30 November 2011

The MMA Ban and the First Amendment: The New York Legislature Embarrasses Itself

Stephen Kershnar
New York’s Ban on Mixed Martial Arts
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
November 27, 2011

In 1997, New York banned mixed martial arts (MMA). MMA involves combat that combines a range of more specific combat sports, dominant among them wrestling, boxing, Brazilian jujitsu, and karate. New York is in the minority here. Currently, 45 of 48 of states with athletic commissions permit and regulate MMA. The law was pushed by New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and signed into law by Government George Pataki.

Recently, Zuffa, LLC, the parent company of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) along with a number of professional fighters and fans sued the New York officers who enforce the ban, specifically, the State Attorney General and the New York City Attorney General. The plaintiffs assert that the ban violates the Constitution, including the First Amendment, Due Process Clause, Equal Protection Clause, and Commerce Clause. I’ll focus on the First Amendment.

The First Amendment argument runs as follows. As Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick points out, the ban allows amateurs to participate in MMA, but prohibits people from advancing or profiting from it. That is, the ban targets the public performance of MMA, not the fighting that comprises it. New York enacted a narrow ban because the legislature didn’t like MMA’s message. Specifically, it wanted to protect children by banning the sport’s glorification of violence. The bill’s sponsors, Senator Goodman and Assemblyman Kaufman, were clear that they sought to ban the public performance of MMA in part because of the message it sends to children.

On a side note, this ban is uncommonly silly. Children in New York children are awash in glorifications of violence. Consider first-person shooter games, violent movies and rap music, and professional wrestling. MMA is unlikely to add much to this atmosphere. However, uncommon silliness does not make a law unconstitutional.

The problem with the ban is that the Supreme Court has been crystal clear in holding that the Constitution prohibits governments from banning a specific message, whether directly or indirectly. There are exceptions to this general rule, but they focus on a few narrow categories. The Court held that governments may ban obscenity (graphic pornography without redeeming value), child pornography (graphic child pornography), fighting words (expressions that tend to immediately cause violence), clear-and-present danger (expressions that tend to cause immediately dangerous situations), and fraud. Glorification of violence does not fit into any of these categories.

In a recent case, Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association (2011), the Supreme Court again made it clear that states may not create new categories of unprotected expression. It specifically held that they may not ban glorifications of violence (in videogames), even when done to protect children.

Worse, the ban is so poorly written that it likely covers expressive activity that is uncontroversially protected by the First Amendment. The ban makes it a crime for people to “materially aid” a combative sport activity. As the plaintiffs point out, the materially aid clause is so sloppily written that it might cover citizens to write to state officials asking them to repeal New York state’s MMA ban, a local artist who sells t-shirts with pro-MMA slogans, New York film distributers who produce videos of MMA bouts in other states, and video “parties” at Madison Square Garden where people pay to watch MMA fights on the big screen.

The plaintiff’s other argument (New York is shutting down its message) is less clear. Their claim is that professional MMA sends messages about discipline, challenge, and inspiration. This includes the following specific messages: skill and training can accomplish remarkable things, skill and training can defeat brawn and brutality, respect for one’s opponent is consistent with combat sports, and it is admirable to be courageous in the face of a challenge. Other MMA proponents (for example, legendary fighter Renzo Grace) see the message aesthetic terms, analogous to the strategic beauty of chess. The general test for a message for First Amendment protection is whether there is a statement that the agent tries to send and the audience is likely to receive. It is not obvious that professional MMA bouts contain such a message.

The problem is that parallel arguments could be made with regard to obscenity (graphic pornography). Its message is the pleasure can be achieved through excellent performances and a range of sexual practices. It also expresses how conventional limitations on sex (limiting it to married couples, twosomes, heterosexuality, or the vagina) are outdated and hinder both pleasure and artistic displays of the human body. Still, this inconsistency is irrelevant given that the Justices who foolishly allowed the obscenity-exception to be written into the Constitution (see William Brennan) are gone and the current ones have largely prevented further rewriting.

A bigger problem for the shutting-down-message argument is that, as Jonathan Snowden of MMA Nation points out, even the UFC’s attorney, Barry Friedman, concedes that courts are skeptical about the right to engage in sport for sake of sport. For example, Friedman mentions a case allowing a municipality to ban jogging without a shirt or numchuk possession. One can see the motivation here. First, the messages here often have minimal, trivial, or vague content. For example, what message does topless jogging send?

Second, the sport category appears to be irrelevant to the Constitution. A few years ago it was incorrectly reported that for a fee, a Nevada business was allowing men to hunt naked women (employees) with paintball guns. Whether this activity is protected by the Constitution does not depend on whether this is a sport. This can be seen in that the category sport is not mentioned in the Constitution, not part of the drafters or ratifiers’ intentions, not part of what justifies it, and so on.

Third, the sport exception might result in various unprotected activities being repackaged as sport so that they might receive First Amendment protection. For example, The World’s Biggest Gang Bang 3 is a film of a woman having sex with 600 men. Were courts to recognize sport-based protection, the film could be repackaged as a sport and thereby receive First Amendment protection. It could be staged as a live sporting event, perhaps even to minors.

Were New York State’s ban to cover all MMA and not merely the public performances of it, then the ban might withstand Constitutional scrutiny, although it would be obviously irrational. The ban specifically allows boxing, wrestling, and karate competitions (Brazilian jujitsu is independently permitted) even though they comprise the vast majority of MMA action. What’s more MMA is as safe, if not more so, than a number of permitted sporting events, including professional boxing, football, ice hockey, car racing, equestrian sports, and rodeos. One study found that it was one-twentieth as dangerous as football.

Overall, the First Amendment case for striking down New York’s ban is strong because it is overbroad and, perhaps, because it targets a group’s constitutionally protected message. The law is so sloppy that it should also fall due to Due Process defects, such as vagueness and gross irrationality.

16 November 2011

Joe Paterno and the Sexual-Abuse Scandal

Stephen Kershnar
Blaming Joe Paterno
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
November 14, 2011

A sexual abuse scandal has brought down legendary Pennsylvania State University football coach Joe Paterno. At issue is whether he is guilty of a crime or a moral failure. Let me begin by stating the obvious: sexually assaulting children is extremely harmful, horribly wrong, highly illegal, and should not be tolerated.

Here are the facts as set out by Wikipedia, The Washington Post, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and other news sources. For 31 years, Jerry Sandusky served as an assistant coach under head coach Paterno from 1969 to 1999. For 23 of those years, he was the team’s defensive coordinator (lead defensive coach). In 1977, he founded a charity (The Second Mile) designed to help troubled boys at State College, Pennsylvania, where Penn State is located. Roughly two weeks ago (November 5, 2011), Sandusky was arrested and charged with 40 criminal counts of sex crimes against boys. This includes seven counts of sexual assault (involuntary deviant sexual intercourse), seven counts of indecent assault, eight counts of corruption of minors, and so on.

The evidence for these alleged crimes is not new. In 2000, a janitor noticed Sandusky in a Penn State shower performing oral sex on a boy. He reported what he saw to his supervisor, but the latter did not pass this information on to school officials or the police. In 2010, assistant coach Mike McQueary saw Sandusky sodomizing a ten-year-old boy in the shower. He did not intervene, but later reported the incident to Paterno. The next day Paterno relayed this information to Athletic Director Tim Curley. Curley and Penn State Senior Vice President Gary Schultz (the administrator in charge of the police) ordered Sandusky not to bring any more children from Second Mile to the football building. University President Graham Spanier approved this order. None of the three appear to have taken further action. Sandusky was allowed to operate a summer camp on a Penn State satellite campus (Behrend near Eric), where he had daily contact with boys ages 9 to 18.

Curley and Schultz appeared before a grand jury. They testified that McQueary didn’t tell them of sexual activity. They were then charged with perjury (lying about McQueary) and failure to report suspected child abuse to the police. Penn State placed Curley on administrative leave and Schultz resigned. The Board of Trustees gave Spanier an ultimatum: resign or be fired. He resigned. Paterno offered to retire, but the Board refused and fired him.

One issue is whether Paterno committed a crime. University of Mississippi law professor Michael McCann argues that while possible charges against him include obstruction of justice, perjury, and failure to report suspected child abuse, he is probably not legally guilty of these crimes. Legally, a person obstructs justice when he conceals evidence or when he delays or frustrates a criminal investigation. Paterno probably didn’t do this because the day after McQueary spoke to him, he reported a version of what he heard to his boss, Tim Curley. Under oath, Paterno testified that McQueary told him that Sandusky was engaged in a general act (“doing something of a sexual nature”) to a boy, whereas McQueary testified he told Paterno that Sandusky was engaged in anal intercourse, but it is doubtful this difference, and how it affected what he told Curley, obstructs justice. Also, there is a time limit on pursuing this crime and it is about to expire.

Paterno is likely not legally guilty of perjury. The difference in Paterno’s and McQueary’s testimony is not clearly lying (intentional misrepresentation). Paterno might have failed to remember exactly what he was told (most of us can’t remember exactly what we were told and Paterno is 84 years old). Also, convicting Paterno would require a prosecutor to show that McQueary, rather than Paterno, did not misremember what he said or lie. Given his failure to intervene, McQueary might be seen as having a motive to misstate what he told Paterno.

Nor is Paterno likely legally guilty of failing to report sexual abuse. The Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law requires teachers and school administrators to report alleged abuse to child protective services, police, or a supervisor. Paterno did this. In addition, it is doubtful that the law applies to him.

The moral issue is murkier. Was Paterno blameworthy for failing to do more? First, Paterno promptly turned the information over to his boss (Curley). He likely knew or reasonably expected that the information would be given to the administrator who oversaw the Penn State police force (Schultz). It is unclear that he knew or should have known that these two would have dropped the ball by not ordering an investigation. Nor did Paterno have a clear duty to monitor or oversee their actions.

