Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Different David Friedman

A Trump advisor named David Friedman has been announced as his choice for ambassador to Israel. At least one news story on the event had my picture and I have just gotten an invitation from the Indian embassy to a Hanukkah event.

Not me. But the Picture is

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Two Visions of Anarchy–My Exchange With James Scott

A few weeks ago I had a debate on anarchy with James Scott, a writer whose books I find interesting. Robert Ellickson was moderator cum participant. It has now been webbed.

I have read two of Scott's books. One, The Art of Not Being Governed, is about the existence of extensive stateless areas in South-east Asia over a very long period of time. From the standpoint of the adjacent states, the stateless areas, typically hills, mountains, and swamps, are populated by primitive people who have not yet developed far enough to create or join states--"our ancestors." By Scott's account, on the other hand, much of the population of the stateless areas is descended from people who were once in states, much of the population of the states from people who were once stateless. The pattern as he sees it is a long term equilibrium based on the difficulty of maintaining a state when population densities are low and transport and communication slow. When a state is doing well it pulls in people, whether voluntary immigrants or the captives of slave raids, from the adjacent stateless areas. When the state is doing badly, the flow of people goes in the other direction, fleeing taxes, conscription, and other benefits of being ruled. 

Part of what I found interesting was Scott's discussion of features of stateless areas that make it unprofitable for adjacent states to annex them. It was very much an economist's point of view and suggested an approach to the question of how a modern anarchist society could avoid annexation by adjacent states that I had not considered. In my writing I have described that as the problem of national defense. What Scott's account implies is that military defense is only one part of a broader set of solutions.

The other book I read is Seeing Like a State. Its central theme is the ways in which states have attempted to reorganize societies in order to make them easier to rule, to make the territory look more like the rulers' necessarily simplified map. It is harder to rule a country if the people do not all speak the same language. It is harder to tax land if the country contains a wide variety of systems of land tenure and units of measurement. It is harder to keep track of who has or has not been conscripted if there is no uniform and consistent system of names. It may be possible, sometimes has been possible, to change those features of a country to make it easier to rule and tax.

A secondary theme is the amount of damage that states have done in the process of revising societies to be easier to rule and ruling them. While it was obvious to the author that his account would be attractive to market libertarians such as myself, he went to some trouble to make it clear that he was not himself one of those icky market libertarians. His part of the exchange linked to above may help suggest why.

Another theme that he devotes considerable attention to is what he describes as "high modernism," the belief that modern science lets us figure out how everyone should do things and, once we have figured it out, we should make them do it that way. Examples include planned cities, Soviet collective farms and attempts by first world agronomists to tell third world peasants what to plant.

Adam Smith had something to say on the subject:
The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests, or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it. He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it.

It All Depends Whose Ox is Gored

Recent news stories claim that Russia attempted to influence the U.S. election in favor of Donald Trump. How accurate the claim is I don't know. What seems clear is that the reaction of Americans is that doing that is wrong, cheating, meddling in our affairs. That is why, during the election, the story was popular with Trump's opponents. I expect it still is.

During the build-up to the Brexit vote, Barack Obama gave a talk in the U.K. in which he strongly hinted that if Britain pulled out of the E.U., leaving it free to negotiate its own trade agreements with other countries, the U.S. would not be eager to join such an agreement--“The UK is going to be in the back of the queue.” Pretty obviously, it was an attempt to influence the vote on the referendum. 

I am not sure if its actual effect was in the intended direction or the opposite direction. My impression at the time was that, while most Americans saw nothing wrong with Obama's talk, many in Britain resented the attempt to influence their voting. 

Which explains the title of this post.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

One Argument for the Electoral Vote System

An advantage of the present system that I have not seen discussed is that it reduces the problem of vote fraud. Stealing votes is easiest in a state dominated by a single party, the sort of place where the Republican poll watchers probably work for the Democrats or vice versa. With the electoral college system, there is no point to stealing votes in such a state, since the dominant party is going to get all of its electoral votes anyway. With a straight majority vote system, on the other hand, each party has an incentive to steal all the votes it can wherever it can.

Even with the electoral vote system, the problem still exists in any state where one party controls a large area, such as a major city, but the other  has enough support elsewhere to make the overall result uncertain. I still remember, long ago when I lived in Chicago, being told that the reason the downstate votes had not come in yet was that they were waiting to see how many they had to steal to outweigh the efforts of the Chicago machine.

More Inventions I Would Like To See

A Still Better Shower

The conventional controls for a shower or sink consist of one for hot water, one for cold. Getting your preferred mix is a process of trial and error adjustment, repeated every time you take a shower or wash your hands.

An improved version, now fairly common, has one control for the hot/cold ratio, another for the volume. Having once gotten the ratio right you can leave that control at your preferred setting and use the volume control to turn the water on at the beginning of your shower, off at the end.

Provided you are in no hurry. When I turn the water on the shower runs cold because it takes time for water to get from the water heater in the basement to the bathroom on the second floor. To reduce my wait, I shift the shower to all hot. That not only gets hot water to me faster, it also means that while I am waiting I am not wasting cold water down the drain. But now, when the water warms up, I have to find the proper mix. Every time I take a shower. It's an improvement over the older version, since I can to some extent set the ratio control by memory. But it could be better.

The simple solution is to add a control which shifts the shower to all hot temporarily without changing the lever that will set the ratio once that control is turned off.

Since I am in Silicon Valley and greedy, I am still not satisfied. The high tech version  monitors water temperature. As long as my desired temperature is impossible because what is coming out of the hot water pipe is colder than that, it runs straight hot. Once the temperature of the hot water gets high enough it automatically starts adding in cold, keeping the shower temperature at my optimum thereafter. The luxury model has a light, or perhaps a bell, to tell me when it is safe to get into the shower.

