Friday, April 25, 2008

Drug Legalization: Neglected Aspects

So you are thinking about legalizing drugs. What would happen?

Legalization makes the prices of drugs lower. The negative legal consequences are a tax that increases the costs to users and increases the costs of suppliers. The new, lower costs means more more people use drugs, and they use more drugs.

Society saves all the money spent on drug criminalization: incarceration, law enforcement, etc.

But what new costs might legalization impose on society?
  • Taking care of the drug addicts' children. The legal system would have many additional children enter the juvenile dependency system, and get placed in foster homes. Children and parents get court appointed lawyers, and the cases move through the expensive, slow, labor intensive juvenile dependency process as mandated by federal law.
  • Housing values go down and slums grow, as the additional addicts stop maintaining homes and apartments and mowing their lawns, and begin to live in squalor eight to a room.
  • The drug induced crime such as violence caused by meth psychosis becomes more common.
  • An increase in Social Security disability payments. Addicts are covered.
  • Health costs go up to pay for the medical problems associated with addiction: sores, malnutrition, overdoses.
  • More drug affected babies, who will also enter the juvenile court system, and have a good chance of later entering the criminal court system.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Vaccination Obligation

This Instapundit vaccination post convinces me that we ought to do more to cut the unvaccinated out of the herd.

Most elementary schools seem to allow a moral/religious exception. Maybe they shouldn't.

Why Prostitution is Wrong - a Simple Explanation for Libertarians

Some libertarians see prostitution as a question of personal autonomy vs. an arbitrary cultural bias. Appeals to tradition and morality don't persuade them much. This is a quick and dirty evolutionary psychology based denunciation of prostitution. No need for morality, tradition, or religion.

What effect does prostitution have on the health and survival of a community? Compared to a community with low levels of prostitution, a community with high levels of prostitution will have:
  1. a higher number of women with many sexual partners
  2. a higher number of children without an identifiable father
  3. a higher incidence of sexually transmitted diseases
The negative externalities (the costs to society) of two and three are fairly intuitive. Let me just add for the libertarians that illegitimacy increases the demand for vast social programs.

For effect one, the negative externalities are not as obvious, but they're real. Women with many sexual partners aren't as appealing to men interested in committed relationships, because there is more uncertainty as to who the father of any children is. This is not a value judgement, it as an observation. Fewer stable two parent families reduces the fitness of a community.

The advantages of stable two parent families, children who know who their father is, and reduced sexually transmitted diseases make prejudice against prostitution an adaptive meme. That is, an evolutionary advantage on for a community, not an arbitrary prejudice.

Your welfare depends in part on the health of your community, so support stigmas and laws against prostitution, for your own good.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Ludicrous Libertarians

In this clip from bloggingheads, Will Wilkinson and Kerry Howley cruise blissfully past the fundamental issues of prostitution. First mistake - Will frames the conservative position as a state interest in the prevention of vice. This is a stolen base - the conservative position would be a public or community interest in the prevention of vice. To refute the conservative position, you must engage this point rather than skip it.

Next Kerry Howley quickly jumps in over her head. First she accepts the persistent negative consequences of prostitution under a broad range of regimes, then blames these negative effects on the stigmatization of prostitution. This is a point that needs to be argued, not asserted. then she sets up a straw man, saying that the stigmatization of prostitution is the same stigma associated with female sexual activity, and opposition to prostitution comes from seeing women as sexually pure beings, and laws against prostitution exist to protect by law the sexual purity of women. Yes, it is easier to win when you address only weak arguments.

Then Will engages a weak Ross Douthat argument (is there any other kind?) against prostitution as a form of self inflicted violence. Douthat's argument is as obvious as it is inconsequential.

Back to Kerry, who wonders if the bad stuff associated with prostitution is inherent in the activity, or only there because the stigma attached allows only desperate women to to engage in prostitution. The Kerry proposes a real howler, asking if prostitution should be illegal assuming there's nothing wrong with selling sex for money.

