“Democracy in Chains” – A List of Published Critiques

It’s been almost a year since I’ve updated this site, but recently a new book has given me the perfect excuse to do so. This post will serve to collect criticisms of what would undoubtedly be one of the more disingenuous books published about the history of political and economic thought.


Over the years, I’ve noticed a trend when it comes to historical works that are too terribly one-sided to maintain a respectable baseline of accuracy: As misleading as such works may be, they still give insight into the mentality of the person who wrote it (and often the people who find it reliable). This was the case with Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine” which (among many other errors) falsely claimed that Milton Friedman supported the Iraq war, and based the entire premise of the book on a quote mine.


Recently a book that takes a similar approach has hit the stores: “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America.” In a nutshell, the book claims that putting limits on majority rule (Bill of Rights anyone?) to protect minority rights is a sinister plan to impose an evil agenda on the masses. Additionally, it makes numerous false claims about the history and origins of public choice theory – which is really just the economics of how political affairs take place.


A List of Published Critiques

In just the past couple weeks alone (of this post being published at least) a number of glaring errors in the book have been discovered as more people have had the chance to analyze what the book claims. Here they are in the approximate order that they were published. I’ve included links in raw form so anyone who prints this post can still see what they are. From sliced quotes, to unsubstantiated claims, to outright misrepresentations of the field of public choice theory, this is looking more and more like one of the most deeply flawed works of historical revisionism to hit the shelves in recent years. Don’t take my word for it:


  1. “A Taxpayer-Funded Smear Job of Professor James Buchanan” – https://danieljmitchell.wordpress.com/2017/06/24/a-taxpayer-funded-smear-job-of-professor-james-buchanan/
  2. “Nancy MacLean Owes Tyler Cowen an Apology” – https://medium.com/@russroberts/nancy-maclean-owes-tyler-cowen-an-apology-e6277ee75eb3
  3. “Six Degrees of Jim Buchanan” – http://www.libertylawsite.org/2017/06/27/six-degrees-of-jim-buchanan/
  4. “How Nancy MacLean went whistlin’ Dixie” – http://philmagness.com/?p=2074
  5. “Nancy MacLean’s Distortion of James Buchanan’s Statement” – http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2017/06/nancy_macleans.html
  6. “MacLean on Nutter and Buchanan on Universal Education” – http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/06/maclean-nutter-buchanan-universal-education/
  7. “Some dubious claims in Nancy MacLean’s ‘Democracy in Chains’” – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2017/06/28/some-dubious-claims-in-nancy-macleans-democracy-in-chains/
  8. “Does ‘Democracy in Chains’ paint an accurate picture of James Buchanan? [with updates]” – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2017/06/28/does-democracy-in-chains-paint-an-accurate-picture-of-james-buchanan/
  9. “Nancy MacLean’s Calhounite Imagination” – http://philmagness.com/?p=2088
  10. “Against Guilt by Historical Association: A Note on MacLean’s “Democracy in Chains”” – https://notesonliberty.com/2017/06/29/against-guilt-by-historical-association-a-note-on-macleans-democracy-in-chains/
  11. “Nancy MacLean’s Ideologically Motivated Shortcuts” – http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/449110/nancy-maclean-james-buchanan-libertarianism-book-shortcuts-expose-evil
  12. “It turns out Nancy MacLean’s ‘Democracy in Chains’ is ‘a work of speculative historical fiction’” – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2017/06/30/it-turns-out-nancy-macleans-democracy-in-chains-is-a-work-of-speculative-historical-fiction/
  13. “On the Origins and Goals of Public Choice” – http://www.independent.org/issues/article.asp?id=9115
  14. “The Butcher with a Smile – More Mangling from Nancy MacLean” – http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/07/butcher-smile-mangling-nancy-maclean/
  15. “Is Libertarianism a ‘Stealth Plan’ To Destroy America?” – http://reason.com/blog/2017/07/03/democracy-in-chains-argues-libertarianis
  16. “The Case for Abolishing the National Endowment for the Humanities Just Got Stronger” – https://www.forbes.com/sites/georgeleef/2017/07/03/the-case-for-abolishing-the-national-endowment-for-the-humanities-just-got-stronger/
  17. “Another Misleading Quotation in Nancy MacLean’s “Democracy in Chains”” – https://www.cato.org/blog/another-misleading-quotation-nancy-macleans-democracy-chains
  18. “The Juvenile “Research” of “Historian” Nancy Maclean” – http://blog.skepticallibertarian.com/2017/07/05/the-juvenile-research-of-historian-nancy-mclean/
  19. “Yet more dubious claims in Nancy MacLean’s ‘Democracy in Chains’” – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2017/07/06/yet-more-dubious-claims-in-nancy-macleans-democracy-in-chains/
  20. “”Democracy in Chains” Is The Perfect Book for the Age of Trump. The Reasons Why Will Surprise You.” – https://www.forbes.com/sites/artcarden/2017/07/07/democracy-in-chains-is-the-perfect-book-for-the-age-of-trump-but-the-reasons-why-will-surprise-you/
  21. “Democracy in Chains versus Public Choice” – https://www.cato.org/multimedia/cato-daily-podcast/democracy-chains-versus-public-choice
  22. “Who wants to put democracy in chains?” – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2017/07/10/who-wants-to-put-democracy-in-chains/
  23. “Nancy MacLean’s conspiratorial response to criticism of ‘Democracy in Chains’” – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2017/07/11/nancy-macleans-conspiratorial-response-to-criticism-of-democracy-in-chains/
  24. “Even the intellectual left is drawn to conspiracy theories about the right. Resist them.” – https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2017/7/14/15967788/democracy-shackles-james-buchanan-intellectual-history-maclean
  25. “Duke professor Georg Vanberg on ‘Democracy in Chains’” – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2017/07/14/duke-professor-georg-vanberg-on-democracy-in-chains/


