January 2011


Law professor Benjamin Barton has a book titled The Lawyer-Judge Bias in the American Legal System, which he discusses in an interview here. At the outset he discusses “public choice” or “New Institutional” economics, viewing all actors including bureaucrats as self-interested utility maximizers. But the issue he actually seems to be discussing is one of class/caste solidarity and sympathy. He points out that most judges are former lawyers, but the fact that they are no longer lawyers means that a homo economicus judge should be indifferent to those things which only affect lawyers rather than judges. Barton actually seems to be agreeing with Sotomayor that the personal background a judge brings is important to their decisions, and disproportionate representation of certain groups results in bias. Such thinking could also lend support to Roman Hruska’s argument that the mediocre should be represented on the judiciary.

More evidence for this idea regarding judges here.

In my previous post I linked to Mencius Moldbug’s argument that a sufficiently strong utterly rapacious state may be desirable to live in. The less explicitly unpleasant version of “Fnargocracy” is sometimes referred to as a “Vertically Integrated Proprietary Community”, and I’ve linked to Peter Leeson’s argument against Ed Stringham on their desirability a number of times before, along with Eric Crampton on the socialist calculation problem making non-benevolent autocrats more bearable. We don’t have to leave it at that though. Recently via the Sociological Imagination I came across Leeson & Stringham’s survey on the economics of anarchy. In it they referred to Mancur Olson’s argument on behalf of the “stationary bandit”, as well as a critique of it by some folks I had never heard of before, Boaz Moselle and Benjamin Polak. Their paper is A Model of a Predatory State, which points out that maximizing tax revenue is quite different from maximizing the welfare of subjects, and so a primitive society may be worse off in transitioning from organized banditry to statehood. The authors mention that in their working paper from 1999 they give similar results over the long-run with a dynamic learning model, but I haven’t been able to find that online. UPDATE: I think this might be it, though it is dated to 1997 (apparently developed from a 1994 paper with a different title).

On a slightly related note, I’ve gone around asking people what they think if Nick Szabo’s criticism of anarcho-capitalist usage of the Coase Theorem. His primary target, David Friedman, has not responded but Johnnie Lin did with a paper of his own.

Chip Smith reminded me recently of the case of Cameron Todd Willingham. Probably executed for a crime he didn’t commit, though one should expect both Type I and II error, and so doesn’t alter my support for the death penalty. I’ve been thinking again about the view among the investigators of his alleged crime that detecting the signs of arson is a craft rather than hard-science handed down as folk knowledge among police. Actual scientists claim they didn’t have a real understanding of arson and were treating their hunches as authoritative. I’ve cited Balko before on bogus forensics, but didn’t include arson there.

Since I’ve been reading James Scott, this brings to mind again the dark side of tacit knowledge. One of Scott’s books, “Weapons of the Weak“, I think is largely about obfuscation. In “The Art of Not Being Governed” he discusses the “orality” of illiterate hill peoples as a way to avoid fixed histories or identities that could reduce their flexibility. Of course similar things may benefit the literate, the strong, the authorities. One may argue that if they were sufficiently strong relative to their subjects, authorities would not have to deceive but assert their arbitrary demands and have them treated as absolute law backed solely by their personal authority. But how often is that the case?

Frank Furedi at Sp!ked writes:

Advocates of nudging describe themselves as ‘choice architects’ and claim that their policies help people make the right choices. What they mean is that their aim is to construct a scenario where people make the kind of choices that our moral superiors believe to be right. The aim of behavioural-management techniques is to prevent, or at least discourage, people from making the ‘wrong’ choices. In effect, the implicit objective of these techniques is to deprive people of the capacity for making wrong choices. But if citizens are freed from the burden of distinguishing between right and wrong, then they cease to be choice-makers.

