Why Trump’s Iran Isolation Plan May Backfire

Why Trump’s Iran Isolation Plan May Backfire

07/10/2018Ron Paul

In May, President Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal despite Iran living up to its obligations and the deal working as planned. While the US kept in place most sanctions against Tehran, China and Russia - along with many European countries - had begun reaping the benefits of trade with an Iran eager to do business with the world.

Now, President Trump is threatening sanctions against any country that continues to do business with Iran. But will his attempt to restore the status quo before the Iran deal really work?

Even if the Europeans cave in to US demands, the world has changed a great deal since the pre-Iran deal era.

President Trump is finding that his threats and heated rhetoric do not always have the effect he wishes. As his Administration warns countries to stop buying Iranian oil by November or risk punishment by the United States, a nervous international oil market is pushing prices ever higher, threatening the economic prosperity he claims credit for. President Trump’s response has been to demand that OPEC boost its oil production by two million barrels per day to calm markets and bring prices down.

Perhaps no one told him that Iran was a founding member of OPEC?

When President Trump Tweeted last week that Saudi Arabia agreed to begin pumping additional oil to make up for the removal of Iran from the international markets, the Saudis very quickly corrected him, saying that while they could increase capacity if needed, no promise to do so had been made.

The truth is, if the rest of the world followed Trump’s demands and returned to sanctions and boycotting Iranian oil, some 2.7 million barrels per day currently supplied by Iran would be very difficult to make up elsewhere. Venezuela, which has enormous reserves but is also suffering under, among other problems, crippling US sanctions, is shrinking out of the world oil market.

Iraq has not recovered its oil production capacity since its “liberation” by the US in 2003 and the al-Qaeda and ISIS insurgencies that followed it.

Last week, Bloomberg reported that “a complete shutdown of Iranian sales could push oil prices above $120 a barrel if Saudi Arabia can’t keep up.” Would that crash the US economy? Perhaps. Is Trump willing to risk it?

President Trump’s demand last week that OPEC “reduce prices now” or US military protection of OPEC countries may not continue almost sounded desperate. But if anything, Trump’s bluntness is refreshing: if, as he suggests, the purpose of the US military – with a yearly total budget of a trillion dollars - is to protect OPEC members in exchange for “cheap oil,” how cheap is that oil?

At the end, China, Russia, and others are not only unlikely to follow Trump’s demands that Iran again be isolated: they in fact stand to benefit from Trump’s bellicosity toward Iran. One Chinese refiner has just announced that it would cancel orders of US crude and instead turn to Iran for supplies. How many others might follow and what might it mean.

Ironically, President Trump’s “get tough” approach to Iran may end up benefiting Washington’s named adversaries Russia and China — perhaps even Iran. The wisest approach is unfortunately the least likely at this point: back off from regime change, back off from war-footing, back off from sanctions. Trump may eventually find that the cost of ignoring this advice may be higher than he imagined.

Reprinted with permission.

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The Great Cryptocurrency Crash of 2018

It looks like we have an asset bust for the record books in the making.  The cryptocurrency crash now under way today surpassed the dot-com bust that occurred at the beginning of the millennium,.  While the NASDAQ Composite Index suffered a decline of 78% from its peak in March 2000 to its trough in October 2002, the MVIS CryptoCompare Digital Assets 10 Index, has tumbled 80% from January of this year to today.  During this period, the price of bitcoin, which represents 55% of the value of all cryptocurrencies, has plunged from around $19,300 at its January peak to $6,300 as I write this.  In the estimate of one commentator, the only "currency" in the world that is now faring worse than bitcoin is the Venezualan bolivar.  Whether or not cryptocurrncies recover--and I doubt they will--it is clear that their volatility make them unfit to serve as a general medium of exchange. However this lesson will likely be lost on the promoters of cryptocurrency.  As Tyler Winklevoss put it:

As you get older your brain loses its plasticity at some point and you get wedded to the frameworks that you have.

 By the way, Mr. Winklevoss, one of the Winklevoss twins of Facebook lore and one of the first self-proclaimed bitcoin billionaires, was speaking about the critics of cryptocurrency. 

