Local update: On zoning.

Looking at a map of the comprehensive plan in Chesapeake for 2035 and transportation plan for 2050.

One of the things that really strikes me is the impact of zoning restrictions on development and the secondary impact of creating suburban uniformity as well as large socio-economic cliffing. Zoning (especially housing and light commercial) strikes me as deeply unfair to older, frequently less wealthy communities, while inadvertently perpetuating geographic barriers to entrepreneurship.

When I look at this map I see that virtually every piece of land that was changed from Agricultural designation to residential or commercial zoning has been sold and is presently under development. This suggests in my mind that zoning has at least locally, broadly under-provided the market demand for homeownership, rentals, and shop space.

What also jumps out is how these programs can persist although benefits aren’t entirely clear.
The classic public choice explanation is Rent capture. The big thing about zoning is it localizes and concentrates poverty while it protects large developers by excluding low level development or density oriented re-development.
Politicians like it because behind the charade of NIMBYism they can deliver favors to their political handlers. Builders and developers collude with local governments to limit the supply of new construction raising prices for land and building.11224512_10102440507355647_6651586348419660157_o (1)

Queer panic won’t absolve murder in California

In the past, defendants in murder cases were often able to argue their way to the lesser charge of manslaughter if the killings happened during a “sudden quarrel” or in the “heat of passion,” which frequently saw defendants claiming they were so shocked to learn that their victim was gay or trans that they had no other recourse besides violence.

The new law clearly outlines that a defendant’s discomfort with, suprise [sic] at, or fear of a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity may not be used as a legal defense to justify the assault.


In Response to “Thoughts on Immigration”

I second Tom’s thoughts.  Having said that, I’ll quibble with some minor points and hope I’m not misrepresenting his ideas.

Tom asserts that those alarmed by the current wave of refugees into Europe, though they cite the risk of terrorism, are really only “refusing refugees for the sake of refusing refugees.”  I believe most are specifically refusing Muslim refugees.

I’m not here to demonize these folks.  The news out of the Middle East is bad, and an Islamophobe who has made a career of portraying Muslims as bloodthirsty savages could reasonably claim that the Islamic State is stealing his job (let him file a complaint with the Trumpocrats).

It’s too much to ask that any mind process the stories of hundreds of thousands.  In order to hold the idea that “Muslims” are regular folks and that “we” are no different, you have to subscribe to a theory that says so.  This theory holds up very well, but I can understand how someone not starting with that theory, and seeking in good faith information about the wider world, wouldn’t necessarily form it.  Not to disparage reporters (I respect them collectively more than I do any other group of people engaged in a common enterprise), but, “if it bleeds, it leads.”  We hear about the bomb that blew up a packed marketplace in Baghdad; we rarely think — unless we are predisposed to do so — about everything that must be true for a marketplace to be packed.

Thus, in a way, the task of convincing a skeptic that her chances of being blown up by a Syrian refugee are small is similar to that of convincing a person afraid of flying that it’s safer than traveling by car.  Often, those in the latter group concede that you’re probably right, but it doesn’t change their position because their fear isn’t rational in the first place.

We who support an open policy should not be afraid to recognize that there are risks and downsides.  To exaggerate for dramatic effect, a town of 100,000 can’t accept twice as many strangers at once without some friction.  Let’s admit that among the desperate, unwashed masses, many species of criminal must be present (not just terrorists).  This is a cost.  I don’t believe that a deeply liberal society, having earnestly weighed the risks, would choose to turn away a crowd among which are many families, doctors, artists etc, etc, and etc.

I’ll quibble with another point.  Tom echos the common assertion that the US and its allies are ultimately responsible for what drove the refugees from their homes (so, we are obligated to accommodating them).  I also said in my first piece on this subject that “we do bear a share of the responsibility for the present turmoil in the Middle East.”  When writing that, I lingered over “a share”:  Should I emphasize it more?  I couldn’t find the words to strike the right balance, so I decided to err towards downplaying our role.

Yes, our influence in the region has been massively counterproductive, but the forces making life impossible for decent people there are not simply our puppets.  The relationship between our inept politicians and the passion with which Syrians are fighting their compatriots from street to street is as diluted as a homeopathic remedy.  I don’t deny that our bombs harm and kill civilians, but the threat of an Arab being bombed by America is as exaggerated as that of an American being bombed by an Arab.  Americans are many times more likely to shoot up other Americans, just as Arabs are much more likely to kill Arabs.

