Links 2017-02-25

How about this for a defense of free speech? Popehat’s Marc Randazza offers the argument for legalizing child pornography. The article makes a good point that abusing children is quite a distinction from possessing indecent photos of children. Moreover, obscenity can already be banned by the state without a need for an additional legal category. He also makes a good case that the slippery slope is in fact already happening, where parents’ baby pictures are technically child porn, and so are teenagers’ sexting. Very few people are willing to make any sort of case for state overreach in this area, so it makes sense that there would be evidence of overreach. It’s definitely an interesting read.

Also from Popehat, skepticism is an important tool to have when reading the news now, and this is a guide to reading the news like a search warrant application.

This is a cool voting simulation discussion. Each chart displays political candidates as fixed points on a two dimensional voting plane. The shaded areas indicate which candidate would win for every conceivable voter population makeup, and they change based on the five voting systems simulated. Notice that in a plurality voting system, in almost every possible candidate geography, the middle or moderate candidate loses out. Interestingly, this is also true of the the second most popular vote type, Instant Runoff Voting (noted as Hare in the link). The conclusion:

The following images visually demonstrate how Plurality penalizes centrist candidates and Borda favours them; how Approval and Condorcet yield nearly identical results; and how the Hare method yields extremely strange behaviour. Alarmingly, the Hare method (also known as “IRV”) is gaining momentum as the most popular type of election-method reform in the United States (in Berkeley, Oakland, and just last November in San Francisco, for example).

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a Surveillance Self Defense page that details basic internet security concepts as well as tutorials on how to use several important security software apps, like PGP, OTR, Signal, Tor, etc. Absolutely the best introduction for anyone first learning about security.

Scott Alexander had an interesting review of Eichmann in Jerusalem, which talked about the trial of a former Nazi official in Israel some decades after the Holocaust. Eichmann’s reasoning is bizarre in that he seemed to try and get the audience to sympathize with his hard work and lack of luck while in the Nazi bureaucracy. There are also interesting discussion of the varying success of societies resisting the Nazi regime.

Scott also reposted his Anti-libertarian FAQ, which is still one of the better arguments against extreme libertarianism, detailing the shortcomings of an anarcho-capitalist or minimalist state. It is one of the reasons this blog is postlibertarian, and not libertarian-all-the-way.

Bryan Caplan on limited government as insurance, and his related point that one way to limit government is to have an additional veto chamber legislation must pass through. To be effective, the chamber would have to be populated by government policy skeptics–i.e. libertarians.

Has Trump actually done a ton of things? Well, if you take a look at the VIX volatility index, market volatility is at a relative low at present compared to the last 3 months, pretty low of the last 6 months, and right around its lowest level of the last 5 years. Marginal Revolution muses on explanations for this phenomenon.

This Politico article discusses Curtis Yarvin, a.k.a. the well known Neo-reactionary Mencius Moldbug. Yarvin disputes having any connection with Steve Bannon, but this would actually make me less nervous about Bannon as a person if it were true.

There was a big nomination fight for Betsy DeVos. I didn’t get it at all, as school choice is a pretty good idea, adding some very limited market accountability to public schooling. Reason does a good job explaining the benefits of school choice here.

Supply chains are more efficient because they are international. Additionally, supply chains must be international if they want to compete.  This is undeniable. Here we have another article on international supply chains. Trying to create protectionism in international trade is trying to centrally plan complex international supply chains. Central planning doesn’t work.

Bryan Caplan and Ed Dolan of the Niskanen Center had a long discussion of the Universal Basic Income. Ed Dolan’s blog has the whole back and forth, but it’s not the greatest formatting. If you want to see it all with individual links, here is the list. 

Caplan also debated Will Wilkinson at ISFLC about the UBI, and here is his opening statement. Overall, I find Caplan somewhat more convincing, because we just don’t know how many people will reduce their labor output once they can get a UBI. I would like to see federal funding where a state can only take the money if they do a randomized control trial when implementing the program for several years.

Jeffrey Tucker’s old article on Libertarian Brutalism is fascinating to think about nowadays. He divides libertarianism into both a freedom to cooperate and a freedom to say “screw you and leave me alone”. The first type says that the civil rights movement succeeded because people rebelled against the restrictions the state put on people, and while they are wary of using state power to fight prejudice, prejudice itself is obviously wrong. The second says that state imposition of ideas is wrong in every context, and if people want the freedom to discriminate, they ought to do it.

