Actually trying to understand how those you disagree with think, rather than just accepting some straw man version, can make one a much better debater. Bryan Caplan's ideological Turing test is not just about empathy and being open to opposing arguments, but it also pays dividends in making better arguments for one's own positions. I love how Jesse Walker begins his pitch to Conservatives against the death penalty:
The typical conservative is well informed about the careless errors routinely made by the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Postal Service, and city hall. If he's a policy wonk, he may have bookmarked the Office of Management and Budget's online list of federal programs that manage to issue more than $750 million in mistaken payments each year. He understands the incentives that can make an entrenched bureaucracy unwilling to acknowledge, let alone correct, its mistakes. He doesn't trust the government to manage anything properly, even the things he thinks it should be managing.
Except, apparently, the minor matter of who gets to live or die. Bring up the death penalty, and many conservatives will suddenly exhibit enough faith in government competence to keep the Center for American Progress afloat for a year. Yet the system that kills convicts is riddled with errors.
Bryan Caplan asks:
So I propose a simple challenge to pave the way to my refutation: Tell me how to sell the abolition of the minimum wage to the typical Feeling American.
Please don't give me any "hard heads, soft hearts" answers. Give me "soft heads, soft hearts" answers. You're trying to persuade Oprah Winfrey, not Data from Star Trek after he gets his emotion chip.
I am not sure what makes for a soft head argument, but lots of talk about oppressors and racism combined with argument by anecdote rather than facts felt right, so this was my shot at it:
Bobby is a black teen in Chicago. Since he has just 9 years old, the only way he could support his family and survive in his neighborhood was to join a gang and deal drugs.
After his recent arrest, Bobby wants to go straight, to escape the cycle of crime and violence into which he has become trapped. But no one will hire him without experience. He needs a history showing he can do simple things, like show up reliably to work on time, cooperate with other employees, and interact well with customers.
Bobby would be willing to work for free to gain this experience, to get a toe-hold on the simple skills many of us take for granted. Be he can't. he is barred by law. He cannot legally be offered a job for less than $8.25 an hour, a wage he could one day earn but right now lacks the basic skills to justify.
The minimum wage raises the first rung on the ladder of success higher than Bobby can possibly reach. This is not an accident. Early proponents of the minimum wage in the early 20th century supported it precisely because it protected white workers from competition from blacks attempting to enter the work force. The minimum wage began as, and still is, a tool of oppression,preventing young men like Bobby from gaining access to good employment.
Today, the unemployment among black teens has risen to nearly 40%. This is because the government has been working for years to help older white workers with political clout keep men like Bobby out of the workforce, and the minimum wage is their most powerful tool for doing so.
I have a hard time seeing how anyone can deny that drafted soldiers are slaves of the state. They are giving their time and labor only under compulsion, and while they may be better off than ante-bellum slaves in that they may eventually get freed after their term is over, to some extent they may be worse off as their time in servitude is a) more dangerous and b) involves taking morally more questionable actions (e.g. killing people).
I have assumed that those who supported the draft either were arguing that that threats in wartime justified this awful step or they were statists that already saw all the rest of us as slaves anyway.
However, Bryan Caplan had a useful observation on this:
It's tempting to dismiss all this as doublethink, but after many years of reflection I think I finally figured out what most people are thinking. Namely: They implicitly regard slavery not as mere involuntary servitude, but as low-status involuntary servitude. Since most of us honor, respect, and even adore all our soldiers, conscripts have high status - and therefore can't be slaves. From this point of view, saying "conscription is slavery" isn't righteously standing up for the rights of conscripts; it's wickedly denying them their high status. Sigh.
This rings true to me, but offers another avenue for those of us who oppose the draft -- the draft reduces the perceived status of those who serve voluntarily, something I certainly think happened in the Vietnam War. In a way, it is reminiscent of how the existence of affirmative action tends to undermine the perceived accomplishments of successful minorities.
Bryan Caplan links a 2007 study that looks at voter turnout and weather, and specifically tests the conventional wisdom that rain helps Republicans (by disproportionately surpressing the Democratic vote).
