Showing posts with label prohibition. Show all posts
Showing posts with label prohibition. Show all posts

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Well At Least We Can Agree On This, Right?...

Here is a partial list of some things people commonly get wrong (by my judgment at least) yet believe in them with strong conviction and desire. Therefore, these are just a few examples of times when I disagree with conventional wisdom. 
  • Veterans are always human, sometimes (but rarely) heroes. I wonder how much mental anguish in veterans is caused by either an imposter syndrome (these people think I did something I did not do) or a guilt complex (these people don't know what ugly things I endured and perhaps contributed to). Veterans deserve reverence and sympathy, but we do a grave disservice to them when we dismissively and robotically admire them.
  • Localized industrial policy is very bad. This includes tax-increment financing (TIF), direct subsidy, government/private partnerships, and other favored-interest actions. The local darling in my neck of the woods is M.A.P.S. Like so many cases of local industrial policy, it suffers from a server case of Bastiat's "what is seen and what is unseen--just look at all the shiny things! There are two crucial and high hurdles for these public (i.e., taxpayer-funded) endeavors to overcome before we can believe in them: 1) there must be a clear market failure preventing entrepreneurs from seeing and acting to realize the positive gains to be had, and 2) the government must be able to identify and execute on these supposed investment opportunities.
  • There should be no government licensure for employment (especially law and medicine--those in particular are too important and nuanced to leave up to central planning). I've got strong economic and principle-based arguments against licensure while those supporting it typically rely on that it feels good and that an idealized government can correct a hypothesized problem (not even a market failure mind you). Yet my view is political poison because it takes the unpopular tactic of addressing people's fear through passive action rather than blatant pandering.
  • Edward Snowden is an American patriot and hero.
  • Almost all acts of state-level aggression (AKA, war) should be met with minimal retaliation if not appeasement and forbearance. This certainly cuts against human nature, but most secondary reactions in response to violent hostility are counterproductive. They make the world a worse place--overall, on net, all things considered. My follow up right there is not my attempt to qualify my view. Rather I am saying I am considering all the supposed benefits people offer as to why vengeance shall be mine! . . . we must stand up to belligerent aggressors. Too often the cost is not worth the cure, and the actions taken in response are just closing the barn door after the horse has bolted. The most I can say in defense of the typical defender of retaliation (too much play on words?) is that if one wants to maintain the world closer to how it is at the cost of how much better it could be, then fight every fire with fire. It is very hard to truly hold territory and control a people. And this difficulty grows more and more as human society advances. Initial victories for would-be rulers become short lived if not pyrrhic. The constant eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth state of the world keeps us in a local maximum, struggling to escape to higher peaks. I think Bryan Caplan says it well.
  • The following should all be legal with minimal to no interference from government: prostitution, recreational drugs, performance enhancing drugs, selling/buying organs, prediction markets, actual gambling (games of chance rather than skill), and basically everything else under the sun of If you can do it for free…. The list is what makes this item fully counter-conventional--very few will defend all of these items.
  • The motto “Safety First!” is basically nonsense. It amounts to trite virtue signaling. If it is your “highest priority”, then you are incompetent. It is simply not possible for this to be a goal. It is a constraint. Fortunately most of the time when used it is just there to help the naïve and fearful to be a bit braver. In this sense it is innocuous as far as a noble lie can be. But for God’s sake can we grow up and stop saying it or accepting it as a substitute for meaningful signal?

Things the major tribes actually do unfortunately agree upon: 

  • There is lots of speech that needs to be censored (e.g., hateful speech, disruptive speech, unpleasant speech).
  • We need to fund the police such that we have a strong and powerful police state
  • Government can and should solve the "problem" of big tech.
  • A safe world and a safe America requires a overwhelmingly strong, uber-engaged, and extensively involved U.S. military.
  • American farmers are a sacred group who need constant support especially to maintain the status quo. They should enjoy private profits and be afforded extensive social insurance against losses. 
  • The welfare and education and indoctrination of the young is a state concern and needs strong state intervention. Parents should only be left up to their own desires when those desires fully correspond to the state's interests (defined separately by the two biggest tribes, of course). 
  • Incumbent firms and industries need and deserve deference if not extra support. It is wrong that they might be challenged by newcomers and new approaches. 

Friday, December 31, 2021

Chokeholds Reconsidered - 2021 New Year's Resolution Fulfillment

I fulfilled my perpetual, annual New Year's Resolution in 2021 by changing my mind on the desirability of banning police chokeholds. 

The list of improvements we could make to reduce police state abuses is long. However, one specific policy that I no longer endorse is to ban police chokeholds in all circumstances. It is my view that banning chokeholds for police is a net negative as that leads to more violence including more deadly violence but also the use of batons and other instruments that can inflict long-term damage. 

