July 06, 2007

Immigration Reform II

This July 4th, I read the Declaration of Independence it didn't strike me at the time but one of the reasons we broke away from England seems a bit apropos regarding immigration:

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

Programs for 'temporary workers' with long stays in the US and no path to citizenship isn't exactly the same thing, but it rhymes. We need to do better than that.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:59 AM

June 19, 2007

Immigration Reform

Part of what utterly disgusts me about how immigration is handled in the US is that there are baseline facts that need to be determined before you can figure out how many immigrants can be absorbed into a society and we aren't calculating them. There are several inflection points that are relevant (these are just highlights, there are more):

  • The point below which you are being inhumane by splitting up families or preventing their formation

  • The point below which you are impeding economic growth by favoring labor over capital so high wages choke growth

  • The point below which you start to get cultural stagnation due to cultural insularity

  • The point below which you are turning away great political assets to the nation

  • The point above which you are favoring capital over labor by crashing wages and destroying bargaining power

  • The point above which you lose cultural solidarity and cohesion

  • The point above which you lose political stability

  • The point above which you lose military control and eventually territorial control

Even before you get to defining the inflection points though, you need to understand how an immigrant changes over from a "them" to an "us", how they assimilate. Now I've been doing retail assimilation before I hit puberty and I still work on it via my church, friends, and family (though by now, most of those who have wanted to come to the US have already come). It's no mystical process and it's also not something that just happens by osmosis. It's a real process of hard work, relatively simple rules, and persistence.

Assimilation is the process of "clearing the job queue". The immigrants of today are tomorrows' citizens most capable and most inclined to help out with assimilation because they've gone through the process. It's not something you can really demand because this sort of thing is true charity work. Few people are actually paid to help others learn english, find a job, navigate the political, economic, and social system that is the USA. Most of the people who do it do so part time, often unconsciously.

The common sense outline of the solution for immigration is not too hard to figure out. You need to determine what the inflection points are, set immigration numbers that are above all the "too low" inflection points and below all the "too high" inflection points and make sure that your assimilation machinery works well so that you end up clearing the queue quickly and allow the next round in.

Now is anybody talking like this? I haven't found any and thus my disgust with the present debate. I haven't found anybody who's properly defined assimilation in all its political, economic, and social glory in a way that everybody can agree on. I haven't found anybody doing the hard work to identify all the relevant inflection points so that we can identify a safe range of immigration where we can set numbers without getting this country into trouble.

Instead, what I find are posturing and falsity up and down the entire range of mainstream debate. Restrictionists don't want to look to closely at our ability to absorb new immigrants because they're afraid that the numbers are going to be higher than they'd like to satisfy their interests. The free borders crowd doesn't want to look at assimilation either. The multiculturalists don't believe in assimilation at all while others in that camp are too afraid that the numbers will come out as being too low to further their interests.

At the heart of a lot of this discomfort is that doing the debate right will require a frank admission that english and canadian immigrants in 2008 are going to be more easily assimilable than mexican or somali immigrants. Pat Buchanen was right as far as that bit of analysis went. Like much of the paleo-right though, accurate analysis of the problem has little relationship to the wisdom of his proposed solution.

Just because a significant number of somali muslims have the annoying habit of instituting underground sharia court systems today and are thus less assimilable than immigrants who do not does not mean that this is a permanent problem and thus we should permanently reduce their immigration quota. Just because mexicans have the bad habit of unabashed, naked racism (or did you think they're kidding about what "La Raza" means?) and the nasty habit of coddling territorial irredentists doesn't mean that this is a permanent condition either.

A frank definition of what assimilation means and the adjustment of future immigration quotas based on the present community's actions to further assimilation would ease most of the fears of the restrictionists because it would align the immigrant communities more fully with native born attitudes. The offer "if you want your relatives and friends from the old country to be able to come, learn english, get a job, keep your nose clean, and become an american" is a decent one and empowers immigrants while reassuring natives. I think it would also garner wide support from both the restrictionists and the legalizers.

I'm not holding my breath.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:22 PM

May 21, 2007

Treating Copyright Like Real Estate

In 2001, the New York Times wrote about adverse possession the legal doctrine that you can become the owner of property by using it without permission (the period varies but in NY it is 10 years). This is an interesting feature of property law but why bring it up now? Mark Helprin, coincidentally also in the New York Times, wants to treat copyrighted works like real estate.

Under the misleading title "A Great Idea Lives Forever. Shouldn’t Its Copyright?" Helprin wants Congress to extend "the term of copyright. It last did so in 1998, and should do so again, as far as it can throw. Would it not be just and fair for those who try to extract a living from the uncertain arts of writing and composing to be freed from a form of confiscation not visited upon anyone else? The answer is obvious, and transcends even justice. No good case exists for the inequality of real and intellectual property, because no good case can exist for treating with special disfavor the work of the spirit and the mind." But the vast majority of copyrighted works cease to be actively defended soon after publication because they simply do not make much money and the cost is prohibitive to defend such rights absent the prospect of significant financial gain. In fact, the vast majority of the beneficiaries of perpetual copyright will be the very "perpetrators of sensationalist trash" that Helprin gives such backhanded compliments to.

So by all means provide copyright the same protections, taxes, and regulations as property ownership so as to eliminate "such an unfair exception". But how shall we assess our scribblers' taxes? Shall tax opinion pieces in the NY Times at 100x the rate this blog gets taxed because such pieces are distributed in an "attractive neighborhood"? You can have a lot of twisted fun with this but the bottom line remains the same. Perpetual copyrights are a very dumb idea, only made attractive by selectively making false comparisons with real property which do, one way or another, eventually return to the common planetary stock.

Posted by TMLutas at 07:43 AM

March 15, 2007

How to Approach Governance

As long as I'm writing short points for the politicians, here's another

I believe that the private sector innovates and grows up much faster than the government sector. That means that even where some government action might have made perfect sense a decade or a century ago, the private sector often will have come up with answers in the meantime that are better, more efficient, and less expensive. Government should not just continue doing things just based on inertia but be periodically challenged as to why not a better way.

There's a longstanding assumption of a "ratchet effect" in government, that what government takes into its sphere is not easily disgorged. I believe that this does not necessarily have to be so.

Posted by TMLutas at 03:22 PM

A Thermostat Manifesto

I provide, free of charge (and worth every penny), the following policy manifesto for anybody looking to gain office:

We believe that humanity has gained the ability to influence the world's climate and we hold that we should find out what the best temperature is, and invest in finding out how to move the planet's temperature to that happy state so future generations can be secure from the threat of natural and artificial climate disaster. When the economic benefits are calculated to be greater than the cost of imposing a better climate on the world, we support collective action to fund and implement the change for the entire world's benefit.

There, something that is positive, relatively short, and entirely sidesteps the anthropogenic global warming debate. I can't believe I'm the only person who has thought of the topic in these terms but I haven't seen anybode else ever say such a thing.

Posted by TMLutas at 03:13 PM

October 24, 2006

Dividing the Question

Reading through a RedState piece entitled Spending is the problem I was struck by the utter futility and stupidity of one of the proposed solutions.

The Line Item Veto: Senator Talent and I have taken the lead on legislation proposing a Constitutional amendment to give the President the authority that 43 State governors presently possess, and which I had as Governor of Virginia – the line-item veto – which would hold the President and Congress accountable for non-essential wasteful government spending.

Instead of putting the country through the lengthy, nervewracking process of amending the Constitution, why not just structure the bills differently so each line item is voted on seperately? Any majority can do this today, just amend the rules to allow votes on all line items and allow Senators/Representatives to vote for and against each line item or just down the line the whole bill.

No constitutional amendment that will take many years to get passed, no intervention by the Court, just take something like the DoD appropriation bill and turn one vote into potentially 40,000 separate votes for those who want to pay attention and vote no on specific portions that are unworthy.

Yes, this will undo all the incumbent excuses. Yes, this will make it much harder to sneak things through. Yes, this will give ammunition to challengers when people vote "straight ticket" on large bills. Yes, this will be much better for the country.

And the president can veto individual line items because they will be individual bills, meeting Constitutional muster as our Supreme Court has laid out the requirements.

I won't hold my breath for this piece of sensible application of IT resources to our national governance gets implemented. Maybe that's just me getting cynical. More likely it's just realism.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:07 PM

August 08, 2006

Basic Principles Note

In an authoritarian or totalitarian society an act of an independent citizen creating order outside the official authority of the state is a dangerous rebel, threatening the unitary authority of the State. The state must be Goliath and there must be no Davids. Spontaneous rulemaking is a dangerous act and all citizens are conditioned against it.

In a free society, spontaneous rulemaking is the lifeblood of the burkean little platoons. People gathering together and solving problems so that the state does not have to are the everyday guarantors of freedom and hold high respect and esteem in society. The state may act but only where the little platoons are failing.

The difference between the two is an important basic differentiator between the Gap and the Core.

Posted by TMLutas at 05:48 AM

May 16, 2006

Gay Marriage Update VIII

One of the recurring themes I've had on gay marriage is that we simply don't have a clue as to how it's going to affect things. Marriage is so fundamental to how we see society that we really haven't a clue as to the effects of changing it to that degree. I've gotten a lot of flak over that position. I also seem to lose readers every time I bring this up but what the hey, here's another one.

Maggie Gallagher writes in the Weekly Standard that the conflict between gay marriage and religious liberty is coming and that nobody really knows where it's going to pop up next:

"Future conflict with the law in regard to licensing is certain with regard to psychological clinics, social workers, marital counselors, and the like," Stern wrote last December--well before the Boston Catholic Charities story broke.

Think about that for a moment. Of all the experts gathered to forecast the impact of gay marriage on religious organizations, no one, not even Stern, brought up adoption licenses. "Government is so pervasive, it's hard to know where the next battle will be," he tells me. "I thought I had a comprehensive catalog, but the adoption license issue didn't occur to me."

In essence, we're in a Wile E. Coyote moment. We've pretty much gone off the cliff with Mass. approving gay marriage but we have no idea what happens next.

It's sad.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:26 PM

March 15, 2006

Iran's Financial Crack Binge

From a larger story:

Iran's long-term planning calls for vigorous efforts to reduce the size of government and to curb subsidies to state-owned entities, which account for an estimated 75 percent of the economy. But the Ahmadinejad budget boosts spending by 25 percent and envisions a 31 percent increase in spending on state enterprises.
The 2006 budget also calls on the government to use up to $40 billion of its foreign cash reserves -- generated from oil sales -- to meet the fiscal year's spending needs, in spite of long-term plans calling for restraint.

So how much does Iran have in financial reserves? How deep are they digging into the till?

According to the International Monetary Fund, Iran has foreign exchange reserves of $30.6bn (€25bn, £17bn) in hard currency and $9bn in foreign, possibly illiquid, assets. Mr Mojarrad estimated total foreign exchange receipts for the Iranian year ending March 2006 at $52bn, with $42bn from oil sales.

By any measure, emptying your foreign reserve bank accounts in one year is a financial crack binge. Inflation's looking to spike up to 30% instead of the previous more "normal" 13%. This looks like an economy that's on the brink of going over the edge into the territory of regime threatening instability when even "normal" levels of support are only at 30%.

So what are its escape routes? Higher oil prices and/or a war of conquest that results in more money/resources for the state are the only two that appear handy. For higher oil prices, somebody else's production needs to be taken out of circulation. Iraq instability and oil infrastructure destabilization throughout the gulf are possibilities. Increasing the availability of exports by reducing domestic oil consumption is a third. If that's not enough and a populace distracting war is needed, the only likely target is Iraq's southern oil fields. Perhaps the US better brush up its war plans with Iran. Oh wait, they already are. I hope they have a "defend the Iraqi border" section.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:43 AM

August 08, 2005

Straight Guys Getting Married

Of course nobody in the legislature saw this coming.

Bill Dalrymple, 56, and best friend Bryan Pinn, 65, have decided to take the plunge and try out the new same-sex marriage legislation with a twist -- they're straight men.

The tax preferences aren't there to facilitate progeny, so says the Canadian (and Massachusetts) courts. They're not there to facilitate sex. So what are they there for? It's just another proof of the insanity of gay marriage.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:11 PM

June 24, 2005

Tax Revenues as a Public Good

I share in the general outrage at the Supreme Court's Kelo v New London decision. Let me take the majority line in Kelo seriously for a second.

Increasing tax revenues is a public good according to five justices. What does that make reducing tax revenues? What is the moral position of filing a tax certiori petition to reduce your tax bill? What is the moral position of a politician campaigning to reduce taxes?

The Supreme Court seems to be taking a moral position that it is better to tax than not to tax, inserting itself in the legislative policy debate that has dominated the 20th century and doing it on the losing side to boot. Higher tax revenues, higher government spending shifts more of the economy to spending systems that have been conclusively demonstrated (in the general case) to be less efficient at providing goods and services.

The Supreme Court has no business doing this. Tax revenue is simply not a public good.

Posted by TMLutas at 04:35 PM

May 22, 2005

Government Spending in the District

The Angry Economist goes after economic illiteracy but I think that he really doesn't understand that most people want these sorts of public expenditures in their districts because if you're going to get raped, you might as well get as much benefit as you can out of it. The price paid for defense is a necessary expenditure. Why would you not want to get as much of it back in your pocket as you can in the form of local expenditures? It isn't a matter of actual positive economic activity as it is of damage mitigation. It's just more convenient to not have to invent a different terminology.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:04 PM

May 04, 2005

Letter to the Paper ILIV

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is engaging in a brand of macabre hypocrisy by expressing deep concern over a possible 42% benefit for children born 5 years from now when he has no problems with a 100% benefit cut for the quarter to a third of children who won't be born because they'll be aborted.

Michael Williams is on the case and I wrote the following in comments

Social Security solvency heavily depends on birth rates. If total fertility rates weren't 2.1 but 4.1, we wouldn't have a social security solvency problem. We could probably even lower the SS tax rate. This is the ponzi scheme nature of the current program. It is abortion and other fertility altering decisions that have upset the balance of the program.

You can't build up a social program that utterly depends on high fertility and then call fertility discussions out of bounds regarding its continuance. It's just not intellectually honest.

The idea of protection of the unconceived is not held by anybody that I know of and is, in fact, morally and biologically silly. There's an awful lot of sperm that goes to waste in even perfectly normal sexual activity that is meant to result in a child.

As for Sen. Schumer, his politics results in a selective 100% reduction in social security benefits of certain members of that age cohort that he is complaining about in his own letter. This selective reduction in benefits tends to disparately impact minorities and the poor. The rank hypocrisy of piously protesting a supposed 42% benefit for some of that age cohort while backing a 100% benefit cut for others deserves not only comment, but derision.

The title of this post with its roman numeral pun is an absolute coincidence, I swear.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:51 AM

April 20, 2005

The Advantages of Polygamy

I've long worried about the problem of marriage, that the reasons for it being what it is have long been untaught, unexamined by society. This made any defense of marriage hollow because we really hadn't worked out why the thing was useful to start with.

There was one exception I encountered pretty early on in my own life, a long ago (1993, I now know) magazine article in an issue devoted to the subject whose cover was "How Polygamy is Good for High-Status Men and Low-Status Women". For an influential conservative magazine, that was awfully provocative and it did its job. I've remembered that title line for over a decade.

I finally got around to finding the darned thing.

By special arrangement with National Review, I've gotten permission to reprint that article. Without further ado, here is "Monogamy and its discontents; challenge to western sexual values" by William Tucker.

Why sexual morality, apart from religious edict? As both the highest and lowest strata of our society demonstrate, a culture abandons monogamy only at its peril. "It is remarkable that, little as men are able to exist in isolation, they should nevertheless feel as a heavy burden the sacrifices that civilization expects of them in order to make a communal life possible." --Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion AMERICA IS in a period of cultural crisis. For as long as we have been a civilization, monogamy, heterosexuality, legitimacy, and the virtues of marital fidelity have been givens of nature. The major religions have sanctioned them, as do four thousand years of Western history. Out-of-wedlock births, homosexuality, and other forms of sexual "deviance" have always existed, but have never laid claim to the mainstream.

All this is now coming under challenge. Part of it may simply be cultural exhaustion--the foolish confidence that the major battles of civilization have been fought and won and that it is now time for a little self-indulgence. Or it may be that the taste for the exotic and forbidden, usually confined to a small minority, has at last become available to the average person.

All this must be tolerated. In a free country, you can't stop people from doing what they want, especially when they have the money and leisure to do it. The situation is complicated, however, by the existence of a vast American "underclass" that does not generally share in the affluence, but is daily exposed to the sirens of self-indulgence. While the abandonment of cultural norms may have an exotic quality for the affluent, it is a palpable threat to the upward aspirations of the poor.

On the matter of single motherhood and illegitimacy, members of the underclass--particularly those of African-American origin have proved peculiarly susceptible. Single motherhood has virtually become the norm in African-American society. (Over 65 per cent of black children are now born out of wedlock.) The failure to adhere to monogamy and two-parent child-rearing now forms the single greatest obstacle to the advancement of America's underclass.

Yet to speak in favor of monogamy, sexual modesty, fidelity, restraint, and two-parent families in the current cultural climate is to find oneself subject to the charge of being a bigot, a religious nut, or just hopelessly out of touch. The common assumption, particularly among the intelligentsia, is that all the traditional arguments for monogamy and two-parent families are religious and that everything that could be said in their favor was spoken centuries ago.

Monogamy Misunderstood

I CANNOT AGREE. For as much as monogamy has been sanctioned by Western culture, I do not believe that its function as the center of our civilization has ever been completely understood. There is in everyone a vague awareness that monogamy produces a peaceful social contract that is the framework for cultural harmony and economic advancement. Yet this subconscious recognition has rarely been explored at any great length. There is never any real articulation that monogamy is an ancient compromise whose breakdown only lets loose antagonisms that society has long suppressed. Monogamy, after all, is only one possible outcome of the age-old sexual dance. There are others, whose characteristics may not be quite so appealing.

Yet like all hard-won compromises, monogamy does not produce a perfect outcome for every individual. When examined closely, it proves to be the source of many private dissatisfactions, which form a nagging undercurrent of discontent in any monogamous culture. Ordinarily, these disaffections remain a form of "deviance," generally suppressed and disapproved by the vast majority, although virtually impossible to eradicate. Only when the core ideals of the culture come under attack--when people begin to celebrate these discontents and embrace them within themselves--only then does the underlying architecture of the social contract come into stark relief.

The question that we face today is how much free rein we can give the discontents of monogamy before we risk overturning the central character of our culture. Society, of course, is not without its defenses. The longstanding, almost universal dislike and disapproval of child-bearing out of wedlock, of sexual infidelity, of easy divorce, of public prostitution and pornography, and of widespread, blatant homosexuality--these are not just irrational intolerances. They are the ancient, forgotten logic that holds together a monogamous society. As long as these attitudes remain unexamined, however, they can play little part in the current debate and will be easily dismissed as mere prejudices.

What we need, then, is a defense of monogamy based on a rational understanding of its underlying principles. Here is an attempted beginning.

The Arithmetic of Reproduction

LET US START with some basic arithmetic. In any reproducing population, the laws of chance dictate that there will be about the same number of males and females. There are thus three ways in which the population can arrange itself for mating purposes: 1) polyandry, in which one female collects several males as mates; 2) polygyny (often called, less precisely, polygamy) , in which one male collects several females; and 3) monogamy, in which each female and each male mate with only one other individual.

Of the three possibilities, the first--polyandry--is the rarest in nature. An understanding of the basics of reproduction tells us why.

In nearly all species, the female role in reproduction is the "limiting factor." This has to do with the differences between eggs and sperm. Sperm are small and motile, while eggs are large and relatively immobile. The egg generally comes wrapped in a package of nutrients that will feed the fertilized ovum until "birth." Because eggs are more complex--and therefore harder to manufacture--a female generates far fewer eggs than a male generates sperm. (Among mammals, a single male ejaculation often contains more sperm cells than a female will produce eggs in her lifetime.) Since there are always more sperm than eggs--and since it takes one of each to produce an offspring--eggs are the limiting factor to reproduction.

As a result, females have generally gone on to play a larger role in nurturing offspring as well. The principle that determines this responsibility has been identified by biologists as the "last chance to abandon." Here is how it works.

When fertilization of the egg takes place, one partner is usually left with the egg in his or her possession -- often attached to or within his or her body.

Most often, this is the female. This leaves the male free to go and seek other mating opportunities. The female, on the other hand, has two basic options: 1) she can abandon the egg and try to mate again (but this will only leave her in the same dilemma); or 2) she can stay with the egg and try to nurture it to maturity. The latter is a better reproductive strategy. As a result, females become "mothers," caring for the fertilized eggs, and often the newborn offspring as well.

The few exceptions prove the rule. Among seahorses, the fertilized egg is nurtured in a kangaroo-like pouch on the male's stomach. This makes the male the limiting factor to reproduction. As a result, the sex roles are reversed. Male seahorses become "mothers," nurturing their offspring to maturity, while females abandon their "impregnated" sexual partners and look for new mating opportunities.

The logic of reproduction has produced another universal characteristic in nature, called "female coyness." Males can spread their sperm far and wide, impregnating as many females as possible, while females may get only one mating opportunity per season. Therefore, females must choose wisely. In almost every species, males are the sexual aggressors, while females hold back, trying to select the best mate. Often the male is made to perform some display of strength or beauty, or go through some ritual expression of responsibility (nest-building) before the female agrees to mate with him. With seahorses, once again, the roles are reversed. Males are coy and reluctant, while females are the sexual aggressors.

It is for these reasons that polyandry--one female forming a mating bond with several males--is uncommon and unfavorable. Even though a single female might consort with several males, she can only be impregnated by one or two of them. Thus, most males would be unsuccessful. Moreover, the attachment of several males to one female would mean that other females would be left with no mates. The outcome would be a very slow rate of reproduction. In addition, any male who broke the rules and left his mate for an unmated female would achieve reproductive success, making the whole system extremely unstable. For all these reasons, polyandry is very rare in nature.

Polygyny, on the other hand--the form of polygamy where one male mates with several females--is universally common. (Although " polygamy " can refer to either polyandry or polygyny, it is generally used interchangeably with polygyny.) Polygamy is probably the most "natural" way of mating. It is particularly predominant among mammals, where the fertilized embryo is retained within the female's body, reducing the male's post-conception nurturing to near-zero. Given the differences in size, strength, beauty, or social skills among males, it is inevitable that--in an unregulated sexual marketplace-successful males will collect multiple mating partners while unsuccessful males will be left with none. A successful male lion collects a pride of seven to ton female lions, mating with each of them as they come into heat. A male deer mates with about six to eight female deer. A silverback male gorilla collects a harem of five or six female gorillas. Biologists have even determined that the sexual dimorphism in a species--the size difference between males and females--is directly correlated to the size of the harem: i.e., the bigger the male is in relation to females, the more females he will control. On this scale, we are "slightly polygamous," with male humans outweighing females enough to collect about one and a half mates apiece.

Polygamy's Winners and Losers

POLYGAMY CREATES a clear social order, with distinct winners and losers. Let us look at how this works. A dominant male wins because he can reproduce with as many females as he can reasonably control. Thus, he can "spread his genes" far and wide, producing many more progeny than he would be able to do under a different sexual regime.

But low-status females are winners, too. This is because: 1) Even the lowest-status females get to mate; there are no "old maids" in a polygamous society. 2) Nearly all females get access to high-status males. Since there are no artificial limits on the number of mates a male can collect, all females can attach themselves to a few relatively desirable males.

The effect upon high-status females is approximately neutral, but the clear losers are low-status males, the "bachelor herd" that is shut out of the mating equation. In some species, like elephants, the bachelor herd forms a dispirited gaggle living relatively meaningless lives on the edge of society. In others, like various monkeys, the subdominants form all-male gangs that combine their efforts to steal females from successful males. In a highly social species, such as baboons, the bachelor herd has been incorporated into the troop. Subdominant males form a "centurion guard" that protects the dominant male and his harem from predators. Among themselves, meanwhile, they engage in endless status struggles, trying to move up the social ladder toward their own mating possibilities.

Altogether, then, polygamy is a very natural and successful reproductive system. Since all females mate, the reproductive capacity of the population is maximized. There is also a strong selective drive toward desirable characteristics. As the operators of stud farms have long known, allowing only the swiftest and strongest males to breed produces the most desirable population.

Yet despite the clear reproductive advantages of polygamy, some species have abandoned it in favor of the more complex and artificially limiting system of monogamy. Why? The answer seems to be that monogamy is better adapted to the task of rearing offspring. This is particularly true where living conditions are harsh or where the offspring go through a long period of early dependency. The task is better handled by two parents than one. Quite literally, a species adopts monogamy "for the sake of the children."

Among animals, the most prominent example is birds. Because the fertilized egg is laid outside the female's body, a long period of nesting is required. This ties the male to the task of nurturing. Most bird species are monogamous through each mating season, and many mate for life.

Once mammalian development moved the gestating egg back inside the female's body, however, the need for "nesting' disappeared. With only a few exceptions (beavers, gibbons, orangutans), mammals are polygamous.

Yet as human beings evolved from our proto-chimp ancestors, the record is fairly clear that we reinvented monogamy. Present-day hunter-gatherers--who parallel the earliest human societies--are largely monogamous. Only with the invention of horticulture did many societies around the world revert to polygamy. Then, when animals were harnessed to the plow and urban civilizations were born, human societies again became almost exclusively monogamous. This wandering pattern of development has been the cause of much confusion. When monogamous Western European civilizations discovered the primitive polygamies of Africa and the South Seas in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, they assumed that the earliest human civilizations had been polygamous and had later evolved into the "higher" pattern of monogamy. It was only with the discovery of monogamous hunter-gatherers that the mystery was finally resolved. Rather than being an earlier form, polygamy is actually a later development in which many cultures have apparently become sidetracked. Both the earliest and the most advanced (economically successful) human civilizations are generally monogamous.

What has made monogamy so successful a format for human cooperation? First and foremost, monogamy creates a social contract that reduces the sexual competition among males. The underlying assumption of monogamy is that every male gets a reasonable chance to mate. As a result, the do-or-die quality of sexual competition among males abates. When one male can collect many females, mating takes on a deadly intensity. With monogamy, however, a more democratic outcome is assured. The bachelor herd disappears.

Second, because monogamy assures the possibility of reproduction to every member of the group, a social contract is born. One need only consider the sultan's harem--where male guards must be eunuchized--to realize that a society that practices polygamy has an inherently non-democratic character. No offer can be extended to marginal or outcast members that entices them to be part of the group. Under monogamy, however, society can function as a cohesive whole.

This is why, under monogamy, other forms of cooperation become possible. Males and females may pair off, but they also maintain other familial and social relationships. Both males and females can form task-oriented groups (in primitive societies, the line between "men's" and "women's work" is always carefully drawn). As society becomes more complex, men and women frequently exchange roles and, although there is always a certain amount of sexual tension, males and females can work together in non-mating settings.

Other social primates have never reached the same level of complexity. Gibbons and orangutans are monogamous--but almost too much so: mated pairs are strongly attached to each other, but live in social isolation, rarely interacting with other members of the species. Gorilla bands generally ignore each other--except when males raid each other's harems. Baboon troops are more organized and task oriented, often encompassing as many as fifty to a hundred individuals. But behavior is rigidly hierarchical. Females are kept at the center of the troop, under close supervision of the alpha male and his associates. Subdominant males guard the periphery. Only the alpha and an occasional close ally mate with females as they come into heat.

Perhaps the most interesting attempt at creating a more complex society is among our closest relatives, the chimpanzees. Chimps practice a polymorphous polygamy, where every female takes care to mate with every male. Sex takes place in public and is relatively noncompetitive. When a female comes into estrus, her bottom turns bright pink, advertising her receptivity. Males queue up according to status, but every male, no matter how low on the social ladder, is allowed to copulate.

This creates its own social harmony. For males, it reduces sexual rivalry. Within the "brotherhood" of the tribe, there is little overt sexual competition (although it persists in other subtle ways). As a result, male chimps cooperate in establishing territories to exclude other males and occasionally hunt smaller animals such as monkeys.

The system also creates an advantage for females. Within a polygamous social group, one of the greatest hazards to child-rearing is male jealousy. The male owner of a female harem constantly guards against the possibility that he is wasting energy protecting the offspring of other males. When a new male lion displaces the former owner of a pride, he immediately kills off all the young in order to set the females to work reproducing his own offspring. The heads of polygamous monkey clans do the same thing.

But with chimpanzees, things are different. By taking care to mate with every male, a female assures each male member of the troop that he might be the father of her offspring. By "confusing paternity," females create a safe harbor for themselves, within which they are able to raise their offspring in relative tranquillity.

These techniques of unrestricted sexuality and indeterminate paternity have been tried from time to time in small human societies, notably among small religious and political sects. However, they have generally been a failure. The difficulty is that we have eaten too much of the tree of knowledge. We are too good at calculating which progeny are our own and which are not. (Child abuse and infanticide are most common when a man doubts his paternity.)

Rather than living in collective doubt, we have developed complex personalities that allow us to maintain private sexual relationships while sustaining a multilayered network of relatives, friends, acquaintances, associates, co-workers, and strangers with whom our interactions are mainly non-sexual. The result is the human society in which we all live.

The Price of Monogamy

HUMAN MONOGAMY thus holds out distinct advantages. Yet these advantages--as always-are bought at a price. Let us look at where the gains and forfeitures occur.

The winners under polygamy, you will recall, are high-status males and low-status females. Under monogamy, these parties lose their advantages, while compensating advantages are gained by high-status females and low-status males. High-status females no longer have to share their mates with low-status females, a particular advantage where long periods of child-rearing are involved. Low-status males, instead of being consigned to the bachelor herd, get a reasonable chance to a mate.

