12 December 2012

Sex: Cybersex, Adultery, & Statutory Rape

Stephen Kershnar

Cybersex: But Is It Sex?
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
November 26, 2012

As technology expands at a breakneck pace, new issues test the boundaries of our morality and aesthetics. One such issue is cybersex. Cybersex occurs when two or more people have online sexual activity. That is, they connect via computer network and share sexual thoughts or images. This is relevant to the boundaries of adultery, statutory rape, and perversion. The Times sex columnist Suzi Godson notes that people can get addicted to it.

Cybersex occurs in two main types. The first type, virtual-reality cybersex, involves people directly using their own bodies. In a current version, people expose themselves to a live camera (livecam) in order to arouse each other. In a future version of this type, participants wear a bodysuit and helmet that give someone the actual experience of having sex with another.

On a second type, text-based cybersex, people engage in sex by typing commands into a computer. This might result in an online character acting (virtual character) acting out the commands. For example, based on the commands of the computer users, various characters (for example, Batman and Betty Boop) might have online coitus. The TinySex sites are a common source of this type of cybersex. Text-based cybersex also might occur via a chat room (for example, Hot Chat sites). There people meet others and then begin to correspond in pairs, eventually typing in sexually explicit thoughts to one another. This is similar to phone sex.

As computer technology expands into every crevice of our lives, cybersex will become increasingly frequent. For example, consider how common it will be when people can engage in cybersex from technology that runs off their eyeglasses, tracks their thoughts, and is easily arranged and difficult to track. Just think about the number of high school and college students who would like an outlet for their sexual thoughts.

This raises the issue of whether the people engaging in cybersex are having real sex. There have been cases in which people have found their spouses engaging in cybersex with third parties. Is this adulterous? There might also be issues of whether an adult who has cybersex with a thirteen-year-old girl has sex with a minor. That is, does he commit statutory rape? There also might be issue of identity. Consider, for example, a woman who thinks of herself as heterosexual but prefers online lesbian interactions. Is she bisexual?

The argument for some cybersex being sex is straightforward. When people engage in a joint activity that is intended to satisfy sexual desires and tends to do so, then it is sex. Cybersex does so. Hence, it is sex.

The main objection to this argument is that sex involves physical contact and cybersex doesn’t. However, as University of Indiana professor Louise Collins points out, in the bodysuit case, the couple arguably does engage in physical contact, albeit via a prosthetic device. If people were to use sex toys on one another, this would be sex. The bodysuit and helmet are arguably a type of sex toy. What’s more, it is not clear that physical contact is necessary for sex. As Collins points out, people have sex wearing condoms, dental dams, latex suits, and even Saran wrap and thus, in some sense, have sex without bodily contact

Still, it is not clear that physical contact is occurring because a couple is not contacting one another at a single location. Their computers are in different locations and, other than the server, there is no one place where they or their computers physically interact. It is hard to see how two people can have sex if there is no one place where it occurs.

In addition, just as simulated airplane flying on a computer is not the same as really flying an airplane, simulated sex intuitively seems not to be the same as really having sex. Rather, it appears to be collaborative pornography or, perhaps, an artistic game. This likely explains why many people do not take it seriously.

Also, there appear to be an error in the notion that cybersex is really sex. Collins and others argue that just as it is an error to think that Shakespeare killed Macduff (Macbeth does so), it is an error to think that the computer user has sex with an online character (for example, Betty Boop) rather than his character (for example, Batman) doing so. If this were not the case, then there could be cases of online rape if, for example, the person controlling the Batman character hijacks the Betty Boop character and stages an online rape scene. There might also be cases of inadvertent homosexuality if, for example, the person controlling the Betty Boop character were to be, unbeknownst to Batman’s controller, a man. Online rape and inadvertent homosexuality are not the real thing.

Perhaps this shows that our focus on adulterous sex is mistaken and that morality and the law should focus on something else. The focus might be on a spouse’s diverted attention or affection, whether via sex or cybersex. A similar thing might be true for underage teens who participate in cybersex. There are also concerns about people who substitute cybersex for real relationships or who get addicted to it.

It is not obvious, however, that cybersex and related computer pornography is morally bad or bad for participants. That participants enjoy it is obvious, that’s why they participate in it. Pleasure makes people’s lives go better. Bonnie Ruberg, writing in The Village Voice, argues that cybersex has other benefits. It allows participants to branch out sexually (testing the waters in virtual reality before trying the real thing), gain sexual confidence, and become more creative. For single people, it might provide for a sexual activity when the next best option is none. It might even reduce violence. While the studies here are mixed and controversial, at least one study (by Clemson University economist Todd Kendall) found that increasing use of pornography decreased the frequency of rape.

Cybersex does sound alien and creepy to many people (I think this and have never tried it), but this concern is likely aesthetic rather than one that resting on morality or self-interest. It likely is not sex, but simulated sex. It is not clear that this distinction should matter to us when considering things like adultery and sex with underage teens. As computer technology rapidly expands into our lives, we can expect cybersex to become ever more popular and rocket into the mainstream.

14 November 2012

Romney should have pushed the racial divide

Stephen Kershnar

Should the Election have been Racialized?
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
November 12, 2012

The recent Presidential election made clear some deep demographic fault lines: race/ethnicity and marriage. An interesting issue is whether the Republicans should have taken advantage of these fault lines by racializing the election. I should mention that there are many wonderful members of every demographic group and that this fact is irrelevant to this discussion.

Consider race and ethnicity. Citing a Reuters-Ipsos’ exit poll Reuters, VDARE writer Steve Sailer points out that the racial and ethnic voting divisions were massive. Sailer noted that only 3% of blacks voted for Romney. In comparison 58% of whites voted for Mitt Romney (59% on the Edison exit poll). The same pattern is true for Hispanics. VDARE’s Peter Brimelow, citing a CNN poll, noted that only 27% of Hispanics voted for Romney. This is roughly the same for Asians (26% voted for Romney).

Next, consider marriage. Sailer notes that 57% of married people voted for Romney versus 35% of single people. When we combine race and gender, the differences becomes starker. 62% of married white women and 65% of married white men voted for Romney. Because whites were 72% of voters, the election might be stereotypically characterized as a competition between married white voters and everyone else.

This difference is noticeably larger than the gender gap found in CNN’s exit polls. Women voted for Obama over Romney 55% to 44%. Men voted for Romney over Obama by 52% to 45%. These gaps are smaller than the marriage and race/ethnicity gaps.

The Republican establishment is currently pushing for amnesty. By amnesty, I mean making illegal aliens into citizens or legal residents. This clearly will not benefit Republicans. First, there are polling results suggesting that Hispanics don’t care much about amnesty. Writing in National Review Online, Heather Mac Donald points out that in a 2011 poll of California Hispanics, more than four times as many Hispanics were opposed to Republican economic policies than their position on immigration (29% versus 7%).

Second, a significant number of Hispanics are poor and depend on welfare programs. Mac Donald notes that U.S. born Hispanic households use welfare programs at twice the rate of non-Hispanic U.S.-born households. In California, she notes, Hispanic children are poor at much higher rates than other children. For example 70% of the poor children in the state are Hispanic and one in three Hispanic children are poor versus one in six for non-Hispanic children. They also have a relatively high percentage of the population that is low-skilled and poorly educated relative to other groups. Hence, it makes sense that they might be suspicious of a party that wants to cut welfare programs in order to lower taxes on middle class and rich.

Third, Hispanics have made it clear that as a group, they dislike Republicans and that this does not depend on the amnesty issue. While they gave Romney 27% of their vote, they almost never give Republicans that much more. In recent history, the high-water mark occurred when George W. Bush got 40% of their vote. Sailer points out that even when the Republicans ran someone who sponsored an amnesty bill, Sen. John McCain, he only got 31% of the vote, which is close to Romney’s 27%.

An interesting issue is whether the Republicans should have racialized the election, either by emphasizing issues that focus on racial differences or by making it clear that the issue is in part the groups whose preferences should be put in place.

