2013-04-10

Links And Commentary

First Link
Sonic Charmer (or is it The Crimson Reach?) has it right on austerity:

Here is how, from what I can tell, the whole ‘austerity’ debate has gone:1. Countries in, like, Europe pass a bunch of tax increases.2. This is referred to as austerity, since ‘austerity’ means ‘spending cuts or tax increases’.3. The tax increases don’t help the economy.4. Smart People point and say: “See? Austerity doesn’t help.”5. Which proves we should….pass a bunch of tax increases instead.
I look at this as the classic bait-and-switch tactic that dominates leftist rhetoric. The idea is to make Point A, and upon its rebuttal, make Point B. Then, when Point B is rebutted, switch back to Point A. Repeat over and over until the opponent gets tired. We see this everywhere, and Sonic Charmer has done a good job of exposing the ruse on this issue.

But keep it in mind on other issues. Take gun control for example. A leftist will start by saying that "assault weapons" are responsible for the massacre of school children; a rightist will respond that guns don't kill people, people kill people. Then the leftist changes the subject by replying as follows: "Why do you need to carry an assault weapon?" The rightist will point to his Constitutional rights in an attempt to rebut the leftist's new argument about "necessity," at which point the leftist will reply: "Your right to gun ownership does not trump my right to life." See that? Now we're talking about guns killing people again. So the rightist has to readdress the topic of responsible gun ownership, at which point the leftist can reply with another argument about necessity.

Once you identify the rhetorical trick of it, though, it's powerless. Just remember to identify it when you're arguing with a leftist. If you out it as the ruse that it is, the leftist can't keep on going with it without looking stupid.

Second Link
I am not as pessimistic as Simon Grey:

First off, if Buffett is leaving the US market, then it’s time for everyone else to follow suit.  Sell of all of your investment items, cash out your retirement accounts, and go buy gold and silver and keep what you buy in your possession.  Or at least hold cash in your possession.  The market is finally catching up with reality, and now it’s time to leave. 
Second, and more broadly, it looks like this pretty much spells the beginning of the end.  American dominance, particularly of the economic variety, is drawing to a close.  Get used to living in poverty.
For one thing, I do not consider Warren Buffett's reputation to be very justified. He made a great deal of money for himself early on, but his subsequent plays have not panned out quite as well. He is a bit of a relic from the so-called "Great Moderation," during which a few people accidentally made hundreds of millions of dollars under conditions that the market will never again tolerate. For another thing, David Henderson makes a compelling case against pessimism.

Third Link
Speaking of pessimism, though, John Cochrane describes himself as "doom and gloomy" on interest rates. The short version of the story is that interest rates are supposed to go up soon, but it's anyone's guess when that will actually happen. What strikes me about this kind of commentary is that it assumes that low interest rates are desirable for everyone. If that were true, why would anyone charge interest at all? High milk prices are a good thing for milk farmers; therefore, those people who earn interest will not hurt from rising interest rates. The Stationary Waves punchline is this: Now is a good time to lock your debts into fixed rates while simultaneously locking your investments into variable rates. Easier said than done, though...

Fourth Link
Meanwhile, Matt Zwolinski decides to take the one principle about which every libertarian agrees and argue against it.

On its face, the [Non-Aggression Principle]’s prohibition of aggression falls nicely in line with common sense. After all, who doesn’t think it’s wrong to steal someone else’s property, to club some innocent person over the head, or to force others to labor for one’s own private benefit? [...] 
But the NAP’s plausibility is superficial. It is, of course, common sense to think that aggression is a bad thing. But it is far from common sense to think that its badness is absolute, such that the wrongness of aggression always trumps any other possible consideration of justice or political morality. There is a vast difference between a strong but defeasible presumption against the justice of aggression, and an absolute, universal prohibition. As Bryan Caplan has said, if you can’t think of counterexamples to the latter, you’re not trying hard enough. 

I am sympathetic to Zwolinski's rather sensible intention of breaking through the cultishness of hanging absolutely everything you believe on a single, unwavering logical axiom. This just kicks the can down the road: You've stated your axiom but failed to prove why this one axiom should form the basis of anyone's philosophy. Even if I accept that the Non-Aggression Principle leads to my preferred outcome in all cases, that does not necessarily mean that it is the correct logical basis for those outcomes. Had Zwolinski made that case, then we'd actually be getting somewhere.

But Zwolinski didn't make that case. (He comes close in his fifth point, but bungles it badly.) Instead, he provided six ways that someone already uncommitted to the NAP would be emotionally moved to reject it. Perhaps the key to this issue is that no one has ever been able to reduce any philosophy or approach to life to one, single axiom. Perhaps there is nothing at all wrong with the NAP as one of a set of logical axioms governing ethical behavior. Perhaps that's exactly how most libertarians see the NAP, in which case Zwolinski is constructing another Red Herring in an effort to appeal to the cool kids who think libertarians are nerds.