28 February 2008

40th Anniversary for Tragedy of the Commons

I just recently realized that this year is the 40th anniversary of Garret Hardin's seminal essay "Tragedy of the Commons" (ToC).

Hardin, who died in 2003, argued that the Earth is commons, and that we're rapidly overpopulating it. (Oddly, Hardin did not cite Malthus.) The tragedy is that there is no technical solution to the problem, that is, no way to win without radically revising the game itself. Voluntary restraint in childbearing would lead to those voluntarists being outbred by those who didn't restrain themselves. The only solution, therefore, is "mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon," because "the freedom to breed is intolerable." Because of ToC's environmental implications, Hardin inarguably has had more influence in the social sciences than any other biologist.

Certainly population growth since the 1960s has been tremendous, as is shown in this chart. But the rate of growth has declined, so we will stabilize at some point in the future.

Source: United Nations.

But as can be seen in the second graph, population growth is almost wholly a function of underdevelopment. As people grow wealthier, they tend to shift along the r-k reproductive continuum from a more r-type strategy, to a more k-type strategy, resulting in fewer childen, and slower population growth.

Source: United Nations. Found at Population Reference Bureau.
The critical problem in Hardin's argument appears to be his assumption that having more children is always individually rational (or, from the biological perspective, always selectively advantageous). But philosopher Stephen Gardiner persuasively argues that this assumption is both theoretically erroneous, and not supported by empirical data.

One of the predicted outcomes of overpopulation was pressure on available resources. To that end, Paul Ehrlich, who famously predicted that much of the world would starve to death in the 1970s, accepted a bet with economist Julian Simon, concerning the future price certain resources (Simon let Ehrlich select them, and Ehrlich chose 5 metals). If they became scarcer due to population pressure, the price would increase. Ehrlich lost the bet, and just recently economist Mark Perry has argued that if the bet had been repeated between 1990 and 2000, Ehrlic still would have lost.

Most people, including me, are worried about overpopulation of the Earth, but empirical evidence that we've reached or exceeded carrying capacity is scarce. But I think the whole issue is compelling enough that I've begun planning a 40-year retrospective symposium at my college. It's much too early to say whether I'll pull it off, but I think it would be very interesting to get a variety of perspectives on Hardin's argument with the benefit of 40 years of thought and accumulated evidence.

26 February 2008

Part II on Laffer Curve

Part II of the video explanation of the Laffer Curve is now available. It's a good use of the next 8 minutes of your life. Thanks to Cafe Hayek for the link.

What Color are Libertarians?

In the comments on a prior post jamesk suggest blue states and red states could pair off to do proportional representation of U.S. Representatives. It's a lovely idea, and wholly constitutionally acceptable. But, I noted, the blues and reds won't do it because it would help the greens. And, I added, "the libertarians, whatever color they are."

Libertarians ought to be green, perhaps, the color of money, but that's already taken. So here's my new poll: what color should the libertarians be?

24 February 2008

Catholic School Bans Female Ref from Boys Basketball Game

ESPN.com has a story on a Catholic High School in Kansas that  refusedto let a female ref officiate a boy's basketball game.

Here's the school's justification:
St. Mary's Academy follows the directives of the Catholic Church regarding co-education. The Church has always promoted the ideal of forming and educating boys and girls separately during the adolescent years, especially in physical education... This formation of adolescent boys is best accomplished by male role models, as the formation of girls is best accomplished by women. Hence in boys' athletic competitions, it is important that the various role models (coaches and referees) be men.
The Headmaster, the Reverend Father Vicente A. Griego, also says that because they teach their boys to "treat ladies with deference,"
we cannot place them in an aggressive athletic competition where they are forced to play inhibited by their concern about running into a female referee.
That last line is the biggest load of garbage I've heard in a long time. It makes Kelvin Sampson sound forthright.

Hey, Father Griego, you want to teach your boys to treat ladies with deference? Tell 'em not to argue with the ref!

This case sounds to me like a clear case of sex-based discrimination. Just as Bob Jones University was stripped of its tax-exempt status for racial discrimination, perhaps this school needs to be investigated.

Or better yet, every other high school in Kansas should refuse to schedule them until they stop discriminating. According to ESPN they're not a full member of the Kansas State High School Activities Association, and they are simply "approved" to compete against KSHSAA schools, meaning no-one has to play them. And no one ought to. They have a right to their religious beliefs, but they do not have the right to discriminate in a government sponsored activity.

Valiant Effort by Ron Paul Supporters Falls Short

Despite a late surge by Ron Paul, Barack Obama wins my virtual election 7-5. Thanks to all who voted, especially those who voted multiple times. One of the drawbacks to the single ballot is it doesn't allow voters to express strength of preference.

