What's Wrong With Empathy?

I truly don't get it. Empathy is “code” for judicial activism? “Judicial activism” is obviously code for the judging of Democratic judges. What “empathy” is obviously code for is a group-identity-based nomination, in particular the nomination of a woman. And what's wrong with that?

One of the deepest problems in philosophy is the relationship between general rules and their application in particular instances. Rules don't apply themselves. And there can be no infinte regress of rules that tell us how to apply rules. Judgment is completely unavoidable. And, hey, maybe there's a reason we call judges “judges”!

Anyway, suppose there's a fact of the matter about the external totality of facts that constitute a “situation.” (This is a problematic supposition; it's not so easy to individuate “situations”– but suppose.) This totality can't possibly fit in anyone's head, so the situation has to be edited by selective awareness. So we're left with a perception of the situation as edited by habits of attention. Within one's perception of the situation, certain features will stand out as especially salient. This can be moral or legal salience or something else, depending on the purposes of judgment. One's history is obviously relevant to the habits one brings to attention and to the recognition of features of a situation relevant to judgment.  One way a rule may be misapplied is to fail to recognize the relevance of an objective feature of the situation to the rule. This can happen at the initial step of editing — one doesn't notice the feature at all — or at the step of the judgment of salience or relevance — one doesn't see why it matters.

Even when there is unanimity about the meaning of a rule, there may be disagreement about whether and how a rule applies in a particular instance due to differences in the habits of attention and sentiment that guide judgment. If a society has a history of inequality, people within different groups may have developed very developed very different but also very reasonable habits, and will therefore make very different judgments, for good reasons, even if there is zero disagreement in the abstract meaning of rules.

The Supreme Court is a deliberative body. If it is extremely homogenous in composition, there's a good chance that judgment will become biased in the direction of the characteristic habits of the largest group. Difference in ideology provide some check, but they may also paper over subtle an not-so-subtle uniform assumptions that lurk behind political and methodological disagreement. Some of this sort of disagreement may be over the relevance of things like empathy to legal judgment in constitutional cases, but surely the capacity to put oneself in the position of parties involved in a case before the court is relevant. And the ability to put oneself in the position of another is certainly improved if one has at some point been in a similar position. (E.g., No man was ever a teenage girl; white people rarely face the kind of subtle discrimination routinely experienced by even privileged black people; etc.) One plausible understanding of “empathy” in this context is simply a heightened sensitivity to features of certain kinds of cases that are missed or downplayed due to the habits of mind and sentiment common to most current judges.

I think that, other things equal, the Court would improve the quality of its judgment by including more women and minorities. However, other things aren't equal. My sense is that the best-qualified women and minorities are likely to have substantive views about Constitutional interpretation I disagree with. So I'm likely to be unhappy with Obama's nominess because of ideology. But holding ideology fixed, I think there's a strong reason to prefer a well-qualified woman to a well-qualified man. And I think another woman would likely increase the scope of empathy on the court in a pretty straightforward and desirable sense.

Anyway, I'm just being dense. The Republicans were going to attack basically any Obama nominee as a monster of judicial activism anyway, and so they used the unusual and thus salient appearance of the word “empathy” to get started. It's stupid, but politics is stupid.

The Complexity of Happiness

Joshua Wolf Stenk's Atlantic essay on George Vaillant and the Harvard Study of Adult Development is terrific. There's lots to say about it (e.g., Why don't we have more longitudinal studies like this? How representative are a bunch of Greatest Generation Harvardian men, really? etc.) But I just wanted to highlight this bit on Valliant's take on current happiness research.

Last October, I watched him give a lecture to [positive psychology guru Martin] Seligman’s graduate students on the power of positive emotions—awe, love, compassion, gratitude, forgiveness, joy, hope, and trust (or faith). “The happiness books say, ‘Try happiness. You’ll like it a lot more than misery’—which is perfectly true,” he told them. But why, he asked, do people tell psychologists they’d cross the street to avoid someone who had given them a compliment the previous day?

In fact, Vaillant went on, positive emotions make us more vulnerable than negative ones. One reason is that they’re future-oriented. Fear and sadness have immediate payoffs—protecting us from attack or attracting resources at times of distress. Gratitude and joy, over time, will yield better health and deeper connections—but in the short term actually put us at risk. That’s because, while negative emotions tend to be insulating, positive emotions expose us to the common elements of rejection and heartbreak.

