Sunday, May 13, 2018

Transcript of Jordan Peterson Confirming His Belief That If an Atheist Doesn’t Commit Random Violence, It’s Because, Deep Down, That Atheist Is a Theist

And: Dr. Peterson’s Assertion That “It’s Not an Obvious Fact” That a Man’s Head Being Chopped Off Would Be Detrimental to That Same Man’s Well-Being
Screen shot of Dr. Peterson’s conversation with Matthew Dillahunty.

A public assertion of Dr. Jordan B. Peterson’s is that it is only a belief in God that will stop someone from choosing to commit random acts of violence. That raises the question of how Dr. Peterson accounts for atheists who refrain from random acts of violence. Dr. Peterson’s answer is that if an atheist does not choose to commit random acts of violence, it is primarily because, deep down, that atheist must actually believe in God.

That is circular reasoning. The conclusion is that if an atheist does not commit random acts of violence, it is only because he or she, deep down, must actually believe in God. And how can we verify that? That is verified, according to Dr. Peterson, by the truth that only a belief in God can stop someone from choosing to commit random acts of violence.

Is what I wrote above an attempt to put words in Dr. Peterson’s mouth, à la Cathy Newman’s infamous interview with Dr. Peterson on Channel Four?

Below is a transcript of an exchange that Dr. Peterson had with stage mentalist Matthew Dillahunty. Dillahunty asks Dr. Peterson for clarification—asking him to confirm whether he means that if an atheist refrains from committing acts of violence, it must be because that atheist, on some level, is really a theist, a believer in God. Dr. Peterson confirms that.

The exchange begins at the 0:41:29 mark of the video of the conversation. The embedded version below should be cued so that if you click on it, it should begin at the 0:41:29 mark. (Thank you to Mark Sulkowski for informing me on May 12, 2018, about this particular video.)

On the bottom of the transcript is an exchange from the 0:47:38 mark that I found interesting as well; the assertion that Dr. Peterson makes there may sound outlandish to many people, but it is not considered outlandish among philosophy graduate students. There, Dr. Peterson’s position is that if a man’s head is chopped off, it is “not an obvious fact” that the decapitation is detrimental toward the man’s well-being. According to Dr. Peterson, such an assessment is no more than a subjective opinion.


Dillahunty: “For years I had this thing going where people would say, ‘Oh,’—and this is kind of from where we’re getting from a different angle—I would say, ‘They [religious people] would be afraid of what we lose if we did without religion.’ And I basically said, ‘Demonstrate to me any benefit—’”

Peterson (interrupts): “—You’d lose art and poetry and drama and narrative and story . . .”

Dillahunty: “Why? Are there no godless artists and poets?”

Peterson: “There are artists and poets who [only] think they’re godless . . .”

Dillahunty: “So we’ve might’ve crossed over into a problem area—”

Peterson (over Dillahunty): “Yeah . . . No doubt.”

Dillahunty: “I can’t draw for crap, although I do draw during the show. But one of the individuals who came to the show the other night handed me something she had spent a great deal of time drawing. She’s a wonderful artist and I was grateful to get it. And while I pretend to read minds on stage, I constantly acknowledge that I can’t actually read minds, so I can’t tell you whether or not she actually believes in a god, but I can tell you that I actually don’t believe in a God, and I can write poetry.”

Peterson (before Dillahunty finishes with “—and I can write poetry”): “But you act like you do [believe in God].”

Dillahunty: “Huh?”

Peterson: “But you act like you do [believe in God]. That’s why you didn’t throw Sam [Harris] off the stage.”

Dillahunty: “No, now you’re making a claim— . . . OK, I’m telling you I don’t believe there’s a God—”

Peterson (before Dillahunty finishes): “Yeah . . .”

Dillahunty (continuing): “—and your response is to that is: I [Dillahunty] really do, because I have a moral sense. But my moral sense is utterly without any appeal to a God.”

Peterson: “[You mean only] explicitly . . .”

Dillahunty (corrects Peterson): “Or implicitly.”

Peterson (rhetorical, sarcastic): “Uh, maybe . . .”

Dillahunty (starts to talk but is interrupted).

Peterson: “That’s not so obvious.”

Dillahunty: “OK—” interrupted.

Peterson: “You regard Sam Harris as an implicitly valuable entity because, otherwise, you would just throw him off the stage. And then the question is, ‘Just exactly why is an implicitly valuable entity?’ What’s your metaphysics of that?”

Dillahunty: “I don’t think he’s implicitly valuable in the sense that . . .” stops as audience laughs.

The 0:43:21 mark.

Dillahunty: “I don’t think he’s implicitly valuable in that the Universe [being some teleological force itself] has implied that there is something explicit about it. For me, morality is far simpler—”

Peterson (interrupts): “But wait, you sounded doubtful about that.”

Dillahunty (sarcastic): “Maybe you’re the mind reader . . .”

Peterson (sarcastic back): “Well, maybe.”

Dillahunty: “—because you’ve already suggested that despite me sitting here and having talked about this for decades that I don’t believe in God, I actually do because I have a moral code. But my moral code, which I’ve—”

Peterson (interrupts): “Be more specific. I said it was because you didn’t want to throw Sam [Harris] off the stage.”

Dillahunty: “You didn’t even attempt to ask me why I didn’t throw Sam off the stage. Instead you went to ‘why do you think Sam has implicit value?’ because, according to your narrative, that’s the only [possible] justification.”

Peterson: “Well, you’re afraid of being punished.”

Dillahunty: “No.”

Peterson: “Oh.”

Dillahunty: “I think I can have a perfectly acceptable foundation for secular morality even if it fundamentally centers around selfishness. I’d rather not be thrown off the stage. It’s in my best interest to encourage that sort of understanding in others, and therefore I will not throw him off the stage. I would rather not have my stuff stolen, and thus it’s in my best interest to encourage others not to do that, so I will not steal stuff, and I will work with others to ensure that people who steal stuff are punished. It is in a virtually pragmatic moral system—”

Peterson (interrupts): “Why do you think it’s not in your best interest to have stuff stolen from you or to be thrown off the stage?”

Dillahunty: “Why is it not in my best interest . . .?”

Peterson: “Yeah, yeah . . . You don’t get to think, ‘Oh, that’s self-evident.’ It’s like, ‘Nothing is self-evident to the skeptic’ [throwing that idea back at him]. Let’s keep that in mind.”

Dillahunty (humorous): “Oh, well . . . so, uh . . .”

Peterson: “ ‘cause if we’re going to get skeptical here, we might as well go all the way.”

Dillahunty: “For Sam [Harris] and I, the foundation—and we’re not the only ones, but I tend to reference Sam because someone will say, ‘Well, that’s exactly what Sam Harris says’, except, you know, I’ve been giving this lecture before he wrote his book [*The End of Faith*], but his book is better than my lecture, so read his book—when I talk about this, I talk about well-being as the language that Sam uses. . .”

Peterson (interrupts, shaking his head): “SAD!”

Dillahunty: “I don’t care whether or not someone else considers that morality. I would think that, at a minimum, would you and agree that—?”

Peterson (interrupts): “That whole ‘well-being’ thing, man, as a basis for metaphysics, that’s just a non-starter.”

Dillahunty: “We’re not basing metaphysics on it.”

Peterson: “Sam is.”

Dillahunty: “No, he’s not.”

Peterson: Yes, he is, ‘cause he’s out back to well-being.”

Dillahunty: “Well, you take it up with Sam.”

Peterson: “Well, OK, sorry. Do you think I’m wrong about that claim? That’s what I understood reading him.”

Dillahunty: “I don’t think Sam said anything metaphysical about it. So here’s the thing. We are physical beings—”

Peterson (interrupts): “Well, it’s his fundamental claim. So it’s sort of at the basis of his ethic. So he says we should work to maximize people’s well-being, or, at least . . . he does a bit more than that . . . He says we should minimize suffering.”

Dillahunty: “He’s not ‘maximize-minimize’ in this simple consequentialism. Let me do this. We’re physical beings in a physical universe, and laws [of Nature] dictate how things work in the universe. They [the laws of nature] are the ultimate arbiters of what is or isn’t in our best interest, whether we know it or not. So, for example, as far as I can tell—”

Peterson (interrupts): “Then why do you need free will?”

Dillahunty: “I don’t think we have free will.”

