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Dear Nudgers

President Donald J. Trump is your Nudger in Chief.

Here are some glowing endorsements.

“For generations paternalism has had a bad odor, and individual autonomy has reigned supreme. Sarah Conly’s book will change all of that. She argues in favor of paternalism with rigor and gusto, and persuasively shows how shedding our reflexive aversion to paternalism will make people better off. Some will be persuaded and others not, but this book will forever change the nature of the debates about paternalism, autonomy, and the role of the state in individual well-being.”
Frederick Schauer, David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law, University of Virginia

“Sarah Conly has written the best book about paternalism since Mill, and the best philosophical defense of paternalism we have to date. Tough-minded, resourceful, precise, and informed by knowledge of both psychology and the regulatory state, the book issues a challenge to which, from now on, anyone who objects to paternalistic government policies will have to respond. A marvelous achievement.”
Martha Nussbaum, Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, University of Chicago

“According to Mill, ‘Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.’ Sarah Conly disagrees. In this lively, accessible, sensible, and well argued book, Conly makes a case for coercive paternalism that critics of the ‘nanny state’ will have to take seriously.”
Alan Wertheimer, Professor Emeritus, University of Vermont

“… careful, provocative, and novel, and it is a fundamental challenge to Mill and the many people who follow him …”
Cass R. Sunstein, The New York Review of Books

“… Sarah Conly’s book Against Autonomy is the first full-length, philosophical exploration and defense of a much broader, and coercive, paternalism … This is a well-written, thoughtful, informed, treatment of its topic. One test of the quality of a book’s argumentation is to see, when a doubt arises in one’s mind about some claim, whether the author, at some point, addresses it. Conly passes this test with high marks …”
Gerald Dworkin, University of California, Davis, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

“… a timely and important addition to the literature on paternalism … this is a well-written, well-argued volume that will be of interest to undergraduates, graduate students, and researchers … Highly recommended …”
J. S. Taylor, The College of New Jersey, Choice

“… a concise and coherent argument worth considering by students and the lay public interested in the intersection of philosophy, politics, and psychology. It is written in plain language with minimal philosophical jargon, and is both accessible and eminently readable … Overall, the book is coherent and generally very well-argued …”
Matthew A. Butkus, Metapsychology

“… a thought-provoking contribution (in every sense of the word provoking) both to general practical philosophy and to biomedical ethics in particular … this book is worth reading because it poses the right questions and does not shy away from consequences which may be drawn from this although violating political correctness at first sight … should be studied by everyone who is interested in defending autonomy and liberty for finite human beings.”
Michael Quante, Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

“… usefully illuminates the moral-ethical complexities and risks of community-based lawyering for pro bono attorneys who stand up in defense of impoverished communities.”
Michigan Law Review

In fact I’m not at all clear how my family got to America. I think three generations above me had people illegally sneaking into the US from both Canada and I think parts south. But my family doesn’t quite know. But as sure as the ocean is salty, my kind was not much liked – we were dirty, religious zealot, wops from Southern Italy. One grandfather worked as a coat cutter, he died of cancer before I was born. Another grandfather was a stonecutter. He died of cancer before I was born.

My family of 8 (you see, those disgusting immigrants just don’t know how to stop making babies) lived entirely on the second floor apartment of the brick house you see here on the right. There was one bathroom. My sister lived in a converted closet. My brothers crashed together, I think the first time I ever had my own room was as a Junior at Amherst College. When we came into the neighborhood now 100 years ago, “there goes the neighborhood” was front and center. Ironically of course, such cries remained and were common when I was a kid, up until my family finally left at the turn of the millenium. The nice folks who purchased the building we grew up in seemed to have made it look a lot nicer than when we lived there, cleaning up the facade, adding a fence, redoing the side walls, installing satellites and fixing the entrance. They were a family of bakers from Guyana if I recall (I was already off to college when the building was sold).