Perhaps we should pause here a moment to define what we mean by "high" and "low" status. High status usually has to do with desirable characteristics-- beauty, strength, swiftness, bright feathers, or intelligence-whatever is admired by the species. In agencies where males fight for control of females (elk, lions, kangaroos), size and strength are usually the deciding factor. In species where females exercise some choice, physical beauty tends to play a greater role. As Darwin first noted, the bright plumage of the male bird is solely the result of generations of female selection.

In almost every species, youth is considered a desirable quality. In females, it implies a long, healthy life in which to raise offspring. In males, youth and vigor also suggest a wide variety of resources for child-rearing. Among the more social species, however, age, intelligence, and experience can play an important role. The alpha baboon is usually quite mature and sustains his access to females not through sheer strength or aggressiveness, but through the skillful formation of political alliances.

Under monogamy, another crucial characteristic is added--the willingness of the male to be a good provider. Yet this creates a dilemma for females. Unfortunately, the two favored characteristics--physical attractiveness and willingness to be a good provider--do not always come together. In fact, they often seem mutually exclusive. The peacock, the most beautiful of male birds, is notoriously a philanderer and a poor provider. With polygamy, females can ignore this problem and attach themselves to the most attractive males. With monogamy, however, females find themselves caught on the horns of the dilemma. Juggling these competing demands becomes a vexing responsibility--one that, at bottom, most females would ultimately like to escape.

Alternatives have always been available--at least covertly. In the 1950s, a research scientist began a routine experiment concerning natal blood type, trying to figure out which characteristics were dominant. To his astonishment, he found that 11 per cent of the babies born in American hospitals had blood types belonging to neither the mother nor the father--meaning the biological father was not the male listed on the birth certificate. The researcher was so dismayed by these findings that he suppressed them for over twenty years. Even at a time when monogamy was an unquestioned norm, at least 10 per cent of American women were resolving the female dilemma by tricking one man into providing for the child of another.

The Sources of Discontent

WITH ALL this in mind, then, let us look at where we should expect to find the major points of dissatisfaction with monogamy. First and foremost, monogamy limits the mating urges of high-status males. Everywhere in nature, males have an underlying urge to mate with as many females as possible. Studies among barnyard animals have shown that a male that has exhausted himself mating with one female will experience an immediate resurgence of sexual desire when a new female is introduced into his pen. (This is dubbed the "Coolidge effect," after Calvin Coolidge, who once observed it while making a presidential tour of a barnyard.)

"Hogamous, higamous, men are polygamous. Higamous, hogamous, women monogamous," wrote Ogden Nash, and the experience in all societies has been that the male urge to be polygamous is the weakest link in the monogamous chain. This has become particularly true in America's mobile culture, where status-seeking males are often tempted to change wives as they move up the social ladder. "Serial monogamy" is. the name we have given it, but a better term might be "rotating polygamy. " A serious op-ed article in the New York Times a few years ago proposed that polygamy be legalized so that men could be compelled to support their earlier wives even as they move on to younger and more attractive women.

Marital infidelity, the lathering of illegitimate children, the pursuit of younger women, the "bimbo" and "trophy wife" syndromes--all are essential breaches of the monogamous social contract. When a Donald Trump deserts his wife and children for a woman almost twenty years his junior, he is obviously "wrecking a home" and violating monogamy's implicit understanding that children should be supported until maturity. But he is doing something else as well. By mating with a much younger, second woman, he is also limiting the mating possibilities of younger men. One swallow does not make a summer, but repeated over and over, this pattern produces real demographic consequences. In societies that practice polygamy, competition over available females is always more intense.

The problems with male infidelity, then, are fairly clear. What is not always so obvious is that women's commitment to monogamy is also somewhat circumscribed. The difficulties are two fold: 1) the general dissatisfaction of all women in being forced to choose between attractive males and good providers; and 2) the particular dissatisfaction among low-status women at being confined to the pool of low-status men.

In truth, low-status people of both sexes-or perhaps more significantly, people who are chronically dissatisfied with their status form a continuing challenge to any monogamous society. Unless there is an overwhelming cultural consensus that marriage and the joint raising of children forms the highest human happiness (which some people think it does), low-status males and females are likely to feel cheated by the relatively narrow pool of mates available to them. Their resentments and underlying desire to disrupt the rules of the game form a constant undercurrent of discontent in any monogamous society.

For males, one obvious way of by-passing the rules is rape. Although feminists, in their never-ending effort to repeal biology, have insisted that rape reflects some amorphous "hatred against women," the more obvious interpretation is that it is a triumph of raw sexual desire over the more complex rules of social conduct. Rape overwhelmingly involves low-status men seeking sex with women who are otherwise inaccessible to them. (Rape is even more of a problem in polygamous societies, because of the more limited options for low-status males.) If "hatred" is involved, it is more likely to be general resentment of monogamy's restrictions, which inaccessible, high-status women may come to represent. But this is all secondary. The basic crime of rape is the violation of a woman's age-old biological right to choose her own sexual partners.

The other avenues for low-status males are prostitution and pornography. Each offers access to higher -- status females, albeit under rather artificial circumstances. Individual females may benefit from pornography and prostitution in that they are paid (however poorly) for their participation. There is always a laissez-faire argument for allowing both. But when they become public and widespread, pornography and prostitution become another nagging reminder of the dissatisfactions some people will always feel with monogamy. In other words, they disrupt "family values."

Female dissatisfaction with monogamy, on the other hand, is not always as obvious. Yet the restrictions put upon females--particularly low-status ones--will always be present and, in their own way, form their own undercurrent of discontent.

The principal female dissatisfaction is the dilemma of finding a mate who is both physically attractive and a good provider. As many and many a woman has discovered, it is much easier to get an attractive male into bed with you for the night than to keep him around in the morning.

The Murphy Brown Alternative

THERE IS, HOWEVER, a practical alternative. This is to return to the greater freedom of polygamy, where females can choose the most attractive males without regard to forming a permanent bond. This, of course, is the essence of "single motherhood."

The rise of single motherhood is basically the expression of female discontent with monogamy. Rising female economic success makes it more practical (social scientists have long noted that marriage becomes more unstable as females become more economically independent). This undoubtedly accounts for the rising rate of divorce and single motherhood among affluent Americans.

But the emergence of almost universal single motherhood among the black underclass undercuts the purely economic argument (except, of course, to the degree that female independence has been subsidized by the welfare system). Black women are not opting for single motherhood because of rising economic success. What the availability of welfare does, however, is enable them to dispense with the courtship rituals of monogamy and choose the most desirable man available to them, regardless of the man's willingness or ability to provide domestic support. It is this dynamic of liberated female sexual choice and not just the greater economic support offered by welfare that is driving black single motherhood today.

The essence of single motherhood, then, is status -- jumping. By dispensing with the need to make a single choice, a woman can mate with a man who is far more desirable than any she could hope to retain under the artificial restraints of monogamy. The same dynamic is even more obvious among single mothers of the middle and upper classes. When asked to justify their choice, these women refer with surprising regularity to the unavailability of movie stars or other idealized males. ("I know so many women who were waiting for that Alan Alda type to come along," one unwed mother recently told Newsweek. "And they were waiting and waiting.") Yet when these women get themselves impregnated by otherwise unattainable men-or artificially inseminate themselves with accomplished doctors and lawyers, talented musicians, or Nobel Prize-winning scientists -- what are they practicing but a contemporary form of high-tech polygamy?

The rebellion against monogamy, then, is being led by men dissatisfied because they cannot have more women and women dissatisfied with the choice of available men. (As an aging divorcee, Murphy Brown, despite her attractiveness, had a very limited pool of mating possibilities.) Yet each of these rebellions is driven by the most powerful human sexual dynamic--the desire of every living creature to produce offspring with the most desirable possible mating partners. Monogamy limits those desires.

The Homosexual Alternative

WHERE DOES homosexuality fit in all this? At its core, homosexuality is driven by a different dynamic. In every society, there is a small nucleus of men and women who feel uncomfortable with their sexual roles. For whatever reasons; biological, psychological, or a combination--they find it difficult or impossible to play the reproductive role dictated by their bodies and to mate with the opposite sex. This does not necessarily constitute a challenge to monogamy. Homosexuals and people with homosexual tendencies have often played important social roles. Priests, prophets, witch-doctors, artists, entertainers, cultural leaders--all have often been overtly or covertly homosexual or tinged with an undercurrent of ambiguous sexuality. All this forms no great social problem so long as homosexuality remains largely covert and marginal. The difficulty comes when it breaks out of the underground and becomes a mainstream alternative, particularly to the point of recruitment among the young. (Socrates, remember, was condemned to death for luring the youth of Athens into homosexuality.)

Once again, simple arithmetic begins to assert itself. When male homosexuality becomes widespread, it creates a dearth of eligible young men. This is particularly visible in urban environments. The growing population of male homosexuals in New York and other cities during the 1980s created the widely reported "man shortage" for young women. In the end, this large homosexual population seems to have induced an equally large lesbian population.

Are all these individuals really biologically determined to homosexuality? It seems doubtful. Rather, what seems to be happening is that homosexuality is becoming an acceptable form of protest for both men and women who do not like the choices offered to them by monogamy.

Once again, the problem is most pronounced with low-status people. For example, although there are undoubtedly some very attractive lesbian women, even a casual survey of the population reveals a very high incidence of members whose mating opportunities are obviously limited under monogamy. Moreover, the men who are available to them are themselves likely to be bitter and resentful over their choice of mates--in other words they "hate women." One need only read the melancholy chronicle of Andrea Dworkin's experiences with a string of sadistic, self-loathing men to realize why this woman has become one of the nation's leading exponents of lesbianism. The professed ideology of both these groups is that they "hate" the other sex. Yet it would be much more correct to say that they hate the members of the opposite sex to which monogamy has confined them.

(I sometimes think the high point of America's commitment to monogamy came around 1955, the year that Paddy Chayevsky's low-budget Marty was a surprise box-office success and winner of the Academy Award. The story told of two plain people who, after numerous personal rejections, discover each other at a Saturday -- night dance hall. The message of the movie, as articulated so often during that era, was that "For every girl there's a boy and for every boy there's a girl.")

Despite its disruptive nature, homosexuality as a rebellion has little permanent impact until older biological urges begin to assert themselves and homosexuals want to have children. For men, there are few options. Apart from a few highly publicized cases, there are few homosexual men raising families. But for women, once again, we are back to single motherhood. Numerous lesbian couples are now having children, and lesbians have organized the most sophisticated sperm banks. How these children will react ten or fifteen years down the road to the realization that they are the children of anonymous sperm donors is anybody's guess. But it seems likely they will have difficulty forming monogamous unions themselves and their resentments will only add to the sea of dissatisfactions.

Polygamy in Our Future?

TO SUM up, then, let us admit that no system of monogamy can ever bring complete happiness to everyone. Given the variability among individuals and given the universal desire to be paired with desirable mating partners, there will always be a sizable pool of dissatisfaction under monogamy. The real question is: How far can society allow this pool to grow before these private dissensions begin to rend the social fabric? In short, what can we expect society to look like if the monogamous ideal is abandoned?

It isn't necessary to look very far. Western and Oriental cultures form a monogamous axis that spans the northern hemisphere (Orientals are far more monogamous than Westerners are), but a large part of the remaining world practices polygamy.

Polygamy is tolerated by the Koran--although it should be recognized that, like the principle of "an eye for an eye," the Islamic law that allows a man four wives is a restriction from an earlier practice. The Koran requires that a man support all his wives equally, which generally confines the practice to wealthy males. In most Moslem countries, polygamous marriages are restricted to the upper classes and form no more than 4 to 5 per cent of all marriages.

In sub-Saharan Africa, on the other hand, polygamy is far closer to the norm. In parts of West Africa, more than 20 per cent of the marriages are polygamous. Marriage itself is rendered far more fragile by the practice of matrilinearity--tracing ancestry only through the mother's line. In West Africa, a man may sire many children (Chief M.K.O. Abiola, of Nigeria's Yoruba tribe, a self-made billionaire and chairman of ITT Nigeria, has 26 wives), but the paternal claim he can lay upon any of them. is far more tenuous than it would be in Oriental or Western societies. In West Africa, women can take their children and leave a marriage at any time, making the institution extremely unstable. In these tribal societies, Christianity and Islam which teach marital fidelity and permanent unions--are generally regarded as progressive social movements.

What qualities do we find in societies that tolerate polygamy? First, the shortage of women usually leads to the institution of the "bride price," where a young man must pay a sizable sum of money to the bride's family in order to obtain a wife. (The "dowry," in which a sum is attached to an eligible daughter to make her more attractive, is purely a product of monogamy.) This makes wives difficult to obtain for men who come from less well-to-do families.

The numerical imbalance between eligible males and females also forces older men to court younger women. Girls in their teens are often betrothed to men ten and fifteen years their senior. In some South Seas societies, infant females are betrothed to grown men. These strained couplings make marriage itself a distant and unrewarding relationship, far different from the "peer marriages" of Western and Oriental cultures.

Finally, polygamy tends to produce a high level of male violence. Because low-status males are not assured any reasonable chance of mating by the social contract, they are essentially impossible to incorporate into the larger work of society. Instead, they form themselves into violent gangs or become the foot soldiers of extremist political groups. In Pakistan, the recent news has been that the country is being overrun by these violent gangs, which have become the competing "parties" in the country's turbulent political system. The head of one of these factions was recently accused of raping dozens of airline stewardesses.

Yet even where polygamy is openly sanctioned, childrearing is always built around the formation of husband-and-wife households--even if these households may contain several wives. Only among the American underclass has polygamy degenerated into a purely polymorphous variety, where courtship is forgone and family formation has become a virtually forgotten ritual.

In a recent issue of The Public Interest, Elijah Anderson, professor of social science at the University of Pennsylvania, described an on-going acquaintance with a 21-year-old black youth whom he called "John Turner." Anderson described the social milieu of Turner's neighborhood as follows:

In Philadelphia, . . the young men of many individual streets organize informally bounded areas into territories. They then guard the territories, defending them against the intrusions and whims of outsiders ...

Local male groups claim responsibility over the women in the area, especially if they are young. These women are seen as their possessions, at times to be argued over and even fought over. When a young man from outside the neighborhood attempts to "go with" or date a young woman from the neighborhood, he must usually answer to the boys' group, negotiating for their permission first...

At twenty-one years of age, John was the father of four children out of wedlock. He had two sons who were born a few months apart by different women, one daughter by the mother of one of the sons, and another son by a third woman.

This mating pattern is not uncommon in nature. It has recently been observed in dolphins and of course bears a strong resemblance to the structure of some primate tribes. Yet what works for these species is no longer plausible for human beings. Once again, we have eaten from the tree of knowledge. We have too much intimate knowledge of the details of sexual connection and paternity to be satisfied with this vague collectivism.

Thus "John Turner" explains how his efforts to put some order into his life by creating a bond between two of his sons resulted in his being jailed for assault: Well, see, this girl, the girl who's the mother of my one son, Teddy. See, I drove my girlfriend's car by her house with my other son with me. I parked the car down the street from her house and everything. So I took John, Jr., up to the house to see his brother, and we talk for awhile. But when I get ready to leave, she and her girlfriend followed me to the car. I got in the car and put John in. Then she threw a brick through the window.

The unavoidable consequence of polymorphous polygamy among humans is a tangle of competing jealousies and conflicting loyalties that make ordinary life all but impossible. The central institution at the axis of human society--the nuclear family--no longer exists.

Unfortunately, while such a mating system virtually guarantees child abuse (usually involving a "boyfriend"), internal turmoil, and rampant violence, it is also extremely reproductive. While their social life has degenerated into extreme chaos, the American underclass are nonetheless reproducing faster than any other population in the world. This follows a well-known biological principle that when populations come under stress, they attempt to save themselves by reproducing faster, with sexual maturity usually accelerated to a younger age.

The culture of polygamy is also self-reinforcing and self-perpetuating. If men feel there is nothing more to fatherhood than "making babies," then women will feel free to seek the most attractive men, without making any effort to bind them to the tasks of child-rearing. As a cultural pair, the footloose male and the single mother, if not held back by the force of social convention, can easily become the predominant type. The result is a free-for-all in which human society as we know it may become very difficult, if not impossible.

Back to 'Family Values'

THIS, THEN, is the essence of "family values." Family values are basically the belief that monogamy is the most peaceful and progressive way of organizing a human society. Dislike and distaste for anything that challenges the monogamous contract easy divorce, widespread pornography, legalized prostitution, out-of-wedlock child bearing, blatant homosexuality-are not just narrow or prudish concerns. They come from an intelligent recognition that the monogamous contract is a fragile institution that can easily unravel if dissaffections become too widespread.

What is likely to happen if we abandon these values? People will go on reproducing, you can be sure of that. But families won't be formed ("litters" might be a more appropriate term). And the human beings that are produced in these litters will not be quite the same either. If marriage is a compromise between men and women, then the breakdown of monogamy can only let loose the natural egocentrisms of both.

It is probably not too alarmist to note that societies that have been unable to establish monogamy have also been unable to create working democracies or widely distributed wealth. No society that domesticates too few men can have a stable social order. People who are incapable of monogamy are probably incapable of many other things as well.

As a basically limiting human compact, monogamous marriage is bound to produce its peculiar difficulties. As with any compromise, each individual can argue based on present or previous deprivation, real or imagined-that he or she should not be bound by the rules.

Yet it should also be clear that, beyond the personal dissatisfactions we all may feel, each of us also retains a permanent, private stake in sustaining a system that creates a peaceful social order and offers to everyone a reasonable chance of achieving personal happiness. If monogamy makes complex demands on human beings, it also offers unique and complex rewards.

© 1993, by National Review Inc., 215 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10016.
Reprinted by permission

Posted by TMLutas at 11:23 PM

April 16, 2005

Increasing Ownership

James Pinkerton is horrified at the possibility of . He thinks that Republicans are behaving badly, contrary to the interests of their party. They may very well be but reform is absolutely in the interests of the country and should go forward. The huge mortgage industry in this country will survive the end of Fanny/Freddie's government guarantee. In fact, both institutions will likely remain in business, if at a more modest scale.

What will be gone will be the systemic risk of institutions that have grown too big being able to take down the entire market by their past, present, or future bad behavior. New competitors will enter the market. They will take market share to a certain extent and by doing so increase the probability that home ownership can be sustainably expanded in future. This is important because the positive effects of homeownership are effects that are felt over the long term. It makes no sense to goose the market for 15 years and suffer a crash, creating a crisis of confidence in the entire system. The Freddie/Fannie nexus threatens to do exactly that.

There is no "right" numeric percentage of homeowners to renters. All things being equal, homeownership is better than rental. But when home prices spiral out of sight while rental prices barely budge, the cure is to cease enticing people into expensive homes with below market rates and let the market balance itself out. It is the balance that must be preserved to maintain market sustainability.

April 06, 2005

A Great Start at Looking at Marriage

I've been in search of this article for years. It takes a simple, profound look at marriage as an institution and builds up a reasonable way to look at marriage, why the state should discriminate among different forms of sexual relations, and how libertarians shoot themselves in the foot when they support sexual libertinism. It's a very good read and should be part of the foundation of any serious discussion of marriage policy.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:26 PM

March 25, 2005

Schiavo Rules

I was personally thrust into the Schiavo case by my wife who saw the recent Nightline show on it and insisted that I sit in with her and I was hooked all over again. It's gut wrenching, horrible, and as I look closer and closer, I'm finding lies being thrown out on both sides. At this point (Supreme Court just declining to hear it) it's pretty well decided what's going to happen and no doubt Terri Schiavo is going to have major organ failure and die in the next few days.

I'm told that dying by starvation/dehydration for the terminally ill is not like it is for a healthy person, that there is no pain or feeling of want. I'd really like to know what the border condition is for that. I'd think that the desire for sustenance is something evolution put into brain construction very early in the process and you wouldn't lose that if all that was wrong with you is that you had lost your higher functions.

At the same time, the case for life has been tremendously damaged by the emotionally overwrought presentations of Terri Schiavo's parents and their supporters. They may think that Michael Schiavo is an attempted murderer who is finally going to be able to complete his deed with state sanction but they lost that fight long ago and double jeapordy is there for a reason. All they can do at this point is to look hard at the state of the law and to try to work to improve it.

As for me, I'm incredibly sad that the guardian ad litem rules are so lax in Florida, and perhaps elsewhere, that a man that is openly sleeping around and keeping a 2nd family is viewed as the appropriate guardian over his incapacitated wife when the parents are there and wish to take over the role. No matter what you believe about Terri Schiavo's state of life the past decade and a half, could we at least eliminate that travesty? A husband who acts in clear betrayal of his marriage should not be the preferred guardian. If that simple improvement had been in Florida law two decades ago, we would never have heard of the Schiavo case nationally, much less obsessed about it.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:44 PM

March 24, 2005

The Other Conservatives

I just discovered the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a fine organization with a wealth of publicly available material, much of it going back years. In these days of freedom expanding into the Middle East and Republicans taking great credit for their embrace of the principles of liberty, it's useful to realize that it wasn't always so. There were plenty of arguments, gentlemanly fights among conservatives without insult or heated, personal invective that tried to set the stage for a post-cold war conservative ideal in foreign policy.

But I can’t help thinking of Woodrow Wilson’s complaint that the only way for a president to “compel compliance” from Congress is to get the nation into “such scrapes” and make such “rash promises” abroad that the Senate cannot disavow him without shaming the United States. And indeed, the authors conclude with a clarion call that would appear to invite scrapes and rash promises: “[Conservatives] hark back to the admonition of John Quincy Adams that America ought not ‘go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.’ But why not? The alternative is to leave monsters on the loose, ravaging and pillaging to their heart’s content, as Americans stand by and watch.” Adams’s counsel may have been wise in 1823, they concede, but today “a policy of sitting atop a hill and leading by example becomes in practice a policy of cowardice and dishonor."

I cannot let any slap at John Quincy Adams go unavenged. “Why not?” ask the authors rhetorically. Here’s why not: because if you go abroad in search of monsters, you will invariably find them even if you have to create them. You will then fight them, whether or not you need to, and you will either come home defeated, or else so bloodied that the American people will lose their tolerance for engagement altogether, or else so victorious and full of yourself that the rest of the world will hate you and fear that you'll name them the next monster. And by the way, was it not Ronald Reagan who reminded America in such moving cadences of its calling to be an exemplary City on a Hill? Kristol and Kagan also fail to quote the sentences that immediately follow Adams’s “go not abroad in search of monsters.” The reason not to is that to do so “would involve the United States beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, avarice, envy, and ambition. . . . America might become the dictatress of the world, but she would no longer be the ruler of her own spirit.” The road to hell, that is, is paved with good intentions, as we Vietnam veterans know.

I bear no grudge against Kristol or Kagan. I even agree with them that the U.S. must play a leading role in the world, affirm its values without apology, and recommend them to all mankind. But I believe that the American people and Congress are already, to their credit, on board for an engaged foreign policy, that the quarter of a trillion dollars in our annual Pentagon budget is no trifling sum, and that premature, imprudent crusades are the best way to play into the hands of real “isolationists.” Above all, I fear that the sins of commission that excessive zeal may provoke are more dangerous in our present era than any sins of omission borne of inordinate prudence.

And then came 9/11 and the realization that if the neoconservatives weren't entirely right, they were less wrong than most other factions, conservative or otherwise. But "John Adams" conservatives certainly have a job to do so that we don't become dictators, don't lose our spirit, remain a republic and not an empire. If we're going to win this war, we're likely to have to change a great deal. We can do it without losing our soul but it'll be the fight of our lives.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:45 PM

Reducing Housing Costs

The New York Times figures out that high housing costs mean few kids in urban neighborhoods. All those intensely creative places where all the hip people gather just don't have the right mix of low costs, space, and safety to attract children. Two bit really got my goat though:

"I don't think we're going to become a nearly childless city like San Francisco, but the age structure is really changing," said Barry Edmonston, an urban studies professor at Portland State, who does demographic projections for the school district. "People are not turning over the houses like they used to. They're aging in place, at the same time that prices are really going up, making it hard for young families to move into the city."
But what they cannot do, especially after the failure last year of a ballot measure sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce to encourage affordable housing, is bring housing prices down.

It's nonsense to say that you can't bring housing prices down. It's blind to imagine that the end of housing mobility is just happening at random. Both are artifacts of the dominant trend of urban zoning and the political pathology of rent control. If you make it harder to create housing by increasing rule compliance costs you will get less housing. With that reduction in supply prices will predictably rise. With rent control, moving means a massive rent hike so people stay put and avoid moving up to a bigger place for as long as possible. The less housing churn, the fewer opportunities there are to move in, the less liquid the market is, the riskier it becomes to move.

It's a favorite of those on the left to talk about unsustainable strategies, extolling sustainable growth. It looks like they're waking up to the fact that their bastions, the blue cities, are themselves unsustainable without massive immigration from other places and other ways of life.

HT: Dynamist Blog

Posted by TMLutas at 03:40 PM

March 18, 2005

Gay Marriage Judicial Activism II

Evan Kirchhoff comments on the recent San Francisco ruling that conventional marriage fails both strict scrutiny and a rational basis test. Kirchhoff doesn't much get into the rational basis bit and that's a shame but he also misses the big elephant in the room. Procreation promotion law, if it ever is to also respect privacy in the least, must be general. That is to say, you must advocate procreation statistically over the entire population in order to respect privacy individually.

Procreation, of the type that is most likely to produce productive citizens, is procreation within a heterosexual marriage without divorce. Individually your mileage may vary but statistically that's just the way things are. Rationally, if you're going to tilt the society away from demographic collapse, you'd want to promote the procreative method that's most effective in producing healthy, normal individuals. There's your rational basis, assuming that it's constitutional to tilt the playing field in favor of procreation. If not, the Constitution may very well be a suicide pact, at least a demographic suicide pact.

Moving onto strict scrutiny, if gender classification is to be subject to strict scrutiny in the manner done by this judge, single sex public bathrooms have a limited lease on life. Women are denied the right to go into the men's bathroom and vice versa because of the wish that some territory be exclusive to one sex or the other. The two bathrooms are constructed differently just as marriage law is constructed differently for men and women. It is possible to create bathrooms that can be used by both sexes as residence bathrooms are used by both sexes. Certainly single sex public restrooms are not survivable if this judge's reasoning is taken seriously.

At a certain point, judicial imposition overwhelms tolerance. We simply do not want to get to that point because the blowback will be severe, most likely eviscerating judicial power at a start and then moving on to even less happy results. When you reasoning leads to regularly putting women into bathrooms where men go in as well, you've exceeded that level with me, and I suspect the vast majority of the population as well.

If we could ever get around the demographic suicide bit, I could see how it would be an eventual libertarian goal to get rid of natality promotion but it would be far behind the urgent priorities of getting rid of all the government programs that rely on natality promotion in the first place starting with Social Security, Medicare, and all the rest of the "finance the future" ideas that don't make sense if your population is going to shrink. But we haven't gotten around the demographic suicide bit and the EU states are going to be showing us in the next few decades how bad it can get when you do go down the demographic suicide rabbit hole. I don't particularly want to follow them.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:31 PM

March 15, 2005

Letter to the Paper ILII

Every once in awhile, my civic spirit overrides my partisan joy at watching Democrats self-destruct. The Dr. No routine won't work to get them back in power. It's only good for keeping Republicans weak and the country in molasses. Fortunately, the people over at Needlenose are starting to reach for something more, at least on Social Security. Here's what I left in comments as constructive criticism.

It's not a bad start and certainly better than the Dr. No routine you guys seem to be limited too lately. The problem is that the people who are going to be wacked with the 25% benefit cut in 2042 are generally old enough to vaguely remember that we were supposed to have already fixed Social Security back during the creation of the Trust Fund and an increase in retirement age (we'll be retiring at 67 in 2042) and tax increases didn't fix the problem last time so what's to keep the same sort of fix from failing this time.

Frankly, predicting female fertility 10 years from now seriously goes into the mix of whether there's going to be a political rebellion among the electorate when I need my own SS benefits, leaving me high and dry. That's a fool's game to rely on but we've tied ourselves to future female fertility with this current funding scheme. If you want a real nightmare, plug Italy's fertility curve from the past couple of decades into the SS financing formulas and watch your proposed solution completely collapse, needing further fix after further fix to the point of unsustainability.

The guaranteed benefit will always be held hostage to future female fertility with a lag of a few decades. If you guys remain committed to a holy war on private accounts, the guaranteed benefit is all you'll get. Private accounts diversify your risk. The only responsible alternative to that diversification is state restriction on abortion and contraception and lots of new workers getting a paycheck and paying retirement checks. Everything else is whistling past the graveyard and hoping that kids don't go out of style and we follow the EU to the demographic graveyard and financial ruin.

Do you guys even realize how badly you're wedging your own coalition? It's the feminists versus the seniors. Bush has given you an out of that dilemma with private accounts and you've decided that this is where you make your stand. It's a mistake.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:03 AM

March 04, 2005

Who Goes Home

Mark Krikorian asks:

Which Mexican workers does the president think will go home when the “temporary” visas expire?

My guess is that holders of temporary visas will be removed from this country if they overstay because the problem will be small enough to effectively police. I firmly believe that any sane employer will take a valid temporary visa holder for a job over someone who is illegal when both are available for work at the same salary.

In other words, the temporary visa program creates a situation where the benefit of being illegal (you get to work in the US with employers willing to look the other way) largely disappears. The highly shrunken pool of employers willing to hire illegals can be effectively policed and punished appropriately. Those who stay anyway will be few enough that we can hunt them down and deport them. It's not that they won't want to stay, it's that who will hire them when there's no benefit to hiring an illegal over a legal?

