Saturday, March 21, 2015

Scott Alexander vs Adam Smith, J.S. Mill, Alex Tabarrok, Don Boudreaux, David Friedman, Murray Rothbard, Jason Brennan, Elizabeth Warren, Geoffrey Brennan, Loren Lomasky

This seems to me overly optimistic. After all, back when only a tiny percent of the country was tolerant of homosexuality, it might be that church groups could raise a lot of money to enforce anti-gay laws, and gay people were mostly poor and couldn't raise very much money to defend themselves. I think I know what Friedman’s response would be, which is “Yes, and during that time in your real-world statist society, homosexuality was also illegal. Yes, you would have to wait for cultural norms to change before homosexuality would be legalized, but it would very likely be easier to do my way than yours.” I think he’s possibly right. - Scott Alexander, Book Review: The Machinery of Freedom
In 1973, when The Machinery of Freedom was published... what was the demand for anti-gay laws?  We don't know.  After 911, what was the demand for war?  We don't know.
The people feeling, during the continuance of the war, the complete burden of it, would soon grow weary of it, and government, in order to humour them, would not be under the necessity of carrying it on longer than it was necessary to do so. The foresight of the heavy and unavoidable burdens of war would hinder the people from wantonly calling for it when there was no real or solid interest to fight for. The seasons during which the ability of private people to accumulate was somewhat impaired would occur more rarely, and be of shorter continuance. Those, on the contrary, during which the ability was in the highest vigour would be of much longer duration than they can well be under the system of funding. - Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations
Was there a real or solid interest for Christians to fight for the enforcement of anti-gay laws?  This is the question that each and every Christian would have asked themselves if they had been given the opportunity to endure the complete burden of their morality.
They will not indeed submit to more labours and privations than other people, for the relief of distressed fellow creatures: but they make amends by whining over them more.  It is not difficult to trace this sort of affectation to its cause. It originates in the common practice of bestowing upon feelings that praise which actions alone can deserve. - J.S. Mill
Christians had feelings against gays... but would they have been willing to work longer hours to pay for their feelings?  Would they have been willing to put their money where their feelings were?
Overall, I am for betting because I am against bullshit. Bullshit is polluting our discourse and drowning the facts. A bet costs the bullshitter more than the non-bullshitter so the willingness to bet signals honest belief. A bet is a tax on bullshit; and it is a just tax, tribute paid by the bullshitters to those with genuine knowledge. - Alex Tabarrok, A Bet is a Tax on Bullshit
What's the total amount of money that Christians would have bet on anti-gay laws?  How much would they have been willing to gamble?
With respect, I respect any preference that reflects a genuine willingness of those with the preference to bear personally all necessary costs to indulge the preference.  But I do not respect ‘cheap’ preferences — preferences that are merely expressions backed-up with no personal stake in indulging the preferences. - Don Boudreaux, To Want or Not to Want
How many Christians would have been willing to personally bear the cost of indulging their anti-gay preference?
But market demands are in dollars, not votes. The legality of heroin will be determined, not by how many are for or against but by how high a cost each side is willing to bear in order to get its way. People who want to control other people's lives are rarely eager to pay for the privilege; they usually expect to be paid for the 'services' they provide for their victims. And those on the receiving end— whether of laws against drugs, laws against pornography, or laws against sex—get a lot more pain out of the oppression than their oppressors get pleasure. They are willing to pay a much higher price to be left alone than anyone is willing to pay to push them around. - David Friedman, The Machinery of Freedom
How much money would gays have been willing to pay to be left alone?
Only the free market, then, can determine different qualities or degrees of a service. Second, and even more important, there is no indication that for a particular taxpayer, the government is supplying a "service" at all. Since the tax is compulsory, it may well be that the  "service" has zero or even negative value for individual taxpayers.  Thus, a pacifist, philosophically opposed to any use of violence, would not consider a tax levied for his and others' police protection to be a positive service; instead, he finds that he is being compelled, against his will, to pay for the provision of a "service" that he detests. In short, equal pricing on the market reflects demands by consumers who are voluntarily paying the price, who, in short, believe that they are gaining more from the good or service than they are giving up in exchange. But taxation is imposed on all people, regardless of whether they would be willing to pay such a price (the equal tax) voluntarily, or indeed whether they would voluntarily purchase any of this service at all. - Murray Rothbard, The Myth of Neutral Taxation
How much money did gays have to pay for the enforcement of anti-gay laws?  How could anything over $0.00 be acceptable?
Democrats are not united in their moral and political outlooks. High information Democrats have systematically different policy preferences from low information Democrats. Rich and poor Democrats have systematically different policy preferences. Compulsory voting gets more poor Democrats to the polls. But poor Democrats tend to be low information, while affluent Democrats tend to be high information voters. The poor more approved more strongly of invading Iraq in 2003. They more strongly favor the Patriot Act, of invasions of civil liberty, and torture, of protectionism, and of restricting abortion rights and access to birth control. They are less tolerant of homosexuals and more opposed to gay rights. In general, compared to the rich, the poor—including poor Democrats—are intolerant, economically innumerate, hawkish bigots. If compulsory voting were to help Democrats at all, it would probably help the bad Democrats. The Democrats would end up running and electing more intolerant, innumerate, hawkish candidates. - Jason Brennan, The Demographic Argument for Compulsory Voting, with a Guest Appearance by the Real Reason the Left Advocates Compulsory Voting
The poor would have been willing to pay for anti-gay laws?  What would the rich have been willing to pay for?
There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.  You built a factory out there—good for you! But I want to be clear.  You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for.  You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate.  You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.  You didn’t have to worry that maurauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. - Elizabeth Warren
The rich wouldn't have spent their money on anti-gay laws because, according to Warren, they'd have spent their money on all the public goods that their profitable businesses depend on.  Markets work because the opportunity cost of tilting at windmills is always too high.
As was noted in Chapter 3, expressions of malice and/or envy no less than expressions of altruism are cheaper in the voting booth than in the market.  A German voter who in 1933 cast a ballot for Hitler was able to indulge his antisemitic sentiments at much less cost than she would have borne by organizing a pogrom. - Geoffrey Brennan, Loren Lomasky, Democracy and Decision
Everybody wants a free lunch.  If they didn't, then taxes wouldn't be necessary.

