Those Other Creatures Who Believe Different Things

Salon.com recently republished a Geoff Dembicki article from a Canadian website called The Tyee, entitled "How to talk to a conservative about climate change" [sic on capitalization] (hat tip to Lubos Motl). It is a profoundly insulting display of the vexing tendency of typical partisans to view their political opponents as being a completely different species. 

The whole piece is written from the perspective of a global warming alarmist who has never even attempted to speak to a conservative about climate change without pressing his agenda and becoming argumentative. I say this not because Dembicki doesn't share my personal viewpoint on the topic, but because it is clear from his article - replete with citations to academic studies about the differences between the liberal species and the conservative species - that Dembicki has never bothered to actually pay attention to the specific concerns conservatives have with global warming alarmism and think of ways to reason against them. Instead, Dembicki sticks to tired tropes about conservatives, those misguided fools who must be spoken to in a special language, like dogs.

The frustrating part of the piece is that Dembicki starts with all the right facts before proceeding to warp them into his insulting and self-serving narrative. After informing us that less than half of Britons "firmly believe" that human activity is causing climate change, and only 58% of Canadians agree with the statement that "global warming is a fact and is mostly caused by emissions from vehicles and industrial facilities," Dembicki supplies a batch of rather sound insight:
Activists, scientists and politicians similarly convinced by climate science have long struggled to explain why such large segments of society dismiss the urgency of global warming. 
Those observers often blame a self-interested public, manipulated by powerful fossil fuel interests to believe the economic costs of fighting climate change outweigh its environmental consequences. 
But a growing body of social science research has revealed an unexpected counter-narrative: for two decades the language, narratives and images of global warming have reinforced deeply held liberal values, it argues. Conservatives now see global warming solutions, and the science itself, as attacks on values they hold dear.
If the article ended there, all would be fine. Unfortunately, Dembicki is just getting started. He goes off the rails with his very first assumption: "we're all a little irrational." And by "we all," Dembicki really means just conservatives. I say this because he explicitly frames the point in the language of "logical liberal" versus "crazy conservative." Look (emphases mine):
...For instance [a typical leftist statement about climate change might be]: “Alberta oil sands firms are not held accountable (fairness/cheating) for their contribution to a warming climate that will ultimately harm the planet’s poorest people (care/harm).” 
The logical left-wing reaction is to demand strict limits on oil sands emissions. But that climate change solution can provoke strong emotional reactions from people who identify as politically right-wing.
To be fair, Dembicki does suggest that "liberals need to first recognize their own moral biases," but his self-awareness on this point is astoundingly deficient. We see more evidence of this shortcoming in his next point, which is ostensibly that information is rarely neutral:
So when liberals learn, for instance, that human activity is warming the planet, they’re already morally primed to believe that oil sands firms and other fossil fuel companies must reduce their carbon emissions. 
But conservatives, who might feel these companies support the Canadian way of life, may go out of their way to reject any information undermining this belief, including the fact that human activity is warming the planet. 
“Once someone connects a position on an issue to their cultural identity,” Hoffman said, “to try and get them to accept something that contradicts that identity is really challenging.”
That unique animal that is a conservative apparently can only believe that climate change is a threat to tradition. It simply cannot be that the conservative has a differently but equally informed view of climate science, and perhaps more importantly, economics. By depicting all conservative objections to climate change as emotional responses tied to "loyalty" and "upholding long-held institutions," Dembicki dismisses every legitimate objection that exists against global warming alarmism.

In writing an article that is ostensibly about how liberals can persuade conservatives, Dembicki manages to dismiss every belief about climate change that doesn't line up to his own by calling it all an emotional reaction. He further underscores this dismissal in his next point, that "too much fear will backfire," and his other two points, which are tied primarily to culture.

Considering all of the above, is it any wonder that people like Dembicki have trouble communicating with conservatives?

Throughout the article, Dembicki's goal seems to be something much different than persuading conservatives to believe the majoritarian view of climate science. Remember? That's what he was lamenting at the beginning of the article. Instead, what Dembicki really has in mind is figuring out what language to use to adopt Dembicki's pet policy prescriptions. The idea that a conservative might agree about the science, but not the policy prescriptions, apparently has failed to even enter into his mind. As Lubos Motl puts it:
Even if you managed to invent a climatism that is meant to resemble a right-wing ideology, it couldn't lead to results that would be satisfactory for the left-wing climate alarmists. Why? Because for the hypothetical right-wing climatism to be really acceptable to right-wingers, it would have to fundamentally differ in certain respects and these differences would make the left-wing alarmists hate the new "right-wing alarmists" at least as much as the left-wing alarmists hate the climate realists in the real world.
Keep in mind that leftists and rightists generally agree that the poor need to be cared for, but generally disagree about how best to care for them. Similarly, despite the claims of both parties, Democrats and Republicans alike believe in the US Constitution; what matters is not a belief in the Constitution, but the specifics about how to interpret it within a given context.

But, while liberals are totally wrong to suggest that conservatives don't care about pollution or caring for the poor, conservatives are generally correct that liberals don't care about economic freedom. In the conservative point of view, economic freedom is a constraint to take into consideration when devising new public policies. In the leftist point of view, economic freedom (the "unfettered free market") is a barrier to achieving leftist policy goals. Here's Motl again:
The real problem is that Marxism may be smelled in pretty much every paragraph of the actual climate alarmism we know. The real-world climate alarmism as we know it is a mutation of socialism or Marxism. Climate alarmism is just an environmentally sounding name but the detailed content of the package you buy with it is a reorganized socialism or Marxism. And socialism or Marxism, however reorganized, can't ever be happy with people who realize that these ideologies are pernicious, whether or not these people use climatic labels for themselves.
Well, Lubos writes with his own set of personal biases, but that doesn't detract from the truth of his point, namely, "that the purpose of climate alarm is not to care about the environment but to rebuild the [sic] human society."

The left should be honest about this. The goal is not to simply save the Earth, but rather to save it in a specific way. If there were a way to extract oil in an environment-neutral way, leftists would still oppose it because what they really have in mind is rebuilding society into one that uses less high technology and more non-mechanical subsistence farming. They want fewer Walmarts and more co-op corner stores. Fewer NASCAR competitions and more bicycle races. What the left can't understand about the right amounts to nothing more than, "Why can't conservatives think all the same stuff we do and have all the same interests we have?"

This is silly. Conservatives know it's possible to have a good, happy life behaving more like a liberal. They know they would still smile if they dressed in earth tones, lived in Vermont, and worked as college professors. The reason they would rather dress in team jerseys, live in Texas, and manage auto parts stores is because they're just that much happier doing that instead. This is no cause for a culture war. Diversity of interests is to be celebrated for the many different strengths we all bring to society. One of the reasons socialism tends to fail is because it produces a society with too-narrow a set of interests. At the end of the day, somebody has to ranch. We can't all become vegans in Vermont who own coffee shops. Society needs all the stuff it produces; if it didn't, we wouldn't produce it.

