Wednesday, November 01, 2006


It's been a while since I've written anything here. This particular topic has been bothering me long enough that I really ought to write down what I think about it. Frankly, it should be a much lower standard than that to get me to write things. But there it is.

I don't know how to label myself on the political spectrum. In almost everything I'm on the conservative side of the fence. But there are a few things that I just don't care that much about. Gay marriage, for example. On the one hand, I'm aware that marriage is an important underpinning of our society. And I'm persuaded by Jane's discussion of the topic. On the other hand, I have a fairly close relationship with a gay man. And it seems to me that part of the problem that he experiences in his life is associated with non-committed relationships. It might be of value to him to make a marriage committment that is harder to get out of than just saying, "See ya!"

But then there are things that I just find myself in stark opposition from the rest of the conservatives out there. And immigration tops that list. I simply don't understand what all of the hubub is about. And I can't figure out what rational stance there is in support of limiting immigration. The best I can come up with is that they take our jobs, and that they spend our money without contributing back.

Here's my opinion in a nutshell: I believe that we live in a country of endowed rights, not government granted rights. Which means that the government can neither give nor take away rights. Our rights have been endowed to us by our creator. One of those endowed rights is the right to free association and to assemble peacably. Which means that Mexicans have it whether they're here or not. So do Chinese, Afghanis, Germans and Iraqis. The difference is that some other governments don't protect those rights, and in some cases, wrongly repress those rights. The US government is constituted on a promise to protect those rights within the boundaries of this country. So that when someone from Mexico or China or Afghanistan or Germany or Iraq sets foot in this country, our government is required to protect their rights to freely associate with any of us who are already here. Immigration laws are based on the premise that you only have those rights if you're a US citizen. In other words, the US Government grants them to you. I believe that's incorrect. I believe laws restricting immigration are counter to the concept of rights described by the constitution. I believe that all such laws should be overturned.

Let me address the conservative positions on immigration.

First, they take our jobs. Ok. So? I don't believe that one of the constitutionally protected rights is the right to a job. I certainly don't have the right to my job. I do it as long as it is mutually beneficial to both me and my employer. If someone comes along with a better job, I'm going to take it. If someone comes along who can do my job less expensively, my employer will almost certainly hire them and fire me. That's the way a market works. And I wouldn't want it to work any other way. Because if I try create some right to employment, then I'm shooting myself in the foot. The right to employment is only one half of the picture. The other half is the right to freely choose who I employ. Which means that if I can guarantee that my employer can't fire me, on what ground would I be standing if I tried to switch from cable TV to satellite? I would be firing the cable company and hiring Dish (for example). If I have a right to my job, don't they also have that right? What about a person being from Mexico or Afghanistan changes this picture? By what justification is ok for someone to tell me how I am forced to spend my money? If I want to hire a Mexican or German to mow my lawn, then what business is it of yours. If you can't compete, find something that you're better at.

Second, they spend our money without contributing back. One of the many complaints that I hear from conservatives is how much we have to pay for "illegals" to come here. For example, they use healthcare without paying the taxes that support medicade, etc. That's true. But, in my opinion, that's a problem of the systems of health provision that we have in this country. Whenever you have a federally funded program, over-consumption and excessive costs are the consequence. Don't you think that just maybe the reason that so many people want to come here is that we offer them free stuff through social welfare programs? Certainly one way to react to this is to restrict immigration. But it's not the only way. The other way is to fix the social welfare programs. The impact of strong immigration laws is to insulate the voting American public from the negative unintended consequences of social welfare programs. I believe that if the American voters felt the full brunt of those unintended consequences, that we would make changes to the detrimental effects of those policies. But as long as those effects are hidden, there's less motivation to change the policies.

Immigration laws hurt us: they undermine our core values, and they insulate us from the effects of bad policies. I think we would be better off without them.

Full Disclusure:
1) I have three cousins who have immigrated to this country. I believe one of them is here illegally, and can't go home because he's afraid that he won't be able to get back. My opinion above is certainly influenced by his situation. However, I don't think my opinion would change were his situation different or non-existant.
2) I've been heavily influenced by this article.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The First Rule of Double Standards

One of my favorite self-reflective statements is: The first rule of double standards is that I get to have one and you don't. I like it because in one sentence, it demonstrates the problem of a double standard: some person or entity holds two conflicting standards and applies them to his, her, or their advantage. But if two different people or organizations hold a different standard, that is not a double standard. Sure, it's two standards, but it's not got the same logical inconsistencies as a single person trying to hold two conflicting standards at the same time.