One final point to mention. I do know illegals who have gone home. They came, made "enough" money, and departed in order to start their own business all in accordance with their plans hatched before they got across the border. It does happen, even under current law. Under the president's plan, it'll happen an awful lot more and they won't have to sneak over the border to do it.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:42 PM

February 03, 2005

SOTU 2005: Now, Details

Two weeks ago, I stood on the steps of this Capitol and renewed the commitment of our nation to the guiding ideal of liberty for all. This evening I will set forth policies to advance that ideal at home and around the world.
The problem of way too much analysis of Bush's 2nd Inaugural speech revolved around the mistaken notion that it was an independent set piece that stood on its own. Here, President Bush made clear that it wasn't, that it was just the thematic proclamation with a great deal more detail to come in this and likely further speeches. If we're very lucky, speaking about the progress of freedom in the world will become as obligatory as saying "the state of our union is confident and strong" for both this president and future presidents of both parties.
Posted by TMLutas at 08:15 AM

January 23, 2005

Polygamy Debates in Canada

Evan Kirchhoff notes that the polygamist chickens are coming home to roost in Canada. That's all well and good and something that I've long predicted here as well. Aside from Kirchhoff's glee at the recognition of polygamy (for which I think he's a fool, but a well meaning one), he makes two fundamental mistakes regarding marriage.

It's not because I have a reaction along the lines of "I told you gay marriage would lead to ruin!" Same-gender and many-partner marriages should, of course, both be permitted, and legalizing one hasn't "led to" the other except in the sense that they share a common cause -- an intuitive rejection of state management of people's personal arrangements. Historically, marriage is a Christian sacrament converted into an intrusive social program; the former is no longer seen as a legitimate government feature, and the latter shouldn't be either.

Happily, marriage has acquired a third role -- the public and legal affirmation of human pair-bonding -- that has largely trumped the other two. That's the revolution (or, if you prefer, the downfall), and the "gay" aspect simply makes it impossible to ignore. Having gone that far, the lateral move of attaching surplus wives to a standard heterosexual marriage is practically conservative. Gay marriage hasn't put us on a slipperly slope to polygamy; it merely flags a previously-existing leap well down the slope beyond polygamy. (Which, I repeat, is a good thing, because people own themselves and stuff.)

The problem is first of all, one of transition. I can see making the argument for eliminating marriage as a state institution because the state has no business involving itself in such things. That's fine and good. The problem is that the state has made hundreds of arrangements and assumptions based upon marriage existing as a state institution. Some of these are small matters. Others are huge and we have no business being continually surprised as bit after bit of our presumed solid governmental arrangements fall to pieces because they were underpinned by the old definition of marriage and collapsed as it came undone. Kirchhoff is exhibiting a brutal disregard for the fallout and that just offends me as a great many of the victims of rejiggering marriage without sufficient planning will be children.

The other problem lies in Kirchhoff's third justification for marriage. What business does the government have in "the public and legal affirmation of human pair-bonding"? Why should the spousal privilege regarding testifying, for example, hold in a gang that's entirely made up of people married to each other? If intrusive social programs are no longer to be legitimate, how can you justify legal affirmation of an entirely personal relationship?

"What is marriage, and why should we have it" is still a question that must be resolved. Reform, of just about any stripe, should await a renewed consensus on the question.

Posted by TMLutas at 03:58 PM

January 20, 2005

Give Michael Moore Some Love II

It seems that Michael Moore wasn't being guarded by the arrested bodyguard I wrote about earlier. The man is even more clearly in the right (assuming the current version of events holds up) than I thought. Fortunately, my previous remarks still stand. Michael Moore should be asked about the incident and asked whether he thinks NYC gun restrictions were too strict in this case and whether Patrick Burke's California and Florida gun carry licenses should give him the same sort of rights that Florida and California drivers licenses do in NYS.

Posted by TMLutas at 07:35 PM

Bush's Inaugural II Speech

This was possibly one of the most consequential second inaugural speeches ever. The trend of the second term is to come in on a great portion of good will and very insubstantial tasks. This president has piled the tasks to achieve high, very high.

I'm a supporter. I believe that President Bush got the right vision to take us to a better place in a time of significant challenge. I was heartened by his full throated embrace of world-wide liberty because there are no free societies who do not talk to others and forge the chains of connectivity, binding the impulse to war. It scares me to death how we're going get it all done.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:33 PM

Give Michael Moore Some Love

While it's fairly predictable that the center-right will cry hypocrisy, I think that we should stand behind Michael Moore and his bodyguard. The man was trying to do the right thing and landed in jail for it. My point is that reasonable license reciprocity should be as common for gun carry licenses as they are for drivers licenses. We should say so and stand with behind Michael Moore's bodyguard right along with his employer.

Michael Moore is supporting his bodyguard, isn't he?

Posted by TMLutas at 09:03 AM

January 06, 2005

Rent Seeking

One of the most powerful tools available to those trying to bring the federal government budget in balance were the debt clock billboards put up around the country by J. Peter Grace after he headed up the Grace Commission looking into such matters for President Reagan. Once everyday people could see the national debt ticking up and their share of it, political will coalesced to take care of the problem in the '90s.

Today, one of the big hidden problems facing us is rent seeking. We've got lots of people extracting money to shift government power to favor their own private interests and everybody has to hire their own lobbyists to ensure that at least they're not put out of business by such action even if they don't want to play the game of killing the competition via government action.

This costs us all in higher prices, more expensive regulation, and general confusion as the law tilts first this way and then that as various lobbyists succeed in moving the law to favor their clients. This all erodes the rule of law which requires, above all, predictability so you can plan ahead and obey the law.

We're in desperate need of a leading figure to tote up the costs and make a new set of billboards.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:03 AM

January 04, 2005

Libertarian Clueless III

QandO blog has a great post on practical libertarianism and takes apart libertarian extremists who cry out libertarian utopia now. It really is a great read.

The essence of the problem is the outright hostility of all too many self proclaimed libertarians to accept half a loaf today on the road to getting the full loaf tomorrow. Murray Rothbard is the main target but the Randians come in for their share of whacks. Unfortunately, practical libertarianism has lost out in the Libertarian party and with the go for broke crowd in charge of that institution, it's damnably hard for the practical libertarians to get much of a hearing. You just have to apologize too much to the people who think that if you don't legalize heroin, you shouldn't bother with medical marijuana or other smaller reforms.

The Libertarian party will have to be taken back. But that's a project for another day.

Posted by TMLutas at 06:58 PM

December 28, 2004

Gay Marriage Referendums: Missing the Point

Jonathan Rauch misses the point of all those gay marriage referendums. He goes on and on about how courts should trim this or that, and how likely they are to succeed in shifting this referendum or that. The entire point of the referendums was to take them out of the courts and put them smack into the political process. Any court action is going to brew up harsher responses on the order of "and this time, we mean it" circumscribing court powers more and more, every time there's a new bit of judicial overreach.

Whatever you think about marriage, courts are simply not the place for hashing it out. I think that Rauch is wrong on the merits of gay marriage but he's even worse on the question of courts settling the issue. The courts overreach in a lot of areas. Marriage is one of the worst.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:24 AM

December 22, 2004

More Marriage Purposes

Clayton Cramer exposes more details on our marriage laws. It seems that the major impetus for banning first cousin marriages was originally to ensure that bloodlines were mixed better and that warfare between powerful families was reduced by family ties across factional lines.

This is the sort of "hey I didn't know that" moment that I keep running into on marriage time after time. Tread carefully on marriage reform and look skeptically on recent reforms to measure their actual v claimed effects. Marriage isn't healthy and we need to fix what's broken more than innovate and add more novelties to an already weakened structure.

Posted by TMLutas at 03:59 PM

December 16, 2004

Kinsley's Social Security Challenge

A bleg from Michael Kinsley via Andrew Sullivan:

My contention: Social Security privatization is not just unlikely to succeed, for various reasons that are subject to discussion. It is mathematically certain to fail. Discussion is pointless.

The usual case against privatization is that (1) millions of inexperienced investors may end up worse off, and (2) stocks don't necessarily do better than bonds over the long-run, as proponents assume.But privatization won't work for a better reason: it can't possibly work, even in theory. The logic is not very complicated.

Announcing that "Discussion is pointless" as a prelude to an offer of discussion is a big red flag that the discussion that follows is not entirely honest. As I make clear throughout my contribution to the discussion, there are considerable tricks that need to be employed to make privatization "mathematically certain to fail", tricks that won't hold true in the real world. The logic of the "mathematical" case against privatization is not complicated only if you drink the koolaid of false premises laced throughout.

1. To "work," privatization must generate more money for retirees than current arrangements. This bonus is supposed to be extra money in retirees' pockets and/or it is supposed to make up for a reduction in promised benefits, thus helping to close the looming revenue gap.

As a practical matter, the money that I get as a retired person currently depends on a persistent majority of the US electorate coming out to vote for politicians who will continue to adjust the tax rates and benefits in a manner that will provide me with some benefit from this program when I retire. For current and near retirees, this is a pretty safe bet. For a 20 year old, chaos (as in chaos theory) intervenes in a big way.

There’s really no guarantee that the politico-social compact will continue several decades from now in the face of unknown population trends. There is a high risk factor that I don’t think is properly priced into most defender’s calculations of current returns and certainly not in the Michael Kinsley one under analysis.

At what pain level will the system collapse? This is an unknown. The pain level will depend in large part by the ratio of retirees to workers. If you’re below the age of 47, some of those workers haven’t even been born yet.

In a world where the big demographic story is birth dearth and collapsing birth rates the world over, it’s not unreasonable to view the current social security system as a junk bond that will never make maturity. You don’t have to make very much money in a private system to beat the “current arrangements” in that scenario.

The requirements to beat the current scenario if you don’t foresee a US taxpaying population sufficient to give yourself any benefits is that the new system has to stay solvent long enough so that you don’t have to support your parents who have their SS checks as a bedrock element of their retirement planning. This modest goal is achieved by virtually all reform plans and certainly any reform plan that will actually be introduced as legislation.

The rest of the questions all depend on the bedrock assumption that promised Social Security benefits will actually materialize under the current system. They assume that the junk bond of Social Security is a blue chip stock. They are thus fundamentally flawed from the beginning.

When the current system will break, again, is uncertain. Where to set the bar for the new partially privatized system is thus difficult. Whistling past the graveyard and assuming that ever increasing taxes or the government printing press will always come to the rescue is just not credible.

2. Where does this bonus come from? There are only two possibilities: from greater economic growth, or from other people.

There is something of a third possibility, heavily paired with economic growth, removing economic drag.

3. Greater economic growth requires either more capital to invest, or smarter investment of the same amount of capital. Privatization will not lead to either of these.

If nothing else in the federal budget changes, every dollar deflected from the federal treasury into private social security accounts must be replaced by a dollar that the government raises in private markets. So the total pool of capital available for private investment remains the same.

Since the entire mechanism of Social Security funding is, in large part, a psychological construct of an intergenerational social contract, a privatization plan that changes voting public and congressional psychology will cause further changes in the federal budget, changes that are unlikely to happen absent privatizing Social Security.

By artificially assuming that such changes will not take place, further distortions are introduced into the discussion. Each of these distortions makes the discussion simpler, with less likelihood of chaos rearing its head and upsetting all. Each of these distortions also makes the discussion less real, less useful.

The only change in decision-making about capital investment is that the decisions about some fraction of the capital stock will be made by people with little or no financial experience. Maybe this will not be the disaster that some critics predict. But there is no reason to think that it will actually increase the overall return on capital.

Actually, there is every reason to think that it will improve the decisions on capital stock. The capital stock of the nation is not entirely in private hands. A large chunk of it (a couple of trillion) is in the hands of the government. By entering all into the investor class, the resulting education will improve management of those couple of trillion, not only resulting in improved management of that capital but also on a reduced drag on the other 8-9 trillion of capital in private hands. That drag manifests itself in the form of bureaucratic rules shackling growth.

4. If the economy doesn't produce more than it otherwise would, the Social Security privatization bonus must come from other investors, in the form of a lower return.

This is true, as far as it goes. Again we have an assumption that entry into the investment class does not change voting behavior (how we manage our government controlled capital stock). We know this is empirically false. One of the big strategies the Republican party has is to increase the investor class because investing changes voting behavior in the GOP’s favor.

a) This is in fact the implicit assumption behind the notion of putting Social Security money into stocks, instead of government bonds, because stocks have a better long-term return. The bonus will come from those saps who sell the stocks and buy the bonds.

I fully intend to buy both stocks and bonds in any investment portfolio that I have. Every serious investor does. It’s called diversification of risk. You break out your money in percentages, so much for risky, so much for safe. The percentages change over time. The last few years prior to retirement will be years of increasing bond exposure and lowered stock exposure.

Anybody who has gone to a financial planner knows this. Why doesn’t Michael Kinsley? The scare stories of people losing half their retirement savings right before retirement age in a stock crash are almost entirely eliminated by a properly risk diversified portfolio. The real saps are those who don’t reduce risk and buy some bonds to go along with their stocks.

b) In other words, privatization means betting the nation's most important social program on a theory that cannot be true unless many people are convinced that it's false.

... same as above. Why is Michael Kinsley trash talking standard financial planning wisdom that has guided hundreds of millions to a safe and well funded retirement?

c) Even if the theory is true, initially, privatization will make it false. The money newly available for private investment will bid up the price of (and thus lower the return on) stocks, while the government will need to raise the interest on bonds in order to attract replacement money.

The theory here seems to be that the only time dumping a huge new pool of money into the financial markets is justified is when there are no adjustment consequences. That’s ridiculous on the face of it.

d) In short, there is no way other investors can be tricked or induced into financing a higher return on Social Security.

Since we’ve artificially pulled over $2T (trillion with a t) of the nation’s capital stock out of consideration (see 2 and 3 above) for this discussion, the statement above doesn’t sound completely insane if you’ve drunk the Kinsley koolaid. Two trillion is an awful lot of money to work with though and in the real world, it’s not off the table as a source of increased growth. The Federal Code and state codes are also not off the table as sources of reduced economic drag.

5. If the privatization bonus cannot come from the existing economy, and cannot come from growth, it cannot exist. And therefore, privatization cannot work.

The privatization bonus can exist. It can exist because in the real world we’re living in a country that has an $11 trillion economy with a government, not an anarchy with an $8 trillion private economy. Reducing regulatory economic drag can improve growth. Social Security privatization will create an electorate which will make that happen. Increasing internal government efficiency in expenditures can improve growth by reducing the tax burden that is wasted. Social Security privatization will increase the clout of the good government, spending watchdogs and reformers.

The privatization of Social Security will be a huge boon to the Republican party initially, just as the privatization of UK council housing was a boon to the Tory party there. But Labour eventually got its act together and Tony Blair dominates the UK political scene as a future Democrat no doubt will once that party gets rid of its failed economic theories. The resistance of Democrats to privatization is largely a case of the party not wanting to make those reforms and only seeing the downside of change to their political prospects instead of the benefits to the country at large.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:01 AM

December 13, 2004

Cuomo's Fake Science

Science concerns itself with certain parts of human existence. It doesn't touch others at all. Mario Cuomo, unfortunately, hasn't figured that out. He thinks that science can define where to draw the line on when constitutional protections begin and end, as well as whether gay relationships should be promoted or discouraged.

Sorry, governor, there's no scientific basis for universal suffrage either so why isn't a scientific intelligence or sanity test for the franchise on your list of things to put in the hands of the guys with white lab coats? Science has a lot to teach us about the world but it doesn't solve every problem and pretending it does is just another sort of faith.

A faith in science is not scientific.Science deals in physical evidence, the world as it is. Politics is something that deals with not only the world as it is but the world as it should be. In that world, science, true science has little to say. Cuomo's version of science has all too much to say about it though, more's the pity.

Posted by TMLutas at 05:39 PM

December 12, 2004

Privatized Prison Twist

Late last night I was reading Lexington Green go on about prison reform and he was right in that it really is a scandal how brutal, dangerous, and inhumane we've made all too many prisons especially with prison rape run rampant. In one of those moments of "AHA!" a new twist came to me, marry the long Catholic tradition of odd moneymaking enterprises (there's a monastery selling ink cartridges in the US) with the new US idea of prison privatization. Voila, a Catholic run prison.

Yes, yes, after you've gotten all the jokes out of your system, think about it seriously for a bit. If Catholic prisons would replicate the success of Catholic hospitals and schools, what secular reason would there be to keep them out of a privatization auction if a monastery or diocese wanted to make a bid? The prisoners themselves could get instant transfers out of the prison and threaten the income stream if they were forcibly proselytized, the ACLU would see to that. So beyond that theoretical problem, what would be the objection?

Posted by TMLutas at 09:27 AM

December 11, 2004

Letter to the Paper XXXVI

David Sucher relays a Matthew Yglesias diss of David Brooks' recent column on Social Security reform. They're both all wet and Brooks is right but I find it interesting that both critics seem to have misunderstood what "trusting the market" really is about. That phrase is simply about what sort of heuristic do you have when you have imperfect information and you need to decide between a market solution or a government solution to a problem and it seems both writers missed it. As a bonus, David Sucher tries to make the case that if you're an intellectual, you can't really understand markets and only those who are business investors/owners are in a position to really do so.

Anyway, here's my comment on David Sucher's blog:

I think I'll frame this article as a prime example of anti-intellectualism on the left. Really, if you haven't invested in a business but have acted as an intellectual (whether "sort of" or the real kind) your positions are not as worthy as somebody who has fought in the trenches. That's almost a textbook case of soft anti-intellectual bias. It's like dissing Machiavelli because he never, you know, actually ran a country.

Moving along, I think that both you and Yglesias are misinterpreting Brooks and every other free marketeer out there who talks about trusting the market. Given perfect information, those who trust the market v those who distrust it will always pick the most optimal solution between two candidate solutions, one being market oriented, the other government oriented.

Given imperfect information, where you really can't guarantee how things are going to turn out, those who "trust the market" will have a higher propensity to guess that the market solution will be superior to the government solution than those who distrust the market.

You can say that it all reduces down to some sort of trite truism that those who trust, will trust. That doesn't make it "bullshit" nor do I think it particularly galling at this stage of the game when there is so little actual information out there that the only people seriously peeved or revved about Social Security reform are gathering to tribal banners, not really expressing anything about policy.

Having read the Brooks article, it seems to me that he's making a sociological observation about the Democrat tribe qua tribe. The old head shaman has retired and some of the new ones are dabbling in dark magic, preparing the tribe for a dirty fight. Some other shamans are looking to bring the tribe forward to a different path.

At a certain point, the reform proposals will come out and we'll get to the point of hashing out policy. That's going to be way after we've finished with our tribal posturing. That tribal posturing really is going to determine the battlefield. Are we going to have a new "no child left behind" bill which merely sets the stage for further reform as the measurement data comes in? Are those on the right going to go for the brass ring straight off? It all depends on the tribal alignments and who trusts what. That's what Brooks seems to be talking about and I find it interesting.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:39 PM

December 10, 2004

Going Back I

Thomas Barnett asks:

The "need job, will travel" route certainly represents a release valve function on an individual basis for those who feel trapped in dead-end lives, but when enough of them go, like in the case of Armenia today, you get the Gap equivalent of a dying prairie town, with all the morose social sentiment that mass departure represents. As one young Armenia woman put it, "We can fit in anywhere. The only place we can't is Armenia."

That's good for the Core, which always needs people willing to work, but that's a killer statement for the very Gap-ish Armenia. I mean, how can Armenia join the Core if its young people mostly want to leave?

There is an answer, a quite simple one. Change the rulesets so that those emigrants or their descendents can make a good living back in the old country and you will have people moving back to provide both a skill boost and a source of capital. I speak from personal experience here as being raised in the US but born in Romania and having a wife who grew up and trained in Romania, we have discussed the idea extensively.

We ended up deciding that we would make the move if we could generate enough income to live decently and to have enough extra put away so that if our children wanted to strike out anywhere in the world, they'd be able to given the material base we had established in our generation. That means being able to fund college and provide startup financing for new couples for three children, the oldest of whom is 5 right now.

We've never been able to make the numbers work but every once in awhile we reexamine the situation (most recently about a month ago) informally. I suspect that there is a pretty large group of ethnics out there in the world who are doing much the same thing with respect to their own homelands, including those from Tom Barnett's example, Armenia.

I know personally of one family who made the jump back and another that is right in the middle of the process. These examples aren't from the numerous "temporaries" who are here for a few years to make some startup cash and go home to start a business. Those kinds of reverse migrants are a dime a dozen in any ethnic community. These are US citizens with good US careers who have voluntarily made that choice.

If any Gap nation wants to reverse the brain drain and gain skills and investment, change the rules and the people will come. It really is that simple.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:04 PM

December 02, 2004

Changing Disability

Phil Carter has a good article on how the military is treating disabled soldiers. The new attitude is essentially, prove you can do the job and you stay in. It's an incredibly healthy attitude and will likely spill over into the civilian sector. I don't think this is reasonable accommodation as is usually understood in current civilian disability law but an uncompromising "if you can do it, stay. If you can't, go" that will be an awful lot more acceptable to others than our current status quo.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:06 PM

November 21, 2004

Fixing Newspaper Thefts

One of the recurring problems of campus these days are stolen newspapers. That doesn't mean just a single newspaper, mind you, but thousands of stolen papers, usually tossed in a remote trash bin and hauled away to the dump. This sort of thing is so widespread that way back in the day when I was helping run a conservative/libertarian paper (on a Macintosh SE/30 running Ready, Set Go! 4.5 if I recall) we decided to forego the bother of having to meet with the police that often and actually organized delivery service for the 5000 on campus undergraduates of SUNY at Stony Brook. If only we had thought it through a bit better, we'd have beaten out Peapod by years B-), I tell you.

The thought comes to me that if it took a team of less than ten people to go do that (for free, mind you) once a month, student government could certainly fund a 1st amendment delivery service. Imagine if stealing a controversial issue meant that your ideological opponents actually increased their circulation and did it in a way that you could no longer interfere in future, surely that would dent the enthusiasm of 1st amendment hooligans. A small amount of funding and it could turn into a nice source of work/study slots for less well off students. Best of all it could be presented non-ideologically, as a blow against campus thugs who want to exercise thought control by killing off alternative news outlets.

Given the small amount of funding at stake, I can't imagine the argument against it.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:38 PM

November 20, 2004


In reading this entry talking about Thomas Barnett, I had one of those epiphanies over this section reviewing the Cold War

For sure, the two countries engaged each other through proxies at the fringes, but both sides knew the limits. They didn't dare put their finger near the button.

Knowing the limits is the key element to the astounding long term stability of the westphalian system. Knowing, bone deep, the blackness at the heart of man's nature led people to limit interactions, keeping a screen of rules and borders to maintain play in the system and allow people to look away from the evil (perceived or real) going on over the border.

Talk, and even action that breaks that system will unleash a tremendously ugly beast. Since the 1970s, the islamists, with their talk of trans-national caliphates and worldwide sharia law have trampled on the very heart of the westphalian system. Since the Islamists started out very weak, the rest of the world largely ignored their actions. Those actions were essentially the breaking of a 500 year ceasefire.

When I first was asked, on 9/11, to tell friends and family in Romania what the US was going to do (I was trapped in Bucharest then), I said that the US was going to enter the world, and the world wasn't going to like it. But the US is different than Europe with regard to Westphalianism. As a people, americans have never confronted the ugliness and butchery of non-westphalian warfare, how nasty it can get and how close to home the atrocities can hit.

Europe knows and really, truly doesn't want to go there. With the ritualized slaying of Theo van Gogh, at least the Netherlands is starting to take baby steps back towards the old certainties. They are instinctively taking a page out of Machiavelli's Discourses and going back to their roots. They instinctively recognize that tolerance has failed them and reach back to older, less inviting truths.

The lock on Pandora's box is straining and idiot islamists are trying to knock the lock entirely loose. The question is, what vision of non-westphalian war are they trying to loose, that which the US has been visiting on them for three years or the style of the Netherlands with pigs heads nailed to doors and mutual bombings?

Posted by TMLutas at 12:34 PM

October 19, 2004

Raising Your Own Retirement Age

Brad Delong is worried that Congress will inevitably allow people to borrow from their retirement accounts, some of that money will never be paid back, and the taxpayers will be back on the hook, having given tax preferences for the money once and still having to pay for that person's retirement again. The solution is simple, just back load some penalties. If you don't pay back your retirement account loans, add some years to the individual's retirement age. People will still take out loans but withholding government subsidized old age goodies saves the taxpayers money and provides a punishment that fits the crime, added work responsibilities to compensate for financial irresponsibility in retirement accounts. You could even change the enforceability of private retirement goodies in the courts, shifting "senior citizen discounts" and private pension payouts out by the requisite number of years. In short, the DeLong objection could be met in the normal legislative process in a way that is consistent with social justice.

HT: Marginal Revolutions.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:34 AM

October 18, 2004

Moral Monsters

John Kerry's moral obtuseness knows no bounds. Kerry's recent radio address states that "we’re not doing everything we can to help Americans realize this dream" of medical experiments leading to cures for a variety of conditions. Of course we aren't and it's a very good thing we are not.

One of the great truths of medical experimentation is that experimenting directly yields better and faster results than experimenting indirectly. If you wish to cure a canine disease, experimenting on rats may yield a cure, but it would be a quicker and surer road to a cure to run direct experiments on dogs themselves.

This truth remains valid when it comes to finding cures for humans. The closer we come to human experimentation, the more rapid our progress would be. But if we get too close, we become moral monsters. It is not a theoretical problem, but one faced by many serious researchers both in current experiments on embryonic stem cells and past experiments dating back to WW II. The Nazis and the Imperial Japanese ran direct human experiments in concentration camps in Europe and Manchuria.

Like all experimentation, some of the data was nonsense, but some of it was quite good. All of it was monstrous. Toss a subject into freezing water, how quickly does he die? Who dies faster, women or men? If you toss a group in and they huddle for warmth, how does that affect the death pattern? I won't even get into the chemwar experiments in Manchuria as those were mostly about improving weapons effectiveness but the Nazi hypothermia experiments yielded such good data that they have never been surpassed. They cannot be surpassed because we recognize that throwing people into freezing cold water to kill them is too direct an experiment and there is no other way to gain that kind of exact data.

John Kerry claims to be a good Catholic. He claims that he believes that life begins at conception. He states that he will pass policies and orders and promote legislation to kill what he himself believes is human life in direct human experimentation, and worse, destructive human harvesting in a production line of death. He believes that somehow he can continue to uphold "the highest ethical standards" while taking human life.

What is worse is that in moving the line into what he himself believes is direct human experimentation, he gives us no moral guide to distinguish ourselves from the nazi and imperial japanese human experimentation. At the very least, he owes the country an explanation of how he will go to sleep at night knowing that according to his own personal moral code, he is sanctioning and financially supporting what we so strongly condemned at the post WW II Nuremberg trials.

What makes destructive tissue harvesting from a fetus any better than destructive tissue harvesting from a coma patient? You can sort out a coherent moral and ethical system from George Bush's record. You might not agree with it, but you know what it is. He stands with those who would use the nazi hypothermia data, not with those who would accept excess hypothermia deaths and maintain a boycott of the data. But he's against tossing more people into freezing water on the government's dime. In stem cell terms, he won't fund more killing but if you want to do it on your own, that's OK by him.

For John Kerry, there is no stated line in the sand, no defensible position where you know that political expediency will not put you or a loved one under the knife in future. Even for those who deny the humanity of the fetus, this lack of a clearly stated limit is a scary thing for the serious thinkers amongst his supporters. But there seem to be all too few serious thinkers, just an awful lot of moral monsters in a hurry for a cure and not much caring how we get one.

HT: Balloon Juice

Posted by TMLutas at 02:44 AM

October 15, 2004

The Irrelevance of Genetics to Gay Marriage

In reading this article on the whole debate kerfuffle over Kerry's using Mary Cheney as a political prop, the article and comments devote a significant amount of the discussion to whether homosexuality is genetic or it is a choice. Here's a news flash, it doesn't matter.

Marriage, in a government policy context, is about shaping society in certain ways to encourage certain results. We accept the state stepping in and giving the married certain supplementary rights and certain supplementary responsibilities. The structure is large, complex, and very poorly understood. It's not about self-actualization, love, warm feelings, or acceptance. That part of marriage is the private part and I think we all feel a little weird about the idea of the government getting anywhere near the question of who you or I love in any capacity. That's just not their business.

A very long, persistent majority of people have decided that staving off demographic collapse is something that the state can and should get involved in, thus the subsidies for marriage and children. Similarly, societal stability is enhanced by marriage and persistent majorities think that that is in the purview of the state to encourage too. There are other social policy goals in there but those are really the big two. Now whether homosexuals are born or decide to be that way is completely irrelevant to the questions of demographic collapse and social stability. The question is whether or not we should be involving the state at all in these questions and if we do continue to do so whether adding a new form of marriage advances the legitimate state interest or not.

There are plenty of genetic variants that receive state penalties. There are plenty of conscious choices that are punished by the state. Whether it's one way or the other just doesn't matter.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:36 AM

October 14, 2004


One of the key concepts of PNM is thinking about the connections between your main subject and "everything else". Here is a four way nexus of issues that have been percolating in my head for over a year.

1. PNM - Pentagon's New Map: There is a national security requirement to shrink and eventually eliminate the Gap. This can't be accomplished right away because...
2. GCS - Global Capital Shortage: One of the significant constraints on achieving the PNM goal of Gap elimination is there just isn't enough capital available to fund the projects necessary. Capital needs to flow from the Core to the Gap. This causes political problems in the Core in the form of...
3. RQS - Red Queen Society: Labor and rents drain out of the Core as the risk that has made projects in the Gap too much for most investors drain away by the peaceful (most common) or forced (more rare circumstance) adoption of Core rulesets, the net ROI taking into account risk premiums will starve Core workers of wage gains and Core landlords of rent demand.

