Catallaxy Files

polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

email: jasonsoon AT



  • Jason Soon
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    Saturday, September 07, 2002
    "She'd be a Cardinal if only she wasn't a woman"
    The mysterious Bargarz compares Janet Albrechtsen to the easily caricatured Angela Shanahan and finds the latter wanting:

    Janet's writings are always a lot kinder to the mind that the tortured ravings of the perpetually outraged Angela Shanahan. Yesterday [referring to this week's Shanahan drivel in the Australian], Angela treated us to another rant about dire threats to Life as We know It - this time about late onset parents. Delving into her bag of generalisations, we get another sermon from the mount of wisdom. Her source this time? A couple or flustered parents she happened to see in the shoe store. In Angela-land, if only women got married straight out of school and got to proper work spitting out kiddies, they'd be happier and all the world's problems will be solved.

    She'd be a Cardinal if only she wasn't a woman

    Good one! I was starting to wonder if I was the only one who finds Shanahan's writings horrid and embarrasing, or maybe I was just the only sucker who actually bothered to read them.
    Some balanced discussion on Islamicism and Islam
    In the same issue of the AIJAC Review, Greg Barton, biographer of the world's most famous blind, liberal democratic Muslim cleric, Abdurahman Wahid, has a very good piece on the difference between Islam and Islamicism in Indonesia:

    One of the most helpful and accurate terms to emerge in recent years is that of ‘Islamism’. Islamists, or those who hold to Islamism believe that Islam can and should form the basis of political ideology. Handled with sensitivity, the term ‘Islamism’ is one that both ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ can relate to with a reasonable degree of common understanding. Which is considerably more than can be said of terms like ‘fundamentalism’ and ‘radicalism’, both of which can be profoundly ambiguous.

    If Islamists find in Islam something of a blueprint for political engagement, non-Islamist Muslims find nothing more specific than values and principles. A significant minority, however, find in these core values of Islam a counter-argument to Islamism. They argue that not only should Islam be first and foremost a personal faith, it should also accept and respect differences of opinion, commitment and practise. They embrace terms such as ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ fully aware of connotations of these terms in post-enlightenment western thought.

    Where Islamists tend, to varying degrees, to problematise the relationship between Islam and western conceptions of modernity, liberal Islamic intellectuals find an essential congruity between western Judeo-Christian thought and Islam ...

    The majority of santri, or ‘practising’ Muslims in Indonesia (and who represent around a half of Indonesia’s total population) are affiliated with either the Modernist, urban-based, somewhat scriptualist mass-based organisation Muhammadiyah or the largely rural, mystical, somewhat syncretic, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). Both of these massive organisations, the largest of their kind in the Muslim world, are moderate and tolerant in orientation. Both organisations have important links with political parties but strive, nevertheless, to remain non-partisan. The majority of their members, though rather more in NU - with its roots in traditional Sunni scholarship with its pragmatic quietism - than in Muhammadiyah, reject Islamism.
    Nazis find a new home
    Jeremy Jones of the AIJAC Review has been closely monitoring the Sydney Indymedia website:

    In July, those seeking an "independent, alternative" opinion courtesy of this site would have seen a revolting graphic which attempted to ram home the calumny that children are "slaughtered according to Jewish rites", with the illustration accompanied by such commentary as "the Jewish culture is about thievery and back-stabbing evilness", Jews have a "duty to take everything from all non-Jewish people in the world", that "in the past they would kill non-Jewish children for human sacrifices according to ‘Jewish rites’ if you look close this is still part of their behaviour", and concluding "we must remove these Jews for all their victims they feed on before they get to the point of destroying the entire planet".

    Days later, this, and a series of comments "inspired" by it (e.g. "get rid of the fucking Jews and there is no more problem"), remained on a site which had in the past quickly removed material deemed by the "collective’ which runs it to be offensive.

    In early August, a contributor bravely suggested that genuine progressives should understand that Israel has a legitimate argument for its existence. The replies which were allowed to be published and to remain for some time on the site, included "fuk off and die jew bitch and quit lieing" and "kill all zionazis DEAD KABOOM!!!".

    Shortly after, when a poster argued that it was wrong to blame all antisemitism on Jews, he received responses such as "zionazis are subhuman scum" and told that as a "zionazi whore" he should "shut" his "trap" ...

    As I write this article I have Sydney Indymedia open on an article, "Jewish operated Child porn/Murder ring busted in Thailand", where the word Jew is added as a descriptor for individuals who are involved in criminal offences, without any evidence that the individuals involved were indeed Jewish and no reference to the irrelevance of any ethno-religious labels to the item.

    Anti-Jewish or anti-Zionist? You decide.

    Friday, September 06, 2002

    That most un-politically correct of women, Rachel Lucas, is at it again. Today her rant is about how Berkly campus will be commemorating September 11,

    “The University of California at Berkeley (where else?) will be holding a 'Sept. 11 Day of Remembrance' next week. And I wish they wouldn't. Perhaps they'd be better off holding a 'Day of Learning How to Not be Such Stupid, Liberal Jackasses.'

    You see, they have banned some things from their 'Day of Remembrance.' Like the songs "Star-Spangled Banner" and "God Bless America." That's because those songs are too patriotic. And divisive. And political. And heaven forbid, one of them mentions God. ..”

    But it doesn't end there

    “The American Flag will be banned at the 'Day of Remembrance,' as well, because according to Quindel,
    "The flag has become a symbol of U.S. aggression towards other countries. It seems hostile." “

    I’m sure you can all imagine the rant which follows.
    Christian Democrat wants more porn on TV
    We're talking Sweden's Christian Democrats, of course, not Fred Nile's Christian Democrats in Australia (courtesy of Hot Buttered Death):

    Christian Democrat Teres Kirpikli says not enough babies are being born in Sweden.

    She believes that putting porn on television will put couples in the mood for sex.

    The 35-year-old mother of three told Expressen: "I want more porn on TV. For example every Saturday, all day. That will give people the lust to have sex." ...

    "There is nothing wrong with a married couple watching porn together. I have done it with my husband many times, and it was good."
    The future of economics
    My favourite 'postmodernist' economist Deidre McCloskey (see 'Knowledge and persuasion in economics' which she wrote in her previous incarnation as Donald McCloskey) defends the profession in the lair of the wolves, issue no. 15 of the mainstream-hating Post-autistic economics review. but not without conceding too much ground. I think McCloskey is being much too harsh on game theory and recent developments but it's worth reading nonetheless:

    “Theorist” has come to mean in economics “guys trained in Mathematics-Department math.” (I note again that this Hilbert/Bourbaki style has nothing, nada, rien to do with the sort of math that physicists and engineers actually use to investigate the world; go have a look at The Physical Review and you’ll see what I mean.) Since the “theorists” so defined can’t do anything else (like give a substantive course in economic history or in urban economics), they get assigned to first-year graduate courses. It’s their comparative advantage, considering that the department has made the mistake of hiring them in the first place.

    The result has been a catastrophe for economic education. Most economists arrive on the job without knowing how to think like economists. In fact they’ve been specifically and elaborately trained by the “theorists” not to think like economists, but to think like Hilbert/Bourbaki mathematicians, though of course to a childishly simple standard..

