Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Almost Everything We're Taught Is Wrong
We grow up learning that some things are just bad: child labor, ticket scalping, price gouging, kidney selling, blackmail, etc. But maybe they're not.
What I love about economics is that it can show that what seems harmful is actually good for society. It illuminates what common sense overlooks. This is all covered in the eye-opening book "Defending the Undefendable" by economist Walter Block.
Most people call child labor an unmitigated evil. David Boaz of the Cato Institute and Nick Gillespie of Reason.tv say that's wrong. "If we say that the United States should abolish child labor in very poor countries," Boaz said, "then what will happen to these children? ... They're not suddenly going to go to the country day school. ... They may be out selling their bodies on the street. That is not an improvement over working in a t-shirt factory."
In fact, studies show that in at least one country where child labor was suddenly banned, prostitution increased. Good economics teaches that as poor countries get richer and freer, capital investment raises the productivity of labor and child labor diminishes. There's no shortcut through government prohibition -- unless you like starvation and child prostitution.
What about price-gouging? State laws attempt to prevent people from charging "unconscionable" prices during emergencies.
"If I'm in the neighborhood of Hurricane Katrina," Boaz said, "what I want is water and ice and generators. ... If you are in Kentucky (and) you've got 10 generators in your store, are you getting up at 4 a.m. to drive all day to get to Louisiana to sell these generators if you can only sell them for the same price you can sell them for in Kentucky? No, you're going to go down because ... you can sell them for more."
Also, if prices rise during an emergency, that's a signal for people to buy only what they most need. That leaves more for everyone else. If the price remains low, an incentive to conserve is lost.
Ticket scalpers are seen as sleazy guys who cheat you by marking up the price of tickets. Profits go to middlemen instead of the performers. What good could they possibly do? "I like to think of ticket scalpers as the guy who stands in line so that I don't have to," Gillespie said. Time spent in line is part of the ticket cost. Scalpers let you pay entirely in money, rather than partly in valuable time.
Most people say that selling body parts is wrong. "It also seems wrong to have people dying because they can't get a kidney," Boaz said. Some 400,000 Americans are on a waiting list now for a new kidney, and they are not allowed to pay for one. "We sell hair. We sell sperm. We sell eggs these days." Boaz added.
Gillespie added, "The best way to grow the supply and allow more people to live is to allow the market to price those organs."
Maybe the most counterintuitive position argued on my show was that blackmail should not be a crime. Blackmail (unlike extortion) is the demand for money in return for withholding information. Robin Hanson, a George Mason University economist, defends blackmail.
"The thing you're threatening when you're threatening blackmail (is) gossip," Hanson said. "If it should be all right to tell people, it should be all right to threaten to tell people." What we don't like, however, is the blackmailer saying, "Pay me to keep quiet." "But the effect of that is to make people behave," Hanson said. "If we (allow) blackmail, people behave even more because they are even more afraid of what might happen if they don't."
Maybe Ponzi-schemer Bernie Madoff would have been caught earlier? "That's right. ... Blackmail is actually a form of private law enforcement." Also, since gossip is free speech, blackmail is simply selling the service of not engaging in free speech. Why should that be outlawed?
I subtitled my last book, "Everything You Know Is Wrong." I was exaggerating, of course, but many things we're taught are fallacies. That's why I like economics. It explodes fallacies.
I Think Therefore We Should
The most dangerous ideas in contemporary political discourse are easily identified. While they often take hours to explain they are usually introduced in a conversation beginning with these four words: “I think we should.” If you do not yet know what I am talking about then a brief example is warranted. The following comes from a recent conversation I had with a self-identified liberal:
“I think we should provide all of our citizens with national health care. I think we should continue to provide financial security for the elderly. I think we should also have national day care. And I think we should provide a free college education for every American.”
What I have come to refer to as “I think we should” morality is not a completely bad thing. But it is, quite literally, a half-bad thing, which means it is also a half-good thing. The good half of “I think we should” morality is the “I think” part. Let me illustrate with a few examples:
* When a person says, “I think providing citizens with health care is a good idea,” there really isn’t anything wrong. The person can always find someone who needs health care. And he can take the needy to the doctor if he so desires. In fact, he can take as many of them as he wants as long as they are willing to go.
* When a person says, “I think providing financial security for the elderly is a good idea,” there is no problem. The person who says this undoubtedly knows someone who is elderly. And he is certainly free to take out his check book and write a check to that elderly person. In fact, he can take care of as many elderly people as he wants as long as they are willing to accept his generosity.
* When a person says, “I think providing day care is a good idea,” there is no problem at all. The person who says this undoubtedly knows someone who has children. And he is certainly free to take care of his friends’ children whenever he perceives that they have other responsibilities to which they must attend. In fact, he can take care of as many of his friends’ children as he wants as long as their parents are willing and have trust in his supervision.
* When a person says, “I think providing free college education is a good idea,” there is no problem at all. The person who says this undoubtedly knows someone without a college degree. And he is certainly free to send that person to college if he would like. In fact, he can spend his life savings sending other people’s kids to college if he has none of his own. I know of a woman in Mississippi who did just that. She lived modestly - largely because she scrubbed toilets for a living. But she found a way to give.