White voters, especially blue-collar ones crucial to wining the Midwest and Great Lakes states, likely disapprove of amnesty and racial preferences. The Obama administration unilaterally imposed an amnesty (the executive order implementation of the Dream Act). It has also been quietly pushing race- and ethnicity-preferences (see its brief in Fisher v. University of Texas and some of its regulations). The Romney campaign should have trumpeted differences on these issues. It might also have challenged chain immigration. This policy, in effect, favors a flood of low-skilled-and-poor immigrants over a smaller flow of high-skilled-and-rich ones by making immigration depend largely on family relations. Mentioning these issues would likely have helped Romney attract more blue-collar white votes in states where he desperately needed them and would have done so on issues in which the Republicans are in the right.

One obvious objection to this strategy is that it is wrong to divide Americans by race or ethnicity. The objection rests on a false assumption. As long as the division focuses on legitimate policy differences, it is not wrong to bring these differences to the attention of voters, even when doing so has a divisive effect. This is especially true when the policies are unjust and inefficient. Even if it were wrong to divide people, this wrongness still has to be weighed against the wrongness of allowing the U.S. to sink under a sea of debt that is rising to dangerous levels.

A second objection is that such divisive policies wouldn’t work because Americans don’t care about immigration, race preferences, or a flood of low-skilled-and-poor immigrants. It is likely Americans don’t care about the issues only because politicians are wise enough to leave in place the status quo. When in 2007, Congress tried to rush through an amnesty bill without much discussion in Congress or the American people, the public reacted with fury. Since then politicians in both parties have largely avoided the issue like the plague. Obama barely mentioned race preferences both before and during the election. It is obvious why.

Also, there is no obvious reason that the country should continue to approve of the displacement of some demographic groups (for example, those with European ancestry) by others. This displacement occurred and continues to occur as the result of various bills (for example, Ted Kennedy’s 1965 Immigration Bill) that changed traditional U.S. immigration policy. Perhaps this is a good idea, but showing this takes an argument. Calling opponents of the displacement “racist” or “xenophobic” isn’t an argument, merely name-calling. And given that the replacement groups support policies that further socialize the economy and ratchet up taxes, the voting pattern of non-European immigrants should be part of the discussion.

President Obama won the election in a vote that had clear demographic fault lines. Assuming racializing the campaign to draw attention to the fault lines might well have made a difference, it is hard to see why it shouldn’t have been done.

01 November 2012

First Amendment: Campus Free Speech

Stephen Kershnar

Losing Free Speech in Academia
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
October 30, 2012

In higher education, state colleges and universities have a troubling tendency to restrict free speech far beyond what the Constitution allows or what is morally right. This is troubling because these institutions are central to the free market of ideas and to people freely shaping their own lives.

The right to free speech is the right that others refrain from interfering with you when you express your ideas. This right is crucial to the marketplace of ideas. The underlying notion here is that just as in a free market of goods, the best goods tend to win out, in a free market of ideas, the best ones tend to win out. Entries into the marketplace need not be intellectual treatises but can also include emotional appeals, art, and parodies.

In On Liberty (1859), philosopher John Stuart Mill argued that there are strong reasons to allow people to present and discuss disfavored views. First, such views are sometimes true or contain true ideas within them. Discussing them can bring out these truths. Second, even when such views are false, discussing them enables people to see why they are false and thereby gain a better understanding of what justifies their own views. On this theory, for example, by freely discussing the pros and cons of difficult issues (for example, Christianity, homosexuality, and promiscuity), people are more likely to have true ideas and to understand the basis for their own beliefs.

In addition to these benefits, more recent writers, such as Harvard University professor Tim Scanlon, have argued that people have more opportunity to shape their own lives when they are able to freely discuss ideas. Discussing ideas allows them to better decide what sort of people they want to be and how they should act. This is because they are better able to consider and assess different principles that might guide their lives.

Writing recently in The New York Times, Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), noted that 65% of colleges had policies that violated the First Amendment’s right of free speech. He further noted a 2010 study by the American Association of Colleges and Universities that found that 19% of faculty and 36% of students strongly agreed that it was safe to hold unpopular positions on campus. Administrations are chilling controversial speech and the people who are best in the know (faculty) are ones most chilled. Lukianoff argues that this chilling has resulted from the dramatic expansion in the number of administrators and staff as well as the culture of political correctness that wants to suppress what it takes to be racially insensitive speech and sexual harassment.

SUNY-Fredonia’s policies nicely illustrate the problem with its unconstitutional restrictions on free speech, although to be fair many other campuses provide just as good an illustration. The campus’ diversity policy prohibits “[Creating] a situation that results in the discomfort of, or harassment or excessive ridicule of a member of the college community.” This policy might be used to punish a faculty, student, or visitor who argues that because the Bible condemns homosexuality, gay sex is wrong, if gay activists claim that this causes them discomfort. Similarly, someone who argues that because modern Muslim countries trample on liberty, keep women down, and engage in endless sectarian fighting, Islam is likely bad and false, if Muslim activist claim that it causes them excessive ridicule.

This restriction does not fit into an exception to the First Amendment protection of free speech. It is not narrowly targeted toward fighting words because these words must be directed at individuals and tend to provoke violence. Nor is it narrowly targeted toward obscenity because it is not narrowly targeted at sexually explicit speech. In addition, the Supreme Court has held that indecent speech (sexually explicit, tasteless, or offensive speech) is stringently protected on campuses. See Papish v. Board of Curators of the University of Missouri (1973).

This restriction is overbroad in that it can be used to punish constitutionally protected speech as well as unprotected fighting words and obscenity. It is also vague in that faculty and students have to guess as to when such a rule applies. Both features make a state campus policy unconstitutional. See, for example, Doe v. University of Michigan (1989).

SUNY-Fredonia’s sexual harassment policy is also unconstitutional. It bans “[A]ny repeated or unwanted verbal or physical sexual advance, sexually explicit derogatory statement, or sexually discriminatory remark made by someone in the workplace or educational setting. … This behavior constitutes sexual harassment when … such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working or learning environment.” A faculty member might run afoul of this rule if he argues (as did former Harvard president Larry Summers) that due to parental duties or genetics, women will be underrepresented in science and this deeply offends women’s groups on campus. A student might get impaled on this rule if he argues that the current hookup culture makes too many college women unclean in the eyes of God and this deeply offends women’s groups who are famously thin skinned.

Sexual harassment codes on state campuses must satisfy the First Amendment and the standard is narrow. To be banned, the conduct must be so severe, pervasive, and objectionably offensive that it effectively bars the victim’s access to an educational opportunity or benefit. As FIRE points out that, this standard, from Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education (1999), has been relied on by courts, colleges, and legal counsel for more than a decade. In addition, it is the standard adopted by the relevant part of the federal government (Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights). Fredonia and far too many other campuses have not adopted such a narrow ban even though courts have consistently shot down broader bans. See, for example, DeJohn v. Temple University (2008).

SUNY-Fredonia’s internet policy bans content that is “vulgar, racist, sexist, homophobic …” This policy also wouldn’t survive constitutional challenge in part because vulgar is overbroad and vague and in part because in banning only some views (racist, sexist, and homophobic ones), the campus engages in viewpoint discrimination. Courts take a very harsh view of the state discriminating against certain viewpoints and this has been applied at the campus level (see, for example, Rosenberger v. University of Virginia (1995)). Other Fredonia policies, such as that requiring orderly and dignified expression, also run afoul of the yet other protections of free speech. The courts have given strong protection of parodies even when they are neither orderly nor dignified.

Justice Robert Jackson famously said that “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.” State colleges and universities should protect free speech rather than allowing the orthodoxy of political correctness to constrict the marketplace of ideas.

17 October 2012

Barack Obama: Debt and Morality

Stephen Kershnar

Obama and the Unconscionable Debt
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
October 14, 2012

Barack Obama’s deficit spending is disastrous. Consider the federal debt. According to Romina Boccia of the Heritage Foundation, when Obama took office, the debt was roughly $10 trillion. It is now over $16 trillion. This is a mind-blowing increase of 60% in four years. Even if one blames the debt for his first year on George W. Bush, the increase on Obama’s watch is still staggering. Boccia points out that per U.S. taxpayer, the debt is now more than $111,000. In contrast, the average taxpayer makes $51,000 a year. It is true that all the recent presidents, including Bill Clinton, ran up the debt, but Obama’s run has been on a whole different scale.

