Friday, April 21, 2017

No, Stefan Molyneux, Ethnic Diversity in a Neighborhood Doesn't Necessarily Cause Social Distrust

Stuart K. Hayashi

The man, the myth, the Molyneux:

Stefan Molyneux and other critics of liberalized immigration policies are fond of citing Australian anthropologist Frank Salter and Bowling Alone author Robert D. Putnam in proclaiming that immigration should be restricted. It is on the grounds, they say, that when immigrants pour into a neighborhood that had previously been ethnically homogeneous, the new heterogeneity fosters more social distrust among everyone in the long run. Molyneux and other opponents of immigration even go on to say that Robert Putnam and Frank Salter prove that if you live in a diverse neighborhood, such a circumstance even reduces your trust in people of your own ethnicity.

The argument is: if I, a man of Japanese ancestry, dwell in a neighborhood where everyone is of pure Japanese ancestry, we will all get along fine. However, if we live in a mixed neighborhood, with blacks and whites and Latinos and Pacific Islanders living near me, I am going to mistrust all of them. Worse, this diversity will cause me to distrust other people of Japanese ancestry.

Molyneux quotes Putnam as saying that "it's not just that we don't trust people who are not like us. In diverse communities, we don't trust people who do look like us."

Although both Salter and Putnam make similar arguments, I should clarify that their political positions should be distinguished from one another. Putnam is quite mainstream and comes across as being more politically center-Left. By contrast, Salter is an unreconstructed ideologue for the alt-right. Citing the famously racist Murray N. Rothbard, Frank Salter proclaims,
Unrestricted migration would harm Australia’s national interests in ways documented by scholars in economics, sociology and related disciplines. Much of the harm is predictable from what is known about the dysfunctions of diversity. can add to Rothbard’s excellent reason for defending the cultural integrity of nations. All the benefits of relative homogeneity (and thus of assimilation and prudent immigration) documented above belong to nations, not to multi-ethnic states. . . . This is what Rothbard was getting at.

But, as Kenan Malik notes, data contradict Putnam, Salter, and those who cite them to vilify liberalized immigration, such as Molyneux.

More recent research has...questioned [Robert Putnam's] conclusions. The latest such study, led by Patrick Sturgis, director of Britain’s National Centre for Research Methods, investigated the relationship between diversity and trust within London. It discovered the opposite relationship to Putnam. Once the researchers had allowed for social and economic deprivation, they found that “ethnic diversity is ... positively related to social cohesion, with significantly higher levels of cohesion evident as ethnic heterogeneity increases.”

The paper Malik cites is Patrick Sturgis, et al., "Ethnic Diversity, Segregation, and the Social Cohesion of Neighbourhoods in London," Ethnic and Racial Studies vol. 37 (no. 8, 2014): 1286-1309.

At the end of my first major blog post about Stefan Molyneux's fanaticism, on November 29, 2015, I wrote, "I am familiar with the argument that people have an easier time getting along when they're all the same ethnicity; I think there might be an empirical basis for that descriptive evaluation." Today I retract that; there was not even an adequate basis for making any concessions to Molyneux's demagoguery on this count. On this conclusion, Putnam was erring at best, while Salter and Molyneux have put forth this falsehood as part of their attempt to rationalize their bigotry.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Normalization of Taxation; or, Why It's NOT Obvious That Taxation Is Theft

Stuart K. Hayashi

In libertarian and Objectivist circles, I have seen memes circulating on Facebook announcing "Taxation is theft" and providing no elaboration on how such a conclusion was reached, as if such a conclusion is obvious to anyone with common sense. Even when delivered in a facetious tone, such memes fail to persuade anyone not already under the apprehension that taxation is theft -- that is, the memes are unpersuasive to most of the population. Worse, as far as most people are concerned, your choice to share such memes on Facebook are interpreted as being indicative that you are just some kook; to your friends, it would make just as much sense if you went walking around wearing your pants on backward.

What shall become of you if you do not fork over your taxes? Armed men will come after you and toss you in their dungeon -- and if you physically struggle against them, the level of violence will escalate. What justification do the armed men provide for this action? If these armed men do not take your money at gunpoint, the result would be that society would plunge into chaos, and then just about anyone could take your money at gunpoint.

You need these armed men to take your money at gunpoint, so that they can stop armed men from taking your money at gunpoint!

Therefore, if I go around telling everyone taxation is theft, everyone will understand immediately, right? Of course not. The truth is that most people are more afraid of gangs and random thugs than they are of the IRS -- and I can empathize with their reasons.

