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David Friedman
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Let me offer a suggestion for a way of constraining the process that draws district boundaries in order to make it more difficult to gerrymander, taking advantage of modern technology. Any districting proposal must take the form of a computer program. There is a reasonably tight limit on the program's length in order to make it harder to construct a program that "just happens" to produce a result favoring one party. There is a further restriction on the input data that can be used. Town boundaries and geographical features such as rivers are legitimate inputs. Past voting figures are not. Data likely to correlate with voting patterns, such as income, race, family size, and age distribution are not. Population density can be used only to constrain the program to produce districts that are all the same size. This is a sketch, not a proposed statute, but I think something along these lines ought to be doable.
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A number of separate points: 1. The difference between Stanford and SCU: Stanford gets, on average, better students than we do--students who would make more money whether or not they went to law school. So it is not surprising if the difference in their salaries as lawyers is much larger than the difference in tuition of the two schools. That salary is partly a return on their education, partly a return on their pre-existing abilities--which are different for the two groups of students. 2. A related point--on useful information: Stanford's bar passage rate is higher than ours, but that provides essentially no information about how good a job each school does preparing students for the bar, since they are starting with smarter students. What law schools ought to be reporting is not bar passage rate but bar passage rate as a function of entering LSAT (or undergraduate GPA, but LSAT is probably a better measure of ability). Not only would that give a more accurate picture of the relative quality of schools, it would also tell applicants what school is likely to give them the best chance of bar passage. If your LSAT is in the 80th percentile, the fact that a school does a good job of educating students in the 95th percentile is not very interesting--might easily anticorrelate with how good a job it does of educating students like you. 3. I agree with the view that law school education is much more expensive than it need be, in part due to successful pressure by the ABA to force law schools to use expensive inputs—tenured and tenure track faculty instead of less expensive adjuncts, classroom time instead of online or at home study, big libraries that are mostly made unnecessary by an internet connection. I had a recent blog post on the subject, which pointed to an elegant and entertaining summary by a graduating law studnet of what a law school really required, and concluded that it would bring the total cost of a law school education (not including cost of living) down to about twenty thousand dollars. http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2012/12/why-are-law-schools-expensive.html
Your point about why both sides prefer to frame the issue in terms of equality is ingenious, and may well be correct. But I am not sure it works for the part of the argument that relates gay marriage to polygamy. If the issue is one of equality, one can plausibly argue for gay marriage but against polygamy on the grounds that everyone is equally entitled to have one marriage partner at a time and nobody is entitled to have more than one. That's more plausible than the corresponding argument against gay marriage, that everyone is equally entitled to marry someone of the opposite sex. But if the issue is one of liberty, then the same arguments apply to polygamy as to gay marriage—that someone should be entitled to marry anyone else who is willing. In the U.S., at least, opponents of gay marriage claim a link with polygamy, supporters deny it. That means that the opponents are framing the issue as an argument about liberty, although one they reject, which does not fit your pattern. Is the same true in the U.K.? I should probably add that I suspect many supporters of gay marriage think polygamy should be legal (as do I), and deny the link for strategic rather than philosophical reasons—more generally, that there is a substantial libertarian element in the gay rights movement here.
Two comments: 1. Europe in the 14th century was a society where a fixed resource, land, represented a sizable part of total wealth. The black death dropped the ratio of people to land and so (arguably) made the survivors better off. Land is much less important in a modern society, where the ultimate resource is, as Julian Simon argued, people. Contrary to what one might expect from the usual arguments about overpopulation, in the modern world many of the richer societies have high rather than low population densities. So I don't find that particular argument very persuasive. 2. You seem to take for granted the conventional view that raising temperature by a few degrees centigrade over a century would have a large net negative effect. I have not yet been able to find any good reason to think that that is true--the present climate of the earth was not, after all, designed for our convenience, and humans presently function across a wide range of climates. I suspect that, as in many other externality based arguments for public policy, opponents of a change point out the negative consequences, ignore or minimize the positive, and so "prove" that we would be better off preventing it. You can find a more detailed discussion of that point on my blog.
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It's an interesting argument, but you seem to be ignoring a more straightforward argument that would imply the opposite conclusion. A recession in a country with a large welfare state causes larger increase in government spending—for welfare—than it would in a country with a more modest welfare system, which increases debt more in the former than in the latter. That doesn't, of course, explain your data, but you have already agreed that the data are only suggestive, since the results depend to a considerable degree on what countries you include.
Your point 1 is elegantly put, but it's wrong, for reasons others have pointed out. It depends on the assumption that what matters is only relative status—and ordinal status at that. Since the pie isn't of fixed size, it's possible to improve (or worsen) life outcomes for some people without changing those for others. To me, the important question is whether the government is going to look mainly at ways in which it can help the poor or ways in which it can stop hurting them, since the latter approach is much more likely to provide benefits for some without corresponding costs to others. For an American example, consider professional licensing. In many, perhaps most, U.S. cities, it is illegal to be a barber without a license, which requires hundreds of hours of (unnecessary) classroom training to get. This provides a high barrier preventing poor people from entering that profession. Eliminating it would injure current barbers by lowering the price they could get for their services, but that loss would be balanced by the savings to their customers. In addition, it would benefit poor people now able to become barbers, for a net benefit going to people near the bottom. I don't know if that particular example would work in the U.K., but I would be very much surprised if there are not a lot of others that would.
Toggle Commented Aug 28, 2010 on Limits of social mobility at Stumbling and Mumbling
I just wanted to note that, in addition to Price Theory, several of my other books are also available, for free, on my web page. They include Law's Order, The Machinery of Freedom, Future Imperfect and (irrelevant to this discussion) my published novel Harald and my unpublished novel Salamander. I write books primarily as a way of spreading ideas, not a source of income, so web them whenever I can get my publisher's permission to do so.
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Aug 26, 2010