Is media slant determined by the market?

March 2nd, 2008

In “Lean Left? Lean Right? News media may take cues from customers” by Chicago School professor Austan Goolsbee, we are given yet another argument for market determinism, this time with regard to the slant of the media.

One of the most interesting things coming out of research on the economics of the media industry has been the notion that media slant may simply reflect business rather than politics.

The author then cites a few Chicago School studies that analyze the media in terms of slant of articles vs. readership. They find that readership is a stronger indicator of slant than ownership or big corporate donations. But then the dangerous conclusions begin.

[…] there is certainly good news in the finding. If slant comes from customers, then the views of the owners and the reporters do not matter. We do not need to fear that some partisan billionaire will buy up newspapers and use them for propaganda.”

This is a little presumptuous. Of course there is a fear of a partisan billionaire buying up all the newspapers. In history, we had William Randolph Hearst. In modern times, we have Silvio Berlusconi of Italy. He owned all the media in that country, slanted it, and then maintained control over it while presiding as Prime Minister. The market, for all its virtues, cannot solve these problems.

Let’s take one angle. Partisan billionaires can control the slant of their writing just by controlling the kinds of journalists they hire.

For example, let’s assume Rupert Murdoch would not hire very many bleeding-heart liberals to work as financial reporters in the WSJ. WSJ’s staff becomes more right-leaning, therefore there is a partisan slant. I’m not saying this is actually true, but it’s quite absurd to claim it isn’t likely, or that reporters only choose their slant based upon their readership’s expectations.

So although politicians from both sides tend to accuse the news media of partisanship and negativity, the data suggests that they ought to blame the public. The papers basically reflect what their readers want to hear.

Ick. This is the classic chicken and egg problem. It assumes that the public exists in a vacuum, and that the public’s opinions are not influenced by the media. Of course, this vacuum does not exist. The public may have views in alignment with the newspaper precisely because the newspaper shaped the views of the public. In other words, if I read the WSJ every morning on my way to work, I may very well start voting Republican. It’s not that the WSJ reflects my opinion: it’s that my opinion and the WSJ’s start to converge, since the WSJ is influencing my opinion.

The whole point of propaganda is that you don’t realize it’s propaganda while you’re reading it. Did Pravda just “represent what the worker’s wanted to hear”? According to this analysis, it certainly could have: I’m sure workers would have declared that their personal views were in line with Pravda’s slant.

As much as researchers of the Chicago School of Economics would love to believe the market can explain the media’s slant, I don’t buy it. That said, the market is certainly a factor — just not the only one, and IMO, not the primary one.

Joe Conason thinks Ralph Nader “loves” McCain

March 2nd, 2008

Conason writes for Salon,

… the evidence suggests another possible motive for Nader to run this year — namely, that he hopes to help his longtime ally John McCain, to whom he owes at least one big favor

I just did a search for Nader on Salon, and found this article in the old “Brilliant Careers” section. It was written in 1999. You know, before the Democrats pathetically lost the 2000 election, and then blamed it all on one of the greatest progressives to ever have lived.

I think we forget that in 2000, Nader’s reputation was essentially flushed down the toilet by the Democratic Party. We should all be outraged that the Democratic Party, and all of its members, blamed the loss of 2000 on Nader, rather than blaming it on itself. If the Democratic Party had blamed 2000 on itself, it might have had a chance at winning 2004, by realizing it wasn’t the party it should have been.

To suggest that Nader, after years of taking nothing short of principled stands on every issue, would run a presidential campaign just to “return a favor” to John McCain. C’mon, Joe, give me a break.

I guess all partisan Democrats — like Eric Alterman in “An Unreasonable Man” — just can’t get over the fact that they lost in 2000 and 2004. Admit it, the Democratic Party has become the spineless, least-worst party of American politics. In many ways, I have more respect for Republicans nowadays, who, despite being wrong on almost every issue, aren’t afraid of radical change, and can get people excited about the radical-ness of deregulation, tax cuts, and wedge issues. Nothing about the Democratic Party excites me nowadays, except that it isn’t the Republican party.

Could a modern “New Democrat” have implemented a progressive policy that was as sweeping/radical as the Republican “hollowing out of government” described in Naomi Klein’s book, “The Shock Doctrine”? At least the Republicans follow through on their ideology. What progressive reform did Bill Clinton get us? NAFTA? DMCA?

