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  #1  
Old 12-16-2007, 09:00 PM
Bloggingheads Bloggingheads is offline
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Default Gambling, Guns, Drugs and Happiness

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  #2  
Old 12-16-2007, 09:26 PM
garbagecowboy garbagecowboy is offline
 
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Default Re: Gambling, Guns, Drugs and Happiness

Can't wait to see what this one is... sounds promising from the title though.
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  #3  
Old 12-16-2007, 10:41 PM
TwinSwords TwinSwords is offline
 
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Default Re: Gambling, Guns, Drugs and Happiness

LOL, as soon as I saw the title I had a feeling it would have a libertarian in it.

Sort of like if you said "gays, God, and guns" you know we'd be talking about the base of the Republican Party. Apparently the overlap between libertarians and Republicans is the "guns" part of the equation.
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  #4  
Old 12-16-2007, 11:03 PM
garbagecowboy garbagecowboy is offline
 
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Default Re: Gambling, Guns, Drugs and Happiness

Quote:
Originally Posted by TwinSwords View Post
LOL, as soon as I saw the title I had a feeling it would have a libertarian in it.

Sort of like if you said "gays, God, and guns" you know we'd be talking about the base of the Republican Party. Apparently the overlap between libertarians and Republicans is the "guns" part of the equation.
That's pretty much how I feel as a libertarian... until the Repubican Party decides to actually be fiscally responsible, then there would be two areas of overlap.
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  #5  
Old 12-16-2007, 11:41 PM
garbagecowboy garbagecowboy is offline
 
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Thumbs up Kleiman's grand bargain

I would accept Kleiman's grand bargain but it makes too much sense to ever happen.

Maybe I'm wrong on this but I cannot recall any sort of grand bargain like this in the history of American politics, where two huge interest groups would give up massive part of what they want-- the anti-gun people having to give up on banning guns, and the pro-gun people giving up in the red states their right to buy guns without any kind of registration.

With that said, both sides should rationally want to give in on these things even though they never would. Legal gun owners shouldn't fear registration and tracing of guns-- they should in theory have nothing to hide, and the guarantee of shall issue would make the idea that this was just a slippery slope towards an outright ban moot. For the anti-gun people, the fact that every gun murder, the vast majority of which are now committed by, as Kleiman describes, young kids with illegal guns (mostly over drugs) would now be much easier to solve would actually be a gun law that might make a difference, as opposed to just making it harder for people who don't break the law to follow the rules.

However, I just can't see Obama supporting shall issue in a piece of national legislation (shall issue in New York! Chicago! DC! The horror! Think of all the gun packing nuts! (forget that these people have never been convicted of a crime or thrown in a nuthouse)) and I can't see the NRA signing off on gun registration in Texas. His argument for doing the gun tracing via gun-shops is quite interesting, as is his suggestion that they check people out. Gun shop owners (at least the several I've met, maybe not at Wal-Mar, though) do actually check you out and make sure you know what you're doing before they sell you (or in my case) rent you a handgun. Formalizing this process to include keeping records of ballistics and transfers is an intriguing idea, and if it could be politically viable (which I'm not sure I quite believe) this would be a great compromise.

I could get my gun in New York (and carry it around in my backpack!) it would take a huge bite out of the disturbing percentage of murders that do not end in a conviction, and I bet it would take a huge bite out of the rates of homicides committed in our inner cities (since I bet that the increased rate of conviction would actually have a strong deterrent effect).

I thought that Kleiman's argument that the gun control movement is the liberal version of the drug war was very insightful, though. And I'm not sure that these liberal culture warriors are ready to give up their jihad, just yet, just like the conservatives are not going to cave in on the war on drugs.
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  #6  
Old 12-17-2007, 12:07 AM
Wonderment Wonderment is offline
 
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Default Compromises possible on social policy? Not holding my breath

Quote:
Maybe I'm wrong on this but I cannot recall any sort of grand bargain like this in the history of American politics, where two huge interest groups would give up massive part of what they want-- the anti-gun people having to give up on banning guns, and the pro-gun people giving up in the red states their right to buy guns without any kind of registration.
I think he was merely expressing his view that Obama may not be as rigid and polarizing as Clinton or the pack of right-wing extremists running as Republicans (Ron Paul excepted).

I'm pessimistic about any seriously sensible gun or drug reform, but I did enjoy listening to Kleiman. I'm very pro gun control, but I think the Kleiman compromise -- given the Red-Blue state polarization -- is well worth considering.

I'm also usually very pro-legalization of all drugs, but Kleiman made an interesting case for maintaining drug prohibition while decriminalizing consumption (a model widely used in Europe).

The big news this week on social policy was New Jersey's abolition of the death penalty. I hope someone on B-Heads will talk about that soon, and do some speculating about the Supreme Court's upcoming consideration of the lethal injection protocols.
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  #7  
Old 12-17-2007, 01:55 AM
Ottorino Ottorino is offline
 
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Default Am I the only one

who tires of these happiness debates being conducted in terms that many reflective people would consider rooted in ~pseudo-happiness~? There are many and varied traditions of thought according to all of which if you're measuring happiness by positional gains or crude materialistic pleasures, you're quite missing the point. Lao Tzu, Plato, Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Rumi, Thoreau, Kierkegaard...~Ayn Rand~ for chrissake - do such people's insights on human well-being count for nothing? If we're going to seriously measure genuine happiness, we need a more sophisticated operational definition - one ~based~ on hard-to-quantify-or-report-or-even-verbalize matters like authenticity, creativity, relationship dynamics, following one's life calling, cultivating virtue and talent, personal growth, coping effectively with loss and tragedy. That someone beat out his colleagues for a promotion, and feels good about it, tells us, as far as it goes, almost ~nothing~ about that person's actual happiness, deeply understood. Those aren't simply hedons to add to the plus side of the ledger in some social analysis. Anyway they shouldn't be.
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  #8  
Old 12-17-2007, 10:24 AM
Bloggin' Noggin Bloggin' Noggin is offline
 
