Archive for the 'Ethics' Category

The Real Culprit in Paternalistic Legislation?

December 16, 2011

by Mario Rizzo

Christopher Hitchens, the great journalist and essayist, has died. Mr. Hitchens was not always right but he often was. I saw at the Cato blog a brief piece, posted by David Boaz, that Hitchens wrote on Mayor Bloomberg’s Nanny State. (HT: Dave Johnson). It was in reaction to smoking restrictions, but could easily apply, more generally, to paternalistic legislation. Read the rest of this entry »

Fannie, Dodd-Frank and Barney Frank

December 1, 2011

by Chidem Kurdas

Barney Frank  won’t run for Congress after his present term expires.  This May there were news stories about his  ex-lover getting a high-paying job at mortgage finance giant Fannie Mae while he sat on the Congressional committee that oversaw the government-sponsored entity.  Read the rest of this entry »

Politically Feasible

August 8, 2011

by Mario Rizzo

Many years ago, the distinguished economist, William H. Hutt, wrote a pamphlet called “Politically Impossible?” He argued that economists should not seek political relevance by proposing only those policies that they perceive as politically possible, practical or feasible. They should speak truth to power, so to say, and advocate those policies that they perceive to be in the “public interest.” (Interestingly, it is often considered a key element of the economic rationality of agents to be able to distinguish the desirable from the feasible.) Read the rest of this entry »

Healthcare as Social Planning

July 21, 2011

by Mario Rizzo

Although I am an advocate of voluntary birth control, I am not happy about (1) the equation of this choice with healthcare – even preventative healthcare (as if pregnancy were a disease); and (2) the government mandating that health insurers must cover these expenses, without even a copayment. Read the rest of this entry »

Hayden’s Straw Man Argument on “Interrogation Deniers”

June 2, 2011

by Roger Koppl

In a Wall Street Journal op ed of 2 June 2011, General Michael Hayden, director of the CIA from 2006 to 2009, compares “interrogation deniers” to “birthers” and “truthers.”  Hayden’s op ed mischaracterizes the basic claim of those who say torture is not effective, substitutes insult for argument, and includes a non sequitur worthy of the old joke that that “military intelligence” is an oxymoron.

Hayden defines “interrogation deniers” as “individuals who hold that the enhanced interrogation techniques used against CIA detainees have never yielded useful intelligence.”  Talk about a straw man!  I suppose there must be some “interrogation deniers” as defined by Hayden, and I suppose some of them are out there floating in the wide waters of the Internet, waiting for someone to cut and paste.  But I don’t know of any examples, and their possible existence at the margins of public discourse has no bearing on the public question.   As Glenn Greenwald noted on May 4th,  “Nobody has ever argued that brutality will never produce truthful answers.”  No.  “[T]he point has always been — as a consensus of interrogations professionals has repeatedly said — that there are far more effective ways to extract the truth from someone than by torturing it out of them.” Read the rest of this entry »

Confusion Masquerading as Science? Taxes and Spending

May 29, 2011

by Mario Rizzo

I am always amazed that when many economists give policy advice the sophistication and logical rigor that the discipline so values gets completely lost.

There are many ways to interpret this. One is that the level of precision appropriate to theory and to applied economics is not appropriate to the “art” of economic policy. Of course, I would suggest that maybe this teaches us something about the ultimate value of sophistication in the theoretical product. Do the precise concepts of theory and applied economics have referents in the “real world”? Or is most of the precision lost when we try to understand the world and recommend policies? This is an important question.

However, here I am interested in the sloppiness of the policy-relevant discussions that even very good and respectable economists produce. One interesting example is a recent “Economix” piece in The New York Times by the Princeton economist Uwe Reinhardt.

I have two points: first, the confusing mix of science and value judgments; and second, the naïve analysis of the political process. Read the rest of this entry »

Moral Trial and Error

May 23, 2011

by Mario Rizzo

The recent discussion-thread at the blog Coordination Problem regarding a Hayekian case for same-sex marriage got me thinking more generally about moral evolution.

In a market there is a process of trial and error. New products or methods of production come into existence. Some fail; others succeed. Some speculators make successful predictions of the future course of prices; others make mistakes. In general, the filter for these decisions is the profit and loss mechanism.

F.A. Hayek famously argued that the evolution of institutions, including moral and legal rules, follows a similar course, that is, trial and error. And yet the analogy with market processes is far from perfect. How do we view the trial and error process of moral rules? What is the filtering mechanism?

Right off, let me say that I do not have definite answers to these questions. I simply have some relevant thoughts. Read the rest of this entry »

Risky Behavior at Wittenberg

March 21, 2011

by Chidem Kurdas

Watching Wittenberg at the Pearl Theater in New York took a group of us back to our graduate school days. This is a surprisingly entertaining comedy, creating merriment out of a mash of classical characters, modern themes and serious philosophy.

The year is 1517.  Two academics at Wittenberg University, Martin Luther and John Faustus, are more or less cordial colleagues but intellectual antagonists.

Both are dissatisfied. Dr. Faustus holds four graduate degrees – in medicine, law, philosophy and theology – but has found all this knowledge lacking. On top of that, the woman he loves leaves him.  Father Luther detests the Church’s selling of indulgences but feels he can’t do anything about it. Their star pupil, a Danish prince named Hamlet, is confused. Read the rest of this entry »

The Dilemma of Obamacare

March 23, 2010

by Mario Rizzo  

The very factors responsible for the passage of Obamacare may make it impossible to fund it adequately. There are certain myths about medical care that make it difficult to contain costs. The central myth, in not very exaggerated form, is that any care less than the best for anyone is the result of a contrived scarcity. If insurance companies were not so greedy for profit people could have the best care they deserve.   Read the rest of this entry »

Taxi Tipping: Why?

March 11, 2010

by Mario Rizzo  

Every so often people become annoyed about tipping expectations, especially in New York. It is hard not to become annoyed because prices here are already so high relative to other parts of the country. And it is also often the case that service, regardless of what you do ex post, is perfunctory.  

Why am I tipping the cab driver whom I shall not see again? I tip cabdrivers very small amounts because they really don’t do anything more than drive the cab. They are not especially careful drivers. Frequently, they don’t know where things are and you then must give them instructions. Furthermore, there are now all sorts of surcharges for evenings, rush hours, and even a tax to support the inefficiently-run mass transit system that I am not taking when I ride in a taxi.   Read the rest of this entry »

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