The total debt is now larger than the economy (Gross Domestic Product). In 2011, it was 102% of the GDP. The public debt (the percentage of the debt owed to parties other than the government) is now 71% of the economy and has increased by an astounding 80% since Obama took office. This is unsurprising given that this disgraceful administration along with the unprincipled Congress ran $1 trillion deficits for four years in a row and paid for roughly 40% of each year’s spending through borrowing. Other countries that have a higher total debt as compared to their economies than the U.S. are basket cases like Greece (165%) and Italy (120%), as well as Japan (204%), which suffers from long-term stagnation.

As the New York Times’ Paul Krugman points out, just as redistribution of wealth simply transfers money from some people to others, government debt merely transfers money from some people to others. In this case, current Americans get stuff, future Americans pay for it.

The question is whether this debt is wrong. Consider a private business that allows its debt to climb to a dizzying level. Eventually, it will reach a point when creditors demand to be paid. Owners (for example, shareholders) then have two choices. First, they can avoid paying their debts by defaulting. This can be done by simply refusing to pay creditors. In law, this can be done (to some degree) through bankruptcy or by dissolving the business, assuming it is in certain legal categories. Second, they can spend much of their own wealth to pay off these bills.

By analogy, if current Americans run up a massive debt in their government, by voting for Obama and his spendthrift Democrat buddies, then future Americans will have to default or spend a great deal to draw down the debt.

Default is troubling if you think it is wrong to not pay your bills. We often think this. For example, we think it wrong when a house owner defaults on a sizable bill he owes to people who painted his house. Similarly, we think it wrong when a company defaults on a pension plan they promised their employees and that induced many to take or stay in their jobs. People often don’t think this when a person defaults via bankruptcy, but it is unclear why this should make a difference. This is especially true given Americans don’t like it when large businesses (for example, airlines) stiff people through strategic bankruptcy.

It is also troubling to ask future people to pay for current consumption. This is especially true if the future generations have to pay through the nose. Consider a scenario in which a father is allowed to gamble against his sons’ future earnings. Were he to bet vast sums and lose, we would judge him harshly. Similar to the gambler, Obama and company’s foolishly squandered the vast sums they borrowed. Much of it consisted of pumping money into unsustainable welfare and entitlement programs, floating state and local governments at unreasonable levels, and continuing our foolish wars.

Current Americans can, of course, avoid the debt altogether by dissolving this country and starting a new one. By analogy, shareholders can dissolve a corporation mired in debt. This will probably not fool creditors. In any case, this solution is unattractive to those who prefer the U.S. not be eliminated.

One objection to this is that the orgy of spending and debt was used to invest in public goods, such as the public schools, roads and other infrastructure, and the drug war. This objection fails to recognize that as a general matter, these things would have been well funded without the deficit spending. Did anyone think these programs were underfunded in first few five years of the millennium? Also, some of the institutions are broken or destructive and hence a bad investment. Consider big-city public schools and the prisons that warehouse large numbers of people for drugs.

A second objection is that we faced even higher debts following World War II and we grew out of it. Similarly, it is claimed, a growing economy will allow us to do the same in the future. However, following the war, our economy was nowhere near as socialized as it is now and U.S. companies were far more competitive relative to international competitors. Both helped fuel the economy. Also, following the war our political leaders allowed the deficit to drop like a stone and stabilized the public debt at roughly 44% of the economy. Our current leaders can’t be trusted to do the same.

One result of this giant pile of debt is likely that some creditors will be stiffed. This will make it difficult for governments to borrow in the future. This is probably a good thing. Also, entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) will have to be sharply cut back. This will likely occur by means-testing the first two and tightening up the means-testing for the third. Thus, the current spending orgy will result in many people not getting these benefits. This is unfair given that they spent a lifetime paying for these programs (for many, roughly 15% of their income), but voting for child-like demagogues, such as Obama, comes at a price.

Also, there will have to be big-time cuts to the American military and the closely related interventionist foreign policy. In the last two decades, the U.S. has gone to war against forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Serbia, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, and so on and has continued to protect countries against China, North Korea, and Russia. Debtor nations can’t afford these luxuries.

In summary, Obama and the Congressional big spenders ran up the debt to an unconscionable level. Future Americans will either have to stiff creditors or pay through the nose for this profligacy. Both choices are ugly. Also, entitlement programs will eventually have to be sharply cut back and our interventionist foreign policy pared down.

03 October 2012

Barack Obama: The Dependency Class

Stephen Kershnar

Let’s Make the Election about the 47%
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
September 29, 2012

Mitt Romney recently said that 47% of the people pay no income taxes and believe they are victims. Romney continued that such people feel entitled to have the government provide them with free health care, food, housing, and so on. The mainstream media, and especially NPR, has focused on this quote like a laser beam. If understood as a criticism of a system that allows so many people to gobble up other people’s tax dollars while putting nothing in the refrigerator, the criticism would make an excellent centerpiece for the election. Obama wants more gobbling, Romney wants less. Let’s focus the election on this issue.

Government dependency is at a record high. Record numbers of people receive some form of welfare. This includes food stamps, cash welfare, subsidized or public housing, Medicaid, and other means-based government help. According to CNN, nearly one out of three Americans lives in a household that receives one or more of these benefits. Welfare should also be seen to include Social Security and Medicare. These programs coercively redistribute money. They differ from payments required by contract, such as when the government contracts with a business to provide some good (for example, construction). When these entitlements are added to the means-tested programs, nearly half of the nation received a government check (148 million Americans sucking on the government teat).

As dependency skyrockets, fewer people pay into the system. 47% pay no income taxes. It’s likely that large numbers of them pay little to no corporate taxes. Even the poor’s smallish contribution to payroll taxes is further reduced by the Earned Income Tax Credit, another welfare program. On any reasonable measure, the rich pay far more than their share, the lower class and poor far less.

Obama has done everything he can to increase the number of dependents and to transfer resources from producers to dependents. This can be seen in the massive increase in the share of the economy that goes toward federal government (now, roughly, a quarter of the economy) and the massive takeover of the medical system via Obama Care (18% of the economy). Almost all of Obama and the Democrat’s new spending consisted of wealth redistribution. Obama’s done less than nothing to rein in the calamitous entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid), despite the fact that the first two are already in the red. His profligate funding of the dependents has largely occurred through deficit spending (roughly 40% of federal spending is borrowed money), which has run up the debt to dangerous levels.

There are several reasons increasing dependency is wrong and bad. First, growing dependency leads to less liberty. As the size of government grows, our liberty shrinks. For every ten minutes we work, roughly two-and-a-half minutes of it goes to the federal government and roughly four to government at all levels. As the government confiscates more money, the American people lose the freedom to spend their own money. By analogy, if the mob used to take 10% of local businesses’ profits and upped its take to 20%, business owners were less free than before. If the mob increasingly interfered with how they ran their businesses and made them follow its rules (increased regulation), the loss would be exacerbated.

Second, growing dependency makes us poorer. By transferring money away from the efficient private sector to the inefficient government sector, we become poorer. Empirical studies have repeatedly shown a strong correlation between economic freedom (lower taxation and less interference with business) and wealth. Worse, Obama and company have provided welfare buffet to dependents via unbelievable amounts of deficit spending that has and will drag down the economy. The debt is now larger than the economy. Even if one looks at public debt, debt owed to people other than the federal government, it is still approaching nightmarish levels (roughly, two-thirds of the economy). The debt saddles the future generation with the ugly choice of defaulting or raising taxes to indecent levels.