Barack Part IV: The Political Economy of "Change"

A final post on Barack Obama, because I keep thinking about his "change" mantra. As I noted recently, both a white male Iowan and a black female Floridian recently complained about Obama's repetition of change, without ever saying specifically what he would change. But I think they miss the point. Vague change is a great campaign slogan, and it's not because the voters are stupid, but because Obama is a capital intensive business in a mass market. It's a great example of how using economic concepts helps explain politics.

Capital intensive businesses usually need to try to capture as much of the market as possible, because, having have high costs, they need as many customers as possible to cover those costs. Low cost businesses often are happy to niche market, because a smaller number of customers will pay the bills. If you're in a niche market, you want to make your handful of customers deeply devoted to your product, even if that alienates others (e.g., bizarre porn niches). That is, while it's better, all things being equal, to expand your customer base, it can be better to have a small core of faithful, than a larger set of noncommittal, customers.

Consequently, mass marketed products tend to be similar. In the neo-classic equilibrium model, like-products are all identical and identically priced. It's a form of blandness: everyone can stomach it, no-one's offended. (Fortunately, the real world never reaches equilibrium, as Schumpeter and Hayek pointed out.)

Barack is in the position of needing the largest market-share he can get, with the market being voters. By talking about something many people want in the abstract, he gets their support. But if he started talking about specific types of change he'd be niche-marketing himself, and while he might build a very devoted base of followers--the Ron Paul model--he'd lose the election.

So Barack's hit on a great marketing strategy for a mass-market election. I wouldn't be surprised if his campaign headquarters has a sign on the wall reading, "It's the change, stupid."

23 February 2008

Best News Ever--Done Deal!

The Indy Racing League and Champ Car Series have officially reunified.  I can't wait for May, when the Greatest Spectacle in Racing begins its resurrection.

22 February 2008

Why I Might Vote for Obama Anyway

Why, despite saying that I "can't" vote for Obama, I might.

There are two types of political scientists: those who think there is a duty to vote, and those who think voting is irrational. I'm in the latter camp. The argument for a duty to vote was elegantly stated by H.B. Mayo.
The usual argument that voting is a duty of all eligible to vote runs something like this. A successful democracy depends upon widespread interest and participation in politics, among which voting is an essential part. Deliberately to refrain from taking such an interest, and from voting, is a kind of implied anarchy; it is to refuse one's political responsibility while enjoying the benefits of political society. A right of non-voting, if widely exercised, would hasten the end of a democratic government; non-voting is a mode of action impossible to universalize in a democracy, and so fails to meet Kant's test for the categorical imperative. (citation below)
But that's a very normative argument, and it fails to refute the positive argument. The critical component of the positive argument is the undeniable fact that my vote won't make a difference in the election--that is, the expected utility of voting, if the value sought is "effect on outcome," or "getting the policies I want," is precisely zero (in a presidential, or any other large turnouot election); or, put another way, voting has little to no instrumental value. (There is a vast literature on this, which is all footnotes to Anthony Downs.)

Some people find that disturbing--I find it freeing. Some people worry that a vote for a third-party is a wasted vote, but I tell my students that since your vote can't change the election, it's real value to the individual voter is it's expressive value--that is, voting can have "intrinsic consumption" value. Therefore, you waste your vote whenever you vote for someone who is not your top choice, because you have reduced it's real value to yourself. (Of course that doesn't hold true in cases where your vote can make a difference--then strategic voting, casting a vote for your less preferred alternative, to block your least preferred alternative from winning, is entirely rational. And if your expressive value comes just from the act of participating, of supporting democracy, then you could vote randomly and still capture the intrinsic consumption value.)

That's why I regularly vote Libertarian. Sure, the Libertarian candidates are invariably nutcases, but I express my preference for less government regulation that way. (In my dreams, enough people vote Libertarian that one of the major parties takes notice and co-opts us by shifting away from their love of government regulation to a moderate libertarianism).

And that's why I might vote for Obama (assuming he's the candidate). In fact, I think we have much better choices for president this year than we have for many years. McCain has far more foreign policy understanding than Bush, Kerry, Gore, B. Clinton, Michael Dukakis, Reagan, or Carter did when they ran for office. H. Clinton knows what the presidency is really like, from her eight years in the White House, and wisely chose to serve on the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committe, to gain crucial knowledge about those issues, so vital to the presidency. Obama lacks that experience, but appears to have real integrity, not just a political pretense of it. I think he's a man of honor, and after Bush, Jr., and Clinton, I'm ready for that. Better a man who honorably makes mistakes, than one who dishonorably does. And I hope, reasonably I think, that he's smart enouogh to surround himself with experienced people.

I honestly could be comfortable casting a vote for any one of these people, so the question is, which would provide the greatest expressive value for my vote? Foreign policy-wise, John McCain. But breaking the gender and color barriers are also important to me, and on election day I might vote for the Democratic candidate just to express that value. If my vote could tip the election, I'd vote for McCain. But my preference for him is not nearly strong enough to automatically outweigh these other issues.