But these concepts don't really jive in the minds of leftists who feel that non-leftists should just be different. Well, that's not a problem of our scientific comprehension.

Some Links

  1. Wow. The guy in this video is both kind of dorky and extremely cool. 
  2. This caused a bit of a stir on my Facebook page. Basically, a woman who had a dog also had children and found that she loves her kids more than her dog. Some find this selfish and cruel, but I find it perfectly rational. Go figure.
  3. My old buddies from the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada - Ottawa Division and I had kind of a running joke about flying cars. Basically, I think the reason we don't already have flying cars is because government regulations are such that they cannot be invented in a way that conforms to the regulatory regime. Robert Murphy thinks it's probably just lack of demand, so I set him straight.
  4. Fake Herzog responds to my Open Borders piece. (Spoiler alert: He's not convinced.)
  5. Which Wich accepts orders online. I know they're not the first to do so, but I tried it out today, and it worked like a charm. Give it a whirl.
  6. The guy who runs MusicDFW.com is also a badass guitar player.

8W: Week 4 / Day 3

Today's workout is as follows.

Do This:

  • 5 sets of 10 x pull-ups
  • 3 sets of 10 x seated cable rows
  • 4 sets of 10 x barbell curls
  • 3 sets of 10 x deadlifts
  • 3 sets of 10 x back extensions
Then Do This:

  • 25 minutes of cardio


Justifying Private Property To The Poor

True to form, Kevin Vallier has another thought-provoking post over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, in which he challenges his readers to provide a justification for property rights that will be satisfying even to the poor:
Rousseau asks us to imagine someone who is not convinced of natural rights to property, at least as interpreted by the richer laborers in society. The responder has a rational complaint: who made you [the rich, the “haves] judge of where your property rights begin and end? It’s a dangerous juridical power, one that can easily be used to keep people hungry and powerless. In light of the suffering of the property-less, why should they ever think that the claims of the rich and powerful are naturally legitimate? What could justify the haves in using coercion to protect their property when the have-nots have so little? 
What Rousseau brings into focus is that, at the most fundamental level, property rights are coercive and so trigger a requirement of justification to those who are putatively disadvantaged by the property system.
But just when you think Vallier has gone granola on us, he emphasizes:
I am willing to concede that, despite reasonable pluralism, people who deny that any private property system can be justified to the least advantaged are both wrong and unreasonable. But it seems that the very strong property rights claims that libertarians endorse still raise Rousseau’s worry. How can we justify the coercion involved in delineating and enforcing property rights to those least favored by those arrangements?
Property has always been and will always be disputed. Inequality is unpleasant to those on the low end of the spectrum and always will be. Humans are by nature jealous when poor and rent-seeking when rich. Philosophy cannot, in my opinion, conquer these facts. I also agree with Vallier and, for example, David Friedman when they say that "natural rights libertarianism" (or maybe more accurately: Rothbardianism) fundamentally falls short in its justification for property rights.

In particular, I think the Rothbardians have taken things much too far. They believe everything reduces to property rights
Liberals generally wish to preserve the concept of "rights" for such "human" rights as freedom of speech, while denying the concept to private property.[1] And yet, on the contrary the concept of "rights" only makes sense as property rights. For not only are there no human rights which are not also property rights, but the former rights lose their absoluteness and clarity and become fuzzy and vulnerable when property rights are not used as the standard.
The right to life is the source of all rights—and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life.
Because modern libertarianism is in many ways the result of the combined efforts of Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard, it is difficult to get most libertarians to think beyond the sanctity of almighty natural rights/property rights. But, while Rand was adamant about her view of property rights, the idea that she refused to consider other possibilities is, in my opinion, Rothbard-Rockwell propaganda. It's hard to crack the sanctified image of Murray Rothbard in the eyes of Rothbardists, but it's also necessary. Many would be shocked to discover that Ludwig von Mises was hardly a proponent of natural rights or Rothbardian property rights:
Private property is a human device. It is not sacred. It came into existence in early ages of history, when people with their own power and by their own authority appropriated to themselves what had previously not been anybody's property. Again and again proprietors were robbed of their property by expropriation. The history of private property can be traced back to a point at which it originated out of acts which were certainly not legal. Virtually every owner is the direct or indirect legal successor of people who acquired ownership either by arbitrary appropriation of ownerless things or by violent spoilation of their predecessor. 
However, the fact that legal formalism can trace back every title either to arbitrary appropriation or to violent expropriation has no significance whatever for the conditions of a market society. Ownership in the market economy is no longer linked up with the remote origin of private property. Those events in a far-distant past, hidden in the darkness of primitive mankind's history, are no longer of any concern for our day. For in an unhampered market society the consumers daily decide anew who should own and how much he should own. The consumers allot control of the means of production to those who know how to use them best for the satisfaction of the most urgent wants of the consumers. Only in a legal and formalistic sense can the owners be considered the successors of appropriators and expropriators. In fact, they are mandataries of the consumers, bound by the operation of the market to serve the consumers best. Under capitalism, private property is the consummation of the self-determination of the consumers.
And herein lies the whole solution to the "problem" posed by Rousseau and Vallier. Property can only change hands by force or by trade. One of these is violent and coercive and the other is peaceful and cooperative. Thus there are only two ways to solve problems of distributive "justice:" by force or by trade.

Philosophy will never be able to make people feel better about the fact that they have little while others have much. Those who think that some of us are "too greedy" cannot be dissuaded by an elegant philosophical solution. What fails to square in their minds is not the notion that the rich feel deserving of their wealth, but rather the fact that the poor continue to starve and die. The only "solutions" they will tolerate are ones that result in the rich being punished for their greed and the poor being rewarded for their need.

But when we think practically, we see that there are only two real possibilities here. Either we are going to use force and violence to redistribute wealth, or we are going to use peace and cooperation to allow resources to trade hands in accordance with the private ambitions of individuals. Resorting to the former necessarily and unequivocally nullifies the latter.

Classical liberalism is the belief that life is most pleasant when people are allowed to do as they please. This sentence is something that either makes you smile because you can imagine the many possibilities embedded in that notion, or it is something that makes you recoil in horror at the many possible injustices that will have to be endured as a result. 

Such a thing can't be "justified" or philosophically explained. Humans want freedom when they have a big idea they want to implement; humans despise freedom when someone else's big idea threatens their own private mojo. All this really tells us is that humans like to entertain the illusion that their own private perspective is the one the results in the greatest happiness and liberty. It is an illusion. Real liberty is both costly to the weak and worthwhile to the strong. The concept of private property enables us to manage this conflict through entirely peaceful means. There is not much else to say about it.

