TCS Daily


Neuro Wine in Old Bottles

By Will Wilkinson - September 27, 2006 12:00 AM

In the September 18 edition of The New Yorker magazine, writer John Cassidy leads a fascinatin­g tour through parts of the new field of neuroeconomics, the study of the neurological underpinnings of economic decision-making. Sadly, a number of the economists Cassidy interviews are stuck in a conceptual quagmire about the relationship between reason, emotion, and paternalistic public policy. Cassidy, a good journalist, inherits their confusion. There is, in fact, nothing in the research Cassidy reviews that helps to justify, in his words, "a new political philosophy based on the idea of saving people from the vagaries of their limbic regions."

Cassidy chooses in his article to emphasize the way fragile human deliberative capacities can be overwhelmed by emotion -- what he calls a "reason-versus-passion" model. Cassidy refers to Plato's picture of the soul as "a charioteer attempting to steer the twin horses of passion and spirit," and Freud's "contest between the ego and the id." However, Cassidy's approach may be most reminiscent of the 18th Century German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who believed that our freedom and dignity depends on acting solely from the motive of rational duty, and never from emotion. Kant's is the old philosophy of saving people from the vagaries of their limbic regions. But is the limbic system -- a network of structures in the brain implicated in the production of emotion and motivation -- really something we need to be saved from?

Cassidy, like old Immanuel, appears worried that if human decision-making violates highly abstract standards of rational choice due to emotion, then we will fail to live well, both individually and collectively, and Cassidy suggests that something may need to be done about it -- by the government.

Cassidy writes, "Today, most economists agree that, left alone, people will act in their own best interest, and that the market will coordinate their actions to produce outcomes beneficial to all." However,

"Neuroeconomics potentially challenges both parts of this argument. If emotional responses often trump reason, there can be no presumption that people act in their own best interest. And if markets reflect the decisions that people make when their limbic structures are particularly active, there is little reason to suppose that market outcomes can't be improved upon."

It would seem that neuroeconomics, as Cassidy understands it, straightforwardly threatens the liberal presumption in favor of liberty, providing a basis for both paternalistic social policy and regulatory intervention in the economy with one fell brain scan. Cassidy is not putting an exotic spin on the new research, but is simply following the lead of some of the emerging field's most important thinkers, such as economists George Loewenstein, Colin Camerer, and David Laibson -- all quoted heavily in Cassidy's article, and all proponents of psychology and neuroscience-based paternalistic policy.

The mundane observation that people sometimes let their emotions get the best of them is certainly more exciting when illustrated by colorful pictures of brain activity. But can brain scan evidence about how exactly the brain generates behavior in different scenarios really have such profound implications for politics and policy? Probably not.

Cassidy's passage above helps illustrate the trouble with one brand of neuroeconomics. The orthodox formal theory of economic rationality has been understood traditionally to provide both a descriptive theory of human behavior and a prescriptive standard for evaluating it. Behavioral economics, including neuroeconomics, shows that the economist's theory of rational choice is empirically false -- a descriptive failure. Where behavioral economics goes wrong, when it goes wrong, is to retain the empirically falsified theory as nevertheless stating a binding ideal of rationality in light of which we can and should evaluate behavior. We don't, in fact, behave like homo economicus, but we should. As Cassidy shows, it's a short step to the thought that maybe the government should deploy policy to try to fix our failure to act rationally in the economists' sense.

The problem is made clearer once you understand that the formal model of choice laid out in microeconomics texts involves some truly wild idealizations of human cognitive capacities. For example, the economists' standard model stipulates that each person has a well-defined and consistent ordering of preferences over all possible states of affairs (of which there are many), knows exactly what every other person believes and prefers, processes new information instantaneously and without error, and more. The assumptions of the standard theory are not simply psychologically implausible, but probably physically impossible, requiring either periods of deliberation longer than the age of the Universe, or computation faster than the speed of light.

It cannot be surprising, then, that real human subjects with exceedingly limited information and soggy brains that compute slower than a spam-clogged Dell fail to live up to the standards of the formal theory of economic rationality. It would amount to a literal miracle if we did not so fail.