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Default Re: Am I the only one

I'm sympathetic to your point about more objectivist notions of happiness. But first, I think it's dangerous to separate these objectivist notions too far from people's actual sense of well-being -- too easy for the Great Leader to tell us all that our happiness REALLY consists in serving him -- or for the Catholic Church to tell me that my desires are "objectively disordered." Here's an old joke on the subject:
Mother: Come the revolution, we'll all eat strawberries and cream!
Child: But I don't LIKE strawberries and cream.
Mother: Come the revolution, you WILL like strawberries and cream!
One's subjective sense of happiness may not be what happiness consists in, but it is still essential evidence about how happy people actually are.
That said, one of the difficulties is that people are not in a very good position to judge how happy other people really are, so their sense of how happy they themselves are compared to others is not very reliable.

And second, Aristotle and others who would propose a more objectivist conception of happiness would not be the ones to argue that more and more material goods always make people happier. Those with a subjectivist theory of happiness would be more likely to support such a position. Therefore, the studies in question are actually backing up the more Aristotelian view that beyond a certain sufficiency of material goods, people aren't made happier by more -- the evidence that people still pursue more and more is undercut by these studies. So if you look at the dialectical context, the subjectivity of these studies is not really problematic.
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  #9  
Old 12-17-2007, 11:56 AM
bjkeefe bjkeefe is offline
 
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Default Re: Am I the only one

BN:

Good answer, not that I expected anything less from you on this.

I agree with your larger point: there's no sense in telling the average person what should make him or her happier. If that isn't liberalism run amok, I don't know what it.
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  #10  
Old 12-17-2007, 04:11 PM
Bloggin' Noggin Bloggin' Noggin is offline
 
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Default Re: Am I the only one

Hi Brendan,
I might not be quite so sensible as you suppose. I'm inclined to think a liberal society has good reason to encourage people to seek fairly uncontroversially "better" goods over less good ones. In my view, and the view of many, education and the ability to think and decide for oneself are non-instrumentally better even for those who think they prefer to do without them. A liberal society could well seek to encourage a "liberal" education (i.e., one intended to "expand the horizons" of the individual, not just narrowly taylor him to some craft or profession) at the expense of other goods we regard as less valuable for the individual. Of course, liberalism itself would limit how coercive this "encouragement" can become, but it doesn't follow that a liberal society can't form or act upon any view at all of what makes individuals genuinely happy.
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  #11  
Old 12-17-2007, 04:42 PM
Dee Sharp Dee Sharp is offline
 
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Default Re: Am I the only one

"If we could have British or German or Australian level of private gun ownership, we'd have less homicide."

So if we really tighten our guns laws to match those in Mexico, we'll reduce our murder rate? Mexico's murder rate is twice ours. We are not the world champ of homicide, and most of the real champs have tight gun control. South Africa went from being a violent country with modest gun control to being a violent country with strict gun control.

I will not sign on to a grand bargain between ignorance and facts.
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  #12  
Old 12-17-2007, 09:06 PM
Wonderment Wonderment is offline
 
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Default Re: Am I the only one

Quote:
So if we really tighten our guns laws to match those in Mexico, we'll reduce our murder rate? Mexico's murder rate is twice ours. We are not the world champ of homicide, and most of the real champs have tight gun control. South Africa went from being a violent country with modest gun control to being a violent country with strict gun control.
Mexican gun laws are poorly enforced. There is tremendous police corruption, which results in lots of cop guns ending up in the hands of criminals. Also, American gun dealers funnel gazillions of guns into Mexico; most Mexican guns are MADE (or distributed) IN USA. Also, the drug trade, in order to satisfy US demand for controlled substances, has created vast mafias in Mexico -- in partnership with US gangsters and suburban teenagers.

Comparing the US to Mexico in terms of gun laws is ridiculous. The US has the legal infrastructure to enforce sane gun legislation, like keeping assault weapons illegal for starters. Compare the US to Britain, Holland or Japan, not Mexico.
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  #13  
Old 12-17-2007, 09:38 PM
Dee Sharp Dee Sharp is offline
 
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Default Re: Am I the only one

The US is mostly first world, but we have third world enclaves. Those enclaves tend to be violent, while most of the country is not. Last time I checked, the entire state of North Dakota had the same murder rate as Japan. N.D. gun laws are far more relaxed than Japanese ones, while our national murder rate using hands and fists exceeds Japan's total rate. Therefore, I can be excused for thinking that culture, not gun policy, determines murder rate.

Mark Kleiman noted that our drug dealers have guns, and stated that gun availability in the wider culture makes this possible. I'm supposed to believe that someone who sells contraband for a living will go without a gun if they are not sold in stores. Hard, that.

