20 July 2013

Immigration As A Proxy of Human Rights Violations

Imagine someone cryogenically frozen in 1950 is woken up today.  The first thing he sees is an op-ed calling for increased immigration to handle America’s labor shortage.  The second thing he sees is the U-6 unemployment rate, which is over 13%.*  He’s going to be very confused.  How can someone look at an unemployment rate of 13% (with depressed, inflation-adjusted wages to boot) and say the problem is a labor shortage?

In this sense, the current debate over increased immigration, and consequently open borders, is predicated on this puzzle.  A lot of the opposition to open borders and increased immigration can be seen as an extension of the above puzzlement.  Most people are intuitive thinkers, which means that calling for an expanded labor market during a time of severe unemployment just doesn’t make sense.

Thus, it’s helpful to ask two questions.  First, why is the current unemployment rate 13+%?  Second, why are foreigners such a desirable source of labor?

Once we begin to answer these questions, we quickly realize that there are a lot of distortions in the labor market that have led to American unemployment being over 13% while still enabling foreigners look like attractive sources of labor.

First off, why is it that 13+% of Americans cannot find a job while employers are complaining of a worker shortage?  There are myriad reasons, among them are:  minimum wage laws, labor regulations (like OSHA regs, EEOC regs, etc.), payroll taxes (which impose double costs on employers since they must both collect the taxes and maintain records of them), corporate taxes (the incidence of which is usually workers, not owners or consumers), and so forth.  In addition, American workers often need to earn more money since the government mandates certain expenditures like health and car insurance.  Personal compliance with government regulations does have its costs, and so workers are going to demand more pay in order to break even.  Furthermore, the government incentivizes outsourcing and automation through the corporate status and trade agreements.  The cumulative effect of all this government interference is that employers have a strong incentive to employ non-American labor while American workers are hamstrung and are thus considerably less-able to compete with foreign workers.

Thus, the current immigration debate can be seen as a sort of proxy of other problems.  When the unemployment rate is 13+% but employers are complaining of a labor shortage, it is not unreasonable to assume that some people’s rights are somehow being violated.  And as quick glance at the federal (not to mention state and municipal) intrusion into American workers’ lives shows, a lot of people’s rights are being violated in some rather unconscionable ways.

This, then, begs the question of why certain “Cheap Chalupa” (nominal) libertarians are so concerned about open borders while remaining relatively unconcerned with the prolonged human rights violations of their fellow citizens.  Why is a Mexican’s right to work freely and without imposition more important than an American’s right to do the same? (I have a personal theory, but I’ll save that for another post.)

To be consistent, libertarians need to argue for open borders/increased immigration in concert with radical deregulation/the abolition of the federal government.  AsI’ve pointed out numerous times before, hamstringing domestic businesses and workers while giving greater market access to foreigners is not the free market; it is a cruel and gross violation of human rights. To argue for the rights of one racial group over the other is hypocritical and racist, and to ignore the repeated violation of human rights that occurs in one’s own country simply because one sees it every day and is used to it is inhumanely calloused.

Thus, the matter of immigration and open borders is more than merely a matter of race and culture.  It is the intuitive thinker’s way of addressing what is clearly bureaucratic oppression.  The terms may not be articulated as such, but logical steps are there if one is willing to look.  Asking why more immigrants are necessary in light of 13+% unemployment might sound xenophobic at first blush, but an honest consideration of the question reveals that immigrants aren’t the only ones whose rights are being violated.**

* Of course, this presupposes that the BLS statistics are representative of reality.  An argument can be made that they are not.

** To distill this even further, both pro- and anti-immigrationists are focusing on the human-rights-violations aspect of the issue.  The difference between the two groups is which humans they focus on.  The pro side is focused on the violation of Mexicans’ rights; the con anti side is focused on the violation of Americans’ rights.  Fittingly, to bring this full circle, we’re right back to culture.

Culture, Rights, and Immigration

Cue Ryan Long:

Simon Grey provides the first real contribution to the anti-immigration position I have seen in a long time. I would quibble with him a bit regarding the application of property ownership. But it suddenly occurs to me that one's opinion on immigration might be predicted by the extent to which one feels sympathy for the troll who was bested by the three billy goats gruff. Both of these ought to be fodder for forthcoming Stationary Waves posts. And then, just when he's got me convinced that it's a property rights issue, he says, "So if it seems as if man was not designed to be part of a monocultural melting pot of diversity, you just might be on to something." So it is about culture after all?

It can be about both.  Some people may actually be focused on rights while others may be focused on culture.  Certainly both things can overlap, especially since how one approaches rights might have a cultural bias (e.g. the American conception of property rights is rooted in a negative-rights sense, whereas the more progressive conception of rights is rooted in a positive-rights sense, which draws generally from the principles of the French Revolution, IIRC).

Additionally, there are many who subscribe to social contract theory.*  The analogy from a prior post is a more-libertarian twist on the basic thought, which is that citizens of a country can voluntarily surrender certain rights in exchange for some securities (martial, economic, or otherwise).  Even the most hardcore anarchists, save for those that deny that property rights exist beyond one’s own body, can agree that there are instances when extreme tyranny can be libertarian, at least in the sense of being extension of property rights and contract theory.  To put it another way, neighborhood associations aren’t necessarily anti-libertarian, even though they are often petty tyrannies led by small-minded busybodies.

Social contract theory has a very long intellectual history, and much of it is embedded in America’s cultural DNA, to make use of a metaphor.  Really, the theory is very American, and has quite a pedigree in the US, which helps to explain why a lot of Americans don’t seem to have a lot of problems saying that don’t want Mexicans moving to their country.  This may or may not be xenophobic/racist (more on that in a second), but it is ignorant to say that this method of thinking is not at all predicated on some intellectual conception of property rights, even if a good number of those who are immigration are not able to clearly articulate all the reasons why they oppose mass immigration from a social contract theory approach.