Peterson: “Then why do you attribute agency to things, if the laws of the universe— . . . There was a contradiction . . .”

Dillahunty: “Free will isn’t relevant to this.”


The 0:47:38 mark.

This embedding should be cued to start at 0:47:38.

Dillahunty: “The reason we talk about this [ethics] in terms of well-being is because irrespective of whether or not I care about well-being, there are facts about well-being.”

Peterson (challenges): “Sure, let’s hear ‘em, man. And line those suckers up.”

Dillahunty: “If you chop off my head, it’s in contradiction to my well-being.”

Peterson: “No, I wasn’t willing to grant you that, actually [that chopping off someone’s head is bad for his well-being]. I’m saying that [the observation that chopping off someone’s head will hurt him] is [only] a metaphysical presupposition. You’re just saying I have to accept that [chopping off someone’s head will hurt him].”

Dillahunty: “No, I’m not telling you at all what to accept.”

Peterson: “Sure you are. You’re saying your death would be [normatively] wrong [as a value-judgment, as opposed to being a fact].”

Dillahunty: “I’m trying to explain what my position is.”

Peterson: “OK, but  you said that that wouldn’t be in accordance with your well-being. ’kay, that’s a  metaphysical statement, a philosophical statement. It’s not an obvious fact.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Contract Breach As Inherent to the Pirating of Artwork

Pirating Art Doesn’t Discourage Customers From Making Contracts With the Artist in the Future; It IS the Contract Breach

Stuart K. Hayashi

Suppose you and I enter into a contractual arrangement. According to our arrangement, first you perform a service for me, and then I pay you for it. The terms being set, you perform the service, and then I say, “Nah, never mind that; I have decided not to enter the deal after all. Hence, I won’t pay you and you don’t have to perform the service.”

You say, “What do you mean? I already performed the service.”

That is comparable to how, when an artist provides others access to her design, she does so on the implicit default contractual understanding that those who access her design pay her the price she asks. Thus, just as reneging on paying you for providing your service means I stole the value of your service, to make an unauthorized duplicate of the design, refraining from paying the designer, is to steal from her the value of the resources the artist inputted into bringing the design into existence, value for which the artist was to be reimbursed by those who chose to make use of the design.

When it comes to the issue of whether making an unauthorized duplicate of a design constitutes theft, Timothy Sandefur pronounces,

In [Thomas] Jefferson’s phrase, a person who lights his candle from mine illuminates himself without darkening me. . . . 
One might argue that intellectual property is exclusive because, if a man copies the new mousetrap idea and goes into competition with the inventor, the copier is obtaining market premiums in the form of not having to pay for research and development, which is “stolen” from the inventor [note the sarcastic scare quotes]. But the copying marketer is also taking the economic risk in this circumstance, and if his business failed, he certainly would have no right to sue the inventor for coming up with an unsuccessful idea. So it should not work the other way around. . . . [Ayn] Rand seems to confuse the moral right to one’s earnings with the right to enlist the government’s assistance in assuring that one’s earnings remain as high as they possibly can be — which is, of course, the principle of the (genuine) monopolist.

Examine the premise behind Sandefur’s straw-man argument: that for the law to expect that someone pay the artist the price she asks for access to copies to her design is for the law to be protectionist. That is, if a copyright to an artist’s design allows for the artist to use the law to fight against unauthorized duplication of her design, then it means that those who pirate the design are mere “competitors” to the artist, and that a government crackdown on pirating is merely a government crackdown on “competition” so that the artist, being a rent-seeker, can jack up the price of access to her design.

Those who accept the premise of Sandefur’s assumption are to believe that the grievance on the part of the defender of intellectual property rights is that if many fans and would-be customers of an artist can easily obtain a pirated copy of the design without remunerating the artist, that discourages those fans and would-be customers from entering into contracts in the future wherein they obtain access to the design directly from the artist — contracts that would have been lucrative for the artist.

But no, the defender of intellectual property is making the point that when a designer allows other parties access to her design, the default implicit contractual understanding is that by accessing the design at all, those other parties agree to the designer’s terms of payment.

Again, imagine an artist allows me access to her design, and then I make an unauthorized duplicate of her design without paying her.  Also imagine that I provide other parties access to this unauthorized copy.

The injustice is not that my having made the unauthorized duplicate will discourage fans of the artist from going directly to the artist in the future and entering into contractual agreements with her.

The injustice of it is that as soon I accessed the design, I committed myself to paying the artist the price she requested, and my having made an unauthorized duplicate was already a breach in our contractual agreement, constituting theft.


Thursday, April 26, 2018

Psychological ‘Control’ Issues As Source of Many of Society’s Problems

Stuart K. Hayashi

Image courtesy Pixabay.

I think that so many problems that people have with one another has to do with control issues; people wanting control and failing to respect one another’s boundaries with that control.

Everybody Wants to Rule the World? Well, Everyone Needs Some Control
To some degree, every person needs control. You need control over objects outside of yourself in order to eat. To have shelter, you need control over objects outside of yourself. When you pay someone to do something for you, you provide instructions, and those instructions are a form of control. Absent of any control, you couldn’t live. For that reason, a desire for control can be healthy. It is even important — rather, I should say especially important — that a growing child increasingly gains a sense of bodily autonomy.

The problem is that many people are very insecure about how much control they possess, and so, to regain a feeling of control, people harm themselves or others. I think that self-cutting has a lot to do with this. The rationalization is, “I’m hurting myself, but at least the cuts I make on my wrist, unlike so much of what else goes on in my life, are in my control.”

And, of course, many people who feel insecure about how much control they have, seek to rectify this by controlling other people. The mildest form of this is someone making nonviolent demands of others which can be rejected. The severest form of exercising control over others is the initiation of the use of physical force upon them.

I think that even if we had a purely peaceful society, some people would still have control issues and boundary issues. There would still be really bossy, nagging people. There could be a romantic couple in which one partner wants to get a tattoo, and the other finds that so unsexy that it jeopardizes the physical attraction. How can that be resolved? At this point, I cannot give an answer.

You Should Control Your Body and Your Other Property; I Should Control My Body and My Other Property
I’m definitely no expert on resolving all these issues, but I think most people — including most Westerners — fail to understand that there is one very important line of demarcation. Someone should have control over her own body and her own private property; her desire for control becomes a major problem when this is not good enough for her, and she demands that the government control other people’s nonviolent behavior just so that she may feel safer (and therefore more in control).

You notice how so many of these anti-immigrationists are men experiencing midlife crises; they feel inadequate in the romance department and worry about some low-paid immigrant getting a job that he otherwise may have gotten. He feels as if he doesn’t have adequate control. He especially feels he doesn’t have enough control if he worries that immigrants are going to create a gang and go on some rampage.  To restore his feeling of control, he demands the government “do more” against the menace supposedly posed by immigration.

I don’t begrudge the man that he feels as if he is not in control; I am not going to mock him or try to reinforce his worry that he is too weak. But where I do object is in the terribly misguided path he has chosen in an attempt to regain a feeling of control.

This also happens with shooting rampages. They catch us by surprise. They deprive us of our sense of being in control — that’s understandable. And in an attempt to feel in-control again, many people clamor for action on guns. To feel “in control,” they demand action — and, too often, overlook how such governmental action will create a net reduction in safety.

Some people who grew up with relatively rustic lifestyles feel as if control over their food supply is being sapped away from them. They feel as if control over their food has been usurped by impersonal, faceless, multinational corporations like Monsanto and Conagra. They hear about genes from one species being inserted into another, and this sounds not only alien, but something outside of their control. To try to regain control, many people promote special back-to-nature diets that they hail as superior to what they call factory farming. I would applaud such efforts much more if not for many of these people agitating for very harmful legislation and frequently spreading inaccuracies about biology, economics, court cases, and Monsanto.

Wanting Some Control Is Healthy — Overstepping Boundaries, By Use of Government Force, Is Not
Hence, I’m struggling to help people recognize this phenomenon. (That I worry about having failed in this matter, is perhaps the area where I feel as if I do not have enough control.) When people feel as if they don't have enough control, and demand government action, I want them to know that feeling not-in-control doesn’t make them weak and they shouldn’t fear being looked down upon. Likewise, I want them to come to understand that their demand for government control over nonviolent actions is not the proper method to rectify the inadequate control; they need to find more constructive and peaceful methods for restoring a feeling of being in control.

