Month: February 2015

On borders, status quo bias doesn’t count

Randomly poll American citizens if there are any U.S. states that they believe should combine. You aren’t going to field many offers. Next ask them if there are any states they’d prefer to see broken up. Suggestions are, again, likely to be few and far between. How about states that should see their borders re-drawn? I predict crickets.

The implication is that things are not just O.K., but best the way they are. Not only is fifty the right number of states, but the current layout of those fifty is also the right layout. We are supposed to believe that there can be no materially better outcome from any form of action whatsoever.

Think about that for a second. What is the likelihood that this view is actually correct, that today’s state borders have it just about perfect. I would offer that it’s pretty pretty pretty low.

The biggest driver of your lackluster hypothetical poll responses probably won’t be reason or logic either, but inertia, or more specifically, status quo bias. Not to be confused with a formulated argument that favors the current state of affairs in the end, this bias manifests itself in the form of no particular argument at all.  Change is inherently bad according to this preference.  You ask somebody “why?” and they respond “just because.” There is some incomplete information here to be sure, as people might respond more (or less) favorably if they were properly informed. Yet the point stands.

For whatever reason, talk of changing borders in any capacity seems to be an uber-trigger for status quo bias in mainstream American politics. It springs forth with staggering speed and force.   Set against an increasingly polarized political landscape, the bipartisan nature of the condemnation is especially impressive, indeed, few issues match it.

Nevertheless, the colonies cut loose their British shackles a mere 240 years or so ago and continued to draw (and re-draw) more borders than a cartographer over the next century and a half. If it strikes you as strange that such unanimous agreement on current borders grew up against this historical backdrop, then I think you might be on to something.

As an example, the state of California happens to be really big. Clocking in at just under forty million inhabitants makes it the most populous U.S. state by a healthy margin. It has over ½ the population of Turkey, is on par with Poland, and eclipses Canada. You can’t drive its north-south length without blocking out at least twelve hours from your schedule.

Pristine governance however, doesn’t seem to be its strong suit. The Golden State came in at 30th in the most recent 24/7 Wall Street survey of the best and worst-run states, up from 2013’s last place finish. Cali sports a solid 7.0% unemployment rate as of December according to BLS, which is good for 49th in the country. It ranks 35th in terms of poverty rates and dead-last when geographically adjusted. This is hardly a bulletproof case for carving up California like a piece of meat, but it seems like a damn good start.  Centralization’s downsides become more apparent when viewed through the lens of scale.

Yet there are assuredly reasonable arguments to the contrary.  Perhaps even winning arguments.  So let’s hear them.   Philosophical, economic, cultural, what have you: bring them all out. But whatever you do, ye lover of border inertia, do not write off those with arguments while bringing none of your own. Do not marginalize the issue by invoking terms like “radical” and “dangerous” while falling back on an unconscious cognitive error. In reality, there is perhaps nothing more dangerous than the view that if X exists then X is the best we can do, supported by no critical thought at all. So leave the status quo bias at the door; otherwise, it’s always open.

(Image source)

Anti-Work is the latest inane idea from left-libertarianism

I call myself a libertarian, but boy do libertarians get on my nerves.

The freedom philosophy used to be about trashing government aggression and poking fun at statism. But thanks to the rise of left-libertarian organizations, the philosophy has been infiltrated by ignorant hacks. Libertarianism is now chock-full of whiners who want smaller government for the wrong ends.

My friend Julie Borowski clued me in on one such specimen. His name is Nick Ford and he is a tad different from your run-of-the-mill leftist-libertarian. Ford backs a novel cause: abolishing work. From what I can determine, he detests working in a typical office setting and finds it stifling to his creative genius, or something.


We’re going back to Iraq and boy is it depressing

Mark Twain’s quip about history was wrong; it indeed repeats. Unfortunately the repetition is of bad things, rarely good.

After promising to roll back the folly that was the Iraq War, President Obama is taking us back to the graveyard of empires. He recently presented Congress with an “Authorization for the Use of Military Force” to go after the growing Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The president has been using airstrikes on ISIS for 6 months already. Under current law, he’s supposed to request Congress’ imprimatur after 60 days of carrying out military action. But, hey, what’s a little thing like law to get in the way of bombs?


William Tyler: ‘Cadillac Desert’

From Riboflavin at TMT:

I have no idea what the Carter years were like; I was born in 1985, the year after 1984. The year after we got over/past 1984. 2013 is that year in some regards: the year we got over 2012. Either you were a practitioner of pseudo-scientific, misplaced Mayan anxieties or you were a concerned person in a t-shirt on a northwestern February day. Anxieties can and will occur, and for good reason. But what happens when the spaces in time that breed reactionaries subside into anxiety loss? Does the severed dread lead back to the multi-lane freeway? Some are still anxious for good reason; time doesn’t solve problems for us, either going forward or moving backward. …

But life is often like a science fiction film, a good science fiction film, where remnants of the past (often our own present) remain, even just as set pieces. People still drive 20- to 30-year-old cars, live in old buildings, etc., etc. This is the case in music — especially in music. Sure, keep it new, be new, blah blah new blah blah… but don’t actually. A creative condition is set more in the execution of aspects that support an idea, and to what ends make something “creative” rest more on every aspect about the art in question.

In this context, Impossible Truth makes sense to me as a very good album about nostalgia, and not in the way where I feel compelled to criticize it on a “sound-contemporary” basis or on the critical level where I knock people down for fucking with my childhood.

The teaser video is pretty good too:

Sacred Harp 288: ‘White’

Ye fleeting charms of earth farewell,
Your springs of joy are dry;
My soul seeks another home.
A brighter world on high.

I’m a long time trav’ling here below,
I’m a long time trav’ling away from home,
I’m a long time trav’ling here below,
To lay this body down.

Farewell, my friends, whose tender care
Has long engaged my love;
Your fond embrace I now exchange
For better friends above.

Guest hosting the Mike Church Show Tuesday morning

The King Dude has been kind enough to have me back again tomorrow, so if you’re a Sirius XM listener, consider making it a part of your morning commute. The show runs from 6-9 AM on Patriot 125.

So far the guests I’ve got lined up are Edwin Black (author, IBM and the Holocaust), Roger Stone (you should know him), Jack Hunter (editor of Rare), and Jay Cost (writer at the Weekly Standard and author of the new book, A Republic No More), plus a mystery person I haven’t nailed down yet.

Update: The fifth guest will be Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos.

Update II: Someone’s put my interview with Milo online re: Gamergate, Law & Order, Brianna Wu