By analogy, consider a lieutenant in the army who gets a report of a sergeant abusing recruits. He promptly reports this to his commanding officer (a captain) whom he trusts and who tells him he will take it from there. It is not clear that the lieutenant should second-guess the captain’s judgment about what happened and how to proceed. Nor is it clear the lieutenant should insist on meeting with the military police or the commanding officer’s boss (for example, a major) if the commanding officer were to disbelieve the report.

Second, even if he should have known, negligence is not the sort of moral failure that makes one a monster. Consider a ship pilot who daydreams and doesn’t notice himself doing so. As a result, he fails to steer his ship away from the rocks, which results in it sinking and a passenger drowning. Such an individual is flawed, but not terribly blameworthy.

Third, people often confuse moral and legal obligations. This is commonly seen in police officers and judges who enforce obviously unjust laws with a clear conscience. Consider, for example, officers who aggressively enforced laws that criminalized homosexuality in the 60’s and 70’s and perhaps, also, those who enforced the Rockefeller anti-drug laws. It is unclear whether Paterno made this mistake, but it is a common one.

Fourth, it is very hard to turn in beloved family and friends. Most mothers would have a hard time turning in a son, even if they had evidence that he committed a date rape and was a threat to do it again in the future. This might be due to self-deception or the sheer strength of her love. A similar thing is true of soldiers who witness wartime atrocities by brothers in arms. Consider, for example, soldiers who observed the My Lai massacre and did nothing to stop it. My guess is that after 31 years of working together under stressful conditions, Paterno was close to Sandusky.

Fifth, there is an underlying philosophical issue as to whether people have a moral duty to save strangers. For example, many rich and middle class people fail to donate money to starving children in the third world and don’t see themselves as bad people. Whether there is such a duty and whether it applied to Paterno is a discussion for another day.

None of this establishes that Paterno acted rightly (or wrongly). What it likely establishes is that he is not a moral cretin, gross moral failure, disgusting human being, etc. It is a separate matter whether these labels fit Spanier, Schultz, and Curley. They obviously fit Sandusky.

02 November 2011

Occupy Wall Street and Obama's Mean-Spirited Demagoguery

Stephen Kershnar
The Case Against Progressive Taxes
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
October 30, 2011

The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) crowd and President Barack Obama claim that the rich don’t pay their fair share and should be made to do so. They want to make the tax system more progressive. A tax is progressive when people who make more money pay a higher tax rate.

The federal income tax rates are progressive. In 2011, the rich (married couples who file jointly and make over $379,150) have a 35% federal income tax rate. The middle class ($69,001-$139,350) have a 25% rate and the working class and poor ($17,001-$69,000) have a 15% rate.

The rich pay a higher rate of their income to the government than other groups. The Tax Foundation found in 2009, that the top 1% of earners earned roughly 17% of income but paid roughly 37% of federal income taxes. The super rich (top 0.1%) of earners made 8% of all income, but paid 17% of all federal income taxes.

If we look at effective tax rates (what tax rates people actually pay), we see the same pattern. The rich paid the highest percentage of their income, 24%, to the federal government versus 11% for everyone else. The rate was a mere 8% for the upper middle class. Because the rich make most of the capital gains, they undoubtedly paid a far larger share of other weighty taxes (for example, corporate and dividend taxes). Even the claims of investors like Warren Buffet that they pay a lower rate of taxes on their income can be seen to be false once we realize the income is double-taxed, initially as corporate income and later as capital gains or dividends. Payroll taxes do not reverse this overall trend.

As usual, the poor free ride on others. In 2009, nearly 47% of U.S. households paid no income taxes. A significant number of those filing (more than 36% in 2008) paid no income tax and a significant number of them made money via the tax code because of the earned income tax credit and other child-tax credits.

The moral case for progressive taxation is surprisingly weak. The argument against is that when it comes to coercion, the government should treat citizens equally unless there is a good reason to treat them differently. There is no reason to tax the rich at a higher rate than others. Hence, the rich should pay the same tax rate (or, perhaps, the same amount) as others. Consider some of the reasons cited in support of progressive taxation.

One reason given for taxing the rich more is that they impose greater costs on society. This is false. Antipoverty programs such as Medicaid, food stamps, cash-welfare payments, and similar ones are pricey. Worse, the biggest government programs (Social Security and Medicare for the federal government, public education for local and state governments) are almost always justified because they provide benefits to the poor and working class. The poor also constitute the majority of people in prisons and are the focus of police officers, social workers, and many other government workers. As economist Walter Williams points out, if anyone should pay more taxes because they impose greater costs on the rest of us, it is the poor.

A second reason given is that the rich contribute less than do others. This is also false. The rich get rich through the free market, which involves people voluntarily giving them their money in return for goods and services they value more than the money and more than competitors’ products. Consider, for example, Apple’s Steve Jobs. Writing in National Review, Michael Tanner notes that Jobs generated as much as $30 billion annually in increased wealth for the U.S. economy in addition to his role in causing Apple’s stock to skyrocket. When Jobs took over as CEO of Apple in 1997, it was worth $2 billion. It increased to $350 billion, which made a lot of people holding Apple stock richer. His company’s technology also provided valuable benefits to teachers, doctors, soldiers, autistic children, people trying to overthrow tyrannical dictators, and so on. Note his estimated wealth ($7 billion) was a small percentage of the wealth and other benefits he generated for others. While this is an extreme case, the contribution of other rich people has much the same pattern. In any case if anyone contributes less and takes more, it is the poor for the reasons mentioned above.

A third reason given is that the rich don’t deserve their money. On some theories, what people deserve depends on how hard they work or how much they sacrifice. Professors Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst found that the most educated people work more hours than others and have to pay dearly for the education required for their jobs. Because education likely correlates with income, it is not clear the rich are less deserving. In addition, the hard-work and sacrifice theories are mistaken. Consider a job where one man digs ditches using a shovel and a second uses a backhoe. The former might work harder or sacrifice more, but the latter will accomplish a lot more and, as a result, intuitively seems to deserve more money. If this is correct, then desert tracks contribution, if it tracks anything. Via their labor and capital (money), the rich contribute more.

A fourth reason given is that the rich need the money less. If we are talking about what people need (for example, food, clothes, shelter, and protection), these needs are satisfied through anti-poverty, emergency programs (for example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency), and the military and police. Like the rich, the middle class don’t need most of their income and no one is calling for them to be soaked.

Class warriors support their claim that the rich don’t pay their fair share by pointing out that the rich get much of the nation’s income. The Congressional Budget Office recently reported that between 1979 and 2007, rich people’s income increased much more quickly than others. For the top 1% of the population with the highest income, household income (after-tax and inflation-adjusted) increased by 275%. In comparison the middle class’s (21% through 80%) household income increased by just under 40% and the poor’s (bottom 20%) increased by only 18%.

The rich and affluent people’s share of all income is increasing. During the 1979-2007 period, the rich’s (top 1%) share of all after-tax household income increased from 8% to 17%. In 2007, the affluent (top 20%) made 53% of all such income. This means the top fifth of Americans made more than the other four-fifths. None of this, however, supports soaking the rich. Such a soaking requires these changes be linked to an argument from justice or fairness.

In the U.S., taxes are already progressive and this is wrong. The refrain from OWS and Obama that the rich should be made to pay their fair share contains a lie and is a mean-spirited attempt to pick on an unpopular minority.

19 October 2011

The Catholic-Priest Argument against Catholicism

Stephen Kershnar
The Catholic Sex Abuse Cases Cut Deeper
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
October 16, 2011

The Catholic sex abuse cases are well known. Less well known is the degree to which these cases suggest that Catholicism is false.

The extent of Catholic sex abuse cases in the U.S. was set out in the 2004 John Jay Report commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It found widespread abuse. Consider the victims. In the U.S. from 1950 to 2002, the investigators found that 10,667 persons younger than 18 made allegations of sexual abuse. In cases that were investigated, 80% of the allegations were substantiated. Most victims (roughly 61%) were abused for two years or more. The victims were mostly male (81%) and roughly split between pre- and post-pubescent individuals (roughly 53% were 13 years-old or older). Most of the abusers engaged in multiple types of abuse. More than 27% of the allegations involved a priest performing oral sex and 25% involved penile penetration or an attempt to do so.

In response, the Catholic Church paid through the nose. Worldwide, it paid out $1.5 billion to victims as of 2006. $1 billion of this was paid out to U.S. victims (2002 figure). 80% of the reported cases occurred in the U.S. and it is unclear if U.S. priests were more likely to be abusers than priests elsewhere or if victims here were more likely to come forward.

Consider the priests. During 1950-2002, allegations were made against 1 out of every 25 U.S. priests (4%). Because the majority of reported cases occurred in the U.S., in 2008 the Catholic Church asserted that the scandal was the result of 1% of Roman Catholic Priests (roughly 5,000 out of 410,000). Most of the accused priests in the U.S. were not victims of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse and did not have alcohol or substance abuse problems (9% self-reported the former and the latter is estimated at 19%). George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center found 2% of sex abuse offenders were Catholic Priests. This number is very high given the small percentage of the adult male population that are priests. Another study found that that most priests were not pedophiles (preferring pre-pubescent children), but ephebophiles (preferring early teens) or indiscriminate sex offenders.

The Catholic leadership’s response to these scandals was yet another scandal. Various leaders shuffled priest-abusers from one parish to another, paid compensation in return for silence, hid the review process in secrecy, and used bankruptcy laws to shield the church from having to pay victims. For example, dioceses in Tucson, San Diego, Milwaukee, and Wilmington used the bankruptcy shield.