When there is a major problem facing society that makes us feel as if we are not in control — such as unexpected disasters or human-caused rampages — this is soon followed by a public campaign to give more power to the State to rectify this. When this happens, an important question we must ask ourselves and our neighbors is, “When we insist that the State must ‘do something,’ have we truly used our better judgment to ascertain that such governmental action will create a net increase in safety? Or is our insistence that the State must ‘do something’ and ‘take action’ mostly about just helping ourselves feel as if we are in control again?” If it is the latter, we should rethink our actions, as so many governmental responses to public clamor that the State “do something” ultimately resulted in net decreases in public safety.

Exhibit A for a situation in which parents felt as if they were not in control, and the government “doing something” about it actually resulted in a net decrease in public safety, was the “Satanic Panic” of the early 1980s.

To Say A Man Wants Control Is Just to Say He Wants What He Wants?
Right now, my biggest issue with my own line of thought on this is that I often ask myself, “Is saying ‘a person wants control’ too tautological? If ‘control’ means being able to perform some action in order to obtain what one wants, then isn’t saying ‘a person wants control’ the same as saying ‘a person wants what he wants’?” For now, my answer to that is no, because there are some cases where someone can desire to relinquish control.

For instance, one might say I am relinquishing control if I hire a chauffeur; I am forfeiting direct control over the automobile in which I ride. Yet if I am not the one driving, then it gives me more opportunity to do something else as a passenger that I otherwise would not be able to do if I had to be the motorist always keeping his eyes on the road. I would be giving up one form of control for the sake of gaining control in some other endeavor.

Most people want some form of control, but I think that “want” and “control” are still distinct concepts, as control is more specific: to have control means to be able to choose to perform some action that elicits the desired effect.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

How Intellectual Property Rights Address Economic ‘Scarcity’

Rebutting the Economic Case That Libertarians Deliver Against Patents and Copyrights

Stuart K. Hayashi

This is a reposting of my essay published in The Savvy Street, which was itself a revised version of this post here.

When it comes to the issue of the legitimacy of intellectual property rights (IP rights or IPRs) we witness an odd reversal. Even many of the most diehard proponents of the regulatory-entitlement state, such as Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr., recognize that an inventor holds rightful ownership of her invention and that an artist must retain rightful ownership over her artwork. Conversely, too many “libertarians,” who proclaim themselves to be the champions of free enterprise and peaceful entrepreneurship, try to denigrate the enforcement of intellectual property rights as misguided at best and hateful at worst. Like socialists, these supposed defenders of free entrepreneurship propound that artworks and original designs for inventions ought to be in a public domain, a commons. To these libertarians, such a proponent of the regulatory-entitlement state as Leonard Pitts is not contradicting himself in upholding the right to copyright, but is being entirely consistent in his support for expansive government. Indeed, these libertarians presume IPRs to be an unwelcome intrusion into the market on the part of the State on behalf of corrupt, rent-seeking copyright holders and patent holders.

According to the image fostered by those who condemn IPRs, we are to believe that patents are legal claims of exclusive ownership over vague general ideas that anyone can pull out of thin air. Worse, they add, the entire notion of intellectual property is unwarranted, as economics demonstrates that the institution of private property rights can only validly address entities which are “scarce,” and that only units of tangible objects — that is, objects consisting of matter, such as metals and trees — can be “scarce” in this manner.

The essay you are about to read shall rebut the following misrepresentations of IPRs on the part of their opponents:

  1. Intellectual property rights are a claim of ownership over a vague general idea for a category of marketed product, and patents grant to the party a government-enforced monopoly over an industry.

  2. Multiple parties working independently, each unbeknownst to one another, can — by coincidence — arrive at the exact same invention at the exact same moment. Yet the patent on this invention is awarded to but one of those parties. As the party receiving the patent holds a government-enforced monopoly, the process cheats the other parties that arrived at this same invention simultaneously.

  3. The misunderstanding most pertinent to this essay: The proper basis for recognition of private property rights is that there are some objects that are “scarce,” meaning that the present number of units of such objects is finite. Yet there is no preexisting scarcity to a design that is copyrighted or patented. If you, as a filmmaker, copyright your motion picture and I make an unauthorized duplicate of it, you have not lost the original print. Nor have you lost the ability to make additional units of your copyrighted motion picture. “Scarcity” is inapplicable to designs that are patented or copyrighted, and therefore privatization of them cannot be legitimate. Furthermore, it is actually the institutionalization of patents and copyrights that imposes an artificial scarcity in the market, as the party possessing a patent or copyright can invoke the IPR in court to restrict the number of units of products that are based on her design.

It is tragic when people who purport to defend free markets and who claim to value the creation of wealth would disparage intellectual property rights and their possessors in such a fashion, as the recognition of intellectual property rights is integral to the process of the creation of new wealth that innovation entails.

The Myth of “IP As Monopoly”
Let us first address the misconception that IPRs are monopolistic. Imagine, for instance, that in 1877 someone named Erlman received a U.S. patent on an invention as simple as the paperclip. We are to believe, then, that Erlman claims ownership over the whole general idea of “paperclip.” Hence, Erlman has gained a government-enforced monopoly on the production of paperclips. The whole industry is under his iron fist. Should someone else — say, a man named Mr. Angell — dare to produce and sell paperclips of his own, the patent enables Erlman to sue Mr. Angell into oblivion. Either Mr. Angell agrees to pay royalties to Erlman — extortion — or Mr. Angell must cease and desist. The patent specifies that Erlman can go on with this racket for seventeen years.

To the opponents of intellectual property rights, this is horrendous, and exactly why patents ought to be abolished.

Now let us look into the actual history. Since the late nineteenth century, in the USA alone there have been many patents on the paperclip, often granted in intervals shorter than seventeen years. That is, prior to one party’s paperclip patent expiring, a patent on yet another paperclip would be granted.

The reason for this is that a patent is not a claim of ownership over a general idea or a whole category of product. A utility patent protects the aspects of your specific original design for a product pertaining to how that product functions. A design patent, on the other hand, protects the aspects of your specific original design for a product pertaining to that product’s aesthetic qualities. When George Lucas obtained a design patent on his “Boba Fett action figure,” for example, it meant that you would need to obtain George Lucas’s permission if you were to produce a toy that carried an obvious deliberate likeness to the character of Boba Fett from The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

Your receiving a patent on your paperclip does not preclude others from patenting or selling their own paperclips. When a patent is granted on a paperclip, the patent is not on the general idea of having a device that holds more than one sheet of paper together. Nay, the patent is on a specific original aspect of the design. The reason why there are so many patents on paperclips is that different designers have made them from different materials, arranged them in different shapes, and employed new methods of producing units of paperclips in bulk quantities.

Another common straw man cited in attempts to discredit patents is the claim that several separate parties, completely unbeknownst to each other, can each come up with the exact same invention at the exact same time. This notion, too, stems from a misunderstanding. Many parties, each working independently, can each arrive at the same general idea at separate times that are within relatively close proximity to one another, yes. And that general idea is not what they patent. Each of those parties arrives at a different specific design, and each party’s patent has features distinct from the others’. A party patents not a general idea, but instead patents its own unique new method for implementing that idea. All the while, there remain myriad different methods whereby this idea can still be implemented.

Where two separate parties’ patents are similar — where there is “overlap” in their function-related features — the common result has been for those separate parties to pool their patents in a single trust. That was the result when Jack Kilby devised one aspect of the integrated circuit at Texas Instruments whereas, at Fairchild Semiconductor, Robert Noyce concentrated more on the process of wiring up the integrated circuit’s components. None of that evinces anything unjust about the principle of intellectual property as such.

When Jack Northrop received his patent on his “flying wing” design for airplanes (U.S. Patent No. 2,406,506), that did not grant him a government-enforced monopoly on the production of airplanes; other parties still designed and patented their own aircraft. Not even the Wright brothers had a patent on the general product category of “airplane”; their patents were on the method of steering. Their innovation was steering the airplane by means of warping the shape of its wings. This did not stop their competitor, Glenn Curtiss, from making his own airplanes. Before the Wright brothers’ patents expired, Curtiss patented the manner in which he arranged the ailerons to be placed on airplanes’ wings. Ailerons are fins on the wings of airplanes that change direction in unison and thereby change the direction in which the airplane is to head. (The Wright brothers did ultimately use ailerons, but their patents didn’t describe them in the same manner that Curtiss’s did.)

