Self-fulfilling assumptions

by Chris Bertram on August 23, 2007

Megan McArdle has a new blog over at the Atlantic, and, browsing through it I notice that she comments on John Q.’s recent remarks about Drezner, foreign policy etc. The following caught my eye:

Many economists (not all) might agree that it would be lovely if we lived in an Edenic utopia in which everyone did the best for society without thought of themselves. But almost all economists recognize that self-interest is a powerful force that must be dealt with, and therefore that economic policy must be designed on the assumption that people will try to maximise their own good, rather than society’s. Similarly, foreign policy assumes that states will act in their own interest, and try to design a foreign policy that works within that constraint.

I have three reactions to this. The first is that McArdle’s description of the possible motivations for individuals is just absurdly simplistic: people either maximise their own good, or society’s, and since the latter suggestion is silly, we must work on the basis that of the former. Huh? How about intermediate possibilities, such as that people have a good that they try to realize, but that they also recognize constraints on the reasonable pursuit of that good (such as that other people have lives to live, have rights etc.). The second is that her justification for the self-interest assumption for states isn’t a simple consequence of her self-interest assumption for individuals. If individuals were straightforward maximizers of their own good then states would act in ways that reflect the self-interested action of the most powerful individuals within them rather than the (long term? short term?) interest of the state itself. Maybe there would be convergence, and maybe not, but McCardle isn’t entitled to the conclusion that states act self-interestedly on the basis that individuals do (if they do). My third reaction is that, as Bruno Frey and others have argued, the self-interest assumption turns out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Design a system on the assumption that people will act to maximize their individual good and they will act on that assumption. They’d be crazy not to: why hold back from the trough when the rules of the game assume that everyone will be pushing their own snout forward? But this proves nothing fundamental. A system designed on the basis of a certain level of solidaristic or community spirit may well foster such attitudes, especially if we have effective mechanisms for punishing those who act greedily or selfishly.

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1

abb1 08.23.07 at 7:36 am

There’s a sleight of hand there in her argument.

Economic policy within the state is not designed by each individual for him/herself, it’s designed collectively and for everybody. When it’s designed individually, we get a Wild-West situation and most individuals don’t like that.

Similarly with the states – it would make sense for them to get together and develop a set of rules for everyone to follow. It would be better for everyone, even the US, really.

2

ejh 08.23.07 at 7:45 am

Additionally:

a. what may be necessary in order to produce a healthy economy may not be what is necessary to produce a healthy society, and indeed the two may differ significantly ;

b. in order to have a society that does not disintegrate it is necessary for a significant proportion of people to not behave selfishly and to propound the values of common interest ;

c. the more that the values of selfishness are extolled, the harder these people will have to work just to keep us afloat, while being despised by the advocates of selfishness as they do so.

3

bad Jim 08.23.07 at 8:42 am

If we’re talking about Americans, it’s likely that many will be concerned that someone unworthy might benefit from a policy of generosity.

Back when I was in business, it was assumed by some of our consultants that we’d prefer any immediate return to the owners over any long-term benefit to the company or its employees. It seemed to be a matter of faith with them.

Ours wasn’t that sort of company. I was on the shop floor whenever one of my program changes caused a problem, or when a toilet overflowed, or when we got a new forklift. Who gets to drive it?

The point was to have a company the owners would be happy to work for, since we worked there too.

4

Kevin Donoghue 08.23.07 at 8:51 am

I agree she’s wrong, but could you get her name right, please?

[Fixed. thanks CB]

5

Peter 08.23.07 at 8:55 am

And furthermore:

a. Even self-interested individuals may not know what is in their own interest until they interact with others. Despite the assumptions of mainstream economics, none of us arrive on earth with our intentions, desires and preferences already formed. The more novel the decision problem the less likely we are to know our own mind on the subject purely by introspection.

b. Many goods (perhaps even all) have a so-called network component: One person’s utility depends on the choices of other people. The classical example is a fax machine, which provides no utility at all if only a single person has one. But all goods — even raw material commodities, such as coal — have an element of fashion in their purchase and consumption, and thus the utility of the good for one person is dependent upon the numbers of other people who also choose that good. Even rational, self-interested selection of decision options, therefore, may require prior co-ordination with other economic agents. This is one of the functions of advertising — to help people undertake this co-ordination by alerting them to how their peers or aspirant peers may view the product.

c. Even well after a decision is made, we may not be able to accurately assess the net benefits or costs of alternative decision options, even if only making the assessment from the perspective of an entirely self-interested person.