8W: Week 4 / Day 2

Today's workout is cardio, as follows:
  • 5min warm-up
  • 5min hard (80%)
  • 2min easy
  • 4min hard
  • 2min easy
  • 2min hard
  • 1min easy
  • 1min hard
  • 8min very easy (cool-down)


Sonic Charmer: Still Wrong On Immigration

Sonic Charmer believes that advocates of open-borders change the subject when we receive objections:
But here’s the slippery part: when you take them seriously and therefore try to argue against #1 in good faith, you often get a retreat in response: hey, we’re just saying #2! We just think the government should, like, allow more immigration!
As usual when he writes about immigration, Sonic Charmer is woefully mistaken. For reference, here are his points #1 and #2:
1. The government has no right to restrict border crossing. (More immigration being, presumably, a result.)
2. More immigration should be allowed by the government; we should make the decision to allow it because it’s neat/good/etc.
Open borders advocates want borders to be open. There is no need to parse it up into two or more versions of it. There are many different ways to make a convincing argument for open borders.

One of them is to argue that enforcing closed borders in an attempt to prevent me from trading with immigrants is more of a restriction of my property rights than an open border is to those who do not wish to trade with immigrants. I would flesh this point out further here, but I already did last Friday, at OpenBorders.info.

Another way to argue for an open border is to say that, all theoretical mumbo-jumbo aside, increased immigration is good for everyone, so if you prefer working within a system you view as being more "practical," then fine: let's just open up the borders using the existing political machinery.

There is no reason to have to "choose" between these positions, and there is nothing dishonest about advocating for both positions simultaneously. If you believe, as I do, that freedom of migration is a human right and that it is morally reprehensible to bar other human beings from exercising that right, then the moral case for immigration supercedes any apparent conflict between saying that the government has no right to restrict immigration and saying that I would prefer if the government decided not to restrict immigration.

An easy way to see this is to compare it to a human right everyone agrees on: Freedom of/from religion. Let's say you lived in a place where it was illegal to practice your personal religion or atheism, whatever it may be. Let's also say I supported a policy of Freedom of Religion. I could easily make the case that the government has no right to dictate the beliefs of its citizens, and I would be absolutely right. Alternatively, I could argue that the government should stop putting restrictions on how people choose to practice or not practice their personal religions.

This would only seem like some kind of contradiction or "two-step" to someone hell-bent on eradicating the freedom of religion. And so it goes for immigration.

The truth is that I don't care if you choose to see open borders as something the government has no right to prevent or if you choose to see it as something the government should stop restricting. Who on Earth would care about a distinction like that? That Sonic Charmer chose to take this tack instead of responding the specific arguments I made against his appeal to property rights seems to suggest that he is having trouble defending his own claims.

Of course, this makes a lot of sense to me, since I believe Sonic Charmer will eventually come around to the open borders idea. Even though his readers tend to be racists, he himself clearly isn't. My OpenBorders.info piece from Friday highlighted some problems with the property rights appeal. Let's keep our eyes peeled to see whether Mr. Charmer can refute my claims on their merits, or whether he will finally warm up to immigration like I think he will.

Movie Review: The Wolverine

Like millions of other people in America, I took the opportunity to watch The Wolverine, over the weekend. If you have been living under a rock, you won't already know that The Wolverine is the second installment of the back-story behind Marvel's Wolverine character from the X-Men franchise.

For some strange reason, I feel compelled to state that fact before proceeding with the review. I don't actually believe that Stationary Waves readers live under rocks, but it feels as though I haven't fully covered the topic unless I state the most elementary facts.

The Wolverine tells the story of an emotionally scarred and hermitic Logan, haunted by the nightmares of his troubled past and sworn to a life of peace and isolation. One day, Logan meets Yukio, a Japanese mutant girl who can see the future. Yukio tells Logan that she works for a wealthy Japanese man, Yashida, whom Logan once saved from the atomic detonation at Nagasaki. According to Yukio, Yashida is now on his death bed and wants the chance to personally thank Logan for saving his life. Logan reluctantly agrees to travel to Japan with Yukio for Yashida's sake.

When he finally meets Yashida, Logan learns that Yashida's scientists have discovered a way to transfer Wolverine's self-healing powers from Logan to Yashida himself. Yashida reasons that, since Logan wants to die while Yashida wants desperately to live, this presents a unique opportunity to both of them. Logan refuses the offer, but before he can return to Canada, in true Wolverine style, all hell breaks loose.

That The Wolverine is set across a backdrop of some of the most beautiful locations in Japan lends to the magic inherent in the story of Marvel's mutant society. Owing largely to its rich literary tradition and gorgeous landscapes, Japan is the kind of place that cannot help but captivate the imaginations of those of us who were not born there, and perhaps especially those of us who have never been there. (Except briefly, while making a connecting international flight!) This kind of setting can either go very well or very poorly. American audiences want to experience the inherent mystique of Japan without having to suffer from the cheesy, over-blown caricatures seen from movies like The Karate Kid, Part II. A filmmaker's challenge is always to present a normal and believable Japan while still capturing its more legendary qualities, but without painting every Japanese person with the same brush. (You know, every Japanese person knows karate, wears traditional dress, eats sushi all day, and lives in a house in the mountains with paper walls... If not, then they must be Yakuza...)

The Wolverine definitely falls victim to a little cheesiness, but this is helpfully kept at by by the demands of the plot, and also by a thrilling soundtrack that, to my memory, never degenerates into a pizzicato pentatonic appeal to the worst kind of stereotypes. And while there are plenty of ninjas and Yakuza in the movie, their role is not so central to the plot that it takes over. At its core, The Wolverine is true to the central, underlying plot of every X-Men movie: mutants, the humans who hate them, the humans who envy them, and the humans who see them as people.

Comparisons to 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine are inevitable. That movie set the bar for all superhero movies that have followed in its place, and remains one of the best of the genre four years later. Does the new movie equal the 2009 film? Certainly not. I would encourage viewers, however, to see all of these Marvel movies as thematically intertwined, but each a stand-alone film - not unlike the comic books themselves.

True, the purists will always tend to roll their eyes at anything that fails to equal their most beloved story lines, issues, and films. But this is part of the fun of being an enthusiast. At the same time, that which is not "the best" can still be entertaining and worthwhile. So it is for The Wolverine, which packs a mighty wallop despite its ultimately falling short of the kind of rarity that its precursor was, and it further propels the Marvel universe forward on the silver screen. But I may be a little biased because I have yet to see a Marvel movie I didn't like.

8W: Week 4 / Day 1

Today's workout is as follows.

Do Three Sets of Each of the Following:
  • 10 x bench press
  • 10 x incline press
  • 10 x tricep pressdown
  • 10 x cable crossover
  • 10 x overhead press
  • 10 x plyometric push-ups
Then Do This:
  • 25 minutes of cardio
Note: Don't forget to increase the weight by 2.5-5.0 lbs. per exercise.


One Man Jam

It's time for another indelible Rhesus Piece. This time around, it's number eighteen, a little ditty I like to call One Man Jam.


8W: Week 3 / Day 6

Rest up today. This can be an active rest day, if you prefer.


Property Rights Are No Argument Against Immigration

Or, so I argue in my latest piece for Open Borders: The Case. If you don't know, I've become an occasional blogger for that website, putting my name among a set of thinkers who far out-class me. I hope to win over the hearts and minds of the various immigration skeptics out there. You have to start somewhere, and I've chosen to start with property rights.

