Patterico's Pontifications


The Thomas Sowell Reader: A Review

Filed under: Books,General — Patterico @ 12:03 am

Thomas Sowell is one of those authors most people know from his columns. But to me, his real strengths come across in his books. He is someone who doesn’t just make pronouncements from on high. He makes an assertion and then he backs it up, with example after factual example. His columns are too short for this sort of evidence-based argument, and so if you know him only from his columns, you owe it to yourself to check out his books.

Last night I finished The Thomas Sowell Reader, a 449-page book that samples the entirety of Sowell’s output. If you haven’t read Sowell’s books before, this is a great way to start. The book is divided by subject matter, and includes actual newspaper columns and whimsical short thoughts as well as longer pieces. When I didn’t feel like reading another book, this is the one I always picked up. I didn’t take notes, but there is great wisdom in here that will change the way you look at (and think about) the world. Sowell shows, with relentless facts, why different races or ethnicities have different outcomes, and probably always will. Like Charles Murray, he emphasizes the need to analyze the results of government policies by looking at long-term trend lines (e.g., poverty was already being solved before the War on Poverty, which halted our progress rather than helping us). He shows how the left’s incessant insistence on tinkering with society routinely leads to unintended consequences that hurt the poor and minorities. He shows how the free market is the greatest engine for economic advancement known to man. And he has essays about baseball, old-fashioned values, the need to ignore political correctness, and all manner of other topics.

A couple of things that stood out for me were a relatively short but very interesting biographical sketch of Karl Marx, whom Sowell studied intensely in his younger years. You will long remember Sowell’s portrayal of Marx’s contempt for other people and willingness to rely upon — and fritter away — other people’s money. Sowell also has an amusing and heartwarming set of autobiographical reflections at the end of the book. I have always wondered what Sowell’s background was, how he came to be so smart and such a clear writer and thinker, and where his values came from. Now I have a much better idea.

Check out The Thomas Sowell reader at this link. If you’re unfamiliar with Sowell’s book-length writings, you’re in for a treat.


Thomas Sowell on the Fed: “When Somebody Removes a Cancer, What Do You Replace It With?”

Filed under: Books,Economics,General — Patterico @ 9:11 pm

I have recently begun a giant post about why we need to get rid of the Fed. But rather me writing a giant post, why not just ask you to watch a very short (under four minutes) video of one of our best thinkers arguing that we should do away with the Fed?

I love the fact that the interviewer is totally flabbergasted by his answer — admitting that he didn’t actually expect Sowell to say that.

I just finished Sowell’s Economic Facts and Fallacies. Just wonderful stuff; you always learn much you didn’t know from Sowell books, and it’s well-written and well-reasoned. He is a national treasure.

Here’s the video:


A Conflict of Visions, Part 4: The Constrained Vision’s Support for the Free Market

Filed under: Books,Economics,General — Patterico @ 3:12 am

I have promised a series of posts on Thomas Sowell’s revelatory book A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles. The book has given me critical insights into the way people think about various issues, and I now find it hard to consider any political issue without seeing it through the lens of Sowell’s constrained/unconstrained dichotomy. Since the this dichotomy is becoming an integral part of my day-to-day analysis, you might as well become familiar with it.

I have delivered three posts so far, here, here, and here. Here is part 4. The last post I did was a bit meandering, muddled, and inconclusive — so today, by contrast, I am tacking an issue that is quite clear and straightforward. The post is a bit long, to be sure, but the concepts are very simple and easy to understand.

A couple of people suggested that I do a post on each of the 20 questions I included in my quiz. That might be a bit too ambitious, but I will certainly do a few. Today I would like to discuss a point that may be obvious but is an absolutely central and unshakable belief of mine: my belief in the free market. I thought I would illustrate the point with question 3, which explains part of my thinking, and then move on to the critical relationship between a free market and the very concept of political freedom. As I will show below, the latter simply cannot exist without the former.

Here’s question 3 from my quiz:

a. I want to get government out of the people’s way, and let people make their own decisions for themselves. The knowledge any one human can possess is limited, and I prefer to rely on a process that coordinates information scattered throughout society, rather than relying on experts.
b. Government has a role in improving people’s lives. Part of the reason is that certain people possess concentrated specialized knowledge, and I would prefer to entrust decisions to those people, rather than to the masses.