A general idea for a product can instantly pop into one’s head. As we shall revisit soon, there is no “scarcity” to such general ideas. But that general idea is not what is patentable. To obtain a patent, a party needs a detailed model. When I say model here, I do not mean a physical working model, such as a prototype. In the context of this essay, model refers to the patent-filer’s specific and detailed explanation of how his or her design can, in scientific terms, plausibly function as promised while operated by someone competent in the trade for which the design was produced.

As the U.S. Commercial Code’s Subsection 112 phrases it, what is patentable is not the general idea for a new category of product but the “written description of the invention, and of the manner and process of making and using it,” that is “in such full, clear, concise, and exact terms as to enable any person skilled in the art to which it pertains, or with which it is most nearly connected, to make and use” that invention. That is, if you invent a new sort of furnace for steel-making, obtaining a reliably enforceable patent for it calls upon you to provide a detailed theoretic model (this often includes diagrams) for a furnace that produces steel as promised when operated by someone skilled in steelmaking. That is not something that can be pulled out of thin air or dreamt up overnight, and that has much to do with why patentable designs are so “scarce.”

What it Takes to Produce a Practicable Design Worthy of Patent
Consider Chester F. Carlson and the development of the xerographic photocopier — what is more conventionally known as a Xerox machine. He first came up with the general idea in 1934 working at a law firm. He found it tedious to transcribe documents by hand, and wished there was an effective low-cost method for making clear, legible duplicates of documents. He spent hundreds of dollars on equipment (money he could have instead spent on other amenities, such as better housing) and hours of his life each week (hours he could have spent on earning money at a second job with steadier prospects for supplementing his income) to run experiments to test his theories on how this device could accomplish its intended task. It was not until 1938 when he finally finished a detailed theoretic model ready for patenting. This patent was granted in 1940.

Even then, nothing was easy for Carlson. He approached a multitude of capital-heavy corporations with his proposal to license this technology to them, hoping they would develop units of this device. Twenty of these big firms rejected Carlson’s pitch. It was not due to a lack of capital on their part; they had enough money to produce multiple units of Carlson’s design. Rather, for them the issue was that they judged that there would not be enough marketplace demand for this product to justify allocating their capital for this purpose.

Carlson’s fortunate break came in 1944 when Carlson finally was able to license the invention to the Battelle Memorial Institute. In 1947, Battelle turned over this technology to Joseph Wilson’s Haloid Corporation, a company whose name Wilson would change to Xerox.

It was not until 1949 that Xerox had developed a model it felt confident about putting on the market—the Xerox Model A. This ended up a commercial flop. Upon a cost-benefit analysis, the target market for this product — corporate offices, law firms, and schools — decided that this machine was not even worth renting. Joseph Wilson had to start over when searching for a method of producing a model that would satisfy marketplace demand adequately while remaining cost-effective for Xerox to manufacture. This led to the firm unveiling the Xerox 914 in 1959. This was the first model of a xerographic photocopier to generate a profit for any party. Carlson’s original patent had already expired before Xerox could profit from xerographic photocopying. Fortunately for Carlson and Xerox, Joseph Wilson was able to obtain patents on other design aspects on the Xerox 914 that the company had developed during its own R-and-D process. In the 1960s, royalty payments made Carlson one of the richest people in the country — well-earned.

Examine those durations. It took Carlson four years to develop a model that he could patent. The duration between Carlson’s initial inspiration and the introduction of any xerographic photocopier in any market was a whopping fifteen years. And the time it took between Carlson’s generation of the idea and the moment that this idea first generated a profit for any party was twenty-five years.

What happens in all those years? What happens is research and development and experimentation. In the four years it took Carlson to make his original vague general idea into a patentable model, Carlson had to purchase his own equipment to test his models to determine whether they functioned as he planned. Note that the equipment consisted of tangible goods — “scarce” units consisting of matter — that Carlson expended, used up, and depreciated.

The same grueling process of R-and-D and experimentation continued in the dozen years between the moment Joseph Wilson first gained access to this technology and the moment anyone profited from it. Xerox spent thousands of dollars employing engineers and technicians to run tests on how they could minimize costs while still producing units of this technology that were able to satisfy marketplace demand. To run such experiments, they too had to acquire tangible equipment coming in a finite number of units.

Yes, your patent is on something that is intangible — a model describing precisely in detail how a product is to be structured physically and how it is to function. But, by that same token, you would not have been able to come up with the intangible model if not for your using up tangible goods consisting in forms of matter that come in finite units. These are units that are, more often than not, relatively perishable.

How Intellectual Property Rights Do Address What Economists Call “Scarcity” of Units
Timothy Sandefur is among the many libertarian writers proclaiming that “scarcity” is absent in the case of designs and that, for this reason, they ought not to be protected by patents or copyrights. In his words,

In the case of tangible property, real or personal,...the property is naturally exclusive, meaning that if I have it, you simply cannot; if I take it, you no longer have it — you have been “disseised.” Intellectual property, however, is not like this. I can “take” it from you, and yet you still have it. If, for example, you are the greatest musician in the history of rock and roll (that is, John Fogerty) and you have written the greatest song ever (that is, “Born on The Bayou”...), then I can sing “Born on the Bayou” in my shower, and you can still, at the same time, use and enjoy your “property” as you wish: you can perform it, sell it, or leave it alone [emphasis Sandenfur’s].

We will come back to this later: Sandefur’s example of singing a famous copyrighted song in the shower is a straw man. For now, note the frequency with which that argument is repeated by other opponents of intellectual property. To provide an example that sounds less tongue-in-cheek than Sandefur’s: if a filmmaker like Justine produces her own low-budget commercial motion picture, and I make an unauthorized copy of it, Justine is not deprived of the original print; she retains custody of it. That same idea comes across in this Facebook meme:

Sandefur’s misrepresentation derives from this statement from University of Chicago economist Arnold Plant:
It is a peculiarity of property rights in patents (and copyrights) that they do not arise out of the scarcity of the objects which become appropriated. They are not a consequence of scarcity. They are the deliberate creation of statute law, and, whereas in general the institution of private property makes for the preservation of scarce goods… …property rights in patents and copyrights make possible the creation of a scarcity of the products appropriated which could not otherwise be maintained [emphases Plant’s].

Here is a rephrasing of the argument that Timothy Sandefur and Arnold Plant present. Private property rights, primarily being the law’s method for resolving disputes over how finite resources are distributed and allocated, are applicable exclusively to tangible goods — that is, objects consisting of matter — that exist in a finite number of units. If apples and apple trees are commercialized, then private property rights apply to them. Metals count as well. If widgets are machines made for human consumption, then private property rights apply to them. As there is presently a finite number of units of widgets in existence, then if you acquire more units of widgets, that is fewer available for me. If you have more apples, that is fewer apples for me. I could grow my own trees and then graft my own branches on them to grow more apples (all apples on the market are clones from the same ancestral branch; wild apples grown from wild apple trees are not uniform in quality),more units can be produced in the future — this would take time and resource inputs — but the fact remains that in this precise moment, there is a finite number of units of apple trees and widgets in existence.

That is what economists conventionally mean when they say that economics is about “scarcity.” Note that when conventional economists say that markets address “scarcity” in this context, they are not necessarily conceding Rev. T. Robert Malthus’s premise that humans just use up nonrenewable resources and one day will be left with nothing. Rather, the economists just mean that there is presently a finite number of units on the market.

In the understanding of Arnold Plant and those who cite him, if there were no private property rights, then people would always be violently fighting over who gets what. Once private property rights are established, it reduces the risk that such fights will break out. Private property rights, in this interpretation, mean that you and I agree that this belongs to you, whereas that belongs to me, and we leave each other be.

Then those who argue in Arnold Plant’s vein, such as Timothy Sandefur, continue that because intellectual property rights are intangible, they cannot be authentic private property rights. This is question-begging on the part of too many of intellectual property’s detractors. To “win” their argument, these opponents of intellectual property decide that, from the outset, they have to define private property rights as referring exclusively to tangible goods that come in a finite number of units. Upon pretending that this arbitrary premise is some well-established fact, they then point out that intellectual property rights are intangible and that, by their own (arbitrary) definition of private property rights, patents and copyrights are precluded from being authentic property.