Cruise on over to OpenBorders.info and read the whole thing.

8W: Week 3 / Day 5

Today's workout is as follows:

Do This Three Times:
  • 13 lateral raises
  • 13 standing shoulder dumbbell presses
  • 13 rear deltoid raises
Then Do This Three Times:
  • 13 upright rows
  • 13 dumbbell shoulder shrugs
  • 13 standing front rows


Committing To The Idea

A few days ago, I wrote about the fact that sometimes difficult physical exercise becomes easier once you've actually done it, because the psychological barrier you had in front of you has been eliminated.

I have noticed that this phenomenon also impacts the way we view the barriers confronted by other people. That can obviously be a bad thing; no one wants to be out of touch with the experiences and perspectives of other people.

But, it doesn't always have to be a bad thing. Mental adaptivity is one of the great strengths of the human species. Developing great skill or strength in one area helps us "take for granted" lesser efforts, and this has a snowballing effect on our ability to confront new challenges. Let's discuss...

What That Too Hard?
When I was still in high school, I came up with an interesting and somewhat difficult workout. The idea simply consisted of doing any number of repetitions of the following:
  • 3 minutes of running
  • 10 push-ups
  • 10 crunches
Ten sets of the above consists of an approximate 30-minute workout. Add a 5-minute warm-up and cool-down to either end of it, and it's a 40-minute workout. If you need a longer workout, simply do more sets. I like "modular" workouts like these, because they are easy to remember, easy to tailor to your goals on a particular day, and offer a refreshing change from more highly regimented workout options.

Anyway, back in high school, I committed to doing twenty repetitions of the above, for an hour-long run and 200 repetitions each of push-ups and crunches. Like I say, it is an interesting and somewhat difficult workout, but always a lot of fun, whenever I do it.

A few years later, I took a volunteer gig as an assistant cross-country coach for a local high school. I brought this workout to the team, and they all really enjoyed it (I think I may have reduced the number of sets). Inspired, the more ambitious male runners asked me for more workouts. So, without thinking, I gave them one that I didn't consider much more difficult than the one they had just done.

When I spoke to them the following day, they seemed troubled. "How long does it usually take you to do that workout, Ryan?" they asked. I shrugged and said I thought it usually took me about an hour. They furrowed their brows, and one of them said, "We were here for two hours last night..."

It hadn't occurred to me at all that people who had never done a workout like that might really have to struggle through all the sets and repetitions. Having been through that workout dozens of times, for me it was a simple routine. To make matters worse, I was doing this sort of thing every day and running about 80 miles per week. They seemed like a strong group of runners, so I just gave them what I thought would be a good workout. But, for them, it was too much.

To this day, I believe that those kids could have done that workout a lot more easily. They were all in fantastic shape, literally just two or three years behind me in terms of physicality. I reiterate that they key difference was, in my opinion, psychological. It was a matter of perspective. Training like an Olympian seems like utter torture to most of us, but do you think Olympians consider it torture? Of course not. To them, it's just "today's workout." It still hurts, it's still difficult, but once you commit to a certain expectation of difficulty, your mind adjusts.

If you find that hard to believe, consider life in the workplace. If you work in a low-stress, easy-going job with minimal deadlines and a steady 40-hour work week, the fact that many other people work as much as 70 or 80 hours per week will seem incomprehensible to you. On the other hand, if you work at one of those 70-hour-per-week positions, you likely find your job challenging and time-consuming, but not particularly so. You've made the adjustment. Work lasts well into the night for you, it just does. You might even think that people who work 8 hour shifts don't work very hard at all.

I am trying to highlight the fact that this difference in perspective cuts both ways. We are used to thinking about the situation from the less-demanding point of view, i.e. either from the perspective of the average sedentary American comparing herself to an Olympian, or from the perspective of a 9-5 day-jobber comparing himself to a Wall Street executive. 

But there are plenty of situations in which we're the "Olympians" or the "executives." This is due to the fact that everyone is particularly talented or committed to something. Those who are less committed may seem weak, or lazy, or unproductive to you. You might find yourself thinking, "Why can't John keep up with his laundry? It's just a matter of throwing in a load before you sit down to watch TV!" In doing so, what you don't see is the fact that John doesn't watch TV because he's too busy going to the gym while thinking to himself, "Why doesn't she spend more time working out? All that time she spends on insignificant things like laundry could easily be applied to her long-term health!"

You never really know what's going on in someone else's mind, what they may have committed themselves to, what they find interesting, how they spend their time. Empathy helps us better-understand the lives and perspectives of others, but once we have embraced certain aspects of life, it is possible to almost completely lose touch with competing perspectives.

True, it is possible to go so far in one direction that you can no longer identify with people who are not similar to you, and this is bad. But there's no reason for it to be all bad. It's possible to leverage our tendency to psychologically adapt in order accomplish great things.

This is what I mean when I use the phrase, "committing to the idea."

8W: Week 3 / Day 4

Today's workout is as follows:

Do This Five Times:
  • 20 jump-and-tucks
  • 20 burpees
  • 20 lunges (each leg)
  • 20 side jumps over a box, bench, or platform
  • 20 plyometric push-ups
Then Do This Five Times:
  • 10 frog jumps
  • 20 C-clamp crunchs


Making Music Better

I have previously written a few posts on the decline of music. (See for example here and here.) This morning I was considering alternative explanations for why music has become a lot less thrilling than it has been in the past, in hopes of coming up with a viable solution. One thought I had was that creative innovation sometimes requires a scene, i.e. a community, in which to foster its development.

The most recent true music scene that I am aware of is the electronic music/DJ/techno scene that grew out of the late-90s rave community. While I am deeply skeptical of this kind of music in terms of its artistic merit, there is no denying the fact that a whole community grew out of electronic music, and that community rewarded the innovators, made them stars, and facilitated the development of what is now a complete and multi-faceted genre of music. In short, the scene was important.

The one major scene that existed prior to that was the alternative music scene that thrived from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s. Initially, that scene was an out-growth of 80s new wave bands, but it thrived and grew into what sounds to modern ears like many different genres: indie, grunge, adult alternative, and so forth. As I remember it, however, those "sub-genres" were more like a closely knit and interrelated community of bands that all somehow had a similar spirit despite the variety of styles involved. How else do you explain the close relationships held by such diverse bands as Soundgarden, Living Colour, Fishbone, Sarah McLaughlin, et al.? Take, for example, the widely varied roster that appeared on the classic 1993 compilation album No Alternative*:
  • Matthew Sweet
  • Buffalo Tom
  • Soul Asylum
  • Urge Overkill
  • Goo Goo Dolls
  • Pavement
  • Smashing Pumpkins
  • Bob Mould
  • Sarah MacLachlin
  • Soundgarden
  • Uncle Tupelo
  • Beastie Boys
  • The Breeders
  • Patti Smith
  • Nirvana
  • Sonic Youth
Some of the artists on this list typically get grouped together, but others do not. I recall that back in the early 90s I was able to discover many great bands simply by reading the liner notes of my favorite CDs. Every artist would thank a handful of other artists. I'd follow the chain of thank-yous and discover all kinds of fun music. Once again, the point is that a thriving community produces a thriving music scene.