The widespread sexual abuse is evidence that Catholicism and the Catholic moral positions are false. If a group claims that its doctrines regarding God and morality are true and a significant number of the group’s vanguard acts in a way that is both wrong and inconsistent with its doctrines, there is reason to doubt the doctrines. In the case of Catholicism, a significant number of the vanguard acted in ways that is wrong and inconsistent with its doctrines. 1 out of 25 U.S. priests were alleged to have sexually abused children and the Catholic leadership’s response was at best shaky.

One objection Catholics and others (for example, The Teapot Atheist website) make is that it is a fallacy to conclude that Catholicism is false because many of its messengers showed a sociopathic disregard for the well-being of children. This is a mistake. In the absence of strong independent evidence for a position, if the messengers do not believe in the message enough to follow its dictates, there is little reason to see why others should do so.

By analogy, consider a business that sells a diet plan. Later, it is discovered that a bunch of fat slobs own and run the business. Worse, they have no scientific evidence for their plan. Not only would the diet plan be a laughing stock, it should be. After all, if the people who know the plan best can’t make it work, there is little reason to believe it will work for others. It is uncontroversial that there is no scientific or philosophical evidence for the Mary’s virgin birth of Jesus, the trinity, and transubstantiation. This is in part because the latter two doctrines are incoherent.

A second objection Catholic defenders might make is that the cause of the child abuse is a general problem that is independent of Catholicism. For example, on one interpretation of a statement by Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi, the problem is one concentrated in homosexuals. Remember that 81% of the victims were male and over half were post-pubescent. Alternatively, Philip Jenkins of the Pennsylvania State University argues that the problem is not distinctive to Catholic clergy. He argues that child-oriented sexual activity is just as frequent in married clergy of other denominations and schoolteachers.

The first empirical claim is likely false as specialists in sexual abuse, such as Gregory Herek (psychology professor at University of California at Davis) and James Cantor (editor-in-chief of Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment), deny that the scientific literature shows there to be an association between homosexuality and either child molestation or pedophilia. It is also implausible that 4% of schoolteachers have had allegations of child sexual abuse made against them. Even if one of these they-all-do-it defenses work, this at most shows that Catholicism’s elite are at no better than the rest of the population. This is hardly what one would predict a group that has a uniquely correct relation to God.

A third objection is that this only shows that certain parts of the Catholicism are false and need to be revamped. The parts might involve the dismantling the Catholic hierarchy, ending the celibacy requirement for priests, or preventing men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” to be ordained. As of 2005, the church no longer does the last. This sort of ad hoc objection would be convincing were the Catholic religion consistent with buffet-style religion, whereby one picks and chooses which rules and conventions are a true part of Catholicism. However, neither its doctrines nor the way it is practiced allows for such a buffet.

The problem of Catholic sex abuse cases has been well explored in the popular press and investigated in academia. The scandal cuts deeper. It is evidence that Catholicism is false. In so far as it exposes this falsity, some good might come out of the abuse.

05 October 2011

A President Abandons Blacks

Stephen Kershnar
Blacks Support for Obama: Cheering on a Savage Beating
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
October 2, 2011

Recently, black leaders such as Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and few others have begun to criticize President Obama. She was promptly smacked down by demagogue-in-chief Al Sharpton. While black criticism of Obama is beginning to percolate, it is still rare and muted. This makes no sense given that the Obama Administration sat by and watched as the economy, prisons, and public schools gave blacks a savage beating.

Blacks were one of the biggest forces behind Obama’s victory. In 2008 according to the Washington Post, roughly 96% of blacks voted for Obama. Blogger Ruy Teixera points out that blacks were 13% of the national voters. A 12-13% head start in an election is huge. Blacks were also 25% of Democratic voters. Thus, blacks gave Obama the Democratic nomination and then propelled him into office.

The recent economic recession has been an economic steamroller, flattening many blacks. Writing in The Washington Times, James Bacon gives the snapshot of the steamroller’s destruction. In 2009, 26% of blacks lived in poverty, compared to 10% of whites. The unemployment rate for blacks is roughly 17%, more than twice that of whites. A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that black men in the middle class are 37% more likely to fall from middle class to the bottom 30% of income earners than white men.

Even worse, Bacon points out, in the larger picture, blacks are bleeding out wealth. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the median net worth of black households dropped to $2,200. This is much less than the $97,900 median figure for white households. 40% of black households had a net worth of $0 or less. A 2010 Study by the Center for Responsible Lending found that 8% of blacks lost their homes to foreclosure. A 2009 study by the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank of foreclosures in California showed blacks were more than 3 times more likely to be in foreclosure compared to whites, even after controlling for income and credit score.

The federal government significantly overemploys blacks, but this has done little to prevent the Obama steamroller. Columnist Pat Buchanan points out that although blacks are roughly 13% of the population, they constitute 25% of the employees at Treasury and Veterans Affairs, 37% at the Department of Education, 38% at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and 42% at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Quasi-government agencies are worse. Buchanan notes that blacks are 44% of the employees at Fannie Mae and 50% at Freddie Mac. These are the private corporations that the government in effect insures (it’s given them more than $140 billion). Were whites so overrepresented, preferences and covert quotas would have been rammed down these departments’ and agencies’ throats.

Fans of big government might claim that blacks would be even worse off had the Obama Administration not massively expanded government spending, ratcheted up regulations, fought to keep taxes high, continued the two wars, and so on. I find this implausible, but let us grant it for the sake of argument. A bigger failure is that the Obama Administration has done nothing on the two largest issues African-Americans face: imprisonment and education.

The federal and state governments lock up black men as if they were a congenitally criminal population. Writing in the Boston Globe, Louise Palmer noted back in 1999 that there will likely be 1 million African-American adults behind bars. It should be noted that others have lower estimates (800,000 on one study). This is a 500% increase over the last two decades. Data from a 2003 Justice Department report shows that 10.4% of African-American males population aged 25-29 were incarcerated. Note that the 10.4% is for one year, which means that a still higher percentage was imprisoned at one time or another. In 2000, there were more black men in prison than in college. Many of these men are in prison for non-violent drug offenses. When locked up, these men don’t care for their children, have jobs, or form friendships and loving relationships in their communities. When they get out they are damaged goods and less attractive to black women and employers.

The public education system is another disgrace. A 2010 study by the Schott Foundation finds that less than half (47%) of black males graduate from high school, compared to 78% of whites. When they do graduate, far too many black diplomas are fraudulent. Using National Assessment of Educational Progress Data, a study by the Education Trust found that by the time black students reach their senior year, they are four years behind their peers. On average, a 17-year-old African-American has skills in English, mathematics, and science similar to those of a 13-year-old white student. And remember, the performance of white students is nothing to be proud of. Economist Walter Williams has long pointed out that were the Klu Klux Klan to design a system to crush black progress, they could not have done better than America’s public schools.

The Obama is in the midst of excusing states whose schools continue to fall below the standards set forth in the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind law. Given that the teachers’ unions are one of the most powerful forces in the Democratic Party, Obama knows who brought him to the dance.

What has the Obama administration done to reverse these trends in imprisonment and education? The Obama Administration had a Democratic controlled Congress for two years. Did the administration not know that hundreds of thousands of black males were locked up and that black children learned very little in government schools or did it just not care? Note that these failures do not depend on whether you’re a fan or big government or liberty. Locking up hundreds of thousands of young black men for selling recreational drugs is loathsome on either theory. Similarly, no one who looks seriously at why public schools fail blacks thinks that the main problem is underfunding. Also, note that even those who think that black-white differences are explained in part by genetic differences in intelligence would have to admit that federal and state governments are making things far worse.

Black silence occurs because in part because of mistaken ideology and in part because black leaders are beholden to the Democratic Party and its 800 lb. guerillas, the unions, and both are inextricably tied to Obama.

21 September 2011

Contra Republicans: Homosexuality is neither wrong nor a disorder

Stephen Kershnar
Republicans and Gays: Get Off Their Case
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
September 19, 2011

Republicans have a problem with gays. The husband of one leading candidate, Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has a clinic that performs conversion therapy, which tries to change homosexuals into heterosexuals. Another two (Mitt Romney – Mormonism- and Rick Perry –Evangelical Christian) are members of churches that condemn homosexuality. Most of their candidates oppose gay marriage, as did Barack Obama during the 2008 election.

Gays are a small percentage of the population. On University of Chicago sociologist Edward Laumann and colleagues’ famous study estimate self-identified gay males are 2.8% of the male population and gay females are 1.4% of the female population, although about 9% and 4% have had sex with someone of the same gender. Still, both are significant numbers. Gays outnumber farmers and, depending on the way they are measured, probably approximate Jews, both of which get pandered to by politicians.

The Republicans’ and their churches’ positions boils down to the claim that gay sex is wrong or homosexuality is a mental disorder. The first can be quickly dismissed. One person acts wrongly only when he wrongs someone and there is no one whom gay sex wrongs. Such sex does not wrong the gay person’s partner as she gave informed consent. Nor does it wrong the gay person herself for the same reason. Even if it harms her in some way, and this claim would need to be defended, many activities that harm participants are not wrong. Consider, for example, smoking, overeating, or wasting money on the lottery.

The Bible condemns such sex. See Leviticus 18:22, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” See, also, Romans 1:27, Corinthians 1:9-10, and Timothy 1:8-10. Given that the Bible also rips pig eating and money lending and permits slave owning (see Leviticus 11:7-8, Ezekiel 18:13, and Leviticus 25:44-46), we can safely ignore the Bible when thinking about these types of issues.

