The Rahn Curve Revisited

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The theory behind the Rahn Curve is simple — but not simplistic. A relatively small government with powers limited mainly to the protection of citizens and their property is worth more than its cost to taxpayers because it fosters productive economic activity (not to mention liberty). But additional government spending hinders productive activity in many ways, which are discussed in Daniel Mitchell’s paper, “The Impact of Government Spending on Economic Growth.” (I would add to Mitchell’s list the burden of regulatory activity, which grows even when government does not.)

What does the Rahn Curve look like? Mitchell estimates this relationship between government spending and economic growth:

Rahn curve (2)

The curve is dashed rather than solid at low values of government spending because it has been decades since the governments of developed nations have spent as little as 20 percent of GDP. But as Mitchell and others note, the combined spending of governments in the U.S. was 10 percent (and less) until the eve of the Great Depression. And it was in the low-spending, laissez-faire era from the end of the Civil War to the early 1900s that the U.S. enjoyed its highest sustained rate of economic growth.

In an earlier post, I ventured an estimate of the Rahn curve that spanned most of the history of the United States. I came up with this relationship:

Real rate of growth = -0.066(G/GDP) + 0.054

To be precise, it’s the annualized rate of growth over the most recent 10-year span, as a function of G/GDP (fraction of GDP spent by governments at all levels) in the preceding 10 years. The relationship is lagged because it takes time for government spending (and related regulatory activities) to wreak their counterproductive effects on economic activity. Also, I include transfer payments (e.g., Social Security) in my measure of G because there’s no essential difference between transfer payments and many other kinds of government spending. They all take money from those who produce and give it to those who don’t (e.g., government employees engaged in paper-shuffling, unproductive social-engineering schemes, and counterproductive regulatory activities).

When G/GDP is greater than the amount needed for national defense and domestic justice — no more than 0.1 (10 percent of GDP) — it discourages productive, growth-producing, job-creating activity. And because G weighs most heavily on taxpayers with above-average incomes, higher rates of G/GDP also discourage saving, which finances growth-producing investments in new businesses, business expansion, and capital (i.e., new and more productive business assets, both physical and intellectual).

I’ve taken a closer look at the post-World War II numbers, because of the marked decline in the rate of growth since the end of the war:

Real GDP 1947q1-2016q2

Here’s the result:

Real rate of growth = -0.364(G/GDP) + 0.0626(BA/GDP) – 0.000287(FR) + 0.0537

Again, it’s the annualized rate of growth over a 10-year span, as a function of G/GDP (fraction of GDP spent by governments at all levels) in the preceding 10 years, and two new terms. The first new term, BA/GDP, represents the constant-dollar value of private nonresidential assets (i.e., business assets) as a fraction of GDP, averaged over the preceding 10 years. The second new term, FR, represents the average number of Federal Register pages, in thousands, for the preceding 10-year period.

The equation has a good r-squared (0.729) and is highly significant (F-value = 4.16E-13). The p-values of the coefficients and intercept are also highly significant (7.43E-08, 1.67E-08, 0.00011, and 0.0014). The standard error of the estimate is 0.0059, that is, about 6/10 of a percentage point. I found no other intuitively appealing variables that add to the explanatory power of the equation.

What does the equation portend for the next 10 years? Based on G/GDP, BA/GDP, and FR for the most recent 10-year period (2006-2015), the real rate of growth for the next 10 years will be about 1.7 percent. The earlier equation yields an estimate of 2.9 percent. The new equation wins the reality test, as you can tell by the blue line in the graph above.

In fact the year-over-year rates of real growth for the past four quarters (2015Q3 through 2016Q2) are 2.2 percent, 1.9 percent, 1.6 percent, and 1.2 percent. So an estimate of 1.6 percent for the next 10 years looks rather optimistic.

And it probably is. If G/GDP were to rise from 0.381 (the average for 2006-2015) to 0.43, the rate of real growth would fall to zero, even if BA/GDP and FR were to remain at their 2006-2015 levels. (And FR is much more likely to rise than to fall.) It’s easy to imagine G/GDP hitting 0.43 with a Democrat president and Democrat-controlled Congress mandating “free” college educations, universal “free” health care, and who knows what else.