Here, I am quite clearly from the constrained vision (and have become more so over time, as I have learned more about Austrian economics.). Here is a (very slightly) less-doctrinaire-than-today Patterico, from December 2008:

I’m skeptical of government intervention in economic affairs, because I believe they can lead to unintended consequences that are hard to predict. And I’m generally a believer in free-market principles. The idea is that the free market is the economic system most compatible with freedom, because rather than putting our trust in government to manage the economy, I believe we should trust the collective wisdom of consumers to make whatever decisions are best for them. As those decisions multiply, markets form as if by magic — and (in theory at least) it causes the best businesses to flourish while less useful ones fail. Put simply, a collection of choices, freely made, forms our markets.

This is a straightforward articulation of the “constrained vision” as applied to economics. As I have described in my recent posts on Sowell’s book, the believer in the “constrained vision” trusts mankind as a whole, far more than he trusts individuals or small groups. This view has implications for his views of all manner of social policies.

As for economics, the holder of the “constrained vision” rejects rule by a handful of experts relying on their purportedly superior vision, command of the facts, and rational explanations for their policies. Instead, the constrained vision prefers systemic processes that have evolved over time, building on the wisdom of humanity collectively — but stemming from individual decisions, not by a single group of philosopher kings, but by everyone in society. In particular, he is a believer in the price system, which directs entrepreneurs to move their resources into the lines of production most demanded by individual consumers. Like magic, this results in shortages being met by supply, and gluts being met by slowing demand, all providing for efficiency — but also, very importantly, in a higher standard of living for the least fortunate in society.

In short, if leftists really wanted to improve the lot of the poor, they would get government the hell out of the way and let the market work its magic. Thanks to the workings of the free market — and no thanks to government — the world has made gains in the lot of the poor in the last 200 years that would have been unthinkable to the richest kings and queens of the 1500s.

It’s not really a coincidence that I hold this vision, though. I learned this view of economics from reading . . . [wait for it] . . . Thomas Sowell — namely, his book Basic Economics, which changed my life years and years and years ago. Indeed, I cited an example from this book on this blog over ten years ago, in May 2004 — and I cited it in August 2007 as one of five books that fundamentally changed the way I look at the world.

One important point that bears repeating: capitalism is the only economic system compatible with freedom. That is important enough, in a long post, to say twice, so that you don’t miss it. Capitalism is the only economic system — the only one — compatible with freedom. I made this point in 2009, citing [prepare for a shock] Thomas Sowell, who said in “Basic Economics”:

Too often a false contrast is made between the impersonal marketplace and the compassionate policies of various government programs. But both systems face the same scarcity of resources and both systems make choices within the constraints of that scarcity. The difference is that one system involves each individual making choices for himself or herself, while the other system involves a smaller number of people making choices for others.

It may be fashionable for journalists to refer to “the whim of the marketplace,” as if that were something different from the desires of people, just as it was once fashionable to refer to “production for use, rather than for profit” — as if profits could be made by producing things that people cannot use or do not want to use. The real contrast is between choices made by individuals for themselves and choices made for them by others who presume to define what these individuals “really” need.

As I summarized the argument in my 2009 post:

Simply put:

Capitalism is each individual making choices for himself.

Socialism is those who claim to know best, making your choices for you.

The former is freedom. The latter is anything but.

So says the adherent to the constrained vision.


A Conflict of Visions, Part 3: The TL;DR Version of the Post Below

Filed under: Books,General — Patterico @ 7:33 am

This is a shorter version of the post below, which is Part 3 of a continuing series on Thomas Sowell’s revelatory work A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles.

I think many of you who are interested in political philosophy will be interested in the post below and will want to read it all. But some of you will say: dude, this is a blog. If I wanted to read a book, I’d actually sit down and read a book. Give me the thrust of it in a few sentences.

Well, I’m not able to do that, but I’ll try to come closer in this post.

Adherents to what Thomas Sowell calls the “constrained vision” believe human nature doesn’t change or improve over time. They therefore place great importance on incentives. Because human nature is constant, they rely on systemic processes that evolve over time to create incentives, such as the free market.

Adherents to an “unconstrained vision,” by contrast, believe in the limitless possibilities of humans to improve their nature. They place great importance on intentions and on personal qualities of wise policy makers who make decisions for us.

I believe that these competing visions inform how we approach the failure of our political system — especially the tendency on the part of politicians to favor their own self-interest over that of the public.

