Politicians Are Beholden to the Voter

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Matthew Miller’s The 2% Solution is filled with interesting and novel insights on the inadequacies of the political process. Miller a self-proclaimed radical centrist provides a rallying cry for all political pragmatists. Get over the drama/ trappings of political theater and get the bargaining table.  Yes, there will be trade-offs, but at the end of the day, the results will be worth the compromise. At least in theory.  Miller’s objectives are certainly laudable. However, clearly in the nearly 20-years since the book’s publication, few have taken his advice seriously. Miller certainly does not lack creditable credentials, after all, he was a senior advisor in the Clinton White house.

 

Miller does touch upon the root of the problem in the American phenomenon of ineffectual government. He cites the typical observations of the government’s ineptitude, invested interests, partisanship, etc. He does address one point that is often underscored by proponents of limited government. Typically were are so enamored with the inefficiencies and corruption in politics we forget about other factors that make government fail. How often are politicians avoiding making effective decisions due to not wanting to alienate their “base”? They are beholden to the voters to retain their position as an elected official. Frequently like to create the illusion of meaningful action (p.3).

 

Miller expounds upon how conservatives are generally between a rock and a hard place when it comes to social issues. Generally, Republicans are expected to give lip service to fiscal conservationism and small government. This cultivates a dilemma. The representative may personally favor some social safety nets, but will their core voters agree? The situation becomes more sticky when you take into account the attitudes of Swing voters. The proverbial Independent voter. As Miller quotes the  late Daniel Patrick Moynihan

” … Showing enough leg to convince the Independents we would like to attract that they are not neanderthals ..” (Miller, 2003, P. 28)

 

This juggling act is more about image management than producing good policy. However, this behavior is rational given the incentives of an elected official. Re-election! These balancing acts are more about voter appeasement than about doing what makes sense economically or socially. In my opinion, make the crusades embarked upon by many self-righteous politicians outright spurious. It is impossible to differentiate if they are passionate about the issue or the more so their re-election campaign.

 

Let me pick on a politician that demonstrates these principles,… Rand Paul. He’s a relatively unique Republican from an ideological standpoint. He has “Libertarian” tendencies. Similar to Senator Mike Lee of Utah. In terms of his re-election efforts, we can transpose Independent voters with Libertarian voters. Senator Paul will attempt to balance his campaign platform in a manner that will please mainstream Republicans but will also entice Libertarians to vote for him. While his target demographics may vary slightly from the majority of Republicans it is a similar concept. Attempting to strike the golden-mean, an image that is favorable in the eyes of Republican and Libertarian voters. This means making compromises on policy and diluting his ideological to pander to the other side.

 

Senator Paul also suffers from what I like to refer to as Soapbox syndrome. This is were a politician or activist who takes a stand on a minor issue or one that is convenient for them to be an advocate for. It is a blatant form of ideological rent-seeking. Instead of gain monetarily they gain more social creditably in the political sphere. James M. Buchanan was joking when he referred to politics as a form exchange. “Interpersonal trading to capture mutual benefits” (P.594). Taking on a policy issue as crusade you are giving X to obtain Y. Y  comes in the form of votes or creditably in certain political circles. Colloquially we refer to it has having cachet or currency. For example, presently the issue of policing reform has a lot of currency. This credibility transfers to anyone willing to take the position that is most congenial to the voters.

 

Bless his heart, goes on these short-lived crusades that make him appear to be a different type of politician. Remember back when he was fixated on term limits? I haven’t heard him gripe about term limits in awhile. Then again amid all the upheaval spawned from COVID-19 he probably has bigger fish to fry. It’s convenient in the here and now to give lips service to term limits, however,  the odds of such a policy coming into being are scant. Senator Paul knows this. There are far bigger issues than term limits. While implementing this policy may do some good in eliminating some of the invested interests. Not allowing senators to form longstanding relationships with lobbyists. It is easier to go off on a rant on the senator floor about term limits than to take the unions and lobbyists head-on. If he was truly committed to this issue why not impose your term limit. I am not suggesting he immediately resign. Say, ” After 15 years in the senator I am retiring. I will be full-time with my practice .” He would avoid looking like a hypocrite and it would be a graceful way to end your stint in the senate. He would be setting a good example, even if no one else wants to follow suit.

A Proposal For Stratified Markets- Eliminating the Bar Exam Requirement.

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Nearly two weeks ago, Prior Probability posted a blog entry suggesting that the Bar exam for lawyers should be eliminated . At least  for this year. Amid concerns of the Covid-19 outbreak. Stating that going through law school and proper conduct should be enough to guarantee a provisional license. I concur with this sentiment, it does seem superfluous to require an additional exam on top of having already earned Juris Doctorate degree. I will go one step  further and suggest we indefinitely suspend it as a requirement. Making it completely voluntary. Also, making membership of the Bar association voluntary as well. What I mean by this is neither should be a prerequisite for practicing law. But, do not abolish either the test or this mentioned organization.

 

I am going to justify this quirky position on the grounds of consumer sovereignty.  If I want a lawyer that is a member that passed the Bar exam, I should have that option. However, obviously at a higher cost. Vice versa, if I require legal services I may want to pay slightly less for a lawyer who does not have any affiliation to the Bar association. Either due to budgetary constraints or even a philosophical aversion to trade associations. Maybe I am willing to give second chance to a lawyer who has been previously disbarred. Regardless of my rationale, making the Bar exam mandatory not only impacts would-be lawyers but consumers. It keeps cost highers and decreases the number of service providers. Precisely what most forms of occupational licensing achieve, less competitive markets.

 

I know many would deride my commentary as being ill-advised. When need some sort of assessment assuring that the lawyers providing legal services are qualified. Such critics underestimate how quickly words gets around, especially in the age of the internet. There are a plethora of websites dedicated to customers providing critiques of a diverse array of services sectors. Including lawyers. Between Angie’s List, Yelp, and Google Reviews, there are enough resources at the disposal of the average consumer. Also, since when does a test necessarily operate as the ultimate seal of approval? Relying on testing to verify quality and competence often confuses correlation with causation. Higher SAT scores, for example, are correlated with an increased likelihood of academic success in college. However, such test results cannot determine success. In a similar vein, the Bar exam will not guarantee the lawyer you hired is competent or ethical.

 

To keep consumer interests in mind, I would recommend forming a stratified market. A legal services market with multiple tiers of service levels based upon credentials.  Similar to luxury products bargain/bottom-shelf Scotch, premium/Middle-shelf Scotch, and then top-shelf/ ultra-premium Scotch. The comparison is merely to demonstrate how we already have stratified markets in other sectors. A lawyer with a JD, full Bar accreditation, and with no formal complaints would be in the ultra-premium legal services market. Concerning this individual carries such prestigious credentials it is only fair that a potential client pays a little more. Its only common sense, that you can’t get five-star quality on a fast-food budget. The loosening or elimination of credentialing requirements would reflect the same product diversity of other forms of goods and services. Making certain redundant forms of credentials voluntary would assist in developing budget-orientated sub-markets. The market for a fully credentialed and seasoned lawyer is very different than that of one for a less experienced and partially credentialed lawyer.

 

Another criticism that is likely to arise, such a market will invariably create a discrepancy in legal representation. More affluent people will be able to afford the ultra-premium lawyer and those of lesser means would be stuck with the ne’er-do-well defender. Who presumably graduated at the bottom of their class in law school. These same discrepancies exist in the current system. The innumerable accounts of the dismal quality of public defenders have been well discussed in public discourse. Even anything, there could be a possibility of disadvantaged defendants could benefit from lower prices. Then again, I am purely speculating. This insight makes me wonder if we should eliminate public defenders all together. Create a voucher system where defendants can take their locations to the private market to obtain a lawyer of their choosing.  Odds are such a program would still be very costly. If anything, I would prefer to keep the government out of the legal services market.

 

 

 

Bootleggers & Baptists Part VI: Unlikely Foes of Universal Medicine

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Introduction:

 

I have just recently started reading Matthew Miller’s book The 2% SolutionThe book aims to provide solutions to social problems that both Democrats and Republicans could compromise on. As Miller put it “using conservative means for liberal social ends”. The work in this book is slightly dated due to being published in 2003. Despite the references to the bygone era of the Bush administration many of the problems detailed today still have not been solved. Reforms in the arenas of health care and education are to this day hotly contested issues.  Maybe if more people had read this modern political treatise written by a self-proclaimed “radical centrist” perhaps we would have more clarity on these issues today? Then again, this might be wishful thinking. It is highly likely that the apparatus of the state is too marred with vested interests to adequately administer educational and medical services. Regardless, it is a thought-provoking read.

I would have to agree with The Hill’s 2003 review of the book. One of the most notable chapters so far was Chapter 5: Universal  Coverage, American Style. Why? Because it details a rare instance of bipartisan compromise on the emotionally charged topic of healthcare. The chapter focuses on a discussion that Miller had with than members of the Ways and Means Committee Jim McCrery (R) and Jim Mc Dermott (D) back in the early 2000s. Diving into intricacies such as the utilization of vouchers, tax write-offs, and even a cash-out system for employees who receive insurance from a private enterprise (p.104).  Even entertaining the notion of allowing participants to choose between several state-approved health insurance carriers with their allocation of funds allocated for healthcare (p. 98-99). Kind of riff on the School Choice voucher system, only for health care.