Mayo, H.B. 1959. "A Note on the Alleged Duty to Vote." Journal of Politics 21(1): 319-323.

21 February 2008

A vote for Ron Paul!

At last someone has cast a vote for someone other than Barack Obama. One vote has been cast for Ron Paul. Vive le difference. I did vote for Ron Paul in 1988, when he was the Libertarian Party candidate for president. I knew nothing about libertarianism at the time, and was just casting a vote against the Republicans and Democrats. Ahh, innocent youthful rebellion. Now if only we could find a Libertarian without all the crazy factor.

Why I Can't Vote for Obama II: Foreign Policy

Yesterday I wrote part I of why I can't vote for Obama. Here's part II. Tomorrow I'll write about why I might vote for Obama anyway.

In the spring of 2003, my friend Muqtedar Kahn organized a panel at Adrian College to discuss the then-looming invasion of Iraq. I staunchly opposed it, on the grounds that it was unnecessary and that we would be stuck in Iraq for a very long time.

Flash forward 5 years, and I'm seriously considering voting for John McCain, who said we could be in Iraq for a hundred years." What's happened to change my mind?

Actually, nothing. All along I have taken a contrary position--that we should not go in, but that if we did, we'd have a duty to stay as long as necessary. Because once we've gone in and destabilized the country, it's our duty to restabilize it, no matter how difficult. (This is no defense of Saddam: he was purely evil, but that in itself doesn't justify invasion, nor would it justify quitting early, while the country is still the f***ed up mess we created.)

And I said from the beginning that we would be there for decades, if for no other reason than to use it as a forward based for the military--e.g., the same reasons we're still in Japan and Germany more than 60 years after WWII. And does anyone expect we'll be out of those countries entirely by the hundreth anniversary of VJ and VE days?

Leaving Iraq too early would result in a full blown civil war that could ensnare neighboring countries, particularly Syria and Iran. It was a foolish foreign policy move to invade, but it would be just as, or even more, foolish to leave too soon.

Barack Obama claims to have been opposed to the invasion of Iraq, and reportedly gave a speech opposing it (text is reproduced here and here. Since the Senate voted to authorize use of force in October, 2002, and he wasn't elected to the Senate until 2004, it's impossible to say how he would really have voted had he already been a senator. But I'll take him at his word that he opposed the war. So did I, and so he and I are in agreement on that point.

But here's what his website says about what he thinks we ought to do now.
Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months.
And here's what he's said on the campaign trail.
"It is time to bring our troops home because it has made us less safe.
Yes, the invasion of Iraq has made us less safe, and we have Bush to thank for that. But notice the purely self-interested tone of Obama's statement: it has made us less safe. There's no concern for Iraqis, no concern for stability in the Middle East, no concern for the moral duty we now have towards Iraq, and no concern for the strategic implications for US foreign policy (American strength is a huge problem, but American weakness would be even worse--no other country in the world has the US's ability to intervene to prevent genocides and invasions, although we rarely use that power well.)

We already have a history, of which Obama seems wholly unaware, of undependability in the Middle East. We supported Iran, until the citizens overthrew our dictator there, then we swithched our support to Iraq, until that dictator did something we didn't like. Early in the war, we'd lay seige to a city until we drove out both insurgents and inhabitants, then we'd leave, and the insurgents would return and retaliate against anyone who had helped US troops (the "surge" in Iraq has really been a shift in strategy, so that we now stick around a place after driving out the bad guys). So how would leaving by by May of 2010 reverberate around the Middle East? Once again, you just can't depend on Americans.

Obama is making the classic mistake of comparing a real-world state of affairs to an ideal state of affairs. His belief that US withdrawal will put pressure on Iraq's leaders to reconcile is woefully naive (does he think the Serbs and Kosovars would reconcile nicely if the UN and NATO withdrew?), and smacks of Rodney King's plaintant "Can't we all just get along?"

Colin Powell was right:
'You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people,' he told the president. 'You will own all their hopes, aspirations, and problems. You'll own it all.' (Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack)
We own that responsibility, and Obama's engaging in wishful thinking about how to fulfill it.

20 February 2008

Why I Can’t Vote for Obama, Part I: Economic Policy

The 5 voters in my “Who should James vote for” poll (or the 1 person who voted 5 times), say I should vote for Barack Obama. But the more I think about him, the more I realize I just can’t. Barack Obama wants change. So do I. But in the past week, both a white man from Iowa, and a black woman from Florida have asked me, “Change what?” And I don’t want the changes Obama does. So here’s part I, Obama on trade policy. Tomorrow, Obama on foreign policy.