Those from the constrained vision accept that politicians are humans who respond to incentives like anyone else. They expect politicians to favor their self-interest over the common good. They are more likely to accept political compromises, because they don’t believe any magical person is going to ride in on a white horse and save us all.

Those from the unconstrained vision are less apt to accept trade-offs. They believe that the problem with our politicians is that the personal qualities of wise policy makers are lacking in those we have elected. They complain about politicians lacking “spine” and “principle.” If only we could elect tougher people, they believe, everything would be better.

I believe this dichotomy rears its head in the civil war in the GOP between the Tea Party types and the establishment types. Supporters of the establishment accept trade-offs and incrementalism, because they don’t believe better politicians will equal better policies. This is a constrained view. Tea Partiers believe we need to send the establishment a message: elect people who are sincere, whose intentions are pure, and who will reject trade-offs for bold policies that will fundamentally transform the country. This is an unconstrained view.

Complicating the picture greatly is the fact that, while the methods of the Tea Party types seem unconstrained, their policy goals (returning us to the vision of the Founders) are clearly those of the constrained vision. By contrast, the methods of the establishment types may appear constrained, but their policy goals are, by default, unconstrained — since the accumulation of political power depends on a surrender to the unconstrained vision of society in which government and elites control more and more of what happens.

This complication is discussed in meandering fashion in the rambling post below. It’s the reason that the post below is so long, in fact. Please leave your comments in the post below.

A Conflict of Visions, Part 3: What Is Wrong With Our Politics?

Filed under: Books,General — Patterico @ 12:01 am

This is Part 3 of a continuing series on Thomas Sowell’s revelatory work A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles.

Question 15 in my quiz yesterday (if you haven’t taken it yet, please do!) reads as follows:

a. The problem with America’s politics today is that the system incentivizes politicians to take actions that are in their best interest rather than that of the country as a whole. The solution is to change the incentives, because human nature rarely changes.
b. The problem with America’s politics today is that our leaders are self-centered and care only about themselves rather than the good of the country. The solution is to elect people who are more principled.

According to Thomas Sowell, the “constrained vision” concerns itself with incentives. Because those who adhere to the constrained vision do not believe that human nature is ever likely to change for the better, they favor organically developed systemic processes that provide incentives for people to act for the common good.

The free market is a good example, and the price mechanism of the free market is a process favored by those who subscribe to the constrained vision. Prices are created, not by a knowledgeable elite relying on the superiority of reason, but rather by the individual decisions of millions of individual actors, leading to price signals that, in turn, spur entrepreneurs to enter under-served markets, and exit oversaturated ones.

In this vision, like entrepreneurs, politicians are humans who respond to incentives, just like everyone else. The key, then, is not to elect better politicians, although that would be nice — but rather to improve the system to align incentives with the social good. However, those from the constrained vision reject human-designed processes for making social choices, in favor of organically created systemic processes and institutions such as the market, the family, and so forth. The end result is that any political system, being human-designed, is a poor system for making social decisions, and thus the scope of government should be limited to the extent possible.

The constrained vision is well illustrated by Hayek’s famous quote: “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”

By contrast, the unconstrained vision believes in the power of reason, and the unlimited potential of humans to improve their very nature — and, through deliberate design, the lot of men. The unconstrained vision puts great importance on the specialized knowledge of an elite few, who are presumed to have the necessary knowledge and wisdom to lead humans to a better society. Sincerity is critically important in this vision, and the improvement of society thus depends to a great degree upon the quality of the wise leaders who are chosen as surrogate decisionmakers for others in society.

Which am I? It seems, reviewing the record, I have made arguments that fit both visions. (Nobody is fully constrained or unconstrained.)

Here are a couple of examples of posts where I make the constrained argument in terms of political tactics. These quotes are taken from past posts that I wrote long before I ever heard of Sowell’s book.

From last month:

[P]oliticians are human beings, just like everyone else. They may have certain talents, ambitions, and other personality facets that set them apart, but they still tend to respond to incentives the same way other humans do.

We all sit around and decry the way politicians act, but we act as if the solution is to put better politicians in office. It’s not. The system itself is rigged, so that people who truly want to act in the public interest rarely (not never, but very rarely) get into office in the first place. And once they get there, they have to make compromises.

