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Vaccine “Skeptics” Are Too Credulous – Article by Bradley Doucet

Vaccine “Skeptics” Are Too Credulous – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
December 14, 2014
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There is absolutely no question in my mind that those who refuse to vaccinate their children against diseases like measles and whooping cough love their children just as much as those who do vaccinate. Pretty big of me, eh? But seriously, to a first approximation, parents love their kids, end of story. If they refuse to inoculate them, it’s because they doubt the effectiveness and/or safety of vaccines. But while such parents may see themselves as skeptics, they are in fact too credulous by half.

When I first heard about the claim that vaccines might cause autism, several years ago, I looked into it with an open mind. I am a big fan of questioning things, and especially of challenging the powers that be. When it comes to public health issues, I personally find it pretty easy to believe that the people in charge of health agencies are overly conservative in approving beneficial drugs, for instance, because they want to cover their asses. I find it easy, also, to believe that the people who run drug companies want to use the patent system to make as much money as possible from the sale of their products. Of course they do.

But the alleged vaccine-autism link, I discovered, grew out of a thoroughly discredited study of just a handful of kids. It persisted in the public imagination because the onset of symptoms of autism happens around the time that children are vaccinated, but this is mere correlation, and epidemiological studies have not found any causal link. As for effectiveness, on the other hand, there is a clear and well-established causal link between mass vaccinations and the virtual eradication of numerous diseases—with recent resurgences caused in turn by falling vaccination rates among doubters.

A good skeptic does not automatically believe whatever the mainstream believes, but neither does a good skeptic rush to believe an online article stumbled upon that one time that cast aspersions on the motives of every single person working in the pharmaceutical industry or in a health agency. “Follow the money” is not, by itself, a good enough argument for believing anything. There are plenty of honest ways to make a living, so specific reasons are needed for believing that everyone involved in the production and sale and administration of vaccines is either corrupt or stupid. If you don’t have the scientific chops yourself, not to mention a decent grasp of statistics, why would you bet your children’s health, and even their very lives, on such a marginal suspicion?

Without assuming that everyone is moral or that they don’t face perverse incentives, I nonetheless find it extremely difficult to believe that very many people want to make money by harming others, or that they would be capable of doing so through a massive conspiracy spanning decades and even centuries. Based on what I’ve read, I’m convinced that vaccines are effective and safe, and that they have been a great boon to humanity. Furthermore, the onus is on “skeptics” to prove that the well-established mainstream theory is wrong, something they have utterly failed to do. If one hasn’t done the research and doesn’t have the knowledge base to be absolutely sure that the entire medical profession is mistaken, it is not skepticism to simply assert and believe the opposite of a theory that has stood the test of time.

Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.

Just Cause, or Just ‘Cause? – Article by Bradley Doucet

Just Cause, or Just ‘Cause? – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
November 9, 2014
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The fact that there are some bad people doing some bad things halfway around the world does not mean that “we” have to do something about it. There can be no such thing as an open-ended obligation to help everyone who’s being oppressed, pillaged, raped, enslaved, or murdered by their unprincipled fellows, because such an obligation would be effectively infinite. It would eat up all of our resources. And by and large, we don’t help every person or group of people fight off every aggressor or group of aggressors. Which is a good thing, because our “help” often makes things worse.

So why do we choose to respond when we do choose to respond? Or rather, why do our leaders choose to respond when they do? Is it because it’s the right thing to do? Or do they do it simply because, for whatever combination of factors, they can? A particularly unflattering enemy, perhaps, who can easily be demonized, for reasons both justified and not, and one who cannot really fight back, at least not in any way that would impose serious, widespread repercussions on the voting populace. An enemy, furthermore, who is far enough away that all the collateral damage, all of the innocents killed by our noble bombs dropped from our heroic jets, can be easily ignored, and who anyway look different and talk different and worship the wrong deity.

There is injustice, to be sure, and the gut reaction to want to fight injustice is a good and noble one, but we successfully repress it, or rather our leaders do, when it comes to places like North Korea and Russia, which would be very costly adventures indeed. We cautiously avoid getting into a war with such villains, whom we engaged with zeal just a couple of generations ago. Mutually Assured Destruction surely has something to do with it, but I think we can claim a certain moral progress as well, though perhaps it has not quite kept pace with our material progress.

