Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Market Failures in Everything: iodized salt

Marginal Revolution has a continuing series called "Markets in Everything" which highlights unusual markets. But for some reason they don't seem to have the opposite corollary, "Market Failures in Everything". I may not have their readership, but perhaps I can help anyhow.

MR pointed to an amazing NY Times article, In Raising the World’s I.Q., the Secret’s in the Salt.

The money quote is: "Worldwide, about two billion people — a third of the globe — get too little iodine, including hundreds of millions in India and China. Studies show that iodine deficiency is the leading preventable cause of mental retardation. Even moderate deficiency, especially in pregnant women and infants, lowers intelligence by 10 to 15 I.Q. points, shaving incalculable potential off a nation’s development."

And the solution is government regulation of private salt producers, forcing them to iodize the salt at a trivial cost, a little over a dollar a ton. The article details why this is necessary, but just on the surface it is obvious from the fact that universal iodization has never been market driven.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

David Friedman's Blog

I've been posting a lot to David Friedman at his blog. David ranges widely on many subjects, and asks questions that are interesting not just because they are topical, but because they are posed from a set of libertarian premises that is unevenly informed by science and reality and also bizarre.

We had a really stimulating discussion at Academic Tabu. David (and others) totally missed the distinction between scientific ideas of race and cline, and thus why human races are a bogus idea. There were side trips on the value of S. J. Gould's "The MIsmeasure Of Man", and the creationist fallacy of whether evidence against a competing hypothesis increases the probability of a remaining hypothesis. A number of others don't get the simple point that genetics could be entirely responsible for all the variation of a character like intelligence within each of two populations, and yet there might be zero variation of intelligence between the two populations. Or that if there is variation between the two populations, it could be entirely due to some environmental influence.

Most recently, "Dishonest Words". There, David plays pot-calling-kettle-black. I also mention a real-life counter-example of the creationist fallacy: the Monte Hall Problem.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Donald Rumsfeld has cut and run.

Perhaps I can be the first to make this obvious observation.

If only our troops were given similar options. Alternatively, isn't it a shame he can't have his tour of duty involuntarily extended and be reassigned to Iraq without sufficient body armor?

We should also note the timing: this was obviously planned long in advance, and scheduled to coincide with the election so that there would be fewer news cycles unfavorable to the Republicans and distraction from the Democratic victory.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Social Welfare State, beyond Ideology

Newly added:

Jeffry Sachs' Scientific American article on how social welfare states do as well as or better than low-tax, high-income countries. The punch line is that Friedrich Von Hayek was wrong.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Markets in everything: murder

At Marginal Revolution, the article Rent Seeking Kills makes an argument to legalize organ sales.

One respondant writes:

The people who are worried about slayings committed to involuntariyly harvest human organs are jumping at shadows. It might happen once in a great while under a regime of legalized organ sales, but far less than under a black-market regime. If anything, the option to pay for an organ from a voluntary donor is a substitute for knocking someone on the head and stealing it.

Outside the fact that this fellow has no real evidence about frequency (he's merely asserting it), we might ask if this same argument applies to murder. Right now there's a black market in murder: should taking lives be marketized?

A common theme at Marginal Revolution is "markets in everything". A common libertarian fantasy. So what would a murder market look like?

If you wanted to murder, perhaps you'd be required to negotiate for suicide, or buy a hunting/execution permit.

Or perhaps people would be issued a "life rights" deed, which they could hold onto or sell. The holder of the deed would be able to kill the "property" at whim.

We can explore this, but the basic problem is what societal purposes are being served with the creation of this market?

Additionally, our initial revulsion at this concept indicates subtle problems due to undermining of traditional underpinnings of our social institutions, especially the basic liberal assumptions of bodily security which are essential to political and commercial activity.

Iraqi oil revenues.

Jane Galt writes in Trust in oil? about some foreseeable problems with the idea of an oil trust for Iraq. Fair enough: we certainly couldn't expect perfection to spontaneously emerge, and the more problems anticipated, the better the designed solutions can be.

