Sunday, April 27, 2014

Upcoming Posts

As I did actually follow through on my promise and get something posted before Monday morning, I am feeling rather optimistic about clearing my queue of unfinished posts. And so, to inspire myself to finally wrap them up, let me list here the titles, and very brief descriptions of the six I have waiting:

1. The Inherent Inefficiency of Government Solutions - Already described in "Coming Soon". 
2. Private Versus Public Charity - Also mentioned in  "Coming Soon" , this will look at systems using a combination of charity and welfare, but primarily relying upon welfare, as opposed to a completely private system, and will try to dismiss many myths about the need for public welfare and the shortcomings of private charity, as well as demonstrate why public welfare inevitably produces the disastrous results it does, no matter what reforms are tried. 
3. Consumer Protection II - Criminals, Regulation and Public Opinion - A follow up to "Consumer Protection". In this I shall look at our many consumer protection laws and will argue that equal, or even greater benefit, could be gained by simply enforcing basic criminal law. I hope to show that truly criminal or fraudulent acts are in no way discouraged by regulation, nor are the believers in disallowed medical procedures and the like. Thus, the laws prevent only certain marginal cases, at considerable cost and effort, while producing a number of harmful consequences. 
4. Three Common Erroneous Beliefs and the Political Consequences - An examination of the beliefs which underlie three political views I find erroneous. The first being the fundamental liberal belief in the ignorance of the masses. (Well, it is in truth one of three fundamental beliefs - cf "Liberalism, It Origins and Consequences".) 
5. Arguing in Hindsight II - A follow up to "Arguing In Hindsight", arguing again that, looking back and considering what we already know about how things turned out, we may come to very mistaken conclusions. I will then close with a few examples of the same poor practice, which have produced dangerous political consequences. 
6. An Example of Private Versus Government Solutions - As can be seen in the comments following "A Quick Question", this is obviously a topic which I have spent considerable time examining. In this essay, I will take one (or perhaps more) problems and examine how they would be solved through the use of government, and how they would be solved using social pressure in a minimal government. Hopefully the example(s) will provide evidence that social pressure may be more effective (and certainly more respectful toward individual rights) than state answers, as we routinely apply to all manner of problems today.

Hopefully, by listing them, I will make myself finish them. If not all of them, at least the majority.

Please let me know if one sounds more interesting than the others, or one holds no interest at all. I can't promise to follow all suggestions, but I will listen and try to write what is most interesting for those who read my blog.

The Quixotic Goal of PC Neologisms

One interesting aspect of having children is that you get to watch a lot of children's television, television -- and especially advertisements -- you would normally never see. Sometimes it is confusing, as when you see an advertisement for an Easy Bake Oven followed by an advertisement for leasing a Lexus, sometimes it is annoying, such as seeing the twelfth plug this hour for the latest Kids' Rock album, but sometimes it is informative as well. For example, when you see the PSAs, whether sponsored by the network, the ad council, or some government agency. It might sound a bit of an exaggeration, but I am convinced, the PSAs we show children are a great way to see our culture in microcosm, especially if you are interested in finding out what educators and bureaucrats think are topics of primary concern.

Looking back, it seems my early years were filled with official worries that our schools were failing, and children were not eating well. How else to explain the constant barrage of those "Schoolhouse Rock" mini-lessons, broken only by equally surreal animated plugs for a balanced diet? On the other hand, perhaps there was not that much fear about the schools yet, after all Schoolhouse Rock showed officials still had hopes of producing educated children, as did the less remembered PSAs, such ass those Saturday morning "In the News" segments, intended to interest children in current events. Overall, the PSAs of the 1970s showed an interesting mixture of attempts at education, combined with the most inoffensive efforts at behavior modification, mostly aimed at those things about which your mother already nagged, eating less candy and more fruits and vegetables.

I entered my teens in the 1980's, so I caught fewer of the PSAs aimed at the very young, though even well into my teens, my friends and I would still sit around and glance at Saturday morning cartoons from time to time, if only to laugh at them, rather than with them, so I do recall the gist of the 80's. There were still traces of the hopeful 1970s, mostly in the slowly vanishing Schoolhouse Rock and "In the News" segments, but those grew fewer and farther between. In their place appeared more and more anti-drug messages, as well as the earlier forms of those "be good to each other" messages that would become so prevalent in the 1990's that even adults knew about, and mocked, them. ("The More You Know" for instance, or GI Joe's "Knowing is half the battle" vignettes.) Later int he 1980's, there was also a growing wave of anti-smoking messages, such as the "Cigarette Mash" ads, and the animated skeletons whose spiel I can still recite. ("My odiferous friend...")

After the 1980s, I grew old enough, and watched little enough television, that I don't recall the PSAs well. As I said above, some of them, such as "The More You Know" aired in prime time, and were both omnipresent and cloying enough that they stuck in my mind, but beyond that, I thought little about PSAs, or children's programming, at least until my son was born.

Which brings us to the present. Judging from the PSAs of today, it seems "bullying", in all its many vague definitions, is one of the topics occupying most of our bureaucrats' and educators' attention. At least judging from the air time it receives. Along with bullying, there are, as there has been since at least the 1980s, a smattering of those "be kind to others" ads, along with other generic "good behavior" advertisements. And then there is the topic which inspired today's post, and that is something that just appeared a year or two ago, but judging from the volume of PSAs, something as worrying as bullying, if not more so. And that is the war against the word "gay", or at least "gay" as an insult.

In ad after ad, some caricature of vapid, insensitive teenhood, while chatting with a similarly hollow chum, will describe some undesirable person, situation or item as "gay", in a context clearly unrelated to the traditional homosexual meaning. And as soon as the fateful word is uttered, in strolls some celebrity to make some half-mocking statement, followed by low key pontificating on how thoughtless it is to use "gay" as a pejorative (though obviously in a lot shorter words). After wish, the celebrity vanishes, and... Well, the commercial ends. Oddly, there is no catharsis, no repentance, not even a thoughtful look from one or both of the plastic people. Just a hasty celeb retreat followed by fade to black, along with a closing celeb voice over telling us the same message we just heard. (Presumably, in case we somehow failed to get the rather subtle and complex message, or perhaps forgot it in the intervening two or three seconds.)

But I am not here to criticize the ads, or at least not criticize them for their style. No, what interests me is the intent behind the ads, especially as it gives me a perfect opportunity to repeat and argument I have often made in private, but rarely voiced in my blog, that being the absolute futility of the constant shifting of terminology demanded by political correctness. (Though before I do, I should point out that the ads are in one way rather self-defeating. My son attends a very integrated, very tolerant Episcopal school, and thus had never heard the word "gay" used as an insult. Thus, rather than stopping the use of the term, these ads actually introduced my son to the term. I know his case is somewhat unusual, but I often wonder about ads such as these, if they discourage very few from using the term, but introduce the term to a number who never knew it, don't they conceivably do more harm than good, even my their own measure?)

Let us leave aside that little digression, for now, and instead look at my main point.

In the past, I noted how terms we now think of as insults, or even words that should not be spoken, were, in fact, the common word, sometimes even the polite word, or medical term. This struck me when I was trying to describe a job I held in college. My job was that of a job coach. Every day, from 3 PM to 11 PM, I would pick up work crews made up of mentally retarded adults, take them to their job sites, instruct them in how to do janitorial work, evaluate their progress, serve them lunch, assist with other issues, help with their cleaning, and so on. It was probably the most PC of jobs. But, in describing it, I became aware that many now consider the term "mentally retarded" as insulting, since the word "retard" has become a popular insult among the young. However, I found I could not discover what the present acceptable terminology is, and so I found I had to offer a sort of disclaimer before describing my job, admitting I did not know the current term, but, when I was doing the job, back in the late 1980s, "mentally retarded" was both the medical term, and considered the polite description.

Having run into this issue, it struck me how many times that particular ailment had been renamed, in an effort to avoid using a term which had become an insult. At one time "cretin" was a technical term, even "idiot" was used that way once. "Imbecile" was not unacceptable at one time. And "moron" was also so used. It sounds odd now, because those terms all grew into insults, but they were, at one time or another, completely acceptable. However, as they became popular terms of derision, the words were gradually retired from polite conversation, as well as fell out of favor as technical terminology, and new terms were invented. However, soon enough, those too were used -- probably with sarcastic intent at first, to mock the "high fallutin'" terms replacing the previous one -- but eventually becoming simple insults, and so the terms were changed once again. And thus, "mentally retarded", which was once quite acceptable, fell into disrepute, leaving me flailing about, looking for a replacement*.

I mention all this because, whether the word "gay" or "retard" or some other term, the efforts of the PC crowd to constantly change terms, to avoid associating a particular group with an insulting phrase, is simply absurd. The people using the words as an insult are not doing so because the word strikes their fancy, for better or worse, they are mocking what the word represents. That is why terms for the retarded are constantly springing up as insults. People are offended by being compared to those with below normal IQs. Similarly, when people use "gay" as an insult, it is because, in some way, they see "gay" as representing something out of the ordinary, and undesirable. And changing the term will not fix that. People will simply latch onto the new term, and in time, use it in the same way they used the old. Those who once called others "fags' will then call them "queer" or "gay" or whatever, but the term change will not stop it. In the same way the constant changes in racial designations have no impact on racism, shifting from one term to another for other groups will do no good either.