It’s no wonder my kind was hated. We were fervent adherents to a religion, educated in our own schools too (I’ve of course since fallen), and there were some scary types of folks who shared some things in common with us.

Thank god it was not “liberty for me but not for thee” when my forefathers risked everything to come here. Though, I must say, given how many people dislike me … OK, here’s my old place.


Putting a ban on legal immigrants because of their religion lowers the deplorable President below any action in recent memory by US Presidents. This action certainly ranks right up there with preventing Jewish European refugees from coming to America to flee the terror of 1930s Europe.

I have always been a tremendous supporter of civil disobedience. At this moment, I think the clock is ticking closer to uncivil being in order.

On the other hand, the “ban” does not exactly seem to be how it is being reported. That said, this doesn’t end well.

Sadly, I know a lot of folks who are happy at this executive order, and we live in a world where I still can’t manage to express my disgust with this sentiment properly.

We live in a less free and less brave country today. Some say it’s been trending that way for decades, but never in my lifetime in this grotesque way.

Doesn’t a de facto version already exist? There are about 3.5 million fast food employees in the US, there are a million and a half American Walmart employees (so maybe a million clerks), there are over 6 million entertainment attendants (e.g. ticket takers, etc.), well over a million cashiers in the retail sector outside of these, and so on. The point is not that these are jobs anyone can have to get themselves rich, but the point is that these are jobs almost anyone could secure at any time with almost no or little training or “skill” to speak of. This observation covers many people who are variously not born lucky physically or mentally as well. My local McDonalds is always hiring, and they pay $10.25 an hour for entry level jobs. At full-time this is over $20,000 per year, and it includes benefits, training, career mobility and a community of people to interact with.

My point is not that it is easy for someone to transition to these jobs in the family labor supply sense – there are issues of child care, parent-care, transportation, and such, that make labor supply decisions more complicated (though a vast many people are able to navigate these challenges, especially if family structure is intact), the point is that it is certainly “easy” to find employment that pays considerably more than any level of UBI could ever promise to pay. If one reason to support a UBI is to enable people to take risks and to have peace of mind about their uncertain futures, then why is an annual $8,000-$10,000 cash grant via UBI much more attractive than a $20,000 per year job with upside? Or even if someone works part-time at McDonalds, that is $10,000 per year, plus all of the time to get additional education, take entrepreneurial risks, and so on?  One reason people support the UBI is something like, “people can live together and share it.” Well, if multiple adults all live together working at McDonalds, that is a good amount of income too, and all of that without burdening taxpayers or the potential negative incentives of cash grants – leaving a heck of a lot more resources available to fund basic research, maintain infrastructure, expand health-care access, and so on.

Just think about it. If things REALLY went into the crapper for my wife and I, we could each very easily secure a job at McDonalds or Walmart, earning a combined $40,000. We could easily rent a smaller place than we live in today and be comfortable, we could send our kids to the “free” public school, we would easily qualify for ACA subsidies, we could shop more intelligently, and we could keep our current cars for a little while longer. No, we wouldn’t be taking weeklong ski vacations or securing cottages in Maine, but we’d live pretty similarly to how we live today. Knowing that this option is always out there for us is a very fine insurance policy, and surely influences the way we are currently living.

I think it is high time to raise the status of “crappy low-wage” jobs.

Sit these two papers side by side and ponder them.

  1. Food prices and poverty
  2. China and trade

I’ve got so much to say that I’ll end this post here!

Friday Fun Fact

There are over TWICE as many realtors in the US as there are automobile workers at the Big Three auto firms.

Here is the latest “Big Push” to “fix” failing schools. It failed. That is utterly unsurprising. I do appreciate that this was tried, there should be vastly more experimentation in education, but I am afraid that this really isn’t the kind of experimentation that would lead to improvements. Of course this effort will be unilaterally ignored by the edu-stablishment, largely because “they” take any criticism as a personal indictment and not one of the “system” which inevitably is unsuited to actually educating children.