So are these choices wrong or not? He puts scare quotes around the word “wrong” in one sentence but later leaves them out. Anyway, the nudgers (Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein) claim to be helping people make choices they themselves want to make but fail to for a variety of reasons relating to impulse control and cognitive bias. It’s incorrect to claim they are making choices they alone believe to be best for a public that disagrees with their prescriptions due to a base morality. This isn’t to say that in practice the difference may be null and void, but at least get their argument right.

I was looking for an old OB post to link to at Aidwatchers, and either discovered or rediscovered a video my co-blogger Dain had highlighted that I hadn’t watched. The video of a self-described classical liberal who is critiquing the advocated institutions of “deliberative democracy” as exacerbating the false view of individualism they claim to decry. I was only vaguely familiar with deliberative democracy, sometimes as a target of mockery. Perhaps I shouldn’t hope for a very accurate depiction from a critic, but this did strike me as more informative than what I had heard before.

I’ve probably mentioned before that despite my personal rootless atomism, I have some sympathies for localist varieties of communitarianism (like that of Bill Kauffman) because other people like the tight-bonds of community. Versions of communitarianism which treat as a community the modern gargantuan nation-state many orders of magnitude bigger than Dunbar’s number seem absurd to me. The description in the video of various interest groups having their interests represented qua groups actually reminded me of the Catholic/fascist doctrine of “corporatism”.

I was surprised to hear that despite deliberativists love of “radical democracy”, they don’t seem to be all that keen on majoritarianism (or maybe they are, this changes later on). Mark Pennington (the guy in the video) describes Jurgen Habermas’ ideal being the “unforced power” of the better argument winning out, rather than depending on how many people initially support a position when coming into deliberation (unlike me, the deliberativists are not “come as you are” type folks). It strikes me that a Bayesian should view the number of adherents of an argument as some evidence for its correctness, which is basically the tack Hal Finney took when advocating for philosophical majoritarianism. The first political theorist associated with majoritarianism I can think of off the top of my head is Willmoore Kendall, who simply believed that someone must hold a sword and that he’d rather that someone be the majority than a minority. The deliberative democrats, like Freddie DeBoer, want not only for the masses to be treated well but have the power to ensure their demands are respected, a position a cynic can appreciate even if one believes the bullet-box can secure what the ballot-box cannot (I was trying to find a link to some progressives saying that theory of preserving freedom is nonsense, but I can’t).

I don’t know if Noam Chomsky has endorsed that view, but he has criticized corporate power as being “undemocratic” (with their hierarchy being precisely what Mencius Moldbug likes about them), and the brief NYU cafeteria student occupation described itself (while in the process of being dismantled) as running along democratic consensus lines.

Finally, in assorted links, Henry Farrell argued against Timothy B. Lee partly on the grounds that technological standards are enacted along the lines of Habermas not Hayek. Pennington’s discussion of confronting/challenging someone’s initial disposition rather than giving people what they want reminded me of William S. Lind’s video on critical theory (starting around 10:20).

UPDATE: Thanks to a different AidWatchers post I’ve been having a running conversation with David Ellerman. He has a number of writings on how the modern labor contract illegitimately transfers what is inalienable, just as in slavery (or Hobbesian sovereignty, and the only legitimate firms would be those where all workers are democratic owners and only “things” are transferred without implying legal responsibility/ownership of finished products. Again we see the theme of helping the disadvantaged obtain capacity rather than dependency.
UPDATE 2: The Enchantment of the Democratic Process has Arnold Kling arguing for Rothbardian disrespect of Kendallian democracy. I’ve expressed positive feelings for the rule of law before and I can agree that settling our disagreements democratically is preferable to doing so violently (and may be viewed as a substitute through measuring the number of supporters), but even if anarcho-capitalists and government is inevitable, I want it to be the very last resort before violence on any particular individual decision.

From “War Before Civilization”: “[T]he restraint exercised by the Indians of western Canada as they were subjugated and dispossessed is evidence of how much injustice people will tolerate for the sake of peace if they are assured of receiving the means to survive, certain punishment for breaking the peace, and impartial protection of their persons and property if they keep it”.

