Thursday, August 30, 2012

Doesn't anyone want to challenge this middle class view?

Mark Perry said it all with his recent headline:

Pew Research Calls It "Hollowing Out of the Middle Class," But 150 Americans Moved Up for Every 100 Who Moved Down Between 1971 and 2011

I've found myself hearing this same exchange again and again. Someone who considers income inequality to be a major issue will lament the "death of the middle class" and the response from free market fans will be to say it's not because people are getting poor, but because they are getting rich.

I've seen this same exchange a dozen times, but I can't say I've heard anyone on the left come back with a reply.

Don Boudreaux shared a classic post on the subject from Arnold Kling showing decreases in the number of both low and middle income households and a three-fold increase in upper income households. I believe the facts are on our side, but every time I try to find a rebuttal on Google I just come across more people agreeing with us.

Karl Marx predicted that capitalism would cause fewer and fewer people to be rich, and the former rich would join the hordes of the masses in a violent struggle against the small number of rich people. Add this to list of things he got wrong, which includes nearly everything he wrote.

Update: I managed to find one article on the HuffPo that could be said to qualify, but I don't find the argument compelling. For starters, the author wants us to ignore non-monetary forms of compensation like health care benefits, as if they aren't something the employer has to pay for. He also said he doesn't argue the middle class will disappear, as that is a contradiction of the concept of the middle.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Why I'm excited about Atheism Plus

I just became aware of a planned movement called Atheism Plus, or Atheism+, which means secular people who push social justice goals. The advocates want to be known as standing for atheism plus feminism, or atheism plus affirmative action.

I like Jen McCreight's comparison to an atheist knitting club, where it doesn't replace atheism groups, but merely acts as a voluntary side project.

That's the beauty of this Atheism+ scheme. Instead of trying to drive out libertarians, men's rights supporters and people who don't support abortion, the far-left secular advocates like McCreight, PZ Myers and Rebecca Watson are going to pick up their ball and go home.

Please, go. Shove off, mateys, the sooner the better. You have my blessing.

I'm sure believing that my support has value violates some hidden white male privilege list, but I really want to  express my joy that they will be pushing their political agenda elsewhere.

I realize that they are making some parting shots on their way out. Atheism+ advocates are trying to say they're trying to get away from evil people. Blogger Jason Thibeault sums it up:

You’ll notice that the A+ folks are all against a certain type of person — the kind of person who would engage in concerted hate campaigns against certain members of the community merely for being pro-social-justice.

As if this was about ideas and not actions. I'm not sure what qualifies as a hate campaign, but his camp does not merely believe in social justice, it has been trying to force the rest of us to act on it.

Longtime readers will recognize a version of our old friend the feminist shell game, where opposing an extreme form of a modern idea is presented as opposing its primitive ancestor. I don't support using affirmative action when selecting speakers at a conference, so therefore I am opposed to black people. I don't support having the federal government pay for abortions with taxpayer money, therefore I am against women voting.

These kind of political parlor tricks are to be expected. I'm sure there are a lot of nice, tolerant people within the Atheism+ movement (Surly Amy comes to mind), but I see some rude ones speaking for the group and it gives me a negative impression of the entire camp. That's how bias works and we need to address it. It's the same mechanism that leads them to blurring the line between people like me and neo-nazis.

Atheism+ will end up devolving into Atheism plus worship of the democratic party, and I'm sure there will be plenty of left-wing economic views taken as scripture and smugly touted as scientific fact. Will the Marxists be welcomed in Atheism+? I expect so, and there will be an attempt to say they have captured the mantle of reason. Oh well, it's nothing new.

I've seen some people in my camp oppose the Atheism+ movement, and I wish they would reconsider. Think of it like the Civil War, where the slave-owning, backwards aristocratic confederate states wanted to leave, and we fought like Hell to keep them with us. Why not just let them go? 

I'm sure they will do some good things as a group, but I never signed up to fight for abortion rights, I just wanted a group of people to discuss secularism and skepticism with, and hopefully I will get that back.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

TED Spread

I used to love watching TED talks online. A few years ago I would happily spend an evening absorbing quick, accessible and informative talks such as Michael Shermer on skepticism, Matt Ridley on gains from trade and Steven Levitt on the economics of dealing crack. Not only were they educational and intellectually stimulating, they were fun.

