Monday, February 19, 2018

Scary Guns

A free people ought not only be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government.—George Washington
Since it’s President’s Day, it seems appropriate to start this discussion with George Washington’s words on the subject of the day

The hue and cry for gun control, in the wake of last week’s school shooting in Florida, is deafening but unconvincing. Emotions of course run high after such a senseless massacre. But sometimes things that seem like the “obvious” solution when you’re high on emotion look a lot less sensible when you calm down and look at facts.

I’m not a gun expert. What I do is look at the factors that lead to freedom, prosperity, and civilization. Those are the northern hemisphere of the Spherical Model. The southern hemisphere is made up of all stripes of tyranny, poverty, and savagery.

The school shooting was savage. Any response that is southern hemisphere by nature—such as coercion—will not lead away from savagery up to civilization.

Since that is a principle I know—or, rather, is a theory I believe plays out in society—I am looking for facts to either prove or disprove the theory. Facts are less emotional, and therefore more logical. Feelings have their place, but I won’t allow them to take society southward into tyranny and all bad things if I can help it.

So I’ve been gathering some facts. There is a short piece at by contributor Henry Racette, with some statistics that give perspective to start with:

At the current rate, an American high school student faces a risk of being murdered in a school shooting in a year of about 0.0014%.
That’s about one in 71,000.
Based on last year’s crime statistics, the overall probability of a person in the US being murdered in a year is about 0.005%.
That’s about one in 20,000.
Also based on last year’s crime statistics, a citizen of St. Louis, Baltimore, New Orleans, or Detroit—including children in those cities—has a risk of being murdered in a year of about 0.049%.
That’s about one in 2,000.
If the current rate continues, there will be about two dozen school shooters this year—based on a reasonable definition of what constitutes a school shooting. Their total victims will constitute about one half of one percent of all United States homicides.
Overall, in the United States, about 16,000 murders will be committed this year. Most of them—about two-thirds—will be committed by males between the ages of 17 and 35.
The 30 most violent cities in America represent about six percent of the US population but account for about a quarter of all murders.
There is nothing trivial about school shootings, but there is also nothing typical about them. If we wish to reduce their frequency, we have to find ways to reach the last 0.0003% of the male high school population. Put differently, 99.9997% of the young men in our high schools are not in danger of becoming school shooters.
Let’s look at the two dozen who are and try to understand their pathology. But let’s not mistake them for normal. Most of the other 99.5% of murders in the United States this year will be more typical, more predictable, and more preventable.
What we’re looking at in school shootings are outliers. Oddities. Atypical events.

They’re horrible. If we can find a way to prevent them, we should do so. Maybe it’s time to consider metal detectors and armed guards in every school, and possibly teachers who voluntarily qualify to carry concealed weapons. These and other measures that don’t infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens might actually work.

As Brandon Minoff, a young man from the high school, said about football coach and security guard Aaron Feis, who was killed, “If coach Feis would have had a gun or any of the other security guards would have had a gun it definitely would have been less fatal," he said. "[The shooter] and coach Feis were face-to-face and he just shielded kids instead of having the ability to kill the shooter."

In the immediate aftermath, we were told the killer had not had a criminal record. That wasn’t exactly true. He had a long record of incidents, 39, many violent, in his home over many years. But as a juvenile. Yet the moment he turned 18, that record was hidden from people who may have needed to see it, such as the gun seller doing a background check. Police and other authorities knew of his record. The FBI had received what now appear to be credible tips about the killer’s plans to carry out a school shooting.

Do we need to get better at identifying these threats and finding ways to prevent? Absolutely. If there is a law that needs adjusting, it may be that violent youth crime shouldn’t be hidden just because a person reaches a particular birthday, since a birthday is no guarantee of change in behavior. It may need to be case-by-case. I don’t know. Those kinds of things could be debated in legislatures.

But the debate tends to be, instead, on “common sense gun laws,” often meaning getting rid of those “assault rifles.” The term lacks definition. There is no legally defined such thing. But the term is used to imply scary, military style weapons, with great capacity to do mass murder. Many of the people making these arguments just lack facts. So let’s start with more information about these guns.
This 5-minute Glenn Beck video clip is from 2013. The whole thing (below) is useful visually. I’ll describe a few parts of it:

Glenn picks up a scary looking metal gun, which he terms an “assault rifle,” and also a rifle with a wooden stock, which he says is a 22.

Paul Michael, owner and instructor at Strictly Defense, says. “They’re both the same caliber. They both can do the same damage. One just looks different from the other.”

The 22 holds 17 bullets. The other holds a high-capacity magazine of 20 bullets. Not much difference.
Of the collection of guns displayed on the table, Glenn suggests, if he took all the wood-stock guns off the table and left the metal ones, you might look at that collection and say the owner was a madman. But if you take away “the spooky black shotgun” and replace it with “this nice shotgun,” then people would assume the owner was a hunter.

What’s the difference between the two shotguns? Michael says, “Cosmetics. They’re both the identical shotgun. They’re both Remington 1100s.” The only differences are a synthetic (black) stock, an extended barrel, and extended magazine tube. Why the black? Glare. Some hunters believe the game can get a glint off the shiny metal parts, so they prefer a matte black finish.

There’s further discussion about a hunter-looking rifle and a slightly smaller black gun. The rifle is more accurate. The black one is less accurate, but lighter weight, easier for a woman or a less experienced gunman to use in a pressure situation. In other words, it’s good for self-defense. It has the added self-defense benefit of the pump sound, which can scare off an intruder who suddenly realizes someone has a gun ready for him.

Using handguns, they discuss the difference between a revolver and a semiautomatic. With the revolver, it’s mechanical. You need to pull back the handle to load the bullet to be ready to fire by pulling the trigger. The semiautomatic uses gas pressure from the cartridge to load the next bullet to be ready to fire, so it does one step for you. Depending on your skill, the revolver can be as fast, or nearly as fast, as the semiautomatic handgun.

