The Iowa Caucuses


Ted Cruz has won Iowa, and it looks like Donald Trump and Marco Rubio are essentially tied for second place. This is good news for Cruz and Rubio, and bad news for Trump. Trump was leading in most of the polls leading up to Iowa, and Trump has marketed his high polling numbers as his claim to relevance.  It seems, at least in Iowa, those polling numbers aren’t as powerful as we thought.  This could be due to the fact that caucuses are bad for Trump’s less educated constituency, or it could be evidence of deeper issues that his constituency will have a hard time showing up in many primaries.  Rand Paul, for what it’s worth, did better than expected, but was a distant 5th.

What does this mean?  Well, as I’ve referenced before, Trump’s lead may be due to disproportionate media coverage. This may fade as there is more focus on Cruz this week. Before tonight, I would have expected Trump to win in New Hampshire, but after tonight, his chances will be a bit slimmer.  Referencing my own predictions, I had Trump at 20% on December 31, and I personally had him at a 30% chance of winning the nomination yesterday. I’d bump him down to at most 25% now, perhaps less.  You have to also figure Rubio’s chances have increased.  Iowa is not somewhere he would be expected to do very well, yet he essentially tied for second. I’m not sure where I’d put Rubio’s chances to be the Republican nominee, but perhaps around 40%. Cruz would probably be around 30%.

How do I feel about this?  Well my preferences are certainly Rubio > Cruz > Trump, so I’m glad Trump lost. There’s the destructive argument that if Trump wins the nomination, it might help third parties out as conservatives voters cast about for another candidate, but even then it would be tough for libertarians to get the 5% needed for public financing or the 15% needed to get into the debates. We’ll have to see how the rest of the primaries go, but I severely hope Trump continues to do poorly.


This was very close, and though I still don’t know who officially won, an outcome this close has clear ramifications: Clinton underperformed and Sanders beat expectations.  Sanders was already likely to win New Hampshire, and I’d bet that 538 will give him above an 80% chance to win for the rest of the week.  He is still likely to lose South Carolina.

What does this mean? In December, I gave Hillary a 90% chance to be the Democratic nominee (and Bernie a 10% chance). Before tonight, I think I would have given Bernie a 15-20% chance. After tonight, I think I’d be closer to 20%. Maybe. The problem for Sanders is just that Iowa plays to his strengths; he’ll do well in NH as it also plays to his strengths, but in big states and in more diverse states, I predict he will lose.  This will be one of Bernie’s best showings–and it was essentially a tie.  In all the other areas: funding, endorsements, connections…Hillary wins very handily.

How do I feel about this?  I vaguely prefer Sanders as I know exactly where he stands and what problems I have with him. Moreover, the president controls foreign policy, and I agree with Sanders much more than Clinton on foreign policy. But on his domestic agenda, Bernie has disastrous ideas.  I haven’t focused on them much this cycle because I gave Bernie a very low chance of winning the nomination. It may be worth writing about his policy flaws while people are still interested in discussing his policies.

However, that’s not the whole story, because there is some strategy involved as well. Even though in my last post, recommended Bernie over many other candidates, I’m not nearly so excited about him in my own preferences. I think in reality, I might prefer a Rubio presidency to a Sanders one, although both would be bad. Rubio just seems less extreme, and some of his compromises might be very beneficial, such as on immigration. So here’s the point: if Sanders was the nominee, it would doubtless lead to a GOP victory. This is bad if it’s Trump, but probably good if it’s Rubio (and I’m not sure about Cruz). And so this gives me another incentive to cheer for Sanders, as long as Trump does poorly.

So overall, it’s good Trump missed expectations, good Rubio beat expectations, and probably good Bernie beat expectations as well, but I doubt it’ll last.

And as for my last prediction I’ll bring up; in December, I gave myself a 70% chance I’d vote for the libertarian candidate in November.  An important reason I wouldn’t vote for the libertarian candidate would be if a situation arose where my vote would help decide the outcome of the state I live in, and if I feared for the outcome of the election. Overall, if I’m not voting for the libertarian candidate, bad things are probably happening. Luckily I’d say my prediction remains unchanged as of right now.



Picture credits: both by Gage Skidmore, licensed under CC-BY-SA.


Why Vaccines Should be Mandatory and Guns Should be Legal.