But she and the libertarian repondants miss the big point: who's getting the oil money now? Is the current distribution of oil profits and revenues anywhere near as good for the Iraqi people as even a flawed oil trust would be?

It would be nice if she had included a link to the original post.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Wiki propaganda watch: Rights

The wikipedia article on rights is badly in need of a rewriting to present a clear overview and index to the subject.

For a start, it does not address the fundamental difference between moral and legal rights. Moral rights are claims, can multiply like angels on a pinhead, and can conflict willy-nilly. Legal rights are claims that are enforced, and where they conflict they need to be resolved lest enforcement conflicts (battles) ensue.

In addition, it's entirely missing the Hohfeld taxonomy of rights, which emphasizes that every right creates an obligation (duty) for others.

But the annoying thing is this grotesque paragraph viewing rights through the ideological lens of positive and negative rights:

The conception of a right to something that implicitly creates an obligation on someone else to provide that thing (a positive right) is widely challenged. You can not enforce your wish for something (under the auspices of a right) if it implicitly constitutes an obligation on another to do something for you. However, one person's right to something creates a negative right in that you have the right for that thing not be interfered with by another, and that other is obligated not to interfere with your right to it. The obligation test is widely used to determine what constitutes a right. To illustrate: You have the right to own an axe, but you do not have a right to an axe. If you do own an axe, others have an obligation not to steal it.

This isn't a description of rights: it is an application of a libertarian theory of ethics to rights. In first world societies, positive legal rights abound, ranging from rights to jury trial to social welfare rights.

Revising the whole rights page would be a great deal of work: perhaps we should start small and address this one paragraph.

New Feature: Wiki propaganda watch

Posting frequency has been way down in this blog: I'm fairly busy, and don't want to get to involved in lengthy arguments. In addition, most of the things I want to write are longer than one sitting's worth of work.

However, it just occurred to me that there's something simple to do which could build traffic to this site and encourage others to perform a service.

Wikipedia is usually a fine starting point for investigating a subject. But as people come to rely on this, they become vulnerable if wikipedia can be corrupted by propagandists, ideology, business interests, and a host of other aggressive people who wish their viewpoint to become dominant.

Just as libertarians have injected their ideology in most web forums, they infest wikipedia. There are a number of wikipedia authors fighting the good fight to keep things more objective, but they are not omniscient. I'd like to help out by pointing people to some places which bear unmistakable marks of libertarian propaganda. Hopefully, some of you will feel inspired to make changes to improve the articles so that they won't indoctrinate innocents looking for basic information.

It will be interesting to see whether my suggestions produce some action, even if only in the discussion.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

How does Walmart compare to public schooling?

Here's an idea I had, and thought I'd toss out. Partly I'd like to see if my 3 readers (a guess) are paying attention, and partly I'd like to explore this idea: I haven't decided if I like it or not.

Public schools are a bit like Walmart. Pretty much anybody can be served: you don't need specialty schools except perhaps for some very special students (such as the deaf.) There are economies of scale and combinatorial choice in (for example) a comprehensive high school.

If libertarians want to demand school choice as public policy, why shouldn't we demand shopping choice as public policy?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Virtue of Sycophancy

For a good time, check out these two posts.

The Virtue of Sycophancy (1)
The Virtue of Sycophancy (2)
Daniel Barnes evaluates James Valliant's book "The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics".

It's also funny to read the Shia and Sunni reviews of this book at Amazon. There is no god but the market, and Rand is it's prophet!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

For those who are wondering....

I am nerdier than 97% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature

I've had "Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature" sitting on my bookshelf for a while, but hadn't yet opened it. So imagine my joy when Daniel Barnes wrote me to say that he's created a blog for its discussion! And to top that, I find that the whole book is available online (buy a copy anyhow!) So I've added two entries to the Critiques website.

Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature
Greg S. Nyquist provides perhaps the most extensive criticism of Rand. He finds that her assumptions about human nature do not match scientific knowledge of human nature.

Blog: Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature
Daniel Barnes has started a blog for the discussion of Greg Nyquist's 'A.R.C.H.N' and other criticisms of objectivism.

The first substantial entry in the blog is a thorough shredding of Fred Seddon’s review of ARCHN in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. This is an important kind of critique: believers rely on specious dismissals by authorities to justify ignoring criticisms of their beliefs.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Imaginary origin of Twoflower

I'm a huge fan of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series: I like fantasy that admits it's fantasy, unlike libertarianism.

Since the first book came out, I've wondered about the name of Twoflower, one of the major characters. A lot of humorous SF has in-jokes in the names of the characters: a great example is "The Flying Sorcerors", where the character Purple's name comes from a misunderstanding of a machine translation: "as a color, mauve", which is Asimov.

According to Discworld Annotations:
- [p. 24/22] Terry has this to say about the name 'Twoflower': "[...] there's no joke in Twoflower. I just wanted a coherent way of making up 'foreign' names and I think I pinched the Mayan construction (Nine Turning Mirrors, Three Rabbits, etc.)."

So the author denies intention in the name. But it's a basic principle of literary interpretation that the author's intentions don't limit legitimate interpretation. So, in that vein I'd like to offer my own origin of the name, which I thought of many years ago.

My idea is that Twoflower is a mistranslation from Greek. Aster, the Greek word for star, is a name of a flower in English. Perhaps in Greek also? I dunno. Dis is the Greek word for twice or two. Put them together, and you get DISASTER. And that's pretty much what you got whenever Twoflower was around, and what Rincewind and the other magicians thought of him: disaster. The origin of the word disaster means "evil star", which is literally what the red star threatens in the second book.

In conclusion, it's possible that Terry has been fooling us for 20+ years, and had this in mind all the time, in which case I deserve a prize. Or it's possible my creativity has driven me to lunatic lengths to create theories that rationally explain things that are merely accidents. The latter happens a lot in literary criticism.

In any event, I find it satisfying. And since this is fiction, I can set aside my normal skepticism and just enjoy it.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Cato Hypocrisy

The Cato Hypocrisy

David Brin describes "truly grotesque hypocrisies, putting shame to any pretense that these Cato guys are "libertarians," let along honest intellects."

Added to the Criticisms of the Cato Institute index.

The Case Against Legalization

The Case Against Legalization

M.A. Paarlberg explains why libertarian-style drug legalization is the wrong approach for ending the drug war.

Added to the Drugs index.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Intelligent Design Overview For US Science Teachers

Here's something I slapped together to present to the science faculty at Boston Latin School.

Intelligent Design Overview For US Science Teachers
Mike Huben 5/19/06

Intelligent design is:
• A creationism masquerading as science.
• Supported by two main pseudoscientific theories: irreducible complexity and specified complexity.
• Unconstitutional to teach as science.
• A sophisticated public relations campaign, called the Wedge Strategy.
• Part of a larger US fundamentalist movement to create a god-centered society.
• Part of a conservative strategy to attack and discredit opponents.

• ID is a slight variation on the “argument from design” of William Paley and many earlier creationists.
• The only way ID differs from any other creationism is that it tries to hide its religious bias behind an ambiguous “designer”.
• 99% of creationism consists of attacks on evolution. (The rest is unscientific and/or theological.)

The great fallacy of creationist argument.
Successful attacks on evolution would:
• Make creationism scientific.
• Mean creationism must be right.

