Catallaxy Files

polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

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    Saturday, December 14, 2002
    The Islamofascist left
    This rather harsh review of Dinesh D'souza's latest screed in The Nation starts off quite well. I'm well prepared to accept there are some shallow right wingers out there and D'souza is one of them. However the review then suddenly verges into cloud-cuckoo land with this:

    A serious book by a conservative today would face the dilemma I mentioned above--that freedom and authority are profoundly at odds. Any true conservative (as opposed to a mere libertarian) has to be disturbed, if not disgusted, by the spectacle of contemporary America. If belief in a traditional and externally existing system of moral values by which human beings must organize the good society is the philosophical touchstone of conservatism, then America today represents the closest thing on earth to its actual repudiation. In this sense the Islamists are right to hate us, and the initial reaction to September 11 from the likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson was philosophically correct ...

    And by the same token, any true conservative must be uneasy with how completely the Republican Party has submitted to the interests of big business. The making of money doesn't signify any higher value, and in techno-capitalist America it is the single strongest force for crushing competing values, including what are known as "family values."

    I think these lines and the title of my post speak for themselves ...
    The uses of racism
    Ken Parish has a thoughtful post on racism. I wrote some comments in his comments facility part of which I'll reproduce here (sans the typos).

    If one were to take a literal definition of racism, then I think it is *racially discriminatory policies* and *racially discriminatory behaviour* which are morally 'ugly' and not necessarily racism in itself. Thus I tend to use *racist* as a shorthand or synonym for someone who believes in or indulges in racially discriminatory poliicies or behaviour - its immorality arises from its failure to treat individuals as individuals and respect their individual dignity. On the other hand, if you are *literally* opposed to racism then that is just like being opposed to the law of gravity - races are different at least cosmetically and in some superificial physiological aspects and *possibly* (and this should be treated purely as a question of intellectual inquiry with no normative overtones) in other aspects** . Accepting the *possibly* in that sentence does not imply any commitment to racially discriminatory policy or behaviour because ideally individuals should be treated as individuals and if one is intellectually honest then the 'possibly' cannot be ruled out until further progress is made in mapping the human genome.

    **For example it is well documented that Ashkenazi Jews have an average IQ that is clearly one standard deviation above the norm and it is an open question what respective weighting genetic as opposed to environmental/cultural influences play a part in that. I respectfully submit that anyone who says with confidence that the environmental weighting is 'obviously' 100% is speaking without any evidence on such a complex issue. I can better understand the environment having a *depressive* effect on IQ but how to explain a consistently elevating effect? Incidentally see this thought provoking article.
    Rothbard's letter to the Dixiecrats
    As if to prove the point of my previous post, the paleo-libertarian news portal Lew Rockwell now puts on the web a letter that their hero Murray Rothbard (whom they like to bill as the founder of 'modern libertarianism' - give me Rand over Rothbard any day, at least she never mollycoddled Christian Taliban and unlettered trailer park trash) wrote to the Dixiecrats. Their mad guru somehow manages to link the Dixicrat struggle with the fight for a nation 'dedicated to liberty'. Aside from writing a few good books of intellectual history I have never understood why Rothbard has such a good reputation as a rigorous thinker among some libertarians.
    The g factor
    High IQ society the Mega Foundation have conducted a valuable and fascinating series of interviews with controversial psychometrician Arthur Jensen, famous for arguing the 'hereditarian' position and formulating the concept of the 'g factor'.. The interviews are here, here, here and here. Even if like me, you're agnostic about this stuff or sceptical, it's well worth reading to help make up your own mind.
    Always sailing against the tide
    I sometimes (actually many times) disagree with amiable evol-con Steve Sailer but at least he always has a fresh take on the issues like this:

    Yassir Arafat has appointed as his point man on the West an activist who has long struggled to prevent intermarriage between people of different religions. Yet more evidence of Muslim bigotry!

    Oops! Never mind. I got that backwards. It's Arafat who is married to a Christian. It's George W. Bush who has just appointed as America's point man on the Middle East a gentleman who spent most of the 1990s trying to keep Gentiles and Jews from marrying each other: Elliott Abrams

    Friday, December 13, 2002
    Putting things in perspective
    This 1999 article reminds us that not too long ago, the Democrats were the party of trailer park trash too. No one is completely taintless in the political business:

    Al Gore, Sr., together with the rest of the southern Democrats, voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    Congressional Quarterly reported that, in the House of Representatives, 61% of Democrats (152 for, 96 against) voted for the Civil Rights Act as opposed to 80% of Republicans (138 for, 38 against). In the Senate, 69% of Democrats (46 for, 21 against) voted for the Act while 82% of Republicans did (27 for, 6 against). All southern Democrats voted against the Act.