Do you think corporations would support Clinton and Obama if they were actually progressive? Take a look at articles like the following:

There you’ll see how it’s “politics as usual”, even for the Democrats. Sure, they rile you up with their health care plans. But do you think they’ll actually implement them, if they are not even considering any cuts to, say, the military budget?

In 2000, Al Gore ran a bland campaign that didn’t even mention global warming, even though it was supposedly the cause of his life. In 2004, Kerry tried to out-commander-in-chief George Bush, instead of pointing out his war crimes and calling the Iraq war a sham.

And, mark my words, it’ll happen again in 2008 if the Democrats don’t get their act together and stop apologizing for being liberal. Obama wants to expand the military by tens of thousands of troops. Clinton thinks she’s the fittest on day one to be commander-in-chief. I’m sorry, but if the Democrats don’t shape up, here is my prediction: McCain is perceived as a better commander-in-chief by average Joe Americans, Conservatives turn out their base against “Barack Hussein Obama,” true progressives stay home, and Democrats lose. Eight more years of Republicans. Are they going to blame 2008 on Nader, too? When will they ever take responsibility? You’re trying to tell me sixteen years of a paucity of progressive politics will be the fault of one man?

Update: A letter from Robert Franklin points out the paradox in “supporting progressive movements” while still voting Democratic:

…I voted Dem for years […] By 2000, I was fed up with the DLC and turned my back on the Democratic Party. It was a fascinating experience […] Once I stepped outside the Dem Party, it became obvious that they are as deeply in hock to big money interests as the Reps are and govern accordingly. All the things that are not part of the public debate but should be became obvious too. When looking at politics in America, don’t just think about what’s going on and ask why, think about what’s not going on and ask why not. When you do that, you realize just how narrow the range is of policies and discourse that are deemed appropriate by political elites. And “political elites” includes Dems.

[…] Look at the elections of 2006. The country overwhelmingly voted Reps out of – and Dems into – office. That was almost universally attributed to popular discontent with the Iraq War. So what did Dems do about that, given their enormous popular support? Not one damned thing. So now it’s two years later and your advice is Vote Democratic!

Your first prescription is to encourage grass roots support for progressive policies. Look at the platform of the Green Party and you’ll see that that’s exactly what that is – grass roots support for progressive policies. But for some reason you deem every sort of support for progressive policies to be appropriate except electoral support. Nader and the Greens are actually progressive, which I believe you think you are as well, but you adamantly refuse to vote that way. I just can’t buy that approach.

Your second prescription is to help the Dems win and then point out your contribution […] That’s naive. If you do that, as liberals have been doing all along, what you get from Dems is “Thank you very much. See you in two years.” You don’t get anyone in office to pay attention to you if they know that you will never penalize them for acting against your interests. It’s Politics 101, and liberals haven’t learned it. Again, the Christian Right is far smarter than liberals on this subject, which is why the Reps give them a lot more stroke than Dems give liberals.

Finally you say what Democrats say every single election year – “not this year!” Here’s another election and Dems are telling liberals that, once again, we can’t vote our principles. I’ve been hearing that from Dems every election year for the past 8 years. You say “for the time being,” we must vote for Dems so that Reps don’t win. The problem is that, by that logic, it’s never time. According to that reasoning, the time is never right for liberals to vote liberal. And if you never vote liberal, what does that make you?

The real solution to this problem has nothing to do with voting your conscious. It’s called Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), and is described in 3 minutes by this video.

America’s “first black president”

January 29th, 2008

Elizabeth Alexander of Salon writes about the mis-used Toni Morrison quote that Bill Clinton was America’s “first black president.” This quote was repeated during the Democratic Presidential Debates — which was the first time I heard it. You can read Toni Morrison’s original article from the New Yorker, but Alexander’s analysis concisely illuminates the key point. Surprise, surprise: this quote is always used out of context, and never in the way Morrison intended.