Why site your paint stripping gun factory in the FRG when Romania is so close and is now safe enough that the wage gap makes it more profitable to do the work there? Core and especially Old Core workers must constantly improve just to stay in place, to avoid declining wages or outright unemployment. The less numerous but politically more influential economic class that earns money via rents are also losers in this process as business demand for their offerings continually declines. The only income class in the Core who gains are the capitalists which brings us to...
4. OS - Ownership Society: The capitalist class must expand to functional majority status in order to form a sustainable political base for the PNM's Gap elimination goal to become a reality over the long haul. If labor and land are constantly going to be facing new competitors, it is unrealistic to think that voters who fall exclusively into these categories will be willing to act against their economic interests consistently over a period of decades. At some point, the pain of new competition will slam on the brakes of further Core enlargement. But if the exclusively capitalist class, the coupon cutters and the entrepreneurs are joined by "part time capitalists", the voting dynamic changes. The effect is weaker in the landlord class as they've usually diversified long ago but the worker class will have an eye on their 401(k), IRA, HSA, privatized Social Security Pension account, etc. as well as their salary as an ownership society develops. Ownership changes attitudes and is also likely to change votes.

This shift in attitudes won't effect everybody who partakes of the ownership society. Party affiliation is very much cultural to a great many people. But the enlargement of the capitalist class will remove the inevitability of PNM's political defeat by allowing creative politicians to stitch together new coalitions and keep progress moving forward long after the Red Queen economy ticks off enough labor to form a connectivity backlash.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:17 PM

October 12, 2004

Global Capital Shortage

In comments in the recent thread An Interview With Dr. Barnett the subject of capital shortages came up and it's gotten to the point where I think it's better broken out as an article in itself.

First of all, there is no such thing as a capital shortage apart from a specific project. Capital is a particular good that has a supply. In a perfect market, you list all projects in order of ROI, you allocate your capital until you run out and you find your market clearing level of capital using economic projects. If capital supply shrinks, you need a higher ROI to get funding at the new market clearing point. All projects that do not meet ROI requirements see a "capital shortage" but it's just an artifact of their not being profitable enough to make the cut.

When you have a project like shrinking the Gap in order to avoid more 9/11s (and worse, the loss of entire cities) things change. The ROI of not losing Chicago is huge but the connections between that and a water project in Afghanistan are too diffuse to meaningfully assign even though driving average income in Afghanistan above the $3k per year level would likely take that country out of the Gap and could prevent just such a city loss 20 years from now.

The problem is that taking one nation or another from the Gap doesn't really solve the problem. It just makes monitoring the rest of the Gap nations easier as you have less and less territory and population to cover. Instead of using Sudan as a headquarters, Al Queda moved to Afghanistan. Further moves are likely from Gap nation to Gap nation. So you have to tote up the price tag of doing all of them. Instead of a global list, you make up a list of individual Gap nations and projects that would economically benefit them (again in ROI order but this time by country). You draw the line at how many projects would have to go forward to raise incomes to the $3k level at which point you start to see significant middle class formation and internal civic society strength reaching the point where a critical mass wants into the Core and has the resources to get that wish into national public policy.

Once you create those lists and tote up the total costs, you see that there just isn't enough money out there to elevate all these Gap nations out of the economic danger zone, not enough troops to remake the political apparat in the nations who don't want to get with the program and certainly not enough willpower in the international community to starve Core economies of more profitable uses of capital locally in order to ship money to Gap nations so they can graduate to the Core.

We end up having to take what money is available and concentrate them on high value targets, such as the axis of evil countries where you have the worst of the security risks grouped. You end up driving the terrorists from base to base that way but doing that reduces their ability to attack in the Core while you shrink the Gap as fast as you can.

That's not the best strategy there is out there. It's the best one we've got as long as a capital shortage constrains our action in bringing all nations in the Gap into the Core.

Posted by TMLutas at 03:04 PM

Moving From Forced to Voluntary Charity

If I have any quibble with doctrinaire libertarians it is in their common lack of emphasis on creating practical roadmaps of how we get from where we are today as a society to the libertarian end goals of radically reduced government.

The issue of charity is a very prickly one for libertarians, with several approaches. Some are against charity entirely (these tend to either be objectivists or at least very fond of Ayn Rand) whether it is public or private. Some feel that we should just cut out forced charity entirely and immediately. Others, like myself, prefer a graduated approach that isn't going to shock the system so much and thus has a chance of actual progress into real life policy.

Only the gradualists who are for private charity but against it's public imitator really care about the nature of public charity per se. Fundamentally public charity is of two components, the forced allocation of resources to charitable ends and the forced allocation of charitable dollars to specific charitable activities. If you could get rid of the whole thing in one swoop, it wouldn't matter what the subcomponents are but decades of effort have pretty conclusively proven that we're not going to get there in one large step.

The easier argument to make is that while overall forced social contribution to charitable enterprises might be morally worthy, the government picks some awful causes and misallocates resources so badly that freeing individuals to allocate their own charitable dollars is a big step in the right direction and will allow society to get more stuff done with the same amount of resources. This is essentially the same argument that President Bush is trying with private Social Security accounts.

Once you've shown that significant improvements can be accomplished by loosening the command and control public charity bureaucracy, it's actually easier to say that public officials are not only not able to set charity sector allotments properly to maximize benefits but they aren't qualified to set the global numbers either. It might even be easier to the point where such a policy might pass in Congress a few decades down the road.

Hat tip for forcing me to think on the subject: The Angry Economist

Posted by TMLutas at 02:36 PM

October 06, 2004

Draft Bill Defeated

No surprise, the Democrat attempt to reinstate the Draft was defeated after it was brought up for a vote in order to quash the wild rumors surrounding reintroducing the draft. Even Rep Charles Rangel(D), who introduced the bill well over a year ago voted against his own baby.

What takes the cake is that Rep. Rangel held a press conference to announce that the bill was not introduced to actually get voted on and that it was a cynical manipulation of the process to actually bring it forward for a vote. The bill was brought forward under the suspension calendar rule which is normally reserved for uncontroversial legislation that is minimally debated and requires a 2/3 majority to pass. The cynical manipulation seems to me to be mostly on Rep. Rangel's part for introducing legislation he never wanted to pass.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:42 AM

Fake Lawsuit Vetting

In Indiana, you file a complaint to consumer protection regarding a doctor's alleged bad behavior, they open a file, get the other side's story, take a look at whatever facts both sides bring to the table, provide a recommendation to go forward with a lawsuit to a state board for it to rule on. If the board decides there might be something there, a malpractice lawsuit can realistically go forward.

The fact is that if you are merely accused of something, even if the judge throws it out on summary judgment after one day, a doctor will lose tens of thousands of dollars every year over the next several years because of one malpractice suit. You see, a doctor gets credits for being lawsuit free. You get sued, you start over again with a zero discount. Such "lawsuit free" discounts can save doctors tens of thousands on their premiums every year.

Compare this with the Kerry/Edwards lawsuit vetting plan. Instead of being vetted by independent investigators, the plaintiff's attorney will do the vetting with an agent of his choice. This is very weak beer at best and realistically it will likely turn into a meaningless farce with plaintiffs attorneys finding "friendly" vetting groups/individuals.

The end result would be more meaningless process, higher billable hours, less money to victims, and no end to the plaintiff's lawyer gravy train. Sorry, that just doesn't fly with me.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:24 AM

October 04, 2004

The Drumbeat for Polygamy Starts

Prof. Jonathen Turley writes in favor of polygamy in USA Today and, surprise, surprise, cites the invalidation of homosexual sodomy laws in Texas (Lawrence v Texas) as the basis for it. Gee, that didn't take long, now did it? Tom Green is a Utah polygamist, convicted on those grounds for marrying four women, including a 13 year old girl.

Is there any doubt that we desperately need to figure out what the ancient structure of marriage was and is for before a blind and inappropriate application of equal protection principles kills the institution in the US?

HT: The Corner

Posted by TMLutas at 04:42 PM

September 26, 2004

Jurisdiction Stripping Fix

Eugene Volokh once again writes about the perils of federal court jurisdiction stripping in that it does not do anything regarding state courts who might aberrantly interpret the US federal Constitution and, in fact, makes such rulings essentially unappealable. The cure for this is state level legislation clarifying the jurisdiction of state courts with regard to the US Constitution as not to ever exceed federal court jurisdiction.

I can't imagine a functional legislative majority coalescing about the proposition that the state courts ever have a greater right to interpret the federal constitution than the federal courts do. Because of the division of powers, the US Congress is incapable of making such legislation. State legislators are not similarly restricted. All this objection means is that the federal legislation came first and now state legislation needs to follow up in killing the "state judge legislating from the bench" loophole (a problem that is in desperate need of a catchier label). Where the federal courts are silent because of Congressional restriction, the state courts should be too.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:19 AM

September 04, 2004

Preventing School Terrorism

I've been wondering who would be the first person to voice the idea of getting rid of the gun exclusion zones around schools in response to the Beslan school terrorist attack. The prize goes to David Koppel who doesn't even bother with addressing federal law but goes straight for arming teachers.

This is a serious issue. No doubt 20 highly armed terrorists might have overcome armed defenders and taken the school but can anybody seriously entertain the idea that they would have done so without severe casualties and without much, if not most of the student body escaping? Those that resisted, unarmed, were shot for their trouble anyway so making their attackers pay in blood before they die seems like a distinct improvement.

This is a very political season. Clearly, if there were a school shooting that argued for stricter gun control, Democrats will be out there making it. With the shoe on the other foot will Republicans dare to secure one of our softest targets? The children of Russia have already issued a bloody warning. Will we listen?

Posted by TMLutas at 09:39 AM

August 24, 2004

Where Bush's Immigration Strategy is Coming From?

Global Transaction Strategy is the title of an older Dr. Barnett article. There's lots of good stuff about how the world is shaping up and how it needs to continue for us to all survive this dangerous time. One of the neat things about broad thinkers is that you can go back and find nuggets that you didn't notice the first (or the fifth) time you read a piece:

In effect, emigration from the Gap to the Core is globalization's release valve. With it, the prosperity of the Core can be maintained and more of the world's people can participate. Without it, overpopulation and under-performing economies in the Gap can lead to explosive situations that spill over to the Core. One hopeful sign of the future: The Philippines has demonstrated that such flows can be achieved on a temporary deployment or "global commuting" basis without resorting to permanent emigration or generating increased xenophobia in host nations.

I can't think of a better description of President Bush's worker visa proposal than a real attempt to put the above paragraph into policy for the US to create a real pressure release valve. Politically, the guest worker visa program never has made much sense. What xenophobes there are in this country are disproportionately on the right side of the political spectrum which means when they're not voting fringe, they'll tend to vote Republican. So why would President Bush take the political risk that this portion of his voting coalition will sit on its hands come November?

Business interests don't mind the current situation too much. Plenty of labor moves into the country in the current situation and they aren't hounded by 'la migra' as in the bad old days of mass immigration raids which shut down business and could decimate a workforce. A minor tweaking of some specialized skills categories would have made business pretty happy without rocking the boat too much.

It's only when you look at it as a national security issue, providing a safety valve while you thin out the infrastructure of illegal border crossing does this initiative make any sense and Bush apparently feels strongly enough about it to risk losing some of the immigration averse vote that he might otherwise have.

Posted by TMLutas at 04:05 AM

August 19, 2004

How Michael Kinsley Lost My Respect

Michael Kinsley used to have such a reputation as a thinking liberal, yet here he is playing the hack and confusing the broad category of stem cell research with one of its two subcategories, embryonic stem cell research. And not only does he commit hackery, it's a nasty form that concentrates on smearing Laura Bush for daring to not be a manipulative power behind the throne.

Kinsley's nasty piece of cat fighting doesn't come out like that though. He's complaining that the media hasn't caught Mrs. Bush in full harpy mode. Perhaps they've been lazy, he seems to suggest, or Mrs. Bush is just extremely good at hiding her harpiness.

The witchiness over Mrs. Bush is an effective smokescreen to stop the reader from asking the important basic factual question. When did stem cells get discovered and how many presidencies could have researched them. The answer is they've been around at least two decades which is how long scientists have been working on trying to get these cells to reproduce in humans. Federal rules against funding embryonic stem cell research long predate President Bush's rules and Kinsley just doesn't want us to bother fact checking him so he distracts us with low blows to the first lady.


Posted by TMLutas at 08:17 AM

July 29, 2004

Iron Blog Subjects: Assault Rifle Ban

Going through the Iron Blog topic list:

There are generally four types of long guns. There are shotguns, which generally fire cartridges (mostly shot filled, but sometimes solid slugs). There are bolt action, or otherwise single shot weapons, there are fully automatic weapons which fire multiple bullets with one trigger pull, and there are semi-automatic weapons which fire one bullet per trigger pull like the single shot guns but which use part of the energy from firing to power a mechanism that reloads automatically.

Assault rifles were traditionally military weapons that were able to fire automatically. Such weapons have long been heavily regulated for civilian use under the law regulating machine guns. Examples are the Soviet AK-47 and the US M-16. More recently, semi-automatic rifles that cosmetically look military have been inaccurately labeled assault weapons. These rifles, mechanically identical to a wide variety of common civilian use guns, were banned for 10 years starting August 1994. Come September of this year the ban will expire. After 10 years of data, what the anti-ban forces predicted has come true, the data ended up supporting their contention that the ban did little good and was just the thin edge of the wedge to try to get larger bans passed.

Good riddance assault weapons ban. Your demagoguery and dishonesty won't be missed.

Posted by TMLutas at 06:16 PM

Return of the General Warrant

One of the original grievances that the american colonies had against George III's government was its penchant for issuing general search warrants (called Writs of Assistance). A judge would issue a warrant for a general area and crown officers could search any place in that area looking for illegalities without any prior cause or suspicion. An awful lot of innocent people were inconvenienced, their possessions disturbed, broken, or turned up missing after such searches.

The general warrant seemed to be making a small comeback in Oshkosh, WI (no permalink) for a time. According to this story people were rousted from their homes without suspicion and their residences searched, with guns being taken under suspicious circumstances.

Fortunately, the Oshkosh police seem to have had a chat with a competent lawyer and apologies are being tendered for undocumented and illegitimate seizure of guns and there the matter is likely to rest.

HT: Clayton Cramer

Posted by TMLutas at 12:16 PM

July 28, 2004

Iron Blog Subjects: Animal Rights

Going through the Iron Blog topic list:

Before I get to the topic at hand, A small personal job history note. I was an employee for Putting People First in the early 90s. I was their first network administrator. I also designed and maintained their database, oversaw a lot of their early direct mail operations, and did various work in other areas. Putting People First was an organization devoted to fighting against animal rights, a topic I hadn't thought about much prior to working for them but soon learned a great deal about while working for the group in a technical capacity.

The death threats in the mail were always entertaining as was the "what to do if they bomb us" disaster planning.

Animal rights is a travesty of an ideology. The idea that animals can claim anything as a right implies the ability to enter into some sort of social contract with the rest of us. But animals cannot do that. They are incapable of understanding such an agreement and keeping up with any obligations that would ensue from such a contract. Animal rights would be a precedent that you can have rights without responsibilities as a general case for an entire class.

Animal rights claims to raise the level of care and humanity we show towards animals to a level equal with what we show our own pre-rational children and the mentally retarded. In this, there is some truth but it is a bitter sort of truth. Since animals are not infants or retarded or senile, to equalize these categories is to justify the reduction of consideration of these vulnerable human groups to the level of animals. Peter Singer, probably the most famous of animal rights philosophers notoriously believes that infanticide should be legalized as should euthanasia.

The animal rights movement has spawned a loosely connected terrorist group, the Animal Liberation Front which, prior to 9/11 was considered one of the premier domestic terrorism threats in the US. Just because 9/11 has thrust islamist terrorism to the fore does not mean that ALF has ceased activity. It has not.

Animal rights claims to raise up animals and by doing so elevate human kind as well. In reality, it reduces us to beasts.

Posted by TMLutas at 06:29 PM

Iron Blog Subjects: Animal Research

Going through the Iron Blog topic list:

Either a new product is safe or it is not safe. Anybody who wants to introduce something like a medical device, a new operation, a drug, is faced with the dilemma that they think it's safe but nobody knows until it is tried many times. So who goes first?

You can do all the computer modeling you want. While the models may be very good at predictions, they are not complete models of all processes and interactions that happen in real life. Inventors regularly get surprised by results in real people that weren't caught in computer modeling. This isn't to say that computer modeling is useless. It's a cheap, efficient, and very fast way of going through an awful lot of possibilities and throws out a lot of bad ideas cheaply.

But if you don't have animal based research, you end up having to validate your computer model testing directly against human beings. Let's be honest and admit that doing this will result in a lot of injuries and deaths that would otherwise be avoided by animal testing.

But excess human injuries only matter if human beings are intrinsically worth more than animals. You have to buy into the concept that even the most vile human being is worth more than your average dog, cat, or even higher primate. To do otherwise is to concede that Mengele's human experimentation methods are salvageable, all that is needed is a revised list of unworthy humans who do not deserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Posted by TMLutas at 05:59 PM

July 27, 2004

Iron Blog Subjects: Abortion

Going through the Iron Blog topic list:

Border conditions are among the most difficult (and interesting) to analyze. Sure, everybody agrees that they should have a right to life but going further out from the self, respect and reverence for human life starts to lose adherents. The mentally ill, the aged, the very young have all been subject to death in various societies and the further away from the average member of the polity's health and independence, the fewer still defend their right to life.

The absolutist position is the hardest to establish, but also is hardest to dislodge. People have a right to life is a powerful statement. Once you start making exceptions, you weaken it to the point where more and more exceptions can be carved out and down we slide along the slippery slope.

Abortion is not justified unless we believe in some very ugly concepts. If a life is created abusively, via rape or incest, to abort an unborn child conceived from that ugly situation is to say that the rapist, the family abuser, has worked a corruption of blood, that the child is guilty of the sin of the parent and deserves the death penalty. We don't even allow corruption of blood for traitors anymore. That sort of primitive vengeance went out with the Middle Ages but in our horror at the crime of the (usually) father, we want to wipe the innocent issue away, so perhaps the shame shall recede. Instead we create a greater shame.

The idea of genetic deformity as a cause for abortion creates a slippery slope because there is no accepted definition of what conditions should be repaired and what require abortion. At the very extreme, the "inconvenience" of a daughter has led to huge sex selection abortion totals in the PRC and India. This too is genetic selection as much as aborting hare lips and other correctible conditions. Even conditions that are not correctible, such as Down's syndrome, are no excuse for abortion. Many Down's syndrome sufferers can walk, talk, hold simple jobs, even get married and have their own families. Yet some people routinely recommend abortion in such cases.

Even for hopeless cases, one of the most overlooked contributions that they provide is, during disease shortened lives, they provide lessons to those around them in human spirit, dignity, and love. When you foreshorten those unpredictable, deeply moving lessons, you may relieve strong emotion and suffering but what is left is a shallower existence.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:37 PM

July 18, 2004

Gay Marriage Recovery

I just finished reading a piece in City Journal on the hazards of gay marriage. I agree with most of it yet find myself unconvinced by the sole backhanded compliment the author gives to the gay marriage movement, conceding that movement towards gay marriage is irrevocable. Nothing is irrevocable, least of all social policy mistakes such as gay marriage. Under that standard, welfare reform would have been impossible instead of merely being extremely hard to do and highly costly in broken lives and social malignancy.

I don't think that the ratchet effect is nearly all it's cracked up to be. Gay marriage, if it every becomes more than a Massachusetts aberration, will eventually be rolled back after the cost ceases to become hypothetical and the victims of the new dispensation become the majority of the voting public. This is what's going on right now with easy divorce. The Gen X victims are simply and increasingly hostile to those self-absorbed parents deluding themselves that dissolving inconvenient marriages is somehow excusable.

Gays may well reflect on this. If they end up pushing such a useful social institution such as marriage into the trash heap, those who have to retrieve and repair it might just have a diminished sense of tolerance and acceptance to those who caused the problem in the first place.

Posted by TMLutas at 05:15 PM

Maternal Leave

I love a nice little webcomic called Greystone Inn. Saturday's strip takes a swerve into comparative social policy that disgruntles me a bit. The major pregnant character, Sam, is writing in her journal and noting that her company has a six week maternity leave program and that various EU states run 16 weeks and more, with a year off for Sweden.

It was the mention of Sweden that got me thinking. There was a recent report from Timbro, a free market swedish think tank ranking the US and the EU states and breaking out the US into its 50 component states. The EU fell into the poorest group of states and the growth prospects look pretty bad for them. If Sweden petitioned to enter into the US, they would instantly inherit a 40% poverty rate as they started being judged by US yardsticks of how much money you need to have not to be poor.

With serious discussion starting to break out regarding lengthening the work week in EU states, it's becoming clear that even they realize they've chosen a path that is simply not sustainable. It's really too bad that Sammy and all too many US leftists don't realize that and buy into a cruel system that provides cushy benefits today and pays for it by robbing the next generation of their opportunities.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:03 AM

July 17, 2004

Open Carry Logic

Josh Chafetz doesn't quite 'get' why open carry is legal without permit in places like Virginia while concealed carry requires a permit. The logic is pretty straightforward. The problem with concealed carry isn't the gun itself, but rather the false expectation that the person is unarmed when he is not. It's something of an anti-false advertising law.

If you go into a bar looking for a fight, chances are you won't start with the guy who has a gun on his hip unless you're truly suicidal. If you're just looking for a little light lawbreaking and a night in the drunk tank, you'll get it under the Virginia system, but the concealed carry permit system reduces the number of times you'll get pallbearers instead.

It's a reasonable 2nd amendment restriction that people who carry guns have to advertise that fact unless they're tested and demonstrate a superior level of skill at handling arms and keeping their cool. Now that doesn't mean that people who can conceal carry have to conceal their weapons. It just gives them an option. So when the police overstep their bounds and arrest legal gun toters, a small political demonstration is in order and the hip holsters come out of storage.

It'll probably die down in a few months after everybody gets a refresher course in the law. The problem really is one of not bothering people legally going about their business without violating the law. What the heck are police officials doing urging private security to eject people who are lawfully going about their business?

Posted by TMLutas at 11:37 AM

July 10, 2004

Corporations and the Alternative

A recent Tech Central Station column focuses on an upcoming attack on the institution of the corporation. Michael Moore figures heavily in a new movie called "The Corporation" and it doesn't take a genius to figure out he's against them. The one thing that leftists don't have the courage to spell out nowadays is to explicitly spell out what the alternative would be to the institutions they are critiquing. In the case of the corporation, the general alternative is to do such things via government action. But the problem with that is that governments are even less accountable than corporations.

Not only does government not provide the economic progress, the rising standard of living that capitalism provides, it also, in the real world, is just as fallible and prone to killing off people as corporations are. In fact, government economic enterprises are worse because sovereign immunity means that one of the major feedback loops that we use to fix corporations (the lawsuit) is largely unavailable when a government is the institution that does us wrong.

If a corporation becomes a negative force, you can bring a lawsuit, indict and jail executives, or just buy out the thing and kill it. These are all remedies that are either weaker against government or absent altogether.

The problem with Dominic Basulto's article isn't that he's got anything wrong on the indictment of the movie he's attacking. It's that he somehow assumes that this is a political question. It no longer is. The general inferiority of government solutions is a text that has been written in the blood of the tens of millions who died under government heavy solutions of the last century. Everybody should be taught how they died, why they died, why these societies failed in such a bloody way.

The economic educational system in the west is a huge scandal. Its something that needs to be fixed, and soon. Otherwise, snake oil salesmen will continue to do good box office numbers peddling poison.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:24 PM

July 09, 2004

Missing the Obvious

Even at this point, NPR can get pretty clueless about the importance of conventional family formation. This morning they just did a straight report on an Indiana investigation on why 38% of foster care kids are black. The relevant stats are 10% of Indiana's population is black, 18% of proven abuse is in black families, and 38% of the kids in foster care are black. The fact that the number of intact mother and father households in the black community is so low doesn't merit a mention even though it's pretty obvious how it can affect both pathologies, the elevated abuse stats (more boyfriends cycling through single moms' houses and beating on the kids) and fewer relatives (with absent fathers' relatives being less willing to take in kids that aren't truly in the family).

It's errors of omission like this that make up a large portion of liberal bias. Usually I let this kind of thing float by but today I felt like venting.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:39 AM

June 23, 2004

Do You Have an Obligation to Tell the Truth to Police?

The recent Supreme Court case declaring that laws requiring that we identify ourselves to law enforcement are constitutional has got my gut bunched up. Like the convicted defendant, this provision is much more likely to be used against non-war related defendants than prospective terrorists. What most of the negative commentary on this case glosses over is that not all states have legislation requiring this and there is no examination of which state constitutions might grant protection from official harassment via request for identification.

Freedom lost one in this case. That doesn't mean that the game's over, nor that it's irrecoverable.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:54 PM

June 17, 2004

Immigration Cost Analysis

Over at NRO's The Corner, Andrew Stuttaford misses the point of Bush's new immigration initiative. I always pegged the immigration initiative as a twofer, neither of which is what Stuttaford thinks the initiative is about. The reasons to support the initiative are that it will increase the proportion of people coming into this country via legal means and thus dry up the protective camouflage that terrorists sneaking into the country need and that it is a more effective means of foreign aid than traditional government disbursements.

The first is a pretty clear benefit but the latter requires a bit of explanation. Large corporations have long known that if you want to train people to behave in significantly different ways (to counter a national culture, for example) it is very useful to take them out of their normal environments and train them in an environment where the desired behavior is the cultural norm. Once they've gotten used to that norm, they are much better equipped to maintain their new behaviors when they go home.

This dynamic works the same whether the training program is a formal bout of instruction or it consists of the informal lessons in capitalism and freedom that all immigrants get in the US. So Stuttaford's observations of lower wages for americans needs to be tempered by the real benefits to our foreign policy of trying to lift other nations out of tyranny and poverty. The relevant facts are as follows:

On the cost side:
How much money has been lost in wages by the excess immigrants who would not otherwise be in the US?

On the benefit side:
How much foreign aid money would we have had to spend to get the equivalent good effect of the people who go back and, with their new found wealth, fund pro-freedom politics in their own country, inspire others who have never gone to the US to fight more for their own freedoms, and generally enhance the probability of a government and culture that is happy with the US?

If you only examine the gross cost without also throwing in the benefits of the plan, it's neither a useful, nor persuasive, analysis. Stuttaford's (and the LA Times' article on which they arebased) error is twofold.

On the cost side, noncitizens are not a monolithic category. One example is that our pathological tort system has driven out enough domestic doctors that we cannot run our medical system without importing doctors. You could close the borders down very tightly and you'd still need to import doctors.

There is also the phenomenon of permanent residents who simply haven't applied for citizenship. My parents became citizens after 10 years, my wife will be doing it after 6. Since Hispanics seem to have very low voter participation rates, I strongly suspect that they also are not jumping quickly on the citizenship process and there are plenty of people who keep renewing their green cards many years after they qualify for citizenship.

The benefit side is completely unexamined, both from a security standpoint, and as a more efficient form of foreign aid. This isn't to say that the numbers absolutely would justify the program. But without the relevant numbers and an honest examination of them, all we have are dressed up, adult versions of playground arguments.

Posted by TMLutas at 07:08 AM

June 15, 2004

The Little Dutch Boy

I've been looking for a story, a simple story, that would help explain my attitude towards government v. private effort in solving problems. I think I've come up with something.

The story of the little dutch boy is pretty well known by everybody. Boy walks around, sees water coming through dike, sticks his finger in dike and saves town from flood. Townspeople eventually come to his rescue and replace him with a permanent fix.

This is a very heroic story of courage and doing what it takes in an emergency when nobody else is around to fix things, even if your solution is not the best for the long haul. If water coming through the dike is a generic problem, the little dutch boy's brave solution is government action. It works but it's a patch. Even he knows that he can't stay there forever but he'll bravely stick it out until help arrives with a better solution.

Big government types see the little dutch boy and says "hey, good solution. Let's stick with that". Instead of fixing the dike with a better fix (private action) they stick with the patch because it's less effort than shifting to a permanent one. They institute a line of little dutch boys so they can swap off, sticking their finger in the dike.

It's a really stupid idea, no? But that's the entire point. Problems have to get solved. Government solutions, when they're the only game in town, are preferable to disaster. But the spirit of adopting them should always be the little dutch boy's heartfelt happiness when he no longer has to do it anymore. In the real world, the townspeople have to fight him, kicking and screaming, to get his damn finger out of the dike so the permanent fix can go in.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:21 AM

June 12, 2004

Reporting on the Military Competently

Iraq Now is really turning into a nice little news source for things military. The latest gem illustrates how to figure out whether the military dogs really were there on orders from higher ups or this is just a piece of someone's PR campaign that has no basis in reality.

The answers might be classified but there is no reason for journalists not to ask the question and for constituents who have Congressmen on the relevant oversight committee(s) to hammer their lawmakers to get to the bottom of this.

The whole Abu Ghraib scandal has high potential to really do a number on the US military's prosecution of the war. If we've veered off course at higher levels this needs to be found and fixed as soon as possible, not drawn out for political advantage. An incompetent group of journalists isn't helping this process move forward.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:11 AM

June 10, 2004

Withdrawing Constitutional Protections

I recently had the pleasure of a cousin coming to visit me in Chicago. He's in the political game and enjoys talking philosophy and politics. In our discussion on abortion, he drew the line at brain wave activity. If the unborn child thought, it should not be killed without some sort of medical emergency. I praised him for seeking to restrict abortion by that amount and said I'd be happy to get the law to reflect his position, coming back for the rest of the unborn in another round.

*ding* *ding* round two coming up.