    If graduate courses taught “micro theory” in this sense—namely, ideas about how to show this or that effect in an economy, quantitatively—economists would be good scientists instead of bad philosophers. Some of the economists, admittedly, survive the first-year courses and go on to actually think about economic ideas and to measure their oomph in the world.

    It just won’t do, therefore, to say as Guerrien does that price theory (as we Chicago types prefer to call it) “obviously contradicts almost everything that we observe around us.” Huh? When OPEC (viz., Saudi Arabia) cut the supply of oil in 1973, didn’t the relative price of oil rise, just as a simple supply-and-demand model would suggest? And when the population of Europe fell by a third in 1348-50 didn’t the ratio of wages to rents double, just as a simple production-function-and-marginal-productivity model would suggest? The point is that both of these can be made as quantitatively serious as you want. They are real scientific ideas. If you want to see hundreds upon hundreds of such examples, see The Applied Theory of Price---or, indeed, the serious scientific work of any serious economic scientist, someone actually trying to measure the oomph of an effect: Robert Fogel, say, or Moses Abramowitz, or Simon Kuznets (their teacher).

    James Galbraith, writing in the same issue, has other ideas and seems to think neoclassical micro should be gotten rid of.
    How the progressive Left used to think about culture ... and why so many have given up thinking this way

    Popper regarded the dissolution of the Habsburg Empire as an unmitigated disaster and held nationalism, especially German nationalism, responsible. His response to the predicament of the Jewish liberal and progressive syntheses of German nationalism and cosmopolitanism was to reject both German and Jewish nationalism in favour of uncompromising cosmopolitanism. This was an extremely rare response. It required an individual to give up both Jewish and German identity. Such radicalism left Popper a permanent exile, a citizen only in an imaginary Republic of Science. He freed progressivism from ambivalence about nationalism ... but still inherited progressive dilemmas. He was just as impatient, as they had been with multinational diversity. As an anti-nationalist, he defended diversity in the strongest terms, but it existed almost by default, a result of humanity's failure to realise cosmopolitanism fully. Discounting all national, ethnic and religious identity as culturally primitive and politically reactionary, Popper posited a universalist vision of the scientific community and the Open Society where none of them counted.

    ~p. 53 of Karl Popper: The formative years
    Robert Fisk Redux

    The Associated Press reports from West Yellowstone, Mont., that "a grizzly bear attacked a group of animal-rights activists . . ., mauling a 38-year-old man."
    From the Wall Street Journal’s Best of the Web.
    More on liberal universalism
    Tim Dunlop takes issue with my espousal of liberal universalism and my wish that people would be better off if the "Rest were like the West":

    As Jason Soon says, in the name of individuality, we should all be the same. Moving from a reasonable condemnation of the stoning of a Nigerian woman, he suddenly morphs into conformo man, in almost precisely the way his idol Hayek warned was inevitable with socialist thinking ...
    Don't find fault: get with the reprogram. A bit of cultural genocide is all we need, as Jason continues

    I'm not sure what he has in mind when he says that we should 'all be the same'. In my commentary I was indeed mixing personal preferences (which I would not impose coercively) with preference that different societies throughout the world adopted liberal-constitutionalist-democracy.

    Here is my personal preference: Would I rather live in a world where people don't stone other people to death or blow themselves up or exclude themselves for the sake of the Volk or some stupid myths concocted by feuding desert nomads? My answer is yes. Do I advocate 'cultural genocide' in the sense of putting guns to people and forcing them to be secular cosmopolitans? No. However I do believe that the inevitable consequence of adopting Western political institutions is that something like the former outcome will be set in chain and I make no apologies for it. And I think it desirable that in the long run peoples like the Nigerian peoples live under Western liberal constitutionalist democracy.

    In what sense is the West universalistic? In the sense that it has always been a mix and match culture. It takes what works. It has so far as I know a greater capacity to do this than other cultures. It does not homogenise. Far from it. It produces things like jazz music and literature that appeals to peoples of all cultures. There is more heterogeneity in the typical Western society than there is in most non-Western ones.

    As a general presumption, I advocate an Open Society in the sense of the word used by Karl Popper. Like John Stuart Mill I welcome experiments in living within a pluralistic, tolerant framework. In such a framework there is only one major constraint on the ability of people to form their own experiments in living (though as a matter of practicality in paying taxes and so on there may be other constraints, these would be as applicable to people from other cultures) - that of consent of the people to whom these experiments apply to live according to the mores involved. The line is drawn for instance at female genital mutilation which most certainly does not involve consent on the party being mutilated. Muslims are free to be Muslims in Western society in a manner that Christians or atheists would not be free to be Christians and atheists in a Muslim society. They admittedly would not be as free in that they would not be able to demand tribute from the infidels around them as prescribed in the Koran - but as a matter of comparative institutional analysis one system clearly is better at accomodating different interests than another. In that sense the Western culture/system has a greater capacity for reconciling different ways of life than other cultures and systems, all within a set of political institutions with the main aim of diffusing and separating power as much as possible so that no one 'experiment' is forced on anyone and we do not end up back in the days of warring religions.

    This has implications for its superiority as a matter of stability, ability to innovate, enhance the well being of people within it and so on.

    It is in this sense that I believe along with Francis Fukuyama that Western liberal democracy represents the end of history - a sort of long term stable equilibrium - in the sense that just as the principles of bridgebuilding have universal application whether in Nigeria or Australia so too do the principles of statecraft (for want of a better word). (Isn't it an irony that some of the most pro-Western people around aren't even of Caucasian descent? What does that say for Tim Dunlop's snide comment that such sentiments are all about "angry white people"?)

    I suppose this really goes back to a fundamental disagreement - do cultures have a right to exist regardless of their value to individuals? No. If a culture is undermined because it is forced to live as it would be in a Western society in proximity with other mores so that people from culture A may change teams to people from culture B because people are allowed under a Western system to 'opt out' of their cultures[1], well - tough luck. If this is cultural genocide so be it - though cultures are unconsciously evolved and not within the planning of any one individual, this is a separate point from the normative point that cultures should serve individuals, and not the other way around.

    [1] Of course they are not allowed to 'opt out' of the undelrying Western cultural framework that prevents them from, say, demanding tribute from other cultures nor would they be allowed to change the system to do so because of the separation of State and civil society implied by Western institutions. However, as I say, these are fairly minimal requirements for living under a system that sustains the maximal number of different ways of life - it becomes almost a meta-culture which people of different cultures should rationally agree to abide by. They are free to convert in the sense of persuasion other people over, of course. and get over the problem that way.

    Thursday, September 05, 2002
    What revolution?

    Ok - I was able to guess by the questions what kind of revolution I would be, but they were probably the answers I would have given anyway.

