Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

Second-Best Options and the Second Amendment

If I had a magic wand that could magically get rid of all the handguns in the United States, and prevent people from getting any more of them, I would use it. But I don’t have such a wand, and if my plan for dealing with the social problems associated with handguns was to search high and low for such a wand, most people would, I think, conclude that I was wasting my time.

A national gun ban, in my view, was the gun control folks equivalent of a magic wand. I don’t know how effective a national ban would have been in limiting gun deaths and/or gun crime, but the question is largely irrelevant. Such a ban was never a realistic possibility. From 1939 until last Thursday, the Second Amendment was basically dead letter. It provided no meaningful restriction on the ability of government to restrict access to handguns, up to and including a total ban. Yet despite this, neither the federal government nor any state government has come anywhere close to passing such a ban, and if Heller had gone the other way, no such ban would have been forthcoming. Continue reading

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June 28, 2008 Posted by | Guns, Law | 1 Comment

McCain Wants to Start WWIII, Re-Institute Draft

Okay, so not really. But given the way some of McCain’s prior statements have been twisted, I can almost imagine the DNC running an attack ad based on that premise:

Only World War III would prompt Republican presidential candidate John McCain to bring back the military draft, McCain said on Tuesday.

Many Americans are fearful the U.S. government will be forced to reinstitute the draft given the prolonged Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Asked about that possibility by a potential voter in Florida during a telephone “town hall meeting,” McCain said: “I don’t know what would make a draft happen unless we were in an all-out World War III.”

June 26, 2008 Posted by | Election, Media, War and Peace | Leave a comment

Culture as Popular Culture

As we head into the summer doldrums, I know that many of you are probably suffering severe withdrawal from their favorite TV programs. Luckily, I have just the thing: A ten part lecture series! The lectures, by Prof. Paul Cantor of the University of Virginia, examines the interactions between commerce and art, and studies the myriad ways in which artists have been influenced by economic concerns.

Lecture One introduces the topic.

Lecture Two focuses on Shakespeare, and the ways in which his plays were influenced by economic considerations arising out of the Globe Theater, and Royal patronage.

Lecture Three examines the economics of painting, dealing in particular with the rise of painting in the merchant cities of Italy and the Netherlands. Continue reading

June 25, 2008 Posted by | Capitalism, Culture, Economics, History, Literature | Leave a comment

Racism without Racists?

So far all of our attempts to pick out the specific intent or motivation that make an individual act racist have failed. But perhaps we have been looking in the wrong place. Perhaps, as the example of the restaurant owner might indicate, our thinking about racism should concentrate not so much on the intent of an action and as on its effect, and even there not so much on the individual instance but on wider social outcomes.

This shift in focus from intent to effects has certainly been present in the law over the past few decades, and it has also been present, I think, in a lot of discussion about race and racism generally. Among some segments of the population, for example, it is common to hear more emphasis placed on what is called “institutional” or “systemic” racism than on the actions of individual racists themselves.

If what makes an action or institution or policy racist is not the intent behind it but its effects, then the obvious question is: what kind of effects are necessary for an act or institution to be racist? Continue reading

June 24, 2008 Posted by | Race | Leave a comment

“Rational” Racism

Start with a question that at first glance may seem far removed from matters of race and racism: why do teenagers pay higher rates for car insurance than do other drivers? The answer, obviously, is that they have a higher rate of accidents. Note, though, that a particular teenager will still be a higher rate even if he happens to be an excellent driver and will never get into an accident. Why? Because while a particular teenager might be safe, many of his peers are reckless and/or inexperienced, and it is not possible for the insurance companies to distinguish him from the others. To the extent that there was a low cost way of distinguishing between good drivers and bad drivers, insurance companies would use it, and in fact teen drivers do often pay more or less for insurance depending on their sex, because it turns out that teenage boys get into a lot more accidents than teenage girls.

This process is known as statistical discrimination, and in many areas of life it is considered unobjectionable. Yet, as with so many other things, when it comes to race matters are different. Continue reading

June 23, 2008 Posted by | Race | 1 Comment

St. Thomas More and the Constitution

Today is the feast day of St. Thomas More, the patron saint of lawyers and politicians. More was that rarest of all creatures, an honest lawyer and politician. He also got his head cut off, which goes to show what that sort of thing will bring you. 

