Friday, March 27, 2015

Dear Mr. Takei,

Prominent LGBTQ activist and Star Trek alum George Takei has called for a general boycott against the state of Indiana in response to the controversial SB101, a bill that permits businesses to refuse service on religious grounds. Like many other bills of its ilk, it's couched in religious terms, but no one is fooled by the kayfabe: it is a general license for bigoted business owners to discriminate against gay customers.

Without disagreeing with the sentiment that it's generally loathsome to shun someone for mere extracurricular bedroom peccadilloes, it seems to me unjust to condemn the good and honest people of Indiana for the barbarity of a few.

Targeted economic sanctions do occasionally work. But they work best when deployed against a single firm with the authority to respond swiftly and accurately to the demands of the protesters. In this case, the chain of communication linking firms to the state government is extremely weak. Local businesses, the ones hurt worst by a general boycott, have as much say in the state legislature as any ordinary citizen: next to nothing. A general boycott of Indiana is closer to the US embargo of Cuba or Iraq than to a picket line around a misbehaving department store: it will immiserate the local residents and the track record suggests it will do very little to sway the hearts of the legislature.

Consider the following alternative approach. Crowdfund a campaign to print out stickers for LGBTQ & allied businesses to put in their windows. Spread the word: "this sticker stands for solidarity in the face of bigotry" or something (I confess to not being especially talented at writing slogans). Customers will then know which businesses to support and which to boycott. If acrimonious identity politics must be a part of the marketplace, let's find a way to reward people for a principled refusal to discriminate.

So Mr. Takei, I implore you: please reconsider your position. There are better ways to serve both the Indiana LGBTQ community and businesses friendly to the cause. By all means, punish the guilty, but please, I beg of you: spare the innocent.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Ye Olde Rubbe & Tugg

Oyez Oyez Oyez, ladies and gentlemen. Let it be noted that MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MARYLAND, in assembly seeks to REGULATE the COMMERCIAL practices of REFLEXOLOGY, ACCUPRESSURE and OTHER ASSORTED manipulations of the customer's MAGNETIC FIELDS and several MERIDIANS.

If you listen closely, you can hear the cries of incumbent firms: "oh lawdy, don't throw us in the briar patch of regulation. I can't bears the thought." And of course, the "loophole" being closed here is that "sex traffickers" are contributing to lewd, illicit behavior by coercing young women to work in unlicensed, unregulated dens of iniquity. Something, you see, something must be done. Regulation is something (along with sting operations including armed raids); let's do that. What's the point of having this wonderful SWAT team you keep talking about if we never get to use it?

Workers in Murray Head-style massage parlors may not work there euvoluntarily. Forcing them out of work, jailing them, and otherwise harassing them at gunpoint probably won't do much to make their lives any better.

Also, I'd like to see where the logical end of this might be. Can't a florist be a front for, er, paid handicrafts? "Why don't you come with me into the 'stockroom' and see what we have available, sir?" How about a tax consultancy? Sirs and madams of Monty County, will you regulate all commerce in your snipe hunt? Shall you ever be satisfied?

Here's the bill if you want to read the thing.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Totalitarianizmas Klizmas

Via Zach the Smith of Weiners, this gem, available on Taco Bell's confirmed YouTube channel, suggesting that it's part of a legitimate ad campaign.

True or false: when I purchase a product, it's probably fair to say that my sale contributes to the entire corpus of my trading partner. I'm not just buying a flaccid burrito, I'm supporting an accounting department, supply chain managers, packaging, and in this specific case, advertising.

On the one hand, I am genuinely grateful to live in a world of such plenty, such color, diversity, and vibrancy that the grim, dark warnings of George Orwell can end up as fodder for corporate pissing contests. It suggests that the mass exterminations of the Soviet Union and Nazi Europe are now quaint artifacts of a Whig history, now long overcome. On the other hand, I have actual relatives (in-laws, to be specific) who had to hide buried in outhouse shit to escape Red Army rape squads. So fuck you, Taco Bell I guess is what I'm saying.

