Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Moral Case for Torturing Terrorists

The moral case for torturing terrorists.
Copyright 2009 Michael S. Kochin all rights reserved

A1. Terrorism is a crime.
A2. It is the obligation of everyone with knowledge of a potential crime to share that knowledge with those that can prevent the crime.
A3. If someone is obliged to do something, there is a prima facie case that they ought to be coerced to carry out their duty.
A4. Torture is an effective means of extracting information
It follows:
C1. There is a prima facie case that those with relevant knowledge that can prevent terrorist actions ought to be tortured into revealing that information.

Discussion: Obviously, the required means of coercion depends on a whole host of factors. We must do things to prevent a murder that we must not do to prevent a shoplifting.
Also, this argument assumes that we know that somebody has relevant knowledge which they are refusing to share. Since in the real world we are are uncertain about this in any given case, we need to concerned about torturing innocent people. But in the real world we also need to worry about arresting innocent people, jailing innocent people, and executing innocent people. The answer to all these problems is the same as the answer to the surgeon: "try real hard not to make mistakes."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Don't Confuse Diversity with Bias

I am reposting my op-ed on academic bias at Tel Aviv University, in response to the piece in Haaretz -- MSK.

Don't Confuse Diversity with Bias (originally published in the Jerusalem Post, January 2004)

I am a recently tenured member of the Department of Political Science at Tel Aviv University, the department that is the focus of Caroline Glick's "Academic Gulags." I am also a conservative, an opponent of a Palestinian state, a supporter of Jewish settlement in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza -- and I have not hesitated to air my political views since joining the department in 1995. I have written for the neo-conservative Weekly Standard, and have received funding from such well-known conservative institutions as the John M. Olin Foundation and the Heritage Foundation.

Nor am I the token conservative in an otherwise solidly far-left department. One colleague, a strong cultural Zionist, participates in a seminar at the conservative Shalem Institute in Jerusalem. Another, while dovish politically, works on the politically incorrect topic of sociobiological explanations for warfare. Yet another has, in her scholarly publications, defended the Israeli right to retain the settlements. Nor are we monolithic in our political affiliations and political activities: members of the department have been linked to political parties from the right, the center, as well as the left, advising figures from former IDF Chief of Staff Raful Eitan to Likud's David Levy to former Labor Party foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami.

We Tel Aviv political science professors are active in presenting Israeli affairs from diverse points of view both at home and abroad. My colleague Gideon Doron defended Israel and the Sharon Government in an internationally publicized debate with Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi last year at the University of Colorado. Another colleague, Yossi Shain, has defended Israeli policy on ABC's Nightline and other major media outlets.

Ms. Glick found that some of our students echoed back to her the teachings of Yoav Peled. I am not surprised: Professor Peled is, without a doubt, the most influential teacher in our department  not because his views are echoed by other members of the faculty, but because he does the best job in his lectures of marshaling arguments and evidence in support of them. To the rest of us, who disagree with him about everything from the virtues of capitalism to the Palestinian right of return, Professor Peled's influence is only a spur to us to do a better job in researching, writing, and presenting alternative understandings that we find more plausible. Professor Peled is also the strongest voice in the department for the maintenance of unimpeachable academic standards and the place of the liberal arts in our curriculum, to an extent that even I, a former student of the late Allan Bloom's, am sometimes hesitant to echo.

Yoav Peled is indeed a Marxist, a supporter of concessions to the Palestinians, and has even spoken out for "regime change" in George W. Bush's United States. Professor Peled is also a captain in the Israel Defense Forces reserves, a former El Al air marshal, and the son of one of the most prominent generals in IDF history, Motti Peled. Somehow I doubt that many such figures can be found in America's academic left.

Are alternative views to Yoav Peled's welcome at Israeli universities? My experience of the past decade, a tumultuous decade for Israel, as we all know, indicates that such views are more than welcomed; such views are rewarded by Tel Aviv's Department of Political Science. My department values diversity of viewpoint and excellence in research and presentation above criteria of political correctness whether leftist or conservative. By following that policy, we have become the leading political science department in Israel.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Three questions on the war in Afghanistan

Have Afghanis learned their lesson not to permit attacks on the US
homeland to be run from their country?
If they haven't, what does the US need to do to "learn 'em"?
if they have learned, WTF is the US still doing there after eight years?

Monday, June 22, 2009

As Mbeki is to Mugabe...