Irreducible complexity.
• The idea that complex systems could not have arisen through evolution, and thus must have been designed. Mousetraps, bacterial flagella and blood clotting systems are their favorite examples. Note this is not based on evidence of design or any other evidence.
• Orgel's second rule: "Evolution is cleverer than you are."
• "Never say, and never take seriously anyone who says, 'I cannot believe that so-and-so could have evolved by gradual selection.' I have dubbed this kind of fallacy 'the Argument from Personal Incredulity.' Time and again, it has proven the prelude to an intellectual banana-skin experience." Richard Dawkins

Specified complexity.
• Mathematical and philosophical nonsense designed to be outside the expertise of most biologists, and thus difficult for them to refute.
• Claims to infer design.
• Design is an evolutionary process: simply non-biological. If specified complexity worked, it would be an evolutionary process detector.

• There are no peer-reviewed studies supporting intelligent design in the scientific research literature.
• Funding is dedicated to public relations, not research.
• "...it's a strange scientific revolution that seeks to establish its position in secondary school curricula before the research itself has been accomplished."
• A callous disregard for accuracy and extraordinary misquotation and misrepresentation in the ID literature.
• Bogus institutional affiliations of researchers and affiliates.

• Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District
• Judge Jones barred intelligent design from being taught in public school science classrooms.
• A humiliating and thorough defeat.
• All those Dover school board members are out of office now.
• Judge Jones said: The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory.
1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation;
2) The argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980's; and
3) ID's negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community.

Wedge Strategy.
• Set forth in a leaked Wedge Document.
• Goals: To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies; to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.
• Outlines a public relations campaign meant to sway the opinion of the public, popular media, charitable funding agencies, and public policy makers.
o Phase I: Scientific Research, Writing & Publicity,
o Phase II: Publicity & Opinion-making, and
o Phase III: Cultural Confrontation & Renewal.
• Created by Phillip E. Johnson, author of "Darwin on Trial".
• Authored by the Discovery Institute, a conservative Christian think tank.
• Run by the Center for Science and Culture (a subsidiary of the above.)
• Legal front groups: Thomas More Law Center, Alliance Defense Fund, and Quality Science Education for All.
• A creationist production company Discovery Media.
• Illustra Media, a front group for Discovery Media.
• Textbook “Of Pandas and People”.

Conservative/Fundamentalist Movement.
• Attempt to create a God-centered society, with Biblically-based laws and values.
• Vague “designer” makes ID compatible with mainstream churches, such as Catholocism, and evades conflict between old earth and young earth creationists.
• Major Funding from extreme right-wing Christians and foundations:
o Howard Ahmanson Jr.
o Philip F. Anschutz
o Richard Mellon Scaife
o MacLellan Foundation

The other Abrahamic religions also have creationism.
• Islam – Christian creationist arguments (including ID) are widely parroted by Muslim fundamentalists to attack westernism and secularism.
• Judaism – creationist teaching in orthodox-dominated public schools in Israel.

Combatting ID.
• Ridicule: Flying Sphaghetti Monster
• Teach the controversy: in a social studies class as an example of how public relations are used by special interests to sway public opinions.
• Debate only for the audience: you cannot convince the ID believer. Show the audience the fraud and errors, ignore the attacks on evolution.
• Do not debate without extensive preparation. They’ve prepared far more than you have. Read successful debate strategies at talk.origins.
• Beware of their framing: ignore their frames and impose those of science.
o “Evolution is a theory in crisis.” No, creationists are desperate.
o “Teach the controversy.” There is only religious controversy about this.

• Wikipedia has surprisingly good articles and references to both sides.
• University of Ediacara, http://www.ediacara.org/ (talk.origins FAQs)
• Skeptic’s Dictionary, http://skepdic.com/
• Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism by Matt Young (Editor), Taner Edis (Editor)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Rothbard as a philosopher

Rothbard as a philosopher

Conservative philosopher Edward Feser says: "he seems incapable of producing even a minimally respectable philosophical argument, by which I mean an argument that doesn't commit any obvious fallacies or fail to address certain obvious objections." Ouch! Rothbard's argument for self-ownership is dissected.