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The EU Threatens the Existence of Memes

09/12/2018Tho Bishop

The European Union today voted in favor of Article 13, legislation that risks, in the words of some, “destroying the internet as we know it.”

It’s understandable to be skeptical of such a claim – after all similar claims were made about the FCC repealing “net neutrality.” While that campaign was largely guided by ignorance and corporate hypocrisy, the concerns here seem warranted.

The issue involves online copyright, sharpening the (fallacious) intellectual property rights for content creators in today’s digital world. At risk here is the ability to share any sort of content that includes copyrighted material – including memes.

As Wired reports:

Article 13 is [has earned] the reputation of a "meme killer."

It would require web giants to automatically filter copyrighted material — songs, images, videos — uploaded on their platforms, unless it has been specifically licensed. Despite its divisiveness, the piece of legislation passed by 438 votes to 226 with 39 abstentions in the European Parliament.

The most furious lobbying efforts focused on this article, with musicians, artists and authors coming out strongly in favour of the rule, and technology companies — such as YouTube — warning against its dangers.

Concerns included the filters' blocking of non-copyrighted material by accident, pretextual copyright claims by "copyright trolls", and the crowding out of smaller websites which cannot afford expensive filter software to keep their platforms compliant.

To enforce these new rules, tech companies will be forced to look to “improve” their algorithms to better detect and screen shared content for any copyright materials. Just yesterday it was reported that Facebook has already been designing similar tools in their crackdown against “offensive memes.”

Of course the application here goes well beyond memes. Youtube has an entire cottage industry of videos that rely upon repurposing copyrighted material in unique ways – from parodies to fan analysis to sappy music videos. All of this could be put at risk through Article 13.

This could also have consequences well beyond Europe as well. Just as California’s state emission standards end up impacting car manufacturing nationwide, there is a risk that rules adopted to placate the bureaucrats in Brussels could carry over to global operations.

Even if tech companies decide to limit these restrictions to only EU users, this could simply be start of trend by state powers around the world. Considering how memes have been used around the world to undermine authoritarian regimes my spreading ideas, such a move wouldn’t be at all surprising.

The good news is that today’s vote doesn’t make Article 13 law. The legislative process will continue behind the scenes in Brussels until a final vote takes place January of next year.

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Cop Amber Guyger Is One Reason We Need Private Gun Ownership

09/12/2018Ryan McMaken

When advocates of gun confiscation complain about "guns" and say "no one needs a gun for x" all they are really saying — whether they understand it or not — is "I want only cops and soldiers to have guns."

While gun control advocates often claim to be suspicious of police power, logic dictates that the gun-confiscation position is simply the position that only government employees should have guns. Similarly, more mild gun-regulation positions are designed to increase the coercive power of government over the taxpaying citizenry, and to lessen access to private sources of self-defense — thus increasing private-sector dependence on government police for "protection."  The gun-regulation position is premised on the idea that only the police can really be trusted with gun ownership.

And what a terrible position that is.

Richard Black could tell us more about this. Were he still alive today. After Black killed a home intruder in self-defense, he called the police. Sometime later, the police showed up and shot Black dead in his own home.

The dead victims of the school shooting in Parkland could tell us more also. When sheriff's deputy Scot Peterson — who was specifically supposed to provide security at the school — was faced with an armed intruder, he ran away and hid.

And now we hear about the case of Amber Guyger. Guyger is the police officer who confused another man's apartment for her own. She trespassed on the man's property, saw his "silhouette" and then open fired. Her victim, Botham Shem Jean, died.

A Double Standard

In cases like these, police could not be counted on to use firearms appropriately — or they failed to use them to defend the innocent.

Moreover, this latest case serves to illustrate, yet again, the enormous double standard that is employed when police behave in ways that any private citizen would be roundly and viciously denounced for. Were a private citizen to do what Guyger did, his actions would be provided as more evidence that private ownership of guns ought to be curtailed.

Guyger has claimed in her defense that she "gave verbal commands" to her victim before she shot him.

That this should even be considered any sort of "defense" requires a special kind of deference to government. But this is how police officers and their defenders think. If a normal person is woken or surprised in the middle of the night by an intruder with a badge, the victim is supposed to know — by magic, apparently — that the intruder is a police officer and then do what you're told. Never mind that the person might just be claiming to be a police officer.