As Mbeki is to Mugabe, Obama is to Ahmadinejad.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

John Dunn on American Exceptionalism (2005)

No government can make a country prosper; but any government can ruin one; and most today are in a position to do so very rapidly and extremely thoroughly. The country of which this is least clearly true is the United States of America; and the obstacles which stand in the way of its doing so are still a plain legacy from the efforts of Madison and his colleagues...
--John Dunn, Setting the People Free: The Story of Democracy (2005), p. 135 and n.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Obama's Green Offensive against Investors

The Obama budget aims to raise $645.7 billion dollars through 2019 by selling green-house gas permits to emitters. The administration calls this plan a "cap and trade" program for the control of greenhouse gas emissions. But the Obama plan is quite different from the cap and trade program in force in Europe or that proposed in 2007 for the United States by Joe Lieberman (and endorsed in principle by John McCain). The European system and the Lieberman plan allocate rights to emit greenhouse gases to existing emitters. Such plans reduce emissions by reducing in subsequent years the amount of greenhouse gases these certificates permit.

The Obama plan, by contrast, calls for one hundred percent of the rights to emit to be auctioned off by the government. The industrial plant of emitters, therefore, whether we are speaking of coal-fired power plants, steel factories, or oil refineries, will be worthless without the permits.

The effect of the Obama scheme will thus be to auction off the investments in existing emitters to the purchasers of emissions permits. Obama's scheme for "a hundred percent auction," as he called it during the campaign, is in fact an expropriation of the capital invested in emitting plants. Obama wants to expropriate capital for the benefit of the government, which gains the revenue from the sale of permits.

Such a capital levy is bad economics, destructive of investors' confidence not only in the prospects of emitting corporations but in the Obama administration's attitude toward investment capital as a whole.

A capital levy of this kind is bad economics because it poses the threat of subsequent capital levies in future years. The problem was demonstrated by the economists Finn Kydland and Edward Prescott in a 1977 paper which helped win them the 2004 Nobel Prize. If auctioning off the industrial plant of "carbon polluters" is a good idea in 2009, Kydland and Prescott teach us to ask, why not do it again in 2010? All one has to do is auction off a new set of required permits and raise further revenue in 2010. True, such a move would expropriate those who bought permits in the 2009 auction, but if expropriating the original owners didn't bother us back in 2009, why should expropriating the new owners in 2010?

Stock markets have declined precipitously since the inauguration in good part because of the threat that something like Obama’s “one-hundred percent auction” will be implemented. Stocks of carbon emitters, especially utilities, have taken a big hit because of the threat of government seizure of the value of their assets. Moreover, investors fear that similar "one hundred percent auctions" are in store for other sectors of the economy as well. Imagine how much revenue can be raised by expropriating the value of nuclear power plants if the government auctions off the right to store nuclear waste, or from the HMO industry if the government auctions off the right to bill Medicare, or from the pharmaceutical industry if the government auctions off the right to sell FDA-approved drugs.

Of course, this path paved with capital levies is the road to ruin for investors, that is to say pretty much everybody with a pension plan, 401-K, IRA or life insurance policy. What is bad for investors is bad for the American economy as a whole. Avoiding such policies, as Prescott says in his 2004 Nobel lecture, is the most important thing the government can do to produce economic success, or in America's current plight, economic recovery.

Because the Obama plan is bad economics, it also violates the economic reasoning embodied in the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, which forbids the taking of private property for public use, "without just compensation." The Obama plan takes the private property of investors in emitting plants, and raises revenue precisely to the extent that it denies these investors just compensation. If the relevant public purpose is control of greenhouse gas emissions, a genuine cap and trade program as proposed by Senator Lieberman answers the purpose without engaging in unconstitutional raids on our savings.

Fortunately there are effective steps that legislators can take to stop the Obama scheme before it does any more harm. The first step is for enough Democrats to join with Republicans to keep the Obama plan from being rammed through in the budget process, which does not allow for debate sufficient to air the economic and constitutional difficulties with the Obama plan.

When control of greenhouse gas emissions comes up in the ordinary legislative process, it is the duty of legislators to consider some variant of the Lieberman scheme. That plan at least avoids expropriating capital, because it gives the emission rights largely to the existing emitters. Some of those existing emitters would doubtless shut their plants, finding it more profitable to sell their emission rights to more efficient emitters. A coal-fired power plant, for example, might turn off the boilers and sell its allocation of permits to a natural gas-fired power plant, because natural gas-fired power plants produce about twice the amount of electricity that coal-fired power plants do for the same emission of greenhouse gases. But the lost investment in the coal-fired plant would be compensated by the resale value of the emissions permits.

As the Europeans have learned through hard experience, any cap and trade scheme will impose large burdens on consumers through higher prices for electricity, gasoline, and pretty much the whole range of manufactured products. This is reasonable if greenhouse gas caps will indeed do enough to mitigate climate change to outweigh the caps' very large costs.

But however that scientific and economic debate should go, allocating the right to emit to existing emitters, along the lines of the Lieberman scheme, accomplishes the putative public purpose of reducing greenhouse gas emissions without threatening investors or the Constitution.

Levis A. Kochin, Department of Economics, University of Washington
Michael S. Kochin, Department of Political Science, Tel Aviv University (corresponding author)