However, it cannot be denied that many people who, though well within their rights, do not want to live near foreigners.  This may be distasteful to some, and racist or xenophobic as well, but it is true that some people do not like people who are different from them (shocking, I know). This motivation is certainly present in the immigration debate, and I can’t think of a single reason to pretend otherwise.

Still, even if some people are complete racists when it comes to immigration, it doesn’t stand to reason that their racism necessarily invalidates their right to suppress immigration.**  No store owner, for example, should be compelled to serve people of another skin color if he doesn’t wish to, no matter how distasteful such behavior might seem to us.  In like manner, citizens of a country may be well within their rights to refuse entry to foreigners, even if we personally find such behavior distasteful.

Ultimately, the immigration matter is linked to both one’s conception of rights and culture, and the two seemed to be inextricably linked, especially since one’s conception of rights is likely strongly influenced by one’s culture.  Calling anti-immigrationists racist is unduly belittling in light of the intellectual depth of social contract theory, and calling pro-immigrationists stupid is unduly belittling in light of their conception of rights.  There are certainly racists who rationalize their beliefs in the guise of property rights.  There are also a lot of people who can grasp that social organizations are well within their rights to have criteria for membership*** without being able to extend the concept to nation-states as well.  It’s more helpful, then, to view the conflict in terms of point-of-view rather than right-or-wrong.

* I’m undecided on the theory, personally, but I am sympathetic to parts of it, and feel generally comfortable operating within the philosophical framework.

**  Of course, this is contingent in large part on whether you subscribe to social contract theory.  But even if you don’t, you can at least acknowledge that many people do, and their beliefs have some degree of credibility.

*** For example, a union of tradesmen would obviously want to exclude people who a) aren’t tradesmen or who b) would actively try to undermine the union of workers.

Leftism is Dying Out

A dozen protesters ran through the streets of Westwood Thursday night, ending in at least one arrest.
The small group gathered at the Federal Building on Wilshire Boulevard for what was billed on social media as the Smash White Supremacy Fun Run, organized to protest the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case. They jogged en masse as they traveled east on their planned run through the neighborhood at about 7:45 p.m.

Only a dozen people showed up to smash white supremacy?  It looks like America has regressed, especially since one of these brave souls managed to get itself arrested.  It’s like the Jim Crow era all over again.  Next thing you know, whitey is going to be lynching “uppity negroes” since only a dozen people are willing to defend the defenseless blacks from those evil, racist white men, and a dozen men just aren’t going to last that long against the deep-seated and well-entrenched racist machine known as America.

More realistically, it looks like the media completely failed to convince the choir to whom it was preaching that the Trayvon Martin incident was about white racism.  And if the leftist media can’t even convince its own that the Zimmerman-Martin affair was about white racism, how can it possibly hope to convince its detractors?  At least reality is now shining through, which means that Leftism is now on its last legs.  Of course, this is just the calm before the storm, since readjusting to reality is generally quite painful.  “Diversity” coupled with credit contraction and the accompanying recession it will inevitably bring is going to be unpleasant for rather obvious reasons.

We Can’t Shoot Drones?

The FAA released a statement in response to questions about an ordinance under consideration in the tiny farming community of Deer Trail, Colo., that would encourage hunters to shoot down drones. The administration reminded the public that it regulates the nation's airspace, including the airspace over cities and towns.

Perhaps the FAA could show where, exactly, the constitution grants them this power.  Oh, I forgot:  the constitution has been dead, so big agencies can violate whatever rights they want, and if you don’t like it, well then you can just go fuck yourself.

A drone "hit by gunfire could crash, causing damage to persons or property on the ground, or it could collide with other objects in the air," the statement said. "Shooting at an unmanned aircraft could result in criminal or civil liability, just as would firing at a manned airplane."

Of course, one way to prevent this very scenario is to avoid flying drones over the property of people who don’t like being spied on by their own government.  But it’s never the government that yields, is it?

All hail Big Brother.

15 July 2013

Thoughts on the Whole Zimmerman Thing

I, for one, am glad this is finally over.  I can’t wait for something less obnoxious to dominate the news cy—

The NAACP, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and other civil rights activists are calling on the U.S. Department of Justice and Attorney Gen. Eric Holder to press federal civil rights charges against George Zimmerman, the former neighborhood watchman who was acquitted by a Sanford, Fla., jury Saturday in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
“The most fundamental of civil rights — the right to life — was violated the night George Zimmerman stalked and then took the life of Trayvon Martin," NAACP President Ben Jealous wrote in a letter to Holder shortly after the verdict was announced. "We ask that the Department of Justice file civil rights charges against Mr. Zimmerman for this egregious violation. Please address the travesties of the tragic death of Trayvon Martin by acting today.”

Jesse Jackson has been so egregiously wrong about so many things so often that I now automatically assume he’s just wrong about everything.  Sure, you can remind me that even a broken clock is right twice a day.  But if that clock has a second hand, than that clock is also wrong 86,398 times a day.  Statistically, the clock is far more likely to be wrong than right, and that’s pretty much how I view Jesse Jackson.

Truthfully, I admire his tenacious and bull-headed tribalism.  However, I wish his tribe didn’t live in America.

Whence Diversity?