But there's a lot of bogus TED talks mixed in too, such as Elaine Morgan on aquatic ape ancestors, Tony Robbins on motivation and Dean Ornish on healing with diet. Blubbering fear-mongering organic huckster Jaime Oliver won the award for the best talk at the 2010 conference with his food-snob nonsense.

TED's popularity is eroding its quality. As the talks have gotten more popular, more TED events are being organized to satisfy those demands, such as the TEDx events which are supposed to be non-official, but are set up the same way and given nearly the same standing by the public.

This has lead to something I call "TED spread," where organizers have to scoop deeper and deeper into the barrel in order to find speakers to fill that demand. The conference used to be annual, but looking at the TED event calendar, I see 18 upcoming TED events, and that's just for Sept. 1. For every Tyler Cowen talk they find, there are several Nick Hanauers.

Probably the worst talk I've ever seen was from TED NextGenerationAsheville, which exclusively has presentations from kids. The heralded success was Birke Baehr, an 11-year-old who regurgitated a collection of anti-science foodie nonsense, including the fake scaremongering story that supermarket tomatoes have fish genes in them. I don't want to pick on a child for being ignorant, but his talk is shared by the TEDx Talk YouTube Channel and has more than half a million hits, and contained nothing but well-worn cliche activist claptrap.

About a year and a half ago I went to a viewing party in Portland, Maine for a live TEDx broadcast and saw one good talk for the entire day. This was offset by a flawed presentation of Felisa Wolfe-Simon's arsenic-based life form findings, which at the time had known contamination problems that were never addressed. The event itself had signs letting us know the free salsa was locally-grown organic, because to that crowd of TED followers, that meant something. 

I was taken aback at how superficial and shallow everything felt when I met these other TED fans. I fear TED talks are encouraging a new generation of faux-intellectuals who can't be bothered with traditional education and would rather have pre-packaged wisdom served to them like hot dogs at a baseball game.

TED is giving an air of legitimacy to bogus ideas. There are, and will continue to be, good talks available from the conference, but viewers need to be on their guard and remember to use critical thinking and double-check everything they hear before adding it to their world views.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Todd Akin for vice prez?

Don't worry, loyal readers, this is not a post excusing Republican representative Todd Akin for being an idiot. He is.

Like everyone else, I was taken aback when Akin recently justified his stance on preventing abortions even for rape victims and made a puzzling claim:

From what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume maybe that didn't work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist.

I figured people were joining me in outrage for his ignorant belief in a fictional biological mechanism. It turns out, that was secondary to an attempt to turn his remarks into an insult against rape victims.

People are focusing on his use of the word "legitimate" as if he was taking a moment aside to insult women who are knocked unconscious before a sexual assault or experienced some other form of sexual assault that did not take the violent form usually pictured. That's one way to interpret what he said, but another is that there are things presented as rape that really aren't.

I've been told that it's insulting to suggest that false rape accusations happen. I don't care, just as reality doesn't care if you find it offensive. This is a pretty simple one to show, as I only need one example to show it does happen, and here it is. If one wants to argue unicorns exist, a single horned horse is all that's needed.

Also, one can't be a false-accusation denialist and a supporter of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange these days.

For reasons that I'll focus on in a future post, there are bogus definitions of rape being thrown around. It's saddening to witness the ones I've seen pushed in schools, such as begging your partner for sex counts as coercion or that it's rape unless both partners stop and make a verbal declaration of consent. Some of the activists speak as if there is some thin line between rape and sex, and rape is the default until proven otherwise.

Watering down the definition of rape does no service to rape victims.

As I said, there are multiple ways to interpret what Akin said. I suppose it is possible he meant that the other forms of rape "don't count," but I fail to see why he took time away from his point to make that statement and it requires ignoring the clarification he issued.

Not that follow-up statements from politicians should be seen as the Gospel truth, of course. To make matters worse, his statement apologized for the "illegitimate" remark but not about about fake science.

As expected, opponents of the right have decided to use the interpretation that's politically convenient. In fact, many of them don't even seem to care about Akin and would rather use his stupid remark as fodder against the Republican Party, even though the GOP has thrown Akin under the bus and urged him to drop out.

Massachusetts Democratic Congresswoman Niki Tsongas released a statement this week that transparently reveals political opportunism:

Congressman Akin's statements about "legitimate rape" deserve to be condemned. Unfortunately, they are no surprise to those of us who serve in the Congress. We have watched as Akin, Paul Ryan and others have tried to deny the right to choose even to the victims of rape and to women whose lives may be placed in jeopardy. Earlier in this Congress, they pushed for legislation to deny aid to hospitals that perform abortions even to save the life of the mother. We cannot let these extremists turn back the clock on women's hard-won rights and protections.