The disorder issue is trickier. Currently, the psychiatric community does not consider homosexuality a mental disorder. In 1973, the board of directors of the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its handbook on disorders, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The association’s membership ratified this decision in 1974. In 1975, The American Psychological Association followed suit. Until 1986, the psychiatric association it did consider gays as having a disorder if they were unable to get aroused by heterosexual sex and this inability interfered with their relationships and produced distress (ego-dystonic homosexuality). In 1986, it eliminated this diagnosis.

A disorder is, roughly, a disease or injury. More specifically, it is a dysfunction that causes harm. Following NYU professor Tim Wakefield, a dysfunction is the inability of some bodily mechanism to perform its natural function. A mechanism’s natural function is its evolutionary purpose or one of its purposes. For example, the heart’s natural function is to pump blood. If the heart fails to do this adequately and this causes the owner harm, then he has a disorder. Is homosexuality a disorder?

The evidence for homosexuality being a biological dysfunction is simply not there. If homosexuality is a dysfunction, then it involves a person failing to use his organs to perform their evolutionary function. It is unlikely that the penis and vagina were favored by evolution only for immediate impregnation. They also likely have a role in individuals bonding, which also has evolutionary advantages. This can be seen in that our closest animal relatives (bonobos), who engage in gay sex and adult-child sex, despite neither leading to reproduction.

In the U.S., heterosexuals and homosexuals differ in their rate of reproduction. On one study, only 38% of heterosexual couples do not have children, while 78% of lesbian couples and 90% of gay couples do not. If mechanisms are judged solely by how they frequently contribute to reproduction, then homosexuality would be a dysfunction. However, certain races also reproduce less often. For example, in the U.S., blacks reproduce at a significantly higher rate than whites (24% in 2008). The same is true for Hispanics. Also, people with higher IQs reproduce at a lower rate than people with lower IQs. The notion that whiteness and high IQ are biological dysfunctions is implausible.

If, in evolutionary terms, homosexuality resulted in more of gays’ genes being passed onto the next generation, perhaps by adding to the success of nephews and nieces, then it might have been favored by evolution. A similar mechanism can be seen in African hunting dogs where evolution has led to only the leading male and female producing puppies and the other members of the pack, who are related to the leading pair, helping to feed and protect them.

The harm claim is also unclear. It is unclear whether gays can be changed into heterosexuals. A 2002 study by Psychologists Ariel Shidlo and Michael Schroeder found it ineffective in roughly 9 of 10 participants. The most proponents of conversion therapy proponents can claim is that the studies conflict and are beset by methodological problems. If homosexuals cannot change their orientation, or most cannot do so, then it is unclear in what sense homosexuality harms them.

When compared to heterosexuals, gays do appear to be less happy. Professors Susan Cochran, Theo Sandfort, and others have found that gays do have higher rates of psychiatric disorders, including mood and anxiety disorders. For example, one 2011 article by Paul Flynn and Matthew Todd in The Observer found that for depression, gay men are four times more likely to suffer depression than straight men. Both gay men and women are also more likely to attempt suicide. They also are less happy. Laumann and his colleagues found that homosexuals were less likely than heterosexuals to say they were very happy and more likely to say they were unhappy most of the time.

It is likely that the lower-level of unhappiness in gays has an outside cause, societal hostility, that explains at least some of these problems. This is supported by the studies that indicate that nearly half of gays have been subject to verbal abuse or physical violence and that such victimization is associated with a variety of mood and anxiety disorders. Still, it is not clear whether this abuse is the cause of all of these problems. This lack of clarity is hardly enough evidence to support the claim that homosexuality is harmful to gays.

Homosexuality is neither wrong nor a disorder. Republicans should drop their hostile stance toward them, hide their religions’ stance toward them, and focus instead on Obama’s creeping socialism.

07 September 2011

Jews: Why are they make so much money and vote so left?

Stephen Kershnar
The Mystery of Jewish Success
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
September 5, 2011

As a group, American Jews are a mystery. Their overall success lacks a clear explanation. So does the fact that they consistently vote for and fund a party that is against their interests.

Jews are roughly 2% of the U.S. population. In the U.S., University of Washington sociologist Paul Burstein points out that Jews are more successful educationally and economically than other ethnic, racial, or religious groups in America. One 2005 study found that in the 1990’s more than 60% of Jews were college graduates, versus 22% of all Americans. Even the well-educated and successful Episcopalians (46% college graduates) don’t come close.

This pattern intensifies at the high end of the academic food chain. Blogger Steven Silbiger points out that Jews are 20% of the professors are leading universities. During the 20% Century, University of Utah Anthropologist Gregory Cochran and his colleagues point out that 27% American Nobel Prize winners in science were Jewish. They are also 25% of the Turing Award winners (for excellence in computer science). They are also more than half of the world’s chess champions.

Jews also have and make a lot more money than other Americans. One 2003 study found that their family net worth is roughly 2.5 times greater than other Americans. A 2005 study found that their household income is roughly double (195% per capita) of the average American household.

Again, the pattern intensifies at the high end. Silbiger reports that 45% of the Forbes richest Americans are Jews and that one-third of American multimillionaires are Jews. This pattern can also be seen in the professions. Consider, for example, law. Silbiger reports that 45% of partners in leading law firms in New York and Washington are Jews. The same is true for one-third of the Supreme Court Justices.

In other areas, they are far less successful. Their presence in the professional football, baseball, basketball, and mixed martial arts is far less impressive. For example, in the NFL in 2002-2003, there were only six in the NFL, 4 of whom play the less athletic positions such as quarterback, kicker, or punter (34% of the teams are currently owned by Jews). There are few American sex symbols who are Jewish, although Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman are near the top.

There are multiple explanations for the Jews’ success, although it is unclear whether any particular one is true and, if so, what weight to give it. One explanation is that Jews do well in the same way non-Jews do, by getting more education and working long hours. This explanation is unhelpful because it begs the question as to why Jews do these things more than others.

A second explanation is that Jews succeed because they have beliefs or behaviors that are specifically Jewish. For example, Professor Lehrer and others posit that the advantage might come about because education is central in traditional Jewish life and because Jews have a historic tradition of self-help organizations. Others note that Jews have a long tradition of working in managerial and financial jobs. It is not clear how to test this explanation. A 1998 study by Esther Wilder and William Walters found that more observant Jews (for example, Orthodox Jews) make less money than less observant ones (for example, Reform Jews), but it is unclear whether religious observance tracks the influence of traditional Jewish life.

A third explanation focuses on social capital. Social capital is the advantage that a population has because it has certain collective human resources that benefit members. Burstein provides an example of a Jewish gathering in which professionals and business owners provide the younger generation with a competitive advantage by serving as role models and giving them advice and encouraging proper attitudes. Along the same lines, more educated parents might be thought better able to better promote academic skills. Again, this explanation is hard to assess and, in any case, likely depends on another account to explain why they have more social capital.

More controversial is a fourth explanation: intelligence and genetics. Anthropologist Cochran and his colleagues argue that Ashkenazi Jews have the highest IQ of any ethnic group. They score about 0.75 to 1.0 standard deviations (12-15 IQ points) above the general European average. In at least one case, the higher IQ was found even among poorer Ashkenazi Jews. They also have a very distinctive pattern in scoring noticeably higher in verbal and math scores, but lower in visuo-spatial abilities. Cochran and company argue that this might explain why their success in literature and math has not produced similar results in several of the arts (for example, sculpture and architecture). To the extent that group differences in intelligence have a genetic explanation, this might partly explain Jewish success.

Despite their economic and educational success, Jews vote against their interest. They overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party despite its explicit commitment to wealth redistribution and higher taxes on the wealthy and upper middle class. This is even more surprising given the Democratic Party’s and President Obama’s unwavering support for affirmative action, many of the spots for which would otherwise go to Jews (and Asians). There are frequent reports that Jews provide a significant portion of the money that goes into Democratic coffers, but I am unable to find an academic study that verifies these reports. According to Ruy Teixeira, 78% of Jews voted for Obama. This makes them more similar to blacks (96% for Obama) and Hispanics (67% for Obama) than whites (43% for Obama). This is all the more interesting given that on the whole Democrats and the left are less supportive of Israel than Republicans and the right. This is particularly true of Obama who is probably the least friendly President to Israel in years.

The Jewish pattern of voting for Democrats appears to lack a good explanation. As Marc Sheppard from the American Thinker has pointed out, the pattern has been in place since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Jews supported Roosevelt by a 9-to-1 in 1940 and 1944. Sheppard argues that this is odd given that the Roosevelt administration worked overtime to prevent Jewish immigration and during WWII avoided bombing the death camps. It is also odd because socialist states were notoriously hostile to Jews and some (for example, Germany and Soviet Union) targeted them. In any case, the pattern is stable over recent years with large majorities of Jews supporting Clinton, Gore, Kerry, and Obama. Unlike the explanations for economic success, the various explanations for Jewish leftism are far more speculative. It remains a mystery why group members vote so transparently against their interests.

24 August 2011

Academia: Tenure

Stephen Kershnar
Tenure, Academic Freedom, and Efficiency
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
August 21, 2011

Tenure in the academic world occurs when faculty are given lifetime employment after demonstrating that they have performed well enough in the past. More specifically, it is an academic faculty member’s contractual right not to lose his job unless there is just cause. A tenure-track position is a job in which the occupant either has or will be eligible for tenure. There is parallel protection for K-12 teachers.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I’m tenured and that on some views I benefitted greatly from tenure. Also, this column reflects my view and not necessarily that of any group to which I belong.

Tenure is relatively recent. It was largely absent in the 19th Century and didn’t become widespread until after 1945, in part due to severe faculty shortages. Outside of teaching, tenure does not occur, although lifetime tenure for judges and protection of other government workers is somewhat similar. For example, NFL teams would never grant tenure to players or coaches.

