Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Penist

I wanted to write something about Roman Polanski's arrest, but what is there to write? He admitted to doing the crime. Rape is illegal and for good reason.

Apparently, people who think he shouldn't be extradited either believe 1) talented (or rich, or famous) people need not follow the law, 2) people who avoid arrest for long enough should be rewarded for being wily or 3) rape is okay? It's hard to believe anyone is willing to take one of these positions, but they do.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Second Amendment Incorporation

Does the Second Amendment restrict the powers of individual states? Initially, the restrictions on government power in the Bill of Rights only applied to the federal government. For example, the First Amendment begins "Congress shall make no law . . ." indicating that the restrictions in that amendment only apply to the "congress" of the federal government. However, since the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, The Supreme Court has gone right by right through the amendments in the Bill of Rights, determining whether or not the right in question should be incorporated against the states. Most of the Bill of Rights, has in fact, been incorporated.

One of the few remaining incorporation questions is whether the Second Amendment should be incorporated against the states. The recent Heller decision, holding that individuals have a right to keep and bear arms for self defense, was taken on appeal from Washington D.C. City ordinance. The Second Amendment clearly applied in that case because D.C. is not chartered by a state, but by the federal government.

If you think that for consistency's sake a court has to incorporate the rights in the Second Amendment, you'd be wrong. While the Ninth Circuit has sort of ruled that the Second Amendment is incorporated, The Second and Seventh Circuits have already rejected incorporation based largely upon precedents, like Presser and Cruikshank. Those cases, however, are not directly on point as there are three methods of incorporation, and those cases deal reject only the first two methods of incorporation. Direct incorporation is rejected because the case Duncan says none of the first eight amendments are binding on the states. Incorporation through the privileges or immunities clause was also rejected in the Slaughterhouse cases.

The last method of incorporation is through the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and is the method by which most of the Bill or Right has been incorporated. This test--a shoot off of substantive due process--asks whether the right is "fundamental, meaning 'necessary to an Anglo-American regime of ordered liberty.' "Nordyke v. King, (9th Cir. 2009) (citing Duncan, 391 U.S. at 149 n.14 (emphasis added).) That's a fuzzy standard, but obviously a good argument for incorporation can be made.

How conservative and liberal justices are likely to answer the Second Amendment incorporation question is ironic. Liberals, who always seems ready to find new rights in the constitution, weren't excited about the robust Second Amendment rights created/reaffirmed in Heller. Now, those same liberals, who favor incorporation and top-down federal regulation, are the jurists most likely to vote against incorporating the Second Amendment.

Conservatives face the reverse problem: they are usually seen as supporting states rights, but will be imposing a restriction on the state. But, to be fair "conservatives" (some of whom are originalist) usually believe in following the constitution's requirements, even when it infringes upon state rights. So the question isn't so much policy, but the constitution. The liberals have this same argument, but because they've already incorporate almost every other right, they'd be acting more inconsistent to oppose this rights.

The real problem for the originalist is that he generally does not believe incorporation is constitutionally mandated. Scalia says that he does not believe the incorporation is proper under the Fourteenth Amendment. Still, he accepts incorporation because the cases were decided long ago, and the doctrine is too settled to overturn it now. Still, in order to incorporate the Second Amendment, Scalia will probably have to rely upon substantive due process, a legal doctrine he has long disparaged.

And what should an originalist who is less deferential to precedent, like Thomas, do? As Justice Scalia says, "Clarence Thomas does not believe in stare decisis, period." "Or even setting aside Thomas's views, suppose you're an originalist that does not believe the incorporation is proper but you are faced with the question of whether to incorporate the Second Amendment. Do you follow the incorporation precedents that you believe are wrong and incorporate a right against the states because it is consistent with what has been done before, and open yourself up to criticism that you are abandoning your principles of interpretation for policy reasons? Or do you not incorporate the Second Amendment and leave one of the few rights in the Bill of Rights unincorporated to be faithful to your originalist understanding of the constitution, even though that understanding will never be law?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Pardox of Thrift

I'm trying to understand Keynesian business cycle theory. I think I get this much. There's a shock to the system that causes consumers to worry about the future. In order to smooth consumption, consumer spend less and save more. Spending less decreases the demand for goods and services. The resulting drop in demand for goods and services causes a drop in demand for people providing those goods and services, resulting lower GDP and unemployment.

Classical economics says that the creators of goods and services will respond to lower demand by lowering prices, and at the lower price they will be able to sell what they could have earlier. Similarly, workers will respond to lower demand by working for less.

Keynesians believe that prices and wages are sticky--that it takes time for people to understand that the labor that used to be worth more in nominal dollars, is actually worth less now in nominal terms. Thus, the necessary adjustment does not take place for some time, and that results in prolonged periods of unemployment and depressions.