It is truly a futile, and quite idiotic, effort. I suppose the belief is that those using a term as an insult will offend those the term describes, and that is likely true. But those prone to insult such groups won't stop just because the term changes. As soon as the new word is in widespread use, without a doubt those same people will use the new term just as they used the old. And nothing will have changed, except that many well meaning people will be accused of insensitivity because they cannot keep up with the changing terminology, and the groups to whom these terms refer will be seen as either overly sensitive or simply silly, as they continually change the name by which they wish to be described. But as far as actually accomplishing good, I can see little chance.

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* There is an interesting variation on this pattern, one which I think almost unique. That is the term "black". Though out of favor now, this was the popularly accepted term through the 1980's and part oft he 1990's, replacing "colored person", which had replaced "negro". However, "black" is unusual, in that, prior to being the accepted terminology, it was not an unknown phrase (as are most that are pressed into service as a replacement), nor was it one of many little used but polite terms. It was seen for a long time as a rather insulting term, with "colored person" and even "negro" being less insulting. However, this offensive term was -- rather intentionally -- rehabilitated, and turned into the accepted term, until "African-American" and "person of color" replaced it. The only similar instance I can imagine is the effort of some gay groups to make "queer" an accepted term. However, it has not enjoyed the same widespread acceptance that "black" did.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Coming Soon

Though no one has mentioned it, I do realize my recent posts been both a bit cranky, and fairly far off topic. I do apologize, and promise that I have some more conventional -- and even tempered -- posts which I intend to finish in the next few days. With a little luck, I may even have one posted tomorrow. Likely it will be my examination of private charity as opposed to public welfare, though I may try to finish others, likely a discussion of efforts to enforce PC verbiage, or maybe a discussion of why government management will always fail to produce anything close to optimal results. (Somewhat akin to "The Inherent Disappointment of Authoritarianism", "An Examination of the Economics and Sociology of Government Spending", "The Irrationality of Government Redistribution", "Bureaucratic Management and Self-Policing", "How the Government Corrupts Relationships" or "The Inevitability of Bureaucratic Management in Government Enterprises", even "Adaptability and Government" or "Inflexibility and Bureaucracy", though coming from a somewhat different perspective.) Whichever it is, I do hope to have something new posted before the work week begins. (So, I suppose, if I end up being lazy, I will just have to call in sick until I can post something, and thereby keep my promise.)

Addendum: As I already burdened this simple note with so many links, let me add a few more, also similar to my upcoming post. Perhaps reading these will pique someone's interest in my forthcoming essay:  "The Problems of Spending and Taxes", "The Case for Small Government", "Competition", "The Basics", "Greed Versus Evil", "The Secret of Success, or, Why Government Fails", "The Dishonesty of Transportation Spending".

A Thought on Charity, Publicity and Fame

Recently I was thinking about "charitable celebrities", those people who become famous for doing good deeds, and then spend an inordinate amount of their time shilling for their cause. Or, I suppose if I were less prone to blunt, somewhat cynical descriptions, I would say "promoting awareness" or fundraising. In one respect, I can understand those who adopt this role, after all most of them did not set out to be celebrities, they simply worked hard for some cause and, through some quirk of public sentiment, ended up drawing attention and becoming well-known. And since they truly believe in their cause, I suppose it is very tempting to use that attention to gather as much money and aid as such attention can provide.

However, there is something about it that I just find unseemly. Yes, they are serving a good cause, but there is part of me that wonders how much they are also using the attention to feed their own ego.

It reminds me of products which promise to contribute a percentage of sales to a worthy cause. While many find it a good thing, to me it is actually quite troubling. If they promised all sales went to charity, or all sales on a certain date, or the sale of the first X items, whatever, that would not trouble me. But by mixing up self-interest and charity, the offer of a percentage going to charity bothers me. It seems they are almost blackmailing well meaning people into lining their pockets. If you don't buy the good, then you are neglecting the charity, however, when you do buy, it doesn't just go to charity, it pays them as well.

Similarly, charitable celebrities often seem to be milking their fame, not just for the sake of charity, but also for the simple fame of it. And, worse still, unlike normal celebrities, their charitable status tends to grant them an aura of sanctity that insulates them from criticism. For instance, think of how reluctant people were to believe anything negative about Lance Armstrong. No matter what came out, most oft he public was willing to extend him tremendous credit, granting him the benefit of the doubt in every instance. (Well, most people. I admit, the public reaction to charitable celebrities has a flip side, in that there are a handful who will instantly dislike them, no matter what, mostly because everyone else adores them so much.)

Not that most of those promoting charities are self-seeking, or fame hungry. As I said, it is understandable that those truly committed to a cause will use the fame they gain to promote that cause. But there is still something that just seems wrong. Perhaps it is because of our cult of fame, our culture's recent fascination with fame (or sometimes notoriety) above all else, the desire so many have to become known at any cost. Because fame is so cherished by so many, maybe it makes it seem just a petty and unseemly thing to associate with good deeds, as if those who truly are doing good should not be involved in such a distressing, petty goal, even if they did not seek it on their own.

I really am not sure, but there is something about the mixture of fame and charity that troubles me. It just seems good deeds should be quiet and private, not ostentatiously done before news cameras, recorded in print and so on. Kind of akin to another idea I have sometimes had that anyone who aspires to sainthood probably doesn't deserve it. It just seems somehow wrong to make a show of benevolence.

But that may just be a quirk of my personality. I know I am a bit unusual in my beliefs about many things. Still, as it crossed my mind, I thought I would mention it. I probably should have spent the time better in writing something more on-topic, perhaps finishing one of the three or four half-done essays I have left waiting for quite some time, but, I have my own bad habits, and just can't resist the periodic off topic post.

POSTSCRIPT

There is a second aspect to publicized charity that troubles me, and in this case I know why in great detail. When a cause becomes too popular, when a charity becomes a cause, then the state has a tendency to involve itself, and suddenly there is a pressing need to funnel public funds to it. Which, if you think about it, is a bit odd. If a cause has broad popular support, then it would receive a lot of donations, making a mockery of the usual justification for public charity, that "if the state didn't fund it, no one would." So, if the goal were truly to fund charities that would not be otherwise, the funds should flow to unpopular causes, but, as we all know, though rarely admit, a lot of public charity is about buying votes, not helping people, and so public funds inevitably flow to popular causes, those that presumably already enjoy the most donations.

And, of course, as I have written before, I absolutely detest charities that ask for funds, not to give to those they support, but instead to lobby congress to take more taxes from me to fund their charity. And perhaps that is part of my dislike for charitable celebrities as well, since all too often they are also those who promote added government funding of whatever their cause might be. But, that is certainly not all of it. Just one of many things that trouble me about those who combine charity and fame.

Then again, with this little postscript, I managed to turn this from an off-topic digression into a relatively on topic rant.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Quick Question

Though I am all for drug decriminalization, it strikes me as odd that soon we are likely to have a number of states where it is legal to smoke marijuana, but not a cigarette. Something about that just strikes me as strange.

Actually, I will go beyond my simple question, as I realized today why, at least in part, I am so very unlikely to quit smoking.

You see, I am not adverse to people trying to convince me of something. Were the antismoking crowd to ask me not to smoke, I might give them a hearing. However, once they start trying to force me, when they use the force of the state to impose burdensome taxes, punitive measures and the like, then I get my "Don't Tread on Me" hackles up, and I will be damned if I am going to do what they ask, even if it comes at considerable cost.

And let us make no mistake, a lot of antismoking legislation is punitive, not intended to protect nonsmokers from second hand smoke or anything of the kind. For example, enclosed, ventilated indoor smoking areas kept second hand smoke away from nonsmokers much better than forcing us all to congregate outside, clustering around doors and blowing smoke on everyone coming in. Those laws prohibiting any indoor smoking are punitive, and nothing else. (The taxes, on the other hand, are a pure money grab. They hope they will not discourage smoking, or encourage smuggling, so they can reap the greatest benefit. In this single case, the claims of being anti-smoking are actually a smoke screen.)

The thing about smoking is, it is a choice, just like so many others. Everything we do has costs and benefits, and many entail risks, even risks of death. Smoking, drinking (beyond a small, though not quite well defined amount which may be beneficial), eating fatty foods, driving a motorcycle, skydiving, scuba diving, even driving a car or flying versus walking, being sexually active -- especially with more than one partner, all entail some increased risk, yet we accept that people can make that decision. It is only in a few areas (drugs, smoking, fatty foods recently, and so on) that the state decides we are not allowed to decide and the state should step in and bully us into doing what those elected think is best. And that just rankles. What makes the personal preference of a politician, or lobbyist, or pressure group, or even the majority of voters, superior to my judgment about my own decisions?

