Catallaxy Files

polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

email: jasonsoon AT



  • Jason Soon
  • Heath Gibson
  • Jack Strocchi
  • Andrew Norton
  • Sarah Strasser
  • Teresa Fels


Intellectual heroes



  • Centrist
  • Leftish
  • Statist quo/flaming pink
  • Sui generis
    Saturday, August 03, 2002
    Scottish Green Hindu Al Qaeda brigades
    James Russell who maintains the outstandingly quirky Hot Buttered Death blog links to this truly weird article and opines "I'm mystified as to why no one has beat the shit out of this guy yet." Me too, James, me too. But I'm also mystified as to how this guy's allegiances all fit together:

    SCOTTISH sympathisers of Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaida terror group are targeting American tourists in Edinburgh with a leaflet calling for the murder of US civilians.

    Al-Qaida supporter David Allison - whose actions were described as "stupid and irresponsible" by a spokesman for Edinburgh’s Central Mosque - has already begun distributing the leaflets on Princes Street.

    And he is planning to print thousands more leaflets supporting the architects of the September 11 attacks ...

    Mr Allison, a photographer and freelance computer expert, describes himself as a "political green" with Hindu religious beliefs. He warned that his group would be targeting US performers during the Fringe, adding: "There is an American band appearing at the Festival who we are planning to target by distributing these leaflets outside.
    Marx and Hayek
    What I'm reading this weekend: My general rule is not to read biographies of people whose works I'm not very familiar with. However I've decided to make an exception for the recent extremely well-written and fascinating biography of Karl Marx by Francis Wheen even though the only thing by Marx I've ever read in full was The Communist Manifesto (which was of course co-written). The book certainly piques my interest in reading more. Marx may have been wrong in many respects but he was no fool, to put it mildly. According to Alan Ebenstein's biography of Hayek (Chapter 29), Hayek praised book II of Marx's Capital in his LSE lecture notes, ranked Marx near Adam Smith in his contributions and admitted that his own Austrian over-capitalisation theory of business crises was influenced by Marx.

    Labour Lord Meghand Desai, author of this intriguing book also finds parallels between Hayek's and Marx's theory of capital and business cycles and their common interest in modelling the dynamics of capitalism. And of course the great Joseph Schumpeter thought very highly of Marx as does the highly original theorist on the economics of innovation Nathan Rosenberg, - in other words a lot of economists with more than a passing interest in the things that really matter to capitalism such as its innovativeness and tendencies towards periodic instability have found Marx rewarding.

    First off, well done to the English netball team, for making this mornings semi-final a game worth watching. With the Aussie team carrying some injuries and an English team boosted by a fantastic local crowd, the match looked like it could go either way right up to the end of the third quarter.

    The match started to turn the Aussies way at halftime I believe, with the injured McMahon bought on and Delaney (who had been shooting at about 50%) moved to Wing-Attack. With the Phoenix combination back in the circle, things started to improve.

    Down the other end, the English imports ( Teare, a former Melbourne Kestrals player and Steed, a former Kiwi player) where having a fantastic game. Teare in particular was landing some great long range shots. In the end though, the Aussie’s finished on top, but the margin was probably a lot less than most people would have predicted.

    The Australians now meet NZ in the gold-medal match. Given the Australian injuries, I think they are going to really battle, but hopefully they will come through. Go Aussie go!
    Plagiarism and other Cheating

    An interesting article this week on university students, plagiarism and other forms of ‘cheating’ the system. The media had a field day with this . “Four out of Five Uni Students Cheat”, was the SMH headline, whilst The Age version was “Students Happy to Cheat the System”. According to the research by Helen Marsden (a Uni of Canberra honours graduate), 41% of students in her research had admitted to cheating in an exam at some stage since starting university. This is quite alarming really and I’d love to know where the hell the exam supervisors were during all this.