 

These intriguing suggestions are not what I found to be the most surprising. Nor was it the civil and serious tone of the discourse. It was a comment made by McCrery about potential opposition to this proposal:

” The Union boss will not like it because we are essentially taking away one of the goodies that they claim to provide to their members” (p.107).

 

Pardon my ignorance, I wasn’t aware that the traditionally Democratic-leaning labor unions opposed government-funded healthcare! The majority of polled Democratic voters tend to perceive the decline in union membership as being negative. It is interesting to see that certain segments of the labor movement are not in lock-step with the DNC’s platform. I was thinking that the democratic-union coalition was impenetrable. However, this counter-initiative political position by unions is quite rational.  One of the largest labor unions in the state of Nevada is the Culinary Workers Union of Nevada, UNITE HERE Local 226. Many of the members present have excellent healthcare. Fear that if they were mandated to take a government healthcare plan they would experience a decline in the quality of care.  Putting aside my issues with the labor movement, I have to admit that is a valid concern. Union members even heckled Sen. Sanders ( a labor-friendly politician) demonstrating their concern with a universal system.

 

Bootleggers: 

 

Labor Unions that oppose government health care (E.g. Local 226 of Nevada)

 

Baptists: 

Organizations  (coalitions, think tanks) that advocate for fiscal responsibility ( E.g. National Taxpayers Union)

 

The Unlikely Bedfellows:

 

The concept of the Bootleggers and Baptists troupe is derived from a 1983 paper written by economist Bruce Yandle. Yandle observed that often you have seemingly opposing interests coming together on a certain issue. One group providing a “moral” justification for their policy position and the other side is mainly concerned with self-interest. The National Taxpayer’s Union is advocates of limited government and fiscal conservatism. They have been longstanding opponents of any kind of government involvement in health care. The organization even is willing to praise incremental alterations to the healthcare system to veer towards a more free-market approach. Typically all in the name of consumer choice and fiscal virtue signaling. Then again, if you were to look at America’s present deficit, NTU certainly has a point. The fact that they assume the moral highroad of proper economic stewardship, the organization falls into the category of the Baptists.

 

In terms of addressing the labor unions on this topic, it prudent not to paint with a broad brush. Not all unions oppose universal medicine. Particularly nursing unions and teacher’s unions generally support universal medicine initiatives. For the unions that do not endorse such measures, their rationale is quite salient. They are concerned about receiving healthcare that is inferior to their current plan. This is a valid concern. One that many individuals employed in private industries shares in common when faced with the prospect of handing over this service to the state. There is good reason to suspect that there is potential for the level of care to decline. There are countless examples of government mismanaging healthcare. For example, the Phoenix VA hospital controversy. Citing such examples is far from a conclusive indictment, but enough to raise reasonable concerns. Labeling union workshops such as local 226 the proverbial “bootleggers” is not a value judgment.  Rather, they fall into this category due to their justification being based on the benefit of the union members. Versus striding for a moralistic argument, like  NTU.

 

The irony is certainly rich. It is mind-boggling that unions and the conservative National Taxpayers Union could ever come together on an issue. Health care happens to be the quirky impetus for this usual alignment of political interests.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stanford Prison Experiment- Part III. Conclusion

 

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The recent findings regarding the validity of the Stanford Prison Experiment have been disappointing. Even on a personal level. While the study was morally questionable it was one of my favorite studies. In college, I majored in psychology.  I found myself particularly drawn to social psychology. Naturally, my social psychology textbook dedicated several pages to the Stanford Prison Experiment. Despite the litany of ethical questions and procedural constraints that have spawned from SPE and the infamous Milgram’s Experiment, the controversial studies have always been the most intriguing to me.

 

When I was younger often flippantly reducing the ethical considerations to mere inconveniences. As I have gotten older, I have begun to take the ethics of research more seriously. Veering away from a sterile utilitarian mentality to one that holds the rights of the subjects in high esteem. Needless to say, I had to reluctantly acquiesce the fact that one of the most interesting studies conducted in the history of psychological research was a fraud.  In science when new fact-based developments come to surface we must except them tentatively until proven otherwise. Even when the facts do not comport with our interests or opinions.

 

Even though it is reasonable to suspect that the Stanford Prison Experiment was fabricated, are any of the results salvable? The results certainly are not scientifically valid nor can be generalized. That is a difficult question to answer. An exact replication of this study is out of the question.  As the purveyor of the Prior Probability blog has mentioned in the comments section of part II, ethical constraints prohibit an exact replication. However, in the United Kingdom, an amended version of the study was conducted back in 2001. Typically referred to as the “BBC Prison Experiment“. This more ethically amenable study did not fully verify the results of Zimbardo’s 1971 study. In 2018, Zimbardo came back and criticized the UK experiment and cited a 1979 study that mirrored his results. Such back-peddling can only be met with incredulity considering the ample evidence that Zimbardo heavily manipulated the results of his 1971 “experiment”.

 

Philip Zimbardo’s desired results do dovetail to our initiative assumptions about authority. We have all heard the expression of being “drunk on power”. It was the great Lord Acton that once said:

Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority…

 

It is quite evident that an implied potential for abusing authority is embedded in the human psyche. The problem becomes determining whether this qualitative attribution is factual or illusory. To do so through scientific means is downright cumbersome. Attempts to quantify an inherently qualitative value judgment is difficult. However, there seems to be quite a bit of anecdotally/observational evidence that does point in the direction of Zimbardo’s findings.  The unfortunate aspect of observations is that we cannot deduce the prime cause of the observed occurrence. It is possible that the root cause could be an unobservable variable or our observation is clouded by bias.

 

The instances of torture at the Abu Ghraib prison would appear to be observational evidence congenial to Zimbardo’s results. Per a 2012 paper written by Kristin Richardson, the situational context of the Abu Ghraib prison may explain the behavior of the guards. Suggesting that the fact that senior leadership was complicit in the controversy for fostering an environment where such human rights violations can take place (p.76-77).  This lack of oversight being prevalent in other areas of interacting with prisoners of war such as interrogation.  Richardson also cites what is known as the Thomas Theorem for addressing how the soldiers guarding the detainees at Abu Ghraib could resort to inhumane measures. This theorem asserts that reality is a mental construct and that reality is real because we believe it is (p.9). Leading to the assumption that the guards did lose a sense of consensus reality while in prison. Started to relax their moral precepts to accept the role of an uncompromisingly tough prison guard. Keeping potential terrorists in-check. Providing some qualitative confirmation about Zimbardo’s assumptions regarding the behavior of the guards in the Stanford Prison Experiment.

 

Having an understanding of the human mind, I understand how powerful it is. It has the capability of making a delusion a reality. Reinforcing the observations asserted in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave thousands of years before the advent of neuroscience.  People can get caught up in a fabricated reality. To not only believe they can get away with abusing prisoners but to believe they are justified. This distortion of reality being triggered by the context of the environment. That does not mean that reality is a complete construct. The fact that there is a consensus reality is a clue that not every aspect of experience is subjective. We merely interpret concrete reality through sensory input creating the spectrum of deviations. As intriguing as Richardson’s insights are they still do not provide us with any causal inferences. Due to ethical and methodological concerns, we may never be able to validate these observations scientifically.

 

 

 

 

 

Stanford Prison Experiment- A Fraud? Part II

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Introduction:

 

The Stanford Prison Experiment is arguably one of the most famous studies in the discipline of social psychology. Mentioning the study by name generally evokes images of the darker side of the human condition. As you can see from my previous essay detailing the reported qualitative details of the study.  Dr. Zimbardo’s controversial study garnered much attention to the ethical considerations of psychological research. While the study has been widely cited and profoundly influential in recent years it has come under fire. Back in 2018, journalist Ben Blum, published an expose scrutinizing the validity of Zimbardo’s work. Exposing major methodological flaws that most likely compromised the results. Even inferring that Zimbardo attempted to manipulate variables to influence the results.

 

Could one of psychology’s most well known and influential studies be completely invalid? Contrived and orchestrated like a school play? Such a determination veers into murky waters.  It can be said confidentially that Zimbarado’s methods were flawed  From the standpoint of methodology, the ethical considerations are a whole other subject. When applying the scientific method to research it is imperative to control for any confounding variables. This is the only way to confirm that the results are being impacted by the variables being manipulated by the experimenter. Otherwise, the results fall victim to the third variable problem. Making it impossible to derive causation from the results of the study. At the very least Zimbardo was derelict in regards to preventing outside factors from contaminating the results.

 

From a methodologically the Stanford Prison Experiment suffers from poor data collect, faulty participant selection,  and the demand characteristics of the study.

 

Poor Data Collection:  

 

Anyone who has read Zimbardo’s 1971 paper can tell you two characteristics are striking. The first being the unorthodox composition of the paper. The second being the paucity of hard data. The details of the paper are almost entirely qualitative. Making the term experiment an unfitting title for the study. French researcher Thibault Le Texier would most likely agree. In his paper, Debunking The Stanford Prison Experiment, he highlights many of the methodological flaws in the study. His research reveals that only 15% of the total “experiment” was recorded. “6 hr of video and 15 hr
of audio” out of the total 150 hours devoted to the experiment. No data was collected during day three of the study (p.12). Such gaps in data collection can only put the results of the study in question. Without sufficient data, the researchers are merely speculating. Presenting speculation as scientific findings are intellectually dishonest and problematic.

