Separation of powers

bc1fc476-3108-48bc-b6d3-b09ed916e40b_IMG_20210622_144550_110 Separation of powers, as any fule kno, refers to the division of a state's government into branches, each with separate, independent powers and responsibilities... The typical division is into three branches: a legislature, an executive, and a judiciary... The term "tripartite system" is commonly ascribed to French Enlightenment political philosopher Baron de Montesquieu... In The Spirit of the Laws (1748)1. Let us consider it in the context of the Constitution of the United States, which reappears in the context of Collins v. Yellenthe removal restrictions on the head of the FHFA violate the Constitution’s separation of powers because they infringe on the president’s authority over executive-branch decision-making.

And having said that, all I wanted to do was to make a brief point: that although SOP underlies the constitution, it isn't explicitly present. The word "separation" occurs nowhereWiki comments In combination with the Vesting Clauses of Article Two and Article Three, the Vesting Clause of Article One establishes the separation of powers and this is true, but it only does so implicitly. Nonetheless, people find it convenient to speak of "the Constitution's SOP" as though it was an explicit thing, because without it we'd have to speak in absurd circumlocutions.

Belatedly, it occurred to me to wonder who else has noticed this. Wiki doesn't seem to have, but unsurprisingly others have. For example: In his recent work, Manning has made a good case for the proposition that the separation of powers is not a principle of the U.S. Constitution.6 The Constitution, says Manning, “adopts no freestanding principle of separation of powers. The idea of separated powers unmistakably lies behind the Constitution, but it was not adopted wholesale.”7 (The contrast here may be between the federal Constitution, which, as Manning points out, contains no Separation of Powers Clause,8 and some of the state constitutions which, at least textually, do.)9 I think Manning has made a reasonable case... But notice how tentative and cowardly he is. He is a f*ck*ng scholar who unlike me has time to read the full thing. He should damn well know, not rest his judgment that someone else has probably made a reasonable case.


1. Somewhat controversially, that wiki article also says the separation is "so that the powers of one branch are not in conflict with those of the other branches". That is distinctly dubious; see here.


What If We Wrote the Constitution Today?The National Constitution Center’s Constitution Drafting project. Looking at the libertarian version, I find In completing this project, we’ve focused, as the original Constitution’s authors did, on protecting “negative” rights— that is, rights against being interfered with— instead of creating “positive rights,” such as a right to education, or health care, or other things that must be provided by others. Classical liberal theory holds that the only valid rights are things like free speech, private property, and the right to be left alone, and that so-called positive rights are not rights at all, but privileges that government can only give one person if it has taken away the rights of another which I like. See-also Rawls, continued.

Mortality risk attributable to high and low ambient temperature: a multicountry observational study (via Lomborg): Most of the temperature-related mortality burden was attributable to the contribution of cold.

* Two Facts about Mass Transit and Cars by David Henderson

Flawed Heatwave Report Leads to False Headlines in Major Media - Cliff Mass


Some of the Welsh three thousanders

Many years ago, Howard "kneepads" Roscoe, who in those days was responsible for doing silly things, drove to Wales to do the three thousanders; that is, the fourteen peaks over 3000 foot high, done in a day. Wittily, he fell on the descent from Snowden, broken his ankle, hobbled back to his van conveniently left in the Llanberis pass and then drove home - not wishing to be stuck in a Welsh hospital for days on end - changing gear as infrequently as possible to avoid pain. I had no desire to emulate him, and don't know the ground as well, so this trip was to recce the area. For <reasons> I ended up starting at the Carneddau end; and - ironically - skipped the Snowdon section due to my left knee hurting. And, rain. Now read on.

Saturday: Carneddau

Having driven from Oxford - I have various excuses for not taking the train - I stayed overnight at the "Grand" hotel in Llandudno (by the Great Orme! Gogarth! I've never been to Gogarth) and after some regrettable car-park comedy1 dropped my plan to walk out of Conwy on the coastal path in favour of starting from Abergwyngregyn (more conveniently known as "Aber falls"), which has a very convenient off-main-road parking spot. There's a broad path up to the Aber falls, and a scree path up the side of said falls, and then it gets more open and rather nice. See GPS trace, which also has more pix, as of course does Flickr. Elevation gain on the day, 1670 m, total distance 28 km.


However, I'd decided to do Drum; although only 770 m (3000 feet = 914 m) it was kinda there, and I wasn't in a hurry, so I took a rather eccentric contouring path above Llyn Anafon. In retrospect, taking the earlier valley of Afon Anafon would have made more sense. But! I wasn't there to make sense.

Somewhere around here my trail shoes - which were a decade old and inherited from Maz - started to fall apart; I tied them up with cord. Happily it was just the sole separating from the "basket", which latter proved quite robust. Here's the Llyn, and a pano from Drum.


Incidentally I had no physical map with me at all; I was relying on Google maps, and OS snippets from the 3k website (Carneddau section); this worked, though Google maps are pretty blank up there. At this point it is all very soft and gentle; here's Foel Fras, 942, the first.


The summit is rocky and there's an exciting trig pillar. And so things proceed; see GPS trace. In poor viz, it could easily be a nightmare.

Continuing from Foel Grach (GPS trace) which has an emergency shelter (pix: ext; int). Yr Elen is off on a spur of about 1 k's (easy) ridge; here's a pano of it looking back to Carnedd Llewelyn and down to lake Ffynnon Caseg. Note kewl cloud.


It was getting on for... around 8 pm at this point, but the day was lovely and the light holding well. I stopped for my evening porridge at a low wind-break-shelter under Carnedd Dafydd, looking over Afon Llafar towads Bethesda.


