Starving Marvin

September 26th, 2020

I was just listening to a panel discussion about the book In Defense of Openness featuring the authors, Bas van der Vossen and Jason Brennan. I notice that the book relies heavily on Michael Huemer’s thought-experiment about “Starving Marvin,” which came out in a 2010 journal article.

In the panel discussion, Anna Stilz has some very smart criticisms. Her basic idea is that we should take seriously the ways that initial distribution and bargaining power affects outcomes, and we should condition open trade and migration with strong protections for workers. My quick reply is a) wealth creation is mostly not contingent on initial ownership (consider all the rags-to-riches stories) and b) a free labor market (as opposed to the labor market we have today) is very good especially for the least-well-off workers, especially as productivity increases.

Kit Wellman argues that unrestricted immigration might disrupt the institutions that allowed for prosperity in the first place.

Brennan replies that the current nation-state system that closes migration thereby commits mass oppression and that people don’t actually own their institutions. Van der Vossen argues that it’s just not the case that immigrants destroy local institutions.

Radiation on the Moon

September 25th, 2020

Astronauts would get 200 to 1,000 times more radiation on the moon than what we experience on Earth.” Unshielded ones would, anyway.

Alkon on Homelessness

September 25th, 2020

My Tweet: “Obviously Denver (and surrounding) has a big problem with homelessness. [Amy Alkon] has the idea of pairing strict enforcement of anti-squatting laws with tax-paid tent camps. I don’t know the right answer, but at least this is a serious proposal.”

Crows Are Smart

September 24th, 2020

Crows know what they know and can ponder the content of their own minds.”

Kilpatrick’s Critique of Montessori

September 23rd, 2020

William Heard Kilpatrick wrote a 1914 critique of the educational methods of Maria Montessori, The Montessori System Examined. Google has the book, available in free ebook versions.

The Montessori Method also is available online at no cost.

Michael Munger on Academic Publishing

September 23rd, 2020

Economist Michael Munger has a video series out on academic publishing.

He also has an essay, “The Future of Academic Publishing.”

See also Jason Brennan’s book, Good Work If You Can Get It: How to Succeed in Academia.

Currie-Knight on Integration in Schools

September 23rd, 2020

In a podcast, Kevin Currie-Knight argues, “We’ve waited long enough for government to prove to us they can desegregate schools. . . . If we give (families) the option of disconnecting their school from their ZIP code, there’s every reason to think we’ll get more integration in schools.”

Barrett’s Religious Views

September 23rd, 2020

Here is my Tweet thread on the topic:

At a glance I’m not seeing anything in Amy Coney Barrett’s religious views that are especially troublesome. But let’s not pretend that no religious views should be disqualifying.

Although there is and should be no formal “religious test” for any office, certainly voters and Senators should take someone’s particular religious views into account, where troublesome. Some examples:

Some American Christians have explicitly stated that they think abortion is murder and people who facilitate abortion should be subject to the death penalty. The Senate certainly would not and should not confirm any Supreme Court justice with such views.

People always should vote against candidates who express “Christian Reconstructionist” views as outlined here. And against any Muslim candidate who said, for example, that apostates or homosexuals should be subject to the death penalty.

The view that some people express today, that someone’s religious views should never be criticized and should not be politically relevant because they are religious, is absurd.

At the same time, we need to recognize the extraordinary religious bigotry so deeply entrenched historically. I spoke with John Coffey about religious toleration and with Robert Alan Goldberg about the Klan’s anti-Catholicism.

At any rate, here is a friendly, and I think fair, take on Barrett’s “Kingdom of God” remark.

Newsweek ran the sensationalist headline, “How Charismatic Catholic Groups Like Amy Coney Barrett’s People of Praise Inspired ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’.” But get a load of this correction: “Correction: This article’s headline originally stated that People of Praise inspired ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. The book’s author, Margaret Atwood, has never specifically mentioned the group as being the inspiration for her work. A New Yorker profile of the author from 2017 mentions a newspaper clipping as part of her research for the book of a different charismatic Catholic group, People of Hope. Newsweek regrets the error.”