The findings appear to be that bad weather does help Republicans and does supress turnout. However, in studying presidential elections, he finds few that would have had their outcome changed. Here, however, was one exception:
The results of the zero precipitation scenarios reveal only two instances in which a perfectly dry election day would have changed an Electoral College outcome. Dry elections would have led Bill Clinton to win North Carolina in 1992 and Al Gore to win Florida in 2000. This latter change in the allocation of Florida's electors would have swung the incredibly close 2000 election in Gore's favor.
Since we know from Gore that heavy snow, no snow, heavy rain, and no rain are all caused by global warming, his 2000 electoral defeat was obviously caused by manmade CO2.
I had not realized that some Federal employees did not have to participate in Social Security. Intriguingly, this fact was raised by people who were defending government pay as not being excessive -- they said something like, "well, some workers don't even get Social Security." Via Bryan Caplan
Some government employees don't participate in Social Security. How does that change the benefits picture?
[T]hat's irrelevant because they're neither paying nor receiving benefits. If you follow Social Security, you know it pays a low rate of return... [N]ot to participate in Social Security is actually a benefit, because they're keeping more.
I agree. Not participating in Social Security is a huge benefit. The implicit return on "premiums" paid by you and your employer is typically below zero. In other words, if you took your social security taxes and stuffed them in a mattress, you would get a better return. As I wrote in the link above
as a retirement program, [social security] is a really, really big RIPOFF. Ever worker in this country is being raped by this retirement plan. In fact, it is the worst retirement program in the whole country:
- As we see above, it pays a negative rate of return
- It is not optional "“ you go to prison if you choose not to participate
- Unlike a private annuity contract, the government can rewrite your benefits level any time, and you have to take it. In fact, my statement says "Your estimated benefits are based on current law. Congress has made changes to the law in the past and can do so at any time. The law governing benefit amounts may change because, by 2040, the payroll taxes collected will be enough to pay only about 74 percent of scheduled benefits."
- There are no assets backing this annuity!! An insurance company that wrote annuities without any invested assets backing them would be thrown in jail faster than Jeff Skilling. The government has been doing it for decades.
I have always wondered how people could describe European countries as more egalitarian than the US. Yeah, I know the income distribution tends to be flatter, but that is almost entirely because the rich are richer in the US rather than the poor being poorer. But pure income distribution has always seemed like a terrible way to make comparisons. My perception has always been that class lines in Europe are much harder than they are in the US. The elites in Europe have made a sort of arrangement in which they pay off the masses with an income floor and low work expectations in turn for making sure that none of the masses can in turn challenge their elite status or join their ranks. The government protects large corporations form competition, foreign or domestic. The government protects existing laborers against new entrants into the labor market. The government makes it virtually impossible for the average guy to start a business. The result is a lower and middle class who won't or can't aspire to breaking out of their class. Elites are protected, and no one seems to care very much when political elites enrich themselves through public office and then entrench themselves and their families in the power system. This, presumably, is why the American political class thinks so much of the European model.
Bryan Caplan writes via Marginal Revolution:
In the U.S., we have low gas taxes, low car taxes, few tolls, strict zoning that leads developers to provide lots of free parking, low speed limits, lots of traffic enforcement, and lots of congestion.
In Europe (France and Germany specifically), they have high gas
taxes, high car taxes, lots of tolls, almost no free parking, high
speed limits (often none at all), little traffic enforcement, and very
little congestion. (The only real traffic jam I endured in Europe was
trying to get into Paris during rush hour. I was delayed about 30
If you had to pick one of these two systems, which would you prefer?
Or to make the question a little cleaner, if there were two otherwise
identical countries, but one had the U.S. system and the other had the
Euro system, where would you decide to live?
Much as it pains me to admit, I would choose to live in the country
with the Euro system. If you're at least upper-middle class, the
convenience is worth the price. Yes, this is another secret way that
Europe is better for the rich, and the U.S. for everyone else.