Keynesians view the solution to this problem as increasing aggregate demand, or the total demand in the system for goods and services. If demand falls because of some shock to the system, it can be restored by government stepping in to supplement the demand, by spending money.

I'm having a hard time understanding the idea that saving reduces consumption, also called the paradox of thrift. Russ Robert and Steve Fazzari go a couple rounds on this point, here. I've now listened to this podcast twice, and I still don't quite get it. And I've been thinking about this occasionally since I first studied Keynes in college some years ago.

I do understand on one level that if a dollar comes to me, and I put 20 cents under my mattress, and spend 80 cents, and then someone else does the same thing (saving 20% and spending 80%) that will result in X number of dollars of economic activity. If you "save" less, and spend more, like say you save only 10%, and spend 90%, there will be more economic activity.

But "saving" in this instance is putting the money under your mattress. Saving, at least in common parlance, also means putting the money in the bank. The bank, however, is going to lend all but a small portion of that money out. So suppose you put a dollar in the bank instead of spending 90% of it, the bank will lend most of it out, and the person who get that loan will spend the money on consumption. It seems to me that, saving, then is actually mostly investing, which is also a specific type of consumption, which does not, in fact, reduce consumption, triggering the paradox of thrift.

So despite Fazzari's efforts, I don't understand the paradox of thrift.

UPDATE: ask and ye shall receive. Here is an article about Keynes by Richard Posner. Still not sure I understand the paradox, though.

Glenn Beck II

I should say two more things about Beck. First, he has a tendency toward conspiracy theories, which I eschew. Second, I never watch or listen to him. But I do think he brings something to the table.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Glenn Beck

Not sure how I feel about Glenn Beck. He's fidgety. He's melodramatic. I find it hard to watch him at times. I prefer satire, but he's sarcasm. He makes me laugh sometimes, but not always. I prefer Limbaugh's humor.

Beck boarders on being a populist and a demagogue. I have a really hard time watching the sort of self righteousness that people like O'Reilly and Beck sometimes display. But then, Beck also get self righteous for good reasons, like his big scores against Van Jones and ACORN.

Beck can be cringe inducing--like when he says he only married his wife because she wouldn't sleep with him otherwise.

Beck also runs his mouth. Calling Obama racist was, I think, pretty dumb. This is maybe my biggest beef with Beck. People in positions like his should pick their words carefully. (Same complaint about Ann Coulter and her 9/11 widows remarks). I even knew what he meant, and agree in general, but his words give the opposition too much ammunition.

On the plus side, we pretty much agree on most things. Also, Beck's a principled libertarian, where as O'Reilly is a a populist without consistent guiding principles.

Beck is criticized unfairly. Beck isn't "dividing us." Americans are divided because we disagree about how this county should be governed. That's what democracy is about. We should battle out our differences, not try to suppress them.

Beck is also a convert to the church. He bears a strong testimony and seems quite genuine in this respect. I very much enjoy watching him when he is talking about church and religion.

So, with those reservations, I say, two one cheers to Glenn Beck!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Keys to the Kingdom II

One other thing about priesthood keys--what are they exactly?

Again, the standard church manual explanation is that "priesthood keys authorize priesthood holders to preside over and direct the Church within a jurisdiction, such as a stake, ward, or quorum."

That definition works fine in most circumstance. But there is one problem: Members of the Quorum of the twelve have all the priesthood keys, but do not have the authority to exercise them; only the president of the church has the authority to exercise them.

If you put the definition of priesthood keys together, with the restriction on the member of the quorum of the twelve it goes like this: Members of the Quorum of the twelve have authority to preside over and direct the church, but not the right to exercise that authority.

If you can't exercise the authority to preside, do you actually have the authority to preside? What exactly do you have?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tsk, Tsk,

I'm watching Michael Moore on Leno. Leno keeps saying that Moore's film "Capitalism: A Love Story" is "bipartisan", and implicity arguing that the film is balanced, because it criticizes both Republicans and Democrats. Since when is criticizing both parties from the left being balanced?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Death of the Media

It's no secret big news is dying. I wish this was because the media are so obviously biased. (If you don't believe it, here are two examples from this week alone.) Unfortunately, I think their downfall has way more to do with the internet and Craigslist than politics.

Should we lament the downfall of the media or celebrate it? Someone has to do fact gathering and doing it takes time and work. Newspapers used to be able to make money doing this because theere was a serious barrier to entry, namely, you had to have a printing press. Furthermore, there was a good way to tie advertising services to the product, because there was physical copy of the paper. With the internet decoupling the advertising and product, and also removing the barrier to entry, papers are struggling to make a profit. With fewer papers, there are fewer jobs for reports and less investigative reporting.