Imagine a strange sort of malady. It absolutely flat lines your brain, killing you if you don't have body support. But if you do have physical support to keep your body going, in 10 weeks, you will wake from your profound vegetative state to eventually make a full recovery. During the time which you don't have brain waves, do you surrender your right to life? Why not?

The common sense position is that if you know you're going to come out of this vegetative state with a very high probability of full function, it makes no sense to pull the plug even weeks and months of monitoring and not detecting a single brain wave. Pulling the plug and killing the patient when there is a reasonable chance for later good health and meaningful independent life is simply not acceptable, especially if the reason to pull the plug is convenience on the part of others. Even if the recovery is only partial, pulling the plug is not ethical, nor would the local prosecutor likely find it legal.

So why does a human life that will almost certainly develop into a normal, thinking, rational individual because brain wave activity has not started yet, though it is almost certain to start in a short time?

Posted by TMLutas at 07:05 PM

June 04, 2004

Good News From the PRC

They seem to be getting ready to get rid of their one child policy. Putting aside the horrendous immorality of the entire project, the practical effects have always been dubious.

The purpose of the project has always been to preserve social stability by slowing the growth of population so that the PRC's (then) creaky economic system could catch up. But the "solution" of the one child policy led to mass female infanticide with the PRC currently at a sex ratio of 117 boys for every 100 girls. This is a ratio that will lead to instability if continued not just internally for the PRC but externally as the female shortage is arbitraged away or surplus males are sent on casualty rich military adventures.

Hopefully speculation that Shanghai's new policy of relaxing birth limits will spread to a general abandonment of the one child policy is more than just speculation.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:01 AM

May 24, 2004

Social Shock, Libertarian Style

Clayton Cramer commits a minor libel of libertarians when he blames us heartless libertarian types for not being in favor of social adjustment spending. The problem is that he downplays two issues. First, social adjustment spending, like just about all government spending that libertarians want cut, isn't somehow better or more effective when it is done via the government. The only functional responses he noticed at all were private efforts that were proceeding without government assistance. The government, huge and bloated as it is, is not taking care of the people in the rural community devastated by the closing of the local logging industry.

The second issue is that the local logging industry did not die a natural death. It was knifed in the back by government. This sort of knifing drastically accelerates and makes social change more jarring and less predictable. There is reason to think that a property regime more in line with libertarian principles would have balanced economic and environmental interests better, managing the decline of logging in a way that would have created more replacement jobs on a longer, slower glide path for the accomplishment of the wider social goal of preserving the environment. The majority would not be denied, logging would have slowed down and ceased in the area anyway in a libertarian regime but it would do it in a different, less disruptive way.

Fixing what ails rural america is an important goal, and I'm glad Clayton Cramer is going to focus on this underexamined issue. But government solutions are very unlikely candidates to solve the problem in truth, rather than erect another permanent bureaucracy that is committed to managing the problem, not solving it.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:40 AM

May 23, 2004

Rolling Back Failed Social Experiments

Let me share a guilty secret. I have a grudging admiration for the utopian communists. They didn't really know what they were doing but they wanted to make things better. They tried their solutions out in the real world on an experimental scale. When the experiment didn't work, they stopped long before a gulag appeared to allow things to continue. Compared to Marxian systems, that's a giddily happy outcome.

I was reminded of this reading Robert Robb's piece on gay marriage and how it affects traditional marriage. He compares the current fight to the old fight over easy divorce and you really ought to read the whole thing. The point that struck me was how far we've sunk from the utopian communists. Since the evidence is overwhelming that the christian orthodoxy that lost the no fault divorce fight was right and the liberals were wrong the one thing left to do in that failed social experiment is to stop it.

This is a large reason why people on the anti-gay marriage side have so little faith in assurances that gay marriage will be rolled back if it turns out to be a disaster. We have the disaster staring at us in the face and we show no sign of rolling back our previous experiment with easy divorce.

So the next time you get a gay marriage advocate talking about rollback if there ever was failure, ask his position about divorce and rolling it back since it is a failure. The resultant sputtering should be highly informative

Posted by TMLutas at 07:57 AM

May 22, 2004

Incest Legalization

Clayton Cramer notes a pro-incestual marriage proposal in New Zealand. So far, New Zealand seems to be in no danger of running out and acting on the presentation but if you agree with the arguments regarding gay marriage, it's hard to construct a long-term successful defense on the grounds the gay marriage advocates have left. Health effects of male homosexual sex are worse than genetic abnormality in incest. Incestuous marriages would be fertile, so as long as everything is consensual, why not?

I can say why not, but not without using arguments that also keep gay marriage illegal. Anybody out there able to do better?

Posted by TMLutas at 08:41 PM

May 18, 2004

Embracing the Dark Side

The Atlantic is singing the praises of authoritarianism. I don't know whether to get angry or just shed a tear in sadness. It literally is advocating abandoning traditional american virtues of limited government and handing our freedoms over to an isolated set of security practitioners that the legislature will have a hard time reigning in.

Instead of reluctantly ceding our freedoms, temporarily, as a war emergency measure and structuring things so we may climb back up the slippery slope when the crisis has passed, this article, bereft of any traditional suspicion of government power, would sacrifice freedom to purchase security, and does it in the most brazen way I've ever seen a mainstream american publication advocate in my entire life.

This, unfortunately, is the thin edge of the wedge. And unless there is an awful lot of outrage at this trial balloon, expect more and more articles, then legislation, to surface along these themes.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:01 AM

Condolences to the Heterosexual Women of Massachusetts

As I noted previously marriage certificates from San Francisco were no longer being accepted for name change purposes by the Social Security Administration. No doubt, additional proof of marriage will now be required of Massachusetts women who wish to change their names in the traditional fashion. Sorry ladies, you can thank your four friendly Supreme Judicial Court Justices for your new difficulty.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:10 AM

May 17, 2004

Gay Marriage Update VII

The Iron Bloggers are debating gay marriage and it's not looking very good from a technical standpoint. The Chairman obviously is tilted pro-marriage (perhaps he hasn't been exposed to good arguments on the other side) and so the question framing stinks. The challenger is taking the pro-amendment side and is only saved from serious embarrassment by the horrible job that Iron Blogger - Democrat is doing in his opening statement.

What's worst is that there's a 1000 character limit in comments and my fisking of the Iron Blogger - Democrat wouldn't fit. So here it is below in all it's bilious glory:

This is a very poor argument.

The first question reads "Is marriage a sacred institution to be protected by Constitutional means if necessary?"

The answer is that marriage is a sacred institution, and it is already protected by constitutional means. Read the first amendment and ponder the free exercise of religion clause.

Oopsie. Our iron blogger is turning a bit rusty before our eyes. You see he is conflating the two marriages. That's poor form Rusty Blogger - Democrat. Religious marriage is constitutionally protected. The part about social acceptance, love, honor, cherish, all that stuff is constitutionally settled and has been since the 18th century. What we're talking about is the other kind of marriage and you shouldn't be so imprecise.

State (could have said government but state is shorter) marriage is not a sacred institution. It's a set of tax privileges and legal obligations that are granted like every other privilege in the tax and legal code, in order to gain some sort of societal benefit, we give people a privilege (and sometimes oblige them to do things to get that privilege). So what are the things that state marriage gives as privileges and what are the legitimate obligations that the state can impose?

I suggest that separate but equal only applies when you have established equality. You haven't even begun to demonstrate such a thing. You merely assume equality because you haven't established the preconditions to meaningfully measure whether it does or does not exist (hint, it doesn't). The rust accumulates.

Civil unions are a recognition that loving homosexual relations fulfill some of the obligations that we have traditionally obliged marriage partners to undertake and that to the extent that they do so, they deserve some of the privileges of marriage. If there is no equality, there is no problem in separate responses for different categories of relationships.

The problem is that judicial activists are spinning horribly idiotic theories regarding equality and some judges are buying it. The system of checks and balances is breaking down before our very eyes and we don't seem to have the votes to impeach the judges who misread the law but we may have them for an amendment.

The biblical proscriptions against marriage are relevant to the law even in a secular nation because the Bible wasn't written by a bunch of idiots. A great deal of what is in there is good sense and good public policy and there's nothing wrong with taking your cues from the Bible if that's the way you view life. The Bible cannot be mandated as we are a secular nation but neither should it be disadvantaged as a source of wisdom against Dr. Spock or some pop psychologist.

The studies regarding gay parenting are not only few and sketchy, they are horribly biased in the main and universally poorly constructed. Gays are asking for the extension of a set of privileges to a very old institution. The burden of proof is on them and ginning up a few biased, poorly constructed studies does not constitute proof.

The state does not have to have a compelling reason to prohibit gay marriage. Gays have to provide reasonable evidence that their relationships are equivalent to the presently married in providing societal benefits and thus they've earned the right to be included in the 1049 relevant federal laws regarding marriage. This doesn't even count the international adjustments of our marriage related treaties, much less state and local laws.

The argument of separate but equal is an interesting flight of fancy because the north wasn't going to vote for such a thing and it wasn't going to get into the Constitution without some historically free states voting for it. If our rusty blogger and all those against an amendment on these grounds would go for removing such justices on grounds of legislating from the bench, that would settle things just fine without an amendment but I'm guessing he wouldn't go for that. The idea of letting the legal system work is just code for letting judges impose an unconstitutional understanding of the prerogatives of the legislature. Sorry, we're a democratic republic, not a bunch of serfs ruled by judges.

Will the rust continue to accumulate on Iron Blogger - Democrat? Will he continue to embarrass himself with such poor argumentation? Tune in to the Iron Blog to find out.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:49 PM

May 12, 2004

Explaining Libertarianism II

I had a sneaking suspicion that it would be a good idea to start with the roman numberals on this one and Michael Williams provides an urgent need for a followup. The genesis of my earlier article was my sense that libertarianism wasn't being described properly and what was going on was beating up on a straw man caricature.

The truth is that libertarianism, at the most extreme margins, is about as flaky as your average hard leftist who pulls the Democrat lever or the hard right bircher who pulls the Republican lever. In other words, it can get very flaky indeed. The practical man takes a look at libertarianism as a guiding approach to solving problems and implements it where he can, where the spare theories of the idea men have been fattened up into a program that provides a roadmap to making things better.

The truth is that you can take any american critique of libertarianism and it will fit comfortably in the mouths of statists in just about every country. The only difference is what is to be privatized, what regulations are being abolished, and what freedoms will no longer be infringed by the government. The criticism remains remarkably the same, only most countries are arguing over the impossibility of privatizing and deregulating things in the US that never were privatized or regulated so we tend to look at them like they're idiots. We know that private agriculture works fine but it was an awfully hard argument to convince the Soviets.

But there are some areas of society where we are not the most free nation on earth. Some countries have stolen a march on us (most famously Chile) and liberalized pensions into private accounts long before George Bush had the courage to touch the "third rail" and advocate the same thing for Social Security. Private roads are much more developed in the UK than they are in the US. In such areas, we're the idiots, talking about the impossibility of taking this or that government responsibility and shifting it to private action.

Government ownership of roads does not mean federalized road ownership. It means public road ownership and public roads have a very old history in the US. There are very few private roads around in the age of automobiles and what few exist do not form a critical mass sufficient to justify the creation of an alternative system of regulation. If private roads are a mere appendix, they will just save themselves the effort and just mimic government rules.

None of these solutions emerged even when there was little government regulation, not at the local, state, or federal level; since 1980 (and the founding of MADD (not my favorite group, by any means)) drunk driving deaths have been reduced by 40%, largely due to regulation and law enforcement.

There was little regulation but certainly during the period before and after the improvement one constant existed, government ownership, therefore control and responsibility rested in public hands.

If instead of government roads there had been private roads and MADD was lobbying road company and insurance shareholders instead of legislators, would the improvements have happened quicker or slower? Would BAC or functional tests have predominated? Would there be more or less drunk driving as a result? In short, the question isn't whether government action has made things better. Clearly it has done so. The real problem is whether an alternative system would have been even better. I think it would and as long as the discussion is not on comparative benefit grounds, we're never going to get anywhere.

Private ownership and control is not a magic wand but it's the best structure we've got except for those areas where we haven't figured out how to extend it into. The list of those areas is remarkably short and getting shorter and the US could stand to lose quite a few chunks of regulation and government functions. Where we've figured out how to privately regulate, we should privately regulate and use the advantages of the market to provide better services to society.

Michael Williams is right in that there is an optimum level of size and efficiency that can be gained at any particular time. Where he is wrong is that he doesn't quite put together the fact that government use of technology has usually lagged the private sector (outside some very limited cutting edge priority areas) and so the more technology gets used, the more government will fall behind. Since technological progress is accelerating, it makes sense to shift more and more things over to private sector action to accommodate the shifting reality that the government is getting relatively less improvement out than private institutions.

In a nutshell, that's the libertarian policy prescription. slice the government salami and shift as much as practical every year into the private sector. How that is impractical is a mystery to me.

Posted by TMLutas at 03:19 PM

Explaining Libertarianism I

Libertarianism comes under assault over at Master of None but while it's a failed assault, it does provide a lot of food for thought.

Libertarianism sounds good in theory, but in practice I don't trust humans not to devolve to the lowest common denominator once the threat of using physical force to enforce morality is removed.

Force is not removed from the enforcement of reality in libertarianism. What libertarians want is a different abstraction layer between societal code enforcement and the violence that ultimately guarantees it. Abstraction layers are very important features of any society. What the judge, in his robes, through to the executioner in his hood do is provide an abstraction layer to replace the direct violence of the mob. In this layer, the errors of the mob are filtered and discarded and justice is done much more often than with direct mob rule.

What libertarianism argues is that the current level and type of abstraction is not the best that we can do and we should change these institutions a different way to foster not only justice but also create an environment for experimentation without sacrificing stability.

Take the drunk driving laws. In a libertarian society, public roads would be replace by private ones. Private road owners would need to carry insurance and, if they were willing to endure the cost in excess premiums, could allow drunks to drive on their road. This is obviously a dumb choice to make but libertarians would permit the theoretical choice while ensuring that people don't consider actually doing it by pinching them in the pocketbook, hard. And the pinching would occur in multiple directions road owner and driver, as well as surrounding property insurance. Driving in an area that permitted drunk driving would raise the cost of automobile insurance as well so even if the road owner is a crazy loon willing to take the financial hit in his own pocket, his customers are not likely to be willing to do the same. Even living on a property next to a road where the cars are more likely to veer off and into your house would increase pressure for a more sensible resolution to the situation than laissez *hic* faire.

In fact, letting habitual drunks even onto your roads at all is likely to trigger the same sorts of insurance problems. A libertarian solution would replicate both the financial aspects of current law on non-destructive drunk driving and also the license suspension aspects. The enforcement of these financial and road access restrictions would ultimately rest on the violence of the state to enforce contract law (fines) and trespass statutes (license suspension). The enforcement efforts of private road owners would likely be more stringent than can be done in a public system.

What is attractive about libertarianism is that it would allow for superior alternatives to the current BAC test levels to emerge much more rapidly and spread quicker. That, and not some theoretical freedom to drive drunk, is what is appealing in the libertarian alternative to current drunk driving statutes.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:05 AM

April 22, 2004

Fallujah's Water War?

One of the dogs that hasn't barked in Iraq is the fact that Saddam Hussein diverted an awful lot of water away from the Shiites down south, the so-called marsh arabs. All that diverted water, over a decade, creates a political constituency and anybody who has ever paid attention to water politics anywhere knows that water disputes can turn violent and often do. So who got all that formerly Shiite water and who is deprived of that water now that the marshes are reflooding? It's a zero sum game. For the marsh arabs to have their water restored means that industry, agriculture, and upstream populations must be deprived.

A small clue to what might be happening for arrives courtesy of Defense Link:

While Iraq is laced with antiquities, Fallujah isn't one of them. Just after World War II, the population of the town was around 10,000. The city, about 40 miles west of Baghdad, is on the edge of the desert, and now has about 300,000 citizens. It is a dry and arid landscape, made productive only because of extensive irrigation from the nearby Euphrates River.

So if you map the diversion of water under Saddam for political reasons, the growth in those areas where such water was diverted, and who's losing water now that there's new management, how much of a correlation is there to centers of resistance to the occupation? How much is this all a water war?

HT: Belmont Club

Posted by TMLutas at 10:29 PM

April 20, 2004


An article in WinXPNews got me thinking. Boxed software retailers generally do not take back opened software. It makes piracy too easy. On the other hand, EULAs often are unreadable until the software is opened as they solely exist as electronic documents. If you do not agree with the terms, the sole remedy is to return for a refund, not from the manufacturer, but from the retailer you bought it from.

Software manufacturers have the right to control the behavior of their distribution chains. They contract with companies and impose various conditions on their sellers. The fact that they permit their resellers to eviscerate the right of return makes the whole prospect suspect. When you throw in anti-trust law, things get even worse because a monopoly both has greater influence with its resellers and has greater obligations under the law. Microsoft would seem to have the most issues here but IBM might too since it has an old monopoly suit in its past as well.

Anti-trust, ultimately, is bunk, but only so long as we have prosecutors who are willing to actually prosecute the more prosaic forms of theft that monopolies can get away with so easily. This willingness to prosecute has not proven to be the case in reality so we're stuck with anti-trust law for now.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:37 AM

April 14, 2004

Tax Blogging

I would just like to say that the US tax system is an abomination and a betrayal of the most fundamental aspect of a free society, that the law should be clear and the average person should have an honest shot at obeying it if he wants to.

Flat tax anyone?

Posted by TMLutas at 05:08 PM

April 09, 2004

Practical Libertarianism: Broadcast

An occasional series on what I'd love to see the Libertarian Party adopt instead of their half-baked impractical radicalism

Dear Mr. Libertarian:

What would you do about the problem of the public airwaves and the problem of broadcast immorality?

I'm glad to get a chance to address this topic. The problem of the public airwaves is, first of all, that they are public. They were conceived in a time and place when people did not have the vision necessary to create a functioning, innovative, superior form of over the air communications system. Unfortunately, the system that was chosen then was flawed. It was flawed because it did not take into account progress. It remains flawed to this day because it subjects progress to the political process and thus we have a technically backwards system that stunts progress. We're not used to improving things and if we are willing to change that, not only will we be able to solve the problem of public filth but we will be able to do so without compromising our principles of liberty and free speech.

One of the most important things any nation faces is the subject of virtue. A degraded people will give up their inheritance of liberty and justice for a mess of pottage. We must, as citizens, strive to create a climate where this never happens. But how shall we do this? Should we use the club of the state to beat down with fines or prison terms those of our compatriots who make moral mistakes? Or should we fight speech with speech, vulgarity with nobility, and work to ennoble the people through the example of virtue? I believe that the best choice for America is a new path where we abandon the club of the fine or the censor, the license and the jail term.

But how shall we ensure that the vulgar do not swamp the virtuous? How can we ensure that the limited number of broadcast stations are not held by a small group that does not share our values and dominates the airwaves? I believe that we have the capability of reforming the airwaves by converting them from a system of broadcast to a system of multicast.

Most people, if they ever look at their phone wiring, will see four wires. a red, green, yellow and black insulated piece of copper that is wrapped in a bundle. With that phone line, you can carry one, two, 24, 30, or more conversations simultaneously depending on what sort of equipment you put on each end of the wire. If you use the same sort of telephone your grandfather might have used you'll be getting one or two conversations out of those wires. If you use more sophisticated equipment that was modern back in the 1970s you're able to get 20-30 conversations out of the same wires.

We're now able to do a similar thing with TV and radio, change the transmitters and receivers that's at both ends of exchange from broadcast equipment to multicast equipment, an Internet style way of getting content to a lot of people and we should make that conversion as soon as we can. Once you go to multicast instead of broadcast, the government is no longer forcing the country into an artificial shortage of 'stations' which they use to justify all sorts of intrusive things that the government has no business doing in a normal free society.

One thing about the way this technology works is that it enables parents to filter out inappropriate content for the minors in our care. Parents can leave those filters off or they can put them on, or they can even monitor what their children listen and watch in a nightly report and just talk to them if the kids are poking into what's age inappropriate.

Giving parents the power to supervise their children is a traditional model for promoting virtue that the government should be accommodating. It's a model that allows us to stop doing constitutionally dubious backflips that keep verbal media and visual media outside the full protection of the 1st amendment. And its a model that is future reform friendly. It will allow for even brighter, even smarter future generations to build something even better with a fraction of the effort it will take us to move to a multicast system in the first place.

Posted by TMLutas at 03:19 PM

March 30, 2004

Grassland v Grain Land

One of the greatest foolish stories of the vegetarians is that if we would just convert the range we devote to raising meat to grains, we would easily feed the world. The truth is that there is a great deal of land that is not fit for growing grains but only grasses, and if it weren't for the use of them for animal fodder, they wouldn't be of any use at all. And when animals are fattened for slaughter, they eat grains that are designated unfit for human consumption, not poisonous, just not good enough for us.

This sort of division of resources where some believe that with a wave of the hand you can repurpose resources that simply aren't naturally useful in their new role is something that dilettantes and superficial analysts advocate in many different fields, not just in food politics. In fact, if you look closely, you can see this in the War on Terror.

The accusation of Iraq as a distraction from the War on Terror is an example of this sort of thinking. We have two major types of resources, law enforcement/intelligence resources and military/intelligence resources. The things that each of these resources can do are important and useful to the cause but they don't do the same thing. One is grassland and one is grain land. You don't send in the FBI to get rid of Saddam and his checks for suicide bombers, you send the army. But the army would have largely been useless in nabbing Khalid Sheikh Muhammed in the back alleys of Pakistan. You can chew gum and walk at the same time if you realize that you have to divide your task list between things that need doing and for which LEO are the answer and things that need doing and for which the USAF are the answer. You then work off of both lists simultaneously.

The nature of military operations (beyond very small and temporary covert operations) is to grab attention and headlines. You never can ignore a division crossing a border. But it is quite easy to ignore, or never even notice database sweeps looking for cell phone SIM cards, telephone tracing, forensic financial backtracking, and a dozen other things that are catching us islamists every day. And even when successes occur, it is wise not to advertise them too much so as to use the identity of the captured to obtain the maximum amount of intelligence from people who try to get in touch with him.

So it is understandable that some fail to see the quiet operations and think that all that is going on is the noisy military work. But faulty observation leads to mistaken analysis and embarrassing predictions. There is also a partisan motivation for ignoring the quiet, patient, law enforcement component of the War on Terror. If both approaches are being pursued and reaping successes, challengers are stuck in a quandary. They don't want to be a me-too candidate but anything else than me-tooism is simply irresponsible when the war's being handled right.

Posted by TMLutas at 03:00 PM

March 21, 2004

Why is Government Infrastructure the Only Option?

Outside the Beltway has an interesting conversation regarding India and their poor political system. Sure they have a democracy but the politicians are utterly hopeless at building infrastructure. This is a tremendous opportunity for libertarian minded infrastructure geeks. What's needed is some sort of India friendly model law that outsources infrastructure on some performance goal basis. That way individual companies won't have to build their own infrastructure but neither will they have to reform the entire caste ridden, class infested mess that is Indian politics in order to get electricity and water and decent roads.

Posted by TMLutas at 05:20 PM

March 20, 2004

More Sprawl Please III

Samizdata is running an article on the real world consequences of insufficient sprawl as I've written before it is both hazardous to middle class retirement funds as well as third world farmers to have too much land set aside for green space or otherwise restricted from building.

Others have noted in Flitters, that sometimes it's the opposite problem that's true. Government sometimes mandates more sprawl by creating unnaturally large lot sizes and restricting the ability to subdivide property to meet actual need. This too is a problem.

At heart, it is the government interference in the property market that is the major cause of both problems and the solution is to back out of the market in a measured way so that you ruin the least amount of people possible.

I am guessing though that with the green movement organizing to create more wilderness, it is the lack of sprawl that will predominate as a problem, not development that is too sparse. Thus it's more sprawl please, not pack 'em tighter and hurry that I am titling this line of inquiry.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:32 PM

March 18, 2004

Probation Plus

Here's something you don't see every day, a principled, conservative argument for going easy on felons. What's even more unusual is that it's a pretty sound prescription. Essentially the argument is to bring back the pardon as a social policy tool to encourage good behavior after felons serve their prison terms.

It's an intriguing idea and, after a lot more meat gets put on the bones of this article, I could see myself supporting this. The major problem will be governors who start up the old political favors or cash contributions for pardons scam. The current solution of limiting pardons to a select few cases is one way to do it but we need to do better.

Posted by TMLutas at 03:09 PM

March 16, 2004

Population Assumptions II

Poliblogger notes that Greenspan is bullish on mortgage debt. As I've noted before, secular trends in rising real estate prices can be upset by shrinking populations. If a new black death were to sweep the world, dropping worldwide population by a third, housing prices would crater for a long, long time as excess housing stock was absorbed.

But plague and war are not the only way that population can drop as the EU is finding out with it's sub-replacement fertility rates. Greenspan's a very bright fellow but I think that he might want to make the implicit assumption in his analysis explicit. The growth of mortgage debt is only a good thing if the US does not fall into negative population growth.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:52 AM

Political Tiering

Programmers create additional 'tiers' of programs in order to reduce complexity and separate out certain bits so they can be independently adjusted. The overall complexity of the system is much higher, but because you are only dealing with one chunk of the system at a time, the actual problem you have to deal with at any one time becomes smaller and more manageable.

One of the reasons that you separate out things is not just complexity but the commingling of things that really should be separate. One example is presentation and business logic. You can make a program that has everything all hooked together in one huge monolithic file but this inevitably means that changes to one or the other either do not get done properly, and it's usually the most important part, the business logic, that suffers.

A similar process has gone on in politics in the past. It was an important innovation for the king to separate and create a distinction between his private purse and the public purse, the state jewels and his own private collection. An independent judiciary is another such 'tiering' sort of solution.

Some of the hallmarks of something that needs to be pulled out and specialized into its own tier is that the issue is important, it keeps popping out in seemingly random ways, across disparate conventional areas and few are talking about the issue holistically and sensibly. Population policy is just such an issue.

We run huge portions of our public expenditures on the assumption Ponzi scheme style of assumption that the next generation will always supply a wide enough base of new participants to keep things going. We funnel huge portions of our savings into land and houses, assuming that there will be a sufficient increase in the population base to raise prices and pay for our retirements. We are frightened of too fast an increase in 'their' population so we flood the third world with more condoms than life saving antibiotics. Abortion, too, is very much a population issue as the enduring controversy over whether abortion has been targeted for [note: link has some disturbing imagery] racial or other 'eugenics' reasons.

I probably have strong opinions on all, or at least most, of the individual issues that collectively would make up the population tier. That's not what I want to talk about here. What I'd like to suggest is that population policy be pulled out into its own tier, that public policy actions that will narrow the base of future generations be explicitly linked to a need to reform public expenditures and private savings that depend on a certain rate of population growth, or such population growth reduction measures be balanced by other changes that will raise the future population base.

This is a highly complex problem and past mismanagement has led the entire first world to the brink of a projected collapse in the mid-21st century. The very least that we can do is to stop pretending that this collection of issues is not actually connected.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:00 AM

Gay Marriage Opposition Cannot Be a Defensive Line

I think that Andrew Sullivan has something when he talks about the foolishness of making gay marriage the new demarcation line of what is permissible and what is not. But I don't really see gay marriage as the point at which to draw a new line and 'defend' marriage. Gay marriage is the rally point to gather up a winning coalition and go through the entire institution of marriage and review what the heck we're doing with it. It is a cost on society. It imposes burdens on singles. It is supposed to provide some sort of benefits but the majority of people don't understand what they are. Marriage is a mess and the homosexuals are right when they say that if we are satisfied with the current state of marriage than we might as well let them in.

But I don't know anybody who is truly happy with the current state of marriage. We spend an awful lot of time, money, and energy patching the poor results that the last few rounds of marriage reforms have done and the cost is terrible in broken relationships and social pathologies. So let's not leave the mistaken impression that it's about excluding gays and nothing else. Gay marriage is just the straw that breaks the camel's back.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:32 AM

March 14, 2004

Taking Lawsuits Off the Table

The cheeseburger bill is going forward. This bill is aimed at directing the plaintiff's bar away from doing it's "infinite number of monkey's tapping at an infinite number of typewriters" imitation in the hope of ending up with a successful lawsuit. In a precedent based legal system like the US has, this sort of closing off avenues to sue is vitally important. The US has a huge number of lawyers and they either have to keep busy filing lawsuits or they starve. The idea that you can claim damages from McDonalds when you overconsume their products is a mockery of justice but you don't need to win more than once before a precedent is set and that sets the stage for further wins, snowballing into a major cash drain on the fast food industry and a huge change in societal behavior created by lawsuit.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:26 PM

Mass Transit Anyone?

Philip Carter, over at Intel Dump covers some of the difficulties of securing mass transit systems. Mass transit has always been a poor fit for the US since it has so few people per square mile in comparison with Europe. It makes sense in a few places, significantly the Boston-Washington coastal corridor and the similar megalopoli on the west coast and the Great Lakes region but relatively little sense elsewhere.

With the US' 9/11 tragedy being airborne, and Europe's major tragedy being focused on trians, it looks like the security professionals are going to be battling out transportation security for a long time with US experts twitching about airplanes and their European counterparts worried about trains. I don't envy the Europeans their end of the job as the difficulties are formidable.

The classic response when you have a concentrated set of targets that are difficult to defend is dispersal. But what would be dispersal in a transport context? It would mean increased reliance on cars and other autonomous systems to get around. This creates huge issues since everybody has been pushing for people to go the other way and have been engaged in city planning to implement those elite preferences.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:40 AM

March 13, 2004

Market v Political Economic Innovation

In Brownian Notions, YHN posits a potential left/right alliance over electric/hybrid vehicles. It's likely not going to happen because the fault lines aren't where he thinks they are. The following thought experiment demonstrates the effect.