For police of course, private citizens are always supposed to respond calmly and obediently when screamed at by multiple police officers. Often, the victims receive conflicting orders from police.

Similar rules do not apply to police. Police — we are told — "must make split-second decisions under extreme pressure. "In other words, if the police make a poor decision under pressure, they're heroes who did what had to be done. If a private-sector taxpayer like Richard Black makes the "wrong" decision? He deserved to die.

The law reinforces this view as well. It is extremely rare for a police officer to be prosecuted for gunning down unarmed victims. In the Black case, the police chief has already blamed the 73-year old war veteran for his own killing. The chief's reasoning? Black, who was hearing impaired, should have responded faster to verbal police commands. Case closed.

Even when a trigger-happy police officer is brought up on charges, the law is written in such a way as to make it extremely hard to thread that needle. Members of the jury are easily browbeaten into coming down on the police officer's side. We saw this in the case of Daniel Shaver, an unarmed man who was crawling and begging for his life when gunned down by police. Police officer Philip Brailsford was so fearful of this weeping, trembling man on the ground that Brailsford just couldn't keep himself from opening fire. The jury's verdict? Not guilty.

What If a Private Citizen Did the Same Thing?

But imagine if a private citizen did what Guyger did. If a private citizen trespassed into someone's house, screamed at the residents, and then opened fire — regardless of the details in the case — we all know what would happen.1 We'd all be told we need to have "a national conversation" about how there are "too many guns" in private hands. If the whole thing were shown to be an accident, pundits would endlessly be quoting statistics designed to make it look as if guns in private hands lead to countless accidental shootings. But since it was a police officer who did the shooting, we'll hear about none of this. Why? Because gun control does nothing to control the use of firearms by police. Although we're repeatedly told that guns in private hands lead to spades of accidents, mistaken shootings, and overly-aggressive gun owners, none of this applies when that gun is in government hands. Then it's all just unavoidable. It's never a problem with the guns themselves.

And the double standard doesn't stop with the media. Were the roles of Jean and Guyger reversed, the response by criminal-justice officials would be totally different. A person who trespassed into someone else's home and started shooting — even if totally accidental —  would be arrested immediately. A plethora of charges would be aggressively applied to the defendant, ranging from illegally discharging a firearm to criminal trespass to second-degree murder.

In Guyger's case, she isn't even arrested at the scene, and so far she only faces manslaughter charges. The Texas Rangers have handled her with kid gloves, allowing her to turn herself in at her convenience. All her statements to the police have been treated as indisputable facts — and not as the claims of a person who breaks into people's homes and starts shooting. Attorneys who have read the arrest warrant are saying that, given the way it is written, law enforcement clearly thinks it's all just an accident and "the Texas Rangers were careful not to implicate Officer Guyger."  It's the usual "professional courtesy" of the Thin Blue Line. There is one set of laws for government agents. And another set of laws for the taxpayers who pay all the bills.

Guyger's chain of mistakes in this case belies the pro-gun-control argument that police ought to have a monopoly or near-monopoly on firearms because private citizens can't be trusted with weapons. These ordinary people are too likely to be mentally unstable, too trigger-happy, or too lacking in training to be allowed to own firearms.

But who is to defend us from the mentally unstable or poorly-trained police officers? Or perhaps from the ones who are too distracted or unintelligent to figure out which apartment is theirs?

It is precisely this sort of thing that led to the infamous Indiana law which explicitly states that it is not a crime to defend ones self from an abusive police officer — even using deadly force if necessary. That law was a response to an Indiana Supreme Court decision which stated that “there is no right to reasonably resist unlawful entry by police officers.”

Amber Guyger will benefit form this sort of judicial thinking if her case ever goes to trial. The deck in stacked in favor of the government and its law enforcement arm. It's not a coincidence that government judges too often side with government police. They all work for the same organization — and they all live off the sweat of the taxpayers who have very little say in the matter. Moreover, courts have ruled that police have no obligation to protect the citizenry. Thus, "officer safety" is priority number one.