Making Conversation Possible

You are in a crowded restaurant, a bar, a meeting room filled with people. There is someone you are trying to converse with. Since the environment is noisy, you raise your voice. So does everyone else. As the room becomes louder, conversation becomes increasingly difficult, perhaps impossible.

There is a simple solution. Everyone wears a bluetooth earpiece/mike. Look at someone, next to you or across the room, click a button on the earpiece. Your earpiece is now linked to hers, so you can converse quietly. Setting the link by looking at someone may require Google Glass, but there is a lower tech version, some easy identifier, perhaps a number on the name tag that everyone at the event wears.

Social norms would have to be worked out. The person you want to speak with may not want to speak with you, so there needs to be some way of accepting or denying the request to link. In a room full of conversations I am quite likely to be wondering around looking for interesting ones, which is hard to do if I cannot hear them. So there should be an option to make the conversation open, meaning that anyone who chooses can listen and join in, or closed.

So far as I can tell, all the technology needed already exists and would be reasonably inexpensive to implement. All it takes it an enterprising entrepreneur.

Before you go into business, however, there is one question you may want to consider. In quite a lot of the environments I am describing, the noise is not merely accidental. Bars, in particular, tend to play music, often loud enough to make conversation even more difficult than it would otherwise be. That suggests that some people, perhaps many people, prefer a noisy environment. The only reason I can think of for such a perverse taste is the increased privacy–at some level of background noise, nobody more than four feet away can hear what you are saying. My technology should provide a better solution to that problem. 

But there may be other reasons I have not thought of.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Four Possible Trumps

1. The Nightmare. A wild man who offends all our allies and enemies and everyone else and declares war on Kyrgystan to punish it for being too hard to spell.

2. Promise Keeper/Paladin of the Right.  Trade barriers up, immigration down, many illegals expelled. Everything the government was doing that offended his base, from restrictions on burning carbon to pressuring colleges to lower their standard for convicting students accused of sexual assault, cancelled or reversed.

3. Virtuous Traitor. All the bad ideas on immigration and trade either retracted, forgotten, or deliberately proposed in versions Congress won't pass. All the good ideas–school vouchers, reduced regulation, legalizing interstate sales of health insurance, replacing Obamacare with something that works, simplifying the tax code–implemented.

4. Hillary+. Lots of ideas the left likes–increased government spending, increased borrowing, free colleges, student loan forgiveness–implemented with the support of most of the Democratic party and parts of the Republican.

All of these are possible. The first is less likely and the last more likely than most commenters, especially on the left, think. The belief that Trump is crazy is based on his performance during the campaign, repeatedly doing things that would obviously result in his losing. Since they resulted in his winning, one has to revise that judgement and consider that perhaps he is crazy like a fox. 

The belief that he is a right winger is also based on his performance during the campaign. There too, the fact that it worked suggests that his positions may have been tactical, not ideological. We do not know what ideological beliefs, if any, he actually has. Things he has said in the years before are at least equally consistent with viewing him as center left.

That is half of the argument for the final possible Trump. The other half is George Bush. Bush was elected as a conservative. He proceeded to sharply increase spending, the deficit, and government control over education. Spending money is generally popular, lowering taxes is generally popular, and there are usually political points to be made by "doing something" about whatever people at the moment want something done about.

My guess is that the two least likely outcomes of the election are the first and worst and the third and best.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Silver Lining?

This was not my least bad among the possible electoral outcomes. But now that it has happened, it is worth looking at whether anything good might come of it. I see three possibilities:

1. Trump might turn out to be better than I expect. Judging by the campaign, he is a skilled demagogue with no particular political principles of his own, which makes him a high variance actor. Looking at his list of what he plans to do in his first hundred days, it is a mix of things I am strongly opposed to, such as restrictions on trade and immigration, and things I am strongly in favor of, such as support for school vouchers and legalizing the sale of health insurance across state lines. Trump might decide, for reasons of politics or ego, to act mostly on the ones I like. One can always hope.

2. One of the problems which I think partly explains Trump's victory is the arrogance and condescension of the coastal elites towards "flyover country." In one online exchange, someone responded to that point by explaining that they were just acting that way because the people they treated that way were all racists and misogynists (by memory, so not verbatim), thus nicely illustrating the problem. Arguing climate issues online, I am struck by how poor the scientific understanding is of most of the people on both sides, including the ones who imagine that they are the upholders of science against the deniers thereof.

With luck, Trump's victory will jolt some of those people into rethinking their self-image as the ruling elite. For a first step in that direction, from just before the election, consider Cass Sunstein's proposed reading list for liberals, books intended to let them see that there exist serious critiques of their views. I will forgive Cass for not including anything of mine since he starts the list with Seeing Like a State, a good and interesting book by someone who makes it clear that he isn't a libertarian–while writing things that libertarians will very much like.

3. If, contrary to my hopes in 1 above, Trump continues with the positions that won him the nomination and the election, that will mean a Republican party less friendly to libertarian views. That plus Trump's victory might make the Democrats willing to think seriously about how to pull libertarian voters into their coalition, something I have been hoping for for a long time.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Wishful Thinking on Election Night

I have been saying for some time that the least bad outcome there is any reasonable chance of getting from this unfortunate election is Hilary Clinton in the White House but both houses of congress held by the Republicans. It occurred to me that one possible way of getting there would be if Trump voters, including ones not normally Republican, voted for the whole ticket, while anti-Trump Republicans confirmed their party loyalty by voting for every Republican on the ticket other than Trump.