    At first glance the figures on plagiarism seem even more alarming, with the SMH reporting:

    “More than 80 per cent of university students in a survey of nearly 1,000 have admitted to plagiarising work. .. The survey of students at four universities revealed 81 per cent of them admitted plagiarising work, with young, post-first year undergraduate students and males more likely to break the rules”

    This figure had me somewhat alarmed, but also intrigued. Just what was considered plagiarism? I got in touch with the author, Helen Marsden, and asked her what was the definition of plagiarism used.

    In the interest of netiquette, the full email won’t be reproduced here, However since it forms part of her publicly available thesis and research, I hope she doesn’t mind me reposting the following.

    >Plagiarism was operationalised according to standard university definitions,
    > and I asked questions about specific behaviours, which included:
    > Since starting university how often have you done the following:
    > * Copied a few sentences of material, and made minor changes, without
    > referencing the source in the paper.
    > * Copied large chunks of material, almost word for word, from text
    > books, library books or journals, and submitted it as your own work
    > * Taken other references from a journal article or chapter and added
    > them to your bibliography/reference list even though you didn't actually
    > consult them
    > * Been given another person's assignment from a previous semester and
    > passed it off, either entirely or in large part, as your own work
    > * Cited a journal article when only the abstract was consulted
    > * Taken a few sentences or a paragraph of material from academic
    > sources on the world wide web
    > * Purchased or obtained free assignments from the Internet and used the
    > whole or a substantial part as your own work

    So on this definition I’m amazed that result wasn’t 100%! Also – does anyone else find it somewhat ironic that the mass media are doing such a beat up on plagiarism given the record of the mass media in recycling stories. Will also be interested to see John Quiggin’s response to this, given his interest in higher education. Over to you John.
    Give Hicks a choice
    Paul Wright has some cogent thoughts about the deserved fate of 'suspected Taliban fighter' David Hicks which I agree with, but with one proviso. Firstly it's worth noting that we're all really only using the moniker of 'suspected' as protocol. I mean the guy was caught in Afghanistan with the Taliban. It's not as if he stumbled there by accident. As Paul says, he knew what he was doing, what he was fighting for, and that Australia was at war with his new friends.

    Now here's my starting point on this - treason is just about the worst crime you can commit against your fellow citizens. It amounts to wishing for the destruction of your society and the murder of all its citizens. A treasonous act fundamentally has this purpose in mind. A perfectly fit and just punishment for treason is capital punishment, whether it be by firing squad, gas, hanging or electric chair. As far as I'm concerned Hicks and the other Taliban Dundees are having a holiday over at Gitmo Bay. Before I go on, let me justify my position on treason further.

    Chris Textor has some intelligent things to say about capital punishment which I agree with, again with some provisos. Like Chris I don't think that the idea of capital punishment itself is automatically an unacceptable or repugnant one - we accept that for the sake of our common protection (which really is its most fundamental purpose) the State may lock people up. There is nothing in itself morally different from giving the State the power to lock people up for a long time compared to giving the State the power to kill people - and let's not forget one area where we are more than happy to let the State kill people - war. Some of my fellow libertarians may cringe at all this but I have never been a 'natural rights' libertarian. My libertarian tendencies have always arisen from consequentialism (for want of a better word) with a dash of Hobbesianism thrown in for good measure.

    As Chris says, the main thing that differentiates giving the State the power to lock people up for a long stretch from giving it the power to kill people for our common protection is that the latter is irreversible (well, at least for the moment anyway) so the costs of error are substantially higher. And because we rightly think that the State is generally a lumbering, clumsy error-prone beast, we'd be as naive as teenage Marxists to want to give it that much responsibility - as a general rule. But even here there's a bit of a blur. If you lock someone up for 30 years and then find he's really innocent you let him out and you compensate him to the upmost to make up for the disutility of his being locked up - it's not completely irreversible but then again in reality the guy is unlikely to be not as worse off even after you compensate him than before the start of his sentence. There's only so much you can do. Thus the argument against capital punishment is really a prudential one as far as I'm concerned rather than a moral one - using capital punishment to deter the sorts of crimes that generate a huge workload for our criminal justice system means increasing the number of occasions in which the State may stuff up in a really big way with very large consequences for people's lives. Murder is not exactly common but neither is it a once a year event. Thus there are strong prudential reasons against applying capital punishment even to crimes that seem to merit it, like murder.