But then why are we concerned at all with a formal theory of rationality, which, after all, applies only to a physically impossible mathematical fiction? Why would we measure ourselves against that standard? Angels, the theologians tell us, are weightless, but those of us bound by gravity are not therefore obese. We can't be rationally required or obligated to do something impossible. 'Ought' implies 'can', as the philosophers say. To find that real humans are "irrational" relative to an impossible standard is simply to find that that standard doesn't apply to us -- that the standard of rationality that does apply to us is different. We can only be required to do the best we can do; failing to do the impossible is no real failure at all.

Neuroscience is a category-buster, helping us understand that there is often nothing in the brain that answers to our pre-theoretical taxonomy of the mind. Peering into the brain, it becomes relatively clear that mental categories like 'belief', 'desire', 'emotion', 'pleasure', or 'pain' do not correspond one-to-one with well-defined, unified, underlying brain mechanisms. Perhaps most significantly -- and this requires a lot of intellectual adjustment -- there is nothing in brain that looks much like the kind of Reason with a capital 'R' that Plato or Kant would recognize and celebrate. The more one appreciates the complex, often unintuitive organization of the brain, the more it becomes apparent that the norms of strict rationality embodied in mathematics, logic, decision theory, game theory, probability theory, and statistics are not internal to the mind, but are remarkably recent, and remarkably precious, cultural achievements.

Capital 'R' Rationality is to the mind as ballet is to the body. Through rigorous, disciplined training over years, it is possible to co-opt the evolved nature of the mind to perform amazing feats of Reason, just as it is possible to co-opt the evolved nature of the body to perform breathtaking feats of balletic beauty. But the untrained mind, which depends on lots of quick and dirty cognitive shortcuts that fall short of strict capital 'R' standards, was evidently good enough to get us up to the Renaissance and Enlightenment, when the cultural disciplines of Reason helped us ramp up to cultural and economic modernity. And, even then, the growth of science and the extended market order has not required that all citizens become fully vested in the norms of Reason. We can't all dance Swan Lake, but we also almost never fall down the stairs.

Cassidy's article flirts with an empirically credible notion of rationality when he discusses the work of neuroscientist Paul Glimcher, who writes, with his co-authors Michael C. Dorris and Hannah M. Bayer, "There is, for example, no evidence that there is an emotional system, per se, and a rational system, per se, for decision making at the neurobiological level." And that's right. Glimcher's pioneering approach assumes that computational resources are scarce, and that the brain must allocate them according to the expected payoff to the organism. In some contexts of choice, the expensive computational processes of the deliberative pre-frontal cortex come online. In others, the brain defaults to more frugal processes involving quick "gut" judgment.

Glimcher's approach doesn't attempt to integrate economics and neuroscience by simply comparing (and judging) actual human behavior against the rarefied standards of economic theory, tempting the conclusion that individual behavior and market outcomes can be "improved upon." Instead, it applies economic theory to the way the brain itself allocates its scarce resources, which helps explains why real behavior -- and embodied, ecologically embedded rationality -- cannot correspond to a (therefore inapplicable) standard of rationality that assumes an unbounded budget of cognitive resources.

Unfortunately, Cassidy brings up Glimcher's work only to allow the economist George Loewenstein to airily dismiss it. Cassidy incorrectly writes that Glimcher's work "might undermine a lot of neuroeconomics," when in fact Glimcher's work integrates economic theory and neuroscience at the most promising level. It is neuroeconomics. (Glimcher's groundbreaking book Decisions, Uncertainty, and the Brain is subtitled The Science of Neuroeconomics.) The point is not to understand how real behavior is anomalous relative to economic theory, but to use economic theory to help us understand real behavior by illuminating the economizing functions of the brain. But missing this point allows Cassidy to preserve his story's strained "reason-versus-passion" narrative frame, and all the tantalizing policy implications that fall out of it.

If good neuroscience does not in fact recognize a clear distinction between reason and emotion at the physical level, then it cannot be the case that neuroeconomics really implies that, as Cassidy writes, "[i]f emotional responses often trump reason, there can be no presumption that people act in their own best interest." At best, neuroeconomics shows that peoples' representation of their best interest shifts from one decision context to the next as the brain shifts its resources from one brain region to another. Neither neuroscience nor economics speaks to which representation of our interest is the right one. That would be a substantive value judgment that goes well beyond science.