    What revolution are You?
    Made by altern_active

    Razib K the biochemist of Gene Expression has now produced installment 3 of his musings on the connection between Christianity, liberalism and western culture complete with 27 footnotes. Go read. Will some think-tanker give this guy some sort of Fellowship or something?!
    Silly quiz result:
    I am proud to announce that I am

    What revolution are You?
    Made by altern_active
    Certain nefarious lefty polemicists may continue to cheekily refer to this blog as the Catallaxy Collective, but there's nothing collectivist about a collaborative venture. Such things are the essence of capitalist economies which thrive on constantly shifting boundaries of cooperation and competition. When I first started this last year it was just me, then Heath started emailing me profusely with various comments about entries and I decided he may as well be a co-blogger. Then I gradually took on more people - it happened in a completely unplanned manner until it became the groupblog that it is, much like a welfare state heading down the road to serfdom (that was a joke, Tim). It now spans a reasonably broad ideological range although all still roughly within the classical liberal-libertarian proximity. Though my classical liberal tendencies have never been hidden, it was of course my intention not to have a blog that merely shoved these in one's face or preached to the converted. Ideology is always boring and classical liberalism should be treated as a paradigm or a research program as Hayek saw it, not an ideology.

    There have in fact been numerous right of centre groupblogs around for quite a while. Among the more noteworthy ones (and I should state as a caveat that liking a blog does not mean endorsing all the opinions therein) are the heterodox and always thought provoking Gene Expression which seems to be mostly written by two polymathic, obsessive and slightly crazy scientists of Indian descent; Libertarian Samizdata and the NRO's Corner. Now, if only Reason and The New Republic would start up their own.
    Teresa asks what I and Ken think of the Esso case. Well, to be honest not much because I haven't been following it closely. Though knowing the firm I work for, it probably has its fingers in it on one side or the other. Hey, maybe like the plaintiff lawyers I have a vested interest in the current tort system after all! But seriously, I'll leave this issue to Ken if he has been following it.
    What do Jason and Ken Parish think about the issues raised by the Esso class action which is about to commence? Should plaintiffs be able to recover for indirect economic loss (ie foregone profits)? The case is significant as the law on this issue is presently unclear in Australia and in most jurisdictions. The traditional reasons espoused against recovery for indirect ec. losses are:
    1. the 'floodgates' argument
    2. potentially v high damages that could be awarded against defendants may induce excessively risk averse behaviour by potential defendants.
    3. lack of 'proximity' between a tort and harm flowing from it
    4. tortfeasor's inability to foresee and therefore control harm (ie they shouldn't be liable for conduct beyond their control).

    Idiotic moral equivalence argument of the week

    From an article by Chris Puplick, explaining why he should have more power:

    Alan Jones derides the Muslim community for not commenting on the stoning of a woman in Nigeria. Yet I have never heard Jones demand that our American community come forth to protest against the death penalty whenever it is applied in the United States.

    Update on tort
    Ken Parish has a different slant on the Ipp report. His strongest argument that the measures may not be as bad as they seem is that courts would tend to interpret the 'obvious risk' exemption narrowly. I suppose insofar as that measure goes, that's the crux of it really, for Ken acknowledges that what is an obvious risk is not always so obvious, especially in cases such as adventure tourism, where there is still great asymmetry of information between buyer and seller (and little prospect of efficient Coasian bargains being struck - unless one interpret the Coase theorem into a realm of extremely narrow relevance).

    Since Ken is an academic lawyer, I will defer to his judgement that maybe in practice the reforms aren't as bad as they sound. Nonetheless an important point remains. The Ipp report cannot itself be blamed for looking at ways to restrict negligence claims since that essentially was its working brief. But was the reason for this objective justified to begin with?

    As Ken notes:
    ... the effect of all these proposed amendments will be to shift risk and cost from the business/professional and her insurer (and therefore the immediate customers, since the insurance costs are passed on in the price), so that they will now be borne in part by the injured customer alone (to the extent they lose income, suffer a long term incapacity etc) and in part by the taxpayer (because the victim's medical costs will be paid by Medicare and they are likely to end up on social security benefits if they suffer a long term incapacity). Is there a clear public interest in the taxpayer subsidising risky recreation businesses (especially when it may have adverse effects on the operators' willingness to conduct the business in the safest reasonably possible manner)? Perhaps, if it contains insurance costs and thereby allows such businesses to remain viable where they otherwise would have to close down.

    Is it efficient to in effect subsidise the production of high risk recreational services which in effect means diverting more resources into this area relative to other areas of the economy and by extension necessarily creating more accidents and accident related costs that are then externalised onto the taxpayer - as part of a social bargain with the insurer (who was supposed to be responsible for the insuring of these matters) whereby lower premiums are passed on? Will this in fact happen?

    Tort law, especially its recent developments may make it more difficult for insurers to calculate reserves, thus adding to the volatility of the insurance pricing cycle - but insofar as this is the main cause of current problems rather than levels of litigation (though the Australian Plaintiff Lawyers Association obviously has a vested interest in this, this is what its own research seems to suggest also), then it is a problem of information collection and risk management - problems better addressed by measures such as pooling of insurance purchases and certification measures for buyers (e.g. community organisations).
    Freedom v social justice
    You argue that
    The sorts of arguments made by Hayek and Sowell have in my mind satisfactorily demolished the coherency of visions of applying some notion of distributive justice on society. They are, however, irrelevant against liberals and social democrats with more modest ends.
    there is no clear evidence that any degree of redistribution of incomes per se is inconsistent with the rule of law or a liberal social order. The question is the degree of redistribution, the extent to which it induces rent-seeking and so on and these are ultimately empirical and contingent matters and not matters can be determined a priori.

    You seem to think that because you do not want complete equality of outcome that would destroy freedom, it is alright to have a little bit of social justice. My point is that there is a trade-off. Even a little ‘compensatory justice’ reduces freedom.

    You may prefer a little more social justice and a little less freedom – especially when it is your concept of social justice that is to be achieved and other people's freedom that is to be sacrificed.

    Still, you want “compensatory justice for past government actions”. That’s a pretty big role for government – and one that is self-perpetuating. Many of our current problems come from past attempts at compensatory justice (such as welfare policy).

    My other point is that government may not use the powers you would give it to promote your concept of justice.

    Wednesday, September 04, 2002
    Burning down the village to save it
    The faith that the federal government has invested in addressing recent steep rises in public liability and professional indemnity premiums by reducing tort caseloads and limiting tort liability is extraordinary.

    Perhaps more extraordinary has been the lack of solid analysis behind the Ipp Report that was recently delivered to Senator Coonan recommending quite problematic and radical watering down of consumer protections and tort victims' rights.

    Among the more problematic - a new uniform statutory time limit barring damages claims lodged more than three years after discovery of an injury due to negligent conduct; barring of damages actions for injury or death suffered while taking part in a recreational activity resulting from an ‘obvious’ risk associated with that activity; and removal of the right to sue for damages for personal injury or death under section 52 of the Trade Practices Act (TPA), which covers misleading and deceptive conduct.

    Take the obvious risk exemption: Lawsuits are barred regardless of any agreement between the business owner and the customer where this exemption comes into play.