I think the author of this article is frustrated. But when he says "double standard", I'm forced to disagree with him. Last year, Brett Favre played for the Green Bay Packers while Steve McNair played for the Tennessee Titans. That they have been treated differently during this off season simply means that the general managers for each respective team had different priorities. If one entity, had treated each of them differently, then the author could argue that there was a double standard. But the Green Bay Packers are not the same entity as the Tennessee Titans.

One could argue that the NFL is the unifying entity since both of them play in that league. But the NFL isn't the entity that is making the contract decisions for the Packers or the Titans. Each of them is doing that independently of each other and the NFL.

The author does argue that there is a unifying entity (the media and the fans) who are treating each player differently. And that's got a little more teeth to it. The problem is that there is no organization that is either "the media" or "the fans". Those are convenient terms that we use to describe a group of independent people who have similar characteristics. As a result, the media and the fans will almost always hold more than one standard: there's more than one of them deciding what standard to hold.

The author might want to make the point that the double standard is actually prevalent among NFL fans. If so, he'd need to find out how many people simultaneously support Favre returning to the Packers and reject McNair returning to the Titans. You can't simply say that one group of fans supporting Favre, and another group of fans rejecting McNair indicates that there's a double standard. They're different groups of people.

You could also find real double standards in the media: just find any author who has written in support of Favre and in opposition of McNair. Unfortunately, in that case, you're really only criticizing the specific authors who hold those conflicting views. It's got much better rhetorical value to say "the media holds a double standard". It makes for a much taller soap box.

There may very well be a double standard. It's possible that many NFL fans are individually holding two conflicting viewpoints with respect to McNair and Favre. Maybe there are lots of individuals in the media who are praising Favre while rejecting McNair. Maybe there's some mastermind in the league offices pushing a pro-Favre and anti-McNair agenda. But nothing in this article lends any credence to any real claims of a double standard. What the author does call a double standard isn't one. And calling it that only serves to dilute the meaning of those words. It makes them less useful when a real double standard comes along.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a lifelong fan of the Green Bay Packers. I'm glad that Favre is back. I have no opinion on whether or not Steve McNair plays for the Titans.

Friday, May 05, 2006

FAITH based initiatives

The American Muslim has scheduled news conference. This is an interesting announcement. It would appear that they find Wachovia's closing of the account to be problematic and worthy of some sort of political response. Presumably, this response would then force Wachovia to re-open the account. Perhaps, their ultimate goal is to force all banks to not discriminate based on the religious preferences of their account holders.

I don't know the ultimate goal of this. But as a person who holds religious beliefs, I find this to be rather wrong headed. Let's suppose, for example, that I were a customer of, say, Bank of America. And Bank of America decided that it was going to close all the accounts of all people of German descent who are also Christians. Would I be annoyed with this? Yes, of course. My great grandparents moved here in the early 1900's from Germany and I am a Christian. I'd be excluded.

But, unfortunately, a free market demands that each participant in the market be free to decide their trading partners. I am free to exclude Bank of America as a trading partner - I can choose not to be their customer. They should have that exact same freedom - to choose not to do business with me. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what the reasons are. If you force trade between two parties where one of them doesn't want it, that party is being robbed. Thaey are having their assets taken from them without their permission and given to someone else. It doesn't matter that they receive some compensation for those assets. What matters is that the robbed entity didn't think that compensation sufficient for the trade. As a result, they're getting something less than what they're being forced to give up. I see no distinction between that and robbery.

And it makes no difference if this is between a Muslim group or a Christian group or a German group or whatever group. If Wachovia doesn't want to do business with them, that is their prerogative. If, it turns out that none of the existing major banks want to do business with this group, that simply creates a market oppurtunity for someone else. Let's suppose that I'm being discriminated against by Bank of America. I could give you my money in return for a promise that you

  1. Have sufficient loss insurance
  2. Will give it back to me when demanded
  3. Will pay me an agreed upon interest rate
You are then given the freedom to invest that money however you want, so long as you meet the above criteria. You might even open an account at Bank of America, and the agreed upon intersest rate is 0.5% less than Bank of America's published rate.

But maybe I don't trust you. Ok. If Bank of America is discriminating against me alone, then Citi probably won't discriminate against me alone. They want my profits. So I'll go there. Or, if Bank of America is discriminating against me as a class (German Christians) then I can still go to Citi. But maybe all of the existing banks are discriminating against German Christians. Now the risk of trusting you might look better. Or maybe there's someone else who's interested in my 0.5% profit and is more trustworthy than you.

Given time, the market will produce someone who's willing to get my profits. The beauty of free association is that this is what happens. The cost of free association is the ability of one entity to refuse to associate with another. If you keep free association, over time, we all get what we want. If you start forcing associations, over time, none of us get anything we want.