Related: Richard Spencer showed up at ISFLC, and Jeffrey Tucker was seen on camera telling him fascists weren’t welcome at an anti-fascist conference. I’m pretty much ok with this. No one was punched, no physical altercations took place, and many libertarians seemed to express their will to not associate with unsavory people. Bleeding Heart Libertarians covers the incident with the important point that it is no longer a thought experiment of what we should do when Nazis show up to protest our events.

Another simple argument about immigration restrictions: SpaceX can’t hire foreigners because their technology is classified as weaponry. Therefore, they can’t hire the best people to come to the United States and make our private space program better than other countries’ public ones. That’s pretty disappointing if you are even vaguely interested in space travel, free markets, or even American exceptionalism.

I’m not sure what’s going on with Bitcoin. Apparently it’s being pushed higher on the talk of a possible Bitcoin ETF in the works? Either way, I had become really disinterested in Bitcoin at the beginning of last year as the community fight about block size had totally lost me. Yet, now it seems the network is no longer under heavy load. All my recent transactions have gone through pretty quickly. Of course, there are still apparently even tech writers who have no clue what Bitcoin is or why it is useful. Remember, if you like what we do here, you can donate to Postlibertarian with the Bitcoin address at the bottom of the sidebar!


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Flynn and the Deep State

I was listening to the most recent Reason podcast with Nick Gillespie interviewing Eli Lake about Michael Flynn’s ouster as National Security Adviser. I had a couple thoughts on it.

  1. Flynn talking to the Russians about sanctions as lame duck Obama imposes sanctions. This just isn’t that scary to me. Maybe it’s a violation of the Logan Act, but maybe that’s another reason the Logan Act is dumb, not a reason Flynn is bad.
  2. Flynn lying to Mike Pence about what was discussed. This seems pretty bad. However, they must have had transcripts of the conversations, so who knew what and when? Did the President know they had discussed sanctions when Pence told the press they had not? Did Pence know? Flynn took the fall, but he may not have been the real problem. Certainly at some point the President found out and waited until the story was public before sacking Flynn.
  3. Intelligence agencies using information they gathered while spying to conduct political activity and attack political enemies. Really, really bad. This is basically the worst case scenario for how mass surveillance can be misused. Yes, in this case, the spying was done on a line most people would know is tapped, but these intelligence agencies are operating without oversight. Sure, it was nice of them to leak information that Trump was keeping from the public, but what’s to stop them from leaking information on the personal activities of political enemies of the FBI, NSA, and others? Was their interest in the public good or their own political objectives? It seems that a better system where whistleblowers could reach out to (as an example) members of Congress without retribution would be much better, assuring only information relevant to public discourse is released.

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In the Spirit of Thanksgiving, Go Shopping

In 2006 I spent one of my most memorable Thanksgivings with my parents grandparents in small town Virginia. Having just purchased a Wii on launch day, we all sunk hours into playing Wii Sports Tennis and Boxing. A few days later, my father and I collectively combed through Black Friday ads with my father trying to create a strategy to purchase hot items before they disappeared from shelves. We then woke up early in the morning to wait in line together at Best Buy.

As with many Americans, I treasure Thanksgiving as a time to spend with family and friends. However, unlike many, I anticipate the most commercialized parts of this day as a means to foster my connections to those people, not as a violation of the spirit of the holiday. Were it not for the Wii launch, I would be missing dear memories with my grandparents. Without Black Friday, I would have lost a valuable bonding experience with my father.

Capitalism is not an evil structure that obsesses us with material objects and wealth. Think about the last conversation you had with someone important to you. Chances are, it had something to do with a movie, a piece of clothing, technology, or some other commercial product. Tongue-in-cheek discussions like Apple vs. Samsung rely on markets to promote information sharing, while improved consumer photo and video devices allow us to relive memories more vividly than ever before.

So this Thanksgiving, remember the people you love, but also remember the markets that help make those memories special.


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Against Hillary: Healthcare

This is the third post in my series opposing Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. See the introduction in Part 1 here. Read my opposition to Trump here. Read why you should mathematically vote for a third party here.

Healthcare

Now we’re turning to a subject where there may be an unavoidable Fundamental Ideological Disagreement. Nonetheless, I think there may be some agreement that the current healthcare system has many problems.