    Society has an interest in the proper management of risk associated with various activities insofar as this minimises the incidence and costs of accidents occuring. Negligence law achieves this through the finding of liability for negligence against a party after the event. Such findings assign responsibility for managing the accident-related risks of the implicated activity to the party that at the time of the accident would have the greatest ability and opportunity to do so. Even though this assignment is done after the event, the basic idea is to create incentives for individuals engaged in activities that involve the possibility of accidents to take as much care as possible – so as to avoid an adverse legal finding that either makes them responsible for the costs suffered by another party; or disallows claims for accident-related costs they suffer against other parties.

    The ‘obvious risk’ exemption created by the panel’s recommendation undermines the very basis for such incentives. As the panel itself concedes, it is an ‘obvious risk’ that the proprietor of a recreational service may be negligent. Yet, it is in order to give proprietors the incentives to properly manage the accident-related risks of the services they supply that one would want to allow claims on the basis of negligence even if such negligence is an obvious risk.

    Note that what the recommendation rules out is not just an automatic finding of liability on the part of the proprietor (such strict liability with the exception of cases where statutory warranties apply does not exist under current law anyway) but any possibility that proprietors would be held liable in cases of ‘obvious risk’. This new presumption goes against the socially desirable presumption that the risk should be assigned to proprietors, who have every advantage over consumers as the most appropriate risk managers for the services they provide in terms of both information and control over the circumstances encountered in provision of these services.

    Unfortunately, the principles of efficient risk-management seem to be the last thing on the minds of the Review panel. In response to concerns expressed that many of its recommendations go against these principles, the Panel argues that “… other considerations of importance need to be taken into account. These include the inherent value of personal autonomy, and the desirability of persons taking responsibility for their own actions and safety.” However, surely the instrumental value of the principle of the personal autonomy if respective parties in ensuring that the responsibility for risk management gets properly allocated is equally important?

    To put things in perspective, the US has also grappled with such problems in the past and the conclusions of many US economists have been by no means ambiguous that increases in tort caseloads or increases in liability payouts have been the main factor for affordability crises in liability insurance.

    To take but one example, see Harrington, S. and P. Danzon 1994, ‘Price cutting in liability insurance markets’, Journal of Business 67(4): 511-538 which argues that cycles of over and underpricing of premiums may be inherent to the insurance market because of different internal standards /requirements for solvency or differing amounts of information as between firms. In other words, the sorts of premium rises seen in Australia which followed many years of consistent under-pricing (in retrospect) may simply be an inevitable consequence of periodic market failures.

    This in itself is insufficient to show that increased tort caseloads and liability payouts have nothing to do with the 'crisis'. It is also possible that this cyclical pattern may be exacerbated in magnitude and volatility by the vicissitudes of tort law. Nonetheless insofar as there are other explanations which may be as if not more important, this surely reduces the net benefits of policies aimed solely at curbing the rights of tort victims (whose costs will ultimately be picked up by the community, imparting an implicit subsidy to immune business owners) since it reduces the confidence that, as Senator Coonan seems to expect, insurance companies will suddenly pass on lower premiums as a consequence. If it's corporate welfare that the government wants to impart, there are more transparent and less costly ways to deliver this. And though there may be other good reasons for tort reform nonetheless, people latching onto this particular problem as a means of advocating these reforms are being intellectually dishonest and are setting a bad precedent for public policy formulation.
    Predictable we ain't
    While Alex and I who are nominally libertarian are slugging it out over the inheritance tax, AA and consumer protection laws (I've probably been excommunicated by now for my numerous heresies), Ken Parish, who is starting to sound like a member of the Lavoiser Group gives his fellow social democrat John Quiggin a belting over the carbon tax. Which just goes to show that there are more than enough things to fight over regardless of labels.
    Quoting Hayek
    Alex Robson responds to my latest missive by quoting Hayek against me on inheritance taxes. True, he did reject the idea, but notice how he rejected it. On the very same page he says of private inheritance:

    our concern here is whether the fact that it confers unmerited benefits on some is a valid argument against the institution. It is unquestionably one of the institutional causes of inequality

    At the risk of repeating myself for the umpteenth time I have already noted that I do not oppose unconstrained freedom of bequest merely on the grounds that they confer 'unmerited benefits' though I have not been averse to quoting libertarians who have made such arguments. My argument has always been a purely pragmatic one that there are no more damaging effects from using steep inheritance taxes above some threshold of bequest than from using, say, steep income taxes - and possibly there might even be less damaging effects. In a previous post I argued:

    The sorts of arguments made by Hayek and Sowell have in my mind satisfactorily demolished the coherency of visions of applying some notion of distributive justice on society. They are, however, irrelevant against liberals and social democrats with more modest ends.

    Now, note too something else that Hayek writes on the same p. 91:

    In the present context we need not inquire whether liberty demands unlimited freedom of bequest

    Sounds like Hayek is a lot more open minded than Alex. He obviously didn't say 'A free society and the maintenance of limited government depends on unlimited freedom of bequest'. It sounds to me that he does leave the question open. But knowing Hayek, that's not surprising.
    Question I asked Francis Fukuyama at his recent talk in Melbourne:

    You've said that the future is democracy and market economics. Do recent corporate collapses alter your fundamental views or are they merely part of a downward business cycle? Do they reveal something more deeply wrong with the system ie that our resources are in fact being allocated by a crony capitalist mechanism which invokes notions of market economics as a moral justification for corporate power? If the latter, will market disciplines resolve these problems or are other actions required such as greater shareholder activism enforced by compelling pension funds to take a more active fiduciary role, law enforcement by corporate regulators etc?

    His answer: it is just part of a downward business cycle.

    Great moments in uber-libertarian hyperbole
    According to Alex Robson the fact that I don't support an unrestricted freedom of bequest makes me a 'dictator' who wants to abolish private property. Gee, now we know that primogeniture was a Stalinist plot and Britain used to be a Stalinist country.

    Alex's recent hyperbole reminds me of this little gem by Ayn Rand in a letter she wrote to Rose Wilder Lane:

    ... there is one general rule to observe: those who are with us, but merely do not go far enough are the ones who may do us some good. Those who agree with us in some respects, yet preach contradictory ideas ... are definitely more harmful than 100% enemies. As an example of the kind of "almost" I would tolerate I'd name ... Mises. As an example of our most pernicious enemy, I would name Hayek. That one is real poison
    Consumer beware:
    Alex Robson takes issue with the ACCC because of its scatching attack on the recent Ipp report on the law of negligence. I would be interested in knowing whether Blogistan's libertarian equivalent of a Randroid has actually read the Ipp Report or whether he is pontificating from his armchair with his Dogma Book on his lap with all the little libertarian 'dos' and 'don'ts' - Do attack any restriction on contractual freedom regardless of the underlying economic issues, Don't support any redistributive policies regardless of the incoherency of distinctions between pure public goods and social insurance, etc.