How cute, she immediately switched gears to vice-president nominee Paul Ryan for merely being an opponent of abortion. Tsongas isn't alone, as the Democratic party, and President Barack Obama, have been all over this issue for their own political gain.

Still, they are correct when they say Akin is not qualified to hold public office. Unfortunately, that can be said for just about everyone else in Washington.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

High-tech coping

When I was a child I had a recurring image of my future that scared and depressed me.

I pictured myself living alone in a high-rise apartment inside a large, impersonal city. Everyday I would get up, go to work in an office, then come home and watch TV until I fell asleep. That was all I would do until I died an anonymous, lonesome death.

I avoid writing about my personal life on here and won't go into the details, but I suffered a personal tragedy recently and really needed the support of my friends. Because I moved last year, most of my friends lived two states away.

Enter Facebook. I don't "cry wolf" with frequent self-pitying posts for my friends to see and when I shared my story, I was awash in supportive replies and direct chat messages from some people I haven't talked to in years. This lead to several phone calls which were extremely comforting and I did reasonably well.

I'm reminded of Tyler Cowen's debate with Roger Scruton titled The end of friendship: Do social media destroy human relationships? where Cowen argued that social media enhances human relationships.

For all that malarkey about the telephone driving people apart instead of bringing them together, I found technology made comfort from friends available to me beyond walking or driving range.

It's wrong to suggest that the telephone alone could have made this all possible. I got the bad news around 11 p.m. at night and it was too late to call anyone but my very closest friends. I was also able to reach a lot of people quickly, some of whom I haven't talked to in a long time. Some of the people who reached out to me were the last ones I expected to hear from and who I never would have thought to call.

Last year when I moved here I realized I was risking living a version of living my childhood fear, but social media has made that fear obsolete.

Monday, August 20, 2012

They clearly are hooligans

Whenever groups of celebrities band together on a political issue, ignorance and empty words will soon follow. The international support for the band Pussy Riot is a perfect example, but the issue is more complex than simply saying it's right or wrong to arrest them.

A group of women went to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow wearing pastel ski masks and stomped around the altar singing a vulgar thrash song criticizing the church's cozy relationship with President Vladimir Putin. They got tossed out and were later arrested, convicted of "Hooliganism" and last week they were sentenced to serve two years for the stunt.

Judge Marina Syrova ruled Friday that the band members had "committed hooliganism driven by religious hatred." She rejected the women's arguments that they were protesting the Russian Orthodox Church's support for Putin and didn't intend to offend religious believers.

Here's where everything starts cracking up. Clearly this wasn't about hatred of the church, but of its embrace of Putin. That's a legit thing to complain about if it's true, so in that sense I agree with them.

But just look at the stunt they pulled. They were clearly making a large disturbance and deserve some form of punishment, despite the wishy-washy nonsense people try to spin to defend these tactics like this post on CNN:

...For What? Performing a peaceful protest song in a Russian Orthodox Cathedral that lasted less than a minute. 
Most agreed that the court wouldn't rule in the women's favor; they themselves had predicted a guilty verdict. Already, Russian authorities had unjustly detained these women, stealing them away from their families and children, and orchestrated a legal process that tiptoed the line on international fair trial standards.  
Say what you will about Pussy Riot: this might not be your kind of music. Their actions might offend you. But this doesn't change the fact that freedom of expression, in whatever peaceful form it takes, is a human right, and one on which the protection of other rights rests.

The song would have lasted longer if burly guards weren't on hand to pull them out. I hardly find that to be a "peaceful" song, but the content of the song is completely irrelevant because they did not have the right to be there. A moronic post from a Communist was mocked for opposing Pussy Riot only because they criticized Putin.

This silly idea of protests overruling property rights and trespassing restrictions is a talking point for Pussy Riot defenders. Just like how the ability for a city to close a park at night magically became illegitimate the moment Occupy Wall Street protesters showed up, modern liberals have fallen in love with the idea that breaking the rules becomes acceptable when someone staples a political message to it.

But does anyone really believe this? Would the supporters of Pussy Riot also oppose punishing a group of same-sex marriage opponents who stormed the stage of a gay rights conference and shouted vulgar political slogans? What about a group of young Republicans who ran into the pulpit of a black church to denounce President Obama with filthy limericks?

