Archives for category: Social Theory

Why can women forgive their cheating husband, but men can’t? (or, Why, traditionally, have women more easily forgiven their cheating husbands than men forgiven their cheating wives?)

. . . as answered on Quora. . . .

A basic element, here, is that while

  • women have a rather limited number of eggs and bear the natural, biological burden of investing in progeny prenatally, as well as being better adapted to nurture young children (breast milk, for starters),
  • men have a startling amount of sperm and do not bear the natural, biological burden of prenatal investment in the production of children, and are less well suited to raising children in their very young years.

Because of this inequality, the “deals” men and women make in sexual relations have tended, across cultures, to demonatrate quite distinct supply and demand schedules. Women have tended to offer sure paternity of their children to their spouses in exchange for the man providing physical and political and “economic” security.

A woman who engages in sexual activity with a man not her spouse betrays the essential element of the deal. This is a direct abrogation of the basic agreement. A man who engages in sexual activity with a woman not his spouse is not directly violating the terms (or basic requirements) of the “deal.”

But a husband who ceases to support — or slacks off in supporting — his wife while diverting his resources to a mistress, say, that would be on the level of a cheating wife.

It has been a staple of feminist thought that there is something horrible about this double standard. The more I investigate the nature of sexual relations, the less sense this makes to me, since the very contract itself is based on a double standard — or, better yet, like almost all trades, the deal is, in essence, the satisfaction of two distinct sets of priorities. So a double standard is precisely what we would expect to see evolve.

Now, in couples who do not have, cannot have, or do not want children, the nature of the deal changes. Also the importance of the deal tends to lessen as well, which is why we would expect to see more divorce and more “cheating” in families with no children.

So, no wonder wives tend to forgive cheating husbands more often than men forgive cheating wives — at least in the past. These days, with fewer children being produced and with more households dependent upon the State (taxpayers) for the maintenance of children, we should see this double standard weaken, perhaps even to the point of reversal — in cases where other pressures are brought to bear.

In fine, we should expect distinct behaviors and value-standards along sex lines for a sexually dimorphic species.


N. B. I assume a mix of naturally selected habits and attitudes and economically-induced ones, as well as culturally variable influences. We always expect variety. But patterns of behavior can nevertheless be teased out, with causal relations introduced in multiple dimensions, honing in on a number of factors. The fact that, in complex systems (such as societies) there are outliers and divergent behaviors does not preclude the making of generalizations subject to the usual caveats and statistical distributions.

twv

Some plays are daring but pay off.

Say you want to remove a sitting president, but your repeated efforts fail. And then it looks like you cannot even beat him at the ballot box — your favored stooges are unpopular. With actual voters.

So you attempt major electoral fraud, focusing on swing states, under cover of a pandemic released from a lab your side “just happened” to fund. This amounts to a coup, sure. Whatchagonnado? Well, when the president resists, you call his efforts a coup.

Long shot, right?

Not if you can get the bulk of the media to repeat the message, relentlessly framing the issue always narrowly — as a coup by the defender rather than a coup by you, the offense.

Helping to keep this going? The very notion that “conspiracies” are non-existent and only believed by nuts.

Only “conspiracy theorists” are stupid enough, you see, to believe that complicated machinations can be kept secret. When the folks floating the conspiracy conjecture return volley, and state obvious truths such as that most of the facts have already been revealed, you just laugh and deny the facticity in some cases, deny the relevance in others, and call those who dare break ranks anti-social.

This works for inattentive people who want to believe that their side, at the very least — and, generally, “the government” — is good. 

It also works for sophisticates, who want to believe that all major social processes are Invisible Hand processes, not Hidden Hand processes. They’ve been trained. Even #libertarians fall for this.

Especially libertarian intellectuals! It is very hard to be a libertarian, since libertarians oppose so much of what modern states do, and how half the population lives. Intellectuals yearn to be treated with respect. One way to do this is grant to statists their good intentions. But these libertarians forget that this grant is best seen as merely a dialectical convention, or a show of manners. And thus they pretend that the state really isn’t that bad, and its participants just misinformed. Nonsense, of course.