In 2009, the Democrats had complete control of the presidency, the House, and even had a super-majority in the Senate. Their priority was healthcare reform: the American system was prohibitively expensive, spent too much money even when patients were covered, tied your healthcare to your job, denied coverage to people with preexisting conditions and others who could not pay, and did not properly align preventative care incentives. They took a fundamentally left-leaning, centralized, top-down approach to solving these problems. The Obama administration specifically stayed out of the legislative process allowing much of the law to be patched together through Congress. They solved some of the problems in the American health system (and those steps are to be commended), some they tried to solve, but didn’t, and some they ignored altogether. Ironically, for a piece of legislation often called the “Affordable Care Act”, one of the problems Obamacare largely didn’t touch was the lack of market forces and pricing pressures on healthcare, guaranteeing the price problem would worsen.

When it comes to allocating resources, incentivizing cost saving and innovation, and producing the best quality goods for the lowest possible prices, there is no better system than a competitive free market with unregulated prices. Sellers seek to provide the best product at the lowest cost so that buyers will want to purchase them.  I’d hesitate to even call it a system, since, apart from pricing systems and private property, everything is driven by individuals making decisions, according to their own priorities and needs. Markets do have problems, but the biggest one is that poor people won’t have the money to get the product (i.e. healthcare) they need. Unfortunately, instead of just fixing that problem by giving government healthcare subsidies to the poor, Obamacare tried to solve all the problems of the entire healthcare system through legislation. Obama had an unprecedented opportunity to encourage both market reforms and increased coverage for the poor, but instead opted for the (politically easier) increased regulation on a system already heavily strained by bad rules.

Instead of making it easier to purchase healthcare as an individual, Obamacare cemented the relationship between employment and healthcare. Instead of allowing consumers and doctors to figure out some prices with high deductible insurance plans, Obamacare mandated many more items be specifically covered by insurance plans, thus hiding their costs from patients. Instead of allowing insurance and consumers to follow their own incentives to promote preventive care, Obamacare mandates one-size fits all preventative care regulations which encode waste into the system. For more critiques of the system, check out this review in the Cato Journal.

The result is a system that solved the problem of coverage for the poor and people with preexisting conditions, but did not fundamentally solve the lack of market pricing and bad incentives. The mandates on insurance companies and hospitals (besides creating waste) increased the cost of providing care. The increased cost was supposed to be alleviated by subsidies and more young people entering the system, but the costs have been higher than expected and thus fewer people have signed up than had hoped. Perhaps more subsidies would get more people to sign up, but that doesn’t really solve the fundamental issues, just puts the burden of cost onto the taxpayer instead of healthy consumers. As a result of a lack of healthy young people in the system, insurance companies are raising premiums, despite downsloping demand curves (you drop prices to bring people in, not raise them). Clearly, the problems will only continue, and we’re stuck in a political situation where some parts of Obamacare are popular and now can’t be politically taken back, despite them being unsustainable.

Hillary Clinton wants to keep much of this situation intact. This is a terrible policy. We need real market reforms or this cost growth will continue. This isn’t even to suggest that an insurance mandate would be bad policy, or that the poor shouldn’t be able to get healthcare subsidies; but if there is no price competition, no ability for consumers to choose their healthcare provider, then there are no ramifications for patient or doctor’s actions that are inefficient or unnecessary. The costs are just socialized by the system and the problems never fixed. And it’s not like we are out of ideas for fixing the healthcare system: ending healthcare ties to your employer, allowing for more widespread use of HSAs, scaling, split benefits, and reforming scope of practice laws are just some of those. Over the last 15 years, American middle class wages haven’t improved much. Yet healthcare costs (and spending as a part of GDP) has gone way up. Perhaps if these costs were better controlled (and not paid by employers), more of the productivity gains would return to middle class incomes. But we’ll never find out when Hillary is president.


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Picture Credit: Gage Skidmore, licensed under CC BY-SA-2.0

Against Hillary: Foreign Policy and Trade

This is the second post in my series opposing Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. See the introduction in Part 1 here. Read my opposition to Trump here. Read why you should mathematically vote for a third party here.

Foreign Policy

Media coverage might make you think that Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson’s weakest point in comparison to Hillary Clinton is foreign policy. On the contrary, foreign policy is by far the the most important policy reason voters should reject Hillary Clinton, especially in favor of Johnson. News stories might seem to indicate that Johnson knows nothing about foreign policy, but in fact he has an excellent nuanced approach to foreign affairs. Libertarians have a reputation for isolationism, and indeed an important part of Johnson’s policy is a reduction in American military involvement in the middle east. But he is still a proponent of American diplomacy and defending American obligations in NATO. He’s also the only proponent of free trade in this election, a policy which has systematically broken down geopolitical opponents by integrating their economies into global markets and intertwining their economic success with ours. Let’s contrast this with Hillary Clinton’s policies.

