Thursday, September 3, 2009

Some things you might not know about my political views

I've been toying around with my draft first political rant, and find I can't bring myself to post something inspired by anger that no longer seems entirely fair or measured... so instead, since you were all promised politics, here's an arbitrary set of opinions on some issues. Yay!

Abortion: I'm Pro-Choice, but not militantly - my moral intuition fails so poorly on abortion (once I start to reason about it in any detail) that I default to letting the mother's conscience take primacy over mine, since its her body and all. Incidentally I believe Roe vs Wade is appallingly terrible law - there is a gaping hole in the U.S. constitution concerning exactly when a human obtains rights, but I don't think it was the Supreme Court's job to fill it.

Political Hero: Is, these days, Thomas Jefferson. I'm by no means a libertarian, I'm just in awe of his intellect and convictions. How he put his ideals into practice in the messy world of real politics is a truly fascinating topic - having only really read his Wikipedia page, I'm keen to get my hands on a biography or two. Australian political hero - I'll go for Bob Carr, because nerds have to stick up for one another, no?

In the next Federal election: I don't especially want to vote for Labor, largely because Rudd is overreaching with certain elements of his socially conservative agenda - the main bugbear for me being the appalling internet censorship scheme. I could vote for Turnbull - regardless of his less than appealing personal qualities - but certainly not for the Liberal Party, who to add to mynatural inclinations against their right wing politics, have recently presented an appallingly incoherent and often frightningly irrational policy plaform. The Greens are even worse than the Liberals on policy, and will never win my vote until they purge their party of the influence of ideologues who are so deluded they are capable of opposing things like Nuclear Medicine isotope production at the Lucas heights reactor. If the Democrats were still a viable force with actual political talent, I'd consider voting for them, although it'd involve spending a lot of time figuring out what they actually stand for, since that part always seemed a bit murky.

So at the moment, the ALP wins my vote by default. I'd like to see the Labor left pushing internally a bit harder on issues that matter to me, and not on protecting the thugs in the CFMEU who give the Australian union movement a bad name.

Free Markets or Planned Economies? Both. Our current best knowledge of both economic theory and practice seems to point towards best results from a mixed system - something like we have in Australia. There are without a doubt better ways to run economies, but we haven't discovered them yet. However the dawn of the Information Age is promising in this regard (IMO the massive, distributed computing power of the Internet, product of the Silicion Valley entreupener, may quixotically be the Marxist's last great hope for signficiantly more centralised economic decision making becoming truly viable.)

Taxes - up or down? The level of taxation as a proportion of GDP is a matter of fiscal policy, and rightly changes depending on economic circumstance. As a rule I think we should be redistributing more wealth from the rich to the poor, but I believe we should do so via fewer mechanisms - higher but fewer taxes, and higher but fewer forms of welfare. In fact, if I were in power, my main economic agenda would be to simplify - and probably even merge - the tax and welfare systems, in a revenue neutral fashion. Of course that's far from easy to do, but I'd like to see it nonetheless.

Immigration rates: Should go way, way up. Mainly in the form of unskilled labour and refugees, not just poaching the few doctors the third world has (skilled labour from the first world is fine.) Its an economic, demographic, and moral imperative - with our massively aging population we desperately need more young people, and bribing our own middle class to have babies just isn't that cost effective. The added bouns here its freer immigration is basically the best means of global wealth equalisation, since the immigrants will get richer by being here - not because they end up taking our wealth but because they benefit from our positive externalities, so essentially, they get wealthier for free. Also, they tend to send a fair bit of the money they make back to their home countries where it is usually desperately needed.

People like trot out the usual, largely flawed objections to this one. Society has coped before and can cope again, and so can the enivornment. Really.

ETS: Yes, there definitely should be a price on carbon. The science is kinda shaky - we're almost certainly making the Earth warmer, but by exactly how much and with what effects is much more open - but the economic modelling that is the best argument against acting is even shakier. In the face of this much uncertainty, play it safe and cut emissions. We know we can afford the hit to GDP - civilisations have never ended because the government introduced a moderate tax hike. As a bonus, it'll lesson the economic shock when we actually do start to run out of fossil fuels (which isn't for ages, but hey its nice to be prepared.)

Criminal Law: Soft on crime! Ha. I'll advocate purely selfishly in this matter, in favour of whatever minimises the likelihood that I ever end up a victim or perpetrator of crime - and to hell with the rights of current victims or criminals ;-) This involves weighing up, more or less, the deterrence value of strong punishments, the recidivism reduction of rehabilition, and the option of spending public funds in the broader productive economy instead of the justice system - which reduces the odds myself or my neighbour will ever have to steal to eat, become drug dealers and addicts, etc.