But the nonsense is truly believed by most libertarians, and they usually side with statist intellectuals against the Conspiracy Theorists, whom they lampoon as boobs and worse.

Which is one reason libertarians have been treated so gingerly treated by the Deep State establishment, despite libertarians’ obvious ideological menace.

Libertarians have served as a loyal opposition to the Deep State, not a disloyal opposition. For their key role in the success of the Deep State psy-op that has been running for 60 years or more, they have been granted a special dispensation.

But things are changing. As soon as the beltway libertarians open up their eyes and see actual conspiracies when in play, libertarians will be quickly Brennaned. “Even libertarians” are a threat, and Brennan has shown us the next level of play.

Meanwhile, the reflexive disbelief and mockery of conspiracy theories by libertarians helps actual, existing conspiracies (of whatever nature, whether grand or petit, meticulous-and-cosmic or improvised-and-local) carry on.

This attitude by libertarian intellectuals may be one of the chief reasons why libertarianism has scant practical effect.

It is kind of amazing to watch, as they witlessly refuse to see what should be obvious to any smart person: just as altruism will be the favored public ideology of committed egoists, scorn for conspiracy theories will be one cultural meme that actual conspirators will most actively support — if behind the scenes.

Of course the epistemic problems are just as obvious. Which puts us in a trap. But we should be able to think our way out of such traps. We should be able to entertain a conspiracy conjecture without the now de rigueur freak out, look at the evidence, and draw conclusions. The number of grand hoaxes now coming to light is perhaps daunting — 1,2,3,4: an election, a pandemic, a half-assed foreign policy, a UFO cover-up and its half-assessed disclosure — but smart people should be able to handle them without feeling anxiety.

Buck up, smarties.

twv

If libertarians had their way, would they pay entry level unskilled workers much less than today’s prevailing minimum wage?

 . . . as answered on Quora. . . .

If libertarians “had their way,” they wouldn’t allow you or anyone else to prohibit any adult from accepting a job from anyone else at any rate of remuneration mutually agreed upon. Further, libertarians would prevent you from bullying or threatening employers from offering lawful jobs at any rate to any adult.

“They pay” is a weasel phrase. Most libertarians are like most people, and do not hire anyone for wage contract work. They are themselves wage contractors, or else professional service contractors, or artisans who make things and sell them. When we discuss economic policy, we should not use weaselly phraseology. It is not a question of policy makers “would pay” anyone, it’s a question of allowing wage contracts to form or not.

The questions in policy pertain to when and why and on what terms the state and political actors employ threat of force to interfere in free contract of whom. Libertarians want merely to defend freedom of contract. Of everybody.

Libertarians would allow people to be paid what they are worth as determined by bids, asks and deals on the labor market. More people would be working. More people would indeed be working at lower wages. And thus more people would be rising in rates of remuneration as they develop more skills on the job. This scandalizes the easily scandalized, but people with some common sense should be able to see the relevant factors involved.

twv

Is Ludwig von Mises relevant to economists?

. . . as answered on Quora. . . .

He was relevant to many economists in his day, and at least two of his contributions to economics — his business cycle theory and his economic calculation argument about socialism — were well respected beyond even his circle of seminar attendees, which included Fritz Machlup, Gottfried Haberler, and F. A. Hayek. Among his admirers were Lionel Robbins.

For some reason he was never given much credit for clearly spelling out an ordinalist approach to marginal utility before big names like Hicks and Allen. I have read histories of marginal utility theory that ball up the Austrian School understanding of marginal utility, from which Mises emerged and to which he contributed. So the whole approach is definitely not well understood outside the actual Misesian readership.

Several economists of high fame, today — Nobel Laureates James Buchanan and Vernon Smith, prominent among them — wrote about and praised Mises’ contributions.

