Monday, March 30, 2015

A Reply

As the comment field is too small to take my full reply, I am going to respond here to the comment CW left on my essay "Computer Games, Immigration and Protectionism". To be fair, I will also reproduce her comment here, to give us equal footing/prominence/whatever.

So, here is the comment to which I am replying:
Pac Man is about my gaming speed. Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde are the leftists who must be avoided at all costs, hee hee hee. 
Well you make a very thoughtful and comprehensive argument, Andrew. I agree that in theory immigration, when properly handled, is a positive thing. I think most conservatives believe this as well, so I do take a bit of an issue with the assertion that the Right is anti-immigrant or that we allow such an impression through our own fumbling of the issue. I know of no viable conservative candidate or spokesman who doesn’t begin every debate or speech on immigration by saying that they support LEGAL immigration, which they unfortunately they must do to combat the false narrative put up by the Left.

When you advocate an “open door” policy, I would hope that this still includes the means for gov’t oversight to control who comes in, just as you reserve the right to decide who enters your own home as any sane person wants to do. If I’m incorrect on your position then we have a big disagreement there. 
The problem with immigration in the U.S. and other countries boils down to one thing: liberalism. You said that the problem isn’t the liberals, it’s the welfare state, but who is responsible for the welfare state? And the destructive force of liberalism on immigration goes much deeper than that. Liberals encourage immigrants to cling to their original cultures rather than assimilate. They insist that we “celebrate diversity,” not the melting pot. They enable disunity by insisting that we conduct business in a variety of languages and by fighting attempts to make English the official language. They applaud immigrants who fly their own flag and disrespect the American flag, or they at least do not condemn it. Liberals are in a battle for control of this nation and their strategy is to present themselves as the alternative to the conservatives. If the conservative advocates a thoughtful approach to immigration that seeks first and foremost to protect the interests of Americans then liberals will pursue exactly the opposite, and you only need to look to what they’ve done for the proof of that. People who are perplexed by Obama and the rewards he makes possible for illegal immigrants who disregard our laws and disrespect our citizens need to understand that he is driven purely by political aspirations for himself and his party. He wants to create another class of democrat voters, and he may succeed yet. The bottom line is there can be no reasoned approach to immigration so long as the Left has a significant influence on the operation of our government. It’s impossible.
And here is my response, such as it is:

I am afraid we are going to disagree, as I do advocate exactly what I said, an open door, the same policy under which my ancestors entered this country, and so did many others. Including the unwelcome Irish, Italians, Jews and others who have proven to be a boon not bane to the nation. Had states thought they could exercise the sort of controls they have today in the late 19th century, I am certain I would never have been born, nor would a large percentage of those now living. (Admittedly, the 19th century did see the beginnings of modern immigration in excluding asians, as they were even more foreign, but others weren't uniformly limited until 1914 and the beginnings of the intrusive all powerful state.) 
But, perhaps I should ask, how would you limit immigration? Who would you exclude? By what means would you judge who can and cannot enter? And who would decide these rules? The majority? So, if the majority decided, say, Poles were unwelcome, too bad for them? Or would it be based on some elite which knows best as the liberals would have?  
Or would you exclude those their home nations declare criminals? That would have excluded most of the Russian immigrants of the 1970s and 1980s from entering the US, not to mention most Cubans, since fleeing Cuba is a crime. 
Sorry, I just believe in the original purpose of the US, as a refuge for men seeking freedom, and that was intended for all men, not just for those who managed to gain the approval of those who were already here. I know the Constitution allows regulation of citizenship, but until the early 20th century (excluding the nasty bit with Asians in the late 19th century), it was rarely exercised to do much more than determine how long one needed reside for citizenship. Only in the 20th century did we begin picking and choosing, by country, by religion, by race, excluding those with unwelcome political philosophies (eg deporting communists and anarchists). 
So, yes, I think we are going to really disagree on this, as I believe in the original conception of this nation, not that of Wilson and his immediate predecessors and successors. I just do not believe there is justification to exclude immigrants based on any rational criteria. 
Of course, at present there is a problem doing so as the welfare state would make this a costly proposition, but I am speaking here of ideals, not immediate solutions. But I do still contend it is the ideal and one toward which I believe we should move, so, even if I would say I am not going to throw open the doors tomorrow, that does not mean I do not want to do so, just that present circumstances make it impossible. 
As far as immigrants clinging to their cultures, more than liberal encouragement, I believe, as historically has been the case, a lot comes from belonging to groups which are not welcomed. Look at immigrants from, say, Nigeria, who are largely ignored by most people, they integrate quite well, despite the liberal agenda, which applies tot hem doubly, being mostly black. On the other hand, Mexicans, especially illegals, tend to form insular communities, at least in part because the more heated immigration debate keeps them somewhat outside the mainstream. It is not the sole reason, nothing is so simple as to have a single cause, but it definitely plays a part. 
Actually, I can argue against the idea that politics can prevent integration much more easily. The late 19th century had an equally heated debate over immigration, with Republicans opposing immigration, especially from southern and eastern Europe, and Democrats basically mining immigrants for votes. The climate was not much different from today, there were even enclaves of unintegrated aliens. Yet, by the early 20th century, most of the groups which had once been seen as completely alien tot he US -- Jews, Italians, Irish, Poles, etc -- had begun to integrate quite well, and in another generation, two at the most, they had become mainstream. Or look at Asians. As late as 1940s they were considered alien enough that the Japanese bore the brunt of internment, with Germans and Italians being (mostly) ignored (or at least treated as alien on a much, much smaller scale), yet today Asians are very firmly integrated into the culture, so much so they face reverse discrimination to a degree greater than whites in academic admissions. 
So it seems, even when politicians, and society as a whole, has an interest in maintaining insular communities, there is still a pretty strong pressure to integrate. And we can see it today. Even with racial jargon at an all time high, there are more blacks entering the middle and upper classes, and, unthinkable a few decades ago, a small but growing number of black Republicans. Similarly, despite strong pressures from politicians to maintain a hispanic identity, there is positive growth in the hispanic middle and upper classes and other signs of strong integration. It is not perfect, no system ever is, but even with heavy immigration, the culture shock is almost always short lived, with the mainstream and new cultures rapidly finding a modus vivendi. 
I know, I am not going to win friends on either side. The left disagrees that integration and assimilation are good, and wants to skew immigration to certain nations, so they love immigration controls too. And the right believes we have to play gate keeper lest the bad guys get in (as if we could tell who they were, and bad by whose assessment?), and also worries about giving elections to the left, though in doing so they make immigrants more strong pro-Democrat anyway, making it a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. (Not that that says anything about the propriety of their cause, just interesting that their fear of pro-Democrat immigrants makes them act in ways creating even more pro-Democrat movements among immigrants. Especially those who make no distinction among illegal and legal and chant about closing all borders, etc, making Republicans look even worse than the Democrats claim them to be.) 
I suppose I have said more than enough, as I doubt we are going to agree on this, but I still stand by my idea. And I still ask, by what measure will you exclude or include aliens? And, when you come up with them, tell me if you would accept the same rules being applied to migration between states. Because if a rule cannot apply to movement from Maryland to Virginia, I have problem applying it to Mexico to Texas travel. (I know, constitutionally they are different, but they are both pairs of sovereign states, so in principle I do not see a reason to distinguish.)
I know, as I say several times, I am in a very small minority believing in no restrictions, but then again, I am in a small minority in believing the government should not be building highways or running schools. It doesn't make my belief any weaker to know I am not in the majority on these things. So, whether or not most agree, I can only say what I believe to be true.

Computer Games, Immigration and Protectionism

A few months ago my son found a computer game (one still in development) called Rim World. as he does so often when stumbling across games on YouTube or elsewhere, he wheedled and cajoled and badgered me until I agreed to shell out the money to buy it. Unlike most such cases, however, it turned out to be one of those rare games that he continued to play beyond the week it was bought, and, even more unusual, it was one of those rare computer games that actually caught my attention, and managed to keep me entertained as well.