    The Ipp Report is lamentably deficient in analysis and facts and has some little gems like these ones:

    4.18 The Panel is of the opinion that for the purposes of this provision, the definition of 'recreational services' contained in clause 2 of the Trade Practices Amendment (Liability for Recreational Services) Bill 2002 does not provide a suitable model for a definition of 'recreational services' and of 'recreational activities'. This is because the provision we recommend is wider in its operation than clause 2. The effect of clause 2 is merely to remove the barrier erected by section 68 of the Trade Practices Act 1974 against contractual exclusion of the warranties implied by section 74 of the Act into contracts for the provision of recreational (and other) services. By contrast, the provision we are recommending excludes liability for the materialisation of obvious risks of recreational activities regardless of any agreement between the provider and the participant to this effect.

    5.45 The ACCC opposes any reduction of the level of consumer protection provided by the TPA. Its opposition is based on concepts such as 'the economics of accidents', 'the optimal allocation of risk', and 'efficient management of risk'. The Panel accepts that all these are valid considerations. But we do not view personal injury law solely as a regulatory mechanism or a risk-management tool. The Panel believes that, consistently with its Terms of Reference, other considerations of importance need to be taken into account. These include the inherent value of personal autonomy, and the desirability of persons taking responsibility for their own actions and safety.

    Para 5.45 is obfuscation at its finest.
    Furthermore if Alex does not think there is any value to laws against 'misleading and deceptive conduct' I wonder why he is so outraged by the ACCC's defence of such laws. Surely he should be indifferent whether they are abolished or not?
    A legacy of welfare

    Just in case I am misinterpreted – I do agree that criminal behaviour is mainly influenced by environmental factors and is not genetic. Otherwise we would be in trouble in Australia, given that our original population was selected for its criminality.

    But black crime is a legacy of slavery! Give us a break. The key problem that faces the US black community is family breakdown. More than half of black children live with one parent (and the absence of a father is linked to boys engaging in crime). This breakdown only started in the 1960s – with the expansion in welfare policy, changed divorce laws etc. Until then, blacks were more likely to be married than whites in the US.

    Or perhaps the welfare dependent underclass here is a legacy of transportation.

    The mythical Iraq-Al Qaeda link:

    Alex Standish, editor of the UK journal Jane's Intelligence Digest - required reading for war-watchers and war-makers everywhere - thinks US intelligence officials are making 'a big mistake' on Iraq.

    'They are trying to convince us of something that is highly unlikely', he says. 'If they really believe that Saddam is feeding and sustaining bin Laden's men, then they can't possibly understand the fundamental difference between Iraq and al-Qaeda.' ...

    According to Standish, Saddam may be seen as mad by many in the West, but he'd have to be literally mad to offer support to bin Laden and co. 'I can't see any reason why Saddam, coming from a Arab nationalist, fairly secular background, would have any interest in supporting or promoting an extremist and militant religious ideology that would ultimately be opposed to everything he has ever stood for.'

    'You can think whatever you like about Saddam', says Standish, 'but he's not so foolish that he would threaten his own region's stability by financing the extreme and violent likes of al-Qaeda. Yet in the face of a complete absence of serious evidence, intelligence officials are suggesting that Saddam might one day provide al-Qaeda with weapons of mass destruction'.

    As for the claims that there are al-Qaeda members inside Iraq with or without Saddam's knowledge - 'possibly', says Standish. 'But there are people in Britain who support al-Qaeda. That doesn't mean Tony Blair is in contact with Osama bin Laden.'
    I agree with Tim Dunlop broadly, and am sorry to have offended him by my somewhat provocative opening statement!

    However, I didn't even mention right and left ; in fact, Jason Soon and most others see me as 'liberal left'!

    I was just trying to make the point that a lot of poverty would be eradicated by implementing genuinely free market policies. A decision by the ACCC that opposes a merger may do more good than a whole lot of charity work by the Salvos. True free trade is another example of something which would improve the plight of the 3rd world. Primary produce markets in Europe, Japan and US should be opened up. This would benefit a lot of poor countries. Unlike Tim, I do think production should occur where it can occur most efficiently (ie cheaply) although ideally all externalities should be factored into the costs faced by the enterprise. I strongly opposed TRIPS as it was an example of a WTO policy (by no means atypical) that raised the costs to the poor of using technology for no corresponding benefit. I do favour some system of IP rights, but I think we have the balance hopelessly wrong.

    I was trying to make the point that advocates of the poor should devote more energy to focussing on these issues. Maybe WTO etc would make better decisions if there were most concerted obbying for truly free trade rather than people campaigning against 'globalisation'.

    With friends like these ...
    Janet Albrechtsen makes some good points in her latest screed about the Left's failure to distinguish between criticisms of militant Islam and Islam per se, but then she diminishes her own message by equating the backward and misogynistic mores of particular formerly tribal societies with Muslim-sanctioned practices.
    Unintended consequences
    Mark has just below written a fine post discussing ideas such as equality of opportunity and 'cosmic justice' (a term from Sowell) in response to my recent posts on inheritance taxes and affirmative action. A fine post indeed but one rather misdirected. I am familiar with all the arguments raised and the precursors to these arguments in Hayek's work on social justice. However none of my arguments have had anything to do with promoting equality of outcome.

    The argument about AA is simply one about compensatory justice for past government actions using an admittedly blunt instrument. As I said, I see it as the equivalent of pre-emptively dealing with the sorts of issues that could potentially be dealt with in a class action lawsuit - even if such a lawsuit would not have a snowball's chance in hell of succeeding it is imperative on liberals to deal with past government injustice.

    The argument about inheritance taxes, though I was cheeky in using rhetoric about rich people on welfare, is not part of some overarching scheme to equalise outcomes - again the debate is simply about considering uses of alternative instruments to achieve some of the same outcomes liberal democracies aim for today which are widely accepted by classical liberals, with the argument simply being an inheritance tax of some sort could achieve a lot more bang with little effect on incentives if it was evasion-proof.

    There may have been allusions to fairness in Stelzer whom I quoted but quoting someone does not mean 100% endorsement of that person's views but you won't find a single reference to an overarching theory of cosmic justice or fairness as the underlying reason for my proposals.

    The essence of it is simply that
    i) I don't believe in 'natural rights' which are basically nonsense on stilts and so can't rule out the idea of some abridgements of property rights on grounds that they simply 'violate' those rights;
    ii) I share Mark's general presumption that there is some point beyond which the quantity of regulatory and direct transfers by governments between citizens gets to be a mess (like a Hobbesian free for all, except replicated in the political sphere) and like an 'arms race' everyone would be better off if people surrendered some of their claims to entitlements
    iii) Nonetheless, there is no clear evidence that any degree of redistribution of incomes per se is inconsistent with the rule of law or a liberal social order. The question is the degree of redistribution, the extent to which it induces rent-seeking and so on and these are ultimately empirical and contingent matters and not matters can be determined a priori. To simply say that redistribution is analogous to theft may be a colourful metaphor but doesn't contribute much.
    iv) The sorts of arguments made by Hayek and Sowell have in my mind satisfactorily demolished the coherency of visions of applying some notion of distributive justice on society. They are, however, irrelevant against liberals and social democrats with more modest ends.
    Equality of opportunity and cosmic justice

    Jason, there’s a lot I disagree with in your recent postings. But the major disagreement comes from different conceptions of equality of opportunity – and ultimately what Tom Sowell would call different visions about the nature of man. (I will draw extensively on Sowell in this posting – especially his “Conflict of Visions”).