Third, allowing people to leech off the hard work of fellow taxpayers harms dependents themselves and leads to more dependency. Nowhere is there more evident than in the case of American blacks. Despite being 13% of the population, they receive more cash welfare than any other racial group (roughly 32% according to Peter Bradley at Vdare). According to the Daily Mail, they have a 73% out-of-wedlock birth rate. This is a problem because for all races, households headed by single mothers use the lion’s share of need-based welfare programs. Their high school drop-out rate is horrifying (according to The Washington Post over a third don’t graduate on time). They are incarcerated at record numbers (one of three black males ages 20-29 under the supervision by the criminal-justice system); although to be fair part of this is due to childish drug prohibition. Much of the same pattern holds true for non-black members of the underclass, especially the illegal-alien underclass that Obama has sought to amnesty.

Nor is it clear that the poor is deserving of massive welfare. Robert Rector at the Heritage Foundation has shown that if one does three simple things (complete high school, have children only when married, and be in a household with a full-time worker), she is much less likely to be poor. In general, we are not asking too much here. Empirical studies show that people receiving higher wages work longer hours than others and, on standard economic assumptions, they contribute much more. If people deserve money based on hard work and contribution to others, the upper class deserves more and the lower class less.

One objection to these arguments is that age-specific entitlement programs (Social Security and Medicare) are different because the government has promised to give these benefits and because people have paid into them expecting to get their share when they get older. One has to be sympathetic to this argument. Nevertheless, contrary the government’s suggestions, it is uncontroversial that as a legal matter these programs are a discretionary welfare program rather than a contractual retirement program [see Flemming v. Nestor, 363 U.S. 603 (1960)]. If the programs are not cut back, the money simply won’t be there to keep them going. Promises to do impossible tasks are not binding. Were there a promise, it would conflict with the promise that the government implicitly makes not to run the country into the ground. It is unclear what weight can be attached to conflicting promises.

The second objection is that increasing socialization was necessary to keep the economic slowdown from getting worse. This objection is laughable. The slowdown is the longest since the Great Depression. Furthermore, it is unreasonable to think Americans will get richer if the government transfers resources from the productive private sector to the unproductive dependent class for consumption. Borrowing money from foreigners can do so temporarily, but it is no long-term solution.

In summary, Obama has lavished money on the dependency class. Let’s make this an election on whether we want this to continue. When you vote for Obama, you’re voting to pay higher taxes to pay for more welfare. Is that what you want?

19 September 2012

Sex: Hookup Culture

Stephen Kershnar
Hookup Culture: Good for College Women
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
September 11, 2012

The hookup culture appears to be a growing part of college life. The culture occurs when college women and men engage in casual sex that is not part of marriage or even a relationship, other than friendship. Let us consider whether this culture is good.

One study by New York University sociologist Paula England found that the average woman who is a college senior had 7.9 hookups (sex outside of relationships) over four years with about a quarter having had 10 or more. College women also go in and out of the hookup culture. About 74% of the senior women have had a relationship that lasted at least 6 months.

This pattern is likely connected to the avoidance of marriage. Writing in The Atlantic (which has done breakthrough work discussing the topic), Derek Thompson notes that marriage is becoming less frequent. In 1960, he points out, 72% of all adults were married. By 2010, 51% were. The pattern with younger adults is more pronounced. In 1960, 59% of 18-29 year olds were married. In 2010, 20% were.

Class differences are moving rich and educated women in the opposite direction from their poorer and less educated counterparts. Wealthy and highly educated women are more likely to get married than other women and much less likely to have children out of wedlock.

When marriage is not avoided, it is often delayed. Writing in The Atlantic, Kate Bolick points out that in 1960 the average (median) age of marriage for women was 20. Today it is 26. She notes that the rate of marriage is also dropping for recent generations. In 1997, 22% of Millennials (born in the ‘80s or later) and 29% of Gen Xers (born in the ‘60s to the ‘80s) were married. This is far less than the greater than 50% of 18-29 year old women who were married in 1960. In part this represents less emphasis placed on marriage. Bolick points out that 44% of Millennials and 43% of Gen Xers think marriage is obsolete. This is also affects parenting. Bolick notes that 40% of children are currently born to single mothers.

With these changes as background, college women are more often engaged in recreational sex. Hanna Rosin, writing in The Atlantic, argues that the hookup culture is good for women. She argues that single young women are for the first time in history more economically successful than single young men. One widely cited study, for example, shows that single childless urban women make substantially more (8%) than comparable men. They are also more educated. In 2010, 55% of all college graduates 25-29 were women. Rosin argues that being tied down to a less successful man, especially a local one, is a drain on women’s time and energy that they simply can’t afford in the competitive academic world. Women, she argues, don’t merely accept the hookup culture, they perpetuate it and it is in their interest to do so.

In addition, as part of the hookup culture, Rosin argues, women are comfortable in the sexualized atmosphere widespread on college campuses. They are comfortable around pornography and graphic discussions of sex. Widespread drinking accompanies the hookup culture. For example, among college students, Leonard Sax (author of Girls on the Edge) points out that more women than men abuse alcohol. He notes that over the last 40 years, the rate at which men abuse alcohol has remained constant, while the rate at which women do so has increased fourfold.

Others disagree. The Atlantic’s Caitlin Flanagan argues that the hookup culture too often degrades women and makes them feel cheap, used, and heartbroken. She illustrates this notion with the story of Karen Owen. In 2010, Owen, a recent graduate of Duke University, sent a PowerPoint to three friends chronicling her hookups with 13 Duke athletes. She released their names and rated them sexually along different dimensions, for example, sexual performance, body, and personality. When her friends leaked the PowerPoint, it went viral and she became famous. Flanagan argued that the sexual hookups ruined Owen and made her pitiable.

Others, such as Ariel Levy (author of Female Chauvinist Pigs) argue that far too many women are like Owen in promoting the exhibitionist raunch culture that includes things like revealing clothing, flashing their breasts, public girl-on-girl sexuality, and so on. She argues that the raunch culture is driven by women and that the accompanying objectification of them (viewing them in sexual terms) leads to their being disrespected in a variety of contexts.

In the absence of empirical evidence, it is hard to assess whether the hookup culture is good for young women. The conceptual claim, such as that found in Levy, that the hookup culture and the loosely associated raunch culture objectifies and degrades women is likely false. Objectification in itself is not itself a bad thing. A husband who finds his wife attractive in the same way that he finds porn stars like Jenna Jamison and Sasha Gray attractive does not always have a bad attitude toward her. Objectification is compatible with love and respect.

Objectification might have good effects that outweigh its bad ones, we just don’t know. Objectification is likely a way of combating backward religions and traditions. Consider the view of women that is inherent to the Muslim religion and culture, with its attempt to keep women covered, uneducated, and out of cars and the workplace. This worldview would have a hard time competing against the hookup and raunch cultures. The same might well be true for the offensive, but less destructive, Catholic culture, with its emphasis on virginity, ban on contraception, view that sex is only to be used for procreation, attempts to criminalize divorce, and so on.

Without data on whether balancing hookups and long-term relationships makes college women more successful in the workplace and in their long-term pursuit of marriage and children, the issue of whether it is good for women is hard to assess. It likely varies significantly between individuals. Some college women can handle it, some can’t.

My guess is that on the whole, hookup culture does benefit college-aged women. It allows them to separate sex from relationships and to avoid rushing into marriage or otherwise get tied down at the expense of their education and career. Because college-educated women are more likely to get married, less likely to get divorced, and more likely to have children in wedlock than less educated women, they don’t seem to pay too high a price for the culture. They also likely gain confidence and ability in sexuality by switching partners and via experimentation. Overall, then, my guess is that the hookup culture is probably good for college women.

In any case, it is not clear it is reversible. Once hooking up becomes part of people’s lives, it might be just too exciting to give up.

11 July 2012

ObamaCare and the Constitution: Taxation Clause

Stephen Kershnar
The Supreme Court Labels ObamaCare a “Tax”
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
July 9, 2012

In National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, 567 U.S. _____ (2012), the Supreme Court found by a 5-4 decision that the individual mandate at the center of ObamaCare (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) is constitutional. The mandate requires most Americans to maintain a minimum health-insurance coverage. People who do not receive health insurance coverage through an employer or government program or who were not exempt will have to pay money to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The Court faced the issue of whether it was permitted by the relevant parts of the Constitution, specifically, Article I Section 8’s Commerce Clause, Necessary and Proper Clause, and Taxation Clause and the Direct Tax provision in Article I Section 9.

