Reaping what you Sow

by Kieran Healy on July 24, 2003

This piece of disingenuous nonsense from Volokh Conspirator Randy Barnett has already been kicked around by Henry and Brian, so I’m not going to write about it. But I’m pleased to see that Head Conspirator Eugene Volokh agrees with pretty much everything Henry has been saying.

Eugene attacks a Slate column which argues that conservatives in general — Ann Coulter, right-wing intellectuals, the White House, Uncle Tom Cobbley and all — are a monolithic unit differentiated only by their willingness to say what they really believe. Coulter is just a more loud-mouthed version of Ari Fleischer, and the Volokh Conspirators are separated from the wingnuts only by the occasional “empty semantic difference.” Eugene is properly outraged that someone would be so stupid or spiteful as to lump responsible conservatives like him in with Ann Coulter. He persuasively argues that when someone does this “it’s hard to give much credit to the rest of his moral — or logical — judgment.” Too true, Eugene. You should send Randy an email with a link to your blog or something — he’d really benefit from reading it.

Spoils of Victory

by Brian on July 24, 2003

Like Henry I was bemused by Randy Barnett’s MSNBC effort. I was thinking of teeing off on some of the details, but Fisking is so 2002. And Henry’s and Tim Lambert’s responses are better than anything I could have done. So instead I’ll just mention something that arose almost in passing in the article.

bq. The Supreme Court “decided the election” (rather than reversed a rogue Southern state Supreme Court and restore the rulings of local, mainly democratic, election officials).

I guess there is a typo here, and ‘democratic’ should be ‘Democratic’. Either way, there is something very odd about the fact that we can tell the political sympathies of electoral officials from their past public pronouncements.

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Tendentious dichotomies redux

by Henry Farrell on July 24, 2003

“Randy Barnett”: blogs to tell us about an “article”: he’s just written; it asks why the Left is living in its own “constructed reality,” where Bush didn’t lie, Al Gore is President, Bellesisles didn’t cook the books _und so weiter_. Fellow Volokh-blogger, Juan “chimes in”: that he’s reminded of the Left’s contortions over fascism in the 1930’s. Readers (at least this one) wonder why they’re getting this sort of knockabout stuff from the Volokh Conspiracy, usually a reliable source for challenging and thought-provoking arguments.

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You can’t con an honest man

by Daniel on July 24, 2003

Since it’s “contrarian” silly ideas week on CT this week, here’s another one for fans of Tyler Cowen’s telemarketing argument (see below). It’s something that’s bugged me for a while. Various versions of the libertarian creed seemed to be based on allowing people to do anything they like as long as it doesn’t involve “force or fraud”. My question is; why have they got such a downer on fraud?

The prohibition on force is easy to understand. Force is nasty; it harms people directly and interferes with their liberty. But defrauding someone is just offering them an opportunity to harm themselves. Rather like selling them heroin, or persuading them to opt out of a defined benefit pension scheme, two activities that most of us would support people’s right to do, even though we might disapprove of the consequences. If we’re going to establish a strong principle of caveat emptor, as most libertarians seem to think that we should, why should we have a prohibition on that form of free speech known as “lying”? If someone wants to be fooled by a smooth-talking charmer, or decides rationally that they can’t be bothered verifying the accuracy of claims made to them, why should the govenrment step in and paternalistically demand that they be insulated from the consequences of their actions?

I can’t think of any Nozickian or other libertarian grounds on which one should be able to object to someone earning their living as a confidence trickster; it’s a non-productive activity, certainly, and it degrades the general institution of trust, but these are social objections, not available to a consistent libertarian. None of us ever signed a contract saying we wouldn’t lie to each other, so we needn’t feel bound by any social objections. So I suggest that “or fraud” be dropped from the slogans of the Libertarian Party, and we leave it to the free market to weed out the dishonest timeshare promoters, merchants of patent medicines, Nigerian advance fee scam artists etc.

Financing basic income

by Chris Bertram on July 24, 2003

The new issue of Prospect includes a rather meandering piece by Samuel Brittan on baby bonds, basic income and asset redistribution. A central issue in this area is how to finance such proposals, and that’s something Brittan gets down to at the end of his article. He canvasses Henry George-style proposals for land taxation and also mentions inheritance taxes, but finally comes up with a somewhat odd suggestion:

… a very simple practical proposal, why not auction planning permission? Many local authorities have approached this piecemeal by making such permission conditional on the provision of local services such as leisure centres, approach roads and so on. But why not return this windfall to the taxpayer in the form of asset distribution and let citizens decide how to spend it?

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Evolving altruism

by Chris Bertram on July 24, 2003

Today’s Guardian has a profile of biologist David Sloan Wilson, whose book Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior (with philosopher Elliott Sober) defended group selection against Dawkins’s “selfish gene” model. His latest book, Darwin’s Cathedral, is about religion. Functional explanations of the religion do not have a history of success (c.f. E. Durkheim), but Unto Others was impressive enough for this one to be worth a look.