Let me put it to you this way: Would you allow majority vote decide where you would work? Live? Who you would marry? What you would eat? What religion you would have, or not have? If not, then why allow it in other areas? If we are free, then why can the state bully us in some areas and not others? And if we allow it, then what is to stop it from extending into others, just as it has gone form smoking to sugars, sodas, fatty foods and so on. If we allow the state to become nanny for smokers, what will keep it from one day being nanny in all aspects of our lives?

And in short, that is why I just cannot stop smoking, even if I wanted to (which I honestly don't right now). I have this perverse inability to do something when I am forced to do it. I won't make a big spectacle of it, I am no protester who shows off his defiance, but I will quietly defy these efforts none the less. It is just something about me I cannot change.

I admit this is a strange post for my blog, but I just changed doctors and got a (relatively mild) version of the doctor stop smoking speech, and it made me think about what it is that makes it impossible for me to stop. In a large part it is simply because I do not want to, but those few times I even considered it, it struck me that as soon as I saw a sign saying "no smoking within 35 feet of a doorway" or got an angry glance on the street from an antismoking zealot, I would lose all thought of quitting. So I wondered why that was, and, came to this conclusion. And since it does, in a way, fit with everything else I write, thought in an odd way, I decided to post it here.

It is no more off topic than my spelling and grammar gripes.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

More Thoughts on Wage Disparities

I happened to see the news today and caught Barbara Mikulski excoriating Republicans for refusing to support the latest foolish "wage parity" bill. It was a bit of a surprise to hear the old familiar rhetoric being trotted out again, as I thought such idiotic concepts had been finally banished to fringe feminist groups (well, and college departments of economics, which never tire of making the news by telling us "women earn 68% of what men do"). But no, it appears, having become drunk on the power they apparently now wield, Democrats are happy to bring out all the old far left causes, the ones that so alienated the middle class in the 1970's and paved the way for eight years of Reagan (and four of Bush, and eight in which Clinton could only triangulate, rather than govern from the left*). However, the Democrats' suicidal slide to the leftward fringe is the subject for another essay, for now I want to reexamine the topic of wage disparities one more time, to put in one place all the comments I have made before ("Employment A to Z", "Pay Disparities"), as well as a few I missed. I doubt many of my readers need to be convinced, but I have discovered that even conservatives sometimes give credence to the supposed "academic" reports of "proven wage disparities", so I want to lay the whole matter to rest and explain why such studies are either utterly inaccurate, or else reveal disparities which have perfectly reasonable justifications. Finally, new to this essay, I want to argue that (1) the entire concept is economically absurd and that economists who tout such findings are showing themselves partisan agitators and not true academics, (2) that even were such a concept valid, that economic pressures in a free market would tend to eliminate them, (3) that our current government policies -- and liability laws -- actually tend to create some of the situations touted as unjustified disparities, and (4) that the whole concept is in many way quite insulting to the women it claims to benefit.

Rather than try to summarize the old arguments, and then proceed to the new, let us just dive in, and discuss things as they logically flow together. And the most obvious place to start seems to be one of my newer claims, specifically that the argument itself is nonsensical from an economic standpoint.

Just as the value of a good is what someone will pay for it, the proper wage for a worker is what someone will pay for him or her. In that sense, there is no "fair wage" or "proper wage" and there are no "comparable positions" or "identical jobs". Joe and Jane may both operate drill presses or wait tables, but that does not mean they produce the same value for their employer. Even if Joe and Jane even produce the same output, that still does not mean they are comparable workers. Perhaps Joe requires less supervision, or Jane has a longer and more reliable work history. Every little factor plays a part in setting salary, not just position, output, time on the job1, those things economists try to measure, there are hundreds of tiny differences which can result in differing pay rates. And, in the end, the truth is, none of them really determine pay rates. What determines pay is what the employer offers, and the employee accepts. In short, as I said at the beginning, a good is worth what someone will pay, and a salary is what employee and employer agree it should be.

Reading over what I just said, I can see that it can be somewhat confusing, as economists tend to say two very different things about wages, the same as price. They say both "an object is worth what someone will pay for it" and "wages are determined by the value added by that laborer". And I admit, the two do seem somewhat contradictory, but only because economists fail to explain adequately.

Wages are, in a strict sense, nothing more than what an employer is willing to pay, though I suppose we could also say wages are set by the pay that employees are willing to accept. Both are equally true. If an employer will offer only $5, and no one will accept it, that is not a wage, but if employees demand $10 and no employers will pay it, then that is not a wage either. As with prices, wages are simply the point where employer and employee agree they should be set.

However, that point is not set arbitrarily, or, to be precise, it may be set arbitrarily, but the other participants in the market will then respond to that arbitrary wage in such a way as to drive it to the market value. And that market value, well... Ok, there is no market value. There are an infinite number of market values, one for each employee, or for each employee in each position, as his skills may vary from job to job. But, for the sake of argument, let us pretend there is a "market price", as a convenient fiction. So, if my employer and I set my wage too low, and my skills are such that it seems I could be paid more and still create a profit for my employer, then other employers will seek to lure me away by offering higher wages, and so, over time, employers will be forced to pay something very close to the value created by employees, or else face the loss of those employees.

On the flip side, if employer and employee set wages too high, and the employees produce less value than they are paid, well, first of all, the company will eventually begin to suffer losses, or at least earn profits below their competitors, which will have detrimental effects. But even before then, there will be pressures to reduce wages. First of all, other employees will offer their services for wages lower than the current employees, which will make it attractive for employers -- if the law allows -- to replace the overpaid workers with more reasonably priced ones. If that is not possible, if laws prevent replacing the workers -- due to union laws, minimum wages, or something else -- the employer will also be drawn to subcontracting certain functions, or purchasing parts of their finished good rather than making them. For example, if union wages drive up labor costs in the auto industry, auto makers may look to buying components of those cars from non-union or overseas firms for less, cutting labor costs.

As you can see, whether over or under priced, as with any other good or service, labor will obey the market, and employers will strive to pay workers as close to their true value -- with some allowance for profit -- as possible, in order to avoid poaching by competitors. Similarly, it is in the interest of employees to demand little more than they are worth, as even if they should receive elevated pay, it will eventually result in the loss of their position. In other words, wages are identical to goods and services, in that they are controlled by simple market forces. Many have proposed labor is somehow special, and thus requires special treatment, but there is no sense to that statement. The rules of supply and demand are no more than common sense, and apply to all goods and services. It does not matter that labor represents "someone's income" or that many wax poetic about the virtues of honest work and the like, labor is still nothing but another service, and the market operates upon labor as one any other good or service2.

Which brings us back to the question of "wage parity". If wages are set by employer and employee, but represent the value of productive output of the employee to a given employer, then why would two people working at the same job earn differing wages? And, more important for our current topic, why would there be patterns of wage disparities between men and women?

We will come back to the question of patterned inequality later, as it is the more complex, from the question of whether the disparities claimed exist at all or are produced by the study methodology, to deciding what weight to assign to expected inequalities, there many questions we need to examine. So, let us look first at a more easily answered question, why there are any disparities at all.

The most obvious answer is the simplest, that being that individuals differ in their levels of skill, willingness to work, the amount of supervision they require, the speed with which they learn new skills or adjust to new situations and so on. All those things that weigh in your favor in job interviews also influence either your productivity or the cost of obtaining that output. Two employees may produce the same output, but if one requires twice as much attention from a supervisor to do it, he is worth less, as the cost of supervision is doubled. And so, in all circumstances where wages can be set freely -- that is where there are no union or other government wage scales, or where wages are far enough above minimum wage to allow them to reflect such differences -- employers will base their wages on such considerations3.

Before I move on to less obvious topics, this provides a good point at which to make a point. In an earlier essay ("The Basics", "Competition") I mentioned that while the free market tends toward the optimal set of prices, it does not reach it. Likewise, in my writing on federalism (eg "The Benefits of Federalism", "Reforms, Ideal and Real", "Minimal Reforms", "Misunderstanding Democracy", "The Importance of Error", "Why Freedom is Essential", "Power and Disorder", "The Consequences of Bad Laws"), I mentioned that individuals do learn from experience, but that they are not perfect and may, at times, make the wrong decision, draw the wrong conclusions and so on.

Similarly, employers try to pay wages which take all of these factors into account, trying to set the wages as close as possible to the point which earns the prevailing rate of profit4, but little more, but employers are also not perfect. They may misjudge an employee, an employee may change to be more or less diligent, employers may over or under estimate the productivity benefit of new equipment, and so on. The more experience they have with their plant, as well as with specific employees, the less likely they are to make such errors, but such errors are still possible. Likewise, employees may, from time to time, underestimate their own worth. As I said, other employers may correct this by bidding for such employees, but this is not a perfect remedy. If the employee truly thinks he is worth less, and does not actively seek work or advertise himself with a resume, he may not become aware of his true worth. Thus, though the market tends toward the somewhat fictional market rate5, there are conditions which will keep it from achieving it in all cases. Then again, imperfection is part of life, no system achieves perfect results, and the free market, for all its weaknesses, comes closest to the ideal.(See "The Third Best Economy")

This brings me to a second point, and one I made before in discussing workplace safety laws. (Cf "Who is Safer?", "Worker Safety", "Oven Mitts and Safety Regulation", "Inspections, Regulations and Bans") A second factor in employee wages is length of employment. While many may never consider why pay rises with employment history, both time spent at the same job with the same employer, as well as time spent working at any job which can verify one's employment record, there is a very good reason for this. Nor is it just a matter of the skills one has learned through employment, though that is a part of it6. No, work history helps to establish one's skills and work habits. Obviously, it is much more valuable to have an employment history with one's current employer, as that gives him a very clear knowledge of one's abilities, work habits and the like, but a record of regular employment with anyone is still of some benefit.