    Naturally you know what I'm going to say next. Treason is a lot more rare than murder (though given the current circumstances its incidence may well increase, but probably not by much more to give it any way the same frequency as your usual domestic murder story). The amount of resources that could be used to ensure the evidentiary burden of the State to properly prove its case for capital cases is going to be very large but feasible nonetheless if distributed over the not too frequent incidences of treason in a normal society - whereas this would not be feasible for something like your 'normal' homicide at least if the current record for policing and the number of homicides is anything to go by. Thus if an Al Qaeda operative decided to blow up the Sydney Harbour Bridge (and hopefully this will never happen) I will continue agreeing with Chris's prudential arguments against capital punishment but at the same time I would have no qualms in seeing capital punishment applied to the bugger caught doing it. There will still be an incidence of error even in treason cases but if it is 0.01 and this is multiplied by, say, 10 treason cases (treason cases rarely come up so let's assume those 10- happen over 10 years as a worse case scenario) that's a pretty meaningless number. If 0.01 is multiplied by the number of normal homicide cases in a year, that's a much bigger number. Thus I would want to see that every effort had been made by the State to prove they really had their man in a case of treason/domestic terrorism. If this is properly dicharged, he can go hang.

    Naturally you know what's next - treason in the battlefield seems to involve a much more dischargeable evidentiary burden that treason of the domestic terrorism sort. Were you caught in Afghanistan? Did you have a gun slung over your shoulders? Were you planning to snipe at Australian soldiers? Were you holed up with certain charming men who whipped women for not covering themselves with ballroom curtain drapes? 'Yes your honour'. "Guilty, next case'. Thus my opinion that Gitmo Bay is too good for Hicks and the other losers there. If he were in Australia, he would be charged with treason, which, for the reasons I have stated, should be a capital offence. There is, however, one other alternative.

    One ingenious argument has been advanced by those reflexively anti-goverment rather than pro-freedom paleolibertarians over at Lew Rockwell who join in the far-left chorus lauding John Walker Lindh and Hicks as victims of government oppression. For instance, the charming Joe Sobran who belongs to this paleolibertarian contingent and is not averse to speaking at conferences for Holocaust 'revisionists' has argued that people like Hicks and Lindh have forsaken their original citizenship rights and should not be charged under the laws of their countries of origin:

    Just as I consider I have the right to defend my country from attack, I consider that Lindh had the right to defend his adopted country. He was no terrorist, by any stretch of that rubber word, and he had no part in the September 11 attacks on American soil.

    Many Americans wanted nothing less than a death sentence for Lindh. They consider him a traitor who owed his allegiance to the United States; the press describes him as “a 21-year-old Californian,” never mind that he left California in his teens (having been born elsewhere) and considers himself an Afghan.

    Don’t we have the right to emigrate? Is this the Soviet Union? So Lindh skipped the tedious paperwork and inconvenience of changing his citizenship under U.S. law. That’s a technicality that doesn’t affect his moral right to leave. So why all the moral indignation?

    Very well, then, here's the perfect solution for all those Hicks and Lindh groupies out there. And a way to get out of being charged for treason which would, in my ideal world, entail being hung, electrocuted or shot before a firing squad. (But according to Sobran's argument doesn't that mean that Hicks has forfeited his citizenship anyway? Why then do we give a toss about him? Obviously Sobran's arguments are directed at Lindh who is a US citizen) Let's give Hicks and Lindh and the rest of that lot a choice. They can stay at Gitmo Bay or they can go back to Afghanistan, where the highly civilised Pushtun people will undoubtedly treat them better.