No more great wars, then, even if they could be justified, because the cost is just too great. But little wars are fine, once in a while, when they can be justified, even if they always seem to do more harm than good. Keeps the troops in fighting form, you know, and keeps the voting public from focusing on domestic problems.

Keeps us from having to come up with more creative ways of responding to aggressors, also. Like, for the billions spent on all those guns and bombs, all those fighting forces and roaring jets and aircraft carriers, above and beyond what is needed to legitimately dissuade or fend off foreign aggressors, we could maybe do something to impede the recruiting efforts of terrorist organizations instead of helping them sign up new members. Instead of feeding their grievances by bombing weddings, maybe we could, I don’t know, drop crates filled with delicious food, or DVDs of television programs showing the richness and complexity of Western life in order to counter their caricatures of our depravity. Maybe we could support the translation of classic liberal tracts into all the languages of the world, as some organizations already do, and smuggle them across the various walls and checkpoints that keep our fellow human beings from escaping their prison countries, in order to counter the propaganda that keeps those walls from crumbling and those checkpoints from being overrun.

These are just the most obvious ideas off the top of my head, but I’m sure we can crack this nut and come up with a thousand innovative ways of responding to homicidal whack jobs that would be better than sending in the flying aces with their deadly payloads. It’s tempting, and even justified, to want to fight fire with fire. But the properly understood cost, in terms of money and lives and opportunities lost and enemies strengthened, even for the “small” wars we fight nowadays, is higher than the meagre benefits we imagine they will bring us. A proper accounting would show the folly of just about every war, and show that just about every war is really fought just because.

Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.
The Great Fact: A Review of Deirdre McCloskey’s “Bourgeois Dignity” – Article by Bradley Doucet

The Great Fact: A Review of Deirdre McCloskey’s “Bourgeois Dignity” – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
September 20, 2014
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We live in astonishing times. We take it for granted, of course, which is good in a way because, well, we have to get on with the business of living and can’t spend every waking moment going, “Oh my God! This is amazing!” But it’s a good idea to stop and take stock from time to time in order to appreciate just how far we’ve come in the past 200 years or so—to show gratitude for just how much richer the average person is today thanks to the Industrial Revolution.
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“In 1800, the average human consumed and expected her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to go on consuming a mere $3 a day, give or take a dollar or two,” writes economist and historian Deirdre McCloskey in her excellent 2010 book, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World. That’s in modern-day, US prices, corrected for cost of living. Apart from a comparatively few wealthier lords, bishops, and the odd rich merchant, people were dirt poor, barely subsisting, unable to afford luxuries like elementary education for their kids—who had a 50% chance at birth of not making it past the age of 30. That’s the way it was, the way it had always been, and as far as anyone could tell, the way it always would be.

More Than 16 Times Richer

But thankfully, things turned out a little differently. There are seven times as many of us on the planet today, but we’re many times richer on average, despite pockets of enduring dire poverty here and there. According to McCloskey, “Real income per head nowadays exceeds that around 1700 or 1800 in, say, Britain and in other countries that have experienced modern economic growth by such a large factor as sixteen, at least.” And this is a very conservative estimate of material improvement, not taking into account such novelties as jet travel, penicillin, and smartphones.

This radical, positive change brought about by the Industrial Revolution is the “Great Fact” about the modern world. “No competent economist, regardless of her politics, denies the Great Fact,” writes McCloskey. But it does require explanation, and here there are many theories. What caused it? Why did it happen where and when it happened—starting in northern Europe around 1800—instead of in some other place, at some other time? And although modern economic growth has at least begun to reach most of the world, including now China and India, if we had a better understanding of its causes, perhaps we could do a better job of encouraging it to spread to the relatively few remaining holdouts.

What changed, argues McCloskey, is the way people thought about markets and innovation and the people who were engaged in the business of making new things and buying and selling them. “More or less suddenly the Dutch and British and then the Americans and the French began talking about the middle class, high or low—the “bourgeoisie”—as though it were dignified and free. The result was modern economic growth.” In other words, the material, economic fact has a non-material, rhetorical cause, which is why economics can’t explain the modern world. Our ideas changed, and we started innovating like never before, and an explosion of innovation drove the rapid economic growth of the past 200 years.