Obama has been careful not to explicitly say he’s anti-free trade. Only Dennis Kucinich is foolish enough to say so openly. Obama recently said,
“Revolutions in communication and technology have made it easier for companies to send jobs wherever labor is cheapest, and that’s something that cannot be reversed… So I’m not going to stand here and say that we can stop every job from going overseas.  I don’t believe that we can — or should — stop free trade.”
But his website says
"Obama will fight for a trade policy that opens up foreign markets to support good American jobs. He will use trade agreements to spread good labor and environmental standards around the world and stand firm against agreements like the Central American Free Trade Agreement that fail to live up to those important benchmarks. .. Obama believes that NAFTA and its potential were oversold to the American people. Obama will work with the leaders of Canada and Mexico to fix NAFTA so that it works for American workers."
And in a recent speech, he said,
"…trade deals like NAFTA ship jobs overseas and force parents to compete with their teenagers to work for minimum wage at Wal-Mart."  (Thank you Greg Mankiw.)
Here in Michigan, the only state to have a declining gross state product in 2006, free trade seems a hard sell. But let’s look at the figures.

Michigan’s gross state product in 2006, was $337.8 billion (in chained 2000 dollars).
  • Michigan is 5th, or 6th (click link above) out of the 50 states in total dollar value of exports. . See either the first link in the previous item, or here, or here.
  • The Democratic Leadership Council says:
    Michigan ranks ninth in the nation in the number of workers hired by foreign companies, hosting 1,000 companies from more than 20 countries which support more than 205,000 jobs -- about one in every 15 of Michigan's private-sector jobs, and an especially high proportion of manufacturing jobs.
  • Michigan’s top two export targets are Canada and Mexico (scroll down to table two in the link), the two countries who are our partners in NAFTA. My state exports over $38 billion (in 2006 dollars) to Canada, and nearly $5 billion to Mexico. Third on the list is Germany, at a measly $1 billion. So what do you think screwing with NAFTA would do to Michigan’s economy? 
If you dig into the first table in the prior link, you’ll find some fascinating data. Look at item 14: Michigan exported $376 million in rear-view mirrors for vehicles! And nearly $1 billion in gearboxes! Let’s limit our trade with Canada and Mexico, because the U.S. market is going to soak up an extra billion dollars worth of gearboxes?

Because if we don’t import, which we do buy sending other countries money, they won’t have any money to send us, so we won’t be able to export.

But, you might argue, our manufacturing sector has declined. It's true that (a) manufacturing employment has declined, and (b) that the proportion of the GDP coming from manufacturing has declined. But manufacturing has continued to grow, with greater output than before (with fewer workers, because of productivity increases). In 2001, manufacturing was about $4.1 trillion dollars, and after dipping because of recession from '01 through '03, grew to $4.9 trillion in 2006.

If we look specifically at auto industry employment, which is of greatest concern to Michigan, overall employment has fallen, but due almost wholly to the poor performance of GM and Ford. If we look at the foreign-based manufacturers, their US employment has increased by over 50% since 1995. And it is possible to make money as an automaker in the US, and even through foreign sales.
"Toyota, on track to overtake General Motors as the world's biggest automaker this year, said Friday its April-June profit jumped 32.3% to a record high for a quarter, lifted by strong overseas sales and a weaker yen. (USA Today)
Obama needs to read two books, at least, on economics. And here’s the two I’d recommend, for him or anyone. Bastiat’s Economic Sophisms (AKA Fallacies of Protection), which can also be read online, and Russels Robert’s The Choice: A Parable of Free Trade and ProtectionConvince me Barack Obama supports free trade, and I’ll be one step closer to supporting him.

Best News Ever!

Well, maybe the news isn't as good as the end of World War II. But it looks as though the Indy Racing League and the Champ Car Series will finally merge.

This has been a long time coming for open-wheel racing fans--the precious few of us who are now left. ESPN's John Oreovics wrote a thorough review of the issue just last month. The primary culprit was Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony George, but his motives weren't bad--he was looking for a way to control the costs of running racing teams, which could only be done by controlling the cost of the cars. A bunch of car owners didn't like the idea of running identical engine/chassis combinations, and so the two split. The Champ Car series remained the premier series for a while, but Tony George had the Indianapolis 500, which was all that made his new Indy Racing League at all credible in its first years, given it absolute paucity of quality drivers.

But the split happened at a very inopportune time. Clearly George was only looking at the extant open wheel racing market, and failed to look around at the U.S. racing market. Because around the same time NASCAR was developing a phenomenally successful marketing program that moved them from a southern redneck racing league that was routinely dominated by the big boys (A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti) from open-wheel whenever they ventured south, to a dominant behemoth that regularly takes in the best drivers in the country. With that happening, there just wasn't enough market for two open-wheel circuits, and the Indy Racing League has become little better than a developmental league for the giant matchbox cars.

