Archive for the ‘social regulation’ Category

Flag Burning and the Founding Fathers

July 3rd, 2009 No comments

Prof. E. Volokh’s Flag Burning and Free Speech in the WSJ:

The Framers were working within a late 18th century common-law legal system that generally treated symbolic expression and verbal expression the same. Speech restrictions — such as libel, slander, sedition, obscenity and blasphemy — covered symbolic expression on the same terms as verbal expression.

Many cases and treatises, including Blackstone’s “Commentaries” published in 1765 and often cited by the Framers’ generation in America, said this about libel law. And early American court cases soon held the same about obscenity and blasphemy. Late 18th and early 19th century libel law cases and treatises gave many colorful examples: It could be libelous to burn a person in effigy, send him a wooden gun (implying cowardice), light a lantern outside his house (implying the house was a brothel), and engage in processions mocking him for his supposed misbehavior.

Defamation law is not about speech at all, is it? It is generally about conveying information. If an action conveyed defamatory information, it was illegal. Thus, the brothel light was illegal. If it conveyed non-defamatory information– I don’t see that it should have been, under common law principles. Burning a simple effigy to indicate “I don’t like you” should not have been illegal. If it was burning an effigy of someone in an enemy military uniform, it should have.

At any rate, libel law regulated content, and doesn’t care about method of expression. Much of traditional social regulation regulated method, and didn’t care about content. (Admittedly, some of it, such as blasphemy laws, combined regulation of method– “no swear words”— and regulation of content— “no atheistic books”. )

Authority in American Culture

May 25th, 2009 No comments

Pastor Bayly’s sermon yesterday on authority in America, “In Heaven and on Earth” (MP3 available), was very good. What is below was inspired by it, taking some of the themes and examples and expanding on them. They are notes, with little effort to put things in sequence, to introduce, or to conclude.

A good doctor knows which of his patients are in danger of
heart attacks. When he first meets us for a check-up, he says,
“Strip” and asks us lots of personal questions. We’ll do anything
to try to live a little longer. Or, more accurately, we will at least
listen quietly as he tells us how to behave and say to ourselves,
“It’s his job to tell me all that. He has authority to say it, even if I
don’t intend to listen to his advice. After all, he cares about my
health, even if I care more about other things like eating all the
ice cream I want. I know he’s right, and I knew it before I came
in, but, after all, he wouldn’t be a good doctor if he didn’t bug me
about it. “

A good pastor knows which of his people are in danger of
adultery. But what happens if he tries to care for someone’s soul
as carefully as a doctor cares for the person’s body? Nobody
would ever think of going in to his pastor for a check-up. If he
did, he would be offended if the pastor asked personal questions.
And if the pastor tells him what to do, or warned him of future
dangers, he would say to himself, “That’s none of a pastor’s
business. I haven’t done anything wrong, and I won’t, and he’s
just meddling because he’s a busybody; he must like bossing
people around.” Or, he might add, “Yes, I know I’m skirting on
the edge of temptation, but since that’s obvious, the pastor
doesn’t have to rub it in, and I know how to stay out of real

In our culture we give our doctors lots of authority, but not our
pastors. In fact, pastors are a lot lower on the hierarchy of
authority than dental technicians.

Our culture is similarly deferential to government. Americans
may be a little less deferential than Europeans, but not much less.
If the government says, “Take off your shoes” at the airport, we
do it, and we are happy to be degraded that way, because it
shows the government cares about our safety, even though we
know–or anyone would know if they gave it a moment’s
thought— that taking off shoes doesn’t really help safety at all. I
say this because our government is truly elected, and the foot-
stripping policy is obvious and simple enough that it wouldn’t last
if most people didn’t like it.

Let’s think about a couple of other examples. Suppose the
church elders met 30 years ago and decided to tell the
congregation, “You must all buy child seats for your cars and tie
your children up in them.” We would be outraged. In fact,
suppose a father had told his wife, “We need to take the money
we were going to spend going out on our next two date nights
and buy a car seat, and you must always strap Joey into it, no
matter how late you are or how much he cries.” The wife would
be outraged, and either fight or mutter to herself, “I at least
deserve to be consulted. He doesn’t know how much our date
nights mean to me. And he’s not the one who has to deal with
getting Joey into the car seat just to travel half a mile to the
grocery store.”

But what in fact happened was that the government issued the
command, with absolutely no consideration of our particular
family budget or needs, and no ability to ask about exceptions for
special circumstances, because the government is so distant from
us that there’s nobody to ask about them. And we loved it. Most
of us thanked the elected officials for thus compelling us, by re-
electing them. Others of us didn’t love it. We muttered to
ourselves about how stupid the regulation was in our particular
cases. But few of us objected in principle to the idea that the
government could tell us how to raise our children. We think the
government does have that authority. And we truly think it is
authority. The government does use violence to enforce its will–
in the sense that if you try to thwart it, the government will send
men with guns to put you in jail, and to kill you if you fight them.
But that is not the main reason we obey. Even if there are no
police around, we obey, because we know it is the law, an
authority, and we obey authority even if it is unjust and mistaken.
Or, if we disobey, we do it guiltily, feeling in our hearts that we are
doing something wrong.

A board of elders wouldn’t issue an edict about child seats. But
let’s think about a couple of other examples. What about
smoking? Suppose the elders said that smoking was a vice and
nobody could remain a member in good standing if he smoked
in public. What a legalistic, fundamentalist, church that would be!
Or what if a man told his wife not to smoke when she’s out
shopping. What a tyrant! After all, he’s not even there to be
bothered by the smell of the smoke, so what business is it of his?
But when the city council tells us not to smoke in public, we
meekly obey, even if we grumble. It has authority; the church
and the family do not.