Chief Justice Roberts found that were the mandate a penalty, it would be unconstitutional because the Commerce Clause does not allow the federal government to penalize inaction as a way of regulating commerce. However, were the mandate a tax, he argued, the Taxation Clause would allow it. The issue, then, was whether the mandate was a tax or penalty.

Roberts began by arguing that when a statute is ambiguous and one interpretation violates the Constitution the other not, the courts should adopt the latter. Furthermore, he claimed, the test is not whether the most natural reading of the statute is constitutional. Rather, on his account, the test is whether any plausible interpretation (“fairly possible”) is constitutional.

Roberts then argued that the mandate is a constitutionally permissible tax rather than a constitutionally impermissible penalty. He gave three reasons for his conclusion. First, the price of the payment is not so high that Americans have no choice but to buy health insurance. Second, the payment is not limited to intentional rule-breaking as is characteristic of criminal penalties. Third, the payment is collected by the IRS as a normal means of taxation.

Roberts reasoning is weak. First, as New York University law professor Richard Epstein points out, there is no clear boundary at which required payment changes from a tax to a penalty. In fact, as University of Chicago law professor Richard Posner further points, some criminal fines are quite small. Consider, for example, parking tickets.  

Second, the criminal law is littered with strict-liability offenses. It is simply not true that the criminal law is limited to intentional acts. Environmental crimes are an example.

Third, Epstein notes, Congress should not be allowed to insulate otherwise unconstitutional legislation merely by having the IRS rather than some other department process the fine. Congress shouldn’t be able to eliminate unwanted speech (for example, flying a confederate flag) or handguns by requiring people who do or own these things to pay money to the IRS. In addition, as the dissenters (Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito) point out, the IRS alone does not handle the mandate. The Departments of Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs also have a role. Their involvement would be bizarre were the mandate a tax.

Roberts bolstered his argument by noting that the mandate has a number of tax-like features. It is paid to the treasury when taxpayers pay their taxes, it exempts low income individuals, the amount is affected by standard features (for example, taxable income and number of dependents), the requirement to pay is found in the IRS code, and it provides the government with revenue. However, Epstein and the dissenters point out that several of these features are also found in the criminal law. For example, under federal law federal courts are instructed to consider a party’s ability to pay when imposing a fine. And, obviously, all fines provide revenue for the government.

The conservative dissenters tore into Roberts’ reasoning. They began by pointing out that both precedent and a proper understanding of the concepts make it clear that penalties and taxes are mutually exclusive. That is, a penalty is not a tax and vice versa. In deciding what the requirement is, they argued that while the Court should look at the “fair meaning” of the statute, it may not rewrite it. The dissenters then argued that the fair meaning leads to the conclusion that the mandate is a penalty. This is true whether you look at conceptual arguments, statutory language, or precedent.  

Consider the conceptual argument. A penalty is a punishment (a fine in this context) for an unlawful act. It is clear that the minimum-coverage rule is a legal requirement and the failure to satisfy it is an unlawful omission. The statute is littered with the word “requirement.” In addition, the statute exempts some people from the payment, but not the mandate. This makes sense only if the failure to pay were an unlawful act. The nail in the coffin is that Congress considered and rejected a version of the Act that imposed a tax rather than a requirement-with-penalty.

In a feature of the decision that will make Roberts’ argument live in infamy, he argued that the same features of the statute’s text that make it a tax for the purpose of the Taxation Clause show that it is not a tax for the purpose of whether the Court had the power to hear the case (Anti-Injunction Act). The dissent spit out its disapproval and said that this reasoning “carries verbal wizardry too far, deep into the forbidden land of the sophists.”

Consider statutory language. The dissenters point out that the Act repeatedly labels the required payment a “penalty.” It does so eighteen times and never – absolutely never – labels it a “tax.” Neither the mandate nor the required payment are even located in the revenue section of the statute.  

Consider precedent. The dissenters note that in the past, the Court always treated money payments for violating the law as a penalty and never as a tax. Until Robert’s decision, no federal court – absolutely none – had accepted the notion that the mandate in question was a tax.

This decision in effect killed much of what was left of the limits on federal power. The courts will now allow Congress to coerce Americans on almost any decision that does not directly infringe on rights narrowly laid out in the Bill of Rights. It could force citizens to buy new cars or purchase broccoli by “taxing” those who fail to do so. In essence, Roberts and the liberal justices have determined that the federal government may now do things indirectly, using taxation, which it may not do directly. In contrast, consider the view of the father of the Constitution, James Madison. In the Federalist Papers he said, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined.” This view and the accompanying Constitutional language are tossed out like soiled newspapers.  

This is the same Obama administration that claimed that without a warrant, the Constitution permitted the federal government to track any and all Americans’ cars via GPS technology. The administration recently decided to ignore the law regarding illegal aliens and to hide from Congress documents on a gun-running program gone awry. The Obama administration went to war against Libya without Congress declaring, authorizing, or even funding the war. To paraphrase T.S. Elliot, this is how a Constitution ends: not with a bang but a whimper. 

28 June 2012

Obama's Amnesty: Poor Choices / Mediocre Immigrant Pool

Stephen Kershnar
Temporary Amnesty: Neither Wise Nor Compassionate
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
June 26, 2012