The basic premise is pretty simple. You control three individuals in the distant future who find themselves stranded on an alien planet, and they must build up a thriving colony and eventually escape. In the process they must build shelter, find food, make clothing, fend off natives, recruit new members and so on. Not exactly a novel premise, it seems there are multitude of survival and colony/city building games out there, but something about this one made it more engrossing than the rest, and I have myself playing it almost as much as my son does.

What caught my attention, at least in terms of turning the game into blog fodder, is how realistically the addition of new recruits is handled. Initially, new recruits are usually reluctant to join the colony, many being captured during raids by the planet's other inhabitants. Even after they are captured, their skills are often rather mediocre and the prove more of a drain than a benefit. However, over time, they begin to supply more benefit, and, in the long run, they prove essential to success. Well, to be fair, there is one drawback. The game's nominal goal is to eventually build a spacecraft to escape the world, and so, above a certain number, more people prove a drawback in that regard, as the cost of each additional passenger is rather high. However, if you play to build a thriving colony -- as my son and I usually do -- disregarding the idea of eventual escape, it becomes quite clear that each additional colonist is a net gain, and the larger the population, the more robust the colony.

Why I suggest this is interesting is because, unlike some colony games, RimWorld does have hard limits on some resources. Mineral wealth, for example, can be exhausted because of the limited play area (unlike, say, Harvest, where the play area allows for expansion). Even some renewable resources, such as wild animal herds, prove relatively slow to replenish, making them an effectively limited resource as well. (Oddly, this is least pronounced in the tundra, where one would expect it the most. Apparently elk and "muffalo", a sort of shaggy buffalo, are fast breeders.) In most games with such hard limits, the artificial constraints prove to make population growth harmful. However, because RimWorld allows for trade with off planet merchants, basically trading goods in abundant supply for those the colony lacks, even after limited resources begin to run out, there is still a benefit to adding more population.

I mention all of this because, in my experience, computer games, in general, seem to offer pretty fair models of population, immigration and trade, much more so than some of the contrived models offered up by professional economists promoting restrictions on immigration or trade. Admittedly, some games do better than others, those that create a closed model, with no ability to move or trade outside of a constrained space, with limited resources (Empires of Earth comes to mind, or to a lesser degree, Banished), provide the worst models, while those that either allow for replenishing resources, or for trade with external sources of supply, provide a much more accurate model. But, as that is my point, more or less, I suppose it is time to move from the subject of games to the issues of the real world.

Until relatively modern times, immigration was seen as a boon. The strength of nations was measured in population, wars were fought as much to bring in bodies of people as patches of territory. The fear of immigrants didn't really arise until a confluence of three issues produced an environment almost ideal for anti-immigration agitations.

First, there was the growth of the union movement, and pro-labor agitation in general, the more clever exponents of which recognized that general underpopulation was productive of elevated wages, and granted additional power to the labor movement, which encouraged them to do all they could to remove the possibility of new laborers competing with established laborers and unions.

Second, there was -- especially in the US and England, but to a lesser degree in other European nations -- the culture shock of relatively heavy immigration from non-European nations, and, to a lesser degree from southern and eastern Europe (and Ireland). The influx of these unfamiliar aliens, with strange customs, relatively underdeveloped backgrounds, and often unusual appearances, led to a growth of nativist, even xenophobic, movements. As these movements made it more and more difficult for these groups to integrate, many of them developed unintegrated enclaves -- Chinatown, Little Italy, and so on -- which allowed many of those already opposed to these immigrants to argue they were impossible to integrate1.

Finally, there were the more formal nationalist movements, which, while they shared a lot of common ground with home grown nativist movements, had some agendas all their own.For example, while nativists were normally concerned solely with excluding aliens, nationalists often have an active agenda of reintegrating the isolated members of their own linguistic-cultural group, however those irredenta are defined.

Together, these three movements created the first real opposition to immigration. Later, as the government became more involved in welfare schemes, and laborer began to be reimbursed by the government for failing to work, there were other pressures established, but the initial opposition very clearly came from a combination of self-interested labor movements and a mix of home grown nativists and more theoretical nationalists.

I mention all this because the movements in question are all distinguished by possessing an irrational foundation, as well as generally opposing individual rights and minimal government. That being the case, one would expect that conservatives and federalists would have an innate distrust of anti-immigration movements. Unfortunately, two modern trends have led to those on the right embracing a position quite contrary to the original intentions of founders, who believed in the US as something of a haven, not an exclusive club.

First, because of the modern welfare state, liberals have managed to make the right see immigrants as the labor movement always did, as a net cost.  It is arguable whether or not the numbers support immigrants as a whole being net loss, but that is almost secondary. The problem in this case is not the liberals, but the welfare state, and the solution is not for the right to join labor in opposing immigration, but rather in opposing welfare state programs.

Second, the left has also managed to convince some percentage of immigrants and minorities in general that, because the left supports welfare, affirmative action and special privileges for select groups, that they are the friends of immigrants, and the right the enemies, and, unfortunately, many on the right have played into this. Of course, many legal immigrants are not exactly falling for this. Having gone through a difficult process to attain citizenship, they do not embrace the left's easy forgiveness for illegals, but the right, often its own worst enemy, has ignored them, missed the opportunity to split legal from illegal and make its own immigrant lobby, and instead often adopted the paleo-con/Buchananite "seal the borders" rhetoric, reinforcing the false image that the left promotes that the Democrats and Republicans of the 21st century share the views of those in the 19th. (Which, in the case of paleo-cons is sadly pretty accurate, and, again sadly, in the case of Democrats, not accurate at all2.)

Thus a combination of fiscal concern and pragmatic/cynical desire to minimize hostile votes has turned the right against immigration, rather than any real philosophical foundation. I will grant, some of the more die hard culture warrior types make a case on the basis of their beliefs, but for the most part it is based on raw emotion rather than any well reasoned appeal. (And, though we won't discuss it here, I have many misgivings about including those who emphasize culture wars among conservatives, as too much of their argument smacks of a disguised nationalism, which is not a philosophy very friendly to liberty or minimal government, but that is a topic for another essay.) But, excepting these culture war arguments, there is little in the way of theoretical opposition to immigration, or even a well reasoned theory, almost all opposition rests on a myopic view based on one or two issues, without taking in the entire picture.

So, allow me to offer my arguments, demonstrating why, on every issue from employment to welfare to assimilation, the contemporary view of the right is contrary to its basic principles, and that, rather than allowing the left to manipulate this issue its advantage, we should adopt a consistent and principled stand. As I hope to show, such a stand will also have practical benefits, and not only those inherent in a consistent position3.

Let us start with the most basic economic point, and the most frequently promoted "pragmatic"4 argument, that being that allowing in immigrants will result in a reduction in our wages and a drop in the standard of living. This is at the root of the opposition labor movements have shown toward immigration, not just in the US but worldwide, and is also one of the limited number of topics on which labor and the rest of the political left disagree.

In one sense, this argument is correct, though only in a very limited way, and in terms of its conclusions about the ultimate consequences of immigration it is simply wrong, mostly because, like all protectionist schemes, it fails to look at man in all of economic roles, and focuses exclusively on man as a wage earner. In fact, the arguments offered against immigration fit perfectly the mistake I described in  "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, and More Jobs" , forgetting we work in order to be able to buy, and instead seeming to think we spend money in order to justify working. In short, it makes of labor an end in itself, and completely forget that labor exists to serve a function, to produce results, not as an end in itself. Not even to earn a wage, as many assume, but rather to produce goods. When we forget that, as most protectionists do, we reach some bizarre conclusions, and the arguments about immigration are no different.

Let us start with the one thing the opponents get right. Immigration, at least into countries that are relatively underpopulated, as are almost all western lands relative to the rest of the world -- or into nations where per capita investment of capital is much higher than the world average, as that also produces elevated wages -- will result in a decline of wages in the country receiving the immigrants. However, in general this will be a decline in average wages, that is the total wages paid divided by number of jobs, and not in the wages for most specific jobs. And it is this confusion of aggregate numbers with individual cases that causes some of the confusion. (Cf "Individual and Aggregate") But it is just one factor. Still, let me explain the difference.