Examples of Natural Parasitism

September 16th, 2020

Nature can be cold. One type of worm invades a snail, takes over the snail’s functions to make it a colorful and easy treat for birds, and then reproduces inside the bird.

A type of fungus takes over an ant and compels the ant to climb a branch so the fungus can reproduce.

Colorado Payroll Tax Proposed

September 16th, 2020

This Fall Colorado voters will decide (and probably pass) a 0.9% payroll tax initially (and a 1.2% tax later), payed 50–50 by employers and employees, to fund “medical leave.” This is Prop. 118; see also the BallotPedia review.

Here’s what I Tweeted: “Generally I think “we” should repeal all payroll taxes, not add more. If you want to run a welfare program, just do that through general funds. Payroll taxes hurt esp. lower-income workers.”

The Homicide Rate in the Context of Medical Advances

September 13th, 2020

Here is an obviously important point that I have nevertheless not contemplated before: The homicide rate is a function not only of attempted homicides but of health technology. When doctors get better at fixing people, the homicide rate goes down simply because fewer people die of attempted homicide (other things equal). So the homicide rate can go down even if the rate of violence remains constant. “Murder rates would be up to five times higher than they are but for medical developments over the past 40 years,” claims one 2002 paper.

Reading List about Police Reform

September 11th, 2020

Williamson Evers offers an extensive reading list about police reform.

Reading List about the Welfare State

September 11th, 2020

Williamson Evers offers a libertarian-friendly reading list “on poverty and the welfare state.”

The Political Threat to the Supply Chain

September 11th, 2020

“The biggest risk to medical supply chains is not free markets, a global pandemic, or a natural disaster, but politicians themselves.”

Speaking of supply-chain issues, inputs for N95 masks remain scarce. The AP blames the government’s lack of contracts and “letting” people sell materials overseas; I think the real problem probably is U.S. price controls that disrupt the market.

The GOP Internet Censors

September 11th, 2020

“Republican Senators Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina introduced a new bill Tuesday that would change the terms of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields tech companies from legal responsibility for user content they host, or expunge, from their platforms. The bill, called the Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Act, would narrow the kind of user content tech companies can remove from their platforms, and restrict their ability to make ‘editorial’ choices about what content to host and where it appears,” writes Mark Sullivan (with his original links embedded).

I realize it seems like an asymmetry that social media companies can remove content they don’t like without getting sued for content they leave up, but that’s a perfectly justifiable system. Government controls on what social media companies may and may not leave up constitutes censorship, pure and simple.

Colorado Learning Pod Regulations

September 11th, 2020

“Governor Jared Polis signed an executive order . . . temporarily suspending statutes that require certain licenses for adults wishing to supervise children.” This pertains to “learning pods.” Why not make this change permanent? It’s really hard to organize something like this, and the arbitrary expiration date will discourage people.

Masks as Immunity Device

September 10th, 2020

I’ve written a bit about variolation, a sort of poor-man’s version of a vaccine. The idea is you intentionally (or accidentally, I suppose) get a small dose of an infectious disease that hopefully won’t make you too sick but will make you sick enough to develop immunity.

Here’s an intriguing idea: Maybe wearing a mask can act as a sort of variolation device, to reduce one’s exposure to the virus and hence reduce the severity of symptoms. This could help explain declining COVID-19-related deaths. See an article by Web MD (which quotes Amesh Adalja) a study by NEJM.

Comments on the Electoral College

September 9th, 2020

“The Electoral College Will Destroy America,” Jesse Wegman writes (hyperbolically). He doesn’t really have a case, though. He emotes, “This makes me really angry,” and he claims that a “a representative democracy [is] based on the principle that all votes are equal.” He also doesn’t like the “winner take all” system that most states use. He favors the interstate national popular vote compact. I Tweeted, “This is kind of amazing. A NYT editorial argues (or emotes) against the electoral college and the “winner take all” system. The op-ed uses the historical example of the winner-take-all system advantaging Black voters in NY over white voters in TX!”