Shortly before that is the interesting note that American Indian reservations in the 1800s assisted raiders in stocking up on ammo during the winter before raiding more settlers in the summer. Not perceived as biting the hand that feeds them gunpowder in one case: “The Kiowas believed that Texans were not Americans and were puzzled by the outrage expressed by U.S. officials concerning their raids”.

Note: This is Mupetblast, not TGGP.

In lieu of anything particularly original to say and for a lack of creative synthesis on my part – due mostly to my recent success in finding work (copywriting for “adult entertainment oriented media”) – I link to some web writings of note:

1. The Sociological Imagination guys suggest a re-reading of Jesse Walker’s “The Paranoid Center,” probably in light of the Arizona shootings, and I second that. This whole episode got me thinking about a book released last year entitled Fanaticism: A Brief History of the Concept, written by leftist scholar Alberto Toscano. He uses a kind of sociology of knowledge approach to determining why some groups and individuals are deemed “fanatics” by the political commentariat. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve read this overview by the author himself.  Referencing Hegel’s description of a fanatic as someone with “excessive enthusiasm for the abstract,” he makes the case that the liberal Enlightenment mode of thought, or rather, ideology, should consider applying this notion of fanaticism to itself, a not wholly uncommon point of view on the academic left.  His primary example of  a victim group at the receiving end of this hegemonic liberal ideology (or “liberal virus“) is Muslims, as you might guess. I’m curious if Jared Loughner might be a case in point too. Given his threadbare ideological orientation – the guy appears to borrow from everybody – and his poignant question to Rep. Giffords in 2007, “What is government if words have no meaning?“, his political mindset is about as abstract as it gets.  Though Toscano is reluctant to parrot the common reliance on “psychopathology” by mainstream journalists and politicians to marginalize challenges to liberal ideological hegemony, I’m curious if he’d be so reluctant to apply it in the case of Loughner, tentatively “on the right” in the left imagination. Shannon Love at Chicago Boyz gives us a taste of what a right-Toscano might sound like.

2. Keith Preston’s “Our Glenn Beck?” suggests that Alex Jones has more in common with traditionalist conservatives than the Fox News Mormon. I somehow can’t imagine Russell Kirk feeling much affinity for an Alex Jones, but at least they both share either a disdain (in Kirk’s case) or incapacity (in Jones’ case?) for ideological edifice building. As Preston has it, you won’t see Jones shunning conspiracy theories in favor of complexity and “the extended order.” But yes, Kirk is not the end all of Paleo thought.

3. French “New Philosopher” Pascal Bruckner criticizes the term “Islamophobia” for shutting down serious debate about the role of Islam in the modern world, Europe specifically. He writes that the term was coined in 1970s Iran during the time of the Revolution. Funny, I would have guessed it was spawned in the West.

4. Possible fodder for redistributionists: The rich really are more selfish (so you’re gonna have to take it from them).

Upcoming, an interview with scholar Mark Pennington for the Critical Review alumni site on why deliberative democrats are wrong, even on their own terms.

Thanks to Scott Sumner I watched Turtles Can Fly. You bastard. Same goes for whoever put together the english-language trailer.

This account from Three Quarks Daily is either a very good memory or talented enough writing to make it believable. I hadn’t before considered that a Pakistani might confuse “Indians” with the folks from John Wayne movies.

Hat-tip to Zachary Latif. Something Awful provides illustrations of such childhood fancies here.

