Kids Aren’t Stupid

A bunch of people are clamoring to ban vaping, ostensibly because young people are doing it and it’s bad for their health.

Young people aren’t stupid. They know it’s not good for their health. Neither are sugar, caffeine, alcohol, sitting around all day, or school. Driving a car dramatically increases chance of death or injury. They know all this too. And, just like all humans, they choose a level of risk they are comfortable with.

If you ban one form of risk, they’ll make it up with another. People tend toward their acceptable risk level. See the Peltzman Effect.

I tend to think kids do things like sneak off to smoke or vape or drink alcohol in part because they have so little freedom. They are force-fed through a prison-like school system their entire lives. Even using the bathroom freely is prohibited. So they look for ways to flex their freedom. When productive ways aren’t on the table – say skipping school to create YouTube videos – they go to the more dangerous or destructive stuff. In fact, the more self-proclaimed authorities tell them something is bad, the more attractive it becomes as a form of maintaining and expressing some small sliver of freedom and rebellion.

I’m particularly surprised by the concern over vaping. Kids mostly do it out in the open. Its negative effects seem fairly mild compared to most risky youth activities. When it’s banned, it gets pushed to the shadows, where other shadowy stuff is also going on. This is not a preferable situation if your concern is for kids well-being.

Kids aren’t stupid. Your busybody efforts to control them are.

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Teaching Lies

I have a problem with anyone who teaches children incorrect information. When it’s intentional, that’s worse.

Such as the lie that government is good or necessary. This is part of the reason I so strongly dislike “public” (government) schools. Not the only reason, obviously, but a big one.

I also hate the bullying, the religious indoctrination (here, they indoctrinate more than just Statism), the theft-financing, and the antisocializing the kids go through.

I also hate the trends the kids spread among themselves at those kinderprisons, but that I don’t blame on the schools.

But teaching kids incorrect information– when the “teachers” ought to know better because they’ve been exposed to the correct information— is unforgivable.

Yes, I realize most of the “teachers” were also force-fed the same lies and they are just passing along what they were taught. But once someone points out why they are mistaken, and they dig their heels in, well, that’s just wrong.

Of course, they want to keep that paycheck coming, and speaking the truth would end the gravy-train– if they could live with themselves while holding such a “job”.

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Statist Logic

We can’t eliminate schools or no one would get educated.

We can’t eliminate government or warlords would take over and rob and imprison and murder.

We can’t eliminate taxation or there would be no one to protect your property from thieves.

We can’t eliminate rape gangs or humans wouldn’t procreate.

We can’t eliminate arson or people would freeze to death in the winter.

And there is the statist argument in its usual form, along with a couple of its unethical, irrational clones.

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Terrorism vs. Just War Theory

I was planning to write an original piece on this topic, but soon discovered that better work already existed.  Most notably, here’s a summary of a talk Michael Walzer delivered in 2007.  It starts with some boilerplate:

Whether terrorism is wrong is a question that is often answered badly or at least inadequately, according to Walzer, who defines terrorism as the random killing of innocent people, in the hope of creating pervasive fear. “Randomness and innocence are the crucial elements in the definition,” said Walzer. “The critique of this kind of killing hangs especially on the idea of innocence, which is borrowed from ‘just war’ theory.”

By “innocence” Walzer means those noncombatants who are not materially engaged in the war effort. “These people are ‘innocent’ whatever their government and country are doing and whether or not they are in favor of what is being done,” Walzer explained. “The opposite of ‘innocent’ is not ‘guilty,’ but ‘engaged.’ Disengaged civilians are innocent without regard to their personal morality or politics.”

Terrorism attacks this notion of innocence and treats civilians as legitimate targets. The long-term purpose of the fear that terrorists inspire is the collective destruction, removal, or radical subordination of individuals as an associated group. “It is who you are, not what you are doing that makes you vulnerable; identity is liability,” said Walzer. “And that’s a connection that we are morally bound to resist.”

Implicit in the theory of just war is a theory of just peace, Walzer said, meaning noncombatant immunity protects not only individual noncombatants but also the group to which they belong. “Just as the destruction of the group cannot be a legitimate purpose of war,” observed Walzer, “so it cannot be a legitimate practice in war.”

