Catallaxy Files

polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

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  • Jason Soon
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  • Sui generis
    Friday, October 03, 2003
    Interesting quiz of the day
    An interesting quiz I found via Geekpress which is presumably based on Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences theory - What kind of thinker are you? Surprisingly I'm both a Logical-mathematical thinker and a Musical thinker.

    Logical-Mathematical thinkers:
    Like to understand patterns and relationships between objects or actions
    Try to understand the world in terms of causes and effects
    Are good at thinking critically, and solving problems creatively

    Musical thinkers:
    Tend to think in sounds, and may also think in rhythms and melodies
    Are sensitive to the sounds and rhythms of words as well as their meanings.
    Feel a strong connection between music and emotions

    I would have thought I would be more Linguistic than Musical but apparently not.
    Comments back on
    My helpful comments host Tom Vogelsang warned me a week in advance that my facility would be clobbered by the end of the month and I needed to change code to move to another domain. Being a terrible procrastinator I left it till now to change. Unfortunately this means previous comments may have vanished into the ether forever but at least the facility is back on.

    Thursday, October 02, 2003
    Hypocrite exposed
    I shouldn't gloat but in this case I think the gloat is well deserved. Sanctimonoius right wing shock jock Rush Limbaugh is under investigation for an illegal drug habit:

    Talk-radio titan Rush Limbaugh is being investigated for allegedly buying thousands of addictive painkillers from a black-market drug ring.
    The moralizing motormouth was turned in by his former housekeeper - who says she was Limbaugh's pill supplier for four years.

    Wilma Cline, 42, says Limbaugh was hooked on the potent prescription drugs OxyContin, Lorcet and hydrocodone -

    For once I wholly agree with Lew Rockwell who writes:

    Leaving other questions aside, what he may have done should violate no criminal statute. But as a big drug warrior, he advocates prison for other people who do far less, which dampens my sympathy.
    Quote of the day
    " was disgustingly civilised - I too was looking forward to some fisticuffs. Perhaps we should have tried to get Mark Latham to attend."

    ~ pseudonymous Quiggin reader derrida derider describing Catallaxy blogger Andrew Norton's encounter with John Quiggin on a panel discussion on higher education at the Economists' Conference.
    Luck and classical liberalism
    This recent interview with Milton Friedman does not, of course, tell us anything new. Friedman has never based his advocacy of classical liberal policies on desert-based moral theories or other pointless exercises in wooly metaphysics. Rather his approach has always been to try as best as possible to reframe policy debate in terms of positive statements i.e. the Left says 'to get X, we have to do Y. I agree that X is a good thing, but Z is a better way of achieving it'. Thus Friedman's brand of classical liberalism has always been more durable, open to modification in the face of evidence and less explicitly ideological than desert-based moral justifications of property rights which simply assume that, for instance, 'one is entitled to the fruits of one's labour' . As the article rightly notes, the whole 'pulling oneself up by the bootstraps' appeal to individualism may have some emotional appeal, but if we take a coldly scientific view of such matters, then if we accept that, for instance, temperament is partly genetically determined, then some people can't help, to some extent, being lazier or more careless than others. Can some people help being lazy or stupid or reckless anymore than others can help having poor eyesight or hearing?

    Of course this doesn't mean that public policy makers may not have a legitimate interest in minimising as much as possible, dependence on the common pool and it doesn't mean that such temperamental constraints aren't open to tweaking (in a way that, blindness or deafness is not) by appropriate use of carrot and stick for such ends. But this is no longer a moral argument about bludgers but a purely pragmatic one about using public resources economically. Anyway, here's a nice extract from this fascinating interview:

    "I think that luck plays an enormous role," he went on. "My wife and I entitled our memoirs, 'Two Lucky People.' Society may want to do something about luck. Indeed the whole argument for egalitarianism is to do something about luck. About saying, `Well, it's not people's fault that a person is born blind, it's pure chance. Why should he suffer?' That's a valid sentiment."

    So what are the implications of luck for public policy?

    "You've asked a very hard question," he said. In part, he added, because it's not clear that what we think of as luck really isn't something else. "I feel," he said, "and you do, too, I'm sure, that what some people attribute to luck is not really luck. That people are envious of others, you know, `that lucky bastard,' when the truth of the matter is that that fellow had more ability or he worked harder. So that not all differences are attributable to luck."