            On January 15, 2012, President Obama passed a temporary amnesty for younger illegal aliens. One hopes that in the upcoming election his opponent will make it, along with Obama’s push for more race preferences, an albatross around Obama’s neck.
            Obama’s policy is to allow illegal aliens who meet certain conditions to get a two-year deferral from deportation and apply for a work permit. Specifically, his policy is that the nation’s immigration laws shall not be enforced against illegal aliens who, among other conditions, came to the U.S. under the age of 16, have continuously resided in the U.S. for at least five years, are currently in school or have a general education development certificate (GED) or graduated from high school or worked in the military, have not been convicted of a felony, serious misdemeanor, or multiple misdemeanors, and are younger than 31. According to CNN, the administration claims that it will potentially amnesty 800,000 people. Others claim that it could affect far more.    
            A little context is helpful here. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that there are 11.5 million illegal aliens (2011 number). This population exploded by 27% between 2000 and 2009.
This population tends to suck up welfare like a vacuum. Steven Camarota writing for the Center for Immigration Studies notes that in 2009, households headed by immigrants (legal and illegal) with children were 46% more likely to use welfare than native households with children (57% versus 39%). Immigrant households with children are also increasingly on welfare usage (18% increase since 2001).
Some immigrant groups are more likely to be on welfare than others. According to Camarota, 75% of Mexican and Guatemalan immigrant households with children are on welfare. In contrast, similar households from immigrants elsewhere were less likely to be on it. Consider these immigrant households: United Kingdom (7%), India (19%), Canada (23%), and Korea (25%). This matters because the Pew Hispanic Center reports that 58% of illegal aliens are from Mexico.
Welfare usage is more frequent for households headed by an immigrant who did not graduate from high school (80% are on welfare). The high rate on welfare is not explained by an unwillingness to work. In 2009, 95% of immigrant households had at least one worker. Nor is the high use affected much by how long the immigrants have been in America. 55% of households headed by immigrants who arrived before 2000 are on welfare, whereas 60% who arrived after were on it. The welfare programs include supplemental social security income (SSI), temporary assistance to needy children (TANF), Women, Infants, and Children food program (WIC), free/reduced school lunch, food stamps, Medicaid (health insurance for the poor), public housing, and rent subsidies.
In education, we see a similar pattern. Hispanic immigrants as a group do not do well at school. According to the Richard Fry of the Pew Hispanic Center, more than half of Hispanic immigrants do not have a high school diploma. According to USA Today, 13% of Hispanics have a college degree versus 30% for the overall population. Educational underperformance is a problem for the Hispanic non-immigrant population as well as the immigrant one.
Similar problems occur with incarceration and out-of-wedlock births. According to 2007 Bureau of Justice statistics, Hispanics (both immigrants and non-immigrants) were 31% of federal inmates and 19% of state inmates. It should be noted that as Ron Unz points out, the population’s crime numbers are heavily affected by demographics, so there is a controversy as to whether this population is more involved in crime. Still, those numbers are troubling. In a 2006 article in City Journal, Heather MacDonald points out that Hispanics are far more likely to have out-of-wedlock children than whites or Asians (46% versus 24% and 15%). She argues that this is a problem as children born out of wedlock are more likely to be juvenile delinquents, use welfare, fail in school, and get pregnant as teenagers.
Obama’s temporary amnesty has been criticized for a number of reasons. First, the policy is unconstitutional as the President cannot change the country’s immigration laws without Congressional approval. Second, the policy will encourage more illegal aliens to come across the country. Third, it will harm unskilled American workers as we legalize an ocean of competitors. Fourth, this program will be quickly converted to one in which the same illegal aliens will be given citizenship.   
The more important criticisms are that this policy harms current citizens and is not especially compassionate. Given the above numbers, it is hard to see how incentivizing this population to stay will benefit American citizens. Worse, the opportunity costs here are enormous. In letting in this group rather than taking in the most talented immigrants from across the world, the country passes up on the incredibly talented entrepreneurs, scientists, professionals, and others who would greatly add to Americans’ lives. For example, Silicon Valley is a major engine of the American high-tech world and it is awash in highly skilled Indian immigrants. The Ivy League is packed with students whose ancestry is from East Asia (China, Japan, and Korea). If we must take in 800,000 immigrants, and the number is likely much higher, why not take the cream of the crop from these countries and elsewhere. There are many talented Hispanics from Central and South America. It makes no sense to welcome those who snuck in rather than those who are especially bright or accomplished. 
Nor is this policy particularly compassionate. Rather than direct American resources toward people who are starving, homeless, or plagued by violence, Obama has chosen to target American resources toward a group that stands a decent chance of being able to make a living and succeed elsewhere. As far as countries go, Mexico is not that poor (its per capital income is the 63rd in the world according to an IMF 2010-2011 ranking) and these moderately talented illegal aliens are not an especially vulnerable population. If we must take in 800,000 immigrants on the basis of compassion, why not take in the poorest or most vulnerable (for example, Sudanese refugees or victims of misogynistic Middle Eastern policies). Worse, the compassion comes at the expense of the most vulnerable Americans (unskilled and uneducated workers). As usual, the cost of compassion is dump on the already overburdened American taxpayer without any attempt to lessen the burden elsewhere.
The U.S. is like an elite college (for example, Cornell University) with large numbers of students trying to get in. Rather than taking in the best and the brightest, thereby benefitting other students and alumni, or the poorest and most desperate, thereby helping the worst off, it has chosen to admit mediocre students. This is neither wise nor compassionate. It’s just dumb.

14 June 2012

Right to Privacy: Fourth Amendment

Stephen Kershnar
United States v. Jones (2012): The Fourth Amendment is Still Alive
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
June 12, 2012

A Supreme Court decision, U.S. v. Jones, 565 U.S. ____ (2012), in January 2012 signals the upcoming war on privacy. The Obama Administration in effect claimed that it could put a tracking device on any American’s car and track it indefinitely and without a warrant. Thankfully, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected this idea.

The defendant, Antoine Jones, owned a nightclub in the District of Columbia. The FBI and DC police suspected him of drug trafficking. They initially got a warrant to track his Jeep Grand Cherokee, but the warrant ran out. After it ran out, the police agencies put a GPS tracking device on the bottom of his car and via satellite tracked its movement for the next 28 days. The government used the GPS information to connect Jones to a stash house that stored $850,000 in cash and 97 kilograms of cocaine. The trial court sentenced him to life imprisonment. The federal appellate court in the District of Columbia reversed, finding that the conviction rested on a warrantless search using the GPS device and that such a search violated the Fourth Amendment.

The Fourth Amendment says, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrant shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

The Supreme Court held that the government’s attachment of the GPS device to the vehicle and its use of the device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constituted a search under the Fourth Amendment. It reasoned that a car was an “effect” and the government’s physical intrusion onto it was therefore a search. It noted that at the time the Amendment was adopted, intruding on such physical property would have been considered a search.

Justice Scalia writing for the majority of the Court (along with Justices Thomas, Roberts, Kennedy, and Sotomayor) argued that for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment, there were two different cases in which government information-gathering is a search that requires a warrant. One case occurs when the government physically intrudes onto someone’s body or property. A second case occurs when the government information-gathering violates a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy. This second line follows a famous case, Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967). In that case, the FBI put an eavesdropping device outside a public phone booth. The government claimed that it didn’t violate the Fourth Amendment because it neither intruded on Katz’s property nor physically intruded into the phone booth. In Katz, the Court rejected that argument. In Jones, Scalia concluded that the GPS-tracking was a search according to the physical-intrusion test and therefore requires a warrant.

Samuel Alito wrote a minority concurrence (along with Justices Kagan, Breyer, and Ginsburg) that argued that the Court should address the reasonable expectation of privacy in this case. He further opined that even long-term monitoring without a warrant that violated people’s reasonable expectations of privacy might be acceptable if it involved an extraordinary offense.

The physical-property-intrusion test is a good one because it tracks the original understanding of those who ratified the Amendment and sets out a bright line that the government cannot cross. In contrast, the reasonable-expectation test has severe problems. First, it is not clear how you determine reasonable expectation. Polling results are notoriously subject to how questions are framed. Nor is it clear why our Constitutional rights should depend on the latest polls from people who are neither informed about the issue nor about much else regarding police searches. Nor should the reasonable expectation of privacy depend on the intuitions of elderly Justices who have little connection to the ordinary lives of Americans, let alone poor minorities and others who are subject to frequent police searches.

Second, Jacob Sullum of Reason magazine points out, the physical-intrusion test will become increasingly irrelevant. In the future government tracking will use surveillance technologies that do not involve physical trespass. Examples of such technologies include vast camera networks, satellite tracking of GPS and cell phone signals, surveillance by drone aircraft, and so on. In the future, Justice Sotomayor points out, the federal government could track everyone’s exact whereabouts from their cell phone because it emits tell-tale signals. As Justice Kagan points out, in London, just about every place a person goes is monitored by a camera network.

Less you think this is something found in London and not here, in 2010, SUNY-Fredonia Vice President for Student Affairs David Herman stated that SUNY-Fredonia has nearly 100 cameras on campus and that the cameras cover probably 80% of the campus. He pushed (the Dunkirk Observer says “joked”) the village of Fredonia to buy and use cameras to monitor people downtown and on Temple Street. Apparently, Fredonia students and residents need to be watched very closely.

State and local governments are beginning to buy and use drones to track people’s movements from the air as part of the liberty-crushing drug war among other things. Also, as James Bamford of Wired magazine points out that the National Security Administration was sifting through domestic and foreign cell-phone calls and emails without a warrant and without physically intruding onto anyone’s property.

Third, as Dahlia Lithwick of Slate points out, the more frequently the state invades people’s things and information, the more it becomes commonplace. The more it becomes commonplace, the more it seems reasonable to the populace. The more it seems reasonable, the more it passes the reasonable-expectation-of-privacy test. Thus, this test rewards the government for aggressively pushing boundaries.

One can understand Obama Administrations frustration regarding the Jones decision. To its eternal discredit, in the past the Supreme Court has said that the government need not get a warrant to conduct random roadblocks for drunk driving or to routinely search through people’s garbage, open fields, and car cabins, despite the fact that these searches obviously violate the Fourth Amendment. The fact that the American people and courts have laid down as the government stripped away search-and-seizure rights has ominous implications for the future.

