Tyler Cowen, Neocon

He writes,

Without the current and past American security umbrella, for instance, I believe much of Asia would be a far less free place than it is today, starting but not ending with Taiwan and South Korea.

I give Tyler credit for raising this issue in a forum least likely to be sympathetic to it. This is Brink Lindsey’s growth forum hosted by Cato, where Brink is inviting contributions from the liberaltarian crowd.

I have to say that when looking at places like Russia, Hungary, or the Middle East, my appreciation for the civilization vs. barbarism axis tends to increase. On my list of books to sample (not necessarily read the whole thing) is Bret Stephens’ latest, where he argues that the U.S. should act as the world’s policeman. I wonder whether he explains how the U.S. could do that without also becoming the world’s social worker.

UPDATE: Here is how Stephens starts out:

Where do you fall on the spectrum between internationalists and neoisolationists? Ask yourself the following questions:

Does the United States have a vital interest in the outcome of the civil war in Syria, or in Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians, or in Saudi Arabia’s contest with Iran?

Should Americans take sides between China and Japan over which of them exercises sovereignty over the uninhabited Senkaku Islands? Similarly, should we care whether Ukraine or Russia controls Crimea?

Is America more secure or less secure for deploying military forces in hot spots such as the Persian Gulf and the South China Sea?

My views on these issues are mixed. On the Middle East, I see the Syrian civil war as barbarism vs. barbarism. Similarly, the contest between Saudi Arabia and Iran. On Israel and the Palestinians, I understand that many people explain the Palestianians’ barbaric behavior as being caused by oppression, but I see it more the other way around. They could end oppression by being less barbaric. And I believe that the U.S. ought to support civilization in that contest.

On the second issue, my memories of the Vietnam era are salient enough to make me wary of pushing conflict on the basis of domino theory. Uninhabited islands strike me as dominoes that can be allowed to fall. Note that Stephens in effect equates Crimea to uninhabited islands, which suggests that it, too, is a domino that should be allowed to fall. I do not think that caving in there means that next thing you know Putin will be at the gates of Paris.

I think we are more secure for deploying military forces in the Persian Gulf and the South China Sea. If you press me, I will tell you that I believe that the U.S. navy and air support are the true world government, and without world government we would have major war.

If you think that pacifism and non-interventionism are ways of preventing major war, you have company. But my concern is that those policies only work if there is someone else doing the work of the world’s policeman. Being Swiss seems fine now, but if the U.S. had not intervened in World War II, it might not have been so peachy. And ultimately not so peachy for the U.S., either.

UPDATE: I wrote the foregoing before yesterday’s massacre in Jerusalem. If I have my geography right, the attack took place far inside the 1967 borders. It is an area where young observant American Jews go to study. The sight of Palestinians celebrating cold-blooded murder is something that I cannot put out of my mind. Even the Germans did not celebrate when they murdered Jews.

George Smith on Herbert Spencer, continued

I recommend the series of essays by Smith, called From Optimism to Pessimism.

According to Spencer, most people are too ignorant to understand the detrimental long-term consequences of government intervention, so they will continue to embrace the superstition that a government can accomplish virtually anything, given the requisite political will and despite one failure after another. Experience counts for nothing here, because to understand the abstract nature of political institutions and their causal effects on social and economic interaction requires a level of conceptual ability that exceeds the intellectual powers of most people.

That quote is from Part 5 of the series. Another quote:

Spencer even criticized American democracy, because many Americans believed that “smart people” in government can do whatever they set out to do. Spencer, who was blunt if he was anything, was not reluctant to use words like “stupidity” when describing these and similar beliefs.

Herbert Spencer on Exit and Voice

In 1850 or 1851, he wrote,

If every man has equal freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man, then he is free to drop connection with the state–to relinquish its protection, and to refuse to pay toward its support…

Let men learn that a legislature is not “our God upon earth,” though, by the authority they ascribe to it , and the things they expect from it, they would seem to think it is.

These are selections from chapter 19 of Social Statics, reprinted in a new volume of readings from the Adam Smith Society, edited by James R. Otteson. The title of the volume is What Adam Smith Knew: Moral Lessons on Capitalism from Its Greatest Champions and Fiercest Opponents. This looks like an excellent collection of readings for a course in social and political philosophy.

What strikes me about Spencer’s chapter is how clearly he makes the case that exit is more legitimate than voice.

I think that my counter to Spencer would be this:

1. In modern society, we must interact, both directly and indirectly, with many strangers.

2. If we had competitive government, in which each person could choose which set of rules to obey, the cost of interacting with strangers might increase. When you sell me food, how do I know that you submit to a quality-assurance regime that gives me confidence that you are not cheating or poisoning me? Today, I can assume that the simple fact that you live in the United States makes you automatically subject to its rules. With competitive government, I would need some sort of signal.

3. As we expand the list of interactions, the signaling costs may mount up.

I do not think that this signaling-cost story is sufficient to explain and to justify the existence of government. I do not think that government emerged because people got together and said, “Sigh. Yes, government is a really problematic institution, but without it we would have to waste a lot of resources on signaling that we are going to treat strangers decently.”

I do think that there is something to a Hansonian view that we tend to want to affiliate with high-status people, and that certainly includes people with power. And I think that this view accounts for a lot of the support that the state receives. Spencer strikes me as anticipating this view, or coming close to anticipating it, for he complains of

that sentiment of power-worship which still misleads us by magnifying the prerogatives of constitutional governments as it once did those monarchs.

