Tuesday, August 29, 2006

atheist or agnostic

Will Wilkinson takes on Richard Posner over atheism. Posner thinks there's something hugely different between not believing and actively disbelieving. I think a lot of people will say that it marks the difference between atheism and agnosticism. Since I've become an atheist (not agnostic) I've believed that most agnostics would better be described as atheist. Will Wilkinson explains why better than I could.

Monday, August 28, 2006

bryan caplan

A while back Bryan Caplan was asking bloggers to post their class auto biographies. Here's his. My favorite bit:
For my adult life to have been radically different, I would probably have needed to grow up in an absolutely poor family in the Third World, not a relatively poor family in the First World. My instinct in that situation would be to learn English and migrate to the U.S., but immigration restrictions would get in the way. This realization is part of the reason I have so much more sympathy for immigrants than I do for low-skilled Americans.
You don't see a lot of this: Citizens of rich countries acknowledging their blind luck. In fact this kind of comment attracts a large amount of hostility. This is pretty much my view:
What about low-skilled Americans? They were born in the U.S. and speak fluent English. Let them count their blessings.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

more heroism

To this day, I am baffled by libertarians who read the newspaper or watch the news every day, gritting their teeth at the latest petty injustice. Why do they torment themselves so? I save my moral outrage for Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. And immigration restrictions.

Monday, August 21, 2006


The newly idolized Bryan Caplan on immigration:
Suppose two men, John and Julio, are heading to a job interview. Julio tells John: "I need this job more than you do. Please drop out of the race so I get it." It's perfectly reasonable for John to make Hardenberg's reply: "No. You're a stranger and I don't owe you anything." At this point, Mangan and I are in full agreement.

But suppose instead that John handcuffs Julio to a tree to prevent him from going to the interview. Julio says "Let me go. I deserve a shot at this job too." At this point, it's ludicrous for John to reply, "No. You're a stranger and I don't owe you anything." Julio isn't demanding help; he's just demanding that John leave him alone. And if John were to object, "You're not leaving me alone. That job is MINE, and you're trying to steal it from me!" we'd have to answer, "The job isn't yours. It's up to the owner of the business to decide who he wants to employ."

The "Mangan" he refers too is objecting to this post.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

I'm a socialist!

Incredible nerd that I am, I've been reading, "The Political Economy of the Minimal State". I?m enjoying it so far; I'm almost certain I understand whole chunks of it and while I'm still having trouble with the word "deontology", reading it makes me feel smart. The book is a collection of four long essays. The first one is written by Anthony de Jasay who I'd never heard of until recently. Coincidentally I found all these essays of his here just the other day and his most recent essay is on immigration! Yay! Instead of some enjoyable preaching to the receptive choir, he accuses libertarians who favor open immigration (and he seems to agree that there are a lot of us) of being socialists!
Those who claim that in the name of liberty they must let any and all would-be immigrants take a share are, then, not liberals but socialists professing share-and-share alike egalitarianism on an international scale.
Now I know how Mandy feels!

The reason for this claim is that immigrants would be able to use rich countries infrastructure, amenities and public order that were built by citizens and citizens parents etc. This is obviously true, but it also seems true to me that there are plenty of (American lets say) citizens who are also using those same things without building or paying for them, what does de Jaysay say about them? I donno. But anyway, surely this line of argument just suggests that would be immigrants should pay for the right to immigrate?

Fortunately for me Arnold Kling doesn't like this argument either so it can now be safely dismissed, never to bother me again.

Friday, August 18, 2006

accidental death

If people believe that they will go to heaven when they die, why do they still fight to the bitter end when the going gets tough? I know that you?re not supposed to want to die but that doesn?t mean that it wouldn?t affect people?s behavior. I?ve often had discussions where people have lamented the inconsistency of the religious; they say they believe one thing but then rush off and get drunk, cheat and steal etc. This is normally explained away; sometimes it?s claimed that those people are not really religious but more often there is a more understanding explanation.