At this point, Nancy Maclean has done nothing but insist her critiques can’t be trusted merely because the rare couple of Libertarians on the Forbes list (Charles and David Koch) support Libertarian causes – a circular argument that assumes the conclusion it tries to support. A new word for this fallacy has recently emerged, “Six Degrees of Charles Koch.” Basically, if someone who agrees with you supports your work, that’s evil – unless you’re a politically progressive polemicist.


For almost a decade I’ve asked myself the same question: If anything Charles and/or David Koch donates money to must be false, why not just point out the actual errors in the works they allegedly supported? I guess that’s pretty hard to do if there aren’t any to begin with.


Hiding Behind a Pseudonym: Ten Things to Avoid Discussing

UPDATE: I originally wrote this post after having some conversations with people from a certain East-Asian country with quite the surveillance state in place. Just recently I came across this resource which is a great list of things that go beyond what is discussed on this post. The post below can be thought of as a set of ten fundamentals that are by no means the only things to take into consideration.


People may have different reasons for using an alias online or “away from keyboard,” but that doesn’t mean the things you need to shut up about to keep under wraps aren’t more universal. This post is meant to be a simple but sufficient checklist for anyone wanting to hide their real identity online. Before you hit “send” or “publish” or put anything else about yourself on the web, make sure it isn’t any of the following:



1. Your Name: Do I really need to explain this one???


2. Education: You might be able to get away with disclosing your major if it’s not too niche, but you sure as hell don’t want to make your alma matter public. Like everything else on this list, you may as well not even bring this subject matter up.


3. Occupation: Nothing whatsoever about who you work for, let alone specific job title. You can get away with disclosing special skills you have in some cases, and chances are you probably will anyway.


4. Location: What I said about #1 on this list applies here too. If anyone asks, begin with the broadest boundaries or descriptions possible and try to avoid county or city-level details.


5. Family: Your biggest concern here has more to do with keeping family history and background under wraps rather than what parents or siblings you have. The former is more likely to distinguish you from everyone else.


6. Friends: If you talk about “AFK” friends, establish a habit ahead of time about what you will avoid bringing up (such as names) online so you don’t slip up later. Any “I know someone who” statements should be as broad as possible.


7. Favorites: Limit what you say about favorite bands, favorite TV shows, favorite places, etc. The more hipster you potentially are the more this crap will come back to haunt you later. Just pretend to like top 40 if you can.


8. Events: Limit talk about concerts you’ve been too, or major conventions or social gatherings that are big enough to warrant a website, or small enough to narrow you down to a small set of people. Which could be any event really…


9. Organizations: Are you an NRA donor or a card-carrying ACLU member? Not anymore, or at least don’t say anything about it. The same rules about occupation apply to this category as well.


10. Possessions: Have a bookshelf or DVD collection? Don’t disclose every last title, and if you need to just say you’ve “read” or “watched” something rather than reveal whether you specifically own it or not. I should mention here that along with everything else on this list, you are more at risk if someone already suspects you have something to hide in real life and tries to uncover it rather than vice versa since it’s easier to match real life details about yourself to an online identity rather than narrow down an internet persona to millions of possible persons.