6

Joe 08.23.07 at 9:05 am

It’s not a theoretical argument. Societies have been structured with the aim of encouraging solidarity. The results seem to vindicate those unenlightened economists.

7

zebbidies spring 08.23.07 at 12:17 pm

McArdle is a silly child of privilege, hired as a blog troll in order to drive pageviews on the Atlantic Monthly site. Outraged links and track-backs such as this one are achieving this purpose.

Her arguments are so poor that they often don’t even scan correctly as English sentences. Why the super-dreadnoughts on this site are firing their six-inch guns at her intellectual row-boat is beyond me.

I dearly hope it is nothing to do with her winsome resemblance to an elf and some unresolved issues with high-school inter-gender relations.

8

bjk 08.23.07 at 12:33 pm

Why do people take her seriously?

9

groo 08.23.07 at 12:56 pm

Why the super-dreadnoughts on this site are firing their six-inch guns at her intellectual row-boat is beyond me.

Why do people take her seriously?

I enjoy reading McArdle because her posts serve a useful function, namely telling me what a reasonable amatuer of libertarian persuasion might be thinking about an issue. When I say she is reasonable, I don’t mean that all of her arguments are air-tight. Rather, I mean that I think she argues in good faith and cares about getting the answer right about as much as the lefty bloggers I read are.

(To the extent people bother to address my comment, I expect a lot of “she held opinion X. This is proof that she never argues in good faith.” I am suspicious of this line of reasoning because I see very little generosity among commenters in this way toward right-of-us thinkers, making me wonder whether some commenters equate “agrees with CT.org” with “is a reasonable person.”)

In short, McArdle channels a lot of people that CT readers often disagree with, but who are not beyond hope. In fact, addressing (i.e. methodically picking apart) the arguments of the McArdles of the world could really change some people’s minds. She is a real person who people take seriously–much more useful than a straw man.

Thanks to Bertram, Yglesias, and whoever else is getting slammed lately for addressing McArdle’s posts.

10

Dylan 08.23.07 at 1:10 pm

If individuals were straightforward maximizers of their own good then states would act in ways that reflect the self-interested action of the most powerful individuals within them rather than the (long term? short term?) interest of the state itself.

Which is…exactly what most people think happens. France defends agricultural subsidies to protect politically powerful farmers, not the larger class of consumers and the best interests of the nation as a whole. Chinese leaders adopt those policies that make their nation more powerful, thus enhancing their own sense of aggrandizement and the opportunities to enrich themselves and their cronies through corruption, but avoid any relaxing of the bad old days that would threaten them, be it ever so nice and good for the Chinese as a whole. And of course: “Bush is in the pocket of oil interests and started a war for oil.”

11

nick s 08.23.07 at 1:15 pm

Don’t feed the paid troll.

12

Anderson 08.23.07 at 1:36 pm

McArdle? Absurdly simplistic? … Every day, man.

13

Mark G 08.23.07 at 1:38 pm

Regarding your third point, the way I was introduced to this was that “anarchy is what states make of it”. My undergrad courses in IR never showed me any reason why I should take realists’ claims seriously over and above Wendt’s argument.

(Now the arguments may be out there, but I never ran into them.)

14

Chris Bertram 08.23.07 at 1:49 pm

OK people. I’ve deleted one comment from “thag” (who is, in any case, in breach of our comments policy) and I’ve hesitated over others. No-one forces you to comment here, but if you _really_ think it is a waste of time engaging with McArdle, then I can’t see how you can also think that it is a good use of your time to post personally insulting comments about her in threads here. I’ve had some pretty ill-tempered exchanges with her here (as have other CT authors) but this post wasn’t written in a spirit of ridicule or spite. If you really think discussing with MM is a waste of time then why not take out the trash, rearrange you books or go for a walk.

15

Uncle Kvetch 08.23.07 at 1:49 pm

Just what the world needed–one more “libertarian” desperately casting about for a good, intellectually sound reason why state-sponsored torture might not be such a bad idea after all. And it’s simply a given that we should all care what she thinks.

God help us all.

16

Uncle Kvetch 08.23.07 at 1:51 pm

So sorry Chris–we overlapped. Feel free to delete my comment. I hope you enjoy an exhilirating round of “The Libertarian Case for Torture” with The Atlantic’s newest blogger.