Pushing on I got over the rather dull bulk of Pen Yr Ole Wen (although it was about 10 pm there was a large party on top) and starting descending to my intended bivvi spot on the outflow of Ffynnon Lloer beside which - you can just see if you know where to look - someone had camped.


It was getting quite dark when I got down, so here's my bivvi spot taken the next morning. I had with me a rubbish old thin closed-cell carrymat, and an exciting expensive new Thermarest Uberlite, which I even inflated. Then I thought (a) this turf is so lovely I don't need the Uberlite; and (b) this turf is interspersed with pokey heather that might puncture my Uberlite. So I did without it.

Sunday: Glyders

Last night had been moderately windy, but this morning was still, and I was forced up by the midges. Not zillions of them, but enough to keep me moving. So, descent (GPS) to the road, just at the head of Llyn Ogwen. I tried (see GPS) to head straight up, but it isn't really possible, so ended up pathing around, then up, following some other folk; but from about 600 m up I was on the nose.


Tryfan - and indeed the Glyders generally - seemed to me somewhat less friendly than the Carneddau, more inclined to have summits awkwardly covered in giant boulders. From Tryfan I progress over Glyder Fach and Fawr (GPS) and down to Llyn y Cwn (see-also last October). From near the top of Tryfan:


Llyn Ogwen in the valley, R; Idwal centre; Boclwyd, L. G Fawr beyond, I think. From the summit:


Adam and Eve far L (no, I didn't), Fach centre (you go up the paler scree-y stuff L of the more solid ridge R). And so on down to the lake. It was sunny, I was hot and sweaty, and so went for a swim, although brief, for it is not warm. I failed to take an afternoon pix; here's an evening one, with me camped out:


It was a beautiful evening. But! I haven't finished the hot afternoon yet. I contemplated my future, specifically how to deal with Elidir Fawr; I didn't like the "std" descent from that to the road, nor did I want to camp by the road. So I resolved to leave my pack (sadly I didn't think of that till past Y Garn), do E Fawr and return to the lake (GPS). In terms of ascent or distance, this doesn't really make sense, because the "std" path gets you down to the road only a km away from where I ended up descending, and the road is nearly level at that point. Hey ho; it did get me a nice campsite. What it also got me (because I foolishly didn't replenish my water bottle in the stream) was very thirsty.


This is from E Fawr looking back to F Goch and a more distant Y Garn (947 m). It's all rather nice. Back at the lake I made my evening porridge and dozed. Late on, it grew a bit windy, so I put on the bivvy bag.

Monday: Llanberis

Monday woke me with a brief small shower at about 5 am, so I pulled all my spare gear into my rucksac and dozed again. At around 7 rain set in and continued. I was happy to discover that my three decade old bivvi bag is still waterproof. How to get out of it and into "walking mode" was going to be a bit tricky since I hadn't of course set up the tarp last night. So I did it spasmodically in the morning and it just about worked, with my head as one "pole". I then set off to descend, which is a real path, honest, just not a very well marked one (GPS). Eventually I found and followed the fenceposts down.


About half way down I did come out of the cloud, here we see rather more typical Welsh scenery. The plan now called for me to walk up the Llanberis pass to the Youth hostel, but alas my left knee was unhappy, and the peaks were completely enveloped in cloud. I decided on sanity and walked down to Llanberis, which is quite a long way (GPS). Better pic to Llanberis; and view of the path up from the road. And here we are safe and sound n Pete's Eats.


After: to the Castle Hotel in Conwy.



On the way home: Valle Crucis.



1. Booked via https://www.yourparkingspace.co.uk/ in Tesco's carpark. Alas, Tesco had never heard of them, so I didn't feel able to leave the car. After some subsequent correspondence, they admitted they'd mis-described the place (as being in the nearby leisure center) and refunded my fee.


For my records. Minimal. ME S'bag (forgot the inner), bivvi, light carrymat, Uberlite, tarp, 2 x skipole; light rucksac; green waterproof coat; fleece; thin long-sleeve; hat; neckwarmer; socks; trailshoes; u'pants x 1. Kindle. Petzl. Gas cyclinder, screw-on stove, pan; misc. Porridge sachets x 10; raisins; 4 x Bounty. 3 x tins of vine leaves. Oatcakes. 1 L water. See-also. Energy pack (used for watch multiple times; down to 2/4 lights after second phone recharge).


Wales: Caernarfon, and the hills beyond


Rawls, terminated

PXL_20210620_122949436 Dear reader, I have grown sick of Rawls. He is so endlessly prolix; he re-states himself so often; one never knows when one is at the final version of whatever he is pushing. And he is so often and thoughtlessly wrong. 

It got to the point where I seriously wondered if he was being dishonest. But I think he is merely blind to things he would rather not see. 

Please refer to Rawls: some initial quibbles and Rawls, continued if you can bear it.

To summarise:

* his conception of the Veil of Ignorance is not coherent;
* his assertion that people behind said veil would agree is wrong;
* his assumption that all are risk-averse is wrong;
* his idea that socio-economic stuff should be mixed in with justice is wrong;
* the comparisons that he so casually asserts can be made between radically different societies cannot be made.

