2021-02-26

Shamima Begum cannot return to UK, Supreme Court rules

PXL_20210226_102316064 Not the real supreme court, of course, just the UK one. From the Beeb:

It did not give the home secretary's assessment the respect which it should have received, given that it is the home secretary who has been charged by Parliament with responsibility for making such assessments, and who is democratically accountable to Parliament for the discharge of that responsibility... The Court of Appeal mistakenly believed that, when an individual's right to have a fair hearing... came into conflict with <something else>, her right to a fair hearing must prevail.

I find stripping someone of their citizenship dubious, and the home secretary's rational for refusing entry ditto, but those aren't the issues I'm interested in here, rather it is... primarily, just how much money-aka-resources should we fling at men-in-wigs?

And this is in regard to Adam Smith's acute

Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice; all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things. All governments which thwart this natural course, which force things into another channel, or which endeavour to arrest the progress of society at a particular point, are unnatural, and to support themselves are obliged to be oppressive and tyrannical.

Searching around for that quote, I find Timmy saying roughly what I want to say, and indeed what I've said before: that we should take "tolerable" seriously; that flinging too many resources at abstract justice isn't a good idea. Sadly that wasn't any basis for today's ruling - well, it's not the kind of thing you expect meninwigs to say.

Secondarily, there's an issue of the balance between executive and judicial branches. Which I personally feel has tilted too far in the direction of excessive judicial review recently, so I think did not give the home secretary's assessment the respect which it should have received is good.

You might say, where is my sympathy for SB? I have little-to-none. Functionally, none. If I was going to be sympathetic to poor folks abroad, I'd put the poor sods in Yemen, Somalia, Syria all suffering through no fault of their own waaay above SB. And I'd rather use all these judicial resources more fruitfully in the UK, where any number of cases are disgracefully delayed.

Refs

When can governments revoke citizenship? - The Economist

Losing the sky - ATTP

Ilhan Omar's fascist behavior - Timmy

* The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism Book Club: Final Thoughts by Bryan Caplan

* From page 208 of Lord Acton’s late-1890s lecture “The Influence of America,” as this lecture appears in Essays in the History of Liberty: Selected Essays of Lord Acton, Vol. 1.

2021-02-18

Rush

_Starman__emblem_(Rush__2112__album)Another one bites the dust: Rush Limbaugh, from lung cancer, which is surely how he'd have wanted to go. Not everyone is sad; Emily "who?" Atkin isn't; and nor it would seem are the Watties, who have ignored this world-shaking event.

I only know RL as a right-wing-shock-jock-global-warming-denying-nutter; if you doubt the latter, RS provides a delightful example of his crass ignorance and willingness to fall for anything that leant his way. But "environmental issues" is only a small part of his Wiki article, so clearly I've seen only one facet.

However we can tell he's not really famous, because I never troubled with him here on this blog; I think in GW terms he has long been a has-been; he got more mentions in sci.env days, perhaps.

The best defence I can find from vaguely reliable sources is he was the quintessential American entertainer by Dominc Pino. That article doesn't really even attempt to defend what he said in any serious terms, and just regards it as entertainment. Which is probably correct: as the RS example shows, he was lamentably ignorant of science, and I've no particular reason to think he was any better informed on anything else; but that didn't matter to his large audience, because people want to be entertained. In the end, if forced to defend him - which I'm not, so I won't - I'd blame Dumb America. You get the right-wing-global-warming-denying-nutters you pay for.

Refs


* What do prime-age ‘NILF’ men do all day? A cautionary on universal basic income
Rush Limbaugh galvanised and embodied the modern American right - The Economist doesn't mention GW either.
* What I worked on - Paul Graham
* WATN: "ice age now" (pardon?) Robert "who?" Felix stiff (h/t WUWT)

2021-02-08

The Tyranny of Merit?

PXL_20210208_174839188 The Tyranny of Merit or What’s Become of the Common Good? is a book by Michael J. Sandel. You will without doubt find people speaking kindly of it, for example here. For my part, I think it a poor book badly written.

By coincidence I'm (re-)reading Popper's The Open Society and its Enemies, and I find the conflict between rationalism and irrationalism has become the most important intellectual, and perhaps even moral, issue of our time. This book stands on the wrong side of that division: it is polemic, rhetoric, populist, careless of contradiction and fact.