I had an interesting conversation with a good friend this weekend. Among the many things we discussed was the current open borders debate.  Like me, he’s skeptical of the blessings of diversity, and thinks that it’s obvious that diversity is a bunch of destructive nonsense.  And then he reminded me how diversity came about in the first place:

Now the whole earth had one language and one speech.  And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there.  Then they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar.  And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.  And the Lord said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.  Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”  So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city.  Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

So the one world order was attempted at least once before, and the result was that God put an end to that, and added the preventative measure of scrambling people’s ability to communicate.  Then he separated them to boot.  So if it seems as if man was not designed to be part of a monocultural melting pot of diversity, you just might be on to something.

Knowledge and Beliefs

Ryan Long calls me out, somewhat cheekily, in a post entitled “Nothing You Know About Anything Is Certain, Including This Sentence.”  Like most of his post, this one is quite interesting and thought-provoking, and I recommend reading it in its entirety.  The relevant section, I believe, is this:

The cheapest and easiest way to respond to Grey's criticism of human knowledge is to ask him how he's so sure. You might even get a laugh out of that, but after the laughter subsides, you're left with a real question; it's a question that I am not sure science or philosophy has ever considered.
See, philosophy is generally directed toward the truth, and epistemology toward how we know. Epistemological philosophy has been the great, majestic quest to determine how we bald apes are able to know what the truth is, even when presented with seemingly incontrovertible evidence.
To my knowledge, no one has ever explored the question of how we know what we do not know.
Again, this may seem clever, but I'm serious. There is no reason to limit the scope of science and philosophy to the pursuit of truth; we should also shine a light on that which is not true. How do we know that something is false? Call it antiepistemology, if you like. If skepticism of the truth keeps us from making type II errors of human knowledge, then skepticism of falsehoods - even skepticism of skepticism itself - will keep us from making type I errors.

The most interesting thing about philosophy in general, and epistemology in specific, is how it has a wonderful to tendency to simply go up its own ass.  Eventually, at some point, any logical application of an asserted truth, particularly about the nature of knowledge, leads to some hilarious, and often depressingly self-defeating conclusions.  Most conclusions are nihilistic, at least in the sense that, once you begin to think about knowledge you eventually conclude nothing is really certain, and even things that appear certain may not necessarily be certain, and we can’t ever really be sure of everything, so maybe let’s go home, put a gun to our respective heads, and pull the trigger.

I exaggerate, of course, but only a little.  Philosophy, and particularly epistemology, is quite frustrating because it often leads you to the logical conclusion that nothing is certain.  The frustration kicks in because humans have a strong desire for certainty.

The ultimate problem with philosophy, I think, is that it equates knowledge with certainty.  Truthfully, certainty is better equated with belief.  The reason why even the most unintelligent and ignorant human can act with certainty in spite of being stupid and ignorant is because all humans have certainty in their personal beliefs.  Their beliefs may be wrong, or perhaps it might be better to say that beliefs are incorrect, or inaccurate, or maybe too broad (or too nuanced, or whatever) when one’s actual outcome differs from one’s expected outcome.

At this point, though, it strikes me as a good idea to explain the difference between knowledge and beliefs.  Knowledge refers primarily to experience.  You know what you directly observe via your senses.  Blind people, for example, can have a tactile knowledge of a couch but not a visual knowledge of a couch since they can feel but not see.  A deaf person could have a visual knowledge of someone but not an auditory one.  So on and so forth.  In this case, knowledge would be a direct result of direct experience.  If you don’t have direct experience with something, all you really have is belief.

Belief refers to inference.  There are things you believe to be true, not because you have experienced them, but because someone else has (or claims to) and you believe them, or because you expect to experience something in the future.  Saying that Jesus Christ died on a cross in Jerusalem in AD 30 is a statement of belief, unless one actually witnessed the crucifixion firsthand.  Saying that if you go to a bar and use a certain pickup line, you will get laid is also a belief since you are essentially talking about an expectation, not a past event.  Basically, our knowledge of history and our trust in the consequences of our actions are basically beliefs.

Sometimes the differences between knowledge and beliefs are subtle. Saying that you went to a bar, spit mad game, and then got laid is knowledge, since that accurately describes your experience.  Asserting that your spitting of mad game got you laid is a belief since you have to infer that whomever you spat mad game upon laid you like tile because of your mad game.  Though the difference between knowledge and beliefs is subtle, it still remains.

Where philosophy’s usefulness starts to decline is when it treats knowledge and beliefs as the same.  Knowledge can generally be trusted; beliefs may or may not.  Philosophy tends to ignore the validity of experience, which is why most philosophical conclusions are mostly of the variety that asserts that we can know nothing, not even what we experience.

Philosophy is helpful, though, in getting us to question our beliefs.  Our reliance on inferences may be misguided, and questioning the nature of inferential knowledge is helpful.  How do we know that the earth revolves around the sun?*  How do we know that Genghis Khan actually lived?  How do we know that that our house won’t get foreclosed upon if we continue paying our mortgage? Once we begin to answer these questions, we discover that our inferential knowledge is not always perfectly valid, and that the validity of our inferential knowledge may vary.

For example, the laws of physics and chemistry can generally be universally replicated (i.e. most people who make decisions by assuming the validity of these laws usually find their belief validated by experience), which means that beliefs in these disciplines are more valid than, say, beliefs in climatology.  Determining the validity of other beliefs isn’t always as clear-cut, particularly in the realm of the spiritual and metaphysical, but I concede that it is possible to determine whether some beliefs in those fields are more valid than others.

Before I disappear down a rabbit hole of my own digging, let me simply say that we know what we know, and we know what we believe, but what we believe may not necessarily be true.  Therefore it wise to hold fast to our experiences while also considering our beliefs as things to be challenged from time to time.