The American consensus on the 2003 Iraq War is certainly negative, and I’d go as far as to say that most agree it was a mistake, especially on the left. Hillary Clinton voted to support that war, but so did many politicians on both sides of the aisle (including 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry). Of course, even some blame for a war that had several hundred thousand deaths of civilians and combatants is pretty awful. 4,507 Americans died in the Iraq war. This is significantly higher than the amount of people who died in the September 11th attacks. These are real people that likely would be alive today if not for the actions of American politicians. Yes, Hillary Clinton was not the only person who voted for this war, so perhaps she is only responsible for a fraction of this mistake. But is it that great to be responsible for the deaths of only 100 Americans who died for a mistake? What about the thousands of Iraqi Security Forces who died in the insurgency? What about the estimated five million Iraqi orphans caused by the war, or the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who died?

In 2004, Hillary said she had no regrets her Iraq War vote. In 2008, she didn’t want to be flip-flopping and so did not apologize, but she nonetheless lost the nomination to Obama, with the Iraq War support being one of several factors. In her 2014 book, she finally admitted that she regrets her vote backing the Iraq War. Yet, as The Atlantic points out, she was quite sincere in her vote in 2002; this was not simply a political ploy to look strong on national security. And if indeed she has had a change of heart, one would think she would treat future policy decisions differently.

In 2011 as Secretary of State, she faced another policy decision in Libya…and again decided to push for intervention. During a Democratic primary debate a year ago when asked about the intervention, Hillary Clinton began her defense of American involvement in Libya by labeling it as “smart power at its best”. Connor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic harshly criticized Clinton’s full answer stating that her upbeat portrayal of Libya was:

…about as misleading as summarizing the Iraq War by saying that the Iraqis had a terrible leader; they had a free election after the war; and they voted for moderates. It elides massive suffering and security threats that have occurred in postwar Libya.

Also worth noting, as Friedersdorf points out, this war was not declared, and not only violated the War Powers Resolution, but went against the expressed opposition of a Libya intervention Congressional vote. Moreover, the New York Times discusses in-depth how Obama was hesitant to get involved in Libya until Clinton convinced him it was a worthwhile endeavor. This is her war, and it left Libya a failed state.

Clinton’s support of military interventions in the middle east should be very concerning to everyone. Essentially all military interventions she has supported in the middle east have been failures: Libya is most prominently hers; she voted to go to war in Iraq which was a foreign policy disaster; she also supported the Afghanistan surge in 2009 and drone bombing in Pakistan during the first Obama term. Seven years after the surge in Afghanistan, there are still thousands of American soldiers and several times that many contractors in Afghanistan today. The Pakistan drone strikes have been severely criticized, with estimates of civilian casualties varying between 250 to over 900 civilians killed.

Of course, the US hasn’t really had a successful military intervention in the middle east since the Gulf War. Yet Hillary Clinton has continued to favor aggressive hawkish interventions. Her widely touted “experience” during her husband’s administration, as a Senator, and as a member of the Obama administration seems to have created systemic bias towards intervention in her approach to foreign affairs. In the Times piece, Clinton adviser Anne-Marie Slaughter states:

“Mrs. Clinton repeatedly speaks of wanting to be ‘caught trying.’ In other words, she would rather be criticized for what she has done than for having done nothing at all.”

This may sound noble, but it should disturb anyone considering voting for Clinton. The implication that “trying” is always better than “not trying” ignores the possibility that American policy could ever accidentally cause bad outcomes. This isn’t just possible, it’s quite likely, as demonstrated specifically by Iraq and Libya. Now Clinton is proposing additional intervention in Syria, beyond what the Obama administration has pursued. This includes no-fly zones and troops on the ground to create safe zones for refugees.

You might say that Syria is different from Iraq in that the situation literally couldn’t be worse, so perhaps intervention only risks improving one of the bloodiest wars in the last decade. Yet no-fly zones would demand a confrontation with Russia (they are the ones flying the planes) and would require the US to shoot down Russian military aircraft. This is escalation, and thus it’s quite easy for imprecise or incorrect policy to actually make Syria become even worse under Clinton’s policy. A Johnson/libertarian hands-off approach has inherently less risk because there would be no soldiers involved and little to no risk of escalation with Russia. Johnson has specifically advocated working with Russia, which is also basically the policy the Obama administration is taking. Nonetheless, we should acknowledge this approach has done little to end the war in Syria.