That's the downside. But on the upside, I'm really glad that we don't have to rely upon the mainstream media's gate-keeping decisions. If we did, it seems we would never know about Bill Ayers, Jeremiah Wright, ACORN, Dan Rather, Van Jones and a host of other important stories. Furthermore, while the incentives to do investigative reporting are down, the costs associated with doing that work are down, too. Specifically, research is much easier with the internet. In fact, many hobbyists do a much better job of looking into the facts of "inconvenient" stories.

The real pluses, however, come on the analysis side. the questions still remains: what do the facts mean? Now anyone can weigh in on that question. A slight reduction in fact gathering, but a large increase in free content, voices, and competition between ideas equals progress in my opinion.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Keys to the Kingdom

This is kind of an obscure Mormon topic. But it's what I'm thinking about, I find church government interesting, and this is my blog.

When Joseph Smith died there was some uncertainty about who would be the next leader of the church. For several years the quorum of the twelve apostles governed the church until Brigham Young eventually was called to be prophet. According to Wikipedia, Brigham Young relied upon current section 104 to make the argument that the Quorum of the Twelve should lead the church in the interim. That bring up the first question-- what does D&C 104:22-36 mean?
22 Of the aMelchizedek Priesthood, three bPresiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and cupheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church.
23 The atwelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve bApostles, or special cwitnesses of the name of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.
24 And they form a quorum, aequal in authority and power to the three presidents previously mentioned.
25 The aSeventy are also called to bpreach the gospel, and to be especial witnesses unto the Gentiles and in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.
26 And they form a quorum, equal in aauthority to that of the Twelve special witnesses or Apostles just named.
Now these verses say that the quorum of the twelve and seventy are equal in authority to the first presidency, but that clearly is not the case. When the first presidency is properly formed, then it controls the church, not these other quorums. See President Hinckley's explanation here. So the quorums of the twelve is not equal in authority to the first presidency unless the first presidency is not in existence, (such as after Josephs Smith's death) in which case the lower quorum steps into its shoes and governs the church.

This makes sense for quorums that have priesthood keys. Priesthood "keys authorize priesthood holders to preside over and direct the Church within a jurisdiction, such as a stake, ward, or quorum." Some priesthood callings come with keys. Others do not, but use the keys of another through delegation. The President of the church has all the priesthood keys for the church, and is authorized to use them. Similarly, the Apostles have all the priesthood keys necessary to govern the church, but are not authorized to use them (unless there is no president). The seventy, however, "do not receive additional priesthood keys, but with each assignment they receive from the First Presidency or the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, they are delegated authority to accomplish the assignment given." (Additional Keys? I didn't think they had any keys at all.)

So, what does it mean that the quorum of the seventy is equal in authority to the first presidency and quorum of the twelve? It could mean that if both the first presidency and the quorum of the twelve are dissolve, the seventy govern the church. But that can't be the case because the seventy have no keys, which are necessary to govern. The only answer I can think of is that there is no first presidency, and for some reason, the quorum of the twelve (or at least someone from the quorum with the keys) is around, but cannot govern for some reason. It actually doesn't make sense.

Someone in church on Sunday suggested that, because the seventy have no keys, if all the members of the first presidency and quorum of the twelve should die, then the stake presidents from throughout the world must gather together to have all the keys necessary to govern. That can't be right. They would have the keys of presidency for the stakes, but there are other keys, like the keys for the gathering of Israel and the sealing power. Stake presidents don't have these keys. Plus having the keys is not the same as having the authority to confer those keys on another.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Suppresion of the Nauvoo Expositor

The Nauvoo Expositor printed only one issue attacking Joseph Smith before it was destroyed. The press was destroyed by the marshal under the direction of the Nauvoo City Council and Mayor, who happened to be . . . Joseph Smith.

Nothing about the destruction of the printing press ever seemed right to me. Where are the owners' due process rights? The destruction happened three days after the first issue was printed. The owners of the press had no notice or opportunity to attend a hearing before the destruction. There was no trial. The people making the decision to destroy the press--namely Joseph Smith--obviously had a personal interest in the outcome, as they were attacked by the paper. Also, where are the owners' free speech and free press rights?

Despite what seem like glaring legal problems, smart LDS people insist that the destruction was legal. After a little poking around, I discovered that Elder Dallin Oaks wrote a law review article answering that very question. Oaks, Dallin H. "the Suppression of the Nauvoo Expositor" Utah law Review 9 (Winter 1965): 862-903. Surprisingly he concludes that the suppression of the expositor was mostly legal.

