Archive for December 14th, 2008

I came across this interesting news article today about how liberal prostitution laws are encouraging young Swedes to make a short trip to Denmark.

In Sweden paying for sex is a crime punishable with a possible six-month jail sentence or a hefty income-linked fine. Perhaps the worst penalty for errant Swedish males is the official court summons addressed to the family home; an embarrassment that has ruptured many marriages. In Denmark, by contrast, prostitution has been decriminalised.

[…]Denmark, proud of its tolerant traditions, has allowed the hippy colony of Christiania to flourish in the heart of Copenhagen since the 1970s. Now Swedish teenagers are taking taxis over the bridge, stopping off at the settlement, stocking up on marijuana, and driving back home.

The true flashpoint is prostitution. Nothing better highlights how the model Scandinavian societies are now at odds over the correct road to Utopia.

Of course Denmark is no libertopia. It’s personal income tax rate is among the highest among developed nations.

However, in this un-free world, the libertarian dilemma is not where one finds freedom but where one finds the freedoms most important to him or her. In my view, paying a little more tax but getting extensive personal freedoms as well as almost complete freedom of speech is a good bargain. Thus, I tend to think of countries like Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland and Iceland as more libertarian than the USA. The first three of these also have strong laws that favor the right to die and to refuse treatment.

On the other hand, I have given up all hopes about France and England, which are getting more Orwellian every day.

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Set aside 30 minutes today to watch this wonderful presentation by Bjorn Lomborg on global warming.

Lomborg is no libertarian — he is a liberal who favours a welfare state and strong redistribution through taxation — and  indeed, there is no mention of any intrinsic value of freedom and property rights in his presentation. His arguments are basically value-neutral and only rely on maximising efficiency. However, including an assignment of intrinsic value to liberty into our analysis (one corollary of that is, if the outcomes of two actions are similar, we should favor the less-coercive one) only strengthens Lomborg’s conclusions about a sane, scientific and non-reactionary approach to the problem of global warming.

It’s a great video and I am not saying that just because I agree with almost everything he says. And thanks Reason, for hosting this event and producing this video. I am glad I donate to you folks.

[Edit: Looking around the web, I find some who accuse Lomborg of cherry-picking, or at least under-stating facts to suit his views. I am a mathematician, not an expert on global warming, but I did go through those objections in detail and followed through to many of the cited papers. My opinion stated above about the essential correctness of Lomborg’s position is unchanged.]

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The age bias

I have realized that I suffer from the age bias, and I suspect I am not alone in this.

When I come across a political or philosophical writing by someone who is younger than me, I subconsciously view this fact as increasing the probability that he is wrong. In short, my immediate emotional instinct is to correlate age positively with regard to wisdom. If I read something I disagree with and the writer is 19, I am likely to go — Ah he is inexperienced! If he is 28, I will probably still think he is wrong, but I would be just a teeny-weeny bit more likely to take him seriously. This bias sometimes manifests itself even when I am impressed with the writer, as happened earlier tonight when I discovered this excellent philosophy blog written by a Princeton student. When I realized he is younger than me, some part of my brain immediate kicked off subtle, fleeting ‘be-on-guard’ signals.

But what’s wrong with that, you might ask. After all, biases, when rational, can be useful agents of initial quality control. And it does seem reasonable to suppose that the older you get (up to a point) the more likely it is that your views are mature, wise and useful, considering that you have had so many more years to chew on them and so many more facts to weigh them against.

But here’s the problem, my age bias isn’t entirely rational. For one, I do not seem to attach a positive weight to those who are significantly older than me but instead tend to think of them neutrally (and indeed, may take off points if they are too old). If I am attaching a negative weight to someone being three years younger than me, it seems reasonable that I should attach at least that much of a positive weight to someone being ten years older. But I don’t do that!

Well, you might counter, things don’t necessarily have to be viewed that way. It is at a younger age that people are likely to make mistakes; after the brain completely matures and has a few years of experience, it is conceivable that little changes afterwards. So while the man of 25 is indeed likely to be more intelligent (philosophically) than a lad of 22, the same is not true five years down the line.

But there’s a problem with that too. My age bias shifts its goalpost according to my age. When I was 23, my bias extended only to those younger than me; when I will be 30, I am pretty sure I will not limit my bias to only those 25 and below.

Clearly there is something mildly irrational going on here. In my defence, I am aware of it, so all is not lost.

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