Question time – climate change
May 16, 2014, 1:15 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

When a Smart Person is talking to a non-Smart Person, he loves to line up an enumerated list of ‘Questions’ for that person. Devastating questions. In answering them the non-Smart Person will inevitably reveal how much of a neanderthal he is somewhere.

Let me demonstrate by tackling some Questions recently asked of Bryan Caplan by (some guy who wrote a cartoon book) regarding Climate Change.

Are you comfortable saying that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas?

Um, sure? ‘Greenhouse gas’ is a category of thing with a definition. Carbon dioxide meets that definition. Duh. This is like asking am I comfortable saying that 2 is an even number. There is not real debate about this.

That human emissions of carbon dioxide are raising atmospheric CO2 concentrations?

I guess; if humans emit X CO2’s then at least in short-term there are X CO2’s that weren’t there before. Though there could ultimately be feedback effects, which I don’t trust anyone to have modeled well. (For example more CO2 -> more trees -> less CO2, so it’s a wash? I dunno. Nor do you.)

Perhaps the real implied question is, if one goes back to (say) 1850 and spawns a parallel universe in which one instantly and without pollution kills all the humans, then runs the clock forward to today, is there more CO2 in our universe than in that parallel universe’s 2014? In that case, my even-money bet would be ‘yes’. But I don’t feel hugely strongly about that. I also don’t care or think it is germane to much of anything.

That global temperatures have been increasing over the past century?

So they say. I haven’t been measuring. I have seen measurements that seem fine and show warming from the late 1800s to ~2000. It seems to have paused in the last decade or two though.

Climates change. Did you know there have been “Ice Ages”?

That humans are partly responsible for those increasing global temperatures?

I doubt it, unless ‘partly’ is defined so expansively as to mean ‘causing an epsilon temperature increase, with probability epsilon, for some epsilon>0′.

Again it would be convenient to check that parallel universe, but absent that, all we have are computer models to inform our answer to this question. I don’t trust the output of those computer models to have the resolution or accuracy enabling them to establish a hypothesized Human Responsibility Factor as being measurably, statistically-significantly different from 0. Does the cartoonist? If so, why, exactly?

That “it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century”?

‘The’ dominant? No, I do not think this extremely likely. I think it is one of the possibilities, sure.

By the way, none of the above questions matter one iota regarding what forward-looking climate change policy ought, or ought not, to be.

Thanks everyone, this has been: QUESTION TIME

May 14, 2014, 7:37 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Mortgages Should Be Easier to Get

Right. Of course. Pointing government policy toward making mortgages easier to get has always worked out pretty well for us before.

The duty to coordinate
May 13, 2014, 9:14 pm
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Florida Couple Fined $746 For Crime Of Feeding Homeless People

The police chief helpfully explains:

“If you want to feed people, and you want to do a good, Christian act, we encourage you to coordinate with the social service agencies.”

Makes sense. How/why could someone do a good, Christian act without ‘coordinating with ‘the social service agencies’? Why would this even be allowed?

In any fascism, there can be no religion outside of the state.

I, too, am an immigration ‘trimmer’
May 13, 2014, 7:19 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Immigration, Yes — and No

Good, balanced piece by Gene Callahan. (h/t Danny Kenny)

Not just hands
May 12, 2014, 8:10 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

David Henderson, probably my favorite EconLog blogger, comments on a recent open-borders debate in which Mark Krikorian apparently made this important point:

The second [point Krikorian makes], which goes from about 19:00 to 20:30, is that immigrants aren’t just hands, that is, not just workers, but are also people.


Unfortunately, the full meaning and import of this comment seems to have been lost even on Henderson, who misses the point by only replying:

Krikorian seems to be making this as a criticism of immigration and I don’t get it. I find the fact that they’re people a positive on net, not a negative.

Let me just say that I’m right there with Henderson in this sense: ‘the fact that they’re people’ isn’t helpful as a uniform criticism of all immigration. (Who was criticizing ‘immmigration’?) It’s just part of a criticism of open borders. That is because, however much one may think ‘people are a positive on net’ (and I suppose even I do, misanthrophic hater that I supposedly am!), there are still – undeniably – a nonzero number of people who would not be. Hence, I reserve the right to think some people more ‘net-positive’ than others – as indeed we all do, in any number of the daily associations that we form, or don’t, as the case may be.

‘People are a positive on net’ then is just not helpful as an argument for open borders, not unless whether/to what extent to allow immigration is somehow an all-or-nothing proposition. But says who? Why do we have to do this calculation only ‘on net’? The excluded middle being assumed away, allowing only some immigrants – i.e., having a restrictionist immigration policy – is precisely the proposition under discussion and which Henderson purports to be arguing against. This means that taken as a counter to restrictionist arguments, his comment begs the question.

