Tracing consequences both seen and unseen.
Sarah BrodskyPark 51
Posted at 3:03 pm on August 20, 2010, by Sarah Brodsky

Park 51, also known as the “Ground Zero Mosque,” may be the latest victim of zoning tyranny. Zoning takes building decisions that should be made by property owners and turns them into neighborhood popularity contents–or in this case, a national referendum.

Some of the debate around Park 51 deals with the people planning the community center. Opponents are combing through speeches, statements, and previous affiliations, looking for evidence of  radicalism. To which I say: Do you really want to do that kind of research before any group erects a structure?  Even the Westboro Baptist Church has a building. If you’re going to research every edifice that could harbor radicals, you should start with the all bus shelters where neo-Nazis gather before cleaning up highways.

Opponents will counter that Park 51 deserves special scrutiny. The proposed building would go up only a few blocks away from Ground Zero, so, they claim, we need to make sure terrorist sympathizers don’t congregate nearby. The thing is, that kind of reasoning can be used to stop any community center, anywhere in the country. This isn’t just a slippery slope of my imagination; it’s already happened. A proposed Hindu education center in Missouri has been caught up in a zoning fight for years, with some people objecting to it because they think it’s connected to 9/11. That incident shows that zoning disputes like the one threatening Park 51 aren’t about preserving the sacredness of any particular location. They’re about preventing members of minority religions from building swimming pools and chapels. When the memory of 9/11 can be used to stop a proposed Hindu community center one thousand miles from Manhattan, nobody’s safe.

Filed under: Politics, Religious Freedom, Zoning
Comments: 1 Comment

VromanRand Paul is right(ish)
Posted at 6:54 pm on August 18, 2010, by Vroman

Lets look at Rand Paul’s outline of political stances.

I agree with Rand about 85%. I hold more or less polar views on the bioethics and immigration categories, and Paul’s anti-war feelings are a little tepid for my tastes. The remainder though is quite inspiring. I suppose if you ever find a candidate you agree with 100%, you are probably looking at your own name on the ballot. So Rand Paul is strikingly wrong on a handful of issues, but on net would be a welcome addition to the Senate.

I establish this backstory in order to discuss Rand’s controversial Civil Rights Act statements a few months ago.

Speaking for the anti-Paul critics, I appoint my magic card rival Stephen Menendian, who got face time on Huffington Post. Nice work Steve.

First let me tell a personal anecdote regarding the consequences of racial job discrimination. I currently work for the business my grandfather started in 1951. Between that time and his death in 2005, grandpa was the sole decision maker and as far as I know, never once hired a non-white employee. All my memories of my grandfather are very fond ones of an incredibly hardworking, charitable, devoted family man. Though its pretty unavoidable looking back he was passively racist. And he suffered because of it! By subtly passing up qualified colored workers, we got stuck with a lot of burn out white trash guys. Many headaches developed over the years via his perverse hiring criteria. Gramps was a visionary businessman on the big picture deals, but certainly cost himself a lot in the details. This is exactly the result one would expect when arbitrarily limiting oneself to a smaller pool of applicants via a non-relevant criteria. Its a Gresham’s Law scenario where the bad apples are foisted off on to the firms who refuse to compete for the full range of workers. Not only do you lose good black workers, you tend to get the worse white workers as well.

Since I’ve been responsible for hiring, we have actually had a disproportionately high representation of black and hispanic workers, relative to St. Louis demographics, even accounting for this income bracket. Not because I want to help out minorities for its own sake, but because I’m an unapologetic capitalist. I want to pay as little as possible, and this is who shows up to accept our offered rates, while meeting my minimum standards. In fact in my dedication to laissez faire, I am an even more color blind employer than typical corporations, since things like criminal records, functional illiteracy, and active drug addictions, do not deter me, if the applicant comes recommended. Given the unfortunate higher likelihood of low income minorities coming from environments that have left them with such negative characteristics, my company is slightly easier job opportunity.

Discrimination is bad practice for both employee and employer. But Smennen makes it clear he doesn’t care about the efficiency arguments of non-racism, its solely a moral issue to him. I could make the more abstract case that there is no difference between the two. I will remain on more familiar territory today.