I am posting this now as results are just beginning to come in so that if it turns out that way, which seems unlikely but not impossible, I can claim to have predicted it--or at least raised the possibility. One early result that might be a tiny bit of evidence is the early vote in Ohio, which shows the Republican senator believed to be at risk being reelected by a sizable margin while Clinton leads Trump, also by a sizable margin, although apparently not enough for the news organizations to have called the race yet.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Ruins in the Southwest, a Query

I am currently working on a book on legal systems very different from ours, one chapter of which deals with the Plains Indians. One of my sources is an account by someone who was captured by Comanche, spent three years as their slave, and eventually escaped. It contains a description of some elaborate ruins that he claims to have observed.
“I saw, with infinite astonishment and surprise, the dilapidated ruins of a large town. In the midst of the falling walls of a great number of buildings, which, in some remote age, beyond doubt, had lined spacious streets, was what appeared to have been a church or cathedral. Its walls of cut stone, two feet thick, and in some places fifteen feet high, included a space measuring two hundred feet in length, and, perhaps, one hundred in width. The inner surface of the walls in many places was adorned with elaborate carved work, evidently the labor of a master hand, and at the eastern end was a massive stone platform which seemed to have been used as a stage or pulpit.” (Nelson Lee, Three Years Among the Comanches, Baker Taylor Company, Albany, N.Y. 1859.)
Lee was captured at a location that he describes as about 350 miles northwest of Eagle Pass, which would put him at about the southeast corner of what is now New Mexico, but traveled a substantial distance with his captors thereafter. 

I am not aware of any ruins in the area that come close to fitting his description. It occurred to me that one of my readers might be. If, as I suspect, the description is fictional, intended to make a better story, that casts some doubts on other elements of his account more relevant to my interest in it.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

If the Crown Controls Prosecution ...

Quite a long time ago, I published an article on the legal system of 18th century England. On paper, it was our legal system–indeed, where our system came from. But there were no police, no public prosecutors, and criminal prosecution was almost entirely entirely private, usually by the victim or someone acting for him.

The system raised a lot of questions, many of which are discussed in the relevant chapter of the book I am now writing, a draft of which is webbed for comments. One of them is why the English did not have the standard modern system, where catching and convicting criminals is the job of the state. They knew about it. France had such a system, and arguments for it were made in England.

One explanation I have sometimes offered is that, after the chaos of the 17th century–two civil wars, a military dictatorship, and two coups–it occurred to people that if the Crown controlled prosecution, the King's friends could get away with murder. When I give a talk on "Should We Abolish the Criminal Law" (my favorite title), that is one of the arguments I offer, with references to a number of modern cases, starting with the Black Panther shooting in 1969, where government actors committed serious crimes for which they were never prosecuted. My most recent example is James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, being asked ""Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?" and responding, in sworn testimony, "No, sir."

Recently, reading about the activities of John Wilkes, an 18th century radical libertarian journalist and politician (after whom John Wilkes Booth was named), I discovered some 18th century support for my interpretation. The following is from a draft chapter:
Since any Englishman could prosecute a criminal case, the fact that an offense was approved of by the authorities was no guarantee that it would not be prosecuted. The point was demonstrated when a demonstration in favor of imprisoned radical John Wilkes ended with troops firing into the crowd and killing several people. The Wilkites responded by charging several of the soldiers, the magistrate who had ordered the troops to fire and the other magistrates present with murder.

The king had the power to pardon a convicted felon but doing so in too obviously partisan a way might provoke public outrage. In one notorious case two convicted murderers were pardoned, apparently because their sister’s aristocratic lovers applied political pressure on their behalf (“the mercy of a chaste and pious prince extended cheerfully to a wilful murderer, because that murderer is the brother of a common prostitute”). The Wilkites responded by raising money to fund an appeal of murder, a private criminal case. An appeal was a complex, expensive and difficult proceeding that had gone almost entirely out of use. It had, however, one large advantage:

“If the appellee be found guilty, he shall suffer the same judgement as if he had been convicted by indictment: but with this remarkable difference; that on indictment, which is at the suit of the King, the King may pardon and remit the execution; on an appeal, which is the suit of a private subject, to make an atonement for a private wrong, the King can no more pardon it, than he can remit the damages recovered in an action of battery.” (Blackstone)
The appeal failed, as did the earlier criminal prosecutions, but like them demonstrated the possibility of using privately prosecuted criminal law against malefactors supported by the government
Wilkes is an interesting character. At various points in his life he was an outlaw, a prisoner, a member of parliament and Lord Mayor of London. He is arguably responsible for the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The city of Wilkes-Barre is named after him (and Barre). His biography is worth reading. And he is the source, or at least had attributed to him, some very good quotes:
When told by a constituent that he would rather vote for the devil, Wilkes responded: "Naturally." He then added: "And if your friend decides against standing, can I count on your vote?"
At one point in his extended feud with George III, Wilkes was asked to make up a table of cards. He declined, explaining that he was so ignorant of cards that he could not tell a king from a knave.

In a famous exchange with John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, where the latter exclaimed, "Sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox," Wilkes is reported to have replied, "That depends, my lord, on whether I embrace your lordship's principles or your mistress." (But that one may really be by Samuel Foote)

My Recent Talks

I recently gave several talks at Southeast Missouri State University, and videos have now been webbed:

For a class on the principles of microeconomics.
For a reading group on "Free to Choose"

A couple of days earlier I gave a talk in Charlotte for a Students for Liberty event on "What is Economics and Why It Isn't Boring." It is now up.

A few days before that, I gave a talk for the SCU Federalist Society group on "Should We Abolish the Criminal Law," with commentary by a colleague.

I don't usually give quite that many talks in a period of under a week, but since I did I thought some readers of the blog might be interested. Recordings of many other talks I have given are webbed on my site.

P.S. There is now a link to a recording of my Charlotte talk.