A summary of herd immunity

The advent of vaccines has led to a dramatic rise in the quality of life in the 20th century. Vaccines have reduced morbidity of diptheria, mumps, polio, and several other diseases by over 99%. In the wake of such overwhelming success, many government policies have moved to make vaccines mandatory, but many libertarians and conservatives have argued that this infringes on the individual right to his or her body. However, I believe that mandatory vaccines may in fact protect rights.

When evaluating individual rights, the quote “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins” is important to consider. Does the right to choose whether or not to vaccinate harm other individuals? In the sense that you enable yourself to transmit disease to unvaccinated individuals, yes. But the act of not vaccinating could easily be considered a conscious choice to be more vulnerable to a disease.

The problem with this logic falls in the concept of “herd immunity”. “Herd immunity” is when such a large percentage of a population is immune to a disease that, even if one susceptible person becomes ill, the disease is unlikely to spread. For example, if 96% of a population has received a measles vaccine, when one individual gets measles, it is unlikely that they confer the disease to the other 4% of people, because the individual is surrounded by so many who are immune (This Romina Libster TED talk explains the concept well).

These individuals aren’t all free riders either. Vaccines are not 100% effective, they cannot be used on people of all ages, and some people are allergic to them. These individuals did not make a conscious choice to be vulnerable to a disease, and by one person choosing not to vaccinate, their “herd immunity” is weakened, significantly increasing their risk of becoming sick.

This has happened several times before, particularly after Andrew Wakefield’s false autism link. In 2014, a measles outbreak occurred in California, only 45% of measles cases occurred in unvaccinated individuals, and among those 12 were in infants too young to be vaccinated.

In defending mandatory vaccines, I have been asked if this same argument could be applied to justify gun control. While the data is conflicting depending how it’s looked at, even if there is a link between gun ownership and gun violence, I don’t believe that the increased risk associated with gun ownership is not grounds considering it a right infringement. With guns, the decision that puts others in harm’s way is not the decision to purchase, but the decision to fire. Furthermore, the decision to fire is already controlled by the illegality of assault, manslaughter, and murder, while the decision not to vaccinate cannot be controlled by anything other than laws mandating it.

Vaccines are one of the most important health advancements of the 20th century, but there are many people that they cannot directly protect. For this reason, it is critical that we prevent healthy adults from making a choice not to vaccinate.

Election 2016: Little To Look Forward To

In November, The Economist wrote “If the Republican campaign is to return to normality, it will do so in South Carolina” due to the state’s ability to filter out the unserious candidates.  We are now a month out from the South Carolina primary, and a lot could still happen, but if you’re one of the people who think the government should do less spying on citizens, less intervening in the market, and less mindless spending on the DoD procurement program, you’re in a for bad time: Trump is at 49% chance of winning, Cruz 18%, and Rubio 13%.

Continue reading Election 2016: Little To Look Forward To

Legalize Organ Markets

In 1996, Hurricane Fran hit Raleigh, knocking out power and trees. Duke Political Science Professor Michael Munger describes the response of several citizens from a neighboring town who decided to exploit the situation.  These budding opportunist entrepreneurs rented some refrigerated trucks, filled them with ice and drove to Raleigh, where they sold the bags of ice for about $8 each.  Raleigh police eventually arrived, arrested them for price gouging, and allowed the ice to melt with virtually none distributed to the locals.

Continue reading Legalize Organ Markets

Answering Obama’s 4 Big Questions from the State of the Union Address

President Obama finished his State of the Union address a few hours ago. In this address, he presented 4 major questions that he believes we must answer as we move on to the future. Here is my answer to those questions.

1. How do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?

Giving everyone a fair shot in the economy is easy if you are okay with redistributing income equally and severely restricting consumer choices. Everyone has a set amount of money, and no one can make a mistake too large. What makes this question a challenge is giving everyone a fair shot within the confines of our basic liberties.

To do this, regulations must be repealed. Massive regulatory agencies like the FDA and the CPSC don’t protect those in need, they tax them by limiting their options to those more expensive. Regulations on businesses stifle competition that would otherwise drive prices down, and the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world drives work away from the country.