In fact, I can perfectly well agree with David Henderson that immigrants are a net-positive but still favor restrictionist policies; in part that would be because not all of them are (as Henderson himself would presumably agree). Going back to the ‘hands’ vs. ‘people’ point, I think a problem I have with Caplanite ‘immigrants=workers’ type constructions is that they, seemingly intentionally, either paper over or declare out-of-bounds the very dimensions along which increased immigration would fail cost-benefit analysis. And I suppose that was Krikorian’s point, though of course I can’t be sure, given that as usual I’m blogging this off-the-cuff without actual reference to the source material I’m supposedly commenting on.

Gillespie gives us THE DEFINITIVE ARGUMENT for open borders
May 10, 2014, 8:48 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

From Nick Gillespie at Reason:

Immigration Helps American Workers: The Definitive Argument (And Why It Won’t Matter)

You ready, folks? This is going to be ‘the definitive’ argument! The argument is going to be just so good that there can be no possible disputing it afterwards! I can’t wait.

A recent Washington Post article reports on new studies about the employment effects of immigration.

‘New studies’. I’m excited already. Is there any case of a social-science ‘study’ that didn’t become the ‘definitive argument’ for something? No! Social-science ‘studies’ are always unequivocal and totally convincing. I’m not even sure there’s any reason to read further.

The basic conclusion? Immigrants don’t displace native-born workers.

They ‘don’t displace’ native-born workers. Ever. Not any of them. This isn’t an aggregate conclusion, mind you; this is an absolute conclusion. Immigrants ‘don’t displace’ native-born workers. As a sort of law of physics, I reckon.

That must be some ‘study’! Because where I come from, no conceivable ‘study’ could possibly prove this claim, even in principle (let alone definitively). But Reason said so so it must be so.

Maybe the devil is in the details:

immigrants fill labor gaps;

What’s a ‘labor gap’? Would that be a ‘job where employers would have to pay higher salaries in order to attract workers if they weren’t able to tap the immigrant gray-market’, by any chance? Why is it a good thing to ‘fill’ this ‘labor gap’ with a gray-market, why not let it be ‘filled’ the way markets adjust to other such ‘gaps’, by letting the price go up?

immigrants don’t have access to the same jobs as natives;

Right, especially when/where a large portion of them are illegals and thus exist in a legal no-man’s-land, hence employers can take more advantage of them. This…is an argument for such a situation not only persisting but being encouraged and nurtured?

immigrants complement (rather than replace) existing capital, tech, and workers;

‘rather than replace’? Another absolutist claim where it would be more honest to state this as an aggregate/’on average’/’for the most part’ type of claim.

labor markets adapt;

Well, they kinda have to, right? But the question is what shocks/forces we do or don’t wish to throw at the labor market that it will (inevitably) be forced to adapt to, and do we like the result of that adaptation. Since this is a ‘definitive argument’ surely that question is addressed and answered somewhere…

complementarity increases productivity, which in turn increases wages.

Sensible, where such complementarity exists.

Gillespie points us to two highly-lightweight-looking ‘papers’ (PDFs put up on some think-tank web site; it’s not clear to me if/where they are published) that are supposed to form the basis for all of these absolutist conclusions. The ‘papers’ are short, mostly verbal, and contain graphs like this:

Which, I claim, demonstrate approximately 0% of what Gillespie suggests. Just off the top of my head:

‘Foreign population’ is measured differently in different places. ‘Unemployment’ is measured differently in different places. There are undoubtedly local idiosyncratic reasons and situations affecting these numbers meaning that these aren’t at all apples-apples comparisons. Fitting a quadratic function through these data is a hilarious thing to do.

And more to the point, I had thought the question was not whether ‘foreign population’ in aggregate increases ‘unemployment’ (however measured) in aggregate, but whether immigration ‘displaces native-born workers’, because I was promised that it didn’t. Moreover, this chart doesn’t show that and couldn’t show that even in principle, because ‘unemployment’ is an aggregate number that can mask what is going on under the hood. You can have workers X, Y, Z get laid off Because Of Immigrants but if workers A, B, C (for example, immigrants!) get new jobs at the same time, the ‘unemployment rate’ will stay about the same. In such a case it is just not true that no one got displaced.

There is a weaker claim to be made perhaps, that immigration doesn’t hurt ‘overall’, but that is cold comfort to X, Y, and Z, and doesn’t address their actual concerns, now does it? So there is no support whatsoever for Gillespie’s ‘don’t displace’ assertion in the papers he points to. (This loose, careless, absolutist way of pushing various empirical claims is, I have noticed, a very common feature of pro-open-borders rhetoric.)

Second, Gillespie shows us a chart from the other paper, a ‘meta-analysis’. Oooh, meta-analysis! I love those! Read a bunch of other papers and histogram their results. SCIENCE

This is junk. I don’t even know what to say about it.

THE DEFINITIVE ARGUMENT, though. I keep forgetting. Gillespie is pretty blown away by this stuff (if he even really read it):

I don’t expect this latest foray into empirical reality to change most people’s minds on immigration.

What ‘empirical reality’? The empirical reality of how many papers (that some authors decided to read) had regression coefficients in which bin?