 

A touchstone of scientific inquiry is the ability to control for confounding variables. Extraneous variables that influence attributes being studied and swaying the results. How do we know that the results of Zimbardo’s study were truly due to the situational conditions of being granted unfettered authority over other people? Unfortunately, we cannot. Per Le Texier’s archival research   Zimbardo “collected very little personal information about the participants”(p.12). This is profoundly problematic if we are expected to draw causal results from this study. Zimbardo neglecting to collect adequate background information on the subjects generates more questions than answers. The cruel behavior of the guards may have been influenced by factors other than the situation. For example personality traits, political beliefs, religious convictions, etc. Not collecting such preliminary data not only skews the results but is just plain sloppy. Any experienced researcher should have known better to be so cavalier.

 

It has also come to surface that Zimbardo did not collect any data from actual prisons. Again, another fault in data collection that prevents these findings from being generalized. Without data from prisons, it is difficult to not only have an accurate understanding of typical behavior in these environments, but nothing to compare the results. Yes, you could utilize behavior before the experimental conditions as a baseline. However, this does little if you are seeking to make universal claims about the behavioral dynamics of prisons. In the absence of this information how can really can’t. The results could be atypical for the average prison.

 

Participant Self-selection:

 

The experiment suffered from one fatal error from the very beginning that could have impacted the results. Zimbardo placed an advertisement in the local paper requesting volunteers for a prison experiment (p.2). Even providing the detail of the study is a “prison” experiment in the process of soliciting participants allows extraneous variables to creep in. Contaminating the results. Individuals who may be interested in a prison study may skew towards people with a specific personality type, ideological convictions, or other proclivities. Thereby generating an applicant pool that may be predisposed towards authoritarian tendencies.  As unlikely as this sounds considering we are talking about a group of college kids in the 1970’s California, it cannot be ruled out. It cannot be ruled out because Zimbardo failed to shield the study from self-selection. This concern would even be a talking point if Zimbardo had merely request for participants for a study versus a “prison study”.

 

Speaking of an experiment taking place in a prestigious university in the 1970’s California, that is a really specific and unique time and place. Bringing to light another question, the generalization of participants. Generally, when you select subjects for a study, you want the pool of applicants to be as diverse as possible. Why? More diversity greatly reduces the likelihood of sampling error. The general population of the United States is extremely diverse. To reflect this, you need a diverse pool of participants to randomly select from. Otherwise, you run the risk of potentially selecting subjects that maybe all have similar characteristics that do not reflect the overall population. The greater the number and diversity of subjects any peculiarities tend to washout, averaging results that can be generalized. Would a bunch of college students presumably attending Stanford be a good representation of the American population? By any metric or measure that would be a resounding no!

 

Demand Characteristics:

 

Demand Characteristics in an experiment are “ques” that subconsciously influence the behavior of the subjects. For example, knowing the experimenter’s expectations or desired results impacting participant behavior. Once again, Zimbardo was derelict in his duty as a researcher to avoid such issues. Zimbardo expressed what his expected and desired outcomes were for the experiment to the guards during orientation (p.5). The guards also expressed feeling as if they were being “watched and filmed” (p.8). It is quite evident that when feel as if we are being observed we are more apt to behave differently. Especially when the lead experimenter has already expressed his opinions about the potential results. This fact is solidified in the testimony of Guard #1:

 

He wrote to Zimbardo, 3 months after the experiment, “I was always acting [. .] I
was always very conscious of the responsibility involved in the guards’ and the experimenters’ positions; I mentioned this to various people at various times, including to you during the debriefing” (Guard 1, 1971b). He wrote to him again, 3 months later,
I consciously felt that for the experiment to be at all useful ‘guards’ had to act something like guards.

[. . .] I felt that the experiment was important and my being ‘guard-like’ was part of finding out how people react to real oppression. (Guard 1,1972, p. 5)

(Le Texier, 2019, p. 8)

 

 

Unfortunately, it is speculated that to a certain extent the study was scripted and fabricated. Extends beyond the concerns of demand characteristics. Le Texier found that Zimbardo had prewritten conclusions for the study (p.13). There is ample evidence that the experimenters had conditioned the prisoners and guards in how to behave (p.10). Explaining to the participants how to behave in the context of the experiment. Zimbardo and the other researchers claim that the cruel behavior of the guards to have occurred organically is beyond spurious. Especially when the subjects were being coached.  To make matters worse, the experiments even played an active role in the experiment. Removing themselves from the role of impartial observers. The role of warden was played by one of Zimbardo’s experimenters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Stanford Prison Experiment- An Introduction. Part I

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What was the Stanford Prison Experiment: 

 

The Stanford Prison Experiment was a study conducted on August 14th through 20th of 1971 by Philip Zimbardo, Craig Haney, W. Curtis Banks, and David Jaffe. The lead researcher Zimbardo embarked upon this study to examine how situational factors and authority could lead to normal people engaging in abhorrent behavior. The researchers placed an advertisement in the local paper looking for volunteers for the experiment. The researchers performed psychological evaluations to make sure that the participants were healthy and not suffering from previous mental conditions. Then they were arrested by actual Palo Alto police officers. Underwent standard  booking procedures and were taken to a basement on the Stanford campus. Out of the eighteen participants nine were assigned to be guards and the other nine were prisoners. The roles were randomly assigned by a coin toss.

 

The guards stripped the prisoners naked and sprayed them down with delousing spray. The prisoners were then dressed in jumpsuits  (without undergarments) and provided nylon stockings to wear on their heads to mimic the practice of head-shaving in prisons.  Each prisoner was assigned a number and was only referred to by their number. The guards periodically took counts on the faux-inmates. The inmates went to the bathroom in buckets and were escorted by the guards to the makeshift facilities. Generally with a bag over their heads. The subjects that were assigned to the role of guards purportedly developed their own rules for governing the mock prison. These “guard” devised parameters included punishments such as limitations on food, solitary confinement, and push-ups. As time went on the severity of guard sanction punishments increased drastically. Even include instances of sexual humiliation ranging from forcing the prisoners to remove their clothes to even  forcing them to simulate sodomy. Such displays of cruelty were lead by the sadistic ring-leader David Eshelman, referred to by the prisoners as “John Wayne”.

 

Due to the concern about the well being of the subjects Zimbardo cut the experiment short. It was originally planned to run for two weeks and was ended after six days. By day five one of the prisoners had developed a rash that was assumed to be psychosomatic. Engendered by the psychological distress (p.14) Instanced of prisoners who refused to eat being force feed by guards. Then there was the story of prisoner 819.

 

The only prisoner who did not want to speak to the priest was prisoner
#819 who was feeling sick and had refused to eat…While talking to us he broke down and began to cry hysterically, ..While I was doing this one of the guards lined up all of the prisoners and had them chant aloud.

As soon as I realized that #819 was hearing all this, I raced into the room where I had left him, and what I found(66)was a boy crying hysterically while in the background his fellow prisoners were yelling and chanting that he was a bad prisoner…

“OK, let’s leave.” Through his tears, he said to me, “No, I can’t leave.” He could not leave because the others had labeled him a bad prisoner. Even though he was feeling sick, he was willing to go back into that prison to prove that he was not a bad
prisoner. (Zimbardo, Haney, Banks & Jaffe. 1971. P. 12.)

Writing to Local Politicians- Qualified Immunity

 

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Author’s Note: This will be the last blog entry concerning Qualified Immunity for awhile. I don’t want my blog to become too stagnate so I will reconvene on this topic at a later date.  If you wish to learn more about  Qualified Immunity or stay on top of the latest developments I would recommend visiting the Unjust Shield blog.  This essay was a letter sent to several Arizona representatives requesting that they assist in the effort to abolish QI. This political luminaries included: Mark Finchem, Vince Leach, Martha McSally, and Kyrsten Sinema.

 

June 25th, 2020

Peter Clark

peterclark7979@gmail.com

The Honorable (Insert name here).

 

 

Dear Representative (Insert name here)

 

 

The death of George Floyd has ignited a renewed interest in policing reform.  Purposed reform measures have ranged from increasing training requirements to dissolving police departments. I would personally suggest eliminating one of the institutional protections that shield negligent police officers from accountability, Qualified Immunity. A legal doctrine originally intended to protect government employees from being sued for performing essential job functions, providing their actions do not violate any well-established rights. Unfortunately, this protection is slowly starting to become a form of absolute immunity. Per the 2018 paper by the University of Chicago legal professor William Baude the Supreme Court general overturns instances where the lower courts deny Qualified Immunity to police officers. Demonstrating the failure of the checks-and-balances on this legal privilege. This matter is only exasperated by the Supreme Court’s decision last week to refuse to reconsider this legal doctrine.