    Friday, August 02, 2002
    Days of our lives, Pushtun style
    Steve Sailer links to this tragi-comic farce of a story which has all the trappings of a soap opera set in a hellhole:

    A bizarre procession crept through the Pakistani village of Abba Khel last Wednesday evening. It was the finale of a double wedding, but it seemed more like a funeral march. The older bride, 17-year-old Wazira Khan, was weeping inconsolably. The younger, her 14-year-old cousin Tasneem Khan, had to be hauled by force from her parents’ house.

    THE TWO GIRLS were on their way to consummate their marriages—Wazira to her 83-year-old great-uncle Atta Khan and Tasneem to her great-aunt’s 55-year-old son, Maher Khan. Tribal custom—and a family blood feud dating back nearly half a century—gave the girls no choice. Consenting to the union was the only way the girls’ families could save their fathers from being hanged.

    This once again occured in the autonomous tribal regions of Pakistan, the same place where that recently publicised 'punishment via gang rape' took place. Pakistan's not exactly getting very good press nowadays which is a real pity since it is also a prodigous exporter of skilled professionals to Western countries. This latest scandal has nothing to do with Islam nor is it representative of Pakistan, where the vast majority of people are Punjabi Indians, not the Pushtun tribes involved in these goings-on. It must be remembered that the Pushtun tribal regions are essentially self-governing. Funny arrangement in a way - Pakistan, a metropolis one day (well, sort of) and the Middle Ages the next. The Pushtun are of course the same people who have turned Afghanistan into the paradise that it is. I remember reading Robert Kaplan's Soldiers of God which I thought was more than a little fawning in its praise of the Afghan mujahideen, one bit where Pushtuns described the Punjabis as 'effete urbanites'. Well, the tribal Pushtun are your classic noble savages so beloved of Western anthropologists. The trouble with noble savages is that when you get a closer look at them they don't look too noble do they?

    Thursday, August 01, 2002
    New Format

    I've made the posts column a bit wider. If you don't like it, let me know.
    A Difficult Issues

    Commenting on anything to do with pedophelia is a risky business. Unless one gives 100% support for the victim and prosecution of alleged offenders, one runs the risk of being smeared as a pedophile or a sympathiser. Which is why I can’t imagine many commentators daring to touch this article with a barge pole. For my mind, this article should remind us that basing consent purely on age may be problematic. Read the article and make up your own mind.
    Miranda Devine advocates economic vandalism
    That's right, the Australian right wing journalist in a diatribe against four wheel drives has this to say:

    ... we have to rely on good old Harold Scruby to keep up the fight. He has been bombarded with hate email from 4WD owners, he says. But one good sign that his campaign is working is the phone call he received yesterday from an irate Hornsby 4WD dealer: "Why are you trying to drive me out of business?" the man yelled.

    If only.

    Let me make my own interests in this clear. I don't drive so perhaps you could argue I'm not adequately looking at this from the perspective of someone who does and regards 4WDs as a danger to the roads. However I know people who drive (obviously) and their safety does figure into my utility function. At the end of the day the fact that someone has particularly silly vanity-driven reasons for owning a 4WD and driving it around the city should no more be discounted as a source of utility of owning such vehicles than other more 'legitimate' reasons for owning a 4WD. Clearly there is a market for them among urban dwellers and clearly there are gains from trade. Banning them from use in the city seems a drastic reaction when compared to alternative solutions.

    Devine seems to think that it is difficult to attribute tort liability to people involved in such accidents. I haven't adequately researched this to know if it is true but if it is, it seems that a proper clarification of the duty of care involved in owning such vehicles or even a strengthening of this duty of care relative to that imposed on other vehicle owners is the way to go. Do that and let incentives do the rest. That's what tort law is for.

    Incidentally I have been dwelling on this topic lately because I've recently been working on a project related to this set of issues, namely a report relating to this inquiry which promises to uncover an interesting debate. In the process I have been reading this which is not only relevant to the inquiry but also touches on very crucial aspects of debate on the legitimate role of government. Something I suspect Third Wayers and even John Quiggin would find to be an intriguing source of material in support of their respective positions.

