A Nitpick About Costly Contraception

Okay, so everyone knows Rush Limbaugh is stupid for suggesting that someone who goes broke buying birth control is a “slut”. Birth control pills end up being a sunk cost. You don’t go on and off them but stay on them however sexually active you are. But of course it’s not true that there’s no relationship between amount of sex one has and contraceptive costs. Say condoms are about $3 each and it costs $10 a month (at the low end!) for birth control pills. That means if you have sex less than three times a month, it’s cheaper to buy condoms. If it’s $50 a month, then make that 16. $100, 33 and so on. So I suppose if one has a low threshold for “slut” then the mere fact of needing the pill would make someone so.

Naturally, slut isn’t defined by amount of sex but amount of partners. If you have sex twice a day every day with the same person, you’re not a slut and are in need of contraception. It’s also unclear why someone should be shamed (only implored to be careful of STDs) for having multiple partners if that’s really the lifestyle they want. The problem is that many religious conservatives don’t really like premarital sex of any sort and the notion that contraceptives are associated with promiscuity is just a red herring.

The Yeller Menace

There’s a good chance you’ve seen this ad that Pete Hoekstra ran during the Super Bowl. If not in between watching brain trauma ball, then likely on the intertubes. The ad was immediately recognized as racially insensitive (sure, but political incorrectness doesn’t really bother me) and just plain stupid (there we go, that bothers me!) But is it really exceptional or unprecedented? Or is it just a more clumsy delivery of the rhetoric that politicians spew anyway?

China is a recurring subject in the Republican debates. National debt is given a sinister character by the suggestion that the Chinese own much of it (they own some of it, but by far not most). Here’s Romney from one of the debates:

China is playing by different rules. One, they are stealing intellectual property. Number two, they’re hacking into our computer systems, both government and corporate they are manipulating their currency, and by doing so, holding down the price of Chinese goods, and making sure their products are artificially low-priced. It’s predatory pricing, it’s killing jobs in America I would do something this president should have done a long time ago, which is to label China a currency manipulator. And then I would bring in action at the WTO level, charging them with being a currency manipulator.

Romney’s China rhetoric is relatively more sophisticated and fact-based than many other Republicans’ and yet here we have bad economics. They’re stealing our intellectual property? You mean they refuse to strangle their progress with our monopolies and artificial scarcity? What predators. And here we have the false notion of zero-sum trade, coming from the party that is ostensibly for free trade.

Obama isn’t much better. In his last SOTU, Obama mentioned China 5 times and counted blocking Chinese tires from entering our market as a victory for American workers. Sure, it’s a victory for some workers but on the whole, it’s not a benefit for the American people. Obama knows better and his economic advisers certainly do. But appealing to peoples’ [false] intuitions and paleolithic fear of outsiders is always a politically winning strategy.

The growing consensus, as far as I can tell, among those on the mainstream Left who understand economics is that we shouldn’t stop free trade but rather ensure an ample safety net for the minority who does suffer from the workings of the global market.

China sacrifices her citizens’ subjects’ wealth to make products cheaper for us. This isn’t to the benefit of the Chinese people over the American people. It’s to the benefit of certain Chinese manufacturers over the Chinese people. Countering that with tighter trade restrictions won’t restore the balance in favor of the American people, but rather benefit domestic producers at the expense of everyone else. Tariffs should be seen for what they are – a regressive tax.

Pete Hoekstra may be stupid and he may be blatantly playing off of xenophobia and discredited folk economic beliefs, but he is far from alone.

Matt Yglesias’ Run-of-The Mill Specieism

Matt Yglesias scoffed at a commenter who pointed out that requiring companies to provide maternity leave constitutes a subsidy for having children, excess children is bad for the planet and therefore we should remove such subsidies:

The beginning of wisdom here is to note that pollution isn’t “bad for the planet.” The planet is a gigantic roughly spherical chunk of rocks that can easily survive whatever level of greenhouse gas emissions or whatever else we care to pump into the atmosphere. The big picture ecological threat is a threat to human beings [...] Radical population reduction would sharply reduce the quantity of anthropogenic ecological impacts, but to what end? The goal needs to be to reconfigure human activity in order to make it sustainable over a longer time horizon.

I won’t get into how I feel about the conservative notion that it’s the government’s job to encourage people to live the standard American lifestyle – suburbs, cars and kids – or, indeed, any lifestyle* beyond to say that I’m not exactly a fan and that he neglects that lower population is a saner alternative to lifestyle adjustments alone for ecological issues. I’ll just address the specieism his post espouses and the oversimplification of what exactly our planet is and does.