Mises engaged in a kind of formal theory that deprecated mathematical exposition, so his method ran counter to much of Anglo-American economics from World War II onward, and (rightly or wrongly) he would have regarded the bulk of the statistical work of contemporary economics as “history.” That being said, there is a whole school devoted to his general approach, and only ideologues of state-worship and scientism dismiss him out of anything other than ignorance. Still, let us be frank, most economists have never heard of him, much less studied The Theory of Money and Credit or Human Action.

twv

Why are libertarians against raising the minimum wage to $15.00? Do they expect the working poor to subsist on $7.25 forever and somehow not be a burden on taxpayers?

. . . as answered on Quora. . . .

  1. Because it is based on coercion, threat of force.
  2. Because a legal wage minimum does not raise wages, it prohibits employers from hiring workers at rates less than set, so it is de facto an unemployment technique — which some libertarian aficionados of history note was why many of the early minimum wage laws were in fact enacted, to harm the employment opportunities of “undesirables.”
  3. Because libertarians know that, ultimately, wages are paid to workers on the basis of productivity (marginal productivity, to be exact) and that regulations and prohibitions like minimum wage laws are attempts to get something for nothing, and never work out as billed. That is, such regulations have “unintended consequences” — though how “unintended” those consequences are is in doubt, because some folks malignly do promote these regulations knowing about their negative effects. (Many politicians advance bad ideas merely to appease the rubes.)
  4. Because libertarians believe that people should aim to be more productive, not seek for Salvation from the State.
  5. Because libertarians know that most people in the workforce who start out at the lowest wages in the marketplace do not stay at the low rates, but increase their remuneration rates as they develop skills.
  6. Because libertarians know that competition among employers for good workers do in fact reward workers with higher wage rates than the minimum.
  7. Because libertarians expect people to aspire to better themselves and the lives of their families, not depend on others for charitable or forced aid. People with low productivity shouldn’t start families, for instance, but wait until they have proven themselves capable of productive living before engaging in unprotected heterosexual intercourse and launching babies onto the world — babies that somebody’s got to take care of.
  8. Libertarians realize that if you make it easier to live without producing, you will get more non- and under-producers. So “burden on the taxpayer” is one of their concerns. And making some people unnecessarily unemployable, by minimum wage regulation and by unemployment subsidy, is no way to decrease this burden.
  9. Because libertarians generally prefer distributed responsibility to centralized and socialized responsibility, knowing that the latter turns people into dregs of society, economic leaches — and minimum wage laws set higher than the productivity of the potential workers does increase unemployment and prevents the lowest-skilled workers from developing working skills in the most effective manner: by actual labor.

I could go on and on like this, but you get the idea: minimum wage laws don’t work as political activists pretend they do. Intent does not determine the utility of a law, outcomes do. Libertarians have wit enough to see the reality of such programs. And they are more than familiar with inconvenient facts about these de facto employment prohibitions. They understand that such regulations actually hurt the employability of the lowest skilled workers. And will likely regale you with statistics about how African-American teen unemployment, for example, increased over the decades with each effective increase in the minimum wage.

But most voters regard legislation and regulation as magic. So they simply deny truths repeatedly demonstrated. Economic policy is not a means to an end, for many voters, but rites in the cult of the omnipotent state, which they worship instead of a deity, and in defiance of reality. The state is not omnipotent. It has limitations. It does not work by magic, no matter how cultic its adherents prove themselves to be — as routinely revealed in the perennial nonsense over minimum wage laws.


Oh, and why not raise it higher than it is now, to $15/hour?

Well, a federal regulation of this nature would do more harm than a local regulation in a wealthy region, for some regions of the country can bear only very low wages: increasing the minimum would disemploy more people in Arkansas and Missouri than in New York or San Francisco.

The higher the minimum is raised, the greater the number of workers who would be negatively affected.

This is why no one in his right mind demands a $1000 per hour “raise” for “everybody” using this method.

Only fools make a bad policy worse.

twv

Why is western economics based on self-interest?

. . . as answered on Quora. . . .

It isn’t.

Self-interest is a moral concept, and economists are supposed to be Wertfrei (value-free) social scientists — if on track of value.

