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

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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Tuesday, December 16, 2014 :::
Incidentally, the posts from Saturday were intended to be posted on my speculative economicsy ideas blog, and I only realized I had mis-directed them as I was posting about Uber (which could well have gone there as well, but was not intended for it). I've cross-posted them now, and if you found them particularly interesting perhaps you would find other things on that blog interesting as well; the things I post and the way I write are both a bit different on that blog than on this one.

::: posted by dWj at 1:23 PM

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Uber is taking more flak for its surge pricing, which obviously serves a purpose (and indeed, in my mind, is their purpose for existence) but is very unpopular in some circles, and I'm trying to think of ways of at least partially achieving the purpose that might be less unpopular.  One suggestion I've seen is that Uber, which takes 20% of revenues (giving 80% to the driver), give all of the overage to the driver; when you have 4x pricing, Uber would get 5% of the fare paid.  In basic economics at least, markets tend to be "efficient" at the point at which quantity is maximized, and I would point out that this scheme perfectly aligns Uber's (short-term) incentives with (short-term) "quantity" maximization, where "quantity" is measured in terms of the base fare of potential rides.  It seems like it might at least improve their ability to communicate sincerity in the purpose of the price hike, vis-a-vis claims that they are "profiteering".

My own ideas fall into two categories, of which one is "double down" — "Look, people, the thing with Uber is that you can get service at some price if you really need it, and if you want unreliable but cheap service at those times, have at it" — and I don't know whether that would alienate a lot more potential customers that it would resonate with. Perhaps they've been as clear as they reasonably can about the whole "reliability" vs. "fixed stated price at which you can't get any service" trade-off for which they provide diversification among providers.  It's possible more transparency, at least after the fact, about net demand would help; if people can see that there really were a lot of riders asking for rides at high prices and not that many drivers, perhaps the trade-off would be a little bit more concrete.

My other ideas run around the idea of making it look more like an auction, partly for the same reason of making the previous message more concrete — if you've been outbid for a scarce resource, you can bid higher or accept that you've been outbid — and perhaps give buyers a greater feeling of control, even if there is really no more or less control one way than the other.  (They both, pretty much, give everyone as much control as the basic laws of mathematics allow.)  A traditional auction requires that everyone in the auction wait until the auction is over before they can proceed, and the whole point here is quick, reliable service.  I think Vohra (meaning Rakesh Vohra, though it's possible I'm actually thinking of Rajiv Vohra at Brown; they have similar research interests, and it's a while since I looked at this) has worked on auctions where time is an issue in this sort of way (people entering and exiting the market at different times).  Another option is to have buyers of the service post offer prices that drivers can see and can choose to accept or not, possibly with suggestions by Uber as to what trade-off they're likely to see between a higher price and a quicker/more likely acceptance.

::: posted by dWj at 1:17 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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