 

 

The innumerable examples of officers that have clearly violated the rights of American citizens and are still granted Qualified Immunity are horrifying. In the case of Baxter V. Bracey (2014) a suspect was attacked by a police dog after having surrendered to the arresting officers. There was the case of Jessop v. Fresno where officers stole rare coins and cash totaling over $225,000.00 during a search of a private residence.  In the case of Mullenix v. Luna (2010) where the officer performed a dangerous maneuver that he had no previous training to stop a high-speed chase. In any other occupation not only would the employee be fired, but in most cases be held liable for damages in the event of a lawsuit. If arresting officers were cognizant of the fact that they could be sued, wouldn’t they be less inclined to take risks? To adequately tackle such examples of negligence incentives, need to be realigned.  Qualified Immunity creates such a sturdy safety net for police officers that either consciously or subconsciously take this legal protection for granted. This leads to the above-described examples of malfeasance.

 

As any reasonable person can tell you defunding the police or dissolving police departments is not a realistic solution. It is practically infeasible and tantamount to political suicide. Instead of abolishing the institution, it is best to implement checks-and-balances. Rather than construct bureaucratic and legal safeguards that insulate civil servants from the consequences of gross ineptitude. Whether that be through criminal prosecution or Tort law. The best way to start would be by eliminating Qualified Immunity. I respectfully ask that you support any initiative on the state level to help abolish this problematic legal privilege. Qualified Immunity is recognized in Arizona law under ARS 36-738.

 

Sincerely,

 

Peter Clark

 

 

 

 

Bootleggers and Baptists Part V: Occupational Licensing- Arizona Edition

 

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Introduction:

 

The policy of requiring occupational licensing for various jobs is billed by consumer protection advocates as a matter of health and safety. This perspective ignores the economic consequence of occupational licensing. The fact that in most cases such a restriction does not improve consumer safety, but merely operates as a barrier to entry in the market. Too often disproportionately impacting employees of lower socioeconomic status. Even preventing start-up businesses from laying any roots in industries that have licensing requirements that favor established enterprises. It is estimated that approximately 25 %of all jobs require some form of licensing. Is it really necessary to require barbers to obtain licensing to competently do their jobs?

 

It is always important to question who stands to benefit from the consequences of a specific policy.  This imperative inquiry illustrated in Bruce Yandle’s economic theory of  Bootleggers and Baptists. This conceptualization demonstrates the contrarian dynamics of advocacy for regulation. Frequently unlikely alliances are forged for the sake of regulation advocacy. Generally, one interest group has a moral or ethical agenda (the baptists). The other half of this coalition tends to utilize the moral agenda as a smoke-screen to obscure how the policy benefits them (the bootleggers). Detailing the irony of how seemingly opposing forces can often come together on a single issue.

 

Occupational licensing much like other issues that bring together unlike factions creates a similar dynamic. The moral advocates are concerned about protecting the average consumer from dangerous products and services. As well as the self-interested bootleggers who strive to reduce competition.

 

The Story of Dr. Carol Gandolfo:

 

Psychologist Carol Gandolfo moved to Arizona from California back in 2007. Due to her lack of in-state licensing, she continued to manage her California-based practice remotely.  She also served as an expert volunteer for various in-state organizations, such as the Northern Arizona Critical Incident Stress Management team. The same organization that provided therapeutic services for the surviving first-responders present at the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire.  Dr. Gandolfo was a 20-year veteran of the field of psychology and had extensive training and experience working with prisoners, homeless shelters, private practice, and even those with developmental challenges. The only obstacle preventing her from practicing in Arizona was the state’s psychology licensing board.

 

In 2019, there appeared to be light at the end of the tunnel. Governor Doug Ducey working with the Goldwater Institute developed a bill that would universally recognize out-of-state licensing. The bill that went into effect August of 2019 was HB2569. While the bill does not automatically recognize out-of-state licensing, it still eliminates many of the steps required to start the process from scratch. HB2569 makes Arizona the first state to recognize out of state licensing. Anyone familiar with Arizona’s demographics can see why licensing reciprocity is crucial for the state economy. The population of Arizona is primarily comprised of out-of-state transplants. Most of the domestic migrants coming from western coastal states or the economically depressed Midwestern rust-belt. It was estimated back in 2014, that only 38% of Arizona residents were born in-state. That 15 % of all Arizona residents were born in foreign countries. Considering the number of people moving to Arizona, a universal recognition bill would be sensible.

 

However, even after the bill passed Dr. Gandolfo still was struggling with the licensing board. In November 2019, the board rejected Gandolfo’s application for licensing. The board cited two reasons for this 5 to 1 vote to deny Gandolfo the right to practice in Arizona. The first reason was she had lived in the state for too long. Even though no such constraints were specified in HB2569. Governor Ducey even criticized the board’s decision to reject her application on these grounds.

This gamesmanship by some Board members falls far below the standard expected of Board members,” Ducey wrote.

 

The second issue was the institution from which Gandolfo earned her PsyD back in 1998. Ryokan College which was determined by the board to not be regionally accredited. The board even suggested that it would be reasonable to investigate whether her volunteer work and practice in California violated state law.

 

Bootleggers  and Baptists:

 

The bootleggers in this scenario would be the psychologists who were certified in-state. Advocacy by these individuals for rejecting measures such as HB2569 is nothing more than domestic protectionism. Attempting to keep the flood of psychologists coming from states such as California out of the Arizona market. Any attempt to claim that Arizona has higher standards for licensing is flimsy at best. Arizona has licensing procedures that mirror the standards held in California. The only rational explanation for psychologists in Arizona to pose opposition to HB2569 would be fear of an increase in competition.

 

It is difficult to say who the baptists are in advocating for rejecting universal recognition of out-of-state licensing. Please keep in mind the members of the licensing board are licensed, psychologist. For the sake of argument,  I will assign the role of baptists to the licensing board members. There does seem to be a prevalent argument on their end about the quality of mental health services. To quote one of the board members:

“Arizona has now said that the standards to become a psychologist in this state are now equivalent to the lowest common denominator in the jurisdictions across the country,”

 

This premise is only valid if the practitioner is indeed coming from a state with lower standards. Also, this statement alone provides a moral justification for keeping out-of-state psychologists out of the Arizona market. The residents of Arizona need to be protected from subpar mental health services. At least in the view of the quoted board member. This moral repudiation of  HB2569 does not convey any facts or figures. Nor any search suggesting that the standards of states outside of Arizona lead to inferior results. Making these claims suspect.

 

 

Workplace Rent- Seeking Honorable Mention

 

gold coloured human statue
Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

 

 

In my previous blog entry, I discussed the topic of rent-seeking in the office. I detailed three common forms of workplace rent-seeking. However, there are several other notable forms that I feel are worth mentioning.

 

Withholding Information:

 

This is more so applicable in the training process.  The specifics of internal procedures are often colloquially referred to in an office setting as “tribal knowledge“.  Individuals who are either paranoid or not confident in their position with the company will withhold information in the training process. They may refuse outright to properly train new hires. They may only provide a portion of the correct information. They may monopolize specific train materials. Through creating artificial information asymmetry they make themselves look more valuable and decrease their chances of being terminated. Making themselves the default team subject matter expert.

 

Candy Bowl: 

 

As the old saying goes you attract more flies with honey than vinegar. There is some validity to this statement. The candy bowl can be seen as either a trap or a peace-offering. Either way, it detracts from the true nature of the individual who maintains it. Typically, they are a very disagreeable and temperamental person. To soften their image they attempt to appear charitable by proving communal bowl filled with sweets.  If your peers like you, you can get away with a lot. More accurately if you can bribe your peers after being nasty to them you can continue to get away with a lot. If your co-workers don’t have any lingering issues with your boss will keep you around. Why? If you aren’t disturbing the group dynamics there isn’t any reason to deliver punitive actions.

 

Plastering Your Cubicle With Positive Quotes: 

 

Anyone plastering their cubicle walls with quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi is someone to avoid like the plague. If you make your workspace a billboard for inspiration quotes you most likely have a few skeletons in your closet. To be so extreme with advertising one’s proclivity towards positivity should be a red flag. An indicator of someone attempting to manipulate human psychology for their gain. It is meant to distract from their overt from their negative behavior. It falls into a similar behavioral category as self-promotion. The objective is to have others focus on what is most salient and not what is factually true.

Workplace Rent-Seeking

 

 

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Introduction:

One of the core principles of Public Choice Theory is the concept of behavioral symmetry.  Behavior symmetry can be best defined as

“… the same behavioral model of human action must apply to all decision-makers regardless of institutional setting (public or private).” (Shughart II & Wardle, 2020, P.594)

This conceptualization firmly reflected in James M. Buchanan’s proclamation of  Public Choice Theory being ” politics without romance“. Meaning whether you work in for the government or a private corporation your incentives generally don’t change. Working as a bureaucrat doesn’t dampen the allure of a high salary or generous benefits. Many people tend to view politicians and government employees as working towards the common good. Ignoring the fact that their decisions are not immune to self-interest. Demonstrating that this faulty assumption about civil servants is nothing more than a halo effect. The belief that government employees are striving towards a higher moral good than individuals employed by a corporation is illusory. People respond to incentives regardless of their occupation.

 

Considering the previously described application of behavioral symmetry, it wouldn’t be outlandish for a phenomenon that transpires in the public sphere to occur within a private institution. To take it a step further, to even claim that it takes place on an individual level. As in actions taken by a single person versus a solitary institution.  Could the principles of Public Choice even be applied to the individualized interactions of workers in an office environment? Certainly! After all, incentives do not change. We are merely changing the environment and the scale of transactions.

