Carbon taxes and pandemics

PXL_20201224_103929583 Prompted by an exchange on Titter beginning with that nice JA: a pandemic is such a problem for the right, as it's an existential threat to their entire philosophy of individualism. There's a lot of language clutter in there which is probably irremovable (I don't regard myself as part of the "right" but I am very keen on "individualism" re-written as "lack of coercion" or as "as opposed to tribalism") but the exchange continues with my CC can be (largely, in theory) solved by carbon tax; but it is hard to see a pandemic equivalent.

The carbon tax part first, prompted by the-Ken-formerly-known-as-ATTP's not understanding my carbon taxes are ensuring that the costs of emissions are factored into those emissions; a subtle but important difference [from the idea that they are a payment for the damages]. I say "my" but the idea is of course not mine, and was transmitted to me by Timmy (via PeteB in that case, but I'm pretty sure there's a better example I failed to find). Also, disclaimer, IANAE. This is all part of prices-are-information theory. For most things, the price of the thing reflects the cost of making it (and marketing it, and so on) and you-the-consumer get to decide if that price is low enough for you to want to buy it. And so we have economically sane activity: things are bought (and therefore, are made) if there is demand, at price. But there are externalities, the most obvious of which is CO2, whose cost is not in the product. And so we risk economically insane activity: things being made, whose (total, true) cost is less than their sale price. Which is to say, the process destroys rather than creates value.

This version of the theory doesn't require govts to use the carbon tax proceeds for any particular cause... building windmills, paying for storm prevention, insulating homes, whatever. The other version, KR's which I shall unkindly call the "naive theory", is that the carbon tax is paying, in advance, for a cost that will be incurred. This is - I now think - a mistake, but one I've made before1. If it is a mistake, it should have some consequences; ideally I'd be able to say "but then when you apply it to this, it all goes wrong". But I think it is only a theoretical mistake; sort-of like the way using a Hamiltonian helps you to get from classical to QM physics.


The Covid pandemic rolls on, depressingly. There's a new strain, of greater transmissibility but as yet not-known-greater-damage; Cambridge(shire) is in tier 4, thus scuppering my plans to visit the Lakes (I say these things for context so that when I come back in years future I'll know about where we are).

But just as, in theory, a carbon tax is a liberty-preserving solution to GW, is there an equivalent to lockdowns (which greatly resemble, because indeed they are, regulation). JA offers In theory we could pay for people to isolate as required. That itself wouldn’t solve the problem but it would surely help but I think that's problematic (I think he intends this as a liberty-preserving solution, not as a solution; but I don't think it is. The liberty it doesn't preserve, in case it isn't visible at first sight, is of the people you'll have to take the money from). If you want the "std" answer (with the caveat that there isn't a std answer4) then I think the best presentation I've seen is Life-Years Lost: The Quantity and The Quality by Bryan Caplan. This attempts to use cost-benefit analysis3 to show that reaction2 to Covid has cost more than the unchecked pandemic would have cost (and was therefore a bad idea).

I don't know whether I believe it or not; I incline towards belief. The analogy I'd use - and argument from analogy is always valid, recall - to answer the inevitable "but people would die; life degraded through lower quality doesn't matter in the same way; you can't sum up lives" is with the inevitable reactions to protectionism: the benefits (preserving our jobs) are visible and accrue to obvious people; the losses (higher costs for everyone; bureaucracy; more govt) are diffuse and hard to see.


interreg isn't a thing I'm familiar with. My picture is of a poster - found on the kiosk on Jesus Green near the lock - which says there is an initiative to increase tree cover in Cambridge. I can't say I've noticed any such, or even that there are obvious ways to do so. It might draw a hollow laugh from the folks on Milton road who have tied yellow ribbons around their trees to protest plans to cut them down. But don't let me be too negative; there may be some as-yet-unperceived value in the scheme. Indeed this bit is part of Nature Smart Cities across the 2 Seas programme and specifically the Cambridge bit is Cambridge Canopy Project: the average tree canopy cover figure is 16% in England. Cambridge currently has 17% tree canopy cover. We are working to increase this to 19%, which will need more than 800,000m2 of new tree cover


Update: Schadenfreunde

Probably a mistake, but I can't resist. At the time of the initial outbreaks, much was made of the incompetence of the right-wing US and UK govts in contrast to the more successful socialist responses of various countries, most notably Germany. But that success - though you could note various factors that made it plausible - was always a bit mysterious, and has fallen apart recently. Though I've left it long enough that they're back below us now (although possibly the over-Christmas data isn't totally reliable, and the sharp falls from US, Germany and France might be spurious). And yes, if you count cumulative deaths then Germany has done significantly better.

Update: economics and morality

The Twitter conversation continues as, apparently, a sequence of misunderstandings on my part: see the conversation, perhaps ending at KR's All I really mean is that how we assess the costs cannot really be done in a truly value-free way.  So, even if we do decide to estimate the price of carbon emissions and to then use that to set a carbon tax, this is not a value-free assessment. With which I have no disagreement. Some aspects of economic costs of GW are explicitly value judgements: how much do we value lost mountain glaciers? And some are value judgements, but wrapped in economics: if we lose winter skiing, how many jobs are lost? The latter is more measureable, but still value judgements, because the choices of the people that wanted to go skiing are inevitably part of the economics.

You might - if you have a decent memory - object that this contradicts my earlier That it is easier to agree on economics than morality and in some ways it does, or at least pushes against it. And so - given that there are people who would make the mistake of calling economics value-free - it isn't unreasonable for KR to make this point. I'll paraphrase what I said at Morality and economicsI don’t, of course, mean to suggest that it is entirely an economic and not at all an ethical problem. I mean to suggest (see aforementioned post) that thinking about it primarily as ethical [value-judgement] is unhelpful.

Update: FT's sausage pic

Updated, in response to CIP's comment, the FT's "sausage" pic, which to me shows that initially it was all EU and US; in the middle, EU dwindles to nothing and the US is a small proportion of the global total; and now Europe plus US is 60+% ot the total whilst everyone else is sort-of stable. Admittedly, these are reported, so perhaps it is possible that Europe and US are better at the reporting; but I can't see how that explains it all.



* Congratulations to James and Jules for being part of Science breakthrough of the year (runner-up).

* Donald Trump's influence will evaporate once he leaves office. Here's why; Julius Krein, in the Graun. This is close to what I think, but few others seem to be saying; our celeb-obsessed news world, sez I. Trump, out of power, will fade away; and doesn't have the staying power to regroup for 2024.

Not even half-way there - JA

* New Year Wish: Political Wars of Religion? by Pierre Lemieux - the will of the People

Matt Zwolinski Replies

* The Biden Administration Just Failed its First Science Integrity Test; Pricing carbon makes good sense but should not come at the expense of scientific integrity; by Roger Pielke Jr.

Shipping now faces the highest price on carbon for any global industry


1. Also I have a feeling that when I said this before, Richard Tol said no, it was also paying for damages, so if you prefer you may take his viewpoint with some degree of support.

2. An analogy that he doesn't make is the immune system's allergic response.

3. See my failed attempt to propose similar.

4. Another is Lockdowns and the Presumption of Liberty by Don Boudreaux; or Nice vaccine; pity there's no distribution mechanism by Scott Sumner


A warning on climate and the risk of societal collapse?