[RELATED: "Lack of Police Accountability Shows the "Social Contract" Isn't Working" by Ryan McMaken]

At this point, the details of Guyger's motivations and actions remain vague. But let's assume it was just an innocent mistake. There's not much comfort there since we've already seen the double-standard — even in cases of accidents — employed for police shootings and shootings by private citizens. The definition of "innocent mistake" varies widely between police officers and everyone else.

But could anything have been done to change the outcome in Jean's apartment? Even once we know the details, it will be impossible to say — and there's no way to assume that Jean would have successfully defended himself with a firearm in this case. But what if Guyger had missed at first? Botham Jean would have been perfectly rational to retreat, grab a gun, and then return fire. Then Jean might at least had a chance.  After all, what reason had he to believe she was a police officer beyond her uniform? It's not as if imposters can't buy those. And even if Jean had believed she was a police officer, he still would have been within his rights — morally speaking — to shoot her dead.

Few who know the realities of real-life violence would see this is a "good" alternative — but it's hard to see how this is any worse than a reality in which police can shoot innocent bystanders without any fear of self-defense on the part of the citizenry. For gun-control advocates, however, this is all too messy. For them, it would all be much more neat and tidy to make sure that private citizens like Jean have no access to the tools of self-defense. "Why you just want the Wild West!" is the typical refrain. The implication is that in a "civilized" society, these sorts of "shoot-outs" should never happen. Apparently, being shot dead while defenseless by a government-employed home intruder is the preferred "civilized" alternative — and only when we all learn to embrace this sort of untrammeled police power will we all be "safe."

  • 1. Guyger's defenders are already trying to claim she is innocent of any misdeed because Jean's door was unlocked. However, whether or not the door was locked is irrelevant to the question of whether or not Guyger was trespassing.
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Today's Average Hourly Wage Has about the Same Purchasing Power it Did in 1978

09/11/2018Doug French

“The Labor Department reported Friday that worker payrolls expanded by 201,000 in August and private-sector hourly wages grew 2.9% from a year earlier,” last Friday's Wall Street Journal reported.

Meanwhile, Ryan McMaken reports that the Fed has a new inflation gauge that’s reflecting “the highest rate recorded in 158 months, or more than 13 years. The last time the UIG [underlying inflation gauge] measure was as high was in April 2005, when it was at 3.36 percent.”

uig1_0_0.png

The UIG comprises,

data from the following two broad categories: (1) consumer, producer, and import prices for goods and services and (2) nonprice variables such as labor market measures, money aggregates, producer surveys, and financial variables (short- and long-term government interest rates, corporate and high-yield bonds, consumer credit volumes and real estate loans, stocks, and commodity prices).

So prices are rising, and wages, as always, aren’t keeping up. According to Pew Research,

After adjusting for inflation, however, today’s average hourly wage has just about the same purchasing power it did in 1978, following a long slide in the 1980s and early 1990s and bumpy, inconsistent growth since then. In fact, in real terms average hourly earnings peaked more than 45 years ago: The $4.03-an-hour rate recorded in January 1973 had the same purchasing power that $23.68 would today.

So how is everyone, seemingly, buying all those new gadgets? Consumer lending is setting records. That’s how. In the August 24th edition of the WSJ, AnnaMaria Andriotis and Peter Rudegeair write,

Lenders extended $81.9 billion in personal loans to U.S. consumers in the first half of the year, up about 13% from a year prior, according to credit-reporting firm Experian PLC. That compares with a 9% rise in auto loans and leases and a 5% boost in spending limits issued on new general-purpose credit cards over the same period.

Personal loans are unsecured, so are much riskier than lending on cars and homes. However, lenders want to get money out the door so they,

pitch the loans as a way for consumers to pay for projects or activities that might have otherwise taken months to save for. “Take a trip,” says an offer from Barclays PLC. “Add a new deck, patio or pool,” says one from Citizens Financial Group Inc.

All of this debt is on top of $1.04 trllion in credit card debt and $1.5 trillion in student loan debt.

U.S. Consumers and their lenders are seeing the world through Trump’s rose colored glasses. So much to buy and not enough time to save for it! Plus, the Fed’s inflation will chip away at their debts. For poor working stiffs who save, Ludwig von Mises wrote ,

These victims, by and large, are the same kind of people ”roughly, the middle classes” who are injured as creditors through the depreciation of their bank savings, insurance policies, pensions, etc. The salaries of teachers and ministers, the fees of doctors, go up only slowly as compared to the tempo with which prices of food, rent, clothing, and so on, go up. There is always a considerable time lag between the increase in the money income of the white-collar workers and professional people and the increase in costs of food, clothing, and other necessities.