Neither of those is automatic—which means, like a machine gun, firing multiple bullets with a single trigger pull. Production and sale of automatic weapons to the public have been illegal for several decades. They are not technically outlawed, in that you can buy existing ones, for very high prices (around $20,000 and up compared to around $500 for a semiautomatic but otherwise similar gun), and with lots of paperwork about how it will be stored, who can touch it, how it can be transported, and how and where and under what circumstances it can be shot.

The Tommy guns of the 1920s might be what you picture. But since this law went into effect, no mass shooting in the US to date has used an automatic weapon.

We could add that,  those “scary guns,” aren’t the weapon of choice for gun crimes; handguns are used in 80% of gun-related crimes. Nicholas Johnson gives the full story is in this PragerU video:

Earlier in January 2013, Glenn Beck had another discussion with David Barton, of Wallbuilders, on natural law and self-defense.

Natural law is where we disagree with anti-gun people. And its irreconcilable. We are not granted the right to defend our own lives, loved ones, and property by government—not even by the Second Amendment. We are granted that right by God. And God-given rights are inalienable—they cannot be infringed legally, only by tyranny.

Rescinding the Second Amendment, as has been suggested again this week, would not take away the natural law—nor the natural reaction to fight off an attacker—that you know inside you is your right. Think about it. If someone is attacking your child, do you have the right to fight them off? You do.
If that person is using a gun against you or your child, don't you have the right to use a gun or other lethal force to fight back? If you’re saying, “Yes, but not a scary black gun,” then it’s on you to explain that distinction.

We’re not saying, “Tough luck! We just have to tolerate the mayhem.” Again, we should be talking about what can and ought to be done to prevent attacks. But you might be comforted to know that the anti-gun lobby (including the media) has been lying to you when they say, “More guns mean more gun deaths.”

Steven Crowder responds to an anti-AR-15 piece, and includes video from March 2016, in which he debunks a Vox video that tries to pass off propaganda as a dispassionate demonstration of facts—just not true ones. It’s longish, but it will help you understand why it’s easy to be manipulated if you don’t think things through. For example:

Ah, see, now this chart is comparing countries. But this chart is not about homicide; it’s not about firearm deaths. It’s only about gun ownership. All of this is designed to lead you into believing that gun ownership—legal gun ownership—results in increased violent gun crime. Important to note: If gun ownership as seen in this chart is so much higher, but the United States still ranks 28th in gun-related deaths, why is that the case? It also ironically unravels her own point. If gun ownership is so drastically higher in the United States, but we’re only 28th ranked in overall gun homicide rate, that means proportionally legal gun owners in the United States are committing fewer crimes.

Also doing some debunking is Ben Shapiro, in his show from Friday, February 16. He’s responding to a Bret Stephens piece in the New YorkTimes, which Shapiro says is the best argument around for getting rid of the Second Amendment, but it’s not a good one.

There’s this, for example:

Stephens cites a study in the American Journal of Public Health from 2013 to show the “states with high rates of gun ownership have disproportionately large numbers of death from firearm-related homicides.” But there’s only one problem with the study. This examines the statistics on a state level, which doesn’t make any sense, given that virtually all murder in the United States takes place not in the rural areas of states, but in the big cities. In those big cities there are very harsh gun laws. In the big cities, that’s where nearly all murder in the United States takes place, in big cities. So there is very little link, actually, between state law and state homicide rate, as Eugene Volokh of the Washington Post pointed out.
Shapiro uses John Lott’s website, the Crime Prevention Research Center, which goes through the annual death rate from mass public shootings, comparing the European countries to the US and Canada on a per capita basis, instead of sheer numbers. As Shapiro says,

One of the things that happens is that the United States is compared to Britain, for example. He says there are a lot more shootings here than in Britain. Right, but we’re a much larger country than Britain. When you actually look at the death rate per million people from mass public shootings from 2009 to 2015, according the Crime Prevention Research Center, the number one country was Norway, because they had that horrible Anders Breivik shooting. And then it’s Serbia, France, Macedonia, Albania, Slovakia, Switzerland, Finland, Belgium Czech Republic, and then the United States.
How about frequency? Forget about the number of dead. How about frequency of mass public shootings? So, if you look at the frequency of mass public shootings from January 2009 to December 2015, per million people, in order it’s Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, Switzerland, Norway, Slovakia, Finland, Belgium, Austria, Czech Republic, France, and then the United States.
The average incident rate per 28 EU countries is 0.0602 with 95% confidence interval of 0.0257 to .09477. The US rate is .078 higher than the EU rate. But the US and an average for EU countries are not statistically different. In other words, we’re having about the same number of mass shootings as are happening in other countries, and we have significantly more guns. So this idea that everything lines up is just not statistically correct.
“Common sense gun laws,” and “No one needs an assault weapon” are code for “We want to ban all gun ownership for self-defense or any other purpose.” But despite what media and various celebrities would portray, the American public is very much against full-scale gun confiscation and outlawing firearm ownership. That's why, when Democrats had both houses and the presidency, they didn't even bring up gun legislation; they know the people won't stand for it. 

The more the anti-freedom people lie about what they really intend, the more likely they will lose the debate in a nation that knew better from its founding than to cede natural rights to a tyrannical government.

Thursday, February 15, 2018


Yesterday was another example of malevolence in our world: a school shooting in Florida. We don’t yet know all the details. But it appears there are 17 dead and another 14 injured and hospitalized.
Alaina Petty, age 14, a Mormon girl, was one of 17
killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Image from LDS Living

The 19-year-old perpetrator was previously identified as troubled. When he had been a student, he had been prevented from carrying a backpack, I’m assuming so that he couldn’t hide a weapon inside. He was expelled from the school for behavioral reasons. He was known to be threatening, and some say his social media declared his willingness, or perhaps plan, to become a school shooter. However, he had no criminal record.

The story is that he set off the fire alarm, which would cause students to pour out of their classrooms, where they were vulnerable to his onslaught.

He was apprehended alive. It may be possible to learn something in this case that we cannot learn when the perpetrator is among the dead.