 

The concept of rent-seeking tends to be commonly reflected in the behavior of office workers. What is rent-seeking? It can be described as a person or organization attempting to secure wealth without creating generating any productive output. Generally, this is done so by seeking an institutional advantage. Gordon Tullock, the theorist who developed this theory, utilized the example of tariffs to demonstrate a practical application for this concept. Governments typically do not impose tariffs on their own, but rather due to lobbying pressure from interest groups. Tullock referred to this variety of behavior as “wasteful” (Tullock, 1967, P.5). As a side note, Tullock may have been the architect rent-seeking, however, it was economist Anne O. Krueger who coined its name’s sake back in 1974.

 

Based on my observations of working in a corporate office there are three prevalent forms of workplace rent-seeking. This list includes: self-praise/  verbal demolition of co-workers, brown-nosing, and creating busywork. Any action or omission of action in the workplace is overtly economic. No one works for free. The only difference is scale. Many of these behaviors are anti-competitive. At work, your co-workers are your competition. All of these behaviors are attempts to secure gains without creating any additional wealth. Through damaging the image of co-workers or the individual improving their image, they are gaining potential job security which protects their paycheck. Typically, at the expense of the employer because this behavior does not distract from employees doing their jobs.

 

Self-Praise and Verbal Demolition of Co-Workers:

As the saying goes talk is cheap. Unfortunately, empty words have carried more clout than they should out on the sales floor. Anyone can pat themselves on the back and expound upon the “superior” customer service they provide. Especially when the boss is present. Much of this bluster, whether it is factual or not, skew popular perception. It is easier to take things for face-value than to look below the surface. If someone is persistently selling their skills and value to the company, it is easier to believe them than to validate their claims. Even when faced with contrary metrics many managers still fall into the folly of accepting the shameless self-promotion of these under-performing employees. This acquiescence is generally also reflected in the perceptions of this subpar employee’s peers. Despite all of the opposing evidence they will express a favorable opinion of this individual. Making the manager less inclined to terminate this individual. The manager would not want to jeopardize group dynamics. However, baseless self-promotion does is nothing but counter-productive and a waste of company resources.

 

The devious foil of Self-praise is the verbal demolition of co-workers. Portraying co-workers in a bad light to distract from an individual’s performance deficits. One common example is proliferating gossip and rumors. Even to be so brazen to fabricate formal complaints regarding interactions with individuals. For example, a false sexual harassment complaint filed with human resources.  Gossip being on the lower end of the scale and fraudulent human resource reports being a more extreme form. Going to great lengths to assassinate the character of your co-workers requires a great deal of time and effort. It could be suggested that it would even be easier to just do your job. Versus wasting everyone’s time and resources with such puerile and sophomoric attempts at subterfuge.

 

Brown-Nosing:

 

Complimenting the boss, attending all of the social functions you are invited to, pretending to be his friend, laughing at all of his lame jokes. Brown-nosing, sucking-up… this behavior goes by many terms. No one every engages in brown-nosing without having a specific set of ends. Whether it would be the boss overlooking poor performance or giving other forms of preferential treatment. Such as being picked over more qualified candidates for a promotion. Why work harder when you could just work smarter? It is easier to go get drunk with your boss at a happy hour and pretend to be his best friend than to do your job. It is astonishing how many people in management fall for these naked attempts to curry favor with them. Then again an entire encyclopedia could be written about the psychology behind this mystifying phenomenon.

 

Creating Busywork:

 

The image of busy workers is synonymous with productivity.  Is this always the case? Not always. Sometimes workers will generate work or purposely utilize inefficient methods to complete tasks to create the perception of productivity. Some employees will go so far to create arbitrary tasks they will intentionally do their jobs incorrectly. Their pointless busywork would be correcting their own mistake. As perverse as that sounds, I have seen it with my own two eyes! Unfortunately, perception tends to carry more weight than substance.  Even if that perception is illusory.

 

A more traditional example of this rent-seeking tactic is to intentionally procrastinate and then do all your work at the end of the day. To create the illusion that you are busy and working hard.  Versus addressing action items as they come in throughout the day. Generating the image of having a mountain of work to do makes it look like you have a heavier workload. Making you less susceptible to being ousted out in the next round of layoffs. While counter-productive these methods aim to mask the fact that their position is nothing more than a redundancy.

The Lockean Theory of Property- Part II

 

black bicycle parked beside white wooden chair
Photo by Lina Kivaka on Pexels.com

 

In Locke’s book the 2nd Treatise of Government, he provides an answer to a perplexing problem concerning property rights. What authority grants us the right to own and acquire property? Is it the whim of a benevolent monarch that provides us a right to property? Are we granted a right to property through cultural norms?  Is the right to acquire and own property the by-product of legislative fiat? Locke would suggest that none of these factors wholly justifies our right to ownership. He asserts that it is a natural right endowed upon us by our creator. Veering away from the premise that ownership is privileged granted by a ruler or government. Rather, it is the birthright of every free individual. Opposing the convention that the king has dominion over everything within the boundaries of his kingdom.

 

It could be argued that to some capacity that theorist before Locke had an understanding of property rights Even the famously illiberal  Niccolo Machiavelli stated in The Prince:

 

What makes him hated above all, as  I said, is to be a rapacious usurper of the property and women of his subjects. From there, he must abstain, and whenever one does not take away either property or honor from the generality of men….  (Machiavelli, 1532, Transl. Mansfield, 1985).

 

Machiavelli did recognize property rights based on natural law. He saw respecting the property of a ruler’s subjects as a matter of pragmatism. A ruler cannot get ward off insertions and usurpation plots if he is hated by his people. Demonstrating how the indignation of the people can potentially operate as an informal check on power. Even in illiberal principalities. However, provincial self-interest falls short of a comprehensive ethical argument for the preservation of property rights. This is why this philosophical breakthrough is attributed to Locke. Versus previous thinkers.

 

The bigger mystery at hand is how did humans end up acquiring private property? In the nascent period of human history, nomadic people did not own land. Moved from location to location searching for various resources. Upon the dawn of the Neolithic period, hunter-gather societies were on the decline. Humans started to form sedimentary communities. Before permanent settlements, all lands and resources were part of a commons.  What is known as today as a common-pool of resources. Where the availability of resources is not limited by private ownership. Once humans started to acquire land, they were effectively taking it out of the “commons”. No longer could your neighbor harvest lumber from the thicket of woodlands you now presently own without permission.

 

How land transitions from the “commons” to private ownership is where Locke’s theory comes into play. We are born free and therefore we own ourselves. Consequently, we own the fruits of our labor. Through our private effects, we effectively take the resource out of the commons by harvesting it.

 

The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are his property. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state of nature hath, provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in…

(Locke, 1690, P.19. Ed. Macpherson, 1980)

 

Effectively, if now one else owns the resource and you effectively harvest it or process it for use it is yours. Unfortunately, this method of claiming tangible property is much more complex in the modern era. Most land and resources are under either private or state ownership. There are exceptions. The ocean is one of the few pure tangible commons left. Where fishing rights tend to be delineated by licensing or argument. However, this same principle of ownership can be applied to intangible goods in the form of intellectual property. This explains a plethora of societal sanctions for copyright infringement, plagiarism, and a myriad of other varieties of intellectual theft.

 

Locke, in his argument, does not condone resource consumption without limits. We can continue to procure resources providing two conditions 1.) we are not letting anything spoil and 2.) we are leaving resources for others (Locke, 1690, P.21). Inferring that God didn’t bless with bountiful resources to squander them nor to be gluttonously hoarded. This demonstrates the fact that there natural limits on consumption. Providing that we stay within these limitations our consumption doesn’t transgress against the rights of our neighbor.

 

Locke also provides some interesting commentary concerning the introduction of money. Many resources that are harvested are perishable meaning we can only take as much as we intend to personally use. Limiting us to a Robinson Crusoe Economy, laboring for mere subsistence. Any further harvesting would lead to waste. What Ludwig Von Mises referred to as Autistic Exchange. Unlike harvested goods, money does not decompose.  This characteristic of money is so salient that it is one of the seven defining features of money. By the introduction of a medium of exchange vastly expands our ability to consume resources by remedying the issue of waste and depletion(Locke, 1690, P.23). Substituting currency for barter we can develop a division of labor. Instead of attempting to produce everything we need, industries emerge that are devoted to food production.  Meaning other segments of society can create other goods and services. Using the market as an allocation mechanism we can remedy the waste/ depletion conflict. Producers will tailor production to market demand, limiting the potential for waste. This also provides consumers with the opportunity to freely acquire these resources.

 

There are two caveats here. One we still see plenty of instances of hoarding in free-market economies. No system is perfect. Hoarding can still transpire with a common-resource pool in a state of nature. A market-based system helps diminish the coordination issues associated with obtaining resources. Also, keep in mind, this treatise was written before the technology that allowed for mass resource extraction. This issue could be mitigated through private harvesting collectives and contractually agreed upon extraction quotas.

 

The second being is that money helps minimize the number of resources being spoiled. However, it is not a full-proof safeguard against it. Then again, there is never a full-proof method of preventing bad consequences.