Furthermore, in-kind benefits need to be replaced with in-cash ones. Federal grants and loans for higher education encourage universities to spend more on student services, as they no longer must cut costs for low-income students. Food stamps restrict voluntary exchange for the poor, preventing them from budgeting the benefit according to their needs and interests. In-cash benefits reduce administrative costs, increase pro-consumer market mechanisms, and gives the poor more consumer power.

2. How do we make technology work for us, and not against us, particularly for urgent challenges such as climate change.

President Obama seems to believe that the best way to make technology work for us is to put the government to the task. However, this overlooks the fact that innovation almost entirely derives from private entrepreneurs. Governments are tied to what the majority population knows or believes, putting the possibilities for innovative ideas in chains. This leads to rent-seeking, an enormous waste of resources that often results in failure

Again, the first solution is to remove regulations that slow innovators down. A 10-15 year drug approval process keeps tons of potential life saving treatments off the shelves. Ridiculous regulations on car sales have limited Tesla Motors’ ability to sell electric cars to consumers.

In regards to climate change in particular, emissions trading is a pseudo-market mechanism that can create a “market need” that would promote private innovation in that area.

3. How do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policemen?

This one is simple. Use the military for its actual purpose: to defend the rights of Americans. If we feel that ISIS is a threat to our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then there is justification for war. Going beyond that has not made us safer or better leaders, but has instead caused decades-long instability in countries like Iran and Chile.

When we aren’t threatened, our place is as a leader in diplomacy. We should tout our success as a free nation as an example of what other nations can be, and do our best to become even better. For example, we can work to move our culture past racism and sexism, whilst maintaining the 1st amendment for all.

4. How can we make our politics reflect the best of us, not the worst?

Respect is key for this final question. As the President stated, we must understand that, despite ideological differences, most people have the country’s best interests in mind. As citizens, we should do our best to avoid toxic rhetoric about other sides, promote a discussion that fosters learning, and vote for candidates who do the same.

We must also refine our election system. The electoral college and unfair primary system should be scrapped for one that that gives every citizen an equal vote. Corporate influence over political candidates must be reduced without infringing on the right to free expression. I like Rand Paul’s idea of restricting Congressional access for large campaign donors.

As the President said in his address, we are in changing times, and we must make the right choices to promote liberty and prosperity.

2016 Predictions

How confident should we be? People tend to be overconfident.  One way to figure out if our confidence levels are correct is to test our calibration levels by making predictions and seeing how many of them pan out. Inspired by Slate Star Codex’s predictions, here are my predictions and accompanying confidence levels. For the sake of convenience I will choose from confidence levels of 50%, 60%, 70%, 80%, 90%, 95% or 99%. All predictions are by December 31, 2016 unless noted otherwise.

Postlibertarian Specific

  1. Postlibertarian to have >10 additional posts by July 1, 2016:  70%
  2. Postlibertarian Twitter to have more than 240 followers:  70%
  3. to have >10k page loads in 2016: 50%
  4. The predictions on this page will end up being underconfident: 60%

World Events

  1. Liberland will be recognized by <5 UN members: 99%
  2. Free State Project to reach 20,000 person goal in 2016: 50%
  3. ISIS to still exist: 80%
  4. ISIS to kill < 100 Americans 2016: 80%
  5. US will not get involved in any new major war with death toll of > 100 US soldiers: 80%
  6. No terrorist attack in the USA will kill > 100 people: 80%
  7. Donald Trump will not be Republican Nominee: 80%
  8. Hillary Clinton to be Democratic Nominee: 90%
  9. Republicans to hold Senate: 60%
  10. Republicans to hold House: 80%
  11. Republicans to win Presidential Election: 50%
  12. I will vote for the Libertarian Presidential Candidate: 70%
  13. S&P 500 level end of year < 2500: 70%
  14. Unemployment rate December 2016 < 6% : 70%
  15. WTI Crude Oil price < $50 : 80%
  16. Price of Bitcoin > $500:  60%
  17. Price of Bitcoin < $1000: 80%
  18. Sentient General AI will not be created this year: 99%
  19. Self-driving cars will not be available this year to purchase / legally operate for < $100k: 99%
  20. Customers will not be able to rent trips on self-driving cars from Uber/ Lyft: 90%
  21. Humans will not land on moon by end of 2016: 95%
  22. Edward Snowden will not be pardoned by end of Obama Administration: 80%

On Tolerance

The tension between the social justice movement and the liberal ideals of tolerance and free speech came crashing into the mainstream last week, as activists at the University of Missouri and Yale gained widespread attention for events occurring on their respective campuses. There has been a lot of coverage, so if you are not familiar with the situation, I would recommend (sorted by brevity) this video, reading Popehat’s two posts here and here, Robby Soave at Reason, Jonathan Chait in NY Magazine, and for a longer piece, Connor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic.