I respect NASCAR. They've been brilliant. But I hate their product. The cars run at a crawl compared to Indy cars; they don't look like real racecars (if it looks like I could drive it to work, it's not a real racecar); and drivers get to bump each other to win, rather than having to drive. That's the reason no NASCAR driver has ever successfully jumped to open-wheel. But there's no doubt they have the better drivers these days.

But if the reconciliation in open-wheel is successful; if the IRL can increase it's schedule from a measly high-school level 16 races (NASCAR runs about 38); if they can figure out how to market themselves as well as the matchbox series (here's a tip--show an ad with an Indy Car racing a stock car); if, if if, then they might recover the magic before the Indy 500 becomes even more of a joke than it currently is. I remember as a kid in Indiana reading the sports section in April and seeing that they already had over 100 entries for Indy qualifying. Now they barely can scrape up 33, so basically anyone who shows up gets in. I remember when bump day mattered--guys who had put all their money into their machines trying to get it up to enough speed to qualify 33rd, a backyard mechanics ultimate dream. Now there's nobody to bump. Tony George, owner of the world's most famous race, has made it an afterthought on Memorial Day weekend, when the real race is NASCAR's Coca Cola 600.

A decade of damage. I wonder how long it will take to recover, or if the even can.

19 February 2008

Purdue-IU Tonight.

I'm a staunch Purdue fan. Purdue's alone in first place in the Big 10. And tonight, Purdue visits Bloomington IN for their only game of the season against arch-rival Indiana. The utter stupidity of Big 10 scheduling is mind-boggling--with 11 teams, there aren't enough games to play every team twice, so they rotate who each team plays only once. But teams should always play their rivals twice. Just as in football they can't play every team each year, but they always play their rival.

It's an interesting matchup. Purdue is atop the Big 10 and has a better won-lost record against ranked teams than IU, but is ranked lower (because they started the season unranked). IU's coach, Kelvin (probation? what's probation?) Sampson is apparently on his way out because he's a despicable cheater, while Purdue's coach seems to run a squeaky clean program.

If Purdue can win tonight--a tall order--it will be a victory of class over trash.

Bad Day for Dictators

Perves Musharraf was defeated in the Pakistani elections, and Cuba's Fidel Castro finally admitted he was too old and ill to continue playing benevolent dictator.

Maybe democracy will finally succeed in Pakistan. Musharraf was the one who undermined it with his 1999 coup, but apparently the Pakistani populace had gotten a taste of it and likes being able to elect its own leaders. Now we just have to hope that (a) the army behaves itself, and (b) the new government can deal with Pakistan's problems, particularly Muslim fundamentalists distrustful of political liberty, so that it's not too weak and susceptible to another coup.

As for Cuba, nothing's going to change immediately, of course, because Fidel's brother Raul has been in charge for nearly two years. But with the revolutionary figurehead gone, and Raul aging himself, perhaps the day is not too far away when popular sovereignty comes to Cuba.

Of course the US could help that process if we just had a president with the balls to extend diplomatic relations to Cuba. Hordes of American tourists bringing hard cash to the island would increase the local wealth, which usually seems to spur demands for political participation.

18 February 2008

Pandora: Evolution in Action

I use Pandora to listen to music at work. I can set my different "radio stations" (blues, folk, punk) and each day choose whichever I'm in the mood for. But the algorithm in the software then finds music that has similarities and plays them. It's a great way to find new music that I love but had never heard of before (biggest find, Mississippi John Hurt).

But somehow my folk station and my punk station keep blending into each other. There's a process of evolutionary drift if I don't occasionally hit the thumbs-down button to cancel a song that's getting off target. Both of these stations tend to drift into psychobilly (The Cramps, Reverend Horton Heat), which I love, but then they don't necessarily get back to where they were before.

So I have to impose some directional selection on them, weeding out the "misfits" (literally--for those who know punk) and trying to retain my pure types.

AS I've said before, assuming God created everything, he'd then have to intervene perpetually if he wanted to stop evolution. Sometimes it's fun to play God.

17 February 2008

I'm Going to Syria

My college's Faculty Research Committee just granted my request for a research grant to travel to Syria. I haven't been this excited since I received a letter of acceptance to grad school.

I devoutly believe international travel is crucially important, and now I finally get to live up to to my own beliefs. I'm fling into Dubai, and will spend two days there before going on to Damascus. In all, I'll probably be gone about 2 weeks. I plan to see the most modern (Ski Dubai, here I come!) and most traditional (the soukhs) parts of the Arabic world. Given that my Arabic consists of knowing the alphabet, and a handful of words (street, house, coffee), I should be wonderfully lost and confused.