Most people seem to think if immigrants are allowed in, then everyone will see their wages drop. However, that simply makes little sense. First of all, since many, if not most, immigrants are less skilled than the US average, as well as many needing to learn the language, adjust to the culture and so on, most immigrant labor will be for the lower end of the wage scale. Even if it were not, think of what wages mean. If you are paid $25/hour it means your employer is receiving a benefit of at least $25/hour from your work. If immigrants show up, it will not reduce your worth to the company. And if an immigrant can produce the same value, then likely his wages will be bid up through competition to the same price. (See "Employment A to Z", "More Thoughts on Wage Disparities", "Capitalism and Its Consequences", "Competition", "Another Look At Exploitation", "Fairness and the Free Market", "Exploited Labor", "Capital Investment", "Exploiting Workers?", "Two Sided Processes and Claims of 'Unfair' Outcomes", "How Wages Work") Which means that it would be idiotic to fire you to hire an alien who would demand the same pay. No, what will happen when immigrants enter the economy is that the added labor will be used to perform tasks previously impossible due to lack of labor. As many of these will be at the lower end of the wage scale, likely it will result in a reduction of average wages, but most individual wages will remain the same.

The one area where wages may be reduced slightly would be in those areas where wages are artificially elevated, in unionized jobs, or on the marginal end of the spectrum where a shortage of unskilled labor may allow for slight overpricing of labor. Of course, if the government persists in forcing minimum wage and union collective bargaining, immigration will not reduce these wages, immigration will simply create unemployed immigrants, but that is topic to cover later.

However, for the sake of argument, let us assume immigration would reduce actual wages slightly. This may sound disastrous, but only because you are taking a single perspective on the issue. Wages are income, but they are also a cost. If wages fall, the cost of good produced by that labor also declines. So, even if immigrants force wages down, that would also result in a reduction in prices (and likely also the production of goods not previously available, due to the surplus of labor). As a result, even with reduced wages, we would have the ability to buy more, as the combination of reduced costs (fairly proportional to lost wages) and increased goods on the market, would most likely produce a net increase in real personal income for most. Thus, even if wages drop, which they may only do in a statistical sense, the end result would still be a net improvement in our material condition. Thus, it is silly to worry about immigration, at least as regards wages and incomes.

Which brings me to a second issue often mentioned, and yet another protectionist variety of worry. This is the concern that many aliens come to work in the US, but do not spend money here, instead sending it home to their native land. In some way it is imagined this impoverishes the US.

I suppose the first thing to point out is something I have mentioned many times, it is hard to spend US dollars except in the US. So if those dollars are going home, they are eventually going to come back, either directly, or traded to others holding local currency, who will then spend the US currency in the US. Eventually, one way or another, the money comes back to the US. (" Fear of Trade")

Then again, even if it somehow stayed outside of the US, what is the worry. I work in Virginia and live in Maryland. Thus, I take money out of the Virginia economy and send it home to Maryland. Does that means I am harming Virginia? Should they ban me from working there? Or, even more local, suppose I work in Annapolis and live across the river in Riva. If I were to spend my pay outside of Annapolis, does that impoverish the city of Annapolis? Clearly these examples are silly, yet we imagine they begin to make sense when they involve national borders. However, the same principles apply. Just as we recognize in my examples Maryland and Virginia are not competing, or trading, similarly, nations do not trade, individuals do. And, in the end, that trade balances out, barring government playing inflationary games. So, the worry that money may not stay inside our borders is just more protectionist silliness5.

The next issue is one where there are valid questions raised -- though some numbers suggest the problem is smaller than imagined6 -- but also one where easy solutions exist if we are willing to stop following the same path we have for decades. And that issue is welfare, or, to use a more general term, all manner of government payments to aliens7.

As far as the legitimate aspect is concerned, it would be an issue if we were to allow an open door policy, granting resident status, or even citizenship to whoever asked, and doing so with little or no wait, and, at the same time, maintained our present welfare system. After all, even without welfare available to them (or perhaps not, see below), millions seek to enter the US every year, so would it not be likely even more would seek entry if, at the same time, they were guaranteed some sort of free subsistence as well? And would it not bankrupt us to have to pay to support all these freeloaders from across the sea?

However, modern experience indicated this may not be an accurate depiction of open borders. Even now, many illegals manage to collect on some form of welfare, perhaps not to the degree natives do, but there are still illegals who use their false identity to apply for benefits. As this is possible even now, it would seem we would have considerable numbers of illegals entering to live on welfare. Yet this simply is not the case. Most illegals today enter the country to engage in some sort of labor, or else seek out labor as soon as they enter. Of course, this does not guarantee more would not seek welfare in the future if it were easily available to them, but it does indicate that people are generally not motivated to make an effort to migrate just to collect welfare8.

Even if that were the case, and opening the borders brought in masses of welfare recipients, the solution is not to ban immigration, the answer is to modify welfare. Ideally, the answer is to eliminate it entirely, as I have argued before, but if that is impossible, the other solutions would be to limit who can apply, perhaps excluding recent immigrants for a number of years. As with current welfare, we would even add in emergency aid for those who otherwise don't qualify, so no one can complain about denying immigrants emergency medical coverage (something we now do provide, even to known illegals), or emergency cash and food stamp aid in dire circumstances. That should more than satisfy both those wishing to prevent immigrants from collecting welfare and those who lose sleep over the possibility of anyone having to face misfortune without a government agent on hand to assist.

But there is, in fact, an easier solution, and one that has a long (well, relatively long) historical precedent. If we must keep our present welfare system, why not require of immigrants either proof of ability to support themselves, or else a sponsor who will swear to provide for them for a set period of time (say 5 years). It would, admittedly be slightly less than a completely open door, as it would limit immigration to a degree, though not that much, but it also would be the perfect answer to those who insist on maintaining welfare. An immigrant would no longer be a potential drain on our resources, as the state would have a sponsor to whom they could shift the costs. It would not be an ideal solution, as it would both mean retaining the present welfare system and continuing to limit welfare, but it does show how, with even a few small changes, much of the supposed insurmountable problem of welfare could be resolved.

The remaining issues are mostly non-economic ones, and shall be dealt with relatively swiftly.

First, there is the complaint that open immigration would allow the entry of disease into the US. And, I suppose, this is a valid complaint, or would be, were we to also check all tourists entering from foreign countries, as well as all US citizens who return from abroad. However, as we do not do so, it seems the claim that we regulate immigration to exclude disease is more of a pretext for maintaining limits on immigration than any true concern. (In any case, since many diseases do not present in a short time, to actually exclude disease would require either preventing any entry into the nation by anyone, citizen or alien, or else VERY lengthy quarantines for everyone who enters the country, be they citizen or alien.)

A similar problem exists for the exclusion of criminals, as again we do not prevent criminals from visiting (or did not until relatively recently, and even then we are not exactly consistent). In any case, the idea of excluding criminals is problematic for another reason. "Crime" is defined by the local government, and thus those who flee precisely because they are unhappy with their current government are more likely to be labelled criminals even if they did nothing we would want to exclude from our nation. Nor is it always obvious when a supposed crime represents civil disobedience versus a real crime. After all, if you come from a totalitarian land, and the rulers are unhappy with you, how hard is it for them to enter a record saying you were a thief, rapist or killer?  And, in the reverse case, should a nation wish to export a troubling group, be they an unwelcome minority or simply those the state finds unwelcome, such as habitual criminals, what is to stop the state from removing all records of misdeeds to make departure easier? Thus, it seems relying upon the statements of other states as to one's criminal status is problematic8.