I’ve been driving in the point, but let’s think about one more
example, the one Pastor Bayly used in his sermon. What if a teen-
age girl wears short skirts in church, sitting up front and
displaying plenty of leg so she can enjoy being noticed by men.
The pastor tells the father, “Your daughter is dressing
immodestly. Tell her to cover herself up more.” What will the
father’s response be? He will be ashamed, for sure. In many
many cases he will also be outraged by the pastor’s interference.
After all, his daughter is just wearing the kind of clothes lots of
people wear every day. If the church is one where people dress
up a little for worship, he’d accept the point— for Sunday, at
least. But if it is the typical American church where jeans and
tennis shoes are perfectly acceptable, he’d feel singled out.

Consider the same admonition coming from a real authority:
the government. If the girl’s school sends a note home– a cold,
impersonal note– saying that her skirt must reach down to at
least within 1.5 inches o her knee, the parents will pass along the
note to the girl and tell her to obey. The school secretary, after
all, has authority.

That’s just at school, of course. What if the government issued a
skirt rule for all public places? We don’t know the answer to that.
But I would place my money on public acceptance of the new
rule. A few radicals would object, protest, and be arrested. But
most of us would accept it, especially if the newspapers added
their support to the government.

Let’s go back to the pastor telling the father about his daughter,
though. The pastor’s not the only weak figure in America.
There’s another reason the father would feel ashamed and
outraged, a more subtle one. It’s that he would feel he, too, lacks
authority. He might like to tell his daughter to dress modestly,
but he doesn’t dare. His wife would object. She would say things
like, “You’re so legalistic. You don’t really care. You object to her
short skirt, but you don’t even go to see her play volleyball at her
school. If you really cared, you’d start spending more time with
her. So don’t talk about clothes. You don’t know anything about
how girls dress, anyway.”

His daughter would certainly object. She’s too old to spank, and
she’s buying the clothes herself. All her friends would think her
father was totally unreasonable, or at least would tell her that
when she complained.

The father would rather not tell his daughter to do things. So he
gets angry at the pastor. He is all the more angry because he
agrees with the pastor. He knows what the young men are
imagining doing with his daughter– and the old men, too. He
knows she is enjoying knowing that the boys are thinking those
thoughts. He knows he should be talking to her about it, but he
doesn’t have the guts. And he has the depressing feeling that
even if he did go through that painful process, it wouldn’t work.
He’d end up getting his wife and daughter angry at him, with no
real result. Maybe he’d win on that particular issue– if he fought
hard. But they’d pay him back double on every other issue. So he
feels beaten in advance. Why does the pastor have to rub in his
humiliation? If he, the father, has no authority, how can the
pastor have it?

All these kind of thoughts are going through the mind of the
pastor, too. He’s in an even weaker position, since the angry
church member can leave or can try to get him fired. That’s why
pastors ordinarily give up on specific admonishment. Maybe
they’re even right to do so, at least if they continue with general
admonishment and with discipline for more serious sins. If so,
the problem is even bigger– it’s so big that we have to give up
the most effective form of church discipline entirely, saving up
what little authority the church has for less costly expenditures of
it or for only the most church-destroying sins.

Categories: authority, religion, social regulation Tags:

Obscenity in Monroe County

April 23rd, 2009 No comments

The HT tells us that obscenity can indeed be successfully prosecuted in Monroe County.

A man initially charged with felony bestiality for participating in and videotaping a sexual encounter that also involved an unconscious woman and the man’s male Doberman pinscher has pleaded guilty to a less serious charge.

He received a one-year suspended jail sentence.

Under terms of a plea agreement, 41-year-old Thomas Meador pleaded guilty to an amended charge of activity related to obscene performance, a misdemeanor. Two other misdemeanors — sexual battery and maintaining a common nuisance for having a marijuana plant in his East First Street house — were dismissed.

Here’s the penalty:

Meador had to give up his two pet dogs as part of the resolution of the case against him. He also must participate in counseling and complete 80 hours of community service work during the next year.

It’s noteworthy that the woman involved was being filmed involuntarily. Not much of a crime, apparently.

According to police reports, the woman depicted in the video that police confiscated from Meador after a house-sitter discovered it features a 30-year-old female acquaintance of Meador who was unaware she was being filmed.

The term “obscene performance” is defined by law as something that the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find appeals to the prurient interest in sex, or depicts sexual conduct in a “patently offensive way.” It also must lack any “literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”

Where to Eat in Bloomington

March 1st, 2009 No comments

I like English pubs. Here is an HT article on Bloomington saloons that welcome children. I don’t know if they allow dogs or not.

Rago said Nick’s was cognizant of retaining its reputation as a bar,
which is why it confines its under-21 business to daytime and early
evening hours. ...
The Crazy Horse, 214 W. Kirkwood Ave.: Under 21 patrons welcome but
cannot remain after 9 p.m.
Grazie Italian Eatery, 106 W. Sixth St.: Seating in the restaurant
proper is open, and minors can be in the bar lounge, if not the bar
itself, if accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.
The Irish Lion, 212 W. Kirkwood Ave.: Families can congregate
upstairs. Downstairs, under-21 patrons have to be at least 18, in the
company of parents and must sit either in the loft or well areas of
the room. The Irish Lion also has a “babes in arms” policy. Infants
can be downstairs, provided they’re being held.
Malibu Grill, 106 N. Walnut St.: Families can sit in the restaurant
and, in the separate bar area, patrons at least 18 years old can enter
with a parent or legal guardian, but can’t sit at the bar.
Scotty’s Brewhouse, 302 N. Walnut St.: Families can sit throughout the
main restaurant area, but not in the bar area proper, which is blocked
off by a half-wall.
Trojan Horse, 100 E. Kirkwood Ave.: Under-21 patrons can sit
downstairs and also in four booths upstairs.
The Uptown Cafe, 102 E. Kirkwood Ave.: Families can sit throughout the
restaurant, and 16- to-20-year-olds can also enter the bar area
accompanied by parent or legal guardian, but cannot sit at the bar
Yogi’s Grill & Bar, 519 E. 10th St.: Yogi’s advertises all-ages
service until 10 p.m.