I haven't travelled internationally before, although I've been in 47 U.S. states and 5 Canadian provinces. (Canada isn't international, for an American, it's just our 51st, but un-united, state, where they mostly speak the same language, and the biggest difficulty is figuring out how much that liter of gas costs per gallon). Amazingly, I occasionally get students who've never traveled out of Michigan and don't have any interest in it. I don't have any interest in them, either. On the other hand, I met with a prospective student yesterday who's already spent 4 months in Thailand where she did an internship with the UN, and she's still in high school!

My wife's father is from the Netherlands, and her mom is from Indonesia. My wife--Johanna--has visited Europe many times, including a 6 week trip with her best friend when they were in their early 20s. My kids have already traveled from East Coast to West Coast, including Alaska. Two years ago we did a 4 week trip that included visiting Denali, taking an Alaskan Cruise, then renting a van and driving slowly back to Michigan. 4 weeks, and the kids were perfect little travelers, loving every minute of it. We hope to send them to study in the Netherlands, staying with cousins, when they're in high school, and I'll refuse to pay for college if they don't study abroad. My wife and I have tried to set a great example for our kids, and I can't wait to shop in the soukhs for exotic gifts for all of them.

Damascus, one of the oldest continuosly inhabited cities; the Mediterannean; the Euphrates; Christian monasteries in the mountains, within a deeply Islamic country that is officially secular. I'm so excited I can hardly sleep.

Creationist Thinks I'm an Idiot! (My First Link!)

OK, to be fair, he didn't say I was an idiot. In fact he was not rude at all, and he was good enough to link to me, so I'm going to return the favor, as the more links you get, the more likely people are to stumble across your blog.

Collin Brendemuehl thinks my post about Guillermo Gonzales losing his tenure case" shows my wholesale intolerance for creationism.

I'd like to respond specifically to a couple of Collin's points.
I don't know that situtation but would comment on Hanley's attitude -- that those who accept special creation might best be limited to teaching at Chrisitian undergrad colleges. So much for liberty.
I teach at a Christian undergrad--well, we're not really Christian, but we are church affiliated. It's a good gig, and the prayers before every big college function don't bother me at all. And it's not that I would ban creationists from the public universities--I don't care if someone who believes in special creation teaches political philosophy, French literature, theater, art, exercise science, history, economics, etc. But not biology, because creationism isn't scientific. Remember Michael Behe at the Dover trial? He admitted that to fit his views into the realm of science, science would have to be redefined broadly enough to call astrology scientific. Michael Behe said it! Should we allow astrologers to get tenure in astronomy departments, even though they can't get published in scientific journals?

If these secularists got their way, the evangelical who accepts special creation would not be allowed into the public arena to teach astronomy, practice medicine, or even be certified to teach in high school, let alone college.
I can't speak for others, only myself. I find it hard to understand how a doctor could not believe in evolution, but I don't think it would necessarily affect their performance. As long as my kids' doctor is good to them and resolves their problems, I don't care what his beliefs are. He could practice voodoo in his spare time, believe the earth rests on the back of a giant turtle, and that God will be returning to earth next year in the form of a giraffe, and I wouldn't care. And as for teaching, it all depends on what they want to teach. Creationism has not proven itself as a science. If it does, then I'll shut up and allow it to be taught as science, but since creationists refuse to follow the scientific method that every other scientist follows, I'm not going to hold my breath.

And I certainly wouldn't ban creationists from the public arena. Although I would go to school board meetings and vigorously argue against them, I would stand beside them to protect their right to speak. Because freedom of speech is more important than teaching biology properly. And I have no problem with Collin having a blog to speak for creationism. That is the uncommon liberty of which I speak--the liberty to speak openly about things that are demonstrably wrong. But that doesn't include the right to get whatever job you want, despite being unqualified for it.

A final comment: I don't get why creationists are afraid of evolution. Evolution says nothing about the origins of the earth, or of life itself. Evolution only explains how life changes and develops across generations. I know Christian biologists who accept evolutionary theory, and Christian ministers who do as well. Evolution does not disprove God! It says nothing about God at all. Accepting as the basis for argument that God created the world, because mutations happen evolution would occur unless God perpetually intervened to prevent it. Yet I've never heard anyone argue that God would find it important to do that.

For the record, I'm not an atheist. I won't put the red "A" on my blog. I'm skeptical, dubious (skipping church this morning, I'll admit, although I take my kids most weeks), even agnostic, but not an atheist. Having grown up in a conservative church, I understand Christian beliefs from the inside, and I try to take them seriously. Mocking people for their beliefs is no way to debate an issue--in fact, as ironic as it is, the atheists who mock Christianity are only preaching to the choir.

11 February 2008

Should I Sell My Vote?

Apparently it's illegal to sell or trade votes for the president, although I've never bothered to look up the relevant statute. Of course, to be precise, that's not a vote for the president, but for an elector for the president. But in a comment on a prior post I jokingly offered to sell my vote to a New Zealander. Unfortunately, he declined, so my bank account is no richer.