A third point needs to be made concerning the differences between enterprises. Obviously, if employees within the same firm, doing the same job, can make different wages, then it should be obvious different enterprises may properly pay different wages, but just to make the point clear, let us look at the reasons for this difference. The most common, and one I discussed in explaining the difference in wages between nations ("Exploiting Workers?", "Another Look at Exploitation", "What Is Fair? or, How Game Theory Leads Us Astray"), is the amount of capital investment. You can see this for yourself. Imagine a single room filled with sewing machines operated by mechanical foot pedals, then think of a factory floor filled with automated machinery which stitches together t-shirt components. Regardless of skill, a worked in the first firm could never produce in a whole day what a worker in the second could in a few minutes. And since pay is a function of the value produced by an employee, that tremendous difference in output will result in a tremendous difference in wages. Of course the second firm will likely sell t-shirts for much less per unit than the first, but as experience has shown, even with the lower prices -- and commensurate lower profit per unit -- made possible by mass production, the increased volume still makes for much greater overall wealth.

Yet capital investment is not the sole reason firms differ in wages paid. Anything that changes the profitability of a firm, or the output produced by a worker, can result in differing wages. From something as obvious as better management or lower overhead or greater market share, to things as difficult to notice as consumer good will, excessive debt or poor tax management, anything which makes the company earn less profit can result in lower wages. Even if the two employees produce the exact same profit for two different companies, if one of those firms has high tax liability, which has to be paid out of those profits, the high tax firm will be able to pay less than the other.

I could probably go on in this vein for quite some time, but I think these three categories should be enough to make my point. Regardless of the superficial equality of jobs, of employers and even apparent similarity of skills and habits, it is quite possible for a number of subtle factors to result in quite large wage disparities between employees. Thus, I would argue that there is nothing inherently suspect about wage disparities, they are simply a fact of life, and even jobs which outsiders would consider likely to pay the same wage may have perfectly understandable reasons for paying different wages.

More important than that point, though, is my earlier one that, because employers are always seeking to earn a profit, and can earn profit through poaching underpaid employees from a competitor, there is very little likelihood -- in a free market -- that a wage disparity could exist for long unless it was justified by something.

Given that, the next question is, how can wage disparities between sexes exist? If unjustified wage differences are soon eliminated by the market, then why do we keep hearing women are paid 60% or 70% of what men are paid? Is this justified? Or are those making such claims in error?

Well, there are three factors at work here. First, there is simple coincidence. I know it is unpopular to say, and statisticians argue it is only an X% chance that something could happen by chance and so on, but the truth is, sometimes long shots come through, not to mention that some of the calculations used for such probabilities are a bit suspect. Which brings us to our second point, that some of the data and methods used in reaching such conclusions are suspect as well. For example, declaring various unrelated jobs as "equivalent" for salary purposes is about as absurd a means of establishing wage disparities as I could imagine. And finally, there are real wage disparities which are justified by very real reasons, some of which may be a bit uncomfortable to discus, as they go against many of our most cherished egalitarian myths (eg the probability of not returning to work after having a child, or the likelihood of following a spouse to a new job, when broken down by sex), but they are still very real concerns, and justify many supposedly "unjustified" wage disparities.

That last also contains one other category, and something also not often mentioned. That is the government, and its involvement in wages. As I said above, these rules work in a free market. In regulated markets, the government often impedes their action. Yes, of course employers and employees both still try to maximize their benefits, and the market forces still function, but government rules may make this impossible. What makes this a bit ironic is that often it is found that laws intended to produce equality actually produce disparities instead. But we shall discuss that a little later.

So, having discussed coincidence, at least briefly, and as most will dismiss my efforts to say any wage disparity they consider "systemic" could still be coincidental (no matter how unfair that argument7), let us move on from coincidence and look at methodological problems, that is, choices made in handling wage figures and see how the way data is selected and handled can create apparent wage disparities where in truth none exist.

One of the most bizarre concepts in many of these studies is the idea of "comparable jobs". The way these are defined varies from study to study, but the basic idea is this: Some jobs have been traditionally male, others have been traditionally female. So, since there were -- when various studies were done -- too few male waiters to make valid comparisons, or too few female truck drivers or dentists -- the study would take jobs they considered "comparable" and compare the wages. It should be apparent how much potential there is for intentional and unintentional number fiddling.

How "comparable" is defined is, in itself, a rather peculiar concept. Most studies based the definition on how many years of education were required, the number of working hours per week, the amount of work experience demanded, the need for specialized skills, the degree of physical exertion and so on. And from this they ended up comparing, say, mason's assistant's and dishwashers, and complaining of wage disparities.

Just to make my case, let us think about this logically. The amount of education required for, say, an actor, is relatively small, same for a professional athlete. In fact, many athletes also formally only work a few hours a week. There is physical exertion and some outside skills required, but looking at it in terms of only education, hours of labor and exertion, migrant farm workers are a "comparable" job for star baseball players and Hollywood heart throbs. Obviously, a system which thinks such jobs are comparable is not exactly one on which you want to pin too much faith.

But even if we discount the "comparable jobs" nonsense,  simply comparing two jobs identical on paper can often be misleading. For example, a company may have a category for simply "unskilled labor". However, they have several types of positions that labor fills. Based on experience and physical strength, they may be doing simple sorting of parts, or assembling heavy components. On paper, they are all the same, but obviously those with physical strength are harder to find, and, as men tend to excel in upper body strength, the males may end up with disproportionately higher pay, though doing what is, on paper, the same job. Thus, the numbers and titles on which many studies rely, when taken without a lot of additional data, can lead to deceptive results.

However, as with coincidence, I somehow doubt that will satisfy critics of "wage inequality". Though such studies may be rife with methodological issues, they will still point to the "pattern of disparities" and demand explanation.

And so, we are left with the final topic, real disparities for real reasons.

Now, these studies always claim to adjust for valid differences, but the truth is, it is almost impossible to do so. Unless you are the actual hiring officer, or know his mind when figuring the costs and benefits of a position, it is impossible to say you have considered every possible disparity.

For example, one thing that is sometimes considered is maternity leave. However, in most studies, the allowance is for nothing more than costs for lost labor. And now that husbands take leave for births with growing frequency, many argue the disparity should be shrinking. However, this ignores a great number of considerations that are much more difficult to quantify, those hiring officers must do it every day.

For example, though both sexes now take leave for a birth, it is still very uncommon for a man, after his child is born, to decide to give up working and stay home. It is not as common for women as it once was, but it is still more common for women than men, and this represents a cost when hiring a woman, as, even if presently unmarried, there is the potential she may become married, have children, and not return. Granted, it is only a certain fraction of women, but that fraction imposes a cost on all women, as having to hire a replacement earlier than for a male employee makes a woman more costly, not to mention that, because pregnancies are not scheduled, the need for the replacement is unpredictable, thus making it a greater burden.

Similarly, though it is growing more even, there is still a greater likelihood a woman will move if her husband takes another job, than a husband will follow his wife. Thus, again, women have the potential to need a replacement more rapidly than a man, and this is figured into hiring decisions.As times change, like maternity leave, this is becoming less of an issue, but it is still one today, and does weigh against women when establishing pay.

Then there are problems created by government, some created in an effort to supposedly help women.

For example, have you ever wondered why so many of those drug tests specify young men? Is it because women do not suffer from the ailments for which the drugs are designed? No, it is because, while women can sign waivers of liability, they cannot waive liability for their future children. And thus, in any job where there is even the slightest risk of chemical exposure, women increase liability potential greatly, as all their potential offspring may be potential litigants. Granted, it is possible some clever lawyer might do the same for some future father, but as the law now stands, women of reproductive age carry a far greater liability burden.

The same is true for sexual harassment suits. Of course, men can sue as well, but the numbers suggest that women are far and away the more likely to file suit. And since a suit can be filed whether or not you or your employees harass anyone, imposing legal costs, when hiring women, this also is a real cost. Of course only a small number ever files such suits, but as it is impossible in advance to know who will do so, the potential cost is spread over all women, reducing salaries.

I could go on, but I think that short list shows how many factors which are rarely considered by economists in these studies can effect pay.

Now, some may argue that it is not fair to reduce the pay of some women because of these factors. What about women who have no intention of marrying or having children? Who would never sue? Well, the problem is, you can't tell who will and who won't. And since asking women to contract not to marry, or to not have children is not allowable under most state laws, and since waiving the right to file various suits is likely not to stand up in court, it is only sensible for an employer to see everyone as a potential litigant, a potential stay at home mother and the like, and then adjust for the probability of the group as a whole.