George H. Smith gives a quite different Spencer. In a footnote, Smith writes,

he insists, in Social Statics (1850), that ethics, including the Law of Equal Freedom, applies only to the “ideal man,” i.e., to a future society populated by people with highly evolved moral sentiments.

Pointer from Alberto Mingardi, who himself has written a book on Spencer.

In another essay, Smith writes,

When this remarkable man moved from an early optimism (during the 1840s and 50s) to an extreme pessimism (beginning roughly in the 1880s) about the prospects for individual liberty, when he predicted the rise of militarism and total war in the twentieth century and the political centralization and regimentation that such militarism would bring in its wake, he let it be known that classical liberalism was dead for the foreseeable future. And he was right.

Public Officials and Cameras

I first advanced the idea on this blog, and I have now elaborated on it.

Perhaps the best approach to this issue would be an experimental one. Agree on criteria for measuring the quality of decision-making processes. Randomly assign some government agencies and some local governments to two different groups, one that wears cameras and one that does not. Then observe how policies evolve among the two groups over a period of five years or so, using the criteria for assessment. I am sure that neither group’s policy process will be perfect. However, I think that there is good chance that the transparent group will earn a better grade.

Note that, once again, my views turn out to be those of someone from the Bipartisan Policy Center, with a minus sign.

The One-Axis Model of “Scott Alexander”

It is thrive-survive. The left thinks in terms of what it will take to thrive, and the right thinks in terms of what it will take to survive.

What he is trying to do is explain why the two tribes believe what they do. My goal with the three-axis model is to explain why they communicate as they do. My objective differs a bit from Scott’s although they are close. I think that the tribes have nuanced reasons for believing what they believe, but when they are beating tribal drums, the signals fall along my three axes.

Anyway, here is a sentence from his post:

I despair of any theory that will tell me why school choice is a rightist rather than a leftist issue

Pointer from a commenter on Bryan Caplan’s post.

Suppose that both sides now believe that the left controls the public schools. Then I think it becomes easy to explain the partisan pattern. To put this another way, if most teachers and school boards were proponents of right-wing views, I think that a reversal on school choice would be highly probable.

In terms of Scott’s single-axis model, the fact that the left controls public schools may cause the left to deduce that public schools are the best hope for providing students with the tools that they need to thrive, and that taking students out of public schools only subjects them to inferior models. Conversely, the right may believe that public schools are ruining the character of young people, and the only way for society to survive is to make alternatives available to as many students as possible.

Political Order and Political Decay

That is the title of Francis Fukuyama’s latest book. I have started reading it. So far, I would summarize it as saying that government must overcome both market failure and government failure. That is, it needs to be effective at providing public goods while serving everyone equally (not succumbing to the problems of public choice). I might summarize this as follows:

Public Goods Provided Public Goods Not Provided
Treats People Equally good government weak government
Privileges Elites crony government predatory government

Think of Denmark as good government, China as crony government, Zaire under Mobutu as predatory government, and Afghanistan as weak government. I assume that “political decay” will mean the movement from good government toward either weak government or crony government.

For a review by someone who has finished the book, see Michael Barone.

“Scott Alexander” on Political Tribalism

He writes,

How did both major political tribes decide, within a month of the virus becoming widely known in the States, not only exactly what their position should be but what insults they should call the other tribe for not agreeing with their position?

Pointer from Tyler Cowen.

Of course, my answer to his question is in The Three Languages of Politics. What Alexander calls the “red tribe” narrative does indeed have a civilization-barbarism feel, and what he calls the h”blue tribe” narrative has an “oppressor-oppressed” feel.

Anyway, read the whole piece. Another excerpt:

Daily Kos or someone has a little label saying “supports liberal ideas”, but actually their incentive is to make liberals want to click on their pages and ads. If the quickest way to do that is by writing story after satisfying story of how dumb Republicans are, and what wonderful taste they have for being members of the Blue Tribe instead of evil mutants, then they’ll do that even if the effect on the entire system is to make Republicans hate them and by extension everything they stand for.

Note that on the issue of a quarantine of countries where Ebola has broken out, the three-axes model might predict that if Ebola had broken out among Jews in Israel instead of in West Africa, there might well have been a reversal in which tribe favored quarantine. The “conservative germophobia” theory would predict otherwise.

Teenagers in the Court System

Jan Hoffman’s post

What none did, however, was exercise his constitutional rights. It was not clear whether the youths even understood them.

Therefore none had a lawyer at his side. None left, though all were free to do so, and none remained silent. Some 37 percent made full confessions, and 31 percent made incriminating statements.

These were among the observations in a recent study of 57 videotaped interrogations of teenagers, ages 13 to 17, from 17 police departments around the country. The research, published in Law and Human Behavior, adds to accumulating evidence that teenagers are psychologically vulnerable at the gateway to the criminal justice system. Youths, some researchers say, merit special protections.

reminded me of a personal experience when I sat on a jury.

At a cognitive level, the video of the detective and the defendant showed an incriminating confession, obtained by the book, without threats, intimidation, or promises. At an emotional level, it showed a teenage boy, in an awful mess, with no adult there to help him. He was polite, and almost endearing. The majority of jurors had children, and the main effect of the video was to trigger our Parent Reflex. In our particular courtroom drama, the role that many of us chose was that of the defendant’s Surrogate Parents.

It was a traumatic experience, and we let a guilty young person off. Go back and read my whole essay.