URLs du Jour

2019-10-07

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  • At Econlib, Pierre Lemieux asks the important question: Do People Want to Be Free?.

    It seems that, at least in developed countries, a significant proportion of individuals don’t care much about being free; they want security instead. According to a recent opinion poll, for example, a majority of Americans favor “Medicare for all” in the sense of allowing anybody to “buy into” the scheme; perhaps more significantly, only a slight majority of 56% oppose a universal Medicare scheme that would replace private insurance, presumably by banning it.

    The higher is the proportion of individuals who don’t want liberty, the greater the risk to the (partly) free society. The advantage of a general system of individual liberty is that it lets those who want liberty have it, while allowing those who don’t care much for it to establish some private, contractual limits on the exercise of their own liberty. One may enter into a convent, get a regular nine-to-five job, get married, make (some) private oaths, commit part of his future income to a mortgage (under penalty of losing an important asset and a stream of future income), and so forth. A system of non-liberty, on the contrary, does not allow those who prefer individual liberty to live as they want. When individual preferences are different (as they have to be in a modern society), a regime of individual liberty is thus preferable to its opposite, at least if we value individual preferences. The two systems are not symmetric in the sense that they would simply favor and harm different sections of society.

    It's complicated. (He said, unafraid that anyone would disagree.) A lot of people are driven by their fears.

    And some seem to derive an inordinate amount of satisfaction by bending others to their will. If we're lucky, those folks become managers/entrepreneurs. If we're unlucky, they become politicians.


  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson writes on The Two Government Paternalisms. Kind of continuing our discussion from the previous item:

    […] Some people believe that government should be a moral tutor, instructing the people in virtue and encouraging them to live virtuous lives, or mandating that they do: You will buy insurance; you will wear a motorcycle helmet; you will not say certain things. Some people with libertarian instincts nonetheless prefer this model of government, and so they reframe these preferences as questions of externalities. Externalities are a relevant consideration, inasmuch as the choices we make affect others both in indirect ways and in such direct ways as imposing costs on taxpayers. But that is a line of argument that can become expansive very easily: Should the federal government be limiting your salt intake or forcing you to go to the gym four times a week because Medicare exists?

    If we are designing programs to assist people who are out of work, should we take into account those risk-averse populations? Should we design our programs in a way that accommodates their aversion to risk, or should we try to change it, to make them more risk-tolerant and enterprising? Should we design programs for people as they are, or design programs intended to make them more like we (who have the power to make these decisions) want them to be? Shouldn’t we want them to be better (as we define it) and nudge them in the right direction?

    Kevin is insightful, and I'm pretty sure on target here.


  • Katherine Mangu-Ward's lead editorial in the current issue of Reason is now online: Privacy Is Over. We Must Fight Harder Than Ever To Protect Our Civil Liberties..

    Privacy is dead. We have killed it, you and I.

    It happened slowly and then all at once, much like falling in love. We traded away some of our privacy for convenience, with credit cards and GPS and cloud computing and toll transponders. Some of it was taken from us while we weren't paying attention, via warrantless wiretaps and IRS reporting requirements and airport searches.

    […]

    If speech and assembly and trade are not crimes—not punishable by the state—then the loss of privacy will be less acutely felt. This, in turn, is self-reinforcing. A state where civil liberties are robust and jealously guarded has little reason to install a vast surveillance network of its own or to force its way into private networks. There is little it can do with that information. It's a virtuous cycle.

    In other words, while the fight for privacy is over, the battle for civil liberties is more important than ever.

    I am sensing an theme in today's items…


  • But we break that theme, because Ramesh Ponnuru wants to talk about something else, the recent judicial blessing of racial discrimination: In Harvard’s Magical Admissions Process, Nobody Gets Hurt.

    If parts of Judge Allison Burroughs’s decision in the Harvard affirmative-action case don’t seem to make sense, it’s not entirely her fault. She was bound by the Supreme Court’s precedents on the subject, and the justices have been refining absurdity ever since they took up the issue in 1978.

    […]

    It is a testament to the contrived nature of the Supreme Court’s rulings that toward the end of her opinion, Burroughs drops the pretense: “Race-conscious admissions will always penalize to some extent the groups that are not being advantaged by the process, but this is justified by the compelling interest in diversity and all the benefits that flow from a diverse college population.” Besides, she adds, the burden on Asian-Americans, the focus of the lawsuit, is light. This line, though, creates another unacknowledged problem: The burden on Asian-Americans is too small to give them a legal injury, but absolutely vital to maintaining the benefits of a racially engineered student body?

    It's interesting to see how rhetorically desperate things get to hide the inherent zero-sum quality of racial preferences: if you treat DNA as a "plus" for some favored races, that means it's a minus for everyone else. So sorry, kids of Asian descent. We were kidding about that "content of your character" thing.


  • After a book-writing break, the great Virginia Postrel is back to column-writing, to the great relief of a beleaguered nation. Her latest: Homelessness in California Isn't Just a Humanitarian Problem. Some fun facts about how tough things are out there on the left coast:

    In November 2016, Los Angeles voters approved, by a 3-to-1 margin, a $1.2-billion bond measure to finance housing construction, mostly for the long-term homeless. After three years, the first building, with a mere 62 units, is scheduled to open in a couple of months. The city’s strong Nimby culture — and the political tools available to halt new housing — extends to efforts to relieve homelessness.

    Opposition from local residents, including a lawsuit, has stymied a local nonprofit’s plan to build a mixed-use complex with 140 housing units, artist lofts and retail space on city-owned parking lots in Venice. Outraged residents of L.A.’s Koreatown neighborhood blocked a proposed homeless shelter there. My own neighbors in West L.A., where the sidewalks play host to a growing number of homeless campsites, are trying to rally opposition to a proposed 50-unit building on a city parking lot — but you have to read their website carefully to realize that's the agenda. The lawsuits and protests, and the resulting delays, typify the drawn-out process that makes housing of all kinds so expensive in the state.

    The people involved no doubt congratulate themselves on their compassion for the poor and downtrodden. In their spare time.


Last Modified 2019-10-08 5:50 AM EDT