However, Cassidy's account of neuroeconomics makes it seem as though science does reveal that decisions made when in "hot" emotional states -- when the limbic system is fired up -- threaten to lead us rationally astray, while only decisions made in "cool" deliberative states represent our true "best interests." But there can be no principled basis for privileging our "cool" desires over our "hot" ones without an independent conception our best interests, and that conception is emphatically not the formal theory of economic rationality. Even in terms of economic theory, there is no principled reason to systematically weigh long-term preferences more heavily than short-term preferences, as economist Glen Whitman has argued in a paper, "Against the New Paternalism: Internalities and the Economics of Self-Control."

It is no doubt safe to say that we shouldn't act impulsively too often. But we shouldn't override impulse too often, either. There are perfectly good grounds for loosening up with a few drinks, or blowing a paycheck in Vegas. Somewhere in the space between androids and orangutans there are human beings. But that isn't to say that there is one correct way to balance impulse and deliberation. There are many kinds of good lives, and different forms of life strike a different balance between "hot" and "cool" decision-making. As Aristotle notes, we should all eat neither too much nor too little. But too much for you might be just right for Milo, the champion wrestler.

That's why "asymmetric paternalism" -- Camerer and Loewenstein's name for the "new political philosophy based on the idea of saving people from the vagaries of their limbic regions" mentioned at the start -- isn't really a special, unobjectionable kind of paternalism at all. It's just paternalism, plain and simple.

Judgments about whether it is worth "saving people from their limbic regions" are no less morally loaded than judgments about whether it is worth saving people from their own sins. If the formal theory of economic rationality is impossible, and therefore cannot provide a binding standard of rationality for real people, it follows that deviations from that standard are not necessarily mistakes. Further, following Glimcher, there is no clear, neuroscientifically-grounded notion of rationality, either. Adherence to the cultural norms of Reason -- much like adherence to the norms of ballet -- requires disciplined training in the coordination of capacities not "built" to be coordinated in that way. Whether a decision counts as a "mistake" or not depends on contestable value judgments about the norms of reason and the aims of a good life. There may be excellent arguments for such judgments, but those will be arguments about what kind of people we should aspire to be, not arguments about economic rationality or neuroscience.

If you substitute "moral" and "morality" for "rational" and "rationality" in the passage from Cassidy's essay below, you'll see the problem more clearly.

"Asymmetric paternalism helps those whose rationality is bounded from making a costly mistake and harms more rational folks very little," Camerer, Loewenstein, and three colleagues wrote in a 2003 issue of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. "Such policies should appeal to everyone across the political spectrum."

Paternalistic policies generally do appeal to everyone across the political spectrum when everyone across the spectrum agrees on the moral questions at issue. But mere agreement cannot overturn the liberal presumption in favor of freedom.

Paternalism is the use of coercion to force people to do or refrain from something against their will for their own good. Liberals of all stripes generally reject paternalism for reasons most lucidly laid out in J.S. Mill's masterpiece On Liberty. First, we assume the individual is the best judge of her own good. Second, whether or not the individual is the best judge of her own good, we rightly doubt that another individual (or assembly thereof) has the legitimate moral authority to substitute their judgment for the individual's by force -- especially in light of widespread disagreement about the nature of a good life. Third, truth is hard to come by, and none of us can be fully certain we've pinned it down. Allowing people to act on diverse opinions about morality (or rationality) broadens the search for truth about good lives by setting up a decentralized system of social laboratories where experiments in living succeed or fail in plain view. So, unless an action harms somebody else, people should be at liberty to satisfy their preferences, whether saintly or sinful, coolly rational or impulsively emotional.

The conceit of the new paternalism is that the state isn't going to be in the business of telling us which beliefs and desires we are allowed to act on, but will simply nudge people into doing what we wanted to do anyway, but couldn't manage by ourselves. The idea is that there are things we want to do, but, due to some foible of mind, we are unable to do it without a little outside help. However, the allegedly helpful measures proposed by behavioral economist either aren't paternalistic at all, or are indistinguishable from bad old fashioned paternalism.