But suddenly when asked why religious people don?t frequently get involved in fatal accidents I?m told that it?s because they know that God wouldn?t approve, i.e. people are carefully considering the theological implications of all of their actions. I find this extremely implausible. Unsurprisingly, I think the Simpsons says it best (through Maude Flanders)
It was terrible Neddy! I thought I was going to eternal bliss in paradise!


Greg thinks that the "the seriously test" should be applied to Charles Murray's seriously test. Does he seriously think his stupid "seriously test" is a good way to argue that no great art has been done in the last 50 years?

I don't doubt that Murray would pass the test. I would pass the original seriously test too: I'm sure Murray would find that amusing and conclusive proof that I am a moron.

kitten thinks of nothing but murder all day

Sunday, August 13, 2006


More from that evil idiot Charles Murray:
Q. You found that per capita levels of accomplishment tended to decline from 1850 to 1950. Would you care to speculate on post-1950 trends?

A. I think that the number of novels, songs, and paintings done since 1950 that anyone will still care about 200 years from now is somewhere in the vicinity of zero. Not exactly zero, but close. I find a good way to make this point is to ask anyone who disagrees with me to name a work that will survive -- and then ask, "Seriously?" Very few works indeed can defend themselves against the "Seriously?" question.
Julian Baggini used to write a column pointing out bad, but often persuasive, argumentative techniques. One of these columns is titled "Bold Assertion", if you say something confidently enough you can often get away with it. I'd guess Murray will get away with this most of the time, especially since most people reading what he has to say would be relatively well educated and probably agree with him anyway. There are a few reasons why I think his argument is bad. He not only asserts his view as obvious, he pre-emptively ridicules those who might disagree with him, "you can't be serious?!" maybe with a scornful laugh thrown in. Since Murray is quite an imposing intellectual and many educated people would agree with him, I would guess that people who disagree with his conclusion are easily bullied into silence.

The main problem with his test though is that it just measures how strongly people feel about the topic. I can imagine some people passing the "seriously?" test claiming that Britney is the greatest musician of all time and some thoughtful person failing it when asked to defend her choice of Bob Dylan.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Will Wilkinson is my newest hero and he recently wrote about education! Hurrah!

One complaint about the state giving up control over education is that parents would be free to send their kids to weird culty schools. I agree that it's a problem; some parents would send their kids to schools that are not in the child's best interests. For this to be a decisive objection though, you need to show that state education doesn't let some kids through the cracks in the same way. You donÂ’t need to look hard to find examples of really terrible government schools, apparently even in rich countries (I haven't been there myself). If the government can't prevent the existence of crappy schools why does it count as an argument against privately provided education? If children receive a better education overall through a voucher scheme it's still a good reason to favor it. We shouldn't be soothed just because crappy government schools shouldn't exist in principle if they do exist in practice.

The same goes for licensing in health care, the vision of quack doctors blinds us to the fact that health care is crap.

tolerance and respect

Over at samizdata.


Racism is pretty common. In South Africa you don't have to go far to find somebody who will cheerfully confess his racism if he feels he is among friends. Anti-Semitism and sexism are also popular. This is common knowledge right? When some famous person reveals their prejudice it changes my impression of them. It's not nice to be racist, but I don't get the outrage when somebody is caught out. This is related to the response to things like the motoons and reports of Koran flushing's in prisons. Earnest death threats are sent and people get killed in riots and demonstrations. Why are these things so outrageous? The response is usually far more passionate than responses to news of bombings or murder. In South Africa a racist comment is much more damaging than stealing, or possibly even rape. But I would guess that many people have friends that they know to be racist (or whatever) but don't end the friendship, I know I have.

I think it's interesting that these two attitudes to prejudice coexist in the way they do (assuming that there is something in what I've said). I think it says something about the ethical climate in which we live that there is so much moral outrage over cartoons and the pervasive greed and selfishness of our society, but so little over other things that happen everyday.