Tenure is also declining. Since 1972, there has been a decline in the percentage of college professors that are tenured or tenure-track. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the percentage of professors who are tenure-track went from 56% in 1975 to 32% in 2005. It is also no longer found in some parts of the world, such as most of Europe and Australia.

Let us consider the most plausible arguments for tenure. The main argument is that tenure protects academic freedom. Academic freedom is a murky notion that refers to faculty’s opportunity to research and teach on various topics without penalty. The idea is that political forces would otherwise shut down the free discussion of ideas in the academy. Given the historical attempts by alumni and legislature to get universities to fire faculty with unpopular views, this argument has some bite to it.

The argument has a number of problems. First, even if true for professors, it is unclear why tenure-like protection should be given to non-professors, such as K-12 teachers, whose job is not as clearly tied to the marketplace of ideas and who have few, if any, research duties.

Second, consider whether the tenure system protects academic freedom for untenured professors, particular adjuncts. Adjunct professors are professors whose job is not tenure-track. If their academic freedom is protected, then tenure is likely not that important for academic freedom. If their academic freedom is unprotected, then it is unclear why so much attention should be put on a system that fails to protect more than two-thirds of professors.

Third, even if tenure does protect academic freedom, it is unclear that its benefits outweigh its costs. The cost of tenure is that people who are ineffective stay on for life. This is probably why businesses in other fields beside education don’t give out tenure. This problem is exacerbated by the lack of a mandatory retirement age, which can allow for formerly good professors to stay long after they’ve become ineffective. In the classroom, this can mean that generations of students might suffer under a bad teacher.

Fourth, if the goal is to protect unpopular lines of thought so as to promote the marketplace of ideas, there is reason to doubt whether tenure does this. Campuses are notoriously hostile both to free speech and to conservative and libertarian voices. A 2004-2005 study by professors Daniel Klein and Charlotta Stern found the ratio of Democrats to Republican among university instructors in the social sciences and humanities to be between 7:1 and 9:1 despite the fact that that national ratio is 1:1 (2011 Rasmussen Report). None of this gives us much confidence that tenure protects the robust discussion of ideas.

The second main argument for tenure is economic: tenure is justified because it is an efficient job benefit. The idea is that many professors could succeed in jobs that pay far more. This is clear in fields like medicine, law, accounting, and engineering. On this argument, tenure is a job benefit professors accept in return for lower pay. This arguably benefits taxpayers and students who pay less in taxes and tuition and, perhaps, professors if they prefer security over higher pay.

The argument is hard to assess. University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt (of Freakonomics fame) argues that tenure produces a bad incentive structure. He points out that the better professors would prefer more money over tenure because they know they’ll have a job regardless; the worse ones would prefer security over more money because they would be the ones who would be fired. As a result, he argues, it provides an incentive for less able professors to stay in academia. Boston University economist Jeffrey Miron points out that the problem is exacerbated by the incentive for older faculty to stay on despite declining productivity.

I’m not sure what to make of this argument. It is not obvious to me that better professors would prefer more pay to security. In any case, it depends on how much more pay we are talking about. For the 2009-2010 academic year, on average, SUNY-Fredonia assistant professors (junior untenured professors) got paid $56,000, associate professors (mid-level tenured professors) got paid $65,000, and full professors (senior tenured professors) got paid $86,000. I’m not sure how many would want to give up tenure for an extra $5,000 a year. Even if they would, the security-for-lower-pay tradeoff, and the army of adjuncts that comes with it, might well be good for taxpayers and tuition-paying families. This is particularly true given that college costs have skyrocketed over the last few decades.

The third argument is that the tenure system provides an incentive for professors to invest time and energy in their institution and colleagues. Tenure tends to prevent faculty from moving between colleges and universities as the latter are hesitant to guarantee lifetime employment upon hiring someone. As a result, faculty tend to stay with their colleges and universities for a long time and have an incentive to improve them. They also have an incentive to put time and energy into hiring, mentoring, and promoting talented junior faculty because they will work with them for years. Without tenure, such junior faculty might even threaten their jobs. This provides faculty with incentives similar to partners at law and accounting firms. This does seem to be a good incentive from the colleges’ and universities’ perspective, although it’s less clear that reduced mobility is good for professors. Nor is it clear that this benefit outweighs the costs of dead-wood professors.

In the end, the benefits and costs of tenure are hard to balance off against one another. The free market might do a good job of determining whether tenure is efficient. Perhaps this is the best approach as this is likely not an issue that can be determined by sitting in one’s philosophical armchair. Public colleges and universities should then likely be encouraged to follow the free-market outcome as it is the best evidence we have of the efficient solution.

10 August 2011

Budget Deal: What a Disgrace

Stephen Kershnar
The Debt Deal: Congress Sells Out America
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
August 2, 2011

On August 2nd, the agreement to raise the debt ceiling passed. This is easily the largest debt-ceiling increase in American history. It raises the ceiling by $2.4 trillion dollars. This is enough to allow the government to borrow through 2013. This is also past the Presidential election year, although I’m sure this is just a coincidence. The agreement calls for a second round of cuts between $2.1 and $2.4 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years with $900 billion to be done immediately. It then calls for super-committee made up of members of Congress to make the rest the second round cuts or, if they fail to do so, an across-the-board set of cuts of at least $1.2 trillion automatically kick in.

As with the Wall Street bailout (TARP), the massive stimulus package, and ObamaCare, New York’s worst, Rep. Brian Higgins (D-NY) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) voted for the ceiling increase (Gillibrand wasn’t in office for the TARP vote). Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) did not, likely because it did not have enough tax increases for her. New York voters must really be proud.

The deal is a disgrace. First, the deal didn’t cut anything. The first round of “cuts” targets discretionary spending. Yet it increases discretionary spending by 16% between 2012 and 2020 and increases it every year in between the two. A slowed rate of spending increases is not a cut.

Given how the “cuts” are calculated, if the government were merely to have kept its spending levels at current levels (in nominal dollars) for the next ten years, this would count as a cut of trillions of dollars. There is a good chance that SUNY is likely to tell professors that they won’t get a pay raise for the next two years. No professor will reason like Congress and claim that SUNY cut his salary.

Second, even the slowed rate of increases is tiny. The Cato Institute’s Tad DeHaven points out that once we exclude spending on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars because they are ending (these savings are part of the $2.4 trillion), the government will now spend $43 trillion over the next ten years rather than $44 trillion. Meanwhile, the debt will skyrocket over the next decade. Specifically, each American’s share will increase by more than 50% on the Heritage Foundation calculation based on Congressional Budget Office numbers. Given this momentous change, I can’t understand why in a recent CNN poll, Congress’ approval rating hit a record-low of 14% and lower on other polls (for example, Rasmussen Reports).

Third, even the slowed rate of increase probably won’t happen. The deal calls for a 0.6% “cut” for 2012 and the lion’s share of “cuts” to occur from 2013 onward. In 2013, there will be a new Congress and it will be free to ignore the one that passed this deal. And, of course, one Congress cannot bind another.

We’ve been down this road before. In years past, Congress promised Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush big spending cuts in return for tax increases. The tax increases went into effect, but the cuts never did. After making these promises, Congress told Reagan to blow it out his shorts and continued to spend more every year. They did the same to the hapless Bush. The analogy here is Lucy van Pelt telling Charley Brown to kick the football. In any case, Congress can always a label a war or other program a “spending emergency,” thereby removing it from the agreement’s cap. The fact that Congress recently labeled part of the 2010 census a spending emergency tells us that they are not above such shenanigans.

Fourth, a major cause of the present and future debt problem was ignored. Entitlements (Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) are a large cause of the massive deficit. 44% of the federal budget is deficit spending and entitlements are roughly a third of the budget. Because entitlements have risen much faster (five times faster) than discretionary spending over the last 45 years and likely will continue to do so, they are a major cause of the financial mess. Given this, the wise men in Congress decided to exempt Social Security and Medicaid from the first round of cuts and from the across-the-board cuts if the super-committee does not reach an agreement. They also limited the degree to which Medicare can be cut.

Fifth, the urgency behind the deal was misplaced. Part of the urgency was the threat if the U.S. government losing its top-of-the-line credit rating (triple-A). Like the TARP deal used to sell the bailout to Wall Street, politicians and pundits warned of a financial catastrophe of biblical proportions. The fact that Japan lost its triple-A credit rating more than a decade ago and still has one of the lowest interest rates was apparently not relevant. Also, irrelevant is that no one knew whether the current deal is enough to prevent the credit downgrade. In fact, the credit downgrade occurred.

Sixth, if the terms of the deal were followed, taxes would increase. The Democrats will never allow entitlements to be cut and when dire stories about what an across-the-board cuts spook the Republicans, they’ll cave Boehner-style and vote for tax increases. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s public statements make it clear that in the second round, spending cuts will have to be matched by tax increases and his allies will be half of the super-committee.

The deal is worse than no agreement at all. With no deal, the American people would force their government to cut its spending by 44%/ This might prevent undeclared and seemingly endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, unconstitutional wars in Libya and Yemen, significant U.S. military presence in Japan and Europe, the inane war on drugs, foreign aid, etc. On one estimate in Daily Kos, the U.S. currently spends roughly 50% of the total military spending in the world. Most of which has little to do with our security. According to the USA Today, the federal government is the largest source of revenue for state and local governments. Perhaps the government would stop doling out the goodies to states, particularly the childish ones (California, Illinois, and New York). The fact that Constitution requires this is icing on the cake.