Let us welcome those who flee the madness.  The violence they flee is simultaneously incarnate in our own society, because it is human.  We need only look into ourselves to realize that it is not alien.  Yes, they are criminals and terrorists.  We are, too.  We have a marvelous legal and economic system, which we buy into.  In my experience and that of many others, they buy into it, too.  You don’t have to look too far into the past to find times when this marvelous framework broke down for us and those closely related to us.  Right now, many from the Middle East are going through such a dark time.  Their vehicle has broken down on the highway; let’s pull over and give them a ride.  We’ll be in their position soon enough.

Thoughts on Immigration: The moral and economic views of refugees.


As part of the ongoing conversation about immigration policy recent attention to developing refugee crisis in Europe has recentered the debate from one of Domestic US policy to a broader discussion of refugees and mass immigration. My thoughts regarding immigration to Europe run along the same lines of the subject of immigration to the US. The literature discussing the economic impact of immigration supports a fairly firm conclusion that immigrants tend to (at least in the US) be less dependent on welfare than comparable native populations. While many other economists note that immigrants tend to fill complementary jobs to natives, or tend towards sectors of employment (such as agricultural work) that are relatively underprovided by natives at comparable skill and education levels.

Despite the relative abundance of evidence that immigrants tend to be hard working, that enclave communities integrate socially and economically, and that politically are not significant drivers of the expansion of welfare programs misconceptions on both the right and the left persist. Economic nationalists insist, contrary to the foundational insight of comparative advantage and division of labor the father of modern economics Adam Smith elucidated in The Wealth of Nations, that labor substitution of immigrants for natives operates along an axis of direct skill and educational parity. This foundational insight of how labor markets operate by allowing average costs of existing services to fall (presumably by an increase in labor supply) permits the savings by capital owners (producers) to be reinvested in new capital processes (such as complimenting a lawn service company with tree pruning services) Adam Smith’s insight of the division of labor points out that cost savings afforded by increases in the labor supply afford future investments into new businesses and further economic diversification and specialization. This remarkably simple point tends to be missed in many debates, not as a consequence of contrary empirics (most economists, even those such as Borjas that are generally  pro-immigration restrictions) tend to concede that the long term effects of immigration is a general net economic positive.  No, the real reason people revile this position lays outside of economics and depends on a varied composition of post-hoc rationalizations (such as the law says their illegal, deport them), and a misunderstanding of economics. As such pro-restrictionist views tend to be inconsistent in the logic used to arrive at the positions they adopt, but resolute in the seriousness of those positions. Going one level deeper I think it can be fairly concluded that some not insignificant degree of these views suffer from confirmation bias and a crowding effect created by the more vociferous, least sober minded pro-restrictionists such as republican presidential nomination candidate Donald Trump.

Satisfactorily, though I strongly encourage people to familiarize themselves with the academic literature surrounding immigration, one can tend to conclude that economically there isn’t much of a case for strong immigration controls. This leaves another, less clear but no less relevant topic to consider, that of the moral dimension.

In a conventional (or at least American sense) we tend to limit to discussion of immigration policy to drier areas of legality and economic feasibility. The composition of most immigrants to the US are not what we would typically consider political refugees fleeing war (though some from central America could make some case) many are instead seeking to immigrate for economic and social opportunity, because of this we tend not to entertain in public discourse the moral component of immigration. On the other hand the immigration crisis presently facing Europe is distinctly different from our own. A review of the composition of the immigrant flows to Europe clearly indicates that in full terms many of them are refugee immigrants, people without opportunity or overtly hostile home countries, driven out by war, famine, and persecution. In this sense the European immigration crisis adopts a deeper moral dimension.

Set aside a moment your copy of “The Wealth of Nations” and instead pick up Adam Smith’s often overlooked but no less relevant text “Theory of Moral Sentiments”, in TMS Adam Smith discusses a view steeped in the rich tradition of enlightenment humanism that moral beliefs are tightly intertwined with the sympathetic, and contextual character of individual identity. As Smith develops his point the moral fabric of societies is connected to reciprocation and repeated coordination of social norms in a sense moral fabrics are created through the developed ability to sympathize action and communicate shared principles of justice throughout a society.