    Wednesday, July 31, 2002
    Quiggin on capitalism and socialism
    John Quiggin has a post on various attempts to define capitalism and socialism so as to determine whether one or the other is winning. I agree with most of his analysis that such debates use terms that aren't very operational. I tend to take such statements with the necessary grain of salt they deserve and discount the rhetorical excesses. In my view it's irrelevant from a normative perspective which is 'winning' anyway - political winners aren't always the optimal outcomes and if one's favourite cause is winning does that make arguments for them less compelling?

    As for where I stand on all the definitions explored by Quiggin, I'd say that using this definition of capitalism:

    'Capitalism is a system where economic decisions are made in response to individual preferences as expressed through markets

    we are all capitalists now, including most of the mainstream Left but that this really means very little as far as debates over specifics go. That is, I think the debate on the Left has long moved on and most of them understand that a crucial role is played by the price mechanism in coordinating a social order whereby our needs can be met. The ideal is to satisfy individual preferences as expressed through markets and where markets fail, to design policies that capture those preferences. After all, it was the Marxist theorist Oscar Lange who proposed that arch-free marketeer Ludwig Von Mises deserved a statue in his honour because "It was his powerful challenge that forced the socialists to recognize the importance of an adequate system of economic accounting to guide the allocation of resources in a socialist economy." Thus I would argue that most disagreements between the Left and the Right on economics ultimately boil down to disagreements on one's interpretation of the facts - the respective weightings one places on political failure versus market failure, where to draw the line (ultimately almost all public policy boils down to line-drawing exercises doesn't it?) and so on.

    To be specific, most people who call themselves social democrats or democratic socialists no longer believe in command economies and prefer markets to command economies and the real debate is about degrees of regulation. There is a hard core minority in the Left however who do not understand how markets work at all and don't want to have anything to do with markets because they think it has something to do with commodification of relations, whatever that means (but such people should perhaps then be better off joining forces with the Christian Right who share these views in regard to prostitution and pornography and IVF).

    By the same token most of the mainstream right, even the libertarian right are not in favour of Robert Nozick's idea of the nightwatchman State for instance, which is in any case an incoherent ideal (with the exception of people who have come to libertarianism specifically through right-theory rather than some form of consequentialism). Why then do differences persist? Because humans are heuristic-followers and it is the respective heuristics of each camp (e.g. about market failure vs government failure, private rent-seeking vs political rent-seeking) which lead them to different conclusions even though they share the same starting points. Which is all a big relief really because there is no need to fight over interpretations of facts which in the course of research and experimentation be settled one way or the other, a far cry from the Wars over Religion which was the inspiration for a Hobbesian view of the world.
    Enlightenment values on the left and right
    Wonders never cease. The good lefties at Spiked (which used to be called Living Marxism, mind you) publishes a piece by David Kelley of the Objectivist Centre (these are the non-Randroid Randians as opposed to the Randroid Randians at the Ayn Rand Institute) on Islamicism vs modernity which makes one frequently overlooked point:

    The world of the Middle Ages, built around the world-view of Christian Scholasticism, was a society of religious philosophy, feudal law, and an agricultural economy. Out of this soil, the Renaissance and Enlightenment produced a substantially new society of science, individualism, and industrial capitalism. When we examine the wider context of Islamic terrorism, it is clear that a hatred of modernity is its driving force.

    The cultural foundation of this new society, if we state it as a set of explicit theses, was the view that reason, not revelation, is the instrument of knowledge and arbiter of truth; that science, not religion, gives us the truth about nature; that the pursuit of happiness in this life, not suffering in preparation for the next, is the cardinal value; that reason can and should be used to increase human wellbeing through economic and technological progress; that the individual person is an end in himself with the capacity to direct his own life, not a slave or a child to be ruled by others; that individuals have equal rights to freedom of thought, speech, and action; that religious belief should be a private affair, tolerance a social virtue, and church and state kept separate; and that we should replace command economies with markets, warfare with trade, and rule by king or commissar with democracy.