Now we come to chapter 3. I find The two principles of justice, however, seem to be a reasonable proposal. In fact, I should like to show that these principles are everyone's best reply, so to speak, to the corresponding demands of the others. In this sense, the choice of this conception of justice is the unique solution to the problem set by the original position. He needs this; because he wants an unique solution. Framed the way he does, though, he will not get an unique solution. This is because, unlike Hobbes, his solution is not constructive. Instead, his solution consists of him pulling out his favoured principles and saying "now I am going to show you a list of other things and I think you'll agree mine is best" (I am not joking). Whereas Hobbes proceeds, logically, step by step, deducing everything he says from what has gone before (as an aside, Hobbes is wrong, because the correct solution - or so I say - is not an unlimited Sovereign; but Hobbes argument is good, and most people will not be able to point at the flaw. Whereas Rawls is riddled with obvious errors. Also, Hobbes language (stemming, I suspect, from his erudition) is vastly superior).

Quoth Rawls: I shall simply take as given a short list of traditional conceptions of justice, for example those discussed in the first chapter, together with a few other possibilities suggested by the two principles of justice. I then assume that the parties are presented with this list and required to agree unanimously that one conception is the best among those enumerated. We may suppose that this decision is arrived at by making a series of comparisons in pairs. Thus the two principles would be shown to be preferable once all agree that they are to be chosen over each of the other alternatives... Now admittedly this is an unsatisfactory way to proceed. It would be better if we could define necessary and sufficient conditions for a uniquely best conception of justice and then exhibit a conception that fulfilled these conditions. Eventually one may be able to do this. For the time being, however, I do not see how to avoid rough and ready methods... For the present, no attempt is made to deal with the general problem of the best solution. I limit the argument throughout to the weaker contention that the two principles would be chosen from the conceptions of justice on the following list.

He then proceeds to list his "two principles" vs various versions of utilitarianism. Since utilitarianism doesn't work (everyone knows this, don't they? I don't have to prove it), this gives him an easy win. But he has carefully excluded just-his-first-principle from the comparison.

That gets me to the end of Chapter three, and of Part I entirely. Woot.

Update: Fifty Shades of Gray

John Gray, who I'll get to in a moment, notices some of the problems with Rawls, in his Enlightenment's Wake. In particular, in Agonistic Liberalism, he points out that Rawls' work is anti-political (p 76 in the Routledge paperback edition). I think this is true, in the sense that Rawls wants, not rule by philosopher-kings, but rules devised by same; and in this way he has fallen into the trap that Plato left him. Gray's contention is that Rawls expects too much: that he wants to deduce too much, he expects too much to be determined from his principles. And as I said above, he can't have this. Gray concludes that politics will have to solve conflicts of rights, whereas Rawls waves the conflicts away (p 72, "contoured").

Update: An Approach to Teaching Rawls And Income Inequality

[2023/05] Michael Munger offers some empirical observations as to whether people would indeed choose as Rawls says they would.


Rawls’ Problem of Stability - Michael Huemer.

Rawls on Liberty.



Rawls, continued

PXL_20210615_134224182 Rawls: some initial quibbles refers. Before I forget, a note: his is a theory of Justice but, it is not a theory of criminal justice. In it, everyone is assumed to obey the law. This is sensible; knowing what is just is different from knowing the penalties for those who are unjust.

Overall: Rawls is trying to construct a schema for Justice; he introduces the Veil of Ignorance to facilitate this. Unfortunately, he decides to mix in "social justice" or "economic justice", which 
1. requires him to be able to solve f(justice-rules)=society and be able to evaluate society(person) and compare between different rule-sets. This isn't possible, so the comparisons he depends upon cannot be done.
2. assumes that everyone is completely risk-averse, and so asserts that given the choice between 
* society_A; and 
* society_B which differs from A only in that you have (a 50% chance of a 10% decrease in prosperity and a 50% chance of a 100% increase in prosperity),
everyone would chose A. This is false1, so large swathes of the work become invalid.

We continue into chapter 2. He states in a provisional form the two principles of justice that he believe would be chosen in the original position (p 60):

1. each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others. 

2. social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both (a) reasonably expected to be to everyone's advantage, and (b) attached to positions and offices open to all.

The first is, I think, reasonable. Per "quibbles", it can be quibbled, but nonetheless I don't want to; I and I think almost anyone would accept it - well, in principle; actually I'm going to quibble the details in a moment.

As to the second, I think I get as far as "social and economic inequalities are to be arranged..." and say "No! Stop!". I do not want you, or the govt, to "arrange" social and economic inequalities, as part of a consideration of Justice, and likely not at all.

(b) needs further sub-quibbling: as written it is ugly; what he wants to say there should be part of a more general statement about non-discrimination. And "open to all" does not preclude age, aptitude or rectitude tests, for example.

Coming back to 1, I dislike rights-based language (see The Trials of the State, "Chapter 3: Human Rights and Wrongs"). We're in social-contract land here, remember, so the correct formulation is expressed in terms of the liberty that you give up (we all give up similar) and/or the restrictions that the govt is allowed. The model is of course 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 which does not give you a defined right of free speech, instead is prevents the govt from preventing your free speech.

He regards 1 as prior to 2, so I also need to quibble the placement of 2b, which should be part of 1.

Continuing (p 62): the two principles (and this holds for all formulations) are a special case of a more general conception of justice that can be expressed as follows. 

All social values-liberty and opportunity, income and wealth, and the bases of self-respect-are to be distributed equally unless an unequal distribution of any, or all, of these values is to every one's advantage. 

Injustice, then, is simply inequalities that are not to the benefit of all.