Speaking of crime, there is a second issue which comes up which should be addressed, and that is the use of foreign citizenship as a means to avoid criminal prosecution.  Again, it is a somewhat legitimate concern, but one that seems unrelated to open borders. After all, even now, with all our restrictions, aliens and citizens use the borders in just this way. So, whether borders are open or not, they shall remains a problem for law enforcement. It may make a good tub thumping argument against immigration liberalization, but in truth it is not a problem which will be changed by reforming immigration laws in either direction.

That leaves us with just those special cases that people love to bring up as if they were everyday occurrences, such as terrorists entering the country, or the closing of borders during wartime. I will grant that it is probably justified to close borders to exclude aliens from a country with which we are at war, but beyond that it seems most efforts to curb spies, terrorists and others are rather pointless. First, because many terrorists and spies are actually disgruntled natives of the land against which they act, meaning immigration laws are useless in protecting against them. Second, because most nations which seek to insert foreign spies or terrorist agents do not end them directly from their own nations, but instead disguise them as residents of a neutral third nation. Given these two factors, the use of immigration laws to stop spies and terrorists strikes me as a very inefficient means of doing so, and, considering the other negative effects of immigration laws, it seems there are better tools.

And that brings to an end all of the major economic and political issues, at least as far as I can recall them. But before wrapping things up I suppose I must say a few words about the one other issue so often raised, that being the cultural argument, and the worries about integration and assimilation.

The irony here is that, during periods when immigration was more open, integration was much more common. Not only that, but the groups which failed to integrate were almost always those who were treated as special cases. The Irish, the Italians, Asians of various origins, and now illegals, all have found it more difficult to integrate, not because of any innate desire to retain an insular identity, but because their rejection by the larger society forced them to develop close knit and insular communities which stood in the way of integration. If any doubt this, look at Asians in the years following the 1940s. It is rare to find even a second generation Asian who is not fully integrated, and it is common to find second or third generation descendants who not only are fully integrated, but integrated to such a degree they know little of their ancestral language, culture, and so on. Excluding foodstuffs and a few common curse words (the cultural artifacts that seem most durable), many children or grandchildren of immigrants are indistinguishable from natives whose ancestors have been in the US for a dozen generations or more.

Immigration is, sadly, one of those areas where there exists a relatively easy solution, but one which neither side wants to embrace, and, more harmful, immigration is an issue where it is easy to make emotional appeals, appeals which lead to the creation of dangerous exceptions, or, even worse, bad policies based on unusual cases.

For example, no one wants to see children arrested and deported. However, if we adopt a policy of allowing children to remain, we are asking for those seeking entry to smuggle in solitary children so that those children, when grown, can bring in their parents and other relatives. In other words, to avoid the sad sight of solitary children being arrested, we are likely to create circumstances which encourage smuggling solitary children into the US, a situation just as pathetic and depressing.

A similar problem exists with all the proposed solutions to the issues raised by granting citizenship to all born in the US. Ignoring the problem that any limitation on this policy may end up excluding some children at least some of us would want considered citizens (eg children born --in the US -- to a deceased US citizen and a resident alien not his spouse, might be excluded under some proposed rewrites of the law, and other variations exclude other unusual, but legitimate, groups from citizenship), there are still problems with eliminating this law. Let us look at just one example. Although eliminating the law would probably end up reducing the influx of pregnant women who enter the US, our superior health care would still probably attract some women, especially from border areas, and -- even if those were eliminated -- illegal aliens within the US already would certainly, from time to time, become pregnant as well. So we will always have children born in the US to aliens, both legal and illegal. However, some of those aliens, even the illegal ones, are not necessarily recognized as citizens by their former nations, especially those who came seeking asylum who were either denied, or else violated the terms of their asylum9. In those cases, it would be unlikely the home nation would grant the newborns citizenship. Thus, we would be left with a number of stateless children, children we do not recognize as our citizens, but without a land to which they can be deported. Trying to figure out how to handle such stateless individuals could be a problem more tricky than any of our current immigration issues.

And there are similar issues with most positions adopted by either side on this issue. We mentioned a few when discussing criminal records (eg. that crimes can often be politically defined, making it hard to tell if a "criminal" is really a danger to admit). However, there are many more. Not that an open door policy is without issues, I admit as much. However, much like the free market, the open door policy is the best of a universe of imperfect solutions, it fits best with our professed beliefs about the nature of man and the role of government, and it is the system most consistent with the free market. More than that, it is also a system which ends racial or ethnic favoritism, senseless restrictions, limits motivation for human trafficking and smuggling, eliminates almost all opportunities for corruption and otherwise simply cleans up what is a terribly flawed, corrupt and nonsensical system. I can think of no better argument in its favor


1. The ease with which most such groups integrated in post World War II America -- some even earlier -- shows how much of a role the nativist movements played in preventing integration. Modern experience -- despite pressures not to integrate originating from completely different motives ("The Important Lesson of Racism") -- show that even groups one would expect to have real trouble integrating, such as south east Asian refugees from the Vietnam War era, had children, and especially grandchildren, who are fully integrated into American society, to the point where many cannot speak their ancestral tongues.

2. For those unfamiliar with the party shifts, I suggest "The Political Spectrum", "A Timeline Part One", "A Timeline Part Two", "A Timeline Part Three", "Mistaken Perceptions of the Industrial Age", "Child Labor and the Industrial Revolution", "A Passing Thought" and "Rethinking the Scopes Trial" and "Ordered Liberty and Our Modern Mindset". For those disinclined to follow links, the short form is this: in the 19th century, the Democrats were, by and large still the party of limited government, free business, hard money and open immigration. (There was some diluting of this, especially in the west, through populist movements, but it wasn't until 1890 that really mattered on a national scale.) On the other hand, the Republicans of the 19th century largely supported protective tariffs, soft money (easy credit through manipulating currency), centralized government, temperance movements and other enforced morality, somewhat anti-Catholic, and were strongly opposed to immigration, especially immigration from places other than northern and western Europe. As I said above, in some ways the paleo-cons are the last gasp of 19th century Republicanism, though many moderate Democrats hold most of the same views except on immigration. (Well, and their enforced morality is to ban smoking and transfats, not drinking, pornography and blasphemy.)

3. As I have argued elsewhere, holding inconsistent positions leaves one open to all kinds of mischief, mostly from those who will exploit those inconsistencies to undermine one's positions. See "Slippery Slopes", "No Dividing Line", "Harming Society", "You've Come a Long Way, Baby!", "In Loco Parentis", "Hard Cases Make Bad Law", "Tyranny Without Tyrants", "Some Thoughts on "Summerhill"", "In Defense of Zero Tolerance, or, And Examination of Law, Common Sense and Consistency", "With Good Intentions", "In The Most Favorable Light", "Inescapable Logic", "Recipe For Disaster", "The Endless Cycle of Intervention", "The Cycle of Compassion", "Grow or Die, The Inevitable Expansion of Everything" and "Inspections, Regulations and Bans" and "Guns and Drugs", among others.

4. I have a strong dislike for "practical", "pragmatic" or "common sense" arguments, as I explain in   "The Lunacy of 'Common Sense'", "'Seems About Right', Another Lesson in Common Sense and Its Futility", "A Look at Common Sense", "Res Ipsa Loquitur", "The Shortcomings of Pragmatism", "Pragmatism Revisited", "Pragmatism Revisited, Again", "The Plural of Anecdote is Not Data", "Rules of Grammar and Pragmatism", "The Problem of the Small Picture", "Keyhole Thinking", "Impractical Pragmatists", "In Defense of Zero Tolerance, or, An Examination of Law, Common Sense and Consistency", "No Dividing Line", "The Consequences of Bad Laws", "Questions of Law and Questions of Fact", "The Rarity of 'Common Sense'" and "Common Sense,Philosopher Kings, Arbitrary Law and Dictatorship".

5. I explained this in much more detail in the essays "Fear of Trade", "Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc", "Protectionism Right and Left", "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, and More Jobs", "Free Trade, Employment, Outsourcing, and Protectionism" and "Cheap Lighters, Overseas Dumping and Monopolies".