First, their conclusion is false, because the government’s attempt to resolve some potential dispute over the allocation of tangible goods is not the main justification for private property rights. The main justification is that you should maintain legal control over the very economic value that you have created. You deserve to maintain control over your art and inventions for the same reason that you, as a homesteader, deserve to maintain control over the patch of land that you have rendered inhabitable.

The economic value that a homesteader wrings out of a patch of land is an emergent property. Emergent property refers to what happens when, once the raw materials are arranged in a particularly fortuitous fashion, some new (sometimes even wholly unprecedented) phenomenon occurs. For example, there was a time when there was no life on Earth; for billions of years, it was the same old chemicals lying around. But one day, those same chemicals were arranged in a new fashion, and what was nonliving matter became the first primitive living matter, some proto-micro-organism.

Similarly, when a homesteader improves a plot of land — meaning she makes it inhabitable for human use — she is not creating any new matter; she is rearranging the matter that already exists. But this new arrangement has rendered this land, once previously uninhabitable, into land that is inhabitable. That habitability is the new phenomenon, the emergent property. It is also the new economic value created.

That same principle applies to patentable inventions. The patent for a highly profitable invention is a set of instructions for arranging already-existing matter in a fashion that produces some effect that satisfies marketplace demand, and what makes this patent lucrative is that the patent’s instructions allow for a manufacturer to educe this demand-satisfying effect in a manner that is cost-effective enough to allow the manufacturer to sell units of this arrangement at a net profit. This invention produces a net increase in utility in the economy, utility that previously had not existed. That net increase in utility, that unprecedented economic value that has been created, is also an emergent property.

Both (1) a homesteader’s improvement in the land and (2) an inventor’s contribution of a net increase in utility, are emergent phenomena whereby new economic value has been created, economic value previously unexplored.

For the law to recognize this newly created economic value as being the private property of the party that created it does both of the following: (a) it justly allows the party that created this value to sustain itself while (b) it also signals to other market participants that they, too, will be free to reap the rewards of their own value creation if they, too, produce these new forms of utility.

When someone such as myself points out that there is a “scarcity” component of the time and effort that inventors invest in their inventions and artists invest in their art, such opponents as Tom Palmer conflate our argument with Karl Marx’s labor theory of value. Karl Marx presumed that just because manual laborers directly interacted with factory machinery in their work, that necessarily meant that the manual laborers had a stronger claim to the machinery than did the investors who purchased and legally owned the machinery. That is, manual laborers work hard with the factory machinery, and therefore the factory machinery is rightfully theirs. Tom Palmer and some other opponents to IPR would have their readers believe that we defenders of intellectual property are saying nothing better — that Chester F. Carlson rightfully owns the xerographic photocopier for no reason other than that he worked hard on it and therefore is right to use his oppressive government monopoly to thwart other entrepreneurs who wish to produce photocopiers independently of him. But Palmer’s assumption is a straw man; Carlson has a rightful claim to his design for the same reason that a homesteader has a rightful a claim to the plot of land she improved.

Second — and this is what the arguments of Arnold Plant, Timothy Sandefur, and Tom Palmer conveniently elide — intellectual property rights do address the allocation and usage of tangible goods that are finite in number. Intellectual property rights do address what Arnold Plant calls “scarcity” and what Timothy Sandefur calls the fact that tangible goods, consisting of material substances and coming in a finite number of units, can be “disseised.”

Impractical ideas — ideas for products in which consumers express no interest — are ideas that come cheap. It took me mere seconds to think up the general ideas of “glow-in-the-dark sunscreen” and “edible toilet seats.” One does not invest any “scarce” resources in tossing around vague ideas for products that will not satisfy marketplace demand. By contrast, the designs which inventors and other entrepreneurs seek to patent are practicable designs. For the rest of this essay, the term practicable design refers to an original design for a product that is so practical that, if multiple units are produced from this design, parties would willingly pay money in exchange for access to these units, and this is on account of the units produced from this design functioning as intended. To develop such a practicable design is the opposite of cheap.

In the four years it took for Carlson to develop a xerographic photocopier model worthy of licensing, he had to acquire equipment for testing this model. That equipment came in the form of perishable tangible goods that always had, and always would, come in a finite number of existing units. As Carlson used up these goods in his experiments, they depreciated in value, meaning that if other people tried to use these units of goods afterward, they would not be able to derive as much value from those goods that Carlson could have derived.

The same principle applies in the twelve years it took for Xerox to produce a model of xerographic photocopier that satisfied enough marketplace demand to generate a profit. In its own testing, Xerox employed engineers and technicians running their own tests, again using tangible equipment that came in the form of units that would always be finite in number. For any firm to run its own tests in R-and-D, it must use up resources, and those are units of resources which other parties are not able to access. Even if those resources remain intact once R-and-D is done, those resources have usually depreciated, meaning the same value cannot be wrung out of them as was wrung when the R-and-D process began.

Arnold Plant and the anti-patent forces citing him have made the point that the very economic “scarcity” they believe to be private property’s main justification is what happens to be absent in the case of practicable designs. They point out that if I produce units from your practicable design in defiance to your wishes, that deprives you neither of your practicable design nor the units that you yourself have produced from that design. Yet Plant and those who cite him have overlooked an important aspect of the creation of those practicable designs. Producing those practicable designs involves using, depreciating, and destroying units of resources that are “scarce.” And, for that reason, the practicable designs that result from the process are “scarce” in number as well.

Note, again, Arthur Plant’s false assumption that while there is no built-in “scarcity” to practicable designs, the introduction of the patents to the legal system does impose an artificial scarcity, as a patent holder enforcing her patent can prevent other parties from introducing, into the marketplace, additional units of products cast from her design. Again, Plant says “patents and copyrights make possible the creation of the scarcity of the products appropriated which could not otherwise be maintained.” For his part, Friedrich August von Hayek just takes it for granted that Plant’s assessment of the situation is accurate: “it is not obvious that...forced scarcity is the most effective way to stimulate the human creative process.”

There is no scarcity of impractical ideas that, if implemented, would not satisfy any marketplace demand. But practicable designs that, when implemented, do satisfy marketplace demand, are scarce. And, contrary to the assumptions of Arnold Plant and F. A. Hayek, that “scarcity” was present prior to the passage of any laws concerning patents or copyrights. That “scarcity” is caused by economic law no less present or consistent than the laws of demand and supply.

The Tragedy of the Public-Domain Commons
Recall that before Carlson won a deal with the Battelle Memorial Institute, he approached twenty corporations for licensing and got rejected by each of them. Imagine what those twenty firms could have done if there was no intellectual property protection for the xerographic photocopier: once the Xerox 914 hit the market in 1959 and finally generated a profit for Xerox — after a quarter-century of being in development and profiting no one — those twenty corporations could have pirated that model with legal impunity.

Those who cite Arnold Plant would celebrate such piracy as wonderful because they proclaim that patent protection imposes an artificial “scarcity” on the number of units of xerographic photocopiers on the market. With the Xerox 914 having patent protection, Xerox did not even have to sell these units; organizational clients had to pay rent to use any units. By contrast, continues Arnold Plant’s reasoning, if the twenty corporations that rejected Carlson were able to pirate Carlson’s design, then that would put that many more units of xerographic photocopiers on the market by the early 1960s. The increased competition would lower prices; maybe Xerox Corporation would be motivated to sell units of the product rather than be stingy and only lease them.
Such an argument is shortsighted.

By pirating Xerox’s intellectual property, those twenty corporations would, in effect, be stealing the value of the a net increase in utility in the economy, utility that previously had not existed and the value of tangible goods that Carlson and Xerox needed to use up and depreciate in the process of developing the Xerox 914. Sandefur’s critique fails to acknowledge that this is what gets “disseised” when someone pirates intellectual property.

The four years that Carlson spent on his model would be for naught. The twenty-five years it took for Carlson’s idea to come to fruition, culminating in the first profitable xerographic photocopier, would be for naught. Would-be inventors who saw what happened to Carlson after twenty-five years of this work would be discouraged from coming up with their own practicable original designs for useful products.