Divorce Here and There

February 19th, 2009 No comments

JOnah Goldberg on a MEMRI report:

I’ll relate something interesting from the Middle East Media Research Institute (and for the report I’m talking about, go here). An Egyptian cleric is on television. And he is pronouncing on divorce. I cherish the last line in particular. But you’ll want to read the entire chunk:

What’s the point of having an animal you can ride, if it drives you nuts? The distance it takes you you could cover in a bus for a quarter of an Egyptian pound, but you have to spend 100 pounds on this animal. Sell it, and get rid of it. Would anyone blame you for selling it? Would anyone say: “Shame on him for selling it”? It’s only an animal.

If a man is completely fed up with his apartment, because he has bad neighbors, and the apartment is falling apart, would anyone blame him for selling it and say: “Shame on you, how can you sell it? This is where you were born and raised.” This apartment does not suit him anymore. I have bad neighbors, and I don’t feel good in it.

The same goes for the woman. If a woman has such bad character that her husband does not feel comfortable with her, there is nothing to prevent him from divorcing her. What are we, Christians?!

What are we, Christians?! There are about a hundred things to say about this. I will confine myself to: I don’t think the good imam has checked in on Christianity—by which I mean, Christian-dominated societies—lately.

Categories: divorce, Islam, religion, social regulation Tags:

The Encouragement of Sodomy at Bloomington High School North

February 6th, 2009 No comments

From WFHB:

bloomingOUT 01/15/09

Bloomington High School North Counselor Greg Chaffin explains how to create support networks for LGBTQI students within the school environment as well as in the larger community and stresses the importance of such social and familial networks for personal success, health and well-being

From the HT:

Every year, Bloomington High School North counselor Greg Chaffin receives calls, e-mails and letters from parents who are angry about United Students,a group he sponsors for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students and their friends.


Bloomington High School South, which has had a GLBT student group called PROUD for about 10 years, hasn’t experienced the same level of violence, said South counselor Janet Stake. But as at North, name-calling of GLBT students and misuse of the word “gay” is prevalent.

When PROUD was started — and counselors say it was the first high school group of its kind in the state — its conception was controversial. Today, the climate is accepting, and there’s a trend toward more tolerance, Stake said. Same-sex couples even dance together at school dances.

“That they feel comfortable enough to do that, I think that’s a pretty good sign,” Stake said.

Home schooling for high school is looking better all the time.

Bush’s Religion

January 28th, 2009 No comments

The Last Methodist President
by Mark Tooley:

More evenhandedly was an analysis of Bush’s political theology delivered in 2007 at a Methodist symposium at Oxford, England by SMU theologian Billy Abraham, an Irish Methodist and theologian in residence at Bush’s home church in Dallas. Amid the denunciations by other Methodists of Bush’s supposed fundamentalism and imperialism, Abraham described Bush as a “moderate, even liberal, evangelical shaped by the spiritual warmth, the ad hoc social activism, the reserved moralism, the friendly fellowship, the wariness of alcohol, and the theological fuzziness of United Methodism in Texas.”

According to Abraham, Bush theologically “knows and believes the internal soteriological logic of creation, fall and redemption as parsed by contemporary evangelicalism” in America. As a conventional and pragmatic proponent of American civil religion, Bush believed that “life in American fits God’s design for humanity better than its rivals.” The Iraq War and democracy promotion, according to Abraham, allowed Bush to “take American civil religion to the Middle East and then onward into the Muslim world.”

Bush’s autobiography is titled after Methodist hymn writer Charles Wesley’s song’ “A Charge to Keep I Have,” which is also the title of a painting that Bush kept in the Oval Office of an early Methodist circuit riding preacher. “Bush’s compassionate conservatism draws heavily on the kind of revivalism that was common in Methodism in North America in the late 19th century,” Abraham noted. And Bush’s brand of American civil religion “harks back to a longstanding embrace of a similar vision” by many Methodist leaders in the 19th century. Abraham did not cite the Methodist delegation that listened to McKinley’s Philippines confession, but no doubt they fit the type.

Supposedly, when President McKinley was pressed to describe his political philosophy, he insisted he was “just” a Methodist. Bush potentially could similarly respond.

Categories: Bush, Methodists, religion, social regulation Tags:

The Words "Value" and "Ideology"

January 12th, 2009 No comments

Prof. Bainbridge, referring to Prof. Balkin has post on ideology that made me think of how misused that word is. Or, perhaps it is so misused as to have become useless.

As commonly used, an ideology is a system of beliefs. What I have always thought was the true meaning of ideology was a system of beliefs without any underlying beliefs. Thus, one might be an environmentalist because you like pretty and useful things, or you might be an environmentalist by ideology, where recycling and parks are good regardless of any instrumental motive. The term is useful then because it gives us a name for basic belief systems that are not religions. We sometimes say, “Environmentalism is a religion,”, but it really isn’t. It doesn’t have gods. But it is often like religion in that it is hard to argue against without upsetting its fundamental beliefs.

A term with similar flavor is “values”. People say that “Honesty is one of my values” without realizing how they are degrading honesty by that statement. It has the connotation that honesty is something that the person happens to value, even though it has no intrinsic worth. Values are basic, like ideology. If honesty is simply one of my values, that means I don’t base it on religion or utility or natural law. It is just like my valuing of pistachio ice cream. Wise people have principles and philosophies; unthinking people have values and ideologies.