I did notice that Mark Kleiman is quite pro-gun for someone at his point on the political spectrum. I don't care. I want my bloggingheads to know a lot more than I do about the issues they discuss, wherever they sit politically. If I wanted to watch people share feelings, I'd plug in the TV.
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  #14  
Old 12-17-2007, 05:20 PM
Joel_Cairo Joel_Cairo is offline
 
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Default Re: Am I the only one

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bloggin' Noggin View Post
A liberal society could well seek to encourage a "liberal" education (i.e., one intended to "expand the horizons" of the individual, not just narrowly taylor him to some craft or profession) at the expense of other goods we regard as less valuable for the individual.
But then again, doesn't education inherently impart bias, a narrowing rather than broadening? To borrow a nugget observed by Amy Gutmann, "to educate" was synonymous with "to govern" in Aristotle's day. Any education guides, and necessarily closes doors even as it opens, rendering your "broadening horizons" formulation a bit misleading. The classic example is an aspiring professional ballerina, whose training is so intense, and must be committed to at such a young age, that it precludes a whole host of other options (to become a radiologist, for example). A more local example is in the Will Wilkinson / Ezra Klein diavlog, where Ezra tells the story of his friend who longs to become a writer, but can't because of her law school debt. This applies likewise on a less literal level (as I think you meant it): the education you espouse may close off access to other authetically chosen, and happy-making, lives. It has been successfully argued by the Amish that such education was a threat to their free exercise. Do you really think a liberal society has the right to deny someone their personal belief in empirically-unsound Creationism? It seems to me that this liberal education, with its critical reflection and rational autonomy and all that good stuff, could easily be construed as part of the fatal flaw of liberalism, Mark Schmitt's "technocratic ideal", where a supposedly value-neutral Enlightened world-view is fostered, without regard for the many other possible alternate belief systems it tramples underfoot.

Maybe I'm just nit-picking your word choice, and I'm certainly taking your and Brendan's conversation on a detour, but since you're assuming the Liberal Perfectionist stance, I thought I'd push back with some of the classic critiques

A great diavlog touching on this topic is to be found here (the last half especially)

Last edited by Joel_Cairo; 12-17-2007 at 05:29 PM..
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  #15  
Old 12-19-2007, 03:50 PM
Bloggin' Noggin Bloggin' Noggin is offline
 
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Default Re: Am I the only one

Quote:
Originally Posted by Joel_Cairo View Post
But then again, doesn't education inherently impart bias, a narrowing rather than broadening? To borrow a nugget observed by Amy Gutmann, "to educate" was synonymous with "to govern" in Aristotle's day. Any education guides, and necessarily closes doors even as it opens, rendering your "broadening horizons" formulation a bit misleading. The classic example is an aspiring professional ballerina, whose training is so intense, and must be committed to at such a young age, that it precludes a whole host of other options (to become a radiologist, for example). A more local example is in the Will Wilkinson / Ezra Klein diavlog, where Ezra tells the story of his friend who longs to become a writer, but can't because of her law school debt. This applies likewise on a less literal level (as I think you meant it): the education you espouse may close off access to other authetically chosen, and happy-making, lives. It has been successfully argued by the Amish that such education was a threat to their free exercise. Do you really think a liberal society has the right to deny someone their personal belief in empirically-unsound Creationism? It seems to me that this liberal education, with its critical reflection and rational autonomy and all that good stuff, could easily be construed as part of the fatal flaw of liberalism, Mark Schmitt's "technocratic ideal", where a supposedly value-neutral Enlightened world-view is fostered, without regard for the many other possible alternate belief systems it tramples underfoot.

Maybe I'm just nit-picking your word choice, and I'm certainly taking your and Brendan's conversation on a detour, but since you're assuming the Liberal Perfectionist stance, I thought I'd push back with some of the classic critiques

A great diavlog touching on this topic is to be found here (the last half especially)
Doesn't seem like a detour -- it's clearly relevant to what I was talking about. I tried to distinguish between forms of "education" that might not be "broadening" -- from actual indoctrination to the inculcation of some very narrow set of skills -- and liberal education (something involving critical thinking and an exposure to other ways of thinking).
Your example of the Amish suggests that even critical thinking might foreclose certain essentially narrow ways of life. This may be true, but it doesn't follow that an education involving critical thinking is itself "narrowing." Naturally, I would want to know how you can be so sure that a form of life that requires one not to be too aware of other ways of thinking IS "authentically chosen" -- the "choice" of one mode of life out of only one option doesn't seem like much of a choice, and the person choosing is not clearly in a position to be sure that he is choosing from a point of view that is authentically his.
Would I "force" the Amish into public education etc.? I tried to deal with this by pointing out that the liberal would try to "promote" critical thinking etc., but would not be keen to force this on those who disagree, precisely because it aims to justify a liberal political order on "neutral" grounds, or rather on grounds of what Rawls calls an "overlapping consensus" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Ra...cal_Liberalism

The "technocratic ideal" often tends to be spelled out in terms of utilitarianism, and utilitarianism is a view which is only one among many of the ethical views that form this overlapping consensus -- in which case it isn't neutral. Still at least certain versions of technocracy might well be justifiable on these quasi-neutral terms. I'm not convinced that liberalism really "tramples under foot" any actual belief systems. It must necessarily refuse to allow those belief systems to employ illiberal uses of force to spread themselves, but you can have a Catholic church without an inquisition.
People don't have to agree on the whole of the good for liberalism to work -- they just have to agree that force must be justified in terms that the coerced party cannot reasonably object to. If there are values, say honesty and mutual respect, that are essential to the existence of such a liberal order, or that can be agreed to by everyone (though they may have different theories of why these values are important), then a liberal society can promote these values -- it need not remain entirely "neutral" with respect to all values.
Creationists should not be punished, but I don't see any problem with teaching the empirical justifications for evolution in public schools. One shouldn't be forced to believe anything, but I don't see that it harms anyone to be taught what others believe and why they believe it.
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  #16  
Old 12-18-2007, 03:46 AM
testostyrannical testostyrannical is offline
 
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Default My attitude is different.

I just don't think the concept of happiness matters. It isn't just that it's objectively incommensurable. It's that happiness is overrated. This comes largely from having been raised in a (by American standards) poverty-ridden environment. Having both endured the heavy consequences of a childhood on the craptastic end of America's miraculous wealth distribution, and having spoken with many well meaning idiots about their conceptions regarding ideal social policy, I have developed a keen appreciation for policy discussions that focus less on heady notions of contentment and more on where the bacon is going. Getting good food in what would otherwise be empty stomachs makes sense. Of course this will make otherwise starving people happier, but it isn't their happiness that should be driving our efforts.