Don't kill free association.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Tonight, within the last 2 hours, I discovered a new concept that I didn't know about before. I love that. The concept is "emergent churches". My interest in it turns out to have come almost accidentally. I read a book... well, I listened to an unabridged audio version of it. I really enjoyed this book. It's Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis. As much as I enjoyed it, I also feel somewhat cautious about some of the things that it suggests. So I asked one of the pastors at my church about it. He hadn't read it, but he mentioned the words "emergent churches". So I went googling.

It turns out that Rob Bell is part of a movement of churches that are trying to change the church. That movement calls itself "emergent". And, WOW, a LOT of people really dislike emergent churches. I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised, I went out looking for criticisms of velvet elvis, and I found 'em. For instance, take this blog entry and it's comments.

Even though the comments end amicably, the middle part is too contentious for me. What I think that the commenters have missed is the value of failure. I don't know where I stand with respect to whether Rob Bell is right or wrong. But there is value in the discussion, even if he's wrong. There's value in taking a chance and presenting a viewpoint, even if that viewpoint eventually turns out to be provably false. The value is that we've learned something about finding false viewpoints. I wish very much that the commenters on that site could sit back and have the discussion and appreciate the other point of view, without having to agree with it. And, more importantly, without having to belittle their opposition. I'm especially frustrated by the posts that seem to suggest that these questions not even be asked. E.g.:
Goodness. Not only am I in shock by some of these posts, but that those who carry the banner for Christ would ‘excuse’ or grant grace, to anyone who wants to water down truth.
I wish it were completely obvious which things (including Biblical interpretations) were truth. But, more often than not, clear cut truth is evasive. Clear cut truth almost never requires discussion. No one argues that 2+2=4. There are no blog entries with multiple comments going back and forth on that one. Doesn't the existence of the discussion suggest that the truth being discussed is not obvious?

Does that put me on the side of Rob Bell? Even if I'm skeptical of some of the things he suggests? Does that make me a post-modern Christian? I really hope not, because I simply don't agree with post-modernism. I don't agree that *anything* goes. I don't agree that perspective can change right and wrong. I think there IS objective truth. I just don't trust my human ability to accurately discern it on my own.

I agree with the economists who describe markets as a discovery process. I want to welcome all ideas to the discussion. Even the ones that I think will ultimately be rejected. There's value in experimentation. There's a lot of value in failed experiments.

So disagree with Rob Bell if you like, but it might be wise to consider humility. Be willing be wrong. I'm not God, and as such, I'm always prone to misunderstanding Him and His truth. I don't think I'm the only one who has that problem.

Am I wrong?

Monday, March 13, 2006


Bryan Caplan links to a great post on parenting and economics. It reminds me of one of my previous posts on the topic. In any case, Bryan then asks:
The only problem: Most of Cox's advice is aimed at parents of young kids, but most of the anguished parents I know have teen-agers! In particular, I know a number of parents who have 18-year-olds who refuse to go to school or get a job. What's a parent of a teen-age bum to do?

As the father of four boys (all under the age of 10) I practice a parenting technique called "Love and Logic". It's described in a book called "Parenting with Love and Logic" and it's quite similar to what Dr. Cox prescribes.

In any case, what to do with the teenage bum? I would hope that my pre-teen children would see something like this coming from a mile away since they've been dealing with me and my devious wife since they were born. But if I just started practicing this parenting style on them as a teenager, I'd first sit them down when we're all in a good mood. Maybe after a good movie on TV, or going out to they're favorite dinner or something like that.

Then I'd casually say something to my wife. Of course, we'd have rehearsed this many many times so that we knew what our plan was. Maybe we'd do it on the way home in the car.

Me: You know, honey. John's been living at home for a while now. He's not in school and he's not got a job.

Wife: Yeah, I know what you mean. It doesn't seem like he's got any plan for anything, really. I'm not sure what to do about this, do you have any ideas?

Me: Well, I've decided that we need to start treating John much more like an adult. We've been doing a really bad job at that lately. We're acting like he's 4 years old and it's just not working.

John (interrupting): Yeah, that's right.

Me: I'm sorry, John, I'm speaking with your mother right now. Just a minute. Anyway, I think we should start treating him much more like an adult. Do you think we can do that?

Wife: Oh yes, I know exactly how adults are treated. I don't think that will be a problem at all.

Me: Ok. Then we're agreed. Sorry, John, you were saying?

John: I was just agreeing with you.

Me: Oh, good. So this sounds like a good plan to you?

John: Sure. Whatever.

Me: Oh good. I'm so releaved. I thought you might hate this plan.

John: Why would I hate it?

Me: Well, let's not think about that for now. I'm sure that it will all work out just fine.

And then I'd just end the conversation.

