Jens 'n' Frens
Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

"A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures."
  -- Daniel Webster

Tuesday, October 20, 2015 :::

As the bulk of the authorship and readership of this blog approaches our forties, it's hard for us to remember what we've already said, but perhaps it's also hard for you to remember.  I'm not promising that there's anything new here except for an example; I just heard a radio ad complaining about the use of eminent domain to build a pipeline.

I have seen (a couple times in the last month or two) the idea that some Presidential candidate should run against Kelo, and I want to start by reiterating that I think Kelo was decided correctly, and as such is an illustration of the fact that you have to vote for good government, as the constitution does not simply forbid bad government.  Further — this is almost certainly a repeat from earlier commentary — restricting eminent domain use to some poorly defined "public purposes" doesn't strike me as a remotely efficient way to curb eminent domain abuse; if it reduces the number of likely uses by a certain fraction, it provides a certain amount of added protection, but there are more apposite ways of reducing eminent domain use by the same fraction or more that would impair less socially valuable development.  If my property is taken, I don't much care whether it's taken for a school or a similarly sized office building.

It seems to me that the best argument for retaining eminent domain is to solve hold-up problems; if you need to build a road, you probably need to put together land from many different property owners, and if you buy the land from 99 out of the 100 you need, the last guy can extract a huge amount of money from you.  A pipeline seems like a similar social good, but it also makes at least some sense to me that pipelines would be built, maintained, and owned by private entities.  Again, I would be no happier having my land taken for a road than for a pipeline, and I certainly wouldn't be happier having it taken for a state-owned pipeline than for a privately-owned pipeline.  The protections I would put in place for eminent domain, then, are:
  • You should have to get a substantial majority — say 3/4 — of the relevant property owners to go along willingly; the minority of property owners is being bound not just by the majority of the town electorate, but by a supermajority of at least somewhat similarly situated property owners; if you can't get that, you're probably not offering just compensation, regardless of what procedural protections might exist for determining what that is.
  • Assets don't have prices, and for something like real estate insofar as we can pretend they do the price is only well-defined to within a fairly wide band. If a transaction is being compelled by one party, "just compensation" has to err in the favor of the other party; the sale price should be at least the highest "market value" that could reasonably be guessed, and probably a bit higher for good measure.
Insofar as the pipeline has multiple physically plausible routes, one of the criteria the builder will have to consider is how easily the land (or easements) can be acquired, and a route that implicates a lot of property owners who don't want the pipeline will (and should be) strongly disfavored compared to one where there are only a few hold-outs.  The same is true of roads.  In any case, it seems to me that these rules are very protective of property owners compared to the counterfactual rulesets that define "public purposes" for which property may be rapaciously taken with neither of these protections, and at the same time avoid requiring that the state own any large project that is going to take place.

Addenda: Ilya Somin has a round-up of links, including some observing that condemnation victims often don't even get a reasonable "fair market value" compensation, that people unwilling to sell at "fair market value" likely really do place a higher value on their property than that, and that tools of political power generally harm those who are less politically powerful and benefit those who are more politically powerful. One more note that I would like to make about 'at least the highest "market value" that could reasonably be guessed': if a lower bound on what the buyer would pay for all 100 properties is $20,000,000, and each of them has an upper bound "fair market value" of $100,000, there's an extra $10,000,000 in value to be had from assembling the properties together — and no particularly compelling case for giving all of that to the buyer, as "just compensation" typically does. (Is "fair value" $100,000 or $200,000? To some extent, this highlights again the fallacy of supposing the question has a precise answer.) And, just to repeat, this is true whether this is for a public road or a private developer; if the public road is really going to be that valuable, the town should be willing to pay the premium to the people being dispossessed.


::: posted by dWj at 9:36 AM

(1) comments

Monday, July 27, 2015 :::
I'll post this here in case I was previously electable.  (I may have posted some of these thoughts before, but I'm pretty sure I haven't posted most or all of them.)

One of the tropes that bothers me in political discourse follows the form "this person whom I categorize in a particular political category says something which conflicts with something another person whom I categorize the same way, therefore people in that category are hypocrites."  I, too, however, am often too lazy to go find the same actual person, preferably not a random crank who has never run for city council, making both conflicting statements, and certainly wonder about things I hear. I'm therefore going to make an observation that might imply that some people are hypocritical, without making the accusation about anyone in particular.