This is wrong. Mixing up economic factors amidst liberties is a category error. And his defn is injustice is I think untenable. The nearest thing we have to an exemplar is the US constitution, and none of the original seven articles involve "social and economic" matters (article one empowers regulating interstate commerce, but I think that's not-in-the-sense-he-means). I think you have to go down as far as the eight amendment which "protects people from having bail or fines set at an amount so high that it would be impossible for all but the richest defendants to pay" to get even close, and that's not very close.

Still on p 62: Imagine, then, a hypothetical initial arrangement in which all the social primary goods are equally distributed: everyone has similar rights and duties, and income and wealth are evenly shared. This state of affairs provides a benchmark for judging improvements. This idea would be reasonable (we think of something basic and imagine improving it) except it is the how-to-divide-a-fixed-pie fallacy. In the real world, nothing is so static; changing the distribution of wealth changes the rate at which wealth accrues. Example: Amazon makes us better off (how do we know? Because we use it. If it didn't, we wouldn't) and the price for having that available is Bezos becoming really very rich indeed: inequality. The fixed-pie mindset isn't trivial: it is very much the difference between the "progressive" and "capitalist" mindsets. Rawls is, I think, going to tie himself up in knots over this; my solution, as I've said, is to leave the economics out of justice entirely.

Usually, Rawls speaks as though of a static society. Occasionally - e.g. p 78 - he admits of the possibilities of change and improvement. However, he also needs to be able to compare, effectively numerically, societies or the positions of folks in same; and it isn't clear he has any way of doing so between two changing societies, except in the trivial case of one being strictly better than the other for everyone.

On p 75 we find The intuitive idea is that the social order is not to establish and secure the more attractive prospects of those better off unless doing so is to the advantage of those less fortunate. However, this is presuming several things: one of them is his unexamined - probably not even thought out - implicit assumption that society will be deterministic from the principles of justice established. This is unlikely to be true: establish some principles and keep them fixed; then repeat ten times: setup some laws, form a society: and you will get ten different societies. And of course, those societies will be unpredictable in principle. So his people, behind the VoI, cannot make the judgement (would these rules be "to the advantage of those less fortunate"?) he is expecting of them.

To make any sense of this we have to admit that we're actually thinking of a rather different situation: us, in today's society, thinking about making small enough incremental changes (ha ha: so we're really in Hayek-world) that we could meaningfully make the comparisons he needs. But then we're not behind the VoI and our prejudices return. This can be rescued: because we're really only interested in the abstract principles of justice - we don't actually believe this is a programme that will be followed through in practice - so we can perhaps recover our judice.

p 85 and on discusses perfect, imperfect and pure procedural justice. Perfect is when, if you follow the rules, you get the right answer: cutting a cake fairly can be done by the person cutting choosing last (no collusion). A criminal trial, even if conducted fairly, may reach the wrong result and thus the process is Imperfect. A Pure process is one where there is no right result, and so is "just" as long as the process is followed: a game of cards, for example. We then try to apply this: Suppose that law and government act effectively to keep markets competitive, resources fully employed, property and wealth... widely distributed by the appropriate forms of taxation, or whatever, and to guarantee a reasonable social minimum. Assume also that there is fair equality of opportunity underwritten by education for all; and that the other equal liberties are secured. Then it would appear that the resulting distribution of income and the pattern of expectations will tend to satisfy the difference principle. In this complex of institutions, which we think of as establishing social justice in the modern state, the advantages of the better situated improve the condition of the least favored. Or when they do not, they can be adjusted to do so, for example, by setting the social minimum at the appropriate level. As these institutions presently exist they are riddled with grave injustices. But there presumably are ways of running them compatible with their basic design and intention so that the difference principle is satisfied consistent with the demands of liberty and fair equality of opportunity. It is this fact which underlies our assurance that these arrangements can be made just. So I think what he is saying here is close to what he should say: effectively, that if we run the system forwards, and the system itself is not unjust, then the end result will be just, even if not all receive the same shares. He then notices (p 87) the immense advantages of this: you don't have to keep track of an endless variety of circumstances. But how he fits this into his previous work, I don't know.

p 90-91: considering Utilitarianism, he notes that requires maximising some utility function, and that can't be done (he isn't quite brave enough to say that) whereas he asserts his difference principle can do better (but only relatively so, which is why he doesn't want to absolutely reject max-util, cos he needs some of it himself). This isn't convincing.


* There is one clear monopoly in this ecosystem, however: the state. Any legislative or regulatory restriction on Big Tech will not be a triumph of the oppressed over the powerful. It will be yet another instance of the already powerful wielding the state’s machinery to compel private companies to do what they want, likely at the expense of their market competitors or political enemies. Such reforms are far more likely to be censorship than to reduce censorship, in the strictest sense. Don't Try To Fix Big Tech With Politics via CH.


1. It is false even if you, personally, would choose A because you happen to be risk averse. But many people, including me, would choose B; and you ought to know that, even if your personal choice is A.


Rawls: some initial quibbles

1623945332945-e78214c8-45eb-4a5e-ae14-ae34dfc1a9cb_ I'm re-reading1 Rawls' A Theory of Justice, because John Gray was interested in him. I may - but probably won't - do a full review; for the meantime, here are some quibbles. Some of these may amount to what Rawls calls Intuitionism; but I'm only on chapter 1.

[See-also: Rawls, continued and terminated.]