    In his remarks upon signing the Civil Rights Act, President Lyndon Johnson praised Republicans for their "overwhelming majority." He did not offer similar praise to his own Democratic Party ...

    In addition, Congressional Quarterly reported that Gore attempted to send the Act to the Senate Judiciary Committee with an amendment to say "in defiance of a court desegregation order, federal funds could not be held from any school districts." Gore sought to take the teeth out of the Act in the event it passed.
    In the end, the Gore Amendment was defeated by a vote of 74-25. Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, one of President Bill Clinton's political mentors, was among the 23 southern Democratic senators and only one Republican voting with Gore for this racist amendment.

    Republican Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona voted against the Civil Rights Act because he was afraid the nation would be transformed into a "police state" as a result of some of its provisions. He did not want to throw out the proverbial "baby with the bath water."

    History, of course, labeled Goldwater a racist even though he voted against the Gore Amendment - an amendment devised to continue school segregation ...

    At least civil rights activist Andrew Young was forthcoming about this oversight in his book An Easy Burden. Young wrote, "The southern segregationists were all Democrats, and it was black Republicans...who could effectively influence the appointment of federal judges in the South." Young noted that the best civil rights judges were Republicans appointed by President Dwight Eisenhower. Young admitted, "These judges are among the many unsung heroes of the civil rights movement."
    Let's roll .. maybe
    What Saddam does to his own people isn't sufficient cause for destabilising the Middle East but if there is stronger confirmation of this then let bombs fall on Baghdad. If the US government does its homework it will have most of the civilised world behind it.
    More on Lott ... and Rothbard
    Some bloggers I usually respect like Steve Sailer are running the argument that Trent Lott's infamous comments were nothing more than a bit of buttering up and a joke for the pleasure of a 100 year old man. This is a bizzare explanation. Firstly, Thurmond seems to have done a complete turnaround long ago for whatever reason and whatever his private sentiments it's unlikely this gaffe would have brought him much pleasure. He's hardly going to say he appreciated the 'joke' given his attempts at reconstructing his image, is he? Secondly it now turns out that Lott said more or less the same thing more than 20 years ago.

    Twenty-two years ago, Trent Lott, then a House member from Mississippi, told a home state political gathering that if the country had elected segregationist candidate Strom Thurmond to the presidency "30 years ago, we wouldn't be in the mess we are today." The phrasing is very similar to incoming Senate Majority Leader Lott's controversial remarks at a 100th birthday party for Thurmond last week.

    The Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported Lott's earlier comments in a Nov. 3, 1980, report about a rally for the presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan in downtown Jackson at which Thurmond was the keynote speaker

    This is just vile, and it's idiotic that Lott actually said this during a Reagan campaign and got away with it too. The Right can do no good for itself tolerating such people within its tent. It's a no-brainer that State-based segregation is wrong and no true conservative or libertarian would trust the government with such arbitrary powers. Well, it's a no-brainer to most people anyway ... anyone who can look fondly on such policies is neither a libertarian or a conservative ... which brings me to that darling of the paleo-libertarian right (i.e. that group of protectionists and segregationists who denounce Virginia Postrel as a 'pseudo-libertarian' and 'neo-conservative'), a punch polemicist who gets a lot more respect than he deserves, the significantly over-estimated Murray Rothbard. Yes, Rothbard supported the Dixiecrats as even one of his admirers in the paleo-movement admits:

    Rothbard was politically incorrect at the beginning and at the end of his career. In 1948, he was, he later wrote, probably the only New York Jew to support the State Rights Party ticket of Strom Thurmond. In the early fifties he denounced pending Hawaiian statehood as an affront to the continental and organic character of the American federation

    Thursday, December 12, 2002
    Wright off

    Another university press book, another attack on economic rationalism. The latest is University of Newcastle philosopher John Wright’s tome The Ethics of Economic Rationalism .

    Wright looks at the ethics of economic rationalism from a variety of perspectives, including utilitarianism, desert (as in deserving something), voluntary exchange, and liberty. The trouble with all this is that while people could perhaps justify economic rationalism along these lines, Wright provides no evidence that anyone did. Of more than 60 entries in his bibliography, there is only one book by self-described economic rationalists, and even that is relegated to the endnotes.

    In my view economic rationalism can only be understood in the context of Australia’s economic and political history. It wasn’t a conscious attempt to implement any comprehensive philosophy, and so Wright’s background as a philosopher doesn’t help him explain what happened or why.

    He completely misses, for example, that economic rationalism was a mix and match set of economic policies that could be combined with Paul Keating’s social democracy, John Hewson’s libertarianism, John Howard’s conservatism and Jeff Kennett’s grand state-building projects. All these diverse political leaders faced similar sets of political problems – economic growth was the only way to deal with ever-increasing demands on government and electoral resistance to taxation. Economic rationalism was an economic solution to a political problem, not a philosophical project.