I Feared That Mugger More Than I Did the IRS
A few years ago, a relative of mine suffered a mugging right in front of her house (yes, that even happens in Hawaii). A man took her purse and, though she struggled not a bit against him, he punched her in the stomach, putting her in the hospital. As you can imagine, this gave my whole family a scare. Since, around this time, I was going around telling everyone "Taxation is theft," I had to face that this incident had me much more afraid than any of my encounters with tax collection agencies and more afraid than I was when police had pulled me over. I had to ask myself why.

The reason why most people are less afraid of the IRS than they are of regular extortionists is that the IRS is supposed to be more predictable and behave with greater regularity.

If a random mugger comes upon you, you do not know what will happen next. Should you hand over the loot, the mugger might still punch you, as one such thug did to my relative. The mugger might rape you.

By contrast, every year, you know what time is tax time. When you deal with the IRS -- even if it audits you -- you can expect the IRS to follow certain rules. While the IRS also threatens violence against you should you refrain from complying with its demands the very facts that the IRS is somewhat predictable, and that it gives you some idea of what to expect, likewise give you more of a feeling of control than a random mugger does. Hence, the IRS incites less fear.

Definitely, this cannot morally excuse the threats of extortion that the IRS sends out. Here is an example I use: suppose that tribute was being extracted you regularly from the mafia, and yet the mafia, for the most part, told you what to expect from it. And then the mafia followed through on everything it promised. The mafia told you it would expect you to hand over ten percent of your income on the first of every month. And if you got into a dispute where some loot-collecting agent said you had not paid him, whereas you insist you did cough up the cash, you could actually take this up with a higher-up in the mafia. You would still fear what the mafia could do to you as punishment, but the very fact that the mafia had deliberately made itself so predictable would lessen your fear a bit over time. On a perverse level, you could become accustomed to this. I call this the Rationalization Through Normalization.

Yes, I know there are horror stories where the IRS has behaved unpredictably. There are cases where some IRS employee simply got annoyed by someone and therefore behaved vindictively. There are a whole string of U.S. presidents -- Franklin Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton -- who used the IRS as as political tool, siccing it on critics. But, for the most part, the IRS still behaves with regularity and predictability -- sometimes IRS agents who behave in a vindictive, unprofessional manner are caught and disciplined.

Moreover, most Americans were "taught" in civics class, just as I was, the Hobbesian Social Contract Theory. It is, as Oliver Wendell Holmes said, that the price of civilization is that you fork over a portion of cash, on a regular basis, to a man threatening to put a gun to your head. People genuinely believe that if not for this extortion, there will be no roads, no schools, and no police to protect you from extortionists.

And when people say that we need compulsory taxation so that we are protected from extortionists, they are not being fully hypocritical. The difference is that if there is absolute chaos, the private extortionists who threaten you are not bound by any Due Process rules; they are much more unpredictable and can do what they want: after getting your money, they could still punch you or rape you. Most people would rather deal with an extortionist agency that is expected by the Constitution to behave with regularity, predictability, and transparent rules, than deal with violent thugs.

Helping People Understand They Don’t Need This Extortion
Therefore, when I talk with most people -- people who believe compulsory taxation is the price we pay for civilization -- it is not helpful for me to reproach them for their apologia for theft and extortion. For them, that makes just as much sense as my telling them that mushrooms have wings and fly. No, in lieu of issuing moral condemnations against compulsory taxation at this point, it helps to inform these people that the one difference between the governmental sector and nongovernmental sector is that the governmental sector is supposed to derive its enforcement powers through the threat of violence, whereas the nongovernmental sector is expected by law not to be violent. Anything that can be done with threats from armed men, can be done without governmental intervention.

You can point out how, throughout the nineteenth century, private citizens and entrepreneurs were the ones who financed and built the roads: such privately financed roads connected entire cities, such as from Lancaster to Philadelphia. You can point out to them that it was private volunteer fire departments that got the job done, and that private associations made public libraries.

Once people are made more aware that they don't need everything to be financed by governmental extortion, they become less afraid that everything will fall apart without it. Then they are more amenable to the ethical arguments, and the explanation of why, if the IRS behaves with more regularity and predictability than do random muggers, that does not morally justify the extortion involved. This is important context that is not provided in humorous memes that simply say "Taxation is theft." If it were obvious to people that taxation is theft, we would not having to make the case that we make.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Yes, Virginia, a Compromise on Moral Principle Is a Compromise Between a Healthy Body and a Monotonic Toxin

Stuart K. Hayashi

Virginia Postrel

When discussing the folly of compromising on moral principle, Objectivists are fond of saying, "In a compromise between food and poison, only death can win." In a paragraph wherein she ridicules Objectivists and other free-marketers she accuses of being too narrow-minded, the writer Virginia Postrel, the former editor-in-chief of Reason magazine, offers this smug riposte to the claim that one cannot survive a compromise between food and poison: what you said is "news to toxicologists."

