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James Bacon
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Jon, I think you may be constructing a straw man here. There may be a handful of conservative public figures who think we should teach "creationism" in public school science classes, but there aren't many. The idea that the earth and creation is about 5,000 years old is so ludicrous that you'll find very few defenders. The real issue is intelligent design -- the idea that evolution was guided by God. Intelligent design acknowledges that the universe is billions of years old, and that humans evolved from a primate ancestor but insists that creation is so extraordinarily complex that it could not have arisen from purely natural processes. Only the existence of an intelligent creator can account for the world and universe. That's a very different proposition from creationism, and it's a distinction that secularists often overlook. I remember some 40-50 years ago listening to Edward Leakey (discoverer of "Lucy," the first identified australopithecine missing link) as he made the case that the Genesis account of creation was a metaphor for how the universe, life and humanity actually evolved. The seven "days" of creation were more like seven "epochs." No one would accuse Leakey of being an anti-scientific ignoramus. As an atheist, I don't buy the intelligent design argument. But I don't dismiss it out of hand as anti-scientific ignorance as I do with creationism.
Toggle Commented Nov 22, 2015 on Evolution and the Electorate at Economics and Ethics
Jon, you've been teaching many years now. Do you have the sense that cheating is more prevalent today than it was when you entered the profession, or that it's about the same? (I can't imagine anyone suggesting that there is less cheaching, but I suppose that's a theoretical option as well.) If you think cheating is more prevalent, to what would you attribute the phenomenon? If there were any way to measure the prevalence of cheating over the decades, I would hypothesize that the problem has increased, and I would attribute it to the spread of cultural relativism/situational ethics. Cheating is and has been present to some degree in all societies through time. It is intrinsic to human nature. But human behavior is malleable to some degree, and cultural attitudes influence the behavior, wouldn't you agree?
Toggle Commented Nov 22, 2015 on Catching Student Cheaters at Economics and Ethics
Jon, If so inclined, we could expand the frame of reference even wider -- from Americans dying in mass shooting incidents to Americans dying violent deaths, which would allow us to include the 30,000 to 40,000 Americans who die each year in automobile accidents. Alternatively, we could expand our frame of reference to include Americans who die in railroad/mass transit/airplane accidents each year -- from non-terrorist causes. That's not to diminish the threat of terrorism. Indeed, I fear that if we let the ISIS threat continue to metastasize, and if we are not careful about who we let into the country, deaths by the hand of Jihadist terrorists could increase exponentially. The point is to not freak out. We should not allow the terror threat to undermine core institutions and values anymore than we allow the school-shooting threat or the automobile-fatality threat to do so.
Toggle Commented Nov 22, 2015 on Home-Grown Terrorism at Economics and Ethics
Interesting question. Clearly, we have conflicting goals: (a) letting the people have fun and (b) preventing unnecessary deaths. As a quasi-libertarian, my first instinct is to say, let the people drink and have fun -- and hold them accountable for their behavior. If you kill someone, we charge you with the appropriate crime and throw you in jail, if convicted. Of course, that approach is much easier to take in a society in which people put brakes on their own behavior. Thus, if the Netherlands or Germany wins (or loses) the World Cup, there is not likely to be an outbreak of mayhem and violence. People govern their own behavior, therefore, there is no need for the state to supervise them. The situation is otherwise in Latin America and some European countries. Therefore, the answer is context-specific. If a people is "virtuous" and its members capable of regulating their own behavior, no "paternalism" is called for. If a people is prone to excitability and excess, then the state must step in to preserve the public health and welfare.
Jon, thanks for illuminating this issue. You made some keen observations that I had not considered in my post (or in my response in the comments to my critics). Here's the insight that I find most striking: "The state is giving him the choice of picking his own punishment. " I have no moral qualms whatsoever about giving Mr. Herald that choice, although I concede you do raise the valid issue of liability -- what happens if something goes wrong with the surgery? I have no ready answer for that question.
Toggle Commented Jun 29, 2014 on A Voluntary Vasectomy? at Economics and Ethics
Jon, you are very kind to post to my dissenting view on Bacon's Rebellion. Now that you have done so, brace yourelf for the inevitable response! You said, "The rising cost of higher education is typically not the result of lazy faculty." Thats a straw man. Nobody says faculty are lazy. A lack of productivity growth stems from a resistance to innovate, not laziness. Faculty work very hard... often doing the wrong thing... the same way they always have. (Higher ed instruction has changed very little in the 40 years since I was at UVa.) You also said that rising tuitions are a result of market forces. "The reason schools raised tuition rapidly after the 1990s is because demand rose." Jon, why did demand rise so strikingly? Because the federal government stoked demand by increasing student grants and loans, that's why! Instead of resisting higher prices, students just took on more debt. Now we have a generation of students whose futures are weighed down by massive indebtedness. But that's not a free market at work -- that's a marketplace distorted by government intervention at work! Yes, universities do compete with one another. But there is a fundamental difference between the behavior of universities and corporations. Corporations are profit maximizing enterprises. Universities are *status* maximizing enterprises. Status maximizing institutions have less incentive to curtail costs and boost productivity -- as we can plainly see. One last point: Although the faculty tenure system is part of the problem, the dysfunction in higher education goes much deeper. If the experience of UVa is indicative of other universities, administrative costs are increasing far more rapidly than instructional costs. In other words, administration is bloating at the expense of the faculty. Where's the outrage?
Toggle Commented Jul 1, 2012 on Dragas Reappointed at Economics and Ethics
Jonathon, I certainly agree with you that entrepreneurs are motivated by more than the desire to make money -- in most cases they are driven by a passion to turn a vision into reality. (Although the money doesn't hurt.) In that regard, it is worth noting that the great Commonnwealth of Virginia has passed a law allowing for B Corporations that allow the founding shareholders to pursue a business vision that does not require the maximization of profits. Without this law, entrepreneurs would be vulnerable to lawsuits by disenchanted shareholders who would insist, and rightfully so, that it is not their prerogative to play with shareholders' money in the pursuit of personal goals. The B Corporation law creates a half-way status between for-profit corporations and not-for-profit corporations -- corporations that can balance profit-seeking with doing good. It is very cool to see capitalism evolve in such an enlightened manner.
Toggle Commented Jun 11, 2012 on More on Social Entrepreneurs at Economics and Ethics
I’m delighted that you cited Bacon’s Rebellion on your blog but, argh!, why, oh, why did you have to cite my argumentative friend PeterG? Peter headlines his post, “What Baconauts Won’t Discuss” – while, in fact, the very contradiction that he (and you) point out is something that I inveigh against regularly. The middle-class constituency of the Republican Party hates gas taxes, hates tolls, hates paying anything toward road construction and maintenance. They want roads for free. Roads have become a middle-class entitlement. True free-market conservatives – like Mankiw -- understand that. Those supposed inconsistency in my writing exists only in Peter’s mind.
Toggle Commented Apr 3, 2012 on Gas Tax Imbroglio at Economics and Ethics
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Apr 3, 2012