And, of course, the same can be said of the Los Angeles glam metal scene of the 1980s, the late-70s punk scene, the early 70s prog-rock scene, the 60s rock scene, the Motown scene, the big band scene, and so on, all the way back. In all cases, we can clearly see that no period of musical innovation has ever existed independent of a community or scene supporting it.

Thus, if we want music to become innovative and passionate again, we have to think about creating a scene. This requires musicians to interact with each other - not just in terms of "liking" each other's Facebook pages, but actually getting together in person and listening to each other's musical ideas. Maybe even participating in the writing processes with each other, cross-pollinating, socializing.

This may have to come at the expense of "playing to the crowd." The crowd tends to like whatever is popular. The crowd doesn't facilitate the development of new ideas like a community does. When musicians interact, there is a sense of competitiveness, but also a keener sense of appreciation. The feedback a musician gives another artist always carries a deeper insight and a bit more clout than the feedback the artist receives from his girlfriend's BFFs, you know?

If we're not yet willing to say that music has kicked the bucket, then it seems to me that we ought to foster a better sense of community.
* Note: I have omitted some of the more obscure acts.

8W: Week 3 / Day 3

Today's workout is as follows:

Do Each A/B Superset Three Times:
  • A: 10 pull ups
  • B: 10 one-arm cable curls (each arm)
  • A: 10 barbell curls
  • B: 10 deadlifts
  • A: 10 burpees w/ a jump at the end
  • B: 10 incline dumbbell curls
Then Do This:
  • 25 minutes of cardio training
Note 1: Don't forget to increase the resistance from last time!


The Company You Keep

Jonathan Finegold-Catalan writes about ridiculous "libertarian" ideas. The items on his list are:
  1. The racism contained in Ron Paul's newsletter circa the 1980s.
  2. Confederate apologetics such as those endorsed by Rand Paul's advisers. (See Jacob Levy's moving rebuttal.)
  3. Hans-Hermann Hoppe's defense of monarchy and condemnation of democracy, and Stephan Kinsella's endorsement of that view.
By way of explanation, I quite like what Jacob Levy had to say when he wrote (link above),
The psychology and sociology of the cultic milieu plagues small movements, kind of unavoidably.  If you hold a very unpopular opinion, and you come to think that you know enough to see the ways in which the establishment and official institutions and the flagship media organizations are unfair to your opinion or skew public information or otherwise stack the deck, that predisposes you to believe that it could be true in other cases, too.  You think you’re a brave, unorthodox, independent mind– and it might even be true!– and when someone approaches you with another unorthodox minority view that they say has been misrepresented or suppressed, well, you sense a like mind.  You’re necessarily less disposed than other people are to treating the weight of received opinion as authoritative.  That’s both good and bad; you’ve (presumably) invested some intellectual work and effort in arriving at your own initial unorthodox view, but information and time are scarce and you’re not going to do that every time.  Your new predisposition may deprive you of some of the informational advantages of conventional wisdom in areas where you aren’t investing that effort.
The same mental dispositions that spawn great creativity, namely openness and imagination, propel us toward skepticism of status quo and so-called "conventional wisdom." To a great extent, that's a good thing. But not everything is part of a government conspiracy against liberty.

Take, for example, CrossFit and paleo dieting (about the latter, I have written previously). There are important lessons to take away from both of these worlds. In the former case, it's good to expose oneself not only to new ways of training, but also to help break out of the ruts that more traditional exercise regimens tend to create. In the case of the latter, the movement served as a useful springboard for questioning the amount of empty carbohydrate calories that Americans had been consuming for 20-30 years leading up to paleo dieting's coming into the spotlight. But don't let that fool you: better health through bacon is pure idiocy, and you know it.

If, like Steve Sailer, your opinions appeal to a large number of racists, it is probably time to second-guess your ideas. But if you're certain that your ideas are correct, then you may wish to clearly and unequivocally distance yourself from the flies that have started to gather around your doorstep. That is yet another reason why I appreciated Levy's post on BHL.

It may not be right or fair that people judge you by the company that you keep, but there's nothing stopping you from judging yourself by the same metric. You should know best whether you're cultivating the right crowd or the wrong one. And as my father-in-law always says, "If you surround yourself with good people, good things will happen to you."

Movie Review: Bhaag Milkha Bhaag

Most readers would agree that I have a particularly unique set of personal interests. A blog about "Economics, Fitness, Music, and Philosophy" doesn't always make sense to new readers. Any two of those things might make sense if put next to each other; all four seems uncomfortably eclectic. Somehow, in the haze of my own mental fog, it all makes sense; but even so, I realize it's a special blend.

Because of this, I get a big kick out of things that seem to be strangely tailored to my own personal idiosyncrasies. What are the odds? A perfect case-in-point is the newly released Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, a movie that combines two of my biggest interests: Hindi cinema and running.

To sweeten the deal even further, the movie stars the incomparable Farhan Akhtar and the always-good Sonam Kapoor. Akhtar specializes in making more dramatic and meaningful movies than many of his Bollywood contemporaries. He serves as a particularly serious contrast to, say, Shah Rukh Khan, who excels at the light-hearted. Akhtar always seems to lend his talents to movies with powerful, and often political, messages. And while his talents as a writer, director, producer, and of course an actor, are indisputable, he can often be serious to a fault. That is to say, an important message made in an artistic way is one thing; cramming an overbearing political diatribe down the throats of the escapist movie-going public is another thing entirely. Happily, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag falls far nearer to the first end of the spectrum.

The movie tells the (highly dramaticized) story of legendary 400m runner Milkha Singh, aka "The Flying Sikh." Singh's early life was marred by the Indian Partition of 1947, in which the British decided to carve up one of the world's great cosmopolitan civilizations into ethnic groups and distribute political power to those ethnic groups. Almost overnight, the region went from being a diverse, but largely cohesive, nation with a shared history and culture to being a region mired in ethnic conflict and violence. (For my comments on the Bangladesh side of this history, see this old post.) Singh, being a Sikh whose family had long since lived in what was suddenly declared the Islamic state of Pakistan, was forced to emigrate to India as a young boy.

Like many children whose early life is marked by violence, Singh grew into a bit of a trouble-maker and petty criminal. Also like many such children, he straightened his life out by joining the army, and it was there that he discovered his natural talent for running. The movie takes us deftly through Singh's early years and highlights his fascinating exploits and many great achievements as a runner.

Sports movies are always a challenge because, unless they are made by filmmakers who have an intimate knowledge of the sport they seek to portray, they can come off as hackneyed and superficial. Movies about running are particularly susceptible to this because, while running is a very popular activity, few people anywhere possess any real knowledge of what it is like as a sport.