6. I am not sure how much stock to place in official studies of welfare contributions and withdrawals by immigrants, as personal experience tells me some of the numbers may be invalid. During the era of welfare reform, I worked determining eligibility in a county social services department in Maryland. One of the new forms introduced was supposed to determine if the applicant was a citizen, naturalized alien, resident alien or other, in order to determine if they qualified for benefits. However, we were told, as official policy -- though it was not clear if it was our county's policy or statewide -- that we were to simply assume any applicant was a citizen unless they explicitly told us otherwise. Given the relatively wide array of documents we would accept as proof of identity, this would have made it pretty easy for even illegal aliens to qualify (and I am sure several of my cases probably were, my county has a large population of Hispanic migrant farm workers). My county cannot have been the only one to embrace such a policy, or something similar, which makes me think the official count for illegals, resident aliens, naturalized aliens, etc might be a bit skewed toward overestimating the number of citizens and naturalized aliens.

7. There are many claims that aliens actually pay in more, and take less, than natives, and this may be correct. After all, many illegals eventually either are deported or else choose to leave, and thus they will not necessarily collect payments, while those who work at legitimate jobs contribute to the funding of these programs. This is especially noteworthy in the case of social security, as many illegals use false social security numbers, thus contributing to the system, while never collecting on those contributions. I am not saying whether or not it is a valid position (one can find studies to point either way, making a conclusion difficult), I simply wanted to point out it is not a concern shared by all, or even supported by them.

8. I am not saying that all criminal designations are suspect, many states likely provide perfectly acceptable designations. The problem is, if we choose to accept designations from one state, it would be difficult to justify ignoring them from others, and thus we will either end up accepting all, accepting none, or constantly trying to justify each individual case in court, as our inconsistent handling opens the door to constant appeals.

9. A similar issue could occur when nations exclude certain ethnic groups from citizenship for any number of reasons. Or when ethnic resettlement occurs. Eg. Kossovar Albanians who were living as aliens in Albania and migrated to the US before Kossovo split from Serbia are not likely to be recognized as citizens by Albania, Serbia or Kossovo. And thus any children are not likely to be welcome anywhere.

Correction (2015/03/30): As happens every so often, I realize I left one of my little placeholder tags in the finished article. When writing these things, I often add little notes that look like this:"<<JOBS>>", to remind me to put a link to a specific essay, or more than one. Sometimes I also use similar tags to remind myself to flesh out an unfinished bit, or to add some sentences addressing a specific topic. In this case, it was simply one omitted link to my essay "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, and More Jobs", but I have left worse behind in the past. Just wanted to apologize for any confusion it caused and to say it has been corrected.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Intellect and Politics

It is one of those statements that seems to be trotted out whenever political rivals debate, inevitable someone on the left will counter some argument or another with the claims that "intelligent people" are overwhelmingly liberal. They may word it differently, there are a number of variations. The most educated people are liberal (much more likely, as we shall discuss, but also much less meaningful). People who are interested in ideas are liberal. Creative people are liberal. And so on. Some are more nebulous than others, some much harder to prove, but the idea is the same, by some measurement or another, liberalism is the philosophy of choice for the more clever, inventive, creative and so on. Nor is it simply trotted out as an unsubstantiated taunt, the way some on the right accuse leftism of being the philosophy of the immoral, hypocritical, what have you. No, those on the left who put forth this claim actually believe it is a fact, one which can be proven*.

There are a host of technical issues with such a theory, so let us address those first, before going into the other problems.

Most noteworthy, the studies are invariably based on self-identification, and, more importantly, are almost always done in some academic setting. As one who was quite a pariah among his art school friends due to being an admitted conservative, I know that in most modern academic settings it is simply habit to call oneself liberal, as any other answer seems to inspire troubling levels of hostility from certain individuals, not to mention the assumption by many that anyone self-identifying as conservative is unintelligent, perhaps racist, sexist and other, less savory, things. Even asking about specific political stands versus one's political stance would not be trustworthy, as, again, most learn to say they favor a host of liberal positions, lest they be ostracized in the college community.

A second issue is self-selection. Any study that  relies upon volunteers, rather than a random selection from a non-volunteer pool, is going to automatically self-select for those inclined to volunteer for such studies. Of course, non-voluntary studies have a different issue, potential resentment or apathy on the part of those dragooned into a study. I know during my high school years my standardized test scores dropped as I aged, mostly because I started viewing them as a waste of time, and did not put in as much effort as I could have**. So, similarly, those forced into tests may not test well if they are the kind disinclined to volunteer, making the results similarly skewed either way.

Finally, or at least the final one we shall discuss (there are definitely more issues than these three), the studies done on young participants make the error of confusing youthful political inclinations with one's lifelong politics. The famous Churchill quote is not far from reality, most young people are much more liberal than later in life, even lifelong liberals tend to have been more liberal in early life. There are many, many reasons for this (see "Ritual Abuse, Backwards Logic and Conspiracy Theories", "The Path of Least Resistance", "Prelude to a Future Essay on Heroic Ethics and Romanticism"); here are a few I have pointed out before. For example, young and immature people tend to be attracted to grand struggles to "save the world", and thus find the revolutionary, missionary attitude of the left, especially the far left, much more appealing than the staid and sensible conservative attachment to gradual change and piecemeal reform. (See "Conservatism, Incremental Change and Federalism", "In Praise of Slow Changes") Likewise, with many in education, both secondary and collegiate, tending toward liberal beliefs, it is not surprising that many young individuals would adopt the liberal beliefs of their teachers. Finally, with much less to lose, and a general dissatisfaction with their status quo -- as well as many embracing the youthful tendency toward rebellion -- it is understandable that the young would be attracted to revolutionary politics. (See "Juvenile Intellectuals", "Deadly Cynicism", "Self-Serving Cynicism and Our Cultural Immaturity", "O Tempora! O Mores!, or, The High Cost of Supposed Freedom", "An Immature Society", "Trophy Spouses", "Cranky Old Man?", "Pushing the Envelope")

But there are many issues beyond the technical questions of the studies themselves. (Though we shall look at one more of those later.) For example, there is the underlying assumption implicit in this theory that liberalism is somehow "right". After all, if all the most intelligent people are liberal, does that not imply that liberalism is the correct answer? Of course, this also implies there is a single correct answer to many complicated questions, and that only those in the know, this intellectual elite, is privy to this knowledge. Such arrogant elitism, and dismissal of the ignorant masses is an inherent part of liberalism (and other interventionist theories), so it is not exactly shocking to find it repeated here. (See "Liberalism, Its Origins and Consequences", "Man's Nature and Government", "Appealing to Arrogance", "The Intellectual Elite", "The Citizen Dichotomy", "The Essence of Liberalism","Liberalism, "Idealists" and Internal Contradictions", "Big Government, Arrogance and Part-Time Psychopathy", "For Your Own Good -- The Problem with Subjective Rights", "The Road to Violence", "The War of All Against All") The surprising thing is how many supposed scientists will lend authority to this prejudice by giving it their support.

Of course, it is a bit hypocritical as well. If liberals were to be told intelligent people were predominantly Episcopalian, or spoke English, or, worse still, were white or male***, they would be quick to dismiss these claims as mistaken, or, at most, the result of environmental, cultural or other confounding factors. Yet, in this case, they are completely blind to the many confounding factors that exist.

First, even using IQ there is the problem of confusing intellect and education. There are a number of IQ tests which try to avoid relying upon education, but regardless of how well designed, to some degree the expression of intellect relies upon the information one has. If you are not aware of the basic principles of geometry, such as counting sides or vertices, even simple pattern problems, which are supposedly free of educational requirements, become more difficult. In the end, education will always be something of a confounding factor.

And that is not a trivial issue, as education -- as pointed out above -- tends to correlate with liberal viewpoints. This does not mean more intelligent people are liberal, but rather that greater education tends to incline one towards liberalism (just as in the past, or in other nations, greater education tended to instill a more conservative viewpoint****), and there is always going to be some confusion between intellectual ability and education.

