Tons and tons at Ideas Matter.
In the Washington Examiner:
- One on longevity and the coming fountain of youth.
- One on anemic concepts of human nature.
- One on the implications for a partial Obamacare strikedown.
In the Daily Caller:
Tons and tons at Ideas Matter.
In the Washington Examiner:
In the Daily Caller:
Everyone knows the social sciences are fuzzy. Economists, political scientists and anthropologists bring their moralistic baggage into the ivory tower as soon as they decide what to study and what not to. There’s no avoiding social science’s value-ladenness.
But on the value-ladenness continuum, there’s a point at which you undermine your credibility as a scholar. That is, if you use your status as a scholarly “expert” to launch a political crusade, you are engaging in a form of academic malpractice. Michael I. Norton of Harvard and Dan Ariely of Duke are guilty of such malpractice. Let me explain.
In a recent “study,” Norton and Ariely seem to be engaging in a kind of democracy-by-proxy. They claim Americans really want more “wealth redistribution” and they have the evidence to prove it. Here’s their own description of the findings from the Los Angeles Times.
We recently asked a representative sample of more than 5,000 Americans (young and old, men and women, rich and poor, liberal and conservative) to answer two questions. They first were asked to estimate the current level of wealth inequality in the United States, and then they were asked about what they saw as an ideal level of wealth inequality.
In our survey, Americans drastically underestimated the current gap between the very rich and the poor. The typical respondent believed that the top 20% of Americans owned 60% of the wealth, and the bottom 40% owned 10%. They knew, in other words, that wealth in the United States was not distributed equally, but were unaware of just how unequal that distribution was.
When we asked respondents to tell us what their ideal distribution of wealth was, things got even more interesting: Americans wanted the top 20% to own just over 30% of the wealth, and the bottom 40% to own about 25%. They still wanted the rich to be richer than the poor, but they wanted the disparity to be much less extreme.
Okay. So Norton and Ariely succeeded in proving that Americans don’t know who has how much money. We the People are not only largely ignorant of quintiles, but how many assets are controlled by each quintile.
Here's one of Templeton Press's videos in promotion of the New Threats to Freedom book:
That was actually a fun day, despite being a gibbering wreck at first. (And hey - I never said I was photogenic.)
This is the thought experiment I use to begin my Cash for Clunkers retrospective:
When I look at a 1970 Pontiac GTO, I don’t think of old metal. I think of sideburns, sexuality, and back seats that ensured Gen X got here just fine. I see my parents riding to FM radio on a summer night, racing beneath boulevard lights, or taking on the world. With 455 cubic inches of V8, the GTO is the quintessential muscle car. But it has creases and lines that suggest the curves of a woman. To look at that car is to see a time machine that travels to a place where long-haired gods and goddesses rumble over the earth dazed and confused, longing to be free.
By 1973, muscle cars were still cool. But stagflation had set in after embargoes by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, price controls, and wacky monetary policy. Oil and energy prices rose. A few years after that, Shi'ite fundamentalists overthrew the Shah in Iran. Energy prices rose again. Before we knew it, it was 1980. The Carter administration did a lot of backward things, like make people queue for gas. But here's a thought experiment: What if at the height of the energy crisis the president had decided to pay Americans to destroy ten-year-old cars so they would go out and buy new Datsuns? How many of those Pontiac GTOs would be around today? Or Ford Mustangs, or Dodge Challengers? Despite the fact that a 1970 GTO was still considered a pretty cool car in 1980, it had not yet been infused with 40 years of romance. Now, that essence lives in every part—in its "originality."
If you like, read the whole thing.
I have a piece over at TCS, which you may enjoy. Here is a sliver:
We aren't rats. Nor are we children. But Congress and the Obama Administration seem to think so. From Cash-for-Clunkers to the idea that all Americans should be forced to buy health insurance, our leaders are moving away from stewardship of the Constitution to a rewards-and-punishments government. "Stimulus and response" meets "hope and change". It's for your own good. But the idea that they can subsidize and tax their way to utopia has its roots in a discredited theory from early 20th Century—the psychology of B. F. Skinner.
The ever-evolving healthcare narrative is getting stranger by the day. First it was “astroturfing.” That tack didn’t take, you know, because real people figured out they were neither plastic nor in anyone’s pay. (Strike one.)
Then, Obama’s media tried ridicule: Stephen Colbert, Rachel Maddow and The Daily Kossers would be unstoppable! ‘Let’s pick on people for having views different from ours. That’ll show ‘em.’ Turns out people don’t like having their core beliefs ridiculed. It didn’t work for the teaparties and it didn’t work for the town halls. (Strike two.)
