See like a state, make your city happy

Interesting thinkers who I read have penned… interesting ideas lately. I believe I read them in the following order, but any order works.

  • Mr. Money Mustache reviews The Happy City.
  • Scott Alexander reviews Seeing Like a State.
  • Nassim Taleb tells us to know ourselves.

The links should be obvious. I hope my questions will be, too. Come back in a week when you get through all of those. Continue reading “See like a state, make your city happy”


Difficult Implications

“If a compelling idea implies something you don’t like, you should consider changing your mind and start liking it.” So says Will Wilkinson on the Niskanen Center blog, found via some wonks at another blog. I’ll have to dive into both of those more, but it made me think of an idea that I have never seen debated by people of good faith. I’m sure I need to look harder, but I’ll put it out there anyway.

Those who favor legal abortion any time and anywhere, who essentially assert libertarianism as a justification for their evil policy (baby killing, not libertarianism) — that is, who claim that laws should have nothing to say about what women do with their own bodies, and similar arguments — ought to be asked about the implications of their justification. Do they favor repeal of laws that control what drugs women (and men) can use? I wish they would be asked.

What is the best reply to that question? That drug use affects others, such as the families of drug abusers, so they aren’t comparable? I would almost be speechless at what that overlooked if it was the reply.

An abortionist could say that the argument that they are comparable presupposes that the unborn baby deserves as much respect as the drug abusers’ families. And it’s fair enough that much or all of the abortion debate falls back on whether one considers the unborn baby to be a person or to have the moral standing of nail clippings.

But my question is about crazy leftists who unknowingly make libertarian arguments in defense of their position. What are the odds that if they find their argument about abortion compelling, and they agree that it implies either (i) that drug legalization is justified, or (ii) that libertarianism more broadly is right, that they will consider adopting those positions?

Criminal or Commie vs. Demagogue

I’m somewhat astonished that college students are voting for a crazy communist in such ridiculous numbers. I would say completely astonished, but he’s running against someone whose relationship to the rule of law is somewhat… tenuous. If you’re of that partisan persuasion, what a choice you face in your state’s primary or caucus. And regardless of which Democrat presidential candidate winds up on the ballot in November, the Republican opponent might be a man who is “the demagogue that our Founding Fathers feared.

What a choice. A criminal or a commie vs. a demagogue whose grasp of public policy is worse than your average 8th grader’s.

Yet the million people who are likely to vote for the Libertarian Party candidate this year (or perhaps more, if the above candidates are the ones on the ballot) are supposed to be the crazy ones. This is also somewhat astonishing.

(I say somewhat because there’s a game theory scenario that tells us that voters are likely to go for the perceived lesser evil. The solution is to coordinate with a voter who holds the opposite view and for both to agree to vote for the third-party candidate that they both prefer over the other voter’s preferred candidate. But coordination is really hard, and defection is expected, as in the prisoner’s dilemma.)

Even when the major-party nominees were less fundamentally flawed than those who could appear on the 2016 ballot, I never found the argument that you’re throwing your vote away particularly compelling. But this year, I may wind up with contempt, or at best, disappointment for American voters if they don’t abandon the major parties in bigger numbers than normal.

We don’t have to vote R or D just because one of them is likely to win. We don’t have to support crazy or criminal. If you do, consider the possibility that you’re part of the problem.


I did well in school, graduating from a selective, top-tier research university, and a T-14 law school. The message going through high school was something like you have to keep your grades up so that you can go to college so you can be successful. Just look at the stats, foolish children. Then they would roll out something like a Bureau of Labor Statistics chart that they claimed proved their point:


So I generally did, and generally didn’t question this philosophy. There was a point during freshman year when I thought the whole exercise was somewhat pointless, but I focused my energy on a side-project that, coupled with my pointless 101 studies, occupied my time sufficiently to keep me happy enough in school. But overall, I was still probably operating under the theory that I had to graduate not to be a failure.

The New York girl that was recently written up for getting accepted to all of the Ivy League schools reminded me of this time in teenagers’ lives. It’s stressful trying to ensure that you won’t be a failure in life, which you obviously will be if you’re not accepted into whatever U. Right?

Of course not. This mantra that we all have to stay in school for as long as possible is ridiculous. The BLS chart shows aggregates, not individuals. The Ivy League overachiever demonstrates that with a thought experiment. Imagine that she decides against college entirely. What would she going to be doing in five or ten years? Because she would fall into the “High school diploma” category, does anybody think that her income would be anywhere near the $678 that the median of all such persons apparently earn? I sure don’t. She’s obviously brilliant. She’ll provide tremendous value to people even if she skips college, and will be well-compensated because of that value that she delivers.

There’s a lesson there for those with the courage to put the pieces together.

Maybe it’s because so many of us are inundated with these pro-schooling messages for so long that we go along with it at such alarming rates. Don’t get me wrong: I really loved much of my formal education. However, there are many activities that we could be doing with our time rather than sitting in front of a professor and essentially prolonging the time that we are children.


The employer tells me I should market more if I want to be made a partner. It’s essentially a request for me to demonstrate my commitment to the firm, to contribute to its reputation in the form of speeches and writings, and to show that I love my specialty. And it’s obviously the right move for my career, but still….

What I really want to do is think clearly about current events, our culture, financial matters, and whatever else happens to be on my mind. These things are not always the subject matter of the law firm. This being the age when it takes five minutes to configure a free blog for memorializing your own half-baked ideas — and more than that many months to decide to make your first anonymous post — why not now? Everyone says that if you want to be a writer, you have to write.

The firm is right though. What we spend our time doing does demonstrate what we love. I’ll try to market more, but if I don’t complain or philosophize about non-work matters when the mood strikes, my happiness will be less than optimal.

Being overeducated, I’ve written a fair amount in my life. I hadn’t written about a non-work matter in any depth in a long time, but recently did, and it must have been the inspiration to finally start the blog. That argumentative piece on the GOP presidential race forced me to grapple with my thinking on some procedural matters and the reasons for my opinions about the candidates, since one cannot have clear writing without clear thinking. I loved that activity. So it is resolved: I will write more often and thereby hopefully think more clearly.

This is not to say that I lack fondness for my profession. I love it some days, and other days it’s just a job. But climbing the ranks to partnership is not my main goal. I want to live a worthwhile life, and failing to examine the things that interest me as I make my way through it would be a terrible waste.