Additionally, I would note that the human desire for certainty does not generally lend itself to introspection.  Consequently, it is often the case that people will adhere to their beliefs even when they are wrong.**  This is why people will act and speak with certainty even if they are contradicting themselves.  Humanity’s tendency to provide ex post rationalizations for their behavior compounds the problem.  Incidentally, this is why Keynesians will double down on their policy even when it doesn’t work, and why players will keep hitting up bars even when the emptiness of hedonism eats away at their mind as they drift off to sleep each night.  Certainty is easier than doubt, even when certainty is wrong.

In closing, I will answer the question of how I’m so sure in my criticism of human knowledge.  The truth is, I believe that human knowledge (or, more accurately, human beliefs) is remarkably uncertain, our experiences notwithstanding.

* An ex-navigator once told me that a good number of navigators were taught to make calculations based on the geo-centric universal model because it was easier and the results were good enough for their purposes.  Thus, the geo-centric model of the solar system still hasn’t been completely discarded, which should hopefully indicate, again, that scientific “knowledge” is more theoretical and inferential, and that its validity is model-driven.

** What’s great about this assertion is that two people with polar opposite beliefs will both agree with it because each will assume that it applies to, say, the other.

The Heart of the Immigration Debate

Open borders advocates, like Bryan Caplan, Don Boudreaux, and Ryan Long, often take the approach that one has an intrinsic right, presumably as a consequence of one’s humanity, to engage in trade and travel without restriction, insofar as others’ rights are not ignored or otherwise trampled upon.  Saying that open borders should be allowed because everyone has the right to work and live anywhere they want is an interesting position, but it’s also a position that’s somewhat lacking in nuance.

Suppose that a man owns a large chunk of land, say six hundred acres.  Suppose one day that he decides he doesn’t want people of another ethnicity to use his some of his land as a roadway to get to someone else’s property.  Is he within his rights to deny others’ passage across his land, even though doing so would be explicitly xenophobic?  As distasteful as this might be, the answer is yes.  He is with within his rights to deny passage across his property, even though it is on explicitly racist grounds.

Suppose a couple of years later, several of his neighbors, who all own conjoining properties, decide that they, too, would like to block people of differing ethnicities from crossing their properties or otherwise using their properties.  Let us also suppose that the man and his neighbors are all of the same ethnicity and thus decide to form a group that allows all members to utilize each other’s properties for travel (with reasonable but equal limits, of course) while simultaneously blocking everyone who is not a member of the group from crossing the properties at all.  Would all the members of this group be within their rights do so, even if we personally find this to be quite distasteful?  Again, the answer is yes.

Let us now suppose that even more neighbors, also of the same ethnicity as the first group, decide that they want in on the agreement.  They agree to allow their properties to be used for transportation by others in the group but not by those outside group in exchange for the right to use other members’ properties. Would they be within their rights to exclude non-members from using their properties for travel?  Again, the answer is yes, distasteful though it may be.

But let us suppose one final time that all those within the group own properties that form an enclosed circuitous border.  Let us also suppose that there are non-members of the group that own distinct properties within the enclosed circuitous border of the land owned by the excluding group (for purpose of visualization, imagine that the lands owned by the exclusionary group basically form a donut, with non-members outside the outer edge, and with non-members in the donut hole).  Let us further suppose that there are those who live on the enclosed non-group properties who wish to trade with those who live outside of the border of the group’s properties.  Because the group of property-owners has decided to deny passage to non-members, those within the borders and those outside the borders cannot engage in trade.  Has anyone’s rights been violated?

Now let us suppose that the group of exclusionary property-owners is forced to allow passage to non-members in order to facilitate trade.  Has anyone’s rights been violated?

Some, perhaps many, libertarians will argue that preventing trade is a violation of rights.  (I’m sympathetic to this view, though I have some qualifications and reservations about it.)  However, most if not all of those same libertarians will also argue that forcing someone to use their property in ways they don’t want it used is also a violation of rights.  So the real issue in this matter is which rights take precedence.

Now, the hypothetical scenarios detailed above are not perfectly synonymous to the present debate, but I believe they are similar enough to make the terms of debate a little clearer.  There are some who feel, rightly or wrongly, that as paying members of a particular organization (in this case, the United States), they should have some say on how the collective property is used.* This belief would be largely correct, and it is reasonable to say, in keeping with this principle, that if the collective owners of a given property decide that they will forbid certain people from being on their property, then they are well within their rights to do so, even if such action is distasteful.

The rub, though, is that it appears to also be a violation of rights to prevent people from engaging in exchange.  Indeed, the main libertarian critique of government regulation is that it is an infringement of personal rights.  And this critique is correct.

Thus, the real heart of the debate over open borders is mostly a question of which right takes precedence: the right to exclude people from your property or the right to engage in trade.  Of course, both rights are derived from the entire right of ownership (since you own your property, you can bar whoever you want from traversing it; since you own yourself, you can engage in contracts with whomever you please).  So really, the question is which application of the primary principle should take precedence in the event of a conflict between the two secondary applications.

I don’t really have an answer to this question.  But I think that it is foolish to act as if all those who favor closed borders are all closeted racists who will sell out property rights so as not to live near filthy foreigners is perhaps a bit uncalled for.  It is not necessarily a violation of someone’s rights to say that cannot use your property to travel to work.  It may be dickish, but it’s not necessarily a violation of rights.