One wonders what could go wrong as we near the 10th anniversary of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy filing.

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The Kavanaugh Hearings Were a Missed Opportunity—For Both Sides

By now you’ve heard about the combative spectacle that was last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for President Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Brett Kavanaugh. This momentous event was characterized not by political acumen, wit, cunning, or prudence, but by partisan obstruction, lawlessness, tantrums, hysteria, ignorance, frenzy, and anger.

Protestors screamed vulgarities and trite slogans, proving they were not interested in Kavanaugh’s responses or in substantive intellectual debate. Seventy of them were arrested on Tuesday alone. If anything, their recurring interruptions and crude histrionics gave Kavanaugh time to pause and think about his responses rather than tire out and let down his guard.

Online left-wing rabble-rousers peddled an absurd conspiracy theory about Zina Bash, a former clerk for Kavanaugh—only shortly before right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was banned from Twitter. Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, publicly released documents that were allegedly confidential, claiming full knowledge of the possible repercussions of his act—namely, expulsion from the Senate. “Bring it,” Booker taunted Senator John Cornyn, who warned about the consequences of the supposed confidentiality breach. With unintended levity, Booker announced his “I am Spartacus” moment. Only the documents weren’t confidential after all; they’d already been approved for public release. Thus, Booker’s Spartacus Moment was merely a political stunt of faux bravery.

Why this hostility? Why these shenanigans?

Read the full article at ISI.org.
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Fed: "Underlying Inflation" at a 13-Year High

09/07/2018Ryan McMaken

According to the Federal Reserve's Underlying Inflation Gauge , the 12-month inflation growth in June was 3.33 percent. That's the highest rate recorded in 158 months, or more than 13 years. The last time the UIG measure was as high was in April 2005, when it was at 3.36 percent.

uig1.png

The Fed began publicly reporting on new measure in December of last year, and takes into account a broader measure of inflation than the more-often used CPI measure.

Not shockingly, the UIG has shown a higher rate of inflation than the CPI, most of the time in recent years.

uig2.png

In June, while the UIG was 3.33 percent, the CPI growth rate was 2.9 percent. This was a 76-month high for the CPI.

The use of only consumer prices in the CPI has long been a problem, in that the cost of living and planning for the future does not involve only the basket of goods used in the CPI calculations. A wide variety of assets affect the American economy as well.

As explained by the New York Fed's summary of the UIG measure:

We use data from the following two broad categories: (1) consumer, producer, and import prices for goods and services and (2) nonprice variables such as labor market measures, money aggregates, producer surveys, and financial variables (short- and long-term government interest rates, corporate and high-yield bonds, consumer credit volumes and real estate loans, stocks, and commodity prices).

But don't expect the Fed to abandon its fondness for the CPI and the arbitrary "2-percent inflation" goal any time soon. The fact that the broader measure of inflation is climbing to the highest level seen in more than a decade is apparently not a matter of concern.

In fact, there is now speculation that the Fed — recognizing that tariffs will harm economic growth  — may back off its stated plans for continues small hikes in the key rate.

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Trump's Mental Stability Questioned by America's Most Psychopathic City

09/06/2018Tho Bishop

When not assisting the continued politicization of America’s most powerful legislative branch, the media this week has relished in a variety of news items continuing to push the narrative that President Donald Trump is mentally unfit to hold office.

While it’s fair to question the fitness of anyone to hold the power given to the modern American president, the obsession with Trump’s mental stability is a wonderful example of the absurd lack of self-awareness enjoyed by the privileged residents of America’s capitol. After all, the city that finds Donald Trump so revolting is – as a recent study by Ryan Murphy has discovered – literally the psychopathic capitol of the United States.