Kerry: Let's assume we have eggs in the fridge. Let's discus how we should prepare them.
Me: First, why not check and see if we have the eggs?

Will says, "The harm from the prohibition and the stigma that goes along with the prohibition. " Will asserts that the stigma is a result of the prohibition. Asserts, not argues. The stigma is pretty obviously a result of the harm and degradation associated with prostitution.

Then both fetishize self autonomy. Self autonomy is valuable, but you have to weigh it against other interests, and defending an activity on the basis of self autonomy when the activity by definition requires more than one person is very weak.

Then Will mentions his dumb point that all forms of work require selling your body. So Will can see the insignificant commonalities prostitution has with other jobs. Can he see the important distinctions? Well, some of them. He does see the mechanism by which a part of the corrosive effect of prostitution upon the prostitute takes place, but only in the costs to the individual.

Kerry compares prostitutes to firefighters, surgeons, and soldiers in terms of the emotional hardening. Again, an enviable grasp of the meaningless commonalities. The differences are what make the other jobs worth that cost.

Women are capable of emotional control that allows prostitution to benefit them, says Kerry. Well, perhaps some are. How many? And should the law ignore the reality of prostitution and base itself on how things might work in the land of libertarians?

Howley and Wilkinson seem blind to the fact that individual actions have consequences for communities, so they address only the weakest arguments against prostitution. The ignore human nature, human biology, and human history, blithely musing about the desirability of tossing out the stigma against prostitution. Why not wish for big, fluffy wings for everyone? Or a third arm?

I'd like to hear a pro-legalization perspective that engages the arguments against it. Libertarians always seem so naive, so young. Maybe it's something most people grow out of.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Amatuer hour at Slate

Labor economics is a big area with a lot of literature. It's probably the area of academics that can most completely address the exceedingly complex issue of immigration and it's effect on societies.

Tim Wu doesn't know labor economics. His article on Slate is what happens when amateurs write about difficult economic issues. Things get simplified, things get ignored, and so TIm gets things wrong. If I were writing on Tim's areas of expertise, copyright and telecom law, I would try to avoid sweeping policy recommendations and conclusions. Tim on the other hand seems unaware of his ignorance. It's the things that you don't know that you don't know you don't know that get you into real trouble.

What does Tim seem unaware of? Mostly negative externalities and the divide between the interests of elites and the interests of the country. These things are so obvious it is painfully annoying to review them, but patient people have done just that:

Negative externalities

Elites vs. the rest

Practicing law without a license is a crime. Writing about economics without a clue isn't, and shouldn't be, but it's tacky, and at the margin damages the national discourse.

So please, a little humility when you write outside your field. Read a study, or maybe even two.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Ikea Review - FREDRIK Computer work station

Setup was a bit of a hassle. one part of the click system on one of the pieces was just a bit to narrow to fit as designed. Half an hour of repetitive attempts to force it worked like a charm.

The cable shelf is a bit mystifying. From the instructions, it seems you are supposed to place a power strip in the shelf before assembly, (after assembly, the bottom of the shelf is to narrow for either three or two prong plugs to fit through) then plug all your power cables into a power strip about two feet above the floor on the shelf rather then a power strip on the floor. This wouldn't work for me. I have a one of the wide power strips that seems more common these days.

I like the shelf, though, as it is just wide enough to fit my cable modem and router inside, and relatively safe from babies, puppies, and ants (ants once set up a colony inside of my router, with larvae and everything).

Friday, August 10, 2007

Strained Simile

Ezra Klein wrote that:
It's one of the depressing oddities of the presidential campaign that the candidate with the most "credentials" on terror is the candidate whose city was unprepared to stop, or effectively respond, to the worst terrorist attack in American history. It would be as if the CEO of a company that engaged in Enron-like practices emerged a champion of corporate rectitude because after his firm was found out, he gave a really good speech, and seemed somewhat upset.
It would be like that if New York had attacked itself. I wonder how Ezra thinks New York might have been prepared to stop the attacks. An international NYC intelligence apparatus? NYC fighter jets?