As for "fair", that is a meaningless word, as I have mentioned many times. ("Selfishness as Reason - "Wants", "Needs", "Fairness" and Other Guises for Arbitrary Decisions", "Luxury and Necessity", "The Most Misleading Word") "Fair" has meaning in children's games, but not economics. What is true in economics is, if one employer, or even a group of them, why even if all employers, were paying women too little, then greed would cure it, as some greedy businessman would see the women were underpaid, that he could make a profit while paying them more, and steal them away from their current employer by raising their pay, thus improving his bottom line. As I said elsewhere, the free market makes a virtue of our basest instincts ("Of Ants and Men") and here it is true as well. Underpaid workers are a goldmine for those seeking cheap labor, and so, if women were being paid too little, greed would swiftly bring that to an end.

What strikes me most about all such laws, however, is the same thing which strikes me about minimum wage laws, and, well, most interventionist economics. The basic assumption behind these laws seems to be that women are simply unable to negotiate for themselves. As I said, I earn what I do because I demanded it, I refused jobs that paid too little and I did my best to earn what I thought I was worth. I may still be earning less than I should, that is possible, but I feel pretty confident I am being paid close to my worth, at least doing what I currently do for a living. However, if the government insists women are consistently underpaid and need these laws, is that not equivalent to saying women are not capable of doing the same? That they cannot fend for themselves? And if that is the case, doesn't that send a message that women are not the equal of men, and that maybe such disparities are justified even more?

I could probably go on, both about how insulting such laws are, and why wage disparities are such absurd things upon which to fixate, but I have said more than enough, I think. And so I will cut this short, and end by simply reiterating the two crucial points, that the market will not allow anyone to be under or over paid for very long, and economic pressures and individual greed will not allow it, and that laws such as these are quite insulting to those they claim to want to help.

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1. Most studies don't even go into that much detail, simply assuming the same job -- or perhaps "comparable jobs" -- should get the same pay, maybe in the best cases including years of experience, but that is as far as they go, and most don't even go that far. Few, if any, even consider matters such as output and other factors which matter a great deal in establishing the relative value of employees to their employers.

2. Labor is unusual in one regard, in that all products are, to one degree or another, the product of labor, and thus labor is included in the costs of every good. However, that does not mean labor is not subject to market forces. If anything, it makes labor the quintessential producer good. (And, to be precise, labor itself not only can replace most other other goods, as sufficient labor can allow for almost infinite substitution, but labor itself can be replaced, to a degree, by automation and other tools, so labor input for a given good is not a fixed quantity as the "labor value of production" theorists would suggest. The same good can come from differing amounts of labor. And thus price cannot be explained entirely as the product of the amount of labor employed.)

3. When union scales, government pay schedules, minimum wage or other legal impediments prevent adjusting pay to suit circumstances, employers will then seek out only employees whose abilities are such that they expect them to earn more than the fixed wage. In short, those with lesser earning potential will not earn more, they will be shut out. On the other hand, since such schedules usually fix not just minimum, but also maximum, employers restricted by such schedules will also find themselves unable to hire those with higher potential, as they will not be able to compete with the wages others might pay. Rather than elevating the wages of the lowest paid, it will instead restrict employment largely to those whose skills closely match the pay scale, cutting off the high and low ends of the spectrum of abilities and work habits.

4. The "prevailing rate of profit" or "market rate of profit" is another fiction, which is also useful at times. In truth, there is no single rate of profit for all enterprises, or even for a given segment of the market, which all such enterprises earn. Despite what is often suggested in microeconomics courses, there is not a single IRR which, should profits rise above, will draw in outside investment. Any given firm's profit is adjusted by risk, future expectations, goodwill, stability, and so on, and thus, there are effectively "market rates" for each firm. So, when I discuss "prevailing rate' or "market rate" in terms of profit, what I mean is the rate of profit which is high enough to retain capital investment, support new borrowing, and allow for finding new investors when needed, but not so high that it will begin to draw money from other enterprises, either in the form of added investment, or the founding of new competitors. Obviously, this is a nebulous value, determined though much trial and error, but for our purposes, it is a handy abstraction, since we do not need to assign a set dollar value.

5. As mentioned above, market rate does not exist in the sense of a single wage for each profession, or even each enterprise. However, it is a convenient fiction, and so, when I say "market rate", I truly mean the pay rate which for that employee comes close enough to his true productivity -- under the conditions of that job -- such that other employers will have no incentive to bid him away from his current position.

6. Were it entirely a matter of skills, recent college grads would be paid more in many fields than those with considerable experience, as recent grads would have more up to date skills, as well as more thorough training in the most current procedures and skills. However, inevitably, new grads, while in some demand, are not paid as much as those with a less cutting edge skill set, but much greater work history. (Actually, there are several reasons for paying college grads somewhat less, in addition to work history. In many fields college grads learn "the right way" to do things and are for some time rather inflexible and difficult to work with. They also have a habit of overthinking problems, looking for uncommon answers -- since that is what many college exams stress -- and generally complicating things more than needed. Thus, it is not a matter of skills and work history alone. Though that does make my point, as such traits tend to make individual salaries vary.)

7. Many times one will see cited various studies correlating births and stork populations used to show coincidences can create pretty strong correlations. I will use a personal example instead. In our managerial economics class we had to create a linear regression as a group project. Our group did voter turnout based upon racial groups. We basically put in the total number of voters of each race, the total number of voters going to the polls, and got percentages of each race based on multiple census districts. The problem was, rather than numbers between 0 and 1, as one would expect for a coefficient (as each group would have between 0 and 100% turnout), some groups got very odd numbers. For example, for each American Indian in a given district, -2.2 people would vote. And the correlation was very strong. In other words, the study showed that it was quite certain each Indian kept 2.2 people from voting somehow. On the other hand, Asians actually voted at a rate greater than 100%, which either indicated rampant Asian election fraud, or that strong statistical correlation can still produce nonsensical results. All of which, I would like to think, is pretty good evidence that strong correlations can still be quite coincidental.

Passing Thoughts on the Nevada GOP

I don't normally write on current events, and this is probably a bad choice of a current event to use to break that rule, as my opinion is clearly a minority among on-line conservatives, but I think the Nevada GOP may have made a smart move. They probably did it for reasons with which I would not agree, and many of them would probably disagree with my thinking here, but, in the end, dropping abortion and gay marriage from the platform for a time may not be a bad idea.

Now, before proceeding, I suppose I should make my own positions clear, though they really do not figure in this, as I will explain.

On gay marriage, it has always been my position that marriage is a religious sacrament and should, like the other sacraments, be moved out of the purview of government. ("Solving the Gay Marriage Debate", "Updating an Old Post", "Freedom of Conscience -- Under Certain Conditions") At one time government concerned itself with many other religious matters, but, over time, we recognized that religion is best left to individuals and groups to deal with privately, without the state. And it is my thought that the state should treat marriage in the same way. We may need to slightly modify contract law, so that the contractual aspects of marriage -- sharing of debts, custodial arrangements, mutual support, etc. -- can be emulated by civil contracts, but that should be the whole government interest in marriage. When people marry, they can decide what contractual rights they wish to grant, then sign agreements to do so, with the state not recognizing the marriage, just enforcing the contracts.

Some would argue this is a mistake, as marriage has other functions, such as support of children and the like, but with such a high incidence of divorce, and an epidemic of out of wedlock births, deciding support, custody and the like without benefit of marriage is a well established process, marriage is not needed to enforce these issues. And, for other matters, such as inheritance, the courts can take marriages into account, as they would any other indications of intent for those who die intestate. So that would not make for a tremendous change.

The only two areas which would really change would be tax law, where the marriage penalty needs to be eliminated anyway. We would have to simply treat each individual as an individual, eliminate joint filing. It is not a tremendous loss, and would greatly simplify a number of matters (though complicating a few, such as deductions for dependents, but that is inevitable, any changes creates a few complications). The other would be health insurance, where family policies would need to be modified. However, again, laws already extend policies to non-spouses residing with the insured in many states, so clearly the law can handle this. (And, ideally, insurance would not be the way it is now, anyway, though I doubt that will change soon -- see "Redefining Insurance... To Actually BE Insurance", "High Cost of Medical Care", "Medical Reform, An Overview", "The Devil is in the Definitions (And Assumptions)", "The Absurdity of Mandatory Insurance".)

On abortion, I am much more conflicted, mostly because our laws are so confused in themselves, and because both sides make claims that fail to match reality. First, a fetus is not the same as a full grown human, or even a newborn. On the other hand, it is also not just a clump of cells. Trimesters are very poor indicators of development, as the nervous system develops pretty well long before the end of the first trimester. However, the law, as written and enforced, seems to make the humanity of the fetus, and even of the newborn, dependent more on the mother's wishes than anything else, which is truly bizarre. (See "Legal Schizophrenia", "A Few Questions on Abortion", "A Much More Simple Abortion Question")

Personally, I am troubled by abortion, but as a legal matter, it is one of those areas where it is grey enough that I can't say clearly what the law should do. I have lots of problems with aborting a child who could survive outside of the mother, but prior to that, especially in the first few weeks, it is a difficult question whether the law should intervene, whatever my personal feelings. And so, perhaps I am not the best person to be setting abortion laws. But as I said, my own opinions are not really relevant here, I merely give them to make clear where I stand.