‘Okay, then let’s find a few of the looniest, angriest rednecks, grandpas and protestors (or plants) we can find in all those town hall audiences and magnify them our way. Statistically, there will be at least one at every event. It'll look like they are the norm and not the exception.’
And hell, maybe the vulgar town-hall-er is the norm from their elitist perspective. But holding a mirror up in front of most of America and yelling “see” isn’t going to convince people they’re behaving badly, much less that they’re wrong for holding a certain view. Nor will it convince people that socializing medicine, partially or wholly, is somehow a good thing. Shall we appeal to the left’s elitism in order to explain why? We might follow Mencken in saying: “That Americans, in the mass, have anything properly describable as keen wits is surely far from self-evident. On the contrary, it seems likely that, if anything, they lie below the civilized norm.” But, just like you can’t admonish a five-year-old for acting like a child, you can’t pick on Americans for being Americans—left or right.
(Strike three.) You’re out.
Now, here in the eighth inning, things aren’t looking so good for Obamacare, at least as it was originally conceived. Obama’s media are turning now to a plea for “rational discourse,” which is actually just a riff on the failed third strike, above. The narrative is now that the right has destroyed a rational debate with conspiracies, racism and radical activism (complete with swastikas, death panels and accusations of socialism!). Some in the liberaltarian salon are buying this appeal hook, line and Twitter. I don’t know whether it’s that these liberaltarians are longing for a return to those halcyon days when intellectual chess in the philosophy department breakroom actually had rules; or, if it’s that they don’t want their champagne-socialist friends to stop inviting them to Beltway bashes. For whatever reasons, some I can respect as a former student of philosophy, some of my fellow center-libertarians are trying to stand athwart the ugliness of bipartisan America yelling “Discourse!” Mind you, these are some of the same liberaltarians who didn’t like the Iraq War… But I will – as they conveniently did – pass over the oceans of pink-bedizened, effigy-toting, Bush-Hitler-costume-wearing “discussants” that routinely clogged the streets of D.C. and elsewhere during the height of the war. To these liberaltarians I say, it would have been nice if, in the interests of “rational discourse,” you had given us a little equal opportunity idiot-bashing back then to go with your sanctimony, now.
When it comes to “rational discourse,” I won’t, however, pass over the hordes of mindless Whole Foods shoppers that were bent on boycotting their favorite store because John Mackey didn’t share their statist opinions on healthcare ”reform.” For people so eager to engage in “rational discourse,” how many actually considered Mackey’s non-coercive proposals earnestly, much less thought about the portion of boycotted profits that would no longer be going to microfinance initiatives on the poorest parts of the earth, or the revenues that would no longer feed a massive network of organic growers and farmers whose “ethical” business practices Mackey helped take mainstream. The very idea that these Machiavellian misfits pulling the “rational discourse” card – as if they’d ever cracked open an Intro to Logic textbook – well, defies logic. I have carpel tunnel syndrome from the sheer number of times I’ve typed the phrase “g-e-n-e-t-i-c f-a-l-l-a-c-y” every time I read a leftist dispute a counter-claim to global warming hysteria on the grounds that the author’s employer got a donation from an oil company. Rational discourse to a leftist is like Speed Stick is to a Frenchman. So please, spare this educated redneck any sanctimonious claptrap about having a rational goddamn conversation.
And if any among y’all are truly interested in engaging any of us in such a conversation, try straightforwardly to answer the following questions without smearing, sneering, joking, changing the subject, setting up a straw man, stinking up the comments with red herrings, dropping non sequiturs, changing the context, whining about “the children”, questioning people’s motives, asking who’s paying us, or accusing us of lies, or making things up yourselves:
The most egregious media narrative was framed perfectly by a Facebook friend and left-leaning journalist whose name I won’t mention, because he was probably an innocent casualty of “framing.” He asked his FB friends for memorable stories of people on “pro-reform” side who had gone to Townhall meetings (presumably for a retrospective he was writing). Of course, this framing, which I’ve seen done over and over again, presupposes that people on the right who oppose healthcare socialization are “anti-reform.” Nothing could be further from the truth. That’s why I will ask my leftish friends, so eager to engage in “rational discourse,” why they haven’t deigned to consider, discuss or otherwise entertain the great reform ideas that have been put forth by the center-right, which – though full of illiberal concessions – are far less an affront to liberty than Obamacare:
· Allow people to buy health insurance in others states, as the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution demands. (This would lower the costs of purchasing health insurance for millions.)
· Expand the parameters of health savings accounts (HSAs) so that people have the ability to pay premiums from their HSAs. They would also have incentives to be cost-conscious, save for old age, and embrace preventive care. Providers would be more responsive to patients in both price and quality. This would be a massive step in mitigating the unfunded liabilities of Medicare and Medicaid. (This would also lower the costs of purchasing health insurance for millions.)
