Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Note on My Posts

I'm currently located at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri for the moment, so I have no internet access other than my phone service. Hence, I can post essays (via my Evo) but I cannot edit the font or recall my list of labels. I'm moving to Alaska in one month where internet access will be available again. Until then, I'll write posts with my phone.

On the Criminalization of Inflation Reporting in Argentina

According to the Economist, INDEC, the statistics agency of the Argentinian government, "began doctoring its consumer-price index in 2007" costing "holders of the country's inflation-linked bonds at least $2.3 billion last year." Naturally, private statisticians and economists have offered their own estimates of price inflation. According to the Economist, "They reckon that inflation is now running at about 25%. That is far above the 10% reported by INDEC...but less than the 30% wage increases public employees have received in recent years."

Unsurprisingly, the Economist reports that "Guillermo Moreno, the thuggish commerce secretary, is moving to stamp out the unofficial, but widely trusted, price indices. To do so he has dusted off a decree, penalising misleading advertising, approved by a military dictatorship in 1983. In February he sent letters to 12 economists and consultants ordering them to reveal their methodology, on the grounds that erroneous figures could mislead consumers."

Ah yes, the repression of information distribution, a cynical, time honored tactic of governments far and wide. To begin with, we have every reason to believe that the figures produced by INDEC are erroneous, deliberately so. Given its loose monetary policy and the inevitable price inflation it yields, the Argentinian government has an incentive to disinform the public. At the very least, a government must command a modicum of respect from its citizens as this is a necessary condition for its continued existence. As price inflation rises as monetary authorities expand the supply of loanble funds, this respect decreases, and rightly so. Hence, the technocrats in Buenos Aires think they can maintain this necessary condition for their prolonged employment by fooling the public into thinking that price inflation isn't nearly as bad as they ought to think it is and harassing those who offer accurate estimations. It's a rather crude form of malfesance but certainly not beyond even the esteemed monetary authorities of the U.S. government who discontinued publishing M3, a monetary aggregate considered by many to have been the best measure of the money supply and, therefore, of inflationary activity.

By contrast, private institutions have an incentive to offer accurate information on the price level, as the financial integrity of their clients and their reputation as reliable distributors of data are contingent upon their performance. This is yet another example of a function assigned to the government that is better performed by the private sector.

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Essays, Articles, Blog Posts, Podcasts, and Videos

~According to the New York Times, "For the last three years, Gallup has called 1,000 randomly selected American adults each day and asked them about indicators of their quality of life. Responses are converted to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Here are the 2010 results, sorted by Congressional districts."

~Ben O'Neill eviscerates the intellectual edifice upon which dictator Evo Morales attempts to
"[grant] the Earth a series of specific rights that include rights to life, water and clear air; the right to repair livelihoods affected by human activities, and the right to be free from pollution." O'Neill also has an older essay on the problems of "positive rights" as well.

~Morgan Alexander Brown shames Terry Eagleton in his review of Terry's latest Marxist apologetics.

~Wendy McElroy discusses restrictions upon the freedom to cross the border into the U.S.

~ExxonMobil, via the Minerals Management Service and the Department of the Interior, provides an illustration of the extent to which offshore drilling for oil and natural gas is prohibited by the federal government.

~According to Taking Points Memo (TPM), "In a McClatchy-Marist poll released this week, 70% of registered voters who identify with the Tea Party opposed making cuts to either Medicare or Medicaid -- the government-run health programs for the elderly and the poor -- to help reduce the nation's deficit. Meanwhile, only 28% of tea partiers said they'd be willing to cut spending on those two programs.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Assessing the "Pro-life" Argument from Human Similarity

A common argument among "pro-life" conservatives against abortion rights involves a deduction of the claim that a fetus deserves freedom from fatal coercion, i.e., freedom from being killed, from prior claims asserting that a fetus is a human being and that a human being deserves freedom from fatal coercion. When asked to demonstrate that a fetus is a human being, many conservatives appeal to a claim that identifies the human characteristics of a fetus and a corollary claim asserting that these human characteristics make it a human being. Below is a formalized version of the argument:

1.) A fetus is a human being
2.) A human being is something that deserves freedom from fatal coercion
3.) Therefore, a fetus is something that deserves freedom from fatal coercion

4.) To prove that a fetus is a human being, pro-lifers often emphasize facts about the development of the fetus, particularly the formation of those physiological characteristics present within human beings who have been born already. It is said of the fetus that as it develops, its humanity is expressed ever more vividly. Different sets of characteristics are provided by different pro-lifers and pro-life organizations, but the very brief list offered by below is typical:

-The heart starts beating between 18 and 25 days.
-Electrical brainwaves have been recorded at 43 days on an EEG.
-The brain and all body systems are present by 8 weeks and functioning a month later.
-At 8 weeks, the baby will wake and sleep, make a fist, suck his thumb, and get hiccups.
-At the end of 9 weeks, the baby has his own unique finger prints.
-At 11-12 weeks, the baby is sensitive to heat, touch, light and noise. All body systems are working. He weighs about 28g and is 6-7.5 cm long.
-(Often an emphasis on the human DNA of the fetus is offered as well, though omitted this detail)

5.) The subsequent premise asserts that anything possessing the characteristics shown within the former premise is a human being
3.) Therefore, a fetus is a human being

One of the propositions I dispute within the above argument is premise #5. I have yet in my participation within the abortion debate to see a demonstration of premise #5. How does the formation of certain human characteristics qualify a fetus as a human being?

But nevertheless, we have a conflict of "interests". If the mother aborts, the fetus dies. If the mother is prohibited by the state from aborting, she is disenfranchised. To whom should legal protection be greater?

It seems to me that women ought to possess the legal right to abort. Consider the following.

On one side, we have the mother. She is a physiologically independent, human entity and she is capable of being rational, i.e., she can make inferences. On the other side, we have the fetus. It is physiologically dependent wholly upon its mother and it most certainly is not capable of rationality. Because of her ability to conduct herself rationally, the mother is capable of being a productive member of society, participating in the division of labour and making positive-sum exchanges with others. By contrast, it will be years, perhaps decades until the fetus develops into a productive, contributing member of society precisely because it is not equipped with a rational cognition. Shall we sacrifice the rational and productive (or those who are currently capable of being so) to the non-rational and the non-productive? I would rather not.

What I would like however from pro-lifers is:

1.) A proof of premise #5
2.) An elaboration on what is it about human beings that make them worthy of freedom from fatal coercion (or a proof of premise #2, in other words)

On the Significance of the Common Good

It seems to me that people who profess to believe in capitalism who are quick to dismiss the importance of the common good do so at their own expense. If we define the common good as wealth per capita, then it appears to me that while the ultimate moral justification for a social system may not be the fact that it maximizes the common good, maximizing the common good is nevertheless a function of an ideal social system. It would be troubling, wouldn't it, if one declared a social system as moral, only to watch it plunge an adopting society into agony and pauperism. The maximization of the common good should be understood as a necessary concomitant of an ideal social system; it is an indicator that the ideal social system has perhaps been achieved.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Friday, April 15, 2011

About 46% of Usual Mississippi Republican Primary Voters Support a Ban on Interracial Marriage

Oh Mississippi. According to a poll conduct by Public Policy Polling, 46% of "400 usual Mississippi Republican primary voters" randomly chosen believe that interracial marriage should be illegal. Thus, if we apply the method of statistical generalization,

-n percent of s randomly selected F are G
-Therefore, about n percent of all F are G, where

n = percent
s = sample size
F = a property defining the general population
G = the property surveyed then:

-46 percent (400 x .46 = 184) of 400 randomly selected usual Mississippi Republican primary voters are people who believe that interracial marriage should be illegal
-Therefore, about 46 percent of all usual Mississippi Republican primary voters are people who believe that interracial marriage should be illegal

Now, the soundness of statistical generalizations is dependent completely upon the randomness of the sampling. According to my book on statistical reasoning,
"A randomly selected sample is chosen by a method guaranteeing that each of the F's has an equal chance of being chosen. If a large sample sample of F's is randomly selected, it is likely (although not certain) that the proportion of G's in the sample approximates the proportion of G's among all F's."
I do this because I'm confident that this poll will have its methodology challenged, given the potential political ramifications of its findings and the statistical inferences that can be derived from it. According to Dustin Ingalls, the Assistant to the Director of Public Policy Polling, "We poll random samples of registered voters, which means they're distributed proportionately across the state." Hence, the random sampling question is settled, given that it is a necessary condition of a respectable statistical generalization. What we can conclude without the assistance of statistical reasoning however is the fact that there are many in Mississippi who should hang their heads in shame.

The PPP poll is especially detrimental to Republicans, many of whom identify as conservatives because, according to a Gallup poll, "Mississippi is home to the largest percentage of conservatives among U.S. states, with a slim majority identifying their political views as conservative."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Essays, Articles, Blog Posts, Podcasts, and Videos

~According to Carrie Lukas, there is no wage gap between men and women.