 

 

 

The Lockean Theory of Property (Part I)

 

 

sun piercing of brown concrete house near sea
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The philosopher John Locke is arguably one of the most influential thinkers in Western thought. Locke’s crowning achievement of political philosophy would have to be his theory on property. A theory of property rights that has become the focal point of liberal democracy.  The king does not have possession of the estate you inherited from your father. Even if the land is within the jurisdiction of his kingdom.  This powerful distinction provides the precedent to legally codify the natural right to property in positive law.

 

Protection of property is one of the few legitimate ends that government serves. In Locke’s 2nd Treatise of Governmenthe goes so far to claim that the main reason why humans form governments is the “preservation of their property” (p.66). If a government fails to protect the rights of its citizens it has abdicated its main duty. Thus, it is illegitimate. Especially, when the government is supposed to operate as the mediator between burglar and homeowner. We depart the state of nature and handover the authority to distribute restraint and reparation to the government (p.10). In exchange, we refrain from enacting justice as we would in state of nature because the government has promised to justly addressing transgressions such as theft. The question becomes why do we delegate the responsibility of defending property to the state? Per Locke,  we surrender the right to punishment so that it is applied justly and isn’t influenced by bias (p.66).  Harm can even come of the individual who had their property taken or defiled.

 

They who by any injustice offended will seldom fail, where they are able, by force to make good their injustice; the resistance many times makes the punishment dangerous, and frequently destructive, to those who attempt it. (Locke, 1690, P.66. Ed. Macpherson, 1980).

Making for good justification for why we allow the government to determine the means and magnitude of the consequences (p.67). It is safer for society than allowing individuals to act upon their passions. Beyond the concern of general well being, it provides standardization of repercussions for property crimes. Uneven or inconsistent consequences is a haphazard application of force defended on the grounds of fickle passions. This is nothing more an individualized form of tyranny.

 

That does not mean that every government policy implemented since the publishing of Locke’s magnum opus has secured the property rights of the citizens. Even in the contemporary world, there are many autocratic and despotic regimes. One of the more notable luminaries of the illiberal regimes in 2020 would be North Korea. Even in the United States, a country founded on Lockean principles, there are policies antithetical to property rights. One such embarrassing example is civil asset forfeiture.  By a loose definition is a legal doctrine that allows law enforcement to seize property that is suspected of being used in the commission of a crime. Since 2014, approximately 35 states have reformed their civil forfeiture laws, 15 states require a conviction.

 

Reform isn’t enough to right the wrong of civil asset forfeiture. The only time property should be taken from an individual who violated the law would be in the instances of property crime. Only under the condition of restoration.  For example, my car was stolen and then found in the driveway of an individual that lives two towns over. It is permissible for law enforcement then to seize the car and return it to the rightful owner.  If I am trafficking black tar heroin in my car, it is wrong for the police to seize my car.  Even if my car was purchased with the proceeds of drug sales. My transgression of transporting illegal drugs for sale is mutually exclusive from my conveyance. Yes, the conveyance did help assist in transporting the drugs. It was rightfully paid for. I did not steal the car. Paid for the car through engaging in the victimless crime of drug sales.

 

By self-ownership, I utilized my labor by selling drugs to purchase the car (p.19). Therefore it is my car and the government does not have the right to take it. At least from a philosophical standpoint rather than a legally positive standpoint.  In the same vein (no pun intended), selling drugs to others is a victimless crime. As free individuals, who own their bodies, they are electing to ingest the drugs I sell. This an authority they cannot be transferred to anyone else. Especially not the leader of the  Corrections Officer’s unions who frequently lobby against drug legalization (a shining example of rent-seeking).

 

Civil asset forfeiture is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the state violating our right to property. Other policies such as eminent domain present other examples of the government treading upon our property rights. I can only picture John Locke rolling over in his grave every time we justify these egregious crimes against our property. Every example is a direct violation of our social contract. The deal being we relinquish our right to individualized punishment for an assurance that our property is protected through legal means. It is a horrifying juxtaposition when the government becomes the burglar. The same institutions that were designed to protect our property are then used to commandeer it. That runs contrary to the philosophical core of the United States. The first country founded on the right to secure property.

 

 

 

 

Locke and How Parents Shape our Political Reasoning

 

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John Locke is arguably one of the most influential political philosophers to ever live. The father of liberalism built the intellectual scaffolding that hoisted Europe up towards the Age of Reason. He also effectively build the philosophical foundation for the founding principles of the United States. America serving as not only an enduring social experiment but as a living tribute to Lockean ideals. Locke’s 2nd Treatise of Government serving as the fodder for the Declaration of Independence.

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are
endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed…

 

The first paragraph of the Declaration almost serves as a succinct summary of Locke’s 2nd Treatise. Locke’s influence on America’s political heritage is indisputable. Many of our cherished rights such as free speech and freedom of religion are based on the concept of natural rights. The concept of natural rights served as the core justification for Locke’s arguments in the 2nd Treatise. There was one observation in Locke’s grand treatise that was only quasi-political which was the relationship between parent and child. To refer to such as dynamic as even quasi-political may seem far-fetched to many modern observers. Then again, this may be an indicator that we have allowed the government to have too much dominion over our daily lives.

 

Locke begins his argument by stating that both the mother and father have authority over their children (p.30). Providing paternal power to both parents.  Citing the Ten Commandments  of the Christian Bible, the commandment ” Honor thy father and mother”. Providing biblical justification for allotting control to both parents in rearing their children. Versus having the father serve as the one and true tyrant. There is also a practical consideration if the mother has no authority over her children, what is she to do in his absence? If he is sent off to war. If he passes away due to disease. It is only sensible to endow both parents with the authority of arising their children.

 

Why do the parents need to exert control over their children? Does John Locke assert that all men are born free? Yes, equal in the sense of the capacity for reason. By being born as a human being and therefore possessing the faculties for reason.

Children, I confess are not born in a full state of equality, though they are born into it. Their parents have a sort of rule and jurisdiction over them, when they come into the world, and for some time after; but it is a temporary one…. The bonds of this subjection are like swaddling clothes they art wrapt up in, and supported by, in the weakness of their infancy: age and reason as they grow up, loosen them, till at length they drop off, and leave a man at free disposal  (Locke, 1690. P. 31. Ed. Macpherson, 1980)

 

This eloquent description explains how parents will relinquish their control once their children reach adulthood. Before becoming an adult, most children lack the full capacity for sound judgment. The parents must instill values in their kids. Also, to assist them with developing their reasoning skills. Reasoning skills are partially a byproduct of experience. However, there is also a biological component to this development as well. Contemporary research suggests that brain development continues into our mid-20’s. Back in the 1600s, the life expectancy was approximately 39 years. It most likely would have been unrealistic to assert an individual was a fully cognizant adult at 25. Most likely after the child had a firm understanding of basic reasoning and societal norms and values was when they were deemed an adult. Currently, in society, we utilize arbitrary age cut-offs to determine adulthood. Libertarian thinker Murray Rothbard asserted that a person becomes an adult once they are self-sustaining.

 

The question remains how does the stewardship of parents over their children pertain to political life? Parents are preparing their children to become active members of the community. The values that parents instill in their children will have consequences for society as a whole. Granted, once the child reaches the age of majority they are free to exercise their will. Often, our childhood does have implications of our behavior and decisions as an adult. While not every parent is capable of raising upstanding citizens, most are.  How children interact with the community and society as a whole is based upon the modeling of their parents. Humans not only learn from auditory input (the directives of our parents) but also visually. We watch what our parents do and to some extent absorb it into our repertoire of permissible behaviors. It wouldn’t be outlandish for a parent who doesn’t vote to raise children who choose not to vote.

 

A lot of our “political behavior” is learned from our parents. More often than not an individual declaring allegiance to a political party. It wasn’t a choice.  Choice requires a specific degree of evaluation and subsequent discrimination. Much like religious convictions they are often bequeathed to the children from their parents. Further demonstrating the importance of parents in establishing the child’s capacity for moral reasoning. While it is imperative to initiate children in a cohesive moral philosophy such as religious domination or a set of political beliefs, developing reasoning supersedes both.  Having morals inculcated into you does not make you moral. You must first be able to distinguish morality from immorality. Then the individual’s religious and political beliefs have substance. Without having a strong moral framework choice are arbitrary and lacks context. Effectively makes any decisions you make at the political level done so blindly. Such moral and rational illiteracy can be disastrous to an individual, community, or country.

Why Ending Qualified Immunity Is A Better Policy Option Than Defunding

woman holding a sign in protest
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If someone puts their hands on you make sure they never put their hands on anybody else again.”
Malcom X

 

Libertarianism holds that the only proper role of violence is to defend person and property against violence, that any use of violence that goes beyond such just defense is itself aggressive, unjust, and criminal”
Murray N. Rothbard

 

 

Author’s Note:  Thank you Professor F.E. Guerra-Pujol for your assistance with editing this op-ed piece. Your stylistic and grammatical recommendations have brought this essay to the next level.

The essay was published by the AZ Capitol Times

 

Don’t defund police; eliminate qualified immunity

 

The Unpublished Letter to the Editor (QI)

 

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Author’s Note: I submitted this piece to several local newspaper outlets. It appears as if none of these establishments have elected to publish my brief essay. It is possible that the my writing is a little weak. Even the topic is too technical or controversial.

