a feature not a bug.

          • Bob Murphy says:

            i dont say neurons act. I saw they make information processing decisions.

            To make a decision is to act. Anyway I’m going to stop now because we just have a different worldview. I used to be a hardcore materialist too, so this is futile. You are coherently thinking about it your way, and I’m thinking about it my way; we’re not going to get anywhere by talking about a Chinese Room etc.

            • Ken B says:

              Well we aren’t debating here Bob which worldview is right. my point on this thread is simply that you have disallowed any other form of emergence, or if you don’t think of the human being is being emergent, any form of emergence, and that requires justification. As Tel has demonstrated in his example that disallowal is dubious.

        • Tel says:

          If you want to be picky, only muscles can act.

          However to be even more picky, goal oriented behaviour requires feedback, so at a minimum:

          * you need some senses (you can’t control what you can’t measure)

          * you need a decision making mechanism (e.g. neurons)

          * you need muscles to take action.

          Those are the things that close the loop. A feedback loop operates intrinsically differently than any of its parts. Humans of course contain many layers of feedback loops, and groups of humans contain a layer or two more than that.

    • Ken B says:

      This is a key point Silas. It is the requirement that a reduction be theoretically possible . Speech for example can be broken down into the actions of muscles and neurons.

      • Tel says:

        Anything can be reduced. If necessary down to atoms and electrons, or even further down to fundamental forces.

        However the question is whether reducing the problem in this way makes it easier to understand or more difficult to understand. By reducing the problem you end up simplifying each component piece… but you have more pieces to consider. By taking it holistically you have less pieces to think about, but each piece is more complicated.

        Picking just the right analysis means you have the best balance… all of what you need, and none of what you don’t need. But every analysis is an approximation of the real thing, so that’s just the art of applied mathematics — deciding what to throw away and how you are going to justify it later.

        Austrian economic analysis works *mostly* at the level of individual humans, but not always, it may also work at the level of small business, or towns, or corporations. The real economy simultaneously operates at every level.

        • Ken B says:

          Some people deny anything can be reduced. Callahan does. I believe Bob does. And in any case we cannot simply asserted we must provide arguments and evidence, in other words successful reductions.

  4. Bharat says:

    It seems to me that, yes, strictly speaking, they may not be the same individuals, but certain features of those individuals may be the same.

    In the government example, the relevant incentives to or characteristics of those in control of the government are (or at least, could be argued to be) the same as they were 50+ years ago. e.g. libido dominandi

    Something similar could be said for the NYT example even if the same individuals weren’t responsible for their public statements at each period noted. Even if there were, let’s say, three different (or different sets of) individuals responsible at each period, it wouldn’t be absurd to assume that each of those three individuals changed their mind at each period. It would just be another example of a broader trend where people change behavior based on which political party is in charge. In other words, it’d be awfully convenient for the organization NYT to change its mind based on the political party in power, but for three sets of consistent individuals to happen to have let go of control of NYT. If this is the counterclaim, the initial claim seems much more plausible.

  5. Keshav Srinivasan says:

    I think the way to understand the hypocrisy involved (if there is indeed hypocrisy involved) is not by saying that the New York Times op ed page has changed it’s mind, or that the members of the editorial board have changed their minds (since it may not be the same people), but rather that the ideology (centrist liberalism) to which both past and current members of the New York Times editorial board subscribe does not have a consistent position on the filibuster.

    I should also mention that there are arguments that the filibuster should be removed now rather than earlier because it’s been abused too often by Republicans. If that was the reasoning, then hypocrisy may not have been involved at all.

    • Ken B says:

      Exactly right.

      • Tel says:

        I thought you were a fan of Occam’s Razor?

        One simple statement: “The NYT always takes the side of the Democrats.” explains all observations so far and provides a solid basis for future predictions. In the unlikely case that we observe nuance from the NYT some day, we can revise that statement and consider more complex explanations.

        • Ken B says:

          We are not addressing the question of why the New York Times changed sides we are addressing the question of in what sense is their hypocrisy here if the constituent members of the editorial board have changed over time.

          • Ken B says:

            When Kecia says it does not have a consistent position he means that they do not have a logically consistent position. Therefore it when it helps Democrats there against it when it helps Republicans is your point probably well taken but not in conflict.

  6. Gene Callahan says:

    “When we teach basic economic principles, Austrian economists often stress “methodological individualism” and may even use examples such as, “Japan bombed the United States” to illustrate sloppy thought and language.”

    Yes, you have given a good example of why the MI position is silly, and ordinary language gets this right.

    • Major_Freedom says:

      Not everyone in Japan bombed the US. Ordinary language is not mutually incompatible with MI, as long as by “Japan” and “US” it is understood as specific individuals in specific times and places.

      • Gene Callahan says:

        Major, there is only one “good” argument for MI: it lets libertarians shout down certain arguments by chanting “only individuals decide.” That’s it.

        • Major_Freedom says:

          Funny, because one can be anti-libertarian and still think MI is the best, most accurate methodology.

          Are you sure you’re not just reacting against MI because it makes your “certain arguments” – that you desire to be true – untenable?

  7. Gene Callahan says:

    And to note this once again: the God of the Bible is clearly not a methodological individualist: he makes a covenant with Israel, not some particular Hebrews, punishes Sodom and Gomorrah, and establishes a church in which the members are to be considered as parts of one body. But perhaps He was just a “sloppy thinker”?

  8. Lord Keynes says:

    Ken B,

    The whole idea of strong reductionism is grossly flawed and the strong form of methodological individualism requires it to work.

    We know strong reductionism has failed in the natural sciences:


    At the social levels we also find plenty of instances of emergent properties: e.g., unintended consequence of herd behaviour or unintended consequences of large enough instances of individual behaviour.

    • Ken B says:

      Seriously LK? I think I have made plain I believe in emergent properties, and believe that any reduction must successfully explain those. But I don’t believe in a life force or vitalism; cells are chemistry. Nothing that happens in cells conflicts with chemical laws and no mechanism within cells lacks chemical counter parts. That does not imply you can understand cells just by doing chemistry; it implies you don’t need spooks.

      • Lord Keynes says:

        Oh, this comment wasn’t meant to criticise you but reinforce your position!

        Possibly I have phrased it badly.

        • Ken B says:

          Well, it confused me. I am what Dennett calls a good or crane reductionist. I am not a bad or greedy reductionist.

          “Good reductionists suppose that all Design can be explained without skyhooks; greedy reductionists suppose it can all be explained without cranes.”

          Maybe it’s just terminology but I see good, crane reductionism as hard. My computer has no soul that magically appeared when it was assembled or powered up. Its operations are reducible to electronics, but ‘program’, ‘memory’ etc are still vital ideas to understand its operation. It’s not just a *set* of parts.

  9. Ken B says:

    The internet is comprised of computers, wires, and a few other stray electronic pieces. The internet is not the same as the unorganized collection of those same things, nor is there an internet genie connected through an internet pineal gland making it work.

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