Democrats should be pleased. They want increases in taxes and spending and this deal delivers both. The problem is that Congressional Republicans, particularly the career politicians, buy into the basic Democrat vision of the country. Between 2000 and 2010, the U.S. massively increased government from roughly 20% to 25% of the economy (Heritage Foundation using numbers from the Congressional Budget Office). The current level is much higher than the historical (1960-2010) average of 18%. Republicans locked in these changes by signing off on the debt-ceiling increase without even a gesture toward moving spending down to its historical level.

Sadly, it is not clear that the treacherous Republicans will pay much of a price for this deal. They sold out the country in the last budget deal too, getting miniscule “cuts” and hoping the American people are too stupid to notice. It’s likely that conservatives will hold the deal against House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), but they’ll still be in office for a while and will be treated as heroes when they retire.

Americans are in a bind. Backing the Republicans leads to the loss of ground as the Democrats continually roll them. Abandoning them would allow President Obama and company to complete their agenda of single-payer healthcare, brutally high taxes, and amnesty for illegal aliens. What a mess.

27 July 2011

The Duty to Tip: Five Theories

Stephen Kershnar
Waitresses and Tips: Why Should We Tip Them?
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
July 11, 2011

In my travels this year, I’ve eaten at a lot of restaurants. I’ve noticed that despite the widespread practice of tipping waitresses and waiters (servers), there is little agreement on why we should do so.

Tipping varies across time and place. In the U.S., the customary tip is currently 15-20% of the pre-tax price of a meal. While some restaurants are moving away from tipping and instead instituting mandatory service charges, it is not clear this has really caught on.

Historically, tipping in the U.S. was controversial. Tipping didn’t appear until after the Civil War. When it did, it was strongly opposed by people who considered it demeaning to servers. They viewed it as a leftover from the class-divided Old World, with its master-and-servant relationships. There were anti-tipping associations and newspapers denounced it (for example, New York Times). Six states banned the practice.

Tipping varies across countries. Tipping in Canada is similar to the U.S. In some countries, customers don’t tip (Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, and Brazil). In others, tips are more moderate, 10% or less (Germany, France, England, Italy, China, and Argentina).

There is variation in who gets tipped. In the U.S., people tip waiters and waitresses, bartenders, taxi drivers, barbers, food deliverers, and airport skycaps. They don’t tip fast-food attendants, flight attendants, headwaiters, and doormen (when merely opening doors). For handymen and gas-station attendants, it’s optional.

There are even racial differences in tipping. Professor Michael Lynn of Cornell University found that in the U.S., white customers tip about 16.5% of the bill, whereas black customers tip 13%. He found that this is likely not due to worse service.

It is not clear whether there is a moral duty to tip. First, it might be argued that the duty to tip comes from the fact that it is customary to do so. This is unconvincing because the fact that a practice is customary does by itself not show that it is morally required. Some customs are outmoded or offensive. In the U.S., it used to be customary not to tip servers. Also, a custom-related duty depends on another factor such as charity, gratitude, rights, and so on and these other factors are what explain any related duties. A similar problem accompanies a view of the duty as resting on etiquette.

Second, the duty might be thought to rest on the fact that servers need the money and would otherwise be underpaid. This was the argument famously given to Mr. Pink in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. The problem is that lots of people need money and are underpaid and it’s unclear why servers are singled out for our charity, particularly when others are even worse off, for example, the starving and homeless. Even if servers were owed charity, it is not clear why this should be done via tips rather than through gifts or government welfare.

Under the current system, servers get paid an hourly wage. In the U.S., servers must be paid the minimum wage ($7.25 per hour), although employers may subtract tips from that amount and must pay at least $2.13 an hour. If people don’t tip, the law requires employers fill the gap. If they don’t do so, this is between the servers and restaurant owners. It’s unclear why it’s the business of a restaurant patron to make up for an owner’s failure to follow the law or the state’s failure to enforce it.

On a side note, tipping is big business. In the aggregate, restaurant workers make more than $26 billion per year in tips. Also, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics 2010 study, waiters and waitresses are about 0.5% of U.S. employees. They earn an average of $9.99 per hour and $20,790 per year. In some areas and states, the average is higher. For example, in the District of Columbia, waiters and waitresses average $14.30 per hour and $28,750 per year in wages.

A third argument is that tips are owed as a matter of gratitude. When restaurant patrons are asked why they tip, this is one of the main reasons they cite. But it is unclear why U.S. patrons should be more grateful than patrons in England, France, Australia, and Japan. It is also unclear why customers should show gratitude toward some workers (for example, servers and taxi drivers), but not others (for example, fast-food attendants, flight attendants, and headwaiters). Lastly, it is unclear why gratitude isn’t expressed in the portion of the restaurant bill that goes toward the server’s minimum-wage salary. It apparently is for the low-paid workers who don’t get tips.

A fourth argument is that customers have a duty to tip because it provides the incentives for good service. This is sometimes tied to the historically mistaken notion that the word “tip” means “to insure prompt service.” The idea is that tipping is the best way for restaurants to monitor and control the quality of service given that it would be inefficient for the owner to spend his time watching the servers. One problem with this argument is that it rests on a duty to provide efficient incentives and there is no such duty. By analogy, even if it provides an efficient incentive for a society to pay starting teachers $65,000 rather than what they currently receive, $39,000 (a New York Times article recently argued for such a pay raise), it hardly follows that any parent has a duty to supplement a teacher’s salary. Also, at least one study found that in countries that don’t have tipping, service is as good as in countries that do. Hence, the notion that tipping is necessary for good service is not obvious.

If there is a duty to tip, it is because the restaurant patron forms a contract with the server to tip her. This is a little mysterious because neither party mentions the contract and it is not written down anywhere. It is even more mysterious because this assumes that the average restaurant patron knows that he is entering into two contracts: one with the restaurant to pay for the food and a second with the server to pay for the service. And for those who think that contracts have to be explicitly stated or enforceable by law, this explanation is a non-starter. Still, if there is a duty to tip, this is where it comes from. I suspect this is correct, but it has an odd feel to it.

16 May 2011

Vacation: I'll be back in July

Dear Friends:
I am taking a two-month break from the columns. I shall return to the column business on July 12th. Thank you for reading the columns and for your many kind words.
Thank you,
Steve K

04 May 2011

Dependency Class: Too Many in the Wagon

Stephen Kershnar
The New America: The Dependency Class Versus the Productive Class
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
May 1, 2011

More and more Americans are living off others. Not only will this darken the U.S.’s future, but it’s also offensive.

First, less of American’s income is coming less from paid work (wages) and more of it from government redistribution. According to the USA Today, wages made up 51% of personal income, the lowest in the nation’s history. In contrast, government payments hit a record high of 18.3% of personal income (90% comes from the federal government). These payments consist of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment benefits, food stamps, and so on. Roughly, for every five dollars in income employers paid out, the government paid out two. This is a 46% increase from the 2000 level. In inflation-adjusted dollars, the average American got $7,400 in government payments, way up from $4,800 in 2000.

The number of people living off the government is so high it’s frightening. Ed Morrissey, writing on the Hot Air website, points out that one in six Americans receives help from the government, a record 44 million on are food stamps (roughly, 15% of the population), and more than 8.4 million are collecting benefits for being jobless. Among states, generous New York gives the most, paying an astounding $9,400 per person. Only West Virginia approaches that amount and it siphons a significant portion of its revenue from federal government.

Second, less people are working. The USA Today, doing breakthrough work, found that the share of the population that is working fell to the lowest level since women started entering the work force three decades ago. Less than one in two Americans (45%) of Americans had jobs in 2010. This is the lowest rate since 1983 and an 8% drop since 2000. The pattern for men is particularly surprising. In 2010, just two out of three (66.8%) had jobs, the lowest on record. As of 2009, the USA Today reported, women were on the verge of outnumbering men in the workforce, a historic change.

Third, less people make things and more work for the government. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Stephen Moore points out that there are nearly twice as many people work for the government (23 million) as in manufacturing (12 million). This is, roughly, a reversal of the situation in 1960. Ask yourself whether it is healthy to have so many workers living off taxes and so few making things. He also points more that some states have even higher ratios. New Jersey’s ratio is 2.5 to 1 ratio and New York’s is 3 to 1. Moore states that more Americans work for the government than for manufacturing, construction, utilities, mining, farming, fishing, and forestry. This is a recipe for disaster. Nearly half of the $2.2 trillion cost of state and local governments is for compensation for government workers.

Fourth, the least productive citizens pay increasingly less income taxes. Income taxes are increasingly born by the most productive citizens. In 2008, the bottom 75% of taxpayers (incomes equal or less than $67,000) made 34% of income, but paid only 14% of income taxes. Income here is adjusted gross income. The bottom 50% of taxpayers paid only 3% of all income taxes and a measly 3% of their income went to income taxes. In 2009, according to the New York Times, 47% of American households owed no income taxes, although most of them paid other federal taxes (for example, payroll and gas taxes).

The above facts suggest more and more people are riding in the wagon, less are pushing (Phil Gramm’s analogy). This appears to be offensive, an interesting question is why? One theory is that it is inefficient. Having so many people live off redistributed wealth transfers resources from the more efficient private sector to the less efficient public one. Studies, for example those by the Heritage Foundation, show that economic freedom (lack of government interference and lower taxes) strongly correlates with a society’s overall amount of wealth as well as other measures of well-being, such as health, education, and personal freedom. Having a dependency society will likely make us poorer.

However, inefficiency is the wrong sort of explanation because it is a problem for a whole society, and an abstract one, whereas the dependency society insults each individual the government treats as an ATM.

A second theory is that the country faces big problems and the above pattern will surely exacerbate things. George Bernard Shaw famously said, “A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.” The country faces a massive debt. It is approaching the yearly output of the whole economy. According to www.usgovernmentspending.com, the government in 2010 at all three levels now spends more than 40% of what is produced in this country (that is, more than 40% of the GDP).That is, they spend more than 4 cents for every dime the economy produces. As people become increasing dependent on welfare programs and government wages, an increasing large segment will be unwilling to make necessary cuts in government spending. Those living off a sugar daddy are unlikely to want him to stop his free-spending ways.