[…]

When Vaillant told me he was going to speak to Seligman’s class, he said his message would be from William Blake: “Joy and woe are woven fine.” Earlier in his career, he would use such occasions to demonstrate, with stories and data, the bright side of pain—how adaptations can allow us to turn dross into gold. Now he articulates the dark side of pleasure and connection—or, at least, the way that our most profound yearnings can arise from our most basic fears.

There's a lot of good stuff on happiness research in the ellipsis, but I just wanted to draw out this main point. The essay is full of fascinating illustrations of the point from the lives of the men the Harvard study has followed.

Also extremely important:

“It is social aptitude,” [Vaillant] writes, “not intellectual brilliance or parental social class, that leads to successful aging.” Warm connections are necessary—and if not found in a mother or father, they can come from siblings, uncles, friends, mentors. The men’s relationships at age 47, he found, predicted late-life adjustment better than any other variable, except defenses. Good sibling relationships seem especially powerful: 93 percent of the men who were thriving at age 65 had been close to a brother or sister when younger. In an interview in the March 2008 newsletter to the Grant Study subjects, Vaillant was asked, “What have you learned from the Grant Study men?” Vaillant’s response: “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”

What I liked so much about this essay, and about Vaillant, is the recognition that the complexity of human psychology, the complexity of coping and adapting to the challenges life throws up, makes relationships or “social aptitude” no simple thing. Vaillant points out that even the most “mature” strategies for adapting to disappointment, injury, or failure can strain our most intimate, sustaining relationships. And the reality of relationships over time tends to call for defenses that can threaten relationships. A positive, outgoing person may love freely and easily, but then become shattered by betrayal. Then what do you do? Steel yourself for the possibility of future pain by keeping some part of yourself private and out of the way? But then what have you done to your capacity to be nourished by intimacy and love? A lifetime of  rich relationships is not easy and therefore neither is the best kind of life.

The U.S. Defense Subsidy

Matt Yglesias writes:

[B]oth Cato’s Will Wilkinson and Joseph Heath from the University of Toronto agree that America’s massive defense spending is, in effect, subsidizing the national defense of other countries and both agree that it’s perverse that American conservatives like this. As they say, the right would be none-too-keen on the idea of the United States paying for Italians’ health care, so why should they like paying for Italians’ defense?

I like the conclusion of this argument (that defense spending should be cut) and I like the subsidiary thesis that conservatives are stupid and hypocritical. But I’m not 100 percent satisfied with the conclusion. Is it really the case that cutting U.S. defense spending would force Canada to increase its defense spending? In a generic sense, it’s hard to see the argument. If our military were smaller, Canada would need a bigger military to defend it against . . . what? Invasion from the United States? An amphibious attack mounted by Peru?

It’s even harder to see when you pour into the details. Right now our nuclear arsenal has about 4,000 warheads. If we entered a bilateral agreement with Russia that cut that arsenal down to about 1,500 warheads we could spend money. But obviously that wouldn’t imperil Canada’s defenses and require it to build up a nuclear arsenal. Or say we had one fewer carrier group what would the implications of that really be for, say, Portugal.

I think Matt's overlooking Canada's proximity to a potentially truculent Russia, and thus badly overstating the superfluity of Canadian defensive capabilities. As I understand it, there's a real possibility for conflict between Russia and Canada (and Denmark and Norway) over claims to arctic territories, waters, and potential shipping lanes. The Russians have acted pretty boldly so far, planting a flag on the arctic seabed and making noises about a military buildup in the Arctic (which it has subsequently backed away from.) I think it's pretty hard to conclude that Russia would not likely be more aggressive about this if Canada and other Nato members were not so thoroughly backstopped by American power.

Canada's likely to scale up in the north in any case, but I'm pretty sure their efforts would be greater in the absence of the American insurance policy. Canadians, Danes, Norwegians, etc. would be pretty unhappy to spend significantly more on the military, but I think that's partly because the persistence of the American subsidy over decades has allowed them to pretend that they are, unlike the warmongering Americans, spending their budgets on things they value more than the military, instead of acknowledging that they depend upon, but largely take for granted, their U.S.-subsidized defense. Likewise, Americans have become so accustomed to subsidizing much of the world, and to the immense negotiating power that gives the American state, that they are loathe to become but one middle power among others with a merely sufficient defensive capability. So we continue to spend insane amounts of money on the military. Much of this is, as Matt argues, pure waste. But a good deal of it is actually necessary if we're going to continue to do so much of the work in protecting our allies and thereby maintain our strategic advantage in imposing the American state's will in the name of the “serious” foreign policy establishment's idea of “the national interest.” USA! USA! It's a dismal truth that many, many Americans really believe that they would be put into mortal peril should the U.S. put an end to other states' dependency on it's military power.