I Conjectured. Estonia did it.

One of the new chapters for the third edition of The Machinery of Freedom discusses the question of how a stateless society might defend against a state, which I regard as the hardest problem for such a society.  One of the possibilities I raise is having people voluntarily train and equip themselves for warfare for the fun (and patriotism) of it, as people now engage in paintball, medieval combat in the Society for Creative Anachronism, and various other military hobbies.

A correspondent sends me a real world example of the approach--the Estonian Defense League, civilians trained in the skills of insurgency. They refer to it as "military sport." Competitions almost every week. Membership of 25,400.

Estonia's army of 6000 wouldn't have much chance against a Russian invasion but the Estonians believe, with the examples of Iraq and Afghanistan in mind, that a large number of trained and armed insurgents could make it expensive. 

Estonia has a population of 1.3 million. Scale up to the size of the U.S. and you get a militia of almost six million. Of course, that assumes an anarchist U.S. with a population as committed to its defense as the current population of Estonia.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Mortality From AGW Warming: A Brief Analysis

In a recent FaceBook exchange, the question came up of why I object to the omission from most talk about AGW of the benefits from milder winters. I ended up sketching an approach to the question of whether increased mortality from hotter summers was more or less than decreased mortality from milder winters. It was a longer piece than I usually bother with on FaceBook, which suggested that it would be more appropriate here, so here, with some editing, it is.

I begin with a Lancet article that found that, globally, "cold-related deaths outnumbered heat-related deaths by a factor of nearly 20, overall." To figure out how summed deaths from heat and cold were changed by AGW so far, or estimate how they will be changed in the future, I need two more pieces of information.

1. As temperature rises, what is the relative rise in temperature of winters relative to the rise in temperature of summers. I don't have data on that and it surely varies from place to place, but the physics of greenhouse gas warming implies that it will tend to be larger in cold times than in hot, so I would expect that, on average, winters will get milder by more than summers get hotter. I picked up that point from something Freeman Dyson mentioned in The Scientist as Rebel, and so far as I can tell it is correct.

2. What is the marginal effect on mortality of changes in both highs and lows? What is the percentage increase in mortality due to heat if highs go up by one degree? What is the percentage decrease in mortality due to cold if lows go up by one degree? How do they compare?

So far as I know, data on that do not exist. So I start with the simplest assumption—that the marginal effects are the same. If so, raising both the high and the low by one degree will decrease mortality due to cold by almost twenty times as much as it increases mortality due to heat, as per the Lancet numbers. Since, as per my point 1 above, AGW will on average increase lows by more than it increases highs, a given increase in global temperature due to AGW should decrease mortality due to cold by more than twenty times the amount it increases mortality due to heat.

If the question is whether the net effect is an increase or decrease in total mortality, the argument implies that for the net to be an increase in mortality the marginal effect of higher highs has to be more than twenty times as great as of higher lows. I suppose that's possible but I can not see any reason to expect it. Perhaps someone reading this can point me at data on the marginal effect that would let me replace my guess with something better.

In my experience, news stories on global warming routinely cite figures on increased deaths from hotter summers, current or projected, but give no such figures for decreased deaths from milder winters.

P.S. The Physics

CO2 is a greenhouse gas. So is water vapor. The more of one greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, the less the effect of adding another–the combined effect, after all, cannot be to block more than a hundred percent of the long wave radiation coming up from the Earth. The warmer it is, ceteris paribus, the more water vapor is in the air. Hence the greenhouse effect tends to be less in warm times and places than in cold.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

A Little More on Climate and the Food Supply

A recent post discussed the effect of climate change on the food supply. I now have a little more information.

I start with the table from Lobell et. al. 2011 which I showed in my previous post:

The issue was the effect on food supply, so it matters how much of each crop is used for food.
Of the 440 million metric tons (MMT) of polished rice produced in the world in 2010 ( Table 1), 85% went into direct human food supply ( 5 ) . By contrast, 70% of wheat and only 15% of maize production was directly consumed by humans. (Major Cereal Grains Production and Use Around the World)
 Googling around, it looks as though about 6% of soybean production is used directly as human food, 75% as animal feed, some of the rest as soy oil consumed by humans.  I can't find a figure for the total fraction used to feed humans, so am guessing 10%. We then have:

Production and yield are from Table 1 above. The bottom right cell shows a net increase in the amount of the four crops used as human food of about a million metric tons. For a more precise calculation I should have converted tons of each crop into calories. I am assuming that the ratio is not very different for the different crops, but readers are welcome to check that.

In the course of the same conversation, one of the participants insisted that all studies of the future effect of climate change on the food supply showed it to be negative. I don't generally like getting into the game of dueling citations, for reasons I will probably discuss in another post. But I was referred to the latest IPCC report so looked at it, and found a table, Figure 7.5 in Chapter 7, that showed the distribution of predictions of the effect of climate change on mean crop yield over the 21st century. For both temperate and tropical regions, the median prediction was for a negative effect but more than 25% of the studies predicted a positive effect. Looking at the estimates that included the effect of adaptation, farmers changing what they did in response to changing circumstances, the median prediction was for a reduction in yield of less than half a percent per decade.

I think that supports my view of the effect of climate change both on the food supply and more generally–that there are both positive and negative effects, both are quite uncertain, and the sum might turn out to be negative or positive, might make us worse off or better off.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Future Climate and the Food Supply

I recently had an experience both rare and pleasant, a civil and informative argument about climate on FaceBook. It was started by
One of the commenters, although not prepared to defend the hysterical tone of the posted piece, was willing to argue that climate change was making the global food situation worse and threatened to make it much worse in the future. In defense of that claim, he cited "one recent study showing four major global crops declining (relative to no climate change)." The article, "Climate Trends and Global Crop Production Since 1980"  (Lobell et. al. 2011), was an attempt to separate out the effects on four major crops of different environmental changes–temperature, precipitation, and CO2 concentration–occurring from 1980 to 2008.