~Bryan Caplan talks about 40 important truths he has learned over his 40 years of existence, endorses Jason Brennan's new book The Ethics of Voting, and tells people to have more children.

~Terry Eagleton takes time out to write a defense of Karl Marx. There's always one, at least one.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Essays, Articles, Blog Posts, Podcasts, and Videos

~George Reisman elaborates on why we should eliminate Social Security and Medicare and how.

~Robert Murphy reports on the sorry state of private money, as does Lew Rockwell.

~Thomas Woods takes Fed-supporter Joseph N. DiStefano to task on pre-Fed banking history.

~Can the frequency and severity of insurgent attacks be forecasted via statistical analyses? Neil Johnson of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida thinks so (to a certain extent).

~If this is true, then libertarians that do so need to stop fawning over Gandhi.

~Thorstein Polleit explains very systematically why economic recovery is hampered by low interests rates encouraged by the government.

An Interview with Bernie Madoff

The Financial Times has just published an interview with Bernie Madoff conducted by David Gelles and Gillian Tett. Its detailed and in depth.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Military Industrial Complex in Five Minutes

(via Robert Wenzel)

Walter Williams: Up From the Projects

"Hitler Banned Unions" and Other Last Ditch Arguments

It appears that some protesters lobbying against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's state budget plan have resorted to some questionable argumentative tactics. If you'll recall, in February Scott Walker had the effrontery to propose a state budget plan that, among other things, circumscribed the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions in his state by abolishing all such rights but the right to negotiate over wages. Since then, the Capitol building and the surrounding grounds have been a theater of acrimony, with anti-Walker discontents embroiled in a battle with Tea Party types. Naturally, both groups have been accompanied by their fair share of, shall we say, "decorative illustrations" expressing their contempt for the other side and it seems that a particular theme has emerged among a few of the anti-Walker posters, one that emphasizes the claim that Adolf Hitler banned unions. Here is an example:

Now, let's address the truth-value of this proposition first. Unfortunately, I'm not familiar with the history of Nazism and trade unions. However, according to Brooke Baynes,
"In 1933, the Nazis disbanded the Weimar unions and replaced them with the new and improved union, the German Labor Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront, DAF), which was comprised of 2 primary entities, the National Socialist Factory Organization and the National Socialist Trade and Industry Organization. The labor contracts that were Weimar contracts were now DAF-honored contracts. The Nazi’s funded the DAF’s coffers with the Weimar unions’ stockpile of wealth (the existing unions were part of that inflation problem)."
Assuming Baynes is correct, Hitler substituted new unions for old unions. I'm not one to shill for Hitler, but it appears that, if Baynes is correct, then the inscription upon the gentleman's poster above is misleading. I'm not sold on Baynes history credentials, thus I'm open to criticism of her claim about Hitler and unions.

However, the truth-value of the Hitler-union proposition in question is irrelevant in this case, for those who underscore the notion that "Hitler banned unions" are making an argument, albeit an implicit one, not just offering a declarative statement. The argument crudely suggests that Scott Walker is like Hitler because both undermined unions within their jurisdiction:

-Hitler undermined unions
-Scott Walker undermined unions
-Therefore, Scott Walker is Hitler (or rather, a Hitler equivalent or neo-Hitler)

The problem with this argument is its form, which is thus:
A is C
B is C
B is A (or A is B)

The rules governing deductive reasoning simply do not permit this kind of inference. In any deductive syllogism, the middle term, the only term absent from the conclusion, must be distributed at least once. Here, the middle term
C is distributed in neither premise. A Venn diagram very easily demonstrates how this conclusion does not follow from the premises.

Now, to avoid this formal fallacy, protesters maintaining the same line against Walker might adjust their argument to the following, less formal version:

-Hitler undermined unions
-Scott Walker undermined unions
-Therefore, Scott Walker shares character properties with Hitler or is similar to Hitler

Now its true that both men chose to frustrate the pursuits of unions, but
what the gentleman above and his like-minded demonstrators imply, falsely I might add, is the allegation that this fact is relevant. The argument is an example of an ad hominem that imposes guilt by association; it very sleazily attempts to graft the wickedness of Hitler unto Walker by emphasizing the fact that both men subverted unions (albeit in very different ways). The error of course in this argument is that it treats Hitler's subversion of unions as an essential feature of his character when it certainly was not. When historians offer their own moral estimates of Hitler, they tend to emphasize the fact that he personally ordered the invasions of Eastern and Western Europe, including Norway, North Africa, and put some 6 million plus Jews, gypsies, pacifists, communists, socialists, and homosexuals to death in now notorious places of confinement. These decisions are underscored by historians because they were his most consequential and his irrevocably abysmal reputation is the result of universally negative assessments of these decisions.

