Monday, February 28, 2011

Third World poverty, corruption, and politics

So I thought about weighing in on the discussion at Phoebe's blog regarding the "Live Like a Grad Student... Forever editorial. Based in part on the author's reading of Peter Singer, he has pledged to give away at least 10% of his income to charities that help the developing world. But I was distracted -- I needed to make meatballs! and pimento cheese dip! and then several bound volumes of 1960s legislative history showed up from the library! -- and by the time I looked up, the Internet seemed to have moved on.

But I was reminded of the entire debate again when I saw Megan McArdle's post on feeding the hungry in North Korea. As Megan notes, the North Koreans' situation is truly dire. On a humanitarian level, it cries out for intervention. On the other, the North Koreans are not poor because of scarcity or lack of natural resources. (Their neighbors to the immediate south are doing quite well. Rather, they are poor because of disastrously wrong-headed governmental policies. As McArdle notes, as well-intentioned as food aid programs are, they may have the inadvertent effect of propping up the bad regime that created the dire poverty in the first problem. North Korea is admittedly an unusually dramatic example, but I fear it may be different from other poor countries more in degree rather than in kind.

This points to one potential weakness in the Singer approach: if much poverty in the Third World results not from scarcity, but rather from bad policy, is one still morally obligated to try to alleviate that poverty if the alleviation attempt actually makes things worse in the long run? I suppose Singer and his advocates might say that one then has a moral obligation to donate as much of one's income as possible to political groups that try to overthrow corrupt regimes, but that's a somewhat different framing of the issue than appears in the op-ed. Alternatively, the Singerites might claim that it's morally necessary to give away as much of one's income as possible to the poorest people who live in countries without dysfunctional governments. But the poorest people in such countries tend to be fairly well-off relative to the rest of the world, which makes the humanitarian case for such aggressive altruism less compelling.

Of course, one could take the approach championed by various prominent libertarian economists and say that expanding legal immigration is one of the best ways that America can alleviate crushing poverty in the Third World. I'm not sure how effective groups that lobby for increased legal immigration are likely to be. But it can't hurt to give some of one's income (even if a full 10% is not morally necessary) to some such groups.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The plan: 1. Legalize drugs. 2. Legalize gay marriage. 3.Sell drugs, oil, and Koch napkins to gay people. 4. ??? 5. Profit!

As Constant Readers know, I derive far too much amusement from crazy anti-Koch conspiracy theories. I lack much of substance to say refuting the crazier real ones that hasn't been said by others. But here is a brilliant parody of an anti-Koch conspiracy theory.

(No, I didn't write it. Constant Readers will know I'm too much of a Victorian to throw around the f bomb like that. My satirical efforts tend toward the more prim.)

On being a girl in a boys' club

Amber linked this article entitled "How to be a Girl in a Boys' Club," which might fairly have been subtitled "How to Avoid Misadventures in Being a Woman in the Libertarian/Conservative Legal Movement." The sections about getting along with other women and the frustrations associated with feeling "exceptional" are particularly on point. Fear and Loathing in Georgetown also weighs in by acknowledging some of the article's better points and making sensible criticisms about others.

Other addenda:

1. Yes, it is good to try to communicate with some of the more sympathetic members of the boys' club about what you are thinking and experiencing. That said, please keep in mind the problems associated with "sanctibullying" during the course of your conversations. Phoebe's posts about why the "your privilege is showing" line of conversation is unlikely to be effective and how one should instead make the same point are a good place to look for advice on this.

2. Sometimes, the guys in the group will say things that rub you the wrong way, although you are not quite sure why. Or, alternatively, you will try to explain to them why you found something confusing or offensive, only to met with an argument that seems plausible enough but that you can't quite bring yourself to buy. Too often, you will feel like you have two choices: either you give in totally, or just keep in effect yelling loudly, "But you hurt my feelings!" Neither will feel quite right.

I have found remembering a tidbit from (of all sources) Nathaniel Branden's My Years With Ayn Rand useful in these situations: Emotions are not perfect tools of cognition, but they're not useless either.