You see there the concern of someone who subscribes to the constrained vision, arguing that human nature is constant, and that the issue is restructuring the incentives that face humans. Similarly, here is a post of mine from 2010, discussing Christine O’Donnell vs. Mike Castle:

I was among those who supported solid conservative Tom McClintock over Arnold Schwarzenegger in the recall election for California governor. My reasoning: McClintock is a hell of an impressive guy, and if everyone who had preferred him had voted for him, he could have won. He was a victim of a “he can’t win” mentality. Plus, I didn’t see Arnold as such a great plus. (I still don’t.)

On the other hand, I am not a fan of throwing away my vote to send a message that the candidate in question isn’t conservative enough for my finicky tastes. As long as he (or she) is conservative enough to help us, that works for me.

There are those who seek to make “pragmatic” a bad word. These people often express disdain at the importance of having Republicans in power if they are not sufficiently attuned to their principles.

I have noticed that these very same people often rant and rave about particular Obama policies, like ObamaCare, that a sufficient number of Republicans in Congress could have stopped.

You can’t have it both ways. If you’re going to complain about Obama’s policies, you can’t turn up your nose at a candidate who can help you fight those policies. Even — and this is important — even if that candidate is less than ideal.

Because every candidate is less than ideal.

So I’m good with trying to elect the more conservative candidate on the theory that the more conservative candidate has a chance. Personally, I’m not good with voting for that person as a protest vote when I know they can’t win.

I agree with William F. Buckley and the editors of the Wall Street Journal. The beat candidate is the most conservative one that can win.

Well, there you go. It’s Patterico the Constrained Guy, right?

Except, remember when Ted Cruz was arguing for shutting down the government? I was foursquare in favor of Cruz then — and guess who I was busy ripping apart? The very constrained Thomas Sowell! Here are three of my posts excoriating Sowell for criticizing Cruz’s radical tactics: here, here, and here. I thought I was right when I wrote those posts. I re-read them last night, and I still think I’m right.

Patterico, the Unconstrained! (I call Sowell philosophically “bipolar” in those posts, but maybe I was projecting, huh?)

So you see that the constrained/unconstrained dichotomy is not a simple left/right issue. It sheds light on one major fault line in the Republican party today. In one corner, we have the “principles” crowd that wants action today, and refuses to settle for half a loaf. In these people’s view, we just need more people with a spine, like Ted Cruz or Justin Amash. This, I submit, is a largely unconstrained vision, which believes that we can radically alter our country for the better, and should do so posthaste if possible — but in no event should we settle for half measures. In the other corner, we have the “trade-offs are necessary” crowd, which urges people to vote Republican even when the candidate is weak, because at least the Republican is better than the Democrat. This, I submit, is largely a constrained vision, which accepts that politicians are human beings who respond to incentives like everyone else. This person is willing to accept the fact that politicians will take imperfect actions in obeisance to electoral reality. They will vote for such politicians — if those imperfect politicians can deliver a reality that less wretched than the one offered by the opposition.

DRJ argued in comments last night that radicalism in trying to return to the constrained view of the Founders is arguably consistent with a constrained vision. Maybe so. But there is potentially a difference between constrained policies (small government, free market) and unconstrained tactics in politics (refusing to vote for the squishy candidate to send a message to the party).

DRJ says the Founders exemplified the essence of a constrained vision, and I agree. Yet their revolutionary tactics were radical. Does that mean, as DRJ contends, that those tactics could be considered constrained — coming as they did from men who shared the constrained vision, who were trying to implement policies consistent with that vision? Maybe. I can’t say for sure DRJ is wrong about that. But I don’t think Sowell would agree.

For one thing, Edmund Burke, whom Sowell holds up as one key philosopher epitomizing the constrained vision, was certainly a supporter of the Founders, but not necessarily of their revolutionary tactics.

And Sowell himself, in those columns I criticized, seems to decry the tactics of a Ted Cruz from the point of view of a pragmatist seeking a trade-off — just as Sowell has described the constrained vision. And in those columns, he makes the exact same point that he makes in the video that I just linked in the last post: people who think you can let the other side win and then capitalize on the backlash are like the Nazis who said the same thing about Hitler. Many of them died in the concentration camps, he says. In the video, he offers that as a reason to vote against Obama and for McCain. In his anti-Cruz columns, he offers them as a reason to oppose Cruz . . . because Cruz, by calling out Republicans, was making their re-election chances more difficult, and thus imperiled Republicans’ ability to retake the Senate and the Presidency and effect real change. (Or so says Sowell. I happen to disagree with him on that point.)