Reading it, I noticed that what the authors defined as the effect of climate change included temperature and precipitation but not CO2; its (positive) effect was listed separately. Including it changed the conclusion from four crops down to two down, two up. The commenter who offered the article as evidence had apparently missed that fact.

I also noticed that while they found a significant warming trend over the period, the trend in precipitation was statistically insignificant – consistent with random change. Redoing the calculation using only the two effects we knew were associated with AGW, warming and increased CO2 concentration, made the percentage increase in rice equal to the decrease in maize, the increase in soybeans larger than the decrease in wheat. The figures are shown in Table 1 from the article.

The table showed no effect of increased CO2 on the yield of Maize. Maize, as the gentleman I was arguing with pointed out, is a C4 crop, the other crops C3, the difference being in the details of the mechanism for photosynthesis. The effect of CO2 fertilization on C4 crops is substantially less than on C3 crops but not zero. Looking at another article that had been linked in the discussion, this one from the EPA, I found:
The yields for some crops, like wheat and soybeans, could increase by 30% or more under a doubling of CO2 concentrations. The yields for other crops, such as corn, exhibit a much smaller response (less than 10% increase).
That suggests that the effect is less than a third as large as the effect on the C3 crops but still substantial. Including it on Table 1 makes the negative net effect on maize smaller than the positive effect on rice.

Looking at the EPA article I noticed that the increase in  yield due to CO2 fertilization was presented as a fact, various things that might decrease yields as possibilities.
"if temperature exceeds a crop's optimal level or if sufficient water and nutrients are not available, yield increases may be reduced or reversed." 
"Extreme events, especially floods and droughts, can harm crops and reduce yields."
 No evidence was offered that any of those things would happen or how large the effects would be if they did. It looked as though the authors wanted to give the impression that climate change would reduce agricultural yields but prudently stopped short of saying so.

I also noticed:
"Overall, climate change could make it more difficult to grow crops, raise animals, and catch fish in the same ways and same places as we have done in the past."
As conditions change, people change what they do in response. If temperatures rise, farmers will shift to crop varieties suited to a warmer environment. If rainfall increases or decreases, they will adjust crop varieties, irrigation, other details accordingly. What would happen if farmers ignored environmental changes in deciding how to farm tells us very little about what will happen in the real world. Whether or not we have global warming, it is quite unlikely that, a century from now, people will grow crops, raise animals, and catch fish in the same ways and the same places as they do now.

The same issue is relevant to the other article. The authors estimated the effect of increased temperature on yield by looking at how yields had varied with temperature, year by year, in the past. Those estimates were  used to calculate the effect of the overall increase in temperature over the period and suggest possible effects of future increases.

To see the problem with that approach, consider a farmer at planting time. He does not know how hot the year will be, how much rainfall there will be. Decisions such as when to plant and what varieties to plant can only be based on the expected value of those variables.

A farmer in 2100 knows what changes in climate have occurred over the previous century so  can take account of those changes in how he farms. It follows that models based on observations of year to year variation will show a more negative effect of climate change than can be expected from gradual change over a long period of time. The authors of the article noted that problem along with other limitations to their analysis.

Most of the time, all I learn from arguing climate with people on FaceBook is how unreasonable most people engaged in the argument, on both sides, are. This was a pleasant change. 

I will have to wait to see whether my opponent has become less confident that climate change threatens the global food supply now that he knows that the article that he thought supported that claim is, if anything, mild evidence against it.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Two Maps I Would Like to See

Suppose you are planning to move–across town or across the country. One consideration in deciding exactly where to move to is the price of housing. With a little effort, you can probably find average house prices in different cities you are thinking of moving to, but that isn't quite the information you want. Low house prices might mean inexpensive houses, but they might also mean small houses in poor condition. What you want is an apples to apples comparison, relative prices for the sort of house you would want to buy.

The data to produce that information almost certainly exist online, since there are extensive databases of webbed real estate listings. Run some regressions on that data and you can use the results to estimate how much the same house costs in different places. The results will also tell you how the price of a house depends on its area, lot size, age, etc. Do it right and the potential buyer can input a description of the house he wants and get estimates of how much it would cost in any of the places he is considering moving to. He can input different house descriptions, compare prices, and use the information to help him decide just how much house he wants to buy and where. The same approach could be used for rental prices. And it could be done not city by city–prices within a single city can vary a lot–but neighborhood by neighborhood. 

What I am imagining is a webbed map. Put in the relevant information about the house or apartment you want, click anywhere on the map, and get a price.

Housing prices are not the only thing you want to know. Another consideration is the crime rate–relevant not only in deciding where to live but where and when to take a walk. The map for that information lets you set a category of crime (burglary, mugging, assault), a time of day, and see a map of the relevant area with crime rates shown by color, running from bright red for the highest to dark blue for the lowest.

I don't know how much of this exists already, but perhaps some of my readers do.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Most People are Nice: A True Story

We are currently visiting with my wife’s mother in Cleveland. Yesterday my daughter went for a walk and got mugged near Case Western Reserve University. She was not hurt but lost her purse and contents, iPhone and iPad.
She reported the incident to the police, came home and used Apple’s online service to locate the iPhone and iPad. Getting help from the police was complicated by the fact that the location was near the intersection of Cleveland, East Cleveland, and Cleveland Heights, each apparently with its own police department, but eventually two East Cleveland police met us a block from where the missing items showed on the online map. They went to look, reported back that that side of the street was an empty field, and (reasonably enough) that their searching the whole field was impractical. We asked about our doing some searching, were advised that it was not a safe area for white people (black, rundown neighborhood—one police officer was white, one black, the mugger had been black).