You might say, “but economics is all about the results of people choosing according to their own values, thus all about choices dependent upon a kind of perceived or self-constructed interest.” And I reply, “well, OK, if you must — but it is just as much a science exploring other-interest, for these selves doing their choosing also value others, and their interests in others figure into their demand and supply curves just as much as does their self regard.”

The truth is this: the logic of choice at the heart of subjective value and marginal utility and marginal rates of substitution and satisficing and all that is not egoistic . . . according to economists. When they say it is — as they sometimes do, in large part because they are not always good philosophers — they err.

The brilliant Jevonsian economist P. H. Wicksteed tried to make this clear when he argued that economists are not pushing a rationale of egoism when they develop their notion of a demand schedule, nor negating altruism, either. What they apply, he argued, is a concept of non-tuism, a coinage he offered to help explain that when a person economizes in his purchases and asks for the highest prices possible in his sales, he may do so for egoistic or altruistic reasons, but still works to maximize the interest of the transaction, either egoistic or altruistic, when he makes those trades. (Or when she makes her trades, for one of Wicksteed’s better examples was of a housewife deciding the basic economy of the household under her charge.) Non-tuistic interest is a worthwhile concept to try to understand: see Israel M. Kirzner’s The Economic Point of View: An Essay in the History of Economic Thought (1960), for a good treatment.

But even Wicksteed did not get it exactly right, for nearly all our choices involve demand schedules made up of both egoistic and altruistic ends.

It helps to focus not on “interest” — which, as I assert above, has too moral a component — and not on “utility” — which is unduly abstract, and gets students confused. Concentrate, instead, on the specific uses to which a good may be put. Under the theory of Grenznutzen (border use) of the Austrian School economists (from which English-language economists got their term of art marginal utility), the various uses to which a fungible good may be put, and against which value is to be understood (as dependent upon the importance of the specific use the last unit of a good decided upon has to the economic actor), can be almost any mix of self-regarding and other-regarding purposes.

In my personal economy, my first gallon of clear water goes to drink, the second and third to food preparation, the fourth to cleaning myself, the fifth to my neighbor, the sixth to my dog, the seventh to washing the dog, the eighth to washing the house, the ninth to letting the neighbor’s cow to drink, and so forth.* All of these uses satisfy me, but several also satisfy others. Do you see how useless quibbling about whose interests are being served?

The economist does not usually inquire deeply about the egoism and altruism of the goals, or uses, that are the foci of the border use (Grenznutzen) that goes into explaining the formation of prices and the rates of exchange. Because such concerns are irrelevant to what economists are usually trying to explain.

Similarly, economists rarely fret about how a person forms the value scales which place the various uses to which goods are put into order. Not because they cannot be analyzed, but because they are mostly irrelevant to what economists do.

Who is concerned? Moralists, whose traditional and self-appointed job it is to get people to change their values.

But when moralists get worked up over whether choices on the market are “too egoistic” or “not altruistic enough,” they go too far if they also castigate all economic choice as selfish. And usually they descend into a very deep error.

The error was identified clearly by Austrian philosopher Alexius Meinong in his Ethische Bausteine (see Marie-Luise Schubert Kalsi, Alexius Meinong’s Elements of Ethics, 1996), where he explores the difference between subject and object, egoand alter. Of egoism and altruism, Meinong argued that, before any deep inquiry, one might think that “a value is egoistic if the subject is egoistic, altruistic if the alter is the subject. However, that this is not so can be seen in the fact that I myself have altruistic desires and valuations besides egoistic desires and valuations. Thus, no objection should be raised that there are altruistic and egoistic values for me. Then, the ego is subject of even altruistic values. But the altruistic nature of these values must be grounded on something other than the valu[ing] subject.”

The notion that economics is “based on self-interest” is actually a misguided philosophical complaint, and though I recommend Wicksteed and Kirzner and other economists to clear this up, it really is a philosophical error, and should be dealt with philosophically.