Clearly, a crime of some kind has been committed, and "hooligan" seems like an apt description. Two years in jail seems a bit harsh, so I'm willing to believe they got hit harder then they deserve because it was about Putin. It's ridiculous to demand they should be let off Scot-free. The only room for debate should be what level of punishment is appropriate.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Weekend reading list

I'm out of town for the weekend so here's a few of the things I've been reading these last few days.

Surly Amy, one of the Skepchick bloggers who I normally respect and had a very enjoyable conversation with at TAM 2011, suggested her critics should not be allowed to wear clothing with messages that offends her at future conferences. I'm sad to hear her make such a contemptible statement and hope she recants.

Another secular blog wrote about why being godless does not automatically mean someone supports abortion and third-wave feminism. I can now take that off my list of long future posts to make.

I took joy in learning that one of my pet theories has not only been studied, but supported by those studies. I've long suggested that legal access to abortion must to some extent encourage additional pregnancies by providing a safety net for unprotected sex. It's a traditional moral hazard Economists Phillip B. Levine and Douglas Staiger have studied this effect both domestically and abroad and describe abortion as a potential "pregnancy insurance." Bonus points for their reminder that this effect does not indicate what the optimal number of abortions should be.

An unrelated study showed that 37.5 percent of social psychologists admitted they would discriminate against hiring a qualified candidate if they knew he or she was a conservative. No one should be shocked.

Finally, Mark J. Perry shared a quotation from Peter Glover about the similarities between Jehovah's Witnesses and Peak Oil true believers when their doomsday prediction turns out to be wrong:

"Why are peak oil-ers like Jehovah’s Witnesses? Answer: When the definitive JW prediction of the ‘Day of Wrath’ failed in 1914, they did what false prophets have done in every generation: shifted the goalposts (to 1975 in the case of JW’s—and wrong again). It’s what false prophets do to save face, enabling them to keep fleecing the inherently gullible. Peak-oilers do likewise. 

Having written their headline-grabbing, money-making blockbusters predicting the imminent collapse of an oil-driven industrial world, peak-oilers like to maintain a ‘fluid’ approach to their predictions. In the case of oil, however, that’s becoming a tougher proposition, as their ignorance of energy, economics and the sheer ingenuity of man is increasingly revealed in the looming global oil boom."


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Add Rana Foroohar to the list of Pop Internationalists

NPR's Tom Ashbrook interviewed non-economist Rana Foroohar this week on her TIME magazine piece arguing that local production is the future of manufacturing.

It was like 45 minutes of hearing someone say Halloween is caused by a surplus of monster costumes and candy.

She hits on all the cliches. There are calls for protectionism (and concerns other nations will also be protectionist), focusing on creating meaningless jobs and not improving efficiency, claims that the rules of economics have fundamentally changed, summaries of international trade as if countries compete with each other like rival businesses, requests for government subsidies, the presentation of labor rates as the sole determinant of manufacturing location and she speaks about the loss of manufacturing jobs as if they simply moved to other nations, instead of being replaced by robots.

There isn't enough time to dive into every fallacy she presents, but the most important thing to say here is that despite her claims, nothing about international trade has really changed.

She misinterprets new American manufacturing jobs as some kind of shift in attitudes about international trade. In reality, it's the total cost of producing a unit and the reliability of the infrastructure that encourage businesses to set up show in one area over another. Some jobs are coming back to America because the labor rates aren't so different, the infrastructure is trusted and we are good at producing that product. As soon as we can get them cheaper from Estonia, we will.

Foroohar does not seem to care one bit about the prices consumers pay, merely on who gets stuck making the product. That's not how you improve an economy; it's how you reward cronies at the expense of the public..

I'm reminded of one of my favorite Paul Krugman lines on this subject:

Exports are not an objective in and of themselves; the need to export is a burden that a country must bear because its import suppliers are crass enough to demand payment.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Milton Friedman goldmine

I just discovered the YouTube channel BasicEconomics. It has tons of original Milton Friedman lectures, including the question and answer sessions that followed, along with other videos that liberty intellectuals will love. This is right up there with LearnLiberty and FreedomChannel as an aggregator of free-market videos.

From Friedman's extended lectures I have already learned that Keynes' support of protectionist trade policies was a temporary political compromise, not a shift in understanding, and that my history textbooks butchered a great story about John D. Rockefeller.