We’ll take the simple case of a sole proprietorship as opposed to publicly traded company. This business is some individual’s property, just like his home. An employment contract is an invitation by the employer to show up on his property, do some work, and receive payment. The invitee is free to decline. I do not see this as fundamentally different from an individual inviting individuals into his home for social purposes, which they are likewise free to decline. The fact that money changes hands is the business of these two people after they have agreed to meet on the owner’s property. There is no reason an individual should have any less discretion in who he extends invitations to at his business, than at his home. If said businessman were to foolishly only offer invitations to work for pay to select ethnicities, this is not force or theft against them.

Like, Rand Paul, I would support a non-discrimination policy for tax funded posts, and other public functionaries, but it is really not the government’s place to enforce morality upon citizens that does not transgress others rights. One does not have a right to a job at any particular business, any more than they have a right to walk in to a stranger’s house. To say otherwise, would give government carte blanche to enforce other moral paradigms regarding citizen’s private behavior; for example their sex partners, etc. Since we have relatively little control of what moral agenda is advanced by the ruling party of the moment, it is a wiser policy to reject government’s power to dictate morality at all.

This said, I do think Smennen has a point that Rand is dissembling somewhat by trying to obfuscate exactly what portions of the Civil Rights Act he opposes. I presume Steve’s analysis of the legal history is correct, and thus as a libertarian, I, and Rand, should indeed openly oppose the Fair Housing Act in entirety. I would stress that there exist far higher priorities though for the goal of reducing government interference. We are so far removed from an acceptable political environment, that I would hesitate to even call it progress should the FHA be repealed as a first step.

Paul is in a difficult position of course, since the logical conclusion of laissez faire leads to very politically incorrect places. Rand is presenting himself as more mainstream than his father, which is hard to do and remain ideologically consistent. I sincerely hope he does not give in to populism. Still, Rand Paul is undeniably a step in the right direction.

Filed under: Uncategorized
Comments: None

Lee SharpeThe Case Against Net Neutrality
Posted at 10:06 am on August 11, 2010, by Lee Sharpe

What is “net neutrality”? Net neutrality is government regulation which prohibits internet service providers from diffrentiating internet traffic based upon its content and/or the service being used. Advocates are concerned about internet service providers charging different amounts for different types of traffic or manipulating how internet traffic is processed so, for example, to increase the priority of a certain website’s traffic or decrease the priority of a certain website’s traffic.

Generally, regulation advocates point to something happening, identify it as a problem that government needs to solve, and propose regulation they feel will accomplish that goal. This is not the case with net neutrality because right now internet service providers are voluntarily complying with the standards net neutrality advocates seek to codify. This is even after a federal appeals court ruled in Comcast v. FCC that the FCC (at least currently) lacks the authority to prevent companies from engaging in this behavior. Given all of this, one must wonder why is regulation needed to address this in the first place.

Like many other newspapers, the New York Times runs advertisements. The newspaper and advertiser agree on the ad, where it will appear, how much it will cost, and on which printing(s) it will appear. All well and good. And, of course, the New York Times can reject any ad which it does not wish to run. The reason could be because the content is inappropriate for the paper’s readership. It could be because it advertises a competing newspaper. It could be because the editor has a random grudge against a local business and won’t support its ads. Whatever the reason, the New York Times has the freedom to not run certain advertisements. The freedom to refuse to facilitate speech one doesn’t like is part of one’s First Amendment freedom of speech rights. There is no reason this right should not carry over to internet providers as well, just like any other entity.

Many airlines offer passengers who pay for a “first class” ticket improved service for extra money. This extra service is for those willing to pay more. In addition to covering the costs of providing the extra service, this revenue helps the airlines lower fares for the other passengers, so its existence helps them as well. Similarly, television providers (both cable and satellite) offer various premium channel packages for extra fees. Nothing is wrong with these business models. Of course, nothing is wrong with a business model that handles all traffic equally either. Supply and demand will determine which business models are best just fine, just as described above in the airline and television industries. Congress and the FCC do not need to enforce a particular business model on internet service providers, as it might end up that way in the future. It’s entirely possible that at some point poorer consumers will be served by options of cheaper, more limited internet. Under net neutrality, however, internet service providers would be prohibited from pursuing such plans.