What would have happened if, in 1973, every taxpayer in the world had been free to shop in their country's public sector?

Gays wouldn't have spent their taxes on anti-gay laws.  Uh, what government agency was responsible for enforcing anti-gay laws?  The police?  So gays would have boycotted the police?  Police weren't just responsible for enforcing anti-gay laws though.  I'm pretty sure that they are responsible for enforcing all the laws.  We refer to police as "law enforcement".  Not, "partial law enforcement" or "selective law enforcement".

Maybe some gays really hated anti-gay law enforcement... but they also really loved anti-liter law enforcement.  Then what?  Soul-searching?  Perhaps not much of a dilemma in this case.

Gays definitely wouldn't have been the only people who detested certain laws.  I'm sure recreational drug users weren't fans of the anti-drug laws.  And jaywalkers weren't fans of anti-jaywalking laws.

Maybe a significant shortage in law enforcement funding would have encouraged the police to suspect that they could earn more money apart rather than together.  So the police would have been unbundled.  This law enforcement division of labor would have allowed the gays to only boycott the enforcement of anti-gay laws.  Gays wouldn't have been forced to throw the baby out with the bath water.

With law enforcement unbundled... gays would have been able to easily learn which country in the world had the least amount of demand for the enforcement of anti-gay laws.  Which country was it?  Maybe Denmark?  And then all the gay people in the world would have foot-voted for Denmark?  Probably not.  But chances are good that they wouldn't have foot-voted for whichever country had the greatest amount of demand for the enforcement of anti-gay laws.