What Didn’t Cause the Industrial Revolution

Bourgeois Dignity is the second book of a trilogy. The first book, The Bourgeois Virtues (2006), which I have not read but now plan to, argued for the positive ethical status of a bourgeois life. The third book, Bourgeois Equality, due out in 2015, will present the positive case for the claim that it is a change in ideas and rhetoric that made the modern world—and that ideas and rhetoric could unmake it, too. As for this second book in the series, it presents the negative case by examining the materialist explanations for the Great Fact offered up by economists and historians from both the left and the right, and finding them all to be lacking.

Imperialism, for instance, did not bring about the modern world. The average European did not become spectacularly wealthy by historical standards simply by taking Africa’s and America’s wealth. Imperialism did happen, and it did make a few people rich and hurt a lot of people, especially in places like the Belgian Congo. But it did not raise the standard of living of average Europeans, who would have been better off if their leaders had allowed trade to flourish instead of supporting the subjugation of people in foreign lands. Besides which, empires had existed in other times and places without bringing about an Industrial Revolution. A unique effect cannot be the result of a routine cause. And it cannot either simply be the case that wealth was moved from one place to another, because there is much more wealth per person today than ever before, despite there being many more of us around.

International trade did not do it either, according to McCloskey. Trade is a good thing, as imperialism is a bad thing, but its effects are relatively small. And extensive trade, too, existed long before the 1800s, in places other than Europe and the United States, without launching the rapid material betterment of all. And for similar reasons, it wasn’t the case that people began saving more, or finally accumulated enough, or got greedier all of a sudden, or discovered a Protestant work ethic, or finally built extensive transportation infrastructure, or formed unions, or suddenly started respecting private property, or any of dozens of other explanations presented by economists and historians over the years.

Respect for Innovation and Making Money

Only innovation has the power to make people radically better off by radically increasing the output produced from given inputs, and only innovation was a truly novel cause, to the extent that it was taking place on an unprecedented scale two hundred years ago in northern Europe. And the reason that it began happening there and then like never before was a change in rhetoric—a newfound liberty, yes, but also a newfound dignity previously reserved for clergy and warriors. For the first time, in the 17th and 18th centuries, it became respectable, even honourable, to figure out new ways of doing things and to make money selling those innovations to other people, and so innovation and business were encouraged, and much of humanity was lifted out of dire poverty for the first time in history starting in the 19th century.

Ideas matter. Supported by bourgeois dignity, and despite the betrayal of a portion of the intellectual elite as of around 1848, we have continued to innovate and make money and lift more and more people out of poverty. There have been significant setbacks due to communism and fascism and two world wars, but almost everyone is much better off today than anyone dreamed was possible just a few short centuries ago. In order to continue spreading the wealth, and the opportunities for human flourishing that go with it, we need to defend the idea that business and innovation deserve to be free and respected, as Deirdre McCloskey herself has so admirably done in this fine volume.

Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.
The Straw Rand Fallacy – Article by Bradley Doucet

The Straw Rand Fallacy – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
September 13, 2014
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MythsRandMany critics of Ayn Rand have a maddening tendency to take her to task for ideas she did not defend and in fact explicitly rejected. They would rather score cheap debating points, it seems, than actually think about her challenging vision of the possibilities of human life. Disagree with her all you want, but as Laurie Rice puts it in the introduction to Myths about Ayn Rand: Popular Errors and the Insights They Conceal, “If you value your argument, you do it a disservice by misrepresenting its opponent.”

This slim volume of essays, published by the folks at The Atlas Society (for whom I have written) does a good job of dispelling some of the disinformation you may have come across regarding the author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. And when the Kindle edition is available for a buck and can be read through in one sitting, critics have no excuse for getting it wrong.

David Kelly kicks things off by showing that Rand was not an elitist. Yes, the heroes of her novels are high achievers, which is what makes them so inspiring, but she explicitly rejected the notion that such people were morally superior to others and should rule over the rest of humanity. On her vision, Kelly writes, “It isn’t for the privileged, but for the productive. It isn’t against the poor, but against the irrational, the slothful, the envious, and the power-seeking—whatever their origin or social status.”