* I know some libertarians, particularly anarchists, will bristle at the idea that property held by the monopolistic federal government is “collective property.”  To which I respond:  well who, then, owns the property? The most honest answer would be that the property belongs to whomever owned prior to the federal government, but only insofar as one assumes that property was taken by force.  If the property was voluntarily sold, or was previously unoccupied (in which case the first user principle would take over), then you cannot deny that government is the proper owner.  But even if you take the approach that government stole the money it used to purchase the land (i.e. collected taxes), then ownership of the property has to be collective since everyone pays taxes.  At any rate, I think it’s absurd to say that government-owned property should be considered ownerless, for reasons that should now be obvious.

14 July 2013

The Ministry of Truth’s Finest

The show I watched went like this. The host played a clip of Deen issuing an emotional, raw, awkward apology that literally included begging for forgiveness. The host and the pundits talked about Deen's apology at length. Five minutes later, on the same show, with the same pundits, the conversation turned to Deen's lack of an apology, as if they had not just watched and discussed that very thing.
Let me repeat that. They played a tape of Deen's apology, discussed the apology then complained that there had been no apology. I watched carefully to see if they meant the apology was lacking a necessary element, but that didn't seem to be the case. The apology looked sincere and heartfelt to me, albeit awkward. The problem, said the pundits, was that the very thing they just watched and discussed didn't actually happen. You rarely see confirmation bias play out that vividly. Once it had been decided that Deen was a monster, it couldn't also be true that she issued a sincere apology even if you just finished watching it. The whole thing was fascinating. [Emphasis added.]

This is pretty much like watching the Ministry of Truth operate in real time.*  To look at a given action being performed and then declare that said action was not actually performed takes a ton of gumption and dishonesty.  And to believe that declaration correspondingly requires a ton of gullibility and dishonesty.

Obviously, this incident is but another incident in a string of incidents that show, once again, how the modern American culture has become.  To deny plain truth, to deny reality itself, is indicative of severe moral decay. “Woe to those who call ‘good’ ‘evil’ and ‘evil’ ‘good.’” And woe to those who deny reality as well.

On a tangentially related note, I’d like to point out that the natural complement to Orwell’s 1984 is C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength.  While Orwell assumes Big Brother’s inevitable triumph over the human spirit, Lewis assumes the human spirit’s triumph over Big Brother.  Time will tell which viewpoint is correct.  However, in spite of my pessimism, I have to say that I agree with Lewis.  And while I’m at it, I would also say that That Hideous Strength is easily Lewis’s best novel, and that it is his most human work.  I highly recommend it.

* For the two or three people who may have not actually read 1984, the Ministry of Truth is the organization that alters the historical records into whatever best suits Big Brother’s purposes at a given point in time.

10 July 2013

A Restoration of Principles

As has been discussed ad nauseum in this corner of the web, it appear that some dude named Edward Snowden leaked the obvious but somehow still secret news that, lol, the federal government is spying on everyone about everything.  Apparently 1984 was an instruction manual.  Anyway, a lot of people had been lauding Snowden for bravery and speaking the truth to the masses, which they will soon ignore as soon as SportsCenter returns from its commercial break.  And while the revolution might be a non-starter, there is one sense in which the republic has returned to its principles:

In an initiative aimed at rooting out future leakers and other security violators, President Barack Obama has ordered federal employees to report suspicious actions of their colleagues based on behavioral profiling techniques that are not scientifically proven to work, according to experts and government documents.
The techniques are a key pillar of the Insider Threat Program, an unprecedented government-wide crackdown under which millions of federal bureaucrats and contractors must watch out for “high-risk persons or behaviors” among co-workers. Those who fail to report them could face penalties, including criminal charges.

The principle being restored here is that of government competition.  While the constitution is a flawed document written by flawed men, there is no question that it worked brilliantly for roughly 80 years.  And it did so by making the government branches separate but equal.  The beauty of this design is that it ensured that politicians got so busy having pissing wars with each other that they didn’t really have a lot of time to harass citizens.  For example, Jefferson’s squabbles with John Adams’ chief justice appointment John Marshall was probably the best thing about his presidency, in that both men spent so much time trying to thwart each other that they couldn’t get around to thwarting American citizens.

The brilliance of this system, then, is that it basically allowed self-important men do things to make themselves feel important without letting them actually do a lot of damage.  Since these busybodies only really enjoy being busybodies, it was sheer brilliance to let them be busybodies while not tying it to real-world results.*  Ultimately, this system was ruined by Lincoln, who decided to bring guns to a bitch-slap fight. For whatever reason, he decided to take politics seriously, instead of hewing to the time honored tradition of settling political issues by hilariously petty speechifying and ridiculously one-sided but limited legislation.

And now Snowden has tricked the fool Obama into going right back down this same road.  Now federal employees will be watching each other, hopefully in the attempt to ruin each other’s lives over some petty feud.  And with federal employees watching each other and planning their various revenges and comeuppances, the American citizens will be largely ignored, and better able to go on with their lives, free of stupid federal intrusion.

Well-played, Mr. Snowden.  Well-played.

* Clearly, this is a rather hyperbolic description of early US history.  However, federal intrusions into citizens’ lives were quite minimal compared to this modern time, and many attempts at intrusion were shrugged off and ignored (indeed, supreme court opinions used to be just that—opinions—which could be applied or ignored by those who asked for them).


I suspect, given the correspondence that I’ve received over the last couple of months, that some of the few readers I have remaining may be interested in knowing why my writing dropped off so radically in the last two to three months.  As can probably be guessed, I’ve had some big changes in my life.

Roughly three months ago, I began the process of moving from Fort Wayne to Louisville, which I completed when I finally took out a lease slightly less than two months ago.  I’ve finally got settled in, by which I mean that I finally have internet access, as well as all of my books.