I still applaud myself for attempting to take this on this issue in only 200-250 words ( Pinal Central: limit of 250 worded. AZCentral: limit of 200 words). This maybe a lesson to avoid issues that are overly complex when writing a letter to the local newspaper. Qualified Immunity requires more than 250 words to be properly addressed. I even had to cut references to William Baude’s 2018 paper on the subject.

That doesn’t  mean I have given up, there is another local publication that publishes longer form editorials.  After that I might give QI a rest, as I don’t want the content on  this blog to become to stagnant.

The top photo has nothing to do with the topic at hand. The free photo application   on WordPress was giving me some issues. So I decided to upload this photo I took back in April. I was walking my dogs around the neighborhood and thought the painted rock was interesting.

 

Editorial:

 

Dear Editor,

The death of George Floyd has left Americans with many questions. How did the police officer that killed Mr. Floyd still have a job after 17 previous complaints? How do we as a country combat police brutality? One potential solution may come from Representative Amash’s proposal to abolish Qualified Immunity. What is Qualified Immunity? It is a legal doctrine that protects government employees from being sued for performing essential job functions. Providing their actions do not violate any well-established rights.

 

The modern application of this legal status was defined by Harlow v. Fitzgerald (1982). Establishing the need for clear “statutory” evidence that the plaintiff’s rights have been violated. Eventually evolving into the requirement for a previous case in which the details of the violation are identical. Leading to instances of constitutional violations with no restitution. One glaring example, Baxter V. Bracey (2014), where the suspect was attacked by a police dog after surrendering. These strict requirements make it nearly impossible to seek proper recourse when our civil rights have been infringed upon.

 

Most police officers are decent and law-abiding. Few would ever dream of using cruel or unnecessary tactics to subdue a suspect. The minority of bad cops need to be held fully accountable for their actions. The best way to do so would be eliminating institutional barriers to punishment.

Unlawful Assembly and The Limits of Free speech

city group people police
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

 

 

 

My own opinion is enough for me, and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, any place, any time. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line, and kiss my ass.”
― Christopher Hitchens

 

There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”
― James Madison

 

 

There is a fine line separating protected speech from destructive behavior. Many onlookers have questioned the efficacy of peaceful demonstration (see comment below the article).  After all,  in the tragic death of George Floyd, the government has violated its contract to the people. In a Lockean sense, we exchange unfettered freedom for state protection of our rights. This theoretically voluntary arrangement is undermined when state power takes primacy over contractual  fulfillment. Outrage is certainly warranted. Especially when those who have sworn to protect this social contract are the ones benefiting from the institutional loopholes. However, what is the appropriate course of action?

 

Qualified Immunity has protected scrupulous police officers from being accountable for their transgressions.  Putting into question whether America still holds its founding ethos of Classical Liberalism in high-esteem.  If public officials can violate our rights with little to no repercussions, our experiment has failed.  Giving credence to all of the subterfuge and rent-seeking behavior that distinguishes Public Choice Theory.  We as a society pay the cost for the few that benefit from this privileged legal status. We pay for it through the sacrifice of our civil liberties. Demonstrating the concept of “concentrated benefits and dispersed costs“.  In some instances, we require protection from our designated protectors. Creating an atmosphere of pessimism and incredulity. Amounting skepticism of justice and equality under the law in the United States. Leading the most disenfranchised Americans to resort to violent demonstrations. If the microphone or the pen does not convey your point, maybe the sword will.

 

That is not to say that all of the protests in reaction to the murder of George Floyd have been violent. I applaud my own community of Maricopa, Arizona for keeping demonstrations civil. Unfortunately, that can’t be said for every community.  Every community should keep their conduct civil. Despite the violence perpetrated by state actors. Why?  Because looting and wanton vandalism is not a vocalization of injustice. Its a deterioration of civilization. It is an erosion of the informal norms and values that keep our passions in order. It merely victimizes innocent parties. The business owner that had their store looted did not participate explicitly or implicitly in killing Mr. Floyd. How is this action even remotely connected to the issue at hand? Or even justifiable?  It isn’t. Sure, there are probably proverbial “bootleggers” hiding under the moral guise of demonstrating against police brutality. Creating the perfect pretext for taking advantage of the situation.  There are those on the side of the “baptists” who believe the use of force is justifiable, even when directed at uninvolved third-parties.

 

Destroying private property in protest is not justifiable. If anything it mirrors the same folly of police brutality. Both are property rights violations. Hence, why crimes against person and property are often parceled together. This is far from a novel concept in Libertarian thought. Many proponents of a natural rights approach have already made this observation. We as autonomous actors are owners of ourselves. In turn, we own our bodies. As slavery has long since been abolished. An adult of normal intellectual capacity possess self-ownership. Meaning they can choose what they ingest, read, listen, and so on. Involuntary and undue harm induced by injurious actions taken by a second actor is a clear property rights violation. While more of a peripheral violation, the destruction of a storefront is nevertheless a similar transgression. In other action, you are depriving the elementary freedoms of the individual. However, the property rights pertaining to “self-ownership” takes primacy.

 

Putting aside these abstract philosophical tenets, violent protest is not justifiable under current law.  The First Amendment of the  U.S. Constitution is not absolute and does have a number of notable exceptions.

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

For instance, the use of  “fighting words” is not protected speech under the First amendment.  This legal term was defined in the case Chaplinski V. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942).  This excludes words mean to incite violence or other forms of unrest. The Arizona chapter of the ACLU has a running list of varieties of prohibited speech. There are a number of well-defined restrictions when it comes to protesting demonstrations.  Which includes civil disobedience, any dangerous actions, obstructing roadways without a permit, harassment, or interference with private property.  Violation of any detailed criterion will make the demonstration an unlawful assembly.

The statues explicitly pertaining to unlawful assembly and riots in Arizona state law include the following.

ARS 13-2902:

A. A person commits unlawful assembly by:

1. Assembling with two or more other persons with the intent to engage in conduct constituting a riot as defined in section 13-2903; or

2. Being present at an assembly of two or more other persons who are engaged in or who have the readily apparent intent to engage in conduct constituting a riot as defined in section 13-2903 and knowingly remaining there and refusing to obey an official order to disperse.

B. Unlawful assembly is a class 1 misdemeanor.

 

ARS 13-2903:

A. A person commits riot if, with two or more other persons acting together, such person recklessly uses force or violence or threatens to use force or violence, if such threat is accompanied by immediate power of execution, which disturbs the public peace.

B. Riot is a class 5 felony.

 

Both laws are quite clear on the defining parameters of acceptable forms of protest. Neither statue condones the destruction of private property. Individuals who were not involved in incidents of police brutality should not be punished by the fallout of violent demonstrations. I should note that not all of the protests have been violent. I fully acknowledge this point. Any instance of violent protests is unacceptable. Mirroring the fact that police officers using excessive force to subdue a suspect is never permissible. Either action violates the natural rights of the victim. The Non-Aggression Principle asserts that we should not inflict undue harm on others any such action is inherently transgressive. However, this philosophical tenant does not apply to self-defense. The only circumstances under which violent actions are ethical is in self-defense or defense of your property. Under any other contingency, you are the one at fault.

 

Please note that I am equally repulsed by the abuse of police power as I am by the violent protests.  I would surmise are not as prevalent as the media portrays.

 

There are also examples of police officers assaulting peaceful protestors.

How Not to Live Your Life- A Lesson from Kierkegaard and Seinfeld

black crt tv showing gray screen
Photo by Burak K on Pexels.com

 

 

 

The 1990s sitcom Seinfeld  was loudly proclaimed to be the show about “nothing”.  The very term “nothing” is somewhat paradoxical. Nothing denotes the complete absence of an essence or form. Technically it is herculean  task to fixate any concept around the word. Logically some attribute is bound to invalidate the notion of complete absence of  any form or detail. Hence, why the show really wasn’t about nothing. It was really an unapologetic slice-of-life comedy. Focused on four 30-something NYC residents and their day to day lives. Lives typically punctuated by social faux pas and outlandish situations. Generally spurred by their own errors or impulses. It the television program doesn’t fixate on nothing. It merely lacks an overt, cohesive and reoccurring theme. In contrast to the modern fables portrayed in a sappy coming-of-age drama.

 

At first glance, it would appear the odds of obtaining any profound philosophical insights from Seinfeld would be unlikely. However, some philosophers would disagree.  Back in 2000, William Irwin edited  a collection of essays drawing philosophical themes from the sitcom. To think philosophical insights from a show where the characters quibble over breakfast cereals and superheroes. Seinfeld and Philosophy  is a brilliant attempt to infer the unthinkable from the show about “nothing”. The unthinkable being is logical and moral parables.

 

Out of the four main characters of Seinfeld  Cosmo Kramer is certainly noteworthy. A slender and cloddish man with a mop of wild hair upon his. His rangy frame often silhouetted by a thick hazy of smoke from a burning Cuban cigar. Frequently barging into Jerry’s apartment and rifling through his refrigerator for food. He never holds a steady job. Often is hopping from one fleeting interest to the next.  Whether it be some harebrained business scheme or new absurd fixation. For example, in season nine when Kramer discovers the furniture from the old  Merv Griffin Show in a dumpsters.  He then decides to assemble the set in his own apartment and pose as if he was a late-night talk show host. Kramer mirrors Peter Pan. Stuck in a perpetual state of adolescences. He is fickle with is commitments and interests. Making his life a revolving-door of collective fads.  Giving some credence to Elaine one time insulting Kramer by calling him a “hipster doofus“.Yes kids, this episode did predate the American Spirits smoking, fake glasses wearing, Pabst Blue Ribbon drinking hipsters of the 2000’s.