For honorable mention, I’d like to add two more broad things to keep in mind as well: Take the time to research secure internet surfing and communication as well as the overlooked field of stylometry. If you would like some additional advice, take a look at this presentation, but only if you aren’t logged into a Google account of any kind!


Abiding by these guidelines won’t guarantee perfect secrecy, but they should be more than enough to provide plausible deniability without making your life a tinfoil hat hellscape in the process. Be careful out there…


My Biggest Phobia About Blogging Might Be Over

Not once has this ever been a site I’ve taken time to actively maintain. And if I had to be honest with myself, a lot of why that’s the case stems from an area of research in the world of privacy that really spooked me somewhat. If you give this presentation the time, I think you’ll see what I mean:



And if you like to read about things in more technical detail (which I sure as hell did for this), then read this from abstract to footnotes: Adversarial Stylometry


It looks like a utility that conceals unique writing styles and is easy to implement might soon be a reality. So far it has been suited for analyzing Tweets but it could just as easily be used for longer passages of text. The fact that Twitter’s character limit doesn’t make it less likely for a unique “style” of use to appear scared the hell out of me when I first let the README for that project sink in. But I guess I should be in the clear if I don’t have another account under my full name for someone to compare.


If I had the patience I would familiarize myself with Anonymouth, but Stylext seems sufficient for adding some plausible deniability. I look forward to how both projects get implemented!


The Trump Supporter Mentality Summed Up in One Comment

On a Freenet discussion group I’ve participated in for several years now, someone posted a link to this article in the Economist. What struck us all was a featured comment that we agreed was an accurate summary of why Donald Trump – an insanely unqualified candidate – is so appealing to those favoring him. Take a look below and let it sink in:


Trump Supporter Comment

A man with no clear policy agenda isn’t supported for his policy agenda. Why am I not surprised?


Rule number one for understanding people whom you disagree with: recognize that not everyone has the same motives. Obviously Trump supporters are no different. But if I had to encapsulate the mentality of a typical Trump supporter in one internet comment, the one above would likely take the cake.


I’ve noticed a pattern more and more with each passing presidential election; first in 2008, and even more so in 2012. And that’s the hard truth that people don’t vote for candidates because they’ve done a cost/benefit analysis of their platform, or decided it’s a morally desirable thing to implement. People start with parties or candidates they like and only then do they try to find policy justifications for why the person or team they’re rooting for is so damn great.


This has been confirmed by recent polling which found that who a policy is attributed to can matter just as much if not more to it’s approval than what people think of the proposal itself. I recently started reading two books in tandem that describe this psychological pattern quite well: “Thinking, Fast and Slow” along with “The Righteous Mind.” All I can say right now is that so much partisan behavior in others and myself that I never really understood is starting to make sense – irrational as that behavior may be.


In the end, Trump is winning support among a white underclass that feels squeezed out of the job market yet isn’t considered a traditional victim class to the media. The only way to stop future Donald Trumps – aside from better voting methods – is to convince this demographic that excessive government is what’s holding them back. Not immigration from Mexico – which has actually reversed in recent times.


Nolan Chart – Neon Edition

That’s what this looks like to me. Or at least this is the result of inverting the colors on the standard pic and changing the inside text to gold. For what may be a decade, I’ve seen this image as being the best map ever of major political groups in the Western world.


Nolan Chart Neon

Best introduction to how political groups differ.


I haven’t used this blog much, but I thought this would be a good way to split the hiatus that never ends. Several years ago I was obsessed with this chart and the various online quizzes that map your result upon it. I recently had a discussion with someone about how forcing people to focus on policy would mean the end of any Bernie Sanders/Donald Trump types. And using questions that talk about the costs of many policy goals wouldn’t hurt either.


But with all that aside, political quizzes are a tough thing to execute. The less someone knows about policy (and less confident they are), the less accurate any quiz for them can be. This is part of why I don’t buy claims that The World’s Smallest Political Quiz is intentionally inaccurate. No quiz that measures a lay person’s policy preferences can work effectively on someone who doesn’t have the knowledge to form strong opinions to start with.


Without that knowledge, it looks like people make decisions based on group pressure and how much they feel inspired by a political figure’s speaking ability. Fortunately most people know enough history to understand that both those influences haven’t fared well at delivering effective candidates, so there’s some hope at rolling them back.