I’m painting full time now, and since it’s summer, that means I’m extremely busy with work.  There was even a point in time where I was working from sunrise to sunset for six to fourteen days at a stretch.  That’s over for the time being, but my schedule remains relatively unpredictable, which is how I like it.

As can also be guessed, I’ve been on the road quite a bit in the process of moving, and that’s finally died down.  I’ve also started to cut back on my social obligations so I can write more.

But there have also been some structural changes in my life that have cut down on the time I spend writing.  I started learning a couple different instruments about eighteen months ago, and practice and learning take up quite a bit of my free time now.

I also decided to focus on more personal writing, so a significant portion of what I’ve written in the past several months has been left unpublished, at least for the time being.  I might publish some stuff later, but I’m not sure yet.

I also started seriously dating a girl about nine months ago.  It has been extremely interesting,* and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but there’s no denying that I often made the choice to go on a date instead of writing for four or five hours.

So that’s what’s different with me.  I’m in a new city, working a couple new jobs, living by myself.  I’ve found new ways to occupy my free time, and I have new directions and plans for life.  However, I still love writing, and I hope to resume my normal writing schedule, once I get caught up on the backlog in my RSS feed.

In the meantime, if I have any readers in Louisville, or have any readers who live within a reasonable driving distance of Louisville, who are interested in meeting up with me, email me and we’ll make something happen.

* Someday I’ll tell the story about us nearly getting arrested while on a date.  Or the one where we watched a drug deal in a park at eleven o’clock at night.  Or the one where mall security tried to bust us for climbing a snow mountain.  Or the story of how we met (Teaser: it was at an elementary school).  Someday.  Maybe.

Mailbag: The Myth of the Scientific Method

HB writes:

The book “Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method,” is this good?  The kids are reading a couple of science books this year—one very slanted creationist view of proofs and the other is an evolutionist’s view of the seas.  I didn’t know if this book might be helpful to me to kind of having a bigger view of “science” in general and the approaches used.

I whole-heartedly endorse  Henry Baker’s “Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method,” though I think that Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions” is more thorough and considerably deeper.  That said, it was Baker’s book that first challenged my general trust in science—I read it as part of research for a term paper I was writing for a college Ethics class a couple of year ago.

The main thing I would take away from both books is that scientific knowledge simply cannot be trusted.  I make use of Vox Day’s Science/Engineering dichotomy, and would generally assert that once a discipline shifts from a primarily theoretical approach to a set of consistently replicable rules, it ceases to be science and instead becomes engineering, hence my belief that scientific knowledge, as it were, cannot be trusted.

As I noted in the prior post, economics is not really science as much as it is philosophy (though some branches appear to be nothing more than a statistical analysis of history).  In many ways, most other sciences, particularly social sciences, seem to be basically the same as economics in this regard.  Really, even a lot of harder sciences, like biology and anthropology/archaeology, have a whole lot more in common with philosophy and religion* than they do with the engineering disciplines of chemistry and physics.

Really, once you look at most, or even all, of the scientific disciplines, it should become quite clear that most scientists are either stupid or charlatans, and most of that which is passed off as certain knowledge is anything but.  Thus, putting your faith in science, or at least putting any degree of faith in the proclamations of scientists, is a very na├»ve thing to do.  Truthfully, we don’t know as much as we think we do.

Also, most of what we know, in a scientific sense, isn’t even true in an objective sense.  Scientific truth is intrinsically tautological, and those tautologies are only useful if they lead to accurate real-world predictive models, of the sort that we can plan our lives around.  The technical term to describe the system of said reliable predictive models is—you guessed it—engineering.  But I’ve already discussed this in depth before, and so I won’t repeat myself here.

At any rate, I think it’s a wonderful idea to have a broader view of science in general, and I thus recommend not only the books I’ve mentioned above, but also looking into epistemology and the philosophy of knowledge.  Frankly, I’m surprised people view science as anything other than trivial nonsense.  But I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised that human pride still plagues us to this day.

* Both biology and anthropology take a lot of things on faith.  For example, there is quite a bit in biology that is predicated on the completely unproven theory of evolution by natural selection.  This bias is even found in anthropology as well, which is why most analyses assume that earlier man was “primitive,” which is to say less intelligent than modern man, since mankind would still be evolving from a lesser state to the modern state.  You may recognize this as a rather progressive vision.  I think this assumption of man’s evolution towards a superior state may help to explain why progressives were once remarkably infatuated with genetics and eugenics, and why most genetic engineers seem to be progressive in their politics.  There is a lot that can and should be said about anthropology, but that will be reserved for another post.

A Stupid Question

I find it ironic that many economists (particularly Austrian-school adherents) reject mathematical logic under the belief that mathematical theories lack sufficient depth to provide explanatory insight into the economy. It would be counter-productive, however, to inject more ambiguity into the social sciences when they are already vague to the point of near-meaninglessness.
The better approach would be to ask: Is a gold-backed currency empirically superior to a fiat currency, and if so why? Answering such a question will almost certainly require mathematics, either via logic or quantitative analysis. The answer is also far more likely to reveal an array of costs and benefits, rather than a hard-faced ideological call-to-arms. Such is quite often the case when science tackles problems that involve a great deal of nuance.

To put this excerpt in context, Long is discussing Motlian epistemology.  In this particular instance, Long is writing about Motl’s discussion of whether there are, in fact, stupid questions.  Motl concludes that there are indeed stupid questions, a position that Long appears to agree with.  Furthermore, Motl asserts that questions that have ill-defined terms are stupid questions.  Thus, the irony of the excerpted paragraphs become apparent.