A paragraph from Lawrence Keeley’s “War Before Civilization”:
“The capture of women was one of the spoils of victory – and occasionally one of the primary aims of warfare – for many tribal warriors. In many societies, if the men lost a fight, the women were subject to capture and forced incorporation into the captor’s society. Most Indian tribes in western North America at least occasionally conducted raids to capture women. The social position of captive women varied widely among cultures, from abject slaves to concubines to secondary wives to full spouses. In a few cases, female captives could be ransomed or of course, escape. In situations where ransom or escape were not possible, the treatment of captive young women amounted to rape, whether actual violence was used against them to enforce cohabitation with their captors or was only implicit in their situation.”
Perhaps I’ve absorbed too much of Caplan’s abject-surrender pacifism and even some feminism (who knows how), but it occurs to me that the treatment of young women in primitive agricultural societies frequently amounted to rape, with violence generally implicit in their situation and often enough explicit, even without any war. In “Demonic Males” Richard Wrangham discusses how murdering a female’s children is an effective tactic for bachelor males among gorillas and lions to show harem-members that their current male isn’t doing an effective job of protecting them. The Darwinian perversity of its effectiveness I found one of the most memorable parts of the book. For human beings we would certainly classify that kind of behavior as among the worst examples of war and rape, but it’s just part of that circle of life for animals. Human beings are animals, and in the past our species more closely resembled its peers.

I wonder what these mappings of citation networks would look like on different positions within the hierarchy of the sciences.

I’ve mentioned my dovishness before, which includes not only opposing military strikes but most sanctions on regimes which I regard as generally more harmful to subjects than rulers. I’m particularly not a fan of the neoconservatives and their predecessors among “Scoop Jackson Democrats”. On the other hand I’m also a big fan of “exit” (as opposed to “voice” or “loyalty”) and anti-fan of communism. Those two preferences collide in the case of the Jackson-Vanick amendment. Sasha Volokh has often poured salt on that intellectual wound by writing about its relevance for the emigration of his own family. Now he reveals that the waivers conditional on emigration weren’t applied to the Soviet Union until 1990. Chalk up another one for irrelevance of policy.
UPDATE: I recommend reading Ilya Somin’s response. I have some points in response to him in turn. He writes that “the Soviets, of course, did not know [the amendment called for fully free emigration] in advance”. Did they not bother reading the actual law? Regarding the ethics of restricting trade with socialist nations, he writes that all property in those states has been stolen by the government and so there is nothing inherently unlibertarian about restricting trade in such “stolen” property and hence we must consider the effects on a case-by-case basis. At this I wonder if Somin has read many left-libertarian (or even just leftist) critiques of the current distribution of property/authority in “capitalist” nations and how much of it (including the very land we live on) is stolen. Kevin Carson uses the phrase “subsidy of history“. Furthermore, it was not the case that the Soviet Union was some sort of ideal communist society in which the citizenry could not purchase for themselves anything at all. Restricting trade however, would bring it closer to the level of North Korea. The second-best course of action seems to me still the same as it would be in a first-best world.

Mark Kleiman deserves commendations for including a chapter in “When Brute Force Fails” on what could go wrong if some of his ideas were implemented. Among the potential problems listed is that “there are not very good mechanisms for adding resources to an agency to allow it to do something that is not its central mission”. This gives the footnote “Mark H. Moore of Harvard University’s Kennedy School has identified this as a central difference between public and private management: since sales generate revenue, private-sector managers are usually happy to have more users of their products and services, even using them in ways the managers never imagined. To most public managers, people using services constitute “workload” that has to be accommodated within a fixed budget, and there is always concern that a program is being “abused” if it is used in an unexpected way: for example, if working parents use the public library as informal after-school care for their children (Moore 1995, ch1).”
This sounds a lot like (the neoconservative version of Kleiman) James Q. Wilson’s argument in “Bureaucracy” about the founding mission of governmental agencies. Except in there the attempt to make the Social Security Administration police for “abuse” screwed them up as it conflicted with the mission they had long competently done of delivering services to their caseloads. I pointed out earlier that Wilson explicitly rejects the public choice economics theory of bureaucratic imperialism, but he doesn’t think agencies avoid taking on work within their core mission either, a point which Marginal Revolution reader Jacob corroborates. Do they try to maximize caseloads within their core mission? More research is needed.

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