Evidence seems to point to spending more money on rehabilitation for criminals, and less on building new gaols. Perhaps the government should outlaw the media's lying portrayal of crime being out of control due to weak-willed judges, when in fact we live in a remarkably safe and peaceful society by any historical or global standard. I mean freedom of speech is all very well and good but what about my freedom to live in a society goverened by reason rather than the hysteria that happens to make newspapers more profitable?

Actually, I don't have to renounce my values quite that much, because I'm confident the internet will, sooner rather than later, send newspapers and television stations in their current form out of business. Good riddance. Whether what ends up replacing them is any better is an open question. I'm an extreme optimist about the future, though.




11 comments:

Alexey said...

Interesting mixed bag. I especially like the part about immigration, but I would like to see you expand on some things:

1. "I don't think it was the Supreme Court's job to fill [the gaping hole in the U.S. constitution]."

Who's job was it? What do you think should have happened? What is a more suitable law (how would you word it)?

2. Free Markets or Planned Economies?

You could easily write a whole post about examples when each applies and why. Such a post would be interesting.

3. Criminal Law.

a) Who spells "gaol" that way these days?! Really.

b) "Perhaps the government should outlaw the media's lying portrayal of crime."

Putting aside such issues as unencumbered functioning in a "free" market and human rights, what about your commitment to simplification of laws? Or would you only like to simplify laws relating to government revenue and micromanage other areas, such as who can say what and when? What about fixing society from the ground up rather than building rigid rules and punishments? You should definitely blog more about free speech and the media.

I think education is the answer to this one, not limitations to free speech. Of course, only you know what kind of education I mean, and you should blog about that too.

With Respect to X said...

Yay, a comment! How I crave attention like any cheap B-grade hollywood celebrity...

1. This is a very good question, and I don't think the framers came to a definitive answer on how American law would "discover" and enshrine "new" inalienable rights -which is to say rights they hadn't thought of in writing the Constituion.

Really, there should be a referendum on a constitutional amendment on Abortion - I don't think Congress or the Supreme Court should take it upon themselves to decide the issue. I mean the trimester test in Roe - why should judges get to invent normative principles like that?

But it probably should be a three way vote - Legal everywhere, Legal nowhere, or reverts to State law. That way people who believe in abortion can live in states that support it, and people who don't can live in states that don't.

2. Yeah, I could, but I think lots of economists out there are doing it better than I ever could. Hence Marginal Revolution and Does That Make Sense now being part of my blogroll.

3. a) Anyone who is not a damn American spells gaol correctly, I would hope :P

b) I would like some laws simplified but am not against any new laws - just like I can want to refactor a code base but also add cool new features.

Actually there are already some legal restrictions on certain kinds of "dishonest" free speech but I would like to see a group of smart people brainstorm an Australian first amendment outlining both what free speech is protected and how speech can be restricted.

I will blog more about the topic.

Alexey said...

1. Roe vs Wade
So what were the judges supposed to do? Suspend the case until someone holds a referendum? Surely then it was Nixon's fault for not holding a referendum after the case had concluded?

"Why should judges get to invent normative principles like [the trimester test]?"

Because all of law is normative. That's why.

2. Free markets, centralisation
Oh, when I read the section of the article it sounded like you had some ideas about when each applies but didn't say. So you don't know. It's not much of an opinion, but that's ok.

3. Criminal Law
a) Jail vs Goal
You hope in vain. I thought you were supposed to be progressive?

"gaol
noun, verb
UK OLD-FASHIONED FOR jail"
http://dictionary.cambridge.org/define.asp?key=32151&dict=CALD

b) You against free speech
Yeah, blog more :)

With Respect to X said...

"Who's job was it? What do you think should have happened? What is a more suitable law (how would you word it)?"

There's no real mechanism in place. "We the Supreme Court find a woman may have a right to privacy under the 14th amendment that entitles her to seek an abortion..." is fine. What should follow is "however as judges we are unqualified to weigh this issue against the moral consideration of when human life begins, so...." and then, well, maybe the Supreme Court needs the power to call for referenda?

2. I'm not saying I have no opinions. I'm just saying there are cool people on the net who write very interestingly on economics, so its worth reading their blogs rather than waiting for me to post my own ideas. I will probably do some economics focused posts in the future.

3 a) That change has occurred within my lifetime - I was educated to spell the word correctly. Evidently enough people of my generation learned their spelling from U.S. TV shows, books and the internet, instead of at school, so that now dictionary compilers, slaves to usage, have made the heresy into dogma.

Soon it will be silver colored aluminum wrap for all, just you wait.

b) Don't worry, I will.

Nonchalant Adventurer said...