 

How could any sizable moral lesson ever be derived from a character that lives such a shallow life? Philosopher William Irvin found some insights in Kramer’s disregard for commitment.  Detailed in his essay Kramer and Kierkegaard: Stages on Life’s Way.  Where Irvin parallels Kramer’s life to that of the Aesthetic Stage of Life. In terms of stages of moral development that would appear to be Kierkegaard’s most rudimentary stage.  It is important to note that this starts with and ends with despair. Is distinguished by a flight from boredom. Fully illustrated by Kramer’s ever-changing agenda. Spirited, but short-lived enthusiasm. Such as the time Kramer pitched his idea of a cologne that smells like the beach or a pizzeria where you can “bake your own pie” (Irvin, 2000). This only dovetails to possessing a lack of commitment another defining feature of this stage. Exemplified by Kramer referring marriage has a man-made “prison” (Irvin, 2000) Clearly  illustrating his distaste for committed romantic relationships.

 

Cosmo Kramer operates as a moral  allegory of what not to be. Unprincipled and pleasure seeking. To characteristics of hedonism that run contrary personal responsibility. One of the conceptual cornerstones of Existential philosophy. The philosophical movement Kierkegaard was a pioneer of. Can an individual float through life as a middle-aged or even elderly “hipster doofus”? Constantly raiding your neighbor’s refrigerator. Hatching various get-rich-quick schemes that invariably fail with in a short duration of time. Finding novel oddball hobbies to occupy your decades of scant employment. It is no wonder many of these interests fade fast. There isn’t any substance to them. They are merely temporary distractions for a man lacking conviction. If Kramer was truly committed to any of his business ventures he would abort them within a matter of days. He would fight for his business to success.  He isn’t the type to want to exert such effort on what is difficult.   Kramer would rather feed the perpetual cycle of fleeting interests and wavering commitment. Making him a prime example of what we should avoid being in real life.

 

 

Letter to the Editor- Coast to Coast Riots

photo of person reading
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

 

Published by Pinal Central.
Dear Editor,

 

As the old saying goes two wrongs do not make a right. Nothing excuses the atrocity committed against George Floyd. However, this reprehensible action does not reflect law enforcement as a whole.  This as with all instances of police brutality is a shameful outlier. The situation should be handled with justice served through proper legal recourse.

 

The folks who are frustrated by these occurrences do have a right to express their opinion. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the right to peaceful protest.  What the various protests across the county have devolved into is undefendable. Looting, vandalism, violence, and other varieties of wanton chaos. Most of these reactions are  fueled by visceral outrage. Such reactions are not responsible nor constructive avenues for enacting change.  Destructive actions can only make a bad situation worse. No amount of unfocused retaliation will bring about reform or justice for Mr. Floyd. It will only hurt more people.

 

Continuing this cycle of violence and destruction helps no one. I would urge all demonstrators to emulate the peaceful protests of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi. Two of history’s most influential protesters never restored to violence. They both lead the way to genuine reform without compromising on civility . Measured and nonviolent communication carries more weight than reactionary rage.  Both Gandhi and Dr. King were living proof.

Bootleggers & Baptists IV: Good Cop, Bad Cop. Qualified Immunity.

crime scene do not cross signage
Photo by kat wilcox on Pexels.com

 

 

 

Introduction:

 

Last Monday, the country bared witness to another occurrence of police brutality. In the death of  George Floyd. This miscarriage of justice and abuse of power has not come without repercussions. As riots break out across the country, demonstrators seethe with vitriolic indignation. Looting, vandalism, another means of violent action stirring chaos in America’s urban centers. The byproduct of fermenting resentment engendered by feeble responses by policymakers to similar circumstances. While frustration is understandable, these actions are not justified. Projecting your angst on innocent parties will not fix any institutional shortcomings in the justice system.

 

However, most law enforcement officers do not brutalize the suspects they apprehend. Most dutifully follow proper procedures when using force to subdue a suspect. It is important to remember that one bad apple does not represent all law enforcement agents. Even if most cops are honest and decent that does not mean that we cannot advocate for reform. Reform measures that can provide less protection to the few malevolent outliers.

 

Upon reading an article on the blog  The Volokh Conspiracy, I was horrified to learn about the background of the officer charged in Floyd’s death. The fact that the officer implicated in Floyd’s death had 17 prior complaints. He had been put on administrative leave in the past for “using lethal force”. To only compound matters, the notes detailing disciplinary parameters for this officer were scant. The city of Minneapolis has a well documented reputation for not reprimanding officers who violate procedure.

 

The question becomes how did this officer fall through the cracks? Shouldn’t he be held accountable for his transgressions? The author of the previously cited article attributes this failure of the justice system to Qualified Immunity.  This legal protection has been rigorously advocated for by police unions (Rosen, 2005). What is Qualified Immunity?  It is the legal doctrine that insulates civil officials from laws suits when exercising duties within their authority. Unless their actions conspicuously violate “statutory” or “constitutional” rights”. This protection was initially implemented with the best of intentions protecting police officers from frivolous lawsuits (Schwarz, 2014).  Per a 2014 study, instances where victims are awarded damages for law enforcement related rights violations, 99.98 % of the settlements were paid out by governments, not the offending officer! Even in situations where the acting officers’ judgment was profoundly questionable.  Such as Baxter v. Bracey (2018) were two officers “deployed a police dog against a suspect who had already surrendered and was sitting on the ground with his hands up“. Demonstrating that Qualified Immunity could be a significant variable in the lack of disciplinary action taken against exploitative officers.

 

It is reasonable to question how Qualified Immunity relates to Bruce Yandle’s concept of Bootleggers and Baptists. It is important to remember that with every policy position you have various coalitions in the running to champion it. This can be even further divided into categorical subgroups.  Wherever you see an angel a devil is lurking around the corner. For example, one out of every ten teachers is insouciant and does not care about the well being of the students. Still a minority, but that one teacher is the rotten egg of the bunch. They operate as  “moral free-rider“. This individual enjoys the favorable perception of teachers due to the efforts of most teachers without having to live up to such standards. The same is true for police officers. The upstanding and compliant police officers are advocates of qualified immunity. The same is true of the minority of bad police officers. Protection from frivolous ligation is in the best interest of all police officers regardless of performance.

 

Bootleggers:

Police officers who abuse their power and exploit institutional protections. Bad Cops.

 

Baptists:

The Majority of Police officers who are law-abiding and care about their community. Good Cops

 

 

The Parameters of Qualified Immunity:
For the state of Arizona, Qualified Immunity falls under ARS 36-738.  Instead of mulling over the litany of cases about Qualified Immunity, let focus on the test case. Harlow V. Fitzgerald (1982). The case stems from the 1970 termination of A.Ernest Fitzgerald resulting from his testimony before the Economic Joint Committee of the U.S. Congress. His testimony detailed the “unexpected costs associated” with the C5-A transport plane. Believing that his termination was in retaliation he used two presidential aides.

 

Civil servants are not allotted blanket immunity. Rather, there is a specific criterion to determine if they were acting within limits of their job role. Was it extralegal for those two aides to fire Fitzgerald? Providing that they did violate any of his Constitutional rights and it was within their authority to do so, then no. The other piece of the puzzle that muddies the water is that so long that the official’s actions were reasonable and they believed their conduct to be lawful.

 

The Bootleggers and Baptists:

The dynamic of this coalition is quite simple. The good police officers (with the full support of the powerful police unions) justify Qualified Immunity. Why punish good-faith actors who risk their lives to protect us and our property?  They work hard to keep our communities safe. Why should they be held liable for an honest mistake?  Making the “Good Cops” our Baptists.

 

Our Bootleggers, the “Bad Cops” also support keeping Qualified Immunity. Again they have the backing of the police unions. The difference is their ” economic benefit” is not a quantifiable dollar amount. It is an institutional blank check to bend the rules. In some circumstances literally get away with murder. Per the minuscule amount of research  I have done on the topic it would appear as if QI tends to overwhelmingly favor the officer. Even in instances where the officer should not be protected. The few bad apples have the “good cops” taking care of the public perception portion of the equation. While the continue to exploit the flexibility of how QI is applied to law enforcement personnel. Making them the true beneficiaries of this legal privilege.
However, due to wanton and chronic abuse of this legal protection public opinion has started to shift. Especially in the wake of the death of George Floyd.

 

Conclusion:   

 

I will not get involved with the argument as to whether QI should be limited or abolished. That is best left to the legal experts. I will let the senior fellows at the Cato Institute handle that one. However, the arresting officer that killed Floyd certainly had a lengthy disciplinary record. Yet, he still had gainful employment. Leading me to believe that QI has served as a shield this officer from legal and disciplinary consequences.

Above all, I wish the violent protests would subside. It is probably the idealist in me.  Why cause more pain and suffering in the world? It will not undo and of the injustices done to the victims of police brutality.