In a pragmatarian system, as soon as some Christian saw the light (realized the opportunity cost)... they would have been free to immediately stop spending their own taxes on the enforcement of anti-gay laws.  Their enlightenment would have instantly made the public sector a little less dark.  Markets facilitate marginal improvements.  With the current system in the public sector... it's binary.  We either do... or do not... allocate society's limited resources to the enforcement of anti-gay laws.

What a primitive time I was born into.  Here I am scratching my head trying to figure out how to better explain the importance of knowing what the demand is for public goods.  Like having to explain the importance of fire... or a wheel.

Knowing what the demand is for public goods is important because then we can know what the fuck is wrong with the people in our world.  If it turns out that there isn't enough demand for conservation... then we'll know that people don't have information regarding the importance of conservation.   If people aren't free to put their taxes where their hearts are, then we really can't accuse them of having their hearts in the wrong place.

We can't make informed decisions without information.  And the demand for public goods is fucking important information.  In the absence of this information... we're all puppets tilting at windmills.

In a previous entry, or two, I argued that payments have two functions... compensate and communicate.  I pointed out that these two functions are inseparable.  But what in the world is compensation?  Isn't it just the opportunity to speak louder?

A market is basically people passing modular megaphones around.   The more money you earn... the larger your megaphone.

Boudreaux recently shared this passage...
When Richie [Rich] and his dad build a mansion, they use bricks, mortar, and cement that might have otherwise become part of a hospital, a community center or a housing development.  They hire masons, carpenters, and electricians who might otherwise have been employed building roads, shopping centers, or – with a little retraining – automobiles.  The food served at the Rich’s extravagant feasts is food that nobody but the Riches and their guests can eat; the fuel burned by their private jets is made from oil that will never heat their neighbors’ houses. 
But when Scrooge bathes in his dollar bills, the only thing he keeps from his neighbors is a lot of cheap paper.  As long as he hoards his money instead of spending it, there are more bricks and mortar, more ready workmen, more food, and more fuel for Scrooge’s neighbors to enjoy. 
There are some who get this exactly backward: They believe that lavish spending spreads prosperity, while a miser is a burden to the community. - Steven Landsburg, Fair Play
At first this seemed really right... but then it seemed kinda wrong.  The part about scarcity and opportunity cost is right... but then it seems to be making the argument that abundance is a function of saving.  It's commendable that Landsburg was trying to highlight the absurdity of liberal economics... but the way he puts it is somewhat misleading.

When Afghanistan Richie spends his money on bricks... then the owner of the brick factory is given a larger megaphone... some of which he passes on to this guy...

The guy in this picture is making bricks.  And the guy in the next picture is not using bricks... he's using stone instead...

Incidentally, the mortar in this wall was partly made from shit gathered by the girl in this photo that I shared in Subsistence Agriculture vs Sweatshops...

Having an abundance of shit is only desirable if there's an abundant demand for stone walls.   Because... we really don't want an abundance of irrelevant things.  This means that we only transfer our dollars/volume over to the people who are responsible for supplying relevant things.
It is thus that the private interests and passions of individuals naturally dispose them to turn their stocks towards the employments which in ordinary cases are most advantageous to the society. But if from this natural preference they should turn too much of it towards those employments, the fall of profit in them and the rise of it in all others immediately dispose them to alter this faulty distribution. Without any intervention of law, therefore, the private interests and passions of men naturally lead them to divide and distribute the stock of every society among all the different employments carried on in it as nearly as possible in the proportion which is most agreeable to the interest of the whole society. - Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations
Getting the balance right is what abundance is all about.  And we really can't get the balance right if we don't know what the demand is for public goods.

Afghanistan felt as if I had been transported back to more primitive times.  More primitive times?   What's primitive is having to try and explain to Scott Alexander why it's so important to clarify the demand for public goods.

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