Laws and institutions no matter how efficient and well-arranged must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust

Rawls asserts that Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought. A theory however elegant and economical must be rejected or revised if it is untrue; likewise laws and institutions no matter how efficient and well-arranged must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust. With respect to theories I agree. With respect to laws, I am dubious. We shall try a thought experiment, but first we need to understand "just" a little3: I think that in this context Rawls would regard laws that arbitrarily discriminate as unjust (notice I haven't had to tell you what is just). So, imagine: you have a choice of laws A or B. Laws A provide a mediocre standard of living, but treat all equally. Laws B strongly favour the blue-eyed (perhaps they can strike the grey-eyed; or take their property; or somesuch) and so Rawls regards them as unjust; but - by some bizarre quirk of dynamics - provide a significantly higher standard of living.

Are we obliged to reject laws B? Which is to say, are we obliged to prefer Justice to Prosperity? I don't think we are. Reasonable people can disagree2. Later ("The Priority Problem") Rawls "solves" this problem by ranking the principle of equal liberty prior to the principle regulating economic and social inequalities. This means, in effect, that the basic structure of society is to arrange the inequalities of wealth and authority in ways consistent with the equal liberties required by the preceding principle. This is course "solves" the problem, by fiat; if he wants people to chose it behind the veil, he'll need to justify this fiat.

I shall even assume that the parties do not know their conceptions of the good

He's discussing the Veil of Ignorance stuff. But what does "the good" mean here? Later on, he says "it hardly seems likely that persons... would agree to a principle which may require lesser life prospects for some" so I think that "life prospects", which I will equate with prosperity, can be considered as a good that they do know. I think by "the good" that they don't know he is meaning things-admitted-to-be-opinion, such as choice of music or favourite colour.

The fundamental agreements reached in it are fair

We're trying to decide on principles of justice under the VoI: Since all are similarly situated and no one is able to design principles to favor his particular condition, the principles of justice are the result of a fair agreement or bargain. For given the circumstances of the original position, the symmetry of everyone's relations to each other, this initial situation is fair between individuals as moral persons, that is, as rational beings with their own ends and capable, I shall assume, of a sense of justice. The original position is, one might say, the appropriate initial status quo, and thus the fundamental agreements reached in it are fair. This explains the propriety of the name "justice as fairness": it conveys the idea that the principles of justice are agreed to in an initial situation that is fair. (my bold).

Sub-quibble: his calling his theory justice-as-fairness is rhetoric-in-the-bad-sense: attaching a "good" label to your theory in order to make your theory more attractive.

But now notice that Rawls has assumed that people will agree. Is this likely? Actually, no. In his highly-abstracted version, they would, but only because secretly he thinks of all these people as like him, and his friends. But the VoI doesn't get you uniformity behind the veil. The people behind the veil will be shuffled, when they enter society, but behind the veil they have the same distribution of intelligence as present society. This will range all the way down to people too stupid to understand the VoI, and who are very unlikely to agree with the intellectual elite. Rawls needs to add more heavyweight assumptions in here. I think what he really means is that the discussion should only occur amongst the intellectual elite; at this stage, there is no reason to include the stupid or the average. Although, since the Utilitarians whom he opposes were undoubtedly amongst the Elite, even this is unlikely to be enough.

Update: having read further, I think I underestimated how incoherent and ill-described the VoI is. It is a handwavy thing that can get you into the right frame of mind, but it is hard to be more specific than that. Since it is also Rawls' major contribution, that's bad news for him. On p 139 we have it is clear that since the differences among the parties are unknown to them, and everyone is equally rational and similarly situated, each is convinced by the same arguments but this isn't true, unless the "parties" have been rigourously uniformised to the point of no longer being people. In the unlikely even that you want even more words, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy will supply some. But they won't help.


Rawls is not keen on inequality, but he would like to make this seem something other than a personal preference: Offhand it hardly seems likely that persons who view themselves as equals, entitled to press their claims upon one another, would agree to a principle which may require lesser life prospects for some simply for the sake of a greater sum of advantages enjoyed by others. Since each desires to protect his interests, his capacity to advance his conception of the good, no one has a reason to acquiesce in an enduring loss for himself in order to bring about a greater net balance of satisfaction.

Note: in saying no one has a reason to acquiesce in an enduring loss for himself Rawls has forgotten his VoI: of course, no-one knows what their place will be; Rawls means to say "risk of an enduring loss".

Consider two societies: in A, income is $1 per day, fixed for life. In B, you are assigned at birth an income chosen from a uniform distribution of [$0.5, $10] per day. Rawls is asserting that reasonable people would reject B in favour of A. But I don't think they would.

Rawls is here, I think, attempting to counter utilitarianism. I think utilitarianism is wrong; but that doesn't make Rawls right.


* M offers Justice by Michael "Tyranny of Merit" Sandel, which has a chapter on Rawls. You might read it if you want a quick intro to VoI and related; but (like so many books reviewing so many other philosophers) it isn't a critical analysis; it is too timid.


1. Many years ago I had a copy, but I grew disenchanted about 1/3 of the way through and recycled it. This from 2008 (see the comments) provides some discussion, but clearly I hadn't read it by then. Thx Mfd+J for loan of their copy.

2. Lest this example be thought utterly implausible, proponents of colonialism could argue for B.

3. I, of course, subscribe to Hobbes' defn of Just. We may also wish to consider Hayek on the matter: "The test of the justice of any particular rule is thus whether its universal application is possible because it proves to be consistent with all the other accepted rules" (see here; Essays on Liberalism and the Economy, Volume 18).

Meritocracy, democracy and competition

PXL_20210616_102923312 The Tyranny of Merit? refers. This post is just a pointer to John Cochrane's blog Meritocracy, discussing Adrian Woolridge's essay "Meritocracy, Not Democracy, Is the Golden Ticket to Growth," advertising a forthcoming book; all via CH. I largely agree with what JC writes there; in particular that meritocracy has more to do with success than democracy; and continuing to his contention that even more fundamental is competition. And of course, democracy is a form of competition.