    You seem to define equality of opportunity as equalised probabilities of achieving given results (e.g. in wealth, employment, education) – which may well require compensatory advantages to some. Differences in family wealth, education, cultural orientations and past opportunities interfere and must be overcome. (Ironically, Jason wants affirmative action to overcome problems created by past government policies – which themselves were often well-intentioned). Specific interventions are needed to equalise either prospects or results.

    The family is seen as the source of unfair differences rather than institutions for raising responsible citizens

    Essentially your meaning puts the imperative on greater equalisation of material conditions – even if that requires the government to restrict the discretion of others in the marketplace (e.g. by inheritance taxes or affirmative action). Although is couched as equality of opportunity – ultimately it is about equality of outcomes, as unequal outcomes are taken as evidence of unequal opportunities.

    Underlying this view is the pursuit of what Sowell calls 'cosmic justice', a more accurate description than social justice as it seeks to mitigate pre-existing inequalities that arise not only from society but from factors beyond society's or anyone's control, such as being born into different families or historical events not controlled by anybody or any society. It seeks to correct not merely the deficiencies of society, but of the cosmos. Crusaders for social justice seek to correct not merely the sins of man but the oversights of God or the accidents of history.

    A different view of equality of opportunity is Milton Friedman’s: that "no-one should be prevented by arbitrary obstacles from using his capacities to pursue his own objectives." This interpretation does not conflict with liberty if arbitrary obstacles are defined as denying access to particular positions in life based on a person's ethnic background, colour or religion. Equality of opportunity in this sense is essential for liberty – for the freedom of everyone to pursue their chosen careers according to their own abilities and tastes.

    That is, equality of opportunity means a fair process – the same rules and standards applied to all. As Sowell says:
    A fight in which both boxers observe the Marquis of Queensberry rules would be a fair fight, according to traditional standards of fairness, irrespective of whether the contestants were of equal skill, strength, experience or other factors likely to affect the outcome-- and irrespective of whether that outcome was a hard-fought draw or a completely one-sided beating.
    This would not, however, be a fair fight within the framework of those seeking "social justice," if the competing fighters came into the ring with very different prospects of success-- especially if these differences were due to factors beyond their control.

    The case against cosmic justice is not that it is undesirable, just that it is impossible to achieve, and the costs of pursuing it are great. Sowell argues:
    1. The impossible is not going to be achieved.
    2. It is a waste of precious resources to try to achieve it.
    3. The devastating costs and social dangers which go with these attempts to achieve the impossible should be taken into account.

    Rather than being mere practical problems that do not affect the principle, what must happen to achieve these goals is crucial.

    Sowell points out that cosmic justice is inconsistent with the rule of law, with freedom and with limits on political power. Once you depart from these, new inequalities will be generated. . It will create havoc to social peace when hopes are raised that can never be realized and havoc to freedom.

    You cannot redress the myriad inequalities which pervade human life by applying the same rules to all or by applying any rules other than the arbitrary dispensations of those in power.
    Ironically, the quest for greater economic and social equality is promoted through a far greater inequality of political power. If rules cannot produce cosmic justice, only raw power is left as the way to produce the kinds of results being sought. In a democracy, where power must gain public acquiescence, not only must the rule of law be violated or circumvented, so must the rule of truth. However noble the vision of cosmic justice, arbitrary power and shameless lies are the only paths that even seem to lead in its direction.

    Freedom of individuals must be overridden if cosmic justice is the goal. When people are free, they will spend their money on whatever goods and services best meet their desires. If they are going to a concert, they will not care whether the singer they like was born with a better voice than other singers and would-be singers who worked just as hard at singing, and so are just as deserving on the basis of personal merit. In this and in innumerable other ways, the consumer will judge the finished product and not care how much social justice or injustice went into producing it. So long as they are free to do what they want-- whether as consumers or in other roles as parents, employers, voters, etc., social justice is likely to get short shrift. Put differently, those for whom social justice is an over-riding goal have no choice but to take away the freedom of others by the power of government.

    Cosmic justice implies the state must step in to provide it. It expands the role of government and extends control over others. It runs into the totalitarian problem – concentration of power is an irresistible temptation for abuse. For example, a communist system always brings a Stalin to the fore.

    To create equality requires a concentration of power in the hands of political leaders, who can then use it for their own purposes. In a market system, consumers’ choices determine what is produced and those who satisfy consumer preferences are rewarded. Redistribution means politicians take on a god like role and determine who is to have their wealth confiscated and who is to receive the proceeds – and everyone is beholden to them.

    Yes, Smith was egalitarian in the sense that he believed the distribution of abilities was narrow (as your quote illustrates). But that is why he supported the process of laissez-faire. He did not see a huge gap between the common man and the intellectual elite. It is the left that believes there is a group with the knowledge to run society. They think there is a great variance in capability and intelligence that justifies more power to the elite. Smith’s view is that there is no general superiority of intellectuals over ordinary people so as to justify one group’s restricting the discretion of others. Equality of discretion is more important than equality of condition.

    He was not egalitarian in the sense that goods should be more equally distributed. He was more devoted to certain processes – freedom to choose and the rule of law. In practice, the main beneficiaries of capitalism have been ordinary people.

    The support for capitalism is not the belief that it gives out merited rewards – it is the social process, not the results they justify. What have we done to merit being able to live in Australia and automatically be better off than 95% of the world’s population? Or living in the 21st century and having a life expectancy twice as long as most of humanity has had. The question is not what anybody deserves, but who decides it – consumer choices in a market or politicians?

    Incidentally, the notion of equality of opportunity pushed by the left is often quite limited – e.g. we only worry about equalising opportunities within Australia and don’t worry about the poor elsewhere. I’m not sure how moral that is.

    The libertarian supporters of capitalism do not like inequality and are offended by the arrogance and privilege of the rich – but they differ as to the costs of doing something about it.

    For example, take ‘land reform’ in Zimbabwe. To the extent it does involve righting historical events that meant the whites own much of the productive land (often due to their own efforts) – the abandonment of the rule of law will be disastrous. Those who receive the land realise the government can always confiscate it from them. The lack of security of property rights means they will have little incentive to invest in the land or even be able to use it as collateral if they wanted to. The result will be famine.

    I’ll give Milton Friedman the last word
    A society that puts equality—in the sense of equality of outcome—ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom. The use of force to achieve equality will destroy freedom, and the force, introduced for good purposes, will end up in the hands of people who use it to promote their own interests.

    Tuesday, September 03, 2002
    Privacy – Who Needs It?

    Apparently not Robert Corr’s fellow students. In a recent blog post Robert tells us

    “I'm sitting here at uni erasing disks that were handed in as lost property but never claimed. Actually I'm first browsing them, then erasing them -- it's fascinating to see what people carry around on these little magnetic strips. Mainly lecture notes, but there are also photos (love those bikini poses, girls!), essays (please: "the news" is not a valid reference...) and random tidbits saved from the internet. It's amazing the number of law students who leave their disks behind.”