As Doug French noted last July, this result would surprise no one familiar with F.A. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom. As Hayek wrote in his chapter dedicated to the question “Why the Worst Rise to the Top:”

Advancement within a totalitarian group or party depends largely on a willingness to do immoral things. The principle that the end justifies the means, which in individualist ethics is regarded as the denial of all morals, in collectivist ethics becomes necessarily the supreme rule. There is literally nothing which the consistent collectivist must not be prepared to do if it serves ‘the good of the whole’, because that is to him the only criterion of what ought to be done.

This critique plays itself out when one looks at the most common objections to the Trump presidency from the traditional DC powers. For example, among the most prominent criticisms cited by the New York Times’ anonymous administration “senior official” was Trump’s handling of foreign policy:

Take foreign policy: In public and in private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations.

Astute observers have noted, though, that the rest of the administration is operating on another track, one where countries like Russia are called out for meddling and punished accordingly, and where allies around the world are engaged as peers rather than ridiculed as rivals.

In the views of the “stable state,” nothing better demonstrates Trump’s unfitness for office than his desire to de-escalate tensions with Russia by treating its government with respect and being willing to sit across from Kim Jong-un as equals.

In fact, the worst parts of the Trump Administration have been its commitment to the beltway status quo on a number of important issues. This includes his appointment of a variety of establishment-friendly Federal Reserve officials, his continuing the war on drugs, commitment to government-regulated immigration policy, support for absurd levels of military spending, and its general willingness to erode civil liberties. It’s also worth noting that while it’s great to see the establishment media on both the left and right condemn Trump’s fondness for tariffs, Washington’s hostility for actual free trade long pre-dates the Donald. Both the Bush and Obama administration imposed their own tariffs on goods such as steel and solar panels.

Donald Trump is a man that is guilty of a great many sins, but at the end of the day he’s no worse than your average – overpaid – Federal senior staffer. The elites that make up the professional political class and their cheerleaders in the mainstream media have no moral high ground here. Their aim is not to restore “civility” or “decency” to American politics, after all their desire to expand the reach of government power is precisely what undermines such values. No, their goal is simply to reverse an election they didn’t expect to lose. It’s quite possible they may end up succeeding.

Hopefully the takeaway for those who relished the idea of “draining the swamp” is the realization that this can’t be accomplished by simply changing the name of the person who occupies the top office. The Federal government can’t be fixed; it must have its powers taken away.

Political decentralization is the only way to truly make America great again.

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John McCain Combined Bombing with Wishful Thinking

09/05/2018James Bovard

The late Sen. John McCain is being lauded far and wide for his long career of public service.  Rep. John Lewis, the famous civil rights activist, hailed McCain as a “warrior for peace.” In reality, McCain embodied a mix of moralism and militarism that worked out badly for America and the world.

When he was awarded the Liberty Medal last October at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, McCain declared, "We live in a land made of ideals... We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world.”  He warned that it would be “unpatriotic” to “abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe.” But idealism has fared better in political speeches than in the lives of American soldiers or purported foreign beneficiaries...

McCain’s career illustrates the peril of exalting uplifting rhetoric over the lessons of history. There are plenty of nasty dictators in the world but U.S. military campaigns have dismally failed to spread democracy this century. America can no longer afford an idealism that consists of little more than combining bombing and wishful thinking.  

Read the full article at USA Today
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Civility and Political Debate

09/05/2018Gary Galles

The 2016 campaign set a new standard for interruptions and other crimes against civility by candidates. The primaries were full of such rudeness, particularly the Republican free-for-alls. The presidential debates provided additional examples. Even the vice-presidential debate was described by one pundit as an “interruptionfest.”

One side would call such interruptions beyond-the-pale rudeness proving unfitness for office, while the other would cheer them as necessary to make good points. And things are not improving, judging from the hyper-hypocrisy illustration of Democrats who lauded John McCain for not being blindly partisan screaming their intense partisanship at the opening of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court hearing. So how should we view such political interruptions and other examples of rudeness, now that Americans are facing another election that will be in large part a response to the 2016 outcome?

The structure of logical arguments offers a clue. They run from premises to conclusions—A implies B implies C…implies Z. Correctly structured, if the premises are true, the conclusion must be true. However, if a premise or step in an argument is false, factually or logically, even if every succeeding step is valid, the conclusion need not be correct.