Some of the new so-called "soft" paternalistic measures, such as employers helping workers to increase their rate of savings by requiring them to opt out of, rather than opt into, a retirement plan aren't paternalistic in any sense; that's a part of a fully voluntary labor contract. And policies like increasing the taxes on cigarettes or fatty foods in order to discourage potentially harmful consumption choices, are straightforwardly paternalistic in the old sense, requiring a one-size-fits-all value judgment about how much and for what reason we should consume certain goods.

Those kinds of judgments aren't the proper work of government. In any case, if you really think people make systematic "mistakes" in judgment and choice, there is no reason to believe that democratic voters --who have less at stake when casting their ballots than when choosing what to have for lunch -- will be especially good at populating the government with Spock-like rational legislators interested in tweaking cognition through expertly targeted policy rather than with well-coiffed primates interested in hoarding status and power.

What category-busting neuroscience really brings home is the contingency of the norms, disciplines, and institutions of Reason. As Nobel Prize-winning economist Douglass North said in his book Understanding the Process of Economic Change, "much of rational choice is not so much individual cogitation as the embeddedness of the thought process in the larger social and institutional context." We can't afford to take that context for granted.

Frictionless, perfectly competitive blackboard markets may fail if blackboard agents aren't rational by the standards of the blackboard model. But when we find that we are not blackboard rational, we shouldn't fret about the failure of blackboard markets because there never were any. We should worry instead about the real, rare underpinnings of our amazing prosperity and well-being. In the real world -- the territory the blackboard fails to accurately map -- cultural artifacts like calculators, clocks, mathematical symbol systems, books, Google, street signs, universities, the scientific method, and the market price system work together to enable forms of reason, and forms of life, that could not otherwise exist.

New findings in brain science will certainly help us to improve the technologies of Reason. But our freedom is perhaps the most important of those technologies. So before we get carried away with exciting brain-based arguments for paternalism and regulation, we should remember that it's not rational, in any sense of the word, to burn the ladder you're climbing.

Will Wilkinson is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.

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233 Comments

I think we ought to allow this sort of thing to go on...
I propose a test for future voters:

1) Require everybody to re-register to vote. Station an MRI machine by all voter-registration centers.

2) Put all the people who want to register to vote inside the MRI, and show them a picture of President Bush.

3) If the hate and anger centers of their brains light up, they can be denied the ability to vote because they are not acting rationally.

Once every member of MoveOn.org and every reader of the Daily Kos are identified, and sent off to treatment centers, the rest of us can go about dismantling these laws.

And what about other haters?
I mean, surely Bush is not the only possible image that would light the hate and anger centers.

Or is hate a good thing when directed against (say) Bill Clinton.

Frankenstein's new monster
Franky's back at it, cobbling together a new ideological monstrosity from several more sciences. Goody, goody; soon we'll all finally be saved from ourselves!

Consulting common sense should bring this unholy exercise to a timely and permanent end, for everyone knows that nobody knows what will be best for everyone tomorrow. And since tomorrow's "common good" can't be known now, all we can do is bump along in the now, hoping for tomorrow's best.

Take global warming, for example. No one can honestly tell me whether, if we do everything Fat Al tells us to do, we'll be better off than we would have been if Fat Al were to take a long walk off a short pier while the rest of us pollute as much as we possibly can. So what's the common good regarding global warming: Burying all our cars or tossing Fat Al in the drink? (I vote for tossing Fat Al in the drink, just for the pleasure of the spectacle.)

No one can say for sure. And that's because no one can predict what a global climate system will do 20 years from now, which is due to their immeasurable complexity. In the same way, no one can measure and thus produce tomorrow's common good, for it depends on the immeasurable complexity of what occurs today, which determines what's possible and probable tomorrow.

Economists never cease to amaze me! They speak of weighing long term benefits against the short term benefits as if both were fully known, knowing full well that they're not. That's why the only long term benefit I can think of regarding economists is tossing them all in the drink along with Fat Al.