Again, in the video he says: “People ask me why am I going to vote for McCain over Obama. It’s because I prefer disaster to catastrophe.” That, I submit, is a quote from a hardened advocate of the constrained vision.

In summary, people like DRJ and I might favor radical tactics in favor of a constrained policy. Does that make those tactics unconstrained because they are radical? I’m not sure, but I think Sowell would say they are. Now, because in Sowell’s dichotomy the term “unconstrained” ends up sounding Pollyanna-ish and silly, I can understand wanting to argue that our position is constrained. But Sowell doesn’t seem to think so, based on my reading of his anti-Cruz columns, and watching the video I linked last night.

And here’s something else. I note that in my posts attacking Sowell, I resort to the rhetoric of “principle” more often. Which is interesting, in and of itself, isn’t it?

So, while I am open to being persuaded otherwise, I think that when you hear people say that the problem with our politics is that these terrible politicians lack a spine, they are (in my opinion) expressing an unconstrained view. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but it helps you understand where they are coming from.

The more extreme the problems with our country get, the more I sympathize with the unconstrained tactics — largely, I think, because (as DRJ notes) they are part of an effort to get us to constrained, non-elitist, free market, small government policies. But if I am right that the radical tactics are unconstrained, the basic approach runs counter to a general constrained view of humanity in general, and politicians specifically, that runs deep in my psyche.

And, to the extent you generally subscribe to the constrained view in other areas, you might ask yourself whether a devotion to an unconstrained view of politicians make sense. Do you really believe in the potential of politicians to be uncharacteristically honorable, and ignore incentives to benefit themselves?

I still think we must press for radical change, precisely because I think we have reached a point of no return. Interestingly, the “point of no return” argument is the very same argument Sowell makes in favor of, say, voting for McCain, or against shutting down the government — but I say it counsels in favor of more radical tactics.

But I could be wrong. I’m willing to admit I could be wrong. And the very least, understanding the deep-rooted origins of the two different views might help each side understand one another better.

Patterico: bringing the Tea Partiers and the establishment together, courtesy of this blog post. Kumbaya! (This optimism I am expressing is rather . . . unconstrained, isn’t it?)

P.S. If it helps, I don’t really believe this post will do a damned thing to help anyone understand each other. Thus, my constrained bona fides remain intact — and I hereby stick my tongue out at you!

UPDATE: What’s a few more words in a post this long? DRJ links an article by Sowell on tactics which, while not using the words “constrained” and “unconstrained,” nevertheless invokes the constrained Burke in support of a position that approves of the Tea Party’s goals but disapproves of their tactics. I think the column supports my reading of Sowell pretty directly. Sowell says “Burke makes a key distinction between believing in a principle and weighing the likely consequences of taking a particular action to advance that principle.” Sowell goes on to argue that repeal of ObamaCare is critical, and justified by principle — but that the Tea Party tactics of trying to defund it with Obama still in office represented a result not within their power. Burke, he suggests, would have opposed the tactics if not the principle.


A Conflict of Visions, Part 2: Video of Thomas Sowell Discussing the Constrained/Unconstrained Dichotomy

Filed under: Books,General — Patterico @ 9:31 pm

This is Part 2 of a continuing series on Thomas Sowell’s revelatory work A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles.

For those of you who aren’t ready to read the book, but enjoy watching videos, here is a wonderful video (h/t Simon Jester) in which Thomas Sowell discusses the constrained/unconstrained dichotomy:

Unfortunately, it comes across more like a left/right issue here than I think it seems to be in the book — but at least Sowell gets to speak for himself here, rather than through the filter of my translation.

“People ask me why am I going to vote for McCain over Obama. It’s because I prefer disaster to catastrophe.”

Imagine someone from the unconstrained vision saying that.

I think it’s a good setup for Part 3, which I will publish tomorrow morning.

A Conflict of Visions, Part 1: Is Your Vision of Humanity “Constrained” or “Unconstrained”? Take the Quiz!

Filed under: Books,General — Patterico @ 7:39 am

This week I plan to do a series of posts on Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles. I consider it an absolutely revelatory book, which will forever change the way I look at the world, and I want to share some of its insights with you this week.