Or, in words less off-putting to those who didn't spend their teenage years soaking up Objectivist jargon: your feeling that something is wrong and offensive about what was just said is a valuable sign that something is. But it's not an infallible sign that something is. In such cases, the best thing to do may be to say something like, "You raise reasonable points, but there's still something about X incident that doesn't sit right with me. I need to think more about why, though; I'm just not able to put my finger on it right now. Maybe it would be best if we talked about something else and revisited this another time." I have occasionally wondered if I am being a bad feminist or somehow unforgivably weak-willed for putting ideas in these terms. Perhaps it is terrible that I'm not more articulate and insightful in these situations; I wish I were. But fessing up to my own uncertainty seems more helpful and more likely to lead to productive discourse -- at least among friends -- than faking certainty and moral clarity when I haven't found such yet.

3. That said, once disengagement is complete, do actually take the time and space to think through the incident. Sometimes, upon reflection, you really will come to a better understanding of what transpired.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


1)The WSJ on the market for high fashion.

2)Jacob Levy on Sasha Volokh's infamous asteriod post. I particularly like this paragraph:

If we do so, one consequence is that we should view state officials as wielding a great deal of power in our social world that is probably not justified all the way down. States did not come about by individualist contractualist consent; they are not the institutional form of morally foundational nations; religious, hereditary, and customary forms of legitimation may remain sociologically credible in some places but are surely not morally well-grounded accounts of the justifications for the organized use of violence. Yet states are such well-entrenched features of the political landscape that, if can constrains ought at all, we are probably not morally obligated to abolish the state form in favor of some other form of political organization or in favor of anarchy of any description. We must morally make the best of them, making do with what we have.

In a world filled with states, officeholders and officials should view themselves as having political responsibility as analyzed by Weber, which is much like [David] Miller’s remedial responsibility. They wield power that is not morally legitimated by its origins; the power exists because of morally neutral historical and social accidents. What remains is moral responsibility for what is done with the power.

3)A strong entry in the contest for Stupidest Thing Ever Written About Libertarianism. Much of this is obvious, but in case anyone is listening:

a. The guy who called Dick Cheney a war criminal was being kind of a jerk. People who heckle speakers are generally jerks. Although I lack scientific data on this point, most sane libertarians with whom I have corresponded agree on this point. It's unfortunate that some libertarians are jerks. It is equally unfortunate that most other social movements consisting of more than three people usually have at least one person who is kind of a jerk.

b. Re: drugs, some social conservatives are with libertarians on legalization. National Review is the most famous example. Does McCullough wish to eject them from the pantheon of acceptably conservative thought? And, briefly, there are plenty of arguments for legalization that do not turn on one's love of pot. I highly recommend Googling Radley Balko's work highlighting some of the police abuse associated with the drug war and its staggering costs.

c. I've written before on the GoProud controversy. Let me just highlight again, however, that their agenda is not terribly radical. It's actually about as modest for a gay conservative group that one could expect. They are officially silent on the gay marriage issue. Most of their legislative priorities involve limiting domestic government or strong national defense abroad, stuff that is standard fare for conservative groups. The lone exception is their opposition to a federal marriage amendment. In other words, their radical agenda comes down to wanting to leave the constitution the way it is. This is really not all that radical.

Also, to my knowledge, they did not object to the inclusion of socially conservative groups. They didn't want them to boycott the conference and are in no way working to actively silence them. I have not read anything by any GoProud suggesting that they did.

In defense of diving, Part Two

Still on the side of diving, having heard the panel.

1. Many of the anti arguments come down to insularity of the movement, as I suggested in the first post. I.e. it's weird if you run into a former significant other at too many of the same social events. This can be a problem, but can also be a problem if you try to date someone from an insular social group of high school, college, or grad/professional school friends. The alternatives include dating people that one meets randomly in bars or coffee shops, but there it's easier to run into either a loon or someone with whom one lacks any common interests without knowing it. There's also the various internet services, which I admit I never tried, but again, it seems like it's easy that way to rack up a lot of brief dates with no real return.

2. One panelist mentioned "girl detente," i.e. the tensions that one runs into with another female if you've both dated the same guy. Yes, this can happen. On the other hand, potential for the same problem exists if one dates within a group of non-movement friends; see above.

3. For women, there is the social climbing problem -- dating someone who's much older or more experienced within the movement can be seen as an attempt at social climbing and thus reflect badly on the woman. Again, I suppose this is a possibility, but the more narrow solution seems to be "avoid situations where there are really big age/power imbalances." I would hope that most women also have a sixth sense for being able to identify That Guy who preys on interns like so much fresh meat. Those That Guys are usually identifiable from a mile away.