Making health a primary indicator is both easier to measure and, I think, just more logical. Are people getting fed, clothed, sheltered? Are there classes of individuals with unusually low life spans, or unusually high infant mortality rates, or who are unusually prone to specific illnesses? If so, what are the causes, and what can be done about it? These sorts of questions both make sense, and are a hell of a lot easier to deal with than questions about who feels good about life and who doesn't. If we could ever say we had dealt with even just the bare majority of these perennial challenges, I think we could claim rightfully to be living in a golden age.

Beyond the really basic requirements for survival and good health, and equality both of opportunity and before the law, I am agnostic regarding the role of public policy. If we solved all of these problems, and then, on top of that, could give everyone Rolls Royces and mansions (because studies showed how much happier everyone would be with them), to me this wouldn't be any better than just solving these problems. Beyond the satisfaction of basic human needs, everything else is a meaningless flourish of materiality.
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  #17  
Old 12-18-2007, 07:51 AM
Wolfgangus Wolfgangus is offline
 
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Default Re: My attitude is different.

You got my vote; I'll sign up for that policy. Screw happiness, bring groceries and a competent doctor.
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  #18  
Old 12-19-2007, 04:31 PM
Bloggin' Noggin Bloggin' Noggin is offline
 
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Default Re: My attitude is different.

Quote:
Originally Posted by testostyrannical View Post
I just don't think the concept of happiness matters. It isn't just that it's objectively incommensurable. It's that happiness is overrated. This comes largely from having been raised in a (by American standards) poverty-ridden environment. Having both endured the heavy consequences of a childhood on the craptastic end of America's miraculous wealth distribution, and having spoken with many well meaning idiots about their conceptions regarding ideal social policy, I have developed a keen appreciation for policy discussions that focus less on heady notions of contentment and more on where the bacon is going. Getting good food in what would otherwise be empty stomachs makes sense. Of course this will make otherwise starving people happier, but it isn't their happiness that should be driving our efforts.

Making health a primary indicator is both easier to measure and, I think, just more logical. Are people getting fed, clothed, sheltered? Are there classes of individuals with unusually low life spans, or unusually high infant mortality rates, or who are unusually prone to specific illnesses? If so, what are the causes, and what can be done about it? These sorts of questions both make sense, and are a hell of a lot easier to deal with than questions about who feels good about life and who doesn't. If we could ever say we had dealt with even just the bare majority of these perennial challenges, I think we could claim rightfully to be living in a golden age.

Beyond the really basic requirements for survival and good health, and equality both of opportunity and before the law, I am agnostic regarding the role of public policy. If we solved all of these problems, and then, on top of that, could give everyone Rolls Royces and mansions (because studies showed how much happier everyone would be with them), to me this wouldn't be any better than just solving these problems. Beyond the satisfaction of basic human needs, everything else is a meaningless flourish of materiality.
I'd put the point this way: if society is responsible for its members' individual good at all, it should not be responsible for their overall happiness. People's happiness is to a large degree dependent upon their own conception of thier own happiness. Society should not be telling people what conception of happiness to form, and the individual bears responsibility for adjusting his conception of happiness to the means he has available. Heinrich Schliemann's conception of happiness involved discovering Troy. He therefore made a fortune to pay for his search, and fortunately, he actually found Troy. But society shouldn't be judged on whether it supplies the means for Schliemann to find Troy, much less on whether he actually finds it, or on whether he is really as delighted as he expected to be when he does find it. Insofar as society takes responsibility for its citizens' good, it should focus on what Rawls calls "basic goods" -- those goods that are either part of all (or nearly all) conceptions of happiness (e.g., health) or are means to multiple conceptions of happiness -- and it should focus, not on the most extravagant requirements of certain possible conceptions of happiness (or "the good"), but on making sure that some reasonable choice of happinesses is possible to each individual (even if those versions of happiness are not the individual's ideal). The concept of "happiness" or "individual good" certainly still plays a role in this explanation, but the maximal aggregate happiness is NOT on this view, what society should set as its own aim.

The studies in question still seem to me relevant, as I pointed out in response to Ottorino. What if someone objects to the taking of tax money from the wealthy to improve the lot of the less well-off? In doing this, someone might maintain that one is depriving the well-off of the additional happiness that the money taken from them could have purchased. The studies in question tend to show that the money taken doesn't actually contribute all that much to the happiness of these wealthier individuals. So, even if you reject maximal happiness as the aim of society and government, the studies we're talking about still play a role in defusing an argument of this sort against taking money from some to ensure the health of others.
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  #19  
Old 12-17-2007, 01:08 PM
patrick patrick is offline
 
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Default Megan McArdle, "or whatever"

Once again, Ms. McArdle misses the point. When discussing the issue of parental notification, Megan makes the foolish assumption that girls who don't want their parents to be notified of an abortion procedure do so because they don't want to reveal that they're having sex, not the fact that they're 1) pregnant, and 2) getting an abortion! Did it ever cross her mind that a pregnant teenager might not want to be put under the duress of parental compulsion to have a child, and that her individual reproductive rights are not the legal domain of her parents? Probably not, considering Megan's own mom is a pro-choice advocate, "or whatever." Again, this is a case (just as with the slavery diavlog) where Megan cannot relate with or even put herself in the shoes of somebody unlike herself.