As far as Nevada's GOP is concerned, the decision to drop what are both contentious issues, and issues that are unlikely to see a lot of action in the next two years, seems like a positive move. I know everyone who has strong feelings on either issue feels they will be fought out in the courts and won immediately after the next election, but the truth is, abortion -- despite lots of heated rhetoric on both sides -- has seen minimal movement in either direction for quite some time. When there is foaming at the mouth over parental notification laws and insurance funding, you know the big battles have shown no progress. So, though the pro-choicers say that backstreet abortions are about to become reality the day after tomorrow, and pro-lifers worry that Obamacare will force abortions on all pregnant women, the truth is, abortion policy has really been largely immobile, though with constant, and quite heated, battles over the smaller details.

Gay marriage, on the other hand, has seen movement, but movement in the direction of liberalization. For better or worse, the courts have largely seized this issue, and show every sign of being willing to gut state laws to do so. In short, all those "Defense of Marriage Acts" passed in various states probably will do as much good as liability disclaimers do once liability lawyers get to them. As we all know, thanks to our current activist view of the judiciary, the courts have the upper hand when battling legislatures, and so, at the moment, efforts to roll back any gay marriage provisions don't look promising.

So, given that, it really doesn't make sense to spend a lot of political capital on efforts that aren't very likely to bear fruit. And that provide the left with means of caricaturing the right and scaring moderates into thinking we have some sort of theocratic ambitions. I admit, that is a terrible exaggeration of either position, but thanks to the popular media, whenever the right speaks on social issues, that is what the moderates hear in it. And so, if these issues aren't going to be resolved in the near future, and pursuing them will do nothing but allow the continued caricature of the right, why is dropping them such a sin?

I know some will argue it is a matter of principle, but that is absurd. The GOP in Nevada is not endorsing gay marriage or arguing for a pro-choice position, they are simply saying their platform is focused on other issues. And that may, for the time being, be a good plan. With the public in general being fed up with a lot of things about Obama, the flawed ObamaCare plans, the massive cost and size of government and so on, it may be time to focus on a few key issues and try to draw in a broader set of voters in order to make gains in those areas. I know we may lose some single issue voters, but I think, in the end, they will be more than made up by others if e focus on a few specific targets, such as ending ObamaCare, reducing the government, reducing regulation, lowering taxes and so on.

Some may also say that I am only adopting this position because I don't care about these issues, and perhaps there is a hint of truth in that, but I would argue, even where I feel very strongly, I still adopt the same position. For example, I would love to see us go back to a gold standard, end the SEC, dissolve all regulatory bodies and a host of other unpopular topics. However, I know there is very little chance of any of those positions being successful, and several of them would, if voiced as a party platform, drive away voters. And so, despite disagreeing with some of the platform, and having several of my more cherished goals not represented, I still support the GOP because what they are endorsing would represent an improvement over what we now have, and I would be happy to have those modest gains as a first step, rather than see the other side win and make things still worse.

And so, unpopular as it may be to say so, so long as they limit their position to simply removing the questions of abortion and gay marriage from the platform, I have no objections to the Nevada GOP's actions. We shall see in the coming months whether or not it turns out to be a good strategic move, I can't foresee the future well enough to say whether or not it is, especially given my limited knowledge of Nevada voters; but if it fails, I see it still as a failure of strategy, not as the moral failing many critics seem to see.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Peaceful Matriarchies, Noble Savages and the Industrial Revolution

It is one of those statements we hear again and again, and most of us accept without question, and it is also one of the most blatantly false quotes ever. That is the statement that man is the only animal that kills his own kind. Anyone who has ever seen mating fights between, say, lions, or seen a rabbit eat its own young, or watched a tom cat kill the young of his predecessor knows this is just not true. Animals not only kill their own species, many of them eat their own as well. And, for those who say "yes, but that's all part of nature", well man is part of nature too, and our reasons for killing one another are a combination of purposeful and pointless, just like all the other species.

In fact, most of early humanity's struggles mirror those of the other species. When a species succeeds, when it eliminates the bulk of its competitors and thoroughly occupies its niche in a given region, it begins to expand pretty much unchecked, and, in short order, realizes that its worst rival are the other members of its species. Just look at the territorial conflicts between ant colonies, not just between differing species, but even between colonies of the same species, and you can see how, as available resources dwindle, various groups or individuals begin to fight with one another. The same can be seen in the territorial squabbles between predatory big cats, or in mating struggles of many species, as an ever increasing pool of males fight over a pool of unattached females, often made smaller by the existence of a few large herds ruled over by the most successful.

And man was no different throughout history. Probably very early on, when man was just one of many entities competing for the same ecological niche, he was relatively free of struggles, his numbers kept low enough by predators, that his numbers could not exhaust the best gathering and hunting grounds. But once he developed the skills that allowed him to rise near the top of the food chain, he began to increase in numbers, he filled all the best territories, and many had to make do with less, eventually even filling the marginal hunting grounds, and leaving no choice but conflict for those who would expand.  Even with the move from hunter-gatherer to agriculture there was still pressure to fight. With little ability to improve the inherent quality of farmland, farming cultures were similar to the hunter-gatherers in terms eventually filling all available space. Similarly, with nobles living on what they could expropriate from farmers without starving them to death, ambitious nobles saw little choice but to seize as many peasants as they could control, hoping that the cost of additional overseers and guards would not eat up all the gains.

Even those tribes, cities, and, later, nations which were not inclined to expand, which kept to their borders and made do with what they had, they were still confronted with a world which was governed by those who had no problem with profiting from open aggression. And in the era before the spread of slavery, warfare most often meant nothing less than attempted genocide. Even after agriculture created the surplus wealth and work opportunities needed to justify slavery, more often than not warfare resulted in far more deaths than slaves, with losing tribes regularly vanishing from history. And, in an era where it was normal to see one's own clan as the only truly human group, it made sense. In the eyes of almost everyone during most of human history*, hostile foreigners were little different from packs of hungry wolves or other wild beats, and exterminating them produced as little concern as would shooting a rabid dog or angry lion.

I mention all of this because it is one of the most persistent myths of the "noble savage" school of thought -- and also of some academic feminists -- that there existed certain tribes or even whole eras, which knew nothing of violence, and such claims simply make no sense. It came to mind specifically today when I was reading conflicting views of the Navajo people, with some experts focusing on their egalitarian treatment of women and supposedly pacifist ways, with others emphasizing their practice of slavery and the deplorable treatment of captives. This reminded of of the many essays I had been made to read in college which made of various southwestern tribes, mostly Navajo and Zuni, more recent exemplars of the old "noble savage" tale, sort of Margaret Mead's Samoans transferred to a much drier climate.

What strikes me now, thinking back to these tales is that the same tribes are historically responsible for a number of quite bloody uprisings against Spanish rule. Of course, the proponents of peaceful natives will argue that the Europeans drove them to it, and but for colonialism they would never have known violence, but this strikes me as absurd. Among the close neighbors of these tribes were the notoriously aggressive Apaches, who had no problem raiding other tribes. And so, it strikes me that, even were Europeans never to have entered the Americas, the pueblo tribes would have been familiar with violence, or else they would have vanished as the Apaches and others repeatedly overran them.

Which brought to mind another favorite anthropological myth, the one which posits peaceful matriarchies which were overrun by the patriarchal violent Indo-European peoples. Now, I admit that a large number of anthropologists, archaeologists, linguists and others have abandoned this absurd tale, but there are still a frightening number of proponents of what has to be one of the more absurd theories ever put forth.

We do not even need to go into the paucity of evidence, the fact that this tremendous generalization was built upon almost no evidence, of the insistence on describing every lumpy object as a "goddess symbol" and so on. There is one other simple fact that will show us how foolish this theory is.

Somewhere, the feminist territory ended. And at that point there were "evil, aggressive" men, who would happily overrun those who refused to fight. And more, if the neighbors were just as pacifist, they too would fall, and so on. And so, rather than a lengthy matriarchal idyll followed by an Aryan cataclysm, there would, if such a folly ever existed, have been but a few years before the whole thing fell apart.

Of course, even that is more argument than is required. We need not even postulate these aggressive, evil males from outside. If there truly were a non-violent feminist utopia, all it would take for it to fail would be for a few greedy individuals to exist. Without a perfectly selfless populace, we are faced with one group who refuses to fight and another who will fight to take what they want. Common sense will tell us how long the pacifist side would last.

But even that may be more thought than this theory deserves. As I have pointed out, struggle has been uniform throughout human history, at least throughout most of history. With men fighting over limited resources, there is simply no way this feminist utopia would have ever formed. It was not postulated that in some way these matriarchies produced more food or goods, and thus, they would face the same situation of want as their predecessors, and the same incentive to struggle. So how would they have avoided any violence? How could they ever come to rule?

So, if history never held an "Age of Aquarius" or other peaceful times, is it the fate of man to ever war with his fellows? Well, yes and no.