    Hmm – does this strike anyone else as being just a little bit unethical. If you lose a disk you *might* expect someone to look at a file on the disk to find your details and return the disk to you. But I can’t imagine that all those people who have lost disks would be particularly pleased to know that some git at the University, who has been given the task of wiping the disks, is going through their personal files.

    For shame Robert. I hope the rest of the blogging community remembers this bragging the next time you complain about some invasion of your privacy.
    What have I been Reading?

    Jason has been reading about the enlightenment. This is probably as far you can get away from what I have been reading - “ Chemical and Biological Warfare: America’s Hidden Arsenal”. (Seymour M Hersh - Published by Doubleday Boks) Published in 1969, the book is a thoroughly researched account (up to that point) of chemical and biological warfare (CBW) in the United States.

    Drawn from painstaking research of publicly available documents , interviews with academic, industry leaders, political figures and the military, the book is incredibly thorough. Despite the obvious bias of the author (who appears to be one of those self-hating Americans who think the Soviets couldn’t possibly be as bad as everyone else thinks), the reader is exposed quite fairly to the arguments put forward in favour of CBW, especially those put forward by the US Army Chemical Corps.

    What arguments could their possibly be in favour of CBW? Aside from the efficiency of such weapons, CBW was argued to be a more humane way to fight a war. Non-lethal agents (both biological and chemical) were seen as a way of possibly winning a war without killing people, or at least with fewer casualties. Fast acting weapons such as VX (a nerve agent that kills within minutes and allegedly part of Saddam’s arsenal) were seen as humane as they could kill the enemy cleanly in minutes – more humane than the brutality of conventional weapons. The lethal (and slow acting) CBW agents were, like nukes, justified on the basis of mutual assured destruction.

    Another interesting aspect was the different attitude to both tear gas agents and incendiary weapons. Today, there would probably not be many people who would bat an eyelid at the use of tear gas, especially CS. Yet Hersh draws on the use of CS in Vietnam to build a ‘slippery slope’ argument against tear agents and incapacitating agents. Similarly, few people would think much about the use of white-phosphorus (WP) and napalm these days – yet Hersh (probably rightly) points out that these weapons are probably amongst the most inhumane weapons ever used. WP munitions are still an important part of the arsenal of conventional military forces worldwide , both for their destructiveness and for their ability to create an effective smokescreen. These are indeed arguments that give pause for thought.

    So where does the book fall down? As mentioned, Hersh seems to be one of those self-hating Americans who can’t believe anything that the military of government might say. Scepticism is healthy, but sometimes, defensive research really is defensive research. Hersh sees all CBW spending, even that on defensive measures, as being signs of an offensive program. His logic – defensive research is necessary to protect US troops when we (the US) launches its CBW attacks.

    Similarly, Hersh dismisses and downplays the threat from the USSR. History and defectors like Ken Alibek have revealed that in fact the Soviet program was far advanced of the USA. The Soviet eagerness to support a Bioweapons treaty was driven by their desire to see the West lower its resilience to a bioweapon attack.

    None the less, an interesting read. What next – some pure fun ‘The Outer Limits – Volume II’.
    Who will replace Alan Fels?

    It's official. As announced last night on 'Australian Story' and reported again in todays SMH, Professor Alan Fels has announced he will not be seeking reappointment as head of the ACCC when his term expires next year. According to the SMH article.

    " Asked for the personal highlights of his time with the commission, he
    said: "Making the Trade Practices Act more effective, thereby helping make
    the economy more competitive and more able to adapt to change." Any low
    points? "So far, no low points."

    What does the good Professor have planned in addition to spending more time with family?

    "Professor Fels is considering a return to academia, "where I can hopefully
    pass on some things I've learnt".

    Well yes, that is one option. But there's always blogging! The possibility of Fels v Quiggin in a battle of the blogs is indeed a fascinating prospect.

    On a more serious note – the speculation now begins on who will fill the position. The job has now become very high profile. Probably the worst thing that could happen would be for someone who is already well known, and with political connections, to find their way into this position. This would destroy the credibility which the ACCC has sought to build up under Fels. A blatantly pro business appointee will see a return to the ‘toothless tiger’ and “watchdog without a bite’ type comments in the media. Equally, an open hostility to big business is going to lead to a lot more energies being wasted in political lobbying by interest groups (of all persuasions).

    Ideally, the new appointee will be someone who can continue to be seen as the champion of the Aussie battler, but who can also restore the confidence of those businesses who are heavily regulated and under threat from the ACCC.
    Unfortunately the poor don't have too many smart people representing them. One of the biggest impediments to the improvement of their situation is the rejection of market economics by those wishing to advocate of their behalf. Changes to trade law liberalising flows of primary produce, textiles etc would greatly benefit the 3rd world but most charities etc believe all trade is bad, will only benefit the first world etc. Mario Vargas Llosa, when Peruvian presidential candidate, campaigned on the basis of introducing market infrastructure to the villages but was beaten by Fujimori! I really think the charities, Church have got it hopelessly wrong. The ACTU got it right back in the days where they operated more like a thinktank, but they are exclusively focussing on building up their industrial muscle...labour market deregulation was also a stumbling block....
    What I'm currently reading
    Economic Sentiments, a wonderful book by Emma Rothschild the wife of Amartya Sen and a great scholar in her own right. I have a great predilection for books about the Enlightenment and this one which examines the Enlightenment by reference to two of its great exemplars - Adam Smith and Condorcet - was too much to resist. It was reading this which reminded me of the wonderful Adam Smith quote below about the philosopher and the street porter. Smith's libertarian views have been much exaggerated by conservative and (yes) libertarian boosters. Not that this is to any discredit of Smith. It's undeniable that the image of Smith has undergone a major refurbishment over the ages as this excerpt from an reviewer makes clear:

    To a surprising extent she succeeds. Conservatives will be unpleasantly surprised to read that in the decade after his death, mentioning your support of Smith did not prevent Scottish democrats from being transported to Australia by reactionary Scottish judges. For many years Tories did not view Smith as the great economist or philosopher. Instead Smith was the man whose account of his friend, the atheist philosopher David Hume on his deathbed, enraged the pious for showing Hume's complete calm, class and lack of fear of eternal damnation. Rothschild notes how the great economist Carl Menger noted how prominent socialists quoted Smith against their enemies. (Oddly enough she does not quote the passage in CAPITAL where Marx cites an enraged prelate angry at Smith for classifying priests as "unproductive labor.) Smith was an opponent of militarism, a supporter of high wages, and a supporter of French philosophy (and not unsympathetic to the French Revolution,either). Reading of his relations with Turgot and Condorcet, it will be much harder to defend the view of a sharp distinction between a good sensible Protestant Enlightenment, and a bad, Nasty, atheist one on the continent.

    Yes, I realise this undermines the thesis of one of my favourite thinkers, Hayek, who did draw a line between the Scottish Enlightenment (good, critical rationalist) and the French Enlightenment (bad, constructivist rationalist) but I've read enough to think he probably drew this line too starkly and was probably overly influenced (somewhat to his detriment) by his admiration for Edmund Burke.