The Court arguments indicate that the loathsome Obama Administration believes that the Constitution allows the government to search the movement of every car in this country for 24 hours a day 7 days a week so long as the car is not inside a house. Obama’s Justice Departments believes such searches are morally permissible not just when pursuing terrorists, but also when pursuing drug crimes and probably other victimless activities such as prostitution and gambling. A bipartisan bill to prohibit the government collecting GPS information without a warrant was introduced in the Senate in June 2011, but the Obama administration appears to oppose it and the Senate has yet to vote on it.

If government search-freaks like the Obama administration are not smacked down, Constitution will be further shredded and big brother will eventually monitor our whereabouts, communications, and perhaps even thoughts.

30 May 2012

Veterans: The Draft and Gratitude

Stephen Kershnar
Memorial Day: Conscription and Disgust
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
May 29, 2012

As I watched the Memorial Day services, I wondered how many of the people being honored were drafted into service. This then led me to consider how a free country could stomach such immoral-and-illegal drafts and then celebrate the liberty-trampling Presidents who put them in place.

The wartime draft has been apart of many of America’s wars. It was in place during the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam War. It speaks volumes about U.S. leadership that at least three of the wars were discretionary with a distant relation to American interests. It is no coincidence that the recent wartime drafts were put in place or maintained by leftist Presidents (Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon) who had little respect for the Constitution and historical American liberties. On a side note, Nixon’s aggressive expansion of the government into new areas and wage-and-price controls qualify him as a leftist. At least two (for example, Wilson and Roosevelt) ran on anti-war platforms and then took actions that they knew broke the spirit of their promises and made it much more likely that the U.S. would join the wars. That we should celebrate these men on Presidents’ Day is a sad statement about how we can paper over liars and serfdom.

During Vietnam, the threat of being drafted was used to coerce young men into volunteering for the military. On one defense-recruiting study found that in 1970, 50% of the volunteers did so to avoid being drafted. On another estimate of the Vietnam War, the possibility of avoiding combat led as many as 4 out of 11 million eligible men to enlist. A previous head of the Selective Service System (Gen. Hershey) estimated that during the Cold War, for every man drafted three or four were scared into volunteering. During World War II, more than 11 million men were inducted.

It is a little hard to see why men drafted into serving the military or forced to do so by the threat of a draft should be celebrated on Veterans Day or Memorial Day. Consider someone who is physically forced to give up a kidney for some randomly selected citizen. We might owe them serious compensation, a sincere apology, and a promise not to do this sort of thing again, but it is a little hard to see why we (or even the kidney recipient) should be grateful. After all, the kidney donor didn’t choose to do anything for the recipient, rather it was done to him. To the extent that the draft forces people to fight against their will, and perhaps the draft didn’t always do so, draftees and other coerced soldiers are similar to the kidney donor. The fact that the kidney donor might later be proud of what he did and that others want to cheer him on still does not establish that citizens should be grateful to him. We normally think that an individual who voluntary gave his time or money is owed gratitude by a beneficiary, but people forced by guns or jail didn’t voluntarily give to others.

The draft is morally repugnant. First, it tramples on liberty. Forcing men to serve in the military is like forcing them to serve in some planter’s cotton field. It is form of forced labor, although it is orders of magnitude less harsh and wrong than the chattel slavery that characterized America’s past.

Second, the draft is inefficient. The U.S. can always fill its recruiting ranks by paying market wages to induce people to join. A draft does not make the military cost less; it just transfers the cost from taxpayers, who would normally have to pay market wages, to the young drafted men who have to pay the cost of soldiering without being paid a fair wage. This is no different than the government confiscating lands for public schools without payment rather than buying out the owners. When people do not bear the costs of their decisions, they are likely to act in an inefficient manner.

The various deferments and exemptions (for example, for marriage and family, War industry work, and teaching) further direct people into areas that they prefer not to be in and does not put them to the most efficient use (as determined by the free market).

Given that a draft was in place, the one draft mechanism that was efficient was allowing Civil War draftees to buy out of fighting by paying for a substitute or commutation. Purchasing a substitute benefits both the draftee and his willing substitute. Of course, this sensible policy was discontinued as part of the usual envy of the rich.

Third, the draft is riddled with unfairness as the government has to decide who are expendable. For example, during the Kennedy administration, married men with children were put at the bottom of the call-up list and married men with wives but no children second to the bottom. The administration apparently thought single men more expendable. The same sense of expendability led local draft boards during World War I to more often conscript poor men. During that war, some religions were allowed conscientious objectors (for example, Amish and Quakers), others were not. Non-religious objectors were also not recognized. Apparently, the poor and people of some religions were more expendable.

Fourth, wartime drafts, especially ones with the many deferments and exemptions for the upper classes, allow politicians to shift the costs of the war toward smaller and more vulnerable subclasses: young men and the poor. This makes discretionary wars more likely. Presidents such as Wilson, Truman, and Johnson might have been less likely to plunge the U.S. into war if they had to jack up taxes to pay for their international adventures.

One argument given for the draft by people like Vietnam General William Westmoreland is that without it the U.S. would have an army of mercenaries. Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman responded that it was better to have a mercenary army than a slave force. He further responded that if being paid makes someone a mercenary, then our doctors, lawyers, and professors are mercenaries.

A second argument for the draft given by Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY and corrupt) is that a draft should be reinstated because it would spread military service equally between the rich and poor. It is a little hard to see why this would benefit the poor when it involves paying poor drafted men less to do a job than what they find acceptable. Also, many opportunities are not equally distributed in our society between the rich and poor (for example, line jobs in factories) and this is not a bad thing. It is troubling that Congressmen in addition to Rangel (for example, John Conyers D-MI and John Lewis D-GA) should be willing to sponsor the draft on the basis of such a half-baked argument.

Wartime drafts are an unappreciated evil in the U.S.’s history. It should blacken the reputation of the Presidents who imposed them and undermine our gratitude toward any veterans who were forced to fight against their will.

24 May 2012

Justice in the Family: Choice vs. Fairness

Stephen Kershnar
Justice in the Family
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
May 15, 2012

            Recently a furor developed when Hilary Rosen, Democratic strategist and close ally to Obama (35 visits to the White House), stated that Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann Romney, never worked. Specifically, she said, “His wife has actually never worked a day in her life.” Rosen was trying to get across the notion that Ann Romney (mother of five) never dealt with the types of issues that the majority of women in the U.S. face today, such as how to feed her their kids, get them to school, and so on.
Let us assume that Rosen was wrong about what “work” means and ask whether justice or morality has anything to say about how duties in a marriage should be divided. For example, we might ask how much childcare, cooking, and vacuuming each spouse should do. We also might ask whether there is a number of times that one spouse (for example, wife) should be willing to have sex with the other (for example, husband) when the two have different preferences.  

In the U.S., work is equally distributed when it comes to couples with children under 18. CBS News, using a 2010 Bureau of Labor study, reports that women with full-time jobs and kids under the age of 6 total an average of 56 hours of combined housework and paid work. Men average 57 hours. Similarly, Ruth Davis Konigsberg writing in Time Magazine, and using the same study, reports that for those who had children under the age of 18, women employed full time did just 20 minutes more of combined paid and unpaid work than men did. The distribution was different with women doing more housework and men doing more at the office.

Surprisingly, Konigsberg, using data from the Families and Work Institute, further reports that men have a harder time managing the responsibilities of work and family than do women (60% of men report having a hard time doing so versus 47% of women). On the other hand, a study by University of Southern California psychologist Darby Saxbe and others writing in Journal of Family Psychology found that more men than women engaged in leisure activity after work (19% to 11%) and men spent more time on leisure than housework.

There are two opposing philosophical positions on the relation between justice (or fairness) and domestic work (for example, housework and childcare). One theory holds that justice doesn’t apply to the family and that whatever both spouses agree to is just. This might rest on the notion that justice is a matter of what rights people have and what rights they have depends on what they’ve agreed to. This is what makes it fair for some couples to have a traditional marriage (the husband works outside the home and the wife does the housework and childcare) and others to have an egalitarian one (both spouses work outside the home and do the same amount of housework).