This theory does not explain the offensiveness of the dependency society because the threat is a future one, namely that the country’s economy will be stuck in the doldrums, if not tank, while the dependency society is offensive today.

A third theory is that the dependency society is offensive because the attitude it takes toward more productive citizens. When the government takes so much of the fruits of their labor, it treats them merely as a means to an end. It treats them as mere ATMs, that is, as beasts of burden whose lives can be hijacked for the benefit of others. How else could one make sense of requiring some people to work at least one out of every three minutes for the government so that it can divvy out the benefits to favored groups? Decades ago, Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick argued that sacrificing some for the benefit of others is wrong because of the profound disrespect it involves. Just as it is true of slavery and a wartime draft, it is also true for a dependency society, albeit to a much lesser degree.

A progressive defender of this redistribution, for example, President Obama, might argue that as long as the majority of voters chose to yoke productive citizens in the above way, democratic values provide a good reason for the yoking. This rests on a misunderstanding of democracy. Democracy is valuable in large part because it tends to produce better results than other types of government. It is also more respectful of the citizenry as free and equal people than undemocratic systems. Both values are compromised if the majority decides to use its voting power to harass and oppress others. This might be done, for example, when governments impose Sharia law on unwilling women, oppress blacks via Jim Crow laws, or silence unpopular opinions. Making the productive class pay through the nose for an increasingly unappreciative and demanding group of dependents is offensive, even if the majority of Paul-like voters support it.

21 April 2011

Mommy Wars: The Tiger Mother Throws Down the Gauntlet

Stephen Kershnar
The Tiger Mother at War
Dunkir-Fredonia Observer
April 18, 2011

In her bestselling book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and her Wall Street Journal article, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” Amy Chua defends her version of “Chinese Mother” parenting practices and the philosophy behind it. The publisher (Penguin Press) knew the book would be huge and paid her in the high six figures in advance for the book. Her book and article have created a firestorm that has been covered by the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, National Public Radio, and the like. Chua has an endowed seat at Yale Law School (best in the U.S.) as does her Jewish husband who is less of a disciplinarian. Her family contains other similarly accomplished academics.

Her daughters were not allowed to attend a sleepover, have a play date, be in a school play, complain about not being in a school play, watch TV or play computer games, choose their own extracurricular activities, get any grade less than an A, not be the best student in any subject except gym and drama, play any instrument other than the piano or violin, and not play the piano and violin.

The “Chinese mother” philosophy, nicely summarized by Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic Monthly, consists of the following claims. First, children are inherently strong, not fragile. Because of this, parents can demand that their children work hard and excel at school without worrying about their self-esteem. Second, self-esteem comes from accomplishing difficult-and-worthwhile projects. Third, the better children get at doing something, the more they will enjoy doing it. Fourth, parents know better than their children what is in their interests. As a result they often override their children’s own preferences. That’s why Chinese daughters aren’t allowed to have boyfriends in high school or to waste their time being Villager Number Six in the school play. Fifth, Chinese mothers love their children. They are not content to let their children turn out badly and will make sure they have what they need to flourish.

Chua claims that “Chinese mothering” is not limited to the Chinese. She allows that Korean, Irish, and Ghanaian mothers can be Tiger mothers. This is likely politically correct cover. Her argument focuses on what she claims are the characteristic practices and attitudes of Chinese mothers. Perhaps she might include other East Asian mothers (that is, Korean and Japanese mothers). Other reviewers have also interpreted her in a similar way.

Critics have raised three main criticisms of the Chua’s thesis. First, Chinese parenting practices do not produce more successful children. Second, even if the practices produce more successful children, they are bad because they produce less happy children. Third, even if Chua’s practices do work and do not produce children who are less happy than those with Western parents, they still reflect some defect in Chua or the Chinese culture.

Consider the criticism that the Chinese parenting practices don’t work. One concern here is whether Chinese children do better because they have a genetic advantage. In her previous bestseller (“World on Fire”), Chua pointed out that the Chinese have dominated markets in a number of Asian countries outside of China. As Chua is surely aware, professors Richard Lynn, Arthur Jensen, J. Philippe Rushton, Richard Herrnstein, Charles Murray, and others have found that East Asians have on average a higher IQ than whites (5-6) points and other races. They argue that the difference is due in part to genetics. It has been argued that 40-80% of intelligence in populations is heritable. This view is quite controversial, but one now dated poll it reflected the plurality view of specialists in the field. If this is correct, then at least part of Chinese success is likely genetic. It is not clear how much, if any, Chinese parenting practices add to their genetic advantage. Furthermore, East Asians do better on math-related subtests. This would lead the heredity crowd to predict that they would do strikingly well in math and science fields. This is what we find.

The parenting-practice issue becomes less clear when we compare East Asians to Ashkenazi Jews (Jews of European descent). The latter have the highest tested IQ. On some studies, it is 112-115. They outperform East Asians in the various intelligence-related contests: earning money, attending Ivy League schools, winning the top intellectual prizes (for example, Nobel Prizes, Fields Medals, and Turing Awards). This is not to say that Jewish mothers don’t have special parenting practices (for example, guilt) or that Chinese parenting techniques don’t improve the performance of Chinese children relative to others, but it is to say that the quick inference from Chinese success (outside of China) to Tiger-mother practices is unconvincing.

Consider the criticism that even if Chinese practices work, they produce less happy children. The arguments to this extent tend to beg the question. Writing in the Atlantic Monthly, Christina Schwarz writes that during ages 3-12, play is good for children, despite its being disordered, unproductive, and unclouded by reason. She argues that this is what makes childhoods worth remembering. Her implicit message is that Tiger mothering lessens it and is therefore bad.

On a different tack, Chinese-American women quoted in Psychology Today, charge that Chua’s practices are cruel and abusive. They don’t cite any studies or conceptual arguments to support their charge. Ayelet Waldman writing in the Wall Street Journal points out that Asian-American girls aged 15-24 have above-average suicide rates, but she does not make it not make it clear whether this is true for East Asian families, let alone high-achieving ones.

On one study, East Asians were somewhat less happy (satisfied with their lives) than other relatively wealthy and free peoples. It is not clear to what degree this results from culture, genetics, or something else. Also, if the Chinese parenting practices work, they likely result in a greater chance at marriage, employment, and higher occupational status, some of the factors that correlate with greater happiness.

A third group of critics provide arguments that appear to be a series of anecdotes and personal attacks against her or the Chinese culture. They claim she is sadistic, racist, narcissistic, a banana (yellow on the outside, white on the inside) who knows nothing about Chinese culture or language, and that she doesn’t respect or cherish her daughters. The plural of anecdote is not data (not my line). In the anecdote-war, Chua has a powerful ally: her oldest daughter. Writing in the New York Post, Sophia Chua Rubenfeld publicly thanked her mother for helping her to have a meaningful life. She claims that she finds meaning in pushing herself to the limit of her potential and exalting in the feeling of doing more than she ever thought she could. “If I died tomorrow, I would die feeling I’ve lived my whole life at 110 percent. And for that, Tiger mom, thank you.”

Why then did so many mothers savage the book? One explanation put forth by Flanagan is that the liberal upper class mothers (read: rich and well-educated white mothers) who want their children to have a carefree, creative, and effortless childhood will soon discover that their children are going to get spanked in the competition for admission to elite colleges, medical schools, top music conservatories, and so on. She posits that Chua and other Chinese mothers are forcing them to choose between the childhood and the future they want for their children and they resent it. Another explanation, implicit in Waldman, is that Chua makes Western feel guilty because they expend less effort on parenting and are more preoccupied when compared to the Tiger moms. I’m not sure I put much stock in either explanation, but am also unsure what accounts for the rage the book has unleashed.

06 April 2011

Obama's War & Congressional Authorization

Stephen Kershnar
The Libyan War and the Constitution
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
April 3, 2011

There are many reasons to oppose the current U.S. war on Libya. First, this war is expensive. Reuters reports that we’ve already spent $550 million on it and we just got into it. The federal government is currently borrowing roughly 43% of what it spends (roughly, we will likely borrow $1.6 trillion on a $3.7 trillion budget) and hence a country mired in debt is putting the war on the credit card. We’ve already spent $800 billion on the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars. The total costs of these other wars may go as high as $3 trillion if the estimate by Nobel-Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz is correct.

Second, because our goals are not clearly defined, mission creep has occurred and likely will continue to do so. The war was initially sold to us as imposing a no-fly zone to keep Moammar Gadhafi’s air force from killing the rebels. This could be accomplished by taking out his air force and air defenses. The mission then changed to protecting civilians. The new goal might explain why we’ve killed Gadhafi’s soldiers, destroyed his armor and command-and-control centers, and even bombed his residence. The recent discussion of arming the rebels suggests a new mission is on the way: regime change. If this mission succeeds, we’ll likely have yet another mission: nation building. In Afghanistan and Iraq this has been expensive and gone poorly, but President Obama rushed in anyway.

Third, the war makes U.S. policy unpredictable to both U.S. citizens and foreign countries. The U.S. attacked forces in Serbia, Bosnia, Iraq, and Libya, in part for humanitarian purposes, but did nothing in Sudan, Congo, and Rwanda. Given the lack of U.S. interests in Serbia, Bosnia, and, arguably, Libya, the pattern is arbitrary. This arbitrariness can also be seen in the U.S.’s muted response to protesters being killed in Bahrain and Yemen. Because both Republicans and Democrats jump into humanitarian wars, U.S. voters have no way to end this type of foreign adventurism. Other countries are also left to guess at what we’ll do next.