Hey, at least that’s a start right?


The Basic Case Against Gun Control – Part II: General Gun Ownership

With the subject of public opinion trends already discussed in a previous post, we now turn our attention to gun control laws that generally fall under three categories (concealed carry, types firearms or accessories, and restrictions on how one may acquire a gun or possess one). Let’s begin with the effects of gun ownership in general for this post. We will be looking at international comparisons, concealed carry effects, and Kellerman’s fallacy.

Crime Rates and Concealed Carry

This is the most overarching topic in the debate over gun control, and one that the pro-gun side has luckily managed to make amazingly high legal progress in! This comes in the form of both a supreme court case (DC vs. Heller) as well as the state-by-state spread of concealed carry laws in the US over the past couple decades. Here is an excellent GIF that shows the progress year by year of that latter trend:


right to carry

Who said things are in a trend for the worse?


So what have the effects of gun ownership and concealed carry been on crime rates? Given that both are already widespread, what should we make of critics who say banning such things would put fewer lives at risk? We now turn to international data and data on crime within the United States. Take a look at this image from NoProhibition:


International Gun Deaths

While I would probably word it differently, this picture kind of sums up the discussion of international deaths.


I actually made a post a while back on the DefCad forums in which I mentioned more or less the same things. When using international laws and respective crime rates to make a point about what legislation we ought to pass, it’s pretty typical for people to just quote the raw death rates by firearms alone. Michael Moore did this in “Bowling for Columbine” and Piers Morgan did the same on national TV on more than one occasion. But as the graphic above makes clear, this completely sweeps all sorts of factors that are behind those death counts under the rug.


1. We begin here by adjusting for population differences – the most trivial step of them all. Many official sources like to use per capita rates by using the number of deaths per 100,000 people; fine by me.


2. Next make sure you’re using total homicides by any cause, not just firearms. Someone’s life doesn’t become meaningless just because they were murdered in a manner that didn’t involve the use of a gun.


3. In fact, make sure you really are citing total homicides in a given country. Murders aren’t reported until after they’re solved in the UK – which can be hard to come by. US homicides would also appear to be far lower by that same standard.


4. One important point that I was unaware of until I saw this video is the fact that US crime is centered in mostly large metro cities. With so many more such places in the US, crime rates have far less to do with firearms as a result.


5. Finally, stop using cross-sectional analysis in statistical comparisons. Compare crime rates before and after a given law is passed. Right to carry laws seem to be correlated with reduced crime as they’ve been adopted (see above GIF image).



This last point brings us to the question of data about the US itself. It’s one thing to show that international crime rates do not support the thesis that more gun control means less violent crime. Let me drive that point home even further with this link to Australian crime rates before and after a sweeping gun ban, and this picture:


Globally More Guns Means Less Crime

Looks beyond developed countries, and uses *UN* data. Click for better resolution.


Now comes a final question regarding what a gun in the home is likely to be used for. You likely have heard a statistic that originated from a man named Arthur Kellermann that says something to the effect of, “A gun in the home is 43 times more likely to be used against yourself or a loved one than to be used in self-defense.” Okay, so he later revised that number to 22 times because he admittedly screwed up, but you get the point.


Variants of this argument still circulate to this day. While the kinds of measurement used in such studies is often flawed to begin with (assuming the only way a gun can be used defensively is to actually kill someone for instance), there is an even bigger flaw. Let the point of this image below sink in for a moment:


Kellermann's Fallacy

Whether NoProhibition.org will use this is yet to be seen. They’ve been inactive for a while.


The point of this meme is that you could apply Kellermann’s logic to just about anything. Recently people have twisted the logic to say gun ownership puts women at risk because they are more likely to be victimized with a firearm than to use one defensively. Yes, a lawmaker (Democrat) said this to a rape victim. Yet these refer to cases in which someone else (other than the victim) is using the gun. If someone argued that physical force was more likely to be used against women than by women defensively, should we ban all women’s self-defense classes by that logic? In fact, you could argue for banning martial arts classes altogether using the logic of Kellermann’s study.


Any way you look at it, gun ownership can’t be causally tied to an increased personal risk of death. And yes, this is even the case for suicide rates – as we can see in this image of multiple countries of differing gun laws:


suicide rates by country

Strict gun laws don’t necessarily mean fewer suicides.