PS: I was very emotional when I wrote this!





So, you live your life this way?
This brought me up short

>Consulting common sense should bring this unholy exercise to a timely and permanent end, for everyone knows that nobody knows what will be best for everyone tomorrow

The thing is, we can and do see things that could be much worse. We found out that cars were causing smog. We passed laws for emission controls. Smog didn't end, but it's much, much better.

Every year, governments, cities, companies, and other organizations make budgets , forseeing problems, attempting to adapt to changing conditions. Is this really a futile exercises? Should they instead of wasting thier time just xerox last years'?

Seriously : do you live your life this way? No plans, no goals?

A brilliant and urgently important essay
Brava and kudos to the author.

If people let their emotions over ride their reason, why should we expect politicians to be immune
The whole fallacy of this argument is the expectation that people who work for the govt are able to throw off the shackles that prevent us poor peons from acting rationally.

people who disliked Clinton never lost the ability to think
indeed, supporting Clinton is prima facia evidence of not being able to think

The irrationality of government.
Like Will Wilkinson, I'm continually astounded by those like Mr. Cassidy who are quick to criticize the irrationality of individuals and markets yet don't seem to question their own assumptions of government benevolent omniscience.

About 200 million dead in the 20th century because of the actions of governments following what they (and many others) thought was in the best interest of mankind.

And they still don't get it.

A gem
Clear, rational and beautifully written. One of the rare diamonds published on this site. Thanks.

Scary
It sounds like we have two problems. The first is economist again trying to become real scientists and seondly,those left of center getting a new excuse, dare I say rationale, for more government regulation to protect us from our evil selves.

Sure: the only political emotion comes from the left: O'Reilly says so
And he never gets emotional about anything, and neither does Mark.

So what's your alternative?
I mean, where do people live without government? What's the alternative?

you really do need to work on your reading comprehension
I never said that only the left get's emotional.
I said that only the left let's it's emotions get in the way of thinking.

the alternative is to not assume that govt intervention will always make things better
...

Nigerian email time
So: as a detached, unpolitical observer you have reached the conclusion that only right-wingers can separate emotion from analysis??? If you really believe this, I've got some Nigerian email that will make you really, really rich.

But it's legitimate to assume that government intervention will always make things worse??
In fact, I don't think government is always right. But the loonybin right is sure that it's always, always wrong.

Cross Purposes
You must lean left, Le Mule, for you missed the most important part of my idea you quoted, and probably intentionally so. So let me spell it out for you: No one knows what will be best for everyone tomorrow; just to repeat, no one - knows - best - everyone - tomorrow. Get it?

No? More spelling out is in order, then. Why is it, do you suppose, that executive officers and board members of companies get the big bucks while the janitors get peanuts? Could it be because the former risk their reputations and jobs deciding what's best for everyone while the latter mop floors? Hmmmmm. And why are presidents, governors, and mayors the main power brokers in their respective kingdoms? Could it be because they risk their reputations and jobs deciding what's best for everyone? Hmmmmm.

Get the pattern here? No? More spelling out then: Those who decide what's best for the rest of us bear the greatest personal risk if they're wrong. Why? Because they very darn well can be wrong, and worse are often very, very, wrong.

Exhibit A: President Bush orders Iraq invaded. Maybe 1/3 of his constituents think he screwed the pooch on that decision, and his approval ratings hit rock bottom. Get it now, Le Mule? Was the enormous ****aroo that is now American politics Bush's plan, his goal, do you suppose?

Now, after having submitted my proofs, you sumbit some of your own. I want clear and convincing evidence (that's a legal burden of proof - look it up) that this planet will be better off if we humans implement every anti-global warming measure our kind has devised. But be a dear and keep it short or give up while you're behind.

Sure. And you provided no backup whatsoever for that statement
and still haven't.

So the idea is we never should decide anything? How does this work?
I mean, where does anything you say contradict the idea that people can't or shouldn't plan and predict?

>No one knows what will be best for everyone tomorrow

the words "best for everyone" are meaningless. However, people can and do try to create good outcomes according to various criteria: the executive,s presidents, mayors etc.