What I mean is that lots of people like to run. If you read my blog, you're probably one of them. But most people appreciate running from the goofy, clownish, gee I'm so crazy because I like to run even though it hurts perspective encapsulated in photographs like this one:
Yayyyy!! I'm so crazy!! To most people, that's what running is: Balloons, goofy smiles, your baaaast fraaands cheering you on from the sidelines, and of course the important thing is just to finish! Anyone who finishes is a winner! Yay!

By contrast, when I think of running, I think of this:
It's a totally different sentiment.

Now, the reason I bring this up is to highlight the fact that, in order for a movie about an Olympic 400m runner, Indian national record holder, and simply brilliant athlete to be believable, the movie's filmmakers must not only be aware of the difference, but also understand that the story can only be told from the latter perspective. This may also explain why movies about running tend not to be successful: because most people don't want to think about running as a deeply competitive and excruciatingly difficult sporting event.

Most people just want balloons and cake, like some horrible neon-spandex birthday party.

On this count, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag passes the test with flying colors. Indeed, it is one of the more exciting running movies I have ever seen. The gravity with which the filmmakers approached the sport was likewise reflected by Farhan Akhtar himself, who got himself into such remarkable physical shape for the role that his bulging muscles and veins are on display in nearly every scene. And while his shoulders may be a bit too broad by the standards of a great 400m runner, to fault the film for this would be an absurdly unreasonable demand to make of a film that encapsulated competitive running so perfectly otherwise.

Uniquely, the movie avoided the typical cinematic vice of a single training scene, in which the athlete is shown performing various exercises for a minute or two, so that the audience knows that he did practice. By avoiding this, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag manages to do real justice to competitive athletes, whose training is a life-long process that cannot possibly be conveyed with a few fast-panning training sequences set to a cheesy musical number.

Thus, if there is anything negative to be said at all for Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, it is that some may find its authenticity annoying - particularly those balloon runners who wouldn't otherwise choose to watch a sports movie except that it features a frequently bare-chested Farhan Akhtar. Those of us who appreciate the oeuvre, however, couldn't possibly count this as a negative.

In short, I have nothing but positive things to say about this movie.

8W: Week 3 / Day 2

Today's workout is a high intensity interval training (HIIT) workout, as follows:

Do This:
  • 5 minute warm-up
Then Do This Three Times:
  • 30 seconds hard
  • 1 minute easy
  • 30 seconds hard
  • 1 minute easy
  • 30 seconds hard
  • 1 minute easy
  • 30 seconds hard
  • 1 minute easy
Then Do This:
  • 5 minute cool-down


Captain Ahab And The Grand Design

Over the weekend I watched a documentary on Netflix called "The Nature of Existence." It was a pretty light-and-fluffy take on "the big questions," but there were a few standout thoughts, especially from Julia Sweeny. I'm going to put her point in my own words with the caveat that she might not ultimately agree with how I've phrased it.

People invented religion because a sentient being requires the presumption of immortality in order to act in its own best interests. Think about it: if there's no point to life, then why bother? Why raise children and propagate the species? If it all becomes a blank void when our lives are over, then what would be the point?

But humans are good at cooking up logical reasons for things. So we've built whole systems of logic dedicated to the justification of existence. The possibility of a void presents such cognitive dissonance when compared to sentient consciousness, that we are forced to fill it with something. For many, that "something" is religion.

Scientists are especially crafty and logical. Their logic has served them well in discovering scientific truth. They see that things improve with a good design. All they're doing is applying that logic to politics. With a grand design, we can improve all outcomes. Just trust us, the scientists, to determine what the truth is, and we'll discover it and then build it into our working knowledge of the state.

In order to reach the opposite conclusion - in order to believe in the principle of "that government governs best which governs least" - they have to fight against the presumption that designs can be improved. It's hard for such talented people to live according to the presumption that their greatest talent is more destructive than helpful. 

Government, therefore, is the great obsession of intelligent people. The more they design it, the worse it gets, the more it needs to be redesigned. It's a vicious circle. They are Captain Ahab.

Spotted: Wisdom

Commenter "MikeDC" adds some rather prescient thoughts to this David Henderson blog post. I provide his comment here, in full:
Common people and economics who argue for the "redistribution of wealth" systematically underestimate how intangible much of the nominal wealth around us is. 
Like, someone asked me why China doesn't just take all those dollars they get from the US and, say, buy Exxon Mobile. They pointed out it's market cap was at the time about the same as the Chinese war chest of "dollar reserves". I pointed out that only 2-3% of Exxon shares are sold on a given day. If China attempted to buy them all, the price would skyrocket and they'd no longer be able to. 
Ultimately, our nominal wealth is just as ephemeral as the value of our fiat currency. If we drastically change our expectations of the future (say, by massive redistribution), it will drastically reduce our wealth levels. Even leaving aside the efficiency issues, the very act of taking from A and giving to B will result in a change in the value of what's given.

8W: Week 3 / Day 1

Today's workout is as follows:

Do This Three Times:
  • 15 push-ups with your feet on a medicine ball
  • 15 cable presses
  • 15 push-ups with one hand on a medicine ball. Roll the medicine ball to the opposite hand between each push-up.
  • 15 cable cross-overs
  • 15 one-legged push-ups with your hands on an upside-down Bosu. Jump to switch legs between each push-up.
  • 15 incline presses
Then Do This:
  • 25 minutes of cardio training


8W: Two-week recap

If you've been following along with my 8-week all-around fitness plan, then today is your rest day. I thought I might take this opportunity to reflect back on the last two weeks and solicit some feedback from those who may have been brave enough to take this on.

My hope is that the term "brave enough" will seem a little sillier now, two weeks later, than it seemed at the beginning. One of the fascinating things about somewhat-more-adventurous training is that, in the beginning, it seems like an insurmountable force that we can never overcome, but once we've actually done it, it hardly seems as terrible. There is certainly a physical aspect of this, which means that you're accomplishing exactly what you set out to do: you're getting fitter. Perhaps the more significant change, though, is psychological.

There is something about success that seems to build an expectation of future success in our minds. The classic illustration of this is when Roger Bannister broke the four-minute "barrier" by running a mile in 3:59.
Shortly thereafter, a few other runners also managed to break the four-minute mile barrier. Within a decade, it had been done by Jim Ryun while he was still in high school. (!) Still, Bannister's feat stands out as its own unique accomplishment, not because his was the fastest mile, but because he overcame the psychological barrier that had kept human runners from breaking the four minute threshold.

Once he opened the floodgates, the "impossible" was understood to be possible. Many athletes now break the four-minute barrier, but to achieve this kind of feat, someone had to first prove that it could be done. Similarly, climbing Mount Everest was once the most revered feat in mountaineering. The more people who do it, though, the less impressive the feat. Many "ordinary" people have been able to summit Everest now. Knowing that the unthinkable really is possible changes the psychology of human effort significantly.

Of course, I'm not really trying to compare my little 8-week training regimen to running a four-minute mile or summitting Everest! All I'm really pointing out is that difficult efforts become much less difficult once they've actually been done.