But the real motive is malevolence: a delight in evil. It’s a conscious choice.

It is not a mistake to gather weapons, plan ways to do as much destruction as possible, and then take as many innocent lives as possible. That is a purposeful act, with many small actions leading to it.

In most cases, for malevolence of this depravity, we assume mental illness is involved. Because no one in their right mind would do such a thing.

A healthy mind shrinks from taking human life. There has to be an overwhelming need—such as self-preservation, preservation of loved ones, or protection of innocents—that allows a human with a healthy mind to take a life.

But there is a sort of “logic” in the malevolent mind. I quoted Jordan Peterson on this in the last post. Because you face bad experiences in this world, you could take either the immoral or the moral stance. Peterson said, “If you take the immoral stance and say, Well, the horror of the world has made me bitter, resentful, murderous, and genocidal; isn’t it no wonder?” that’s the logic of the perpetrator of great evil.

But, as he adds, the malevolent act still isn’t logical: “All that does is make everything that you’re hypothetically objecting to worse.” And, “You can’t logically conclude that you should act in the way that is certain to do nothing but multiply [the horror of the world] beyond comprehension.”

Since we all face bad things, and we all have the power within us to choose good or evil, we have to make a conscious decision to choose to be moral.

During church on Sunday, a man told a story from over 40 years ago that will remain memorable. Back in high school, his mother was on a date with a young man. Just a pleasant date, out to dinner, to get to know one another better. The couple were returning to their car, ready to drive home, when a drunken gang of four men set upon them and threatened. They ordered the young man to let them take the girl, and then they wouldn’t kill her. They planned to rape her and leave her on the road somewhere.

The young man told the girl to run, and then he took on the four thugs singlehandedly, without a weapon, long enough for her to get away. But he lost his life in the effort.

The two young people were about 17, and so innocent. It’s hard to know, until you’re faced with something really dire, how you will react. This young man was courageous. And good.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.—John 15:13.

A year or two later, the young woman met another young man, in another state she had moved to. In conversation, she mentioned where she was from. This young man knew only one person from that town, whom he’d met at a camp some years earlier. The one he knew was the young man who had given up his life for this young woman. So he was aware of the story and knew what kind of expectation she had of a good man.

These two eventually married, and raised several sons, including the man telling the story at church. He said you can be certain he and his brothers were raised to know what was expected of them. They would be expected to stand up against evil, and protect the life and virtue of women—even a young woman they only knew from a date or two.

Consider the difference, in the face of malevolence in the world, between the immoral and the moral choice.

Violence isn’t something we reduce by access to certain weapons; violence is reduced when we learn to make moral choices, even when life is unfair, ugly, or malevolent.

The policy questions surround what to do about the perpetrator, and/or what to do to prevent the next perpetrator. It’s a necessary debate. As long as we have people who choose to do heinous, immoral acts, we need ways to stop them.

If it is because of an identifiable mental illness, we may need better ways of identifying and preventing. That’s a tough question, because it requires, sometimes, physical restraint before a crime has been committed.

Depriving all of innocent society from having the means to defend themselves against a perpetrator, in the hopes of depriving the perpetrator of the means to do harm—that’s a common suggestion. But it’s not a satisfying answer. Even, hypothetically, if you could remove all weapons from all people in the world, you would still have evildoers who purposely do harm—using other tools, utensils, or muscles against people without those things.

Returning to civilization is a better answer overall. It begins with the individual. With each of us, choosing to do the right thing—as best we can discern it—each and every time we are faced with a moral choice. Then we have a world that is less unfair, ugly, and malevolent giving evildoers their rationale.

Larry Elder was talking about the horrendous event on his radio show today. During the discussion, he played the audio of the testimony of Darrell Scott, a parent whose daughter was killed in the Columbine shooting in 1999. It seems appropriate again today. I searched to see if there was video of that speech, and I’ve included that 5 minutes below. But I’d like to quote a couple of sections:

Since the dawn of creation there has been both good and evil in the hearts of men and women. We all contain the seeds of kindness or the seeds of violence. The death of my wonderful daughter, Rachel Joy Scott, and the deaths of that heroic teacher, and the other eleven children who died must not be in vain. Their blood cries out for answers.
The first recorded act of violence was when Cain slew his brother Abel out in the field. The villain was not the club he used. Neither was it the NCA, the National Club Association. The true killer was Cain, and the reason for the murder could only be found in Cain's heart.
In the days that followed the Columbine tragedy, I was amazed at how quickly fingers began to be pointed at groups such as the NRA. I am not a member of the NRA. I am not a hunter. I do not even own a gun. I am not here to represent or defend the NRA—because I don't believe that they are responsible for my daughter's death. Therefore, I do not believe that they need to be defended. If I believed they had anything to do with Rachel's murder, I would be their strongest opponent.
I am here today to declare that Columbine was not just a tragedy; it was a spiritual event that should be forcing us to look at where the real blame lies.
He shared a poem he had written about the sad change in our culture. And then he offered this:

Men and women are three-part beings. We all consist of body, mind, and spirit. When we refuse to acknowledge a third part of our make-up, we create a void that allows evil, prejudice, and hatred to rush in and wreak havoc. Spiritual presences were present within our educational systems for most of our nation's history. Many of our major colleges began as theological seminaries. This is a historical fact.
What has happened to us as a nation? We have refused to honor God, and in so doing, we open the doors to hatred and violence.
And then he suggested prayer—connection to God—as one answer.

As my son Craig lay under that table in the school library and saw his two friends murdered before his very eyes, he did not hesitate to pray in school. I defy any law or politician to deny him that right! I challenge every young person in America, and around the world, to realize that on April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School prayer was brought back to our schools. Do not let the many prayers offered by those students be in vain. Dare to move into the new millennium with a sacred disregard for legislation that violates your God-given right to communicate with Him.
We get better at choosing the right thing with practice. That’s why “What religion do you belong to?” isn’t as useful a question as “What religion do you practice?” And it isn’t for one religion or sect to win out over another. It is to encourage a person in the way he has found in his life journey that leads him to honor God, life, family, property, and truth.