    This isn’t to say that economic policy in Australia is above criticism, ethical or otherwise. But no sensible critique can be written in isolation from the historical context, and the choices our political leaders actually faced.

    Wednesday, December 11, 2002
    Hayek in Russia
    This announcement was made through the Hayek Mailing List but I presume there is no harm and in fact a benefit to the senders in publicising it here:

    Dear Colleagues,

    I am happy to advise you that on 3 December 2002 The International Friedrich von Hayek Foundation (The Hayek Foundation (Moscow) received official registration. The foundation is an independent non-profit, non-partisan organization established to disseminate and promote Hayek's ideas in Russia and perform research in the theory and practice of neo-liberal policies, a free market economy and the rule of law.

    Russian policy makers, scholars and businessmen -- the Foundation founders -- have established the Board of Trustees and its Presidium as the Foundation's governing body. Dr.Yevgeny Volk, Coordinator of the Heritage Foundation Moscow Office, is elected Chairman of the Board. Other Presidium members are Dr.Yuri Petukhov, Executive Secretary of the Russian Bourgeois-Conservative Party, the Board's First Deputy Chairman; Dr.Alexander Sharavin, Director of the Political and Military Analysis Institute, the Board's Deputy Chairman; and Segrei Semyonov-Yezhov, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Russian Bourgeois-Conservative Party, the Board's Deputy Chairman.

    The Board of Trustees has set up the Foundation's Directorate headed by Yuri Petukhov who has been elected Managing Director.

    On December 5 the Hayek Foundation had its public presentation attended by policy makers and the media.

    We'll keep you informed as to the progress of the Foundation's activities and would appreciate your comment or advice. You are welcome to join the Foundation or contribute to its work.

    You can contact the Hayek Foundation in Moscow writing to: 20/6, Kuznetsky Most, St., Moscow, 107031, Russia.
    Phones: 7095 9252969, 7095 9253008, fax: 7095 1802552, email:


    Yevgeny Volk
    Chairman, Board of Trustees, The Hayek Foundation (Moscow)

    Incidentally wouldn't it be fun to be a member of the 'Bourgeois Conservative party'? (see the list of founders above and their affiliations) - that would be such an 'in your face' name to a lefty...
    Wollongong conference
    Had a hectic few days recently. I went to Wollongong Uni yesterday afternoon and stayed the night here in order to have a non-hectic start to participate in this conference the next morning (i.e. just this morning) - I was in Session 9A (forget the comment about 'experts' in the description of the roundtable participants in my case, originally they wanted Henry Ergas and I got sent in his stead). Rather different crowd from the usual one at conferences I attend - lots of lawyer/sociologist/CLS types but funnily like economists they shared the scepticism that recent public liability problems could really be termed a 'crisis' and suspicion that it was an insurer-driven spin. First time I've been at Wollongong Uni and I must say it had quite nice environs.
    Coulter's follies
    Ann Coulter is mouthing off half-arsed again. Libertarian Brian Carnell has the full story. He also remarks:

    Why this idiot is so popular with some conservatives and right wingers continues to amaze me.

    One could also say the same thing about World Nut Daily which publishes Coulter.
    NEWSFLASH : President wrestles Godzilla

    Give patriotic speeches, inspire the nation, go to war on Iraq, wrestle Gozilla or retire to Legoland. The opportunities are limited only by your imagination with the George W Bush action figure.

    The SMH is reporting the availability of a talking ‘Dubya’ action figure. Is it a spoof or is it for real? Read the article, check out the web-site and then you decide.
    Gutnick Decision

    Haven’t had time to read the full decision in Dow Jones v Gutnick, but from what I have been hearing it doesn’t sound good. Hopefully Kim Weatherall will have some analysis in the next few days so we can get a better idea of how serious this is.

    Most media commentators and analysts have assumed that the response to the Gutnick decision will be a simple ‘chilling’ effect, where content providers become more conservative in what they say for fear they could be sued in a more litigious nation. My biggest concern is that this is another decision that moves us in the direction of a fragmented Internet, the same way as the Yahoo decision by the French courts. Rather than toning down their speech, US content providers may simply decide the easiest approach is to block access to their content by Australian readers. This is on top of the ‘chilling’ effect that this law may give rise to.

    That Gutnick fought so hard to have this case heard in Victoria suggests to me that he knows he couldn’t have won if heard in the US. It might be spiteful but I am hoping that he crashes and burns big time when he has his case heard in Victoria. He should pay some price for taking another bite out of free speech online.

    Tuesday, December 10, 2002
    Crony capitalism?
    Clinton's economic advistors were a star-studded cast of brilliant minds like Larry Summers and Joseph Stiglitz. Bush on the other hand seems to prefer country club Republicans like Paul O'Neil and his successor John Snow.
    Negotiating tactic?
    The pictures that Henry Kissinger tried to suppress - now exposed thanks to the magic of the Web (link courtesy of the Reason blog).