Technically, that's correct. In the cases of most substances, what makes something toxic to you or not is the dosage level. You need oxygen to live, but a high enough dose of oxygen will make the oxygen poisonous to you; it will kill you. A high dose of lead will kill you, but if it is diluted enough, it won't. A high dose of chlorine, by itself, will poison you, but if a small enough dose of it is in a swimming pool full of water, it can protect you.

In a compromise between food and dioxin, death won't win if the dioxin is diluted enough.

By contrast, something is a monotonic toxin if even the tiniest dose of it has the same overall adverse effect as a larger dose. An example would be a malignant tumor or HIV.

A compromise with a malignant tumor would involve cutting out but a portion of it. Removing half a malignant tumor won't reduce your chances of mortality by fifty percent. Likewise, in a compromise between a healthy body and HIV, a greatly increased chance of mortality is what will win.

Corruption is a malignant tumor -- cutting out half the corruption won't stop the corruption from growing. Psychologists have scientific evidence of this. Erica Goode writes in the New York Times that once someone tells a small lie, that precedent makes it easier to compound the lies.

The finding, the researchers said, provides evidence for the "slippery slope" sometimes described by wayward politicians, corrupt financiers, unfaithful spouses and others in explaining their misconduct. 
"They usually tell a story where they started small and got larger and larger, and then they suddenly found themselves committing quite severe acts," said Tali Sharot, an associate professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London. She was a senior author of the study, published on Monday in the journal Nature Neuroscience. . . .

Participants in the study were asked to advise a partner in another room about how many pennies were in a jar. When the subjects believed that lying about the amount of money was to their benefit, they were more inclined to dishonesty and their lies escalated over time. As lying increased, the response in the amygdala decreased. And the size of the decline from one trial to another predicted how much bigger a subject’s next lie would be. 
These findings suggested that the negative emotional signals initially associated with lying decrease as the brain becomes desensitized, Dr. Sharot said.

Check out that paper on Google Scholar over here.

When you dabble in "just a little bit" of an activity you consider corrupt, just that "little" dabbling helps normalize the activity for you, and thus makes it easier to continue at a more intense level.

When a healthy body compromises with a monotonic toxin, that's a net loss for that healthy body.  A compromise on moral principles is a compromise with a monotonic toxin.

The title of this post originally said "Healthy Body and HIV."  Later I felt "HIV" being in the title was too sensationalistic; on April 21, 2017, I changed it to "Healthy Body and a Monotonic Toxin."

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

If Trump Imposes a 15% Tariff, What You Pay in Taxes for an Import Will Be More Than 15%: Here's Why

Stuart K. Hayashi

If Donald Trump imposes a 15 percent tariff on items imported from China and Mexico, you will actually pay more than 15 percent in import taxes on each item.

The reason for this is that the tariff is not a tax that the customer, at the retail level, pays directly to the government. Rather, a vendor on the supply chain is the party that pays the tax directly to the government. In turn, that vendor passes the cost of that tax onto the customer. When the customer pays the tax indirectly, through the intermediary of a vendor, what the customer pays in taxes is in excess of the stated tax rate.

The difference can be explained by the difference between sales taxes and Hawaii’s general excise tax. A sales tax is charged only at the retail level, and the customer -- not the vendor -- pays it directly. Suppose you go to the store and pay for a one-dollar item, and the sales tax is 15 percent. You, as the customer, give $1.15 to the store. The store owner takes $1 for herself and then logs the 15-cent tax in a separate book.

Hawaii is different from most states in that instead of a sales tax, it has a general excise tax (GET). This is charged not merely at the retail level but on every level of the supply chain. However, even if the GET were charged only at the retail level, a 15 percent General Excise Tax would still cost the customer more money than would a 15 percent sales tax. This is precisely because the GET is paid directly by the vendor instead of the customer, and therefore the customer pays it indirectly.

Suppose I am a store owner and I want to obtain $1 for an item that you purchase from me. If I charge you only $1 for it, I will be taxed 15 cents on it and be left only with $0.85 for it. I want to obtain all of the $1. Therefore, I charge you what is called the rollover rate. When you want to purchase a $1 item from me, I charge you $1.18 for it. When I pay a 15-percent tax on that $1.18 I obtained from you, I pay 18 cents in taxes and keep the $1.

Thus, we see the following: if you as a customer are charged directly a 15 percent sales tax, you pay 15 cents in tax for a $1 item. If the vendor is charged directly a 15 percent tax, you pay 18 cents to account for the tax on a $1 item.

Because it is a vendor on the supply chain who pays the 15 percent tariff -- as opposed to the customer at the end of the supply chain paying it -- the customer will end up paying more than 15 cents on each dollar for the import.