As I heard once: If all your life you will try to be more fair and more kind to others than some of them may sometimes be to you, then you will be happy, and your life will be full and useful."*

* From a talk by Marion D. Hanks, entitled "More Joy and Rejoicing," October 1976.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Speak the Truth and Play Fair

How would it be if we lived in a place, a culture, where people live peaceably among their neighbors, helping rather than taking advantage of one another, abiding by laws enacted to protect property and safety—with honesty and honor? Where people live in peace with other people; countries and cultures coexist in appreciation, without fear? Where there’s a thriving economy, where poverty is meaningless; even though there will always be a lowest earning 10% defined as poor, these lowest earners have comfortable shelter and adequate food and clothing—and there’s the possibility of rising, or at least for future generations to rise?

How would that be? Good? That’s what we call Civilization, here at the Spherical Model. I’ve been describing Civilization and how to get there for a while. And I’m on the lookout for ways of explaining it—or other people who are explaining it too, in their ways.

I’ve been listening to enough Jordan Peterson lectures  lately to feel like I’m actually one of his students. [I wrote about him here and here.] And I’ve been collecting a few things that connect with my purpose here of bringing us northward on the sphere toward freedom, prosperity, and civilization.

He has a book—12 Rulesfor Life: An Antidote to Chaos—which I think I’ll have to go ahead and read, since it’s reportedly not the same as what is in his various lectures and interviews. But there’s a chapter in the book, Rule 6, which he says is: "Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world."

Dr. Jordan Peterson with Patrick Coffin
screen shot from the interview

Dr. Peterson waxes philosophical, often. And it’s hard to distill down for brief reference here. But, in an interview with Patrick Coffin, he starts with the idea that good and evil exist. In reference to PTSD patients, he says:

If you have PTSD, it’s because you’ve been touched by malevolence in one way or another. You need to reorganize your thinking along lines that are fundamentally religious. You need to start seeing the world as a battleground between good and evil—which is what it is, in the most real sense.
So, as a clinical psychologist, he says, in order to heal from a particular disorder, you need a religious viewpoint. I’ve been saying, in order to have a civilized society, you need to have a religious people. No one gets forced, but civilization requires a critical mass of people who live the rules required for civilization. There are answers that have to do with choosing right over wrong.

image from here
There’s another speech, in The Netherlands, where Dr. Peterson is referring in a way to immigration issues, but he spends a lot of time building a framework about two things: fair play and truth. In the fair play section, he talks about a study of rat behavior, where the rats learn that, in order to keep being able to play, you need to play fair—abide by the rules—so that others will want to continue to play with you. Even rats know that.

And then he deals with the truth section, which I’ll cover a little more in a minute. But he has this conclusion:

Now, I didn’t know what to say about immigration when I decided to do this talk, but I don’t think it matters, because there are many complex things that can be said about immigration and many of the problems that face us.
But there’s a meta-question, which is not, How do you solve a difficult question? But, How do you solve the set of all possible difficult questions? And the answer to that is quite straightforward: Speak the truth, and play fair. And that works.
And so I’ve been communicating that as diligently as I can for the last three decades, predicated on my observation that we got some things right, that we should do better with it even. And that, if we transformed ourselves, each and every one, into better people, predicated on the observation of that core identity, that we would then become collectively the sort of people who could probably solve any problem that was put to them, no matter what its magnitude.
In civilization, the smallest social unit is the family. You get a good family by being good individuals working together. So you can see it happen on that small level. As I say in the Civilization section of the Spherical Model,

As long as families are allowed to live among themselves (children are under the care of their own parents), it is possible to have a civilized society that is just one family in size. Then, if that family can find additional similarly civilized families to associate with, their society grows. If it could grow to the size of a village or township, all the better.
So you start with yourself, and then your family. And, as more people do that, society is transformed in remarkably positive ways—and become able to solve, eventually, any problem.

In the Patrick Coffin interview, Dr. Peterson says this need to change is actually an optimistic thing. He begins by laying out the story from Genesis of Cain killing his brother Abel. He makes the case, first, for Cain’s line of reasoning:

Being [the way things are in this world] is tragic, being is touched by malevolence. It’s, Why not develop resentment and hatred for it and do everything to extract revenge? Revenge against God, because that’s really what it is— It’s like that in the Cain and Abel story. In fact, it’s exactly like that. And the answer is something like, That’s cowardly. Something like that. And the other answer is, All that does is make everything that you’re hypothetically objecting to worse.
And so, if you take the immoral stance and say, Well, the horror of the world has made me bitter, resentful, murderous, and genocidal; isn’t it no wonder? Well, you can’t logically conclude that you should act in the way that is certain to do nothing but multiply that beyond comprehension.
And so, there’s a call to truth in there, and responsibility, as an antidote to resentment.
He adds, “It’s also an optimistic viewpoint, because, maybe you can change yourself. It is possible. Maybe that will work.”

How do you do it? What is it you actually need to do in order to change yourself, to do the moral thing? He says, “Stop doing things that you know to be wrong. That’s a good start.” He has been challenging people to do a 30-day challenge, to not say anything for a month that you believe to be untrue. Just do it, as an experiment, and see what happens.

And here’s the philosophical underpinning of the experiment:

So there’s this idea; there’s a deep Christian idea—and it’s deeper than Christianity even—but it’s a deep Christian idea. But, the being that is brought into being by truthful speech is good. It’s like the moral of the first few chapters of Genesis, right? If you use the Logos to bring order into being, that’s truthful speech—then the being that emerges is good. It’s like, that’s a hypothesis. Maybe it’s true. Maybe if we told the truth and induct the good, then being would transform itself around us into something increasingly less tragic and certainly less malevolent.
There’s more about that truth telling, going back to The Netherlands speech:

The Logos is the deepest idea of the West. And it means something like: clear, competent, truthful, communicative endeavor.
So there’s an idea in Genesis that that’s the spirit that God used to bring forth order from chaos at the beginning of time. When God employed the Logos to extract order out of chaos, He extracted habitable order and then pronounced that it was good.
And, at the same time, when God made human beings, He pronounced them made in the image of God, which means that human beings have the capacity—that Logos-like capacity—to speak habitable order into being out of chaotic potential.
And the deep idea is that, if you do that truthfully, then what you bring forth is good.
What is it a society needs, in order to become a civilization? Religious people (bringing non-religious people along with them) who honor God,family, life, property, and truth. That’s a condensation of the Ten Commandments. Dr. Peterson simplifies it even further into “speak the truth and play fair.”

