Monday, August 3, 2015

Consent in Captivity

If you don't already subscribe to Simple Justice, consider adding it to your list. Greenfield is usually entertaining, always prodigious (at least 2 word-packed posts a day), and unfailingly filled to the brim with righteous indignation. It's also good to see what law looks like from the trenches if, like me, you're either a punter or an academic.

Today's AM post was of particular interest to me in my capacity as a fan of prison drama. From the old WIP exploitation films of the 70s to the mostly well-executed premium TV shows of today (Oz, OITNB), I've been a fan of the genre as far back as I can remember. And always and everywhere, one of the enduring literary tropes of the Caged Heat variety is sex in prison. Is it lewd? Is it rude? Is it always in the nude?

More importantly for EE purposes, can it ever be consensual? I don't mean just guard-and-inmate relations, which obviously contain coercion, but prisoner-prisoner relations. Excluding forcible rape, can a prisoner tryst be euvoluntary? In prison, indeed in any extended-stay, isolated community, outside options are limited. You aren't really free to choose with such limited choices, right? It would be a bit like being locked in a restaurant and then being asked what your favorite food is. Sure, you might choose something off the available menu, but are you being sincere or merely convenient?

Then again, even people with the relative liberty afforded by all our modern conveniences hardly consider anything more than the tiniest sliver of the entire world population. Even with the assistance of computers, we generally limit ourselves to the people available in our communities, our workplaces, our schools, our churches, our online forums, &c. Folks in the regular world are presumed to give free and clear consent even with all those limitations.

How good a BATNA is good enough? Can a prisoner give enthusiastic consent? Can anyone in a cloistered community give enthusiastic consent? How cloistered is cloistered?

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Transaction Costs of Oppression

The time for talk had ended. This was war.

The island nation of Mungerica had reneged on her 2011 neuropolyp weapons treaty with Spivonostan as the internationally-approved inspection team had discovered in its mandatory annual sweep. Negotiations stalled. Ambassadors were recalled. Spivonostan instituted a naval picket around the main deepwater harbor of Mungerica. Shots were fired against a light destroyer on the fringes of the fleet. War was declared less than 18 hours later.

Now, over the course of the Pax Mungerica, a number of diasporas flourished on both sides of the political border. Ethnic Mungericans were seafarers by avocation, so when they settled abroad, they tended to take up residence in the coastal towns to fish, stevedore, or what-have-you. Spivonostanis were relatively skilled at agriculture, which meant soybean farming in the lowland plains of Mungerica.

But despite their cosmetic differences, both Mungerica and Spivonostan were of one mind when it came to their shared mistrust of foreigners. On the outbreak of war, each nation instituted its own version of internment. In Mungerica, the chief executive issued Order #1121, named the Foreign National Detention Act of 2015. In Spivonostan, the order had no name, and was barked to underlings in a filthy tongue scarcely fit to reproduce in print. The effect was identical: all ethnic Mungericans were to be rounded up and sent to a detention facility in the hinterlands of chilly Spivonostan until further orders were received.

The non-cosmetic difference between Mungerica and Spivonostan was that Mungerica bore an almost pathological insistence on preserving the right of the people to own firearms. Spivonostan had no such tradition. So when the Spivonostani warchiefs collected the Mungerican immigrants, they faced no real opposition. Cowed and meek, the best the defenseless Mungericans could do to mount a defense was to try to sneak across the border in the dead of the night or to hide in the woods. Not only were they dispossessed of their property, but they were stripped of their dignity. In Mungerica, the ethnic Spivonostanis were at least occasionally armed. And in some of the farming communities, they were armed and organized, so that when Mungerican soldiers arrived to load them onto flat cars and take them away, they met with violent resistance.

Now, as is the case with such things, the Mungerican forces easily emerged victorious against the minor domestic insurrection. No petty militia stands against a secure sovereign. Just ask General Tso and his delicious chicken. But even though the insolent Spivonostani rebels were suppressed, it took the time, treasure, and blood of the nation to do it.

On the margin, the right of the people to bear arms raised the opportunity cost of oppression.

Of course, the distraction may end up costing Mungerica the war. It almost certainly cost them their neuropolyp weapons program, since the rebels were able to sneak in and set ANFO charges around the main refinery. Then again, it's possible that some of the polynucleotide material was released into the environment without being incinerated in the blast. The point is, it's hard to say whether or not a political choice is objectively good or bad in the absence of a convincing counterfactual. This is true for specific policy, but it might also be true for governing institutions, or even for pedestrian constitutional jurisprudence.

But this little story is a flight of fancy anyway. There's no way a liberal democracy like the US could ever run ethnic internment programs, right?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Nail Salon Exploitation Hoax


The New York Times has pretty much just starting phoning it in.

People want to believe that these "exposes" are a way to help the poor.