I'd love to see the US turn to solar power.
I'm against solar power.
The above two statements are part of a sane, consistent ideology.

I would love to see the US use solar power because I see realistic future scenarios where such power sources are less polluting, less labor intensive, and cheaper than current energy sources. I also see solar power as a method of reducing the number of ideological compromises we currently make with repressive dictatorships because these repressive dictatorships sit on top of large energy sources.

I'm against solar power because the only reason that such questions are even asked is in a political quest for economic subsidies extracted through the tax system. Such subsidies are distortive and prevent or delay the emergence of a truly useful solar power system.

The actual left/right fault line is the usual question of the use of political coercion to achieve economic desires. As all libertarians believe, I'm mostly against such things, especially where there are free market paths of achieving the same goals.

Getting back to electric/hybrids there are certain circumstances where such things make sense and in those scenarios the market will produce vehicles that use that sort of powerplant. Distorting this market via subsidies wastes an awful lot of money that could have been used for other things and would have created a better world in ways that are too complex to put on a bumper sticker and are, because of the subsidies, unknowable alternative futures.

Such 'strange bedfellows coalitions' exist because each side, for its own reasons, is willing to give up something of its desires in order to achieve a goal that is largely common. If free marketers are to give up subsidies, what is the left half of this coalition supposed to be giving up?

Posted by TMLutas at 08:07 AM

March 12, 2004

Xenophobia v. Restrictionism

I'm an open borders sort of fellow. Being a gradualist, I don't favor just opening them without taking adequate precautions and wartime is not the best time to start such experiments as a practical matter. But as an end state, I'd like the world to get to the point where borders are a minor formality.

There are people who never want that to happen. They're commonly labeled xenophobes. I've even met a few who consciously and purposefully embraced the label for themselves. They are a somewhat small group in my personal experience. Much larger is the restrictionists, the people who think that immigration, in moderation is fine, but the rate of immigration should never exceed the rate of assimilation.

I'm not to unhappy with that idea in principle as a sort of mid-term state on the road to my happy minarchist ultimate society. Keeping the ideology of liberty alive as a persistent majority until we can get government small enough that it doesn't much matter and hemmed in enough that it can't break out of its restraints is an important practical necessity.

The major real world problem lies in another cultural force, multiculturalism, which is absolutely opposed to assimilation. They want a salad bowl instead of a melting pot and preferably without dressing at all. No blending of flavors for them in their worldview. They have been awfully good at reducing the incentives to assimilate and thus the reductionists want to reduce immigration to match the new lower assimilation levels.

And that's where they lose me. Instead of fighting to increase assimilation. They act as if the battle is lost. Instead of even mentioning it to keep it on the political agenda, they simply assume assimilation is a policy area that is beyond their control so they exclusively concentrate on reducing immigration.

What makes things worse is that this tactic is self-destructive. The major difference between the xenophobes (who are almost universally ignored) and the reductionists is in the reductionist willingness to raise immigration if assimilation capability is likewise raised. But by not mentioning assimilation, it is awfully easy to tar reductionists with the xenophobe label.

So why am I ranting on this particular topic? I'm having this very conversation with Mark Krikorian and this is something of a recap of our email. He's a reductionist and seems as if he would be willing to talk more about assimilation if he got some support. So I'm looking at pro-assimilation ideas that reductionists could love and would move them to ease up the pressure against higher immigration quotas.


Posted by TMLutas at 10:29 PM

March 11, 2004

Maybe Not So Funny After All

Virginia Postrel has an amusing article on someone who inherited Chris Rock's phone number. Go read it, it's a blast. Now, imagine this, celebrities change their phone numbers reasonably often to avoid stalkers or enthusiastic fans so this can happen but it's not a very frequent occurrence.

Terrorists change their phone numbers all the time. And some of them are sloppy about phone security. Imagine it isn't Chris Rock's number you've gotten but somebody more famous at the post office than in the pages of Variety. You start getting calls asking seemingly innocent questions and two weeks later you find yourself pulled in for an FBI interrogation, you're always getting searched at airports, or you have odd reports from your friends and acquaintences that people are asking about you and what interests you have.

All of a sudden it stops being funny, doesn't it.

Posted by TMLutas at 03:40 PM

March 10, 2004

Acting White

The most annoying thing about blacks for me has always been their self-destructive habit of equating successful behavior with "acting white" and characterizing such behavior as a brand of race treason. This sabotage of black success turns out not only to be powerful but to be a sociological equilibrium point, that is, a stable state that is hard for a group to shift out of.

This phenomenon is probably the largest challenge of race relations today. Whites want an end to affirmative action because they perceive this sort of limiting behavior as not their fault but that they pay a price in continuing reverse discrimination. Blacks have not been very forthcoming in admitting that some of their lower performance on a wide variety of statistics is due to their own contempt for those amongst them who "act white" and succeed.

Things get even more complicated in that nobody seems to have a clue as to how much of the difference in performance is due to "acting white" destructive behavior and how much is due to problems legitimately rooted in racial discrimination today or discrimination in the past. Lots more work has to be done to study this phenomenon to achieve a just balance in phasing out assistance to make up for problems that are rooted in black america's own chosen behavior.

HT: Fried Man

Posted by TMLutas at 08:48 AM

Abortion Irregularities

After reading a rather disturbing article on the sad state of abortion effects research, I have a modest proposal. There shall be no differential between the notification of women who abort and the notification requirements of any other medical procedure or pill. After 3 years either the notification requirements of abortionists shall rise to the level of other procedures or the other procedures will be freed from their notification requirements.

The truth is, today, that there is a reporting differential, there is a research differential, and abortion doesn't come under the same rules as anything else in the medical world because it has a rabid band of fans who view the normal cautions and restrictions put on other medical treatments as violating a woman's right to choose. But is there some right to lesser notification, lesser information, less informed consent than any other procedure or pill? I don't think so. So let's free up the rest of surgery, the rest of the pharmaceutical world. Let hospitals save money by not printing up and tracking all those forms, let no lawsuits go forward based on a lack of information.

It's the only consistent thing to do.

Posted by TMLutas at 07:46 AM

March 06, 2004

Avoiding the End of Europe

Wretcherd points to an excellent AEI speech by Niall Ferguson on the decline and fall of Europe.

It's all very well and good but there is no Hollywood ending here, not even the hope of a concrete plan of action to reverse the tide. In other words, Europe is doomed in its current economic, ethnic, and cultural configuration and there is nothing to do but to wait for the arrival of the minarets.


There is nothing inevitable about the decline of Europe, even in countries that are currently rushing headlong to demographic decline and death. There is a fundamental difference between choosing to face the wall and die and having that be your own alternative.

Christianity is a cultural heritage for Europe's post-christian millions but, more than that, it is a choice. There is an unspoken assumption interwoven through most (including this) "Europe is declining" stories that note post-christianity in the EU, that is that christianity is a spent force. Looking worldwide, this is a laughably inaccurate observation. All sorts of christian churches are gaining not only through births in the 3rd world but through active conversions including most if not all the classic christian faiths of Europe.

Another choice that is presented as an inevitability is a low birth rate, largely an artifact of abortion and birth control. This is a radical choice but it is ludicrous to think that there is no choice and it should not even be presented as a possibility.

A third choice is in assimilation. The US has a much larger assimilation capability than most EU states yet even the US needs to work on assimilation. Europe has its own choices to make in this field.

None of these choices are likely in the next electoral cycle but none of the threats to Europe are likely to come to a head in the next electoral cycle either. The first step is to note the problem. The second step is to define solutions that would work. The third step is to choose and implement the best solutions available. By simply taking real public policy choices off the table a priori, those who are currently projecting a decline in the EU are doing Europe a major disservice. A grave problem such as the death of nations deserves the widest possible discussion regarding the widest possible set of solutions.

If nothing else, the Poles of America will fund and retake Poland as will the Germans of America and so on. They will have the money to do so (European economic decline remember?) the numbers to do so (US has a higher birth rate than many EU states) and the faith to do so (spiritual renewal in US christianity is a subject of history and the present day). If the prospect of sharia and the islmization of Europe does not drive Europeans to take action, the reality that eventually their American cousins will eventually come back is likely to do it.

Go Europe!

Posted by TMLutas at 03:24 PM

March 04, 2004

Free Borders Foolishness

At some level, even Libertarians recognize that borders are necessary to preserve societal identity. This is why the LP doesn't generally permit outsiders to vote in their primaries nor does it endorse the practice of multiple-party endorsement (also known as cross-endorsement). The Libertarian Party, with its ideology of free movement of people across borders, instinctively knows that if it practiced what it preached, it would get swamped and lose its ideological identity. It would continue as a corporation but it would be subject to takeover.

The same is true for states and is the bottom line on decent, non-xenophobic immigration restrictionism. For the restrictionist who is not motivated by bigotry, the problem has to come down to whether these immigrants will gain the ability to swamp natives and destroy the society that currently exists. For the United States, this is a real problem because traditionally it has been very easy to become a voting citizen and there is little that cannot be changed in US law with a persistent enough majority.

The reason that people come to the United States is that they want a better life than they can realistically get for themselves or their children (the latter is more common than you might think). Very often though, immigrants bring with them the seeds of cultural, economic, and political attitudes that made their own country such a mess and, given a quick vote and no change in attitude, they will vote that way. They don't generally intend to destroy the society they have sacrificed much to join but that's the way they vote.

This isn't just a theoretical exercise for me. I know plenty of immigrants who seriously do not understand the US. They do so in different ways. Some are fearful of 'the jews', others of economic exploitation, others just are really unhappy with US culture and all its liberties. It varies widely and I will betray no confidences.

With time and assimilation, such attitudes soften, often completely reversing. The american experience often changes opinions as observation convinces people that though they may not understand it, all these crazy innovations that shouldn't work, do work and they work better than back in the old country.

Mexico may be lobbying for an amnesty or more guest workers but they'd get an awfully lot further if they took the bold step of saying that mexican ethnic migrants, temporary or permanent, would do very well to learn the way they do things up north and ask that assimilation assistance and even enhanced assimilation requirements be paired with increased mexican immigration.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:58 PM

Restrictionist Follies

I've found Mark Krikorian to be a generally civilized immigration restrictionist. He answers his mail (I've corresponded with him) and is generally thoughtful in his positions. I just can't understand how he misses the lay of the land on immigration. The solution to restrictionist concerns is, and has always been, in bludgeoning high immigration advocates with the fact that assimilation is badly broken and needs to get fixed at least as much as the visa regime needs to get fixed.

His recent item in The Corner lays the essential facts out cogently but he doesn't make the final necessary step to create a durable majoritarian synthesis between civilized restrictionists, the increased immigration crowd, and the economic interests who want an increase in the labor force. It isn't about immigration at the fundamental level. It is about assimilation and preserving a broad consensus that will retain and even improve America as the best country on the planet.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:06 AM

March 03, 2004

Population Assumptions

One of the assumptions interwoven into our financial lives is the long-term appreciation of real estate. The common phrase "God isn't making any more land" to imply that buying property now will lead to appreciation and a nice retirement nest egg decades later only holds true if population increases over those decades.

The opposite is also mostly true. God isn't destroying much land either. Sure, you have a Krakatoa or an Atlantis every once in awhile but that's a fluke if it happens during your lifetime. If the population drops in absolute numbers and also ages, you end up with a secular lower demand for land. This has huge implications for the real estate market and how to create retirement nest eggs in the 2050 and beyond period where world population is supposed to stabilize and then shrink somewhat. I'll barely miss this trend but my children won't.

Long-term fortunes have always depended on stable rental income. Great merchant houses have often arisen over history but they always buy land to hedge their bets once they have accumulated their fortunes. But with land a depreciating, not appreciating asset, the whole financial calculus of buying a house building equity and using that equity for a retirement nest egg goes out the window.

And, tick tock, tick tock, nobody even worries about it.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:37 PM

March 02, 2004

Gay Marriage: Baseline Documents I

In previous articles, I've mentioned that somewhere between 800 and a thousand laws are affected by marriage in the US. According to this GAO report in 1997 it seems that I've grossly undercounted. There are at least 1049 federal laws that deal with marriage in the US Code (in the last 7 years, they might have increased). State, county, and municipal codes undoubtedly provide many more laws that would need to be adjusted and reviewed.

The GAO report is available on their offical website here, in PDF format.

As far as I can tell, this also does not include common law privileges like the spousal privileges in the Federal Rules of Evidence.

Some treaty law is included in federal marriage law, a wrinkle that I've yet to see examined in any way, reasonable or unreasonable including significant language regarding spousal rights to indian treaty lands. Since each tribe has their own traditions and beliefs and individual treaties with the United States, I somehow doubt that this is going to play out simply.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:00 PM

Renewed Marriage Assault: The Single Strike Back

In an illustration of how other groups against the privileged marriage position of heterosexual monogamy will try to latch on to any success in legalizing gay marriage, the single have ramped up their longstanding criticisms of marriage.

The criticism of singles of the privileges of the married are of long standing. The marriage penalty in the tax code, for example, is the legacy of a previous generation's assault on the 'pro-marriage unfairness' of the original US tax code. The original 'marriage bonus' allowed a single earner two parent family to greatly reduce their tax liability vis a vis a single household. When two income families became more the norm, the tax code became unfair for the married and it took decades for elimination of the marriage penalty to be put into law.

The problem of preference of the married over the unmarried is one that needs to be addressed in any discussion of civil marriage. What are those that are privileged contributing that makes the preferential treatment deserved? The same arguments that gay marriage advocates are busy trying to discredit are the ones used in justifying the privilege over the single in the first place. Yet I haven't seen any gay marriage advocates seriously address how they are superior to single people and why they should be privileged in law over them.

If the conservative vision of gay marriage that Andrew Sullivan trumpets is to have any meaning whatsoever, gay marriage advocates have to come up with some way to defend the new dividing line that they advocate. Otherwise they are just a useful stalking horse for the ultimate elimination of marriage by covert and dishonest means.

We can have a discussion over whether marriage should even exist as a civil act or not. But it should be an explicit, honest discussion and adjust social policy in a holistic way that doesn't wreck numerous aspects of government policy by accident.

Posted by TMLutas at 03:21 PM

February 29, 2004

The Harm In Gay Marriages

I challenge anybody who advocates gay marriages to produce someone on either side of the issue who foresaw this:

In another development related to the weddings, the Social Security Administration has told its offices nationwide not to accept marriage certificates from San Francisco as proof of identification for newlyweds looking to make name changes on Social Security cards.

A woman in San Francisco who gets married has lost the ability to have her name changed on the basis of a county emitted marriage license. It doesn't matter if she's married a man or a woman, she's lost that right. But the judges continue to declare "what's the harm?" and refuse to file injunctions.

Rod Dreher is the first I've seen to dare breath the big problem. Liberal elites who refuse to enforce the law are engaged in a creeping coup according to him. I wouldn't quite go that far yet because of the severe consequences such an act would bring, but that's the risk. Doing this through the judiciary instead of the legislature is going to lead to a loss of faith that the people actually govern here. In an armed society this is insanity, worse, it will destroy our current order without even working.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:08 AM

February 24, 2004

Gay v Conservative: Andrew Sullivan's Internal Struggle

A new article by Andrew Sullivan talks about the need to reduce government redistribution to improve tolerance of diversity. The goal, in the end, is to make "marriage becomes less explicitly religious as a social institution and more explicitly civil" as he puts things.

The problem is that there is remarkably little examination out there of what are the civil requirements of marriage and why are we doing civil marriage at all. If there is any reason to provide licenses and contractual advantages, it is not to legitimate love, a sense of acceptance or belonging. None of these are valid state purposes to spend money on or rearrange our legal, economic, or social affairs with the force of law behind them.

If gay marriage has any merit behind it, it is in a shared sense of love to our partners (no matter the morals of choosing that particular partner). The question really becomes why should love be supported in the civil structure, especially in such an extensive manner (hundreds of laws, remember?) as we do for marriage.

Gay marriage really hasn't passed that test and its advocates have not even begun to make the case. Conservatism and gay marriage are not reconciled by a mere propensity of gay marriage to reduce the redistributive impulse in society. There must be a positive case made civilly why such marriages strengthen society. All the love and shared hopes of people in the world don't justify it.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:12 AM

February 19, 2004

Parallel Legal Systems

Paul Marshall is somewhat in error when he declares that there are no ready analogues between muslim clerics and any familiar western institution. There is at least one, and that is the church tribunal, especially the Catholic system of canon law. To view imams as canon lawyers and officials in a parallel religious code is to both fix Iraq's situation in the familiar and point the way out.

Canon lawyers and religious courts for Catholics exist quite easily in parallel with secular law, so easily that non-Catholics often don't even realize that such things exist. Now I'm not an expert in religious law but I know that we have plenty of them around. If the problem is the tension between religious law, Islamic law, and the rules of the road that the functioning core of the world generally follows, the parallel solution seems to me to be a reasonable way out of the controversy. If there shall be no compulsion in religion, as islamic moderates are fond of pointing out, then an islamic judgment cannot properly be compelled. It is not something that is properly enforced by the state.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:50 AM

Gay Marriage Update VI

Jonah Goldberg identifies why we'll be forced to keep at the gay marriage debate to resolution. In summary, it's the bad faith of the pro-gay marriage side. For every Andrew Sullivan who claims that gay marriage will just be for those jurisdictions who want it, there is an army of activists ready and waiting to start up suits in every jurisdiction in the land to force the issue and create a new Roe v Wade to enshrine their 'rights' whether they are correct or not.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:42 AM

Core/Gap I

I just finished reading the book version of The Pentagon's New Map.


More later...

Posted by TMLutas at 09:35 AM

February 18, 2004

It's a Mess: Important and Utterly Ignored

Evan Kirchhoff's latest response on the San Francisco gay marriage circus includes this gem:

I don't find the "it's a mess" objection to be compelling, since it amounts to a generic objection to the federalist system as a whole.

The converse objection is that, in spite of various state legislatures resolving not to recognize the gay marriages of other states, gay marriage in one state will inexorably propagate to other states. But if that's the case, then we don't actually have a federalist system (with latitude for local experiments, etc.) after all, but rather some kind of broken hybrid that collapses at the first sign of substantive interstate disagreement. If so, this issue reduces to a zero-sum fight for American gay marriage everywhere or nowhere, and we all need to choose up sides accordingly. This might turn out to be true -- but it would hardly be Gavin Newsom's fault.

Actually, there are all sorts of interstate initiatives that provide for the reconciliation of state laws where things spill over across borders. There are regional, ideological, and national governor's associations, for example. There is a Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) for example that enhances the ability to do multi-state business.

When the goal is to create a consensus, people go through these multi-state bodies and try to work out how to present a skeleton, a set of basic items that each state can adopt and add on its own flourishes as it chooses, leaving the basics consistent between states. Clearly, the method adopted by gay activists is not a consensus based pro-consistency approach.

The problem is that by doing an end run around the entire machinery of democratic governance, the policy outcomes are going to be haphazard and a mess for decades. Screwing up marriage screws up a lot of lives and the people deserve better than some half-baked patchwork.

So, in the end, we do have a federal system and states can experiment. But there are costs to that experimentation and such experiments need to be evaluated with the failures mercy killed and the successes exported. We've got an entire national infrastructure for working this type of problem out over time through legislative and executive action. The judiciary sort of follows on at the end of the process.

So, can we just dump this entire machinery overboard? Sure, there's nothing except practicality and good policy results that we're sacrificing. Oh, and likely we're sacrificing a bunch of other things but we can't be bothered to even count up the cost. We're all in a rush and we needn't confuse ourselves with facts.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:32 PM

February 17, 2004

Gay Marriage Sophistry II

Evan Kirchhoff's toed the line and the bell's rung. None of this Queensbury rules sissy stuff, this is going 'old style' so hold on to your hats folks, this may take awhile.

[For the humor impaired, I'm not mad, and I suspect neither is Kirchoff]

First, let's lay out the terrain. There are two types of sovereign governing structures in the US governmental system, the federal government and the state governments. Notice what's not there. There are no counties, municipalities, special districts of any sort, parishes, or boroughs. None of these other entities are privileged as sovereign. They are created, and may be destroyed by the sovereign government that created them. Most of these are created by the states but the District of Columbia is created by the Federal Government.

Now such wholesale rearrangement is not very comfortable so it doesn't happen very often but that does not affect the Federal Government's ability to give Maryland back it's land and move the capital to North Dakota if it can persuade ND to give up some of its territory for the purpose (no more that 10 sq miles, by law (Art I Sec 8)). Similarly, if Gov. Schwarzenegger could persuade enough of the State Legislature, he could take over San Francisco and run it directly until it was reorganized to his liking.

County and city governments are subordinate creatures of the governments of the state they exist in. So, strictly speaking, the State of California lets the people play with a local budget and a local government as a convenience. They do so in the knowledge that most of the time things are run better locally. That most of the time is generally considered 6 '9s' reliable (99.9999%) but there are lots of cases where a city goes broke or the local government goes completely bonkers and the state steps in, sometimes with troops, other times with accountants.

Why is this relevant? It goes to the heart of the suit challenging the actions:

If the plaintiffs in the pending cases are allowed to sue, city attorneys predict that the centerpiece of the argument will focus on an obscure section of the state constitution that bars administrative agencies from declaring a statute unconstitutional.

Chief Deputy City Attorney Therese Stewart said that they would argue that the provision doesn't apply to local governments or Newsom's decision to defy the state laws governing marriage.

Essentially, the government of San Francisco is making the argument that it could not simply be dissolved by act of the legislature like any other administrative creation. It, in essence, is arguing that it has some form of sovereignty. Now isn't that a nice power grab!

Now that we've laid out the ring, the first question is whether this is serious or a joke. Kerchoff seems to be of two minds on the question.

Is it a symbol of no real significance, a joke of a license that only has symbolic effect?

Well, I don't know, but I hadn't realized that when the mayor turns up at a ribbon-cutting or declares National Pug Day or issues a giant golden "key to the city" that (shh, don't tell anyone) does not actually open any doors in the city, the Republic teeters on a greasy incline to hell.

Or is this something serious that could have legal effect, being enforced in San Francisco and elsewhere?

Now, I admit that I'm laboring under the handicap of reading local papers that aren't calling me an idiot, but I note today that my interpretation of Prop 22 seems to be shared by at least one member of the state legislature:

So, I guess in the metaphor of the first quote, the legislation would mandate changing all the locks so that the key to the city actually would open up all the doors. But looking further at the legislation, it becomes even clearer that we're in rarified insanity land.

The legislation (according to the linked article) is introduced by a state legislator to the state legislature but gives people federal rights. Do I need to say how stupid this is? It also gives people rights to have their marriages recognized in other states which should make the legislatures of the 49 other states sit up and notice as they, I'm sure, didn't realize that you could do that sort of thing.

It would be kind to limit legislative commentary to three words, moon bat city.

So, what do we have here, a city official deciding the constitutionality of settled state law, raising executive supremacy in a particularly stupid way. Proposition 22 is no mere judicial order and Newsom is no Andrew Jackson. Standing against a referendum like this is entirely undemocratic governance.

Now, the major power of legislatures is the power of the purse. If you're not allowed to do something like spend money on gay marriage licenses, it doesn't matter whether you shift funds around and pull it out of contingency funds, you're not allowed to spend money on it. The spending of that first dollar is a defiance of the law. Recently, the DoD was barred from spending any money on the Total Information Awareness initiative. If Evan Kirchoff's loose accounting rules would apply, DoD could simply cut down on magazine subscriptions and fund it anyway.

Fortunately, if people did that sort of thing, they would end up in jail. In fact, the large bulk of the Iran/Contra scandal was a question of whether or not that is exactly what the Reagan administration did. Now Reagan actually had serious lawyers on his staff and he skirted the prohibitions sufficiently so that, at least on appeal, nobody ended up in the big house but this particular case isn't even close. It's government personnel using government resources in a government office to provide a service that they are barred from doing by California law.

There seems to be a gay marriage fever epidemic breaking out across the land. The infected lose all sense of proportion and are prepared to rip apart all precedent, all protections, all legality just to get what they want enshrined in law. But what will be left of the law after they're done?

Posted by TMLutas at 08:23 PM

Gay Marriage Update V

Andrew Sullivan is being a bit disingenuous when he claims that it's settled law that marriage is not federal. The entire phenomenon of gay marriage has been settled law for just as long and a few judges are in the process of changing that. The day after the first Massachusetts ruling I turned on NPR on a trip to a client and they were interviewing a gay rights activist clearly making the case that as soon as Massachusetts is settled, gays will be marrying and fanning out across the land to start court cases to get gay marriage recognized in other states.

As (ed: As Andrew Sullivan is) a politically active gay man who champions this issue, I find it extremely hard to believe that Andrew Sullivan is unaware that this is settled strategy in significant portions of gay activists. And if he were aware of it, he has an obligation to call out his fellow gays and tell them to cut it out if he truly believed that this is only going to be for Massachusetts, that marriage should not be federalized.

The gay campaign is revealing itself as low and dishonest.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:40 PM

Gay Marriage Practicalities

Michael Friedman of Fried Man asks an eminently sensible question, what are the practical legal consequences of gay marriage? Some of the ideas he presents there I already had thought of but one surprised me, the idea of retroactive common law marriage. Oh what a mess that would be.

Of course, if the facts don't matter. If you are just going to tear things up and enter a brave new world without properly examining things first then, oh well, who cares if the courts are clogged, justice is denied, all sorts of effort go into sorting out the mess and the whole system is swamped, leaving the most vulnerable (children of divorce) even more out in the cold than before. Who cares about them anyway? They don't make good campaign workers and don't contribute to politicians.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:32 PM

Gay Marriage Sophistry

Evan Kirchhoff's completely gone off the rails as he wonders what's wrong with City Hall issuing invalid marriage licenses. The power of the purse is the fundamental ability of the legislature to control the executive. The executive violates the law anytime they spend even a penny that is not authorized by the legislature. This is at the very heart of our political system and you monkey with this at your peril.

If the executive can make illegitimate expenditures in principle where are we to draw the line? How much money can the executive spend in contravention of the legislature? Do I really need to spell out how stupid and self-destructive this thing is to our free society?

Posted by TMLutas at 12:05 PM

Letter to the Paper IV

City Comforts has the current lead in the race for the most unthinking and simplistic endorsement of polygamy yet:

Oh my. Do you actually think at all about the reasons against polygamy or does your 'whatever floats your boat' principles override any examination of the reality of polygamy?

The truth is that polygamy is almost always one man multiple women and that setup tends to profoundly affect civil order for the worse. Large pools of men who have no realistic hope of ever getting wives are a recipe for revolution.

To make any sort of accommodation to the polygamist, you have to think carefully about all the negative consequences, tote up the price that society will have to pay to survive the legalization of the institution and then make an informed decision.

The history of the harem is long and has been examined, though not lately. The only recent article I know of was an issue of National Review years ago (can't find it on the web). The bottom line was that high status women and low status men lost in this social arrangement. From a civil order perspective the high status weren't such a problem but those low status men...

He has comments off on this post (and no wonder) so I'm posting here.

Apparently I get results because the original post has been pulled.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:54 AM

February 16, 2004

Gay Marriage Update IV

In my plowing through my RealClear Politics backlog, I see that Bill Maher has decided to open up his dim bulb on the subject of love and marriage and state intervention in same. I don't especially have a problem with his observations but it's clear that he hasn't thought this through by the way he breezily advocates the idea that the state get out of the marriage business. He's talking about shifting over a thousand federal and state laws around (and who knows how many county and municipality ones, nobody's bothered to even count those), controlling the ripple effects so any bad side effects don't swamp the good ones of reducing government, and does it with the easy breezy manner of someone who thinks such major surgery on the legal system would be painless.

I know he's a comedian but he also likes to style himself as something of a social critic. I know high school children who make better in-depth analysis than he does. Would it have killed him to devote even two lines to the difficulty of extracting marriage from the clutches of the state?

Unfortunately, Maher is not alone, nor does he even represent the worst of this trend. Whatever people decide in the end, changing and shifting marriage is major, societally risky change. It shouldn't be entered into lightly.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:05 AM

February 15, 2004

Net Abuse, Net Cops

This is a comment I left on Argus

Given an IP number, you can find out who it is assigned to, in this case Research Machines, PLC in Great Britain. There is an email in the RIPE record in the link for reporting abuse emanating from that IP address. Given good logs at Research Machines and a time stamp of the abusive posting, they would be able to identify, and deal with, a case of actual abuse.

Not everybody keeps good logs. I don't think the post referred to in the story is actually abusive. But you should know that Internet traffic is not anonymous. It is pseudonymous and people can be tracked if you have good administrators who leave no un-logged holes. Our networks are like a spider web and the administrator can always make a meal out of an annoying bug traveling his domain. We usually just don't feel like it for our own reasons.

Most people don't understand exactly how much net freedom depends on administrator feigned and actual incompetence. It is a mostly untold pro-liberty story. An administrator can log everything, lock down all computers, require positive authorization for all traffic in and out of his net. All this is there because there are actual businesses where this is a requirement and it's cheaper just to roll out one version and have it turned off by default. Letting our bosses know this exists is generally at the discretion of the administrator. Turning it on is generally at the discretion of the administrator. Initiating felony prosecutions is generally at the discretion of the administrator.

And usually we don't turn it on, we avert our eyes to the petty crimes we witness and we clean up your electron trail in a way that won't get us in trouble. Every administrator has his own personal code of morality on these things and I don't think it wise to share mine but I will say that there have been times when I broke into employee mailboxes and times that I refused (same company, actually my interpretation of the relevant legal codes was what carried the day over a VP's demand).

The difference between anonymous and pseudonymous internet access is the insertion of an administrator somewhere along the traffic chain who refuses to log, refuses to track, and refuses to give up his secrets. Long may this net regime reign.