Or, we could say, Always do the right thing. Always knowing what the right thing is might be a challenge for most of us mortals. But there is an ultimate Good, and the source is God. Otherwise it’s all opinion. But we know, if we train ourselves to tell the truth—especially to ourselves—and then we act in the best way we know, even when it’s hard, that is going to be good enough to transform society, as he says, “into something increasingly less tragic and certainly less malevolent.”

It’s worth trying.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Law

Frédéric Bastiat
image from Wikipedia
French political economist Frédéric Bastiat published The Law in 1850, just months before his untimely death at age 49. The Law is a short work but packed with quotable lines. It reminds us that these truths are not new, nor were they limited to the United States. And it dispels the idea that we’re evolving into smarter humans, so we don’t need to listen to the wisdom of past generations.

This first quote lays out the proper role of government as well as anything since the Declaration of Independence:

Life, faculties, production—in other words, individuality, liberty, property—this is man. And in spite of the cunning of artful political leaders, these three gifts from God precede all human legislation, and are superior to it.
Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.

The next several relate to something I’ve been thinking about lately: the limits of government to do goodwill. Government doesn’t have a heart; it only has power. If it takes from someone to give to someone else, Bastiat identifies that as plunder:

Sometimes the law defends plunder and participates in it. Thus the beneficiaries are spared the shame and danger that their acts would otherwise involve… But how is this legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them and gives it to the other persons to whom it doesn’t belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime. Then abolish that law without delay—No legal plunder; this is the principle of justice, peace, order, stability, harmony and logic.

Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live
at the expense of everybody else.

Everyone wants to live at the expense of the state.
They forget that the state lives at the expense of everyone.

Legal plunder has two roots:
One of them, as I have said before, is in human greed;
the other is in false philanthropy.
When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.

The mission of law is not to oppress persons and plunder them of their property, even though the law may be acting in a philanthropic spirit. Its mission is to protect property.

A week ago my post dealt with two competing impulses: compassion for people around the world who live less well, and the need for maintaining our borders to maintain our sovereignty. Individual stories tend to bring out our compassion. The law is intended to be just and fair, not persuaded by the most emotional story.

If you use Bastiat’s principles, you would need to ask yourself, “Am I willing to take from my neighbor at gunpoint to give to this person I think is deserving?” If you don’t see that as moral, then it cannot be moral to get your government to do it for you.

I was surprised to find Bastiat mentioning Socialism by name. Marx and Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto in just 1848. But Bastiat was ready for them by 1850. We ought to be better ready for them by now:

Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.

The plans differ; the planners are all alike.

If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do not the legislators and their appointed agents also belong to the human race? Or do they believe that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind?

Bastiat mentions some sacred cows, such as public schools, which we forget were not required to educate the public until just about a century ago:

In this matter of education, the law has only two alternatives: It can permit this transaction of teaching-and-learning to operate freely and without the use of force, or it can force human wills in this matter by taking from some of them enough to pay the teachers who are appointed by government to instruct others, without charge. But in the second case, the law commits legal plunder by violating liberty and property.

Now, legal plunder can be committed in an infinite number of ways. Thus we have an infinite number of plans for organizing it: tariffs, protection, benefits, subsidies, encouragements, progressive taxation, public schools, guaranteed jobs, guaranteed profits, minimum wages, a right to relief, a right to the tools of labor, free credit, and so on, and so on.

Here are a few more that could come under the heading “good to be reminded of”:

Everyone wants to live at the expense of the state.
They forget that the state lives at the expense of everyone.

As long as it is admitted that the law may be diverted from its true purpose—that it may violate property instead of protecting it--then everyone will want to participate in making the law, either to protect himself against plunder or to use it for plunder.

When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law.

Liberty is an acknowledgment of faith in God and His works.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Diversity Where It Matters

A conversation that followed my last blog post turned in part to President Trump’s policy on immigration, which isn’t going to the be main point of this post either. But in that conversation a friend said, “If you believe our diversity makes us stronger, as I do,” then you ought to oppose Trump’s doing away with the diversity lottery.

Again, I don’t want to deal with immigration issues today. They are complex, and I have long believed they need a good overhaul. But, until we have secure borders, it’s pretty pointless to talk about the specifics.

But I asked myself, “Do I believe our diversity makes us stronger?"

It totally depends on what diversity means. Are we stronger because people among us have varying levels of melanin in our skin? In what ways? Maybe there are genetic strengths from combining DNA from around the world; I don’t know. I’m open to that possibility and would like to see the studies.

But what if skin tone is really irrelevant? What if, as Martin Luther King dreamed, the important thing is the content of our character?

As an exercise, let’s look at some segments of our society we encounter, and experiment with adding diversity (differences) for diversity’s sake.

Take the US gymnastics team. Looking at the past Olympic team, they’re already pretty diverse in the sense of skin color. But they’re really not very diverse in other ways, like body type. They’re all short, compact, little firecrackers. Some are very thin, and others are a bit sturdier, but they could probably all share uniforms; they’re not that different. What if they were required to have tall gymnasts, over 5’10”? And while we’re at it, maybe women’s volleyball could use a couple of 4’11” players? For diversity. Because diversity makes us stronger.

US Gymnastics Team 2016
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images, found here

Some years ago I noted the typical size of a defensive blocker on my college football team. They were around 6’6” and 325 pounds, and I told my mountain-sized giant son Political Sphere, “There are some things you’re just not big enough to do.” For the sake of diversity, shouldn’t the team be required to recruit some 5’10” skinny guys as defensive blockers? Wouldn’t that diversity make them stronger?

