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Posts Tagged ‘truth’

Ryan Avent on the incompatibility of climate science and some libertarians:

That is to say, confronted by a problem demanding solutions inimical to libertarian beliefs, libertarians were faced with the choice of reneging on their beliefs or turning their back on science. Tellingly, they chose the latter. One might think that’s a rather drastic decision, given the role scientific endeavors have played in delivering the material prosperity so dear to the hearts of the libertarian world, and one would be right.

A belief system that cannot grapple with the fundamental reality of a situation is, quite simply, not a belief system worth having. 

I agree completely with Avent’s last sentence. I am also a libertarian. So what goes?

First off, Avent is wrong in his basic claim. There are very many libertarians who approach scientific questions scientifically. And most of them conclude that human induced climate change is real. Sure, some libertarians do turn their backs to science, but it is wrong to use that as an excuse to tar the whole movement.

Secondly, what Avent and others of his ilk forget is the question of how to deal with the problem of climate change is not merely a scientific one. It is perfectly consistent and reasonable to accept that AGW is happening and still reject most of the solutions being proferred. The question of what to do about any problem (or indeed, whether to do anything at all) depends not merely on an analysis of the problem (this is the scientific part) but also of how much value, that is costs and benefits you attach to each aspect of the problem and the possible solutions (and their consequences). This is where analysis and ideology interact in a complex manner.

I had a conversation with a friend a week ago. He asked me the following question: what would I do if I had to choose between truth and libertarianism? I answered that such a choice would never be necessary. Sure, the pursuits of truth and happiness do conflict, and so do freedom and happiness. But I cannot conceive of truth and freedom ever conflicting. I believe my moral axioms are good enough to ensure that.

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An interesting post from Robin Hanson on the stimulus bill. Here’s an excerpt (emphasis mine):

Wise taxpayers who get stimuli tax rebate checks should mostly save them, realizing that future taxes must rise to pay for those checks.  For similar reasons, wise taxpayers should also spend less upon hearing about government spending increases.  So with wise taxpayers it is not obvious that tax rebates or government spending increases would help much with the downturn. 

The consensus among macro-economists seems to be that people can in fact be fooled by such stimuli, but as Tyler indicates, it is not clear which policies most fool us.  In particular, the more public attention we give to the stimuli, the less they might work.  We might make people realize that they need to compensate via saving, and the more we scare folks into thinking we need huge stimuli, the more we might scare them away from normal economic activity levels.

So should we stop explaining macro-economics during this crisis, and stop saying how desperately we need stimuli?

Read the whole thing. Also, if you are really into it, head over to Marginal Revolution to follow the ongoing Cowen-Krugman argument on stimulus and spending.

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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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“That which can be destroyed by the truth should be.”

P.C. Hodgell

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This case may have set a worrying precedent.

I do not advocate, as some libertarians do, that we do away with all defamation laws. It does make some economic and moral sense to penalize speech that is demonstrably and objectively false, and results in specific harm. However, I am in all circumstances opposed to defamation being a criminal offence — a barbarous relic that has no place in a free society. And truth should always be a defense.

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Radley Balko points out the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the war on drugs:

We’re told that drug war is a moral imperative because, in the words of Walters himself, “dangerous drugs damage [children’s] lives and limit their futures.”  But like most temperance zealots, Walters measures success not by actual lives wrecked or ended prematurely, but merely by how many people are and aren’t getting high.

Switching from the “drugs ruin lives” justification for the drug war itself to “how many people are getting high” when measuring the same drug war’s effectiveness, then, hides a more important statistic:  How many people have had their lives ruined and futures limited by the drug war?  The vast majority of the 873,000 people arrested for marijuana offenses last year, for example, likely had more damage done to their lives by the prohibition of marijuana than could ever be done by the drug itself.

Such is why drug warriors like William Bennett, Karen Tandy, and Walters can assert with a straight face that alcohol prohibition was, also, a “success.” Sure, the crime rate spiked, alcohol hospitalizations soared, and corruption and contempt for the rule of law was rampant.  But fewer people swallowed down less demon rum.  So, score one for social engineering.

Sure, deaths from drug overdose have jumped 70 percent, and more than doubled among young people.  But fewer people are smoking pot.  And that means we’re winning.

As they say, if you repeat a lie enough times, it becomes true. Bennett, Tandy and Walters are proof of that.

But surely then, if you repeat a truth enough times, as Radley, I and so many other try to do, it should make people listen as well? Isn’t that the least that fairness owes us?

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“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

Philip K. Dick

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