As I made clear in the first post of this series, public opinion is increasingly in favor of allowing people to carry concealed firearms. In my next post, I will drill it down to the debate over specific types of firearms and accessories – namely so-called “assault weapons,” magazines that hold “too many” rounds, and even things like suppressors. This is where the general public becomes more divided over various proposals, and it’s important that gun rights activists learn how to put these issues to rest.


The Basic Case Against Gun Control – Part I: Trends in Public Opinion

In this post and the one that follows, I want to put up a draft of some stuff I will have in “State Exempt.” Rather than argue over Second Amendment matters (which are totally irrelevant in other countries), I want to focus entirely on why gun control is a bad idea from a law and economics perspective. Three categories of legal issues will be discussed: The effects of concealed carry, bans on particular firearms and accessories (e.g. assault weapons and magazine capacity limits), along with more general restrictions on firearm acquisition and possession (background checks, “liability” insurance, and registration). Each of those will have their own section in a subsequent post, but for now I want to devote a section to trends in public opinion for this one.



Public Opinion on the Matter


About two years ago, I shared a pessimistic state of mind with millions of others about legislation that was under consideration. One of the worst school shootings in US history had taken place weeks prior and it seemed like every other major news story was thinly disguised advocacy for banning things that have little effect on overall crime rates.


Little did I know, public opinion and grassroots activism had a different say on the matter…


More Americans Say Guns Make Home Safer

Recent Pew studies and Gallup polls have shown that this awesome trend has continued!


This trend of public opinion looks pretty unstoppable at this point, and yet most Americans have no idea that gun homicide rates have actually dropped over the last two decades. If they did, the more recent surveys showing six in ten being supportive would likely show even more prominent results.


But obviously this isn’t the case. Despite becoming more anti-gun control in a broad sense over the past couple decades (I’m sure internet access helped out there), the public tends to be lightly supportive of some specifics. These tend to have less to do with whether or not various firearms should be legal (the first two categories I listed at the top of this post), and more to do with how you may acquire them. Sure, the public has mixed feelings on so-called “assault weapons” – something I blogged about before here. But even this is turning out to be a fading opposition; to the point where even a staunchly left of center writer in the New York Times wrote that such a ban was pointless.


The focus thus far has now turned towards the question of how background checks are conducted, as well as the possibility of things such as “smart guns” or “liability insurance.” Oh, did I mention 3D-printed guns and magazines? In the next post I want to go over three main categories of gun control, and make the case for scrapping all such laws. Here they are again described in greater detail:



1. The Effects of Concealed Carry: What can we infer from international data as well as longitudinal data in the US about the effects of allowing civilians to carry firearms for personal defense? Has gun control worked in other countries? Are you more likely to use a gun to kill yourself or a loved one than to use it to stop a crime?


2. Bans on Weapon Types and Accessories: Do “assault weapons” bans make any sense? Does limiting magazine capacity (how much ammunition a gun may hold before you must add fresh rounds) boost public safety? What about things like suppressors or other “unnecessary” accessories? Should those be regulated?


3. Firearm Acquisition and Possession: How effective are background checks at stopping criminals? Do we need to expand them for any reason? What about forcing gun owners to have liability insurance of some kind for the weapons they own? Last but not least, should we ban people from using new technologies (3D printing) to make firearms?


The post won’t be exhaustive; the best comprehensive (as opposed to concise) guide to the debate over gun control can be found at GunFacts.Info.

My New Year’s Resolution? Ditch Labels As Much as Possible.

Yet another hiatus broken. 🙂


Here’s something that likely applies to anyone who comes to hold well-defined views: We start off broad and less than certain, yet over time we begin to narrow our views down to an overall perspective that’s more rigid. From that point on it’s only a matter of filling in the cracks, or making up our minds about subtle nuances that are pretty trivial compared to what we think as a whole.


Okay so that’s probably not the best way to word it but you get the idea. In my case, my political orientation went from a kind of weak neoconservatism (I didn’t even know half the issues listed on many popular Nolan Chart quizzes existed) towards full fiscal and social conservatism – that was after I learned what the terms “capitalism” or “free market” even meant. Then over time, I slowly began to realize that conservatives were simply dead wrong to try and centrally plan moral values, engage in foreign adventurism, or endanger various civil liberties in an effort to fight “terrorism.”


By then, I noticed that I was scoring in the upper quadrant of two major Nolan Chart quizzes. You can clearly see from the image below that the label “conservative” no longer applied to me at that point:


Nolan Chart

Probably the best illustration of how the major political persuasions relate to one another.