Added to the Philosophical Criticisms Of Libertarianism and Conservative Criticisms indexes.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Open Borders

Dogmatic Libertarians

John Fonte (in National Review) writes a conservative response to the dogmatic Cato position on open borders. He points out the obvious that somehow libertarians seem to miss: borders are important to self-governance for basic reasons of security.

Added to the Conservative Criticisms and Cato indexes.

Minimum wage.

No Longer Getting By: An Increase in the Minimum Wage Is Long Overdue

Amy Chasanov's Economic Policy Institute briefing paper explains why minimum wages are a good idea and refutes the usual conservative/libertarian arguments against them.

Added to the Government And Economics index.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Libertarians support child labor.

In arguments with Miron's supporters, they bring up the standard libertarian arguments in favor of child labor. So I did a little hunting.

Can Developing Countries Afford to Ban or Regulate Child Labor?, by Mark Weisbrot, Robert Naiman, and Natalia Rudiak, points out that modern developing countries are as rich we were in the first world when we gave it up. Along the way they disabuse a number of other foolish arguments.

In my Privatization and Deregulation index.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Strategic Oil Reserve

President Bush has announced that he's deferring contracts to fill the Strategic Oil Reserve "in order to get more oil in the market and help reduce rising gasoline prices".

Since everything he says like this is a lie or misdirection, I wondered what was going on here.

The Strategic Oil Reserve is normally filled with "royalties in kind" (ie. a percentage of oil pumped from US-owned oil fields.)

It looks to me as if he's allowing the oil companies to profit from selling US-owned oil at extremely high prices, and they will then give us some oil later when the prices are low. In other words, it's another gift to oil companies. If instead the US accepted ownership of the oil owed to the government and sold it immediately, the treasury would benefit instead of the oil companies.

I'm open to evidence this isn't what's happening, but I'm so pessimistic about the Bush presidency that it's the sort of corruption I expect.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Food And Agricultural Global Cartels

I've been arguing lately over at Jeffrey Alan Miron's "The Case for Small Government". The author makes innumerate arguments of the "4 reasons for government, 6 reasons against" style, recycling totally standard libertarian talking points. No imagination, no new ideas, and he doesn't defend his positions: he lets libertarian idiots defend his assertions. Why do I bother? Well, he's supposed to be a Harvard economist, teaching a course in this twaddle, and that's just 2 miles down the street from me. Think globally, act locally. :-)

Another reason though is to incite me to find new resources for the Critiques site. So after Miron's usual innumerate criticism of antitrust, I decided to find some numbers because of the enormous fines I'd heard about for price fixing in lysine, antibiotics, and other commodities.

The Food And Agricultural Global Cartels Of The 1990s: Overview And Update
John Connor at Purdue details roughly 13 billion dollars of customer overcharges due to price fixing in just one industry sector. An excellent argument for the continued importance of antitrust law.

Added to my Privatization and Deregulation index.

Also there, and well worth reading:

Liberty! What Fallacies Are Committed in Thy Name!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Ruse swiftboats Wilson, and other atrocities.

Last night I attended a panel where Michael Ruse, Richard Lewontin, and three others discussed how to teach evolution. Ruse's presentation was shocking: he attacked E. O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, and others with accusations of evolutionism.

Apparently, this is also part of his latest book, reviewed in The Evolution-Creation Struggle and Reviewing Ruse.

His presentation turned out to be a rehash of his article in Science: Is Evolution A Secular Religion? As I've come to expect from most philosophers, his argument is spectacularly bad. Essentially, he is claiming that evolutionism is a religion based on evolution, and his political opponents practice it.

The most obviously stupid argument that he made was his illustrations of churches and the British Museum of Natural History. See them in the article linked above. We're supposed to think how similar they are, and that it demonstrates his point. But of course, these buildings have columns and arched ceilings for much the same reason why both hippos and elephants have thick legs. When you want to build a large public building, there are many principles and traditions in architectural practice that tend to make the architecture somewhat similar. Which is why theatres, legislative buildings, large train stations, other museums, and any number of other buildings from that era also have columns and arched ceilings.