PXL_20201212_185625846 Just when you were bored with Covid, along comes a little light relief in the form of A warning on climate and the risk of societal collapse. It is full of the usual ill-defined hand-wringing, will be ignored - we can hope - by just about everyone, except for the denialists (who will use it as yet more evidence of alarmism), the nutters (whose belief in collapse will be reinforced) and the commenterati who will entertain themselves writing pointless blogs about it. Like this one :-)

Or so I wrote about a week ago, thought "nah, even I don't care enough", and left it in draft. But now, you lucky people, you get to read these words 'cos ATTP has blogged on it3 - and tastefully quotes me, always nice to see. His justification is I think we should be willing to discuss worst-case scenarios so as to, ideally, avoid them, and while that is an uplifting sentiment, it doesn't justify the letter, because the letter adds absolutely nothing, and we're already discussing GW, under whatever name you please. As usual in these discussions, there's a sop to the whatever-you-call-them by talking about "global north" but this is a pointless distinction best ignored. There are various WYCT countries where society actually is collapsing - Sudan, say; or Yemen, depending on your standards for this ill-defined "collapse" - but this has little to do with GW2 and almost everything to do with crap govt, either in the country concerned or its neighbours.

Having said that, since I bothered to write the words below, I'll publish them:

Let's start with While bold and fair efforts to cut emissions and naturally drawdown carbon are essential. That sounds both noble and bold. One pictures a mighty Climate Leader, helping hand supporting some oppressed peasants, noble chin uplifted and mighty hand pointing boldly forwards into the glorious carbon-neutral future. But actually, restricting yourself strictly to "fair" efforts is a mistake: would you really refuse to save the planet, if it was only possibly to do so unfairly? And notice that they say that fairness is essential, so that is what they are saying. Nor can it be turned around: it is not plausible to claim that only fair efforts have any chance of success. Similarly, I'm doubtful of the bold part of the claim, with it's implication of extraordinary efforts designed to scare off people who are doubtful of the Cause. More likely commonplace efforts and sanity (like the Krauts not shutting down their nukes, the Yankees not slapping tariffs on Chink solar panels) and a carbon tax would do1.

Continuing, researchers in many areas consider societal collapse a credible scenario this century. Do they really? How might we evaluate such a claim? Well, if only the idiots who wrote the letter had provided some details, or even a link to the details elsewhere, it could be evaluated. Failing that, it's just empty words. For my part, I think certain groups of people are rather prone to overestimate the fragility of society; everything from Covid to the so-called Great Recession is taken of evidence of such fragility, rather than what it actually is, i.e. the reverse.

I think you can tell how broken their thinking is from their worry about the way modern societies exploit people. Yes, exploiting people is indeed a concern, but has little or nothing to do with the possibility of collapse. It is a perfectly valid concern about fairness, which they're entirely welcome to worry about, but mixing it all together with GW into a muddy slurry of words helps no-one.

Who is responsible for this guff? If you click on "246 others" you end up at http://iflas.blogspot.com/2020/12/international-scholars-warning-on.html which leads me to https://www.cumbria.ac.uk/research/centres/iflas/our-people/ which leads me to Jem Bendell. Say no more guv.

Update: so, does thinking about "societal collapse" help? Although I've criticised their thinking as broken, what about the underlying idea: does framing the problem in terms of societal collapse help at all? It doesn't seem to have helped them - other than in the matter of that all-important publication count and getting your name in the papers - because they didn't manage to say anything interesting or new. The "bar" of interest is I think 2 oC - or arguably 1.5 oC - because we've already "agreed" so-to-speak to limit ourselves to +2 oC, so anything that kicks in much higher than that isn't very interesting. Would SC happen before +2? If ecosystems collapse, then perhaps, but we're already worrying about EC, so that gets you nothing. Is there some excitingly non-linear effect that we're missing? If so, we're missing it, and this hasn't helped find it. Perhaps the subtext is "ooooooh, modern society is so complex and therefore fragile, we should, like, go back to a simpler era maan and live in harmony with nature". But that's wrong: modern society is complex and therefore resilient.


If it isn’t catastrophic we’ve got nothing to worry about, have we? - my post that ATTP refs, but at the Wordpress address. Those were the days when I could just toss off a quick post. * Welfare in the 21st century: Increasing development, reducing inequality, the impact of climate change, and the cost of climate policies - BjornLomborg4
The impact of climate change, and the cost of climate policies - ATTP.

Recommendations for Improving the Treatment of Risk and Uncertainty in Economic Estimates of Climate Impacts in the Sixth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Assessment Report?


1. You could argue that such efforts are out of the ordinary, which in this world alas is true. And yes, I know it's too late for the Krauts.

2. And phrasing it as "Not all of this is climate related" is I think deceptive.

3. Which is fine. Re-reading this, I may sound a bit harsh on him, which I don't intend, but rather than rephrase anything I'll just add this little note which will make everything better.

4. Reminder. Inclusion of a reference does not imply that I agree with it.


The dim and distant history of Global Warming on Usenet

125035466_1640259442837036_5068309285886602215_o Once upon a time, before blogs and wiki and even before the web, there was Usenet; and on Usenet there was sci.environment. This was a loooong time ago. Punting back through Google Groups I can find stuff going back to the unimaginably distant past of 1994. Here's a link to it. My recollection is that Usenet groups were not archived; disk space was scarce in those days, and anyway Usenet was for discussion; why would you bother archive it? Things that needed archiving were kept elsewhere; for example, every now and again Robert Parson would post a link to the Ozone FAQ. Dejanews began archiving in 1995; and later got bought out by Google, which accounts for the beginnings I now see.

I turned up somewhat earlier, but I cannot now recall how early; certainly, after I joined BAs in 1990. Almost the first thing I saw was the classic "what do you mean 'we', white man?" joke, immeadiately followed in true welcome-to-Usenet style by some fool misunderstanding it and getting all huffy. 

The great virtue of Usenet was that no-one owned it and anyone could post. The great vice of Usenet was that no-one owned it and so anyone could post1. My recollection is that things got worse, particularly as internet access became more common and more fools came online, but that may just me believing in the Age of Gold, which you shouldn't, except for exceptional cases. Nonetheless, it did do away with tedious arguments about comment censorship on blogs, and I did sometimes advise people to post there during the period they ran in parallel; I gave up Usenet in 2006. 

The cast of characters in those days was rather different. When I turned up folks like Robert Grumbine, Michael Tobis were already there, and now I look at early 2005 so were Raymond Pierrehumbert, Len Evens, Carlo Izzo, Robert Parson, Rich Puchalsky, John McCarthy, Jan Schloerer, Dean Myerson, David B. Benson, Paul Farrar, Carl J Lydick, James Annan, Ian St. John, David Ball, Coby Beck, Lloyd Parker, FerdiEgb, Roger Coppock, Eric Swanson, Steve Schulin, Scott Nudds, Bruce Hamilton, Thomas Palm, H. E. Taylor, Steinn Sigurdsson, Alastair McDonald, Peter Hearnden, James B. Shearer, Josh Halpern and probably many others who I have rudely forgotten, but those are all names I recall, somewhat vaguely, and could probably divide roughly into "good", "bad" and "squonk", which latter class I've just had to invent; if it helps, JMC is put into it. For these were early days, the science of GW was unclear (do not believe the fools that tell you we knew it all in 1960, or 1970, or 1980...), most of that science was not on the web (because the web didn't exist; recall that Netscape was formed in 1994) but was "hidden" in hard to access libraries; even the 1990 IPCC report wasn't widely available. "Yeah, GW might be a thing, but I am unconvinced" wasn't an unreasonable position, for anyone unfamiliar with the science. The unambiguously "bad" were a small minority.