I’ve long thought that the example of St. Thomas More was, or at any rate ought to be, of particular relevance to judges. Under our system of government judges are called upon to settle legal disputes between different parties in accordance with the positive law applicable to the factual circumstances of the case. They are not, generally speaking, empowered to “do justice” on a case by case basis as they see fit.

In most cases, the result demanded by the law and the “just”* result will be the same. Occasionally, however, the two will differ. A legal technicality may require putting a clearly guilty and dangerous criminal back on the streets. A law or policy which seems reasonable enough may conflict with a constitutional provision or statute of higher authority, and thus under the law may be deemed void. A law which in general leads to the best result may, in a particular case, lead to an unfavorable one. Continue reading

June 22, 2008 Posted by | Catholicism, Law, Morality | Leave a comment

A Free Market for Water

Both at home:

There are clear gains from having an active market in water rights. It would help solve the problems posed by current water shortages in the West, and it would provide the flexibility necessary to confront the impact of climate change on water supplies in the coming decades. It would be, in a word, fluid.

And abroad:

The solution for the poorer parts of the Third World is deregulation of the market for piped water, combined with the enforcement of property rights. Yes, I’m saying that Third World governments should consider letting private companies sell water at any price they want… And no, I don’t mean a water concession with a price regulated by the government, I mean true laissez faire in water supply. No price regulation, no rate of return regulation, no government ownership of assets, no political pressure to keep prices low.

Many of the world’s poor don’t get good water because they don’t live near a piped water connection. Or if they have a connection, it is often bad and irregular, with backflow putting dangerous and dirty substances into the drinking water. The underlying problem is that many governments artificially hold down the price of water, or they won’t let water companies cut off nonpaying customers. The result is that water companies don’t want to serve these poor customers in the first place, and they certainly don’t want to spend money by adding more water connections for the poorer areas. Deregulation would give water companies a stronger monetary incentive to serve these customers.

Continue reading

June 21, 2008 Posted by | Africa, America, Capitalism, Economics | 1 Comment

Chinese is the New Black

A high court in South Africa ruled on Wednesday that Chinese-South Africans will be reclassified as “black,” a term that includes black Africans, Indians and others who were subject to discrimination under apartheid. As a result of this ruling, ethnically Chinese citizens will be able to benefit from government affirmative action policies aimed at undoing the effects of apartheid.

More. I remember reading a 19th century case concluding that Chinese immigrants were “black” for the purpose of California’s segregation laws. What goes around comes around, I guess.

June 20, 2008 Posted by | Africa, Race | Leave a comment

Court Overrules Father’s Grounding of Daughter

It may sound like something out of the Onion, but in fact it’s only Canada:

A Canadian court has lifted a 12-year-old girl’s grounding, overturning her father’s punishment for disobeying his orders to stay off the Internet, his lawyer said Wednesday.

The girl had taken her father to Quebec Superior Court after he refused to allow her to go on a school trip for chatting on websites he tried to block, and then posting “inappropriate” pictures of herself online using a friend’s computer.

The father’s lawyer Kim Beaudoin said the disciplinary measures were for the girl’s “own protection” and is appealing the ruling.

“She’s a child,” Beaudoin told AFP. “At her age, children test their limits and it’s up to their parents to set boundaries.” Continue reading

June 20, 2008 Posted by | Family, Law | Leave a comment

Hope for Africa?

News stories about Africa typically are about war, famine, pestilence, and/or death. But according to a recent article in the Financial Times (reg. required), some underreported trends in the region are more hopeful:

The number of armed conflicts has dropped dramatically from over 20 in 1999 to 5 today; for example, long running civil wars in Angola, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, and Liberia have all come to an end.

Unnoticed by the media and much of the investment community has been a step change in Africa’s economic performance in the last 5 years. Real GDP growth in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) averaged 4.1 per cent in 1997-2002 and by 2007 it had risen to 6.6 per cent.

More importantly, real incomes are rising and Africans are getting richer at an unprecedented rate. In 1997-2002, real GDP per capita rose at a rate of 1.8 per cent per annum, this was up to 4.6 per cent in 2007. At 1.8 per cent per annum it takes 39 years for real incomes to double, but at 4.6 per cent per annum real incomes double within 15 years. Continue reading

June 19, 2008 Posted by | Africa, Economy | Leave a comment