Democracy and Markets in Government

My post on libertarian democraphobia has elicited a sharp response from Patri Friedman. It's good stuff, but I think we're talking a bit past each other. In part, that's because I was brain-dumping and wasn't as clear as I might have been, and in part because we have some substantive disagreements. I think maybe I can be clearer on a few points and that we can start to try to get to the bottom of our disagreements.

First, I'm completely sincere in wishing Patri and others well in their exciting visionary project. I'm eagerly watching its progress and I hope it succeeds. But I think one thing we need to hash out is why we think the probabilities of success are what we think they are. At this point, I consider the probability very low that seasteads (or something like them) will create a competitive market for systems of social organization within my lifetime. I also think the probability is low that persuasion and political organization will, by itself, be very effective in moving any already relatively liberal state within the status quo global system of states very far toward more thoroughly liberal ideals. I just happen to think that the prospect of making some progress on this front is better.

I share the view that demonstration is more powerful than argument. And I think that if there is significant further liberalization within the system of states, it will most likely be due to the salience of successful innovations in governance, and that other jurisdictions, competing for talent and investment, will act to copy those innovations. I just don't presently think the jurisdiction most likely to set off this kind of race to the top will be a seastead. And, furthermore, I think setting off this kind of cascade requires a good deal of intellectual and rhetorical groundwork. Argument and persuasion often makes demonstration possible.

Anyway, let me reply directly to some of Patri's remarks:

Will seems trapped in the hopeless quest to philosophically define a single just society.  I find the idea that one can determine, philosophically or practically, the best way to organize a society a priori to be laughable.  And that’s even if we agree on a single set of goals for our society – which we don’t. Competition and consumer choice are the answers – why is this so hard for a libertarian to understand?

Not hard at all. And I share Patri's skepticism about the worth of a priori ideal theory.

We face a very hard problem – the problem of creating a good system of social organization, one with the power to enforce laws,  yet which does not abuse this power.  As liberals, we know how to solve hard problems – use markets.  Which is why I advocate for a competitive market for government.  Will, strangely, seems to like the current oligopoly with its high barrier to entry and high switching costs, and is skeptical that a more competitive market will provide a better solution.

I don't believe I said anything that implied I like the status quo system of states. As readers of this blog know, I am deeply invested in the conviction that the fundamental human right to move — the right to exit and enter jurisdictions — must be more fully recognized and honored. Competitive markets for government can't work if people are not allowed to “unsubscribe” from their current provider of governance or “subscribe” to another. Because governance is territorial, the very possibility of anything like consumer choice in governance is based on mobility rights. I'm not skeptical that more competition between jurisdictions will provide a better solution. I'm pretty certain it will. I think Patri has confused my defense of the possibility of progress within existing liberal democracies for complacency about the “current oligopoly” system, which I actively deplore.

Note that this argument has nothing to do with democracy, and doesn’t depend in the slightest on the morality or practicality of the system.  Democracy is simply the current industry standard product that firms offer customers.  If it truly is the ultimate form of social organization, then in a world of competitive government, democratic seasteads will outcompete all other seasteads, attract all the customers, and people will eventually give up trying other forms of government.  Personally, I find the idea that this ancient Greek technology is the best we’ll ever do to be absurd, but even if I’m wrong, even if our Thousand Nations are all different variants of democracy, the system will still improve politics by allowing for competition between those variants. so we can find those that work the best.

First, I think it's more than confusing, on Patri's own terms, to talk of states as if they are “firms” and as if the people who live within their territories are “customers.” I thought the point was that there isn't a market and that people within the jurisdictions of states don't have effective consumer choice over governments. I suppose talking as if the culmination of your work has preceded you may help to create a needed conceptual shift, but it also obscures the fact that the freedom of citizens and subjects all over the world to become globetrotting jurisdictional shoppers remains a largely political question within existing states.

Second, does Patri think democracy has become “the current industry standard” for no reason? As it happens, liberal democracies are in fact the best places in the world to live. They are where people are happiest, healthiest, live the longest, and, yes, are most free, And, as it happens, people who live in advanced liberal democracies generally have significant freedom to emigrate. (In non-democracies, not so much.) When they do move, they tend to move to other liberal democracies.