So quite a lot of the conversation was noobs asking noob questions and getting polite and useful replies. The rest of it, apart from pure noise, was the usual kind of global warming wars. Over time, it became obvious that something more consolidated and buildable was more useful for the general-questions aspect; Wikipedia came to fill that role.

There was also sci.geo.meteorology, which was more science-like, as you'd hope, and thus lower traffic, as you'd expect. For example, someone in 1995 asked for the BAS website, and I pointed them to our FTP, which had GTS data. There was also talk.environment, but that was even noisier than sci., and I think I ignored it.

What did we talk about? The earliest thread I can find is about what would a zero CO2 world be like? JMC wanted to tell us why we should postpone coming to a steady state in population, energy use, and flow of materials for 50 or 100 years. Hugh Easton got in early on that perennial favourite, Will polar ice melt more quickly than previously thought? There was a kinda thread on can-forcing-produce-negative-output but it didn't go terribly well. We even did solar cycle length and solar forcing; but that was before Damon and Laut.

Well, that will do. On the whole, I didn't find wading through the past particularly enlightening.


1. Late on - 2006, I see - "we" created a moderated group, see James' Announcing: Moderated global change discussion forum, and at one point JA discouraged comments at his own blog, in favour of responses there, if I recall correctly (I can find one instance of me doing similar). As a noble attempt to deal with the S/N ratio problem on sci.env, without being subject to the whim of one person's moderation, it was a bold endeavor, but I believe it failed.



Coronavirus days: SCOTUS

PXL_20201112_103007048 What with Trump giving up, things were in danger of becoming dull, but happily the SCOTUS has come along to liven up our lives, by upholding the constitution1, in particular the "free exercise" clause of the first amendment. Which I think is beautifully crafted, so I'll quote the whole thing: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Bold for the FE clause, obvs, is not in the original.

You might thing that the "Congress" in that limits the clause to the Feds, but this is not so, by the incorporation doctrine; for "Congress", read "any layer of govt". 

People make the most basic of errors in reporting on this2. The NYT, which really should know better, asserts that "In an unsigned opinion, the majority said Mr. Cuomo’s restrictions violated the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion". But that's not true. Instead, it has said that the applicants "have shown that their First Amendment claims are likely to prevail". This is, after all, but an injunction, not a judgement. It merely prevents NY from "enforcing Executive Order 202.68’s 10- and 25-person occupancy limits on applicant pending disposition of the appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and disposition of the petition for a writ of certiorari, if such writ is timely sought". This is the court doing the bare minimum it can, whilst having regard to the constitution; and reserving the right to change it's mind later. Doubtless they hope that the lower courts will decide, and it won't come back to them, now they've fired this warning shot.

The facts of the case are generally agreed, except for how restricted the religious were, in comparison to comparable secular institutions. Here the concept of "essential" businesses comes in, and NY (and the dissents) rely rather heavily on the literal use of the word essential. If this word could be clearly used and had a clear meaning that might work; but it can't and it doesn't: businesses are things that sell things or services, and one persons essential is another's frippery; as Gorsuch notes, "acupuncturists, and liquor stores" are on the essential list. The religious also note, and I don't see NY denying, that large stores had no attendance limits imposed on them. The imposed limits made no concessions to the size of the building, and this seems like a simple error on NY's part, as the ruling makes clear: "Among other things, the maximum attendance at a religious service could be tied to the size of the church or synagogue". If NY offers any explanation for why it refuses to do this, I missed it. And I really really hate it when da govt behaves unreasonably and refuses to explain itself.

Although the case turns on FE, I'd also take more seriously "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion"; ideally laws should simply not mention religion; they should be written in a general way ("any building may only have x people per y square meters of floor area...").

The dissent leans on the religious being treated no more harshly than, say, lecture theatres or cinemas. And there's a question there: do you compare the treatment of the religious to those you're treating most harshly, or those you're treating least harshly, or those you think are most comparable, in some sense. G deals with this by asserting that if you create a "favoured" class - the so-called essential - then you must compare the religious to that. This is, incidentally, admitting that the FE clause isn't absolute; that the state may override it if essential; and that deference is due to the executive; but this is nothing new.

Roberts says that the case is moot - as it technically is at this point - because the religious are not currently afflicted by the zones; and therefore would deny relief, whilst admitting that if things change, they could come back. That seems like a combination of an attempt to keep the peace of his polarised court, and a laudable attempt to avoiding ruling where no ruling is needed. Although "keeping lawyers out of USAnian life" is a ship that has sailed.

Overall, I think this represents the court giving a rap over the knuckles to arbitrary govt, and I approve of that. If your response is "but this will lead to super-spreading" then you've failed to notice that all agree that it is currently moot.

Other people's opinions

Brian: I'm shocked at how conservative judges have manipulated the law but shouldn't be. Power to quarantine is a fundamental power of govt dating centuries. Right not to be quarantined is an unenumerated right wholly invented by conservatives, in the last year. My reply: That seems mad. You may not like the decision but it could be reasonably argued either way.

So, the main point: Brian errs, I am certain, by regarding the judgement as outside the bounds of reason. I happen to think it was right, but had it gone the other way, it would have been merely a different and not unreasonable interpretation. Secondary: Brian is here trying to win the argument by "stealing" words. There is no "Right not to be quarantined" and no-one has suggested there is any such right; instead, there is a right to liberty and freedom from unreasonable govt interference, and the quarantine is just an aspect of that. "Power to quarantine" is somewhat dubious; this rests less on anything explicit and mostly on people-have-done-that-before; like, for example, interning Japanese-ancestry folk during WWI.

Cuomo speaks

There's been a fair amount of complaints in the UK about the govt not showing proper respect for court judgements, and I think complaints about Trump, too; so what about Cuomo. I think he fails: the NYT quotes him saying "You have a different court, and I think that was the statement that the court was making... We know who [Trump] appointed to the court. We know their ideology".


Christian school in Kentucky asks justices to intervene in dispute over in-person classes at religious schools looks to be taking the piss: this is a case where the state has closed public and private elementary, middle, and high schools and the religious want a pass. I think they'll lose, and that they should.


1. Yes yes I know, I'm being provocative, this is the broad-brush intro, read on for the details.

2. A hostage to fortune if there ever was one. Go on, do your worst.



* The Pivotal Justice in the Supreme Court Decision? by  Pierre Lemieux. The "The" point is one I thought about then decided to ignore, as uninteresting. But the last para is worth copying: An observation of a different sort is that all three Justices nominated by outgoing president Donald Trump voted to defend freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment, which is a good point in his favor—although he himself, to say the least, did not demonstrate strong preferences for the free-speech protections in the same amendment. The Supreme Court decision also suggests that conservative judges are often more likely to protect individual liberties than “liberal” ones, even if caveats are in order, including regarding Justice Roberts in this case. We are told that Trump consulted the Federalist Society on judicial nominations instead of relying on his empty and dangerous intuitions. One wishes he had done the same on trade and other economic matters.