Twelve million human lives were fed into the slaughterhouse that was 20th century totalitarianism. Twelve million people, or at least their descendants, might still walk the earth today were it not for the horrors inflicted by the governments whose imagery Taco Bell ad execs felt comfortable deploying in ads for their diarrhea factory slop.

This is not a euvoluntary exchange. This is wretched cultural pollution. I can forgive a foolish college student for wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt. Kids are stupid. I have a much harder time forgiving Yum! Brands, a Fortune 500 company, for committing the same egregious breach of decorum.

But take heart, I'll still go to the barricades for your right to produce disgusting advertising garbage much the same way I'll go to the barricades to defend your right to produce disgusting faux Mexican culinary garbage. It's a free country, after all.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Conclusio non Sequitur

Board chair of Space International Norma Ramos writes in an op-ed to the NYT (h/t MG Grant):
Sweden’s legal framework recognizes [the non-consensual nature of prostitution] by criminalizing the buyers and offering the prostituted a social-services exit strategy. This approach is premised on a human rights understanding that women and girls have a right not to be prostituted.
 Sweden imposes no criminal or civil penalties on prostitutes, reserving punishments instead for clients. The appeal of this approach is that sex workers sell their services because they're either coerced by ruthless organized criminals or because they lack decent alternatives in the more socially acceptable labor markets (I gather from the tone of the op-ed that Ramos would reject the possibility that many sex workers freely choose such work of their own volition). In other words, prostitution is not euvoluntary.

Let's accept that proposition. Prostitutes, for the sake of argument, are already on the fringes of desperation and they have little to fall back on. Clients, contrarily, are more or less randomly selected from all walks of life, including men who have a great deal to lose from a criminal conviction. One way for clients to respond to a threat of criminal punishment is to abstain. After all, low-cost pornography is ubiquitous, even in Nordic country. Another way for clients to respond is to insist on greater secrecy, more remote locations, &c. Part of the negotiations that result in a successful transaction will include security.

Greater security for clients implies less security for workers. A New Zealand brothel can hire bouncers to haul off violent riff-raff. A "legal" Swedish sex worker attempting the same will find herself with no clients whatsoever. Only the extremely stupid or the extremely well-connected would attempt to solicit such services. Swedish sex workers will either cater to those clients not already scared off by the threat of criminal sanction or they will be obliged to accept their by-definition worse BATNA. If we accept the premises of the op-ed's argument, the logical conclusion of criminalizing clients is doubly deleterious to the safety and health of sex workers: kindly, thoughtful clients will be driven out of the market, and the rowdy reprobates that remain will insist on more secretive locations for encounters, making assault, murder, and rape (yes, it is possible to rape a prostitute, check the language of your local statutes) more likely.

Ending prohibition seems counter-intuitive. But if there is a social interest in providing better opportunities for young women and men who seek jobs in the sex industry, allowing prostitutes to organize for their own safety and protection is necessarily an important element. Swedish statutes prevent the very thing they seek to accomplish. If the goal is to put already-troubled youth at greater risk, you could hardly design a more effective approach than to make patronizing prostitutes illegal.

Friday, March 20, 2015

How Much is the Civil Penalty for that Doggy in the Window?

At the heart of the "conventional ownership" condition in the sidebar is an implied question: "is it okay to own, or to do this activity, regardless of commerce?" In the case of pet breeding, I guess the answer is "no," at least around in the 580 area code (OKC).

Will a fine on backyard breeding kennels reduce the unwanted pet population? Almost certainly. Will the $500 fine fall disproportionately on poor people already struggling to make ends meet, and who are perhaps too poor to afford veterinary services? Also, almost certainly.