17

groo 08.23.07 at 1:51 pm

Don’t feed the paid troll.

nick s,

I hope you’re not talking about me because I have tried to make a case for engaging the arguments of opponents. If you are, I guess that means you are trying to use social pressure to avoid being disagreed with. I guess if I’m not with you I’m against you, eh?

18

Chris Bertram 08.23.07 at 1:53 pm

Uncle K. AFAIKT the post you link to is opposed to torture. Have my reading skills deserted me?

19

groo 08.23.07 at 1:55 pm

nick s,

I now realize you’re probably referring to McArdle as a paid troll, not me and my puny comment. I forgot to take my nap today.

20

thag 08.23.07 at 1:59 pm

Comments policy posted where? I’d like to have a read–sorry to hear I’m in violation of it.

But this line makes no sense:

“if you think it’s a waste of time to argue with X, then it makes no sense to post critical comments about X”

What doesn’t make sense? If I think some abstract X is a dishonest light-weight, then I think it is a waste of intellectual bandwidth for *you* to be devoted blog-inches to X, and I post critical comments in order to dissuade you and others like you from encouraging X and giving X a larger platform from which to spout X’s inanities.

Nothing offensively personal in all that, I hope?

21

Uncle Kvetch 08.23.07 at 2:00 pm

You know Chris, you’re right. She isn’t “making a case” for torture, that was a misrepresentation my part and I withdraw it with apologies.

I could go into reasons why I find her argument in the linked post hopelessly muddled and ad hoc, but having made an ass of myself once, I’m going to cut my losses and slink away now. Carry on.

22

Marc 08.23.07 at 2:05 pm

Chris, it is things like her torture post – or her “send old people out to sea on an iceberg” post – that disqualify her as a serious person worthy of commentary. She either does not reason things through or she is not honest; in either case her writing is a parade of fallacies.

Here is the first paragraph:

“One of the most facile dismissals of torture is that it doesn’t work, so why bother? That’s tempting, but it’s too easy. Torture seems to me very likely to work provided that you can verify the information, which I assume interrogators can in at least some circumstances. Nor is it obvious to me that the quality of information is likely to be lower than that obtained by other means: yes, people will say anything to avoid torture, but they’ll also say anything to avoid imprisonment. Maybe the lies will be vivider or more voluble under torture, but it doesn’t seem necessarily so that the ratio of lies to truth will increase.”

She then goes on to say that someone (not her!) could still argue that torture is wrong. But look at the above, please. It is assertion by argument. She thinks that torture could work exactly as effectively as it does in the movies, so based on her speculative beliefs the argument that it is unreliable is *falsified*. All of her posts have this sort of logic, which you note on the current subject. What’s the point? She’ll just breezily assert that she thinks X, which contradicts you, thus you’re wrong. Even if you’re saying the Sun rises in the east.

23

thag 08.23.07 at 2:18 pm

Ahh–thanks for posting the comments policy. Yes, many blogs do have a front-page link, which I looked for after your #14.

24

Anderson 08.23.07 at 2:30 pm

if you think it’s a waste of time to argue with X, then it makes no sense to post critical comments about X

When did this blog adopt THAT policy?

25

Nicholas Gruen 08.23.07 at 2:38 pm

I have a fourth objection. She says “Many economists (not all) might agree thatit would be lovely if we lived in an Edenic utopia in which everyone did the best for society without thought of themselves”. Which ones I wonder?

Adam Smith thought the opposite.

It was one of his most impish claims that self interest should not just be embraced ahead of benevolence (though it had it’s place as an “ornament”) out of necessity – there being a shortage of benevolence over self love. He argued that economic decisions would be worse – we’d all be worse off if they were made benevolently.

26

Peter 08.23.07 at 2:40 pm

I agree with groo’s remarks.

27

djw 08.23.07 at 3:22 pm

Nicholas Gruen highlights what jumped out at me as well; I couldn’t even get around to Chris’s objections while stuck on the fact that she completely seems to have forgotten that in economist frame of mind, cooperative utopias are not just empirically unlikely but conceptually flawed as well.

28

mq 08.23.07 at 7:17 pm

McArdle’s at the same level as Instapundit. The point of criticizing her is to try to show just how debased the thinking of our “amateur libertarians” has become. (The Cato institute, home of professional libertarians, is actually far better).