1. Judges are always unqualified unqualified to weigh any issue against the moral consideration of anything, but that is their job. Maybe they could have couched it in slightly differ terms, but they had to make a decision and they did. Maybe there should be a mechanism for the Supreme Court to strongly suggest a referendum.

3. a)
Oxford English Ditionary, 2nd ed. (1989):
"gaol, gaoler

variant spellings of JAIL, JAILER. In British official use the forms with G are still current; in literary and journalistic use both the G and the J forms are now admitted as correct;"

1989! And dictionaries are backward-looking, especially Oxford. I doubt the transition has happened within your lifetime. It won't even finish happening within your lifetime. Who knows, you may be the last to use the word "gaol".

My English teacher explicitly made fun of those who still insisted on the old spelling of "jail." Then again, my English teacher was Selway...

---

Good posting. Entertaining as always.

Ang said...

On a less articulate note, the spelling "gaol" is to "jail" as the book is to the film. Maybe the latter is a bit sexier, but deep down you know that the former is more right.

With Respect to X said...

Thank you Ang! I think I will let your comment stand as the last word on that particular issue (although actually, I personally find antiquated pedantry of this kind VERY sexy.... lady blog fans take note.)

As for Nonchalant Adventurer... welcome to BIDSETOTI! I am glad you find it entertaining.

I can't figure out exactly who you are; I assume you got here via facebook, and I'm not really in regular facebook communication with ex-schoolmates who I'm not also in non-facebook communication with. Man, that sentence was whacked.

Anyway, leaving your semi-mysterious identity aside, thank you for pandering to my attention seeking with your comment. I respectfully disagree, though, that judges' job is to weigh moral interpretations against anything, any more than it is the police's job to shoot people.

Yes, we may live in an imperfect world that makes such things necessary. But a judge's job is to interpret and apply the law, and the law is not morality. The extent to which the law has gaping holes, such that judges are left with no choice but to invent it ex nihilo on the basis of their own values, or the values of the expert witnesses they call, or whomever, is by its very essence the extent to which the system has broken down.

That's my take on jurisprudence for the day, anyway. You're probably a law graduate and will now make me look silly if you bother to re-read and reply to this thread.

Alexey said...

Umm... Nonchalant Adventurer is me. Sorry. I almost started a blog with that handle. I guess I forgot to log out :)

So don't worry, I'm not a law graduate. Knowing nothing about law, I'm just deductively fitting it in line with my Popperian philosophy.

I don't know if this new-found knowledge invalidates some aspects of your response, but I'll respond back anyway.

"I respectfully disagree, though, that judges' job is to weigh moral interpretations against anything, any more than it is the police's job to shoot people."

Judges reinterpret law, and laws define your rights (possibilities). There is no fundamental difference between refining a law on abortion and refining a law on any other issue.

The building blocks of law are based on normative principles. I really don't care whether you call them morality or lifeless rules. Some people will insist that laws should be moral, others will not. It doesn't matter in this case. Every time the letter of a law is not followed, the judge effectively creates some new normative rules based on the old rules and some "judgement." The thing is, laws are so complicated that usually the gap between previous laws and new judgements are small, and when it gets large there is an illusion of moral principles at play. Judges are constantly making new normative rules in cases where old rules don't apply, that is their job. If some people interpret these new rules as moral calls, that is between them their therapists.

In my view, there is no difference between the statements: "law is normative" and "law is a system of morality." So the distinction you make between Roe vs Wade and all other complicated cases is dubious. Perhaps I shouldn't have used the word "morality", I reacted to your statement about judges not being unqualified to make moral judgements. Morality is in the eye of the beholder.

In your opinion, what is the difference between judges inventing law "on the basis of their own values, or the values of the expert witnesses they call" and judges inventing law on some other basis? Also, what other bases are there?

With Respect to X said...

"Judges reinterpret law, and laws define your rights (possibilities)."

They don't just reinterpret law, they interpret in the first instance.

"There is no fundamental difference between refining a law on abortion and refining a law on any other issue."

Wrong. Outside of popular imagination, not all legal rulings are concerned with "gut moral" value calls - in fact the majority aren't. Judges are generally more concerned about making the law consistent with itself than with the notional values system which underlies legislation, particularily since the increasing trend toward statutes over common law in the modern era.

The rule of law and all the accompanying theories is of course governed by its own set of values, which is no more or less arbitrary than any other, but these values are distinct from what most people think of as society's "moral" norms.

"In my view, there is no difference between the statements: "law is normative" and "law is a system of morality."

This is perhaps the essence of our disagreement. By the word morality I understand something somewhat narrower than the word normative. All morality is normative, but not all that is normative is moral.

If I tell my son he ought to brush his teeth, that is a normative statement, but not (necessarily) a moral one.