If you take a raccoon from the woods, take it into your home and then drown it, you will rightly face animal cruelty charges (among others)**. If you purchase property that is habitat to a hundred raccoons and flood it to provide a reservoir, somehow the mass cruelty flies under the radar. This of course makes no sense. If cruelty to one animal is indefensible, then cruelty to many is more so.

Biodiversity itself may only be of instrumental value. Just like there isn’t much of a difference morally between a mass murder of 1000 individuals and genocide consisting of 1000 individuals, there isn’t that much of a reason to get worked up about minor biodiversity loss itself so long as it is eventually recovered and there remains enough in the present time. However, habitat destruction and the reduction of numbers means that individual sentient organisms are starving to death or otherwise dying in a bad way or living a more impoverished existence. For this reason, any environmentalism that doesn’t make the welfare/rights of all beings, not just humans, central isn’t worth discussing. Matt Yglesias seems to be suggesting we all need to do our part to use less resources to make room for more people. This fails because as we can see it disregards the welfare of wildlife and it also fails because it takes a total view of happiness. Two people living okay existences aren’t really better than one person living a fabulous existence. In a true eco-utopia, everyone will have plenty of unharmed wilderness to explore and achieve oneness.

Another minor point is his assertion that the planet is just “a spherical chunk of rocks.” Clearly, when people say planet, they are not referring to its geology, though the bulk of the mass is, indeed, lifeless silica and minerals. They are referring, of course, to the ecosphere, which supports us and all the other life on the planet. It is perhaps of only instrumental value but very great value indeed. If we fix up Señor Yglesias’ comments accordingly, we still don’t see a powerful argument to reduce humanity to the stone age nor to view children as little packets of evil (however annoying they may be), but you also certainly don’t come to the conclusion that child rearing, something people gladly voluntarily do anyway, needs to be subsidized so as to encourage it anymore than our biology and existing social pressures already do.

* I don’t want zen fascists telling me to live in an apartment, ride the bus and not have kids either.
** Actually, this depends on the jurisdiction. If you at least feed the raccoon first, it will then be your [illegal] pet that you are being cruel to. If you at least agree that someone 
ought to get in trouble for kidnapping, then drowning a raccoon, then you should agree with my logic, even if the law isn’t quite like I make it sound.

Taxpayers are Assholes

Watching people argue about how much teachers make makes me think that we are asking the wrong questions, and getting garbage answers. Below the fold is a vid from reason.tv showing one of their journalists heckling attendees of the “Save our Schools” rally in DC. Some of their responses were hilariously inane, like the girl who suggested that there’s no amount that’s too high to spend on schools. However, most of the people they interviewed seemed pretty sharp, including Matt Damon, who had a rather eloquent reply. One of the words he used to describe the idea that we need to eliminate tenure to give teachers incentive to do a good job was paternalistic. Now, he of course is arguing with people who ostensibly despise paternalism.

Indeed, the main argument made by the reasonroids’ side of the debate isn’t that we need to set salaries or incentives for teachers differently. If we really are simply thinking in terms of incentive or the “MBA mentality,” we’d rightly conclude that Damon, however smart he is, is wrong to downplay the importance of salary and job security and raise salaries in order to attract more and better teachers. The argument is, or should be, that it is highly paternalistic to put teachers in a position that their job security, perks and even wages are at the mercy of taxpayers. The problem is taxpayers are stingy assholes.

People on reason.tv’s side of the debate trap themselves into a corner arguing for less cushy jobs for teachers when the free market very well could offer better working conditions for all we know. The fat seems not to be in teachers’ salaries and perks, but in supporting the various parasites that feed off the system*. If giving teachers rock star salaries brings more students to your school, then teachers will have rock star salaries. So let’s free teachers from the tyranny of the taxpayer**.

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“The Teriyaki Effect”

From the jlist blog:

It’s an odd fact about Japan that teriyaki is not that common inside Japan, though the flavoring is used on certain foods like yakitori chicken on a stick without the teriyaki name. It’s similar to the way French demi-glace sauce is extremely famous in Japan as one of the basic flavorings of Western cooking, yet it’s not nearly as common in France proper. Perhaps we should label this strange phenomenon of foods becoming more famous outside their home countries, “the Teriyaki Effect.”

I concur. Let us use that word. I’ll also add that there’s a related phenomenon. People like things from X nation that are extremely, stereo-typically (based on their possibly incorrect stereotypes) X-like. My wife jokes with her other Asian friends about how Asians who are found to be attractive by Americans (欧米人にもてる)are the ones with extremely slanty eyes. Americans like hot dogs and they like pizza, but you really have to go to Japan to find pizza with hot dogs in the crust. Sushi, thought of as very Japanese, is rather popular in America, but dishes that would be closer to the expectations of the American palate such as omelet rice (オムライス) and Hayashi rice aren’t. Let’s call this the Lucy Liu effect.