If the law did not protect an apple grower’s right to the orchard he homesteaded, and anyone could trespass onto the orchard and pick off the apples freely, then in the long run there would be fewer apples grown. Likewise, if the law does not protect Chester F. Carlson’s right to have exclusive control over the model he produced, and any capital-rich corporation can pirate his model, then in the long run there will be fewer such practicable models being thought up by inventors. This will happen:

If an inventive party’s right to exclusive control over its own specific original design is not recognized by law because the design is not recognized as the rightful private property that it is, most inventors will be Atlases who “shrug.” The long-term consequence would be that far fewer units of new practicable designs will be placed on the market. Such units really will become “scarce” — scarce in that much darker, Malthusian meaning of the term, scarce as in rapidly dwindling in availability.

Artwork Also Cannot Be Created Without the Usage of Tangible Goods Coming in a Finite Number of Units
The same principle applies to the pirating of artwork. No matter how easy it is to duplicate an artwork, the original version of it was the product of many inputs of tangible goods that always existed as a finite number of units. If Justine uploads an image of a painting she did, it might take me a second to make a JPEG or GIF of the image and pay her nothing for it. But the painting did cost Justine. She spent hours on that painting, hours she could have spent on a more secure form of employment. She inputted units of tangible goods — units consisting of matter — units that are finite in number. Natural resources went into the creation of the paints and brushes she employed; those are units of natural resources and paints that other people will not have.

The same principle would apply to someone who does professional-quality artwork in Photoshop or Microsoft Paint. It takes years of practicing one’s craft to reach that level of quality, and that is time one could otherwise spend on some steadier source of income.

Consider Justine making a feature-length motion picture that takes place in a haunted house — one that is very low-budget but which she intends should still be of professional quality, as she intends to commercialize it. Either she must construct the set herself or she must rent a set that was already constructed. Either way, that involves tangible goods that will always be finite in number. When Justine uses the set, other parties cannot use the set. When specific objects are added to the set to give it the needed ambiance, those objects are not being used by other parties. Maybe this process costs Justine and her investors $10,000, and they plan to recoup the costs by selling DVDs of the movie.

Now imagine people pirating this work, producing perfect digital copies of the movie and paying nothing to Justine and Justine’s investors. According to the argument of Timothy Sandefur and the meme about copying, no theft occurred. After all, Justine and her investors still have the set; they have not lost any of the props they purchased and which remained intact once shooting had been completed. That the movie was pirated does not deprive Justine and her investors of the original print of the movie.

Here, too, observe what the opponents of intellectual property overlook.

When various parties decide to pirate Justine’s movie and pay nothing for it, they are stealing the value of the tangible goods that Justine used up and depreciated in order to make the movie a reality. And once Justine and others like her realize that IP infringers have overwhelmingly obstructed them from recouping the costs they incurred from using up such tangible goods, such independently-but-still-professionally-produced feature-length commercial films will grow scarcer still.

When a designer puts out a work for commercial purposes, she does so on the implicit understanding that in any instance wherein another party obtains custody over another unit of this intellectual property, this is done with the permission of the IP holder. Normally such permission is granted on the condition that the IP holder receives the monetary compensation she set as her price.

Suppose I hire you to do manual labor for me. Then you do it. Then I refrain from paying you. This contractual breach would, in effect, involve me stealing the value of your time and labor — time and labor you otherwise could have spent on some other endeavor. In this instance, I benefited from the time and labor you invested, and you were left unable to recoup that investment when I skipped out on providing the compensation that was always part of the arrangement. Likewise, for me to pirate your IP is for me to benefit from the value that you invested into it, while you are left unable to recoup that investment when I skip out on providing the compensation that was always part of the arrangement.

To wit: making an unauthorized duplicate of Justine’s motion picture does not remove the master copy from her possession, but it does steal from her the value of the resources that Justine invested, consumed, and destroyed for the purpose of bringing about that motion picture and commercializing it.

And yet, even at this point, there are some opponents to IP who insist on conflating IP with protectionism and tariffs. The claim goes, Isn’t the securing of a party’s investment the very purpose of protectionism? If Chrysler demands tariffs against automobiles imported from Japan, isn’t this on the basis that Chrysler already invested lots of capital — fixed costs — on producing units of its product, and that, without tariffs, Chrysler’s ability to recoup its investment will be jeopardized?

Someone who advances such an argument would not be doing anything new, because this rationalization for undermining IP was common in the 1800s. It was advanced by a British Member of Parliament — John Lewis Ricardo, nephew of free-trade economist David Ricardo. As University of Chicago historian Adrian Johns phrases it, John Lewis Ricardo maintained that patents are “the equivalent, in effect, of the navigation acts or the Corn Laws themselves.”

It is true that, in both examples, filmmaker Justine and protectionist Chrysler are trying to protect their investments. Moreover, both Justine and Chrysler expect to be recompensed financially by customers who consume their respective products. The difference is this: If the absence of tariff enforcement allows Chrysler to go out of business, it is because no one bothered to consume any of Chrysler’s products in the first place. No one benefited from Chrysler’s products and that is why no one sent money to Chrysler. By contrast, if the absence of copyright enforcement causes Justine to go out of business, it was because many people enjoyed Justine’s movies but no one paid Justine the money they owed her for it. Those who conflate IP with protectionism ignore the fact that protectionism is about manipulating customers into purchasing inferior units and inferior substitutes they do not value and do not want to consume, whereas IP calls upon customers to pay the money they owe to the party whose contents those customers do value and do consume.

Notice How Opponents of IP Resort to Caricatures and Straw Men About IP Enforcement?
Let us go back to Timothy Sandefur saying, “If, for example, you are...John Fogerty...and you have written...Born on The Bayou,’...then I can sing ‘Born on the Bayou’ in my shower, and you can still, at the same time, use and enjoy your ‘property’ as you wish: you can perform it, sell it, or leave it alone.”

The activity of singing in the shower is generally regarded as comical, and therefore this example might seem to be just levity on Timothy Sandefur’s part. Whether or not that was his main conscious intention, this statement of his happens to be misleading in a way very convenient for Sandefur and other opponents of intellectual property. It is convenient for their straw man. If you sing a famous song in the shower — off-key, as is common for those of us who are not professional musicians — and then the recording artist behind the song sues you over it, that would be rather petty on the part of the recording artist, would it not? On some level, opponents of IP recognize that their argument will fall apart if they do not patch together this straw man that caricatures enforcement of IP as generally something horribly petty.

In real life, no professional musician will sue you for singing his song in the shower. My father had paid gigs as a professional musician in his younger days, but I still sing off-key (my refusal to learn about music was part of my rebellion against him). No one is going to pay to hear me sing “Born on the Bayou” off-key. Fans of the song will still pay money to iTunes to hear the original recording of this song; my singing in the shower is not stealing any of the value of the tangible goods that were inputted when Creedence Clearwater Revival recorded the song. By contrast, if people make perfect digital copies of the original Creedence Clearwater Revival recording and pay nothing to the owner, that is stealing the value of the work of Creedence Clearwater Revival and the value of the sophisticated equipment, which could only exist in a finite number of units, operated in the effort to provide such a sharp recording.

Likewise, if a professional musician, who has had years of his own musical training, is paid to perform John Fogerty’s songs to packed houses without John Fogerty’s permission, that is stealing the value of the perishable tangible goods that John Fogerty had to use up as he wrote those songs. There would be nothing petty about John Fogerty having his lawyer send a letter to that professional musician.

Suppose you own a huge apple orchard. One night, I trespass onto the orchard and fill up just one basket with your apples. Before I leave, you catch me. I then reproach you for your self-righteousness. I point out, “You still have an entire orchard full of apples; I just took a basket’s worth. You still have the trees and the branches you grafted onto them. You can always grow more apples.” That defensive retort ignores all of the inputs for which you had to pay when growing your apples. Likewise, those who deny that the pirating of IP does harm are people who just as easily and conveniently ignore all of the “scarce” inputs for which the inventor had to pay in the effort to produce that IP.

The production of a patentable invention or copyrightable artwork is an arduous process into which “scarce” resources are inputted and invested, and we owe it to those who produce these designs that we recognize that they rightfully exercise legal control over the new value they have created. Those who profess to appreciate the originality that arises from free enterprise should understand that most of all.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Facebook Corporate Thinks Indigenous Peoples Are Pornographic

Stuart K. Hayashi

I have seen a lot of hateful material posted on Facebook -- neo-Nazi stuff screeching about brown-skinned people merely moving into white-majority neighborhoods is a form of "white genocide." And often when you report that sort of material, nothing happens; you get a condescending message from Facebook Corporate saying the racist post was reviewed and no action will be taken.