Wegman references Nate Silver’s September 2 Tweet claiming that Joe Biden’s chances of winning the presidency surpass the 50% mark only after he exceeds a 3-point victory.

Wegman helpfully cites an August 23, 1823 letter by James Madison on the matter. But Wegman grossly distorts Madison’s position. Madison hardly was in favor of a national popular vote; instead, he favored “the election of Presidential Electors by districts.”

A recent NPR piece lavishes praise on Wegman’s take, noting he has a book out called Let the People Pick the President. Wegman’s argument that the votes of people in a state’s minority “disappear” in a winner-take-all system is particularly stupid. The same could be said about all votes that people cast for people who eventually lose; his argument, if legitimate, would strike against democratic elections per se.

Constitutional scholar Rob Natelson argues, “The Electoral College is still right for America.” He argues the national popular vote compact is an unconstitutional expansion of states’ designated powers. Elsewhere he argues that a national popular vote (NPV) would award “a majority in the Electoral College to whomever won a bare plurality of the reported national vote, even if some of the reported totals were corrupt. Presidential elections would fracture into multi-candidate affairs; less than 40 percent of the popular vote could assure victory.”

Elsewhere Natelson makes the following interesting argument: “Under NPV, the rot would soon spread to state elections. Most states have plurality election systems now, but their political parties are held together by the need to compete nationally. Once that need disappears, state elections would become as fractured as national races. Many Americans are unaware of how our presidential electoral system has protected us from Third World results. To win under our system, a candidate must win a majority in the Electoral College, which is almost impossible to do without winning at least 40 percent of the popular vote. (The one time it happened, the results provoked civil war.) Moreover, if no candidate receives a majority of electors, the House of Representatives run-off enables leading candidates to form coalitions with majority support.” A possible solution to the first problem is to implement approval voting, which I favor.

David B. Kopel and Hunter Hovenga argue, “The National Popular Vote Violates the Colorado Constitution.” They refer to the interstate compact. They seem obviously to be right, as the state constitution plainly states, “The general assembly shall provide that after the year eighteen hundred and seventy-six the electors of the electoral college shall be chosen by direct vote of the people.”

Last year I argued against the interstate compact proposal. I’ve also argued for splitting up the most-populated states and for expanding the size of the House.

The Supreme Court ruled that state governments can force electors to be faithful (to voter will).

September 13: Steve Coll also has an article out condemning the electoral college (same ol’).

Far from being racist, the Electoral College protects the interests of anyone in the minority—political, geographic, racial, or otherwise.”

September 15: I had a column at Complete Colorado arguing that the electoral college is basically a good idea but that its functioning can be improved by splitting up California and Texas and by expanding the size of the House.

Natelson wrote me via email and argued that I was wrong to think that perhaps the Colorado Constitution might violate the Federal Constitution by throwing the selection of electors straight to the people (not via the legislature). Natelson replied, “The U.S. Constitution assigns various tasks to ‘state legislatures,’ but depending on context the term can mean either of two things: (1) the normal lawmaking assembly of the state or (2) the state’s legislative power. SCOTUS has decided that in the election-law context it means the latter. Many conservatives have decried these decisions, but from an originalist point of view they are correct: Founding-era evidence demonstrates that. Although I believe SCOTUS’s recent presidential electors case was wrongly decided, it does reinforce the same view.” I thanked him for his analysis and replied, “So that means the NPV [national popular vote compact] violates both the state and federal constitutions.” See the column for details.

Space Mice

September 9th, 2020

Scientists blocked “a pair of proteins that typically limit muscle mass” in mice, resulting in mice sent to the space station that bulked up rather than got weaker. But, as I Tweeted, “rather than try to bioengineer humans to live in zero-g, I’m on board with [Robert Zubrin’s] plan simply to use artificial g. (I think it’s ridiculous ‘we’ don’t have a spinning space station yet.)”