Logically, companies in any industry don’t want to be regulated. So it should cause one to pause when companies in an industry come out in favor of them being regulated. Google and Verizon Wireless did just that in a recent joint proposal to the FCC as a suggestion for how to implement Net Neutrality. In the first four of their seven points, Google and Verizon start off sounding like they support their own regulation. (“This means that for the first time, wireline broadband providers would not be able to discriminate against or prioritize lawful internet content, applications or services in a way that causes harm to users or competition.”) However, the fifth and sixth create a couple exceptions to their Net Neutrality propsals for “additional services” (it’s unclear how this is defined) and internet service provided wirelessly.

Now that we’ve examined their proposal, we should ask why would they propose it in the first place? The answer is to gain an advantage over its competitors, an example of behavior known as rent seeking. Businesses can and will use not just market advantages to seek profit, but legislative advantages if it can create them. Verizon is already a leader in wireless internet service, and with its FIOS technology and Google’s constant innovations, it seems like these rules are being constructed to create an advantage over more traditional internet service providers which use DSL or cable lines and would thus be subject to the net neutrality provisions while Google and Verizon are comparitively less regulated.

The common response to this by net neutrality advocates is to reject the Google and Verizon plan and adopt a stronger one instead. Indeed, this is already happening by some advocates. History shows, however, that industry is heavily involved in the regulatory process and puts heavy pressure to implement them in its favor. This is common with regulation, since the benefits to a single given consumer from net neutrality are relatively minor, while the costs are borne by the companies. Since these internet service providers don’t really care about much except internet aceess, they have lot of reason to lobby and shape the regulation to their advantage, and bigger providers have more resources to do this. Consumers care, but it is a small fraction of things they must worry about in their lives, and give the legislation little attention. This results in regulation that hurts consumers by distorting the industry away from customers’ true preferences. For example, exempting wireless from net neutrality may mean that cheap wireless limited internet plans exist, while even cheaper cable ones legally can’t, which hurts consumers seeking this type of plan. The net result of all of this is the FCC implementing policies that actually have significant support from within the industry. However, if the regulation was actually achieving its goals, this regulation should actually be opposed by the industry.

If the government regulates net neutrality, policies for internet access are set by one entity: the FCC. However, if the government stays out, each company will set its own policies. If you don’t like the FCC’s policies, you are stuck with them unless you leave the United States. If you don’t like your internet service provider’s policies, you can simply switch to another one. So which model sounds better to you?

Update: The Electonic Frontier Foundation is also worried about the phenomenon I descibed above (Hat Tip to @wilw):

Efforts to protect net neutrality that involve government regulation have always faced one fundamental obstacle: the substantial danger that the regulators will cause more harm than good for the Internet. The worst case scenario would be that, in allowing the FCC to regulate the Internet, we open the door for big business, Hollywood and the indecency police to exert even more influence on the Net than they do now.

Filed under: Internet, Regulation
Comments: 85 Comments

John W. PayneThe Oppressed Heterosexual Male
Posted at 11:14 pm on August 6, 2010, by John W. Payne

Back in April, Cato Institute executive vice president David Boaz wrote an article for reason castigating some libertarians for looking to a supposed libertarian golden age–usually sometime in the late eighteenth or late nineteenth century–and claiming that we have become dramatically less free since those halcyon days. Boaz conceded that the government has grown in terms of GDP and interferes with many aspects of our lives that it did not in the past but argued that many Americans are freer now than they were then: both slavery and Jim Crow are dead; women are far more autonomous than they once were; gays and lesbians are now capable of loving whom they choose fairly openly; etc. These changes are partly attributable to government policies but also owe a great deal to radically different cultural norms. In a similar vein, I would like to argue that heterosexual men have actually lost some of their freedom because of a more restrictive culture…but probably not in the way that you think.

Until the late nineteenth century, the concept of sexual orientation did not exist. Homesexual acts, especially those between two men, were harshly condemned and punished, but those acts were not part of a broader identity. At the same time, marriage did not have the central role that it does in our culture today. Extended family, communities, churches, political parties, fraternal orders, and intimate friendships all demanded far more loyalty from individuals than they do currently. It was commonplace, and sometimes even expected, for these intimate, same-sex friendships to be emotionally closer than marriages. Writing in the New York Times a few years ago, historian and author of Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage Stephanie Coontz explained the vastly different sociological terrain:

From medieval days until the early 19th century, diaries and letters more often used the word love to refer to neighbors, cousins and fellow church members than to spouses. When honeymoons first gained favor in the 19th century, couples often took along relatives or friends for company. Victorian novels and diaries were as passionate about brother-sister relationships and same-sex friendships as about marital ties.