But then it gets good:

Terrorism is a strategy that is chosen from a wide range of possible strategies, according to Walzer. “For many years, I have been insisting that when we think about terrorism we have to imagine a group of people sitting around a table, arguing about what ought to be done,” said Walzer. “When terrorists tell us that they had no choice, there was nothing else to do, terror was their last resort, we have to remind ourselves that there were people around the table arguing against each of those propositions.”

More importantly, I would add, even the best minds just aren’t very good at predicting outcomes controversial among experts.  So as a practical matter, anyone claiming to know with confidence that terrorism is a last resort when many experts disagree is negligent at best.

Once terrorists choose terrorism, the answer as to how we should fight them, said Walzer, “is simple in principle, though often difficult in practice: not terroristically. That means, without targeting innocent men and women.” The second answer, according to Walzer, is within the constraints of constitutional democracy. “Right-wing politicians often insist that it isn’t possible to live with either of these limits: they sit around the table and argue for prison camps like Guantanamo or the use of ‘harsh’ interrogation methods,” said Walzer. “We must be the people at the table who say ‘no.’”

In particular, said Walzer, we must “insist at the outset that the people the terrorists claim to represent are not themselves complicit in the terror.” Just as the “terrorists collectivize the guilt of the other side, insisting that every single person is implicated in the wrongful policies of the government,” Walzer explained, “the anti-terrorists must collectivize in the opposite way, insisting on the innocence of the people generally.” Likewise, where terrorists dismiss the notion of collateral or secondary damage, setting out instead to inflict as much primary damage as possible, anti-terrorists have to “distinguish themselves by insisting on the category of collateral damage, and doing as little of it as they can. The rules of jus in bello apply: soldiers must aim only at military targets and they must minimize the harm they do to civilians.”

Walzer then echoes one of my earlier pacifistic analogies between waging war and fighting crime:

Once governments learn to kill, according to Walzer, they are likely to kill too much and too often so moral and political limits must be imposed. “The hard question in war is what degree of risk we are willing to accept for our own soldiers in order to reduce the risks we impose on enemy civilians,” said Walzer. “When the police are chasing criminals in a zone of peace, we rightly give them no latitude for collateral damage. In the strongest sense, they must intend not to injure civilians—even if that makes their operation more difficult and even if the criminals get away. That seems to me roughly the right rule for people planning targeted killings.”

If terrorists use other people as shields, then anti-terrorists have to try to find their way around the shields, Walzer said, just as we would want the police to do.

I severely doubt Walzer would buy my case for pacifism, but after reading this, I really wonder why.

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The Fault Is Not in Our Stuff But in Ourselves

Bruce Sacerdote‘s NBER Working Paper, “Fifty Years of Growth in American Consumption, Income, and Wages” provides a nice update on the measurement of CPI Bias.  The punchline should be obvious, but it’s great to hear such an eminent economist say it: “Meaningful growth in consumption for below median income families has occurred even in a prolonged period of increasing income inequality, increasing consumption inequality and a decreasing share of national income accruing to labor.”

Highlights:

Table 3 shows estimates of annualized growth rates in wages by decade. The first column shows growth in real wages using CPI deflation. This column show real wages fell by 0.8 percent per year during the ten years January 1975-January 1985 and fell by 0.6 percent per year during the ten years ended in 1995.10 In the subsequent two decades wage growth is positive 0.8 percent per year and 0.7 percent per year respectively.

The next three columns calculate growth in real wages using a) PCE adjustment, b) an assumption of 20% upward bias in CPI growth, and c) Hamilton/ Costa adjustment to CPI. The picture looks progressively more optimistic as we move from left to right. PCE adjustment still has negative wage growth in the first two decades (75-85 and 85-95) but the decreases in real wages are smaller. Hamilton/ Costa bias adjustment implies annual real wage growth of 1.4% during 1975-1985, .2 percent per year during 1985-1995, 1.4 percent during 1995-2005 and .8 percent in the most recent decade.

The table in question:

More:

Consumption for below median income families has seen steady progress since 1960. My preferred point estimates are based on CEX measures of consumption where the price index has been de-biased following Hamilton and Costa. These estimates suggest that consumption is up 1.7 percent per year or 164 percent over the whole time period. These estimates of growth strike me as consistent with the significant increases in quality and quantity of goods enjoyed by Americans over the last half century. And my conclusions are consistent with the findings of Broda and Weinstein (2008). Estimates of slow and steady growth seem more plausible than media headlines which suggest that median American households face declining living standards.