N.B. In addition to the texts explicitly cited, above, one should consult

And the reader may note that I deliberately ignored another possible meaning of “western economics” that the questioner may in fact have intended: the system of private property “capitalism.” I simply won’t get caught up in the habit of calling a practiced economic order “economics.”

The well-known George Mason University economist plies his tool to a current issue:

I’m deeply puzzled by the idea that mandatory vaccination is more morally objectionable than mask mandates. The benefits of vaccination are clearly much larger. The costs also seem much lower — 2 pinpricks versus a constant dehumanizing burden.

Bryan Caplan @bryan_caplan

I responded, helpfully:

“I’m deeply puzzled by the idea that rape is more morally objectionable than unwanted hugging and kissing. The cost of rape seems so much lower — one insertion and a few thrusts and it’s over . . . versus constant dehumanizing burden.”

Timothy Wirkman Virkkala @wirkman

Early reactions have not been uniformly positive.

twv

Nearly every reference to “conspiracy“ is stupid.

People use “conspiracy theory” and “conspiracist” often incorrectly, and with baggage from their benighted instruction in public schools and from the hectoring of major media news readers.

It is common to accuse someone of [unwarranted] belief in [non-existent] conspiracies at the first drop of the hat, upon almost zero evidence. Mere association of an idea with even the whiff of “conspiracy” taints it like the lingering body odor of Seinfeld’s toxic valet.

The funny thing is, this inculcated fear of “conspiracy theory” is very likely the result of a conspiracy. Tales of Operation Mockingbird tell how the very term ”conspiracy theory” itself was encouraged by the CIA to its cadres of news readers and reporters, to dismiss anyone who brings up critiques of the Warren Commission Report on the JFK assassination.

Are these tales true? That is, are the reports that the CIA directly told its moles within the news media to dismiss those who question the Lone Gunman Theory as “conspiracy theorists” true? We hear this a lot online, especially from . . . conspiracy theorists.

Wikipedia belittles the lore of Operation Mockingbird as “an alleged large-scale program” of the CIA, despite quite a lot of evidence for the operation’s existence (most of it not mentioned), and despite the many, many links between the legacy media’s news staff and the CIA (not to mention the dominant Ethnicity We Must Not Mention), but I have had enough run-ins with Wikipedia’s editorial staff to understand that Wikipedia was long ago taken over by the same kind of propagandists who overrun most successful start-ups of influence-peddling. The history of non-profit foundations is littered with ideological takeovers. This shouldn’t be surprising. It is more class-based than anything else, and much of what is condemned as “conspiracy theory” is actually some sort of class-based analysis.

But in American intellectual culture only leftists are allowed to engage in class analysis. All others are “conspiracy theorists” — and even the left is controlled, somewhat, by the obsessive implementation of the “conspiracy theorist” charge.

It is nevertheless the case that all conjectures about conspiracies should be judged on their factual merits, with recognition that conspiracies are evasive phenomena that do not present evidence in the innocent manner that we see the phenomena of the natural world. Clues of a conspiracy often appear first as evidence of a cover-up. Elementary praxeology should warn scientists of the danger of using the smell test in these areas, pro or con, for scientists generally do not have to fight against consciously withheld data.

”The greatest trick the devil ever pulled”: successful conspiracies would hide behind a taboo against looking into conspiracies for the same reason that true, exploitative egoists would hide behind the smoke of official altruism.

Don’t be a stooge. Reject the lore that says ”conspiracy theory” must be the province of the psychotically paranoid.

For if “they” are out to get you, it is not paranoia to notice. And there are a lot of theys out there in the business of defrauding us, stealing from us, subjugating with us.

More importantly, we must not be shamed by the shameless.

To be a conspiracy theorist should be no more controversial than an “invisible hand” theorist. A conspiracy theorist is someone who has theories about conspiracies, and considers conjectures about conspiracies as legitimate subject for inquiry and disputation. Someone who believes in a conspiracy is not necessarily a conspiracy theorist. Someone who merely suspects a conspiracy lurks behind some observed events would better be labelled a “conspiracy conjecturer”!

