Plumb Lines

February 17, 2011

The Just War Arsenal

Filed under: Uncategorized — William Brafford @ 6:55 am

Public Discourse has been hosting a debate over the ethics of lying, taking as the central case the activist Lila Rose’s deception of Planned Parenthood in the making of her sting video. Christopher Tollefsen wrote the initial essay arguing that lying is wrong in all circumstances, Christopher Kaczor disagreed, and Tollefsen responded. Robert George has weighed in in support of Tollefsen, and the folks at Super Flumina have offered some interesting arguments.

I’m interested in Jody Bottum’s piece defending Live Action. Bottum wants to consider Rose’s actions under a metaphorical sort of non-war Just War Theory, saying: “Of course, the fight against abortion is also not fought on abstract fields. Its battlegrounds are the political and social worlds, and for those worlds, Lila Rose’s ruse seems to me both fitting and clever.”

Prof. Tollefsen’s response to the war angle is this:

More importantly here, however, it is crucial to point out that the pro-life movement is not, in any but the most distantly metaphorical sense, “at war” with Planned Parenthood. To take such a claim strictly would raise unsolvable problems in terms of just war thought: who, for example, is the legitimate authority that has tasked Lila Rose with this work? And it would justify untenable conclusions, for if anything is justified in war, it is the use of arms. Yet the pro-life movement has, rightly in my view, converged on an understanding that the use of arms to stop abortion is not right: it provides a counter-witness to the value of life; it constitutes an unjustified attack on our nation’s overall legal structure; and it is unlikely either to bring peace or to result in a proportionate balance of benefits over harms. The appeal to war is thus a non-starter.

In other words, you should be careful about using military-grade JWT if you don’t want military results.

-William Brafford

February 15, 2011

Idealistic Consensus

Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 10:57 am

I’d be interested to hear the Plumb Liners’ views on the six topics of idealistic consensus Scott Sumner presents:

1. The huge rise in occupational licensing.

2. The huge rise in people incarcerated in the war on drugs, and also the scandalous reluctance of doctors to prescribe adequate pain medication (also due to the war on drugs.)

3. The need for more legal immigration.

4. The need to replace taxes on capital with progressive consumption taxes.

5. Local zoning rules that prevent dense development.

6. Tax exemptions for mortgage interest and health insurance

His argument for why these issues aren’t discussed seems persuasive, but then, I agree with him about all six points. In most of these cases, the parties benefiting from these policies are doing so at the expense of the general public. Many arise from simple misunderstandings among the public about macroeconomics.

Immigration is different from the others, however, because the harms of immigration really are general and public. They are merely harms dismissed as irrelevant or irrational by idealistic intellectuals, who tend to believe that cultural goods are unreal or at least can never be rationally preferred to economic well-being. Of course, the general public doesn’t seem to realize how much richer the United States would be if we allowed ten times as many immigrants to enter legally as we currently do. Perhaps if they did they’d be as eager as their pointy-headed fellow citizens to throw ope the gates of El Paso.

February 2, 2011

In the Past They Ate Cream of Celery

Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 11:20 am

Have you noticed that people frequently use “the Past” to mean “the 1950s?” In this discussion the 50s, and innovation since then, are the explicit topic of the conversation, but this doesn’t prevent invective about the various centuries of prior human history from creeping in.

More interesting: various comments are made about the unpleasantness of 50s cuisine. I believe these comments are true, but I wonder if the terribleness of the food in the 50s wasn’t related to the magnificent innovations Krugman et al are so awed by. This was, after all, an era in which prophets routinely heralded the imminent replacement of meals by nutritive pills. That this has never seemed an attractive prospect to anyone before or since the middle of the 20th century perhaps offers some insight into the tastiness of that unhappy era’s food.

-David Schaengold

February 1, 2011

Who else?

Filed under: Uncategorized — William Brafford @ 9:30 am

There’s a curious highway running through West Baltimore. To the west of Martin Luther King Boulevard, ramps lead down from West Franklin and West Mulberry to a sunken expressway in a massive trench. This artificial canyon runs for about a mile and then stops abruptly, four or five miles short of the beltway to which it was meant to connect. This stretch of US-40 is known as Baltimore’s “Highway to Nowhere”; BmoreSmart made a video giving a view of  the trench from a nearby rooftop:

The city is now in the process of filling in the trench; the project is now pretty universally recognized as having been a bad idea in the first place. Who would have designed such a thing? From Antero Pietila’s excellent Not in My Neighborhood:

Downtown Baltimore had been under a massive assault since 1944. That year the city hired Robert Moses to plan a new crosstown expressway. No one could argue against better roads; during the war, the few existing arteries in the city had created one of the nation’s worst transportation nightmares. Moses, New York’s indefatigable parks and roads czar, chose a sunken expressway path. He proposed bulldozing through Howard and Charles streets, piercing the heart of the downtown retail district. His plan would have saved, barely, the Roman Catholic basilica, the Walters Art Museum, and the Enoch Pratt Free Library, but dozens of churches and public buildings were earmarked for demolition. All told, Moses proposed to raze two hundred city blocks and relocate some nineteen thousand residents, most of them black. “Nothing which we propose to remove will constitute any loss to Baltimore,” he assured.

-William Brafford

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