But first, please take the following quiz. Get a piece of paper and write down which answer best describes your view: a or b. The quiz consists of 20 questions. Sometimes you will agree with both statements; it is possible you might not agree with either. Either way, choose the response that is closest to your view. Please take the quiz before reading the post further. You will need a pencil (or pen) and paper.

Scoring will take place at the end.

a. I prefer decisions made according to tradition, which reflects human wisdom collected over time, to relying on a “new approach” by a select few.
b. I prefer decisions to be made according to human reason applied to our problems, and tend not to pay respect to a custom or tradition simply because that’s how people have done something for a long time.

a. A judge should strive do to what’s right. A judge’s first questions when considering a possible legal result should be: “Is it good? Is it right?”
b. A judge should strive to follow the law, regardless of whether it results in outcomes with which he or she agrees.

a. I want to get government out of the people’s way, and let people make their own decisions for themselves. The knowledge any one human can possess is limited, and I prefer to rely on a process that coordinates information scattered throughout society, rather than relying on experts.
b. Government has a role in improving people’s lives. Part of the reason is that certain people possess concentrated specialized knowledge, and I would prefer to entrust decisions to those people, rather than to the masses.

a. Sincerity is an important aspect of a person’s character. I have noticed that my opponents are often insincere.
b. Sincerity is nice but is overrated, as sincere people can do bad things, while insincere people might do good things. My opponents may well be sincere, but their policies are destructive.

a. When you are in an organization, it is important to act according to your role, because the success of the organization depends upon people carrying out their role in the proper manner.
b. I don’t care for titles, and I want to do whatever is the best thing to do regardless of what other people say my role is.

a. Fidelity to the truth is a very important aspect of a person’s character. Using deception, even in pursuit of goals you think are laudable, is wrong.
b. Fidelity to the truth is nice but overrated, as it is sometimes necessary to use deception in pursuit of a goal, if that goal is lofty and the results of achieving that goal would benefit society.

a. I would prefer that decisions be made by older people, who have the experience to deal with problems wisely.
b. I would prefer that decisions be made by younger people, who are not hampered by outmoded ways of doing things that have been shown not to work.

a. I believe that patriotism and loyalty are important aspects of someone’s character, and one should act in accordance with those virtues where reasonably possible.
b. I believe that patriotism and loyalty are overrated. If my country is wrong, it’s wrong — and if a friend did something wrong, I can’t support their wrong action just because they’re my friend.

a. It aggravates me to see someone getting paid a lot of money for a skill that was easy for them to acquire. Even if they have a skill that benefits society, that should not mean they get a big paycheck if they didn’t earn that skill through hard work. For example, if it was easy for them to learn it because of the contacts they had in life, they should not benefit from that.
b. If someone has a special skill, they should be paid more, regardless of whether it was easy or difficult for them to develop, learn, or obtain that skill. Paying them more ensures their skills are available to society at large.

a. I care about incentives. We should not just give people money because that creates an incentive for others to look for handouts.
b. I care about equality. Some people are born with less and that hampers their ability to succeed. We can help those people by making their circumstances closer to those more economically fortunate.

11. a. To me, freedom means that I must have the practical ability to achieve what I want. Government leaving me alone, by itself, doesn’t make me “free” if I am still functionally unable to do important things like earn a living, obtain health care, and so forth.
b. To me, freedom means being left alone by the government. It does not mean that government owes me a pathway out of the circumstances of my particular situation in life.

a. Businessmen should engage in business activities, which is what they know best, and should not donate profits to charity, which is not within their area of expertise. Charity should come from private individuals and not businesses.
b. Businessmen make enough money that they should give back to society, which includes making donations to charities and doing good works.

a. I believe in a “living Constitution” because I never agreed to the terms of the Constitution — nor did anyone else alive today. Also, the men who wrote the Constitution did not and could not have anticipated the social, economic, and technological changes that encompass the vast complexity of modern society.
b. I believe in applying an original understanding of the provisions of the Constitution, according to how they were understood at the time the document was written. This is the only way to enforce the rule of law.

a. I believe in adhering to principle. If you sacrifice your principles, simply to achieve part of what you are striving for, you are not only likely to get nothing done, but you also demonstrate that you are lacking in character.
b. All life consists of trade-offs. Choosing the least bad of two options is not unprincipled, but is simply being realistic.