Hire people who give a shit


An alarmist take on the Supreme Court’s agenda by Zachary Price; A review of Ian "Vox" Millhiser, The Agenda: How a Republican Supreme Court Is Reshaping America.


Coronavirus days: does science help?

covid-again I can't answer that, but the Economist has a recent article Are governments following the science on covid-19? Which has a chart of how much a country's scientists think that policymakers have followed scientific advice. Scraping the numbers for the "agree or strongly agree" line (using "disagree or strongly disagree" produces much the same), I can compare that to deaths-per-million. The Economist itself doesn't attempt any quantification, contenting itself with The countries hit hardest by the pandemic have been those where policymakers have strayed furthest from scientific recommendations. In Brazil, for example, most researchers believe expert advice has been disregarded. In America, which appears at the bottom of the Frontiers ranking, Donald Trump has dismissed his public-health advisers as “idiots”, mocked face masks and suggested that the disease might be treated with injections of disinfectant.

So there is a relationship, and it even goes in the right direction: more scienceyness gets you fewer deaths. But the scatter is large and the relationship looks weak (I threw in an Excel regression line).


* Speaking of science, the Graun's relentless negativity is notable: "For all its bluster, the UK will continue to be a customer of others’ innovations, not an inventor of its own". What, we're going to invent and innovate nothing? FFS. Of course we're not got to invent everything whatever our idiot gov says, but going to the opposite extreme is cretinous.

Climate change doesn’t work like that?

IMG_20201104_223215_500 ATTP, in Climate change doesn’t work like that, makes the conventional "the streets will be yards deep in horse shit" mistake: "On our current trajectory1, atmospheric CO2 will remain above 400ppm for thousands of years, and won’t return to pre-industrial levels for 100s of thousands of years". 

Of course, this is only true if nature takes it's course, which (assuming our industrial civilisation survives the next 100 years, which in itself seems very likely) is very unlikely. If we get that far, pulling CO2 out of the air is very likely to be possible in 100 years, and almost undoubtedly possible in 1000 years; so speculations as to CO2 levels thousands of years into the future that ignore human influence are pointless.


1. Of course he doesn't mean "current trajectory"; if we follow that, CO2 will continue increasing from our emissions; he means, "even if we stop emitting in ~2050 and then allow levels to naturally decline" I think.


The dim and distant history of Global Warming on Wiki: the GW wars

50540415507_74b10d7c15_o After the intro, the next step really ought to be the development from there. But, perhaps the wars of ~2010 are of more interest; they are for at least one other person, hence this post; and they also seem to be of more interest to me, in that I can be bothered to write about them a bit. From my viewpoint, of course; if you're expecting self-criticism, look elsewhere. There is very little to say that is new; but the material is getting hard to find.

If you look at my talk page, you'll find the case of 2010, Wikipedia:Arbitration/Requests/Case/Climate change, which ran June to October. If you're wondering what I thought about it, you can read my talk page, trawl through my responses at the case, or read what I wrote at the time, They make a wasteland and call it peace; having just re-read that, I haven't changed my mind.

Preceeding, and somewhat overlapping with that, was Wikipedia:General sanctions/Climate change probation/RFC. This was a sort-of attempt to handle the problem within the community, rather than via Arbcomm. It didn't work - we ended up with an Arbcomm case - for a variety of reasons, mostly the entrenched disagreements, but also because of Admin fuckwittery. It is perhaps unfair to single out anyone in particular since the problem was widespread; The Wordsmith and I think Lar spring to mind; but it was a long time ago and I'm afraid I haven't kept the burning flame of animosity as bright as I might have hoped.

Not directly relevant to GW, but affecting my wiki-reputation and so indirectly relevant, was 2009's Wikipedia:Arbitration/Requests/Case/Cold fusion 2, which is the one that got me de-sysopped. I wrote something about that in Up before the beak again; that, too, demonstrated Arbcomm's stupidity, in failing to realise that Abd was a useless twat. Preceeding that was another case, which is hard to interpret unless you know that Giano has a lot of influential friends.

Before that, so long ago that I found it hard to find, was Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/Climate change dispute. That was a much smaller issue mostly caused by two denialists; it featured the Great Edit War over the Greenhouse Effect article. That case was also poorly handled, though it improved in Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/Climate change dispute 2 when the revert parole on me was declared a mistake and removed; thnx Stephan. See-also Connolley has done such amazing work...

Returning back to 2010 post Arbcomm, what was the result? Apart from the regrettable scorched-earth stuff, it was a Victory for Science, in that the articles remained sane. There's a long-standing question of why the denialists and nutters fared so badly; not really understanding the science didn't help them, of course; but the exact mechanism or process by which this works out is obscure.


Wikipedia as soap opera - 2005

No-one understands wiki, part n+1

A child’s garden of wikipedia, part II

Wikipedia: the dim and distant history of NPOV


Me on USAnian politics

PXL_20201026_101945221 Well, there's an election coming up - you may have noticed - so it is Time to Opine, thereby fixing my words in stone for posterity to hold against me. Just like last time the presidential choice is unappealling. Trump is, obviously, horrible: personally, and in many but not all policies. By contrast Biden is a nice enough std.pol, or at least projects that as an image, but it is hard to get enthused over his policies. Given his opponent I hope he wins; and given a choice I'd hold my nose and vote for him2; and in the remainder I'll assume he wins, as that seems quite likely3.

Perhaps a place to start is The Economist's The pragmatist: Joe Biden would not remake America’s economy: He would improve its fortunes, though. It isn't anything very complimentary, mostly a discussion of a list of special cases, because Biden - as far as I can tell - doesn't have much in the way of principlesthat you could derive general policies from, and so would govern by a series of ad-hoc decisions. Not as badly as Trump, though, since Trump often seems to be either genuinely malicious or shamelessly self-centered. A quote: having rejected its signature policies and outmanoeuvred its star figures, Mr Biden might try to placate the left of his party by giving it lots of jobs in the regulatory apparatus where they would emit a cacophony of left-sounding signals.

Another place might be my WATN: Trump from 2018, wherein I defend my assessment of him overall as "minor"5. Given all the outrage that might seem perverse, but - as the Economist notes - while Biden might be nicer than Trump there are quite a few dumb Trump policies, most obviously tariffs on China, that Biden isn't in any hurry to revoke, at least judging him by public utterances. And yet, conversely, if those hadn't been in place I doubt he'd have added them. So he seems rather a let-things-be kinda guy. While this is an improvement on Trumps do-random-dumb-things, it doesn't seem terribly glorious or inspiring or principled.

What would I like to see him say that he hasn't? That he'd drop the protectionism (he won't say this, but might slowly edge that way, quietly); that he'd push for voting reform such as prohibiting gerrymandering; that he'd continue Trump's people's deregulationary intent (obviously, no hope there); that he'd like a carbon tax. That's he'd back away from the Google-bashing Trump has started so strangely. And so on.


The Evil Repubs have pushed through Amy Coney Barrett, thereby demonstrating conclusively that they are not gentlemen; the Dems, alas, had no real principle with which to oppose this: their pathetically weak argument was that the Repubs had said, four years ago, that they wouldn't do this kind of thing. Suppose the Dems are in any position to do anything about this (which I take to mean controlling the presidency and the senate) what should they do? Astonishingly, Biden's plan - a special commission to suggest supreme court reforms - makes sense to me. Despite all the angst, ACB will probably turn out much less exciting than feared4; and the threat of court-packing will probably constrain the court. And if you did want to "rebalance" as Brian does, adding two seats to a 6-3 split isn't really going to help; you'd need to be bold and add 4, which would probably be regarded as Well Over The Top.