The thing is, I don’t even care that much about the immigrants-steal-our-jobs factor. That is not why I am an immigration ‘restrictionist’ (i.e. non-open-borderser). I’m just saying that people who are and who do have such concerns should not feel bullied or even threatened in any way by this sort of junk ‘study’.

Yet the simple reality is something like this: Immigrants, who are barred from receiving most forms of welfare in America,

Wait what? ‘Barred from receiving’? And ‘immigrants’ (not merely illegal immigrants)? What is he talking about? Unless by ‘most forms of’ he excludes things like using the hospital for free medical care… More loose, sloppy language. If the case for immigration is so strong why does everything need to be exaggerated, why do subtleties need to be ignored? Why write this way when one is clearly capable of better thinking and better writing?

Or restrictionists fixate on the willingness of cantalope-calved “criminals” to cross a fucking desert in order to

‘Fixate’. ‘Fucking’. Wow now I’m really blown away by this ‘definitive argument’. HE SAID FUCKING. I am devastated by the sheer power of this logic

Or they enlist SCIENCE in the cause of closing borders: Don’t you know that evolution means we are designed by nature to hate Mexicans who don’t look anything like us second-generation Italians, third-generation Jews, and seventh-generation Tennesseans?

Huh? I don’t even know where he got this straw-man

But that sort of atavism and emotionalism is simply no basis for public policy or living an examined life.

Yeah, we sure wouldn’t want to let ‘emotionalism’ get in the way of our clear-headed examined life, would we, Nick Fucking Gillespie?

I’ll say this again: it’s the issue of immigration itself. It’s not the writer. Something about this issue just takes intelligent folks’ brains and temporarily destroys their reasoning ability. I probably like, enjoy, and respect in excess of 95% of the writing of Nick Gillespie (and Bryan Caplan for that matter). But when they get to the subject of immigration they just turn into naive first-week college-freshman ranting and raving in the student union. Reason goes out the window. Tempering and hedging one’s claims goes out the window. Blow smoke, change the subject, muddy the waters. Propagandistic language and straw-men, mischaracterizing and demonizing one’s opponents’ views and motives, become the order of the moment.

It’s striking: Why is unlimited immigration, alone among public-policy issues, so important that it turns the Nick Gillespies of the world into Michael Moore?

I’m making progress with Caplan on open borders
May 8, 2014, 11:15 am
Filed under: Uncategorized


Why should we grant foreigners the rights to travel, live, and work where they want? [...] I’m not proposing that we give foreigners homes or jobs. I’m proposing that we allow foreigners to earn these worldly goods from willing native landlords and employers.

(emphasis mine)

I’d like to note that, compared to most of his rhetoric, Caplan has apparently added ‘travel’ to his list of asks. That is a good thing. He’s getting there.

His prior constructions have been things like ‘let anyone take a job anywhere’. He also mentions ‘renting’ from ‘willing landlords’ a lot. As I have pointed out repeatedly, immigration isn’t merely getting a job and it isn’t merely renting an apartment. There’s something more to it than all that. And so as I have pointed out repeatedly, ‘letting’ anyone take a job/rent an apartment from a willing whatever – which I’m all for – doesn’t amount to open borders. You still have to, like, open the borders themselves.

I engaged him on Twitter about this but he eventually waved me away with (weird, coming from Bryan Caplan) accusations that I was being pedantic for him, because he’s not a lawyer. Yeah, Bryan Caplan is more about emotion and fast & loose reasoning (sure).

Anyway, in spite of that feigned inability/unwillingness/lack of temperament to grasp the logical distinctions I was drawing, I’m pleased to note here that Caplan’s recent subtle insertion of ‘travel’ into his pro-open borders litany is presumably a (welcome!) recognition of my point. Because it indicates that he finally recognizes that merely allowing ‘working’ and ‘renting’ doesn’t get him open borders.

But then look at the last sentence quoted above. For some reason, after asserting the right to ‘live [reside], work, and travel’, he only mentions willing landlords and employers. That is a fine construction for convincing a libertarian that letting people ‘live’ and ‘work’ where they want should be allowed.

But what about the travelling part? What about the – you know – actual immigration component of immigrating?

There is a glaring obvious hole in his rhetoric. There were three claimed ‘rights’ not two, so clearly he needs to mention – in addition to ‘landlords’ and ‘employers’ – a third ‘willing’ counterparty who, if they are ‘willing’, would be the one allowing the travelling?

Who is that counterparty, I wonder?

Why, it’s us! The People of the United States! More specifically, it’s us via our representatives in our government that we charge with defending and enforcing our national border.

But that’s just it, Professor Caplan. We aren’t willing. You can’t beg the question by assuming that we are. If we were, we wouldn’t be talking about this. So sure, anyone anywhere should be able to

a) live,
b) work, and/or
c) travel (i.e. immigrate)

anywhere they want, in any situation where they have found willing

A) landlords,
B) employers, and/or
C) nations.

The only problem then is that Caplan left out (C). Once he goes all the way and realizes that, we’ll be in total agreement!


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