Long’s question is a stupid question because it has at least one ill-defined term, the term “superior.”  Asking whether a gold-backed currency is superior to a fiat currency is like asking whether white people are superior to black people, except that there will probably be less hand-wringing, controversy, and charges of racism when asking the former.  Neither question can really be answered until one defines the word superior.

Thus, Long also (inadvertently?) ends up making his question doubly stupid since he ends up asking, in the words of Motl, “a rhetorical question to spread a certain way of thinking or emotion, usually a misconception” (alternatively, it could be that “[t]he question implicitly makes some invalid assumptions about the insights that are already known”).  In this case, Long makes a category error in asserting that Austrian school (or anyone) must demonstrate empirically that a gold standard is superior to a fiat currecy.*  See, those from the Austrian school who argue for a gold standard usually do so on the grounds that the Gold standard is a superior system.  The system itself is superior because it (hypothetically) constrains government while remaining fairly stable for consumers, in that there is a finite amount of gold, etc.  All of these assertions are really tautologies because, once you break them down into something more meaningful (say, determining just how constrained the government actually is), you find that definitions and arguments become increasingly circular.

Ultimately, those who argue for the gold standard are doing so because they are enamored of the system’s intrinsic design.  In many ways, the actual outcome of the system is not all that relevant to them because the systemic outcomes simply do not matter.  What matters is that the system works a certain (hypothetical) way.

The question of a gold standard versus a fiat currency is radically different than a question of whether disaster relief is better provided by state governments or the federal government.  In the case of the latter, it is assumed that some type of government, with its attendant bureaucracy and bureaucratic procedures, is the proper method for addressing the problems that arise with natural disasters.  The real argument is about the relative efficiency of localized governments relative to a more centralized government.  The difference is of degree, not kind.

In contrast, the gold versus fiat currency question is a matter of kind, since the two types of currency systems have different setups, administrations, features, and bugs.**  They are completely different animals, even though they work towards a roughly identical solution.

Really, though, the whole question is predicated in part on the underlying assumption that economics (particularly the Austrian school) is actually a science at all.  Truth be told, the Austrian school of economics bears a closer resemblance to philosophy, and borrows quite a bit from epistemology, than it does to what now passes for modern economics.  But then, anyone well-versed in the history of economics should know that it was generally referred to as “political economy” and has strong roots in theoretic conjecturing (indeed, that was the basic gist of Adam Smith’s complaint about the French Physiocrats).  Even with Adam Smith, the theoretical often took place over the actual (cf. the labor theory of value), and this bias continues relatively unabated.

The problem of economics as a science is twofold.  First, the subject of inquiry is massive.  It essentially tries to understand the entirety of human interaction on a transactional basis, on both a micro and macro level scale.  This is a ridiculous thing to attempt, and it downright arrogant to suppose that that the discipline can ever attain a complete and thorough understanding of the subject, since human nature, though basically unchanged over history, is subject to a large degree of weirdness at the margins (cf. Japan), which means that no one person, let alone a collective entity of them, can ever be truly and completely understood.

In the second place, all attempts at empiricism are basically bullshit.  Sonic Charmer has argued, persuasively in my opinion, that all large calculations are wrong. Most of the metrics used to measure and test macroeconomic growth are large calculations and predicated on many debatable assumptions and definitions.  Not only that, a lot of big calculations (like BLS figures) are highly subject to political pressures, and therefore may be manipulated at the behest of a politician.  Even moderately large calculations, like the budget sheets of large corporations, may be highly misleading if someone is trying to embezzle the company.  Not only that, a huge amount of economic activity, even in this modern age of NSA spying, goes completely unreported and is largely forgotten.  Additionally, most of the empirical data for a lot of the recent research in behavioral economics is completely useless.***

But not only is the data suspect, the analysis of said data still has the same problems that empiricism tries to avoid.  Even in a world of perfect, complete, non-false data, the question still remains:  How do we look at the data and make sense of it.  And here we fall right back into problem that empiricism tries to solve.  Fundamentally, economics is a matter of worldview.  Saying that, say, 12% of job-seeking white college-educated males between the ages of 25 and 30 are unemployed is simply a piece of trivia.  Saying that such a state of affairs is a travesty (or an accomplishment worthy of celebration) is a matter of perspective, or worldview.  Thus, economics will always remain a fundamentally philosophic discipline because interpreting economic data can only be done though one’s own particular philosophic worldview.  Incidentally, this means that empiricism is basically a rhetorical device.

Thus, calling for more empiricism in the realm of economics is misguided at best.  Really, it might even be counterproductive since a lot of people have placed their faith in science (or things that just seem sciency, like numbers and technical-sounding jargon), so asking for more empiricism, even though it’s essentially bullshit and irrelevant, will only make people act more certain than reality warrants.

Ultimately, asking whether a gold-backed currency is empirically superior to a fiat currency is asking a fundamentally stupid question.  Even armed with perfect data, the validity of the answer is entirely contingent on a) how you define “superior” and b) whether one agrees with the metric selected to designate superiority.  It’s like arguing over who is the best quarterback of all time.  The debate rages on, and will continue to rage, but not because of a lack of data.  Rather, the debate over both monetary systems and quarterbacks will continue because, fundamentally, we all have differing ideas on what constitutes superior.

* Of course, if you had a room with six Austrian “economists” in it, you would have proposals for at least a dozen different monetary systems that would be better alternatives to the current US Federal Reserve System.  I kid, of course, but the Austrian school is hardly united in its desire for a gold standard.  Some like free banking, a small minority appears to hate money entirely (usually recent converts from anarcho-leftism), and a couple appear to be fond of BitCoin, though there are plenty who love the gold standard.  But the assumption that the Austrian school has a single, official position on monetary systems is kind of hilarious.