The Victorian refusal to acknowledge strong sexual desires among respectable men and women gave people a wider outlet for intense emotions, including physical touch, than we see today. Men wrote matter-of-factly about retiring to bed with a male roommate, “and in each other’s arms did friendship sink peacefully to sleep.” Upright Victorian matrons thought nothing of kicking their husbands out of bed when a female friend came to visit. They spent the night kissing, hugging and pouring out their innermost thoughts.

Similarly, Neil Miller, author of Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present, wrote that romantic–but not necessarily sexual–relationships between young men in nineteenth century America were relatively common and considered to be “rehearsal for marriage.” During the Civil War the situation was such that when Walt Whitman–who would almost undoubtedly be considered “gay” by contemporary standards–worked as a nurse at Armory Square Hospital in Washington D.C., he openly showed physical affection to the soldiers under his care. In a letter to a friend from the hospital, Whitman wrote of one soldier that he had grown deeply attached to: “Lew is so good, so affectionate–when I came away, he reached up to his face, I put my arm around him, and we gave each other a long kiss, half a minute long.” I have no idea if this kiss was platonic or sexual for the young soldier, and that’s really beside the point. What is remarkable is that physical affection between two men was pedestrian enough that it raised no eyebrows in a crowded army hospital. I’m fairly certain that today, a public 30 second kiss between two men in a military setting would not only lead to harassment from other soldiers but also a possible undesirable discharge from the service.

If we look back even further in our cultural history to Elizabethan England, Shakespeare’s plays celebrate friendships between men that strike many modern readers as, well, a little gay. Most famously there is Hamlet’s address to the skull of his friend Yorick, “Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft,” but this is hardly an isolated case. For another example we can look to deep friendship between Antonio and Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice. As Shylock attempts to take his pound of flesh from Antonio, Bassanio declares that he loves Antonio above everything in the world, including his wife:

Antonio, I am married to a wife
Which is as dear to me as life itself;
But life itself, my wife, and all the world,
Are not with me esteem’d above thy life:
I would lose all, ay, sacrifice them all
Here to this devil, to deliver you.

Most contemporary readers likely find something unusual about Bassanio’s love for Antonio, but until the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, this kind of deep, same-sex friendship was celebrated as equal to or greater than married love.

So what changed? Obviously, such a massive shift in cultural norms has multiple causes, but I think one critical factor was the emergence of sexual orientation as a concept. Once people started speaking about the love that dare not speak its name, people could no longer deny its existence, which immediately made all physical affection between men (and to a lesser extent women) suspect. When there was no concept of homosexuality, only sodomy was verboten, and that was hard to prove. However, once homosexuality became an identity, almost all non-violent physical contact and even most emotional intimacy between men could be seen as evidence that a man was “like that” to his peers.

Once that was established, almost the only socially acceptable place for a man to find emotional intimacy was in a romantic relationship with a woman–a complete historical anomaly. Of course, there were never any laws passed that prohibited intimate friendships between men, but the social stigma of even being perceived as gay has served as a severe limitation on the liberty of men to form deep, lasting friendships and express physical affection with each other throughout the twentieth century and to this day.

In the last decade, however, American culture has once again come to celebrate intimate friendships between men, albeit without most of the physical affection common over a century ago. The most obvious example of this phenomenon can be seen in many of the so-called “frat pack” movies such as Old School, Superbad, and I Love You, Man. While the male characters in these movies are primarily heterosexual and pursue women in the films, the heart and soul of the movies is in the deep friendships they form between each other. I Love You, Man is the most overt about this theme, suggesting that even if a man has found a woman to marry, he is still incomplete without a male best friend.

This is no doubt a positive development, and we can hope that the stigma attached to male-male intimacy will evaporate as quickly as it first appeared. Still, it is a great irony that that anti-gay social opprobrium arguably restricted the emotions and behavior of gay men less than straight men. In much the same way that slavery binds not only the slave to the master but also the master to the slave, bigotry constrains the liberty of both its target and the bigot.

Filed under: Culture
Comments: 5 Comments

Henry Hazlitt"[T]he whole of economics can be reduced to a single lesson, and that lesson can be reduced to a single sentence. The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups."
Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson






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