Allow me to explain with a simple, if imprecise, analogy. Intellectual ability is something like a motor, while education, or to be more precise, information, is like fuel. Without any information upon which to work, the motor cannot function, and similarly, intellectual ability divorced from information is useless. One could have the greatest capacity in the world, but if he never studied physics, he will not develop a Grand Unified Theory as he will not be aware of what questions remain to be answered, or even that there are questions at all. And so, even though we like to think IQ tests measure pure intellectual potential independent of education, the fact remains any test embodies some elements of education. Word comparisons, shape or numeric pattern recognition, and so on, all require some external information, and thus require certain education. Beyond that, even if the test does not require specific education, having certain information can make things easier. For example, as mentioned above, knowledge of the importance of sides, vertices and so on may make it easier to identify patterns in shapes than it would be for those alien to the study of geometry. Thus, intellectual ability, while it may exist as a potential independent of knowledge or education, cannot be measured completely in isolation. And thus, in the end, educational level will skew tests of intellect, and the liberal bias of modern schooling will cause it to appear the correlation between IQ and liberalism is greater than it truly is, if it exists at all.

Then there is the fact that, even if there might be a correlation, it tells us nothing about either the truth of liberal beliefs or the intellect of any given liberal. After all, one may be intelligent, one may even be a genius in a specific field, yet be incompetent in another. For example, Linus Pauling's famous, and completely mistaken, belief in the benefits of massive doses of vitamin C is not proved correct by his genius in other fields, and, likewise, Einstein's gift for physics does not mean that his personal politico-economic views are superior to anyone else's. Just because some brilliant men were liberals, or socialists, it proves nothing. Many brilliant men held conflicting views.

The similar error, that of assuming liberalism proves one to be intelligent, is akin to the mistaken reasoning of racist or sexist theories. Even if it could be shown, for example, that whites were more intelligent, or men smarter than women, it would mean nothing in terms of individuals. Just because one groups has an elevated average, any specific member can still fall anywhere on the scale. To draw an example from a less controversial subject, the mean height in the US (163.2cm for all Americans, 163.2 cm for black Americans) is higher than the mean height in China (160.1 cm on the mainland), that does not mean Yao Ming is shorter than Gary Coleman.  Similarly, even if it could be shown more intelligent people were liberal, it would say nothing about any given liberal's intellect. While it may please him to bask in the reflected glory of sharing views with someone clever, any given liberal could be just as foolish, or even more so, than the most foolish conservative.

It would not be hard to go on, as not only do the various studies have their own flaws, but the meanings assigned to them by various liberals go even farther in drawing erroneous conclusions. Whether or not there is a correlation between intelligence and liberalism, even if it could be shown to be something more than coincidence, or the result of various confounding cultural factors, in the end it says nothing about either the truth of liberal beliefs or the abilities of your average liberal. Taking it in the best possible light, all it tells us is that at a given time there are more people with high IQs who choose, at the time of the study, who choose to identify themselves as liberal. Beyond that, any other conclusions are just speculation.


* Recently I saw someone who put forth this argument citing a Time article, which is an odd choice, as the reporter actually questions the assumptions, even going so far as to question self-identification, though not going into all the possible issues I describe. At least these studies use IQ, which is a fair representation of actual intellectual capacity (as good as these things get at any rate), rather than other, less trustworthy proxies for intellectual ability.

** And I also know it was not a sign of declining aptitude because (1) aptitude is not supposed to change, being an innate trait and (2) scores on tests where I actually cared, SAT, GRE and LSAT, grew over time, SAT going from 1040 in 6th grade to 1440 in 10th, GRE at age 20 being 800/800/800 and LSAT at the same age being 48 of 48 (old scoring). So I definitely tested well when I cared.

*** It is funny to see them embrace IQ scores in this context, when they were so eager to dismiss them in face of the conclusions of The Bell Curve.

**** For example, German universities in the 19th and early 20th centuries tended to have strong royalist and nationalist tendencies. Most of the Ivy League schools had very conservative, protestant, upper middle class biases throughout the same era. Thus, it would be foolish to look at the modern era and assume liberalism always goes hand in hand with education. Education can be a bastion of free thinking, or of the status quo, and has been both at various times and places.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Telescopic Past

I know it is a long while past, but try to recall back when we first intervened in Afghanistan. Can you recall the criticisms raised by the Democrats? How this was the "next Vietnam", "a quagmire" and how getting involved would just create more terrorists? Remember how we were told we should have been seeking out al Qaida worldwide, not wasting time fighting the Taliban who had nothing to do with 9/11?

Now recall when we invaded Iraq. Suddenly we heard how Iraq was "the next Vietnam", "a quagmire", how it would just create more terrorists. We were told we should have dedicated our efforts to where the "real problem" was, Afghanistan, where we could find bin Laden and fight al Qaida, that Iraq and Saddam Hussein had nothing to with 9/11, unlike the Taliban.

At the time, I was inclined to dismiss this shifting, nonsensical set of positions as simply hypocrisy, to argue that wherever Bush concentrated, it would inevitably be seen by Democrats as the wrong place. And, for some, I am sure that was true, I am certain there were Democrats who simply dismissed the current was as a lost cause for strategic reasons, to set themselves up to blame Bush should another disaster strike, or should the body count rise.

However, I am now inclined to think there may have been something more to it, at least in terms of the rank and file Democrats. Unlike the leaders, or the extreme partisans who definitely had an agenda to pursue, the rank and file are, for the most part, relatively sincere. Granted, they may hold inconsistent ideas, may pursue certain goals more because it makes them feel virtuous than because it does quantifiable good, and so on, but by and large, the rank and file Democrats are just ordinary people and behave as you or I would, mostly honest in describing their motives, relatively straightforward in choosing their goals.

So, what allowed them to embrace this rapid, absurd shift?

It struck me today while reading some reviews of the failed Dr Who movie that Fox produced in the 1990s. To Dr Who fans, this movie was a disaster, to a man they denounced it as an abomination. And for a decade or more, there was little deviation from that assessment. However, since 2005 and the revival of Dr Who on television, more and more often we hear people finding reasons to forgive the flaws of the Fox movie, who will accept it as, if not good, at least as a sincere effort which was sabotaged by a number of very bad ideas.

In discussing this experience, a few fans on a website I visited had a good explanation. Before 2005, the tv movie was the last Dr Who fans expected to ever see, the last gasp at reviving the show, and so, when it went wrong, it was much more of a disaster than had the same flaws appeared in an episode in the middle of an ongoing series. Some compared it to Alien 3, which was horribly criticized by fans until Alien Resurrection appeared, at which time opinion seemed to become much more forgiving.

I think this explanation actually works to help explain why the opinion shifted so dramatically on Iraq and Afghanistan. As with the Dr Who explanation, the current happening is often exaggerated in our perspective. As I described in "All Life in a Day, or, How Our Mistaken View of History Distorts Our Understanding of Events" and "Catastrophic Thinking, The Political, Economic and Social Impact of Seeing History in the Superlative", whatever is happening now, in our lifetime, or even moreso at this moment, always seems much more dramatic, impressive, much larger than life. And so, for Democrats who were expecting Bush to lead us into a fiasco, it only made sense to see the current war in those terms, while imagining whatever war they have forsaken in favor of the current conflict must be the more important one. It is an absurd way to look at things, to always assume current events are much more significant than anything in the past, but it is also understandable. For better or worse, humans have a tendency to dismiss the past as unimportant and imagine the present is much more significant than it is.