>ose who decide what's best for the rest of us bear the greatest personal risk if they're wrong. Why? Because they very darn well can be wrong, and worse are often very, very, wrong.

Um, sure. What a revelation. So this means nobody should decide anything? Nobody should try to create a good outcome??''

>Was the enormous ****aroo that is now American politics Bush's plan, his goal, do you suppose?

First, no, but second, what in the world is the relevance? Because one decision was bad all decisions are useless, and noone should decide??

>Now, after having submitted my proofs, you sumbit some of your own. I want clear and convincing evidence (that's a legal burden of proof - look it up) that this planet will be better off if we humans implement every anti-global warming measure our kind has devised.

This is silly. There are risks in doing something. There are risks in doing nothing. Doing nothing is, in fact, a decision. There are never any guarantees for any decision.

I'm really baffled by your point. You seem to think the only alternatives are one all-powerful big brother deciding everything (bad) or nobody deciding anything (good??) Maybe if you could make your point clear, I could give you better answers.

Government Competence - Examples
The loons are generally on the left, Lemming. On the contrary, the right isn't "sure that it's always, always wrong. " The difference between the right and left on government is a little like people using fire. One is experienced and knows the warmth can cause destruction, that fire is a wonderful servant but a fearful master. The left sits charmed by the warmth of the dancing flames and imagines a utopian world where everything tastes the wonderful lick of the flame. When everything is a charred ruin, they claim that the fire was mishandled or misunderstood, that the matches were defective, the accelerant was the wrong grade or the individuals in charge of the flame didn't acheive the perfection in pyrotechnics that should be expected.

In fact Government does the following very well:

Provides for defense that is an effective deterrent against overt national aggression. (Millions of border crossers, well, thats another story)

Passes laws (lots and lots of laws)that are voluminous, complex and tedious.

Assures that special constituencies (lawyers, education, senior citizens, the "poor") have differential priviledges, primary to to obtain the majority of votes from effectively organized and discretely defined groups with common and obvious self interest.

Ensures that ineffectual and insignificant dissidents are effectively suppressed or abolished (Branch Davidians were of course incinerated)in the name of civil order.

Collects tax revenues in large amounts, from disparate sources and with minimal conspicuity.

Conducts numerous events where politicians can take dubious credit for "creating jobs", especially when they make ceremonial groundbreakings with goldplated shovels, ribbon cuttings with oversized ceremonial scissors and payments with gigantic, regulatorily noncompliant novelty checks.












Much smoke, little light
Beyond the vacuous generalities about left bad, right good, you're statement completely lacks any alternative vision.

You don't like lots of the things some governments do. Where's your alternative model that does this stuff better? You don't like laws? Check out places where they don't exist, or aren't enforced. You think education shouldn't be a government thing? Show me an advanced society where it isn't.

You're left with the same bottom line. Government is a reflection of human nature. People aren't perfect. Governments are far from perfect. What's your alternative that would work better, and where's the real-world proof?

eric's bipolar world
I never said that only the right can seperate reason from emotion, I said that only those on the left fail to do so.

As to what you believe, your ability to believe whatever your mother tells you to believe has become legendary.

you provide all the backup to that claim that will ever be needed.
...

History has shown that to be true 99% of the time, so it is a good operating assumption
...

eric lives in a binary world
Either you believe that govt is the source of all good in the world, or you must therefore believe that govt is all evil.

Either you believe that AGW is going to kill us all, or you don't believe in science.

Since, as Pauled has deduced, eric only has two functioning neurons, so it's quite understandable that he can only deal with two mutually exclusive posibilities for every question.

alternatives
The alternative is to leave people alone to live their own lifes.
The real-world proof is that every country that does this succeeds, every country that doesn't fails.

Instead of spraying one line headlines about your worthless opinions everywhere
...why not try to discuss the issues and back up what you say? Is it really so threatening to have to explain why you think rightwingers are rational while lefties are slaves to their emotions??

Mark's black hole
I know what you said:

>I said that only those on the left fail to do so.

But you offered no backup for it at all. The mother crap just indicates that you can't back it up.