I understand it's tough for new entrants to break into the government “market,” and that if attractive non-democratic alternatives were to be offered, people with the freedom to choose them might choose them. But insofar as there has been a limited market test, democracy is the decisive champ. So, if Patri really finds a priori identification of the best way to organize society “laughable,” then I don't understand why he's entitled to be so confident that “the idea that this ancient Greek technology is the best we’ll ever do [is] absurd.”  It's this sort of thing that makes me (and others, I'm sure) suspect Patri's less than wholehearted about the “Let a Thousand Nations Bloom” rhetoric and is in fact a closet ideal theorist who wants a bit of turf on which to demonstrate the superiority of his ideal. Not that there's anything wrong with that!

Thus even a democraphilic should want competitive government.  It’s not democraphilia or democraphobia which is the key here, but agoraphilia or agoraphobia (meaning markets, not open spaces, of course).  So my challenge to Will, and any other agoraphilic skeptic of competitive government is to resolve this contradiction.  If you generally believes in the power of competition to offer better products to consumers, why is the market for government fundamentally different?

I do want more competitive government! But I'll persist in complaining that Patri underestimates the extent to which the possibility of competitive government remains, for the forseeable future, largely a political problem and not an engineering one. The question of “why the market for government is fundamentally different” takes us back to anarchist vs. statist ground zero, doesn't it? But, that aside, my response to the challenge is simply to deny that I am agoraphobic, or that there is a contradiction I need to resolve.

Here's a question for Patri: Why do you think building some new territory relatively few people will be politically free and economically able to move to will be sufficient to create a “competitive market in government” significantly different than the current “market”? And here's another: If seasteads converge on forms of democracy not very different from current ones, will you consider this a vindication of familiar forms of democracy or an indictment of imagination?

There's more in Patri's post I'd like to respond to, but for now I'll leave it at that.

The Caveman Roots of Liberal Democracy?

Stimulating thoughts from Razib (aka “David Hume”):

But a dispositional conservatism serves more than a periodoc brake upon the inevitable march of history toward its final Utopian state.  In fact the empirical record shows some cyclical dynamics in human morals and values. After all, Western liberal democracy is a throwback in many ways to the individualism of the hunter-gatherer phase of human history. I believe that the institutions and norms of communitarian “traditional” cultures were in fact ad hoc kluges which attempted to reconcile our “caveman psychology” with post-Neolithic mass society. Conservative and liberal dispositions seem to be partly hardwired; as humans we place ourselves along the spectrum. It is not simply a matter of conservatives always being a few generations behind liberals along the inevitable secular ascent up toward earthly paradise. Rather it seems possible these different political tribes are like two cylinders which serve as the motive force behind a winding and unpredictable journey.

Why is the journey unpredictable? One reason: Cultural evolution is unpredictable and the content of the beliefs and norms attractive to those with partly-hardwired liberal and conservative dispositions — the parameters of the liberal-to-conservative continuum — at any given time is a matter of the forces of cultural history as they interact with the forces of population change. Ideas and norms can't stick if our evolved minds are inhospitable hosts for them. So the fixed part of human psychology is a constraint on cultural transmission. If we find liberal individualism at all compelling, it's because we already have a taste for it. Likewise thick communitarian socialism. Culture wars are wars in part over which tastes to gratify and encourage and which to stymie and treat as a threats to decent civilization.

I agree that our conservative impulses aren't going anywhere. So, what if people with conservative impulses reproduce at a greater rate? It's interesting to think about what happens when the cultural parameters of the liberal-to-conservative continuum shifts in a liberal direction faster than dispositional conservatives can breed. And maybe something like this is Razib's idea. If the stipulated demographic trend continues–conservatives keep reproducing faster–then conservative dispositions will become relatively common and liberal ones relatively rare. At some point, this stalls further liberalization, even if it had a lot of momentum behind it. And then you'd think maybe we slide back in a “traditional,” communitarian, family-centric direction. But I guess this depends on what a native “conservative disposition” comes down to. If it's a kind of conformist hesitancy to alter the social order, then a preponderance of conservatives may do little more to lock in liberalization, just as today's conservatives praise to the Heavens the timeless verity of a bunch of extremely radical 18th-century liberal ideals.

The Party of Untrammeled Freedom and Maximum Individual Choice?!

David Brooks:

[I]f Republicans had learned the right lessons from the Westerns, or at least John Ford Westerns, they would not be the party of untrammeled freedom and maximum individual choice. They would once again be the party of community and civic order.