Alcohol Taxes

January 7th, 2009 No comments

Philip Cook has a good post at VC on alcohol taxes. I might use it in G406.

As a thought experiment, consider increasing the alcohol tax by 10 cents per drink and then distributing the proceeds annually to every adult, $50 each. All but 7% would come out ahead on this deal. Given the preventive effect of higher alcohol prices, even that group would benefit from lower auto insurance rates and in other ways.

Categories: g406, social regulation, taxes Tags:

Happy Holidays

December 25th, 2008 No comments

Good sense and holiday cheer from Professor E. Volokh:

So if you tell me “Merry Christmas,” good for you. If you tell me “Happy Holidays,” I confess I’ll get a bit annoyed because of its generic air, but I’ll just assume that you’re trying to play it safe — often a very good strategy in social relations. Plus why be churlish about someone wishing you a happy anything? If you tell me “Happy Hanukkah,” I’ll start racking my brains about when Hanukkah actually is this year; I never have any idea. If you tell me “Happy Diwali,” I’ll assume that this is a good thing in your life, and I’ll appreciate the good wishes. (If neither you nor I are Hindu, then I might wonder what you mean by that.) If you tell me “Happy New Year,” my favorite greeting, I’ll be extra pleased, but that’s just a matter of taste.

Dec. 27. A comment I posted at Volokh Conspiracy on an Eric Posner follow up post:

Nobody has addressed Prof. Posner’s empirical claim, which is that more people are likely to be offended by “Merry Christmas” than “Happy Holidays”. I could well be wrong, but my guess is the opposite of his. Who besides some fraction of the already tiny fraction of the population that is secular Jewish or intellectual atheist would be offended by Merry Christmas? On the other side are religious and secular Christians who believe that Happy Holidays is an attempt to eliminate Christmas or, like Prof. Volokh, feel insulted by it as a patronizing attempt to be multicultural.

Categories: religion, social regulation, words Tags:


December 23rd, 2008 No comments

Professor Heriot’s annual “On the First Day of Kwanzaa My True Love Tortured Me …” from The Right Coast is enlightening. I recently notice that the Indiana U. student union had four banners, for Hanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and I forget what. I noticed that the Christmas banner had a Christmas tree on it, and wondered if Christians could demand a separate, Christian-symbolled banner. Anyway, I knew Kwanzaa was a silly fraud, but not how evil its origins are.

If you visit a card shop at your local shopping mall these days, chances are you will see Kwanzaa cards. It’s big business. (Well, maybe it’s just medium-sized business, but it is evidently lucrative enough for card companies to bother with.) And if you go to swanky private schools like the one attended by the children of my colleague Chris Wonnell, you may well receive instruction on this traditional African-American holiday. Taking Kwanzaa seriously is all part of the spirit of multiculturalism.

Except, of course, Kwanzaa isn’t traditional at all. It was invented in the late 1960s by convicted felon Ron Everett, leader of a so-called black nationalist group called United Slaves. I use the word “so-called” because United Slaves’ veneer of black nationalism was very thin; most of its members had been members of a South Central Los Angeles street gang called the Gladiators,…

In the early 1960s, these gangs were mostly concerned with petty and not-so-petty crime in the Los Angeles area, including the ever-popular practice of hitting up local merchants for protection money. By the late 1960s, however, they discovered that if they cloaked their activities in rhetoric of black nationalism, they could hit up not just the local pizza parlor, but great institutions of higher learning as well, most notably UCLA. Everett re-named himself Maulana Ron Karenga (“Maulana” we are told is Swahili for “master teacher”), donned an African dashiki, and invented Kwanzaa. And the radical chic folks at UCLA went into paroxysms of appreciation.

In theory, Kwanzaa is a Pan-African harvest holiday, except that it is not set at harvest time. And in theory, it celebrates the ties of African Americans to African culture, except that it purports to celebrate those ties using the East African language of Swahili when nearly all African Americans are descended from West African peoples.

But those are just details. Many of the best-loved holidays in the Christian calendar have traditions connected to them that don’t quite fit if you examine them too closely. But those rough edges have now been smoothed over by the long passage of time. No one really cares if the Christmas tree was once used to celebrate pagan holidays; many generations of credible Christians have earned the right to claim it as their own.

Kwanzaa is different. It has connections to still-living violent criminals. It is an insult to the African American community, very few of whom celebrate Kwanzaa and even fewer of whom would celebrate it if they knew the full story of its recent history, to suggest that it is an “African American holiday.” …

The beginning of the end for United Slaves as an organization came with a gun battle fought on the UCLA campus against the Black Panthers over which group would control the new Afro-American Studies Center (and its generous budget). In the end, two Black Panther leaders–Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter and John Jerome Huggins–were dead. Two members of United Slaves were convicted of their murder. …

No, Maulana Ron Karenga was not among them. But not long after the incident, Karenga proved himself to be every bit as brutal as his followers when he was charged and convicted of two counts of felonious assault and one count of false imprisonment.

The details of the crime as reported in the Los Angeles Times (and quoted recently by Paul Mulshine in an article for FrontPage magazine) are horrific. The paranoid Karenga began to suspect that the members of his organization were trying to poison him by placing “crystals” in his food and around the house. According to the Los Angeles Times:

“Deborah Jones, who once was given the Swahili title of an African queen, said she and Gail Davis were whipped with an electrical cord and beaten with a karate baton after being ordered to remove their clothes. She testified that a hot soldering iron was placed in Miss Davis’ mouth and placed against Miss Davis’ face and that one of her own big toes was tightened in a vise. Karenga, head of US, also put detergent and running hoses in their mouths, she said.”