Having observed many events and effects of the social justice movement, I’d like to propose a way to think about the liberal value of tolerance, a value that social justice activists have generally disregarded. There are other issues with the movement’s methods, and for more on that, I would recommend some Slate Star Codex links in the first footnote (1).

Recent events have indicated that many social justice activists are not concerned about the movement’s chilling effects on free speech. I think the coverage of the events and general political sentiment recognize this is a dangerous situation, and that free speech must be defended, even for speakers with whom we disagree (2). But I’d like to submit a broader defense of tolerance, especially in light of what free speech does not defend. Randall Munroe of xkcd (3) presents the counter-thesis, essentially arguing for intolerance as long as it is allowed by law:

Use of this comic for criticism purposes qualifies as fair use under Copyright Act of 1976, 17 US Code Section 107.

Although Munroe is correct in that it is totally legal to advocate for people who you disagree with to lose their jobs, I think it is a pretty disturbing, intolerant position. But I want to better understand what tolerance means by looking at a thought exercise I call the Tolerance Gradient. Continue reading On Tolerance

I’m Not Afraid Of The Next President

This is my last post (with 75% certainty). Not only do I have no time to blog, I have no time to maintain the site enough to keep everything updated and secure. If you’re interested in buying the domain to inherit some ephemeral backlinks contact me at the sidebar email.

Last week I spent two and a half hours watching the second GOP presidential debate. I knew that almost none of it would matter in twelve months. I knew I could more efficiently read a few articles in the morning. But my willpower wasn’t strong enough to resist the immediate gratification.

I was struck by how much the candidates are selling fear. Carly Fiorina wants me to fear ISIS and Iran. Donald Trump wants me to fear immigrants. Mike Huckabee wants me to fear gay rights. Ted Cruz wants me to fear Obama. Rand Paul wants me to fear the government’s assault on civil liberties.

While the candidates are all trying to sell themselves with fear about everything, everyone else is busy trying to make us afraid of the candidates themselves. And no matter who wins the nomination of either major party, great sums of money and time will be spent selling fear of both of them. Fear that Trump would be a reckless diplomat. Fear that Fiorina would be way too militaristic. Fear that Clinton’s corruption would damage the nation. Fear that Bernie Sanders’ socialism would destroy the economy. Fear fear fear fear fear.

It probably says more about who I am these days than any of the candidates, but as I watched the politicians and wanna-be outsiders evade questions and recite rhetoric during the debate, I thought to myself, you know, I’m not really afraid of any of these guys. I guess I’m supposed to be afraid that Jeb Bush isn’t a true conservative, or that several of the leading candidates show little interest in preserving civil liberties or restraining the unintended consequences of military intervention, but I just can’t get worked up about it anymore.

To hear the candidates talk about Iran, you’d think the threat of a country that doesn’t even have nuclear energy was on the same level as the Cuban Missile Crisis. To hear them talk about the economy, you’d think we were still at the peak of the Great Recession, not rolling through sixty-something months of job growth.

It’s not that I think the country has no challenges. It’s not that I don’t have concerns about how certain candidates would address them. But on the one hand I don’t think things are as bad as they want me to think, and on the other hand I don’t think they have as much power as they pretend to affect those things anyway. When you consider the limits and effects of Congress, financial realities, demographic changes, black swan events, and more…

It’s just hard for me to get excited about opposing any of these folks as The Wrong One For Our Country. I can’t buy the fear they’re selling, and I can’t buy the fear of their fear, either. The opportunity cost is too high; I’d rather spend my mental cycles on other things.

Is ‘Black Lives Matter’ Responsible For Recent Killings?

Police forces in America have undergone heightened criticism and scrutiny in the last year or two following widespread protests of high-profile police shootings of black men. It has become fashionable in some conservative circles to claim that this wave of criticism has scared police from doing their jobs and to blame this criticism for increases in crime and perhaps even the unraveling of society.