You get my point. We specialize where it makes sense to specialize, sometimes even physically. We ignore differences when they don’t matter.

If we’re not ignoring differences when they don’t matter, that’s a problem.

In 2015 I heard an interview with the great Thomas Sowell, following the publication of his book Wealth, Poverty, and Politics. I agreed with him about diversity. I wrote*:

First is his assertion about diversity—that it does no inherent good. I’ve long believed that. I remember the first time Mr. Spherical Model came home and discussed diversity training at work. They had been taught that they benefited from diversity. And I said, “You mean you learn how to get along despite diversity?” No, they were supposed to see that they got additional viewpoints from ethnic diversity.
That struck me as pointless. There are types of diversity that can help benefit the whole: variations in style, attention to detail, energy for leadership, different talents. You get a diverse team, and you all benefit from each other. But skin color and ethnic background don’t provide you with that addition. In international business you do benefit from someone on your team familiar with the culture you’re doing business with. But a basic classroom in America doesn’t benefit educationally from having students with different amounts of melanin in their skin.
Thomas Sowell
screenshot from Uncommon Knowledge interview
Thomas Sowell talked about the school he had attended. This is an interview between Dr. Sowell and Uncommon Knowledge host Peter Robinson:

PR: In Wealth, Poverty, and Politics you describe three very selective—they’re public high schools in New York, but they’re very selective. You have to test to get into them. They’re Stuyvesant High—your Stuyvesant High—Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech. Quote:
“The triumph of egalitarian principle and demographic ‘diversity’ in the rest of New York’s education system has not resulted in an increase in the number or proportion of Black or Hispanic students passing the admissions tests to get into Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech. On the contrary, the numbers and proportions of Black and Hispanic students have declined substantially over the years at all three institutions.”
So, telegram to Mayor DeBlasio: As diversity becomes championed in the city of New York over the last forty years, fifty years, diversity actually diminishes at these very selective high schools. Why?
TS: Well, diversity really doesn’t do anything for you. There are many cultural…
PR: Doesn’t do anything for you as a society?
TS: As a society, or the people in whose interest you’re promoting diversity. In other words, when Black and Hispanic kids go to schools other than those three, they get a load of diversity. It doesn’t do them any good. For example, as of about 2012 or 2014—I forget the exact one—the percentage of Blacks at Stuyvesant High School was one tenth of what it was 33 years earlier. There’d been a major retrogression. So while they’re being taught, filling their heads full of diversity, the Asian students are learning math and science. Plus, the schools are also…  Another point against diversity is that in years past, those schools were so heavily Jewish that Stuyvesant was referred to once as a free prep school for Jews. Well, they weren’t diverse, but it was very successful.
And now, Asian Americans outnumber whites by more than two-to-one in all three of those schools. It’s still not diverse. But they’re turning out people who do marvelous things. And that’s what they’re there for—to benefit society, not to present this tableau that will please a handful of people.
There are places in our society that truly lack diversity: higher education, mainstream news media, and Hollywood’s entertainment industry. 

They’re the very ones preaching diversity—of race. But what they lack is diversity of viewpoint, or diversity of belief. It’s enough to get a person blacklisted if they come out as conservative in Hollywood. And, with a few exceptions, typically in math, economics, and some of the harder sciences, percentages of university professors with conservative or religious views are often low enough to be in the single digits. In media, the so-called “liberal” viewpoint is so pervasive that they believe everyone agrees with them. They encounter so few people with differing views, that they dismiss disagreement as stupidity, or they stamp it as evil, and they’re unaware of their obvious bias.

We need free speech to preserve diversity of ideas, and freedom of thought—to allow all of us to seek for truth, and be wherever we are on that journey.

So, does diversity make us stronger? Only if it’s diversity of thought, style, personality, approach, or capability.

Diversity of “character” doesn’t even make us stronger; only a critical mass of good character makes us stronger as a whole. If everybody had an equally strong good character—that would be better overall than diversity of character. Weak character isn’t something to be celebrated, just because it’s diverse from strong character.

I think the diversity of skin color movement is a lie covering up the anti-diversity of thought movement.

I went to college in a religious school, so, even though people of other religions went there, it was pretty religiously homogeneous. But that opened us up for a lot of safe, open conversations, with a diversity of ideas. A friend shared a story about being a law student at BYU some decades ago. For some reason he needed to take one class at the University of Utah, which is not that far away, in a city still predominantly Mormon, but not a religious school. The difference to him was stark. They could discuss widely varying opinions at BYU, fully and openly. But at the U of U, everybody towed the line, and didn’t dare express opinions that weren’t the established opinions of the teacher or the mainstream.

Our society is much more polarized now than those two law schools several decades ago. It might be that I’m right: differences are either a challenge that requires some work to overcome, or differences are neutrally harmless or at best pleasant variety—such as the variety of ethnic food we get in Houston, because it’s cosmopolitan. Is our food here better than French food in France, or Thai food in Thailand, or Vietnamese food in Vietnam? No, it’s just a pleasant variety we get here that people in, say New England might not get—and yet New England clam chowder might be better than you get here.

Food variety is nice, but it isn’t necessarily better, or stronger, than places with mainly their own ethnic foods. It’s neutral, or something you might have a taste for, like an eclectic appreciation for art or music.

The “diversity makes us stronger” doctrine is just not true, unless it’s referring to diversity of thought—which can make us stronger. And MLK is still right: character is more important than skin color.
*I wrote similarly last May in a piece called "Shame Culture vs. Guilt Culture."

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Where They're Planted

When you’re at zero—subsistence—with no hope and no help, that can feel pretty desperate. Sometimes that inspires creative invention. But sometimes it just overwhelms.