Maybe in the limit it is. The value "good health is to be valued and sought after" which underlies the normative statement certainly has a moral tone.

I'm skeptical of even this concession, though. I believe, morally, it is good to some degree to observe etiquette, because to offend people callously can harm them, and also make them dislike me. But the normative principles of etiquette are themselves not moral principles. Take "I ought not put my elbows on the table." To me this can be decomposed into: "It is bad to be rude" and "It is rude to put my elbows on the table." Both prongs are normative, but only the former is moral. In a different social context, it would no longer be rude to put elbows on tables, but it would still be wrong to be rude.

"Also, what other bases are there?"

The values that, at least abstractly, underlie a nation as expressed in its constitution, the evolving values of its populace as codified in the statues written by parliament, and the values of other judges' rulings in previous cases that have stood the test of time and not been overruled on appeal.

The highest court stepping in to an issue about which precedent, legislation and the constitution are all deafeningly silent is symptom of a system failure. Of course it happens, and has to happen - cases need to be decided one way or the other, and the courts can't order referenda as we have already lamented. It doesn't mean things are working as intended, though.

Jefferson would have been very unhappy that it was judges who decided on the trimester in which it becomes acceptable in America to kill a fetus. I doubt he would have had a definite opinion himself on the question, and I doubt he would have known a better way to resolve it than a case before the Supreme Court, but he still wouldn't have liked it.

Unless I'm just grandiose in assuming Jefferson would more or less take my view of Roe.

Alexey said...

I have to split this into two parts because it won't accept more than 4,096 characters. Maybe I should start a counter-blog :)

Part 1

"All morality is normative, but not all that is normative is moral."

All that is normative in the context of law has either a moral basis or no basis. This is a matter of taste. If you say one case entails normative (but not moral) principles and another entails moral principles, this is a matter of taste. Your statement that Roe vs Wade entails moral principles and other complicated cases do not is a matter of taste. Therefore your statement that the judges in Roe vs Wade were unqualified to make the moral call equates to the statement that judges should follow your concept of morality.

"The highest court stepping in to an issue about which precedent, legislation and the constitution are all deafeningly silent is symptom of a system failure."

I agree with that statement, but this has nothing to do with morality. So I would disagree with "judges are unqualified to weigh issues against moral considerations." It's fine to say that when there is not enough precedent some other step needs to be taken in order to protect the population from the decision of a few judges that is too big for them to make. But bringing morality in complicates things unduly because it raises unanswerable questions: Which morality? Who's morality? etc..

When I reacted to your phrase:

>> What should follow is "however as judges we are unqualified to weigh this issue against the moral consideration of when human life begins, so...." <<

with

"Judges are always unqualified to weigh any issue against the moral consideration of anything, but that is their job."

What I meant was that judges make new normative rules, these may be optionally considered to be based on morality for some individuals. So for every decision a judge makes that involves any subjectivity there exists a hypothetical individual who will judge that decision to be based on some moral precept. (I thought this was clear given you are familiar with my views on meta-morality. It's my fault for not actually stating that straight away.) Alternatively I could have said that judges never make moral judgements even if they think they do. To me those two statements are equivalent. I think morality is not a worthy enough abstraction to be seriously relying on it in any argument involving courts. Which is why I overreacted to your phrase.

Alexey said...

Part 2

The majority of judgements do not contain very much subjectivity but all the ones that do may be seen to be involving morality, and this is irrelevant. So let me state again, there is no fundamental difference between refining a law on abortion and refining a law on any other issue. You say, "Judges are generally more concerned about making the law consistent with itself than with the notional values system which underlies legislation, particularly since the increasing trend toward statutes over common law in the modern era." In the process of making the law more consistent certain rules must take priority over others, if no subjectivity is involved in the decision then these are not significant enough to constitute "refining". If subjectivity is involved then we are refining and the decision may be seen as a moral call. This is not noticeable in the vast majority of cases because there is rarely a lot of subjectivity involved. All cases involving a lot of subjectivity may be seen as relying on moral calls, but in practice they will not be seen as such when the matter at hand does not encroach on people's existing templates of morality. Roe vs Wade is different from other cases because it involved a lot of subjectivity (new rules) in the judgement not because of anything to do with morality, and it is not different from other cases involving equivalent subjectivity (if they exist).

Regarding Jefferson, if believed what he wrote in the constitution verbatim then he was just another rationalist and I'm not too concerned with what he would have thought. Appealing to dead authority is bad style in any case (the argument for that can be read in the Black Swan). The truth of the matter is that we need certain mechanisms in order to achieve compromises and cohesion in society. I think, largely we agree on the methods for edge cases: judges should not be allowed to make calls that too big for them compared to the precedent. Let's just keep the word "morality" out of it.