Late in his life, Rockefeller had a clever response when people would walk up to him on the street and criticize his wealth. After they would say he should share it with the rest of the country, Rockefeller would ask them if they wanted to receive an equal share of what everyone would get if he split up his wealth. After they said yes, he would hand them a single dime.

My history book merely said that he would hand out dimes to people on the street. Friedman's version is an actual lesson, not a quirky anecdote.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Vacations don't pay for themselves

I've heard that Robert Reich is a smart guy, and he probably is in some dimensions, being a Rhodes Scholar and all. Economics just isn't an area where he has any real expertise.

Unfortunately, economics is the subject Reich keeps commenting on and his latest idea is particularly comical. Much like the bastardized, straw-man version of the Laffer Curve states all tax cuts will increase tax revenue, Reich said giving all workers paid time off will increase profits:

A mandatory three weeks off would be good for everyone — including employers. 
Studies show workers who take time off are more productive after their batteries are recharged. They have higher morale, and are less likely to mentally check out on the job. 
This means more output per worker — enough to compensate employers for the cost of hiring additional workers to cover for everyone’s three weeks’ vacation time.

This was not a parody. This is a real suggestion from the nation's former labor secretary who is occasionally given airtime on NPR to spread his economic musings.

After the vague hand-waving "studies show" remark, Reich made it clear he was talking about all employees, not just professional ones who make complicated decisions. I'll give him the doubt and assume he means full-time employees, but I still have trouble believing a cashier at a chain store is going to be more than $1000 more productive because of a vacation.

Commenter Kebko at Mike Munger's blog realized a fatal flaw in Reich's idea:

My head just exploded. If workers are so much more productive that you'd have enough additional output to compensate additional workers to cover for vacations, why would you need the additional workers? Never mind. Needing more people to do the same amount of stuff lowers unemployment!

Reich's point about increasing employment by lowering the amount of work each employee is allowed to do is a very old idea popular with labor unions called "spread the work." Henry Hazlitt dedicated an entire chapter to it in Economics in One Lesson. In order to pay a larger pool of workers the same amount each to complete the same limited tasks currently performed, labor costs must increase, and therefor customers will have to pay more.

Why three weeks? He gives no justification why that number hits some kind of magical sweet spot. He reminds us that some workers don't get any paid time off, but he doesn't explain why giving them two weeks off would be insufficient.

I'm taken aback by how infantile Reich's idea is. Stating confidently on blind faith that the economy will be improved
 for all participants if we just require paid vacations is something I'd expect from a pothead English major, not an adult who wears a tie on a regular basis. Why aren't employers doing it now? Well because man, the system, ya know?

I think one way to improve the economy is to require Robert Reich to take 52 weeks of vacation every year from commentating and stop spreading his pseudo-intellectual ideas. That would truly be a win-win-win.


Friday, August 10, 2012

The opposite of a lynch mob

Patrick from Popehat linked an amazing piece this week about the American public's role in the aftermath of the My Lai massacre. After a six-member jury of military officers sentenced Lt. William Calley to life imprisonment for killing 22 civilians, the American public demanded his release and politicians like Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and George Wallace came to his aid, eventually freeing him.

How would you feel if officials from throughout your state came to the aid and support of someone who did the same thing today in Iraq or Afghanistan? Remember, the 6 men who sentenced Calley were all senior officers, all had previously served as Lieutenants in their younger days, and 5/6 of them were combat veterans. They deliberated a long time and based their decision, presumably, on both the facts, any and all aggravation, mitigation, and extenuation while juxtaposing the whole shebang upon their own experiences as junior officers.

The author shared a story when he was in military school as a lieutenant and one of those six officers who served on the jury came in as a guest speaker. While banging the podium for emphasis, he told the class:

Listen Lieutenants. I want to make one thing clear, William Calley is a convicted MUR-DER-ER!

The author went on to question the assumption that collective beliefs are logically and ethically pure. In this case, a half-dozen well-informed men reached one careful conclusion and the general public misunderstood the situation and undid everything.

So should I take this example as an assault on my political beliefs or an excuse to reinforce them?

I believe our constitutional republic is a superior system to direct democracy because it shields decisions from the whims of the public and tells voters there are some things they simply can't do. That mechanism failed here and the ignorance of the public set a guilty man free.

On the other hand, I believe there is no guarantee that the people the government puts into place are going to be the wisest or most qualified. Political connections will play a much larger role than merit. While justice should never be decided democratically, I don't think the experts entrusted with power should be revered uncritically.