29

Hermenauta 08.23.07 at 8:20 pm

Chris,

I’m quite sympathetic with your take of the question, but have doubts about the second point in your argumentation. First, I think she made an analogy, not a proposal of causal relationship between the self-interest of the individual and the self-interest of the State. But second, and more important, is that if you agree that States act according to the will of their rulers you should also acknowledge that in the case of democratic states the “rulers” happens to be the elected government. So if you agree that democratic processes are efficient, in the sense that they convey the will of the people, the case for aligning the behaviour of the state with the behaviour of the people should be much stronger in democratic states.

Unless, of course, you agree with Bryan Caplan…

30

Nathanael Nerode 08.23.07 at 10:26 pm

Enlightened self-interest. Sigh….. such an ignored concept

The point made in another article soon after is quite accurate: if you bind yourself to certain rules, you become *trustworthy*. Being trusted is *EXTREMELY* valuable.

Acting in the interests of society can be in your own interests in the long run, and usually is, particularly if you’re one of the people who benefits from a stable society. The same applies internationally….

“Back when I was in business, it was assumed by some of our consultants that we’d prefer any immediate return to the owners over any long-term benefit to the company or its employees. It seemed to be a matter of faith with them.”

Pretty much sums up what’s wrong with American business, doesn’t it?

31

notsneaky 08.23.07 at 11:55 pm

“She then goes on to say that someone (not her!) *could* still argue that torture is wrong. “

Not “could”. “Should”. There’s a world of difference in that and that’s where questions about your (and others’) reading skills arise.

32

greensmile 08.24.07 at 12:40 am

All excellent objections, Chris.

“…But almost all economists recognize that self-interest is a powerful force that must be dealt with, and therefore that economic policy must be designed on the assumption that people will try to maximize their own good, rather than society’s…”

is the quintessence of conservatism’s flawed and selfish assumptions. You can’t even define the maximization of personal good. To do so requires understanding and making explicit the web of interdependencies that locate and sustain any one of us rich or poor within society.

33

Henry 08.24.07 at 12:41 am

Fair enough, but it should be pointed out that Ms. McArdles’ own reading skills sometimes … “leave a little to be desired”:http://clubtroppo.com.au/2007/08/23/the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-baghdad.

34

Barry 08.24.07 at 12:06 pm

Groo: “I enjoy reading McArdle because her posts serve a useful function, namely telling me what a reasonable amatuer of libertarian persuasion might be thinking about an issue.”

No, the point of reading her is to get a nostalgia trip, reading a Republican-disguised-as-a-libertarian. If you want ‘ a reasonable amatuer of libertarian persuasion ‘, read Jim Henley’s blog (highclearing.com).

The reason that she’s put on the Atlantic blog is pretty clear, when you read people like Ross, and realize just how dumb and foolish they are. She’s another eager tool of the elites, with a slightly different flavor than Ross.

35

Marc 08.24.07 at 6:34 pm

It isn’t a matter of reading comprehension, “notsneaky.” it’s a matter of context. There are two different arguments against torture: a practical one and a moral one. McArdle dismisses the practical case in a remarkably poorly reasoned paragraph, and then casually remarks that there is a moral case in the second paragraph.

We’ve seen this before in the torture discussion. Torture enthusiasts are fond of trying to shift the topic to whether behavior A or B is really torture, or of inventing fictional situations where torture-could-help. I do not read these as honest debating tactics; I read them as excuse-making and diversion. Her entire first paragraph is, in effect, the entire justification used by torture advocates. It isn’t surprising that a weak followup with ambiguous wording fails to counter this impression.

36

notsneaky 08.24.07 at 8:25 pm

It isn’t a matter of reading comprehension

Apparently it is. Look, what she’s saying (in two paragraphs, but then again, you gotta fill that blank space in the internets) is “who cares about whether torture works or not? Even if it did, it would still be wrong.” That does not sound like a “torture enthusiast” – which you obviously assumed she was before you got through the first sentence.

And somehow you manage to get something completely different out of it. And it’s not like it’s written in some high falutin’, mangled grammar, post modernist cant that requires some serious head scratching and three years in grad school.

37

engels 08.24.07 at 8:47 pm

No, she’s saying “yeah torture is wrong but let’s dismiss one widely held and powerful argument against it out of hand (for seemingly specious reasons) and btw aren’t most the people who are against torture a bunch of cretins?”. That is not what I would call a forthright rejection of torture.

38

notsneaky 08.24.07 at 9:18 pm

What freakin’ article are you reading?

Where does she dismiss some widely held and powerful argument against it? That it doesn’t work? She points out that the argument is irrelevant to whether torture is immoral or not!

Where does she call people who are against torture a bunch of cretins? Again, what freakin’ article are you reading?

