Spock’s Hammer

You’ve probably heard of Occam’s Razor, basically saying the simplest explanation is usually the best one. Scott Adams has made a point about election fraud that I’ll call “Spock’s Hammer”.

In an episode in the classic series, Spock is testifying at a court martial about Captain Kirk’s character. He says, “if I let go of a hammer on a planet that has a positive gravity, I need not see it fall to know that it has in fact fallen.

Adams comments on the certainty that there was cheating during the 2020 election. Given that cheating was made almost cost-free, and given that there were strong incentives for cheating, it is inevitable that cheating would have occurred. He states that if you drop ice cream on pavement on a hot day, you don’t need to hang around and watch it melt to know that it has, in fact, melted.

I think I prefer “Spock’s Hammer” to “Adams’ Ice Cream”.

Nothing personal.

Intellectual influences, part 1

(Arnold Kling)

Merle Kling was a professor of political science at Washington University. Our personalities were such that our relationship was a bit more like professor-student than father-son.

1. “Sometimes it’s this way, and sometimes it’s that way.” The most important idea that Merle Kling gave me was one he never wrote down.


2. Identifying nonsense. My father and his colleagues had a game that they would play when encountering high-sounding phrases (think of a self-help book or a speech at a political convention. Or think of a business book filled with buzzwords like “empowerment” and “synergy.”) Take all of the fancy words out of a paragraph and put them back in a completely different order. If changing the order of the fancy words does not change the meaning, then the paragraph in fact does not have any meaning. It is just using words in order to make listeners or readers feel like they are getting some profound insight.

Source: My intellectual influences, part 1: My father

You may think this doesn’t apply to you…..

The Curmudgeon

hope for our future

Nate Wilson, son of my favorite blogger and preacher Doug Wilson, has formulated a rule that more boards and committees should be aware of. He has said that “in any meeting that lasts over twenty minutes, someone will propose something which, if implemented, will ruin everything.” Don’t I know it.

I was on the board of a private Classical and Christian School, modeled after the principles expressed by Dorothy Sayers, in her book The Lost Tools of Learning, and of Doug Wilson’s update, Recovering The Lost Tools of Learning. My oldest daughter was part of their first class, and my other two daughters followed her a few years later. We started with the most marvelous of conditions, or so we thought. The entire board, faculty and student body were composed of members of two compatible conservative Christian churches. Our small town was located in…

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Boudreaux on the Progressive Mentality, Bryan Caplan | EconLog | Library of Economics and Liberty

Source: Boudreaux on the Progressive Mentality, Bryan Caplan | EconLog | Library of Economics and Liberty

It’s been my observation that the Left dismisses the notion of spontaneous order in markets (hence, free markets are rejected), while the Right dismisses the notion of spontaneous order in biology (hence, evolution is rejected). Apparently there are those who believe the Left’s rejection of spontaneous order is more widespread than just markets.

Bryan Caplan would disabuse them of this notion.

But ultimately, I think resentment of markets has little to do with incomprehension of “spontaneous order.”  Key point: As Hayek emphasizes, markets are only one form of spontaneous order.  Others include language, science, fashion, manners, and even informal hiking paths.  In each case, individuals pursue their own plans with no central direction, yet a tolerably well-functioning social order emerges.  And leftists rarely express resentment – or even worries – about the social value of any of these.  So how can spontaneous order be the crux of the issue?

My preferred story is much simpler: Leftists look at the world of business and see greedy people leading and prospering.  This upsets people of almost every ideology if they dwell on it.  On an emotional level, human beings want people with noble intentions in charge.  Who then are leftists?  They’re the sub-set of humans who feel these emotions with exceptional intensity and durability – and accept a group identity that reinforces such emotions.  Why is a power-hungry politician who bullies strangers with big plans and pompous speeches more “nobly intentioned” than a greedy businessman who woos strangers with fine wares and low prices?  I don’t know, but clearly I’m in the minority here.

Mike Pence’s dining preference is ‘rape culture’?

Source: Mike Pence’s dining preference is ‘rape culture’?