But if anything, that’s another point to Johnson: if Clinton’s ideas are so great, it seems that the Obama administration would have already implemented them and succeeded. The implication then is that Clinton differs significantly from Obama in Syria policy. Specifically, she is willing to commit more than pure air support. This sounds suspiciously like a traditional middle eastern military intervention championed by neoconservatives/right-wing hawks. Johnson’s Syria policy is suspiciously similar to Obama’s. So the question is why would Democrats and progressives side with Clinton when the Clinton vs Johnson policies are really right-wing vs Obama Syria policies. It seems siding with Clinton over Johnson in this area means abandoning the left’s positions, including that of the sitting Democratic president.

Moreover, for Clinton’s policies to succeed, she would need to win a middle eastern conflict by building a coalition among international actors who are geopolitically opposed. This war would need to be won against both a strong dictator and a large insurgency, the latter being something the United States has failed at essentially every time in the middle east. These plans are unreasonable, unprecedented, and unlikely to work.

Voting to approve of Clinton’s continual push for war and intervention is to agree not to hold her responsible for her repeated foreign policy mistakes which have lost countless lives. It’s to agree that we can afford to spend another several hundred billion dollars on another middle east intervention. It’s to put faith in a person who has learned nothing, who is hoping her intentions in solving the Syrian conflict will overcome the reality of the middle eastern politics.

Free Trade

Trade is next due to its role in the dynamics of geopolitical relationships. Again, despite the consensus that foreign relations is Hillary’s strong point, this is the second foreign policy area where she is on the wrong side. When it comes to trade, economists are in astounding agreement that free trade is a good thing. The benefits of freer international markets are clear and the results are all around us; today we have global supply chains that reduce the cost and increase the availability of goods of all types. Integration of developing economies has raised the productivity of the global poor and allowed for sustainable, incentivized growth to pull literally billions out of poverty, a feat which government and charities have never come close. The burden is on free trade opponents to explain their position, and in this election, those opponents are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Gary Johnson is the only candidate running this year who is on the right side of perhaps the most important issue when it comes to the degree and number of people helped.

Hillary Clinton may say in private that she supports free trade, but at best then we are hoping she is lying publicly. Unfortunately, whatever political calculations she is making may not necessarily change after election day. At the very least, it seems reasonable to suggest free trade will not be a top priority of the Clinton administration given she is running as far as possible from the TPP. As an aside, the TPP itself has many non-free trade components, including extensive increases in intellectual property protections. But our president should be someone who makes the case to the American people and the to the world of the benefits of trade, cooperation, and commercial interaction (I can’t believe I’m defending Obama). The current presidential administration has created many bad policies, but in foreign affairs, both in war and trade, Clinton is somehow huge steps backwards from where we are today.


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Why Conservatives And Liberals Both Let Police Unions Get Away With Stuff

No one holds police unions accountable because conservatives like police and liberals like unions

I created this hypothesis while observing the events unfolding in my city of St. Louis late last year. I learned that the head of the local police union was a former officer who was fired from a nearby district for falsifying police reports! To me, this looked like classic corruption. The newspapers kept quoting the man about ongoing developments, yet few seemed to question his past.

I found it amusing to think about how well many conservatives can expound upon the problems of teachers unions protecting bad teachers while remaining completely silent about the potential for police unions to protect bad cops. Perhaps it is the loudest and most extreme criticisms from some liberals which provokes this defensive blind spot; it would likely be easy to reverse roles and find similar blind spots in the other direction.

The unfolding events in New York City have me considering this hypothesis further.

Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who brought Eric Garner to the ground in a chokehold, was previously involved in a lawsuit for strip searching a couple African American men. The claims are denied, but the charges against the men were dropped and they got paid instead. Maybe there’s some defense to be made (overly litigious society, etc) but this sort of thing seems to happen a lot, and my unenlightened conclusion is that you only want to hand out money to avoid a trial if you think you might lose the trial. One of the side effects seems to be that the officer is less likely to receive consequences. Normally, incentives would induce the organization to remove officers who become too litigiously costly. Is there a union element standing in the way?

