Friday, July 3, 2015

The Thing Itself

Commissioner of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries Brad Akavian dons his Jacobin fête-cap to issue the following order against notorious cake bigots Aaron and Melissa Klein.


h/t Kelsey Harkness

Pseudonymous friend of EE Adam Blackstone recently suggested to me that competing philosophies have no natural limits to their quest for victory. In a private individual, excessively berating and then silencing a thoughtcriminal would be barbaric. For an government official to do so is downright despotic.

 Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, mes amis.

It should be enlightening to follow the case on up the ladder. So we've got that going for us at least.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Polyamory on the Margins

I'm coming around to the idea that polyamory may not be as euvoluntary as I'd previously argued. Short version: a polyamorous marriage may be fine, but I have to agree that as an institution, it has some pretty serious predicted shortcomings.

So here's the question: does the logic of prohibition apply to plural marriage? Will desperate consumers resort to black market harems to secure illicit booty? Would a legal regime in which abused plural marriage spouses were free to contact law enforcement agents for assistance without fear of reprisal reduce the severity and frequency of bride trafficking?

I'm not familiar enough with the law enforcement statistics to judge. Swinging is legal, so is cohabitation. A married couple can have a "roommate" without attracting attention. Open marriages are fine. People are already pretty much at liberty to set the terms of their domestic arrangements, so it's difficult to say that there's much of a thwarted market the way there is for cocaine or extended-capacity AK-47 magazines. It's possible that whatever downsides that accompany polygamous institutional arrangements are already being felt. If so, to consider a legal regime means to consider what the potential upsides would be.

I'm not sure what they'd be though. Inheritance? Estate execution? There's not much common law guidance there other than what already exists for business partnerships. Seems kind of a slender reed.

At any rate, I think one of the problems with discussions of law and relationships is one side is talking about private costs and benefits, while the other is talking about public costs and benefits. Is it a self-interest debate or is it an institutional debate? And which of those should provide a basis for a compelling state interest?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Home Economics Vol 1: Telescopic Morality and Peas

Raise your hands if you were ever told something like "clean your plate because there are starving kids in Africa." Keep them up if you've ever uttered the sentiment. I'd wager that if the readership here is a random selection from the population along this particular issue's dimensions, better than half of you will still have your hands up.

Assuming you're parents of course.

It isn't, after all, something you'd say to a dinner companion or to a stranger in an airport restaurant. It's specifically an injunction you make to your children. It has the overtones of being what my great pal Adam Gurri dismisses as telescopic morality, but only rhetorically. Every child who hears it almost immediately summons the obvious comeback: "if you're so worried about hungry African kids, then mail them my chicken in aspic." Children are sensitive enough to be offended when the suffering of others is deployed as a morality prop.

From the parents' perspective, we want our children to be properly nourished and to have a well-developed palate. Man does not live on peanut butter and jelly alone. Cajoling and bribery doesn't always work, but guilt can sometimes be effective. Still, there's the guilt of "you're breaking your nana's heart; you know she has a weak heart" and then there's accidentally training your children to think of destitute populations as inferiors with no agency of their own.

Part of the Mother's Problem is menu planning. The economics of the household involves a great deal of detailed private information of who eats what, whose tastes are changing because she's eleven now and she doesn't eat kids' cereal anymore, who's decided to go HARDxXxCORE VEGAN because factory farming is an orgy of cruelty, and who needs a little extra fiber in his diet because the cholesterol numbers from the last physical were alarming to say the least. This is no secret to anyone in the house. Indeed, quite a bit of talk at home is split between affirmations of affection (good or bad) and nutrition (again, good or bad). So to associate the nitty-gritty decisions made in front of the hearth with the thorny institutional problems of global poverty is an error of rhetoric that eventually, if not immediately contributes to the injustices of international paternalism.

By all means, get your kids to eat their peas (and if you're a kid, do your suffering mother a favor and eat your peas), but please reconsider using the suffering of others as a crowbar to pry open recalcitrant jaws. A better, more just world will include the children of poor countries having better access to trade opportunities. Training another generation to think of the destitute as little more than charity cases is a lousy way to improve political and economic institutions.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Manliest Thing Ever?

Wastin' food.

According to a household survey (n=1000) conducted by the American Chemistry Council, US households "waste" $640 worth of food a year.

I don't know about you guys, but my household wastes $0 of food per year. Once it goes in the garbage, it has a residual consumption value of nil, perhaps even negative since I'll pay to have it removed.

Economists take great pains to teach incoming students the difference between sunk accounting costs and prospective economic costs. What you paid for that now-expired quart of buttermilk down at the Piggly Wiggly is not its current economic value. What it's worth to you is the pleasure you'll get out of eating the delicious waffles you'll turn it into.