Forbidding chokeholds negates the ability for a single even well-trained officer to subdue a violent noncompliant subject without using deadly violence. I came to this conclusion after listening to this Sam Harris interview with Rener Gracie, master of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu whose grandfather invented it and who has trained police officers around the country. 

This is not to say that chokeholds should be used often or without extreme reservation. It also is not to say that chokeholds are in any way a non-violent police tactic. Yet completely taking this tool away seems likely to cause more harm than good.

This does reinforce and speak to my bias that banning things is a bad, blunt-force instrument. The world is more complicated than that. And unintended consequences almost always result from such actions.

BONUS: Additionally I changed my mind on my reaction to treating kids with Adderall, et al.  I still think we over prescribe drugs to kids in these circumstances for selfish reasons and we don’t have nearly enough tolerance for deviations from a desired norm—quiet, obedient children. But the dose makes the poison and there are very legitimate uses of dangerous things including of course many drugs. I thank Scott Alexander and his post on how much drugs problematic drug users actually use for changing my mind.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

I'm As Mad As Hell, And I'm Not Going To Let You Take This Anymore!

Partial list of difficult, unsavory (to the third-party at least), or troubling situations that third parties commonly attempt to help or "correct" but end up simply harming the people in the situation: 
  • sex work
  • organ donation
  • child labor
  • drug addiction and misuse
  • pay-day lending
  • immigrant smuggling
  • sudden, high prices in the midst of emergencies - anti-price gouging laws
  • high cost of housing - rent control
  • low-productivity worker earnings - minimum wages
Simply trying to correct the situation by enacting prohibitions or strict limitations does not address the true problems, almost always causes significantly more harm than good, and tramples on the freedom and dignity of those the prohibition ostensibly aims to help.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

It’s More Than Qualified Immunity

To truly help those suffering from poverty (poverty of justice, poverty of spirit, poverty of options, poverty of opportunity, poverty of consumption, etc.), we have to address all of the constraints and forces that are keeping people from being all that they can be. 
The police state abuses in general are an important aspect of this, but they are just a single portion of this plague. We must look deeper than these very important issues as they are themselves just symptoms of bigger problems. 

Qualified immunity is one particular, nuanced element in a much larger set of problems. The list of police and policing and prosecution reforms is deep:

  1. End qualified immunity
  2. End mandatory police unions
  3. Require police to obtain individual liability insurance
  4. Require body cams
  5. End no-knock raids
  6. Stop militarizing police
  7. Implement substantial bail reform
  8. End civil asset forfeiture
  9. Reform plea bargaining to limit prosecutorial power
  10. Strengthen the public defender process
But these alone are neither exhaustive nor completely sufficient. Broadly there are three additional major areas of reform that would start to help heal and to eventually enable tremendous growth in the communities that are suffering the most: 

1) Occupational licensure - Make no mistake about it. These are very simply anti-competitive policies to protect incumbents. They hide under the pretext of consumer protection yet operationally they are clearly a producer protection. The result is two groups of victims: the consumer generally and the weakest producers (competitors to the powerful vested interests). There is slow progress on this area, but much more is needed. 

2) Zoning and other forms of development restriction especially in housing - Zoning has racism at its origin. No, that does not imply it is still a racist policy in fact or in law, but it should give us pause in accepting it as innocuous. Zoning is still largely about keeping "them" out. Who "they" are varies. While a charitable reading leaves zoning as a plan to make the best decisions, it rests on a dubious logic that we can plan the future and government knows best. Housing unaffordability is a major obstacle to upward mobility for those in poverty (of all kinds). Barriers to opportunity are not a solution.

3) Most importantly the senseless, unjustifiable, and evil drug war - The drug war's biggest victims are those in the weakest position to fight back. Leave aside whether we have the right to punish people for doing things we wish they wouldn't but that otherwise only harm themselves. Leave aside the intentions of those who have promoted it. Prohibition does not work . . . no, it is worse than that. It very greatly harms. It must end if we are to build a world of justice and opportunity.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Big Five - Choose Your Battles Wisely

Here is the low-hanging fruit of public policy. 90% solutions (improvements) on these issues are several orders of magnitude more important than 99% solutions on a thousand others. They are in no particular order (alphabetical):
  • Drug Prohibition (end it--allow adults to make their own choices)
  • Education (privatize it--give the government an ever-smaller role)
  • Immigration (open it up--allow people to freely move and freely interact with other people)
  • Taxation (simplify and redirect it--efficiently tax the use of resources not the creation of resources)
  • War (move away from it--make postures less bellicose and violence less of an option). 
Everything else at this point is details. They are interesting details, yes. For example, the recent interesting, generally important, but marginally insignificant issue of the legality of blackmail. [note: I side with Robin Hanson, but I am sympathetic to and willing to live with the counter case.]

