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Tag Archives: Economic Philosophy

The Dream of Open Borders

Like Martin Luther King, I have a dream: that my four children will one day live in a world where human beings will not be judged by the nation of their birth, but by the content of their character. My dream, in short, is that my sons and daughter will live to see a world of open borders.  If the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, our descendants will view the immigration restrictions we continue to casually accept with the same horror that we now reserve...

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Say “Can’t” With Care

Suppose a student fails a math test.  Casual observers will often announce, “He can’t do the math.” Or suppose a country has a horrible corruption problem.  Casual observers will often announce, “The government can’t solve this corruption problem.” In each case, I detect a casual logical fallacy. Namely: If person X actually does Y, we can legitimately infer, “X can do Y.”  But if person X does not do Y, you cannot legitimately infer that they can’t.  Maybe they don’t...

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The Speech of Heroes

Almost everyone loves the idea of “speaking truth to power.”  Standing tall, talking boldly, consequences be damned – how heroic! Yet on reflection, this Speech of Heroes takes two radically different forms. The most common Speech of Heroes, by far, upholds Social Desirability Bias.  Example: “Everyone should be completely equal” sounds wonderful, but no actual society follows through.  Many self-styled heroic orators respond along these lines: Equality!  We all say...

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Scott Alexander on Mental Illness: A Belated Reply

Back in 2015, Scott Alexander wrote this reply to my 2006 Rationality and Society piece on the economics of mental illness.  I never replied; to be honest, I never read it.  The reason, though, is not because I do not respect Scott, but because I respect him too much.  I didn’t read his critique because I knew that if I read it, I could easily spend a week reflecting – and composing a reply.  I knew, moreover, that until I wrote my reply, I would think of little...

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The Meaning of Generations of Winter

Vassily Aksyonov was a Soviet dissident writer and GMU professor.  His most famous work was probably Generations of Winter, a sprawling historical novel about three generations of a Soviet family.   GMU history professor Steven Barnes, a great admirer of the book, doesn’t just assign the book in his class on modern Russian and Soviet history; an original essay on the book is the course’s most important assignment.  While I rarely quote undergraduate work, Tristan...

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Providing for Customers

Q: You embody a form of capitalism and entrepreneurship without romance. Where does that come from? A: I believe that the DNA of a business is to provide to its constituents. Customers come No. 1; No. 2 are employees; and somewhere in there are the shareholders. You who started it, you’re last. When you try and shift a business’s true purpose and say that it’s going to save society, you will fail. Not some of the time—100 percent of the time. Saving baby whales is...

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Explain Your Extremists

No matter how controversial your political views are, there are always people on “your side” who hold a more extreme position than you do.  How do you account for such people? Top scenarios: 1. The extremists are actually right, but their proposals are “politically impossible.”  It’s better to ask for half a loaf and get it than demand a totally unattainable whole loaf. 2. The extremists are actually right, but their proposals are politically unstable.  Even if the...

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Nasty, Brutish, and Long

Steve Landsburg, true to form, has a provocative post in which he wonders if the increase in opioid deaths could be a good sign–a sign that people are celebrating their lives by using opioids. That’s not a hill I’m willing to die on–the argument or the opioids–but it’s an interesting point nevertheless. If you want to know his argument, read it rather than depending on me. You’ll also see what is, even for Steve, a high percentage of disagreement from commenters....

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Public Health, Parens Patriae, and Sex

In a Thursday post about public health, I mentioned the parens patriae legal principle, which justifies the state to act toward citizens like a parent toward his or her children. One of the readers who commented, JK Brown, quoted a 1910 book, Popular Law Making, by Harvard law professor Frederic Jesup Stimson: You can have regulation of the hours of labor of a woman of full age in general employments, by court decision, in three States (Massachusetts, Oregon, and...

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From Sewer Workers to Literary Men

Public health is an interesting area of research and political activism. Especially since the growth of industrial cities in early modern times, inefficient disposal of garbage and human waste has been known to favor epidemics of certain diseases. In the 19th century, it was also noticed than sewer workers were, quite understandably, more exposed to these diseases. The scope of public health was extended to occupational health. This suggests a series of questions and...

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