We have seen actions that appear consistent with an organization reflexively resistant to criticism. After Eric Garner, NYC mayor Bill de Blasio made remarks that to my ears were markedly moderate. To the NYPD’s ears, biased by previous developments, the mayor has two murdered officers’ “blood on his hands,” and they’ve taken to turning their backs on him at the officers’ funerals, even against the request of their own police commissioner and the officers’ own wives.

Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani gets on TV and explains that this is all happening because the mayor “created an impression with the police that he was on the side of the protesters.” Giuliani even admits that “some of those protesters were entirely legitimate,” but when you live in False Choice land, if you don’t align yourself clearly enough with one side then you clearly must be “on” the other “side.”

Frustratingly, the False Choicers are the ones who, with a Smart-People-esque confidence, get to decide how you are aligned. They can even complain that you should “have said” less-outrageous more-on-my-side things that you actually did say but that they maybe didn’t hear due to the biases and discincentives of information flow about things that they and their information flow network consider outrageous/non-outrageous.

Maybe a skeptic would argue that none of this has anything to do with unions. At a minimum I feel like there’s enough circumstantial evidence that I wish more people seemed to care more about looking more into it.

Since you can’t criticize police unions without questioning police, to conservatives this smells too much like the people yelling death threats, and they reflexively block it off. I suspect something similar is at work with liberals and the conservative distaste of unions. Thus both sides develop blind spots against an organization they would otherwise be quick to criticize. Thus the unions are free to protect their members from the accountability they would otherwise receive, while the distracted demagoguery continues…

The Government’s Role In Urban Cycles of Poverty

I recently read an incredible book by David Kennedy called Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and The End of Violence In Inner-City America. It is full of amazing insights into the perspectives of law enforcement and urban neighborhood communities, and how their misunderstandings of each other lead to actions that perpetuate those misunderstandings.

Kennedy outlined a paradigm that he claims is “common currency” in many poor, black neighborhoods. In this paradigm, he says, America is engaged in a conspiracy to subdue blacks. After the civil rights era, the CIA invented crack. The government keeps trucking it into the ghettos to draw young blacks into the trade so officers can keep arresting them.

When Kennedy first ran into this paradigm, he laughed it off as craziness. But he came to see reasons that made it an attractive theory to people with their experiences and knowledge: America really did overtly subject blacks by law until fairly recently; the crack epidemic devastated the ghetto; the community sees white folks drive in to buy drugs but only sees black kids getting arrested for it; they see a powerful American government with global military and surveillance capabilities, concluding that they must not be stopping the drug trade because they don’t want to stop it.

Once Kennedy understood the logic within this paradigm, he saw how law enforcement actions perpetuate it, and how it affects the community’s coldness toward police and the police’s coldness toward the community. By taking the paradigm seriously, he came up with ideas to address its fatal flaws, such as having law enforcement build up cases against dealer kids and tell them they could arrest them but they wouldn’t if they quit, which proved to the community the police wasn’t out to get them, which motivated them to help keep new dealers off the streets, which proved to the police the community really didn’t want the drugs either, which all in all literally turned dangerous neighborhoods into safe neighborhoods within weeks (!!!).

There’s a lot more fantastic insight and brilliant details about all of this in the book (seriously, read it), but I want to focus on this urban paradigm that America, particularly its government, is still systematically engaged in a racist agenda to subject the black man. I’ve stumbled onto parts of this idea before, but it’s still largely unfamiliar to me, Kennedy’s depiction is the most comprehensive I’ve ever seen. As an outsider, I can’t say if he’s being fair to the paradigm, and what sorts of variations exist and the various reasons people believe in various parts of it. But it seems safe to say that the paradigm exists, and is held by a non-negligible percentage of the American population.

I find it extremely interesting to compare this paradigm to one with which I am more familiar. Many conservatives also like to blame the government for perpetuating cycles of urban poverty, but for opposite reasons. The government is giving away too many handouts! Food stamps, Medicaid, subsidized housing, “Obama phones”… the list goes on and on. The “takers” keep taking from the government so they can lay around with their TVs and video game consoles while demanding even more goodies paid for by hard-working taxpayers who are not nearly as lazy as the folks suffering from the disincentives of ugly marginal tax rates.

Before anybody jumps in with some Doubtlessly Qualified Opinions on the relative truth values of these paradigms, I just want to marvel at the tension.

In one corner, we have a bunch of Americans who are convinced that poor people are poor because the government is doing so much to hurt them. In the other corner, we have a bunch of Americans who are convinced that poor people are poor because the government is doing so much to help them!