SCOTUS: update

Biden to create bipartisan commission on Supreme Court reform says SCOTUSblog, so it is happening. But also In Harvard speech, Breyer speaks out against “court packing”. He makes the obvious point: that if you piss around with the court for political reasons, people will, errm, think it politicised. And what people think matters. I Twat Eli about it.

2021/10: the committee is getting somewhere near publishing, and - quite weirdly - finds it hard to agree on anything. SCOTUSblog.

Repubs post Trump

Shirley it is not too much to hope that, if Trump is defeated, the Repubs will come to their senses? I like Steve Landsburg's My fantasy outcome for next week’s election is for Trump to lose every state by a wide margin while mainstream Republicans take over both houses of Congress and revert to their better selves.


* America’s election: Why it has to be Biden: Donald Trump has desecrated the values that make America a beacon to the world - the Economist:  THE COUNTRY that elected Donald Trump in 2016 was unhappy and divided. The country he is asking to re-elect him is more unhappy and more divided. After almost four years of his leadership, politics is even angrier than it was and partisanship even less constrained. Daily life is consumed by a pandemic that has registered almost 230,000 deaths amid bickering, buck-passing and lies. Much of that is Mr Trump’s doing, and his victory on November 3rd would endorse it all. Joe Biden is not a miracle cure for what ails America. But he is a good man who would restore steadiness and civility to the White House. He is equipped to begin the long, difficult task of putting a fractured country back together again. That is why, if we had a vote, it would go to Joe. And then quite interestingly Mr Trump has fallen short less in his role as the head of America’s government than as the head of state. He and his administration can claim their share of political wins and losses, just like administrations before them. But as the guardian of America’s values, the conscience of the nation and America’s voice in the world, he has dismally failed to measure up to the task.

The moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the Republican Party?

The Volokh Conspiracy: Why Biden is a Lesser Evil than Trump by ILYA SOMIN.

Trump no more: Joe Biden is set to capture the White House: After a hard electoral battle the Democrats have almost certainly won the presidency, but they have done less well than they had hoped - the Economist.

Why a Vast Election Fraud is Highly Implausible by Pierre Lemieux 
America changes course, while remaining very much the same - the Economist: in other words, this race ended up looking very much like what would occur if a generic Republican ran against a generic Democrat in a year when not much of note took place.

Elections Are Neither a Ruler's Toy Nor a Sacred Panacea

* Theses on Trump (SSC, from before). Also SSC: plebs like Trump because although wealthy, he is clearly a pleb himself.


1. Distinguish "doesn't have much in the way of principles" as in not really having anything that would guide your political course from "is unprincipled" meaning "a bad person; untrustworthy".

2. For anyone uncertain, I'm in the UK, so I don't have a vote. Elections like this, with candidates like these, are a great advert for the idea of "negative voting"; I'd vote "not Trump", if I could, in preference to "for Biden".

3. With the appropriate genuflections to the gods for the impiety of being hopeful out loud.

4. This is my SCOTUS prediction. That, and to note that Gorsuch and Kavanaugh haven't done anything outrageous yet.

5. Clear evidence of this is found in Counterfactuals: What If Clinton Had Won in 2016? by Pierre Lemieux.


Exclusive: GM, Ford knew about climate change 50 years ago?

tempt The latest installment in a long line of bollox. E&E News breathlessly tells us that Scientists at two of America's biggest automakers knew as early as the 1960s that car emissions caused climate change, a monthslong investigation by E&E News has found.

Can they really prove this? Of course: In a 1975 paper in Science, she asserted that aerosols caused "heating of the atmosphere near the poles... published in the Journal of Applied Meteorology in 1979. It focused on albedo, or the measure of how well a surface reflects sunlight. Their second paper, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research in 1981, explored "increases in the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide." Or perhaps you prefer: Before arriving at Ford, Plass had published a series of eye-grabbing pieces on the climate, including a 1956 article in the magazine American Scientist titled "Carbon Dioxide and the Climate" and a 1956 paper in the journal Tellus titled "The Carbon Dioxide Theory of Climatic Change." And so on. In case you should think that these papers were ignored - and therefore the auto-makers, who, errm, sponsored them before they employed these people, errrm, had some kind of inside track, E&E helpfully destroys its own case by noting that Plass' findings reached the highest levels of the U.S. scientific community.

Yup, you read that right: their evidence was that they published public research papers. In other words, the "GM, Ford knew", with its implication (actually, more than an implication: E&E lies directly: More than two decades after GM and Ford privately confirmed the dangers of climate change...) of sekrit knowledge, is utter drivel: whatever they knew was public. This is the fruit of a months long investigation? 

All of this stuff is stupid. It is done by idiots trying to plump up their public profile, and with a future eye on lawsuits, which judging by Alsup will fall over horribly because they will learn nothing from that case. The idea that people really knew with any confidence about GW in the 1960s is obvious drivel; see previous posts; at best, you could claim that the first IPCC report in 1990 is a good date, but even that is doubtful, if you've ever read the thing. The idea that the oil companies, or anyone else, knew anything sekrit is also drivel: #everyoneknew.



* More drivel, this time a Twat from Alexandria Ocasio-CortezI’m willing to hold you accountable for lying about climate change for 30 years when you secretly knew the entire time that fossil fuels emissions would destroy our planet. Fuckwit.


Mistah Morner – he dead

Another Hollow Man shuffles off, though I don't have an RS for that1, only the Potty Peer. Oh, the shame. Does no one else notice, let alone care? Morner made it into Myths of the Near Future all the way back in 2005, though he was only #10 on the list. That seems to be about it, though I did also glancingly diss him in 2018.


Nils-Axel Mörner har gått bort - he's also dead in Swedish.
* Another one bites the dust (Fred Singer, 2020).
Science advances one funeral at a time (Robert Carter, 2016).


1. I do now (2021/02): Prof. Dr. Niklas M¨orner (1938–2020) (arch) by Alberto Boretti, though since it includes "he was still able to cleverly debunk sea-level alarmism" it is perhaps not entirely reliable. AB seems a minor remote figure; could not someone more prestigious be found? The only place I know of him is via Yet another bunch of nutters, where JM asserts he is also Albert Parker, of whom I also know nothing.


Coronavirus days: the only way is up

Not so long ago, when I last wrote - the first of October - the Beeb was reporting "Covid-19: Growth in cases may be slowing in England". That was stupid, even at the time4, and has not aged well. Now a more typical headline is Coronavirus: Northern Ireland set to announce partial lockdown: Stormont thrashes out plan including closure of businesses and schools, as well as new limits on gatherings. Our own idiot populace bears much responsibility for this, with stuff like Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson says partying crowds have 'shamed' the city being all too common1. And lest we somehow think our glorious British govt uniquely incompetent2, I include this nice pic from the FT, showing the Spanish doing about twice as badly as us right now, and the French roughly as rubbish as us. And even the nice Krauts are suffering something of an uptick, though doubtless they will crush it.

But now let us turn our thoughts towards the future, helpfully projected - note, projected, not predicted - by JA. We see a peak of perhaps 5k stiffs/day5, about 5x the initial peak, and surely that would not be tolerable; our medical services would be overwhelmed, not to mention the sadness of so many premature deaths.