    "I know it's not all luck," I agreed, but I added that it's legitimate to wonder whether it's luck, as opposed to personal initiative and character, that most accounts for where one ends up.

    "That's right," Friedman said. "But that's luck, too." Was Friedman saying that character was ultimately a matter of luck? Where does luck stop and free choice begin?

    "See, the question is. . . What you're really talking about is determinism vs. free will," he explained. "In a sense we are determinists and in another sense we can't let ourselves be. But you can't really justify free will."

    Milton Friedman, the author of "Free to Choose," isn't sure about free will? I glanced at my tape recorder to make sure it was working.

    This awareness of luck's role -- even if he wouldn't have put it quite this way as a younger man -- is what led Friedman to stress the importance of providing equal opportunity via education, and of keeping careers open to talent. Friedman also told me that it inspired his call for the provision of a decent minimum to the disadvantaged, ideally via private charity, but if government was to be involved, via cash grants that in the 1950s he dubbed a "negative income tax."

    After several false starts in the political arena, his idea was eventually enacted in the late 1970s as the earned income tax credit (EITC), which today devotes some $35 billion a year to supplement the wages of low-income workers. On this score, Friedman's acolytes on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, who have glibly dubbed low-income workers "lucky duckies" because they're too poor to owe income taxes, haven't imbibed the decency of their mentor.
    Certified libertine
    There's a fascinating and challenging test of moral intuitions over at the excellent Butterflies and wheels website which is worth taking. This is how I scored, not surprisingly:

    Your Moralising Quotient is: 0.00.

    Your Interference Factor is: 0.00.

    Your Universalising Factor is: -1.

    What do these results mean?

    Are you thinking straight about morality?

    You see nothing wrong in the actions depicted in these scenarios. Consequently, there is no inconsistency in the way that you responded to the questions in this activity. However, it is interesting to note that had you judged any of these acts to be morally problematic, it is hard to see how this might have been justified. You don't think that an act can be morally wrong if it is entirely private and no one, not even the person doing the act, is harmed by it. The actions described in these scenarios are private like this and it was specified as clearly as possible that they didn't involve harm. One possibility might be that the people undertaking these acts are in some way harmed by them. But you indicated that you don't think that an act can be morally wrong solely for the reason that it harms the person undertaking it. So, as you probably realised, even this doesn't seem to be enough to make the actions described in these scenarios morally problematic in terms of your moral outlook. Probably, in your own terms, you were right to adopt a morally permissive view

    Boy, no way I can ever work for the social policy section of the AEI or Heritage Foundation now.

    Wednesday, October 01, 2003
    A silly strike

    The National Tertiary Education Union's thinking is mired in the public spending will fix all problems mentality of the Whitlam years, and the planned 16 October strike is also reminiscent of that era in taking last resort action first. While I actually agree with them that the workplace guidelines should be dropped there is almost no chance that they will ever be followed. Even in the unlikely event the legislation passes, the guidelines can be disallowed by the Senate, and even in the unlikely event they are allowed to stand some universities would decide that the money isn't worth it. There's no justification for a strike until it gets to employers making decisions, and even then against only those employers applying for the money. All the current strike will cause is academics to lose pay, and on the more unionised campuses inconvenience students a few weeks before their exams start. The Commonwealth has never taken any notice of a far-left union like the NTEU before, and it isn't likely to regard even a prolonged academic strike as being a serious problem.

    Monday, September 29, 2003
    Thanks to the vigilant Steve Edwards for pointing out this disgusting blog post that links to another blog post gloating over the death of Edward Said and accusing him of being an 'apologist for child murderers'. Whatever the depth of his embellishments of the truth in his memoirs or his muddled whinges about 'Orientalism', Said was nonetheless active in reconciliation concerts with Daniel Barenboim. Or is Barenboim [1] a Hamas-flunky too in the eyes of these despicable ignoramus, gutter-Right fuckwits? With 'allies' like, these, we on the Right don't need enemies.

    [1] Note to all the semi-literate, toothless trailer dwellers who come over here from the 'anti-idiotarian' blogs responsible for the gloating - Barenboim is Jewish.




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