So, reusable shopping bags are becoming even costlier than I argued earlier:


My local supermarket, which is nationally recognized as being both great at customer service and also great at appearing green to its customers, has finally recognized that customers who use reusable shopping bags impose costs on other people in line by making the lines move more slowly and on the checkout staff by making it harder and more time consuming to move items from conveyer belt to bag to cart.

So, in response, it turns out that the supermarket, when things are busy, such as they are on a winter Sunday morning, keeps a staff of extra checkout clerks, at the ready in order to do the bagging and packaging when customers bust out their reusable bags and to keep lines from getting long and keep them moving more quickly. I eyeballed 3 to 4 staff members roaming around the back of the crowded checkouts this morning. The store also did not appreciate me snapping the photo.

As a general rule, I do not even care how long a supermarket line is anymore, I only examine whether the customers in front of me happen to be using reusable bags, my estimate is that on average for every two customers using them, that is the equivalent of three customers who do not. Wegmans surely has the data on this, and it would be very interesting to see it – but in any case, the proof is in the pudding – the fact that they employ staff to help those lines move more quickly, when the trend in supermarkets for decades has been to eliminate the use of baggers, suggests that these are quite costly.

Finally, this is what “Make America Great Again” means, but imagine it writ large. Making trade with other countries more difficult, and workshipping at the altar of manufacturing jobs in America imposes costs. No doubt the MAGA crowd would point to the clerk in the picture as an example of everything that is right about their anti-progressive policies, those with an understanding of economics will rightly ask, “at what cost?” Instead of packaging those employees could be offering better service, prices could be lower, or we’d have employment expanding elsewhere. Would the folks who are ardent supporters of plastic bag bans and using reusable bags like to align themselves with Trumpist-economics? The great benefit of the current Administration existing is that it really does put economic ignorance on display and also challenges opponents of Trump to come up with reasons to hate Trump OTHER than the fact that his economics are bad. Why? Because there tends to be an economic illiteracy among holders of almost any policy positions, but there is no way “they” can get themselves to oppose a hated enemy on the grounds that his economic ideas are bad, because they too hold those same ideas (e.g. protectionism).



This sort of article is either why I started blogging in the first place, or am on the verge of quitting. It’s extraordinarily disingenuous and frustrating. Here is one example:

With unions only a distant memory for many people, federal minimum-wage legislation has become the best hope for propping up wages for low-income workers. And again, the worldview of economism comes to the aid of employers by abstracting away from the reality of low-wage work to a pristine world ruled by the “law” of supply and demand.

Really. The BEST? Not figuring out ways to increase the demand for their services? Not figuring out ways to improve their productivity? Not wage subsidies or EITC or any other program like it? Nope, the BEST hope is the minimum wage.

And yes, all of us economists are in the employ of employers. Actually, we are, by University employers. But if one ends a big think article on the premise that a huge industry of economists exists to blow the party line of businesses, that should tell you something about the intellectual edifice the piece is built on. At least now my econ students have a nice long article they are going to have to go paragraph by paragraph through – to benefit the employers of course.

Should the likes of Donald Trump and his economic ilk ever choose to be intellectually consistent, particularly with their view that trading with human beings who happen to reside in other countries is bad for human beings who happen to reside within the borders of the United States, then surely they should ban the following:


What is that? Well, it is the newest technology rolled out by Ski Boot manufacturers all over the world. These are heated ski boots! Skiers (especially kids!) will love these. But oh, think of how horrible this technology is, it is going to destroy so many jobs in this sector:

Image result for hand warmers

Should the incoming Jackbooters care to be consistent in their views, I wholly expect to see strongarming of the boot manufacturers to “roll back” their plans to roll out this cool new technologies. I’m looking forward to the press conference from both the new White House and the ski companies – an extra kudos to those of you who wish to send me some verbiage as to what that fiasco might sound like.


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