Despite their advice, we did some unsuccessful searching, hoping to find the iPhone by calling it, the iPad by making it beep. A woman in a house across the street was curious about what we were doing, made friendly comments.  An elderly black man with a cane came by, sympathized with our problem. We spoke with a group of elderly blacks on a porch at the other end of the block, also sympathetic. One of the women said she had found a coin purse about where we had been searching, was in the habit of picking things up so had done so. She fetched it. It was the coin purse (empty) from my daughter’s purse, she gave it back to my daughter, told us where she had found it, was clearly very happy that her habit of picking things up had produced a benefit. We searched some more without success.

After we returned to my mother in law’s apartment it occurred to me that we could have located the items more precisely by combining the information from the Apple page with other geographical information. Eventually I used the satellite view on the Google Maps app on my cell phone to determine that the items were probably in one of the dumpsters behind an apartment building at the end of the block. So the next day (today) we returned, posted some reward posters around the dumpsters. My daughter called the phone. I eventually heard it ringing from one of the dumpsters, climbed in, found the purse with the iPhone and iPad. The only thing missing that mattered, other than money, was my daughter’s passport. I removed the posters. The man we had spoken with the previous day passed again, I told him we had found it, he was obviously happy for us.

One lesson was the usefulness of modern technology–if we had not had the ability to track the electronic devices we would never have found them and the purse. The other was support for a conclusion I reached decades ago, after leaving something valuable, possibly my wallet or passport, at a merchant’s stall in Teheran and having it returned to me. You cannot count on everyone being nice, as illustrated by the mugger. But if you select people at random to interact with, the odds are that they will treat you as a fellow human being not an enemy or a victim.

Even in places that the cops warn you are unsafe for people of your race.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Story Idea

Someone comes up with a drug, or a technology, that gives the user perfect recall, the ability to rerun, in full detail, any part of his life. How would it get used?

One possibility is for self-education. Observing selected past experiences with a fifty year old mind and seventeen year old eyes might teach me a good deal about mistakes I had made, some of which I might still be making.  It might provide information about what it was like to be seventeen useful in dealing with current teenagers, including my own children. In life as it now is, we get to see each episode only once. As any video game player could tell you, being able to play the same events over and over makes it possible to greatly improve your skill. In my hypothetical, unlike a video game, you don't get to  try different tactics and see what happens. But you do get to see repeated replays of what you did the first time and the results.

Another possibility is entertainment. You can rerun, over and over again, your happiest, most exciting moments. Replace internet porn with memories of your first, or best, sex. Watch a reality show that was real, with yourself as star.

There is, however, a potential down side. After things go wrong, a marital breakup, a business failure, an election loss, it is tempting to go over it again and again, agonizing over what you did wrong and what you should have done. Now you can do it in living color. Forever.

The version of this scenario I have just described is probably impossible, since there is no reason to believe that a full record of my past is actually stored anywhere in my brain. But a different version, enabled by a different technology, might well come into existence in the not too distant future.

Consider a world with greatly improved surveillance, a much advanced version of video cameras on poles combined with face recognition software and database technology. In that world, David Brin's Transparent Society, everything that happens in a public place is recorded and findable. And once we have video cameras with the size and aerodynamic characteristics of mosquitoes, practically every place is public.

If the system is open access we are back with perfect recall. I am no longer watching my past life through the eyes of my past self, but I still get to watch it. 

I was born too early. But it might be reality for my future grandchildren.

Donald Trump and The Boy Who Cried Wolf

In 1964, Fact magazine published an article whose headline was "1,189 Psychiatrists Say Goldwater Is Psychologically Unfit To Be President." It included a variety of detailed and unflattering diagnoses of the Republican candidate for president by psychiatrists none of whom had actually examined him or, so far as one could tell, met him.

In 2010, Christine O'Donnell, a Republican candidate for the Senate, was widely mocked as the "masturbation hating candidate." So far as I could discover, the basis for that was a comment she had made in an MTV program on masturbation some fourteen years earlier:
"The Bible says that lust in your heart is committing adultery. So you can't masturbate without lust."
Both, I think, correct statements. 

That same year, another Republican senate candidate was reported as saying that he opposed the principle of separation of church and state. What he actually said was "The idea that church and state should be separated is fine with me. The idea that there should be no interrelationship between the two is not fine with me."

Those are particular incidents that struck me when they occurred–the two links above are to blog posts I made at the time. But the pattern is a general one. Center left writers and media routinely accuse candidates on the right of being ignorant, stupid, racist, and/or crazy. Most of the time it isn't true.

Donald Trump is, in my view, less  qualified to be president than any major party candidate in my lifetime. But after being told more or less the same thing about every candidate seen as right of center for the last fifty years, why should voters, especially voters right of center, believe it?
P.S. (the day after the election).

A commenter on Facebook provides a link to Bill Maher  admitting what I wrote above--that they cried wolf with previous Republican candidates who really were not all the terrible things they claimed. But this one, he says, is different.

He also makes a testable prediction–that Trump will seize power and remain in office for the rest of his life. Eight years from now I want to see him explain that one assuming, as I do, that it will prove false.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Observations on London

I recently spent a few days in London and was struck by several features of current London culture:

1. Several times, younger passengers on the Tube (subway) offered me their seats. I have grey hair but do not appear (and am not) particularly feeble. I would be mildly surprised to have the same thing happen in the U.S.

2. Most hotels I have stayed in recently, in the U.S. and abroad, have a safe in the room with a combination that the guest sets. The hotel I stayed at in the U.K. didn't. That might mean that U.K. guests are less worried about pilfering by hotel employees than hotel guests elsewhere. Of course, my sample size is very small.