Of course, it is not entirely without merit (fnarrr). It correctly notices that those who have risen through their own merit may well come to believe that they have risen through their own merit, and disdain those who have not so risen; whilst those who have failed to so rise may come to despair. Unfortunately, that's pretty well it for the good bits. And when his editor said "that's an excellent start Michael but I'm afraid you'll have to pad it out a bit" he duly did so.

His central problem is his failure to understand meritocracy4. For him, meritocracy is where the the "best" people rise to the top and/or are in charge, and get the rewards they "deserve". By using the word deserve, he tangles it all up in morality: if I am born clever, do I really "deserve" the rewards that come with that? But this is wrongthink; the word "deserve" is confused. Instead, the world pays people well who are able to do useful things; note that we're talking at this point about an idealised meritocracy; the issue of are we a fake one can come later; at this point we're interested - or he is - by whether a meritocracy is just1. There's no requirement or even meaning to asking if those people "deserve" those rewards. Instead, they are paid them for a reason: so they will do that job, instead of a different one. It is as stupid as asking what the "true" dollar-value of a product is; the answer is always "what people will pay for it".

Eventually (p 125) he comes to consider two other systems: free-market liberalism (a-la Hayek) and welfare state liberalism (a-la Rawls). He presents Hayek giving exactly my argument. He presents Rawls saying... something, but I didn't pay much attention; I already know I disagree with Rawls. So how does he get rid of Hayek's view? He doesn't. He just says "morally and psychologically, the distinction between merit and value becomes vanishingly thin". But this is no answer to a defence of "true" meritocracy. It only leaves him the rather thin "disdain" idea.

The assertion (p 136) that Hayek doesn't understand that things other than market value, have value, is drivel. So what we get is a fatal problem for his theory: market value isn't moral worth. His answer (again, p 136) is to take market value as a proxy for social contribution, which is lying worthy of Plato6.

In his version, free-market liberalism differs from meritocracy. In mine, it doesn't5.

There's some discussion of social mobility, and of credentialism. This discussion is somewhat confused because whilst vaguely related to meritocracy the connection is weak, and he isn't ever clear whether he means true, false, or well-that's-what-you-see-in-the-world meritocracy.

His solution


By p 155, we begin to come to his solution. Should we go back to hiring based on prejudice? Fortunately, he doesn't suggest that, though his "does not mean that merit should play no role in the allocation of jobs" is rather weak. Presumably, he does think that something other than merit should play a (substantial?) role - but he doesn't say what that thing or things should be. But his main suggestions are about education, and work.

Because he is a Harvard professor, he disdains to think about anything as plebian as early education, and instead thinks only about college. He asks (p 169), should higher education retain its role as arbiter of opportunity? As soon as you ask this question you - but not, alas, our author - realise that the answer is that "should" is again wrongthink. No-one has designed or legislated the system that way; it has simply grown up, as a result of many many choices, and so there is no "should". To change it... where would you even start? He doesn't know, so instead proposes making entrance into Harvard more of a lottery.

As to "work", his idea appears to be recognising the dignity of labour3. Unfortunately, he then decides that the most important role we play in the economy is as producers, not consumers2. There may be points of view (his is "civic conception") from which this makes sense; but it is also the all-too-common view that leads to protectionism and other such stupidity; so it is a dangerous idea to push. It gets worse; he realises that our wages don't represent our true "value" - see above - but instead says that our true value is (p 209) the "moral and civic importance" of our work, As though that can in any meaningful way be evaluated. Instead it just leads to the politics of envy: "my morality says you are not worth your wages", an all-too-common view... which he proceeds to display, in discussing finance, lower down: did you know, some of those dirty financiers get more than Harvard professors do?

Anyway, back to dignity of labour. He's for it. It is important to our self-esteem, and so on. But - ironically, he too has confused meanings of value - he means people getting decent-paying jobs. His ideas for achieving this, though, are thin and vague: "some restrictions on trade, outsourcing, and immigration" - i.e., protectionism; more of Trump. No thank you.

But he has another idea about work. First he begins by making an all-too-common mistake: that the finance industry is non-productive. His solution? A financial transactions tax. Which is fuckwitted, albeit all-too-often popular. The EU is in favour of it: need I say more? But... as a solution to societies problems, it is weak to the point of confessing that you don't really have any solutions.