This piece by Michael Barone is typical of the genre. Barone manages to blame “Black Lives Matter” for everything from recent ambushes of police officers to increases in homicides in major U.S. cities. This viewpoint believes there is nothing, or almost nothing, wrong with policing in America today, that Black Lives Matter was founded on false premises involving disproportionate police shootings, with a criminal poster child to boot, and that the critical response is leading police to pull back from their good crime-fighting work, ironically leading to an increase in the real problem of black-on-black crime. Black lives matter, indeed.

I am skeptical of many elements and implications of this narrative, though I am willing to follow data wherever it leads. There is enough suggestive data, and the implications, if true, are serious enough, that it is worth exploring. Overall, however, I believe the narrative involves cherry-picked examples and oversimplified correlations that spring from what are nonetheless valid concerns about the current discussion around policing.

The Facts About Killings of Police

After describing some of the worst things people associated with Black Lives Matter have said or chanted, many calling for the murder of police officers, Barone implicates the movement: “some people seem to be acting on that advice,” followed by a list of recent police killings, including several from August alone.

Such killings are terrible – but are activists responsible? Barone’s timeline is certainly questionable. The cited Minnesota State Fair chant occurred after all four of his examples of police deaths. Even if it caused nothing, that arguably makes such chanting even more indefensible – it certainly shows little concern for such deaths. Besides, it is only representative of a general tenor that has been prevalent for quite some time.

What evidence we should expect to see if the link is genuine? An increase in police being killed? The evidence suggests that so far this year such numbers remain among the lowest in decades.

Bill O’Reilly tried to implicate the movement on his show and was told that “there are fewer cops shot this year than last year. Are you willing to give Black Lives Matter credit for that?… Seventeen percent…. August was a bad month. In July there were none. Overall they are down. I don’t see an epidemic there.”

Any officer death is a tragedy, and if police protests were leading to an increase in people shooting police, that would be very concerning, both for the officers and their families, and for society at large. To strengthen the argument, one could present evidence that more police are being ambushed, as opposed to being shot by suspects with whom they are already engaged. To really strengthen the argument, one could present evidence that any of these recent killings were directly inspired by BLM, such that they likely would not have occurred without BLM, as similar killings did before them.

Thus far, however, I have seen no evidence in either case, and the only evidence suggests that killings of police officers remain among historical lows. (There may be those on the ‘police side’ who are focusing now on every new killing of an officer and committing some of the same logical fallacies of those who focus on every officer killing of an unarmed black man.)

It is true that the better parts of Black Lives Matter may not be doing enough to disassociate themselves from the worst things said by those sharing their slogans. While I saw nearly universal condemnation of the NYPD slaying last December from pretty much every person I had ever seen question anything about policing post-Ferguson, I have seen less more recently. Two recent high-profile defenses of BLM make many good points but say nothing about the frequency of excessive death-wishers in their ranks, even as they insist they are not anti-police.

I admit I find it difficult to have fair expectations; I have previously explored the economics that encourage “denunciation deficits.” While the situation is different enough to avoid too many parallels, the hastiness to link political rivals to the death of political allies reminds me not a little of the reverse attempt a few years ago to link Sarah Palin to the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords, which the right rightly derided. It would be just as wrong, though no one seems to be attempting it, to link any part of conservatism to Dylan Roof’s killing spree, which from what I understand was likely motivated by radical right-wing racialized websites. All of this makes me think of Tim Wises’s comments in White Like Me about the “white privilege” that allows whites to avoid having to answer for the bad things that white people do, while always expecting blacks to answer for any bad thing another black person does.

Still, I think there is a definite deficit here. But I’m not convinced any of it is to blame for recent officers being killed.

The Facts About Urban Homicides

Even if more officers aren’t being killed, more citizens are – at least in some places. Are protesters responsible for reversing two decades of crime decline? At first glance, there’s a strongly suggestive correlation. A New York Times article on recent trends includes this graphic: New York Times - Murder Rises 2015It’s hard not to miss that two of the top three cities – St. Louis and Baltimore – were also the two cities that saw the strongest reactions to killings by officers in the last year, as defined by any number of objective measures such as numbers of buildings burned down. The correlation seems too strong to be a coincidence, something to take very seriously.