Alternatively, Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel of University argues that justice doesn’t apply to the family because families are based on love and affection rather than assignments of rights and duties. On this view, applying the logic of markets and the legal system to marriage would worsen the family by introducing an alien value system. For example, if mothers were to charge for each hug they give their children, this would worsen family life.
The problem with this theory is that it doesn’t align with our thoughts. Many spouses feel that it is unfair for one person (for example, the wife) to do most of the household chores even when if this is what they initially agreed to do. For example, if the wife is cooking and cleaning all Sunday, while her husband drinks beer and watches football, there is bound to be resentment.

Also, it is odd to think that the distribution of benefits and burdens outside the home should be just, fair, or equal, but that these same considerations don’t apply just because spouses enter the home or love each other. We don’t think this about demands for respect or against violence and so it seems that other moral demands should apply in the home. For example, if we think that some people (for example, miners and daycare workers) get paid too little relative to corporate executives given how hard the former work or what they contribute, then a similar thing should be true when one spouse does the lion’s share of domestic work.  

A second theory holds that justice and fairness apply to the family. Proponents of egalitarian marriage hold that even if both the husband and wife agree to an unequal distribution of domestic duties, such an arrangement is unfair and disrespectful toward the spouse who carries the load (usually, women). Feminists such as the late Stanford philosopher Susan Moller Okin often promote this view. They argue that even if she agreed to it, a wife who sacrifices her career and leisure time to act as a maid for her husband and nanny for her children profoundly disrespects her own abilities and emotions. Similarly, a husband who asks this of her similarly disrespects her.  

One problem with this view is that the notion of an equal marriage is hard to fill out. It is unclear whether the feminists who argue for this think that equality should be filled out in terms of the husband and wife being equally happy, equally well-paid, equally respected, or equal in some other way. The other way might involve equal amounts of contribution, hard work, or sacrifice. Without some theory explaining how equality in a marriage should be filled out, this view is not much more than a bumper sticker. To see the problem, consider little an egalitarian-marriage proponent would have to say about the happy middle ground when a husband wants to more sex and his wife less.    

A second problem is that it is implausible that there is one type of equality that a couple should aim for, regardless of what type of equality they want or whether they want equality at all. Even if there were one type of equality couples should aim for, it is unclear why it is important in comparison to other considerations, such as the family’s aggregate happiness. This takes both parents and children into consideration. That is, it is irrational to try to make spouses equally happy rather than trying to make the overall family as happy as possible.

A third problem is that if one spouse finds herself much happier married to one person than to others or to being unmarried, then it is irrational to care about how her happiness is relative to her spouse. Equality is valuable when it improves one’s life; it is not valuable in itself. This type of fanatical commitment to equality explains why feminists are now marginalized.  

In the end, the more plausible view is that justice and fairness depend on that to which a married couple agreed. The agreement might focus on equality, maximizing the family’s overall happiness, or some other goal (perhaps religious or altruistic). There is no one pattern a marriage must satisfy. The focus on equality is too vague to be useful and, in any case, nothing more than a personal preference. 

02 May 2012

Academia: Against Subsidizing Student Loans

Stephen Kershnar
A College Education is a Good Investment
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
April 29, 2012

As usual, Republicans and Democrats are fighting over welfare, this time it’s subsidized student loans. Subsidized student loans are scheduled to rise in July from 3.4% to 6.8%. As The New York Times points out, even the higher rate (6.8%) is lower than the rate on most private student loans. The Republicans propose paying the $5.9 billion in subsidies, which covers both federally guaranteed loans from banks and government loans, through spending cuts; the Democrats propose paying for it by raising taxes. No one is pointing out that student loans are such a wise investment that the government should stop subsidizing it altogether.

There have been horror stories regarding recent college graduates. Manuel Valdes et al. writing for the Associated Press reports that roughly 54% of Bachelor’s degree-holders under the age of 25 are jobless or underemployed (employed at a job that does not require a college degree). College graduates who majored in zoology, anthropology, philosophy, art history, and humanities are among the least likely to find jobs appropriate to their education level. Those who majored in nursing, teaching, accounting, or computer science are the most likely to do so.

Still, it’s worth remembering that the recent college graduates are a relatively small amount of people (1.5 million out of the more than 300 million in the U.S.). Also, the loans are not that high and plenty of graduates do not have any. According to The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, the average 2010 college graduate who had student loans owed roughly $25,000 and roughly 45% of graduates had no debt (the latter is a 2009-2010 figure).

Even with these horror stories, a college education is an incredibly good investment. Consider 2011 study by Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney of the Brookings Institute. On average, the total cost of a four-year college degree (private and public) is $102,000. This cost consists of roughly $48,000 in out-of-pocket expenses and $54,000 in lost wages. On average, four-year college graduates (college graduate) earn roughly $570,000 more than people with only a high school diploma (high school graduates), an excellent return on a $102,000 investment.

According to Greenstone and Looney, the rate of return is more than double the average return on stocks over the last 60 years and multiple times the rate of return on investments in corporate bonds, gold, long-term government bonds, or housing over this same period.

At age 22, the average college graduate earns 70% more than the average high school graduate. In 2010 at age 50, the former made $47,000 more per year. At the peak of her earning power, a high school graduate makes about what a college graduate makes after one year out of school. College graduates also earn much more than those with only an Associate’s Degree (roughly $400,000 more over a lifetime). In March of 2012, college graduates had an unemployment rate roughly half of high school graduates (4.2% versus 8%). College graduates are also far more likely to be working than high school graduates (73% versus 54% last month). College also has many long-term non-financial benefits.

Economists Philip Oreopoulos and Kjell Salvanes found that college graduates are healthier, live longer, and have higher job satisfaction than high school graduates. They found the former make better decisions about marriage and parenting. Also, on some widely held philosophical theories, knowledge alone makes people’s lives go better.

Given that the rate of return on investing in college is much better than other investments (for example, stocks, bonds, housing, and gold over the past 60 years), it is hard to see why the government should subsidize it. After all, the investment typically pays for itself many times over.

One reason often given is that education has a positive externality. That is, people other than the college graduate and the college that educated him benefit from his education. Other people might benefit because the college graduate creates more wealth, has better health, is a more informed voter, or pays more taxes. Still, without a reasonable estimate of the amount of the positive externality, it is hard to know whether it warrants a subsidy and, if so, how much.

What’s more, the subsidy has a bunch of wasteful effects. It encourages many people to go to college who shouldn’t because they can’t or won’t do the work. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, David Wessel and Stephanie Banchero point out, that at four year college 43% of those enrolled as freshmen in 2002 didn’t finish their degree six years later. Along the same lines, only 30% of American adults have four-year college degrees. This is true even though roughly 70% of high-school graduates enroll in a two- or four-year college.

It also encourages many people to choose majors that don’t benefit society as much as other majors. Evidence that a major benefits society less when it typically has greater unemployment or pays less. Both are evidence that the major has less value to consumers. For example, those with a degree in counseling psychology earn a lot less than those with math or computer science degrees ($69,000 less in 2010) and thus likely contribute less to people’s well-being.

There is also strong reason to believe that the proliferation of student grants and loans (that is, student welfare) has fueled much of the explosion in college costs over the last few decades.

At the very least, we need a plausible argument that the benefits of government-subsidized student loans outweigh their costs. I am unaware of any.

There is a concern that the difference in performance between four-year college graduates and high school or two-year college graduates is explained by a third factor, perhaps intelligence (with a significant genetic effects), rather than education itself. This might be suggested by a study of elite universities. A 1998 study by Stacy Berg Dale and Alan Krueger of the Mellon Foundation and Princeton University respectively found that on average once you control for student ability, attending an elite university (for example, the Ivy League) did not increase a student’s income. Students at elite universities made a lot more money but this was likely the result of their greater ability rather than the school.

Still, there is likely a difference between getting a college degree and not doing so even if there isn’t a difference between attending an elite university and not doing so. If college doesn’t make students more productive, then the state shouldn’t subsidize it.

In summary, a college education is such a good investment that the state probably should not subsidize it. The rate of return is better than the stock, bond, and real estate market over the last 60 years and, also, provides other valuable benefits. The arguments from externalities and a third factor do not show otherwise.