Most federal constitutional rights didn't apply to the acts of the city because the events occurred before the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment(which is interpreted as incorporating most of the Bill of Rights against the states). Nauvoo was a charter city, and thus was operating under state law power, not federal law. Thus, the first amendment restrictions do not apply to the city council's acts.

Furthermore, the destruction of the press was done pursuant to legislative power, not judicial power. Thus, many of the due process rights that would likely apply under state constitutional law do not apply. Freedom of press rights in the Illinois constitution only apply to prior restraints on publication. Here, there arguably was no prior restraint on publication only a post hoc act to abate a nuisance caused by the first issue's publication. Furthermore, Blackstone's commentaries seem to specifically contemplate that this type of legislative nuisance abatement is permissible.

Elder Oaks's article has convinced me: The suppression of the Expositor was probably mostly legal. But I still think it was a bad policy choice, and probably a bad political choice too.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Climate Change as Macroeconomics

Here's a graph showing the projected unemployment rate with the stimulus (dark blue), the projected unemployment rate without the stimulus (light blue) and then the actual unemployment rate with the stimulus (red dots).

Is the stimulus working? You wouldn't think so after looking at this graph. In fact, according to the graph, not only are we worse off than we should be with the stimulus, we're also worse off than we should have been without the stimulus. The graph seems to suggests that, not only did the stimulus not help, it actually hurt the economy.

But the counter argument is simple: The predictions were wrong! The economy was much worse than thought when the Obama administration make it's unemployment projections, and unemployment actually would have been much higher without the stimulus.

Of course, with this we-underestimated-the size-of-the-problem argument always at hand, there's no real way to determine whether the stimulus is actually working. (Greg Mankiw already made this same point much better than I can, here.)

This same prove-me-wrong problem applies to climate change science, too. It could be that human activity is changing the temperature on earth, even though the earth's temperature has steadied in the last few years. But for human activity, the earth might have cooled significantly during that period. Instead, the human interference may kept the temperature of the earth artificially high. Or the affect of human activity might simply be sporactic warming such that we shouldn't expect the earth to warm consistently (although from what I've read I understand that most models predict consistent, gradual warming).

Because of these uncertainties, there is basically no way to prove or disprove anthropogenic global warming, just as there is no way to prove or disprove the effect of the stimulus. We simply don't have any scientifically rigorous way of controlling for all of the other factors that can affect the variable we are trying to measure.

That's ok. Both economics and climatology still provide useful ways of organizing and thinking about the world. But from now on, let's give climatologists the same credence we give economists.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Demand Up, Price Down

So, after giving today's lesson in Elders Quorum about how we shouldn't seek happiness through the consumption of goods, I'm researching HDTVs. I came across this website which explains the advantages and disadvantages of DLPs and LCDs. Having explaining all the advantages of DLP TVs the author of the article concludes:

Therefore, we expect this technology to gain in popularity. This increase in demand will drive the price down and provide even more of an advantage over other options.

The author might know something about TVs, but apparently s/he doesn't know much about the law of demand.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Organ Donor, Life Donor

On average, 16 people a day die of kidney failure. You only need one kidney to survive, but most people have two functional kidneys, so the world contains approximately (slightly less than) twice as many functional kidneys as it needs to keep every person alive. Despite the huge surplus, for some reason the people with an extra kidney lying around just aren't giving them up.

Of course the reason they aren't giving them up is obvious: no one want to undergo a surgery for a stranger, so the only people that donate kidneys are the people that know the recipient or are really, really altruistic.

While a person may not be willing to give up a kidney for nothing, inevitable some people are willing to sell a kidney. The solution to this problem is then obvious: create a market. People who need money will sell their kidney, and people suffering from kidney failure will buy a kidney. Both parties benefits from the transaction, otherwise, they wouldn't enter into it.

Unfortunately, in the U.S. it's illegal to sell your kidney, so 16 people a year will continue to die unnecessarily.

Some people think that if we allowed people to sell their kidneys, the rich who need organs will take advantage of the poor, who need money. It's probably true that the people willing to sell their organs are going to mostly be poor people, probably from poor countries. I certainly would sell my kidney, but someone would have to pay me a lot of money. Someone is the Philippines will undoubtedly sell for considerably less. But it's awfully paternalistic of our government to prohibit two willing adult parties from entering into a transaction that benefits both parties and doesn't affect anyone else (i.e., there are no negative externalities). The poor people clearly care more about the money than the superfluous organ.

Now, that above is the libertarian argument for allowing parties to sell their organs, and it's my basic position on the issue too. However, I do wonder about the following: what if a healthy individual wants to sell his heart for a hefty sum. Should he be allowed to end his life and sell his heart to an individual in need of a heart, with the money from the transaction going to his family? I find this senario very troubling, and yet, I can't see a principlied difference between this situation and the one above.