Daily Deranged

From cpa1's diary:
With regards to unemployment being an economic indicator, you have to realize from where it is coming. I don’t think for a second that our unemployment rate is 4.5%. I’d believe those figures as much as I believed there were weapons of mass destruction, we will be greeted in the streets of Baghdad with flowers and Dick Cheney has integrity and a conscience. With Bush, Cheney and Rove, there is nothing you can believe.
My italics. Let me be of assistance. Here's how unemployment is actually calculated (from the :
...[T]he Government conducts a monthly sample survey called the Current Population Survey (CPS) to measure the extent of unemployment in the country. The CPS has been conducted in the United States every month since 1940 when it began as a Work Projects Administration project. It has been expanded and modified several times since then. As explained later, the CPS estimates, beginning in 1994, reflect the results of a major redesign of the survey.

There are about 60,000 households in the sample for this survey. The sample is selected so as to be representative of the entire population of the United States. In order to select the sample, first, the 3,141 counties and county-equivalent cities in the country are grouped into 1,973 geographic areas. The Bureau of the Census then designs and selects a sample consisting of 754 of these geographic areas to represent each State and the District of Columbia. The sample is a State-based design and reflects urban and rural areas, different types of industrial and farming areas, and the major geographic divisions of each State.

Each of the 754 areas in the sample is subdivided into enumeration districts of about 300 households. The enumeration districts, in turn, are divided into smaller clusters of about four dwelling units each, through the use of address lists, detailed maps, and other sources. Then, the clusters to be surveyed are chosen statistically, and the households in these clusters are interviewed.

Every month, one-fourth of the households in the sample are changed, so that no household is interviewed more than 4 consecutive months. This practice avoids placing too heavy a burden on the households selected for the sample. After a household is interviewed for 4 consecutive months, it leaves the sample for 8 months and then is again interviewed for the same 4 calendar months a year later, before leaving the sample for good. This procedure results in approximately 75 percent of the sample remaining the same from month to month and 50 percent from year to year.

Each month, 1,500 highly trained and experienced Census Bureau employees interview persons in the 60,000 sample households for information on the labor force activities (jobholding and jobseeking) or non-labor force status of the members of these households during the week that includes the 12th of the month (the reference week). This information, relating to all household members 16 years of age and over, is entered by the interviewers into laptop computers; at the end of each day's interviewing, the data collected are transmitted to the Census Bureau's central computer in Washington, D.C. In addition, a portion of the sample is interviewed by phone through two central data collection facilities. (Prior to 1994, the interviews were conducted using a paper questionnaire which had to be mailed in by the interviewers each month.)

I wonder where in this process cpa1 thinks Bush, Cheney, and Rove cooked the books (and got away with it). Maybe he will clarify this for me.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Jonah Goldberg on Death Penalty on National Review Online

Just read an odd article by Jonah Goldberg. Some quotes and questions:

But the point is that it shouldn’t matter whether capital punishment is a deterrent. The death penalty cannot be justified by the deterrence argument alone. As the late sociologist Ernest van den Haag wrote, “Deterring the crimes, not yet committed, of others does not morally justify execution of any convict (except to utilitarians, who think usefulness is a moral justification).”
If you have the capacity to prevent a crime from occurring, wouldn't it be a moral obligation (not just morally justified) to do so? Why would preventing crimes not justify punishing crimes?

I support the death penalty because I believe that in some cases the death penalty is just. But, save perhaps in the realm of military justice or some truly grave crisis, executing to set an example for others is an indefensible rationalization of mob rule.
The rule of what mob? The mob of legislators that decide what criminal penalties to write into law? The mob of jurors that decide verdicts? The mob of judges that impose the sentences allowed by law?