…Karenga spent time in prison for the act. But if you are worried are what has become of him, you needn’t be. He served only a few years. When he got out, he somehow convinced Cal State Long Beach to make him head of the African Studies Department. Happy Kwanzaa.

Indeed, Dr. Karenga does have a professorial website at Cal State Long Beach. It doesn’t mention his prison time that I could see, but the period 1970-75, when he was writing his dissertation, is empty of event. In those days prison terms for things like torture were brief, and of course many people (e.g. Hitler) have used their jail experience to write things they otherwise wouldn’t have gotten round to.

Categories: race, religion, social regulation Tags:

Web Rudeness

December 11th, 2008 No comments

A post at Baylyblog inspired me to commment thusly:

‘m glad Baylyblog is doing its bit to try to bring civility to the Web. Anonymity isn’t the only reason the Web has so much rudeness. The other reason is that we tolerate rudeness. We don’t have to. If someone sends me a web comment that would cause me to punch him, admonish him, or walk away from him if it were said to me in person, why should I tolerate it any more just because it is on a computer? The blogger at least has the ability to delete the comment. It is like painting over grafitti. And as with graffiti, it not only reduces the amount of ugliness in the world; it reduces the temptation for the sinner.

Categories: computers, social regulation Tags:

Can Pornographers Be Prosecuted for Paying for Sex?

December 10th, 2008 No comments

Prof. Volokh has a good weblog entry on Can Pornographers Be Prosecuted for Paying for Sex?.

Categories: judges, social regulation Tags:

Vice in the Netherlands

December 8th, 2008 No comments

“Amsterdam to close many brothels, marijuana cafes”

Amsterdam unveiled plans Saturday to close brothels, sex shops and marijuana cafes in its ancient city center as part of a major effort to drive organized crime out of the tourist haven.

The city is targeting businesses that “generate criminality,” including gambling parlors, and the so-called “coffee shops” where marijuana is sold openly. Also targeted are peep shows, massage parlors and souvenir shops used by drug dealers for money-laundering.

“I think that the new reality will be more in line with our image as a tolerant and crazy place, rather than a free zone for criminals” said Lodewijk Asscher, a city council member and one of the main proponents of the plan.

Categories: crime, social regulation Tags:

More’s Utopia

August 20th, 2008 No comments

I just skimmed through Thomas More’s Utopia. It’s better than I remembered, and has a lot of similarity to his friend Erasmus’s In Praise of Folly. Here are some observations.

1. At the start and the end of Raphael’s description of Utopia, the narrator says that what he is most dubious about is the abolition of private property. At the end, he says that the reason is that it deprives a state of magnificence.

2. The essence of Utopia is not really communism, but the restriction on what can be consumed. Since, for example, everybody wears simple clothing of one pattern and color, nobody is tempted to steal anybody else’s clothing or to take too much for himself from the warehouse. It follows that what goods are permitted are in overabundance and nobody wants to steal. One assumption is that if luxuries were not produced, wealth would be great enough for an overabundance of necessities even if everyone worked only six hours a day.

3. Utopia is a reformed monastery, with monks who marry and devote themselves to happiness and self-cultivation rather than prayer and worship.

4. The Republic starts with the City of Pigs, which Socrates says is ideal, but Glaucon complains that they have no luxuries there. Utopia is the City of Pigs fleshed out (no pun intended). The Republic’s second city, the Callipolis (Beautiful City) has luxuries, but is a feverish, diseased city.

5. Utopia, like the City of Pigs but unlike the Callipolis, has no Guardian class. The philosophers are not kings there. It is a democracy. In a sense, everybody is a philosopher, though.

6. Gallipoli was called Callipolis in ancient times.

7. In Book II More makes the argument that if the natives are underutilizing a country it is just to drive them out to make better use of the land.

Categories: philosophy, social regulation Tags:

Stern’s Ely Lecture on Climate Change and DIscounting

August 8th, 2008 No comments

I just finished reading Prof. Stern’s Ely Lecture ( Stern, Nicholas. 2008. “The Economics of Climate Change”, American Economic Review 98(2), pp. 1-37.). He is in favor of drastic measures to reduce CO2 emissions. Concentrations are now 430 ppm and he wants to stabilize them at 550 ppm. He is fearful of a 5 degree Centigrade temperature increase otherwise. Here are my notes.

1. He says the most recent warm period was around 3 million years ago. Really? There have been lots of ice ages and warmings.

2. He dismisses geoengineering in one paragraph with weak arguments.

3. His Figure 4 from McKinsey has lots of *negative* abatement costs– things such as insulation improvement, fuel-efficient commercial vehicles, water heating, etc. We can’t believe any of that. If it saves money, why isn’t it done already? Liquidity constraints?

4. (p. 13). He cites 1.5% as the indexed bonds rate of return on longterm government bonds, and 6-7 percent for private investments:

In the United Kingdom and United States, we find (relatively) “riskless,” indexed lending rates on government bonds centered around 1.5 percent over very long periods. For private very long-run rates of return on equities, we find rates centered around 6 or 7 percent (Rajnish Mehra and Edward C. Prescott 2003, 892; Kenneth J. Arrow et al. 2004, 156; Sree Kochugovindan and Roland Nilsson 2007a, 64; 2007b, 71).

He has a puzzling sentence about what discount rate to use:

Given that it is social discount rates that are at issue, and also that actions to reduce carbon are likely to be financed via the diversion of resources from consumption (via pricing) rather than from investment, it is the long-run riskless rates associated with consumer decisions that have more relevance than those for the investment-related equities.

This is a good question, but what is the implication? Consumers are willing to borrow at rates on the order of 10%, so is that the appropriate social discount rate?