** If the two systems were only slightly different, it wouldn’t be all that difficult to switch between them, and few people would rail against switching from one system to the other.  Thus, we could probably infer the real-world magnitude of the differences between the two systems by seeing how just how vociferously a switch from a fiat system to a gold standard, or vice versa, would be opposed, especially since there tends to be a lot of money in banking and currency.

*** As noted elsewhere on this esteemed blog, the biggest problem with social science experiments is that they are not replicable.  Most testing consists of asking college students to play some sort of game for a short amount of time in an effort to simulate some sort of decision-making process.  The obvious flaw in this method is its artificiality.  As such, it is positively unlikely that the decision-making behavior of a 21st century American college student is even remotely similar to that of similarly-aged non-American, or an older (or younger) American, or even a similarly-aged American living three decades ago.  As such, it is wise to view all claims from behavioral economists with an extremely jaundiced eye.

(I suppose it would be good to take this time to mention that I generally enjoy reading Ryan Long’s blog.  There’s a lot of good stuff to be found at Stationary Waves, and I find a lot of his writing to be thought-provoking.  However, I was struck by the sheer amount of irony contained in this particular post, and couldn’t help but to point it out.)

04 July 2013

Why Should America Solve Mexico’s Problems?

Every time you see this fallacy you should be mentally appending “(in the United States)”. That’s because nothing the U.S. government does vis-a-vis its border actually deprives people of the right to sell their labor to willing employers whom they are able to contract with in their own countries and legally commute (or perhaps telecommute) to. It only deprives people of the right to sell their labor to willing employers in the United States, should that involve being in the United States. That is a trivial observation though, because it goes without saying that restricting immigration…restricts immigration.
Notice that to place restrictions on who may cross the border also deprives people of their right to, say, practice freely their religion (in the United States). To pursue happiness (in the United States). To ingest legally-obtained food and water (in the United States). Or, for that matter, and more trivially, to hum “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” (in the United States). Or to tousle their hair (in the United States). I could cook up example after example. Hopefully after enough of which, unless you’re a dunce you will realize that these purported ‘rights’ all seem awfully dependent on being in the United States. So a speaker who wishes to be intellectually-honest must recognize that to assert that there is a universal right to do all these things – whether employment or anything else – employment is not the only example, far from it! – is nothing more or less than to beg the question and assert that there is a universal human right to come to and stay permanently in the United States.

Let’s get to the heart of the matter:  why do certain libertarians think that the problem of Mexican* employment should be solved by freer American immigration laws?  More to the point, why is at assumed that the solution to the problems facing Mexican workers can even be solved by America’s immigration laws?

In the first place, why do Mexicans even want to work for American companies?  Why don’t they want to work for Mexican companies?  What are the differences between American and Mexican companies that make the former more desirable employers?  Why haven’t Mexican companies replicated those things that make American companies more desirable?

Any honest person, in answering these questions, would have to come to the conclusions that a) there are differences between America and Mexico and b) some of those differences are cultural.  Moreover, the solution(s) to Mexico’s apparent cultural deficiencies are not easily forthcoming (eg. ending government corruption in Mexico in, say, 10 years would be a miracle unto itself).

The more interesting aspect of this subject, though, is the motivations of those who advocate open borders.  There are multiple solutions to the problem of employment mismatches.  There is not necessarily a need for more open borders if something can be done to boost Mexico’s work and business culture to the extent that Mexicans view Mexican employers as roughly fungible with American employers.  Why then do open-borders advocates promote open borders instead of cultural improvement?

I suspect that there are a couple of reasons.  First, some open-borders libertarians are simply reformed progressives; they defend a sort of anarchist definition of freedom, but still hew to an essentially progressive worldview, one that accepts basic progressive tenets.  Thus, they accept cultural relativism, and must therefore deny that culture (and perhaps even race/genetics) has any bearing on any differences whatsoever, and therefore defend open borders since it doesn’t offend their moral sensibilities.  These people are basically SWPLs without the corresponding desire to “help” the less fortunate.

Second, some libertarians may simply be ignorant.  I used to be an open borders defender myself, but I eventually began to consider the issue in terms that were continuous and dynamic instead of binary and static.  When you look at an issue from more than one perspective, you will generally change your mind about the matter, even if the change is subtle.  That open-borders advocates usually argue their position on strictly moral/ethical grounds,** and usually decline to discuss other factors, should indicate that they aren’t really fully considering the matter.  These people are basically ignorant college students.

There are, of course, other types of open-borders advocates, but I think most of them can be described either as apathetic SWPLs or as ignorant college students.  In either event, nuance and broadness is not exactly their strong suit.

In closing, I’d like to note that implementing an anarchist society would likely lead to more segregation, more cultural homogeneity, more localization, a decline in global trade, and more racial insularity.  Once you actually look at why things like multi-national corporations exist, or why people of different races and ethnicities even live near each other, you will quickly find lots of state intervention.  If you were to undo all that state intervention, you would eventually end multi-national corporations, cultural heterogeneity, etc.  The idea that absolute liberty will somehow lead to more diversity is just stupid, and flies in the face of humanity’s rather intractable nature.

* I’m using “Mexican” and “American” as shorthand for the sake of clarity.  The general point of this point will stand if you substitute any other country name in place of either “Mexico” or “America.”

**  Most of the argumentation I’ve seen (though to be fair, I mostly read Bryan Caplan) basically goes like this:  Living wherever you want and working for whomever you want, assuming you don’t use coercive force to attain these things, is an absolute human right.  Therefore, open borders, End of discussion.