Ruse writes: In his On Human Nature, he calmly assures us that evolution is a myth that is now ready to take over Christianity. And, if this is so, "the final decisive edge enjoyed by scientific naturalism will come from its capacity to explain traditional religion, its chief competition, as a wholly material phenomenon. Theology is not likely to survive as an independent intellectual discipline"

Note how Ruse misrepresents scientific naturalism (which Wilson presents as all of consilient science) as only evolution, so that evolutionism can be limited to evolutionary biologists. But worse, he omits Wilson's explanation of why scientific materialism is myth-like: because belief in scientific laws relies on the unprovable assumption of materialism. So despite the ue of the word myth, Wilson is no different than any other scientist that way; just honest. So why did Wilson use the word myth? Because it was at the end of a chapter where he's describing humans as myth-using animals. Nor does Wilson forsee taking over Christianity: he sees merely disrepute of academic theology. The very next sentence, Wilson writes "But religion itself will edure for a long time as a vital force in society."

I find it strange that someone opposed to creationism would steal the epithet "evolutionism" and revive "progressionist" to describe scientists who attempt to inform political views with scientific knowledge. Judging from the bogus arguments I noticed, it looks to me as if these are simple political attacks on opponents, and unworthy.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Scourge of Public Libraries

The Scourge of Public Libraries

Jeff Landauer somehow concludes that public libraries are failures because one of their minor sidelines, video tapes, doesn't do the volume of Blockbuster Video. Come see the violence inherent in the library!

This one is linked in Make Or Break Views Of Libertarianism.. Tip o fth ehat to Mark Plus for the recommendation!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Goodbye Washington Consensus, Hello Washington Confusion?

Goodbye Washington Consensus, Hello Washington Confusion?

Dani Rodrik, of Harvard University, points out that the neoliberal prescription of free markets, privatization, and non-interference has been a great failure for developing nations. India and China have done vastly better with their own prescriptions.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Excuses for Liberty

Latest addition:

Excuses for Liberty
Carl Milsted Jr. harshly criticizes natural rights, utilitarian, and a priori justifications for libertarianism. But then he just as naively proposes economic arguments, which fail for similar reasons.

In the Libertarians Criticizing Each Other index.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

State Of The Propaganda address

Today, I heard the conclusion of the Bush SOTU address (which I had dilligently avoided) on the radio.

BUSH: Before history is written down in books, it is written in courage. Like Americans before us, we will show that courage and we will finish well. We will lead freedom's advance. We will compete and excel in the global economy. We will renew the defining moral commitments of this land. And so we move forward optimistic about our country, faithful to its cause and confident of the victories to come. May God bless America.

This is not a speech: it is merely a litany of double-plus-good newspeak. Vague, glittering generalities of propaganda. This is why "politician's promises" are held in contempt: not one of these promises is concrete. Not one of these promises specifies any action by the government. And even if it did, it would probably be a lie, as so many Bush promises have been.

How Roe v. Wade will be overturned.

I feel like making my prediction publicly, even though I think nobody's paying attention. It'll be archived so that I can say I was right. Or (I hope!) wrong.

Roe v. Wade is close to settled law. It will not be overturned directly. Instead, conditions must be created to change the assumptions, so that it is conspicuously in error.

The key assumption that will be changed is whether or not the fetus has rights. I forsee the Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito block setting precedents for fetal rights. At some point, after fetal rights are firmly established in a variety of cases, Roe v. Wade will be found in error because fetal rights conflict with (and outweigh) the woman's rights.

First attempts along the lines of fetal rights have already taken place, both in the courts and in legislatures.

All that's needed is one more anti-abortion vote on the court. They will find for fetal rights, and then "regretfully" have to overturn supreme court precedent.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Mechanism Not Policy: response

Nick Szabo has written a response to my Mechanism Not Policy article. Here's my response to Nick.