Posted by TMLutas at 04:28 PM

February 13, 2004

Soft Xenophobia

The Bit Bucket has an article on the soft xenophobia of the more reasonable immigration restrictionists. I'm in a bit of a quandary. I agree that the soft xenophobia is there but I'm also unhappy about the other part of the article:

The fact that Californians don't do things like Washingtonians--or that Oregonians are annoyed by the presence of Californians--doesn't necessarily make Californians' presence in those states a social cost. And (aside from the purely pragmatic consideration of avoiding an electoral backlash) I don't see why advocates of liberal immigration laws should take those "costs" into account when evaluating immigration policies.

In the computer field, this sort of sentiment is often rendered "it's a feature, not a bug". But for some people, such 'features' are bugs. Who gets to decide? Unfortunately, the article smells of "we know better than you and we wil decide", an attitude that I am deeply suspicious of.

Ultimately, public policy is determined by the public and the xenophobic have as much right to participate and should have their voices heard as much as xenophilic integrationists like me (ie I'm in favor of a rich melting pot experience with lots of assimilated immigrants). Ultimately, the xenophobics cut off their nose to spite their face but in a free country they have the right to do that and we should give them enough societal room to accomplish the task as long as the blood spatter doesn't reach the more sensible among us.

Ultimately, in a free society, costs are determined individually, not collectively. You can ultimately overrule unreasonable cost perceptions but these perceptions must be recognized as existing and be given some status in a free and just society. Interests must be accommodated peacefully or they will eventually mutate and become unhealthy.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:37 PM

February 11, 2004

To Boycott or Not to Boycott II

Evan Kirchoff continued the MTV conversation with me in his latest post. I think that his objections don't stand up too well. First, boycott's are not always economic negatives. The Last Temptation of Christ spent very little on advertising because they knew there would be protests, boycotts, and massive interest generated by those acts so they skimped on advertising and did great ticket sales anyway. Banned in Boston was a sure-fire sales promotion tool for decades.

The mere existence of a boycott does not mean that the boycottee will be ashamed, shamed, or even suffer a net financial loss. This is historical reality. Badly designed boycotts backfire to the financial and reputational benefit of those subject to them.

The problem of coercion is being brought up through the back door and needs more detailed treatment:

Secondly, I don't agree that what they're doing is necessarily "healthy" or "freedom-friendly". Among other things, they're apparently attempting to get cable companies (local monopolies in some areas) to remove MTV from the channels they offer. I don't think this is especially likely to occur (although I can imagine more modest goals that could succeed), but I fundamentally disagree with them about the morality of the attempt. It's not "censorship", since the government's not involved and all proposed actions are within the context of the marketplace. However, it does amount to a form of cultural bullying. This may be a fuzzy line, but at some point there's a difference between declining to watch something and trying to apply economic leverage to prevent a much larger group from being able to watch something. BoycottMTV.com is begging this question by tossing around words like "sewage" and "trash" -- who could have a legitimate reason to want to watch "trash"?

A boycott recommending the non-purchase of a product is in some ways the negative version of a testimonial. What is being hinted here is two things, that negative opinions are somehow less legitimate than positive ones and that because the negative testimonial comes from more than one person, it somehow has less legitimacy than if the opinion is an isolated, individual one.

But a cultural judgment is also being passed that providing that good, that TV channel is worth withdrawing patronage from the provider. This is where Kirchoff engages in a little sleight of hand. The tail generally does not wag the dog. Boycotts are powerful only when they are large, and many times not even then (see Southern Baptists v. Disney for a current example). Often a boycott group that is too small is not just ineffective, it is ignored as an insignificant asterisk.

Where boycotts are effective are when enough patronage is controlled by those participating to hurt the bottom line or, in the case of a monopoly, are large enough to carry a vote stripping that monopoly right. But if the stripping of that monopoly is done to permit a second, competitive cable carrier to compete, I can't see where the harm is in that.

Finally, I have to say that the idea that there is no reason to consume trash is an insult to trashy romance novels, Jerry Springer, and other entire genres of entertainment that are sold explicitly as having little to no redeeming social value. Trash has sold, and sold well in the past, the present, and will likely sell well in the future.

The question today is whether you can live your life and raise your children fully engaged in society without being forced to bring this into your house? Ultimately, technology is coming down the pike which will make this debate moot. Until then, we're likely to continue to debate how much in the shadows the disreputable forms of entertainment will have stay.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:01 PM

To Boycott or Not to Boycott

Which market niches should remain unfilled? That's the question being pondered by Evan Kirchoff over at 101-280 in response to the creation of BoycottMTV.com. It's an interesting debate here because both sides agree that government restrictions are not the answer.

I have to side with boycott MTV on this one. If libertarianism has any distinction from libertinism it is in the ability of people who wish to maintain and promulgate moral standards to freely espouse and associate with similarly minded people for the purpose of advocating their ideas of morality. Evan Kirchoff thinks that this is a bad idea because the moralists might win, and win too easily.

I find this unpersuasive. I have no doubt that there are hardy capitalists who have robust business plans that will survive boycotts to present the kind of degenerate smut that is in penthouse, much less MTV. My sympathy for them is somewhat limited. Aw, they have to adjust their business plans to create new revenue models, poor babies.

I think that they should not be prevented by the state from their consensual business but I think that moral disapproval, where felt, needs to have healthy freedom-friendly outlets where it can express itself otherwise it'll come out in unhealthier forms like a rock through a window or worse.

Ultimately, the solution is to sever the link between advertisers sponsoring programs and make the advertising relationship between the advertisers and the consumers with consumers being paid to watch ads and buying up the programs of their choice with the ad credits they have earned.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:25 PM

German Brain Drain

Besides keeping military conscription so they can afford to staff their hospitals Germans have other labor problems. The economic system is apparently so tilted against achievement and quality that the best and brightest are packing up and leaving.

This phenomena is not new but the pain it causes is cumulative. When on brilliant mind is no longer there to inspire the next generation at University, it's something of a blow, but when people start thinking that the best are all leaving, a perverse social pressure starts and if you're committed to staying, you start to be viewed as an odd bird, a patriotic odd bird but definitely an odd bird. And if you stay, you are no longer surrounded by other first rate minds but by their left behind 2nd's and 3rd's.

The funny thing is that to maintain this situation takes active efforts on the part of the German State. Even a young immigrant like me sometimes feels the pull to go back home (in my case, Romania) a pull that must be counteracted by severe beatings rendered in the form of regulation, xenophobia, high taxes, and a rigid society. You can't do much about the xenophobia and societal rigidness but high taxes and intrusive regulation are entirely within the government's powers to ease. Yet they don't, or at least only at a glacial speed.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:39 AM

February 07, 2004

Airline Security Militia

Glenn Reynold's item on a felon who snuck onto a plane and was noticed and caught by passengers brings up two words that grace the law books of every state and the federal government "unorganized militia". The whole of the people are the ultimate security force and it is a largely unexamined topic of how much they are awake, alert, and form a functional part of the national security structure that protects the United States.

At the very least, this is a subject that needs a lot more thought.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:37 AM

February 05, 2004

Can a State Ban Marriage?

In the US view of rights, a right is something that is recognized, not granted. The people are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. Government may recognize them, support them, but if it oppresses them, the people have a right to rebel. So, looking at things that way, is there a right to civil marriage?

I'm not asking whether this would be good, smart, stupid, or evil. I'm asking whether the government's positive steps to recognize civil marriage are a constitutional requirement in any state or under the US federal constitution?

This question has two relevant implications. If you answer no, it is not a constitutional requirement and states can ban all marriages, then the position that gay marriage is a civil right is injured. But if you answer yes, states have to marry, you directly kill one of the fairly popular alternatives in the gay marriage debates, take the state out of the question entirely. The heart of things really is why does the state inject itself into marriage?


Posted by TMLutas at 03:40 PM

Putting an End to the Freak Show

Peggy Noonan's most recent Wall Street Journal column laments the return of the pre 9/11 freak show. Seriousness is gone, we're obsessed by trivialities again, she worries, and it's all downhill again.

I'm certainly not encouraged by the entire affair but I think Noonan is missing a few things. The major cultural transmission entities that make up mass media are all gasping for air. They're losing customers, there are technological alternatives building to break their distributional monopolies, and these two factors combined say something very healthy about the american people, if not the american elite.

The RIAA and the entire music distribution mafia is breaking down. iTunes with its music store is just one example of the revolution to come. As music is freed from its physical media and internet distribution becomes the norm, the arbiters of taste and culture that have currently dominated will no longer be able to distort the market with lowest common denominator music. Movies will follow the same path of narrowcasting and segmentation. There will be low brow culture, but it will not dominate.

The proof that it will not dominate is the draining away of consumers. I do not purchase as much music or see as many movies as I used to. I spent a year without TV at the beginning of my marriage in order to get closer to my wife (who I had not known all that long before we got married). When we finally got a TV we were both shocked at how much more degraded the entire spectrum of programming was from what we remembered a year prior. It was just stupid, idiotic, and tinged with just enough evil to make much of it creepy.

But it's not just me. The statistics kept by the networks and the RIAA both show that their market is shrinking. This leaves an opening for new entrants to provide what people want. In the past, high barriers to entry would prevent the market from shifting rapidly but today technology is rapidly lowering market barriers. The US Army is going to be driving the adoption of IPv6 starting a bit later this decade and IPv6 with its Quality of Service (QoS) packets enables unregulated, low cost net broadcasting.

We're on the verge of a new era in cultural expression. If we work hard to prepare for it, it may just end up being a positive experience.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:54 AM

February 04, 2004

Failed Imagination

Samizdata has a great article on the Fixed Quantity Fallacy, the idea that there is only a fixed quantity of (insert good or service) and once those are supplied, the market is filled and that's it. Every other supplier is out of luck.

The point about the Fixed Quantity of [fill in the blank] Fallacy is that people facing a price plummet spot one consequence immediately which is a very definite win-lose situation, but they fail utterly to spot the other massively more huge benefit, which is an equally definite and far bigger win-win situation.

That's it, in a nutshell. A failure of imagination, a conspiracy of little minds is the cause of the fear of change, the fear that trade will take away job, the birth of protectionism that protects the few at the cost of the many. This pattern repeats again and again, in industry after industry, company after company, country after country. What is its source? What is the cure? Now that's a bit of innovation that would cure a great many ills; a pity nobody's imagined it yet.

Posted by TMLutas at 05:18 PM

Taxes Are Addiction Breaking: Right

Jacob Sullum has a great observation on the hypocrisy of the "tobacco is addictive" brigade. He notes that the same people who were in the forefront of the fight to declare tobacco is addictive advocate a $2 per pack tax that they now predict will cause 5 million addicts to drop smoking.

In non-libertarian longhand, this is nonsense because addictive substances are highly price insensitive. If you're a true addict, you don't much care how much it costs. You'll do what it takes including turning to a life of crime to get your fix. But smokers, apparently, are a new kind of addict, an addict that responds to incentives just like it was a normal habit. What a sad con. We don't need the attitude that anything is justified as long as it helps get rid of that demon weed. We've had that enough with industrial hemp politics.

Posted by TMLutas at 04:34 PM

February 03, 2004

Why Do Liberals Howl Over Small Budget Cuts

David Bernstein notes that the NY Times and Washington Post are making a very big deal over the elimination of 65 programs and the trimming of 63 others to produce a 0.2% cut in the federal budget over the baseline (which already has a natural positive slope built into it).

I think what he fails to see is that liberals view little government programs as acorns from which mighty oaks can grow. Instituting a program is always the hard part. After that, human nature in the bureaucracy leads to continual efforts to enlarge each of these acorns in order to further the careers of the bureaucrats running the programs. Individually, it's all small beer but sow enough acorns and you end up with a socialist (or social democratic if you swing that way) forest filled with significantly sized programs that are difficult to uproot. Taking out small programs is like taking out the seedlings. It is only insignificant if you are shortsighted and imagine the effects only in the next few years.

For the suburban minded, skip the oak metaphor, and imagine the programs as young crabgrass plants. The growth patterns might be a bit more appropriate.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:01 PM

February 02, 2004

Gay Marriage Q&A I

Prof Larry Ribstein has an interesting post laying out some of the basic questions on marriage. He phrases it in the context of the presidential race but these same questions could be asked of any of the partisans. It would be interesting to get all of the major players in the debate to answer the same questions and put up all the answers next to each other, voting guide style.

The questions aren't easy to answer and I'm not just going to throw up a glib, short response. I'll think it over and respond a bit later but read the questions yourself. You might find some issues you hadn't even considered up until now.

Posted by TMLutas at 03:28 PM

January 30, 2004

The Cure For Left Wing Architects

Over at Samizdata, this article provides a good overview at the effects of the current architectural process in tilting towards statist politics.

Architects are planners. Forgive me yet another obvious assertion but the point is that there is little that the architect imagines cannot be planned. If you can design a house, you can design furniture for that house or the city in which that house is located, so goes the thinking. If a chair, a house, a city, why not an economy?

I think that, to a great extent, the problem of zoning and the problem of leftist politics is a problem of the primitive state of the architectural specification document. A vague, simple request "build me an office building for 500 people" becomes a veritable blank slate for the architect to imagine that he can behave as a little Stalin, redrawing border at whim, a miniature Pol Pot moving entire populations to his decree, the power is positively giddy and the blank sheet of paper is a good analogue for the vision of mankind as mere modeling clay to be shaped to the architect's desire.

In order to keep down the negative externalities of maniacal architects and aesthetically twisted and nasty, vengeful owners, zoning was instituted. But wouldn't the process of societal accommodation be furthered by opening up the spec document instead? Wouldn't the aesthetic impulse be better spent on the front end in presenting an architect with a rich document that will sail through the neighborhood approval process rather than a spare document that creates the illusion that the community interests are only a barrier that must be crossed in the political process of plan approval?

There may indeed be an architectural vocation, but imagining the task of creating community as being like a Michelangelo working on his statuary does violence to the communitarian essence of architecture. Instead of the artist in the salon, architects would do well to look at Wikimedia's construction style. I am amazed at Wikipedia and will occasionally contribute minor improvements where I can. For the most part they are accepted but I've been ruthlessly excised where I've transgressed.

There is no reason for a community not to build and rework their physical infrastructure in a similar manner. Certainly moving cement and wood around is a great deal slower and more expensive than slinging electrons around but the same voluntary community spirit would produce good results. And it would certainly be more participative, more efficient, and less expensive than the complicated zoning board process that plagues so many decisions currently.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:16 PM

January 28, 2004

Public Health Disaster in the Making?

This rather alarming warning about a 1918 level flu virus mutation. In this season of worrying about terrorist attacks, it's essential that we don't forget that a natural little virus can out kill a conventional world war.

So, are we any better prepared than in 1918? Do we really want to solve our pensions crisis by letting so many of the pensioners die? Apparently, the life expectancy of the US dropped 10 years with that one major flu outbreak.

The 'on the other hand' problem is panic. We've gone decades without a major outbreak. Starting a panic could lead to economic problems and a lot of scared, angry people who have little to really worry about.

HT: RealClear Politics

Posted by TMLutas at 12:19 PM

January 26, 2004

German Indentured Servitude

In an overall excellent article on the new FRG military reforms comes this shocker:

But this is a classic example of that old rule that when a committee starts out to draw a horse, it produces a camel. The hands of committees of politicians are all over this. Struck had initially spoken of scrapping the German draft, but this plan retains it, pleading that the next election of 2006 should precede such a decision. The reality is that the Health minister, whose hospitals depend on the 90,000 young Germans who choose voluntary welfare service rather than a military uniform for the conscription term, blanched at the thought of the costs of replacing them.

Martin Walker, the Washington Bureau Chief of the UPI has a great story there. Essentially the draft is a specialized form of indentured servitude. It is required to gather people for the highly dangerous job of risking life and limb for your country. General western opinion is that even this dangerous task is better done via a committed staff of volunteers. To maintain a system of conscription in order to fill personnel slots in the health care system reveals a deep economic and moral bankruptcy. It says, we can't fund our own health care without enslaving people to serve as involuntary workers and we don't care what the moral implications of this involuntary servitude is.

Posted by TMLutas at 04:05 PM

A Minarchist Approach to Homelessness

Let's say that this program actually solves the problem of homelessness for the mentally ill and drug abusers who dominate the hard core of those permanently without shelter at a reasonable cost. Currently the program is funded by a mishmash of public and private funding sources.

The problem with public funding is threefold. Political pressures to cut spending may yield across the board cuts that hamstring a program. Isolating a working charitable institution from such pressures is a positive step. But even with stable funding enshrined into law, it is neither right, nor just to force people who may be on the brink of homelessness themselves to pay for such an effort. But worst of all, public funding brings along with it a restriction on the obligations you can require of participants in the program. I can easily see how the ACLU might bring a lawsuit that a rent paying publicly funded housing unit cannot lock out its residents as the Ohio program does.

A superior solution would be to establish a fund that would invest and out of the profits of those investments pay for these housing units and the staff required to keep them properly running. Those who would seed this fund would know their own finances and could afford their contributions. Societal generosity would create the conditions for a decent program to continue without having to worry about political support and the legal limitations that public funding sometimes brings would be eliminated.

I should have posted my source material, Dean's World

Posted by TMLutas at 11:09 AM

January 25, 2004

Romanian Moms on the March

Sometimes Burke's little platoons can rise up from the most unexpected places. About Kids is a romanian language forum that deals with standard problems that any parent all over the world can understand and sympathize with. But there are some specific problems that pop up that are unique to Romania.

How much is the proper bribe to get the cleaning staff to actually change your hospital bed sheets is just one example of a whole host of 'gratuity' questions in this poor country with a largely socialized medical system. You would laugh at it, if it didn't break your heart to read about people who don't have money for heat type away at their work accounts and describe the bribe schedule they needed to meet for proper delivery care in the "universal health care" system.

A romanian after her first trip abroad, looks at home with newly opened eyes, remarking that she never realized how stressed everybody was, how grey her surroundings were, how sad everybody looked, until she saw a society (she went to the UK) in the west. Imagine going to the gray skies, wet London and seeing a quantum increase in smiling cheerfulness and a colorful surrounding.

And as the complaints pile up of diverted funds, a lack of political accountability for government misdeeds, and the generally horrible conditions that young parents have to face, they're starting to talk about organizing because they know that when there is money for four programs but five compete for that money, it's their program that's going to go underfunded or completely unfunded.

Why there is no money is, of course, that three of those programs shouldn't exist in their current form and the tax money that could theoretically pay for all of it is siphoned off, to a great extent, in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for overlooking accounting irregularities.

but there is little accountability because politicians are elected on party lists. It is impossible to vote for some members of a party but not others. It's all or none and all of the political turkeys are high up on the lists.

Everybody knows the solution, a constitutional amendment to mandate individual member districts. Everybody also knows that such legislation is not a priority for the currently elected political class. They like the current system just fine.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:47 PM

January 24, 2004

HSA Note

Husband works for company X which has a health plan and the company's benefits plan kicks in $x for health benefits.

Wife works for company Y which has a health plan and the company's benefits plan kicks in $y for health benefits.

Today, the couple compares plans and one of them signs up for the benefit for the entire family and the other declines the benefit.

Whoever declines the benefit essentially is taking a pay cut in their compensation package because their spouse has a better benefits package. This makes no sense at all for me.

Imagine, instead, that the family has an HSA account. Wouldn't it make more sense for both employers to kick in their company portion into the account and that's that? I have no idea if this is current law, but if it isn't, it should be.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:20 PM

January 23, 2004

Being Fair to the French

We chuckle over the idea of France's heavy investment in religious fashion policing. I wonder, however, if they're not going about things in a more effective way than we've been giving them credit.

For a cosmopolitan muslim who is not a literalist, who is flexible, who isn't likely to be taken in by a pro-terrorist imam, the restriction on head scarves is a nothing, on par with a restriction on ostentatious crosses. But for someone who is at risk, they are likely to get offended at the head scarf ban long before they get to the 'clothing by Semtex' stage. It's a self-selection that allows, at minimum cost, the separation of the sheep from the goats.

It's a very different way from the way we would go about attacking the problem in the US. It is an open question as to whether it will work or not. Requiring imams in France to acquire and maintain the theological flexibility to support head scarf optional women's clothing is a compromise of more significance than you might think. The ancient dhimma style agreements are unanimous. The muslim authorities have the right and the obligation to restrict non-muslim clothing styles, not the other way around. If you're an imam who can tolerate a role reversal on that, is it really very likely that you'll be outraged at the insolence of equal rights and the omission of the head tax?

It's an economy of force move and should be understood and monitored as to its result before being dismissed as ineffective.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:21 PM

January 22, 2004

Bad Illegals

Immigrants harbor good, hardworking, honest people, and shiftless, lazy criminals bent on theft and destruction. In this, they are no different from the rest of the world, a mix of good and bad. Illegal immigrants, for their willingness to violate laws, their ability to evade lawful authority, and to blend into a sea of people, all with their own code of silence, make it somewhat easier for the bad people among them, and like all incentives, what you incent increases in frequency.

So it is unsurprising that NRO's resident police expert, Jack Dunphy, has a dim view of illegal aliens. As a Los Angeles police officer, he sees the worst that the immigrant community has.

What he doesn't seem to get is that immigration officials are engaged in triage when they refuse to prosecute federal charges of illegal reentry. They have only so many slots to shoehorn in criminal deportations and the sea of immigrants that are caught is too vast to actually enforce the law.

In an overloaded system, triage is a pretty name for an ugly process. In medicine it normally means picking who can wait for treatment and who will be seen immediately. If the system is overwhelmed, it means letting the complicated mortally wounded die so other mortally wounded can live.

In an immigration context, the courts are so jam packed with illegals fighting deportation that only the immediately dangerous will actually get added to that system in order to avoid constitutional violations on the grounds of not providing a speedy trial. At the same time, people are being shoveled into the deportation process for lost paperwork, visa overstays, and a hundred other reasons that aren't the threat of criminal aliens but can't just be ignored.

But if you reduce the number of people who are trying to cross illegally by letting the honest ones in the front door, there will be fewer criminal aliens and no sea of hard working, sympathetic, personally honorable illegals to hide among. If you're an illegal, you're up to no good. You don't have a job. You can't get a normal visa. Who is going to tolerate that? The deportation system won't be so overburdened because deportation of temporary workers is a quick process. Either the person is working or they aren't. Proof of employment presented and next case. No proof presented and it's a straight ride to the nearest relevant border point.

You end up with more available slots, fewer people willing to hide illegal aliens, and a system that is no longer overwhelmed and doesn't have to let the minor criminal aliens go.

And what's wrong with that?

Posted by TMLutas at 10:26 PM

January 21, 2004

State of the Union: Medical Bureaucracy

There are certain very unhappy, very complex realities in our medical system. As government involvement increases there is a decrease in efficiency. Somewhere in the middle between a free market in health care and a completely socialized system there is a low point. The US is at that low point in efficiency.

The shape of the curve is under dispute. Statists assert that the shape is something of a J, with small efficiency gains by going to a free market system and large costs while going whole hog to a government system will provide great advantages at a small price. Free market advocates believe the exact opposite. Moderates just want to get off the bottom part of the curve in any direction because they know that what we have is the absolute worst of all worlds.

The President has made it clear that he wants to push the system in a free market direction and made his only veto threat in that regard.

I signed this measure proudly, and any attempt to limit the choices of our seniors, or to take away their prescription drug coverage under Medicare, will meet my veto.

On the critical issue of health care, our goal is to ensure that Americans can choose and afford private health care coverage that best fits their individual needs. To make insurance more affordable, Congress must act to address rapidly rising health care costs. Small businesses should be able to band together and negotiate for lower insurance rates, so they can cover more workers with health insurance - I urge you to pass Association Health Plans. I ask you to give lower-income Americans a refundable tax credit that would allow millions to buy their own basic health insurance. By computerizing health records, we can avoid dangerous medical mistakes, reduce costs, and improve care. To protect the doctor-patient relationship, and keep good doctors doing good work, we must eliminate wasteful and frivolous medical lawsuits. And tonight I propose that individuals who buy catastrophic health care coverage, as part of our new health savings accounts, be allowed to deduct 100 percent of the premiums from their taxes.

A government-run health care system is the wrong prescription. By keeping costs under control, expanding access, and helping more Americans afford coverage, we will preserve the system of private medicine that makes America's health care the best in the world.

The key part of the veto threat is not in limiting benefits (no alternative will do anything but increase them) but in taking away choices for seniors. Choice is the hallmark of the free market and now that seniors have more than one choice, the statists are fighting the clock until these choices are rolled out into actual plans that seniors like. Once that happens the game is over and we're off the low part of the efficiency curve. After 2007 the game is lost for statists in health care and President Bush has drawn a line in the sand on this issue.

Association Health Plans are an incremental way to back out of the long distortive consequences of WW II era wage freezes. Prior to WW II, health care via employer was rare. It was inconvenient and tended to tie you to a job. With wage freezes imposed by government to limit exploding labor costs due to too few available workers (most everybody being in the armed forces) benefits like health care exploded on the scene as uncontrolled proxy compensation. These benefits stuck around long after the wage controls disappeared and they have long outlived their usefulness. Association Health Plans would take healthcare out of the hands of business and put them in much more stable associations. You could get healthcare via Rotarians, the Lions, the Catholic Church, the B'nai B'rith, the Hari Krishna, an organization that you're not likely to leave which will empower you to leave your job based on wage considerations. For a pro-big business president, he sure has empowered workers over abusive employeres.

The confusing paperwork antiquated IT systems of medical care are another example that sucks up enormous amounts of money and time. Streamlining it into a standardized, extensible system that private and public insurers can easily plug into would both improve healthcare quality and very much reduce cost.

I wasn't aware that premiums to catastrophic plans under HSA's weren't already deductible but they should be, just as they would be if they were done under and employer plan. It's another instance of empowering workers over employers.

Finally, frivolous medical malpractice claims. I lost a week of my life serving on a jury that dealt with a frivolous medical malpractice suit. Don't tell me these things don't exist. All things being equal, an ENT should not be hauled before a jury because of a lung tumor that's what his internist is for. And when the sole negligent act is supposedly not making a phone call to notify the patient but somehow the patient shows up for lung cancer treatment that very week, things are truly idiotic.

For those who suffer real malpractice, their right to sue should be preserved. The right to work out your grief by lashing out at doctors and costing society a great deal of money in the process has got to go.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:53 AM

Death Penalty Musings

I've read that anti-death penalty Catholics rely on the idea that modern penology offers an alternative to the death penalty by ensuring that the murderer is no longer a risk to others. This maximizes the possibility of subsequent spiritual growth and repentence.

I sometimes wonder whether anybody keeps track of deaths perpetrated by people who could have had the death penalty but were given life in prison instead. It's struck me as one of those wishful statements that anti-death penalty believers have faith is true but don't actually measure to see whether it is true.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:28 AM

January 20, 2004

Immigration Test Case

Stratfor's public site has the following:

EU Labor Restrictions Give Split an Economic Twist Jan 20, 2004 At least five European Union members -- Austria, Germany, France, Belgium, and Finland -- will have a moratorium on free labor movement for the incoming Central European states, which will make working in these countries much more difficult for the countries' citizens. Conversely, five other countries -- the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands -- will open their labor markets without restriction. These decisions will further entrench divisions between incoming states and current members and add a purely economic dimensions to what until now generally has been a political fight.

This seems to me to be a very good test case to see the effects of immigration on societies. Who do you think is going to have the better economies after a decade, the restrictionists or those who welcome these new workers?

Posted by TMLutas at 09:34 PM

State of the Union: Drugs

I'm a libertarian. I'm also a Catholic. That makes me both anti-drug and unhappy with the idea of using state power to enforce that preference. For the first time since Nancy Reagan, a politician announced a drug initiative that I can support. I'm talking about the elimination of performance enhancing drugs. It's exactly the right tone, exactly the right mechanism. He was quarter right with his drug initiative on drug testing in schools. I don't support the idea of government funded testing but the message that we don't want them to do drugs, that we monitor them because we love them is right and worthy of praise.

That thought, that we fight drug use because we love our children is worth a lot of thought and meditation. With enough thought, enough understanding of what it means to love your neighbor as yourself, to love your children, the War on Drugs will end as a consequence of that love.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:16 PM

January 19, 2004

Out on a Limb: Hanson's Wrong on Immigration

It always worries me a bit when I disagree with intellectual giants. It's quite possible that I'm the one who'll have egg on my face at the end. Victor Davis Hanson's WSJ opinion piece on immigration is a classic case where I feel compelled to go out on a limb to play David to his Goliath.

First he starts with the assumed constant of illegal immigrants existing outside the program. Why would these people not pay their fine and enter the country legally? Space constraints in an op-ed might explain it but I have a different answer. It's just a bad assumption.

You don't start an illegal immigration discussion with the illegal immigrant. You start it a few months before when he's just one more guy in a sea of people who don't earn enough and don't have very good prospects of earning much more for the rest of his life. The moment he decides to leave his local labor market before any borders have been crossed, that's the point where this proposed program starts to come into play.

Now this platonic ideal, this everyman of economic migrant labor, has a choice. Currently, he can go off to apply for a green card, or he can pay the tens of thousands needed to get a coyote or a snake head to get him across the border illegally. If he doesn't qualify for one of the easy to get green card categories (permanent R-1s, for instance, are pretty painless and there are often a number of them that go unused every year), there is a significant opportunity cost of going the legal route.

Tote up the decades of poor wages, the uncertainty of ever getting to the head of the line and the $40k price tag of illegal admission, fake papers, and the opportunity cost of keeping your head down in the US doesn't look so bad. So our everyman hits the shipping containers or desert crossings or whatever and arrives in the US where he first pops up on VDH's radar screen.