Her words have been used frequently and almost always out of their original context, as a way of signaling Bill Clinton’s supposed comfort with and advocacy for black people, to the extent that Hillary Clinton even attempted to joke that she was “in this interracial marriage.” …

[Instead, Morrison] questioned the pitch of Starr-fueled hysteria, and said: “Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime … The always and already guilty ‘perp’ is being hunted down not by a prosecutor’s obsessive application of law but by a different kind of pursuer, one who makes new laws out of the shards of those he breaks.” …

Morrison was not saying that Bill Clinton is America’s first black president in a cute or celebratory way, nor was she calling Clinton an “honorary Negro.” Rather, she was comparing Clinton’s treatment at the hands of Starr and others with that of black men, so often seen as “the always and already guilty ‘perp.'”

I have to ask the obvious question: does our media even do its basic job anymore? Can we rely upon it to do anything right? Or will it continue to take quotations out of context and mis-represent ideas like these?

Sex offenders barred from using the Internet in NJ

December 29th, 2007

The latest insanity: New Jersey legislators have decided that sex offenders will be barred from using the Internet. That’s not a joke: barred altogether — there is only a single exception for job searches. This is a major infringement of their civil liberties. Once a sexual offender is let out of jail, he does not get to live a normal life.

Here is a comment from Slashdot that rang true with me:

“Those who want to be soft on sex offenders are most likely not parents, and most definitely not parents of a child who has been abused.”

Wow, watch those strawmen fly!

I’m a parent, and I’m guessing that under your worldview, I want to be `soft on sex offenders’. But I don’t see it that way — instead, I want the punishment to fit the crime. If you’re 17 and have sex with your 15 year old girlfriend, you should be grounded for a week, perhaps have your cell phone taken away. Peeing on the side of a building? $50 fine. Rape a 3 year old girl to within an inch of her life? Life in prison, perhaps even the death penalty.

`Sex offender registration’ is a huge crock. All it really does is let us take some people, found guilty of certain offenses, and make them pariahs for life. I imagine the original premise was to protect society from these dangerous predators, but in many cases they’re not predators at all! And why only sex crimes? I’d be FAR more concerned if the guy next door killed his neighbor in a fight 10 years ago than if he got caught diddling the 16 year old girl next door when he was 19 — but guess which one has to register?

I might be better able to support registration as either further punishment or to protect society if it applied to all crimes of a certain level, not just `sex crimes’. But even then I can’t really support it — when you’ve paid your debt to society, that should be the end of it. And if you’re too dangerous to be let out, then you shouldn’t be let out — the sex offender registry should not be a `last ditch’ sort of thing.

And what good does the sex offender registry do? Sure, it gives people a list of names of people to harass, to run out of town, to lynch, to kill. And you can tell your kids to avoid these houses, but what good does that really do? Has anybody ever shown that knowing where the sex offenders in town were led to children (we’re worried about protecting the children, right?) who were less likely to be the victims of crime (or sex crimes, if you want to be more specific?)

And the whole banning them from the Internet thing, even worse …

“Facile anti-intellectualism is the order of the day”

October 25th, 2007

A book review by Thomas Frank, on a biography of John Kenneth Galbraith.

What astonishes the contemporary reader is, first of all, that a genuine, independent intellectual like Galbraith was permitted to serve in government, let alone become the confidant of presidents. Facile anti-intellectualism is the order of the day now, as even Democrats race to embrace the free-market logic of the Chicagoans. The ”New Industrial State” that the great liberal economist described in 1967 is now Public Enemy No. 1 of financiers and rebel C.E.O.’s determined to, as Tom Peters put it in 1992, blast ”the violent winds of the marketplace into every nook and cranny in the firm.”

Yet reading Parker’s comprehensive account of the 20th century’s economic battles, I can’t help thinking that this ought to be Galbraith’s moment. An old-school scoffer like Galbraith would remind us that all our elected officials have done with their heady incantations of the virtues of privatizing Social Security and the glories of deregulation is resurrect the superstitions of our orthodox ancestors, and trade in our affluent society for a faith-based 19th-century model in which the affluence accrues only to the top.

Or, as I sometimes like to put it, “Economics is too important to be left to economists.” Galbraith would have agreed.

Seemed particularly relevant to me as I have just finished reading books by Galbraith and Frank in the last few months.

Did I miss the nuances of free speech?

September 21st, 2007

This taken from the comments section of an article written by Joe Conason on the tasering incident.