He makes the point that environmental goods’ prices will change (though he does not point out that those goods are a tiny part of the consumption basket):

Suppose, however, that we persisted with the argument that it is better to invest at 6-7 percent and then spend money on overcoming the problems of climate change later rather than spending money now on these problems. The multi-good nature of the problem, together with the irreversibilities from GHG accumulation and climate change, tell us that we would be making an additional mistake. The price of environmental goods will likely have gone up very sharply, so that our returns from the standard types of investment will buy us much less in reducing environmental damage than resources allocated now (see also Section I on the costs of delay).12 This reflects the result that if environmental services are declining as stocks of the environment are depleted, then the SDR with that good as numeraire will be negative. On this, see the interesting work by Michael Hoel and Thomas Sterner (2007), Sterner and U. Martin Persson (2007) and Roger Guesnerie (2004), and also the Stern Review (Stern 2007, 60). Environmental services are also likely to be income elastic, which will further reduce the implied SDR.

He has some useful sources on the appropriate rate of pure utility time preference:

Indeed, the ethical proposition that delta should be very small or zero has appealed to a long line of illustrious economists including Frank P. Ramsey (1928, 543), Arthur Cecil Pigou (1932, 24–5), Roy F. Harrod (1948, 37–40), Robert M. Solow (1974, 9), James A. Mirrlees (Mirrlees and Stern 1972), and Amartya Sen (Sudhir Anand and Sen 2000). I have heard only one ethical argument for positive delta (Wilfred Beckerman and Hepburn 2007; Simon Dietz, Hepburn, and Stern 2008) that has some traction—namely a temporal interpretation of the idea that one will have stronger fellow feelings for those closer to us (such as family or clan) relative to those more distant.

When it came to choosing a social discount rate, Stern is opposed to using market interest rates. Later, though, when it comes to choosing the appropriate amount of equality and income redistribution, he slyly switches to favoring observed amounts:

Value judgements are, of course, precisely that and there will be many different positions. They will inevitably be important in this context— they must be discussed explicitly and the implications of different values should be examined. Examples follow of what we find when we turn to empirical evidence and try to obtain implied values (the “inverse optimum” approach). Empirical evidence can inform, but not settle, discussions about value judgements… The upshot is that empirical estimates of implied welfare weights can give a wide range of eta, including h below one and even as little as zero.

Here he is trying to squirm out of the powerful growing-income argument against a low social discount rate. The argument goes like this. Suppose we are considering taking $1,000 away from someone earning $40,000/year so we can give $1,600 to someone else earning $107,000/year. Should we do it? Despite the increase in social wealth, it seems unfair and not calculated to increase total happiness. Yet that is what happens when we require $1,000 in abatement costs in in 2008 because it has a 1%/year return in benefits obtained in 50 years, if incomes grow at 2%/year in the meantime. This argument is particularly powerful against liberals, though it works for conservatives too, and lays out starkly the forced transfers that libertarians hate.

There is a lot of posturing going on:

Costa Rica, New Zealand, and Norway, declared targets of 100 percent reductions by 2050, i.e., “going carbon-neutral.” … California has a target of 80 percent reductions by 2050. France has its “Facteur Quatre”: dividing by 4, or 75 percent reductions, by 2050 (Stern 2007, 516). The United Kingdom has a 60 percent target but the Prime Minister Gordon Brown indicated in November 2007 that this could be raised to 80 percent (Brown 2007). Australia, under the new government elected at the end of November 2007, has now signed Kyoto and has a target of 60 percent…

Costa Rica doesn’t matter of course, any more than the United Kingdom does, or anybody else but China and India:

Even with fairly conservative estimates, it is likely that, under BAU, China will reach current European per capita emissions levels within 20-25 years. With its very large population, over this time China under BAU will emit cumulatively more than the USA and Europe combined over the last 100 years.

“BAU” means “business as usual”.

Environmental AIDS Transmission

July 24th, 2008 No comments

I wonder what the truth is about the danger of getting AIDS from such things as sneezes or toilet seats. The danger can’t be too great, or we would come across numerous cases where that method of transmission could be proved. On the other hand, I am skeptical of the claims that no such cases occur. Would someone making that claim really be willing to share a handkerchief with someone in the last stages of AIDS? In the scientific literature, look carefully for language such as “No cases have been found…” or “No cases have been proved…”, as opposed to “It is impossible to have transmission by …”. I haven’t heard of any experiments on the subject. What would be useful would be to see if an animal can be infected without direct contact with an infected animal. Animals cannot be infected with the same HIV virus as humans, but even moderate similarity in the viruses would tell us something.

It isn’t widely known that the HIV virus has a remarkable ability to survive outside of a human body. It can even survive drying! This implies, doesn’t it, that it must be common for measurable amounts of HIV virus to be transmitted enviromentally. Since we don’t see cases of that, it must be that the virus can’t get where it needs to go in the body (e.g., maybe it can’t get through the nasal membrane) or those amounts are not big enough to survive initial attack by the immune system, or even to stimulate measurable immune reactions.

Here are some notes from a couple of articles.

“Cell-free and cell-associated human immunodeficiency virus cultures suspended in 10% serum remained infectious for several weeks at room temperature. The stability was further increased when cell-associated virus was suspended in neat serum. When dried onto a glass coverslip, virus remained infectious for several days, although cell-associated virus lost infectivity more rapidly than cell-free virus.”

The article says this ability to survive is similar to that of other viruses that have lipid envelopes around them.

JOURNAL OF CLINICAL MICROBIOLOGY, Feb. 1994, P. 571-574, Survival of Human Immunodeficiency Virus in Suspension and Dried onto Surfaces J. vAN BUEREN,* R. A. SIMPSON,t P. JACOBS, AND B. D. COOKSON Vol. 32, No. 2.

I found a good comparison of different germs’ survival times. The article itself is about accidental jabs from needles.