Nor is my conscience soothed. As I've pondered this over the last few days, it seems to me that New Zealanders, and Aussies and Brits, French, South Koreans...in short, everyone who lives in the free world, is a constituent of the U.S. President. During the Clinton impeachment, a friend of mine received a call from a former business partner in S. Korea, who asked why the Republicans were messing around with "the leader of my world." It's a good point, and one I've thought about a lot in the past decade.

I get a vote, but I'm a political scientist. I can do the math, and I know my vote simply doesn't matter. Actually, most political scientists can't quite figure that out. I had one almost punch me in the nose once because I dare to teach my students that voting is a collective action problem: we're all better off if everyone participates, since we can't have popular sovereignty otherwise, but the more people participate, the less it matters--to me personally or to the public's interest in popular sovereignty.

And then there are all these folks outside our borders, who in a real way are the President's constituents (like it or not), but who don't get a vote. So, on the off-chance any significant number of people see this blog, let me know what country you're from and who you want me to vote for. I'll count the votes of anyone who is (a) outside the U.S., and (b) in a democratic country. I'll let majority rule, and the non-U.S. constituents will at least get one vote.

Good Video on the Laffer Curve

Cafe Hayek has a link to this nice video explanation of the Laffer Curve by Cato Institute Fellow Dan Mitchell. This is a great video because it explains the Laffer Curve concept very clearly, but it avoids the woo woo enthusiasm of some Laffer acolytes.

He states very clearly, as any good economist (as opposed to bad economists--who usually aren't economists at all, just political enthusiasts who think that an antipathy to government spending is all one needs to know about economics) that not all tax cuts pay for themselves. He even explicitly points out that tax increases will raise more revenue, if the tax rate is on the upward slope of the Laffer Curve. These are points that any competent graph reader would understand from looking at the Curve, but most woo woo types miss, or if you do point it out they stick their fingers in their ears and start singing, "la la la la, I can't heeeeaaaar you."

He also points out that only tax cuts that actually encourage productive behavior are relevant. The child tax credits I get for my three darling daughters won't create more investment, won't help the economy grow, and so reducing my taxes that way won't result in increased tax revenues.

The only point I'd argue with is his quick sidebar that "it goes without saying, of course, that a simple and fair flat tax is the best way to finance [government] expenses. It doesn't go without saying. Personally, I don't know where I stand on the flat tax idea--it's just not so simple that it goes without saying. Overall, though, for those confused by talk about the Laffer Curve--and that includes conservatives who worship the concept--this is an excellent short intro.

09 February 2008

Gonzales Loses Iowa State Tenure Case

"The Iowa Board of Regents denied ISU assistant professor of physics and astronomy Guillermo Gonzalez tenure appeal in a closed session Thursday morning."
And now the IDiots will continue to cry foul. Their claim is that Gonzalez was denied tenure because he believed in intelligent design.

Well, yes. And no. It's not as simple as they'd like you to believe. (Then again, they're masters at being simplistic.)

Gonzalez was denied tenure because he didn't bring in enough research grants, and because he didn't have enough peer-reviewed publications. Iowa State's Department of Physics and Astronomy is a Ph.D. granting program. The highest standards for grant receiving and publication are found in Ph.D. granting programs. Requirements tend to be lower in programs that grant no higher than a Master's degree, and are lowest at colleges that grant only Bachelor's degrees (where often there are no grant or publication requirements at all--just a "keep your nose clean" standard for receiving tenure.)

Gonzales just didn't meet the tenure standards of a Ph.D. granting program. And it's unlikely that he could, while focusing on something as unscientific as creationism, intelligent design. Assuming ID had some scientific bases, he could have received some grants and published some peer-reviewed articles about it. Let's assume nobody would approve a grant or article bluntly asserting intelligent design. Just don't bluntly assert it. Let the evidence speak for itself, and you'll never have to use those words. It's fairly easy to overcome bias in science--just do some research that somebody else can replicate. Gonzaeles didn't do that.

He'll probably land at a Bachelor's granting Christian college. There's nothing wrong with that. I work at a B.A. granting institution (with a weak denominational affiliation), I'm on the verge of receiving tenure, and I've published a fair amount, but not what would get me tenure at a Ph.D. granting school. So I don't think Gonzalez' dearth of publications is itself something to criticize, just his claim that he did enough to get tenure at Iowa State.

The ID advocates have been unable to get peer reviewed publications except through deceit and trickery. Alfred Wegener's theory of drifting crustal plates was criticized as loony, but accumulating evidence convinced everyone. The problem for ID is that they keep insisting that lack of evidence proves creation--that is, if we can't find any evidence at present for a particular feature of some organism, then we must assume it was designed. But of course the absence of evidence can never be evidence of absence. Lack of evidence proves exactly nothing except we don't at present have any evidence. If Gonzalez can't figure that out--and I bet he really can, and is just fighting to save a good job--then he's not much of a scientist anyway.