But we have left it rather late to turn the ship around. As JA thoughtfully notes today, we have "baked in" a significant increase already, and unless the govt does something soon other than rename things, we'll soon be baking even more.

In retrospect, the relaxation in July instead of continuing to drive the numbers down, looks to be an error. But I'm pretty sure the natives were getting restless at that point - see comment above about our poor-quality population - and the relaxation was definitely popular. So overall I'd say we're getting the epidemic we deserve, and I feel somewhat pessimistic about the future3.

Leaving aside the prospects of a higher quality citizenry, the other obvious failing is anything vaguely competent in the nature of test, or trace. The latter I think I have something of a hard time believing in, but the test element could be done so much better, and should be. It also looks like I am to some extent getting what I wished for in "Regionalism", but in the confused atmosphere of a state occupied by morons, I see how hard this concept is to explain. Can we perhaps be more Swedish? I wanted to say something sympathetic about The Great Barrington Declaration, too. So I have.

Update: circuit-breaker

People - including Labour - have called for a "circuit-breaker" of a couple of weeks. I think this is an example of people giving a name to an idea, and then taking the name for the thing, an imagining that because the thing has a given name, it will work as the name implies. But reality isn't like that.

Update: GDP

Cruel though it is to say it from my comfortable position, I don't think the impact on GDP is as large or as important as it looks. To an extent, we're losing "fluff". Of course I regret losing my weekly coffee-in-Waterstone's, and this loss reduces GDP, and someone is no longer being paid to serve it to me; but this loss in the service economy isn't as serious as losing food production or imports; and so on. It also implies, to my mind, in a rather half-formed thought, that the country can "afford" to continue paying wages for those so laid off; though in this experiment, to maintain balance, the money would have to come from the likes of me, which is to say higher taxes.


1. Good liberal commentators like the Graun struggle personfully to blame it all on the Govt, or Boris; but this is a pathetic abdication of responsibility: people are responsible for themselves, if they are adults.

2. That nice SR seems rather prone to this particular error.

3. I say that from the comfort of my home, and my desk job that has if anything got more comfortable in lock-down. I miss my Saturday coffee-n-book in Waterstone's, and of course the bumps were cancelled, but that's about as bad as it gets for me personally.

4. It now appears that while this drivel was appearing in public, behind the scenes by Sept 21st SAGE was arguing Cases are increasing across the country in all age groups... the doubling time might be as low as 7-8 days... not acting now to reduce cases will result in a very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences... If schools are to remain open, then a wide range of other measures will be required... [including] A circuit-breaker (short period of lockdown) to return incidence to low levels and so on. It is now 3+ weeks later with only the token changes.

5. Somewhere on Twatter I think he qualified that somewhat; with different parameters you could plausibly halve the peak perhaps; but even 2.5 k would be a lot.


* COVID-19: nowcast and forecast; Paul Birrell, Joshua Blake, Edwin van Leeuwen, MRC Biostatistics Unit COVID-19 Working Group, Daniela De Angelis - turns out to be optimistic
Quotation of the Day… "Donald Trump, Peter Navarro, Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, Bernie Sanders, Oren Cass – the list is long of people who continue proudly to peddle the economic equivalent of Ptolemy’s “theory” of celestial spheres".


Coronavirus days: fog of war

Things are getting somewhat confusing. In our own parochial UK... no wait, in our own parochial East, things aren't too bad; we're one of the lower regions. But in the UK as a whole, there's uncertainty. There are so many clamouring voices saying so many things, it's no wonder people don't really know what is going on. Some of the voices are genuinely trying to help, some are just looking for the oxygen of publicity, but the end result is unclarity.

I think the prime example of this is Covid-19: Growth in cases may be slowing in England:

The growth in cases of coronavirus may be slowing down, the largest study of the infection in England suggests. A team at Imperial College London analysed samples from 84,000 people chosen at random from across the country. They said the R number, the virus's reproduction number, appears to have fallen since measures including the "rule of six" were introduced. However, they warn cases are high, with one in every 200 people infected. The React study is highly influential, both due to its size and because it gives an up-to-date picture of how the virus is spreading. The last samples used in the analysis were collected as recently as Saturday. It was the previous React report that found infections were doubling every seven to eight days in late August and early September... Then the research group estimated the R number for their study - the average number of people each infected person is passing the virus on to - was 1.7. The latest analysis, of swab samples collected between 19 and 26 September, suggests the R number has fallen to about 1.1 - although the precise figure is uncertain.

EjOIRCqXsAIGdSH This is from Dear Aunty Beeb, you can trust her even in times of war, and all that gumpf. However is it true? Probably not. Consider the pic, stolen from Oliver Johnson's Twat. It-was-1.7-it-is-now-1.1 is based on interpretation B. Whereas interpretation A seems more natural.  Apart from anything else, B is discontinuous, which is unphysical. Also I just don't trust their underlying "explanation" for the slowdown: that the Glorious Leader's "rule of six" has pulled down R. That may have made some difference, but not a lot; and the return-to-school and return-to-university has certainly pulled the numbers in the opposite direction; finger-in-the-air, I'd say those latter two will have made more difference. JA is barely able to believe that people are still falling for this stuff, and yet they do. People want the Bad Thing to go away.

[Update: alerted by Twatter, I bothered to read further down the article, and find However, Prof Oliver Johnson, from the University of Bristol, said the conclusion that cases were slowing down was "wrong and dangerous". And he doubts both the old and the new estimates of the R value. He said: "I suspect they were both wrong, and it was actually more like R=1.4 each time.". So not finding that the first time was a bit crap of me. But burying it so far down was even crapper of the Beeb.

More people not being dead impressed can be found at [E]xpert reaction to preprint with the latest interim data from the REACT-1 study on COVID-19 spread across England, but even there they lead with someone liking it.]

Also, version A is consistent with James Annan's daily-updated modelling, which looks vastly more sane than anything Imperial have been able to do. I admit that I did lose faith a little when deaths clearly fell below the curve towards the end of August, but happily the corpses have started stacking up since then, and my trust is restored.

The govt of course has not helped the aura of confusion by being a pack of incompetent clowns; but there's more blame to go round. The media have been irresponsible too, and not a few of my fellow citizens have been dumb enough to go out partying, the tossers1.

It is conventional to compare Science in Covid and Global Warming. When Science delivers us a vaccine, all will be well let us hope, but at the moment Science isn't doing a brilliant job on Covid, except in a rather confused, muddling-along, ants-moving-a-leaf kind of way. Certainly in the UK we haven't managed to get any competent unified voice speaking sense. SAGE is too tied to the govt; and anyway doesn't seem to manage to be particularly sensible, and doesn't really speak in public. Unlike, say, the IPCC. Though the IPCC has the luxury of much longer timescales; and doesn't I think say much that is influential on the economics, instead grinding over long-solved problems in ever greater detail2

Indeed the competence of (local?) govt seems to be more important than Science; though the latest FT Covid pix blow the idea of some Socialist Miracle; France and Spain now have deaths well over the UK; only the Squareheads are looking good.

Away from whingeing, via PaulThis Overlooked Variable Is the Key to the Pandemic from The Atlantic. Oversold, of course, but perhaps correct in that looking at the average too much hides important information.