Is there something in the comments I’m missing (I see that Lizardbreath makes some interesting points, but that’s a completely different line)?

Cuz seriously, I think you’re just projecting your own fantasies and delusions of what a “amateur libertarian” MUST be like to keep your fragile little ideological ego, er, id, secure.

39

engels 08.24.07 at 10:22 pm

Radek, she dismisses the widely held and powerful argument that torture doesn’t work without giving adequate reasons. She doesn’t “point out that it is irrelevant”, as you claim, but asserts that it is invalid. She describes said argument as “facile” (“derog said of remarks, opinions, etc: over-simple; showing a lack of careful thought.” [Chambers]) Oh yeah, and I forgot to add:

Do you have a freakin’ brain? Can you freakin’ read? Everything you say is just transference of your ideological presuppositions from your cognitive dissonance so your paranoid delusions of raaaaaaaah!!! Again, do you have a freakin’ BRAIN? Do you? Well?

40

notsneaky 08.24.07 at 11:22 pm

You know I’ve just reread that article for like the 15th time trying to see where folks like you are coming from.

I got nothing else to say.

41

engels 08.24.07 at 11:32 pm

I got nothing else to say.

Happy days are here again…

42

abb1 08.25.07 at 6:35 pm

It pains me to find myself in agreement with notsneaky Radek, my mortal enemy. The weekend is ruined.

43

engels 08.25.07 at 8:06 pm

Fake leftie troll in “agrees with ‘libertarian’ troll” shocker.

44

engels 08.26.07 at 1:57 am

However, Radek, if you really do care where people you are arguing with “are coming from”, which seems very unlikely as on your past record your main purpose in commenting here seems to be to hurl abuse at people, here’s what McArdle says about the argument that torture is ineffective:

One of the most facile dismissals of torture is that it doesn’t work, so why bother? That’s tempting, but it’s too easy. Torture seems to me very likely to work provided that you can verify the information, which I assume interrogators can in at least some circumstances.

And that’s that. Case dismissed on the grounds that it “seems to me” that it works just fine (and some brief condescension towards anyone who doesn’t share this judgment). Now let’s see what U.S. Army Field Manual has to say

Use of torture and other illegal methods is a poor technique that yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and induce the source to say what he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.

Now here’s Amnesty International:

High-level US officials have frequently stated that the “war on terror” is a new war that requires new thinking. In fact, these officials seek to justify old methods that have long been de-legitimized. Suspending habeas corpus, “disappearing” detainees, incommunicado detention and the legalization of torture have been used in the name of national security and do not represent “new thinking.” These policies merely recycle old, ineffective practices that violate human rights and undermine the rule of law.

And human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith:

…it would seem that for the most part torture does not work, either because it extracts inaccurate information, or information that is not subject to verification. The prisoners in Guantánamo Bay have confessed to outlandish things when tortured and abused. The young British Muslims held there who came to be known as the “Tipton Three” admitted to being the shadowy figures on the edge of a video of Osama bin Laden, taped in Afghanistan in 2000. The problem for the prosecution was that they were working in an electronics store in Birmingham at the time.

So it really does seem that far from being a “red herring” which a few moments reflection can reveal to be unconvincing, which is only propounded by “facile” people who lack McArdle’s evident moral and intellectual seriousness, the view that torture is ineffective is one which many authorititive people who are informed about realities of the practice of torture feel rather certain of, and McArdle’s unsupported assertion to the contrary is in fact rather shockingly ignorant and glib.

But anyway Radek, thanks for dispelling any doubts I had that you might have been a real libertarian (in so far as anyone can be, since libertarians are by definition fake anarchists; but I thought you might have been, as it were, a genuine fake). It is now apparent from your impassioned defence of McArdle that you’re just another schmib.

45

engels 08.26.07 at 2:18 am

Georgetown University News:

Rethinking the Psychology of Torture
Former Interrogators, Psychologists Join to Study the Effectiveness of Torture

Torture does not yield reliable information and is actually counterproductive in intelligence interrogations. This was the conclusion released by retired senior military interrogators and research psychologists during a press conference at Georgetown University

The Torture Myth
By Anne Applebaum

Air Force Col. John Rothrock, who, as a young captain, headed a combat interrogation team in Vietnam… says that he doesn’t know “any professional intelligence officers of my generation who would think [torturing interrogation subjects] is a good idea.” […]

Or listen to Army Col. Stuart Herrington, a military intelligence specialist who conducted interrogations in Vietnam, Panama and Iraq during Desert Storm, and who was sent by the Pentagon in 2003 — long before Abu Ghraib — to assess interrogations in Iraq. Aside from its immorality and its illegality, says Herrington, torture is simply “not a good way to get information.” … Worse, you’ll have the other side effects of torture. It “endangers our soldiers on the battlefield by encouraging reciprocity.” It does “damage to our country’s image” and undermines our credibility in Iraq. That, in the long run, outweighs any theoretical benefit.