During the last two weeks, Thursday's workout is clearly the most difficult of all. When I did it during Week 1, I was completely exhausted. I made it through the workout, but I was stunned by how difficult the workout proved to be. So, when the following Thursday rolled around, I knew what was coming, and I was quite honestly dreading it. It didn't help that I hadn't had much sleep the night before. But the second time around, I had the advantage of having previously made it through the workout. Something inside me knew that, in spite of the fleeting pain caused by the workout itself, I could make it through to the end and feel relaxed and happy afterward. As a result, the second Thursday proved much easier than the first, even despite the increased number of repetitions, and the addition of another riser on the platform I use for the side jumps.

Unlocking the power of one's own mind and applying it to personal achievement is frankly the whole reason I am interested in fitness. I find it fascinating to be able to push my physical limits on an almost purely psychological basis. Having had the opportunity to do this my whole life has given me a personal discipline that has benefited me in every other aspect of life, too. This is why I do it. This is why I try to help others do it, too. Nothing feels so good as doing the impossible. At least, that's how I see it.

8W: Week 2 / Day 7

Rest day again. Take it easy. Don't get ambitious. 


Correcting An Error

Simon Grey writes:
Imagine someone cryogenically frozen in 1950 is woken up today.  The first thing he sees is an op-ed calling for increased immigration to handle America’s labor shortage.  The second thing he sees is the U-6 unemployment rate, which is over 13%.*  He’s going to be very confused.  How can someone look at an unemployment rate of 13% (with depressed, inflation-adjusted wages to boot) and say the problem is a labor shortage?
Next, he writes:
When the unemployment rate is 13+% but employers are complaining of a labor shortage, it is not unreasonable to assume that some people’s rights are somehow being violated.  
I believe Grey is confused about what U-6 unemployment actually measures, so I am going to quote the definition from the very link Grey supplies:
The U6 unemployment rate counts not only people without work seeking full-time employment (the more familiar U-3 rate), but also counts "marginally attached workers and those working part-time for economic reasons." Note that some of these part-time workers counted as employed by U-3 could be working as little as an hour a week. And the "marginally attached workers" include those who have gotten discouraged and stopped looking, but still want to work. The age considered for this calculation is 16 years and over 
A concise way of saying this is that U-6 unemployment counts not only people who don't have jobs, but people who consider themselves "under-employed," i.e. they have a job, but not the particular job they want to have.

The "puzzle" Grey points out is not so much a puzzle as it is a misinterpretation of the U-6 unemployment rate. Classic Austrian Business Cycle Theory (ABCT), along with its modern cousins such as Arnold Kling's "Patterns of Sustainable Specialization and Trade" (PSST), predicts that whenever a macroeconomy has over-invested in a certain kind of labor, there will be a bubble, followed by a recession. During this recession, economists argue that the challenge is in converting capital into new and more marketable uses, along with diverting labor into more "sustainable" specializations.

Suppose an unsustainably large number of employees hold PMP certifications. If there is malinvestment in project management, then a large number of employees will have earned their PMP cert. When the bubble "bursts," a large number of unemployed people will be certified project managers. Once their unemployment benefits run out, they will get to work looking for new jobs as Project Managers. According to ABCT and PSST, we expect that the economy will experience a long period during which many PMs compete for only a few PM jobs; meanwhile, businesses are trying to hire employees in other areas, say, database developers.

So, a few PMs get the last remaining PM jobs available. A few other former-PMs, those who had prior experience in database development, will take new jobs as database developers. Note that if these latter jobs pay lower salaries than PM jobs, as they do at my company for example, then these former PMs will be both gainfully employed and part of the U-6 unemployment rate. That is a very important feature of the U-6 rate.

While that is occurring, some of the former PMs are now going back to school to get some other type of training that is more applicable to the current job market. Many of these folks will have taken jobs at, say, Costco or Starbucks, in order to pay the rent while they buttress their skills. Or maybe they take jobs as General Managers of retail stores or fast-food restaurants. In all of these cases, the former PMs probably do not count as being "unemployed" in Simon Grey's mind. I mean, perhaps they do, but I doubt it. This is why the U-3 unemployment rate is the "official" unemployment rate, while the U-6 rate is something generally used to stoke the flames of anti-immigration or pro-union sentiment.

Of course, Grey might counter that because U-3 and U-6 are both "official numbers" and hence "large calculations," then they are all bunk, anyway. But it was his choice to invoke U-6 unemployment, so I am really just closing the loop here.

How might an open borders policy help the situation? Well, if you accept the ABCT/PSST argument above, then it should be clear to you that immigration helps in two ways. The first is by increasing the supply of low skill labor that impacts both U-3 and U-6, but does not impact the job search of former PMs. If you're looking for stereotypes, then consider these the agricultural workers and cleaning service personnel. The second is by increasing the supply of high skill labor to fill the labor shortage felt by employers. Here, the applicable stereotype is the foreign-born database developer who does not need additional training to fill those positions.

One final objection Grey, et al, may raise is: "Why can't employers just hire Americans instead?" This question misses the point, because in the scenario I have described above, there is a shortage of workers capable of doing the work. Employers can only hire Americans if Americans are applying for, and qualified for, the work required. You wouldn't hire a Project Manager as a heart surgeon, and you wouldn't necessarily hire one as a database developer either.

Thus, Simon Grey's "property rights violation" argument (which, by the way, is different from the classic "property rights" anti-immigration argument) is, I believe, an invalid conclusion based on a misunderstanding of what the U-6 unemployment rate measures. Foreigners aren't immigrating to steal our project manager jobs (for example), but rather to fill the gaps caused by our own misguided economic malinvestment in project management. They can't steal "our property" (if "property" means "jobs") because the "property" doesn't actually exist - we merely thought it did. Such is the nature of malinvestment.

I'll close with a short parable. Suppose you and four friends play a weekly game of poker, but there are six seats at the table and as many as ten other friends who are interested in joining you. There are many possible resolutions to this dilemma.
  • You might hold a weekly lottery in which one of the ten friends has the ability to win a seat at the table. This represents the Diversity Visa lottery program.
  • You might hold an auction and award the seat to the highest bidder. This represents the investment visa program.
  • You might allow one of your friends to fill the seat with a relative who, he assures you, is a really great guy. This represents the family-class visa.
  • You might say that you simply don't want that seat filled by one of the other ten friends, because three of the five of you have sons who want to play poker, so the seat ought to be filled by them instead, and besides, it's your right to determine who gets the seat because the seat is your private property. Those other ten guys can start their own poker game, elsewhere, if they want. This represents the xenophobic argument.
  • Or, you might invite everyone over under the assumption that there is another table in the next room that can accommodate a second poker game; or maybe the other ten can decide for themselves who gets the seat and the rest just come to watch and socialize. Maybe you just tell everyone that there's only one seat at the table, but they're welcome to come anyway.  (Competition on the labor market) Maybe you actually decide to pull up a couple more chairs. Maybe you move the game to a larger table that can accommodate everyone. (Domestic entrepreneurship and job creation) Maybe one of the ten newcomers brings a long a card table and some folding chairs to accommodate the additional players. (Immigrants who start businesses once they get here) But at any rate, the more the merrier as far as getting together on poker night is concerned. This represents the open borders position.
Now, I don't expect my parable to do much to change the minds of anti-immigration hard-liners, but my belief is that folks like Simon Grey and Sonic Charmer are closer to the margins of this issue than they realize. I don't think they're racist, I just think they've bought into racist arguments in exactly the same way that someone with no economics training might support unions under the belief that unions are working for their interests. It wouldn't make them true socialists, it would just mean that they have unwittingly accepted the arguments of the socialists.