What in tarnation is this man talking about? Where is this Republican Party of “untrammeled freedom and maximum individual choice”? Did Ron Paul just become House minority leader or take Michael Steele's job or something? Have the Republicans put up the white flag in the War on Drugs? Are GOP Senators stumping to end the legislation of morality? How did I miss this? It's like Brooks was kidnapped by a Romulan and is sending us op-eds from an alternative timeline.

Libertarian Democraphobia

If you're a new-school classical liberal (neoclassical liberal?) like me, you like democracy just fine. This puts you somewhere between (a) modern liberals in the post-Rawlsian vein who tend toward not-actually-very-liberal Rousseuvian romanticism about democracy and (b) libertarians who tend toward often not-very-liberal renunciations of democracy. I want to talk about these libertarians. Here are some off-the-cuff (that means disorganized) thoughts.

First, I think it's important to recognize that libertarian democraphobia often comes from a deeply liberal place. The libertarian non-coercion principle is a good abstract first approximation of the liberal presupposition that persons are free and equal. No one has a natural right to rule over another, and no one has a natural duty to obey. The liberal presupposition sets a high bar for the justification of coercion, and thus the justification of the state. Many libertarians think there is no justification. Therefore the only acceptable rule of collective choice is unanimity or full consensus. This is one focus of the debate between anarchist and limited-statist libertarians. On the anarchist side, political power cannot get off the ground, and thus the design of mechanisms to control political power is a non-issue. On the limited-statist side, political power does get off the ground, and thus so does the design of constitutions and democratic institutions. I think this divide is far wider than is reflected in the libertarian community, and part of the reason is that limited-government libertarians tend to internalize more of the anarchist framework than they logically should.

In any case, libertarians often display a confusing or confused reaction to democracy as it actually exists. The scheme laid out in most libertarian ideal theory is so distant from actual democratic practice that the whole existing system can seem by comparison a comprehensive injustice. When one's ideal theory implies that politics is by its nature illegitimate and corrupt, one tends to develop a sharply disapproving attitude toward participation in politics. Lots of libertarians, for example, think it's morally wrong to vote. (There are many structural reasons the Libertarian Party is hopeless, but here's one reason libertarians tend to be at best half-hearted political activists.) Likewise, incrementalist approaches to policy can never be adequately pure from the perspective of radical libertarian ideal theory. School vouchers are still tax-financed; a system of mandatory personal retirement accounts has a restriction on economic liberty at its heart; and so on. So, not only is politics corrupt and corrupting. There are few democratically feasible libertarian policies that merit support. The public does not want libertarianism. Which means that the public does not want a system that respects fundamental rights. So much the worse for the public, the thinking tends to go.

The confused radical libertarian response is to more or less agree with all of this, and then decide to vote for the Republican because he promises lower taxes or whatever. Whatever else you can say about Patri Friedman and Peter Thiel's wholesale rejection of politics in favor of flight to a DIY frontier, it is not confused or incoherent. It is to reject the terms of the local democratic game by exercising the exit option. It's what the Pilgrims did. It's what the Mormons did. The difference is that there's no more ready-made frontier left to settle. And I truly wish them the best of luck.

But I don't think they take seriously enough the problem of governance in the DIY frontier. One can avoid politics and democratic conflict in the short-run through self-segregation. But this tends not to last that long. (See: the Pilgrims in Massachusets; the Mormons in Deseret/Utah) And I have questions about how well the Friedman plan can scale, as newcomers come to the settled frontier, and as pioneers raise children who do not share the consensus of the initial settlement. Sooner or later the problem of pluralism and moral disagreement will rear its head, and there are liberal and illiberal ways to respond. If the response is to maintain the consensus of self-segregation by evicting inevitable dissidents, one begins to wonder what to call those with the power to evict. At a certain point, the differences between a sovereign monarch and a monopoly landlord becomes semantic.

Anyway, not to rehearse Anarchy, State, and Utopia, but I think the prospects for avoiding something like a state are slim. And I think it would be better to design a democratic structure in advance, rather than morphing into a neo-fuedal landlord/tenant model of territorial governance, or trying to cobble together an adequate constitution when the original system starts to break down. Of course, the point of the DIY frontier for its present advocates is precisely to demonstrate that society without politics is possible. So to recommend a democratic constitution at the outset is just to express pessimism about a project meant to show this pessimism unfounded. And why argue when you can experiment? Let's do the experiment!