Let's put forth four statements:
God Bless America     God Bless Everyone, No Exceptions
Black Lives Matter All Lives Matter
I agree with all four; if your response to any of the statements is that it negates or strongly calls into question your support for the other statement in the same row, but do not feel approximately the same way about the other row, I ask you to evaluate your consistency.

I certainly don't begrudge people chanting "Black Lives Matter", though I do object to implications that police violence against black people — or, construing it about as broadly as I think it gets construed, racial disparities in the administration of criminal justice in general — is the only thing anyone is ever allowed to talk about, which is at least very nearly a position some on the left have been taking recently.  I do think it's a mistake for them to push back against "All Lives Matter", not only because, let's be honest, it's offensive to object to the idea that someone's life matters if he's of the wrong race, but because, let's be honest, it's very problematic for these people to object to the idea that someone's life matters if he's of the wrong race.  As with the people calling for Darren Wilson not to receive due process, you are stepping very hard on the very heart of the message you are trying to convey (unless the message really is that some people should be privileged on the basis of race, and that it's just the wrong people being so privileged right now, in which case I ask you to move to Latin America or some pocket of Africa where democracy operates that way.  Actually, Latin America probably isn't even as bad as it was in the middle of the twentieth century.)

I don't know the etymology of the term "White Privilege"; I hope it was intentionally sardonic, at least at first, in which case it's the sort of sardonicism I traditionally support, but it seems to be used straight an awful lot these days.  If I got to choose its origins, and it wasn't sardonic, my next choice would be that somebody didn't know what "privilege" means; "Institutions aren't treating black people as well as white people; that's terrible; we should treat white people much worse, to bring them in line with the way we treat black people" is my very bottom choice.  Just as with objecting to "All lives matter", this locution implies that black people are asking for special privileges; the language of rights used by our grandparents was much more compelling.

::: posted by dWj at 10:41 AM

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I see from Reason that
For the first time ever, reports Business Insider, a U.S. state "may single out one industry for a big wage hike."
That state is New York, that industry is "any restaurant chain with 30 or more locations in the state," and it would appear that a panel the governor appointed has recommended a $15 minimum wage for only those firms.

One casts about for an economic world-view with even a low level of coherence that argues in favor of doing this for these firms specifically, and not e.g. including retailers etc.  Were I to attempt to justify this, it would be on public health grounds; these restaurants perhaps disproportionately serve poor people worse food than they would otherwise find, and (especially before large labor-saving capital improvements can be made) could be expected to be unaffordable to that population if this goes into effect.

::: posted by dWj at 12:35 AM

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Thursday, June 18, 2015 :::
If you heard that a student was expelled from Amherst college for being raped, you might think, "What is this, Pakistan?", unless you knew it was a male student and were familiar with recent abuses of Title IX on college campuses.

::: posted by dWj at 10:10 AM

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Saturday, April 11, 2015 :::
What strikes me as odd about this is probably not what strikes most people as odd:

This issue of government force is a funny one. You could also argue that the government is forcing you to drive below the speed limit or wear a seatbelt in your car. But it’s not. There isn’t a police officer holding a gun to your head literally forcing you to buckle up. In fact, you are 100 percent free to speed and not wear your seatbelt—and simply deal with the consequences if you’re pulled over.
What strikes me as odd is that the writer (Sally Kohn, at Talking Points Memo) asks us to step back from the useful shorthand that unpleasant alternatives shouldn't be considered real alternatives, but then she assumes that if a police officer were holding a gun to your head, you would have no choice but to obey the law. Of course, you would have a choice: if the police officer physically overpowered you and buckled the seat-belt himself, you wouldn't have a choice, but "do it or I'll shoot you" is — in the absurdly literal sense we're using here — a choice, as indicated by the "or" (I'm assuming here that, if the police officer shoots you, he won't then buckle you in, though I suppose he could).

My understanding (which I'm not sure of and have no intention of verifying) is that this discussion grew out of this Twitter conversation. But even if she is right in her column that one is rarely literally forced to follow the law, that doesn't mean that law isn't force, as she suggested on Twitter. As she herself notes, laws generally work by forcing lawbreakers to face consequences that would not otherwise exist. If the act required by the law is not literally forced upon you, the consequences are.