Looking at the comments there, "It is more likely that economic growth in all of these countries has had more to do with the success of the private sector than the merit of those who staff their governments" makes sense, in that if you're going to have govt, you need to make sure that it at least doesn't get in the way (non-corrupt); but you also have the option of making it small, which helps.

Update: 2024

Perhaps I'll make this a place to collect stupid views of democracy, for the purposes of contrast. We begin with Bruce Schneier who, while not stupid, has stupid views of democracy and a bias towards socialism, for which he continues to find excuses. The latest being the really-not-novel "We have accepted these costs of capitalism—and democracy—because the inefficiency of central planning was considered to be worse. That might not be true anymore. The costs of conflict have increased. And the costs of coordination have decreased." Fuck off, you twat. Sorry, did I say that out loud? We also have "More generally, the cost of our market economy is enormous. For example, $780 billion is spent world-wide annually on advertising." Notice his implicit, unstated - probably invisible to him - assumption that all the advertisting is wasted cost. This is more of the central-planner mindset. More generally, notice - if you can bring yourself to read the piece - that never does it occur to him that given all these flaws, perhaps it would just be a good idea to remove as many decisions as possible from the hands of the democrats, rather than giving them yet more.


The Enlightenment Project

PXL_20210616_094946632 I'm reading "Enlightenment's Wake" by from-real-Jesus John Gray (see-also: Gray agonistes). For details of that you'll have to wait, but he is annoying me by doing what so many philosophes do - and which Hayek and Popper so pointedly don't - using undefined terms1. So this post is seeking a defn of the "Enlightenment Project".

Wiki offers, of The EnlightenmentThe Age of Enlightenment (also known as the Age of Reason or simply the Enlightenment) was an intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. The Enlightenment included a range of ideas centered on the pursuit of happiness, sovereignty of reason, and the evidence of the senses as the primary sources of knowledge and advanced ideals such as liberty, progress, toleration, fraternity, constitutional government, and separation of church and state. The page does offer a brief quote containing "project of Enlightenment" but I think that's not it.

More promising is The Enlightenment Project in the Analytic Conversation by Nicholas Capaldi one of whose chapters is The Enlightenment Project which says Alasdair Maclntyre, in his enormously important and influential book After Virtue (1981), identifies the ‘Enlightenment Project’ as the “project of an independent rational justification of morality”... we use the same expression as Maclntyre, namely ‘Enlightenment Project’, and while we agree that part of that project was to establish the authority of Judeo-Christian morality by reason alone.... So already there's a slight disconnect: was it to establish a morality, or was it to establish the morality that everyone already knew was correct?

How has this project got on? Pretty well, I'd argue. We don't all agree on all details of morality, but we do rather largely agree that our morality isn't grounded in religion. Actually I'm pushing that too far: I think many of the religious - who might even represent a majority in the USofA - would say that their morality is grounded in religion; but then we face the bizarre coincidence that those of us who are good atheists have essentially the same morality. You can try to get round that by saying you morality comes from your upbringing, and your parents were believers, but I don't really buy this. Let's poke around in the Ten Commandments, not caring about the numbering too much since people seem to differ on even that, and ignoring the "I am the Lord" type ones which I think everyone can agree can't be grounded in rationality, we get: Thou shalt not murder / Thou shalt not commit adultery / Thou shalt not steal / Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour / Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house or his wife or his slaves, or his animals, or anything of thy neighbour. If you then drop regrettable bits like implicitly condoning slavery, which rational secularism definitely doesn't; and making the wife in the same class as property of the husband like his animals, ditto; then we end up with a set that you can trivially justify rationally - I wave my hands here as to exactly how because that isn't my current point. And I'll add that a couple of them don't come through so strongly: against adultery, or honouring-they-father-and-mother. Adultery, I would rephrase as not-subverting-bonds, which makes it more justifiable (actually I think I barely need to do that; adultery is immoral, but may not be illegal, but that's different). HTFAM is harder; I notice it sits between the Lord ones and the Normal ones; wiki points out that they were enforced as law in many jurisdictions, and are still considered enforceable law by some; it also notes the connection with honouring god.

Given all that, why does JG believe that our age is "distinguished by the collapse of the Enlightenment project on a world-historical scale"? He continues with "shed their traditional allegiances and their local identities and unite in a [sic] universal civilisation grounded in generic humanity and and a rational morality..." And it seems that what he is sad about is "renascent particularisms, militant religions and resurgent ethnicities" (bear in mind this was written in 1992). And yet the secular West remains strong.

So his (implicit) defn of EP rather appears to contain a lot of practical politics, but I think he is over-pessimistic. I'm also somewhat doubtful that it can be meaningfully categorised as a "project", but that's a different matter.

Update: having talked to Mfd, I think the subset I picked - establishing morality by reason - was too narrow. I should probably have stuck with Wiki's version; and the distinction between EP and E is probably spurious; the modifier P is both unnecessary and confusing, in that it suggests a concerted planned effort that did not exist.

Another Update: from essay 6 (Agonistic Liberalism) we have "sought to found political authority on the rational choice of its subjects rather than on tradition or local prescription" which is nice.