But what exactly does it mean? Milwaukee’s numbers are worse than St. Louis and Baltimore, but no state of emergency was ever declared there. They did have large protests over a police killing – but that simply speaks to the sheer number of cities that have police killings. So did Cleveland – and they’re only up 16% (from 50 to 58). So did New York – and they’re only up 9%; cities jump up and down by those margins all the time.

There may be a case that riots cause temporary homicide increases – see also Cincinnati in 2001 – but it doesn’t seem clear that protests cause either. To strengthen the argument, one could, for example, compare major cities that experienced a given level of protest to ones that didn’t, but I haven’t seen any attempt to make correlations deeper than “hey look homicides are up in some places!”  FiveThirtyEight crunched the numbers and found a 16% homicide increase in the top 60 US cities so far in 2015; slightly concerning, but too small and too early to conclude too much.

There’s also an inherent weakness in focusing on homicides. True, the data tends to be the most clearly and consistently defined and the hardest to manipulate, compared to other crimes. But homicides are relatively rare – occurring within an order of magnitude of 100 in most major US cities. They tend to occur between people who know each other, and as such are harder for police officers to prevent (not that innovative gang interventions and improved clearance rates can’t help a whole lot). It’s harder to tell if other more common crimes are increasing at similar rates.

There’s something to be said for the denunciation deficit here, too. It’s true that many activists seem more focused on blacks killed by police than the many more blacks killed by other blacks. There are reasons that make this imbalance more understandable. But the imbalance is often highlighted with severe criticism, in classic speck-in-your-eye style, from conservatives asking why activists don’t care about both when they themselves don’t seem to care much about either.

I am more optimistic. I do see imbalances, but I also see the goodness and sincerity of many of the people involved. I believe that sincerity will lead them to a better balance. I see signs that it is beginning to happen. And I think that grace and encouragement, rather than antagonistic criticism, is more likely to make that better.

The Facts About Police Response

I believe I have demonstrated that statistics about recent crimes are more complicated than they may appear. I think the same is true of the claims that protests and criticisms have caused police to “pull back” for fear of being punished for simply doing their jobs. Barone quotes a scholar about a “reluctance to act,” but quotes are hard to rely on. I found it amusing that the NYT quoted Ferguson mayor James Knowles saying “we barely pull anybody over anymore” while in the same article saying “People here say the police still treat residents suspiciously, still bark questions, still make arrests for what they consider trivial charges.” “Barely pulling anybody over” apparently means different things to different people.

The only statistic Barone notes is that Baltimore arrests plunged 60% after Freddie Gray. An extremely similar article in this genre by David French links to two WSJ articles with text that “arrests are down” in both Baltimore and St. Louis. Interestingly, the first notes that arrests had been trending down 22% from 2014 in Baltimore pre-Gray, but the three following weeks were down 40% from the past two years. The second article says St. Louis year-to-year arrests were down by a third between last August and November, though no comparison of the pre-Brown trend for 2014; the May 2015 article curiously contains no updated stats; it also says “arrests in Baltimore were down 56% in May compared with 2014,” – which is probably where Barone rounded up to his 60% number.

These statistics – a drop in arrests in both St. Louis and Baltimore immediately following their respective police killings – seem to be the only quantifiable statistics offered to support the “pull back” theory. Commentators across various sites are repeating those same statistics several months later without any indication of whether or not the trends have continued.

It’s also not clear what kinds of arrests are down. Arrests for homicides must account for a small percentage of overall arrests – especially considering dismal clearance rates. What percent of arrests generally come from traffic stops uncovering outstanding warrants related to previous traffic stops? Are those down by a third? Is this thought to be driving the homicide increase? What actual activity was reduced to cause the drop in arrests? Fewer arrests for outstanding warrants during traffic stops? Fewer traffic stops to begin with? Fewer attempts to find suspects identified by detectives? Fewer suspects identified by detectives to begin with? Fewer drug busts?

Some of those kinds of arrests might be less immediately linked to stopping violent crime than others. Baltimore has open data on arrests, so one could strengthen the argument for the “pull back” theory if they provided evidence that the arrest slowdown has continued, or if the kinds of arrests that are down can be argued to support the theory.