    It is therefore misleading to call our civilisation Christian, even though that remains the largest religion in terms of adherents. The West may still be a culture of Christians, by and large, but it is not a Christian culture anymore. It is a secular culture. And that is what the Islamists hate most about us.

    (emphasis added)
    Ironically, as Kelley points out, anti-modernism is itself a modern development and is not unique to traditional Islam - Islamicisn isn't so much about an unselfconscious religious devotion (which is why something like Sufi Islam, strains of which can be found among Asian Muslims doesn't really pose a threat whether within Western society or outside it) as a self-consciously anti-Enlightenment ideology which is a mutant of strains picked up from the West itself:

    Anti-modernism is not unique to the Islamic world. On the contrary, it arose in the West in the middle of the eighteenth century, just as the Enlightenment was coming to full flower. Jean-Jacques Rousseau held that feeling, not reason, is the essential human capacity and civilisation the chief cause of human woe. Since we cannot return to our former innocence, people should be forced to submerge their individuality in collective life. Rousseau's ideas were a source of inspiration for the French Revolution, especially the Terror, and have shaped the thinking of subsequent collectivist theorists.

    Anti-modernism flourished in myriad forms throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Romantic movement elevated feeling over reason and 'unspoiled' nature over the new industrial economy. Socialists wanted to restore a communal society, as did many conservatives. Religious revivals swept through Europe and America periodically. And everyone - aristocrats, bohemians, and philosophers alike - denounced the bourgeoisie as selfish money-grubbers. Anti-modernists laid the intellectual and cultural ground for the rise of totalitarian societies in the twentieth century ...

    In all its forms, even on the avant-garde Left, anti-modernism aims to restore pre-Enlightenment values and ways of life. And in all its forms, even on the conservative Right, it is a reaction against the Enlightenment and is thus essentially new. Fundamentalism, for example, is not simply a revival of traditional Christianity, which was much more intellectually sophisticated. Fundamentalism was created in the early twentieth century by Protestants who opposed Darwin.

    Islamist movements are of similarly recent origin. They were created not by illiterate Egyptian peasants or nomads in the Arabian desert but by educated people, most of whom were middle- or upper-class. Many of the intellectuals, like Qutb, had lived and studied in the West. Especially after World War II, they were deeply influenced by Western anti-modernists like Martin Heidegger. They read the works of historians like Oswald Spengler who predicted the decline of the West. They read The Wretched of the Earth, by the French Marxist and existentialist Franz Fanon, who urged Third World activists to use revolutionary violence.

    Conversely, the postmodern Left has frequently embraced the Islamists. Michel Foucault, the French thinker who attacked Western rationalism as a mask for power, welcomed Khomeini's Islamic revolution in Iran as a triumph of spirituality over capitalist materialism.

    Which is why we are seeing such a fundamental realignment today, for instance with New Republic-reading Democrats and Reason-reading libertarians finding they have more in common with each other than either has with Lew Rockwell-reading libertarians or Counterpunch-reading lefties.

    Tuesday, July 30, 2002
    An enigma wrapped in a riddle
    Are we witnessing the first ever documented nervous breakdown via Blogspot or is this just a cunning plan to get more hits? Only time will tell ...
    Give it a rest, Sully
    Andrew Sullivan is still going on and on about the New Yorker's praise for the movie Tadpole and now he's linking it to some actual child sex case:

    In a case in Washington State, a woman gets prison time for a sexual relationship with a fourteen year-old boy. Both families are wrecked; and a young life is in jeopardy. I wonder whether Anthony Lane thinks this is the best a kid can get. Or if Mary Eberstadt even noticed.

