Feed on

You are doing your students, and our world, an enormous injustice by telling them that wealth and income does not matter. Increasing wealth comes along with improvements in health, reductions in oppression, increases in opportunity – but I increasingly encounter students who simply dismiss out of hand that wealth is important. Note, I am not saying it is the “only” thing, but it is important, and very much a precondition for human betterment on a wide variety of measures.

… the Bastiat Bowl.


It seems to me that anti-GMO activists are open and proud discriminators on the basis of sex. Transgenic breeding techniques are targeted methods of introducing genes with particularly desirable characteristics into a plant or animal species. These very same characteristics have been for thousands of years, and can currently be, bred traditionally into plant and animal species. The outcomes are no different – in fact since transgenic approaches presumably can better target the genes to be transferred, there is very likely to be less of a concern regarding unintended side-effects and other acquired traits when these characteristics are introduced using modern biological technologies over more “traditional” breeding methods and certainly from mutation breeding.

Thus, to restate what we’ve argued here before, being opposed to “Genetic Modification” of plants and animals because they are GMOS and not because of the actual characteristics that are being selected for, is very akin to being opposed to parents conceiving of children through different sexual positions and practices. I’d pay a lot of money (OK, I wouldn’t, but I’d get a smile) to see a child advocacy group say, because they are concerned about the health of children, that only children produced via the missionary sexual position should be permitted.

Now, of course, I am taking the  very worst of the anti-GMO characterizations here, but those do seem to get more press than the moderate and understandable concerns some people may have. This report from the National Academy of Sciences does the GMO-thingy the right way. It takes all of the concerns seriously, and invited the harshest critics like Greenpeace to be part of the discussion process in putting together this report. This report ought to be the baseline for how the public discussion of GMOs takes place – but in my admittedly jaded view, the hysterical and sexually discriminating claims of the activists end up being the starting points for most conversations. This baseline framing of the issue is in my view not correct. But what do I know, I am only an economist.

It is surely the case that Mr. Bentham’s lifetime utility is much larger than would have otherwise been the case. How much should his satisfaction be weighted in the global social utility function? I most certainly love it when my students tell me that they are visiting London or planning to study abroad at UCL – I always ask them to wander on by to visit our old philosopher friend. Yes, that is him, his head has been fixed up a bunch I am told.

Many thanks to B.A. for the photo.


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.

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