There's a curious habit among the people of civilized nations to punish destitute and myopic citizens for the crimes of being poor and shortsighted. Having a fertile pet may not be euvoluntary, but is taxing and fining poor pet owners the best way to keep strays from running amok? Not a rhetorical question. I cannot identify a superior alternative here. My imagination fails me.

h/t Saddy

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Yellow Rose; Red Light

Via ENB, Texas unanimously passed HB 10, "AN ACT relating to certain criminal and civil consequences of trafficking of persons, compelling prostitution, and certain other related criminal offenses; to the prevention, prosecution, and punishment of those offenses, and to compensation paid to victims of those offenses." A little wordy, so the press has been calling it a "sex trafficking" bill. Pithy, yes?

If you're anything like me (odds are slim here) you'll find yourself a little puzzled why a legislature would bother passing a bill banning something that's already illegal. Shall we parse the bill together?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Oregon Trail

In the very merry month of May, Team KPC took a road trip. I bundled the JR up into the station wagon and we headed down to Durham to grab Meat Mountain Mungowitz for the trek west. When our feckless trio hit the Sooner State, I handed driving duties over to Robin. Our freshly-minted quintet hooked a right turn on our way to the fabled land of the Great Beaver. Here's a partial transcript of the cabin conversation as we approached Wichita for the  evening's respite.

Robin: Okay guys. I see a... I see a McDonalds and a Burger King. Where should we eat?

Angus: McDonalds, of course. Slainte!

MMM: Uh huh, I don't think so. Home of the Whopper, please. Please and thank you.

It's difficult for me to adequately convey the kindly imperiousness in Mungo's voice here. As the father of two grown men (and a chaired professor at a major university), he's developed a certain rhetorical style that manages to be both charming and compelling at the same time. Search the Econtalk archives if you don't believe me.

JR: <snore>

Jeff had been asleep for the past hour and a half.

Me: I don't like hamburgers.

I could feel perplexed contempt just starting to boil off my traveling companions. How is it even possible to "not like hamburgers?" Is this guy a Communist or something? Luckily, we had a peacemaker in the car.

Robin: Okay, well, there's also a Five Guys and a Whataburger. How about that, Sam?

Me: I don't like hamburgers. At all.

Kevin had heard enough.


I did my best to suppress a smile. I probably wasn't all that successful, judging by Mike's follow-up.

MMM: Okay, we'll settle this like adults. Jeff's asleep, so Robin, Kevin, and I will vote on where to eat, and we'll watch as you enjoy our democratically-chosen hamburger. We don't want you to starve, after all. it's for your own good and the collective good of the car.

Here's Reuters. Here's the Oregon DMV. Full text of HB 2177 here.

I keep company with many folks who are naturally skeptical—if not outright contemptuous—of choosing via the ballot box instead of in more spontaneous, natural agglomerations such as professional, neighborhood, or social clubs. Politics, they say, make fools of us all, forcing upon private citizens a certain telescopic morality that is both unseemly and unnatural. I don't disagree, but I also don't see a lot of damage done in reducing the costs of voter registration. It's not like it makes voter participation any more salient for disaffected, alienated, or apathetic voters. At most, Oregon's HB 2177 adds a little more noise to the voting process, and it's very likely that the noise will be centered pretty much on mainstream beliefs. It's the nasty biases in the mainstream beliefs that cause so much havoc. Noise in large systems tends to cancel out. [citations available in any standard Public Choice textbook, esp. Mueller]

The party registration bit in there (seriously, check the language in the third link) reflects the typical ambitions of the sovereign: "we're just gonna go ahead as sign you up as a voter here. And oh, by the way, have you heard of the Democratic and Republican parties? Would you be interested in some literature?" It's got some grim humor to it, I must admit. After all, how can we even have a republic if constituents run about all willy-nilly identifying as independent or with another party. Maybe this is only funny to me, having spent so much time with these specific GSS variables. Eh, whatever.

Governments are duly organized by constituents to serve the interest of the public. Elites who interpret that mandate as "the public exists to participate in the political process" reveal a curious sort of political philosophy. Authority is being exchanged here for sure, but I'm not convinced it's all that euvoluntary.

"Vote or die" is not the slogan of a free society, people.