    For God's sake, Sully it's a frigging movie and to repeat - if one is going to get so hung up about it how long before he starts to condemn the wonderful writer Mario Vargas Llosa for writing this book? Or call for a bonfire of the movies of Agnes Varda because she produced 'La petit amour'? I thought Brits were supposed to be more sophisticated than Yanks. Will that idiot woman Mary Eberstadt apologise already for her comments on gay pederasty just to shut Sully up and get him back to writing more sensible stuff? (wasn't the offending article a year ago or something? some people have long memories)
    The market fundamentalism furphy
    John Quiggin commends this article by Benjamin Barber. Lord knows why. It is the usual mess lumping together conservative politicians' rhetorical excesses about the supposed importance of their free market reforms (IMHO Paul Keating was a far more radical and sound pro-market reformer than Margaret Thatcher), sound regulatory reforms which dismantled statutory barriers to entry or created institutions such as access regulation to facilitate greater resale-based competition in natural monopoly industries, policies about how to treat stock options, loosening of prudential regulations which may or may not have been justified by information asymmetries, silly ideas about polling and a farrago of esoterica all into one amorphous beast called 'market fundamentalism':

    Market fundamentalism, which defined the era of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, encourages a myth of omnipotent markets. But this is as foolish and wrong-headed as the myth of omnipotent states, which reigned from the New Deal to the Great Society. It tricks people into believing their own common power represents some bureaucrat's hegemony over them, and that buying power is the same as voting power. But consumers are not citizens, and markets cannot exercise democratic sovereignty.

    The ascendant market ideology claims to free us, but it actually robs us of the civic freedom by which we control the social consequences of our private choices. We are unlikely to achieve a genuinely public and democratic plan for the World Trade Center site, for example, by polling the myriad private interests with a stake in the development of the site. Democracy is more than consumer polling. It demands the consideration not only of what individuals want (private choosing) but also of what society needs (public choosing).

    This is the usual waffle you encounter in op-eds written by 'philosophers' on serious policy issues which require an understanding of various technicalities. No attempts to even justify particular discrete policies or the specific merits of specific policies at least on some implicit consequentialist or cost-benefit analysis basis, identify who advocates which policies (presumptions extend to people of his same philosophical bent - is everyone on the Left equally supportive of Kyoto for instance? are there no meritorious arguments against it? are there no principled arguments for unilateralism whatsoever?), no recognition that there are distinctions between particular policies, no recognition that there are separate considerations in the domestic and international sphere - no instead propose some general zeitegist, allude to the fact that some trend on a domestic basis is indicative of a similar 'trend' on an international basis and can all be explained by some common philosophy and then discredit the whole bundle by creating some coy artificial dichotomy that characterises that philosophy that makes you sound sensible, wise and all knowing- for instance

    Market fundamentalism, which defined the era of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher , encourages a myth of omnipotent markets. But this is as foolish and wrong-headed as the myth of omnipotent states, which reigned from the New Deal to the Great Society

    Philosophers who write about public policy matters are very fond of these silly nominalist tricks which add no more insight after one's reading than before and which clarify nothing. I'd much rather read the take of even a left wing policy wonk like Paul Krugman on this (that is, when Paul Krugman isn't himself trying to sound like Maureen Dowd). None of what I'm saying is even a left-right thing - for instance, Barber's references to 'public and private' choosing is a barb which would as much be directed against economists like John Quiggin. Conventional economists don't distinguish between 'what individual want' and 'what society needs' insofar as 'public good' considerations are ultimately still about the effect that one individual's actions have on another individual's utility function which aren't being captured by the price system. On the other hand if this is all he means then some people whom Barber would characterise as 'market fundamentalists' merely because they advocate some policy which he applies his silly nominalist tricks to have adopted the same starting point as the non-market fundamentalists and come to different conclusions based on their intepretation of the facts. So what does he mean and does it even matter?
    All on board, the Titanic sails at dawn
    What is no longer news to any Crikey subscriber is that its founder, Stephen Mayne has joined the Australian Democrats. My response to this is 'What a waste of $45'. Why the hell would anyone want to join those wooly-brained losers, especially now? How does the former Kennett staffer feel about the fact that the Democrats are against Sunday trading for instance? Talk about going back to the1950s ...

    The Democrats are made up of the dregs of the middle class, and Labor is (or was) made up of the cream of the working class. I genuinely have a lot more respect for the Labor party - at least it has Mark Latham and it has produced politicians who made a genuine contribution to public life such as Bob Hawke, Bill Hayden, Paul Keating, Peter Walsh and John Button, especially in weaning Australia off the protectionist tit.