This is so broad as to be meaningless
Nobody's against the general proposition, let people live their lives: nobody running for office this fall would disagree. The issues are in the details. Which you're terrified of discussing.

The essence of government is coercion.
In estimating whether government or markets will on balance produce benevolent outcomes, it's not enough to say that there are some good and some bad of each.
Instead, one must first understand the essence of each.

The real but obscured question is:
Will (voluntary cooperation) on the one hand or (coercion of some by others) on the other, generally lead to happier results.
Since the essence of government is coercion (imaging a government without guns?) its role is best kept to those few areas where coercion is mandatory (ie defense and police action).

Exactly 99 percent of the time? SpamMan strikes again
Another meaningless driveby headline, expressing a slogan, no backup, no argument, no thought. Rent a billboard, Mark.

robertbennet, I think you need to consider the serious threat of sea level rise.
If we tossed Fat Al in to the ocean, the size of his ego alone might swamp much of the eastern seaboard...

Ask Teddy Roosevelt about this
About anti-trust, child labor laws, pure food and drug laws, anti-pollution laws, anti-segregation laws and much more.

The libertarian slogans are fine. When it comes down to cases, they don't work well. Laws like the ones above are a result the market failing to answer problems.

Blatant misrepresentation - but par for the course
I'm not the one doing the black and white. I'm not saying the government is the answer to all questions, I'm saying it's effective on many questions. Mark is the one saying it's wrong all - no, wait, 99 percent of the time.

>Either you believe that AGW is going to kill us all, or you don't believe in science.

Kill us all?? When have I ever said anything remotely like this? All I've said is listen to what the vast majority of scientists say on this topic, so we can make an informed judgment and maybe avoid some problems.

The insults don't make your case stronger.

That is just such an incredibly intelligent take on the issue
And so helpful to the discussion.

Still Don't Get It, Do You
Government has its place-providing defense, contract rights, etc. You just think that place is EVERYWHERE and into everything.

You think education shouldn't be a government thing?

No, government should be the only alternative.

Government isn't a reflecion of human nature.

It draws a very specific type of individual - gathers them together and feeds their ambitions.

Effective
I'm saying it's effective on many questions.


Really?

So much for effective
Spinach anyone?

You really need to get over this Teddy idolatry

Really???
Cite the unsolved problems and your (specific, reality proven) alternatives. Really.

Sure: TR was just a socialist weenie: Superheater's the real American hero
What's really pathetic is the total lack of specific content. The idea is people are just supposed to swear and groan at the word 'government,' no backup needed.

But I guess Rutherford B. Hayes is Supe's idea of a political hero.

One example- Burden of Proof on You
Hey Lemming, I'm not delusional enough to think you can be freed from your self-inflicted brainwashing. I could cite example after example until I'm blue in the face, you'll run to your normal echo chambers for emotional fortification if the slightest crack appeared in your leftist prison

Why don't YOU tell ME why you think government antipoverty programs are effective. Has the "war on poverty" eliminated poverty? Reduced it? No, now that Galbraith is dead, we have successor trolls like Krugman telling us about the increasing numbers of those in poverty. So after 50 years and trillions of dollars-we have NEGATIVE RESULTS.

YOU TELL ME why we should continue to fund your fantasies, because your course of action is an abject failure and you need to defend your knee-jerk defense of government, not your critics.







Any of a myriad of

Lemming lives in an imaginary world
Still insisting that he'll find the square root of a negative number..

TR
And yes, ol' teddy was just as narcisstic, egomaniacal as any other politician.

Politicians aren't generally heroes
Try again. Only leftists believe in slavish devotion to political cults.

What world is this?
Gee, sorry to cut through your rhetoric.

Neither I or most anyone else believes in a magic formula to use government to arrive at utopia. But all kinds of things governments have done in the past have worked, and, specifically, have worked better than what was going on before. Smog controls have worked, th ough perhaps they should be more restrictive. Social security has worked very well in protecting old people.

>YOU TELL ME why we should continue to fund your fantasies, because your course of action is an abject failure and you need to defend your knee-jerk defense of government, not your critics.