It seems reasonable to suppose that under the current atmosphere, some officers may be marginally more hesitant to stop a suspicious vehicle, marginally more hesitant to follow a potentially dangerous lead, marginally more hesitant to chase down a suspect who runs away. These outcomes could be troubling, and if more evidence is provided that these things are actually occurring, I will accept it. But so far I do not think a very strong case has been made.

Furthermore, there is one piece of evidence that I believe goes against the theory. If officers were marginally more hesitant to do various things, I would think that one of those things, if not the primary thing, given that it was in fact the catalyst for all of this, would be finding officers marginally more hesitant to shoot people. The data on police killings is complicated, but the best numbers I’ve seen showed roughly 1000 deaths per year pre-Brown, or roughly three per day. There are more official outlets tracking this year, with widely varying numbers, but they all still seem to be coalescing around the same average: three per day.

Let’s presume the vast majority of these are justified. In a post-Brown, post-Gray America, officers seem no less hesitant to pull triggers when they feel their lives are on the line, to say nothing of the continuing drip of questionable incidents. It may be possible to construct a theory that accounts for this – perhaps officers are less likely to shoot per dangerous situation, but emboldened criminals are creating more dangerous situations, perfectly canceling out any statistical change. But so far I have not seen a proponent account for this any more than I have seen them detail plausible relationships from arrest numbers. Instead, commentators just seem to be trading around the same old single statistics, implying their representation of a large picture that has not yet been demonstrated to actually exist.

A Valid Concern: Emotional Toll

If the evidence for protest-led violence is weak, why are many conservatives so adamant about it? I believe that it springs from a valid concern that is being filtered through a distorted understanding about policing and crime. The valid concern is that a lot of the current police criticism is coming in broad strokes full of ignorance and hate. This is inherently unhelpful for genuine police reform, but it also has had the effect, unappreciated by the larger population, of emotionally harming thousands of good police officers who feel that they haven’t done anything wrong yet are being attacked by people they’ve never met who have no idea what their jobs are actually like.

If this mental toll becomes too great, it may sap the motivation of many to continue policing altogether, and these are not the officers you want to lose, especially if you want genuine police reform. Unlike the rhetoric about a physical “war on police,” I believe the evidence is clear that this emotional war is very real, and while I haven’t seen strong evidence that this toll is causing widespread rank thinning, I’ve seen enough ancedotal evidence that the risk of it genuinely concerns me. I think activists would do well to consider these emotional effects of the overreach of the general rhetoric.

My theory is that those who are most concerned about this overreach are most likely to believe that it must be leading to bad things, and are primed to quickly accept any evidence that it’s already happening. These conclusions are heightened when viewed through an oversimplified, distorted understanding.

A Distorted Understanding: One-Dimension Policing

When judging the effects of the critical overreach, commentators tend to mirror the denial of their opponents. Just as the defenders of the best of Black Lives Matter make no mention of death wishes made under their banner, police defenders make no mention of even the possibility that some of these protests sprung from questionable deaths. They deny that the policing status quo had any problems that offered any legitimacy to the criticism at all. They depict a false choice that the existing way was better than this new way that is alleged to be resulting in the deaths of police and citizens alike.

It all seems to stem from a view of policing as a One-Dimensional Lever Of Activity. “Let’s say it used to be set at… LEVEL 8…. and even though police weren’t doing anything wrong, you don’t seem to like it set there… or, hey, even if a few police were doing something wrong at that level, well, this thing only goes up or down, so, OK, you wanna make our jobs harder, we can pull it back here to… say… LEVEL 5…. now you can’t complain about harassment or whatever… but just don’t come complaining to us when the crime gets out of control! See, look at these stats! It’s already happening!”

Barone says “the ‘broken windows’ policing BLM decries has saved thousands of black lives.” He thinks the lever went up to save black lives, and now it’s coming down, no longer saving them. But the link between crime and no-tolerance policing has been disputed for years. Criminologists have noted that cities that didn’t try New York City’s “tough policing” saw crime drops as big as the ones that did, suggesting that other nationwide factors may have been involved in the trends of the last few decades.

Even if no-tolerance policing does reduce some crime, it may be limited, and unsustainable, due to the way it tends to foster community resentment. Turn the lever too high, and you can lose effectiveness – if no one in the neighborhood likes you, they’re not helping you catch criminals, either. Barone seems unaware that the original “champion of broken windows policing,” former NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton himself, is now trying to replace that with “a new approach to community policing that attempts to repair the breach between police and citizens.”