In Which I Challenge Ed Brayton to a Friendly Wager

In a post about James Dobson's claim that he'll sit out the election if John McCain is the Republican nominee., Ed Brayton calls Dobson a liar (true enough, I think), and makes the following prediction.
...he's pretending that he'll sit out the election in order to gain maximum leverage in cutting a deal with McCain in exchange for his support...And the deal will be that when there is a Supreme Court opening, McCain picks from their short list.
I could be a fool, but I agree with the Republicans who claim McCain isn't that conservative. I also think McCain knows damn well that his support is coming from the middle. So I don't think he'd commit to such a deal to get Dobson's endorsement, and I don't think he'll appoint an ultra-conservative to the Supreme Court.

So I challenged Ed to a friendly wager.
If Dobson endorses McCain,, and if McCain is elected, and if McCain gets a Supreme Court appointment, I bet he chooses a moderate. I prefer beer, scotch, or bourbon as the wager, but I don't know if Ed's a drinker--I guess I could stoop to wearing a Duke shirt if I lose.
I think the odds of McCain winning are slim, so this bet would probably be a safe one for both parties.

And this isn't intended as a slam at Ed, who runs what I think is the best political blog on the web. Mostly I just want to put myself on record, so if I'm wrong I can't deny it (you know, like those pathetic creationists and IDiots constantly do).

07 February 2008

Romney: American Voters Are Surrendering in the War on Terror

Mitt Romney's a real piece of work. Here he is on Feb. 7, 2008, explaining why he's dropping out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
"If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win. And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign, be a part of aiding a surrender to terror." (AP)
Yes, if we citizens elect Clinton or Obama to the presidency, we've surrendered to the terrorists!

Let me put this as clearly as I can: Fuck you, Mitt. I not only prefer McCain to you, I prefer both Clinton and Obama to you, because not one of them has tried to hold me psychologically hostage by telling me a vote for their opponent is a vote for terrorists.

There are few things lower than accusing your political opponents of being the disloyal opposition. Samuel Johnson must have been thinking of the Mitt Romneys of his day when he said, "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

06 February 2008

Romney's Crocodile Tears

Super Tuesday has finally come and gone, and it wasn't so super for Mitt Romney. In West Virginia, where the Republicans actually hold a convention to select the delegates, Romney lost despite winning the first round vote. With McCain coming in third, many of his supporters shifted to Huckabee, denying Romney the victory.

Romney's campaign shed copious crocodile tears, with Romney's campaign manager complaining that McCain "cut a backroom deal." It's like Captain Renault in the film Casablanca, "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here!"

What really happened is so commonplace that even us Political Scientists know about it, and we even have a name for it, strategic voting . Strategic voting is simply when you vote for someone other than your first choice.

In this case, McCain supporters, seeing that their candidate came in third on the first ballot, and that there would have to be a second ballot (because no candidate gained a majority on the first one), voted strategically on the second round. By working to defeat the candidate who was the greatest threat to McCain, they actually did vote in the way that maximized their support for McCain. They were able to look past West Virginia to the larger picture. Romney's campaign manager apparently thinks the only legitimate way to vote is for your favorite. But considering there was going to be a second ballot, that their candidate had come in third, and that they reasonably had to vote for someone other than McCain, why should they necessarily have voted for Romney instead of Huckabee?

Oh, yes, because the McCain campaign allegedly called their West Virginia folks and told them to shift to Huckabee. In other words, the candidate they supported asked them to support him strategically. If Romney's camp wouldn't have done the same, they're not noble, they're idiots. And since I don't think they are either noble or idiots, it's just crocodile tears.

Anyway, it clearly wasn't just McCain's supporters that gave Huck the victory. According to The Hill a Capitol Hill news outlet that focuses on politics, the first round of balloting resulted in:

Romney: 464 votes.
Huckabee: 375 votes.
McCain: 176 votes.
Total: 1015

The second ballot had:
Huckabee: 567 votes.
Romney: 521 votes.
Total: 1088

If you add McCain's votes to Huckabee's in the first round, you only come up with 551, not the 567 he won on the second ballot. And as you can see from the totals, there were 73 more votes in the second round than the first. Where did those extra votes come from? I don't know, but I'd guess some people sat out the first round waiting to see how the voting went. Obviously at least 14 of those also went for Huckabee (assuming that each and every one of McCain's first round votes then voted for Huckabee, and none defected to Romney). 57 went to Romney.

In short, it's a complex political process with a lot of gamesmanship and strategizing going on. Romney lost. And now he's doing the strategic thing by trying to paint the real winner--McCain--of being dirty. Predictable. Not particularly clever, but then how many options does he have?