Today's random restrictions, by region - DailyMash
* Self-Help Is Like a Vaccine by Bryan Caplan
* Ridiculous Widespread Beliefs by DON BOUDREAUX and Expert Failure to Know
Jeez People, Get This Right - Timmy
* Adding to my JA Twit collection; shame he is so restrained.

* The Dunning-Kruger effect: Misunderstood, misrepresented, overused and … non-existent? Just stop using it!

* Opinion: The case for voting against presidential candidates by GEORGE LEEF. But, why only for presidential voting? I've advocated similar, but can't now find where. Related: Why Can't They Both Lose?


1. Anecdote: a friend of my daughter's is at St Andrews, now isolating in his household, because another member of the household has got Covid, due to going out and screwing around. This is irresponsible, but on a statistical level that's going to happen when young folk go away from home.

2. I exaggerate for effect, you understand.


Kant on Morality

[Another incomplete draft, published at end of year. I didn't finish this, and it isn't as polished as I'd hope, but may be interesting anyway.]

Kant, eh? Famously deep and impenetrable. I am of course reading him in translation. He's not big on defining his terms and I therefore frequently have to guess what he means in important matters. This is annoying; bring back Popper, all is forgiven.

Kant feels the need to put morality on a sound theoretical footing. In this he is like many others going back to the antient Greeks. He fails, in my opinion; and in this he is also like the others. Is the task even of any value? As he himself notes:

There is no one, not even the most hardened scoundrel-provided only he is accustomed to use reason in other ways-who, when presented with examples of honesty in purpose, of faithfulness to good maxims, of sympathy, and of kindness towards all (even when these are bound up with great sacrifices of advantage and comfort), does not wish that he too might be a man of like spirit. He is unable to realise such an aim in his own person-though only on account of his desires and impulses; but yet at the same time he wishes to be free from these inclinations, which are a burden to himself. By such a wish he shows that having a will free from sensuous impulses he transfers himself in thought into an order of things quite different from that of his desires in the field of sensibility: for from the fulfilment of this wish he can expect no gratification of his sensuous desires and consequently no state which would satisfy any of his actual or even conceivable inclinations (since by such an expectation the very Idea which elicited the wish would be deprived of its superiority): all he can expect is a greater inner worth of his own person.

I include that partly maliciously so you can get a sense of his language. So for me the task is less to produce a theoretical understanding of morals, than a practical understanding1: how is it that even "scoundrels" have a good moral sense? To this end, Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments is more to the point.

Is there anything of practical value in the work? Yes, three things.

1. The Categorial Imperative (CI): Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law. Or some variation thereof.

2. Treating people as ends in themselves, rather than means to your end.

3. The idea that acting morally correctly from a sense of duty and / or respect for the law, is more worthwhile in some sense than exactly the same actions, performed because you wanted to anyway.

But just like Descartes, this is a thin core wrapped around by a mighty barricade of long words. Point 2 is nice, and not the sort of thing that the Plato of the Republic can say, but does not I think count as Deep. Furthermore it is problematic. If everyone is an end, how do you resolve conflicts? Are you ever allowed to kill people? Kant forbids suicide, so killing someone else would appear problematic, that would make war impossible, which you might agree with; but I don't think he did. But we resolve these problems in a practical way: the rule is not absolute, derived from axioms like geometry and eternally true: it is merely a rule of thumb, a guideline to thinking about how you might act. Although it doesn't really work in everyday life: if you go to the shops, you will probably treat the shelf-fillers and the checkout people as simple means-to-your-end; treating them as ends in themselves is almost meaningless. You will recognise that they have their own ends, if you stop to think about them at all, but that's different.

Point 3, similarly, can be pushed too far and Kant proceeds to do exactly that, asserting that moral worth comes only from acting in accord with duty, untainted by your own inclinations. Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments gets closer to the right answer, when he says that a benefactor would think himself poorly rewarded if the benefactee acted coldly from only a strict sense of duty.

Point 1 whilst an interesting thing to think about and argue about is not that different from the Golden Rule of immemorial antiquity: treat others as you would be treated. Indeed, arguably that is a better formulation not subject to the many objections to Kant's version. Inevitably, the Kant fanbois aren't happy with this, but that's the problem with reading commentary on philosophy: so much is written by fanbois.

Kant's is an axiom schema not an axiom or maxim; I think there's some confused language around that, but as it wasn't terribly interesting I didn't trouble with the details. The first obvious problem is with "act only": does this mean that all of my acts, down to the most trivial, should be so constrained? This seems implausible, but I don't see anything clarifying it. The answer I think is that Kant is so focussed on moral problems that he has forgotten everyday life. So I think he means it to apply to moral problems. But that doesn't dispose of the problems, because for example "improving oneself" is a moral duty and while the general concept can be generally willed, we can't all write blogposts about Kant; so again we have to allow some latitude for his imprecision.

At which point, we begin the fun game of "can we think of things that can be generally willed but which K wouldn't like?". One, which to give him credit he tries to deal with, is suicide. He forbids it. Why? The true answer is probably that it was part of his religious upbringing; but it is also a rather inconvenient generally-willable thing. K's arguments against are not plausible, so you'll have to read them yourself. His next example, deception, fares better. The third, "failing to cultivate one's talents", is as unconvincing as the first; and the fourth, charity, fares no better.

However, K gives only these negative examples. He provides no positive examples - at least, not in this work. So we're left with the possibility that no maxims satisfy the CI, which would be regrettable, from a pure-philosophy viewpoint. We could imagine that the negatives of his examples - don't kill yourself, tell the truth, be charitable, develope your talents - would suit. The first, alas, is somewhat questionable, and not really very useful anyway. The others verge on the bleedin' obvious, so also don't get you very far.


[I have a section heading on God here, so I clearly intended to write something, but have forgotten what.]

Free Will

Kant ties himself in knots over Free Will. His problem is that morality implies choice and there is no choice without free will. For me on Free Will, see this from 2018 ("Update" section); or this from 2006. So the correct solution, for Kant's purposes, is to simply assert as an axiom the existence of Free Will. But, no, that's too simple for him, so he blathers on pointlessly page after page.


* Kant's Cats.

Book Review: The Righteous Mind.

Moral Knowledge: A Question of Timing - Bryan Caplan and Ayn Rand.


1. I wonder why I thought that? Now (2021/07) it doesn't seem true.


Russell on Rouseau and the Romantics

119194030_1580768688786112_4489331878176668598_o The chapter on Rousseau begins with the witty Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712–78), though a philosophe in the eighteenth-century French sense, was not what would now be called a 'philosopher'. Nevertheless he had a powerful influence on philosophy, as on literature and taste and manners and politics. Whatever may be our opinion of his merits as a thinker, we must recognize his immense importance as a social force. This importance came mainly from his appeal to the heart, and to what, in his day, was called 'sensibility'. He is the father of the romantic movement, the initiator of systems of thought which infer non-human facts from human emotions, and the inventor of the political philosophy of pseudo-democratic dictatorships as opposed to traditional absolute monarchies. Ever since his time, those who considered themselves reformers have been divided into two groups, those who followed him and those who followed Locke. Sometimes they co-operated, and many individuals saw no incompatibility. But gradually the incompatibility has become increasingly evident. At the present time, Hitler is an outcome of Rousseau; Roosevelt and Churchill, of Locke. I skip over the matter of his personal morals.