While decision making for individuals should be decided by those individuals, and not by the collective, this was not an example of people making choices about their own lives. This was a case of the ignorant collective deciding something for the entire nation, and it turned out, they got it completely wrong. Collective justice usually takes the form of a lynch mob. In this case, it was the complete opposite.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The president is not trying to suppress military votes in Ohio

Ever since the issue of requiring American voters to show an ID came back up again I've been looking for an example of Democrats trying to prevent military members from voting, as they are likely conservative voters who face some difficulties in voting when they are stationed overseas.

Despite recent claims from the right, I still haven't found that example.

Earlier this week I perked up when I heard on the radio the charge that President Barack Obama's administration is trying to make it tougher for members of the military to vote in Ohio, a swing state for the upcoming election, by filing a lawsuit to remove a three-day window before elections when members of the military can cast votes.

I wanted to believe it, honestly I did, as it would have provided me with a great talking point about how political parties care about making it easier for their likely supporters to vote and do not care about the voting rights of the general public.

However, upon further investigation I realized this accusation against the president is completely bogus.

President Obama's administration wants to make it so everyone in Ohio can vote three days early, not just members of the military. and Politifact both reached the same conclusion. Even Snopes was been able to get the goods in on this issue already.

This is a shamefully baseless accusation, and it frustrates me to see right wingers sticking with the phony story and trying to shrug off the truth. A post at promised to provide previous examples of military voter suppression from the Democrats, but the evidence was weak.

I did learn about accusations of Democrats trying to throw out military votes in the 2000 presidential election, but there were legitimate legal reasons to consider disregarding them. In the end, Florida Attorney General and Al Gore supporter Bob Butterworth ended up making sure those votes were counted.

I don't have time to voice my position on every issue that comes up, but in the interest of honesty and fairness I try to speak up when I see members of the right as well as the left do something outrageous like this. There are too many one-eyed watchdogs looking to invent mistakes from one political group and make excuses for another and I don't ever want to be one of them.


Monday, August 6, 2012

The TSA is now unionized

The 21st century's version of the Keystone Kops, the Transportation Security Administration screeners, can now officially enjoying the benefits of being unionized. Last year they were permitted to join the American Federation of Government Employees and a contract has now been written.

I realize some people might feel that allowing the incompetentt, abusive TSA screener to join forces with greedy union thugs is a bad thing. If you cross a male lion and a female tiger, you get a liger, a larger, more powerful beast than either of its predecessors. Wouldn't this result in a more powerful TSA?

That's the wrong way to look at it. Instead, imagine these five wonderful words:

"The TSA is on strike."

Instead of bringing air traffic to a halt, a TSA strike could push congress into finally abolishing this horrible Frankenstein's monster of an agency. Since they've never detected a single terrorist, I can't think of a single downside to losing them.


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Does it matter if Schrödinger’s Rapist is black?

There's a well-known blog post titled Schrödinger’s Rapist from a few years ago that I finally read. I was surprised to find that I agree with it, but I'm equally surprised more leftists don't take offense to it.

When I got a motor scooter a few years ago, I learned the mindset one needs to drive one is to be constantly on alert for danger. I was told to check my mirrors every eight seconds and be prepared to move out of the way of cars. If I let my guard down and a car strikes me, even though the other driver would be at fault, I will be hurt and they will not. If I let my guard down, I am at their mercy.

According to the Schrödinger’s Rapist post, this is essentially how women go about their lives while walking a city street or out on a first date with a man. They don't know if he's going to try to attack her and they want to avoid any situation where they will be at someone else's mercy. There's a classic asymmetrical information problem where the man may know he's harmless, but the woman doesn't and it impacts how she spends her free time, so buck up Chuck and be accommodating.

I get it. I'm happy to say that looking back, I have adjusted my behavior as a man to make sure women weren't put in a position where they had to trust me.

There's also one time when I was in rural Maine walking along the side of the road to my parents' house. There were two young women ahead of walking much slower on the other side of the road in the same direction. It was daytime and there were about a dozen houses within a quarter mile and a few cars drove by every minute. The timing just happened to work out that when I needed to cross the road to enter mom and dad's driveway, the two women were there too. From their perspective, I crossed the road to walk right at them. They saw me coming and immediately walked diagonally to the other side of the road. I said nothing and walked down the long wooded driveway where my parents live. They thought I might be coming for them, but I was just going home. No words were exchanged.