This view of humanistic morality is deeply connected with the commercial and social underpinning of Western Civilization. As Deirdre Mccloskey has convincingly made the case in her scholarship on the moral underpinnings of capitalism, the thought of Adam Smith, and  book the “Bourgeoisie Virtues,” the application of these broad moral insights that are predominately egalitarian, individualistic, and liberal lead directly and in many cases provided the sustaining drive for economic and social development over the past 300 years. The development of common and prosaic views of morality based on inclusive criteria develops alongside the increased complexity of economic arrangements. Where this moral sentiment comes into play is that as the economic and social complexity of a society increases, the exposure the new ideas and *tests* of those ideas increases the possibility and opportunity for a broader moral basis.

But let’s step back a bit. How does this relate to refugees?

Well let’s think this through.
A feature of the underlying moral basis of Western Civilization is the ability to apply general, self-affirming principles, to both the person and to see them reflected in the social grammar of other people. With relationship to immigration this brings sharply into focus a reality that they, immigrants, are also people that add into the moral and practical matrix they must be afforded dignity and moral rights that are recognized and tolerated. Western liberalism does not ascribe new or imagined rights that obligate others to forgo the same sets of rights. What this finds is a basis of enfranchisement, and in the case of immigrants (especially refugees) the reciprocal moral relationship between comfortable western people, and displaced population must be seen in terms that they still maintain similar rights to direct and express their autonomy for their own benefit. We benefit because the moral credo that underlays western civilization reinforces the ability of people to self direct and identify the ability to influence and innovate in a world, just as they are free to risk their economic capital on a new business (and reap the profit, or loss thereof), people can also determine the political and geographic allegiance to which they will pledge themselves.  To carry forward the incumbent proviso of many enlightenment thinkers one could generate some qualifiers such as help is due to those most absolutely disadvantaged relatively more so than others, the liberal position is not to argue further that society writ large is obligated to demand assistance to those destitute, but that liberal proviso would also qualify that society is not permitted to prevent the free movement of people and their rights to resettle peacefully (as most, indeed the overwhelming majority) have done.

Yesterday September 9th the American Conservative ran an article that detailed the impact of US foreign policy in the region. The article available here traced the impact of the US led invasion of Iraq, subsequent involvement in fomenting and aiding the opposition to Assad in Syria, and the acute ongoing consequences of the policy of shadow diplomacy  the US is still presently engaged in. One does not need to think particularly deeply to see that at the minimum a considerable burden of responsibility for the present state of affairs in the Middle East has been caused by US policy. The ongoing civil war in Syria, rise of the radical Islamic State in Syria, have in many ways driven millions of Syrians from their homes and laid waste to cities, some thousands of years old. Approximately 4 million people are now presently displaced, neighboring countries, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon have taken in about 3 or so million so far. Today, just as yesterday we read in the news that thousands, tens of thousands now wait to enter the European Union in hopes of resettlement.

Yesterday I read an article run on the news service Breitbart posted to Facebook by a conservative somewhat libertarian associate. The article, in Breitbart’s characteristic tilted fashion reported the eruption of riots between refugees seeking asylum and the police on the Greek island of Lesbos. The article made no mention of the fact that asylum seekers had been detained on the island by Greek bureaucrats and prevented from leaving for more than a week, all the while kept in squalid conditions with no clear hope of release. The point of the article was an attempt to implicate the broadly peaceful, though destitute, wave of asylum seekers as violent dependents. My suggestion to the problem posed by the prospect of rioting immigrants was fairly simple. Let them pass Germany, Austria, France, and the United Kingdom has already indicated a willingness to take the refugees in, given Greece’s recent reluctance to honor their international obligations it wasn’t a huge surprise that they had imagined some new bureaucratic barrier to refugees. After being pressed on these two points my interlocutor then shifted to a separate argument that resettlement of refugees carry an inherent risk of introducing a terrorist, to host countries.