How should you vote? I would suggest an equal weighting of these Big Five policy stances as the guiding framework. While this recommendation is a prescription to be a few/select-issue voter, that should be considered a feature not a bug. Similarly straight-party voting isn't necessarily morally or intellectually inferior to a strategy of "voting the person not the party". By what criteria is a candidate-by-candidate voter deciding? Why should they believe they are properly weighting the issues, correctly identifying the stance on the issues, and accurately evaluating each candidate's position and expected actions on the issues? Using a few benchmark issues as the litmus test keeps the focus properly on that which meaningfully matters and gives the best hope the rationally ignorant voter is making a good decision.

More importantly, how should you advocate (much more bang for the buck)? Let's say solutions are just as simple as awareness (I know it is not, but it is a useful analogy). Spend about 95% one's advocacy efforts roughly evenly on the Big Five: ending the drug war, privatizing education, opening immigration, reforming taxation, and reducing war. The remaining 5% goes for everything else. My own behavior has not adhered to this framework, but since I am just now formally defining this, I grant myself pardon. Will I follow this going forward? All I can do is try.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Highly Linkable

Into the caves

Out on the shore

If you're looking for poetry, look elsemore.

Sumner illuminates the thing versus the thing that is done.

In Europe silver spoons aren't just a good idea, they're the law! Is a world of Ricky Stratton's really the progressive dream?

Insider trading as a parallel to prohibition.

It's Derby time; hence, it is julep time.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Little Whine

Me: "Look what just came in the mail!"

Me: "Wow! $100 off a case of wine. I really like wine. I'll put this to good use."

William Jennings Bryan: "I'm sorry, but you cannot use that voucher."

Me: "Why? Is it a fraud?"

WJB: "No, it is entirely legitimate."

Me: "Excellent! I think I'll start shopping right away."

WJB: "That will do you no good."

Me: "Is the Internet down?"

WJB: "No, the Internet is working fine. But the wine cannot be shipped to you."

Me: "Why? Is there some act of God preventing delivery of packages to my area?"

WJB: "No, the shipping companies are operating. They just cannot deliver wine to individuals in Oklahoma."

Me: "Why are they picking on Okies?"

WJB: "They are not. They would love to deliver the wine to you."

Me: "Is Zagat picking on Okies?"

WJB: "Oh, no. They would love to sell the wine to you."

Me: "Then who is behind this?"

WJB: "Okies. Well, Oklahoma law to be precise."

Me: "But wait, isn't Oklahoma part of America? Or did we get swept up by a twister and delivered to Oz?"

WJB: "Of course you're still in America. In fact there are several states that prohibit the direct distribution of alcohol to individuals who do not have a distributor's license."

Me: "Prohibit? I thought alcohol prohibition ended decades ago."

WJB: "Sadly at the federal level it did. But the states were reserved the right to limit it as they saw fit."

Me: "And the way they see fit is to prevent anyone without a license from having wine delivered to their address? That doesn't sound very consumer friendly. Why would they want to create a monopsony/monopoly situation?"

WJB: "It's great for the distributors. Plus, it's for your own good."

Me: "How is it for my own good?"

WJB: "How would you know the wine being delivered is wine without a licensed distributor verifying it by having it delivered to and promptly delivered out of his warehouse?"

Me: "Well, I could trust the people at Zagat and then when it arrives I could taste it."

WJB: "Oh simple citizen, imagine the chaos if every Larry, Moe, and Curly were having things shipped to their home for direct consumption. We must have licensed professionals as part of the process."

Me: "But we do have thousands of things via Amazon . . ."

WJB: "And what if your children were to go on this Internet and order wine? They could be dead drunk before you knew what happened."

Me: "Like if they got into the wine I have in my house that I purchased at an Oklahoma liquor store but not a grocery store because that is illegal in Oklahoma and not that I purchased on a Sunday because that is illegal and then they drank it all up . . . Do I need a state-licensed person perhaps to have a key to my liquor cabinet to make sure only authorized people consume my wine?"

WJB: "Interesting idea . . ."

Me: "Sigh . . ."

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Go On, Take the Money and Run

Almost three years later, I along with tens of thousands of Americans have now received back the money we had on deposit with Collectively we had about $80 million that we were using to play online poker. Suddenly on April 15th, 2011 (Black Friday) those funds were no longer available and the website and computer programs used to play poker and transact into and out of player accounts were shut down by our friends in the U.S. Federal Government. Of course, it was for our own good . . . Wish you'd stop bein' so good to me, Cap'n.

It is my understanding that playing real-money online poker has never been illegal--not before passage of the UIGEA, not between its passage then enforcement and the actions taken on Black Friday, and not after including when the DOJ said, "Oops, my bad!"