4. Of course, one should also try other strategies for finding a partner. Insisting on dating exclusively within the movement is probably a bad strategy. But ruling it out pre-emptively is also silly.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In defense of diving

I feel badly because I have not actually been to one of the more serious America's Future Foundation events in months. Wednesday nights are usually bad. Still, in perhaps yet further demonstration of my total lack of intellectual substance, to this post-Valentine's Day intra-movement dating panel.

Admittedly, I am not sure what the argument against diving is supposed to be. Yes, obviously dating somebody who is your direct superior or supervisee is a bad idea. I would hope that this is obvious and does not need to be explained. I would also generally avoid dating someone who works for the same small organization, but dating someone who works in a very different arm of a sufficiently large organization (say, Heritage) might be fine. Again, everyone in the world already knows this.

But if I'm understanding the blurb correctly, then two of the panelists are speaking out against dating someone who just works in the same movement generally. This I don't understand. One, the libertarian movement is not that big, but it's not so small that an ex can't be avoided with a little work. Two, it's possible that I am just anti-social, but I don't think that there is that much professional risk from having something end badly. The movement is not high school. Nobody spends weeks analyzing whether Jane was too mean to Joe and whether that means Jane shouldn't get to be president of Cato in 2028. Most libertarians have other pleasures and hobbies competing for our attention, and so we can't get (totally) hooked on movement gossip. Three, only when like marries like can there be any happiness. That doesn't mean that everybody in the world should impose rigid political litmus tests on their partners. For some people, being alike on other dimensions will be more important. But compatibility in political interests and professional interests is nice. It rarely hurts to have it and may often help.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The political hexagon

Scott Sumner has a nice post up showing an alternative illustration of the modern political spectrum. The claim seems to be that his approach is more nuanced and interesting than the quadrant graph commonly beloved by libertarians.

It's certainly interesting, and I do approve of any attempts to move beyond traditional political typologies. I suspect I'm either a pragmatic libertarian or a dogmatic libertarian on his scale; I'd be curious to understand what he sees as the dividing lines. That is, I have as much fun as the next girl working out what the ideal libertarian society ought to look like over a drink or two. But on the (admittedly rare) occasions that I actually try to be serious, I think I probably sound a lot more pragmatic.

At the same time, I'm not sure that I agree with Sumner's analysis. I'm with him all the way on five of his six policy priorities. (I don't actually know anything about taxes on capital vs. progressive consumption taxes. It's altogether possible that I'd agree with him if I actually had any idea what he was talking about. But I don't, so I'm refraining from saying anything.) But I don't know that most of the world's ignoring this results from actual corruption or a feeling of being beholden to interest groups. The diehard social conservatives of my acquaintance are absolutely sincere in their belief that abortion and homosexuality are bad for society. I think they're wrong on the facts on these two particular issues, but I don't actually see how taking these particular positions creates rent-seeking opportunities for them. Ditto for the Democratic groups who take the reverse stances. Their ideals are different from mine, but I don't really see how they're fundamentally any less idealistic.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Not a glorious profession, part XVIII

I think I have written before about the dangers of excess professionalism for lawyers. Here's an example which at first blush might appear to be self-parody, but apparently is not: an article on appropriate dress for workplace avatars. Among the key quotes: "While litigation over an avatar's appearance has yet to surface, it can't hurt to be too careful" and that permitting scantily clothed avatars might "be evidence of failing to take harassment seriously."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Ed Glaeser on cities

As a weird libertarian who loves big cities, I found this article fascinating. (via) I haven't read Glaeser's book yet, but am eager to do so soon.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Baking Project: Lemon Bars

Via Smitten Kitchen (the thinner lemon layer version): On the good side, these are delicious and feed co-workers easily (mine wolfed down a large percentage of this batch.) They also work well with Meyer lemons, which are in season right now. On the other hand, the baking time in this recipe is way short. I added about 15-20 min. to it, and I don't think my oven runs especially cold...

For the crust:
1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

For the lemon layer:
4 extra-large eggs at room temperature
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (3 to 4 lemons)
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2/3 cup flour

Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking sheet.

For the crust, cream the butter and sugar until light in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer on low, add to the butter until just mixed. Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and gather into a ball. Flatten the dough with floured hands and press it into the greased baking sheet, building up a 1/2-inch edge on all sides. Chill.

Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.

For the lemon layer, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour. Pour over the crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes (less if you are using the thinner topping), or about five minutes beyond the point where the filling is set. Let cool to room temperature.