The first question to ask an actual conspiracy theorist is not “what conspiracies do you believe in?” but “how can we learn which proposed conspiracies might be real?”

twv

There are many documents, obtained through leaks and FOIA requests, of reports about UFOs to and from military brass and naval and air forces and nuclear installations. This particular document, offered as public evidence by Luis Elizondo, late of AATIP, to Fox’s Tucker Carlson, may be new, but there are many others, such as the Admiral Twining Memo.

Now, what we have to understand is that the military has never (to my knowledge) repudiated these documents. This means, if UFOs are hoaxes or mistakes and illusions, these many documents are fakes. Which means that the U.S. Government would rather have its citizens speculating about nonsense while thinking the Government is engaged in a huge cover-up conspiracy than disabusing the alleged sovereigns of these United States of the public fraud perpetrated at their expense.

What this says about the government is obvious: it is conspiracy and psy-op no matter what, and an unconscionable one either way.

Scoffers and “skeptics” who take comfort in the notion that UFOs amount to a scientific zero somehow also must either ignore or take comfort in the Government’s complicity in a pattern of deluding its citizens.

I find this so irresponsible and anti-republican that the confident superiority of these scoffers and “skeptics” strikes me as almost more chilling yet.

Or else they are just not very bright.

Yet these “very bright people” sure pride themselves on their savvy intelligence!

Pride goeth before a disclosure?

twv

(1790–1864)

Why are marginalist ideas and economists mainly antagonistic towards their classical predecessors?

. . . as answered on Quora. . . .

Is this true? Are they? Were they? Of the marginalists I have read, they acknowledge the great successes of their predecessors.

Indeed, after writing the Grundsätse — which provided a more coherent foundation for value and price — Carl Menger went on to tutor Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, and spent most of his economic teaching effort emphasizing, not disputing, classical doctrines.

W.F. Lloyd, a brilliant precursor, built off of Say’s Law of Markets, sparing us the invective.

W.S. Jevons, the most anti-Ricardian of the bunch — and it was against David Ricardo whom he directed most of his ire, if memory serves — was filled with admiration for predecessors in the French Liberal School, and his never-finished Principles of Economics contains this reverential preamble:

An excellent way to begin a treatise on economics is to notice and analyse the manner in which [Nassau] Senior treats the subject in his work on Political Economy. It would be difficult, indeed, to find anything more logical and accurate than the few first pages of this excellent introduction to the science. As we shall afterwards see, Senior may not have followed his own ideas to their ultimate result; but, so far as they go, they form the best exposition of the basis of economics.

Now, I read Senior before Jevons, and I heartily concur. What a mind Senior had! He is my favorite classical-era economist. But he was also part of the Oxford catallactic trend, which was mostly uncomfortable with Ricardian economics and labor theories of value and cost. It was filled with proto-marginalists, like Lloyd. And, as H. Dunning Macleod later indicated, it might best be regarded as part of what he called “the Third School of Political Economy,” which dominated French and even American discussion. That is, it was a separate thing.

The marginalists of the last third of the 19th century were plying a new, more precise and even revolutionary theoretical toolkit. But it fit within much of classical theory, and the marginalists on the whole were not too proud. If Jevons seems cantankerous on occasion, remember, it took a long time to get the new ideas accepted, and not a few of those that did accept the ideas, like Alfred Marshall, did so by trying to incorporate the new with the old as half-measures. Austrians and Walrasians, for example, came to hone their ideas over time, making them more sui generis, inevitably finding the Marshallian/Clarkian mainstream antagonistic to them. So some of the later antagonisms to the classicals we cannot help but note — especially among some of Ludwig von Mises’ students, like Murray N. Rothbard — are no doubt the result of long-festering disputes in which the dominant school was more dismissive than anything else . . . in the manner dominant schools tend to be. And those dominant schools (which went through a Walrasian phase, to make this more complicated) tend to carry on old mistakes while scoffing at the objections of the economists they, in effect, “marginalize.”

twv