I'd venture that the ubiquity and obviousness of pre-marital sex at 15-17 is NOT the main issue for a young woman in that situation, and that in many cases, parents are already aware (if disapproving) of this behavior. Its the pregnancy/abortion that's the issue. A 16 year old should not be put in the position whereby the private excercise of her individual reproductive rights is first vetted through her father or mother. Maybe Megan would understand this if she had had intolerant, controlling parents who didn't regard her body's reproductive system as exclusively her domain.

I believe that parental notification laws are formalized paternalisms which seek to legalize a father's control over his daughter's sexuality and fertility. Proponents of such laws seek, by proxy, to deny abortion to young women, in the form of familial shame, admonishment, and punishment.

These absurd laws reward bad parenting with big-brother oversight. If parents are doing their job well, a pregnant daughter would seek out their advise and concil without trepidation. But if they're not, and she makes her own legal choice, they should not be aided in deterring her by making the state an agent of their bad parenting.

If it were just a matter of caring parents simply wanting to know about the medical welfare of their child, such laws would mandate parental notification of maternity of (even paternity) and childbirth by a minor. Because this issue cuts both ways, a young woman who wishes to conceal a pregnancy from her parents may do so to prevent being compelled by her parents to get an abortion. Should that women give birth in the hospital (a major procedure as well), there is no "parental notification." A woman who changes her mind just prior to an abortion procedure should not then have to defend that choice against a parent who's been notified and wants her to carry though with it.

Forcing a young woman to seek the (tedious and time-consuming to the point of health-threatening) protection of the courts to make her own reproductive choices is inhumane and unacceptable. Megan's incapacity for perspective outside of her own is appalling. This is just the latest example.

Last edited by patrick; 12-17-2007 at 01:15 PM.. Reason: copy edit
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  #20  
Old 12-17-2007, 01:53 PM
bmichell bmichell is offline
 
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Default Re: Megan McArdle, "or whatever": guns, drugs, happiness

Excellent diavlog. Who would have thought anything fresh could be said about drug or gun policy?

Viewers who are interested in pursuing the topic of happiness might want to look at the evenhanded and thorough review of the topic in The Psychology of Happiness, by the distinguished English social psychologist Michael Argyle (2nd edition, Routledge, 2002, ISBN 0415226651). Not to forget, of course, the locus classicus, Aristotle's Ethics.
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  #21  
Old 12-17-2007, 02:31 PM
Malthus Malthus is offline
 
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Default The Inefficient Market Hypothesis

I cannot help but suspect that history will laugh at the bulldog tenacity with which people like Megan McArdle cling to the Pangloss-like utopian doctrine of the Market Society (Even as she herself cops to the blindingly obvious observation that "Bubbles Happen" without asking "But why?")

Markets are physical institutional systems. Any attempt to intellectually equate the with some kind of Platonic absolute will ultimately lead to thinking that is shaky, flakey half-fried Ayn Rand. In short, the present age. I honestly wonder how many more American generations will be so shaped by Rand's Nietzschean naivety.

Until America puts Tom Friedman (and McArdle) back on the shelf and brushes up on some basic history, starting with Plutarch, we are destined to continue to numbly tell ourselves that unencumbered market forces are the central pillar of human civilization- history, philosophy, empirical evidence, international experience and common sense to the contrary.

Civilization is bigger than market forces can either conceive of or manage.
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  #22  
Old 12-18-2007, 09:06 PM
Exeus99 Exeus99 is offline
 
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Default Re: The Inefficient Market Hypothesis

Malthus: Given your implied, though dire, prediction of doom (if we keep worshipping at the altar of Market Capitalism), do you find your choice of BH posting nickname ironic?
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  #23  
Old 12-19-2007, 10:36 AM
kj kj is offline
 
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Default Re: The Inefficient Market Hypothesis

I hardly think he is predicting doom, rather that the market fundamentalists (like Megan) will someday be given as much intellectual respect as the religious fundamentalists. I don't know about Malthus, but I don't think that day is too far off.
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  #24  
Old 12-19-2007, 11:51 AM
garbagecowboy garbagecowboy is offline
 
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Wink Re: The Inefficient Market Hypothesis

Quote:
Originally Posted by kj View Post
I hardly think he is predicting doom, rather that the market fundamentalists (like Megan) will someday be given as much intellectual respect as the religious fundamentalists. I don't know about Malthus, but I don't think that day is too far off.
"Market fundamentalists"... cute.

Yes, I'm sure 50 years from now Milton Friedman will be seen as the intellectual equivalent of a phrenologist or an alchemist.
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  #25  
Old 12-19-2007, 01:01 PM
Wolfgangus Wolfgangus is offline
 
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Default Re: The Inefficient Market Hypothesis

Quote:
market fundamentalists (like Megan) will someday be given as much intellectual respect as the religious fundamentalists.
Although I am sympathetic to Malthus' stance, this is taking it too far. At some timescale the market is efficient; companies that make no money become worth zero and companies that earn a ton of money become worth a ton of money. So unlike the religious fundamentalist, there is a kernel of truth in the stance of the market fundamentalist.

But the fact is that the market wanders significantly from the efficient path and creates hills and valleys (over-valuations and under-valuations). Those probably have different underlying causes; in my experience over-valuations tend to be the result of "greater fool" speculation or irrational exuberance. But I admit it is hard to tell in infancy if something like Microsoft or Google is going to be a behemoth, so it is difficult to tell what was irrational until after the fact. A lot of the irrational exuberance also has a kernel of truth; in the dot-com craze, it was (and remains) true that the net will change the way we shop, work, socialize and live our lives; the irrational part was the assumptions on how quickly that could happen. Behavior and habit are stiffer than economists imagine; I still know many people that only resort to Amazon if they can't find a book at their local bookstore.