I suppose for some this may seem self evident, a rather pointless discovery, or much ado over nothing. However, I think it is a very useful realization. It is something I have discussed before in a handful of contexts, but now, recognizing that it is close to universal, or at least has the potential to be universal, when humans do not trouble to make themselves evaluate things more clearly, it seems to me to be quite a useful means of explaining any number of common errors.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

How Wages Work

I was writing today about immigration, wages and employment (an essay I hope to post soon), and I realized that, in the past, when writing about wages I stuck pretty closely to the classical, or in some cases Austrian, arguments about wages, and why the market will inevitably tend to push wages close to the productivity of a given worker. It is a simple argument, and one that makes sense, at least superficially. However, as I thought about it more, I could see how some could find fault with it, as, though it is technically correct, as normally presented, it sounds wrong, mostly because it omits a number of steps in the process. As a result, the argument makes it sound as if employers have some sort of omniscience, or at least superhuman abilities when it comes to determining productivity. If you want an example, read my essays "Employment A to Z", "More Thoughts on Wage Disparities", "Capitalism and Its Consequences", "Competition", "Another Look At Exploitation", "Fairness and the Free Market", "Exploited Labor", "Capital Investment", "Exploiting Workers?" and "Two Sided Processes and Claims of 'Unfair' Outcomes", . In each essay my argument follows the same lines, and in each case it glosses over some very important steps. Allow me to demonstrate.

The basic argument is simple, and is used to argue against everything from antidiscrimination laws to minimum wage to, well, pretty much any intervention in matters of wages*. The argument goes as follows: There is no reason to try to force fair wages**, nor to assume the market must be run by ethical or virtuous people, as the market mechanism itself ensures that the greed of employers and employees will keep wages close to worker productivity***.

The mechanism is as follows. Assume I am employing individuals far below their productivity. It may be just employees in general, or women, minorities, whatever. If I do so, I am making a considerable profit. However, regardless of why I am underpaying, be it racism, sexism, simple greed, or come collaboration with my fellow employers to suppress wages, the fact is, there is a considerable profit to be made by paying slightly more than I am, thus poaching my best workers, and still making a considerable profit. However, those employers, if still paying less than a worker produces, will find themselves subject to the same poaching, and so on, and so on, until workers' wages are inevitably driven close to the value produced by their labor. It is a simple mechanism, and makes sense, except for one thing.

How does an employer know I am paying too little?

This where the explanation kind of falls apart. I was considering it in terms of immigrants and realized there was a considerable gap in the explanation. If I am an immigrant who just took a job, how do I know my employer is making $10/hr from my efforts and only paying $7? What would make me seek better pay? Or, from the other side, if I am a competitor, how do I know that my rival is paying only $7/hr to workers who should be earning $10? And if neither side of the equation has a means to figure this out, then how does the average wage get adjusted so that it rises toward the level of productivity? Unless workers and employers possess some magical sense telling them what workers are truly worth, and what they are being paid, the explanation above seems to fall apart.

But there is an answer. Profits. Rivals can tell when an employer is underpaying because of profits. Of course even that is not so simple. Fine, if you are a public company, your earning statements will reveal pretty clearly you are underpaying, but what about privately held companies?

Well, in those cases, there are more subtle signs. Your ability to undercut the competition, for example. Or the rate at which you expand. Maybe your ability to weather bad times when your rivals cannot. Or your ability to reduce prices charged when other cannot. In hundreds of little ways, companies earning above average profits can be spotted by those with an interest in doing so.

And once we establish a company is earning above average profits, there will inevitably be an increase in interest in that market, as those seeking better returns jump on the elevated profits they can detect in that industry. Now, granted, that will not immediately tell employees they are underpaid, and, while we speak of "poaching", in most industries employers do not directly approach the employees of a competitor. But, if there are new jobs to be had, and wages are higher, odds are very good at least one dissatisfied employee will discover it, and once that happens, word will spread. Which is all that is required for us to bring together underpaid workers and employers with higher wages, and get our argument back on track.

Obviously, there are other steps involved. Our employers need to identify who is underpaid (if it is not everyone), but that is handled, as is all employment, through a combination of interviewing expertise, educated guesses, references and trial and error. And we also have to determine how high wages really should be running, and may even, in some cases, for a time pay above the level of production. And then there are a few cases where the elevated profits are either an illusion, or the product of something other than substandard wages, meaning our investment is for nothing. But that is simply the way of the free market. As I have said before****, it tends toward the ideal, but it is not perfect. There are mistakes, false starts and all the other problems we find in all human endeavors. However, flawed as it is, the free market remains the best mechanism for producing the greatest satisfaction from a given pool of resources.


* A similar argument is used to argue against antitrust laws and laws against "price gouging", but in those cases, oddly, the missing steps are normally included, making for a much more convincing argument. See "Imperfect Competition, Abstraction and Anti-Trust", "The Difference Between Public and Private, Or, The Real Monopolies and Cartels", "The Problem of Antitrust", "Consumer Protection, Cartels and the Failure of Regulation", "Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is, Or The Logical Implications of Price Gouging Laws", "Price Gouging", "'True' Prices" and "Technology and 'Natural Monopolies'".

**  For a discussion of how the free market harnesses greed to the benefit of society in general. For a discussion of why I do not like the word fair, especially in this context see "One More Meaningless Word and Its Consequences", "The Most Misleading Word", "Luxury and Necessity", "Protean Terminology", "Semantic Games", "Can We Ban the Word 'Scarce'?", "Confucius, Aedes Aegypti, Pluto, Sub-Species, Conservatives and Republicans", "Misunderstanding Arbitrary Definitions", "A Brief Thought on Poverty", "We Have Won the "War on Poverty"", "The High Cost of Not Wasting Food", "Fiscal Discipline", "Misleading Terminology", "Be Careful When 'Sticking It' to 'Big Business'", "Peanut Butter and Disability", "Selfishness as Reason - 'Wants', 'Needs', 'Fairness' and Other Guises for Arbitrary Decisions" and "Weasel Words and Hollow Words".

*** See "Greed Versus Evil", "Of Ants and Men", "Moral For Me, But Not For Thee", "Big Box Stores and the 'Climate of Greed'", "Symmetry and Greed", "Competition" and "The Basics".

**** See "Government Quackery", "You Gotta Have Faith", "The Threat of Perfection", "Utopianism and Disaster" , "Government Quackery", "Misunderstanding the Market", "The Importance of Error", " Adaptability and Government ", "The Secret of Success, or, Why Government Fails", "The Case for Small Government", "Why Freedom Is Essential", "De Gustibus Non Disputandum Est" and "Third Best Economy".

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Global Warming Watch, Again

To continue my running joke from "Global Warming Watch" and "Odds and Ends", it appears Maryland is once again offering up tremendous evidence of the harmful effects of global warming. Yes, freezing rain on March 25. A sure sign of the end times and impending doom of mankind as the east coast turns into a lifeless desert.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

More of the Same

I am always amused by the left's (and some on the right's) view of foreign policy. They accept Foggy Bottom's support of Arab tyrants as part of their worship of "stability over all", but deride our support of the former shah, no different than the support we later gave to Syria, as "installing tyrants". In short, if we bolster anti-American regimes in the name of stability, it is good, but if support actual allies, it is installing tyrants. I just don't get it.

I write this because I came across yet one more example of this sort of thinking and had to make a comment. Here is the quote in question, from comments on another blog:
As horrible as 9/11 was… there was a reason for it.  Not a justification, mind you… nothing justifies the killing of innocent people… I mean that there were several reasons that led to what happened six years ago.  America’s blind support of Israel… which, in my opinion, is as much a terrorist state as any other in the region.  We earned 9/11 after nearly 40 years of our country molesting the Middle East for oil – installing corrupt madmen as puppet leaders, sensitive to our needs and desires… turning a blind eye to whatever suffering may have been the result.  We created Osama Bin Laden.  We created Saddam Hussein.  We trained them, installed them, funded them and then, in some way or another, whether truly or in their estimation, we betrayed them.  We’ve run up a killer tab with the middle east… and 9/11 was us paying up our debt.
I won't bother going into the most obvious error, that we did not "create Osama bin Laden", as that has been done quite well by However, I do have to point out that, in supporting Saddam, we were not so much "supporting a tyrant" as trying to weaken a different cabal of tyrants (the Iranian leadership) which showed every sign of wanting to "destabilize" (read as "conquer") the rest of the middle east. So, while Saddam was far from a poster child for freedom, we supported him because the alternative was to send in American troops, which the left would have decried even more, and possibly provoke a war with Russia as well, or else accept a ring of Shiite clerics ruling most of the middle east. Exactly how does that translate into us creating tyranny? For that matter, bin Laden's pretext for hating us, our involvement in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, was done at the request of the rulers of those nations, and done to protect their borders. In short, doing exactly what Foggy Bottom loves when the UN does it, but despise when it is done without their say so (or the say so of the blue helmet brigade). I just do not quite follow the logic here.