I say yes because there will always be men who will think they can gain more by theft and force than by labor. (See "The Wages of Sin") And there will likewise be some states which will imagine they can benefit from enslaving others or from taking their land and goods. And so, even for men who wish nothing but peace and equality, there shall always be the need to be prepared to fight, to be ready to defend themselves.

On the other hand, the pressures which at one time forced us to fight to take the land of others, where the paucity of resources forced men to fight for survival, that has slowly become a thing of the past. Even with the first farms, the pressures that drive man to struggle for survival like animals began to vanish. With farms man could take a patch of ground and increase its yield, thus forcing the world to provide more from the same area. And over time, man applied his mind and developed more and better ways to reduce want. Trade, farming, machinery and so on, all allowed more and more men to survive in ever greater luxury in the same area which once supported but a fraction.

Of course, at first these gains were not significant enough, with growing populations and the rulers expropriating most gains, people still felt the need to fight neighbors for their goods. But, with the growth of mercantile ventures following the Middle Ages, and, especially after the Industrial Revolution, it became clear that trade and industry paid greater dividends than conquest. Some of the wealthiest nations of the world were those which existed on some of the smallest and least productive lands. From Venice to Portugal to the Netherlands to England, nations which were not particularly well favored with natural resources compensated by trade, by industrialization and any number of other applications of human ingenuity and effort.

The only real problem is, though history has made this fact quite clear, that human ability can increase our wealth, that trade and industry pay far more than conquest, that war destroys wealth and in the end impoverishes us all ("War Stimulates the Economy? Let's Nuke San Francisco!"), many still hold to the old mindset, seeing wealth as a zero sum game. And, just as this drives many to propose expropriating the wealthy within one's own nation, it also inspires others to seek wars of conquest in order to make them rich. And even when it does not inspire one to actively call for these types of violence, many who believe this theory still make claims such as that the rich nations are wealthy because they exploit the third world, thus inspiring others to dream dreams of conquest and "economic justice".

Still, we can hope. At one time, not too long ago, the idea that commerce and industry would bring universal peace and wealth was not objectionable. Not too long ago popular stories centered on poor children growing rich through labor and ingenuity, rather than of evil rich getting their just desserts. And so, I hope, we can once again come to our senses, and see that the free market, voluntary trade, human thought, human effort, and most of all human liberty -- not warfare, expropriation, intrusive laws and powerful police and government -- will be the things that bring us peace and prosperity.

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* There were exceptions from time to time, but until, at the earliest, the shift from BC to AD, it is hard to find a single culture where the majority allowed that foreigners might be equal to natives. Even the Greeks, who evinced more interest in foreigners than most called everyone outside of Greece barbarians. Similarly, the Romans, much more open to foreign ideas than most contemporaries, were disinclined, at least through most of the Republican period, to allow foreigners anything close to equality (with the exception of Greeks, with whom they had a love-hate relationship, tinged with hints of fears of inferiority, similar to the way some American intellectuals feel toward Europeans). Only once the Roman state began to absorb ever more of the known world, and citizenship began to extend beyond the Italian peninsula, did this feeling of innate superiority fade, to the degree that late in the empire, some would concede that even those outside of the Roman world might be equal in some regards. Christianity helped with this more universal view, as did Islam in the non-Roman world, as both broke down tribal/racial divides (though substituting religious divides). Still, for much of human history, people have seen those outside of their immediate circle as something less than human. And, despite the claims of those who would make of it a particularly European ill, the truth is this holds worldwide, in some places persisting to this day. (See "More Thoughts on Slavery" and "Life Is Not Fair - And Trying To Make It So Makes Things Worse".)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Oh That Global Warming

For those who have followed my recent off topic posts, I have to say the eclipse last night was a total bust. The cloud cover was almost complete, so I could not only not see the eclipse or Mars, but it was impossible even to see the red color of the moon.

On the other hand, following in the tradition of my previous posts "Mandatory Global Warming Post" and "Global Warming Revisited", I have to say that global warming has struck again. On Tax Day, of all days, we are seeing sleet here in Maryland, and there is a forecast of wet snow later tonight. Now, I have seen snow as early as late September (once) and as late as March (several times, including this year), and can recall one summer which never went above the mid 70s, as well as a winter which went down into the negative thirties and lower (both unseasonably cold for Maryland) but Tax Day snow is a new one on me.

Of course, as I have said many times, none of this proves or disproves AGW, but, as I have also pointed out, every time the temperature rises into triple digits, or a hurricane has winds up above 110 or 120, we hear how it is a sure proof of global warming. So, I will continue to point out whenever there are comparable prodigies of cold or storm-free weather, just to make clear how absurd it is for the AGW popularizers to use prodigies of the opposite variety as evidence for their cause.

Monday, April 14, 2014

PSA

No new essays ready to post tonight, but I thought I would share one other bit of news with my readers. For those who have not heard, very late tonight, there is a total eclipse of the moon, as well as a pretty good view of Mars. The eclipse runs from 3:07 EDT to 4:25 EDT (adjust for your local time).

Hopefully tomorrow I will find time to finish a new essay on Senator Mikulski's absurd efforts to promote "wage parity", a topic I have criticized many, many times before. And, if I feel really ambitious, perhaps my lengthy essay discussing the differences between public and private chairty, and why public charity should be avoided at all costs.

But we shall see. Until next time I post, enjoy the eclipse.

Follow Up on "Chaotic Government"

Today I was reflecting on what I wrote in "Chaotic Government", and it struck me that, while I said everything I had intended to say, I was not, perhaps, as clear as I could have been in describing the mechanism by which authoritarian states ensure a chaotic and confused government. At the time I thought I had explained it well enough, but looking back, I could have done better. And so, since I have a little time, I have decided to make it a little more clear.

The three issues that are at the root of the problems of authoritarian states are as follows: First, the dictator himself had absolute authority, while all of those below him have power only to the degree he grants it to them, or allows them to exercise authority through his silence, which acts as tacit approval. Second, authoritarian states, whatever their explicit limits on paper, effectively have an unlimited scope. They may claim some areas are off limits, but once you grant absolute power over any area of human action,  it can be extended to allow control over any other*. Finally, no matter what the explicit philosophy of an authoritarian state, effectively the government's decisions are nothing but the imposition of the arbitrary decisions of a given individual. The ruler himself imposes limits on those below, but once a state has unlimited power, it can violate any of its explicit precepts without repercussion**.

Starting from those premises, it is fairly simple to see how the government would inevitably degenerate into a chaotic mess, full of competing power blocks, conflicting instructions, and so on.

The dictator, for the most part, issues his orders directly. In reading about Nazi Germany, it is often mentioned how both Hitler and Himmler, to insure against interference by subordinates, would issue orders directly to multiple lower ranked underlings. Of course, this is presented as a plan to prevent the formation of rival centers of power, but I would argue, even if there were no risk of subordinates usurping power, they would still do so simply to prevent any underlings from reinterpreting them. By issuing orders to multiple underlings, not only do they prevent a single recipient from applying his own interpretation, but they also allow drive those underlings to compete to come closest to the true wishes of the dictator, basically ensuring their wishes will be followed.

But that is secondary to our purpose here. What matters for our purposes is that the government, as we stated above, has the ability to regulate every aspect of life. However, the dictator, being merely human, likely has no interest in applying rules to every imaginable questions, and, even if he did, could not have sufficient time to do so. He must, due to the limits placed by simple time constraints, either leave some areas unregulated, or else issue vague guidelines, which amount largely to the same thing.

In so doing, the dictator leaves some amount of power unused, and up for grabs. And if there is one certainty, it is that unclaimed power will be seized by someone. Perhaps some underling feels strongly about a specific issue, and wishes to impose his will. Or maybe he thinks he can use a particular area of interest to advance his fortunes, by impressing superiors, or using it to bargain with competitor, or maybe to harm them. Or, perhaps, he has no direct interest, but sees how a particular regulatory act might provide him with the ability to extort income, or otherwise feather his nest. Whatever the reason, it is certain that, the government having virtually unlimited scope, and the dictator claiming but a part of it, those below him will grab the remaining pieces for their own benefit.

However, it is equally certain that there will be more than one claimant for some of those areas. In fact, even if there is initially no one competing for a given bit of control, if it should prove beneficial in some way, it is certain there shall arise competitors***. And since the dictator alone can claim uncontested power, it matters little what nominal rank these competitors have vis a vis one another****, nominal superiors and inferiors inevitably end up competing on the basis of raw power, with little thought about hierarchy.

There is little more that really needs to be said.  Power, in an unlimited state, is, for lack of a better term, a resource, or a currency. Some is grabbed up by the man at the top, but the rest is fought over by those below, and, in those areas where the top man doe snot impose some sort of order, the competitors form their own structures, which, given the arbitrary nature of their rules, and the lack of any firm control over government power, ends up creating overlapping authority, contradictory rules and shifting power structure.

