Conspiracy Theory

by Belle Waring on September 24, 2015

The recent news about VW has made me question some pretty fundamental things. I think cheating on this scale required, not just massive amounts of fraud, but a massive amount of complicity. No one at a lower level in the organization would take on the risk of freelancing a scheme of this nature. The benefits coming to you would be attenuated, and the danger would be great. This means that (minimally, some) people at the very top of the organization had to know about the software. Software powerful enough to determine when the car was being tested is complex and requires input from many sensors. This means (minimally, not a small number of) people had to know about the software. The person writing the proprietary code governing the steering wheel’s performance would have to be involved at least enough to have been told, “create an alert when the wheel hasn’t been moved in 2 minutes but the engine is running hard.” But it has always been my belief that, by and large, complex, dangerous conspiracies involving many people simply don’t happen. The more danger attaches to a criminal conspiracy–and here the danger seems in the worst case scenario actual dissolution of the company–the more the conspirators must be benefiting. Why would they do it otherwise? So, price-rigging among a small number of cartel members, for example, is easy to understand. But the larger the number of people involved in the conspiracy becomes, so, too does the benefit incline to decrease, but more obviously, the likelier it is that someone will screw up. If you are the director for a certain division of engines you might get a bonus that rises and falls with sales, or with the time and ease with which you meet projected goals. But it will have to be a pretty damn good bonus to risk being put in jail, right? And on the second point, each new person who knows about the conspiracy seems to exponentially increase the odds someone will blow the whistle. And yet here no one talked. They were only discovered by a pro-diesel group who wanted to tout the idea of getting more diesel cars on the road in the interests of cleaner energy expenditure! What the hell? And, do we think everyone else’s proprietary software is soft and rotten and fretted by maggots beneath a smooth and impenetrable DCMA surface? One can only imagine the EPA will be having a look…

A migration veil of ignorance

by Chris Bertram on September 24, 2015

I’ve been invited to give a TED-style talk tonight on whether there’s a right to free movement. Given the format, I don’t have a text and I’ll be speaking to a series of slides. But here are the basic points I’ll be making, for better or worse. (There’s no great claim to originality here, and my final slide will tell people to read Carens. Lots of undotted “i”s and uncrossed “t”s too.)

At the present time, they key norm governing the international migration regime is that states have a discretionary right to allow or not allow non-members onto their territory and to grant such members rights of residence, or not. The global refugee and asylum regime is a partial exception to this rule, but only a partial one because states have voluntarily agreed to be bound by the provisions of the Convention and could, if they chose, renounce it.

Clearly, most politicians and most voters, at least in rich countries, believe the norm is justified, with a lot of public debate focusing on whether the refugee regime is too permissive. Any party that tried to run on a policy favouring more open borders would get slaughtered at the polls, because more people think that democratic electorates have the right to exclude. But just because most people believe something, doesn’t make it true. And past consensuses on slavery, women’s suffrage and against gay marriage now look like the moral abominations they are.

But border and citizenship regimes have a *prima facie* case to answer because of the fatefulness of citizenship for life chances and the way in which they coerce people. Whilst some people are lucky enough to be born in, say, Belgium, others have the comparative misfortune to end us as citizens of Burundi or Bolivia. Some people get the valuable citizenships of states with wealth and which respect human rights; others end up with North Korea or Eritrea.

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The last Trump …

by John Quiggin on September 24, 2015

… has blown for any notion of “sane Republicans”. Comment seems superfluous, but I will repost some older pieces, going back to 2004, which I think stand up pretty well

Science versus the Republicans
Ignorance is strength
Has vaccination become a partisan issue?