With the new program, the calculation changes. Our labor migrant everyman doesn't care about the US per se. He just wants a nice house and to live in relative comfort at home in his village. He wants his kids to have decent nutrition, a shot at a good education and a better life. He wants the local version of the American dream but in his own culture, with its own characteristics. Working for a few years in the US to build up a stake and he can use that capital to live a decent life at home as a member of the local elite.

Why would such a person ever choose illegal immigration when it limits employment opportunities, limits legal protections, will result in lower wages, and costs more? Why would an employer ever choose an illegal immigrant when he can get plenty of legal temporary workers and the fines are likely to go up beyond the realistic differential he can extract in wages from the illegals?

There are cases of children and aged coming north, probably quite a few. But if you have the ability to go back and forth to your home country, why would you increase your costs by bringing your dependents to a more expensive locale?

Mexico is not a place where it is hard to find food, health care, or pretty much anything else. Mexico is a place where it can be hard to find these things when you earn little to no money. With low wage rates in Mexico, the excess that a temporary worker can send home creates the conditions for a much better life back home than the family would get by moving to the US where everything is so expensive. The family comes because travel is so risky, so expensive that the extra costs are less than it would take to travel by coyote twice a year.

The Bush plan takes care of this by reducing the cost to cross borders down to bus or train fare. Poof! Dignity as one of the richest families in your home town or a strange and confusing life in the US where you always feel the 2nd class outsider and you're in the bottom half of the economic order. How do you think those incentives will play out?

The last three paragraphs bring up a disappointing sketch of a proposed alternative. Everybody on the right against this proposal has the same answer, enforce existing law and all will be well. There is never any price tag attached to this because nobody has the guts to actually tote up the cost to do it. Nor is there ever any discussion of what it would do to Mexico if such a massive deportation program were to take place. Mexican instability is something to be avoided if possible.

The two competing images of enforcing current law that I have are the dutch reclaiming land from the sea with their dikes and King Canute exercising his 'divine right' of kings to order the tide to halt. There is an obligation of those who advocate enforcing current law to build an outline of what we would have to change to do that and how much would it cost.

You can't just wave a magic wand and say use the army. They're busy fighting a war and are likely to stay busy for years. Border defense against economic migrants is not what they're designed to do anyway so they would need significant retraining and retooling. And any decent military strategist will tell you that a single line defense is not preferable. It's much better to have defense in depth.

In the immigration context that means "a return of the old green immigration vans, the 'Migra' patrols of my youth that used to scour central California to pick up illegal residents for immediate transit back to Mexico". People will get across. They will concentrate and come at the border in such numbers that a certain percentage will get through. That's just the reality of the current situation. Unless we're going to shoot them, we can't catch them all because they (the jobless economic migrants) have nothing better to do and we do (like running an economy to pay for all those border guards).

The reality is that seriously enforcing immigration law as it currently stands would create a lot more 'migra' van raids then giving temporary worker cards out. Those vans disappeared because we gave up, not because of any particular change in law. Any change in law which increases conformity of the law reduces the number of green vans needed to enforce the law.

VDH's strongest points are the moral ones. But these are the most easily addressed in the process of getting actual legislation passed. If we are truly embarked upon a project of eliminating the non-integrating gap, a program of US temporary workers could play a vital part in that.

Every US embassy has a commercial section. It would be proper to the "shrink the gap" strategy to encourage economic development in these countries by creating international connections with the US. Create entrepreneurial centers for temporary workers to create their own businesses in their own countries with US help and advice.

Let them have the same access that US citizens currently have and you create not only a temporary worker with some cash in his pocket but someone who will have both the financial capability and intellectual tools to start up a small business and a measure of political protection from rapacious local elites who are the major cause of the country's non-integrating gap status.

Using these returning workers as a method of stitching these countries into the global economic system is a way of both solving our primary national security problem of the era and reducing the pressure to send wave after wave of economic migrants to the US.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:49 AM

Practical Libertarian Drug Policy: Industrial Hemp

It makes absolutely no sense in the world to regulate a plant with a long history as a legal agricultural crop that is not psychoactive as a schedule I drug. But with industrial hemp that's exactly the current situation.

Industrial hemp comes from the same plant family as marijuana but there, the resemblance ceases. Hemp is useful as a fiber product which could materially contribute to the nation's economy without impacting our effort against truly psychoactive plants. It also produces a useful oil and can be used as a food product.

In fact, since industrial hemp grows wild and the DEA has an active eradication program against it, legalizing hemp would actually redirect more funds towards actual drug cultivation as money would no longer be wasted on the completely unproductive eradication of a plant that is useless as a drug.

Restoring hemp to its traditional place as an agricultural crop outside of DEA jurisdiction would improve our economy, increase the effectiveness of DEA spending, and restore the principle that agricultural crops are handled by the Agriculture Department, not a DEA that lies and misleads the public about the actual drug properties of industrial hemp.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:25 AM

January 18, 2004

Practical Libertarian Drug Policy: Overview

In crafting a societal drug policy, it's useful to start from the ground up because so many false steps and missteps are out there confusing the basic issues. Society, in the collective, has an interest in respect for the law, sober people, safe streets, and medical doctors being able to use the full toolkit of modern pharmaceuticals to heal the sick. Nobody, from the left to the right, from the authoritarians to the libertarians will have a beef with that. How we get there from where we are is an important question, something that I would hope the 2004 presidential candidates take some time to seriously address

None of these three goods are being well accomplished by our current drug policy system. The cat and mouse game of drug users and policemen are a constant acid drip on the rule of law. Lock 'em up policies are popular but often lead to individual injustice and the willingness of police to overlook simple possession and use charges in exchange for enrolling people as informants is a form of legalized blackmail that is very widespread.

Sobriety at the point of a gun is also quite elusive. A campaign against heroin will drive usage down, but you will very often see drug usage go up for other drugs. And when the campaign is over, usage eventually goes back up as drug use fashions vary with the times.

Illegal drugs also make for very unsafe streets. In poorer neighborhoods, drug dealers are often a part of the economic elite. But this is an elite without access to the courts so they take their commercial disputes to the streets with baseball bats, stabbings, and shootings. All too often the bullets go too far or not far enough and innocents suffer.

Finally, and most poignantly, illegalizing pleasure giving drugs has led to deep suspicion over research projects that make use of these same chemicals. Cocaine, which is a great topical anesthetic, marijuana which is a fantastic appetite generator, are both examples of legitimate medical uses which are held back by the current legal climate. Proper pain treatment in general is often viewed as a risky business. If you provide too much, you could end up on the wrong end of a subpoena and have your career ruined.

Libertarians, in theory, would like the end of the War on Drugs just as, in theory the Republican party wants an end to legal abortion and in theory, the Democrat party would like to create a steeply graduated income tax at a high rate. But how does a practical Libertarian actually solve the general societal goals better than current policy in a way that immediately improves the situation in a step by step way?

That's a question for another post.

Posted by TMLutas at 06:44 PM

December 22, 2003

Voting to Kill Canadians V

In one venerable political tradition, politicians only care for themselves and their constituents. Anybody who can't help or hurt their quest for power is just SOL as far as they are concerned. Rod Blagojevich obviously believes this otherwise he would not be forging ahead with a proposal to permit a 'pilot program' of drug reimportation. The creation of drug shortages in Canada as Illinois hoovers a big chunk of Canada's supply (Illinois, by itself is something over 1/3 of Canada's total population) is simply not on Rod Blagojevich's humanitarian radar screen.

Unlike other governors, Blagojevich is politically constrained not to act in defiance of federal law. Atty. General Ashcroft is currently prosecuting his Republican predecessor and the Democrats in Illinois have (for the first time in many years) an advantage in the corruption race. With Gov. Blagojevich under indictment, this advantage would quickly disappear and unlike Gov. Ryan's sins, this wouldn't be venal bribery that takes years to trace to the top but something that would be a slam dunk conviction in time for the election season. The Ryan prosecution innoculates the Bush administration from the charge of playing politics with the Justice Department.

Other politicians, not so constrained by their local culture of corruption catching up to them are going to go ahead in defiance of Washington. They may not have the population heft of Illinois but if enough of them act, this is going to go on the State Department's plate, like it or not.

click here for the full series.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:50 AM

December 19, 2003

Seeing Eye Dogs & Gay Marriage

I know people who have great dogs, nice, friendly, really great personalities. They aren't allowed in stores, busses, or many other places. Growing up, I often saw other dogs in White Plains, NY who were allowed to do all those things. They were seeing eye dogs. They too were nice, friendly, with great personalities. But these dogs got to be with their owners an awful lot more than other dogs did. They were privileged and their privilege was enshrined by law and by the police.

Now there was no reason that other dogs could not be allowed into stores, etc, if the owners wanted to make a private rule accomodating them. But nobody was allowed to keep the seeing eye dogs out.

Is this justice?

Are not regular dogs participating in the same quality of dogness as these special privilege dogs? Why must their activity be circumscribed by particular private arrangement? Why must they suffer this awful discrimination and be separated at critical moments from their pack leader (owner)? Where is the basic sense of decency and fairness of it all.

Taken out of the human realm, the answer for this type of question is clear and people can more dispassionately analyze things. People with seeing eye dogs get special legal privileges because these dogs are useful tools to impart a recognized public good, enabling blind people (and those with other handicaps) to reduce their dependence on others, including the state, and live out more normal lives. The difference in effect justifies a difference in behavior.

An equal protection lawsuit seeking to let people with personal pets have the same rights as people with seeing eye dogs would rightly get laughed out of court. Their only hope would be demonstrating some sort of equivalent public benefit but reality shows there is none.

Gay marriage advocates are trying the same sort of thing as our hypothetical pet owners but they further demand that they don't have to prove equivalent state benefit. Andrew Sullivan acts as usual when he opines:

What I simply don't understand is why a woman as obviously as sensitive and humane as Morse nevertheless believes that excluding loving gay couples from such an experience is not only a good thing but a vital thing for people already in such marriages. Are gay people not also human? Can they not also put a joint life before personal gratification? Why does Morse simply assume that homosexuality is about "self-centeredness"? Morse doesn't actually provide any such arguments. She just seems to take it for granted that this is a zero-sum game, that including gay people in the profound experience of self-giving is somehow destructive of her own relationship. I don't get it. I don't see it. And her utter indifference to the actual lives, loves and relationships of gay people - does she know any, I wonder? - undermines her otherwise compelling moral sense. That's a shame. Gay and straight people have a common ground of understanding when it comes to marriage: we are all human. We all need and benefit from the experience of love and self-giving. It ennobles, sanctifies, elevates. Why does someone like Morse insist that gay people cannot be a part of this?

It's all about the emotional needs and wants of the couple. But marriage, as a state institution, is not about anything but public benefit. And before anybody bothers asking, yes, I have known monogomous gay couples who were pretty obviously committed to each other. Should the state have supported their relationship in some way? That's an interesting question. Should the state have mixed them in and given them the state status as heterosexual married couples? Absolutely not.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:08 AM

December 18, 2003

Voting to Kill Illinoisans

It seems that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has no problem in endangering the lives of the citizens of Illinois in a nasty game of chicken. He's actually forcing doctors to change prescriptions away from medications sold by drug companies who have decided to limit shipments to Canada. This unexpected wrinkle in the drug reimportation tombstone war is another sad step towards a climactic showdown and demonstrates that the politicians can't be counted on to ensure health and safety.

The problem here is twofold. Individual reactions are unpredictable and forcing people to go to a competing formulation can cause reduce effectiveness and even risk the patient's health. Also the time spent hashing all this out is both costly for the physician and increases the likelihood that the patient won't be taking any medication while the fight goes on. Governor Blagojevich had better hope that nobody ever actually totes up the medical damage to Illinois' poor and aged. The affected programs are Public Aid and SeniorCare.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:55 AM

Voting to Kill Canadians IV

Contrary to my prior report Pfizer did not go off on its own to limit drug shipments to Canada. According to this article the actual list is AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Wyeth.

Of course, this can be more than just a problem in Canada as you will see in the next item

Posted by TMLutas at 11:48 AM

December 03, 2003

Fixing Medicare Prescription Coverage

I'm still reading, a bit each night, through the actual legislation but Bruce Bartlett's article on the foolishness of buying votes by adding medicare benefits is something that deserves a reply. He's quite correct that 2006 is when the fur will really start to fly. But that just makes it even more important that 2004 creates enough of a shift toward Republicans that a 2005 session can bring a corrective bill to President Bush's desk.

Conservatives and libertarians, instead of wasting time moaning about how bad the current bill is would better serve the national interest by preparing for 2005 and crafting improvements that will impose the maximum improvement possible in the situation. My own list of suggestions will, alas, have to wait for me to complete my reading the text of the law.

Posted by TMLutas at 03:46 PM

December 02, 2003

Polygamy/Gay Marriage Relationship

I've taken a bit of a beating in comments over the idea that the polygamists would use gay marriage as precedent. It certainly didn't take long to be demonstrated right on that one. This particular appeal is likely to go nowhere but it'll alert polygamists who aren't also pedophiles that the possibility exists and you can expect tougher cases to start showing up in your newspapers reasonably soon.

Hat tip to the Corner on the report.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:27 PM

Reading Medicare Status I (My Head Hurts)

I'm nowhere close to finishing the monstrous task of at least skimming through the 600+ pages of the medicare prescription drug legislation but even from the early pages I get the feel that this is like one of those complex medical problems that is fixed by multiple rounds of surgery. In such situations, you have some actions that are done that simply prepare for future surgeries but don't actually fix what's wrong in themselves.

I went into this project thinking that what's being done here is laying the groundwork for a future medicare bill in 2005. I've not seen anything yet to disabuse me of this. If the 2004 elections result as I think they will, 12-20 more Republicans in the House, 4-9 more Republicans in the Senate, it would become possible to take a second whack at the law, creating something a little less frightful.

Entitlements have always been the third rails of US politics by design. The creators of the programs have built in features that make it politically impossible to dismantle such programs even when they are clearly unsustainable or counterproductive. Welfare was clearly a failure in the '70s. In fact, it was distinctly counterproductive to the interests of the poor it was meant to serve yet it took two decades more before the politicians could fix it and the landscape was littered with the political careers of people trying to fix the system so it didn't hurt the poor.

We've known for going on 20 years now that there was a pharmaceutical revolution going on and that whatever social provision was made for medical care, it should include pills. Personally, I think that social provision should be done with the least government interference as possible but medical care shouldn't ignore the technical revolution that's replaced the expensive surgery with the comparatively inexpensive pill no matter what level of state coercion you have in the payment of it.

So assuming that this legislation had to do two things, get passed, and establish principles that would make it easier for the next Congress to change the system for the better, what signs would be in the text that would prove or disprove this thesis?

More thoughts on this later but so little of the commentary that I've seen against the bill addresses things from this perspective of the start of a long road to reform. It's really disappointing.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:53 AM

December 01, 2003

Cut the BS on the Medicare Bill

Ok, you're for it. Or you're against it. It doesn't much matter. If you're commenting on the medicare bill post passage, your first post really should include a link to the text, like this one.

I'll probably have more commentary once I read the thing. It'd be nice if half the commentators I've seen so far had done as much.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:08 PM

November 24, 2003

Nasty Race Merchants

The annals of politically biased research were enriched today as Dartmouth researchers demonstrated that dealing politely with people who annoy you tends to temporarily throw you off your mental stride but went for the race merchant kudos (and funding sources) by making the study all about race.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that annoying people can disturb your powers of concentration. It also isn't a great leap to find out that white racists find dealing with blacks annoying. Proving it via a scientific study is interesting but the study structure, press release, and press coverage clearly make it clear that the larger point is being lost in the old racial gotcha game.

I would love for this research to enable people to measure how much an unpleasant office boss detracts from the mental performance of his subordinates. It would revolutionize office hiring practices because the SOB bosses that everybody hates but have to kiss up to are robbing the company of valuable worker performance. Ideally, this is a metric that will eventually be convertible to dollars and cents, creating a bean counter incentive to hire good leaders and not annoying whip crackers.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:42 PM

November 21, 2003

Barren Marriage

Jacob Levy addresses the issue of why should childless heterosexual couples retain marriage privileges as a right and not just a policy preference (among other wrinkles in the marriage debate). In his post he states

Grandparents provide role models for parents. And so on. But young childless heterosexual marriages (like my own) don't really add anything measurable to the available stock of human knowledge about how men and women should relate in parental marriages.

Well, it's a truism that there is nothing new under the sun but I would reply that from personal experience he's just wrong. As someone who married just before I hit 30, I can say that the experience of all your friends getting married around you is a powerful signal to stop just fooling around and start seriously looking for a wife. Matrimony in one's social set encourages further matrimony. Some of these marriages will be barren, others will be fertile, but if only those with a prior positive fertility test were trying, the alternative model of 'confirmed bachelor' would be strengthened. That might just be dismissed as a policy preference but it's more like an ancient heuristic that long predated the US Constitution. Back in the old country boys marry by x age, girls marry by y age and if you started hitting an age where everybody was married but you, powerful social pressures were brought to bear to help and encourage you.

Furthermore, I've actually had someone tell me that they used me as a marital model about two years into my own marriage. Don't kid yourself that because your marriage isn't extensive you aren't being observed and imitated. I've been on both sides of this particular transaction. In fact, I find myself looking for advice from some of my peers more often than people in older generation marriages.

An interesting survey might consist of actually asking people who do they imitate for their marital models. Certainly there might be a lot of talk about looking to prior generations but that isn't going to help out in crises that are particular to the current generation. The bottom line is that admirable people get imitated, no matter what their age, race, nationality, or class. We are all role models and, deep down, everybody's always known that.

Posted by TMLutas at 04:26 PM

November 20, 2003

Voting to Kill Canadians II

Well, it looks like Canada has opted to create an open border where their cheap drugs can be exported without limit. Supply and demand rules means that US low price seekers are about to drain Canada's drug supplies down to zero. Will US drug makers provide unlimited resupply and cut their own throats? I don't think so. End result, a reasonably quick shortage if the US fails to keep the import walls up. It's the law of supply and demand 101. Price arbitrage will create shortages reducing supply until the price rises to the market clearing level. Where that level is above the maximum price set by the provinces, there will be insufficient drugs left to meet demand.

Hat tip to Chip Taylor.

Posted by TMLutas at 04:57 PM

November 19, 2003

Thinking About Marriage

I was going to let this essay 'cook' a bit more before I took it out of draft and published it but since Glenn Reynolds can't see why gay marriage threatens heterosexual marriage, I'll let fly early. In short, gay marriage doesn't deliver the social benefit that heterosexual marriage (both fertile and infertile) does, creates complexity and confusion about an important part of keeping society stable, and opens the door to further marital erosion that would really mess things up.

Why should government promote marriage? Honoring marriage is a cost on society so what is the logical reason to support it? In the bowels of Flitters (my contributions are at /m2240, /m2246, /m2248, /m2251, /m2255, /m2267, /m2274, /m2278, /m2284, /m2287, /m2308, /m2312) the discussion covered the problem in great depth. With the gay marriage situation in Massachussetts being what it is, it's worth examining again at some length in essay format.

The first principle is that public support of societal arrangements is inherently coercive and any establishment or extension of such arrangements has the burden of proof to justify why we all should submit to that coercion. For society, to any degree, to support such an arrangement it has to provide some public benefit or be so utterly uncontroversial (such as national secretary week) as to be held universally unobjectionable and unobjected to.

Marriage is not, nor has it ever been, without cost or universally unobjectionable (there have always been curmudgeons not too friendly to the institution). So what does marriage bring to the table societally that has enshrined its status all over the world for millenia?

Marriage has been associated with several good effects regarding societal stability. The first one is that it promotes societal stability. For societies that don't have it well regulated, large pools of unmarried, single men are significantly destabilizing. This is relevant for today both in polygamous societies and in societies such as the PRC (under its one child policy) and India for which sex selection abortions are common and skewed heavily toward killing females.

Polygamy, in short, is to be avoided as is public policy that creates a significant sex imbalance over the space of decades. Horny frustrated men tend to get aggressive and a significant portion will turn that aggression on society. The threat of polygamy is embedded in the gay marriage debate. Lesbians have demonstrated a statistically significant desire to have children and tripartite custody agreements being leveraged into polygamous marriage of all types is an obvious 'next step' in the marriage revisionist agenda.

Societies, to avoid collapse, have to create a next generation. You can't really talk about marriage without getting into the subject of procreation. Unfortunately, a lot of landmines have been buried on this subject by all sides. Motherhood and marriage are improperly intertwined by some traditionalists and improperly separated by the gay marriage revisionists.

The improper intertwining is that motherhood, as a separate category from marriage also deserves some support so it doesn't really fly as secular social policy to create a false unity of procreation and marriage. As various countries have proven, you can have a separation of procreation and marriage. Single motherhood is still motherhood and should be honored for the health risk and sacrifice that these people undertake.

As those same countries have simultaneously proven, the marriage revisionists are wrong to create too much of a separation, declaring marriage unimportant to child rearing because children raised without mother and father have statistically significant higher rates of a whole host of societal pathologies from poverty to crime. Divorcing procreation from marriage also takes out a logical argument against legalizing polygamy beyond tripartite marriages.

It's more justified to say that in the broad averages that social policy must deal in, children are raised, socialized, and civilized best when they have a mother and a father to observe and imitate on a daily basis. This has broader implications besides homosexual marriage (like in divorce law reform) but that's for another time and another essay. In the case of broken homes, having other, functional marriages around provide a reasonable partial substitute but you need as many of those as possible. They are an imperfect solution at best because they aren't around all the time and some of the most critical behavior that needs to be transmitted usually occurs behind closed doors.

Childless married couples, besides providing additional models for proper behavior, are also available to take care of orphans or children that are victims of truly abusive parents or parents who are incapable of supporting their offspring. This is also a legitimate societal role and one seen in juvenile courts all across the world in adoption proceedings and cases where children are placed with relatives instead of being put in the more impersonal state run system.

But beyond the civilizing effects of parenting there is the mundane issue of material support for children (when juvenile courts decide custody, acting in the best interests of the child is a mix of physical support and behavioral/teaching support). Children, by definition, are incapable of supporting themselves and exercising proper judgment over their affairs. So who is most likely to be interested in acting as guardian over them until they become capable of doing so? Self-interest is a powerful motivator so parents are assumed the best guardians. Genetic propagation is generally hard wired so maximizing child welfare is a sefish thing to do. The biologically different optimal points of male and female child welfare strategies is, again, another essay. Suffice it to say that conventional marriage is very female friendly.

So we so far have a three dimensional socially useful behavior matrix of promoting children to create a next generation and providing material support and psychological models for behavior. A traditional marriage structure scores high on all three axes. Where does homosexual marriage come out? Not so good, if you're in favor of it.

Gay marriage doesn't provide much educational value for male/female interactions of children either for their own children (tripartite lesbian parenting) or for adopted children. It certainly isn't going to provide enough children to head off societal collapse from a lack of offspring. It could provide material support for adopted children but that really isn't a problem that needs solving. Most societies that have a gay marriage debate also have waiting lists of adoptive parents. Unless there were evidence that gay couples would be willing, in significant numbers, to adopt interracially this is just a nonissue.

The confusion of additional marriage models for structuring a family is a significant cost that would be distributed throughout society and the benefits that traditional marriage provides just don't exist in a gay marriage framework. Throw in the risk (in common law societies where judicial precedent is so important) of legitimating polygamy and you've got a sure net societal loss.

Where's the case for spending a single penny on changing social policy for a net decrease in societal utility? There simply isn't one. No matter how many sob stories homosexuals spin out about their feeling excluded, that isn't grounds for public policy spending. If it were, a vast array of public expenditures would have to be undertaken, none of which would be justified.

Posted by TMLutas at 03:18 PM

November 18, 2003

The Invisible Dead

Jack Dunphy's latest NRO article chronicles another instantiation of the problem of the invisible dead. This time it's about how the LAPD consent decree is costing lives by burying officers in paperwork.

His last sentence says it all "The price of all this bureaucracy will one day be measured in lives." The problem is that it won't be. Bureaucracy thrives on the principle that the acts of regulation have easily traceable positive consequences and whatever negative consequences exist should be as hard to track down as possible. This is pure CYA raised to an art form. If gathering data on negative consequences would be elevated to an equal priority as the positive consequences, a great deal of government action would be exposed for the horribly self-defeating idiocy that it is.

Instead we end up with long term disasters like the "Great Society" programs that took a decades long trend of steady improvement and goosed progress for a few years, only to subsequently flatline progress thereafter. The net result is that if we had continued the old regime, we'd have fewer poor today than we do after we engaged in huge exercises in "compassionate" government.

Back to the LAPD, the consent decree is there to protect hispanic and other minorities from discrimination. I wonder if anybody has calculated the cost in decreased police effectiveness to those same communities. Sadly, I also wonder if those pushing for such agreements would even care about the results.

Posted by TMLutas at 06:21 PM

Gay Marriage: Massachusetts Right and Wrong

It's a good day for the pro-gay marriage argument (link currently to the slip argument and when the final goes on the internet the link will change and this notice will be stripped). For those of us who believe that the construction of civil marriage is more in line with traditional understanding, it's been a pretty bad day though there are a few silver linings.

On the bright side, the Massachussetts Supreme Court has only one raving lunatic who wanted to completely substitute his judgement for the state legislature's. That would be Justice Greaney who, in his concurring opinion wrote that to withhold "relief from the plaintiffs, who wish to marry, and are otherwise eligible to marry, on the ground that the couples are of the same gender, constitutes a categorical restriction of a fundamental right."

The carrying plurality, meanwhile, believes that the legislature needs to have the final say on public policy though they are seriously in error that it hasn't already spoken against gay marriage. The dissents were forceful and varied and hopefully will carry the day on the next go around (no doubt there will be a next go around).

The down side, of course, is that now the legislature is going to have to go into painful detail over what, exactly, civil marriage is intended to accomplish. They are being forced to do so by a judiciary who believes that it has a legitimate role in setting the legislative calendar (the order requires legislative action during the next 180 days). Such a schedule is not conducive to considered deliberation of the desires of the people of Massachussetts but is better suited to a rubber stamp mentality of shut up and pass what we said.

Andrew Sullivan is, of course, delighted, though I'm not sure he's figured out yet that his side has not won the final battle.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:11 PM

November 13, 2003

Build Your Own Machinegun

No, I'm not joking. The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has just ruled (pdf link) that a homemade machinegun is not within the power of the federal government to regulate as the laws regarding this were always constructed under the commerce clause and in this particular case (United States v Stewart) there was no actual commerce but a true homemade creation.

Thanks to Eugene Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy for pointing this out.

The implications are both liberating and frightening. Liberating because it sets the groundwork for technological progress in home manufacturing to remain legal even after the politicians figure out that this turns us all into potential armorers. It's frightening for the exact same reason.

Posted by TMLutas at 05:04 PM

October 21, 2003

Going to Israel? Plan Your Funeral

David Bernstein has sobering account of the state of jewish funerals in Israel. Since jewish tradition requires quick burial, there's naturally a greater reliance on standard forms organized ahead of time because the family simply doesn't have the time that other traditions would have. Unfortunately, the standard form in Israel leaves a lot to be desired.

There is an easy cure for this, working out alternative forms that are more acceptable to other traditions and, hopefully, more faithful to judaism's spirit and promulgating them so that the funeral is no longer such a government mandated mess.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:13 AM

August 26, 2003

gay marriage update

The Boston Globe writes that Canada's gay marriage push is in trouble. It seems that there is a real backlash brewing and liberal MPs are starting to run scared. It seems that canadians are foregoing the usual 'blow off steam and then give in' tactic that usually dooms most reaction to judicial legislation and are quietly giving signs that they will be expressing their opinions in a quiet, civilized throw the bums out movement.

And people say it's hard to tell the difference between Canada and the US.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:59 AM

August 24, 2003

The right to be unhumane

The City Comforts Blog links back to my observations about conservative/libertarian urban planning. Unfortunately, there's a little gotcha in his response. He writes "I would be delighted to hear practical, conservative alternatives which do not deny the goal of humane urban form as a way of achieving it". The problem is that a pro-freedom solution to the problem will always deny an end result as the only possible solution to a problem. That's the very definition of freedom, the ability to choose to pick the optimal solution or not without outside forces coercing you. So a libertarian solution, even if it creates a great deal of net social benefit over all other solutions and greatly improves the present state of land use planning, is ultimately always going to be less efficient in creating new urbanist paradises then an imposed solution because a libertarian solution would always seek to minimize coercion and coercion, taken in isolation, is very efficient.

Posted by TMLutas at 05:33 PM

July 18, 2003

Europe's population implosion

On the 14th, I tangentially mentioned the european problem of a population implosion and did 'research by Google', quickly searching the first few google links to get a high fact content backup to the allegation. I should have dug deeper. Here's a better article that makes the same point that comes for a more reputable source.

Can European pride withstand being a long-term shrinking influence in the world? Which way are the straight line projections going to be wrong?

Posted by TMLutas at 08:45 PM

July 09, 2003

One step away from the surveillance state

Slashdot has an article about yesterday's passage of the 2004 Defense Department Authorization Act. The House of Representatives has inserted language limiting TIA (now Terrorism Information Awareness, nee Total Information Awareness) to military operations conducted entirely overseas or to domestic operations conducted entirely on non-US citizens. Anything else requires explicit Congressional approval (which does not seem to be forthcoming). It's a positive move (in a two steps forward, one step back kind of way) away from the orwellian nightmare of lost liberties that everyone worries over in this war.

The Federation of American Scientists has mirrored the relevant text.

A litle warning, Slashdot has a no-delete policy on its commentary. There are often gems there but also some stuff that should be kept away from the children. Be aware.

Posted by TMLutas at 07:40 PM