Trump on the 1619 Project

September 6th, 2020

As I Tweeted, “It’s so weird how putting politicians in charge of education makes education political.” A small-account anonymous Twitter user posted, “california has implemented the 1619 project into the public schools. soon you wont recognize america.” Donald Trump replied, “Department of Education is looking at this. If so, they will not be funded!”

My personal view is that students studying this aspect of history would do well to read the New York Times‘s material as well as a critique, such as that offered by Phillip Magness.

But I certainly do not think this should be a national political issue.

The 1873 Colfax Massacre

September 5th, 2020

Another bit via Timothy Sandefur’s book on Frederick Douglass: In 1873, in the midst of a political clash in Louisiana between rival governments, the April Colfax Massacre ended in the death of some 150 Black people. Wikipedia has an entry with numerous references. Smithsonian also has an article on the matter.

Douglass and Reparations

September 5th, 2020

In his book on Frederick Douglass (starting on p. 64), Timothy Sandefur outlines Douglass’s attitudes toward various forms of assistance for freed slaves, which today I’d bundle with the reparations debates.

Charles Sumner, Sandefur writes, had a plan “to confiscate plantation land and divide it among the former slaves.” Here’s how Sandefur summarizes Douglass’s view: “Although government could legitimately provide the freedmen with less intrusive forms of aid, the power to redistribute land, however well intentioned, was dangerous: it could easily fall into the hands of the politically powerful—which meant racist whites—who would then exploit that power for their own benefit.”

At this point Sandefur offers a note (#10): “That is ultimately what happened a century later, when racially restrictive zoning laws, and then federal and state ‘urban renewal’ projects, sought to sequester and then evict black landowners to eradicate ‘urban blight.'” Sandefur recommends Clarence Thomas’s dissent in Kelo v. New London.

Douglass’s refrain, with respect to what whites should do with freed slaves, was, “Do nothing with us!” Still, Douglass “supported the work of the Freedmen’s Bureau, established by Congress to protect blacks from violence and to promote their economic status by providing them with clothing, food, health care, and jobs. He even proposed a plan to use government funds to buy southern land and sell it in small lots to freedmen at discounted rates.” He said, “It is not fair play to start the negro out in life, from nothing and with nothing.”

Of course Douglass called for equal treatment under the law, which was not achieved then.

The discussion about compensation involves concerns about justice and about political expedience. If I could go back in time and make my will hold, I’d require former slave holders to seriously compensate former slaves, which in many cases probably would mean selling off plantations, or distributing plantation lands among former slaves, to cover the costs. This no doubt would leave many former slave holders destitute. It’s easy to see how such an outcome would have meant political trouble in those precarious times.

Cases of Racist Discrimination

September 5th, 2020

As I’ve written elsewhere, I found an 1895 case in Aspen, Colorado, involving a man accused of violating the state’s anti-discrimination law.

In his book on Frederick Douglass (p. 39), Timothy Sandefur discusses how Douglass would be refused service and that his fellow white Abolitionists also would decline to use the service. One time, when Douglass “refused to yield his seat on the train to a white man, a mob tore the bench on which he was sitting from the floor of the car,” Sandefur writes.

Later (p. 75), Sandefur notes that Douglass was concerned with private discrimination, such as “the boycotting of black businesses by white customers” and the practice of some labor unions of “admitting only white members as a means of limiting competition for jobs.” And “black entrepreneurs were often excluded from access to capital.” (And of course government discriminated in various ways too.)

Sandefur also discusses (starting on p. 78) the 1875 national Civil Rights Act promoted by Charles Sumner. “It prohibited discrimination in hotels, theaters, restaurants, and other places of public accommodation,” Sandefur summarizes. Douglass argued that a person “has the right to walk, ride, and be accommodated with food and shelter in a public conveyance or hotel.” But the Supreme Court gutted the act with its Civil Rights Cases of 1883. Wikipedia summarizes, “The decision has never been overturned, but in the 1965 case of Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States, the Supreme Court held that Congress could prohibit racial discrimination by private actors under the Commerce Clause.” In 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson established the “separate but equal” doctrine (which pertained to government policy). While I’m mentioning infamous Supreme Court cases: In 1857 the court under Roger Taney ruled in Dred Scott v. Sandford that Black people do not have U.S. citizenship.