Some might argue that such could be said of any state, and thus see this as an inevitable problem of government, but I would argue that is not true. Just as I believe government is a tool, and not a "necessary evil" ("Stupid Quote of the Day (January 27, 2012)", "Caution, Not Fear", "Stupid Quote of the Day (December 31, 2011)") I also believe that a properly limited government, one restricted to protecting rights and nothing more, without any vague powers which might easily expand, should not fall into this particular condition. However, that seems to me the only way to avoid it. Once we give government ill-defined powers, or allow the reasoning that sees government protecting us from ourselves, the power of the state will expand and, in the end, we will find ourselves saddled with just this sort of state.

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* For instance, a state which controls "only" economic matters may claim to support free speech, but they can then deny unpopular critics access to outlets for their opinions, or even to typewriters, pens, paper and the like. For that matter, they can refuse him food and silence him forever. One can do similar things with other, less extensive authority, though it may be more difficult. Still, as I said, once absolute power has been granted in one aspect of government, it is impossible to limit it.

** In the case of communism, think of Lenin's New Economic Plan, which basically allowed small private shops, or Stalin's call to nationalism in the Second World War, despite his explicitly internationalist philosophy. Or in the case of the Nazis the introduction of "subhuman" Slavs into Waffen -SS units. An omnipotent state can openly violate its stated beliefs with little fear. In rare cases, this can result in revolt on the part of true believers in the ranks, or maybe some of the public, but in general, those who enjoy the power granted by the state have enough interest in maintaining the status quo, they will come together to put down any such rising.

*** To return to the example of the Nazis, we can see this in the number of various groups which established their own concentration camps, using them to intimidate rivals. Or the number of groups who attempted to control the ghettos and extermination camps at various times. As a given area proved to provide political or economic benefit, even if it seemed initially without promise, other groups would begin to compete for control of that area, no matter how little it had to do with the ostensible focus of that group.

**** This can be seen in the many subdivisions of the SS which were headed by open rivals of Himmler. Despite being nominally his subordinates, many individual SS department heads ended up engaged in power struggles with him. Nor was that situation unique. For example, thanks to the overlapping ranks within the party and government, not to mention the individual state governments within the various German states (at least early in the Nazi regime) many individuals ended up simultaneously subordinate and superior to the same person. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Chaotic Government

Reading historical works about the Second World War, one thing that strikes me most often is how utterly chaotic the Nazi government was. I am hardly the first to note this, but it is odd, as the general public has an impression of the Nazis as a model of heartless efficiency, while in truth, their government was an utter shambles, or to use a phrase developed to describe the similar Stalin government, "a systemless system". While the whole state was organized in such a way that the dictator could quickly enforce his will, beyond the implementation of direct orders from the top, the rest of the state was a mass of redundancies, internecine power struggles, ever shifting hierarchies, and general confusion. Interestingly, the same was true of the Stalin government of the same era, and not only after his purges, but before as well.

Some have suggested that Hitler intentionally encouraged such conflict and lack of clear power structures in order to prevent the rise of rivals, or perhaps because of his belief in some sort of social Darwinism, which suggests such chaos and infighting would produce a stronger state, but I would disagree. Perhaps, to some degree he planned the chaotic state, but given how often dictatorships produce such chaos, it would seem there is some innate aspect of authoritarian states that lends itself to disorganized government. In fact, we can even see a similar process on a smaller scale in our own state, where the growth of government power, the expansion of its scope, tends to be accompanied by ever more confused hierarchies, overlapping areas of authority and infighting between departments. Of course, one could argue that all of this is just an inevitable outcome of larger government, more power and responsibility inevitably producing overlapping powers, which lead to sniping between departments -- and there is some truth in that, as I shall discuss shortly -- but there is nothing inevitable about mere size producing such outcomes, there is something else to it. And,a s I shall hope to show, the one determining factor is excessive, arbitrary power. That is, authoritarianism inevitably produces such chaos.

The one thing we must bear in mind throughout this argument, the one fact that explains so much of it, is the point I made in "The Inherent Disappointment of Authoritarianism", that authoritarian states inevitably represent the imposition of the arbitrary decisions and biases of a single individual, that there is no way to rationally decide things such as the proper amount of wool to produce, the right price for cheese and the like. Thus, any decision in an authoritarian state is nothing more or less than the victory of one individual's personal preferences. Yes, in some decisions there is a "party orthodoxy", which can make many individuals make similar decisions, but even them, there is often room for individual decisions*, and thus, even in those areas governed by an orthodoxy, there is still room for individual victories.

This fact helps explain one of the more unusual aspects of the Nazi state. Many writer have commented on the fact that, while he created countless organizations for enforcing his will, Hitler himself often circumvented them and issued his orders directly to much lower subordinates, rather than use his chain of command. However, this makes sense if one recalls that every individual in the chain of command, being entrusted with arbitrary power, has a tendency to take commands issued from above, and twist them to his own ends. Thus, Hitler, when he wished to see an order implemented to his own specifications, would tend to circumvent those at the top, who would try to use his orders to achieve other ends, and instead contact those too low in the hierarchy to cause such trouble. Thus, in those matters where he had an interest in a very precise outcome, he tended to work around his own organization, as they were likely to use his grant of arbitrary power for ends other than those he desired.

On the other hand, when he had less specific goals in mind, or when he did not care about a particular issue, Hitler would often issue rather nebulous grants of power, or proclaim rather indistinct orders, or even leave matters entirely undecided and open to the decisions of underlings. And that is where the other side of this chaos comes into play. Where Hitler managed to in some ways destroy the upper echelons and undermine their lines of communication as well as authority, by circumventing them to achieve specific goals, when he did not care about an issue, it was left up for grabs, and those individuals who cared about its resolution would engage in infighting to define the policy. As the government as a whole had been granted near unlimited power, there was no matter into which the government could not insert itself, and so, for any issue about which some individual had an opinion, the field was open for him to use that blanket grant of authority to achieve his goals. The only thing standing in his way were any other individuals with differing goals in mind.

Which, in a rather round about way, is the origin of the chaos we find in Hitler's state, as well as Stalin's. All power flowed from above. And all decisions were absolutely arbitrary. Granted, if a decision was so far out of the norms that it upset those above, and underling might find himself removed from authority**, but beyond that, the criteria by which decisions are made are little more than individual whim and the power one has to force his will upon others.

Since so much rests upon the power one holds, the decisions tend to flow down from the top. What matters to the dictator, the issues which he sees as important, are defined by his whim. Beyond that, he also passes down some general guidelines, some rather vague orders, which he entrusts to underlings, who then use those grants of authority to enforce their own whims, though somewhat constrained by the orders they received. However, in matters upon which the dictator has not spoken, the field is wide open, and those immediately below the dictator, those with the greatest power,  then define those issues which matter to them, establishing new rules, and fighting among themselves when their rules conflict. And then, after these rules have been made, the next tier does the same, and so on, and so on. Each layer using what power it can grab to enforce its will on those areas still left undefined.

Of course, the various tiers are not quite so clearly defined, and there is not such clear obedience to orders from above. In many cases, those below will try to find ways to redefine orders or to create exceptions, to allow their will to replace that of their superiors. But, in general, the system is as described, with the whole scope of human behavior being open to control, and each tier of authorities filling in some segment of it with rules which force others to comply with their personal preferences.

In some ways, this is similar to the argument I made in "Transparency, Corruption and Reform", that arbitrary power leaves open avenues for corruption. In this case, unlimited power without clear rules leaves open field after field to individual whims, and, since no one is likely to have enough time to define the whole of human existence, rules are only established in an incomplete way by various authorities, leaving open some areas for those below them, creating a shifting, chaotic realm of competing authorities and contradictory rules. As each individual tries to seize as much authority as he can, tries to control those areas that matter to him, and fight off challenges by others, it creates precisely the chaotic, senseless state described by many historians of the Third Reich.

And so, while many historians see planning on the part of Hitler in forming his chaotic state, his government without order or hierarchies, I would suggest that such chaos is an inevitable result of consolidating so much arbitrary power in the state, and, while Hitler may have justified it by arguing it create struggles which strengthened the various actors, or some saw in it an effort to prevent any rival powers from arising, I think it was less of a planned outcome and more the natural result of too much power, which various individuals tried to justify after the fact.

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* To go back to the Nazis and too use one of their most notorious activities, the official position that Jews needed to be eliminated from Germany society was expressed in countless ways. Some wished deportation, some pogroms, some death camps, some forced labor. And even within those concepts, there were variations. Some deportation supporters embraced the Zionists, seeing Palestine as a perfect solution to their problems, while others saw building up a Jewish state as a threat to Germany. Similarly, those who supported extermination differed in many ways, some allowing for use in labor, some endorsing pogroms, some "scientific" extermination, and so on. It is a bit disturbing to speak of these as individual preferences, but they are. And thus, even in an area governed by relatively clear policy, there was a lot of room for individual preference.

** On the other hand, in such a chaotic system, with infighting being so prevalent, even decisions which would seem unacceptable can sometimes be made, as the individual making it may find allies who need his support in other struggles. Thus, in Nazi Germany we find Wehrmacht officers who fairly openly defied demands to provide Jews for extermination, or, more notably, Dr. Best who actually organized the flight of most Danish Jews and did little to conceal his actions. So, in such a chaotic environment, it is sometimes possible to make decisions which, given our simplistic understanding of police states, we would think impossible.