Oh, the Horror!

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I constructed the following graph with the aid of Advance Title Search at IMDb.

Horror, musical, and comedy films as percentage of total

How would you explain the shifting popularity of the three genres? Here are my thoughts:

The rising popularity of comedies in the 1930s and 1940s can be attributed to the tensions of the Great Depression and World War II. The renewed and rising popularity of comedies in the 1960s to 2010s can be attributed to the rising social tensions of those decades. The relative unpopularity of comedy in the 1950s attests to the “normalcy” of that decade.

There were a few silent “musicals,” but real musicals didn’t arrive on the scene until the late 1920s, so the rise in popularity in the 1930s is unsurprising. The further rise in the 1940s is probably the due to the impetus of World War II, and the need for “light” escape. The decline in the relative popularity of musicals since the 1940s reflects the growing “sophistication” of the populace. Musicals defy belief in ways that comedies and horror films do not. People often crack jokes; horror simply exaggerated the brutal reality of twisted bodies, twisted minds, and the destructiveness of man and nature. But people don’t begin a sentence and then break into song, with the backing of a full orchestra and the accompaniment of choruses and dancers.

What about horror films, the taste for which seems to have risen through the 1980s, dropped in the 1990s, and since resumed its climb? Viewing a horror film is a way of fighting fire with fire: immersing oneself in the phony frights of the screen in order to make the traumas of everyday life seem milder by comparison. The Great Depression was followed in turn by World War II and the Cold War that ended in 1991 (and during which nuclear annihilation seemed a possibility). The Cold War was studded with lesser but controversial wars (Korea, Vietnam), assassinations, social unrest, and oil shortages, to name some of the lowlights of the post-World War II era through 1991. Then came the “peace dividend” of the 1990s: a decade of 1950-ish “normalcy” (compared with what had preceded it). That brief era ended shockingly on September 11, 2001, and it has been followed by wars, seemingly unextinguishable terror, and economic stagnation (punctuated by the worst recession since the Great Depression). So moviegoers resumed their antidotal intake of horror.

Your turn.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

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I have been scathing about Geoffrey R. Stone, a law professor at the University of Chicago. I vented my wrath about his “liberal” casuistry in “Killing Free Speech in Order to Save It” (2005) and “Liberal Claptrap” (2006). I must admit, however, that I like and agree with most of Stone’s recent essay, “Free Expression in Peril.”

Stone writes, for example, that “[w]e live today in an era of political correctness in which students themselves demand censorship, and colleges, afraid to offend those students, too often surrender academic freedom.” Stone then catalogs some of the many offenses against free speech that have been committed by students, often with the aid of administrators. Stone then asks

[h]ow did we get here? It was not long ago when college students were demanding the right to free speech. Now they demand the right to be free from speech that they find offensive or upsetting.

One often-expressed theory is that students of this generation, unlike their predecessors, are weak, fragile, and emotionally unstable. They’ve been raised, the argument goes, by parents who have protected, rewarded, and celebrated them in every way from the time they were infants. Therefore they’ve never learned to deal with challenge, defeat, uncertainty, anxiety, stress, insult, or fear. They are emotionally incapable of dealing with challenge.

But if that is so, then the proper role of a university is not to protect and pamper them but to prepare them for the difficulties of the real world. The goal should not be to shield them from discomfort, insult, and insecurity, but to enable them to be effective citizens. If their parents have, indeed, failed them, then their colleges and universities should save them from themselves.

There is, however, another possibility. It is that students, or at least some students, have always felt this way, but until now they were too intimidated, too shy, too deferential to speak up. If so, this generation of college students deserves credit, because instead of remaining silent and oppressed, they have the courage to demand respect, equality, and safety.

I think there is an element of truth in both of these perspectives, but I am inclined to think that the former explains more than the latter.

I agree with Stone. Today’s students seem to be spoiled brats, and their anti-free speech behavior is nothing better than a tantrum.

Stone, later in the essay, poses and answers some questions:

Should students and faculty be allowed to express whatever views they want, however offensive they might be to others?

Yes. Absolutely.

Should those who disagree and who are offended be allowed to condemn that speech and those speakers in the most vehement terms? Yes. Absolutely.

Should those who are offended and who disagree be allowed to demand that the university punish those who have offended them? Yes. Absolutely.

Should the university punish those whose speech annoys, offends, and insults others? Absolutely not.

That is the core meaning of academic freedom.

Though he does wimp out at that point:

Does that mean the university’s hands are tied? No.

A university should educate its students about the importance of civility and mutual respect. These values should be reinforced by education and example, not by censorship.

A university should encourage disagreement, argument, and debate. It should instill in its students and faculty members the importance of winning the day by facts, by ideas, and by persuasion, rather than by force, obstruction, or censorship. For a university to fulfill its most fundamental mission, it must be a safe space for even the most loathsome, odious, offensive, disloyal arguments. Students should be encouraged to be tough, fearless, rigorous, and effective advocates and critics.

At the same time, a university has to recognize that in our society, flawed as it is, the costs of free speech will fall most heavily on those who feel the most marginalized and unwelcome. All of us feel that way sometimes, but the individuals who bear the brunt of free speech — at least of certain types of free speech — often include racial minorities; religious minorities; women; gay people, lesbians, and transsexuals; and immigrants. Universities must be sensitive to that reality.

Although they should not attempt to “solve” this problem by censorship, universities should support students who feel vulnerable, marginalized, silenced, and demeaned. They should help them learn how to speak up, how to respond effectively, how to challenge those whose attitudes, whose words, and whose beliefs offend and appall them. The world is not a safe space, and we must enable our graduates to win the battles they’ll have to fight in years to come.

What about conservatives who believe in free speech, free markets, traditional morality, and the defense of America and the aforementioned principles that seem to be disappearing from the land? Speak up, Professor Stone, I can’t hear you.

Anyway, Stone continues [with my occasional comment in brackets]:

But hard cases remain. As simple as it may be to state a principle, it is always much more difficult to apply it to concrete situations. So let me leave you with a few cases to ponder.

A sociology professor gives a talk on campus condemning homosexuality as immoral and calling on “normal” students to steer clear of “fags, perverts, and sexual degenerates.” What, if anything, should the chair of the sociology department do? In my judgment, this is a classic case of academic freedom. The professor is well within his rights to offer such opinions, however offensive others might find them.

A student hangs a Confederate flag, a swastika, an image of an aborted fetus, or a “Vote for Trump” sign on the door of his dorm room. What, if anything, should administrators do? The university should not pick and choose which messages to permit and which to ban. That is classic censorship. But in the context of a residence hall, where students are a bit of a captive audience, the university can have a content-neutral rule that bans all signs on dorm-room doors. [This is fair enough, but wimpish.]

The dean of a university’s law school goes on Fox News and says “Abortion is murder. We should fire any female faculty member and expel any female student who has had an abortion.” The university president is then inundated with complaints from alumni saying, in effect, “I’ll never give another nickel to your damn school as long as she remains dean.” What should the president do? A dean or other administrator at a university has distinctive responsibilities. If she engages in behavior, including expression, that renders her effectively incapable of fulfilling her administrative responsibilities, then she can be removed from her position. [As a former executive, I concur.] This is necessary to the core functioning of the institution. At the same time, though, if the dean is also a faculty member, she cannot be disciplined as a faculty member for the exercise of academic freedom.

We needn’t rely solely on hypotheticals. There was the situation at DePaul University in which a student group invited a highly controversial speaker who maintains, among other things, that there is no wage gap for women, that as a gay man he can attest that one’s sexual orientation is purely a matter of choice, and that white men have fewer advantages than women and African-Americans. A group of student protesters disrupted the event by shouting, ultimately causing the talk to be canceled. They maintained that their shouting was merely the exercise of free speech.

What should the university do in such circumstances? Should it permit the protest? Arrest the protesters on the spot? Allow them to protest and then punish them after the fact?

Such a disruption is not in any way an exercise of free expression. Although students can protest the event in other ways, they cannot prevent either speakers or listeners from engaging in a dialogue they wish to engage in without obstruction. In such circumstances, the protesters should be removed and disciplined for their behavior. (DePaul’s president, the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, apologized to the speaker but also criticized “speakers of his ilk” for being “more entertainers and self-serving provocateurs than the public intellectuals they purport to be.” [Holtschneider is clearly a thoroughly indoctrinated leftist.])

Or consider the incident last year at the University of Oklahoma when a group of fraternity brothers, in a private setting, chanted a racist song. Someone who was present at the time filmed the event and circulated it online. Was the university’s president, David Boren, right to expel the students? In my judgment, no.

This statement occurs in the middle of Stone’s essay:

Faced with the continuing challenges to academic freedom at American universities, the University of Chicago’s president, Robert J. Zimmer, charged a faculty committee last year with the task of drafting a formal statement on freedom of expression. The goal of that committee, which I chaired, was to stake out Chicago’s position on these issues. That statement has since become a model for a number of other universities.

The work of Stone’s committee found its way into the candid and refreshing letter of acceptance from the University of Chicago’s Dean of Students to incoming freshmen; for example:

Once here you will discover that one of the University of Chicago’s defining characteristics is our commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression. This is captured in the University’s faculty report on freedom of expression. Members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn, without fear of censorship. Civility and mutual respect are vital to all of us, and freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to harass or threaten others. You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion, and even disagreement. At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort.

Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.

Two-point-nine cheers for Geoffrey Stone; three cheers for the University of Chicago.

Consistent Conservatism

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[A] person’s political philosophy — if he may be said to have one — is likely to consist of a set of attitudes, many of them logically irreconcilable. This, I believe, is due mainly to the influence of temperament on one’s political views. It is a rare human being who does not interpret the world through the lens of his preferences, and those preferences seem to be more a matter of temperament than of knowledge and reason. Even highly intelligent persons are capable of believing in the most outlandish things because they want to believe those things.

Parsing Political Philosophy (II),” Politics & Prosperity

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I offer myself as an example of the operation of temperament on political preferences. I am, by nature, a conservative person. For example, I’m cautious about change. It’s my view that if a thing works reasonably well, tinkering with it will probably cause it to stop working well, or at all. For that reason, I dislike meddling in the affairs of others. I don’t know what they know about their own circumstances, so I presume that they’re acting in their own best interests. And if they mess up their lives, it’s up to them to make things right if they can. And if they can’t, it’s not my responsibility to clean up the mess that they’ve made. But, in typically conservative fashion, I will try to help them if I’m attached to them by blood or another strong bond.

By extension, I intensely dislike government meddling because it can mess up so many lives, even (and especially) lives that would otherwise be well lived. It follows that government has only one legitimate function, which is to protect Americans from force and fraud. That implies a vigorous defense of Americans and their overseas interests against enemies, foreign and domestic. The purpose of a vigorous defense is to enable Americans to lead their lives (lawfully) as they deem best; it is not to make America safe for governmental meddling in social and economic affairs.

Government, in short, should be conservative in the way that I am conservative. Some would call me a libertarian, but it is my long-held position that conservatism is true libertarianism.

My consistent conservatism is reflected in my attitude toward WikiLeaks. I was gladdened by this recent news:

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange promised he’s not done leaking information that could be damaging to Hillary Clinton. During an interview this week with Fox’s Megyn Kelly he said the documents would be “significant” in perhaps turning the tide of the 2016 election by giving voters a better understanding who they’re electing.

Not that I’m a Donald Trump fan; I’m not, as you will know if you’re a regular reader of this blog. But I welcome almost any development that might keep that lying, hypocritical statist Hillary Clinton out of the White House.

Am I a hypocrite, too? My visceral (conservative) reaction to activists, protestors, and rabble-rousers is “go away and mind your own business.” That was my reaction to WikiLeaks when I first heard of it — and Julian Assange — six years ago, in connection with the release of documents related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When it comes to war-making in defense of Americans and their overseas interests, my conservative (i.e., cautious) view is that it’s better to kill enemies sooner rather than later. Delay gives enemies a chance to build their strength, and to use it in unexpected ways.

I know that the politicians and generals who wage war aren’t always or often brilliant about how they do it. But perfection is hard to come by, so I’m willing to tolerate mistakes as long as they err on the side of “too much” defense. (LBJ’s Vietnam vacillations were maddening to me; he should have gone all out or bugged out, but he did neither.) I was therefore angered by the revelations six years ago because it seemed to me that they put America’s war-fighters in jeopardy, or at least compromised America’s ability to wage war.

So, no, I don’t think I’m hypocritical in the least. Anything (non-violent) that helps to take down a domestic enemy like Hillary Clinton is acceptable. Anything (violent or non-violent) that damages America’s defenses against foreign enemies is unacceptable, and often treasonous.

Conservative in temperament, conservative in politics, consistently conservative. That’s my motto.

Utilitarianism vs. Liberty (II)

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Utilitarianism is an empty concept. And it’s inimical to liberty.

What is utilitarianism, as I use the term? This:

1. (Philosophy) the doctrine that the morally correct course of action consists in the greatest good for the greatest number, that is, in maximizing the total benefit resulting, without regard to the distribution of benefits and burdens.

To maximize the total benefit is to maximize social welfare, which is the well-being of all persons, somehow measured and aggregated. A true social-welfare maximizer would strive to maximize the social welfare of the planet. But schemes to maximize social welfare usually are aimed at maximizing it for the persons in a particular country, so they really are schemes to maximize national welfare.

National welfare may conflict with planetary welfare; the former may be increased (by some arbitrary measure) at the expense of the latter. Suppose, for example, that Great Britain had won the Revolutionary War and forced Americans to live on starvation wages while making things for the enjoyment of the British people. A lot of Britons would have been better off materially (though perhaps not spiritually), while most Americans certainly would have been worse off. The national welfare of Great Britain would have been improved, if not maximized, “without regard to the distribution of benefits and burdens.” On a contemporary note, anti-globalists assert (wrongly) that globalization of commerce exploits the people of poor countries. If they were right, they would at least have the distinction of striving to maximize planetary welfare. (Though there is no such thing, as I will show.)

That’s enough about utilitarianism for now. Turning to liberty, I have defined it as

the general observance of social norms that enables a people to enjoy…peaceful, willing coexistence and its concomitant: beneficially cooperative behavior.

Where do social norms come into it? The observance of social norms — society’s customs and morals — creates mutual trust, respect, and forbearance, from which flow peaceful, willing coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior. In such conditions, only a minimal state is required to deal with those who will not live in peaceful coexistence, that is, foreign and domestic aggressors. And prosperity flows from cooperative economic behavior — the exchange of goods and services for the mutual benefit of the parties who to the exchange.

Society isn’t to be confused with nation or any other kind of geopolitical entity. Society — true society — is

3a :  an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another.

A close-knit group, in other words. It should go without saying that the members of such a group will be bound by culture: language, customs, morals, and (usually) religion. Their observance of a common set of social norms enables them to enjoy peaceful, willing coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior.

Free markets mimic some aspects of society, in that they are physical and virtual places where buyers and sellers meet peacefully (almost all of the time) and willingly, to cooperate for their mutual benefit. Free markets thus transcend (or can transcend) the cultural differences that delineate societies.

Large geopolitical areas also mimic some aspects of society, in that their residents meet peacefully (most of the time). But “cooperation” in such matters as mutual aid (care for the elderly, disaster recovery, etc.) is forced by government; it isn’t true cooperation, which is voluntary.

In any event, the United States is not a society. Even aside from the growing black-white divide, the bonds of nationhood are far weaker than those of a true society (or a free market), and are therefore easier to subvert. Even persons of the left agree that mutual trust, respect, and forbearance are at a low ebb — probably their lowest ebb since the Civil War.

Therein lies a clue to the emptiness of utilitarianism. Why should a qualified white person care about or believe in the national welfare when, in furtherance of national welfare (or something), a job or university slot for which the white person applies is given, instead, to a less qualified black person because of racial quotas that are imposed or authorized by government? Why should a taxpayer care about or believe in the national welfare if he is forced by government to share the burden of enlarging it through government-enforced transfer payments to those who don’t pay taxes? By what right or gift of omniscience is a social engineer able to intuit the feelings of 300-plus million individual persons and adjudge that the national welfare will be maximized if some persons are forced to cede privileges or money to other persons?

Consider Robin Hanson’s utilitarian scheme, which he calls futarchy:

In futarchy, democracy would continue to say what we want, but betting markets would now say how to get it. That is, elected representatives would formally define and manage an after-the-fact measurement of national welfare, while market speculators would say which policies they expect to raise national welfare….

Futarchy is intended to be ideologically neutral; it could result in anything from an extreme socialism to an extreme minarchy, depending on what voters say they want, and on what speculators think would get it for them….

A betting market can estimate whether a proposed policy would increase national welfare by comparing two conditional estimates: national welfare conditional on adopting the proposed policy, and national welfare conditional on not adopting the proposed policy.

Get it? “Democracy would say what we want” and futarchy “could result in anything from an extreme socialism to an extreme minarchy, depending on what voters say they want.” Hanson the social engineer believes that the “values” to be maximized should be determined “democratically,” that is, by majorities (however slim) of voters. Further, it’s all right with Hanson if those majorities lead to socialism. So Hanson envisions national welfare that isn’t really national; it’s determined by what’s approved by one-half-plus-one of the persons who vote. Scratch that. It’s determined by the politicians who are elected by as few as one-half-plus-one of the persons who vote, and in turn by unelected bureaucrats and judges — many of whom were appointed by politicians long out of office. It is those unelected relics of barely elected politicians who really establish most of the rules that govern much of Americans’ economic and social behavior.

Hanson’s version of national welfare amounts to this: whatever is is right. If Hitler had been elected by a slim majority of Germans, thereby legitimating him in Hanson’s view, his directives would have expressed the national will of Germans and, to the extent that they were carried out, would have maximized the national welfare of Germany.

Hanson’s futarchy is so bizarre as to be laughable. Ralph Merkle nevertheless takes the ball from Hanson and runs with it:

We choose to be more specific [than Hanson] about the definition of what we shall call the “collective welfare”, for the very simple reason that “voting on values” retains the dubious voting mechanism as a core component of futarchy….

We can create a DAO Democracy capable of self-improvement which has unlimited growth potential by modifying futarchy to use an unmodifiable democratic collective welfare metric, adapting it to work as a Decentralized Autonomous Organization, implementing an initial system using simple components (these components including the democratic collective welfare metric, a mechanism for adopting legislation (bills)) and using a built-in prediction market to filter through and adopt proposals for improved components….

1) Anyone can propose a bill at any time….

8) Any existing law can be amended or repealed with the same ease with which a new law can be proposed….

13) The only time this governance process would support “the tyranny of the majority” would be if oppression of some minority actually made the majority better off, and the majority was made sufficiently better off that it outweighed the resulting misery to the minority.

So, for example, we should trust that the super-majority of voters whose incomes are below the national median wouldn’t further tax the voters whose incomes are above the national median? And we should assume that the below-median voters would eventually notice that the heavy-taxation policy is causing their real incomes to decline? And we should assume that those below-median voters would care in any event, given the psychic income they derive from sticking it to “the rich”? What a fairy tale. The next thing I would expect Merkle to assert is that the gentile majority of Germans didn’t applaud or condone the oppression of the Jewish minority, that Muslim hordes that surround Israel aren’t scheming to annihilate it, and on into the fantasy-filled night.

How many times must I say it? There is no such thing as a national, social, cosmic, global, or aggregate welfare function of any kind. (Go here for a long but probably not exhaustive list of related posts.)

To show why there’s no such thing as an aggregate welfare function, I usually resort to a homely example:

  • A dislikes B and punches B in the nose.
  • A is happier; B is unhappier.
  • Someone (call him Omniscient Social Engineer) somehow measures A’s gain in happiness, compares it with B’s loss of happiness, and declares that the former outweighs the latter. Thus it is a socially beneficial thing if A punches B in the nose, or the government takes money from B and gives it to A, or the government forces employers to hire people who look like A at the expense of people who look like B, etc.

If you’re a B — and there are a lot of them out there — do you believe that A’s gain somehow offsets your loss? Unless you’re a masochist or a victim of the Stockholm syndrome, you’ll be ticked off about what A has done to you, or government has done to you on A’s behalf. Who is an Omniscient Social Engineer — a Hanson or Merkle — to say that your loss is offset by A’s gain? That’s just pseudo-scientific hogwash, also known as utilitarianism. But that’s exactly what Hanson, Merkle, etc., are peddling when they invoke social welfare, national welfare, planetary welfare, or any other aggregate measure of welfare.

What about GDP as a measure of national welfare? Even economists — or most of them — admit that GDP doesn’t measure aggregate happiness, well-being, or any similar thing. To begin with, a lot of stuff is omitted from GDP, including so-called household production, which is the effort (not to mention love) that Moms (it’s usually Moms) put into the care, feeding, and hugging of their families. And for reasons hinted at in the preceding paragraph, the income that’s earned by A, B, C, etc., not only buys different things, but A, B, C, etc., place unique (and changing) values on those different things and derive different and unmeasurable degrees of happiness (and sometimes remorse) from them.

If GDP, which is is relatively easy to estimate (within a broad range of error), doesn’t measure national welfare, what could? Certainly not systems of the kind proposed by Hanson or Merkle, both of which pretend to aggregate that which can’t be aggregated: the happiness of an entire population. (Try it with one stranger, and see if you can arrive at a joint measure of happiness.)

The worst thing about utilitarian schemes and their real-world counterparts (regulation, progressive taxation, affirmative action, etc.) is that they are anti-libertarian. As I say here,

utilitarianism compromises liberty because it accords no value to individual decisions about preferred courses of action. Decisions, to a utilitarian, are valid only if they comply with the views of the utilitarian, who feigns omniscience about the (incommensurable) happiness of individuals.

No system can be better than the “system” of liberty, in which a minimal government protects its citizens from each other and from foreign enemies — and nothing else. Liberty was lost in the instant that government was empowered not only to protect A from B (and vice versa) but to inflict A’s preferences on B (and vice versa).

Futarchy — and every other utilitarian scheme — exhibits total disregard for liberty, and for the social norms on which it ultimately depends. That’s no surprise. Social or national welfare is obviously more important to utilitarians than liberty. If half of all Americans (or American voters) want something, all of us should have it, by God, even if “it” is virtual enslavement by the regulatory-welfare state, a declining rate of economic growth, and fewer jobs for young black men, who then take it out on each other, their neighbors, and random whites.

Patrick Henry didn’t say “Give me maximum national welfare or give me death,” he said “Give me liberty or give me death.” Liberty enables people to make their own choices about what’s best for them. And if they make bad choices, they can learn from them and go on to make better ones.

No better “system” has been invented or will ever be invented. Those who second-guess liberty — utilitarians, reformers, activists, social justice warriors, and all the rest — only undermine it. And in doing so, they most assuredly diminish the welfare of most people just to advance their own smug view of how the world should be arranged.

“And the Truth Shall Set You Free”

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The truth contained in Drs. Lawrence Mayer and Paul McHugh’s “Sexuality and Gender” (The New Atlantis No. 50, Fall 2016) will fall on the same deaf ears as many other truths. The “party of science” is really the party of magical thinking — about many things, including economics, climate, race, war, and (most recently) “gender.”

“Gender” is the latest egregious example of seeing the world as one wishes it were, instead of the way it is. “Gender” smacks of Victorian prudery; it’s a euphemism for “sex.” But it’s more than that, because it connotes more than a mere biological fact of life; it connotes a state of mind that somehow transcends biology. (Very Zen, don’t you think?)

Among the subjects addressed by Drs. Mayer and McHugh is “gender identity” The executive summary of Part Three, which addresses that subject, gives these findings:

● The hypothesis that gender identity is an innate, fixed property of human beings that is independent of biological sex — that a person might be “a man trapped in a woman’s body” or “a woman trapped in a man’s body” — is not supported by scientific evidence.

● According to a recent estimate, about 0.6% of U.S. adults identify as a gender that does not correspond to their biological sex.

● Studies comparing the brain structures of transgender and non-transgender individuals have demonstrated weak correlations between brain structure and cross-gender identification. These correlations do not provide any evidence for a neurobiological basis for cross-gender identification.

● Compared to the general population, adults who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery continue to have a higher risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes. One study found that, compared to controls, sex-reassigned individuals were about 5 times more likely to attempt suicide and about 19 times more likely to die by suicide.

● Children are a special case when addressing transgender issues. Only a minority of children who experience cross-gender identification will continue to do so into adolescence or adulthood.

● There is little scientific evidence for the therapeutic value of interventions that delay puberty or modify the secondary sex characteristics of adolescents, although some children may have improved psychological well-being if they are encouraged and supported in their cross-gender identification. There is no evidence that all children who express gender-atypical thoughts or behavior should be encouraged to become transgender.

Don’t get me wrong, I bear no animus toward those few persons who are truly conflicted about their sexuality. But I have no sympathy for juvenile faddishness and the unseemly (and temporarily halted) eradication of privacy in the name of “gender equality.” It’s as if time-honored codes of conduct have somehow become unnecessary and unduly discriminatory. (Where have we heard that before?)

And, as usual, the rush to remake the world in a new, trendy image won’t stop with “equality.” It will become (and has become, in some places) verboten to refer to anyone by anything but an approved label, just as it has become verboten in some places to refuse to bake a wedding cake or provide flowers for a homosexual “marriage.”

It’s easy enough for a black, a woman, or any one of a long list of “protected groups” to march into an EEOC office and file a baseless discrimination claim. It’s unsurprising that the list of protected groups now encompasses anyone who identifies as LGB or T. (What’s wrong with Q?)

What I want to know is why the EEOC and all of the other equality-enforcing agencies of government are still in business. Given the relatively small number of persons who aren’t in a protected group — namely straight, white, non-Hispanic males under the age of 40 who are neither disabled (a broad category) or veterans — it seems to me that equality has already been achieved. Except for the unprotected, of course, but only their mothers give two hoots about them (maybe).

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Related posts:
Two-Percent Tyranny
The Culture War
Ruminations on the Left in America
The Euphemism Conquers All
Superiority
The War on Conservatism
How Government Subverts Social Norms
Identity and Crime
There’s More to It Than Religious Liberty
The Authoritarianism of Modern Liberalism, and the Conservative Antidote
Privilege, Power, and Hypocrisy
The Beginning of the End of Liberty in America
The Technocratic Illusion
“Fairness”
Equal Protection in Principle and Practice
Society, Polarization, and Dissent

Laugh of the Day

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Facebook, for me, is a mildly amusing diversion. I have only 39 Facebook “friends,” and I follow only about a third of them. The rest are obligatory friends whose doings don’t interest me.

I strive to make Facebook as unintrusive as possible. To that end, I have long used the F.B. Purity extension for Firefox, which eliminates a lot of clutter and unwanted features. I also use Adblock Plus, though Facebook has found a way to work around it and plops an ad or two in my newsfeed every day.

I’ve just learned that Facebook categorizes the politics of its users. I was amused to find that I’m a Liberal. I guess it’s because of the postings of some of my friends — postings that I usually hide to avoid irritation.  It’s easy to delete the political preference setting, so I did.

And I’ve just come to understand the meaning of the popular abbreviation for Facebook: FB = For the Birds.