Now, it may be that people sometimes throw out spoiled food, but the alternative is either the wasted time and effort involved in scrupulously planning and executing a rigorous nutritional intake plan or it's having bare shelves once in a while. The former might suit some personality types, but I'd balk at imposing it on anyone. And the latter? The latter might have been okay when I was 20 years old living on my own. But I have mouths to feed. If that means I have to chuck the occasional moldy potato, you can bet your bottom dollar that's just what I'll do.

But don't tell me I'm throwing out $640 worth of food. I'm not. I'm discarding rubbish.

If reducing food waste is more euvoluntary, then genetically modifying or treating produce with heat, chemicals, and radiation are great ways to increase self life. I do prefer the flavor or organic, vine-ripened fruits and vegetables, but that stuff just does not last long.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

When Comdiments Are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Have Condiments

So, schools are trying to "nudge" students toward eating more healthy foods.

But when the nudge doesn't work, they use a bludgeon.  School authorities are not really interested in nudging after all.  They want compliance.

Still, those rebellious little squeakers want lunches that they can actually eat.  Some of them have the audacity to bring to school (wait for it).... CONDIMENTS!  Salt, pepper, even sugar.

The obvious next step in a prison environment (and a public school cafeteria is pretty close to a prison environment) is exchange.  So the younglings are trading, and even selling, their salt and pepper, in an effort to make that mush somewhat edible.

During a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, chaired by Rep. Todd Rokita (R., Ind.), a school administrator told Congress of the “unintended consequences” of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

“Perhaps the most colorful example in my district is that students have been caught bringing–and even selling–salt, pepper, and sugar in school to add taste to perceived bland and tasteless cafeteria food,” said John S. Payne, the president of Blackford County School Board of Trustees in Hartford City, Indiana.

“This ‘contraband’ economy is just one example of many that reinforce the call for flexibility [with the rules],” he said.
Flexibility?   The new Mandarins in charge of school meals don't need no stinkin' "flexibility."  We need for you to do as you are told!  How can ya ha' any cupcakes, if ya won' eat yer meat?

The silver lining?  These new Mandarins are producing a generation of little subversives.  First they smuggle in salt, and next thing you know they may have their own ideas about government! 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Gravediggers Gouging?

So, there was a heat wave in Pakistan, and 750 people died.  That's terrible.  Many were desperately poor, and for a heat wave to be a problem in Pakistan, it has to be hot.

And it was hot:  45 degrees Celsius.  That's 113 degrees Fahrenheit.  Or a "Real Feel," if you can trust that, of about 140 F.  More than uncomfortably hot, in other words.  Dangerous.

Well....the folks were trying to get their family members buried.  Again, terrible.  I can't imagine how awful that would be.

But here's the thing, from EE perspective.  Consider this quote:
Some said those in Karachi couldn’t find cars to carry the coffins of their dead to the cemetery and even if they made it, gravediggers overcharged them. “I literally wept when I heard a poor man didn’t have money to pay to a grave digger,” opposition lawmaker Abdul Rashid Godil said.
 Hard to say just what happened.  Was it fraud, where the charge was higher after than agreed on before?  If so, why pay?

Was it "gouging"?  That is, did the price go up in the face of scarcity?  That's kind of a different thing.
"Opposition lawmakers" are not really very reliable, even if they "literally weep."  People who use "literally" like that make me weep, frankly.

But let's take it all at face value.  There is a huge number of bodies, more than usual.  It's really hot, with a Real Feel over 135.  Is it "overcharging" if the price goes up, for extremely hard physical labor?  Would you dig a grave for the usual price if the temperature was 113, and the person had died because it was so hot?  Or would you charge more?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Ebony And

The US Fish and Wildlife Service demolished more than a ton of confiscated ivory products in Times Square last Friday. Read the press release here. Pay special attention to the closing paragraph.

Fish and Wildlife acknowledges that their crush porn was symbolic. The trade will continue as long as there are willing buyers and sellers, willing producers and consumers. If you're an elephant, you still have cause for concern.

So why do it then? Why publicly destroy seized inventory? Surely the DEA knows that when it torches bushels of weed or when totalitarians ignite piles of books or when ISIS sledgehammers heretical sculpture, that these ritual acts of purification and destruction are almost entirely symbolic, right? The notion that someone was on the cusp of buying a set of ivory combs and then changed their minds after witnessing some public spectacle is beyond ludicrous, particularly when weighed against the predicted production increases due to the inevitable price response.

If you want to slay elephants for their tusks, this is the way to do it.

Contrast this story, a biotech firm will be 3D printing ersatz black rhino horn, genetically identical to the free-range equivalent. This will tank prices, making poaching unprofitable. It's economically literate, even if it lacks the same crowd-pleasing spectacle as a handgun turn-in or a library bonfire.

It is precisely because the trade in ivory is so revolting that ill-conceived publicity stunts need to be avoided. It's a pity that no one at Fish and Wildlife is in any danger of losing their job over this reckless tomfoolery.