a. The problem with America’s politics today is that the system incentivizes politicians to take actions that are in their best interest rather than that of the country as a whole. The solution is to change the incentives, because human nature rarely changes.
b. The problem with America’s politics today is that our leaders are self-centered and care only about themselves rather than the good of the country. The solution is to elect people who are more principled.

a. The problem with the economy is that too many people are selfish and want to grab as much as they can at the expense of others.
b. As far as the economy goes, I don’t care if people act in a self-centered fashion. The market allows people to act in a self-centered fashion and still take actions that benefit others.

a. I believe the intent of a person is paramount when analyzing their public statements or actions. Nobody should ever be held accountable for an outcome that they did not intend, and no person should be held responsible for an interpretation of their words that they did not intend.
b. A person’s intent is relevant, but I also care about the results of a person’s actions or statements. If someone knew their actions or speech might result in a bad outcome, even if they did not subjectively intend it, they bear some responsibility for that outcome.

a. I worry about changing things too much all at once.
b. We should change anything that needs to be changed, as long as reason tells us that the changes will be an improvement.

a. I am enraged when people in positions of trust, such as members of the clergy, or teachers, engage in sexual activity or other wrongdoing that takes advantage of the very people who place their faith in people occupying those positions of trust.
b. Wrongdoing is wrongdoing, but I place no special emphasis on the fact that a wrongdoer occupied a position of trust when committing a bad act.

a. It matters to me a great deal whether you can explain why you are taking a particular action in a way that makes sense.
b. I don’t care if you can explain your actions well; I just care whether society is helped or harmed by what you are doing.

Score 5 points for each answer listed below (if your vision is like mine, your score will be low, so don’t be concerned if you’re not racking up a lot of points):
1. b
2. a
3. b
4. a
5. b
6. b
7. b
8. b
9. a
10. b
11. a
12. b
13. a
14. a
15. b
16. a
17. a
18. b
19. b
20. a

This quiz gives you a rough continuum of whether you are “constrained” or “unconstrained.” The higher your score, the more “unconstrained” you are.

As I say above, this quiz is based on a book by Thomas Sowell called A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles. This is a book I intend to discuss more this week. The basic dichotomy is between those who believe that humans have limitless “unconstrained” potential, on one hand, and those who believe human potential is “constrained” by certain realities such as the constancy of human nature, on the other. Many aspects of one’s view of life flow from which vision you hold. For example, the more “constrained” your vision is, the more apt you are to put your trust in systemic processes that improve the human condition within those constraints. The more “unconstrained” your vision is, the more apt you are to believe that humans can solve any problem through application of reason.

Sowell’s description of the two visions, how they view various social phenomena and processes, and related concepts are too much for one post, which is why I am doing a series. I hope this whets your appetite. Report your results below.

I am a 25, for what it’s worth.

In future posts, I will outline some more of what Sowell says about these competing visions and apply them to current controversies, like Jonathan Gruber, conservatives’ civil war over how extreme government makeover needs to be, whether it matters whether you think of a politician as a good guy, and so forth. It should be interesting.

UPDATE: Thanks to Jeff B from AoSHQ/@EsotericCD for helping me to refine the quiz wording and discussing the concept with me. (And for recommending the book to me in the first place!)


Breitbart’s Book Arrives on My Doorstep

Filed under: Books,General — Patterico @ 9:42 pm

I just got home after being out of town and was pleased to see that a shipment had arrived with:

Although we got in late, and I have work tomorrow, I had to read the first chapter of Andrew’s book. It’s hard to know how I would react to it if I didn’t know him. That’s because, as someone who has talked to Andrew for literally hours and hours, it’s impossible for me to read the book without hearing every sentence as spoken in his voice. My initial reactions: 1) it’s very well written; 2) Andrew rather throws the “New [Faux] Civility” overboard as he describes being a soldier in a war against Big Media’s plot to control the narrative in this country; and . . .

3) I have already determined my favorite page in the book — even though I haven’t gotten there yet. It’s page 155. I won’t give it away, other than to say there is a mention of some guy named Patrick Frey and his “indispensable” (!) website.

And there appears to be a rather elliptical reference there to a guy I will call only Frad Briedman.

I again encourage every Patterico reader to order Andrew’s book:

And if you haven’t done this already, please change your Amazon bookmark to this link:

Amazon Through Patterico

Ordering anything through that link benefits this site at no cost to you. So change your bookmark now!