P 210: cites Hegel as a reference for his ideas. FFS. Has he no shame; has he not read Popper? That seems a good point to end this review.

What would you do instead?


Once you, unlike our author, realise that meritocracy is just free-market liberalism, the answer becomes obvious: don't do something else. Don't read this book; read Hayek instead.

Update: practical politics


Reading the Graun (a crap article that upholds the usual journalistic practice of beginning with several paragraphs of irrelevance) I find The Tyranny of Merit is Sandel’s response to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. In this review I've largely ignored the practical politics side, because I was more interested in the idealised, theoretical view. the book doesn't really distinguish the two; we swap from one to another and back as we go along. So, a better book would have much more sharply distinguished the two.

The idea that the "metropolitan elites" look down upon the "proles" is a commonplace, though. Our author gets no points for that. He would get points if he could clearly tie that attitude into his theorised meritocratic disdain. But other than hand-waving, he doesn't do that. Did the Lords of say 16th century England despise the peasants of their day? In my image of the times, yes; on our author's theory, they shouldn't have; or at least, less than the ME do today. Do you believe that? I'm doubtful.

As to the "disdain effect", I think he remains confused, as to whether it means meritocracy is overall a bad thing, or whether it is merely a defect in meritocracy. For example, from the Graun: Even a perfect meritocracy, he says, would be a bad thing. “The book tries to show that there is a dark side, a demoralising side to that,” he says. Notice the contrast of the Graun's "a bad thing" and his "dark side". So if it is merely a defect, then how much of a defect is it? It could just be a minor one - I think it is - hardly worth much worrying about. How would you know? Simply repeatedly emphasising that the defect exists gets you nowhere.

Update: Book Review: The Cult Of Smart by Fredrik DeBoer by SSC/AST


This review touches much of the same ground, ending with a plea against formal educattion.

Notes


1. He doesn't do a good job of defining just (rather as Plato fails) and the word is susceptible to intuitions. Fortunately his discussion around p 124 is sufficiently muddy that an exact definition would not help. For myself, I prefer Hobbes' defn: that which is not unjust. And what is unjust? Breaking covenants. Therefore, a meritocracy is just. As is a dictatorship. Which just shows you that it isn't a good question.

2. He then compounds his error by asserting that  consumption-is-primary is "today so familiar that it is hard to think our way beyond it", quoting the Sainted Smith. Again, his thinking is muddled: this is the primary view of std.economics, but not of the public, and not of pols.

3. Dignity of labour is a good idea. But the trouble is that is what it is: an idea; a state of mind; an opinion. Anyone can have it. Anyone flipping burgers at MacDonalds can have it. But our author is not brave enough to argue that people should think like that. Because he has fallen into his own traps: he has confused value with dollar-value. The idea of burger-flipping fills him with horror, and he cannot really conceive of anyone doing that having any dignity in their labour; he is, in the end, a snob.

4. Of course, he could solve this problem by clearly defining meritocracy, in his favour. If it means "rewarding good work / good deeds (merit) because people of merit deserve (in a moral sense) those rewards", then he'd be OK. But in his characteristically mushy way - in stark contrast to Popper - he never does define meritocracy, as HarvardMag notes. They suggest defining it as Amartya Sen suggested: a system for “rewarding good (or right) deeds for their incentive effects, but that's my defn, because of the use of "incentive" rather than "deserve".

5. If your prejudices lead you to think that think implies that "that the only gauge of merit is what it can be sold for" then you really need to work on your prejudices. Or, you can try reading the comments.

6. Since it comes my way, I offer you "Were she to encounter Françoise at the moment (which Françoise called “the noon") when, wearing her fine cap and surrounded with every mark of respect, she was coming down stairs to "feed with the service," Mme Villeparisis would stop her to ask after us. And Françoise, when transmitting to us the Marquise's message: "She said to me, 'You'll be sure and bid them good day,' she said," would counterfeit the voice of Mme de Villeparisis, whose exact words she imagined herself to be quoting textually, whereas in fact she was distorting them no less than Plato distorts the words of Socrates or St John the words of Jesus. Françoise was naturally deeply touched by these attentions. Only she did not believe my grandmother, but supposed that she must be lying in the inter ests of class (the rich always supporting one another) when she assured us that Mme de Villeparisis had been lovely as a young woman. It was true that of this loveliness only the faintest trace remained, from which no one-unless he happened to be a great deal more of an artist than Françoise would have been able to reconstitute her ruined beauty. For in order to understand how beautiful an elderly woman may once have been one must not only study but translate every line of her face". From Place-Names: The Place.