30-50% of Australian drug users have been exposed to hepatitis B (as shown by having antibodies against it), but only 1-2% are infected. The hepatitis B virus can survive for a week if dried. It can be frozen and thawed 8 times and the DNA is still intact. Even a minute amount of infected blood can transmit the disease, since it has high concentrations and is virulent. It is often transmistted “environmentally”– that is, from surfaces contaminated by body fluids or through the air.

50-60% of Australian drug users are infected with Hepatitis C. It survives for 2 days dried.

1% of Australian drug users are infected with HIV. THat is remarkably low– aren’t rates for American homosexuals who frequent homosexual venues more like 20%?

Blood-borne viruses and their survival in the environment: is public concern about community needlestick exposures justified? Thompson, Boughton and Dore. 2003 VOL . 27 NO. 6 AUSTRALIAN AND NEW ZEALAND JOURNAL OF PUBLIC HEALTH.

The Noahide Laws

July 14th, 2008 No comments

The Talmudic Jews have a tradition that 7 laws are commanded to non-Jews. This is important as a sign of which laws are considered universally the most important. They are not the same as the 10 Commandments. They do not, for example, require worship of Jehovah, or observance of the Sabbath, which are laws specifically for the Jews. Sometimes people point to minor laws in the Torah to downplay the importantance of, for example,the prohibition of homosexuality. This is evidence that some laws are considered more important than others, and of universal importance. has the “The Seven Laws of the Descendents of Noah”, well-documented and with page sources and Hebrew in the original and transliterated:

Idolatry: (Strange work – i.e. serving an idol) Avodah Zarah
2 Blasphemy – ‘Blessing’ the Divine Name: (Cursing G-d) Birchat (Kilelas) HaShem
3 Murder: (Spilling blood) Shefichat Damim
4 Sexual transgressions: (Exposure of nakedness) (i.e. incest, adultery, homosexual acts and bestiality etc) Gilui Arayot
5 Theft: (To rob, embezzle.) (Includes rape and abduction) Gezel
6 Courts system: (Judgement, justice, and law etc.) Dinim

7 Eating a limb torn from a live animal: (Limb of the living.) Ever Min HaChai

From Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 56a; Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:1….

Transgressing any one of them is considered such a breach in the natural order that the offender incurs the death penalty. Apart from a few exceptions, the death sentence for a Ben Noach is Sayif, death by the sword / decapitation, the least painful of the four modes of execution of criminals (see the Rambam’s Hilchos Melachim 9:14). (The four methods of capital punishment in Torah are: S’kilah – Stoning; S’rifah – Burning; Hereg – Decapitation; Henek – Strangulation.)…

The Rambam in Hilchos Melachim 8:11, writes that all Benei Noach who accept upon themselves the Seven Mitzvos and are careful to keep them and are precise in their observance are termed ‘Chasidei Umos ha’Olam’ ?????????? ??????? ???????? (‘the Pious Ones of the Nations’) and they merit a share in the World to Come. However, they must keep these Mitzvos specifically because HaShem (G-d) commanded them in the Torah through Moshe Rabeinu (Moses).

Further information is at:


The 7 laws that Noah gave to his sons in the Book of Jubilees, chapter 7, verse 20.

And in the twenty-eighth jubilee [1324-1372 A.M.] Noah began to enjoin upon his sons’ sons the ordinances and commandments, and all the judgments that he knew, and he exhorted his sons to observe righteousness, and to cover the shame of their flesh, and to bless their Creator, and honour father and mother, and love their neighbour, and guard their souls from fornication and uncleanness and all iniquity.

English translations (by Soncino) of the parts of the Talmud that discuss Noahide law:

Sanhedrin 56a & 56b

Sanhedrin 57a & 57b

Sanhedrin 58a & 58b

Sanhedrin 59a & 59b

Sanhedrin 60a & 60b

Sanhedrin 96b

Avodah Zarah 2 & 3

Avodah Zarah 64b, 65a & 65b

Baba Kamma 38a

Categories: religion, social regulation Tags:

An Indiana Spanking Case

June 16th, 2008 1 comment

The Indiana Supreme Court, as described by Prof. E.Volokh, have just ruled that it is ok to discipline your child. The decision was 4 to 1. But lower courts had upheld a criminal conviction for battery! I hope the prosecutor and judge in that county get unseated.

Categories: law, social regulation Tags:

Nicotine Prevents Senility?

June 10th, 2008 No comments

From Wikipedia:

With regard to neurological diseases, a large body of evidence suggests that the risks of Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease might be twice as high for non-smokers than for smokers.[26] Many such papers regarding Alzheimer’s disease[27] and Parkinson’s Disease[28] have been published.

Categories: medicine, science, social regulation Tags:

Weitzman’s Gamma Discounting

June 6th, 2008 No comments

I was just thinking about the article
“Gamma Discounting”,
Martin L. Weitzman
The American Economic Review, Vol. 91, No. 1 (Mar., 2001), pp. 260-271. Weitzman has a model in which you are unsure of the proper discount rate, and concludes that your discount rate should become small in far future periods. He says the intuition has to do with compound interest. He uses the gamma function for your prior. I think a numerical example works better, though I’m not sure if this is what he’s getting at– he says that using continuous compounding you don’t get his result.

Anyway, here’s the simple idea. Suppose we don’t know whether the interest rate will be 2% or 4%, and these have equal probability. We will get a benefit of $1 in 100 years. What is it worth in present value?

If the interest rate is 2%, the value is about $.13. If the interest rate is 4% the value is about $.02. The expected value is therefore about $.07. But if the interest rate were a known 3%, the expected value would be about $.05. Thus, our ignorance results in less discounting.