So there I was in the summer of 2008, suddenly realizing what the hoopla over Ron Paul was all about and suddenly becoming fascinated by the Bob Barr campaign. I was a full-blown Libertarian of the Stossel variety – more or less. As a general rule of thumb, I felt that the market was able to provide many goods and services more effectively than government could ever dream of. I also was in favor of scrapping pretty much all victimless crime laws, and wanted the military to focus entirely on defending our borders – nothing more.


Yet even this took a turn within a few months. After spending more time surfing the net and coming across arguments in favor of “Anarcho-Capitalism” (or Market Anarchy, Voluntarism, etc), I started to consider the possibility that maybe all “necessary” functions of government could be provided on a profit/loss basis rather than a compulsory one based on your zip code. Yes, that included police, courts, and thus law as a whole.


Since that time in late 2008, my views haven’t really changed much. I’ve become more confident over time that they have merit and continue to feel more confident about how to articulate them. But small details within that framework continue to be worked out every day. In particular, I’ve had a hard time deciding how to label myself. On a casual basis, I just tell people my views happen to fall under the Libertarian camp of thought. And I no longer feel a need to be up front about labeling myself at all if I can help it.


I could go on for several paragraphs with examples of why I take this approach now, but just a few will suffice. Have you ever seen a profile page or description of someone who had views you strongly disagreed with? Maybe you just saw the ideological label(s) they adopted and immediately attributed all the most negative things about that political camp to that individual. You know, “them is fighting words.” If anything, whatever exchanges you ended up having with them would’ve gone a lot more smoothly if you were forced to find out for yourself what they actually thought about the biggest political issues of our time rather than projecting your own prejudices on them.


That sums up the biggest drawback of political labels – they can often do more to mislead and shut down discussions before they can really take place. Take a look at the image below:


Pew Political Polarization

Pew’s questions may be imperfect, but it gets the basic point right about growing ideological disparity.


Considering that I don’t fall under either camp mentioned in that pic, and that people who do will assume I do as well, making it harder for them to jump to conclusions about me seems like a pretty good idea. And what better way to do that than to just avoid labels altogether? Well, labels obviously aren’t useless. But when people associate things with labels that discourage them from wanting to hear you out, what’s the point? Why not force them to have to ask you questions before they can even begin to make bogus accusations about how you’re a bad person for not having the same views they do? For me, that meant changing my Twitter description to begin with, “Let’s discuss policy issues and see where we agree” a couple months ago.


What about terms like “feminist?” Do we go by what the dictionary says or do we look at what is commonly characteristic of people who actually apply that label to themselves? I would think the latter gives you a better idea of what someone truly stands for. And it’s that process that encourages two people who label themselves entirely different things to actually find where they are similar.


This issue goes beyond political labels. What about economic systems? Capitalism, socialism, communism, fascism, social democracy, anarchy, etc. With labels, most people accuse everyone else of having bad or stupid intentions rather than explain in clear concrete terms why their preferred system does or would deliver better results. Folks, this is an area where you can raise the level of discourse in no time simply by ditching labels, and explain how resources are to be allocated and why. If you rely on a lot of tautologies to defend your preferred political/economic system, then having to explain how it actually works without giving it any kind of label will expose your flawed reasoning in no time.


So now that 2015 is about to kick in, I’m going to take it upon myself to focus more on individual policy issues and the principles behind them before I mention a word about what my views are as a whole. I’m doing both myself and any potential critics a massive favor by doing so.

Six Years an Anarchist, Seven Years a Free Market Fundamentalist

Time to diverge from the post series on intelligence/IQ for just this post, which I of course forgot to set to autopost.


A week ago – while the Republicans were enjoying their landslide congressional victories – I was doing what I do every year on November 4th. Six years ago on the night of the 2008 elections, I came to the damningly unpopular conclusion that a society could function and even thrive in the complete absence of government.


It wasn’t a very happy day. There were – and still are – enough reasons on my plate for why I stand out more than I’d like to from average people. There’s no need to alienate myself from the masses at large any more than I already do. Okay, so maybe that’s too dramatic but back then that’s the thought process I had and still do to some degree today.


My 2014 Quiz 2D Result

My recent result from Quiz2D.com’s most recent quiz version.


Rather than tell the same story all over again, I guess I could best use this post to talk about what’s changed since then. Yes, I still score at the top of the Nolan chart. Yes, I still think everything the government does either shouldn’t be done or can be done via market means. But despite the broad picture being the same, the finer details remain in a constant flux.