But my understanding does not matter here. Let us not have a failure to communicate when we say, "Consenting adults playing poker with their own money SHOULD NEVER BE ILLEGAL!" Alas, we do not live in a world of free markets and free minds. And so when the Attorney General of NY took action on Black Friday, he pushed online poker from the shadows and fully into the black market. Throughout this entire affair online poker has always been available to U.S. players. But as the government took a firmer hardline stance against it, the providers (Party Poker who abruptly exited the U.S. market in 2006, FullTilt, PokerStars, Bodog/Bovada, et al.) and facilitators (various third-party money transfer services) some of whom remained in the market became less transparent and less trustworthy. However, FullTilt never failed to fulfill any withdrawal requests I made including one made a few weeks before Black Friday. It remains unclear how at risk player funds were before government action versus how government action created a liquidity risk.

The fight goes on. There is strong, widespread support for poker including lobbying by the aforementioned via link Poker Players Alliance (PPA). And there is the fledgling coalition against it led by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. No fear mongering is beyond the pale for Sheldon's group--"Online gambling funds terrorists!" "It's going to target the elderly and college-aged children, CHILDREN!"

This recent NPR piece shows where the trend is going along with the position the prohibitions are staking. From the story, Sheldon states, "I'm morally against it and I think it will kill the entire industry." Sorry Sheldon, you can't be both the Baptist and the Bootlegger at the same time. Framing it as a moral stand is transparently pathetic. But at least that would be an argument, begging the question that government should enforce your morality positions. That it threatens your business model is never an argument against innovation or for prohibition.

And so we grind on.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Boardwalk Stillwater

This is really a story about prohibition. And prohibition is at its heart a story about economics.

When you make something illegal that is demanded, you get a black market. In this case the thing demanded is successful college football. The prohibitions are on free-market transactions that connect those providing value, college football players, and those who are consuming the value provided, college football fans. When value cannot fully be reflected between suppliers and demanders, externalities exist—in this case positive externalities meaning the market is undersupplying college football along some dimensions*. The market abhors externalities and is only prevented from erasing them by transactions costs that outweigh the benefits. Transactions costs cast shadows upon markets. When those transactions costs are high enough, the communication process revealing gains from trade can break down significantly. Hence, black-market transactions take the place of open-market transactions.

Black markets have two significant downsides: they aren’t as efficient as open, free markets and they come with baggage (technically speaking, negative unintended consequences). Notably in the second case, black markets incentivize suppliers who aren’t as sensitive to the transactions costs as the typical supplier. Additionally, black-market transactions take on forms that are both less efficient in an economic sense and less sensitive to the standards the original prohibitions attempted to uphold. To wit: Gangsters are successful because they are more willing and able to break the rules and the rules attempt to prevent what otherwise would come to be.

The local response has been predictable in nature and course but surprising in intensity. The clan has been attacked, and all members are called to unquestioned defense. I believe most of the response track has followed something similar to the stages of grieving, and I predict it will continue in such a fashion.

First has come Denial. This couldn’t be true because I don’t want it to be can be read between the lines of many responses. Some examples have been along the lines of: “The players making the accusations are disgruntled former troublemakers,” “There are no documents revealed proving these payments happened,” “One of the authors is an OU alum who dislikes OSU.”

Next will come Rationalization. I expect the group response to be along the lines of: “This happens everywhere, why single us out?” “Most of this isn’t that bad in the grand scheme of things,” “These events are taken out of context; it isn’t that bad.”

Next will come Acceptance along with Anger (I said similar to the stages of grieving, not mirroring it). Expect both some contrivance and sorrow along with a few scapegoats offered up. Eventually, though, someone significant must be to blame, and that person or group of persons will have to pay. Remember, I’m not saying what the NCAA or general public response will be. I am predicting the response from inside the community affected.

As for the response from general public opinion, the Oklahoma State brand has been badly tarnished. The labels these accusations will bring will not easily or quickly be erased. Assuming the accusations are completely true, which I do not, but I do believe they are largely and substantively true, I have already found and expect further to find interesting inconsistencies. There is what sounds bad given our mores: marijuana use along with other drugs, sexual arrangements, payment of college athletes for work performed (playing football well) and work not performed (housework, construction, etc.), and academic leniency and fraud. And then there is what does not sound so bad again given our mores including what is absent in the accusations: alcohol use, athlete exploitation, and unrealistic academic expectations. It is like our social norms on toleration and prohibition were determined by coin flip.

Take us home, Radiohead.

*There is nuance here. The aggregate supply of college football may be sufficient or excessive due to subsidies but at the same time there are specific shortages. For example, it could be that resources aren’t reaching their optimal use by being underemployed—football quality is too low at Oklahoma State and is too high elsewhere.