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Basic Game Theory

27 Oct

There are people who look like Muslims wearing Muslim clothing.
They are therefore affiliating themselves more strongly with Islam than America.
Therefore, I fear them if I see them get on a plane.

It seems that Mr. Williams has a difficult time putting himself in the perspective of another person. If I were a Muslim terrorist, I would want to consider a few things:

1. The number of eyes watching any particular plane is greater now than in the pre-9/11 period.
2. The number of people that fear or hate Muslims (or people who look like them) is greater.
3. People profile; and with a higher frequency after terrorist attacks.

If I were a terrorist that was hell-bent on destroying America and freedom by taking a plane hostage, why would I want to draw unnecessary suspicion upon myself until I’m ready to declare my allegiance to the one true god, Allah, blessed be his name? If anything, Mr. Williams should want to be on a plane full of people who are dressed “like Muslims.”

Also, as a side note, observe that by Mr. Williams’ thinking, outward affiliations 1) suggest you put that affiliation before America and 2) that this is a bad thing. I don’t think I need to go through a list of things that would show why this thinking is nonsensical.

Masking the Debate

11 Sep

I’m surprised the “debate” over the “mosque” to be built two blocks away from Ground Zero is still raging. I call it a “mosque” because it’s really more aptly described as a Muslim community center (with Christian and Jewish prayer area)s. It’s a “debate” because there is no substantial argument against the “mosque” and people are simply shouting loudly and stupidly. Each of the arguments against the mosque is so flimsy and easily pushed over, that the notion of their being people who would protest it is laughable. Here are the main arguments:

1. It dishonors those who lost their lives on September 11th. What about the (at least 60) Muslims who died in those towers? Do they not deserve to be honored?

2. The “mosque” will support or be funded by terrorist/evil/Iranian organizations. How many actions should should we stop because they might lead to someone somewhere doing something wrong? Besides, if you believe in these guilt by association arguments, there are results which me must accept if we are to be logically consistent.

3. We have enough mosques. A) How do you know? B) Does this mean we can stop the production of any building or business because some decided we have “enough”? No more cars. No more restaurants. No more American flags. We have enough.

4. Building the mosque supports those who want to destroy “Western Civilization”. A) We don’t live in Western Civilization. B) Does change imply destruction? Should we ban anything that might make life different in any way? Perhaps we should ban planes, movies, and anything that creates or is wealth.

5. Ground Zero is sacred. A) What about the atheists, secularists, and humanists that died on 9/11? B) Do Christians really believe that the second most popular religion in the world is completely devoid of sacred teachings? C) Should we try to purify the area if it so sacred?

6. It’s offensive/a “slap in the face”/an insult. This argument deserves special attention. One reason for the special attention is because it’s not an argument. Saying “I’m offended” has no weight in any debate and it never will. If you care about freedom of speech or freedom of religion, then you can’t stop someone for saying something you don’t like or praying to a god you don’t believe in. There is no debate. You don’t get to decide what others are allowed to say or where they are allowed to pray, because the second you do is the second you’ve agreed that any form of a dissenting opinion is justifiably silenced.

If you care about individual rights, if you care about civil rights, if you believe that people should be allowed to worship as they desire so long as they themselves are not hurting someone else, if you believe people should be able to use their resources as they desire, if you believe in any form of questioning authority or challenging conventional wisdom, if you care about freedom, justice, sanctity, or equality, then the only justified position is unrelenting support for the creation of a “mosque” two blocks from Ground Zero. We owe it to the victims of 9/11 and to future generations to defend the freedoms that make living in this country worthwhile.

Protectionism is Always Bitter

2 Sep

CNN further demonstrates how far they’ve fallen with a slew of B-movie puns (no pun intended).

The issue is honey laundering. Chinese honey producers ship their honey to producers in another country who then ship it to the United States, tariff and duty-free. That sentence should be a quick lesson in the law of unintended consequences. Here is more on the nature of honey laundering:

Earlier today, eleven executives and four foreign companies have been indicted by several US federal agencies. It is frequently claimed that the antibiotics in the Chinese honey are deadly to a small percentage of the population. But we are never told how many people might suffer from this allergic reaction. (Should we ban everything that people might die from because of allergies?) It’s also claimed the Chinese are dumping their honey on us. The evidence? There is lots of Chinese honey coming into US markets and at a lower price than domestic honey producers. Lower prices, of course, do not constitute “dumping.” Otherwise, we would need to ban all of competition (indeed, if you follow the logic, it would only be by increasing prices that we make ourselves richer).

The honey producers asking for protection don’t care about public safety. If they did, they would advocate the removal of the tariffs and anti-dumping legislation. It would eliminate the necessity of relabeling by foreign producers; Chinese honey manufacturers would then seek to build a better brand name. It’s difficult to make profits if you produce honey that kills people. Moreover, it is the competitive forces of markets and the entrepreneurship of individuals that we can rely on for better, cleaner, and safer products – not the protection and institutionalization of industries.

Perhaps the worst feature of this is that it illustrates the difference between the market and governments so well. Under the market, I vote with my dollars to say “I don’t support your protectionist, lobbying activities.” They lose profits. Under the political system, the exact people I don’t want to have my money go to the government (because they are losing my customership) to strangle competition. We can tell that political decisions are bad because they have to be forced onto people.

Propped Up

6 Aug

In his declaration that Prop 8 was unconstitutional, Judge Vaughn Walker had this to say: “Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians.  The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples.” I think Bill O’Reilly might be right about his Honor’s libertarian streak. I have a hard time believing many Californians who support the decision are dissatisfied with this section of the ruling. If they really believed that moral disapproval was insufficient grounds for curtailing rights, then wouldn’t that suggest that more Californians are really closet or pseudo-libertarians? At the very least, believing this is true should challenge assumptions about the legitimacy of power from those in office.