I really enjoy when I get a good, hostile reading of my ideas by somebody with an axe to grind. First, because it stimulates my thinking a great deal, and second because such emotional, ideological responses invariably contain many errors whose debunking educates me.

Nick, you start out with a gross misreading: I didn't say "the law", I said "the Constitution". I stuck to one example, primarily because I wanted to make a point about interpretation.

As for common law evincing "mechanism, not policy", no. It's just historically not true. Bob Black's White Man's Ghost Dance provides lots of counterexamples. First, we wouldn't expect a distributed decision making system to be able to adhere to such a restriction. Second, decisions about the nature of contracts or property amount to policies. Third, common law does not set up its own mechanisms of judges and courts, the sovereign does (to the best of my knowledge: you may know better.)

I'll grant that the common law does provide mechanism for the people (as opposed to my example of providing mechanism for itself.) Of course, statute law often does that as well. For example, laws creating limited liability corporations (which I think I recall had to override common law.) These too are important modern inventions by common law countries, but not inventions of common law.

But common law (a common libertarian obsession) is a distraction from my point, that the US Constitution was primarily intended to define mechanism, not policy such as rights. Now that statement may be "absurd and awful" to you, Nick, with your heavy investment in ideology and received interpretation of law. But it's a fair historical hypothesis begging for an unbiased examination. So what examination do you give it besides crying "absurd and awful"?

Not much that I can see. Instead you unleash a torrent of unbacked and arguable (if not incorrect) assertions. For example, you write:

"In this case, the Founders (which for the Bill of Rights are the anti-Federalists, not generally the Federalists as Mike suggests) clearly had in their minds that the main purpose of the mechanisms was to protect individual rights..."

While the anti-Federalists won their Bill of Rights, it was written by arch Federalist Madison. And mechanism proponent, if I'm right. If anti-Federalists had written the Bill of Rights, we'd expect rather clear statements of rights not just against the federal government, but against everybody. Instead, we see extremely skimpy statement of rights, almost as if invoking the principle of least authority in rights. But exactly enough for mechanism purposes. I don't know if the anti-Federalists were snookered into thinking the rights were more generous, or if they were satisfied that they were adequate. But it's obvious that they don't resemble the Virginia Bill of Rights very much in ways typical of Madison, as I discussed.

You also say:

""Life" and "liberty" occur three times in the Constitution; "property" is protected in four different places. Mike's beloved welfare state, on the other hand, occurs nowhere in the Constitution. Much of the Constitution was intended to protect the mechanisms of the common law from the hubristic policymaking of legislatures and the arbitrary actions of government officials."

Far be it from me to snicker at the lame argument of counting uses of words without context, but you're really silly here. And if you want to say welfare state doesn't occur in the Constitution, well neither does common law. But I wouldn't expect such an anacronism, would you? If I'm right about mechanism, not policy, then there's no contradiction between the Constitution and the welfare state. Unlike, say, the Virginia Bill of Rights.

Now, if you're going to insist that the idea was to protect the common law from legislators, then I really have to wonder how the 5th Amendment came to permit deprivation of life, liberty, and property by due process of law. How do you read that as protecting the common law?

"The recent great strides of progress in human history, such as the Industrial Revolution, the Information Revolution, and the abolition of slavery, were propagated by common law countries."

Now that's just silly. Those were widespread events, taking place over many nations with many different legal systems. Slavery, for example, was abolished innumerable times in innumerable countries. And we were among the last, with our commonlaw protecting slavery to the end. And slavery was never abolished by common law: always by legislation or other centralized fiat. The industrial revolution occurred in many other non-commonlaw nations, such as Germany. And the Information Revolution has prospered in large part due to non-commonlaw nations such as Japan and Sweden.

I recommend that you re-read my essay, and put up some real objections.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The easy way to deal with trolls and haters.

You'd think that with all the fuss over trolls and hate mail in blog comments that somebody would have come up with the obvious solution.