· Offer refundable tax-credits (healthcare money) for poor and middle class people to purchase health insurance, health savings, or health care from the private market. (This would also lower the costs of purchasing health insurance for millions.)
· Decouple health insurance from employment in order to get rid of that MASSIVE distortion while ensuring that people don’t lose their healthcare when they lose their jobs. (And I’m not talking about COBRA, either, which just has the distortions built into it, making it too expensive for the jobless.) The current system actually subsidizes wealthy and employed people via the tax code and leaves out the working poor! (This move would also lower the costs of purchasing health insurance for millions, because it would remove the anti-competitive distortions and lessen overconsumption.)
· Stop adding all these crippling, cost-ineffective, special-interest-friendly coverage mandates that make healthcare unaffordable—especially for young people. Introduce federal “Mandate Lite” legislation that would force companies to offer certain items, but allow citizens the freedom not to buy them if they so chose. (This would lower the costs of purchasing health insurance for millions.)
· Create a national high-risk pool for people with pre-existing conditions so that they can get affordable health insurance. This is far preferable to “guaranteed issue,” a mandate which raises premiums astronomically and makes insurance not insurance. (This would lower the cost of purchasing health insurance for millions.)
If in all of these ideas you can’t find a way to get the 45 million (or 35 million?) uninsured in America a policy, then you are a slave to the fetish of your own creation. That fetish is single-payer and all the political power and permanent special interests that comes with it. So come on, let’s have some rational freakin’ discourse.
The government consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office. Their principal device to that end is to search out groups who pant and pine for something they can't get and to promise to give it to them. Nine times out of ten that promise is worth nothing. The tenth time is made good by looting A to satisfy B. In other words, government is a broker in pillage, and every election is sort of an advance auction sale of stolen goods.
File this, by Thomas Kostigen, under either "Onion Wannabe," "Fellated someone for my journalism job," or "Causation/Correlation Confusions of 2009 #5,211" Here's a sliver:
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says people in Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands are the most content with their lives. The three ranked first, second and third, respectively, in the OECD's rankings of "life satisfaction," or happiness.
There are myriad reasons, of course, for happiness: health, welfare, prosperity, leisure time, strong family, social connections and so on. But there is another common denominator among this group of happy people: taxes.
Usually I'd launch into some sort of critical analysis. But this warrants none of that. Between the question begging and the correlation/causation problems, the high tax countries with unhappy people (oh, and Nordic suicide rates), I'm going to let the Logic 101 students pick this one apart.
Last night I had three glasses of scotch and two cigarettes out on the deck. I do this often. I'm not a smoker, per se, but I enjoy the occasional cigarette. (If my health insurer is reading this, just kidding :). I also like trans fat, fat fat, cholesterol and sugar. There are other things I like that will probably, when tallied up, take a couple of years off my life in the end.
For example, I live in North Carolina. If I lived on this Greek island where everyone seems to live longer, I would get bored. I might also be senile and bored. So why are people so obsessed with longevity? Why is one's right to risk the least interesting 5-10 years of your life - and to have more fun in your younger years - under attack--particularly by government and interest groups?
In fact, some people are shocked, horrified and convinced that we need a Canadian healthcare system because Canadians live, on average, two years longer than Americans do. Now, I'll pass over the statistical fact that Canada has very few black or latino people and that black and latino people tend to die younger on average for a host of reasons that include both genes and bullets fired from guns over the "War on Drugs". But Americans are also crazier drivers (or maybe have less safe highways), have different eating habits and are probably more likely to smoke, etc. It probably has little, if anything to do with the health care system--and that's me being charitable with my argument. But my question is: who cares? Why should I care if I live to be only 80 versus 82? And given healthcare advances by the time I'm a senior, we may be talking about the differences between living to be 95 and 97. Even if the lifespan differential was five years, can't I just live free and die hard?
I am aware that I may have two more glorious years watching the great grandchildren play as they visit me very occasionally, as I sit idly in my soiled Depends. I am aware that my lovely younger wife and I could enjoy two more years of retirement together in our sunset years. But does it make me a bad person to be willing to trade those two years for six kick-ass months now? Or even better: to sprinkle my life with a little hedonic seasoning before I'm too old to enjoy it? And most importantly, who should have the authority to tell me how I should live my life -- particularly since government functionaries don't pay for my g.d. health insurance yet (thought not for long)? Methinks what was once puritanism has evolved into paternalism.
(Note: this is not meant to be an argument against life extension a la the Methuseleh Mouse Prize. If you can double my life span and make it qualitatively better, let's get it on. I just want to reserve the right to trade higher quality years for more lower-quality years on net -- and/or take the associated risks.)