Will Thomas takes the baton for myths two to five, explaining why Rand was not a conservative, was not for dog-eat-dog selfishness, and was not simply pro-wealthy or pro-business, and arguing also that she was indeed a serious philosopher. On this last point, Thomas tells us that although she was not an academic scholar, her views have come to have some influence on academic philosophy, especially in the realms of ethics and political philosophy, but also increasingly in epistemology as well.

Yet her philosophy, in very non-elitist fashion, has admittedly had more influence on ordinary people, and indeed, Rand argued persuasively that philosophy is for everyone, that it is something we all need. As Thomas writes, her novels are not just popular because of their entertainment value—though they are entertaining, despite another widespread myth not explicitly addressed in this collection. “When people read Rand, they are inspired, and challenged, and made to rethink what they’ve been taught. That’s because Rand offers them timeless and compelling ideas about human life and the world we live in. It’s her philosophy that keeps readers coming back.”

In the postscript, Alexander Cohen takes up this theme in an open response to President Obama’s implication, during the 2012 election campaign, that Rand is for teenagers. Cohen writes, “If you’re the sort of teenager who wants an uplifting moral vision, a vision of joy and achievement rather than suffering and sacrifice […] then Ayn Rand is for you.” But if you didn’t happen to discover her as a teen, and if you’re the sort of adult who also wants to be uplifted and inspired, then Ayn Rand just might be for you, too.

Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.
The Police State Needed to Enforce Vice Laws – Article by Bradley Doucet

The Police State Needed to Enforce Vice Laws – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
June 27, 2014
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What if Canadian governments rigorously enforced all the laws of the land, outrageous price tag and complaints from bleeding-heart civil-rights types be damned? It might be literally impossible economically speaking, with the costs in terms of extra police and prisons approaching and even surpassing 100% of GDP. This is all the more likely given the lost productivity associated with throwing millions of people in jail. But leaving aside the economic calculation, which I have neither the resources nor the expertise to carry out, I want to focus instead on the fact that rigorously enforcing Canadian laws would involve throwing millions of people in jail.
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Don’t believe me? I have two words for you: drug laws. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 44% of Canadians say they have used marijuana at least once, and hence have broken the law. Next time you’re sitting on a bus, look to your left, then look to your right: On average, one of those two people has at least tried marijuana, assuming only that bus riders are statistically representative of Canadians in the relevant ways. That’s roughly 15 million Canadians who would have done jail time if our laws were perfectly enforced.

Even if we just incarcerate those who have used marijuana in the past year, we’re talking about approximately 1 in 8 Canadians aged 15-64, which means locking up some 3 million people. More, really, because I know there are some aging hippies and recently retired baby boomers over the age of 65 out there who are still toking up.

Of course, this ignores the dynamic effects of massively ramping up enforcement levels. If we really put our money (all of it?) where our mouths are when it comes to drug laws and made a serious effort to arrest every last person who took a pull on a joint before passing it along, there would be some significant decrease in the number of people who smoke marijuana. But this would mean spending a whole lot more money. Even the United States, which spends over $50 billion a year on the drug war, only arrested around 750,000 people in 2012 for marijuana law violations (650,000 of which for mere possession). Given that both countries have similar rates of marijuana use, this means that most of the roughly 25 million Americans aged 15-64 who smoked pot last year got away with it.

But economics aside, if we get really serious about enforcing drug laws, we could say goodbye to anything resembling privacy. The draconian measures required even to approach total compliance with our drug laws would be positively Orwellian: cops on every corner, stopping and frisking passersby that look suspicious (or foreign); road traffic slowing to a crawl thanks to checkpoints at major intersections where you have to show your papers and pee into a cup; random no-knock raids at every third door, during which swat team members may or may not shoot the family dog; warrantless wiretapping of every phone call and email message, carried out by humourless killjoys drunk on their power; cameras in all our bedrooms and bathrooms, watched by perverted busybodies who couldn’t cut it as airport security goons.