We talked about that in part of Monday’s discussion. I was thinking about it more this week, especially following a lot of immigration discussion after President Trump suggested, in the State of the Union Address, that 1.8 million illegals who were brought here as children might get a path to citizenship.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the SOTU, but the plan, as he laid it out, was more generous on DACA than the Democrats were insisting on—which was the continuation of Obama’s executive order to fail to follow the law concerning them. The Trump plan, however, also included a strong border, stopping gang infiltration, and getting rid of chain migration—the practice of letting in one, and then allowing all their extended family to attach to them.

So, this puts the opposition in a tough place. They get what they want—and then some—and then they get an end to allowing the problem to keep happening over and over. As Elle Woods would have said in Legally Blonde, “It’s a perfectly brilliant plan!” And yet, they sat on their hands and accused the president of insane racism. Why? For giving 1.8 million a path to citizenship that they didn’t have—against the will of his base, so costing Trump some political capital.

Or maybe they like having the “dreamers” available as a tool to hit their opposition with, and it wasn’t really about helping those young people; it was nothing but posturing.

I can’t tell whether President Trump made a genuine offer, or whether he was setting up the Democrats so he could demonstrate to the American people directly how unreasonable those Trump-deranged Dems are.

I’ll just leave that there.

What I’m thinking about is that zero level poverty—abject and hopeless. And how do we, as civilized people, help solve that.

The immigration debate is relevant here, because so many people come to America in hopes of something better. There’s a gut reaction among compassionate people, thinking, “I feel so sorry for them. We should let them come. Just open our borders. Anyone who doesn’t want to do that is just heartless.”

The problem is, there’s more poverty in the world than we could solve through any amount of immigration.

There’s a video—from 2010, but still pretty accurate—that illustrates the problem using gumballs. I think we need to see this 6-minute lesson, to understand the scope of the problem, before we go ahead with the conversation:

So, if the best way to help people is to help them thrive where they are, that should be the goal.

Foreign aid is another feel-good idea that causes compassionate people to say, “I feel so sorry for them. We should give them our money—whatever they need. Anyone who doesn’t want to do that is just heartless.”

But foreign aid isn’t the answer either. It passes nation-to-nation, so it doesn’t usually get past a corrupt leadership—and if you’ve got a country with a lot of systemic poverty, you can be certain there’s corrupt leadership.

So how about giving humanitarian aid, through service organizations? If they can get past the corruption and get to the people, that’s part of the answer. I wrote this back in 2013:

Sometimes there’s an immediate need to give a man a fish. But that is never a long-term solution to his hunger. You teach a man to fish, and he has the skill to take care of himself. But maybe he also needs the means to make or otherwise get hold of a fishing pole or net.
LDS Humanitarian Services recognized that following the Christmas tsunami that hit Indonesia in 2004. Aid workers would interview the survivors to find out what they needed. After meeting immediate needs of food, clothing and shelter, which LDS Humanitarian Services was known for supplying following disasters around the world, what the survivors needed was a way to replace some of what they’d lost, to get back on their feet and self-sustaining. So aid became a sewing machine or two, plus enough for a few starting supplies of fabric and thread. Sometimes it was a fishing boat, or even just a new sail. Enough to get a person or a family back on their feet and independent.

That leads to long-term happiness more than just receiving necessities without hope for self-reliance.
One solution I’ve liked for a long time is microcapitalism. In the book Influencer, the authors talk about combining microloans—typically around $250—with a small group council, to improve the success of fledgling businesses. The example they share is a small village in central India, where a group of housewives meet to discuss ways they can individually develop very small businesses, such as starting an egg business.

And the next step up is small-to-medium-sized loans, which can lead to real economic growth. Here’s their description:

While many organizations have promoted microloans (typically under $250) to start one-person businesses, we are also aware of encouraging cases in which Christians have decided to invest in for-profit businesses in the “small and medium enterprise” (SME) range, where $25,000 to $1 million is required to start a business. Such businesses are crucial for larger economic growth in poor nations, but they are more difficult to launch due to high start-up and due-diligence costs, and the challenge of providing a reasonable risk/return model for investors.
So, there are steps to helping people in abject poverty:

1.       Alleviate starvation and provide basic survival needs.
2.       Help people work together to do small enterprises that will begin to provide a livelihood. These are loans, not handouts, with group help to think fully through ideas to make them work.
3.       With enough people doing small enterprises successfully, communities will develop enough experience to support slightly larger enterprises. These are higher risk, and some will fail, but some will succeed. And more success will follow.

It isn’t heartless to face the fact that we can’t bring everyone here to solve their economic woes. And it isn’t heartless to face the fact that we can’t just pour money on a problem and call it good. Insisting that government take tax money from your neighbors to alleviate your guilt about the poor of the earth isn’t really charity.

If you really care about people, then support good ideas that help individuals and local communities. I like LDS Humanitarian Services, which puts 100% of donations to use—no overhead (which gets covered through other Church donations). They carefully target where and how to help, and they keep learning.

And I really like the microloan idea. If you want to help someone out of abject poverty, try giving a $250 loan.

Inside the catalog of WorldCrafts. I've bought from them,
and I think they are a way to connect local
artisans with buyers around the world.
Or buy what local artisans produce. Let them know they are creating value. That’s a free-market idea, which is the best way out of poverty ever invented. And it’s also the most moral, and the best path to a satisfying life.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Pareto Distribution

The past three posts [here, here, and here] were all a declaration that feminism doesn’t speak for me. That was prompted by a video of an interview with Jordan Peterson. I hadn’t been aware of him before, but I was certainly not the only one whose attention was caught by that interview. There were entire collections of responses to it on YouTube, and a series of memes featuring the flummoxed interviewer.

When you watch something on YouTube, a whole list of suggested videos appears based on what you were watching. I was thinking it was time for an economic post. It turns out Jordan Peterson can help there too. I came across one where he talks about income inequality, on the Joe Rogan podcast, from October 2017. (You can watch the whole 25-minute interview below.)

In this discussion, Jordan Peterson presents the problem, or the phenomenon of inequality. He refers to the Pareto distribution, which I had to look up. The Pareto principle is also called the 80/20 rule, which is, in essence, that 80% of outputs come from 20% of causes. And, further, 20% of producers bring about 80% of production in any particular class of production.
Image from Wikipedia, which explains
"The Pareto Principle claims that
only a 'vital few' peapods
produce the majority of peas."