The conservative position on this is interesting: forget that the Constitution gives power to the courts to rule on the constitutionality of legislation, this judge has overturned the will of the people! Presumably, some of the “will of the people” has been restored with the ruling. Otherwise, people wouldn’t be celebrating. Perhaps the “will of the people,” much like the “rule of law,” is a myth.

I have a very simple theory about Obama’s confusing position: he’s a politician and he’s lying. I’m willing to bet that he actually does support gay marriage, but didn’t (or doesn’t) want to alienate supporters. Here is Jon Stewart’s take (sorry I couldn’t embed it).

Seen Criticism

30 Jul

Here is a letter I sent to the Wall Street Journal,

On July 29, you reported on White House press secretary Robert Gibbs’ criticism of conservatives regarding  the auto bailout, “‘Rush Limbaugh and others saw a million people that worked at these factories… and thought we should all just walk away. The president didn’t think that walking away from a million jobs in these communities made a lot of economic sense’” (“Gibbs takes on Rush Limbaugh,” articles). Mr. Gibbs, while articulating a genuine concern for the impact on the labor market, fails to fully consider the consequences for these actions.

In 1848, Frederic Bastiat explained that every policy will have two effects, “the first alone is immediate; it appears simultaneously with its cause; it is seen. The other effects emerge only subsequently; they are not seen; we are fortunate if we foresee them.

The seen effect of the bailout is that workers get to keep their jobs. We don’t see the more productive jobs that would have been created if the taxpayers had spent their money elsewhere. We also don’t see what these talented factory workers and engineers would have made or done with their time if they weren’t stuck at an auto plant whose outputs are less valuable than their inputs. The government didn’t “save” any jobs – it only hindered more productive ones from appearing elsewhere.

Brent Butgereit

Words, Crossed

29 Jul

Thanks to Ian Hosking for providing this little gem. Throughout this clip I can’t help but think about how the phrasing of an idea shapes the opinions surrounding. In the case of marijuana, images and stories are used to paint a picture of the horrors of the drug. (If you’ll notice in the second clip, the “reporter”/commentator asks him about his fears with very leading questions). There is no need for substantiation when you take the political, moral high ground.  Words and ideas are cheap. I think ending prohibition has had a difficult time in the U.S. due to the image of the kind of person that does drugs or, worse, sells them.

The conception of definitions alters our perceptions of identity. Consider the use of “liberal” and “conservative” in modern American politics. If we examine each word from the perspective from a foreigner (without a conception of the political party-ideology system) we might observe a literalist approach used to derive the words’ meanings. “Liberal” suggests “support of freedom; open; or generously giving”; “conservative” suggests “restrained; cautious; or interested in conserving.” Understanding the reality of these ideologies changes not only the definition of the word but also our sentiments of the object described. Understanding (from the conservative view) that to be “liberal” in the political sense implies increasing restrictions, reducing freedom, and generously taking creates a disbelief in the ideas of liberalism and a distrust of people who brand themselves as “liberals.” Likewise, the “liberally” minded thinker sees the conservative as being backwards, hypocritical, and in support of the status quo – to call oneself a “conservative” is to declare stupidity, stubbornness, and callousness.

The more centralized a word or idea is to one’s own philosophy, the  greater the tendency to place other ideas in relation to it. My conception and view of “socialism” is such that I have knee-jerk negative bias toward words and ideas that seem “socially-minded.” In “The Mirage of Social Justice,” Hayek argues that “social” or “distributive” justice is meaningless in the context of a spontaneous order and can only be meaningful in an organization (or planned order). I tend to think putting “social” in front of most terms renders that term meaningless. I certainly have a different perception of what constitutes “socialism” than most socialists. I think the same is true in the opposite direction for “capitalism” and capitalists. Without a doubt, these words suck. But any word that is going to define a large set of ideas is going to suck. If there is a greater degree of flexibility in the use and definition of a word, there will be greater animosity and discussions at cross purposes over the use of that word.

Though this is an unfortunate scenario, it is unavoidable. Banning words or mandating definitions cannot solve the problem. (However, this may not always be a problem for language, it could very well be a feature.) Unless A tries to discuss his ideas on B’s terms (or with B’s ideologies in mind), the exchange of ideas will be slowed or stopped. One of the best ways to effectively convey your ideas is to be as charitable as possible to the ideas of your opponent.

Actions and Consequences

21 Jul

As the dust begins to settle on the financial and health care reform bills and the recession, or the dust is kick differently as we move closer to the November elections, I predict we will hear a growing number of calls to make government “more efficient,” “more businesslike,” or equipped with “more resources.” The claim, in it’s most rudimentary form, is the following: “I acknowledge things are going poorly. It is because we don’t have the right people running things. I am the right person.” Never mind questions about the fundamental structure and incentives for government – the problem is, unsurprisingly, the fault of others. I also predict that people will be surprised and upset when their politician of choice does not deliver. If they are not either of these things, they are uninformed. Some links:

Gary Becker on the five major defects of the financial reform bill.

Bryan Caplan on the capital punishment of drug dealers in Singapore and the censorship of reporters.

Why politics can never be like a market – Art Carden.

And here is Thomas Sowell on the deception of politicians on the people and each other.

With respect to the last link, is it possible for markets to behave this way? What would it mean? What would it look like? And are the solutions to the problem about “getting the right person to do the job”?