The problem with all of these wonderful sentiments is not that they begin with “I think.” The initial thought is not the problem. It is that the initial thought is followed by the two words “We should.” This is problematic because the word “we,” in reality, means “you.” In other words, the proponent of “I think we should” morality is less interested in doing charitable things than he is in forcing you to perform his charitable acts for him. And so it is appropriate to ask these two questions of anyone any time he begins to lecture you with a sentence beginning with the four words “I think we should”:
1. What are you presently doing to alleviate the problem?
2. Why should the government force others to do things you are unwilling to do yourself? It is unlikely that the person will be able to identify anything he is doing to alleviate the problem. And his answer to the other question will be that no one will do these things unless compelled by the government. In other words, he will have admitted that, in his view, government, not God, must redeem man and save him from his sins of omission.
Confronting “I think we should” morality is a good way of getting liberals to admit that they favor legislating morality. It is also a good way of getting them to admit that there is a crack in the “Wall of Separation” between Church and State.
Yet more false sex allegations in Britain
Daughter of racehorse trainer at centre of custody battle was coached to claim her father had sexually abused her
A former jockey and racehorse trainer at the centre of a child custody scandal lied that her former boyfriend was a paedophile, a High Court judge said yesterday.
Vicky Haigh made up the allegations and even coached her seven-year-old daughter to repeat the claims, he added.
Sir Nicholas Wall, the country’s most senior family judge, said that Miss Haigh should be named and shamed and her former partner, David Tune, freed from the false smear that he is a child abuser.
He made the damning remarks as he jailed another woman, Elizabeth Watson, who acted as an ‘investigator’ on Miss Haigh’s behalf, sending ‘aggressive and intimidating’ e-mails and internet postings about social workers involved in the case.
Watson was given a nine-month sentence for contempt of court. The ruling was the culmination of a long-running row involving Miss Haigh which started with her allegations about her boyfriend and social workers.
Initially the secrecy of the family courts meant the public were not allowed to know any of the facts of the affair.
But John Hemming, the Liberal Democrat MP who named Ryan Giggs in the commons as a footballer with a privacy injunction to hide an affair, named Miss Haigh using Parliamentary privilege.
The MP said Haigh had been unfairly put under threat of imprisonment by Doncaster Council for speaking to a Westminster meeting about family law issues. It led to sympathetic portrayals of the then heavily pregnant Miss Haigh.
But yesterday that changed when Sir Nicholas made his judgement public and ordered that Miss Haigh, 40, could now legally be named, as could Mr Tune, and that Doncaster council be identified as the employer of the social workers in the case.
The judge ordered that the seven-year-old girl’s identity must remain secret and she can be known only as ‘X’. Sir Nicholas said: ‘Allegations of sexual abuse were first made by the mother and not by X. These were false and the mother knew them to be false. X was coached by the mother to make allegations of sexual abuse against the father.’
He added that two judges examined the case at previous High Court hearings and both found that Mr Tune was not a paedophile and had not sexually abused his daughter.
Sir Nicholas said: ‘The child’s mother is wholly unable to accept the court’s verdict and, with the misguided assistance of Elizabeth Watson has unlawfully and in breach of court orders, put into the public domain via email and the internet a series of unwarranted and scandalous allegations about the father and others.
‘She has repeated the untruth that the father is a paedophile and – without a scintilla of evidence - has attacked the good faith of all the professionals who had had any contact with the case.
‘These proceedings have had a serious effect on the life of the father and have threatened the stability of the child. Her mother’s actions are wholly contrary to her interests.’ The judge said that Watson had identified parties in the case in defiance of court orders and had criticised social workers and police.
He said she had referred to ‘social disservices’ and ‘abductees’ who ‘snatched children’ and ‘tortured innocent parents’.
Sir Nicholas said: ‘You have seriously breached an order and seriously compromised the well-being of a child. There is no question of misunderstood. You knew exactly what you were doing – writing the most aggressive, intimidating emails calling everyone in sight corrupt.’
He added: ‘She thought herself above the law. That will not be tolerated.’
Australian mother explains why she made her son wear 'I'm a thief' sign
A MUM has ignited a national debate after making her 10-year-old son stand in a busy park wearing a sign saying, "Do not trust me. I will steal from you as I am a thief".
The mother, who confessed to having a criminal past when she was young, said it was to ensure he did not follow in her footsteps, the Herald Sun reported.
"I have lived a life that most people would not dream of and I am trying to stop my child from going down the same road as I did, because even though I have sorted myself out, it took me 10 years to do," said the single mother of three children.
The woman said she had tried everything to stop her son shoplifting and stealing - visits to courthouses, chats with police, visits to police cells and even a trip to a youth detention centre.
Finding a stash of chocolates in her son's drawer after a trip to the corner shop to buy milk last week was the last straw.
"I have put him into courses, I have had counselling done, I have done everything I can," she said. "I think he has learnt his lesson. I think that hour (in the park) is enough for him to go: 'I don't ever want to do this again'. "I did the same thing as my son, shoplifting as a teenager, and then it escalated because I didn't have a mum there to teach me right from wrong."
The woman said her son had been stealing since he was seven.
The mum's actions made headlines, becoming the No.1 story on websites and dominating talkback radio from Melbourne to Townsville, where the family live. Her parenting style simultaneously appalled and inspired parents around the nation.
A surprisingly large number of people praised her and called for the cane to be reintroduced. Many also sympathised with her.
But Queensland University parenting director Prof Matt Sanders said the "shame and humiliation" approach was unlikely to have the desired effect. "There's almost no evidence that I'm aware of that this kind of shame and humiliation approach to kids is effective, and it can very easily backfire," he said. "If it doesn't work, what's your back-up? You've already pulled out the big guns."
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.