Really, Terrorism?
There are 4.2 Million people displaced from a country that until 2010 enjoyed relative wealth and education and since then has literally been reduced to dust and twisted metal with bombs bought by the Gulf Arab states and the West to fight a war that has spread across a swath of the middle east from Irbil in Iraq to along the border of Turkey to Jordan, into the streets and neighborhoods of the burnt out husk of a city once known as Damascus, and the worry is that a terrorist might be among any of those millions? This is perhaps the most soundly absurd and ought to be the most passionately derided justification ever imagined by the pro-restrictionists.

There are two readily understandable moral implications to this kind of argument.
The first is that that pro-restrictionists do not understand that housing large numbers of refugees in semi-permanent camps has historically offered the social and economic conditions to develop the support networks conducive to tolerating radical groups (hence the longer people remain without formalized legal status the less committed they are to host countries) and that the perpetuation of impermanent residency effectively limits the degree of economic and social capital that can be accumulated effectively retarding the ability of societies to create stable equilibria of broadly liberal beliefs compatible with western society.
The second is a far more stark possibility that the use of this rather remote possibility as a counter argument against receiving refugees is simply meant as a tactic of refusing refugees for the sake of refusing refugees. Instead of as a serious concern this is introduced as a purposefully deceitful ploy to manipulate the fears of the unknown so as to forcibly and necessarily subjugate the human rights of some (refugees) to the fears of others. This argument attempts to implicate entire peoples as responsible for the possibility an extreme minority may be undesirable. At it’s very core this possible argument is repugnant to the moral foundations of civil, just, society and ought be seen as what it is which is deeply and cynically immoral.

There may well be a rehabilitated point somewhere in the mix here. A few conservatives, aside again from the nativist populists, might point out that the cultural mix of new immigrants may present some problematic challenges to assimilation. This is an old and well worn argument, at least domestically this ground has been covered at least since the early waves of the German and Irish immigrants of the 19th century many of which were viewed with a deep cultural distrust by the resident, predominately  Anglo-Saxon culture of early settlers. Indeed as a microcosm for world wide immigration the US is a good test lab of the habits in cultural assimilation. Though the remainder of this article is not intended to delve deeper into this topic, suffice to say the impacts of successive waves of immigrants to the United States (and there have been many, some of which amounted fully to 1% of the native population per year) have resulted in no firm deformations of the political or cultural institutions. More recent ones such as the Vietnamese and Hmong refugees during the 1970s and early 80s are a good rough comparison to those of the Syrians presently attempting to enter Europe. Recent experiences with large numbers of refugees supports generally the understood view that cultural assimilation takes 2 generations and that even large numbers of immigrants can, and usually will, result in diasporas across host countries as enclaves breakdown when immigrant communities shift from communal capital accumulation schemes to private capital accumulation schemes.

In summation my point is this. The present refugee crisis in Europe is acute, has a relatively apparent solution (let them go to Germany, France, England, Austria, Sweden) and when considered on its practical merits has a strong moral case for liberalizing immigration restrictions. Instead of persistently and wrongly arguing that refugees and immigrants represent an existential threat to Western Civilization a sober realistic view of history firmly reveals that the moral judgement supports the reception of refugees. While for the time being we here in the United States can right now view this crisis with the attitude of an observer we should not. Instead the morally courageous and economically sensible reaction is to reform our refugee programs and offer the safe harbor we have repeatedly done in the past century to those fleeing poverty, war, and destructive political regimes.

Social Norms and the Free Society

We must endeavour to view them with the eyes of other people, or as other people are likely to view them.

We don’t have to agree on everything.

That’s the point of free society. We only need rules to deal with boundaries and boundary crossings. The determination of those boundaries ought to be through an ongoing process of law (not legislation) and also as a social process where social norms help us determine what is acceptable in shared spaces. The basis of libertarian thought is that you at least own your mind, body, and home and in so far as you are not violating others’ rights to the same, you are free to do what you want.

This doesn’t say that what you choose to do is GOOD or should be followed by others.