Under-evaluations seem to be primarily a function of information friction. It really is true that some companies are literally worth more than they are selling for, not just in breakup value (which happens) but in ROI. You can find companies that, after all financials are taken into account, really are earning ten times as much cash per share as others, have little risk involved, and are just stacking it up. The only way to convert that into gold is to buy the entire company and break it up, but any attempt to do that would trigger an information explosion that would revalue the company to the point where it was no longer worthwhile. So raiders don't bother and instead, the company just remains undervalued, and its capitalization rises sluggishly for years. This seems particularly true in the boring non-sexy companies dealing with waste, old technology staples, funerals, cleanups, accounting, etc, that don't get a lot of "marketing" by analysts, pundits and other investment boards. The market is inefficient in the sense that the speed of price responsiveness is a function of the amount of attention a stock gets, and some stocks get hundreds and thousands of times more attention than others simply because the companies and their products are more interesting to discuss. Which would you rather talk about; the new iPhone or manufacturing mid-price-range furniture?
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  #26  
Old 12-19-2007, 01:07 PM
garbagecowboy garbagecowboy is offline
 
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Talking Re: The Inefficient Market Hypothesis

So... do you have any hot stock tips in the mid-price-range furniture sector?
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  #27  
Old 12-19-2007, 03:35 PM
Wolfgangus Wolfgangus is offline
 
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Default Re: The Inefficient Market Hypothesis

GC: No hot tips; unfortunately. My investment style (which plods along at 20% annual return; nowhere near the million-dollar-buy-in private hedge funds average of above 40%, but adequate and low pressure) is essentially automated trend spotting backed up by human (me) analysis of fundamentals. One aspect of the "inefficiency" we are talking about is more specifically termed hysteresis of information; how long it takes new information to percolate through the stock market and adjust the price of a given stock. The information hysteresis in the market varies by stock, but on average we can calculate (via time series analysis, a sophisticated kind of self-correlation statistics) it is currently (meaning for the last few years) about 3 days. But there is an entire spectrum of hystereses, and I focus on stocks in the 20-40 day range; which provides enough time to spot about 1/3 of a trend, join it for about 1/3, and get out before something new happens. 20% isn't enough to make me rich (since I didn't start with a fortune) but it is enough to pay the bills.

The big-buy-in hedge funds and RITs can do some other stuff I can't afford to do. Like buy a company, or consolidate several companies, or do a roll up (buy out a lot of independent proprietors, slap a new chain name on them and consolidate support functions like purchasing, bookkeeping, advertising, etc to gain some economies of scale, and also to use the combined revenue to cross the threshold to going public, do an IPO and "liberate" some of the equity) or stuff like that. Or for the RIT, build an apartment complex, rent it out and then sell it to somebody else as reliable income property, or build an office building for doctors, or a strip mall, or a residential subdivision. Home-owner realty may not be wonderful right now, but that doesn't mean the rental property business is stagnant (I don't know whether it is or isn't). Anyway, if you have big bucks to risk (on the scale of $50K to $100K) some of these are pretty easily understood business models you can buy into that can beat the hell out of the market. From what I have seen, they are typically formed with 20-30 shareholders raising $2-5M. One of my former clients was in the medical-office-building business and making returns of about 50% per year like clockwork. The private hedge funds, on the other hand, are swinging hundreds of millions of dollars around from thousands of big investors; those tend to be much less understandable (or even entirely secret) business plans. But I think being a "hedge fund" instead of a mutual fund, especially with high-net-worth investors, gives them essentially unlimited freedom to deploy funds in any way that makes a profit; including buying and selling options, shorting stocks, buying whole companies for their break up value, and so on.
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  #28  
Old 12-19-2007, 02:17 PM
bjkeefe bjkeefe is offline
 
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Default Re: The Inefficient Market Hypothesis

Wolf:

I think another thing to consider is that the market is not, and indeed cannot, always be efficient. There are points of instability that are encountered when one company becomes too dominant; e.g., Standard Oil, Ma Bell, and Microsoft. When such a phenomenon occurs, the barriers to entry are too high to admit competition, unless one is willing to wait decades or more for a paradigm shift.

There are also plenty of examples where letting the free market run unchecked means some people get little or no opportunity to buy at all. As a current example, consider the problem of obtaining broadband Internet access in the boonies.

I am of the opinion that the free market is the best idea we've come up with so far, but that we already know it isn't perfect, and so the best we can do is a delicate dance of intervening when necessary while trying not to stifle it. Therefore, I think the True Believers in the efficient market are somewhat akin to religious fundamentalists, in that they won't admit that their belief is not ever going to be 100% correct.
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  #29  
Old 12-19-2007, 03:47 PM
Wolfgangus Wolfgangus is offline
 
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Default Re: The Inefficient Market Hypothesis

BJ:

Quote:
I think another thing to consider is that the market is not, and indeed cannot, always be efficient.
Well without qualification, this is innacurate. The fundamentalists are right, it IS efficient, the only question is the timescale, which you fail to consider in this statement.

Quote:
There are points of instability that are encountered when one company becomes too dominant; e.g., Standard Oil, Ma Bell, and Microsoft. When such a phenomenon occurs, the barriers to entry are too high to admit competition, unless one is willing to wait decades or more for a paradigm shift.
This is not a question of market efficiency as I understand it; the efficient market hypothesis basically says prices reflect true value, and that goods and services will be supplied when a profit can be made by producing them. This is a question of monopolies.