Help Amy Alkon Beat the Scum at Sadly, No

Filed under: Books,Scum — Patterico @ 7:42 am

The cretins at Sadly, No are trying to hurt the sales of Amy Alkon’s latest book, and harm her ability to make a living — just because they personally don’t like her.

You can help fight this.

At Sadly, No, “Tintin” writes:

Amy’s clear goal here is to try to intimidate anyone from posting negative reviews of her chef-d’oeuvre. And I think I’m safe in saying that this intimidation shouldn’t succeed. So, folks, if you’ve read the book, not liked it, and want to stand up for freedom of speech, tell Amy Arnold what you think of the book. Comedy points will be awarded (but only to people who’ve actually read the book) for 3, 4, and 5 star reviews (harder to get removed than 1 star reviews) with what my grandmother used to call “back-handed” compliments — for example, a statement that for a book written by someone who’s mother tongue is Serbian, the book has a surprisingly small number of grammatical errors. Or a statement that even though Amy’s advice got you banned from Safeway, it was worth having to do your shopping in another store just to be able to scream your head off at the woman with a crying baby in the Safeway. Etc., etc., etc.

Amy’s sin is revealing the identity of someone who is leaving phony reviews of her book to harm her. Tintin’s proposed solution: leave even more phony reviews!

Of course, he claims he is not doing this. Tintin says all the right things to avoid a lawsuit: make sure you’ve read the book first; only give it a poor review if you really didn’t like it; etc.

But his post is really a roadmap on how to write bad reviews on Amy’s book. He knows damn well that he is giving his audience a wink and a nod and saying: go trash her book.

And it’s working.

For example, a Sadly, No commenter boasts of having left this one-star review:

If you want to learn how to be really rude and obnoxious and yet keep some weird semblance of self-esteem with a large dollop of ego on top, this book is for you! Arnold Alkon has many lessons on how to set straight innocent people who might have the misfortune of crossing her path and pissing her off. A must read for anyone who lives in the same town as Mr Alkon!

Sadly, No commenters have gone en masse and voted this review as “helpful.” As of this writing, almost 80 people have voted this review helpful — meaning it is now the first review people see when people look up Amy’s book.

If you look at all the reviews, you will see three near the top that were all written on February 17, 2010 — the same day Tintin wrote his post. All are getting voted up and are being promoted to the top as “helpful” reviews. This cretin follows Tintin’s advice and gives it three stars (to keep the review from being deleted) and even admits he hasn’t read the book.

More negative reviews may well be added — all by scum who haven’t actually read the book, but just want to hurt Amy because they don’t like her and what she does.

What can you do?

For one, buy Amy’s book! I have already favorably reviewed it here. It is very funny and worth your money. And if you liked it, leave a favorable review of your own.

But if nothing else, vote down the Sadly, No reviews down as unhelpful. Report them as abusive. And leave a comment on the review explaining why the review is not honest and genuine.

If you have time, do this with any negative reviews left on February 17 or February 18. They are all dishonest and generated by the haters at Sadly, No.

If you’re short on time, make sure to vote down the review quoted above. It is currently the top negative review of her book.

To do this, click the link and vote that the review is not helpful. Report it as abusive. Leave a comment explaining why.

Don’t let these scumbags hurt Amy’s livelihood.


Amy Alkon Sees Rude People

Filed under: Books,General — Patterico @ 9:36 pm

My friend Amy Alkon has a book out which I just finished: I See Rude People: One woman’s battle to beat some manners into impolite society. Fans of Cathy Seipp will be pleased to learn that Amy dedicated the book to Cathy.

It’s a very funny book and a quick, entertaining read. You learn some serious facts (like the scientific explanation for why cell phone calls are irritating — there are actually two reasons, one technological and one psychological), but the book is mostly a collection of amusing anecdotes about Amy playing the role of “Revengerella” and making rude people’s lives miserable. I have heard many of these stories before, both from Amy’s blog and from her personally, but it was still a joy to read them all in her lively prose.

And if you don’t know about the Sadly, No! commenter who called her a “tranny” — and whom she then tracked down and called at work — you’re really missing out.

The book is now out in paperback and is only $11.53 at Amazon ($9.99 on the Kindle, if you’re interested in immediate ownership, as I am). Go buy it now.

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