Refs


* Growth, Not Equality: American history shows that expanding the economy benefits everyone by Amity Shlaes.

2021-02-05

EU carbon price soars to record highs

1612193175008-e213e0a7-48cc-41e5-849d-1f4468e92c4e_~2 The price of carbon in Europe has soared to a fresh record high near €38 a tonne, with prices adding more than 13 per cent over the past two sessions as traders rushed to secure supplies of EU emissions allowances says the FT. That the price is rising towards something plausible is good; that this is happening for trading reasons is not so great. This illustrates the problem with permit trading as against a nice simple carbon tax: the system is a boondoggle for traders and speculators. Which is one of the reasons that the EU prefers it.

As a good free marketeer I am of course happy with speculative trading in general; but I think I disapprove of govts deliberately creating such markets, where the price - as the FT makes clear - depends less on real world fundamentals than the political whims of the EU.

Refs


2021-02-03

The dim and distant history of global warming: sea ice betting

paladin People routinely spout nonsense, but are somewhat more reluctant to dribble actual money away. So offering to bet against people spouting nonsense - aka put-up-or-shut-up - has some plausibility. It isn't perfect - I might have a lot of money and very poor judgement; but then again, people with very poor judgement do tend to lose their money fairly quickly. Or, some words from 2006.

And so when the Arctic sea ice was low in 2007 and the usual doom-mongers said the usual things, I offered to bet that there wouldn't be a new record in 2008. Inevitably, the actual doom-mongers wouldn't pony up but some brave souls did. I won. And offered to bet that there will be more ice in 2009 than in 2007 (this may all have been inspired by James Annan's earlier bet in 2005; don't miss Lindzen wimping out. But then there was my post from early 2005).

[And by complete co-incidence, Big Gav writes Don’t climate bet against the house at RC.]

I got some takers for the 2008-9 season, and won that too (with, technically, a marginal loss to RMG on a slightly different bet, but that wasn't for cold hard cash so didn't count).

For 2009-10, it looks like people had got tired of being prepared to bet on a new minimum, so I decided that my "default" prediction was a linear trend, with a "buffer" around it. And the result was... no-one won, since the result was inside the buffer, i.e. on-trend.

By this point it was kinda painfully obvious that neither the gloom-mongers nor the denialists were prepared to bet on ridiculously high or low ice levels, and the negotiations on terms were becoming ever more intricate. Which revealed something, if you knew how to think, so could be considered a success.

At this point it starts to get blurred and I cannot be bothered to tie all the pieces together. In 2011 there were multiple bets going, covering multiple years; after all, just one year is a casino.  2012 was a new record low, so I lost a couple of bets. But in 2014 a couple if the multi-year bets with Crandles came in my favour; and another in 2015.

But more excitingly, also in 2011, I bet Rob Dekker $10k on seaice-to-2016; that being a five-year trend which might be more meaningful; five years was a compromise: climatologically quite short, but within the span of human interest. In order for us both to preserve our... sanity?... we agreed on a wide-ish dead zone: If both NSIDC and IARC-JAXA September 2016 monthly average sea ice extent report are above 4.80 million km^2, RD pays WMC US$ 10,000. If both are below 3.10 million km^2, WMC pays RD US$ 10,000. In all other cases the bet is null and void. Alas, in the end the result was a draw.

I think things mostly petered out then. In later 2007, Joe Romm was prepared to bet on "an essentially ice free Arctic by 2020". He ended up losing that one, obvs, but 13 years is a long time and his email address no longer works. If you know him, let him know he owes me $333.

Caveat: all this was a long time ago. Links have rotted, as has my memory, so very likely I have missed stuff.

Notes

1. In the middle of the first sea-ice bet, in May 2008, there was some nonsense about predicting cooling, but I don't think anything came of it.

Refs

* Arch of the IInternetArchive of the Romm post.
* More Wadhams.
* Who is the farting three-legged dog in this scenario, you ask?
* Probably not betting on climate with Lubos Motl

If the aspiration is, as leaders of all stripes have said, to “lower the temperature,” we do not need simply calmer politics or different politics. We need less politics.