3. Walking through Notting Hill (no Napoleons visible) I observed the scene shown below, jam offered for sale with a request to put the payment through the house's mail slot.  I cannot remember having ever seen a similar scene here, although I don't suppose it's impossible.

Scotland and the EU

One result of the British vote to leave the EU has been a revival of calls for Scotland to leave the U.K. Doing so is considerably more attractive if combined with EU membership. That raises the question of whether, if Brexit were followed by Scottish secession, the EU would be willing to let the Scots in.

One argument in favor, from the standpoint of the EU, is that encouraging Scottish secession is a way of punishing the U.K. for leaving and so deterring other countries from doing so. One argument against is that allowing a breakaway region to join sets a precedent that some current EU members, most obviously Spain, might be unhappy with. The Scots could, of course, argue that the precedent would only be relevant to the case of breakaway regions from non-member states. The Spanish might or might not be convinced.

Brexit and Free Trade

Much of the discussion of the recent British vote to leave the European Union takes it for granted that the result will be less free trade for the U.K. While that is possible, so is the opposite result. Britain can still negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU, as several non EU countries have done, assuming both sides want it. And leaving the EU leaves Britain free to negotiate free trade agreements with other countries, most obviously the Commonwealth.

The critical issues are the positions of the U.K. government and its potential trading partners, including the EU. Many who voted for Brexit were motivated by a desire to reduce trade and/or immigration, but not all. The winning coalition seems to have included both protectionists and free traders. The free traders who voted for Brexit plus the free traders who voted against it might well add up to a majority.

For those who supported free trade, the objection to the EU was the rest of the package, in particular extensive regulation. Many people take it for granted that if you have free trade such regulation is needed to prevent countries from cheating, regulating the national market in ways that favor their producers. That argument assumes that national governments want to cheat on free trade. It treats a free trade agreement as a deal where each country gives up something it values, its own trade restrictions, in exchange for the other country doing the same. 

Much talk about trade views it that way. Politically speaking that view is correct, since trade restrictions are a way in which politicians can benefit well organized producer groups in exchange for their political support. Economically speaking, however, that view is false. The gain from protecting U.K. manufacturers from foreign competition comes at the cost of their customers and U.K. export industries. 

Unilateral free trade, the policy of England in the 19th century and Hong Kong in the 20th, produces a net benefit for the inhabitants of the country that adopts it, quite aside from any benefits to their trading partners. From the standpoint of the welfare of the citizens rather than their rulers, the usual trade negotiation consists of each side offering to stop shooting itself in the foot in exchange for the other side doing the same. If governments engaged in trade negotiations were trying to maximize the welfare of their inhabitants, there would be no need for either tariffs or agreements on regulation, since there would be no incentive for the governments to use regulation to cheat on trade agreements.

If supporters of free trade in the U.K. and potential trading partners are sufficiently numerous and sufficiently well informed, Brexit should lead to an increase in free trade. If they are numerous but poorly informed, believe that the benefit comes from a trading partner abandoning its restrictions, it still might lead to an increase. We will have to wait and see.

Monday, July 04, 2016

America's Annual Celebration of Lawlessness

Where we live, private fireworks are illegal. Walking around the neighborhood for an hour or so after dark, I must have seen several hundred rockets go up as well as a lot of ground level displays. Lots of people out watching.

It's enough to warm an anarchist's heart.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

The Origin of the Law of Torture: A Cautionary Tale

[This is a passage I just wrote for a chapter of my current book project, Legal Systems Very Different from Ours. I thought my blog readers might find it of interest.]

People in the past worried about convicting the innocent too. In the early Middle Ages, they had a solution–let God judge. A defendant could be subjected to an ordeal, such as plunging his hand into boiling water, carrying a red hot iron, being dumped bound into water. Various passages in the Bible were interpreted to imply that God would reveal guilt (hand injured or body sank) or innocence (not injured, floated). Since God was omniscient, it was an approach that guaranteed a correct verdict.

The use of ordeals was eventually abandoned on theological grounds. A more careful examination of the biblical passages found little support for it, and it could be viewed as an attempt by humans to compel God to serve them, religiously dubious. In 1215, the fourth Lateran council rejected the religious legitimacy of judicial ordeals and banned priests from participating in them. Over the next few decades most European countries abandoned their use.[1]

That left medieval judicial systems with the problem of finding another way of being certain a defendant was guilty. The solution was to impose a very high standard of proof,  evidence “clear as the noonday sun.” Conviction required either two unimpeachable eyewitnesses to the crime or a voluntary confession. Circumstantial evidence, however strong, was insufficient.

In the history of Western culture no legal system has ever made a more valiant effort to perfect its safeguards and thereby to exclude completely the possibility of mistaken conviction. But the Europeans learned in due course the inevitable lesson. They had set the level of safeguard too high. They had constructed a system of proof that could as a practical matter be effective only in cases involving overt crime or repentant criminals. Because society cannot long tolerate a legal system that lacks the capacity to convict unrepentant persons who commit clandestine crimes, something had to be done … .(Langbein 1978)

The solution was the law of torture. Once the court had half-proof, one eyewitness or the equivalent in circumstantial evidence, the defendant could be tortured into confessing. A confession under torture was not voluntary, but that problem could be dealt with. Stop the torture and the next day ask the defendant if he is still willing to confess. Since he is now not being tortured, the confession is voluntary. If he doesn’t confess, torture him again.