Some famous person is not actually a nice guy.

I hope this doesn't start a riot.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

the wild ones

I'm not sure exactly why I find this so funny, but I just couldn't stop laughing when I saw it. Take a look (make sure you read the comment below.

"Prohibitively High Rocket-Fuel Prices Bring Mideast Crisis To Standstill"

"The way things are going, I won?t have any money left over for other necessities, such as anti-aircraft missiles, land mines, and machine guns," said Hezbollah guerrilla Mahmoud Hamoui, who is just one of hundreds of Islamic militants compelled to scale back their killing until rocket-fuel prices return to their pre-2006 levels.

plan B

The Onion explains objections to the plan B pill. The slippery slope argument is always popular:
Slippery slope to plan C pill, which kills pregnant women's most overbearing family members

eats, shoots and leaves

I just finished reading it. I now know when to use it's and when to use its, but most of the stuff didn't sink in. Instead, now I don't trust MS Word and am terrified to write anything because I may just induce someone to commit suicide when they spot my pathetic punctuation.

Anyway, the first step is admitting you have a problem.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

human nature

I went to New York when I was 16. I thought it was the greatest place on earth (and that includes Disney World, which is merely the happiest). It was noticeable how rude people were. Either I was incredibly unlucky or New Yorkers are generally rude. Conventional wisdom has it that people are nice in small towns, and get meaner the bigger the town gets. The (simple, two person) prisoners dilemma tells us that it can be in our interest to cooperate with people even if we would be immediately better off by screwing them because if you have repeat dealings with people then screwing them over means that they are less likely to cooperate next time. In a big city we don't normally it's unlikely that we will have repeat dealings with strangers so it makes sense to act like it; screw them over if you can get away with it! I think it explains why the more touristy a place is the less value for money it often is; they don't rely on repeat business.

But we rely on strangers all the time for our survival. Most of us don't make our own food and bakers aren't necessarily altruists. We even give our credit card details to businesses over the internet. The reason for this is that we have well established rules and laws that help us to get over our mistrust of strangers so that we can still benefit from cooperation. These rules are not natural, but they form the basis of a free, capitalist society. This means that it is natural for there to be a tension between our intuition and a free market system, but we try to live with both.

this is the article responsible for this post and here is Hayek who is quoted in the artice:
If we were to apply the unmodified, uncurbed, rules of the micro-cosmos (i.e., of the small band or troop, or of, say, our families) to the macro-cosmos (our wider civilization), as our instincts and sentimental yearnings often make us wish to do, we would destroy it. Yet if we were always to apply the rules of the extended order to our more intimate groupings, we would crush them. So we must learn to live in two sorts of worlds at once.

more confirmation bias

My post on confirmation bias below was really meant to be about religion, but I lost control which is a pity because I think the issue of confirmation bias is important. Confirmation bias affects everyone and it's a constant struggle not to fall prey to it. One of the ways out of an opinion you have held simply because the people you like hold it is for one of those people to change their minds. It's more likely that Milton Friedman could convince me to renounce capitalism than Karl Marx.

Now despite the fact that Charles Murray is evil I quite like him, he seems reasonable and genuinely concerned for the welfare of the poor and unlucky. He is also influential which is more than can be said for most of my intellectual hero's. However, in a recent interview he was asked which of his beliefs had significantly changed during his life and part of his answer was
I have been an agnostic since my teens. But I am increasingly drawn to the proposition that of all the hypotheses about God, simple atheism is the least probable. That to be a confident atheist is the silliest of intellectual positions. That thinking about spiritual issues, despite all the difficulties, must be part of being a grown-up.
I don't really have a problem with dismissing this. like I said below, "He's a smart guy, but everybody makes mistakes".

If he were less convinced of the silliness of atheism I would have been more interested to read why he changed his mind.