    Monday, December 09, 2002
    The Lott-Thurmond affair
    The recent Trent Lott brouhaha over in the States (intensively covered by Virginia Postrel who, incidentally, has some new pics up on her blog - she's smarter, saner AND cuter than Ann Coulter) reinforces my belief that in the US my natual home would be the Democratic Party though I'm considered a Hayekian zealot here.
    Double the reading pleasure
    Now *both* my favorite online mags, Reason and The New Republic have their own blogs. They're going on to my long-overdue-for-amendments links list soon (apologies to all whom I haven't added/updated yet - things have been really busy and I'm a horrible procrastinator).

    Sunday, December 08, 2002
    More alternative economics stuff
    In doing a search for something else I came across the website of Samuel Bowles. Really exciting stuff. Here is his interesting take on globalisation:

    A reduction of impediments to international flows of goods, capital and professional labor is thought to raise the economic costs of programs by the nation state (and labor unions) to redistribute income to the poor and to provide economic security. But some of the more politically and economically successful examples of such policies --
    for example Nordic social democracy and East Asian land reform-- have occurred in small open economies which would, on the above account, provide a prohibitive environment for egalitarian interventions. I present a model of globalization and redistribution to answer the following question: in a liberalized world economy, what
    programs of egalitarian redistribution and social insurance are implementable by democratic nation states acting independently?
    While in the absence of international coordination, globalization indeed makes it difficult for nation states to affect the relative (after tax) prices of mobile goods and factors of production and for this and other reasons may limit the effectiveness of some conventional strategies of redistribution, a large class of state and trade union interventions leading to substantial improvements in the wages, employment prospects, and economic security of workers is not ruled out by globalization. Included are redistributions of assets which provide efficient solutions to incentive problems arising in principal agent relationships such as wage employment, farm and residential tenancy.

    As a sociobiology junkie, I'm also going to have to set aside time to read this:

    We jointly address two puzzles, namely what accounts for the evolutionary success of both: (a) individually costly and group-beneficial forms of human sociality towards non-kin; and (b) those group-level institutional structures such as food sharing and monogamy which have emerged and diffused repeatedly in a wide variety of ecologies during the course of human history. We show that the frequency and consequences of intergroup conflicts may provide an important part of the answer to both questions: in-group beneficial behaviors may evolve if they inflict sufficient costs on out-group individuals while group-level institutions limit the individual costs of these behaviors. We model a co-evolutionary process in which individual traits are transmitted either genetically or culturally and in which the evolutionary trajectories of individual traits and social institutions are mutually determining. Our simulations show that if group-level institutions implementing resource sharing or non-random pairing among group members may evolve, group-level selection processes support the co-evolution of group beneficial individual traits along with these institutions, even where the latter impose significant costs on the groups adopting them. In the absence of these group-level institutions, however, group selection pressures support the evolution of group beneficial traits only when intergroup conflicts are very frequent, groups are small, and migration rates are low. Thus under parameter values which may bear some resemblance to the relevant environments during the first 90,000 years of anatomically modern human existence, in-group-beneficial individual traits and group-level institutions of resource sharing and social segmentation could readily evolve, the sociality of humans thus being in part a consequence of human capacities in social institution building.
    A few days ago I took Ken Parish to task on his comments facility for praising a book by Lindy Edwards called 'How to argue with an economist'. I have tried reading the book but it's difficult because it is probably one of the worst books on economics ever produced - it reads like a compilation of every fifth rate sophomoric critique of conventional economics one finds in those papers producd by student unions. The arguments are not just simple minded but trite and predictable with a pseudo-intellectual, sociological air.

    This immediately brought to mind a very strong contrast with a better piece of writing. I'm not narrow minded, just not fond of time-wasters. If Ken Parish and Gary Sauer-Thompson want to read a good critique of neoclassical economics they could do no better than read Joseph Stiglitz's 2001 Nobel lecture which I read just recently to give myself some background for something I've been working on. Reading Stiglitz's lecture would at the same time also make critics of economics more aware of the complexities involved in rejigging allegedly 'simplistic' assumptions - unlike such critics Stiglitz has actually done the hard yards of thinking through what this would actually involve in terms of a replacement toolset. Unlike Edwards, Stiglitz is truly a first class intellect, one of the brightest stars in economics, as well as being a clear and lucid thinker and writer. Almost anything he's written is worth reading and reading the entirety of his lecture is arguably time better spent than reading a whole slew of fashionable books against economic rationalism (Incidentally it is striking that there is not a single reference to Stiglitz in Edwards' book though she cited Hugh Mackay - a bit like using a wet cabbage leaf instead of an AK-47 against your enemy).




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