As per the above, if Grey makes a non-racist argument against immigration, such an argument can be responded to. But if the argument basically reduces to "they're different, and we don't want different people around," then there's not much to say to that, other than to call it what it is.

Is It Too Much To Ask?

Ladies and gentlemen, good Stationary Waves readers, is it too much to ask that you reason and debate from a standpoint of knowledge rather than guess-work?

I do understand that it is virtually impossible to develop a knowledge base so broad and so deep that it enables you to argue effectively on any subject about which you may wish to engage. However, numbers are not metaphors for things of approximate size. If you wish to make a point using numbers, it should not be considered an unreasonable request that you actually make sure your numbers are real.

Now, I'm not talking about calculation mistakes. Everybody makes those from time to time. If we agree that we should all argue patiently, openly, and with cool heads, then we can all agree not to rhetorically lynch someone who reasons in error from a bad calculation. (Of course, he or she who makes a calculation error also has the responsibility to revise his or her priors in light of the truth.)

No, I'm talking about simple points of fact. Statistics are one example: "95% of people are _______" would be the classic case, although it is certainly not the only case. Other examples might be the source of a quotation, the verbatim content of that quotation, the date and/or time of a historical event, and in short anything that is an objective fact.

In the old days, perhaps there was sufficient reason to argue purely from memory. You can imagine the stereotypical British gentlemen dressed in African safari attire and holding a magnifying glass over a globe, when suddenly a third mutual friend walks in.

"Wallace!" the Colonel exclaims, "I'm glad you're here! Can you settle a bet for us? Mr. Tyler here asserts that the Euphrates terminates at the Persian Gulf, while I maintain that he rather has in mind the Tigris."

"Indeed," says Mr. Tyler, "I spent no less than four months raising a herd of camel just outside of Baghdad and laid my own two eyes on that river."

Wallace chuckes, "I say, my good fellows, what Colonel says of Mr. Tyler is entirely true. He is, in point of fact, thinking of the Tigris." To this, the Colonel snaps his fingers triumphantly and gives Mr. Tyler a pat on the back so hefty that it dislodges Tyler's monacle from its ocular perch. "However, Colonel, it is meanwhile also true that the Euphrates terminates at the Persian Gulf. It seems to me that you are both rather confused." And so declaring, Wallace lets forth a modest chortle that quickly descends into a rowdy fit of coughing and wheezing that slowly winds down into a soft and incoherent utterance whose only intelligible content is, "...holy heavens... that blasted chimney of yours colonel... no more than sixpence, you know..."

Today, however, we are no longer reliant on our friends to settle bets, and few of us behave as gentlemen. On the other hand, what we do have is instant access to virtually ever fact known to mankind in the form of a web search. In seconds, you will have facts at your fingertips that are worth infinitely more than a guess.

Get with the 21st Century now that we are more than a decade into it. If you want to debate with your fellows, have at it. But please do "your research," considering that "your research" consists of nothing more than a few seconds of superficial scanning.

8W: Week 2 / Day 6

Today's workout is fifty minutes of light cardio. Enjoy yourself while you do it!


The Problem With Getting Your Way

At some point, it became an issue that Wal-Mart helps its low-wage employees learn how to qualify for food stamps. This is old news; see, for example, this CNN article dated June 5, 2013.

The argument against this sort of thing runs as follows: Wal-Mart can only get away with paying its employees such a low wage because the federal food stamps program "makes up the difference." In absence of food stamps, Wal-Mart would not be able to attract workers at such low wages, and would thus have to raise their wages. The difference between Wal-Mart's current wage rates and what they would otherwise have to pay represent a net gain to Wal-Mart. Thus, the food stamps program effectively subsidizes Wal-Mart's labor costs.

Jason Brennan at Bleeding Heart Libertarians responded to this criticism:
Isn’t it more plausible to think that if there’s some enforceable positive duty to provide Bob with enough stuff to lead a life, that all of us, together share this burdensome duty, rather than just Bob’s employer? Why should Bob’s employer, specifically, be the one that has to bear the burden and lose all this money to keep him alive (at whatever level you consider decent)? This just seems like a kind of moral outsourcing to me. Why not instead Bob’s neighbors, parents, friends, or sexual partners? Bob does McBurger a service, and McBurger pays him for that service.
Brennan makes a good point. That some people in our communities are not fully capable of providing for themselves is indeed a moral quandary for the rest of us. If we can take care of ourselves, and even have something left over, the virtue of charity suggests that we ought to rise to the occasion by helping out those who are worse-off than we are. If you require a more utilitarian justification for this, then allow me to suggest that communities are happier overall when everyone's friends and family members are also happy. I'm in favor of happiness, and so I count making others happy a net-benefit to all those who interact with the other people around them.

However, one problem that now arises is, why did we create a food stamps program to begin with? From my recollection of it, food stamps and other parts of "the social safety net" were created because American society felt morally compelled to do something about those who were worse-off. Against the wishes of the free marketeers, America developed a system into which we all pay tax money. From that pool of money, government programs dole out food stamps and other funds and services to those who cannot afford them of their own accord. The safety net was developed alongside a progressive tax scheme that ensures that those people and businesses that are most-able to pay, do indeed pay the most, both in terms of absolute contribution and relative (percentage) contribution.

Wal-Mart, being one of the largest tax-paying entities in the country, therefore heavily supports the social safety net. It is one of the safety nets' principal benefactors.

How is it, then, that we can say that Wal-Mart is being subsidized by the government?

One of the problems with getting your way in the political arena is that you no longer have the ability to complain that you didn't get your way. This Wal-Mart situation is a case in point. Because those who favor a social safety net funded by the rich actually did end up with a social safety net funded by the rich, they can no longer argue that the safety net doesn't exist. They can no longer argue that Wal-Mart isn't making its fair and moral contribution to the safety net. Because the existence of the safety net was an outcome of representative democracy - and we free marketeers thus have to suck it up and deal with it - so advocates of government intervention must also suck it up and deal with the fact that Wal-Mart's level of contribution in to the social safety net is fair and proper, according to what we all agreed to.

To now argue that Wal-Mart is being subsidized by a system that was specifically designed to ensure that Wal-Mart financed a social safety net by actually financing and promoting the use of that system is totally disingenuous. All such arguments are invalid and, in fact, totally dishonest.