However, Facebook Corporate did decide to delete a G-rated link I posted to an article from New Scientist magazine titled "How Many Uncontacted Tribes Are Left in the World?"  It is about how there are over 100 hunter-gatherer societies on Earth that have not really made contact with industrialized societies. Link to it here.

When I logged in to Facebook tonight, it greeted me with this condescending message:

I thought, "Goodness, me! Is Facebook Corporate confusing me with those alt-right propagandists whom I have criticized repeatedly? Did I type up something that could be construed as especially insulting toward indigenous peoples?"

After thinking about this, I couldn't imagine anything that Facebook Corporate could consider problematic about the post except that the thumbnail picture showed some indigenous peoples wearing loincloths.  I decided to post the link again:

Mere minutes later, Facebook sent me the same reprimand message again -- the one from above -- and then followed up with this:

Because I was too stupid to understand the first time around, Facebook Corporate spelled out for me that the problem is that the thumbnail picture on my link apparently depicted "nudity and sexual activity."

You know what particularly bothers me about this?  The indigenous peoples depicted in the thumbnail aren't even naked; they are wearing loincloths.  On network television, it is generally considered permissible for the TV program to show hunter-gatherer women bare-chested; I understand that Facebook Corporate is under no obligation to follow the same standard.  But take another look at the thumbnail: it doesn't even show any woman's nipples or anything like that; the thumbnail picture isn't any more revealing that a G-rated version of Tarzan or The Jungle Book; it's just that the photo is of actual hunter-gatherers.

Apparently, Facebook Corporate considers indigenous peoples as such to be too lewd and pornographic? 😐

Monday, March 19, 2018

Intending to Help the Poor Vs. Intending to Go Through the Motions of Helping

or, Why Conservatives Are Wrong to Say Proponents of Disastrous Poverty-Sustaining “Antipoverty” Programs “Care About Intentions and Not Results”

Stuart K. Hayashi

This is a revised version of a previously published post, “Symbolater Syndrome, Pt. 2 of 4.”

California governor Jerry Brown insisting his minimum-wage raise makes sense “morally”
after he just admitted that his economics legislation does not make sense “economically.”

Suppose there is no legally mandated minimum wage, and I am jobless. Then someone named Lysander offers to hire me for $5 per hour. I accept. That is a pay raise right there — I went from making zero to making five dollars per hour. Then the government decrees that there is a minimum wage of $15 per hour. If Lysander is caught paying me $5 per hour, he could be fined or imprisoned. On a cost-benefit analysis, Lysander decides that while he could profit from paying me $5 per hour for the value I add to his business, I don’t add enough value to his business where he would still profit from paying me $15 per hour for that same work. He decides he should not have me working for him. As for the people already in Lysander’s employ, either he fires some of them or keeps them all on while cutting their hours. Far from helping the poor, this measure hurts them. Absent of the minimum wage, I would be making five dollars per hour. With this minimum wage, I am stuck at zero.

For decades, supporters of raising the minimum wage have denied that such a measure has any adverse effect on employment. There is nothing surprising about that. Yet in more recent years, I have noticed a more worrying trend: there are people who support raising the minimum wage who do not deny it.

Yes, They Know It Will Reduce the Income of Some Poor People to Nothing; They Still Do It For the Poor?
I first noticed this in my correspondence with a particular woman online. She and I had become acquainted when discussing GMOs (genetically modified organisms). She properly wanted the government to stop interfering with GMOs — and, later, I learned that she improperly wanted the government to continue interfering with pretty much every other industry. Part of her desire for such interference to continue and expand was her tirades demanding an increase in the minimum wage to what she called a “living wage.”

One of our mutual online acquaintances then showed this woman a study that evinced that, everything else being equal, raises in the minimum wage contribute to reductions in employed work hours for the poor and unskilled.

The woman then replied something to the effect of, Yes, I know the economic argument. I support raising the minimum wage because I care about the well-being of low-income families.

I was floored by her reply. I expected that she would deny that the minimum wage contributes to unemployment among the poor and unskilled. She did not deny it. She refrained from denying it and then she still asserted that raising the minimum wage is “for the poor” and unskilled.

That turned out not to be a fluke, as a higher-profile instance of this phenomenon followed. In early April of 2016, California governor Jerry Brown gave this rationale for demanding an increase in the state’s mandated minimum wage [in the link, I cued it to the precise spot where he begins what I quote him saying]:

Economically, minimum wages may not make sense. But morally and socially and politically they make every sense, because it binds the community together and makes sure that parents can take care of their kids in a much more satisfactory way [emphases Governor Brown’s].

He says it at the 1 minute, 24 second mark.

Let’s translate this. What does it mean for a raise in the minimum wage to “make sense” “economically” or not? An increase or decrease in the poor’s average income, as affected by legislation, is an economic effect. For most of the past five decades, hardly any supporter of a raise in the minimum wage would dispute that the very purpose of a law adjusting the minimum wage is to have an economic effect. Legislation on the minimum wage is, by definition, economic legislation. That is just as the purpose of a comedian telling jokes is to make the audience laugh. To say that you don’t care what is the economic effect of your own legislation — legislation that is, by your own design, touted as economic legislation — is akin to a comedian announcing that he doesn’t care if his jokes are funny.

A government-mandated increase in the minimum wage making sense economically means that raising the minimum wage does exactly what its supporters of the past 50 years have claimed it would do: improve the living standards of the poor and unskilled. Governor Brown contradicts himself in proclaiming that a minimum-wage hike “makes sure that parents can take care of their kids in a much more satisfactory way,” because that will only happen if the minimum-wage hike has the economic effect on low-income people that the minimum-wage hike’s proponents have long insisted that the minimum-wage hike would have. That is, the minimum-wage hike will only ensure that low-income people “can take care of their kids in a much more satisfactory way” if minimum-wage hikes do “make sense” “economically.”

To admit “economically, minimum wages may not make sense” is to admit that legally mandated minimum wages do not in fact help the poor and unskilled as was previously claimed, but that they in fact hurt the poor and unskilled. What is the source of Governor Brown’s apparent contradiction? Governor Brown explains that it makes “every sense” to him “morally.”

To wit, Governor Brown first inadvertently admitted that raising the minimum wage harms rather than helps the poor (the poor being his ostensive value), but he will go through it anyway as a gesture to indicate his moral concern for the well-being of the poor.

It Does Symbolize Concern for the Poor...
This is beyond “idolatry”; it is symbolatry in practice. I define symbolatry as someone sacrificing her own purported value in favor of something that merely symbolizes that very same value. If Governor Brown genuinely valued the well-being of the poor, he would do what “makes sense” for them “economically” — refrain from raising the minimum wage and, more than that, work to abolish it altogether. In lieu of that, he performs a ritual that “makes sense” for him “morally,” which is offering a symbolic gesture of concern for the poor that, by his own inadvertent admission, does actual harm to the poor. The same goes for that aforementioned woman who didn’t even deny the minimum wage raise’s actual effect on the poor. What is purported to be the real value (the well-being of the poor) is being sacrificed and destroyed for the sake of performing a symbolic ritual that is intended to be interpreted as a show of solidarity for those same poor.

Some people might respond that, in this context, my introduction of the term “symbolatry” is unnecessary. They might say there is already a term for this, and it is a term much beloved on Twitter by right-wing people who have cartoon characters for their avatars: “virtue-signaling.” But I am not accusing Governor Brown and that aforementioned woman of mere “virtue-signaling”; there are important differences. To accuse a man of “virtue-signaling” is to put emphasis on his desire to convince other people of his own exalted moral status. Rather, my suspicion is that Governor Brown and that woman are performing the ritual of pushing for this legislation in order to convince themselves that they are caring and morally upright. Furthermore, when a man is accused of “virtue-signaling,” the implication is usually that this symbolic gesture is empty and of no effect. My accusation against Governor Brown and that woman is much harsher: they are trying to convince themselves that their performance of the ritual indicates compassion for the poor and yet, on some level, they are at least vaguely aware that the ritual’s completion — meaning successful passage of the minimum wage increase — will actually harm poor people in real life. This symbolatry has graver consequences than “virtue-signaling” does.