Isn’t that kind of… beautiful, in a strangely partisan political way? Isn’t that such a great example of how people with different experiences can come to such different conclusions about the same issue?

Please don’t mistake me for implying some sort of parity between the paradigms. I strongly believe the urban conspiracy paradigm is fundamentally flawed. But the opposing paradigm does not even allow for that paradigm to exist, right? (Well, at least without assuming the complete irrationality of the participants. But I have long believed it too simple to write off people on “other sides” as evil/stupid; most people operate with biases but act rationally based on those biases, and Kennedy’s book confirms the rationality of the participants enough for me.) If the government really is helping poor people so much, how could the paradigm that the government is hurting them even get off the ground? What does the mere continuing existence of that paradigm say about the weaknesses of the other?

I have some preliminary ideas, slowly coagulating in bits and pieces – a comment about a Charles Murray book here, a reference to 90’s welfare reform there. I suspect the “ample social safety net” does not actually catch the “poor” nearly as efficiently as some conservatives (perhaps surprisingly) seem to imagine that it does. Maybe some services require addresses; many people who live in poverty are transient, moving between houses and apartments or nothing at all with different family members and friends as living situations change. Maybe some services require going to city buildings; many poor have limited transportation options. Maybe some services require waiting in long lines, verifying income status, social security cards, whatever; many working poor do not have a lot of spare time, maybe they do not know where their social security card is. Now soak all that in the general inefficiency and ineptitude of the incentives we call “government,” mix in some mistakes and lost paperwork and more long lines to fix them… hmm, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising if a lot of poor people don’t exactly see the government as a Clear and Shining Beacon of Everlasting Free Goodies (That Could Lift Them Out Of Poverty If Only They Weren’t So Lazy).

Of course, since I’ve never been poor, and I’ve picked up most of my conservative ideas of how the government helps the poor from conservative people who have never been poor, I don’t even know how to know how close I am to the right track of what government-poverty relations have ever looked like, much less how they look in 2014. I mean, I know there’s like forty million people on food stamps. That’s got to count for something, right? But there are huge gaps in understanding. I’m having my eyes opened to previously incomprehensible paradigms that are helping me fill them.

I Was Wrong About Obamacare

In the late 2000’s, I was very wrong about hyperinflation. I had unfounded confidence in a flawed view of the world which made me fall for simple projections peddled by confident people. In fact, I was very wrong about the Federal Reserve in general; I believed their responses to the crisis would quickly backfire with unintended consequences in a vicious feedback loop that certainly did not allow for a 2014 with record stocks, low unemployment, and no inflation – regardless of what may yet occur. Fortunately my risk aversion kept me from ever spending more than a few hundred dollars on silver.

In the early 2010’s, I was less confident about many things. But this blog has dutifully preserved a major mistake I must now confess: I was very wrong about Obamacare.

Two years ago, I fully expected that by now the law’s utter failure would be readily apparent. All the law’s interventions would be backfiring on a huge scale. The cost of plans would be increasing enormously. Insurers would be backing out. There would be undeniable negative effects on employment and the general economy. Every exception, delay, tweak, and twist of the Rune Goldberg machine would reverberate through the rest of the parts, unraveling in a vicious feedback loop of increasing interventions and unintended consequences.

But as I joined the rousing cries of the anti-government crusade, I started to look around, noticing that the looming Obamacare apocalypse didn’t seem to be getting any closer on the horizon. I started noticing that everybody was just appealing to the future. So I shut up and waited. And the future still isn’t here.

Sure, there are little stories all over the place of discontent. I certainly wouldn’t say the law’s been a roaring success. But a hundred million people didn’t lose their plans. Everybody didn’t see their premiums double. The people didn’t rise up and take to the streets in outrage. For the most part the healthcare industry and all the people in it seem to be plodding along pretty much about the same as before.

The Speak-O

Now this doesn’t mean conservatives weren’t right about the law’s problems. Jon Gruber’s YouTube highlight reel has been confirming things Republicans have been asserting for years: the cost analysis was gamed, the details were deliberately, opaquely rushed, etc, etc. And Gruber’s attempt to pass off his clear defense of the clear subsidy language as a “speak-o” is the epitome of intellectual dishonesty.