Patently impossible, you say. We wouldn’t stand for it, you object. Maybe. But then, why do we stand for selective enforcement, with its unavoidable, inherent injustices? If the police and the courts can’t apply the law equally to all, then officers and prosecutors and judges will apply it at their discretion. Since humans are far from flawless, they will apply it disproportionately, according to conscious or subconscious prejudices. Or they will target gadflies like Marc Emery, whose five-year exile to a US prison is finally coming to an end. Was he extradited and thrown in the slammer for selling marijuana seeds over the Internet, or for criticizing the powers that be a little too loudly and a little too effectively?

The Canadian government’s new bill proposing to outlaw sex work (or rather, to outlaw the buying of sex, but not the selling of sex) would similarly not be enforceable to any significant degree without a massive police state. Arrest every person who visits a prostitute? We’ll need many more cops, much more surveillance, many more courts, and many more prisons. And while prostitutes would not be thrown in jail, arresting all their clients would effectively make it impossible for them to practice their trade. Which of course would be the point, if the law were fully enforced. It won’t be, so again we’ll be left with selective, discretionary enforcement, with the added benefit of making prostitutes’ lives more dangerous while appearing to be doing something.

But this unattractive choice between a police state on the one hand and discriminatory, opportunistic enforcement on the other is a false dichotomy. As my QL colleague Adam Allouba recently wrote in a different context, “a far better solution is to make as little of the human experience subject to legislated rules as possible.” We wouldn’t want to do away with laws against such clearly destructive acts as murder, assault, theft, and fraud. But why exactly can’t we follow the lead of places like the Netherlands when it comes to voluntary exchanges of money for sex or soft drugs?

Our existing and soon-to-be-adopted vice laws rest on the assumption that either buyers (of pot) or sellers (of sex) are victims. Now, the very illegality of the activities in question may indeed increase the incidence of peripheral crimes like gang violence or human trafficking. But by and large, voluntary exchanges themselves do not involve victims—just people who have made choices of which you may disapprove. And the lack of any real victim is precisely what makes vice “crimes” so difficult to prosecute without gargantuan budgets and a blatant disregard for people’s rights. In this day and age, knowing all that we know, we can, and should, do better.

Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.
Norman Borlaug Saved a Billion Lives – Article by Bradley Doucet

Norman Borlaug Saved a Billion Lives – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
April 13, 2014
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Wheat
A statue honouring Norman Borlaug was unveiled in DC earlier this week on what would have been the celebrated biologist’s 100th birthday. Borlaug’s work developing and promoting high-yield crop varieties is credited with averting the mass famines that were predicted in the 1960s and saving as many as a billion people in the developing world from starving to death. Yes, that’s “billion” with a “b.” In 1970, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his history-altering humanitarian efforts.
Born in Iowa in 1914, Borlaug lived through the Dust Bowl, whose effects he noticed were less severe where newer, high-yield farming methods were in use. In the 1940s, he went to work for the Rockefeller Foundation in Mexico, teaching Mexican farmers the latest agricultural techniques and leading a research effort to perfect a high-yield, disease-resistant strain of wheat. In the 1960s, he moved to Pakistan and India, where he also successfully promoted the use of modern farming and high-yield wheat.

Yet this Green Revolution, as it came to be called, met with serious resistance from environmentalists, who to this day bemoan the need for inorganic fertilizers and industrial irrigation. Many greens promote the preservation of, and indeed a return to, traditional subsistence farming, even though it requires more land to grow an equivalent amount of food. Realistically, the choice humanity faces is between a) modern farming, b) razing our forests to make room for traditional farming, or c) mass starvation. And actually, without modern farming methods, razing our forests probably would not be enough to prevent mass starvation.

Thanks in part to the well-meaning but ill-conceived opposition of greens, the Green Revolution has barely begun to reach sub-Saharan Africa, the one part of the world where dire poverty is not hastily retreating. Thanks to too many people romanticizing traditional farming and demonizing modern agriculture, millions continue to suffer and die needlessly. As Borlaug himself once said, “Some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They’ve never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they’d be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things.”

Penn and Teller called Norman Borlaug “the greatest human that ever existed.” On his 100th birthday, let’s honour his unparalleled achievement by embracing agricultural technology and moving beyond simplistic and misleading fear-mongering. Let’s try to complete the glorious Green Revolution and spread prosperity across the globe—and save the world’s forests in the bargain.

Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.
Machines vs. Jobs: This Time, It’s Personal – Article by Bradley Doucet

Machines vs. Jobs: This Time, It’s Personal – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
February 5, 2014
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For much of human history, the vast majority of people worked in agriculture. Today, thanks to the Industrial Revolution, that has fallen to about 2% of the population in wealthy countries. But all of us whose ancestors used to produce food have not just been joining the ranks of the unemployed for the past couple hundred years. We’ve been working at other jobs, in many cases doing things our grandparents’ grandparents could not imagine. Luddites were wrong to worry back then, but is it different this time?
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MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson, co-author of The Second Machine Age, thinks it is different this time, but he is qualifiedly optimistic nonetheless. During an hour-long EconTalk with Russ Roberts, he points out that the first wave of machines replaced human muscle, to which we responded by shifting to more cognitive tasks. The second wave, however, is automating cognitive work, which scares people. If machines have both muscles and brains, how can we compete? Are we staring down mass unemployment in the coming decades?
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For Brynjolfsson, the fear itself is a big part of the problem, pushing us to do counter-productive things like “trying to preserve the past at the expense of the future.” He argues that we can’t stop technology, and actually, we shouldn’t try. “What we need to do is embrace the dynamism that helps us adapt to that. The more we do to try to slow down change, I think the more stagnant we become and the worse off we become.”

So how can we best embrace change? Two things Brynjolfsson mentions are education and entrepreneurship. Regarding the former, he argues not only that we need to become more educated, as the future jobs that have yet to be invented will likely require a more educated workforce, but also that education itself needs to be reimagined to take advantage of new technology instead of carrying on lecturing small groups as we have done for millennia. And how exactly we should do that is, like so much else, up to entrepreneurs. We need to make entrepreneurship easier in a number of ways so that millions of new ideas can be constantly battling it out in the marketplace. “A lot of them are going to be really dumb and they are going to fail,” says Brynjolfsson. But some of them are going to be revolutionary, creating jobs we haven’t even dreamed of yet that allow us to work with the machines instead of trying to compete with them.

And yes, we will probably end up working less, just as we now work fewer hours than we did two hundred years ago. But we will work less to produce more, with many goods and services—think Wikipedia—becoming free or almost free. We already get on the order of $300 billion a year in free stuff from the Internet. As long as we embrace the future and focus on being as adaptable as we can, there’s no reason to fear that the increased wealth of tomorrow cannot be widely shared.

Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.
Asset Forfeiture Comes to Canada – Article by Bradley Doucet

Asset Forfeiture Comes to Canada – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
February 2, 2014
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Should a man lose his home because police find some marijuana plants in his basement—in an illegal warrantless search, no less? David Lloydsmith was never charged with a crime, but British Columbia’s Civil Forfeiture Office is attempting to seize his residence in civil court, where the burden of proof is lower than in criminal court. Welcome to the new Canada, where governments fill their coffers with revenue from US-style “laws” that are the very antithesis of justice.
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According to an in-depth Globe and Mail article published this past weekend, Ontario was first to introduce civil forfeiture legislation in Canada. It opened its Guilty Till Proven Innocent Office back in 2003. Seven other provinces now have similar legislation, but BC is apparently the one that’s raking in the most cash. “The public has a very strong interest in seeing that people do not keep ill-gotten gains,” says that province’s Justice Minister, Suzanne Anton. Spoken like a true authoritarian who hasn’t got the slightest inkling that anyone with power would ever abuse it.
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Mr. Lloydsmith, by the way, has been on partial disability since breaking his back on the job. He says he started growing marijuana because he had trouble getting prescriptions for the drug. What a dangerous misfit. How dare he disobey his rulers. Clearly he needs to be punished before he guns down a busload of schoolchildren.
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It’s one thing if the cops impound a getaway car and sell it at auction once some bank robbers are tried and convicted. It’s quite another if the government threatens to seize the home of a family who unwittingly rents to pot growers, as the BC government did to the Jang family in 2009. The Jangs, afraid of losing their home despite having committed no crime, settled out of court for a sizable sum, according to the Globe.