I’ll focus here on the biggest of those finer details. In 2012, I finally ordered a copy of a book that I had known about for years prior to getting it, and that was originally published in 1994. One of the coauthors happened to be one of the most influential social scientists of our time – and a self-described “lowercase l” libertarian. He rose to prominence critiquing the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of the war on poverty. From there, he espoused his libertarian (again with the lower-case “l”) views in a book he wrote shortly thereafter through a fascinating starting premise: The purpose of public policy is to create the optimal conditions for people to pursue happiness.


He continued writing numerous other books – some related to public policy, others related to social science – and it’s because of that book I first read two years ago that he is notorious for the latter. It was this interview he did for ReasonTV that finally made my interest in his work skyrocket:





Yep, the man, the myth, the legend himself: Charles Murray. It would be less than six months after I first saw this video that I would finally get a copy of his most notorious work. When I did, it turned out to be quite the red pill to put it mildly. Around the time I first began looking into the debate over IQ, I came across a Norwegian documentary series called “Brainwash” – which was a seven-part series done a few years back about the disconnect between sociology (which assumes much if not everything about human nature is environmental) and actual science (which acknowledges the fact that genes and other biological factors can influence a person’s behavioral traits).


It started with a Youtube comment I came across where someone had noted in a video critiquing feminist rhetoric that a documentary had aired over the Norwegian counterpart to PBS (NRK) that led to the defunding of a prominent feminist gender research institute. So I looked it up, saw the first episode, and was hooked from there! Soon I found myself spending less time following or studying public policy issues, and more time following sociological issues; namely political correctness, as well as the ongoing debate over how much of human nature is innate or influenced by society at large.



No need to go into too much detail here about this. All I can say is that it’s now a small staple in my daily thinking and research, but that I’m now trying to ween from it. As of a few days ago, I’ve decided to make political and economic issues my main focus all over again. To do so, I’ve begun rereading some of the books that influenced my early thinking in the first place.


In terms of political issues, the only real changes of heart that I’ve had over the past few years stem from how I think activism works best. Voting is a survey – nothing more or less – and should only be done to serve as a way to educate others on given political issues. As for what actually leads to change, I’ve continued to become more convinced every day that the bulk of what influences public policy and current events lies outside of the political system itself. For an excellent overview of how this is the case, this video should give you a clear idea of what I mean:





The video above is a reading of an article that has links to the various things listed. Overall I think it gets the basic point right, namely that the things that influence current events and public policy the most lie outside electoral politics. Cody Wilson and the rest of those with Defense Distributed have already demonstrated that gun control is anything but. That alone really drove the point home to me that leading by example is often the best way to go. At this point, I can only hope more attention will be drawn towards The Surgery Center of Oklahoma as a model for why price transparency is needed in the healthcare market.


Overall, those two things – emphasis on social science (which I plan on cutting back on) and non-political means of making change happen – represent the main changes in attitude that I’ve had over the years. Seems like I need to start networking with others, and get that first book draft done.


For the rest of this month however, I plan on rereading the books I found persuasive back in the day. 😉


A Practical Definition of Intelligence – as Measured by IQ

As I type this, I’m finishing up the first ninety or so pages of what would appear to be the most controversial social science book of all time. More on that book and it’s 20th anniversary later – for now I want to go over a topic of the book that sort of bugs me every time I reread it.


I’ve read a number of attempts at giving a workable definition for what is meant by the phrase “intelligence.” But as with attempts that people make at defining government, or contrasting it with the market economy, I just can’t seem to find anything free enough of semantic drawbacks to fully endorse. Here’s a sample of what’s out there:


“A very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings—”catching on,” “making sense” of things, or “figuring out” what to do.” – from “Mainstream Science on Intelligence


“The aggregate or global capacity of the individual to act purposefully, to think rationally, and to deal effectively with his environment.”David Wechsler


“The ability to deal with cognitive complexity.”Linda Gottfredson


“Goal-directed adaptive behavior.”Sternberg & Salter


When discussions about intelligence or IQ come up, one of the most frequent charges made against either concept is the idea that you can’t measure what you can’t define. That’s actually not a bad formal argument at all, the remaining implied question is whether or not a workable definition of intelligence actually exists. Is intelligence (as well as IQ) really just a subjectively-imposed concept like beauty or emotion? Can we dismiss it as just another “social construct?”