::: posted by Steven at 11:44 PM

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Monday, March 30, 2015 :::

No RFRA has ever been used successfully to defend anti-gay discrimination, not in twenty years of RFRAs nationwide.

That's from an article on Indiana's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act and its 20 siblings around the country. Ann Althouse also, as usual, brings a little perspective.

UPDATE: See also Jonathan Adler's (similar) take.


::: posted by Steven at 10:22 PM

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Tuesday, March 03, 2015 :::
Tomorrow the Supreme Court hears arguments about the text
enrolled in through an Exchange established by the State
The IRS has interpreted "the State" in the sense of "l'état", i.e. the government, including the federal government.

At least that's how it's being reported, even by the opponents of the administration's position. The way it's being reported, it sounds like that could reasonably be called a plausible interpretation, at which point the Supreme Court has a history of deferring to executive agencies. Including the next two words, though
enrolled in through an Exchange established by the State under 1311
with the annotation that section 1311 authorizes the creation of state exchanges and 1321 authorizes the federal exchange seems to me to remove any ambiguity. I can't imagine the plaintiffs losing on the substance if five of the justices make any attempt at a fair-minded interpretation of the law — unless there is some other key offsetting language that is getting even less attention than "under 1311". Notwithstanding their having passed it, I still don't know all of what's in that bill.

Were I trying to find an excuse to rule for the administration, the best I can offer is questions of standing; I personally am inclined to allow very broad standing, but I know that one or two of the conservative justices are sometimes amenable to narrow construals of standing, and could team up with the justices who are less historically prone to make fair-minded interpretations of the law.

::: posted by dWj at 10:13 AM

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015 :::
I wasted time researching this, so I feel I might as well share.

Apparently Tennessee girls' basketball has a playoff structure in which each district has a single elimination tournament; the four semifinalists advance to the next level.  They play the semifinals, and then the winners of those games play, and the losers play a "consolation" game, all of which affect seeding at the next level; the winners of the "championship" and "consolation" games are grouped with the losers of those games in another district, and vice versa, creating two four-team single-elimination tournaments per pair of districts, resulting in two teams in what is officially considered "the state tournament" for each pair of districts.

If by far the best team in your pair of districts is in your district, then, and that team wins its last for-seed game, your best chance of making "the state tournament" is in losing your last for-seed game.
The referee wrote that he finally called the coaches together for a meeting after "a Smyrna player was about to attempt a shot at the wrong basket (but there was a 10-second violation call before [she] attempted the shot) on purpose."
I'm sympathetic to the coaches and players here.  One might take a top player out of a game for a while, knowing that incurs a disadvantage for several minutes of the game, in order to increase the chances of winning (if the player might be more effective later for having rested); I think on a larger scale that "winning every game" is no more legitimate a demand than "winning every minute" is (though I do find it sad that so much emphasis is put by so many teams on winning the final tournament of the season).  There is no accusation of cheating here, and yet the teams were punished and fined; while there may be some place for enforcing rules ex post facto that are deemed to have violated "sportsmanship", sportsmanship in my mind is about not letting attempts to win outweigh the realization that there is life outside of the game.  Faking an injury is a violation of sportsmanship (it preys on norms that attending to the injury are more important than maintaining the ordinary flow of the game); throwing a basketball in a random direction because the rules have been structured to reward that is playing the game as it's been drawn up.

I should say that I'm a bit sympathetic to the people who drew up that bracket, too, though; I think too many very large tournaments are run as single-elimination affairs, and appreciate that there are probably political reasons to keep the structure agnostic as to inter-district seeding.  It's not too hard to make a sixteen-team tournament spit out a 4-0 team and a 5-1 team after six rounds, and it's not even all that hard to respect geography within the group for the first few rounds; I think something like that might satisfy most of their constraints (though of course I don't know intimately what those are) without giving teams incentives to lose individual games.

::: posted by dWj at 3:39 PM

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Idle thoughts of a relatively libertarian Republican in Cambridge, MA, and whomever he invites. Mostly political.

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