Conservatives Who Say Minimum-Wage Apologists Care About Intentions and Not Results, Need to Learn the Definition of “Intention”
When gestures which symbolize help for the poor — and are actually known to harm the poor — are prioritized above the poor themselves, I do not consider that a good intention. As I said before, it is for that reason that I object to the common right-wing accusation that left-wing supporters of antipoverty measures are all about good intentions while not caring the results. As one Wall Street Journal op-ed put it, “Too many policy makers evaluate new interventions — labor rules, wage laws, environmental regulations — only by what they hope to accomplish. They do not consider the consequences, the unintended effects, and the trouble that their policies will cause for employers and workers…” (emphases added). The subheading that Journal’s editors (not the op-ed’s author) chose was, “Free enterprise is under assault from politicians who only care about good intentions, not results.” A conservative who says this reveals a flaw in his thinking far larger than the flaw he imputes to the left-wingers, as that conservative overlooks the very meaning of a sincere intention.

Just as the concept of “50 percent” derives from “a single unit,” the concept of “sincere intention” derives from the concept of “producing the results desired.” Should I have a sincere intention to erect a stable house or not, then I definitely care if, as results of my efforts, the house gets built and remains standing and stable in the ensuing years. But suppose I announce my strong motivation to build a house and, five years later, you notice no house is built and, when you ask me about it, I shrug it off. Moreover, ever since the day subsequent to my announcement, I made no effort to have the house built. Insofar as I am indifferent to the results, it is proper for you to conclude that I held no sincere intention to build that house after all. And a sincere intention is the only kind of intention there is — to be insincere in professing to intend to build a house is to lack the intention of building a house.

 You can observe the degree to which a person intends to do something by observing the degree to which that person cares about obtaining the results he claims to desire. Even if a person enters a competition she knows she probably will not win, if you observe that she made every effort to do her best within the rules, you know her intention was still to win.

Suppose my home has an insect infestation. I decide to do something about it — I obtain Brand A of an insecticide and spray it. I say that my intention in this is to kill the insects. After the first try, the insect infestation remains. I try four more times; the insects remain. I therefore decide that to attain the desired goal — eliminate the insects — I must try some other measure. I therefore hire an exterminator who uses Brand B on the insects. Finally the insects are gone and I am satisfied.

In that scenario, you can tell that when I claimed my intention was to kill the insects, that was indeed my intention. You can tell as much by how I handled my methodology. I said that I intended to bring about a particular result, and that I was using a particular method — Brand A insecticide — to try to bring about that result. After repeated attempts with this one method, I did not obtain the desired results. Because I was not lying to anyone — not even myself — about intending to kill the insects, I was therefore willing to try another method. In short, if the person saying that he intends to reach that desired goal has tried one method to reach it repeatedly and has always failed with that method, you can tell whether he intends to reach that desired goal by observing his willingness to try some alternative method to reach the desired goal.

 It is therefore illogical to assert that someone has a particular intention when not caring about the result. Someone intends a specific outcome insofar as this person concerns him- or herself with bringing about the result that is this same outcome. The allegation that a politician “cares about intentions and not results” implies that the politician does not care if X happens but does care to take an action solely or mainly in pursuit of making X happen. An intention without concern for results is a contradiction in terms.  For a conservative to accuse anyone of caring about intentions and not results is for that conservative to reveal that he does not understand the meaning of “intention.”

Now suppose I say that I intend to kill all the insects in my home and I try Brand A insecticide. I try four more times and it hasn’t worked. I am introduced to other options. I reject them in favor of trying Brand A insecticide 95 more times, contaminating my house and filling it with fumes. Is it really my intention to eliminate the insects? You would be proper in judging the answer to be no. More likely, my intention was not to eliminate the insects but to go through the motions of “taking action” with respect to fighting off the insects. If my intention was to kill the insects, then the result of killing the insects would take priority over trying Brand A insecticide over and over again after a consistent record of failure.  Indeed, “going through the motions” might have been the original expression for someone merely making gestures that put on the pretense of taking constructive action exactly as one refrains from taking constructive action.

Likewise, if a man says that the intention of his legislation is to reduce poverty, you can observe how much this really was his intention by whether he pays attention to the extent that this legislation actually reduced poverty. Should it be the case that this man and his colleagues successfully pass such legislation across the country and, after four decades of failure, they are still pushing for more legislation of this type, there will come a point where you are rational for doubting that their intention is to reduce poverty. The likelier explanation is that their intention is to go through the motions of “doing something” about it, just as a man who uses the same obviously ineffective insecticide a hundred times intends not to kill the insects but instead to go through the motions of “doing something” about the insects.

This is comparable to how I come across millennials who say that the academic Marxists still existing today genuinely intend to have communism implemented to help the poor.  No, that is not the case.  Perhaps someone who lived in 1848 might be given the benefit of the doubt — maybe a nineteenth-century man might have been naïve enough to believe honestly that communism could cure poverty. But after a century of communism wreaking only destruction — killing Venezuela even as I type these words — its apologists have no such excuse. Marxism’s apologists do not bear an honest intention to help the poor; they, at best, intend merely to go through the motions of caring about the poor. And, incidentally, Karl Marx himself stated explicitly and approvingly that he anticipated that at least hundreds of peaceful people would be killed in the name of communism — he was not naïve about that.

A Man Who Intends to Help the Poor Will Rethink His Prior Support for Particular “Antipoverty” Measures  
By contrast, let’s now take a look at someone whose actions suggest an authentic intention to address poverty. When he first started his campaigns to ameliorate Third World destitution, the musician Bono put all his emphasis on the most conventional measures, such as calling for increased foreign aid and trying to pressure the World Bank to forgive debt to developing countries so that they could obtain even more loans. Back in 2002, Bono told People magazine with some ambivalence, “We are taught not to court success here” in his native Ireland. “There’s an old story about an American and an Irishman looking up at a mansion. The American looks at it and says, ‘One day I’m going to live in that place.’ The Irishman looks at it and says, ‘One day I’m going to get the bastard who lives in that place.’”

But after years of his campaigning, Bono observed that to place most of his emphasis on taxpayer-funded aid was not a winning strategy. Because he did intend to fight poverty, he was therefore willing to adjust his methodology. He eventually observed that political-economic liberalization — what he explicitly called “capitalism” — is the most effective antipoverty measure. By 2012 he explained to Georgetown University students, “Commerce — entrepreneurial capitalism — takes more people out of poverty than aid. Of course we know that.” The dramatic nature of that change in opinion was not lost on Bono; he chuckled and said, “ ‘Rock star preaches capitalism.’ Wow! Sometimes I hear myself and I just can’t believe it!”

Three years later Bono admitted to Rolling Stone that he had decided to make it a priority “to understand commerce — I think that’s very important. If you told me 20 years ago that commerce took more people out of poverty than aid and development, I’d have scoffed.” He is not scoffing anymore. True, he has not given up entirely on recommending taxpayer-funded foreign aid or debt forgiveness, but his willingness to shift emphasis and recommend more liberalization is what evinces that his stated intention to try to fight poverty was indeed his real intention.

Bono talks about capitalism at the 38 minute, 4 second mark.

Conversely, consider some elderly political Progressives, such as Ralph Nader. Purporting to intend to reduce poverty, Ralph Nader has continued for a half-century to urge the very same policy of raising the minimum wage, and, after proclaiming that poverty has not been reduced, he urges this some more. If reducing poverty was Nader’s consistent intention, there would have been some reconsideration on his part, self-reflection in the manner of Bono’s. It is not that Ralph Nader cares about his own intentions and not about the results. Rather, Nader does care about the results, and he is getting the results he intends — to go through the motions and make gestures that symbolize concern for the poor. And as Nader and his disciples obtain success in their having their measures ratified, the poor are hurt.

My final analysis can be phrased in the manner that Robert W. Tracinski phrased it when writing about another governmental intrusion in 2008: “…I’m getting impatient with all of this talk about the Law of Unintended Consequences. It lets the...advocates of government interference in the the hook. . . . How could they help it if there were ‘unintended consequences’...?”

For someone to agitate for legislation that symbolizes helping the poor, all the while knowing on some level that the legislation’s passage will hurt some poor individuals, is not to have good intentions for the poor.

On Wednesday, March 21, 2018, I added the 2012 quotation of Bono about capitalism doing more for the poor than foreign aid does, and I added the 2008 quotation from Robert W. Tracinski.