1. Much later (chapter 8) he finally gets round to What was the Enlightenment project? One answer to this question would contest the very idea that, from the diversity of intellectual and political movements and thinkers that are commonly grouped together as belonging to the Enlightenment, a single project can be established to which all, or nearly all, subscribed. Agnostics or sceptics as to the Enlight enment project, as I shall term these critics, point to the variety of historical contexts and intellectual and political traditions which the Enlightenment usually encompasses, and invoke the great divergences of doctrine and outlook that the Enlightenment thinkers of these different periods and circumstances exhibit. The contexts and contents of the Scottish and the French Enlightenments to take only the most obvious examples differ substantially... and so on. But having detained himself with this for quite some time he then argues Persuasive as this objection may sound, I do not think it need detain us for long. It is reminiscent of the arguments of those revisionist Marxists who claim that no trace of economic determinism can be found in Marx... Contrary to such an agnostic, sceptical or revisionist view that there never was an identifiable Enlighten ment project, it is not difficult to discern this project in the central. Enlightenment thinkers, and to detect its presence in the new liberals, and its pervasive influence, almost as a universal unstated presupposition of discourse and policy, in the public culture of the contemporary United States. The core project of the Enlightenment was the displacement of local, customary or traditional moralities, and of all forms of transcen dental faith, by a critical or rational morality, which was projected as the basis of a universal civilization. So, now he knows.


* On Morality (2008).

Book Review: The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt.

Misc on return

I've been away for a few days. Don't worry I'll bore you with the details later. Doubtless you noticed and missed the usual high-quality analysis here.


What's been going on?

Popcorn of the day comes from The PM on Hancock: 'totally fucking hopeless': Some evidence re my and Hancock's testimony to MPs from Big Dom. What's interesting though is the inability of the meeja to tell truth from fantasy: they don't expect to have to think so don't really try: just present competing narratives.

Via Auke via Reuters (which remind me: fuck the cretinous GDPR) More China-invested overseas coal-fired power capacity was cancelled than commissioned since 2017. Which is nice. I'm not going to trouble myself if the research is believable, because it feels truthy.

Via PG we have Technology Saves the World by Marc Andreessen, which is also nice. Although I really wanted to go to Switzerland, not Wales. And Waterstones cafe shuts at 4 pm. Meanwhile JA's pix show that deaths are... well, not clearly heading up as the model thinks they should, which is encouraging.

And I nearly forgot: via Twatter: What Voltaire understood is that if diverse people are to cooperate they must focus on their common interest &  leave [...] religion at home. Unfortunately, the woke movement is bringing religion back into business (and every other aspect of life). Mission Protocol by  Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution.

Aand... why do otherwise intelligent people fall for ProPublica's drivel?

John Millar via CH: The authority of every government is founded in opinion; and no system, be it ever so perfect in itself, can be expected to acquire stability, or to produce good order and submission, unless it coincides with the general voice of the community. He who frames a political constitution upon a model of ideal perfection, and attempts to introduce it into any country, without consulting the inclinations of the inhabitants, is a most pernicious projector, who, instead of being applauded as a Lycurgus, ought to be chained and confined as a madman.

Agricultural land value as a percentage of GDP, since Murphy's Law? or, Follies of a Finite Physicist pops up again, as does The Secret of Eternal Growth by Michael Liebreich.


Climate crisis to shrink G7 economies twice as much as Covid-19, says research?

PXL_20210605_145633476 'Tis the Graun, and therefore not to be trusted with complicated things like numbers. But, a useful pointer to a new report, The economics of climate change: no action not an option from Swiss Re (the Graun describes it as "Oxfam and Swiss Re" but I don't see why Oxfam get a look-in).

To illustrate the difficulties of numbers, the Graun sez The G7 countries... will lose 8.5% of GDP a year, or nearly $5tn wiped off their economies, within 30 years if temperatures rise by 2.6C. I don't think that is believeable: losing 8.5% of GDP every year would pretty soon get you down to near-zero and would be catastrophic. I think they mean "lose 8.5%, which means every year you have 8.5% less than you would otherwise have". Of course they don't mention that GDP will (on their projections) increase by <whatever> by 2050, so overall GDP will still be higher2 (shades of similar reports about agriculture1) but never mind.

Cast aside the Graun and proceed to the report. Which I immeadiately confess I only skimmed in the most basic manner. I'm really hoping someone else will read it for me. From the Exec Summary:
Recent scientific research indicates that current likely temperature-rise trajectories, supported by implementation of mitigation pledges, would entail 2.0–2.6°C global warming [over pre-industrial] by mid-century. We use this as the baseline to simulate the impact of rising temperatures over time, while also modelling for the uncertainties around most severe possible physical outcomes. The result is that global GDP would be 11–14% less than in a world without climate change (ie, 0°C change).
Is the temperature projection plausible? We're at about +1 now, we're increasing at ~0.25 per decade (you can tell I haven't looked at this stuff in a while, and a quick Google didn't find me a good answer) so +2 is plausible, +2.6 is probably pushing it (oh. See fig 3. They seem to have used RCP 8.5 for that, sigh). But grant them that: what's the damage, guv? They provide vast details of regional and national breakdown, feel free to read the report if you're interested, but for "World" we get –11.0% (+2) and –13.9% (+2.6); see table on page 4.

They do report that the Stern Review analysed a number of impact channels from climate change... used an IAM to quantify aggregate impact and concluded that... global warming would lead to estimated average losses of between 5.3% and 13.8% of world per-capita GDP in 2200. Now there's a massive difference between 13.8% by 2200 and 13.9% by 2050. One of the marks of honesty in these things is reconciling your differences against previous work; as far as I can see, they fail that test. 