It may well be that the Microsoft monopoly is efficient. If Microsoft charges too much for too long, that is a signal that a great deal of profit is to be had by competing with Microsoft. If the amount of profit exceeded the cost of producing and marketing a competitive package (which, I haven't tried to estimate, but is probably in the billion dollar range), somebody might raise the billion to do it. So that possibility might be what keeps Microsoft's OS prices at $50 instead of $500, or whatever they are these days, despite the monopoly.
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  #30  
Old 12-20-2007, 02:18 AM
breadcrust breadcrust is offline
 
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Default Re: The Inefficient Market Hypothesis

It may well be that the Microsoft monopoly is efficient. If Microsoft charges too much for too long, that is a signal that a great deal of profit is to be had by competing with Microsoft. If the amount of profit exceeded the cost of producing and marketing a competitive package (which, I haven't tried to estimate, but is probably in the billion dollar range), somebody might raise the billion to do it. So that possibility might be what keeps Microsoft's OS prices at $50 instead of $500, or whatever they are these days, despite the monopoly.


Microsoft is not the only provider of OS's, which means it has no monopoly. If it charged $500 for its OS, everyone would quickly switch to Apple which has products which are comparable but more expensive... and less buggy.
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  #31  
Old 12-20-2007, 07:43 AM
Wolfgangus Wolfgangus is offline
 
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Default Re: The Inefficient Market Hypothesis

Breadcrust:

The legal definition of monopoly does not require 100% ownership. From a legal dictionary:

Quote:
monopoly n. A business or inter-related group of businesses which controls so much of the production or sale of a product or kind of product to control the market, including prices and distribution. Business practices, combinations, and/or acquisitions which tend to create a monopoly may violate various federal statutes which regulate or prohibit business trusts and monopolies, or prohibit restraint of trade. However, limited monopolies granted by a manufacturer to a wholesaler in a particular area are usually legal, since it is like a "license." Public utilities such as electric, gas and water companies may also hold a monopoly in a particular geographic area since it is the only practical way to provide the public service, and they are regulated by state public utility commissions.
Microsoft does have a monopoly, 95+% of all PCs both in the USA and worldwide run a Microsoft OS. By the legal defiinition this is a monopoly. Even Apple is running a Microsoft OS. If Microsoft decides tomorrow to tack on 10% to the price of an OS, the average price of an OS worldwide goes up 9.95%. That is price control, and obviously they have distribution control (in the legal sense, which does not consider theft and illegal copying forms of distribution).
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  #32  
Old 12-20-2007, 09:02 AM
January January is offline
 
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Default Pundits against the bottle

This was a great diavlog. Mark's take was new to me and for that I'm grateful. But his attitude toward pleasure-seeking kind of creeped me out, reminding me of when I returned to Texas after ten years of living in England and found so many people to be tee-total and sprawlingly overweight. Everyone likes his daily reward for life's tedium. We can't all be pundits or academics; for those of us in ordinary paths of life, an evening of friends, a fine pint of bitter and a bacon roll is one of those things that makes life worthwhile. Europeans understand this and happily accept some of the most penalizing rules on drunk driving I've seen (I want Mark Kleiman to see "Babette's Feast" -- possibly several times). While we do have a culture where over-indulgence of the urge to drink, to eat, to shop is all but celebrated, I hardly think that the path of the unsmiling monk is the way forward. Or is even human.
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  #33  
Old 12-20-2007, 02:27 PM
breadcrust breadcrust is offline
 
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Default Re: The Inefficient Market Hypothesis

If Microsoft decides tomorrow to tack on 10% to the price of an OS, the average price of an OS worldwide goes up 9.95%.

Call Ballmer and tell him he's leaving money on the table. He'll thank you long time for increasing his profits hugely.

You probably use specialized software that only runs on Windows now, but most people use their systems for internetting, video gaming, media managing, tax prep, and light office (read: no Excel needed). None of these require MS products. Therefore, if MS goes much higher, then most users will switch to other systems. That doesn't sound like a monopoly to me.
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  #34  
Old 12-20-2007, 05:00 PM
Wolfgangus Wolfgangus is offline
 
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Default Re: The Inefficient Market Hypothesis

Breadcrust: No, you are wrong. My primary work computer is Linux; like about 2/3 of CS professionals in academia. I have Windows on a laptop.

As I said before, and you ignored, Microsoft is purposely leaving money "on the table" because they ARE a monopoly; in the real world where we live, several things constrain them and their monopoly is fragile; not entirely because of market forces. They have legal issues both domestically and internationally. But in the legal sense they remain a monopoly; they have such control of the market that nobody can compete. Although it is true that Open Office can do all the main functions of Windows (Word processor, spreadsheet, fairly sophisticated drawing package, powerpoint slide editor, etc), and there are plenty of GUI Windows type interfaces, the typical user (like my mother) will never learn to install, maintain, and operate Linux. Never! Nor will the average office user.

The software that businesses use is all written for the 95% of computers that use Windows, and won't run on Linux. Software companies do that because they aren't stupid enough to devote an extra 40% of manpower (assuming a generous 60% of their code can be used as-is on Linux) to pursue what is probably 3% of the additional market. Dot Net and browser-based apps are a step away from that OS dependency, but most software companies don't offer it, because it turns out that is harder than it looks, and their legacy ware is poorly designed (i.e. they cannot just rewrite a presentation layer because they don't really have a cleanly isolated layer, the presentation medium (Windows) has infiltrated all of their code). So that is a slow go, as well.

For most businesses to convert to Linux, even if Linux did absolutely everything they need to do, the training cost and lost productivity cost would be hundreds of dollars per desk and piss off customers, suppliers and employees to boot. Cheaper to just keep paying Microsoft their vig.