But in fact these stories are just attempts by poorly educated humanities majors from expensive colleges, working in a deservedly dying industry, to lash out at the rich.

Even reading the original "story" on its merits, the chief outrage seems to be more about the wealth of the customers than the bad conditions of the workers.  Just having a job is "exploitative," in the view of the New York Times folks who have never had one. And that makes sense, in a way:  If you were a Social Work-Lit double major at Brown, the idea of actually creating value in a real job is pretty disgusting.

Friday, July 24, 2015 podcast

Thanks to Trevor and Aaron for listening without giggling (much), and to Evan for trying to herd that band o'cats.  Nice job on the podcast:  "When is Voluntary Choice Really Voluntary?"

URL here.

For you fans of EE, there's a conference next week in Santiago, Chile where quite a few luminaries (and also I) will give talks about morality and rationality.  Check it out

Individually Prudent, Institutionally Abhorrent

Sandra Bland is the latest (and I predict, tragically, not the last) in a string of unfortunate encounters between police and citizens. ICYMI, she was arrested during a minor traffic stop and [mysteriously] died in police custody. Huffpo has the transcript of the arrest. ATSRTWT. Unfortunately, a great deal of nattering and legal analysis so far has dealt with the speck of the arrest, ignoring the log of her jailhouse death. But as long as we're on the topic anyway, there's something that's been bugging me for a while now and this incident fits the trope.

viz.: There are a great many privately rational decisions that end up collectively irrational. In terms the Scholastics would recognize, it is often prudent for an individual to defer to even unreasonable requests made by belligerent police. The alternative, after all, can be a beating, a tasing, or a broad-daylight street execution. It is often prudent to avoid certain parts of town at certain times of day. The alternative can be a mugging, a stabbing, or an unking. It is often prudent to remain reasonably sober at certain social gatherings. The alternatives are unsavory.

The trouble with our rhetoric, with our language perhaps, is that it's all too easy to conflate the part for the whole, and the whole for the part. Most of us don't want to live in an America where cops are a pack of undisciplined goons with no regard (or knowledge!) of the laws of the land. Most of us don't want to live in an America where racial animus is as thick as Okefenokee midges on an August afternoon. Most of us don't want to live in an America where it's okay to take sexual license with an incapacitated woman.

Alas, we have the institutions we have, not the ones we want. For individuals, it is wise to treat the rest of society as if it were a force of nature. It wouldn't be victim-blaming to advise folks in flood-prone areas to stock up on some extra sandbags. For society, it is an arrogant slight to accept an unjust status quo. When a politician or pundit tells college-aged girls to dress modestly and avoid strong drink, the subtext is tacit acceptance of the "she's asking for it" trope. It's reasonable to expect that people speaking far-mode generalities to be speaking of the class rather than the instance.

The same intuitions apply to an appreciation of EE violations. It might be (usually is, indeed) individually rational to raise prices during an emergency, but folks don't like living in a world where the iron laws of scarcity make it necessary.

We have the laws of economics we have, not the ones we want.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Cheaters Never Prosper

Adultery-facilitating website Ashley Madison has had its user data stolen. 37 million users, many of them presumably real people, are now at risk of extortion, identity theft, and that old-timey blackmail.

You can read Avid Life Media Inc's statement here.

I know what you might be thinking: the only site that deserves it more is maybe Gawker. And while I'm sure that law enforcement will be working diligently to find the culprits and bring them to justice, I might expect most citizens hearing the news will sniff and mutter, "they had it coming." Degeneracy like adultery deserves some sort of cosmic justice, and occasionally justice arrives in a chariot driven by a team of hackers (in this case, amusingly and appropriately named "The Impact Team"). 

I have my doubts that Ashley Madison has 37 million unique active users. But that is an upper bound estimate. 37 million already-shaky marriages further threatened by vigilante hackers is a heck of a lot of mischief. There are probably a heck of a lot of people waking up to a heck of a lot of fresh regret this morning. 

I sure hope if you're reading this, you're not one of them. If you are, godspeed. For you have an awkward, difficult conversation with your spouse to conduct, one that I hope I wouldn't wish on even a miserable moral wretch.

Of course, the first-order harm is the infidelity itself. Exposing it is a comparatively minor evil. Right? It seems that way. I think this might be an interesting enough question to explore in my ongoing altfic at Sweet Talk. Stay tuned.

Friday, July 17, 2015

No Extra Credit for You!

An interesting exercise.  I may try this in the fall for my large "Intro to PE" class, especially since there is no risk of actually having to give out any extra credit given how people will react.

The story.

The bottom line:  The "question"... Click for an even more self-interested answer.

The obvious response is that in classes that are small, and communicate, they have some chance of solving this.  But in large classes, with anonymous responses and secret scoring....not much risk to the prof., I'd say...