Seriously, guys. A speak-o, if it’s like a typo, would be when you say a word and the context of the speech makes it clear you mean the opposite. Example: “I think Rand Paul could go all the way in 2016 for the Republicans and take votes from Democrats. I think Hillary will fade for the Democrats and Paul’s coalition will expand the Republican base. I’m a pundit so I know things. And that’s why I think a Democrat will win the White House.”

It’s clear from context that the intended word in the last sentence is “Republican,” and the speaker just mixed it up. But if somebody had actually said “Republican” there, and after a Democrat victory tried to convince people that in the speech he was clearly predicting a Democrat win while making a “speak-o” he would be laughably dismissed. If a “speak-o” means you can simply claim what you really said is the opposite of what you really said when it’s politically convenient to do so, then I’ve got a new campaign strategy for Todd Akin.

The most charitable explanation I can think of is that the subsidy language really was a mistake made by non-Gruber-people, but then Gruber assumed it was real and invented motives for it as he carefully and logically explained the reasoning behind it. But that’s not what Gruber said happened, either.

So if you’re still with me, it looks like Republicans were right about all the problems behind the law; they’ve just been wrong about how terrible the consequences of those problems would be.

The Rule of Law vs. The Rule of Man

If the Supreme Court accepts the previous version of Gruber’s argument about the subsidies, it would be an interesting consequence on the law itself. After a few years of incessant “rule of man” interventions to keep the thing moving, the “rule of law” would finally stick a fork in a law that was initially passed with “rule of man” corruption. Or maybe it wouldn’t. What do I know?

The Financial Pearl Harbor Scam

Sometimes I get advertising emails from Newsmax, a conservative organization that is generally too dogmatic for my tastes. Last week I got one warning me about a “financial Pearl Harbor” that was going to come within “60 days” and that I needed to hurry up and click on this link to watch a video to learn how to protect me and my family.

I’ve seen this kind of imminent warning floating around the Internet for awhile, but I was pretty sure I’d been seeing it for more than 60 days. So the fact that they were still peddling it made me decide to click on it and watch the entire 40-minute video just to see how full of crap it was – and what they were trying to sell.

Well, they were trying to sell something, though it wasn’t completely full of crap. It’s largely based around the book Currency Wars by James Rickards, although to stop you from just checking that book out from the library for free, you conveniently have to buy Newsmax’s special package that gets you the extra “unpublished” “controversial” chapter. Naturally the video is pretty bullish on gold, although to stop you from just buying your own gold you have to get this package to learn about five specific countries to invest in because their currencies or markets are heavily tied to gold or something.

The video is basically high fructose corn syrup for gullible, paranoid, hard-money conservatives, carefully manufactured sugar designed to hit the sweet spot that opens their wallets. It gives them just enough Turkish Delight to convince them there’s a whole castle filled with it for a couple hundred bucks.

But even the persuasive mechanisms have contradictions for anyone who stops to think about it for even a minute. The video combines public knowledge with supposed secretive insider information (a standard conspiratist tactic). But it claims Rickards is leaking classified info that no one in the government wants anybody to know, while simultaneously claiming that some of Rickard’s info was so top-secret that he had to get it cleared before publishing it in the available materials! Both claims are meant to lend credibility to the authenticity and importance of the material, but together they are contradictory… is the government OK with the info being released or isn’t it?

Now the Rickards book may not be complete hogwash, although I suspect the economic events that have unfolded since its publishing are already undermining its arguments, which according to the video have something to do with QE3 being the straw that breaks the economy’s back. But the wallet-prying urgency that Newsmax attaches to the book is definitely complete hogwash!

As I said, I felt like I had seen these sorts of urgent warnings floating around longer than the supposed period of urgency. Thanks to Google’s time-filtering search tools, I was able to confirm this. In fact, it was worse than I thought – Newsmax/MoneyNews has been peddling the Rickards-based “financial Pearl Harbor” since at least last August. But that didn’t stop them from regurgitating that they were “recently tipped off regarding a ‘financial Pearl Harbor’ that will strike America in the next 60 days.”

Apparently the Federal Reserve is manipulating the calendar, too.

Incidentally, this email came from National Review, with the preface “Please find this special message from our sponsoring advertiser Moneynews.com.” I’m on this list because I subscribe to Jonah Goldberg’s G-File, which I find interesting and humorous. In general I consider National Review a pretty respectable conservative organization that I agree with more than half the time. I expect this kind of peddled nonsense from the Townhall email list I somehow got on, but not from them. I hope National Review realizes how they are risking their reputation by aligning themselves with such crap from their “sponsoring advertiser.”