Now, as I've argued before, I think the anarchist is right about the minarchist: once you accept the public goods argument for state protection of various rights, you have accepted that there are no fully voluntary solutions to certain collective action problems, and you're logic-bound to ride the public goods argument as far as it takes you, which is further than the minarchist thinks. And you have accepted that it is possible to justify a break from a full consensus or unanimity rule. You're going to have to settle on a collective decision procedure that can determine what is and is not going to count as a public good, how much it will cost to pay for these goods, what the scheme of public finance is going to be, etc. You have agreed to politics, and there is no guarantee things are always going to your way. I fully accept all of this. And I think other neo-classical liberals (other moderate limited-government libertarians) could do much better at fully facing up to their implicit buy-in to democratic politics. This doesn't mean giving up idealistic disenchantment with the current dispensation, or giving up hard-headed views on the limits of democracy, but it does mean taking democracy seriously, and I think that means taking more responsibility for public opinion.

Which brings us to Thiel's boneheaded quip about women's suffrage. Extending the franchise to women is, in my estimation, one of the great triumphs of the American classical liberal tradition. Like the abolition of slavery, women's suffrage was rooted in the rejection of a shameful tradition of paternalism that held that some classes of people are less than fully able to govern themselves. I cannot see how anyone who accepts basic liberal assumptions about freedom and equality can see the establishment of equal political rights as anything but an unequivocal good… unless he rejects the legitimacy of politics in principle. I think this is were Thiel was coming from.

But if politics is in-principle illegitimate, it was illegitimate before women got the vote, so why bring it up? By bringing it up as a reason why democratic progress is hopeless, Thiel does make it sound like he thinks the problem's not democratic politics per se, but democratic politics without good prospect of producing the right answer. But liberalism starts from the recognition that free and equal people don't agree about the right answer but need to find a way to live together anyway. The secessionist instinct does seem illiberal insofar as it's based in the frustration that reasonable pluralism fails to generate consensus on the right answer — even when the content of the right answer is a radical version of liberalism. And Thiel's comment seemed to imply that political recognition of the fundamental equality of persons is not only tangential to the right answer, but might even get in the way of arriving at it, which is just screwed up.

If establishing equal rights to political participation in fact created an impediment to the political success of libertarianish ideas, maybe there are some very good reasons for that. People who finally gained equal political rights through a long democratic struggle cannot have been unreasonable to see democratic politics as a morally and politically progressive force. An ideology that damns democratic politics as almost necessarily immoral might not look so good to them. And if libertarian-style politics seems especially unnatractive to members of formerly oppressed and disenfranchised groups, maybe that's because it is reasonable to suspect that a politics that focuses relentlessly on the inviolability of property rights in a system that once treated people as property, and for centuries denied much of the population the chance to accumulate any property, is a politics meant to protect those who reap the gains of a still-rigged and unjust system.

Libertarianism does have public relations problems, and it's not because most people are stupid or immoral. It's because libertarians have done a terrible job countering the widespread suspicion that it's a uselessly abstract ahistorical ideology for socially retarded adolescent white guys. The sadly common libertarian-conservative penchant for “brave” counter-PC truthiness (e.g., “Women do love the welfare state!” “Blacks really do have lower IQs!”) certainly doesn't help.

Most libertarians don't want to move to man-made islands. Most don't even want to help take over New Hampshire. If libertarians are going to shift the politics of the countries we live in, we've got to get it through our thick skulls that many people have considered libertarian ideas and have rejected them for all sorts of decent reasons. We've got to take those reasons, and those people, fully seriously and adequately address them. Otherwise, we should probably just accept that libertarianism is a niche creed for weird people and reconcile ourselves to impotent, self-righteous grousing. Or get serious about life on the sea. For my part, I'm going to continue to try to convince people that free markets and limited goverment are better than they might have thought.

Bloggingheads TV with Joseph Heath on Filthy Lucre

This was recorded a while back, before I cut my hair and became a Canadian. I chat with University of Toronto philosopher Joeseph Heath about his new book (only in Canada!) Filthy Lucre: Economics for People Who Hate Capitalism. Think of it as Economics in One Lesson for Naomi Klein fans. This is a good, really readable book. I think it helps a lot that he's not an economist. The section on right-wing fallacies is largely on the money and a great challenge for rote libertarians and conservatives. The section of left-wing fallacies is terrific, and it would be terrific if more folks on the left were anywhere near as economically literate as Heath.