Society, literature, family, and education all serve as counterpoints to our own personal mishegoss and our own worst impulses. Adam Smith writes:

The love and admiration which we naturally conceive for those whose character and conduct we approve of, necessarily dispose us to desire to become ourselves the objects of the like agreeable sentiments, and to be as amiable and as admirable as those whom we love and admire the most. Emulation, the anxious desire that we ourselves should excel, is originally founded in our admiration of the excellence of others. Neither can we be satisfied with being merely admired for what other people are admired. We must at least believe ourselves to be admirable for what they are admirable. But, in order to attain this satisfaction, we must become the impartial spectators of our own character and conduct. We must endeavour to view them with the eyes of other people, or as other people are likely to view them. When seen in this light, if they appear to us as we wish, we are happy and contented. But it greatly confirms this happiness and contentment when we find that other people, viewing them with those very eyes with which we, in imagination only, were endeavouring to view them, see them precisely in the same light in which we ourselves had seen them. Their approbation necessarily confirms our own self-approbation. Their praise necessarily strengthens our own sense of our own praiseworthiness. In this case, so far is the love of praise-worthiness from being derived altogether from that of praise; that the love of praise seems, at least in a great measure, to be derived from that of praise-worthiness.

But the qualification of these is a process and can’t be dictated by some government official (whose information will always be less than is available to society). See Hayek.

Kim Davis, Anarchist Hero


The ethos is, “break the rules, break the system.”

The best thing is to not have government and let the local protection/law-giver service determine the best way to adjudicate contracts. That would maximize liberty, because everyone would be required to say “liberty” and push a liberty button confirming their Liberty Service for another hour. Otherwise, enforcement agents of the Liberty Service would be required to storm the premises of deviating Liberty Service providers and administer electro-shock treatments to non-complying members.

Kim Davis, anticipating this state of relative anarchy, has wisely suggested that all Liberty Service is a matter of personal discretion. Her claim will be evaluated by the local protection service, and if necessary, she will be electro-shocked, or otherwise penalized by the this Authority, unless a competing Authority should come and fight and win a street battle with guns, knives, etc. Liberty Service is null and void upon all applications of protection in a *discontinued* area.

Kim Davis, who was recently jailed by Men Wearing Robes,  is now free to exercise her jaunty, free-spirited rejection of the homosexuals. She says “no” like they say “yes”.

Should the US accept more Syrian refugees?

Obama is reportedly set to propose allowing 5,000 more refugees into the US than the current annual limit of 70,000.  To put those numbers in perspective, Germany, whose population is a quarter of ours, is projected to accept 800,000 this year.

I think we should accept several hundred thousand, too.  We do bear a share of the responsibility for the present turmoil in the Middle East, and welcoming more refugees would be great PR, which is the best way to fight terrorism.  I still have a romantic notion of the US as a place that welcomes the world’s downtrodden, even if the numbers cited above and many other facts contradict that idea.  I also like to think of the US as a place where you’re guaranteed nothing but that you’ll be left alone, although that is certainly no longer the case.  So, maybe much of my appeal is based on a version of America that no longer exists, but it’s one that I’d like to see recreated, and welcoming refugees (and immigrants) is an important part of that America.

Besides, even The Donald would open the gates of his wall for them.

Microaggressions and the Frail Young American Mind

Greg Lukianoff being interviewed about the article
Greg Lukianoff talks microaggressions

Great video and article at The Atlantic about the ruinous doctrine of being responsible for everyone’s hurt feelings. He stresses that we should recognize that American families have raised a generation that don’t believe that there should be any pain in life.

The alternative is to teach young people to think, which involves challenging their ideas and potentially causing some pain. From Lukianoff’s article (co-authored with Jonathan Haidt):

There’s a saying common in education circles: Don’t teach students what to think; teach them how to think. The idea goes back at least as far as Socrates. Today, what we call the Socratic method is a way of teaching that fosters critical thinking, in part by encouraging students to question their own unexamined beliefs, as well as the received wisdom of those around them. Such questioning sometimes leads to discomfort, and even to anger, on the way to understanding.

But vindictive protectiveness teaches students to think in a very different way. It prepares them poorly for professional life, which often demands intellectual engagement with people and ideas one might find uncongenial or wrong. The harm may be more immediate, too. A campus culture devoted to policing speech and punishing speakers is likely to engender patterns of thought that are surprisingly similar to those long identified by cognitive behavioral therapists as causes of depression and anxiety. The new protectiveness may be teaching students to think pathologically.