For something that has such a tremendous amount of predictive power, the answer is definitely no. If IQ is “socially constructed” then so is time, temperature, weight, volume, or velocity by the same standard. Especially when we’re talking about something that is established to have a very real genetic property that can be measured in a lab environment. Still, with everything from Howard Gardner’s “multiple intelligences” to Richard Sternberg’s “triarchic theory” of intelligence, all the way to “Spearman’s g-factor,” it’s hard not to get confused about what’s being debated.


So without further ado, here’s how I would suggest defining intelligence – practically speaking – in a way that can both be measured objectively and also have predictive power in everyday societal contexts:


“Intelligence is the ability to comprehend novel circumstances to achieve objective mental goals. To have higher intelligence is to be able to work quicker with a greater variety or volume of information to finish mental tasks that have less room for error.”


Sounds pretty straightforward, but elaborating on the three terms I underlined helps to clarify things a bit:


Ability can be defined by one or more of the following: the volume, variety, or velocity at which you can operate. More mental loading at once, different types of mental tasks (math, verbal, and spatial for instance), as well as how quickly you can solve problems are all relevant examples of ability that can be quantified. This picture below should give an idea of what volume of information looks like in the context of non-verbal intelligence. Clearly the problem on the right has a LOT more cognitive loading, and this has been used as part of a challenge for English students several years ago.


English vs Chinese Math Diagnostic

Apparently China lives up to the stereotype when it comes to non-verbal ability in the form of math and spatial tasks.


Novel Circumstances/Informationwould be anything you have to apply mental problem-solving skills to work with rather than rely on mere familiarity from past experience. Trivia questions aren’t in this category; those require little mental effort and instead depend on already being exposed to the correct answer at some previous point. On the other hand, suppose you had to solve a Raven’s Progressive Matrices problem like this one:


Raven's Progressive Matrices Sample - small

This is an easy sample with only a few consecutive variables to sort through.


Unless you’ve already seen this exact problem on Google Images somewhere (as I obviously have), you’re ability to pick the missing piece is entirely contingent on how well you can sort out three variables: the pattern of background lines from the top to middle to bottom rows, whether they are straight/diagonal/curved, and finally the left/right pattern of the bold shapes. If you’ve already memorized the answer to this exact problem (after you’ve correctly solved it of course) then this problem ceases to be a novel set of circumstances. The key with IQ tests is to have a high enough volume, variety, and complexity of problems so that they require as much mental loading as possible.


Objective Mental Goals” are goals that are intrinsic to the task at hand and not something you interpret or impose. An example of the latter would be judging whether or not a painting was a decent piece of art or not – clearly it’s open to interpretation. However, a simple math problem like 2 + 2 has only one correct answer. It’s an objective task where the answer stems from the problem itself rather than only exist as something you subjectively impose. A problem can be objective even if it has more than one correct answer; for example: “Give two numbers which when multiplied equal 64.” Possible answers (using whole numbers) can include 8 x 8, 16 x 4, 32 x 2, and 64 x 1. Again, what determines if an answer is correct or not must stem from the problem itself and not be a matter of personal taste. Moreover, we’re talking about tasks that are mental in nature and don’t involve the need for excess physical performance. That’s not to say that intelligence isn’t used to achieve physical tasks, rather that subject of IQ tests is mental ability.




So now comes the big question: Do IQ tests actually have any kind of predictive validity that make scores on such tests useful information? Apparently the answer is a resounding yes. Nearly a century of data indicates that properly administered tests do tell use something of value for matters of employment. I could go on about education as well, but I suspect most readers agree that much of schooling these days has limited overlap with the real world of work. If anything, consider how effective the Armed Forces Qualification Test has been at helping the military pick better recruits, and what happened when they tried to recruit people who scored poorly on the test.


With all this in mind, let’s consider why IQ tests matter so much and why they continue to become more important. As the prevalence of technology becomes more unavoidable, we are increasingly living in an information-driven economy. Successful behavior is therefore becoming less open to interpretation now that so much of what we rely on are mathematical/mechanical things that have less room for error, and are far more sophisticated than mere agriculture.


Although an entire post could be devoted to the issue of whether or not IQ tests are “culturally biased” (go ahead, define culture for me), the proper response to that assertion is really more simple than that: Demonstrate that certain problem types on widely-used tests are “cultural” in nature (whatever that means) and create a test with better predictive validity.


IQ tests continue to matter more with each passing day now that the volume/variety/velocity of novel information that must be sorted to achieve objective mental goals is on the rise.


It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out, but it does take a humanities major to deny it altogether.