A huge majority of your fellow citizens disagree with your crank libertarian slogans. If you think that they're wrong, tell them, not me.

National Parks and much more
This isn't abut marrying him, it's about what're good uses of government. Maybe you thnk the national park system was a mistake. Tell the world how TR blew this one.

Speaking of political cults....
libertarians are as culty as it gets. The ideas have fallen to pieces time after time, but the true believers keep believing.

If saying so made it true...
... you'd be a genius.

first, you're putting words into my mouth.

>You just think that place is EVERYWHERE and into everything.

I never said anything like this. In fact, I've said the reverse.

>Government isn't a reflecion of human nature.

Oh really??? So it comes from Mars? It isn't a human institution?? What are you smoking?

I can't decide
I love watch you twist in your own wind, Le Mule.

"I mean, where does anything you say contradict the idea that people can't or shouldn't plan and predict?"

Nothing I said contradicted that idea. You introduced that idea and claimed it was absurd for me to contradict it.

"the words "best for everyone" are meaningless."

Not so. The words "best for everyone" are central to my point, the TCS author's point, and Cassidy's point. Modeling whole societies' legal regimes to counter human nature based on neuroscience on the one hand and some cockeyed notion of rationality on the other is inhuman - Frankensteinish. Go back and read the TCS article again. Did you miss what Cassidy and his cadre of mad scientists were proposing?

"I'm really baffled by your point. You seem to think the only alternatives are one all-powerful big brother deciding everything (bad) or nobody deciding anything (good??) Maybe if you could make your point clear, I could give you better answers."

You state a false dilemma here and then attribute it to me. Splendid; only a startled ostrich standing next to a sand dune could top that. But my point is as clear as day - government can't guarantee to make you better off. Yet politicians do just that every time their smarmy mugs darken a camera. They're doing it right now in these mid-term elections.

So next time our mendacious political class sets your hopeful little heart to galloping, keep this in mind: To measure whether government has improved your life, compare (1) your life after the relevant government's mandate has run with (2) your life as it would have been had government met its guarantees with (3) your life as it could have been had you gotten off your butt and improved your own life.

You'll discover, as I have, that (3) is always your best bet, rendering government irrelevant. And guess what, Le Mule? (3) has a nickname: The American Dream.

"There are risks in doing something. There are risks in doing nothing. Doing nothing is, in fact, a decision. There are never any guarantees for any decision."

Exactly. So why not get busy doing something for your neighbor, your society, your global climate, and for yourself? Why sit around and wait for “Fat Al and the Frankensteins” to do it all for you?

Gaussian footprints
I've been snide, sarcastic and rude, so let me try and be intelligent and explain where I'm coming from on global warming and government.

As a human moves through the physical universe in time, he converts what is possible/probable to what is. When we look at a graphical measurement of movement through the physical universe in time, we often find a Gaussian curve. The Gaussian curve also tells us that what is now determines what is possible/probable in future for the measured physical system if it is not acted upon by previously unmeasured variables.

Next, our measurements only show us what was, for what we've measured has changed since we measured it, thereby altering what is possible/probable regardless of the influence of outside variables. Yet even though they're outdated and thereby often fatally flawed, we still rely on our past measurements to forecast and make plans for the future. (I've worked closely with economists before, and they've all told me that their forecasts rely on outdated and probably currently inaccurate data - but it's the best they can get.)

Now, global warming science relies on models that (1) don't account for all the active variables of our global climate system, (2) don't incorporate measurements of all the active variables in our global climate system, (3) rely on sweeping assumptions to cover for (1) and (2), and (4) rely on scientific and mathematical guesses as to how a global climate system really works. Therefore, global warming science is crap. No, it’s dangerous crap, which is why it can’t even tell me whether I’d be better off polluting or putting Fat Al in charge of my life.

The same goes for government. The data government gets is outdated and flawed. It's then plugged into ideologically tainted formulas that refuse to incorporate every active variable while relying on sweeping assumptions about human nature that are invariably false. So when this stuff of public genius emerges from government’s sausage grinder in the form of laws, it's thoroughly adulterated and often very bad for society's health.

Hope that clears things up for you.

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