As far as Israel is concerned, I again will not bother. If you are convinced Israel is the devil incarnate, and cannot distinguish between accidentally killing civilians among whom terrorist hide and intentionally targeting civilians, then I am not going to say anything to change your mind. Those who accept the "cycle of violence" argument would probably see the struggle between the police and criminals in the same terms, after all, if the police arrest criminals it inspires other criminals to shoot police, so why not lay down our arms, right?

Sorry, I seem to be writing a bit more of an impressionistic piece than is my wont in this case, but this one really ticks me off, the idea that somehow we "brought 9/11 on ourselves" is such pernicious nonsense, I just can't write with my usual detachment.

Still, I think perhaps I should take a pause here, and promise to come back and write something a bit more cold and dispassionate, after all, even absurdities deserve a proper rebuttal. So, for now I am saying farewell, but with the promise I will return and address this fully in the very near future.

Monday, March 23, 2015

I Don't Know

There are three words that are heard so often when people answer honestly, and yet which are never heard in politics. Those words are "I don't know." Think about it, when was the last time you heard any politician at any level answer a question with "I don't know." Ask them anything from how the electoral college should work to what the optimal level of interest is to what regulations should be put on sugar imports, and politicians will have an answer for you. At best they will pretend they have an answer they just can't recall, more likely they will simply spout nonsense to appear knowledgeable. But never will you hear a politician admit he doesn't know the answer.

This is a bigger problem than most think.

The fact is, many political questions should be answered "I don't know", or even better :no one could know." What is the optimal import tax on sugar? There is no right answer. How many cars should we allow Japan to import? Again, no right answer. If our politicians were not so busy pretending to omniscience, they might stop for a moment and ask, if we are simply imposing arbitrary numbers on these things, what is the point? But, instead politicians do all they can to give the impression of being all knowing, and voters refuse to vote for anyone who does otherwise. In short, not only do we refuse to support anyone who tells us the government may not be the right answer to a problem ("Doing Something", "'Doing Something' Revisited", "Doing Something Revisited, Again", "With Good Intentions", "In The Most Favorable Light", "Grow or Die, The Inevitable Expansion of Everything", "The Right People, The Wrong People and 'Just Plain Folks'", "Madmen, Tyrants and Big Government", "Ritual Abuse, Backwards Logic and Conspiracy Theories") we even refuse to consider a politician who won't pretend to be an omniscient font of wisdom.

And we wonder why politicians lie. Or why voters have become cynical. ("The Presumption of Dishonesty", "Deadly Cynicism", "Self-Serving Cynicism and Our Cultural Immaturity", "O Tempora! O Mores!, or, The High Cost of Supposed Freedom", "An Immature Society") Maybe the world would be just a little bit better if voters stopped thinking of politicians as a combination of Dad and Santa Claus, always ready to get them out of a fix, or hand them a present, and if politicians were a little more honest about the limits of their knowledge. But whenever I suggest this, I am told expecting honesty and realism is somehow unrealistic.

I don't get it.

Big Government, Arrogance and Part-Time Psychopathy

Psychopaths are, or at least at one time were, defined as those who lack empathy, essentially those who cannot imagine other people are anything like themselves. I have argued in many places that those who believe in intrusive government exhibit a similar mindset. After all, those who favor, for example, gun control, would, if asked, admit they would never go on a shooting spree, or shoot someone when angered, but they argue that guns must be controlled precisely because "other people" would do those very things. In other words, they see themselves as superior beings, with the rest of us as these imaginary incompetent, unpredictable, potentially violent and foolish "other people" who must be guided by their enlightened insights. Nor is this strictly a liberal position, though I have to admit liberals tend to embody it to a greater degree than conservatives. (Conservatives often seem to have a love-hate relationship with this sort of part-time psychopathy, arguing the people are good and deserve to have their rights protected, then turning around and arguing that, were there no laws preventing drug use, prostitution, what have you, then those "other people" would behave horribly... The same other people they just argued were mostly like themselves. It is a position even less tenable than the liberal one, though I have to respect it a bit, as it does show a small amount of respect for others, before blowing it all away by painting "others" as degenerate wastrels.)

At one time I thought of writing an essay on a related topic, arguing that a lot of the nihilism, the tendency toward irresponsibility, teenage hypersexuality and a lot of other ills were mostly the result of children absorbing this mindset, this dismissal of "others" as those in need of control, and, as a consequence, essentially viewing the world as do psychopaths, at least part of the time. (I did make similar argument in a few of my essays on Romantic thinking and the harm it has done.) However, I never got around to it.

But today, I think I found the perfect embodiment of this philosophy, and a good indication of why I often argue it is so harmful. On a web page debating whether Joss Wheedon really is a feminist, I found this argument in favor of unlimited access to abortion:
I am pro-choice even in late term because I just don't believe life is THAT special.
Now, I have written before about my ambivalent feelings towards both extremes of the abortion debate, but even a relatively undecided moderate* like myself finds that a bit chilling. It represents the ultimate extreme of the us-them divide and points out the risks of such a belief. I am sure the speaker thinks HER life is special, so it means the life that doesn't matter is that posses by "them", that is "other people". In other words, she is going well beyond the conventional problem of seeing others as instruments rather than people, and seeing them as expendable. That is troubling in the extreme.

Though, as a demonstration of how bad politics can create a sort of "feedback loop", where bad social beliefs create bad politics, which create even more bad social beliefs, I doubt I could find a better example. At least I hope I never find a better example, this one is quite disturbing enough.


* To clarify, I am politically moderate. Personally, I am opposed to abortion as a choice in my own life (not that it is likely to come up, being both male and celibate since my divorce, but I thought I would clarify), my moderation comes when I am asked to decide what the law should say about the question. I won't go into here, as I have discussed the topic at length elsewhere, but I am still somewhat uncertain exactly what position makes legal sense. For example, if one argues life begins at conception, then that would make IUDs and other birth control that prevent implantation forms of murder. On the other hand, if one does believe abortion is unacceptable, I can't see how we allow exceptions for rape or incest. You can't murder someone because they were conceived in rape or by incest, so why would it change the status of an abortion? But, as I said, I have spent a lot of time on this, often picking apart the shoddy arguments from both sides, but have not yet formed a legal opinion with which I am happy.

One More Upcoming Post

When I put together the list in "Upcoming Posts" of new posts, I forgot to include one that has been on my mind since the end of last week. After reading a number of essays about the foolish "business process" patents that have been issued recently, even after the Supreme Court placed some pretty strong limits on them, I have begun to consider whether or not our entire system of copyright and patent may not need to be redesigned, or maybe even simply scrapped. I know this is a dramatic suggestions, especially since many defenders of property rights are strongly in favor of patent protection, but I have been giving intellectual property a lot of thought recently, and, to some degree, it seems there may be ways to gain the benefits we claim come from patent and copyright, without creating the many problems our current system does. (Eg. Fraud statutes could easily dot he same thing trademark laws do, if they clearly recognized that provenance is an important aspect of a product, and thus faking provenance constitutes fraud.) I am not saying I am coming down on the side of the anti-patent crowd, but I do have to wonder, is it not possible that our system contains some inherent flaws, some mistakes embedded in its very origins? And might we not do better to either just scrap it, or at least create something entirely different?

Well, that shall be discussed soon. Just wanted to give you a little preview so you would know what to expect.