The Volstead Act and Prohibition

May 15th, 2008 No comments

The Volstead Act (the National Prohibition Act, Oct. 28, 1919, ch. 85, 41 Stat. 305) was the federal statute implementing Prohibition (the constitutional amendment did not go into specifics; a law was needed for that). Surprisingly, it isn’t available on the Web. Since Prohibition was repealed, the Volstead Act has been taken out of the US Code, so it can’t be found there. There are various abridged versions on the Web, though. I quote from the best one below. Peter Hitchens said that Prohibition did not make possession of liquor illegal, and such seems to be the case, at least possession in one’s home.

SEC. 33. After February 1, 1920, the possession of liquors by any person not legally permitted under this title to possess liquor shall be prima facie evidence that such liquor is kept for the purpose of being sold, bartered, exchanged, given away, furnished, or otherwise disposed of in violation of the Provisions of this title. . . . But it shall not be unlawful to possess liquors in one’s private dwelling while the same is occupied and used by him as his dwelling only and such liquor need not be reported, provided such liquors are for use only for the personal consumption of the owner thereof and his family residing in such dwelling and of his bona fide guests when entertained by him therein; and the burden, of proof shall be upon the possessor in any action concerning the same to prove that such liquor was law fully acquired, possessed, and used.

This shows why it is important to have the full text of a law. Earlier in the Act it says that possession is illegal except in circumstances explained elsewhere in the Act.

Categories: law, social regulation Tags:

Telling Children to Behave

April 8th, 2008 No comments

From WSJ, Taranto, is story that tell us about Obama, social norms and breakdown in the US, Black-Hispanic relations, freedom of speech, and the difference between America and England in social responsibility.

A Barack Obama delegate to the Democratic National Convention was “ticketed for calling her neighbor’s African-American children ‘monkeys,’ ” reports the Chicago Sun-Times. (We didn’t realize this was against the law, but the Chicago Tribune explains that the charge was disorderly conduct.) Here is what happened, according to the Sun-Times:

[Linda] Ramirez-Sliwinski “came outside and told the children to quit playing in the tree like monkeys. The tree was not on Ramirez-Sliwinski’s property,” Carpentersville Police Commander Michael Kilbourne said.

Ramirez-Sliwinski admitted she used the word “monkeys,” but said she did not intend racism. She said she was only trying to protect them from falling out of the tree.

“Linda Ramirez-Sliwinski said she saw the kids playing in the tree and didn’t want them falling out of the tree and getting hurt. She said she calls her own grandchildren ‘monkeys,’ ” Kilbourne said. The mother of one of the children did not see it that way, noting she and Ramirez-Sliwinski have clashed before.

“She felt it was racist because of the fact the children were African-American,” Kilbourne said.

Told of the incident Monday by the Sun-Times, Obama’s campaign called Ramirez-Sliwinski and persuaded her to step aside as a delegate because the campaign felt her remarks were “divisive and unacceptable.”

Finally, someone Barack Obama can disown! Let this be a lesson for other Obama delegates: If someone is bothering you, shout at the top of your lungs, “God damn America!” You know Obama will stand by you then.

Categories: free speech, obama, social regulation Tags:

November 26th, 2007 No comments

Democracy: Elections and Referenda. At my workshop today at the business school, the issue came up of whether people’s votes express their preferences or whether they are too easily misled. Can we decide the intensity of feeling over abortion by seeing which candidate wins an election? A referendum would not work as well, since it is a vote on a single issue, so there is no opportunity for tradeoff. Everyone who voted would vote their preference, intense or mild, and the only opportunities for intense preferences to count for more would be in turnout and in spending on advertising to convince those with mild preferences. Interestingly enough, in such a case the presence of many almost indifferent voters could be very helpful in making the vote display intensity too. Someone who is almost indifferent is up for grabs, and so the intensity of other voters can obtain a double vote where it could not if the voter had somewhat stronger views. The danger from a tyranny of the majority is greatest not when there is a large number of voters with weak views, but where there are few such people, but many whose views are just strong to induce them to vote on their own initiative and to be immune to persuasion by the efforts of those with intense feelings.

Categories: politics, research, social regulation Tags:

November 24th, 2007 No comments

Personal Autonomy. I’ve been reading Feinberg on the idea that personal autonomy is a good thing. This is a central idea of modern liberalism. Self-fulfillment and self-definition become the central goods. A person should seek not achievement or happiness, but the fulfillment of his talents. I find this hard to understand. Suppose someone has very little talent of any kind. Is he to forfeit happiness in order to pursue what he is best at, or what he fancies he is best at but knows that “best” is not very good? Or suppose someone does have great talents. Must he give up happiness, or achievement, in order to pursue self-fulfillment?

Another component to autonomy is the rational choice of one’s moral principles, in the name of “authenticity”. This seems to me to have authenticity backwards. Which is more authentic, the person who picks and chooses to construct a hodge-podge of moral principles that fails to hang together but is individual and self-chosen, or the person who is true to the morality of his culture? Which is more authentic, the modern American mish-mash, or the Amazonian savage who sticks to the beliefs of 1000 years of his culture? And which is more stable? Someone who tries to create himself is less likely to stick with it precisely because he is always self-creating and because he never is bound to what he has chosen. Almost by definition, he changes more easily, and of course he will give in more easily to temptation, since his habits are less established.

Categories: liberalism, social regulation Tags:


October 11th, 2007 No comments

What do you get if you castrate a man, feed him estrogen, and stuff him into a dress?

—A fat, castrated, man in a dress.

Categories: philosophy, social regulation Tags:

Evolution and Religion

October 6th, 2007 No comments

David Sloan Wilson, author of Darwin’s Cathedral, a book about the usefulness of religion as an evolutionary adaption, harshly criticizes Richard Dawkins for sloppiness in thinking about religion and evolution. This is part of Dawkins’s contempt for group selection, which is misguided. Click here to read more