Friday, May 28, 2010

Rand Paul & the Trolls

Two recent news stories ("Why Rand Paul Is Right … and Wrong" by Julian Sanchez in Newsweek and "Website Editors Strive To Rein In Nasty Comments" by Laura Sydell on NPR) clicked together in my mind and got me thinking about the First Amendment, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Any honest Libertarian or Strict Constructionist would be correct to assert that Rand Paul is right and that the First Amendment clearly protects bigotry and hate-speech.

On the other hand, the First Amendment seems to be about tolerance. That the Amendment grants tolerance of intolerance is ironic to say the least.

Like in our recent look at the Price's relationship with Value, a lot has changed since the 1770s. A lot of the same factors that have skewed the aforementioned relationship have changed the media of free speech. For most of the history of the press, the press has been an elite group, and one had to be talented and/or wealthy to have one's opinions published. Gradually, this state has changed. Today, requirements are minimal for one to be heard on the internet, television, radio, and newspapers.

As Sydell noted, only a small percentage of the comments posted on websites is worthwhile or constructive while a large percentage is hateful or destructive.

Clearly absolute free speech is undesirable. Libel and slander are verboten. But how can we allow the good, constructive, rabble-rousing, and humorous without allowing the bad, destructive, brainwashing, and banal? Sydell's suggestion of selective publication is appealing, but who decides what can and cannot be published?

I do not have a solution or even a suggestion as to how to deal with harmful speech. I had always been 100% behind absolute free speech. Suddenly, after just two news stories in just a few days, I am not so supportive anymore.

Friday, May 21, 2010

You Have No Right to Remain Silent; You Must Be Loud!

"This is a public service announcement
With guitars.
Know your rights, all three of them.

Number 1:
You have the right not to be killed.
Murder is a crime.
Unless it was done by a
Policeman or aristocrat.
Know your rights.

And Number 2:
You have the right to food money,
Providing of course you
Don't mind a little
Investigation, humiliation,
And if you cross your fingers,
Know your rights.
These are your rights.

Know these rights.

Number 3:
You have the right to free
Speech as long as you're not
Dumb enough to actually try it.
Know your rights.
These are your rights.
All three of 'em.

It has been suggested
In some quarters that this is not enough.
Get off the streets
Get off the streets
Run." --Joe Strummer and Mick Jones

Immediately following the arrest of فیصل شہزاد for his attempted Times Square bombing, politicians, pundits, and other people proclaimed an alleged need to do away with mandatory Miranda Rights. As usual, misconceptions drive the seemingly polar and dichotic debate. So here's the skinny on Miranda rights:

  • Miranda rights serve the express purpose of executing the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, viz. that no one is obligated to self-incriminate and that everyone has the right to a fair trial.
  • Miranda warnings are always optional. Verbal or written evidence against someone, particularly when instigated by interrogation, is inadmissible in court if said person was not mirandized. However, these inadmissible confessions can be useful in the same way that plea-bargaining can be useful. Police and lawyers often skip the Miranda rights when looking to fry bigger fish.
  • Being mirandized is the first major step to a criminal trial. Without being mirandized, a suspect can let confessions run free, for these confessions will be inadmissible.
  • Miranda rights should absolutely and always be read to anyone that is expected to be charged and tried with a crime.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Reality of Value & Price

Last week we discussed the legend of Value and Price; this week, I would like to try some non-fiction regarding the same subject.

I am sure that studies have been done regarding fair-market-values and prices, and I would love to read or skim any of those studies you would like to post in the comments below, but I am talking about societal value, like Adam Smith was talking about in Wealth of Nations. As our world economy continues to struggle, we make changes to the system, slowly but surely. While we're at it, we should look into what works, what doesn't, and why.

In the days before instant communication and fast transportation, communities were mostly manageable sizes, and a free-market economy in these manageable communities did a fantastic job keeping Price and Value comparable.

Globalization changed the game, though, and we have tried to ignore it. Now, instead of pricing goods and services based wholly on their value, we are valuing goods and services based partly on their price. Originally, items and services were priced so that supply-and-demand niches would be filled. Now supply-and-demand niches are being manufactured so that items and services can be priced. While the value-to-price model makes for strong economic health, the wheels fall off of the price-to-value model.

For years, Americans have complained that "everything is made in China." People still say that, although the truth is clearly counter to that statement:
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Also in the old days, occupations that did the most good made the most money: farmers, doctors, clergy. Today, farmers have to be paid subsidies, the medical industry makes less money than the insurance industry, and schools across the country and around the world are laying off good teachers and canceling extra-curricular activities. Today more than half of the American GDP is made up of interest and banking fees. The changes have been mostly gradual (although studies will show that certain leaps [e.g. the telephone, the radio, the television, the assembly line, the computer, the internet, email, cell phones] occurred), and has been mostly invisible to those living through the changes. Comparing today's prices and values with those of a century or two ago, the differences are both visible and astounding.

As a kid, when I would want to buy something frivolous, my parents would tell me, "You need to learn the value of a dollar!" I think that advice is something we should all work on figuring out these days.