Consequently, when someone observes an important false premise or errant step in an argument, logic and a desire for better real-world results both suggest immediately focusing on where and how such premises depart from truth. After all, if people can come to some resolution with respect to the contested step, we can move on in our discussion, and potentially even compromise or agree, in the end. Without that step, further discussion may yield a great deal of stomach acid, but little fruit.

This is particularly important when the pivotal step involves the exact reverse of the truth, which can not only invalidate the conclusion, but actually confirm the opposite conclusion. That is, while statement A, if true, may imply Z, when A is false, it may exclude Z as a possibility.

For example, protectionism can save some jobs, and the income derived from them, from superior competitors. However, protectionism does not create jobs and wealth for the economy, as protectionists assert, or any of the consequences that would follow. “Saving” certain jobs eliminates others, including those in export industries, those facing higher input costs and those whose jobs would have been created from the greater wealth unrestricted trade would produce. That shifting of resources from where people’s circumstances and preferences would lead them voluntarily to where government favoritism dictates also destroys societal wealth.

We must also consider what happens if we wait politely until the end of a disputed chain of reasoning. Think back on your personal experiences. How well did you remember precisely what was said at step B, where disagreement began, multiple steps (possibly also in question) and many minutes later? How well did your recollections match those of your opponent(s)? What was said and why we disagree is easily lost, generating still more uncivil bickering. And such problems are only worsened when, as today, one side often insists that certain words or phrases should not be taken at face value, but as “dog whistles” for hidden and nefarious meanings.

The upshot is that even though interruptions feel rude (because no one likes being sidetracked before reaching their intended conclusions), they may be more justifiable in political debate than in other circumstances. When the direction of the country is at stake, the benefits of more effectively revealing core policy disagreements exceed those in day-to-day conversations. Consequently, we may want to allow more leeway for rudeness when disputing over government policy. We do not want rudeness to become the issue deciding political choices, rather than logic and evidence.

Of course, citizens still must judge whether and when interruptions are sufficiently justified. There are many instances that are not. For example, when one person just talks over another until they quit speaking, interruptions are unjustified. The same is true for interruptions whose purpose is to derail a line of thought, inject misrepresentations that will move us further from the truth or make ad hominem attacks. Electorally punishing such assaults on the possibility of advancing Americans’ well-being, by undermining the potential for increased clarity, remains appropriate.

There will be always be vast differences of political opinion expressed in elections. And citizens will fight over the relevant facts. That process can certainly produce rudeness. But it would be far better to fight over such matters, even rudely, than to let real issues be hijacked into battles over whose rudeness most disqualifies them and their positions from consideration.

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Even Cows Understand the Problem with the Commons

09/05/2018Jim Cox

A popular poster depicts four cows standing in the corners of their respective fields at the intersection of two barbed wire fences. Each of the four cows has stretched her neck through the wires to reach the grass in another cow’s field. The poster invokes a humorous reaction from most observers. To most it would illustrate the phrase that “the grass is always greener on the other side,” or maybe how silly we all are pursuing distant pleasures when there is an abundance available to us where we are.

But the poster actually illustrates rational behavior and the importance of property rights in preserving resources! The rational behavior of the cows is that each is attempting to maximize its access to grass. The remaining non-fence line grass in each cow’s field is readily available to her since she is in that field and the other cows are fenced out.

But the grass on the perimeter of her field along the fence line is within reach of the adjoining cows. Therefore, each cow is faced with first eating the grass along the fence line or missing out on the same if the other cows get there first. The grass along the fence line is therefore effectively common property and such resulting behavior is often referred to as the tragedy of the commons.1

Unowned or collectively owned resources tend to be consumed and not conserved because no one has the right to the long-term value of that good—that is, no one has a property right in that good. It is in the self-interest of each cow (or person) to get what they can before it is gone. The cows are merely responding to the institutional setting in which they find themselves. If we want people or cows to do X we would be well advised to make it in their self-interest to do X. If the fences were so constructed to protect each cow from the incursion of the other there would be no rush to consume grass along the fence line. Under this alternate arrangement resources could be conserved since ownership is secured—that is, each would enjoy a property right in the good.

  • 1. Garret Hardin, The Tragedy of the Commons,Science , December 13, 1968
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