The most distressing thing about this incident to me is that commentators like Mr. Conason, with whom I agree most of the rest of the time, insist on viewing this whole thing as some kind of free speech issue. It was not. On this point, the letter previously submitted by FinFangFoom had it exactly right:

“You don’t have the right to violate an organization’s rules, burst into their meeting, grab a microphone from another student, and begin rambling about your conspiracy theory. The University of Florida had every right to remove the student, and every [right] to get rough with him when he VIOLENTLY resisted arrest.”

If there’s any First Amendment issue here, it’s that Mr. Meyer infringed upon the First Amendment rights of everyone else in that room who hoped to ask Senator Kerry a question. He had his time to speak, he went over his time, and clearly his only purpose in being there was to cause a ruckus. Let’s be blunt: the kid behaved like a spoiled asshole. Why is he now being celebrated, defended, held up as a First Amendment martyr?

[…]

There are plenty of people in the U.S. who are legitimate victims of suppression of First Amendment rights. Go champion their causes — don’t waste your time defending this idiot who didn’t know when to stand down, and who was only there because he wanted to promote himself.

Is this commenter right?

It would be impossible to dispute that there are people whose First Amendment rights have been more egregiously violated than Mr. Meyers’. But, you could say that about any First Amendment violation, however large or small. So that is something of a non-issue. I won’t apologize for the fact that this kid was white, possibly rich, possibly had a sense of entitlement. In fact, from the video he looked like something of a jerk. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t entitled to his rights.

I’ll repeat it again — free speech is only free speech if it’s a right even given to people you hate.

The commenter writes, “If there’s any First Amendment issue here, it’s that Mr. Meyer infringed upon the First Amendment rights of everyone else in that room who hoped to ask Senator Kerry a question.” I have seen a similar sentiment expressed elsewhere on the web. The first thing that comes to mind for me is that the First Amendment protects your free speech from government infringement. It doesn’t say anything about the courtesy to speak among my peers, in any fair or equal share or measure. In other words, free speech (at least as defined by the First Amendment) is about allowing a soap box in the public square, but it says nothing about who gets to stand on it, and for how long. The key thing the First Amendment says is that the government has no right restricting the use of the soap box.

Did I miss the nuance here? I don’t think so. Police officers comprise an arm of the executive branch of government. They are law enforcement. When someone acting on behalf of the government restricts my speech, especially in a political context, that’s a First Amendment violation. Plain and simple.

In conclusion, Meyers was taser’ed for standing on the soap box too long, and for saying things too disagreeable to the general audience, especially the police officers. Like it or not, standing on the soap box too long is protected by the First Amendment.

If you want him off the soap box, it’s simple: ask him off, boo him off, or simply stop listening. You don’t get to ask the government to remove him, because the government doesn’t get to pick how long is too long, and what speech is worthy of being heard. Let me repeat that again: the government doesn’t get to pick what speech is worthy of being heard.

I think it is only intellectually honest to separate the free speech issue from the police brutality issue. But at the same time, I have a hard time doing so. Meyers was removed from the forum by force — initially, the police just grabbed him, and told him he had to go. This was a First Amendment violation in itself. But then, they handcuffed him. This made him think he was under arrest (and in fact, he was). So now, not only was his First Amendment right being trampled upon, but he was also being charged as a criminal. I, in the same situation, would not have simply gone quietly in the night. I would have done exactly what he did — shouted out, “They are arresting me! Do you see this!?” I would have squirmed. I would have asked for the police to reason with me. And, I would have been taser’ed.

So, although it seems intellectually honest to separate the speech from the brutality, the two seem vitally, essentially connected. More generally, if you have your rights violated, and then resist that violation, the punishment for your resistance still relates to the rights which were originally violated.

On a side note, I think Conason is right to relate this incident to the “Free Speech Zones” used by Bush during his speeches. Here’s another post from the comments section:

I live and work in a University community. Two years ago, I was among a group of about 70 people who quietly marched towards the campus, where President Bush was speaking, to protest the war in Iraq. We held signs, all of them within the bounds of good taste, and we did not chant or shout or create any disturbance, just marched quietly through town and to the campus, where we were prevented, by campus security, from getting anywhere near the central commons where the president was to speak. Only those who had been vetted in advance were allowed there, most of them wearing red, white and blue and carrying pro-Bush and pro-war signs and banners. We were shunted to an area — shade and grass there so we were not uncomfortable — well out of sight and earshot of the actual event. That was disturbing, in a free country on a public university campus. But more disturbing was the fact that there were armed guards carrying large, visible weapons, patrolling the rooftops of the buildings surrounding us, and keeping an eye on us. And most disturbing was the fact that, when the event — which we could not hear except for the cheering of the carefully assembled crowd — was over, the attendees departed the event by a route that took them right past our area. They threw things at us, shouted obscenities, and had a bullhorn through which they shouted “Traitors!” and other things far more offensive. No one made any effort to restrain their rage or hatred. But I am quite sure, had any one of us made a move, or started shouting, or in any way appeared to be trying to break free from our “free speech zone”, we would have been “handled” by the guys on the rooftops. It is alarming to me that this kind of thing has happened again and again and the media never mentions it in the coverage of these staged events. I believe that is how dictatorships operate; it is not how I was taught that people live and behave in a democracy.

I feel this is also related to the recent incident in New York with regard to President Ahmadinejad of Iran visiting Columbia University for a public forum. Here is a post and a clever response by someone named “ann” on NYTimes City Room:

“As some of the other people here have already said, what in the world could this guy have to say that we need to hear? Yes, I believe in freedom of speech, but, Iranians are NOT our allies…If you really want to hear what this man has to say, why don’t you go visit him in Iran, and, see if you get the same liberal freedoms that you want to grant him here…and, honestly, anything that comes out of his mouth will only be a lie, conjured up to make himself and his country look more like an ally than an enemy…and, as far as visiting Ground Zero, if we did let him, we would probably see a picture of him at the site (smiling) on the Al Jazeera website soon after…” — Posted by ron

I wouldn’t want to hear him speak in Iran because no one would have the freedom to question him there. In America, we will be able to hear him express his opinions, and we will be able to hear someone openly question them, debate them, and discuss them. It’s a beautiful thing. — Posted by ann

Let’s just hope Ahmadinejad doesn’t get taser’ed for speaking too long. Might make follow-up diplomatic relations difficult. (I hope Cheney isn’t reading this…)

Responding again to the above, I don’t think it’s alarmist to point to these currents in our culture and say, “This smells like fascism.” We may still be the greatest country on Earth with regard to free speech, but it isn’t a given. Everything can change, and everything does. We must defend this essential right now as fiercely as two centuries ago.

Fascism Rising: Suppressing Speech with Tasers

September 19th, 2007

I hate to alienate readers by starting with a Noam Chomsky quote, but oh well. Chomsky once said, “If you are in favor of freedom of speech, that means you are in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise – otherwise you’re not in favor of freedom of speech.”

I am sure by now you’ve heard the story of Andrew Meyers, a 21-year-old student who was arrested and taser’ed by four or five University of Florida police officers because he was loud and rude at a political Q-and-A session with John Kerry.

When he was being dragged off the podium, the audience applauded. To be fair, that was probably because Meyers was impassioned, and probably was asking questions that made people uncomfortable. Possible voter fraud in the 2004 election, impeaching Bush for war crimes: neither of these are things the average Floridian probably finds to be in alignment with their own view of the world.

I don’t think police should have the right to escort me away from the podium when I’m speaking to an elected representative of government. This is a democracy. Sometimes it’s loud, sometimes it’s rude, things don’t always go according to plan. Questions aren’t always easy ones, and questions can make people uncomfortable. But that’s democracy. It’s messy, but through the chaos, our voices get heard.

Fascists were very good at making sure Q-and-A sessions were orderly. No one went over their time limit, and no one asked a question a politician didn’t like.

If Meyers had only been escorted out of the building, I would find that to be a violation of his First Amendment rights and I’d want the State to force those police officers to take some training courses. The first course would force every one of them to read the U.S. Constitution, before they go around supposedly protecting the rights it describes.

But it didn’t stop there. They didn’t just escort him out of the building, or practice good old-fashioned diplomacy. They didn’t even grab him — 4 vs. 1 — and drag him out of there.

Despite the fact that he posed no physical threat to the numerous officers around him — he had no weapons, he was throwing no punches, he was just a little squirmy because he had his 1st amendment right trampled upon — the police officers decided it was a good time to try out their new toy. They taser’ed Meyers, and left him writhing in pain in an auditorium full of his peers. A Senator of the US Government stood by and told everyone to “calm down”.