Instead of censorship or turning off comments, simply have a second set of comments. Nobody can post to them: they are the deprecated, shameful, unwanted, proscribed, improper, hateful, obscene, or otherwise inappropriate comments. Blog editors can consign noisome comments there (or back) with a simple checkbox. Perhaps checking an explanation category too. Perhaps some posters' comments are automatically put there. Readers can see exactly what is and isn't thought appropriate.

This accomplishes too things. It allows blog editors to maintain the atmosphere they want with the same effort it takes to delete a post. And it produces editorial transparency: communication of disapproval without censorship.

Doubtless some won't want this system. In my 30+ year experience of mail lists and news groups (starting on the PLATO system), trolls actually benefit many groups because they lead people to face their own understanding of the topics with more than just belief. But when there is a high volume of obnoxious or off topic posts, this might be a good solution.

A divider, not a uniter.

Bush came into office claiming to be a uniter, not a divider.

That lie was transparent from the start, though of course all of his ilk swore it was what made him great.

Well, what more evidence do we need than the most divisive supreme court nomination ever?

There were probably dozens of eligable candidates for the supreme court who would have sailed through the confirmation process essentially unopposed: which indicates they would satisfy the American people somewhat better than this extreme right ideologue.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Medical Care, Insurance, and Socialized Medicine

I've just now made a new index for Medical Care, Insurance, and Socialized Medicine. I don't know why I've not had this long ago.

The first (new) entry is Paul Krugman's "Health Care Confidential" artical from the New York Times, as quoted by Brad DeLong. It pretty much thrashes the libertarian-preferred idea that markets do it best. And it does it with the bane of ideology: real world facts.

If anybody would like to suggest the best sites that oppose the market-oriented provision of health care, I'd like to add some.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Spying on our own people.

Why is it that I haven't seen people pointing out that every major dictatorship of the past Century or so has has their power cemented by extensive, unsupervised, secret spying on their own people? The Soviet Union. East Germany. Every other communist party you can name. Saddam. Pinochet. Hitler.

Why is it that I haven't seen people pointing out how bad it was when J. Edgar Hoover was spying on Americans, and how it gave him incredible power to blackmail and otherwise destroy leaders and members of legitimate organizations for his own political purposes?

Where are the conservatives, who you'd think would want to preserve freedoms? Where are the liberals, who'd also want to preserve freedoms, but also would be the first ones victimized by radicals with such power?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Idiotarian = Sexcrime

Yesterday, I started thinking about the term idiotarian. Basically, it's a term of hatred, like sexcrime, newspeak for "our enemy", or "them, not us". Despite attempts at a defining FAQ, it resists more precise definition. Users revel in their childish power to denounce, much as others did with "commie" or "doodyhead". Usually attempts to justify such terms illustrate how the authors are accusing others of their own sins.

So, I've added a new entry to my "Make Or Break Views Of Libertarianism" page.

Why We Fight: An Anti-Idiotarian Manifesto (2.0)

Eric Raymond, Open Source self-promoter and self-appointed libertarian savior, seeks new levels of pomposity and foolishness He declares that people who don't worship his views are his poopeyhead enemies.

Anybody who can accurately count the strawmen gets an honorable mention.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Mechanism, Not Policy: Creation Of The Second Invisible Hand

Here's my new year's offering, my first substantial writing in a while.

Mechanism, Not Policy: Creation Of The Second Invisible Hand

It was triggered by a discussion with Nick Szabo at his blog Unenumerated: Negative rights and the United States Constitution. Nick was arriving at conclusions by methodologies that I considered weak at best.

As I've often been challenged by libertarian interpretations of the constitution, I thought it was about time that I attempted to write down my own thinking as to how to interpret it. My idea is rather idiosyncratic, and sure to annoy pretty much everybody if they take it seriously enough.

This is a first version. As I've never really discussed it with anybody before, I'm sure I'll get lots to think about from criticisms and eventually fix problems in it.