Some years ago Tal Nitzan, a sociology student at Hebrew University and an ardent anti-Zionist, used her Master’s thesis to explore how Israel’s “racist” soldiers use rape as a weapon of terror and intimidation. There was only one problem. Once she began her research, she could not find a single documented case of rape by an Israel Defence Forces soldier of a Palestinian woman.

Undeterred, Nitzan simply turned her original thesis upside down and came to the exact same conclusion: the soldiers were still racist and still bent on humiliating Palestinian women — by refusing to rape them. Nitzan wrote: “The lack of military rape merely strengthens the ethnic boundaries and clarifies the inter-ethnic differences — just as organized military rape would have done.”

It sounds silly, I know, but her thesis won a departmental prize. And I could not help but think of Nitzan’s non-rape-as-rape theory when I read Ashley Csanady’s indictment of American vice-president Mike Pence as a representative of “rape culture.”

I suppose by the same token, members of Alcoholics Anonymous are representative of “booze culture” when they avoid places and situations where they might suffer a relapse. Perhaps, if they weren’t primitive bigots, they’d just exercise some self-control and stop after the first drink.

Words have meaning. A term like rape culture — a concept I have criticized, in its common application in North America — also has a clear, generally understood meaning. Torturing definitions to suit a flimsy thesis deprives words and descriptive terms of not just their power but that very meaning. If “rape culture” can mean literally the exact opposite of non-consensual sex, or extreme fidelity to one’s spouse, then it means nothing. Not exactly what a real rape victim wants to read.

Patterico’s Pontifications » What Should Be the Next Step on Repealing ObamaCare? Ted Cruz Has the Answer

Source: Patterico’s Pontifications » What Should Be the Next Step on Repealing ObamaCare? Ted Cruz Has the Answer

The TrumpCare bill (AHCA) was a disaster. It was not a vote to repeal ObamaCare, but rather a vote to keep it, and tweak it. That’s not what Republicans promised to do, and it’s not good enough. We should not mourn its passing, but celebrate it. The defeat of the bill was glorious, and the members of the Freedom Caucus who opposed it are heroes.

The reason fans of the free market are angry is not because TrumpCare failed — but because of the statements by Paul Ryan and Donald Trump that they are done with trying to repeal ObamaCare. Those statements are wrong and dangerous. As Ted Cruz once said:

First principle: Honor our promise. When you spend six years promising, “If only we get elected, we’ll repeal Obamacare,” you cannot renege on that promise. Failure is not an option. Breaking our word would be catastrophe. The voters would, quite rightly, never again trust Republicans to deliver on anything.


The response to the defeat of TrumpCare is not to pick up the ball and go home. It must be to draft a bill that actually does what Republicans promised, and drives down costs through market-based mechanisms.

How to spot an ideologue

Source: How to spot an ideologue

So how do we recognize the language of “ideology” and distinguish it from a “principled position”? One common clue is that those who hold a principled position welcome arguments; they welcome having their position tested and possibly corrected. A principled position always has room for increased subtlety and greater complexity.

Holders of an “ideology,” on the other hand, will tend to eschew argument or any examination of the ideology’s underlying presuppositions or premises, often refusing to concede that greater subtlety may be required to apply the principles to real-life situations. Ideology disdains argument; people with principled positions embrace it warmly and engage in it gladly.


Ideology Makes Blanket Claims and Makes Ad Hominem Attacks

When people make blanket claims about a group (“white people are like X;” “black people never do Y”), they are expressing an ideology, not using words tailored to fit reality. Human beings are simply too diverse and complicated to fit into such universal categories. If you hear someone summing up the “state of the Russian mind” or “what the American people want” or claiming that politician X shows sure signs of a social pathology, but there is no evidence of research nor of any time spent personally examining the psychology of the individual, then you’re dealing with quackery; the person is a fake.

Such people will check their scientific methodology at the door in order to gain a place in the arena of modern media’s ideological shouting match. They are welcomed by groups that want a certain sort of “voice”—not a quiet, calm, thoughtful voice, but one that will provide pseudo-intellectual “cover” for all the prejudices that group already possesses.