I felt a little insulted, but I understood what their motivation was. It then occurred to me that if I had been a black person, I would probably feel more insulted and I would record this as an example of racism, even though unbeknownst to me the same thing would have happened to a white guy.

That's where I'm surprised the Schrödinger’s Rapist post does't attract more criticism from the left. It makes the case that being in an elevator with a stranger becomes a fearful scenario the moment that stranger turns out to be a male. That is not considered sexism or a violation of political correctness. It doesn't matter that sexual assaults in elevators are extremely rare. We're willing to cut women some slack for believing myths because the fear they feel is very real.

If being fearful of unknown men in elevators is acceptable, what happens when that unknown man turns out to be black?

Baseless terror of black men in elevators has been mocked for decades, so why is fear of all men in elevators acceptable? Saying we should accept that someone is afraid of another person because of demographics, baseless or not, is problematic.

It's incredibly uncomfortable to say, but minority members are more likely to commit sexual assaults. There's plenty of people trying to disprove this by focusing on the relative rarity of interracial rapes, but that assumes women of all races are victimized equally.

From a 2006 U.S. Department of Justice report:

Whites (37%) and blacks (35%) accounted for higher percentages of rapists than Hispanics (23%).
When you factor in that the 2010 census reported 72 percent of Americans are white, 13 percent are black and 12 percent are Latino, you can see some unfortunate conclusions: The average black or Latino male is more likely to commit a sexual assault.

A New Mexico sexual assault prevention statistical analysis reported: "While the greatest number of rapes/sexual assaults occurred among Whites, the rate of rapes/sexual assaults per 1000 persons was greater among Blacks and Hispanics."

These numbers make us all uncomfortable, and may be explained by the correlation between crime and poverty instead of any biological genesis. They may also be skewed by which sexual assaults are reported, but the numbers are there, and what's more, women believe them.

A woman on the street is much more likely to be attacked by a male stranger than a female stranger. Schrödinger’s Rapist suggests this makes it acceptable to be distrusting of men on the street. Does it make the same allowance for race that it does for gender? The subtitle "A guy’s guide to approaching strange women without being maced" doesn't sound too PC when that guy is black.

Make no mistake, I'm guilty of the same double standard that being suspicious of men is more acceptable than being suspicious of certain races. I'm just having a hard time justifying it to myself.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The return of the defense Keynesians

About six months ago while watching a conservative video I spotted in the background a tri-fold display about how cuts to the military budget would harm certain towns and cities that depend on them for jobs. The clip never got into the details of the subject, but I got the gist of it and knew one day I would have to fight those arguments

That day is today.

House and Senate Republicans are saying a stalled budget discussion that would result in a $55 billion cut to next year's defense budget is going to harm local communities in their districts that are built around military bases or arms companies.

There are two major ways to tackle claims like these. One is to challenge those assumptions and say the position is based on faulty logic, while the other is to say, "So what?" This is a "So what?" argument.

Spending cuts always cost someone their job. I think the Republicans are correct that there are specific communities that will shrivel up and die when the paycheck is yanked out of their war factory, but why should that stop us?

When a town or city dies, the people living there are not summarily executed. They are free citizens able to find a home elsewhere. It can be expensive, and it's not a pleasant experience, but what is the alternative? Why should we prop up zombie towns that no longer have a foundation?

If a community sprung up around the logging trade because it was near forests and strong rivers, the march of progress eventually made those features obsolete. If that community can't find something new to do and has nothing going for it, what use is there to keep people wandering aimless inside? That community is dead. Just because it was fruitful at once doesn't mean the outside public has an obligation to maintain it as a mausoleum for all eternity.

I can understand someone having an emotional connection to the town where they grew up, and of course, I can understand a politician wanting to bring home the bacon for his constituents. However, the rest of the country is not entitled to pay for those fancies. That is a parasitic relationship.

If we need that military spending, argue that the military spending itself is good for the county. Don't say it's worth wasting money to prop up dead communities.

As if that wasn't enough nonsense for one flawed political position, these Republicans have to go further and make classic Keynesian arguments that defense spending creates jobs, so we need to waste money on the military for the sake of the economy.

This inconsistent vision was already lampooned last year as "Defense Keynesianism" by Matthew Yglesias, where politicians who normally reject the aggregate demand model are willing to invoke it to protect military spending. Consistency aside, the counterargument was already laid down in 1946 in chapter nine of Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt.