Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Nobody has ever endorsed "trickle-down economics"

...despite the fact that huge swaths of the left seem so dead set on arguing against it. That makes it pretty much the dictionary definition of a straw man. The brilliant British MEP Daniel Hannan explains why here. Some excerpts:

Explaining how the term is actually a leftist invention:

The case against trickle-down, then, is pretty clear. But who exactly is making the case for it? Where are the economists, the politicians, the commentators, arguing that we should give more to the rich? Who avers that the best way to stimulate the economy is for plutocrats to have more to spend on their Lamborghinis and swimming pools? 
Well, here’s an odd thing: I can’t find anyone. Which is, when you think about it, pretty astonishing. One of the consequences of the Internet has been to ensure that even the most eccentric points of view generally turn out to have some advocates. But my online searches, while turning up hundreds of people debunking trickle-down, have not discovered a single person defending it. Could it be that the whole thing is a socialist fantasy, a false creation proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain of Left-wing polemicists? 
In a 2012 paper for the Hoover Institute, the brilliant American writer Thomas Sowell showed that phrase was first used by FDR’s speech writer, Samuel Rosenman...
Explaining basic Laffer curve economics, with good statistical evidence:

In 1921, when Americans earning over $100,000 were expected to pay an eye-watering 73 per cent in federal income tax, they accounted for 30 per cent of a total tax yield of $700 million. By 1929, when the top rate had been cut to 24 percent, the federal government collected more than a billion dollars in income taxes, of which 65 percent came from those earning over $100,000. 
It works every time. Reduce the tax rate, and the rich end up paying more in both absolute and proportionate terms. Between 1980 and 2007, the US cut taxes at all income levels. Result? The wealthiest one per cent went from paying 19.5 per cent of all taxes to 40 per cent. In Britain, after the top rate of income tax was lowered in stages from 98 per cent in the late 1970s to 40 per cent by 1988, the share of income tax collected from the wealthiest percentile rose from 14 to 27 per cent.
And finally, proposing a better title:

What free-marketeers in fact advocate is not trickle-down, but trickle-up. The way to become rich, in a competitive economy, is to offer a service to the broad mass of consumers. I am typing these words using software that I bought from Bill Gates. The transaction enriched him – adding fractionally to his net wealth – but it also enriched me, making my life more convenient. Bill Gates became wealthy, in other words, by persuading a great many poorer people to buy something from him. In doing so, he made us considerably better off, too. Trickle-up, you see.

European free marketeers are rare, but when you find them, they usually know their stuff.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Awesome rebuttal to anti-feminist video

About two weeks ago, a woman named Lauren Southern posted the following Youtube video called "Why I am not a feminist."


Two days later, a blogger named Jenna Christian wrote a beautiful, brilliant, well-reasoned, articulate, informative, thoroughly convincing rebuttal to Southern's arguments, which you can read here. Upon watching Southern's original video, I was generally unimpressed, but I confess I took skeptical interest in some of her more novel arguments. Upon reading Christian's rebuttal, I no longer take interest in them. That makes it effective, and well worth your time if you saw the original video.

Beyond the content itself, the debate is laudable for the reserved, logical, respectful tone of both participants, and for their strong mutual focus on the ideas at hand. Exchanges between feminists and anti-feminists (or worse, so-called MRA's) are rarely so diplomatic. I've previously been critical of people who so quickly resort to condescension or identity-based arguments, particularly feminists, so I thought this was doubly notable as an example of public discourse done right. Keep kicking ass, Jenna!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Making fun of airplane crashes from 60 years ago should not be a crime in any country

I saw this article on Facebook. This was my comment:

Why are police investigating this? I'm from the States and I know we have more robust free speech protections here than you do, so maybe somebody can explain this mindset to me. I get why the club might wish to ban fans from its premises who sing obscene chants, and that's their right as the stadium is private property. But once they've left and the game is over and the stadium is empty, why is law enforcement still involved? The idea that a song like this could be a criminal offense is preposterous to me. It's one thing to ban speech that makes fun of ongoing injustices with present-day victims - still a bad idea, from my view, but I understand it. But it's another thing entirely to ban speech about an isolated incident that happened 57 years ago! The chant is unkind, yes. It's impolite and distasteful and insensitive, perhaps immature. But illegal? Who is the victim of this conduct? Practically everyone who ever knew those victims personally must be dead by now. At what point does there become a statute of limitations where everyone stops pretending to be offended by a bit of crass, irreverent humor describing historical events? Much less, SO offended that you need to get the police involved to come and wield violence on these people?

In the US we make jokes about 9/11, for Christ's sake. We make jokes about Catholic priests molesting little boys. We make jokes about ISIS. We know these are serious subjects, and almost nobody would ever deliberately do it in the presence of someone affected, but sometimes humor can take the mick out of things and make life less glum all the time. If you were never allowed to crack wise about things like this, there's enough bad news in the world to keep you in perpetual mourning. If that's not your thing or makes you uncomfortable, you roll your eyes and move on. If it really bothers you, you decline to associate yourself with that person in the future. And if you have some horrible personal experience related to that - perhaps a relative who died in the towers or was molested - perhaps you stand up and give them a good telling off in a public place where it will embarrass them. Maybe these guys deserve that. But calling the police? Come now. We should be able to distinguish between conduct we disapprove of in our personal lives, and conduct so morally unconscionable as to warrant imprisonment and state coercion. Too many people in both Britain and the US do not.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Response to Humans Need Not Apply video

A friend showed me this video yesterday and it’s worth a watch. I have responded with my thoughts below.


I agree with the video’s central premise that labor automation on a previously unthinkable scale is fast approaching. However, I don’t agree with his argument that this is fundamentally different from prior industrial revolutions, or with his strong insinuation throughout the video that this is scary, dangerous and troubling.

First off, he doesn’t provide much evidence that new and even more specialized labor won’t be created by automation in ways we can’t even imagine, just as it has in the past. I’m not saying it definitely will, but it might. The rest of this post proceeds on the presumption that he’s right on that – that these new jobs will NOT be created, or that they will be replaced by machines faster than they can be created – which is by no means certain and an important caveat.

Even if he’s right that human labor will not be required much longer, his analogy with the horses is flawed, because unlike people, horses do not labor for the benefit of one another. Horses are raised, bred and taken care of for the exclusive benefit of human beings. They’re just our property: their proliferation in prior centuries was only a means to serve our ends. They survived in great numbers because we allowed them to, and they have subsequently depopulated because we don’t need them anymore. As such, using the declining population of horses as an ominous foreshadowing of things to come for humanity is the equivalent to using the declining population of VCR’s, or newspapers, or any other tool we once used but don’t anymore.

The proliferation of humans, by contrast, is not just the means to some other end, but the end itself to which most technology is geared. And unlike the population of horses or VCR’s, the population and wealth of human beings has exponentially increased alongside technology, as a direct consequence of the increased production and efficiency which automation enables in a capitalist economy. This is really exciting, it has lifted billions from poverty in our lifetime, and I see no reason it cannot continue. There is probably some limit to the number of humans this world’s resources can sustain, but we don’t seem to have bumped up against it yet (and with advances in space exploration and underground drilling, it’s possible we might not reach it any time soon).

On a related note, it’s important to remember that employment is not the purpose of an economy: it is, once again, merely a means to the end of production. If we can have more production with less employment, that’s actually even better, because it means we can live at least as comfortably as before without having to work as much or as hard.

This video illustrates how automated labor makes production much cheaper, but it omits how this also stands to lower prices by tremendous margins. Economic research has consistently shown that the aggregate benefit to human welfare obtained from increased affordability for everybody outweighs the costs imposed on a concentrated few from forfeited wages. And even for those few laborers, the lower prices they face in every other sector of the economy mitigates the downside of labor displacement in their sector. There are of course winners and losers from this process, but on net it has always been a good thing. If people can afford the same bundle of goods they consumed beforehand while working fewer hours, they’re actually better off due to their newfound leisure time. So even if people have more trouble finding work, that may be okay, because they won’t need to work as much as they once did.

Before you say it, I get how there’s at least conceptual limit to this. If human labor were to ever become so useless that hardly anybody can make any income at all, then hypothetically it wouldn’t matter how low prices can go, and we’d need some alternate means besides salaries of allocating all this abundant production. In other words, there may someday be a time when instead of approaching full employment (as we are now), we are closer to full unemployment because there’s literally nothing left for people to do. I think this video exaggerates the imminence of this day, if it ever comes at all, but I’ll humor the hypothetical for the sake of argument.

At first glance this seems like a sort of nightmarish capitalist dystopia, wherein merit is completely divorced from economic outcomes and whoever inherits the machines basically owns the world by accident of birth. I suppose modern Marxists hypothesize, just as Marx did, that this will lead to a tipping point where it becomes obvious public ownership of the means of production is necessary (the difference being that instead of capitalists profiting off the backs of other people’s hard work, they are profiting without any help from others, because they own machines which perform profitable tasks on their own). I don’t think it would be as bad as all that, though, for two reasons.

First, we have such a long way to go before human labor becomes useless, and the process of getting there stands to improve the global standard of living by so much in the interim, that by modern standards this scenario might just amount to wealthy people squabbling with even wealthier people. Again, history is illustrative. In many ways, even (temporarily) unemployed people in today’s society are wealthier than some of the wealthiest people were 200 years ago. George Washington was the richest man of his day, but he shat in a chamber pot all his teeth fell out by mid-adulthood because they didn’t have Scope or toothpaste. Today even poor Americans can buy that stuff for $2 at the nearest convenience store. Many if not most of the unemployed have plumbing and electricity and indoor heating and cars and TV’s and cell phones, which today are connected to the friggin’ INTERNET and offer endless entertainment wherever you are. I don’t want to sound belittling or diminish the plight they are in, because by modern standards it sucks. But compared to the vast majority of human beings who have ever walked the planet, today’s unemployed have it pretty good. Tomorrow’s unemployed will have it even better, and that’s thanks largely to the enhanced efficiency automated labor stands to provide.

Secondly, if it ever got to that point, I think even the people who own the machines would have an interest (both a benevolent interest and a profit-maximizing interest) in keeping the rest of the world reasonably well off through some sort of guaranteed minimum income. I’ve supported this as an alternative to our current hodge-podge of social safety net programs for a while now (whether or not machines take over the economy), and so did FA Hayek and Milton Friedman. Whether this comes through state redistribution or private charity or collective ownership or some new arrangement I can’t conceive, I’m not sure (though obviously I'd prefer the least coercive means possible). But in any case, I find it hard to believe that a world with fully automated creation of everything humans could possibly want would be one of squalor for most people. It might even have an equalizing effect on wages, because it sort of puts us all in the same boat; in comparison to computerized robots with artificial superintelligence, we’re all unskilled workers. And even if there is enormous inequality in wealth, if we’ve hit the point where we can make enough for everyone, who would care? If there’s no scarcity anymore, the interests of rich and poor are not in contrast. The only thing left to do would be to kick back and enjoy life.

I’ve rambled a bit, but I guess the most straightforward answer your question is this: “I don’t know what it will do to capitalism, but I’m excited to find out.”

Friday, April 10, 2015

So now Rand Paul’s a crazed anti-Semite too..

This one comes from The Daily Beast, a generally conservative leaning site, published right in the wake of the February vaccines firestorm. It's not a news piece, so it doesn't quite count as media bias, but it still warranted rebuttal. Once again, I’ll go line by line, with the original author’s words in purple italics and my own words in regular font.

Is Rand Paul the World’s Most Gullible Man?
By Sam Kleiner

Underpinning Paul’s worldview is the notion that somewhere there is always a wizard behind a curtain controlling our lives.

Wearing gray slacks and a white t-shirt, Rand Paul took a seat in the Capitol physician’s office last week to get a Hepatitis A booster. This wasn’t just about his physical health. He was there with a reporter to do damage control over his earlier remarks on vaccines. Paul had said on national TV that he was aware of “many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.” The comment was a disaster for Paul and opened up serious questions about the viability of his candidacy. 

Pause. Let’s imagine for a moment that Rand Paul truly did believe vaccines caused autism. He doesn't, but let's pretend. This would make him ignorant, willfully or otherwise, to a huge amount of science. But why would it make his candidacy for president not viable? No 2016 presidential candidate has publicly supported mandatory vaccination at any level, so his position is the same as that of his competitors. Even if one of his competitors did, it would almost certainly be at the state level (national legislation requiring all citizens to inject themselves with something would be unprecedented and perhaps unconstitutional) so the president would not have a role in that anyway. When the federal government is as large as it is, no president can be an expert - or even baseline knowledgeable - on all of the things it meddles with, much less all of the things the state governments do, or, in this case, all of the things those states do not do. Presidential campaigns should examine the candidates for their policy positions on the issues they would have to deal with as president, not grill them on polarizing but unrelated matters like the scientific effectiveness of vaccines.

But while he likely will weather this storm, the episode does shed light on the conspiracy theories that have defined Rand Paul’s worldview and his rise to political power. Time and again, in one incident after another, Paul has shown that his worldview is colored if not controlled outright by the idea that America’s very existence is constantly threatened by shadowy conspiracies both foreign and domestic. It is hardly surprising that someone who embraces such radical ideas would also adopt the conspiratorial anti-vaccine position.

You’re right, it would be hardly surprising for someone who embraces radical conspiracy theories to also adopt conspiratorial anti-vaccine positions, which is why it’s a good thing Rand Paul supports neither.

A distrust of the scientific validity of vaccinations is part of a broader conspiratorial worldview. “Almost by definition, conspiracy theories are irrefutable; rejections by scientific authorities just become part of the conspiracy,” notes science journalist Chris Mooney, and “analyses of anti-vaccine views, undertaken by analyzing their expression on the web or on YouTube in particular, have found them to be highly conspiratorial in nature.” A study by psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky, a specialist in conspiracy theories, noted that, “People who tend toward conspiratorial thinking are three times more likely to reject vaccinations.” The “vaccines cause autism” story is typically framed as a conspiracy in which, as journalist Laura Helmuth characterized it, “government epidemiologists and other scientists, conspiring with the vaccine industry, have covered up data and lied about vaccine ingredients to hide this fact. Journalists are dupes of this powerful cabal that is intentionally poisoning children.”

Rand Paul’s embrace of vaccination skepticism is a reminder, just when he’s trying to enter the presidential race, of his tawdry background growing up with and propagating an array of conspiracy theories.

Again, it bears repeating that Rand Paul has NOT embraced vaccine skepticism. The entire premise which the author uses as a launching pad for the rest of his accusations is faulty from the start.

Though he avoids talking about it now, Paul has repeatedly railed against the Bilderberg Group’s quest for world government, a conspiracy to create a North American Union that would replace the dollar with the Amero currency, and a United Nations effort to take away Americans’ guns. Today he is trying, as the New York Times framed it, to move away from his father’s shadow and towards the political center. Paul may not talk about these conspiracies today, but his vaccine comments remind us just how central conspiracy theories are to his worldview.

Firstly, the fact that he avoids "talking about it now" suggests he has matured past some of these beliefs, or maybe that he only halfheartedly held them previously, but was just using them as politically expedient talking points to rally up a certain segment of his libertarian base. In either case, talking about other things today indicates that such theories are not "central" to his worldview at all, but rather peripheral and separable from a worldview that prioritizes other issues. At no point does the author engage with any of the issues Rand Paul actually cares about today, from criminal justice reform to NSA spying to foreign policy to drones to drug policy, perhaps because if he did he would find his audience overwhelmingly agrees with Paul on the real substance of his message. Knocking down straw men is much easier than beating libertarians in an actual debate.

Secondly, some of these aren't even conspiracy theories: they are out-in-the-open proposals that some people proudly advocate. Is it really so far fetched that the UN might advocate restrictive arms control treaties, regulating the import, export and manufacture of weapons, and be cheered on by gun control advocates here at home? Or that decades from now, if the Euro prevails, the advantages of a common market with unified currency may appeal to the brand of North Americans that already envies certain aspects of European societies? There is, after all, already an African Union, a European Union, and a Union of South American States. There are even good arguments for these proposals, which I've debated myself here in college. The author is making it out like this is akin to Area 51 or doubting the moon landings.

For Rand Paul, a belief in conspiracy theories dates back to his time at Baylor University where he worked with his father, Ron, to found the Young Conservatives of Texas, a group that sought to split from William F. Buckley’s more moderate Young Americans for Freedom. Paul was a leader in the chapter at Baylor. After bringing in his father as an adviser, the father-son duo worked to propagate conspiracy theories. As Ryan Lizza chronicled for The New Yorker, they screened “The Incredible Bread Machine,” a film centered on how IRS agents would hunt down Americans. The speakers they invited to campus included Johnny Stewart, who helped pioneer the conspiracy theory that the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations were running the country, and Kitty Werthmann, a conspiracy theorist infamous for comparing Obama to Hitler.

Inviting speakers to campus is not the same as agreeing with everything they say. This is true even of commencement speakers, much less tiny clubs trying to get attention and start a campus dialogue. I imagine there were plenty of radical leftist speakers on college campuses back in the 70's and 80's as well, perhaps even some attended by our current president. After all, this was before the left became convinced that the mere existence of ideas one disagrees with often triggers post traumatic stress disorder...

Rand grew up inheriting much of his father’s conspiratorial worldview, in which secret cabals run out of the East Coast were seeking to destroy the country. Rand Paul came of age when his father was writing mind-bogglingly cosnpiratorial newsletters that warned about the Trilateral Commission. When asked whether he even read the newsletters, Rand has literally turned his back on reporters. 

In his own rise to political power in Kentucky, Paul fully embraced conspiracies. The first strand in Paul’s conspiratorial thinking focuses on secretive cabals, such as the Bilderberg Group, that were disloyally selling America over to a world government for their own profit.

During his 2010 run for the Senate, Paul warned Kentuckians about such conspiracies. “[The Bilderberg Group] want[s] to make it out like they just want to help humanity and world government would be good for humanity,” he said. “Well guess what—world government’s good for their pocketbook. They’re very wealthy and they use government to make more money for themselves, and that’s where you expose them.” During the campaign, he said, “We should expose people who are, you know, promoting this globalist agenda for personal gain and for financial gain at the expense of the rest of our country and at the expense of our republic.”

Lately, Paul has tried to distance himself from these conspiracy theories. “Build a Burger would be a great name for a fast food chain,” the head of Rand PAC replied when asked about the comments.

This isn't distancing himself from his old beliefs so much as lessening the emphasis on the Bilderberg group in particular. Animosity towards that particular group of individuals was not the primary sentiment underlying these quotes, even back in 2010. Whether they are members of the Bilderberg group or not, progressives would seem to agree with Rand that wealthy businessmen using the state to make more money for themselves is a major problem. Whether it's associated with the Bilderberg group or not, there is absolutely a push to strengthen international institutions with powers formerly reserved to national governments. Daniel Deudney, my Global Security Politics professor here at Hopkins, makes an animated case for this process to my face every Monday and Wednesday from 1:30 - 2:20 PM. He's no kook, either: he's brilliant, and his arguments are very well respected in his field. Neither crony capitalism nor the prospect of some degree of world governance are the crackpot fables this author alleges. In this context, skepticism about the motives of one powerful group in particular is just speculation on Rand's part, not the heart of his message.

Paul’s argument about the Bilderberg Group can be best understood as part of a populist tradition that seeks to capitalize on anger about economic stagnation in the heartland by blaming secret conspiracies on the East Coast. Though he didn’t specify who “they” are in his tirade against the “very wealthy” who are using world government for their own profit, he didn’t need to, because he was playing into a trope that voters could easily understand. “There was something about the Populist imagination that loved the secret plot and the conspiratorial meeting,” historian Richard Hofstadter noted in his canonical Age of Reform. “There was in fact a widespread Populist idea that all American history since the Civil War could be understood as a sustained conspiracy of the international monetary power,” he continued.

Though Paul never specified the Jews as the “they,” in the Bilderberg Group conspiracy, that implication is barely beneath the surface. The Anti-Defamation League has pointed out the conspiracy gained traction in the anti-Semitic newsletter The Spotlight, and was consistent with a depiction of Jews as secretly running the country. Paul’s depiction of a disloyal group taking advantage of the rest of the country fits with traditional anti-Semitic ideas about Jews being a fifth column intent on making profits without any loyalty to nation.

This is the part of the article where I went from mildly peeved to downright angry. The other common variant of this "argument," if you care to grace it with that title, is that anyone who wants smaller government is racist, because some of the people who have historically wanted smaller government were Confederate slave owners. I don't really think such allegations rise to level of logic as to require rebuttal. A few paragraphs ago, the author ridiculed one of the speakers Rand Paul's dad invited to college for comparing Obama to Hitler; now, he argues Paul shares elements of Hitler's ideology. His evidence? Rand Paul dislikes vaccines and cronyism, half of which isn't even true. Da fuq?

There is another movement in recent years which also proposes a worldview in which the country is run by a disloyal group of rich people taking advantage of the rest of the country due to personal greed. It's called the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Something tells me that if I were to submit a paper to a Yale Law publication arguing that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are unqualified to be president - and, indeed, the most gullible people in the world - for their loose affiliation with this vaguely populist agenda, it would not be well received.

Hofstadter noted that “populist anti-Semitism was entirely verbal. It was a mode of expression, a rhetorical style, not a tactic or a program,” and this is a perfect example of what he meant. Without mentioning Jews, Paul was depicting a disloyal moneyed East Coast elite that threatened his heartland constituent—that these elites were “the Jews” was implicit. Unfortunately for Rand, his father made a more explicit anti-Semitic reference when he said the “Rockefeller Trilateralists” were pushing world government. The kernel of the idea is unmistakably the same for father and son, and in a dangerous populist tradition, both Ron and Rand Paul vowed to stand up for the real Americans against this disloyal—and implicitly Jewish—elite.

This is only implicit if you're already convinced that Rand Paul is maliciously hiding his true beliefs from the public. Similarly, critically mentioning the last name of a Jewish person only counts as "explicit" anti-Semitism if you're already convinced that everyone is out to get the Jews. That the author himself is so thoroughly and inexplicably convinced of these things, with so little evidence to support them, is a more glaring indication of conspiratorial thinking than anything in the previous paragraph.

The second strand in Rand Paul’s conspiratorial thinking focused on the threat from world government, such as the United Nations or the North American Union, that was intent on taking over America.

Paul was intent on giving credence to fears about world government. “Some of the fears of world government are legitimate,” he said in an interview during his run for the Senate. “When you hear about the ‘Amero,’ a new North American money,” he said, “you might say that those people are just conspiracy theorists. But if you said the same thing about the euro 30 years ago they would have said, ‘Oh, you’re crazy, we’ll never get rid of the pound and those currencies, and lo and behold we have a euro currency. So some of the fears of world government are legitimate.”

While aware that these ideas could make him sound like a conspiracy theorist, Paul was undeterred. Speaking in 2008 on behalf of his father’s presidential campaign, he told supporters as he warned of the looming NAFTA superhighway: “So, it’s a real thing, and, when you talk about it, the thing you just have to be aware of is that, if you talk about it like it’s a conspiracy, they’ll paint you as a nut.”

Apparently, he was prescient, because that's clearly what this article aims to do. There is nothing conspiratorial about a belief that some people propose moving towards a single world government. That's just undeniably true. Google it if you don't believe me: you will find intelligent academics arguing for that quite explicitly. You will also find a larger number of academics arguing for partial centralization of some state powers into an international body, whether it's nuclear weapons control or environmental protection or what have you. On the flip side, there are people who fear and oppose these proposals, for understandable, non-crazy reasons. Accordingly, when Rand Paul said that this was a "real thing," seven years ago, and that "some of the fears...are legitimate" five years ago, he did not mean that global totalitarianism was nigh. He meant only that this was a real debate which future politicians would need to address.

For Paul, being depicted as a conspiracy theorist merely meant that you were speaking truths that others found to be taboo. He sees himself as a truth-teller unlike the politicians “that evolve to the top of the Republican and the Democratic Party [who] end up being the people who don’t believe in anything … and they get pushed around by the New World Order types.” Who precisely these “New World Order types” are, he doesn’t say. The conspiracy functions best when the conspirators are not identified.

This fear of world government led Paul deep into the territory of worrying about black helicopters. In opposition to the U.N. Small Arms Treaty, Paul sent out an email laced with caps lock in 2011 saying that it was a “massive, GLOBAL gun control scheme” that was “designed to register, ban and CONFISCATE firearms owned by private citizens like YOU.” This was in line with his 2010 campaign’s “Sovereignty” platform, in which he warned that America must not be “subservient” to “foreign bodies” such as the U.N. and pledged to conduct a foreign policy “without funding or joining international organizations. The US Government must answer only to the Constitution and the citizens protected by it.” The conspiracy was completely fabricated. But, as Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent observed, Paul was happy to let his “approach to a problem [gun violence] that continues to claim American lives be dictated by a group that is happy to traffic in strains of paranoia that rival U.N. black helicopter fantasies.”

If politicians were disqualified for public office in the 21st century for having their campaigns send out sensationalist emails laced with caps lock which drum of partisan fears in order to exaggerate the importance of donating NOW, every politician I know of would be disqualified. There isn't actually a cabal of Wall Street CEO's scheming to pilfer retirement money from disabled homeless gay veteran seniors either, but you probably wouldn't know that from reading Liz Warren's funding solicitations. Like many political campaigns, Paul's emails (which he almost certainly doesn't write) use a bit of "truthiness" by splicing together actual facts (the UN Small Arms Treaty was being considered, gun control advocates did support it, and some of those same advocates also independently want to register, ban, and/or confiscate certain types of guns) through careful wording and deceptive insinuation. This is nothing new or unique to his brand of politics.

Indeed, Paul has flirted with the idea that Americans may need to turn their guns on the government. Talking about a time when money becomes worthless because of the Federal Reserve conspiracy, Paul was hopeful, because the odds that people will “give up their gold [is] about as likely as they will be to give up their guns anymore and I think that’s the one good thing we have going on in America—there’s a lot of still independent spirit in the countryside.”

Unwillingness to give one's guns to the government is not equivalent to turning one's guns on the government. Nor is celebrating resistance to authority, which is yet another thing the left does too. And if the government were to ever try to confiscate firearms without first amending the constitution, people would be justified in resisting. To many people, "independent spirit in the countryside" is a patriotic sentiment worth celebrating. You don't have to agree, but when over half the country feels the same way he does on gun control, it doesn't qualify as a conspiracy theory.

While Paul stopped short in that comment of advocating violence against the U.S. government, he has fear-mongered about a time when “we will have an army of armed EPA agents—thousands of them,” who will come after Americans and he propagated Alex Jones’s lie that the National Weather Service was stockpiling hollow-tip bullets. Paul wanted the anti-government survivalists on the fringe to embrace him and he made his case clear without having to say in explicit terms that citizens should be prepared for a day when they turn their guns on their government.

Though Paul has toned down his conspiracy theorizing, he has continually taken the advice of those with fringe political beliefs during his rise to power. Paul said he learned about the Bilderberg Group from Alex Jones, one of Paul’s influential backers in the 2010 Senate race during which Paul was a frequent guest on Jones’s radio-show. Jones is a noted 9/11 truther and has been a major defender of both Ron and Rand Paul.

This is actually fair. Alex Jones is a nut job, and Rand Paul should be embarrassed by any prior association with him. Point taken.

In 2010, Paul’s own spokesman, Christopher Hightower, was forced to resign after it came to light that he maintained a blog suggesting that American foreign policy was responsible for 9/11. In 2013, Rand Paul’s foreign policy adviser, Jack Hunter, resigned in the wake of revelations that he maintained a neo-Confederate blog in which he claimed the North had committed “genocide” against the Confederacy.

Repeatedly, Paul has severed his ties to these individuals once their fringe views become widely publicized. But with each new revelation about a Paul’s intimate’s crackpot theories, it becomes increasingly hard to accept his repeated claims that he was unaware of their extremist beliefs.

This is the same guilt by association nonsense that Republicans used against Obama in 2008. Remember Bill Ayers? Remember Reverend Jeremiah Wright? If they don't render Obama ineligible for the presidency, neither does a guy blogging about blowback (which, let's be clear, actually exists).

To fully understand Paul’s asinine vaccine comments, we have to understand the conspiratorial nature of his worldview. This isn’t a one-off issue for Paul. Growing up under the tutelage of his father, Paul has embraced and espoused a conspiratorial worldview where “official” truths are to be doubted in favor of explanations based on secretive plots. Paul’s rise to power was based on the populist tradition of “weaving a vast fabric of social explanation out of nothing but skeins of evil plots,” in Hofstadter’s words.

Such views have always existed at the political fringe, but they become dangerous when they come close to finding a home in the Oval Office. And of course Paul doesn’t want us prying into his deep, disturbing history of embracing conspiracy theories just when he’s trying to mainstream his views for the presidency. Because if we did get a good look at the nonsense he’s been preaching for years, we might then realize just how unqualified he is to be president.

Sam Kleiner is a fellow at the Yale Law Information Society Project.

In closing, there used to be a kernel of truth to all this. For most of Rand Paul's life, libertarianism was relegated the political fringe. Fringe ideologies draw some strange bedfellows, and fledgling movements in transition from the fringe to the center lack the luxury of being picky about their followers. The tin foil hat crowd was a sizable portion of Ron Paul's acquaintances, and who knows: maybe some of their goofy ideas did rub off on his son for a time. It's fair to call him cynical. Enemies might call it paranoia, friends might call it a healthy skepticism: form your own opinion.

The point is, he's over it now, and so is the movement he represents. Conspiracy theories are not a central or even secondary component of the libertarian platform in the year 2015. To pretend otherwise is to argue in bad faith, and to deliberately mislead one's audience out of malice or laziness. For decades, both major parties have been able to dodge the important philosophical questions libertarianism presents by chortling about the loony, queer sort of people who found it attractive. Now that libertarianism includes many people society deems pretty normal, its enemies cannot rely on mainstream marginalization and are forced to actually engage with its ideas. This is a good thing, even if you're not libertarian yourself, because it advances the public dialogue and highlights important ideological trade-offs. But it's also frustrating for people who find ad-hominem attacks much easier to formulate than rebuttals to well-reasoned individual liberty arguments.

Articles like these amount to crossly stamping one's foot in denial of this development. Sam Kleiner, and at least some people over at The Daily Beast, are nostalgically reminiscing of the good old days when ideas they disagreed with could be dismissed not on their merits, but on the character of the people who held them. We can't cut spending, or decriminalize marijuana, or end mandatory minimum sentencing, or establish rules around drones or the NSA that respect due process rights, or have a less violent foreign policy, or any of these other things Rand Paul proposes because that guy's CRAZY, remember? They use quotes from at least 5-7 years ago in a transparent attempt to turn back the tide on the libertarian moment, which they now fret is becoming a libertarian era. Accusations of racism are thrown in for good measure just to complete the character smear.

To reasonable independents, this falls on deaf ears. "He used to kinda halfheartedly believe this!" is not a convincing critique of the campaign platform Rand Paul actually advocates today. More importantly, Rand Paul is just one dude, who's only partially libertarian in the first place, and who will be succeeded by a new generation of libertarians who lack any such ties to conspiracy theorism. Within a few election cycles, there will be no more mud left to sling at us. I advise you find some real arguments before that time.

Debate about Noam Chomsky's interpretation of Adam Smith (and many, many other things...)

A friend of mine from France sent me this video today as a means of criticizing libertarianism (normally I would embed it but the owner has disabled playback on other websites, so you'll have to watch it on YouTube directly. Damn corporations...)

First, I think he’s wrong about Adam Smith’s primary message, and so do most informed critics. I doubt that’s some grand capitalist conspiracy to keep the truth hidden; it seems more likely to me that the body of the evidence outweighs his arguments. Chomsky’s a smart guy, but he’s (in?)famously Marxist leaning, and he’s doing a very selective reading of Smith by tuning out the parts he doesn’t like and exaggerating the prominence of the parts he does like. The vast majority of scholars who have studied Smith have come away with the conclusion that his primary contribution to Enlightenment thought was recognizing the amazing ways which people can help one another accidentally by pursuing their natural, self-serving interests. He may have said other things also, but that’s the part they focus on because that’s the most original and insightful part of his work, or what separates him from other writers of that era. It’s not a coincidence that one of the only guys who doesn’t think this also happens to be a lover of Marx; it’s more likely he’s doing a biased revisionist history to suit his ideology.

Second, even if he’s right about Smith, it doesn’t mean libertarians are wrong about him. Smith said a lot of things, and libertarians may only agree with some of them. By coincidence, a pretty balanced libertarian reading of Smith showed up in my email yesterday, which you can read here.

Third, even if libertarians are wrong about Adam Smith, it doesn’t mean we’re wrong in general. There are many, many other libertarian heroes and ideological influences besides Smith who are just as prominent and influential in libertarian thought (John Locke, Frederic Bastiat, John Stuart Mill, Henry David Thoreau, Ludwig von Mises, Lysander Spooner, Frederick Douglass, FA Hayek, Gandhi, Milton Friedman, MLK, Robert Nozick...I could go on). So our arguments do not rely on our interpretation of Smith.

Fourth, if it is true that capitalism is fatal to democracy and they cannot coexist, this still does not settle which is preferable. Maybe capitalism does more good for people (especially the poor) than democracy does, and in fact I think there is strong evidence that this is true in some cases. Billions of people have been lifted from poverty since 1970 in places like China and India thanks mostly to economic globalization and free trade between nations, even though neither of those countries have strong democratic institutions. I’m not saying democracy isn’t good – it’s the least bad form of government I know of! - I’m just saying it is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for good outcomes.

Fifth, even if he’s right about their incompatibility, and even if democracy is preferable to capitalism, libertarians are not necessarily capitalists. Libertarians support free markets. There is a difference. Even Marx agreed you could have markets without having capitalism. For example, I also oppose several of the policies he criticized in the video as examples of capitalist oppression. I blame the state, he blames capitalists working through the state, but we both agree the state is doing something bad in many cases.

I also have some questions for you. If we cannot have both capitalism and democracy, which is the United States? Which is France? Both are usually presented as capitalist democracies. Why are the people who say that wrong?

Also, with what would you replace capitalism? How, specifically, would you do this?

Update: My friend responded to these remarks, and I to hers, and we wound up having a really interesting dialogue. I'll post the transcript below. Her text is in italics, mine is in regular font.

First I don’t think there is any capitalist conspiracy about the way we read smith today, I think that what is broadly thought of as adam smith’s message is what posterity made out of it (just like it turned Keynes into another classical economist, which he wasn’t in reality) Smith was against the arbitrariness of the monarchy that protected the interests of the powerful, that’s what he developed his theory against. He was in favor of the pursuit of individual interest (on the basis of strong moral values) to thwart the economic dominance of the aristocracy, but he sure wasn’t against a democratic regulation of the economy, as Chomsky underlines on the basis of what smith actually wrote

Second, you’re probably right: smith is not exactly a libertarian, he was just mentioned as one of the fathers that are being constantly referred to (inconsistently with what he actually said, in my opinion, libertarianism being opposed in many ways to classical liberalism, as Chomsky says). This doesn’t settle the main question: is capitalism compatible with democracy? Smith tries to say it is, libertarians don’t even bother to, because, as you say, they think that capitalism (or free markets if you want – let me get back to this later) is definitely preferable to democracy (hayek is an excellent example for this). First of all your argument about capitalism lifting people out of poverty seems a bit doubtful to me: I think we shouldn’t forget that what plunged people in India and China into poverty was western colonialism, that destroyed their traditional societies to plunge them into misery, for the sake of capitalism itself. The same thing even happened in Europe (proletariat is a historical fact, not an ideological construct). And the only reason Indians and Chinese are coming out of poverty is because they have been forced to accept a model of development that profits us most and them least, and that reproduces in their countries the dramatic inequalities that we can see in the west, worsened by the fact that they have very little welfare and social protections – the life of the average Chinese or Indian is still far from being desirable.

As to whether democracy is preferable to capitalism I’d say without a doubt that it is, for a simple reason: democracy is freedom, namely the freedom of deciding individually and collectively about our future, whereas capitalism is serfdom to the quest of ever more money, regardless of everything else, like the loss of individual autonomy. Freedom there is only formal and its illusion has for a function to make domination of those who own the capital and the means of production over those who own nothing invisible. Plus, the dramatic increase of inequalities and the concentration of wealth that takes place under our very eyes, the destruction of our environment and the endangerment of billions of people’s living conditions around the planet (including ours in the long run), crime and social violence as a result of economic exclusion, and the inexorable rise of unemployment, don’t look to me like the best outcomes one could wish for an economic system. To cope with these problems we need to discuss and take everyone into account – we need democracy. Capitalism doesn’t accept debate and questioning: its logic prevails, and that’s all. Insofar it is not compatible with democracy.

Fourth: marx agreed that free markets could exist within a non-capitalist collectively regulated system, this is true. But genuinely free markets are part of the logic of capitalism alone, and the disembedding of the economic system out of the rest of the society. Fact is, except for a short period of time (from the 50’s to the 70’s), capitalism always tended towards market deregulation (which is consistent with its inner logic, capital valorization at all cost). But even if we could have free markets without capitalism I still don’t see to what extent this would make it any better: free markets imply struggle for life and survival of the fittest, thus the domination of those who own something over those who own less. This is very darwinian but a very destructive way to build a society (as we can see all around us). They moreover see the human being as an abstract category with unlimited needs and unlimited perspectives of growth (they don’t take into account the natural and social world humans live in), and treat them only as objects and tools to valorize capital. Free markets pose a lot of ethical and material problems, this is why I think economy should remain political, i.e. politically discussable, and not abandoned to economists. Economy should be a means for society. Capitalist/free market economy has the opposite take on the problem: they see economy as an end and shape society as a means to that end.

Fifth: your last question isn’t easy, and I wish it was. For the time being there is no large scale alternative to capitalism that could substitute to it overnight, as capitalism colonized pretty much every space in the world and in society. However alternatives appear on a local level for a friendlier, more respectful, more human economy that takes care of the people and the environment. It all emerged out of discussions between people who suffered the negative consequences of the capitalist system’s domination over life, and who tried to figure out solutions. So here’s my answer: the alternative to capitalism is direct democracy, localism, and trust in our own capacity to shape our lives.

***

Thanks for a thoughtful reply. I'll go in order.

1. If Smith was about illustrating the arbitrariness of monarchy and thwarting the economic dominance of those who used it to their gain, that's a message I can get behind. I would just extend it to any other kind of illegitimate government besides monarchy as well. The aristocracy Smith fought is an inevitable result of any government which is empowered to give out economic favors or special privileges, and I fear the sort of far-reaching "democratic regulation of the economy" you endorse inevitably leads to that outcome. Far from serving some fabled "general interest," or "common good," questions about how to regulate the economy inevitably pit some people's interests against others - not just rich vs. poor, but things like farmers v. miners, or taxi drivers v. Uber drivers, or consumers v. employees, etc. The result is that even well-intentioned regulators are forced to choose winners and losers in arbitrary ways. If Smith did advocate unlimited democratic regulation of such matters, he inadvertently endorsed replacing one institution protecting powerful interests with another.

2. I think Libertarianism is remarkably consistent with classical liberalism, particularly John Locke. It's not a perfect fit, but it's the closest fit among modern ideologies for its emphasis on individual liberty. Also, the framework Locke put forth is indisputably the ideological underpinnings of the Declaration of Independence and the US constitution.

3. I think you mischaracterize libertarians by saying we "don't even bother" to say capitalism is compatible with democracy. I think it is compatible. Perhaps your conception of democracy is more expansive than mine. Democracy needn't, by definition, include expansive government powers; in a limited government like ours, there are restrictions on which things majorities may decide. But for those powers which the state does have, I like democracy as a means to decide how to wield them.

4. Colonialism is not a story of capitalist oppression - it is a story of state oppression. Huge swaths of Africa, Asia and South America were not devastated because white men came and offered them jobs or products; they were devastated because men with guns came and ENSLAVED them against their will, and used military might to divvy up the land amongst their governments using arbitrary boundaries that did not acknowledge or respect cultural divisions in those regions. That is the antithesis of everything libertarians believe, and you cannot pin the outcomes of that very un-libertarian behavior on libertarian economics. Since then, the well-being of these places has been inversely related with how large a role the state tried to take in guiding outcomes. When Mao Zedong tried to isolate China and create an economy based on centralized state planning, tens of millions of people starved to death. It was not until after his death and the ensuing switch to capitalism that global free trade and market liberalization allowed capitalism to come and save the day. When you say they were "forced to accept a model of development that profits us most and them least," you use a funny definition of the word "forced." But even if that's true, they've still profited more than at any other point in human history! The life of the average Chinese or Indian is not desirable relative to Western wealth, but it is vastly preferable to what it would have been 40 or even 15 years ago. Such rapid gains would not have been possible without free trade's enormous productive power, and I think you would be stubborn not to admit that benefit.

5. You say "Democracy is freedom, namely the freedom of deciding individually and collectively about our future." First, take out the word "individually," because democracy is not about individual decisions, only collective ones. What you're left with is "democracy is the freedom of deciding collectively about our future." But in practice, collective decisions only mean that other people decide for you. No meaningful vote in human history has ever been decided by 1 vote, which means that in practice, "democracy is the freedom to have other people decide about your future." That's not my definition of freedom. Freedom means more to me than the right to throw your drop in a bucket. Democracy may be many things - it may be good, it may be tolerable, it may be necessary, it may be the best and fairest form of government we know of - but it sure as hell isn't freedom.

6. "Capitalism is serfdom to the quest of ever more money, regardless of everything else, like the loss of individual autonomy." Part of the problem in these debates is that we don't clarify our terms from the beginning, and wind up talking past one another as a result. If that's how you define it, I don't like capitalism. I do NOT encourage people to seek ever more money. There are more important things. I also value individual autonomy very highly; in fact, protecting it is the whole purpose of my focus on the rights of the individual, instead of the collective. This confusion is why I prefer the term free markets. All I really support is the Non Aggression Principle, which says that everyone should be free to do as they like to the extent that it does not infringe upon the rights of others. Don't be violent - that's it!

Even if you believe the set of policies I endorse will inevitably lead to serfdom, you can't just presuppose that into the definition of the word. Other equally informed people come to different conclusions, and in fact Hayek's most famous book - The Road to Serfdom - argues your policies are what leads to that outcome.

7. Your last paragraph lists more issues - dramatic inequality, destruction of the environment, low living conditions, crime/violence, unemployment - than we have time to debate. Obviously I don't like these things either. I agree addressing them requires discussion, which is precisely why we're geeking out in this conversation haha. All debates boil down to two sides who think their "logic prevails," so I don't get what you mean by us not accepting it. You think your logic prevails too, right? (I'd actually argue I'm more accepting of debate than most Frenchmen, given the whole Charlie Hebdo fiasco, but that might be a touchy subject!)

8. You write, "free markets imply struggle for life and survival of the fittest, thus the domination of those who own something over those who own less. This is very darwinian but a very destructive way to build a society." These are not conditions which markets build into society by choice - they permanent, inherent, unalterable features of any society, which markets merely adapt to and try to solve. There has ALWAYS been a "struggle for life," here on earth, long before capitalism came around. There has always been differing levels of power - what you call "domination of some over others" - long before capitalism came around. The first lesson in Economics 101 teaches us why: scarcity. Unfortunately, there isn't enough of anything for everyone to have as much of it as they would like, and this puts us in a natural state of competition with one another from the get go. Markets are just about how to make the best of this bad situation by ensuring that these scarce resources are allocated in the most efficient and peaceful way possible. True social Darwinism would be just a free for all wherein anybody can kill or steal from anyone else, and the last one standing wins. Libertarians oppose this by identifying and defending individual rights which no person or group is allowed to violate; not by introducing competition as a solution, but by recognizing the inevitability of competition, and creating fair, universally applicable rules by which it is to take place.

9. "Economy should be a means for society. Capitalist/free market economy has the opposite take on the problem: they see economy as an end and shape society as a means to that end." - No we don't. To libertarians, economy is not the end - liberty is the end. Peace is the end. Production, and the prosperity it creates, is just a convenient byproduct of liberty.

10. "The alternative to capitalism is direct democracy, localism, and trust in our own capacity to shape our lives." To me those are three separate things haha. Direct democracy is bad for so long as conditions of widespread political ignorance persist (which they do). Localism is bad because it needlessly forfeits the enormous benefits in human quality of life which are afforded by cooperating with people who live far away from us (ie, global trade, economies of scale, etc.) The last bit - trust in our own capacity to shape our lives - is awesome! Cheers to that, my friend.

Monday, April 6, 2015

2015 media bias against Rand Paul, chapter 4

Back in early February, when there was already a firestorm of criticism surrounding Rand Paul due to the first three incidents in this series, the Huffington Post decided it was a good time to publish this story: 

Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee To Appear In Anti-Gay Documentary
Posted: 02/12/2015 8:00 am EST Updated: 02/12/2015 11:59 am EST

WASHINGTON -- Two possible GOP presidential contenders and four congressmen are slated to appear in a new documentary that claims the push for gay rights threatens Christianity.

"What kind of freedom of speech do we have if a person who expresses a biblical viewpoint about marriage is told they can't open their businesses in a location?" asks Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and prospective 2016 presidential candidate, in the trailer for the documentary "Light Wins: How To Overcome The Criminalization Of Christianity," which was first reported by Right Wing Watch.

The film is a project by socially conservative activist Janet Porter, who plans to release it later this month.

According to an email Porter sent to supporters last week, the documentary also features Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), as well as Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) and Steve King (R-Iowa).

None of these lawmakers were featured in the trailer. Their offices did not return requests for comment on their participation and whether they agree with the direction of the documentary, but on Thursday, after this piece was published, Paul told The Huffington Post that he didn't know anything about the film.

"I saw [the news about the documentary] this morning," he said while at the Chamber of Commerce for an event. "I don’t know anything about it. I’ve never heard of it until today."

Porter didn't immediately return a request for additional details on how Paul would be featured in the film..."

The article went on to give an overview of the documentary's radical participants, quoted the Human Rights Watch calling upon Paul and Huckabee to renounce their participation, and concluded with an helpful explanation of why it was more surprising to see Paul appear in the film than Huckabee due to Huckabee's far stronger ties to social conservatism.

The critical background information here is that Paul's only appearance in this film is an excerpt describing his views on state's rights, in which he lauds the Supreme Court's decision in Windsor for spending seven pages highlighting the importance of federalism. This is an abstract constitutional matter that is quite separate from one's views on homosexuality in general. And crucially, these remarks were not addressed to the makers of the film, but were taken out of context from some other interview. Rand Paul never agreed to appear in this documentary, and never knew he had any role in it until the film was made.

With that in mind, including Paul in the title as if he had something to do with it seems deliberately misleading. Although it is technically true that Paul appeared in the documentary, he did not knowingly appear in it, which is too relevant of a clarification to omit. A fairer title would be "Religious Fanatics Compile Youtube Videos into Anti-Gay Documentary." As it stands, making "appear" the active verb in the title gives the impression that the person who is appearing played some active role in creating the film, not that they were passively made to appear by others. In the wake of everything else going on that week, you'd be hard pressed to convince me this misunderstanding was accidental.

In fairness to the Huffington Post, they did not receive Senator Paul's denial of involvement until after the initial story was published. Once they did, they merely failed to tweak the title (or first few paragraphs) to reflect this, which I suppose is less bad than publishing it that way after they already knew he was uninvolved. Furthermore, the quotes from Paul they included towards the end of the article gave a fair and balanced presentation of Paul's rather noncommittal stance on the issue, which was nice to see from a traditionally liberal outlet. Had it ended there, I would not have included this in my media bias catalogue.

But it didn't end there. Fast forward to this week, when Rand Paul is in the midst of yet more dumb criticism for misunderstood comments on gay rights, and the Huffington Post deems it an excellent time to bring up this non-story again. They used an almost identical title for it as well, except that this time they omitted mention of Mike Huckabee - it was just "Rand Paul Appears in New Anti-Gay Documentary." The only thing that had changed since the last rendition of the story was that the Huffington Post had since received a DVD copy of the film, watched the whole thing, and found exactly one, 5 second clip of the same unrelated Rand Paul interview spliced in. The clip quotes Paul as saying the following in respect to ministers who object to gay marriage:

"Or are they [the federal government] going to ultimately say to a minister who has a tax deduction, 'Oh, that's not really your money and you're getting a tax deduction and we're going to make you do this?'" Paul asks.

That's it? That's what they found? Disapproving curiosity about the prospect of using tax policy as a lever to pressure ministers into presiding over gay marriages? You've made this whole big stink about it, and twice broadcast titles which associate Rand Paul with homophobic nutjobs, and this is your proof? This is your story?

Placed back to back, Rand Paul's only two quotes in this film take about 10-15 seconds to read. Neither of them say anything on the subject of homosexuality. I daresay neither of them say anything that's all that controversial. And most importantly, neither of them were knowingly contributed to these filmmakers to assist them in making their documentary! If anything, the fact that they scoured the whole thing for mention of him and came up with only that should have vindicated Paul, by proving that he had nothing to do with the animating theme of the film.

Associating Rand Paul with the message of this zealots on the basis of those quotes is equivalent to associating Hillary Clinton with whatever documentary I might make using clips of her speeches I find on the internet. It is, to put it plainly, a poorly conceived smear job. The Huffington Post found it important enough to publish twice, in the midst of two critical 
PR cycles media feeding frenzies about something Rand Paul had said on the subject. This is not an accident, and its timing is not a coincidence.

Refuting the Young Turks on Rand Paul and behavioral rights

I found this video tonight and thought I'd refute it real fast. Similar illogic can be found in this article on MSNBC.


The video should be called "The Young Turks' dumb reasons for thinking Rand Paul is a discriminatory hypocrite." Unlike Paul, I totally and unequivocally support gay marriage, but I'm also intellectually honest enough to recognize that belief in equal rights for all is not mutually contradictory with opposition to gay marriage. It depends on your conception of equality. Technically, traditionalists are giving everyone the same rights: everyone, gay or straight, has the opportunity to obtain the same set of legal benefits and privileges should they marry someone of the opposite sex. That this offer does not appeal to gay people, and is clearly designed to benefit one group over another, does not change the equality of the treatment which the state metes out.

The hosts obfuscate different sorts of behavioral "rights" here: the right to do as you please, and the right to get special perks and benefits at the state's discretion. Free speech and owning guns are things people can do without any state help whatsoever; having a right to those activities means only that states cannot interfere with wholly private practices. Rand Paul is indeed one of the most prominent defenders for this sort of "behavioral rights", which he just calls individual liberty and applies equally to everyone. Marriage, on the other hand, whether it's gay or straight, is not a private but a public institution. It has not always been this way, and maybe it shouldn't be, but for the time being it is: married couples get tax breaks and other benefits from the state upon entering into a public, contractual legal arrangement. What Paul is saying is not that the private behavior of cohabitating with someone of the same sex should be illegal - that is a behavior he concedes everyone has a right to do - but that the request for public benefits in exchange for this behavior should be declined.


It would be fair to call Paul a hypocrite for supporting any state establishment of marriage at all, which after all is a series of special privileges bestowed upon those who engage in the behavior of heterosexual marriage. But then the hosts would likely be hypocrites too, because libertarians are pretty much the only people who are consistent on that issue.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Episode 3 in the 'Distorted Media Treatment of Rand Paul' mini-series

I've been behind on tracking the media's continued mistreatment of Rand Paul, and I'm trying to catch up, so this post will be brief.

In the wake of my last post, a series of other articles came out highlighting the "shushing" incident in particular. This is a highlight from one of them:

Rand Paul defends shushing interview

Sen. Rand Paul on Saturday defended a heated interview in which he shushed a female interviewer, saying he agrees to a lot of interviews and faulting the reporter for interrupting him....

In the interview, Paul scolded Evans for being "argumentative" and chastised her for "mischaracterizing" his positions.

The exchange quickly became news, as critics questioned whether Paul would have treated a male anchor the same way. That combined with his accusations against the media for distorting his comments about vaccinations — served as fodder for pundits and critics to question whether Paul was ready for prime time or too thin-skinned. [hyperlink original]

Notice how the "critics" which "questioned whether Paul would have treated a male anchor the same way" were never named or identified. This is because the author herself is the primary critic, and the exchange only "became news" because her employer decided it should. CNN published this article precisely because it wanted to foment that criticism: to throw that thought out into the reader's mind, and lend it credence as a valid, mainstream, reasonable interpretation of events. Sentences like that one hype up controversy where previously there was little, because controversy is good for business, and especially so if it presents ideological enemies in a negative light.

Imagine the positions were switched: Paul interviewing a female, starting off with same accusatory questions she started off with, and then interrupting to speak over her in the middle of her responses. Wouldn’t this also be seen as him silencing women in a sexist way? of him always having to get his side of the story out, and being socially accustomed to men speaking and women listening? Wouldn't he be criticized in ways Kelly Evans will not be for doing the same thing? And if so, isn’t the behavior of Kelly Evans in that interview quite the opposite of what you’d expect to see if society were as slanted against women as “critics” claim? Make no mistake, society is slanted against women in many ways. But if this interview proves anything, it's that females interviewing men actually get a longer leash to be abusive than is true when it's vice-versa.

Don’t hold your breathe to see Evans’ obnoxiously confrontational tact criticized by any mainstream media outlet – that’d be eating one of their own. In fact, perhaps they can’t even see why what she did was dishonest: after all, they have an ingrained tendency to sympathize with and relate to the interviewer’s point of view because they've all been in that position before. If so, they are behaving in much the same way men behave when their biased and defensive perspective on sexism prevents them from detecting the injustices of patriarchy.

If the political left put forth half the effort they exhort calling out unfair and discriminatory media treatment of women and minorities into the parallel pursuit of illuminating unfair media treatment of libertarians, they wouldn’t need to stretch nearly so far to find examples.

Libertarian Economics Helps Poor Countries

(This is an extended version of a Letter to the Editor I wrote to the JHU Politik.)

The latest tiresome hit-piece in a JHU Politik writer’s bombastic crusade against libertarianism accused free trade of creating “instability, burgeoning inequality and slower growth” across the world.

If free trade has caused those things, libertarians make a poor scapegoat for its implementation; sadly, they have not found political power much of anywhere in recent (or even distant) memory. Rather, what free trade protections we have arose only when even non-libertarians came to realize the shortcomings state interference. NAFTA, for instance, was signed by Bill Clinton and supported by hundreds of congressman from both parties – not including libertarian icon Ron Paul, for the record, who called it “managed trade” and voted against it. What the article actually criticizes is not libertarian economics, but a broader distrust of protectionism that has led to isolated and limited free trade agreements between some countries. By mislabeling the very boogeyman it seeks to create, the article attempts to marginalize the mainstream.

In reality, there is an overwhelming consensus among economists – libertarian or otherwise, and rivaling those of climatologists on global warming or public health experts on vaccines – that international free trade is a net boon for the world economy in poor countries, rich countries, and everything in between. Contestable and cherry-picked anecdotes in Chile and South Korea do not suffice to refute that consensus. Neither does the eyebrow-raising version of history in which Russian citizens were better off under communism than they were after it (in truth, the majority of that 40% reduction in GDP was due to cessation of Soviet Era military spending and the halted production of goods for which there was very little demand. This is an excellent illustration of how the usefulness of GDP as an economic indicator is inversely related to the portion of GDP comprised of government spending. But I digress).

Even if we accept those case studies as accurate, the primary argument for free trade remains unanswered. The article confines it’s analysis to the individual countries which liberalized their policies, ignoring benefactors in other places. Yet the main appeal of free trade is that it stands to improve efficiency globally by permitting economies of scale to emerge elsewhere. Short term benefit for formerly protected but inefficient producers in the home country is neither guaranteed nor even desirable.

By analogy, restricting carbon emissions may temporarily hurt the economy of the individual nation emplacing the carbon controls, as they can no longer shift costs onto others through the externality of carbon pollution. But all those countries which previously absorbed those costs are now unburdened by the change, and should they enact carbon restrictions as well, the original country will benefit in turn. The result is that from a global perspective, decreasing carbon emissions helps everyone in the long run. So too with free trade: the hurt imposed by reducing one’s own tariffs is outweighed by the aggregate advantage that comes when everyone else reduces theirs too. When governments refrain from punishing one another’s economies in the quest for relative gains, everyone wins.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the developing world, where the process of economic globalization that so displeases Mr. Grable has lifted a billion people out of poverty since 1970, and hundreds of millions more since 2005. I described this a few years ago in response to another protectionist shrill:

The influx of capital investment (what protectionists decry as outsourcing) to Asia from the West has transformed the world’s most populated nations – China and India – from desolate wastelands of intense hardship to vibrant and thriving global economies. In turn, the wealth created has lowered the price of goods across the world, improving living standards for millions of western consumers as well. Technologies that would have seemed unthinkable merely a decade ago have been made easily affordable to the average citizen thanks to this process. Over the coming years, dozens more impoverished countries housing billions more poor people stand to benefit in the same way, as the West finally lets Southeast Asia, South America and Africa in on the lucrative and mutually beneficial trade partnerships it had formerly reserved for white nations.


Within the context of these developments, there is something decidedly illiberal about using a portion of our abundant wealth to erect artificial and coercive impediments on the ability of poor foreigners to accrue their own. Economists agree that free trade does wonders for American consumers, but that’s not the primary reason we should support it. Rather, we need free trade because the alternative is unconscionable: turning the force of the state against desperate manual laborers and would-be market entrants across the globe. If progressives truly care about global wealth inequality, encouraging the world’s wealthiest countries to adopt protectionist policies that prevent jobs and capital from moving to the third world is among the most regressive stances they could possibly take.