Microsoft, on the other hand, has not forgotten that they dodged some serious anti-trust action by inches, and if it hadn't been for some business-friendly Republicans in their pocket they might be in serious trouble. They also must deal with the real world facts of illegal copying and pirating. These illegal competitors use its own product against them, and if MS sets the price too high, more people (and businesses) are willing to break what they consider a minor law. Now MS could go the route of the record companies and start trying to sue on copyright infringement, but that pretty much backfired on the record companies and didn't work very well anyway. When I talk to students at the university where I work, they always know a dozen places to download ripped music. And the music industry doesn't even have the problem of being a monopoly and some states responding to increased legal activity by MS on the copyright front with increased noise about new anti-trust legislation or legal action. So MS is forced to balance this issue as well, which constrains its price; they have to find the white-knuckle equilibrium on the price that maximizes their sales. But those are not "market" forces or "competition" by another OS vendor, these are all problems faced by any dictatorship; how to maximize control without fomenting a revolution.
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  #35  
Old 12-20-2007, 05:08 PM
bjkeefe bjkeefe is offline
 
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Default Re: The Inefficient Market Hypothesis

This just in: http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/techn...-samba-eu.html

Another way that Microsoft maintains effective monopoly control of the office marketplace is to make it hard for other OSes to play on the same LAN or WAN. The story linked to above is an indication of the ridiculous barriers they raise, and what it takes to overcome them. It is, however, a somewhat happy outcome, this time.
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  #36  
Old 12-20-2007, 08:09 PM
Wolfgangus Wolfgangus is offline
 
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Default Re: The Inefficient Market Hypothesis

Not so happy, the article says several competitors were driven out of business. What the heck is the deal about Microsoft having to inform somebody on what patents they hold? Patents are public information, you can go to the uspto online and find all patents held by Microsoft. Unless it holds them in little known subsidiaries, or something.

It seems weird you can publish source code that completely defines a protocol but not publish information about the protocol. I suspect Microsoft is withholding something they can use as a cudgel later. Of course, the damage is already done...
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  #37  
Old 12-21-2007, 01:48 PM
kj kj is offline
 
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Default Re: The Inefficient Market Hypothesis

So unlike the religious fundamentalist, there is a kernel of truth in the stance of the market fundamentalist.

Let's not take me too far out of context. Whether or not there are kernels of truth in something is irrelevant if people adhere to a fundamentalist view when they apply it. Fundamentalism is the problem here, not belief in the power of markets. Libertarians, and this is what makes them a little crazy and also fun to argue with, tend to apply a fundamentalist approach to markets. They have an unwarranted faith in markets explaining everything and potentially fixing everything. I've complained about economists for the same reason on this board many times. Our social system is so much more complicated than markets which is just one important part.
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  #38  
Old 12-21-2007, 03:13 PM
Wolfgangus Wolfgangus is offline
 
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Default Re: The Inefficient Market Hypothesis

Quote:
I've complained about economists for the same reason on this board many times. Our social system is so much more complicated than markets which is just one important part.
Agreed, I may have strayed far afield of your original comment. I complain about economists for the same reason. Actually I do believe systems are efficient in the longer term; the big problem with economists (and philosophical utilitarians) is believing everything can be sorted out in dollars and cents. This is why economic models fail when they predict things will regress to the Nash equilibrium. People don't think in terms of worst case; psychological study after study after study shows that people think in terms of expected returns, and not just monetary return. There is also emotional return; quite a few people in games will avoid deception and betrayal even if that is supposed to be a strategy of the game; they'd rather lose than win by what they consider lying or betrayal. Plus, despite these clues, the games economists play cannot reflect the real world; it is one thing to lie in dollar poker where it is part of the game, it is another thing to lie on your tax return if you think paying your taxes is your patriotic duty, or lying to your boss to get a commission you know you don't deserve, or whatever. The economists I have read (and those who were my professors in undergraduate school) seem unreasonably committed to strictly monetary markets as the shining solution to all the ills of society. But, their models are just plain wrong, time after time when psychologists study actual behavior it defies the model, and the economist says, "Hm," and changes nothing.
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  #39  
Old 12-22-2007, 02:47 PM
kj kj is offline
 
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Default Re: The Inefficient Market Hypothesis

Thanks for putting pretty words to my comment. I agree 100%.
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  #40  
Old 12-17-2007, 02:59 PM
Wolfgangus Wolfgangus is offline
 
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Default Re: Megan McArdle, "or whatever"

(I am responding to Patrick, if you are a reader that is foolishly using the linear version of this crappy vBulletin interface). Patrick, I get the impression that Megan thinks like I do, but I will speak for myself. Your premise is wrong in the extreme; what makes you think a 15 year old girl's reproductive system is her property to do with as she pleases?

That is not true at six, and it is not true at 15, and not true at 17. She doesn't legally have and does not deserve to have this control at this time of her life; she isn't mature enough to make such decisions. That is not just my opinion, that is the physiological facts of life, her brain is undergoing a major overhaul that makes her impulsive, emotional, and on average incapable of making a reasoned and rational decisions. The frontal lobes responsible for making such judgement calls are woefully underpowered at 15-17, and the emotional reward and response system easily outraces and overwhelms any weak input the frontal lobes provide. It takes massive amounts of willpower for adolescents to overpower their emotions.

So your entire premise is flawed. It doesn't make a lot of difference specifically why the teen doesn't want to tell her parents. In the sole cases where it does make a difference, (e.g. when the parents are themselves unreasonable, or in sad cases where they are responsible for the pregnancy) the teen should have access to a judge that can sort out emotions and reasons on all sides and overrule the parents for the benefit of the child; something else Megan advocated. In 14 to 15 year old teenage pregnancy throughout the USA, excluding those pregnancies resulting from incestuous relationships, the average age of the father is 22. That seven year age disparity does not suggest some rational choice on the part of the 15 year old, it suggests emotional manipulation and exploitation of immature minds by equally immature 22 year old males. This turns out to be the uniform judgement of professional pyschologists when they interview the girls and the fathers; as is often done when the fathers are prosecuted.
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