46

Jasper 08.26.07 at 4:18 am

So it really does seem that far from being a “red herring” which a few moments reflection can reveal to be unconvincing, which is only propounded by “facile” people who lack McArdle’s evident moral and intellectual seriousness, the view that torture is ineffective is one which many authorititive people who are informed about realities of the practice of torture feel rather certain of…

engels: Yes, but the view that “torture is ineffective” is not the same as the view that “torture is never effective.” Indeed one of the expert citations you provide underscore this logic. The Army manual says torture is a “poor” technique that yields “unreliable” results. It does not say that torture never works, or that it is impossible to torture a prisoner into yielding valuable information.

We can and should embrace the view that torture is a poor technique for obtaining intelligence. But why is it even necessary — or desirable — to argue about its usefulness, when we know that torture is immoral? Surely this is what McArdle is saying. A focus on the lack of effectiveness of torture leaves hanging, in the air, unstated, the implication that it just might be permissible to utilize illegal interrogation techniques if we could find a way to make them work. I don’t think any reasonable person desires this state of affairs to come about. Still, one could imagine, say, in the aftermath of a future terrorist attack on American soil, a group of hawkish legislators proposing a bill that would fund torture research. After all, if we could only get it to work…

Dismissing the effectiveness of torture isn’t so much facile, as it is a dangerous diversion.

47

engels 08.26.07 at 1:13 pm

But why is it even necessary—or desirable—to argue about its usefulness, when we know that torture is immoral? Surely this is what McArdle is saying.

No, it’s not what she is saying. What part of “torture seems to me very likely to work” don’t you understand? In any case, this would be a remarkably stupid thing to say since many people in the US manifestly do not share ‘our’ belief that torture is always wrong but the argument from its ineffectiveness might well convince them.

48

Jasper 08.26.07 at 5:43 pm

No, it’s not what she is saying. What part of “torture seems to me very likely to work” don’t you understand?

I understand perfectly the meaning of McArdle’s sentence. What I think you misjudge is its intent.

McArdle is simply giving us a “provocative” warning not to base our arguments against torture on utilitarianism. Now, I realize “very likely” is a bit over the top. But who knows, with a bit of much needed funding (irony intended), my guess is the Powers That Be could study and perfect torture methods. After all, it’s not like torture can never work. I think it’s fairly well-documented, for instance, that the Gestapo was able to capture Jean Moulin and strike effectively against the French underground with information obtained from tortured prisoners (the name “Klaus Barbie” comes to mind). Simply juxtaposing the terms “Gestapo” and “US interrogation methods” ought to be enough, dammit. We don’t need to go on to say “torture is always ineffective. To me this focus on the utility of torture has always seemed an unnecessary and risky overreach. In similar fashion, I might add, to discussions about capital punishments. Opponents of the death penalty often point out its lack of effect on crime rates. While I agree with them, I’ve always found it’s more effective to focus on morality. It’s simply wrong to take a life in vengeance. Just like it’s simply wrong to cruelly treat and inflict pain on a prisoner. It’s just wrong. It’s not necessary — and ill-advised — to base one’s arguments on whether or not it works. Otherwise we risk having the anti-torture edifice undermined in the event of a change in its level of effectiveness. Why leave the door open?

49

engels 08.28.07 at 11:19 pm

Jasper – Noone said that torture “is never effective”. Likewise, noone said that we must “base” our opposition to torture on claims about its effectiveness. These are straw man arguments. Torture violates human rights and it is ineffective. This statement is true and it is also (in a nutshell) the strongest argument against torture. It does not “leave the door open” to the use of torture.

What problem you and McArdle have with this position, and why you think that jetissoning one plank of it, without factual reasons for doing so, would be a good idea, is beyond me, but whereas in your case I am willing to put it down to a naïvety about political tactics coupled with a lack of respect for the views of the many people who have campaigned against torture on just these grounds, McArdle’s past record makes it impossible to rule out bad faith.

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