Friday, May 24, 2013

Assault of Thoughts - 5/24/2013

"Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking" - JMK

- The Nation reports on secret/corporate donors and their impact on liberal think tanks. This highlights the problem with soft-money research type organizations, where a lot of money is raised and put in an endowment or fund to push a broad research agenda. Although the constraints placed by competing for grants and contracts on doing the research you want to do can be frustrating, the advantage is that you avoid stuff like this. It can be useful to take the big pot 'o money (a technical term, of course) approach to financing research. Often research grants and contracts can't really focus on the interesting scientific question. But there are major risks as well, particularly when that's how the whole organization is financed.

- We have a demand problem, not a skills problem.

- Gene on Plato on radical ideologies.

- Bryan Caplan has an interesting discussion of IVs. My skepticism of IVs should be familiar to most readers here. I have a comment on the post that repeats the skepticism. They persist because the problem that motivates IVs is very real and it's substantial. The way to proceed, I think, is (1.) to be more critical of IV choices, (2.) to look for discontinuities and natural experiments that provide a much clearer identification of the model, and (3.) to look at a lot of different studies - think of any given IV more as a sensitivity analysis than a solution to an endogeneity problem.

- Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong on Charles Lane.


  1. I must admit, I found Gene's post very good.

    I find it interesting that Gene and I agree very much on certain aspects of this (e.g. that the problem is Us, and that radical shifts result in temporary disorder and chaos), but that we still have differing opinions on the state itself. But then, unlike most libertarians I do not attribute all of societies ills to the state, but rather I see the state as a product of society, but one with certain characteristics that I think are non-preferable to societal order. In short, I see it as not compatible with private property and the rights thereof (which I see as necessary for societal order and conflict avoidance). Granted, my opinions on this have evolved over time to come to my current understanding, I have said things in the past that are not compatible with this view.

    I am interested to hear how Gene would reconcile some of what he has said here with his belief that the state is responsible for the historical decline in human violence, because it has been my opinion that it is society itself that is responsible for this, not necessarily its institutions. He seems to be agreeing with me in part.

    1. So I didn't personally read Gene as presenting skepticism about the value of a particular outlook on what makes for good or effective institutions, or as arguing indifference to institutions. I took him to be saying that radical ideologies say "look, you're in a cave! see how awful it is to be in a cave! follow me out of the cave!" but that really radical ideologies just lead people into a different sort of cave.

      We may not like certain things about being in caves but the reasons for caves are more fundamental to our nature than a lot of radicals are willing to admit.

      I don't think this implies that we ought to be indifferent to the sort of cave-dwelling we're probably doomed to be doing. There are certainly some sorts of caves we might prefer to others. In finding a preferred cave, we should be wary of people who claim to transcend the problem of the cave itself and more willing to listen to people who acknowledge that cave dynamics are fundamental to our nature.

    2. Right, I understand that, by our nature we will always be in a cave. But I'm trying to reconcile some of what is said here with other positions he has taken, as well as to say that even though I agree with much of what is being said, Gene would probably classify me as one of those who thinks that they *can* transcend it (the cave).

      I probably should have waited a few more hours before commenting, my mind doesn't find itself until around noonish. ;)

  2. Off topic, but I thought I'd bring to your attention the following paper on drones. I have not read it and barely read the abstract, in other words, retweets do not entail endorsement. (Full disclosure: Richard Pildes was a professor of mine (for a short while) while at NYU law).

    Samuel Issacharoff and Richard H. Pildes (New York University School of Law and New York University School of Law) have posted Drones and the Dilemma of Modern Warfare (Drone Wars: The Transformation of Armed Conflict and the Promise of Law, Peter Bergen and Daniel Rothenberg, eds., Cambridge University Press, 2013) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

    This essay argues that four commonly repeated concerns surrounding the use of drones to target identifiable individuals for lethal force rest on various legal and historical misconceptions and misunderstandings. These concerns are that: (1) that targeting specific individuals for death is a modern innovation in military practice; (2) that greater modern technological capacity to project force from a distance itself raises entirely new legal issues; (3) that drones and targeted killing pose a major threat to the humanitarian purposes and aims of the laws of war; and (4) that drone warfare is likely to make the use of force “too easy.” After addressing these issues, the essay turns to what is instead most distinctive about drone strikes from a legal, moral, and policy perspective. The issues that are truly critical revolve around an emerging transformation of the nature and norms of modern warfare; these issues reflect the more profound fact that we are moving toward a world that requires the individuation of personal responsibility of specific “enemy” persons before the use of military force is considered justified, at least as a moral and political matter.

    This transformation is pervasive, with sweeping ramifications. Even as the U.S. government asserts that it is at war, it is not mechanically applying the traditional law of war principle that lethal force can be directed against any member of the enemy armed forces. Instead, the government is individuating the responsibility of specific enemies and targeting only those engaged in specific acts or employed in specific roles. The government is making what has all the appearance (and reality) of adjudicative-like judgments based on highly specific facts about the alleged actions of particular individuals. The key legal, moral, and policy questions then become how an appropriate framework for making such individualized decisions should be structured. From an ex ante perspective, what kinds of processes should be considered adequate to make these judgments? Which institutions should play what roles in such individuated judgments about the identity of “the enemy?” From an ex post perspective, what kind of review and accountability ought to be required of these decisions? After clearing the ground of the more common misperceptions about the use of drones, the essay begins to develop a general framework for designing processes and institutions that offer appropriate answers to these essential questions.

  3. Joseph,

    I think it comes down to fundamental disagreements in the nature and value of ideal theory in general and issues in metaphysics and metaeathics in particular. Gene's conservatism indicates a skepticism towards the value of ideal theory in thinking about fundamental moral-political principles, values, and norms. Perhaps you take a different stance. Just a thought.


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