Sandefur (p. 86) writes: “Douglass and Wells might break up segregation in a Chicago eatery, but an ordinary farmer who tried to do the same in any rural Mississippi coffee shop might very well be murdered.” (Douglass once took wells to a “whites only” restaurant for lunch.)

Cases of Jury Nullification

September 4th, 2020

We can find cases of jury nullification that helped achieve justice and that thwarted justice. Here are two cases of the latter.

As I’ve written elsewhere, I found an 1895 case in Aspen, Colorado, involving a man accused of violating the state’s anti-discrimination law. He was pretty obviously guilty, but a jury let him off. However, I have not tracked down additional details about the case. I don’t know, for example, what the criminal penalty was. My general sense is that anti-discrimination laws should at most involve corrective orders and perhaps financial penalties.

In his biography, Frederick Douglass: Self-Made Man, Timothy Sandefur gives another example. Sandefur describes “some sensational conflicts over slavery in Baltimore, sparked by the vanguard abolitionist Benjamin Lundy and his protege, William Lloyd Garrison. Lundy had been publishing his weekly Genius of Universal Emancipation since arriving in the city in 1825. The following Spring, an infamous slave trader named Austin Woolfolk beat Lundy nearly to death on a Baltimore street after he denounced Woolfolk in the Genius as a ‘monster in human shape,’ and an ‘adamantine creature.’ The slave dealer was convicted of attempted murder, but the jury imposed a fine of only $1.”

Modern Conspiracy Theories

September 3rd, 2020

Trish Zornio has out an op-ed on conspiracy mongering in Colorado; she focuses on Lauren Boebert and Randy Corporon.

The AP has a story about Boebert (a Colorado congressional candidate). Here’s the key troublesome remark, which she made in a live interview: “Everything that I’ve heard of Q, I hope that this is real because it only means that America is getting stronger and better, and people are returning to conservative values.”

Arguably Boebert also “gave a wink and a nod” to a QAnon conspiracy theory about Tom Hanks, says Kyle Clark of 9News. Boebert Tweeted, “Joe Biden is doing a fundraiser with newly minted Greek Citizen Tom Hanks tomorrow. I just. . . no comment.” According to Clark, “Some QAnon followers believe that Hanks’s duel citizenship in Greece is an attempt to escape child-abuses charges, pedophilia charges.” He continues, “Tom Hanks actually received his honorary Greek citizenship for his humanitarian work on behalf of Greek wildfire victims in 2018.” USA Today has more background about this.

The FBI very reasonably counts QAnon as a terror threat.

9News reported August 14, “A Douglas County judge has ruled there’s enough evidence to proceed with the case against a woman accused of plotting a “raid” to kidnap her son from foster care with aid from members of the far-right conspiracy group QAnon.”

CNN’s article about Colorado attorney and political activist Randy Corporon is titled, “Top Colorado RNC official spread conspiracy theories and made Islamophobic and sexist comments.” The Colorado Times Recorder published Corporon’s reply, but his remarks were not very substantive.

Civiqs ran a poll, “”Do you believe that the QAnon theory about a conspiracy among deep state elites is true?” The results: “Fully 33% of Republicans say it is mostly true. 23% think some parts are true. Only 13% say it’s not true at all. In contrast, 72% of Democrats say the QAnon theory isn’t true. Only 14% of Americans have never heard of QAnon.” However, the wording is not very specific. Lots of people who don’t follow QAnon are worried about a “deep state.” “The federal government employs nearly 9.1 million workers”—that seems pretty “deep” to me (whether it’s a problem is another matter). I’m pretty sure that if the pollsters had used Kyle Clark’s more-specific language—”this is the conspiracy theory that President Trump is about to round up and execute his opponents for pedophilia and drinking baby blood”—the results would have been rather different. Still, the results are alarming.