The next day, I'd put a bill on his bedroom door for rent. The rent statement would read: "Can be paid monthly in cash or by semester in college grades of C or better." Rent or a college acceptance letter is due on the 1st of the month. I wouldn't say a single thing other than that. The monetary amount would not be ridiculous, but it'd certainly be more than he could afford without getting a job, maybe $100 per month.

I suspect that the kid would not do a single thing, and the 1st of the month would roll around without a payment or an enrollment letter. At which point, I'd go into his room, remove his stereo (or some other valued possession) and sell it. In it's place, I'd leave a note saying something like, "repossesed for non-payment of rent".

Now the trick to this would be when the kid came home and discovered his missing stereo, to be empathetic. To say something like, "Man that really stinks! I know *exactly* how you feel. I would hate it if I lost my house because I didn't pay the mortgage! What are you going to do?"

Now if the kid's smart, he'll do something immediately. If he's particularly stubborn it will take a couple of months of losing his things before he starts to realize that he's being treated like an adult and it's going to require and adult response: get a job, go to school, or move out.

You might prefer to start with something smaller: maybe stop buying his favorite food. Then escalate to bigger things like his stereo.

This seems harsh. But it's all in the delivery. It's all in how much empathy and compassion for the kid's problem you have. If you make life difficult enough for the kid, but deliver that difficulty with empathy, the kid will choose to leave. He might be very unhappy, but that's when you innundate him with your catch phrase: "I love you too much not to treat you like the adult that you are. Good luck!" The kid may not like you very much when you do this, but it will serve him well in the future. When a payment of a bill (or some other adult responsibility) starts to get close, he'll have the memory of this (relatively) small pain to help him avoid a much more painful situation that's not delivered by his parents.

And that's how a parent gets through this kind of thing. If you *could* lay both painful situations side by side and choose which one your child was forced to experience, you'd almost certainly choose the least painful one. When you do something like this, you have to remember about the larger pain in the future that you're sentancing your child to if you avoid the small pain today.

Of course, if you want a much better set of examples, I recommend this.

Bounced Email

I tried to send an email to the author of this article, but email to him bounced. Here's what I tried to send him:

Mr Colvin:

I read your article on the possible reverse of income inequality. In it you state:

"Rising income inequality has settled comfortably into America's big economic picture as a reliable--and much lamented--megatrend... The college graduate's income started beating the high school graduate's income by a wider margin every year--and income inequality began to swell. That explanation makes sense, and the data support it."

My question is: why only think about this trend since the 1960's? The trend of ever increasing knowledge started long before that. Probably it started in earnest with the development of the printing press. That's when it became relatively easy to disseminate information. With that easy dissemination of information came the
growth of those who used it to their advantage. Those who didn't bother to gather that information were left behind.

But that is nothing compared to the demands that the industrial revolution has made on increasing knowledge and skills. Someone with a high school level education in 1900 (with little or no exposure to the internal combustion engine) would have a VERY difficult time getting a high school graduate's job in 1960. Someone with a high
school education in 1965 (and little or no exposure to computers) would have a difficult time working at McDonald's today - a job for pre-high school graduates.

The increasing demand of knowledge is not a trend to be lamented. It is, rather, a trend to be celebrated because it's a mark of our progress. It's the natural result of innovation.

As far as the trend changing, I think it's more of a blip than a trend. I think it's much more akin to what Schumpeter called "creative destruction". A great description is available in a paper called "The Churn".


Thursday, March 09, 2006

This can't be right...

It's been a long time since I've written anything here. Too long. I don't know if I'll sustain anything, but here goes...

Last night at church, we celebrated communion. And as is usually the case, I was struck by how big what Christ did for me. But this time, there was something more. This time, I couldn't seem to feel happy about it. I mean, I am happy about it, but...

Think of it this way. Imagine that you've just started writing a book. You finish the first page, and the next day you come back and the entire book is written. Maybe you know who wrote it, maybe you don't. But you read it. And it turns out to be good. It turns out to be exactly what you'd have wanted to write, if only you'd done it. It's so good, that even though you didn't write much of it, you feel its necessary to publish it, because this thing can't be kept secret. So you publish it. Next thing you know, everyone is giving you accolades. You're appearing on the today show. You're getting recommendations from Oprah. You win the Pulitzer. You try to convince everyone that you didn't really write it, but they don't believe you.

In the end, you know that you didn't deserve this. The real author of the book deserves the accolades. The real author of the book deserves the prizes. All of this is a sham.

That's how I felt last night. I can't possibly deserve this. I am far too wretched for the cross to apply to me. Yet God says it does. And somehow that just doesn't seem right. In exactly the same way that I couldn't accept the Pulitzer, it just seems wrong to accept the cross. Thank you Jesus for what you did, but it seems too much.

I don't know where I'm going with this thought. I am ineffably glad that Jesus did what he did. It is my *only* hope.