    Monday, July 29, 2002
    Artificial markets and catallaxy
    In the course of reviewing a few recent books on fishing rights, former reform chief under the NSW Greiner government Gary Sturgess makes some thought provoking comments on the reform process in general and the role played by 'artificial markets':

    Science writer Mitch Resnick has created a computer programme, StarLogo, to assist high school students in understanding self-organising systems. Students are able to create virtual communities in which simulated life-forms communicate with one another directly and through their surrounding environment, unintentionally creating higher-level order.

    But as an instruction tool, StarLogo contains an internal contradiction—how can a computer that has been deliberately programmed demonstrate truly self-organising behaviour? Resnick’s answer to this challenge is that in StarLogo, the programmer controls the actions of the individual ants but not the colony as a whole: ‘You are acting as a designer, but the resulting patterns are not designed.’ This is true, but Resnick himself is the ‘super-programmer’, having created the environment and specified the meta-rules within which the students and the ants interact. Has he demonstrated a significant form of self-organisation after all?

    Resnick’s Dilemma is a challenge for liberal policymakers—what role should the state play in constructing (or deconstructing) self-organising systems? It is a dilemma that has faced every policymaker who has ever had the opportunity (and the responsibility) of meddling with the basic coding of a physical, economic or social system ...

    Liberals are uncomfortable with bureaucratic solutions that would involve them in deep and ongoing intervention and detailed regulatory recoding, not unlike central planning in a socialist economy. But liberal economists have been quick to embrace bureaucratically (and politically) designed market solutions—artificial markets where the rights to harvest fish are exchanged—on the basis that some self-organisation is better than none.

    In most cases, these markets are not themselves self-organising. They have been created by government fiat and they bear the imprint of the politicians and planners who called them into existence. They are a real world version of StarLogo, a game in which policymakers make up the coding of an artificially-constructed community.

    Built markets of this kind are not entirely without merit. They possess some capacity for self-organisation, and society gets some order for free. And where government has no alternative but to intervene in a failing system, or where the regulatory regime has become too complex for command-and-control, then artificial markets may be preferable.

    But there is nothing inherently virtuous about markets. All that an economist needs to create a market is for government to create property rights and allow exchanges to occur. In the 18th century, England helped to create an international trade in human beings. China could make its one-child policy more efficient by creating TBRs (‘tradeable baby rights’), but that would make it neither liberal nor just. New Zealand and Iceland have created ITQs (‘individual transferable quotas’) in certain fish species, but only by failing to respect the collective rights of traditional fishing communities.

    Another reason not to go along with the Iraqi war
    Steve Sailer links to this Washington Post article which explains why actual experienced military personnel in the US are less enthusiastic about the coming adventures in Iraq than some armchair generals in the blogosphere:

    A major goal of U.S. policy in a post-Hussein Iraq would be to prevent the creation of an independent state in the heavily Shiite south, or an independent Kurdish state in the north. To fulfill U.S. promises to Turkey and Arab states that Iraq would remain whole, a defense official said, "I think it is almost a certainty that we'd wind up doing a campaign against the Kurds and Shiites."

    Yes, you heard that right. One war leading to possibly two more. Getting into a battle with those poor bastards, the Kurds, is one thing but do people realise the implications of getting into a second battle with the Iraqi Shiites if the idea is not to split Iraq into two or more territories? Do Hezbollah and the Ayatollah Khomeini ring a bell?(Yes I know the Ayatollah is dead but I am alluding to the virulence of those types - remember the whole drama with embassy hostages?) Do we want to go there blindly?

    For once I am in total agreement with the anti-war Left and the paleolibertarian right on something.

    Sunday, July 28, 2002
    Muslimpundit returns
    ... after a long hiatus with a long and detailed post on the meaning of jihad. Will we be seeing some vigorous debates between him and our home grown apologist for fundamentalism Amir Butler?




    < Home  |  Archives