The main reason to oppose this war is that it is unconstitutional. Obama didn’t bother to get Congressional approval for his war. He did, however, get U.N. permission. Apparently, that’s what’s important.

Article I Section 8 states that Congress shall have the power to declare war. The best interpretation of this clause is that except in the cases where the country or its vital interests are attacked, the President cannot initiate war until Congress has declared it. Not only does the language of the Constitution suggest this, but the country’s fathers, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and George Washington, likely intended this. As writer Walter Isaacson notes, Washington said, “The Constitution vests the power of declaring war with Congress, therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they shall have deliberated on the subject, and authorized such a measure.” Alexander Hamilton in Federalist no. 69 stated that the President is just the “first general and admiral” and just as generals and admirals may not initiate war, Presidents may not either.

The structure of the Constitution also supports this interpretation. Elsewhere in Article I Section 8, Cato Institute scholar Gene Healy points out, Congress has the power to initiate military action, specifically by allowing private American ships to attack other countries’ ships and to use militias to suppress domestic rebellion and repel invasions. In contrast, the Constitution grants to the President merely supervisory war-related powers. He may lead the army and navy only after Congress has created them and authorized their use.

As a side note, this was the position that Senators Obama and Biden held before they joined the executive branch. University of California at Berkeley professor and former Bush administration lawyer John Yoo notes that Biden opposed the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito because he didn’t admit that the Bush administration would need congressional permission to attack Iran. Obama is on record defending a similar view.

Yoo provides the strongest argument for the claim that the President alone has the power to make war. Yoo argues that this claim can be seen in the nation’s history. The U.S., he notes, has used force abroad more than 100 times and only declared war five times. Even major wars like the Korean and Vietnam wars were fought without a declaration of war and Congress didn’t even authorize the former.

Yoo also argues that the drafting history of the Constitution supports his claim because the Constitutional delegates substituted in “declare war” for “make war,” suggesting that they didn’t view Congress as having the power to initiate war. He further argues that when the Constitution sets out a power that Congress and President share, such as enacting laws and entering treaties, it lays out a specific procedure. However, it does not lay out a specific procedure for war. He claims that a proper historical understanding also supports this interpretation. Constitutional delegates, Yoo claims, were following our English ancestry. In England, he notes, the King alone could initiate war and Parliament could undermine a war by refusing to fund it. Congress, Yoo notes, can stop a war via the purse.

The courts and the Clinton and Obama administrations have in effect adopted Yoo’s position. In Doe v. Bush (1st Circuit 2003), Campbell v. Clinton (D.C. Cir 2000), and Massachusetts v. Laird (1st Circuit 1971), which considered Constitutional challenges to the second Iraqi, Serbian, and Vietnam wars, the courts threw out challenges based on the fact that Congress had not authorized these wars. The courts reasoned that because Congress had not ordering an end to the wars or cut off funding, it was not at odds with the President. This reasoning makes sense only if Presidents can make war without Congressional approval.

If Yoo and the recent administrations were correct, then the Constitution permits Presidents to unilaterally start bloody and expensive wars with major powers like China and Russia without Congressional oversight. If Congress tried to stop the war by passing a law and the President vetoed it, Congress could then stop it only by forming a super-majority to override the President’s veto. In effect, Congress would have to act through hard-to-obtain super-majorities. This is likely not what the war-weary founders intended. It would also do little to slow down our repeated entry into unnecessary wars, especially with the pathetic specimens who populate Congress.

In addition to the Constitution, the War Powers Resolution, passed over the veto of President Nixon, prohibits the President from using the armed forces in a war for more than 60 days (with an addition 30-day withdrawal period) without Congress declaring war or otherwise authorizing the use of force. This resolution appears to be inconsistent with the Constitution on either of the above views because it transfers a power (war-making) from Congress to the President or vice versa. In any case, it’s still on the books and Obama has yet to satisfy it.

The best approach here is for Congress to follow Stanford Law Professor John Hart Ely’s suggestion to impeach and convict Obama for illegal war-making. Ely argues that violating the separation of powers to engage in an illegal war is a “high crime or misdemeanor” and far worse than, for example, Richard Nixon’s wiretapping and Bill Clinton’s perjury and witness tampering. Were this adopted earlier, this might have prevented Presidents from recklessly spending American blood and treasure in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Somalia, Serbia, Bosnia, and Libya.

Whether the military who took an oath to uphold the Constitution should refuse to fight is an issue for another day.

23 March 2011

Judaism and Christianity: Falsehoods in Sacred Texts

Stephen Kershnar
Judaism and Christianity: The Shame of the Bible
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
March 7, 2011

Judaism and Christianity are committed to the claim that what the Bible says is true or, at least, reliably true. There are two reasons for this. On one account, these religions are, by definition, a set of beliefs with a certain historical past. This historical past involves the Bible. For Jews, consider the centrality of Abraham, Saul, and David, and Moses’ receipt of the Ten Commandments. For Christians, consider Mary’s virgin birth, Jesus’ crucifixion, speeches, miracles, and so on. On a second account, these religions depend on knowledge that comes from the Old and New Testaments. On this account, even if these religions are not defined in terms of the Bible, they rely on knowledge that has been reliably passed down through the Bible, although perhaps not only through it. Both religions, then, depend on what the Bible says.

The problem is that some of what the Bible says, at least in its current translations, is false. University of Colorado philosophy professor Michael Huemer provides the following examples. First, some statements contradict each other and at least one of every two contradictory statements is false. Consider how one is saved.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith … not by works. [Ephesians 2:8-9]

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but no deeds? Can such faith save him? … Faith by itself, if it not accompanied by action, is dead. [James 2:14-17]

Behold I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. [Revelation 22:12]

Consider whether God changes his mind.

God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. [Numbers 23:19]

Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened. [Exodus 32:14]

Second, the Bible makes scientific errors. Here are a few examples.

All flying insects that walk on all fours are to be detestable to you. There are, however, some winged creatures that walk on all fours that you may eat: those that have jointed legs for hopping on the ground. Of these you may eat any kind of locust, katydid, cricket or grasshopper. [Leviticus 11:20-22]

You may eat any animal that has a split hoof divided into two and that chews the cud. However, of those that chew the cud or that have a split hoof completely divided you may not eat the camel, the rabbit, or the coney [a small Middle Eastern mammal]. [Deuteronomy 14:6-7]

He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim … It took a line of thirty cupits to measure around it. [1 Kings 7:23]

The problem is that no insects (including grasshoppers) are four-legged, rabbits don’t chew cud, and pi does not equal 3. For those who are tempted to claim that insects walk on four feet and jump with two, this still conflicts with Leviticus 11: 23. Cute moves about rabbits also fail.

Third, the Bible makes grave moral errors. It has a long list of who must be put to death. This list includes anyone who curses his father or mother (Leviticus 20:9), commits adultery (Leviticus 20:10), engages in gay male sex (Leviticus 20:13), promiscuous girls who lose their virginity (Deuteronomy 22:20-21), and those who do not keep the Sabbath (Exodus 35:2).

The Bible also orders complete and total genocide in some cases (Deuteronomy 7:1-2 and 20:10-17) and permits the keeping of slaves (Leviticus 25:44-45) and beating slaves (Exodus 21:20-21). There’s more, but you get the picture.

Jews and Christians have to admit that the Bible contains falsehoods. This is enough to show that God didn’t write it because he’s all-knowing. Worse, they involve big errors, specifically, how one is saved, the nature of God, whether one may commit genocide and keep slaves, and who should be killed for unpopular sex. Even if Christians and Jews want to retreat to the position that human beings wrote the Bible and were divinely inspired, the most that can be said is that they are an extremely unreliable source as to what is true and what God wants. This alone is enough to show that Christianity and Judaism is false when viewed in terms of their full set of doctrines (for Jews, Abraham, David, and Moses; for Christians, virgin birth and Jesus’ arising from the dead and role in salvation). Even the stripped down minimal doctrines (monotheism and Jesus’ divinity) are doubtful to the extent they are not supported by evidence that does not rely on the Bible.

One objection is that Bible as originally written was not stocked with such falsehoods, they crept in when it was translated. I’ve seen no evidence for this, perhaps there’s some of which I’m unaware.

A second objection is that the Bible was written nearly two thousand years ago and it is unfair to blame ancient people for not using modern science, morality, and logic. The objection is not that these people were blameworthy for what they wrote. Rather, it is that the Bible is so unreliable as to count as evidence against Judaism and Christianity.

A third objection is that belief in Judaism and Christianity should rest on faith (strong belief unaccompanied by adequate evidence) or these religions’ ability to make people’s lives go better. The data shows that religious people are happier and, a dated study, shows that they have better sex lives. It is likely reassuring for those who grew up with it and, for many, it provides a loving and supportive community. Even if this is true, believers are still in the awkward position of believing in and practicing what they do not know to be true and, more likely, know to be false. This is problematic for those whose job depends on their handling evidence. This includes scientists, engineers, physicians, lawyers, professors, and people in business. To the extent that one holds that self-interest is a good reason to believe something, regardless of whether it is true, religious people escape can live with the awkwardness. Perhaps this is why we see lawyers, physicians, and professors sitting slightly uncomfortably in Synagogues and pews.

In sum, the Bible contains a number of troubling falsities. In the absence of convincing philosophical arguments for religious doctrines, and here I just assume such arguments are absent, this is convincing evidence that Judaism and Christianity are false. This need not trouble those who are okay with holding false beliefs in limited areas, when doing so makes their lives go better. However, to the extent that politicians and religious leaders rely on the Bible to solve personal, moral, or political issues, they are arguing from false premises and should be ignored.