The Good News

This means there is good news. Even if police are pulling back, and even if that is leading to some increases in crime, we don’t have to return to the status quo that led to widespread police resentment among urban minorities. Policing is not just a one-dimensional lever. You can fix overreach without hampering good police work and restoring community relations that help you work with the community to reduce crime, all at the same time. I believe it because I’ve read about it happening – in Cincinnati. In Los Angeles. It may be starting to happen in St. Louis.

It always happens when angry sides come together to listen to each other, to see good faith in the best of the other’s intentions, to admit the imperfections of our own, and to look for ways to work together. It won’t happen as long as we’re chasing every cherry-picked statistic to prove that the other side is totally responsible for the problem.

If You Want Moderate Muslims To Denounce The Radicals

“If Muslims are peaceful, why don’t they condemn terrorism?”

This is a common question in some philosophical corners in response to headlines about attacks by radical Islamists. Assuming the good faith of those who ask this question, there are three important things to recognize.

1. Muslims do denounce terrorism.

It only takes a few minutes on Google to find condemnations of radical Islam by the Secretary General for the Organization Of Islamic Cooperation, the top cleric of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, Al-Azhar’s Grand Mufti (the highest religious authority of Egypt), the chief of the Arab League, the Muslim Council of Great Britain, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the American Muslim Political Co-ordination Committee, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabiadozens of UK imamsa Muslim HuffPo bloggerMuslims in Toronto, Muslims in Norway, and many, many more.

When someone says “I haven’t heard moderate Muslims denouncing radical Islam,” maybe what they really mean is “I haven’t looked for it.”

2. These denunciations are handicapped by the disincentives of information flow biases.

Why should this person have to look for it? He didn’t go looking for news about terrorist attacks – the news just came to him. Or so it seemed. Perhaps he implicitly assumes that news about condemnations of terrorist attacks should just come to him the same way.

I think there is a fallacy that “news” is a generally consistent portrayal of “things that are happening in the world.” I think this fallacy is especially seductive to those of us who “follow the news.” We know there are political biases in the way these “things” are portrayed or emphasized by certain sources, but I think we often ignore the inherent biases that affect whether or not events show up on our radar as “things” to be portrayed at all, and how they filter their way to our consciousness when they do.

Denunciations about terrorist attacks face multiple handicaps. First. people being killed tends to attract more attention than people talking. The latter is less likely to be introduced as “breaking news” or front-page headlines. Regardless of how prominently it is introduced, it is less likely to propagate through clicks, shares, comments, and general discussion.

Sometimes people talking about big events can attract more attention due to the connection to the big event. But a second handicap is that Western media and its Western consumers tend to pay more attention to Western people, especially those who are Important. That’s how Obama not going to France – a non-event that would normally register even less attention than Obama talking about something – was apparently a bigger deal last week than hundreds or thousands of Nigerians killed by Boko Haram. If dying Africans can’t compete with Obama’s travel plans, what hope do talking Arabs have?

A third handicap is that we tend to pay more attention to events that elicit emotion than events that absorb emotion. An article about someone condemning violence – if it finally manages to make it past the other handicaps – is less likely to elicit much reaction. Well, duh, denouncing violence is what we would expect any normal person to do. Normal expectation satisfied, emotion absorbed, not much impulse to share that story with others,

These handicaps hold true independently of political bias. A couple of the above links are from Fox News and the Blaze. But how prominently were such articles featured on these sites to begin with? How many clicks and shares did they receive? What percentage of articles do regular visitors to these sites read, what percentage of front-page vs. below-the-fold/deeplinked articles do regular visitors read, and what is the chance they saw those lesser articles at all?

3. If you really want more moderate denunciation of radicals, you should encourage and amplify the voices that are already doing that.

Some respond to the above points by moving the goalposts or making weaker claims: “Well, there’s still not enough of them” or “Well, they need to try harder” or “Well, it doesn’t seem to be working, does it?”

It can be simultaneously true that there are Muslims condemning violence done in the name of Islam and that the efforts of those voices should be increased. But I think people in good faith, if they really want those moderate voices to be more successful, should not respond with derision, but by recognizing the handicaps faced by those moderate voices and helping them out by encouraging and amplifying their voices.