The bias adjusted estimates also provide a more positive outlook on real wage growth in the last 40 years than standard media headlines. PCE adjusted wages appear to have grown at .5% per year during 1975-2015 while the de-biased CPI adjusted wages grew at 1% per year over the same time period.

Key caveat:

Importantly these estimates do not tell us anything about why wages grew more slowly than GDP or why inequality increased. CPI bias does not explain decreases in labor’s share of income (Krueger 1999) or the associated rise in inequality (Pikkety and Saez 2003). Adjusting the price index downward leads to higher estimated real wage growth and higher estimated real GDP growth.

The big unanswered question:

What I do not address here is why Americans feel worse off if consumption is actually rising. There are at least four important explanations that may be at work. First, I am only examining consumption within very large sections of the income distribution and there may be specific groups (for example less than high school educated men) for whom consumption is actually falling. Second, it’s possible that the quality of some services such as public education or health care could be falling for some groups. Third, the rise in income inequality coupled with increased information flow about other people’s consumption may be making Americans feel worse off in a relative sense even if their material goods consumption is rising. Fourth, changes in family structure (e.g. the rise of single parent households), increases in the prison population, or increases in substance addiction could make people worse off even in the face of rising material wealth. A deep future research agenda would be to understand how America has lost its sense of optimism about living standards and whether the problem is one of consumption, relative consumption (relative to other people) or something entirely different.

My favorite candidate for “something entirely different”: false consciousness.  Most people embrace a dogmatic pessimistic ideology, and believing is seeing.  Hedonic adaptation amplifies the problem.  After all, it’s easier to deny that your standard of living is great than to admit that you’re unhappy despite your affluence.  The fault is not in our stuff but in ourselves.

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Universal Basic Income is a Totalitarian State’s Dream Scheme

Andrew Yang’s small but solid polling in the Democratic Party’s 2020 nomination race shows that “Universal Basic Income” has gone from a fringe idea to an idea with a foothold in the popular consciousness.

Supporters of a basic income span the political spectrum and the economic upheavals of the 21st century — especially fears that automation will increasingly replace human workers — are likely to fuel its journey to the center of policy discussions over the next few years.

A guaranteed income for the masses isn’t here, but it may well be coming. That’s a bad thing.

Let’s assume that the problems a UBI seeks to address are real, vexing, and intractable: That this generation of automation, unlike past iterations, will destroy more jobs than it creates and lower rather than raise wages.

Let’s also assume that a universal income guarantee at, say, the poverty line would cost less and address those problems more efficiently  than expanded versions of existing welfare programs.

Those assumptions, correct or not, leave out one major problem that a UBI would create rather than solve. The problem, put simply, is that a Universal Basic Income would quickly turn into an iron-fisted tool of social and individual control by the entity writing those monthly checks (the government).

A Universal Basic Income wouldn’t be “universal.” Some exclusions (for example, prison inmates) would almost certainly be baked into it from the start. Others would quickly follow. Are you a FORMER felon? Is your name on a sex offender registry or no-fly list? Are you behind on child support or late filing a tax return? Do you make “too much” money above the UBI? Did you fail a random drug test?

Suppose you don’t fall into any of those categories. You’re an upright citizen. The UBI hits your bank account reliably every month. You come to depend on it, even if you’re otherwise employed. It takes the edge off poverty or covers the little extras you’ve become accustomed to.

Then your paymasters in Washington announce that unless Policy X is implemented, the UBI will regrettably have to be eliminated, or cut, or a cost-of-living increase skipped.

Policy X might be one of the exclusions mentioned above. Or it might be something seemingly only tenuously, if at all, related to the UBI itself. A trade war, even a shooting war, premised on an economic downturn being another country’s “fault.” Another housing crash, necessitating another bailout of banks and investment houses with cockamamie trading policies.  You name it, politicians will figure out a way to weaponize an income guarantee to get you on their side of it.

So, do you Support Policy X and the politicians advocating for it, or risk that monthly income guarantee to support what you really think is right?

Maybe you’re a person of principle. Maybe you’ll stand up for what’s right even if it costs you. But will your neighbors?

The cost of a UBI would be total state power. And that would be a terrible deal to take.

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