Disappointment

Richard Dawkins is a great scientist and communicator. His The Selfish Gene, and The Blind Watchmaker were both very important to my intellectual development. I’ve seen him speak a few times on television and have always been impressed. I have also appreciated his unreserved criticisms of religious thinking.

But, it appears that he is a moral and political idiot.

Take a look his letter to President Bush (fourth one down). I’d consider fisking it, but The World has already done an excellent job of that.

It’s very sad when an intellectual hero disappoints so dramatically.

Risk

I think the concept of risk, and how we manage it, has received far less attention (outside of economics) than it deserves.

Steven DenBeste has a good (though long) post about this here. I encourage you to read it. While I think he over-generalizes the U.S. vs. EU differences, there is an element of this difference reflected in recent policies.

Extreme risk aversion is an irrational over-valuing the expected costs and under-valuing the expected benefits of proposed actions (or inactions) of our own, and of events beyond our control. In the long run, extreme risk aversion will definitely lead to less success.

Most of us are risk averse to some extent in some areas. That’s why good financial planners assess an investor’s tolerance for risk before devising an appropriate plan for him. Psychological comfort is important, and it often makes sense for us, individually, to pursue a plan that might be sub-optimal, theoretically, but will make us happier given our hard-to-change psychological tendencies.

That’s also one of the reasons that I think it’s wrong to dictate to (and impose on) others what level of risk they should accept for themselves in their personal lives.

However, in the area of government policymaking I think it’s wrong, often disastrously so, to allow extreme risk aversion to guide policy. We should be understanding of those citizens with the worst risk aversion problems, but we should not let them dictate policy and impose massive costs on the rest of us.

One problem I noticed immediately with Rawls’ A Theory Of Justice (and later learned that many others observed this too) is that his person in the Original Position was extremely risk averse; fanatically focusing on the worst-case scenario (via his difference principle).

I think Virginia Postrel is right to suggest that the distinction, politically, between liberals and conservatives is less important than the difference between those who try to impose an irrational resistance to the risks of change on us (stasists), and those who embrace changes and suggest managing the risks rationally (dynamists). These groups do not correspond to liberals vs. conservatives (e.g. Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan united against international trade).

Whether DenBeste recognizes it or not, we’ve got many stasists in America; and much of the government is involved in enacting their agenda.

There’s a lot more to say about these things. But, if I try do it all at once, I might never post anything.

Which Would You Prefer?

From Lileks today:

It’s going to take another attack to convince the fence-sitters: I hear this all the time. I don’t think that’s the case. I think the next attack on American soil will jolt those who’ve moved on, who’ve forgotten the aching, clammy dread we all felt after 9/11. But others will believe that we brought it on ourselves. You already read it around the web – the bombings in Turkey were a response to Britain’s assistance for toppling Saddam; what did we expect? In other words: if we fight back, we get what we deserve. If we do not fight back, and we are attacked again, you can blame it on the crimes for which we have not yet sufficiently atoned. The only proper posture for the West is supine. Curl up and let them kick until they’re spent. Give them Israel and New York and perhaps they’ll go away.

This is either going to end on their terms, or ours. Which would you prefer?

There’s more good stuff there worth reading; including a response to Salam Pax’s sneering message to Bush.

An Open Letter To President Bush

Dear President Bush,

The recent WTO ruling against the current steel tariffs has given you a great opportunity. I hope that you will take advantage of it and comply with the ruling by removing the tariffs.

I understand that the tariffs were an attempt to win political support from members of the steel industry in states important to your re-election. But, you must know that they are a drag on the economy, costing more jobs than they protect, raising prices of consumer products, and risking retaliatory trade restrictions. This is a wealth transfer whose continuation is not in the best interest of the nation.

The recent ruling is a chance for you to correct this policy with political cover. It is a chance to show the world that you are, indeed, interested in multilateral cooperation, and in respecting the decisions of a collective body that we have agreed would settle issues like this.

You can tell the steel industry that they have had a period of protection, and you hope that they used it to become more competitive. Say that you would have liked to have had more control over when the tariffs would end, but events have made that impossible.

Any voters who might turn against you for this stand are not supporters you could have relied upon anyway. Others will respect this decision and understand that you’re putting a priority on international cooperation and the economic philosophy you believe in, rather than unprincipled political calculations.

I hope you will recognize this opportunity and do the right thing.

Sincerely,

Gil Milbauer