If you haven’t yet, you can see the full video here, and also from another angle (though warning, the latter one is a bit gut-wrenching).

I saw a blog post about the event and Kerry’s response, but what really got to me was the following comment from a reader named “Roman B.” on that blog:

I’ve done my sint as a questioner at political functions in college. Whenever I had my mike turned-off & asked to leave the podium (always at conservative functions, go figure), that’s what I did. I didn’t wait for security to ask me to leave, escort me, argue with them, or get myself in a position where I could get myself in trouble.

This has nothing to do with Andrew Meyer’s freedom of speech, Kerry, Bush, homeland security, 04 elections, left, right, or anything of the sort.

Andrew went up there to the podium with the intent of instigating trouble & he got it. He was dumb enough to get himself into trouble, but smart enough to know he would get the notariety he was looking for.

Why else would he make sure the camera was on?”

I’ve decided to rewrite Roman B’s post, with a few key words changed:

I’ve done my stint as a questioner at political functions in college. Whenever I had my microphone turned off and was asked to leave the podium (always at Nazi rallies, go figure), that’s what I did. I didn’t wait for the SS to ask me to leave, escort me, argue with them, or get myself in a position where I could get myself in trouble.

This has nothing to do with Andrew Meyer’s freedom of speech, or any of the other political issues of Germany’s Third Reich.

Andrew went up there to the podium with the intent of instigating trouble, and he got it. He was dumb enough to get himself into trouble, but smart enough to know the notoriety he was looking for.

He may have died at the hands of the SS, or perhaps he’s working in a concentration camp somewhere (we’ll never know). But this is exactly what he wanted — why else would he have had all his journalist friends of the German Resistance there, taking notes for tomorrow’s paper?

For those of you who do care about the freedom of speech, I urge you to write a letter to the University of Florida Police Department, to the ACLU of Florida, and to the USDOJ. For those of you who think Meyers deserved to get taser’ed (and there are quite a few of you out there), I’ll remind you of the following parable:

They say that if you put a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will leap out right away to escape the danger. But, if you put a frog in a kettle that is filled with water that is cool and pleasant, and then you gradually heat the kettle until it starts boiling, the frog will not become aware of the threat until it is too late. The frog will die without even realizing it.

Or, as Huey Long once said, “Of course we will have fascism in America, but we will call it democracy!”

What is Libertarianism?

September 2nd, 2007

From an interesting thread on /.

My definition of “libertarianism” stands from a firm principle of “live and let live”. That is, everyone is free to do what they want as long as they are not doing any direct harm to others against their will.

I put in the phrase “direct harm” because it is all to easy to declare anything you want as an “indirect harm” without any justification. When I say “direct harm”, there has to be actual clearly identifiable victims of that harm, and also clear, identifiable harm. Alas, much of what in politics and the law today that is declared “harm” isn’t really.

So, in essence, unless you see me actually doing something that is clearly harming someone else, you are to leave me alone. And I, of course, will do likewise.

I have lost count of how many times in my own life, for instance, someone has phoned the police on me simply because they *thought* I was dangerous, regardless of the fact that I had not done anything wrong nor had any intentions of doing so. And that has caused much damage — much harm — to me and my family, and yet no one learns from this. Police still encourages the public to phone everything in at the drop of a hat. Then they go out and harass innocent individuals, doing harm to them.

If I were libertarian-leaning before, such experiences have firmly pushed me into that camp.

My response:

You’re conflating social libertarianism and economic libertarianism. Not your fault, so is everyone else on this forum.

“Live and let live” is social libertarianism. You’re saying, “personal / private freedoms must not be infringed”. Economic libertarianism says, “there should not be ANY government regulation on the ‘free’ market”. Someone who buys into both of these ideas (or, more commonly, conflates them) is a social/economic libertarian. In other words, a modern libertarian.

Most American-style liberals (i.e., people who believe in the power of government to help society) are also social libertarians, just not economic ones. An example of a policy offensive to an economic libertarian but not a liberal is the minimum wage, or the 40-hour work-week. Interestingly, most American-style conservatives are economic libertarians, but NOT social ones. They don’t mind eliminating the minimum wage, but they do want to tell you what you can and can’t do in your bedroom with your consenting adult partner.