John Langbein, my source for this account, offers a parallel story in modern law. Two hundred years ago, jury trials were short:

In the Old Bailey in the 1730s we know that the court routinely processed between twelve and twenty jury trials for felony in a single day. A single jury would be impaneled and would hear evidence in numerous unrelated cases before retiring to formulate verdicts in all. Lawyers were not employed in the conduct of ordinary criminal trials, either for the prosecution or the defense. The trial judge called the witnesses (whom the local justice of the peace had bound over to appear), and the proceeding transpired as a relatively unstructured “altercation” between the witnesses and the accused. In the 1790s, when the Americans were constitutionalizing English jury trial, it was still rapid and efficient. “The trial of Hardy for high treason in 1794 was the first that ever lasted more than one day, and the court seriously considered whether it had any power to adjourn… .”
Over the years since, trials have become longer and much more complicated, at least in part to reduce the risk of convicting the wrong person. Patricia Hearst’s trial for bank robbery lasted forty days. That was unusually long, but the average felony jury trial in Los Angeles in 1968 took 7.2 days, more than a hundred times the length of a felony trial in the Old Bailey in the 1730’s. If every felony conviction in the U.S. took that long, felony trials alone would require the full time efforts of more than the total number of judges in the state and federal systems.[2] Also the full time efforts of close to a million jurors, court attendants, and the like. Not impossible, but very expensive.

The American legal system found a less expensive alternative. Like its medieval predecessor, it substituted confession for trial. The medieval confession was motivated by the threat of torture. The modern version, a plea bargain, is motivated by the threat of a much more severe sentence if the defendant insists on a trial and is convicted. Like the medieval version, it preserves the form–every felony defendant has the right to a jury trial, a lawyer, and all the paraphernalia of the modern law of criminal defense–while abandoning the substance. Conviction after a lengthy and careful jury trial is, arguably, evidence of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The willingness to accept a sentence of a year, possibly a year already served while awaiting trial, instead of the risk of ten years if convicted is not.

[1] For details see  Leeson, Peter, “Ordeals.”
[2] In the U.S. in 2006, an estimated 1.2 million persons were convicted of a felony. If each of them had had a jury trial of 7.2 days the total would have been 8.6 million trial days. Assuming that courts function five days a week, 52 weeks a year, felony cases alone would have required the full time effort of 33,000 judges. Add in a few more for the trials of defendants who were acquitted. There are about 30,000 judges in the state judicial systems, and another 1,700 in the federal system.

Thoughts on the Election

It seems almost certain that the two major party candidates will be Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, not an inspiring vision. Of the possible bad outcomes, which is least bad?

The answer, I think, is for Hillary Clinton to be elected president with a Republican House and Senate.

The reason is not that I expect Trump, if elected, to shut down the New York Times, order all his opponents arrested, turn his fans into a legion of storm troopers, abolish the Constitution and end democracy in America. However bad his intentions, he cannot do those things by himself. Moves in that direction, even considerably less extreme ones, would be opposed by some Republicans and all Democrats, which means a majority of the House, Senate and Supreme Court.

My worry is in a different direction. A Trump election would almost certainly also give the Republicans a majority in both the House and Senate. A Republican congress can probably be trusted to resist moves by a Democratic president to expand the size and power of government, in particular of the executive. It cannot be trusted to resist similar moves by a Republican president--did not when the president was Bush. 

Insofar as one can guess Trump's real political views and insofar as he has any, they seem to be center left, a fact obscured by his efforts to get Republican primary voters to vote for him. If he acts on such views, probably with wrapping designed to make them as palatable as possible to conservatives, he will probably have support from most Republicans in congress and some Democrats.

Or in other words, I think Trump will be in a position to do considerably more damage than Clinton will be. There is much to be said for gridlock, considering the alternative.

As for the election, if I vote it will be for Gary Johnson on the Libertarian ticket.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Anyone Want a Talk Near London?

I am currently scheduled to give a talk for the Institute of Economic Affairs on July 2nd and tentatively giving another talk the day before. My plan is to fly to London on the 28th or 29th, fly home on the  third or fourth, although I could stay another day or two if necessary.

Is there anyone in the London area who would be interested in setting up a talk?

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Question for any Historians Reading This

I am currently working on the sequel to Salamander, my second novel, and would like some relevant historical information. The novel is a fantasy, the world it is set in has technology somewhere between our fourteenth and 18th century (no firearms) plus weak magic. Political institutions a bit like seventeenth or eighteenth century England--a monarchy with real power but not absolute, feudalism on the way out but not entirely vanished.

The capital of the kingdom of Esland has been taken in a surprise attack by an army from a neighboring state. A good deal of looting, burning and killing, as usual under such circumstances. A defending force is still holding out in the citadel.

Two weeks after the attack, what does the situation look like? Are the attackers sending looting parties into the countryside for food or simply offering to buy it, thus giving farmers an incentive to come to them? Is there a curfew in the city? Has city life for the survivors more or less returned to normal? Have invaders recruited locals to patrol the streets, as a step towards longer run control over the city? Are the city gates open and guarded, open and not guarded, open during the day and closed at night (relevant because I have a character planning to enter the city)?

The invaders anticipate an army or armies eventually being assembled to try to retake the capital, but there is not yet one close enough to be an immediate threat.

Anyone know of good historical sources, preferably primary, that describe this sort of situation? I would rather steal from history than make it up out of whole cloth.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

My Response to a Non-Libertarian FAQ

A long time ago, a blogger I think highly of wrote a non-libertarian faq. When I came across it, some years later, I responded by email, he replied, I replied. I eventually got around to converting the exchange to a web page.

I recently came across a blog post which commented on the non-libertarian faq, remarked that he thought it was basically right but also that he would like to see my response. Since his blog does not permit comments or provide the author's email but he apparently reads my blog, I thought providing a link here would be the easiest way of showing it to him.

Others may also find it of interest.

Someone else wrote and webbed a much longer reply.