Jordan Peterson explains it this way:

If you look at any creative endeavor that human beings engage in—so that would be an endeavor where there’s variability in individual production. It doesn’t matter what it is. Here’s what happens. People compete to produce whatever that is, and almost everybody produces zero. They lose completely. A small minority are a tiny bit successful. And a hyper-minority are insanely successful. And so, the Pareto distribution is the geometric graph representation of that phenomenon. And so, here’s how it manifests itself.
If you have 10,000 people, 100 of them have half the money. So the rule is, the square root of the number of people under consideration have half of whatever it is that’s under consideration. So, this works everywhere. So, if you took 100 classical composers, 10 of them produce half the music that’s played. And then, if you take the 10 composers, and you take 1000 of their songs, 30 of those songs, which is the square root of 1000, roughly speaking, are played 50% of the time.
So, when people work to produce something—anything: a product, wealth, music—the outcome will be unequal. Quite dramatically unequal. In a distribution we can estimate with a mathematical formula of

√X = ½ Y 

where X is the total number of something, and Y is the recipient of the reward or whatever you’re counting.

There’s a field of study that measures this kind of thing—econophysics. Econophysicists, Peterson tells us, “use the same mathematical equations that represent the propagation of molecules—gas molecules into a vacuum, to describe the manner in which money distributes itself in an economy.” Cool. I didn’t know that.

He also refers to the Matthew effect. This references the parable of the talents. To one man is given five talents (a sizable amount of money); he doubles that for the master and is rewarded. To another is given two talents, which he doubles for the master, and he is also rewarded. To a third man is given a single talent. He does nothing with it and returns only that single talent to the master at the day of reckoning. He made no use of what he was given, so he has that talent taken from him and no reward.
The verse referred to as the Matthew effect is 25:29:

For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
In a parable, things are metaphorical. It is about using what you have—not about producing five more or two more of something. But sociologists describe this effect as “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

As we also know from scripture, “For ye have the poor with you always” (Mark 14:7), there will always be work you can do to help them.

The question being discussed in the podcast is a combination of “Why are the poor always with us?” and “Is there something that can or should be done about it?”

The whole discussion shows just how interrelated economic and social issues are. Given the Pareto effect, as long as people do different things, think up different things, and find solutions to various problems, they will acquire differing rewards for their efforts. Some will create wealth more successfully than others.

As Peterson explains, “The problem is, if you let a monetary system run, all the money ends up in the hands of a few—a very small number of people.” That is only a problem when things are wildly unequal—more than that, wildly unequal and with some having essentially zero—subsistence with no way out. Add to that a sense of oppression or systemic unfairness, and bad things happen.
People with no way out get desperate, which leads to high crime, or revolt. That’s what you see in Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth. I wrote about this result of disparity in 2015:

In Pearl Buck’s novel The Good Earth, there’s a point where the poor are starving and growing daily more desperate, squatting along the walls of the wealthy, until things get so heated, the poor rise up and raid the property of the wealthy, looting and killing. That was a book of fiction, but the Durants’ book [The Lessons of History] describes that as a typical cycle.
It might look like the problem is too much wealth at the top, but it’s really about too little at the bottom. When people are starving and suffering while the wealthy ignore their needs, that is an injustice that won’t stand indefinitely.
As Peterson put it, “If you don’t have any money, it’s really hard to get some. Once you have some, it’s not so hard to get some more.” And that's the underlying problem of inequality--not too much in some places, but too little in some places.

As Peterson points out, “what Marx observed was that capital tended to accumulate in the hands of fewer and fewer people, and he said that’s a flaw of the capitalist system. That’s wrong. It’s not a flaw of the capitalist system; it is a feature of every single system of production that we know of, no matter who set it up and how it operates.” 

But it becomes more troublesome when someone—usually a Marxist—reframes the situation as rich = evil and poor = good. It is not the fault of successful people that they tend to accumulate the good stuff. It is also true that being poor is not simply a matter of failing to work hard enough. Getting the ones at that near zero situation unstuck is necessary, not only for those stuck there to improve their lot, but also for the successful to not lose what they have from a revolt.

I don’t think the discussion got all the way to a solution, but Peterson frames it right:

You need innovation. You pay for innovation with inequality. But you need to bind inequality, because if it’s too intense, then things destabilize. OK, we can agree on that. We’ve got the parameters set. Now we have to start thinking very carefully through how to do the redistribution issue, and we don’t know how to do that.
I understand what he’s saying, but I wouldn’t use the term “bind inequality.” That sounds like something that needs to be imposed from some greater power—although I don’t think he intended that. He’s literally talking about the “redistribution issue,” but I wouldn’t use that term either, although technically that is the issue. Redistribution, again, sounds like something imposed.

What we really want—and he suggests, although I’m not sure how we get there—is “equality of opportunity. Because people are actually not as resentful about the success of others as you might expect; they’re resentful about it if they feel that the game is fixed.” He adds, “It has to be a straight game. And that’s why ethics is so important to keep this landscape stable. People can’t play crooked games.”

So a discussion of civilization has to come into it. People have to be honest in order for it to work for everybody.

Also, people have to care about those stuck at zero, where high IQ and conscientiousness—the best predictors of success—are just not enough to get going. In a civilized society, people care about one another. They give freely to help those who are temporarily downtrodden, or those who are not capable of helping themselves, or who just need a break.

We can only have that to give, if we’ve had enough success to build up surplus beyond our needs. And we only get surplus—or wealth—by creating more than subsistence and having a way to store the surplus. The most effective way ever invented—the natural way—is trade in a free market economy.

The answer comes down to free market—free of crony capitalism and con games—plus philanthropy. We’ve talked about that before [here, here, and here]. The addition today is, there will always be natural inequality, but even the wealthy benefit economically by being honest and giving freely. So, you need a civilized people to get and keep a healthy, prosperous economy.