If, rather than trying to glean evidence from observable reality, a person seems more intent on forcing reality into the categories of his or her system, then you’re dealing with an ideologue. If evidence supporting a theory is trumpeted loudly and repeatedly, and evidence that may refute it is ignored repeatedly, then it’s an ideology, not a principled position. If every bit of data, no matter how contrary, is taken as evidence of the truth of the theory, then it’s ideology, not science.


If you often find yourself dismissing your interlocutors as fools or scoundrels, and you hear the words “we need more dialogue” coming out of your mouth, at least be honest with yourself. When you complain about the need for more dialogue in this way, without showing the patience and respect needed to engage in it, your statement can mean nothing more than “more people should listen to me and people who think like me.” I assure you, everyone else feels that way—including your opponents.

Comparative Advantage: The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics | Library of Economics and Liberty

Source: Comparative Advantage: The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics | Library of Economics and Liberty

When asked by mathematician Stanislaw Ulam whether he could name an idea in economics that was both universally true and not obvious, economist Paul Samuelson’s example was the principle of comparative advantage. That principle was derived by David Ricardo in his 1817 book, Principles of Political Economy and Taxation. Ricardo’s result, which still holds up today, is that what matters is not absolute production ability but ability in producing one good relative to another.


This increase in total output is not the result of any of the factors Adam Smith identified. It is the result exclusively of Ann specializing more in fishing and Bob specializing more in gathering bananas. This happy outcome occurs because in this society (here, just two people), each person concentrates more fully on producing those goods that each produces comparatively efficiently—that is, efficiently compared with others.

For each fish she catches, Ann sacrifices one-half of a banana; that is, for each fish she catches, she produces one-half fewer bananas than otherwise. For each banana she gathers, she sacrifices two fish. Standing alone, these numbers are meaningless. But when compared with the analogous numbers for Bob, the results tell where each person’s comparative advantage exists.


For each fish Bob catches, he sacrifices one banana. So Ann’s cost of producing fish is lower than Bob’s—one half of a banana per fish for Ann compared with one banana per fish for Bob. Ann should specialize in fishing.

But if Ann catches fish at a lower cost than does Bob, then Bob produces bananas at a lower cost than does Ann. While Ann’s cost of producing a banana is two fish, Bob’s cost is only one fish. Bob should specialize in gathering bananas.

Viewed from each individual’s perspective, Ann knows that each fish she catches costs her half a banana; so she is willing to sell each of her fish at any price higher than one-half of a banana. (In our example, she sold thirty-seven fish to Bob at a price of roughly two-thirds of a banana per fish.) Bob knows that each banana costs him one fish to produce, so he will sell bananas at any price higher than one fish per banana. (In our example, he sold twenty-five bananas at a price of about one and one-half fish per banana.)

There is nothing special about this particular price. Any price of fish between half a banana and one full banana will generate gains from trade for both Ann and Bob. What is important is the existence of at least one price that is mutually advantageous for both persons. And such a price (or range of prices) will exist if comparative advantage exists—which is to say, if each person has a different cost of producing each good.

When the lower-cost fisherman (Ann) produces more fish than she herself plans to consume—that is, catches fish that she intends to trade—Bob taps in to her greater efficiency at fishing. He cannot produce fish himself at a cost lower than one banana per fish, but by trading with Ann he acquires fish at a cost of two-thirds of a banana. Likewise, by trading with Bob, Ann taps in to Bob’s greater efficiency at gathering bananas.

The above example, though simple, reveals comparative advantage’s essential feature. Making the example more realistic by adding millions of people and millions of goods and services only increases the applicability and power of the principle, because larger numbers of people and products mean greater scope for mutually advantageous specialization and exchange.

Also, while the principle of comparative advantage is typically introduced to explain international trade, this principle is the root reason for all specialization and trade. Nothing about the presence or absence of a geopolitical border separating two trading parties is essential. But study of this principle does make clear that foreigners are willing to export only because they want to import. It is the desire for profitable exchange of goods and services that motivates all specialization and exchange.