I don't think they're using an IAM for their damage, but I couldn't be bothered to work out exactly what they are doing. But what I did find is that there is an "(un)known unknowns" element. So for example, the 11% for +2 is –1.3% –5.7% –11.0%, depending on whether you add in 0, x5 or x10 of the "(un)known unknowns"3. Page 14 notes that a key differentiator of our analysis is to adjust for omitted impact channels and (un)known unknowns, which other models typically do not do. This isn't totally unreasonable: a criticism of IAM damage functions is not including unknown things. However... the massive range (from 1.3% aka really-quite-small to 11.0% aka really-quite-large) should deffo have been called out in the Exec Summary. They justify their range with  For policy response, it is important that both public and private sector stakeholders do not underestimate the full loss potential that climate risks pose as though it were a one-way decision: but of course it isn't. There is also policy risk from over-estimation. Quite what the (U)U are, I'm not sure... well, obviously not, they're unknown, but quite how they calculate them. They say Absent quantifiable data and acknowledging the presence of known unknowns and unknown unknowns, we take the cross-country median of the combined elasticity of productivity-linked channels (agricultural, heat stress and human health impacts) as a proxy for the omitted channels, and correct country-specific parameters by adding that composite proxy to the estimated productivity elasticity of a given country but that's gobbledegook to me.


* A project of one's own - Paul Graham.
* ProPublica's Bombshell, Bullshit Tax Story: What happens when journalists don't have any friends in finance to challenge their thinking? by Jeremy Arnold via Twatter.


2. Timmy also notices this point and writes on it for the - spit  - GWPF (safe arch link); I wonder how much they paid him? (I'm presuming they paid him cos otherwise I guess he'd just put it on his blog). But they didn't get much for their money; he expands this one point into an entire article.

3. A point that (boo, hiss) Bjorn Lomborg correctly makes. A point which the usual idiots - in this case the secretive David Roberts - totally miss.


Declaring a climate emergency?

IMG_20210602_141530_864 Ponders ATTP, based off Matthew Nisbet1. It must be admitted that MN looks rather young, but that doesn't mean he is wrong; after all, KR and I look rather old but that doesn't make us right.

Shall we begin by considering the word "emergency"? It seems obvious that the climate is not an "emergency". So the phrase "climate emergency" does not denote an emergency, on the topic of climate. Instead it constitutes a new phrase, CE. That is misleading; but as long as we don't get confused by the words, not a problem. But obviously, with that definition, if becomes invalid to say "there is a CE! Therefore there is an emergency! Therefore we must do things urgently!"

Next consider MN's chief complaint (he goes, I think, a little off the rails later on, failing to sustain over an over-long piece; that's common, but not a reason to dismiss his valid complaint):
Secretary-General António Guterres [said] “Can anybody still deny that we are facing a dramatic emergency? That is why today, I call on all leaders worldwide to declare a State of Climate Emergency in their countries until carbon neutrality is reached.”

I agree with MN that this is a Bad Thing, whatever AG actually meant by it. Perhaps he only meant it rhetorically. In which case, he's a pointless windbag, but still bad: there are quite enough strongmen in the world today all to happy to take rhetorical cover for evil policies; science and the UN should not be encouraging this. And if he meant it literally - declare a state of emergency - then he's a nutter.

Weirdly, ATTP offers as defence of CE Also, neither Matthew Nisbet nor Mike Hulme seemed to provide some kind of viable alternative, at least not one that I could see. If we should avoid acknowledging a climate emergency, what should we do instead? First, this doesn't address MN's in-my-opinion-valid complaint re AG's language. Second, I think "we must do something; this is something; let's do it" is bad; saying so does not require an alternative and defending doing random-thing merely because someone has pointed out it is bad but provided no alternate is... bad. Third, there's always an alternative: carbon tax.


* Bartleby: Why the bullshit-jobs thesis may be, well, bullshit. David Graeber’s theory isn’t borne out by the evidence; h/t Timmy.


1. Honesty - or perhaps a gratuitious desire to insult - compels me to admit that I had previously declared that Prof. Matthew Nisbet is a twat.


Tits oot for the GWPF

sts Many years ago, in those unimaginably far-off days when a small number of people even cared about this stuff, the dorks at the GWPF started up a fake "inquiry" into temperature records. It swiftly sank into the slough of indifference. Opinion was split - amongst the few that could be bothered to have an opinion - as to whether the inquiry was always just a bit of PR filler into which they'd suckered a few simple-minded trusting folk like, errm, Roger A Pielke Sr; or whether they genuinely were dumb enough to think they would get submissions that suited their purpose1; we may never know.

But! Excitingly, Caerbannog noticed that the silly GWPF people hadn't renewed their domain name, tempdatareview.org, and so it has been cyber-squatted. Warning: that one really isn't safe for work. Unless you work in the porn industry I suppose. Here's an archive of its current state. If you want to review the list of those who were dumb enough to fall for the GWPF's wiles, there's an archive here. I don't think any of them have been honest enough to admit that it was all a scam.


1. It must be admitted that, whilst cautious, NS took them seriously enough to make a submission; and if you follow the links, I - whilst also cautious - reviewed his draft. This good faith contrasts with the Dork Side's lack of good faith.


* Timmy on Substack (I'm sure he'll be delighted to be reffed from this post).
* Anti-Democratic Conservatism Isn’t New; Conservatives’ theoretical arguments against democracy have long provided ammunition for opponents of reform by Joshua Tait. Liberals disliking Democracy is nothing more than a procedural device aimed at institutionalizing political liberty because they haven't thought clearly about what democracy is for and regard it as an end in itself.