Closer to my particular point is the chapter preceding, on the Romantic movement:

It is not the psychology of the romantics that is at fault: it is their standard of values. They admire strong passions, of no matter what kind, and whatever may be their social consequences. Romantic love, especially when unfortunate, is strong enough to win their approval, but most of the strongest passions are destructive—hate and resentment and jealousy, remorse and despair, outraged pride and the fury of the unjustly oppressed, martial ardour and contempt for slaves and cowards. Hence the type of man encouraged by romanticism, especially of the Byronic variety, is violent and anti-social, an anarchic rebel or a conquering tyrant.

This outlook makes an appeal for which the reasons lie very deep in human nature and human circumstances. By self-interest Man has become gregarious, but in instinct he has remained to a great extent solitary; hence the need of religion and morality to reinforce self-interest. But the habit of forgoing present satisfactions for the sake of future advantages is irksome, and when passions are roused the prudent restraints of social behaviour become difficult to endure. Those who, at such times, throw them off, acquire a new energy and sense of power from the cessation of inner conflict, and, though they may come to disaster in the end, enjoy meanwhile a sense of godlike exaltation which, though known to the great mystics, can never be experienced by a merely pedestrian virtue. The solitary part of their nature reasserts itself, but if the intellect survives the reassertion must clothe itself in myth. The mystic becomes one with God, and in the contemplation of the Infinite feels himself absolved from duty to his neighbour. The anarchic rebel does even better: he feels himself not one with God, but God. Truth and duty, which represent our subjection to matter and to our neighbours, exist no longer for the man who has become God; for others, truth is what he posits, duty what he commands. If we could all live solitary and without labour, we could all enjoy this ecstasy of independence; since we cannot, its delights are only available to madmen and dictators...

The romantic movement, in its essence, aimed at liberating human personality from the fetters of social convention and social morality. In part, these fetters were a mere useless hindrance to desirable forms of activity, for every ancient community has developed rules of behaviour for which there is nothing to be said except that they are traditional. But egoistic passions, when once let loose, are not easily brought again into subjection to the needs of society. Christianity has succeeded, to some extent, in taming the Ego, but economic, political, and intellectual causes stimulated revolt against the Churches, and the romantic movement brought the revolt into the sphere of morals. By encouraging a new lawless Ego it made social co-operation impossible, and left its disciples faced with the alternative of anarchy or despotism. Egoism, at first, made men expect from others a parental tenderness; but when they discovered, with indignation, that others had their own Ego, the disappointed desire for tenderness turned to hatred and violence. Man is not a solitary animal, and so long as social life survives, self-realization cannot be the supreme principle of ethics.

It looks like he agrees with Popper - or perhaps vice versa  - over Hegel (both Fichte and Hegel were philosophic mouthpieces of Prussia). All this may become clearer when I write my long-delayed review of TOSAIE. But I stopped too soon; back directly to Rousseau:

In theology he made an innovation which has now been accepted by the great majority of Protestant theologians. Before him, every philosopher from Plato onwards, if he believed in God, offered intellectual arguments in favour of his belief. The arguments may not, to us, seem very convincing, and we may feel that they would not have seemed cogent to anyone who did not already feel sure of the truth of the conclusion. But the philosopher who advanced the arguments certainly believed them to be logically valid, and such as should cause certainty of God's existence in any unprejudiced person of sufficient philosophical capacity. Modern Protestants who urge us to believe in God, for the most part, despise the old 'proofs', and base their faith upon some aspect of human nature—emotions of awe or mystery, the sense of right and wrong, the feeling of aspiration, and so on. This way of defending religious belief was invented by Rousseau. It has become so familiar that his originality may easily not be appreciated by a modern reader, unless he will take the trouble to compare Rousseau with (say) Descartes or Leibniz... 

The rejection of reason in favour of the heart was not, to my mind, an advance. In fact, no one thought of this device so long as reason appeared to be on the side of religious belief. In Rousseau's environment, reason, as represented by Voltaire, was opposed to religion, therefore away with reason! Moreover reason was abstruse and difficult; the savage, even when he has dined, cannot understand the ontological argument, and yet the savage is the repository of all necessary wisdom. Rousseau's savage—who was not the savage known to anthropologists—was a good husband and a kind father; he was destitute of greed, and had a religion of natural kindliness. He was a convenient person, but if he could follow the good Vicar's reasons for believing in God he must have had more philosophy than his innocent naïveté would lead one to expect.

Apart from the fictitious character of Rousseau's 'natural man', there are two objections to the practice of basing beliefs as to objective fact upon the emotions of the heart. One is that there is no reason whatever to suppose that such beliefs will be true; the other is, that the resulting beliefs will be private, since the heart says different things to different people.


There's a bit more worth adding, for my future reference if nothing else. The end of the chapter: The Social Contract became the Bible of most of the leaders in the French Revolution, but no doubt, as is the fate of Bibles, it was not carefully read and was still less understood by many of its disciples. It reintroduced the habit of metaphysical abstractions among the theorists of democracy, and by its doctrine of the general will it made possible the mystic identification of a leader with his people, which has no need of confirmation by so mundane an apparatus as the ballot-box. Much of its philosophy could be appropriated by Hegel in his defence of the Prussian autocracy. Its first-fruits in practice were the reign of Robespierre; the dictatorships of Russia and Germany (especially the latter) are in part an outcome of Rousseau's teaching. What further triumphs the future has to offer to his ghost I do not venture to predict.

And then there's Kant, who doesn't really belong here, but at the moment I don't want to give him a page to himself, and Russell has him in the "Romantic" tradition. See-also Kant's Cats where Popper tries to make sense of him. Kant is held to be "difficult" and obscure, and I've not read him; and of course I'd be reading a translation, which will inevitably filter in the translators ideas, because Kant is so obscure as to be hard to translate, unlike Popper. Anyway.

One of Kant's proofs of the existence of God is given as The argument is that the moral law demands justice, i.e. happiness proportional to virtue. Only Providence can insure this, and has evidently not insured it in this life. Therefore there is a God and a future life; and there must be freedom, since otherwise there would be no such thing as virtue. This is an interesting thought, but obviously also bollox.

There's also Kant's apparent belief in what I think are called synthetic a priori, which is things not of pure logic that can be deduced outside of actual experience. Of which - I think; but it is obscure, and his defenders obscure it more - the Euclidean nature of Space is one. As Russell puts it: The transcendental (or epistemological) argument, which is best stated in the Prolegomena, is more definite than the metaphysical arguments, and is also more definitely refutable. 'Geometry', as we now know, is a name covering two different studies. On the one hand, there is pure geometry, which deduces consequences from axioms, without inquiring whether the axioms are 'true'; this contains nothing that does not follow from logic, and is not 'synthetic', and has no need of figures such as are used in geometrical textbooks. On the other hand, there is geometry as a branch of physics, as it appears, for example, in the general theory of relativity; this is an empirical science, in which the axioms are inferred from measurements, and are found to differ from Euclid's. Thus of the two kinds of geometry one is a priori but not synthetic, while the other is synthetic but not a priori. This disposes of the transcendental argument. Or in other words, Science 1, Philosphy 0. Again.


SAGE versus reality - James; not forgetting the Weekly RRRRRRReport.
* It's Complicated: Grasping the Syllogism by Bryan Caplan: interesting, but not one of his best.
* An Unpersuasive Book with Some Encouraging Insights - Henderson on Raghuram Rajan's "the Third Pillar".