Monday, May 10, 2010

"Why I Hate the Politics of Hate" from The Daily Beast

"Lately I’ve felt that the anger in politics is spilling over from the expected places—protests, partisan websites, talk radio—into everyday lives. The lines of social acceptability and just plain courteous behavior are becoming harder to define when it comes to politics, and for the first time in a long time I am truly concerned about where this fear and frustration in politics is taking us."--Meghan McCain

Sunday, May 9, 2010

"Book Burning" from Sinfest

""-Tatsuya Ishida

"Ernst Fehr: How I found what's wrong with economics" from New Scientist

"Traditionally, economic theory assumes that people care only about themselves, pursuing their own self-interest. Even when people cooperate, the theory goes, this is really only pursuing their own interests by harnessing others' efforts. That may seem cynical, but it is a mainstay of economic thinking that has taken painstaking research by Fehr and his colleagues to refute.

Suppose, for example, you approach a stranger on the street and hand them $20. You tell them they can keep the money or give some to an unknown person. Whatever they choose to do, they will never meet that person, nor will anyone learn of their decision. Will the stranger keep it all or give some away? If you think like a "hard-headed" economist, you'll assume that everyone short of the late Mother Teresa would pocket the lot. But when Fehr and his colleagues did this a few years ago they found that a significant proportion of people gave away close to 50 per cent of the money.

. . .

At a conference on compassion in economics in Zurich last month, people from the fields of economics, psychology, philosophy and religion gathered to discuss the extent to which the crisis was enabled and even amplified by traditional thinking in economics. According to Fehr this is exactly what has steered us down the wrong path. "I think this kind of thinking played a fundamental role in the recent crisis," he says, "as this notion that people are strictly self-interested has been the dominant mindset for decades. Almost everyone in business, finance or government studies some economics along the way and this is what they think is the norm. It's a biased way of perceiving the world."

The paradox is that it's the economists' supposedly "hard-headed" thinking that has turned out to be profoundly naive. Getting that message out is now one of Fehr's most urgent aims." --Mark Buchanan

Saturday, May 8, 2010

"New Rule: This Mother's Day, Americans Must Extend a Special Thanks to Their Nannies" from Blogga Please

"There are plenty of people to be mad at our there -- the jerks at Goldman Sachs, the idiots at BP, the guy who charged you fifty bucks for these tickets -- why set our crosshairs on the humble, servile people?

I'll tell you why. Because we're bullies. Instead of confronting real threats, like the debt or the environment or Utah, we pick out the poorest, most defenseless kid on the block -- illegal immigrants -- and say, "What are you looking at?" But I'll tell you something, you anti-immigrant hoopies -- as usual you're mad at the wrong people. It was corporate America that busted your unions and didn't keep your pay up to the cost of living, causing your wife to have to go to work and Esmeralda to have to come in to watch the kids. Your problem is low wages, not low riders."  --Bill Maher

Thursday, May 6, 2010

American Apparently

The American people know that the American people want to know what the American people want:
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The Legend of Value & Price

While Value and Price may once have held a strong correlation to one another, these two concepts have grown apart. The concepts have surely been separated, and there are even rumors of their divorce.

This story, like many good old-fashioned American stories, begins in the Eighteenth Century anno Domini. In the same year that Thomas Jefferson’s United States Declaration of Independence was published, Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations was published. Smith’s writings have been astoundingly influential. One would be hardpressed to find someone to genuinely argue against the proposition that Adam Smith is the father of modern economics.

The Declaration of Independence was followed by the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution of the United States of America, its twenty-seven (to date) Amendments, and countless other documents of varying importance to define the United States of America. Likewise, Wealth of Nations has been followed by The Communist Manifesto, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, Steady State Economics, The Roaring Nineties, and countless other works of varying importance to define economics. Somehow the Eighteenth Century documents have held their influence.

A lot of this influence comes from genuine quality of thought and writing. Some of the influence, however, seems to come from legend. Jefferson and Smith were certainly extraordinary individuals. Attend to their respective cult statuses, though, and one would think these men were gods, or at least demigods.

While these impressive writings are among the most accurate philosophical writings of their time, we seem to forget that these writings are dated. Although much of the writings of these - perhaps of any - great philosopher are timeless, some material is time-sensitive and does not make sense in another era.

Transportation and communication are both indispensable tools of the businessperson, and these two domains function entirely differently than they did in the Eighteenth Century. Jefferson and Smith, the great thinkers of their day and place, could likely not even imagine the Internet or commercial air transport. They could imagine unimaginable changes, though, and both men wrote of the need for adaptation and cautioned of maintaining habitual philosophies.

We need to examine Economics through the lenses of our own era and see that Free-Market Capitalism does not by itself effectively fit the world of wide contact, fast travel, and instant communication. Value and Price can still save their marriage, but they need counseling. They need us to look at their relationship, see what works, what doesn't, and offer them advice for relating in the modern Twenty-First Century world.