By contrast, historians pay considerably less attention to Hitler's opinion of impressionist art or the affection he displayed towards his dog because these decisions, while making for odd trivia, were completely inconsequential. Its the most consequential decisions of an individual that should be afforded the most weight among the decisions he makes when a normative assessment of him is conducted. Furthermore, if those most consequential decisions are malevolent ones, then the overall normative evaluation should be negative due precisely to the fact that these are the most consequential decisions that have been assessed as immoral.

It is Hitler's genocidal racism and militarism that provoke such adverse appraisals of him, and rightly so - not his union-busting. Hitler's subversion of unions contributed negligibly to the wickedness of his character; it may have been a burden upon some, but overall it was of little consequence. If Scott Walker was similarly antagonistic towards civil society, then a comparison between Hitler and him would be appropriate. Alas, the association between Adolf Hitler and Scott Walker is an asinine one. These protesters are attempting to bespatter Walker with the moral filth of Hitler by limelighting the fact that Walker made a decision that:

1.) resembles a historically inconsequential decision made by Hitler, not one for which Hitler is remembered or reviled and

2.) resembles such in only a most shallow way

Not only was Hitler's union subversion historically insignificant, it is only superficially similar to Walker's union subversion. According to Brooke Baynes, Hitler abolished the Weimar unions, including private sector unions, and replaced them with unions with whom the Nazis could be politically allied. He thereby nullified the right to unionize within the private sector as labourers saw fit. Conversely, Gov. Walker has not abolished the right to unionize; instead he has expunged the right of public sector unions to negotiate with the government firms they are employed with over anything other than wages.

It is imperative to acknowledge this distinction. Hitler's union subversion was an example of introductory coercion; he disbanded institutions that were either voluntary or could have been modified as voluntary organizations. In contrast, Walker's union subversion was a response to and hedge against introductory coercion. The government firms for which Wisconsin's public unions work are, on the whole, inefficient enterprises thriving on the tax dollars coercively removed from the private sector. They are benefiting from the introductory coercion employed by the state government against private sector employers and employees. By reducing the ability of public sector unions to benefit from the introductory coercion of the state government, Walker is mitigating said coercion, not resorting to it - very much unlike Hitler.

I'll conclude by arguing that the ridiculousness of this argument is most vividly revealed when all of Hitler's decisions are taken into account. According to his Wikipedia entry, "Hitler oversaw one of the largest infrastructure-improvement campaigns in German history, with the construction of dozens of dams, autobahns, railroads, and other civil works." If this is the case, then would it be appropriate for opponents of government construction projects to file into capitol buildings with placards reading "Hitler commissioned highways" or "Hitler ordered the construction of railroads"? The anti-Walker protesters, with whom government construction projects are undoubtedly popular, would resent such an underhanded insinuation, yet this is what they resort to (some of them) when they imply that Gov. Walker is meaningfully comparable to Hitler. Well, how about some common courtesy?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Simple Unemployment Math

We are constantly reminded by Obama's detractors, and rightly so, of the national unemployment rate, yet I wonder as to whether most people understand what the unemployment rate is. Undoubtedly, some believe it reveals what percentage of the total population of Americans are jobless. Others think it describes how many people who are capable of working are jobless. The unemployment rate is a description of neither.

The number U of people who are unemployed are people who are not working and are active searching for a job. The labour force L is the sum of the number E of people who are employed and the number U who are unemployed. The unemployment rate u is the ratio of those who are unemployed U to the labour force L, where U is the numerator and L is the denominator. Hence:

u = U/L, L = E + U, u = U/(E + U)

Naturally, the employment rate e is the ratio of those who are employed E to the labour force L, again where E is the numerator and L is the denominator. Since the employment and unemployment rates are fractions, they add to 1. Hence:

e = E/L, 1 = e + u, e = E/(E + U)

Many people confuse the labour force with what's known as the working-age population. The working-age population N is, essentially, everyone capable of working between the ages of 15 and 65. It is the broadest quantity thus far, being the sum of those who are employed E, unemployed U, and excluded X from the labour force. Hence:

N = (E + U) + X, N = L + X

Finally, the participation rate p is the ratio of the labour force L to the working-age population N. Hence:

p = L/N = 1 - X/N