You would think that modern libertarians would hate both parties, and some do, but you find many more of them supporting Republicans than Democrats.

The reason? Modern-day libertarianism really has more to do with Milton Friedman than it does with the ACLU. Many are just brainwashed Chicago school amateur economists. They think that the “invisible hand of the market” will fix everything, while they benefit from the fruits of a century of progressive policies that are only recently being dismantled.

They conflate social and economic libertarianism because it is convenient to do so; the latter is so vulgar that if presented alone to most compassionate human beings, it would seem completely insane. No 40-hour work week? No controls on foods and substances? No safety labels on medicines? No nutrition labels on food? No seatbelts in cars? No environmental regulations on dumping and pollution? Yep — that’s economic libertarianism. The “market” will sort things out. Just let the invisible hand do its work, and all these things will magically be taken care of. [You often hear economic libertarians making the mistake of applying Darwin’s principle of natural selection to the market — those with the most money and skills are “selected”, and the rest should be left in the dust.]

Social libertarianism, on the other hand, jives with American sensibilities and our Constitution. And so, through the sheep’s clothing of social and personal freedoms, comes the wolf of the business-run “free” market.

Update: A Wikipedia article on the Nolan Chart, as well as the chart itself, elaborates this distinction. If I were producing the chart today, instead of making the x-axis “economic freedom,” I’d label it “opposition to government regulation of the market.” Certainly less succinct, but more accurate.

Another Update: I was revisiting the /. thread, and found a particularly good description of the difference between economic liberals and economic libertarians:

[…] the question fundamentally comes down to, “What do you fear the most?”

1. An inefficient government running roughshod over you (taxation, interference in property rights, tyranny of the majority, etc).
2. Powerful, unaccountable private entities running roughshod over you (monopolies, externalities, inequity of power, etc).

Of course, this is a bit of an oversimplification (as is the notion that most people fit into these little political boxes), but it mostly suffices. I find that most libertarian and most liberal points of view come down to concerns that their favorite bogeyman will ruin everything if left unchecked and powerless. More nuanced views come from realizing that they both are pretty bad and that you have to make a choice how to balance them (even if you tend to throw the balance almost entirely one way or the other). The crazy ideologues you see here on Slashdot and elsewhere are the people who seem to never acknowledge that the other side’s feared enemy is a problem too.

I love this explanation. My personal belief, as elaborated in earlier posts in this blog, is that careful government regulation of business is a good thing. But the modern US administrations strip away regulation of businesses, while growing the government in its ability to censor, to control social and personal behavior, to use the national purse for foreign wars, etc. In other words, the worst of both worlds!

Unanswered questions

August 13th, 2007

I passed by a church on the way to work today, and read the following:

Unanswered questions are far less dangerous than unquestioned answers.

This may just be the most succinct quote I’ve seen that summarizes my view on the distinction between honest religious beliefs and religious fanaticism.

If one uses religion as a way to cope with unanswered questions, that is fine. However, the moment you say this is true because my scripture says so — in other words, the second you stop questioning an answer which lacks evidence — you become a fanatic, and lose all credibility in my book.

Religion gives you an answer, not the answer. For certain questions (for example, “How did the universe begin?”), religion may give you just as good an answer as modern science.

This may be due to a current lack of convincing evidence that could provide answers to this question, as is true with many of the larger questions about existence and our “place” in the universe. Looking back in history, science failed to provide answers to questions like, “Why do diseases randomly afflict human beings?”, and religion was looked to for an answer, as when many believed that the Black Death was an earthly manifestation of divine justice from God, or the beginning of Armageddon.

It may also be due to epistemological constraints — in other words, it may be something that may never be known through empirical methods. An example of the unknowable would be the answer to “Is there an afterlife?”, since supposedly, there would be no way for those of the afterlife to communicate its existence to the presently living.

But for other questions (for example, “How did humans develop on Earth?”), science can provide evidence, and answers. These answers have been questioned, have been tested empirically, have been peer-reviewed. Accepting the religious argument in this case — saying, “science is just wrong because my scripture says so” — is fanaticism. And it should not be tolerated by intelligent people.

A New Yorker’s Take on San Francisco

August 7th, 2007

I just got back from San Francisco. This wasn’t my first time to the west coast, but it was my first time to Northern California. Overall, I had an amazing time.
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