In response to the BC Justice Minister, it is not in the legitimate or long-term interest of “the public” to confiscate, or threaten to confiscate, the property of innocent people. On the contrary, we all have a strong interest in strictly limiting the power of those we pay to protect us, lest they succumb to delusions of grandeur and elect to turn that power against us.

Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.

Who Really Cares – Article by Bradley Doucet

Who Really Cares – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
January 31, 2014
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I have a pretty positive view of human nature, for a number of reasons. Partly, I’m consciously correcting for the negative bias of “if it bleeds, it leads” journalism. I also reject the idea that being self-interested is necessarily anti-social. Pursuing your own happiness, rightly understood, is a good thing. In fact, I would argue that those who care little for loftier goals like the good of society often do more good than do-gooders, as long as they pursue their self-interest rationally.
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But caring about others is also a good thing, of course. And nobody cares more than those activists, pundits, political leaders, and enthusiastic voters who are involved in fighting to bring about a better society, right? Well, not according to philosopher Michael Huemer. In a very readable and thought-provoking paper entitled “In Praise of Passivity,” Huemer suggests that most people who see themselves as motivated by some high political ideal are instead motivated “by a desire to perceive themselves as working for the noble ideal.”How can you tell who really cares?
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Huemer writes, “If people are seeking high ideals such as justice or the good of society, then they will work hard at figuring out what in fact promotes those ideals and will seek out information to correct any errors in their assumptions about what promotes their ideals, since mistaken beliefs on this score could lead to all of their efforts being wasted.”
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This requires, among other things, reading up on more than one side of a controversial issue. Huemer doesn’t think most people with strong political opinions do these kinds of things. Rather, according to his observations, “most people who expend a great deal of effort promoting political causes expend very little effort attempting to make sure their beliefs are correct. They tend to hold very strong beliefs that they are very reluctant to reconsider.”This tendency certainly counts against my positive view of human nature.
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Given how difficult it is to acquire real knowledge in the social sciences—something Huemer explores in his paper—people who merely want to perceive themselves as working for high political ideals are very likely to do more harm than good. But all is not lost. For one thing, I ascribe no ill will to people who want to feel good about themselves. And fortunately, there are workarounds for our all-too-human cognitive biases. Huemer has several recommendations for how to do some real good (and avoid doing real harm) in the world, recommendations that will surely challenge many people’s assumptions — which is itself a good thing.

 

Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.

Fear of “Agent Orange” Crops – Article by Bradley Doucet

Fear of “Agent Orange” Crops – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
January 13, 2014
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Crops_1

Another online petition, another misleading fear campaign. The latest to catch my eye is one from causes.com opposed to “the approval of Dow’s genetically engineered (GE) ‘Agent Orange’ corn and soybeans designed to survive repeated spraying of the toxic herbicide 2,4-D, half of the highly toxic chemical mixture Agent Orange.” Sounds scary, but a sober second look at this petition’s emotional language and sins of omission tells a different story.
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First of all, good luck using a non-toxic herbicide to control weeds. The whole point of herbicides is that they’re toxic, but selectively so. They kill undesirable plants in order to help crops grow. Now, the petition makes it sound as if 2,4-D is toxic to humans, saying it “has been linked” to cancer and other health problems. This seems bad, but how conclusive is the evidence? Causes.com doesn’t specify, which is suspicious, and indeed, a quick glance at Wikipedia suggests “conflicting results.”
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As for Agent Orange, just in case some people are unaware of its wicked pedigree, the petition helpfully explains that it “was the chemical defoliant used by the U.S. in Vietnam, and it caused lasting environmental damage as well as many serious medical conditions in both American veterans and the Vietnamese.” No indication, though, of the fact that those medical conditions have been attributed to the other half of Agent Orange (the 2,4,5-T component) and its contaminant, dioxin.

The petition does say that “industry tests also show that 2,4-D is contaminated with dioxins,” which is cause for concern, but again, there’s no indication of how prevalent this contamination might be. To the extent that it is a concern, though, it’s not specific to these GE crops. Why? Because 2,4-D is the world’s most widely used herbicide—something the petition also neglects to mention.

Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.