    Monday, September 02, 2002
    More explanations than we need
    Perry de Havilland of Libertarian Samizdata rightly takes issue with recent misguided theories that have been expounded on the otherwise excellent Gene Expression blog:

    I do not doubt the factual veracity of the crime figures that Gene Expressions loves to bandy about: I have lived and worked in urban America enough to know the reality. But whilst crime figures prove there are serious problems in Black America, they tell us nothing whatsoever about the causes of those problem. Why look for genetic excuses for what is so obviously a man-made social problem? The historical legacy of slavery, followed by Jim Crow, followed by decades of American socialist and right-statist distortion of American society, all in ways that could not have been better crafted to produce an unassimilated underclass if they had actually set out to ruin as many people as possible, does not 'prove' anything at all about African or Afro-European genes.

    I am sure if genetic science existed in immediate aftermath of the Imperial Roman withdrawal from Briton, Roman scientists would have shook their heads and written off the ancient Britons as just genetically inferior to the Romans at sight of social chaos, decaying roads and aqueducts falling into disrepair.
    Links fixed
    Apologies to the comrades over at Libertarian Samizdata. Your links have now been updated. I have also corrected a glaring oversight and added Tim Dunlop to my links. It's the best I can do to help given his recent dust up with Guido, I mean, James Capozzola.
    The true imperialists
    We right wingers are frequently portrayed as heartless oppressors who like stomping down the poor. So when it is pointed out that some idiot environmentalists are also capable of thinking outrageous thoughts what does Don Arthur do? He breaks the news that the reporter who broke the story has dodgy Christian Right connections. OK Don but so what?

    1) Has the environmentalist in question who said that "There is a lot of quality to be had in poverty," and the introduction of electricity is "destroying" the cultures of the world's poor" complained that he was misrepresented? Is there any indication that the reporter with the dodgy connections fabricated the story? If not how exactly is any of that relevant? Does it downplay the enormity of what the idiot environmentalist said?

    2) Don then says the point is that "If I wanted to skewer the free market apologists I'd pretend that people like Weyrich and his rapture-awaiting friends were typical right wingers. This is the approach Morano is taking with environmental groups." Really? Can you honestly say that the likes of Morano is as representative or more representative of right of centre types like me and Tim Blair (who must have sinned in Don't eyes for breaking the story on his blog) than the environmentalist of the environmental movement in general. If the answer is 'as representative' then we're even at least but I'm not even sure if that's the case. Can you deny that there are other envronmentalists who don't share some of the views of Gar Smith? If on the other hand, you're talking about a narrower sample of right wingers than what is your point exactly? If you are talking about a narrower sample of right wingers who exclude say, moderate libertarians like myself and the sorts of people who read Reason then go ahead, but your point that you could "skewer the free market apologists" by drawing similar comparisons no longer holds.

    3) But aren't we really talking about policy? So what if the likes of Morano believe that the earth was created oin 6 days? Do a substantial proportion of them believe things as evil as what Gar Smith professes to believe? Yes, I won't hesitate to use that word. Let's re-examine what Gar Smith said:

    "There is a lot of quality to be had in poverty," and the introduction of electricity is "destroying" the cultures of the world's poor, according to a U.S. environmentalist ...
    Smith decried the introduction of electricity to the poor residents of the developing world.

    "I don't think a lot of electricity is a good thing. It is the fuel that powers a lot of multi-national imagery," Smith said.

    According to Smith, electricity can wreak havoc on cultures. "I have seen villages in Africa that had vibrant culture and great communities that were disrupted and destroyed by the introduction of electricity," he said.

    With the introduction of electricity, the African villagers spent too much time watching television and listening to the radio, allowing their more primitive traditional ways to fade away, according to Smith"

    As one disgruntled ex-environmentalist put it:

    "What does he think -- that some illiterate with her teeth falling out in the mountains is a good thing?" asked Moore

    This is far worse than what has been allegedly attributed to right of centre people - this fuckwit is saying that Third World people should continue to suffer so that they can be museum pieces for the entertainment of rich white lefties like him. This is disgusting, stupid and evil.

    This may not hit so close to home for many people who were born in developed countries but let me say - but for a twist of fate, I could easily have been one of these illiterates with their teeth falling out in the mountains. Here I am in a comfortable apartment with a view of North Sydney and the harbour bridge, tapping away on a laptop and the idea seems ridiculous. But I am well aware that many, many years ago my great grandparents decided to seek their fortune as coolies in the then British colony of Malaya. If the Brits hadn't colonised Malaya, if they hadn't decided to develop their colony by opening tin mines, if my great grandparents hadn't decided to make the trip, if .., if ... I might be a toothless labourer pedalling around on a bike somewhere in China today, no doubt with my 'cultural heritage' being soundly preserved on my behalf by those neo-Confucian fascist statesmen in Chairman Mao suits.

    My paternal grandmother may have been an uneducated widow with 12 children, unable to read, write or speak English but being the stubborn and bellicose woman that Hakka women are wont to be (none of this submissive Madam Butterfly stereotypical shit for them) she had enough sense and foresight to cajole, pester and ultimately force indifferent bureaucratic functionaries into enrolling all her children into Catholic schools which offered the highest quality instruction in English. Which is far more sense than Gar Smith, who would probably lament the loss of her 'traditional' ways - could ever have in 10 lifetimes.
    Multiple idiot/mental patient of the week

    "Cheney is my ideal man. Because he’s solid. He’s funny. He’s very handsome. He was a football player. People don’t think about him as the glamour type because he’s a serious person, he wears glasses, he’s lost his hair. But he’s a very handsome man. And you cannot imagine him losing his temper, which I find extremely sexy. Men who get upset and lose their tempers and claim to be sensitive males: talk about girly boys. No, there’s a reason hurricanes are named after women and homosexual men, it’s one of our little methods of social control. We’re supposed to fly off the handle"

    "My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building"

    "liberals are too stupid, they will never give in. They are implacable. They don’t read. They hate America"

    The 'wit' and 'wisdom' of Ann Coulter in an interview with the New York Observer.

    Sunday, September 01, 2002
    Adam Smith - radical egalitarian?

    The difference of natural talents in different men is, in reality, much less than we are aware of; and the very different genius which appears to distinguish men of different professions, when grown up to maturity, is not upon many occasions so much the cause, as the effect of the division of labour. The difference between the most dissimilar characters, between a philosopher and a common street porter, for example, seems to arise not so much from nature, as from habit, custom, and education. When they came into the world, and for the first six or eight years of their existence, they were perhaps, very much alike, and neither their parents nor playfellows could perceive any remarkable difference. About that age, or soon after, they come to be employed in very different occupations. The difference of talents comes then to be taken notice of, and widens by degrees, till at last the vanity of the philosopher is willing to acknowledge scarce any resemblance. But without the disposition to truck, barter, and exchange, every man must have procured to himself every necessary and conveniency of life which he wanted. All must have had the same duties to perform, and the same work to do, and there could have been no such difference of employment as could alone give occasion to any great difference of talents

    ~ Adam Smith, Book I, Chapter II, An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations




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